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Vatta's War: Trading in Danger, Part 1
Elizabeth Moon
Multi-cast performance, adaptation
GraphicAudio, 5 hours

Vatta's War: Trading in Danger, Part 1
Elizabeth Moon
Elizabeth Moon grew up in south Texas, 250 miles south of San Antonio and eight miles from the Mexican border. She attended Rice University and joined the US Marines in 1968. With a second degree in biology, she entertained thoughts about going to med school after her husband, but circumstances intervened.

Elizabeth Moon Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Victory Conditions
SF Site Review: Moon Flights
SF Site Review: Command Decision
SF Site Review: Command Decision
SF Site Review: Engaging the Enemy
SF Site Review: Marque and Reprisal
SF Site Review: Trading in Danger
SF Site Review: Speed of Dark
SF Site Review: Once A Hero
SF Site Review: Rules of Engagement
SF Site Review: Remnant Population

Past Feature Reviews
A review by John Ottinger III

Elizabeth Moon's five part (and counting) Vatta's War series of novels is her most recent and one of her most popular. Moon's affinity with military scenarios is no doubt enhanced by her years of service as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.  The first book in this series, Trading in Danger, has now been turned into an audio presentation by GraphicAudio in two separate five-CD sets.

Vatta's War: Trading in Danger, Part 1 introduces the listener to Kylara Vatta, a young woman of passion and intelligence. Drummed out of the military academy for a mistake to which her compassion led her, Kylara's hopes and dreams of a military career are dashed. However, being part of one of the most successful trading families in the known universe provides a fairly soft cushion. But what Kylara does not expect is that, as a scion of her house, she will be immediately given a captain's position and sent off on a routine trading mission to scrap the old space freighter Glennis Jones. Determined to prove herself to her much more mature crew, Ky settles into the role of captain as if she were born to it. Shrugging off her instructions, she takes risks and opportunities worthy of a Vatta. But when she becomes embroiled in a planetary war, she must rely on her military training and the trust of her crew to see the Glennis Jones safely away.

The first CD set, which is the one provided for this review, ends on a cliffhanger, with the fate of Kylara and her crew uncertain. What came before makes this cliffhanger all the more frustrating, as the listener will have come to respect and admire Kylara through the excellent mix of narration and voice-acting.

This audio presentation is not a simple one voice actor reading of the text, but a mix of narration and acted dialogue, with a large cast of readers. Part drama and part traditional reading, the blend of expositional narrative and voice acted dialogue adds a listening depth that a one-voice actor cannot hope to match.

Though I found the choice of voice actor for Kylara a bit grating (she sounds like Milhouse from The Simpsons) the actor is talented and engages the reader with a well-inflected voice. The narrator also reads well, keeping the plot flowing smoothly and allowing us to hear the interior monologue of Kylara in a different voice, creating a nice segregation between the thought and the spoken. The sound effects are minimal, and add a little dose of realism. The musical score, though enjoyable, tends to overshadow the voice talents and made some of the most exciting moments of the story hard to hear. Some of the dialogue (especially men) is lost when listening in the car, but listening at home or on headphones loses nothing of the content.

The story itself owes a lot to Poul Anderson's Technic series, which postulated a universe where distance and expense made a universal government of humanity nearly impossible. Instead, a trading league holds the limited reigns of power, always seeking power and wealth for themselves and their employees. Moon's story is not quite so libertarian as those of Anderson, but it shares the theme of merchants and traders who are the real movers and shakers in many democratic societies.

This may be a negative aspect of the story to some listeners, as much of the excitement in Vatta's War: Trading in Danger, Part 1 comes from small victories like the securing of a difficult trading contract, or successfully keeping the rusting hulk of the Glennis Jones in one piece, rather than large scale battles or hand to hand fight scenes. As such, the story is character driven by its heroine, whose perspective is very nearly the only one in the entire novel. However, with the cliffhanger at the end of the first CD set, it becomes apparent that Vatta's War: Trading in Danger, Part 2 will become much more exciting.

I recommend Vatta's War: Trading in Danger, Part 1 with the caveat that you will have to buy the second part in order to complete the story. But I believe it is worth it, as Moon's strong heroine, character-focused narrative, and the talented voices conveying the emotional depth of the tale will provide many hours of exceptional entertainment.

Copyright © 2010 John Ottinger III

John Ottinger III's reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in many publications including Publishers Weekly, Sacramento Book Review, and He is also the proprietor of the science fiction/fantasy review blog Grasping for the Wind.

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