Sunday Roundup

Let’s start with a fun–and super-geeky–rundown of all the military vessels in Babylon 5, over at The Wertzone! I love Babylon 5; it gets a bad rap among some SF fans for being a touch soapy in parts, but the series was remarkable for deeply exploring important themes, its commitment to ambitious, multi-season storylines and character arcs, and an extensive background lore covering thousands of years.

Plus: Vorlons!

Vorlon Heavy Cruiser

The Vorlon heavy cruiser is one of the largest ships in known space, at almost two miles in length. The heavy cruiser is equipped with a massive forward beam weapon, a scaled-up version of that on the transport. This weapon has never been seen to fire at full strength, but is considered to be unsurvivable.

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Ambassador Kosh, looking badass as usual.

How did you get into Star Wars, folks? For me, it was seeing Empire on TV at Christmas when I was about nine years old. And yes, I saw the second movie in the series before the first one, which is absolutely anathema to my current adult self who can’t watch anything he hasn’t seen from the very beginning.

“Who’s that little green man, mum?” “That’s Yoda, Dan.” “Cool!”

NASA photos of Antarctica–get them before it melts! (Sob.)

Jude Law’s going to be in Captain Marvel, which seems…fine? Brie Larson will be ace, though.

Law is playing Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel, a mentor to Larson’s character. Also of note, Keanu Reeves was being considered for the role before passing.

While Larson is the lead, Captain Marvel will co-star Ben Mendelsohn as the leader of the Skrulls and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. The film takes places before the events of the first Iron Man and will, at least partially, take place in outer space.

Finally, a lovely and smart review of Iain M. Banks’ 1994 essay A Few Notes on The Culture.

This particular moment in history—when unfettered capitalism, oligarchy, and toxic forms of nationalism all too often tend to be the order of the day—is quite a time to be reading about a socialist post-scarcity interstellar civilization, and one can definitely be forgiven for approaching the novels in a spirit of escapism. But one can also find inspiration in the progressive and optimistic worldview that underpins Banks’s novels, which was neatly summarized by the man himself.

I miss him. Happy Sunday, folks.

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You Beta Be-read It!

If you deciphered my clever pun, you’ll have worked out that Causal Nexus is in the hands of my lovely beta readers! They always provide excellent feedback to strengthen the story, make the characters more interesting and point out those pesky plot holes that it’s easy for the writer themselves to miss after being down in the weeds of the story for so long. I can’t wait!

In the meantime I’ve started the groundwork for Untitled Book #4! Step one is to go back over Ascension Point and Venus Rising, and to compile a list of all the open plot threads that I’ve set up in the series so far, that I may want to pick up and complete in this, the final book in the series. I have a habit of semi-casually tossing little elements into my stories that hint at potential goings-on, so I daresay that I won’t choose to follow up on every single possible plotline that I sketchily set up; but in addition to the exciting new major story arcs I’ve got planned, I am planning to tie off at least the big loose ends from prior books and wrap up key character arcs, and thus generally bring The Unity Sequence to a satisfying close.

‘Bitter Grounds’ by Neil Gaiman

A fantastic short story for Halloween from Neil Gaiman at Tor.com.

In every way that counted, I was dead. Inside somewhere maybe I was screaming and weeping and howling like an animal, but that was another person deep inside, another person who had no access to the face and lips and mouth and head, so on the surface I just shrugged and smiled and kept moving. If I could have physically passed away, just let it all go, like that, without doing anything, stepped out of life as easily as walking through a door, I would have done. But I was going to sleep at night and waking in the morning, disappointed to be there and resigned to existence.

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Art copyright © 2010 Rick Berry, Neil Gaiman, and Ekaterina Slepicka

A Tale of Two Marketing Systems

Great stuff from David, as always. Personally, I’ll be putting my upcoming book up across all platforms, and leaving the others in the series there too, at least for some time. I might experiment with Kindle Unlimited while I’m busy writing book four!

David Gaughran

Lots of people right now are asking themselves whether they should leave Kindle Unlimited.

I’m generally agnostic on it, and I think writers should do what is best for them and their books, but there’s no doubt this is the big question of the moment.

That’s partly down to falling pay rates, Amazon’s inability to deal with scammers and cheaters, or the increasing concern about having all your eggs in one basket when something like this (or this, or this) regularly happens. But I think authors are asking themselves the wrong question.

The real issue, I suggest, should surround how you are going to find readers on these retailers (or on Amazon, if you have decided to swim in the other direction). Because I often see people taking the wrong approach – using the wrong tools for the job.

I gave a talk at NINC earlier this month…

View original post 2,253 more words

Sunday Roundup

Ooh, we’ve got some good stuff today. Let’s start at Pornokitsch, with Draft Posts:

We all become ‘authors’ as soon as we open a Word file, ‘artists’ as soon as we buy paint, ‘bloggers’ as soon as we register our domain name. By contemplating creation – simply by having an idea – we re-identify ourselves.

But then, we also leap to the other extreme. A creator isn’t ‘allowed’ to claim that identification until they have successfully created. You’re not really an author until you finish a book. (Or perhaps even publish one.) You’re not really an artist until you finish a painting. A blogger without posts is a poor example of the breed. This isn’t unfair: inspiration might be the easiest part of the project. Socially, we should celebrate the do-ers and which means focusing on the evidence of what they’ve done.

But what about everything in-between?

Looking a bit further back (because I haven’t read Pornokitsch closely in a while), what if Apple bought the entire UK publishing industry?

What if they just bought the entire British fiction publishing industry?

The point of this (obviously impossible) scenario, of course, is rethinking the value of the book, and taking the terrifying (and hopefully inaccurate) perspective that books qua books are toast. Instead, let’s think of what the value of fiction publishing would be to Apple: a cost-effective way of identifying, developing and testing creative concepts. Books as a massive means of consumer-testing. Think of book sales as upvotes and the fiction-reading population as a gigantic network of slush-pile readers.

According to YouGov Profiles, 18-34 ‘avid or regular’ readers are exactly the people that matter to our networks.

They significantly overindex for all of the following:

  • Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and XBox Live/Video
  • Watching films, in general, on a streaming service
  • Watching films on a streaming service, once a week or more
  • Agreement with “I primarily listen to music through streaming services”
  • Agreement with “Live TV is a thing of the past”
  • Paying for music streaming

If you’re a content streamer, this is your most valuable audience. So why not keep monitoring what they read, and turn that stuff into video content?

Fun stuff, but feels like it’s kind of missing the point: if Apple ran the entire UK publishing industry they would, to a large extent, determine what UK readers were able to read. (Because, while the largely Amazon-based, word of mouth driven discovery of books is extremely alive and kicking, there’s still a heck of a lot of books that get sold simply because a trad publisher puts them out and they end up in bookstores). Basing future movie/TV production decisions on the reception to content that you’ve already implicitly curated seems… well, let’s be honest, nonsensical.

Fun idea, though. Next!

Oh, more Amazon, by way of t-shirts:

Batman, Superman, Spider-man are all t-shirt brands with comic book spinoffs. I think Harry Potter belongs in that pantheon as well: geek culture brands where the identification is now so embedded that they’re part of the visual vernacular. It isn’t just about a nerd franchise being in Primark, it is about a nerd franchise being in Primark and coverage in the Sun.

If anything, Harry Potter’s gone a step further and given us four lifestyle brands. Superhero logos say, generously, something about you. But the four Hogwarts houses have become a socially-accepted Meyers-Briggs self-classification.

#RAVENCLAW4LIFE

The click-baitingly titled (for nerds like me) ‘Are independent bookstores the new conspicuous consumption?

We are constantly repositioning indie bookshops around their moral, not commercial, benefits, and Pullman et al.’s arguments seem to play into that vein. I’m not wild about it because, well, virtually every consumer study says that, whatever customers may say, price and convenience will trump morality at the till. But based on Currid-Halkett’s research, maybe this is actually the best route to survival? Turn independent bookshops into the exclusive playground of the virtuous wealthy, who are happy to pay full price for their Philip Pullman novels. Publishers and retailers can get name-brand designers to create tote bags (done!) and discreet-but-not-too-discreet stickers that say ‘locally purchased’, so those that paid £20, not £10, can get the virtuous and visible buzz they’ve paid for.

I can’t disagree. I haven’t bought a brand new book in a bookstore in five years: I love going to my local store and picking up five second-hand for a couple of dollars, but that’s it. It’s one of those awkward semi-hypocritical situations where I certainly don’t want to see my local brick and mortar book store disappear, but I’m definitely not going to start buying all of my books there. Come on virtuous wealthy, only you can save us now…? (Ugh.)

Meanwhile, a long read over at The Atlantic, from the frustratingly-briefly-named X:

snake-robot designer, a balloon scientist, a liquid-crystals technologist, an extradimensional physicist, a psychology geek, an electronic-materials wrangler, and a journalist walk into a room. The journalist turns to the assembled crowd and asks: Should we build houses on the ocean?…

Like a think-tank panel with the instincts of an improv troupe, the group sprang into an interrogative frenzy. “What are the specific economic benefits of increasing housing supply?” the liquid-crystals guy asked. “Isn’t the real problem that transportation infrastructure is so expensive?” the balloon scientist said. “How sure are we that living in densely built cities makes us happier?” the extradimensional physicist wondered.

But also:

Just beyond the drones, I find Astro Teller. He is the leader of X, whose job title, captain of moonshots, is of a piece with his piratical, if perhaps self-conscious, charisma. He has a long black ponytail and silver goatee, and is wearing a long-sleeved T‑shirt, dark jeans, and large black Rollerblades. Fresh off an afternoon skate?, I ask. “Actually, I wear these around the office about 98 percent of the time,” he says. I glance at an X publicist to see whether he’s serious. Her expression says: Of course he is.

Astro? Astro? Anyway, it turns out it’s just a nickname. Keep reading for a fascinating deep dive into Project Loon, X’s quest to bring internet to the world with balloons.

The world’s biggest need wasn’t hardware but access. Cables and towers were too expensive to build in mountains and jungles, and earthbound towers don’t send signals widely enough to make sense for poor, sparsely populated areas. The cost of satellites made those, too, prohibitive for poor areas. DeVaul needed something inexpensive that could live in the airspace between existing towers and satellites. His answer: balloons. Really big balloons.

The idea struck more than a few people as ridiculous. “I thought I was going to be able to prove it impossible really quickly,” said Cliff L. Biffle, a computer scientist and Rapid Eval manager who has been at X for six years. “But I totally failed. It was really annoying.”

The Atlantic also asks ‘Have we become too squeamish about the inevitable human cost of exploration?‘:

Today, industry and government are both upshifting gears, back into novelty, which means the public’s attitudes toward space travel and its inevitable accidents may return to what they were in NASA’s early, more adventurous days. After decades in a stable and predictable orbit, American spaceflight will return to new vehicles and, maybe, new destinations. The country is deciding which far-off world to point ships toward next, with the moon and Mars the most likely candidates. Private companies are doing the same, and preparing to take high rollers on suborbital romps. And with that leap into the unknown, Americans may become more tolerant of the loss of astronaut life. If they don’t, the government and private industry might not be able to make the leap at all.

Next: octopuses continue to be amazing. Look at this bad boy:

Naturally, scientists are trying to create an artificial version. Sadly, so far the real deal is far too badass to be emulated:

The robots are certainly cool, but they’re nowhere near as versatile as the real deal. Shepherd’s material, for example, can change texture about as fast as an actual octopus, but it can only make one rough shape at a time. The animal, meanwhile, can produce far finer undulations in its skin, which are tuned to whatever it sees in its environment. For now, nothing we produce comes anywhere close.

Finally: Hulk’s bed from Thor: Ragnarok is… maybe exactly what you’d expect?

Good night, moon. Good night, Hulk.

What Kind of Week Has It Been

Spolier alert: a really good one! I completed some pretty major restructuring on the WIP, adding a new POV character and major plot thread, tying that into two of the other threads, and rearranging half of the scenes in both act two and act three to fix the continuity. Phew!

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“Daaaaamn!”

Not only that, I then went ahead and banged out around 5,200 fresh, shiny new words, taking the current total up to… *checks Scrivener stats*… 38,370. I’ve got thirteen more scenes to write, which I expect will come to another 20-25,000 words. If I can keep up this storming rate I should have a first draft to edit in early November.

“Bravo.”

Thanks, Shia.

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Laptop (Sometimes)

As most readers will have deduced, my last post wasn’t actually about knitting. (To everyone else: I’m sorry. There’s no dan-harris shop at etsy.com in the pipeline, meeting all of your science-fiction themed knitwear needs.)

No, all that waffle about scarves was obviously about expanding my work-in-progress, Causal Nexus. Having decided to add a new PoV character and a new exciting plot thread–seriously exciting, thousands of people could die–I had the unenviable task of trying to weave those into a longstanding plot outline and mostly written manuscript.

Now, I’ve posted about Scrivener before. (Waaaaaaay back when.) It’s a wonderful, truly amazing application for outlining, drafting, compiling–damn near everything the writer needs.

But for some reason, I found it really tricky to go back, as it were, and do all the rejiggery-pokery that I needed to do within my Scrivener project. It was like the note cards were staring at me, furious at the mere suggestion that I might drag them into a different act.

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STOP JUDGING ME

So instead I went the old-fashioned route. I printed off a copy of my outline onto actual real physical paper, and I got a pen–a nice one with a rubbery grip and a firm clicky top–and I sat on our back deck with a beer and scratched my head and stared at the pigeons but most importantly GOT IT DONE.

There’s something visceral and very stimulating about physically crossing things out, putting question marks next to possibly dubious plotting decisions and drawing arrows all over the place between sections tagged ‘MOVE THIS HERE DUMBASS’.

One hour later, I had myself a shiny new outline. Back into the office I went, and ten minutes I’d made all the changes in Scrivener too. Now I can go back to drafting, refreshed and reinvigorated after my vacation in pre-computer nineteenth century writing.

Now, if there’s an unfortunate side effect of my brand new character and ten new scenes it’s that instead of being two-thirds done with my first draft, I’m now only half done. But, in the words of the great Abraham Lincoln, spoken shortly after he defeated Napoleon in hand-to-hand combat at the climactic battle of the Crimean War:

It’s better to have written half of a great book than two-thirds of a fine one.

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“I never said that.”

When The Scarf You’re Knitting is Too Short and Not Exciting Enough

Bear with me.

Imagine you’re knitting a scarf. You’re about two thirds of the way done, and it’s coming along nicely. You’ve got lots of stripes of different colours, and it’s going to be a good length–once around the neck and then a jaunty flip over the shoulder length–and you’re happy with it.

Pretty happy with it. Yeah. It’s going to be a good scarf.

Hmm.

But not a great scarf.

Is that really the length you want in a scarf? What sort of weather would you wear that in? Wouldn’t it be better if it was just a bit longer? Maybe twice around the neck, and tuck the ends into the front of your coat long. That’d keep you warm.

And how about those colours? They’re great colours, sure–you’ve got red and orange and green and blue and it sounds like it should clash but it really doesn’t.

However.

It could be… snazzier. Maybe–just maybe–you throw some magenta in there too. Or cyan. Or cerulean. (Polka dots? No.) But something that pops.

Now that would be a scarf.

The tricky part is, you can’t just add the new colour and the extra length at the end, oh no. You’ve got to weave it in. You’ve got to add a stripe in near the start, then another few in the middle, and again at the end, and it’s got to flow, seamlessly, as if the new colour had been there all along and the scarf was always going to be this long.

That’s the tricky part.

I’m getting there though.

Self-Publishing Master-free

Just a quick one, via industry guru David Gaughran:

Iain Rob Wright has done something pretty amazing. He has created a pretty damn comprehensive course on self-publishing and marketing – over 50 hours of HD Video – and he has made it all free. Not the first bit free. Not free for a limited time. Not free if you also buy this, or agreed to be assailed by that.

The course is called ‘Self-Publishing Mastery’, hence the VERY CLEVER PUN above. I’ve signed up, mostly hoping for a quick and easy refresher on the state of the industry since I was last paying close attention. Having watched the first few sessions, the quality is very good, and Iain delivers the content in a straightforward and easy-to-understand manner. Also it turns out that yes, Amazon is still very much in business.

Worth a look for any aspiring author considering taking the plunge into self-publishing. Or lapsed authors emerging from hibernation, blinking blearily in the sunlight and asking passers-by what year it is.

Read more at David’s blog, or jump straight in here.