Tag Archives: audio books

Empires of EVE in Audiobook Format

Empires of EVE started off back in 2014 as the Andrew Groen Kickstarter project to write a book about the null sec wars of EVE Online.

I was in as a backer, as were more than three thousand other people from the EVE Online community.

Two years later, the book was out and I had my nice hardback copy, which is currently sitting on the desk beside my keyboard.  The title, originally A History of the Great Empires of EVE Online, had been slimmed down to Empires of EVE, but the content was in no way trimmed.

How much more black could it be?

The book follows the formation of the first null sec corporations and alliances from the launch of the game in 2003 through what is called The Great War and the eventual downfall of the Band of Brothers alliance in 2009.

The book went out to the backers of the Kickstarter as well as going up for sale in both physical and ebook formats.  At last update, Andrew Groen has sold more than 12,000 copies of the book.  Not bad for a book about an obscure game with an odd name in a small segment of the video game market.

To promote the book Andrew Groen has given presentations at various gaming event, such as PAX.  If you get a chance to see one of his presentations, you should go.  He is an engaging speaking and remains enthusiastic on the topic.

So I was quite happy to hear that he had produced an audiobook version of the work and that he was the narrator.  It is available from Audible.com.

Audible.com is a subsidiary of Amazon

Having had an “any two titles” per month subscription with Audible.com since 2000, I put it in my queue and picked up a copy with my August titles and just finished listening to it.

It is not perfect.  Having seen Andrew Groen present about EVE Online and Empires of EVE, the book does not live up to that sort of experience.  This is not Andrew in front of an audience gushing about a topic in which he is invested, this is Andrew reading a book in a measured and even tone.  That was a minor disconnect for me, though I did get used to it quickly enough.  It just doesn’t seem like him.

Then there is pronunciation, something that plagues just about every audiobook.  How do you pronounce things in New Eden?  I remember during the Casino War being confused to find that CCP pronounces the region of Deklein as if it were the work “decline” and not “Deck-lynn” as I had always heard it pronounced.  In Andrew’s case, among other things, he pronounces the region Venal, which I always say as though it were the sin (which seems appropriate for null sec), as though it rhymes with the word “fennel.”

Also, hearing a written work read aloud tends to call attention to awkward phrasing and word repetition.  That is why it is an oft used self-editing technique.  At one point Andrew uses variations of the word “history” three times in a single sentence.  Reading that to yourself you might not notice it, but on hearing somebody say it aloud and it draws a cringe and an audible correction from me.  I talk back to my audiobooks in the car.

Then there is the recording itself, which is not optimal.  It was not recorded in a professional studio by my estimation, given the minor echo that runs throughout the book.

Finally, with the audiobook you do not get any of the maps of visuals included with the physical book.  The reason that my hardcover copy is next to me was that I pulled it out a couple of times to look at maps. (I also spent time at DOTLAN looking at regional maps.)

Still, these are not insurmountable issues.  And there is something very helpful or comforting about having somebody telling you about these events as opposed to reading the text off of a page.  The events wash over you and the threads and overall arc of the story become more important than whether or not a fight too place in the system C-J6MT.

I burned through the book in a few days, mostly while playing Minecraft or doing things in EVE Online like tend my PI farm, move ships, and rat.  The work is solid and enjoyable.

Furthermore, the work maybe be just the start.  Andrew Groen wrote in his update about the audiobook production of Empires of EVE that it was a learning process as much as anything with an eye towards being able to tell more such stories in the format.  So this may be the start of something.

Anyway, my gripes all summed up were minor while my enjoyment of the book in audio format was huge.  I recommend it, and I look forward to what might come next.

Thrawn Dies at the End

I have a pile of partially finished… or in some cases barely started… posts about books saved on this blog.  Every time I finish reading a book or listening to an audio book, I feel some minor compulsion to write about it.

It is obviously not a major compulsion, since I rarely ever finish those posts.

Well, that and I have never really been good at the book report thing.  When I get to the end of a good book I want to talk about it with somebody else who has read it, not write a spoiler avoiding summary that cannot discuss the meat of the book.  Such is life.

Anyway, in an attempt to clean up my drafts folder, I am going to take what I have and try to hammer them into something I can post and throw them out there as Sunday posts.  Quality not guaranteed.

I am going to start with a pair of books, the wrap up of a trilogy, and I apologize for the spoilers.  Even the post title is a spoiler, done in pursuit of a dubiously humorous allusion.  But there is worse below.  And the series is over 20 years old now.  Anyway, on to whatever it is I am doing.

Two years ago I wrote up my feelings after reading Heir to the Empire again on its 20th anniversary.  I was somewhat serious in that post.  I am less so here.  Anyway, earlier this year, realizing I needed to pick my two titles for the month at Audible.com, I decided to finish off the series.  So I started in on Dark Force Rising and The Last Command.

Han looks really old...

Han looks really old…

My picks could have been better spent.

Much of what I wrote about Heir to the Empire applies to these two titles.  The production values are excellent.  The narrator is spot-on with voices 99% of the time.  But the good guys… Luke, Leia, Han, et al… remain as glued to the past as a middle aged guy who feels his life peaked in high school.  Everything they do ends up getting a reference back to the original movies.  Hell, Luke’s big plan of the second book is to break into the detention center of a Star Destroyer via the trash compactor.  And, like anybody who seems to live solidly in the past, they become dull and predictable.  I played “shout out the next line” in the car every time there was a dramatic pause, and for the the regular crew I was right every single time.

And it wasn’t just that I had read the books 20 years back.  This was just some tired writing.

But that was pretty much the case in the first book as well, so no change there.

What did change was that the master villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn, couldn’t pick up the slack the way he did in the first book.  In the first book we were learning about him.  He was new and fresh and interesting.  However he didn’t evolve much after that.  He looks at some culture’s art, figures out their weakness, and devises a plan to exploit it.  He is wise and insightful, except when the plot needs him to be arrogant and blind.  He is the master of every engagement and thinking two moves ahead, except when the plot needs the New Republic to win.  And his every plan comes to fruition, unless it involves Luke, Leia, Han, et al.  In that case he is constantly thwarted by those meddling kids.

Seriously, rename the Millennium Falcon to the Mystery Machine, make R2D2 an incomprehensible talking dog, and C-3P0 a Maynard G. Krebs knock-off with a constant case of the munchies and the rest writes itself.

Meanwhile, the story is telegraphing the ending from the middle of the second book.  Really, the only big question is why it takes 600 more pages to get to the inevitable result.

The second book, Dark Force Rising, revolves around two key things.  The first is the mysterious “Dark Force” or “Katana Fleet” or “Lost Fleet” or “MacGuffin Fleet.”  This is a a fleet of 200 dreadnought class destroyers (Which seem to be about cruiser size in a fleet composition, since they are formidable but smaller than an imperial Star Destroyer.  Way to mix ship classes into a complete mess!) that went missing back during the clone wars.  The Old Republic was working on automation to save on crew requirements, so had linked all these ships together.  Then the crews were hit with a bout of space madness or some such, jumped the whole fleet off to some random location, died, and were never seen again.  Only somebody has found the ships and the race to collect them starts.

The second is the relationship between the martial but primitive Noghri and the rump Empire that seems content to use them as suicide commandos while manipulating them to keep them dependent on, and loyal to, the Empire.

For the first, Thrawn wins, grabbing 185 out of 200 ships.  But the New Republic is pretty relaxed about it because where is the Empire going to find crews… even with the automation reducing the requirements… to run 185 big ships?  Then somebody points out the whole “Empire able to make clones” thing and Mon Mothra (intentional error) shits a brick.

As for the second bit, enter meddling kids.  And we close wondering how long it will take Thrawn to die.

The Last Command opens up with Thrawn barreling to the peak of his mastery of the galaxy.  He is knocking over planets and taking whole sectors.  The New Republic is in a panic.  Grand Admiral Thrawn, dramatically lit, red eyes flashing, and laughing maniacally, stands at the gates of Moscow, his triumph at hand.

Enter meddling kids and some pissed off Noghri and the late Grand Admiral Thrawn is carried off by the chorus.

Close on Admiral Pellaeon, crestfallen at this turn of fortune (but secretly relieved at no longer having to look like a half-wit child next to Thrawn), taking over command of the rump Empire and forming a blue ribbon committee on unified paint schemes for all Imperial warships before retiring to the officer’s club to reminisce about the good old days when the Emperor was running the show and a man of his mild talents could rise to the rank of Admiral by just shuffling papers and avoiding any responsibility.

Or at least that is how I am calling it.  I couldn’t make it to the end of the last book, even with a professional voice actor reading it to me while in the car where I had nothing but traffic to deal with.  My mind kept wandering off… or perhaps it was running away to hide… and I would realize that I had missed great chunks of the narrative.

I am being unfair of course.  Part of the reason I lost interest is that the books are really in the “young adult” category at best and were written at a time when we were starved for anything Star Wars related.  Context is ever important.  These books were like mana in the 90s.

I did enjoy spotting the places where the books diverged from the eventual stories put forth in Episodes I, II, and III.  Things like the nature of the Clone Wars (a clone revolt), dark Jedi (no mention of Sith), and how Darth Vader lost his hand (no mention of Obi-wan sadistically leaving Anakin burned and dismembered on whatever industrial sweatshop world that was) spring to mind.  That was a fun game at times.

In they end, they are not bad books when you factor in their time, target audience, the constraints and demands that Lucas no doubt put on them, and the other titles from the 90s Expanded Universe collection.  These are still the best of that bunch and deserved to be best sellers back then.  But times have changed and so have I.

The Wheel of Time – 3,430,682 Words Later…

I wrapped up the last available book in Robert Jordan‘s “The Wheel of Time” saga, “The Knife of Dreams,” this past weekend.  I am now all ready for the last entry in the series, “The Memory of Light” which is due out this fall and which might end up so long that it may need to be broken into two books to accommodate the estimated 700,000 additional words that have gone into this partly posthumous work.

I did cheat a bit to get to this point.

You will note I did not say I read the series.  I listened to the whole thing in audio book form.  Audible.com has the entire series available in unabridged format. (I insist on unabridged.)

The series adds up to nearly 350  hours of audio, or about 14 and a half days to listen to all 11 books plus the prequel.

Most of that listening was done in the car during my commute to and from work, a 60-90 minute round trip.  I started listening in mid-January 2008 and just finish in mid-March 2009.  I am afraid that MMO related podcasts suffered a downturn in listening on my part as a result.

One of the nice things about listening to the whole series is that I know how to pronounce everything!  I compare this to my attempt to read The Silmarillion for the first time; I could not pronounce anything correctly!  Too many umlauts, for a start!

At least I sort of know how to pronounce every thing.  The book was read by two people, a man for all the parts that were from a male perspective and a woman for all the parts that were from a female perspective.  Unfortunately, for the first few books they appeared to be working with different pronunciation guides, so a change of narrator would change how some things were said, sometimes dramatically.  For a while I thought there were two different characters, one with a name that sounded like “Moe-gah-dean” and one with a name that sounded like “Muh-gid-ee-en.”  After a while they seem to have had a meeting of the minds and settled on a single pronunciation of Moghedien.

On the other hand, I couldn’t spell very many names of people of places.  Rand and Lan I could handle, but Egwene and Nynaeve, and frankly many of the female names, were not so easy for me to sound out into written form.  I had to go look them up, even to write that last sentence.  Robert Jordan seemed to relish coming up with names that were spelled in unexpected ways, at least when compared to how they were pronounced.

Another nice thing about going through the whole series as audio books is that I have a good deal more tolerance for… well… the tedious or boring bits.  One of the issues with the series is that it follows the paths of so many different people that it makes the works of James Michener read like The Bobbsey Twins.  And amongst all those threads (yes, I get it, they all weave together on the wheel of time) there are a few that I just didn’t give a damn about or that I felt could have gotten the point across in a couple hundred less pages.

Having gone through the whole series almost one after another, I started to notice patterns as well.  Repeated phrases began to grate, rather like the constant reference to cigarettes, their availability, price, and quality, by nearly every character in the Harry Turtledove Timeline 191 series.  Some that come to mind:

Must we hear about the ageless quality (or lack there of) of the face of every Aes Sedai that shows up?

Smiles that do not reach the eyes – can we come up with another description?

Tugging on braids; it was bad enough when just Nynaeve was doing it, but later other female characters show the same mannerism, at least when they aren’t needlessly/nervously smoothing their skirts, or stopping short of doing so.

And speaking of skirts, do skirts with multiple colors ever have a second color that isn’t a “slash.”  Blue skirts slashed with red, brown slashed with green.  Had they not discovered stripes?  Was plaid beyond them?  Maybe I am just unclear on the concept.

And, finally, can we dispense with the stock descriptions of some characters after the first couple of usages per book? Do I need to hear how Vanin, Mat‘s best scout in the Band of the Red Hand, sits in the saddle like a bag of suet every time he rides up?  Must I hear about Julin Sandar‘s red, flat topped conical cap (read: fez) or Thom Merrilin‘s mustaches every time they show up?  Every second tier character seemed to have some stock phrase associated with him or her that had to be used every time they showed up and it began to get on my nerves.

I know, who am I to nit pick?  I write a blog post and then I have to go back and remove my own excessively used turns of phrase, like starting sentences with, “So,” “Of course,” “On the other hand,” and the others that I over use out of habit.  And Robert Jordan has passed away, so it isn’t like he’s going to do a re-write for me in any case.

Still, maybe some author will take this to heart.  When you compare this with Patrick O’Brian‘s Aubrey/Machurin series, a 20 book epic of its own (also available on Audible.com) you will find that Mr. O’Brian never fell into this sort of repeated usage of the same phrases until they became tired cliches within his own work.  I have read interviews with him where he went on about the craft of writing and keeping just that sort of thing from happening.

Enough of that though.

I made it through the whole thing, listened to every word, never skipped ahead, and do not regret the effort.  I enjoyed most of the books and I do plan to read or listen to the final book(s) when available.  I have to find out how things end up for the five people who started off from the Two Rivers all those books ago, even if I am not so concerned about some of the people who they have met along the way.

But a company out there, Red Eagle Entertainment, says they are going to make movies and an MMO out of the series.  Is that viable?

For an MMO, there certainly is enough background material there.  There is a large and reasonably well described world.  There are key cities with lots of sparsely settled or empty space in between.  There are enough factions to go around and then some.  There is a set group of bad guys with their own army of slavering minions, plus a whole evil infrastructure in the dark friends to root out.  There is a wide range of potential classes.  The right company could make a Lord of the Rings Online level of game out of it.

I think the right company is the key, of course.  I know nothing about Red Eagle, so my confidence in there ever being such a game is pretty low.  And since they made their initial announcement, EA has loomed into the picture, adding not a whit of confidence on my part.  The wheel weaves as the wheel wills. (There was an oft repeated phrase that disappeared around book 7 or so.  I wonder why?)

As for movies… I rather picture the whole thing done as a low budget BBC 100 part series with old “Dr. Who” or “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” level of props but excellent writing for the screen play adaptation.

But that just might be me.