Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Review of Hugh Howey's Wool.


The Wool Omnibus is one of the best and most original science fiction books I have read. It is full of tension and intrigue from page one, and that tension is maintained through to the very last page. Anyone who enjoys stories set in strange post-apocalyptic worlds that have themes more complex than just power struggles and good versus evil should enjoy Wool.

Wool is a collection of five novellas containing three separate stories that logically follow on from each other. The series is set on a future devastated Earth.  Earth’s atmosphere is full of deadly and corrosive chemicals that can eat through a space suit in a matter of minutes. So the remnants of humanity have retreated to an underground silo.

The silo has 130 levels and a central staircase that connects all the levels. There are no lifts, and no web or phones, as the silo’s designers did not wanted communication between the silo’s inhabitants to be easy. The silo’s designers didn’t want unruly gatherings of disaffected citizens or twitter revolutions occurring.

Mechanicals, the engineers and maintenance workers who keep the power and plumbing functioning, live at the bottom of the silo. Intermediate levels contain the food growing and manufacturing areas as well as habitation levels. They also contain the secretive IT section. The mayor and silo’s sheriff live at the top alongside a doorway to the toxic outside.

The first story in the collection is called Wool and is about the silo’s sheriff, Holston. He is investigating why his wife choose to be exiled from the silo and die in the toxic wasteland outside. This story introduces the claustrophobic insides of the Silo, and has the reader asking why are its inhabitants so docile?

The second story, Proper Gauge, follows the relationship of Jahns the mayor and Marnes, her deputy as they travel over three days down to the bottom levels of the silo. Their journey ultimately introduces them to a mechanical named Juliette, who is the main character of the following stories. The story builds on the intrigue of the first as there are still many unanswered questions.

The remaining three novellas could have been turned into a novel themselves as they tell the one story. They follow Juliette as she unlocks the dark secrets behind the silo and what happened to the planet above her. In this story we discover who really controls the silo and what happened to the world outside.

Much of the series takes place in the heads of the main characters as they trudge up and down the stairs. They don’t know who to trust so they are weary on what they say to others, less they be forced outside.

The series explores the theme of how control of information can be used to control a population. It asks the question, is it right to lie to the population as the truth might cause society to collapse into death and chaos? So it light of recent Wikileaks and CIA leaks, the story has much relevance to the world as it is today.

The series was self-published by Hugh Howey. But don’t let that put you off, it is very well written. In March 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported Wool had sold more than half a million copies. Wool has been so successful that Howey recently signed a print distribution deal reported to be worth half a million dollars with Simon and Schuster. Howey kept the ebook rights. Film rights to the series have been sold to 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott is said to be interested in making the film.

The Wool omnibus had a satisfy ending, but left room for a sequel, which Howey has already written. He has written a prequel too, which I purchased the day after I finished reading the Wool collection.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kickstarting your Writing.

I am a member of a few science fiction communities on Google+, where an increasing number of authors want me to give money to their Kickstarter projects. I had ignored these requests, considered them to be a new form of begging.

I had also thought why would a writer need the money? With the new world of self-publishing all a writer needs is to pay an editor and book designer, and a few other incidental costs. If they couldn’t afford an editor than they would need to find some good critiquers or someone to edit their book for free. If they wanted people to pay them while they wrote, they could go and get a job.

But then I thought, maybe there are actually people willing to pay me to write my novels, so I went and checked out the Kickstarter website.

The website says that since 2009, more than 4.3 million people have pledged over $670 million to fund more than 43,000 creative projects. It has an all or nothing approach, so the project only gets funded if it reaches it fundraising goal. A respectable 44% of projects achieve their goal and then Kickstarter charges a 5% fee.

Okay then, 44% was not bad. But what do these authors want the money for? And more importantly, how can I get people to send me money. I decided to check out a few book writing projects. 

The Big Aha 

Rudy Rucker’s The Big Aha, had a video at the start of the Kickstarter page where the writer told us about the novel and his writing career. The novel sounded partly original in that it is set in a future world where animals and plants have replaced machines. But not so original in that webware has made everyone telepathic. In the novel telepathic aliens appear and – here he lost me a bit – start swallowing up humans. For a five dollar pledge I would get a free ebook of the novel when it was finished. Five dollars is about the average price of an ebook.

Rudy said he had published over 20 novels with traditional publishers but is now finding it harder to get them to publish his quirky novels. I had never heard of him so I went and checked and the first novel of his I saw had an introduction by science fiction icon William Gibson. I also discovered that Rucker had won the Philip K Dick award twice, so he can obviously write very good science fiction.

He had a goal of raising $7,000. He said the money would pay for more time for him to finish writing the novel, which was 80% complete. Anyone who pledged $25 gets the novel as an ebook, as well as an acknowledgement of their pledge in the ebook, and two further ebooks, one a collection of short stories and the other an illustrated collection of notes on the writing of The Big Aha. Anyone willing to pledge $1000 got all that and an original Rudy Rucker oil painting.

But how is Rudy assured of getting any money pledged to his project? Well when money is pledged, credit card details are taken. The amount of the pledge is then only credited to the credit card if Rudy’s total pledges reach his goal of $7000, which they had. 

The Energy Room 

In contrast to Rudy, Christyna Mansfield is asking for a much more modest $2,700 to help with her debut novel The Energy Room. She had no video at the start just a not very inspiring mock-up of a book cover for her novel. Her novel is a fantasy, about a young woman who can manipulate the elements. The woman had been raised in a government facility that prevented her from using her abilities. But there were others with her gift and the government wanted them.

Christyna plans to self-publish the novel so there are no barriers between her words and the reader, and to wipe out the middleman. She needs the $2,700 to pay for a professional editor and a designed book cover.

Anyone who pledges five dollars to her cause will receive a copy of the ebook. A ten dollar pledger would get the ebook and a limited edition bookmark. A $1000 pledger would get a one page advertisement in the printed and digital book, an invite to the book launch, a reoccurring side character in the book with a name and appearance of their choosing, a signed copy of the sequel before it is released to the general public and copies of the printed and digital book.

In her spiel for the money, Christyna admits to stopping and starting on the novel over many years. Many potential pledgers might ask if she will finish it, which might be why, with nine days to go, she has only raised $164.

As publishers cut back on the number of books they publish, the future of publishing could be writers funding themselves through sites like Kickstarter and then self-publishing. Kickstarter offers the chance to be paid while writing, and have editing and other expenses paid for. It also can give the writer pre-sales for their book, and is an additional way of marketing and promoting a book and its author.

I have already thought up a great concept for a video to go at the start of my Kickstarter spiel for one of my works in progress.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Top 100 ebook and ibook prices.

Now I know you have been impatiently waiting for me to do another survey of prices of the top 100 bestselling ebooks. So here it is.

If you’re a wannabe author, like me, you have probably been doing a Kirk/Picard, as you contemplate the price of ebooks. If the price of ebooks dropped the impulsive Kirk would rush online to buy more ebooks. But the more pragmatic Picard would probably stop and ponder the effect on author’s livelihoods.

If you are wondering, I am behaving more like Picard. I am sticking to a new year’s resolution of a couple of years ago of not paying less than $4.99 for an ebook. But I do make exceptions when an author informs me that they have made their book free in an attempt to push it up the Kindle rankings (although I read somewhere recently that Amazon is making this harder, if not impossible, to do).
Kindle Top 100 prices.

Twenty-two of the ebooks in the top 100 were priced at 99 cents. When I last checked in January, there were 14 at 99 cents. In September 2012 only six ebooks were priced at 99 cents, seven in August, and three in June. This was down from a massive 34 at 99 cents in February 2012. So Kirk will be happy that 99 cents is becoming a more popular buying price once again.

But there were less ebooks at $1.99, with only 6, compared to 11 in January, and eight in September. Before that the numbers at $1.99 were too insignificant to mention.  

This time there were eleven books at the guru nominated price of $2.99. In January there were ten at this price. In September 2012 there were 16, August 15, June 22, and in February 32 at that price. So the steady decline of this price appearing next to one of the top 100 sellers has stopped.

Overall there were 37 books priced at or below $2.99, last time there were 35.

The next most significant low price was $3.99, with 13 ebooks. Last time there were eleven, and in September last year there were 14.

For a while I thought $4.99 was going to be a good medium price for ebooks, but there were only three at that price this time, the same as in January. In September there were nine and in August 11 at $4.99.

There were 28 ebooks priced between $3.99 and $7.00, that means there were 35 priced at over $7. Last time there were 38 ebooks priced over $7, 30 in September, 32 in August and 47 in June.

Nine were priced at $9.99, and eight at $12.99.

ibooks Top 100 Prices

I only became interested in ibook prices when I purchased an ipad in January. I have discovered that either a lot less Kirks shop at the ibookstore or authors charge more for ibooks, because there were only five at 99 cents in the top 100 in both January and today.

There were six at $1.99. And 17 at the ibook guru price of $2.99, compared to 15 last time. So that’s 28 at or below $2.99 as compared to 37 on Amazon.

In the mid-range of $3.99 to $6.99 there were 29 ibooks both this and last time, as compared to 28 ebooks. Fifteen ibooks were priced at $3.99 (19 last time) and ten at $4.99 (four last time).

Forty-nine ibooks were priced over $7 (last time 46) compared to 35 of Amazon’s ebooks.

There were six at $8.99, 14 at $9.99, four at $10.99, five at $11.99, five at $12.99, five at $12.99 (eight at this price on amazon) and four at $16.99.  

So Kirk would be more like to download ebooks as the top 100s suggest ebooks are cheaper than ibooks.

One ibook in the top 100 was The Rosie Project by Australian Graeme Simsion, it was priced at a rather expensive $17.99, as a hardcover version cost only $15 from Amazon. But I suppose the publishers have to somehow make back the $1.8 million they paid Simsion for his book. One thing is for sure, Kirk wouldn’t buy The Rosie Project at any price.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review of The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.

When I first pulled Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars from the shelves of a bookstore I remember muttering a sarcastic “yeah right,” after I read a comment on its cover claiming it was “A novel about the end of the world which makes you glad to be alive.” That’s not the role of apocalyptic fiction, I thought. But after reading the novel’s blurb, I decided to give it a go.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic America, a decade after a virus has killed 99% of the population. Hig, a poet, handyman, gardener, fisherman, hunter and pilot along with his dog Jasper, share a small airfield with a Bangley, a gun-toting survivalist. They have nothing in common but need each other to survive. Hig uses his Cessna to make daily surveillance flights searching for marauding survivors, while Bangley uses his guns to kill them. All other survivors are deemed threats because Hig and Bangley both know what they had to do to survive.

So at the beginning of the book they are hard characters to like. But as the book progresses, and other survivors attack them, it becomes clear that their ruthless defence of the airfield is the only reason they have survived. Hig, Bangley and Jasper seemed destined to live out their lives together after successfully killing anyone who comes near. But then things change.

I found the story engrossing, but the authors writing continually interrupted the flow of the story. In particular his decision not to use quote marks to specify dialogue and not to use attributions annoyed me. I often had to re-read a passage to discover who, if anyone, had been speaking.

Peter Carey did the same thing in The True History of the Kelly Gang. But he is a much better writer than Peter Heller, as I never found myself asking if someone had just spoken. Carey also had a reason for his lack of dialogue signifiers as he was trying to emulate the absence of punctuation in a the Jerilderie letter, a letter dictated by Ned Kelly to Joe Bryne. I wonder why Peter Heller chose to forgo dialogue signifiers. It certainly did not add to the writing.

Another quirk with Heller’s writing is that he often had the same word twice in a row, for example: “They had seen enough, enough to flee, but not the full demise.” “Before before” was quite common.

By the end of The Dog Stars, the book had lived up to its front cover comment and instilled some hope for humanity into me. It is just a shame that Heller’s writing style damaged the flow of the story. It turned what could have been a really excellent novel, into one that is just good.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bits From My Past Week Or So.

On a Facebook Crohns and Colitis page, I learnt of a research report where nearly 50% of pot smoking Crohns suffers went into remission.   

Caught bits of a radio national program where and author discussed her book about the history of obscenities. She said words like shit were not considered swearing centuries ago because people defecated and fucked in public. Swearing back then was more likely to be oaths against God. No idea what the program was and can’t remember when it was to attempt to find it on the radio national website.

A bit to my surprise, Divine agreed to let me write an article on the medical use of cannabis for people with disabilities.

Thinking about obscenities in the future, will the easy access to porn on the web and virtual reality again make obscenities referring to sex and body parts so inoffensive they become redundant?

Is Peter Heller a bit of a wanker? I am reading his novel The Dog Stars which has a good story, but his writing style keeps on pulling me out of the story. One of his many tricks is not to put dialogue between quote marks and not to use attributions. So on many occasions I need to reread a section to ascertain who is speaking, if anyone. Not good for the flow of a novel. (My next post will probably be a review of The Dog Stars.)

Kept on see OK instead of okay in articles in the Age (refer to previous blog post).  

Is a story’s flow that is interrupted by poorly executed attempts at literary cleverness on par with one whose flow is interrupted by careless typos or the need to use a dictionary every couple of pages?

Read a submission to the NSW enquiry on the medical uses of cannabis from a company that manufactures illegal cannabis medical tinctures in Nimbin (where else?). The report had strictly confidential written on every single page. I am wondering whether it has been put on the NSW government site by mistake.

Finished chapter 96 of the first draft of the manuscript I am writing. It is now 190,000 words.