Guest Post: Silly Cat Books

Today I’m at my sister’s house. My sister has a cat named George, who is perhaps two years old. That means that George is actually “Georgie”; he’s a very silly cat, and consequently needs a sillier name than just “George”.

This is Georgie, pretending that he is not at all silly:

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What aren’t you seeing in the picture? The toesy-pouncing! His three-second attention span!

What goes with a silly cat? Silly cat books, of course! Books to read (or for silly cats to bat at). Here are some of my favorites.

The Theory of Cat Gravity by Robin WoodThe Theory of Cat Gravity by Robin Wood. Do you know the feeling you get when a cat curls up on your lap and you lose not only the desire, but the ability to stand up? It’s not just you! There are scientific reasons why your black hole cat feels like she instantly gained five hundred pounds.

When I read this book a few years ago, my reaction was a combination of recognition and the thought that yes! This explains so much!

All My Patients Are Under The Bed by Loius CamutiAll My Patients Are Under The Bed by Louis J. Camuti. This book is by a veterinarian who made house calls in New York City. Of course, if the vet comes to you, you don’t have to deal with the trauma of packing kitty up and going for a drive — on the other hand, a vet in your house is a still a stranger. Must hide! If I can’t see him, he can’t see me! Doesn’t matter if my tail is sticking out from under the bed!


This is a heartwarming book by somebody who had devoted his life to animals and clearly loves them and their ways (and, as I just learned, whose life may have been saved by a cat when he was 11).


Games You Can Play With Your Pussy by Ira AltermanGames You Can Play With Your Pussy by Ira Alterman. No, that those kind of games — get your mind out of the gutter! Taking care of cats can be a serious thing, but as anybody who is owned by a kitty knows, there are lots of funny moments to be had. This book covers important topics like Naming Your Pussy, Pussy Hairs, How to Handle a Hot Pussy, Exercising Your Pussy, and Talking With Your Pussy.




What are your favorite silly cat (or dog) books?

Guest Review: Star Trek: The Original Series: The More Things Change by Scott Pearson

Star Trek - The More Things Change by Scott PearsonFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Length: 90 pages
Publisher: Pocket Star
Date Released: June 23, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Six months after the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Doctor Christine Chapel and Spock must save the life of an ailing Audrid Dax, her true nature as a Trill having remained a mystery until now. But after an unknown vessel attacks their shuttle, a risky game of cat-and-mouse may be the only way to save all their lives.

Guest review by Galen.  Visit The Book Pushers for Marlene’s take.

This novella has a possible future as a one-set play. All of the action of note takes place inside a shuttle-craft. In fact, it would almost work as a monologue, as the heart of the story takes place inside the head of Christine Chapel.

Chapel, no longer Nurse Chapel but Dr. Chapel, has gained her medical degree and is starting to spread her wings. The events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, however, have delayed her assuming full confidence by putting Dr. McCoy back as Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise.

McCoy dispatches her and Spock to take the Trill ambassador Audrid Dax to rendezvous with a Trill vessel to deal with an urgent medical issue of Dax’s.  However, there is more under the surface than meets the eye: with Dax, with the mission, and with Chapel’s relationship with Spock.

Escape Rating B: This is a competently written character piece that is worth reading by any fan of TOS, particularly those who hanker for knowing what comes next.

As near as I can tell, The More Things Change references just about every canonical appearance of Chapel and provides a nice bridge between TOS and her final appearance in The Voyage Home. Some of the references to incidents in the animated series are inspiring me to dust off the DVDs and give TAS a proper watch.

On the other hand, it did feel like the story was a little too careful to name-check every relevant incident in the TV shows; it would have been nice if it had given Chapel a little more roam to wander around in her life, as it were. That said, her voice rang true as that of a person ready to acknowledge the past that shaped her and move on to her future.

The big reveal that Audrid Dax is both Audrid and Dax, host and symbiont,  is of course not a surprise to any fan of Star Trek, though it was to Dr. Chapel. I do have a quibble about how long the Trill could have actually kept their secret in the face of sensor technology (and the impression one gets that just about every space-faring civilization in the universe of Star Trek is effectively a total surveillance state), but well, such quibbles are part of what make fandom fun.  The external conflict (in the form of raiders chasing the shuttle in an attempt to capture Dax) was strictly paint-by-numbers, but didn’t detract from the core story of Chapel resolving her relationship with Spock and preparing to leave her second family.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

You shall not pass! (without book recommendations) [Stacking the Shelves (97)]

Galen here, sneaking in and taking over Marlene’s blog today while she sleeps in (cue a quiet “mwa-ha-ha”). We’ve been in Detroit since Wednesday to attend Detcon1, the North American Science Fiction Convention.

We made sure this time to leave room in our luggage to take books and other stuff back home. Here’s what we got so far from the dealer’s room (and we were able to get all but one of these signed!):

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Of course, I got rather more book recommendations than physical books — which is nice, since it’s so embarrassing when the plane gets so overloaded that it has to hop rather than fly.

Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’oThe YA guest of honor is Nnedi Okorafor.  Yesterday I went to a reading and Q&A she conducted. The books that she recommended, wrote, or influenced her flew fast and furious:

Wild Seed by Octavia ButlerAnother panel I went to was about where folks who have not yet read Octavia Butler should start.  One of the wonderful things about the panel, in addition to the energy of the panelists (Nnedi Okorafor, adrienne maree brown, Tananarive Due, and Ellen Denham), was that there were four different well-reasoned opinions on the question.  So if you can’t decide, print out this blog post, tape it to the wall, and throw a dart at:

At the panel I also learned of an exciting project called Octavia’s Brood, which will be publishing an anthology of visionary speculative fiction by social justice organizers and activists — I’m really looking forward to it.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette KowalAnother list of book recommendations came from a question asked at the Gender Roles in Genre Fiction panel: what books do you recommend for their role in busting tired gender tropes:


I’m looking forward to reading the books on this list, and I hope, Gentle Reader, that you also find interesting avenues to explore.


The Fourth of July, 2014: a Reading List

by Galen

American Flag books

I’m borrowing Marlene’s blog today to celebrate the 238th anniversary of U.S. independence. How to celebrate? We’ll be grilling steaks and corn on the cob, but we’ll also be reading. Here’s a list of books and essays I’ve read the touch on the complicated matter of American independence.

The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  This is one suggested by Marlene; during the course of the series, our time-traveling couple ends up living in the American colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolution.  Of course, Claire knows how the revolution ends, but what she and Jaime don’t know is what happens in the specific area where they live — which makes picking a side difficult.

Johnny Tremain by Esther ForbesJohnny Tremain by Esther Forbes.  A classic from 1944 and winner of the Newberry Award. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I think my love of historical fiction may have started with this one.

The musical 1776. Of course, it deviates from the true history of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but it’s a great deal of fun while presenting a serious event in our history.  The song “Mama Look Sharp” still gives me chills.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham.  Another Newberry winner, in 1956.  The period after the American Revolution was such an energetic time — folks working, for better and worse, to spread out and to extend knowledge.

Frederick DouglassWhat to the Slave is the Fourth of July? by Frederick Douglass.  The independence announced in 1776 was not for everybody; we are still fighting for the full freedom of every last personal who lives on U.S. soil.  Some fought with words.

Personal Memoirs of U.S Grant.  And some fought with arms.  Grant is a fascinating figure in history, and knows how to wield a pen.

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates (an essay in the Atlantic).  I did not say that this was going to be an easy reading list, but I think it is a necessary one.  I have been reading Coates for years, and it’s becoming more and more clear that he will be remembered as one of the foremost public intellectuals of this century.

Grace Hopper by Kurt W. BeyerGrace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age by Kurt W. Beyer. The call to arms after Pearl Harbor was not answered just by men destined for the front lines, but by people of every sort in every place.  Grace Hopper served in the Navy at Harvard as part of a team working with the Mark I computer to perform various calculations, including a simulation used by the Manhattan project.  She was one of the pioneers in computer science, contributing important papers, developing the COBOL language, and inspiring many.  She retired from the Navy Reserves as a rear admiral.

What is Free Software? by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation. There are many types of freedom; one area of freedom that I have a professional interest in is free, libre, or open source software.  Free software is a way of working in the open — if software makes up many of the tools that we rely on in this modern age, having those tools be available for all to use and improve on can help with other kinds of freedom: think of dissidents who rely on free cryptography software to protect themselves.

The Library Bill of Rights by the American Library Association.  This touches on another area of professional interest to me.  The freedom to read and to learn is essential for securing other types of freedoms; there was a reason why many slave-holding states had laws forbidding teaching slaves how to read and write.

I hope you enjoy this list.  What books and other works do you have on your fourth of July reading list?

Guest Review: Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe

Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene WolfeFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: Science fiction and fantasy
Length: 337 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: August 27, 2013
Purchasing Info: Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Perhaps no living author of imaginative fiction has earned the awards, accolades, respect, and literary reputation of Gene Wolfe. His prose has been called subtle and brilliant, inspiring not just lovers of fantasy and science fiction, but readers of every stripe, transcending genre and defying preconceptions.

In this volume, a select group of Wolfe’s fellow authors pay tribute to the award-winning creator of The Book of the New Sun, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Soldier of the Mist, The Wizard Knight and many others, with entirely new stories written specifically to honor the writer hailed by The Washington Post as “one of America’s finest.”

Shadows of the New Sun features contributions by Neil Gaiman, David Brin, David Drake, Nancy Kress, and many others, plus two new short stories by Gene Wolfe himself.

At the publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.

Guest review by Galen Charlton.

Fairly or not, there are not many genre writers who are (or would have been) contenders to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. Doris Lessing, of course, has written science fiction and won the Nobel Prize — and even better, isn’t ashamed of having written genre works. Ursula K. Le Guin. Octavia Butler, were she alive. Iain Banks, ditto. Ray Bradbury, ditto. Perhaps, in time, China Miéville.

Book of the New Sun 1-2 by Gene WolfeOne name that often comes up in such discussions is Gene Wolfe, author of such classics as The Book of the New Sun sequence and The Wizard Knight. His use of language rewards the reader who is willing to pay careful attention (and keep a dictionary at hand!)

He’s generally acknowledged by other SF and fantasy authors as a writer’s writer, so it is appropriate that so many of them have joined together in this festschrift edited by J.E. Mooney and Bill Fawcett.

Escape Rating B: As with any collection of short stories, some are stronger than others. Many of the ones I liked best play with the boundaries between an author and the characters he or she writes. For example, “Epistoleros” by Aaron Allston is epistolary in form and set in an alternate world where the Republic of Texas remained a going concern through the 1890s, along with many of the colonial territories of North America. The twist at the end, where an author/reader turns the tables on a character, is sure to please fans of Jasper Fforde. Along parallel lines, “… And Other Stories” by Nancy Kress shows that sometimes it’s not enough to get lost in a good book, but to figure out how to escape into one.

“Ashes” by Stephen Savile is a quiet meditation on love lost and making time to travel one’s memory in the course of grief. “Tunes from Limbo, But I Digress” by Judi Rohrig is a fun tale told by an unreliable narrator — unreliable in part because the narrator isn’t entirely certain of her identity.

“A Touch of Rosemary” by Timothy Zahn and “Snowchild” by Michael Stackpole are solid fantasy tales, while “The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin” by Michael Swanwick is an example of the most excellent sort of horror story that hits the reader even harder an hour after reaching its end.

Competent but unexceptional contributions include “A Lunar Labyrinth” by Neil Gaiman, “In the Shadow of the Gate” by William C. Dietz, and “The Log” by David Brin.

Among the weaker contributions was “Tourist Trap” by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. Recent events may be coloring my impression of this story, but I was put off by its use of the trope of stuffing a female character into a figurative refrigerator. “Soldier of Mercy” by Marc Aramini tried a bit too hard to match the complexity of Wolfe’s writing, but ended up just leaving me feeling a bit confused.

Also included are two stories by Wolfe himself, “Frostfree” and “Sea of Memory”.

Despite some unevenness, the anthology is a worthy tribute to Wolfe: readers who like the anthology but who haven’t read Wolfe yet will be inspired to pick up one of his books, while long-time fans of his writing will enjoy other authors’ variations on his themes.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Review: Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Stuff of Dreams by James Swallow

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Stuff of Dreams by James SwallowFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: space opera
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Length: 94 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books
Date Released: March 25, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

The Enterprise-E arrives in unclaimed space for a rendezvous with the Starfleet science vessel Newton. Jean-Luc Picard and his crew have been ordered to assist the Newton with the final phase of its current mission—a mission that brings Picard face to face with something he never thought he would see again: the phenomenon known as the Nexus. Less than twelve years after it left the Alpha Quadrant, the Nexus ribbon has now returned. Tasked to track and study the phenomenon as it re-entered the galaxy, the specialist science team on the Newton discovered that the orbital path of the Nexus has been radically altered by the actions of the rogue El-Aurian Tolian Soren—taking it deep into the territory of The Holy Order of the Kinshaya, one of the key members of the Typhon Pact. Starfleet Command is unwilling to allow the Kinshaya—and by extension, the Typhon Pact—free access to what is essentially a gateway to anywhere and anywhen, as a single operative could use the Nexus to change the course of galactic history….

Guest Review by Galen

Star Trek GenerationsSometimes the name of the game is keep-away.  The Nexus, which was at the heart of the movie Star Trek: Generations, has wandered close to the territory of a rival to the Federation.  The Nexus is tempting on many levels.  Somebody who figures out how to control it would have possession of a powerful time machine, and that prospect is of course rather concerning.  The Nexus is also tempting as an object of scientific curiosity.  One of the things that Captain Picard is quickly faced with in The Stuff of Dreams is navigating between those two temptations.

The Nexus also offers a very personal temptation: someone who enters it can have a perfect life, or at least a good facsimile thereof.  Or perhaps, just the life they desire.  Therein lies the deeper story.

Escape Rating C+: The Stuff of Dreams is a competent addition to the TNG series, but works best as a palate cleanser between novels.  Readers who are new to the recent TNG book series may find themselves a bit lost.  To best appreciate Swallow’s entry, I recommend first reading the Destiny trilogy by David Mack and at least dipping into one or two of the Typhon Pact stories.

star trek destinyOne of the (guilty?) pleasures of reading media tie-ins is getting the chance to see loose ends tied up.  It can also be nice to see connections being drawn between apparently separate stories in the fictional universe.  However, stories that aim to invoke that apophenia risk overshooting.  The fallout from the events of the Destiny trilogy are going to provide a deep well for TNG reboot authors to dip into for a long time.  However, by touching on that and Generations and the Typhon Pact and time travel (including a throw-away reference to the Department of Temporal Investigations), The Stuff of Dreams crossed the line into being too much of a name-checklist of recent Trek.  In particular, I think that dropping either the Kinshaya or the Newton would have made for a tighter story.

As an exploration of survivor guilt, The Stuff of Dreams has a place on the shelf for folks who have enjoyed the TNG reboot novels, but does not otherwise stand alone or stand out.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Review: Stung by Bethany Wiggins

[Cover of Stung by Bethany Wiggins]Format read: ARC provided by publisher
Formats available: hardcover
Genre: Young adult science fiction
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Walker and Company
Date Released: April 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Fiona doesn’t remember going to sleep. But when she opens her eyes, she discovers her entire world has been altered–her house is abandoned and broken, and the entire neighborhood is barren and dead. Even stranger is the tattoo on her right wrist–a black oval with five marks on either side–that she doesn’t remember getting but somehow knows she must cover at any cost. And she’s right. When the honeybee population collapsed, a worldwide pandemic occurred and the government tried to bio-engineer a cure. Only the solution was deadlier than the original problem–the vaccination turned people into ferocious, deadly beasts who were branded as a warning to un-vaccinated survivors. Key people needed to rebuild society are protected from disease and beasts inside a fortress-like wall. But Fiona has awakened branded, alone-and on the wrong side of the wall…

Fiona Tarsis goes to sleep in a world much like our own, just with fewer bees.  When she wakes up, she’s immediately faced with what that world has turned into, and she is taken on a wild ride.

The decline in bee populations is a real problem; losing major pollinator species means fewer plants and crops, which in turn could have a significant ripple effect on human society.  In Stung, however, attempts to solve that problem have backfired spectacularly: people who received a bee-flu vaccination turned into the equivalent of werewolves–with no way to return to normal.  (How does one get from bees disappearing to bee flu?  Let’s just say that it’s not a good idea to short-circuit the scientific peer review process.  It’s also not a good idea to keep digging, once you’ve found yourself in a hole.)

Fiona wakes up knowing only that she must hide her tattoo and that she’s still thirteen.  The latter “fact” is quickly proven false–four years have passed since the culmination of the disaster–and she must survive long enough to figure out what’s going on.  Fortunately, she soon runs into a young militiaman named Bowen, and with his help starts to learn more about herself and her world.

Escape Rating B-:  At the exhibits hall of any American Library Association conference, advance reading copies are generally easy to pick up.  In this case, it was particularly easy: the ARC was literally thrust upon me.

It’s easy to see why the the publicist in the booth was collaring passers-by.  Stung is a fast-paced, engaging read.  The author does a good job dropping Fiona and the reader into an uncertain situation and providing enough information to keep the pages turning while not giving the game away too soon.  In fact, Wiggins has written one of the better amnesiac openings I’ve read in some time.

Fiona is a sympathetic viewpoint character.  Although her upbringing was middle-class and sheltered, she’s not completely helpless in the rough circumstances that face her.  She can shoot quite well (a legacy from her father’s training), she’s smart, and she eventually finds out that the vaccination has given her some advantages in tight spots.

In Bowen she finds a connection to the pre-apocalyptic world and a source of romantic tension.  As it turns out, if you go to sleep at 13 and wake up at 17… you don’t still don’t get to skip puberty.

Unfortunately, for all her general competence, Fiona still needs rescuing at the end.  While Fiona herself is not unhappy with how things turn out–and Bowen serves nicely as a rescuing knight–I finished the book wishing that Fiona had had a little more control by the end.  Also, the main villain had a little too much cardboard in his makeup for my test.

The last page of the book leaves the door open to a sequel; if one is written, I hope that Fiona avoids the trap of becoming little more than a symbol of better days to come.  That said, I do hope that Wiggins continues the tale.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest review: Redshirts

[cover of Redshirts by John Scalzi]

Like the “expendable” characters it chronicles, Redshirts by John Scalzi explores some unexpected depths and delivers both a satisfying tale and meta-tale.

The starting point is a question that surely has occupied many a college bull session since the 1960s — why is the life expectancy of security officers on certain television shows so short, especially when in the presence of senior officers?  After a vignette describing the typical (and brief) career trajectory of an ensign assigned to the Universal Union’s flagship Intrepid that ends with a satisfying crunch for a landworm (albeit rather less satisfying for the hapless redshirt), the book follows Ensign Dahl and his friends.  Newly assigned to the Intrepid, Dahl finds out very quickly that the longstanding military adage of “don’t volunteer for nuttin'” — particularly away missions — is key for a long, healthy career.  Of course, he can’t avoid away missions forever, and when he ends up assigned to one, the fun really begins.  Before the end, Dahl must figure out what’s really going on and take control of his destiny.  The alternative is to become the star of a poignant little moment where the captain mourns his death — then sends a request to the UU Command for yet another bright young ensign.

Escape Rating from Galen B+:  Although there’s plenty of fun to be had following Dahl as he solves the mystery in a “Lower Decks” setting, to say nothing of playing spot-the-sf-trope (and don’t try to turn that into a drinking game — that way lies cirrhosis), the initial premise wouldn’t sustain more than a short story.  What makes Redshirts interesting is that it becomes a tale about story-telling.  In fact, it reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman epic, particularly “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Dream Country.  The characters in Redshirts find that their destiny is literally a story — and the question becomes who gets to tell the story.

Escape Rating from Marlene B+: Redshirts was definitely worth the wait. It was also one of the crazier things I’ve read. It’s much more meta than it is story, but it’s fun for all that. The willing suspension of disbelief that science fiction normally requires gets bent completely out of shape to serve the plot device, but it’s worth it to poke fun at the tropes we all know and love.

Guest Review: Railsea

In Railsea by China Miéville, the orphan Sham ap Soorap lives in a tangle, travelling the railsea as doctor’s assistant on the moler Medes.  It’s not a job he’s particularly good at, and it doesn’t help he’s not quite sure what he wants to do with himself.

The railsea on which the train Medes travels is a dangerous place — step off the rails, which cover the dry, soft earth-ocean in a Borgesian labyrinth, and you’ll find that the monsters of the deep are rather too close to the surface either for comfort or surviving the next five minutes.  However, it has its rewards for those who travel the rails, switching their way from line to line in pursuit of salvage, moldywarpes, or philosophies.  You might even find your place in life — or so Sham hopes.

Of course, sometimes you also find something completely unexpected.  One day Sham ends up on a crew sent out by the captain to investigate a wrecked train, and comes across some pictures.  In short order, Sham finds himself in the middle of a pursuit by pirates, naval trains, and subterrains for what lies behind those pictures — a truth that will change the world.

Escape Rating A: As with the rest of Miéville’s oeuvre, Railsea works on many levels.  It’s a rollicking adventure tale worthy of Robert Louis Stevenson, a coming-of-age story, and a treat for those who like wordplay.  For example, at one point the Medes finds itself trapped between a siller and the Kribbis Hole (read it aloud to fully appreciate).  I’m at best a reluctant user of audiobooks — I tend to listen to them only if I’m faced with a very long drive in areas of the country with spotty NPR coverage — but after reading Railsea, I think I’ll be making an exception and also getting the audiobook.

The book is like the railsea itself, a dense knot of intersecting story lines, changes in points of view, and allusions.  The entangling lines of the physical setting matches the complexity of the human setting with its array of diverse island city-states, pirates, salvors, and nomadic Bajjer traveling the lonely sea, to say nothing of the detritus of history and alien influence that litters the world and hints at many untold tales.  The book makes it clear that its pages only scratch the surface of a fascinating milieu.

From this knot emerges a meditation on constraint and searching for freedom.  The railsea cannot be escaped, seemingly — as I mentioned, stray off the narrow (though not very straight) tracks and you’ll quickly find yourself devoured by the denizens of the soft earth.  The high sky is the domain of alien beings too strange and obscure to contemplate.  Travel in one direction, and you’ll eventually find the rails looping back on themselves.  Pursue your obsession, as Ahab did with Moby-Dick, and you’ll find yourself in the midst of dozens of captains, each with their own “philosophy” that few of them manage to hunt down.

There’s a lot to be said for staying in the thicket — there are lots of interesting things to find there, as any reader of Miéville has come to expect.  Once you reach the end, however, you’ll find a rather satisfying breath of fresh air.

Guest Post: Schrödinger’s Ebook Box

For Marlene’s birthday I got her a new iPad.  Since her work involves reading and reviewing ebooks, and since the iPad has become her primary ebook reader, transferring the books from her old iPad to the new one was critical.  Since she uses a number of ebook apps, this gave us an opportunity to answer the (not-so) age-old question: when you open the new box, are the ebooks still alive and meowing?

We set up the new iPad using one of the recommended approaches:

  1. Sync the old iPad with iTunes.
  2. Make a backup of the old iPad using iTunes.
  3. Hook up the new iPad to the computer and choose to restore from the backup.
  4. After the restoration, wait for iTunes to finish syncing apps and content to the new iPad.

How did the the various apps do?

  • iBooks — success.  All of the titles came over.
  • Amazon Kindle for iPad — success.  The list of titles came over.  It was necessary to re-download them, but that came as no surprise.
  • Barnes and Noble Nook — success.  The list of titles came over; as with the Kindle app, it was necessary to re-download the books.
  • Bluefire Reader — success.  Everything came over, although it was necessary to re-enter the Adobe DRM credentials.
  • Google Play Books — success.  Same story as the Kindle and Nook apps.
  • Kobo for iPad — success.  At least, apparently so.  The default titles came over, but this app is one that Marlene looked at but never actively used.

However, there was one failure: the OverDrive app for iPad.  When we opened it on the new iPad, the bookshelf was empty!

Of course, the primary purpose of this app is to display ebooks and audiobooks from OverDrive’s library service, but it will happily store and open EPUB files, and you don’t even need the OverDrive Media Console application on your PC.  You can just download an EPUB from Safari on the iPad and open it in OverDrive.  Because of apparent capacity issues with Bluefire reader, there was a period of Marlene had started using the OverDrive app to handle some of the overflow; in particular, she used it for non-DRM EPUBs.

But therein lies the rub… as near as I can tell, the OverDrive app turns out to be the Hotel California of iOS EPUB readers.  Since the restore and iTunes sync obviously hadn’t brought the ebooks over, I started looking for ways to manually transfer them.  The first place I looked was in the File Sharing feature in iTunes:

If OverDrive supported app file sharing, I could have used iTunes to copy the ebooks from the old iPad to the new one.  Unfortunately… it doesn’t.

My next step was scanning through the OverDrive app to see if it offered a way to download or email the files.  I came up with nothing.

Finally, I turned to my favorite reference librarian Google… and came up with a lot of folks complaining about how iOS5 and the recent update of the app apparently don’t play well together for audiobooks, but nothing relevant to my efforts.  So, if you’ve made this far into the post and have ideas about how to transfer the books… I’m all ears.

Ultimately, if we don’t find a way to make the transfer, the effective loss will be small, as Marlene has current files for all of the titles in the OverDrive app with the exception of three titles she had downloaded via iOS Safari from NetGalley that have since been removed from the active download list.  One irony is that those three ebooks are in open EPUB format; if only we could get to the files, any EPUB reader app could display them.

This is all a perfect storm of circumstances that could drive somebody who is unlike me (by expecting that software will actually work all the time) back into the comfortable but heavy arms of physical books:

  • Ebook DRM can punish the reader.  Marlene and I are perfectly willing to pay for ebooks (though of course, most of the time she doesn’t have to because of the number of egalleys and ARCs she reviews), but in the case of the OverDrive app, were I to make a charitable guess, DRM inspired a design compromise for the OverDrive app that lead to app file sharing not being enabled, even for non-DRM ebooks.
  • Apple’s iOS backup and syncing model has pitfalls for the unwary.  In particular, backing up to iTunes does not back up everything, and syncing with iTunes does not necessary cover content that wasn’t purchased via iTunes.  Want a real full backup of your iOS device?  It seems like you can get one only if you jailbreak it.  By the way, I really hope to be proven wrong on this.
  • It’s a truism that preserving ebooks require the reader to work harder.  You can leave a physical book sitting around and expect it to stay put (and even a very industrious cat isn’t going to push a book very far); one has to actually think in order to keep one’s ebooks available as time, hardware upgrades, and fashions in digital format pass.  But it’s even harder if one has to work to get one’s hands on the ebook file.
  • Using apps for anything other than their exact intended purpose can have unexpected pitfalls.  As an EPUB reader, the OverDrive app is arguably decent, but at the moment I can no longer recommend it for any purpose other than using OverDrive’s service.  I hope future updates of the app will make it easier to transfer titles to new iOS devices and to back up any non-library ebooks that a user chooses to read in OverDrive.

In conclusion (and to further inflict quantum mechanics metaphors on the reader), despite all of the advantages of ebooks, ebook users must still keep the Ebook Uncertainty Principle in mind: without care (and ideally access to discrete, non-DRM ebook files that you can back up), the long-term availability of ebooks that you purchase is at best a little uncertain.