Realty Check by Piers Anthony
Over the holiday break I realized that I had a lot (and I mean a LOT) of DRM free e-books in various formats (epub, mobi, pdf, even some really old, mostly junk txt or docx documents). All these books together made up 50-60GB of data. Not a ton by any means, especially in terms of server space, but a problem that I had was that I had no way of self-hosting any kind of e-book ‘library’. I was relying on client side readers on my various devices, namely the (incredibly well put together and well worth the money) FBReader which I would put on my Android devices. This worked, but it required me to commit 60GBs per device to just books, most of which were unsorted and I had no idea what they actually were. I didn’t have a great way to sort through that data dump. Also, if I switched devices for any reason, I had no way to ‘sync’ those devices together, or pick up where I left off. I wanted a self hosted solution to this problem. A way to host my library on my server and connect to it from my various devices. If I’m travelling in an area where I expect to have no internet, then maybe I can download one or two titles to a device and read them in FBReader. But, since I have some kind of access to the internet most of the time, the majority of my reading could then take place away from local storage and on my server.
In comes Kavita Reader. Like most self hosted ebook library services (ie Ubooquity), this is primarly geared towards comic books and manga, however it has support for ebooks in epub and pdf formats. I spent about two days over the break sorting through my massive library, writing scripts to search, unzip, reformat, and delete old trash. Then, I ran Kavita via the Docker container provided by the developers. This has been awesome so far. The benefits of this could be it’s own post, but one of the things it allowed me to do was actually ‘see’ all of the books I had, and sort through them. There were tons of titles that I wasn’t aware I had, and I felt like reading many of them. One of these titles was Realty Check by Piers Anthony (published in 1999), which was the second book I read this year.
I have mixed feelings about this book. For starters, the setting is absolutely fantastic. An older, retired couple are searching for a house to rent in Philadelphia to be close to their oldest granddaughter, who is described as a rebellious kid. They are given an offer for a house that is described as ‘pre-furnished’, with the first month of rent being free. This house ends up being ‘magic’, with two doors that instantly ‘teleport’ the house through space and time. Also, the house is somewhat of a puzzle, and the characters have to discover and unlock the secrets of the house throughout the month of free rent that they have. The couple is joined by their 15 year old granddaughter from Philly, their 13 year old grandson from Okinawa, their grandson’s dog Obsidian, and some other characters that they pick up along the way.
Like I said, the setting is fantastic and really established a picture of science fiction, multidimensional travel, and mystery. At times though I felt that the book couldn’t decide where it wanted to go with this setting. There are times when the characters acknowledge potential danger in the house (such as the fact that, when exiting the backdoor into another time, oftentimes the house disappears with the only way back into the house being if the door is propped open or if the door is opened from the inside), yet later in the story these fears are outright ignored without explaining why they aren’t a problem anymore. Additionally, while the purpose and design of the house is eventually explained, the ending felt a little bit dry.
There is one big elephant in the room, and I understand that it’s one that Piers Anthony is known for. He does not do well at all with female characters and that shows here. The 15 year old granddaugher, Llynn, is first introduced to the reader by a description of how well fitting her clothes are (all of this from the eye of Penn, her grandfather). There is also quite a bit of sexualization of all of the characters of the book, including the two grandchildren. All this is a little bit off putting, and while it is ‘kind of’ plot relevant, I felt that the fantastic setting could have been better utilized another way.
All that said I did truly enjoy the book. The concept of a house being able to move through space and time. The constant mystery of new discoveries throughout the house, unlocking new capabilities. The mystery of who made the house, why it was so well stocked, are they being watched? The fun of being able to move geographic settings, from Philadelphia, to Okinawa, Moscow, Saudi Arabia, etc. I well enjoyed the read, and would recommend it. Altogether, I’m very glad that I’ve been able to sort through my ebook library and that I found this book.