14 September 2014
I'm in the middle of several books at the moment. I've always been a voracious reader, but as of late I've been savoring the time I spend reading that little bit more, perhaps because I can't spend as much time doing it as I could when I was younger.
Fortunately I have a wealth of opportunities to fit in some reading time every day, assuming I can count listening to an audiobook as reading*.
The majority of my reading these days happens on my beloved Nook Touch, which I consider to be just about perfect for an e-reader, for its size, comfortable and grippable case, easy-to-read and clear screen, generous battery life, and reasonably easy navigation. Having not expanded it with a MicroSD card, nor rooted it, I can't quite fill it to capacity, and it has some metadata limitations, but I nevertheless have over a hundred books at hand anytime I have the device handy.
I think of when I first started using it, reading Neal Stephenson's Reamde with one hand while giving my baby daughter a bottle with the other arm. While I'm fairly adept at reading, there's little chance I would have been able to hold that thousand-plus page, several pound behemoth, let alone read it one-handed. I'll always be fond of the book for finally breaking me free of my former stubbornness that missing the binding, cover, and paper pages would keep me from enjoying reading somehow. Happily, I was wrong and have read seemingly a couple hundred books since then.
While I may be fond of the book, I often cite a specific complaint when I talk about it. To oversimplify things considerably, and yet protect spoiler-averse readers who may yet want to enjoy it, I'll be vague. In part the book is about a virtual world, a massive multiplayer online game which, discussed in detail, brings up many interesting aspects one wouldn't initially think to be part of a game, touching on psychology, economics, and spun-off technology. Among the digressions in the book is a several page account of how in-game enemies in particular zones are actually generated in part using security cameras in airports, allowing unwitting users to actually help secure physical areas and help keep real people safe. The explanation goes on to infer that there would be other potential uses for this technology and its distributed, willing workforce, and then the narrative goes elsewhere.
Later, though, when the protagonists face a situation that would certainly be solvable by a similar mapping of the real world task to the gamers, nobody even seems to consider it a possibility. I don't know why this seems to bug me so much, but I find myself bringing it up much of the time I talk about the book. I nevertheless would not dissuade anyone from reading it. I certainly enjoyed it at the time, and overall liked it.
Two of the books I'm reading right now are Lock in by John Scalzi and Exo by Stephen Gould. Scalzi is an author I've enjoyed, and the Gould book is yet another sequel in a series I have liked since I read the first one, Jumper, a long time ago.
At the beginning of Lock in, while Scalzi is setting the stage for the story, he explains a number of things but one term in particular he doesn't. In context it works, since he's ostensibly reproducing an information dump that wouldn't need to explain what an "integrator" would be, since it's something everybody would already know in-universe while they might otherwise not be familiar with all the details of the rest of the disease plaguing the world at the time. A few chapters in, though, two characters are having a discussion, and the integrator concept comes up naturally in conversation, and without even a line of direct explanation, it becomes clear to the reader what that means (and it soon is quite relevant to the story).
I'm actually hearing this, not reading it, and while the narration continued I got distracted, smiling and thinking about how cleverly Scalzi had avoided the typical science fiction exposition dump that can otherwise derail a good story or at least be distracting (think, perhaps, of criticisms about Tom Clancy and his descriptions of louvers on helicopters or some such). Well written, that part, and I've been enjoying the rest of the book as well, fifteen chapters in out of some twenty or thirty.
Another thing I noticed, early in the text, was a seemingly irrelevant aside about a particular facility. Since the book just came out I'm going to be vague, but suffice to say I've read enough books to recognize "Chekhov's gun":
"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."
Anton Chekhov, from S. Shchukin, Memoirs. 1911
I have my suspicions about what might end up happening to this place that would otherwise barely merit a footnote. I can't help but notice it, I suppose, and it's only because I know that things are going to get worse in the book that I would even have suspicions that it could come into play. It's only a slight distraction, but again, one that catches my attention.
At the same time, (on the reader) I'm quite a bit further into Exo. It has been a while since I read the last proper Jumper-series book (the novelization and tie-ins of the less-than-great movie adaptation are best left out of this discussion), and while I may have forgotten the particulars of some events from past books, I recognize the characters well enough and am delighted by what they're up to these days. Sometimes I have even laughed out loud. With just forty virtual pages left, I'm not quite sure how things will end up, but I look forward to reading it in the next day or two.
Once again I think I know where particular things (well, people) are going, though, and it doesn't seem like the characters in the book have made the connections yet. I think what bugs me is when, whilst reading about genius-level characters, I can put the pieces together before they do. It doesn't make me feel smart; instead it makes me feel like the author is giving away too much.
So did it bug me when particular characters in Exo ended up where I "just knew" they would, seemingly well before they figured it out? I think it does a little bit, or I wouldn't be writing this. Is it something I'll complain about like the Reamde thing? Will I groan with the same sort of recognition when the same sort of thing happens in Lock in? Only time will tell.
* The idea for this post occurred to me while I was out walking in my neighborhood, listening to Amber Benson reading the aforementioned Lock in. I can't safely read and walk at the same time, even on a treadmill, and to be perfectly honest was getting too dark to read anyway.