Review of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardEnder’s Game
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney and others
10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535145 (Cassette) – 1574535366 (Audio CD)
Themes: Science Fiction / Military / Space / Youth / Politics / Alien races /

In the not too distant past, the Earth survived a war with the Buggers, an insect-like alien race. One military man, Mazer Rackham, was able to make the difference in the war for humanity, but it is widely feared that the Buggers will be back. To prepare, the government has taken to monitoring the Earth for the next military genius. Everyone who is considered a candidate is taken from their families at a young age and placed into an orbital Battle School. Ender Wiggin, at 6 years old, is considered to be the best candidate – Ender’s Game is his story.

Ender’s brother (Peter) and sister (Valentine) also play a large role. They are both older than Ender, and both extremely intelligent. They also were both passed over for Battle School, one for being too dangerous and one for being too compassionate. They have their own way of influencing the events of the world, even though they are no longer considered for the military.

The Battle School is centered on a game in which teams (armies) of kids fight each other in a zero-g environment. They carry guns that shoot low power lasers and wear suits that react to those lasers by freezing wherever they are hit. By playing the game, the students are training in three dimensional combat, and the competition aboard the Battle Station is fierce.

Ender not only deals with the other students in this competition, but also the teachers of the School as they place him in more and more difficult circumstances. The story has much to say about means and ends, both personal and political.

Even though I had read it three times over the past 14 years, I was glued to this audio version as if I didn’t know what was going to happen. The audio is a treat. Stefan Rudnicki performs the main narrator duties, while a number of others perform the conversations amongst the adults, which occur at the beginning of each chapter. Orson Scott Card also recorded a postscript in which he discusses the origins of Ender’s Game as a novel. First-rate.

Review of Startide Rising by David Brin

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Startide Rising by David BrinStartide Rising
By David Brin; Read by George Wilson
12 cassettes – 17.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Themes: / Science Fiction / Galactic Civilization / Genetic Engineering / Aliens / Dolphins / Chimpanzees / Series /

The Terran exploration vessel Streaker is on the run from the combined forces of five galactic civilizations that are hunting for them. Low on resources and staying just one step ahead of their pursuers the ship and crew crash-land on an obscure water-world called Kithrup. Soon after, in orbit above Kithrup, the might of all five galaxies fights each other for the right to claim “the prize”. The prize being that the crew of Streaker has the co-ordinates of what may be the most important discovery in millennia, the coordinates of mothballed fleet of starships that may be over two billion years old.

The second book of the Uplift Series, Startide Rising is the winner Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards for Best Novel of the year (1983). At the center of the Uplift Series is the idea that an “uplift” of intelligent life is necessary in order to create sentient and spacefaring races. The species that uplifts another is called a “patron species”, the species being uplifted is called a “client species”, this process is deemed absolutely necessary for the development of intelligent spacefaring civilizations. This makes sense to the Humans because on Earth the Humans have by this point genetically re-engineered both Dolphins and Chimpanzees, uplifting them to sentience. Which immediately begs the question of “who uplifted humanity”?

Recorded Books did a beautiful job on the cover, the specially commissioned painting is perhaps the nicest ever done for an audiobook. Unfortunately the cover and the packaging, are the best thing about this novel. As with many multi-volume series the paperback and hardcover versions of this book include: A glossary, a cast of characters list, a prologue, an epilogue, a postscript and a drawing (in this case of the Terran starship). Now obviously the drawing wouldn’t be able to be conveyed by a narrator, so it’s loss isn’t a big deal. But the exclusion of the glossary and the cast of characters was probably a mistake, for this novel especially, this information might have helped. I don’t really blame the producers for excluding it though, at 462 pages (making it 12 cassettes) this beast is way too long as it is.

David Brin‘s has peppered some very interesting ideas throughout the novel. Some of the ideas presented are new spins on old themes, others are quite original and interesting, at least to my ears. The overall premise of “uplift” is interesting, and would definitely be worth reading about, except for one minor issue. This is a horrible novel. Its very very very talky, there are way way way too many characters, virtually every scene that WOULD be of interest takes place off-stage, in the past or is happening and being related by a third party indirectly! George Wilson, the reader, does his best to sort out much of the muddle, no small task with more than a dozen characters, none of which are major players in the plot. These flaws along with reading the unreadable voices of many dolphins, are almost too much for poor George. And it was certainly too much for me. I lost track of who was speaking and what they were talking about many times! This is an unforgivable and deadly sin for a novel and makes me wonder how both readers and writers of science fiction could give this novel an award of any type let alone both the Hugo and the Nebula! I’ll admit that, much of the difficulty here is probably a result of this novel being a part of a series, with established characters and continuing themes. One reason for which all in all I much prefer stand alone novels. But even among series novels this was perhaps the worst novel I’ve read in years. Were I not writing a review for it I wouldn’t even bothered to have finished it. That said, maybe like Neville, the last living man on the Earth in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, I’m really the one who’s abnormal. Maybe this isn’t a bad novel at all. Maybe, it really is a good novel and I’ve got something wrong with me! Maybe a cast of dozens talking endlessly about events that just happened, are happening elsewhere are happening now but being related by a no-name character reading a sensor bank really is interesting. If that really is interesting and I just can’t appreciate it I’ll just have to live without it because I’m not going to listen to any more of the Uplift Series.

Review of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Enders Game by Orson Scott CardEnder’s Game
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney and others
10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535145 (Cassette) – 1574535366 (Audio CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Space / Youth / Politics / Aliens /

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Enders Game by Orson Scott CardSpeaker for the Dead
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney, Scott Brick, and others
14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535153 (Cassette) – 1574535609 (Audio CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Space / Politics / Alien races / Religion /

Orson Scott Card wrote a pair of novels in the 1980’s that swept both the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel awards two years in a row (1986 and 1987 Hugo, 1985 and 1986 Nebula). These two novels are Ender’s Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead.

These books were released previously in abridged editions, which can still be found out there, but these Fantastic Audio unabridged editions completely eclipse those in both quality and content. They are multi-voice recordings, but not of the type where several actors take parts and speak for certain characters. Instead, the narrator changes with point-of-view changes in the novel, which occur chapter to chapter. I found this extremely effective with these novels. These unabridged editions also contain material read by Orson Scott Card, explaining the origins of the novels.

Ender’s Game takes place after a war between Earth and a race of aliens called “The Buggers” by most of humanity. Earth was saved during that war by the decisions of a brilliant military man named Mazer Rackham. The powers that be on Earth decide that the Buggers are definitely going to return, and immediately start searching for the next military genius. Ender Wiggin, 6 years old, is a boy they think might be the one.

Speaker for the Dead is a completely different kind of novel, both in subject matter and tone. Ender Wiggin is now a bit older, but still reeling from events in the previous novel. He visits a planet named Lusitania, where mysteries abound among the indigenous alien race on the planet and one particular family that studies them.

Both of these audiobooks are first-rate. The narrators do an excellent job telling the stories, which translate very well into unabridged audio. Though tastes certainly vary, Ender’s Game is consistently mentioned as one of the finest works of science fiction, and this audio version is an excellent way to experience it, or re-experience it.

Both of these audiobooks are available on audio cassette, audio CD, or for download at Audible.com.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Wind from a Burning Woman by Greg Bear

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Wind from a Burning Woman by Greg BearThe Wind from a Burning Woman
By Greg Bear; Read by George Guidall and Christina Moore
7 Cassettes – 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: 1992
ISBN: 1556907672
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Terrorism / Asteroids / Metaphysics / Religion / Utopia / Dystopia / Future City / Cloning / Aliens

This superior anthology collects several early Greg Bear stories. The narrators, George Guidall and Christina Moore, guide us skillfully through Bear’s dense prose and do so with obvious relish. This collection features only top-notch stories — any single tale alone would be sufficient evidence that Bear is a future Grandmaster of science fiction and fantasy. Bear’s later novels occasionally suffer from a density that makes reading difficult. Very little of this is evident in this collection. The stories are generally clear in the telling, and where they are not, the confusion is brief. The wholly original and infinitely interesting ideas contained within each story make worthwhile any brief confusion of style.

The Wind from a Burning Woman, the title story, was later to serve as a prequel to Bear’s novel Eon, and describes the possible consequences of the ultimate act of terrorism.

The White Horse Child is an great allegory about a curious young boy who will grow up to become a writer. Written in a style that owes a debt to Clifford D. Simak, this pastoral fantasy story is an instant classic. Petra is a very unusual fantasy tale, its religious theme tackles the hard boiled consequences of taking certain biblical prophecies events as actual future events. So brilliantly does it achieve originality it reminds us why Greg Bear is so exceedingly interesting to read.

Scattershot is my personal favorite in this collection. Its sheer inventiveness and exploration of the consequences of metaphysical physics makes it a fascinating listen.

Mandala is an almost satiric examination of the far end of the curve of utopian ideals. It could almost be thought of as Greg Bear’s take on Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars.

Hardfought is a Hugo-winning novella that follows the viewpoints of both the aliens and the humans in their interstellar war. It could be considered Greg Bear’s take on Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. In order to fight their battle, humans have adapted in strange ways. It’s an absolutely fascinating read.

Stories included:
The Wind from a Burning Woman
The entire crew of Psyche, an asteroid turned into a spaceship, is murdered. Giani, the granddaughter of the project’s administrator commandeers the spaceship in an attempt to uncover the truth.

The White Horse Child
An odd allegory about a boy becoming a writer. God fearing, book burning, censoring Auntie Dancer tries to stop a child from becoming a storyteller.

Petra
“God is Dead”, when stone comes alive after reality rearranges itself. Petra is a half-caste, a lowly figure in the world of the cathedral. His father was a living statue, his mother a human nun.

Scattershot
Francis Geneva finds herself allied with a robotic Russian teddy bear after her starship has an accident. She and her new companion are forced to explores the consequences of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. In a reality where every possibility exists coping can be quite stressful. Sometimes the aliens are from Earth.

Mandala
In order to become perfect the sentient cities of Earth cast off their final flaw, the problem causing people. Mandala explores a future where mankind has reverted to a stone age existence after losing access to their technology.

Hardfought
Insular aliens known as the Sylexy are at war with humanity, in an attempt to understand their strange enemy they capture and clone a human soldier.

Review of Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

SFFaudio Review

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
Themes: Science Fiction / Politics / War / Military / Spaceships

“The historians can’t seem to settle whether to call this one ‘The Third Space War’ (or the fourth), or whether ‘The First Interstellar War’ fits better. We just call it ‘The Bug War.’ Everything up to then and still later were ‘incidents,’ ‘patrols’ or ‘police actions.’ However, you are just as dead if you buy the farm in an ‘incident’ as you are if you buy it in a declared war…”
-excerpt from Starship Troopers

Written fewer than 15 years after the end of World War II, Starship Troopers (originally titled “Starship Soldier” for its first incarnation in Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine’s Oct & Nov issues of 1959) was to have been another of Heinlein’s beloved juvenile novels. Its content and far-reaching exploration of the society made it instead into the classic of hard science fiction it has become.

Starship Troopers won of the Hugo Award for 1959. It is the story of Juan “Johnny” Rico, recent high school graduate and new recruit to the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic paratrooper force which only takes the best. Just as Juan is ready to wash-out in shame, war is declared, and it’s up to Rico and the Roughnecks to mop up a little bug problem. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings inspired hundreds of novels and revitalized modern fantasy storytelling. Similarly, Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers probably influenced more Science Fiction readers than any other novel of the last half of the 20th century. Spawning more imitators than was probably wise and even inspiring a whole sub genre of Science Fiction called “Military SF”. As with The Lord of the Rings the original inspired so many imitators for a good reason. It was a REALLY REALLY GOOD READ! Starship Troopers is spectacular SF. Semper mobilius.

The Recorded Books version.
Read by George Wilson
7 Cassettes – 9.75 hours, UNABRIDGED
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date Published: 1998

Its cover features original commisioned art, the library binding, available for additional cost, is of the durable vinyl clamshell type which makes for attractive and secure storage of tapes. Unlike the Blackstone Audiobooks version, there is very little extra material in the introduction and this is a disappointment. But, in its favor, it does include every word of the text and for that I am very pleased. In comparison to the superb Blackstone Audiobooks narration read by the gifted Lloyd James, George Wilson stacks up quite well, reading with obvious gusto. But if you were to twist my arm I’d still have to say in this case the Recorded Books edition is the lesser of the two.

The Blackstone Audiobooks version.
Read by Lloyd James
7 Cassettes – 9.75 hours, UNABRIDGED

Like all of Blackstone’s productions this one comes in a library style clamshell binding, which makes for attractive and secure storage of tapes. Its cover features the handsome art from 1987 ACE paperback release (the signature cover). And this superb production includes every single word in the book, including the teaser back cover, something I regard as akin to a necessary extra.

Lloyd James is terrific as the narrator, able to infuse his voice with the wide-eyed innocence of Rico and gruffness of Sgt. Zim. James’ is a voice you can count on, and this is an absolutely fabulous audiobook, and to my ears, the definitive version. So come on you apes pop a tape in and get listnin’.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Bonus:

Starship Troopers #LEGOized by me

LEGO Starship Troopers