Thursday, March 29, 2012

Jumping That Bandwagon

So, I got a Kindle.

Some history: when I first heard about e-readers, I thought they were the stupidest thing ever. What, exactly, is the problem with a book? E-readers seemed to be a solution to a problem that didn't exist, which is the worst kind of technology. I also felt like the technology was kind of crappy; in particular it took a really long time for pages to flip. Either the technology has improved or my patience has (not likely), but that doesn't bother me anymore. I got the least expensive, most stripped-down Kindle, both because I am cheap and also because back-lighting hurts my eyes.

A lot of people get Kindles so they don't have to carry around doorstoppers. But I don't read doorstoppers (well, occasionally I do... Infinite Jest was the best book I read in 2010 and I don't care if that makes me sound pretentious), I'm a short story person. And I read a lot of short stories. Between online magazines and collections, short fiction comprises approximately 75% of what I read. I'm told this is unusual for a reader of this generation? I could go into reasons why short stories are a superior art form to novels but honestly, I mostly read them because I have the attention span of a mayfly.

So the breaking point for me was discovering Kindle Singles, and realizing that many of my favorite authors have short stories on Kindle that I can't get elsewhere, except in long out-of-print magazines. There's also free classics, which I'll probably take advantage of at some point, but honestly I'm still hung up on Kindle Singles like whoa.

The very first thing I downloaded was a collection of two short novels by the power team of Jonathan Lethem (who in my opinion is one of the top ten writers working today, and a real inspiration for my own fiction writing), John Kessel (who I've never read), and James Patrick Kelly (who I know mostly through his work as an editor). Both of these stories were published around a decade ago in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and don't appear in either of Lethem's short fiction collections.

The first story, "Ninety Percent of Everything," has a lot of Lethemesque touches, which you'll either love or think is too twee, depending on your tastes. You all know how my tastes run. Short recap: blue space dogs come to Earth to build massive shit piles that sprout diamonds. It does make sense in the end, and while the explanation might be a little too neat for some tastes, I was just thrilled to have a "new" Lethem novella. It's probably most similar to As She Climbed Across the Table in tone, and shares its delightfully screwy science.

The real gem, though, is the second story. "The True History of the End of the World" takes place in a world that seems too good to be true, a world brought to Utopia by that favorite bogeyman of SF writers, cryptically-referred-to-but-sinister-sounding brain surgery. Citizens who undergo the Carcopino-Koster treatment seem smarter and less prone to emotional outbursts, but to the non-treated, they're lobotomized zombies (a conclusion not borne out by the C-K people we see). The story follows a former President who plans to take down the C-K society with the rest of the inmates at his "accommodation farm," but finds out (through a series of character interactions that I won't go into here) that in fact, the "boost" is actually wholly beneficial, and the President and the rest of the inmates are the deluded ones for staring Utopia right in the face and not seeing it for what it is. This story does an inversion I've just never seen before, and is that rarest of finds: a fairly original idea.

Unlike reading on a computer screen, the immersion into whatever I'm reading is truly seamless. The fact that my Kindle doesn't have a touch screen makes it so I don't feel like throwing it across the room every time I use it (hi there, smartphone). I had a little bit of confusion with the directional buttons because I'm basically the least tech-oriented person ever but now I get it.

Will a Kindle make sense for you? I don't really know. To be honest I thought there might be a chance I would hate it and not ever use it, but I haven't picked up a "real" book since I got it. (Then again, I've only had it for a week.) I have a nice backlog of short stories to read now (including the digital version of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which is only 99 cents a month and has all the content of the print edition) and I think my readership of online magazines will probably suffer because of the Kindle, because I hate back-lighting so very much. The thing is, stripped-down Kindles are currently so cheap that even if you think you'll only use it a little, you should probably just buy one anyway. (Or a Nook. I'm not a brand snob. Although I do strongly prefer my Kindle to Rob's Nook, either because it doesn't have a touchscreen or because it's a slightly different shape, I don't know.)

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