Audiobook Review: In the Embers: The Great Northern Audio Theatre

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In the Embers: The Great Northern Audio Theatre
By Brian Price and Jerry Stearns
Performed by a Full Cast:
Edwin Strout as Digger Morgan; Robin Miles as  Kit Jeffers; Olivia DuFord – Young Alice Jeffers; Dawn Krosnowski as Susan; as Gordon Smuder as Tom; Susanne Becker as Cindy; Tom Joyal as Berringer; Charlie Meitzner as Denny; Dean Johnson as Epstein; Jacquie Maddix as Old Alice; and E. G. Bailey as Reynolds
Original songs by Mike Wheaton and Brian Price, vocals by Robin Miles and Olivia DuFord
Ⓟ 2015, Waterlogg Productions
3 hours, 35 minutes
SCIENCE FICTION | TECHNO-THRILLER | GHOST IN THE MACHINE | TIME TRAVEL | RADIO | INTERVIEWS

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY (SECTION COPIED FROM AUDIBLE.COM):
A song, a pressed flower, and the sound of two girls’ voices recovered from a burned wooden beam by using a brand-new laser technique to read a charred surface like the grooves of an old 78 rpm record. These are the clues that archaeologist Digger Morgan discovers while working on a routine dig at a Maryland plantation. Who were the girls? When was the fire? The answers all lead to 1920s jazz pioneer Kit Jeffers, whose voice mysteriously appears on Digger’s computer and whose existence remains haunted by a singular tragic event.


This is a science-fiction tale taking place in the here-and-now; but which involves audio archaeology (reading a fossilized sound wave,) a ghost in the machine (a digitized personality,) and time travel. The underlying concept behind the three ideas is that emotional intensity can have impact without carrying or accruing mass or energy, a challenge confronting physicists in regard to the laws of the conservation of energy when dealing with time travel in particular.

The actual story involves research into the life of a Jazz Age singer named Kit Jeffers who died in a fire as a young woman. The character of Kit Jeffers comes alive in this audio drama with the superb acting and singing skills of Robin Miles. There are three original songs, written in the Jazz/Rag Time style of the 1920s, expressively performed by Ms Miles, and at one point with her daughter Olivia DuFord (playing the role of Kit Jeffers’ little sister, Alice.)

There are sound effects and voice enhancements galore; but all the effects sometimes are confusing (Who exactly is speaking? Why does the voice sound like that?) or; superfluous (Is more than a couple of seconds of a bulldozer rattling around necessary to tip the listener off that a bulldozer was being used? Especially after being told that a bulldozer was being used?)

There is an extraordinary amount of enthusiasm and work that clearly went into this audio drama; but the overabundance of story ideas and sound effects in particular made the overall production a bit unwieldy.  The script is structurally unbalanced and a modicum of post-engineering restraint is lacking. It’s no wonder that the writers managed to make a glaring continuity error regarding time travel, a mistake they seem to have only realized after the production had wrapped and they were being interviewed. In the end, the talents of Robin Miles and the songwriters could not save In the Embers from sounding like community theater-grade writing and performance.

The audio runtime is three hours long; but it the play is only about an hour long. The second hour of the audio is an interview with the writers, composer, and actors of the audio drama; and the last hour is an interview with just the writers.


OTHER:
I purchased a digital download copy of In the Embers: The Great Northern Audio Theatre (By Brian Price and Jerry Stearns Performed by a Full Cast) from audible.com. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

In the Embers: The Great Northern Audio Theatre (By Brian Price and Jerry Stearns Performed by a Full Cast) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Original Work category and in the Audio Drama category.

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Audiobook Review: Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama

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Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama
Based on the Novel by Tim Lebbon
Adapted and Directed by Dirk Mags
Performed by a Full Cast:
Corey Johnson as Hooper; Matthew Lewis as Baxter; Kathryn Drysdale as Sneddon; Mac McDonald as Lachance; Andrea Deck as Kasyanov; Nathan Osgood as Welford; Abdul Salis as Powell; Regina Brandolino as Garcia; Barbara Barnes as Jordan; Tim Alexander as Vic and the computers; Laurel Lefkow as Ellen Ripley and; Rutger Hauer as Ash
Music by James Hannigan
Ⓟ 2016, Audible Studios
4 hours, 31 minutes
SCIENCE FICTION | SPACE | HORROR

This is an audio adaptation of the first of three novels that take place between the time frames of the movie, Alien and the sequel, Aliens. Ripley’s escape shuttle has been adrift for thirty-seven years when it’s picked up by by Chris Hooper’s mining ship, DSMO Marion – which is held together with a wing and a prayer; and they all find themselves disabled on LV-178, a small planet with a seemingly abandoned mining colony on it…

The story uses a lot of the scene and plot devices created for the 1979 movie,  Alien   (directed by Ridley Scott); and in many respects listeners may feel that nothing new has been added to the cannon knowledge of the Alien universe; but Lebbon’s story does offer a possible explanation as to why the xenomorph aboard the escape shuttle at the end of the movie just lies there in the bulwarks; provides an interesting context for Ash’s semi-resurrection; and gives a nice “out” as to why this story wouldn’t be referenced in any of the movie sequels. However, the horrific aspects of the story are reduced to chase scenes, figuring out to deal with decompression chambers, and warning & reminding each other frequently of a variation of  “Acid burns! Watch out!” The story does offer an enticing peek at another civilization, but it does not look like it will be developed into future storylines.  Also, there was one scene in which the new crew is informing Ripley of all sorts of things about the xenomorph which they couldn’t possibly know, unless they saw the first movie!*

Laurel Leflow voices Ripley so well, it sounds like Audible has spliced in film dialogue; and Rutger Hauer voices the modified Ash character credibly as well. Most of the  other actors pass muster too, though the character of Lachance is, of all things, Cajun, and that’s just not one of those accents that really be played convincingly or not sounding comically bad.

The production has original music and sound effects. The music is gorgeous, adding atmosphere. The sound effects are a little heavy-handed at times; but always clearly indicating the action. Alien: Out of the Shadow: An Audible Original Drama doesn’t quite have the balance and finesse of a BBC production; but Alien fans will undoubtedly connect; and those for whom Rutger Hauer is a draw will not be disappointed.

 

* It is not clear if this a continuity error that exists in the original novel as I haven’t read it yet; or if it is one generated by adapting the novel into a play script; or if I’ve somehow completely missed the rationale… If you can explain, please let me know in comments!


OTHER:
I listened to a digital download copy of Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama (By Tim Lebbon; Directed by Dirk Mags; Performed by a Full Cast) which was available free during the month of April, 2016 from Audible.com. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama (By Tim Lebbon; Directed by Dirk Mags; Performed by a Full Cast) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Original Work category and in the Audio Drama category.

 

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Audiobook Review: Car Talk Science: MIT Wants Its Diplomas Back

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Car Talk Science: MIT Wants Its Diplomas Back
Witten and performed by Ray Magliozzi and Tom Magliozzi
Ⓟ 2016, Highbridge Audio, A  Division of Recorded Books
1 hour, 1 minute
RADIO | SCIENCE | CARS

Ray and Tom Magliozzi were two brothers who co-hosted NPR’s weekly talk show, “Car Talk” from 1987-2012. “Car Talk” was a call-in show wherein the public would phone into the station with questions about their cars, and the brothers would use their expertise to answer those questions. In the beginning, the questions were pretty technical; but over time, the questions became frequently more tangentially related to cars; and coupled with the brothers’ sense of humor and their Everyman approach in talking to the callers, the show became more entertaining. In 2012, the show ended its run (though NPR continued to air re-runs); and in 2014 Tom Magliozzi died due complications of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Ray Magiozzi has pulled together a few clips from the original show’s run that highlight Q&As that drew upon the brothers’ scientific knowledge (both were graduates of MIT.) That said, the callers and listeners were not subjected to some dry, academic explanations; but rather to some commonsense and comic responses. As always, hearing “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” is fun, guaranteed to bring a smile to your face; but admittedly, hearing the prolonged laughter of the two brothers starts to wear thin within the short duration of the audio. In the end, it’s basically recycled material that pings on listener nostalgia.

OTHER: I purchased a digital download copy of Car Talk Science: MIT Wants Its Diplomas Back (written and performed by Ray Magliozzi and Tom Magliozzi) from Audible.com. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Car Talk Science: MIT Wants Its Diplomas Back (written and performed by Ray Magliozzi and Tom Magliozzi) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Original Work category.

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Audiobook Review: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

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The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
The Road to Nowhere, Book #1
By Meg Elison
Narrated by Angela Dawe
Ⓟ 2016, Brilliance Audio
9 hours, 14 minutes
SCIENCE FICTION | POST APOCALYPTIC

This is the story of a P.A. (Physician’s Assistant) in San Francisco who wakes up one day to discover that the city, the country, perhaps the world have been wiped out by “the Women’s Plague.” The virus causes babies to be stillborn, the mothers to die in a raging fever during delivery, and 98% of the males to succumb as well. As the eponymous character moves though the post-apocalyptic landscape, she does what she needs to do in order to survive and search for meaning in this life.

The novel is heavy with import; but it suffers from a surfeit of story, in particular the passages regarding another character’s journey; and some underdeveloped ideas, like hives (a single-female-led colony of male acolytes.) The author also includes a couple of “off-camera” scenes – passages which describe action that could not be known to the main character or others, which can be immediately gratifying to the reader/listener, but breaks the integrity of the narrative.

Angela Dawe takes a while to hit her stride, and her male characterizations are not strong. Her near-neutral delivery mutes the intensity  of the scenes of rape, murder, and death; and she flirts dangerously close to melodrama at times when she is clearly more invested in the story. On the whole, however, Angela Dawe keeps her performance within credible range, i.e. listeners will believe that the narrator is “the unnamed midwife.”

The blogger, The Guilded Earlobe also listened to and reviewed this title; and gave it an “A”rating! Check out what he had to say about it HERE.


OTHER:
I purchased The  Book of the Unnamed Midwife (by Meg Elison; narrated by Angela Dawe) from audible.com. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

The  Book of the Unnamed Midwife (by Meg Elison; narrated by Angela Dawe) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Science Fiction category.

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EDIT: Added line and link to The Guilded Earlobe’s blog post/review.

Audiobook Review: The Dispatcher

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The Dispatcher
By John Scalzi
Narrated by Zachary Quinto
Ⓟ 2016, Audible Studios
2 hours, 19 minutes
SCIENCE FICTION | URBAN FANTASY

Taking place in the near future, “a time of miracles and wonders,” the murdered are inexplicably returned to life – safe, healed (and naked!) in their homes. Dispatchers are those that expedite certain death; and Tony Valdez is a dispatcher who has been brought in on a case involving the disappearance of a co-worker.

Instantly compelling, Quinto’s performance is fantastic –  handling voice characterizations of both sexes and different ethnicities with fluency and seeming facility. Character delineations are clear so there is no ambiguity during dialogues as to whom is speaking.

This is an audio-first story produced under the auspices of Audible Studios. Though a print edition of this novella will be available in May of 2017, at the time of this writing, there do not appear to be any plans for expanding the Dispatcher concept. Too bad, as it certainly whets the appetite for more!

OTHER: I listened to a digital download copy of The Dispatcher (by John Scalzi; narrated by Zachary Quinto) which was available free during the month of October, 2016. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

The Dispatcher (by John Scalzi; narrated by Zachary Quinto) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Science Fiction category; and a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Original Work category.
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EDIT: Added “and a finalist n the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Original Work category.”

Audiobook Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens
By Alan Dean Foster
Narrated by Marc Thompson
Ⓟ 2015, Random House Audio
10 Hours, 21 Minutes
SCIENCE FICTION | SPACE OPERA

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” the fates and destinies of Poe, a brash young pilot carrying a spherical droid named BB8; Rey, a scavenger on the desert planet, Jakku; and a disillusioned Stormtrooper named FN-2187, would cross to create a story of adventure, loyalty, danger and intrigue. The movie would return the iconic space opera franchise to its original core values in storytelling, picking up the story a generation after  Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi (Episode VI) left off. Alan Dean Foster has written the official novelization of the movie; and given that the audio was a simultaneous release with the film, it stands to reason that he was privy to a working script and/or an advance screening to insure the storylines would match. As such, if you have seen the movie, there are no surprises or Easter eggs here; But if you were unclear as to what happened in the movie at any point (e.g. Did Finn die? Or was he just gravely injured?) the (audio-)book will answer those questions.

The audiobook is a hybrid of an audio drama (sound f/x and music) and straight narration (single narrator reading all the text and dialogue.) The sound effects can help with the immersive experience, and also help trigger recall to the movie scenes when the the action lines or settings are not clear in the writing. However, the sound effects can also be distracting to varying degrees from mildly irritating to  getting in the way of the story itself.

The demands of a Star Wars audiobook narrator are a little different than from an audiobook narrator of a regular novel: The narrator works from a Foley script (but with no actual sound effects being played during the recording); has very little input from Disney/LucasFilm and/or the author in regard to characterizations; and must deliver in a style that can seem over-the-top. As a result, the narrator’s performance  is spliced with sound f/x and at times has an odd chopped quality to it; some of the characterizations might seems a bit “off” from what you recall from the movie; and the melodramatic tone, while serving intense scenes, can verge on the comical when more subtlety might have been expected. Nonetheless, it must be noted that Marc Thompson did extremely well in handling the script and the unique demands required of him. His voice characterization for the now-older Han Solo was particularly well-done; though General Leia Organa, not so much.

This is a fun, family friendly audiobook that will appeal to listeners who enjoy radio and/or audio dramas, and Star Wars fans.

 

OTHER: I listened to a CD copy of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (by Alan Dean Foster; narrated by Marc Thompson) that I borrowed from the Jackson County Library Services (Southern Oregon.) I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (by Alan Dean Foster; narrated by Marc Thompson) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Science Fiction category.

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2017 Armchair Audies

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The 2017 finalists for the Audiobook Publishers Association’s Audie Awards have been announced! There are thirty categories with approximately five titles in each that the APA judges have deemed the best of the entries submitted. ON June 1, 2017, in NYC the winner of each category will be announced.

Jennifer Conner (a.k.a. @lithousewife and the APA Audiobook Blogger of the Year 2015) hosts the Armchair Audies in which YOU can be a judge! Listeners each pick a category, listen to the nominees, and decide which entry they think deserves to be the winner in the category. If you would like to play, check out the Armchair Audies blog… This is not affiliated with the APA, and decisions of the Armchair Audies have no bearing on the official Audie Award decisions.

I’ve participated for all five years, picking a different category or categories each year. This year, I’ve picked Science Fiction:

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I’ll listen to each of the title listed above, write a review, and post my pick before June 1, 2017!

March 8, 2017: I have decided to take on another category!

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March 28, 2017: I’ve decided to take on yet another category!

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EDIT: 08MAR2017
* Added word in italics: “I’ve participated for all five years, picking a different category or categories each year”:
* Added another category, Original Work, image
EDIT: 28MAR2017
* Added another category, Audio Drama, image