Science fiction Mistressworks

Paul Raven @ 16-03-2011

The science fiction fans among you are probably familiar with Gollancz’s long-running Masterworks series, which collects some of the greatest novels of the genre and keeps them in print, sometimes long after their original publication. It’s a great collection, but it is – as so many curated collections of excellence still are – more than a little thin on female authors; in an attempt to redress that imbalance, Ian Sales is compiling a list of science fiction Mistressworks from Twitter suggestions. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve only heard of maybe half the writers mentioned, and actually read hardly any of them… but noting an absence is the first stage of filling it, and a list like that is a great opportunity to discover new wonders.

What books and/or authors would you add to Sales’s list? Call ’em out in the comments!


Clarke Award shortlist, 2011

Paul Raven @ 04-03-2011

In case you’ve not seen it already, the shortlist for the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award is out in the wild. The six titles that made the cut this year:

  • Zoo City – Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
  • The Dervish House – Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
  • Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness (Walker Books)
  • Generosity – Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
  • Declare – Tim Powers (Corvus)
  • Lightborn – Tricia Sullivan (Orbit)

A pleasingly diverse selection, with a few of the inevitable surprises. I’ve only read one and a half of them, as it happens (I got halfway through Lightborn before being distracted by other priorities, though I do intend to return to it), but I read more of the complete list of submitted titles than usual this year.

Anyone care to call which way they think it’ll go?


Rumours of the novel’s death, etc etc

Paul Raven @ 25-10-2010

I guess we’re gonna keep hearing this particular riff until the day they close the last printing press on the planet, but hey – the handwringing of the literati never gets old, right? [via BigThink]

The tyranny of choice is a near-universal digital lament. But for literary authors, at least, what comes with the territory is an especially barbed species of uncertainty. Take the award-winning novelist and poet Blake Morrison, perhaps best-known for his memoir And When Did You Last See Your Father? “I try to be positive about new technology,” he told me, “but I worry about what’s going to happen to poetry books and literary novels once e-readers have taken over from print. Will they survive the digital revolution? Or will the craving for interactivity drive them to extinction? I’ve not written anything for a year, and part of the reason may be a loss of confidence about the future of literary culture as I’ve known it.”

Great solution, Mr Morrison, very Gen X of you: can’t win, so why try? Put In Utero on your stereo, stare out of the window for a while, read some Doug Coupland; that’s sure to work. Literary novels have long made genre’s sales figures look epic by comparison, and poetry – in its written-and-printed form, at any rate – has been in recession since before I was born. Horse, barn door, yadda yadda; bit late to be worrying about relevance, really.

Snark aside, the rest of the article is actually a pretty decent “what’s coming down the pike” sort of piece; not a great number of new ideas in there (at least not to me, and probably not to most regulars here at Futurismic), but a good synthesis of the current state-of-play:

Above all, the translation of books into digital formats means the destruction of boundaries. Bound, printed texts are discrete objects: immutable, individual, lendable, cut off from the world. Once the words of a book appear onscreen, they are no longer simply themselves; they have become a part of something else. They now occupy the same space not only as every other digital text, but as every other medium too. Music, film, newspapers, blogs, videogames—it’s the nature of a digital society that all these come at us in parallel, through the same channels, consumed simultaneously or in seamless sequence.

Personally, I see this as a liberation for the novel, though I’d be a fool to deny it’ll be hugely transformative.

There are new possibilities in this, many of them marvellous. As the internet has amply illustrated, words shorn of physical restrictions can instantly travel the world and be searched, shared, adapted and updated at will. Yet when it comes to words that aim to convey more than information and opinions, and to books in particular, a paradoxical process of constriction is also taking place. For alongside what Morrison calls “the craving for interactivity,” a new economic and cultural structure is arriving that has the power to dismantle many of those roles great written works have long played: as critiques, inspirations, consciences, entertainments, educations, acts of witness and awakening, and much more.

Which isn’t so much the death of the novel as it is the death of pre-digital hierarchical culture itself, really; the novel is but a small appendage of that withering body.

The strength of the article is that it admits what many of the others seem to shy away from: that the publishing landscape has been changing for a long time, and this is just the latest phase of that inherently market-driven mutation. Long tail ahoy!

This interplay is highly significant within a book market that—even leaving aside the torrent of self-publishing that digital technology permits—has become increasingly crowded and top-heavy. In 2009, more books were published in Britain than in any previous year in history: over 133,000. And yet just 500 authors, less than half of 1 per cent, were responsible for a third of all sales. The situation is an order of magnitude more extreme than that of 30 years ago, when fewer than 50,000 books appeared. In America, one out of every 17 novels bought since 2006 has been written by the crime novelist James Patterson.

This simultaneous increase in the diversity of titles and the concentration of profits among a small number of “super authors” is of a piece with cultural trends elsewhere. And Patterson’s success—in 2009 he netted a reported $70m (£44m) from writing—is both an emblem of how the book trade has changed during several decades of corporate consolidation, and of how it is likely to continue evolving.

Patterson’s “writing” process pretty much buries any romantic notion of the novelist as pure artist; that’s not to say he doesn’t care about what comes out under his name, but he’s realised that there’s a certain direction he can head in that will net him more money than the others. Nothing to stop you or Blake Morrison writing literary novels and poetry, of course; you just need to accept that, like the few buggy-whip manufacturers still in business, you’re catering to a niche, and as such your annual balance sheets aren’t going to look like those of General Motors.

And if anything, the ubiquity and portability of the written word in a networked world makes your chances of finding an audience much higher than the days when dead-tree was your only option. Granted, turning a profit from that audience is a trick that awaits perfecting… but it’ll come.

Lots more good stuff in that piece, so go read.


My book is out, and I’m giving it away–the sequel!

Edward Willett @ 04-05-2009

Terra Insegura resized Paul recently accused me of being too modest to promote myself here on Futurismic, but this should prove him wrong!

My latest science fiction novel, Terra Insegura, is out from DAW Books tomorrow, and to promote it, I’m running a month-long giveaway at my blog (details here). You’re welcome to enter over there, but as I did last year for Marseguro, I’m also offering a special for Futurismic readers only.

Email me at edward(at)edwardwillett.com and put “Futurismic contest” in the subject line, and I’ll enter you in a Futurismic-only draw. The first name drawn receives a copy of Terra Insegura, and the second name drawn a copy of last year’s Aurora Award-nominated Marseguro. (I’ll only ask for mailing information from the winners after they win, and don’t worry: I’ll ship anywhere in the world.)

I’ll keep this draw open for two weeks, closing it at midnight GMT on Sunday, May 17.

And just a reminder: you can read the first two chapters of the book and/or listen to me read them on my website.

We now return you to your regular Futurismic programming.

(Image: Cover art by Stephan Martiniere.)

[tags]Edward Willett,science fiction, books, novels, contests[/tags]


Self-publish and be damned? The modern writer’s dilemma

Paul Raven @ 24-03-2009

Damien G Walter has been thinking about self-publishing, reassessing the established wisdom that self-publication is de facto a bad thing.

To date, self publishing has been a bad idea. People without the necessary skills and experience full prey to vanity publishers. Writers with some talent but who are still learning can expose their work too soon. Excellent writing can find itself swamped among the dross that is self published every year and no one bothers to go looking for it. The general wisdom on self publishing for anyone who aspires to become a professional author has been… don’t.

Walter goes on to point out that the landscape has changed somewhat in recent years, with rising stars such as John Scalzi and Kelly Link owing some portion of their success to self-publication of one stripe or another, and with the publishing industry suffering at the hands of market forces.

The main argument against self-publication is that it usually results in work that will harm the author’s reputation: rip-off vanity press jobs, or simply work that isn’t ready for publication which would have benefited from more revision and/or editorial input. These problems apply more to the beginning author, though; the point has been made before that an author with the stature of Stephen King could probably self-publish with a great deal of success (not to mention a bigger profit margin). But the principle appeal of self-publishing for a new author with genuine skill is the opportunity to start building an audience and having readers engage with the work… and that’s not so easy a benefit to dismiss.

Walter concludes:

If the general wisdom about self publishing has been ‘don’t’, its likely that wisdom may change to ‘do – but with great caution’. There has always been a role for self publishing, but as that role grows, the provisos that accompany self publishing will grow all the more important. Authors will need to be aware that self publishing means more than just having a book printed. It means being an editor, a distributor and a marketer of your own work. It means investing in yourself in exactly the way a good publisher invests in their authors, whilst taking the risks a good publisher also takes. It means understanding the arc of your own career as a writer in the same depth that good editors and agents do. And most of all it means having an honest and accurate understanding of the quality of your own writing, maybe the hardest thing of all.

For most self publishing will continue to be a mistake, but for writers with enough talent and determination it is already becoming an important part of building a readership, one that for many writers it will be a mistake to simply dismiss.

For what it’s worth, my work as a music reviewer has exposed me to a similar evolution in the music business; it’s easier than it has ever been for a band or soloist to record their work and make it available to anyone. As with writing, many of them jump the gun and release before their work is up to a standard where it can survive against product recorded and promoted by the established labels… but there are the occasional success stories, be they out-of-nowhere newcomers or established acts turning their backs on an exploitative  system.

This contrasts with our recent post on comics self-publishing, where Jim Munroe pointed out that the stigma against self-published works in the comics field is minimal by comparison to the literary field, and suggests that it may be because it’s easier to discern the quality of comics ‘at a glance’.

Will we see a change in attitude toward self-publishing in years to come? I think it’s inevitable, though it will take time… and the sheer mass of terrible self-published work (much of which Futurismic receives email about on a daily basis, I might add) will do much to slow it.

But economics may provide an accelerating force; all bets are off on how things will look in five years’ time. So, writers in the audience – published or otherwise – have you self-published, or considered doing so? And what factors influenced your decision?


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