Oct 31, 2009

Halloween Thought of the Day

Could the Jigsaw killer from the Saw series be an elderly Kevin McAllister? They say that serial killers start young...

I'm just saying that some of the Home Alone traps are a little more sadistic than what a normal 10 year old should come up with.

Just think about it...

Oct 29, 2009

More Books Announcements from Pyr

While everyone probably things I'm a pupper blog for Pyr, I'm not. I enjoy their stuff and they do a great job of making announcement easily available. If you are an editor with book news, let me know. I love book news!

But back on topic, in the past few days Pyr has made a pair of announcements. The first is a Victiorian-set steam punk tale entitled Burton & Swinburne in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack or something to that effect. (It's a little long and not so easy to remember). This is the first book in a planned series by Mark Hodder. Anders provided a description:

It is 1861, and the British Empire is in the grip of conflicting forces. Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labour; Libertines oppose restrictive and unjust laws and flood the country with propaganda demanding a society based on beauty and creativity; while The Rakes push the boundaries of human behaviour to the limits with magic, sexuality, drugs and anarchy.

Returning from his failed expedition to find the source of the Nile, explorer, linguist, scholar and swordsman Sir Richard Francis Burton finds himself sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, employs him as “King's Spy.” His first mission: to investigate the sexual assaults committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack; to find out why chimney sweeps are being kidnapped by half-man, half-dog creatures; and to discover the whereabouts of his badly injured ex-friend (and new enemy), John Hanning Speke.

Accompanied by the diminutive and pain-loving poet, Algernon Swinburne, Burton's investigations lead him back to one of the defining events of the age: the brutal assassination of Queen Victoria in 1840; and the terrifying possibility that the world he inhabits shouldn't exist at all!
Now a poet doesn't sound like the most interesting of sidekicks but all the rest is pretty intriguing. Sex, murder, and politics, what's not to like. Plus chimney sweep abuse! Anders also gave high praise to Hodder's worldbuilding. Apparently it's less of a steampunk fantasy and more of an alternate history based on a singular key change. Burton & Swinburne is expected to debut sometime in fall 2010.

The second announcement concerns Jasper Kent, who has sold US rights for a pair of novels, Twelve and Thirteen Years Later. These are vampire novels, but not your Twilight brand of vampires. These are the unstoppable-evil monster type vampires, the kind that have lived for centuries and accumulated years and years of deadly combat experience and don't mind selling their services to the highest bidder. These are type of vampires I wouldn't mind reading about.

Lou Anders was quoted in the press release:

‘I'm thrilled to be welcoming Jasper Kent into the Pyr fold,’ says editorial director Lou Anders. ‘TWELVE is a magnificent blend of a historical novel and a dark fantasy novel, that could appeal equally to readers both in and out of genre. Jasper is a skilled storyteller, whose compelling prose had me hooked from his opening chapter. The book is "un-put-downable," and I love that he has brought back a real sense of threat and danger to the classic monsters, something that has been lacking with too many vampires lately. I cannot wait to spring this on US readers.’
Now somehow or other I ended up with a UK copy of Twelve. Probably something to do with the great cover and killer summary. And no more emo vampires. That's always a plus.

Oct 28, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Alan DeNiro

November is a big month for Keeping An Eye On authors. Out of the half dozen authors publishing work this month, none has more to be excited about than Alan DeNiro. On November 24th, DeNiro publishes his debut novel, Total Oblivion, More or Less. Debut novels are always exciting and you never know what a up-and-coming author is going to do . If I've learned anything from reading the early work of the authors on SF Signal's Watchlist, it's that they knock the ball out of the park when it comes to debut novels. It's almost as if the editors and genre professionals that nominated them did so for a reason. But other than quality, I'm not sure what to expect out of Alan DeNiro. As I started following these developing authors, one of the first things I read was DeNiro's first collection, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead. Some authors do one thing and do it well; others dabble in different subgenres but never find their niche. And then there are the writers like Alan DeNiro or Neil Gaiman who do things in every genre and then invent several of their own and inexplicably their stories work. Skinny Dipping was a veritable cornucopia of ideas that was as creative and memorable as it was unpredictable and unique.

So when I had a chance to talk to Alan DeNiro I took advantage of the opportunity to find out a little bit more about Total Oblivion and how he manages to write such unique material.

SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?

ADN: Well, there has been quite a lull for the last year or so but I do indeed have some things coming out in the remainder of 2009. The novel of course (Total Oblivion, More or Less) which drops 11/24. I also have some stories coming out in Strange Horizons, Interfictions II, and Paraspheres 2. And an essay on Van Vogt which is coming out in an Aqueduct Press critical volume. I've been working on more essays on speculative literature lately.

SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, etc.) would you like them to read?

ADN: It's really hard to say, so I'll hedge my bet with two answers: Total Oblivion, More or Less, and The Stations, which is a 165 page speculative poem. Those are the two works that I'm likely most proud of--which hopefully has a good correlation of what people would like to read (or is at least indicative of the different things I like to write). Also, I'd love to get into some cave paintings someday.

SoY: Some of the stories in Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead almost defy classification. What sub-genres are you most interested in? Is there a difference in what subgenres you read and the ones you write?

ADN: I really don't think in subgenres. Occasionally I'll try to start in a subgenre and then it goes woefully awry. I mean, awry in terms of the subgenre, but all the same it will go where the story needs to go. I have a recent story called "Moonlight Is Bulletproof" which is theoretically a futuristic detective story but it somehow throughout its drafts wended into narrative topography involving Persian gardens and little imps with swords jumping around. I pretty much read in the same fashion that I write, so I don't really dwell on categories all too much.

SoY: Can you tell us anything more about your upcoming novel? Is it set in the same world as your short story “Our Byzantium”?

ADN: That's a great question--I would say no, although there are definitely similarities. In the short story, the anachronistic invasion was more of an extended metaphor. The novel is much more "lived in" with the invasion, although I deliberately tried to avoid much of what would be called "classic" or traditional fantasy world building. So I guess in that sense there is a similarity.

SoY: Whats on your plate after Total Oblivion, More or Less?

ADN: I've started working on two novels, I mean, not EXACTLY at the same time. But two "in the mix" as they say. One set in a near future MMORPG, and another one involving dragons. Aside from that, the usual peppering of short stories, poems, essays and reviews.

SoY: What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)?

ADN: No, I'm pretty normal in that regard (whatever that means). I do most of my writing on the weekends because of my day job, and just squeezing time here and there during the week. In terms of actual practice I've been all over the map, trying to find what works and what doesn't. I'm pretty agnostic when it comes to the actual techniques and structures of storytelling.

SoY: An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? Who do you nominate in your place?

ADN: Haha...maybe people suddenly decide I'm not much of a genre writer. There are a ton of great writers out there, overlooked writers. Although he's certainly not "up and coming", one person I can definitely think of is Mark Rich, who people should read if they haven't had the chance to. He has a marvelous range--everywhere from Analog to the small press genre zines. He has two recent collections out--great stuff!

SoY: One of my favorite things about your shorter fiction is how it is undeniably genre fiction but the narrative style still feels very “literary” (albeit in a very hard to describe way) As an author who has dabbled across genre boundaries, do you have any opinions on the “ghettoization” of science fiction/fantasy/horror?

ADN: I'm fully against it. I actually don't think it happens as much as people within the genre suppose. And when it does happen it's usually self-imposed.

SoY: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

ADN: Meeting readers at readings, online, wherever. That has been the real trip. I have been very lucky in my writing life.

SoY: What will the short fiction marketplace look like in 5 years? Would a iPod-like fiction device/delivery system represent a game changer?

ADN: That would be very cool. But I think it's going to somewhat different, not radically different. The biggest change, which I already see happening, might be the blurring of the line between blogs and online magazines. Is that good or bad? It is certainly different. I think it's going to disappoint writers who are craving the stability of a "pro", "semipro" and "fan" hierarchy. I'm not really into that, so it doesn't make too much difference to me. The more potential readers, the better.

SoY: I’ve avoided asking this so far but where do you get your ideas? Cuttlefish? The Friendly Giants? If I Leap? Your stories work from some of the strangest premises I can recall.

ADN: The first I think began in the exploration of that voice. The second came from the epigraph. The third...wow, that was written so long ago, I don't even remember. I think it had to do with thinking of the character of the Goodbye Girl, and what that could mean. As you can see, it's really different for each story. (And thanks, I think?)

SoY: Along the same lines, what authors have been most influential toward your own personal writing style?

ADN: Let's see...Gene Wolfe, Cordwainer Smith, J.H. Prynne, Lorine Niedecker, Gogol, Alejo Carpentier, Jack Spicer, Simone Weil, W. B. Yeats, James Tiptree, the Old Testament prophets. These writers are really deep in the DNA, so it might not be apparent with specific projects.

SoY: What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

ADN: If you mean the last 12 months, Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani. One of the most baffling books I've ever read. But I love it.

SoY: [Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

ADN: Why yes, yes there is. My blog, Goblin Mercantile Exchange, is probably the best place to start. With the novel coming out I'm definitely planning some online shenanigans (er, content) in the upcoming months.

Go buy Total Oblivion, More or Less: A Novel on November 24th. I still don't know exactly what to expect, but chances are you'll like it.

Covering Covers: The Dervish House

In the words of the immortal Malcolm Reynolds...ooooooo, shiny. This is a great, great cover. Stephan Martiniere is responsible as usual. I can't count the number of times I see a cover and think to myself, "Wow, I wonder who did that" and then go on to find its a Martiniere. The computer circuitry gives a subtle touch to an image that otherwise appears fairly timeless. I also really dig the text box and the way the horizontal banners and building interplay with the sharp angles of the title and author borders. Sometimes great cover art is ruined by bad font choice or placement. This is not one of those times.

Lou Anders put up this cover over on Pyr-o-mania, where he also gave Ian McDonald's latest a brief overview:
In the sleepy Istanbul district of Eskiköy stands the former whirling dervish house of Adem Dede. Over the space of five days of an Istanbul heatwave, six lives weave a story of corporate wheeling and dealing, Islamic mysticism, political and economic intrigue, ancient Ottoman mysteries, a terrifying new terrorist threat, and a nanotechnology with the potential to transform every human on the planet.
If that alone isn't enough to sell you, I've previously read Brasyl and River of Gods which are McDonald's futuristic takes on Brasyl and India. The Dervish House appears to do the same for Turkey. If its as captivating as his two previous cultural excursions, it is not one to be missed.

The Dervish House hits shelves next July

Oct 27, 2009

Decisions Decisions

I just got Doctorow's Makers, Vandermeer's Finch, Cherie Priest's BoneShaker, and Eclipse 3 all in the mail.

Any advice?

Oct 26, 2009

YetiReview: The Windup Girl

21 Words or Less: Bacigalupi's debut novel delivers on the promise of his early work with a complex portrait of an environmentally influenced future Thailand.

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Good: Bleak but believable future setting that begs for further exploration; a diverse set of interesting characters that are human, sympathetic, and unique; Prose conveys complex technological and cultural details in an elegant manner that reads amazingly well.

The Bad: A fair bit of Thai words had me running to Google on a frequent basis; there aren't any more Bacigalupi novels to read offhand.

There's a reason Paolo Bacigalupi's name came up the most when discussing promising new authors. To understand why, you don't need to look any further than The Windup Girl, Bacigalupi's debut novel. Set in a future Thailand that struggles to survive in a world devastated by pandemic and crop failure, The Windup Girl depicts five characters who are poised to influence the country's future whether they realize it or not. As their actions weave together through the complex tapestry of the future setting, Bacigalupi creates a story that both excites and frightens.

The Windup Girl is part of the new wave of environmentally influenced science fiction that places one foot in the future and the other squarely in the past. Anticipating the end of cheap energy and global resource shortages, these novels are equally recognizeable and difficult to accept. In The Windup Girl, the advancements of genetic manipulation of viruses and seedstock, hyper-evolved animals built for performance, and even humans scientifically engineered for beauty and obediance are balanced out by the regressions resulting from the end of cheap energy. A return to animal labor, the expense of communication or computation, the financial power represented by dependable electricity, and even subtle touches like a scarcity of ice. One especially poignant scene shows a team of poor workers running up flight after flight of stairs only to serve as ballast weight for the rich man's elevator. All of these details taken together makes the world feel exceedingly real, moving into the future while retaining the links to the past.

My only complaint about Bacigalupi's constructed world is that I want to see more of it. I want to travel Europe's great cities to see what they've become, return to an America originally built upon bottomless wells of oil that have since run dry, and see if the pristine jungles of South America still survive. This setting begs for more stories, and I hope we get them particularly if they are as expertly crafted as The Windup Girl.

It's not only Bacigalupi's setting that impresses, it's his characters. He expertly maintains half a dozen points of view characters without resorting to anything that feels overly stereotypical on contrived. There is more (and better) characterization in The Windup Girl than some books twice as long with half the number of characters. Each character is fully realized with their own motivations, history and failings. I would warn you that if you are looking for black-and-white conflict, this isn't a book for you. These are realistic people, not comic-book characters. They aren't perfect but they are human (even the ones that aren't). I'm tempted to get into more specific details but I'd rather let you get into the characters yourself.

The one thing I think that would benefit the book would be the inclusion of an index for the many Thai words. A lot of them you could guess at but the early chapters were a little jarring as you tried to suss out the meaning of the Thai slang. I would draw comparisons to Ian McDonald's Brasyl in terms of cultural details. The Windup Girl is full of them, from big picture regional politics and religious conflicts to more subtle details like clothing choices and food items. Similar to the little touches that connect the present to the future, these cultural details link the words on the page to a real place.

In fact, I would say that Ian McDonald's Brasyl is the closest thing to The Windup Girl in the last few years. Except that this book is better. Where Brasyl and similar books focus on the cultural details or the delightful little world they've built, they often do so in a way that's a little bit too much infodump or not quite enough plot structure. Bacigalupi wraps all of these brilliant pieces into a cohesive package that reads effortlessly and with a literary style uncommon in genre fiction. It's got all of the complexity you would expect from genre fiction but without any of the heavy reading. It's hard to describe exactly what Bacigalupi does, or how exactly he does it (if I knew I'd be writing right now) but it works.

If it isn't clear to you by now (or the 3 week wait after I finished the book), I had a incredibly hard time writing this review. I simply can't exactly illustrated why The Windup Girl resonated the way it did with me. The simpliest way I can put it is that Paolo Bacigalupi has written a novel that delivers everything I look for in science fiction and more.

Go read this book.

Oct 21, 2009

Keeping An Eye On.... M. Rickert

M. Rickert is one of the quieter authors I've been Keeping An Eye On. In fact I would say she seems to be the most reclusive of all the authors on SF Signal's watchlist. (I couldn't even get a picture for her). She's keeps a very low profile in an attempt to let her work speak for itself. And speak for itself it does. Unfortunately for us readers, M. only has one short fiction collection but that collection and the stories within won a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection, a World Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction, the 2007 Crawford Award, as well as being nominated for a Nebula Award, another World Fantasy award, and an International Horror Guild Award. That's a pretty reputable resume for any author's career, and Rickert managed to do all that with just one collection's worth of stories. Obviously, Rickert is a stickler for quality over quantity.

Either that or she wants to give other authors a chance to get nominated which wouldn't be surprising given how nice she was when I conducted the interview which, coincidentally, starts below

SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, cave painting, etc.) would you like them to read?

MR: I suppose if this reader could find a copy of “Map of Dreams,” my short story collection, she could page through that and see if anything sticks.

SoY: What's something about you that no one would ever guess from your writing?

MR: I have been told that some people are afraid of me. I’m not sure what that’s about. Almost all my anger, despair, fear and bitterness exists in my fiction and therefore has a rather light presence in my life. I was a kindergarten teacher for almost a decade and I still harbor much of that attitude in my demeanor.

SoY: To date you haven’t published any full-length novels but you have written several excellent shorter works. Will we see a full-length novel from you sometime soon? Or perhaps another anthology?

MR: Thanks for the kind assessment of my shorter work. The novel has been a big challenge for me. I have been trying to write novels for twenty years. When I look at my attempts I see that in each case I had fairly large stories with big themes, this is why I thought they were novels. I struggled for years believing that a novel is determined by the subject matter. I now have reason to believe that this was incorrect. Another painful mistake I made in pursuit of novels was working under the impression that each sentence, as it existed as a foundation for all the many sentences that follow, must be perfect. I thought this was very sensible because who wants to throw out all those unused sentences, or make a two hundred page wrong turn? Because of my lazy attitude I have made so many wrong turns that I have filled several boxes with them. I recently finished a project that with fits and starts, abandonment and engagement took me eight years, and it still was not a novel.

Once I finally let go of that folly I began working on a short story, which all by itself, and certainly with no encouragement on my part, made itself known as a novel. This was evident by the pacing, and the expanse of characters. The story, itself, is actually rather small. For the first time since I’ve started trying to write novels, I seem to be actually writing one. Most importantly, I have given myself permission to write a first draft, to have inconsistencies, unfleshed themes and unresolved issues, trusting that I can fix all of this later. I feel like I’ve been really stupid. Why did I think that writing a novel had to be an entirely different process than writing a short story? All those years I struggled with the form, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, and the answer was right there, in the way I approach short stories. I probably could have really benefited from a teacher. At any rate, I feel like finally, after so many years, I am writing my first novel. I think. Maybe.

In the meantime I have a collection coming out next year with Golden Gryphon, called “Holiday.” All the stories have holiday themes, with a twist. Tom Canty is doing the cover and some interior art as well.

SoY: You are one of the few female authors (and one of only 5 on this list) in a genre dominated by male authors and male readers. What are your opinions on gender parity in speculative fiction today? Do you feel like being a woman viewed as a negative (unjustly so) by some readers?

MR: I know that being a woman is viewed as a negative by some readers.

I think this sucks.

SoY: As a follow-up, did these issues influence your choice to abbreviate your name to just the initial “M”?

MR: I was completely ignorant of this issue when I decided to abbreviate my first name. I have found it annoying how often people assume that they know why I did it, and on that basis hold opinions of me, my work, and also, weirdly, my name. Most spectacularly annoying of all was the suggestion that I was ashamed of my sex by choosing to present myself as a letter rather than a word.

I don’t mean to suggest that your question is in any way rude or inappropriate. I know people are curious about this, but it’s been educational for me how narrow the view is of possible reasons for it.

I really wanted to disappear in my work and have as little identity tied to it as possible.

When I made this decision I was quite young and given to fantasies of great writing success where my poor hand would be much relieved of the burden of those three extra letters.

And I didn’t like my name very much. I liked the sound of “M.” She sounded like she could get the job done.

SoY: What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)?

MR: I write longhand. My computer is in the office. I write at a table in the bedroom, then go into the office to type and print what I’ve written, which I bring back to the table to edit. I make faces while I work, basically acting out the characters. I talk over scenes and ideas with my dog, Watson, when we go on his walk. Nothing quirky here.

SoY: Some people (as well as the Barenaked Ladies) say that it's all been done. Are there still new stories to tell? Or has humanity been retelling the same stories since the first myths and legends were spoken into existence?

MR: I think that to say every story has already been told is to dismiss the temperament of words, to devalue nuance and meaning. Yes, of course, if stories are summed up into one or two sentence synopsis, then I imagine they all fit into certain categories. But stories are not just a matter of summation; if they were, the summation would be enough to satisfy that need for story. In fact, every word matters. I don’t know why people are so eager to diminish stories. You don’t hear architects bemoaning that every building has already been built. Within each field of creation there is a structure that exists as the foundation of that creation. The opportunity for expansion and artistry lies within that structure and is not diminished by it.

SoY: What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

MR: Ok, I can’t possibly pick just one and I don’t even want to stay in this year.

First, Christopher Barzak’s “The Love We Share Without Knowing” is hauntingly beautiful and should be read by more people. I consider Chris an Emotionalist, which is what I am as well. So if you’re looking for something to read where emotions matter, you can’t start in a better place than this.

A book I recommend to everyone, which came out a few years ago and was, I believe, the victim of poor marketing, is called “Strange Piece of Paradise, A Return to the West To Investigate My Attempted Murder and Solve the Riddle of Myself” by Terri Jentz. This was promoted as true crime but I think would have been better served as memoir. When she was twenty, Terri and her friend were attacked by a man with an axe. Both survived. Years later, Terri goes back to Oregon to solve the crime. I was really struck by how much of the author’s personal healing was resolved through finding her story, pieces of which were held by others.

Another book I loved that seems seriously under-read was “The Tattoo Artist” by Jill Ciment. If you are interested in beauty, art and sacrifice, and if you want to read a book about a strong woman, read this book. It has stuck with me ever since I read it, which was years ago. Really, everyone who reads this book tells me how much they love it.

Finally, I recently read Alice Hoffman’s new book, “The Story Sisters” and I loved it. She’s one of my favorite authors.

That's it from M. I have a great respect for her for wanting her work to be the focus. However, she could benefit from being a little bit easier to get a hold of; she's very pleasant to talk to and she has some very interesting thoughts on writing. That's been something I've noticed throughout all these interviews.

Just a few more interviews are left. Then I'm not sure what I'll do.

How I love Distractions...

There is a point in my reading/review cycle that always makes it difficult for me to blog, especially if I don't love the book I'm reading. Child of Fire isn't the best Urban Fantasy, in case you were wondering. It's not bad, it's just unremarkable.

I know I need to get a review of The Windup Girl up but I'm finding it hard to do the book justice in my review. I think I need to impose a write review before reading the next book rule.

The new TV season doesn't help either.

Oct 19, 2009

New Kindle Price. Same Kindle Problem.

The Amazon Kindle has a new lower price: $259 for the US model, $279 for the International model. There's also a $489 Kindle DX. $259 is $40 off the $300 price which was $100 off the introductory price of $399.

Carry the 2, add some sales tax, factor in shipping, divide by book, adjust for inflation, and round up the remainder and the final price is:

Still Too Much.

Amazon is getting closer but they still don't have it. It's not the price of the device, it's the price of the content you put on the device. I'm willing to spend a lot for a large, touch-screen, video capable iPod but that's only because I have the ability to fill it with content that I previously own and that I can get for a reasonable price. I don't have that ability with the Kindle. I can't burn my existing library onto a Kindle and rebuying everything is cost prohibitive. It's not necessarily a deal breaker because of the nature of books (many of which I will only read once) but it's still enough of a disincentive to keep me from attempting a Kindle transition. But even that isn't a huge deal in the long run.

eBooks are expensive.

Until the eBooks themselves are priced for what they are, nontransferable DRMed copies that can be endlessly reproduced at zero additional cost with miniscule storage and distribution fees, I can't get on board with them.  I don't know all the ins and outs of the publishing industry but I do know that the raw materials/printing/warehousing/shipping/etc. physical fees are significantly larger portion that the discount they are offering to the readers. After you make back your initial investment to the editors/digital production/author advance, everything (minus an almost zero per unit cost for servers/bandwidth) is pure profit split between Amazon, the publishers, and the authors. Unless the authors are getting more than they are letting on, the Publishers and/or Amazon are making a killing. And the market will only going to grow.

So why doesn't Amazon try to aggressively pursue the market before Apple/Microsoft/whoever debuts their inevitable devices. Why don't they cut the eBook prices and get everyone on Kindles before competitors can release their own next gen eReaders? It doesn't make a whole lot of business sense if Amazon is in it for the long haul. The only rational explanation I can think of is that Amazon is trying to set themselves up as a distribution network across 3rd party platforms, similar to what they already offer as an iPhone app. They want to be the iTunes for books. Not the iPod for eBook readers.

Now I don't know if Apple would go with Amazon or with a new iTunes substore but Amazon already has a tremendous head start when it comes to selling, marketing, and recommending books. Internet books are synonymous with Amazon in the same way that internet music is synonymous iTunes. Microsoft on the other hand would be crazy not to go with Amazon. As of right now they don't have anything close to Apple's iTunes distribution system unless Windows 7 is hiding some stuff. They would get a proven distribution system that would rival iTunes level of exposure.

So is Amazon sitting on high margins and slowplaying the device market rather than developing that killer eReader and aggressively pursuing market share with low profit margins for the heck of it? Or is it more likely they are going to keep the price points high, monopolize the distribution system and split the high profit margins with Apple/Microsoft and anyone else willing to sign on to Amazon's whispernet eBook delivery system and proprietary format while getting out of the expensive and continually demanding hardware market.

My money is on the money.

Oct 15, 2009

Unexpected Surprise

A few days ago I recieved an e-mail from Wikio which promotes itself as the number 1 news aggregator and blog-indexing website in Europe, indexing nearly 200,000 English-language source. I've never heard of Wikio before as I don't go through visit too many European sites.

But apparently they visit me since I am the 16th ranked blog in the literature category. I'm not sure how exactly Stomping on Yeti qualified but I'm excited to know that someone thinks I'm doing a good job. If I can help people find good authors and and good books, I'm accomplishing my goal.

Thanks Europe!

Oct 14, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Vandana Singh

After what feels like forever, I was finally able to get in touch with one of the first authors I approached in my Keeping An Eye On Series. Out of all of the names on the SF Signal Genre Watchlist, Vandana Singh was one of the authors I knew least about and I wanted to correct that. After doing a little digging and reading a few stories, I realized that Vandana was doing some very interesting writing that stood out as unique against the majority of my reading experience. This inspired me to see what the highly regarded author was currently working on and to learn more about her as an author. Unfortunately, I initially had some trouble getting in touch with Vandana and my interview with the author responsible for such brilliant pieces as "Delhi" and "The Wife" was unfortunately put on hold.

However, after a few months trying to track her down, I've finally got some answers which I'd like to share with you.

SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?

VS: I’ll have two short stories out in early 2010, and possibly a couple of novellas next summer. I tend to write mostly in the summer, since I have a very intense college teaching job, which, while it feeds my writing, also prevents it for most of the year.

SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, etc.) would you like them to read?

VS: This is a hard question! Perhaps the answer would be my novelette “The Tetrahedron.” Or, if I were allowed to offer a choice, my novelette “Infinities.” The reason I pick those is that the stories are familiar to me like an old shawl or coat might be. If I can inhabit them so easily, perhaps a reader will find more of what makes my fiction my fiction in those stories. If that makes any sense.

SoY: Describe your writing style in haiku-form.

VS: Ask a crow
How it flies; look! A feather
Sails down.

SoY: To date you haven’t published any full-length novels but you have written several novellas and novelletes. Will we see a full-length novel from you some time soon?

VS: I have two novels in my head. But they each require about three months of dedicated writing time, and freedom from various responsibilities, which isn’t going to happen any time soon. On the other hand a novel might sneak up unexpectedly on me. When writing my novella Distances (Aqueduct Press) I came the closest I’ve ever been to 40,000 words. It was like almost falling off a cliff! So you never know.

SoY: What sub-genres are you most interested in? Is there a difference in what subgenres you read and the ones you write?

VS: I don’t really think in terms of sub-genres as much as I think in terms of authors I like to read. I like reading authors with interesting, deep, thoughtful ideas couched in elegant language with or without strong plot elements, such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Jeffrey Ford, Ian R. Macleod, Molly Gloss. I love stories in which science is taken seriously but used with imagination and sensitivity to the human dimension (Kim Stanley Robinson, or Geoffrey Landis, for example). I love stories about alternative ways humans and human societies could be (Ursula K. Le Guin, Eleanor Arnason to name just two). I love stories that challenge comfortable, conventional ways of looking at the world (L. Timmel DuChamp, Karen Joy Fowler, Carol Emshwiller, for instance). Put in terms of sub-genres, I like urban fantasy and some traditional fantasy as well as good hard SF (scientific more than technological), enlightened space opera, pretty much everything if it is well written. The sub-genre I have the hardest time with is alternative history. So I find myself not reading too much of that.

SoY: How does your Indian heritage influence the stories you write? Are there any thematic elements that resonate strongly in Indian culture that may be overlooked by the uninitiated?

VS: My being Indian is possibly the biggest thing that influences my stories. Not just in terms of settings --- most of the settings in my stories are Indian --- but also in terms of characters and plot. I think growing up in India grew my imagination in certain ways that would not have happened in any other place. I’m also fascinated by the idea of India, and writing stories allows me to explore this. As for thematic elements, they are probably pretty obvious in my stories. Non-Indians might miss a few cultural allusions and will probably misunderstand some things because they are generally viewing them through the distorted lenses of stereotypes, but I’m going to be optimistic and say that the main ideas are likely clear to all readers unless they’ve been hiding in a cave somewhere. I also hope that my stories bust stereotypes at least to a modest extent.

SoY: What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)?

VS: I write like anyone involved with a family and a full time job: in stolen moments. I’ve had to adapt because I have so little writing time, so I write while dinner bubbles on the stove, and get away to cafes when I can. It is good to have a small laptop to haul around. I wish I could admit to bizarre writing habits, you know, like “I can only write in the presence of my favorite pet elephant, who is my fount of inspiration,” but the truth, alas, is far more mundane.

Perhaps if there is anything remotely interesting about my writing style, it is this: more often than not I have no idea what the story is going to be about. Sometimes I have a fuzzy vision, or a glimpse of one scene, or a character. But mostly all I have is a random first sentence, and I follow it to see where it might go. I know there are writers who plan everything down to the details of every scene, and more power to them if that works for them. For me, if I attempted that, my Muse would run away screaming and I would bore myself silly. It is the process of discovery, of gradually figuring out what happens in the story and how it ends, that makes writing an interesting process for me.

SoY: An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? Who do you nominate in your place?

VS: I write my novel, and it is a best seller, and I am up-and-coming no more --- I have arrived! Or: I am abducted by aliens, return after an amazing space-operatic adventure and achieve instant celebrity status! The two are about even in probability I think. But anyway rather than appointing someone in my stead I’d like to name at least one person who should be on the list anyway: Anil Menon.

SoY: You’ve written some short-stories specifically for children. What do you find are the major differences in writing for children versus writing for adults?

VS: For me it is less a question of decreasing the sex or violence because there isn’t much of those things in my adult fiction (with some exceptions). One difference is that there are kids in my children’s stories, but the stories are not only about kids. Also, I think my style changes somewhat. The themes I am interested in exploring are mostly the same, but I tackle them differently. My Younguncle books are at the surface comic adventures of the eccentric title character but they are also serious beneath the fun and frolic. And I use Big Words, like “ambrosial,” which bothers some children’s book reviewers. The children’s short stories you mention are mostly quite serious.

SoY: I’m largely unfamiliar with the world of Indian Speculative Fiction. Is there an Asimov, Heinlein, or Clarke of Indian SF? Are there any seminal authors who have been translated into English?

VS: Indian speculative fiction has quite a history. The first SF story in India was probably written around the late 1800’s in Bengali. The problem is that we have 18 languages apart from English and there are very few translations, so we don’t really know where the next Clarke or Le Guin is hiding. One writer who is brilliant, whose translations from Bengali to English were done some years ago, is Premendra Mitra from the 1940’s. I’m waiting to find more such writers in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and other languages. Writing in English are Anil Menon, Manjula Padmanabhan, Samit Basu, Priya Chhabria, Payal Dhar, to name just a few.

The Indian spec fic scene is full of promise. There are annual conferences, there is an Indian Science Fiction Association, and this past summer I co-taught at a science fiction workshop that was bursting with talent. I’ve written extensively about it on my blog (see below).

SoY: Every writer has a favorite word. Mine’s plethora. What’s that unique word that tries to find its way into everything you write?

VS: Oh I don’t know. I’ve lately become fond of concatenation but haven’t had a chance to use it much, yet.

SoY: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

VS: I have a pretty modest career as far as writing, but among what you might call the highlights is a recent review of my story collection “The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories” by Paul Witcover in Locus. And there’s a teeny picture of me in that issue as well. Also four of my short stories have been reprinted in Years’ Best anthologies, most recently “Oblivion: A Journey” in Year’s Best SF 14 (eds. Hartwell and Cramer).

SoY: You are one of the few female authors (and one of only 5 on this list) in a genre dominated by male authors and male readers. What are your opinions on gender parity in speculative fiction today? Do you feel like being a woman viewed as a negative (unjustly so) by some readers?

VS: I don’t have the data on how readers view female authors, so I don’t know. But I know there is gender imbalance in the spec fic field, and it concerns me very much. We live in a gender-biased world, so how could that not be reflected in our field? There have been some fascinating discussions and studies on this on the internet in recent years. There seem to be a lot of women writing spec fic and not as many getting published, or getting their works reviewed, or otherwise taken seriously. While it seems there is less overt bias against women writers compared to a few decades ago, there are still institutionalized biases, subtler biases that are harder to discern. I think these are serious issues that deserve examination by the community.

SoY: You are approached to write a tie-in novel in an existing (and your favorite) SFF universe. Which universe is it? Do you take the offer?

VS: No. I can’t imagine playing in someone else’s universe without changing it too much. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy other universes. I haven’t had a TV for years but I remember being fascinated by Babylon 5, and Stargate Atlantis, and, always, Dr. Who.

SoY: What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

VS: I can’t pick just one thing because my mind doesn’t work that way, but I’ll restrict myself to two things: Ursula Le Guin’s novel Lavinia and Carolyn Ives Gilman’s novella Arkfall.

SoY: [Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

VS: There’s my website, http://users.rcn.com/singhvan which also has information about my recent short story collection and how to order it, and my blog, http://vandanasingh.wordpress.com/. There is an older story of mine archived at Strange Horizons: http://www.strangehorizons.com/2004/20040105/sky_river.shtml.

As much as I've enjoyed talking to some of my favorite authors, discovering and getting to know new authors has been one of the highlights of this interview series. Vandana Singh is no exception. Hopefully, she can find the time to sit down and write one of those two novels sooner rather than later.

Barnes and Noble eReader Revealed!

Here's a first look at it over at gizmodo. It seems to correct on a few of the things I don't like about the Kindle.

It also appears to be a horrible time to put this out with Kindle with an established marketshare and everyone else waiting for Apple/Microsoft devices.

It's going to be interesting to see what kind of files are supported/DRM/etc. There is so much potential for bad decisions here!

DRM device specific formats.
Exclusive publisher deals with Amazon vs. B&N.
Ridiculous price points.

Hopefully, the people behind the device put some thought into this. Either way, tune in next week when the device is official announced.

Also, a thought inspired by the dual eInk/multitouch screen design: What if Apple released a eInk reader that you could plug your iPhone iPod Touch into?

Steal This Story...LHC Sabotage

Saw this article from the London Telegraph which suggests that the future experiments on the LHC could be sending ripples through time which impact it enough to damage it.

That's a very interesting concept and one that begs to be explored but I would take it one step further. My idea would involve a time traveler trying to sabotage the machine in the past because it screwed up the future (and also helped them invent time travel) but doesn't want to get exposed as it would be met with disbelief and/or renewed efforts to invent time travel. I'd write it from the perspective of a physicist working on the project that keeps encountering setbacks that seem almost too coincidental...

Oct 13, 2009

io9 Book Club

I've got kind of a love/hate relationship with io9. On one hand, they have a lot of news, some of which is interesting. On the other hand, they steal quotes from my interviews without attribution.

That being the case, I was interested to see how their attempt at a Book Club would go. Would they only endorse books that the publishers had advertised on io9? Would they allow negative comments? Would anyone participate?

io9's first book was The Quiet War which I also recently read and reviewed. Since I had already read the book, I decided to participate. I was also interested to see what others thought as I felt there was a disconnect between the ammount of hype the book got and what I thought of it. The overwhelming consensus agreed with my review: Science good, characters bad. I wasn't missing something, the book legitimately lacked enjoyable characters/character development and people had no problem saying so.

io9 also is holding a Q/A session with McAuley himself tomorrow. There have been some pretty blatant questions about the characterization problems so I'm very interested to see what he says on that front. I myself offered a question regarding the overall scope of the series as The Quiet War felt like the first part of a bigger story rather than a stand alone novel.

Not to mention the fact that io9 stopped deleting my commments. That's at least a step in the right direction.

Oct 12, 2009

Stomping on Yeti: Now FTC Compliant

All over the blogosphere people have been discussing the new FTC regulations placed on testimonials, celebrity advertisements, and, most relevant to me, bloggers.
Unless I'm reading it wrong, it basically states that you need to disclose any "material connections" between advertisers and endorsers. If I say the product is wonderful because I have a 30% stake in the company, that's not honest.

While I don't think that I'm the targeted audience for this regulation (I'm guessing they are looking for examples like this, it can't hurt to be open with my readers. My end goal is to establish Stomping on Yeti as a blog that people trust for honest reviews and if there's any shady dealing going on, that can't happen.

I write this blog for a number of reasons:
  • To help people find good books by interesting authors
  • To participate in the genre community that up-to-now has been a one-sided relationship
  • To practice writing (even if it doesn't directly apply to fiction)
  • To become more conscious of what I'm reading and why I do or don't like it
  • To help promote authors whose work I enjoy (it doesn't hurt that if they are more successful they will write more books)
I don't write this blog to get free books. At the same time, I'm also not going to say no. Writing this blog takes time and the occassional free book is a perk. But I'm not going to let free books change how I review my books. To date, I've reviewed 4 books that I haven't personally bought myself. I've also included my rating for each book.

Moxyland - 4.5/5
Nekropolis - 2.5/5
Unclean Spirits - 4/5
The Quiet War - 3/5

In 3 out of 4 cases, I requested the book from the publisher with the intent of reviewing. For the 4th, Unclean Spirits, Daniel Abraham was willing to stand up for the quality of his work so he sent me a book I wasn't willing to buy. Turns out he was right but that's not the topic for discussion. Now two of the books rated "really liked it" or above on the YetiStomper scale and the other two rated "Okay" and "Didn't like it." I give a book what I think it deserves. Read the reviews, I think they speak for themselves

But in the interest of maintaining government compliance, I'll keep you informed when I am reviewing a book I didn't buy myself.



Oct 11, 2009

Author Spotlight: Joe Schreiber

Tuesday, October 13th marks the debut of a highly anticipated novel in these here parts: Joe Schreiber's Death Troopers. Look at that cover; what's not to be excited about? It's a Star Wars horror novel and the first Star Wars horror novel at that. It's also Joe Schreiber's first Star Wars novel. I didn't know a whole lot about Joe other than Del Rey was really throwing their support behind Death Troopers so I approached him to see if he was interesting in answering a few questions here on Stomping on Yeti to help readers get to know the man behind the book.

Joe graciously took some times out of his busy schedule (he's going on tour) to answer some questions about Star Wars, his current projects, and his opinions on writing horror.

SoY: October 13th appears to be a big release day for you. Can you tell us a little bit more about your two new books?

JS: No Doors No Windows is a novel that I’ve been working on, on and off, for almost five years. It’s my attempt at a haunted house novel, somewhere between Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Shirley Jackson’s Hill House. On the other side, Death Troopers is an amped-up, high energy horror novel set in the Star Wars universe. I feel that it ought to come with its own action figures; apparently that wasn’t in the budget.

SoY: What else are working on right now? What can we hope to see from you next year and beyond?

JS: Another Star Wars horror novel in the fall of 2010, along with an original horror novel based on the characters from TV’s Supernatural. I’m doing that one for DC Comics.

SoY: Your debut Star Wars novel is just about to his shelves (if it hasn't already). Star Wars hasn't really done horror before so a lot of fans aren't sure what to expect. How did you approach writing a horror novel written in the Star Wars universe?

JS: We jumped off the idea that this would be a George Romero story set in a George Lucas universe. From there, I wrote it like I wrote my other books, focusing mainly on crafting a compulsive impossible-to-put-down reading experience. I really wanted to take the reader by the throat and take them for a ride. Getting to play in the Star Wars sandbox gave me extra thrusters; it was also a hell of a lot of fun.

SoY: Star Wars has some of the most complex continuities of any cross-media franchise out there, not to mention a fanbase that can be "less than kind" to authors who rock the metaphorical continuity boat. Was the transition from writing within your own creative worlds to writing in such a massive universe difficult? What did you do to prepare yourself?

JS: It wasn’t difficult at all, actually. I got nothing but encouragement and support from my publishers and from Lucasfilm, and I really got the idea that they wanted to try something new—that they trusted me to give them something really scary and a little bit subversive. I wrote a couple outlines, ironing out the plot until we were all pretty comfortable with it. Then I plunged in. As far as continuity, Lucasfilm supplied me with all the reference material and resource guides I could ever need, and I made sure to keep them right next to my desk as I moved through the story.

SoY: Based on your first few books you seem to blend supernatural horror with psychological horror as they feature apparitions as well as abductions. What's your preferred subgenre of horror (if you have one)? Do your two new books continue the hybrid trend?

JS: I don’t tend to think in terms of subgenres and categories—I read all over the map, and I guess my writing reflects that. If anything I’ve always worked to create a believable world with sympathetic characters, people whose anxieties and thoughts resonate in a familiar and human way. You need to do that before the reader trusts you enough to follow along…whether you’re writing about New Hampshire or a Star Destroyer. To that extent, I guess these new books uphold those same basic themes.

SoY: To get an idea of your own sense of horror, what (characters, concepts, locations) do you find scariest? What's the scariest movie or book you've ever seen/read?

JS: Sometimes the scariest situations are the familiar ones with some element of the unexpected thrown in. Lying in your own bed at night can become unbearably frightening once you hear that first thump from downstairs…the one that you know is coming from your living room. As a parent, I can tell you there’s nothing scarier than a mall, the moment you realize you’ve lost your child.

Although I’m a sucker for horror movies, there aren’t many good ones…and even fewer scary ones. I think the last good scare I got was watching The Descent. And that was probably because I was watching it with someone who screamed like crazy every time something happened. It heightens the experience. I found Exorcist III pretty scary…the one that William Peter Blatty directed. I don’t read much horror fiction these days, although the stories of Thomas Ligotti are quite disturbing.

SoY: Is writing a horror novel any different than normal fiction? Do you have to place yourself inside the story/setting more when writing horror?

JS: No difference for me—it’s all fiction. It either gets you off, or it doesn’t.

SoY: When writing a horror novel, what kinds of literary tools do you use to make the novel frightening, creepy, etc, and how are you able to effectively shock/surprise your readers in as non-visual a medium as the written word?

JS: Again, so much of this depends on creating people that the reader wants to spend time with. Nothing’s less scary than a zombie on page one. You can structure short chapters with single-sentence paragraphs in an attempt to simulate shock and surprise, but without establishing some recognizable sense of place and emotion, it’s all joy buzzers and whoopee cushions. Like the horror movies soundtracks that insist on blasting a sudden sharp squeal to startle the audience rather than genuinely unsettle them.

SoY: What's been the highlight of your career so far? In the statement "If I could write a book that ________________, I would consider my career a success." what would you put in the blank?

JS: I used to want to write a book that would inspire a pinball game. Now I want to write a book that inspires a haunted house.

SoY: Do you have any weird writing habits that somehow work for you? (i.e. sitting in a recently dug grave in a cemetery writing by candlelight with the blood of a Trekkie)

JS: Coffee. Silence. Time. Ass plus seat equals book.

SoY: Del Rey/Lucasbooks was so happy with Death Troopers that they've asked you to write another unrelated SW novel to be released October 2010. Can you provide any information at all about the new story idea, even if it’s a teaser word or two? Has the time frame been established? How is the writing coming?

JS: It’s scary. It won’t be a sequel. I sent in my first draft of the novel to my editor yesterday.

SoY: During your SW research, did you find any other Star Wars horror concepts that jumped out at you (pardon the pun) as needing a story of their own? Ancient Sith abominations or rituals? Imperial bioengineering gone wrong? In other words, if you were offered a SW novel, what story would you write?

JS: I’d love to do an “acid Western” style story of Imperial deserters on the run, trying to get work as outlaws. Kind of a stormtrooper version of the movies Robert Benson and Hal Ashby were making back in the ‘70s.

SoY: There's been an ongoing contest to create a suitable Book Trailer for Death Troopers over on Suvudu.com. If I’m not mistaken, I believe you were in one of them as a Storm Trooper. Have you seen any of the other trailers? What's your opinion on book trailers in general?

JS: I love them. I love the idea of creating something relatively cheaply that people can look at and get a sense of what the book is about. I’ve seen all the Death Troopers trailers and I can tell you that I loved them all. Some of them gave me chills.

SoY: Recent "horror" movies seem less scary and more just torture porn, Japanese remake, or Halloween knockoff/remake film 231,138. What is Hollywood Horror doing wrong? Are they doing anything right?

JS: As always, Hollywood is making money—they do that right. As far as quality goods, I think it’s great that they chose not to remake Paranormal Activity and promote it as an ultra-low budget scarefest that really delivers the goods. It looks pretty good. The others….eh. I know the guys who make the Saw movies, and they’re nice guys, but I don’t think we need much more of that.

SoY: This will be many Star Wars fans first foray into the horror genre. Suppose someone loves Death Troopers and immediately churns through your catalog of books. If they enjoyed what they read, what other authors would you recommend? What's the best thing you've read recently?

JS: I’d suggest the stories of Richard Matheson and the crime novels of Duane Swierczynski, Peter Abrahams and Jason Starr. Everyone should read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Also E.L. Doctorow’s Civil War novel The March is excellent.

SoY: Where can we keep an eye on you and your work?

JS: I’m on Facebook and I’ve got a website: http://www.scaryparent.blogspot.com/

Go buy Death Troopers. Seriously.

You should be scared if you don't.

Oct 9, 2009

Strange Realization

I've read in the neighborhood of 40 books so far this year. I'm just starting Child of Fire by Harry Connolly.

This is the 1st MMPB I've read this year. Everything else has been TPB or HC.

It actually feels weird to hold such a small book. I can't honestly remember the last MMPB I read. Maybe I've got a subconscious aversion to MPPBs. Or I just can't wait to read the books I really want.

Anyways, just thought that was strange.

Oct 8, 2009

The Windup Girl

Just finished Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl

1 Word Review: Wow!
3 Word Review: Read this now.
5 Word Review: Best I've read this year.
7 Word Review: Bacigalupi is no longer up and coming.

Look for a for a normal sized review sometime soon, but in the meantime go read something by Bacigalupi. He's really really really good.


Oct 7, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Jason Stoddard

This week's Keeping An Eye On author is poised to have a big 2010. For the past few years, Jason Stoddard has been slowly building a very respectable portfolio in the science fiction circles. His work was impressive enough to catch the eye of Ellen Datlow, Jonathan Strahan, and Gardner Dozois and to stick out in their minds when asked to name the writers of the future by SF Signal. After making a splash in the short fiction markets, Stoddard is publishing not one, but two(!) novels next year. And that in addition to his usual short fiction output. Stoddard is also a member of the generation of authors who have at least partially used fiction websites, blogs, and other forms of internet publishing to establish their name within the genre market. That's not suprising given his day job which he still maintains despite a blossoming writing career.

To find out just what Stoddard does for a living and how it affects his writing career, read on...

SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?

JS: The big news is that I have two novels coming out in 2010 from Prime Books: Winning Mars and Eternal Franchise. The titles sound familiar, don't they? More on that later.

As far as what I'm working on, ha! Most is work-work. But, with luck, I'll soon finish the rewrite of my new near-future novel Hello World, and I'm working on a script based on my short story Willpower--which appeared in Futurismic--and you'll be hearing about another story or two soon.

SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, comics, etc.) would you like them to read?

JS: Actually, Willpower is a good place to start. It was originally published by Futurismic, and will show up in Rich Horton's anthology Unplugged: The Best of Online Fiction, and it's had some (tiny) love from the Hollywood crowd. Here's where you can read it for free:


Your day job involves working with social media and virtual worlds. Can you expound on this a little more? Is it as interesting as it sounds?

Yes! And, well, no!

In a broader sense, what my day job involves is marketing. Frequently we work on the bleeding edge. Frequently we work for companies doing interesting stuff, like nanotech or mind-controlled toys or kids' virtual worlds. This is the exciting part--getting to see a broad swath of what's happening tomorrow. Getting to have drinks with some of the people who are shaping the future.

But, guess what? It's always still about results. The campaign has to get results. The site has to work. So there's plenty of detail work, plenty of keeping-up stuff, plenty of grind. Not complaining--it goes with the territory.

SoY: How has your experience with social media influenced the content of your writing? The way you market yourself to potential readers?

JS: Ha. Yeah, I write what I know, and you could look at a lot of my recent output--especially the story Monetized, which appeared in Interzone this year, and the upcoming novel Hello World--as taking social media (and monetization of social media) to logical extremes. Social media is so powerful on a personal level, it's a fairly profound change.

As far as social media for marketing myself, sure, but tempered with a huge dose of lack-of-time, and another strong dose of caution. People don't want to be marketed to when they're hanging out with their friends. It's like me coming into your house with a sandwich board and bullhorn, saying. “Buy my book!” Because of this, I concentrate mainly on blogging. Facebook is more or less for friends, Twitter is dedicated to one-line wine reviews.

That said, I do have some interesting ideas for marketing the book when it comes out--but they aren't entirely social. I'm going to keep my hat on these for now.

SoY: What's the most innovative example of “social media” you've come across this year? What's at the bleeding edge of the market?

JS: When we're talking social media, I think we need to concentrate on “most relevant,” rather than “most innovative.” And only one thing really comes to mind as an example of a company doing it right. Google “Extreme Shepherding” and watch the video. This is the way to do it. It's so well-done I didn't think to ask myself “Hmm, did they really just find these guys and pay them to do this, or did they engineer the whole thing (maybe even to the point of CG?)”

Bleeding edge? That's easy. Augmented reality is the bleeding edge. It's kind of a marketing fad at the moment--only Ray-Ban has a good use for it, which allows you to model virtual sunglasses via your webcam. But augmented reality is going to mature, it's going to be big, and it's going to be pervasive. But before that, it'll have to go through its Second Life moment, where it's savaged by the press.

SoY: What's been the highlight of your career so far? What would you have to do to consider your writing career a success?

JS: The high point was getting contacted by Sean Wallace of Prime Books. The conversation went something like this:

Sean: “So, are Winning Mars and Eternal Franchise available for publication?”

Me: “Well, uh, yeah, but I've released one as a Creative Commons PDF and one's being serialized on my blog.”

Sean: “Doesn't matter. More publicity for the physical product.”

Me: “!!!”

So there you go. Two novels, both released into the wild. Now both will be hardbacks. From an unknown author. Or, in other words, what a whole lot of people said could never happen. I'm very happy about that.

And, as far as long-term success goes, I'll be thrilled if I can just keep writing stories and books (and, hopefully, screenplays) that people like. Everything else will come.

SoY: Like Cory Doctorow, you appear to be a proponent of Creative Commons, giving away PDFs of your first novel, Winning Mars. You are also serializing your second novel for free on your blog. How has the free revolution worked for you?

JS: I'm absolutely all about Creative Commons. Giving away my stuff got me a two-book deal from a reputable publisher!

SoY: Combining your career in new marketing techniques and your experience in short fiction circles, do you have any idea on how to modernize/fix the genre short fiction market?

JS: Oho, wow. That's a loaded question. The short answer is, “Yes, I have some ideas, but . . .”

On the “Yes, I have some ideas,” side, the publishers can go a long way to improving their fortunes by taking a lesson from niche marketing: take care of your fans, actively. You do this by keeping people informed, holding special events, and encouraging people to tell their friends. There's no magic here. I'm talking newsletters and Q&As and giveaways and contests. There's no need to go out and have a Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and YouTube and Flickr presence and frantically post and fan and friend. Though Facebook ads would be an interesting test. A more interesting test would be a more visual magazine targeted at people who hang out on i09 and BoingBoing (amongst others), but that takes much deeper pockets.

The “But,” comes from the fact that I've never done a mile on a publisher's Segway, so I can't claim any great expertise. And, like all marketing, any program would take testing and optimization--which means it could end up somewhere very different than where it started.

SoY: What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)?

JS: I'm an isolationist. I can't write in a coffeehouse. I can't write while listening to music with lyrics. I also frequently don't remember big pieces of what I wrote a week before, so the first rewrite can be a big surprise (both good or bad.) Is this weird?

SoY: An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? Who do you nominate in your place?

JS: If I'm removed, it'll probably be due to me skewering some sacred cow of science fiction groupthink. I'm amazed at how such a forward-thinking group of people can sometimes seem so sad and morose. Maybe it's because I'm in contact with a lot of leading-edge technologies and the people who are creating them, but I'm hugely excited about the future. I think that yeah, there's some scary stuff, and yeah, it ain't necessarily going to be easy, but, I think it'll work out in the end. And it'll work out better. Which some people simply don't want to hear.

The person I'd nominate? The guy who skewered the sacred cow of the reputation economy. Currently with only one Futurismic story to his name, this is a name to watch: Adam Rakunas.

SoY: What are your opinions on eBooks? Are they the future of publishing? What's the biggest deterrent toward eBooks changing the market the same way digital downloads changed music?

JS: Having your whole library in one device beats “the look, the touch, the feel of paper.” Wireless distribution beats shipping slabs of wood pulp all over the world. Yep, ebooks are what make sense for the future.

What doesn't make sense is the pricing. Sorry, big publishers, knocking three bucks off the hardcover price for an ebook simply doesn't work. eBooks make sense at $1-5. Just like iPhone apps.

When the upward pricing pressure falls away, then ebooks take over. It's that simple.

SoY: Your fiction has some interesting ideas about funding the future of spaceflight. What's your opinion on the current state of the Space Program? Where is it going to be in 20 years? Where should it be? What needs to be done to get from where it is to where it should be?

JS: Even when hamstrung, the US space program has achieved some very cool stuff. That said, we're hamstrung. The news of water on Mars could have come in 1976. It took an Indian space probe to confirm water on the moon.

The future, at the least, should look a lot like Zubrin's presentation to the Augustine Commission: Reclaiming the American Spirit Through Mars. In short, he's proposing that we go back to being destination-based, and the destination is Mars. The push is for a number of missions, run continuously, which would put a largely self-sufficient, permanent presence on Mars. And it would be done fast. And it would pay off in terms of a new frontier, and a new focus on science and engineering.

Beyond that: multiple private companies competing to build the first space elevator. When we get low cost to orbit, then everything opens up. Everything changes. And even our biggest fears suddenly seem very, very small.

If we wanted to, we could have Zubrin's Mars presence, workable space elevators, and a lunar colony in the next 20 years. Remember, the original plan for Project Orion was to be on Mars . . . in 1965. I'd love to see some of that spirit back, whether it's in the public or private sector--but, ah, with less nuclear weapons involved.

SoY: If you were offered a one-way ticket to be the first human on Mars, would you go?

JS: Yes. Even if I am The Man Who Lost the Sea.

SoY: You get to choose a single SF/F author (can be living, dead, or zombie) to write one additional book. Who do you choose and why?

JS: I'd love to see what Cordwainer Smith would do if he was living today. His work was so off-path from, well, almost everything else at the time, I used to think he must be a time-traveler hiding in the past.

SoY: What's the best thing you've read this year?

JS: You're assuming I read. Kidding. Though time has been at an extreme premium. And perhaps that's reflected in how long my backlog is--the best thing I've read this year is Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge . . . which yeah, I know, I should have read in 2007.

SoY: [Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

JS: You can usually keep abreast of what I'm doing at http://www.strangeandhappy.com/ (that is, provided I'm not buried in work and unable to update it!) There's a ton of links to free stories and social media-y stuff, as well.

That's it from Jason. He had a lot to say on a number of interesting topics (ignore the fact I was asking the questions) and if this interview got your brain whirling, you should definitely check out his fiction. Even if you don't I'd keep an eye out for the name Jason Stoddard, by the end of 2010 you're most likely going to see it whether you want to or not.
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