And an announcement…

OK, so it looks like my Patreon just reached its goal of $100 per month, and so, as long as it stays at that level or higher, I’ll be doing a podcast of all my non-linkblogging blog posts. Sometimes they’ll be a day or two behind, but I’ll do my best to catch up every week…

Since I don’t have a proper post ready today, and since my novel came out the other day, today’s podcast will consist of this, followed by me reading the prologue of the book

(The first podcast can be heard or downloaded here, and you can subscribe to the podcast here

Linkblogging For 30/6/15

You *will* get the Batpost tomorrow, but this heatwave has completely messed my ability to think up, and I’m having to get up early and write in the morning before work, before everything heats up, rather than at 10PM when I normally write. I can barely breathe, in fact. So for now, links. Sorry. You’ll have proper posts every day for the rest of the week. Sorry again.

Jack Graham on Hannibal

The Atlantic on a world without work

Lady Mark absolutely destroys a proposal from Liberal Reform. I usually find myself in agreement with Joe Otten, who defends the proposal in the comments, but not this time.

What is code (in the computer sense)?

Leonard Pierce on streaming services and the impoverishment of culture

Sadly, while the US Supreme Court made some very good decisions this week, it also made some bad ones. One was reaffirming the constitutionality of the death penalty. Here are some excerpts from the dissent, showing why this was wrong on legal, as well as moral, grounds.

And finally, Head Of State is now available to buy as an ebook, as well as pre-ordering in dead tree

Head Of State up for Pre-Order

Cover for Faction Paradox: Head Of State

The new Batpost is going up tomorrow, instead of today, because I can finally make an announcement. My first novel, Faction Paradox: Head of State is available for pre-order in dead-tree format. I don’t have details about when the ebook will be available, yet.

For those who don’t know about the Faction Paradox series, it started off as a spinoff from the Doctor Who novels of the late 90s and early 2000s, but rapidly became much more — there’s a whole series of books, comics, and audio dramas, by some of my favourite writers. I’m very, very proud to be able to add my own book to the range.

The book is set in the 11th, 19th, and 21st centuries, and in a space out of time, and it features vampires, djinns, a serial killer, Sir Richard Francis Burton, a talking frog, a talking decapitated head, a blogger, the invention of the Indian rope trick, and fifty-three footnotes. May contain trace elements of postmodernism.

I think you might like it.

Linkblogging For 26/6/15

First, congratulations to the US. Still a long way to go for full LGBT+ equality, but it’s a major step.

I’ve not posted for a couple of days because I’ve been working on exclusive material for the book version of California Dreaming, which should be out next month. On top of the songs discussed here (and there are thirteen more of those to go) there’ll be entries for I Got You Babe, Once I Was, I Walk On Guilded Splinters, and Love Story (You And Me), an entry on the Monterey pop festival, a “Where are they now?” section, a bibliography and (in the print edition only) an index. Once Caldream is out, I’ll be finishing the series of essays I started on Cerebus…

I’ve also been working on a backlog of Batposts — those will start going up again from tomorrow.

But for now, while you wait for these, some links:

Claiming Tim Farron isn’t a ‘strong liberal voice’ is only possible if you don’t have a clue what liberalism is. There are many good reasons for voting for Norman Lamb over Tim (though I’m a Tim supporter myself), but Tim being illiberal is not one.

Nicholas Whyte on the new Hugo voting proposals

Why coffee pods mean Americans are drinking less coffee

Millennium versus the Home Office

A *wonderful* collection of Tom Swifties (Slate Star Codex, so I’d avoid the comments as a general principle)

Feminist Aspie on how ableism makes autistic women more likely to be abused

And a great short-short story by Peter Watts

What’s This Amazon Not Paying Authors Thing All About Then?

I’ve seen a number of people in the last few days picking up on a controversy that swept through the self-publishing world last week, and almost uniformly people have picked up on the wrong end of the stick.

People are saying “Amazon are only paying authors by how many pages are read! That’s horrible!”

It would be, if it were true, and I would be the first person shouting about it. But this is based on a misunderstanding.

Authors whose books are published by major publishers won’t be seeing any change whatsoever in how they’re paid. Authors like myself, who self-publish and sell ebooks through Amazon, will also see no change to their payments.

What’s happening is that Amazon, as well as selling books, also have a book-rental service called Kindle Unlimited. I’ve written about this, and why I think it is fantastically dangerous for literature, here.

If self-published authors want to be in Kindle Unlimited, they have to make their book exclusively available on Amazon. In return for this, they can make their book available for KU subscribers to read without paying for it, and Amazon set an arbitrary amount (usually in the range of two million dollars) to be shared between all the authors whose books are read. Each author got one share for each time one of her books was downloaded and more than 10% of it read.

Of course, there are many people who see ebooks not as a means of disseminating literature, but as a get-rich-quick scheme. Those people immediately flooded Kindle Unlimited with millions of four-page “books” (often called things like The Da Vinci Codex by Don Brown). The customer would download the “book”, open it to the first page, and the “author” would already have their 10% read.

And as well as actual scams, there were other ways to game the system, which were more honest but which were still not fair. An author might decide to cut her novel up into a serial, and release ten thirty-page books instead of one three-hundred-page one. Assuming the reader wants to know what happens next, that’s ten payments instead of one.

Not only is this annoying for readers, it’s actually unfair to the other authors in the scheme, as it’s hogging more than one share of the fixed pot (of course, it’s only fixed because Amazon decided it should be…). So Amazon have now changed the rules. They’ve set a standard page (so people can’t mess with formatting to set one word per page) and said “from now on, self-published KU authors get paid by how many pages of their books are read” (they’ve also set a minimum time per page, to fix the next obvious loophole).

Almost all the complaints about this come from scammers, because this is actually a slightly fairer way of doing things. A few people are pointing out that this disadvantages short story writers in favour of novelists. To them, I just say “pull out of Kindle Unlimited, stop going exclusive, and you’ll make the money back from all the people you sell to on other platforms”. I can’t have a huge amount of sympathy for anyone who’s decided to build a career on a zero-sum game whose rules and rewards are set by a third party that can unilaterally change those rules at no notice and that doesn’t have their best interest at heart.

But for once, Amazon aren’t being evil. They’re cleaning house. That can only be a good thing.

A thought, on countries and country

Listening to Johnny Cash at the moment, I’m reminded of a thought I’ve had a few times, which is that one of the odd differences between Britain and America is that for all British people like to think of themselves as nature-lovers (“England’s green and pleasant land” and all that), and think of America in terms of its big cities, the rural is almost completely missing from our music in a way it isn’t in the US.

Oh, we have lots of songs *about* the country — you’ll only find Cliff Richard out in the country, the Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society, and so on — but all those songs are about the country as a place to escape from the city, and they’re as idealised as the California of the Beach Boys.

What we don’t have, and what a lot of American music has always had, is music where the rural life is taken for granted as a background for the songs, so in Busted Johnny Cash or Ray Charles can sing “I got a cow that’s gone dry and a hen that won’t lay/And a big stack of bills getting bigger each day”, or in Movie Magg Carl Perkins will offer to take his date to the cinema on horseback. And this is the background for almost all blues and country music right through the 60s (not quite all — there’s an urbanised strain of blues that comes along in the 50s, but a *lot* of blues still assumes knowledge of the rural lifestyle as a background). And this is still true today for a lot of it — listen to Steve Earle and a lot of the songs are about things like trying to cope when the farm is repossessed, and the same goes for a lot of the music I hear on the radio when I visit my in-laws in Minnesota.

I know Britain is far more urbanised than the US, but it’s surprising that I can’t think of *any* British songs taking rural life as an everyday background assumption, rather than as a subject of the song. The closest I can think of is Love On A Farmboy’s Wages by XTC, and even that is clearly set in a DH Lawrence past (“shilling for the fellow who brings the sheep in” twelve years after British currency went decimal). Other than that… well, there’s “I Got A Brand New Combine Harvester” by the Wurzels…

I wonder why this is?

Hugo Blogging: Sagas

There’s been another controversy in the SF community, around the Hugo awards, today. And for once it’s not the Puppyfascists doing things like celebrating the death of the people at Charleston, but to do with actual books.

There’s a proposal, which will come up in the Worldcon business meeting this year, to change the Hugo categories. The proposal is to get rid of the “best novelette” category, leaving two short fiction categories (short story and novella), and to add an extra category at the top end, for “best saga”.

Now, I’m neutral on the novelette thing — I think novelette is a strange category anyway, and completely misnamed. I’ve written short stories over 7,500 words, and I’ve written a novel, and comparing the two is ridiculous — and reading 7,500 words should not take even the slowest reader more than about half an hour, so the reading experience is nothing like that for a novel either — so calling these stories “novelettes” is like calling a mouse an “elephantette”. So I don’t really think a novelette is a thing, in the way that short stories, novellas, or novels are. But on the other hand, I don’t think awarding the best short story between 7,500 and 15,000 words is actually a bad thing to do.

I do, however, have an opinion on the “best saga” award. I think it’s a terrible idea.

Right now, the Hugos, and SF in general, are completely dominated by stories in series, and from a commercial point of view I can see why this is — it’s easier to sell someone on book two of something they already like than to sell them a whole new book, and SF fans are often sufficiently compulsive that the collector mentality kicks in, and they say things like “yeah, I know the last five books in the series have been a bit rubbish, but I’m waiting to see what happens”.

Series, in other words, are great for selling to people who have already bought into them. But they make it very, very difficult for anyone who just wants to read a new book. And I’m certain this is a major reason for SF’s continued relegation to a literary ghetto (and its consequent decline in sales over the last few decades).

If I’m looking for a new book to read, I want an actual book, complete in itself, not just an excerpt of a longer story. I suspect this is the case for many other people too. What I don’t want is Darkrifle: Book Twelve of the Grimdark Chronicles, yet all too often that is all that’s on offer in SFF.

I’ve been reviewing the nominations for this year’s Hugo awards, and I’ve had a problem with the Best Novel category even though it’s not been hugely influenced by the puppyfascists. Only one of the five nominations — The Goblin Emperor — seems to me to be an actual novel complete in itself. Of the others, The Three-Body Problem ends on a cliffhanger which will be resolved in a different book with a different translator, Skin Game is something like the sixteenth book in an ongoing series, Ancillary Sword is the middle book in a trilogy, and The Dark Between The Stars is the start of a trilogy while also following on from another trilogy in the same universe.

Some of these books are very good, and some very bad, but what they all have in common is that you can’t just hand them to someone and say “here, read this, this is a good story”. You have to say “read this, and these three other books.”

And this sequelitis leads to unconscionable amounts of bloat. Last year’s Hugo ballot included Parasite by “Mira Grant”, which got me furious because the big last-page reveal was something which had been telegraphed so blatantly that in a reasonable-length novel it would have been the twist a third of the way through the story. Instead, it was a cliffhanger, and the resolution of that twist is, apparently, in the next novel in the series.

Similarly, Connie Willis’ Blackout/All-Clear, which I have elsewhere described as the worst books ever written, is so bad because it’s 1168 pages in two books. If you cut out eight hundred pages of idiot plot and brought it down to one short book, it would possibly be quite good, but selling two terrible books makes more commercial sense than one good one.

There is a place for sequels and series, of course — I love the Discworld books, enjoy Stross’ Laundry novels, or Paul Magrs’ Brenda and Effie series, and so on, and my own first novel is going to be in a series. But more often than not series tend to do the opposite of what I want from SFF — rather than give a new perspective, or shock with a new idea, they’re familiar comfort-reading for those who know them, and incomprehensible for those who don’t.

But currently there is massive commercial pressure on writers to write in series, and having a separate Hugo award for those seems likely to increase that pressure (if Kameron Hurley is right that a Hugo win is worth roughly $13,000 in its sales boost).

Were the “best saga” award to be brought in *and all books in series to be removed from the “best novel” category*, I would be ecstatic, because that would give more exposure to the standalone novels the field should be producing. As it is, though, it seems likely that it will encourage even further the decline of the field into a niche of thirty-book series called The Chronicles Of The Saga Of Dullworld. When the playing field is already tilted in one direction, tilting it further seems a bad idea.