Quirk Books is looking for Bloggers!

Quirk Books wants You!

Quirk Books wants You!

Over the past few years, I’ve managed to enjoy and review several titles by Quirk Books.  From Night of the Living Trekkies (a delightfully morbid look at sci-fi conventions) to the adventures of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Quirk Books has always had, well–I guess the right word would be, “quirky”, take on whatever genre they tackle.  I have yet to be disappointed by a Quirk title.

They also maintain a blog on their site, and a couple of weeks ago it came to my attention that they’re looking for a few good bloggers.

Now there are a few conditions.  You must:

* Be passionate about books.

* Have a decent presence on major social media networks. Twitter, Facebook, etc.

* Be willing to promote your posts on those networks.

Doesn’t sound like an onerous list of requirements.  And–it’s a paying gig!

So, if you’ve got similar tastes in reading and a desire to both write and be read, why not drop them an email (see the above link) and see if you’re a good fit?

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Memories of Futures Past

“To the Moon, Alice!”

Ever wanted to read some classic Science Fiction yet been unable to find a copy of your favourite author’s work?  I myself have been fruitlessly looking for a copy of E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensmen series for a while now.  Or, say you’re a fan of Murray Leinster.  His works are out there, but few and far between.

Well, someone’s decided to make sure that visions of future past don’t disappear into history. The good people over at engadget have a nice little profile of a bookstore in New York (Brooklyn to be specific) whose proprietors have dedicated themselves to bringing lost and out of copyright Science Fiction back into the mainstream.

Singularity&Co have dedicated themselves to:

Save the SCIFI!

Singularity&Co. is a team of time traveling archivists longing for futures past. 

Each month, our subscribers help us choose a vintage, out of print scifi book to rescue (with the rightsholders’ permission).  We’re bringing forgotten 20th century scifi into the 21st.

They’ve dedicated themselves to scanning rare and classic Science Fiction books into a digital format and then releasing them as ebooks.  If you’re an  aficionado of classic SciFi, these are the people to watch!

(Thanks to Mat Smith at engadget)

The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu–Sax Rohmer.

A few months ago I was trolling the web in search of reading material when I came across a listing for the re-release of Sax Rohmer’s The Mystery of  Dr. Fu Manchu by Titan Books.  After a look at the very pulpy cover art, I said to myself, “okay, I think I might check this out.”  However, already having a free copy (see project Gutenberg’s website for a free download) of The Insidious Dr Fu Manchu, I decided to go the cheap (free) route and see what was there. 

Note to readers–The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu is the same book, with an odd title change for American audiences–why they did that is beyond me.  However, I was not around in 1913 to question the publisher, so whatever, I can live with that.

The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu is the story of Denis Nayland Smith, formerly of Scotland Yard and now an agent of the crown, tasked with bringing to justice and/or thwarting the sinister plans of Fu Manchu, a Chinese agent who has left a trail of crime and death from the shores of Burma to the waters of the Thames.  A master assassin, thief and alchemist, Fu Manchu leads a criminal regime tasked with undermining the Western Powers (specifically the British Empire) to the benefit of his Chinese homeland.

Smith enlists the help of his old friend Dr. Petrie, and the two embark on a series of adventures with the help of Scotland Yard and the irrepressible Inspector Weymouth that invariably lead to their being outwitted by Fu Manchu, the man  Smith continually refers to as one of the greatest criminal minds the world has ever seen.

And that, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with this novel.  I went in looking to Nayland Smith and Watson…err, Petrie, as worthy hunters of the good(bad) doctor, instead finding a couple of heroes that continually bumble around throughout the entire novel, only getting close to the villain with the (inexplicable) help of one of Fu Manchu’s own henchmen (in this case, Karamaneh, a beautiful and alluring Arabic girl held in thrall to Fu Manchu by way of threats to her immediate family).

There are decent moments, ones where Nayland-Smith actually uses deductive reasoning to solve the riddle of how a man can break into a seemingly impenitrable room and safe leaving nary a clue, but too much of the novel relies on him remembering “facts” from earlier cases rather than examination of the evidence around him.  There is also much too much reliance on lovely Karamaneh, whose sole purpose seems to be to lead the two sleuths around by the nose.  Every time Rohmer writes himself into a corner, Karamaneh mysteriously shows up and points the way forward.  She is deus ex machina personified, and (to me) a lazy way of progressing the novel.

The book is not without its merits–Fu Manchu (the original caricature of the “Yellow Peril“) is a delightful addition to the pantheon of super villains.  Using his considerable intellect and preferred method of assasination (various exotic poisons) Fu Manchu is a master manipulator and a delightfully cunning villain.  Too bad he does not have a worthy adversary.

I think the biggest disappointment of the novel is that Fu Manchu does not figure more prominently in the novel.  He and his methods are alluded to time and again, but the reader only meets him personally a number of times, and even then, only briefly.  I will say that his escape from authorities closing in on his lair is brilliant, and gives a greater understanding of the character’s essential evil than anything up to that point.  It’s also what saved the novel for me.

Of course, be forewarned of some obviously racist mindsets while reading this novel.  1913 was a very different time, and, Rohmer’s characters are not in any way politically correct.

The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu  (C+)

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.”

The Meowmorphosis: Coming to a shelf near you.

 “Gregor’s future is a bit fuzzy.”

For those of you who’ve always been a little squeamish about bugs and therefore unable to appreciate Kafka’s  Metamorphosis, you’ve stumbled into a bit of luck.  Quirk Classics fully appreciates your fears and has endeavoured to do something about it.  They commissioned Cook Coleridge  to add a bit of fluff (of the furball variety) to Kafka’s tail…er, tale?

The Meowmorphosis, on shelves May 10, 2011.

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.