Seeds of Earth

Fellow Glasgow writer Michael Cobley, who previously wrote a series of fantasy novels in the early years of this century (the Shadowkings series), has a new book coming out from Orbit in March next year. He's switched to space opera this time with Seeds of Earth. I would have to say that the cover design, by Steve Stone, is jealousy-inducing (click on it to get full size). From the blurb on Amazon:

"First contact was not supposed to be like this. The first intelligent species to encounter Mankind attacked without warning and swarmed locust-like through the solar system. Merciless. Relentless. Unstoppable. With little hope of halting the savage invasion, Earth's last, desperate roll of the dice was to send out three colony ships, seeds of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy. Earth may perish but the human race would live on ...somewhere. 150 years later, the human colony on the planet Darien has established a new world for Humanity and forged a peaceful relationship with the planet's indigenous race, the scholarly, enigmatic Uvovo. But there are secrets buried beneath the surface of Darien's forest moon. Secrets that go back to an apocalyptic battle fought between ancient forerunner races at the dawn of galactic civilisation..."

Mike has a blog, linked to in the right hand column of this page.


Harry Wars

I've been playing around with ideas for the book after the last Dakota volume, which could be set on Mars (New story! New characters! And possibly a new head after the voluminous corrections to Nova War I've been wading through). I had a notion - possibly terminally pretentious, or cleverly postmodern (or so I like to convince myself) - that the characters could spend some time discussing the 'monomyth' story structure, the Hero's Journey found in different cultures and delineated in detail by Joseph Campbell in Hero With A Thousand Faces. A bit of googling brought me to this page, which contains the scan you see here. If you want to see it clearly, click on it and you should see it at full size if you can't already.

I award this 'most entertaining jpeg of the week' by a long shot.


Typhoon Sinlaku

Usually, if I stand on the front door veranda and look to my right, I can see over the top of an elevated motorway beyond the end of the street (being on the sixth floor as I am) to a riverside park; except today there is no riverside park, because it appears to be underwater, and that's because we're in the middle of an enormous typhoon (Typhoon Sinlaku) that passed over Japan on its way to Taiwan and the South China Seas.

Whenever there's a typhoon - and there's usually several around here of varying force throughout the year - everything pretty much shuts down for a day or so until it's past. Yesterday most of the shops and offices were closed throughout Shida, but me and Emma headed out anyway along with a few hardy others to grab cheap dan-bei and soya milk at a small poky eaterie just past Roosevelt Road. The wind was pretty intense, but not nearly as intense as it got after midnight. Right now the wind is gone, and we're left with what I'm assuming is torrential rain - ceaseless, unending torrential rain - that'll probably last the rest of the evening. It's fun, in a slightly twisted sort of way.


getting around

I was interested to discover earlier today that the news of Pan MacMillan's experiment with non-DRM ebooks has been spreading; to my knowledge I was the first to bring it to public attention in the Mobile Read forums. From there it spread to a couple of items at Teleread, with this piece grabbing my interest in particular; it has a link to a demo video by the makers of the stanza ebook software showing, amongst several others, Stealing Light. The image you can see is a screengrab taken from the video, of an iphone running the software (the picture is from Teleread).


taking a break

Yesterday I was in Hong Kong all day, and today I've just been sitting in the flat in Taipei browsing the net and generally not doing any work. I hit the 20–30k writing barrier; I get that far, then anything that's wrong with the plot comes screaming out, and I have to take a step back and figure out what the book should really be about. It happened with Stealing Light, and it happened with Against Gravity and the one before that too. Basically, you get so far in, and then you know what is or isn't working.

So I'm taking a step back, doing some relaxing and reading (new Neal Stephenson! Yay!), and trying to not think about the third Dakota Merrick book too hard just yet. At least, not until Saturday or Sunday, when I can come at it again with a clearer mind.


N Is Here

Right now I'm waiting on the final edits on Nova War (I'm pretty much resigned to that being the title of the next one) to come through the post, and meanwhile working on the third Dakota Merrick book, which is flowing suspiciously quickly - about twenty thousand words in already. I'm sure I'll stumble screaming into one of those familiar bottomless authorial potholes before very long.

Talking of stumbling screaming, if you like scary stories you should really check out N Is Here, both a book trailer and a full-length animated adaptation of a short story from Stephen King's collection coming out later this year. I can leave King more often than I can take him, but the fact is he doesn't mess about when it comes to frightening the crap out of you.

I've been down on book trailers in the past, and I think with good reason; most of them are awful. The one exception up until now was the one for Jeff Carlson's Plague Year, which was professional, polished and, I'm guessing, not cheap either. It didn't embarrass the author and it was witty and entertaining. N Is Here is the sign of book trailers moving into the big leagues, and it's much more than just a trailer. It's Hollywood-polished, slick, tight and, most especially, quite scary. It's a solid work in its own right, and I'd really like to see more trailers and short movies making use of what is a very simple yet very, very effective style of animation.


Is the electronic book market in the UK doomed to die?

The Waterstones ebook site has been up for barely a day and yet it's already possible to feel concern that it's standing on wobbly foundations, ready to keel over the instant a sufficient number of the people buying the £199 Sony Reader from Waterstones do a quick google and suddenly find themselves on American sites like Fictionwise.com or BooksonBoard.com, with a far larger and very significantly cheaper range of titles available. And before very long, they're going to realise the majority of those books are available in widely used formats such as mobipocket* that simply won't work on the Sony Reader**.

Beyond that rather unfortunate fact (I wouldn't want to be standing at the help counter when an irate customer, suddenly aware of how desperately limited his choices are, comes storming in and demanding a refund on his Reader), some books on Waterstones' site are not unfairly priced, including my own Stealing Light and several other titles from Pan Macmillan, at about £4.75; this is cheaper even than the discounted price on Amazon UK. But it doesn't take long to do a quick compare-and-contrast on the price of other books available both here and in the States to find many titles are available from US-based sites for almost half of what they are here. And the internet being the great leveller of international boundaries it is, the money for ebooks will inevitably flow towards the same goods at a cheaper price.

As much of a supporter of ebooks as I am, I feel the Sony Reader might be judged a failure by Christmas, in the UK at least. The Sony Reader is a fine device, but far from perfect. Despite the fact the latest model of the Reader can now handle the Epub format, it's a format as yet far from universally adopted by ebook retailers, with Waterstones being the exception. The machine also isn't immune to crashing from time to time. The stated '7,000 page turns per charge' may be little more than hyperbole. The fact remains that for many who don't share my lust for gadgets, the machine is still too expensive, deliberately crippled in the range of formats it can read, and the titles available from UK publishers limited and costly. Once this becomes obvious to people new to e-ink technology, they will turn away in droves, making this yet another missed opportunity.

It doesn't help much that ebooks in the UK are susceptible to VAT. This is apparently because books are regarded as 'digitised product' under UK law; this further drives up the price, once more pushing the British consumer towards other shores for their ebooks.

To my knowledge (a quick google search doesn't bring up any results to confirm my vague memories) books were originally made exempt from VAT because it was felt that knowledge should not be taxed. This, however, was long before the advent of the digital age, and it's clearly time the law did some catching up.

The ebooks on sale from Waterstones have one thing in common that makes them different from other VAT-levied 'digitised products' out there today: they all have an ISBN, and they all already exist as paper books. The former fact alone should be enough to give an ebook VAT-exempt status. But at the very least British publishers urgently need to look towards changes in the law to have ebooks given a VAT-exempt status.

It's still early enough to assume that British publishers are preparing price drops and deals that will lower the cost to the British consumer of buying ebooks to something more palatable to their wallets, and certainly there are plans to expand the numbers of titles available, but I'm concerned at this moment in time that it might prove to be too little too late. Some ebooks listed on the Waterstones site cost more than the equivalent hardback; according to one user posting to the mobileread.com forum, it would cost less for him to purchase the hardback of one particular title and have it shipped to him in Australia than it would to buy the ebook from Waterstones.

I can only hope such exorbitant pricing will eventually prove to be an accidental, rather than an intentional strategy.

*It should be said in fairness that Mobipocket is owned by Amazon, which in itself may well be the reason the format won't work on the Sony Reader; perhaps Amazon has refused to license the format to Sony since they're directly competing in the ebook market.

**Unless, of course, you're sufficiently tech-minded to find and implement some of the available tools to strip the DRM from mobipocket books, rendering them readable on the Sony Reader, as I have. If I hadn't known this before I purchased my own Sony Reader, I think I would have saved my money.


Ebook out

You might be interested to know you can now buy Stealing Light from Waterstones as an ebook. It's also available direct from Pan Macmillan as part of a 3 for 2 offer that also includes China Mieville, John Scalzi, Neal Asher and Hal Duncan.

I should also add that I was recently contacted by the man in charge of taking Pan Macmillan deeper into the digital age as to whether I would be happy about Stealing Light being released as an ebook without any DRM; a request to which my reply was a hearty yes. Neither the Pan Macmillan site nor the relevant Waterstones page mentions this, unfortunately. It needs, I think, to be trumpeted; but the Waterstones ebook site, for one, is barely up. Let's see how it's looking in a couple days time.

Update: it turns out that all the ebooks available directly from Pan Macmillan at www.panmacmillan.com are free of DRM.