The folks at Skyboat Media have breathed new life into an old format: the radio playy. Ender’s Game author, Orson Scott Card, has rewritten the novel from ground up as an audio play. I’ve been pretty excited about this new art form (or, at least a form pushed to new levels) ever since I became aware of the project. However, this was on the tail end of rereading Ender’s Game via the audio book (reviewed here). So, while I was really interested, I wasn’t going to go right back into Ender’s Game in a different format, especially since its publication roughly coincides with the movie’s release that I will see soon. I’ll wait; I’m an adult. So, of course, I bought it. But, you know, just for later. Well, I’ll just listen to the first bit, just to see how it is. Hooked.
Ender’s Game started as a short story in Analog magazine; to find its home as a first-class audio drama seems only appropriate. Now, you may have heard old time radio drama’s like Sherlock Holmes or The Shadow. Those were great, but this production is something entirely new, using current production methods, an amazing cast and original music. (A little more on this fine history to current production level and why it’s a great art form is here.) It’s a little like taking an early 70’s TV show and making it into a full modern HD movie (without losing the character of the show). The sound effects, the score and especially the cast are fabulous.
The Script. First, let’s look at the rewrite. We’ve all seen movies with great production value but where the story just didn’t hold up. This is not simply a multi-voice narration of a book. Those can be really cool; indeed some of the same folks in this recording were involved in a multi-voice recording of the Ender’s Game book (about which more here.). This is a full rewrite with some new scenes but fully capturing the original (it is Mr. Card, after all, writing). What’s amazing is that it allows many of those introspective moments to come out through both new dialog or reflection of others. Battle school comes alive in new ways but the substance is not changed. This is the essence of the story in Ender’s Game.
The Cast. The first thing to note is that this comes from people who intimately know audio books. Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle de Cuir, two of the principals at Skyboat Media, have many books under their belts (including Ender’s Game). They know audio and story. Other cast members are veteran actors such as Samatha Eggar and Theo Bikel or book narrators such as Kirby Heyborne and Susan Hanfield. Great narration. Now, one of my boys questioned the idea of women playing boys voices; these are young boys, Emily Rankin as Bean is perfect.
The “Surround”: effects, music and themes John Rubinstein’s (who comes from the musical family of pianist Arthur Rubinstein) score plays perfectly into the drama, the sound of Battle School, lasers and all, are terrific. Even the dialog between Ender and Bean in a tunnel sound like they’re in a tunnel. Another great example is when Ender and Shen talk as the spin in zero gravity, their voices move from left to right channel and back to match the spinning. (Hence, the reason to listen to this production with a good set of headphones.) The foley work (sounds of steps, doors etc) is first rate. Even Valentine’s & Bonzo’s themes are spot on. The important part, though, is that the music, sounds and all production elements come together to build the drama; they enhance the story and fully immerse you into it.
The Quality of the Production. The point is to be fully immersed. Don’t go into this like it’s an audio book. You’ll look for the narration to tell you where you are in the story. Here, it’s done with sounds and theme and dialog and a little monologue, but not straight out narration. Let me emphasize the quality of this production. One way to bring this out is how I rip and experience this. I typically listen to audio books while mobile so I rip them. I often “save space” if I own CDs of audio books, I’ll rip them at 128 Kbps. After all, spoken word doesn’t have the same level of complexity as a symphony. Not this production. I rendered it with a lossless codec although around 320 variable bit rate mp3 would be fine. I listened to most of it on Grado SR 80s (quite decent cans). This is an amazing experience. They use left and right channel well with a large sound stage even while being immersed in the sound. You feel as if you’re in the dialog, a part of the conversation and the action.
While content is king and the best production can’t make up for bad story or lousy acting, what really sets Ender’s Game Alive apart is a focused script of a great story (not a slightly edited text to account for being read aloud), terrific actors and narrators and first rate production value. They are truly boldly going where, oh wait, that’s another franchise… they are pushing the edges of the audio play to new levels and Ender’s Game Alive shows off the audio play at its finest.
Ender’s Game Alive is available from Audible. NOTE: it’s currently free for Prime Members!
Update: Ender’s Game Alive is up for 3 Audies. Here’s a bit more behind the scenes: