Mistborn: The Final Empire (Part 1 of 3)

Originally published on graphicaudio.net

I finished reading the Final Empire sometime in the fall of 2011. However, I don’t remember much of the opening chapters, because I took a long gap of about 3 months before picking the book back up again.

Having read half of the second book in the trilogy, all I can say is “wow” at all the clues and hints I missed.

The one downside is that the narration is sometimes not needed. and seemed to drone on in places. A really good sound effect could do much of the heavy lifting in the “action” department. If I hear a coin being tossed, I don’t need the narrator telling me the same exact thing. It’s redundant.

That aside, it’s a shame that this part ended where it did. The book kicked it into high gear, during the heist planning scene and hearing it again was a real treat. Then again, it got me wanting to buy the second part.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Zombie Hospital #1

At first glance, this looked like an interesting premise—an audio drama in ten minutes or less. However this doesn’t have a complete arc. While it was interesting, there wasn’t a whole lot of reason to listen to future episodes. For those who are sick of the zombie scene, this will only make you annoyed. If you’re the kind of person who goes into a movie, expecting it to be bad, chances are good that you’ll be disappointed. There are cases of a movie surprising us, but they really have to wow. Unfortunately the first episode of Zombie Hospital didn’t do that for me.

The acting is good and the sound effects don’t disorient the listener. Other than that, in terms of story, there’s not much going on to investigate further into the series. It’s an unfortunate, and I hate giving “bad” reviews, but I’ve got to be honest and say that I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps I was colored by expecting this to have a complete arc. I was really looking forward to a “flash fiction” audio drama, as it was something I’ve heard very rarely.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Phantom Canyon

Phantom Canyon succeeds in being horror. A horror-western is a bit of a stretch. Yes, the story is set in the old west, but I felt this was a much better horror piece than it was a western. That’s all good, because those two genres almost never work well together. I’d pin this audio drama at 75% horror, 25% western.

How good of a horror is this? I slept with the lights on for a few hours after listening to it. Horror films don’t scare me. It’s only after they’re done that my mind begins to play tricks on me. Phantom Canyon had that same effect.

The actors and actresses did a great job of bringing life to their characters. That, combined with the fantastic production value, made for a truly immersive story. Without any spoilers, the final scene succeeds in achieving the want for a sequel without promising there will be one. Such a balance is hard to get right.

Aside from the tiny genre complaint, there’s not really much to criticize this for. As Pendant’s first “Prestige” show they did a bang-up job and was worth the small amount of money that was shelled out to get it.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

Hadron Gospel Hour Episode 1: The Reluctant Hadronaut

Welcome to the multi-verse or at least one creator’s idea of a timeless science fiction trope. Dr. Who be damned, because there’s a new quirky comedy on the scene and it’s combining elements of Robot Chicken with Sci-fi comedy from the stylings of The Destiny of Special Agent Ace Galaksi. Hadron Gospel Hour promises to achieve both great storytelling and acts of random humor.

What makes this unique is how it uses the multiverse trope to justify the occasional random humor. That could be a turn off for some people. The beginning is way out there in terms of the randomness factor. It’s not until you get past the fake commercials for things like the awesome product that everyone needs that you get into the real meat and potatoes of the first episode. It’s an interesting way to set up the series and the world building behind it. In the essence of “show, don’t tell,” the creator(s) have achieved an interesting balance between explaining the world and showing you how random and unpredictable it can be.

The first episode has a whacky beginning, a comedic middle, and an ending that takes the whole thing up two notches. Honestly, the way they tied the main plot of this individual episode and the setup for the series together was outstanding. I certainly wasn’t expecting that kind of twist so early in the show’s debut.

Ender’s Game Alive

Ender’s Game Alive has a wonderful cast, powerful sound effects, and a story that has stood the test of time. Just like the novel changed science fiction, this adaptation does the same for audio drama. It says “this isn’t a worn out medium and here’s proof.” This version was my first experience of the story, having never read the book, and I enjoyed the story.

The opening scene was hard to get through because of the dialogue that was written on the page and I’ve heard the same complaint from people who’ve read the book that the opening was hard to get through. From what I understand, the book starts off with dialogue with no context. It’s essentially two people talking in a white room. Audio Dramas use dialogue all the time as do movies. It’s kind of their thing. I wasn’t sure of the first scenes purpose other than to inform the reader that in this society, having a third child is illegal and how Ender was allowed to be born, despite that law.

The ending felt a bit rushed, at least in the way it was presented, but I can see how it could’ve worked well in a book. The big twist ending was foreshadowed a few scenes before the reveal actually happened and the foreshadowing was like a hit to the head with a hammer. There wasn’t enough time to collect and process the information.

Having watched the movie, I have to say I like this interpretation of Colonel Graff better than Harrison’s Ford’s portrayal. In the movie, he didn’t have a lot of depth. In Ender’s Game Alive, you understand his motivation much more clearly. Those scenes with him and the psychologist were some of the more interesting bits of the story. I felt like Graff cared for Ender like his own son. The entire cast did a great job. Even though these characters were supposed to be kids, I was never knocked out of the story—even in the beginning.

Overall this production is fantastic and there was never a dull moment where I wanted to turn it off. It was more like I had to do it.

Tabula Rasa Season One

One of Pendant Productions’ newer podcasts, “Tabula Rasa” has all the audible stylings that make Pendant shows great. The show was written and created by Jack Calk and directed by Anna Rodriguez and they are a force to be reckoned with. The premise of the story is short, sweet, and to the point—but not overused that it’s a cliche: a woman has no memory of who she is and has the uncanny ability to predict danger. Sounds like an interesting supernatural mystery, right? For example, how can she know the things she knows just in the first two episodes alone?

Most is explained, but a few loose ends are left hanging for future seasons. Perhaps a bit too much. Jack Calk never explicitly says how she knew about some of the dangers. It’s sort of implied by the characters and the situation that, yes, there is an explanation and here it is…maybe. That’s the thing. Since there is not a definitive answer given by the characters, one can’t know for sure—at least not now. It’s the perfect blend of ambiguity and concreteness. It kept me on my toes.

Listening to the first season more than once will enhance the experience for the listener. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy it on the first try. Perhaps if I’d listened to it while it was being aired, instead of the whole season all at once, this review may have been different. It’s impossible to know. But knowing the ending of the first season and then going back and listening to it again gave me a much better understanding of what was going on—which, I admit, was a big problem for me on the first listen. The episode before the season finale made me want to go back and listen to the entire thing, once I finished the next episode. That could be a problem for some people who expect a powerful opening.

If there’s one complaint I have it’s that the final episode doesn’t feel like a season finale. It ends on such a big cliffhanger and so many problems are created, rather than resolved. In fact, most of the the revelations and closure scenes happen in the episode before. It’s an interesting choice to structure the season like that. Kind of like what “The Kingery” did when they opened up a season with a certain character’s death, rather than at the end of the previous season. I know it’s a serialized story, but the way it came to a sudden halt was a bit of a letdown. Some more closure would have been nice. That or a longer season. Ten episodes didn’t feel like a whole lot of content. Again, that’s probably due to my listening to it over the weekend rather than one episode per month.

Other than the finale, the first season “Tabula Rasa” is a wonderful addition to Pendant Audio’s collection and promises to be so much more in the coming seasons. With a company like Pendant, there’s no doubt that they’ll make good on that promise and entertain the masses with a wonderful story, acting, and sound effects as the series progresses.

All Ears – Celebrating Modern Audio Drama

This is for the “All Ears – Celebrating Modern Audio Drama” documentary. First off, wow. It’s great to see such a unique project be done with such care and love that it rekindled the strong passion I once had for audio drama.

As a reviewer of audio dramas for a little over 3 years now, my interest has been slowly fading. There’s not a lot of variety in the shows. It’s usually an adaptation, fan fiction, or a story that feels similar to a lot of things out there: generic westerns, mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, to name a few. That’s not to say they’re “bad,” but it’s hard to find an audio drama that both hooks me right from the start and keeps my interest until the end.

An audio documentary is something I’d never even considered was possible, yet Yap Audio does a tremendous job in creating that documentary feel with the clips sent in by various fans, creators, and actors alike. It’s like I was watching these proponents of modern audio drama sitting in their chairs with various audio-esque equipment behind them for decoration—when really, if you think about it, they’re just talking into a microphone possibly in their pajamas.

The project is both fascinating and educational, which most good documentaries have to achieve on some level. “All Ears” goes above and beyond even those, making it a great documentary. One that should be remembered and shared.

Star Wars Episode IV

Star Wars Radio Drama. Need I say more? Perhaps one of the greatest science fiction movies of the twentieth century, Star Wars has captured the hearts of millions and lost a few of them along the way as the series went back in time. Of course I’m talking about the prequels, but that’s not the purpose of this review.

This adaptation of Star Wars IV: A New Hope was released on NPR back in 1981. Many others, have been fortunate to get it on audible.com, years after its original broadcast. Those expecting the movie but in audio form, will be presently surprised.

The runtime of the audio drama is 5+ hours and the the movie is less than 3. That means there’s at least 2 hours of extra story that adds more dimensions to the characters. We spend more time on Tatooine in the beginning, getting to know Luke as more than just a whiny farm boy. Or, at least, he has a bigger motivation for wanting to leave the planet than originally portrayed in the movie.

The acting done by Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Anthony Daniels is top quality. However, most of the cast from the first film do not make an appearance. That being said, the only actor who felt out of place was the person playing Darth Vader. Even so, near the end I came to accept the voice.

If there was one flaw early on that drove me up the wall it would be the unnatural timing of Darth Vader’s respirator. It went on and off constantly without any rhyme or reason. Thankfully it became background noise after a while, but when first introduced to one of the greatest villains in history, it came off as a grown man with breathing issues.

Fans of Star Wars and audio drama will be sure to get their money’s worth

Earbud Theater: Shift

A story with an ending that doesn’t wow, but made me go “how?”  The premise is much like the one Dan Wells used in The Hollow City. A schizophrenic sees faceless people and thinks there is some conspiracy out to get him. In “Shift,” the story starts off with the protagonist in a session with his psychiatrist. They chat a bit about their previous sessions and then the story gets underway.

What makes this story different from the traditional psychological horror is its ability to make you wonder, while at the same time, ground you in reality. After all, how would you react if you found out that you could “shift” between dimensions? In The Hollow City, there is a supernatural element much like in the John Cleaver Trilogy (also by Dan Wells). However it’s not revealed until the end and that whole aspect is what takes the book from a good book to a great one. Shift has essentially the same exact plot structure, but the ending is more open-ended and has a sense of wonder that The Hollow City trades-off by making the revelation more scientific than fantastical.

Those are the two extremes and both have their merits. As for myself, I prefer concrete reality over magic or science without much of an explanation. It’s why magic systems and their rules are interesting to me. However if one looks at early Fantasy, there’s no consistency. The Lord of the Rings is an obvious example. You have to be a wizard to do magic and that’s about it. “Shift” is somewhere in between a Lord of the Rings magic system and The Hollow City.

Shift is a wonderful short audio drama that certainly packs somewhat of a punch with its ending. However, the story overall just didn’t wow me.

Ika Roa

It’s rare to hear an audio drama that has so much world building in it and I’m not talking about the ambience. I’m a sucker for political intrigue in stories and Ika Roa has so much of it that I was engrossed from the first episode. On top of that, I understood everything. Generally the biggest problem with audio dramas so focused on world building is the steep learning curve. Every story has one, there’s not getting around it. Some stories have steeper learning curves than others. Ika Roa manages to get the information across in the most interesting way possible…through dialogue riddled with character conflicts. It’s not enough anymore to write dialogue that is just an info dump, especially in stories that require a script. It’s a subset of “maid and butler” dialogue (where both characters talk about things they already know for the benefit of the reader). That’s not to say that dialogue has to be filled with conflict, but it makes it more interesting that way. It’s why audiences like well-written, back and forth banter in movies aka “snappy” dialogue.”

All that said, as the series progressed, confusion inevitably came. Not from what was going on, but from the cast of characters having gotten to the point that only a few characters were recognizable. Governor Warren, Karra, and the characters directly in their social group were the most fleshed out. The others from the trading company, really weren’t characters. They were your typical corporate people, no dimension to them. Their purpose was to create tension, which is good. I just wish they were used for more than just plot devices. They kind of just faded into the background until the very end, almost changing into a force of nature.

Aside from the confusion as the series progressed, I found myself getting less and less interested in what was going on. The ending fulfills on the promises, but doesn’t go as big as it could go. It’s very much a full circle kind of story and mostly everything got wrapped up. Again, maybe the show could’ve done more in the “wow that climax was awesome” department. As it stands though, Ika Roa is a wonderful modern audio drama and a nice change of pace from most audio dramas I hear.