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Saturday Links

I’ve gathered some links of interest and thought I’d share. But the catch is, I’d like you guys to share your own publishing links of interest in the comments section. Of course, I’d also like to hear what you think about my links — sorry, no coffee yet and about to head out to get my car worked on. So I’m hoping this makes sense. Have I said I don’t like mornings?

Amazon is apparently the leading contender in the race to acquire Dorchester Publishing. The auction for the publisher’s assets will take place in August and Amazon has already expressed its interest. Depending on what source you read, it’s either a done deal already or Amazon is only one of any number of companies/persons looking to bid on the publishing house. I’m waiting for the howls of outrage to begin if Amazon does buy Dorchester. Will it make the brand an active publisher again — which will be direct competition to other publishers — or will it simply bring out Dorchester’s backlist? Either way, it will be another change in the publishing landscape and will begin another round of outraged cries against Amazon. I’m reserving judgment until I see exactly what happens with the auction and what Amazon does if it does place the winning bid.

I’ve been asked several times by a certain “dragon” if there is any intelligence or common sense in publishing. There is and it is on display in this discussion about what publishers need to do in the face of the Department of Justice price fixing law suit and other changes in the industry. In my opinion, Don Lin hits the nail squarely on the head and I hope there are others in the industry listening to what he has to say.

Dean Wesley Smith has a great post up on pricing. Read it. Think about it. Read it again.

Also go read Kris Rusch’s latest post. Please, read it and think about it — especially if you are a writer and have been worrying about what to do about what you see are bad reviews of your latest work — and then think about it some more.

So, what are your thoughts about these posts? Do you have other links you think would be of interest?

Microgravity and Space Travel

by Chris McMahon

I am probably only scratching the surface here, but I have come across a few things worth summarising.

The first is a pretty old article, but it has a good discussion of the broad array of physical effects of microgravity – specifically on pregnancy.

The biggest problem is radiation – namely cancer and radiation sickness. The radiation will also kill sperm and zygotes, terminating pregnancy at an early stage. But assuming you can fix that with some sort of radiation shielding, here are some of the effects of microgravity:

Osteoporosis: irreversible bone loss, increased calcium excretion, impact on the liver as it tries to process increased calcium and phosphorous excretion.

Fluid & Electrolyte balance: The loss of gravity changes the distribution of pressure. Body fluids redistribute, with around 2 litres adding pressure to the heart and lungs. It also affects hormones, causing a diuretic effect as well as reduction in blood plasma.

Red cell volume decreases, with changes to cell shape. The immune system is also suppressed.

There is a decrease in muscle tone, loss of body mass (although the body lengthens by 5cm due to loss of tone – at last a way to get taller!).

Irreversible changes to the heart.

Other changes to the hormonal system.

It’s interesting to note that the currently proposed Non-Atmospheric  space exploration vehicle Nautilus-X, is being designed with a rotating habitable centrifuge ring to simulate partial gravity (here is another link). This is conceived for long duration manned missions to the Moon and Mars, and may even serve as a space-based hospital. The current idea is to have this stationed at Lagrange points L1 or L2 depending on the destination.

The first link above has an interesting table that shows the artificial gravity possible with the 30ft and 40ft diameters at various RPMs. The lowest is 0.08g at 30ft and 4 RPM, the highest 0.69g at 40ft and 10 RPM.  

This concept includes some inflatable modules, similar to the Bigelow Aerospace inflatable habitats. Radiation mitigation systems may include tanks of water or liquid hydrogen . Yikes.

Personally, I like the idea of the hollowed out asteroid. Nothing like a few metres of rock to keep the rays out. We need to figure out how to move these medium sized astral bodies around anyway. If we don’t, then what are we going to do if we actually see a large asteroid heading for us? We need to see the thing coming with plenty of time in advance (which means a better observation network) and place a few Nuclear Thermal Rockets on it to shunt it out of the way (which means a lot more space-based capability then we have).

Come across any other good concepts for space vehicles with simulated gravity?

Yes There Are Rules

Life doesn’t have any rules beyond “if you don’t procreate you don’t count”. Everything else is either ways to stay alive for the procreation part, or wrappers around it all to make sure that the procreating doesn’t get wasted. Even so, for a very long time (and still in more than a few parts of the world), the begatting thing was pretty wasteful – people would have a whole lot of children and if they were lucky more than one or two would survive to have children of their own.

Life also has a whole lot of randomness, bad things happening to people who don’t deserve it, good things happening to the wrong people (defined as “not me”), and things that leave you scratching your head.

Stories, though, are a wholly human invention, and they have rules. The rules can be bent (and on occasion twisted into pretzels), but you break them at your peril. If you doubt, scan a typical news front page article. Identify the villain, the hero, and message. Most of the time, the villain and hero will be people. Occasionally the “villain” will be some impersonal force (the fire near Colorado Springs right now comes to mind), and there will always be some kind of message. Most of the time this isn’t an attempt to slant things, either. It’s simply that the rules of story are so deeply ingrained that it’s almost impossible to relate any sequence of events without turning them into some kind of story.

I suspect the process works something like this: we observe the sequence of events and – because stories originated with real events – notice their similarity to a story pattern. At this point the human pattern-matcher takes control and shuffles everything into the appropriate story pattern without us even noticing. We absorb the cues that tell us if it’s a happy or a tragic ending, who or what we should be wanting to win, and we adjust what we see accordingly. We “know” that something in shadow is darker than something that isn’t, so that’s what we see. We “know” the hero is supposed to be a better person than the villain, so that’s what we see.

Of course, people are a bit more complicated than that – which is why you see so much confusion and distress when the much-idolized sports star proves to be human (and fallible) too. Because people had mentally cast that person as hero, they didn’t see the signs that the all-too-human flaws were causing problems until the poor sod crashed and burned.

Where that leaves writers is… interesting.

We can’t break the rules with impunity. The rules of story aren’t arbitrary, they’re the accretion of thousands of years of human storytelling, encoded into culture and behavioral norms. They tell people how to behave, and how to be. If you give people the structures of a romance with a happy ending and finish with an uber-gory tragedy, your story is going to meet the wall at speed – and worse, your name will be poison to every reader who touches you.

It’s not coincidence that the pushers of gray goo are intellectual types. These are people who have analysed things until they’ve twisted themselves inside out, and lost track of the real purpose of the thing. It’s a specialized kind of stupidity reserved for the intelligent and not terribly well grounded (you’ve got to have lost track of the universe where your feet are to follow it). It’s also the end-point of what good writers do all the time – start with “what if” and move from there. The key difference lies in how much of the real world you let into you chain of “what if-then what?” (What if someone got enough DNA from somewhere to clone a T-rex? Then what? (Really ugly meat bills, for starters)).

So we’ve got rules for stories, and they don’t take kindly to being ignored or broken. It feels wrong as a reader to have a story not follow the rules. I read one – unpublished, by someone who I hope has since been published because yes she is very much good enough – where all the story structure and settings pointed to romantic entanglement with two characters, and a particular kind of final conflict ending. I felt cheated when that wasn’t what happened. I hope I managed to explain why that novel didn’t work, and I hope she found a way to make the story work without the ending seeming to come out of nowhere, because it was very good.

What are the rules?

That’s where it gets interesting…

Possibly the first, and hardest to break, is “It must matter”. Something or someone in the thing has to matter enough to a reader that they’ll bother to turn the next page (or hit the button on their hardware). Whatever it is it has to matter early.

Second is “First impressions stick”. This makes redemption plays a right bugger to deal with, but there it is. If you show someone kicking the puppy, readers expect that this person is going to be bad. They’ll be unhappy (you’ll get hate mail) if the puppy-kicker isn’t bad. (Yes, kicking the puppy is metaphorical. It means doing something abhorrent in the culture you’re writing for, even if in the culture you’re writing about that same act is considered good and virtuous. No-one was this was going to be easy.)

Third, mostly applicable to modern writers, if you’re focusing mostly on one male and one female good guy, you can expect your readers to assume there will be a romantic subplot (unless you’re writing a romance, in which case you break the happily ever after at your peril).

And of course, the rule that causes writers all over the Anglosphere to complain about things that they couldn’t put in a book, it must make sense. Real life doesn’t have to, which is why writers bitch. They see all this wonderfully bizarre stuff, but if they used it in a book it wouldn’t fly because stories have to make sense. Yes, even stories with magic. Coincidences in stories have to be foreshadowed to within an inch of their lives, and telegraphed like crazy, because otherwise readers assume it’s just the author making life easier for himself/herself (and on occasion itself).

There’s a whole lot more to be said about the rules of story, so stop by next week for the next installment in the series.

Oh, and don’t forget, there’s still a few days to enter the competition for a gruesome demise of your choice and a free copy of ConSensual.

This Is The Way The World Ends

by Sarah Hoyt

It’s funny that I started writing this post about how unrealistic most books are about widespread disaster and apocalyptic events before the fire started near us.  Of course, it’s now completely different, because I can start from my own situation.

First, for those from out East, Colorado Springs – and most Western cities – are very widespread.  They’re not all clumped together as in the North East.  We have friends within the city that are more than forty five minutes away – without traffic jams.

That said, the evacuation line – though not the fire line – is now about three miles from us as the crow flies and has overtaken the highschool my son just graduated from.  That’s a bit close for comfort, but it’s still on the other side of a six lane highway, which is twined at that place by a rocky, treeless creek bed.  It’s a very impressive fire break.  So far the fire hasn’t jumped i-25, which is a FOUR lane highway.

On the other hand, when the weather shifts in Col Springs (and it seems to be shifting) we tend to get hurricane-strength winds, which could jump that fire break in no time.  It’s still unlikely to blow in our direction, but of course, there are no certainties.

So, what to do?  Having heard stories of people who had too short a time to evacuate and had to leave pets behind, we are packing both suvs so that at the last minute we can grab the “small valuables, electronics and pets” and bug out in a few minutes.  (We have the drill of boxing cats down to ten minutes.  Vet trips.)

It honestly feels like we’re over dramatizing.  It really is UNLIKELY to get to us, certainly unlikely to get to us in the next few days.  On the other hand, this fire is now a firestorm and therefore not predictable.  It still feels like we’re overdoing it, and we go about sheepishly, with a suspicion we’re being dramatic.  On the other hand overplanning is survivable.  Under planning isn’t.

There are reminders of doom all around.  We have friends who’ve been burned out of their homes.  We have standing requests not to use the cell phones, to leave them clear for emergency work.  Planes flying overhead, to help fight the firs are a frequent reminder.  The air is filled with smoke (though not as badly as last night.)  The construction work across the street is stopped.  My doctor has postponed an appointment that’s already been postponed and which I’m anxiously waiting for because it might be at the back of the knocked out immune system.  It might be really bad.  OTOH it might be nothing.  I can’t know till I have that appointment, but the technician who operates the equipment is evacuated, out of town, and they don’t know when she’ll be back.  So, the appointment is now mid-July.  ALL hotels in Denver and Colorado Springs (Away from the evacuation zone) are booked solid.  Our planned weekend away in Denver might be dificult to book, if this gets any worse – and if we have to evacuate, we literally have nowhere to go, so in packing the cars, we’re planning to live out of them for a while, including large kennels to put the cats in.

This is not the first emergency I’ve lived through, though it’s never come closer than it is right now, except once.  When I was a kid in Portugal, a fire came to the other side of the train line, a block and a half from my parents’ house.  There was no evacuation, so I was on top of the garage, tracking the fire progress.  If it got to our side of the train line, we were going to run.  Fortunately the wind went the other way, so it cost us a night fully awake.

Before that, there were revolutions in Portugal.  After that, there was Hurricane Hugo in Portugal, and there was of course, 9/11.

I’ll use 9/11 if I may, because most of us got that it was an event of terrific proportions.  I spent literally two days on line, tracking friends who were en-route through the country and stranded, seeing if we could offer help.  And since Dan was working in Virginia at the time, our friend Alan and I went out to meet him.  Our meeting place kept changing, depending on how far Dan had got, until finally we were in Hays Kansas, where Alan and I got out, at the airport, where Dan was going to hand in the rental car, prior to coming home with us.

And there we met a local.  “Do you know why they cancelled the air show?” he asked.  “Is it because of that problem in NYC?”

The way he talked about it, he made it sound like a minor incident that really only mattered to people from NYC.

And that is ultimately how the world ends.  Catastrophic events happen, not all over at the same time with the same intensity, but in pockets.  A neighborhood will be in chaos and ruin, and next door life will go on as usual.  There’s construction going on up the street a bit.  The grocery store is operating as normal, and I feel guilty because I’m not out there, painting the porch.  (And how do you KNOW that the deck chairs on the titanic DIDN’T need dusting?)

For those of us raised in societies where a stiff upper lip was a virtue, too, there’s the feeling that we shouldn’t over dramatize.  Some of our friends and neighbors are in real distress.  We?  Oh, we’re fine.  Live is perfectly routine.  Except we’re packing the car to bug out, and that’s probably overreacting.

In the middle of apocalyptic events, people still cook, still gossip, still change babies and do litter boxes.

This is the way the world ends – sporadically.  Erratically.  With normalcy amid the emergency.  And we, mere humans, try to soldier on through it all.

Which is why the world doesn’t end totally but always partially.  And then a new world is born.

Wednesday’s Post Delayed

Good morning! Like many of you, I’ve been worried about Sarah and the rest of the Hoyt clan as news of the Colorado fires spreads. She’s asked me to reassure everyone that they are fine and aren’t in the evac zone — yet. But they are making sure everything is in order in case they have to bug out. However, being Sarah, she also asked me to let everyone know that she will be posting here later today. So please check back later.

The sky’s not falling – Part II

Last week, I told everyone not to worry. The publishing sky isn’t falling, despite the gnashing of teeth and beating of chests by some in publishing after figures showed e-books sales outpacing hardcover sales. I was subsequently taken to task in the comments section of the post by Andi Sporkin (Association of American Publishers) for a number of things. I don’t normally spend an entire post responding to a comment but, after discussing this with several of my fellow mad geniuses, I decided that is exactly what I’m going to do.

First, Ms. Sporkin noted that I was not quoting directly from the AAP report on the first quarter sales by their members. That’s true. I tried. I went to their site and looked for the report. Guess what, I couldn’t find it. When I went back this morning to see if I’d simply overlooked it, I still couldn’t find it. The only report listed on their home page is for overseas sales by U. S. publishers. I looked through their site and still didn’t find it. I’m not saying it’s not there. It may be. But it isn’t easily available and, quite possibly, is only available if you are a member of AAP or pay for the report. Whatever the case, that leaves me to rely upon information presented by other sites, respected sites, such as GalleyCat for the report.

So, yes, I did rely upon information from other sources. However, I did attempt to verify the information. Perhaps if AAP made the information easier to find. . .

As for the link provided, it was changed to link directly to AAP’s home page. Ms. Sporkin was right. I did link to the worldwide report. She is also right in that it does show growth for most areas of sales overseas by U. S. publishers. However, if you read the report, it shows – again – how e-book sales growth is outpacing that of the other areas. So I stand by my statements in the post in question, and in others, that e-books are more than a flash in the pan and deserve greater attention from legacy publishers.

If that was all I had to say regarding Ms. Sporkin’s response to my post, I would have done so in the comments section. However, that was just the beginning. Now we get to the heart of matter.

Ms. Sporkin: While the ebook phenomenon is certainly true, there remain seasonal buying habits in books and the Q1 figures fully reflect that. We always see strength in Q1 figures for e-formats because of e-reader sales at the holidays and people buying books (mainly in January and February). We see hardcovers and paperbacks dominate in other quarters. That will certainly continue to happen.

This is an interesting opinion. I’ll even admit she has figures based on membership sales to support it. I’m no statistician, however, I’d bet most would say you have to take into account the change in technology available, the change in age and demographics of your buying public and the change in availability of options before you come to conclusions such as she’s made. You also have to look at where your figures are coming from.

You can see a list of AAP members here. If you look at it, you will see AAP represents both major and lesser-known publishers. So, how do they get their figures? Some will be getting them through Bookscan, and we know those figures aren’t accurate. We don’t know how the others are reporting their sales.

Also, because AAP represents publishers, and this is a voluntary group, their figures don’t include sales from non-members or from self-published, or “indie” authors. That might not mean much in the grand scheme of hard copy reporting. But in the reporting of e-books sales, it means a great deal. Of course, that is one of the many reasons so many in publishing would like to see Amazon disappear. It opened the e-market to small presses and indie authors in a way it had never been opened before.

You also have to look at how people are going to want to read books in the years to come.  What I’m seeing is that the aging reader is finding that it is easier to read on a Kindle or Nook – or their tablet – than it is to read a print book. Why? There are a number of reasons. One is that the standard e-book reader is lighter than a book, even a paperback. That makes it easier to hold. Another reason is that the contrast on an e-ink display is easier on eyes than light bouncing off a print page. Then there is the fact you can adjust the size of print on an e-book reader. As a personal note, I can attest to the fact that my mother’s eye specialist has recommended she read on her Kindle whenever possible to avoid eye strain.

But there are the kids and young adults who are now becoming the book-buying public. These are readers who have grown up with computers and cell phones. They are tech savvy and more comfortable with a tablet or e-book reader than with a printed book. This is the main buying public of the future. Do you really think they will give up what they are comfortable with to maintain the buying trends of the past? I don’t.

There is also the financial aspect to look at. For a minimal investment, you can buy a reliable e-book reader. In fact, you can buy one for less that the price of three or four hardcover books. Once you have that e-book reader, you have thousands of free books available through any number of different sources. These can be the classics you grew up with a loved. They can be newer books, offered as free promotions by their authors or publishers. You can carry hundreds of books around with you in a device that weighs less than a pound. Add to that the fact that hardcovers now cost $20 or more (unless you order from Amazon or have a discount at Barnes & Noble, etc) and buying two e-books at $9.99 or more for less makes financial sense. This, too, will continue to impact sales trends over the coming years.

Ms. Sporkin: Finally, two assumptions you make are simply baffling. First, publishers are among the strongest advocates of booksellers, particularly independents, since they are our partners in encouraging the joy of reading and literacy. Our work with them, both public (such as bringing World Book Night to the US) and private, supports that statement. And there are numerous reports and analyses out there, including from AAP, that independent booksellers weathered the recession and digital transition with renewed strength due to expansion into e-commerce themselves as well as other innovative branding and marketing.

I have two issues with this statement. First, I never said publishers didn’t support booksellers. What I said is that legacy publishers are more worried about making sure the big box booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million stay in business. Sure, I’ll admit publishers, legacy or not, have a stake in seeing the local independent bookstores make it, but I don’t buy that they are “among the strongest advocates of booksellers, particularly independents”. Why? Because the indies aren’t where they see the major numbers of sales being made. If I’m wrong, prove it. Lip service by these legacy publishers isn’t enough, nor is the occasional donation for a charitable event.

My main issue with the above is with Ms. Sporkin’s last sentence. If she’d bothered to read my post, or any of my earlier ones about locally owned bookstores, she’d see that I am a big advocate of them. She’d see that I, as well as others on this blog, have applauded these stores for the way they have tackled the market, doing what they could to think outside the box and to innovate. But I still say that there is more they can, and should do.

Ms. Sporkin: Also, “legacy publishers,” as you call them, are leading the digital transition: they are the companies creating new formats and new ways to offer content, generating distinct social media marketing and reader outreach, developing new titles and cultivating new authors to serve digital readers. These publishers are creating staff jobs for people with digital skills – jobs that didn’t exist only a few years ago – and directly start-ups and other small businesses and individuals who work in digital formats. There is not one AAP member publisher that is not producing books in every print and digital format. It is unclear why you would assume that publishers would not be embracing new ways to reach even more audiences and keep the industry healthy.

Oh my, where to begin. Let’s break it down statement by statement.

“[L]egacy publishers,” as you call them, are leading the digital transition: they are the companies creating new formats and new ways to offer content, generating distinct social media marketing and reader outreach, developing new titles and cultivating new authors to serve digital readers.

Here I strongly disagree. If they were on the leading edge of the digital transition, they would have jumped onboard ten years ago when e-books first hit the market. Instead, they laughed at publishers like Jim Baen who not only was an early adopter of e-books but one of their strongest proponents. Under him, and now under Toni Weiskopff, Baen has long been known for offering their books in multiple formats that are DRM-free. Both of which had Mr. Baen’s contemporaries in the publishing world telling him he was insane, and worse.

Also, if they were leading the digital transition, they would have been developing hardware to make e-books easily read. We’d be reading books on their platforms and not on the Kindle or the Nook. So, nope, don’t buy it.

As for creating new formats, well, that is also where they are late to the game. MOBI, the format Kindles use, has been around for years. EPUB, the format the Nook and other readers use, has been around almost as long and is based on an earlier Adobe format. What other “new” formats these publishers are creating waits to be seen. I’m not holding my breath.

New ways to offer content. Such as? All of this will be dependent on the available hardware platforms, something I don’t believe publishers are developing. So they can create all they want. Unless a the person buying the e-book has a tablet or wants to read on their computer/laptop, this new content may not be available on their e-book reader.

Generating distinct social media marketing and reader outreach? That means they are tweeting and posting on Facebook, etc. They might even have an online community. Guess what. That’s not new. Baen again led the way with Baen’s Bar. It’s been around for years and has been a way for authors and their fans to connect.

The last statement about developing new titles and cultivating new authors just left me shaking my head. Isn’t that what publishers are supposed to do?

These publishers are creating staff jobs for people with digital skills – jobs that didn’t exist only a few years ago – and directly start-ups and other small businesses and individuals who work in digital formats.

I should hope so. But this doesn’t prove they are leading the e-book charge. This means they are playing catch up. If not, these jobs would have been created years ago. I work for a small e-publisher. I know what it takes to create an e-book. This comment doesn’t impress me. Not when you realize just how labor intensive creating an e-book is not, especially not if you are working with the right software. The only time it becomes labor intensive is when you have to check for OCR issues when you scan in a book because you don’t have a digital file. Considering the number of issues folks see with e-books that came from OCR files, I’m guessing at least some of these publishers Ms. Sporkin is championing don’t bother employing enough proofreaders to check those files.

It is unclear why you would assume that publishers would not be embracing new ways to reach even more audiences and keep the industry healthy.

Well, let’s see. Delaying getting into the e-book market. Continuing to add DRM to e-books, thereby limiting the number of devices, types of devices a legally purchased book can be read on by the purchaser. Treating readers, their customers, like criminals by adding DRM. Pricing e-books higher than paperback books. By doing their best to cripple Amazon. By trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes regarding the DoJ’s lawsuit. The DoJ has stated in the pleadings and proposed settlement that there is nothing inherently wrong with agency pricing. What is wrong in this case is the alleged collusion. But that’s not what we are being told by legacy publishing or by those echoing its position. By not changing its reporting of sales to authors so they aren’t getting shafted. (Sorry, but when a book is still on the shelves more than two years after it was published, that book is selling, no matter what the publisher says when it cancels the series.)

Shall I go on?

I have never said traditional publishing will die. Nor have I said that bookstores, especially independents, will disappear. What I said last week, and what I’ve said any number of other times, is that the landscape is changing and there will be some fatalities along the way. Some publishers will go out of business. We’ve already see how others are shrinking, discarding lines and imprints. That happens whenever there is a major change in technology that impacts buying trends. I’ve said the big box bookstores are going to have to re-examine their business models and find ways to think outside the box or they will go the way of Borders. I’ve predicted bookstores, especially indies, will thrive filling niche markets.

I’m a writer. I’m an editor for a small press. I’m a reader. The last thing I want to see is the death of an industry I’m so invested in. But I am tired of folks sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring what’s going on around them. As the song says, “The times, they are a-changin’.” Those who cling to old business models and old ways of thinking may not survive, at least not in the form they currently have. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But I stand by my statements that legacy publishers are anything but enthusiastic supporters of the e-book revolution.

The rape of…

Because the word ‘rape’ tends to bring out the fanatics, permission to quote anything from this piece is only granted provided you quote this paragraph as well: The discussion of ‘rape’ in literature is not intended to trivialize or use for sensationalism the word or the act. Do not quote any parts of this without quoting the link to the entire post.

I put the above because there have several gratuitous, publicity seeking attacks on the lives and careers of people because of it. Self-elected judges, juries and executioners, much in the vein of race-fail etc.

Rape, gentlefolk, is a reality. It happens. It always has. Greek mythology is full of it. Type in the words ‘the rape of’ into Wikipedia. The first four entries will take you articles about classic art, sculpture, literature, even poetry. And yes you can tell me the rape of the Sabine women wasn’t rape-rape. And I will tell you ‘Shut up Whoopi.’ Maybe in the later sanitized versions, but the real event would have been rape as we know it. That’s gone hand in hand with warfare and raiding and enslavement since humans left the bit of Africa they evolved in, and before, and since. It was as much part of the vast brutal East African slave trade (into Arabia and Turkey) as it was of the westward trade into the Americas.

There is nothing new about the use of rape as a device in stories and plot-lines, poetry, and art and indeed even opera. It’s usually a serious matter, although the classical Greeks seemed to think it was Okay if it was one of the gods or nobles who used the behavior of their gods as an excuse. I beg the ‘rape shouldn’t be in literature’ squad to immediately start a petition to get rid of that beggar Homer, and stop him writing forthwith. And while they’re at it they can definitely get rid of Arthurian legend too, because what happened in Tintagel cannot be described as anything but rape.

Yet it’s become the latest ’cause célèbre’ because the threat of rape was used as a plot device in a Lara Croft game. I’ll spare you the links because I’m not giving them the traffic. The feminists (only some of them only, apparently. The others have just been very quiet) are up in arms. How can such a feminist role model be treated thus? What what do you mean the gamer wants to protect her from this? You sexist pig. She doesn’t need your protection. How dare you imply women need to be protected because we cannot protect ourselves. Oh it’s only for men gamers, And much more…

Your mileage may vary… but I don’t care who you are, or even what sex you are. But if someone is going to try and rape you, I’ll do my best to help you. Even if you out-weigh and outfight and out-shoot me. And that’s not belittling. That’s solidarity. And yeah, belt up. There is no-one (in the real world, not the Incredible Hulk, or even the Credible Hulk) who cannot be taken down by larger numbers and people with more cunning, strength, skill or straight luck. Sorry that doesn’t gel with your feminist wish-fulfillment, but it might just stop you getting raped. And as any martial artist will tell you, women on average, no matter how skilled, are no match for men in a fight. Yes, sometimes they’ll win. But a gambler who always put money on the guy would win all too often. Men are just, courtesy of testosterone, bigger, faster and more aggressive. I’m a small guy, so I understand this all too well (and I’ve been rock-climbing and diving and doing silly berserk sports for a long time. I’m tougher than most as a result. I still would lose, just because of size, a lot of the time). A feminist myth that encourages women to believe they can outfight a possible rapist… is not doing them a favor, or ’empowering’ them. It’s making them into a possible victim. By all means learn to shoot (I would encourage every woman to be able to do this, because sometimes that can equal the score. Not all the time.), but learn to run and learn to seek protection with others. Because, if faced with real trouble, that’s what this very un-female guy would do. And I have a nose that’s been broken nine times, learning this (Ok, the last time was my over affectionate dog.).

Me, I think any game or book or movie or artwork or poem that encourages kids (or adults) to protect others probably deserves a gold star. Because this is not video-world, and there are no real superheroes.

Rape is real. And Lara Croft isn’t. It should be in books. It’s in mine – in PYRAMID SCHEME, where the Greek ‘heroes’ (AKA raiding brigands and pirates if you were on the other side) plan to rape the male and female characters, because that’s what happened to captives. And the Ancient Greeks weren’t homophobic. It’s not something trivial, or ‘old’. It’s more likely to stop it happening, than to make happen because of giving someone the idea. South Africa is the rape capital of the world (a situation made hugely worse by a culture in which a survey found – and no I am not joking – 30% of women say ‘no’, when they mean ‘yes’). It’s also not the most literate spot on earth, particularly among the sector of society doing the bulk of the rapine. Books do not put the idea in their heads. Go attack BDSM instead. I know it’s ‘cool’ and really popular with all those buyers of 50 Shades of Grey, and it may be consentual but the idea of tying someone up for sex is lot closer to encouraging someone to have someone else at their mercy, than ‘chivalry’ is.

You’ve Got To Learn To Pace Yourself — pacing workshop 1

Here, read this lesson, then run out and–

The problem with teaching pacing is that I’m not absolutely sure it can be taught.  I am, however, contrary to a rejection I once got, absolutely sure it can be learned.

What do I mean by that?  I mean that pacing that is right for one type of book will be absolutely wrong for another, and that if you, for instance, pace a fluffy fantasy like a thriller, most of the people will be puzzled, if not outright upset.  (For info see my second published book, All Night Awake.)

So, first thing you do, just like when making rabbit soup, catch your rabbit.  In this case, figure out what pacing is appropriate for your story.

If you are like me and you write many different things, beware that pacing “sticks.”  That exquisitely paced – slow and sultry – historical you finished will totally infect your science fiction adventure.  So take a break in between and read thing with the pacing you wish.

Other minor things on pacing, before we start going instance by instance and I give you my – meager – techniques in coming weeks.  (And I’m sorry if this introductory post is scattered.  I’m feverish again.  Yeah, yeah, doctor tomorrow.)

1 – Sometimes your pacing is right but your technique is wrong.  Make sure your technique fits the action.  Suppose you open the book with your character getting caught in the middle of a firefight.  Right out the gate, he’s getting shot at, running…  Why does everyone tell you it’s way too slow.

a) could be that you’re describing everything in exact detail.  People don’t do that when caught in action.  They see some relevant (or sometimes irrelevant) or telling details, then next action, then.

b) Your sentences are too long.  I know this sound silly, but short, gun-burst sentences work best to describe fast action (and the reverse, of course.)

c) You have too much passive voice.  Unlike a lot of authors, I think there’ a time and place for your passive voice.  That is not however, fast scenes.

2- But my scene is supposed to be slow, and people tell me it’s not interesting.

a) interesting is not the same as fast.  To catch someone into, say an historical that’s supposed to be slow but riveting, open with the worst thing you can think of.  Describe it graphically.

b) alternately describe something so startling that people want more.

c) use five senses to draw us into the scene.
3 – Doesn’t pacing means I have to have lots of interesting things happen, one on top of the other?

a) not really.  Actually it’s a good idea to layer action scene, then character scene, then action scene, then…  As long as you ratchet the problem upward it helps pacing.

b) interesting is not the same as action.  And interesting is not the same as “in peril” – think of even action movies.  They allow you to relax a little as your characters drive away from the shoot out, before the siren comes on behind them.  Like that.  If you’re always on the edge of your seat, there’s nowhere to go.

c) remember pacing can apply to any of the “obligatory scenes” or reader cookies that readers expect in a genre.  Romances expect certain things at certain times (and normally it’s not a man with a gun.)  Mysteries have timing for first murder, second murder, etc. If you’re in a mystery and no one has died by page fifty, you might have wrong timing.

Okay, more substantial case by case post next week when I’ll hopefully be better.  Also, as I get better I’ll read your posts from last week.  Meanwhile, because pacing is a highly individual thing, send questions to

Redshirt Yourself and Get ConSensual Free

In celebration of Consensual’s release Real Soon Now, I have a competition.

Write a short – 2 paragraphs max – description of how you’d like to be redshirted in the Con vampire universe. Anything entered before midnight US Eastern Standard Time on Saturday 30th June will be eligible. The five suggestions that amuse me the most will be used in the next con Vampire book, and their creators will receive a free copy of ConSensual.

The legal-ish stuff: sorry, but you can’t re-use anything unless you file the serial numbers off well enough that it’s not obvious where it started. No re-using any of my characters, either. If you’re one of the lucky soon-to-be-deceased, I reserve the right to mangle your name and description beyond recognition or not as the whim takes me. I offer no guarantees on whether your death will be central or minor. No getting nasty and suing, either (yeah, I know, but I’ve got to at least say it). Oh, yes, and the lucky (?) winners are totally my discretion.

You don’t need to narrate your demise, just give me a scenario and who you are, like “Kate Paulk, wannabe author found in three separate stalls in the Ladies room, and under the sink, wearing only a big smile”. (Oops. That should have had an ick alert. Sorry).

Naturally a big thank you goes to Amanda and the rest of the folks at NRP for letting me do this.

And now, a celebration snippet from ConSensual, more or less random and hopefully not spoilery.

==== SNIPPET! ====

He had courage, I’ll give him that. It takes balls to turn your back on a much older vampire when you’re not exactly sure how friendly said older vampire might be.

B-movies notwithstanding, vampires don’t usually have a preference for nubile virgins — which is just as well, given that there’s a shortage of that particular subset of humanity these days — or for the hug and bite, especially when we’re fighting our own kind. If it’s a fight, biting from behind is better, because that gives the bitee no way to return the favor. It’s a tactical thing.

Drake moved past the cluster of smokers feeding their nicotine addictions to a quieter, darker space in the driveway. This close, I could taste the man’s anger. It was a slow, cold boil, and it wasn’t directed at me.

“He’s after you.” Drake spoke as though every word offended him. “You irritated him.”

The question was whether this was a warning delivered on the elder’s behalf, or whether Drake had chosen to defy his creator. The latter meant the elder hadn’t taken control, but not necessarily that he couldn’t. I wasn’t prepared to bet either way, not with Drake as the supposed subordinate in the matter.

“Good.” It’s not exactly wise, challenging a vampire of unknown age and strength. I was past caring. This bastard had done more than just irritate me. “Maybe next time he’ll teach his babies better table manners.”

Mars Cycler

by Chris McMahon

I’m still musing over orbital schemes to allow us to get around the solar system.

Thanks to Martin Shoemaker for putting me onto the Mars Cycler scheme following last week’s blog. Here is the link to the Aldrin Cycler on Buzz Aldrin’s page.

This is basically a scheme to have a spacecraft travel from Earth to Mars in a regular series of orbits that turn the Cycler spacecraft into a solar suburban bus. Hop on at Earth to hitch a ride to Mars or hop on at the other end to return to Earth.

The orbital mechanics is complex, and solving it is regarded as much an art as a science. Various solutions are possible to the same problem, and each aims to offer the best mix of course corrections and gravity swings to yield frequent, regular arrivals at both Mars and Earth, while using the least fuel.

There are various schemes. Aldrin’s cycler takes 150 days to reach mars and around 20 months to return or 150 days from Mars to Earth and 20 months back to Mars. These two symmetrical schemes are dubbed the ‘up’ and ‘down’ escalator orbits. This implies that one Cycler could transfer people up and back in 26 months or so. The idea is to have more than one Cycler spacecraft.

Here are the main transfer points of the Aldrin Cycler Scheme:

Earth to Earth orbit.

Earth orbit to the L-1 spaceport. This Lagrange point (where the gravity of the Earth and Moon cancel out) lies in a direct line between the earth and moon. Positioning the spaceport here enables it to maintain its position with minimal course corrections.

Transfer from the spaceport to Cycler spacecraft. Remember the Cycler doesn’t stop – you have to use a transfer craft to catch up with it and jump on board.

Cycler to Mars spaceport, which will be similarly positioned in a neutral gravity zone near Mars.

Mars spaceport to Mars orbit.

Mars orbit to surface.

The biggest issue is the long periods in space. Life support is critical, and protection from radiation. You would definitely want to take your video games for that trip. Loss of communication with Earth is also a potential issue. If only we had subspace communicators, eh?

The idea was to rotate the Cycler spacecraft to provide artificial gravity, starting at a full g from Earth. Aldrin’s original idea was to reduce this artificial gravity from 1g to 0.34g on the trip out – which matches Mars gravity – to assist in acclimatisation. I get uneasy about reduced gravity. We probably need some long term studies to determine the effect of living at 0.34g before we commit to this or long-term Martian habitation.

Anyone got any good links for the effects of reduced gravity? Or the effect on the development of mammalian pregnancies in low-g? In my SF short Memories of Mars (Anywhere but Earth), I addressed this by having pregnant women travelling to a Martian satellite spun to 1g for the term of their pregnancies, and children schooled in orbit, also at 1g.