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.

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

6 05 2013


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.


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: Heroes Die by Mathew Woodring Stover

12 03 2013

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover (Acts of Caine, Book 1)

Read by Stefan Rudnicki

Audible Frontiers

Length: 22 Hrs 28 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: I found Heroes Die to be an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy with a brilliantly conceived world, but was unable to really connect with the characters until the end of the book. There’s tons of action, magic, gore and intrigue and the final third of the book is full of clever twists that makes up for any flaws early on.

Grade: B

2013 Audie Nominee for Fantasy

One of the terms that I read often in reviews and have used myself is "likable" when it comes to describing characters. One of the major criticisms I can give a book is I didn’t find the main character likeable. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I realize that that probably isn’t the best term for it. Some of my favorite all time characters are far from likable people. In fact, some of them are downright scumbags who I wouldn’t let clean my toilets, let alone kick back on my couch to watch my DVDs. Yet, despite my respect for great people, those wonderful morally upright citizens who selflessly give of them selves and are always quick with a kind word and a helping hand, I rarely like these types as book characters.  One of my favorite all time characters, Thomas Covenant, is an scumbag, whiney rapist who only survived because of the willingness of his friends to sacrifice themselves for him and The Land he doesn‘t truly believe in. Yet, when Covenant isn’t on the page I miss him. He has a presence and the tale never feels complete unless he’s there. This is what I want out of characters, a sense of presence, and an investment in what they are doing. I want to wonder what’s going on with them when they are off screen, wonder how they will react when the story switches to another perspective. Mostly, I want them to be interesting, flawed and human. Well, unless they are robots, or aliens or something, but at least somewhat relatable. So, screw being likable characters. You don’t need to wipe your feet before entering my head, just try not to get too much blood on the floor.

Heroes Die is the first novel of The Acts of Caine series. This series is a blending of science fiction and fantasy which tells of a future where actors are transported to an alternate plane of existence called Ankhana, where they get into adventures, perform magic and mayhem, all for the pleasure of the audience who experiences it through a virtual reality like set up. Caine is perhaps the biggest star of his time. His kill first then ask questions later mentality make him a must for real time viewers of his adventure. Yet, on earth the only real thing in his life, his marriage with a fellow actor has fallen apart. When his estranged wife disappears during an adventure, the studio calls in Caine, and says that they will send him to Ankhana to rescue her, only if he’s willing to assassinate the very powerful emperor. It took me a long time to get into Heroes Dies. A really long time. I found both worlds, the fantasy setting of Ankhana and the real Earth dystopian caste system to be fascinating, yet, I really didn’t like the main character. OK, actually I hated him. I just couldn’t find myself invested in his struggles or interested in his methods. I found that the main baddie, an egomaniacal Emperor with a dark new power, was much more of an interesting character, and I actually agreed with his disdain for the interference of the Actors. Even the characters within the tale couldn’t seem to find a viable reason to do away with the Emperor. It wasn’t until the story shifted perspectives to his estranged wife in her alternate guise as Pallas Rill, did the story start gaining track for me. After that, Caine began to change becoming less of the charge into battle with your sword raised type character to a more cerebral plotter. Also, Stover began to change to focus more to the evils of the Earth system, and began revealing the true bad guy of the story. This is where Heroes Die really begins to take off. The Final third of this book made up for many of my problems with the first third. I never really bought into Caine, but slowly I began to understand and became more invested in his quest. The interesting thing is, my development as the reader took the same path as Caine, realizing what the book was really about didn’t happen to late, when Caine began to really get a grasp on the true issues of his world. So, despite some trouble connecting, in the end I felt I had a net positive experience with Heroes Die. The ending has some real clever twists that were more about revealing the true nature of people and the world then any sort of "Aha!" moment. Overall, I found Heroes Die to be an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy with a brilliantly conceived world, but was unable to really connect with the characters until the end of the book. There’s tons of action, magic, gore and intrigue and the final third of the book is full of clever twists that makes up for any flaws early on.

Whenever I start a new audiobook, I like to announce it on Twitter to all the fanfare and pomposity of my small group of followers. When I started to tweet about Heroes Die, I wanted to announce that it was read by Uncle Stefan, because, I can’t but feel, whenever I start one of Stefan Rudnick’s narrations, like I’m sitting down ready for my big burly uncle with his booming voice about to tell me some deep and dark visceral tale of battles and monsters and warrior maidens. Heroes Die is the perfect vehicle for Stefan Rudnicki. He voices Caine with a booming over the top masculinity, yet also manages to tap into Caine’s alter ego’s insecurities. Heroes Die is filled with just the right kind of murder and mayhem that is Rudnicki’s bread and butter. You haven’t truly experienced someone being slowly eviscerated by a magic sword until you have heard it described by Stefan Rudnicki. Rudnicki simply brought Ankhana alive for me. While struggling through the early parts of this book, Rudnicki was the perfect guide, making these world’s interesting for me, and keeping me in the game for the huge payoff at the end. He managed to make the action scenes feel even more intense, the political maneuverings more cunning and the characters more real. Mostly, he did what he does best, he told the story.

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.

Audiobook Review: Lamentations by Ken Scholes

28 06 2012

Lamentations (Psalms of Isaac, Bk. 1) by Ken Scholes

Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Scott Brick, William Dufris and Maggi-Meg Reed

Macmillan Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 49 Min

Genre: Science Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Lamentations is an exciting start to a series that blends science fiction and fantasy in a fun way. I think some hard core fantasy fans will find aspects of this novel derivative of the genre, yet,  for those who like vast conspiracies, political maneuverings, battles, romance and robots, and are willing to accept some plotting that can be a tab bit overly complex, you are sure to have a fun time following these characters on their adventures.

Grade: B+

Back when I first began listening to Audiobooks, I never truly understood the importance of narrators. One of the biggest complains about audiobooks is that the narrator creates another layer between the text and the listener and doesn’t allow for the pure, unfiltered consumption of literature that reading print does. Before becoming an audiobook enthusiast, this was something I feared. Yet, what I didn’t realize is that with audiobooks, a sort of relationship is formed between the listener and the narrator. The human animal likes to be told stories, and some of our earliest heroes, whether it is a beloved teacher or simply your parent, are those who read to us. This is why many audiobook fans view their favorite narrators as almost celebrity like, yet with a bond stronger than a favorite movie star or television personality. These are the people who tell us the stories we love. They sit down beside us and whisper tales of magic, intrigue, romance and adventure. There is a level of intimacy there that other performance mediums just can’t match, As an audiobook fan, I love when an author gets that. I love hearing stories about authors reaching out to their narrators, assisting them, making sure the story is being told how it is supposed to be told. One of the first series I ever listened to was Orson Scott Card’s Enderverse series, which introduced me to many of my favorite narrators, including Stefan Rudnicki, Scott Brick, Harlan Ellison, Kirby Heyborne, Gabrielle De Cuir, Emily Janice Card, and John Rubinstein, among others. I was always thrilled later when I heard a voice I recognized from that series appear in other audiobooks. I liked that Orson Scott Card would often record a foreword or afterward talking about how, in his opinion, audiobooks where the best way to experience his work, and praise the narrators who worked on his tails. It had been a while since I listened to a science fantasy reminiscent of these Ender novels, with their multi-narrator approach. When I read Scott Brick’s Audiobook Month entry of Ken Schole’s The Psalms of Isaak series, a series I had been interested in but never took the leap into actually listening, I decided that Lamentations, the first novel in this series, should be included in my audiobook week lineup,

Lamentations begins with the utter destruction of the city of Windwir, the most powerful city of the named world, leaving behind a vacuum of power, and a mystery that may shake the world to its core. Let’s face it, this is how all fantasies should start. In Lamentations, Ken Scholes doesn’t allow you to ease your way into the story, but forces you to jump in head first. With the world in chaos, and two armies converging on the devastated city, Scholes introduces you to a series of players that will shape the course of this changed world. Scholes has created an interesting world, melding magic and science, and placing it upon the ruins of a  culture that already brought about an apocalypse. This is the type of fantasy I have always enjoyed. It blends classic political epics like Game of Thrones with science based fantasy like Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming Series.  There is something familiar to this world. Its magic may be mythical, or it may be an artifact of a past scientific culture that was so advanced its science only seemed like magic. Scholes prose isn’t as crisp as Martin’s and his language tends to become a bit too flowery at times, full of language that almost feels biblical, yet where he really excels is creating complex characters and placing them in intricately plotted scenarios. Plus, there are robots. I mean, if I would have realized this was a fantasy novel with robots I may have jumped on the train much earlier, because I always like me some robots. Scholes has peppered this tale of political maneuvering with an age’s old conspiracy that requires just a bit of a well honed suspension of disbelief, but if you are willing enough to by in to the overly complex machinations of true power, well, then, it really is a whole lot of fun. Lamentations is an exciting start to a series that blends science fiction and fantasy in a fun way. I think many hard core fantasy fans will find some aspects of this novel derivative of the genre, yet,  for those who like vast conspiracies, political maneuverings, battles, romance and robots, and are willing to accept some plotting that can be a tab bit overly complex, you are sure to have a fun time following these characters on their adventures. Oh, and did I mention robots? Yeah, I guess I did.

The Audiobook edition of Lamentations featured three iconic audiobook narrators who, for me at least, have instantly recognizable voices and styles and one other narrator who I have had less experience with, but truly gave an excellent performance. Scott Brick, Stefan Rudnicki and William Dufris are all narrators I am comfortable with, and have listened to them tell many tales in single and multi-narrator productions. Maggie-Meg Reed I had heard before in David Baldacci’s Camel Club series, but, in all honesty, I didn’t remember anything about my past experiences with her work as I started this audiobook.  One of the great things about this production is all four of these narrators are excellent story tellers, and helped to immerse the listener in the story from the very beginning. Many Fantasy novels tend to have a lot of set up before the core action begins, but there isn’t that luxury of development with Lamentations. Yet, Rudnick, Brick and Dufris allowed me to instantly engage the characters they portrayed allowing the character development to hold  pace with the plot. Yet, Reed’s performance was the one that truly stood out for me in retrospect. She brought a sort of bravado to her character, Jin Li Tan, making her probably the most intriguing character of the novel. Reed doesn’t do sugary sweet, but gives her character a mature edge that truly highlighted her importance to the plot. Lamentations is a great example of novel whose audiobook version adds to the experience through  the thoughtful performances of the narrators. 

Audiobook Review: Glimpses by Lewis Shiner

30 08 2011

Glimpses by Lewis Shriner

Read by Stefan Rudnicki

Skyboat Media

Genre: Rock and Roll Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Lewis’s tales of a time bending rock fan gives us an intimate look at rock legends as well as a realistic portrayal of a middle aged man whose faith in rock and roll to change the world is put to the ultimate challenge.

Grade: B+

There is a sort of almost religious metaphysical state of being that overcomes certain people when talking about music. I was never one of those music guys like that. Oh, I love music, and faithfully follow an eclectic group of musicians, most of whom I have been fans of since my high school and college days. But I don’t worship them. Maybe it’s because I have no musical talent of my own. I will never really understand the high that is performing before a crowd, or even in you own basement. The closest I ever got to being a musician was the years early in my life that I spent working sound for my church, and college, and doing some DJing. Working with some musicians over the years, I see how some would reach this almost transcendence state when performing. For me, sure, I had a few moments at concerts where I was emotionally affected, perhaps even moved, but it was short lived. Lewis Shiner’s Glimpses is a novel written for the truest of music guys. Those that believe that music is more than just an enjoyable art form, but something that has the power to change people at a fundamental level, to perhaps even change the world.

Glimpses is the tale of Ray Shackleford, a middle aged man stuck in a dying marriage and just unhappy in life. Ray looks back at his life to the days of his youth, when he was in a band, and music really meant something. Ray becomes obsessed over the Beatles, remembering not just the greatness they achieved but the potential they had for even greater things, if they didn’t allow corporate entities to take advantage of them. As Ray fantasizes about a recording session that could have been, the music on his stereo begins to reflect the changes. This begins a tale that takes us on an intimate tour of rock and roll history as well as the midlife crisis of an unhappy man dwelling on his recently deceased father. It’s easy to write Glimpses off as a rock and roll fantasy novel. I grew up in the era of U2 and Nirvana, with my musical obsessions being far from the mainstream, yet despite the generational difference I was amazed by the amount of love and detail Shiner presented his rock and roll idols with. He humanizes rock legends like  Brian Wilson and Jimi Hendricks in a way I have never seen before, giving them such depth of character that even someone like me, who admires their work but was never truly a fan, is easily pulled into the tale. Yet, despite their importance to the overall story, this is Ray’s tale, and Shiner gives us an honest, unapologetic look at a man disappointed by his dreams. It is hard not to feel for Ray, while at the same time being frustrated by his passive aggressive attitude and penchant for blaming others for his faults. Shiner’s Glimpses comes together well as Ray attempts to deal with his life changes as well as his fantasies about the powers of rock and roll. 

You can truly feel the passion for the material in narrator Stefan Rudnicki’s performance of Glimpses. Rudnicki’s iconic deep bass voice perfectly fits main character Ray Shackleford, yet where he truly excels is in his ability to give a full range of performances, including iconic rock stars, and complicated women. Rudnicki totally brings this tale to life for the listener, giving a no holds barred performance, which truly allows us to see Ray for what he truly is, a deeply flawed man who is earnestly trying to understand his deficiencies, while taking on an incredible task. Fans of Woodstock Era rock will delight in this audiobook and for the rest of us born just a bit after the age of peace and love, well, there is plenty here for us as well.

Audiobook Review: Voyagers by Ben Bova

5 04 2011

Voyagers by Ben Bova

Read by Stefan Rudnicki

Blackstone Audio

Genre: Hard Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Voyagers was an interesting novel, yet, one that is hard to judge fully without seeing where Bova takes the story in future installments. 

Grade: C+

So, for my second slice of the Ben Bova pie, I decided to forgo the Grand Tour, and check out his First Contact novel Voyagers. Voyagers was a novel I wanted to check out for a while, mostly because I like First Contact novels, and I was intrigued by the question Bova himself asks, How would the world react is we received unequivocal knowledge that there are other more intelligent species in the universe? I like this approach because this isn’t the Independence Day/Battle:LA question, which is, what would happen if a superior alien force shows up bent on our destruction. Yet, this isn’t also the Start Trek question of, how would we react if some nice humanoid aliens showed up wanting to be our buddies? To me, this question is more about us, then the aliens, how would we as a people be changed just by the mere knowledge of extraterrestrial life? This is something I find interesting. So, for that reason, I chose to take on Voyagers.

So, I’m going to start with the negatives. I definitely had some moments of disappointment in this novel.  The major disappointment is I felt there was a failure to totally explore the underlying question. In Voyagers, Bova focuses mostly on a small group of scientist, and how this potential knowledge of ETI affected them. These scientists are tapped by their countries as representatives in an international action group working of the possible discovery of an Alien Space Craft near Jupiter. While we get some levels of character development, what we have mostly is a look at the politics involved, internationally, nationally, institutionally and sexually. While the interactions and motivations are fascinating, they are definitely on the micro scale, and not the macro Scale. Bova does examine a limited amount of world change, but most of it is told in small asides, seen in micro-scenes, news programs, book quotes, and memorandum. Despite my disappointment, I believe there are reasons Bova had to tackle the story from this angle, first off, the book was written in the height of the Cold War, and no story of International Import can be written outside of that political context. Secondly, this is the first in a series, and I venture to guess we will be seeing more evidence of mass social change as the series progresses. Now, my small disappointments in no way diminished this novel as both entertainment and a thought process. As a Hard Science Fiction novel, there is a lot of talk, and not a ton of action, but if that is what you are looking for, Voyager works well.

Stefan Rudnicki handles the majority of the narration for Voyagers. As always, he handles the international cast with skill. Rudnicki is the perfect narrator for Hard Science Fiction because of his ability to find a natural rhythm even in lengthy expositions and info dumps. To be perfectly honest, this is the type of book that I probably would never have made it through as a reader, but with a talented narrator, the experience was enjoyable. For small parts throughout the novel, a female narrator handles small mini-scenes and news reports. Personally, I don’t think she added much to the reading, and Rudnicki would have been perfectly capable of handling those moments. Voyagers was an interesting novel, yet, one that is hard to judge fully without seeing where Bova takes the story in future installments. 

Audiobook Review: Mars by Ben Bova

17 03 2011

Mars by Ben Bova (Part of the Grand Tour Series)

Read by Stefan Rudnicki

Blackstone Audio

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: A well developed Hard Science Fiction novel well written, with excellent narration.

Grade: B+

First off, I am not a scientist. Not in the least bit. But, I enjoy sciency things. One thing that has always fascinated me is space exploration. In fact, I always enjoyed visiting the Air and Space museum, and taking its Grand Tour. Now I discovered that Ben Bova, an author who I have heard a lot about but never read, created a loose series of novels called The Grand Tour which documents the exploration of our solar system. Interested in the tour, of course, I decided to check it out. My first concern though was where to start. I researched it, and found a bunch of suggestions, then threw them all out and decided just to start with Mars, which wasn’t the first story chronologically, but for some reason it seemed a natural starting place. So, I began to listen to Mars, with a bit of trepidation. You see, I haven’t always done well with Hard Science Fiction novels. Often they can be dry, full of lifeless characters, endless supposition and used more as a bully pulpit for whatever view the author deemed it necessary to espouse. Often times the main character is just an idealized version of the author, just better looking and lucky with the ladies. This is what I feared when I began Mars.

I think for Hard Science Fiction to truly work, the science needs to become almost a character. In Mars, Ben Bova does an excellent job with this. Although seen through multiple disciplines, the scientific exploration of the unforgiving Mars planet, indeed became another character of the novel. Yet, Bova didn’t stop there he also allowed us to see the politics of science as the true antagonist of the story. There wasn’t a truly evil character hell-bent on stopping the Mars program, but a system of political manipulation, whether for good or evil, that causes problems for the crew. Bova also did an excellent job developing the human characters of the story. Through nonlinear storytelling we saw a glimpse of the character, and then saw how they became what they were. I thought the main character, Jamie Waterman, was excellent as a POV character, although personally at times he came off as petulant and self focused, which as a scientist is probably accurate, but as a main character in a novel, can be a bit annoying at times. Altogether, the novel offered some thrilling moments, along with some intriguing science, a brutal, yet beautiful landscape, and characters you could cheer for.

If you really want your Hard Science Fiction novel to work as an audiobook, there is no better narrator than Stefan Rudnicki. Rudnicki has a deep, sultry voice. Typically, I prefer lighter, crisper voices as narrators, but Rudnicki does such a good job, not with just the narration, but creating believable well voiced characters, that he is easily an exception for me. Rudnicki seems to understand the material he is dealing with, and it comes out in his reading. The rhythms when he reads works so well, that even the long bits of exposition that you find  in novels such as these becomes almost a scientific poetry. While I need to take my Hard Science Fiction in sporadic doses, I look forward to listening to more of the Grand Tour series, with excellent guides in Bova and Rudnicki.

Audiobook Review: Cobra by Timothy Zahn

30 01 2011

Cobra (Book 1 of the Cobra Trilogy) by Timothy Zahn

Read by Stefan Rudnicki

Genre: Science Fiction

Audible Frontiers

Quick Thought: A surprisingly deep and intimate look a the life of a soldier, specifically an enhanced  Super-soldier.

Grade B

I always liked to mix up my reading. If I have been reading a few mysteries, I will try to grab some science fiction. If I have been reading something serious, I will look for something funny. And if I have been reading heavier, intense literature, I try and look for something light and fun. With that mindset, I grabbed up and began to listen to Cobra by Timothy Zahn. Reading the summaries Cobra was about enhanced super soldiers, so I expected something light, with a bunch of action and explosions. I had never read Zahn before, but I knew he wrote some Star Wars novels, so that is basically what I expected, a shoot em’ up Western in Space.

That is not what I got. Instead, I got a detailed and intimate tale of the life of a soldier. Instead of raging armies of super soldiers taking on tanks and Mecha, there was a well told story about the effects of war on a single man. There was action, but most of it was one man, escaping bad guys, or taking on subversive plots with not just lasers and bombs but his mind. Even more so, the book was a look at what happens to soldiers when they are taken from war, and placed back into society, those people they were duty bound to protect, now looking at them with fear and scorn. The beauty of Cobra is that is followed our protagonist past his battle days, and shows you his life from multiple perspectives. It allows you to see how the active duty life of a soldier is only his first battle.

Cobra exceeded my expectations and again taught me that you can’t always judge a book by its publisher generated blurb. As with many science fiction series, the seep sonorous voice of Stefan Rudnicki handled the narration. This tale was right in Rudnicki’s wheelhouse, a character driven science fiction tale.