I have been wanting to read Howard Kaylan’s book Shell-Shocked (his autobiography) for some time now, but when it first came out it was only in paperback, and I’m trying not to buy dead-tree books unless I really know I’m going to want to keep them, or unless there will never be an ebook version, because my flat barely has room to move for books.
It’s now available on Kindle, but I don’t have a Kindle, I have a Kobo.
It is, however, available in (DRM’d) ePub form — in the Netherlands.
So in order to buy this book and read it, I have gone to bol.com/nl , gone through the registration and purchase process *in Dutch* (a language which I don’t speak — Google translate doesn’t work well with that site once you get to the purchase pages), and then gone through the process of stripping the DRM from it so it can be read on my GNU/Linux machine.
(It turns out that the book is also available as an epub in Australia, but that doesn’t show up until the second page of Google results, after quite a few illegal downloads).
I did that because I believe that writers should be paid for their work, and I am willing to go to quite some effort to pay for a legitimate, legal, copy of that work. But I can imagine a lot of people being put off by — or actually unable to cope with — that process, and just downloading an illegal copy, for free.
And here’s the thing — there have been times when *I* have done that, because it’s been impossible to find a book any other way. If someone who’s willing to go to the lengths I am to buy legally will sometimes end up going for the illegal option, is it any wonder at all if someone who cares less about the issue will?
It *should not* ever be easier to go for an illegal download than a legal one. I know that territorial deals are an important part of modern publishing, and that there are good reasons behind them, but still, it comes down to this:
If you don’t make your book (or album, or film, or whatever) available in every format, in every territory, and without DRM restrictions, you *will* lose sales. There *is* someone who would have bought your book/album/film who now won’t, not because they don’t want to, but because you won’t let them. Some of those people will ‘pirate’ your product, but it’s not the ‘piracy’ that’s the problem, it’s the fact that you’re preventing those people from giving you money.
I don’t have much time for blog posting at the moment, but I couldn’t let the release of the latest Faction Paradox short story collection go without at least a short review.
(Ob. disclaimer — I know several of the authors in this collection, as well as the publisher, in a friendly-on-Twitter-and-Facebook kind of way. However, I got to know these people, in most part, because of my admiration for their work, and so I don’t believe that me knowing them is biasing me towards liking their work more. But it’s better to say these things upfront.)
That this is a book geared to my tastes should be obvious from the very title. I love the Faction Paradox books anyway, but this is named after a song by XTC, one of my favourite bands. The table of contents confirms that the high expectations are justified — we have new stories by four of the authors of The Book Of The War, Philip Purser-Hallard, Simon Bucher-Jones, Jonathan Dennis and Kelly Hale, all of whom are writers whose other works I’ve enjoyed as well. There are also stories by Elizabeth Evershed and Helen Angove, two of the new writers from Purser-Hallard’s Tales Of The City whose stories I singled out for special praise when I reviewed that, and there’s actually a story by Aditya Bidikar, who first became interested in Faction Paradox after reading one of my blog posts about it.
Overall, the tone here is darker than previous Faction works. While the earlier Faction and Faction-related books are very much on the borderline between SF and Fantasy, with an admixture of historical adventure, here the stories are often little horror miniatures, of a type that would not seem too out of place in the old Pan Books Of Horror Stories — creepy little tales with a black sense of humour. Which, of course, fits the Faction milieu perfectly.
I won’t look at every story in the collection individually — there are some about which I have less to say than others — but all are worth reading. But I’ll talk a little about the ones that I actually have things to say about:
Raleigh Dreaming by Elizabeth Evershed is so different from the other story of hers I’ve read (The Socratic Problem) that it’s hard to believe they’re by the same writer. Some motifs reappear — famous people from wildly different historical time-periods coming together, for example — but the prose style here is very different, cleverly managing to suggest the 16th century patterns of speech of its narrator without ever slipping into archaism. And the method of time travel involved is a lovely little touch (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it — always a danger when talking about short stories much more than novels — but it’s funny, clever, and perfectly appropriate). A worthy opener.
Wing Finger by Helen Angove reminded me quite a bit of Lawrence Miles’ Grass in its central idea, but Angove takes the idea in a very different direction. The redemption of the narrator, who is a zealot, a coward and a fool until it counts, is beautifully done, and Angove does a wonderful job of pastiching Regency-era prose styles.
Squatter’s Rights by Juliet Kemp is one of the creepiest short horror stories I’ve read in a long time, especially because the trap in it sounds so seductive at first.
After The Velvet Eon by Simon Bucher-Jones is the story here that, more than any of the others, needed to be told as a Faction Paradox story. Probably the best-structured of the stories, this is time-travel, emotional storytelling and folk-tale combined in a way that Steven Moffat wishes he could. There’s a love of language here that’s characteristic of Bucher-Jones’ work, too — “St Vermis’ Star”, for example, is just a wonderful touch.
Remake/Remodel by Jonathan Dennis sees the welcome return of Faction Hollywood, one of my favourite things from The Book Of The War. A creepy/funny story about desperation for stardom, the film industry and changing tastes in superheroes, as well as about conceptual entities.
Dharmayuddha by Aditya Bidikar is the story I’d have written if I knew anything about Hindu philosophy. I mean that literally — I was scared by some of the ways this parallels something I’ve been writing, and it sparked off all sorts of ideas that had already been sort-of lurking in my brain. This story manages to meld the Hindu idea of the Yugas perfectly with something that’s been hinted at in various Faction books, and expands the mythology beautifully.
A Star’s View Of Caroline by Sarah Hadley is… problematic for me, in that the criteria I judge it by may not be the criteria other people do. As a Faction Paradox story it works very well, although there is an element in the character PJ of a sort of fetishising of learning disabilities that one sometimes finds and which I’m not entirely comfortable with. But it tells the kind of story one hopes for in a Faction Paradox story — one involving the way our thoughts affect the world, the way the media affect our thoughts, and how those things all affect what is possible — very well.
The problem is that it’s set in what seems to be a generic skiffy post-apocalyptic background, but it’s one which will be very familiar to viewers of a certain TV show. And the story’s conclusion, which is enormously powerful, draws much of its power from association with two scenes from old black-and-white episodes of that show, one from 1964 and one from 1965. And I have no idea how someone who hasn’t seen those nearly-fifty-year-old black-and-white episodes of an old science fiction programme will react.
Now in some ways, this is a good thing — there is nothing in the story that requires you to have seen, or even to have heard of, those old stories. It works as a self-contained story, as far as I can tell, and the resonances with those other stories only add to its power. But it does mean that I can’t judge how well this would read to someone who hadn’t seen them.
And De Umbris Idearum by Philip Purser-Hallard is the story I would have *liked* to have written out of all these. It’s the first time, I think, that Purser-Hallard has ventured out of his own section of the Faction ‘mythos’ — the City Of The Saved, which he created and has written several stories and a novel about — and written something based on some of the other ideas from the Faction books. Airbrushing can be done with Luminess Air. Here he takes on the Remote and Remakes, two ideas I’ve been wanting to see more exploration of, and uses them to tell a multiply-nested story of three priests, from three different time periods, which revolves around a theological conundrum about the nature of original sin. Whether intentionally or not, it ties together several themes from other stories in the collection very cleverly (the interference with the Earth’s scientific development in Wing-Finger is similar to some of the events here, the story is structured like the Russian dolls from Office Politics, and so on), while dealing with many of Purser-Hallard’s own usual themes.
Those eight stories only make up a little over half the book — the other six stories all have things to recommend them as well. This is a very, very impressive collection, and you should all buy it. It’s available from Obverse Books as a hardback or an ebook
(ob. disclaimer — I know both the editor and publisher of this book online, in a “friendly on Facebook/Twitter” kind of way. However, I got to know them because I like their books, so don’t think this is biased by that).
I haven’t been very good about reviewing the books I’ve read recently, mostly because I’ve been barely functional for a while — last night I ended up having to go to bed at half past seven in the evening, for example — but I’ve wanted to bring more attention to this one, as I think people who like my blog will really like it.
Despite his having confined his writing almost entirely to Doctor Who spin-offs, Philip Purser-Hallard is one of my very favourite science fiction writers of the last decade, in part because the preoccupations in his writing match up so well with my own (though he is genuinely good at writing about these subjects, too). From his wonderful Stapledon pastiche/critique Peculiar Lives through to the book he’s best known for, Of The City Of The Saved… and beyond, he deals with the Really Big Issues of teleology and eschatology, in a manner that is somewhat reminiscent of a saner Philip K Dick (a big influence on Purser-Hallard, who features him as a minor character in more than one of his works), but one perhaps more influenced by Teilhard than Gnosticism.
Purser-Hallard’s main vehicle for looking at these ideas is The City Of The Saved, a setting introduced in the Faction Paradox book The Book Of The War, and featured in Purser-Hallard’s only full length novel, Of The City Of The Saved…, as well as in a few short stories. Influenced by the Omega Point of Teilhard (via Tipler’s more technological version), this is a location at the end of the universe, in which every human or human-descended lifeform is resurrected, to live forever in an undamageable body. Posthuman cyborgs have to live in the same society as the oldest Australopithicenes, with all being equal and no-one being able to cause anyone else any physical harm.
Here, for the first time, in a collection edited by Purser-Hallard, other authors are allowed to play in the City, although they stick very closely to Purser-Hallard’s established style. Some new themes are introduced — in particular, there’s a recurring sense that great myths, especially the Greek myths, are being lived out in a ‘second time as farce’ kind of way, with a Cyclopean barman, the Trojan war continuing as “an endless beach party of banana-boat races and drinking bouts”, and an Icarus-alike whose wings are shoddy body-modifications.
Purser-Hallard himself provides the bookend stories, which set up and resolve several threads in the other stories, but almost everything in here is good. My particular favourites are Blair Bidmead’s Happily Ever After Is A High-Risk Strategy, a selection of traveller’s tales told by hitch-hikers and the vehicle they’re travelling in, The Socratic Problem by Elizabeth Evershed, in which a university specialising in philosophy is disrupted by the visiting Professor Sokrates, and Helen Angove’s Highbury, which starts out as a Jane Austen parody before descending into something a little darker, with a very Gothic explanation for the cultural stasis imposed on its main characters.
As with all short-story collections, Tales Of The City has its faults — some of the stories are better at atmosphere than at plot, and Dale Smith’s About A Girl, I’m afraid, leaves a bit of a bad taste (the idea of a band consisting of the various famous musicians who died aged twenty-seven isn’t a great one, but then adding in appearances from every celebrity from Albert Einstein to Philip K Dick starts to give the impression that far from being inhabited by a hundred undecillion people from throughout the history of the universe, the City Of The Saved is merely the green room for a TV chat show).
But the overall quality of the stories here is extremely high, and this is easily a match in quality for the Faction Paradox collection Obverse put out last year, which I loved. It definitely leaves me hoping for more of these collections (though I’d also like to see some more long work from Purser-Hallard in this setting).
Tales Of The City is available from Obverse Books as both a paperback and a DRM-free ebook. Buy it, not just to support an interesting small publisher, but also because it’s probably the best collection of SF stories you’ll read this year.
So, since payday was a couple of days ago, I now plan to live up to my promise and buy some books from Tor in recognition of their move to selling their ebooks DRM-free.
Firstly, can anyone recommend a good ebookshop to buy them from — one that doesn’t require huge amounts of info from you on registration, and that does a straight download of the Epub rather than insisting on delivering to your reader?
(EDIT — And STRAIGHT after posting this I see that Tor’s own UK ebooks site opened today. So I’ll be buying from there, and you should too — torbooks.co.uk)
Secondly, any recommendations for actual books published by Tor (and which I will be able to buy from the UK)? I’m probably going to buy Scalzi’s Redshirts, because he seems a decent bloke from his blog, and the premise sounds more interesting than his usual militaristic stuff. My favourite SF writers at the moment are Charles Stross, Greg Egan (especially his short stories — all his novels are at least good, but only Permutation City and Quarantine have become favourites in a way nearly all his short stories have), Neal Stephenson (if he still counts as SF), the various writers involved with the Faction Paradox series, and I like some of Peter Watts’ stuff. I’m not interested in epic sagas spanning twenty novels, or anything too steampunky.
Proper post tonight.
EDIT – Please read this first, visitors from kindakinks.net
For those of you who don’t know me, one of the many things I do is write critical essays, analysing the music of various bands, track-by-track. I post these essays to this blog, and then revise them and turn them into books, both paper and ebooks, which I publish myself. So far I’ve done books on The Beatles, The Monkees, and the first of a three-volume set on The Beach Boys.
If you click on the ‘the kinks’ tag at the bottom of this post, you can read the essays I’ve done so far for the Kinks book. If you click on the relevant tags at the side, or on the “buy my books” links, you can see some of the other ones.
Please only reply to this post if you’ve had a look at some of those and have some interest in the Kinks book — I’m getting a bit swamped with comments that for one reason or another don’t apply to what I’m doing.
Thank you for your interest. If you’re interested in the book, it’ll be out in a couple of months (if I just do the first ten years) or before the end of the year (if I cover the band’s whole career). I post the essays approximately once a week, so please come back and read them if you like what you see.
And incidentally, if any Kinks fans want to volunteer to read the finished draft copy of the book and see if they can spot any factual errors, I’d be very grateful.
And now back to the original post…
Where do you want me to stop?
Currently, I’ve covered the Kinks’ complete 60s output, and it comes to about the length of my Seven Soldiers book (rather coincidentally, as there are seven 60s Kinks studio albums), so I’m starting to think about how I should do the book.
My original intention, and what I’ll still probably go with, is to cover every studio album the band made. The problem with this is that the band’s career is extremely skewed — they spent ten years making records that varied from OK to great, then twenty years making records that varied from OK to horribly racist. None of the albums past the point I’ve got to have any significant bonus tracks, so their entries will be much shorter than the ones I’ve already done, but it could still lead to a lot of entries basically saying “I’ve got nothing to say about this song because the song itself has nothing to say”. It might also skew the book to make it look like I don’t like the Kinks, when in fact they’re one of my favourite bands.
So there are a few different options, and I thought I’d put them to the people who are reading these posts, to see what sounds best to you:
The Kinks’ Music – the original plan, and what I’ll still probably do. Cover all the studio albums.
The Kinks In The 60s – just put out what I’ve got now, reworked with an introduction and something about the Live At Kelvin Hall album.
The Kinks – The Pye Years – everything on their first record label. Covers the next two albums, including the last two big UK hits (Lola and Apeman), but misses out their last really good album, Muswell Hillbillies. Or
The Kinks – The First Ten Years Covers everything up to Preservation Act 2, the first Kinks album that most people argue is actively bad, and the breakdown Ray Davies had which many people argue his songwriting talent never recovered from. This would cover the next six albums.
What would you like to read? I’m genuinely curious here — the question basically boils down to whether people want a comprehensive book or one that just covers the artistically interesting stuff.
(Another factor — and I won’t pretend this doesn’t bother me — is the reaction of American readers. I have had some very poor reviews of some of my music books on Amazon US because people disagree with my assessment of some songs and don’t know the difference between “I disagree with this” and “this is bad” (which is not to say my books are not also bad, just that those reviews don’t make a case for that). The albums I’m likely to be most unkind to are precisely those which were most commercially successful in the US, and I can already see the bad reviews as a result. That said, that’s not enough by itself to stop me writing that stuff — if I let Amazon reviewers put me off I’d never have got as far as my second book.)
FURTHER EDIT I shall not be letting any further comments about the song Black Messiah through — your point has almost certainly been made by someone in the thread already. This is not because I want to shut down debate, or because my mind is closed on the matter, but because I’m currently rather unwell and am finding the discussion quite stressful — I don’t want my death certificate to read “cause of death — popped a blood vessel because of a sidetracked internet discussion”. I’ve not taken offence at anything anyone has said, even those who have disagreed with me, and you’re all welcome to stay around and comment further on any other subject, but the discussion about racism in Black Messiah is over.