An Audio-Book Review: Don’t Steal (or Buy) this Book!

The Rapture of the Nerds

By Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

Published by Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Read by John Lee


The Book:

Some time ago I wrote a review that was entitled “Listening Bad Books So You Won’t Have To.” I was referring to Edward G Bulwer-Lytton’s travesty of literature, The Last Days of Pompeii, which for some reason I am unable to understand has been adapted to various performance arts more often than it deserves. However, in spite of my disdain for the works of Bulwer-Lytton, that horrible book was a literary masterpiece when compared to The Rapture of the Nerds. Rarely have I encountered such a sloppily written, badly paced and intellect-insulting read.

The whole thing is a tale of post-singularity world after many humans have chosen to upload themselves to the cyber-world and those left on Earth are either technophobes or just flat-out crazy… No I take that back, they are all flat-out crazy. There are no good excuses.

It is hard to know where to begin on critiquing this book, but let’s start with the beginning. The authors somehow believed that the best way to introduce a possible future world is to throw the readers under a bus. No not literally, that might have been better, but instead we are thrust into a nonsensical tsunami of bad science fiction clichés and stereotypes without even the life preserver of a single familiar fixture from the past from which to translate the differences between their fiction and the world we live in now. Something, anything would have helped, but instead they went out of their way to twist their world out of all possibility, frequently throwing out a term that sounds familiar but turns out to be just the opposite or at least have little to no relationship to Twenty-first Century meaning.

After a while, the reader starts to get the notion that everything they know is wrong or that the authors just don’t care. Indeed as new facets of their world come to light I could not but help think they were making it all up as they went along, which is a horrible way to invent a new world, that sort of thing needs to be planned if you want a coherent fictional world. I will not say this world was not planned from start to finish, but if so, there should have been more thought put into it rather than jamming in various clichés into a soft bit a verbal Playdoh expected to hold them all together. So when reading, you do not really ever have a firm grasp on the sort of world these people are living in, especially in the final section which mostly takes place in cyberspace. The reader does, from time to time get a grasp on the shape of the world only to have it kicked out from under their feet a moment later. That can be effective, but was just tiring in this case and frequently did nothing to enhance the story.

The characters are a malleable as the landscape, though. We get a hint of that when the authors slip in that a person can change their gender on a whim and frequently do as easily (and in the same room) as they brush their teeth. It is predictable that eventually the main character, Huw (pronounced Hugh or Hue) would undergo a change of gender too. Well, why not? It’s been a common SF theme for as long as I’ve been reading so while it is hardly an original theme. Actually there are examples of sex-change in stories going back to the ancient world so in some ways it’s a tired old notion, but then there really wasn’t any feature of the fictional world I found new or original. And, even more disappointing, gender makes absolutely no difference on the characters, other than wearing different clothing they barely notice they have suddenly “changed teams” so to speak. I suppose that is a good way to say that people are people and that gender is only a distraction, which I can agree with most of the time, but if that is the message it gets lost in the haze. No, the only difference is figuring which pronoun to use depending on when one is talking about Huw.

The story is full of pop-culture references that were frequently out of place or inappropriate or just plain distracting. I really could have lived without the constant references to other authors’ SF and fantasy series. There were so many it felt as though they were thrown in to stretch the story out to a required length.

My recurring impression was that the authors were bullies and just wanted to shove me around to make me miserable for their own enjoyment. It’s a shame when an author doesn’t appreciate the fact that their readers are. Ultimately, the source of their income.

Okay, so it’s a hodge-podge whirlwind of a kludged-up world. One could argue that if you tossed a copy of any 2016 New York Times mainstream bestseller at a book club in 1916 they would have just as much trouble understanding the world within it as I did with this book, but the difference if that the 2016 book would have been written for a 2016 audience and not one living a century earlier. However, let’s put aside my rants about the world the story takes place in. I won’t even go into the details of the haphazard way in which the plot was stitched together so badly even Doc Frankenstein would not have bothered to try reviving it.

How many times can you drop the “F-Bomb” before the whole story blows up? Certainly less often that what I went through here. Why do some authors think that swearing is a sign of sophistication? Too many I fear. Don’t give me the argument that that is how real people talk. Maybe you do, maybe the authors do. I do not nor do most of the people I hang out with unless they get very angry, but in this case Huw and almost everyone else at the start of this book use the F-word as though it is a vitamin and they are desperate to get their recommended daily minimum dosage of it. Every page, especially in the first two sections of the story has a scattering of F-bombs as though the authors placed them with a pepper shaker. Were they trying to make the word just so much meaningless noise? If so, they succeeded especially since even the narrative passages used the word which is just very bad and sloppy writing. There is never a reason for a third person narrator to swear. Never.

I also found their tendency to write this sloppy story in the third person present tense (as in “Huw takes a drink and then goes to wash his ‘effing’ hands”) somewhat distracting, but then I was taught to write such passages in the past tense. I’ll let that one go since with all the other flaws, that was a mere annoyance.

Is this story supposed to be a parody? A satire? If so, it very much missed the mark. There are one or two moments that I did find amusing, but none of it was thought provoking, at least it did not provoke any thoughts other than wondering how much longer it was going to go on.

Now I know that this book has received positive reviews. I don’t know why, but it has and if forced to guess I can only hazard that the authors made good use of the old adage, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bulls**t.”

The Audiobook:

It is hard, sometimes, to review a reader’s performance when the subject matter is so jarringly offensive, but I am sorry to report that John Lee’s reading could have been much better. To give Mr. Lee his props, He does seem to have a vast supply of different accents, although nearly all of them are so thick you need a machete to get through them.

Huw, for example, is supposed to be Welsh. I had trouble hearing him as Welsh, but perhaps the accent is accurate and the few people I have met from Wales were the exceptions. Certainly his constant whining made it hard to pin that accent down. But when in Tunisia, the accents, while vaguely Middle Eastern occasionally sounded like they were slipping over to India for a brief vacation and the accents in South Carolina =ranged back and forth between Alabama and Texas, but never quite reached the East Coast.

I think Mr. Lee might have done far better not to use the heavy accents. Just reading the story might have made it easier to swallow. Maybe I’m wrong there. His performance is not the worst part of this book and even the finest reader could not have saved what turned out to be an excruciating experience of story-telling gone wrong. I only listened to the whole thing because of my policy not to review a story I have not listened to completely. I did it, so now you won’t have to.

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An Audio-Book Review: Memoire of a Grouchy Old Man

Belgarath the Sorcerer

By David and Leigh Eddings

Published by Recorded Books for the Blind

Read by Roy Avers


The Book:

Fans of David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malloreon series will, no doubt love this additional look at the characters they loved. However, I found myself wondering how much of it really added anything to the over story of the previously published series.

In some ways it does add. The story starts out where the final book of The Malloreon leaves off on the night Polgara’s and Durnick’s daughters are born, but It was rather predictable that in the aftermath, Belgarath and Garion would raid Polgara’s pantry for a keg of ale and start talking in a manner we are supposed to see as philosophical. Naturally Garion wants to hear about the entirety of everything that led up to that moment, a story he must have heard a few dozen times by now (Had I been writing the story I’m sure I would have had Belgarath intentionally misunderstand the question and start explaining how ale is made, but I was not writing it). Instead Garion wants it in writing and Belgarath refuses.

Why does he refuse? He admits freely that he likes listening to the sound of his own voice. He could have just talked all night, giving Garion essentially what he wanted. In fact, I might normally expected the story to be told in that manner, but instead Belgarath refuses until his wife forces him to write it. It turns out Belgarath is an incredibly bad author, writing this book as though the readers in the future will not only already know the story in advance, but the personal habits of the characters. Lines like , “You know how Durnick is,” rang particularly off key to me, because if he was really writing his story down for the ages, he should have realized that someone even a generation probably would not really know who Durnick is, never mind who he is. But eventually the story settles down into Belgarath’s first person narration.

I was somewhat surprised that the world had not changed by much over the course of Belgarath’s six thousand year-long life. It was Pseudo-medieval in the two main series and it was also pseudo-medieval in nature six thousand years earlier. Maybe one could argue that the early years were sort of like Post-Roman Europe, while in the Belgariad is was closer to Fourteenth Century, but that’s not much development for six thousand years. If anything Belgarath’s youthful world should have been New Stone Age in nature, but there are too many towns and cities and one gets the notion that in those early days when the gods walked among their people, the first thing the gods did was to teach them how to build cities. So, no, not a lot of development in six thousand years save that kingdoms and empires become more solidified.

As for the story, well, I think we have heard most of it before but with a few more details; most of which, I could have guessed at. Every so often, Belgarath gives us some details we had not read before, but I could not help but imagine Belgarath telling the story to me (which I think was the authors’ intention) and I know how much he likes to embellish his tales, so that he rarely tells the exact same story twice. Come to think of it, I am surprised he didn’t just find someone to dictate it to.

In some ways it is sort of as if Homer, having composed the Iliad, decided to tell the tale all over again from Paris’ point of view, and then again from Helen’s or Cassandra’s or that of Achilles or Menelaus. One story but a different point of view and with the next book Polgara the Sorceress, that is essentially what he does.

There are a lot of passages that will not make sense if you have not read the two main series this stands as a prequel for. Belgarath’s first person narration does tend to grate after a while and the constant asides to other characters (who he assumes will be reading this avidly) break the flow badly. Another flaw in the story is that Belgarath’s version frequently features details that did not exist in the backstory brought up in the main series, even when he was the one relating them. Yes, sure, there had to be some differences of else who would really read it, but it gets boring after a while especially since it felt like each difference or extra detail got inserted on regular intervals… “Oh, it’s been fifteen minutes. Time to point out that everything you know is wrong again!”

There were also several bad continuity errors, such as in this book Belgarath is fully in the know about the fact his daughter, Polgara, is a duchess, but in the Malloreon it takes him by surprise. Well, maybe his mind is going?

However, if you like David Eddings’ style, you will probably enjoy reading this one. It does have some new information and I did not hate it and in fact did find it entertaining much of the time.


The Audiobook:

I have not listened to the Audible recording of this book by J. P. Linton. If I am to believe the reviews of others, I made a wise choice in listening to Roy Avers instead. I thought he read the book excellently. He put in just enough emotion to bring the excitement of the story forward without ever going over the top. He never resorted to funny voices although perhaps Beldin’s gravelly growl came close a few times, but then, it still sounded like a real person talking, not a poorly voiced cartoon character.

If I have any reservations about the reading it is that I found it best to take in small doses. I listened to most of it which going to and from my office (about twenty minutes at a time) but had one long drive of over two hours and have to admit I started to get tired of listening to it. Whether that was due to Mister Aver’s style of reading or the way Belgarath’s narrative is written, I am not entirely sure.

So the story is passable even though it is mostly just a retelling of some of the Eddings’ earlier works and if you want to listen to it, I can recommend going out of your way for Roy Avers’ rendition.

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An Audio-Book Review: Hobbits are Out of Stock, But We Do Have Petty Dwarves!

The Children of Hurin

By J.R.R. Tolkien (Edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Read by Christopher Lee


The Book:

I bought the American First Edition of The Silmarillion the day it was released. I was not particularly impressed although the book did expand on the stuff at the back of the third volume of The Lord of the Rings. I will admit that it had its interesting points and showed a glimpse into how much work Tolkien put in behind The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Although I think my favorite bit was the first chapter in which Tolkien wrote his own Middle Earth Creation myth. As an Archaeology student I recognized it for what it was, couched in terms of the Valar attempting to sing together but with Morgoth insistent on improvising. No one likes to be upstaged, not even the Valar. But then it got down to the main story and it was almost all descriptive narration and none of the delightful dialogue of his earlier and more popular works. It was like reading the Bible, which while enlightening in its own way is not my choice of escape literature. The story of Turin son of Hurin had its own chapter in The Silmarillion.

A few years later I bought a copy of the first edition of “Unfinished Tales,” although I know it was not on the day of its release… not close. This was a mix of stories cobbled together from Tolkien’s massive collection of notes and added still more to the knowledge readers had of Tolkien’s world duringt he First, Second and Third Ages. Due to its nature it had to be a collection of stories, but in it, the single chapter on Turin from The Silmarillion was expanded to a ninety-page story.

By this time my view of Tolien’s posthumous publications had grown somewhat jaundiced, but I could understand why they were being published; why stop milking a cow that was still producing? And I did buy a copy (from a remainder rack) of the first edition of Part One of The Book of Lost Tales. That was the last time I acquired any further books by Tolkien until I found The Children of Hurin in audio format.

So with some trepidation I started listening. At first my worst fears seemed to be realized. Not only was it a story I already knew, but it was being told in pseudo-Biblical manner, possibly to get the feeling that it happened long ago way back during the First Age. Then little by little the characters began to speak. And they seemed a bit stiff at first too, but eventually they seemed to come to life and we got the story of Turin, his sister and his mother while his father, Hurin, was held captive by the Dark Lord Morgoth.

It was a long and complex story and I have to admit I lost track of some of it from time to time. I cannot say how much of this was written by J.R.R. Tolkien and how much can be attributed to large-scale editing by his son, but I think the writing, if stiff and rather formal, was consistent, at least. MY suspicion is that most of the dialogue was that of Christopher, not J.R.R., but I honestly do not know. It is just that J.R.R.’s dialogue was looser and more conversational, which may not have been the case in his notes.

In any case, unlike the plethora of other posthumous Tolkien books, this one tells a whole story and not as badly as I had feared.


The Audiobook:

On first hearing Christopher Lee’s deep and resonant voice speaking the Bible-like passages at the beginning of the book I thought, Oh heck! Am I going to be able to listen to all of this? But once the characters were allowed their own dialogue, Lee’s exceptional vocal talents came to the fore and really took over the story. He put emotion into it where it was appropriate and modulated his voice to delineate each character in a professional and subtle manner. In truth, he read so well, that I think I would have been listening to him even had he just been reading the phone numbers of each and every Hobbit in the Shire.

The story? Well, it is passable. I have certainly waded through worse from Tolkien’s dead letter files, but it was definitely Christopher Lee who made this audiobook worth listening to.

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An Audio-Book Review: Of Hospitals and Martian Plague.

Badge of Infamy

By Lester del Rey
Published by Librivox
Read by Steven H. Wilson

The Book:

Sometimes, without meaning to, I overlook some of Science Fiction’s finest classic writers. I fear I must admit that when listing such writers in my mind I frequently forget Lester del Rey and that is a grave insult to him and his stories. Take Badge of Infamy, for example. Here is a story that has action, well-drawn characters, a serious message and also a darned good plot.

The story centers on Daniel Feldman, who was a doctor in good standing in Earth’s Medical Lobby until he made the mistake of saving a life, outside of a hospital, in violation of the Medical Lobby’s laws. Now (at the beginning of the story) he is officially a pariah, shunned, or worse, by all and forbidden to touch another patient on pain of death.

One thing leads to another and he boards a ship bound for Mars under false papers identifying him as a spaceman. When found out, he is stranded on Mars. Through luck and a mysterious benefactor, he has just enough air to get to safety. The problem is that even on Mars he is a wanted man and his ex-wife is in charge of the Medical Lobby on Mars.

Things are more relaxed on the colonial planet and Feldman is able to make a living acting as a healer among the colonists who value his knowledge and skill and do not really care where he came from. When Feldman investigates a strange “Martian Plague,” however, he finds a deadly disease poised to wipe out the entirety of the Martian colony and a fair part of Earth’s population as well. The Medical Lobby seems to be unwilling to do anything about the plague and so it falls to Feldman to find, not only the cause of the plague, but the cure as well.

The story is great on its surface, but is also an interesting bit of commentary, not only on the medical industry, but the nature of governments as well. In this future history, the power is split between the Space Lobby and the Medical Lobby and the two great unions respect each other’s respective territories so they do not seem to be in competition. Instead they act as a composite machine that grinds down the lives of the people they control.


The Audiobook:

Steven H. Wilson of the Promethius Radio Theater, reads the story well with just the right bits of emotion and vocal manipulation to define each of the characters and make the reading interesting without falling full into the trap of “funny voices.” I do not think I have heard anything else read by Mister Wilson, but I intend to find more if I can.

So, we have an interesting story that has a deep message, which, if you are not into such things, can be safely ignored and enjoyed on the surface level. I consider that a mark of great story-telling; handing the reader a moral without pounding it in with a hammer. We also have a fine and ultimately enjoyable reading of the story. I wished I’d known about this one long ago!

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An Audio-Book Review: Books? Vikings Don’t Write Books!

A Hero’s Guide to Dragons

Book 6 of “How to Train Your Dragon”

By Cressida Cowell

Published by Hachette Audio

Read by David Tennant


The Book:

It is Hiccup’s third birthday… yes, he is 12 years old, but he was born on February 29. I’m not sure if that was ever mentioned before, but if his career as a Viking fails to pan out it means he has a position available among the Pirates of Penzance. Naturally he is not having a good birthday. Toothless, his diminutive dragon has not only eaten his father’s throne, but shredded the only copy of “How to Train Your Dragon,” stolen from the Hairy Scary Librarian of the Meathead Tribe. So now he and his loyal friends, Fishlegs and Kamikaze, must infiltrate the library and steal another copy.

The Meathead Vikings, it seems set great store in their library and keep it guarded lest anyone break the rule of the Thing (the meeting of the tribes) that no books be read save “How to Train Your Dragon.” which, by the way, only says, “Yell at it… very loudly.”

So first they must sneak past the hundreds of Meathead guards and then battle with the Hairy Scary Librarian himself, all the while avoiding some of the other terrors allowed to fester within the library to discourage literate invaders.

All told, it is a lot of fun whether you are an adult or a younger person for whom the author obviously intended the story for. As I have said before, these books bear only the most passing resemblance to the two movies, but in many ways I think they are better, having a delicious mix of adventure and humor. Admittedly, they contain a few lame puns, genuine groaners, but what the heck, they are kids’ books and considering how few of that sort have genuine humor I can forgive the puns. Also excepting he fact that you know the heroes are going to not only survive, but win out in the end, there are a lot of surprises along the way.

Some of the books between the first and this one fell a little flat, but this one definitely brings the series back on track.


The Audiobook:

What can I say? David Tennant! As in the previous five books, this one is read by Doctor Who, or rather the actor who played the Tenth Doctor. He does it in his native Scots accent which is fine. In fact, I find it delightfully refreshing since so many readers seem to either want to read in Londonish English or American Midwest. There is definitely room for regional accents so long as they are not so thick as to be a distraction, which Mister Tennant’s is not. That may be why I enjoy listening to the wide variety of readers who record for Librivox. It is just nice to hear a different accent from time to time.

David Tennant, however is not just a reader. He is an actor and unlike some, he seems to know instinctively when to act out the book and when to just read the words. His pacing is excellent and in spite of a series of funny voices they almost always seem to be just right for the characters.

So… fun book, great reader. You cannot go wrong!

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An Audio-Book Review: And Now the Mostly Predictable Conclusion!

The Hidden City

By David Eddings

Published by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress

Read by Erik Sandvold


The Book:

I think this is a case of a story going along just fine but someone (the author? The publisher? I don’t know) needed it to stretch out into a third rather thick volume. The result is somewhat disappointing. Instead of a nice, direct and action-packed story (the sort of thing one expects in Adventure Fantasy) this story just sort of drags on and on.

It is bad enough the plot of this series, “The Tamuli” follows the same pattern set in Mister Eddings’ earlier series, “The Elenium.” That was to be expected although it might have been nice to see what Sir Sparhawk and his mates might have done without yet another evil god to battle. There was a perfectly good mad mortal antagonist in the story the series really did not need to be a study in Deus ex machina ad extremis. Worse, the story at times hints at a sort of prophecy, such as in one scene when the Goddess Aphrael states a certain combination of characters must be involved or their ploy will not work. However, neither the character nor the readers are ever told why Aphrael says this nor is an actual prophecy ever mentioned, and yet why else would the goddess say such a thing? Well she is a willful little thing, so maybe she only thought they were needed.

Actually, there are a lot of inconsistencies that do not resolve even when, later, one of the characters ask about them, and I could not help but think that they were all being far too clever by half and that a direct approach toward 1) saving the kidnapped Queen Ehlana and her maid and 2) their upcoming conflict with the god, Cyrgon would have been far more effective.

And then there is Klael… I would like to say, “Please don’t get me started!” but it is too late. Now for five books we have been under the impression that the Bhelliom (outwardly, a sapphire carved into a rose, but actually a being of cosmic power that got stranded on the world because it contained too much iron (really) was pretty much the be-all-end-all of power, trumping even the thousands of gods in this world. Now, all of a sudden it turns out it has a nemesis called Klael with whom the Bheliom battles over the worlds that are created. A few books ago we briefly learned that Bhelliom was one of a number of such beings, but there was no indication that any of them were in the general vicinity (somewhere in the same super-galactic region). Now, all of a sudden it turns out Bhelliom is a comic book hero with an arch-nemesis. Yeah, okay, but a vague mention two or three books ago might have been better. As it is, it feels like David Eddings was making it all up as he went along.

Then again the flow of the story feels like that. Like I implied above, it seems as though he would get to a certain point and realize the book was not long enough yet, so just moved the action somewhere else and all the characters had to meander along. Of course part of the problem is, also as I said, the characters are all too clever by half and keep out-witting themselves. Either way, I found myself growing less enchanted as the story progressed. Fortunately, in spite of its flaws, the story does have a fairly satisfying ending, plot-wise, even if it was incredibly saccharine and led into an advertisement for Mister Eddings’ book, Belgarath the Sorcerer.


The Audiobook:

What I have said about Erik Sandvold’s reading in the previous books of this series stands. He is a fairly Talented reader and can bend his voice into a wide variety of sounds, but I was still not impressed by his vocal choices. Vanion, for example, sounds like a frail old man about to die in bed even though he is frequently shown to still be in excellent physical shape despite his age and Khalad, a young man serving as Sparhawk’s squire, sounds like someone ripped out his voice box at the age of two and replaced it with two sheets of sandpaper. Some of Sparhawk’s knightly companions sound rather dull even when they are being clever and so forth.

Part of the reason for this is that nearly all of Mister Edding’s character have the same vocal mannerisms and exhibit the same dry sense of humor so I suppose it was all Mister Sandvold could do to differentiate them. Even characters speaking in what I call “Forsoothly” with the these and thous, gradually picked up the same bad jokes as the rest.

So all told, the book and the series it concludes has to rate as wishy-washy, fit only for rabid fans of David Eddings and I am sure Erik Sandvold could have done better had he the material to work with.

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An Audio-Book Review: What I Listened To On My Summer Vacation

Gaenor’s Quest Book I: The Red Light of Dawn

By Jonathan Edward Feinstein

Published by The Megafilk Press and

Read by Amazon Kindle “Amy,” “Salli” and Microsoft Mike and Mary


The Book:

I am not so narcissistic as to review the merits of a book I have written myself. If you really want to know what other readers have said check this out: Btw, I don’t know who is offering this book in hard cover for over $70. Checking my account page at, I know for certain only one copy has ever been printed in hardcover and I own it. I have to admit that hardcover editions make any book seem more respectable for some reason, but it is what you find between the covers that makes the book a story. However, on the off chance you only read books in hard cover, you can purchase one directly from for only $39.95 although I have to admit even I find that more than a bit pricey. The trade paperback is more reasonable and the electronic formats (available in a plethora of types) even more so.

So why am I featuring one of my own stories? Well, I recently acquired a new Kindle Fire with Text-to-speech and thought it might be fun to review a book read by my Kindle Fire. I thought long and hard as to which book to listen to, seriously considering one of my latest, but eventually decided on the first book of the series I can Gaenor’s Quest. More on that below.

When I set this story in a world analogous to the late Nineteenth Century, subgenres like Steampunk and Gaslamp Fantasy were unknown. Consequently, while I got some positive feedback from agents and publishers (including the extremely rare personal rejection from Del Rey Books), the one thing they all agreed on was that “Cigars and coffee are not medieval.” Well, yeah, I know that. I knew it then too, that is why I used them. However, I fear the publishing world was not yet ready for stories set in this sort of world, although they became quite common just a few years later.

I do not really blame the publishers for not wanting to instantly buy a book in an unfamiliar setting by an unknown author. Let’s face it. Publishing is a business like any other. There are a heck of a lot of wannabe authors out here and only so much money available to publish with, so it is always a safer bet to go with what you know is going to sell (familiar topics and well-known authors) than to take a chance on something new.

Readers I have spoken to, however, had no such reservations. Of course all the reader has to invest is the cost of one book and the time it takes to read it and if they do not like the story, they can always stop reading and move on to something they do enjoy. I think that time has shown there is a market for fantasies set in this sort of milieu, so I’m happy I went ahead and wrote the rest of the series. Oh, I did start converting it to a more standard medievalesque fantasy, but the real world got in the way and I never finished the conversion… just as well.

The Red Light of Dawn was the fourth novel I wrote (over twenty-five years ago) and when I originally plotted it, I actually had planned to follow the model I had set for myself in my third book World of Water. I had a male lead character (although the female supporting role was actually a strong character in her own right) and the story centered on him. I had liked the way the two characters played off each other and decided that since I was unpublished (not even self-published at the time) I figured it would do no harm to use a template of my own devising. It did not work out that way.

To get into the main story I chose to write an introductory section explaining how Gaenor of Narmouth came to work with Artur the Southlander (the mysterious town adept). In doing so I recalled the pilot episode of Kung Fu (anyone else remember that show) and decided that it would be fun to show Gaenor’s persistence in a similar story save that it would be how it might have gone in a Western culture instead of an Eastern one. So, for example, rather than sit out in the rain, while holding vigil for acceptance, she wisely sought shelter.

Directly after the story of how she got the job as Artur’s acceptance I dove right into their first job together. I had meant to use it to both establish the relationship and to transition in the story to Artur. Somehow I stayed centered on Gaenor herself. The name, Gaenor’s Quest, was not coined until I had finished the entire first volume.

Anyway, this is Gaenor’s story throughout although there are some passages in which she does not appear. The main story is not only about how she become adept in her own right and eventually is acknowledged as one of the most accomplished adepts in the World (a world in which that is most definitely a man’s job) but how she, Artur and their companions must save the world from a mysterious danger they do not entirely understand until nearly the end. It has adventure, romance, magic and humor… not necessarily in that order and, all told, I am pretty proud of my accomplishment.


The Audiobook

Wow! Text to Speech has really come a long way!

I was going to ask if the Amazon Kindle voice has a name because for a while I could not find any mention of it. In this world of Cortana and Siri it seemed unlikely the voice would go nameless, but finding mention of the name was difficult. On further investigation, it turns out there are a bunch of Kindle voices. I listened to “Amy,” the UK English female voice. But I have also have the US female voice, “Salli” loaded up too. There are also male and female voices for English from Australia and India as well as a large number of other languages. I wonder if Tatiana, the Russian Female voice, would be intelligible when reading an English text. Maybe someday I’ll play with that, but my newest Kindle is a relatively small one and I don’t want to load it up with dozens of voices I do not need.

So anyway, I listened to Amy, mainly because when I set up the Kindle Fire I somehow set that as the default voice rather than the American one. In the past I have also listened to this and other books I have written via the Microsoft .lit Reader program. I’m not sure if that is still available on the Microsoft site. MS has abandoned its support of the .lit format which is sort of a shame. Reader (not to be confused with the Windows 8 & 10 app with the same name) was the best program I found to proofread my books on. Of course, that was back in the day when I relied on a PDA (am I dating myself? For those too young to remember, a PDA was, basically, a smart phone without the phone built in.) I still have one of the several PDAs I progressed through. It sits on my desk next to my computer and displays reminders for appointments and various other calendar events. Of course it is so old that when it automatically switches to Daylight Saving Time and back again it is on the wrong weekends and there is no way to change that, although if I were actively using the device I would probably just adjust the time manually (yes, children, we used to have to reset our clocks by hand, but don’t worry, that was back when pterodactyls flew overhead… Okay, I know, most homes still have a clock or two that has to be reset twice a year).

The old Reader program was a great program and, like Amazon’s Kindle, it could convert text to speech (only in the PC version of Reader. The PDA version did not support TTS, which might be just as well. Most PDAs did not have speakers, although most did have earbud jacks and you could listen to music on them if you were so inclined.) The two voices I used to listen to were Microsoft Mike and Mary, so while I am most reviewing the book as read by Amy, I will compare her performance to that of Mike and Mary. I also listened to a portion of the story as read by Salli so I will include her reading as well.

The old Microsoft Mike and Mary could have been a lot worse. Back in the ancient days of the 1980’s I bought a kit from Radio Shack for a Text to Speech converter. I plugged my Ohio Scientific C4PDF in one end and speakers in the other and it sort of read to me. It might almost have been as human as Arnold Schwarzenegger telling me he’d be back. Actually, it was not that good. It took careful listening and practice to understand, but it did read the words I told it to read so long as I did not get too esoteric in my vocabulary (Don’t ask how it pronounced “esoteric”… or “vocabulary”). It could have been worse. I recall listening to even earlier text-to-speech boxes that sounded like everything was a question because no sentence ended on a descending note.

Time passed and eventually I invested in a Windows-based PDA (actually I went through several over the years) and it had the Reader program with which I could read .lit files. The PDAs were actually very useful as proofreading tools allowing me not only to highlight words and passages but to scribble notes right on the screen. However, it was when I installed the PC version of Reader on a laptop that I discovered its Text-to-speech capabilities and that introduced me to Mike and Mary.

Mike and Mary were a big step forward. Both voices were still a bit mechanical but easily understandable and with far fewer mispronunciations. They got many names wrong, but ordinary words were mostly okay. There was no emotion to the reading, but then I did not expect that. Mike did sound distinctly male, if like a male robot just as Mary was a female robotic voice. I did find it interesting to listen to both read my books (including The Red Light of Dawn) and even as mechanical as it sounded, it did give me another perspective as to how my stories sounded and flowed.

I suppose I ought not to have been surprised by the advances in text-to-speech since Mike and Mary. I had heard Siri on an iPhone and I use Cortana daily on various Windows 10 machines, but having a voice remind me to pick up something at the drug store or tell me how to get to my first appointment each morning is not the same as listening to a novel. In contrast to Mike and Mary, Amy (and Salli too) sounds like a real woman’s voice reading the story.

Amy has a pleasant British accent (to my Yankee ears, my British friends might feel differently depending on their own accents), while Salli speaks standard flat American English which, since I have a distinct New England accent, sounded a bit lacking in character to me, which may be why I preferred Amy to Salli. Amy’s accent also went well with Gaenor’s Quest to me because Gaenor’s homeland, Mishanda, is partially modeled on Victorian England and because the lead character is female too. Had my lead been a man I might have preferred a male voice reading the story.

Amy’s and Salli’s readings were far from flawless, however. There is still no emotion to the generated voices, of course, even if there is an exclamation point in the dialogue. They read the story at an unvarying pace. My worst complaint, however, is that, the voice never pauses. Oh, I think there is a slight quarter-beat of silence at the end of a sentence, but there is no pause at all at the end of a paragraph or even a chapter, so if Amazon wants to improve on their voices, pausing for a full beat at the end of a chapter might be nice, because it can be fairly confusing to listen to when the scene changes suddenly with only a chapter number tossed off casually and without a beat to demark one chapter from the next.

However, I must say that these new voices are very easy to listen to once you get used to the constant and continuous stream of words. As I have said above, I have listened to a lot worse, but don’t take my word for it, listen to a book on your Kindle or Kindle app for yourself.

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