Archive for April, 2012

Flash Fiction: Unknown Title

This week’s Chuck Wendig challenge is to click this link, which will generate five random military operation names, then to use one as the title of a story.  As I write this introduction, I’ve yet to hit that link.  Here we go, the results are:

Merciless Demon
Combusting Kafir
Wild Saber
Unindulgent Ogre
Cowboy Griffin

Wow. Um. So here we go I guess.  I’ve decided to cheat and use two.  If you like this or my other flash fiction stories, I have a longer story in the upcoming Memory Eater anthology, currently seeking funds on Kickstarter. Read the rest of this entry »

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News Wire: Some DRM Reading

DRM, DRM, DRM.  It’s the acronym of the day in the publishing world, after Tom Doherty Associates, the parent company of the Tor and Forge imprints, would drop DRM from all of their eBooks by July.  I’ve talked about DRM before in this blog, just last week in fact, but in all of the excitement there aren’t a lot of discussions about what DRM actually is.

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and refers to a broad band of access control technologies put in place, ostensibly to protect digital media from pirating.  DRM is, in part, why you can’t burn a DVD to your iTunes library the way you can a CD.  DRM is why iTunes music downloads were previously a proprietary format and account locked.  DRM is why every Kindle device/app you get requires account validation through Amazon.  DRM is why some of your video games require online authentication to make sure you haven’t installed them too many times.  Yeah, it’s that stuff.  Consumers tend to dislike it, but it has persisted for the last several years.  Why?  Because it provides a perception of safety against attempts to illegally copy and distribute this media.

This isn’t actually what DRM does.  Anyone who has used a piece of software to create a digital copy of the contents of a DVD for personal use knows that DRM is exploitable.  It’s non-trivial, but there are workarounds for every form of DRM.  What this means in the end is that people who are looking to circumvent DRM are readily able to do so, it tends to only hamper those individuals who are looking to consume media they’ve purchased in the way most comfortable for them.  DRM thus serves as a hurdle under the DMCA, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states that it is illegal to circumvent DRM for the purpose of violating copyright.  It gives the law a hard and fast definition as to when something actually becomes a violation.

One offshoot is that you never really own an eBook, you merely license it.  You can’t sell it.  You can’t give it away.  And if you decide to switch from Kindle to Nook, you have to buy it again.

That’s a one-sided view of DRM, and I’ll admit to that.  It’s a hard subject to stay nonpartisan about.  I also mentioned Amazon and Kindle.  They’re not the culprits.  DRM is contractually imposed by the publishers, Amazon (or B&N or Sony or any other ebook retailer) is only the middleman in this equation.

So.  Tom Doherty Associates is dropping DRM.  Why is this news?  In part, it’s news because of the timing, right in the heart of the DOJ action against Apple and a portion of the Big Six.  In part, it’s because of who is doing it.  In part, it’s because of who is affected.

On the timing element, it comes on the heels of Charlie Stross’s blog post last week suggesting that abandoning DRM might be the next logical move for the publishers if the DOJ disassembles the agency model.  Stross’s timing was excellent, as he explains in a new post yesterday:

I was only just ahead of the curve: people at executive level inside Macmillan were already asking whether dropping DRM would be a good move. Last week they asked me to explain, in detail, just why I thought abandoning DRM on ebooks was a sensible strategy for a publisher.

It should be made clear, as Stross does, that he is “not responsible for Macmillan’s change of policy,” however he’s become the de facto cheerleader for the death of DRM among the Big Six publishers thanks to his post last week and his meeting with Macmillan this week.

On the who’s doing it side, you’ll note in Stross’s quotes he doesn’t say “Tor,” he doesn’t say “Tom Doherty,” he says “Macmillan.”  That’s because Tor, on the other hand, was sold to St. Martin’s Press in 1986.  St. Martin’s became part of the Holtzbrinck Group, and the Holtzbrinck Group is better known as Macmillan.  One of the Big Six.  The same Macmillan who is willing to fight the DOJ rather than settle.  They’re becoming the rebel publisher, and that’s kinda awesome.

So while it’s true that Baen has long been DRM-free, this is the first experiment by a Big Six imprint to step away from DRM and see what happens.  This doesn’t mean that they’re giving in to the pirates.  John Scalzi, a Tor author among his other credits, contacted the company and says on his blog that there is no intention on behalf of Tor or Macmillan to step down enforcement of copyright.

Oh, and Scalzi?  He’s against DRM, too.  In fact, he sums it all up perfectly.  Because he’s Scalzi:

Does this mean it’s easier for someone to violate my copyright? It does. But most people don’t want to violate my copyright. Most people just want to own their damn books. Now they will. I support that.

Scalzi’s books that are going DRM free, and he’s damn proud of that fact, announcing his next book will be DRM free from the day of release.  This gives the Tor move a clear champion within SFWA, one who will hopefully have some influence calming writers who may be concerned that dropping DRM is akin to surrendering to pirates.

That isn’t the extent of what I meant by who is affected.  Tor publishes science fiction.  Science fiction readers tend to be more technologically savvy.  So by using Tor as the publishing arm to experiment with dropping DRM, Macmillan has chosen not only the SFWA president but also a readership base that is more likely to appreciate the move.  Alright, that’s horribly generalist of me, I’ve met savvy consumers of any genre, I’ve met technophobic SF nuts, but I do find it interesting that it is a speculative fiction imprint getting the green light to go DRM-free.

I’ve looked for some dissenting opinions about this move.  I started with two blogs that I’m nearly guaranteed to disagree with, but both have come out as staunchly anti-DRM in the past.  This is actually one of those moves that both sides of the publishers vs Amazon fight agree on, the only disagreement will likely come as to predicting the potential damage to Amazon.  Even in comments threads, the only negatives I can find are variations of “Baen did this first” and general complaints about the price of eBooks, which happen any time eBooks are mentioned.  I’m enthused by the widely positive response, and hope this starts a trend in publishing.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Baen as being fully independent of the Big Six.


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Ace Doubles

I’ve been to the used book sale at the local library several times.  Never walked away with much, largely because not much ends up speaking to me.  When I go into any used book store, I beeline to the Science Fiction section.

I will stop here so you can be suitably shocked.

Lately what I’ve looked for is old pulp.  What I sometimes call the “skinny novels,” the ones that fill the narrow gaps in between the inch-wide spines that dominate the shelves.  My local used book store, Hole in the Wall Books, has a fantastic selection of these.  The spines of Daw books give the entire room a yellowish tinge, and I dig through the titles, looking for authors I’ve never read or even heard of, but who are represented with a dozen titles.  I keep my smartphone on, looking up starting points in series.  Because of this I have books like Dorsai! sitting on my night stand, and am currently reading Destination: Void.  I don’t end up liking all of them.  That’s almost part of the fun.  They’re short, they’re cheap, so I feel better about not liking them.  When they end up corny fun (Dinosaur Beach) I enjoy the ride.  When I don’t (Assassins from Tomorrow) I start picking apart what’s going wrong.

When I go to the twice a year library book sale, I wander the shelves of intermingled fiction looking for these titles.  Nothing is sorted out.  Lord of the Rings sits next to Tom Clancy.

This last time my wife called me over to the hobby and craft section.  There, sitting in three cardboard boxes, were little paperbacks in Ziploc bags.  If they’ve always been at the book sale, I can tell why I’d miss seeing them.  Who’s going to look for pulp science fiction in the hobby and craft section?  Perhaps someone thought they fell under the header of being collectibles so they were shunted away with books on collecting.  Perhaps they’ve never had these books at the sale before.  I’m not sure.  All I know is they were there and I started to dig through them.

Among them were hiding the Ace Doubles.

I knew they’d printed books like that before, two short novels printed back to back, one upside down so that there are two front and no back covers.  All with the fantastic artwork that graced pulp fiction in the 40s and 50s.  All priced at $2.50 or $3.50 for the sale.  I maintained some composure, held myself to just six books, four doubles and two standalone titles.  I wasn’t picking authors, I wasn’t picking titles, I didn’t recognize most of them.  I was picking artwork and taglines.  How could I turn down a man in a white fright wig hooked up to a machine, with the tagline “The god-king, the man-wolf, and the I-machine”?  Flip it over and two men stand on a chessboard with rockets flying behind them.  Sold!

As I was digging out my wallet at the checkout, the volunteer mentioned that everything would be half price on Sunday.

Yes.  I went back.  I set a budget of $20, and I gobbled up Ace Doubles.  Ten more, bringing the total haul to 14 books and 28 individual stories.  It’s overwhelming, and I hardly know where to begin.  No, that’s a lie, I don’t know at all where to begin.  Among books picked at random I ended up with the first edition of a Hugo winner (Jack Vance’s The Dragon Masters), a story by the author of Dinosaur Beach (Keith Laumer’s Worlds of the Imperium), a story by one of the first major female science fiction writers, and screenwriter of the first draft of Empire (Leigh Brackett’s The Nemesis from Terra) and even a title just obscure enough that I got to add it to Goodreads (Robert Moore Williams’s The Darkness Before Tomorrow  paired with Keith Woodcutt’s The Ladder in the Sky).

So here’s a quick breakdown.  I don’t have cover scans of all of these, sorry, and I will likely read both halves of each Double before moving on to the next.

  • D-335.  Poul Anderson The War of Two Worlds (Earth must choose — The Martians or the monsters!) and John Brunner Threshold of Eternity (All time and space was their battlefield!)
  • D-479.  Wilson Tucker To Tombaugh Station (Was his spaceship haunted — or only booby trapped?) and Poul Anderson Earthman Go Home (This quarantined world resisted change.)
  • F-108.  Damon Knight The Sun Saboteurs (Exiles from a hostile universe) and G. McDonald Wallis The Light of Lilith (Trapped in time’s vortex.)
  • F-119.  Gordon R. Dickson SpAcial Delivery (Rendezvous with a double-sized goliath) and Delusion World (If you don’t look, she’ll go away!)
  • F-123.  Leigh Brackett The Nemesis from Terra (Caught in the web of the fourth world) and Charles N. Fontanay Rebels of the Red Planet (Was he man, mutant, or Martian?)
  • F-127.  Keith Laumer World of the Imperium (His deadliest foe was his own Alternate World self) and Marion Zimmer Bradley Seven from the Stars (Secret war of the space castaways)
  • F-141.  Robert Moore Williams The Darkness Before Tomorrow (Were all humans their guinea pigs?) and Keith Woodcutt The Ladder in the Sky (Black magic or unimaginable superscience?)
  • F-145.  Robert Silverberg The Seed of Earth (If your number is up, you go to the stars) and Next Stop the Stars (Exciting stories of wonders in new worlds)
  • F-149.  Robert Moore Williams King of the Fourth Planet (The god-king, the man-wolf, and the I-machine) and Charles V DeVet & Katherine MacLean Cosmic Checkmate (10,000 worlds against one)
  • F-153.  Marion Zimmer Bradley The Planet Savers (One body, two minds, and a world in the balance) and The Sword of Aldones (All lines of cosmic force met in their hands)
  • F-161.  John Brunner Times Without Number (Beware the masters of “if”) and David Grinnel (aka Donald A. Wollheim) Destiny’s Orbit (He sought an empire in the stars)
  • F-177.  Robert Moore Williams The Star Wasps (Cybernetic men versus the invisible monsters) and Terry Carr Warlord of Kor (Backwards world — or secret outpost to another galaxy?)
  • F-185.  Jack Vance The Dragon Masters (Which was master, which was monster?) and The Five Gold Bands (Find the five keys to earth’s freedom)
  • H-59.  Louis Trimble Anthropol (Secret mission to save a hostile world) and Philip E. High The Time Mercenaries (What port awaited the end of their thousand years beneath the sea?)

I’m probably going to put together reviews of them as I read them, just because I’ve been meaning to get into reviewing something on this blog.  So if you want my views on a specific one, let me know in the comments.  If you really need the covers to make a decision, Google image search for “Ace Double” and the letter-number combination I listed. Oddly, my inclination would be to not start with the Hugo winner, because I don’t want to potentially start with the best of the lot.

Wikipedia lists 224 total science fiction doubles (and several hundred more western, mystery, and non-genre doubles).  That means I now have just over 6% of them.  I’m not going to go super crazy.  I’m not going to buy things like this lot of 104 currently going for over $400 on ebay.  But I’ll keep my eye out for them in the future.  If you see them in and around the DC area, going for under $4 each (or especially under $2 each) let me know.


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Chapter 12

This is a direct follow-up to the update to yesterday’s post.  I present the answers for Chapter 12’s understanding questions.

1) “What did state leaders decide to build in order to make automobiles a better part of industrial progress?”  A fleet of fifteen foot tall steam-powered metal spiders.  The only way to reliably outrun them was in a car.

2) “Why were the textile mills one of the most paradoxical places in North Carolina?”  Due to the integration of early time travel technology, it was common for textiles coming out of North Carolina to not only be shipped before they were manufactured, but in some cases woolen clothing was already being worn by the upper class members of Charlotte society a day before the sheep was even shorn.

3) “What was one result of the Loray Mill strike?”  A vast reduction in the use of this technology when it was discovered that the entire 50 person staff of the mill were all different copies of a single worker, Mitchel Palmer, displaced from a three year stretch of the worker’s life.  The strike was largely initiated by Mrs. Palmer.

4) “What problems led to the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression?”  Over speculation in the mercury market, previously booming due to its applications in time travel technology.

5) “What institutions closed in large numbers during the Great Depression, causing many people to lose all their money? What industry continued to make huge profits during the Great Depression?” Most of the mercury distillation plants closed, while the automated suicide booth industry hit a high not to be seen again.  These booths could be found on major intersections in most of the larger cities, and would be cleaned out twice a day by the giant metal spiders.  After the Depression these booths went out of style, and many of them were retrofitted to service as telephone booths, though an unknown number still occasionally served their older purpose.

6) “What did all the New Deal measures have in common?” Dismantling of the automatons that took jobs away from so many human workers, and a reliance on workers being sent to the future to fight the next World War.

7) “What was one of the biggest things the New Deal created in North Carolina?”  The Winston-Salem automaton reclamation plant.

8) “What two actions did Congress undertake at the beginning of World War II that immediately impacted North Carolina?” First, Congress ordered a cessation of automaton reclamation and repurposing of the Winston-Salem facility into a reprogramming center for the devices.  Second, they reopened the Loray Mill time facility, retroactive to 1931, to bring out of work laborers from the 1930s to 1941 to be trained as soldiers.

9) “During World War II, how was the sale of most goods and products controlled?”  Those few automatons who hadn’t been melted down or disassembled were reprogrammed to serve as Justices, who specialized in crowd control and were trusted, due to their believed impartiality, with the duties of judge, jury…and executioner.

So what have we learned today?  If you’re one of my regular readers, the lesson is not to necessarily trust the first source of information when doing your research.  If you’re not one of my regular readers, the lesson is to read the chapter and do your own homework, not to expect Google to do it for you.  Oh, and that I’m apparently a grumpy old man.  But I think a lot of us knew that already.  I’ve also learned a possible setting for a future story.

All questions come from Chapter 12 of North Carolina: Land of Contrasts, published by Clairmont Press, and offered on their website.

Update:  Looks like I landed the fish yesterday.

I’m a bad person, but I’m okay with that.

Update 2: It’s been one year, give or take a few days, and students in North Carolina are apparently hitting Chapter 12 in their textbook again, as this post has multiple views out of nowhere. So…hi, North Carolina students.

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An Invocation for Beginnings

Update:  I see a lot of Google hits coming in looking for “Invocation for Beginnings words.”  Sorry, this post isn’t a transcript, but Ze Frank is now selling a poster with the entire text of the video, which I’m sorely tempted to get.

I’m working on a post, the next in the world building series.  It’s about directions.  But it isn’t ready yet.  So I’m going to pull something out of my back pocket and present Ze Frank‘s “An Invocation for Beginnings.”  Which may as well be called An Invocation for Creation.  This is for you, this is even more for me, words to kick my ass with:

I’m not focusing on beginnings now, but endings.  Chapter 35 is drafted.  Chapter 36 will happen tonight and set up the climax.  Chapter 37 will pull it together.  Chapter 38 is dénouement.  And the Epilogue is an epilogue.  It’s endings, but each has their own little beginning, that point where I sit down and start the chapter.  As writers we’re always beginning something.  A new story, a new chapter, a new outline, a new editing pass.  If we’re not…then are we still writers?


Update:  This has nothing to do with that, but since this isn’t a fully realized post anyway, what the hell?  Someone hit my blog today by asking Google “what were the two reasons that north carolina entered into a period of transition?”  I’m sorry that my blog doesn’t currently include the teacher’s edition of North Carolina: Land of Contrasts from Clairmont Press, but since someone did ask the question, I will entertain answers now.



Shakeup, Shakedown

Today is Monday, April 16th.  The 11th, with its suit from the DOJ against Apple and five of the Big Six publishers is most of a week behind us, and lines are still being drawn in the sands.  In the end there’s one guarantee, this entire issue is bringing the future of publishing to much more public light than anything has in a good long time.  That’s probably for the best, it’s good that there is an informed public seeing, perhaps for the first time, just how their sausages are being made.  Even if it comes hand in hand with many of the predictable questions about why digital books should be so “expensive,” considering there’s no price to printing.

So a rundown of what I’ve been reading and what I’ve been thinking, starting with what’s turning into one of the bigger lightening rods, Charlie Stross’s weekend post “What Amazon’s ebook strategy means“.

And the peculiar evil genius of Amazon is that Amazon seems to be trying to simultaneously establish a wholesale monopsony and a retail monopoly in the ebook sector.

He makes an interesting point about DRM as a player in this game.  I’ve always had a rather funny feeling about DRM, embedded technology intended to prevent pirating of copyrighted digital material.  As a producer of intellectual property (even if it’s not all that intellectual), I’ve got a stake in the protection of copyright.  However, in the end, most DRM technology has proven only to make it difficult for legal owners of material to enjoy it, rather than stemming any actual piracy.  DRM on music, DRM on eBooks, DRM on movies, all are non-trivial to overcome, but all are also nothing more than annoyances for those who know their various workarounds.  So in the end, DRM misses its mark by hindering not the pirate but the casual user.

Stross says that DRM allowed Amazon’s near monopoly of the eBook market, they very one that the alleged collusion of Apple and the publishers was meant to combat.  It was the DRM/wholesale one-two punch that created the problem.

So, because Amazon had shoved a subsidized Kindle reader or a free Kindle iPhone app into their hands, and they’d bought a handful of books using it, the majority of customers found themselves locked in to the platform they’d started out on. Want to move to another platform? That’s hard; you lose all the books you’ve already bought, because you can’t take them with you.

By foolishly insisting on DRM, and then selling to Amazon on a wholesale basis, the publishers handed Amazon a monopoly on their customers—and thereby empowered a predatory monopsony.

Amazon could take a loss on its sales of eBooks purchased under a wholesale basis (this loss is not in question), then have books locked to the Kindle thanks to the DRM.  Publishers didn’t entirely understand how the DRMs would work, but they wanted them because they would prevent piracy.  This was the advent of the modern eBook market, where most selling sources lock you into one format readable on only one reader or a family of readers.  Which means that consumers aren’t buying books, they’re buying licenses.  Stross sees the next move being the death of DRM.  Even as a content creator, I’m for this, as I don’t believe there would be any significant uptick in piracy, but there would be a significant uptick in availability of intellectual properties.  This is a net positive.

Want a dose of pessimism?  Baldur Bjarnason in his post Today is Not Tomorrow (reblogged with some additional commentary by Charlie Jane Anders on io9) looks at what the effect of an Amazon ruled eBook market could have on eBooks as a whole.  He identifies five problems:

  1. No margins (mostly due to hardware)
  2. No moat
  3. Subsidised hardware
  4. Integrated silo
  5. Specialised user-base (expert readers)

Basically by creating a specialty market, like the rise of the comic book store, Amazon ends up bracketing off a portion of the market that is more than happy with the developments, but makes it harder for someone new to get into reading eBooks.  They’re not on the newsstand, so to speak.

But, having captured the expert reader populace, Amazon is in the position to squeeze the market dry as it slowly fades away over the next twenty years. They won’t have the margins to expand novel reading and the Kindle is in many ways as unfriendly to casual readers as a comic book store is.

The Kindle as a device is a shibboleth for expert readers and as such drives casual readers away. ‘Why should I buy a Kindle? I only read a couple of books a year.’ It’s a symbol for a clique they know they won’t ever be a member of.

A free app, on the other hand, is a no-brainer decision for most people. They’ll download it, just in case.

But none of that addresses the problem of renewal once novels are removed from the public sphere. Comics have taught us that you can’t rely on parents training their children to love a medium, it needs to be instilled through exposure. The industry needs strong, healthy, and vibrant libraries. Ask any adult expert reader and they’ll all rave about how much time they spent in libraries as kids.

And here we get into another core issue, one that I don’t talk about much.  Libraries.  Publishers serve libraries in a way Amazon as yet doesn’t.  This makes sense.  Publishers support libraries because they benefit from people stumbling across new and interesting stories.  Amazon doesn’t because libraries buy one copy once and there’s no profit margin in that.  Publishers envision better profit through support, Amazon through neglect.

So what do we do?  We the writers who are just pounding away on keyboards and seeing the publishing world outside our windows going to hell in a handbag?  We do what we should always do: listen to Chuck Wendig on Prepping For The Publishing Doomsday:

Calm down.

Breathe easy.

In. Out. In. Out.

Maybe have a drink. Take a walk. Sip some oolong tea.

Then, when you’ve relaxed: keep writing.

Stay the course.

Which is what I’m going to do.  Because it’s all I can do right now.  Anything else is a course to madness, or worse, distraction from writing.  So yesterday I finished the rough draft of Chapter 34.  The outline goes 38 chapters plus an epilogue.  So I’m just going to keep writing it.  Then editing it.  Then see what comes when it comes.

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Flash Fiction: Death and Bob

Getting back into the Chuck Wendig challenge after a week off.  Today’s theme, Death.

You have 1000 words to write a short story that prominently features death. What that means is up to you, of course. And genre is also in your court.

But a death — or the concept of death, or an exploration of death — must be front and center.

So without further ado, Death and Bob.

Read the rest of this entry »

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April 11 2012 News Wire

Rare direct cross post from Unleaded. There are two big developments today in the battles between Amazon, Apple, the publishers, and the DOJ, both of which deserve attention of anyone who cares about the future of ebook and regular book pricing, with the potential of both affecting the future of author compensation.

First, from The Bookseller, Two US publishers turn backs on Don’t let the headline underplay this, this isn’t another dispute between Amazon and a smaller group like IPG, this is at least two of the Big Six fighting back, though specifically which two is not yet known.

At least two of the big six publishers in the US are refusing to renew contracts with, with the giant internet retailer said to be downplaying the promotion of their titles as a result of the dispute.

The news was first reported by Salon reporter Alexander Zaitchik, who noted in a longer piece on Amazon, that “for the first time, the ‘Big Six’ publishers—HarperCollins, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Macmillan—have refused to sign Amazon’s latest annual contract”. Overnight PaidContent reported that “people familiar with the situation” confirmed to its reporter that at least two of these big-six houses have refused to sign new annual contracts, but it could not confirm whether the remaining four had taken a similar stance.

Interesting to see they’re not completely yanking the titles like they did with IPG, but then I always suspected they went after IPG because Amazon felt they were a weaker target, someone that would just roll over, and someone whose business they could afford to lose. Can’t yank two of the Big Six, that’s a significant portion of the market, and that’s going to hurt Amazon far more than it would likely hurt the publisher.

Second, from the Washington Post, among others, Justice Dept. sues Apple, publishers over e-book prices. This is what we’ve been expecting for a few weeks now, ever since the threats came down. This follows close on the heels of HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette settling with the government.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it was suing Apple and five major publishers, alleging they colluded to keep the price of e-books artificially high.

“As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. “We allege that executives at the highest levels of these companies–concerned that e-book sellers had reduced prices–worked together to eliminate competition.”

The suit was filed against Apple as well as HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group, and MacMillan.

I’ve made my side in this fight known. I side with the publishers, which means I side with Apple, largely because I stand by a standardization of prices across digital formats. I’m not going to say that the Agency Model is the end all and be all, but as I say in that post:

If I comparison shop between Barnes, Amazon, and my local independent book seller, I may get three different prices for a book. I can pick the cheapest one, and I can read it without any worries. However with three major formats for eBooks, comparison shopping is limited by my ability to then read the book I picked up. Finding a book cheaper through the Nook store isn’t going to do me a damned bit of good when I have a Kindle. So if one company, say Amazon, consistently undercuts the other two, it’s going to push people exclusively to the Kindle. One company can control the market by being the most able to sustain a loss.

The DOJ isn’t intentionally acting to help Amazon create a monopoly, but stand by my concerns that that will be the outcome.

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Story Trailer

Fellow Memory Eater contributor Justin Swapp is working on a series of story trailers for the anthology.  Mine went live today, and includes Carly Sorge’s fantastic artwork for the story, which I’ve previously only shown to select people on my iPod screen.  So I figured I should show it off to everyone:

Before I talk more about book and story trailers, let’s go through all the standard ads.  We still need a lot of support to get The Memory Eater funded.  We’ve had an awesome first week and the 1/3 funding threshold is already in our rear view mirror, but it’s still a long road ahead.  $8 gets you an eBook, $15 gets you the print edition, cheap for either and both help support us.  There are also still four original pieces of story art available for purchase.  The sampler, including the start to my story Home Again, is still live.  There’s also an interview with the editor up.  Go check it all out.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around book trailers.  I’m not going to pretend I know the full history of these videos, I only know my personal history with them.  It’s a history of jealousy and distrust, just as all good stories should be.  Long before I was on the internet, the only book trailers I ever saw were those very few books that got television commercials.  They would be Tom Clancy books and James Patterson books.  Hell, Patterson still shows up regularly, even in commercials that aren’t actually for his books.  I’m not sure where the feelings first came from, but as I got older I rolled my eyes more and more at book commercials.  Something about the kind of books that were being advertised to the much lower common denominator of the television audience.

Yes, I was a snotty little brat at points in my life.  Perhaps still am.

Do I begrudge James Patterson of his success?  No.  Do I wish I had it for myself?  Absolutely.  Even if that meant feeling like I was selling my soul and engaging in the kinds of writerly activities that I’ve rolled my eyes at in the past?  You better fucking believe it.

But I don’t, and so I still roll my eyes whenever I see James Patterson threatening to kill of a character from a series of books I don’t read if I don’t read the new one.  Or using words like “unputdownable.”  Which appeared in two different commercials, so I suspect he’s trolling us.  Which I can begrudgingly respect him for.

I’m not sure when I first saw a book trailer on YouTube.  I do know it was recent, because I think the book trailer for last year’s Phoenix Rising was the first I actually sat down and watched in its entirety.  When I first came across these trailers, I lumped them in with the Patterson and Clancy commercials, and dismissed them as a whole.  However, there’s one very big element to the commercials that set them apart from the trailers.

How many authors can you name that get commercials?  Beyond the ones I already have in this post.  It’s not something that happens for a huge, vast, overwhelming majority of writers.  Seriously, the number of writers who get television commercials is a rounding error away from 0%.  It’s just an avenue of advertising not open for even the biggest name writers, and certainly not for those who are relative unknowns in the field.

I’m going to stop right there, because you all see where this is going.  This is me waxing on about how the internet democratizes communication, allowing individuals to reach out to individuals in a way never before possible.  Yes.  That’s exactly what I’m saying, and I know it’s not any kind of grand revelation.  Hell, this entire blog is one fledgling writer reaching out to people that he wouldn’t have any way of reaching out to before the internet.

So instead, as someone who has viewed a couple of book trailers now, some thoughts I’ve had.

  1. Use all the resources available to you.  If all you have is a program that lets you put up some simple animations with some clip art, do it.  If you have friends with any kind of film making experience who owe you favors, cash them in.  The better it looks, the more likely someone is going to stick with it long enough to see the publication date, or share it with friends.
  2. Remember it represents you.  Check the spelling, check the grammar, take some time to edit it and make it something you can be proud of, and something that will represent you positively.
  3. Get it out there.  Youtube isn’t going to send the link out for you.  Yes, the internet blah blah democratization blah blah.  It hasn’t gone THAT far.  Get the word out there.  Zero views does no one any good.
  4. Don’t spam.  I’m trying to be good about this myself during the Kickstarter campaign, and I certainly hope people will say something if I’m going too far (this is not only permission to do so, but an actual request).  I’m limiting myself to a tweet a day and a blog post a week, where the blog post has to use the Kickstarter to segue into another topic.  Diminishing returns are a real thing.  You’re talking to largely the same audience each time.  I have personally hit that unfollow button on the writer who keeps posting the same blog post or video four or five times a day every single day.

Get out there.  Self promote.  It’s the power of the internet.

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World Building Question: What month is it?

Didn’t it feel like March just sailed by?  Isn’t it nice we’ve been having a temperate Ä’ostur-mōnaþ thus far? Am I the only one worried we’re going to have a viciously hot მკათათვე?  I’ve been working my way through periods of time with these world building questions, and it’s time to move from hours to weeks and now to months.  We skipped one unit of time that’s directly observable, the day, but we’re going to stop here on another that’s theoretically observable, the month.  I say theoretically as we’ve diverged slightly from the origins of the month, but that’s already getting ahead of ourselves.

Months are roughly based on moon cycles.  The period from full moon to full moon is roughly 29.5 days, and tracking the lunar cycle dates to at least the Paleolithic era.  This means that the concept of the month as a period of time is roughly as old as humanity’s concept of tracking time.  However, the idea of a month gets complicated as soon as we divide 365.25 by 29.5 and wind up with 12.4.  That is to say a year cannot be evenly divided into months as long as months are tied to lunar cycles, and a month tied to lunar cycles is going to be as off-center compared to the year as weeks are compared to months.  So what do we do?  On earth there are three answers: lunar calendars that will drift compared to the seasons, lunisolar calendars that add what we might call “leap months” to even everything out, and solar calendars that decouple months from lunar cycles.

Lunar calendars, such as the Islamic calendar, define a year as 354-355 days or 12 synodic lunar cycles (there are five lengths of lunar months that I’m not going to cover because, frankly, I don’t understand them).  The major effect of this is a drifting of Islamic holidays when compared to the Gregorian calendar.  Ramadan, the holy Islamic month of fasting, cycles backwards through the Gregorian calendar in roughly 34 year cycles.

Lunisolar calendars base the length of a month around the same synodic cycle, but make an attempt to adjust to the period of a year by providing extra days built in when needed.  In keeping with our religious calendar theme, the best known of these lunisolar calendars is the Hebrew calendar which adds an extra month to seven of the years in a 19 year cycle.  This is why, while Ramadan begins roughly 11 days earlier every year, Hanukkah reliably falls during the Gregorian month of December, though does shift between the beginning and end of the month.

Solar calendars are what most people reading this post are accustomed to.  The Gregorian/Christian calendar is solar.  Notice a trend, three major Abramic faiths, three majors calendar types?  I suspect an ethnographic study could be made of why the religions each chose the type of calendar they did, but this isn’t about ethnography.  The Gregorian calendar is, let’s face it, a mess.  But it’s a mess in the kind of way that fascinates me for world building, because it shows how different influences shape simple things.  Some highlights:

  • A significantly shorter month, which used to be the last month and thus had its length determined by how much time was needed to catch up to the solar year.  This is why leap days are still applied to February.
  • Four months named after an older calendar order, thus September thru December, the 9th through 12th months, have names that mean “7th Month,” “8th Month,” “9th Month,” and “10th Month.”  January and February were the 11th and 12th months.
  • Four months are named after gods (January, March, May, and June), two after emperors (July and August) and one month’s etymology is lost to time (April).

Random side note observation: with both hours and weeks we saw an attempt to decimalize them during the French Republic period.  Months?  They were fine with 12 of them, though of 30 days each with 5-6 bonus days at the end of the year, similar to the Mayan Wayeb’.

I’d normally be digging more into the origins of months, but here’s the thing.  Months are potentially a very human thing.  Many cultures independently came up with them, because the cycles of the moon are very obvious to the naked eye.  It’s the only object in the night sky that changes so dramatically.  And there’s just the one of it.  So if you’re world building a fictional civilization that’s earth based, they’ll probably have some concept of months, with the question being whether the calendar is Lunar, Lunisolar, Solar, or whether they keep both a solar calendar and a ceremonial lunar or lunisolar calendar, as the widespread adoption of the Gregorian calendar requires of practitioners of the Islamic and Jewish faiths.

Things become more troublesome when world building for a species not based on earth.  There are more variables to consider.  Is there a single frame of reference for a longer period of time, something between a day and a year?  Does it line up evenly with a year?  Do the locals care?  If there’s no obvious astrological point of reference, is the year subdivided in some other way?  By seasons?  Arbitrarily?  Mayans had 20 day months in their calendar tied to the solar year, chosen to evenly divide the year rather than tracking lunar phases.  Are there two moons and a complex series of calendars that include a solar calendar, prime-lunar calendar and secondary-lunar calendar?  Why do I think that last one would be fun to work out?  Just what would happen to a culture that had a strong lunar tradition if something catastrophic happened to their moon?  Why am I putting so many story ideas I want to use in these questions?

Let’s do the reverse world building wrap-up.  On my planet called earth, they have a moon that dominates the night sky, and goes through 29-ish day cycles.  They’ve long used these cycles as a unit of time, and now have calendars based roughly on the cycles, though with some fudging to keep up with the length of a year.

Some of the upcoming questions (and the intended topics) for this series:  What year is it (how years are numbered and when do they start)?  What’s for lunch (eating and mealtimes)?  Which way is the restaurant (directions)?

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