Some Ideas On Why The E-Book Will Not Mean The End Of The Printed Page

Or at least the fiction market. Here are some things to consider:

1 ) The majority of people who read a lot of fiction love books, the physical thing. Period. They are unlikely to stop buying books because of this physical love. They like them on their shelves. They like walking up to them. Perhaps lending them to a friend.

2 ) People who don’t buy many books, but still read say a few a year, will not see any logic in purchasing an expensive device for such limited use.

3 ) You can’t see what someone’s reading—unfortunately a significant driver in fiction sales. (Those seeking to wear books as a statement of intellect, fashion etc)

4 ) Would you want to read an expensive device in the bath? Books are quite easily replaceable. And they dry out, too.

5 ) Books are pretty cheap, easy to transport, and durable as it is. You can annotate them properly, and underline stuff etc. Nothing needs improving (which may well be a factor of it’s own).

6 ) The major book buying market exists for more older individuals; perhaps they are not technologically savvy as those who drove the mp3 market.

7 ) Stop comparing things to the iPod! Music has always been played on a device—from early days etc to now. It’s just finding the perfect device. Well, books work as they are. They have never been ‘on something else’ apart from audio books, which play some role in the industry, but they’re for people on the go. Oh, and when Steve Jobs at Apple says there’s no point in an e-book device for his company, listen to him.

8 ) Individual mp3s were driving many of the sales behind iPods. The fact that you could hold a thousand tunes on one device was a wow factor. That’s not the same for books. People don’t read random chapters from many books. They read one book at a time.

9 ) Worth saying that this might work for some textbooks perhaps in schools or universities, where it becomes nothing more than a network search of specific subjects—a limited Internet.

10 ) Many book purchases are made on cover design. You have no cover for these things that people can browse over.

11 ) The Kindle is being sold as something to consumers in a too-persuasive way. When you saw what the iPod was, you just wanted to own one. You thought, that’s what I’m missing. I have to have it. The key to such a culture-changing product is that it sells itself.

12 ) Amazon were spinning the hell out of this: ’sold out after a few hours’ – note that they’re also not listing this in the electronics store, but the ‘kindle store’, so it can’t be compared to other devices in sales rankings. I suspect if we look past the hype, which is painfully obvious here, things aren’t so good.

13 ) The digital rights on this device sucks. No one wants their book usage dictated to by a table full of lawyers.

14 ) The gift value of books—you only have to look at the fact that the majority of book sales are in the Xmas period. Unwrapping an ebook, not so nice or practical.

15 ) The Kindle looks as though it was designed circa 1983.

These are more points for debate, really. Take a look at many of the articles on e-books taking over the world: those who are praising the revolution are often those who think they can sell their own e-book based product.

Don’t forget about the psychology of readers…


How Epic Is Yours?

I was intrigued to read about this bit of news from star editor and all-round Top Bloke, Lou Anders. It got me thinking about the differences between Swords and Sorcery Fantasy, and Epic Fantasy. I think there’s a distinction to make.

Epic Fantasy for me has multi-stranded plots, huge amounts of movement, deep worldbuilding, and is very much a complex beast. Writers such as Steven Erikson and George R R Martin etc have moved things on significantly in recent years. They are much more intelligent than many of the Tolkien clones of the 80s and 90s. They have matured, and the movement has gone on.

Swords and Sorcery may differ in that it’s much more lo-fi, less of the huge complexity (but not intellectually so) with an eye back to pulp-retro classics. Maybe it’s more fun and doesn’t take itself as seriously in some cases. Writers such as Abercombie, and Scott Lynch, are two of the more popular writers being labelled in this style. (But would they even see themselves in this category?)

The question of has Swords and Sorcery ever gone away is interesting. In bookstores, where the majority of people buy their fantasy books (let’s not forget this, not these online discussions we have), this distinction has never been there. There is fantasy or science fiction or horror.

Sub-genres are sometimes a case of who can be more anal, but in this case, I don’t think it has gone away. There have always been lo-fi fantasy novels on the shelves in lower numbers, they just never saw past the domination of bigger, Epic Fantasy titles.

Because that’s where the money is.

I think the review coverage online is skewing our treatment of these books to consider them as a significant movement. If we were to analyze book sales data (which I couldn’t really put online), I suspect the picture would be different, and the movement would be more difficult to see. And I for one would see those S&S writers I mentioned above treated as Epic Fantasy anyway. The term Swords and Sorcery for me is loaded with pulpiness. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you, but I’d certainly steer these aforementioned authors into more sophisticated categories.


The Genre Will Eat Itself

I read this post on SF Signal, a top genre blog. Basically, some dude has had it with the bickering etc that goes on in the genre.

This isn’t just about the blog comments, e-mails and forum posts of the last week. This is about the blog posts and comments, emails and forum posts, editorials and everything else from the last few years. The genre-bashing has reached felonious levels. I have read (and yes, partaken in) so much sub-genre and author clobbering that I’m starting to feel nauseous. And I can taste the blood and bile burning up my esophagus.

Chill, is what I say.

The one thing that’s easily forgetablle online is just what a tiny minority of SF and Fantasy book buyers we are. The majority will buy their books and not join in with all the shenanigans that go on in forums etc., the endless lists of who’s better, of what this movement means.

I enjoy it. I enjoy watching people lose their temper too. I loved it when M John Harrison made his world-building posts on “the clomping foot of nerdism” [sadly now offline]. He just wound up a hare and sent the dogs a-chasin’. The debate that resulted is hugely beneficial to some. But it’s the nature of fandom, surely, and only goes to show that there is passion here that most other genres would kill for.

But most punters don’t care about this, so if you don’t like any of it, just step away and join them. Close your eyes. Log off. Read your books in peace. I never understand why people get so irate about these blogs or whatnot—only to blog about it.


On Social Book Networking

The Guardian reports on the rise of the virtual bookshelf on social networking sites.

For anyone with even a moderate interest in books, snooping at other people’s bookshelves is one of life’s great pleasures. Like music collections, personal libraries offer tantalising encapsulations of character; a quick glance at an acquaintance’s bookshelves or a scroll through their iTunes provides juicy fodder for all sorts of assumptions and judgements. (The students I knew at university who crammed their shelves with reams of avante-garde theory were far too aware of this.)

When these projections of personality are done online, they are what Christine Rosen calls egocasting – “the thoroughly personalised and extremely narrow pursuit of one’s personal taste”. This follows the same principle as the radio site Lastfm, which is based on tracking down music similar to your existing tastes by finding people who like the same sounds as you.

As we purportedly experience Facebook fatigue and Myspace exhaustion, web forecasters predict that the next phase of social networking will be all about specialist sites like these. And where music goes, books will follow, as a wave of new book-related social networking sites promise to do for readers what Lastfm did for inquisitive listeners.

I love these kind of things. I must admit, there’s something quite proud about the Virtual bookshelf. It also means you can choose who never to talk to based on their literary judgements. “What? You like [insert shite author here]? I’m sorry we can no longer be friends…”

If only real life was as easy.



Just a few thoughts on symbolism. I’m currently re-reading Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun series, and I’m really fascinated by the use of symbolism. I won’t go into detail here, but there are good essays here and here if you’re interested. Now, is it me, or are symbols totally out of vogue these days? It’s almost as if there’s a mere hint of those sorts of things, it turns people off.

I remember reading China Miéville and loving the fact that many of his names actually meant something. They weren’t just plucked out of The Big Book Of Bobbins Fantasy Names. Of course, it’s not essential for story, but what about those who want something in addition to that?

Maybe it’s just me, but I love those kind of things in books. Even if only a handful of people really want to dig into your work, it’s wonderful that there are layers to be picked at again and again. I love to make allusions to things, to trick and sidestep the reader, and then when he or she have found the secret doors there might be a new sense of satisfaction.


Visions Of Earth

According to this source, Nasa’s probe to Mars that was launched nine months ago was stocked with our literary visions of the red planet.

The compilation contains work by such giants of science fiction as Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Paul Anderson and Arthur C Clarke. But it also includes early classics such as H G Wells’s War of the Worlds, published in 1898, which set the template for an entire genre of malevolent invaders from the Red Planet. Accompanying images will include Flash Gordon film posters (complete with cardboard spaceship interiors), and cover artwork for Edgar Rice Burrough’s Martian tales which set a trend in the kind of pneumatic spacewomen (was it the effects of low gravity, we used to wonder) who adorned the covers of pulp sci-fi comics in the 1950s.

Makes you wonder the hell would you send back to Earth, then, to represent the state of the World as it is, or to sum up our visions of the place. I for one would slap DeLillo’s Underworld on the list for a start, since that contains a plethora of riffs on our lives.

I think it’d be a good idea to bury some current SF in a time capsule, see what the next couple of generations makes of what’s to come. Or maybe some dying earth books, such as Viriconium, or the Book of the New Sun sequence—for something that won’t be dug up for thousands of years, that is…


Old Thoughts Of DeLillo’s “Underworld”

Last post I take from my old blog, I promise. Just that there’s more people reading this one, so hey, I want certain things to be noticed. Like this one, of what I suspect is my favourite book. Or one of them.


So this weekend I finished reading Underworld by Don DeLillo. A monster of a book. Eight hundred plus pages. There’s nothing I can really say that every major world newspaper or author has said already, I suppose. (This is the third DeLillo novel I’ve read in a row after Americana and White Noise.)

But I’ve never been struck by just how powerful writing can be, style-wise. Sure, the themes are pretty major. Death. Contemporary life. The history of modern America. Paranoia. The government. It ain’t just that. It’s the way he’s telling it. The effortless descriptions, the jazz-cool sentences, the way he makes the reader inherit the characters’ thoughts, not merely observe them and their actions from afar.

Floating zones of desire. It was the what, the dismantling of desire into a thousand subspecialities, into spin-offs and narrowings, edge-wise whispers of self… If you were open to suggestion you could float through the zone, finding out who you were by your attachments, slice by slice, tasting the deli specials of the street. You were defined by your fixation.

He captures the heart of a landscape so effortlessly. There’s a way to bring landscape alive in the way it interacts with people, and vice versa, because that’s how a place is. You don’t always see that done well in fiction.

Anyway, so what I’m rambling about is, wow, this guy is probably the best writer I’m likely to come across. And that makes me a little sad, but I’m always open-minded that there’ll be other great stuff. It’s not often you’re struck by someone’s prose.