Still Buying Dead Trees

I haven’t done a post about my Kindle experience yet, well I have but I’m not ready to published it yet. The short version is: I like it. The tricky thing about owning one has been deciding whether to buy the electronic version of a book or the paper one.

The decision is easy for some books. Technical books, TV tie-ins, and the occasional non-fiction are all guaranteed Kindle buys. These are books I’ll either only read once, become outdated after a year or three, and/or are books that I’ll want to makes notes in and be able to search easily.

Fiction books are more difficult for me to decide on. There are some series that are no-brainers, like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. These are also books that I get in hardback if possible because they’ll last longer.

Other books aren’t as easy though. For instance, I love Glen Cook’s Garrett, P.I. series. I discovered the fantasy noir series a few years ago and have working on collecting the entire series. Gilded Latten Bones was recently released and I was standing in the bookstore yesterday trying to decide if I should buy it or go out to the parking lot and buy it on my Kindle or do both.

I am really really really resisting buying both editions of any book, even though I did make or exception to that rule recently (that’s a post for later though).

The bookstore copy will go on my shelf when I’m done and, unless there’s a fire or burglary, I know I’ll be able to take it down and read it again five or ten or more years from now. The Kindle copy won’t contribute to the epic clutter of my office or the overloading of my bookshelves, and it’s easier to sneak reading time in at the office too, since I can read on my phone or laptop in addition to the Kindle itself.

In the end, I decided to get the dead trees and am continuing to resist urges to go ahead with the Kindle version as well. Besides trying to figure out which location in the Kindle matches up to whatever page I’m on would be a pain. My decision came down to the fact that besides reading them, I’m also collecting them and I don’t want to have a gap in the series on my shelf.

Game Tie-in Books

I finished two game tie-in books, recently. I know it seems like tie-ins are the only thing I read, first there were the Burn Notice novels, and now Mass Effect’s third novel and the Elemental novel. I do read more than that, but usually my non-game/TV related reading are trilogies or series and those are much harder for me to write about.

Mass Effect: Retribution

Let’s start with the sci-fi book. Like the previous two  novels, Retribution is written by Drew Karpyshyn who also writes the dialog for the games and it shows in the quality of both. Set sometime after the second game, Retribution picks up with most of the same characters from Ascension but puts them into a conflict that picks up from the end of the game.

Side note: I don’t think this is a prequel for Mass Effect 3. I can’t be sure but Ascension was not directly related to Mass Effect 2, except for the fact that it featured Cerberus, so I’m guessing it’s not.

As the books opens, we find that Cerberus has acquired Reaper technology and plans to test it on humans. The Illusive Man has a particular human in mind, Paul Grayson, who’s on the run for betraying Cerberus and the Illusive Man. During the course of the book, Kahlee Sanders finds out that Paul’s been abducted and enlists David Anderson to help find him and possibly take down Cerberus.

These books are a bit different from more game tie-ins that I familiar with, because they don’t involve the main protagonist from the game or ever do more than peripherally reference events in the game. Instead these books are more about filling on more of the background of the Mass Effect universe and developing some of the ancillary characters. This is nice since, if you have read them, then the world in the game is that much more alive and there are some oblique references to book events, but they’re not required reading by any means.

Destiny’s Embers

Leaving aside all of the drama around the game it’s tied to (you can Google it), I thought that Destiny’s Embers was a fun book. It’s written by Brad Wardell, whose the programmer for the game Elemental and the CEO of Stardock. So while it’s not a great book; it isn’t an awful book either. It was a fun read that kept me interested enough in the characters and plot to overlook any rough edges, and that’s not something I can say about every fantasy book I’ve picked up recently.

I would caution anyone who’s grammar sensitive that you’ll probably not enjoy this book as Brad’s style includes a frequent use of commas. This is not something that bothered me, but it is something to keep in mind. If you’re curious but not sure, then check out the except on Amazon’s site (or get the Kindle sample).

The plot itself is fairly standard epic fantasy: good versus evil. Most of the characters are either good or bad with few shades of gray. There’s a hero’s journey in search of a mythical item, a big battle scene at the climax, and an ending that sets up the game.


I’m not a fan of DRM lock-in in any medium, but especially not with books because I like to keep and reread them, sometimes more than ten years later. With music, I didn’t start spending money on MP3s until Amazon came out with their DRM-free store.

That said, I ordered a Kindle.

Why a Kindle and not a Nook?

First, I tried out a Nook in the Barnes & Noble store a few weeks ago when they announced their price cut but the touch screen felt a little laggy to me. Second, I’ve tried out both the Kindle and Barnes & Noble software on my phone, using it to read some free samples, and I liked the Kindle version better.

So what changed my mind?

Well, I’ve been tempted to get one before out of sheer gadget lust, but always managed to make my saving throw. Until my wife asked me recently about what we would need to stream Netflix to the TV. My wife suggesting a gadget purchase is a rare event, so I was pretty excited. Thus, while I was on Amazon ordering a Roku box, I somehow ended up ordering a Kindle as well.

So I actually haven’t changed my mind, I do think that I’m taking a risk of having to buy some books multiple times because of DRM, but hopefully by being aware of that and making some decisions about what I buy in which format, I can avoid getting burned in the future.

I’m intending to be fairly choosy about what I buy electronically. If Amazon ever decides to get out of the ereader business, I’m at their mercy to remove the DRM from my purchases so I can transfer the files to text or to different hardware (assuming I don’t break the law and find away to do it myself). Honestly, that not something I see publishers ever allowing though.

Being choosy means that I will get Kindle editions for things like programming books, since they get outdated within a few years,  and any vacation reading, like the Burn Notice tie-in I read recently. Certain authors will continue to be hardback purchases: Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, and Patrick Rothfuss, to name a few. Basically, anything that I’m likely to reread or collect.

The big challenge for me will be the convenience and immediacy of getting Kindle editions. For instance, if I’m chatting on Twitter and someone mentions a book, I can order it from my phone and start reading it during my lunch break at work. Something I’ve actually done recently.

I still don’t like that you can’t use readers on planes during take offs and landings, but I very rarely travel so that’s always been a picked nit on my part.

I ordered the new Kindle 3 (wifi/3g) but they’re back-ordered right now, so I have to wait until mid September to see how much I actually like it. In the meantime, I’ve bought two BlackBerry development books and the Elemental game tie-in, Destiny’s Ember, and I’ve been reading them on my phone (which is great for downtime at work) and on my desktop PC.

Burn Notice Debrief

Like I mentioned when I talked about The Giveaway, I’d ordered the other two books based on the Burn Notice TV series, The Fix and The End Game, to read during my vacation earlier this month.

I could definitely tell that The Fix was the first novelization from the series. Having read the third book in the series already, it was noticeable how much more comfortable Tod Goldberg has gotten with the characters. Most of the issues I noticed were small repetitions and odd word choices in the dialog, nothing that interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

The one major problem I had, with The Fix, was a difference in how Tod handles changes in perspective from Michael to Sam and Fiona. The book sets it up like Michael is still narrating based on what Sam told him afterwards, but it didn’t feel quite right to me and leads to some confusing chronology.

The End Game was much closer, in quality, to the third novel than the first. Tod drops Michael as narrator when switching to sections focuses on Sam and Fiona. There were also less of the small repetitions and odd word choices in dialog that popped out at me in the first book.

Despite the small problems mentioned above, I would still recommend these books to anyone who is a fan of the show and wants to experience a bit more of Michael Westen’s life. They are all quick reads and make excellent vacation reading. Tod has a fourth book The Reformed due out in January, according to Amazon, that I’m looking forward to picking up.

Burn Notice: The Giveaway

There are two bookstores between the office where I work and most of the places where I eat lunch. This means that usually once a week I stop in at one or both places and browse the shelves. This is a bad habit of mine because of have a pile (which is not an exaggeration) of books that I want to read but haven’t gotten to yet, so buying more books is really not something I should be doing. Still, it’s a daily temptation to stop in and see what’s new and twice in recent weeks I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

My latest surprise was finding a Burn Notice novel called The Giveaway. Partially because it was in the Science-Fiction/Fantasy section (I’m guessing someone changed their mind and left it there). The show is one of my favorites, but my initial reaction was, “Bleh, a novel?” Out of morbid curiosity, I opened it up and read the first page to see what it was like. It starts out with, “When you’re a spy…” and then goes into one of the show’s trademark voice-overs by Weston. So now I was curious and decided to buy it and give it a read.

It was a quick read, took me a day or so, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Enough, actually, that I ordered the other two books The Fix and The End.

The plot is a typical one for the show. Friend Barry, the money launderer, needs a favor. He has a friend, who’s a retired bank robber, that did one last job but ended up ripping of a motorcycle gang and now needs help cleaning up the mess.

The dialog, monologues, and action are all very true to the show. The book does bring something new to the series though, there are a couple of chapters written from Sam and Fiona’s viewpoints. This is not something that the show does and I’m not sure it would very well if they tried it, but it worked well in the book and made for interesting insights into the characters.

New Ethshar Serial

I’m a long-time fan of the Ethshar series by Lawrence Watt-Evans. The first book I read, With a Single Spell, is actually the second in the series, and I picked it up as a kid during a regular scouring of a favorite used bookstore. I never ran across the other books, and it never occurred to me to look and see if his other works were part of the same world or not until rereading it a few years ago. Thanks to the magic of the Internet I found his site, a whole series of stand alone novels set in that world, and went on an Ethshar binge.

There are ten published novels, starting with The Misenchanted Sword and finishing with The Vondish Ambassador (the linked page is slightly out of date as VA is now published). The interesting thing is that the last two books: The Spriggan Mirror and The Vondish Ambassador were originally published on-line as serials.

In 2005, a combination of lack of publisher interest in continuing the series and fans clamoring for additional books led Watt-Evans to try an experiment. He wrote The Spriggan Mirror as a serial. To his surprise, it was successful and was completed and published. Since then he has completed a second serial, The Vondish Ambassador. It’s an interesting variation on the normal author/publisher model and apparently a good way to prove to a publisher that there is a market for stories they’re not otherwise interested in.

So, I was excited when I saw recently that he was working on a new serial called The Final Calling. I’m especially excited for this one since it deals with Warlockry, which has been a long running mystery in the series.

The details about how serialization works are here. The short version is: the first chapter is posted for free, each chapter after that is $250, and one chapter posted per week or more slowly depending on donations. Donors over $25 get a printed copy.

Of course there’s no guarantee that enough donations will come in to cover finishing the book. But, Watt-Evans is three for three so far and good at keeping to a schedule as well. Based on his last serial status update, the story is paid up through Chapter Seven (which he’s currently writing), Chapters One and Two are posted, and Chapter Three is scheduled to post on June 30th.

Lone Wolf Collectors Editions

There was a white box waiting for me when I got home from work tonight. I had no idea what it was until I saw the word Mongoose in the return address. I didn’t expect the books to get here so quickly, but I am completely ecstatic. Check out the slide show below or the album here.

Will E-books Kill Nostalgia?

My recent bout of nostalgia for gamebooks had me thinking about e-books again.

Even though I’ve been tempted by gadget lust several times, I don’t own a Kindle, a Nook, or an iPad. A few years ago, I bought a couple of ebooks from Fictionwise when I was experimenting with lunchtime reading on my PDA. Reading experience aside, my PDA reading experiment has a big similarity to using a Kindle, Nook, or iPad: if you lose the device or stop using it then all of the books you’ve purchased are gone.

This make me wonder if nostalgia experience like I recently enjoyed will vanish once e-books become more common. The switch from paper books is much different than the switch from film photos to digital photos, because digital photos are portable across different types of devices and can be copied. E-books are tied to a specific device by DRM software. If I read an e-book and I fall in love with it and want to be sure that I can pick it up and read it again in 5, 10, or 20 years, then I would either have to buy a paper version or I would have to store the e-book reader and hope that the battery and electronics still worked years later.

E-books have much more in common with digital music from several years ago, and it’s going to take a similar loosening of control before I’m ready to commit to it. Even once I started listening to MP3’s primarily, I continued to buy and rip CD’s. It wasn’t until Amazon opened their DRM free music store that I stopped buying physical media. I just did not want to commit myself to the walled-garden of iTunes or Play-for-sure. Unfortunately Amazon’s entry into the e-book market is just as locked down as anything Apple did in the music-space, so I don’t see the current e-book environment changing in the near future.

For now, I’m going to stick with paper.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Aside, from the odd login to EVE for a skill update or to check on my planetary extractions I haven’t been playing much this week, and it’s all Anjin’s fault.

Last Tuesday, Anjin over at Bullet Points posted about his Top Five: Gamebooks which included my favorite childhood series the Lone Wolf and World of Lone Wolf books. These books occupy a special place in my memories, because it was the closest I could get to a pen and paper D&D (besides the Bard’s Tale series) until I hit high-school. See, this was back in the 80’s when being a geek was not cool. Plus, I lived in a small mid-western town, so my options for D&D were zero. I was probably the only kid between 8 and 16 within a 25 mile radius who cared about such things. So Choose Your Own Adventure books were a way for me to pursue in my interests, and the Lone Wolf books were my favorite gamebook series (some pics), enough so that I kept all of the ones I had.

Reading Anjin’s post really stirred up my nostalgia. So, after my son was asleep, I dug out my books and indulged in some major reminiscing. Then (of course) I did a little Googling just to see what there was to see and found out that there had been a bunch of books beyond the 12 that I’d read as a kid. /gasp Of course now that I knew, I had to have them, but I figured the chances of finding books a decode or more out of print were slim and not. Still, I was continuing to poke around the internet and I found something unexpected and wonderful.

Project Aon is a labor of love by fans of the series combined with the generosity of Joe Dever, the author, who has the full publishing rights and given his blessing to posting everything online. It’s a fantastic site and not something I expected to find. No adds, no pay wall, no sketchy downloads, just a simple and elegant site devoted to the complete series by a bunch of people who love the books as much or more than I do.

Most of this week, I’ve been spending time rereading my old books and looking at the new versions online. I also found, via the Aon site, that Mongoose Publishing has been updating and re-releasing the series. I’ve already ordered the first four books and imagine I’ll end of getting the rest at some point.

Huge appreciation to Anjin for his post which inspired this whole experience.