Thursday, April 26, 2012

Blog Roundup: What the Neighbors Are Saying

We here at nerds of a feather recognize that this is just a small corner of an ecosystem of blogs and websites dedicated to nerdery. So periodically we'd like to recognize all the good stuff our friends and neighbors are producing.

Ebooks, DRM and the Brave New World of Publishing

Ebooks and the changes they entail to the publishing industry are hot topics at the moment in the nerdosphere. Just the other day, major SF/F publisher Tor (a subsidiary of Macmillan) announced it would forgo DRM, to the delight of bloggers everywhere.  Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi all offer sophisticated arguments as to why this is win/win for everyone involved. The best: 1) that DRM leaves readers in the lurch if their chosen ebook format disappears; and 2) that they don't really do much to stop piracy anyways.  It may herald a broader trend, where publishers one-by-one abandon DRM.

For the record, I tried to find an opposing view--someone who could eloquently defend the use of DRM for ebooks on moral, ethical or strategic grounds. I failed, because DRM is just terrible. I did, however, read this article from Guardian Books (which isn't a blog, per se, but is very bloggy in its approach). The author, novelist and blogger Barry Eisler, makes an incendiary rebuttal to the conventional wisdom with regards the DOJ suit against Apple and 3 publishers, summarized here. The most important bit:
If you ask legacy publishing's defenders, "Which is the monopoly: the entity that charges high prices and pays low royalties, or the entity that charges low prices and pays high royalties?", you'll be told by those defenders (tortured logic to follow) that of course it's the latter. If you're a customer of Amazon, novelist Charlie Stross wants you to believe that in fact Amazon has you in a "death-grip". If you love books and like buying them from Amazon, Authors Guild president Scott Turow argues that in doing so you and Amazon are "destroy[ing] book selling". Enjoy your Kindle? More legacy insiders than I can count will accuse you of participating in the degradation of "literary culture", an Orwellian euphemism for "current literary establishment of which I am a member and with which I identify". 
Now, will Amazon break up the current publishing cartel only to become a monopoly itself? I doubt it. The company's DNA is all about serving customers, for one thing; for another, unlike in the analogue world, on the internet the competitor who wants to eat your lunch is always just a mouse click away, and with competitors like Apple and Google, I expect Amazon will be forced to stay true to its customer-centric roots rather than attempting to rely on the kind of monopoly rents that have poisoned legacy publishing's willingness and ability to compete. In the meantime, the publishing establishment wants you to believe that in order to prevent Amazon from possibly one day charging higher book prices, the establishment has to charge you higher prices today. Or, to put it another way, "Hey, you might get robbed if you carry all that cash around, so I'll just save you the trouble by taking your wallet right here." This isn't an argument; it's a con job. Consumers ought to recognise it as such.
Nick Harkaway (John Le Carre's son) rebuts the rebuttal here...

Stuff You Should/Should Not Be Reading

Civilian Reader has an interesting article on the emergence of zombie journalism as an odd, but oddly popular, sub-genre. Elsewhere, they post a very cool interview with prolific SF/F author/renaissance man Dan Abraham. He's a very perceptive guy, so anytime he shares his thoughts, you can expect something that, well, makes you think. This in particular did it for me:
Genre writing – especially science fiction, mystery, and fantasy – have won. Pick up the O. Henry/Pen Faulkner awards and half of the stories in there are genre stories. They’re written by people who don’t publish where I do, but they’re about ghosts and murders and futures where the ecology has collapsed. And I think as a literary group, we’re suffering for it. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, it was possible to have a common culture around specific works because so few were published that everyone could read all of them. That’s gone. In any given year, I can’t read ten per cent of the genre novels that come out, so when I get together with people who are just as passionate about genre writing as I am, we still wind up talking about movies and video games, just because there a fewer of them and we have some overlap.
The good people at i09 have compiled a handy list of summer SF/F reading, organized by release date. There's a lot to be excited about on that list, like Scalzi's Redshirts, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Drowned Cities and Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312. I don't agree with all the choices (I'll be politely skipping a few), but it's quite helpful nonetheless. Go on over and check it out.

Fantasy Cafe, meanwhile, is celebrating Women in SF&F Month with an interview with Stella Matutina and another with Nancy Kress, who thinks there's more gender parity in SF/F than a lot of people realize. There's also a Mira Grant giveaway.

Finally, Worlds Without End review Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop, a sentimental favorite of mine. The review is mostly spot on--both with the good and the not-so-good. My main complaint is that they don't mention the telepathic rats once. Not only are telepathic rats too cool to be ignored, they are also utterly frightening. I'm not sure I've ever encountered something in an SF/F novel that's unnerved me like that did.

Projects You Should Know About

A couple shameless plugs for people doing cool stuff. First, some cool cats who love SF/F have launched a new digital journal, Nine, which they describe as "a journal of imaginative fiction." The first issue features authors like Ken Liu, Peter Swanson and others. It only costs $5, and is pretty awesome, so check it out.

Another set of cool cats aim to publish an edited volume of colonial SF, and aim to correct what they argue is an overly romantic vision of the colonial frontier (despite many disturbing episodes in colonial history here on Earth). They are currently seeking financial backing, with plans to distribute profits to the authors; if you find this idea as exciting as I do, you can help them out here. Plus there's a giveaway!

Get reading...