Monday, March 28, 2011

Review: Wake

Author:  Robert J Sawyer
Pages: 354
ISBN: 978 0 575 09408 6
Buy it from The Book Depository

Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math - and blind.

Still, she can surf the net with the best of them, following its complex paths clearly in her mind. But when a Japanese researcher develops a new signal-processing implant that might give her sight she jumps at the chance.

And sees a whole new world. Her brain has co-opted her visual cortex to help her navigate online, when the implant is activated Caitlin sees not our world but the riotous landscape of the Web, exploding into vivid reality around her.

And discovers something, some other. Inhuman, immense and getting smarter…
Wow!  Now this is what all YA novels should be like.  After reading the mediocre I Am Number Four I was reluctant to try another novel aimed at YA readers.  I’m glad that I gave Wake a chance.  It simply blew me away with the huge ideas and issues it tackles.  This is definitely a novel that will appeal just as much to adult readers.

Wake is the first novel in the WWW series.  Like other Sawyer novels Wake draws heavily from real science as a starting point.  It does an excellent job explaining how the worldwide web works by seamlessly interweaving the technical info into the storyline in an understandable manner.  Having a background in IT I was surprised to see how well (and accurately) Sawyer explained things like packets, IP addresses, binary and the network infrastructure of the Web.

I found myself engrossed in the story and the themes explored (coping with blindness, emerging intelligence, how we perceive the world and mathematical formulas of all things!) had me Googling for hours to find out more – I actually learned a thing or two!

The 15 year old Caitlin is a believable character and I quickly found myself empathizing with her plight and sharing in her exhilaration about the possibility of being able to see again.  It looks like Sawyer did some extensive research about living with blindness.  The insights he gives about Caitlin's day to day life and how she copes with her disability is very well done.  You often find yourself exclaiming "I never thought of that!". Unlike other YA novels Wake does not resort to any clich├ęs or hyperbole of “popular” teen tropes. 

The issues it explores - privacy, consciousness, intelligence and freedom of information, are all relevant in our modern society and it is tackled in a superb fashion.  It's intelligently written  and educational at the same time, but never feels preachy or dumbed down.

The real draw card for me was the concept of Webmind, an emerging machine intelligence on the WWW. The progression in how it perceives itself and the world around it makes for thought-provoking reading.  I can definitely see something similar to this taking place if true AI ever emerges.  The relationship between Caitlin and Webmind is also very interesting and holds the promise of lots of angles to explore in the rest of the series. 

The Verdict:
This should definitely be on the top of your to-read list.  It’s amazingly well done and those with a geeky tendency will absolutely love it.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the other novels in the trilogy to see where Sawyer goes with the story. 

Rating: 8.5/5

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Bookshelf!

Left: Glorious empty space there for the taking.  Right: 203 books later and still not full.

I got a new bookshelf as a birthday present.  Unfortunately it had to be specially made since I wanted an additional shelf added so it took about a week to be made and it finally arrived on Friday.  In comparison with my previous bookshelf, this one is gigantic!

It measures 2.2 m (height) x 1.2 m (width) with six shelves 31 cm in height and 30 cm deep.  The height of the shelves are somewhat of a waste when stacking paperbacks vertically, so after going back and forth between horizontal or vertical stacking I opted to go horizontal to make optimal use of the space.  It might not be the best for a quick grab-and-go read though, since it takes a bit of effort to get to the book you want.

I spent the better half of Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning to relocate my small collection to their new home.  I tried to keep things more or less in alphabetical order, but with horizontal stacking that's much more difficult than it seems.  The few hardbacks and odd sized paperbacks also threw a spanner into the works, so I had to settle for accommodating larger editions to the left regardless of their author.

The top two shelves are my science fiction collection and the rest is a mixture of fantasy and horror.  After moving all the books over I still had two empty shelves left, so I decided to temporarily house my astronomy collection there as well (second last shelf).

Since I now have more than enough space, especially when you include my old bookshelf  (now almost empty) it looks like there's lots of book shopping in my future.

For those of you interested in what's in my collection here are a few close-ups of the various shelves (except the last one which is currently empty).

The Science Fiction Section

Shelves 3- 5:  Fantasy & Horror and Astronomy

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Massive Book Haul

As I humbly confessed in my previous post I'm somewhat of a book addict.  When it comes to buying books I buy in bulk.  This month was no exception and as luck would have it both my Bookdepository and Amazon orders arrived on the same day resulting in some very strange looks from the people at the Post Office.  I couldn't be more ecstatic though.

First up is my Amazon order.  It was the first time they offered free shipping to South Africa so I decided to give them a go.  A certain science fiction author had lots of praise for Abercrombie's work, so based on that I decided to get all his novels to date.  Nothing like jumping straight in, right?

Best Served Cold and The Heroes are truly gorgeous hardcovers with a nice tactile feel to their dust jackets.  The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings are paperback editions.  I was somewhat disappointed in the condition of The Blade Itself.  The cover has dog-eared corners, but I guess I should count my blessings since the box they arrived in was completely trashed.

Feed by Mira Grant and Peace and War (omnibus) by Joe Haldeman rounds off the Amazon order.  I've been meaning to check out Feed for a while now and Peace and War is one of those classic sci-fi novels that you just need to have on your shelf (or so I'm told).

That brings us to my Bookdepository order.  The Crippled God is the final novel in the Malazan series.  I haven't read any of them yet, but now I have the entire ten novel series ready and waiting on my shelf.

I also bought the entire Old Man's War series by John Scalzi.  I loved Old Man's War, but haven't read the rest of the novels.  With a movie in the pipeline I think I'll start from scratch on these.

The Chronicles of Solace series (The Depths of Time, The Ocean of Years and The Shores of Tomorrow) by Roger MacBride Allen sounded interesting.  I haven't read anything by him before so I don't know what to expect.

Robert Charles Wilson is another new author I want to try out and Spin seemed a good place to start.  The Dark Imbalance by Sean Williams & Shane Dix will hopefully round up the Evergence trilogy.  I ordered the other novels in the trilogy from a second hand shop, but they are still en-route.

The Uplift trilogy is one of those trilogies I've been meaning to read for ages.  An excerpt of Sundiver had me hooked years ago, but for some reason I never actually got round to buying the books.

The Desert Spear and The Name of the Wind was thrown in to slightly balance my science fiction bias.

Lastly I also received Buffy The vampire Slayer, Vol 2 after winning it from a Goodreads giveaway - the proverbial cherry on the cake!

Now excuse me while I go chortle with glee like a contented dragon over my newly acquired hoard...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I've got a bit of a problem...

Here's a handy tip to conserve your peace of mind - NEVER spend the time to tally up the quantity and total cost of books you have bought.  Just don't do it!  Ignorance is bliss and ensures guilt-free reading.

Unfortunately I only discovered this golden nugget of wisdom after I went through all my book purchases for the year so far.  It seems I have a major book buying addiction and it's getting to the point where it's getting out of hand.

So far this year I've purchased no less than 75 novels!  Keep in mind that we are only in the third month of the year.  I'm not even going to mention the total cost (I can't face the nightmare inducing figures a second time!).  I will say that even though most of the purchases have been paperbacks it does add up to a considerable sum.

I'm in dire need of an intervention and I think the only real option is for me to put myself under a strict book buying ban for the next month and then limiting myself to three new novels a month.

It's going to be tough, but I have to do something, otherwise I won't be able to afford to put a roof over my books for much longer!

Any advice for hopelessly addicted book addict?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Children of the Sky - Coming soon

Tor has released some more info, including the cover, of the forthcoming Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge.  I loved A Fire Upon the Deep, so I can hardly wait for October to get here so I can get my hands on this one.
The Blurb

At last, the direct sequel to the Hugo Award–winning bestseller A Fire Upon the Deep!

Ten years have passed on Tines World, where Ravna Bergnsdot and a number of human children ended up after a disaster that nearly obliterated humankind throughout the galaxy. Ravna and the pack animals for which the planet is named have survived a war, and Ravna has saved more than one hundred children who were in cold-sleep aboard the vessel that brought them.

While there is peace among the Tines, there are those among them — and among the humans — who seek power… and no matter the cost, these malcontents are determined to overturn the fledgling civilization that has taken root since the humans landed.
It will be interesting to see how he expands on the world of the Tines and the human survivors stranded there.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

HarperCollins vs Libraries

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last couple of weeks you would know that HarperCollins wants to restrict libraries to 26 checkouts for ebooks.  That’s about a year of use for popular titles before the ebook goes “poof” and the library has to buy a new copy.  Apparently this is based on  the fact that normal print titles last around 26 checkouts before needing to be replaced (Really?).

I won’t go into the details of why this makes absolutely no sense.  The arguments are many.   What I will say is that it looks like publishers want their bread buttered on both sides.  They want to cripple the rights of ebook ‘owners’ (you only own a license to read the book, so you can’t sell it, donate it or actually do much of anything with it) since it’s not a physical object.  At the same time they want to add all the disadvantages of the printed copy to the ebook – a physical book deteriorates over time so apparently an ebook should act in the same way.

Why on earth would you want to add an artificial restriction to a medium that doesn’t actually wear out with use?

(That was a rhetorical question. Obviously the only logical reason is to increase profits, but heck you figured it out by yourself right… right?).

I love the library.  Every two weeks I go and select my allowance of four titles and leave with a smile on my face.  That’s regardless of the fact that I own loads of books which still need to be read.  My small local library is what got me addicted to reading and I’ve discovered many a new author there which I subsequently added to my own to-buy list.  Their funding is determined by the amount of checkouts they receive, so I do my small part in keeping their numbers up.

Currently ebooks aren’t available from libraries in South Africa, at least not from small town libraries like the one I belong to.  However the day will come when ebooks are going to be offered so the current fight for the rights of libraries in the ebook marketplace is important.

As a matter of interest I checked the books I checked out to see how old they are, what their condition is and how many times they’ve been checked out.  The results are quite interesting.

Paint Your Dragon - 15 years in library with 39 checkouts
Paint your Dragon by Tom Holt (Paperback. 1996 Edition)
39 Checkouts.  Good condition. Slight yellowing of pages. No missing/torn pages.  Spine undamaged Going strong after 15 years of use.

Pawn of Prophecy - 17 years in library with 33 checkouts
Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings (Paperback. 1993 Edition)
33 Checkouts.  Good condition. Slight yellowing of pages. No missing/torn pages.  Spine undamaged.  This is the exact same copy I read while at school about 14 years ago!  Still very readable after 17 years and I’m sure it’s going to last for another decade or so.
Airframe - 14 years in library with 58 checkouts
Airframe by Micheal Chrichton. (Hardcover. 1996 Edition).
58 checkouts.  Very good condition. Slight yellowing on edge of pages. No missing/torn pages.  Great condition after 14 years and still going strong.

Obviously my local library has an extremely small budget so books are only replaced when absolutely necessary and the selection gets rotated between a couple of libraries from nearby towns.  I’m sure that if had the time to look I could find a copies of books that are in circulation for more than 25 years and still being read.

Now if you apply the 26 checkout restriction to these titles.  It would have meant that the library would have had to buy the first two titles twice and the last title three times over.  That would have doubled their expenditure to stock the same three titles.

I hope HarperCollins will come to their senses and that this won't be the start of another Agency 5 debacle.

It would be interesting to see some more stats on the number of checkouts of printed books still in circulation in libraries.  I'm sure most of them will far exceed the artificial 26 limit that HarperCollins views as the benchmark.

Perhaps it's time to go sleuthing in your local library and see what the real situation is like...