Posts tagged with "books"

Jun 4

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

I don’t usually read serial killer fiction. Neither do I read time-travelling fiction. The only reason I wanted to read this was, I admit it, the author, whose previous books I enjoyed a lot.

Interestingly, the story of a time-travelling serial killer worked incredibly well for me. Oh the possibilities! If you are a serial killer, you really want to be able to travel in time!

Kirby, is the girl who would not die, and a really cool main character that I could easily identify and sympathize with. A lot of the novel is narrated from Harper’s perspective, though, the serial killer, and I liked this change of perspective a lot. On top of that there is the interesting setting of Chicago from the 1930 to the 1990 with all the fascinating details that are the result of a very thorough research.

There is also a deal for a TV series adaptation of “The Shining Girls”, which has been announced some days ago. I am sure that after reading this book you will agree that it is excellent TV series material!

Book review: The Rapture of the Nerds

“The Rapture of the Nerds” is the long-awaited post-singularity collaboration between acclaimed science fiction authors Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow. Throwing 500-word chunks of text back and forth, the two created a novel whose tone is rather humorous and lighthearted, while dealing with the issues people will have to face in an imagined future in which you are able to upload your consciousness into the “cloud”.

Describing such a world is a rather challenging task, of course, considering how alien it must be to a contemporary reader. The obvious solution, and the one chosen by the authors, is, of course, to narrate the story from the viewpoint of a technophobe, someone to whom all the changes brought about by the singularity are nearly as alien as they must be to the reader.

In the future depicted by Stross and Doctorow, the vast majority of people have uploaded their minds to the cloud. Huw, the main character, is one of the people that deliberately decided to stick to meatspace, for one reason or another.

The plot of this novel is far from outstanding. In fact, I had the impression that in large parts of the book, Huw was thrown into one random unpleasant situation after the other, often unable to get out of it on his (and, later, her) own. And yet, I found this to be a highly enjoyable, if challenging, read. Every single page is loaded with so many fascinating ideas, witty remarks, or posing interesting questions to think about, that the actual plot took a backseat for me. In particular, there are lot of clever ideas about how a society of uploaded minds might work, and what the consequences for the individual are who knowingly experiences “life” inside a software simulation.

A fascinating read, but also an idea overload. You’ll likely want to either take your time digesting this book, or revisit it after a while, having missed quite a bit during the first read.

Get the book for free

Buying DRM-free ebooks, the Humble way

There has been talk about a Humble eBook Bundle for a while now, and this week, bundle was finally launched, expanding the media the Humble Bundle team is dealing with to the realm of electronic books.

I have been looking forward to this a lot, because for books, there is still a very long way to go when it comes to DRM-free publishing, and every single successful venture in this direction will be a signal to publishers that there is money to make after all without restricting customers’ rights and caging them in. So, if you are at all interested in making the idea of DRM-free ebook publishing more popular, supporting this bundle is probably a pretty good idea.

But it’s not like the actual content of the Humble eBook Bundle doesn’t speak for itself, at least if you are remotely interested in science fiction and the various flavors of fantasy:

"Zoo City" by Lauren Beukes is one of the best Urban Fantasy books I have read in years, with a completely unique take on the genre, an extremely well-portrayed main character and excellent world building.

"Pump Six" by Paolo Bacigalupi is really good short story collection, with some of the stories taking place in the fascinating dystopian near future known from his later published novel “Windup Girl”.

Then there is Cory Doctorow’s new YA novel "Pirate Cinema", "Stranger Things Happen" and "Magic For Beginners" by Kelly Link, Mercedes Lackey’s "Invasion", and, if you pay more than the average price, John Scalzi’s "Old Man’s War" and the graphic novel "Signal to Noise" by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean.

Speaking of the average price, this one is significantly higher than for the indie game bundles in the past. Does that mean people value books higher than video games?

Personally, I hope that this ebook bundle will be a great success and that we will see a bunch of follow-ups.


Oct 9

Discordia: Six Nights in Crisis Athens

In July 2012, journalist and author Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple, known for her Victorian inspired art and her role in Occupy Wall Street, went to crisis-ridden Greece, spending six days and nights to gather first hand impressions and see what actual people living there have to say. “Discordia”, published only three months later, in digital form only, is the result of this: an essay of about 24,000 words by Penny, enriched with amazing illustrations by Crabapple, often incorporating elements of actual graffiti that is still shaping the Athens cityscape.

"Discordia" is a highly informative and compelling read. Penny’s writing is really captivating and the result of getting very close with people, making even initially tight-lipped collocutors open up. To be very clear, "Discordia" is not about merely reporting and informing, but is to a large extent commentary and certainly also a call to action: Penny is just as angry with the status quo she is writing about as the people that are getting a chance to speak in "Discordia". Sometimes, she digresses a little from the core message of the book, but not as much as to risk losing the thread completely.

I did not like much of what I had to read in this book, but that’s the whole point, of course. There are a lot of personal stories in here that are really upsetting, even more so knowing that these are no isolated cases. Other parts of the book are plain frightening: The increasing influence of the Nazis in a country suffering from its imposed austerity programme and the utter impotence when faced with a police that is looking away at best sound all too much like Weimar Republic 2.0. Why most of the media say nothing about this development is beyond me (just today, the Guardian published an article about Greek anti-fascist protesters being tortured by police with connections to fascist Golden Dawn party, but press coverage like this remains the exception).

"Discordia" is a must-read not only for people who like to think they know all about the Greek crisis. The agility enabled by the digital-only publication is one of the crucial quality of this book: This is not a chronicle of what happened back in the days, but a very relevant piece of journalism here and now. At the same time it is much more extensive, better researched and edited than a typical blog article can be. This agility also made it possible to include a coda about the arrestment of Molly Crabapple during the Occupy Wall Street one year anniversary, which happened less than two weeks before the book’s release.

Extract from “Discordia” at BoingBoing

Sep 9

Book Review: Year Zero by Rob Reid

Aliens suck at music. And when they discovered our music in our late 1970s, it literally changed the universe. Unfortunately, just recently, the alien anthropologists learned a little bit more about human culture and society, which resulted in a shocking realisation: Having pirate copying all of our music for decades, they owe us a lot of money. All their money, and much, much more. Understandably, some of them are not amused about this, so that the very existence of human civilization is at stake.

This is pretty much the premise of "Year Zero", the debut novel by Rob Reid, founder of, which delves into the realms of humoristic science fiction. This is a genre that has seen far too few publications, and so, the novel has been compared to “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. This is a really unfortunate and unfair comparison, of course, since it will raise expecations to a completely unrealistic level.

So let’s just take “Year Zero” for what it is: A way to learn more about the abstrusity of our existing copyright law, packaged in an entertaining, albeit not mind-blowing novel. The plot idea is really brilliant, and the writing is quite witty. The biggest shortcoming of the book is probably the rather flat characters. Also, there are lots and lots of contemporary references that might make this novel grow outdated pretty quickly.

Certainly not my highlight of this year, but if you have an interest in music, the absurdities of copyright law, and humoristic SF, you will probably enjoy this one.

Book Review: The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

Do you like the Cthulhu Mythos, as established by H.P. Lovecraft? Do you like spy stories, preferably of the British variety? Are you a math or computer nerd? If at least two of those are true for you, you will love the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross (stupid me, you will probably already have read all of the books published so far).

Earlier this month, the fourth novel in this series, titled "The Apocalypse Codex", was released to the general public. For those of you not familiar with the series, the Laundry is a top secret British government agency faced with the task of defending the realm against occult threats, the nature of which is mostly Lovecraftian.

In this alternative universe, magic is actually a branch of applied maths, and with the wrong algorithm you might accidentally summon something horrible to our world.

The protagonist of the series is a former IT consultant called Bob Howard who got recruited by the Laundry because of a similar incident where he saw too much.

In “The Apocalypse Codex”, Howard has to deal with an American televangelist who is showing too much interest in the Prime Minister, possibly trying to subvert the British government for his cause. Howard, however, is officially only acting as an observer of an external asset this time, the newly introduced Persephone Hazard and her companion Johnny McTavish.

Naturally, there is much more to the Christian sect that initially assumed, so that the trio has to fight against all too unfavourable conditions to save millions of possible victims.

Like its predecessor, “The Apocalypse Codex” is much darker in tone than the first two novels in the series, which is due to the supposed end of the world, CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, coming closer.

Even more so than all of the preceding novels in the series, this one is full of nerd jokes. For a lot of them, you have to be a programmer or computer scientist to get them, and I wonder how many jokes I missed from other fields I am less familiar with.

Stross’s writing is top notch and highly engaging. If there is one thing to criticise, it is that, while the protagonists are still distinguishable, their voice and their views are a little too similar to each other – and to Stross’s. If you follow Stross’ blog, you will know their voice and their views, specifically on (Christian) religion.

Nevertheless, I loved this book, and am looking forward to future releases in this series. Can’t get enough of computational demonology!

Science Fiction: Still the genre of big ideas?

Over on SF Signal, this week’s Mind Meld deals with the question of whether science fiction is still the genre of big ideas that it once was, or whether contemporary authors of the genre are “slacking off”, with interesting answers by Charles Stross, Peter Watts, Alastair Reynolds, and others.

All this is related to a recent essay by Neal Stephenson on "Innovation Starvation". Stephenson founded a project called Hieroglyph which aims to produce an anthology of SF fiction that revives the notion of big ideas.

MIND MELD: Is SF Still the “Big Idea” Genre?
Innovation Starvation

DRM-infested ebooks: the beginning of the end

It was only ten days ago that Charles Stross declared DRM on ebooks dead (we wrote about this).

Now, I can only speculate whether he had any insider knowledge or is just such a brilliant analyst. In any case, the big news of today is that Tor Books announced to go the DRM-free way for all of their ebooks. Yay for a bunch of DRM-free SF books, starting in July 2012.

And, of course, given that Tor Books is the biggest publisher of science fiction in the world, we can assume that this step will first and foremost be important because of its signal effect, not for the direct effect of freeing the Tor ebooks from DRM chains.

UPDATE: Mr. Stross is a faster blogger than me, and while he is right in stating that he is not responsible for the decision by Tor/McMillan, apparently he was not completely noninvolved, but asked for input on this question. His response, targeted at publishing executives at McMillan, and now published on his blog, is a must read.

Announcement on the Tor blog
More on DRM and ebooks on Charles Stross’ blog

The Dinocalypse is near

Psychic dinosaurs taking over New York? A group of heroes called the Century Club being called to save mankind from extinction? Talking apes? This is the world of pulp adventure in an alternate version of the 1930s that has first been described in the pen&paper roleplaying game Spirit of the Century and now makes its novel debut with the Dinocalypse Now trilogy.

There is currently a Kickstarter for these novels by author Chuck Wendig, including some promising excerpts. And now excuse me, I have to go kill some dinosaurs…

The Kickstarter project page
The Dinocalypse Now website

Picture: taken from the Dinocalypse Now website.

Amazon’s ebook strategy explained

Ever so often, I have been entertaining the idea of getting a Kindle, especially in times when there wasn’t any space left in any of my bookshelves. The only reason that kept me from buying one was that I am a strict opponent of DRM and of strengthening the already stifling market power Amazon has on the ebook market.

Just recently, SF author Charlie Stross posted an excellent analysis of Amazon’s ebook strategy and its consequences for the market, which encouraged me once again to stay away from the Kindle.

[..] the peculiar evil genius of Amazon is that Amazon seems to be trying to simultaneously establish a wholesale monopsony and a retail monopoly in the ebook sector.

I really hope that Stross is right with his conclusions:

If the major publishers switch to selling ebooks without DRM, then they can enable customers to buy books from a variety of outlets and move away from the walled garden of the Kindle store. They see DRM as a defense against piracy, but piracy is a much less immediate threat than a gigantic multinational with revenue of $48 Billion in 2011 (more than the entire global publishing industry) that has expressed its intention to “disrupt” them, and whose chief executive said recently “even well-meaning gatekeepers slow innovation” (where “innovation” is code-speak for “opportunities for me to turn a profit”).

I, for one, am totally willing to wait for the publishing houses to move away from DRM before I voluntarily enter Amazon’s cozy cage.

Link: What Amazon’s ebook strategy means