Confusing Timelines

I’m getting quite mixed up with my fiction timelines lately. I have really gotten into the Wizard In Rhyme series of books by Christopher Stasheff. They feature a guy called Matthew who gets transported from our world into an alternate universe where magic and religion are prominent. It is set in a pretty much standard medieval era, as is the case with many of the wizard type books. As Matthew is aware of science, physics, etc he has a different outlook that gives him stronger magic. In the first book he meets the other universes equivalent of The Black Knight, in this case known as Sir Guy de Toutarien. He summons a ‘demon’ that can mess with entropic forces on a molecular level. Matthew names him Max after the Maxwell equations of molecular stuff.

I have also started into a Michael Crichton book called Timeline. This features a company that invents a machine that can go sort of back in time but it really goes to our past in an alternate universe. In this book they go back to the 1300’s, run into The Black Knight, again called Sir Guy and there is reference again to Maxwell’s equations.

Both books deal with alternate universes with knights, medievalness and other bits and pieces. It’s getting quite confusing. Especially when you throw in watching Game Of Thrones which I have the e-books of but just cannot cope with starting until I have finished something

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Wizardy Reading

I recently discovered a series of books by an author I had never heard of – Christopher Stasheff. My initial thoughts were that I would be reading some Tolkien fan-boy book from a couple of years ago. However, I was happily surprised to find that not only is this book the first in a series spanning a many years, but that it came out in the 1980’s and the author was born in the 1940’s – things were looking up a bit at this point so I gave it a whirl. I finished this book yesterday and was not disappointed.

The series is called Wizard In Rhyme, the first book is titled Majesty’s Wizard. To be honest, I do think I can be forgiven for being a bit apprehensive and expecting some clichéd cheese with titles like that. Especially when the other series’ by the same author (of which there are, thankfully, plenty) are named with similar flare – .

However…. I was impressed. The first couple of pages worth of text seemed like it was going to live up to expectations. But, where other authors would needlessly draw out an introduction, Professor Stasheff drops us straight into the action.

I don’t want to spoil any storyline so will say this – Stasheff makes an interesting but still standard aspect on the whole wizardy/lotr/etc type of thing. The lore is very standard but with American college student Matt, the hero, being from the ‘normal’ (ie, our) world and getting transported to this alternate universe where he has wizardy powers. This makes for a nice and interesting twist on the usual fare and you want to know what happens to Matt and wonder throughout if he is going to end up going home. Knowing that this is the first in a series you know he wont just wake up from a dream and it’s all over at the end of the book, but you still wonder where it is going to take him.

The action scenes, mainly good vs evil battles, on a par with Tolkien/etc style storylines, are fast paced and well written. The story is surprisingly gripping and you find yourself really liking the characters.

Overall, a very good read and the perfect ‘first part’ of what can only be a very good series of books.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, but have decided to hold off for now and read Prey by Michael Crichton.

Kindle Received!

The books I have at home are wearing a little thin on interest – most have been read on multiple occasions – and I just cannot face parting with the amount of money they charge for new books these days. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the fact that it is the authors livelihood and all that but some of the prices are just silly. If I read at least 2 to 3 books a month it would soon add up to quite a lot. I mean, seriously, £20 for something I’m not supposed to judge by its cover?

So I started looking at the Amazon Kindle. The reviews and videos all seemed great. There a lot of free books, and the ones you have to pay for start at just pence. When you compare the prices of the hardback, paperback and Kindle versions of the same book it is generally at least half the price. Yes, you need to pay for the actual device first but even if I read just the free books it would have paid for itself in 6-7 months compared to buying a load of books each month.

As my birthday was coming up, I asked for Amazon vouchers so I could get a Kindle. My birthday was last Wednesday and on Friday afternoon I placed my order. I was pleasantly surprised when the offer of a free trial of Amazon Prime meant that I could get it delivered by 1pm the next day – a Saturday even! – for just £4-odd. Amazon Prime activated, order placed, Kindle received at 7.30 am on the Saturday, Amazon Prime account turned off again so the auto-renew doesn’t cost me for the year. Win!

Now, for the actual product.

The Kindle comes in its own special easy-open Amazon packaging. No fuss, just pull the tab and open the lid. Inside there is, again, no fuss. The kindle comes with a quick-start guide, USB cable and power adapter. The welcome message on the screen of the Kindle (it doesn’t turn off, it just sleeps) looks like it is an insert or screen cover. On closer inspection you realise it is the actual display. Simply turn it on and you are away. As it came through my Amazon account it is already set up and registered to my account. A welcome document and a user guide are displayed (skip to the end) and the main menu is there. Setting up the wifi is very easy.

Now for some books.

First up on my list to read is The Portrait of Dorian Gray, one of the free classics through Amazon. Turning on One-Click purchasing means that you simply look at the book on the amazon website,  press the purchase button (it is already set to send to my Kindle) and by the time the web page had taken me to Other Recommendations my Kindle had flickered next to me and the book was available – now that is good service!

I tweaked the settings for display, preferring a smaller serif font with a little tweak to the column size and line spacing and it feels just like a book when reading. And by that I mean it feels like you are reading a book. After a few “pages” you forget you are reading something on a screen and you are lost in the words, just like when you are reading a normal paper-based book. It is difficult to imagine until you actually sit and try it.

One thing I was unsure about was the fact that when you change page, or generally whenever the screen changes, it flickers I had never seen mention of this in any of the reviews or trailers I had seen but knew it happened from seeing it in action. Thankfully, there is no issue here. By the time your eyes have flicked from the bottom line to the top of the next page the screen has flickered at about the same time. It actually helps your mind think that you have changed page.

Currently the only downside I have found is that the store isn’t particularly great when browsing on the Kindle. It is quite clunky to navigate, the prices are not shown in results – you have to view each item to see the price – and it often just goes back to the start page. Use the proper Amazon website instead as it is much easier.

So far, a very good experience and I am very happy with my decision. I would highly recommend the Kindle to anybody that likes to read.

The Dark – James Herbert, 1980

The other day I finished reading The Dark, a book that has sat on my bookshelf since I can remember. For some reason I always thought I had read The Dark when I was younger – I started reading James Herbert and Stephen King novels when I was about 10 years old. I remember reading what seemed to be a short story, never really finding it that interesting and therefore never bothered with the book since. It has just sat there since, alongside the others in my collection, many of which were my dads. First published in 1980 (which is the version I have) this book is 5 years older than me.

The Dark is a great book. There are many very good James Herbert novels and this is definitely a top one. I just can’t believe I have never actually read it before. I recently read a couple of Stephen Kings (Duma Key and Everything’s Eventual), again after receiving them as presents. Both are good books but The Dark confirms my preference for Herbert  over King. The imagery is much more powerful in Herbert’s work and much more graphic. There are scenes in The Dark, and others like The Fog, which are just disturbing. Reading these books and watching gory horror films since I was young has desensitised me somewhat, so I can appreciate the style and substance without feeling utterly horrified.

There is a scene, quite early on, of mass suicide where all the participants are killing themselves and each other in the most evil ways possible. This scene is described in all its glorious gory detail which even I found shocking. You just don’t get that from Stephen King.

The Dark does have certain similarities to The Fog – another James Herbert, which is one of my all time favourites. The ‘layout’ of the plot is pretty much the same in both books – the main story being interspersed with isolated ‘cases’ of violence/murder/etc – but this isn’t a bad thing really as the system works very well.

Overall, The Dark is a very good book even if it does have very close similarities to others of the time. I am pleased to say that it is one of my favourite books by James Herbert and would recommend anybody to read it. Unless they are easily disturbed.

My Top 5 James Herbert books:

1 – The Fog
2 – ’48
3 – Once
4 – The Dark
5 – The Secret Of Crickley Hall

I know that Secret isnt his strongest work, but it did something horror books rarely do a good job of – it actually scared me.

There is a reason that Rats isn’t on that list – I havent read it. Yet. But from what I hear, it probably will end up in that list.

Oh, and Once is a bajillion times better than The Magic Cottage.