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Vox: SF For Your Ears
by Scott Danielson

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Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Fantastic Audio, Unabridged, Approx. 13 hours, Performed by Stefan Rudnicki with Gabrielle de Cuir and David Birney, Scott Brick, Jason Cole, Harlan Ellison, Christian Noble, Don Scholssman, M.E. Willis, and Orson Scott Card
Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card, Fantastic Audio, Abridged, Approx. 6 hours, Performed by Michael Gross with Gabrielle de Cuir, Harlan Ellison, Juliet Mills, Christian Noble, Roger Rees, Peter Renaday, Stefan Rudnicki, and William Windom

Ender's Game Ender's Shadow Ender's Game is one of my favorite novels and has been since I first read it when I was a sophomore in college. A friend told me to read it, and read it I did, the entire thing in one evening. Since then, I found that this is a book that many people enjoy, and very few do not.

In the not too distant past, the Earth survived a war with the Buggers, an insect-like alien race. One man was able to make the difference in the war for humanity, but it is widely feared that the Buggers will be back. To prepare, the military has taken to monitoring the Earth for the next military genius. Everyone who is considered a candidate is taken from their families at a young age and placed into an orbital Battle School. Ender Wiggin, at 6 years old, is considered to be the best candidate. Ender's Game is his story.

Even though I had read it three times over the past 14 years, I was glued to this audio version as if I didn't know what was going to happen. The audio is a treat -- easily the best one I've heard this year. Stefan Rudnicki performs the main narrator duties, while a number of others perform the conversations amongst the adults, which occur at the beginning of each chapter. Orson Scott Card also recorded a postscript in which he discusses the origins of Ender's Game as a novel. I can't recommend this one too highly.

Ender's Shadow is called a "parallel" novel to Ender's Game. This book is about Bean, another of the Battle School students. Some of the events here parallel the events in Ender's Game, but the novel is not simply a re-hash of old material.

It tells the story of how four year-old Bean was found, malnourished and living dangerously as part of a gang of youngsters in Rotterdam. Bean then goes on to Battle School, where he learns of his origins, of the Buggers, and of his leader, Ender Wiggin. The novel is very satisfying and is the first of Card's current Shadow Trilogy, the third of which (Shadow Puppets) will be published in August 2002.

The audio version of Ender's Shadow is unfortunately abridged. Though I would prefer an unabridged version, the story worked well at this length. Much is missed, but what is there flows nicely. Michael Gross is an engaging reader, and the adult conversations again are performed effectively by several different actors.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, Time Warner AudioBooks, Unabridged, Approx. 18 hours, Read by Jennifer Wiltsie

Tales from Earthsea Last year, I listened to Time Warner AudioBooks unabridged version of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. It was the finest audio I'd heard that year, and I felt that this one was even better. Snow Crash was irreverent and whimsical, but The Diamond Age is that and more, with a plot that is both epic and personal.

Nell is a little girl, 4 years old when we first meet her. Her brother, Harv, gives her a stolen copy of the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, an interactive ("ractive") book that was designed by an engineer who wanted his own daughter to experience a bit more than the traditional education. Nell's mother flits from abusive relationship to abusive relationship, with Nell and Harv protecting themselves as they can. Nell spends more and more time with the Primer, which teaches Nell through stories told by real interactive actors ("ractors") via the Net.

The story is complex and mature. The main storyline follows Nell's life, and along the way we see an amazing world. The world has become nearly tribal again with people gathering in Claves, each with their own rules and culture. Much time is spent in a neo-Victorian Clave, a place where Victorian culture is adopted because it is felt that one has to go back to the 19th century to find a viable model for society.

Stephenson explores two technologies in the novel as well, and they are both of equal influence on the story. The first is the Net and the entire idea of interactive entertainment, which makes the Primer possible. The second is nanotechnology, which is used in everything from planet building to the creation of stuffed animals in a Matter Compiler. There are also nano-mites which float in your bloodstream and can do anything from carry information to kill you with thousands of tiny explosions.

The only drawback to this novel is the ending, which, though inadequate, would not keep me from recommending it. The rest of the book is so astonishingly strong, that to miss it would be missing one of the major works of modern science fiction.

The Diamond Age could not have been an easy novel to perform, but Jennifer Wiltsie did so admirably. This is the first I've heard her, and I hope to hear her voice often. She had just the right tone for this, and I had no trouble at all discerning the characters in the novel. An excellent job.

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones by R.A. Salvatore, Based upon the story by George Lucas and the screenplay by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales, Random House Audio, Abridged, Approx. 4 hours, Read by Jonathan Davis

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones Star Wars: Episode II is quite a movie. I enjoyed it very much and have little negative to say about it other than the astounding visuals and action sequences in the film again overshadowed the characters. Overall, though, I am very happy with it, and am looking forward to seeing it again.

R.A. Salvatore's novel is a bit more that a straight novelization of the script. I listened to the abridged version of the book, and an unabridged audio version is available. Even this abridged version contains much more than was shown in the film. Several scenes were added that make the story itself a much more satisfying experience. All the inner dialogue adds parsecs to the characters, as well. I am very curious as to what else the author has added in the unabridged version of his novel.

Jonathan Davis submits another excellent performance. It appears that he is now the favored Star Wars audiobook narrator, taking over for Alexander Adams, who in turn took over for Anthony Heald. Again the production is quite good, with sound effects added tastefully throughout.

NOTES

Fantastic Audio will be producing all the Ender books, including the soon to be published Shadow Puppets. At this writing, Speaker for the Dead is just wrapping up. Available now are Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow (Abridged), and Shadow of the Hegemon.

The Diamond Age is available on audio from Time-Warner, either abridged or unabridged. Stephenson's Snow Crash is available both ways as well. Also, both titles can be downloaded at Audible.com.

Copyright © 2002 Scott Danielson

Scott discovered the world of SF audio years ago, when he spent hours a day in his car. His commute has since shortened considerably, but his love for audio remains. By trade, he's an electrical engineer. Aside from reading and writing science fiction, his hobbies include community theater, where he can often be found behind the soundboard or (much less often) on the stage.


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