Monday, January 24, 2011

Review of Cat's Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut certainly has his own quirky writing style, a really warped view of reality. I would say Cat's Cradle is less in touch with reality than Slaughterhouse Five. Cat's Cradle is written in a tone amused at the strangeness of human beings and the way they interact with the world. Unfortunately, I was never quite sure whether I am getting the joke. Still I found the antics of the naive world-weary main character irresistible.

The story begins with a writer, simply called John, wanting to write a book about how those close to one of the inventors of the atomic bomb, Felix Hoenikker, felt on the day it was dropped on Hiroshima. He interviews strange workmates and even stranger relatives. On the way we discover that Hoenikker has invented an even greater weapon of mass destruction called ice nine.

As John runs around the US and then the world interviewing those close to the scientist, the reader is left wondering what happened to the ice nine and will it be used.

John tells us at the start of the book he is a Bokononist a member of a new religion. The books of Bokonon tells us that "all of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies".

The book has a go at religion, technology and humanities urge to become extinct.

I was reading the book as an ebook and found I had difficulty remembering what some of the made up Bokonon terminology meant. That did subtract somewhat from my enjoyment of the book.

The ending surprised, smacking of futility and the stupidity of humanity.

I think Cat's Cradle is one which I will find myself reflecting on every now and then.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My writing week 4 (4)

Hi all,

I was very busy with writing activities last week: my next article for Divine, my blog and my novella. I spent a lot of time researching such things as ebooks, authors with disabilities, skinhead clothing and the Indian language.

By the end of the week I had had enough. I began thinking about taking a break when I finish my next Divine article; a break where I don’t turn on the computer for a couple of weeks. It would be nice to go somewhere near the sea and swim, fish and wander the beaches.

Until I take that holiday, I’ve decided to treat my weekends more like weekends and leave the computer off on Saturday or Sunday, perhaps both. I left if off on Saturday and did nothing writing related when I turned it on yesterday, and I feel mentally revived today.

Will Ebooks Dumb Reading Down?

I finished reading the ebook Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut last week. I found it very hard to remember the definitions of some of his made up terminology. Maybe my memory is going. Maybe I should have made a list of definitions. Maybe it would have been easier to read in paperback where I could have highlighted the meanings. I only wish I had discovered the Wikipedia page on Vonnegut’s made up Bokonon religion before I finished the book, I could have printed it out and referred to it as I read.

Helen Venn mentioned on her blog an article that had some relevance to my inability to remember what a Karass was. The article Nick Collins in The Telegraph said that ebooks might make reading too easy and therefore more forgettable. If I struggle when reading a sentence or paragraph, I know that once I understand it, I am more likely to remember it. So, in the future might more complicated works be purchased only in print form and ebooks left for simply plotted romance and adventure stories? Hard science fiction might not be suited to ebooks, whereas space operas might. Or might the domination of ebooks lead to hard science fiction and novels with complicated plots no longer being published?

Where are all the Ebooks?

Once I finished reading Cat’s Cradle I had no more ebooks. It was time to download a new one. I had enjoyed reading Souls in the Great Machine, by Sean McMullen, book one in a series set in the future in North-east Victoria, where I live. Last time I had checked, Sean McMullen’s books weren’t published in Australia, so I felt okay about buying it as an ebook on Amazon. Problem was, it wasn’t there. None of his books were available as Kindle books. One of the great plusses of ebooks is supposed to be that backlist books would be available forever. Obviously this is yet to come.

I then went looking for Cory Doctorow, but none of his books were listed as Kindle ebooks on Amazon. Amazing for the champion of future publishing. I eventually found a link on website to Little Brother as a free Kindle download. As I had already purchased a signed print version at Aussiecon I did not have any qualms about downloading the free ebook.

After much messy around, I finally managed to get an ebook not purchased through Amazon to work on my Kindle.

Further on My Last Post About Cheap ebooks Destroying the Publishing Industry.

Some of you who read my last weekly post may have noted the resulting comments between Vicki Tyley (who has sold 35,000 copies of her mystery ebook Thin Blood) and myself. In it she mentions an article by J A Konrath which lists 28 authors whose ebooks are selling very well. For those who don’t know, J A Konrath is a huge cheerleader for ebook. But Helen Venn on her blog mentioned an article by Jim C Hines that questions the accuracy of JA Konrath’s data. I also questioned the usefulness of his data in my debate with Vicki Tyley.

I reckon Patty Jansen has got it right. She is selling her 11,000 word ebook novella My Name in Lights, for $1.99 on Smashwords. I think that is a reasonable price for a novella, not a novel.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

My writing week 4 (3)

Hi all,

New Article on Divine

I have another article up on Divine, this one is about studying online for my master of creative writing at the University of Canberra. If you are considering studying writing at the University of Canberra I have a more substantial appraisal of the masters course and its lecturers on my website.

The Divine editor made a few changes to my article, even though I rewrote it and edited it many times. Oh well, changes to my writing always make me anxious. Some of them I can see why, the reason for others is not so obvious. I will examine them again when my ego has stopped raging.

More Torchwood

I was rapt to read that they are making another ten episode mini-series of Torchwood. Television is running out of quality science fiction.

Cheap Books at Booko

I had a look at an Aussie website called Booko a couple of days ago. It is a site that automatically searches for the online prices, including delivery, of books. Just type in the title or author. I checked my last few purchases. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood cost me $24.99 at my local Collins Bookstore, I could have purchased it online at Abe books for $11.37. But Solar, by Ian McEwan, cost me $32.99 at the local bookstore, the cheapest online was $28.44 at Abe books again. But I still will buy from the local bookstore even if it is $10 cheaper online.

Booko did not have ebooks, so I could not gleefully type in titles and see that I could get them all free from somewhere.

Lengthy Ebook Article in The Age

Speaking of ebooks, which I tend to do a bit, there was a huge article on whether they would destroy publishing in last weeks Good Weekend in The Age. I could not find a link for it, but I recommend reading it. It mentioned a journo Malcolm Knox who reckons ebooks could be a boon for authors, all they have to do is spend all their time social networking – forget the writing – to convince people to buy their ebook (This is my sarcastic bent on his comments).

But it did say that Vicki Tyley, who had been unable to get published in the US, put her mystery ebook Thin Blood up on Amazon for the guru recommended price of $2.99 and sold in excess of 25,000 copies. It did not say, however, how many were purchased by US citizens. She has published three novels in Australia. Still her US agent says he is negotiating a print publishing deal.

The article compared e-readers and publisher Richard Walsh reviewed the Kindle. He read Stied Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on it, and said that it destroyed the formatting of newspaper articles within the novel. Because of Kindle’s homogenised text, that formatting was lost and confusion reigned. Interestingly, later in the article, Larson was mentioned as becoming the first author to sell over a million Kindle ebooks. So there must have been a lot of confused Kindle users.

Walsh also said he had difficulty flicking forward to the end of a chapter and backwards on the Kindle. I have found no such difficulty as I usually read it a linear fashion, but there is a goto menu that allows you to bring up a table of contents and head to the end of the chapter. From the tone of the review, I think Mr Walsh wanted to hate the Kindle.

The one thing the article forgots to mention was free ebooks. So there was no discussion on how the over three million ebooks, and growing, might impact on the publishing industry.

What I Got up to Last Week

I spent a bit of time researching my next article for Divine last week. It is on authors with disabilities. So may famous authors had disabilities, including two of the big three science fiction writers. As about 20% of the population will have a disability at some time of another, a particular writer having a disability should not be a surprise. I have lined up interviews with two Aussie writers for the article too, which I hope to do in the next two days.

I spent a bit of time watching the floods. I used to live in Albion in Brisbane, one of the suburbs affected. My Aunty Anne also lives next door to the Safeway in Toowoomba, but luckily it was above the flood waters.

Down here in Wangaratta, the humid wet weather has been sending me troppo. The only thing it is good for is growing tomatoes. I picked 60 kilograms of them last week. We are running out of people to give them too.

I also did a bit of editing of the novella. After reading a blog post by John Scalzi, in which he aims to write 2,000 words by noon each day, I am determined to write more. I think 1,000 a day would be a more realistic goal, especially with all those tomatoes to pick.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

My writing week (year) 4 (week) 2

Hi all,

After fixing my computer problems last week (I’m just asking for the thing to crash with a comment like that), I am feeling strangely over-confident and willing to strangle any challenge that wanders within arms reach.

Windows Vista was the Problem, Not My Computer

I did have some help from an excellent technician at Hewlett-Packard’s, but I did have to first believe him and then implement his solution. He told me, like someone who did not want to be overheard by Microsoft, that the problem was not with my computer but with Windows Vista, particularly its latest updates. So I did another recovery, but this time I stopped windows from automatically updating. Since than, five days ago, my computer has not crashed or stalled or turned itself off or come up with one of a multitude of error messages.

Safari a Better Browser Than Firefox

I was in the mood to experiment so I tried a couple of other web browsers in the hope that they would solve a problem I had with Firefox: a Facebook application was stalling.I installed Opera, but found it did not offer a solution, but than I installed Safari and the application no longer stalled. It also fixed another problem where my email stalled or failed to find emails. So my computer is like brand new now. Yaaaa.

Other Activities Last Week.

Apart from fixing my computer, I am spent a lot of time gardening last week. It seems that the so-far mild summer and plenty of rain, has lead to bumper tomato and bean crops. Last week I picked about 33 kilograms of tomatoes, including just under ten on one day, and about 27 kilos of beans, including 6.75 kilograms of climbing beans one day from a 3 by 1.5 metre patch. I have been spending about half an hour picking each day. Add this to the watering and weeding, and I spend about an hour and a half each day in the garden.

After a bit of consternation about whether to put the novella away for six weeks so I could then come back to it with a fresh view, I decided I wanted to get it critiqued as soon as possible, which means polishing it. But as soon as I started polishing it I started making changes. Looks like it could take a while.

I finished reading the very enjoyable comedy Solar by Ian McEwan. It is a short novel about a physicist whose private life wrecks his attempt to provide the world with clean energy. My last post is a review of it.


Review of Solar by Ian McEwan

Hi all,

I have not read any other Ian McEwan novels. I gather his other novels are serious dramas, whereas Solar was more of a tongue in cheek comedy. I never laughed out loud, but none the less I found it amusing as the pompous, insular, brilliant and sometimes inept main character schemed his way out of a number of awkward situations. One scene where is he trying to urinate in 20 below zero temperatures is very memorable.

Michael Beard is its central character. He has spent much of his life living off his fame after winning a noble prize for physics in his early twenties. He is constantly asked to be on boards, make paid speeches, lecture etc, while producing very little new research. Then one day he is asked to join the board of a research facility trying to find solutions to climate change. Fate then hands him the process of converting water into hydrogen using solar power, the ultimate clean energy.

Meanwhile his hectic private life of four marriages continues. He is so self-absorbed, and fat and unhealthy to boot, it is hard to believe that so many women want to have relationships with him, but they do. He thinks it is because they all want to convert him to a loving, sharing person. Instead he spends much of his time in hypocritical anger as his wives mirror his unfaithfulness.

In the end his lies bring his life crashing down, and put back the cause of fighting climate change. Much the way the lies form self-serving countries destroyed the Copenhagen climate change conference. I think that was the simile McEwan was aiming at.

I have followed the climate change debate for decades and nearly all of the climate change information mentioned in the novel sounded correct to me. I had not heard that Americans are busy buying up land in colder areas of Canada though, I suspect that could be self-servingly true.

A short novel (yaaa for short novels) it was an enjoyable read, even though the main character was larger than life.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Science fiction year in review.


I read a few more books last year than in the 2009, including my first ebook on a Kindle. I try and mix my reading up by rotating genres: science fiction, fantasy or horror and than something non-genre. Usually I am reading a speculative fiction anthology or magazine too. I also read the odd non-fiction book and book on writing. I tend to try and read Australian authors, 75% of the books I read last year were written by Australians.

Of the books I read, I enjoyed reading The Gypsy Morph, the third and final volume in Terry Brooks’ environmentally themed fantasy/science fiction Genesis of Shannara series.

Greg Egan’s Incandescence brimmed with ideas and imagination, but unfortunately was a very difficult read because of hard to understand descriptions of physics concepts.

After reading China Mieville’s The Scar the previous year, I was disappointed with his Peridido Street Station. Although very strong in imagination, the story took way too long to begin.

I enjoyed the action thriller Timesplash, by Graham Storrs, the first ebook I have read, even though my Kindle malfunctioned near the end.

The standout book for me this year was Red Queen by HM Brown. It won the previous years Aurealis award for best horror, but could just as easily been placed in the science fiction category as it is set in an Australia devastated by a virus. It was tension filled from first page to last, with an easy writing style that didn’t get in the way of the story.


What a pathetic year for science fiction films, Inception, was a very welcome standout, a fantastically complex and suspenseful movie, which should easily win the next best movie Hugo. Predators was okay. I missed Skyline after reading the awful reviews for it. What else was there? Certainly nothing memorable. Compare this to Moon, District 9 and Star Trek from 2009.


Television science fiction made me a very unhappy person this year with so many series that had a good story line, suspense, quality acting and special effects being canned.

First to go was The Chronicles of Sarah Connor, leaving Sarah and her gang forever trapped in a future ruled by terminators.

Then The Dollhouse disappeared. Admittedly, it did take a bit of getting into, a unique concept, too smart for the average viewer.

Torchwood was put out, it was a more adult version of Doctor Who. Torchwood had the suspense and horror that was sadly missing from the 5th series of the new Doctor Who.

They then got rid of Caprica, a prequel to Battlestar Galactica. It had a slowly evolving mutli-layered story.

Finally, they decided that Stargate Universe was far too intelligent for the Stargate franchise and cancelled it.

My viewing of Flash Forward was destroyed as I missed many episodes because of channel seven’s moving it about the schedule.

All that was left was Fringe, which has a great ongoing story that flips between two alternative universes. My guilty pleasure was Chuck, which brings out the 15 year old in me.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

New year's resolution - no to $5 or less ebooks.

Hi all,
My news year's resolution is not to download any ebook that is priced below $5. This includes any book requesting a donation.
A lot of my posts last year were about the potential for free and ridiculously cheap ebooks to destroy the publishing industry, so I will only download ebooks where the author/publisher has said that they deserve to make some money out of their efforts.
Forget all this crap about selling huge numbers of $1 ebooks, it won’t work. Not when there are millions of free ebooks (2.5 million on google books, 50% of the Kindle bestseller list) and tens of thousands being sold for $1 or less. And you can ditch the argument that cheap downloads worked for the music industry. (Did it?) Novels are a completely different commodity. Consumers can consume 100’s of downloaded songs a year, whereas the average consumer purchases about one book a year (which many will not even read). The quantities purchased don’t compare.
Oh, I hear you say, but when books are cheaper, they will buy more. To do what with? If many males are having trouble reading one book a year, why will they buy more. It’s not like music, where you can listen to hundreds of songs a day. There is only so many books a person can read in a year. I have hundreds yet to read on my shelves, so I have no intention of filling up my Kindle with lots of ebooks, even if they are free, that will forever remain unread.
So I intend to make a stand. I will also continue my policy of buying from Amazon and other international online stores, only when I can’t get the book from an Australian supplier. Yes, it will cost me more, but I want the Australian publishing industry to survive. I want to read Australian authors. I want Australian authors to make some money.
So are you with me? Or are you just going to follow all the ridiculously optimistic writers who think that they will be the exception, that their novel will somehow stick out from the million of free ebooks, and who think that Amazon, Google, the Book Depository and Apple give a stuff about Australian authors or the quality of their writing.

My writing week (Year 4, week 1)

Hi all,

I thought I had my computer back working properly, no problems for a few days after I did a recovery, but today, just after I turned it on, an error message appeared saying that there was a problem with a driver and it was shutting down. The message said, as they often do, if it was the first time I had received that message, not to worry. I think it was the first time. The computer restarted okay.

Interestingly, Windows was installing updates at the time. When I did the recovery about a week ago, I had lots of problems installing the 79 Windows updates. During that time error messages came up about just about everything, modem, power source, graphics card, memory, but no particular error message seemed to repeat. Another commonality with problems seems to be the browser Firefox, which I have stopped using (I have since found other browsers to be faster).

One good thing about doing the recovery was it removed a few minor irritants, like programs that had failed to uninstall properly.

So, will I need to get a computer guy to check my computer or not? At least with all the fooling around I’ve done with it over the past two weeks, I have more of an idea of what is not wrong with it. I also have a lot more knowledge about its diagnostic programs (which didn’t detect a thing wrong with it) and how to do a backup restore.

With my computer problems, I obviously spent little time editing the novella I had just finished the first draft of. When I did, I started adding to it and changing it substantially. It seems I am set to work on it for many more weeks.

I hope everyone is looking forward to the new year and new decade (yep, I’m a pedant). I have thought up one writing related new year’s resolution, you can read about it in my next post.