Review of Songmaster by Orson Scott Card

February 7, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Audiobook - Songmaster, by Orson Scott CardSongmaster
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
10 CDs, 9 Cassettes,or 1 MP3 disc – 12.5 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2006
ISBN: 9780786178421 (CDs), 9780786180578 (MP3-CD), 9780786135097 (Cassettes)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Galactic Empire / Music / Education / Children / Despotism / Rebellion /

This early novel by Card is a precursor of many things to come from this great author. One of Orson’s favorite themes is that of a child with extraordinary talent coming of age. The child’s name is Ansset, and at very young age he is sent to the sequestered Songhouse. In the Songhouse, a powerful form of singing is taught that creates an abnormally strong emotional response in the listener. Ansset turns out to be exceptionally gifted singer and is groomed to be a Songbird.

The emperor, Mikal, who most believe to be the most horrible tyrant of the galaxy, wants to have a Songbird. Ansset is sent as a child to be Mikal’s Songbird. But there’s more to Ansset than what appears on the surface.

The writer’s credo “show, don’t tell” had to be abandoned in a sense. How does an author write about the impact of the music being sung without describing it? (telling). After all, the writer’s tools are words and not music. Card does show us the emotional impact that listeners have to the singing, so in that sense he is showing us. The great power of the songbird’s music could emotionally ravage a listener for good or ill. As a reader/listener, we need to believe this. So, how well does this novel succeed when it is about music, but is written in prose? In one word— beautifully. In the hands of less expressive author this could have been clumsy technique. This is a touching novel, in which you’ll care for Ansset.

The audiobook is narrated beautifully by Stefan Rudnicki. Mr. Rudnicki conveys an introspective and measured performance that suits the novel perfectly. There are parts of the text that he has to convey by singing. He does this in an understated manner that doesn’t undermine the emotional context of the scene. And the recording is up to the usually high standards that we expect of a Blackstone audiobook. If you’re fan of Ender’s Game or Card’s other works and you haven’t read or heard Songmaster—get it! If you’re not familiar with OSC’s works, this is a good place to start.

Review of The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

May 5, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Radio Drama Review

Science Fiction Audio Book - The Gripping Hand by Larry Niven and Jerry PournelleThe Gripping Hand
By Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle; Read by Jay O. Sanders
2 Cassettes – Approx. 3 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 1993
ISBN: 0671791109
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Biology / Politics / Economics /Galactic Civilization / Galactic Empire / Mormonism /

Twenty-five years have passed since the second Empire of man quarantined the mysterious aliens known only as Moties within the confines of their own solar system – afraid of the threat these aliens may pose to man kind. But the wall seperating man from the Moties is beginning to crumble…

The Gripping Hand is set in a the “CoDominium” universe originated by Jerry Pournelle. This is the sequel to their first novel together, The Mote In God’s Eye (not available on audio). The setting is that of a future interstellar empire in which humanity has only one major rival for complete dominance. The so-called “Moties” are an intelligent species that is so war-like, so very dangerous, that an enitre human naval task force sits blockading the Motie system’s only exit. The Moties are a species divided into distinct biological forms, each serving a different function. Master. Mediator. Engineer. Warrior. Each type is supremely adapted to its task, and only constant civil war has kept their population in check. Combined with the specialization is a terrible burden; if Moties don’t breed they die agonzing deaths.

For those who haven’t already read The Mote In God’s Eye, you may want to stop reading now as spoilers must follow. At the end of The Mote In God’s Eye, Sir Kevin Renner and His Excellency Horace Bury were secretly enlisted into Imperial Naval Intelligence. For the twenty-five years since then, they’ve acted as unpaid spies, keeping a watchful eye for “outies” (human raiders) in order that the empire might focus its meager resources on the overwhelming Motie threat. Bury is a merchant prince whose dealings allow him access to the underworld of many border worlds. Renner, a former naval officer, now acts as a field agent in the employ of Bury. When a botched Mormon kidnapping plot appears to involve a Motie phrase “the gripping hand”, Bury demands to inspect the fleet blockading the Motie system. His journey leads him to several surprises.

There’s a bit of bad news about this audiobook. If the abridgement had been longer there would still be some question as to whether or not we’d know what is going on in this book. I’ve listened about three times now and I’m pretty impressed at how much sense I’ve managed to make of it in spite of what little of the novel is there. It almost works. It has the barest framework of the plot left, lots of interesting characters, some very good dialogue, and a few simply brilliant SF ideas – but the final feeling I was left with at the end is great disappointment. We would really could have had a special audiobook here, if Simon & Schuster hadn’t knocked out so much in their drive to release 2-cassette abridgments as they did back in the early 1990s. This all is especially upseting because narrator Jay O. Sanders does a fantastic job with the accents and character voices. I think it is safe to say that the fad of abridging the snot out of every novel that comes down the pipe is over. That’s a good thing. It came to late for this audiobook. Some publisher out there should get a hold of The Mote In God’s Eye and record it, complete and unabridged, and while they’re at it they should get Jay O. Sanders to do the reading. We know he’ll do a good job.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover

July 21, 2005 by · 1 Comment
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Science Fiction Audiobooks - Star Wars: Revenge of the SithStar Wars: Revenge of the Sith
By Matthew Stover; Read by Jonathan Davis
11 CD’s – 14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2005
Themes: / Science Fiction / Star Wars / Republic / War /

Well, here it is. Thirty years after the original Star Wars film, we have the conclusion. George Lucas said in an interview that he seems to have two sets of fans, one loyal to the first trilogy, and one younger set that prefers the recent trilogy. I admit up front that I’m of the first set, and that I found Episode I very disappointing, and Episode II a bit less disappointing. But like so many others, I went right out to see Episode III immediately upon its release. This audiobook is written by Matthew Stover, based on George Lucas’ screenplay for the film.

Now, I know that this is an audiobook review, but it’s very difficult not to bring the film into it. The audiobook is filled with sound effects and music from the movie, and because I’d seen that movie, Lucas’ brilliant and beautiful images were front and center in my mind while listening. Jonathan Davis’ superior narration also took from the film as he often imitated the actors while speaking. Palpatine sounds like Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine, Obi-Wan sounds like Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan, and all to great effect. Jonathan Davis is fabulously talented. At times, his voice was altered by sound engineers (when speaking as General Grievous, for example), also to great effect. This audiobook sounded wonderful.

The movie was longish, clocking in at 140 minutes, every minute of which moved at breakneck speed. This audiobook runs 14 hours, and tells the same story as the movie, but Matthew Stover was given a lot more room to tell it. I don’t know how closely he consulted with Lucas on this, but the story runs at a much slower pace with lots of backstory and deep penetration into the characters’ thoughts. The first time a character is met in a story, Stover writes until he hits a natural break point in the action, then delves deep into that character’s past or his current state of mind, then returns to the action. The result is a satisfying companion to the film. Knowing what I know now about the characters would make watching the film a better experience, because Lucas spends no time at all on depth of character.

I would heartily recommend this audiobook to Star Wars fans who’d like to know more about these characters. Skywalker’s turn to the dark side makes a bit more sense here than it did in the movie, since his inner thoughts are revealed for us to see. Though I am still partial to the original three films, I found that this story adds depth to those stories too. Bravo to Random House Audio for producing this fine piece of work.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

April 23, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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Science Fiction and Fantasy Audio

Science Fiction Audiobook - Foundation and Empire by Isaac AsimovFoundation and Empire
By Isaac Asimov; Read by Scott Brick
8 CD’s, 10 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books on Tape
Published: 2005 (Re-issued with new narrator)
ISBN: None on package
Themes: / Science Fiction / Psychohistory / Galactic Empire / Mental Powers /

This classic novel contains two parts. The first is The General and is much like Foundation in tone and subject matter. Galactic Empire is dying, and the Foundation grows in strength. The story is about Bel Riose, a General in the Empire, and the Empire’s last gasp against the Foundation.

But then Asimov takes it up a notch. “The Mule” is the second part of the book, and is one of Asimov’s finest works. The Foundation is unexpectedly confronted with an enigma who calls himself The Mule. Hari Seldon could not have considered such an anomaly in his equations, and when historical events are altered by The Mule’s mental ability to influence people, the Foundation responds.

And what more can I say about Scott Brick? I really enjoy him, and look forward to his narrations. This book was written more than fifty years ago, and it holds up as much more than a historical curiosity. Brick does a fine job with it.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Foundation by Isaac Asimov

February 22, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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Science Fiction Audiobooks - Foundation by Isaac AsimovFoundation
By Isaac Asimov; Read by Scott Brick
7 CD’s, 9 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books on Tape
Published: 2005 (Re-issued with new narrator)
ISBN: 1415917760
Themes: / Science Fiction / Psychohistory / Galactic Empire / Energy / Science /

I could write this review in one sentence: A first-rate science fiction classic performed by a top-notch narrator. Whew! I’m exhausted. I better relax with another audiobook…

But first, a few more comments. Foundation is one of Isaac Asimov’s earliest works. One of the joys of reading this novel is recognizing it as an influence on so many other works in science fiction. Since Foundation was published, countless empires have risen and fallen in the pages of science fiction novels and on flickering movie screens. Most obviously, the latest Star Wars movie includes a visit to Coruscant, a planet that is one huge city, just like Asimov’s Trantor.

Like I, Robot, another of Asimov’s best known books, this is not a novel, but a collection of stories. The first (Book 1) is called “The Psychohistorians”, which follows Gaal Dornick as he visits the planet Trantor for the first time. Trantor is a planet completely covered in city – it serves as the capital of the Galactic Empire. Dornick visits Hari Seldon, who is under persecution for predicting the fall of the empire using psychohistory, a mathematical method for predicting probable futures for large numbers of people. The story concludes with the establishment of the Foundation, where a group of scientists will be charged with collecting all human knowledge into a great Encyclopedia.

Book Two is “The Encyclopedists”. It is 30 years after the first story, and it is here that the reader first encounters Salvor Hardin, a political rival of the mayor of Terminus, the name of the planet where the Foundation resides. The story is of a political struggle between two factions, with Hardin winning the day in grand fashion as a holographic Hari Seldon makes his first appearance to tell folks what’s really going on here.

Book Three, “The Mayors”, again stars Salvor Hardin, much later in his career. He is now being challenged as he challenged others in the previous story. Hardin has discovered that the only thing he’s got that surrounding systems don’t have is knowledge of atomics (a knowledge that has been lost at the edge of the empire). So, to keep from being attacked, he creates a sort of religion out of atomic science, trains “priests” to deal with it, and sends these priests out to threatening worlds to keep them at bay. Works great, but now there’s a challenge.

“The Traders” is Book 4, again taking place years after the previous story. Hardin is long gone, and the Foundation now is home to a sub-class called Traders, who are largely independent, but still loyal to the Foundation…

…who evolve into “The Merchant Princes”, the subject of Book 5, the longest installment. The traders have grown rich, and there’s a serious threat to the Foundation. Questions about the further validity of the “religion” are questioned, toss in some espionage, and the struggle is on.

Scott Brick does an amazing job with Asimov’s work. This first book was published in 1951, so Brick has to say things like “Great leaping galaxies!” while keeping a straight face. Apart from these occasional exclamations, the book works extremely well here in 2005. Asimov deserves his place amongst the Grand Masters of the genre, and Scott Brick’s performance adds a worthy dimension to the classic. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the rest of the trilogy.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

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