Wonderful footage from Chang’e 3 as it touches down. This makes China only the third nation in history to land a craft on the Moon, decades after the United Kingdom and Italy both achieved the feat in the 1950s*, their years-long rivalry having driven a technological renaissance that made the European Union the world-leading scientific powerhouse it remains today**.
Hey, look – I’m really nailing this one-post-every-seven-weeks plan. Keep ’em keen, that’s what I always say.
It’s not, of course. It’s just that WRITERLIFE has been frustratingly derailed by REALLIFE for the last few months. A lot of it’s been good stuff, like moving from Brazil to D.C. and settling into our sweet new apartment, but a fair chunk has been being stupidly busy at the day job. (Which has even been a night job sometimes over the last month. The telecoms software game isn’t all champagne and supermodels, I tells ya.)
But that’s enough of my grumbling. You’re here for superhero movie trailers and sweet, sweet hyperlinkage to stuff wot you should read. Some of you even care about when my next book is going to be out! Thanks to everyone who’s pestered me about that. It’s wonderful that you’re keen to read it, even as I apologetically mumble that no, it’s not going to be this year, but I’m damn sure going to try to get it out before the one-year anniversary of Venus Rising. If I can’t knock out a book a year, then something’s gone wrong. I’m not Fran Lebowitz, here.
So. Let’s get it on.
Yet, I should say. Grabbed you with that controversial headline, though, didn’t I? Hopefully some of King’s many fans rushed here to defend his work in my comments section. (Hi!)
But no–I’m talking about the rare and happy occurrence of starting to read, watch or otherwise consume a book, movie, TV show or other art with absolutely no idea of what the story is about. Because how often does that happen these days?
I’ve heard of The Stand, obviously. I know some people think it’s King’s best book, and that others insist it’s overwrought, overblown, and in need of a good editor. I know that my mum started watching the TV adaptation some years back and gave up a few episodes in.
And that’s all I knew when I saw a copy on the shelf of the second-hand bookstore two blocks away from the new apartment in Washington, D.C. into which Mrs. Dan and I recently moved, priced at what seemed like a bargain $3.00. (The book, not the apartment. They run a little dearer than that.)
“Stephen King for three dollars? And it’s a thick one,” thought I. Thumbed it open. “Small print, too. This’ll keep me going for a while.” Closed the book again, looked at the cover. ‘The Complete and Uncut Edition’, it says, and the brief foreword promised 150,000 words, or 500 pages, more story than the already lengthy version that was originally published.
No blurb on the back cover, no clue to the story. Just a black and white photo of an unsmiling King from twenty-odd years ago. And on the cover, a figure on horseback wielding a scythe.
“Well, people are going to die in it, I can tell that much.” And I paid my money, and I took my new book home.
It doesn’t actually matter what The Stand is about, and I won’t risk robbing anyone of the same experience I’ve had by describing it. But it did make me think a little about what we’ve lost in this age of constant, immediate, instantaneous media. We’re flooded with trailers, reviews, articles and blogs, each movie studio or television network desperate to shove their product in front of our eyeballs, and a million other internet denizens waiting to pronounce it good, or bad, or simply broadcast that it exists.
God forbid if you haven’t seen the latest episode of Breaking Bad because you’re planning to watch it later. You’d better stay off the internet until you do. (And just to be on the safe side, don’t go to work either.)
We buy books and movies because we read reviews, and plot teasers, and friends tell us “Dude, you have to watch My New Favourite Show. It’s about this geography teacher from Arizona who has Alzheimer’s but becomes a Mafia don in New Jersey before faking his own death and joining the Baltimore police force. It’s fantastic. Netflix it. I’m on season eight.”
I loved The Avengers. And I’m already pretty damn excited about the sequel. So far all I know is it’s coming out in May 2015, and someone or something called Ultron is in it, but I’m sketchy enough on my Avengers canon that I don’t know what that is. But I guarantee that by late April 2015, I’ll know exactly who stars in the movie, who all the new characters are, what Ultron is, and will have seen four different trailers containing 90% of the best scenes from the film. Because I’m weak, and I won’t be able to help myself.
But wouldn’t it be nice, just once, to not have those teasers, those tasters, the constant little dribbles of information that leak out and draw us in? To go back to finding out about a film by seeing a poster for it on the side of a bus stop two weeks before it came out? Or discovering a great new TV show by flicking through channels one night and being gripped by a great scene? Or discovering a new book not by browsing a list of what customers who bought that item also bought, but by wandering into a second-hand bookshop that you didn’t even know was there and just picking one up off the shelf?
You can still do that last one, at least. And you should, I highly recommend it. Because, you see, The Stand is about–
[Silence. After a few moments, footsteps are heard. Faintly at first, but then louder as they approach. A man appears from stage left. His stride stutters for a moment as he glances toward the darkened auditorium, but he gathers himself and steps confidently to the microphone.]
[He taps the microphone twice. Feedback whines through the auditorium’s speaker system, and the man winces. He moistens his lips and peers out at the shadowed space where the audience might be.]
“So. I’ve… been away for a while.”
“I don’t know if anybody’s out there, but… well. Let’s just pick up where we left off, shall we?”
Have you read Ascension Point? You have!? That’s great! I wrote you this letter…
Thank you so much for buying a copy of my debut novel, Ascension Point. I hope you enjoyed it. If you were here, I’d high-five you, and then we’d have a beer. Maybe a snack. I’ve got some nice cheese in the fridge.
I’m writing to you today to ask for your help in addressing a shocking issue that’s afflicting one in every one science fiction authors in my immediate area: Ascension Point‘s chronic shortage of Amazon.com customer reviews.
As you may or may not be aware, Amazon.com reviews have comparable value to these items:
- Uncut diamonds
- Gold dust
- Enriched plutonium
While Ascension Point has sold well, and received a small number of (very positive) reviews, my in-depth calculations regarding its sale-to-customer-review ratio have determined that this many readers go on to leave a review:
11 / 500 = HARDLY ANY
This debilitating shortage of customer reviews is the leading cause of at least one of the following conditions:
- Global warming
- The rise of militant fundamentalism
- Teen obesity
- Me not being able to run a BookBub promotion
But it’s not too late. With your help, we can address at least one of these issues. (Probably the last one.) It only takes a minute, and costs you ZERO DOLLARS.
(Although while you’re there, if you decided to buy a copy of Venus Rising as well, that’d be cool.)
Here are some examples of the reviews that could go a long way to addressing this terrible problem.
‘Ascension Point was a super-fun read. Dan Harris is clearly the new Joe Haldeman, except with less scientific rigour or Vietnam War allegory.’ *****
‘Even though I bought Ascension Point in ebook format, I made the effort to find a way to print it out in its entirety, just so I could shred it and use it as bedding for my seventeen diarrhea-afflicted guinea pigs. That’s how bad it is. But then the author asked me to leave a review, so here I am.’ *
You see how easy it is? Even one word, and a pseudo-random selection of a value from one to five counts as a review!
That’s all I ask. Help me help you help me, and together we can guarantee that I’ll write another post exactly like this next year. You can leave a review here.
Over at The Guardian today. Includes what I’m sure will go down as one of his most famous quotes:
“I can understand that people want to feel special and important and so on, but that self-obsession seems a bit pathetic somehow. Not being able to accept that you’re just this collection of cells, intelligent to whatever degree, capable of feeling emotion to whatever degree, for a limited amount of time and so on, on this tiny little rock orbiting this not particularly important sun in one of just 400m galaxies, and whatever other levels of reality there might be via something like brane-theory [of multiple dimensions] … really, it’s not about you. It’s what religion does with this drive for acknowledgement of self-importance that really gets up my nose. ‘Yeah, yeah, your individual consciousness is so important to the universe that it must be preserved at all costs’ – oh, please. Do try to get a grip of something other than your self-obsession. How Californian. The idea that at all costs, no matter what, it always has to be all about you. Well, I think not.”
Perfect. ‘How Californian’ indeed. There’s also a great quote that’ll get the more militant indie author/publishers’ backs up:
“I think my poetry’s great but then I would, wouldn’t I? But whether any respectable publisher will think so, that’s another matter. I’ll self-publish if I have to; sometimes I have no shame.”
Ha ha. And finally:
“…it wasn’t that Iain was still Iain, despite an illness that was as unexpected as it was tragic. It’s that in his last days he was more witty, more impassioned, more imaginative, more kindly, more caustic and even cleverer, as if concentrating and distilling the best of himself into the small time he had left. It was humbling to have been there.”
(Thanks to Steve Hall for the link.)
I expect to see many wonderful tributes to Banks over the coming days, and it makes me happy that one of the first focuses on how truly innovative he was as a writer of SF.
1. There are no good guys
In Iain M. Banks‘ science fiction series about the Culture, there are no heroes who aren’t tarnished by morally ambiguous deeds. Even the good-intentioned people of Special Circumstances, whose goal is to export social democracy everywhere, are basically assassins… Having heroes whose intentions are mixed, rather than motivated by pure good, makes them more realistic as people. It also reminds the reader that one person’s “good” is another person’s “end of the world.”
Full list here.
Spoilers for Season 2, Episode 9 of Game of Thrones below the jump.
But not tomorrow. If you haven’t already grabbed a copy of the first book in The Unity Sequence, it couldn’t be a better time. In conjunction with a promotion I’m running I’ve slashed the price on the ebook to a faintly ridiculous $0.99 until midnight tonight.
Kind strangers said:
“Ascension Point is compelling, exciting, well-written and properly edited. It is good science fiction in every way.”
“Move over Star Wars… the story also bristles with imagination, twists, pace and a motley crew of characters with depth.”
“Already looking forward to the sequel.”