Thursday, March 28, 2013

When Amazon Invaded Goodreads...


As I mentioned last week, traditional print houses are going to need to take a page or two from the Amazon Playbook, if they want to survive.  Jeff Bezos is brilliant, and his acquisition of Goodreads confirms it.  With that social cornerstone, he is primed to control the vast majority of available digital reader information.  Reviews?  Amazon's.  Product placement?  Amazon's.  Opinions?  Amazon's, too.

The tides have changed, and traditional printing is the whale, beached due to inaction.  As print houses cling to the old ways of making money through paperback and hardcover sales, Amazon is strategically placed to crush them, utterly.  In the days to come, they'll offer assistance to select houses, but with zip ties around their wrists.  Other houses will flounder and fail, and those remaining in the Amazon Club will be forced to do Amazon's bidding.  They'll be reduced to figureheads or worse.  Sound unlikely?  Take a look at how Microsoft assisted Macintosh, or even more dramatic, how Wizards of the Coast lent TSR a hand.  It's a tried and true method for consuming a bloated corpse before it spoils.

The knells will toll for traditional printing, but it will have been completely avoidable.  Sadly, print houses suffer from extreme rigid thinking, like so many good old institutions.  They've convinced themselves that if they just scream loud enough, eventually everything will go back to the way it was.  If they just hold on tight enough, the ship will suddenly stop sinking.  But that's never how it works.  Again, don't get me wrong, I LOVE Amazon's KDP, but competition is good, and a lack of it has always -- ALWAYS -- been bad.  

Change is scary.  Age-old institutions are stubbornly inelastic, and it's precisely that tendency that brings about their demise.  But it doesn't have to.  When TV came along, the radio stars slipped away, but the music industry adapted.  It thrives, because it changed with the times.  If printing wants to survive Amazon's onslaught, it needs to create writing and publishing communities of its own.  It still has Big Money, and has the resources to create and nurture such communities.  Goodreads belongs to Amazon now, but TOR, Doubleday and Penguin can stake their own claims.  Unlike other wars, there are no physical boundaries to heed.  There is still an infinite number of countries that can be created to do battle with Amazon, as long as the money is still there.  But money goes where it can grow, and like the One Ring, it will abandon its bearer at a most inopportune time.

Printing can survive, but it needs to come down off its throne and reach out to the bourgeois.  It needs to, or it will become yet another entry in the history books, like the telegram or the radio star.

Thanks for reading!

Story Putty, Part I: Movies


In the U2 song, "The Fly," Bono wrote, "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief."  For as much as some writers strive to create something original, something meaningful, it's nigh unto impossible to completely avoid the world's influence.  There are things that drive us to write, and the source of that can't help but leave an indelible mark upon every writer's moment of inspiration.

When I first started writing novels, I rejected the very notion of that artistic interdependency, and vowed never to pen anything but a wholly original story.  And what I first cranked out, The Ironwolf Chronicle, was the most derivative mash of other people's stories I could imagine.  It was part Xanth, part The Hobbit, part Star Wars and part Darkwalker on Moonshae.  Almost none of it was me.  Except… that it was.  All those stories were a part of me, I just hadn't found my voice.

Truth be told, I still struggle to find my voice.  On any given day, I get a dozen moments of inspiration, hate ten of them, rethink two of them, and ultimately settle on what I last decided to do (in this case, write Wrath of the Void Strider's sequel).  I still hear the whispers of my favorite books, TV shows and movies, but now I embrace them.  There are good reasons why I like those stories, why they inspire me.  Combined with my own life's adventures, tragedies, triumphs and struggles, I like to think it brings life to my characters and the settings they find themselves in.

Below, I have listed my top ten most inspirational movies and why.  Down the line, I'll post books and TV series, but for now… ACTION!

10. Aliens - Starring Sigourney Weaver, this sequel to the original scifi horror classic, Alien, showed me how to set a mood.  The way the tension built, the way the action played out…  It also taught me the importance of not getting attached to minor and supporting characters.  The alien queen was an awesome, terrifying villain, and the loader mech made a permanent impression.  Not that anyone will ever read it, but the original version of Wrath of the Void Strider had its own weaponized loader mech scene on the surface of Nerthus.

9. The Dark Crystal - Jim Henson's fantasy masterpiece, this was the first movie I remember seeing that had a great twist at the end.  With all the fantastic life on screen, it opened my mind to thoughts of alien plants, animals, as well as a truly epic struggles.  With memorable environmental characters like Aughra and the Pod People, and with the terrifying Garthim (for a wee lad of 7, anyway), this movie couldn't help but influence my world building.

8. Krull - Part scifi and part fantasy, this movie at first puzzled me.  It maintained a high degree of fantasy, but there were blasters and spaceships, and the antagonists were alien invaders with a teleporting castle.  I distinctly remembered the cyclops's sacrifice, and the sad interaction with the Widow of the Web.  It showed me that genre lines can be blurred, and that you can call a magical weapon whatever you want to, even if it's not actually a glaive. :P

7. Star Trek II - I guess a lot of movies made a big impression on me when I was 7.  HA!  Well, here's another one from 1982.  Star Trek II was bigger than life for me.  Khan was SO villainous, though I found myself sympathizing with him.  Kirk was so bold, so heroic…  And I cried at a movie for the first time I can remember when Spock died.  This movie taught me the value of sacrifice, the strength of friendship, and the power of love.

6. The Princess Bride - Let's jump ahead five years to S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of Romance and Adventure, by William Goldman.  Each one of the characters was so memorable, the humor dry and timeless, and it had the best sword fight on screen, to date.  It taught me that things aren't always what they seem, and every hero should have something he's willing to die for.

5. The Neverending Story - What a fantastic movie!  I shamelessly love Falcor and the music to this day.  Through this movie, I experienced terror at the sight of the cooked knight near the Southern Oracle, and I startled when Atreyu saw Bastion.  The Childlike Empress seemed so beautiful, and I cried when Fantasia had been consumed by the Nothing.  It showed me how low the lows can go, and how great the triumph can be after losing everything.  Plus, Engywook and Urgl…

4. Willow - Madmartigan made such a huge impression on me.  He was as capable a swordsman as Aragorn, but with the bravado of Han Solo.  This was a *fun* movie, with a great villain, an unlikely hero trying to master arcane arts, an oppressive totalitarian government that needed to be overthrown, and a Death Star… er, two-headed dragon.  Wait…  OK, so it was much like a fantasy version of Star Wars.  Also, that love could overcome allegiances was a powerful lesson to me at the time, as in the romance that grew between Sorsha and Madmartigan.  And the music…  if any of my books ever make it to the big screen (and if I have any say in it), James Horner, I'm looking at you…

3. The Original Star Wars Trilogy - I'm treating Episodes IV through VI as a single unit, as A New Hope came out when I was 2, and the first memories I have of watching any of them was viewing IV and V on tape at my Godbrother's house a week before Jedi came out.  Star Wars was Sci-fantasy done perfectly.  It influenced me in so many ways, as it has many writers of our time, and it freed me up to throw magic into my scifi.  Gavin can induce space folding, because why not?  Yoda can lift up a space ship with his mind, so…

2. Serenity - The movie conclusion to the Firefly TV series.  I know not everyone's a Browncoat, but that's only because you're Alliance scum.  The gritty voice, the oppressive government, the inhuman reavers…  Joss created a modern classic that challenged his viewers to think about what life might actually be like on colonial worlds, the sort of support and infrastructure that might really be available, and the monstrous toll trying to control such a vast interstellar population might take on a far-reaching government.  Book's and Wash's deaths had impact, but I think if the series had been given more of a chance to grow, their deaths would have had more meaning.  It taught me that it's OK to outthink your foes, and that if you can't do something smart… do something right.

1. Star Trek (2009) - In terms of Shadow Galactic, I list this as the most influential movie, because it showed me the value of a strong crew culture, of bravery, of sacrifice, and how much I value all the main characters surviving at the end.  It was thrilling, epic, action-packed and character-driven.  It embodies all the strengths I strive to capture and convey in my writing.

So there you have it.  All the voices rattling around inside my head, shouting over my muse and shaping my stories.  If nothing else, I hope this list serves as a reminder of great movies you've already seen, or maybe will inspire you to watch the ones that are new to you.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Hangman and the Print House

For those of you who follow this blog AND my Facebook page, sorry for the effective double post.  With that having been said...

I had a really good talk with my close personal friend and editor, last night, about how hard it is to get anything published through traditional channels (e.g.: the Del Rey's, the Penguin's, the Baen's...).  I personally chased that dream for 20 years, until one day a good friend of mine at work (and a fierce warrioress!!) suggested I give KDP a shot.

Yes, I love Kindle Direct Publishing.  LOVE it, but this isn't a plug for that system.  Not a vulgar one, anyway, so you may read further without fear of being bathed in corporate sycophanaticism.

We came to some interesting conclusions about the state of the publishing industry.

1) eBooks are real.  They're not a fad, and they're not going away.  Ever.  It's created an interesting environment for people with Kindles or the Kindle app, because it's a sea of largely unfiltered creative types who finally have a channel to get their work out to a large audience and make a little money on the side.  Most Kindle authors can't really afford to hire a professional editor, but still there is an expectation of professionalism from the readers who are posting reviews.  It's an interesting convergence of old expectations meeting current available quality.

I foresee the Amazon feedback loops helping authors to write better, but I also foresee overall standards taking a slide.  A lot of books that are poorly rated do very well in Amazon's rankings, because more and more of the masses are moving to eBooks.  The same criticisms that make it to the reviews are not going to be observed as keenly by most readers who just want to read *something*.  It is my opinion that Internet prose plays a big part in this.  When readers are accustomed to deciphering "brb," "smh" and "lolwut?" on the fly, piecing out a poorly edited book isn't as much of a hurdle as it used to be.

In the Kindle market, it's the concept that's king, and Amazon is banking on it.  Of course, a professionally edited work will stand on much stronger legs, but there's still lots of money to be made from a good idea and the dedication to see it through to completion.

2) Traditional print houses need to adapt and FAST.  For those of you who don't know, I work in the mobile advertising business, and the key to making a profit is staying ahead of the game.  Right now, traditional print houses face some dire straits: unless it's the next Harry Potter, Twilight or Hunger Games, they can't afford to take a chance on anything that doesn't have blockbuster potential.  In the past, taking a chance on the professionally presented little guy was par for the course, but now, it's a risk they can't afford to take.  They count on the hard-copy readers for their revenue, and those same readers are turning more and more to eBooks.

Sure, print houses list digital versions on the Kindle store.  They also charge the same price (usually) for the printed version as they do for the digital version.  And they have to.  But that won't make them enough money to stay afloat for much longer.  It can't.  Not with their demographic becoming increasingly more divided, more willing to take a chance on a $3 eBook from an unknown author.

In the next few years, we're going to see more major print houses closing their doors unless they can get out in front of this train.  And they can, but they're going to have to reinvent.  Scraping Amazon's successful authors isn't going to get the job done fast enough.  If the big print houses want to stay profitable, they're going to have to learn a thing or two from Amazon and create programs that encourage new authors to submit.  New blood is the new black.

'Nuff said.

Thanks for reading!

The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Volume I

I'm not going to make you go to my Facebook page. That was silly of me! So, in light of that epiphany, here's the first four parts of this series, collected into a single volume. Enjoy!


The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part I: Plasma Shields
One of the technologies used to protect ships from micrometeorites, and to insulate local space during a jump event is the plasma shield. Here's some hard science to back it up!
Plasma Shield: Missile Stopper? (from wired.com)




The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part II: Jump Events
A core transportation technology used to get around the pesky light speed barrier is the jump event - or, quantum entanglement-assisted teleportation. While admittedly, such an event can't transfer entire systems of matter, the essence is founded on solid quantum physics. Here's the science:
The Race to Bring Quantum Teleportation to Your World (from wired.com)




The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part II.5: Jump Events
And here's the humor...
xkcd: Quantum Teleportation (from xkcd.com)




The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part III: Repulsor Lamps
It's a background technology, meant to add a dash of the fantastic to otherwise familiar elements, but founded on 100% real science. :)
Electrostatic Levitation (from wikipedia.com - a great place to start!)



The Science of Wrath of the Void Strider, Part IV: Municipal Transit Shuttles
Again, more of a background piece, but how do they function? How can they possibly be cost effective? How?? Here's how: they're VTOL assisted, but rely on plasma aerodynamics to move so much mass with great efficiency (UFO's, anyone?). Check out this awesome science:
Will Plasma Revolutionize Aircraft Design? (from spacedaily.com)