Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Book Review: The Stand by Stephen King

About the Book

First came the days of the plague…

After the days of the plague came the dreams.

Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil.

His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms…

My Review (3 / 5 Stars)

This is probably the lowest rating I've ever given a Stephen King book. And I was really torn between three and four stars.

Allow me to explain:

First of all, I really enjoyed the story. It's incredibly well plotted and detailed, and the characters are all very fleshed out. The writing, in general, is exquisitely good, as it typical of "Uncle Stevie".

The thing is, this book is LONG. I bought it on Kindle, and I inadvertently bought the "unabridged version", which is supposed to contain over 400 extra pages, that weren't included in the original because of financial concerns at the publisher. Since I'd never read the story before, and knew next to nothing about it, I wasn't to know.

Having now read it over the course of just under a month and a half, I can say with confidence that it could've done without those extra 400 pages. And I could tell pretty easy which pages weren't in the original because they're mostly the ones that need some editing care. It's plain as day, actually, that certain scenes, certain chapters, in some cases whole characters, were simply "bolted on".

People tell me that The Stand is the scariest book they've ever written. Well, fear is very subjective, because I hardly found it scary at all. It was a bit creepy at times (most notably the ouija board scene), but nothing I would call "scary". It IS a very religious story, and maybe the reason why I wasn't particularly scared is because of my religious background, and the fact that I was able to separate the things that I KNOW could happen (and do happen) in real life, from the things that couldn't.

I will say that my first encounter with Randall Flagg was a good one. He may just be the best villain ever conceived. Which book featuring him should I read next?​

Buy Now

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Morality of Self-Driving Cars

About two years ago, I wrote a flash fiction story called "An Automatic Decision", which you can find in the flash fiction collection, Heaven and Earth: Paranormal Flash Fiction.

In it, I speculated what might happen if a self-driving car had to make a decision between saving the life of its driver, and saving the life on an innocent bystander.

When I wrote it, I had no idea how prophetic that would turn out to be. I read an article yesterday on Co,Exist, entitled Self-Driving Mercedes Will Be Programmed To Sacrifice Pedestrians To Save The Driver. Here's a quote from that article:

One of the biggest debates about driverless cars concerns the moral choices made when programming a car's algorithms. Say the car is spinning out of control, and on course to hit a crowd queuing at a bus stop. It can correct its course, but in doing so, it'll kill a cyclist for sure. What does it do? Mercedes's answer to this take on the classic Trolley Problem is to hit whichever one is least likely to hurt the people inside its cars. If that means taking out a crowd of kids waiting for the bus, then so be it.

Scary, isn't it?

I don't know about you, but if you ask me, that's definitely a decision that should be left up to the driver!

Maybe the driver should be able to set some parameters beforehand, to tell the car what should happen in that situation.

Of course, it would be ideal if the car could do what it did in An Automatic Decision, which would be to stop time. But that's not going to happen, now is it?

What do you think? Should a self-driving car be allowed to make a call between saving a single human life, and potentially dozens?

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Any Other Indie Authors on Google Play?

Let's face it, Android is the most popular smartphone operating system in the world today.

And Android comes bundled with, among other Google Play apps, Google Play Books.

Yet, you don't hear of very many independent authors' books being available there... at least, I haven't.

Well, I am very happy to announce that, from this week, mine will be!

You won't find all my books immediately. I'm adding them in drips and drabs. But if you have an Android smartphone or tablet, please check back often; within the next week or so, you'll be able to get every one of my books on Google Play.

Click here to visit my author page at Google Play Books.

As a reader, have you ever purchased books from Google Play? If so, what do you think of the service? Is it convenient? What's their e-reader like?

(Note: I am in no way affiliated with Google Play. My books just happen to be available on the platform.)

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Your/You're, There/Their/They're - I Think I Know Why

The image above says it all, doesn't it?

If you've been on the Internet for more than six months, chances are you've run into people who confuse "your" and "you're".

Maybe you've even been guilty of it yourself.

Well, I have a theory as to where the confusion comes from.

When I was growing up, it never occurred to me that anybody could confuse those two words. In fact, the first I heard of it was back in 1998 (at the tender age of 18 years), when I first got online.

I think it stems from the fact that most Americans (depending on where in North America you live) pronounce "your" and "you're" as homophones - something like "yure". Come to think of it, that's probably where the chat/SMS abbreviation "ur" comes from, which is used for both words... although I've also seen people using "ur" exclusively to abbreviate "your" and "ure" to abbreviate "you're".

But I digress. As a South African, I've never pronounced either of those words that way. I grew up pronouncing "your" as "yore" (As in, "Days of yore"), and when I say it, "you're" sounds more like "you-er".

Now, to me, "there" and "their" are homophones, and so I will admit to occasionally getting those two mixed up. But "they're" sounds nothing whatsoever like them - similarly to "you're", I pronounce it as something like "they-er".

While it started as an American thing, I've seen quite a few South Africans getting it wrong over the last few years - and I think that has to do with the proliferation of American culture into our lives; not only from movies and TV shows, but in general because we interact with Americans more and more on a daily basis.

What do you think? Have you ever misused any of those four words? If so, do you agree with my analysis, that it's the American accent that's the "problem"?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Transport: Premium Children's Colouring Books

Well, it's arrived. "Animals" has done so well, that my wife and I thought we'd speed up the production of our second colouring book together.

This one's called "Transport: Premium Children's Colouring Books":

Cars, bikes, planes, tanks, horses, boats... If your child loves all the different ways we get around, and they love colouring, what are you waiting for? ;-)

Get it at Lulu.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Book Review: The Traveler's Companion by Christopher John Chater

About the Book

After the death of his wife, Dr. Ryan Iverson turned love into a weapon. His creation, Angela, is an android that fools her targets into falling helplessly in love with her. As Deputy Director of Science and Technology at the CIA, his mission is to use Angela to seduce and destroy internationally wanted playboy and illicit travel book writer C.C. Go. His series of books,The Traveler's Companion, is an infamous guide for wealthy hedonists to indulge their every whim. The newest edition, however, only has one destination: the Zone, a place where mind creates matter, where the sick can be healed with a thought, and where a man's fantasies are made manifest. Dr. Iverson may be the only one who understands the potential dangers in a place C.C. Go calls the womb of creation: Reality doesn't stand a chance. 

"Solaris" meets "The Thomas Crown Affair."

My Review (4 / 5 Stars)

Pretty early on in this book, one of the characters postulates that God exists, and announces that he's going to prove it using M Theory.

There are some complicated topics around quantum physics discussed in this book, but I didn't once feel out of my depth - even though quantum physics is a subject that normally confuses the stuffing out of me! I think that's because the author researched his topic extremely well (or he's a physicist himself), and he's extremely good at explaining things in layman's terms.

I won't tell you whether this character succeeded or not, but the basic premise of this book is that a rift has been found between reality and another dimension called The Zone. 

At the same time, the protagonist, a CIA scientist by the name of Dr Iverson is working on an android woman, an artificial intelligence which he hopes to use to capture some of the CIA's most wanted criminals... by making them fall in love with her and divulge all their secrets.

It may sound a bit silly, but I actually found it quite plausible, and the situations quite believable. Other than the odd typo or grammatical faux pas, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters have depth, the settings are well defined, and the plots and subplots are just intricate enough to keep you thinking, but not so much as to bog you down and confuse you.

If you're into science fiction and thrillers (i.e. technothrillers), you won't be disappointed in this book.

Buy the Book

Click here to buy the book from your favourite online retailer.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

"Animals: Premium Children's Colouring Books" has Arrived. And it is Beautiful!

Way back in June, I announced that my wife and I had published a colouring book for children, called Animals: Premium Children's Colouring Books.

I published it through the print-on-demand service, Lulu.com, and ordered proofs.

The proofs finally arrived this past Thursday, and I took some photos. Aren't they beautiful?

I sold one to one of my work colleagues on Friday, for his four-year-old son. He came back to me yesterday (Monday), to say that his son loved it, and has in fact already coloured in two pictures!

Want a Copy?

If you've got young children (up to, I would say, about seven) who enjoy colouring, I urge you to consider picking up a copy.

Right now, you can order copies from Lulu, but in the coming weeks I'm hoping that it will start showing up in more and more online retailers' catalogues, so with any luck you'll be finding it in your favourite store soon!