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

7 07 2013

Earth Afire (The Formic Wars, Bk. 2)  by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

Read by Stephen Hoye, Arthur Morey, Stefan Rudnicki, Vikas Adam, Gabrielle de Cuir, Roxanne Hernandez, Emily Rankin

Macmillan Audio

Length: 15 Hrs 13 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Earth Afire had everything in it that I was hoping Earth Unaware would, alien invasions, crazy schemes, last ditch battles and lots and lots of Mazer Rackem. While the story sometimes took way too long to develop, I found it utterly enthralling and full of the action I was longing for.

Grade: A-

When I first discovered that there was going to be a prequel series to Ender’s Game. Ender’s Game is a great novel and one of my favorite science fiction novels of all time. Yet, one of the aspects that wasn’t in Ender’s Game that I really would have liked to see is direct battle between earth forces and the Formic Invaders. So, I began Earth Unaware like a giddy teenager rapidly rubbing his hands together just knowing he would be seeing big mother ships, Alien Invasions, space battles, and lots and lots of Mazer Rackem. Then, my giddy hand rubbing became slower, and slower and eventually stopped. Sure, the life of the deep asteroid mining clans was fascinating, and the power of big corporations to get away with almost anything in the lawless expanse of deep space tickled some of my latent antiestablishment genes, but where were the big battles and alien invaders. I knew they were coming, but it seemed that Earth Unaware was more of a slow burn that a supernova explosion of action. And, there was a noticeable lack of Mazer Rackem. I mean, why name a character Mazer Rackem, make him a hero of the formic war, and basically give him one small sequence in the first novel of that very war. It just didn’t seem right. Luckily, Earth Unaware was only the first of a trilogy, which meant there was certainly a lot of alien killing, space battles and Mazer Rackem to come, right? Right?

After a race to earth between a young asteroid miner and the incoming alien ship, Earth has been warned about the coming alien menace, and thinks it’s a joke. Alex Delgado has been locked up in the mental ward on the moon, waiting to be deported back to deep space. Yet, when he appeals to the last person in the universe he wants help from, inconvertible proof of the alien vessel is found, yet Earth governments still do nothing, As the Formics reach Earth, and begin their invasion, with Earth’s governments bickering among themselves, it’s up to a key group of individuals to find a way to stop this threat. Earth Afire had everything in it that I was hoping Earth Unaware would, alien invasions, crazy schemes, last ditch battles and lots and lots of Mazer Rackem. While the story sometimes took way too long to develop, I found it utterly enthralling full of the action I was longing for.. The little frustration I did feel surrounded Alex and his naiveté and whininess. Honestly, even when a character is right, he doesn’t have to go all annoyingly high pitched and whiney like “Why isn’t anyone listening to me?” as he shouts “The aliens are coming, and you can believe it because I said so!” Where the book shines is the boots on the ground scenes involving Mazer and his New Zealander team fighting in mainland China and the MOPS team breaking into China to get their hands on some aliens. It’s fascinating to watch these characters speculate on the nature and motivations of the Formics, which those of us who have read Ender’s game know. It’s weird because it gives us insights into the alien’s actions that those we are reading about don’t have, offering a fascinating look at the defenders thought processes. After the first novel, which while having some cool moments, was a sloggish set up novel to the series, it was good to get down to some action. While the cliffhanger ending left me a bit annoyed, overall I felt that Earth Afire hit all the right notes.

The narration of the Enderverse novels is truly one of those truly great audiobook experiences, and Earth Afire maintains that tradition. The core of the production is the works of Stefan Rudnicki, Stephen Hoye and Author Morey, all of who deliver what you would expect, quality riveting performances. Rudnicki has such an understanding of this world, it’s hard to imagine any Endervese production without him involved. While I have loved Vikas Adams in the past, I was a bit concerned early in the production, as he voiced some kid’s voices. It’s very hard for adult men to voice kids without getting all squeaky and annoying, and honestly, that was how Adams started but as his POV moved away from the group of kids, and became about the relationship between one Chinese boy and a soldier, it was some of the best work of the production. While I was remiss to move away from alien battles on Earth, Emily Rankin handled the POV of Imala, Victor’s mother and leader of the refuges from the first battle with the Formics. She made these scenes compelling and another highlight for me. Roxanne Hernandez had the difficult challenge of portraying Rena, who was Victor’s counterpart. Her narration interplayed with Stephen Hoyes which did cause a bit of adjustment, but in the end, it was totally worth it. She brought a much needed edge to the reading, and allowed us to see a different side to some of the characters. All together I feel Earth Abides is a title that should be listened to to get the full impact of the world, particularly with this group of wonderful narrators.

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

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Audiobook Review: V Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry

11 10 2012

V Wars edited by Jonathan Maberry

With stories by Jonathan Maberry, Nancy Holder, John Everson, Yvonne Navarro, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Scott Nicholson, Gregory Frost, and James A. Moore

Read by Stefan Rudnicki, John Rubinstein, Gabrielle de Cuir, Roxanne Hernandez, Lisa Renee Pitts, Arte Johnson, Cassandra Campbell, Wil Wheaton and Grover Garner,

Blackstone Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Vampire Shared World Anthology

Quick Thoughts: V Wars is a must for all horror fans, especially those seeking Vampires that are truly monsters. Maberry creates a horrific tapestry and then sets loose some of the most twisted minds of the horror genre. Each story works both as a self contained vision of some variant of Vampire mythos, while also expanding the overall world.  I for one hope that V Wars is only the first shot in the War to reclaim the Vampire.

Grade: A-

Is there any monster more polarizing within Horror fandom than the Vampire? Personally, I don’t think so. I, like many other horror fans, went through a period where I totally wrote off Vampires. Many people point at Stephanie Meyer’s as the Antichrist of Vampires, destroying a once beloved monster, but, in all honestly, I was pretty much off Vampires well before Twilight came out. As a kid, I loved Vampires. I read and reread Salem’s Lot and I Am Legend throughout my teenage years. Yet, I think seeing Tom Cruise being interviewed, as just one in a long line of charming, Euro-Vamps began my plummeting opinion of the inhuman bloodsucking beasts. I really didn’t want my monsters to become sex symbols. I think, this is why I turned full forced into a Zombie guy. Zombies are a monster that just is simply not sexy at all. There is no need for teen angst about whether that hot new boy that showed up in school may be a Zombie. If he’s not shambling, easting your tasty insides, and moaning while smelling like month old lunch meat, well, you probably just got one of the normal boys. Yet, I think recently, for me at least, The Vampire has had a bit of a resurgence. I think there has been a concerted effort among those who love Vampires, and remember them before they became the gothy crush worthy boy toys, to bring back the monsters that lurks at night. Jonathan Maberry is a big reason for my happy return to The Vampire legend. His Pine Deep Series reminded me that the stereotypical Vampire is only one example in a huge cache of Vampire Mythology. This resurgence of the monstrous Vampire is good, because it gives authors the ability to examine the humanity that still resides in these monsters, while not forgetting what they truly are. This is why Maberry’s shared world anthology V Wars, was a must have for me.

I think, with its title, and the imagery it brings, there will be a lot of people comparing V Wars to Max Brooks hit Zombie novel World War Z. While this comparison is quite apt, I feel V Wars is more in line with George Martin’s Wildcard series. As a shared world anthology, Maberry creates the ground rules with his set piece “Junk.” In “Junk,” Global Warming leads to the melting of the ice caps. A virus long frozen into the Glaciers is released, affecting human’s on a genetic level, triggering long dormant Junk DNA that contains codes from offshoots of humanity. These offshoots are the variants of Vampires that exist in our lore and legends. With this setting, Maberry has created a smorgasbord of opportunity for some of the top horror writers working today. There are eight stories within the pages of V Wars, and while they all stand alone, they connect together creating an overall vision of the world now changed by the introduction of these monsters.  My favorite stories include John Everson’s “Love Less”, where a tabloid TV anchorwoman discovers she in now a Wurdulak, a Russian Vampire variant that can only feed off people they have a close bond with.  In James A. Moore’s  “Stalking Anna Lei” we meet a Jiangshi, or Chinese hopping Vampire who is searching for his sister who he believe was captured by a green ghoulish Vampire that has been brutally murdering it’s opponents. This is a great example of what is so good about this anthology. When we think of Vampires, we don’t picture hairy, shape shifting cat faced monsters who are forced to hop due to rigor mortis, but this is one Vampire variant that has been forgotten in the slew of emo vampire stories.  Perhaps my favorite story of the collection is “The Ballad of Big Charlie” by Keith RA DeCandido. “The Ballad of Big Charlie” explores the changing political landscape of this new world, through the eye of those involved in the campaign of a Bronx DA, who discovers he is a Lugaru. I found this story to be fascinating because it examined the human reaction to the new offshoots more so than any other story in the novel. Now, I could go on a list all the other stories, because, there really isn’t a week one on the batch, but I won’t. V Wars is a must for all horror fans, especially those seeking Vampires that are truly monsters. Maberry creates a horrific tapestry and then sets loose some of the most twisted minds of the horror genre. Each story works both as a self contained vision of some variant of Vampire mythos, while also expanding the overall world.  I for one hope that V Wars is only the first shot in the War to reclaim the Vampire.

V Wars contains a virtual Dream Team of Rock Star narrators, who wondrously bring this tale to life. I was so excited to see some of my favorite horror authors finally get a chance to have their stories finally brought to audio. I practically geek squealed when I discovered one of my favorite horror authors, James A. Moore, was going to have his story read by one of my favorite audiobook narrators, Wil Wheaton. Stefan Rudnicki was the perfect choice to narrate Maberry’s Junk. Rudnicki sets the bar for each narrator high, and they all seem to rally around their leader and give wonderful performances. Gabrielle Du Cuir brings just the right amount of cold bitchiness to her reading of “Love Less” creating one of the more memorable characters of the anthology. Cassandra Campbell once again shows off her talent at accents and characterization in her reading of Gregory Frost’s “Vulpes.” V Wars also contained a new discovery for me in Lisa Renee Pitts, who gave a flavor filled performance of “The Ballad of Big Charlie” that had me scanning audiobook sites to see what else she has narrated. Add to this the excellent work of Roxanne Hernandez, John Rubinstein, Arte Johnson and even a brief appearance by Grover Gardner, and V Wars should be the audiobook event of the Halloween season.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review. V Wars is currently available at Blackstone’s new download site, Downpour.





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.