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Monday, February 25, 2013

SF/F Corruption: Part II

I had intended to continue on the SFWA theme with which I began the Corruption in Science Fiction series, but a pair of articles concerning the legitimacy of the bestseller lists caught my attention after being featured on Slashdot over the weekend:
The other day, I received an unexpected phone call from Jeff Trachtenberg, a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. He said he wanted to talk about my bestselling book, Leapfrogging. At first, I was thrilled. Any first-time author would jump at the chance to speak with such a high-profile publication. But it turned out Trachtenberg didn’t want to discuss what was in my book. He was interested in how it had made it onto his paper’s bestseller list. As he accurately noted, Leapfrogging had, well, leapt onto the Journal’s list at #3 the first week it debuted, and then promptly disappeared the following Friday.

Suddenly, I wasn’t so thrilled anymore. I was just about to sit down to dinner with my family and now I was being put on the spot to discuss my role in perhaps one of the most controversial practices in the book publishing industry. I was tempted to make an excuse and plead the 5th. But I wound up talking to Trachtenberg several times over the next few days....

Trachtenberg asked me about my experience with a company called ResultSource, the firm I had hired to help me hit the bestseller list from day one. Trachtenberg said he had contacted all of the major New York publishers, but no one would speak to him about the firm or the role of so-called “bestseller campaigns” in helping authors reach the coveted status. No comment. Dead silence.

I can’t say I was eager to be the first person to go on the record about the topic. But then I realized something – Trachtenberg’s surprising phone call was an opportunity to live up to what I urge my readers to do in my book Leapfrogging.  I’ve seen the phenomenon of corporate silence repeatedly in my career. There’s a big, smelly, ten thousand pound elephant in the conference room. Everybody knows it’s there, but no one’s willing to take the risk and point it out. As Trachtenberg was discovering, bestseller campaigns are the unacknowledged pachyderm of the book business.

There’s good reason why most industry insiders would prefer that the wider book-buying public didn’t learn about these campaigns. Put bluntly, they allow people with enough money, contacts, and know-how to buy their way onto bestseller lists. And they benefit all the key players of the book world. Publishers profit on them. Authors gain credibility from bestseller status, which can launch consulting or speaking careers and give a big boost to keynote presentation fees. And the marketing firms that run the campaigns don’t do so bad either.
This sort of thing is hardly a new practice; the Scientologists kept L. Ron Hubbard's books on the bestseller lists for years this way.  Nor is it a surprise to know that there is some hinky business going on behind the scenes at the New York Times; there usually is, and the NYT has gone to great lengths to keep hidden the method it uses to determine its bestsellers.  But it is a little surprising to see that all of the major New York publishers appear to be involved in this practice, at least to the extent that they are unwilling to openly deny that they utilize such tactics in order to market their books.

Now, upon reading this, my thoughts immediately went to a particular publisher of science fiction and fantasy, which just happens to be a publisher that appears to place an inordinate energy of effort into winning awards.  It also loves bestseller lists; here is Tor congratulating itself on its many bestseller listings in 2010 and 2011.

Tor was particularly pleased by its 2011 showing, in which its "30 New York Times bestselling books this year" annihilated their "2010 release list of 20 bestsellers".  Interestingly enough, however, the Publishers Weekly list of the 115 bestselling fiction novels for 2011 shows precisely one Tor book on its list: The Omen Machine. Terry Goodkind. Tor (108,809).

After reading this, it also occurred to me that despite McRapey's tale of the starship ensigns who were expendable hitting #15 on the New York Times bestseller list, Redshirts not only didn't show up in PW's list of science fiction bestsellers for last year, it's only #6 on Tor's own list of its top sellers, behind the immortal Imager's Battalion by L. E. Modesitt, presently ranked 19,446 on Amazon a month after its release.  And despite being "a New York Times bestseller", according to Publisher's Weekly, Redshirts didn't even make the top ten in the science fiction category in 2012, coming in behind at least three other Tor novels and a novel published in 1965.

Science Fiction

1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Tor. 100,387
2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Broadway. 50,593
3. Star Wars: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno. Lucas Books. 31,543
4. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Del Rey. 27,220
5. Star Wars: Apocalypse by Troy Denning. Lucas Books. 26,140
6. Dune by Frank Herbert. Ace. 25,532
7. A Rising Thunder by David Weber. Baen Books. 25,348
8. HALO: The Thursday War by Karen Traviss. Tor. 24,936
9. HALO: Glasslands by Karen Traviss. Tor. 24,932
10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Ballantine. 24,120

That doesn't denigrate McRapey's achievement in selling so many copies of a derivative and mediocre novel, but merely points to the varying degrees of what is claimed to be a "bestseller".  (One can, indeed, one should have contempt for McRapey as an SF author, but he is without question the finest self-marketer and stunt writer in SF/F today, even if he hasn't reached the mainstream heights of AJ Jacobs.)  On a tangential note, it's a fascinating snapshot of the sickly state of science fiction to see how many of its current and confirmed bestsellers are either works derived from games and movies or original works first published between 30 and 50 years ago.  Regardless, the fact is that most of Tor's "New York Times bestsellers" observably fit what we are informed is the profile of the fake bestseller.  They appear on the list for a single week, only to vanish the following week, never to make another appearance there again.

Here is another observable anomaly.  According to John Scalzi himself, Redshirts sold 26,604 copies in 2012.  That's very good by today's standards, especially for a hardcover, but it falls considerably short of the 100,047 copies of Neal Stephenson's Reamde sold, which novel PW reports as being the 115th-bestselling book of 2011.  And yet, Reamde spent only one more week in the top portion of the NYT bestseller list than Redshirts, (ranking 4 and 12 vs 15) despite selling nearly four times more copies.  Is the latter ranking credible, especially in light of what we now know about major publishers gaming the bestseller lists?  And how did Tor/Forge manage to produce "30 New York Times bestselling books" when only one was listed among the top-selling 115 books published that year?

Keep in mind that The War in Heaven sold 35,000 copies and I never thought that it was anything remotely close to a bestseller.  (It probably could have sold more, thanks to the brilliant Rowena cover, but that was the print run, which sold out.  I'm still convinced that what killed that series was Pocket's foolish decision to do their own imitation Left Behind cover for Shadow rather than leaving it up to Rowena and me.  I still have the sketch somewhere; it was going to be an awesome painting of Mariel and Melusine in combat.) 

None of this conclusively proves that Tor Books is engaging in the questionable marketing tactics mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article, but it certainly raises some serious questions about the legitimacy of its claimed "bestsellers", just as there are serious questions about the literary legitimacy of its infrequently reviewed, modestly-selling Nebula-nominated novels, such as, for example, its two 2012 nominees: Ironskin (64 reviews, 3.5 rating, #35,470 in Books) and Glamour in Glass (18 reviews, 4.3 rating, #409,451 in Books).

Because, after all, nothing says "science fiction" like tedious derivatives of Jane Eyre and Jane Austen.

Labels: ,

71 Comments:

Anonymous DrTorch February 25, 2013 6:37 AM  

Wow, I'm shocked that the NYT would be involved in anything questionable. I was just sure they were only providing the news fit to print.

PS Cue Scoobius as to the commonality among NYT and NYC publishers.

Anonymous Unending Improvement February 25, 2013 6:43 AM  

"1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Tor. 100,387
2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Broadway. 50,593
3. Star Wars: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno. Lucas Books. 31,543
4. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Del Rey. 27,220
5. Star Wars: Apocalypse by Troy Denning. Lucas Books. 26,140
6. Dune by Frank Herbert. Ace. 25,532
7. A Rising Thunder by David Weber. Baen Books. 25,348
8. HALO: The Thursday War by Karen Traviss. Tor. 24,936
9. HALO: Glasslands by Karen Traviss. Tor. 24,932
10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Ballantine. 24,120"

1. 1985 (Original)
2. 2012 ("spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.")
3. 2012 (Movie)
4. 2002 (Compilation)
5. 2013 (Movie)
6. 1965 (Original)
7. 2012 (Incredibly stale series by mediocre author)
8. 2012 (Video Game, incredibly worthless author)
9. 2012 (Wow, she is a trash factory.)
10. 1995 (Didn't we see this before? Hmm)

Oh how this genre has fallen.

Anonymous RedJack February 25, 2013 7:07 AM  

I am not surprised. My only question is how long this has been going on?

I haven't really enjoyed any of the best sellers for a number of years.

Anonymous Koanic February 25, 2013 7:09 AM  

It's true. But no one is (effectively) gaming Amazon reviews and sales data, or tastekid.com. Together they're pretty decent. Goodreads might also be good, haven't tried it. That's the technological solution to the opaque manipulable bestseller lists.

Anonymous JartStar February 25, 2013 8:15 AM  

I would expect the writing for games to be better as there's more money in it for the publishers. Good writing makes a good game great, and bad writing makes a good game mediocre. A perfect example is the latest Fallout games: Fallout 3 was better overall thanks to the classic arcs of the Quest for Origins, and then Saving the World. Fallout New Vegas* centered around Vengeance with a Mysterious MacGuffin and then the Will to Power as you decide the fate of New Vegas. The first story had much more depth.

*New Vegas also had more bugs, but it had upgrades like more crafting and weapon mods which made up for the issues IMO.

Blogger Tuplis February 25, 2013 8:24 AM  

A minor correction: Reamde sold about three times more than Redshirts, not four.

Anonymous Loving Tribute to Falco February 25, 2013 8:32 AM  

Is the Readme number hardcover only? Also, this wasn't posted at Blackgate? Has that ship sailed?

Anonymous VD February 25, 2013 8:55 AM  

A minor correction: Reamde sold about three times more than Redshirts, not four.

3.76 is not closer to three than to four, Barbie.

Anonymous VD February 25, 2013 9:04 AM  

Is the Readme number hardcover only? Also, this wasn't posted at Blackgate? Has that ship sailed?

Yes, obviously, since the paperback wasn't released until May 15, 2012. No, this was not posted at Black Gate. The ship hasn't sailed, I was simply, and quite reasonably, asked to address this particular issue elsewhere, since Black Gate prefers to avoid being a lightning rod for industry-related issues.

They want to do book reviews, not exposes.

Anonymous Anonymous February 25, 2013 9:07 AM  

vox-
These numbers are almost unbelievable: about 25,000 for most best selling sf novels on the list. To me, it suggests that we really are in a post-literate society.
Or are we? You ought to do a post comparing sales numbers today to sales numbers from 40, 60,80 years ago.
Are sales shockingly low, or have sf sales always been shockingly low?

S

Anonymous Loving Tribute to Falco February 25, 2013 9:11 AM  

A comparison of Total sales of all formats might be more meaningful.

Anonymous VD February 25, 2013 9:14 AM  

A comparison of Total sales of all formats might be more meaningful.

No, because they're not used for the NYT bestseller lists in question. What is relevant there is already available to everyone. It's called the Amazon Kindle rankings.

Anonymous stg58/Animal Mother February 25, 2013 9:21 AM  

Is the Hyperion series anywhere on the bestseller lists? I liked those books.

Blogger Vox February 25, 2013 9:23 AM  

Is the Hyperion series anywhere on the bestseller lists? I liked those books.

I liked them too. No, it never made any of them.

Anonymous RedJack February 25, 2013 9:47 AM  

Vox,
What was the (ball park) sales for ATOB?

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 9:53 AM  

The Fabian Society couldn't have rigged it better.

This is a case of the authorities cutting corners by replacing bread and circus with a piece of toast in center ring.

The old bestseller lists were rigged, but they were rigged with books that a lot of people were reading. Then, they decided to open up a few more casinos [Bestselling Advice & Miscellaneous list? Really?] Devoting different lists to the formats of books (mass market paperback, trade paperback, e-book and print combo, etc.) was bad enough.

I will not be surprised if the Times is persuaded to develop bestseller lists by publisher soon. There's gold in them thar quills.

In 2014, we'll see

New York Times Bestselling Tor Books by John Scalzi (all time)
1. Old Man's War
2. Ghost Brigades
3. The Pipesmoker's Guide to the Solar System
4. Redshirts
5. Dune Rebooted

Anonymous Unending Improvement February 25, 2013 10:05 AM  

I'm trying to remember if I read Ghost Brigades.

I think I did.

Oh crap, I didn't read 2 Scalzi books, I read 3!

Blogger IM2L844 February 25, 2013 10:08 AM  

What? Tad hasn't been by to inform you of how monumentally important it is for you to be extraordinarily concerned with what he thinks other people of you when you write things like this? I'm shocked.

Blogger IM2L844 February 25, 2013 10:18 AM  

...other people ^think^ of you...

I'm either gonna have to learn to proofread or get around to seriously looking at this custom code to figure out a edit function workaround. Oh well, I don't have the time right now for the latter (I'll get around to it eventually). In the meantime, I guess I should work on the former.

Anonymous RedJack February 25, 2013 10:33 AM  

Not a bad sales record for a small run. I'm assuming that this was hardcover only?

Anonymous rycamor February 25, 2013 10:35 AM  

Unending Improvement February 25, 2013 6:43 AM
[snip...]
10. 1995 (Didn't we see this before? Hmm)


Hitchhiker's Guide is '79, not '95, kid. Sci-fi began its downward spiral in the 90s, despite noble efforts by a certain cyberpunk or two...

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 10:35 AM  

Oh crap, I didn't read 2 Scalzi books, I read 3!

If it was OMW, Ghost Brigades and Last Colony, you are absolved. I, like Icarus, was so enthralled with the mediocre warmth shining from the scalzied sun, that I flew straight into Zoe's Tale - the YA girl teen "sequel" to Last Colony.

You spared your wings, Unending Improvement. You spared your wings.

I would have been much better off reading Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: the Lost Cult again. It would have contained more surprises.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 10:38 AM  

Correction: Zoe's Tale - the YA girl teen "squeequel" to Last Colony.

Anonymous VD February 25, 2013 10:40 AM  

Tad is in the old spam trap ever since he demonstrated, again, that he would not stick to the 5-comments per post limit. But I have no doubt some other rabbit will want to come by to express how sad it is that I am jealous of McRapey's possibly fake bestselling status.

What was the (ball park) sales for ATOB?

About 1,750 to date. Nothing to write home about, but not bad for a book that isn't on bookshelves anywhere.

Anonymous Josh February 25, 2013 10:42 AM  

Is that hardcover sales or total sales?

Anonymous Anonymous February 25, 2013 10:44 AM  

Libraries bought 'Redshirts' in a chunk. Log-rolling for a fellow liberal, which isn't always corrupt. I think they did that for his his 'Little Fuzzies' too; if you want a copy of 'Redshirts' cheap try a library sell-off in six months. Or next quarter.

That's how I got my copy of Scalzi's 'Little Fuzzies'. Ardath Mayhar did a Little Fuzzies knockoff that focused on awwww cute Fuzzies; William Tuning's 'Fuzzy Bones' focused on 240 grain hot lead and some deep thoughts on the loss of civilization. None of these knockoffs were ripoffs. All of them started from something that was in H Beam Piper's original: Fuzzies are cute, guns are cool, big corporations are dangerous.

I don't think it's all that corrupt. He's a liberal; they are liberals.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 10:46 AM  

The more I think of it, the more deplorable Zoe's Tale becomes. In ZT, he Master of Reboots and Retreads rebooted and retreaded the last book before it.

He's like Harry Turtledove, if Harry Turtledove's scope of history was narrowed to life in Ohio, circa 2005. Eventually, the big sci-fi idea of one of Scalzi's books is going to be:

"What if I was an even more famous science fiction author? What would that universe look like? Would I have invented Star Trek or made Logan's Run a better movie? Would the Jetsons finally be a live-action sitcom on NBC? Would I cure the cancer that seems to infect women's book covers?"

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 10:58 AM  

None of these knockoffs were ripoffs.

Annie, aside from Fuzzy Bones, which was at least written by a guy who understood Piper, those knockoffs (at least that I've read - I almost bought that Mayhar book back when it came out, mistaking it for another Piper manuscript that had been finally released. Yikes. Return of the Jedi from the point of view of the gungans! NOT good.) were horrible. What are you talking about?

Little Fuzzy is Piper's original book, NOT Scalzi's. Scalzi wrote Fuzzy Nation, which is where the confusion sets in. It is a self-admitted "reboot" (not even a re-imagining or whatever) of Little Fuzzy, minus, I'm certain (have not and will not read Scalzi's bastardization of Piper, ever. See also Zoe's Tale to see what Scalzi did to himself), the libertarian guiding principles.

I understand what you are saying about libraries and such.

Maybe you didn't feel ripped off by Fuzzy Nation, because a) you got it for a quarter (which is still too much, but value is subjective) or b) you got the excellent Little Fuzzy at a library discount so they could make room for Scalzi's bastardization.

Blogger Tuplis February 25, 2013 11:05 AM  

VD:
"3.76 is not closer to three than to four, Barbie."

I know, Dolly. I just happen to believe that while 26,604x3.76 is ~100,047 that means it is close to three times more. To be four times more the number should be somewhere around 125,000. If you want to keep the number four there you should've said four times as many, not four times more.

Just as 2 is two times as many as 1 and only one time more than 1 I'm right and you're not.

Anonymous James May February 25, 2013 11:14 AM  

That top 10 PW list speaks volumes. Only "Dune" and Hitchhiker's have any traction and they are from long ago and far away. The volumes speaking is what happens when a hard genre is mainstreamed. Endless skeins of vampires, zombies and Jar Jar Binks jammies are the result.

If I could assassinate a novel I would assassinate "Ender's Game," the most overrated novel in SF history. "Ender's Game" is another tale of a type of log-rolling, namely, famous for being famous. It's become a juggernaut and crashing boulder of mediocrity. What weird stars are in alignment to give an average novel, not even on my top 1 million of all time, such stature?

I rate "Ender's Game," ahead of a cloud I once saw that looked like the conning tower of a submarine and behind everything in the Capt. Future series.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 11:22 AM  

"I'm right and you're not."

Tuplis, don't be daft. Everyone, besides you, and their dog, knows that "x times as many" and "x times more" has ambiguous interpretation. You offered a correction to something that didn't need correcting, and now are doubling down.

If you are going to be the grammar police, make sure that Grammar Law is crystal clear and in your favor, next time.

Blogger Tuplis February 25, 2013 11:26 AM  

Daniel:
"Tuplis, don't be daft."

Didn't intend to. This has been my favorite blog for ages and I'm not here to disrespect.

"Everyone, besides you, and their dog, knows that "x times as many" and "x times more" has ambiguous interpretation."

Oh. It's different in Finland. Here "three times more" means 400% and to claim otherwise is just plain wrong. It appears my grasp of english is worse than I thought, then.

Anonymous VD February 25, 2013 11:31 AM  

It's different in Finland. Here "three times more" means 400% and to claim otherwise is just plain wrong. It appears my grasp of english is worse than I thought, then.

No worries. Your English is considerably better than my Finnish. Which is essentially limited to pointing to the vodka, then the sauna.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 11:32 AM  

Yes, it is a language quirk of English and I believe Dutch. I only know the Dutch issue (and could have misinterpreted - the grammar argument was half in Dutch, half in English) by happenstance (a party, years ago). I don't know if there's some linguistical root issue, or just another stupidity that has leaked in over time.

But the ambiguity has been around at least as long as the split infinitive debate.

Anonymous VD February 25, 2013 11:34 AM  

If I could assassinate a novel I would assassinate "Ender's Game," the most overrated novel in SF history. "Ender's Game" is another tale of a type of log-rolling, namely, famous for being famous. It's become a juggernaut and crashing boulder of mediocrity. What weird stars are in alignment to give an average novel, not even on my top 1 million of all time, such stature?

Why do you hate it so much? I wouldn't put it in my top 50 or anything, but I rather liked it. The series itself, not so much, but the novel was an unusually good expansion of a short story.

Granted, the whole "we need kiddy generals" thing is bizarre, but go along with it and one's suspension of disbelief isn't violated.

Anonymous Josh February 25, 2013 11:38 AM  

How can anyone hate ender's game?

Blogger Tuplis February 25, 2013 11:46 AM  

VD:
Your English is considerably better than my Finnish. Which is essentially limited to pointing to the vodka, then the sauna.

You can pass for a native finn if you act like that. We're famous for being rather quiet. Just remember to not wear anything when going to sauna, else the illusion breaks immediately.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 11:47 AM  

A top 50 is in order. Ender's Game would probably make my top 100 if you limited the list to one entry per author, I think. But I wouldn't struggle to leave it off if it came down to it. Very memorable. It has been nearly thirty years since I read it, but wasn't the basis of making child soldier-leaders based on the notion that a) their video game reflexes were optimal, and even leading combat with the buggers demanded almost automatic reaction b) the - uhm - unspoiled element of the plot - would have been made moot in the eyes of an adult?

Don't assassinate Ender's Game, though. It will leave Scalzi with one fewer easy target for reboot. I really don't want to live to see the day he's forced to resort to:

The Sisterhood of the Ring

Anonymous Anonymous February 25, 2013 11:50 AM  

"1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Tor. 100,387"
1. 1985 (Original)


Actually, Ender's game is a movie. Coming out soonish w/ Harrison Ford.

Anonymous Unending Improvement February 25, 2013 11:57 AM  

@rycamor Hitchhiker's Guide is '79, not '95, kid. Sci-fi began its downward spiral in the 90s, despite noble efforts by a certain cyberpunk or two...

I was just going off of what I could find on Amazon. I really don't care for Hitchhiker's Guide.

@Daniel If it was OMW, Ghost Brigades and Last Colony, you are absolved. I, like Icarus, was so enthralled with the mediocre warmth shining from the scalzied sun, that I flew straight into Zoe's Tale - the YA girl teen "sequel" to Last Colony.

Those were it. I wasn't interested in a creepy middle aged man's take on a teenage girl. He gushing over lesbians in OMW was bad enough. No. Thank. You.

Blogger Tuplis February 25, 2013 12:03 PM  

I googled a bit and it seems I have to retract my statement about the claim not being ambiguous in Finnish before Markku smites me for misleading the good folks here. It most certainly is and appears in the form Vox used it even in the 1933 Bible translation.

Learning stuff I should've learnt ages ago is a humbling experience.

Anonymous James May February 25, 2013 12:15 PM  

Hahaha. The Sisterhood of the Ring. I'll abort that right now. They could bring Lucy Lawless out again and have her and her intrepid band of amazons destroy albino orcs. The hobbits could be a men only community of squat shaggoths like La of Opar's beast men who the very tall and stately amazon women come to visit once a year as a duty to Girdle-Earth. Anndolf could be played by K.D. Lang in a lime-green leisure suit and platform shoes. As far as I'm concerned it's already won a Nebula.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 12:21 PM  

Learning stuff I should've learnt ages ago is a humbling experience.

No. Finns smiting one another is epic. My favorite action movie is Ofelaš. Okay, so they were Sami, filmed by Norskies, but if there's any way you and Markku could throw down over John Calvin, I'd definitely buy a ticket, even if it was only shot on Super 8.

Anonymous James May February 25, 2013 12:25 PM  

Well, VD, I don't hate "Ender's Game," per se. I despise it's unmerited place in all-time lists. I read it when it came out, read the sequel too. I thought the sequel was better. On the whole "Ender's Game" is simply an average novel, no better or worse than the contemporary "Enemy Mine" by Barry Longyear for example. I've read Ace Double paperbacks just as good. "Palace," by Mark Kreighbaum and Katherine Kerr is far better as is "The Black Ship" by Christopher Rowley and "The Dragon Never Sleeps" by Glenn Cook. But crickets for those.

I'd like someone tell me how "Ender's Game" in any way distinguishes itself on any level of SF, historic, prose, innovation, plot, anything. Literally everything Jack Vance wrote is better.

Anonymous Jack Amok February 25, 2013 12:29 PM  

Rabbits gonna rabbit. Gotta read what the rest of the warren is reading, don't want to be the rebel bunny reading something different... I've thought Best Seller lists were crap for a long time now, nothing more than self-reinforcing mediocrity, and I assumed the system was being gamed. Still, it's sad to see just how little the NYT cares about it's brand, but then maybe they know their target audience pretty well. Pretentious pseudo-intellectuals who fall for anything dressed up as high-brow.

Black Gate...They want to do book reviews, not exposes.

Not a bad thing either. Somebody ought to be the Good Cop. I've read several books now based on BG reviews that I probably would never have read otherwise. Not everything they review appeals to me (not much for the Goth Chick News), but that's fine, they give me enough info to form an opinion. I find their reviews generally pretty good, I haven't been enticed by a BG review to read a book that I didn't enjoy.



Anonymous VD February 25, 2013 12:30 PM  

I'd like someone tell me how "Ender's Game" in any way distinguishes itself on any level of SF, historic, prose, innovation, plot, anything.

Oh, come on. The reveal at the end is pretty good. It's not unique, but it was well done. And the child virtual soldiers were original, and the development and testing of Ender as a commander was very good.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 12:30 PM  

Josh's comment on another thread just caused me to realize something:

Scalzi said on his interview (channeling his best Tom Joad) with CBC Q something like "Now, every time he spea- writes my name, organizations that he hates will benefit"

The only name Day uses to refer to Scalzi is "McRapey."

John Scalzi has accepted and adopted everything that has come his way.

This is like branding cattle with less resistance from the cows.

Anonymous VD February 25, 2013 12:31 PM  

Not a bad thing either. Somebody ought to be the Good Cop.

I have no problem with it whatsoever. I'm not certainly complaining.

Blogger Markku February 25, 2013 12:48 PM  

On sitä ollu enneskii nuijasotia tässä maassa.

Mut nytpä ois nuijalla töitä.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 1:02 PM  

What the hell is Markku talking about, Tuplis? I'd ask Markku, but he'll probably explain it to me in machine language.

Anonymous James May February 25, 2013 1:03 PM  

VD I don't necessarily disagree with those things, or even begrudge the Hugo and Nebula to "Ender's Game," considering the competition those years. But also keep in mind Jack Vance's "Lyonesse," a far better work, and a seminal moment in fantasy history, didn't win 2 years prior.

On a historic level, "Ender's Game" simply is not a game-changer. It wasn't some bright new vision, it didn't push SF forward. It's a lump on a log that just sits there. It shouldn't be anywhere on all-time lists.

The good thing is that if people who don't know SF see it's place on all-time lists and say, "Hmmm, I'll give that a try," and never read SF again, it'll keep the mainstream out of SF, since SF is a victim, on a literary level, of its own popularity. That's how you get Jane Austen on a frickin' Regency (get the Prince Regent's superfine cloth right) pedantry, glamour stick.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 1:17 PM  

On a historic level, "Ender's Game" simply is not a game-changer. It wasn't some bright new vision, it didn't push SF forward. It's a lump on a log that just sits there. It shouldn't be anywhere on all-time lists.

I read the Forever War after Ender's Game. My addled memory could be playing tricks on me, but I'm pretty sure I viewed EG at the time as a gateway drug to Haldeman and Starship Troopers. When I came back for Speaker for the Dead, I gave up on it, and chalked it up to having found good military sci-fi.

I do think that the computer game trope and training of boy scouts were both very well done. I can't think of any that used that as well outside of the Gibson-like books at the time.

Not the first on anything, no: but it broke new ground on the accessibility of the story, and included a lovely twist that really hadn't been done to that level since Jeff Sutton. Am I forgetting a better twist in the 1970s or early 80s?

Anonymous bob k. mando February 25, 2013 4:14 PM  

James May February 25, 2013 12:25 PM
I'd like someone tell me how "Ender's Game" in any way distinguishes itself on any level of SF, historic, prose, innovation, plot, anything.




duh, it's a book where the kids are the heroes. why do you think Harry Potter sold so many copies?

it's better than average to the adults and when they provide that as an option for the kiddies to read, the children latch onto it because they identify with the protagonist.

even Heinlein had 'unwarranted' success with his juveniles.


in passing, i'd like to welcome Captain Slow ( yes, i'm sure you've never heard that before ;p ) to the blog.

Anonymous bob k. mando February 25, 2013 4:17 PM  

Daniel February 25, 2013 1:17 PM
I'm pretty sure I viewed EG at the time as a gateway drug to Haldeman and Starship Troopers.



also, Armor.

Steakley only ever published two novels. Armor was published in 1984 and i STILL see it on shelves. just saw it last week at Narnes and Boble.

like Ender's Game, it doesn't break new ground. it even has some glaring flaws. but it still does have a certain panache.

Anonymous Anonymous February 25, 2013 4:21 PM  

James May,

Moved on from whining about GRRM on the Amazon boards, eh?

Anonymous James May February 25, 2013 4:47 PM  

For those of you interested in the depths to which the Nebula has fallen, the author of Glamour in Glass compiled a list of almost 15,000 words Jane Austin used, so that she could get the "vocabulary right." Keep in mind that despite this, the novel in no way resembles a literary work by Jane Austen.

That's because Austen didn't have an OCD in pedantry where she argued with her neighbor about when chicken wire was invented so she wouldn't compromise a novel by having a hero escape from a chicken coop with said wire. So the author experienced writer's block because "I couldn't come up with a way for Jane to plausibly save Vincent." Luckily she had a very interesting conversation with the then president of the SFWA that got her "out of the giant trap that chicken wire had laid for me."

Basically, Regency romance novels that amount to little more than an obsessively historically accurate Jimmy Cagney impression plus boredom are being nominated for SF awards. I guess Austen never used the word "verisimilitude." We can only wonder what nightmarish traps kept R.E. Howard and Fritz Leiber from being more productive.

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 4:49 PM  

bob k. mando
also, Armor.

What? Steakley wrote a second book? I had no idea. The plot was straight ahead, but I thought the differing viewpoints of the two primary characters was innovative. For some reason, I felt like I was "supposed" to sympathize more with the pirate. Driving me nuts that I can only think of the pirate as "Jack Sparrow" now, though.

Armor had a better idea at its heart than Ender's Game: what would happen, what would it look like, and what should be done if mankind developed a suicidal tendency.

Anonymous Eduardo February 25, 2013 5:16 PM  

Steakley wrote a novel about professional vampire hunters titled "Vampire$" which I believe became the movie "John Carpenter's Vampires" (no dollar sign).

Anonymous Daniel February 25, 2013 6:05 PM  

Steakley wrote a novel about professional vampire hunters titled "Vampire$" which I believe became the movie "John Carpenter's Vampires" (no dollar sign).

Weird. Had no idea, although I remember that vampire movie - vaguely. Never saw it although I like John Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy.

Thanks! I'm putting that (book, not movie) on my list.

Anonymous bob k. mando February 25, 2013 11:02 PM  

Eduardo February 25, 2013 5:16 PM
Steakley wrote a novel about professional vampire hunters titled "Vampire$" which I believe became the movie "John Carpenter's Vampires" (no dollar sign).



a-yup.



Daniel February 25, 2013 6:05 PM
Thanks! I'm putting that (book, not movie) on my list.



i thought Vampire$ was only middling fair. better than the James Woods movie though.

Anonymous bob k. mando February 25, 2013 11:14 PM  

Daniel February 25, 2013 4:49 PM
Driving me nuts that I can only think of the pirate as "Jack Sparrow" now, though.




"Jack Crow". not quite the same thing as Pirates of the Caribbean.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armor_%28novel%29



the other MAJOR point about the popularity of Ender's Game is that Card is still publishing Enderverse novels. there are 13 books already published and two more are already planned. the next one is scheduled for publication in June so it should already be written or nearly so.

i'm sure this is also part of the appeal of Dune. Brian Herbert may be a hack ( i don't know, i haven't read any of his books ) but there are ... ( takes off socks ) ... 22 existing Dune novels now.

Anonymous James May February 25, 2013 11:48 PM  

Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune (Dune 7 & 8) by Anderson-Herbert, are as bad as any SF novels I've ever read.

I am looking forward to "Ender's Buttocks" and "Ender Goes to Rome" and more thinly disguised Harlequin Romance novels they call macaroni and so are eligible for Nebulas.

Anonymous bob k. mando February 26, 2013 12:02 AM  

Shadows in Flight is about as far from a romance novel as you can get.

although, in a way, i guess it does imply interspecies sex ( for definitions of sex which mean reproduction by exchange of genetic information )? also, cannibalism. both inter- and intra-species.

so it's a zombie romance?

i rather liked it. must mean i have an X chromosome.



James May February 25, 2013 11:48 PM
Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune (Dune 7 & 8) by Anderson-Herbert, are as bad as any SF novels I've ever read.


i'm sure.

i never got past reading the dust jacket and i don't even do that any more.

there's a reason why we call you Capt. Slow.

Anonymous Luke February 26, 2013 12:32 AM  

"Hunters of Dune and Sandworms of Dune (Dune 7 & 8) by Anderson-Herbert, are as bad as any SF novels I've ever read."

Agreed. Past the first Dune book (which was quite good), the only way to "read" them is to read the aphorism at the beginning of each chapter, and skip everything else.

Anonymous Jack Amok February 26, 2013 12:45 AM  

There are four series that I have enjoyed beyond the first handful of books: the Wooster and Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse, Poirot by Agatha Christie, the Lew Archer stories by Ross MacDonald, and the Aubery-Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brien. Three of the four (Christie, Wodehouse and O'Brien) share something in common - the plots were all totally irrelevant. The books worked based on excellent writing, tremendous atmosphere, and compelling characters. Very few authors have the talent Wodehouse, Christie and O'Brien had*. Most have to get by on plot, and plots can only go on for so many books before they run out of steam.

SF/F is heavy on plot. I'm not sure why better writers are drawn to the genre. Christie and MacDonald wrote genre after all.

I seem to have lost my train of thought - I started off wanting to make a point about endless series rehashing the same setting and characters getting old, and now I'm thinking today's SF/F writers just aren't good enough.


* MacDonald had the amazing talent of making the most complex, convoluted, generation-spanning plots seem perfectly reasonable. He was also a very good writer, though not quite in the league of the other three.

Anonymous Jack Amok February 26, 2013 12:48 AM  

Er, that should be "not sure why better writers aren't drawn to the genre..."

Clearly it's a problem, even the reader's are piss poor writers who can't even proof read their own rants...

Anonymous Peter Garstig February 26, 2013 3:00 AM  

How can anyone hate ender's game?

Especially since it features a world government.

Anonymous Peter Garstig February 26, 2013 3:21 AM  

I have a theory why modern books rarely are appealing anymore. It has to do with Game. There are only a few Alpha Authors left out there. Or to be precise, authors that know how alpha characters are. Alot of plot in todays books is either day-dreaming characters/authors or passive-agressive characters/authors. Of course, wrapped up in a good story, it's still readable, but the spice to make it memorable is missing.

Every classic I read proves this theory to me. I give an example: the confrontation between Jessica and Hawat in Dune can't be written by a gamma or omega, simply because they can't imagine how direct confrontation can happen without anyone dying. Yet, this scene is very powerful and displays wit, humor and intelligence at the same time. It's an ingredient necessary in a book.

Vox, for all the racist dipshit that he is, has the talents for this.

Even Stephenson, an author I respect alot, sometimes has troubles with the concept of direct conflict. He's a genius to drive around it but rarely excels at it.

Now, this is a theory of mine. Unfortunately, my sample size is too low. And yes, I'm old and that's the first time I'm reading Dune.

Anonymous Daniel February 26, 2013 3:49 AM  

"Jack Crow". not quite the same thing as Pirates of the Caribbean.

It may have been unclear, but that was the precise point I was making. It is very hard to watch Jack Sparrow and not imagine he wasn't in some way inspired by Jack Crow, to the extent that when I think of Jack Crow now, I imagine Jack Sparrow. It is a dirty trick, but considering how ever present Armor was back in the day, I would not be surprised to discover that Johnny Depp stole him for his own.

Anonymous bob k. mando February 26, 2013 7:55 AM  

ah, i see. Jack Crow / Sparrow as Moorcock's Eternal Rapscallion, reiterating down through history making people's lives more interesting.

Steakley's version even uses Moorcock's "JC" initials convention.

Anonymous TGR White February 27, 2013 8:58 PM  

@ Jack Amok and Peter Garstig: If you can wait about eight months I hope to have some sci fi out that has actual alphas and interesting characters....

First I have other projects to finish.


I agree about the dearth of interesting characters and Asimov is probably to blame for setting the standard. His most developed character is Susan Calvin. However, his plots were innovative for the time and not completely derivative, unlike today's sci fi.

Also, the more game you learn the more cringe worthy sci fi becomes. I read Old Man's War in my omega days and found certain aspects of it already grated on my nerves. Only recently did I put together that McRapey wrote Old Man's War and, looking back now, I can see how his gamma tendencies completely got in the way of an otherwise interesting plot.

As it is, I haven't had the stomach to read a sci fi book published after the Ghost Brigades. I made the mistake of trying to read one of Scalzi's later books and had to retreat back to reading Heinlein to get the stain out of my head.

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