Tag Archives: amazon

Science Fictional News from Around the Web

19 May

It was the best of times, it was the weirdest of times…  Ebooks have taken over the market, the CDC released preparedness tips for surviving a Zombie Apocalypse, and art museums are for the masses, online: this is your science fictional news from around the Web.

Original CDC blog post

1. Re: Your Brains

For those of you not packing your bags for the Rapture this Saturday, you might want to check out the CDC ‘s latest blog post on preparing for the Zombiepocalypse.  Because along with demons and emissaries of Satan, the undead will probably be stalking us sinners left behind too.

Yes, the Center for Disease Control actually wants us to prepare for avoiding and destroying reanimated brain-eating monsters.  It’s a brilliant advertising campaign, actually:

The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder “How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?”

Well, we’re here to answer that question for you, and hopefully share a few tips about preparing for realemergencies too!

In other words, keep watching The Walking Dead and remember the tips you learn if/when something more banal happens in your community.  The very idea of it had me laughing out loud, and a lot of other people too, considering the CDC blog crashed for nearly a day when twitterers kept linking to the site.  Love it.  Who says all government agencies are stuffy?

2. All Will Be Assimilated

Four years ago, Amazon released its celebrated Kindle and started selling ebooks online.  For a while, skeptics, Luddites, and the like assured themselves and each other that ebooks and e-readers were a novelty, and would never have an appreciable impact on the book industry.

Well smell goodbye to your musty old paper books, friends, because it’s the future, and you just got pwned.

CNN Tech news reports that Amazon ebooks are now outselling both paperback and hardcover books combined.  In four years?  That was faster than even Amazon’s expectations, but I don’t think Jeff Bezos is complaining.  I remember that letter that came with my Kindle two years ago, thanking me for being an “early adopter.”  Finally, that $250 purchase has been justified in the eyes of some of my technophobic acquaintances, and it’s time to rub it in their faces.

CNN Tech news article

Amazon introduced the Kindle e-reader in November 2007. By July 2010, Kindle book sales had surpassed hardcover book sales, and six months later, Kindle books overtook paperback books to become the most popular format on Amazon.com, the online retailer said.

Of course, these stats only represent sales of books on Amazon.com, the only place consumers can buy e-books for the Kindle. When sales of books from other websites and brick-and-mortar stores are factored in, e-books still represent a small minority of all titles purchased, although some analysts predict they could reach 20% within a year or two.

Of course, print books are hardly dead; hardcover sales increased by 6%, and paperbacks by 1.2%.  Book sales are up, e-reader sales are up, and the American public is reading more than every (who’da thunk it).  So everyone wins… but especially Kindle users.

3. Pixel Perfect

Virtually projecting yourself somewhere else may be a post-Singularity technology, but leave it to Google to get pretty darn close.  The Google Art Project is to museums what GoogleBooks is to libraries–not a replacement (yet), but a supplement.  Log onto your Google account to:

“Explore museums from around the world, discover and view hundreds of artworks at incredible zoom levels, and even create and share your own collection of masterpieces.”

Images are high quality beyond imagination (read: 7 billion pixels).  Check out creator Amit Sood’s recent TED talk on the project.


Game of Thrones great on tv, even better in print

19 May

Robert Frost may not have been able to decide whether the world would end in fire or ice, but George R. R. Martin has: and the answer is… both!  And I’m with him all the way (even if he is in a Twitter war with Damon Lindelof).

I love you Tyrion Lannister.

HBO’s new series Game of Thrones, starring Sean Bean as Boromir (sorry, Ned Stark), that creepy guy from The Wire, and Liz Lemon’s almost-boyfriend is currently at the top of my weekly Megavideo viewing list.  Bored by The Borgias and determined not to study for finals, I watched the premiere about a month ago–and loved it immediately.  So much so, in fact, that I felt compelled to check out the crypto-medieval fantasy series it’s based off of, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

Martin isn’t called the American Tolkien for no reason, and I can’t praise the series enough.  Every three or four years, when science fiction starts to get a little tedious (cue gasp) I go back and re-read The Lord of the Rings for a taste of epic fantasy.  I have a feeling that it’ll be Martin’s books with the place of honor on my bookshelf from now on.  Or at least they would if I weren’t reading everything on the Kindle.  Alas, alack.

I started the series on April 27, the night of the dreadful Tuscaloosa, AL tornado, and am already on book three (which is saying something, considering each installment goes past 20,000 locations–or 1,000+ pages in print).  And so far, Martin seems not to have gotten the memo that successful authors can coast on sequels.  A Clash of Kings was possibly better than A Game of Thrones.

It makes sense, actually, that the series only keeps ramping up as it continues.  George R. R. Martin himself may hold the throne as the king of characterization–with each successive sentence, chapter, novel, his heroes and villains become ever more highly developed and multi-dimensional (so much so that I couldn’t name one individual I could pigeonhole as hero or villain).

Here’s the book blurb for Game of Thrones.  I highly recommend it, especially if you, like me, are determined not to study for the GRE either:

In a world where the approaching winter will last four decades, kings and queens, knights and renegades struggle for control of a throne. Some fight with sword and mace, others with magic and poison. Beyond the Wall to the north, meanwhile, the Others are preparing their army of the dead to march south as the warmth of summer drains from the land.

Although conventional in form, the book stands out from similar work by Eddings, Brooks and others by virtue of its superbly developed characters, accomplished prose and sheer bloody-mindedness. Although the romance of chivalry is central to the culture of the Seven Kingdoms, and tournaments, derring-do and handsome knights abound, these trappings merely give cover to dangerous men and women who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

When Lord Stark of Winterfell, an honest man, comes south to act as the King’s chief councilor, no amount of heroism or good intentions can keep the realm under control. It is fascinating to watch Martin’s characters mature and grow, particularly Stark’s children, who stand at the center of the book.

Bloody-mindedness–that’s the word I was looking for: prepare for battles in A Clash of Kings as epic as Helm’s Deep.

Availability: Game of Thrones is $8.99 as an ebook on Amazon.  And catch it on the small screen Sundays on HBO.

Valar morghulis!

The Cyber War is On (now reading: Joe is Online)

21 Apr

Remember back in December, when anonymous “hacktivists” rallied in defense of their online master, the notorious Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame?  As astonishing as that was, and as sensationalistic as the news reports were, the skirmish ended too soon for the DDoS attacks to be the cyber-war everyone seemed to be predicting.  But for those who were disappointed by the anticlimax, Chris Wimpress brings Joe is Online, an impressive and original story about our future shadowy overlords: kids who grew up hacking into school computers.  Here’s the book blurb:

A story told entirely through emails, blogs, chatroom logs, websites and diary entries. A world where anyone could be a terrorist.

Joseph Brady is not a normal 11 year-old. The brightest kid in his school, but also the worst-behaved. His teachers despair and can’t control him. They place him in isolation in the artroom at lunchtimes. It doesn’t take Joe long to work out how to use the artroom computer.

In 1997 Joe finds a way of getting the artroom computer online. Twenty years later, he’ll be conducting highly co-ordinated terrorist attacks, beginning in the online world, but very quickly spreading into the offline world.

Nobody can trace their source until a quiet, shy professor in terrorism called Penelope Hunt discovers a link to Joe. She finds herself sucked into a conspiracy which transcends race and religion. With only a radical tele-atheist to help her, Penny decides to shut down Joe’s activities, placing her own life in grave danger in the process.

Review forthcoming.  But for now, Joe is Online as an ebook on Amazon.

Just Out! Peace Army, by Steven L. Hawk (Book 2, Peace Warrior Trilogy)

17 Apr

Last December, I reviewed Peace Warrior, a military SF novel by author Steven L. Hawk.  It was good.  Really good.  Which is why I’m thrilled to announce that the second installment is live on Amazon… right now.

A full review of Peace Army is forthcoming, but since I’m “booked up” for a few months already, I just wanted to get a quick plug up for Hawk’s second novel.  I don’t generally like to count my reptiloid alien eggs before they hatch, but Peace Warrior was such a fantastic, fast-paced read that I thought I’d start getting the word out.  When I get the official Peace Army review up, I’ll let you know if Hawk has a stunning sequel or a sophomore slump, but until then, enjoy the book blurb:

It’s been six years since Grant Justice was brought back to life to help the Peaceful citizens of Earth defeat the Minith. Life should be good. The Minith are gone. Grant now has a loving wife and a remarkable son. He is a hero to the society that once shunned him. But Grant hasn’t been taking life easy. He’s been recruiting fighters away from Peace. He’s been cobbling together an army from the dregs of society and training them to fight. Which is a good thing, because another alien Mothership is headed their way. It will reach Earth in less than a week.

Grant and his forces have been preparing for this day. They must be the… Peace Army.

For those who are interested, here are the links to my two prior reviews of Peace Warrior:

I’m with Team Human

Final Verdict: Peace Warrior

Verdict? Rogue Hunter: Quest of the Hunter

29 Dec

Kevis Hendrickson has a winner with Zyra Zanr, bounty hunter extraordinaire and heroine of an adventure-heavy, tech-light space opera.  Clever writing without exhaustive exposition draws the reader into the story–and while it might not be hard enough SF for the genre police, Zyra’s intergalactic escapades remind me of other popular operatic sci-fi (can someone say Firefly?)  Luckily, unlike with the killed-before-its-time tv show Firefly, the Rogue Hunter series continues beyond this first book.  One reader’s happy about that, at least–our protagonist Zyra Zanr is a complex character, and if there’s something Hendrickson particularly excels at, it’s characterization.

"ZYRA ZANR, ROGUE HUNTER" © 2009 by Snafu964

Reading Time: At 200+ pages, I’d say 2+ weeks.

Recommendation: I won’t be suggesting this book to my friends in the computer science department, but for the casual SF reader, there’s always room for another entertaining space opera.

Rogue Hunter: Quest of the Hunter (and sequels) are available as ebooks on Amazon for $0.99 each (unless you want to splurge for the DRM-free $2.99 edition)


Kindle TV (review: Miscorrection series)

25 Dec

I always say that LOST is a lifestyle, but maybe it’s a writing style too.

I don’t watch movies.  Unless they’re musicals.  Or feature Matthew Broderick.  Or both.  The point is–two hours isn’t long enough to tell a really good story–three hours was barely enough to satisfy us Tolkien fans back in the Ohs.  Television programs, on the other hand, if they’re not cancelled before their time (*cough, Firefly, cough*), don’t have that limitation.  A good tv series is like a novel–eventually, it has to end, but going episode by episode is much more like chapter by chapter.  Read: LOST.

My dearly beloved older sister Kate the Lostie gave me a beautiful shirt with Benjamin Linus’s face plastered on the front for Christmas today–a testament to just how much I love (present tense!) the show.  I don’t know if he has any LOST apparel in the closet, or an awesome Dharma Kindle like mine, but author B.C. Young does confess being a part of the perfervid fandom:

I’m a huge LOST and J.J. Abrams fan. The type of storytelling from LOST and Abrams is what I am aspiring to write. These are short stories, but overall, they tell a much bigger story.

His short stories “Miscorrection: Sunrise” and “Miscorrection: Arrogation” were released in sequence in May and July 2010 (part 3 is forthcoming)–like the short story serials of the Victorian era, or better yet, like episodes in a tv series.

Each story is between 400 and 500 locations on the Kindle–which, I’d estimate, would be 40 or so pages in the physical world.  In any case, it’s 45 minutes tops for each, exactly the amount of time I’d spend on Hulu catching up on Fringe.  And with technological terrorists, mysterious “events,” and internal power coups, the plot’s kind of reminiscent of that Abrams show too.

B.C. Young prefaces each story with a mild-mannered caveat emptor:

I think it’s fair to let you know that I am not a writer.  I have no degrees in English or real training in writing techniques.  With that being said, I do have a story to tell.  Over the past three to four years, I had developed a story in my mind.  Finally, I decided to write it down.  Fortunately, Amazon has allowed for someone like me to self publish.

Caveat unnecessary.  I know English majors–and trust me, a degree doesn’t guarantee talent.  The cultural snobbery toward self-published authors, in fact, is probably the work of creatively frustrated English majors themselves.  We don’t need no artistic aristocracy.

The Internet’s proving to be increasingly democratic: digital self-publishing lets self-effacing (maybe too self-effacing in Young’s case) new writers to tell stories.    There’s nothing like starting a new book.  Except, maybe, starting a new tv series.  Thanks to Internet self-publishing, we can do both at the same time.  With authors like B.C. Young writing in serial, Amazon’s something like the Hulu of science fiction.  If you don’t love that, get thee to an English department–and stay there.

B.C. Young may call himself an amateur, but he writes in  clear, uncluttered first-person prose.  In “Sunrise,” Young begins to set the stage for the unfolding story arc–slowly revealing aspects of society and its dangers on one of humanity’s six colonized planets.  In “Arrogation,” the pace builds and we get inside the head and headquarters of one of the leaders of the mysterious Karhath zealots and their sinister schemes for the solar system.  Now I’m just waiting for the next installment: I joined the Miscorrection fan page on Facebook for updates.

“Miscorrection: Sunrise” and “Miscorrection: Arrogation” are available for $0.99 as ebooks on Amazon.  Not bad, considering I paid $1.99 an episode to watch The Walking Dead with Amazon Video on Demand this fall.

“Sunrise” on Amazon

“Arrogation” on Amazon

Oh, and Merry Christmas–even if the Christians did steal the pagan Winter Solstice.

Now Reading: Pale Boundaries, by Scott Cleveland

4 Jul

Science fiction readers on the bleeding edge might want to check out an oft-overlooked source of new science fiction: indie or self-published authors.  This summer, I’m putting indie SF at the top of my reading list, and will keep the Scattering posted on thoughts and progress.

First up: Pale Boundaries (Jan 2010), by Washingtonian Scott Cleveland.

Pale Boundaries is available on Amazon Kindle for $0.99.  And here’s the product description:

Where do you go after you’re torn from the only planet you’ve ever called home? What do you do when your new home despises foreigners? Who do you blame when they kill someone you care about….and how do you take revenge?

Terson Reilly knew things would be different on Nivia. But he wasn’t prepared for the draconian environmental laws, harsh population control measures or the prejudice against outsiders-and they didn’t expect what he was willing to do to defend himself.

Terson finds love when he meets Virene, an independent young woman chafing under the strict social controls herself. The couple do their best to conform, but their rebellious streak leads them beyond the colony’s boundaries where their attempt to rescue the crew of a crashed spacecraft unwittingly sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to expose not only Nivia’s dark secret, but that of a powerful criminal organization as well.

So now, dear reader, we’re at exactly the same part in the book: the back cover.  And now, off to chapter one…

Kindle Notes: The Passage

1 Jul

I heard about a month ago that Amazon was beta-testing their new software for the Kindle (Kindle 2.5), and waited eagerly for the wireless gift to appear on my Home screen.

It happened in Greece.

After a long day of hiking the Theran acropolis on Santorini, I picked up Mr. Linus to find strange dotted lines appearing under random passages in Justin Cronin’s The Passage with comments like “5 highlighters” or (as the book, which was already #6 on the Amazon bestseller list at the time I purchased it, grew more popular) “22 highlighters.”  With mounting excitement, I realized that this was the new Popular Highlights feature, which shared the most-saved passages of the Amazon Hive Mind.  Additionally, I could group my books into “Collections,” folders by genre or subgenre (it took a while for me to finally organize into Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Slipstream).  But best of all was the social networking feature, which uses Kindle’s global wireless to share notes and highlights from a book straight to Facebook or Twitter.  All of which meant, a tad ironically, I could share notes from the bus but only got on a computer twice the entire trip.

So in honor of Kindle 2.5, here’s a passage from The Passage I posted–one that reminded me of those 6 hours crossing the Peloponnesus on the bus when ginseng tablets didn’t exactly work the wonders they’d promised:

A Highlight and Note from Isabela Morales


After the initial confusion of their capture, a situation compounded by the fact that neither group would agree to say who they were until the other blinked first, it was Michael who had broken the stalemate, lifting his vomit-smeared face from the dirt where the net had disgorged them to proclaim, “Oh, fuck. I surrender. We’re from California, all right? Somebody, please just shoot me so the ground will stop spinning.”
Note: I’m pretty sure this would have been me

Here’s to Amazon’s Group Mind

18 May

On the Internet, everything is connected.

Case in point: Amazon recommendations.  I was a loyal Barnes and Noble shopper up until Christmas, when I got my beautiful Kindle and abandoned the brick and mortar B&N for Amazon ebooks.  As is often mentioned, digital books cost less than physical copies (and for online shoppers, eliminate the need for paying postage)—but Amazon probably makes up more than the difference in the sheer volume of books people are buying.  A lot of Amazon testimonials say something about users reading more on their Kindle because of the ease of purchasing, 60-second delivery, and 400,000+ title selection.  But in my experience, the real reason I read more these days is because I’ve learned something very important—the Algorithm knows best.

I like new fiction.  I didn’t know I liked new fiction until this year—because I didn’t know what was out there.  And then came The Algorithm.

The Algorithm is Amazon’s recommendation system, that takes into account past purchases, search history, purchase history of other customers, and the whole great cloud of interconnected tags (I’m pretty sure a couple accio spells are involved too).  It’s like a book club with millions of members.

The Algorithm is scary accurate.

Back in ye olde simple days, I thought I could pick out my own books.  But after a couple weeks with Mr. Linus (my Kindle), I came to the realization that the group mind of the Internet knows me better than I know myself.  I’d bought Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series online at B&N; Amazon didn’t know about it.  But after I came over to the dark side, I got an email recommending China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, which has a narrative style so amazingly similar to Peake’s that I was almost jumping up and down.

I think that sealed the deal.

That’s why I don’t buy the arguments that Apple’s iPad is going to kill the Kindle or loosen Amazon’s hold on the market.  The balance of ereaders might shift, but Amazon’s group mind, at this time, has no parallel.  Even people who’ve switched from the Kindle to the iPad (which can run a Kindle app) say the same.  From a comment thread on Facebook’s Kindle fan page:

I hate to admit it, but I just gave my Kindle 2 to my sister. I *LOVED* my Kindle, but I bought the iPad and the Kindle just sat on my nightstand. Yes, the Kindle is lighter and yes, the eInk is easier to read, but I will say that the backlight is nice at night (vs. a clip-on light). Anyway, I’ll NEVER leave Amazon – I now just read everything through Kindle for iPad.

Am I a Kindle traitor? LOL

No, not a traitor.  I love my Kindle, and extol its virtues to strangers on the bus, but the group mind’s the thing.  The accumulated search and buying histories of millions of customers is a major databank, and not something an oversized iPod Touch is likely to beat in the ebooks market in the near future.  And hey, if the Apple Algorithm can generate recommendations that good, more power to Steve Jobs.  It’s still a win for the customer.

But still, stop calling it magical.

Just an aside: speaking of Internet interconnectedness, Amazon’s beta-testing their new Kindle software (Kindle 2.5), which I’m told is going to allow the export of annotations and highlights directly from the book to Twitter or Facebook–which is kind of awesome, right?