U.S. DoJ Investigates Apple, Publishers for Alleged Antitrust Violations

Does Apple’s Nudging of the Industry To an Agency Book Pricing Model Constitute Collusion?

Themis, Greek goddess of Justice. If only it were that simple, eh? Here’s perhaps the most interesting book-related story to appear while I was busy convalescing from a torn quadriceps tendon (in the long term) and hacking up multicolored phlegm (in the short term): the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) is investigating Apple Inc. and five U.S. publishers for possible antitrust violations.

It’s things like this that make me miss being a journalist – which probably explains in large part why blogging is such a big hobby for me (I don’t do nearly enough to promote it; I just like to indulge myself). Anyway, credit where credit is due; I first spied the antitrust story on Locus; it provides a link to a comprehensive story by the Wall Street Journal. That evil magnate Murdoch hasn’t quite ruined the Journal yet – say what you will about it’s conservative slant, it has been a source of quality journalism for many years, and hopefully will continue to be so, despite its current owner.

But I digress yet again. In addition to Apple the DoJ is looking at Simon & Schuster Inc., Hachette Book Group, Pearson PSO, Penguin Group, Macmillan and HarperCollins Publishers Inc. HarperCollins, incidentally, is owned by the aforementioned Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which, as alluded above, also owns the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Ostensibly we can conclude from this that Murdoch hasn’t gotten his fingers too deep into the WSJ’s newsroom.

The WSJ says, citing unidentified sources – “people familiar with the matter” – that the DoJ is investigating whether Apple and these publishers colluded with one another to drive up the price of ebooks. Apparently Apple is trying to nudge the industry away from the standard wholesale model of book pricing, in which retailers buy books for half the cover price and then charge what they deem fit, to an “agency model,” which is how Apple operates its iTunes store. From the WSJ, to wit:

As Apple prepared to introduce its first iPad, the late Steve Jobs, then its chief executive, suggested moving to an agency model, under which the publishers would set the price of the book and Apple would take a 30 percent cut. Apple also stipulated that publishers couldn’t let rival retailers sell the same book at a lower price.

“We told the publishers, ‘We’ll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30 percent, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that’s what you want anyway,'” Mr. Jobs was quoted as saying by his biographer, Walter Isaacson.

The publishers were then able to impose the same model across the industry, Mr. Jobs told Mr. Isaacson. “They went to Amazon and said, ‘You’re going to sign an agency contract or we’re not going to give you the books,'” Mr. Jobs said.

The Justice Department believes that Apple and the publishers acted in concert to raise prices across the industry, and is prepared to sue them for violating federal antitrust laws, the people familiar with the matter said.

The publishers have denied acting jointly to raise prices. They have told investigators that the shift to agency pricing enhanced competition in the industry by allowing more electronic booksellers to thrive.

Like I needed another reason to loathe Apple and its business practices.

Another interesting aspect to this story is that for once it’s not 800-pound gorilla Amazon getting beat up over pricing – and I’m not defending Amazon – but it’s the spectre of Amazon that Apple and these publishers cite in defending the agency model practice.

William Lynch, chief executive of Barnes & Noble, gave a deposition to the Justice Department in which he testified that abandoning the agency pricing model would effectively result in a single player gaining even more market share than it has today, according to people familiar with the testimony. A spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble declined to comment.

Prior to agency pricing, Amazon often sold best-selling digital books for less than it paid for them, a marketing stance that some publishers worried would make the emerging digital-books marketplace less appealing for other potential retailers. The publishers’ argument that agency pricing increased competition hasn’t persuaded the Justice Department, a person familiar with the matter said. Government lawyers have questioned how competition could have increased when prices went up. Amazon declined to comment.

Incidentally, the fact that everyone involved declined to comment, and the fact that there were no angry denials and or rebuttals following the publishing of the WSJ’s story March 9, that pretty much confirms that what the story claims as true. I can say that from personal experience; if there were some facts or conjecture in the story that weren’t correct, you can bet Apple, et al., would have been up in marketing arms and the press releases would issue forth like a volley of arrows in a Chinese historical epic. Television interviews would be conducted in which executives waxed indignant.

But when everyone continues to clam up, that’s a sure sign that the story is correct.

And while we’re on the subject of Apple, ebook publishing and naughty business practices …

Apple Refuses to Sell Books that Link to Amazon

Apple Inc.'s current corporate logo; the use of which here I believe constitutes fair use, yes?Over at paidContent – a great digital media trade mag – there is an interesting story by one nonfiction author Seth Godin and his experience with selling a short ebook through Apple. It seems Apple rejected his book because it uses links to Amazon in its citations of other works. To wit:

I just found out that Apple is rejecting my new manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and won’t carry it in their store because inside the manifesto are links to buy the books I mention in the bibliography.

Quoting here from their note to me, rejecting the book: “Multiple links to Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) store. IE page 35, David Weinberger link.”

And there’s the conflict. We’re heading to a world where there are just a handful of influential bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Nook…) and one by one, the principles of open access are disappearing. Apple, apparently, won’t carry an ebook that contains a link to buy a hardcover book from Amazon.

Now I should mention here that you shouldn’t be mislead by the term manifesto. Godin isn’t some self-published yahoo – see what I did there? – with some crazy, moralistic rant – although the title does kind of suggest that, at least to me. He’s an Internet entrepreneur, and was one before it was cool, as well as the author of 13 books that have been translated into 30 languages.

In fact he makes marketing seem almost not evil.

So … what does it all mean? That remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: we’re living in a Chinese proverb; we live in interesting times. The world of ebooks and digital publishing is still a young one, remember — less than a decade old, really.

As for me, I don’t want to see Amazon, much as I appreciate it (for the most part), become the sole major seller of ebooks. By the same token, I don’t want to line the pockets of Apple’s c-level management and shareholders anymore than they already are. Nor do I want to see publishers colluding on prices, naturally.

It might be different if authors themselves were getting rich as a result, but I’m sure the average author isn’t going to see any benefit from price fixing. Contrary to popular belief, with a few notable exceptions, authors by and large aren’t living high on the hog, anymore than the rest of us are.

Anyway, something to think about the next time you stand in line for a nominal upgrade to your precious iPhone or iPad, or download something from the Apple store. It will be interesting to see how the ebook marketplace shakes out over the next few years.

Adrienne Rich RIP, Iceman as Twain, Harry Potter Digitized, and New Vonnegut

As noted over on my personal ranting blog, The Gecko’s Bark, I’ve spent the better part of March suffering and consequently recovering from A6, or Captain Trips, if you will. In keeping with the theme of this blog, of course, this is a literary reference to Steven King and the engineered flu in the The Stand.

I’m still angry about the literal deus ex machina ending of The Stand, 25 years after having read it the first time. But tha’ts neither here nor there, although I will add that I think King’s best works are his short stories; some of his non-horror short fiction is amazing.

Anyway, I’ve also been busy back at work teaching ESL full time, now that my recovery from a torn quadriceps tendon is such that I can walk unaided again. Between working and Captain Trips, I didn’t have much bandwidth for aught else, and that includes Barking Book Reviews among my other hobbies.

But there was so much going on in the world of books, that I feel compelled to play a little bit of catch up. So here’s more Random Book News, Volume XIVMXX what have you, in no particular order:

Poet Adrienne Rich: 5/16/29 – 3/27/2012

I don’t think anyone who has studied American literature at all in modern times hasn’t at least heard of Adrienne Rich and would at least recognize her name. I first encountered Rich’s poetry in a high school honors English class in the mid 1980s – the teacher conveniently skipped over the fact that Rich was a lesbian while discussing her poetry and feminism. I came across Rich again in college several times, in various English classes as well as a women’s studies class.

An aside: to be honest, I took the women’s studies course because of the times it met, more than anything else; I was taking 18 credit hours that quarter, trying to hurry and get my electives out of the way so I could start scheduling journalism classes. But it turned out to be a very interesting and rewarding class – and it turned out I was a bigger feminist, despite being a heterosexual dude, than most of the women in the class.

Anyway, Rich has had a long and enduring career, not to mention a colorful life. Many may remember her for telling the Clinton Administration and the U.S. federal government to take a flying leap when she refused the National Medal of Arts in 1997. Her primary objective in doing so, as I recall, was to protest cuts to the National Endowment of the Arts program, as well as other issues she had with Willie Clinton’s administration.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a lengthy obituary of Adrienne Rich; you can also find out more about Rich’s life at her rather extensive entry at Wikipedia.

New NonFiction: The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China

David Silbey's The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China (book cover)I will definitely be adding David Silbey’s The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China to my ever growing big pile o’ books to read. The subject alone is an interesting one; the time not so long ago when the imperial powers of the West, including America – which frankly should have known better, given our history and its related rhetoric – sought to open China to trade.

A further incentive is that Silbey is one of the authors of one of my favorite blogs, The Edge of the American West. It’s a blog written by several historians; as such it is about history. Silbey himself specializes in military history; his book about the Boxer Rebellion looks at the revolt that almost succeeded, and its relevance to what is taking place today in the Eastern Hemisphere.

I can’t point you to just one post he’s written at Edge of the American West, so here’s a post about writing a book about the Boxer Rebellion. I encourage you, however, if you are interested in this topic, to peruse this category at the Edge of the American West; you’ll learn much that your history teachers never told you.

Harry Potter Available in eBook Format

While they’ve been floating around torrent sites on the Internet for years – pirated copies having been physically scanned and converted to digital formats — the Harry Potter series books are now available in legitimate ebook format.

J. K. Rowling has resisted the ebook format for a long time, for whatever reason. I suppose I can understand the reluctance of authors to embrace ebooks, but how many people downloaded pirated copies of Harry Potter simply because there were no legitimate ebook versions available? People that would otherwise pay for a legitimate copy, one without the digital artifacts, layout problems and questionable editing that are common with pirate digital copies?

In any event, now they are available on Amazon and at Rowling’s Pottermore site, where the complete series is going for £38.64, or $61.40. That comes out to about $8.77 per book. That seems pretty reasonable, although some people would claim, and perhaps rightfully so, that given the fact that there are no material costs, that ebooks should be cheaper than they are.

It will be interesting to see how many digital copies of the Potter books the publishers can sell.

Authors Choose Favorite Literary Monsters

I first spied this on author Hal Duncan’s blog; Duncan was one of the authors to participate in Weird Fiction Review’s poll of various writers’ favorite monsters. Duncan, in his wonderfully erudite manner, explains why he chose to kick it old school, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:

I have to go with a classic, Frankenstein’s monster, because Shelley’s creature doesn’t just exemplify monstrosity, it interrogates it. What makes it visually monstrous is not a matter of cheap gimmickry. Shelley doesn’t just snatch features from the animal world that naturally freak us out?—?mandibles, pincers, horns, tentacles, slime, so on?—?doesn’t just push buttons to disturb us with undercurrents of sex and power a la Stoker. I think it’s an awesome move to have the monster explicitly created from components that are all beautiful and right in and of themselves; they just don’t fit together *proportionally*. It founds monstrosity on almost a pure abstraction of Order Transgressed. Which cuts to the core of it for me.

Hard to argue with that. But there is a wide spectrum of answers from nearly 50 authors; as pompous as this sounds, some of them — both authors and monsters — I have not even heard of. Obviously my education has been neglected, as of late. Some of the answers are truly intriguing, some are obviously tongue in cheek and some are clearly phoned in as the author couldn’t be arsed (perhaps they are on deadline, which would admittedly be an excellent excuse).

Props to Karen Lord, author of the excellent Redemption in Indigo, though, for choosing a Bradbury creation:

My favourite monster (i.e. most horrifying) is the unnamed infection in Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fever Dream’. It’s an intelligent plague that not only keeps its host alive but also sufficiently ‘normal’ to become an efficient vector for transmission to other unsuspecting hosts. If that sounds like pure fiction, look up Toxoplasma gondii. Truly horrific monsters always have a real-life counterpart to make you wonder … could it really happen?

Above all, I imagine the real Charles: blind, deaf, powerless, and silently screaming for help inside his own walking, talking, stolen body for the rest of his life. That’s horror.

Steven R. Boyett also has an interesting response. He chooses from Robert Matheson’s I Am Legend. But it’s not the monster you think it is.

Val Kilmer to Portray Mark Twain

Val Kilmer as Mark Twain; photo by (and all rights to) Neil JacobsIt seems like a right of passage for actors of a certain age, playing Mark Twain on stage. It also seems like it would be tough to beat The X-Files’ Deepthroat at portraying Twain – that would be actor Jerry Hardin, who first portrayed Twain in a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation – and no I’m not making this up as a I go along. Hardin actually made an excellent and thoroughly convincing Twain, and he apparently so enjoyed portraying the author on TV that he went on to develop a successful and critically lauded one-man play in which he portrayed Twain.

Kilmer is apparently doing just that in preparation for a movie about Twain and one of his favorite boogeymen – er, boogeywomen – Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. Of course Kilmer will always be Madmartigan from Willow to me. But then to many women of a certain age I’ve dated, he’ll always be Iceman from Top Gun.

Squee! Previously Unpublished Vonnegut Novella Basic Training on Amazon

Kurt Vonnegut's previously unpublished novella, Basic Training (book cover)Apparently Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions author Kurt Vonnegut – actually, whenever I think of him, Cat’s Cradle is the first work to come to mind, as I read it at an impressionable age, and to say that my youthful self found it disturbing (in a good way) would be an understatement – left a lot of unpublished material when he died. Indy publisher and ebook pioneer RosettaBooks, apparently chosen by Vonnegut’s estate, has released Basic Training, written by the author nearly 60 years ago. It was never published, having been rejected by the Saturday Evening Post — d’oh! — in the years following WW II, long before Vonnegut became a notable literary figure.

RosettaBooks says Basic Training is a precursor to the author’s “trademark grand themes: the lunacy of kings, the improbability of existence, the yearling hero’s struggle with duty and love and the meaning of heroism.” In a sign of the times, the book is being released exclusively as an Amazon Kindle Single for $1.99.


More Amazon Book Pricing Controversy: Random Book News

Time for another edition of Random Book News. But time is short, today, so this is going to be short and sweet — a list of links, as it were. No need to rewrite the wheel, so to speak.

Science Fiction Writers Protest Amazon IPG Move

Locus reports that the SFWA plans to remove a number of links from Amazon — links to its authors’ books. Why would it do this? It’s a response to Amazon removing some 4,000 books from distributor IPG over a pricing dispute; IPG distributes many SFWA authors’ books. SFWA is actually redirecting its links to Amazon to other booksellers, such as Powels, Barns and Noble.

Seems like there’s been a lot of weird and problematic issues with Amazon pricing lately.

NY Times Discusses Pulp, Burroughs, His Barsoom Series, and the Disney Movie John Carter

I’ve read the first four Barsoom books, and while they are a guilty pleasure in many ways, I have to agree with the New York Times’ assessment:

… Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars …  is 100 years old and was already a little dated when it came out. Burroughs … published it in monthly installments in the All-Story Magazine starting in February 1912. It was the first thing he ever wrote, after a lifetime of failing at just about everything else, and he was clearly learning on the job.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, more well-known for Tarzan of the Apes, did away with all logic in creating his sci-fi series. The book is filled with inconsistencies and plot threads that are never followed up. And as science fiction goes, Princess of Mars is not very scientific.

Um, yeah, there is all that. Then there is the sexism and racism. But if you can overlook all that, there is pulpy, manly fun to be had.

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman (a clever book cover)NY Times Review of Tupelo Hassman’s Girlchild

I confess the only reason this stuck out from the list of headlines in my various RSS feeds was the name of author Tupelo Hassman. A nom de plume? One would assume (and one would be rhyming). In any event, this author’s debut novel sounds interesting, if the Times’ reviewer is any judge.

Grim Reaper Tough on the World of Science Fiction

If you look at the most recent news items on Locus, the first three are obits. Ouch.

Paul Haines was an Australian science fiction author, while Ralph McQuarrie was a designer and illustrator who we’re all familiar with, even if we don’t know his name — he created the look of the first Star Wars trilogy. And by first, we mean the original trilogy; not the craptacular one that came much later. Jack Scovil was a noted literary agent; he worked with many famous authors, among other accomplishments.

Stephen King to Narrate The Wind Through the Keyhole

It’s the first time in a decade that King will narrate an audiobook version of his work, SF Scope reports.




Jeremy Lin, China and Basketball; Paypal and Indie Erotica

Brave Dragons by Jim Yardley - book cover By now everyone has heard of New York Knicks breakout star, Jeremy Lin — he even has seven books available on Amazon already. No, not as author, but as subject. In this brave new world of ebooks and instant publishing, Linsanity even reaches into the literary realm. That is, if we can call The Zen of Jeremy Lin: 17 Nuggets of Wisdom From Confucius to Jeremy Lin About Basketball and Life literature.

I don’t think I’ll be adding that one to the list. But Pulitzer Prize-winner Jim Yardley’s Brave Dragons, A Chinese Basketball Team, An American Coach, And Two Cultures Clashing is already added. While eating breakfast this morning and getting caught up on my blog reading and whatnot, I listened to the podcast of a short book review over on NPR’s Fresh Air on Brave Dragons.

[Jeremy Lin] has since proved to everybody that athletic prejudice against Asians is Lincredibly stupid. Except, as journalist Jim Yardley points out in his new book on basketball fever in China, Chinese players and coaches happen to endorse that prejudice. One Chinese coach tells Yardley: “We know we Chinese players are different than African-American players. They are more physically gifted.” As Yardley comments at the end of this long, politically incorrect conversation: “No country on Earth believe[s] in Darwin more than China.”

Having spent some time in China traveling, and having lived for sometime here in Southeast Asia, that non-politically correct forthrightness sounds familiar.  NPR’s Maureen Corrigan continues with high praise in her book review of Brave Dragons. To wit: “Brave Dragons is to Chinese basketball what Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit was to Depression-era horse racing: Both books certainly do justice to their respective sports but also use them as tools to gain access to wholly different cultures.”

That is indeed high praise, as far as I’m concerned. I would have to say when push comes to shove that I’m ethically opposed to horse racing, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t love Seabiscuit. I picked it up in an airport bookstore — this was in the pre-Kindle era — when I found myself with a two-hour delay and no book to read. A quick perusal of the first chapter convinced me that there was much more there than “oooh, pretty horses! They love to run.” And tas Corrigan points out, indeed there is.

Paypal the Censor: Putting the Smackdown on Indie Erotic Book Sellers

Paypal — everyone seems to hate it, yet we all use it. But it sounds like some independent publishers and distributors of erotic fiction may have to stop using Paypal if they want to keep their titles. Noted erotic author and blogger Violet Blue — and former San Francisco Chronicle columnust — recently put the news out on her ZDNet blog, Pulp Tech:

On Saturday February 18, PayPal began threatening indie book publishers and distributors with immediate deactivation of the businesses’ accounts if they did not remove books containing certain sexual themes – namely, specific sexual fantasies that PayPal does not approve of.

PayPal told indie e-book publishers and retailers – such as AllRomance, Smashwords, Excessica and Bookstrand – that if they didn’t remove the offending literature from their catalogs within a few days of notification, PayPal would close their accounts.

Of course, the immediate termination of payment processing would devastate these businesses and all of their authors (not just the erotic writers) overnight.

In case you haven’t noticed, PayPal has a monopoly on the market of online payment processing. There are few alternatives, though none that are widely used by online shoppers.

PayPal Strong-Arms Indie Ebook Publishers Over Erotic Content – Violet Blue’s Pulp Tech.


Anthony Shadid’s Memoir, Truth vs. Fact and Life Imitates a William Gibson Novel

I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been paying attention or because of some arcane aspect of the publishing cycle, but it seems as if there is all sorts of interesting news in the world of books these days. Of course much of what I’m blogging about here is particularly relevant to my interests, namely the books I like to read and subjects I’m interested in. So there you go.

Thus without further ado: Random Book News, Vol. V (or thereabouts):

Is There Room for Facts in Truth?

When I was perusing the New York Times ‘book section – online – last Sunday afternoon while feeding my coffee (shop) addiction, I clicked on a link by accident. Or was it fate? Because I discovered a book that I just have to read, one that I likely wouldn’t have discovered had it not been for that errant click.

On a side note, I absolutely loathe using the touchpad on a laptop, but the little mobile, carpal-tunnel mouse that followed me from Viet Nam to the United States and back to Viet Nam finally died recently, God rest it’s tiny little optical sensor. But in this instance it was perhaps fortuitous happenstance. But I digress.

The Lifespan of a Fact is a nonfiction account of a fact-checker at odds with a nonfiction writer, one who argues that art and truth trump facts – particularly when they inconveniently diverge from the author’s sense of timing and aesthetics.

I’ll let the Times’ review tell the story of The Lifespan of a Fact, and author John D’Agata’s head-butting with the diligent Jim Fingal (Fingal … apparently there is at least one of Tolkien’s Eldar that didn’t sail into the West). I will just add that as a writer and former journalist – some would argue that I’m not former, but we’ll save the semantics debate for some other time – truth vs. fact is a subject near and dear to my heart. On one hand, I understand where D’Agata is coming from, but on the other hand, I feel that we owe it to history to not subvert fact in favor of truth, as truth in this sense becomes subjective.

Part of my attitude undoubtedly comes from having worked as a professional journalist for 20-odd years (and some of them were quite odd years). There there was the time spent at the hardcore journalism school at Ohio University too (not enough money or grades for Columbia or Stanford) – an errant fact in a story was an automatic “F,” usually.

But on the other hand, when it comes to longer forms of nonfiction writing, there is room for art, truth and fact to coexist – at least there is in the hands of a skilled author. Don’t misunderstand me; in the eternal debate over whether or not writing (as distinct from journalism and news reporting), both fiction and non fiction, is art or craft, I tend to lean toward the former. But that doesn’t mean that creation doesn’t require technical skill. A musician must know how harmony and melody work together; a painter must know how to hold a brush and how to use it. In the same way a writer must now how words go together – beyond grammar and punctuation.

Shadid’s Memoir Serves as an Epitaph

House of Stone by Anthony Shadid (book cover)Speaking of journalism and the New York Times, it seems that esteemed foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, who died of an asthma attack recently while covering the bloody civil strife in Syria, has published a memoir that was just released this week. Although Shadid died Feb. 16 at age 43 – the same age as yours truly – he accomplished more with his time than most, to be sure.

One would think that his memoir would be about his time covering wars all over the world; and if it had been, it no doubt would be a gripping read. Had that been the case it would be an account of winning Pulitzer prizes and getting shot while covering war and bloodshed, including in his ancestral home of Lebanon (Shadid is an American of Lebanese descent who spoke Arabic fluently).

But Shadid left all of that at the office, so to speak, Rather, House of Stone is about a year spent restoring a family home in Jedeidet Marjayoun, Lebanon, following the breakup of his marriage and family. This is framed by an historical account of his family’s flight from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire to the United States.

But as Times’ reviewer, author and New Yorker staff writer Steve Coll notes, House of Stone is a far cry from This Old House: Lebanon.

House of Stone is an elegant narrative that creates unity from diverse elements, much like the Ottoman-era cemento tiles over which Mr. Shadid obsesses and bargains during one stage of his beguiling restoration work. The book tells the story of his family’s migration from Lebanon to Oklahoma early in the 20th century, and along the way it illuminates the consequences of the Ottoman Empire’s fall; the binding ties of bayt, or home and belonging, in Arab families; the workplace ethics of Mr. Shadid’s small construction site in Lebanon; and the flavors of that battered society’s bitterness and resilience.

I think I’m going to have bump this one up to the top of my long, long list.

Amazon.com Bots: I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That, Dave

I don’t always agree with what Corey Doctorow has to say, and I’ve never read his fiction (although it’s on my list, as I’m curious). But he does tend to frequently post interesting book and publishing-related news on seminal blog Boing Boing.

Take for example this “damned weird story,” as he puts it:

Carlos Bueno, author of a kids’ book about understanding computers called Lauren Ipsum, describes what happens when the cadre of competing bots that infest Amazon’s sales-database began to viciously fight with one another over pricing for his book.

Amazon.com’s many bots feud over book-prices

Apparently Bueno isn’t the only author finding that Amazon’s HAL 9000 is acting strangely.

Veteran author Jim C Hines offered some of his titles independently direct through Amazon’s Kindle store. He discovered that Amazon reserves the right to arbitrarily reprice his books — slashing the cover price of a $2.99 title to $0.99 — and pay royalties on the lower price.

Author discovers that Amazon can reprice his indie Kindle books however they want and cut his royalties

Kind of amazing, stunning even, to consider that the world of ebooks and ebook publishing is really only about five years old or so, and yet it’s come to this already. Perhaps HAL, the errant, sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t an apt metaphor so much as the Borg from Star Trek: The Cheap Imitation The Next Generation. We are Amazon. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

Science Fiction Author Dave Marusek Gives It Away

The Wedding Album by Dave Marusek (book cover)I think I originally discovered this on Boing Boing as well. Author Dave Marusek is notably going about things backwards, or so it would seem. Marusek penned the successful novella The Wedding Album, which was originally published in Asimov’s and subsequently reprinted a number of times and translated into five different languages as well.

He recently published the novella as an ebook, along with My Morning Glory, a collection of three so-called flash science fiction stories that originally appeared in the scientific journal Science. What’s more, he gave them away for free, in both Kindle and Nook formats, for one week each. I’m not sure what format the Nook version was, but the Kindle version is in Amazon’s proprietary standard.

Marusek explains why he’s ebpublishing an already successful print book in an lengthy and interesting post on his blog:

Not to make too big a deal about it, but this is more than just a book launch. It’s also the launching of my new role as e-publisher. The synergistic, skill-extension effect of the personal computer and the Internet has finally caught up with authorship, and all hell is breaking loose. With the introduction of the Kindle only three years ago, the traditional barriers to book manufacture and distribution have been battered down. Tens of thousands of aspiring authors have rushed in where only traditional publishers used to tread. Now, literally, anyone who’s ever wanted to publish a real book (in both digital and POD editions) and sell it around the world can do so at minimal cost and fuss. (Grammer, speling & punctuation is optional; )

Suddenly there are channels to put books into the hands of the reading public that do not involve traditional publishing. Trailblazing authors have already racked up digital bestsellers without NYC’s input. Traditional publishing is reeling with the changes and trying to adapt, and someday it may figure out a new business model (transmedia novels, anyone?). In the meantime, we mid-list authors of the old regime are scrambling to stay afloat in the new. One thing many authors are doing, now that we’ve been given the tools, is to bring out our backlists in ebook format. I’m giving that a try; in my case I only own the ebook rights to my short stories, and I’m only planning on e-publishing these few. (You can already buy “MMG” and “TWA” along with 8 other stories in my Del Rey collection, Getting to Know You.) If all goes well, I may self-pub my next novel, Camp Tribulation, (partly because I’m doubtful any legacy publisher will touch it–it’s that good!–or, maybe it’s no good at all; I don’t know; still too early to tell; it’s about two years away from completion).

One may wonder why I am e-publishing “TWA.” After all, it’s been reprinted about a dozen times and translated into five foreign languages and is easily found on pirate sites. Hasn’t everyone already read it who’s going to read it? I hope not. The fact that it has done so well for so long suggests that, given a little nudge, it might have the right stuff to find new readers on its own who may become new fans.

I may be one of those new fans. I’ll let you know before too long; I took advantage of the giveaway and downloaded both. But as someone who has been through the violent crash of print journalism and the Internet – literally at ground zero, in Silicon Valley – I can sympathize with the Marusek’s of the world and the a changin’ times. Believe me.

Grove Press’ Barney Rosset Dies

I’m only passingly familiar with Grove Press, having read a few well-thumbed volumes published by this imprint back in my university days, Beckett, Burroughs and whatnot – the kind of books that I wanted to read in college, but never really seemed to get around to reading. Yes, a bit cliché, I know.

Anyway, Grove Press’ founder Barney Rosset died last week at age 89.

Download the Universe: Niche Reviews for eBook Niche

As Carl Zimmer notes on the inuagural blog post of Download the Universe, science books have been around for about as long there have been books – and important books at that. Look at all the trouble Darwin’s Origin of the Species has caused.

Download the Universe is a new book review blog dedicated to science ebooks – not the print ones, but specifically the electronic ones. As Zimmer says:

Many of the necessary elements are falling into place for this experiment. Programming is becoming painless and powerful. Readers can buy ebooks with a tap on a sheet of glass. And there are enough readers now that they can conceivably support a community of ebook authors.

But there’s something missing in between. It is still tough for readers to discover new science ebooks. Traditional book reviews limit themselves to works on paper. Some ebooks may appear in computer magazines, but buried in reviews of laptops and printers. In between, we need a community.

Download the Universe is a step towards that community. It is the work of a group of writers and scientists who are deeply intrigued by the future of science books.

Among the editors – many of whom are authors themselves – listed on the site, I spied some familiar names (to me, at least, being the nerd that I am). Among them are: Annalee Newitz, whose byline has been popping up in alternative pubs for some time and who is currently editor-in-chief at Io9; Jennifer Ouellette, science writer and blogger (Cocktail Party Physics, anyone?); and Maggie Koerth-Baker, who I’m familiar with from her work on Boing Boing.

An interesting and worthy endeavor, Download the Universe is. Among the reviews there already is an essay on a subject near and dear to my heart: The state of the eBook, early 2012, by John Trimmer. It’s a nice overview of where the market and the technology stands at the moment. As I noted earlier, it’s hard to believe that the ebook market has only been around for five years, and the Kindle for three.

Living in the future is cool.

J.K. Rowling to Pen Adult Novel

I’m sure a lot of copy editors initially wrote headlines like this when the news first broke a few weeks ago that Harry Potter author Rowling has a new book in the works, this one aimed at big boys and girls. Then said editors paused and thought “wait, no, that sounds like she’s writing a pornographic novel.” And then they opted for headlines that were perhaps more clear.

To wit, this new book is to be for an adult audience, in that it’s not going to be written for children – not, ostensibly, an adult book in the sense that Anne Desclos’ The Story of O is a decidedly prurient adult novel.

Not that prurience is necessarily a bad thing. And judging by some of the freaky, twisted Harry Potter fanfic out there, there would be a market should Rowling decide to turn to erotica. Just think: The Story of H. As in Hermione’s erotic awakening at the hands of a dashing, elder professor at Hogwarts — we know she has a penchant for dashing professors, after all.

Moving on …

“Although I’ve enjoyed writing it every bit as much, my next book will be very different to the Harry Potter series. … ” Rowling said in a statement – statement meaning that this was her marketing-and-PR-approved quote composed by some poor sap at Little, Brown and Company’s PR firm, and not words that she actually said in front of a journalist (God, as a former journalist I have always wanted to write that. Now I have). “The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry’s success has brought me.”

Anyway, there apparently aren’t any more details out there beyond that. Publisher Little, Brown and Co. merely announced that it acquired the rights to Rowling’s next novel; there is no word on when Rowling’s next effort will appear in bookstores.

Having said that, I will I say that I enjoyed the Harry Potter series. I reread all the books while on a recent vacation and can say that they stood up to the scrutiny of a second reading, for the most part, particularly the earlier works. They are not without minor faults here and there, but then most published works rarely are, and it’s to Rowling’s credit that she was able to maintain the quality of her writing across the seven works. So many sequels to initially successful popular fiction books today are clearly half-assed attempts to cash in on said success; it’s often painfully clear when an author is phoning it in and subsequently cashing in.

On the other hand, Deathly Hallows could have used some editorial pruning. But then given Rowling’s rock-star status and the tendency toward bloat in popular fiction today, I suppose that’s no surprise. In any event, it will certainly be interesting to see where Rowling’s muse leads her post Potter.

Life Imitates Art: Gawker Editor Lives William Gibson Novel Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (book_cover)This is a strange post-modern tale, if there ever was one. Someone sets out to discover the creator of a Clickbank ebook seller website – ostensibly just one plot in an entire Clickbank content farm. Why would someone do this? Well it seems that creator of said horse-related ebook site, in order to get around Twitter’s spam bot filters, has set up an automatic scrape of random books and websites, publishing them out of context as tweets several times a day, ostensibly to pad the obvious spam bot tweets.

This random text has apparently developed a genuine cult following.

About seven times a day, Horse_ebooks spurts out bits of context-free nonsense, like: “Worms – oh my god WORMS,” and “I noticed that my hair grew faster from spending time in my pyramid.”

The feed’s strangely poetic stream has been embraced like a life-preserver by internet users drowning in a sea of painfully literal SEO headlines and hack Twitter comedians. Since it appeared in August 2010, word of Horse_ebooks has spread steadily, propelled by blog posts and Twitter chatter by internet obsessives. But unlike many internet culture phenomenons, it never truly went viral. Horse_ebooks is too weird, too much of an acquired taste to break into exponential growth.

Being one of the obsessives, Gawker editor Adrian Chen — quoted above — set out to find out who was behind Horse_ebooks. But it seems that some among the community were afraid this revelation might dispell the magic, prompting threats.

Seriously, this is straight out of William Gibson. Chen actually manages to discover the identify of this person, after doggedly pursuing his identity through the WhoIs information of his many websites – he’s a Russian web developer, but of course – and confirming it through a Facebook page, where there was a link to the developer’s personal portfolio website.

Ah brave new world, that has such webpages in it.

Now this is only tangentially related to books and book reviews. But if you’ve read Gibson’s 2003 novel Pattern Recognition, then you can see the parallels between this work of fiction and Chen’s story are downright eery – so much so, that I just had to comment on it.

Life imitates art — specifically that of William Gibson. As he himself has observed, he no longer has to write about the future; the present has gotten plenty weird as it is.

2011 Nebula Awards, Arc Magazine and Locus (Print Edition) Online

The Nebula Awards logo (this is a registered trademark of SFWA)The Nebula Awards – the Nebbies? Probably not – are the ones written by science fiction writers by namely those in the club: the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Here’s the 2011 list of nominees by which came out earlier this week:


  • God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Night Shade)
  • The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Firebird by Jack McDevitt (Ace)
  • Embassytown by China Miéville (Del Rey)
  • Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine (Prime)
  • Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)


  • With Unclean Hands by Adam-Troy Castro (Analog 11/11)
  • The Ice Owl by Carolyn Ives Gilman (F&SF 11-12/11)
  • The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 10-11/11)
  • Kiss Me Twice by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s 6/11)
  • The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary by Ken Liu (Panverse Three)
  • Silently and Very Fast by Catherynne M. Valente (WSFA)


  • Six Months by Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor.com 6/8/11)
  • The Old Equations by Jake Kerr (Lightspeed 7/11)
  • What We Found by Geoff Ryman (F&SF 9-10/11)
  • The Migratory Pattern of Dancers by Katherine Sparrow (GigaNotoSaurus 7/11)
  • Sauerkraut Station by Ferrett Steinmetz (GigaNotoSaurus 11/11)
  • Fields of Gold by Rachel Swirsky (Eclipse 4)
  • Ray of Light by Brad R. Torgersen (Analog 12/11)

Short Story

  • Her Husband’s Hands by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed 10/11)
  • Mama by We Are Zhenya by Your Son by Tom Crosshill (Lightspeed 4/11)
  • Shipbirth by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s 2/11)
  • Movement by Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s 3/11)
  • The Axiom of Choice by David W. Goldman (New Haven Review Winter ’11)
  • The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11)
  • The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld 4/11)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book

  • Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson (Orchard UK; Carolrhoda)
  • Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial)
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (Greenwillow; Gollancz as Fire and Thorns)
  • The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout (Bloomsbury USA)
  • Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (Little by Brown)
  • Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Viking)
  • The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)
  • Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor (Little by Brown)

The winners will be announced at SFWA’s 47th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend May 17 – May 20 in Arlington, Virginia.

Via Locus.

Ye Olde New Scientist Magazine Launches New Science Fiction Magazine

What? Exactly. Fortunately it’s not called that, but rather Arc magazine. Apparently this came down a few months ago around the first of the year when I had other things on my mind, like a torn quadriceps tendon. Anyway, the fist issue is out: the dead-tree version is a whopping hardbound 152-pages and sells for $29.95; digital copies for iOs, Android, Kindle and regular ole’ Windows and Mac ‘puters sell for $6.99.

Seems stodgy ole’ New Scientist isn’t quite so stodgy; Arc doesn’t have a website per se that I could find, but rather an Arc tumblr blog. I guess I’m the stodgy one, eh? Per the inaugural post:

Arc will explore the future through cutting-edge science fiction and forward-looking essays by some of the world’s most celebrated authors – backed up with columns by thinkers and practitioners from the worlds of books, design, gaming, film and more.

This first issue includes:

  • Editorial: “Welcome to the future” by Simon Ings and Sumit Paul-Choudhury
  • Forward: “The object of posterity’s scorn” by Bruce Sterling
  • Short Story: “A Journey to Amasia” by Stephen Baxter
  • Unreliable Narrator: “Alien Evasion” by China Miéville
  • Short Story: “Bearlift” by Margaret Atwood
  • Present Tense: “Breaking the fall” by Paul Graham Raven
  • Short Story: “In Autotelia” by M. John Harrison
  • Unevenly Distributed: “Sir John Schorne’s Devil” by Simon Ings
  • Prior Art: “What hpapnes fi it atcully wroks” by Sumit Paul-Choudhury
  • Short Story: “Topsight” by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • The Tomorrow Project: “Making the Future” by Justin Mullins
  • Texts: “Three Surprising Theories About Science Fiction” by Adam Roberts
  • Games: “Three Ways to Play the Future” by Leigh Alexander
  • Spaces: “Three Stories on Dreamland” by Simon Pummell
  • Short Story: “The Water Thief” by Alastair Reynolds

Via SFscope.

Subscriptions, Back Issues of Locus Available Digitially, DRM-Free via Weightless Books

October 2009 edition of Locus Magazine featuring author Connie Willis on the cover.I’m playing catchup here, but it certainly bears repeating, if you haven’t already heard. Now don’t get too excited, the back issues only go back to January of last year. Still, it’s pretty sweet that you can now subscribe to this venerable science fiction trade publication or buy individual editions in pdf, epub, or mobi format without any annoying digital rights management dictating how you use the content that you paid for.

A year subscription to Locus’ digital edition of its print mag – that’d be 12 months – runs $48; six months’ is $27.00. Individual monthly editions go for $5.50. Hooray for Locus and Weightless Books.

The latter, by the way, is an independent ebook (e-book, (e)Book whatever) store that originally featured books and whatnot from Small Beer Press and Blind Eye Books; since then other publishers have been added. Best of all, everything they sell is DRM free – no worries about backing up to multiple devices and hard drives. Registered users of Weightless’ site also get a backup library of titles they purchase, kept on the site. Living in the future is cool, huh?

Originally via BoingBoing via SFscope.

Eva: The Woman Who Served as Author Stieg Larrson’s Muse

Ah, busy days recently – not much time to read or write. But busy for good reasons, I suppose. I ended up taking an impomptu break from Connie Willis’ duology about time travel and World War II as well, as I went to look up a quote from William Gibson’s Neuromancer the other day, and ended up rereading it – not for the first or surely not the last time.

Gibson has become like Tolkien or Maugham for me: the literary equivalent of comfort food. I’ve read his two cyberpunk trilogies three times now.

Swedish investigative journalist and author Stieg Larrson. I'm presuming this is a standard PR shot, but if anyone knows the photographer, please let me know so I can add credit. Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice – and comment on the fact – that Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larrson’s long-time significant other has published her memoir about him. Of course Larrson is the posthumous author of the enormously popular crime trilogy – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, as the three novels are titled in English.

If you’re familiar with his work, then you are likely at least somewhat familiar with the controversy surrounding his authorship of these works. I confess that I’ve only come to the story lately; I’ve only just read the novels last winter. But apparently some believe, for whatever reasons (and I’m not trying to make any claims as to their veracity either way), that Larrson wasn’t talented enough to have written the novels on his own. Consequently there is belief that his long-time companion, Eva Gabrielsson, ghost wrote them. Again, while I make no claims, it does sound a bit unlikely.

Gabrielsson has just published her memoir about Larrson with the rather unwieldy title “‘There Are Things I Want You to Know’ About Stieg Larsson and Me” (the quotes are part of the title itself). It would seem she was more of a muse and sounding board for Larrson, as opposed to a ghost writer. Furthermore, as the New York Times’ Books section says about it:

The memoir’s straightforward tone and terse, unadorned style are unlikely to provide much support for the conspiracy theorists who are convinced that Larsson was not talented enough to come up with the Millennium books on his own and that Ms. Gabrielsson must have written them for him.

Cover of Stieg Larrson's The Girl With the Draggon TattooThe article goes on to discuss Viking curses and Gabrielsson’s fight with Larrson’s father and brother over his estate – two topics apparently discussed at length in her memoir. It also apparently addresses Larrson’s epic coffee consumption; reportedly it surpassed even the typical Scandinavian coffee consumption. One wonders — like the New York Times writer — if this manic caffeine addiction contributed in anyway to his death of a heart attack at age 50.

The so-called Millennium trilogy, named after a magazine that employs one of the books’ two main characters, were rather interesting reads, but not for the usual reasons (at least in my not-so-humble opinion, heh). First of all, as recovering journalist, I was curious to read these books by a notable Swedish investigative journalist, ones that had become so overwhelmingly popular.

Unfortunately, as popular fiction and crime novels go, I found them pretty standard stuff (but having said that, if crime fiction is your bag, by all means, you’ll probably find them worth reading — certainly the first one, at least).

In the first one there are are some interesting elements to the crimes, but still nothing extraordinary in terms of crime fiction. What was more interesting to me were the political themes intertwined with all three novels, as well as those of sexuality and violence. In this sense, the trilogy reaches for something beyond the standard pop fiction templates, even if it does fall somewhat flat when it comes to its portrayal of women, not to mention men. The characters tend to be stock, cookie cutter characters that one finds in the more hackneyed crime, horror and popular fiction – there’s even an old Nazi who is of course Evil with a capital E.

But the most interesting thing to me about the three novels is that the second one is so problematic that it doesn’t even read like it was written by the same author as that of the first one; the third novel further illustrates this as it more or less reads like a return to authorial form established by the first book. I have no idea why this is; I suppose it may have been a matter of editing or translation. Perhaps this is what gave rise to the rumors that he didn’t actually write them?

Cover of Stieg Larrson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest On second thought it would perhaps be more accurate to say that rather than reading as if it were a different author, the second book reads as if were an unedited first draft. I’ve thought about doing a literary critique of the Millennium trilogy that looks at the problems with the second book in comparison to the other two – I found the difference to be that stark, and the problems that glaring.

Of course not everyone agrees with my estimate of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest; the books remain immensely popular, having won Swedish book awards and serving as the basis for a Swedish film trilogy and forthcoming American film trilogy. And I am nothing if not more than a bit fussy about literature.

Random News on Books, Vol. II

All sorts of miscellaneous book news to catch up on while I’ve been slacking lo the past week and a half or so. I have a good reason for this slackness: I’ve caught the graduate school bug yet again – it seems to strike every three years or so, but this time it feels likely to be terminal. I’ve even got it narrowed down to specific MFA programs I will try and get into (and the backup MA programs if I don’t, which is a distinct possibility). So the next six months is going to be spent studying for the GRE (again) and writing and workshopping (no, not technically a verb) the piece(s) I will submit with my applications.

But that’s neither here nor there.

First off: yet more awards are in the offing. Must be that time of year, I suppose.

Nothing is Absolutely So

Theodore Sturgeon in 1972 (reportedly). Not sure who took it or holds the copyright; if anyone can supply that info, please do. The above headline – or text in between the title tags – is Sturgeon’s Law, as stated by the man himself. Of course most people, myself included, have come to think of Sturgeon’s Law as the old saw about 90 percent of science fiction being derivative crap. Reportedly his actual quote was this:

Ninety percent of science fiction is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.

One wonders what he would think of this year’s crop of his eponymous award finalists (and that’s not meant as a comment on this year’s field one way or the other). In case you are wondering, the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas administers/curates/decides Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award; is  by its intent is to honor outstanding short stories or other short works of science fiction.

Sturgeon, of course, was one of – some might even say “the” – authors of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a contemporary of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and van Vogt. Not everyone includes Arthur C. Clarke in that list, but I most assuredly do. Anyway, without further ado:

  • Eleanor Arnason, “Mammoths of the Great Plains” – (chapbook)
  • Damien Broderick, “Under the Moons of Venus” – Subterranean (Spring)
  • Elizabeth Hand, “The Maiden Flight of McAuley’s Bellerophon” – Stories: All-New Tales
  • Geoffrey A. Landis, “The Sultan of the Clouds” – Asimov’s, September
  • Yoon Ha Lee, “Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain” – Lightspeed, September
  • Paul Park, “Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance” – Fantasy and Science Fiction, January / February
  • Robert Reed, “Dead Man’s Run” – Fantasy and Science Fiction, November / December
  • Alastair Reynolds, “Troika” – Godlike Machines
  • Steve Rasnic Tem, “A Letter from the Emperor” – Asimov’s, January
  • Lavie Tidhar, “The Night Train” – Strange Horizons, 14 June
  • Peter Watts, “The Things” – Clarkesworld, January

You know, I’ve never read Sturgeon’s seminal novel, More than Human. I’ve read plenty of his stories in anthologies over the years, but somehow I’ve never read this novel. I think I need to remedy that forthwith.

One other interesting tidbit about Sturgeon: he had a profound influence on Star Trek and the subsequent Star Trek universe. He wrote the screenplays for two of the more popular episodes of the original series. Including “Amok Time,” the one in which Spock has to get his groove on – or die. Among the enduring impact of Sturgeon on Star Trek, he gave us: the concept of pon farr, the aforementioned Vulcan ritual for getting it on, i.e., mating ritual; the concept of the Prime Directive, which has helped fashion all manner of plots across the entire spectrum of Star Trek series; and then there is the peculiar Vulcan greeting, including the hand salute and the phrase “live long, and prosper.”

The proper, polite response to this is, of course, “peace, and long life.” Yes, I am a nerd in general and trekkie in particular. And yes, I opt for the phrase that most of my brethren shun. Bones is doctor, dammit, and I am a trekkie, not a trekker. Reclaim the word for our own, I say.

But I digress.

Nod to a Golden Age with the John Campbell Award

While Sturgeon is a seminal author, John Campbell was a seminal editor of science fiction, so much so that if it weren’t for him, there might not have been a Golden Age of Science Fiction; it might never have emerged from its pulp roots and into the realm of literature. Of course there are a lot of stuffed shirts who think that it still hasn’t, but we, dear gentle reader, know better, of course.

Anyway the Golden Age certainly would have been somewhat less gilded had it not been for Campbell. Without him it might have remained the Stone Age of Science Fiction; the field might have managed to make it to the Bronze Age of Sci Fi at best. Really if we were to continue this metaphor to its conclusion a more apt name would be the Steel Age of Science Fiction as opposed to the Golden Age. I’m just sayin’ (and digressing).

The good folks at the University of Kansas and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction are also responsible for the eponymous Cambell Award. This is apparently the center’s nod to the science fiction novel.

  • Yarn, Jon Armstrong (Night Shade)
  • Hull Zero Three, Greg Bear (Orbit)
  • Zero History, William Gibson, (Putnam)
  • C, Tom McCarthy (Knopf)
  • The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (Gollancz/Pyr)
  • New Model Army, Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • The Quantum Thief , Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz/Tor)
  • Veteran, Gavin Smith (Gollancz)
  • The Waters Rising, Sheri S. Tepper (Eos)
  • Aurorarama, Jean-Christophe Valtat (Melville House)
  • Anthill , E. O. Wilson (Norton)
  • Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu (Pantheon)

Notably, Nebula award winner Connie Willis is on here for her duology Blackout/All Clear. I just finished reading Blackout, and am reading All Clear. Also, I’m – somewhat – surprised that Gibson’s Zero History keeps showing up on all these award lists. Not that it isn’t deserving, because it is, but it’s not really science fiction. The so-called Bigend trilogy, of which Zero History is the third, is set in the current day, and none of the technology depicted in it, while advanced, all exists today, so technically it’s not science fiction, by the strictest definition of the term.

Of course if we take his entire oeuvre, we can call Gibson a science fiction author, so I suppose I’m splitting hairs.

Alison Bechdel Becomes a Fellow

An excerpt from Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, Fun Home. Copright is hers, of course.I love comic artist Alison Bechdel, the author of the long-running comic Dykes to Watch Out For. If you aren’t familiar with DTWOF, as you might guess from the name it’s a so-called alternative comic strip; you would not have found it in your daily mainstream hometown paper. You might have found it in your hometown alt weekly, however. If you missed it the first time around there are several collections of DTWOF comics; I can highly recommend them. Dykes was probably one of my favorite comics of all time; it ranks right up there with Bloom County and its successors in my humble estimation.

Bechdel is also known for her graphic novel, the autobiographical memoir of her relationship with her father, Fun Home. Fun Home is a wonderful work, a truly moving piece. Some may debate whether the graphic novel is literature; to them I would suggest they read Fun Home and then tell me that it’s not.

Anway, Bechdel is going to be serving as a Mellon Fellow at the new Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago; she will be co-teaching a course on autobiographical comics.

Attention New York Times: Hüsker Dü Wasn’t Metal

Despite this assertion that Bob Mold made “metal music for the kind of people who don’t like metal” — the ironic  umlauts in the name must have fooled ’em — it’s cool that the New York Times reviewed Bob Mold’s autobiography See a Little Light, The Trail of Rage and Melody. Bear in mind I’m almost but not quite a nerd when it comes to metal and punk; I’m more of a geek in that respect, as opposed to a nerd (if you want to get fussy about the terms, and being such, I do).

I suppose some of his music might be classified by the ignorant as metal, but doubt any serious connoisseur/anyone who came of age in the 1980s and early 1990s would. But then labels are subjective. One person’s garage rock is another one’s proto-punk, for example. ]

Anyway, Bob Mold has published an autobiography. That’s news in and of itself. If you had asked me back in oh, 1989 or so, that someday I’d be reading a review of Bob Mould’s autobiography in the New York Times, I would have said something along the lines of “No way! GTFU!”

More Bad News

It has been a tough spring for science fiction and fantasy authors and artists, to say the least. Now we learn that British author John Glasby, a contemporary of the aforementioned Golden Era greats, died June 5; he was 82. A prolific author, he started out writing science fiction in the 1950s, but is perhaps better known for his later work in the fantasy and horror/supernatural genres. He continued to write almost up to the time of his death; his last work, a science fiction novel, Mystery of the Crater, came out just last year.

According to Locus many of his earlier works are soon to be republished here in the United States, and also has a few works yet to be published.

I also see on Locus that author L.A. Banks is in the hospital with late stage adrenal cancer. I’m familiar with her work – L.A. is short for Leslie Esdaile, presumably – from a few fantasy/paranormal short story anthologies; but she is quite prolific in several genres, including crime/suspense and romance. If you want to leave an encouraging note for Leslie, or even make a donation for her mounting medical expenses – no employer-supplied health insurance for authors – just follow that link.

As I was in the process of posting this and double checking a link, I saw a notice that author and editor Alan Ryan had died. I am more familiar with the many short story anthologies he put together and edited. But he also published a lot of short fiction in the horror genre as well. A more complete obituary for Alan Ryan can be found over at the Too Much Horror blog.

V. S. Naipaul: Cranky Old Sexist?

Or Self Possessed, Accomplished Author?

Author V.S. Naipaul. Photo copyright David Levenson/GettyI admire people that just don’t care what other people think of them; they are in fact quite rare. Oh, lots of people claim to feel this way, but when you stop and break down it down, it falls apart under the scrutiny.

As a youth I used to think that I didn’t care what other people thought, that I was a true social misfit, etc. I broadcast this belief with lots metal in my face, spiky hair, mohawks, crazy clothes, etc. – until someone pointed out that I was still taking my queues from those around me. I felt compelled to declare that I was different. Wanting to be perceived a certain way — worrying about it – is akin to caring what people think, just as much as fashion-conscious people one claims to despise.


So I have a certain admiration for the fat, hairy, middle-aged guy down the street who mows his lawn without a shirt on. On the one hand, from an aesthetic standpoint: ewww, gross. No one wants to see that, least of all, me.  On the other hand, props for truly not giving a damn and letting it all hang out. Literally.

It’s probably true that at age 42 I care less in general about what a stranger would think of me than the average person. But I’m not to the point of the fat, hairy guy down the street. If I had to mow the lawn – I rent, so it’s not my problem – I’d still put a shirt on.

Of course there is a fine line between having the self-security not to care what others think of you and the vanity and hubris that enables you to do and say outlandish things. Hubris, of course, is all about what other people think of you.

With all that in mind, I can’t help but wonder what was author V.S. Naipaul’s motivation was when he declared that no woman writer was the equal of himself. To wit, in Britain’s The Guardian last week, the critically acclaimed author had this to say:

In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the “greatest living writer of English prose”, was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: “I don’t think so.” Of Austen he said he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”.

He felt that women writers were “quite different.” He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world. And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too,” he said.

He added: “My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”

Let’s set aside the question of whether or not he is the greatest living writer of English prose, or even if his sexist claims are valid and true (or rubbish). Rather, let’s look at his motivation. Is his vanity and hubris so great that he actually believes this? And does he genuinely not care what others think?

Or is it actually just clever marketing? The lets-say-something-ridiculously-controversial-because-there-is-no-such-thing-as-bad-press marketing ploy?

On the one hand, I can’t believe anyone with half a brain would actually believe this, no matter how good a writer they were. On the other, I can’t believe that guy down the street mows the lawn with his shirt off.

I’ve never read Naipaul, so I can’t say if his writing is all that. But now I’m mildly curious, because of these outrageous remarks about women authors. If it is a matter of vanity and hubris, I feel bad for him; one would hope at 68 that he would be secure enough in his own talent not to feel the need to make such outlandish claims, even if he believed them. But if he genuinely does believe this to be true and it’s not a matter of an old man’s vanity, well then, bully for him, I suppose.

But then it would seem that Naipaul has some deep-seated issues with women, as his authorized biography reveals, which would suggest these claims about women writers arise out of his own insecurities – often the root of hubris.

Oh Snap! Biz Markie started it all. In any event I’m inclined to agree with what critic Helen Brown told The Guardian:

He should heed the words of George Eliot – a female writer – whose works have had a far more profound impact on world culture than his.

Oh snap!


Obituary: Joel Rosenberg

Fantasy and science fiction author Joel RosenbergScience fiction and fantasy author – and presumed card-carrying NRA member — Joel Rosenberg died June 2; he was 57.

I confess I’ve never read Rosenberg’s work, but do know of it, thanks to my Dungeons and Dragons-playing friends back in high school. I believe Rosenberg was one of the first, if not the first, to to take the setting of DnD and similar role playing games and use them as the setting for several of his fantasy novels. That would include his first and perhaps most well-known series, Guardians of the Flame.

This series had an interesting conceit – very “meta” as the kids say today; it is literally about a group of college kids playing a DnD-like RPG who get magically transported to the realm depicted by the game. Suddenly they presumably have to wield actual swords as opposed to graph paper and 20-sided dice.

Let’s think about that a moment. So we have Tolkien and Lewis, et al, creating fantasy worlds that inspired the settings for tabletop RPGs. Then that came full circle with Rosenberg and everyone that came after him; today we have any number of authors writing fantasy series based on RPG games. It’s sort of the ultimate fan fiction, or perhaps meta marketing.

As I say, I’ve never read any his Guardian books, but I heard them discussed often enough; the first one in the series, The Sleeping Dragon, came out in 1983; over the next 20 years Rosenberg published nine more books in the series. I remember more than one DnD or some similar game getting an impromptu pause to compare and contrast the game in front of us with the one from Rosenberg’s novels.

More than once the dungeon master was compared to Rosenberg and found wanting.

The cover of The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg, first in the Guardians of the Flame seriesNow that I think about it, I’m not sure how I never got around to reading any of his work. Many friends have read his stuff over the years; he was quite prolific, writing other fantasy series, such as Mordred’s Heirs – an alternate fantasy, so to speak, in which Arthur loses to Mordred. I know all this off of the top of my head, just from having listened to other people discuss it (okay, I did have to go to Rosenber’gs Wikipedia to look up the date Sleeping Dragon was published.

Apparently Rosenberg has also published science fiction – “I do write about Jews in space with big guns” – and mysteries (thank you Wikipedia). The Jews in space I believe refers to his Metsada Mercenary Corps series.

What I also didn’t know, having read a few other obituaries on Locus and whatnot today, was that Rosenberg was apparently quite the activist when it came to his Second Amendment rights – that would the be the right to bear arms, for those of you not paying attention in history and civics classes. No mention on whether he ever joined his state militia – arming state militias being the original intent of that amendment (something that gun lobbyists seem to be inclined to forget – sorry, couldn’t resist pontificating just a little bit; I’ll stop now).

Anyway, Rosenberg was a staunch advocate of gun rights and ownership; apparently he was involved in a legal brouhaha stemming from an incident in November of last year in which he walked into Minneapolis city hall wearing a handgun. How staunch was he? Very – I submit to you yon Youtube video in which Rosenberg demonstrates all the different ways one can wear a holstered handgun.

His wife posted the details of Rosenberg’s death on her blog:

On Wednesday afternoon, June 1, 2011, Joel had a respiratory depression that caused a heart attack, anoxic brain damage and major organ failure. Despite the very best efforts of the paramedics and the team at Hennepin County Medical Center, Joel was pronounced brain dead at around 5:37pm Thursday June 2nd, In accordance with his wishes, he shared the gift of life through organ and tissue donation.

He is survived by his daughters, Judith Eleanor and Rachel Hannah, and his wife, Felicia Herman. Today, June 3rd would have been his 32nd wedding anniversary.


It really is a shame to lose someone like that at only 57; surely there were more books to be written. Regardless of how one feels about the gun lobby, he sounds like an interesting character, and I know my young friends always spoke highly of his works.

Postscript: I cadged the photo of Rosenberg from his author entry at the Fantastic Fiction site; no credit is given on the photo. Should anyone happen upon this who does know who took the photo, please let me know.