I needed to use up some Audible credits, so I picked up an audiobook called Off To Be The Wizard by Scott Meyer. I found it by looking up the works performed by Luke Daniels, one of my favorite audiobook readers, ever since I discovered him from listening to the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. (If you like the Harry Dresden books, you might also like IDC. It’s the same sort of thing, but with an Irish wolfhound.)
The 8-bit cover art was an instant turn-off, and after reading the description, I was skeptical. Really, really skeptical. It sounded like the worst sort of dreck imaginable, to be honest.
It’s a simple story. Boy finds proof that reality is a computer program. Boy uses program to manipulate time and space. Boy gets in trouble. Boy flees back in time to Medieval England to live as a wizard while he tries to think of a way to fix things. Boy gets in more trouble. Oh, and boy meets girl at some point.
But, you know, it’s read by Luke Daniels. I doubt I would have read as many books of The Iron Druid Chronicles in text format as I’ve listened to in audiobook format and that’s entirely because of his performances.
So I took a chance.
Man, oh man. The things I could write about this book, if I put on my editing hat. Like how it starts off with chapter after chapter of exposition about a stunningly uninteresting guy fiddling with his computer. And if I put on my programmer hat, the outrageous way this book talks about “hacking” and “programming” and “text files with numbers that change while you’re looking at them.” So, so many times I thought, “This is unbelievably dumb. Why am I wasting my time with this? How did this even get published??”
(On that last point, it turns out it was published by an Amazon Imprint called 47North. I guess you can draw your own conclusions from that.)
Still, Luke Daniels triumphantly slogs through those first chapters as if he’s actually enjoying what he’s reading, so I kept listening while I was lying in bed waiting to fall asleep.
Then, finally, after what seemed like an eternity, our idiotic hero finally gets to Medieval England and interacts with other people, and suddenly the book started to get a little bit more interesting. Not least because Luke Daniels is fantastic at voices. And the comedy started to get a little bit–dare I say?–funny. I started to chuckle. I had to turn it off because I was trying to get to sleep and it was waking me up.
In the following days, I continued listening and found myself cackling quite a lot. Oh, it’s still terrible in every way, but it’s amusing and kind of fun. While still being terrible in every way. It’s higher praise than the book deserves, but the over-the-top absurdity and humor reminded me of classic Harry Harrison books like The Stainless Steel Rat series and Bill the Galactic Hero.
It’s chock full of little plot holes you have to overlook. Like, for example, the entire premise, and the time-travel. Here’s just one time-travel issue: Our hero thought it would be safe to travel to 1150 in England partly because he figured he’d be able to speak the language. It’s a common mistake, and I fully expected the joke to be on him when he got there (because our hero is a bit of an idiot), but then he has perfectly reasonable conversations with all the natives. Hasn’t Scott Meyer ever read TV Tropes? Has he never read Michael Crichton’s Timeline? Modern listeners would probably have some difficulty understanding Middle English from 1150.
I wouldn’t bother pointing things like that out, except that at other times the author seems to go to great lengths to try to point out how much he’s thought about logical problems in his worldbuilding. He explains in great detail all the rules about cloning objects, and how simple objects like rocks can be cloned but complex objects like watches can’t because they’re made up of tiny parts. I mean, that’s great and all but a) who cares, and b) it doesn’t make me respect the reality of your world any more because you started with editing a text file to travel back and forth in time.
I mean, obviously, the time variable would be a single constant that affects all people in the file, and it would advance at a fixed, constant rate. Each person wouldn’t have his own individual time variable. That’s just silly.
Anyway I found it an amusing little escape. Luke Daniels, as always, does a fantastic job of elevating the text from “meh” to “hey, this is kind of fun.” It’s even tempting to get the next book, but I should probably get through the rest of my other Audible stuff first.