Friday, September 27, 2013

The Problem With eBooks

After an eternity of waiting the time had finally arrived. 26 September. Release day. The day I can get my hands on Jupiter War, the final installment in a trilogy I started way back in 2011. Since it takes a month for books to reach South Africa after their UK release getting  the ebook version was the obvious choice. What could be more convenient than immediately delivery, that's what ebooks were made for right?

It turns out that since I'm not using a Kindle, but an ePub based reader instead, I'm not actually allowed to buy the ebook. At least I can't find any legitimate store willing to sell it to me. Kobo, my store of choice, doesn't even list Jupiter War nor does any of the other ebook stores I tried (most of which wouldn't sell it to me based on my location in any case*).

I contacted Tor UK, the publisher, and they were looking into the problem. Apparently the ePub files have been released and should be making their way to ebook retailers. Does that mean that Kindle users get preferential treatment? They had the option to pre-order and at the stroke of midnight on release day they had access to the files. Why should ePub users be treated any differently? I doubt my choice of ereader should play a role in the availability of an ebook.

A quick Google search found numerous sites where I could get a pirated copy of Jupiter War with no hassles at all; in the format of my choice.

When it's easier for people to pirate the books you publish instead of being able to buy them legitimately I think your system needs some serious work. I could so easily have download that pirated copy, but I opted not to. I believe that the author and the rest of the people that made that book possible deserve to be compensated for their work. Many other frustrated readers might not be so kind.

Release day has come and gone and I'm still waiting. It doesn't look like I'll be having that marathon reading session of the Owner trilogy this weekend. Luckily there are other books I can keep myself busy with. Alastair Reynolds' On the Steel Breeze was also released on the same day. At least I'm able to buy that one...

The folks at Tor UK have been excellent in trying to help solve the issue. It seems Kobo is experiencing technical difficulties with the file and they are working to resolve it.

Update II:
I had basically given up hope, but before heading to bed I gave it one more try. This time round Jupiter War was listed as available, and the checkout process managed to complete without any problems. This was one of the most frustrating ebook purchases I've ever experienced and I'm still baffled by the whole thing. I'm just glad that I finally have a copy!

* Note: This is not a problem with geographical restrictions. The book should be available to my region, but some stores don't sell to international users.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: The Lowest Heaven

Title: The Lowest Heaven
Edited by: 

Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin
Pages: 342
ISBN: 9780957169692
Publisher: Jurassic London
Published: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction / Anthology
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
Kobo (eBook)
Amazon (eBook)
Amazon (Paperback)
The Book Depository (Paperback)

The Lowest Heaven is a new anthology of contemporary science fiction published in partnership with the Royal Observatory Greenwich to coincide with Visions of the Universe, a major exhibition of space imagery.

Each story in The Lowest Heaven is themed around a body in the Solar System, from the Sun to Halley's Comet. The stories are illustrated with photographs and artwork selected from the archives of the Royal Observatory, while the book's cover and overall design are the work of award-winning South African illustrator Joey Hi-Fi.

The Lowest Heaven had me hooked at their dedication, “To curiosity (big and little c)”. It’s something so simple, yet it sets the tone for the entire anthology. Each story takes a celestial body as inspiration and then embroiders them with fascinating ideas, concepts and characters where the only constraint is the author’s imagination.

The Lowest Heaven features a gorgeous cover by the very talented Joey Hi-Fi. He incorporates loads of little details, the relevance of which only become apparent after you’ve finished reading. Images drawn from the archives of the National Maritime Museum illustrate each story, adding a unique touch. This is one of those books where the physical copy is a beautiful object by itself, and that’s before taking the actual content into account.

The 17 stories included in the anthology draws from a diverse set of authors and covers the entire spectrum of science fiction; they range from the more mainstream, the slightly whimsical to the more serious trappings of hard SF. There are stories of wonder, stories of hope, but also stories with bittersweet endings that will stay with you long afterwards.

Although I enjoyed all the stories in the collection there were some that appealed to me far more than others.

A Map of Mercury – Alastair Reynolds
A visit to Mercury calls into question what it means to be human when an artist literally transforms herself, redefining both her art and her own form.
“He lowered on thrust until his little ship pinned itself to the surface of Mercury like a brooch” (p 34)
Reynolds has a knack for beautifully descriptive prose and uses this intricate trans-human tale to ask the biggest question of them all.

An account of a voyage from World to World again, by way of the Moon, 1726 – Adam Roberts
A Jules Verne-like voyage to the Moon reveals a startling truth about the aliens that inhabit it. I really enjoyed the tone and period style of this account. The revelation at the end is unexpected and hard-hitting.

WWBD – Simon Morden
The commander of a mission to Mars has a tough decision to make. Should he blindly follow his orders to exterminate the alien life discovered on the planet or should he sacrifice himself and his crew in order to follow his own judgement?
“We can send all the robots we like, but it takes humanity to put the soul into exploration” (p 143)
With Ray Bradbury as a supporting character this was one of my favourite stories. It’s both melancholy and hopeful at the same time and a very fitting tribute to Bradbury.
“Wouldn’t it be better to think that part of me is part of you? That everyone who’s ever read me makes me just a little bit alive?” (p 149)

We’ll always be here – S.L. Grey
Twin sisters in an orphanage are called upon to accomplish a tremendous task.
This story seemed a little juvenile at first with one of the characters being obsessed with America’s Next Top Model, but the tragic turn it takes towards the end took me by surprise. South Africans are guaranteed to chuckle at the very aptly named Eskombot, especially under the circumstances it makes its first appearance.

The Comet’s Tale – Matt Jones
Two teenage boys struggling to find their own place in the world are drawn into the clutches of a cult, which leads to a tragic conclusion. A truly touching story about unrequited love and sacrifice. The last line will tear your heart to shreds.

The Grand Tour – James Smythe
The Voyager probe returns to a post-apocalyptic world bringing with it the chance of a very unconventional salvation. I loved the captivating setting, the unique take on first contact and how it irrevocably changes both the aliens and humanity itself.

I relished every moment I spent reading The Lowest Heaven. Even after rationing myself to a story a day the end came far too quickly for my liking. The last story, The Grand Tour, ends with these apt words, “I wonder how far I’ll be carried; how far I can go”. And that, the pushing of boundaries into the unknown, that is what science fiction is all about.

The Verdict:
The Lowest Heaven is a stunning collection of short stories covering the entire spectrum of science fiction. The stories range from the more mainstream, the slightly whimsical to the more serious trappings of hard SF. As a whole the collection works extremely well in exploring humanity and our place in the Solar System. If you enjoy short stories and have even a passing interest in astronomy then this anthology will definitely not disappoint. It has something for every taste. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 7.5 (Very Good)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Arrivals

As you might know from previous posts I'm really trying to cut back on buying books this year. My TBR Decimation challenge isn't quite working out as I intended, but I think requiring 10 books to be read for every new book I purchase was a tad unrealistic. I've readjusted my goal to a much more manageable 3 to 1 ratio. Currently I've read 43 books and I've bought 27 (including ebooks). Not quite there, but if I read more books in the coming months I might still make it.

On to the purchases.

I ordered the Culture box set which contains the first free novels in Iain M. Banks' Culture series. The copies I have were hand-me-downs and since they are looking quite tattered it was time for a refresh. In order to get free shipping I also ordered a copy of The Twelve by Justin Cronin. I still need to read the first book in the series, but I'll get there. Eventually.

I was also fortunate enough to win a copy of Paul McAuley's In The Mouth Of The Whale. I've been meaning to try his work for ages now and this just gives me an added incentive.