Saturday, July 7, 2012

ALERT! New Book in Old Man's War Universe Announced

Just the other day, I reviewed REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the OLD MAN'S WAR series. Incidentally, on his book tour (which I attended), Scalzi read a very, very good passage from an upcoming project taking place after the events of THE LAST COLONY.  He swore us to secrecy about this, so we wouldn't ruin the surprise for the rest of his tour. Now he's officially announced the project, so I can talk about it...and it's far, far cooler than I even imagined.

I know what the premise of THE HUMAN DIVISION is, but after reading the announcement, I'm going to keep it myself so as not to spoil their fun. So why is this newsworthy? Because of the format and distribution model. As per

The Human Division will be an experiment: an episodic novel, released initially in digitial, serialized form. Currently the plan is to publish these episodes weekly in, roughly, December 2012 through February 2013. Like the episodes of a good high-end cable drama, each one will have enough internal integrity to work as an enjoyable chunk of story on its own, but each will advance a “season”-long storyline as well.

Ultimately the entire work will be published as a normal printed book and a normal e-book, in the late spring or early summer of 2013. And we’ll be doing our best to make it so that buying the book in serial form costs about the same as buying the full e-book. There may be some small extra material in the full-length book, because we’re LIKE THAT.

So why this particular format? Scalzi explains:

The only problem is, the story I wanted to tell wouldn’t exactly work in straight-ahead novel format. Or more accurately, it could work as a novel, but it would better as episodes. While I was thinking this, the folks at Tor happened also to be thinking of trying new ways to work with storytelling, to take better advantage of the potential of the electronic medium. So in one of those nice coincidences that’s really probably not a coincidence at all, I wanted to do something different at the same time Tor wanted to see if doing something different would work. It’s nice when that happens. 
So what we have here is a bit of an experiment. It’s not a serialized novel, as each episode will stand on its own, story-wise. It’s not a typical short story collection, because each of the episodes features the same characters and builds an overall narrative arc. It’s not a “fix-up” novel, because each story is purpose-built for The Human Divison. It’s not the first time episodic story telling has been done online (see the estimable Shadow Unit for another example), but it may be the first time it’s being done by a major publishing house. Essentially, we get to see how this works, and whether it can work, on a large scale.

Why I Think This is So Cool

We've had ebooks for a while now, but it strikes me that few projects take advantage of the medium. Most are just weightless books read on fake paper and printed in digital ink. Or something close to that. But not having to deal with paper or physical distribution can and should open up a host of possibilities for new forms and modes of publication. Scalzi himself is no stranger to that--OLD MAN'S WAR, after all, was originally serialized on his blog--and serializing novels in fiction magazines has a long and storied history.

This is a bit different, though. Each chapter is a self-contained story, but which link together to create a cohesive narrative. Several of my favorite (non-SF/F) books use this format: THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, JESUS' SON, etc. And it's perfectly suited to the ebook format. Each week or so, for a dollar or two, you get a story with original art. You enjoy the stories in and of themselves. Then, when it's all done, you read them again.

Cover art for the first "episode"
You may be skeptical and ask: "what's so special about that? Sounds like the way comics are published." But the thing to keep mind here is, as Scalzi says, that this has not been done by a major publishing house before. It's a break with the general conservatism of the industry, and may perhaps serve as a model for future projects by other authors--or even collaborative ones among authors. Many of the best ideas are really updates of older ideas that have fallen out of fashion, but due to new circumstances are poised for a revival.

The serialized novel is dead; long live the serialized novel.