Friday, December 28, 2007
Bookgasm's 5 Best Sci-Fi Books of 2007
"Holy wow. Once I started reading Brasyl, I knew I would never see the world quite the same way again... Brasyl shows that Pyr has serious chops in acquiring new material in addition to picking up previously published gems. Read the review if you want more, but my first recommendation is this: Close your browser, put your computer to sleep, go to the bookstore, buy Brasyl, take off the dust jacket without reading it, and clear your calendar. You’re in for a treat. Along with McDonald’s River of Gods,it is easily one of the best books of the last 10 years."
Meanwhile, Joel Shepherd's two 2007 Cassandra Kresnov novels, Breakawayand Killswitch,tie for # 5.
"There’s not a lot about these books that I haven’t already said in my pair of breathless reviews, and while one probably would have made the list on its own merits, having two of these tomes in the span of a year really takes the cake. Pyr books has been knocking down doors in both publishing original fiction and bringing foreign work to North America, and Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov series demonstrates the second half of this equation wonderfully. Why weren’t these books brought over sooner? How many other authors and ideas are just waiting to get picked up, gussied up with holy-cow-amazing cover art by the likes of Stephan Martiniere, and unleashed upon the unsuspecting North American public? More, I hope."
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Murky Depths: The New Kid on the Block
Wondered if you might oblige new kid on the sf block, Murky Depths, with a mention on your blog (I mean, Bowing to the Future).
We're UK based but have editors in the States and currently sales between UK and US are virtually running neck and neck.
You can see what we're up to at the website www.murkydepths.com.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Lou Podcast: An Agony of Pleasure
Incidentally, I was already so addicted to Kleffel's podcast before he had me on. So now I'm like through the roof. I get it from iTunes, but here's the link to the RSS feed.
Update 12/228/07: Rick writes this morning to let me know that he'll be broadcasting an 8 minute segment from our interview on San Francisco's KUSF during Talk of the Bay!
I've been kindled!
Friday, December 21, 2007
Here It Comes... "Net" Result of the Writers Strike
"The companies are pushing us into the embrace of people that are going to cut them out of the loop," marveled one show runner who is tracking the start-up trend but not participating. "We are one Connecticut hedge-fund checkbook, one Silicon Valley server farm and two creators away from having channels on YouTube, where the studios don't own anything."
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Sideways in Crime: Latest Cover
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
SF Signal: My Thoughts to Your Thoughts
Teaser: "It's been pretty obvious for some time that we've moved from top-down marketing to peer-to-peer referral, and you can make a strong case that the shift in the paradigm isn't just coming but has already occurred."
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Three Hundred and Sixty
"Three hundred and sixty," he said, when he came round to face me again.
"What?" I asked, bewildered.
"Degrees," he replied with a soft smile. "Any direction you want. Any time. You can go right now. Leave from right here. Nothing's keeping you that isn't in your mind."
Thanks, man. That was a moment.
The Devil's Final Curtain
Calico Reaction reports:
"There was a total of 31 entries, which isn't bad at all (but what do I know, it's my first contest!). 16 of those entries were from women, and 15 of those entries were from men. Which I find very cool, even if it bores the rest of you."
Update: Street Teamer Paul Abbamondi weighs in on Wistful Writings with his own Top Ten Books of 2007, and I'm happy to see Adam Roberts' Gradisilon the list (with Justina Robson's Selling Outgetting an honorable mention). Paul ranks the book at number five and says it is "...an excellent piece of hard science fiction, and making me even more impressed because I absolutely cannot stand hard science fiction."
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn
"It is conceivable that gigantic dark stars may exist today, and although they do not emit visible light, they could be detected because they should spew gamma rays, neutrinos and antimatter and be associated with clouds of cold, molecular hydrogen gas that normally wouldn't harbor such energetic particles, he adds."
So, I'm fascinated and I go to said article to see more about these "dark stars" and I read:
"Perhaps the first stars in the newborn universe did not shine, but instead were invisible 'dark stars' 400 to 200,000 times wider than the sun and powered by the annihilation of mysterious dark matter, a University of Utah study concludes... Dark stars may explain why black holes – collapsed stars so dense that not even light escapes – formed much faster than expected. [Associate professor of physics at the University of Utah] Gondolo says black holes existed only a few hundred million years after the big bang, yet current theories say they took longer to form. 'These dark stars may help. They could collapse into black holes very early because they are very short-lived and formed when the universe was young, at least in one scenario.' Another possibility is that dark stars lasted quite a while but eventually turned into conventional stars. Gondolo and colleagues, however, argue the gas cooling and dark matter heating within a dark star can remain in balance, allowing dark stars to survive, but that depends on certain assumptions about the mass of neutralinos."
And so, of course, my first thought is that clearly dark stars were what filled the sky when the Old Ones were in power. And when the stars changed to conventional stars, that's when R'lyeh sank. Natch.
And trying to check the spelling on R'lyeh, I pop over to wikipedia and what should I find but (emphasis mine):
"...the nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh ... was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults . . ." —H. P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"
From the dark stars! There it is, all the way back in 1928! All hail the green, sticky spawn of the stars!
Congratulations to Jeff Carlson
Jeff Carlson sold German rights for Plague Year and its two sequels to Piper via the Donald Maass Literary Agency, in best bid auction, for a “significant deal” in high five figures. Included in the contract are bestseller bonuses, which, if attained, will make the overall deal worth six figures, plus royalties. Piper intends to publish the first volume in September 2008 as “part of a special marketing campaign aiming to link phantastic and mainstream novels in order to widen the range for ‘phantastic thrillers’ in both the mainstream and the science fiction/fantasy market,” including advertising, special pages in Piper catalogues, and cross-promotion in genre and non-genre media. Spanish rights for Plague Year sold to Minotauro in a preemptive bid over Plaza / RHM. The first sequel, Plague War, is slated for release in North America in August 2008, with the next title set to follow in Summer 2009.
Lou Plugs Historic Birmingham
The line I usually give people is that when I left Birmingham in the mid-80s, your choices were pool or darts, Alabama or Auburn, Baptist or Presbyterian, Bud Light or Michelob Light, Hank Williams or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Not to mention black or white (and not a lot of overlap). So when I returned almost two decades later, I was surprised to find that Bud or Michelob had morphed into Newcastle or Guinness. And there were at least seven sushi bars that I counted (at least one of which is really good), a huge Asian population that certainly wasn't here before, same for the huge Indian population and the Latino one, students walking around from as far away as Quebec, Starbucks in every suburb, biracial couples everywhere, and Jane Seymour seating at the table next to me at the restaurant that Gourmet magazine named the number five best in the country. And thanks to the top notch medical school at UAB, it was almost a rarity to hear a southern accent. And we have a very healthy independent film scene. Not the town I remembered at all.
So I've softened a little bit. And tried to see beyond some of my own prejudice, (word choice very much intentional.) And get down with where I'm from.
Which means that when the good people at Turner Publishing Company asked me if I'd like a complimentary copy of Historic Photos of Birmingham,I surprised myself by saying yes. It surprised my wife even more. And what really surprised me was how affected by the photographs I was when the book arrived.
Some background: Birmingham was founded in 1872, and was built around the iron and steel industry (the name was taken from Birmingham, England). It was called "The Magic City" - as I've known since childhood - because it grew up overnight "as if by magic", springing from a population of 3,000 to 38,000 in less than two decades.
So I don't know why I'm surprised by all the industry in the pictures - like I still expected just rural farms and tractors. Lots of shots of furnaces and miners, trains and construction. (We've always had a heavy Greek population. As a kid, I thought the statue of Vulcan that loomed over the city was our tribal god, and figured a bigger town like Atlanta must worship Jupiter or something. No foolin'.)
The shots of the city circa 1900-1930 are amazing. I had no idea we used to have street cars! Or special towers were workers manually operated stop lights! Or hosted three balloon races! Or that early 1900 traffic cops dressed so absurdly - the one from the 1920s looks like he think he's the German kaiser or something. The shots of aging confederate soldiers blows my mind and evokes a strange form of pity. But most affecting is the photo of the "company guard" standing watch over a worker village in 1937, shotgun in hand to deal with any trouble-makers who show signs of unionizing. Or the 1960s shot of an African-American man protesting outside a department store with the sign "We'll buy when Loveman's hires Negro clerks. Jim Crow must go." (Something bitterly ironic about a store named Love Man that doesn't love all men, isn't it?) Mostly, there's just this overriding sense of time, and history, and stories lost forever, and how the past really, truly, is another country. One right here next to me, but inseparably far away. And I'm glad that James L. Baggett's book helps me visit it, if only just a little.
If you're not in or of Alabama, this might not be your thing (though maybe it is - there's a lot of history in this town - and they do have a whole series of historic photo books). If you are an Alabamian, this is certainly worth your time. Especially if, like me, your appreciation of your town is a work-in-progress.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Symphony for a Devil
The result was "the Pyr street team," a group of ten (now fourteen) readers, all between 15 and 25, who volunteered to read arcs (advanced reader copies) of Pyr books in exchange for blogging about them, ideally in places and communities that Yours Truly might not be hip enough to be up on. Diane handpicked the members from Alpha, submitting them to me for final approval, and we've been up and running since August, 2006.
One of the conditions going in was that I insisted this not be the propaganda wing of Pyr books, and stressed to the team that they were being asked to blog honestly about a book, whether they liked it or not. Part of this is my concern that if it were strictly propaganda it would smell as such and therefore be of little use. Part of it is my feeling that honest, intelligent discussion is more interesting and engaging than straight praise. And part of this is my desire to get real feedback on Pyr books from actual, (non-professional) readers. The result has been very informative - if sometimes painful. Because honest they have been! (Hi, Shara.)
What I didn't expect out of the program was the degree of communication that would evolve between Yours Truly and the members, with some very interesting genre-related discussions on our private email list. I'm not sure but what this hasn't actually been the most valuable aspect of the whole program for me.
Now, one of our most active participants, who blogs as Calico Reaction and Symphony for a Devil, has launched a year-in-review series of linked posts she's calling the Pyr Trifecta. Two of her three posts are up now. First is what she styles her "serious" post, Pyr Post # 1: A Year in Review, where she looks back at everything she's read from us in 2007. She discusses our cover art as well, with some good words for both Stephan Martiniere and John Picacio. And she breaks her reading down into four categories: Wanted to Like and LOVED; Wanted to Like and DID; Really Wanted to Like but Didn't, Sadly; and Didn't Think I'd Like and Didn't. (See that note about honesty above.)
Pyr Post # 2: 2007 Superlatives is more light-hearted. As she explains, "Remember the good old high school days, and those oh-so-lovely senior superlatives that were really a popularity contest but supposedly represented the best in our class? I thought it'd be really fun to do that with the 2007 crop of Pyr titles..." Books are awarded such interesting categories as Coolest Premise, Most Likely to Make an Awards Ballot, Most Likely to Make a Kick-Ass Motion Picture, and Best "Girl" Book.
Any nice things said about Yours Truly was probably paid sponsorship, but the rest of it is well worth reading.
Update: Pyr Post # 3: Pyr Book Giveaway !!!! is up now. It's a contest in which two lucky winners get the Pyr book of their choice, selected from out of the 2007 books discussed. Also, there's a poll, the results of which I'll be curious to see. Check it out!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I'm Down With It
Three Unbroken: Free Fiction Online
The Celestial Empire sequence began way back when with the short "O One" in my own anthology Live Without a Net, and continued in a series of stories published in various venues (Chris aggregates their appearances here on a checklist). They include the PS Publishing novella, The Voyage of Night Shining White and the forthcoming Firebird young adult work, Iron Jaw & Hummingbird. In February, Solaris will publish The Dragon's Nine Sons in mass-market. Me, I can't wait.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Getting It Off My Chest
The proximity of these two conversations got me thinking. So I pulled out our catalog, and I counted. We launched Pyr in March, 2005, and we have officially confirmed and announced our publication schedule through August 2008. So looking at those 52 titles:
- 23 are original works, never published anywhere before the Pyr editions.
- 23 titles debuted in the UK or Australia first.
- 6 titles are reprints (of US originals)
Ian McDonald? you say. But isn't he British, living in Britain and publishing in Britain first? Here it should be pointed out that while we followed the initial UK publication of River of Gods by some time, his latest novel, Brasyl, is a first edition original. We bought directly from McDonald, he delivered to us, we published 1.5 months before the UK edition, and the UK edition was set from our copy edits, which we provided as a courtesy to the UK publisher. So I'm counting that one as original to Pyr.
Which is not to say that I don't love me my UK and Australian speculative fiction novels, or that I won't continue to bring the best of it across to a deserving American readership, because, well, this stuff is good and it should be published over here. I strongly believe doing so has real value. But I'm a little rankled that there is a perception that that's all we do, as it gives short shrift to our equally great original talents. David Louis Edelman's Infoquake was nominated for the Campbell Memorial Award. Kay Kenyon's Bright of the Sky was chosen by PW as one of the Best SF&F Books published in 2007. Alan Dean Foster's Sagramanda was proclaimed by Asimov's the best novel he has yet written in all his long career. Statements like the ones above don't do them justice.
'sall I'm saying.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Marketing the Big Three, Part 2
Cory Doctorow responds with SF magazines' circulation numbers in sad decline, in which he says: "If I were running the mags, I'd pick a bunch of sfnal bloggers and offer them advance looks at the mag, get them to vote on a favorite story to blog and put it online the week before the issue hits the stands. I'd podcast a second story, and run excerpts from the remaining stories in podcast. I'd get Evo Terra to interview the author of a third story for The Dragon Page. I'd make every issue of every magazine into an event that thousands of people talked about, sending them to the bookstores to demand copies -- and I'd offer commissions, bonuses, and recognition to bloggers who sold super-cheap-ass subscriptions to the print editions."
Then John Scalzi's "The Big Three" comes along to suggest it may not matter. "The big three can still be relevant, mind you; I suspect Asimov’s was essential in bootstrapping Charles Stross into being the decade’s pre-eminent SF writer when it published the short stories that would eventually become the Hugo-nominated novel Accelerando. Likewise, Tim Pratt’s Hugo win this year is going to do great things for him moving forward. That said, I can think of more prominent SF writers published since 2000 who have gotten along without the benefit of exposure in the 'Big Three' than who have been helped by them."
All of which prompts Paolo Bacigalupi to weigh in with five posts:
Science Fiction Magazines Part I - Why are the "Big Three" Dying?
Science Fiction Magazines Part II - Marketing in Meatspace
Science Fiction Magazines Part III - Online Marketing
Science Fiction Magazines Part IV - Starting from Scratch
SF Mags V - An SF Magazine for Girls?
Along the way, Paolo proclaims, "It says something about the state of the written sf market when we sf writers have a hard time connecting with the users of something as wildly popular as Halo. Technically, these users should be our bread and butter — and don’t tell me they don’t read. YA is doing just fine, and manga, too." Which leads him to propose a new magazine aimed at young male readers.
Then Homeless Moon offers "An Open-Source Speculative Fiction Magazine Model," which shifts the focus from marketing alone to online marketing which builds community. "What the Big Three have done effectively, and what constitutes a tribute to their longevity (which, in the big scope, is noteworthy), is build community. That is ultimately what online marketing exists to do, and represents a shift in the technology and approach to marketing as a whole. Saturation advertising has a provable low turnaround; high precision viral marketing is exponentially more effective (and I strongly believe that anyone running a small business today really needs to read that book I just linked). Get the viral going and use it to carefully cultivate a sustainable growing community and you generate an engine that feeds itself, markets for you, and brings in both business and revenue. The Big Three have lasted this long because of that construction of brand identity and community, to which subscribers develop loyalty and emotional attachment."
And then Homeless Moon lays out a very interesting plan for building a magazine from scratch, several excellent suggestions of which I'll consider further to see if they have any relevant applications for me and mine.
Meanwhile SpecLit weighs in with "Digest Blues: The Lament of the Big Three," which takes us back to the start a little bit when they argue that the digests have lost their relevance and make a case for a need to update their design. "What were once vital and important arbiters of taste in speculative fiction have descended into myopia. They are no longer the touchstones of the genre community. Instead, they are read by a decreasing number of entrenched fans."
While not as indepth as the discussions on Windupstories.com and Homeless Moon, the follow up post, Digest Blues, Part Two," is very interesting, in that SpecLit has done actual mock-ups of three alternatives to current Asimov's, Analog, and F&SF covers. The results, though hastily done and not meant as anything but examples, certainly demonstrate how effortlessly the look and feel of the Big Three could be brought forward without sacrificing their sfnal elements or going to great expense.
Of course, as all of this discussion is raging across the blogosphere the way things do, I can't help but feeling a little bit like everyone at the party is talking about someone who is standing right there in the middle of the room and didn't ask for the advice, thank you very much. Maybe the Big Three are fine with the way they are running things. (In fairness, two of the above discussions, again Windupstories and Homeless Moon, either shift focus to or focus exclusively on new models for new magazines, rather than strategies for the Big Three.) And F&SF publisher Gordon Van Gelder does pop up in Paolo's comment sections to make these points: "1) As far as I can tell, in all the discussions predicated upon the assumption that the SF digests are doomed, no one has actually addressed the question of whether the magazines are profitable. Everyone simply seems to have assumed that if circulation decreases, profits decrease. Not necessarily so. 2) I note also that everyone has lumped all three digests together, even though all three of us have differing markets and differing approaches. Some of the problems facing F&SF are different from the problems facing Analog. Naturally, the marketing approach for one digest might not work for another."
Which, interestingly, makes me think of this Newsweek article on Amazon's newly-unveiled Kindle, "The Future of Reading," in which Steven Levy makes the following point:
"Talk to people who have thought about the future of books and there's a phrase you hear again and again. Readers will read in public. Writers will write in public. Readers, of course, are already enjoying a more prominent role in the literary community, taking star turns in blogs, online forums and Amazon reviews. This will only increase in the era of connected reading devices. 'Book clubs could meet inside of a book,' says Bob Stein, a pioneer of digital media who now heads the Institute for the Future of the Book... Eventually, the idea goes, the community becomes part of the process itself."
Which, at the very least, means the party is going to go on talking. If Homeless Moon is correct, the Big Three are even enjoying a great deal of Viral Marketing right now, just by standing there amidst all this discussion pointed back at them. After all, as Mae West says, “It is better to be looked over than overlooked.”
Friday, November 16, 2007
Spring Summer 2008
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Just for the Record: Ian McDonald's Brasyl
Quill nominee, Amazon’s Best Books of the Year So Far: Hidden Gems, # 2 in Amazon’s Best Books of 2007 - Top 10 Editors’ Picks: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Salon.com’s Summer Reading Recommendation, Starred Review in PW, Starred Review in Booklist, A grade in SciFi Weekly, B+ in Entertainment Weekly.
Today: “...the most rewarding science fiction in recent memory.” USA Post: “... as close to perfect as any novel in recent memory.” Washington
- Boing Boing: “...his finest novel to date.”
- Salon.com: “...you will delight in Brasyl.”
- Amazon’s Bookstore Blog: “McDonald deserves to be going up against most of the world’s top fiction writers, period.”
- Ain’t It Cool News: “...you just end up hating this guy for being so damn clever.”
- Sci Fi Weekly: “...hot and tropical and full of music.”
- Publishers Weekly: “Chaotic, heartbreaking and joyous, ... must-read.”
- Locus: “...without doubt one of the major SF books of 2007.”
- Analog: “an impressively energetic novel…well worth your attention.”
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Fast Forward 1: An Encouraging Glimpse of the Future
Aaron particularly likes the book's novella, as he writes, "For my money, the single best story in Fast Forward 1 is 'Sideways from Now' by John Meaney, a British author who is fast becoming one of my favorites. 'Sideways from Now' combines familiar SF tropes such as telepathy and alternate universes, but weaves them together in very original ways, blending two disparate styles." Aaron goes on to make comparisons to Meaney's story-within-a-story to the New Weird, then adds, "At 69 pages, 'Sideways from Now' is the longest story in the book, but so richly layered that it is difficult to believe Meaney was able to contain the tale in as few pages. I will certainly be nominating this story for a Hugo Award, for it is inconceivable that there could be five better novellas published this year."
Aaron also likes stories by Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, Robert Charles Wilson, Paul Di Filippo and others, and concludes, "this book demonstrates what a variety of authors and stories science fiction can encompass. By its wide array of different approaches to the future, Fast Forward 1 gives us an encouraging glimpse into the future of science fiction."
He also made an interesting observation, which may be relevant to recent discussions of the decline of digest magazines and the rise of several new annual, unthemed SF volumes in Fast Forward's wake: "There is precedent for original anthologies filling the void when print magazines suffer a period of decline. When multiple digests folded in the late 1960's and early 70's, anthologies such as Orbit, Universe, New Dimensions, and Dangerous Visions picked up the slack. (Notably, stories from original anthologies received over 40 Hugo nominations in the 1970's, after print magazines had accounted for all but one of the short fiction nominations before 1968.)"
Friday, November 09, 2007
Bless This Man !!
Phillips: Gentlemen of the Roadgives me the impression that you had a lot of fun writing it but aren't entirely convinced by the world you've created. Do you think you will ever really break into science fiction? Or are you doomed to keep coming back to literature?
Chabon: I believed every single word of it with every fiber of my being, actually! Writing it wasn't just fun, it was deep and magical -- I traveled. As for science fiction, it is literature, as you very well know, my dear. The gates between the kingdoms are infinitely wide and always open!
Thursday, November 08, 2007
World Fantasy Convention 2007
The core of my time was hanging with old friends Chris Roberson, Allison Baker, John Picacio, Karen Jones, Jennifer Heddle, Paul Cornell, Deanna Hoak, David Louis Edelman, Paul Cornell, George Mann and with him, new friend Marc Gascoigne (both of Solaris books and pictured here with Justin Gustainis, author of the their forthcoming title, Black Magic Woman). Also was ecstatic to get some real time with Pyr authors Charles Coleman Finlay, there with his lovely new wife, and Alan Dean Foster, who I don't see enough of but relish our talks when I do. And Acacia author David Anthony Durham and I had enough interrupted conversations to aggregate them into one real one. Scott Lynch was very nice, if very much in demand. Hal Duncan was his wonderful self. Many thanks to my friends Paul Barnett (aka John Grant) and Pamela D. Scoville for batteries when my camera died with its lens extended. (There they are on the right. Aren't they cute?)
I love Irene Gallo, so it's a shame this time we didn't get much time together apart from our panel on cover art Saturday, where we were joined by Tom Kidd, John Picacio, and Jacob Weisman. The room was packed and it was a large room. Irene usually sits in the audience in these panels, when she should be leading them. She moderated this one and did a fantastic job. Meanwhile, I am increasingly confident about my ability to say something meaningful on the topic as I get asked to speak about it more and more these days. Oddly, even though that's about all I saw of Irene, I feel like I did get time with her; I just got it in front of a packed house is all! (Pictured left is C.E. Murphy and Paul Cornell.)
Saturday night was the Third and Final Orbit Launch Party, a private function held in a restaurant offsite called Tiznow, with about 100 industry professionals in attendance. Quite a shindig. Good talk with Night Shade's Jeremy Lassen. And it was there I got to finally catch up with their author, Jon Armstrong, whose Grey really made an impression on me. I'm still trying to get him to read David Louis Edelman and both of them to read Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron. I'm getting closer to this goal, though, as Edelman has read Grey and Armstrong emailed me to ask about Spinrad. I followed Orbit with drinks with Rome Quezada, the new head of the Science Fiction Book Club, back at the hotel, who I have never met before and is a very nice guy.
Stayed up till 5:60am (I swear that's what the clock said) Saturday night. Was talking around 3ish with David Palumbo, also a very nice guy, a promising illustrator, and the son of Julie Bell and step-son of my childhood hero Boris Vallejo (who I also got to meet in the art show earlier). A bit of synchronicity. Dan Dos Santos did the cover for our forthcoming reissue of Mike Resnick's Stalking the Unicorn. Palumbo modeled for him as the detective in the trench coat without knowing his dad did the original 1980s painting! How cool is that?
Then Todd Lockwood, who I didn't yet know and had been trying to meet all weekend, joined us, and we ended up discussing SF till very, very late. Then I got dragged out to breakfast by Chris Roberson, Allison Baker, Hal Duncan, Jim Minz, Liz Gorinsky, Jetse de Vries. (Klima, were you there too?) This morphed into a room party in Minz and Klima's, which is why the clock said 5:60. Then up two hours later to prepare for (a second) breakfast with Locus at 10 am. It took me a bit to get started, but Liza Trombi and I ended up talking for several very enjoyable hours. Right up till time to get ready for the awards banquet, about which I remember next to nothing. (Pictured upper right: Paul Cornell, David Louis Edelman, Garth Nix & John Picacio. Pictured left: Deanna Hoak, nominated in the category of Special Award Professional and Doctor Who scribe Paul Cornell, who lead the Deanna Hoak World Fantasy Awards Campaign.)
The rest of the day was spent on empty, though I managed to rouse myself for a final dinner with editor George Mann and publisher Marc Gascoigne of Solaris Books. Solaris are releasing my next anthology, Sideways in Crime, June '08. We're also entering into a very exciting venture with them around the same time, with the simultaneous publication of David Louis Edelman's Infoquake in mass market from Solaris and sequel MultiReal in trade paperback from Pyr. (Here is David between his two editors.)
And that wraps up the convention. Special thanks to Joe McCabe for keeping Picacio awake Sunday night, and hence, me as well. We got up at 5:45am to head to the airport. Felt great. I owe you one, buddy.
Now here's the Google Alert shout out to all the wonderful people I hung with over the weekend: Kim Newman, Karen Jones, Jennifer Heddle, Deanna Hoak, Sophia Quach (is it Quach-McCabe now?), Cheryl Morgan, Jeremy Lassen, Jess Nevins, Rani Graff, Liz Scheier, Liza Trombi, Jim Minz, John Klima, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Ted Chiang, Jae Brim, Scott Cupp, Garth Nix, Scott Westerfeld, Steve Erickson, Jo Fletcher, and whatever wonderful person or persons I've omitted. Folks I missed seeing and really wanted to include Don Maass, Nancy Kress, Patrick Rothfuss.
Finally, John Picacio has a convention report on his blog, David Anthony Durham here, and David Louis Edelman has one in three parts.
And that's it for me. After resisting it all weekend, I have brought the con bug back with me, where it is making itself at home amid the entire Anders household.
Brasyl in USA Today
"...The overall result is the most rewarding science fiction in recent memory." USA Today
Update: The entire USA Today article is online here.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Brasyl: Amazon's Best Books of 2007
Why, one might be forced to conclude that Brasyl is one of the best books of the year period, in and out of genre, wouldn't one? Certainly Amazon agrees, as they wrote that "with Brasyl he has proven once again that he should be reckoned as one of the finest of all our novelists." Whereas the Washington Post said, "Ian McDonald's Brasyl, with its three storylines, is as close to perfect as any novel in recent memory." Then there's the Quill Award nomination, and, of course, Salon.com's Recommended Summer Reading List. And, at this point, I would be remiss not to mention the sample chapters online, wouldn't I?
A very big congratulations to Ian from everyone at Pyr/Prometheus!
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Marketing the Big Three
Science Fiction Magazines Part I - Why are the "Big Three" Dying?
Paolo says: "There’s been a fair amount of talk about the die-off in the short fiction magazine markets. Interestingly, this is often played as indicating their loss of relevance either generationally (sf market is aging) or else technologically (The internet is where it’s at! All else will crumble and fall before it!) or else in the business model - (free content will triumph over paid content). My perception however is that there are some specific things going on with the major sf magazines that heavily affect their success, and it doesn’t have much to do with the themes above. "
Science Fiction Magazines Part II - Marketing in Meatspace
Paolo says: "More than anything - more than changing demographics, or the advent of new technologies, or the rise of free content - I have a sense that the loss of sf readers for the 'big three' markets is actually a failure of marketing and core circulation management practices, not of the sf market as a whole. I just don’t see the big three doing a lot with their current subscriber base and I don't see them actively reaching out much. On one level this has to do with things like the appearance of their websites, whether they offer exciting subscription enticements, etc (which I'll go into later). But even more, it relates to how they use something decidedly unsexy: direct mail. ....Overall, I think the institutional barriers in the magazines may be significantly more problematic for them than the actual state of the SF market."
Science Fiction Magazines Part III - Online Marketing
Paolo says: "My sense of the online sphere is that it remains a place of opportunity rather than threat for a print magazine. Over time, this may change, but the internet provides the best place to attract pre-qualified subscribers, to build a relationship with them, and then to convert them to paying subscribers. Unlike direct mail, this is an area where initial sunk costs continue to pay off over time, and where simple changes can have positive ripple effects far down the line. It also seems like the barriers to change are fewer than in completely revamping the way they do direct mail."
Bright of the Sky: PW's Best Books of the Year 2007
According to PW, three thousand books are published daily in the U.S., and PW reviewed more than 6,000 of them in 2007, in print and online. From that astounding number, they've culled a best books list covering their favorites in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, comics, religion, lifestyle and children's—150 in all. (That's right, only 150 total books from 6,000 reviewed titles.) And in the SF/Fantasy/Horror category PW selected only seven titles, one of which, we are very pleased to say, is our very own Bright of the Sky: Book One of The Entire and the Rose!
Congratulations to Kay Kenyon from everyone at Pyr/Prometheus! We couldn't be happier!
PW says, "Deft prose, high-stakes suspense and skilled, thorough world building lift this first in a new far-future SF series involving a mishap in interstellar space that sends a family into a parallel universe." Remember, you can read an excerpt from Bright of the Sky here. And feel free to drop by Kay's Journal and congratulate her here.
Monday, October 29, 2007
News Worth Repeating: Chris Roberson Serialized Online
Given my personal history with the Celestial Empire stories, this is very exciting:
SOLARIS TO PUBLISH NEW CHRIS ROBERSON NOVEL ONLINE FOR FREEBL Publishing is very excited to announce an exciting new project with Chris Roberson, author of Set the Seas on Fire and The Dragon’s Nine Sons.
THREE UNBROKENThree Unbroken is the next epic novel in the Celestial Empire sequence and details the explosive war between the Chinese and Aztec empires as they battle for control of the red planet, Fire Star.
Based on the sixty-four elements of the I-Ching, Three Unbroken follows the lives of three soldiers from their induction into the armed forces to their eventual fight for survival on the frontline. The events of the novel are contemporaneous with those of The Dragon’s Nine Sons, the first novel in the sequence, set to be published by Solaris in February 2008.
In a bold move, Solaris Books plans to serialise the entirety of Three Unbroken on their website for free, at a rate of two chapters per week.
The project will start in late November 2007, with details to be confirmed on the Solaris website nearer the time.
The novel will then be published in book form in 2009.
Watch the Solaris website at www.solarisbooks.com for more information.
Consultant Editor George Mann said of the deal “I’m delighted to be working with Chris again and this is a truly exciting project, not least because it’s our first online publication. Chris is exactly the right person to do this, and Three Unbroken will be an excellent introduction to the Celestial Empire for those who have yet to discover its delights.”
Chris Roberson’s novels include Set the Seas on Fire, The Voyage of Night Shining White, Here, There & Everywhere and Paragaea: A Planetary Romance. He is the editor of the anthology Adventure Vol. 1 and co-founder of publishing house Monkeybrain Books. He has been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award, a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and winner of the Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History Short Form. Chris lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Allison and their daughter Georgia. Visit him online at www.chrisroberson.net.
are taking the stuff of genre fiction and turning it into a whole
new literary form - a form for the 21st century. A talented
storyteller, he has a unique ear, a clever eye, an eloquence all
too rare in modern fiction.”
a refreshing originality...”
Sidewise Award for his story ‘O One’, continues that tale’s vein
– in this alternate timeline, Imperial China dominates the world
in place of
setting by transferring it to a partly terraformed Mars ruled by
the Mandarins. The atmosphere is sumptuous, the invention
lavish; the experience of reading the story is mind-expanding.”
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The Big Book Cover Post: Part II
First, our mutual author David Louis Edelman displays the matching covers for the forthcoming Solaris Books mass market edition of Infoquake and the forthcoming Pyr trade paperback edition of the 2nd book in the series, MultiReal. (Follow the links to David's blog, both to see larger versions of both covers, and to join in the wealth of comments the covers are engendering.)
Then Torque Control chimed in with Cover Art. The post is mostly a pointer to other discussions, but with some very interesting comments in the thread. Most interesting to me is this comment from Gollancz editor Simon Spanton: "Are our SF covers going more abstract? Quite possibly. Are they doing this in order to reach the ‘wider readership’? Well if they are it isn’t going to work as, 99 times out of 100, the books, whatever their cover, are still going to be stocked in the SF section. Are they, instead, merely reflecting a wider trend away from strictly illustrative covers that the rest of the industry has been following of late? Much more likely. I have no illusions about our ability to transform the way that SF books are seen. What I am hoping is that we can alert one-time readers, and occasional readers and regular readers to the fact that SF is not stuck in some sort of time warp. I’m coming to think that the only jobs a genre cover has to (and can) do are to alert the reader to whether it is SF/fantasy/other (that other still retaining elements of the fantastic because, remember, it’s in a genre section) and try and convey some sense of the books quality by, itself, being a high quality design (not necessarily incorporating a high quality traditional illustration)... I think to assume that the traditional fantasy and SF readership are in some way not being catered for within the current movement towards some covers being more ‘designed’ or more ‘abstract’ is danger of assuming that said readers aren’t aware of and comfortable with how design moves on. SF and fantasy fans don’t dress like they did in 1985, the music they listen to isn’t packaged as it was in 1985, the cars they drive don’t look like they did in 1985 (I could go on), so why should their books? And I’m also suspicious that this move towards design and abstraction is something new, something that is leaving the more traditional fans, floundering in its sleek wake. Take a look at SF and Fantasy covers from the late 60s and early 70s and there is plenty of abstraction, modish design and garish colour. Just like there was in every other area of design of the period."
Meanwhile, author Mark Chadbourn has some very long, very interesting responses to George and my posts. In Selling Fantasy by the Pound he draws comparisons to other industries, cautioning that "In the music industry, where I worked for a while, the marketeers have struggled. By focusing on the tribalist music fan that has emerged over the last twenty years, they have had trouble gaining breakout hits from genres. Attention shifted to marketing bland fare that would appeal to all tastes to gain those mainstream hits, and sales have fallen dramatically (yes, I know there are many other factors, but this is a core concern). The comics industry in particular has faced a great many problems because of the loss of its mainstream audience. That was caused by the collapse of its distribution network in the late seventies and early eighties and the shift to specialist comics shops. But the comics producers then found that to maintain sales in this rarefied atmosphere required stories that excited the jaded palates of the core fan - and were nigh-on incomprehensible to the casual reader. Sales fell further, the core fan market had to be shored up to a greater extent, and a desperate retreat from the centre ground took place, that is still damaging the industry."
I think Mark is confusing my use of the term "core science fiction and fantasy" with the core of the readership when he talks about catering to jaded palates (though, admittedly, he's also drawing from George's essay and George and I, though we share certain views in common, are not saying exactly the same thing.) I would cite something like John Scalzi's trilogy, Old Man's War,The Ghost Brigades,and (my personal favorite) The Last Colony,works which deal brilliantly with all the "core" iconography of science fiction - planetary colonization, galactic federations, cloning, aliens, mind transference, supersoldiers, FTL - and yet are utterly, totally accessible to brand new SF readers. Scalzi's trilogy is absolutely quintessential SF&F, but it by no means is catering to a small, jaded elite. The books are HUGELY successful, with readers young and old (and from what I understand from Adventures in SciFi Publishing, they are even being passed around the Stargate cast and crew.) What's more, their covers, by John Harris, are a perfect example of presenting SF iconography in a mature light. As is, by the way, the cover for Scalzi's novel The Android's Dream,a beautiful cover (and title) which is hardly hiding its genre affiliations.
Mark's post sparked Darren of the Genre Files to return to the topic with with Genre fiction marketing follow-up - Lou Anders and Mark Chadbourn, where he asks, "Can you achieve all those aims at once? Can you write high-quality, literary genre fiction that's successfully marketed to a core audience of fans, yet still has enough break-out potential to escape the genre-ghetto and achieve mass-market sales?" Darren then makes an impassioned plea for "helping the readership to raise its standards; to expect, to want, to demand much more from their genre fiction, and thereby move the mainstream audience closer to the credible, literary end of the spectrum. In other words, expanding the middle ground between 'long tail' and 'short head' (it would help if I had time to draw the graph, I'll try to add one at a later date) and creating greater potential for higher quality fiction to thrive. If the readership demands richer, better quality genre fiction, and the readership then votes with its credit cards and buys more of it, then the publishers of the world will respond by publishing more of it. And I know for a fact that this would make a lot of genre fiction publishers immensely happy. "
In the comments section, the always interesting Andrew Wheeler pops up with this bit of wisdom: "It's a beautiful vision, but...the world of 'literary' fiction is not the mainstream at all. It's a small backwater, which moves fewer units annually in aggregate than the SFF genre (though the big hits are much bigger -- which of course means that the average sales are notably smaller). Trying to 'break out' into literary fiction is an attempt to jump into a smaller pond, merely because they have better press. (Which is reasonable, if what you really want is good press.) The real mainstream in fiction consists of two genres that are so large and important that they're not consistently called genres: romance/women's fiction and the thriller. If writers primarily want to reach very large audiences, they need to find ways to write in those genres. (Which doesn't necessarily mean abandoning SFF: the former has been combined with Fantasy very successfully over the past decade, and technothrillers are the merger of the latter with elements of SF.)"
Blogger S. M. Duke joins in with Cover Designs: Yet Another Take, and this valid reminder: "The sad thing is, I don't generally buy books by the title or the author. In fact, unless a book comes off to me as genre, I probably won't even look at it. That's just the way it is and the way it is for a lot of people. For me, the trend of making books look more mainstream isn't working. I've never read a Neil Gaimen book because of the way they are packaged, and as I'm learning, that is a very horrible thing. I saw the Stardust movie and it was one of the best films of the year--yes, it was that good despite what the stupid box office reported for sales. I should have read the book, and his other novels too, but I never have because the covers never strike me as fantasy. If Ender's Gameby Orson Scott Card had not had this cover, I would have ignored it entirely."
Which is a perfectly accurate representation of a portion of the SF&F readership, as well as being reflective of a lot of comments I frequently hear from fans around these parts.
Elsewhere, Design Unit 38 doesn't like three of our titles' illustrations, (including one that has been a major success with the all important chain buyers) as pointed out in "Cover design and science fiction." At least they offer the concession that "Lou Anders at Pyr has shepherded many good novels onto the racks at Barnes and Noble." I take that and move on.
To where Calico Reaction admits that Michael Moorcock's The Metatemporal Detectiveisn't targeted at her, and adds that "that damn cover kept glaring at me, and I must say, kudos to the artist: he captured Elric (aka Zenith) so perfectly that I could not HELP but visualize that illustration every time I saw the character described in the book."
In the comments thread, Dawtheminstreal adds: "I recently heard TNH and PNH of Tor talking about what leads people to buy books and they both thought the cover art had a big influence. They said the cover sent out mating signals, and the reader responded or not."
Finally, SFFWorld has a very interesting discussion thread going titled "Embarrasssing/Awful cover art." Well worth reading, if for nothing else, the range of opinions expressed. You see some readers coming down in favor of the purely designed covers as typified by something like George R R Martin's fantasies and you see other readers proudly embracing the covers on R A Salvatore's Forgotten Realms novels - which always catch my eye, personally - but which must represent the other end of the spectrum from GRRM.
Which has to be the final word - that, as illustrator John Picacio recently reminded me, no book can be all things to all people. Responding to the "mating signals" comment, John says, "I see that analogy, but that metaphor triggers a deeper thought to me. I see this tendency from book publishers to more and more want covers that send disingenuous mating signals, or more specifically, mating signals that say 'hey, I want everyone to like me' and so you fall in love with the cover, but then you buy the book and read it, and you hate it and you tell your friends because you feel deceived. Haven’t we both bought CDs (pre-Itunes) because we heard a single that was kick-ass and then the rest of the album wasn’t anything like it and sucked? ...Point being, I tend to think that it’s the same with books, and I wonder if the notion that 'as long as the cover sells the book, it’s done it’s job' isn’t a flawed statement. Seems like a very short-view approach, if the mating signal of a cover is viewed as being JUST about selling the book, as opposed to connecting it with its rightful readership. Bottom line: I think the 'mating signal' thing doesn’t replace selling with integrity, and in the end, if you can create a cover with integrity (true to the spirit of the book, etc.) and that can connect it with its rightful audience, then that two-pronged goal is the one to shoot for, in equal harmony, rather than one without the other. Seems to me the publisher builds a better relationship with their audience over the long haul that way. ...Sometimes the real truth is that a book is only going to sell to 'x' number of people, and I think the troubles arise when the sales department says, ‘yeah, but if we put a non-illustrative/more generic cover on this, maybe we can FOOL other readers into buying it.’ I think the audience remembers when it’s deceived and I think the industry serves itself poorly when we do that."