Cory Doctorow lays down his not-actually-a-manifesto

Paul Raven @ 06-10-2010

The more famous Cory Doctorow gets, the more people try to knock him down. I’m quite fond of him myself (he’s very charming in person, if somewhat perpetually part-distracted*), but while I’m not going to argue any sort of superhero status for the guy (I’ll leave that to Randall Munroe), when it comes to puncturing the poor arguments of his most vocal critics, he’s got undeniable flair. Witness his recent retort to an article that accused him and other net notables of profiteering from their “evangelism” of “free” business models for creatives, which also acts as a pretty good summary of the state of the artistic marketplace and the ongoing copyright wars. A few snippets:

What should other artists do? Well, I’m not really bothered. The sad truth is that almost everything almost every artist tries to earn money will fail. This has nothing to do with the internet, of course. Consider the remarkable statement from Alanis Morissette’s attorney at the Future of Music Conference: 97% of the artists signed to a major label before Napster earned $600 or less a year from it. And these were the lucky lotto winners, the tiny fraction of 1% who made it to a record deal. Almost every artist who sets out to earn a living from art won’t get there (for me, it took 19 years before I could afford to quit my day job), whether or not they give away their work, sign to a label, or stick it through every letterbox in Zone 1.

If you’re an artist and you’re interested in trying to give stuff away to sell more, I’ve got some advice for you, as I wrote here – I think it won’t hurt and it could help, especially if you’ve got some other way, like a label or a publisher, to get people to care about your stuff in the first place.

But I don’t care if you want to attempt to stop people from copying your work over the internet, or if you plan on building a business around this idea. I mean, it sounds daft to me, but I’ve been surprised before.

[…]

I understand perfectly well what you’re saying in your column: people who give away some of their creative output for free in order to earn a living are the exception. Most artists will fail at this. What’s more, their dirty secret is their sky-high appearance fees – they don’t really earn a creative living at all. But authors have been on the lecture circuit forever – Dickens used to pull down $100,000 for US lecture tours, a staggering sum at the time. This isn’t new – authors have lots to say, and many of us are secret extroverts, and quite enjoy the chance to step away from our desks to talk about the things we’re passionate about.

But you think that anyone who talks up their success at giving away some work to sell other work is peddling fake hope. There may be someone out there who does this, but it sure isn’t me. As I’ve told all of my writing students, counting on earning a living from your work, no matter how you promote it or release it, is a bad idea. All artists should have a fallback plan for feeding themselves and their families. This has nothing to do with the internet – it’s been true since the days of cave paintings.

I believe the appropriate phrase is “zing”.

[ * After appearing on a panel with Cory at Eastercon 2008, to which he managed to contribute more thoughts and ideas than the rest of us put together despite busily battering away at a netbook at the same time, a friend from the audience suggested a hypothetical version of posthuman bear-baiting: the game would simply involve installing Cory within a Faraday cage that blocked all wi-fi and phone signals, and then betting on how long it would be before he spontaneously combusted from sheer frustration… ]


Must-read writer interview: Ted Chiang

Paul Raven @ 23-07-2010

Ted Chiang may not be the most prolific sf short story writer ever, but you’d be hard pressed to find many folk who wouldn’t concede that he’s one of the best. So go check out this interview with him at BoingBoing if you haven’t already… here’s a snippet where Chiang describes his writing process, which is rather about-face by comparison to those I’ve heard from other writers, though it makes a compelling sort of sense:

In general, if there’s an idea I’m interested in, I usually think about that for a long time and write down my speculations or just ideas about how it could become a story, but I don’t actually start writing the story itself until I know how the story ends. Typically the first part of the story that I write is the very ending, either the last paragraph of the story or a paragraph near the end. Once I have the destination in mind then I can build the rest of the story around that or build the rest of the story in such a way as to lead up to that. Usually the second thing I write is the opening of the story and then I write the rest of the story in almost random order. I just keep writing scenes until I’ve connected the beginning and the end. I write the key scenes or what I think of as the landmark scenes first, and then I just fill in backwards and forwards.

Good interview: go read. And when you’ve finished it, go read some Ted Chiang stories if you haven’t already. And if you have, why not read ’em again?


Jason Stoddard gets hardback publication deal on two Creative Commons novels

Paul Raven @ 12-05-2009

Jason Stoddard's Winning Mars (Creative Commons edition cover art)Well, this is the sort of announcement that makes the hard work of running a webzine worthwhile! Jason Stoddard, a regular fixture in Futurismic‘s fiction section (and a genuinely super guy to boot) has sold two novels to genre fiction small press Prime Books, an outfit that publishes novels by fine writers such as Nick Mamatas and Ekaterina Sedia and anthologies by editors including Rich Horton and John Joseph Adams.

That would be worthy of celebration as it stands, but there’s an extra angle that makes Stoddard’s deal unusual – both novels have already been released for free under Creative Commons licenses. Let’s let Jason explain:

In a phrase, completely unexpectedly. Sean contacted me to see if Winning Mars and Eternal Franchise were available. I did a quick google of Sean’s name and company, saw that he was an established small press that worked with solid authors, and sent a quick email back saying yes, the books were available, but that both had been released into the wild. I fully expected the typical publisher reaction: you killed them there books, son, when you released ’em. But no. Sean has to go and restore my faith in humanity and the publishing industry.

On behalf of Futurismic, I’d like to roundly congratulate Jason on this great news, and Sean Wallace for taking this unusual step; it’s a vindication of Creative Commons licensing, and it’s a publisher picking up a writer in whom I have great faith. I’m proud that Futurismic got to be part of Jason’s journey to publication – Chris and I have seen many writers whose stories we’ve published here go on to bigger and better things, and I hope there will be more to come in the future.

Which means the final thank-you goes to you, the readers – it’s your attention and love of good fiction that brings great writers to our door. Keep reading – together, we can find more of them. 🙂

If you’ve not read any of Jason’s work before (or if you simply feel the need to reacquaint yourself with it), all his Futurismic publications are tagged with his name. Enjoy!


J G Ballard – 15th November 1930 to 19th April 2009

Paul Raven @ 20-04-2009

J G BallardAs you’ve probably already heard elsewhere, legendary New Wave sf author J G Ballard died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. There’s a decent obituary at the Daily Telegraph, and Jeff VanderMeer has posted an appreciation of the man at the Amazon Omnivoracious blog. [image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Regular readers may have noticed that I very rarely mark the passing of famous writers here at Futurismic, principally because I feel it would be crass to do so when I don’t really have much to say about them; I’m poorly read in the classics of the genre, and such things are better left to those closer to a writer’s oeuvre.

Ballard, however, is one of the giants of the scene with whose work I am fairly familiar, and whose work also played a large part in shaping the way I see things – in science fiction, and in reality as well. Comments and blog posts describing him as a sort of prophet are appearing in great number, and allowing for the hyperbole that such occasions tend to provoke, I think that’s a fair comment. Alongside Philip K Dick, whose style and approach was admittedly very different, Ballard was writing the world we now live in… half a century ago.

A very smart man, and – as VanderMeer puts it – a truly fearless writer. My world feels a little smaller for his absence.


Ruth Nestvold interview at Nebula Awards site

Paul Raven @ 08-04-2009

We try our best to keep an eye on the careers of the authors we publish at Futurismic; thankfully it’s usually made easy by them swiftly moving on to selling stories to bigger and better markets, getting a book contract, or accruing award nominations… or sometimes all three!

One such author is Ruth Nestvold, who is a Nebula Award nominee this year for her story “Mars: A Traveller’s Guide”. As such, the Nebula Awards site has an new interview with her, of which the following is a snippet:

Between the short story and the novel, which form do you prefer and why?

I enjoy both, and at the moment I miss writing short stories, I have to admit. It’s nice to have the whole overview in my head, to complete something in a short space of time. With an epic novel like Yseult or my current project, Shadow of Stone, I can’t keep all the elements in my head at once, and I have to keep jumping backward and forward to figure what I’ve done and what I have planned. But the advantage of a novel is that you can immerse yourself in the world, both as reader and as writer. Short stories are better at delivering a punch, a quick, strong impression. I also find them better for experimenting, again both as reader and writer. The database entries I use to tell “Mars: A Traveler’s Guide” would get pretty old if they were used for a whole novel.

To get a feel for Ruth Nestvold’s short story style, go revisit her two Futurismic solo contributions – “The Other Side of Silence” and “Exit Without Saving” – and the story she co-authored with Jay Lake, “The Rivers of Eden“.


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