The iPad is a notebook replacement

Er…so…I bought an iPad. I tried to resist, but Steve kept telling me that I wanted one, and in the end I just gave up and bought one.

I’m still not entirely sure whether I really like the iPad, or whether Steve is telling me that I like the iPad. I feel like I might be a character in Inception, my liking for the iPad implanted in a dream by Apple’s secret operatives. But, putting that suspicion aside, the iPad seems to be genuinely useful device, which I’ve found I like a lot.

There are some things about the iPad that it is very easy to take for granted or ignore all together. It’s light, no heavier than a hard back book but much slenderer. It has a really bright screen that you can see clearly from any angle. It has a ten hour battery life, so you can use it all day without worrying about plug sockets. And it is incredibly intuitive to use, almost as intuitive as a plain old notebook.

Which is what the iPad really is. A notebook. A very clever notebook, which can also play videos and music. But basically, a notebook. It does not replace my phone, or my laptop (although on 4 days out of 5 it can replace my laptop), what it replaces is the notebook and pen I carry with me.

At any given time I have a lot of things going on in my head. This week for example, I have been:

  • Writing an annual report and business plan
  • Collating the programme for a reading festival
  • Drafting and posting various blog posts
  • Redrafting a short story
  • Reading the new Ted Chiang novella, and making notes for a review
  • Having meetings with partners for a (top secret) new project
  • Commenting and responding to various discussions online, and managing various websites and social networks
  • Anything that my notebook would contribute to these tasks, the iPad does better. It’s an excellent tool for getting all of those thoughts out of my head, organized and drafted as documents. It stores all the reading material I need for these tasks, and is great for reading them on. It’s also great for other people to read them on, which makes the iPad invaluable in meetings. And the iPad is great for managing social media of all kinds.

    The iPad is a digital notebook, and makes sense when you think of it as the first stage to getting creative thoughts out of your head and in to the world. It’s a very personal computer, that you can always have with you, is always on, and can collect, organise and develop lots of information in a huge number if different ways. It’s also what makes the iPad exciting going forward, because it’s only the start of what technology can do in this role. I’m excited to see what comes next.

    Where is the Booker winning SF?

    The Man Booker prize longlist was announced yesterday. It’s a subject I haven’t been shy coming forward about in the past, having previously stated my hatred for the prize and accusing it of ignorance and bigotry. And this years longlist does nothing to raise my opinion of the award. Narrow and elitist are about the politest terms I can find for it.

    I’m willing to admit my dislike of the award is not entirely fair. It is, ultimately, an award for the genre of literary fiction. It only considers literary fiction, and draws a narrow definition even within that narrow genre. It does publicise some well written books and talented authors, who are generally lucky to sell a few hundred copies of their books. Given the very small readership for most literary fiction, it’s not surprising that the genre jealously guards an award like The Booker, to the exclusion of all other genres of fiction. But it does call in to question the disproportionate attention paid to the award in the media and elsewhere. It’s a great shame, because The Booker could so easily be a much more valuable award, if it only looked broadly across contemporary fiction to find the most intelligent writing, regardless of genre.

    But my argument with The Booker has hit a stumbling point this year. In previous years there were clear books and authors within the SF genre that would deserve a place on The Booker longlist, or even the prize itself. Books that crossed the divide between SF and Lit.Fic, combining the best values of both. Last year China Mieville’s The City and The City was a clear contender. Titles that spring to mind in the last few decades include M John Harrison’s Light, Look to Windward (in my opinion the best of Iain M Banks Culture novels), Neuromancer by William Gibson (qualifying I think as a commonwealth writer), Accelerando by Charlie Stross, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

    But this year, I don’t see a stand-out candidate for the prize within the SF genre. Perhaps my reading has missed the really great SF books this year. Or perhaps the current conservatism in publishing has pushed SF that experiments with literary values off the shelves. Where are the SF books that could take this years Booker prize?

    Why E-Books Are Winning

    I’ve spent a good part of this evening reading an e-book on my iPhone. Which, since getting the new iPhone 4 with the excellent high definition Retina display, has become a regular activity. Combined with the iBooks and Kindle apps, the iPhone is a great e-reader, and has displaced my Sony Pocket, primarily because it is so simple to get books on the iPhone and I always have it with me. The size of the screen is not to everyones tastes, but the larger iPad and other readers solve that issue. And sooner rather than later there will be an e-reader almost identical to paper books. Whatever your reading tastes, there will be an e-reader to suit.

    But its not because of technology that e-books are wining, although it helps. Its because of how e-books are changing my relationship with the writers I want to read.

    The other thing I have done this evening (other than meet some friends for a drink) is enjoy some social networking. Facebook and Twitter between them are now a regular evening activity, as they are for hundreds of millions of people. I don’t think I need to argue the case for social networks as a major revolution in our cultural lives, as important in the 21st Century as television was in the 20th. Social networks are a different experience for their many different users. If you like music or fashion, your social network will be full of those things. If you like reading, its likely your social network will include many writers.  Certainly mine includes hundreds of writers whose work I love in one way or another.

    And more than anything else, its my social network that is driving my reading choices now. The writers whose books and stories I’m reading are also the ones I’m following in the blogosphere, or chatting with on Twitter or Facebook. These social mediums are great for writers, who are perfectly adapted for what is largely a text driven social media world. In social media, writers are able to build a direct relationship with the niche audiences who love their work. Its a model that has been evolving alongside the evolving internet. But it seems to me that e-books have now provided the last piece of the puzzle.

    By their nature, social networks are very transitory. They consist of many light-weight relationships, that change quickly over time. If I become interested in a writer through their social network, it does not follow I will go and buy their book in a shop, or even order it online. But there is a good chance I will download a sample chapter from the Kindle store or iBooks. And if the book catches me then, I will definitely buy it. E-books allow a writers social network to directly feed readers towards their books, in a way that paper books really do not. As social networks become ever more central to the work of writers, e-books are becoming the primary way writers get their work to readers.

    Bizarro fiction. It’s Shatnertastic!

    Jeff Burk’s Shatnerquake is the story of William Shatner. Yes: Wiliam Shatner. All of the characters he has ever played are suddenly sucked into our world on a mission to hunt down and destroy the real William Shatner. As one Amazon reviewer insightfully states, if you have ever wondered what would happen if William Shatner came face to face with the incarnation of every character he ever played, then “this is the book for you”. It is also, undeniably, Shatnertastic.

    Read more @ The Guardian

    Show Me the (Urban Fantasy) Money

    So. Jeff Vandermeer has called on me as ‘someone who comes from the old-school urban fantasy and an appreciation for it’ to ‘investigate and report back’ on the current state of the urban fantasy genre.

    Now. Jeff knows of my abiding love for the urban fantasy genre, not just because I mentioned it in asking the question Who Reads Urban Fantasy? not so long ago on this blog, but because we’ve talked some about the genre. So I’m going to take on Jeff’s challenge. And I want your help to do it.

    Let me be frank. There is a lot of urban fantasy being published. A LOT. Like any genre cresting the wave of popularity, much of it will, inevitably, be bad. If we are to believe Sturgeons Law that 90% of everything is crap, then when it comes to peak popularity genres, that can be raised to 95% or even 99%. As evidence for this I direct your attention to the Horror wave of the mid to late 80’s.

    I do not have time to wade through this crap looking for the undoubted gems it contains. So, knowing that many of you will have already done that wading for me, I call on you now to show me the very best that urban fantasy and its numerous sub-genres have to offer.

    A few criteria.

    • Interpret urban fantasy in the widest sense. If you think a book or author fit in the genre, tell me. I’ll make a judgement call about whether I agree once nominations are in.
    • I want books published recently. 5 years at the outer limit, 2 years is better, yet to be published better still.
    • What do I mean by ‘the very best’? I’m looking for the 1-5% of the urban fantasy genre that resist Sturgeons Law. Give me the big names by all means, but what I really want are the sparkly bits of genius that might be being lost in the torrent of urban fantasy currently hitting the shelves.

    If I receive enough nominations of a high enough quality, I will review a selection of the best that urban fantasy has to offer, and try and give my answer to Jeff’s question ‘Urban Fantasy, From Whence Came You? And Where Are You Going with That Trope?!’ with particular focus on where it might be that the genre is going.

    Make your nominations below, or to me on Twitter, Facebook or email.