Audiobook Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

27 07 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Read by Emily Janice Card

Random House Audio

Length: 9 Hrs and 3 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The Age of Miracles isn’t an easy ride. Karen Thompson Walker’s slow boil apocalypse is a melancholy, almost anti-coming of age tale that is equal parts gripping and frustrating. While it left me ultimately unsatisfied and uneasy, the path to this final destination was lavishly and intricately created.

Grade: B-

2013 Audie Nomination for Science Fiction

When it comes to the end of the world, sometimes I prefer the whimper. So much of the Post Apocalyptic fiction I read in my younger years where all about the bang. A plague, bomb, alien invasion or killer asteroid comes along and instantly wipes out billions upon billions of our fellow inhabitance of Earth. I think with the invention of nuclear bombs, the idea of instant annihilation seemed more probable. Yet, as more and more we begin to realize that gradual causes are more of a threat to ending us as a species then a sudden jolt, it’s being reflected in our fiction. With ecological, political, social, economic and scientific issues cropping up in our newspapers on a daily basis, there is almost a feeling that we are amidst a slow boil apocalypse, only waiting for the last catalyst to drop. I think handling this idea properly is one of the toughest tasks of the apocalyptic author. When the apocalypse is cut and dry, we can get right to the roving bandits, looting and rise of demagogues. Yet, when the issues are murky, it’s tough to find the line between a normal regression of society and an apocalypse. When do the people really begin to realize that this is the end? When the prices of gas skyrocket? When food and electricity become uncertain commodities? At some point there has to be a point of no return, and it’s important for an author taking on a slow boil apocalypse to define that moment for the characters of their tale.

In Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, the earth’s rotation begins to slow, incrementally extending the day. For 11 year old Julia, the announcement of The Slowing is met with an almost restrained excitement. Yet, as her world begins to transform to the changing planet, Julia begins to see how the new world will affect her directly. As society begins to shift, Julia’s quiet observations serves as our guide, giving us an intimate tour through the evolution of mankind as they deal with their potential demise. Walker has created a fascinating tableau for her often moody tale of the end of the world. There is definite melancholy tone and our preteen protagonist displays her life in a series of lasts. With many coming of age tales, which The Age of Miracles echoes, we see a series of firsts, the first kiss, the first job, the first taste of independence, yet with Julia, despite experiencing firsts, her story focuses on her lasts, the last time seeing a friend, the last time eating a grape. This contrast is striking and heartbreaking, and makes the reader want to really feel for the character. Yet, for me, it was hard at times to really place Julia’s voice. I think part of this was due to the fact it was future Julia telling the tale of 11 year old Julia, and this makes it hard to translate between her initial perspectives, and those filtered through times. This gives Julia an ageless quality that blunts some of the effectiveness of her tale of loneliness, young love, and naive innocence.  Also, Walker has a tendency for foreshadowing that never really pays off. She mentions certain initiatives and alludes to actions being taken, yet they seem to fall to the wayside, never to be explored again. While his makes some sense on a sociological level, in a society where many people just seem to give up, on a plotting level, it often became frustrating for me as a reader. Yet, despite these problems, Walker managed to keep me mesmerized with her lush prose, and melancholy tone. While I didn’t totally connect with Julia, I felt connected to her world and much of my frustration came from wanting to know more. The Age of Miracles isn’t an easy ride. Karen Thompson Walker’s slow boil apocalypse is a melancholy, almost anti-coming of age tale that is equal parts gripping and frustrating. While it left me ultimately unsatisfied and uneasy, the path to this final destination was lavishly and intricately created.

One of the big reasons I choose The Age of Miracles was to experience a solo narration by Emily Janice Card. To be quite honest, Card’s vocal style isn’t especially unique. Her voice and tone are similar to many narrators doing fine work today, Yet, Cards understanding of the material and ability to make smart choices in her narration really sets her apart. Card reads The Age of Miracles with a slow, deliberate tone the echoes the gradual breakdown of Walker’s word. Card manages to make you feel for the characters she voices. You can hear Julia’s loneliness and despair, as well as the brief moments of uplift she experiences throughout the novel. Card’s reading contributes to the melancholy mood, at times giving the prose an almost dream like quality. Her performance was quite affecting. I found my mood echoing that of the characters of the novel, which is good for the novel but wasn’t necessarily good for my overall attitude. It would be hard for me to say that I loved The Age of Miracles, or even that I really enjoyed the experience, but I did find it to be a fascinating, but emotionally draining listen.

 

Note: This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse Series.





Audiobook Review: Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

19 07 2012

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (The Formic Wars, Bk. 1)

Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Stephen Hoye, Arthur Morey, Vikas Adams, Emily Janice Card, Gabrielle du Cuir, Roxanne Hernandez

Macmillan Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Earth Unaware is entertaining. full of richly developed characters and intricate world building, yet, if you are looking for an action packed military science fiction tale, you may be disappointed. Earth Unaware is a novel that can’t truly be evaluated until the next edition of the series is released, since its main purpose is the put the pieces into place, and give them just enough of a push to get them moving in the right direction.

Grade: B-

Ender’s Game and the rest of the ‘verse was one of the first audiobook series I listened to. Ender’s Game was a novel that I had been meaning to get to back when the majority of my reading was done in print, yet for some reason I never got around to it. Part of me is glad I didn’t. Ender’s Game is the type of novel that just works so well in audio. I have now listened to a lot of Orson Scott Card, some of which I love and others, well, maybe not so much, but one this is clear, his worlds translate to the audio form well. Most of Card’s work has been given the multi-narrator format. His work lends itself to this because it often combines the perspectives of a multitude of diverse characters. His POV characters are men, women and children (and sometimes other) from a variety of age groups and ethnicities and to limit the reading to one specific narrator would place a huge burden on that person. Ender’s Game itself quickly became one of my all time favorite audiobooks. In Ender’s Game, Card takes on a multitude of topics, from growing up, dealing with bullies, the horrors of war, the intensity of scholastic competition, the political transformation of war based earth, and so much more, yet each topic is handled in a way that you just wouldn’t expect. The most jarring thing about Ender’s Game is that the characters are so young. Yet, one of the things I always wanted to know more about was the actual Formic War. The War itself is basically background to the tale, and despites some hints and exposition, you don’t really know the ins and outs of it.  That’s why I was quite excited to learn that Card, along with co writer Aaron Johnston, were writing a prequel series to Ender’s Game, dealing with the war against the ant like Formic enemy.

I will say straight off, I was sort of disappointed in Earth Unaware. Not that it was a bad book, or boring or that there was anything really wrong with the tale. I was basically a victim of my own expectations. What I wanted was an action packed military science fiction account of the devastating war between humanity and the Formics. Instead, Earth Unaware is a set up novel, an intricate exorcise in world building and character development, creating the setting for what is to come.  I expected maybe an Independence Day, corny alien Invasion style opening. Now, I know enough of the backstory on the Formic War from Ender’s Game to know that any opening sequence on this scale was impossible, but I wanted some action, Alien ships attacking, people scrambling to defend themselves, that sort of thing. Instead, the story opens on a deep space mining platform in the Kuiper Belt. Card and Johnston create a fascinating culture of the mining families, and lovingly develops the characters that go on to play key roles in the tale, but, it’s nearly two thirds of the way into the 14 hour audiobook before there is any direct contact with the enemy. My other disappointment was I wanted to learn more about Mazor Rackham, yet he only makes a brief, unsatisfactory appearance in the story. So, instead of blast ‘em up, alien fighting adventure, we have a look at deep space mining culture, a tale of corporate greed, and some interesting but limited scenes of MOPs (Military Operations Police)  Training. It’s all well done, but the overall value of the book is entirely dependent on how well this set up pays off in the next tale.  Part of me wished I waited until the entire three part prequel series was released, then listened to them all at once, but, I am impatient, and Earth Unaware did enough to keep me anticipation what’s next. In fact, the ending was so well executed, and set so many interesting things in motion, my level of excitement for this series hasn’t diminished. Earth Unaware is entertaining. full of richly developed characters and intricate world building, yet, if you are looking for an action packed military science fiction tale, you may be disappointed. Earth Unaware is a novel that can’t truly be evaluated until the next edition of the series is released, since its main purpose is the put the pieces into place, and give them just enough of a push to get them moving in the right direction.

The narration for Earth Unaware is handled by seven skilled narrators each taking on a particular point of view. The majority of the narration is done by Stefan Rudnicki, Stephen Hoye, and Arthur Morey, all veteran narrators, and all put in excellent performances here. After that, I really didn’t recognize exactly who took on which of the more minor roles. I know that Emily Janice Card, Vikas Adams and Gabrielle Du Cuir had roles, but in all honesty I can’t say who did what here. Yet, all the performances worked. Of the whole, I think Hoyes performance stands out the most, since it offered the most challenges. Hoye handled the work of the mining clans, and did a excellent job. There was one other performance I believe worth mentioning. The book ends introducing a new character, I believed voiced by Roxanne Hernandez (but I could be wrong), and for me, it was a highlight of the audio production. I’m definitely hoping we see more of this character and Hernandez’s narration in the next  edition. Overall, the production worked. Each narrator brought their skills to the table, and helped create an entertaining listening experience.

Note: Special thanks to Macmillan Audio for proving me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

31 01 2011

The Lost Gate (Mithermages Book 1) by Orson Scott Card

Read by Stefan Rudniki and Emily Janice Card

Genre: Fantasy

Blackstone Audio

Quick Though: A Coming of Age tale as only Orson Scott Card can do, enhanced by excellent performances by the narrators.

Grade: B

Oh, you may have read this one before. You see, there is this boy, who isn’t well liked in his community. In fact, he is strongly, almost murderously disliked by some people quite close to him. Making matters worst, this boy has powers and abilities that set him apart from those around him and eventually cause him to have to leave the only home he ever new. Yet, this powers maybe the only thing that could save his world.  Oh, oh, and this book is written by Orson Scott Card. Any guesses? Ender’s Game… nope. The Homecoming Saga,,, wrong again. Pathfinder… three strikes and what not. Good guesses all, but in fact, this latest coming of age tale is The Lost Gates, the first book in Cards latest series, The Mithermages.

While Card may be traveling in somewhat familiar territory, he does it well, in ways that only he can. This time, our young hero Danny North is escaping the wrath of his family, descendants of the great Nordic Gods who have been slowly losing power ever since Loki closed the Gates to Westil, a planet of great importance to regenerating the power of the gods. Within the tale of The Lost Gate, Card also spends time on the Lost Planet following a fantastical tale of Castle Intrigue which eventually connects to the main story of Danny, our young, inexperienced yet powerful Gatemage, who is perhaps the only person left who can create a gate back to Westil.

The Novel comes off a bit uneven at times, yet it is a very accessible tale, with elements of a Young Adult novel, but full of adult concept so that it can be enjoyed by young and not so young alike. I also believe that, like many of Cards novels, it is enhanced by the audiobook version. Stefan Rudniki and Emily Janice Card handle to competing story line beautifully. Emily Janice Card is particularly good handling tougher material, and he pleasant yet sultry tones work well with the changing allegiances and artful deceptions of the  Courts of Westil. Rudniki as always, despite his deep voice, handles all the characters, women, men, boys and girls alike, with perfect tone and makes them all memorable.