30 September 2011

A Touch of Fire - The New Kindle Family

Sorry for not having more updates on this blog, for the past month I've been busy with work, moving houses and assignments. At least I got to finish 2 books since last posting so I hope to have the reviews up soon. Anyway it has been an exciting week of news from Amazon. Everyone knew they are announcing their own tablet but no one knew that they would be releasing 4 versions of Kindles at once! They are great additions to the Kindle family and I would love to get my hands on them but Amazon still don't have plans to ship the Kindle Touch or the Kindle Fire internationally yet. For now, I've been reading around about these devices and here is what I think:

Amazon Kindle (Latest Generation)

The latest generation of the Kindle e-reader, smaller and lighter than before with an unbeatable price tag of $79. I think this is the device to get for those who still have doubts about owning a dedicated e-reading device. It has a great form factor and is affordable enough for everyone to give it a try. You will easily recuperate the cost of the device with the savings from your electronic books. The downside is that it doesn't have a physical keyboard, so it will be quite a hassle to make notes when using the on-screen keyboard. However if you just plan on reading then this is a great device to have.

Kindle Touch

The Kindle Touch and the Kindle Touch 3G, starting from $99 with special offers to $189 for 3G support and without special offers. Great devices, light and small with touch sensitive screens for navigation. The new feature X-Ray is great, I think it will come in handy when you want to dig deeper into a book or remind yourself of characters. I would love to have had this feature for quick references when I was reading Ready Player One and A Clash of Kings. This is the device to get if you have one of the earlier generations of Kindle and looking to upgrade to a more portable e-reading device. However for someone such as myself who has a Kindle 3, also now known as the Kindle Keyboard, I don't think the upgrade is attractive enough for me to go through with it. I will give it a pass and wait for the 5th generation.

Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire, a 7" colour tablet that runs on a heavily customised version of the Android platform. I don't think this is or ever intended to be the iPad killer but a dedicated entertainment device that connects to all the different services that are on offer in the Amazon ecosystem. In order for Amazon to offer the Kindle Fire for $199, they are clearly betting on you to be spending a lot more than that by purchasing content from them. If anyone knows a thing or two about customer purchasing behaviour, it would be Amazon. Indeed from the videos shown so far, it looks like you can easily purchase content at your fingertip. This is something that no other Android tablets have done so far. Instead of concentrating on a device with high specs and so many features that would confuse the average users, Amazon decided to create a great performing device with a big focus on entertainment so they can get the devices into the hands of as many people as possible. Only time will tell how well this device will do in the market but I have a feeling that this will be selling like hotcakes.

What I'm interested in is seeing if Amazon has plan to release the Kindle Fire Internationally? Currently Amazon doesn't have much rights to distribute content internationally. Just take a look at the Kindle book store, it has been out for a number of years, but the International Kindle store is still completely lacklustre when compared to the US or UK Kindle stores. Will this device make Amazon think more about distributing content to the International audience or will they be satisfied with just the US or European markets?

19 September 2011

Peter Dinklage, Best Supporting Actor

Game of Thrones was one of the better TV shows of this year. Even though the production team couldn't recreate everything written in George R. R. Martin's book, they did a fantastic job in casting the right actors who brought the scenes to life. Peter Dinklage is one of such actors who took the role and made it his own. I can't imagine anyone else who can do a better Tyrion Lannister. A well deserved win at the Emmys for Peter!

Peter Dinklage - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

On the other hand, I'm still making my way through A Clash of Kings and already can't wait to see how the scenes in appear in Season 2 of Game of Thrones.

The Hollywood Reporter: 'Game of Thrones' Star Peter Dinklage Reacts to His Emmy Win

8 September 2011

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

It's the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world.

Somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune and power – to whoever can unlock them. Halliday's riddles are based in the pop culture he loved – that of the late 20th century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday's icons.

When Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle, suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt – among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. To do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life – and love – in the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

Ready Player One is one hell of a book for geeks, nerds and 80's aficionados alike. This book was really hard to put down and on many occasions I stayed up way too late just to find out what will happen next in the story. If you love playing any sort of arcade or computer games or even classic roleplay then you will love this book.

Set in the future, the Earth has become a derelict place where people struggle everyday to find warmth and food for themselves. To escape from this living hell, the majority of the world have turned towards the last remaining sanctuary, a virtual world named OASIS. You can think of OASIS as Second Life meets Matrix. The participants have full immersive experience of the world, courtesy of a set of special gears which allows them to sense and feel everything around them and they can do whatever they want within the laws of the virtual world.

When the creator of OASIS, James Halliday died, he left a final challenge to all the players and whoever finds all the keys and completes all the tasks will inherit his entire fortune. In order to solve the riddles, the players have to study Halliday's life and understand what he loved the most, which was everything that happened the 80s. So we follow Wade Watts, one of the egg hunters or "gunter" as he discover clues on Halliday's riddles and complete challenges after challenges.

Maybe because this book was written for people like me, I had no trouble in getting most of the references in the book, even though I was very young in the 80s. Really, who hasn't watched the classics that are WarGames, Blade Runner or Monty Python? I also found a strong resonance in the storyline where Wade attempts virtual dating. I made the same follies at his age because I was never good at speaking to girls. If I were in his shoes, I would do exactly the same thing.

Cline does an excellent job bringing everything great about the 80s together in a fun and thrilling ride. There are plenty of times where I would pause and search for additional information on songs or images mentioned in the book. He also has interesting commentaries on society of the future where the population cares more about leaders in a virtual world than in the real world as political leaders are incapable to solve the issues at hand and also how powerful large conglomerates can become and can easily take away people's liberties at a moment's notice.

I can go on and on about what makes this book great but there are just too many reasons for me to love this book. Giant robots, Ultraman, spacecrafts, basically every genre you can think of makes an appearance. As you can tell I had a great time reading it and I hope that you will too!

3 September 2011

Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes
Adventurer. The term has long been synonymous with cutthroat, murderer, savage, zealot, and heathen. And Lenk, an errant young man with only a sword and a decidedly unpleasant voice in his head, counts all five among his best and only associates. Loathed by society and spurned by all merciful gods, he and his band are recruited for only the vilest of jobs. Denaos, the lecherous thug; Asper, the cursed priestess; Dreadaeleon, the pubescent wizard; Gariath, the psychotic dragonman; and Kataria, the savage shict who farts in her sleep, have all followed Lenk out of necessity. But as their companionship increases, so too does their enmity for each other. Thrown together by necessity and motivated by their distrust for each other, it falls to Lenk to keep them from murdering each other long enough to allow something more horrible, the pleasure of killing them. When an esteemed clergyman hires them to track down a missing book stolen by a zealous foulness risen from the depths of the ocean, intent on using the tome to raise its abyssal matron from her hell-bound prison, Lenk finds his skills put to the test. Faced with titanic, fishlike beasts, psychotic purple warrior women, and the ferocity of an ocean that loathes him as much as his own people do, the greatest threat yet may be the company he keeps.Full of razor-sharp wit and characters who leap off the page (and into trouble) and plunge the reader into a vivid world of adventure, this is a fantasy that kicks off a series that could dominate the second decade of the century.

Tome of the Undergates is my August book club read with Fantasy Faction. Before I go into details, I have to say that this isn't the kind of Fantasy novel that people are used to. To really get into this book, you have to understand who Sam Sykes is. If you're not already following him on Twitter at @SamSykesSwears then you really should. The energy and outrageous humour that you see in his tweets are clearly present in this book.

The book begins with a sea battle that lasts a quarter of the book, by far the longest battle scene I've ever read. During this sea battle, the adventurers are introduced. In other stories, readers learn about the characters when they were still young or through deeds that they performed. However Sykes introduces the adventurers in this book by having them constantly argue with each other. It's a different way of introducing the thinking and the believes of the characters to the reader but at times it just became too much and hindered the movement of the plot. I had difficulty remember who's who at certain points as it kept jumping between battle scenes and arguments.

Things began to pick up pace after this as the adventurers are tasked with the responsibility of retrieving the tome from the demons. The fight scenes are vividly described and visceral. At the same time the bantering between the characters become more bearable and I actually find myself enjoying the exchanges. Strangely this part reminds me of my time in boarding school. We had a wide range of characters just like the book and despite how much we might have liked or disliked each other, we were stuck on the same boat so to speak and can't get rid of each other.

I thought that towards the end of the book the quick pace would continue and the book would end with a cliffhanger but the energy that we found earlier died down instead. Despite this, there are some really great writing in the last few scenes that make you forgive the change of direction and makes you rethink if the natures of the characters.

The book is a little rough and pace uneven but when the book is good, it is really good and the series show a lot of promise. I'm sure the story will become tighter as Sykes hones his craft and gain more experience as a writer. I understand the criticisms this book receives and that it may not suit everyone's tastes but if you are looking for something different then do give this book a try! I'm dying to find out who is that voice in Lenk's head, what's up with Asper's arm and what will happen to the rest of the gang.