He doesn’t like this. The way the stars feel in his hands. All cold and rotten, slimy, like the fish he ate for dinner. He wants to clean himself. He desires to see his skin again. Empty of the callouses of the constellations.
Will it ever be home? Will he ever come apart at the seams and become stardust, like the time when he was 17 and a girl asked him on a date for the first time and he said no because he was afraid? Will it be like that?
Or will he become salmon skin, fragile, falling through the universe, atom by atom? Ripped apart? Torn at his sinews? Will he ever feel like that again?
Or maybe it is just a basketball and a court on a sunny day and it is his turn to shoot.
For some reason I thought it was a good idea to read four books at once so I am slowly catching up on my book reviews. I am not going to post as many after this because I am going to be focusing on WWII research for a historical fiction novel I am brewing.
“The Last Policeman” is a dystopian sci-fi mystery novel by Ben H. Winters. It’s a police procedural, certainly; but it is also an examination of how people would act in an apocalyptic event. And no, I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to read a dystopian novel in a pandemic, but I found it strangely comforting. The interesting thing about dire circumstances like pandemics or catastrophic asteroids hurtling toward Earth is that they show people for who they really are. Nothing like a crisis for bringing out people’s true colors.
It turns out this book is also going to be adapted for TV by NBC, so I’m even more intrigued in continuing on in the trilogy because I really enjoyed this book. The writing was strong and vivid. It was a classic literary fiction meets genre mashup, and the characters were all so good. This truly was a character-driven story. And literary sci fi excites me to no end. You know it when you see it, but it’s difficult to define. It turns out I also have another Winters book on my to-be-read shelf that I have not read yet; Underground Airlines.
The story is about newly minted Detective Hank Palace during a crisis in which Earth learns that an asteroid will hit in six months. Everybody reacts to catastrophe and death differently; much of the detective force quit to go work on their bucket lists, but for Palace, a spot opened up for this patrol officer to fulfill his lifelong dream of solving murders as a detective. His parents were killed, so the dream flows naturally from that.
But who wants to solve murders when we’re all going to die? the book’s tagline goes. Mostly, the police department is investigating “hangers,” how detectives casually refer to suicides. And besides, there are just not many murders any more. The story opens with Palace responding to a case of a hanger in the bathroom of a McDonald’s restaurant. (McDonald’s are no longer McDonald’s, but people operating slow-food restaurants out of the former fast-food franchise.) Everyone is convinced that this death is just another hanger, but Palace is convinced it is a suspicious.
Palace was my favorite character because I saw myself in him. I couldn’t see myself overdosing on drugs, partying at ragers or flying to Tahiti if the world is about to end and we’re all about to die. I could see myself making sure that the job is done right, because that is all I have left. Palace’s dogged integrity was fascinating to watch, as was the sociological study of all the various responses to impending doom and the exploration of economic collapse and religious response.
This was a carefully paced, thoughtful book, that had me guessing and speculating as to the broader implications of this one death until the end. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy. Usually I don’t read trilogies because I’m not as taken by the first book, but this one is different. This one hooked me.
If you haven’t noticed, I most enjoy the episodes that deal with ethical quandaries and characters wading through moral dilemmas. Stories in which you have to decide whether you need to follow the rules, even if the rules are not fair. To me those are the stories at which the Star Trek universe excels. This is a great Odo episode that pits Odo in the middle of one of these ethical quandaries, an episode with a darker edge and gray frayed edges, and the episode that solidified Odo as my favorite character in the series.
I am sad to say that the Star Trek universe lost another one of its greats this last year. René Auberjonois died in 2019 at age 79. He was best known for his role as Odo on DS9, but he was first a stage actor, winning Tony awards, and he has also embodied more than 200 roles on screen. Additionally, he was a voice over actor for video games. Nobody could have played Odo like Auberjonois. He brought panache to the role, a particular flavor of curmudgeon, with a tinge of seediness and secrecy. I can tell his theatre background from the way he plays the character. I don’t like most of the acting on DS9 most of the time with this one exception. The actors who play Odo, Quark and Garak are top notch.
Back to the episode. “Vortex” kicks off with Odo in his usual spot at Quark’s bar. Strangely, not ordering anything, not even an orange juice, just sitting there, observing. I don’t know why Quark as a profit-minded proprietor allows one of his seats to go to a non-paying customer regularly like that, and to surveil him at that, but it’s all part of the game of the relationship between them, a wink, wink, nod, nod, shifting loyalties arc. A Rakhari man is sitting quietly at the other end of the bar. Quark deflects on how he knows him, saying a bartender talks to all his customers, who tell him their woes. Odo, naturally, suspects he is hiding something.
Miradorn twins Ah-Kel and Ro-Kel then enter the bar and set up a meeting with Quark. Miradorns are from the Gamma Quadrant, and twins on their world are inseparable, practically the same person. They want to sell a precious egg-shaped object to Quark, but Quark tells them that the buyer has backed out and he himself has concerns that the object is stolen. Odo has shapeshifted into a glass on the drink tray that Rom serves; Quark later lambasts Rom for failing to notice a fifth glass on the tray.
Trouble ensues. Croden, the Rahkari who was sitting at the bar in the introductory scene, takes the onlookers hostage at gunpoint in exchange for the object. Odo appears amid a struggle. Croden kills Ro-Kel. Security arrives to reinforce Odo, and Croden is detained in the brig. Ah-Kel is hell-bent on avenging the loss of his brother and wants to take the law into his own hands. Commander Sisko wants a trial.
In the brig, Croden calls Odo a “changeling,” informing him that he’ll tell him more about what he knows about others like his kind, if he can get something to eat. Odo dismisses him throughout, saying later to Doctor Bashir that the source is even less reliable than Quark. But he is nevertheless tempted as Croden tries to manipulate him into letting him escape. Croden says he has met others like his kind on an asteroid colony locked inside the Vortex. He lets him borrow a necklace with a green jewel that is shaped like a key. It can shapeshift into a key that will fit any lock. Doctor Bashir tells him that the jewelry piece has characteristics similar to his species. It is a kind of changeling.
Odo has always remained convinced that he is the only one of his species. He is law-abiding and follows the rules, and he is extremely self-righteous and judgmental, unyielding in his enforcement of the law. But Starfleet is just another overlord. First the Cardassians, then Starfleet. Another ass to kiss, so to speak. So long as Odo is left alone to do his job as he sees fit, he’ll follow the rules and uphold justice. But he has never quite felt like he belongs. Inward, he has always wondered if there are others like him. This inner conflict will foreshadow and inform many of his decisions throughout the series.
The Miradorns want Croden extradited, so instead of delaying like past episodes with an extradition hearing, Sisko obeys immediately. It turns out Croden is wanted for other crimes on his home world and the Miradorns want him dead. Odo is tasked with bringing the prisoner home. Along the way, they are pursued by Ah-Kel, who has murder on his mind. But Quark said earlier that Odo would never give up his prisoner. More hard rules. Or are they always firm?
On the shuttle ride over, Odo learns that even though dissembling comes second nature to Croden, his crimes are not what they seem. He is more of a political prisoner than anything else, forced to make impossible choices by an unfair regime. As Odo learns more about the possibility of a race of changelings existing in the Gamma Quadrant, he is confronted with an impossible choice.
Overall, this is a classic Odo character story and a good reflection of the best of DS9. The rules and the facts are not always what they seem, and sometimes they can be bent, but whether the characters were justified in bending those rules is up for debate.
This piece was the flash fiction story that was rejected last weekend. It was an encouraging rejection so don’t feel bad for me, I’m actually proud of myself. But I didn’t feel like revising it and trying to submit it elsewhere. Sometimes I just don’t feel like looking back at my old short stories; I have too many new ideas. But I still wanted people to read it, so I am self-publishing it here. -DNR
by Denise Ruttan
Matthew’s father’s words stuck in his mind as he stared at the glassy expanse of the sea. The brisk wind ruffled his hair with a knife’s kiss. “It’s not worth it,” his father had told Matthew. “I’m just an old man. My secret dies with me.” But Matthew could not let it go.
All his life, Matthew thought his father was Hamash. Ray Benoit was a proud man. He talked of his days flying bombing missions in the war, fighting for his country. He rarely talked about the details, because Matthew knew the shadow of death still gripped the old man. But Matthew was certain his father was proud to serve his country.
Pride. Such an odd concept, when it was meant in the service of something bigger than oneself. Perhaps, in some ways, Matthew was jealous of his father’s time in the war. But that did not matter. His father was a hero. Even in death, he deserved a hero’s honors. Instead, only Matthew showed for the funeral. It was a modest affair, the priest rushing through a spare eulogy. Ray Benoit was buried in a simple coffin, with a basic headstone. Matthew wanted to pay for something grander, but the law would not allow it. He could not even place fresh yellow roses.
Because Ray Benoit was not, in fact, Hamash. He was Sulee. A secret he had managed to keep most of his life. Until he told Matthew the truth. He was not even Sulee, because the proof of his birth was stolen by a witch who had vanished between the worlds. He had died a man without a country. A man without a soul.
So now Matthew was on a mission to find the witch. The plan had seemed bizarre at first, but it was all he had left. A fairy story didn’t seem so far-fetched, after a life of lies.
He left the deck and entered the dining cabin. The smell of thick, warm stew and yeasty bread made his stomach growl. He took a bowl of stew to an empty table. Outside, the wind howled. He wondered how he would find this witch, when he reached the land of the Sulee.
“Papers, please,” a sailor said. Matthew retrieved his passport from his pocket. The sailor studied it a little too carefully. “Thank you, Mr. Benoit.”
“Is something the matter?”
“Just a routine check. Enjoy your lunch.” But some glint in the sailor’s eye betrayed him. The other passengers stared at them.
Matthew knew he was a target because he was a firstborn. His father came from somewhere else. The law of the land treated firstborns harshly. He had gained his citizenship by an accident of birth, not his ties to the land.
He finished his stew in a hurry. The hearty taste turned bland. He got up, still feeling the other passengers’ eyes crawling on him. He resisted the urge to rub his neck. He couldn’t show weakness, not now. Matthew returned to the deck. He knew his place. He understood what was coming.
Matthew gripped the railing. He wondered if this was how his father felt in the war. Not knowing which side was the right one. Back then, Matthew didn’t want to hear about the ugly side of war. He was a loyal Hamash. He wanted to believe in the nobility of his people.
The sailor waited until sunset. Matthew could hear him breathing nearby. Matthew tugged his coat closer around his shoulders, but it did not keep out the cold. Together, they watched the blazing suns sink lower in the sky. Normally, it would be a breathtaking sight. But Matthew’s breath trapped in his throat.
“Why are you going to Sulee country?”
Matthew thought about lying. But he told him the truth, instead.
The sailor laughed. “You really believe those fairy stories? Your father was nothing but a criminal.”
“My father was a war hero.” Matthew gritted his teeth. “He ran 50 bombing missions.”
“But he broke the first law,” the sailor said. “That’s not what a hero does.”
Matthew’s temper flared. His fist struck the man’s face. The sailor grinned.
“Firstborn,” the sailor said. “You know the law. You threw the first punch.”
From the sudden darkness, two other sailors emerged. They set upon Matthew, fists driving into his chest and face, blood spraying the deck. Rain pounded the deck and swam with the blood. Eventually Matthew stopped fighting back. The ghost of his father held his hand, and blackness filled his eyes.
Maybe there were no witches. Maybe there was no world between the worlds. Maybe his father wasn’t a hero.
He coughed blood, and the sailors ran when their captain called. Matthew turned over on his side. He tried to raise himself to a standing position, but every bruised rib protested. Instead he lay there on the deck, staring at the sky swirling with ominous ink. The suns had retreated beyond the horizon, replaced by the obsidian of night.
In the roar of the wind he thought he heard a voice speaking to him. A hand reached out that was not his father’s hand. It was a soft, gentle hand, covered in gold jewelry. He wanted to yell and run away, but he couldn’t move. The purr of a lullaby caressed the air.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” the music whispered, clear even in the storm.
Matthew knew, then, that he didn’t need to seek the witch.
In the morning, the storm passed. The crew had survived a rough night. A couple of the sailors stumbled on deck, blinded by the light of the sunrise. One of them stumbled upon a body.
It was Matthew Benoit. They checked for a pulse. His eyes were wide open, frozen in horror. His skin was cold, so cold.
Then one of the sailors scoffed. “That’s the firstborn,” he said. “Throw him overboard. He’s just dead weight.”
I know this will sound like sacrilege to some, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was never my favorite Star Trek series. I liked the characters, but I thought the writing was hit or miss, and I didn’t understand a Star Trek that was not centered around exploration. But I decided to give this show a second chance by rewatching it from the beginning. I will be recapping my favorite episodes. This was the first episode in which I finally started to feel like I was getting into this show. Some Star Trek series can be kind of slow burns.
“Captive Pursuit” is the sixth episode of Season 1 and it is a Miles O’Brien character study through and through. The episode starts off with Sisko responding to a complaint from a Dabo girl who is concerned that sexual assault is a clause in her employment contract. The Dabo girl then disappears for the rest of the episode. I suppose the purpose of this scene was to show a brief flavor of life on board a space station.
Next, a mysterious vessel arrives from the wormhole and is not one of the ships scheduled to arrive. It becomes evident that the ship is in trouble and needs help. The crew hails the occupant on board, but he does not want to leave his ship. It soon becomes apparent that this is a First Contact situation. This reptilian humanoid is DS9’s first visitor from the Gamma Quadrant. However, since O’Brien and the alien seem to make a connection, Sisko decides to dispense with First Contact protocols and set up a more personalized first meeting with O’Brien only. O’Brien will then help repair the alien’s ship.
The being and O’Brien soon form an awkward but charming friendship. The alien calls himself Tosk, but it is not clear whether Tosk is his name or his species. He seems to be on the run from something, always cagey and talking about his need to rush off, but appears too naive to O’Brien to have criminal intent.
It is discovered that Tosk is investigating the station’s security systems, so he is taken into custody. Odo shapeshifted into a picture frame and appeared in Tosk’s quarters to catch him in the act. I can think of all sorts of legal ramifications for a security officer who can break and enter at will without a search warrant or reasonable cause to do anything other than follow a suspect discreetly, but I digress.
We soon discover Tosk’s secret when other aliens emerge from the Gamma Quadrant in hot pursuit. They are also reptilian humanoids, but a different species. Tosk was sworn to an oath of secrecy about the intricacies of his species’ culture, and that’s why he wouldn’t talk. Tosks are bred by their captors to be prey in an elaborate hunt throughout the universe. They are bred with sentience to make the hunt more exciting. Both the prey and the hunters live for the adventure and romance of the hunt and yearn for deaths of honor.
O’Brien and Sisko are soon caught in a difficult ethical quandary. Do they interfere in another species’ culture, even if it does not respect the value of life? Or do they let Tosk be captured? Or is there some other way out, that bends the rules? That involves looking the other way?
For me, this episode finally captured the Star Trek ethos. Not only the spirit of exploration and discovery, but it also explored the moral gray areas that I love about Star Trek. Star Trek is fascinating to me in ways that Star Wars is not because not about black and white, good versus evil. It is about the choices we make when the rules are unfair, how we stay true to our integrity in impossible situations, and who we are as sentient beings relating to others who are different than us.
It was also a good O’Brien character study. I feel as if O’Brien often gets the short end of the stick in TNG and sometimes DS9. He’s the flat character, the character that is meant to be likable, but only if you like dad jokes and can relate to his family dynamics. The long suffering wife, the career ambitions cut short by a sense of duty, the “just a decent, hard-working guy” schtick. This episode gave O’Brien depth.
All in all, it was a good character-driven story and definitely worth a watch.
Not in the same way that you used to think about death, as if it were an existential threat. Those times that you do not tell anyone about when you would sit in traffic waiting for the red light to change to green and you think about what it would be like to be involved in a car accident and you want, for a brief moment of absolute and startling clarity, to die. You blink. You have never thought this before. (Maybe you should see a counselor, you consider in a moment of panic.) You wonder if you would feel pain. You wonder which of your friends and family would come to your funeral. You wonder which songs your family would choose to play at your funeral and who would provide the eulogy; if they would organize a religious service, or a secular one.
You’ve never been particularly religious, but you like to think of yourself as a spiritual person. Sometimes, however, you think God is dead and magic is just for fairy stories. You wonder if you would go to heaven. You wonder if there is an afterlife. You think that you would still keep going day after day even if there is no afterlife, because the alternative is ashes and rot and dust motes swirling in the sun. Then the light changes to green, and someone honks at you from the car behind, and you step on the gas and the car lurches forward and you forget about the moment when you wanted to die. What a silly thought. You like your life.
Those were the Times Before. The times when you could brush against someone in a public space and not feel your heart climb into your throat and squeeze like someone had their fingers wrapped around your larynx.
Now you think about death in a different way.
You think about your mother. If your mother is not alive you think about her when she was alive. If you are estranged from your mother you think about someone else who plays that role in your life. You think about your mother on a ventilator and nurses in their scrubs and their sheer plastic visors and their hodgepodge makeshift masks like something out of a sci-fi movie. You think about your mother dying alone. You wonder if your mother picked up COVID-19 when she was out on a walk in her neighborhood and she says she stayed six feet away from everyone but maybe she touched the button to go across a crosswalk because she didn’t want to jaywalk but that button has been pushed by hundreds of people and the virus can live on surfaces for 72 hours.
The virus is like a living, breathing thing, an alien, an invasion, a menace, a parasite. Are they bacteria? You don’t think so. You don’t think the yeast in the sourdough culture you are starting because you are bored is bacteria, either, but you can’t be sure. You didn’t pay that close attention to that part of biology class in high school. All you know is that viruses spread. You think about death and sourdough bread in the same thought because that is what your brain does when you are alone for a period of time.
You don’t want to think about your mother dying. You don’t want to think about anyone dying. So you tell yourself it is just like the flu. Only a 3 percent death rate. Nothing, really. Only high-risk groups need to worry about it. Why do you need to stay inside, cooped up like a prisoner, afraid of your own shadow? You want a haircut. You want a hot meal at a restaurant and you want an iced tea on a summers’ day and you want to make small talk with a server even if you can’t stand small talk. You want to talk about the weather with someone you don’t know. “Hey, man, what are you up to today?” they would say, back in the Times Before.
Before, you would mumble something nonsensical to get out of the conversation and mold your face into the impassive look of someone who does not want to talk. Or you would be chatty and tell them a lie. Just like when people would ask you “How are you?” And you would say you were fine but not really mean it. No one wants to hear that you are anything but happy every day of your life. Now you want to be fine. You want to be fine so badly it feels like when you were 12 and wanted a puppy, a real live one, with all your heart, and your parents got you a stuffed dog instead and you were so disappointed you put it in your closet and didn’t look at it for a year.
Now it is a 6 percent death rate, or is it? You can’t keep track anymore. But you thought about your mom dying alone and you feel bad so you want to see her for Mother’s Day because you haven’t seen her in two months and you stand six feet apart from her and you think this is okay, you’re doing okay, you’re keeping each other safe. You wash your hands and you wear your mask even though you can’t breathe but you just really wanted to see her.
You watch the President on TV. Maybe you voted for him and you will vote for him again no matter what anyone says about him. Maybe you think he looks like a Cheeto-head and the image of him on your TV screen makes you want to vomit in your mouth. Maybe you wonder if our country will always be so divided. Maybe you blame other people, like the President. Maybe you remember marching in the Women’s March in a small town and everybody was crying and angry and there were Pussy Hats and you wanted so badly to believe then that things would get better, that things would be okay, that things couldn’t possibly get any worse. You watch him struggle with empathy, incapable of it even, and never mention death or the dying or dead people because it will make him look bad and you think maybe, maybe I can give him a little empathy, he is so in love with his own image and his ego that he cannot bring himself to grieve for the dead, and maybe there is a part of you filled with rage and grief that wants him to get it too, that wants him to know what it is like to suffer. Part of you is not ashamed for feeling that way because he is not ashamed. He never admits responsibility, never confesses his mistakes, he is never wrong. You do not want a president who is never wrong. People die when a leader is never wrong.
Then you wonder will the people who voted for him and the people who hate him ever see eye to eye on anything? They are breathing the same air to which the virus clings and the virus does not care about one’s politics or about how one feels about masks or who anyone voted for. The virus is a parasite. It just wants a host.
You wonder how many people have to die for people to take this seriously.
You wonder if perhaps people are overreacting and it’s not really so bad and you just really want to see a movie again and you miss concerts and the gym and popping over to the store when you wanted M&M’s. You miss touching things without wiping them down.
You wonder, maybe death just comes to us all and death is a part of life and we have to sacrifice a few for the many so the economy can reopen. It can’t be like this forever. People losing their jobs and their homes and the long lines snaking around streets leading to the food bank and the cloying desperation and the sad piano music in the TV commercials. You saw a TV commercial the other day in which people hugged and nobody was wearing masks and the music was peppy and they were talking about supporting small businesses. It was so bizarre to you that you felt sick. To see people hugging. You want to support small businesses but you don’t want to die. It is the uncertainty that clings to your skin like water droplets after you emerge from the pool from a long swim. You remember swimming pools. You miss swimming.
You want to go out but every time you go to the store, much less often now, there is always someone who doesn’t care, someone not wearing a mask, someone oblivious to spatial awareness who brushes against you as if with sheer belligerence in their denial of reality. It is just like H1N1, they say, were you affected by the swine flu personally? Freedom is an uncertain thing, the shape of feathers and dust, full of responsibility and thrift and also carefree joy, a small Japanese car racing in the street with its engine sounding like a rocket. You imagine most people would waste it, take it for granted. It is those people who make your heart thump in your chest hotly and angry sweat run down your armpits. It is those people you think about when you lie awake in bed at night when it is hot and muggy outside and the fan is clacking away and the neighbors next door are playing a video game and their children are yelling and you think about those people who don’t care about your mother dying alone. “Excuse me, I just needed the milk.” You try to have empathy for them because all you can control is your thoughts but you think your reserves for empathy are running so low these days. So low. Kindness shouldn’t be so difficult. You remember when kindness was easy, like relieving a stranger of the burden of how you’re really feeling when they want to know how you’re doing.
But you go on because you have to. You go on because you care about someone’s mother whom you don’t even know. You go on and on even though it feels like you can’t any more and your heart is crushing you and is that shortness of breath anxiety or COVID-19? You bake cakes and sourdough bread and drink too much alcohol at noon and you try out sobriety and you do yoga and you Zoom with your friends and you feel an overwhelming sense of despair but you keep going moment by moment because you have to.
Not because you are thinking about that moment at the stop light when you once thought about what it would be like to die.
I have been struggling yet again with social media, all platforms, really. I have been feeling lately, yet again, like rage-quitting them all. Watching the behavior of others in this pandemic is really upsetting and stressful, and I see it more on social media. I’m trying to focus on the positive instead, like less time mindlessly scrolling means more time to blog. So continues the cycle: Addicted, burnt out, trying to wean myself off the addiction. Searching, always, for validation, for a ghost in the darkness to prove worth; perhaps that’s what keeps me coming back. The ego, despite better intentions. I’m probably the only person who deletes viral tweets. It’s usually the tweets and posts and grams that I could care less about that get the most likes. It drives me nuts.
I’m not coming back to Instagram, though, for several months, at least. I realized tonight after I checked my 500px that I had discarded it mentally too soon. I visited my site after a month after only putting up a few photos and I had 1,211 affection and 37 followers! I mean, what? I never got that kind of activity on Instagram, except when I posted boudoir. That’s how they get you, I guess; arbitrarily decide to feature one of your photos before you go pro. I digress. Ego, again, always.
Also, WordPress does not have unlimited photo uploads, so I think 500px will be a good substitute for my photo sets.
My new Kindle Paperwhite arrived in the mail yesterday and since I have had a chance to play around with it for a few hours last night, I thought I would share my first impressions.
I decided on this e-reader ultimately, even though I knew it would lock me into Amazon, because as I looked at the other e-readers out there, there was slim selection and not many had the features I wanted.
That said, I’m not an Amazon fan; I will make that clear from the start. I know this makes me sound like a hypocrite, because I have subscribed to Amazon Prime, I buy products from Amazon and I now just bought a Kindle. But in truth, I hate the Amazon monopoly, and especially how authors feel that it is their only option, because it’s got the largest market. Sometimes, it feels like the only option, even though there are alternatives, which I patronize also. I hate how I could spend a fortune on Amazon if I let myself and that is how Jeff Bezos has made his money. If I were self publishing, and that’s not an option that interests me right now, I would not only make my book available on Amazon, but other platforms as well.
I mean, look at this: $10 a month for Amazon Prime. $10 for Kindle Unlimited. $14 for Audible. And the list goes on. But this wasn’t supposed to be a scathing diatribe about Amazon; I would boycott it completely, as I do Wal-Mart, if I found it completely disgusting. I think as with many things in American capitalism, I have simply made my peace with it. I also shop at independent bookstores, I don’t do much online shopping (until now) and (until now) I have resisted buying a Kindle.
I digress. I shall now move on to the review, but that in truth is part of the review. Physically, the Paperwhite is so thin, it shipped in an envelope. It’s extremely lightweight and sleek. It’s a modern, beautiful-looking product, with a pleasing feel to the touch. It’s got a decent sized screen, bigger than my iPhone, which I was looking for. However, the size of this device is a bit awkward to fit into the palm of your hand, so it is a little challenging to hold it comfortably if you read lying in bed a lot like I do. But I’ll trade that discomfort for a bigger screen.
Another perk is the low brightness of the screen. It has a matte finish, so it conveys less eye strain than reading on a phone. When it sleeps it looks almost like darkened plastic. This is not to say the product feels plastic; far from it. It just looks strange when it sleeps, as if it is not really real. It has almost no buttons or keys like a tablet. It has one button next to the charging port that you use to wake it up.
I found out you could use Overdrive to check out library books on the Kindle but the process of checking out a book is not intuitive and somewhat obtuse. However, the option to do so is why I wanted an e-reader, so I am glad it is possible. Otherwise, I would be spending a fortune on a $5-10 book every week, which is what I was trying to avoid. You first go to the Overdrive website, sign in using your library card information, and then you check out the book through a redirect link to the Amazon website, which then downloads the book to your Kindle as if you have bought it. You cannot, however, do this on the Kindle; you must do it on a device that can download apps. The Kindle is not a tablet, so it does not have apps, other than Goodreads.
Speaking of Goodreads, I now understand why Amazon was so interested in Goodreads. Searching for books on Kindle is quite clunky. Kindle gives you top-rated and bestselling books. Usually these are books that do not interest me, if they appeal to the masses. Goodreads is a site where people rate books. I can see now why authors like these reviews. Reviews only seem worth it to attract Kindle readers since its algorithm is built on a ratings system. Quite ingenious, really, but challenging for people like me with more discerning tastes.
I searched through the Kindle store for at least two hours before I gave up and just looked on Overdrive. Which brings me to Kindle Unlimited. So you know how you can tell immediately if a book will have trashy writing quality just from its cover? You didn’t? Well, I can. My formula never seems to fail. If the cover is trashy, the book blurb is usually poorly written, and then the book itself is mass-market tripe. I searched through Kindle Unlimited and I was unimpressed with the selection. Lots of vampires, steamy romances and other sorts of mass-market topics that seem favored by Twitter authors as their one-stop ticket to quit the misery of their day job and lead a glamorous, creative life as a bestselling author. Almost always, I hate those kinds of books.
I got three months free of Kindle Unlimited along with my purchase of the Kindle, but because of those reasons, I’m going to let that subscription lapse after that time. I think I’ll find more interesting and better-written books via Overdrive.
The cumbersome search feature brings me to my other disappointment with Amazon and Amazon products. When you have literally thousands of options, I would say 80 percent are options that don’t interest me and are of poor quality. The more quantity, the lower the quality.
Ultimately, I prefer going into an indie bookstore that is well-curated, and getting to hold and touch books and flip through a few pages. Even introvert me prefers talking to a human who has read X, Y, and Z authors and can tell you if you might like A, B and C. It’s much better than “customers who bought this item also bought” or “based on your purchase history you might like the next book in a series you hated.” But that world is fading fast and was always a labor of love, a vanity of the privileged, even in good times. The world is changing.
In conclusion, despite my reservations about Amazon, I am still glad I made this purchase. As long as I restrain myself from spending money as if it is iTunes, which is easy to do since it is a click away, the e-reader experience is the most comfortable I’ve had yet. I also appreciate how you can increase the font size, making books easier to read for those of us with poor vision. I’m looking forward to using this e-reader more. I just wish there was a better way to find people who share my tastes, among the sea of reviews. Reviews and ratings do no good if it’s yet more “steamy vampire romance on a moving train with car chases” which everybody else likes except me. That’s why I continue to post my reviews, even if only five people read them.