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I am reading the books that have been shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award. It’s a way of broadening the pool of authors I read whilst at the same time reassuring myself that my hard earned money isn’t going to be wasted.


I’ve read two of the six shortlisted books so far.

Greg Bears’ Hull Three Zero and Drew Magary’s The End Specialist.

So far I’m not that impressed. I’m not getting what I expected and I’m not getting what I think I should be getting from books that arguably the six best science fiction books published last year.

I’m looking for a good story well told. Interesting characters doing believable things leading to a satisfactory end with good structure and delicious language.

I’m looking for a tale of science that provokes thinking about the role of technology on lives as they are lived. A parable from the future that has been sent back in time. Something that makes me really think about how the future might be and what things are happening today that shape that future

I’m looking for a genre changing story. Something that changes the way science fiction works, the conventions, short hands and tropes.

Hull Three Zero is interesting for the manner of telling.  The story is a fairly standard one. There is a problem on a Big Spaceship. Only our hero can solve the problem by reversing the polarity.

The unusual element is that our hero has no idea who he is for about three quarters of the book. Which in a first person narrative is disorientating and interesting.

There were some thoughts provoked on the nature of evolution as it is experienced by the subject and on the ethicality of certain forms of generation ship and of the colonisation of occupied systems. But these were a bit by the by.

So a fairly standard story with fairly standard ideas told in an interesting way which triggered some thinking on my part.

It’s the best of the two so far.

The End Specialist by Drew Magary ought to have been the more thought provoking of the two books read so far.  It deals explicitly with the effect of a dramatic change in life expectancy. It ought to be a really interesting story about the impact of near immortality with an exploration of the resource constraints of increased population meeting

I just don’t think it deals with it very well.  Faced with sudden mass immortality people continue to behave much as they did before.  As the population rises resources become scarce. This drives up the price but it doesn’t seem to trigger any reduction in demand or technological innovation. In the face of rising prices no one seems to delay having children. There is a lemming like approach to the impending doom. As a warning I found it a little one dimensional.

I think it says something about the USian approach to consumption and climate change.

However, because the economics hasn’t been thought out clearly I found the story didn’t carry me into a future I thought lamentable but plausible. Paulo Bacigalup tackles this kind of dystopia better in Calorie Man and some of his other stories.

Nor was the main character interesting enough to carry a whole novel. He didn’t seem to change much internally.

I was waiting for a big ending which took me from the world of the narrator back to the world of the prologue. Instead the story just sort of slips away.

It would have been a better short story.

So, mindful of Christopher Priest’s views on the short list I’m moving on to Charles Stross’ Rule 34.  Having read Halting State recently I’m not expecting to have my conceptions of the future or of the genre radically altered but I am looking forward to an enjoyable tale.  I suspect that this series of Stross’ work will be more influential on the genre and my thinking about the future in aggregate.

danieldwilliam: (Default)
I am very much enjoying my Kindle. I’m reading a lot on it and finding it very easy to use, easy on the eye to read on for a long time and I’ve already saved the purchase price in free books.

My one complaint about it is that in low light (such as when I’m reading in bed but MLW has switched her light off) is that it’s a little harder to read than paper. Not by much but noticeably so.

I need to buy a cover for it.

I want something that is light. Why have a very light reading device and then weigh it down with a fancy cover.

I want something that open like a book rather than a sleeve. I can see me dropping the thing taking it out of the sleeve. Something that opened like a journalists notepad would be ideal I think.

I also want a small light – so I can read in bed without disturbing MLW.

I don't want a leather look case if I can avoid it. I think if I'm going to have a 21st century piece of consumer electronics I don't want to dress it up as a faux piece of 16th century technology.

I think I’ve got a solution for the difficulty with lending books on a Kindle.

I could have two – one to use myself and one to lend.
danieldwilliam: (Default)
I have decided to acquire a Kindle.

I’ve been experimenting with the Kindle app on my iPhone. I’ve read about half a dozen books on it so far and I’ve found them perfectly okay to read.

I’ve checked the availability and price of Kindle ebooks on Amazon and the prices are okay.

Most of the books I would want to buy are at least a little cheaper as an ebook. The difference becomes more marked if you have to pay for postage and packing. There looks to be perhaps a couple of pounds saving per book on average. The discount seems a fair trade for the loss of resale value and the loss of the ability to lend books to other people.

At about £90 for the Kindle I think it will take about 50 books to be break even. So that’s a book a week for a year. Assuming a 3 year life for the Kindle machine and I’ll be about £200 up on the deal; or between 20 and 40 books.

This is before I factor in the availability of free books from places like Project Guttenberg (for all your out of copyright classic book needs). I do tend to read things like Aristotle or Machiavelli so having access to those texts for free makes the number of books to break even much more favourable. At £9 per paperback version I’d only need to read ten Project Guttenberg books before the Kindle had paid for itself.

I’ve also downloaded some books from Baen’s Free Library. I quite like the idea of the Baen Free Library. It gives me an opportunity to try books by authors I would never risk a tenner. If I love the book then I can buy the rest of their work. If I don’t, then I’ve only lost the time to read the first few chapters.

The Kindle also helps me to defer buying a new bookcase at £90. My bookcases are pretty much full at the moment and in about a year or two I’ll need to either box up a whole bunch of books or buy some more bookcases. With more books in ebook form I can put this purchase off for sometime. Thus the Kindle handily pays for itself twice over the next year or so. Furthermore, it helps me avoid the £50 grand I’d have to pay in about five years to buy a bigger house to house my books if I continue to buy them at the same rate as I currently do.

I’m mindful of the risks associated with buying ebooks from Amazon. They have some form for deliberately deleting books. I suspect I’m unlikely to be buying the kind of books that Amazon might take issue with. As a moral consideration it irks but as a commercial risk it’s okay for me. They also have some form for accidentally deleting people’s libraries. The internet suggests that they are reasonably good about fixing these problems when they occur. Again, a commercial risk I’m willing to take. I could easily lose all my hardcopy books in a leaking pipe disaster, or as I have in the past, through the fruitcake actions of a person I trusted my books with. There are no risk free scenarios. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

There are longer term issues about Digital Rights Managed file formats. What happens if Amazon goes bust or decides they can’t be bothered maintaining the Kindle format. In the latter case they get sued until either they do or they go bust. In the former, well, I guess we’ll see. Having those files unlocked strikes me as a service people would be willing to pay for and therefore the basis of an asset the liquidators could sell.

In any event, I tend not to re-read fiction. If I am careful and ensure that I buy hardcopy or DRM free ebooks (not via the Kindle) for anything I’d want to refer to in the future, text books and the like, the risk that Amazon go south with my library is one I’m willing to risk for the convenience of

The final concern with Amazon is what happens when my Kindle wears out and I don’t want to replace it with a Kindle but with some other system and I can’t port my purchases across. I think the same points on re-reading books apply here as they do above. I’m also expecting some anti-trust anti-competitive practise action on incompatible file formats in the next few years once the EU wakes up to way the market is being corralled by Amazon. I’m also expecting the price of ebook readers to fall to the point where having two is not prohibitive. Admittedly, it somewhat misses the point to have two ebook readers but then I already have about a thousand books and I seem to be able to make that work.

So, let the great Kindle experiment commence.


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