Review of Singularity by Bill DeSmedt

Podibook Review

Podcast - The SingularitySingularity
By Bill DeSmedt; Read by Bill DeSmedt
47 MP3 Files – 20 Hours 24 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Podiobooks.com
Published: 2006
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Tunguska Event / Black Holes / Time Travel / Near Future/ Cloak & Dagger / Quantum Physics / Soviet Union /

June 30th, 1908 – In the remote Tunguska region of Siberia, the most violent cosmic collision in recorded history flattened ancient forests over an area half the size of Rhode Island. Yet after a hundred years of international scientific research the cause of this impact remains a mystery.

Several people told me Singularity was worth listening to. But of course I figured they we’re probably wrong, I’m not easy to please. But because it was FREE I told myself to give it a chance. I have to say I was astounded! After a longish introduction, more of a history lesson, the real story takes off. And boy, does it! Like a Nelson DeMille novel with Saturn V booster strapped to it! This is incisive Hard SF set in a near future with plenty of action, some very cool ideas and even a bit of romance. The plot orbits around the mystery of the 1908 Tunguska Event. The action intertwines cloak and dagger with quantum physics in a tidal dance. I’m no physics major, but the scientific explanations were clear and compelling. You know a story’s good when you end up looking up some of the ideas. The tale is fleshed out through a large cast of central characters: Jonathan Knox, a consultant to elite government agencies, is the engaging lead protagonist. Knox has a knack with finding patterns in giant fields of data – a trait attributable to a voyage his mind went on once. Marianna Bonaventure, his soon to be lover, is a federal government agent on the trail of a missing materials scientist. Physicist Jack Adler is on the same trail as Knox and Marianna, but he doesn’t know it yet. Together, and apart they are in a race that may have been predetermined as unwinnable before it started, only the laws of causality know. Opposing them is a set of rationally motivated villains – with the weight of an multi-billion dollar corporate empire behind them. Leading them is, Arkady Grigoriyevich, who spends most of his time aboard a converted mega-yacht, that is now a floating laboratory. DeSmedt packs about a dozen terrific SF ideas into his tale. Also included in the podcast feed is an informative question and answer bonus MP3 file with the author himself. I am eagerly awaiting the follow-up novel, cleverly titled, Duality.

I tend to enjoy audiobooks narrated by authors, as they know exactly when and where to pause, what words to accentuate and how to pronounce the character names. But DeSmedt was not a perfect narrator, in fact at the start he sounded nervous. I was worried, but gradually as the chapters flowed the anxiety faded, and by the end I he was reading like a professional. Maybe his female voices need a bit more practice, but I swear, all those Russian accents were perfect.

I downloaded Singularity from Podiobooks.com for free, but when I did I could only get the first half of the novel. It was being released piecemeal, chapter by chapter, as podcasts. I have heard many people enjoy this delivery style; and it probably works for serial adventures or short story collections but I don’t like it for novels. I quickly listened to the first 20 chapters of the book in quick succession only to then have to wait for a whole month to finish it. Next time I visit podiobooks.com I’ll be making sure the serialization is completed before starting another novel. Another issue, selecting the next podcast once a chapter was finished was a real bitch. I drive a standard transmission automobile and my iPod is stuck into a faraway cigarette lighter. Every time a chapter of Singularity ended I would be made to reach over to rip my iPod out of the transmitter/charger and then hold on to it and the steering wheel while trying to navigate the menu to figure out which chapter was next. The podcasts delivery system would have been far better if I could have started and the ended the story in the same file, in other words what I needed was one big podcast, the novel in one file.

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11 thoughts to “Review of Singularity by Bill DeSmedt”

  1. If you’re using an iPod, a Smart Playlist would solve the problem of navigating to the next chapter. Each new chapter would be automatically added to the list, in the correct order. Unlike those in ‘Podcasts’ the files in a playlist are played in a continuous sequence.

  2. The biggest problem with an entire podiobook in one file is size. Anything bigger than 50 megs is time-consuming to download, and most podcasters harumph* at it. Not to mention the few who might still actually have dial-up. :-)

    Can you imagine something like 7th Son as one huge file? It would lose its popularity simply because people would be frustrated trying to download the thing. It’s just not conceivable.

    It also defeats the purpose of the podiobook concept, which is to run it as a podcast. Meaning, you must wait for the next episode. But yes, you could wait for the entire podiobook to be available too.

    *that’s a technical term, you know. ;-)

    ~Dani

  3. Paul,

    Your Smart Playlist fix is a workaround for the navigation and continuous sequence problem, but it doesnt solve the bookmarking problem. iPods have the capability of marking and holding and identifying bookmarks in only two ways:

    1. AAC, which is the format Audible/iTunes audiobooks use in the audiboook directory of iTunes/iPod.

    2. Podcasts, either M4A or MP3s that show up in the podcast directory. With podcast there is a little dot beside the unplayed files.

    With a smart playlist we get the novel in a continuous sequence, which is good but we still have the problem of not being able to tell which file we were last listening to when we navigate away and then come back (there is no dot in playlists). With one giant file you don’t have that problem because there is only one file under each podcast.

    Dani,

    Large files are not for everyone, especially dial-up folks. But the download time for one large file as opposed to 12 smaller ones of the same total size is quite comparable if not identical. Podcasters and podcast listeners might as you say “harumph” at a long wait while a 90mb, 500mb or 1gb file downloads but will audiobook folk? With a decent connection were talking less than an hour in almost every case.

    Giving audiobook fanatics a more audiobook-like experience will make the idea of podcast novels more attractive. The serialized concept for podcast novels certainly has worked at attracting listeners, that I can’t dispute, but has it made significant inroads into the traditional audiobook listening audience?

    From my read on the audiobook listenership out there, no, at least not yet. There is so much good stuff available in the “try before you donate podiobook model” I’d like to see more traditional audiobook people listening to them.

    I’d like to see a giant single downloadable podcast novel be an option for completed podcast novels on podiobooks.com and librivox.org. Even if that were a premium FEE PAID option. I am willing to pay for the convenience of not having to fiddle with my ipod.

  4. Jesse,

    I am someone who listens to a lot of audio dramas via podcast delivery (some of which are via podiobooks, some not).

    Yes, the experience here is very different from somewhere like Audible(/iTunes) where you can download the whole book at a go, but the serialisation ‘feel’, where you wait for the next episode, can be fun too.

    As you say, you can always choose to listen only to books that have completed, and are available to download all episodes.

    As far as smart lists go, I have mine set up with a criterion of ‘Play Count = 0’ so when I go to the playlist, it only lists episodes I haven’t heard yet. Yes, you have to listen to complete episodes as you don’t get the AAC Bookmarking feature, but in the serialised ‘mode’ that’s kind of the point – they break at a natural point.

    Phil

  5. There’s a setting in iTunes (Get Info|Options) on by default for podcasts: “Remember playback position” which works for mp3s as well as AACs. This, with a Smart Playlist, seems to work fine for podiobooks.

  6. If you download the zip file for a Librivox or archive.org book, you get all the files at once. I suppose you could try attaching them all together; but I don’t know of any mp3 editor that could handle that big a file.

    Anyway, what is this thing you call iPod? I’m still burning mp3 CDs, you whiners! :)

  7. For attaching files together I’ve used TotalRecorder (www.highcriteria.com) – it has a ‘speed record’ feature which rather neatly allows you to play a number of separate MP3 files and rerecord them into a single file, but at about 4x the normal speed. Not necessarily the fastest way of doing it, but it does work. You can then turn the bookmarking feature on in iTunes and voila.

  8. Phil, re-recording them, even at high speed is probably not the best way to join a podiobook together.

    “MP3 Splitter & Joiner” is probably a faster way.

    http://www.ezsoftmagic.com/

    The demoware version only allows you to join 5 mp3 files at a time, and stops working after 10 days, but joins podiobooks, or ripped CDs or MP3-CDs into one big file with elegance. You can repeat the steps for podcast novels over 5 files in length by repeating the process.

    Purchase price for the unlimited version is $20.00.

    Now to get it into the podcast directory of an iPod you’d need to podcast the file too!

  9. Well, I happened to have TotalRecorder already, so I wanted to find a way to use it. Still sounds simpler than recursively joining files.

    And why would you want to add the file into the podcasts directory? Podcasts are a great means of delivery, but iPod Podcast management isn’t the most intuitive – once I have mine as files I just have them in an ‘Audiobooks’ playlist. You can set the ‘Remember Playback Position’ now in Get Info / ‘Remember Playback position’ for any file including MP3s.

    Don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be!

  10. The easiest way to do this is right at your fingertips on OSX. The underlying UNIX has a command called “cat”, which is short for “concatenate”, which is a horrible word that basically means “combine”. Understandably, you don’t want to get involved with command line stuff, so go here http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/15404 to download a simple drag-n-drop applescript for it. Drop your multiple files on the applescript icon, enter a new name for the completed file, and you’re done.

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