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The Shaper and the Shaped

I was lying in bed after the what passed for the Island’s biggest party in a hundred years, sleep evading me, thought passing each other like ships in the night with flashed lantern-signal passed between them. Yes, my mind is very like a dark ocean, with very few thought-ships in it. Our Scottish Country Dancing Teacher, Lady Mary Mactier, had had her hundredth birthday, and yes, she did dance, and for once she didn’t yell at me… I’m quite relaxed at being yelled at, I was inoculated against listening to it early in life, by an elder sister. It was still a stressful evening as I had been entrusted to the haggis. (An Island Haggis – one of the dwarf kind (the North going variety), which had been shot earlier that week and was well hung, and had been dangled by its feet too, until the body dropped off… at least that’s the way it smelled to me (or maybe that was the neeps). As there were no less than four pipers and a snare drummer, and two wee fellows filling in for Pussy Nancy (the cook in a mob cap who delivers the haggis, the tatties and the neeps), as we had a lady to address the haggis (do think the PC-police will be down on my neck for that? I’ll hand them over to the lady in question if they’re that foolish. It is to be hoped…) it was a grave responsibility.

Anyway, these drifting thoughts came back to one of the various speeches made, and the mention made of how this iron Lady (and she is that, it is also her title, and you could make my day by telling me it is an insult) of the effect that she’d had on so many people, shaping them and their direction in life.

Which had its parallels in the latest kerfuffle in Sf/fantasy circles – how Marion Zimmer Bradley, who was a feminist role model, a lesbian role model, and a child molester, who committed incest, who at the very least looked the other way if not abetted her husband, and certainly knew of his actions and tastes, editing his book on homosexual pedophilia (‘Greek Love’ – shudder) while her ‘husband’ also sexually abused his own child and a large number of other victims – his daughter told the cops of 22. It’s unlikely she would have known of all of them. The woman has been dead, as has her husband, for some years. The matter was brought into the open in fandom (though apparently at least her husband had long been suspected) in 1999, through testimony by one of the victim’s father. One. Out of however many were ‘shaped’ by this.

What brought it up again was a sycophantic praise paean for shaping and role modelling provided by Marion Zimmer Bradley published on Tor.com. Oddly the author – and whoever edited and allowed the piece to be put up omitted the parts about the husband and the sexual abuse. That took Dierdre Saoirse Moen reporting on e-mails from MZB’s daughter – quoting this “The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was 12, and able to walk away … She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.” and of MZB’s partner, Walter Breen – “I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy … Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse.”

The silence from those who usually rush to frantically leap on sf and fantasy’s bandwagons to protest racism or sexism or homophobia or misogyny … crusades so often led by the likes of Jim Hines and John Scalzi, was deafening. The hush-up and belittling and usual chorus of disqualifying attacks were there from that team. Fortunately, a few other people were not so silent. It must be said, most of these were on the center/right of the political spectrum, but neither the original whistle-blower, nor the entirety of the left were thus silenced.

Eventually, damage control kicked in, and now even the mouthpieces of the left wing are finally admitting it was a bad thing, spinning as much as possible, carefully omitting why the story is fresh again, or the bits about drugs and orgies. Some of course, such as her agent Russell Galen, are still trotting out statements like this “Marion is deceased and we are not able to ask her about her side of the story, nor do we have any personal knowledge of the events that are being described…”

And inevitably, proof that at least one village in England is missing one, Daimian Walter, with a sort ponderous inevitably attempts to make it the right wing’s fault that MZB’s daughter might be afraid of her mother’s fans… I daresay both wings and the center can attach some kind of godlike status to an author, but this author would have have had few fans on that side of the spectrum. The fans the daughter was afraid of… were feminists and homophiles.

Influential people – and authors are that, if they’re any good, and people who can further a writer’s career are huge shaping influences. I think MZB and Breen took full advantage of this, and the permissive side of the political spectrum they represented to so many. This number of victims they amassed takes almost constant grooming, constant search for fresh victims. It wasn’t Libertarians or Republicans who were the grateful literary proteges or the frequent attendees of the parties, with the drugs and orgies, the ones who turned a blind eye.

It’s these people who were part of the shaped, as were the children who were abused. I’d say those supporters and enablers at very least need to seriously evaluate both the writings that influenced them and the shape they have become. There has to be a taint there.

And of course, for the victims we must give our support and help, at least in dealing with that. It does seem to have long lasting damage, and come under unforgivable crime against them in my book.

As writers – and this is a writer’s site – we will be shapers, often merely by our inherent philosophies and attitudes. It’s been a balm to my soul this week to be reading Peter Grant’s War To The Knife (Laredo War Trilogy Book 1)
(which I highly recommend, reminiscent of L’Amour if he’d written Mil Sf, with clear-cut values and a similar level of honor) and dealing with an irascible old dance-teacher’s far sweeter legacy. The good ones just let you grow, give our minds food, give solid foundations, but that’s it. The ones who serve themselves in the guise of something else… they constrain and distort.

And all I want to do is tell stories of decent folk, and leave people feeling a little better about the world than when they started the book.

The gang’s not all here

Just a quick note and a promise for the posting schedule to return to normal tomorrow. Sarah, Cedar and I think about half the known science fiction world — not really, but it sounds cool — are at LibertyCon this weekend. Hence the lack of posts. Things will get back to normal in the morning, or at least as normal as they ever are here.

In the meantime, here’s your chance to request topics, talk about the industry etc. In the meantime, have a wonderful rest of the weekend.

Amazon is not my publisher

I apologize for the lateness of this post. Mea culpa.

I woke up this morning looking forward to the Barfly range trip, only to realize that I don’t get that opportunity this year. Let me ‘splain. You see, Mrs. Dave, Wee Dave (the aforementioned Working Title has received a timely and well-deserved promotion, all names and … names have been changed to protect the innocent) and I spent yesterday driving from the boggy depths of deepest southern [REDACTED] where we currently call home, to the site of LibertyCon27. We’ve never traveled with a newborn before, so the severalmany hour drive was … longer than I expected. Also, I spent the day reading Kate’s novel, ConVent, aloud, to keep Mrs. Dave from sending us all flying off the road in a ball of flaming wreckage. She likes me to read because I do the voices. Wee Dave spent most of the day sleeping. Still, we stopped far more often than I liked, as the Young Master required sustenance and the enforced exchange of certain items of his wardrobe. From time to time. And when we arrived in Chattanooga, at a time normally reserved for more relaxed activities, there was the unpacking, the feeding and diapering of newborn, and finally, the introducing of (adopted) Grandsquirm to Sarah and Dan. Which went well. He hardly screamed at all (and Wee Dave was fine, too. *rimshot*).

Before that, my parents spent a week with us, and –

Look, long story short: I woke up this morning and felt a nagging itch in the back of my head, and then remembered that I do a thing here every once in a while. So I’m doing a thing.

This is going to be brief, as I just don’t have much brain power right now.

Amazon (Kobo, Apple, etc.) don’t offer royalties, as such. We as writers often refer to them as such, but that’s a tradpub term, and not accurate to how the new world of publishing actually works. Indies, self-publishers, author-publishers, hybrid writers, part-time adventurers don’t license to Amazon the rights to their intellectual properties. Amazon is a distributor, and it (and the rest of the yahoos) give us access to their distribution network in exchange for a cut of our sales. We have a much simpler business relationship than that of a writer and a traditional publisher.

What does that mean? We’re thinking this whole thing wrong, and it’s affecting our judgement, especially when it comes to something like Amazon renegotiating with Hatchette, and the other renegotiations that are going to happen in the nearish future. Authors are getting tripped up thinking that Amazon is solely a publisher. It does publish original works under its imprints, but that’s not what anybody seems to be thinking about.

Look at it this way: you have a widget you’ve invented. It’s shiny; it’s awesome. You’re pretty sure everybody’s going to love it. Problem being, you have no way to tell anybody about. You’ve spent your fortune developing the widget, and you live on an island in the middle of the ocean and phone calls are expensive. You met a guy a while back who expressed interest in your widget, but he wants you to givesell him the rights to produce the widget. And incidentally, he swears he’ll promote the hell out of your shiny widget, and also make it SHINIER! You don’t really need that; you’ve got production facilities going (your island happens to house the last robotic fabrication facility from the lost Mu Empire) but you just don’t have a way to distribute the crates and crates of beautiful widgets to the downtrodden masses whose lives are poorer for lack of your widget.

Then you get a visitor.

She – because strong, female characters are important, I’m told – offers to sell your widgets, under your name, at her enormous network of widget emporia. And not to reverse-engineer them, and cut you out of the market, as she sells widgets, and has no interest in getting into widget production, because taxes. All it’ll cost is roughly a third the retail price of each widget sold.

The other guy offered you a month’s salary or so paid over a year, and maybe about 12% retail of each widget, if anybody’s interested. Oh, and you have to give him the opportunity to buy any more widgets you invent. And you can never sell your widget through anybody else. Oh, and he doesn’t actually have any storefronts. He has relationships with other people, who will also take a cut from the sales of your widget (which is not the same thing as “your widget sales”).

Which deal do you take?

The one that gives up control of your widget, or the one that offers you a distribution network in exchange for a cut of the profits?

Amazon doesn’t pay me royalties on Baptism By Fire. I own the copyright. Amazon sells copies of my book, and then forwards the profits – less their cut – to my bank account. We have a business relationship, and if they stop being willing to do business with me the way I want, I’ll go somewhere else. Like any other businessman.

Interesting Times and the nature of business

There’s a reason “may you live in interesting times” is a curse and not a blessing. We humans like a certain amount of stability – we like to know that if you put something in you’ll always get something out. And no, I didn’t mean that, even though it does apply.

What I mean is we like to force what we do into predictable patterns, recipes or rules if you will, so that if we put a little bag of dried leaves into freshly boiled water we’ll get a half-way decent cup of tea a minute or so later (but to make a proper cuppa you need loose leaves, not tea bags, and a tea pot, and you have to warm it first, and… Western tea rituals can happen later). We know we won’t get an angry koala unless we manage to step on it or tip the cup and spill the tea on the koala (the koala tea of Mercy is not strained, you know. It has everything in it).

And that’s why publishing is dying. Not because it’s a bad cup of tea as it were, but because the silly buggers in charge forgot that there are places and times where you have to accept that what you get isn’t going to be predictable except in a general long-term trend sense (and maybe not even then). Maybe they forgot because they were too busy imbibing their own ink. Maybe it was the accountants who – to their shame – ignored the larger reality in favor of petty bean-counting. Maybe the infestation of MBAs (which I used to think meant “Mastered Bugger All” but now realize I was far, far too generous) who’d been way too deep into the ink of “You don’t need to know what you’re managing, you just need to know how to manage”.

Regardless, the whole shambles lost sight of what the publishing business was supposed to be sometime back in the New Agey timeframe. See, a business isn’t really even about making money. It’s about doing something that other people value, preferably highly enough to give you money so you can keep doing it, otherwise you can’t keep doing it.

That slight shift of perspective matters. When you look at publishing as a matter of “heightening consciousness” or other such clap-trap (yes, I have heard editors say that), you will push anything that matches whatever you think is right and proper, overlooking its faults even if you’re trying not to be biased. Confirmation fallacy will bite you hard, there. Editors who don’t care if they’re biased will be even more inclined to push what matches their biases and anything else gets the editorial cold shoulder.

If you look at publishing as a means to make money, you’re going to go chasing endless ripoffs of the last big thing, and fall prey to blockbuster syndrome, otherwise known as “the best selling book that nobody ever bought.” That tends to fall apart in the long run, although not as spectacularly as the ideological visionary model.

On the flip side, if your goal is to make your customers happy, you’re going to be looking for a level of quality they’ll be happy with (not necessarily perfection, but good enough that any issues can be forgiven) and content – stories – that will appeal to them. Which of course means you have to know who your customers are and be willing to respect them even if what they like leaves you cold.

Yes, legacy publishing, that does mean that you keep series which give your heightened sensibilities the willies (coughGORcough). It means you publish authors whose ideology covers the entire spectrum and includes some who never found the spectrum in the first place. You take chances on the oddities. You let things build in their own time because sometimes it takes several years for the momentum to build to where an author has enough of a following that they don’t need to be promoted (this, of course, is precisely when the legacy model did all its promotion. It’s like the way the fellow whose introduction starts “Our next guest needs no introduction” has the introduction go on for the next hour while everyone who can’t escape for a bio-break slowly falls comatose because they know exactly who this is. Seriously, it would be like a convention chair spending 2/3 of the opening ceremony talking about Terry Pratchett when all the audience wants is for him to shut up and let Pterry do his thing).

This goes for any business – make your customers happy and they’ll stay customers. Treat them like something you scrape off the bottom of your shoe, and they’ll return the favor.

For us, especially those of us who work in indie publishing, this means things like you do not get into arguments with reviewers. If they accidentally misstate facts, it’s reasonable to politely note that there seems to have been a misunderstanding, and this is the actual fact. Then drop the topic. There’s a saying to the effect that arguing with an ass annoys the ass and makes you look bad. Remember this when it comes to dealing with the twits who give one star reviews because your publisher didn’t make the book available in the format they prefer. Or because they didn’t like the price. Don’t argue with asses. It makes you look bad. Ignore them, smile sweetly, and go about your business.

When you deal with fans, politeness goes a long way – but do try to keep your private life private. I’ve been on both sides of the fan/author fence, and it’s way easy for us as fans to want to know everything about our favorite authors, but that is called “stalking” for good and sufficient reason. My method is to be “on duty” whenever I’m outside my room at a convention. Inside that hotel room, I’m not “the author” any more, I’m just Kate and I can bitch and whine as much as I like. Outside, I have to be the public face and just a little bit larger than life because I suck royally at self-promotion so I operate on the principle of being an interesting person to talk to in the hope I’ll catch a few that way. So far it’s worked.

We authors are in business, and our product is as much our public face as it is our books. Both need to be sufficiently pleasing to our readers that they’ll want to keep buying our books.

Oh, and the thing about interesting times is that they’re all interesting. And times are always unstable. If you see that as a threat events will ultimately crush you. Looking at the interesting and unstable nature of life as a series of opportunities gives you a chance to ride the waves.

And that is your bag of hopelessly mangled metaphors for the day.

Reviews, software and the season of the trolls

No, you didn’t go to bed last night and enter a time warp. It really is Wednesday. Sarah asked me to fill in for her this morning because she had an o-dark thirty flight out to Libertycon last night and simply ran out of time. But never fear, she’ll be back next week with tales of the con and more. The only problem is I figured I’d be up early, as has been my habit recently. Instead, I overslept. So apologies for the late post.

A couple of things have come up over the last day or two that caught my eye. The first was a post by another author — one not associated with MGC as either a contributor or regular commenter — complaining about a review received for a short story. Before receiving the one-star review, he’d had three or four other reviews, all five-star. So, because this review was so dramatically different from the others and because the reviewer wasn’t a “verified purchaser”, the author instantly assumed it was a troll review. Then he went on a tirade on social media about it.

This is where things get a little hazy. Whether the reviewer saw the rant on social media or the author left a comment on Amazon about the review, it is clear word got back to the reviewer because he edited the original review to note that the author had problems with the review and claimed he hadn’t read the story. He had, according to the edits, because he’d “borrowed” a friend’s copy.

That brought another response from the author, this time as response on Amazon. Once more he attacked the reviewer and said there was no way this could have happened because the story wasn’t available for “lending”. Ergo, the reviewer is a liar.

Not necessarily. The reviewer could be like my mother and me, and any number of other families and close friends who actually loan their kindles back and forth. Or the original purchaser of the short story could have broken the DRM, if any was applied, and then given a copy to the reviewer. Or, yes, the reviewer could be lying.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. The author stepped into it by first blowing up on social media with enough detail that the reviewer knew who and what he was referring to. Heck, the author actually included a link to the product page so all his “friends” could go see the horrible review. Then, going to the review on Amazon and responding in a defensive — and derrisive — manner didn’t help him any either. It makes him look bad and, if he’s like me, it is a distraction from writing he doesn’t need.

Yes, it is hard to read those bad reviews. If you can’t put the brakes on the impulse to respond, then get someone else to read your reviews for you. But don’t waste your time trying to prove just how wrong that reviewer happens to be and certainly don’t lose your cool. It will backfire on you.

The second thing that caught my eye recently has been a discussion on Baen’s Bar about what software folks use to write. As you can imagine, the responses are varied. There are those who, like me, use Word. We might not like it and it does have a learning curve from Hell, but it is still the industry standard and it still has the best review and comment function of anything I’ve found. Others use open source software like LibreOffice and OpenOffice. Both are decent programs and have the benefit of being free. Others use older versions of WordPerfect — frankly, my favorite program before it started trying to be Word. Apple fanatics use Word or Pages. Then there are those who use text editors. A few use Scrivener.

Each program has its benefits and drawbacks. Word is chock-full of junk code and is expensive. Then there is the learning curve to be able to take advantage of all it offers. But it is the industry standard. Plus, it is easy to get rid of much of the junk code by simply running it through another program, such as Atlantis, if necessary. But even that isn’t necessary in most cases anymore because Amazon and the other sites that allow us to upload our work for sale have improved their conversion tools to the point that much of the junk code is removed during the conversion process. It’s not perfect and you do have to check each time you upload something, but it is much better than it used to be.

OpenOffice, and to a lesser extent LibreOffice, are notorious for not working well with Smashwords’ conversion tool, the meatgrinder. So that is something to keep in mind if you are going to be offering your work through that particular outlet.

Using a text editor is probably the best way to insure you have no junk code in your work. The problem is that you need at least a basic understanding of html coding if you are going this route and, frankly, most of us don’t want to take the time to make sure all the codes are closed out. Still, if you don’t have much special coding needed, this is the way to go if you don’t mind the way the text editor works and looks.

Scrivener is an excellent program but, for me, it offers too much. Yes, I know you can choose which parts of the program to use but it is distracting. I have a feeling that, for a true plotter, it is probably one of the best programs out there. But for pantsers or hybrids, it can be a bit daunting.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what program you use for writing. The important thing is that you are writing. Where much of the conversion problems come from now is when a file goes through multiple programs during the editing process. Here’s what I mean. Wally the writer uses Word. When Wally finishes his first draft, he sends the DOC file to Annie the Alpha Reader. Annie reads and comments using Pages and then sends it back to Wally. Wally opens the file, looks it over and implements or disregards Annie’s suggestions. Then he sends it to Barney the Beta who uses LibreOffice. Rinse and repeat.

What happens is that each of these programs have underlying code that has now been written into the file. Some of that code may be at odds with other parts of the coding. That is what causes a lot of the problems you see during conversion. So, whether you upload exclusively to Amazon or to other sites as well, I recommend you add one more program. You need something that will let you edit the html code. You can do this by saving your file as an html file and using a text editor or you can convert it to epub and use a file like Sigil to edit the html. I like using Sigil or something similar to it because it allows you to not only edit the code but also the text of the file. You can build your meta data, compile your active table of contents, and much more. But, again, none of that matters if you aren’t writing and finding the program you are most comfortable with as a word processor is a must.

Finally, this is the season of the trolls. We’ve had a few here. Not many but a few. Sarah gets them fairly regularly at ATH. We see them in reviews and on social media. Even though a rousing game of whack-a-troll is often fun, it is a time consumer as well. Especially when, as with the one at ATH right now, he either doesn’t realize he’s being used as a chew toy or he enjoys it. Don’t let yourself get drawn into a prolonged encounter with them. Even if they do eventually go away, they’ve won because they’ve taken you away from what’s important — your writing.

And, one that note, I’m off to find more coffee and get back to work myself. Have a good one, guys!

TANSTAAFL

I first came across TANSTAAFL years ago after finding copies of Worlds of If buried in one of my grandmother’s closets. This closet was devoted to storing books, magazines, records and a myriad of other things my uncles and father had left at the house over the years. To the best of my knowledge, these particular magazines had been left by my Uncle John when he’d been home on leave from the Navy. The rest of the brothers and sisters had long since moved out of the house and had their own families.

For those of you who might not be familiar wit TANSTAAFL, it comes from Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It is the “title” of the third part of the book and stands for “There ain’t so such thing as a free lunch.” Think about that for awhile.

I guess what made this come to mind for me is recent events in the publishing world. There’s the Amazon-Hatchette conflict. Amazon has been pretty quiet about what is involved in their ongoing negotiations with Hatchette. Hatchette has been more quiet, officially at least, that I expected. However, there are “unnamed sources” that are supposedly from those in the know at Hatchette that have talked with the New York Times. And, of course, the Times is reporting what was said as fact. I’ll let you read the post but basically, if the source is to be believed, Amazon wants concessions for putting up a pre-order button, for having a person dedicated to dealing with Hatchette, pricing and discounting of e-books, etc.

Now, as the Times noted, much of what Amazon supposedly wants is exactly what is already in place with retailers such as Barnes & Noble. Of course, that little tidbit is buried deep in the article. It is also something we aren’t hearing about from those Amazon detractors who claim that all the retailer is doing is hurting authors and readers.

Well, folks, TANSTAAFL. As an author, when you sign a contract with a publisher, you are signing over all rights to determine where your book will be sold to that publisher. If they don’t contract with a retailer, too bad. If they get into a contract dispute with a retailer too bad. You may not like it but you gave up that control. What’s more, you gave it up for a very small cut of the money pie, trusting that publisher to protect your rights, market your book and give you a fair accounting of your sales.

I’m not going to condemn anyone for going the traditional route. I freely admit there is one traditional publisher — Baen — I would love to work with some day. However, when you sign a contract with a publisher, you do give up your right to determine where your books are sold and at what price point. You can and, more than likely will, find yourself held hostage during contract negotiations between the publisher and its distributor or retail outlets. That is just one of the costs of doing business the traditional way.

But TANSTAAFL applies to what is going on in publishing in other ways as well. For a very long time, the darlings of traditional publishing have benefited from a push from their publishers than many others never received. They were allowed to believe that they are relevant and cutting edge. They fell into lockstep with the cause du jour as decided by the publishers and took great joy in lording it over the lesser beings in publishing, especially in science fiction/fantasy. We’ve seen them flex their muscles — or try to, at least — in how they’ve pushed political correctness as they describe it. Don’t you dare have a scantily clad female on a cover but no sweat having a mostly naked man. To be relevant, you have to have every color, creed and sexual preference represented in your work. Story has taken a backseat to message.

Except there has been a push back and they don’t know how to react. The sacred cows are being sacrificed right and left. We’ve been told people don’t read science fiction and fantasy and yet there are folks out there indie publishing who have been able to quit their day jobs to write full time. Others have managed to make enough in royalties in just a month or two of sales to be the equivalent of an advance from a traditional publisher. What’s worse that these renegade indie authors actually being successful is that they are doing it by writing stories readers want to read. Stories, not messages. How dare they!

The other side has made an art of attacking those they don’t approve of. They have no problems publicly condemning, possibly even slandering, those who might have unpopular beliefs. If you don’t fit into the right-think slot, you are not worthy of being allowed to write. They’ve done their best to ruin Vox Day who, in my opinion, loves to stir the pot of controversy. When Ender’s Game (the movie) came out, they tried to coordinate a boycott of the movie and even called for people to quit buying anything by Orson Scott Card. Why? Because he doesn’t believe the way they do and has said so publicly. Do I agree with him? No, but I also don’t think that is reason to take away his livelihood. Want more examples? There has been a call for Toni Weisskopf to drop Larry Correia because he is a big, mean, scary, gun-loving, heterosexual man and proud of it. Worse, he won’t learn his place and be quiet about his opinions and apologize to those who attack him.

There are any number of other examples out there. The point is this, those folks who are often identified as social justice warriors or GHHers have been allowed to do as they want and say as they want for so long, they thought they basically had a free lunch to continue to do so. They are now learning that they don’t. When they attack one of our own, we tend to fight back now. Why? Mainly because we’re tired of it. But the underlying reason is because we know, as authors, we have alternatives to legacy publishing now. We don’t have to be afraid of our editors dropping us because we aren’t bowing down to their cause du jour. Then there is the fact that we are starting to realize there are so many readers out there who want the kind of stories we write.

The dance that is happening right now revolves around how the other side is dealing with the revelation that one of their shining beacons they hold up as an example for all has been named as an abuser by her own daughter. They’d managed to “forget”, if not turn a blind eye, to the fact that this beacon (Marion Zimmer Bradley) had been married to a child abuser and had, iirc, tried to defend his actions. But now they are scrambling around trying to figure out how to respond to the allegations against MZB. I’ve seen everything from condemning the actions, if true, but casting doubt on the daughter’s story to saying basically, “okay, she was bad but that doesn’t make her books, or the message in them, bad.” Then there was the comment I saw on social media this morning which was basically trying to find out if it was one of those well-known “secrets”. The subtext being, if it wasn’t, then the person posting could just ignore what happened and say that we can’t condemn the writing because of actions of the author that weren’t known.

My issue with all that is the double-standard involved. If this sort of revelation had been made against a “conservative” writer, the SJWs would be demanding that their books be pulled from the shelves and the author would be condemned. There would be little to no doubting the allegations against her. There would be no separating the actions of the author from her work. Remember, they want to kill the careers of men like Card and Correia simply because they aren’t “politically correct”.

Well, for those who think it is all right to apply that double standard, TANSTAAFL. There will come a time when people are tired of being told what to do, what to think, what to read. And guess what, that time is here. There is more behind the trouble the publishing industry is in than Amazon and much of it lies at the feet of the publishers and those they have anointed as their dahlings. You attack us, we will defend ourselves. More than that, we will continue to write stories readers want to buy. We will continue to explore alternative ways to get our work into the hands of readers, and at prices they can afford and that will pay us royalties much greater than what your legacy publishers are giving you.

And, along that line, here are some of those books:


adjustment2Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1)

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.


stardogsStardogs

Revolution rises!

The Interstellar Empire of Man was built on the enslavement of the gentle Stardogs, companions and Theta-space transporters of the vanished Denaari Dominion. But the Stardogs that humans found can’t go home to breed, and are slowly dying out.

As the ruthless Empire collapses from its rotten core outward, an Imperial barge is trapped on top of a dying Stardog when an attempted hijacking and assassination go horribly wrong. Trying to save its human cargo, the Stardog flees to the last place anyone expected – the long-lost Denaari motherworld.

Crawling from the crash are the Leaguesmen who control the Stardogs’ pilots by fear and force, and plan to assassinate Princess Shari, the criminal Yak gang, who want to kill everyone and take control of a rare Stardog for their own, and an entourage riddled with plots, poisons, and treason. But Shari and her assassin-bodyguard have plans of their own…

Stranded on the Denaari Motherworld, the castaway survivors will have to cooperate to survive. Some will have to die.

And some, if they make it to the Stardogs breeding ground, will have to learn what it means to love.

witchfindercoverfinalWitchfinder (Magical Empires)

In Avalon, where the world runs on magic, the king of Britannia appoints a witchfinder to rescue unfortunates with magical power from lands where magic is a capital crime. Or he did. But after the royal princess was kidnapped from her cradle twenty years ago, all travel to other universes has been forbidden, and the position of witchfinder abolished. Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, son of the last witchfinder, breaks the edict. He can’t simply let people die for lack of rescue. His stubborn compassion will bring him trouble and disgrace, turmoil and danger — and maybe, just maybe, the greatest reward of all.

 

Trickster ebook cover

Trickster Noir (Pixie for Hire)

After the battle of Tower Baelfire ended, Lom lay dying. Bella was tasked with not only the job she never wanted, but the one she did. Could she keep Lom alive long enough for him to come to the rescue when their kingdom needed them? And what did Raven, mysterious trickster spirit and honorary uncle to Bella, want with them? If the threat was big enough to have the trickster worried, Bella knew she needed to have Lom at her side. Underhill might look like a soap-bubble kingdom, but Bella and Lom knew there was a gritty underside. Why else would fairyland need a dark man willing to carry a big gun and be the Pixie for Hire?

 

 

convent

ConVent (The Vampire Con Series)

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.

ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00006]War To The Knife (Laredo War Trilogy Book 1)

Laredo’s defenders were ground down and its people ruthlessly slaughtered when the Bactrians invaded the planet. Overwhelmed, its Army switched to guerrilla warfare and went underground. For three years they’ve fought like demons to resist the occupiers. They’ve bled the enemy, but at fearful cost. The survivors are running out of weapons, supplies, and places to hide.

Then a young officer, Dave Carson, uncovers news that may change everything. An opportunity is coming to smash the foe harder than they’ve ever done before, both on and off the planet. Success may bring the interplanetary community to their aid – but it’ll take everything they’ve got. Win or lose, many of them will die. Failure will mean that Bactria will at last rule unopposed.

That risk won’t stop them. When you’re fighting a war to the knife, in the end you bet on the blade.

murder world kaijuMurder World: Kaiju Dawn

Captain Vincente Huerta and the crew of the Fancy have been hired to retrieve a valuable item from a downed research vessel at the edge of the enemy’s space.
It was going to be an easy payday.
But what Captain Huerta and the men, women and alien under his command didn’t know was that they were being sent to the most dangerous planet in the galaxy.
Something large, ancient and most assuredly evil resides on the planet of Gorgon IV. Something so terrifying that man could barely fathom it with his puny mind. Captain Huerta must use every trick in the book, and possibly write an entirely new one, if he wants to escape Murder World.

baptism by fireBaptism By Fire (Edge of Faith)

When a madman and a giant flaming thing attack James Lawrie’s Marine outpost, the medic and an explosively talented sergeant aren’t supposed to save the day. Life becomes no simpler when Petty Officer Lawrie returns home on leave to find federal agents investigating the disappearance of a young woman from his past. A young woman whose body turns up marked with eerily familiar symbols.

 

fancy freeFancy Free

In the last parts of the Twenty-first century, AI, Artificial Intelligence is commonplace. Highly able computers, and nothing more . . . until some rare and as yet unidentified trigger creates an actual personality.

Artificial Personalities, APs or hals, are illegal. Destroyed upon discovery. Even Beowulf, the AP the government controls, and uses to hunt down emerging hals, isn’t legally recognized, has no right to existence.
So you’d think that when the Special Grid Security Unit started paying extra attention to the area where a certain cooking show operates, Fancy Farmer—the AP who runs the show—would be concerned.

But Fancy has a bigger problem.

She’s been stolen.

Self-Publishers are Reactionary Forces of Darkness!

A gift that keeps giving –that’s been Stardogs
on Amazon Kindle so far.

I’ve finally succeeded in wrestling Smashwords into submission (it’s just a flesh-wound) so the book is now available on Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Uncle Tom Cobbly and all.

And from the point of view of ‘how-gullible-and-stupid-do-they-really-think-anyone-is’ Doublespeak –as material for blogging about… the UK’s Grauniad is just about as rewarding. This particular piece, is so ‘brilliant’ for that that I’m going to devote an explanatory fisk to it with my gifted snarky translations. Now, Doublespeak is not Greek. Or Chinese. I know, I tried putting some of it into Google translate and got: Σταματήσουν να πίνουν τόσο πολύ ούζο, μαλάκας or Stamatí̱soun na pínoun tóso polý oúzo malákas, and 官方经济报告,2014年Guānfāng jīngjì bàogào,2014 nián. So because it may make as much sense as either of these languages to non-speakers of the same, let me kindly translate. I have a lifetime of experience in understanding its nuances, which may otherwise pass you by, that is, if the sheer gibberish of it does not just leave you wondering if you’re wearing your wobbly boots.

“Trumpeted as a democratic broadening of the publishing field, ‘authorpreneurialism’ actually narrows the world of reading and writing”
Translated into ordinary English I believe this means authors doing it themselves instead of relying on traditional gatekeeper – AKA publishers — has actually broadened the world of reading and writing, (narrowed in doublespeak is used like this ‘the little rock-pool narrowed out into the Pacific Ocean, becoming much more restricted.’) Or more simply put ‘This is a bad thing for us and our friends.’

“Now price and success, too often the determinants of value, have made it respectable.”
Translation: ‘price’ – It’s cheap, anyone can do it, and riff-raff are getting in. ‘Success’ as a measure of merit – meaning people just decided they liked reading it, and paid money for it when they had a choice of it or something else is a bad way of determining value, because it generally rates our writing as not worth paying for. And how could that be true? We know what is good for you, much better than you do. You’d just read books you enjoyed, which would be awful. Stop being so darn uppity.

“Unfortunately, self-publishing is neither radical nor liberating.”
Translation. Self-publishing isn’t Statist nor limited to the message we want you to preach. Sometimes it doesn’t even have a message.

“And, as revolutions go, it is rather short on revolutionaries.”
Translation: Almost none of you self-pubs look like Che. Or systematically commit abuses like him. You self-pub writers are a disappointment. You’d look terrible on a T-shirt.

“It is actually reactionary”
Translation: it’s a revolution, but against our established order, which has been around for more than a century. And it’s not going backwards either, but claiming that is nearly as good a get-out-of-jail card as ‘raciss’.

“a contracted version of the traditional publishing model in which companies, who produce for a wide range of tastes and preferences, are replaced by individual producers each catering to very narrow range.”
Translation: Our doublespeak mathematical skills are on the same level as our English skills. Big Companies, six of them controlling 85% of paper sales catered for “a wide range of tastes and preferences” which are so indistinguishable that no reader could tell who the publisher was, and in which the number of books sold per literate financially able buyers has dropped steadily for fifty years because they had not a clue about the market outside their NY circle, is being replaced by several million new entrants each targeting niches they know about. Even if the individual entrants have a narrow appeal – call it 1 inch of the spectrum, compared to the big six’s almost identical 12 inches – the whole spectrum is several miles wide, and is finally getting some coverage.

“In other words, democratisation is nothing more than the expansion of the publishing process from the few to the many. But this both overestimates the barriers to traditional publication – the vetting and selection process may be deeply flawed, but every writer can submit a manuscript”
Translation: ‘the vetting and selection process may be deeply flawed’ = it was a complete and hopeless cock-up which was statistically worse than pure chance, at least for the top 10% (they would buy 0.01% of that), where ignorance of the market, socio-political bias and buddy-nepotism meant they would take worse books at the expense of books that had real promise. They favored books for reasons that had nothing to do with pleasing readers or selling. Even if they tried: They had neither the tools (market research, adequate statistical data or analysis,) nor the skills (editors’ jobs are to pick bestsellers. They probably missed a thousand for every one they found. Even with all the push they gave, cooking the books, and they still failed most of the time) and the writer of the piece generously admits it ‘may’ be deeply flawed?!!!!

“but every writer can submit a manuscript”
Oh my. What a treasure we are abandoning. Translation: every author could buy a lotto ticket. The prize money is tiny, and we only let you enter one competition (submit to one publisher) at a time, and we’ll give you a form rejection in a couple of years. I was bought out of the slush. 1 book, out of 3000. And that was at least partially pure luck. Secondly, the statement isn’t even true, at least in SFF. Most of the publishers were closed to un-agented submissions. The publishing industry kindly outsourced slush to agents, and got the authors to pay for it. Generous! And we’re just giving all that wonderful stuff up, to let readers decide what they want to do with their money. No wonder the writer of this piece is so offended. It must be awful that every writer can still submit a manuscript, get published, and not even have to suffer a near useless vetting process.

“It also fails to consider whether the democratisation of publishing produces a similar democratisation for the reader by making literary culture more open.”
Translation: Readers? The hoi polloi? The great unwashed? Let THEM choose? Of course they’re totally unfit to decide what is good for them. I mean offer them a bacon sandwich or an organic spinach and camel’s milk yoghurt smoothie, and you know what they’ll take don’t you? The Nambula winning ‘If you were also a Brontosaurus my love we’d stomp them to jelly before going extinct because our love wasn’t binary’ wouldn’t be a well-deserved bestseller then. The lower orders need us.

“By definition, self-publishing is an individualistic pursuit in which each writer is both publisher and market adventurer, with every other writer a potential competitor and the reader reduced to the status of consumer.”
Translation: Writers have to write something a reader might want to pay for. ‘reduced’= Allowed to choose – if this was ‘reduced status’, what were they before? Tied down torture victims? Clamped into poetry ‘appreciation’ chairs on Vogon Constructor ship?

“Publishing then becomes timid, fearing to be adventurous and revolutionary lest it betray the expectations of its market.”
Translation: blue screen error…. Restart. Translation as best as possible in safe mode: Publishing, the left-wing establishment organization has been on message, regurgitating the party line faithfully, but now if it actually has competition might have to compe… cannot parse. Blue screen of death.

“This is a natural tendency in traditional publishing but it is one restrained by the voices of its authors who are free to put their work first and entrepreneurship a distant second.”
Translate. (Pause for helpless laughter) …. No. No. NO. No one is ever going to believe authors restrained publishers. The power imbalance is just too ridiculous for even doublespeak.

“With authorship and entrepreneurship now equal partners, the new authorpreneurs have thrown off the dictatorship of the editor to replace it with the tyranny of the market.”
Translation: The old dictator was our chum. We were… close. We went to parties together in San Francisco with that lovely feminist there. And we wrote what we were supposed to, what was good for people and now these upstarts…. These… these… reactionaries are just letting buyers decide. And some of the scum probably want adventures and… shudder, binary fiction. And the tyranny of the market – yes, a brutal tyrant giving readers a free choice. Just evil!

“Dana Lynn Smith defines readers as “people who buy the book to read … the most obvious category and it includes your primary audience (the ‘ideal customer’ that the book was specifically written for)”. Or you can see it in the anger which greeted Will Self’s confession that he doesn’t “really write for readers”.”
Oh, that is AWFUL. Translation: It’s so bad that the people who pay for the product should have some vague expectation that product is for them. How can they be so UNREASONABLE? It’s ART. We KNOW it is art because it pleases us.

“When writers fear readers, who remains bold enough to push the boundaries?”
Translation: when writers have to give a damn what readers want to read in order to get them to buy the book, readers may actually get what they want. And an answer – pretty much anyone who wants to push real boundaries can. It’s a big world and it doesn’t cost much to publish, and there are other people out there who will like the most bizarre or depraved things. You just won’t get validation and affirmation, or be subsidized, and be able to tell the hoi polloi that it’s your ‘boundary’ or nothing, any more. No loss, most of them chose nothing anyway.

“The risks that are an inescapable part of an industry where every book is a gamble make traditional publishers very conservative. But they are far more liberal, far more radical than self-publishing in its current form. Cross-subsidies from commercial titles support poets, academics and writers of new and daring literary fiction who will never appear on bestseller lists. Such concerted action is impossible in a fragmented world where each writer pursues individual success.”
Translation: We’re scared our books are so bad no-one will buy them if they have a choice. We expect to be able to be parasites. And just because no-one wants to read them, doesn’t mean they aren’t great literary fiction! (and that’s so true – but it’s hardly a reason to give the lice money).

“Can a literary culture where writers are producers and readers are consumers be truly open? Only if your definition of an open society is one ruled by the market.”
Translation: literary culture FLOURISHED under Communism. Er. NOT. But we apparatchiks were well paid for denouncing the wicked West. And we MISS that. Especially the pay.

“The individualism of the self-publishing authorpreneurs, is disturbingly close to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, in which the greatest goal is individual fulfilment.”
Translation: Sorry… mem. stack overflow… reset with logic parameter disabled. Earlier, readers were bad because they wouldn’t let writers merely write to please themselves and pay them for this, now writers are bad because they want to write to please themselves. No problem in doublespeak-land. Logic works the same way Math does there.

“No wider context needs to be considered because these wider goals will take care of themselves if every individual pursues a personal objective without regard to anyone else. It is the philosophy of pure laissez-faire capitalism that rejects community and mutual responsibility.”
Translation: Capitalist BAD. Socialist good because anyone wanting to read your work is not important. And we wise ones will decide what you peasants have to be made to carry. We are ordained… by er… um Gaia, yes Gaia to decree what the community needs, in case you wanted to know. She thinks we and our fellow-travelers deserve the best for preaching the message, even if no one reads it. Oddly I have had much more help from other authors – self pubbed and otherwise, than I ever got from publishing. We do support each other.

“If self-publishing is to be a radical and revolutionary force it will be forged by creative collectives, groups of committed writers and artists who inter-publish, contributing to the publication not just of their own work but of the work of the others in the group across diverse genres and literary forms.”
Translation: If traditional publishing can’t pay me enough to live well on for crap no one wants to read, perhaps I can sucker some other organic soy latte sippers into carrying me.

And good luck with that.

The funniest thing about this is that really, for experimental writers or poets, actually e-books and self pub are far more accessible and it is possible for the Arty-est to make some kind of living, because the size of the market expands many-fold on what traditional publishing gave them. Yes, they actually have to find some readers… but stuff I wouldn’t wipe my butt on finds support on Kickstarter and Patreon.

And the second funniest thing was the comments section. Hmm. Maybe mad cow disease somehow got into the soy lattes….

And as a thank you reading this far, and as free sample for those who might not have read my drivel, uh, work, yes work. Red Fiddler
is FREE for the next four days. Enjoy.

The Arcane Truth About Publishing

Yes, I know I owe you a chapter, but you have no idea how crazy things have been out here.  We’re now dealing with the aftermath of the hail storm, which requires appointments and estimates and such.  Yep, it turns out we had damage, but insurance SHOULD cover it all.  Hopefully.  Almost for sure.  Of course, this on top of staging the house for sale, finishing three overdue books, and still keeping normal life flowing, and getting ready for Liberty con next weekend, is being a real challenge.  Those of you going to Liberty con might find I don’t have any hair left, or that it’s all turned white.  Oh, wait.  It turned white 23 years ago.  So….  that’s okay, at least, and besides, there’s dye on top of that. 😛

So this week, I did my blather for book plug Friday: send your promo to book.plug.friday@gmail.com and Charlie Martin and I will put it up.  In my own experience it gooses up my sales for a week, and I understand it has created some amazing successes for people out there.

Normally I do the “blather” late at night on Thursday, but this week I forgot it was Thursday.  (Yes, it’s a theme.  I’m really getting pulled in fifteen directions at once, so stuff happens.)  So, I woke up early morning on Thursday, and the only thing I could think of was how stunned I was at Hilary’s book bombing publicly.  It’s not that I think or thought that there was a huge market for it, but because I thought the traditional machine could still FAKE it.

So that’s what I wrote about.  Sorry, PJM is a political site, and yes, there are a couple of passing political references.  BUT mostly it’s about publishing.  (And for the record, I don’t think there’s a great market for ANY politicians’ memoirs.  I think it’s all push and smell.)

Anyway, I wrote “the blather” which is what my coauthor and I call the text that goes before the book plugs.  And to our everlasting shock — okay, at least mine — the post became a huge hit before instapundit linked it.  To me, at least, what I said about the way the industry operated/operates, etc. was absolutely obvious.  Apparently not.  Apparently it’s also not well known.  Who knew?  People are emailing me to tell me how I explained things for them.  And this is without my mentioning the warm bucket of fail known as “ordering tot he net” that made it impossible for midlisters to “ascend through the ranks” so it was push up front, or nothing.

Apparently this post is sort of like revealing an arcane code.  Fine.  But it’s not like both Dave Freer and I haven’t talked about it before.  And if I have to prove it, below is Dave’s post, The Elephant of Surprise, published in August of 2011

The Elephant of Surprise, by Dave Freer, August 2011

“Why don’t you,” said the accountant looking at the books (account books) of the normal series of chaos and disaster, and very occasional black swans which is publishing, and the good money ascribed to that little subset ‘bestsellers’,  “just buy bestsellers?”

The editor sneered at him behind his hand while mumbling that it wasn’t quite as easy as that, and that that was what they tried to do.  And at least most of his sales predictions had been remarkably accurate. He knows what people want to read, and so he’s a key employee, in case any accountant is thinking of making anyone redundant.

If the accountant had known anything about books that were not a spreadsheet he would of course have known that a)the editor is cooking the books b)the editor has to cook the books because he neither the tools nor the specialized ability to use those tools to predict what books people want to buy reliably. Sometimes he can guess what he can sell better than other times, and sometimes he has more of a clue.  And a lot  of the time he cooks the books to hedge his bets, because the accountant hates him getting it wrong and he has not faintest idea.

But he can’t just buy best-sellers.

Because it would be easier and cheaper and more likely to buy antimatter, the way it is done now.

You see buying bestsellers at present relies on the possible pachyderm postulate. Now, this is more or less a tale for those authors trying to pick a direction and style for success. It’d be valuable for accountants to publishing houses and editors, and agents, and possibly even for agents ‘assisting in self publishing’.

So here is a little parable about the professional licensed hunter who had been out in the big bad jungle and been bitten by bugs and scratched by thorns, and got the runs from not boiling the water first, and had his campfire flattened by wildebeest, and his food nicked by monkeys.  As a result of these experiences he’s retreated to his safe home in New York, and decided he’s going hunt from safety. Of course no one else has a license so if they want game, they’ll have to buy it from him. His beaters will bring it to him!

There are a couple of downsides to this: there is not a lot of game in his patch of apartments, and he needs to sell his kill to pay the rent and to eat, and peering out of the keyhole he can’t really see what he’s shooting through the door at.  He hires beaters, but as he has squat to pay with, these tend to be local winos who will hold a cat to the  keyhole.  So he’s limping toward eviction, and has sold a few cats and pekinese carefully skinned, as finest venison.  But looking through the keyhole he sees gray.

Now the hunter once made good money shooting elephant. One bullet, lots of meat, ivory, elephant’s foot umbrella stands. And it was gray.

So from his keyhole, the hunter sees… gray.  He dances a jig, calls up Boggis and Fenci, Suppliers of Elephant guns to Royalty, and gets them to fly him a Holland and Holland – with gold inlays, and have a courier do a helicopter delivery through the roof, regardless of expense.

And he gives the grayness a 50 mm slug through the door and rushes out to start butchering his new fortune.  Because it was gray, it was probably a pachyderm, right?

And once in every 1 000 000 times it might even be. The rest of the time he’s obliged to hastily butcher the mailman in a once gray shirt with a final demand letter, and sell him as finest wild boar.  Or he’s shot a mouse on stilts peering in the keyhole. Or merely shot a gray day.

So: now you say ‘interpret for us this parable, oh master’. And I in my charming and irascible way say ‘fool-boy go fetch another bottle of wine.’

Soothed by wine I may explain… why not?  Once publishers roamed the world and some got rich, shooting elephant (or at least bestsellers which were the equivalent of elephant), and much other game because you can’t find elephants every day. They lived in tents (or offices ) which were cheap, and they sold meat and hides to anyone who’d pay, mostly quite cheaply too.  They had many customers, ordinary people. But it wasn’t very safe, and wasn’t very comfortable, and when you had good ivory or hides you could get a better price in the big city. So they they retreated on New York, and went out shooting more rarely, with lots of beaters and bearers and a cook, and what they got, they wanted top dollar for, so they lost their old markets as customers gave up eating game or hunted for the pot themselves.  Seeing this  publishers got even more hurt, and instead of going out and hunting again (or trawling slush) they locked themselves in their houses with the bearers and cooks and relied on freelance beaters, AKA agents,  who also lived in New York.  Now some of these agents were intrepid souls and went to great effort and expense to get whatever game possible back to NY, to the publisher’s locked door.  But as the publishers weren’t doing too well, getting a buck or even a horse or cow or a goat to the door was less rewarding than it used to be, and elephants were… rare.  Some of the beaters went hunting on their own… I believe they called it assisted suicide because they weren’t licensed as hunters… and the publisher went on peering through the keyhole shooting at possible pachyderms.  The keyhole is a severe limit on vision, which might equate to the way books are viewed prior to buying. You see they’re viewed through keyhole called ‘statistics’ which every publisher knows are absolutely defining. (Every statistician of course knows that the layman and a set of figures is slightly less clued up than the spinster aunt who works in a condom factory all her life, believing she’s making waterproof sleeping bags for white mice. ) The publisher looks at bookscan figures and sees… gray (a large number). Probably a  Pachyderm! Order the delux Holland and Holland.  The trouble is the gray can be all sorts of things. Artifacts. Artificial constructs. Mailmen. Even mice on stilts more plausibly than elephants.  Without coming out of the house, almost impossible to tell if they are elephants, and really in NY the gray is actually very unlikely to be that.  You see the hunter hasn’t bothered to figure there are a lot of other parameters besides ‘gray’ to make something probably a pachyderm. And until you establish things like its size (or how much was spent on it – if it was little that’s possibly a real pachyderm) if it has tusks (what sort of distribution it got – if it was poor and still did well it is almost certainly a pachyderm) whether it has a trunk (what sort of publicity it got – if it got none and still did well it was a vast tusker indeed)…

Otherwise… the hunter may find there is less meat on mailmen than his creditors demand, and the beaters… well, they may find cats wishing to be assisted in suicide less common.  And people might just get used to eating eggs (or e-books sold by authors) which do best when you look after the egg-layers.

Yes. I have finished and turned in CUTTLEFISH. How did you guess?

How to Read

Cedar Sanderson

There are far more ways to read than I can imagine. 

I keep running across things I think are obvious, but then they have to be explained, so this is a post about how to read. Specifically, and because I assume that all of you are already cognizant of words and language, how to read an ebook.

Options to read an ebook of any format include your computer, a dedicated ereader, a tablet, a smartphone (I used to read on my palm pilot), and anything that allows you to download an app onto it. You can buy books from any distributor, be it Amazon for Kindle, B&N for Nook, Smashwords, Kobo… there are many more obscure ones. And you can read them on any device with very little technical manipulation.

I actually urge you to download and back up your ebook library, no matter what device you read on, because no platform lasts forever, and because I have a suspicious mind. To do this you will need a free program called Calibre. Calibre also enables you to catalog and organize a virtual library, something I have difficulty with as I have been reading ebooks for fifteen years and have them all scattered through files on my computer. Time to tidy that up.

Two more things, Amanda Green pointed out, are DRM and sharing. DRM is Digital Rights Management, and it is used by traditional publishing to attempt prevention of piracy. It is ineffectual at that, as it can be broken relatively easily, but I am not going to discus how. I would suggest checking before you buy an ebook to see if it has DRM, which will complicate any attempts at downloading for backup, and sharing across multiple devices. Sharing is how many devices you can put content on. The publisher will sometimes limit the amount of devices a book can be on, or if the book can be lent out. So check your seller’s preferences for DRM and limitations on downloads, lending, or sharing.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 10.55.38 AM

First of all: reading.

Reading online is the easiest method, as you don’t have to download, but the cons are that you are tied to your computer and the screen may bother your eyes after a few hours of reading. If you do read online I suggest not making a marathon of it, get up, move around, look out the window. If you do have a mobile device, you can download various apps to it to read with. There are a few generic ebook readers which can handle epub files (see glossary below) from any source. Then there is the Kindle App, iBooks (Apple’s bookstore) and Google Books. I personally use my Kindle app on my phone and tablet to read. It’s easy to sync a book to it after purchase, and I can put down one device, pick up another, and the book opens to the same place.

Reading on a dedicated ereader, once an unheard of option, is now very affordable, and you have options. Both Amazon and B&N sell their versions, the well-known Kindle and Nook. I have had the opportunity to play with both, and I recommend the Kindle over the nook (now, more than ever, as the nook platform is unstable and my cease to be supported at any time). You can then choose an e-ink reader, which is not backlit (if you read in bed they make handy little lights to clip on, where were those when I was 11 and hiding under the blankets with a flashlight?) and looks like real paper. For those who dislike a bright screen, or like to read outdoors, these are ideal. They also have the advantages of a really long battery life, adjustable font for those with vision issues, and light weight.

My first reader tried an e-ink device, then a touchscreen, and went back to the simpler one, he prefers the ability to turn pages with a button click rather than, as he put it “my fat fingers accidentally hitting the screen.” Touchscreen devices like the Kindle Fire or Nook color are handy if you want backlit, color images, and the ability to do other things than read on your device. If you do, I’d suggest a small tablet instead. You will have more flexibility with a 7” tablet for apps, and a lower price (I paid about $130 for my Asus 7” tablet and it’s a champ).

Next: Library Curation

There is a persistent belief that you aren’t buying an ebook, only renting it. Well, if you are lending as Amazon allows you to do, this is true. But if you have purchased an ebook from Amazon or another seller, you can also download it, store for backup, and even convert it to another format. If you have a nook, for instance, you can purchase from Amazon and read it on your device. It’s a little more complex than click and read, but for back-up purposes you should be doing this anyway.

To download a book from Amazon, hover over “Your Account” and click on “Manage Your Content and Devices” from that drop-down menu. This will prompt a sign-in, do so, and you will see your content, displayed as a list of titles. You will see that you can sort by various options. Select a title, click on “Actions” and select “Download & transfer via USB.” A file will appear in your downloads folder on your computer, with an .azw suffix.

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If you have Calibre on your computer, when you attempt to open that file, it will open with Calibre. If you desire to alter the format of the file, for, say, a Nook, you will want to click on ‘Convert Books’ and check to make sure that ‘output format’ is set to epub. You will note if you click, there is a long list of possible options, allowing you to set this book up to be read on almost any device. Have fun!

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I should note that I am using an Indie published exemplar, I have not tried this with a book under DRM. I don’t know if it would work, it might. I try not to buy books under DRM, as I want to be able to catalog and back up my library. Which is something I am behind on!

To download a book from Barnes & Nobles’ site, login to “My Nook” and then click on “go to Library” and you will see a download button under each book. Again, they will wind up in your downloads folder, double click, and they will open in Calibre. You can proceed as you wish.

To download from Smashwords is as simple as it is from B&N, login, go to ‘my library’ and click download. You will then be offered a list of options for file format, I’d suggest sticking with epub unless you have a reason for choosing another format (Like .mobi for a kindle device). Again, locate it, put it in Calibre, and go to town on it.

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Finally: sideloading

Ok, now you have this nice library on Calibre. What if you want to put these shiny converted books onto a device? Well, the simplest way is likely to sideload them from your computer to your device using a USB cable. Plug the device in, wait for it to show up on the menu, then click and drag and drop files into the proper folder. I can’t get a lot more specific: every device is a little different. I can give you hints. For a nook, you will need to use Adobe Digital editions, as described here. For a kindle, you can use your kindle email address which is given to you in the “Manage Content & devices” area, and send the .mobi file to the device over wifi. If you are loading onto a phone or other device, look for ‘library’ or sometimes the app will have a folder.

I know this last bit is vague, and I’m sorry. I can say that if you ask, here or over on my blog, we will likely be able to help if you’re stuck on how to get content onto a certain device. I might not know, but I’m not the only brain (or the biggest!) hanging around these parts.

See, here’s the thing. We want you to be able to read your books, the ones we wrote, and although we know that paper is special, ebooks are terrific. They are portable – I can carry hundreds in my pocket wherever I go – the ability to adjust font sizes is great for readers who hate squinting at 11 pt font on paper (and frankly, the large print selection at most libraries sucks), and they are cheaper than paper. Not to mention they won’t have you needing to reinforce your floors from the weight of the bookshelves. I’ll never fully give up paper, but I love having options.

Freedom!

Glossary:

  • .azw – the proprietary format Amazon uses for ebook files.
  • Calibre – a freeware program to manage and back up your digital library.
  • DRM – Digital Rights Management, used by some publishers in an attempt to prevent their books from being read too often or by the wrong people.
  • .epub – a more generic ebook file, used by Nook and others.
  •  .mobi – the format you can use for ebook files loaded onto your kindle.

It’s The End of the World as We Know It . . . Pam Uphoff

(Again, being late is my fault.  I’m going to send another invite-to-blog to Peter and Pam and try to get them to post their own posts.  Alternately someone whose head is not divided between novel, publishing and the incredible lighteness of being the first steps in what will be a complex and massive house move needs to take point0-man on this. – SAH)

It’s The End of the World as We Know It . . .

Pam Uphoff

 

Disaster fiction has always been popular. Fun to read. Mainly because it’s so completely unlikely.

I mean, an asteroid hit the Earth? Yeah, yeah, Dinosaurs, but what have the heavens done for us lately? Besides the Tunguska event (Imagine if that had happened in 1968 instead of 1908!) Or Cherblinsk (what’s with Russia, eh? Insulted the heavens or something?)

And a nuclear war? C’mon, next you be claiming Russia is eyeing Europe, or some mad mullah in Iran is trying to build a nuke.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados . . . rare natural events with mostly local effects.

Terrorism, war, crime, financial melt down, civil unrest . . . problems caused by man.

Large asteroids, alien invasions, massive solar flare, supernova nearby . . . TEOTWAWKI!

As a writer, which one shall I pick? In real life, which one should I prepare for?

As a writer, I have to make my readers believe the improbable is possible. In real life, I have to pick the most likely, and hedge my bet a bit in case one of the very rare but very deadly one happens instead.

Fictionally, part of my choice is going to depend on what my main character is capable of. Bambi vs Godzilla is only funny once. I have to have a disaster my hero can survive. Or possibly sacrifice his life saving his children or the World or something equally noble. I can pick the disaster, and I can also pick the characters.

In Real Life, well, here I am. Sixty years old, with a strong back and crappy knees. And the disaster that will happen, will happen. Nothing I can do to change that.

As a writer, I tend to analyze what I do, to prepare for a real life disaster. And then extrapolate that into very strange places. I live a hundred miles, more or less, from the Gulf of Mexico on very flat land. So, my main worries are hurricanes and flash flooding. Toss in the occasional tornado and hailstorm.

Power outages, inability to get anywhere for supplies, leaking roof . . . Here on the borderland between suburb and rural, it means having a two week stash of food on hand, and bunchatona water. Ah! But what if you were on Mars? Or in a spaceship? All of a sudden those leaks will involve air departing, not water getting in. How much food do you have to have on hand? How independent are you? Is someone fixing the power problem, or do you need to go fix it yourself?

Now, some things you can’t deal with in real life. Nearby supernova expected in six months? What can a Hero do, fictionally? As a writer, you’ve got to work something out. Underground? In a space ship deep inside Jupiter’s magnetosphere? Hide behind the Sun? In real life, depending on just how far away that supernova is, and if you have deep natural caves or mines on your property, or you work for some experimental engineering firm building a magnetic shield that just happens to be just what is needed . . . Oops, sorry slid into fiction again . . .

The thing is, there is very little in real life that isn’t useful for writing fiction. _Anything_ that happens, good, bad, or neutral is something that can be used in a story, sometime. Especially how you deal with it, and how, in retrospect, you wish you’d dealt with it.

The opposite is true as well. Exploring fictional scenarios, both as a reader and a writer, can help you see upcoming problems, and how to avoid them, mitigate them, or beat them. In real life. Stranded in the frozen north? Shipwrecked on a desert island? Picked up by a madman with a submarine? I’ve read them all, and have some grasp of what to do to start surviving.

Spaceshipwrecked would need a bit more research, but that is part of why I like writing SF. Marooned in the Past? Yes! More fun research!

There’s been a lot going on lately in SF/F. Self immolation appears imminent in some factions. Anger is very energizing, it wakes you up, gets you going, probably some endorphins and so forth going on. All your friends tell you how right you are to be angry, and they get angry too . . . Reminds me of my youth. “If it feels good, do it.” But the problem with anger is that it needs to be aimed at something or someone. Who probably doesn’t appreciate it, and may get righteously angry in return. And onlookers, instead of rallying around may just decide to walk away and let the idiots on both sides burn their bridges while they’re on them.

We see it in the SF community, we see it in politics. How does that affect our fiction?

When I first wrote my SF/F crossover series, I was extrapolating from the early stages of this sexual civil war. I started with competing research facilities in universities. Genetic engineering, improving humanity . . . first they put those special “ESP” genes in the Y chromosome, so they could test it without the complications of pregnancies and so forth. Outrage in a woman’s college! Their version went on the X chromosome, along with a gene that would attack the Y bearing sperm . . . Other researchers tried to calm things down with genes that would work for either sex. Then I exiled them and gave them time to get even worse. Now I have witches and mages at odds with each other, with no understanding of the origins of their enmity . . .

Is that my message? Oh heck no. My message is the girls and boys—to the fury of their elders–falling in love with each other and forming long lasting families full of people who both love and respect each other.*

And that’s what’s going to happen here, in real life. Girls and boys will always be attracted to each other. Well, occasionally, boys will be attracted to boys, and girls to girls. Or shoes. No big deal.

But it would sure be nice if we could get back to this basic idea–that people fall in love and are most comfortable living with each other–quickly, before we lose the knack of politeness, good manners. The oil that lubricates our social interactions and eliminates so much friction is important. The knowledge of how to start out on the right foot really helps in life. We need to teach our children to be joyful and hopeful instead of fearful and defensive.

Perhaps what we need, instead of stories where a disaster destroys civilization, are more disasters that are survived due to civilized behavior. I’ve read some like that. I’d like to hope some of mine convey that message. And I hope that if TEOTWAWKI happens, locally, regionally or globally, we remember that civilization is a vast improvement over nasty, brutish and short.

 

*Well, actually my message is more like “Wouldn’t magic be cool!” but the social stuff is in there, too.

 

And now I’ll inflict a chapter and a half of my current WIP on you, since it’s all about the End of the World:

 

Time Loop

Pam Uphoff

 

 

Chapter One

1995 Los Angeles

 

“You are bug fucking insane!”

I glanced up, a bit surprised by the vehemence of the woman’s outburst.

“In fact they invented the term ‘utterly mad’ to describe people like you!” She twisted against her restraints.

“Oh, I doubt that. I believe few if any psychologists use terms such as ‘mad’ these days. Even a clean simple ‘insane’ is out of vogue. Nowadays it’s all ‘narcissist’ ‘sociopath’ and this or that ‘spectrum’ of mental imbalance.” I shrugged. “I haven’t really kept up with the field. Have they gone back to ‘mad’ now?”

She growled.

The body on the deck groaned.

Excellent timing. I removed the last of the supplies from the airlock and heaved the twitching man through the hatch. I cushioned his head, rather than allow it to impact the deck. However tempting, I calculated that he’d received a dangerous amount of head trauma already. Police everywhere were notorious for their relentless pursuit of “cop killers,” besides which I did try to avoid unnecessary killing.

“Now, officer, or inspector or whatever police are called this time, if you will refrain from attacking me, I will untie you and shove you into the airlock with your colleague. Then I will cycle the lock and you two can jump down to the ground and retreat at least a hundred meters . . . Are you metric, this time? No? A hundred yards or so ought to be sufficient to be safe when I depart. Feel free to go further.”

“I will not allow you to leave.”

I sighed. “I have already set the controls. I will be leaving in five minutes.”

She sneered. “You expect me to believe you set a timer before you even unloaded your car?”

“I programmed in the course a month ago, when I arrived. As you see, I’m right on schedule.”

Sneer. “Riiiight. So what happens if you get in a traffic jam?”

I dismissed her concerns with a wave of my hand. “Then I build a quick jury-rigged system, good for a single jump, and meet the plane there.” I clipped the wires holding her hands above her head, watching carefully for aggressive moves. The sticky trap had finished dissolving, so she was dangerous, again. “I’ve only had to do it twice.”

“Twice in how long?”

Oh, she was good at those supercilious tones. “Well, I’ve rather lost track. You know how it is, after the first dozen time jumps, a few problems with onboard power and one tends to lose track of one’s personal chronological age.” She didn’t seem to be interesting in hitting me, so I took a moment to consider the question. “Perhaps ninety years?”

“You’re holding up well.”

“Oh, in the future humans have a much longer lifespan. Hardly surprising, even you will live twice as long as your great great grandmother.” I turned and took the kick on my thigh. Kept turning, holding on to her, and releasing as she lined up with the hatch. She turned her sprawl into a shoulder roll, and sprang right back at me.

I slammed the hatch in her face, spun the wheel to seal it—I’m a bit old fashioned that way, love the brass hardware—and tapped the controls—I also find optronics indispensable—to lock this hatch and open the outer. I didn’t deploy the steps. It was only ten feet down; they could damn well jump.

Whistling happily, I gave the transfer equipment a last lookover, then started stowing the supplies. The fabricators are, in theory, capable of producing all my needs. They fall badly short when it comes to desires. The sweet crunch of a real apple simply cannot be replicated.

The faint quiver of the starting sequence alerted me to the passage of time. I had, of course, lied to Agent Bonner. I might have programmed in the next jump a month ago, but there was no timer. Any more. Two jury rigged death traps were quite sufficient to assure me that I could always get home. For some definition of home.

I’d been one of only twelve survivors of The War. A dozen scientists, buried in a deep bunker in the Antarctic icecap, frantically trying to perfect a time machine, so we could go back and save our civilization.

We failed.

Oh, the time machine worked.

But changing history has turned out to be more complicated than we’d realized.

Haven’t got it right, yet.

 

***

 

The space plane had been, so to speak, off the shelf. We’d just added the time machine. What I wouldn’t give to have that industrial sized fabricator back!

The onboard fab did good work, but it couldn’t turn out replacement parts for the plane. I really needed to find a future that had some robustness to it, and just quit. Just . . . accept what had resulted, and realize that it was an improvement on “Everybody dies.”

I walked into the cockpit. It was large, but not large enough to gain a more auspicious designation. Dale had tried to call it the command deck, but since it had just enough room that one could walk up and sit in a chair rather than climb into it, he’d been unsuccessful.

The forward screen—so called because the really big ships had vid screens, instead of this sweep of transparent alloy—was a compete U and stretched up overhead as well. It differed only in its optical properties from the rest of the silicon bronze hull. Like the rest, it was layered with nanocarb sheets and as close to indestructible as anything humans had ever made. The instruments and controls were in a panel that swept around the U of the cockpit just under the screen. The pilot and copilot seats faced forward, the navigator was on the port side, facing to the port. Of necessity, I’d found I could reach the critical controls from the pilot’s seat. The communications gear and the radar, lidar and such were out of the pilot’s reach on the starboard side.

Dale had been killed by police during our third expedition into the past. Pity; he’d been the best pilot. The time machine was my baby, my specialty.

Today I was alone, and if manual piloting was needed, I’d be the one doing it.

 

A glance out the windows showed no sign of the two cops. Good, they were gone. The two cars—mine and their official vehicle—were still entangled, where they’d rammed me. Silly of me to care. I had made a minimum down payment, and hadn’t bothered making the first payment. But I hated to see equipment abused.

Three clusters of cop cars blocked any path the plane might have taken to get to the runaway. Little hick county airport. Private planes and a few shuttle service commercial small jets. The space plane was the biggest thing here. The police all seemed to be huddling behind their vehicles with rifles pointed this direction. I couldn’t spot Bonner. No doubt she’d hauled her partner off to the nearest hospital.

I walked back to the airlock and sealed the outer hatch.

Agent, Officer, Lieutenant or whatever. Bonner was one of the puzzles of time travel. A person who recurred. Who, no matter how we’d changed the past, had happened again and again. I’d met five recurring people, so far. This was the third time Bonner had shown up. Something about the late twenty-first century seemed to generate world destroying maniacs. We kept—I kept—having to come here, to the early twenty-first century, to stop them before they even began to develop something awful. To stop them before they killed everyone.

This time I hadn’t seen Boner until she rammed my car. Hadn’t spoken to her until she’d chased me into the plane and walked into a sticky trap.

An interesting phenomenon. Perhaps someday I’d have the time to study it.

A soft gong announced the final stages of prep. All the autopilot lights were green, so I settled back in the acceleration couch.

The plane didn’t need takeoff space. We were sitting on a pad of concrete off a taxiway. Then everything twisted weirdly and we were floating in space. Just a tiny time jump. We were in the same place. But the Earth had rolled on in its orbit without us.

We were orbiting too. I sighed. “No. I am orbiting a day behind Earth. The plane does not count. The plane and I are not a ‘we.’ Dammit.” I swallowed old grief and leaned back to double check the next stage of the program. This next time jump would be big enough that I had had to account for the movement of the Sun in its orbit around the center of the galaxy, and the movement of the galaxy relative to what I suspected was the point of origin. That made it a whole different sort of experience. I pushed the button and Reality twisted again . . . and stayed that way. The curvature of space was . . . tight in the temporal dimension. The couch was torqued and uncomfortable. Or maybe it was the realization that my body was also torqued that bothered me. The open hatchway to the main cabin was too small, no, too big, too far, but I stepped through in a blink.

The further away the furniture was, the more it looked like it was melting and deforming. The closer to the actuator, the tighter the curl it was deforming into. I tended to spend these long jumps in the cockpit, but today I was hungry. I held my hands up, curved to block out the headache inducing vision from the side and walked past the actuator to the mess.

The time machine took up most of the empty cubic in the space plane. A lot of it was in the “cargo hold” below, the custom computers were in the overhead, and the actuator took up well over half the space where the crew ought to be living. The actuator was centered, fore and aft, up and down, side to side, pretty well taking all of the recreation, exercise, and eating area, and crowding the kitchen space. All the storage and cooking equipment was against the port wall, and we’d . . . I . . . ate at a tiny table in the open area in front of the main airlock, which was on the starboard wall across from the kitchen.

Once I was closer, in the same space curvature as the apples, they ceased looking like corkscrewed bananas. I was reaching for one when I heard it. Something high pitched, then a thump . . . I turned and looked at the airlock.

“Oh no. Surely not . . .”

I paced over to the hatch and stared at it. I spun the brass handle and pulled the hatch open.

Bonner came screaming out of the airlock, clawed hands going for my throat.

 

 

Chapter Two

2200, Earth Orbit

 

Now many people have called me a gentleman, and my dad may have taught me to never hit a woman, but I’d had a bad decade and this was just too much. I grabbed her hands, twisted to avoid a snap kick. We danced around, me dodging kicks and head butts. I got her wrists together and into one hand so I could grab her around the calf of the kicking leg, and heaved. Her head slammed into the wall and she crumpled down to the deck, blinking and trying to get up.

 

“Don’t you have any sense at all?” I swapped my glare from her to the man staggering out of the airlock. The deck was so cramped he was only a meter away, so I could see that his right pupil was a quarter the size of his left. “Oh, sit down before you fall over and bash your head again.”

He tried to look belligerent, or perhaps dominant. Since he was about to fall over, the effect was not terribly impressive.

“This is massively inconvenient.” I stalked over to the fab and called up the medical programs. “Let’s see head injury . . . pupils uneven . . .” I followed the prompts and took the scanner over to the table. “Sit down. I know everything looks weird right now, it’s not all your head injury.”

At which point the actuator cycled down and the world returned to normal. The man blinked around, then sagged into the chair. I ran the scanner around his head three times, upper, middle and lower sections, then stepped back to the medical program. The fab spat out an autoinjector. I put it against the man’s upper arm and it hissed. He jumped, tried to stand, crumpled.

I muttered something rude under my breath and hauled him up by his lapels. Half carried him around the actuator and plunked him down in the recliner that was the sole remainder of the rec room furnishings. I clicked on the screen and set it to search and analyze any signals it could detect. “If you must keep butting in, watch that and call if it finds anything interesting.” I turned and stomped back around the actuator.

Bonner had made it to her feet, but she was swaying, even with a hand on the wall. I set the medic program for patient #2 and picked up the scanner.

If you will refrain from kicking and hitting, I will . . . ”

“You are under arrest, buster. You have the right . . . Put that down!” her hand went for her shoulder holster, fell away. She must have just remembered me taking her gun—and her partner’s while they were helpless. Her in the sticky trap, him from a head-on collision with the actuator. So I’m not a fancy fighter. Sue me. I’m big enough and strong enough that a little training was quite enough.

She kept her hand on the wall and edged over to the table. Slid down into the chair. “Who the hell are you? We know you used the name Augustus Sturm, but that name comes up completely blank in the records. Who are you, really. Why did you assault those children? What did you give them?”

I sighed and ran the three circuits of her head. “I am Dr. Augustus Sturm. I’m a physicist, my specialty is the temporal dimension. I’m a time traveler.”

The med program wasn’t nearly as impressed with her injuries. The autoinjector it produced was a quarter the size of the other.

She eyes narrowed. “Is that the same thing you gave those children?”

“No, this is for your mild concussion. The children received a sterilizing compound, so that when they grow up and marry each other they do not produce the team of scientists who developed the plague that killed half the world’s population.”

“Gawd. You are totally loonie.”

“I am not impressed by lower class slang.” I dropped the injector on the table. “Take it or not. I have a space plane to fly.” I headed forward, pausing at the sight of the screen.

“It’s a SciFi show.” The man looked pretty much as you’d expect after he’d been in a car crash, fought his way into a spaceship and been thrown into a hard lumpy object head first. “Pretty boring. They’re going to tap the electric field of the Sun to power the entire earth. If they don’t have a disaster pretty quick, I’m going to have to figure out the controls and change the channel.”

I swallowed, and examined the show. The banner below was running commentary. The President would be cutting the ribbon momentarily, and they’d fire up the Sun Tap.

“I think . . . ” I swallowed again, feeling sick. “I think that’s a news cast. Are they insane?” Finally, finally a future that has a vibrant, living planet. Please. Please. They cannot be in the process of destroying it as we speak!

The cop tried to glare, winced and closed his eyes. “It’s some stupid show. Probably burn up the Earth, have mutants running around the ruins . . . ”

“Shut up.” It came out a shaky whisper, and I hustled down the short corridor to the cockpit. The nav comp had the earth pinpointed. We were about twice as far out from Earth as the Moon. I tapped the controls and rotated the spaceplane so I could see them. A double planet, the beautiful little blue ball and a smaller half moon of white.

I could hear the two cops’ voices behind me. I don’t know what they said, but Bonner staggered into the cockpit and stopped dead, jaw dropping as she looked out at the stars and Earth.

She snorted suddenly. “Excellent imaging, but the gravity gives it away. You can’t make me believe we’re in space.”

I glared, and reached out to the artificial gravity control. Dialed it down. All the way.

 

Not one of my smarter moves, with two concussion cases aboard. They were probably already a bit nauseous, and . . . so I turned the gravity back on. And got the cleaning bots out and turned them loose. Showed my passengers the bathing facilities.

At least they were convinced. I think.

 

The man was already looking better . . . “What is your name? I can’t keep think of you as ‘the man’ however cute the coincidence with the slang term.”

He gave me a blank stare. “Slang? I am a man. Henry Aguiar.” He shot a nervous glance up the corridor toward the Earth, closer now, cloud swirls visible.

Bonner joined us. “And what do you have in these? Weapons?” She jerked a thumb at the nearest hatch. Three on each side of the corridor.

“Staterooms, they called them.” I reached and opened mine, center starboard. “They’re umm, very compact.”

They peered in. The bunk was both short and narrow. I barely fit. It also served as the seat for the fold down desk. Storage under the bed, a variety of lights and a fold down screen on ceiling. I had never decorated.

“Where are the other five crew?”

“Dead. One by one.” I flinched away from that memory. I turned and walked back to the kitchen. “There were twelve of us. Only six of us came aboard. The others said they’d keep working on the second plane. And Tsing was so old . . . and Marie has, had, horrible motion sickness, so she sent Trent off, they were husband and wife, both just brilliant . . . . We only went back ten years. We figured a couple of deaths, the worst of the war mongers over there, the worst of our own appeasers . . . when we returned . . . instead of a world dying in a radiation poisoned waste, we found a world dying of a manufactured plague. Marie was dead. Trent killed himself.”

Aguiar snorted. “Better story than that.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, toward the screen. A bunch of politicians were giving speeches. “So, in trying to prevent a nuclear war, you murdered some number of people. And that initiated a bio war? And suicide and remorse? Depressing story. Never sell in Hollywood.”

“What happened to the other four? Tell me!” Eva leaned across the table and glared.

There was plenty of room for the three of us because . . . I sighed, and fabbed myself a glass of wine. “That was when Trenton killed himself. When he realized Marie, his wife, was dead. She’d been in the bunker with us, had stayed behind. Very prone to motion sickness. And the other five we left behind as well. All twelve of us ought to have come.”

“So, we picked up enough information to pinpoint the laboratory that created the first virus. And we went back and bombed it. Jumped back to our time, and found yet another nuclear war. So we went back and . . . Dale was shot and killed by a policeman.”

“We went home, and found grey goo. Some nanotech thing. They didn’t know if it was a deliberate weapon, or . . . just a stupid accident. Good thing we’d gotten in radio contact with a final bastion of humanity before reentry. We went back, to before the first time we changed history, to see if we could reset the whole fiasco. They detected the space plane, tried to shoot us down. Next thing you know both sides were accusing the other of a sneak attack, missiles flew . . . we’d triggered the nuclear war two decades earlier than it really happened. And everybody died.”

Aguiar snorted. “Why didn’t you kill Hitler. That what they do in all the movies.”

“Hitler was the best we came up with after three tries.”

That was the best?” Bonner was sneering again.

“Yes. A madman who turned and attacked his own ally at a critical juncture. The West defeated him in just four more years. When it took longer it resulted in a nuclear war in Europe in the late 1940s. Which led to my world—my history. With all those disastrous endings.”

From the screen, a faint cheering.

I turned and walk forward. The president had cut the ribbon, and the head of the Sun Tap project gave the order to start. He turned to the crowd to speak.

“Of course, we tested the links to the orbital platform, and the early stages of the ionized power channel . . .”

“Ionized channel?” I could hear the whimper in my voice, and stiffened. It hardly mattered, those people down there . . . they were just temporary . . . idiosyncrasies of the history I’d created. They didn’t matter. They didn’t.

I walked up to the cockpit. The Earth was closer. I could see the bright spec that was the orbital power station. A faint scintillating line heading for the Sun at the speed of light . . .

“What is that?” Bonner was peering past my shoulder.

“A laser. It must be ionizing the interstellar medium—it isn’t a complete vacuum—so the electric charge will . . . I don’t see how that can possibly work, the solar wind is highly ionized already. Can they make enough of a difference . . . ” I broke off as a line of brighter light leaped to meet the laser line, flooded back up it. Raced toward Earth.

Blew through the satellite as if it weren’t there . . . a yellow white flower blossomed on the surface of the Earth. And spread. And grew. It deepened into yellow, and then yellowish orange as the wave front engulfed the entire hemisphere, then focused in on the opposite side, heating up again. It went all the way. No one was spared.

I must have been standing there for hours. It must have taken much longer than it seemed. I turned away, and walked to my stateroom. “They didn’t matter. Really. They were just a temporary temporal phenomenon.” I started the next round of calculations. I could drop my passengers off in their own time, maybe a year later, and settle down in a library with some detailed history books . . . pick a dozen targets, try the most recent first . . . something had to work . . .