Earth Unaware: The First Formic War
Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki and Cast
Macmillan Audio, 14 hours
Victor is an apprentice mechanic to his father, the person responsible for maintaining life-support and other essential systems on board the mining ship, El Cavador. A gifted student with a natural ability to understand all things mechanical, Victor is already a valuable member of the ship’s crew, although he’s still a teenager. But it is his dedication to ideals instilled by his family and his sense of responsibility that may catapult him into the history books of the First Formic War.
Moored to an asteroid out in the lonely Kuiper Belt, El Cavador’s crew is made up of a large Venezuelan family that eeks out a living by mining heavy metals from space rocks. They are only one of a far-flung group of independent family clans known as Free Miners. Free Miners are always on the lookout for other clan ships which they can dock with in order to exchange news, trade for supplies and arrange marriages between the clans.
When El Cavador’s sensors pick up a small speck in distant space, it’s obvious this is no lumbering sister mining ship. In fact, it’s travelling too fast to be a human ship of any kind and when that realization sets in, attention turns from concern about each other to a growing fear for the entire human race.
For those of us who’ve always wondered what happened before Ender Wiggin’s decisive defeat of the Formics, Orson Scott Card is finally revealing those events in a trilogy prequel to Ender’s Game. Subtitled The First Formic War, it holds out the promise of epic battles and unflinching heroism to defeat the ant-like alien invaders. However, while there is plenty of heroism, this first title in the trilogy only teases with a few small skirmishes between humans and aliens.
The story is told from three different vantage points. The majority of the story is related from the perspective of the crew of El Cavador – their encounters with the Formics and their attempts to warn an unsuspecting Earth. The concept of a society built upon the existence of “family” ships, with each ship representing a different nationality or ethnic group is a part of Card’s universe I particularly enjoyed. My only complaint with the Free Miners is that too much time was spent with character development at the expense of action and moving the story forward.
Listeners are also introduced to a likely villain in the form of Lem Jukes, son of corporate mining mogul Ukko Jukes and a force to be reckoned with in his own right. He and a select crew are also in the Kuiper Belt, testing a new piece of mining equipment. The success of this prototype has the potential to make millions for the company and Lem is determined to make it work at any cost.
The third perspective comes from Earth in the form of an elite fighting force recruited from top special forces recruits from nations across the globe. Their commander will stop at nothing make his squad the most deadly group of fighters on the planet. Ironically, most of the military action and battle scenes are provided by this group – the only ones stuck on planet Earth. Still, it doesn’t take much extrapolation to see that men brave enough to fight and defeat the human terrorists, dictators, and drug lords of this world will undoubtedly be up for fighting the aliens from another world.
The book is narrated by Stephen Hoye, Arthur Morey, and Stefan Rudnicki; with Vikas Adam, Emily Janice Card, Gabriel de Cuir and Roxanne Hernandez. In general, scenes that focus on female characters are read by female narrators, while scenes with males are voiced by male narrators.
Narrators do not take individual character’s “parts” but read entire sections or chapters. I’m still debating the advantages of this approach. It doesn’t eliminate men voicing female characters or women voicing male characters, because the readers narrate chapters at a time – chapters which often have dialog between men and women. I suppose the different voices do add variety and if the sound of one particular narrator is not particularly pleasant to your ear, you at least know it won’t be long before someone else will have their “turn” to narrate a passage.
Whatever the reason for multiple narrators, the entire cast does an excellent job and it’s a pleasure to listen to the book. Everyone reads with emotion and captures the essence of the characters they voice. Switching between different voices is not jarring at all, Surprisingly, the various voices helped to hold my attention, which was not an easy task as the story has a slow start. You’ll need to be patient with this one while it lays the groundwork for things to come. It gradually picks up steam and by the midpoint, both the pacing and the narration seem to become tighter, creating energy and excitement about what’s going to happen next.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read Ender’s Game, so I can’t speak to continuity issues or how characters in this novel may relate to events in Ender’s Game. However, I don’t think this is a novel that stands on its own, as its main purpose feels like a set-up for the second volume in the trilogy. But endings count for a lot, and in this case, the ending is a cliff-hanger that makes the slow start worthwhile. It has me looking forward to the inevitable confrontation and to see where all of the pieces from this first book will fit in the next installment.
As an added bonus, there is a short interview with Orson Scott Card. He discusses his enjoyment of audiobooks and how, when he writes his books, “I write them to be performed.” As an audiobook fan, it’s nice to hear an author say that – I sure wish more had that same attitude.
For those who’ve never read Ender’s Game, or maybe read it many years ago, this book offers a convenient way to ease into Card’s classic work for the first time or as a re-visit. But for die-hard Enderverse fans, the jury may still be out until round two of this trilogy is published.
Thanks to Macmillan Audio for providing a review copy of this title.
The following is an audio review of the audiobook, Paul is Undead. This was done as a podcast for Tor.com and the review includes clips from the book and comments from the author and the narrator, Simon Vance. If you were ever a Beatles fan, this is a hilarious ride and what makes it special is the incredible narration by Simon I'm still stewing that he didn't win an Audie for this one.
I have been sorely remiss in not adequately getting the word out about May being Zombie Awareness Month.
The Echo of One Hand Clapping
Notes on Audio Publishing and Production by Brian Price
As an independent audio theater producer I sometimes think back on what first attracted me to radio drama. I’d like to say I was immediately drawn to the little things one could do with nuanced sound and language, the subtleties, the poetry. That’s what I’d like to say, but of course, what got me first about radio theater was the BIG stuff—the closet falls, the cherries dropping into Lake Michigan, the space ships exploding—BOOM, BLAM, SPLATT.
Then, of course, what totally sucked me into radio theater as a “lifer” was that one could happily produce a lot this wonderful noise oneself. With the wonders of 4-track cassette recorders, pot and pans, and scratchy sound-effects records we could blow up planets, stage barroom brawls, and hold bowling tournaments in the jungle. Read more...
Pyxis: The Discovery (The Pyxis Series), By K.C. Neal, Narrated by Lisa Cordileone. Published by StoneHouse Ink, Dec. 17, 2011. Length: 5 hours, 35 min. Availability: Audible
The mysterious wooden box labeled “Pyxis” belonged to Corrine’s recently deceased grandmother. Filled with glass vials containing various colored liquids, Corrine doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do with the box, but she does realize it’s intended for her use. If only there had been time for Grandma Doris to talk with Corrine before her unexpected demise!
Being a somewhat typical teenager, Corrine divides her curiosity about the box with other pressing matters, like working at her dad’s café, planning schemes with best friend Angeline, and obsessing over the return of her maybe-boyfriend Mason, after his year-long absence on a mission trip with his family. And don’t forget plotting against her arch-nemesis, Sophie, who lives to make her life miserable.
Author K.C. Neal does a lovely job of intricately weaving the magical world of the pyxis into the day-to-day concerns of a group of small-town teenagers. It’s not long before they discover sinister forces from an alternate reality that threaten those they love. It’s up to this unlikely group of teenagers to discover their own latent powers, compliments of the pyixis, which will help them in their fight to save their community.
To the author’s credit, both the real and magical worlds are made much more compelling by her development of the characters. Learning more about each of the main characters drives the story as much as the mystery and suspense of lurking danger.
Narrator Lisa Cordileone takes these engaging characters, lifts them from their print descriptions and gives them three-dimensional personalities that are a delight to hear. Cordileone simply knows how these kids should sound. From righteous indignation to heroic confidence to self-conscious questioning to withering sarcasm, Cordileone voices it all and when she does, you know she has nailed it.
The review copy was provided by the narrator -- I did not hear the copy available from Audible. I did detect a very slight reverb or echo effect in the narration, but my ears tend to pick up on this kind of thing. The final mastered copy may not have this issue, but even if it does, it is not noticeable enough to distract from the listening experience. A preview sample is available on Audible.
Although intended for a teen audience, this title can be enjoyed as an entertaining, rather quick listen for just about anyone who likes teenagers as protagonists. The first in an ongoing series, the second title, Alight, has not yet been published.
The Echo of One Hand Clapping
Notes on Audio Publishing and Production by Brian Price
Award-winning audiobook and audio theater producer, Yuri Rasovsky, passed away last week, January 18th, in Hollywood at the age of 67. He was one of the best-known, hardest working and more successful artists in the odd little niche of multi-cast audio drama in the past 40 years. He crossed the aural landscape from radio broadcast to reel-to-reel tape to cassettes to NEA Humanities grants to digital audiobook downloads.
He liked the classics. He liked quality. He liked good acting. He pursued them. I think that’s probably what took Yuri out west to Hollywood. I mean look at the last few shows he produced. SAINT JOAN with Amy Irving. THE MALTESE FALCON with Sandra Oh and Edward Herrmann. And the Grammy nominated MASK OF ZORRO with Ruth Livier and Val Kilmer. Val Kilmer for crying out loud. Yuri worked with a lot of good people telling a lot of good stories. (continued)
Greed, by L. Ron Hubbard. Mult-cast, unabridged. Galaxy Audio, 2 hours
Greed is a collection of three short stories written by L. Ron Hubbard and published in science fiction pulp magazines during the 1940’s and 50’s. These stories are brought to audio with sound effects and a multicast performance reminiscent of old-time-radio, with the exception of the typical sound quality of that era – this production is about one thousand times better.
Can one man’s actions determine the fate of nations and even worlds? L. Ron Hubbard tackles this question in Greed, a short story that describes the exploits of George Marquis Lorrilard, an adventurer seeking fame and fortune in the wide open frontiers of space. As Earth lies embroiled in a war of stalemates pitting Asia against the United Continents, Lorrilard concentrates on stealing riches from various Asian ships and outposts throughout the Galaxy.
When his efforts are thwarted by a top-secret weapon called the cohesion projector, Lorrilard must use all the craft and cleverness he’s developed over the years to try and defeat the Asians’ unstoppable weapon. Hubbard’s premise that greed can be a major motivator for explorers (or exploiters, as they are referred to in the story) offers plenty of food for thought.
The telling of this story benefits from the use of sound effects, which help move it forward, but there’s not much dialog for the performers to work with, lessening the audio impact Galaxy Audio performances usually carry. This was the last Hubbard story published in Astounding Science Fiction in April, 1950.
The second offering, Final Enemy, takes a look at humanity’s reaction when the inhabitants of two different planets tell of invading aliens who almost wiped out their respective civilizations years ago. The people of Earth join together in a concerted effort to prepare for a similar invasion.
The single-minded purpose of the entire planet changes governments, armies, and society into one big cooperative effort unlike anything the world has ever experienced. Months of careful examination of the two planets in question eventually reveal the identity of the murderous enemy, but it’s not what anyone expects. The audio talents of the Galaxy team and the clever “gotcha” ending make this a story well worth hearing. Super Science Stories first published this story in September, 1950.
But the last story in this collection, The Automagic Horse, is by far my favorite of the bunch. Published in Astounding Science Fiction in October, 1949, it took the top slot in Astounding’s monthly reader polls, and I can certainly see why. When Gadget O’Dowd is asked to make a robotic horse for a critical scene in a highly acclaimed movie production, the gifted mechanic/engineer/inventor sets to work.
His creation passes all expectations, even fooling seasoned horsemen wagering bets at the local race track. But O’Dowd’s toughest task is fooling the new accountant who has been sent to his office to make sure all of the money he has requested for building the horse is spent appropriately. Evidently Hubbard had a good sense of humor and he unabashedly uses it here to create a story that’s a little bit silly and a whole lot of fun. Evidently the performers felt the same way, because you can almost see them smiling as they deliver this memorable audio performance.
Don’t Eat the Marshmallow… Yet!: The Secret to Sweet Success in Work and Life. By Joachim De Posada and Ellen Singer, narrated by Michael McConnohie and Dan Worren. FonoBook, 2 hours.
If you are ever tempted by sweets, then you’ll certainly be able to sympathize with those who cannot resist delectable treats. And if you have trouble resisting now, what about when you were four years old?
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Walter Mischel was a Stanford psychology professor in charge of a series of studies which became known as “The Marshmallow Experiment.” Young children, around the age of four, were given one marshmallow and then told if they could wait 15 minutes without eating it, they would be rewarded with another marshmallow.
The initial goal of the experiment was to identify how some children could delay immediate gratification and some could not, but follow-up studies on the 653 participants when they were in high school showed there was a correlation between their social and academic success and their ability to not eat that marshmallow so many years earlier.
International business and motivational speaker Joachim De Posada brought the implications of this study to a much broader audience with his publication of Don’t Eat the Marshmallow… Yet! The book, first published in 2005, uses a fictional story, along with real-life examples, to illustrate how individuals can use delayed gratification to achieve their goals.
Now this title is available as an English-language audiobook, thanks to FonoBook. FonoBook is a new, English-language imprint of FonoLibro, a premiere producer and distributor of audiobooks in Spanish. Don’t Eat the Marshmallow… Yet! is the first offering from the new imprint and the publisher has every reason to be proud of this initial offering. Narrators Michael McConnohie and Dan Worren do an admirable job with the material and McConnohie, who does the majority of the narration, has a golden voice that’s a joy to hear.
I heard about this title years ago, but never took the opportunity to read it. I’m glad I finally had the chance to hear it because it gave me plenty to think about. I can see how some people might think it overly simplistic, especially the “parable” at the beginning used to highlight main ideas. However, it’s the simplicity of De Posada’s “marshmallow” concepts that make his suggestions and observations so powerful.
After the book was written, De Posada decided to replicate the experiment with Hispanic children to see if the results would be the same as for their American counterparts. The children were recorded as they made the momentous decision to go for immediate gratification or be a marshmallow resistor. You can watch video clips of their reactions (guaranteed to make you smile) within this short, 6-minute presentation by De Posada.
There are plenty of self-help and self-improvement titles on the market today – some may seem like they would work for you and some may not. I’m often skeptical of their messages, but in this case, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more productive way to spend two hours of your time than learning all about marshmallows.
The Bite Before Christmas, by Lynsay Sands and Jeaniene Frost. Narrated by Paula Christensen and Tavia Gilbert. Published by Harper Audio.
For those who’ve grown weary of a certain Christmas story centering around the appearance of three ghosts, perhaps introducing vampires into your holiday festivities would help perk things up. The Bite Before Christmas intends to do just that, offering two short stories that give the song, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” new meaning.
In the first story, “The Gift,” Lynsay Sands dips into her Argeneau world of immortals as she tells the story of aging cop Teddy Brunswick and his efforts to avoid Christmas altogether by spending the holiday at an isolated cottage in the mountains. When a big snowstorm knocks out all electric power in the region, Teddy hopes the electric company will arrive soon.
When he goes outside to scout out the source of the power failure, he discovers that there’s another snowbound vacationer who is also outside trying to access the situation. He’s pleasantly surprised to see that the newcomer is a beautiful young woman who seems inexplicably attracted to him. But what he doesn’t know is that Katricia is a vampire and if the roads are impassable for too long, her scheduled delivery of blood supplies may be delayed.
Narrator Paula Christensen narrates this winter wonderland predicament and offers an impeccable performance, giving both Teddy and Katricia distinct voices that allow their personalities to shine through her voice.
The second story, “Home for the Holidays,” is by Jeaniene Frost and narrated by Tavia Gilbert. I’ll admit I’ve never thought about a group of vampires sitting around the Christmas dinner table ready to dig into a traditional holiday meal, but this is what Kat is planning for Bones and her other close vampire friends. But Frost would never let things be that simple for anyone in her Night Huntress series.
No one is prepared for a stranger who arrives, suggesting close kinship to Bones and making a claim to be part of the family. The stranger seems harmless enough, but that’s before Kat figures out there’s a demon involved and that demon is out to take Bones and the rest of her vampire “family” away from her. Needless to say, Kat isn’t prepared to accept this possibility and what she is willing to do to prevent it makes for an action-packed mini-adventure.
Tavia Gilbert delivers a flawless performance of this paranormal tale, her voice melding with each character to keep listeners fully engaged. Particularly notable is her portrayal of Kat, whose demeanor ranges anywhere between saucy and hellion, sometimes in a matter of seconds.
This collection offers a nice balance between two aspects of the holiday season. “The Gift” is rather relaxed, focusing on the romantic relationship between Teddy and Katricia, while “Home for the Holidays” takes on a frantic pace, as Kat races against time to save her beloved Bones from a horrible fate. This one is as much about the adventure as it is the romance.
Both stories give fans of the respective series a chance to learn a little more about some of their favorite characters. On the other hand, if you’re like me, who has never read a book in either of these series, it offers a chance to experience a bit of these two worlds and help me decide if I’d like to learn more. Either way, it makes a nice holiday treat for anyone who’d like to spice up their holidays with a little paranormal romance.
The Echo of One Hand Clapping
Notes on Audio Publishing and Production by Brian Price
“Two voices, a saxophone, a cello, an occasional banjo, a slide guitar, and a couple of drums—that’s all it takes for The Bee-Loud Glade Living Anthology of Irish Poetry and Crazy Dog Audio Theatre to create a sense of grace, openness and wonder that is the essence of the best in poetry.” That’s pretty my opening line in a 125-word review I’ve written for AudioFile Magazine. And I mean it.
To paraphrase that old adage about death being easy, comedy is hard. Well, comedy may be hard, but in audio publishing there is probably nothing harder than poetry. Read more...