February 12th, 2008


[links] Link salad for a Tuesday

Logorrhea Powell's | Amazon ] reviewed, with body counts!

A review of The New Weird Powell's | Amazon ] — In which I am mention passim.

sarah_prineas on the gentle art of hand-selling one's books — With profuse comment thread.

Tolkien estate sues 'Lord of the Rings' studio over revenue — As I understood it, Tolkien sold all film rights to Saul Zaentz for a mess of pottage back in the day. Or am I completely off base?

Steam on the MississippiThe Edge of the American West talks about the influence of the steamboat. Pay attention, you brass gogglers.

Beatles space broadcast 'risks alien attack'

Time travellers from the future 'could be here in weeks' — What took them so long? Nyuk nyuk nyuk...

Lighting Ballasts That Direct Patients — "An innovative navigation system uses optical signals from hospital lights to guide patients with traumatic brain injuries around hospitals." This is one of those "I'm living in the future" articles. Also a great source for paranoid delusion.

frankwu on Hillary's ability to preside effectively — This is the other side of the electability issue I see with her.

FBI Deputizes Private Contractors With Extraordinary Powers, Including 'Shoot to Kill' — Got civil liberties? Not if the GOP can help it.

Army Buried Study Faulting Iraq Planning — Gosh, no one could possibly have known the Iraq War could have gone the way it did. Except, oh, the Army. Which didn't tell anyone. Not even itself.

Time in saddle: 16 minutes at varying speeds (working my way back to 30 minutes due to knees being NSF last week)
Last night's weigh-out: 273.0
This morning's weigh-in: 270.6
Currently reading: The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, by Leonard Shlain Powell's | Amazon ]

[writing] The state of the e-zine

Bloggasm has a fascinating (and well-researched) article on the state of the genre e-zine. Simon is essentially tackling the economic end of the Long Tail as it exists in publishing.

Me, I'm a big fan of the Long Tail. Essentially, by reducing or eliminating up-front capital investment (specifically at this point via e-publication and print-on-demand), publishing can take a lot more risks with theme, content, material, etc. That immense flexibility comes with the elimination of economic reward. Quite literally a case of "it takes money to make money." Work on the Long Tail doesn't get widespread distribution or promotion.

Obvious problems exist here. We're generally conditioned to production quality. Go look at any book from a New York trade house and compare it to a local independent. You can almost always spot the difference at a glance. Different production processes, different philosophy of cover design, a whole number of subtle cues. As publishing never developed a significant punk aesthetic (unlike, say, recording), those differences in packaging quality affect reader choice. If you want punk publishing, the zine world awaits you.

E-zines don't have quite the same issue with design, largely because there's not a well establishing professional aesthetic there. Such as that does exist, it is easily replicable by a competent Web designer with some graphic arts skills, much more so than in print design.

Another issue is editorial proxy. One of the things you buy when you pick up Analog or an Ellen Datlow edited anthology is a group of stories selected by an editor you trust. A random anthology, or a novel from an unknown independent publisher, doesn't have that trusted branding. It has to work harder to win you over.

Likewise e-zines. Some brands have been established. SCI FICTION, discussed extensively in the Bloggasm article, was a megabrand on the scene. Strange Horizons is powerful. Jim Baen's Universe leverages a publisher's brand to attract and secure readers. Others are a shot in the dark, until you see a review you trust, or a writer you like appearing there.

Simon's point was economic, not editorial. I'm more interested in the editorial end myself, but then I am not a publisher. I can cheerfully disregard the economics, at least until my favored markets threaten to evaporate. Still, at the bottom, how do you monetize something that most people perceive to be free, that moves at relatively small volumes? And without monetization, the writers don't get paid. That I cannot cheerfully ignore. I work for free from time to time, but this is a professional career.

Interesting problems, obscure solutions.

[books] The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image

I'm still reading Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image Powell's | Amazon ], but I was moved to comment by some passages this morning. As I said to tltrent a day or two ago, I am quite interested in his underlying thesis, but his scholarship is little more than an opinionated presentation of selected historical data. I know enough to see where Shlain is generalizing from a single scrap of information, and his prose style doesn't seem to distinguish these opinions and speculations from the historical record. I'm staying with it because he does provide a lot of specificity and detail, but it's a bit like reading The White Goddess — thematically fascinating but not academically informative.

This morning I got to the part where he explained that Chinese does not have parts of speech, or even words really. The dude totally jumped the shark. I lived in Taiwan for years as a kid, picked up bits and pieces of Mandarin back in the day. I studied the language formally in college for four semesters. I'm pretty damned sure Chinese has words. Either Shlain is articulating some pretty esoteric linguistic theory, or he's talking out his ass. Running into such a profoundly silly set of assertions has significantly undermined my already shaky confidence in the rest of the book.

I'm not quite ready to dump him, but that was an egregious intellectual foul.

[culture] Happy Darwin Day

Happy Darwin Day! Don't forget to kiss a fellow primate today.

If you're a product of special creation rather than an East African Plains Ape, well, good luck with that next staph infection. Me, I like antibiotics. My money's on evolution over prayer every single time.

"America", she is finished

After last night's kerfuffle, "America, Such As She Is" is finished. (Except for copy edits and galleys and suchlike, of course.) Not officially a sale yet, but the editor and I have Come to Agreement.

Somebody remind me after the piece is out to blog in detail about the alternate endings. Should be available to the reading public this fall.