10 February 2013

What am I doing here? Why am I Blue Book Balloon?

Not that anyone has asked, but I thought I'd try to explain anyway. 

About ten years ago I started posting reviews on Amazon, and toiling away, I've now passed 250.  Most of them are for books: but a couple of years ago Amazon noticed me and invited me onto their Vine "programme" which offers free stuff for review.  Under the auspices of Vine I have reviewed coffee makers, toothbrush heads and even Sugru - and books: it was through Vine that I discovered the possibility of getting review copies, before the book is published.

I still find Amazon reviewing fun:  you get fairly prompt feedback on whether anyone likes your review, and they have this addictive thing that gives you a rank, which is probably fairly meaningless but can be a wonderful ego boost. 

However, I do worry about Amazon.  If they drive the physical bookshops out of business, it will be harder and harder to get the "real" books I prefer.  And bookshop browsing is so much fun.  So I'm trying to limit what I buy from Amazon and make a point of ordering my books from my local shop.

By the same token I thought I should start putting reviews somewhere apart from (or, if I'm honest, as well as) them.  So far I haven't been posting them all here - I'm still getting used to using Blogger.  (I know that Google's possibly no better than Amazon, but...)

And just to confuse things I also recently found Goodreads.  And my son persuaded me to try Twitter, which turned out to be more bookish than I had expected.  Help - I do actually want to carry on reading books, and all this networking uses up the time so efficiently it's actually rather scary.

Also, since you asked, why "Blue Book Balloon"?  - a name that possibly makes me sound like a travelling Victorian sideshow.

A few years ago I took a photo of a blue balloon, in a blue sky, as it passed over my wife's church on a Sunday afternoon.  It was fairly low and we could hear the gas burners.  I used the picture for my profile on various sites, including Twitter when I started that, and I decided to use it for my Twitter name as well. 
It is distinctive, and I've got used to it.  (Though it caused a little confusion among local balloonists - I was contacted by one who had ridden in the actual balloon).

Review: "Bedlam" by Christopher Brookmyre

I have a feeling this is going to divide Brookmyre's fans (again).

It's a full blooded science fiction story, akin to last book but two Pandaemonium rather than the more recent "straight" crime fiction.  Indeed, there's a case for saying that in narrative terms, this book picks up almost where Pandaemonium left off - with a character flung unexpectedly form this world into another reality, albeit that of a violent video game rather than a violent parallel universe.

So begins a breakneck narrative as Ross, a browbeaten Scottish techie with a Dilbertish outlook, tries to find out what has happened and how he can get back to familiar, damp Stirling and his girlfriend Carol. He soon discovers that there's more going on than a simple brain scanner accident, and that events inside and outside the game are threatening its reality: a Corruption is spreading...

It is an exciting story, interspersing chases, combat, philosophy (are we all in a simulation?) and ethical debate (if the simulated inhabitants of a game are sophisticated enough, does that make them human? If so, what rights should they have?) The plot is intricate and, for the first half of the book, pretty baffling, turning on a few unexpected reveals which it would spoil to say much more about. But everything does become clear in the end (perhaps there is a bit too much exposition in the final 20 pages or so) and - no surprise - it turns out to have been very deftly put together.

I enjoyed this book. Brookmyre shows his knowledge of 80s and 90s video games, moving Ross through a succession of different game milieux from first person shooters to platform games to a warped version of The Sims - yet as a non-gamer I never felt left out of baffled. (If I were "Daily Mail" reader, I might have felt got at by one section...)

Philosophically, it felt as though he was joining in an ongoing discussion among Scottish based SF writers about the "simulation hypothesis" and its consequences, coming after books such as Ken MacLeod's The Restoration Game and Charles Stross's The Rapture of the Nerds.

In a postscript, Brookmyre hopes readers will find this venture into SF proper worthwhile - so do I, because it would be a shame if there were no more like this.