Review of Wizardborn by David Farland

March 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Wizardborn by David FarlandWizardborn: Book 3 of the Runelords
By David Farland; Read by Ray Porter
19.5 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2010
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Magic / Battle /

Book three in the Runelords series is far better than book two, in my opinion. Although you should read all the books in order, as it’s one story in four parts, this book (like the others) can stand alone.

Wizardborn begins immediately after the Battle at Carris where Gaborn is regrouping and preparing to chase the Reavers back to the Underworld. He has lost the ability to warn his Chosen of danger and must do what he can to save mankind from the dark times to come.

Binnesman discovers that Averan is wizardborn and an Earth Warden and takes her on as his apprentice. In addition to learning how to be an Earth Warden, Averan must find the Waymaker, a Reaver who knows the paths in the Underworld and can tell her who to get to the Lair of Bones.

The book follows four storylines that all break off from the Battle at Carris. Gaborn’s fight against the Reavers, Borenson and Myrrima’s journey to Inkarra, Erin Connall and Prince Celinor’s journey north and Raj Ahten’s return to Indhopal.

I like how each chapter in this series begins with a title and a quote from an historical figure or book. It gives the world a sense of history and depth beyond the immediate story. The characters know their legends and heroes and their stories so the narration only touches on them, which lets the reader see enough to understand without feeling preachy. Indeed, it gives you the feel that this world is complex and has a living, vibrant history. The pacing is good and each chapter ending leaves you wanting to know more.

The book builds the tension of each story, cutting from one group to another until the end, where everyone is at a life-or-death crossroad and you can’t wait to see how it resolves.

The book is very well written. The narrator does an excellent job of keeping you engrossed in the book and separating the voices. He’s a good reader and suits the story well. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it an 8.

And now, on to read book four…

Posted by Charlene Harmon

Review of The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

June 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - The Broken Sword by Poul AndersonThe Broken Sword
By Poul Anderson; Read by Bronson Pinchot
7 CDs – 8 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2011
ISBN: 9781441786876
Themes: / Fantasy / Vikings / Myth / Battle /

The Viking Age of England offers fertile ground for storytelling. It was a time of strong men, beautiful fair-haired women, and bloody raids for plunder. Christianity was the new religion on the block, striving to make inroads on the old pagan beliefs—and often at the point of a sword. Gods were said to mingle with men and the world lay poised on the edge of Ragnarok, a final battle and fiery conflagration that would end the world.

Poul Anderson drew on the best of this wild and poetic age, stirred it up with myth and fantasy, and the result was his 1954 novel The Broken Sword. Its like has rarely been matched in the annals of fantasy literature.

I’ve read The Broken Sword previously and knew what a wonderful book it was, but TV and film actor Bronson Pinchot’s narration in this new Blackstone Audio, Inc. production added a new dimension to the novel. I had first heard Pinchot in a reading of Stephen King’s Eyes of the Dragon. While he was wonderful there he ups his game in The Broken Sword, reading with a spite and fury in his voice that perfectly matches the book’s unrelenting grimness and battle fury. Pinchot breathes life into beautiful maidens and proud warriors, deep-throated trolls, and ancient elven warrior-kings whose voices are like winds sighing through treeless leaves.

Oddly enough there is exactly one sound effect in the entire recording—an echo effect used to convey the cold, cruel laughter of Odin—and it’s on the final disc. It was cool but rather jarring, considering it’s on the last disc and there’s no precursor. But on to the tale.

In The Broken Sword the land of Faerie exists alongside the lands of men, invisible save to those with the witch sight. Faerie is a land of bright castles and achingly lovely elves, of the gods of Odin and Tyr, the giants of Jotunheim, black-eyed trolls, and other, fouler monsters.

Pride and ambition touches off the events of The Broken Sword. Orm the Strong is the fifth son of Ketil Asmundsson and thus low in the totem pole of inheritance. Rather than accept a smaller share of wealth Orm seeks his own fortune by going a–viking. On one of his raids he kills a husband and his sons, burning their hall to the ground. The man’s mother, a witch, escapes and swears revenge: She bestows a curse that Orm’s eldest son will be fostered beyond the world of men, while he in turn will foster a wolf that will one day rend him.

The elf-earl Imric travels to the lands of men and sets the witch’s curse in motion. Imric takes Orm’s unbaptized infant son Skafloc and replaces him with Valgard, a changeling, whom Imric himself has fathered by raping a captive troll woman. Valgard’s dark ancestry is evident when he bites his unknowing mother’s breast and grows restless and violent in Orm’s care. Skafloc, raised among the elves, is fair haired and fair of spirit, though equally mighty and otherwise a mirror image of his dark changeling “brother.”

After he discovers his true half troll, half-elf heritage, Valgard embarks on a mission of revenge, killing several members of his foster family. Aided with an army of trolls he then launches a war of annihilation on the elven lands of Alfheim. Skafloc and the elves are beaten back by the initial assaults and all seems lost. Only by going on a quest to reforge a powerful ancient weapon—the eponymous broken sword, a weapon of terrible demonic power that demands blood each time it is drawn and ultimately turns on its wielder—can Skafloc save Alfheim and avenge his family.

Though The Broken Sword seems largely forgotten these days it remains influential. The elf Imric for example reveals the clear stylistic (and thematic) influence The Broken Sword had on subsequent authors like Michael Moorcock. Moorcock (a big fan of the book, who once wrote thatThe Broken Sword “knocked The Lord of the Rings into a cocked hat”) based his Melniboneans heavily on Anderson’s elves. Imric is (largely) Elric of Melnibone, not only in similarity of name, but in appearance and even character. Anderson’s Elves are darker than those in The Lord of the Rings (though I would point out that Tolkien’s elves closely resembled Anderson’s in his source material; see the prideful warrior Feanor from The Silmarillion). They are haughty, prideful, shun the sunlight, and if not malicious are certainly mischievous. These traits have their roots in Norse myth, which both Tolkien and Anderson drew upon.

Everything about the book is wonderfully northern. Characters mingle soaring verse with common speech in conversation. Anderson weaves old northern vocabulary into the tale, evocative words like “Fetch,” “Fey,” and “Weird” (the latter is a fate from which no man escapes), which lend The Broken Sword a hard northern ethos to match its flavor. In this pagan hierarchy the Norns are higher than the towering Jotuns or even the Aesir. Even the gods will die in the fires of Ragnarok at their appointed time. That grimness bleeds through into The Broken Sword as its protagonists are slowly crushed beneath the merciless wheel of fate.

“Throw not your life away for a lost love,” pleaded Mananaan. “You are young yet.”

“All men are born fey,” said Skafloc, and there the matter stood.

This is hard stuff and an unforgiving outlook on life, though not incompatible with that other somewhat famous work that debuted in 1954—Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. No matter what Moorcock—he of the tin ear when it comes to Tolkien analysis—may tell you.

The writing in The Broken Sword is top-notch, really and truly great stuff. A small sample of dialogue uttered by the troll-woman Gora:

“The world is flesh dissolving off a dead skull,” mumbled the troll-woman. She clanked her chain and lay back, shuddering. “Birth is but the breeding of maggots in the crumbling flesh. Already the skull’s teeth leer forth and black crows have left its eye sockets empty. Soon a barren window will blow through its bare white bones.”

One final, important note about the Blackstone recording: The text is Anderson’s original from the 1954 version of the book, which Anderson updated in 1971 for republication in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line. This is not immediately apparent from the description on the Blackstone website. I’ve only read the 1971 version, so for those who haven’t had the chance to experience The Broken Sword in its earliest and rawest incarnation you now have another chance.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Review of A Hymn Before Battle by John Ringo

January 5, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - A Hymn Before Battle by John RingoA Hymn Before Battle
By John Ringo, Read by Marc Vietor
12 CDs – 15 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 2009
ISBN: 9781423395089
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military SF / Battle / Aliens / Computers /

First published in 2000, John Ringo’s A Hymn Before Battle is the 1st book in his Posleen War series, also known as the Legacy of the Aldenata. It is 2001 and America is at peace. Former Lieutenant Mike O’Neal is now a website developer. Despite throwing in some web development jargon I was impressed that it didn’t sound dated, even after nine years. Mike is recalled to a top secret briefing where it is revealed that aliens have contacted the heads of the major governments. Their message warns that there is a rampaging alien horde, the Posleen, are coming this way through the galaxy and they need our help. Unfortunately for the alien’s Galactic Federation, they have no ability when it comes to war. One race go so far as to revert to a virtual non-sentient state whenever they attempt to take another’s life. Needless to say, they are losing the war against the sauroid aliens, the Posleen. They are nearly as afraid of the humans as they are the Posleen. But with their backs to the wall, they have decided to enlist mankind to fight their war for them. The fact that we would be over run by the Posleen in a few years is enough to rally all the nations to join the cause.

Mike O’Neal, together with many others, including a sly reference to an SF author of space combat novels refered to only as “David”, are tasked to develop the weapons, vehicles and systems that mold Galactic technology to human use. Mike’s own project is the development of the ACS, the Armoured Combat Suit.

The first battle is fought with several international forces attempting to defend one of the worlds of the pacifistic worker race, the Indowy. Perhaps something that might not have been included in books written more than a year later, is the tactical collapsing of inhabited alien megascrapers as weapons. The versatility and vastly changed tactics the Armoured Combat Suits bring to the combat scenes are well thought out, even to the point of a rather grisly flaw caused by the armour being too strong.

The action is well described as Ringo build up the range of abilities embodied by the ACS’s. Lots of characters are introduced and their personalities brought to life by the narrator, Marc Vietor.

It must be said, Marc Vietor dives into the alien words and names with gusto. Ringo surely didn’t have narration in mind when he named Ttckpt Province, or Tulo’stenaloor, First Order Battlemaster of the Sten Po’oslena’ar. For a couple of chapters I was even reading along from the Baen Free Library/WebScription edition. This impressed me as I could see how Vietor added lots of texture and emotion to the dialog and prose, that you might not otherwise have from reading the text alone.

The story doesn’t just follow Mike O’Neal. There are two other plot threads that clearly are building towards something much larger for later books in the series. A Hymn Before Battle sets the stage with, what I presume are it’s major players, for the following books in the series. I look forward to reading more in this series, and to more of John Ringo’s other works.

Posted by Paul [W] Campbell

Review of Conan The Barbarian Movie Adaptation LP

February 26, 2007 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Conan The Barbarian - Movie Adaptation LPConan The Barbarian
Based on the Motion Picture directed by John Milius; Performed by a FULL CAST
33 1/3 RPM LP – Approx. 43 minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Power Records
Published: 1982 (Out Of Print)
Product #: 1134
Themes: / Fantasy / Revenge / Battle / Mythology / Gods / Snakes /

“I was born on the battlefield! The first sounds I
heard were the screams of dying men!”

It took almost a half of century for Robert E. Howard’s legendary thief, warrior, barbarian and eventual King to debut on the silver screen. In the fifty or so years prior to the 1982 theatrical release of Conan The Barbarian, and against all odds, Conan had clutched fate by its throat and demanded success in practically every media it was translated into. Novels, magazines, newspaper syndication and comics, they were all conquered by this sword-wielding barbarian. These conquest continually garnished him a growing legion of loyal followers. So by Conan’s God Crom, it only made sense for Hollywood to be this fantasy character’s next path to tread under his sandaled feet.

Ridley Scott… Oliver Stone… Many talented directors attempted to bring “Conan The Barbarian” to theaters before writer/director John Milius’ inspired script finally got it right and brought the project to fruition. John’s vision, which some critics called “horribly violent” and “sexist”, captured the true lifeblood and essence of the Hyborian Age and all its brutality and sinister ways. Directed on location in Spain for Universal Pictures, it starred world renowned bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan of Cimmeria and Shakespearean actor James Earl Jones as the dreaded snake cult leader Thulsa Doom.

As always, making a motion picture about any character with a large fanbase creates controversy, and Conan The Barbarian was no different. Many fans questioned most of the inexperienced cast and their acting ability. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a world champion bodybuilder. Valeria, played by Sandahl Bergman, was a professional dancer. Even the director’s surfing partner took on the role of Subotai. Overwhelmingly, other than James Earl Jones, the cast was perceived as great lot of physical specimens rather than accomplished actors. Confusion also lingered among purists regarding Milius’ choice to retell Conan’s origin, which somewhat contrasted with the purist understanding of the barbarian’s earlier years. But other fans defended the retelling, arguing that creator Robert E. Howard never truly fleshed out Conan’s childhood, only briefly touched upon it. Moreover, they were quite pleased that Milius honored the legacy of Conan by sampling script ideas from many of Conan’s original tales like “The Tower of the Elephant” and “The Thing in the Crypt”.

Whichever side fans took, most couldn’t help not to revel in the sure beauty of the film… especially its Fantasy panting-like cinematography, awe inspiring original score and its seriousness in tone (something sorely missing in the later and utterly inferior sequel.) So, like all forms of media before it, the film Conan The Barbarian was a success and is now considered a classic among fans of the sword & sorcery genre. Conan was once again triumphant.

That same year, Power Records released the story of “Conan The Barbarian” which was surprisingly good among movie adaptation albums of its time. Known more for creating stories for adolescents, it was really quite astonishing to see Power Records adapt a “R” rated film, gloriously filled with masses of graphic violence, explicit nudity and even an orgy! The adaptation did exclude the “worst” parts of the film of course, but most mothers I know would balk upon their children listening to lines like “The last image I saw was my parent’s heads on a pair of Vanir pikes!” This adaptation was obviously made for young adults.

A whole new cast of actors were used, and the actors chosen for Conan, Subotai and The Wizard were an excellent choice. Conan is more intelligent than he appeared in the film, in the vein of the original Robert E. Howard writings. Actually, the original film script called for Conan to have more dialogue and narrate his own story rather than Mako’s ‘The Wizard’ doing the chronicling. But due to Schwarzenegger’s thick accent, much of Conan’s lines were trimmed down and/or removed in trade of Arnold’s powerful visual presence, which is where a problem lies. I actually had trouble appreciating this adaptation at first. Being a great fan of the film, I had the original actor’s voices and their dialogue (or Conan’s lack thereof) imprinted in my mind so deeply, it was hard to listen with a fresh perspective. Challenging yourself to give it a second “go around” is where the reward lies!

Conan narrating his tale is not the only difference between the adaptation and the actual film. Though fans of the film will be pleased to know that practically all of the story differences you hear were actually in the original John Milius script, before they were edited for various creative and/or monetary reasons. Some differences are subtle, like Thulsa Doom’s high priests are named Yaro and Rexor (rather than the familiar Rexor and Thorgrim). Others are larger events, like when Conan and Subotai enter the cities of Zamora looking to plunder the riches of the snake tower. While traveling through the filthy city of Shadizar, the script & adaptation details an extra scene of Conan and Subotai witnessing a snake cult procession moving through the streets. This is where Conan first hears the cursed chant of his nemesis Thulsa Doom since his parent slaying so long ago. He also gets his first glance of the haunting Princess he would later steal for King Osric, as she calls out to Conan from her platform, commanding him to “throw down his sword” in the name of Set. It’s a great scene.

My only gripe with the record adaptation is I wish it featured the film’s original score. While the orchestration Power Records uses is vast and surprisingly well done, it’s hard to stand against the classic work of composer Basil Poledouris. Though, with their excellent cast and matching production values, this can be easily overlooked. Especially when listening to the “new” dialog and scenes ultimately left on the cutting room floor. As a fan of all things Conan and especially the films, it creates quite a thrill and leaves you slightly imagining… what might have been.

Review of The Helmsman by Bill Baldwin

August 1, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Helmsman by Bill BaldwinThe Helmsman
By Bill Baldwin, Narrated by Justin Brooks, C.J. Critt, Patrick Seaman, Roger Jones, & Steve Botha
MP3 Download, 576Mb – 10 hours [UNABRIDGED]
ISBN: 1587521539
Pub Date: 2005
Publisher: Timberwolf Press
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military Science Fiction / Space Travel / Aliens / Battles /

One of the few survivors of a League sneak attack on his poor and miserable homeworld of Careseria, Wilf Brim sets out to settle the score. Were it not for the attrition from the war that followed, Wilf would never have escaped his lower-class status and been accepted into the Academy. Now, freshly graduated, young Sublieutenant Wilf Ansor Brim, Imperial Fleet, begins his first assignment, Helmsman of the I.F.S. Trucluent.

I’m honestly not certain how to categorize this book audio-wise. Though it is listed as “unabridged”, the recording itself says “Based on The Helmsman by Bill Baldwin”, and is very near a 10 hour audio drama. There is a narrator (a very good one), but all of the dialogue is read by other actors, and there are sound effects throughout. The important question is “did it work”, and the answer is Yes, though the occasional unbelievable actor really pulls the listener out of the action.

The novel is pure military pulp science fiction. There is a ton of technical jargon as characters tune disruptors and such. Vehicles are often called “field pieces”, time is measured in “metacycles”, and everyone says “Aye, sir!” quite a bit. The action moves quickly as battles lead to more battles. The title is listed as “mature” for some sexual scenes.

In a nutshell, The Helmsman should please fans of military SF. The sound quality is very good, and the main narrator excellent. This is the first of several volumes – the Timberwolf Press website promises Galactic Convoy (currently available), The Trophy, The Mercenaries, The Defenders, and The Siege.

This title is available at Paperback Digital.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Tower Of The Elephant and The Frost Giant’s Daughter

March 9, 2005 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

Fantasy Audio Drama - Conan by Robert E. HowardRobert E. Howard’s Conan – The Tower Of The Elephant & The Frost Giant’s Daughter
Adapted by Roy Thomas & Alan B. Goldstein; Performed by a FULL CAST
33 1/3 RPM LP – Approx. 46 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMATIZATION]
Publisher: Moondance Productions
Published: 1975
Themes: / Fantasy / Aliens / Battle / Mythology / Gods /

Alan B. Goldstein had a dream, to bring the Robert E. Howard 1930s pulp magazine hero, Conan The Cimmerian, to audio. In 1974 he contacted Glenn Lord, agent for Howard’s literary estate and proposed a radio series based on Conan. Permission was granted and a pilot was adapted from one of Howard’s shortest Conan tales – “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”. After the pilot was completed, Goldstein brought it to Marvel Comics editor Roy Thomas. Thomas loved it and expressed an interest in contributing to the project. So together, with Alan B. Goldstein working as producer and Roy Thomas scripting, they decided that a second Conan audio adventure should be made.

Actors Owen McGee and Paul Falzone were again hired to reprise their roles as “The Narrator” and “Conan” respectively. And thus was born the second audio dramatization “The Tower Of The Elephant”. Unfortunately their vision of a Conan radio series was dashed. By the late 1970s, radio dramas were virtually dead. Only these two stories were ever adapted for the aborted Conan radio series. But Goldstein would go on to produce at least one more Conan record – but that, my Hyborian friends, is another story.

Side One – “The Tower Of The Elephant” – 27 Minutes 29 Seconds
Conan is in Zamoria’s City Of Thieves, Arenjun, where in a local tavern he overhears a boastful kidnapper. Before dispatching the cur Conan discovers the whereabouts of The Tower of the Elephant and of the fabled jewel rumored to be secured within it. Soon after Conan is at that bejeweled tower, determined to rob it of it’s jewel – but he has much to contend with – he must surpass another thief, ravenous lions and a giant spider. And what he finds in the tower’s interior is like nothing else in this age undreamed of. Howard’s prose is frothy, wondrous and direct. The performances here are letter perfect and the power of the original short story is successfully translated.

Side Two – “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” – 17 Minutes 41 Seconds
This, the shorter of the two dramatizations, again takes its stylistic cues from Howard’s pulp roots; nearly every word of this adaptation is taken directly from the original text itself. “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” is set in the high mountains that border Vanaheim and Aesgard where Conan has just fought a fierce battle, lying exhausted and near death on the battlefield, a near-naked woman suddenly visits him. Her voluptuous body re-ignites his will to live but when she mocks him, he chases her for seeming endless leagues across the snow-covered mountains. Conan finds it strange that she does not seem to feel the cold that chills his bones, dressed as she is shouldn’t she be frostbitten? Of course it is all a trap, this “woman” is no mortal, she’s lead Conan to her two massively dangerous looking “brothers”. The performances and narration paint a vivid mental film full of both preternatural storytelling and mythological virtue. Structured more as an incident than a plotted adventure the layered mythology of Howard’s invented Hyborian world casts a spell upon the listener. We feel Conan’s weariness and we follow along hotly in his footsteps as he’s tempted by that fleet-footed Valkyrie. It all has a dream like quality and it’s juicily full of pulpy goodness. I truly wish Alan B. Goldstein had got his dream and these two audio adventures had become the first two episodes in the Conan radio series.

Posted by Jesse Willis