Armchair Audies 2017: Science Fiction Category Pick!

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To determine my pick for the Science Fiction category, I ran a series of Head-to-Head contests between the five titles nominated. While the comments below each of the contest below are short, you can check out the full reviews I wrote for each of the titles by clicking on the clinks of the title in the #Head2Head subject lines. Please note, that I did not write a review for Crosstalk as I did not finish listening to it (see below.)


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#Head2Head #1: Star Wars: The Force Awakens vs The Dispatcher
While I appreciate the challenges that are involved in producing a Star Wars audiobook and the shear sexiness of a Star Wars title in general; The Dispatcher comes out ahead for its originality (story,) excellent narration, and clean production values.
Winner of Round #1: The Dispatcher


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#Head2Head #2: The Dispatcher vs The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
Scalzi’s novella left me screaming for more; but Elison’s post-apocalyptic vision, while heavy with import, suffered from a surfeit of story.
Winner of Round #2: The Dispatcher


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#Head2Head  #3: The Dispatcher vs Sleeping Giants
The Dispatcher holds it own against Sleeping Giants! I found both stories intriguing and the audios well produced; but while I crave more Dispatcher adventures, I found myself okay with waiting for the sequel, Waking Giants.
Winner of Round #3: The Dispatcher


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#Head2Head #4: The Dispatcher vs Crosstalk
Concept, story, and execution are perfect in The Dispatcher; but while there was a great concept going for Crosstalk, poor story/execution and narrator issues made it unbearable for me to listen to. I ended up bailing on Crosstalk.
Winner of Round #4: The Dispatcher


My pick for the 2017 Armchair Audies in the Science Fiction category:

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OTHER: 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.

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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Ready Player One

Ready Player One

narrated by Wil Wheaton
15.75 hours







Wade Owen Watts is a teenaged gamer escaping the reality of life in the stacks (RVs and trailers stacked one atop the other in towers) in Oklahoma City. The year is 2044 and it’s the third decade of The Great Recession in America. Infrastructure has deteriorated and people look to the cost-efficient technology of virtual reality for entertainment and education. In fact, the “massively multi-player online virtual reality reality game” of OASIS has become for many, the preferred existence: a place where you can create a better version of yourself and live a more interesting life.

“Parzival” is Wade Watts’ avatar in OASIS and Parzival is playing a contest within the realms of OASIS, a game within the game wherein the objective is to locate three keys that will ultimately lead to an Easter egg. The winner of this contest will inherit Jame Halliday’s (co-creator of OASIS) fortune and interest in G.S.S. (Gregarious Simulation Systems) – the company that has top administrative control of OASIS. The power and revenue of this fortune and interest are immense and so the competition for each of the keys and the Easter Egg is stiff. Wade/Parzival must battle IOI, a mega-corp with deep resources, both in OASIS and IRL for the Easter Egg.

Ready Player One is the ultimate story about quest gaming and what makes it more fun is that OASIS is an homage to the 1980s – a time when computer generated gaming starting elbowing out the pinball machines in arcades. There are references to the arcade games themselves (in fact Parzival plays them – in effect becoming an uber meta-gamer in that he’s playing a game within a game within a game that has IRL consequences) as well a number of other cultural references from the eighties. If you’re not a gamer or not familiar with the references, you might feel like you’re missing something; but most of it is sufficiently explained to ameliorate any bewilderment; but if you are familiar with gaming and/or remember the eighties, Ready Player One flows without seeming didactic.

Wil Wheaton, the eighties icon known as the actor who played Wesley Crusher in the television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, is the narrator for Ready Player One; and he was the perfect choice. He sounds like a young adult and handles the all the time-cultural references easily and naturally. In another very cool meta experience, Wil Wheaton’s name occurs within the story 🙂

Ready Player One is a fun, clever story and the audio is an equally fun and clever production in its choice of narrator.


An image I created that mentions some of the eighties references in Ready Player One
The font is “Press Start 2P”

Are you old enough to remember the ’80s?

Were you a gamer? What games did you play?
I was a teen during the eighties and I played some arcade and console games. At the arcades, I played Pac-Man, Ms Pac-Man (table top), Asteroids, Galaga, Centipede and Millipede. At home I had a Fairchild Channel F console which played cartridges. I distinctly remember a tank game, Desert Fox! My sister got an Atari 2600 and we played Pac Man, Asteroids and Missile Command. I remember my-then BFF, “A” (of Amityville Horror fame) had Pong! Do you remember the gaming wars? Atari vs Intellivision!
Other Stuff:

I purchased a digital dnload copy of this book through weread4you.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 (including but not limited toauthors, narrators, publishers, vendors, hosts of challenges and/or challenges.)

The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood
By Margaret Atwood
Narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Katie McNichol and Mark Bramhall;
Featuring music and lyrics by Margaret Atwood and performed by Orville Stoeber
Ⓟ 2009, Random House Audio
14.00 hours
SPECULATIVE FICTION/DYSTOPIAN

The Year of the Flood is the second title in the MaddAddam Trilogy and a companion piece to Oryx and Crake. The story take place in the year 2050 in which the waterless flood, a viral pandemic, depopulates most of the earth. Toby, an older woman who had, years earlier, been rescued by the Gardeners – a granola-crunchy survivalists group, finds herself holed up in an organic spa when the human apocalypse hits; Ren, a young woman and erstwhile Gardener who came from one of the Helthwyzer compounds – a community fully dependent on science and technology, is quarantined in a room in a strip club and; Adam One, the leader of The Gardeners, finds himself expelled from his Eden – ironically the fringe lifestyle of his cult. Margaret Atwater creates characters with a past and a present in an uncertain future.

The characters’ lives are intertwined with each other and with characters from Oryx and Crake, though the treatment of the three major protagonists in The Year of the Flood are unequal. The lives of Toby and Ren are portrayed as dynamic as each of them attempts to move forwards and/or onwards in the aftermath of the human apocalypse and their pasts; but the life of Adam One is portrayed statically: his struggles are mainly philosophical as he tries to marry his suspect theology with reality. There are hints in his sermons as to what is going on in his life; but he is not grounded in the reality of the present the way the other characters are. His past is limited to the arc of the novel. The question becomes, do each or any of them have what it takes to move beyond the immediacy of the present and into the future? Toby is older, wiser and more experienced than Ren; but she is too old to procreate. Ren is young, fertile optimistic; but soft and still egocentric enough to place her feelings before pragmatic considerations. Adam One is strong in his convictions; but ultimately at what cost? What if being bigger, faster, stronger and smarter aren’t co-equal in the equation for survival? Which variable(s) will save you over the others? And what if it’s a faulty equation to begin with?


The Year of the Flood
expands the world that was introduced in Oryx and Crake and there are crossovers that tie up some loose ends from the first book in the MaddAddam trilogy (Yes! We do discover what The Snowman did at the end of O&C!) There is a satisfying sense of closure at the end of TYOTF; though the novel as a whole didn’t “pop” the way Oryx and Crake did. Perhaps it is because the novelty of the world that Margret Atwood first introduced, one of color and exotic forms wore off, only to be replaced my images of squalor. Or maybe it was the narration.
Bernadette Dunne, Katie McNicol and Mark Bramhall narrate from the point-of-perspectives of Toby, Ren and Adam One respectively. Bernadette Dunne gives a solid performance, though one wonders if a couple of the characters wouldn’t have benefited from some ethnic flavor. Katie McNicols shines as a young woman undaunted, though unprepared for the future ahead; but her voicing of other characters seems underdeveloped (e.g. her voice for Zeb seemed at odds with the physical descriptions of him – a bear-like Russian. He came across as sounding not like a bear-like Russian at all.) Mark Bramhall took all his textual cues, performing the role of Adam One with decreasing optimism and certainty; but often sounded more like a charlatan than a charismatic guru. There is performed music after the Adam One sermons, performed by Orville Stoeber. The voices of Mark Bramhall and Orville Stoeber are a close match so there is a sense of continuity; but the music overall is of a 1970’s Church folk style, which if you’re not keen on it, can be irritating. The casting was well-conceived; but somehow each of the narrators fell a little short of completely inhabiting their respective characters. The result is that the listener is reminded that they are listening to a narrative, not experiencing the story.
Not withstanding the narration and the sense that one could stop with the MaddAddam books now, it should be interesting to see where Margaret Atwood takes us in the final installment.

Other Stuff:
The Year of the Flood (by Margaret Atwood; narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Katie McNichol and Mark Bramhall; featuring music and lyrics written by Margaret Atwood and performed by Orville Stoeber) qualifies for:
          
I borrowed a library CD edition of The Year of the Flood (by Margaret Atwood; narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Katie McNichol and Mark Bramhall; featuring music and lyrics written by Margaret Atwood and performed by Orville Stoeber) from The Ashland Library (Jackson County Library System in Southern Oregon.) I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons, companies or organizations that are or may be implied in this post.

When She Woke


When She Woke
by Hillary Jordan
narrated by Heather Corrigan
Ⓟ 2011, HighBridge Audio
10.80 hours

Set in the not-to-distant future and in a society that has sought to redress its issues with religious fundamentalism, When She Woke features Hannah Payne, a young woman convicted of aborting her unborn child. She is sentenced to sixteen years living as a red Chrome, meaning that she has been injected with a virus that turns her skin blood red. Its plot line is very similar to that of The Scarlet Letter (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) and might be considered a homage to the Classic and/or a re-imagining of the tale from the woman’s (Hester Prynne as Hannah Payne) point of view.

Hillary Jordan has taken care to cast her characters in a realistic and human way. Hannah Payne expresses her doubts, angers, insecurities and new convictions in way that is believable. The reader may not find her logic unassailable; but her actions and new awareness bear the pedigree of experience. Aiden Dale, as the modern iteration of Hawthorne’s Arthur Dimmesdale, is a morally complex man drawn with true pathos and much less of a villain for his cowardice than the original. Jordan has fleshed out the emotional landscape of this story without excessive melodrama and provided a way to connect with the Classic. That is not to say that the story doesn’t stand well on its own, because it does. Without having read The Scarlet Letter, a reader would be interested in the characters’ psychological development and perhaps question his or her own convictions as they travel with Hannah on her literal and interior journey:

“Was that all her religious beliefs had ever been then, a set of precepts so deeply inculcated in her that they became automatic, even instinctive? Hear the word God, think He. See the misery of humankind, blame Eve. Obey your parents, be a good girl, vote Trinity Party, never sit with your legs apart. Don’t question, just do as you’re told.”


What might give a reader pause is that there is a fine line between honoring a Classic such as The Scarlet Letter and, being unoriginal. The Scarlet Letter certainly provided the creative impetus for Ms Jordan; and despite her claims that The Handmaid’s Tale (by Margaret Atwood) was not an influence, the comparisons are inescapable. The influence of The Handmaid’s Tale may not have been direct, but Ms Jordan’s invites the comparison by creating scenes that are strikingly similar in tone and substance to Ms Atwood’s own dystopian novel. Drawing so heavily upon the Classic, and coincidentally upon Ms Atwwod’s work, for plot points and character creation may give credence to the charge that Ms Jordan may have borrowed too heavily. Still, what Hillary Jordan brought to the table was a fresh, credible voice to the plight of a woman caught between a rock and a hard place.
Heather Corrigan is renders the text very nicely. The listener will be easily able to discern between interior thought and dialogue and, the mood(s) of the protagonist, Hannah Payne, from whose POV the story is told. Though Heather Corrigan sounds younger than the protagonist, her skill set in bringing Hannah to life is not to be denied. One minor quibble is that the word is “Chrome,” not “Crone.” Once you know what the word is supposed to be, it’s all good 🙂

See also:The Scarlet Letter (by Nathanial Hawthorne)
The Handmaid’s Tale (by Margaret Atwood)

Other Stuff: When She Woke (by Hillary Jordan; narrated by Heather Corrigan) qualifies for:

I purchased and dnloaded a copy of When She Woke (by Hillary Jordan; narrated Heather Corrigan) from weread4you.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.