Feb. 13th, 2011

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I installed the Google Books app on my phone today. Now that I've upgraded the Android OS from 1.5 to 2.1, it's working a lot better, and I can use a lot of apps that I couldn't before.

It's a cool app; it makes reading on that tiny screen pretty easy. Lots of flexibility. I just wish that it had an auto-page feature, to scroll at a steady pace from page to page. If it could be controlled by tilt, that would be really neat.

There are two reading options for most books: the original text format, and "flowing text". The original text is basically a scan of the original work, sized to fit the screen. Since the books are old, the text often has that old-fashioned, worn look. The flowing-text editions are in modern, resizeable and customizable fonts, sharper and easier to read - but so far, I've found quite a few transcription errors. In one case, a book that had a large initial letter to start off each story (i.e. "Charon leaned forward and rowed.") was totally screwed up, with the initial letter appearing somewhere in the middle of the story.

Another feature that would be useful would be recommendations: if it let you rate your books, and then recommended new ones for you based on your preferences. Basically what Netflix does with movies.

There are some wonderful free books available. I'm tempted to try to recommend a new one each day, but I don't know if that's possible. The problem is that a lot of books old enough to be copyright-free are also difficult for most modern readers to read comfortably. I'm used to older books, but even I find some older books tedious. That said, there are still some great ones that are very readable.

Here's one, Fifty-One Tales by Baron Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett Dunsany - he who had so much influence on H.P. Lovecraft and many later authors. The first story, "The Assignation", is only 202 words long - but it's a gem. I hope you'll try it.

(Let's see if LJ can embed a Books listing.)

Edit: No, it can't. I'm getting increasingly annoyed with LJ.
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The Cyborg and the SorcerersThe Cyborg and the Sorcerers by Lawrence Watt-Evans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lawrence Watt-Evans is the best light fantasy writer of the past twenty years. He's put out some serious, massive fantasy tomes lately, too - as if P.G. Wodehouse were forced to write Wagnerian operas. Not that his serious stuff is bad, mind you! It's just not as good as his light fantasy.

But once in a while he steps out of the fantasy field altogether, and the results are usually impressive. The Cyborg and the Sorcerers is a relatively early science fiction novel from Watt-Evans; I think it might be his first, but it's not easy to find a straightforward bibliography of his novels.

TCatS is actually a mixed-genre novel; Slant, a STL-traveling interstellar elite military cyborg scout, finds a planet where the inhabitants have developed the ability to use magic. This is cursorily explained as the product of mutation, originally, although the ability can apparently be developed in any human being by a trained sorcerer.

One of the most refreshing things about Watt-Evans is that he almost never resorts to the "missing the obvious" plot coupon. His protagonists are generally sensible, reasonable people, and most of them are intelligent. Even better, they use that intelligence...intelligently. This is an astonishingly rare event in modern science fiction and fantasy fiction. One common shtick that often comes up in SF-meets-fantasy books is a refusal by SF characters to believe that magic could possibly be real. Slant accepts the "magic" he sees (albeit within the context of the mutation theory) after witnessing a reasonable amount of evidence.

It's the ship's computer, which is in many ways Slant's master, that has more difficulty accepting the idea of magic - although it nonetheless manages to come up with some intelligent ideas of its own.

The novel chronicles Slant's attempts to cope with the demands of the computer, and finally to escape its control altogether. It's well-told and entertaining. It does feel a little bit sketchy, though. I can't help but feel that another fifty pages or so would have helped the book; Slant could frankly use a bit more depth, and apart from the computer the other characters in the book feel a bit empty. There's an emotional potential in Slant's psyche that isn't sufficiently addressed, to my way of thinking. His past has been partly erased from his memory, and his world has been destroyed; slower-than-light travel has made him a chronological castaway, forever cut off from his birthplace and time. His struggle to recover an important memory is just slightly too easy.

There's one slight anachronism in the book, one hardly worth mentioning - but since I brought it up, I will. It's mentioned at least twice that Slant's skeleton has been reinforced with steel. That strikes an odd note. I'm surprised that Watt-Evans didn't make up some sort of space-age alloy, such as the adamantium that Marvel used long before for Wolverine.

I also recently came up with a solution for one of Slant's problems. But since it involves a spoiler, and I don't want to have to hide the whole review, I'm going to put it in a separate comment on the review itself - if GoodReads will allow it.

Oh, one more thing: although I usually like the cover art for the Ethshar books, and this one seems to be by the same artist who did several of the early Ethshar entries, I think it was an unfortunate choice to make all the characters on the cover look like Biblical patriarchs. It probably hurt sales.

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My spoiler-comment is behind this cut:
Read more... )
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The Blood of a Dragon (Legends of Ethshar)The Blood of a Dragon by Lawrence Watt-Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's late, so this will be relatively brief (for me, that is - which means it will probably be one of the longer reviews here on GoodReads).

Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar books are the preeminent modern light fantasy series. They're eminently readable, and particularly enjoyable because most of them feature intelligent, reasonable, fundamentally decent protagonists who take sensible precautions, make intelligent choices, and cope with the unexpected logically - although not necessarily with superhuman perfection.

That's what makes the Ethshar books so refreshing: they're about people who are about as intelligent as most fantasy readers, I think. Or as intelligent as I am, anyway. :D

Whereas most modern genre fiction either features "heroes" who constantly miss the obvious in order to bloat the plot and page count to forest-killing proportions, or else have characters who are so annoyingly perfect and flawless that they have all the excitement of a particularly dull 1950s Superman comic.

It's nice to read books about people using their brains to deal with interesting problems that don't necessarily involve Saving the World. And it's a pleasure to read about people who make reasonable moral choices.

But the main protagonist in The Blood of a Dragon is something of an exception to that rule (as is Tabaea the Thief from The Spell of the Black Dagger). Dumery of Shiphaven is spoiled, paranoid, self-centered, doesn't think ahead, and repeatedly demonstrates both bad judgment and a surprisingly questionable morality. He only ends up succeeding because of pure luck (and, perhaps, stubbornness), and that's very unusual for an Ethshar protagonist.

To make up for that, we also have Teneria of Fishertown, a very sensible witch-apprentice. Her encounter with Adar the warlock is gripping, with fascinating implications for the world of Ethshar - implications which will, I suspect, be addressed in the forthcoming Ethshar novel The Unwelcome Warlock.

But Dumery? He's a jerk. Oh, there's a paragraph or two where he has a mild moral crisis over his behavior, and regrets his acts. But it felt to me as if Watt-Evans was almost forcing the character in that direction; it didn't ring quite true.

So although this is quite an enjoyable read, it's not the best of the Ethshar series - and it's definitely not a good introduction to Ethshar. I'd strongly suggest starting with The Misenchanted Sword and proceeding in order of publication, if you can.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: the book has a spriggan. It's one of the funnier spriggans, too - and they're all funny. I don't know what it is about spriggans, but they always make me laugh and tug my heartstrings!

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