Sci-fi Challenge – Hull Zero Three

Dammit I’m late again. I actually finished this book a week ago but have only just got round to posting this. April’s Sci-fi challenge book was Hull Zero 3 by Greg Bear.

Another ‘proper’ Sci-fi story in that it’s set on a spaceship in space it that’s pretty much where any similarities to what I’ve read before end. A man swims into consciousness being dragged naked and cold by a small girl. The man is Teacher but all he knows is the little girl is desperately trying to help him survive by getting him somewhere warm. As they ‘chase the heat’ words and memories occur to him as they are prompted by new experiences and locations as they make their way through Ship. As these memories surface Teacher becomes aware that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong with the mission he thought he was on and Ship appears to be in the process of tearing itself and its inhabitants apart bit by bit. Along the way clues are left to the history of the voyage and what might be happening in various books put together by the people who went before him, a lot of whom appear to be him if the corridor full of mutilated bodies that resemble him is to be believed. Along the way he finds company with other, similarly confused beings and together they fight their way through against the viscous Factors, seemingly manufactured protectors of Ship, or minions of the mysterious Destination Guidance? Things come to a head in the untouched and dark Hull Zero 3

I wasn’t sure about the way this story was written at first, the descriptions of locations seemed maddeningly vague and overly complicated at the same time but then I found that this helped create the atmosphere of chaos that Teacher was going through and as he regained his memories and met up with other Characters the writing style seemed to become smoother. Every character in the story is looking for something, although they’re not sure what and they’re not even sure what side they should be on until they realise that they all hold important parts of the same puzzle and things start clicking into place. The final scenes tie things together nicely but still manage to include a final twist.

I liked it. 3/5

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Sci-Fi Challenge

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted a cute little photo of a lego storm trooper has appeared in the top left corner of my humble little blog. This is because I have joined in with Curiosity Killed the Bookworm’s 2012 Sci-Fi Challenge. I only found this after randomly following her on Twitter as a #FollowFriday suggestion. The idea is that you read at least one sci-fi book a month and then review it, posting a link to the challenge in the process. This’ll be interesting as I haven’t had to read a book and then write about it since I was at school so I’m having to pay attention.

I’ve always been a sci-fi fan, I’ve got all of the original Dune books by Frank Herbert as well as some of the prequels written by his son Brian and Kevin Anderson (although I have started losing patience with them now they are filling in the gaps between the original books. It’s starting to smell of desperation and exploitation to me, and they are not very good if you believe the Amazon reviews), all of the Arthur C. Clarke Space Odyssey books and late last year I discovered Iain M. Banks’ ‘Culture’ novels. But anyone familiar with the genre will recognise I stick firmly to the traditional space and aliens style stuff while the challenge is set to cover all of sci-fi which includes “dystopias, zombie viruses, genetic engineering gone awry, time travel, steampunk, extreme weather, space exploration and, of course, aliens.” so I’m looking forward to being nudged out of my comfort zone.

January’s suggested read is Zoo Story by Lauren Beukes, apparently a cyberpunk story (so I’m trying something new already) which is set in an alternate Johannesburg where criminals are assigned an animal familiar and, through these, acquire mystical and psychic talents. With this obvious sign of guilt they are shunned by polite society and have gravitated together in the slums and ghettos of Zoo City. I’ll be honest, I’m struggling to get into it so far but my Kindle tells me I am only 21% of the way through so I shall give it the benefit of the doubt for now. I’m avoiding reading the reviews that have gone up already so I don’t spoil the story and my own review is actually my own and I’m looking forward to discussing it with everyone.

Digital Crossover

We had a record month for our company over the summer and as a thank you we were all given Amazon Kindles, (I think most of us would have preferred our first payrise in three years but that’s beside the point) . I wasn’t too displeased though as I’m a pretty avid reader and I had been toying with the idea of asking for one for Christmas. So after playing with it for a little while I can confirm it’s a good bit of kit. It’s about the same size as a standard paperback but a lot lighter so it’s almost easier to read than a real book. Downloading content is no harder than searching the normal Amazon website with the added bonus that you don’t have to wait for the postman and it will certainly be easier to carry on my my upcoming trip to New Zealand than the four or five separate books I would probably take if I didn’t have it.

But therein lies the problem. I’ve got a long list of books I’d like to put on it but for some reason my finger keeps hovering over the ‘Buy’ button. It’s not a question of money, generally the ebooks are a few quid cheaper than their paperback counterparts but something more tangible. I like having a physical book in my hands. I like having shelves full of books to look at and choose from. In bookshops I take great pleasure in standing with my head at an odd angle reading along the spines of books waiting for a title or author to jump out at me and I just don’t get the same satisfaction from scrolling down a screen.

It’s the same with music and films. I had an MP3 player for a long time before I got an iPhone and I’ve had an iPhone since they came out but I have relatively few downloaded albums. I like having piles of CDs on my shelves, being able to touch them and read the sleeve notes, the lyrics and the thankyous. I have no downloaded films at all, preferring to be able to see all of the DVDs and Blu-Rays I have in one go rather than go through a list of file names.

This reluctance to embrace digital content has struck me as a bit strange, especially given that I work in IT. I can see the advantage of on-demand content. You see something, you want it, you get it. Instant gratification for the consumer and easy money for the providers. But something in this system grates on me, you don’t get anything physical out of the transaction, nothing you can put anywhere. We talk about having music collections, DVD collections and, to me anyway, a collection is something you should be able to show off and share with people. It loses something when you break that down to how many terabytes your external hard drive needs to have to hold all your films and music. 

The other thing that worries me about  digital content is what happens when you lose it? Just recently the laptop that held my iTunes library died and I lost all of my music. Not such a big deal for me as I had a back up and I’ve never got round to transferring all of my CDs so it’s not a huge amount of data but it still took the best part of an afternoon to restore everything to a different computer. If I didn’t have a backup I would have had to re-download everything I’d bought from iTunes and re-rip all my CDs, again not hard but time-consuming. I’m not sure I like the ‘all or nothing’ nature of digital collections, if you lost a walkman you only lost the one tape or CD that was with it, everything else was still safely back at home but if your music computer dies and you don’t have a back up you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you to get everything back. Especially if you were not altogether honest about where you were sourcing your music from…

It’s the same with books. I’ve left a book in a hotel and yes it’s irritating but it was just one book, it was easy to replace. But if I lost my Kindle somwhere that would be a different story, I’d be looking at around £100 to get my book back rather than a tenner. And what if you’re reading your ebooks on an iPad and that slips out of your bag unnoticed? 

I’m not against digital content, far from it. I love being able to type a snatch of a lyric I’ve heard in the morning into Google, find the band name, go to somewhere like Spotify or Last.fm and be listening to their stuff in a matter of minutes and then being able to browse through a list of similar artists and discover even more new music. I still go and buy the CD if I like it enough rather than download it there and then though.

I think it might be because I’m from the digital crossover generation. I was 23 when we first got an internet connection at home. A whole 56k of dial-up access! I remember being impressed the first time I saw a billboard for ‘super fast’ 1/2 Meg Broadband and scoffing at the idea that any office could ever be truly ‘paperless’. The idea that you’d never need to hold a paper file in your hands seemed a long way off to me and I could never imagine someone actually preferring looking at a display to get information rather than flick through some pages. But now we have people at university for whom there has always been an internet, for whom information has always been easier to find online than hunting through several different reference books like I used to do. They’re used to looking at screens and displays because that’s the way they’ve always done it. Their music has always been virtual as they probably got given iPods as presents rather than the tapedecks or CD players I got and now you can read documents on handheld devices as easily as if you were reading a piece of paper. 

It’s fine, I get it, times move on. I just happen to be stuck between the two. I will use the Kindle the same way I use iTunes and Spotify I suspect, find an author I like by downloading samples or cheap ebooks and then going out to buy the rest of their work in physical form, just so I’ve got something to fill up the two new bookshelves I bought a few months back.

After all, where’s the fun in looking at a shelf with a whirring black box on it?