Clerk’s Log, MJDate 54799.5: “Double Trouble” has come and gone, and both The Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant and Digital Magic made it into Amazon.com’s top 100 titles, as well as the top 5 in Science Fiction & Fantasy. Both titles are still for sale, of course, so even if you weren’t there for the promotion, let me encourage you to purchase the books; they’re great reading.
Today, after a change of hosts and a site rebuild, we continue our coverage of TPRT — demonstrating that, although Mr. Morris has experienced various setbacks in keeping to a regular schedule, he does not by any means hold the record.
Last time, we considered the audio presentation of Chasing the Bard, by Philippa “The Dark Goddess” Ballantine; today we look at a landmark work by her Double Trouble colleague, Tee “The Uber-Nemesis” Morris.1
Production #2: MOREVI …
- Philippa Ballantine: Askana Moldarin, First Queen of Morevi
- P.G. Holyfield: Taloss, an Eyriener soldier
- Chris Lester: Lennis, another Eyriener soldier
- Tee Morris: Captain Rafael Stringfellow “Rafe” Rafton; Nasir, his first mate; Dirare, antagonist to Askana; et al.
- Web site: http://www.teemorris.com/morevipodcast/
Once upon a time, in a land named for a virgin queen, there lived a young man who had written a book. Actually, he had written two books, and was trying to decide how best to market the second one.…
“What? —Too corny? Okay, we’ll try again.…”
It was the dawn of the Third Age of Radio.2 Edison had captured audio for physical storage, transport, and reproduction; Marconi had freed audio transmission from physical media; and now we had the growing ability to transmit audio over the Internet. Programs in this medium were usually non-fiction. But a change was about to take place in this dark, ancient time of mid-2005: Having just published his novel Legacy of MOREVI: Book One of the Arathellean Wars, author Tee Morris decided to market it in a new way — by offering a reading of its already-published predecessor, MOREVI: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana, to anyone who wished to download it, completely free of charge.
Voilà: the podcast novel was born.3
It was a dilly. Imagine a land where sexually polarized politics has reached its acme, so that, having found the established patriarchal monarchy to be irremediably corrupt, the women have overthrown it and put in its place a new order wherein they make up both the governing body and the armed forces. These women are warriors, and their Queen, Askana Moldarin,4 outshines the rest not only in statecraft but also in the use of weapons, hand-to-hand, poisons, and other lethal arts. (There are also magical arts, but those are best left to a few specialists.)
Once the dust has settled, however, Askana’s new regime must, like all new regimes, inevitably address (a) its vulnerability to conquest by the surrounding nations and (b) the very real possibility that it has tossed out the old rascals only to replace them with new ones. Both challenges have set the cauldron to a high simmer, and Askana has her hands full with enemies external and internal, seen and unseen.
Fortunately, like any wise executive, she is not afraid to seek out good help when she needs to. To the surprise of all concerned, however, her choice is one who has targeted her own ships on many occasions: a pirate — well, a privateer — who travels back and forth to her world through an interspatial rift from a land most patriarchal, namely mid–16th-century England. His name is Rafe Rafton, his letter of marque comes from King Henry VIII, and his skill at tactical improvisation is easily a match for that of James Bond or Indiana Jones.
Put these two strong-willed combatants together, and neither Askana’s enemies nor her friends will know what hit them.
Since the original production of MOREVI, a “straight read,” was a great success, why not — as most author-readers would probably have done — simply leave it at that and move on? Why redo it?
Answer: Because Tee Morris is a teacher, and furthermore one who continually strives to learn new techniques to teach, applying them to new projects. By 2007, he had learned how to combine not only music from different sources but also voice parts recorded at other locations, and, inspired by Tracy and Laura Hickman’s production of The Immortals, had put together the podcast of his first Billibub Baddings mystery, The Case of the Singing Sword. In the process, he found that as on stage, so with audio drama: ensemble work can be much more fun, and for more people, than a one-man show.
Furthermore, the original reading of MOREVI was an abridgment. By 2007, J.C. Hutchins’s successful ’cast of his three-book novel 7th Son had shown that listeners had the desire, and the stamina, for longer works. The time had come, therefore, to do MOREVI right.
It was a wise decision. Not only has Mr. Morris chosen voice actors who have the skill to deliver the lines well and to fit together in an ensemble, the addition of vocal variety and sound effects both magnify the story’s greatest asset, which is spectacle. The story takes in great dimensions, including sea battles between opposing fleets (and let’s face it, there’s no such thing as “a small sea battle” when the ships have tall sails and heavy cannon) and the festivities in King Henry’s court, plus a climactic scene full of sound and fury, signifying apocalypse. The use of sound effects not only adds to the breadth of the listener’s inner vision, it also increases the intensity of various scenes — for example, after hearing Rafton fire a pistol at quarters much closer than he would have liked, one is far from surprised to hear him groan, “Oh GAWD that was loud …”
MOREVI: Remastered is explicitly experimental. Mr. Morris has noted that while it would be nice to be able to re-read the entire book, his schedule wouldn’t permit that; we get this version or none at all. As a result, there are clear variations in sound quality between newly produced scenes and those from the 2005 original reading that they complement. The challenge is rather like those faced by the makers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when they set out to make “Trials and Tribble-ations” by inserting DS9 cast members into scenes from the decades-older “The Trouble with Tribbles”: the challenge appears so great that one is impressed that it works out at all.
But work out it does. I’m glad Morris took the risk and updated the production.5 Two more Morevi-related projects are scheduled, including Legacy of MOREVI, the novel that gave rise to this project. If the swashbuckling, intriguing, sorcering, and romancing that sing so captivatingly in MOREVI: Remastered continue in those, we’re in for treats indeed.
“Enjoy the ride,” the author says at the end of each episode. We do. Oh yes, we do.
- Since both of their stories have roots in specific eras of Earth’s history, the alert reader may ask why they are presented in the order you see here. Here are three reasons:
• Like most Virginians, I was brought up on the principle “Ladies first.”
• I wanted to write about Chasing the Bard while it was still in production. (It has since reached the end of its run.)
• While Tee’s story would have been somewhat different if set in the reign of a different English monarch within the era of privateering — in fact, I’d be curious to see how Capt. Rafton and Elizabeth I might have gotten along — Pip’s would have been impossible without its Bard, William Shakespeare.
Thus, although the two ran a photo-finish race, Pip’s story was judged the more specifically historical. (Should we say, “Points awarded for degree of difficulty”?) [↩]
- Babylon 5 fans please imagine hearing these words in Peter Jurasik’s “Londo Mollari” voice. “It wass a noo age…” [↩]
- Granted, the birth was not truly unique, for shortly thereafter Mark Jeffrey and Scott Sigler independently came up with the same idea. Nonetheless, these three are considered the First Wave of podcast fiction. [↩]
- Here is a quibble I have with the setup (and I use the word quibble advisedly — it hasn’t hampered my enjoyment of the story). The land and its people appear to be modeled after Asian cultures, notably Japanese, but their Queen’s name sounds Russian (including an Askana-Oksana parallel; to those who’ve seen the Michael Caine-Sean Connery film of The Man Who Would Be King, with its “Alexander”-“Sikandar” transposition, the exchanging of k and s sounds is not surprising). I’m not surprised, therefore, that George Hrab delivers the Blademaster’s lines using a Slavic accent … and yet his character’s name is Kubi-Sogi, which when said out loud sounds quite Japanese. If there’s a unifying principle in the similarities between Morevian names and those found in Earth’s various cultures, it hasn’t yet been explained. [↩]
- But then, we’re talking about the man who directed the first production of The Tempest at his alma mater — as an undergraduate. Clearly he has cojones to spare. [↩]