Sunday, June 30, 2013

Still Thinking About eBooks...

I've just been enjoying a bunch of old SF as eBooks - David Brin, Dan Simmons, and some of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan novels.

eBooks are great for comfort reading.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Thought About eBooks and Their Stores

I'm published as an e-book author - but I wish I had physical books on shelves.

I've been reading some of my old favorites (Dan Simmons, David Brin) on my iTouch - but I first read them in paperback, and it's unlikely I'd buy a book cold just for my eReader.

I don't think anyone wants *just* physical books or *just* e-books. We want to stock our Nooks and Kindles with light reading when we go on vacation, instead of lugging around a knapsack full of thrillers; and when there's a book or series that we really love or are looking forward to, we want it sitting on our shelves. And if we want the physical book, we'd like to find it in a bookstore, if we can, instead of on-line.

Bookstores do best in communities where the residents are as interested (or more interested) in cultural and educational activities as they are in sports, movies, nightclubs and bars. In the US, that often means urban centers. People move to cities for the cultural opportunities as well as for work. So bookstores are a good business fit for cities. But they're also retail businesses that require a LOT of floor space, selling a product that is often low-margin and low-volume. That's a terrible fit for cities where real estate prices are skyrocketing and floor space is measured in the square inch instead of the square foot.

It may not be digital's fault that bookstores are fading away; it may be the realtors'.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Marathon Effect

Have you noticed that for the last four or five years, basic cable channels have been showing huge three- or four-hour blocks of shows? Well, obviously you've noticed; but it's a fairly big change from what you could have expected even ten years ago.

Partly it's a response to shows on demand - Netflix, DVR, streaming video, etc. But what that tells me is that we have an innate desire to just Hoover up the shows we like in giant globs, as opposed to taking them in petite sips once a week. Netflix et al made doing that really easy, so the Cable channels finally figured out that it was popular and are now trying to give us what we want; to suit their schedules to our newly-empowered viewing habits.

One of the results, I think, is a new lease on life, new viewers, for shows that would otherwise have completely faded from consciousness. Take The Big Bang Theory, for instance. When it was on once a week on...what? CBS? NBC? Fox? I forget...I never watched it. It didn't strike me (and still doesn't) as a wildly funny show (unlike, say, 30 Rock).

But now that TBBT is one practically every basic channel, five nights a week, three hours at a pop, it behooves me as a viewer to acquire a taste for it in the absence of fare that appeals more directly to me. And I have acquired that taste. I know all the episodes. I even have favorite moments (Sheldon in a French maid's outfit; anything with Leslie Winkle). It's grown on me like athlete's foot.

(ETA: Of course, there are some shows that shrink on you instead. How I Met Your Mother, I'm looking at you.)

The down side is that I'm less likely to take a chance on something new. And there are some really fun new comedies, with rhythms that are totally different from Chuck Lorre's Hollywood Hammer style. Happy Endings. Raising Hope. Community. And on...

A Little Happy Dance

My short story Can Sucker has made it to the second round of reviews for Escape Pod's science fiction podcast. Woot!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Zeb's Scene

In response to requests, here's the classic "freedom of religion" scene from Heinlein's Revolt in 2100:

Zeb lay back, smoking, and let me stew. I knew that he smoked and he knew that I disapproved. But it was a minor sin and, when we were rooming together in the Palace barracks, I would never have thought of reporting him. I even knew which room servant was his bootlegger. 'Who is sneaking your smokes in now?' I asked, wishing to change the subject.

'Eh? Why, you buy them at the P.X., of course.' He held the dirty thing out and looked at it. 'These Mexican cigarettes are stronger than I like. I suspect that they use real tobacco in them, instead of the bridge sweepings I'm used to. Want one?'

'Huh? Oh, no, thanks!'

He grinned wryly. 'Go ahead, give me your usual lecture. It'll make you feel better.'

'Now look here, Zeb, I wasn't criticizing. I suppose it's just one of the many things I've been wrong about.'

'Oh, no. It's a dirty, filthy habit that ruins my wind and stains my teeth and may eventually kill me off with lung cancer.' He took a deep inhalation, let the smoke trickle out of the corners of his mouth, and looked profoundly contented. 'But it just happens that I like dirty, filthy habits.'

He took another puff. 'But it's not a sin and my punishment for it is here and now, in the way my mouth tastes each morning. The Great Architect doesn't give a shout in Sheol about it. Catch on, old son? He isn't even watching.'

'There is no need to be sacrilegious.'

'I wasn't being so.'

'You weren't, eh? You were scoffing at one of the most fundamental-perhaps the one fundamental-proposition in religion: the certainty that God is watching!'

'Who told you?'

For a moment all I could do was to sputter. 'Why, it isn't necessary. It's an axiomatic certainty. It's -'

'I repeat, who told you? See here, I retract what I said. Perhaps the Almighty is watching me smoke. Perhaps it is a mortal sin and I will burn for it for eons. Perhaps. But who told you? Johnnie, you've reached the point where you are willing to kick the Prophet out and hang him to a tall, tall tree. Yet you are willing to assert your own religious convictions and to use them as a touchstone to judge my conduct. So I repeat: who told you? What hill were you standing on when the lightning came down from Heaven and illuminated you? Which archangel carried the message?'

I did not answer at once. I could not. When I did it was with a feeling of shock and cold loneliness. 'Zeb... I think I understand you at last. You are an-atheist. Aren't you?'

Zeb looked at me bleakly. 'Don't call me an atheist,' he said slowly, 'unless you are really looking for trouble.'

'Then you aren't one?' I felt a wave of relief, although I still didn't understand him.

'No, I am not. Not that it is any of your business. My religious faith is a private matter between me and my God. What my inner beliefs are you will have to judge by my actions... for you are not invited to question me about them. I decline to explain them nor to justify them to you. Nor to anyone... not the Lodge Master... nor the Grand Inquisitor, if it comes to that.'

'But you do believe in God?'

'I told you so, didn't I? Not that you had any business asking me.'

'Then you must believe in other things?'

'Of course I do! I believe that a man has an obligation to be merciful to the weak...patient with the stupid... generous with the poor. I think he is obliged to lay down his life for his brothers, should it be required of him. But I don't propose to prove any of those things; they are beyond proof. And I don't demand that you believe as I do.'

I let out my breath. 'I'm satisfied, Zeb.'

Instead of looking pleased he answered, 'That's mighty kind of you, brother, mighty kind! Sorry-I shouldn't be sarcastic. But I had no intention of asking for your approval. You goaded me-accidentally, I'm sure-into discussing matters that I never intend to discuss.' He stopped to light up another of those stinking cigarettes and went on more quietly. 'John, I suppose that I am, in my own cantankerous way, a very narrow man myself. I believe very strongly in freedom of religion-but I think that that freedom is best expressed as freedom to keep quiet. From my point of view, a great deal of openly expressed piety is insufferable conceit.'


'Not every case-I've known the good and the humble and the devout. But how about the man who claims to know what the Great Architect is thinking? The man who claims to be privy to His Inner Plans? It strikes me as sacrilegious conceit of the worst sort-this character probably has never been any closer to His Trestle Board than you or I. But it makes him feel good to claim to be on chummy terms with the Almighty, it builds his ego, and lets him lay down the law to you and me. Pfui! Along comes a knothead with a loud voice, an I.Q. around 90, hair in his ears, dirty underwear, and a lot of ambition. He's too lazy to be a farmer, too stupid to be an engineer, too unreliable to be a banker-but, brother, can he pray! After a while he has gathered around him other knotheads who don't have his vivid imagination and self-assurance but like the idea of having a direct line of Omnipotence. Then this character is no longer Nehemiah Scudder but the First Prophet.'

Now, at the risk of sounding insufferably preachy, I'd like to point out a little section of that scene that is often forgotten by the SF libertarians who hold up Heinlein as their spokesman. It's that bit where Zeb is talking, not about the individual freedoms for which they're fighting, but the obligations that he believes exist for an honorable person:

'I believe that a man has an obligation to be merciful to the weak...patient with the stupid... generous with the poor. I think he is obliged to lay down his life for his brothers, should it be required of him. But I don't propose to prove any of those things; they are beyond proof. And I don't demand that you believe as I do.'

Most of the Atlas Shrugged folks out there tend to forget that paragraph. And that's a pity - because that's what makes this scene generous. Expansive. Something wide open and admirable...unlike the "Screw You Jack" position of the crude Objectivist.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When I Think-

-of all the Randniks who think Heinlein's master work is The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, it makes me weep.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Star Trek and Star Wars and JJ Abrams

A few weeks ago, Jon Stewart interviewed J.J. Abrams on The Daily Show. After getting over the "Gasp!" moment when Abrams admitted that he didn't "get into" Star Trek - and then did a slow-motion walk-back and recover - I found that I was really, really interested by one question they were batting around: What was the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek?

They both agreed there was a big one. Stewart said that Star Wars felt like a Western, or a samurai move, a dueling gunslinger kind of thing. Abrams agreed. "Star Wars never felt like a sci-fi thing, but Star Trek does." And he's right, I think. But why?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Looks Like a Sale for "The Saturday Dance"

Hey, gang-

It looks like I've just sold my Voudoun-based short story, "The Saturday Dance," to Lore magazine. I'm jazzed because Lore is a great magazine. I'm also happy because it's print - a new world for me. It will come out in Lore 4 in either September or October of this year.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fifty Essential Epic Fantasies? Really?

So, over at, Charlie Jane Anders is talking about these lists of the "50 essential epic fantasies," and how the lists reveal that a lot of people aren't really clear about the nature of epic fantasies.

I think she's missing the point.

It isn't that people don't know what an "epic fantasy" is...
It's that there simply aren't 50 essential ones. Period.

There just aren't enough titles to fill up these lists, and that's why books like Perdido Street Station and The Dragonlance Chronicles (God save me!) pop up in them.

Ironically, the list that actually contains the most interesting titles - Ian Sales' - is the one that Charlie singles out as containing the least epic fantasy.

Bottom line, there are maybe a dozen essential epic fantasies, especially if one accepts that an epic fantasy cannot be essential if it's also badly-written crap. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Far- [rest of title deleted at request of Mendelssohn's publicist and lawyer]. And series count as single works:

Lord of the Rings
The Once and Future King
Nine Princes in Amber through to The Courts of Chaos
A Wizard of Earthsea
Moorcock's Eternal Champion (or, if you're in a lighter mood, Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser)
Watership Down
Mythago Wood
The Chronicles of Prydain

and the source material:
The Iliad
The Odyssey
The Aeneid
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Paradise Lost
The Divine Comedy
The Mabinogion
The Bible

How do you know I didn't just pull this list out of my a**?
Hey, I write the stuff.
Trust me.