Review of The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Vor Game by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Vor Game
By Lois McMaster Bujold; Read by Grover Gardner
9 CDs – Approx. 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 9780786178308
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Military / Espionage /

I’ve listened to several space operas lately. Sometimes it works out that way when reviewing science fiction audio, no matter how eclectic I try to be in my listening. So, I approached this with a bit of a sigh, expecting more of the same. I should have known better, though, because Lois McMaster Bujold is one heck of a fine storyteller, and Grover Gardner is a fine reader, too. The Vor Game showed me how good space opera can be. It doesn’t take itself seriously, the characters are people you’d like to meet, the situations (and their resolutions) are plausible, and, only because you care enough about the characters, exciting.

The Vor Game is one of a series of books collectively called The Vorkosigan Saga. Technically, this Hugo Award-winning book is the fourth in the series, but each stands alone. It starts with Miles Vorkosigan, the son of the famous Count Vorkosigan and subject of most of the Vorkosigan novels, graduating from the Barrayaran military academy. He’s anticipating an assignment in all sorts of interesting places, but he lands a spot as a weatherman in a frozen northern training base. An infantry training base no less – something for which his short stature (from genetic damage suffered by his mother while pregnant with Miles) is simply not built. And it all goes downhill from there in a story that spans this frozen tundra to the depths of space, and includes ensigns and emperors. The characters are very witty, especially Miles.

Grover Gardner is an excellent reader. He is not a flamboyant dramatic reader, but a precise steady reader with a very pleasant voice. I enjoy his performances, like I did this one.

Blackstone Audio is going to publish more of the Vorkosigan titles – the next in line is The Warrior’s Apprentice. Looking forward to it!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Arbiter Chronicles: Series 1

Audio Theater - The Arbiter ChroniclesThe Arbiter Chronicles: Series 1: Episode 1: Mutiny Springs Eternal
Written and Directed by Steven H. Wilson; Performed by a full cast
1 CD – 50 Minutes [Audio Drama]
Publisher: Prometheus Radio Theatre
Published: 2003
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera /

Centuries from now, humankind has colonized hundreds of worlds. Terra, humanity’s home, is a slum in the war zone, its people shunned by the genetically engineered elite whose ancestors were driven from its surface to settle the stars. Against the invasion of the evil Qraitian Empire. , the colonies aligned themselves in a loose, squabbling confederacy of worlds. The strongest weapon in their arsenal is a space navy which has held back the Qraitian threat for decades. Jan Atal, celebrated veteran of the last Qraitian War, found himself a teacher in a time of peace. Now he has assembled his most promising students aboard the patrol ship Arbiter. There he makes them ready, for in his heart he knows that this peace can not last.
— Introduction to The Arbiter Chronicles by Steven H. Wilson

This is the first installment of a space opera audio drama series called The Arbiter Chronicles. As of this writing, the eight episodes of Series 1 have been produced, as have the first five episodes of Series 2. All them are available at Prometheus Radio Theatre.

In the booklet that came with the CD, Steven H. Wilson, the writer/director of the program, says that The Arbiter Chronicles is a space opera that had been kicking around in his head for quite a while, and then an opportunity at a convention in Baltimore allowed him some time to put together a live performance of this drama on the main stage. The crowd liked it, so he started to produce them for sale on CD.

The drama itself is definitely entertaining and is in the tradition of Star Trek. The Arbiter is a military vessel modeled after the modern day Navy. The crew is mostly human, but includes some alien crew members like Midshipman Cernaq, who is from the planet of Phaeton. The story begins when the crew of the Arbiter discovers an old starship. The ship still works, and its crew is still on the planet below.

My only complaint is that there are too many info dump moments – moments when one character explains something to another character. The content of these conversations were very intriguing, and some of them could have made good stories in and of themselves.

The production quality is very good, with music and sound effects throughout. It’s interesting, entertaining audio theater.

Cast
Captain Jan Atal – David Keefer
Midshipman Terry Metcalfe – Steven H. Wilson
Midshipman Kevin Carson – Scott D. Farquhar
Midshipman Cernaq – Dan “Renfield” Corcoran
Midshipman Kayan’na Atal – Beatrice Kondo
Bos’n Aer’la – June Swords
Dr. Celia Faulkner – Cindy Shockey
L’lanck / Admiral Fournier / Announcer – Paul Balzc
Trace Stockard – Renee Wilson
Dr. Andrews – Andrew Bergstrom
Dawson – John Weber
Guards – Cindy Woods, John Weber

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Scattered Suns: The Saga of the Seven Suns Book 4 by Kevin J. Anderson

Science Fiction Audiobook - Scattered Suns by Kevin J. AndersonScattered Suns: The Saga of the Seven Suns Book 4
By Kevin J. Anderson, Read by David Colacci
17 CDs, 20 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
ISBN:
Pub Date: 2005
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / War / Aliens / Space Travel /

I made up what I thought was the science fiction equivalent to a Robert Jordan epic. It’s a huge galactic war with several alien races, lots of politics, characters that are all up and down the spectrum from kings to slimebucket used spaceship salesmen.
— Kevin J. Anderson, on Hour 25 – click here to listen

Scattered Suns is Book 4 of Kevin J. Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns series, which is currently projected to be six books long. Kevin J. Anderson’s website describes the series as “An epic science fiction series by Kevin J. Anderson in the vein of
Frank Herbert’s Dune and Robert Jordan’s popular Wheel of Time books.” It’s grand space opera; complex and broad.

The first three volumes of this series are available on audio from Recorded Books, but they are not absolutely required to enjoy Scattered Suns. At the beginning of this audiobook is a “The Story So Far” section that lasts about 20 minutes. Because the story (and therefore the introduction) is so complex, I listened to it twice before moving into the novel, and it was time well-spent.

In the novel, humanity has gathered into three branches: the Terran Hanseatic League (based on Earth), the telepathic Green Priests (on the planet Theroc), and the starship-dwelling Roamers. True to humanity, these groups are not fond of each other and fight often.

There are also alien races. The Ildrians are an old race that was thought harmless until becoming hostile to humans. The Klikiss, who are extinct, left robots and machines behind. The Hydrogues are aliens that live in gas giants; the Faeros live in suns, and the Wentals are water creatures.

This volume starts right after the destruction of some key Roamer targets by the EDF (Earth Defense Force). Anderson succeeds in what he was trying to do – the book has several storylines moving at once. The characters do range from kings to paupers with lots of folks in-between, and the individual scenes range from epic battles to intimate moments between people. The only thing I’ve experienced recently that compares to it is the television series Babylon 5 which was a similar type of story.

David Colacci is a narrator with superior talent. I don’t recall having heard him before, but I will be very pleased when I encounter him again. His smooth voice and engaging character skills made experiencing this book a real pleasure.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Icarus Hunt By Timothy Zahn

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Icarus Hunt by Timothy ZahnThe Icarus Hunt
By Timothy Zahn; Read by Jonathan Marosz
9 Cassettes – Approx. 12 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books On Tape Inc.
Published: 1999
ISBN: 0736649573
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Mystery / Galactic Civilization / Aliens /

From Timothy Zahn, Hugo Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of two landmark Star Wars® series, comes an original new tale featuring a renegade space pilot, his unusual alien partner, and an unknown cargo that can change the course of galactic history.

Captain Jordan McKell, and his alien partner, Ixil, incautiously agree to fly The Icarus and its special cargo to Earth. The Icarus turns out to be an unusual ship containing a ragtag crew and a secret cargo that everybody in the Spiral seems to want to get their hands on. Things look tough but get worse, when they discover one of the crew’s been murdered and that there’s a saboteur aboard.

The Icarus Hunt is more science fantasy than science fiction. Set in a universe very similar to that of Star Wars, it’s also a novel firmly planted in that tradition of smugglers and space jockeys eluding powerful governments, with plenty of aliens, gunfights and seedy spaceports. If you’re in the mood for old-fashioned escapist SF, this one’s definitely for you. Myself, I enjoyed the simplicity of the tale, which is told entirely from one character’s perspective, but with enough curves to keep it interesting. Timothy Zahn wrote a few Star Wars novels, so he’s got the chops for this, but unlike with those novels, Zahn is able to build his own universe instead of just riding on the coattails of the first three movies. Zahn himself has described The Icarus Hunt as “Star Wars meets Alastair McLean”, and he’s telling the truth. The protagonist is a human that’ll remind you of the Han Solo/Lando Calrissian type, the good hearted rogue, and the plot has enough double-crossing to make you think you’re watching Where Eagles Dare or Ice Station Zebra. This isn’t deep material but it’s engaging. The worst sin it commits is in its length, its just a tad long for the plot material.

Jonathon Marosz uses more than a dozen voices and his reading is spot on. The viewpoint character is, as I stated before, a Han Solo type, and Marosz could definitely pinch hit for Harrision Ford in a minute. The cover art for this one is taken from the Bantam books paperback, and looks great. Production values are excellent, sound quality is perfect, though it has no extras at all. A solid reading of a solid space adventure.

Posted by Jesse Willis