BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A 3-CD set (totaling 224 minutes) that features a trio of science fiction audio stories involving aliens.
PROS: All three stories are good;
CONS: None of these stories are what I would deem superb (not that that stopped them from appearing on Years Best lists an awards ballots)
BOTTOM LINE: A solid collection of science fiction audio stories that match the theme of alien rule.
The latest audio anthology collection from Infinivox is Aliens Rule edited by Allan Kaster. It’s a 3-CD set that features 224 minutes of narrated science fiction. The three unabridged stories included (1 novelette and 2 novellas) are themed around alien occupation. The stories are expertly narrated by familiar Infinivox voices Vanessa Hart and Tom Dheere. As with the other Infinivox titles I’ve reviewed (Mini-Masterpieces of Science Fiction and The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction, both also edited by Allan Kaster) this was an enjoyable experience overall as the stories were of good quality, their delivery was well done, and the audio format itself allowed me to squeeze in fiction when I was otherwise unable to.
Individual story reviews follow…
James Van Pelt’s “How Music Begins” is about a junior high school band and their instructor who are held captive by unseen aliens. (They watch from behind protective glass in the mock auditorium/living-quarters they set up.) Sadly. the story never quite explains, after years of captivity, the justification for what the aliens want with the students. The captives (and thus the readers) are left to assume that the aliens are expecting a pitch-perfect performance from their augmented instruments before they will be released. Despite this, Van Pelt’s story successfully captures the unique personalities of the individual main characters, which is what ultimately makes this story worthwhile.
In “Okanoggan Falls” by Carolyn Ives Gilman, alien occupation reaches small town America. The Mayor’s wife attempts to convince the alien captain in charge of the occupation to not destroy her beloved town. I first read this story in The Year’s Best Science Fiction #24 edited by Gardner Dozois, and on re-experiencing the story in audio format, I think it serves as a great example on the subjectivity of the quality of fiction. In short: I liked it better this time around. (Because it was recited slower than I read it? Was I less tired when I heard the audio version? There are too many variables to make any impression absolute!) Yet I did have the same misgivings about the overall story that I had before, so I’ll repeat them here: While the writing does a great job creating the small town atmosphere and values, the bigger picture of alien invasion causes the premise to fall under its own weight. It’s simply not believable that Susan would start to have feelings for Captain Groton, despite the physiological changes that cause him to appear more human and supposedly more endearing. It’s still an Earth-conquering alien who is demolishing the town that we are repeatedly shown is the place Susan adores. How can she see past all that to get emotionally close to him?
[The following story was originally reviewed in Jim Baen’s Universe #10, the assessment of which remains the same for the audio version.] “Laws of Survival” by Nancy Kress is briefly set in a pseudo-Dystopia where people scrounge for food outside the well-protected cities following a war that seems to have separated civilization into the haves and have-nots. Large alien domes, which have arrived from space years before and are impervious to any stimulus men can throw at it, sit idle where the cities dump their garbage. It’s not too long into the story before Jill, looking for food amongst the trash, sees a long-dormant dome actually open. A robot emerges and takes Jill and her newfound puppy inside. Jill is forced into the role of dog trainer for some unseen alien purpose and it’s interesting, though somewhat predictable, to see the reasons why aliens ignore humans but have plans for dogs. Better still was when the other plot shoe was dropped regarding a secret Jill has kept suppressed to help her survive on the outside. This story reads as smoothly as anything else I’ve read by Ms. Kress and doesn’t disappoint.