Off the Bookshelf: Evolutionary Void, Realms of Cthulhu, iPad Book Readers

After a long hiatus because of too much to do at work, I’ve finally gotten back to reading fiction … because of work. Specifically because of the iPad I’m trying out at my day job.

I work at a college, and we’re piloting the iPad to see how tablets might be integrated into the academic environment. Part of that is trying out the different e-reading software out there, and that gave me the perfect excuse to get a new book. Or rather two new books: The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton and Realms of Cthulhu, published by Reality Blurs.

The Evolutionary Void by Peter F. Hamilton

The first novel I read on the iPad was Peter F. Hamilton’s The Evolutionary Void, the third book in his Void trilogy. It was a good candidate for a digital read: I read the first two books — the Dreaming Void and the Temporal Void — in paperback, and I was eager to read the third book. Unfortunately it’s not out in paperback yet, and the hardcover retails for $28.00, which is way out of my price range. The Amazon price is 18.48, which is still a little steep for my typical paperback budget, but the Kindle edition was $9.24. That’s close to the print price, and well ahead of the paperback release.

I took the plunge, downloading the free Kindle app and buying the book.

The Void series is a follow-up to Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained duology. In it, the Greater Commonwealth — an expansive human civilization that’s spread through much of the galaxy — and its Artificial Intelligence allies find themselves attempting to deal with a faction of humanity hellbent on evolving the species into “post-physical existence” … whether the rest of us want it or not. The key to their plan is the Void, an pocket universe at the center of the Milky Way galaxy where the rules of reality can be bent by the power of one’s mind. The only problem is that the Void is expanding … and it’s consuming our galaxy as it does so.

Reading in the Kindle app took a little getting used to. I’ve been reading a lot of PDFs on the iPad, most of which have color or subdued backgrounds, so the flat white of the Kindle app’s pages really stood out once I started reading the book. Turning down the brightness — which is easy to do with the new iOS 4.2 release — helped considerably.

I liked how the Kindle app automatically synced across different different devices — I could read 20 or 30 pages on the iPad at night, then pick up where I left off the next day on my iPhone at the doctor’s office. The smaller format of the phone isn’t nearly as comfortable as a paperback, but I found the iPad worked pretty well. I won’t be giving up physical books anytime soon — I missed the feel of the pages, the smell of the pulp — but it’s a viable alternative.

Realms of Cthulhu

The other book I’ve been reading is Realms of Cthulhu by Reality Blurs. I picked up this Savage Worlds-powered take on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos for $9.99 during a sale at Drive Thru RPG, and decided to make it my test book for GoodReader.

GoodReader is a PDF-reading app for the iPad. I have hundreds of gaming PDFs and one of the big reasons I was looking to get an iPad of my own was to start working my way through that virtual stack. GoodReader does a decent, though not perfect, job of displaying PDFs. I’ve run into a few problems here and there, mostly with layering and fonts. The Supers Companion by Pinnacle Entertainment had serious layering issues, with background colors appearing over text. The Savage Worlds version of Adamant Press’s Mars rulebook had serious problems with headers and subheaders that made it extremely difficult to read.

Fortunately, I had none of those issues with Realms of Cthulhu. I bought this book because it’s long been a dream of mine to run a Pulp Cthulhu. Unfortunately that Chaosium title has been delayed for years because of health issues, and while they say they haven’t given up hope, I had.

At least, until Realms of Cthulhu. Savage Worlds is a pulpy, dynamic system by its vary nature, and a perfect fit for the two-fisted, cultist-busting adventures of a Pulp Cthulhu campaign. The book introduces new sanity rules for Savage Worlds (essentially duplicating the Wounds system to represent mental damage). It also provides a variety of mechanisms for scaling the game from grim and gritty to out-and-out pulp.

It has spells, monster write-ups, random adventure generators, and an adventure scenario. I haven’t had a chance to run it yet, but I’m eager to give it a try.

Reading the PDF on the iPad was a little slow. It takes time to render the pages, though configuring GoodReader to pre-render unseen pages helps considerably. I still want to get print version — the book is that good — but I enjoyed reading the PDF. That’s not something I’ve said before. One of the reasons why I have so many unread PDFs is because I never enjoyed reading them on my laptop. The vertical layout of most books just doesn’t fit well on a laptop, even on my 15″ MacBook Pro. The iPad, on the other hand, worked well. Although I couldn’t view the PDF at 100%, Realms of Cthulhu was still perfectly readable at the smaller size (I’d estimate about 80% of normal).

I’d like to try out some other PDF readers. I’m not sure if the issues with the other PDFs were because of the files themselves or GoodReader. I’ve certainly seen enough issues with EPS files over the years to be willing to blame the files, but the self-same PDFs display fine in Acrobat. I’m curious to see if other iPad readers have the same issue.

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