Leah Moore Interview

I have just uploaded the full version of the interview with Leah Moore than I made while I was in Liverpool. In addition to the material that we broadcast on Ujima Radio, this version contains a discussion of the Electricomics venture that she has started with (amongst others) her father and her husband, John Reppion, with the support of the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts.

For more information about Electricomics see their website, or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

The Digital R&D Fund for the Arts is a £7 million fund from Arts Council England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Nesta to support collaboration between arts projects, technology providers and researchers to explore the potential of increasing audience engagement or find new business models. Separate Digital R&D Fund for the Arts are being run in Wales and in Scotland.

DRD logo

Fringe Special at Word of Mouth

Once a year the BristolCon crowd takes over Word of Mouth, a monthly reading series run by Tangent Books and hosted by the Thunderbolt pub. Normally we’d put these readings on the BristolCon Fringe podcast stream, but that has limited capacity and these readings turned out to be quite long, so they are being hosted by Salon Futura instead.

The three readers are Pete Sutton, Joanne Hall and Scott Lewis. In Part 1 Pete’s story is a rare (for him) science fiction piece. Jo reads from her latest novel, The Art of Forgetting: Nomad. And Scott reads the first part of a steampunk horror story that will conclude in Part 2.

In part 2 Joanne Hall reads from a currently unsold novel, The Summer Goddess. Pete Sutton reads a story from a collection he is writing in which each story is inspired by the counting magpies folk song. Scott Lewis reads the rest of the story that he started in Part 1. It goes on a little, but we were all on the edge of our seats and encouraged Scott to read the whole thing rather than leave us wondering.

My thanks to Richard Jones of Tangent for inviting us to read, and to Dave from the Thunderbolt for being a fine host.

Åcon 7 – The Post-Colonial SF Panel

Here is the first of my podcasts from Åcon 7. It is a panel about post-colonial SF. The panelists are: Karen Lord, Sari Polvinen, Juha Tupasela & me.

I noted while editing it that I totally derailed Sari’s question about classic SF that counted as post-colonial, for which my apologies.

Tech services at Åcon are provided by Jonas Wissting to whom I am indebted for this recording.

Today On Ujima: Bristol & Slavery, plus Talking Books

Today’s show began with good and bad news. The good stuff included Nalo Hopkinson winning the Andre Norton Award for Best YA Novel of 2013 at last weekend’s Nebula Awards ceremony. It also included the really good news that Ahad & Anum Rizvi, the two young Pakistanis whose plight I highlighted last week, have been released from detention and will be having their applications for asylum reconsidered.

The bad news was that today’s programming has been dedicated to our of our regular presenters, DJ Flora, who died from cancer yesterday. She was younger than me. Because she presented a late-night show I hardly ever saw her, but many of the staff at the station were very upset about it. There’s an official tribute to her on the Ujima website.

However, the show must go on, and the first hour today was devoted to discussion of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and Bristol’s role therein. My main guest in the studio was Dr. Olivette Otele from Bath Spa University who is a well known expert in the history of slavery. Alongside her we welcomed three young people from Cotham School who were with us on a work experience placement. I’m really pleased with how it went. And thanks to Olivette we had some great music. I played Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”, Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit” (one of the most disturbing songs I know) and Louis Armstrong’s “Go Down Moses”. It was great to see the kids’ faces light up with recognition when they heard Satchmo’s voice.

The fourth piece of music was Violin Concerto #9 by Joseph Bologne, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, played by the Orchestre de Chambre, Bernard Thomas. Saint-Georges is an amazing fellow who really ought to be better known. Those of you setting books in revolutionary France should take note. I also want to see books about Nanny Maroon, one of the other amazing people that Olivette introduced us to.

The discussion includes an appeal to George Ferguson to get Bristol to do more to acknowledge, apologize for, and memorialize the city’s role in the slave trade. You can learn more about the history of Bristol’s involvement in the trade from the M-Shed website.

You can listen to the first hour of the show via Ujima’s Listen Again feature here.

I note that this was the first time I call recall having someone text the studio to tell us how much they were enjoying the show.

The second hour was given over to fiction. I had Jo Hall in the studio to promote her new novel, The Art of Forgetting: Nomad, which is being launched at Forbidden Planet, Bristol on Saturday. That was followed by an interview with Karen Lord that I had recorded during Åcon. I still have the much longer interview that Karen and I did as part of the convention program. I’m hoping to get that edited and on Salon Futura soon.

Jo got music appropriate for epic fantasy. Bat for Lashes was a no-brainer (I played “Horses of the Sun”, because I had played “Horse and I” a few weeks ago and didn’t want to repeat). The other song I chose was “Killer on the Rampage” by Eddy Grant, because I was teasing Jo about the number of people she killed off in the book. (Really, George would be proud. Whole towns massacred.) Jo’s soundtrack for the new book, which we mentioned in the show, is available here.

Karen had asked for jazz, which I was very happy to provide. I’m sorry we didn’t have time to play either track in full. The two tracks were: “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by the Cannoball Adderley Quintet; and “Stolen Moments” by Oliver Nelson.

Any discussion of SF&F on the show is liable to get into name-dropping of people we know. Jo enthused about Joe Abercrombie. I invoked Juliet McKenna when we got on the question of discoverability of women writers. And Kate Elliott needs to listen to the Karen Lord interview.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

Next week most of the show is being run by Jackie and Judeline, but I will have half an hour with Kevlin Henney talking about flash fiction. Kevlin won the flash competition run by Crimefest last weekend, which pleased me greatly.

ISF #1 Is Coming

The next issue of Roberto Mendes’ magazine, International Speculative Fiction, will be released tomorrow (there was an issue #0 in June). I’ve just been flicking through an advance copy and it looks very impressive. There are stories by Joyce Chng (Singapore), Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Philippines) and Marian Truţă (Romania). In the non-fiction department Fábio Fernandes has dug up “Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans” by Stanislaw Lem. This is a reprint of a 1975 article from Science Fiction Studies in which Lem opines that Dick is the only American SF writer worth paying attention to. Not that Dick is easy, of course. Lem notes:

Philip Dick does not lead his critics an easy life, since he does not so much play the part of a guide through his phantasmagoric worlds as he gives the impression of one lost in their labyrinth.

But then if he was an easy read he would be so much less worth reading.

Anyway, the magazine will be out tomorrow. It is free. And you can get it here. Plus, lovely cover (by Rafael Mendes).

ISF #1 cover

Requests for Publicity

I have been meaning for some time to post a proper review policy on this blog (which would basically say, “No, I will not review your book, don’t waste your time asking.”). The main reason I haven’t done so is that I suspect the requests I get for reviews are mainly from people who have just bought a list of addresses to spam and therefore would not read the policy before approaching me.

Pro tip: if you do buy a list of addresses, check it for duplicates. You may find that the price you paid per address is much higher than you thought. Also the people you email are much less likely to be sympathetic if they get several copies of your request.

And talking about pro tips, if you are a reputable organization in the publishing business, you really shouldn’t be sending out email to online magazines asking them to run free advertising for you when those magazines have advertising rates posted on their sites. And if you are targeting fiction magazines you should probably check that you do actually approach fiction magazines and not others. I’m not naming names because this appears to have been an action by an over-zealous intern, but interns do need to be watched.

Salon Futura #9

Well, that’s the last one for a while. I shall continue looking for ways to fund the magazine but, as I said in the editorial, I’m absolutely committed to getting people paid for good writing, and good art. If people are not prepared to pay for the magazine then there is no point in producing it.

Having said that, we have some great content in this issue. Alex Preston of the New Statesman weighs in on the fantasy and nihilism debate. Sam Jordison reviews one of this year’s Orange Prize nominees. And Karen dives into Jonathan Strahan’s latest anthology. I look at books by Daniel Abraham, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Lyda Morehouse. There are interviews with Liz Williams and John Clute.

This month’s Salon features John Picacio, Irene Gallo and Joe Monti talking about book covers. Joe is a former buyer for Barnes & Noble, one of those people who supposedly bullies publishers into putting particular types of covers on books. You may also want to read this blog post by Lavie Tidhar which is very relevant to the discussion.

I should note that this final issue has allowed me to do something I have wanted to do for a long time: publish something with a John Picacio cover. And that too is part of the Salon discussion, because John has given me an early draft of a cover that was rejected by the publishers.

I haven’t given up on Salon Futura yet, but clearly I have work to do if I’m going to make it a going concern. At least I have learned a few things in the past 9 months, so if I can re-start it I should do a little better.

Travel: Slows the Mind

Yeah, I know, travel is supposed to be good for the mind, but I’m getting old.

So I had a great time in London last night with China and various other friends, and a very productive meeting at 8:00am this morning, which involved getting up at 6:00am. Combine that with lots of time on trains, and I was pretty much wiped when I got back home. Then I had lots of email to attend to.

I am finally getting started on finishing Salon Futura #9, and there’s not much left to do, but it will be tomorrow morning before it goes live.

Things May Happen

Or they may not. It is one of those times when I spend hours in meetings and writing emails and at some point something might get the status of Sekrit Projekt, or I might shrug and put the thinking cap back on.

What I can say is that there is a lot going on. And as a partial consequence of that Salon Futura #9 will probably go online a day or two late. I have to be in London on Monday/Tuesday, and I don’t want to put it live just before I leave because if I do that there will inevitably be problems that I won’t be able to fix for 2 days.

More on the SF Threat

There have been a few follow-ups on that Guardian article I linked to yesterday, the best of which is by Nick Harkaway who is thoroughly unimpressed by the al-Qaida = The Foundation argument. Indeed he argues that it is more or less a tautology because science fiction is the only fiction that deals with the modern world, so there is no other fiction that political visionaries could look to:

Since mainstream literature is apparently defined by not looking forward – literary fiction and its fellows in the UK seem to be determined to avoid discussions of hard and soft technology, to the point of becoming a fiction of the recent-yet-curiously-extended-past, as if we’d never developed the cellphone or cracked the human genome – SF is the only place where possible futures are discussed.

Nick has more to say on that subject in the interview he did with me for Salon Futura.

Meanwhile Mark Charan Newton eschews the satire and makes a more direct science-fictional link to the way the British government has been behaving.

For those of you in the US, Lynne Kiesling is once again complaining about the vast cost of the TSA’s security theatre program, and the lack of any sort of cost-benefit analysis of the work that they do.

There was a fair amount of hope on Twitter yesterday that OBL’s death might result in a cessation, or at least lessening in intensity, of the “war on terror”, but the very next article in my RSS feeds after Lynne’s was this one. Yes folks, the reaction of governments has not been, “the bad guy is dead, we can all relax now,” but rather, “OMG, we’ve just poked a hornet’s nest, we need lots more invasive security measures to keep us safe!”

Really, is anyone surprised?

Salon Futura #8

We have a new issue online (probably the penultimate one, unless some sort of miracle like a lottery win happens, because of this).

It is, of course, full of good stuff. Gary Westfahl celebrates a major anniversary in the history of science fiction. Raz Greenberg looks at the new Jane Jensen video game. Alvaro goes in search of the literary essay. And Jonathan looks at the career of Yukinobu Hoshino.

In The Salon I talk about YA science fiction with David D. Levine, Imogen Russell Williams and Ben Jeapes. Our interview subjects are Nick Harkaway and R.F. Long. And there’s news of two new books from Wizard’s Tower.

And there’s a marvelous cover by Duncan Long, which has has written about on his blog.

You can find all of that lot here.

Life Happens

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have noticed that I was less than happy with life last week. Part of that was family stuff that I can’t talk about publicly, but the rest of it is very relevant and I’ve only avoided talking about it until now because there were people who needed to be told first so they wouldn’t worry.

Basically the situation is that the global economic crisis has finally caught up with my day job, and as a result I am facing a 40% reduction in my income. This is not a total disaster. I should still have enough money to pay the rent, taxes, utility bills and still have something left over for food. But unless I can find other paid work to fill the gap I’m not going to have any money for things like books, conventions and the like.

At this point you may well be thinking it is a good job I have this second business to fall back on. However, like most businesses, Wizard’s Tower did not burst fully-profitable from my brow. New businesses need nurturing and investment, and right now most of what Wizard’s Tower does loses money.

Dark Spires is close to earning out, which is a great relief to Colin and myself, and I actually have a couple of (ebook only) books coming out very soon. However, the ebook sales are very low and I don’t expect to make more than a few dollars off then. (Most of the money goes to the authors and retailers.)

The bookstore is making sales, but it needs professional online shopping software to provide the sort of service that publishers and customers expect, and that costs money. At the moment sales are not covering costs, let alone making an income for me. It is possible that now I’m going to have more time on my hands I will be able to ramp sales up by doing more PR, so Kevin and I will keep the store going for a few months to see what happens. We’ll see how that goes.

The big drain on my finances is Salon Futura. That costs me several hundred dollars a month, and the income is practically zero. I simply can’t afford that any more, so it will probably have to go. I have sufficient funds to cover all of the material I had promised to buy, and I’m going to stretch that into two slightly thinner issues rather than one fat one to give me a bit of time to look at alternatives, but I’m not hopeful.

One thing I am not going to do is run a “save Salon Futura” appeal. Given the level of readership I doubt that would generate more than enough for one more issue, and then we’d be back where we started. What the magazine needs is a regular source of income. As it is pretty clear that substantially more than 99% of its readers do not think it is worth paying for, the message has to be that it isn’t worth doing. I’m very grateful to the small number of people who have donated money or bought ebook copies, and personally I think the sort of material that Karen, Jonathan, Sam and the other contributors have produced is worth paying for. I just can’t afford to do that myself any more.

In the long term this may turn out to be something of a blessing as it gives me both the time and the incentive to try to diversify my income. However, given the current economic climate, the next few months may prove rather depressing. I shall try not to inflict this on you.

What this does mean, however, is that there is no chance of my being able to get back to the USA in the foreseeable future. It also means that I will be cutting back drastically on conventions. I have existing commitments to Eastercon, Eurocon and Finncon. They are also all part-paid for, and the air travel can probably be done on points. I’ll also do BristolCon as that only requires a fairly cheap train ticket. But everything else is currently on hold, and priority will be given to events where I think I may be able to find work.

Introducing Ibis Reader

One thing that is abundantly clear from yesterday’s discussion of ebooks is that many people are still very unclear about the technology. To start with I would like to make a few things clear. When you buy an ebook from me:

  • It is yours — you own it, and I can’t take it back
  • You can lend it to your friends
  • You can sell or give it to someone else
  • Just like a paper book
  • You can buy it anywhere in the world
  • And you don’t need to buy a special device to read it on

Really, no special device? No, you don’t. The About Ebooks page at the store has a list of different free programs that you can buy to read an epub file on an ordinary computer, but today I’d like to tell you about another reading system that I’ve found since I wrote that page, and which I have come to think is the best option.

Ibis Reader is a web-based epub reading solution. You upload the books to the site, and can then read them anywhere using a web browser. That means you can read them on a PC, a Mac or a Unix machine; you can read them on an iPad, or on any other tablet or smartphone that has a web browser. The software works fine on all these platforms, though for the very small screens of smartphones there is an app alternative as well.

Although Ibis is a cloud-based solution, that doesn’t mean your books are trapped there. You own them and can download them at any time. It is more like an offline backup than a streaming service.

There’s no charge for using Ibis. All you need to do is sign up for a free account so that you have a login that will take you your library. Obviously it is an online service, so for people still on dial-up it is not a good option, but if you have a broadband account it will be fine. And again with the smartphones you can use the app and store books locally.

Ibis works with epub files, which are as close as we have right now to a standard. It does require that the files conform to the epub standard (yes, some publishers don’t bother to check) and are DRM free. All of the books I publish should be fine, and I’ll try to check all of the books in the store, though that will take time. Those of you who are comfortable with software can make epubs from other formats using Calibre.

The biggest obstacle I have found to getting people to buy from places other than Amazon is convenience. There’s that one-click option. But there is an interface for Ibis too. If you have an account, try this:

Add Salon Futura #1 to Ibis Reader

See, easy isn’t it. 🙂

What I need to do is to work out how to add that functionality to the store so that once you have bought a book you are presented with a link to load it into Ibis. As it is commercial store software I may not be able to do it myself, but I’ll work on it.

Time is Money

I’d been planning to post today about ebook pricing because I’d be grateful if you could take a look at this poll which Neil Clarke is running on his LiveJournal. The more information we get the easier it is to provide people with what they are willing to buy.

Had it been me doing the poll I would have asked a supplementary question to the people who said they would buy from big stores but not direct from Neil or myself. It must be pretty obvious that we get more money if you buy direct, so what is the attraction of big stores? Is it the convenience of Amazon’s one-click purchase? Is it the payment method? (Taking credit cards costs money, so you need a high turnover to justify it.) Is it concerns about security or reliability? This is, I think, a major issue in the online marketplace.

While I was thinking about this, however, a light bulb went off. A week or so ago, during the debate on $0.99 ebooks, Cat Valente asked why people are prepared to pay $6 or so for a latte, but not $3 for a book (the exact amounts are probably wrong, but the idea is there). I think I might know the answer.

When you buy a latte (or a movie ticket, or a CD, or whatever) you expect to get the enjoyment out of it almost immediately. There is no major investment on your part. When you buy a book, however, you only get the enjoyment out of it if you spend the many hours necessary to read it. We all live very busy lives these days, and our time is valuable. Many people I know (including myself) already own more books than they can hope to read in the rest of their lifetime. So when you buy a book you are not asking yourself “can I afford $3?” (or however much it costs), you are asking yourself “can I afford 10 hours?” (or however long you estimate it will take you to read it). If you are going to read it, the cost is much less of an issue, and you may well be prepared to pay a lot more given the amount of time it will amuse you for.

Does this make sense to people? Because if so it suggests that the only effect of cutting the price of books is to try to encourage people to buy books that they won’t read.

[I note that the same does not apply to Clarkesworld and Salon Futura. What is happening there is that we are trying to find the price people will pay for the convenience of having an ebook edition of something they can get for free online.]

An Editor’s Lament

No, not mine. But I do have similar problems.

There has been a fair amount of talk around the blogosphere of late about the fact that, despite women buying and reading more books than men, reviews in mainstream newspapers are mostly by men, about books by men. Today Katy Guest, Literary Editor of The Independent, entered the fray, mildly blowing her newspaper’s trumpet, but also lamenting how hard it is to get women to submit material to be published.

I feel her pain. I have managed to buy some articles by women for Clarkesworld, but by no means 50%. I am trying to make a conscious effort to seek out more women writers, but they do seem to need to be encouraged, and men don’t. Despite my making a conscious effort to get women involved in Salon Futura, all of the guest articles I have published to date (as opposed to articles by columnists) have been by men. Hopefully that will change soon.

Of course there may be other reasons too. Currently Ms. Guest’s article has just two comments. Both of them are from men making snide “jokes”. It is an inevitable truth of today’s “have your say” culture that articles by women, especially intelligent articles by women, are liable to attract the attention of male trolls. Then there will be the mansplainers, who feel the need to explain to the poor girly, in words of one syllable or less, the truth of the matter that she is so hopelessly seeking to understand. Often they will parrot your points back at you, apparently unable to conceive that you could have make them yourself. Obviously you’ll get intelligent, helpful comments from male readers as well, but the trolls and mansplainers are pretty much inevitable.

Some of my male friends seem to relish troll comments and take them as a challenge. I suspect that far too many women look at comments feeds, shake their heads, and wonder why why anyone would both to put themselves in the stocks to have insults thrown at them.

But, to shift metaphors a little, if we are not prepared to stick our necks out a little, then there will always be more articles by men than by women, and we will always live in a culture in which is seems that men are the source of intellectual authority. So please, ladies, could I have some submissions to Clarkesworld and Salon Futura?

Salon Futura #7

Right, that’s another one out of the door. 🙂

Issue #7 features a lovely cover by Dean “Conzpiracy” Samed which may or may not explain why Fluff Cthulhu favored Wales over Ireland in the rugby at the weekend. (Sorry Jen.)

We have two guest articles. The very wonderful Ken MacLeod has a report on one of the strangest academic conferences ever to feature science fiction. I know that China has a degree in International Relations, but I had no idea that people working in that discipline wrote books about SF.

The second guest article is from frequent Guardian columnist, David Barnett, and it looks at one for the hottest novels from last year, Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

There’s something of an emphasis on crime in this issue. The podcast features three SF/F/H writers who have use the crime novel structure in their work: Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Aliette de Bodard and Mike Carey. My own article covers crime-related works by Seanan McGuire, Ben Aaronovitch, J.M. McDermott, Bryan Talbot and Thomas Blackthorne (a.k.a. John Meaney).

Jonathan’s article is all about Shotaro Ishinomori. If that name means nothing to you, well he’s the guy who, among many other things, created the Power Rangers. Do check out the “Starfish Hitler” video, it is awesomely silly.

Sam has gone for a walk in the Hindu Kush. He has good reasons for it, honest.

Our interviews this month were shot at P-Con in Dublin so we have two Ireland-based writers: C.E. Murphy and Ian McDonald. If you want to know what Ian is working on next, go listen.

Plus we have our usual features about what new books you can buy from us, and from other people. And there’s a new subscription offer you can take advantage of.

The epub of #7 is available in store now. Kindle versions are on their way, as soon as Kevin has had a chance to test them (unless anyone else wants to volunteer).

Salon Futura #6

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! And because I love you all lots, I have a new issue of Salon Futura for you.

To mark the release day, Jonathan Clements has a very romantic story from Japan.

Our guest contributor this month is Raz Greenberg from Israel who tells us all about a wonderful French animator.

Sam, meanwhile, gets all surreal with the help of Robert Irwin’s novel, Exquisite Corpse.

My own contribution started out all snowy and ended up as a meditation on suspension of disbelief.

Karen is back with some thoughts about the Last Man on Earth.

This month’s Salon is all about Running a Small Press and my guests are L. Timmel Duchamp (Aqueduct Press), Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press) and Sean Wallace (Prime Books).

Our interview guests for February are Gary K. Wolfe and Ann VanderMeer.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro has taken over running the Pipeline column and is doing a great job.

Two new small presses have joined our bookstore. A warm welcome please for Bull Spec, and for Papaveria Press who have their first two ebooks, The Winter Triptych by Nicole Kornher-Stace and Jack o’ the Hills by C.S.E. Cooney, launching today.

And we have a magnificent cover by Steve Upham.

For those of you who like such things, the epub version is available from the bookstore.

Me: In Hebrew

Today I have ding production on Salon Futura #6 and watching rugby. The former you’ll see on Monday, I hope. The latter, well laughing at the Scottish rugby team isn’t really fair. But I did want to pop in briefly to say how pleased I am that some kind people in Israel have translated one of my articles from Salon Futura #5 into Hebrew. You can find it here. Thanks Ehud!