Amazon Doesn’t Appreciate My Taste In Books

(c) Ian Wilson

In the middle of the night when insomnia hits the best thing to do is take a book to bed.

The only problem is finding the right book. OK I have a lot on my shelves and on the iPad but what about when I want a new one?

I have an extremely wide, but fairly specific taste in books. For example I can read David Weber’s “Honor Harrington” series but don’t like his “Safehold” series at all. As well as science fiction I read classics such as Austen and Bronte but can’t stand Dickens. I like biographies but tend to enjoy those of people long dead rather than modern ones – Italian renaissance biographies are my favourites.

In non-fiction I enjoy computer books (though not for night time reading), science books and some philosophy but generally can’t stand business books, though I’ve bought and enjoyed some by more tech oriented authors.

Put all this together and I find the Amazon recommendation engine an almost total waste of time. I’m not sure what good it does to tell it I’m not interested in a suggested book. As an example it seems that a lot of people who enjoy David Weber also enjoy Eric Flint. Personally I don’t like his writing and I’ve said “Not interested” to at least five or six of his books, but his keep on getting recommended.

The other annoying feature is that it doesn’t automatically ignore something I buy or add. Recently I added Photoshop Elements to my wish list so Amazon suggested books on the software. Shouldn’t it realise I don’t want **any** books on the topic when I turn down the first six it suggests?

The core problem is not the base engine, it certainly seems to make enough connections, but that it doesn’t do any learning from the items I turn down.

The most annoying thing is that it throws up enough books that I do like the look of that I don’t want to ignore it entirely. One or two books in the first thirty isn’t a terribly good hit rate though.

So how to fix it? I know that the movie people Flixster ran a competition to improve their recommendation engine, I think the time is overdue for Amazon to do the same thing.

Book Review – “The Kragen” by Jack Vance

I love reading science fiction but tend to stick to a few authors. Fortunately I have an older brother who not only spreads me to further fields but reminds me of old pastures that still hold great value.

The Kragen certainly did that. I’ve read and enjoyed Jack Vance before but had read neither this novella or the novel “Blue World” that it was later expanded into. Thank you, Graeme, for reminding me of Vance’s quality. I’ll now have to ferret out some further gems.

The Kragen was out of print for many years until this recent (2007) edition from the small Subterranean Press, who seem to produce some quality volumes.

The Kragen is set on a world entirely without land, where the people feed King Kragen to keep him happy and content to shield them from the smaller Kragen. From there Vance explores a number of interesting themes. The world is certainly a believable one.

I found it well written, readable, well paced and enjoyable. A marvelous, light read, everything I want from a novella.

Book Review – “D.A.” by Connie Willis

This slim volume is an excellent read for the young adult. It reminds me strongly of Henlein’s ‘juvenilia’.

Theodora Baumgartner is a teenager who suddenly finds herself an unwilling space cadet and this short story unfolds from there. It rolls along at a good pace and I found myself eating it up in a single sitting. I’m certainly going to read a little more of Willis’s work after this.

Since this was a birthday gift I’m not going to complain about a single short story in a hardcover edition.