Rocky Gibraltar Earth

October 5, 2009

Books Finding time for reading has been hard for years, and to compound the frustration most of my recent book choices have been disappointments.

Normally I have both a paper book and an audiobook on the go, thus using technology to extend “reading” time to commuting, dog walking and the like. Now a third front has been opened with ebooks on my Windows Mobile phone. I was getting fed up with my increasingly absurd “dead tree” book, The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, and had nothing else to read so bought Gibraltar Earth by Michael McCollum in PRC format (mobipocket), based on a ringing endorsement by SF fan Steve Gibson of Spinrite and “Security Now!” fame.

Buying Gibraltar Earth as an ebook made it both cheap ($5) and near instantaneous by the miracle of Internet file download, followed by a dangerous dabble with WMDC (aka ActiveSync) to straddle the final, short hop from PC to phone. I’d have preferred to get it on a Kindle but such delights have yet to make their way across the Atlantic.

My wife has denounced my ebook venture as a terminally geeky thing to do. She insists the very idea of attempting to read a book on a phone, even one with a large high-res screen, is wacky beyond redemption. I was sure to wreck my (already pathetic) eyesight. I pointed out that I can adjust the font size so that it is bigger than the paper book I was reading, as readily proved by a side by side comparison. You end up with rather fewer words per screenful than you would have on a page of a paperback, but navigating from screen to screen is very easy with the phone’s “joystick”. The wife remained unconvinced, even when I pointed out that I no longer needed to worry about losing my place or fannying around with bookmarks, as the software would always keep my place.

I can even do a text search, so if I come across the name of a character in the story and can’t remember where they last appeared, I can search for previous occurrences by name rather than having to scan the pages of a physical book by eye. Best of all, because my “book” is in my mobile phone, I always have it with me so if I have a spare moment, say waiting outside school to collect my daughter, I can steal a few minutes of reading time. So whether or not reading a book on a phone sounds or looks ridiculous, it is perfectly feasible and has many enumerable advantages.

Sadly, though, this did not turn out to be the hoped for happy solution to my reading material crisis. Not because of any particular issue with mobipocket books on Windows Mobile phones in general. It’s just that the book itself turns out to be dire.

It is such a let down, after the build-up Steve Gibson gave it. The premise sounds riveting. Centuries from now, mankind makes first contact with alien life but discovers that the galaxy is ruled by an all-powerful cruel race which enslaves or destroys all other life, so humans are only still around and free because they have yet to come to the super-aliens’ attention. But it is only a matter of time before they are discovered, which raises the question of how mankind will deal with the problem. Fascinating concept, which unfolds over a trilogy.

But the writing is so amateurish and cliched. Almost stomach-churningly so. I may stick with it a bit longer but am finding it hard to take.

I had been tempted to start reading some SF by Peter F Hamilton, based on Steve’s effusive praise, but have been put off as I’m not sure I can trust his judgement. This is possibly unfair on Hamilton who is a far better known and more prolific author. Maybe I’ll sneak a read of a couple of pages in Smiths or Waterstones just to make sure it’s not another complete turkey.

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  1. Jared

    Pandora’s Star will definitely be my next PFH. I realised not long after starting The Dreaming Void (presently mothballed) that I should have read the earlier series first.

    For the record, I did get something out of Fallen Dragon and am glad I read it. It has a lot of good things in it but is marred by a lot of unnecessary verbiage (protracted flashbacks, technical outpourings about terraforming, etc) and some issues with style. Slimmer and slicker would have made for a more enjoyable read.

  2. I realize this is an old post, and I don’t like all of Steve Gibson’s suggestions, but READ Peter F Hamilton… I don’t think you will regret it. He is my about my second favorite sci-fi author (after Vernor Vinge, although you didn’t like Rainbow’s End).

    • Jared, I have in the last few weeks completed Fallen Dragon by PFH. I have another blog devoted to sci-fi and fantasy where I posted some early impressions, here. I was not initially struck but did stick with it and did get caught up in it towards the end.

      I will probably read more Hamilton but find him a bit dry. Fallen Dragon was a bit “laddish” and lacked humour. PFH must have done a ton of research on, for example, terra-forming but his exposition made it all a bit dull. He also clearly has ideas on politics and commercial enterprise but that came out a bit worthy too.

      Against that he did come up with some genuine strong ideas, e.g. about alternatives paths for human development, particularly the Santa Chico episode.

      I had thought PFH might be a comparable alternative to say Iain M Banks. I had read and (mostly) liked a recent Culture series book, “Matter”, and am now reading the first Culture book, “Consider Phlebas”. Try Banks – he is a far better story-teller than Hamilton and injects his books with a lot more whimsy and humour. Also he has extroardinary imagination, particularly on massive scale set pieces, and his use of imagery is second to none.

      I’ll persevere with Hamilton but suggest you give Banks a whirl.

      • I will take a read of your blog… I am very picky about what I consider good sci-fi… I understand your criticism of Fallen Dragon being “laddish”, but I think that was a very small part of it… and I don’t really care much about humor.. if it is there.. good. If not… I don’t care as long as the “mind-bending” sci-fi is there, which is why I still enjoy Vernor Vinge’s work (most of it) immensely.

        If you read more Hamilton, read Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained. They are (so far) the best Hamilton books I have read. Only read The Dreaming Void is you have a large amount of patience.. the good parts are few and far between, but I still enjoyed it overall.

        I will give Banks a whirl, after finishing up my free e-book “Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5)” which got some astonishingly good ratings on Amazon.

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