Friday, 25 March 2011

Paul McAuley, City of the Dead (2011)


To start with a slightly oooh-get-me observation: I bought this book from Amazon as an e-book (for 70p) and I read it using the free Kindle app on my iPhone. How 21st-century am I? Actually I'm rather smacked-in-the-gob by how smooth and enjoyable this whole experience was. I had been toying with the notion of getting an iPad in order to download fiction and such; but now I don't think I'll bother. The iPhone 4 has everything a iPad has, as well as being, er, a phone and much more portable. Moreover, I discover the one thing it lacks (size) really isn't a problem; the screen is plenty big enough for easy, convenient and non-squinty reading.

McAuley's pricing model is well judged, too. I've been browsing amazon for downloads, sometimes buying, sometimes pulling back, almost always for reasons of price -- but 70p is a no brainer. City of the Dead also happens to be a story easily digested in shorter reading bursts. Pulling the phone out of my pocket when I've a moment spare (waiting in a queue at the post office, say; hanging about whilst the kettle boils; or standing by whilst my daughter tries on one hundred and eighty seven different kinds of sunglasses in order to find precisely the right one) and reading a page, or a couple, felt very natural. All in all: two thumbs way way up.

As for the book itself: as you'd expect, City of the Dead is very good. An alien species, the 'jackaroo', have traded humanity the solar system for a wormhole network and access to fifteen new planets. According to the venerable Roadside-Picnickish sf trope, these worlds are littered with artefacts from long vanished galactic civilisations which will, if you can find them, make you rich. On one of these planets a town sherriff and a researcher into native 'hive rats' run into some ruthless gangsters who are searching for one such artefact. It's efficiently and effectively told; a touch of Ballard's time tombs, a smidgen of Paul's own Confluence books, and (strikingly) a healthy splash of James Herbert's The Rats all linked by the distinctive tone of McAuley's particular mode of hard SF: excellent.

I don't know how well it has gone, qua ePub experiment; but it's made me think I should at least try something similar. I'll look into it.

9 comments:

rreugen said...

I'd like to buy a collection of your short-stories. It was out of stock on amazon.co.uk when I looked, and I can't order "used copies" from my country. An e-book would be great.

Adam Roberts said...

That's a good steer, rreugen: thanks.

Wally said...

Have you played with iBooks on the iPad at all? It's literally incredible, in the 'I can not believe reading text on a tablet computer is this pleasurable.' Weirdly, I think something as simple as reading PDFs is the killer iPad app, at least for me. Though GarageBand and iMovie are small miracles of their own...

Wally said...

Should be 'in the "I can not..."' SENSE, of course. I can not...type, apparently.

Adam Roberts said...

My parents have an iPad each, and I've played with those -- cool. But getting one for myself would set me back £600; where I already have a phone. And it's not that much cooler than playing with an iPhone 4.

Adam Roberts said...

(I'm emulating your typing; it's infectious) ... I mean playing on the iPad is not that much cooler than playing on the iPhone 4. The portability thing is a very big plus for me, too. All those occasions in the past when I'd be reading a book that was just too large to fit neatly in my jacket pocket -- that was always disproportionately annoying, I found.

Paul McAuley said...

Aha, could this be the source of the little spike in sales? If so, thanks - this is an trial balloon thrown up into the rarified winds of e-publishing and relied only on a) a few mentions on twitter and my blog and b) word-of-mouth. As low a price as you can go seems about right for short stories and putting short stories up for the kind of casual consumption you describe seems like a no-brainer. I'm going to revive some OOP collections too, and put together a couple of new ones. Sounds like you should, too.

One complaint - how dare you imply that James Herbert's Rats influenced me! I totally ripped off Tremors.

One bit of advice - covers. Even a 70p short story needs a good cover. If you don't have any graphic design background get someone who has.

Adam Roberts said...

Good advice: thanks.

Did I say James Herbert's The Rats? I meant to say William Golding's Rats of Passage.

PeteY said...

Adam, I agree with you about reading on the iPhone. I use Apple's iBooks app on a 3G and it's just lovely to use. I used to have to have two books going, one in a small format so it could go in my jacket pocket, but now I just always have a few books on me as a matter of course, because my phone is with me, so I don't get caught short if I'm unexpectedly at a loose end.

Also, it's great for catching up with old stuff, because it's available online free. I'm working my way through Olaf Stapledon's more obscure works, which are almost impossible to find on paper.

I'm surprised this isn't discussed more. People rave about iPads but they're overlooking devices they might already have available.