Tag Archives: authors

Science fiction fantasy rock band!

some old punk band I smell serious memetic potential – you can blame Jeff VanderMeer*.

So – you can assemble a rock band out of science fiction authors living or dead. Who do you pick, what do they call themselves, and what’s their signature cover version? [image by flashbacks.com]

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Shaper and the Mechanists

Drums: M. John Harrison. The guy’s got rhythm – rock climbing’s all about timing. Plus drummers are often way more poetic and thoughtful than the cliches would suggest.

Bass: Charlie Stross. I suspect very strongly that, given half a chance, Charlie could get his groove on in a fearsome way. Rock-star facial hair a bonus.

Keys: William Gibson. He wouldn’t do riffs and melodies so much as pads and atmospheres; a kind of post-rock approach. Will gradually accumulate a vast bank of interconnected effects and found-sound devices by poking around in Cash Converters in each town the band plays.

Rhythm guitar: Rudy Rucker. Already has experience with the instrument, and knows a good riff when he writes one. Could probably out-Townsend Pete Townsend with his power chords.

Lead guitar: Neal Stephenson. Aloof, idiosyncratic, a unique style often imitated but never duplicated. Like Charlie Stross, not averse to rock-star facial hair. Also a fan of Soundgarden, so must know what good guitar lines sound like.

Backing vox/posturing/inexplicable extra stage presence (aka “Bez“): Cory Doctorow. Give him a megaphone and a silly hat, feed him up with … er, sugary foods and caffeine? … and just let him do his thing. Guaranteed to PWN hecklers and get the crowd moving.

Lead vox/songwriter: Bruce Sterling**. He may not have the perfect voice, but every single song would be about something important, and you’d find new meaning with every listen. Inter-song banter would be awesome.

Tour manager: Hunter S Thompson. OK, so not a science fiction writer, but I figure I can have one genre-breaker. No one is going to stiff the band on a deal with HST handling the biz. Plus the band will stay largely drug-free, because all illicit substances will be “headed off at the pass”, so to speak.

A&R guy: Harlan Ellison. Typecasting, I guess.

Cover version: “We’re In This Together” – Nine Inch Nails. Simply because it’s an awesome tune.

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Damn; I really want to see this band now. Maybe the band I joined recently could be the support act!


[ * Not just for this post, either – you could try to pin the decline of postmodern culture and the sub-prime crisis on him too. It wouldn’t be very fair, though, let alone true. ]

[ ** This was a foregone conclusion, of course. Fanboy is as fanboy does. ]

What can writers learn from Radiohead?

The news that UK band Radiohead have chosen to release their new album independently of record label support using an ‘honour box’ pricing scheme has set the internet alight. Is this a phenomenon that writers of fiction should be paying close attention to?

Thom Yorke of Radiohead

Lucky

The standard first response to this story has been “oh, but Radiohead are big enough (and rich enough) to be able to do this and not lose out financially.” That’s true enough, but the same model will (and indeed already does) still work for smaller artists.

The only overheads Radiohead have on that album is the money it cost to record and master it. No duplication, no distribution, no advertising, and no middlemen raking out the lion’s share of the revenue – which, believe it or not, shows signs of being quite considerable already, despite the fact that the option to get the download for free was available with the band’s blessing.

Now, granted, Radiohead have a strong brand already. None of the local bands in my town are going to make the same amount of news (or money) by releasing an album in the same way, because not enough people know who they are. But all bands make more money from touring (and selling merchandise at the same time) than they do from records, be they big or small.

Nice dream?

What Radiohead (and Prince, and others) have realised is that in a world where it’s impossible to stop people passing your music from person to person, you might as well accept it and use it to your advantage – let your music be a loss-leader advert for your other services, which in the case of musicians is live performances. If you can make some money back on the recordings, all well and good – and if you treat your fans with respect, they’ll be more willing to pay you.

So what does this mean for writers of fiction? Well, the publishing industry is not identical to the music industry, but there are similarities – especially when you look at the “play it safe” approach to developing new talent, leading to bookshops full of more of the same.

The big difference is that the “book experience” isn’t quite so readily reproduced electronically, and it will be some time before it can be, for various reasons. In other words, I’m not suggesting that fiction writers should abandon all desire to be published as novelists. But what I am suggesting is that new writers (and old ones) should be giving away snippets to build up their reputations and create a market for themselves.

No surprises

Publishers, as much as they may be sincerely interested in bringing great writing into the public eye, have a bottom line to look after. I don’t think it’s over cynical of me to suggest that, if given the choice between two debut novels of equal quality, a publisher is going to feel better about taking the gamble on the author whose name turns up more often in blogs, forums and webzines. That author has done part of the publisher’s job for them; he or she has demonstrated not just a competence at writing, but the will and drive to get out there and sell themselves.

Of course, I’m largely preaching to the converted here. But there’s still plenty of misunderstanding about these issues, particularly from the old guard of publishers and authors – witness the SFWA/Scribd spat, which I believe to have been done with the best of intentions, but on the basis of a decades-old understanding of the writer’s place in the modern market.

Optimistic

And, much as I hoped and called for (but am not taking any credit for), the genre scene is adapting to the new economics. Much as in music, it’s the fringe cultures that can afford to try out new models, because their communities are bound by loyalty and a sense of identity, and because the artists are going to keep on creating even if they can’t make much money out of it.

Hence the ongoing short fiction revolution – I was absolutely stoked to catch the news that Fantasy Magazine is giving up dead-tree magazine publishing, and moving instead to a weekly free-to-read online magazine model with occasional printed anthologies … and they’re increasing their per-word price for fiction at the same time!

Anyone can play guitar

So, what can writers learn from Radiohead? They can learn that things are changing, and where the big boys lead, they shouldn’t be afraid to follow.

OK, so you’re not Charlie Stross or Cory Doctorow – the Radioheads of sf, if I might mangle the metaphor – but Stross and Doctorow are breaking the trail ahead of you, making it progressively easier to follow in their wake.

Radiohead’s best advert for themselves is their music. As a writer, yours is your writing. So set it free – if people want to pass it around on your behalf, they’re doing you a favour.

Career tips for writers, redux

The old feed reader is full of useful advice for writers once again, so time to share them with the people.

Jeff Vandermeer’s Evil Monkey delivers the second short sharp installment of his Guide to Creative Writing:

“Alas, market predictions aren’t like assholes, because everyone has two or three, and they usually serve little purpose.”

Luc Reid tries to nail down what it is that makes certain stories rise from “good, but not quite what we’re looking for” to “sold”:

“So what makes a story rise above its fellows, inspire love, stand out? The intuitive response would be that it does the things we talked about better. The characters are stronger, the plot is more compelling, the description is more vivid. But usually standing out is going to mean something else, and it’s going to differ from writer to writer and sometimes from story to story. The stories that rise above are not just more competent than the stories that don’t, although more competent is always better.”

Moving beyond the writing itself and into the territory of promotional work, Charlie Stross explains the dos and don’ts of public readings with his usual dry humour:

“The water jug isn’t an optional extra. I usually take the precaution of bringing along a drink of some sort, simply because my throat dries out after ten or fifteen minutes of speaking and if I’m scheduled late in a day of readings, the folks providing supporting facilities such as jugs of water tend to be getting a bit erratic themselves.”

And finally, David Louis Edelman has some advice on how to self-promote with ethical integrity:

“3. Avoid glaring sins of omission. This is a difficult guideline to follow, because it’s very subjective. Don’t use ellipses to claim that your book is “an absolutely terrific… thriller” when the actual review states that your book is “an absolutely terrific example of what not to do when writing a thriller.” Don’t try to sell to a group of Vietnam vets by claiming that your book has a Vietnam vet in it, while conveniently forgetting to mention that said character gets run over by a truck on page 4.”

Ah! The intarwebs: helping aspiring writers (to avoid writing by supplying them enough advice from genuine writers that they can convince themselves reading it is a more valuable way to spend their time than actually writing) since 1997!

[Cross-posted to Futurismic]

The science fiction gender problem – a report from the front line

From Nick Mamatas:

“As the readership of science fiction is widely believed to be overwhelmingly male, there is a long history of women writers obscuring their gender (so as not to have their work prejudged) by writing under a name that includes their initials and their last name.

Going through the slush recently, I decided to count up the number of women who use initials versus the number of men who do so.

One hundred percent of the authors who submit their work to Clarkesworld under an initialed byline are women.”

There’s no doubt that there are gender and cultural imbalances in the genre fiction scenes. Is this doing anything to help the situation?

Authors@Google – videos now online

There’s no need to feel jealous of Google employees for getting to see lectures and presentations by the great and the good on work time – because the Big G has decided to share the wealth and let us lowly web-heads watch the events in video form. I knew they had to be buying YouTube for a reason …

Of most interest to genre fiction fans will be videos of Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler, Neil Gaiman, and the incredibly recent visit by John “If rocks stars can tour, so can I” Scalzi.

There’s lots of others interesting people in the selection too; I’ve not watched them yet, but I’m guessing that Lawrence Lessig and Chris “Long Tail” Anderson will be well worth watching, too – whether you’re already interested in copyright issues and internet marketing or not.