Tag Archives: review

Hunting the Phoenix, by Audrey Driscoll

I don’t think I can define the difference between a craftsman and an artist, but I know it when I see it, and Audrey Driscoll is an artist. I know, because I am a craftsman, a good one, but not an artist.

So, enough navel gazing. What is it about ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ that’s so special?

Simple answer: everything.

‘Hunting the Phoenix’ is the fourth and last book of the Herbert West series, but it is also the climax of the preceding three books. Imagine the steps of a pyramid with the Phoenix as its apex. Or if music is more your thing, imagine a classical symphony in which each movement builds upon the last to achieve the soaring notes that grab your heart and lift you out of yourself. That is the Phoenix.

At its core, every work of fiction strives for just one thing – to persuade the reader to suspend disbelief, to become part of the story, and the Herbert West series is no different. Written in a style that is reminiscent of classical literature, the story lulls the reader into a pleasant sense of security. ‘Oh, this is what the story is about…’ And then the surprises begin. Small ones at first, as you realise the author is more daring than you thought, then more profound as the truly shocking events begin to unfold.

Each book in the series is like this, but in the Phoenix the shocks go deep. I admit, there were a couple of spots where I had to stop and shake my head in disbelief. Such careful, restrained, beautiful writing and she takes it there?

Yet ‘there’ is exactly where the story needs to go in order for the ending, the climax, to feel both unexpected and absolutely right.

I’m sure no one will be surprised when I say that the quality of the writing is superb. What may surprise some people is that it is written in the First Person POV [point-of-view], and I don’t usually like First Person POV. This time, however, I barely noticed because Driscoll effortlessly avoids every single pitfall that goes with First Person POV. As with C.J.Cherryh’s Foreigner series, the POV is perfect and exactly what the story requires.

I wish I could give ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ a 10 out of 5 but even my limited math knows that’s impossible. Suffice to say that this book, in fact the whole series, is as close to perfect as a story can get. It joins a relatively short list of books, including Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, that I consider to be exceptional, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants more.

I’m just about to use parts of this post as a review on Amazon. If you want to read the series, the order of the books is:

  1. The Friendship of Mortals
  2. The Journey: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 1
  3. The Treasure: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 2
  4. Hunting the Phoenix

And please, leave a review on Amazon because these books truly do deserve to become modern classics.

cheers

Meeks

 


Not On the Cards, by Cage Dunn

Cage Dunn is an Australian writer who answered my recent call for beta readers. Cage not only tested my latest how-to book, she introduced it to two groups of potential writers at her local library. Their combined feedback was so much more than I could ever have hoped for.

Curious, I decided to read one of Cage’s books. That book was ‘Not on the Cards’, and this is the review I just left for it on Amazon:

At its heart, Not on the Cards is a story of love and responsibility: Gate Keeper to Key Master, mother to child, Gate Keeper to multiverse, yet for much of the time, its set in a carpark near Camberwell Junction. On the weekends, that humble carpark becomes a Trash & Treasure market with a deliciously bohemian atmosphere. I know, because the market is in my home town of Melbourne [Australia], and I’ve been there many times.

In Not on the Cards, that market atmosphere becomes something else, something more like a Carnival and Freak Show combined. It’s the perfect setting for Chiri, a Reader of Cards who also happens to be the Gate Keeper of the Icosa, a construct spanning multiple universes within the multiverse.

Chiri should not be in Camberwell Junction. She should not be living Saturday, over and over again. She should not be lost, unable to find her way back to the place and time where her daughter may or may not be alive.

And then the Thief arrives with a Key that isn’t really a key, but it’s the closest thing to a Key Chiri has felt in a lifetime of waiting. Trouble is, following this Key that isn’t a Key could lead to the destruction of the Icosa, the construct she has sworn to protect.

Do not expect this story to be a comfortable read that you can skim while waiting for the train or standing in a queue. Not on the Cards will challenge you, but oh how lovely it is when you ‘get it’.

The last time my brain received such a workout was when I read Firefall by Peter Watts. Very different stories and storytellers, but the same result – a reward commensurate with the challenge.

Why climb Everest? Because it’s there.

So blown away. 🙂

Meeks


The best historical who-dunnit…EVER!

Okay, I know the title of this post is a little over the top, but January must be the month for brilliant books. Seriously, I’ve just finished ‘A Star in the Sky’ and I’m in awe of the author’s talent. Under the ‘Look Inside’ you’ll find the review I just left for ‘A Star in the Sky’ on Amazon. 5/5 of course.

Not only does the author, Zichao Deng, [d.z.c. for short] make the world of the ancient Mayans come alive in all its barbaric splendour, he’s also created a murder mystery which could only have occurred in that time!

This is no ordinary murder disguised with a thin vineer of history. Every clue, every backward step, every twist and turn of the plot is woven out of the facts of that world:

  • The man who died was poisoned,
  • The poison was the same poison as used on darts, but he was not shot,
  • In fact, there did not appear to be any way for him to have been poisoned at all,
  • The politics of the situation could have seen the death explained away as ‘magic’, but
  • The female doctor who is charged with investigating the death refuses to allow either politics or superstition to get in the way of the facts, or logic.

And, like the very best who-dunnits, the clues are there all along, but the great reveal doesn’t happen until the very end. In fact, there are two reveals and the second is even more astonishing than the first.

‘A Star in the Sky’ kept me reading when I should have been doing other things, and that was despite not dumbing down the names and Mayan words sprinkled gently throughout the story.

I love alien sounding names, so I had no trouble with the female doctor being called ‘Lady Tz’unun’. I likewise had no trouble with the name of the Queen – Sak K’uk – at least, not inside my own head. As a reader, all I wanted to do was identify the character, so who cares whether my pronunciation was accurate or not? And those names were part of the reason I knew I was not in Kansas any more.

Another thing I loved about ‘A Star in the Sky’ was the richness of the characters. Lady Tz’unun may be the Sherlock Holmes of the story, but her servant Three Rabbits, plus the Queen’s councillor, the Ti’sakhuun are all part of an ensemble cast that just work, individually and as group. The story is finished but I still want to know more about them, and I definitely want to know more about their slice of history.

I sincerely hope that Zichao Deng has more murder mysteries for Lady Tz’unun and her team to solve. Simply brilliant.

My review won’t go live on Amazon for a few more hours, so I’ll just leave you with a concept drawing done by the author himself:

a-star-in-the-sky-concept-drawing

You’re welcome 😀

Meeks

 


Innerscape’s 1 star review on Goodreads

I don’t go on Goodreads very often so I was surprised to see two reviews of Innerscape, Episode 1. The first was 4 stars from the wonderful Chris James. The second was…well, see for yourselves:

1-star-review-of-innerscape

I know it’s not considered good form to respond to negative reviews, but in the privacy of my blog I’m going to buck the trend and say ‘Thank You!’ to Austin Myers. No one wants to get a 1 star review, but as it’s impossible not to get one sooner or later, I can definitely live with this one.’Slow’ and ‘boring’ is personal preference, and everyone has the right to like what they like, so while I’m disappointed, I’m also immensely relieved that Innerscape wasn’t described as ‘badly written’ and ‘derivative’.

And now, I’m going to take this opportunity to remind people that Innerscape, Episode 2 is only going to be free for one more day so please grab your chance to be bored for free. See this post for details:

http://wp.me/p25AFu-2tM

cheers

Meeks

 


A most unexpected gift!

tuktiI published Vokhtah in 2013 and have done little marketing since, so to have one of my favourite reviews resurface out of the blue is gobsmackingly wonderful!

The site is Peer Reviewed and you can find the review here:

Vokhtah

The reviewer is Jonathan Brazee, a fellow sci-fi writer and his review nailed it. 😀

http://www.jonathanbrazee.com/

Happy Tuesday!

Meeks

 


‘Ready Player One’ a #5star review

Before I begin, a warning to all non-gamers – tune out now.

ready player oneOkay, for those of you left, let me begin by saying that ‘Ready Player One’, by Ernest Cline, is the first non-Indie novel I have read in a very long time. I broke my unwritten rule about supporting only Indies because I’d heard the story was brilliant. It is. It’s a tour de force of imagination, but not for everyone.

Why? Because it’s all about gaming. MUDs, consoles, MMORPGs, VR, you name it. There’s even an homage to all things 80’s thrown in to season the mix. But if all those acronyms mean nothing to you, then neither will the plot because gaming provides the structure and mindset that makes the plot compelling.

And it is a compelling story. Set in the 2040s, ‘Ready Player One’ paints a dystopian picture of a world in which we left things too late. Climate Change is no longer a theory to be disputed, it is a reality to be endured, and for the majority of America’s population, that means living in abject poverty.

With the real world so grim, most people escape to the virtual reality of the OASIS, which is like our internet on steroids. VR immersion rigs – goggles, haptic gloves and suits – and cheap OASIS access mean that even the very poor can escape reality, at least to some extent.

But as with all good stories, there is a villain of the piece, and in the case of ‘Ready Player One’, that villain is a corporation known as IOI.IOI want to control OASIS because by doing so they would gain control of vast swathes of the world’s population.

Standing against this corporate threat are a bunch of teenaged geeks – Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto – called gunters. The action, however, unfolds on both the VR and real world planes, blurring the lines of both.

Is the plot innovative and new? Um, yes and no. At its core, the story is about the fight between good and evil, which is as old as human time itself. But how it’s done is why the story is so compelling. Being able to empathize with all of the main characters also helps.

The main character is an avatar called Parzival. The young man behind Parzival is Wade, an orphan who lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriends in a ‘stack’. Stacks are trailer parks that have been built upwards rather than outwards [to save space] and they provide shelter to the very poor.

Wade can access the OASIS because at the beginning of the story, he is a school-age boy and all school-age children are provided basic access for free – so they can attend virtual schools on a virtual planet called LUDUS.

As always, of course, money talks, even in a virtual reality, so we become invested in Wade’s life because he is the stereotypical geek. The big difference between him, and say someone like me, is that Wade/Parzival is one of the smartest geeks around. Luckily, his insecurities make us love him even as we wish we were more like him. -cough-

And then there is the gentle love story I mentioned. It’s there, and it’s an integral part of the story, but it is not the integral part of the story, the pivot around which all else revolves. If you need a comparison, think Chani and Paul Muad’ib from the Dune saga.

For me, the love story in ‘Ready Player One’ struck just the right balance because it provided a change of pace when needed, as well as motivation for parts of Wade’s character development. All without ever overshadowing the science fiction element. Then again, I may be a bit old-fashioned when it comes to science fiction and romance.

And finally a word about the writing. Here too, the word that springs to mind is balance. At its core, science fiction [like its cousin Fantasy] is all about world building, so info. dumps are almost inevitable. The trick, then, is to balance the info. dumps with the action so the reader wants to keep reading.

As you can imagine, balancing two such conflicting elements, whilst also juggling character development, social commentary and that hint of romance, is one heck of a job. Ernest Cline, the author of ‘Ready Player One’ manages to keep all his balls [pun intended] in the air…most of the time.

I think I only really became aware of the info. dumps once or twice during the entire story, and even then, I was interested enough in the world to feel no resentment.

This was a story I enjoyed from start to finish, and it saddens me to think that such quintessential science fiction has been largely ignored by the establishment. It did win the Prometheus Award in 2012, but for my money, it should have won the Hugo and Nebula awards as well. It didn’t, but perhaps, as with The Martian, Ready Player One will gain the recognition it deserves when/if Steven Spielberg turns it into a movie.

In the meantime, why not read the book? Honestly, if you have ever played a video game, of any sort, then this novel is a must read.

cheers

Meeks

 


Gmail for Beginners, Part 5 – opening an attachment & attaching a picture [Windows 7]

Part 1, Getting Started is here.
Part 2, Finding and Reading emails is here.
Part 3, Replying to an email & Saving a Contact is here.
Part 4, Composing an email & inserting a smiley is here.

Warning! Some of the screenshots and step-by-step instructions appearing in Part 5 are only applicable to Windows 7.

The screenshots and instructions pertaining to Gmail – i.e. how to open an attachment – will be the same for everyone, but the instructions for finding a picture on your PC [in order to attach it to an email] will only be relevant to Windows 7 users. This is because people using other operating systems – such as a MAC or Windows XP, Vista, or one of the 8’s – may not see the same things on their own PCs.

What are attachments?

Attachments are simply files that you send along with your email message. Most of these files cause no problems whatsoever, but some hackers will use attachments to sneak viruses onto your computer. These viruses are triggered when you ‘open’ the attachment. For this reason, ALL attachments should be treated with caution.

Internet security and staying safe

When I first started browsing the internet I thought I would be safe from viruses because, well, you know, how would a hacker even know I existed? It was not as if I was someone important.

-blushes with embarrassment-

What I did not know was that hackers do not care about me personally. In fact, they do not target me at all. Quite simply, hackers throw out huge, baited nets and wait to see what bites. And yes, my PC did get infected.

I’ve learned a lot since then, and one of the things I’ve learned is to be very, very wary of attachments. Before I click on an attachment I check a couple of things carefully:

  • do I know the sender? If the answer is ‘no’, I automatically assume the attachment is suspect and  delete the whole email,
  • does the sender [someone I do know] sound a bit odd – i.e. is the email a generic sounding one-liner such as ‘hi, thought you might like this’ or something similar? If it is, I’ll delete the email and the attachment first and apologise, if necessary, later.

This lack of certainty when it comes to attachments brings me to a bit of netiquette – if you are sending someone an attachment, it is a really good idea to tell them about it in the email message itself.  It’s a small thing but will reassure the recipient the attachment is safe to open.

As a general rule, however, I will never open an attachment if the filename ends in ‘.exe’ or ‘.zip’.

[Note: for a description of filenames, seeHow can you tell what’s a picture file and what isn’t?below].

There are exceptions to this rule of thumb, but beginners should probably delete first and ask questions later.

So what attachments are safe to open?

Picture files are generally safe to open, unless there is something else suspicious about the email – e.g. it’s from someone you’ve never heard of, or promises something unsavoury.

How can you tell what’s a picture file and what isn’t?

Like people, files have a ‘first name’ and a ‘family’ name. The ‘first name’ describes what’s in the file while the ‘last name’ describes what kind of file it is – i.e. one of the picture files, a text file, a music file, etc.

To illustrate this naming process, have a look at the following example:

picture file exampleThis is a simple picture created in Windows Paint. It was saved as a file called:

picture file example.jpg

‘picture file example’ = the first name of the file

‘.jpg’ = the family name of the file – i.e. what type of file it is. In computerspeak, this part of the file name is called the file extension. The file extension tells the computer how to handle the file – i.e. as a picture file rather than, say, a music file.

Examples of picture files

The following are examples of the most common types of picture files. Notice that only the file extension changes in each filename:

mypicture.jpg

mypicture.bmp

mypicture.png

mypicture.tiff

If you get an email from a friend, and if the attachment in that email ends in any of the above file extensions, the attachment is safe to open.

How to open an attachment in an email

Returning to our friend, Kenneth, I discover that he has sent me an email at meekasmind@gmail.com. The email has a file attached. When I read the email, this is what I see:

gmail attachment received 1

As you can see, part of the picture has been truncated in the preview. To see it all, I point the mouse at the picture. This causes an overlay to be displayed:

gmail attachment received 2This overlay shows the full filename of the attachment, including its file extension which tells me it is a picture file. Also of interest is the ’15 KB’ which tells me how big the file is.

[Note: A huge picture file would be shown in GB, an average picture file would be shown in MB, and a small picture file would be shown in KB. Thus the attachment from Kenneth is quite small and will take next to no time to load]

The overlay also contains the buttons for two options – Download and Save to Drive.

Save to Drive option

Clicking this option will save the file to Google Drive [a storage area in the Cloud]. This option is not covered in the Beginners guide.

Download option

Clicking the ‘Download’ option will copy the file from the email and save it to my own PC. Once the file is on my PC, I can do whatever I want with it. This is the option we will be exploring.

When I click the Download button [in Windows 7], the screen changes to display the last location at which I saved something. In the example below, you can see that it was in ‘Libraries, Documents, My Documents, My Games, Final Fantasy xiv – A Realm Reborn’. This is not where I want to save the attachment.

gmail attachment download 1

To make it easier to see where I’m going, I will close the Documents folder I am in. To do this I simply click on the small arrow next to ‘Documents’ in the navigation pane:

gmail attachment download location

I can now see the main folders quite clearly, including the folder I want to reach. It is called ‘Pictures’ :

gmail attachment download location 2

A single click on the ‘Pictures’ folder causes the ‘Pictures Library’ to be displayed. In the Library is a folder called ‘Sample Pictures’. This is where I want to save the attachment:

gmail attachment download location 3

The easiest way to open the folder is to click on the ‘Sample Pictures’ icon once. This will highlight the icon, and it will cause the ‘Save’ button to change to ‘Open’ [as shown above]. Now all you have to do is click the ‘Open’ button.

Once ‘Sample Pictures’ opens up, the ‘Save’ button reappears.

Click the ‘Save’ button to save the attachment to this location.

Now that I’ve saved the picture file to my PC I can edit it if I want to. I do, I did, and this is the result:

picture file example black and whiteNaturally, I want to share the new picture with Kenneth so I compose an email to him [see Part 4].

Before I click the ‘Send’ button, however, I click the small ‘Attach Files’ icon shown at the bottom of the compose form.

It looks like this:

picture file attach icon

Clicking the attach icon in Gmail causes the following screen to be displayed in Windows 7:

gmail attachment send location 3

This screenshot is almost identical to the one we saw before…except that in this one, the image peeping out of the folder is of the edited house. That’s because I saved the edited file to the same location as the attachment.

Click on the ‘Open’ button [as shown above]. The following pictures are available for you to attach to your email:

gmail attachment send location 4

Clicking on an image displays information about it, including its dimensions and size. You will also see a much larger preview of the image. When you are sure you have the correct image, click the ‘Open’ button as shown.

You should now be back in Gmail, looking at the message you typed to Kenneth. Down near the bottom of the form, you should also see the name of the file you have attached to the email. This is what mine looks like:

gmail attachment send location 5

Click the ‘Send’ button and that’s it. As always, Gmail will display a yellow confirmation message telling you your message has been sent.

Before I finish, a quick word about the other way of attaching a photo to an email. And yes, there is another way. It looks like this:

gmail attachment insert photo1

The difference between ‘Insert Photo’ and ‘Attach Files’

If you click the ‘Insert Photo’ button, you will be given the choice of inserting an image as an attachment or as an inline picture.

If you select the ‘Inline’ option, the image will be embedded into the body of your email message like this:

gmail attachment insert photo3

Sometimes it’s nice to embed a photo like this because it means the recipient doesn’t have to do anything but look at the email. Unfortunately, the drawbacks are that:

  • the process is not quite as straightforward as it should be, and
  • the recipient cannot easily download the image onto his/her own PC. It can be done, but not in a straightforward way.

If I ever do an Advanced Gmail how-to [shudder], I will include the ‘Inline’ function, but given the unfinished state of Gmail at the moment, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

I did not intend to review the new version of Gmail, but after a month of working on it for this series, I can honestly say I am not impressed. I had to work around certain key functions – like Contacts – because the interface was so poorly designed and/or implemented. And even the Inbox functions leave a lot to be desired. Too much is hidden, making not-so-advanced functions hard to find, hard to use and hard to explain.

In many ways, the new Gmail reminds me of Windows 8. There too, key functions were hidden, or implemented in ways that were not at all intuitive. And people hated it, myself included.

I truly believe that function should never be subordinated to form. I don’t care what something looks like so long as it works. Sadly both the new Gmail and Windows 8 placed form well and truly over function.

To be fair, I understand that mobile devices have made it necessary to simplify all applications in order to conform to the new ways of doing things, but we have not yet reached the point where serious work is done on those devices. Imagine trying to write your magnum opus on your mobile phone! Or if that’s not your style, imagine trying to create a complex spreadsheet on your phone.

Mobile devices are simply too limited for the kind of work we currently do on desktops or laptops. Therefore it does not make sense – from a user’s point of view – to reduce everything to the common denominator of the mobile device. Yet that is exactly what Windows 8 and this new Gmail are attempting to do.

As the younger generation would say – ‘Fail’

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Amazon Kindle Fire HD 6″ – a review

Fire 6 picOkay, I am not an early adopter when it comes to hardware. If anything, I tend to wait until the inevitable bugs have been discovered, and ironed out before I give a new device a try. That is why I have never owned a tablet, and that is why buying a newly launched Fire HD 6″ is so out of character for me. That said, however, I love my baby Fire. 🙂

As I have never touched a Fire 7, I can’t compare the two. The best I can do is compare the Fire 6 to my old, very ordinary Kindle. Physically, the Fire 6 is the same length as my Kindle e-reader, but about an inch narrower, making it an even better fit in my small shoulder bag. Unfortunately, it is also noticeably heavier than the old e-reader. Given how much more it does, however, I’m prepared to forgive the added drag on my shoulder.

So what does the baby Fire do?

Well first and foremost, it displays everything in glorious colour. After two years of looking at the grey-on-grey of my e-reader, just turning the Fire on and looking at its colourful home screen makes me smile.

Now colour may not mean much to you out there, but it’s going to make all the difference to the e-cookbook I’m working on! Words may be a writer’s weapon of choice, but when it comes to cooking and recipes, one picture is literally worth a thousand words.

Of course it is possible to view pictures on an ordinary e-reader, but the effect is less than stellar. Have a look at the pictures below :

Fire 6 pics 2nd attempt grey sml

Fire 6 pics 2nd attempt colour sml

 

The first photo is from my old Kindle e-reader. The second is from my new Fire 6. Despite my lack of talent as a photographer  [I was battling flash glare and lost], you must admit the colour pic is easier on the eye!

The next huge difference between my e-reader and the Fire 6 is …playing as I type. 🙂 Yes, you guessed it, I’m listening to music! [Jo Blankenburg’s beautiful track, ‘The Realm of Levitation]

The sound quality is nowhere as good as what I get through the speakers attached to my PC, but I can listen to my music without ear-plugs [which I hate] on a mobile device that can do almost everything except cook dinner!

Apart from books and music, the Fire 6 can also download and play apps [but not Google apps], videos [haven’t tried, newspapers and magazines [haven’t tried], audiobooks, photos, documents [sideloaded from my PC], and surf the web [haven’t tried].

In case you’re wondering, the reason I haven’t tried so many functions is because I don’t have WI FI at home. To access any of the online content, I have to go to McDonalds and use their free hotspot. Given what I think of McDonald’s food, I don’t think I’ll be doing much online surfing until my current modem finally dies and I have to get a new one. In the meantime, I’ll be doing a lot of sideloading.

“But what is this sideloading?” you ask.

Sideloading is the ability to download content from the internet to your PC and then copy that content to your digital device. It’s not as convenient as using wi-fi, but it actually works quite seamlessly when you know how. I sideloaded a Word file to my Fire, as well as the working copy of my ecookbook, AND the Jo Blankenburg music track. I’m sure I could sideload a video as well if I wanted to.

Until I take screenshots of sideloading on the Fire, you can find detailed instructions on how to sideload content to a Kindle e-reader here :

http://wp.me/P25AFu-1ga

The pictures will look different but the process is essentially the same on both devices –

– connect the micro USB cable to the Fire

– connect the USB end to the PC

– open Windows Explorer and navigate to the folder containing the file[s] you want to copy to the Fire

– copy/paste the file to the appropriate Fire folder [or drag and drop it there]. In My Computer, the Fire shows up as an external drive, complete with all of its internal folders such as ‘Books’, ‘Music’ etc.

Once you’ve copied the file to your Fire, disconnect the device, open to the relevant folder, and your book/song/document etc should be accessible via a simple tap of your finger. Not bad for a tablet that cost just $149.00 AUD!

Oh, wait! Did I forget to mention how incredibly CHEAP this baby Fire is? Well it is, and the $149 AUD price tag was a huge factor in my decision to finally buy a tablet. Yes, I wanted one to test out my ecookbook, but there was no way known I was going to pay through the nose for the privilege. With the Fire 6, I really feel as if I’ve got value for money.

So was there anything about my new Fire 6 I didn’t like?

I can’t really say there was anything I actively disliked, but there were a couple of small niggles.

1. Despite having learned the  ‘swipe’ technique on my smart phone, I did not find the Fire as easy to use as it was cracked up to be. The main menu items worked as advertised, but once I went deeper, finding my way back was hard.

For example, opening up a book and reading it is quite simple on the Fire, but once I finish reading and want to do something else, I’m in strife because all the navigation icons have disappeared. I have to tap blindly across the top of the Fire until I finally hit the right spot and the menu/navigation icons become visible again.

If you are having the same problem, try tapping just below the front camera. The camera is that very small circle just visible on the top frame of the Fire :

Fire tap spot

2. Another niggle is the size of the battery icon. At 61, my eyesight is just not up to such a miniscule icon, and I have to put my reading glasses on to see how much charge I have left. As being able to adjust the font size is a huge selling point for me [so I don’t have to wear my glasses], this kind of defeats the purpose just a tad.

3. Last but not least is the lack of a true user manual. The Fire 6 did come with documentation, in multiple languages, but the instructions boiled down to one small page on how to connect and charge the device. If you need to know more, they provide the url for a support page. Not exactly great for Baby Boomers like me.

I did, in fact discover a handy youtube video that walked me through the main features of the Fire 7 [similar enough to make no difference] but I would have preferred a user manual I could keep on hand.

Aside from those 3 niggles, I have to say that I am 95% happy with my baby Fire. The features are great, the colour display is lovely and the price is spot on. These may not be important reasons for someone from the techie generation, but I think many people from my generation will find the Fire 6 just right for their needs. Highly recommended!

Meeks

 

 


Halfskin – a review

Science fiction is supposed to be about pushing the boundaries, and coming up with new concepts, but much of the time it simply regurgitates old ideas. And we’re happy with that because those ideas are familiar and comfortable, like a well-worn pair of slippers. We don’t have to think about them, we can just enjoy the entertainment on offer.

And then there are the stories that challenge us too much. Here I’m thinking of China Mieville’s Embassy Town. I enjoyed it, sort of, but I certainly did not understand it, and that left me feeling inadequate.

Halfskin, however, is that happy medium all writers aspire to – a bright, shiny new idea wrapped in the comfort of characters we can relate to, characters who do not so much challenge as persuade. They are not Other, they are like us, and so we can understand their motivation. In fact, most of us would probably agree with their motivation. I know I do.

The story begins with a familiar enough scene – a bunch of young kids getting up to mischief and egging each other on. One of them, Nix, gets cut, and we realise that Nix isn’t bleeding blood, he’s bleeding biomites.

Biomites are the result of bionanotechnology, and act like stem cells, becoming whatever the body needs to function properly. In reality, however, biomites are microscopic computers, and they are all linked wirelessly to a massive computer system dubbed MOther. But MOther, standing for Mitochondria Terraforming Hierarchy of Record, does more than just receive data, it has the ability to monitor the level of biomites present in each and every human body. And when one of those bodies becomes a halfskin – i.e. half flesh, half biomite – MOther has the ability to switch the biomites off.

But if 50% of the functioning of a body is handled by biomites, and they’re suddenly switched off, what happens to the other 50%, the flesh percent?

It dies, that’s what. Enter the villain of the piece, Marcus Anderson.

Marcus Anderson, Chief of the Biomite Oversight Committee, and a ‘pure’ who has no biomites in his body, believes that Halfskins are not human any more. Furthermore, he believes that if biomites are allowed to proliferate unchecked, homo sapiens are doomed. Something will survive the biomite invasion, but it won’t be human any more.

And this is where the persuasion comes in. Because we know that biomites saved the life of young Nix, and make ordinary people ‘better’ than they would be naturally, it’s very easy to empathize with Cali, Nix’s sister as she moves heaven and earth to keep her baby brother from being switched off as a Halfskin. We see being switched off as cruel, and unnecessary. We want Cali and Nix to survive because they are the human face of Halfskins, and they’re still nice people, right?

The delicious thing about Halfskin is that with just a little change of perception, the story could easily become as scary as the old Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Imagine if the biomites were tech gone wrong. Imagine if they took over those they infected …and turned them into zombies!

No matter how much I may dislike Marcus Anderson as a character and a person, I can see the fear that motivates him. Self righteous he may be, but maybe, just maybe he has cause.

Halfskin is just the start of the story, and I for one am very, very curious to see where the author, Tony Bertauski, takes it next. Will he give us his answer? Or will he continue to gently push us to find our own?

Without a doubt, Halfskin is one of the best science fiction stories I’ve read this year, and I’ve read a lot. The writing is smooth and assured, with no awkward sentences or embarrassing typos. The characters too are perfect. As a mother myself, I have no trouble understanding Cali’s fierce protectiveness. Faced with the same circumstances, I know I’d do exactly the same. And even Marcus the Villain isn’t completely two dimensional. Nonetheless, for me, it’s the underlying ethical questions that truly make this story stand apart.

Halfskin – 5/5 and very highly recommended.

Meeks

p.s. You can buy Halfskin from Amazon as a stand alone book for $3.50 or you can buy is as part of the eleven book Taste of Tomorrow bundle [for 99c].

Standalone:

http://www.amazon.com/Halfskin-Tony-Bertauski-ebook/dp/B00AG6NF8C/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415570111&sr=1-1&keywords=halfskin

Bundle

http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Tomorrow-Dystopian-Boxed-Collection-ebook/dp/B00HPM3PDA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1415571362&sr=1-1&keywords=A+taste+of+tomorrow


You know someone’s ‘got’ your book when…

…that someone is fellow science fiction writer Chris James, and he compares you to Stanislaw Lem. 🙂 That’s a huge honour in my book, and modesty demands that I demure…but you know I’m dancing, right?

Okay, less of the happy-happy and more of the information. The book is Vokhtah, and the link to the review is :

http://chrisjamesauthor.com/books/book-review-vokhtah-by-a-c-flory/

I plan to write many more books before I become completely senile, but Vokhtah will always remain my special child because it was so hard to write. I’m a fairly passionate, emotional person by nature, but when writing about the Vokh and iVokh I have to keep a very tight rein on all of my softer, human emotions. That is soooooo tiring. But when someone gets what I’m trying to achieve, it feel like Christmas!

Thank you, Chris. Just… thank you.

-hugs to all-

Meeks

 


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