Reading SF: Books vs Ebooks

For many years, I never really considered ebooks as “real” books, at least not in the same way that a physical hardback or paperback is a “real” book. There’s nothing solid, physical, to hold in your hand and browse through, to smell, and to put on the bookshelves and admire. I will ALWAYS prefer a real, physical book to any kind of electronic format. That’s the hardcore book collector side of me showing his face. But, as a mere reader, as opposed to a book collector, things have changed drastically for me in recent years.

For quite a few years now, I’ve been reading books in electronic format on my computer, in PDF, epub, mobi, doc, rtf, raw txt, and pretty much any other format that I can find, and for a quick, dirty read, these days I tend to prefer reading a story or book on my computer or e-reader. Things have changed to such an extent over the past ten years or so that I probably read more now in electronic format on my computer screen than I do from physical books. And, back in 2012, I bought myself an Amazon Kindle e-reader (3rd gen), and since then, I’ve been reading more and more SF in electronic format. The addition of a 10.1 inch Android tablet a couple of years ago has only added to the electronic reading experience, as I have it stocked up with books and both a Kindle and Epub reader to read them.

So I spend a lot more time actually reading books on my computer and my Kindle and Android tablets than I used to. The computer is on virtually from when I wake up until I go to sleep, and I can take my Kindle anywhere with me when I leave the house, with the hundreds of great SF books that I have loaded on it giving me virtually unlimited choice of reading material during those times when I’m bored or have time to kill on journeys or when visiting family.

There is also a weird psychological or habitual element to it all. Over the years, I’ve simply become used to reading more and more from computer or tablet screens and less and less from books. In many ways, I actually now find it easier to read on a Kindle or computer monitor than I do reading from a book. I guess I’m a living example of that demographic who spend most of their time staring at and reading from screens, and eventually find that they’ve changed so much on a psychological level that reading from a paper book is no longer the normal way to do it any more. It’s harder to concentrate on reading from a book for long periods without ignoring the addictive urge to get back to the computer screen.

I actually find it quite difficult now to read large amounts from a physical book, particularly fiction, without becoming restless, losing concentration, and finally putting the book down to go off and do something else. I used to NEVER be like that – a herd of wild horses couldn’t have dragged the old me away from a good book. Nowadays, I actually PREFER reading from a screen for prolonged periods vs reading from a book. This is hilariously ironic, coming from a guy who used to be an obsessive, non-stop reader of “real” books of all kinds, including novels, short story collections and anthologies.

I still buy lots and lots of books, but now primarily as a book collector. I read most fiction these days in electronic format. It seems that I’ve been split into two personas – the obsessive book collector, who will always prefer “real”, physical books, and the reader, who likes a quick, dirty read on his computer or Kindle. It’s much easier to carry hundreds of books around on a Kindle, and it certainly is a huge space-saver, not having to clutter up the house with yet more paperbacks (I’ve long ago run out of space, and my home is already totally cluttered up with paperbacks), and the Kindle certainly seems to have replaced the mass market paperback for me, leaving the buying of physical, print books mostly in hardback or trade paperback for more collectible books or my favourite authors.

Reading ebooks has also expanded my reading scope in many ways, not only with classic SF, but with modern and new authors that I would never have tried out in traditional book format. I also tend to buy the ebooks of authors that I like to read, for reading purposes, and then go and buy the hardback as a collectible as well, to put it on my bookshelves and admire it. Since I bought my Kindle four years ago, I’ve also been buying lots of SF at bargain basement prices, including not only stuff from new authors but also huge numbers of cheap Kindle author collections and anthologies of vintage and classic SF.

So now I reckon that it’s long past time that I start listing and recommending a few of these ebooks on this blog, in addition to the print books I’ve been collecting. And rightfully so, too, as they make up a huge percentage of my SF reading material these days.

In my next post, I’ll be taking a first look at a series of classic SF anthologies called The Golden Age of Science Fiction, which has been running for at least fifteen volumes (so far). Beginning with Vol. I and working my way through to Vol. XV, that should keep me going for quite a few posts.

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Sci-Fi Cinema vs Sci-Fi TV – The Verdict?

I rarely go to the cinema any more, if at all. The last film that I went to see was The Avengers, four years ago in 2012. Before that, it was X-Men: First Class in 2011, Avatar and Star Trek, way back in 2009, and The Dark Knight, in 2008. All in all, I think I’ve been to the cinema no more than a half dozen times since my son died, back in April 2006.

Why? For starters, the cost. Going to the cinema is an expensive pursuit these days, and the cost of admission alone isn’t much less than the price of a DVD. Then on top of that, you have to factor in the transport costs to and from the cinema, plus paying out for something nice to eat afterwards or during the film. It can make for a costly night out, and it just might be cheaper to go to the pub instead.

So is it worth paying that kind of money just to watch a film, particularly when the chances of being badly disappointed by any new Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster are unfortunately extremely high? The quality of the typical big Hollywood sci-fi movie over the past couple of decades has been absolutely dire, especially when we look back at how good the classic sci-fi films of the 1950s-1980s were by comparison. I don’t even bother going to see most films at the cinema at all these days, no matter how much they’re hyped. I simply prefer to wait for the DVD to come out and watch the film in the comfort of my own home. The fact is that, for me, the cinema is no longer the essential large viewing experience that it once was.

In years past, if I wanted to watch the film on a large screen, I HAD to go to the cinema. Now I have a lovely big widescreen TV at home, I can buy the DVD when it comes out, and watch it as often as I like (with subtitles, pause, rewind, etc) in the comfort of my own home, either alone, or with friends. So Why bother forking out a load of cash to go to the cinema, where there are all kinds of annoyances (mobile phones flashing non-stop throughout the film, disruptive cretins yapping incessantly and misbehaving, annoying kids kicking the back of your seat, people walking up and down the isles or back and forth in front of you during the film, the inevitable sore backside sitting on those crappy cinema seats, which makes the last hour or so VERY uncomfortable during longer films, etc), when, for a less than £20, I can have the DVD, a few cans of beer (a pleasant bonus when viewing at home, but strictly verboten in cinemas), and lie back on the sofa and enjoy the film on my BIG television in comfort and in peace and quiet?

But the most important reason? It’s illustrated by a remark made by friend and fellow member (Dennis Howard) over on the FanCentral social network a few years ago. He said (in words to this effect) that he rarely watches (modern) sci-fi films any more, because he’s very rarely impressed by them, and because all of the best sci-fi is happening on television anyway, not in film. It’s a spot-on observation, in my opinion, and one that I agree with very strongly. There’s only so much you can squeeze into a two-hour film, and when you consider that most modern Hollywood sci-fi movies are mostly made up of action sequences, big explosions and special effects, it doesn’t leave much time for anything else. As a result, two of the most important things that should be paramount, but tend to suffer badly in newer Hollywood movies, are the actual stories/plots and character development. I almost always walk away from the cinema afterwards feeling dissatisfied about those two aspects of a film.

This is where television has cinema beaten hands down. Old-style sci-fi television was strictly episodic in nature, with a built-in reset button at the end of every episode. But Babylon 5 changed all that back in the 90s, and today, most decent modern sci-fi series can have intricate on-going plot arcs and sub-plots that simply are not possible in a two-hour film, and the same holds true for the ongoing character development of both the main and the supporting cast. Add to this the fact that modern special effects on TV have reached such a high level of technical quality and sophistication that television sci-fi no longer looks cheap and cheesy, and we can see that most decent sci-fi concepts would be better served in a television series than in a film. Hey, even if the series gets cancelled after one or two seasons (an ever-present danger with the TV networks), we still get a LOT more than we ever would from a two-hour movie.

Sure, I still buy the best of the films on DVD, although they do tend to be older sci-fi cinema classics rather than modern films. But these past couple of years, I’ve turned more and more to television shows, and taken to buying DVD boxsets of classic and modern sci-fi series. I started off with buying classic older series such as Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel, UFO, The Tomorrow People, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Time Tunnel, Timeslip, Children of the Stones, Sky, Quatermass, The Invaders, Fireball XL5, Space Patrol, Moonbase 3, Babylon 5, the X-Files, Stargate SG1/Atlantis/Universe, Quantum Leap, and Star Trek TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY/ENT. But I’ve also been grabbing boxsets of more modern series as they’ve come down in price – Fringe, BSG, Heroes, Smallville, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, NuWho and a few others. I just wait patiently for new stuff to be released on DVD at reasonable prices, and buy them.

I’ve pretty much adopted the same policy as Dennis, to concentrate mostly on sci-fi television series, but take that further to such an extent that my objective has become one of grabbing as many classic sci-fi television series as I possibly can on DVD. Aside from having all these old gems to watch, it also gives me a lot more to talk about here on my blog, on FanCentral, and in any of the other geek forums that I hang out in. Which can only be a good thing, if I do say so myself. 🙂