Cover of "The Complete Robot (Robot Serie...

Cover of The Complete Robot (Robot Series)

I don’t know why I never got round to reading it. I picked it up in a charity shop eons ago. The cover showed its age and the title didn’t seem that exciting. Even the blurb on the back of the book failed to motivate any kind of desire to read it. How wrong I was.

I tend to find books where politics form the central thread of the story tedious. There are some notable exceptions; The Song of Ice and Fire trilogy by George Martin the main one that springs to mind. I also have low tolerance for books that don’t grab me early in the story. So I didn’t have high expectations. Despite all that, Foundation is the best science fiction novel I’ve ever read.

The central premise of the story is interesting. The behaviour of any sufficiently large society can be mapped and predicted using mathematical models. Professor Hari Sheldon, as a Psychohistorian predicts the downfall of the empire using such mathematical models. There is no way to avoid it, but the effects are mitigated by forming the Foundation.

The story rattles along at a cracking pace as the epochs unfold. Each epoch requires a different set of skills and a different set of people to come to the fore. The scale of the story is sometimes staggering, but as a writer, I can appreciate the crispness of Isaac Asimov‘s prose. The end of every era is marked by a crisis as the new epoch is born. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I was genuinely disappointed when the book finished. 

I went to the local bookshop to pick up the sequels, only to find that they were out of stock. Impatient to get another dose of Asimov, I picked up the Complete Robot anthology. All of the 31 stories revolve around the robots of the US Robotics and Mechanical Men corporation and the nuances of the 3 laws of robotics. Some might think that such a subject would be severely limiting, but there is huge variety in the stories. My personal favourite is Reason where the robots decide that the best way to obey first law is to start locking the humans up.

By a sheer stroke of coincidence the day after I finished the series I, Robot came on the TV. I have yet to read the story, but I couldn’t turn down the chance of some visual Asimov goodness. The character names and the terminology used are reminiscent of the world I’ve come to know and love, but it’s almost as if they put together all the ingredients of a good Asimov robot story and threw half of them away. Not a bad film, but somehow a wasted opportunity.

I can’t wait for someone to create a film version of Foundation. In the meantime, I’m patiently waiting for the next books in the series.

The psychology of ebooks


books (Photo credit: brody4)

I enjoy writing. It’s like a new hobby to me and I try to write something whenever I get the opportunity. I don’t know about anyone else, but when I get a new hobby, I spend a lot of time reading about it. I don’t just want to be a writer – I want to be a good writer – so I have read blogs, magazines and articles on how to improve. The one piece of advice that almost all of them contain is that avid writers should read lots of books.

So I have made a concerted effort to read more. Like most budding technologists, I have the ability to read ebooks. I have Kindle installed on every device I have and have a nice little collection of ebooks in my library. This means that these titles are available to me pretty much everywhere.

I also have a big pile of crusty old physical books as well. There are shelves and shelves of them in our house. I regularly buy more of them – typically from the charity shop. Unlike the ebooks, I have to make a conscious choice to carry these books with me if I’m going to read them. So in theory, they are available to me much less often than their electronic equivalents. The odd thing is, my ebook library is littered with unfinished reads, whereas I’ve flown through the last 10 physical books I picked up from the charity shop. How does this make sense?

Either consciously or unconsciously, my preference is to read the physical manifestation of the text rather than the electronic. I do find reading a very emotive, tactile experience. I like the smell of old books. I like well read books from the charity shop because it reassures me on some level that other people have enjoyed that title too.

The physical form factor is important too. I need to feel like I am making progress through the book, so I prefer books with larger text and shorter chapters. I know that the font size can be set in electronic books, but somehow, the effect is not the same. When you are reading a physical book, you can easily see how far you are through by looking a the block of pages read compared to the pages you still have to read. I know that I can see that numerically at the base of my kindle screen, but again – it’s just not the same.

There are a few other downsides too. I can pick up a superb potboiler from the charity shop for 50p, but prices for ebooks seem far too high considering there are no raw materials or distribution costs. Once I have finished my physical book, I can lend it to someone else or even take it back to the charity shop for someone else to enjoy. I can’t do that with my ebooks.

There are good things about electronic books such as the anonymity – nobody knows what you are reading which surely helped the recent success of the 50 Shades trilogy. They are also weightless – apart from the device itself (which many people carry anyway) – each book adds no weight or bulk.

But when it comes to ebooks – colour me a Luddite.