Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Force Awakens

For those of us who saw the original Star Wars in the cinema, way before it was ever called "A New Hope", there has been a certain trepidation on hearing the announcement of a new Star Wars film. You all know what I am talking about and, tonight, I went to see for myself. And do not be afraid. This isn't another "Phantom Menace!"

In one of the trailers there is a distant shot of a tiny vehicle moving across a wilderness. As the camera pans across to follow the movement we realise that the things which appear to be hills or sand-dunes are actually wrecked ships, discarded behemoths left behind by the glories of a bygone age. This is, in some ways, a metaphor for the whole film. The legends of the past hang heavy in the air throughout. However, even if it is fuelled by nostalgia, there are fresh new characters scavenging in the ruins of what has gone before. And these characters prevent it from being dragged down by its own history.

One of the problematic things about the original three which seemed far worse in the prequel trilogy was the latent racism, sexism and nationalism. That trace of discomfort I feel at watching the first three, which became problematic when presented with Watto, Jar-Jar and the Trade Federation? Gone! That was not something I noticed at the time. It was only afterwards that I realised that I had made it to the end without flinching at all.

A lot of that comes down to the characters. One of the complaints made about the prequel was that it was driven by character rather than action. It had relationships. So does this. However, unlike the prequel trilogy, the characters we see are human and relatable. Sometimes they are strong and courageous and sometimes they are not. Sometimes they grow and change and sometimes they don't. This makes the whole story much more immersive. I guess we expect solid performances from strong, experienced actors like Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, and they do not disappoint. But newcomers like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega provide the bulk of the storytelling action with well-played, relatable characters.

If I have one criticism in all this it is that it never quite excels. It is an absolutely solid Star Wars film, with everything where you would expect it to be, with action and drama to keep things moving when we are tempted to get caught up in remembering. But for me at least there was no crowning moment of awesome. But don't let that put you off. If you are a Star Wars fan (and these days, who isn't?) then you will find this plenty enjoyable. And, even if you are not, it is still a good way to spend a couple of hours.

Most of the critics I have read have said four stars out of five and I would agree with them. Go see it. You might not be blown off your seat but you won't be disappointed either.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fall of the Sea People

The Fall of the Sea People is now complete.

The last volume will be available from the usual places on November 19th, with one exception. Amazon will carry a single ebook which includes all five volumes.

Until November 19th the fifth volume will be available pre-order for 99 cents, or the same price for the whole series on Kindle.

To even up the odds I've created coupons for Smashwords, making all five volumes in the series free.

* Venus and the Sea People was originally free
* Hermes and the Sea People - MU33D
* Jove and the Sea People - TP99Q
* Saturn and the Sea People - ZT26R
* Mars and the Sea People - pre-order for $0.99

These prices and coupons only last until Thursday (19th November) so get them while they are hot.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

"To Sail Atlantis" Now in Pre-Order

You can now pre-order "To Sail Atlantis." I have set the price at 0.99 until the release date of 19th September 2015 -- International Talk like a Pirate Day!


Today I realised why the final edit of "Mars and the Sea People" has been going so slowly. The truth is that it hurts.

The final act of a classic tragedy is not a happy place to be. David Chandler defined a Shakespearean tragedy as "a five act play ending in the death of most of the major characters." I've had it on the point of final edit for six months now and my avoidance mechanisms have included publishing two books -- one completely unrelated.

Those books are out now and I am getting it done, even if it is painful. I hope to be done by the Day of Autumn and will have to be done by the Day of Death. I will make the deadline. The deadline is set by the publication date of 19th November 2015.

Meanwhile you may have noticed that I've changed some pricing policies. I am distributing a complete book through Amazon Kindle, which will cost ten dollars. Amazon will preview a large chunk of any book, making the first volume free. I can't list free books on Amazon so I have deleted "Venus and the Sea People" from their catalogue. I will be deleting the rest of the volumes from Amazon's catalogue in time, but I will delete them one at a time, in case any of you are working through them.

I can list free books through Smashwords, my other distributor, so "Venus and the Sea People" is now free there. Because of Amazon's preview it will remain free. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Inherent Sexism in Literary Awards (After Nicola Griffith's 'Blog Post)

So I saw an article on Twitter about the deep-rooted sexism in literary awards. The observation in it is that most literary awards go to books written by or about men.

Following the link back to Nicola Griffith's original 'blog post that inspired it, though, gives a slightly different picture. Her contention is that books about women don't win awards.

I think I can narrow that down even further.

Taking Nicola's data and putting it into a spreadsheet (download here) enables some more pie-charts to be drawn. Since the discussion is about literary awards I removed the two genre fiction awards (the Hugo and the Newberry) and I also removed the uncertain winner. I got a pie-chart very similar to hers:-

After that, I thought it would be interesting to break it out into male and female authors. First books written by women:-

That looks reasonably well-balanced, right? Then look at books written by men:-

It's an altogether different picture. There is clearly some sort of bias going on here, which may well be sexist. But, as a male writer, this is the chart that interests me most. Why is it that books by men about women are not winning awards?

The first reaction is probably that men don't write books about women. However, I do. I am not exactly sure how Nicola Griffith defines her categories, but my "Fall of the Sea People" has a female protagonist and a genderless antagonist and my next book, "Europa's Crossing", has mostly women characters. Certainly they fit into the "both" category, which wins 9% of the awards won by men. I think it could be argued that they fit into that "about women" category, that doesn't win awards for men at all.

On the other hand, I don't write literary fiction. My next book delves into themes of feminism, gender and gender expression, queer and polyamorous relationships. It contains characters who are from several groups that could be called minorities today, and some of them are still minorities in the future the book offers. For me, a white heterosexual cisgendered male, it is a risk. I've mitigated that risk somewhat by getting some beta-readers and I have tried to listen to the feedback they have given. But I am still risking my reputation by publishing such a thing.

I write genre fiction anyway, so I'm not about to win literary awards. And, looking at the data for the Hugos, it looks like awards in F&SF are won by a much wider range of titles. Nevertheless, I do wonder if literary fiction has a more demanding audience, who would be suspicious of a man writing about women. Or, even if the audience is not as demanding as that, the fear exists in the minds of male writers in the literary genre.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Europa's Crossing - Preorder and Early Bird Discount

Europa's Crossing

My next book, Europa's Crossing, comes out on July 12th.

I discover that a number of electronic book outlets will allow me to sell it pre-order, and set a pre-order discount. So I have set an early-bird preorder price of 99 cents. This will be set back to a more sensible price on July 13th Irish time.

So if you want to give it a try, now is the time.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Stabbed in the Back Catalog: 14 Year Copyright Explained

A certain political party in a country not a long way from where I live recently got in trouble with writers and artists for a policy statement that appears to suggest that copyright should be limited to 14 years. Now some people in that party are trying to interpret the policy as 14 years after the artist's death, but the interesting thing is that there is a piece of research backing this up.

The research here was based on statistics from the USA, back in the day when copyright needed to be regularly renewed. That, boys and girls, was a long time ago: the data is from the 1950s. That is, the data is over sixty years old. Things have changed a little in the publishing industry since 1952.

There are many changes that have affected publishing since then: I learned to type on a manual typewriter in the 1970s but, today, I am typing this on an 8-core laptop computer more powerful than the most powerful on Planet Earth in 1976. The printing processes of the 1950s bore more resemblance to those of Gutenberg than they do to the processes available today. And this dominated the way that authors made money.

In the 1950s -- in fact, right through the second half of the 20th Century -- the only significant way to sell books or music was in bookshops and record stores. That meant that the book or song was taken by a publisher, thousands of copies were printed, and they were kept on the shelves of bookshops or record stores for a few months. Any that didn't sell were destroyed. The ones that did sell were considered to earn royalties, which were paid to an author after the six month period was over, or taken from the money they were loaned (the advance) when the publisher took on the book. Except for a very few titles, this was the complete market life of a book or record.

To summarise: if a book or record was not a runaway success in a few months, it would be taken off the shelves and would no longer be available. It would be out of print. In 1950, an out-of-print book or album generated just about zero revenue for the artist. This is the reason why a lot of artists didn't bother renewing their copyright. There was no money in it.

Fast forward to 2015. Better yet, think of an obscure book that you enjoyed years ago, and go looking for it on Amazon. Oh look, it's back in print! Do the same thing for that obscure vinyl album from way back then. Same story! Why is that? The reason is partly in the way books and music are published: it is now commercially viable to sell an individual work either in electronic form or, in the case of books, as print-on-demand. But the other part of the reason is even more interesting: changes in retailing allow book and music sellers to hold vastly increased stocks, since the "shelf-space" required for electronic books is fractions of a square millimetre of silicon or magnetised material in a web server somewhere. The practical upshot of this is that, nowadays, copyrighted works can be on sale for decades, not months.

If you wade through the original paper, the flaw is in Section 7.3: The Rate of Cultural Decay. Take a read through that section, even if differential calculus is not your thing, and bear in mind the changes in book and music publication in the last 10 years. Don't worry about your MP3 player or your e-reader: think about how those old books and records that used to be out of print are now available again. Do you see what that does? The measurements that he makes for "cultural decay" before 2005 are now meaningless. Musicians and authors are making real money today by putting their once-worthless back-catalogues on sale.

So now it turns out that one political party on an island not so far away wants to change copyright to fit a possibly worthy analysis of irrelevant history. And, in doing so, they want to take away the pensions of a lot of artists, who have only recently learned how to re-connect with their fans. I can see how this policy came into being. But that doesn't make it right.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Why I Wish Anastasia Steele Would End Up Dead in a Ditch

So I found myself in a debate with some friends about art, abuse and sexuality. A glance at current media will show what triggered it: 50 Shades of Grey, and a review by someone who had gone to see it hoping to poke fun and had come away shocked by the portrayal of domestic violence.

Now my readers will know that abusive relationships feature in my writing. But I hope it is clear that I do not condone abusive relationships in my writing. So I packed myself off to the local cinema and watched it.

It was an odd experience to be a single man sitting in a cinema filled with women, watching what amounted to a soft-core porn movie. And 50 Shades of Grey is a soft-core porn movie to ten decimal places. The plot is unrealistic, the characters are unrealistic, and (like a lot of soft-core porn) the sex is unrealistic. The only place it diverges from standard soft-core tropes is the music. The usual Bow Chicka Wow-Wow music has been replaced with a far more sophisticated and nuanced playlist. But, other than that, it is pure porn.

That is, up until the last ten minutes, when the rather stalkerish behaviour of the leading man's character suddenly blossoms out into full-on abusive relationship. For those who have seen the film, it's not that he takes his belt to her. She quite literally asks for that. It is the way he is afterwards, when a proper dom would be doing aftercare and he is doing threats and physical aggression. Playtime is over and he is revealed as the violent psychopath he, presumably, was all along.

Now the film ends at the moment she walks out. And it would be wonderful if that was the end of it. (And it might just be the end of it, if some press reports are to be believed.) But the books carry on with standard 3-act romance to a "happily ever after" ending. That is not realistic. In real life, characters who behave like Christian Grey cannot be transformed into loving husbands and fathers by nothing more than the power of love. And partners who fail to realise this far too often end up killed.

The most obvious response to the criticism of it being unreal is that it's a porno. Nobody watches porno for plot and characterisation. They watch it because they find it arousing. (For what it's worth, I didn't.) Nobody chooses what arouses them, as gay-rights campaigners have been pointing out for years. If the sex depicted in 50 Shades of Grey is your thing, that's great. It seems to me that, since nobody chooses their sexuality, nobody should feel ashamed for their sexuality. "Safe, sane, consensual" -- "Harm none, do what you will." It's all good.

But this film does have a plot (of sorts), and the plot marches on after the sex is over. That is where my problems start. If someone finds depictions of psychopaths and domestic violence sexy, who am I to condemn? But let's be realistic about how this story ends, please. The illusion that this thing might end well is far more dangerous than badly depicted sex.

For contrast, my domestic violence fiction is structured as a Greek (or Shakespearian) tragedy. It's an Atlantis story, of a whole civilisation falling because of decadence and corruption. The violent and exploitative relationships are a part of that. As anyone might expect from an Atlantis story, most of the main characters die. And as anyone might expect from classical tragedy, the reasons for it are right there in Chapter 1.

As an artist, I feel I have a duty to depict truth in my fiction. Which is why, if she were my character, poor Anastasia would run and never look back. Or, if she did look back, she'd end up dead in a ditch, while her psycho husband used the best money lawyers can buy to get away with murder.

Perhaps I should write some fanfiction to that effect. I've heard that fanfiction can be a great path to a bestseller.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Saturn and the Sea People

I released the fourth volume of my neolithic fantasy over the weekend. It's called "Saturn and the Sea People" and it should be trickling into the stores over the next few days.

The last one should be out in the next few months. After that I'll be moving on to historical fantasy (To Sail Atlantis) and science fiction (Europa's Crossing), both of which are with beta-readers right now.