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Universal Harmonics

Christie Stratos, my editor for Harmony’s Song, asked me to write a guest post. I’m very happy with the result, and I hope you will enjoy the piece as well. My thanks to Christie for the opportunity to share a piece of my writing process with her readers.

And, incidentally, if you’re looking for a fantastic editor for a writing project, it’d be tough to do better than Proof Positive. I couldn’t be happier with Christie’s work.

Harmony’s Song — A Dragon’s Brood Tale

Last June, I wrote about the release of Haven Lost, the first volume in my Dragon’s Brood Cycle series of fantasy novels. While I continue writing the second volume, here’s a short story that takes place just before the events in Haven Lost entitled Harmony’s Song.

Life is hard for Daniel and the other kids who struggle to live on the streets of Ravenhold, a seaside city allied with the sorceress Marianne and the kingdom of Seven Skies. There is seldom enough to eat, and the nights are cold, but Daniel finds warmth and friendship when he meets the enigmatic Harmony. Their special bond, coupled with the mystery of Harmony’s past, sends Daniel from his life on the streets to the wider world beyond in this short story prequel to Haven Lost and the Dragon’s Brood Cycle.

You can find it in the Kindle Store, and it can also be viewed here on GoodReads.com.

There’s also a song that is featured in the story which you can listen to in the Media section of the official Dragon’s Brood website, though you might want to make sure you read the story first.

The reception that Haven Lost has enjoyed far exceeded my expectations, and I thank everyone who has come on this journey with me.

Harry Harrison and Science Fiction

I’m a fan of both science fiction and fantasy. These days, I end up reading a lot more fantasy than scifi though. There are two reasons for this. The first, and simplest, is that I’ve always leaned more toward the fantasy and supernatural side of things, and that tendency only grew once I discovered Stephen King.

The second, and probably more significant, reason is that a great deal of modern science fiction, in an effort to be scientifically accurate and/or interesting, tends to lose sight of the story that its trying to tell. Additionally, it frequently results in two dimensional characters, or at least ones that don’t feel very real or relatable. Sometimes, compounding this problem, the prose itself is weak or outright poor. The ideas might be wonderfully compelling, but without a strong story, characters, and at least competent narrative voice, a work of any kind of fiction is not going to hold my interest. Examples of popular science fiction authors who have failed one or more of these categories for me are Robert J. Sawyer, William Gibson, and Michael Crichton.

Scifi was always in the mix for me growing up, whether it was in whole or in part. I don’t remember a time before I knew Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise. (I had a paper model, the kind you cut out and fold into a 3D object, of that venerable starship hanging from my ceiling as a very small child.) I remember watching the original Star Trek series and, later, series like Blake’s 7. Blends of scifi/fantasy were huge, too, such as Masters of the Universe and Star Wars.

Among the very first novels I ever read that were intended for an adult audience were the works of Harry Harrison.1 He has remained among my very favorite science fiction authors for the last thirty years. He was born out of the golden age of science fiction, and though his work features much that is scientifically accurate (or what was accurate for the time), it never fails to keep the story moving and to treat its characters as more than automatons. In short, his books and stories were full of heart, humor, and wit, that, at least to me, feels sorely lacking in modern science fiction.2 Perhaps the best way to describe the difference is that his stories feel more human.3

I was thrilled over the last couple of months to find that Audible.com has been releasing a huge number of Harry Harrison’s back catalog on audio. I’ve been hoping for this to happen for quite some time. And, as a bonus, in addition to all his wonderful science fiction stories, they’ve also released his memoir.

So many classics are there, including The Stainless Steel Rat series, the Death World trilogy, the West of Eden trilogy, the To the Stars trilogy, and so on. If you are a science fiction fan, particularly a fan of the golden age writers, you owe it to yourself to experience his work. Some of his novels are lighthearted science fiction adventures, while others delve much deeper into scientific and philosophical quandaries. If you are a fan of the genre, there is almost certainly something you will enjoy in his body of work.

  1. The first novels I read growing up were The Hardy Boys, which I started reading at around age six. By the time I was eight, I’d begun enjoying Harry Harrison’s work, Sherlock Holmes, and the works of Mark Twain. I read my first Stephen Kin novel at age eleven. ↩︎

  2. While writing this piece, I started to wonder if this is partially the disconnect for me where regards Star Trek: the Next Generation. I’ve long maintained that TNG is the weakest Star Trek series, mostly because the characters feel very flat and lifeless to me. It occurs to me now that this may be due, in part at least, to the show taking a more modernistic approach to scifi in comparison to the other branches of the Trek franchise. ↩︎

  3. A more modern science fiction author who has never forgotten the human element in his work, and who is a damn good writer besides, is Spider Robinson↩︎

Audio Content Speed Adjustments

Marco Arment writes:

Enjoying the full experience of all media and preserving “what the artist intends” is a romantic ideal, but it’s both overrated and unrealistic in reality. Not everything is that good, not everyone cares that much, and not all media produced is perfect and immutable.

I don’t entirely disagree with Marco’s points here, but I do believe there needs to be some nuance in the conversation. Marco is talking primarily about podcasts, but this debate goes on for other mediums as well.

In as far as podcasts are concerned, he’s right. For the vast majority of shows, it really doesn’t matter how you listen to them. Even with that being the case, i always found that increasing the speed on shows was so painfully unnatural that it distracted from the content. The brilliance of Marco’s Smart Speed feature in Overcast is that it is virtually transparent, for all practical purposes, to the listener. It is the sort of time saving functionality I have long hoped for in a podcast client. However you decide to speed up your podcast audio, the crucial point is that podcasting, in the majority of cases, is not a performance art; it’s a conversation.

That being said, I have had lengthy debates with friends about the merits of speeding up audio books. People don’t tend to speed up movies, television, or music. You certainly could do so, but there would be elements of the entertainment you’d be missing out on, such as drama, emotional impact, and the nuances of a performance. It is my belief that this holds true for audio books as well, as part of the experience is the narrator’s performance. Some will disagree, most vehemently. I can even hear a few of my friends groaning right now as they read this. (Sorry, guys.)

In the end, it isn’t a matter of whether one way is right or wrong. It’s about being aware of the trade off you are making. If you choose to listen to something at a faster speed, that is fine. The benefit you are receiving is more time to consume more content. But don’t try to kid yourself that there isn’t a price to pay. Sometimes, the price is worth it, and sometimes, it isn’t. That threshold will be different for everyone. As for me, I’m happy to use Smart Speed to shorten podcast running times. I would not be willing to do the same with audio books. The price of losing some of the experience of the performance is just not worth it.

Make the decision for yourself, fully aware of the cost to benefit ratio. There is one. It may not matter to you, but never forget that it is there. One day, you might find that it suddenly does.

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