Tag Archives: reading

Charles Stross’ Rule 34

rule34Having taken my time with A dance with dragons I was worried it would take me a while to get into my next read, but as I picked Charlie Stross’ Rule 34, I’ve thankfully fallen straight into it (bonus: Kindle edition is cheaper than paperback!).

The follow up to another favourite near-future read of mine by Stross, Halting State, the world of Rule 34 is a near-future Scotland in which a few polis protagonists cope with a seedy, run down, cyberpunk dystopia – filled with semi-believable technology (AR glasses and overlays, 3D printers and the associated black market, etc etc) – which are absolutely fascinating. And Charlie tells of them with his easy, occasionally impenetrable (due to the need to interpret a written interpretation of strong Scottish accents) prose and dialogue.

A ready pleasure.

Unfortunately, at 360 pages, it’s not going to last long. So I’m going to need more book recommendations…

Reading to Emily

sddMy folks used to read to us a lot. Especially my Dad. I remember enjoying it; my father’s flexible vocal range giving silly life to the characters in the books we were reading and diverting off track to recapture our attention if it drifted.

Emily’s been a bit small for stories to be read to her and hold her attention, but we’ve taken her through a few board books here and there. One of my client’s recently mentioned that their HR director has a philosophy based on a children’s book, "Some Dogs Do," so, sufficiently intrigued, I bought it as a gift for Emily on her return from Denmark.

After supper one night, with her attention locked in by virtue of being in her high-chair with nowhere to scamper off to, I read her the book to peals of giggles and laughter. Again, at nine months, I’m not sure how much she’s taking in but perhaps I manage to hit on some of the vocal magic my Dad used on us when we were kids to entertain and delight.

Either way, it’s a special pleasure for me and I look forward to more storytime fun in the future.

Back to paperbacks

paperback writerThe last two books, and the next four, that I’m reading are honest-to-goodness, actual-dead-tree books. I would have preferred to Kindle them but the H2G2 book, the Ender Saga and the Mistborn trilogy aren’t available on Amazon’s service.

I’m neither loving nor loathing the experience (as far as turning actual pages is concerned). There’s a combination of the satisfaction of page turning and feeling your way through the bulk of a novel that’s satisfying, but there’s the fiddly inconvenience of not having it when you have a couple of minutes in a lift to read, or trying to read it at night in bed with an irritating, barely functional reading light, or trying to squeeze it into your work satchel between the car keys, Macbook and iPad…

Good fantasy writing vs the not so good

I’ve been ploughing my way through books this sabbatical. Two particularly awesome books were Patrick Rothfuss’ ‘Name of the Wind’ and ‘Wise Man’s Fear’ – everything I found tedious about Stephen Donaldson’s latest Chronicles is missing from these books. His use of language is precise and accessible, his narrative flow is well-paced and exciting, his characters are compelling and both the present day and historical stories he tells are equally engaging – both of which provide ample dramatic tension and kept me completely absorbed. Great value, too, LONG books, and that’s not a complaint!

Interesting that when John Scalzi, a great sci-fi writer and blogger who I rate, felt similarly about the book and wrote a tribute saying as much on Tor’s best SFF Novel’s of the Decade readers’ poll series – although he did pick up on a ‘stew’ cliché.

I love these polls because they help me decide what to read next…

Here are the top 10:

  1. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – READ
  2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman – READ
  3. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – READ
  4. Blindsight by Peter Watts
  5. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey
  6. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin – READ
  7. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – READ
  8. Anathem by Neal Stephenson – TRIED…
  9. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
  10. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Which leaves me at least four new places to go when I’m through with my current batch (reading Trudi Canavan’s first book in the Traitor Spy trilogy, and a couple of shortlisted books from the Arthur C Clarke Awards 2011 – Declare by Tim Powers and Hellhole by Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson). I think I’ll try more Brandon Sanderson next as I’ve been so impressed with where he’s taken the Wheel of Time

I read Raymond Feist’s latest Midkemia novel yesterday (yes, it took less than a day) and was moderately depressed by it. As the first book in his final trilogy in the series it is predictable and absolutely riven with references to his previous books. That’s the problem with writing what is broadly speaking one continuous story over 20+ books and 150 years of virtual history – you end up being tediously self-referential. Politics you don’t care about, characters you’re meant to care about because they’re related to characters you used to care about, &c &c. I’m principally reading this series now out of a desire to know what happens next… which I guess means its good enough!

Social reading

My Google Reader subscriptions have gone slightly unread since the sabbatical started – it’s been pretty busy getting around Malaysia and doing all the thing we’ve been trying to do – so I miss my social reading circle. On Google Reader myself and a few friends and relatives share stories – including my friend Damian, my colleague Scot, my cousin Ashvina, my brother Arvind and a few others. Chris and Tom, whilst massively digital, have favoured delicious for social bookmarking so unfortunately our Greader sharing  hasn’t quite clicked (although I do follow their bookmarks via RSS…).

I enjoy this social filtering of news for the same reason I enjoy watching the same films or reading the same books as people I know, trust and respect – it’s fun to have things in common to discuss, and to have a shared social/cultural context. My friends and family often share points of interest, of course, which means the filtering is generally more interesting than not.

Unfortunately, the act of using Google Reader and RSS subscriptions lies beyond the ken of most people I know, and the majority of my friends that share links (in itself a minority) do so on Twitter or via Facebook – which I sometimes catch, but due to the volume of stuff that passes through my Facebook newsfeed and my Twitter friends lists,  I miss most of these. I almost never read stories that are forwarded to me by email, incidentally – when I’m getting through my email the emphasis is productivity and that means prioritizing emails that require some kind of action (a reply, forward, action on my part). I probably need to get the hang of Readitlater.

I’m not sure what I need to make this work better. The downside to convergence to a single platform like Facebook for all your digital interactions is restricting noise. I want personal updates from my friends on Facebook – pictures, events, news, engagements, babies etc. I want news shared via Google Reader. I like debate, insight and breaking news via Twitter and the blogosphere. But whilst I can change my own social media strategy, I can’t change the world. I can but lament that RSS as a technology seems to be something that people see as complex, and so resist using, and continue to quietly evangelise Google Reader to everyone I meet…

Incidentally, I quite like that in the Kindle apps sections of books that have been highlighted by other readers are indicated as you’re reading it. Quite nice to have vital passages or particularly interesting bits pre-selected for additional attention… Social reading of books seems to be the way things are going too!

What do you think about social reading?

The problem with epic sci/fi & fantasy…

…is when you’re reading 3,000 pages of novel (or in the case of the Wheel of Time series, more like 7,000 pages so far), spread out over between 5 and 15 years, it’s pretty easy to forget some of the details of the stories you’re reading. I guess this is why so much epic fantasy in particular gets slammed for poor, simplistic writing: it just needs to be. The multi-layered plots, post-modern story telling style is just hard to keep up with over that volume of book.

Alistair Reynolds approach, as with Iain M Banks, is to create an intricate universe but only rarely come back to the same characters. This gives huge depth to the stories without requiring multi-volume sequences, and let’s them flex a more refined storytelling style. Peter F Hamilton, however, is happy with the epic space opera, and the Commonwealth saga – which I’m 95% of the way through, has been a wonderful 6,000 odd pages of fiction over the last few years. But I do sometimes forget, over a thousand years of history, two separate trilogies and, in the Void trilogy, two separate universes… exactly who and where everyone is, how they relate to each other, and why some of them are so terrified by others amongst them.

At least for the first couple of hundred pages. After a while you start to get the hang of things and then the wonder of it all soaks in. And/or you check the Wikipedia article for a quick précis…!

Epic reading month continues

Three weeks to go before the vacation and two massive hardbacks down – I’ve just finished ploughing through all 800 pages of the latest Wheel of Time novel disappointingly quickly. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I finish it – I’ve been reading the series since the mid 90s, waiting for each new book to come out.

It may be sacrilege to say so, but I actually think Mr Sanderson (commissioned to finish the series when Robert Jordan passed away in 2007) is a better and more efficient writer than RJ – there’s been far less smoothing of Aes Sedai skits in his novels so far – but then Robert Jordan left a lot of story left to be told as we inch closer to Tarmon Gaidon. Only one book left in the series, depressingly, then I will need to bid farewell to another universe… unless, of course, the estate commissions some prequels… and I’m not sure how I feel about that!

Next two hardbacks to read, before I go on vacation and take only digital books with me, are Peter F Hamilton’s Evolutionary Void and the latest novel in Stephen Donaldson’s Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Any tips on what to dip into next? Is there any epic sci-fi or fantasy I’ve missed on offer in the Kindle store?

Thoughts on a comment appreciated Smile.

I’ve now got a strange hybrid image of Rand Al’Thor sitting in a multi-purpose hab unit within an abominator class GOU heading to blow the hell out of Shayol Gul. It’ll be very weird in my head by the end of the month….

Reading again

With all the busy-ness, Emily’s arrival, new house, running training and crazy time at work I’ve been rubbish about reading. It’s been hard to get into something new, but finally, sparked by a Christmas present from my sister, I’ve started reading again. Admittedly the specific book, Rupert Thomson’s memoir, wasn’t quite my thing, I’ve now finally gotten into the new Culture novel, Surface Detail, and so far it is *awesome*. Standard Iain M Banks imagineering, which is to say inventive, mind-bending, original and enthralling. The last books I was properly absorbed by was the Ender Saga, which I read through August and September so wonderful to be back in someone else’s crazy universe.

I have a few more books to read in the weeks ahead as when I go on vacation in March I have no intention of taking any hardbacks with me – all my reading will be on the iPad. So have a few books on my list, with space opera and epic fantasy the flavour of the month for the rest of Jan and Feb – with the latest in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the newest book in the Wheel of Time series awaiting me in giant, glorious hardback…

I had planned to buy fewer massive sci-fi and fantasy novels but its hard to stop when you’ve got the first 12 books in a series…

In another book related update, some friends who are getting married have set us the challenge of giving them a book that means a great deal to us. Given the diversity of reading interests between myself and Amanda (and now Emily), it might take some doing to get a book we all love… But is a lovely idea and will enjoy the hunt!

I want to read my e-reader…

So despite the fact that the prevailing opinion from my Twitter contacts and friends alike was that I should wait for the Kindle to grace the shores of the UK, the holiday in Denmark with three bulky paperbacks squeezed into a too-cramped rucksack and the impending implosion of my bookshelves into some minor singularity broke me, and I picked up a Sony PRS 505 from Play.com about two weeks ago. I’d seen my friend Rob with one and had a pretty good idea it would be decent, which its proving to be, and I had a feeling that the Kindle would be some time coming…

Here’s what’s good about it:

1) It stores lots of book in a sleek, elegant casing. I’ve shoved a 1GB SD card (at a cost of a not so princely £4) in there, which will cover me for at least 1000 books but potentially as many as 3000 – which is probably more than I’ll need on there

2) It works well with the open source Calibre, even under Windows7 RC1 64bit, which is something of a relief (as I gather the Sony software is its usual bag of decaying tripe)

3) The screen is amazing. E-Ink works like an etch-a-sketch, so reads well in any light. It also makes for…

4) …awesome battery life. Due to the etch-a-sketch nature of the device, it only draws power when turning pages. So one charge (by USB cable), will give you room for about 4000 page turns

5) You can get books. Waterstones has many, even if Amazon is probably banking on the arrival of the Kindle in the UK at some stage.

The not-so-good

1) I’ve already mentioned Sony’s software… the navigation on the device itself is not brilliant, no way to go directly to a page (that I’ve found as yet), not until you’ve made bookmarks (although it remembers what page you were last reading), and there’s no search functionality, ability to make notes etc. I’m also having some fiddling with page alignment (page numbers in middle of page, NBSPs, etc)

2) There’s no wireless connectivity – hence awesome battery life, but hey, if I want wireless, well, that’s what the iPhone I’m planning on getting will do…

3) The page-turning is not that speedy, although its not terrible

All in all, it’s up there with my Netbook in all-time useful purchases. I carry it around daily, have got through two novels on it in two weeks and will probably maintain close to that rate, saving valuable bookshelf real-estate, holiday packing and being stuck on the bus in between books…

Here’s a quick video demo from some dude on Youtube:

Cross posted on Chivalry House.

Christmas Holiday Craziness

Christmas has been amazingly busy so apologies for the lack of posting and hope you all had wonderful seasons and enjoyable new years. Some of the things filling my time:

1) Flights to and from Malaysia

2) Introducing Amanda to about 30 people in my extended family, another 20 in my extended extended family, about 20 additional family friends and a number of randoms and associates. She did amazingly well in overwhelming circumstances and I think mostly had a good time!

3) Visiting Taman Negara in Pahang, where we jungle walked, I spoke Malay to Orang Asli, and we stayed in the delightful Traveller’s Home.

4) Visiting Malacca for a dim-sum fest, travelling on a ferris wheel at the Malacca River Pirate Entertainment Park (consisting of four rides), an interrupted swimming session on the 9th floor of the Ramada Renaissance caused by a brief monsoon shower.

5) Reading: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, finishing the brilliant Bad Science and diving into the Inkheart trilogy, as well as devouring the brilliant ‘Invincible’ Ultimate Collection 1&2 which Arvind bought me for Christmas.

6) Saying “I’m Batman” a few times following Sheila and Dave’s purchase of a full Bat-costume for me for Christmas.

7) Shopping with Amanda for the ‘ring’ and learning from my Aunty Ann about the four Cs of diamond shopping.

8) Three days in the ‘honeymoon’ suite of a less good hotel in Pangkor, including a scenic tour of the Island, some slightly grotty beach, and the most awesome clamshell poolside showers. Flickr will soon have photos. Despite grottiness, was a lovely escape and involved driving down some wonderful plantation road and all the adrenaline that entails (overtaking the lorries involves finding a window and then accelerating into oncoming traffic).

9) A lot of food, including Roti Canai, Dim Sum, Cantonese & hokkien mee, peanut-free Satay, Bhatura, Dhosai, Appom (sp?), and even fish and chips and lamb chops for good measure.

10) Tourist visits to KL Tower, Central Market

11) Shopping visits to 1 Utama, KLCC

12) A lot of jetlag

13) A fantastic Christmas eve featuring the increasingly infamous hat game and the family’s first Secret Santa, a resounding success (I got a Superman Belt Buckle which I failed to work out was from Geets, but she didn’t clock that I’d given her Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker DVD either, so we were even)…

14) New Year’s Eve on Asian Heritage Row in Central KL

…and a great deal more. The first couple of days back have been characterised by jetlag, kitchen construction, a cold, and initial attempts to improve healthiness through swimming and resisting completely unhealthy food. This will be helped by the completion of the kitchen…

Anyway, if you want to know more on any of the above points, let me know and I’ll find some time to write further.

Post holiday email count: 960 in my work inbox, down to 560 after initial pass on Sunday and down to a mere 368 after a second pass early this morning. Fingers crossed for a sane January, but it seems doubtful!