15 October 2017

Audiobook Review: The X-Files: Stolen Lives

And we continue our Halloween Special, with a new review. 

If you have been following me for some time now, you know that I am a die-hard fan of The X-Files.  

The X-Files is an American sci fi/horror show that was created by Chris Carter, and stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. Its original run was from 1993 to 2002. 

The X-Files is a paranormal drama set in a dark and gory universe. The plot centers around FBI agents Dana Scully - the skeptic, and Fox Mulder - the believer, who run the so-called X-Files division, where they work on cases the FBI has deemed unsolvable. Cases that involve ritual sacrifice, homocidal mutants, and, of course, 


The show's episodes are divided in two categories: there is the main mythology that centers around extra-terrestrials, government conspiracies and illegal experiments on human subjects. And then there's the so-called "monster of the week" episodes - the standalone stories, that are unrelated to the main arc. 

The paranormal and the supernatural elements are excellent, and the show does a fantastic job blending sci fi with character-driven drama. The otherworldly cases allow the characters to ask difficult questions about science, faith, politics, morality, and family. With all the monsters, mutants, and cigarette-smoking government operatives the show is about people.  

The X-Files inspired a whole generation of "dark and gritty" science fiction shows, and set a new standard for television drama. It gave us some of the best episodes of television, and some of the scariest monsters. It gave us a theme song that still sends chills down the viewers' spines, and of course, aliens. 

What started off as a small TV-show soon turned into a massive franchise, spawning two movies, countless books, comic books, and novelizations. Not to mention video games, board games, and a porn parody.

Hitting its prime in the mid-90's, The X-Files was the first TV-show to have a strong, and vocal online fanbase. And legend goes, the writers actually listened to what the fans had to say, and incorporated some of the fan ideas into the show (for better or for worse).  The show was cancelled in 2002, after a nine season run. After the disappointment that was the feature length movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe, the fans campaigned strongly for a third movie. 

Once again, our voices had been heard, and in 2016, Fox announced that it would revive the original show with a six-episodes event series. It may not have been the movie that we wanted, but The X-Files always works best on the small screen. Despite mixed reviews (I liked it!), the event series - or, season ten, as it's now called - got great ratings, and it was only a matter of time before Fox green-lit a new season of this paranormally paranoid drama. The production for season eleven began this summer, and a few days ago, Fox dropped the official trailer (and it's awesome!). 

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, The X-Files lives on in audio form.   

The X-Files: Cold Cases is an audio drama, produced by Audible Studios. It's based on the graphic novels by Joe Harris. The novels were adapted to audio by Dirk Maggs, and starred most of the original cast. The audio drama was a big success, so the conspiracies live on, as Audible released the sequel to Cold Cases, titled, The X-Files: Stolen Lives. Also based on Harris' graphic novels, and starring most of the original cast. 

The release lined up perfectly with my series of Halloween-related reviews. And now, I give you my review of The X-Files: Stolen Lives

You can also read my review for The X-Files: Cold Cases

Title: The X-Files: Stolen Lives

Author: Joe Harris
Adapted to audio by: Dirk Maggs
Date of publishing: October 3, 2017

Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, William B. Davis, Mitch Pileggi, Tom Bradwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Harwood.

The division has been reopened, but nothing is as it seems in this electrifying follow-up to The X-Files: Cold Cases, starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and a full cast.

"In a world filled with shades of gray, we have to carefully choose which cloak we wear...."

Out of the ashes of the Syndicate, a new, more powerful threat has emerged. Resurrected members of this fallen group - now shadows of their former selves - seemingly bend to the will of someone, or something, with unmatched abilities and an unknown purpose. As those believed to be enemies become unlikely allies and trusted friends turn into terrifying foes, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully become unknowing participants in a deadly game of deception and retribution, the stakes of which amount to the preservation of humankind. Based upon the graphic novels by Joe Harris - with creative direction from series creator Chris Carter -adapted specifically for the audio format by aural auteur Dirk Maggs (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Alien: Out of the Shadows), and directed by William Dufris of AudioComics, Stolen Lives further explores the sonic landscape of Mulder and Scully's paranormal investigations while continuing the epic storyline begun in Cold Cases.

Demonic possession. Flesh-eating swarms. Mind-altering hallucinogenic trips. Listeners experience it all alongside Mulder and Scully in this original dramatization that reunites Duchovny and Anderson once more with fan-favorite characters: Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), Cigarette Smoking Ma
n (William B. Davis), and the Lone Gunmen (Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Harwood). 

"No! Why did it have to end? And why did it have to end so soon? Another frustrating cliffhanger, and a pile of unanswered questions. Not fair.

Oh, well, I'll just read the rest of the Season Eleven comics then."

Stolen Lives consists of five episodes - two "monster of the week", and three mythology episodes. The new conspiracy that was hinted at in Cold Cases, gets further explored in this audio drama. Also, we get a new Big Bad. 

Breaking with tradition, the creators decided to open the new season with a standalone episode, something they shouldn't have done because the standalone episodes in Stolen Lives are not very good. For instance, the season opener centers around the bombing of an abortion clinic. The topic is painfully relevant, and there is real potential to tell an interesting story, and ask some serious questions, but the story doesn't go anywhere, and the issue is never discussed. Understandably, the writers don't want to get into a serious discussion about something this sensitive. So why bring it up in the first place, if you won't follow through?

While the standalone episodes are quite disappointing, it's the mythology that makes Stolen Lives worth listening to. Firstly, we find out what happened to agents Doggett and Reyes, who went missing in Cold Cases. Secondly, the Big Bad of this new mythology finally reveals himself. And it ain't the Cigarette Smoking Man! We're talking about a nearly unstoppable evil genius, with an unlimited amount of resources, and a big chip on his shoulder. This villain is someone we already know from the original series, which makes him so much more interesting.

The mythology episodes are great, and for the first time I think that they could have done without the standalones. Mostly, it's because these particular standalones aren't that good. But also, it's because the main storyline isn't given enough time to develop. It's fast-paced, and suspenseful, but just as its starts gaining momentum, the cliffhanger happens, and the end credits roll. 

What both the new TV-season, and these audiobooks do very well, is ask how Mulder and Scully's work fits in our day and age. This isn't the 1990's anymore. The political climate has changed, the world itself has changed (#waronterror, #wikileaks, #youtubeconspiracytheories). How fitting is it then that at one point in this series, Mulder finds himself at Guantanamo Bay.

The performances are all great. I love hearing the original cast again, especially Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis as Walter Skinner and The Cigarette Smoking Man respectively. The supporting cast deserves a lot of props as well. These voice actors give it their all. They bring life into the story, and they do a great job creating this high-strung, paranoid world around our heroes. This time, I started paying attention to all the sound effects, and the little details, that make the story more lifelike, and make this a more enjoyable experience.

Audiobooks are demanding, because they literally demand your full attention. And audio drama is more demanding still, because there is a lot that remains unsaid, and you have to use your imagination to fill in the blanks, and try and picture the scene in your head. Which is perfect for me, given how I have the attention span of a five-week-old kitten. These audiobooks help me work on my concentration. They challenge me, and I like a challenge.

So, another X-Files audiobook. I'm still not sure how this new storyline fits in the official X-Files canon, if it fits there at all. I like to think that these comics and audiobooks take place in some alternate reality. I like to think that I Want to Believe was so boring, that it literally made the X-Files universe split, creating two different timelines, where in one, Mulder and Scully meet the were-monster, while in the other, Mulder goes to Guantanamo Bay. 

Stolen Lives is not the "non-stop thrill ride" that Cold Cases was. However, it's still a very entertaining, and damn well-executed audio drama. It's suspenseful, and chilling. Plus, there's one episode with all those bugs, and just thinking about it now, makes my skin crawl. Between this Audible original series, and the new TV-seasons, it's not a bad time to be an X-phile.

My Rating

Plot: 4 stars
Story: 4 stars
Writing: 4 stars
Delivery: 5 stars

Average: 4,25 stars 

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