The Unfolding Mystery…
Regular readers will know that Home World is a prequel novella to the Triple Stars trilogy. It was, in fact, written after the three main books, although the large events within it were always in my mind as I wrote the novels. When it came to writing Home World, I had the idea to frame it as a classical murder mystery. The main books are not detective stories in this fashion, but they are about a (galactic) mystery, and I liked the idea of using a small-scale puzzle as a precursor to the much larger one.
The notion of using a detective story that is itself something of a red herring also amused me as a sort of metatextual joke. Home World very definitely does touch on the events that trigger the main action of the trilogy – but the reader might not see that coming; the “real” story is background detail, almost incidental. I liked the growing sense of threat that allowed me to write – as well as giving the reader a glimpse of what has been lost by the time of the events of the main trilogy. The characters in Home World hear of a supposed existential threat to their way of life, but they dismiss it as impossible and unimportant, and they carry on with their normal routines. I think that’s probably something we’d all do – and something that has happened, repeatedly, through history.
I liked, also, the fact that this novella is about three worlds – a nod to the larger events in the Triple Stars trilogy to come.
I also like a good mystery story, and it’s fair to say that writing Home World in this way was simply fun – and something of a relief after the long work of creating the trilogy.
Meanwhile, I’d really love to turn all the Triple Stars novels into audiobooks. The cost of doing this is prohibitive for me right now though – good narration is expensive and time-consuming – but perhaps there are options, like the various royalty-sharing schemes that are out there. But then Google made their AI narration technology available (as a Beta release), and I was intrigued to try it. Home World is free to read, so it seemed like a good candidate for a free to listen to audiobook – which would have made paying the cost of human narration unworkable.
The Google AI narrated version of Home World is now live, available here. I’ll be making the book available on my site and elsewhere soon. It’s free, and it’s very clearly marked as “Auto-narrated”, which is good.
How does it sound? I’m interested in your thoughts – but my view is that the narration is very good but not perfect. A few sentences sound a little wooden, and it is sometimes tricky to get word rhythms and stresses correct. Google offer some good tools for editing, but these need to go further. You can correct the pronunciation of particular words, but not the flow of phrases and sentences. You can’t add stress other than to speed up and slow down sections. Several times, I was reduced to rewriting sentences in order to get to a narrated line that sounded correct. A human narrator could obviously just do this.
Fixing the pronunication of particular words – the names of characters and planets for instance – is also a little clunky. Google lets you pronounce words so it can get them right – but I couldn’t get that to work accurately. Perhaps I need a better microphone. Too often, I was reduced to typing out words phonetically and then copying the rendered IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet – something I now know more about than I ever wanted to!) into the relevant box.
I also learned that audiobook text needs to be a little different to book text. When you’re reading, the typographical layout gives you clues about who is speaking during a conversation. With an audiobook, you don’t see that, so I found I had to put in more tags – she said, he said etc – to make it clearer who is speaking. I could have gone to the lengths of having different AI voices for different characters (which Google lets you do) – but I decided to walk before I could run.
Then there is the amount of work it takes to “train” the AI narration. It’s significant. The AI does not get everything right, meaning I had to spend many hours going through the text word by word, fixing flow and pronunciation. It’s possible that the time required to do this for the entire trilogy might be too much. On the other hand, AI narration might improve to make the process easier. I ticked the box that said “Automatically update this audiobook when there is a text-to-speech model improvement” – slightly scary, but we’ll see how the technology improves.
So, there it is: my first audiobook, narrated by AI. Ironic, because AIs are central to the action of the book. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good, I feel. It may well be good enough. Check it out here.