Thursday, May 15, 2014

Audio Adventures

So if you read last month's post. You would have read about my recap of Comicon 2013. And how I stumbled across Graphic Audio and their fantastic graphic audio books. If you read my smashword interview you will also come to know that this was not my first foray into the world of audio books. Through a nifty voice feature of my Nook's EZ PDF reader I was able to get through my store of pdfs in half the time.

I came to appreciate the rich images that were being painted In my mind when the author's words were spoken. I found this most helpful during my commute. A normal slog through traffic became a fantastical escape into another world. I found myself much more positive minded when I got into work (which can only help your performance). At any rate it beat listening to the radio with its mindless music and biased news commentary.

One drawback however was that I soon grew weary of the flat computer voice, that was being produced by the app. It served its purpose well enough but due to an emotionless delivery I found myself tuning out. Key parts of the story were lost to me, which hampered the experience. I knew I could get better results if only I got audiobooks read by a professional narrator. But with the average cost of about $20 I had to think twice. 

Then came along Graphic Audio (I sing their virtues in the previous post). They were doing a special at the convention and I was able to snag two download codes at a special rate. That got me thinking as to how I could beat the cost curve. How could I get my audio books yet not break the bank? Lucky for me my neighborhood sports a great public library. By virtue of being a resident I was eligible for a library card. I am tempted to make cliche statements about a getting a passport to the world of books, but we'll leave that to Levar Burton. I soon began borrowing CDs and virtually through their online collection. All in all I went through quite a few. So much so I wanted to share my adventure with you fair reader. Here's a rundown...

I have made podcasts part of my audio library. I enjoy hearing from prominent writers, it gives me a chance to learn from them and emulate their techniques. And if the writer happens to write sci-fi, military sci-fi to be precise, all the better. I can get my podcast fix from SF Signal. I raided their website and downloaded as many relevant audio files as possible. I always read to relate. I want something that matches with what I am going through. It gives me solace. The recommendations given in these podcasts must match this formula. For me and as for many others, heading out each day to earn a living is a struggle. My religion goes as far as calling it a holy struggle. Military sci-fi are stories that blatantly portray struggle. It requires fortitude and discipline on part of the protagonist to make it through.

I Give it 4 SadiStars
I was delighted to hear one of the authors recommending John Steakley's Armor. The description he gave suited my literary palette just fine. Plus with a gift card from barnes and noble in hand I took the plunge. I am glad I did. The story of Phelix really struck me. Akin to Starship Troopers he too is dropped into a hot zone full of bugs. In this case its only his schizophrenia that keeps him alive. "Erupt damn you!" And the engine takes over. That cold calculating part of him that kills with abject efficiency. Hordes of monster ants wipes out his entire team. But he, the lone survivor fights on. He beats the odds as he is repeatedly dropped and lives. Even hardened criminals are reduced to whimpering children when they experience his exploits. A lot of times at my job I feel overwhelmed. My inner child beckons me to make it stop. But I know I must soldier on. One task after another. You could be completely drained but the job is not done What do you do then? Like Phelix you get in the zone and give them hell! I highly recommend this if you are looking for a good read (listen?). Oh, and the plot twist at the end is worth the wait.

Dave...Dave...You get 4 Sadi Stars
I was able to get my hands on the acclaimed 2001: A space odyssey, by none other than Arthur C. Clarke. My first taste of his writing came from an anthology of his short stories. I really liked his writing style, he always seemed to have a dramatic plot twist in the last few lines of his short stories. So I was eager to see how he fared in a full length feature. I am glad to say that I was delighted. Right from the start the story grips you. The setting is pre-historic times and the focus is on a primitive tribe of man apes. Barely surviving in their caves they have meager defenses against ruthless predators. It isn't until the unlikely arrival of a black monolith that the tide turns. Their minds scanned and enhanced, they soon devise crude weapons to defend themselves. Human nature soon takes root and they begin to assert their authority on a rival tribe. With a severed cougar head, mounted on a spike. Most of the opposing foe correctly deduced that man apes now had superior arms, by which to attack.

The story jumps to the future, where humans are now exploring space. With a well established presence on the moon, they soon discover another monolith. What will these unearthly object teach humanity now? Notice how I make scarce reference to the widely publicized Hal 9000. For me 2001 wasn't just about a ship's AI going haywire. It was more about the spirit of discovery and reaching man's potential.

Egads man just 2 for you!
I am a fan of Dan Brown, especially of his Robert Langdon books. The Davinci Code, Angels and demons, The Lost Symbol, they're all good. I like how Professor Langdon must save the day by solving one cryptic puzzle after another. He must rely on his knowledge of antiquity to do so. Along the way the reader is enriched with new found wisdom. But without a doubt you read to be entertained, which these books always deliver, why else would they be turned into major hollywood productions? That's why I snapped up Inferno. I was delighted to meet the professor once more. His omnipresent tweed jacket and New England sensibilities on full display. He was already entrapped in another international power struggle, with a beautiful female ally at his side. The reader was taken from one exotic location to the next, classic Dan Brown. I was having a grand old time. When something peculiar began cropping up.

The references being made to various artwork were becoming more and more detailed. I mean it was fascinating for sure but was getting in the way of the story. It began to read like a well researched dissertation. One footnote after another. In previous stories this was done subtly. With just the right amount of action and scholarly prowess. A formula that worked well. But sadly it wasn't the case in this scenario. I had to bail at the 2/3rd mark. I honestly stopped caring about the characters and their struggle. And abandoned the story completely.

Three All Stars 3 Sadi Stars!
Lucky for me my next selection wasn't a total dud. I always enjoyed classic SF. Jules Vernes and H.G. Wells are prominent artist from this genre. It's fascinating to see how authors from centuries ago wrote about fictional contraptions that we possess today yet take for granted. Mr. Wells has had success with a previous audio rendition of his story War of the Worlds. We are all familiar with how listeners were duped into believing that an actual alien invasion had occurred when WOW was first broadcasted via radio. In that same tradition this adaptation of the classic tale takes on a news commentary format. With an all star cast of Star Trek fame this sound bite is an easy sell.

However if you are keeping track of the sadi star ratings you'll note a medium grade 3. I would have loved to given it a higher rating but I was put off by its goofiness. When the pods had landed and began attacking this was a deciding moment. Earth had finally realized that it had been invaded by a hostile force. I hate to admit it but the Tom Cruise movie adaptation did a better job of imparting the gravity of the situation. The redeeming moment of the audio play was Nimoy's stoic performance. He plays a professor whose life has been devastated everything he holds dear is gone. Now living a nomadic life on the fringes of devastated towns and cities he painfully recalls a past life that seems to be only a hallucination. With giving away too much it all ends well. You will just have to give it a listen to find out how.

I didn't get this one that's all I have to say about this one. If you did please beg to differ in the comments. 
What? **

Obi God! *****
John Jackson Miller Has been making waves with his Star Wars books. I first found about his work through his lost tribe stories. I was able to get each part of this story for free (doesn't look like they still do this). I recanted the tale to friends, who loved hearing about the exploits of a lone jedi knight on a planet full of sith! That's why I was eagerly awaiting his next book, aptly named, Kenobi. The publisher even had a booth setup at the aforementioned Comicon, furthering the anticipation. Not quick to fall for marketing ploys I decided to download a free sample, something I always do when considering purchasing a book. In my opinion this is just another advantage of ebooks. Retailers usually have these available for their ereaders, especially amazon and b&n. So with sample in hand I read the first few chapters of Kenobi. Amazingly it just didn't jive with me. I guess I was expecting something spectacular like lost tribe. Don't get me wrong the premise is fairly fascinating. The story focuses on the 20 year gap between episodes III and IV and how Obi Wan stood guard over the young Luke Skywalker. Its a must read for fans of the sage character, a chance to meld with his inner workings. That's why I was willing to give it a go once more when I noticed the audio book version at the library.

I must say this production will give Graphic Audio a run for its money. They too added sound effects to enhance the narration. Maybe not as bold as GA but enjoyable none the less. I liked how they introduced radio chatter when the manuscript called for communication via com link. Oh and the Obi's light saber sounds fantastic. Come for the bells and whistle but stay for the story, that's what I say. Miller delivers a compelling story, with well thought out characters. He takes a closer look at the Tuscan Raiders. They are not one dimensional and mindless as we think. We are shown how Tuscan society operates, where honor and courage are valued. They even have their own belief system which has served them for generations. Yet the author doesn't get too heavy and let's you have fun and have a swashbuckling adventure, all the things we have come to love from the Star Wars franchise.

State of Despair **
So my next selection draws parallel with the previous. Here to a reading sample from well loved author drew dismal results. I am talking about Michael Crichton's State of fear. I actually tried this out a long time ago. But didn't like it. He didn't stick to his usual formula of white knuckle suspense mixed with cutting edge sci fi (ala Prey). But again I was willing to give it a go when it became available on my library's virtual bookshelf. This time the audio version was equally disappointing. Again I didn't care for the characters. The story was slow and lethargic and wasn't spectacular in its scope (like in Congo or Jurassic Park). I believe this being written late in his career had something to do with it. But again this is Crichton's work and you may beg to differ.

Now hear this...3 Sadi Stars
Another author whose name carries weight is Philip K. Dick. He's known for such marvels as Total Recall and Through a Scanner Darkly. I picked up another one of his titles, The Penultimate Truth. Its a fairly intriguing story with interesting characters the villain is really despicable you'll love to hate him. But slow at times. Its about a future earth where nuclear annihilation has driven the world's population underground. To escape radiation. However a few brave souls venture to the surface only to discover a startling secret.

This next title is from Graphic Audio, as of yet I haven't downloaded a full title even though I have vouchers with download codes on standby. I guess I haven't found the right serie to invest in. Although Kevin J Anderson's (yes of Dune fame) Enemies & Allies is looking real good. Based on their free samples I am leaning towards the Nuclear Bombshell series. The dialogue isn't as graphic or vulgar as some of their other titles. And the storyline is crisp and fast paced. I like how they combined the sensibilities of a classic spy story with the punch of a sci fi thriller. Yet they keep things light and humorous, an eclectic mix.

It be da' bomb ****

So what do you think dear reader? Do you agree with my ratings? Are you dazzled by my insightful analyst or dumbfounded by my willful ignorance? Let me know in the comments! DISCLAIMER: All copyrighted material are property of their respective owners.
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