Christmas Fear and Christmas Cheer

So, it’s that time of year again, in which bloggers either do a post on their favourite novels/short stories of the past year or spend some time looking at seasonally topical reads.  The season being Christmas, I’ve been mulling over some suggestions for you this past week.  Unfortunately, mulling isn’t writing, and I’ve found myself feeling like Clark Kent must every time Lois Lane scoops him.

In my case, the character of Lois Lane is played by one Michaela Gray, a.k.a. “The Bookaneerover at GeekPlanetOnline .  Hop on over and check out her article before I give you my list of Christmas themed reads.  I’ll wait.

And…we’re back.  At the risk of being redundant, here’s my list of Christmas tales you should check out.

1.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas CarolThe obvious choice on any Christmas themed list, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his one night journey to redemption after a little rough handling by the spirits of Past, Present and Future.   Universally loved and a book that hasn’t really left the collective consciousness since its publication back in 1843. Now that’s a story with legs.

Beyond the cheery message that no one is beyond redemption, what I find kind of neat about Dickens’ work is that it’s totally a horror novel.  Think about it for a second.  Some poor (well, rich) old geezer tormented by a host of spirits in the dead of night in a drafty old English mansion.  That’s practically a Richard Matheson novel!. A Christmas Carol is truly a classic and deserves top billing on any Christmas themed list.

2.  I Am Scrooge (A Zombie Story for Christmas) by Adam Roberts

ZombieScroogeIt’s to my eternal shame (okay, maybe not eternal–how about transitory?) that Adam Roberts’ re-imagining of Dickens tale has sat on my shelf low this past year without being read.  It’s especially puzzling considering my continued interest in funny zombie novels.  The idea of the three ghosts teaming up with old Ebenezer to combat a hungry horde of shambling zombies and by happenstance save the world is definitely appealing to anyone with an interest in the walking dead.  I’m not sure it will have as happy an ending as the original, but I am sure there’ll be a meal somewhere along the way.  Although I doubt there’s a lot of meat on Tiny Tim, or Scrooge for that matter.

3.  Naughty:  Nine Tales of Christmas Crime by Steve Hockensmith

NaughtySteven Hockensmith is a wonderful mystery writer who’s turned his attention to Christmas themed mysteries on several (at least nine) occasions.  If you’re a fan of the genre and looking for something with a Christmas(y) feel to it, then Naughty is the book for you.  My favourite tale involves the kidnapping of a certain man in a red suit by members of the KGB and Mrs. Klaus efforts to effect his rescue.  Poisoned fruitcake, devious secret santas, and an introduction to Hannah Fox, a character I hope to meet some day in her own novel, all make this a novel that any mystery lover should invest in.  Do yourself a favour and pick it up as either an ebook or print version.  Steve is a master of both mystery and witty dialogue and I’ve had a long history of not being disappointed with his writing.

Speaking of short stories, Arthur Conan Doyle was known for writing a Christmas tale or two involving everyone’s favorite Victorian detective, Sherlock Holmes.  Honourable mention goes to The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle in which Sherlock shows considerable restraint with regards to a criminal whom he encounters at Christmas.  George Mann has also made an effort to write a series of Christmas themed stories with regards to his wonderful Newbury and Hobbes series of Steampunk detective novels, all of which can be obtained if you pick up a copy of The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes.  Try reading Christmas Spirits if you’d like a unique take on A Christmas Carol involving a detective on an opium bender during the holidays.

I’m sure there are many more Christmas themed tales that I’m omitting in the course of this holiday post.  If you’ve got a tale or novel to add to the mix, please feel free to enlighten me in the comments, and in the meantime, enjoy yourself a merry little Christmas.

 


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Hive Monkey-Gareth L. Powell

hive-monkey-gareth-l-powellIf joining the Gestalt meant an end to loneliness, he could see how they might find doing so attractive; but it wouldn’t work for him.  He’d still be the only monkey in a sea of apes; still just as alone, however many humans he had crawling through his head, chattering away about their human feelings, and human problems.

Reynolds could go fuck himself.

Source: Netgalley (review copy)

Publisher: Solaris Books

Publication Date: December 31, 2013

It’s been a year since the events of Ack-Ack Macaque and our simian anti-hero is finding life outside the game to be a bit of a reality check.  Back in the VR universe he was alpha primate, a virtually indestructible ball of wise cracking fur with itchy trigger fingers.  Never defeated, nigh indestructible, he took on all comers with ease and fought the good fight for King and Country with nary a thought of the future.  Released from his virtual prison, Ack-Ack managed to save the real world from the nefarious plans of Queen Alyssa Célestine and her cult of the Undying.  But that was a year ago, and now Ack-Ack finds himself lacking a purpose.  Without the constant excitement of eternal combat that his time in the game provided, he’s been reduced to piloting Victoria Valois’ airship Tereshkova from place to place and spending his spare time reminiscing the glory days while flying around in an antique Spitfire.  For a macaque of action, the doldrums of this new reality are taking a toll, as is the realization that he’s an anomaly.  As the only sentient monkey on earth, he feels very much alone.  Alone—and horny.

When approached by a spokesman of the Gestalt, a cyber-cult whose members have wirelessly connected their gelware to create a collective “hive mind”, he’s torn between two thoughts.  The first—to accept their offer in the hope union with the Gestalt might alleviate his loneliness.  The second—to tell them to go fuck themselves while flinging some poo.  Finding the balance, Ack-Ack rejects their overture with a sucker punch and assumes that’s all she wrote.  Cultists being cultists however, they refuse his refusal, pursuing his membership with a most cult-like determination.

Meanwhile, a down and out Science Fiction writer by the name of William Cole is struggling to cope with the loss of his wife Marie and failing horribly.  He’s in a downward spiral, fueling his grief with drugs and alcohol.  But when someone takes a shot at him outside his apartment, his instinctive impulse is still self-preservation, all flight—no fight.  Hours later he’s in Victoria Valois’ cabin aboard the Tereshkova, begging asylum so he can flee to the relative safety of the sky.  That relative safety proves very short lived.  After a confrontation with a dying stowaway to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance, Cole finds himself embroiled in a cold war that literally crosses universes, unlikely ally of both Ack-Ack and Victoria as they attempt to stop the Gestalt from hatching a plot, which if successful, will have consequences for the collective individuality of humanity—including the daughter he never had.

With Hive Monkey, Gareth L. Powell has once again written a novel that is not what it seems at first glance.  There’s hidden depth to his story of a hard drinking, hard fighting monkey, and it manifests itself in several themes that are there for the reader to see if they take the time to look.  If I were to sum it up in one sentence, Hive Monkey is an exploration of the individual’s perception of reality. It’s also an exploration of the idea of reality itself, whether it is Ack-Ack, whose consciousness began in the virtual and was then transported to the real, or Paul, Victoria’s ex-husband, whose essence, his “soul” as it were, was transported to the virtual when his body died.  In the first novel, the cult of the Undying wanted to evolve beyond their physical bodies, attaining immortality by creating a virtual society that would interact with reality by means of artificial bodies.  This time around, the Gestalt wants to do away with individual consciousness and live in a shared reality.  This underlying them of alternate/parallel realities is woven throughout the architecture of these first two books of Powell’s triptych. 

Now the idea of a Hive mind is not new to science fiction, the obvious comparison being the Borg Collective of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, or the alien parasites of Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. However, Powell has managed to put his personal stamp on the idea, right down to the creepy Mr. Roarke outfits the Gestalt wear. Their technological superiority is explained by their ability to act as a bunch of parallel processing computers, their adaptability to most situations by their common awareness, and their interest in Ack-Ack the result of—well, you’ll find out.  Then there’s the name, “Gestalt” whose definition, “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts,” explains their desire to collectivize the universe.

While reviewing Ack-Ack Macaque, I mentioned the care Powell took regarding world building.  He created an alternate future that bore much similarity to the one we inhabit, while introducing features that suggest the road less travelled.  From dirigibles becoming the dominant form of air travel to the unification of France and Britain into a greater commonwealth, Powell gives his future a unique brand of authenticity.  With Hive Monkey, he’s graduated from world building to universe building, exploring the idea of multiverse theory, a set of infinite possibilities resulting from our everyday decisions  Ack-Ack’s universe parallels our own with significant differences, just as that of Bill Cole’s (William’s doppelganger) is both parallel to yet significantly different from both.

As for the mild (and only) complaint that the previous novel’s villain didn’t have enough stage time to be fully fleshed out, I’m glad to see that it’s been addressed more than adequately this time around.  After all, we’ve met this villain before without realizing it and his motivation is all the more understandable for it.  It also helps that just as you think you’ve got a hold on what’s going on, Powell throws in a delightful twist that shakes up both Ack-Ack and the reader.

Now I’m not sure if I’m perhaps reading too much subtext into this novel, but I will say this: If you’re simply looking for a fun adventure with some bizarre yet compelling characters, then this book is for you.  If however, you’re looking for something with a little more depth to it, a sci-fi novel that’s more than what it seems, then this is also the book for you.  Whether it be an exploration of our perceptions or simply a fun shoot-em-up, Powell has managed to find the balance between thoughtful existentialism and pulp adventure.

Hive Monkey is the second of a trilogy beginning with Ack-Ack Macaque and ending in the forthcoming Macaque Attack. It will be released in the United Kingdom December 14th and in Canada on December 31st.  Gareth L. Powell maintains a blog at garethlpowell.com and both he and Ack-Ack Macaque can be found pontificating on Twitter.

B+

Amazon teams up with Her Majesty’s Secret Service

No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to buy!

Good news for fans of Ian Fleming’s classic James Bond novels.  Yesterday, Amazon confirmed that they’ve entered into a partnership with Ian Fleming Publications to license North American publication of the original 007 novels for the next ten years, both print and ebook.

From the release:

“The agreement for the 14 classic James Bond titles includes the first  James Bond book in the series, Casino Royale (1953)–which will celebrate 60 years of publication in 2013–as well as Live and Let Die (1954); Moonraker (1955); Diamonds Are Forever (1956); From  Russia with Love (1957); Dr. No (1958); Goldfinger (1959); For your Eyes Only (1960); Thunderball (1961); The Spy Who Loved Me (1962); On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963); You Only Live Twice (1964); The Man With The Golden Gun (1965) and Octopussy and the Living Daylights (1966). Since their first publication the books have sold over 100 million copies worldwide and have been the inspiration behind the world’s longest-running film franchise.”

Great news, especially for Kindle owners!

Of course, the Bond saga didn’t end with Ian Fleming’s death.  Several authors have since taken up the reins and one in particular has had his license renewed.  John Gardner wrote a further 16 Bond novels between 1981 and 1996 and Pegasus books began reissuing them as of October, 2011.

 No news yet (at least as far as I’m aware) of ebook versions.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the eBook Revolution

It seems like you couldn’t look at a book blog the past week without seeing a post on Amazon’s recent press release, noting that they’re now selling more Kindle books than print books. From their  May 19, 2011 press release:

  • Since April 1, for every 100 print books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books. This includes sales of hardcover and paperback books by Amazon where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
  • So far in 2011, the tremendous growth of Kindle book sales, combined with the continued growth in Amazon’s print book sales, have resulted in the fastest year-over-year growth rate for Amazon’s U.S. books business, in both units and dollars, in over 10 years. This includes books in all formats, print and digital. Free books are excluded in the calculation of growth rates.
  • In the five weeks since its introduction, Kindle with Special Offers for only $114 is already the bestselling member of the Kindle family in the U.S.
  • Amazon sold more than 3x as many Kindle books so far in 2011 as it did during the same period in 2010.
  • Less than one year after introducing the UK Kindle Store, Amazon.co.uk is now selling more Kindle books than hardcover books, even as hardcover sales continue to grow. Since April 1, Amazon.co.uk customers are purchasing Kindle books over hardcover books at a rate of more than 2 to 1.

Pretty amazing, considering the Kindle has only been around since 2007.  Revolutionary even.  Of course, every revolution has its casualties and the eBook revolution looks to continue that trend.  There will be repercussions for the publishing industry, retailers, and eventually the consumer.  Let’s explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of the rise of the ebook.

The Good:

  • Ebooks look like they’re here to stay, either in physical format (Kindle, Nook, Kobo et al) or as apps on other platforms such as the Apple iPad or Blackberry Playbook.  Great news for those of us who jumped on the bandwagon early.  No more worries about “niche” markets or disappearing fads.
  • Now that eBooks are no longer unproven technology to publishers, maybe they’ll take a look through the back catalogs and transfer some if not all of their out of print titles to digital format.  It’s always frustrating to hear of a good book only to find that you’ll have to pay through the nose to acquire a rare copy or to find that only selected books in a series have been translated to digital format.  Just recently I was looking for Flashman by George MacDonald Frasier and discovered that the original is not available on Kindle but Flashman and the Tiger is.  (Book eleven?  Really?!)
  • eBooks are discounted in comparison to physical print.  Generally, a new release hardcover costs the same as a pocket novel when bought in eBook format.  The consumer gets a break, and the publisher certainly doesn’t have the overhead that they would with print and shipping costs.
  • It’s much easier for anyone to publish a book.  No more book agents, rejection letters, etc.  Simply write your book, pay your fees to have it digitized, set your price and go.  eBooks could lead to greater variety at lower prices.

The Bad:

  • It’s much easier for anyone to publish a book.  Think about that for a second.  Bad writing, bad or nonexistent editing, spelling errors–publishers have editors work with aspiring and established writers for a reason.  Sifting through a lot of crap to find that rare gem is not something to look forward to.
  •  How is this going to affect editors, literary agents and publishers as a whole?  They’ll still be working with authors to bring product to market, but many authors will forgo their services and self publish in hope of garnering a greater return.  After all, why take a percentage when you can take the whole thing (minus your own minimal costs)?  Furthermore, will literary agents become redundant?  Remember, it was only a few years ago that travel agents were a real thing. (Okay, technically they’re still around.  Used one lately?)

The Ugly:

  • Now that retailers such as Amazon have a foothold on the market, will they (and the publishers) still feel the need to sell eBooks at a reduced price?  One of the biggest draws of eBooks (for me) is their affordability, but as eBooks proliferate the market, what’s to stop the prices from slowly increasing until they are comparable to physical print?
  • Physical print–with the increased pressure of eBook sales and diminished interest in a physical product–will book prices increase?  Will print runs become shorter (and therefore more expensive) due to reduced demand?  Who’s going to pick up that greater expense?
  • What of brick and mortar book stores?  Are they going to go the route of the video store?
  • Technically, you don’t own an eBook, you lease it.  Libraries have already run into problems with publishers who want them to pay up again (re-“lease” their titles) after a certain number of reads.
  • Finally, how long will retailers maintain your eBook catalog?  Say Amazon has a couple of bad years and ends up in bankruptcy.  Then what?

This is all conjecture for the moment.  The industry is too new and the numbers too fluid to make anything but predictions, however, just like any revolution, the eBook revolution will radically transform the publishing industry in a very short period of time. 

 *For further reading on the subject, try John Steele Gordon’s article, ” The End of the Book?”  at the American or a really interesting article by Narasu Rebbapragada at PC World entitled, “E-Book Prices Fuel Outrage–and Innovation.”

Kobo Ereader gets a Touch of Fidelity

Kobo eReader Touch

Awhile back I read through Kevin Maney’s Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t, an interesting discussion of the conflicting forces that either spell success or failure of a new product or service.  It all comes down to the battle between fidelity (the quality of a consumer’s experience) and convenience (ease of use and price point).  With Kobo’s launch of their new Kobo eReader Touch, they look to be attempting both an eReader  that surpasses the Amazon Kindle in fidelity,or “coolness factor,” while retaining a convenient price point.  Engadget has a nice little review here.

So, advantage Kobo, right?

Well, hang on a second.  You wouldn’t assume the people at Amazon are snoozing at the wheel, would you?  Rumours persist that Amazon is poised to launch their own nifty new touch screen device in the form of a Tablet later this year.   Technology Review has some neat talking points about what the screen might be like and Daemon’s Books has a brief post on how they might market it. 

Getting back to the fidelity vs. convenience argument, the question remains, will Amazon try to trump Kobo (and hey, maybe take a run at the Blackberry Playbook and Apple iPad?) or create a touch screen just slightly cooler than Kobo’s at a similar price with maybe an App or two thrown in?

Psst….I think you should take this call…it’s the President!

“I really think you should take this call.”

And the controversy over ebook lending continues:

 
In another article on the subject of HarperCollins new restrictions on ebook licensing (specifically targeting library lending), Library Journal columnist Michael Kelley recounts Roberta Stevens (American Library Association president) criticisms of the new policy.  From the ALA’s statement regarding HarperCollins decision to limit licenses to 26 viewings before renewal:
 
     “Libraries have a long history of providing access to knowledge, information and the creative written works of authors…We are committed to equal and free access for the millions of people who depend on their library’s resources every day. While demand has surged, financial support has decreased. The announcement, at a time when libraries are struggling to remain open and staffed, is of grave concern. This new limitation means that fewer people will have access to an increasingly important format for delivering information.”
 
She furthermore vowed to work closely with publishers:
 
     “Crafting 21st century solutions for equitable access to information while ensuring authors and publishers have a fair return on their investments is our common goal. The transition to the e-book format should not result in less availability…The marketplace for e-books is changing rapidly. We encourage publishers to look to libraries as a vehicle to reach and grow diverse audiences.”
 
As of this posting, HarperCollins has not changed their position regarding ebook licensing, namely that they’re acting in the interests of the authors and that ebook licensing in perpetuity will result in a reduced profit stream for both publishing houses and authors.  They maintain that the “26 and out” policy is the most equitable way of solving the problem.
 
Frequent readers of this blog (btw, Thanks Mom!) may be wondering by now why I keep coming back to this issue.  After all, I’m not a librarian, and frankly, the last time I was in a library was to rent a movie. (psst…you can rent them all you want)   So, why should this issue matter to you, or me, or any ebook reader that doesn’t use the library?
 
Simply put…look to the future!
 
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wake up five years from now, pull out my Kindle 5.0 (Now with Holographic display!) and find that half my digital books are no longer there because all the while some virtual doomsday clock is counting down the seconds until my licenses are considered “expired.”  Furthermore, with the advent of such policies as Amazon Kindle’s new lending feature, who’s to say that publishers won’t institute a similar policy for the general public?
 
To quote a hackneyed phrase, “It’s in Revelation, people!”

Lockout! HarperCollins ebooks to be banned from Libraries?

Never Mess with a Librarian

Well, it looks like messing with Librarian’s isn’t the cakewalk HarperCollins expected it to be.

As of March 7, 2011, several library consortia have decided to suspend any future purchases of ebook licenses from HarperCollins as a direct result of the publisher’s recent decision to enact a license limit of 26 check-outs on ebook titles.

In an article by Michael Kelley that can be found at Library Journal (sorry guys, I know I keep cribbing from you, but who else has the best info on Library news?), the response and concerns regarding HarperCollins actions are chronicled.  Predictably, they’re not happy.  From Joan Kuklinski, executive director of the Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing Consortium:

“The library model has always been you purchase and own it for perpetuity, and I don’t think the format should matter as long as rights are being protected,” she told LJ. “No one tells a library they have to pull their books off the shelf after a certain number of circulations so why should this be different? They are looking at consortia as a threat, and it’s totally the wrong approach,” she said.

Directors of the Upper Hudson Library system have also decided to no longer buy their ebook titles from HarperCollins, calling the decision “patently ridiculous” (oh, fun with puns!) while several other consortiums have hopped on the bandwagon (read the article, I can’t crib everything!).

The best argument against such an arbitrary move is Adri Edwards-Johnson (coordinator of the Virtual Library) video demonstrating that print books have a much longer shelf life than HarperCollins is claiming.  Ouch, awkward moment for the publisher.

So, there we have it.  In their efforts to secure an ongoing profit stream from ebook sales to libraries for themselves, and by extension, the authors they’re claiming to represent, HarperCollins has managed to ensure that neither they nor their authors will see a cent until this issue is resolved.  Furthermore, they’ve managed to damage their brand

I doubt we’ve heard the last of this issue, and suspect that some sort of accommodation will eventually be worked out, but for the moment, it looks like HarperCollins is locked out.