Wednesday, 25 May 2011

New Look Inside feature for ebooks

Previously only printed books could have the Look Inside feature, where customers could browse the first several pages of content before deciding to buy a book. Now it has spontaneously appeared for ebooks:

Thursday, 19 May 2011

There Was a Young Artist Called (Paperback) Andrew Birch and Sebastian Smith

Informative and Amusing 5*

I am a fan of Birch cartoons and of limericks, so appreciated this volume of such, on sixty artists various. Birch's cartoons, several of which feature his trade-mark electrified grimace, are of the gritty and highly dynamic standard to be expected by those familiar with his output in newspapers and periodicals. The Braque, Duchamp and Hirst, to name but a few, are real crackers. It is by no means a comprehensive who's who of famous artists but many of the limericks are surprisingly informative.

Overall, a stimulating, frequently bawdy and amusing collection, worth it for the cartoons alone!
In conclusion from my own hand, I offer you these:

I do find these limericks delightful,
if in manners often quite frightful
(I'd as soon try a smile
as wallow in bile)
and best when the rhyme is insightful.

The cartoons they all take a swipe
at, yes, you do know the type.
Or is it the artists
in nervous catharsis
that generate most of the hype?

Amazon US There was a Young Artist Called 

Monday, 16 May 2011

Cyberdrome (paperback and ebook) Joseph and David Rhea

Real Sci-Fi  5*
What a thrill ride! Just finished Cyberdrome. The sample convinced me to buy the full download right away. Top notch, highly original, this should be selling in bucket-fulls.

Cyberdrome is relentlessly fast-paced. It is very imaginative, with multiple environments and scenarios, and a multitude of potential bad guys. Separating out the heroes, anti-heroes and out-and-out bad guys from the rest, while keeping abreast of the twists and turns in this fascinating plot, is a job and a half! The film Tron comes to mind here, with humans trapped inside a giant computer but there the resemblance ends. Instead of low-res graphics, Cyberdrome is the equivalent of fully rendered 3D action, with protagonists pitted not against a guy on a cycle but against a megalomaniac computer program with versatile adversaries at its command.

Being ex-IT myself I liked all the computer references but understanding these was not essential to following the thrust and heady zest of the novel.

Reminds me also of Ghost in the Shell, where variously cyberised humans inhabit a hazardous future world somewhere between program data and reality. However, Cyberdrome has the benefit of humans fully integrated with the computer and non-stop, heart-pumping action along the way. If you like the film `Avatar', you will almost certainly like this.

Amazon UK Cyberdrome 
Amazon US Cyberdrome 

Sunday, 15 May 2011

VF-2 Electronic Viewfinder (Olympus cameras)

Extremely useful accessory 4*
A small and well-crafted piece of kit, whose external simplicity belies its functionality and sharp, bright image. It plugs into the hot shoe and accessory slots at the top of the camera and is powered from the camera. Pressing a single button toggles between viewfinder and camera back screen (monitor). It does not interfere with using the built in flash. I am using the VF-2 on an Olympus XZ-1 camera  but it can be used on other Olympus cameras, so if you own more than one camera, a single viewfinder could be used on each compatible unit. The only reason for dropping a star here is the price - in my opinion the quality is 5*.
The VF-2 is perfect for use in bright sunlight, where the monitor on the camera itself is difficult to use for setting up and reviewing shots without dodging into a shady spot to do so.

The viewfinder is a very useful addition for anyone, like me, who is longsighted and for those used to an SLR type viewfinder. The great thing about a digital camera with a display screen is being able to review (playback) pictures as you go. If you are longsighted, you end up holding the camera at arms length to be able to focus your eyes on the screen on the back of the camera, or resort to your reading glasses. The electronic viewfinder shows all the information you would otherwise see on the screen on the back of the camera. You can adjust the focus to your individual eyesight by simply rotating the rubber 'dioptre' ring.

Since having the viewfinder, I am using it as the preferred method for operating the camera. It is also useful for macro work and has the added feature that it can be tilted through up to 90 degrees.

Minor negative factors: firstly that it does add to the overall size of the camera and prevents the use of the hot shoe to mount and/or trigger an additional flash unit. The flash issue is probably not a problem, as the built-in flash can be used to wirelessly trigger up to three other flash units. When the review (playback) button is pressed, the camera reverts to monitor view, instead of the image remaining in the viewfinder.

In summary:
Cons - adds to the overall size of the camera, costs half as much as an XZ-1 camera (March 2011).
Pros - a real advantage in bright sunlight, can be transferred between cameras, great for macro shots, has a tiltable eyepiece, especially useful for long-sighted users, does not get in the way of the camera's built-in flash unit, comes with its own storage pouch.
Amazon UK VF-2 
Amazon US VF-2 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Mortal Engines (paperback + hard cover) Stanislaw Lem

Short stories by one of my favourite SF authors.

Fantastic Robots 5*
A Fascinating and captivating collection of short stories by a master story-teller. These robotic fables and allegories of the highest order are by turns surrealistic and darkly realistic. Frequently they are set in a dystopian fairyland of crystalline or metallic monsters locked in power struggles in the tightest corners of an imagined universe. Knights and Kings undertake superhuman quests, where their battles are as fierce as they are poetic. Gigantic machines grapple with ideals and consequences which show them to be as flawed in their own way as we humans. Stanislaw Lem is surely the supreme fantasist when it comes to robot psychology and soul.

His robots are made of the most impossible but plausible metallic elements and have equally fantastic names. Many of the stories could fall under either of the subgenre headings of steampunk or cyberpunk. If this wasn't already enough, Lem further entertains by weaving into his tales the most exquisite puns. And just when you think you have the measure of Lem's style, you find "The Hunt", where the story of a space merchant's delayed cargo turns into a deadly pursuit, set in perilous high vacuum on the far side of the moon. Another tale involves a visit by a writer to a rest home for delusional robots. Of the fourteen stories, here is a short list of titles that will hopefully inspire you: "The Three Electroknights", "How Microx and Gigant Made the Universe Expand", "Tale of the Computer that Fought a Dragon", and "The Sanatorium of Doctor Vliperdius".

This remarkable and delicious collection of eccentric stories is given an illuminating introduction by the translator Michael Kandel.

I enjoyed these tales immensely. Always unpredictable, there is at least one unexpected twist to each story. This book is a must for any fan of this exceptionally talented writer.
Amazon UK Mortal Engines 
Amazon US Mortal Engines 

Monday, 9 May 2011

New Book Uploading Today

The Old Store: A Science Fiction Anthology
by Peter Salisbury

This new collection of post-apocalyptic SF short stories is being uploaded to and will shortly be available in the usual range of formats, including PDF and Mobi/Kindle.

An anthology of twenty-six themed episodes set in a post-apocalyptic future, where the world population has been ravaged by a flu-like pandemic. A close-knit group of genetically immune men, women and children battle to survive attacks by marauders. The Families attempt to use their ingenuity and disparate skills to evade discovery and establish a viable, self-sustaining community, only to find it falls under attack by armed gangs.

There are twenty-three named characters. See how Jed, Sylvie, Brian, Jaide and their families tangle with gang members Snake, Rat, Stink and Grease. Discover the roles played by the spirited Nina, airport guy Graham, and the biker horde.

The stories have been written as episodes. They are in a logical sequence but mostly are separate stories about the same people in the same place. They don't all join up like chapters in a novel, although some may run on to the next. 54,000 words (equivalent to 74 paperback pages).

A couple of snippets:

Sylvie looked out across the rooftop, sunlight pouring in through the four-sided pyramidal roof.
'You can almost see the beans and tomatoes growing,' she thought.
Her husband Jed, Brian and his wife Jaide, Grandpa Gunn, all the kids, and Christine and Simon were sitting around the dining table with satisfied looks on their faces. It was the second week in a row they'd had roast boar for Sunday lunch.
'We call it Sunday,' Sylvie thought, resting her hands on her own slightly over-filled stomach, 'Who knows what day it is according to the old calendar.'
A plume of black smoke jetted out the exhaust ports of a huge battle tank. The tank lurched forward, the sound of its failing engine reaching the roof terrace a second or so later. Its squat, ugly shape was covered in black and brown camouflage and it positively bristled with armaments. The most prominent weapon was the main gun mounted on its top turret. The beast made it the fifty metres from the slip road into the car park, riding straight over the remains of a burnt-out car before the alternately stuttering and over-revving engine finally cut, and the short, stubby gun muzzle swivelled to point directly at the top of the building.
'Like I said, I ain't no lady!' Nina held Snake's gun at arm's length, with the muzzle against the back of his head. She pulled back the hammer on the over-sized, chrome-plated revolver.
'Take it easy,' Snake said.
'Don't 'easy' me,' Nina said. 'You're the one making trouble.' The others saw from her face that she was in deadly earnest. 'Now move that truck, or your boss gets it.'
Was Stink's plan just a bluff? Was he really trying to take over from Snake or was he playing a game to throw Nina off guard? While they were distracted, Nina moved again, so fast they didn't see it coming. She drew her own gun and pointed it straight at Stink.
Stink spat on the ground. 'Jeez, she's fast,' he said.