Some Books: Two Weeks with Kindle

I got my Kindle from Amazon about two weeks ago; and darn it, it works!. When I’m sitting in a comfy chair, I can lose myself in it just like I can in a printed book, something that seldom happens when I’m reading something on the laptop screen. And reading on the Kindle has some advantages over printed books. Being rigid, it’s easier to prop up on the kitchen table, and it doesn’t flop closed if I take my hand away. The search feature makes it easier to remember just who minor character Jones is, and why he’s important. And if I highlight an interesting quote, it’s much easier to find it for later use.

As witness, here are some of the books I’ve read on the Kindle since I got it.

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens: I’m not much of a Dickens fan, but over the last several months I’d run across a number of mentions of how delightful Bleak House is, a description I never would have guessed from the title. I downloaded it for free from FeedBooks.com, and gave it a spin. Dickens had me in the first paragraph:

Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.

The book’s almost a thousand pages long, and I devoured it over the course of the following week. And, come to think of it, I’ve got too much to say about it for an omnibus review like this, so I’ll move along.

The Skylark of Space and Skylark 3, by E.E. “Doc” Smith: I downloaded these, both of which I’d read years ago, from FeedBooks.com and ManyBooks.net respectively. These two sites both draw from Project Gutenberg, and consequently have similar selections; however, the folks at FeedBooks appear to put more effort into producing an attractive product. On the other hand, I found Skylark 3 at the latter but not at the former.

Anyway, these books are classic tales of Space Opera and Super Science, and if I can’t take them at all seriously at least they are good fun. Or mostly good fun; it’s interesting to see how attitudes have changed since the 1920’s, when these were written. There’s a casual acceptance of both eugenics and genocide (fiendish alien race; universe not big enough for both of us) that would be unthinkable following WWII.

I also notice that all of Smith’s heroes in these books (and in his others that I’ve dipped into) are flawless physical and mental specimens. It’s not enough that Dick Seaton, super-scientist of the Skylark series, is a super-scientist; he also has to be one of the best tennis players and fastest shots in the country. Wishful thinking, anyone?

Update: These freely available e-books derive from the original magazine publications; they are not identical to the novels published with these titles. I glanced at a printed copy of Skylark of Valeron a couple of days ago; it’s the second of the novels, but its opening scene would be somewhere in the middle of the e-text of Skylark 3, if it were included at all, which it isn’t. It appears to me that the first three of the printed Skylark novels cover approximately the same ground as these two e-books, with lots of additional material.

Slan, by A.E. Van Vogt: I recently decided to give Van Vogt a try, having not read much of his work, and found this in Kindle Store. It’s an edition prepared by an outfit called Rosetta Books, which evidently specializes in producing and selling electronic editions of older books that are still in copyright. Peace be upon them, but I have to say that the frequency of typographical errors was unpleasantly high.

Be that as it may, Slan is the story of a young lad, Jommy Cross, who isn’t fully human. Rather, he’s a “slan,” a member of a new race, descended from humans, but with greatly enhanced faculties. Slan can read minds, are stronger than humans, and much smarter. They are also forced to live in hiding, because the vast mass of humanity hates them.

The book is interesting from a historical point of view, especially after reading the first couple of Skylark books: Dick Seaton is (minus the mind-reading capability) more or less a slan. The action kept me reading, and some bits are really good. But Van Vogt’s dialog is just awful, and the book ends with a most implausible info-dump. In short, I didn’t buy it.

But on the other hand, it was entertaining enough, and it cost me less than a printed copy would have. So what’s to complain about?

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman: Here’s a delightfully odd outing by Gaiman, intended for middle readers, about a boy who grows up in a graveyard, raised by ghosts and other denizens of the night. The boy’s family is murdered in the opening chapter, to some fell purpose, but the boy escapes and is taken in by a kindly shade. Ultimately, of course, the boy learns why his family was killed, and rejoins the living world.

The immediate inspiration for the book was, oddly enough, Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books, hence the title.

The book is illustrated, and the illustrations were included in the Kindle edition, but as it’s only four-level grayscale they weren’t all that clear and I didn’t spend much time looking at them.

This is probably the time to mention a minor detail about the Kindle that I find absolutely charming. The Kindle has a sleep mode that you use when you’re not actually reading; it saves power, and also ensures that pages don’t get turned accidently when you’re carrying the Kindle about in backpack or purse. And when the Kindle is sleeping, it pops up an image on the display, one of a large set of classic engravings, wood-cuts, and so forth that were chosen to take best advantage of the Kindle’s four-level grayscale display. The images are cool, and my only wish is that there were more of them.

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