The situation seems to be deterioriating…

The Fuller Memorandum, by Charles Stross

The Fuller Memorandum is the first novel I have read entirely on a mobile phone.

Amazon UK recently launched the new wave of Kindles. I placed an order for one, which should arrive next week. In the meantime, I thought I’d check out the Kindle software and the range of books on offer. To do so I put the Kindle app on my iPhone and then used that to download some book samples.

The Kindle app is surprisingly easy to use. Good resolution, easy page turns, power hungry though. Anyway, I found I could read on it easier than I expected. I got curious about how it would cope with a full work, and decided to order something light and not-too-serious to test it out with.

At the same time of course I’ve been reading Patrick Hamilton’s Slaves of Solitude. It turns out though that there are many situations where one can read on a mobile but where reading a novel is impractical. The result is I’ve finished a whole novel on my phone while I’m still only half way through the (excellent) Hamilton.

I’ll say a few more words about the phone reading experience and its wider implications, then I’ll talk about The Fuller Memorandum itself. For the curious, it’s a very geeky comedy-horror novel and most of the folk who read this blog probably won’t be interested in it. I’ll flag when I start talking about that so if it’s not your thing you can skip that part of this blog entry.

Also, I still think Kindle is the ugliest name for an ereader I’ve encountered. Seriously Amazon, you named your ereader by reference to bookburning? Extraordinary.

Anyway. The Kindle app is quite interesting. You can change font size, which for me means you I tend to have about two paragraphs per screen. You can bookmark “pages” (screens) and you can highlight words to check them in the dictionary (online and immediately) or to enter notes against them. That meant as I went through I was able to input notes directly against the text. A small number appears against the word you make the note against, and a menu option shows you all notes and bookmarks and lets you go straight to any of them.

Pageturning is very fast, which meant that although each individual page was a small fraction of a real page in practice reading was still fluid. Contrast is good, and the lit screen didn’t weary my eyes as computer screens do (I don’t know why not). That lit screen though meant it was a battery life hog, which isn’t ideal.

Overall, I was able to read the novel easily and without the interface getting in the way. Because it was on a mobile phone I was able to read it at odd moments in the day, with the result that I read it far faster than I had expected. All of this has implications. What it implies for me is that the killer ereader device the industry is waiting for isn’t a dedicated reader at all. Nor is it the iPad (for me a firmly transitional device). The killer ereader is the mobile phone.

With better battery life/energy usage, there’s no reason one couldn’t read multiple novels in this format. Obviously I prefer physical books, and when my actual Kindle arrives I imagine I’ll prefer that too due to screen size issues. But this was a much better experience than I had expected. I’m still not sure I’d read a serious novel in this format (I have a sample of Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling on it, from NYRB, but I’d rather read that on the full device or in traditional book form) but for light entertainment it’s arguably better than the traditional form.

For existing heavy readers, indeed for any heavy readers, the phone is unlikely to be anything more than a supplemental device (if even that). For new demographics though who have grown up accessing news through smartphones, reading the internet on them, using them for chat functions and gaming and as a general purpose tool I think this is much more viable. The fact the same software allows me to read a book on my phone or on my full Kindle (and the software reconciles the versions on each device so that each knows where your bookmarks are and what page you’re up to) means that a book can be purchased electronically but read on a number of devices – potentially here iPhone, iPad and Kindle.

Again, I don’t think that will be much of a draw for existing heavy readers. Going forward though, I think it will be irresistible for many casual and new readers.

Speaking personally, there are books I buy that I expect to keep. I make an attempt to seriously engage with them, I hope for greatness. Those books I suspect I’ll still tend to want hardcopies of because I’m sentimental that way. Some publishers, Pushkin, Peirene, produce books which are attractive physical objects in their own right. That will still appeal to me.

For me though there are also books I buy as light entertainment. That’s not knocking them, good light entertainment is tricky stuff. But I don’t want to seriously engage with them, I want to be amused and to have a little fun. For those, having a copy after I’ve finished isn’t particularly useful. I probably won’t reread them. They’re not treasured physical objects as a Pushkin might be. They’re just mass market paperbacks. Or, now, a file held remotely on a server somewhere which I can access on the off chance I ever want to read it again.

I’m hopeful the full Kindle device will be useful and will work for me. Even if not though, going forward I suspect I’ll be reading books like The Fuller Memorandum more often on my phone than in a physical edition. In time, I think I’ll be far from alone in that.

And while the literary market won’t be affected nearly as much as the market for lighter books, lighter books outsell literary ones by a vast order of magnitude.

Interesting times. I’m glad I’m not in publishing.

So, over to The Fuller Memorandum itself. If you’re not interested in comedy-horror-SF with heavy Lovecraftian elements and an ocean of geek references then you can probably afford to tune out now.

Charles Stross is one of the best SF writers around today. He’s part of the UK’s renaissance of good hard SF writing, and he’s responsible for such landmark novels as Accellerando (great ideas and vision, lousy characterisation, hard sf in a nutshell really that description).

Stross doesn’t just write hard SF though. He’s also written some cross-reality semi-fantasy novels that I’ve not read (so even that basic description may not be wholly accurate) and some Lovecraft pastiche novels known as the Laundry novels.

The Fuller Memorandum is the third of the Laundry novels. The conceit of each is that the protagonist, Bob Howard, is an operative for an ultra-secret arm of British Intelligence which deals with occult threats to the UK (nicknamed The Laundry). The occult threats in question aren’t the usual ones of ghosts, vampires and so on but rather are entities out of the cosmic horror tales of HP Lovecraft. Aliens beyond our space and time that, when they intrude upon our reality, bring with them madness and death.

We human beings live at the bottom of a thin puddle of oxygen-nitrogen vapor adhering to the surface of a medium-sized rocky planet that orbits a not terribly remarkable star in a cosmos which is one of many. We are not alone. There are other beings in other universes, other cosmologies, that think, and travel, and explore. And there are aliens in the abyssal depths of the oceans, and dwellers in the red-hot blackness and pressure of the upper mantle, that are stranger than your most florid hallucinations. They’re terrifyingly powerful, the inheritors of millennia of technological civilisation; they were building starships and opening timegates back when your ancestors and mine were clubbing each other over the head with rocks to settle the eternal primate diagreement over who had the bigger dick.

The first Laundry novel is a crossover pastiche. It takes the monsters from Lovecraft, and then injects them into a story based on Len Deighton’s spy novels. The result works surprisingly well. It’s funny, makes a bizarre sort of internal sense and the whole thing hangs together better than it has the slightest right to.

The second Laundry novel is in a similar vein, but instead of Deighton this time Ian Fleming is emulated. This worked much less well for me, possibly reflecting the fact the idea wasn’t as fresh or possibly reflecting the fact I rate Len Deighton and I don’t rate Ian Fleming.

The Fuller Memorandum may be based on another spy writer, but if it is I couldn’t tell who.

The comedy of the novels comes from the contrast between the horror and spy elements, and the drabness of British civil service life. As Bob Howard reflects in The Fuller Memorandum while contemplating a super-high-tech-jet-fighter at an air base he’s sent to:

Life would be so much simpler if our adversaries could be dealt with by supersonic death on the wing – but alas, human resources aren’t so easily defeated.

As The Fuller Memorandum opens, the arrival of Case Nightmare Green (the code-name for the moment when the stars come right and the elder horrors flow through to our world en masse bringing the apocalypse with them) looks like it could be mere months away rather than years as was expected. The end of the world may well be nigh, and that’s bringing out of the woodwork crazed cultists and possible former cold-war adversaries.

Bob Howard has a new line manager, but his duties now are almost entirely for the strange and menacing figure of Angleton. Angleton is a major player within The Laundry, and an accomplished sorceror. Howard is a computer programmer by background, and since magic is really a form of higher mathematics the journey from mathematician to sorceror (or inadvertent sorceror, a usually fatal condition) is a short one. Howard is also, following the last two books, a highly experienced field agent.

After an accident in the field, Howard is put on compulsory leave, but not before Angleton asks him to look into certain files in the Laundry’s archives. Meanwhile, cultists seem to be targeting Howard’s girlfriend and fellow-operative Mo, and it starts to appear as if the Laundry may itself have a mole passing secrets on to those cultists (suggesting a Le Carre inspiration here, though I understand Stross doesn’t like Le Carre’s writing and if that is an inspiration it’s not one worn heavily).

The plot has a few twists and turns, but while it drives the action it’s not a novel one reads for that plot. What’s interesting here is Stross’s take on the Lovecraftian mythos and his contrasting of the frustrations of living in London with its malfunctioning tube system and muggy summers with the cosmic horrors that lurk in its shadows.

I had a sense in this book of Stross hitting his stride with this series. As I said above, the second wasn’t wholly successful for me and I thought the Bond elements too large for the comedy which was about the smallness of much British life. The first novel worked better, but is essentially a short story and a novella bolted together to form a longer work that isn’t greater than the sum of its parts. Here the novel is just that, a properly integrated novel, and the scale is better judged.

The Fuller Memorandum is packed with in-jokes. So many that I very much doubt I caught them all. Many are gaming references. When Bob buys an iPhone his girlfriend mocks him saying “‘Bob loses saving throw vs. shiny with a penalty of -5. Bob takes 2d8 damage to the credit card…'” Later, when captured by cultists, Bob worries they might be vampire larpers and reflects “the prospect of falling into the clutches of the Brotherhood of the Black Pharoah is quite bad enough without accidentally crossing the streams with a bunch of live-action Vampire: The Masquerade fans”.

I noticed a reference to an undead horde at one point forming an “abhuman pyramid” with their bodies, a clear reference to William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki stories (which I’ve covered here in case you’re reading this and hadn’t seen that entry) and there’s plenty of other in-jokes. Essentially, if you’re not steeped in geek culture then you’ll miss a lot of this (and you probably won’t enjoy much the bits you do get).

If, however, you are steeped in geek culture then this is a lot of fun. Stross’s take on Lovecraft seems to owe a lot more to the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game than it does HPL’s actual stories (though apparently Stross hadn’t read Delta Green when he wrote the first novel so those particular similarities are just coincidence), but I grew up with Call of Cthulhu so that’s fine with me.

The computer, sf and horror jokes generally work well. The characters are straightforward (to be nice) and the writing not Stross’s best by a long way (there’s a surprising amount of repetition and some overly heavy handed foreshadowing, plus sometimes the gags get too obvious and get in the way of the story) but this is a 21st Century pulp novel – an electronic penny dreadful – and in that vein it works very well.

Stross’s best work for me is his hard sf. That said, his Laundry stories are a lot of fun, for the ultra-geeky audience they’re aimed at. If you’re going to read a novel on your mobile phone, frankly I can think of few more apposite.

All the more so since The Fuller Memorandum features a lengthy skit on the iPhone and it’s peculiar power to charm people into buying it even though it’s not remotely clear to them what they’ll use it for. It’s an irony Bob Howard would appreciate.

While writing this, I found two Laundry short stories online, here and here. The Kindle version which I read is available here.

About these ads

35 Comments

Filed under Horror Fiction, Publishing, Science Fiction, Stross, Charles

35 responses to “The situation seems to be deterioriating…

  1. I’ll flag when I start talking about that so if it’s not your thing you can skip that part of this blog entry.

    Whereas I skipped the Kindle stuff to get to the book stuff. Dual purpose flagging!

    The Fuller Memorandum may be based on another spy writer, but if it is I couldn’t tell who.

    The title riffs on the Quiller Memorandum but I don’t know if there is any deeper conenction than that.

  2. Ah! Thanks Martin. I had guessed there were lots of in-jokes I wasn’t getting.

    I forgot to say, the Necropolis railway plays a big part in this book which is rather fun. I read an entire novel set there which I talk about here: http://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com/2008/07/31/i-believe-that-any-young-railman-aspires-to-the-footplate/

    How do you find Stross? I enjoy these, but then I play computer games and rpgs and grew up on Lovecraft so I’m pretty much the precise audience they’re aimed at. If I didn’t enjoy them, I imagine nobody much would.

    What I should have brought out is I think he’s adapting to that audience. The gaming references for example are much more explicit. In the first I think it’s part-coincidence and part-Stross’s recollections of playing CoC as a teenager. Now it feels much more explicit to me, researched even, suggesting that he is playing to the gallery.

  3. Martin,

    I googled The Quiller Memorandum and found the following: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elleston_Trevor

    An excerpt:

    “The Quiller series focuses on a solitary, highly capable spy (named for Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch) who works (generally alone) for a government bureau that “doesn’t exist” and narrates his own adventures. Quiller (not his real name) occupies a literary middle ground between James Bond and the bland-but-crafty spies of John le Carré. He is a skilled driver, pilot, diver, and linguist, but does not carry a gun.”

    Other than the very final sentence, that’s spot on. I think you’ve found the source inspiration for this one.

  4. I am really impressed w/the kindle. I don’t have the latest version. I have the second generation. The voice feature is a joke, but the rest of it…as I said very impressive.

    I interpret the name kindle as starting something–as in kindling to start, yes, the fire, but a fire as in a revolution (that will sweep through publishing). And I agree, not a great time to be in publishing. Dorchester books, the largest producer of mass market fiction books decided to go all e-books. That left Hard Case Crime homeless, but I’m hoping that won’t be for long. There are some very interesting things happening in the crime book world.

    Like you, I don’t really see myself giving up paperbacks–although I could see that that might change for people if the price structuring changes. Perhaps it will be different for the next generation though.

  5. I ordered this new one too Max. I think I just made the first cut as they sold out – only means a few days delay. However, living downunder I will have to wait a few more days than you. My main reason for getting one – besides being intrigued – is for travel. It will be so much easier being able to carry a selection of books so lightly. I am really looking forward to the notetaking feature.

  6. Hard Case Crime deserve physical copies, their covers are marvellous and capture something of the history of the form. It would be a shame if they didn’t find a home.

    I could well be wrong but I think it will be different for new generations. People grow up with these devices now, they have them from an early age. That must change how they’re viewed.

    I can see a time when books aren’t held on devices at all, they’re in the cloud (as in cloud computing) accessed by a range of devices as needed. That would still leave room for books as physical objects but only where that object was itself special (such as the leather bound Penguins that came out a while back).

    WG, I think I made the cutoff too. I bought it for travel, but I suspect I may use it more than that. That said, most of the books I read aren’t on it, so there’ll still be a lot of hardcopies at my place. Literary fiction and fiction in translation will I think hit the Kindle last. Thrillers and sf will be widespread much earlier.

  7. How do you find Stross?

    I can’t comment on The Fuller Memorandum but in general I find the insular geekiness a bit much. Playing to the gallery, as you say. You see it in other SF writers like Cory Doctorow and Ken MacLeod as well and I can only take it in small doses. It is a thin line between fun and wearisome.

    Other than the very final sentence, that’s spot on. I think you’ve found the source inspiration for this one.

    I only discovered this when it was pointed out to me in a review I commissioned so I can’t take any credit.

  8. I’m thinking (free?) classics Max. Some of course I want to buy but I reckon there are a lot I’d be happy to read on the Kindle. My first one – I think – is going to be Ford Madox Ford’s The good soldier, which I’ve never read. I’m going away in mid September for about 10 days. I’m hoping that will be my test run. Fingers crossed, eh?

  9. There’s a definite insularity to these. They’re part of a closed conversation, genre talking to itself.

    That said, that’s also what they’re intended to be. MacLeod I think allowed puns and references and so on to swamp fairly serious sf novels to their detriment. Here they make more sense. Still, small doses as you say.

    I’ve not read any Doctorow yet. If ever an author cried out to be read on a mobile phone it’s him.

    WG, there’s plenty of free classics. I believe the full device lets you read PDFs which is handy. Of course, you do lose the useful notes someone like Penguin puts in (you can buy Penguin Classics on Kindle, but then you pay for them of course).

    Good luck with the Ford Madox Ford, I’m interested to hear what he’s like anyway actually regardless of the Kindle bit.

  10. GB Steve

    I’m starting to take an interest in the eBook market. I saw a nook last week (Waterstones and Borders or B&N, I forget which). It’s page turning was pretty poor compared to the Kindle. Sony’s eReader I’ve yet to explore and I saw one which has dual netbook/ebook screens that looks like it might replace my N800 (it’s done sterling service but is rather deprecated now). I’ve started to use this phone (a DEXT) for RPG reference for which it is fine, apart from the low battery time and the lack of pdf repagination. That’s something Adobe seriouusly needs to deal with.

  11. Well, you’re welcome to take a look at mine when it arrives.

    I’ve not found mobiles useful for rpg reference. I tried with my iPhone, you can read them using goodreader but I’d hate to have to look something up in play.

    Then again, I never look anything up in play so what’s it matter?

    iPad seems the killer device on that front. Expensive though and it’s still not wholly clear to me what it’s for.

    Asus will bring out a dual netbook/ereader in due course I think, which may also have a big impact.

  12. Many thanks for a perceptive and informative post. I am one of those who gets to read in a comfortable Eames chair (actually a choice of two), in a personal library, with a charming view of the garden. I don’t own a cellphone and I don’t have a commute or have to wait in lines or offices. And I have enough books on the shelves to last me the rest of my life, so the disappearance of paper publishing (which I don’t think will happen) is not really an issue. But I also recognize, as you note, that there is a new generation who, if measured by the sales of YA books, certainly read, are very comfortable with a different reading technology than the one that I know.

    So I am very much out of touch with e-reading (and have every intention of remaining so) and rely on posts such as this to give me a bare minimum of knowledge. Which this post did.

    One aspect of this change that I do wonder about, based on my newspaper publishing experience, is the declining role of the editing function. One of the ironies of epublishing is that it will lead to more, not less, book-length “publications”, not less. Alas, many of them will have never been edited by anyone besides the author, and perhaps a friend or two. (Personal aside: I don’t have an email contact on my blog because I want no part of fending off “authors” wanting to send copies of self-published books.)

    I have noticed the impact already in this year’s Booker longlist — more than half the titles started out strong, then faltered badly (a typical failing of under-edited work). I can’t help but think that there are four or five potential gems on this year’s list that only required a talented editor to say “take one more go at this, and this is what you need to do”.

    Then again, perhaps editing and rewriting is one of those things that is going to disappear in the new electronic world.

    Finally, as someone who knows a few lawyers, a suggestion for an even more obscure post. Without giving anything about any specific file away, would you consider a post about how preparing a legal opinion or document has changed over the last 10 or 20 years as technology has progressed so fast? You know the drill — sending the draft around for comment and getting back a complex web of unreadable bits of who changed what, when and sometimes even why but all on some sort of map that no one could navigate. We see a lot in the blogging world about this influence on fiction and the management literature explores some technical aspects, but I can’t recall seeing anything from a practitioner who actually reads.

    Only a thought.

  13. Max, I just finished my first full book on an e-reader. I tried the Sony Reader a year or so ago, and I hated it. It was cumbersome, slow, unattractive. But I have the Kindle app on my iPhone and decided to try Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room on it (mostly because that was the only format on which I could get it). I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the kindle reader feature, though I do not like the Kindle itself. If I ever get something bigger than my iPhone it will be the iPad, and I’ll gladly use the Kindle app and store to get some of the books I don’t care to have a hardcopy of.

    For me, the best things about it is how easy it is to highlight material and write notes, and then how easy it is to find all of those again in the end. It was also nice that when pulling quotes I didn’t have to find a way to keep the book open while typing and protecting the binding. So, from a skeptic, this was a nice experience. Helped, I’m sure, by a great book that easily made the world around it dissolve.

    As for Kevin’s recommendation, I’d be fascinated too. For one thing, I’m glad we have new technology to facilitate blacklines and to work remotely, though it comes with some curses — the main one is that you’re almost always reachable for more work. I’ve never asked those who’ve been here long how it used to be, before email, before Blackberrys, before Deltaview, or even before Word Processing — I can’t imagine how time consuming revisions and reviewing must have been! Of course, again, frees us up for more work. I look forward to any insights you have to share.

  14. I had to google Eames Chair, that with a garden view and personal library sounds thoroughly charming.

    I don’t think paper publishing will disappear either. Not soon anyway. I do think though that it will change and perhaps even change dramatically.

    Newspapers are already of course feeling the impact. Everyone in the UK and perhaps further afield is watching The Times’ experiment with a paywall. Word is it’s lost at least 90% of its readers, but if the remaining 10% pay reliably that may be no great loss. The jury’s out.

    Meanwhile I’ve long since stopped buying The Guardian because I get it free online and free on my iPhone (after a once only payment of £2.99 in the case of the phone). I suspect it’s pursuing a last man standing strategy, but who knows? Certainly though it’s future as a print publication seems questionable when the same content is available free in a variety of user friendly formats.

    Going back to books, ereaders are barely started and I expect will get better and more importantly much cheaper. I do think they’ll eventually eat the mass market paperback market (though some will remain, people may want impulse books at an airport say and not have a reader handy or not read enough to have bought one whatever the price point).

    The higher end should be fine, or as fine as it is now which is always a touch marginal.

    Editing is where it gets interesting. Ereaders lower barriers to entry, anyone can publish. Indeed, with the web anyone already can and I’ve had more than one visitor to my blog who have published their works online and argue that they prefer it that way.

    That’s of course their right, it’s their writing. It’s where the gatekeeper becomes relevant again though.

    As a reader, if self-publishing becomes more widespread (and it will) how do I know which are interesting works, which are flawed works by writers to watch and which are drivel? The volume precludes reading them all, even if I did nothing else.

    The answer is that gatekeepers will still exist. I suspect publishers’ marketing efforts may become more important, and of course newspaper reviewers will lose further ground to bloggers. I’d also anticipate more tripadvisor type sites for books, with largely valueless reviews (arguably Amazon already is this in part).

    As margins get stretched editing may come under greater pressure. Equally, authors may decide they don’t want to be edited, seeing it as an intrusion on their vision. The result in most cases is a weaker book than would otherwise have been the case. Put another way, yes, I think editing will suffer and I think books will suffer because of that.

    But it won’t disappear. The demand for well written, which means well edited, books remains and that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It may mean some publishing houses acquire a niche reputation for solid editing and author choices which then drives their sales towards readers like us.

    The legal issue’s an interesting one. I’ll think about that, I haven’t actually seen all the changes but I’m largely familiar with them. I’ll keep it in mind.

  15. Trevor,

    I’m fascinated to hear that the Galgut worked. I deliberately chose something light and accessible where engagement with the prose wasn’t essential. To be honest, I was nervous that something like the Galgut would be ruined. It’s good to hear it wasn’t because there’s a lot of good works available (though the literary selection tends towards prize list novels, otherwise it’s mostly genre stuff and bestsellers).

    Since there’s demand I’ll try to fit in a post about how changes to publishing have impacted law. Hopefully in the next week or two.

  16. As an addendum to my post above, I’ve also encountered some problems with the Kindle app.

    Kevin asked about editing. The first thing I downloaded was a sample of JG Ballard’s novel Concrete Island, which I also own in print copy.

    I wanted to compare the print and the app versions.

    When I started reading Concrete Island’s first chapter, which is in the sample, I was struck by an odd reference to White Qty. That made no sense to me, but I know Concrete Island is based on the Westway near to where I grew up and near White City. I checked the print edition and there it was, White City.

    In the transfer from print version to electronic version City had become Qty, and nobody had noticed. That’s the publisher’s fault by the way as I understand it, they give Amazon the electronic file.

    I’ve once purchased a book and had the wrong book delivered (same author, different edition which for a short story collection was a big deal as it wasn’t the same content). I’ve twice downloaded samples and found that again the book delivered wasn’t the one advertised.

    Like the Qty, all of these are symptoms of material being uploaded and made available, but not checked. Editing is a multi-stage process. Yes, you edit the manuscript. But you also check the version that goes to print, and in the case of epublishing publishers seem to be assuming that no errors will have crept in during the process of conversion to eformat. A dubious assumption.

    In the future, Concrete Island for many will be set near White Qty and probably few will know any the better.

  17. I think the Galgut worked because it is fairly short and the writing is absolutely fluid and spare. The ideas may be complex, and the structure is fascinating, on a sentence by sentence level it was very easy to get wrapped up. Also, since the book is largely wandering, turning the page frequently didn’t stand in the way at all. I still can’t imagine reading something longer and with longer sentences — at least, not on the iPhone itself or any other reader with a little screen. But perhaps on the larger ereaders . . .

  18. Incidentally, have you tried the iBooks app? The Apple store has an awful selection, but I like how easy it is to manage and to download the first chapter or so of a book. Some of the frills they’ve added to make it “feel like reading a real book” are not that effective, like the page turning, but I do find the highlighting style more charming than the purely electronic style of the Kindle app.

  19. I was just looking at the Galgut Trevor, after your comment. It really is beautiful writing. I see what you mean about the sentences. They’re unusually well suited.

    Proust might be more of a challenge…

    I tried iBooks but didn’t take to it. I don’t recall why but I suspect it was something to do with the pageturning, that rings a bell.

  20. Trevor. Now this really does appeal to me: “It was also nice that when pulling quotes I didn’t have to find a way to keep the book open while typing and protecting the binding.”

    Why don’t you like the kindle? I can’t imaging reading a book on such a small device as a mobile phone as you and Max have. Isn’t the tiny screen just too irritating. Wouldn’t you get RSI from having the “turn the page” so frequently?

  21. I didn’t find the page turn at all bad. Full sized ereaders for me so far have been too slow with the pageturn, this is much faster.

    The new Kindle is also supposed to be faster, according to the people selling it anyway and surely they wouldn’t exaggerate? Hopefully that’ll work for me.

    When I’ve read my first book on it I’ll post here saying how I found it. Hopefully Trevor will post of his experiences too over at his.

  22. Gummie: I am really happy with the kindle. I’ve read several books on it now, and I was surprised that I didn’t “notice” the lack of a book. I have loads of free books.

    I bought a kindle mainly for the free classics. There are many many Balzac novels that are out of print or available as pricey print on demand versions.

    I bought one Vizetelly non-fiction that was print on demand, and the pages are almost black. You can even see the hand that held the book on the overworked copy machine. Other print on demands have been full of typos–one even mis-spelled the author’s name.

    I also wanted to learn how to use the kindle. I know this technology will improve and I want to improve with it.

    I was concerned that it would be difficult to use but it was very intuitive. I didn’t have to sweat over the manual, and there are a few helpful blogs out there with some kindle advice too.

    The other day, I wanted to use a quote from Geroge Eliot. You know how it is, you can half remember the quote but not the whole thing. I just searched the Eliot file on my kindle and there it was in a couple of seconds. If I’d looked for it in my print copy, it would have taken hours.

  23. whisperinggums: I disappeared yesterday, but happy to now add my two-cents’ worth.

    About the Kindle, my experience comes from a few of the older models I tried out a while back. I did it out of curiosity but I admit to some skepticism.

    Primarily, I didn’t like the “ink.” The grey on grey was completely unappealing to me. I know some people like it and to some people it is like reading a real printed page, but I didn’t get that. I was also bothered by the page turning, though I hear they’re faster now. I found the controls clumsy and cumbersome. Again, I know others didn’t feel that way at all, and I’m sure a lot of this has already been taken care of or will be as Amazon continues to invest in its patents list.

    I also like the idea of having an ereader that can do multiple things, so that’s a big reason I’d go with an iPad right now over a Kindle. Price is an issue with the iPad, so I have neither.

    Now, as to the iPhone, I was concerned about the stuff you mention, but it turned out to be a non-issue on all counts. The screen size didn’t bother me at all, not with the book I was reading. Page turning was seamless. As I’d finish the last word on one page, I’d move to the next. Since the pages float in from the right while the one you read moves to the left, this meant there was no interruption at all (which there certainly was on the early Kindle I used).

    Basically, using the iPhone was great, much better than I expected. And I can only imagine that for my tastes and from what I want in an ereader, using the iPad would be even better with the bigger screen size (which was really my only complaint, and it wasn’t that big of one).

    I’m still a big fan of the printed book. I can’t see myself doing much Kindle shopping at this point.

    I will bring this up in my review of Galgut’s book in a few days.

  24. Good explanation, but I still don’t get why somebody would want to read a phone.

  25. I was thinking about buying a kindle but hesitated because the catalogue of books in French is very limited and I wondered if I’d like it as much as paperback books.
    But the sentence “you can highlight words to check them in the dictionary (online and immediately)” helped me make the decision : that just sounds perfect for me. That means I could read books in English outside the house a lot more easily.

  26. Oh about the name : not very international. I bet my Mom can’t pronounce it.

  27. Guy (never stop calling me Gummie – it brings a smile to my face every time I see it). Anyhow, thanks for all that on the Kindle. Your reasons are pretty much mine though I add the travel reason and the need in future to downsize – but I thought it would be great for the free classics; as a librarian/archivist (albeit semi-retired) and a reader I want to keep up with what’s happening; and I love to locate quotes. I use online sources regularly – such as the Republic of Pemberley for Jane Austen texts – to find quotes but having a kindle to hand will be very handy I think.

  28. Trevor, thanks too for expanding your experience. I’ll take your word on the iPhone. It sounds weird to me but several people like it so the small screen clearly works fine. I have only seen the Kindle and iPad briefly but feel more comfortable with the digital ink style for reading. Again, thought, I’m reading such different opinions so there’s a lot of taste here – and the Kindle will need additional light in dark situations. (I didn’t order the fancy case with the inbuilt light – maybe I should have but the price just keeps going up and up from what you thought thought you were going to spend when you add various accessories!) . Anyhow, the iPad screen certainly looks very clear so that technology is improving all the time too isn’t it?

  29. i ve read some chehkov shorts on my android phone ,Had a e reader but the screen is damage did enjoy reading the vast array of free classics littl annoyed was halfway through milnes red house mystery ,not sure I d be able to read a novel on my phone but odd short story is enough for me ,all the best stu

  30. I am so pleased to discover that you can make notes while reading – I wondered how that would work. I am going to get one of these but am going to wait for Christmas as it answers the question “what shall I get you for Christmas Tom?”.

    I found your review very enlightening all round and I’ve bookmarked it for future reference

  31. I’ve just received my Kindle this weekend, one of the new ones. I’ve loaded it up so I’ll let you all know how it goes.

    So far it’s proving very easy to use.

  32. Ah Max, mine is in the air. Probably sent the same day yours but has so much further to go. I expect it by the end of the week. I shall watch your progress with interest.

  33. steve in minneapolis

    I cannot comment on e-readers, but would like to make a few related observations.

    I think we’ve all seen the results of lack of editing, and especially proofreading ever since (paper) books started being electronically produced. Standards of accuracy even at university presses have gotten quite appalling. Mistakes happen that simple would not have gotten by the eyes of typesetters and traditional proofreaders.

    The Qty/city situation mentioned above is something that I notice frequently when using online scanned versions of early material. My field of research is early 19th century periodicals, and while it is marvelous to have versions of many of these online now, sadly, there is still no substitute for finding the original at the library.

    An alarming by product is how this affects a Google search. “City” would not have been found in the above case. I find this situation arises frequently in electronically produced texts or bot-scans of scanned texts.

  34. steve in minneapolis

    No one seems to be addressing the obvious issue of what happens to all of your “books” on an e-reader in, say, ten years, when the technology is no longer supported, or B & N has gone out of business (nookers), or something even cooler has come along. The e-files of my (unfinished) dissertation are no longer readable on any current computer (fortunately I have paper copies). I’ve had to re-type whole data bases because my new computer couldn’t support the software used to create them on my earlier computer. Similarly, the corporation I work for recently was sold and the new owners used different systems, much was lost. And then there is the obvious analogy with the 8track ….

  35. Steve,

    Re your first post, I agree with your points and I think we’ll see more of this. Going forward little information will be destroyed, but much will be effectively lost anyway as it doesn’t for whatever reason come up in searches where it would be relevant.

    It’s made worse by the fact those responsible for transferring data to digital form rarely understand (or indeed care) why others might care about such details.

    On the other hand, the digital resources are still often very good so while some data is lost much is accessible that previously wasn’t. It’s like most technological advances, neither wholly good nor wholly bad.

    Re your second, the books will be lost. When people die, their libraries will die with them. If Amazon were to go bust, my kindle books might all cease to exist.

    And of course there’s the storage media as you say. Books from the fourteenth century can still be read, if you have the right language skills. A while back I found an old computer game I’d loved on floppy discs, I could probably find a company that would extract the data for me but it would cost me and in a few years that will be a distinctly specialist service. I certainly can’t access it myself.

    One of the ironies of computer media is how short lived they are. For long term storage, paper still beats electronic.

    One of the points of the Google attempt to digitise all books (which I’m not saying I support) is that once digital the information can in theory flow from storage medium to storage medium so making it potentially immortal. It’s an irony though that if a disaster were to end our civilisation the records of the Victorians would remain for those who replaced us, our own likely would not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s