Audiobook Review: 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden

6 05 2013

Zombob2ZAM

2013 Zombie Awareness Month

21st Century Dead edited by Christopher Golden (Check out the Full Story Listing After the Review)

Read by Scott Brick, Cassandra Campbell, Bernadette Dunne, Paul Michael Garcia, Kirby Heyborne, Malcolm Hillgartner, Chris Patton, John Pruden, Renée Raudman, Stefan Rudnicki, Sean Runnette, Simon Vance, and Tom Weiner

Blackstone Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Zombie Anthology

Quick Thoughts: 21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. Some of the top tales come from new to me authors like Mark Morris and Amber Benson with a special shout out to Chelsea Cain. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts

Grade: B+

So, I was thinking about a good way to explain an excellent and diverse Zombie anthology, because I know the concept is so complex that it needs explaining, and the phrase that popped into my head was “Zombie Smorgasbord.” Oh, boy. When I was in high school, back in what some people refer to as “the 90’s” or what many of my fellow bloggers may call “before I was born” I worked for a now defunct Buffet restaurant. I started as a dishwasher, worked my way up to pots and eventually became a skilled line cook. I never made it out of the kitchen of course because, as my boss at the time explained it, “You have a face for back of the kitchen work.” Back then, I really wasn’t that into Zombie lit. It would be about another 12 years until I read Brian Keene’s The Rising and became a huge Zombie fan. Yet, it was about the time I was working my way through The Stand, and Swan Song for like the third time each, and I totally thought that working at this Buffet would give me a leg up when it came time to load up on supplies for that cross country apocalyptic road trip. So, where was I… oh yeah…? Zombie Smorgasbord. So, when this phrase popped into my mind, so too did wonderful variety of images. I pictured a bunch of Zombies shuffling past a serving table full of entrails, brains and a variety of limbs. I see a plainly decorated establishment where a zombie works the carving station, carving [insert grotesque image here]. I see stalls full of zombies available for the choosing, carefully managed by the FIFO system where the nastiest maggot infested zombies are at the front and the fresher, nearly human looking zombies are in the back. You see, this illustrates my point, a good Zombie anthology is full of a variety of awesome and disturbing, but mostly awesomely disturbing stories for our twisted flavorful brains.

21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology edited by Christopher Golden full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. This anthology is packed full of some of my favorite authors including Brian Keene, Jonathon Maberry and Thomas E. Sniegoski, some authors I have always wanted to read including SG Browne, Amber Benson and Duane Swierczynski and new to me authors that I must now check out like Ken Bruen, Mark Morris and Stephen Susco. So, now onto the stories. The anthology started out with an intriguing tale of a society adapting to a world with zombies called Biters by Mark Morris. It was a wonderful start to the anthology and put me in the right mind. Then it hit me in the head with a creepy and a bit sardonic poem by Chelsea Cain which, along with the performance of the narrator Cassandra Campbell was one of the highlights of this audiobook. Since there were about 20 tales in all, I won’t mention them all, but for there’s something here from all zombie fans. There are more traditional Zombie Outbreak tales like Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry, Couch Potato by Brian Keene and The Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen, some interesting twists on the undead like Devil Dust by Caitlin Kittredge, Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski and Tender as Teeth by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynsk, and some really bizarre tales like The Drop by Stephen Susco, Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson and Carousel by Orson Scott Card.  Sadly, not all the tales were winners. Two of bigger draws for this anthology, Kirt Sutter and Daniel H. Wilson were a bit of a disappointment. I thought Sutter’s tale was simply bizarre, and not in a good way, and while Wilson’s tale, which takes place in the world he created in Robopocalypse, started off well, it lost its way. Yet, most of these tales were a lot of fun. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts.

Like the author list, 21st Century Dead was a mix of narrators, many of whom I am familiar with, while others I have wanted to experience for a while. As I said earlier, Cassandra Campbell’s reading of “Why Mothers Let Their Babies Watch Television: A Just-So Horror Story” was delightful and my favorite moment along the way. Scott Brick’s reading of The Drop creeped me out, making a strange story just a bit stranger. It was nice to once again listen to Tom Weiner read a Jonathan Maberry tale. Really, this anthology was just full of excellent performances, including tales read by Chris Patton, Bernadette Dunne, Simon Vance and Paul Michael Garcia. It was a little interesting to hear Sean Runnette reading a non-Tufo Zombie tale, but the story was perfect for his sense of humor. The biggest kudos for this production must go to whoever cast the audiobook. Blackstone did an excellent job placing just the right narrator with the right story.

FULL STORY LISTING

Zombies are good for you: an introduction by Christopher Golden
Biters by Mark Morris
Why mothers let their babies watch television : a just-so horror story by Chelsea Cain
Carousel by Orson Scott Card
Reality bites by S.G. Browne
Drop by Stephen Susco
Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson
How we escaped our certain fate by Dan Chaon
Mother’s love by John McIlveen
Down and out in dead town by Simon R. Green
Devil dust by Caitlin Kittredge
Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen
All the comforts of home : a beacon story by John Skipp, Cody Goodfellow
Ghost dog & pup : stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Tic boom : a slice of love by Kurt Sutter
Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry
Tender as teeth by Stephanie Crawford, Duane Swierczynski
Couch potato by Brian Keene
Happy bird and other tales by Rio Youers
Parasite by Daniel H. Wilson

Note: Special Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





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 Week Discussion, Day 2: Sound Effects and Narrators

7 06 2011

From Devourer of Books, our host for Audiobook week, comes this topic for the day.

Tuesday: Sound Effects in Audiobooks
Love them? Hate them? Take them or leave them? How do you feel about sound effects in audiobooks?
Alternate suggestions: Single narrator vs. multiple narrators vs. full cast, audio dramatizations, etc.

Here is my simple answer: Do what is appropriate for the book.

I think there are a lot of things a Audiobook Producer must decide when putting together an audiobook. My suggestion, when deciding on things like sound effects, and multiple narrators. Will the use of these tools enhance the listening experience.

One of my pet peeves in television is what I call “idiot music.” “Idiot music” is the score playing in the background that let’s you know who is good, who is bad and when something suspenseful happens. I will often joke with a friend while watching a show, whenever ominous music begins to play, I will say, “Oh, I think something bad is about to happen.”

I do not like sound effects for sound effects sake. For example, the sounds of gunshots, of tires screeching and of sirens. I find them to be nothing more than a distraction. I know what a gunshot sounds like, you don’t need to remind me.

As far as mood music, unless it is pertinent to the plot, trust your narrator. A good narrator, appropriately cast, shouldn’t need help in setting the mood.

 

Now, the issues of multiple narrators. I do not mind when more than one narrator works on a project, each one taking a different POV. I do not like alternating dialogue between narrators. I have never actually heard it sound natural. To me, it sound like two actors reading lines in a studio. There are a lot of problems with using multiple narrators. A big one is when the POV’s intertwine, peripheral characters voices will change. For this reason, I go back to my initial rule, does the using of multiple narrators enhance the audiobook.

Some audiobooks which I have enjoyed multiple narrators:

Orson Scott Card’s Ender Games series, as well as many of his other novels makes excellent use of multiple narrators.

 

Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW series also has excellent narration, from multiple narrators, including a brilliant performance by Jessica Almasy.

 

Today’s Audiobook Week Posts:

Scroll up, and you can read today’s discussion post.

I will be posting my review of Paul McEuen’s Spiral, narrated by Rob Shapiro from Random House Audio.

Another interview special. I will post my interviews with both the Author, Madeleine Roux, and the narrator, Piper Goodeve, of the excellent audiobook Allison Hewitt is Trapped: A Zombie Novel. These are two of my favorite interviews.





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.