Just a Reminder

I’ve written two books and, as it happens, books make a lovely Christmas gift. I think your mother would like a nice Gothic Fairy Tale. And your cousin would enjoy a fine story about an umbrella and an aging cosmonaut. And if you order them by Friday, they should get there just in time for the holidays. Also, if you wanted, say a 20% discount, you could email me or ask me on twitter and I might be persueded to provide you with such a thing.

Jets to the Sci-Fi Ghetto Leave Hourly

I just finished reading The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester. I am disappointed.

Bester’s The Stars My Destination, I love. I read it last year for the first time and it’s now on my top 10 sci-fi list, right next to Dune and Illuminatus!. The Demolished Man however, not so much. As Moff pointed out on io9 the other day, some sci-fi books form the mid century “Golden Age” deserves to be left in the genre ghetto and The Demolished Man is one of them. It won not just a Hugo, but the very first Hugo, meaning that at some point, this was seen as an example of the best that science fiction literature had to offer. If that’s not a damning case for keeping the sci-fi ghetto open, I don’t know what is. Even put in the perspective of its time period, there’s some awful clichés running rampant in The Demolished Man: pointless sci-finess, absurdly shortsighted technological innovations that run headlong into random leaps in logic and blatant misogyny, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the last Michael Bay movie.

Aside from stark 50’s gender roles persisting well into the 22nd century, there’s the random gadget porn: every bit of information not gleaned from someone’s head by a psychic is encoded on gemstones. Unless it’s output by a monster supercomputer, then it’s spit out on a length of paper like a ticker tape machine. And input on frickin’ punch cards.

And then there’s the awkward futuristic slang. Apparently, in the 22nd century, no one walks or runs anywhere. They Jet. Every time someone said to another character to Jet on over somewhere or that they were about to jet off someplace, I expect them to leap across the road flashing jazz hands. Because once a Jet, always a Jet. And in the future, everyone’s a Jet. Unless you’re the protagonist, then you’re a Shark. Or a psychopath. Whichever. Psychopaths who have easy access to antique guns that are described as nothing more than a knife-pistol that resembles a flower. Is this a magnum with a bayonet and orchid scope? A six-shooter/Ginsu/daisy? A long lost Salvador Dali sculpture? Whatever it is, it shoots weaponized jello.

And the psychics. Oh Lord, the fucking psychics! They’re called peepers here because psychics didn’t sound silly enough. I’ve never fully grasped the mid 20th century fascination with pseudo-scientific justifications for psychic powers, but man is it tired. It was tired before The Demolished Man and really, this should have ended it. But somehow, we still ended up with Jean Gray and random psychic powers in the Twilight Zone. Here in the Demolished Man, we have the Esper Guild, which is a cross between a trade union that covers all trades and a political party. Apparently, everyone from Doctors to HR personal are required to be Peepers, which begs the question of what everyone who isn’t a psychotic CEO does for a living. Drive flying taxi cabs, I guess. In a mere 200 years, we’ve not only discovered that a large percentage of the population is active or latent psychics, but they’ve completely reworked human society to the point where they’re pretty much in charge of everything. Which I guess might be considered subtext or something verging on a political or philosophical statement, if it amounted to anything more than an excuse to play with concrete poetry and fancy typography.

Now, I’m not opposed to soft sci-fi. I like a little whimsy and poetry in my speculative fiction and mostly eschew the hard SF. But a psychic who-done-it story shoehorned into a solar-system spanning romp with rocket ships and one of the more squicky romance subplots is just too soft. It’s nice however, to see that Bester did grow as an author and by the time he got to The Stars My Destination, had lost the fascination with Freudian psychoanalysis and reeled in the gadget porn a bit.

I give it 2.5 gleaming silver rocket ships out of 4. Some of the modernist prose is effective and Bester can tell a gripping story, even if it doesn’t add up to much in the end.

The Lives of Perfect Creatures

At long last and after much delay, my second movel, The Lives of Perfect Creatures, is available!

It’s taken two and a half years of hard work to put this together and I couldn’t be prouder of how the book turned out. But, you ask, what’s it all about? Glad you asked!

Sophie didn’t intend to steal The Man With The Mustache‘s umbrella, but she did it anyway. In her search to find him and make amends, she meets the ghost of Yuri Gagarin, philosophical hobos and an astronomer hounded by a priest, a rabbi and a minister who think the comet he discovered is a harbinger of Jesus’ return to Earth. Her best friend, Astrid suspects that what Sophie is really looking for is a truth more permanent than apparent. But Astrid has other things to worry about (like finding out the real name of the Little Red-Haired Girl who comes into the library every afternoon). Meanwhile, the Chinese are planning to land on the Moon and the city of Portland is slowly drowning due to ice caps being melted by the heat death of the universe. How all of this is related to the umbrella is hard to say in a way that makes sense, but Sophie is sure it does, somehow.

This is a big departure form my previous book. It’s a bit more personal, about the search for meaning in a world that has none, with umbrellas and mustaches and Phantom Cosmonauts. And if you still aren’t sure that this is your kind of book, you can always download it and read it for free.

Reason #5,203 I love the Internet

This page from the TV Tropes and Idioms Wiki, on James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, written entirely in Wakese.*

It’s brilliant, not only because it’s so fiendishly hard to write in Wakese at any great length, but because there’s absolutely no reason to do so, especially on a wiki ostensibly dedicated to cataloging tropes found in popular entertainment. It’s an obvious labor of love by a truefan who did it just for their own pleasure in doing something creative in honor of a work of art they clearly love. Which makes it all the more wonderful.

*Joycean prose made up entirely of literary and mythic allusion and portmanteau of English, Latin, Gaelic and French words.

Harry Potter and the Executive Short Shrift

The consensus about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is that it was a pretty good movie, but would have made a better TV series. I’ve been saying the same thing since The Goblet of Fire, and really about most novels that are made in to movies. and this isn’t even fannish griping about my favorite little moment being left out for plot expediency. Most novels are twenty gallon stories wearing a ten gallon hat. HBP was more relaxed and had some of the character moments that were lacking in the last two films, but still suffered from an excess of plot. But that is part of the problem with cramming a 650 page novel into two and half hours of movie. You have to break your neck swinging form one emotional arc to the next, just to fit everything into the allotted time.

Now, as a series, you have between 13 and 20 episodes to dwell on the character moments that make the story come alive, while still handling the various plots and subplots in a way that allows for subtly, drama and levity. You can spend a whole episode dealing with the Ron-Lavender-Hermione love triangle, as a break from emo Malfoy and the cabinet of doom, the whole business with Harry and the spell book, and the larger political fight going on as the buildup to the war escalates. Alternate this with prolonged episodes of Harry and Dumbledore in the Pensieve, hunting for horacrux and playing quidditch and you’ve got a pretty full season of television, right there. Squeezing all that into a movie leaves you wandering what’s happening, unless you’ve already read the books. Which just makes the movies little more than a visual plot summary rather than a living, breathing story on film.

Featurs, Not Bugs

I’ve been asked when my book will be available on the Kindle and I’ve sort of hemmed and hawed a bit in answering, because, to be honest, I don’t like the Kindle. I think it’s a flawed device and would rather not support bad technology.* Besides looking like something that was a ten generation predecessor the iPod, the Kindle is broken by design, as some unfortunate Kindle owners discovered recently, when Amazon decided to delete books from users devices:

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.

Turns out, the publisher decided not to continue supporting their ebook version of Orwell’s 1984. And so, the electronic copies already “sold” to Kindle readers where stuffed down the memory hole. And it was perfectly legal and acceptable for Amazon to do this. They did not steal these people’s books, because these people did not own them.

Anyone who thinks they own an ebook is fooling themselves, for all the reasons Horst at the Aardvark Speaks points out:

An e-book is a virtual book over which the publisher retains full control at all times. When you licence an e-book, you do not buy a physical copy that remains in your possession, you are merely granted the temporary right to access data on a server that is beyond your sphere of influence. When the conditions that regulate the access to the data change, the publisher can easily disconnect you from the book.

Actually, the same principle also applies to printed books, it simply cannot be brought about as easily. Only the copies in the bookstores can be recalled by the publisher; the copies already sold to customers may now be illegal, but tracking them down and removing them is impossible. This is one of the most important differences between access to a data service and possessing a physical object.

To illustrate the point that the Amazon case is anything other than an exception, here are some things that happened at The Library in conjunctions with e-books and e-journals:

  • Due to an oversight, a bill for an e-book servive was paid one day after the due date. As a result, access to about 1000 titles was denied for the entire calendar month.
  • The Library subscribed to an e-journal for a few years, then cancelled the subscription. The publisher removed access to the entire journal; the Library could no longer access even the volumes that it had paid for.
  • An e-book publisher went out of business; the Library lost access to hundreds of titles at once.
  • Sometimes, technical/connection problems occur that make hundreds of titles (they are usually bought in packages) temporary unavailable.

Libraries have been dealing with problems like these for quite a while, and are as a result now taking extremely great care to check what the licence agreements and contracts say to avoid situations like these. After all, denied access can have dramatic repercussions for their users (10,000 journals gone over night — that’s about as dramatic as a library burning to the ground, and it only requires that somebody flicks a switch somewhere).

I know all about this madness first hand. My job at the library (one of them anyway) is making sure we’ve verified that we aren’t going to loose all our ebooks on a whim, or because of some paperwork snafu.

Back int he early days, librarians were skeptical about ebooks and electronic journals, for fear that their impermanence would result in loss of access to information that our patrons need. Their wasn’t much to be done about it at the time, as not many people knew enough about the technology to explain why this access issue was important or devise ways to prevent it form being a problem. Instead, publishers were busy rigging the ebook and ejournal system to benefit them. Publishers sell access rights to material that doesn’t exist anywhere but on their servers. when you buy an ebook, it’s not at all like when you buy a physical copy. No one’s going to come in and repossess your physical copy form your shelves. But if you miss a payment or the publisher goes under (a problem happening more and more often these days) or they sell their catalog to someone else, you may loose access rights to that material, sometimes permanently. And as the recent business with the Kindle illustrates, most people are completely in the dark about the ebooks they buy for their own use. The silly rabbits think they actually own something they’ve paid for!

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* There’s also the problem of the Kindle not supporting footnotes. And why would it? I mean, that typographical innovation has only been around for a few centuries, who knows if it will catch on? As a reminder, I do offer free PDF versions of my book, which you can download, share with anyone you like, print out and remix. And if you loose it or misplace it due to some computer crash or portable reading device failure, you can come back and get it for free, as long as this website is running. It’s not a perfect ebook solution but a hell of a better End User License Agreement than you’ll get from Amazon, that’s for sure.

What I’ve Been Doing For the Last Month

Sorry for the lack of interesting content but for most of the last month or so I’ve been spending every spare moment prepping my book. Above is the final cover, and as you can see I’ve gone back to the Yuri image. I just can’t quit Yuri. Once you go cosmonaut, you can never go back.

This version is a lot less Shepherd Ferry Obama poster and more expressionistic portraiture. With little orange stars. The back cover has some cool space porn for those who like that sort of thing (raises hand) but this is a fucking family blog, so no dirty pictures of stars doing it.

Anyway, every non-spare moment has been spent with me up to my eyeballs doing highly technical and of no interest to non librarians stuff, so lets just pretend I was traveling the south east, wrestling alligators semiprofessionally instead.

If all goes as planned, I should have the proof copy in about 10 to 12 days, and the book should be available for sale by the third week of July at the latest. Then, I will be rich and famous, just like all the other self-published authors out there.