Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Creating An E-Book Experience

Strange as it seems there doesn't seem to be a very straightforward way of converting your novel into an e-book for Amazon. When I first tried it out way back in 2012 with 'Threshold Shift' I believed it was just a case of doing the word doc, putting in some chapter links and then submitting it to the Amazon Kindle website referred to as KDP. The resulting Kindle mobi file was readable, but for some reason you had to use enlarge the text as by default it was very very small with no apparent option to change it and there was no proper alignment or chapter breaks to make for easy navigation.

This lead too much head scratching at the time. You'd think there would be a simple way of converting the word doc to kindle using some sort of step by step program with lots of 'next' buttons. But for some reason there wasn't and after a few weeks of on off trawling of the internet, I found out that the KDP site doesn't actually like word docs, instead it wants you to use HTML, and apparently word docs don't convert into HTML very well even if you attempt to save them as HTML files. The result was the same, readable text but too small and not aligned correctly. Hardly a great experience for someone reading the book.

Then someone at my writing group told me about a program called calibre, a free piece of downloadable software that could do the conversions for you and make them look professional. Unfortunately, Calibre like KDP did not accept word docs either, you still had to save the document as HTML and that was still problematic. Enter more free software, OpenOffice. I found that if I opened my word doc in OpenOffice and saved it as an HTML file, that file was good and ready for conversion. Onto Calibre, convert to mobi file, use the option to create a Table Of Contents, and Voila, the resultant preview on my Kindle was amazing. I then jumped back onto the KDP site and tried to download my new good looking and working mobi file. KDP wouldn't accept it. Something in the file, while compatible with my Kindle, was not compatible with KDP. More frustration and a deep questioning of why Amazon didn't make this experience easier and a better understanding on why professional formatters charged money to convert your word document into a mobi file.

The solution at last presented itself on a discussion page. Don't create a mobi file using calibre, create an epub file instead. Then use the kindle previewer to open the epub file and it automatically converts into a mobi file. This is a mobi file that is compatible with KDP, does look good, is the a good size, is aligned correctly and if you have created a Table Of Contents it puts in Chapter breaks which you can use the arrow keys on your Kindle to navigate. So, got there in the end, but well aware that I may need a different solution in the future. All things being equal KDP may change in time.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August by Claire North - Review

This is a story about a man who relives his life fifteen times, hence the title, and clocks up around eight hundred years of experience living through the same points in history again and again from 1919 to the end, and very rarely, beyond the 20th Century. He is the illegitimate son of a rich family, the product of rape, pain and the death of his mother. His first life is not a happy one and his second one is ended by suicide. After that things change, he accumulates knowledge by virtue of an infallible memory. He becomes a medical doctor, a scientist, a college don, a journalist, a mechanic, to name but a few of his occupations. After being revealed and tortured by the authorities in one life he finds there are many others like him stretching throughout time, each living their lives over and over as he does, when creation replays again and again.

Each time it replays identically except for these few who know it is repeating and have the freedom to make different choices. Then there is an enemy, one of Harry's kind who seeks to learn an ultimate truth and is willing to sacrifice whole iterations and generations of his own kind in order to achieve it. The story not only centres on Harry's life, but his friendship with this man, and his fight against him.

The author has created a complex tapestry of cause and effect, all woven around extensive research of 20th Century events. The story is also told from Harry's point of view, but not a Harry who experiences as we the reader experiences. This is the old Harry recounting his life with all the wisdom and benefit of hindsight, an ancient who can remember his very beginnings, his feelings and rationale, but always with a certain distance. We never feel as if the character is in any real danger, but the vivid recollection of his experiences and the mainly non linear approach to the narrative make this book almost impossible to put down. I was captivated by it, and I could very easily believe that Harry August was real, telling his story, and it all happened just as he said. I read this in two days flat despite work and family commitments because I had no choice in the matter. I needed to know what happened next, the author had that power.

Where does it fall down? Well, the logic of cause and effect. I can understand that Harry is born again and again and that is possible if he is alone in that condition. All the circumstances leading up to his birth, every coincidence, every incident, every flap of a butterfly's wings, would repeat flawlessly in each iteration of time to create him anew. However, if there are others born before him then circumstances change. Even if just a few hundred of his kind exist before he did, they live different lives each time, which in turn would create different effects spreading forward in time. Even if the general flow of time remained the same, it is the smallest details that would change, the difference between crossing the road at a certain time, or missing a train. Time would change. Instead the novel posits that time can only be changed by a tipping point in events. As long as the repeaters do not change things too much, time plays out identically around them. It is only when one of their number, Vincent Rankin, decides to speed up the advancement of science for his own end that time becomes broken.

The only way to kill Harry, Vincent, and the others for good, is to find a point of origin and have someone born beyond that point murder the parent before the child can be born. Under the rules of the novel, once this happens a person dies for good and can never be reborn again. Time is reset because the changes they made are never made in the next iteration of creation.

I loved this book, and despite the cause and effect logic not quite working, it didn't matter to me. In the context of the story I accepted those rules. It is a compelling read, and while it does echo some of the themes of the novel 'Replay' by Ken Grimwood, it feels thoroughly original in its approach and execution. It has action, but at its heart it is a contemplation of eternity and of living without end. What choices would you make?

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

SFX Weekender 2015

This last weekend I had the privilege of meeting such sci-fi alumni as Sylvester McCoy, (The Seventh Doctor Who - if you didn't know), Julian Glover (Credits too numerous to mention, but notable to me for 'Quatermass And The Pit', 'For Your Eyes Only' and 'Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade) and James Cosmo (Highlander, Braveheart, Game Of Thrones).

Sylvester McCoy was funny and energetic on stage, but unfortunately by the time I got him to sign my Curse Of Fenric DVD he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. My ticket was 142, which gives you an idea of how many things he had already signed.

Julian Glover, the consummate villain is 80 this week, has hearing problems but nevertheless was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. They say this about actors who play villains, and it turns out to be true. I can only surmise that all their 'evil' is drained away by the acting process leaving only goodness behind. He told an interesting story about his death mask from Indiana Jones, which was lying in his garage until his wife forced him to throw it out. A few years later a dealer offered him £17000 for it. He was mortified.

James Cosmo is tall, tough and very friendly, even though I could barely say two words to him, he still shook my hand and posed for a photo. One anecdote from his long career was taking a thirteen year old Christian Bale scuba diving and his greatest regret was never being cast as a romantic lead.

I also went to a lot of science fiction author panels and met the likes of Gareth Powell, Bryony Pearce and Danie Ware. Gareth has written various novels about a brain enhanced monkey named Ack Ack Macaque as well as a book of short stories call 'The Last Reef'. I have to admit to preferring his short stories which are eloquent and stick in the mind. The man himself was big, looming over me, well spoken but maybe a little held back. Bryony Pearce has written books I have not had the pleasure of reading and was very forgiving when I almost sat on her later in the evening. (The chairs in the arena are not very wide). Danie Ware was happy to answer many of my questions even when I realised they were questions she had been asked very recently already. I can't say I learnt anything new about writing, but that in itself was reassuring, as by listening and speaking to the authors I discovered I'm on the right track at least.

Cosplay wise there was an awesome Chewbacca there, a Michael Keaton Batman near perfect, an array of Judge Dredds, Darth Vaders, a Nicholas Angel, a Poison Ivy looking similar to a Jean Grey Phoenix and many many more. They did a good job of walking up to people and trying to catch them unawares. The weather was good, the people were friendly, and the food was edible. A good weekend had by all and a solar eclipse thrown in on the bargain.

Will I go again? We'll see.