Audiobook Review: Wild Cards Vol. 2: Aces High edited by George R. R. Martin

7 02 2012

Wild Cards Vol. 2: Aces High edited by George R. R. Martin

With Stories by Lewis Shiner, Walter Jon Williams, Roger Zelazny, Walton Simmons, George R. R. Martin. Melinda M. Snodgrass, Victor Milan, Pat Cadigan, and John J. Miller

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 49 Min

Gene: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Wild Cards Vol.2:Aces High is an excellent science fiction tale that should please fans of Super Hero fiction. Despite the lackluster ending, the road there is full of adventure, engaging characters, and a whole lot of fun,

Grade: B

The concept of shared world anthologies has always intrigued me. That writers of all shapes would come together, and work in the same world, with overlapping characters and storylines was something I found quite cool. Yet, I have only really read a few of these types of stories. Eric Flint’s 1963 world, where a small West Virginian town is transported back in time to a Europe during the 100 Years War, offers some collaborative novels, and some short story anthologies, many of the writers discovered on Flint’s Fan Fiction website. Robert Aspirin’s Thieves World was a shared world fantasy series that put out 7 official novels and included the work of authors such as John Brunner, Poul Anderson and CJ Cherryh. Yet, my favorite shared world anthology has always been George RR Martin’s Wild Card series. Wild Cards is about a virus that was unleashed onto earth by a humanoid alien species as a test to see if it would create psionic powers. This virus wreaked havoc on Earths population, killing many, causing grotesque deformities among other, while a small percentage of those infected become Aces, people with true super powers. I read a few of the Wild Card books back in my high school days, and recently listened to the newly released version of the initial anthology. The first novel was mainly a series of short stories, most of which are origin tales of Aces, and the early days of the initial outbreak of the Wild Card Virus.

Wild Cards Vol. 2: Aces High, is a more coherent novel than the original. It is not just a shared universe, but sets up a common plot which each author then adds to. Aces High follows three interwoven threads, a dark off shoot of the Masons are attempting to collect alien artifacts to call an ancient evil to earth, an alien swarm, controlled by a hive mother has attacked earth and while all this is happening, the original alien species who released the Wild Card virus has returned to earth, with the intention of collecting the Aces, who they see as the successes of their experiments. Each of these tales is interwoven into the narrative, with different Aces taking differing roles in the drama. This story is well told, and many of our favorite characters return, including The Great and Powerful Turtle, Dr. Tachyon, and Furtunato. Interspersed between the main stories is the tale of Jube, a Walrus like alien hiding out in Joker town whose odd features fits right in with the deformities of the Wild Card victims. Jube is in many ways the heart of the story, and the thread that pulls it all together. My favorite story of the group is Unto the Sixth Generation by Walter Jon Williams. This story introduces my favorite character of the novel, Modular Man, a sentient Android who is conflicted by his desire to help humanity, and his loyalty to his increasingly sociopathic creator. I felt that the first half of Aces High was excellent, yet, as the novel progressed, it didn’t hold my attention as well, and I found the concluding moments a bit on the lackluster side. While I appreciated the more coherent story, I felt the novel itself lacked some of the things I loved about the original anthology especially the blending of the historical with the fantastic, and the dystopian feel to much of the novel. Yet, all together Aces High is an excellent science fiction tale that should please fans of Super Hero fiction. Despite the lackluster ending, the road there is full of adventure, engaging characters, and a whole lot of fun.

Luke Daniels again narrates this tale, and does his usual excellent job. His full range of voices is again put to the test. He creates many memorable characters with his voice, from the almost goofy Jube, to the conflicted, not quite human Modular Man, and a plethora of others. At times, there were so many characters coming at you, with minor players appearing at surprising moments, that it could be hard to keep track, but Daniel’s does a good job creating memorable voices that helped the reader stay focused. Although, at times I wish I had a character roster available just to remember who each character was, especially during the finale of the tale. Any problem I had with the novel definitely was not due to the performance of Luke Daniels, in fact, he made the experience of listening to this often confusing tale pleasurable.

Note: A special thanks to the good people of Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Wild Cards Volume 1 edited by George R. R. Martin

8 11 2011

Wildcards: Volume 1 edited by George R. R. Martin with stories by Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Michael Cassutt, David D. Levine, George R. R. Martin, Victor Milan, Edward Bryant, Leanne C. Harper, Stephen Leigh, Carrie Vaughn, and John J. Miller

Read by Luke Daniels

Brilliance Audio

Length: 19 Hrs

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Wild Cards is a wonderful shared world anthology, using elements of classic superhero tales, alternative history, and apocalyptic fiction to create a fascinating tableau for its writers to play in. It is full of memorable characters and rich in historical perspective and  despite containing many cautionary tales and tackling sensitive yet important issues, it is also rollicking good fun.

Grade: A-

Before there was The 4400, Heroes, or Alphas there was Wild Cards, a shared world anthology series about an alien virus that transformed people it touched, turning some into grotesque monsters while giving other extra-human abilities. It’s very easy to simply call Wild Cards an anthology about super heroes, but you miss a lot of the point of the series if you label it that way. Superheroes have been a staple of the American mythos for a long time, appearing in comic books, movies and television series. Superheroes were often used as propaganda tools during World War, when America was fighting against the evils of extreme nationalism of the Axis powers. Superheroes were symbols, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. We never really saw these heroes as humans, as real people.  Yet, in George R. R Martin’s Wild Card Series, we have something more. The Wild Card virus, released by an alien race as an experiment, did more than just give people convenient super powers to help them fight crime. The vast majority of those who come into contact with the virus are killed, while a smaller percentage are turned into Jokers, a deforming or crippling mutation that turns them into a freak often ostracized by society. The last, smallest percentage retains their human form, but are given some enhanced power, like telekinesis or shape shifting. Some powers are completely trivial, these people are called Deuces, while others become more like traditional superheroes, called Aces.  This division between Jokers and Aces is one of the things that makes The Wild Card series different from most superhero tales.

This new version of Wild Cards, originally published in 1987, has added some new stories, but the main feel remains the same. The early part of this novel works more as an alternate history tale then pure science fiction. The authors of these tales use this altered world to expose many of the flaws of our society, and many of the historical mistakes we made. In perhaps my favorite tale, Witness by Walter Jon Williams, Williams tells the tale of the Rise and Fall of the Four Aces, set against the paranoid Witch Hunts of McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities committee. Another strong tale, Strings by Stephen Leigh, tackles xenophobia in an examination of the Joker’s Rights movement, and its manipulation by politicians. Other writers take on such topics as Eugenics, War, racism, feminism, vigilantism, crime, sexual abuse, and many others. Yet, it’s not all soap box preaching and allegory. Wild Cards is full of brilliant character and exciting action. Being the first book of the anthology, we are flush with great origins tales of wonderfully memorable characters like The Great and Powerful Turtle, and Croyd, aka The Sleeper. Of the three new stories, Powers by David Levine, a Cold War era spy thriller, was my favorite, fitting in perfectly to the feel of the original novel. Powers is the perfect example of what I loved about this audiobook, it takes an iconic moment in 20th century American History, and gives is a spin, looking at it from the changed perspective of the altered world. Wild Cards is a wonderful anthology, using elements of classic superhero tales, alternative history, and apocalyptic fiction to create a fascinating tableau for its writers to play in. It is full of memorable characters and rich in historical perspective and despite containing many cautionary tales and tackling sensitive yet important issues, it is also rollicking good fun.

I was a bit surprised by when I first discovered that Wild Cards was being released as an audiobook that the producers were going with a single narrator, yet, it made sense when I discovered that the narrator would be Luke Daniels. This world of historical figures, freakish monsters, and powerful new heroes should be a playground for a narrator, and Daniels takes full advantage of it. I love that fact that Daniels grounded his reading in a subtle narrative tone that gave the audiobook a comic book feel without ever crossing the line into cartoonish. Daniels seemed to have a lot of fun with his characterizations, which makes sense, how often do you get to voice characters like these, Jokers with animal like features, angry dwarves, Hollywood execs, and real life politicians. Daniels brought the world of the Wild Card virus alive for me, bringing authentic voices to its denizens and infusing it all with his steady, pleasing narrative voice. Brilliance has a winner with this series, Vol, 2 is set to be released in December, and hopefully we’ll see the rest of the series brought to life as well.


Note: A special thanks to the good people at Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title to review.

Audiobook Review: A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin

26 07 2011

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin

Read by Roy Dotrice

Random House Audio

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Despite major issues with Dotrice’s narration, A Dance with Dragons is an engrossing fantasy tale that is sure to fascinate and frustrate fans as only George R. R. Martin can do.

Grade B+


One of the things I like most about being an audiobook blogger is my chance to introduce my readers to some hidden gems of the literary world. Often, in the fast paced digital world with big name releases coning every week, a worthy book may fall into the cracks. It us up to us, the amateur marketers of the products we like to get the word out through blogging, word of mouth, and if possible, mind control. Sometimes our voices, or lack of them, can help make or break a worthy product. I recently had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook version of genre author George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. For those of you who may not have heard of this book, it is the long awaited fifth novel in the author’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. A Song of Ice and Fire is a quite intricate epic fantasy with thematic elements influenced by medieval wars like The War of the Roses. The series is quite a hefty undertaking, with many of the books coming close or surpassing 1000 pages with hundreds of characters to keep track of. I am usually not a huge fan of sword and sorcery fantasies, and that is one of the reasons I ended up giving this series a chance. While magic does play a role, it is not as prevalent as in many other fantasy series. You don’t have wizards running around solving all the problems of the world like some Deus ex machina. In fact, problems are rarely solved and the magical elements of this series tend to muddle the issues further. And I for one enjoy the muddling.

A Dance with Dragons is the follow up to A Feast for Crows, which many fans consider the weakest novel in the series. In Feast, Martin focused mostly on the internal maneuverings of Westeros, particularly of King’s Landing and the Lannisters. Because of this focus, many of the favorite characters, who exploits are on the edges or out of the Seven Kingdoms, were left out. In A Dance with Dragons those characters were back with a vengeance.  It was great reuniting with such characters as Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen. Now, for me, since I decided to go into the story cold without any sort of reread, it took me a little bit of time to remember some of the situations and many of the minor characters. I think there is a certain mindset a reader of this series needs to be in, and initially I wasn’t in it, for various reasons, but eventually the pure power of the storytelling brought me back into the right mood. Martin is such a powerful storyteller, that any bit of confusion or distraction is eventually remedied by the power of his world. A  Dance with Dragons is a beautifully told story, but that is what we have come to expect, yet it is also highly frustrating. The frustration isn’t a bad thing, the frustration comes from these characters that we have grown to embrace, making poor decisions, and digging themselves into more and more holes. It seems that any player in this drama, no matter how big or small eventually gets sucked into the game of thrones, even those who should know better. They know that each step is perilous, yet they continue to walk straight towards the fire. No one in this book is left unscathed. No ones life becomes better when they become involved in the politics of kings. Martin spends a lot of time setting up the pieces in the novel. While overall the story doesn’t progress as much as many fans would have liked, the epic showdowns are all in place. The true proof of Martin’s gift as a story teller is that the set up is just as fascinating as the payoff.

I have to give credit to Random House Audio, the producer of the audiobook version of A Dance with Dragons for hearing the voice of the fans that were disappointed with the narrator change, and wanted Roy Dotrice back. I for one read the dead tree versions of the previous novels, and really had no horse in the race. Now, after nearly fifty hours of 15 year old girls sounding like old Scottish wenches, I for one, wish the John Lee continued on as narrator. In the initial hours of the novel, when I should have been getting reimmersed into the Martin’s world, I was trying to find a way to embrace Dotrice’s reading. I never really was able to accept it, yet luckily Martin’s story was able to grab me enough where I could overlook it. Personally, I never understood the need to have a British actor narrate this series, or many other series with a medieval setting. I prefer someone with a crisp narrative style, and a gift for characterization, whether British, American, or heck, even French. With Dotrice, all his characters contained the base elements of his distinct accent, making many of them sound the same. This made it difficult to follow multi-character dialogues, as well as differentiate between a characters internal and external voice. What made matters worse was his character’s voices often were not appropriate to the character’s age, and often even gender. Yet, with all my complaints about the narration, I have to say that a lot of credit must go to Martin for creating a story that allowed me to overlook these problems and enjoy the listen.