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 Lulu.com

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: https://www.amazon.com/Light-Dawn-Jonathan-Edward-Feinstein/dp/143572934X Btw, I don’t know who is offering this book in hard cover for over $70. Checking my account page at Lulu.com, 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 Lulu.com 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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