Page turner

When the software update for the iPhone that included iBooks arrived this summer, I had a scout around the iBooks store for some interesting free books to read.  I wasn’t necessarily a full convert to ebooks, so wanted to read one or two things on the iPhone to see how I felt about the format – especially considering my own book is now an ebook itself.

The cover of HavenOne of the books I downloaded was Haven (iBooks|Kindle) by American author Justin Kemppainen.  A science fiction story about a city whose aspirant citizens have escaped the grime of ground level for a new city built on top of the old, it sounds like an interesting read and of course at the time it was free, so figured it would be a good chance to read something new as well as try out the ebooks format.  Hence this post is really a review of both the book and the format.

First, the book itself.  Haven is a fairly dark, dystopian story.  At some point in the future, in an indeterminate location, a city has become polluted and uncomfortable, and high rises and new technologies give way to a new city, New Haven, above the Old Haven.  Those who escape commit themselves to a lifestyle of intelligence, wealth and scientific advancement, at the expense of those below who in the minds of those above live a primitive, dark life, good only for occasional raids to provide specimens who are brainwashed into docile servitude.

However, those below have other ideas, and launch an attempt to reclaim New Haven.  And so ensues a plot which is fast-paced, gripping, and multi-faceted.  There is no real central character, and the story follows and unfolds through the eyes of those in both Old and New Haven, so it is not necessarily presented as a clear-cut story of good versus evil.  With echoes of Orwell’s 1984, a perpetually dark tone and feel, and with plenty doses of violence, Haven is not the cheeriest of reads but it’s a very enjoyable piece of science fiction.  And with a cliffhanger ending, things are ripe for a sequel, which will come soon.

Although there are a few things in the story I struggle to get my head around (for instance, I might have missed something but why didn’t those left in Old Haven simply move into the light wherever the outer limits could be found?) and there were one or two characters or sub-plots I’d liked to have heard more about, my only really big criticism is the surprisingly large number of spelling mistakes.  This, however, is something the author has recently commented on and is a flaw I can fully emphathise with in terms of Up The Creek Without a Mullet’s own ever-growing list of typos.  Those few mistakes, though, don’t detract from what is a real page-turner.

And boy, are there a lot of pages.  Of course, it’s not an unusually long book, but on a screen as small as my iPhone you pack in no more than a handful of sentences in each page, meaning Haven weighed in at around 1600 pages.  Of course, iBooks comes to life with (and was really designed for) the bigger iPad, where you can read a page that’s more or less the same length as in a paperback.

I don’t have an iPad but found the iPhone no impediment to the process of reading.  You have control over font size (though I found the standard size perfectly readable), the page turning feature is a nice action, and the ability to put in as many bookmarks as you like means you’re never going to lose your place.  It also makes reading so much more easy to do, wherever you are – as long as you a have your phone you could get through a few pages here and there on the sofa, in bed, on a train, or wherever suits.  I know you can take a book anywhere with you, but an iPhone is so much lighter, more convenient and more robust.

Sure, you can’t lend an ebook, but I honestly believe that the increase in ebook usage (and associated piracy risks) will lead to prices coming down.  Haven, for instance, is no longer free but is on sale for less than a quid in the UK.  You may not get the same ability to linger over a book and read a bit before buying (though that freedom of course necessitates a handy local bookshop) but an ebook’s synopsis and review should give you enough information to make an informed choice, and if it’s cheaper than the paperback it’s never going to be too costly a gamble.  What implication that might have for authors’ incomes is probably a whole other debate, though I guess it is one characterised by arguments similar to those made by bands who say that free online downloads do raise their profile.

Reading Haven has reinforced my belief in ebooks, and while I of course wouldn’t say I’m never going to buy a paperback again, I would definitely explore ebook prices and availability for a title that interested me before automatically getting a physical copy.  Paperback is now no longer my default option for books in the same way that iTunes or other online methods is my first port of call for new music.  That’s quite a decision after just one ebook.  And Haven is a fine read to boot.

Even at 1600 pages.

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