Dozois Reader

Gardner Dozois’ A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, FictionWise, Microsoft Reader

Welcome to a single review which actually reviews three things:

  1. Gardner Dozois’ short story A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, which is on the Nebula 2001 Preliminary Ballot
  2. the FictionWise website, which is making this story available free of charge, alongside their increasing range of charged-for stories
  3. Microsoft’s Reader software, the format in which I chose to read the story, ahead of Adobe Acrobat

The story

The story first. Gardner Dozois doesn’t write much, but what he writes is invariably well worth reading, to the extent that I believe that the SF reading community is missing out considerably.
A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows, originally in Asimovs, Oct/Nov 1999 introduces Charles Czudak, the night before he becomes an octogenarian. He is troubled by visitors, pale shadows of people, who he feels are time-travellers come to watch his final hours. He feels anachronistic, a fading relic, many years after he came to prominence through his challenge to the headlong rush to AI, genetic modification, uploading of personas to computers and so forth. Superintelligent New Men, mechanicals, and conjoined humans offer the new paradigm, a radical evolutionary step from the ‘Meats’ who retain their humanity. A humanity which is ageing and weak in Czudak’s case.
But, without revealing too much of the story, Czudak is faced with a challenge which gives him further pause for thought. An opportunity for immortality, for youthfulness and a challenge to reach for the stars. However, it is no easy choice to make..
The story is deftly handled, with many acute observations. The story mentions in passing a range of developments and innovations which are challenging Czudak and his society, many of which prod the reader to think a little before the story moves on to its conclusion.
A story well worth its nomination. I would simply urge Dozois to delegate a lot of the editorial responsibilities he has, and sit down to what he does best – writing. And he should take that not as a criticism of his editing, but of praise for his writing.

Fictionwise –
This new e-publisher is putting together a very good range of short fiction, from authors including Gregory Benford, James Patrick Kelly, Nancy Kress, David Langford, Robert Silverberg – hey, just click here to read the list.
Stories can be bought individually, or in themed bundles. One recent addition to this is the Hugo 2000 Award nominees bundle, with seven stories available for $8.13. This is probably not the best example to give, as all these stories have been available freely on the Web through publisher websites, and Fictionwise themselves as a freebie promo, for some time.
The ‘MicroPay’ facility enables users to credit five dollars to their shopping cart, which is dipped into as individual stories are purchased. This saves having a lot of small debits taken from your credit card.
Some authors are represented with a lot of stories (Kate Wilhelm has two dozen or more), and many of the stories are quite recent, although there are some classics, such as Harlan Ellison’s ‘Repent Harlequin!’ said the Ticktockman.
So the good news is that you might find one or two stories which you have been looking for for some time, and you can buy them for a dollar or so each.
The bad news is that unless you have one of the fancy hand-held machines which are becoming available, you have to read them in front of the PC screen. (My Xmas Present list features such hand-held devices!)
For Fictionwise it is going to come down to people’s purchasing habits. Will people in sufficient numbers buy the stories they are making available? I do buy things over the Internet quite happily, but haven’t as yet paid for a story on Fictionwise. I’ve got several magazines and collections to read, and the Best SF Gateway has at least one hundred stories I haven’t read yet, and they are free, so I don’t need to look for more to read. But if I had a Windows CE or other hand-held device, I think I might end up buying from Fictionwise.

Microsoft Reader software

Fictionwise enables you to download purchased stories in a variety of formats, including PDF, and for devices such as the new Rocketbook, and Windows CE machines.
Adobe Acrobat has for several years been the standard for making documents available on the web. The PDF files are fairly ubiquitous, although Microsoft Reader is making up lost ground.
Fictionwise’s PDF files come in square pages, to prevent the need to scroll down documents as is normally the case, which can prove a bit disconcerting if you are used to having the flexibility PDF offers of resizing the display to suit your monitor resolution (and eyesight!).

Microsoft Reader software can be downloaded free of charge. It presents documents to be read in the traditional paper shape although the number of words per page is quite short (click on picture to the right to get an idea).
In some cases paragraphs can take up entire pages. But where Microsoft Reader really scores over PDF files is the facility to bookmark and annotate the story. If you come across something which you wish to note, simply annotate. Those annotations can be read again once the document is read, or else accessed from an annotations index from the beginning of the document.
The Microsoft Reader software enables you to quickly pick up from where you had reached when last reading the document, which is a big help. Alongside word search facilities, gives the reader more options than PDF contains, although limited in terms of making graphics available.


Okey doke, review finished, why don’t you click here to read A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows – I don’t think you will be disappointed.
(update : story no longer free!)


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