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Free ebooks, libraries and text reading software

January 1, 2008

in All Articles,Ereaders and ebooks

Hollywood loves remaking successful books, and the last few years give many examples. Around the World in 80 DaysThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I, Robot are just a few. Trying to count remakes of DraculaTarzan or The Three Musketeers is more difficult than getting cheap popcorn and drinks at a movie theater.

When a blockbuster releases, we see companion books to the movie. But having Will Smith or Jackie Chan on a cover doesn’t make a book any better. In fact, I’d argue most books are far better than their movie versions, so don’t even get me started on Starship Troopers.

Technology plus books gives us electronic books, or ebooks. An ebook is a file containing the full text of the original paper book. An ebook’s main advantages are reduced costs, portability and immediate delivery upon purchase.

Save money: Don’t pay for printing costs and shelf space. Your favorite bestseller will often be cheaper in an electronic format, and many public domain texts can be downloaded for free.

Download an ebook and save it to your computer or handheld device. Heavy compression allows you to store many books in a small space. Using Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth as our example, four copies of this ebook will fit on a floppy disk. So wherever you go, it’s easy to have a full library in your pocket or on your phone.

You need two things to read an ebook, reader software and the ebook itself. Make sure that the type of ebook you download can be read by one of the readers you have installed.

Practice with free ebooks and readers to make sure you’re comfortable with the process before purchasing anything:

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg Free eBook Library: Thousands and thousands of free ebooks. Each book is available in multiple formats, including standard HTML, so you don’t even need a specialized reader: If you can browse to the web site, you can read every book there. They’ve got the familiar English-class-required books like A Tale of Two Cities and 1984. But they’ve also got many of my favorites, including Jack London’s The Sea Wolf and stories by H. P. Lovecraft, a fantasy horror writer who puts Poe and Stephen King to shame.

Free Speculative Fiction Online

“Free Speculative Fiction Online” is essentially a collection of links to other websites hosting free stories of a SF nature. You can sort by author, publication date, stories that have won Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and by first publisher (like Asimov’s, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Interzone). There is also a rating system and a list of recommended stories. Note that many of the links do not point to ebook-specific format, but most are text that can be copy-and-pasted to your reader of choice.


These people provide my favorite reader software. They also have ebooks for purchase. The free Mobipocket reader is only for handheld devices.


They have a larger ebook selection for purchase. The eReader software is for both desktop computers and handheld devices.

Baen Free Library

Free ebook titles from Baen Books, primarily science fiction and fantasy.

Cory Doctorow

For some quality free science fiction, visit Cory Doctorow’s website. He’s an excellent writer (check out his first book and big hit Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom), but a special bonus is the way Doctorow is releasing his material. Yes, you can purchase his books at most bookstores. But you can download most anything he’s written for free. A fascinating social and marketing experiment, it will be interesting to see where ebooks are in the next few years. I’m guessing Doctorow will be called a successful and important pioneer.

Microsoft Reader

Microsoft maintains a small (but free) selection of ebooks.

Though ebooks won’t replace paper and ink anytime soon, getting books into a cheaper, more convenient and portable form can only be a good thing.

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