Pod Planet: Season 2 | Episode 16

Pod Planet Cover Art

Pod Planet Presents: The Gift of the Magi

Pod Planet is an anthology series where every story is “between 83 and 100% true.” This particular episode is an audiobook narration of the famous O’Henry short story “The Gift of the Magi.”

People have discussed this story for the twist at the end. For a twenty-first century audience, this might conjure up a revelation in the person’s mind of the Sixth Sense or any of Shamalan’s earlier films. If you don’t know anything about the story aside from it has a twist, come into this with your expectations low. This is not a Hollywood or modern day book thriller type of twist. Instead of having a big world-changing event occur, the short format lends itself well to the internal moment of the twist. In essence, it’s a character twist, not a plot twist.

Focusing in on the audible components, the narrator gives a performance which rivals any professional voice over artist out there. Given the time the original story was written, his voice is well suited for this kind of twentieth century story. That being said, the monochromatic tone of the narrator’s voice makes it hard to understand the story. To use an old writing adage from George Orwell: “Good prose should be transparent, like a window pane.” The story itself is already literary fiction. It doesn’t need another barrier for the person trying to understand the story. Aside from that, it works perfectly for this type of story.

4.5/5 Stars

Links

Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

Sound Cloud

Patreon

School of Deaths

The first book in The Scythe Wielder’s Secret series, School of Deaths is the spiritual successor of young adult fantasy books like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. At the same time, the book is also its own thing, subverting the tropes you’ve come to expect in YA fiction and fantasy as a whole.

School of Deaths starts off strong in the normal world. Far better than most fantasies which begin in everyday normal life. There’s an instant connection with Susan Sarnio that doesn’t involve making us feel sorry for her. While the similarities to Harry Potter are immense, the reader isn’t bombarded with how bad the main character’s life is right off the bat. One of the ways this tries to separate itself from tropes is by giving Suzie Sarnio a relatively good life. Once we enter the magical world of the deaths, things start to slow down a bit too much. Honestly these chapters blended together.

It’s after the reader learns about Lovethar that the comparisons to Harry Potter continue full force. That being said, this is not a carbon copy of Rowling’s famous boy wizard. Unlike Harry Potter, Susan is hated in the magical world of the deaths. She is by no means the girl who lived or anyone famous. In fact, most people would call her infamous due to gender constraints.

The apparent and sometimes over-the-top sexism from the characters makes Susan that much more compelling as she has to literally start from the bottom because of the deaths’ biases against woman. That being said, the thing which doesn’t make sense is why almost all the students at the college hate Susan. Professors are understandable as they have the knowledge of the world, but most of these children are from the world of the living. Did they suddenly become more sexist because they were taken to the land of the deaths? It’s one of those things that doesn’t bother you in the moment, but upon closer inspection, yanks you out of the story.

All in all, School of Deaths is a great start to a YA fantasy. While some parts in the middle sagged a bit and Harry Potter comparisons were aplenty, the fact that this story stands on its own ground and subverts many of the tropes found in YA fantasy novels is a plus in its favor.

4.5/5 Stars

Coquettes & Cougars|Brimble Banks Brothers Episode 10

A charming and humorous blend of oral storytelling and drama for the ear. The tenth episode of the Brimble Banks Brothers is a self-contained unit and at the same time a continuation of previous episodes. Coquettes and Cougars is the story of a family in Atlanta and their daughter’s planned marriage to someone of aristocratic heritage and wealth.

Honestly, the frame story of the brothers was far more interesting than the one of southern sensibilities and random cougar attacks. The frame narrative uses classic fourth wall breaking to constantly throw you in and out of the story. At times this is exhausting as you aren’t sure if you’re listening to the story about cougars in the southern United States or back in the real world with two bickering brothers who can’t seem to agree on what the story is about.

The overall narrative is all over the place and incorporates characters from previous episodes into the story. Yes, it’s that kind of story. No holds barred and out there in terms of pacing and plot. In this story, anything goes, including the kitchen sink. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy the stories type of humor.

The biggest problem with this is the lack of attention to detail at some points. Not from a story stand point, but a production aspect. The volume goes up significantly at random places throughout the 50 minute long episode. It’s doubtful it was intentional and it’s not something you hear every day in the audio drama community, no matter if it’s free or for purchase.

Without having listened to earlier episodes, it’s hard to give thoughts on the overarching series with the two brothers. That being said, it sits on my feed, waiting for when I have free time.

4/5 Stars

Mistborn: Shadows of Self

The fifth novel in the Mistborn series, Shadows of Self shares more in common with the original trilogy than the Alloy of Law–the fourth book. In that book, we’re introduced to the characters of Wax and Wayne. Despite their different personalities, the same letter at the beginning of their names makes for a confusing read. Thankfully most of that got straightened out in the first book starring these two vigilantes out in the wild west.

Alloy of Law comparisons aside, Shadows of Self isn’t a standard Mistborn novel. While the magic systems are still ever-present in the world and have evolved since the days of the original trilogy, their importance has dwindled. Shadows of Self is a mystery whose clues and conclusion rely on knowledge of the previous books to get the full effect the author intended.

The star of this new era of Mistborn is Wayne and Michael Kramer’s portrayal of him. He steals every scene he’s in and his point of view scenes are a delight. All the characters are well-rounded, but I know I’m not alone in thinking that Wayne brings life to an otherwise like-minded cast.

Overall, Shadows of Self is a darker tale set in the Mistborn universe, filled with murder, mystery and an easy to spot twist. Its balancing act between dark fantasy and light-hearted epic fantasy is blurry at best, but because of Wayne, stays clear of complete Grimdark territory.

4/5 Stars

Darth Plagueis

Taking place before the events of the Star Wars prequels, “Darth Plagueis” is a political drama about the story of Hugo Demask’s and his apprentice, Darth Sidious’ rise to power.

While not part of the new canon, established by “Star Wars Episode VII,” it does have a few problems with pacing. At times the politics can get boring, but unlike the prequels it’s not sloppily mashed together with kid-friendly moments that don’t make sense given the galactic scale conflict. In a way, “Darth Plagueis” is almost what the prequels could’ve been, as the politics are given much more detail and aren’t constrained by the length of a movie.

The story itself mostly focuses on Sidious and his rise to the position of Supreme Chancellor. Aside from the opening chapters, the title character of Darth Plagueis (Hugo Demask) barely has any point-of-view scenes. Sidious steals the show in both the story and the narrator’s portrayal of him.

By far the best part was the soundscape. Little things like blaster and lightsaber sounds make this more than an audiobook and fully immerses you in a galaxy far, far away.

Trying not to compare this with the prequels is hard, because the story takes place before the events of The Phantom Menace, but it does drag on in–mostly due to the political scenes where very little happens. On the plus side, it does explain a lot of the backstory behind the Phantom Menance’s convulted plot.

Overall, the story is much better than the prequels, but with dozens of Star Wars novels out in the world, with more coming on a regular basis, there are certainly better ones available for purchase. However, if you’re one of the people who liked the concept of the prequels, but hated the execution, this might be a good alternative. At the very least it gives you some insight into the world George Lucas had in his head, but didn’t get explained on the screen.

4/5 Stars

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Hare of Inaba.”

The second to last story in this collection of Japanese Fairy Tales, “The Hare of Inaba” is more of what you expect, given the previous six fairy tales. Again, the narrator does a great job of capturing the spirit of these children’s stories with the slightest inflection in his voice and once more the tone is consistent throughout all stories.

However, for this story in particular, the voice of the hare (and the raise in pitch) amplifies the lighthearted tone of the story to the point of distortion for the listener. Another way to look at it: It’s overly cute and the length of the rabbit’s monologue doesn’t help. In fact it hurts it, because he basically tells the listener what they already know–as it just happened in the first half of the tale. Yes, this is a problem with the source material, but it became all too apparent with the excess use of a pitch shifter.

This isn’t the first time a filter was applied to the actresses voice. All the small furry animals sound the same across this audio anthology, but they don’t last nearly as long. This is all personal taste, but I imagine a lot of people might get turned off by this effect, especially if you’re paying money for it.

That’s where I have the biggest problem and something I’ve held off on until this final review. This is not worth the price. Even if you have a compelling reason to want to experience Japanese culture through their stories, there are much better ways to do so without spending seven to eight dollars.

After doing some research, I discovered a lot of the tales are in the public domain or at the very least are available to read online without paying. The only reason to buy this is for the audio version of some the tales, emphasis on the word “some.” These are only a fraction of the stories available.

Going back to the story at hand, “The Hare of Inaba,” along with the rest of the fairy tales in this collection, suffer from overused audio cliches like disguising someone’s voice with pitch shifting technology, but thankfully the narrator does a great job at keeping the spirit of the tales alive in a way I haven’t heard done since listening to the “Harry Potter” audiobooks.

The full collection is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com.

4/5 Stars (for the entire collection)

Darth Plagueis (Patreon Exclusive Review Preview)

With the relatively recent release of the seventh Star Wars film, I thought it was time to review another Star Wars story. However, instead of doing the Return of the Jedi, I decided to do something different and review an audiobook.

Taking place before the events of the Star Wars prequels, “Darth Plagueis” is a political drama about the story of Hugo Demask’s and his apprentice, Darth Sidious’, rise to power.

While not part of the new canon, established by “Star Wars Episode VII,” it does have a few problems with pacing. At times the politics can get boring, but unlike the prequels it’s not sloppily mashed together with kid-friendly moments that don’t make sense given the galactic scale conflict. In a way, “Darth Plagueis” is almost what the prequels could’ve been, as the politics are given much more detail and aren’t constrained by the length of a movie…

Want to read more? Become a supporter on patreon and get this review along with an ebook of never-ending reviews, if you donate $3 every month. Exclusive reviews like this one are easily obtained at the $1 level.

Go to Patreon.com/adr to learn more and sign up.

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Enchanted Waterfall.”

The sixth story in this collection of Japanese fairy tales has a similar light-hearted tone found in the other stories, but with a more western structure. In some ways, this is the Japanese equivalent/retelling of the King Midas story. It’s not apparent when listening. In fact it doesn’t even follow the same beats. At least not in the order or way it’s presented in the classic western fairy tale.

The basic premise is about a young boy who wants to please his father by bringing something home to him. Each day, his father talks about the good old days, when he and his father would drink sake and be merry. This is all within the first minute or two of the story and told via expository narration.

Once the boy discovers the waterfall made of sake and returns to his father, who is thrilled to have a bottle of sake after so many years without it. News spreads through the village of the boy’s discovery.

The story ends well for the boy, but not without a bumpy middle. As far as subverting thematic tropes like greed vs. gratitude, this story follows a typical fairy tale arc. Overall this 5-6 minute tale is a fun listen, but don’t expect it to turn tropes on their heads.

The full collection is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com.

The Once and Future Nerd: Princes of Iorden

From the very beginning, the audio production of Princes of Iorden, Book I of The Once and Future Nerd, is an ideal blend of both familiar tropes and interesting characters that turn those tropes on their heads, adding complexity to otherwise meek and overdone clichés. One great example is the nerd who gets easily consumed by a fantasy world. But in the end, the writers manage to make the story enjoyable, despite the tropes, with a mentally and physically diverse cast.

The greatest example of how they evaded a cliché trap is with Jenny, the smart cheerleader. She’s more complex than that pithy one-line description, as her character arc in the first book goes from worried high
school girl to kick-ass fighter. Although her journey there isn’t as good as
the end result, it’s still entertaining.

The overall plot is pretty basic, but uses a full
complement of fantasy tropes to its advantage. Honestly, the story peaks around
chapters six and seven. The shift to a more humorous tone at this point is
certainly out of place compared to the previous chapters. However, the
execution of humorous bits is done so effectively, you eventually forgive such
a sudden, inexplicable shift.

My one real complaint is the subplot with Gwen and the
lady whom she serves. For the majority of the tale, there is no genuine
connection with either of them, at least when compared to the main cast of
Bill, Jen, Nelson, and their protectors.

If there was ever a story in which the individual
characters made the plot actually interesting, Princes of Iorden is it.
Although the plot does follow the typical tropes; the characters add life to
it, delivering everything you expect from an age-old fantasy plot, but in a way
that’s enjoyable and not always predictable.

4.5/5 stars

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Battle of the Monkey and the Crab” and “Goblin Spider.”

The fifth track of Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated album is the story of a kerfuffle between a monkey and a crab. Seems pretty straight forward, but the ending is not what you’d expect from a fairy tale. At least not a western one. Even still, the outcome of the battle is brief, grim, and slightly gruesome. It’s essentially: “He was so ugly that everyone died. The end.” Brief climax and a even shorter denouement will make you go “what?” Not even a sentence passes between the two phases of a story.

The rest of the tale is more or less what you’d expect, if you’ve listened to the tracks before. The combination of narrative summary and dialogue make for a more engaging tale. Interesting is something else entirely.

Skipping to the last track, “Goblin Spider” is a tale of lone warrior on a quest to defeat a goblin. Like Game of Thrones, you think he’s the main character, but when he dies from a goblin spider masquerading as a religious man, you realize there’s more to the story. And then the tale ends with the warrior’s men taking the creature out the next morning, giving a surprising yet inevitable plot twist that feels rushed. This is the fault of the storyteller and not the narrator. At the same time, it’s a difference in cultures and what we expect from stories.

Both tales have similar themes of battle and war. Some are more obvious than others, but both are short, to the point, and perhaps a little too brief.

The full collection is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com.