Cheeseburger Gothic

Doing less of the things you do in bed

Posted September 6, 2013 into Books by John Birmingham

Like reading. Josephine Tovey has written of her struggle to keep up the good reading habits of her earlier days because the modern world provides so many distractions.

I left Nelson Mandela in a lime quarry on Robben Island, the same way I abandoned Clarissa Dalloway on her way to the florist, and Ishmael, only shortly after he set sail. That was how far I managed to get into Mandela’s The Long Walk to Freedom, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, before the books joined the mushrooming pile by my bedside, or the increasingly fraudulent display that is my bookshelf.

I was enjoying each one. But I couldn’t seem to finish them.

Nelson, Clarissa and Ishmael were all abandoned for twitter, facebook and netflix. Jo felt as though the internet had trained her out of long form reading, that the endless one minute pleasure spasms of reading one Buzzfeed listicle after another had made her as incapable of sinking into the challenge of literature as most 20/20 batsmen would be of playing for a draw over two days on a sticky wicket at Headingly.

As a guy who regularly whacks himself in the face with an iPad when dozing off in bed, I sort of understand. And yet I wonder if Josephine is doing it wrong. She's right about being trained into gorging ourselves on handfuls of M&M-like snippets of text and audio and social media updates and blogs and grumpy cat and link bait lists and whatever and ever amen. You do have to stay in the habit of reading stories longer than 300 words. That's what I'm contracted to write for Fairfax at Blunty. 300 words a blog. I frequently go longer than that, of course, because I'm a windbag. But all of our data, all of everybody's data, points inexorably towards the fact that, yes, Homo modernus has a very short attention span.

Why then would you take a difficult piece of literature into your soft warm bed at the end of a long and difficult day? You're almost certainly setting yourself up to fail. There are two issues here. One, being tired, stressed, overworked and generally too warn out to stay awake for more than a few minutes. Literature is not going to help with that. And secondly, literature.

None of the books Josephine cited struck me as being much fun to read. You might enjoy them the same way that you might enjoy the challenge of bench pressing your own body weight, but that's more of an existential satisfaction than a pleasurable one.

I still read in bed, but after suffering from the same distractions and a few I discovered all on my own, such as news aggregators like Flipboard and Zite, I now have a policy of reading either one short to medium length article from something middle to high brow like The New Yorker, or a couple of chapters from one of my unrivaled collection of books that improve with altitude.

The thinky stuff I read because I enjoy it, but not too much of it, and usually not late at night. To return to the weightlifting metaphor, it helps to give your brain a bit of a workout every now and then. But mostly at the end of the day I just want to relax and if I'm reading that means I'll be reading something like Steve Stirling's latest alternate history novel of the Change. (The Given Sacrifice, since you ask, and yes it is awesome). Thrillers, action adventure stories, fantasy, SF, all of the genres that don't get no respect at literary festivals, they all produce the sorts of books that are likely to find you cursing the author at four in the morning because you just have to keep turning the pages.

Nobody has to keep turning the pages of literary fiction unless you have a term paper due the next morning.

The other issue, of course, is simply a lack of time. The reason so many of us read in bed is that we don't have the time to do it during the day. There is that brief and shining moment in your 20s when, particularly if you are a layabout student, you do have endless days and months to lie around consuming book after book. But those days are over for me, and I suspect they are over for Josephine Tovey as well.

I've 'read' many more books this year than I have in recent years, however, simply by subscribing to Audible.com. Even though I work from home, I find these days that I'm a commuter more often than not, or a taxi driver perhaps, ferrying kids from one commitment to another. I spend a surprising amount of time behind the wheel, enough to let me stream hours of music, listen to hours of podcasts, and still get through one or two long audiobooks a month. I never listen to audiobooks in bed because that would be a bit perverse. I can't explain why. Just shut up you.

But in the car, walking the dog, hanging out at endless, endless, endless school sporting functions, they are a godsend. And they don't even need to be thrillers. Right now, just to prove that I can, I'm making my way through Hillary Mantel's huge, thinky, dense and difficult Wolf Hall. It's brilliant, visionary, almost hallucinatory in its evocation of Thomas Cromwell's point of view and I read it, or rather listen to it, with a grinding envy for all the talent this woman has to spare.

But it's weightlifting. Really difficult weightlifting. I feel better for having done it. It's good for me. But I enjoy it in the same way that I enjoy a really hard workout. It's only fun when it stops hurting. And I would never, ever attempt it in bed.

36 Responses to ‘Doing less of the things you do in bed’

peteb reckons...

Posted September 6, 2013

windbag more like word bag, which is a good thing for some, carry on ..

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Lulu puts forth...

Posted September 6, 2013

A wise person* once said there are only two things you should do in bed and one of them is sleeping. I tend to agree, mainly because my preferred reading position (for light or serious matter) is on the couch.

(Virginia Trioli, who might have been quoting someone else)

BigWillieStyle ducks in to say...

Posted September 6, 2013

Farting's the other one, yeah?

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BigWillieStyle mumbles...

Posted September 6, 2013

"As a guy who regularly whacks himself....when dozing off in bed"

Sorry, what?

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted September 6, 2013

I hestitate to admit that made me LOL, but it made me LOL.

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Darth Greybeard mutters...

Posted September 6, 2013

So-called "experts" (see how I'm getting into the post-Saturday zeitgeist?) claim that reading in bed can cause sleeping problems. I say that I'll stop reading in bed when they prise the book/reader from my cold dead hands. Or my wife gets narky.

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w from brisbane is gonna tell you...

Posted September 6, 2013

JB, you cover it very well.
I can read, and often do, 4 books a week. But I have the advantage of insomnia, the reader's friend.

But, tips for reading

  • Read what you enjoy. Don't worry if you never read War and Peace.
  • Carry a book with you as part of your standard equipment. This is pretty easy with e-readers.
  • Audio books are great, particularly if you spend a lot of time travelling.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted September 6, 2013

Humans have exactly the attention span, patience and memory required for survival.

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NBlob has opinions thus...

Posted September 6, 2013

Nice one JB, some premium multi factorial thinky.

I have an earphone screwed into my left ear 7+ hours per day. I barely listen to music anymore, %95 Podcasts. The constant stream of thinky is um is.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·<!--[endif]-->AWSM - A parade of experts, practitioners, artisans / craftsmen and academics, selected by their ability to communicate and an interesting story to tell, produced by professionals who edit & craft into coherent stories.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·<!--[endif]-->FKD – 4 or 5 times a day I have to say “I’m sorry would you please say that again” as I pop the earphone out.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·<!--[endif]-->AWSM for the hours of tedium now fixed with interesting and thought provoking.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·<!--[endif]-->FKD – I recognise, but can’t get past my own selection bias. All Radiolab, SE2KB & Science Show, but no new episodes of Pig Guttin’ Weekly or Crystal & Rainbow Unicorns.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·<!--[endif]-->AWSM – There is thousands of hours, possibly tens of thousands of hours.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·<!--[endif]-->FKD – There is so much available, I’ve downloaded, but not really started SpartaCast.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->· <!--[endif]-->AWSM – It gets me away from commercial Classic Sh!ts & Memories Radio that is the default in my line of work. (I hate the digital compressor technology that is used to change “Buy some curtains” to “BUY SOME FKN CURTAINS!!!”) It could be worse, in a previous job I went from client to client who almost all listened to Messers Laws or Jones.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·<!--[endif]-->FKD – My earphone sh!ts SWMBO, I can p!iss her off just by walking through a room. She says it excludes her when I chuckle or say "No Sh!t" without context.

<!--[if !supportLists]-->·<!--[endif]-->AWSM- It starts conversations worth having. My work partner & I were overheard discussing Ex Egyptian President Morsi & the Super Fun Cats in the Muslim Brotherhood. A passing pedestrian bailed us up & congratulated us for not discussing Footy or Fish we’d killed.

I cant imagine what will happen to my brain when I start into Audiobooks.

NBlob mumbles...

Posted September 6, 2013

OK, so don't import bullet points from word

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted September 6, 2013

Ha. No. Don't do that.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan is gonna tell you...

Posted September 6, 2013

When I didn't know it was a mistake, I liked it. Very avant garde.

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Murphy ducks in to say...

Posted September 6, 2013

I can't blame technology. I was a notoriously impatient and fickle reader before it all came along. These days, if I am going to invest hours in reading a book, I like to make sure I'm actually going to enjoy the journey.

If not, I'll drop it like a hot rock.

And for the love of God, so many books these days are poorly written, socially aware, mastrubatory pieces of politically bloviating bullshit. I absolutely hate being preached at, especially by a fucking moron who is working way outside their field.

So I don't feel particularly bad about my reduced consumption. Besides, I have enough reading I have to do for my teaching position to keep me busy.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted September 6, 2013

A great thinky piece for the Cheeseburger, perhaps a tad long?

My only quibble is the comment "Homo modernus has a very short attention span". I disagree. This hypothesis is usually linked with ideas such as the google effect which was first given credence by Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow's 'Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips' abstract published in Science in 2011. This lead to a spate of articles around the Google Effect and how it was making us dumber, reducing our focus, shortening our attention spans.

Fortunately the forces of light and reason rallied and pointed out that this tendency to not recall facts which can be easily obtained is, as simply put by National Public radio’s Aval Noe in the excellent rebuttal 'Google is NOT making you stupider'

"the Google effect is merely the latest expression of a cognitive strategy that is almost as certainly as ancient as our species"

and while we bemoan the decline of thinky reading, as covered by the editor’s at McSweeny’s Internet Tendencies summarised in Some Good News from the World of Books.

“Book sales are up, way up, from twenty years ago. Young adult readership is far wider and deeper than ever before. Library membership and circulation is at all-time high

Admittedly the new on demand nature of book buy can through up some curious effects, like when the Snowden’s story emerged around the NSA spying and PRISM and sales of George Orwell's 1984 increased by 80%.

Also consider the range of think works no put up as blogs, in the realm of long form science writing I am spoilt for choice each night reading the works of Ed Yong, Carl Zimmer, and Maryn McKenna with her Superbug blog, and Orac a American surgical oncologist who is incapable of writing anything in a short form especially when it comes to handing the smack down on the nonsense that is Complementary Allied Medicine. To argue that people aren't reading thinky stuff you merely have to look at some of the discussions in the comments. I realise the comments that follow these pieces often support the claim by Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post

"I basically like "comments," though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots".

Not youtube comments of course I mean places like science blogs, wired, NPR, etc..

Also the internet has seem the rise of some long form writing projects which we might have feared had disappeared with the fall of magazines. One I am enjoying is Matter specializing in long-form articles about science, technology, medicine and the environment.

The fall of the thinky- nonsense, for me it is a golden age. I read these for an hour or two each night before bed after the_weapon goes to sleep.

Lulu swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 6, 2013

“Book sales are up, way up, from twenty years ago. Young adult readership is far wider and deeper than ever before. ”

Hmm, yeah, but - how much of that is 50 Shades & Twilight (& probably 50 Jamie Oliver cookbooks)? Much as I love Jamie, I don't think any of those three count as thinky.

w from brisbane ducks in to say...

Posted September 6, 2013

Lulu, I think it is the ease of access to ebooks that is driving increases in book sales. Particularly, the new experience of reading a book you like and then having immediate access to the author's whole back catalogue.

As author Steve Stirling commented on the Burger in June.

S.M. Stirling puts forth...
Posted June 29

Yup. My royalties used to be derisory. They've gotten to be six-figure serious, and it's being overwhelmingly driven by ebooks.

They alter buying patterns, especially in genre(*). People read one book, and then go out and buy the entire series. Sometimes everything the author has ever done.

(*) apart from the particular genre known as "literary".

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tqft puts forth...

Posted September 6, 2013
I am taking angels of vengeance with me on the plane tonight and leaving Internet cconnection in darwin.
Even though tumblr is a bored travelers good friend

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted September 6, 2013

You are my new favorite.

tqft would have you know...

Posted September 6, 2013
I won't be when you find out what I plan to do with it when I finish it. Hint I got $11 for the last 3 wheel of time books=2 beers

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w from brisbane mumbles...

Posted September 6, 2013

On a related matter, what are people reading at the moment? Any recommendations?

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 6, 2013

I'm reading Stirling's latest, but that's a draft MS. It should be out very very soon, however.

I'm listening to Wolf Hall. Because it's good for me. Like getting fibre is good for me.

NBlob asserts...

Posted September 6, 2013

And thus the term brain-fibre was born.

w from brisbane ducks in to say...

Posted September 6, 2013

This week I have read 'Magician's End', the last book of Raymond E. Feist 30 book Magician series. He knows how to mine a good thing. An enjoyable romp; heaps of magic, an abundance of elves, there were even dragons. All things loved (not) by the average Burger reader.

Also the biography of Edwina Mountbatten. An interesting slice of 20th century history. She was wildly and gluttonously promiscuous, a close friend to many including Nehru, and a war hero. Very interesting.

Current book, July. July by Tim O'Brien. O'Brien is possibly the great Vietnam War author (The Things They Carried, Going after Cacciato, etc) This is different. A book about the 30th reunion of Minnesota's Darton Hall College class of 69. The reunion and devolving into their back stories, marriages, hopes achieved and gone rotten etc ttc. Focussing mainly on the women. Moving and funny, it is everything I normally run a million miles from, but it is very readable and, of course, very well written.

Dick has opinions thus...

Posted September 6, 2013

Just finished 12-21 by Dustin Thomas. Cross between doomsday bug (think mad cow disease) and end of the world due to end of Mayan long cycle calendar, hence the title. OK, but don't know that I'd recommend it.

Peter in the bleaches mutters...

Posted September 6, 2013

Just had Stirling's latest arrive from Book Depository yesterday. I imagine it won't hit the shelves (where you can get it) for at least 6 months. But that is another story.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan mumbles...

Posted September 7, 2013

Hit the shelves here last Tuesday.

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NBlob asserts...

Posted September 6, 2013

W, check out the Brigadiers link salad above. Next Draft can usually suck 45 minutes to an hour out of my day If I let it. So much sweet sweet thinkaliscous. So little time.

w from brisbane has opinions thus...

Posted September 6, 2013

I've been looking at the Brigadier's links. "Next Draft" I haven't seen that before. Though I am trying to spend less time on the internet.

Barnesm mutters...

Posted September 6, 2013

Next Draft is an excellent link.

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Anthony ducks in to say...

Posted September 6, 2013

I've started a book I found recently - Kate Marsden's 1892 piece of late-Vctorian God-bothering On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers.

I only bought it for the title - you just can't resist a title like that when you find it. I've actually found myself getting interested. She's one of those determined doughty memsahibs that the poms seemed to throw up from time t time.

Otherwise I'm reading 1635:Papal Stakes, one of Eric Flint's Ring of Fire series.

JB - please tell the good Mr Stirling to hurry up his publishers.

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Blake would have you know...

Posted September 6, 2013

My SWMBO noticed the other day that my reading rate has gone ballistic lately.

I put it downt to two things:

1) Momentum. Forcing myself out of my comfort zone to read the bookclub books here means that i'm actively looking for stuff to read in the slack period between books. Usually I run straight back to my comfort zone but that's ok because at least i'm getting through the bookshelf of bookfest books i never started.

2) I broke my iphone. Without facebook/twitter and feedly pumping blogs and news to me in my downtime waiting for trains and in the evening I'm actually getting back into books.

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Rob would have you know...

Posted September 6, 2013

I read Ken Follets winter of the world last week, and book one the few days before that. But I did take most of the week off on holidays. But its taken me to give up the computer (and faffbook) to read long novels again. Analogue is good for the long inviting tea time of the soul.

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she_jedi mumbles...

Posted September 7, 2013

I've always been a voracious reader, and the rise of e-books has meant that instead of waking up some time in the night with my book gently laid over my nose I end up smacking myself in the forehead with my iPad. Not only does that shit hurt, it's a brutal way to drag yourself back to consciousness after reading yourself to sleep. JB you have my sympathies on this articular problem, although I was glad to realise I'm not the only one that does this.

I'm currently reading Charles Stross' Traders War series, the refined and republished version, after it got a mention on the Burger, and I'm mad about it. I've been trolling iBooks and Amazon in search of his back catalogue as he's one of my new favourites now.

The thing I like most about ebooks is the instant access to back catalogues you can get; in the ye olde days of bookstores you were lucky if the big chains stocked more than one or two of your favourite authors books, much less their series, and while the smaller specialised bookstores had a greater chance of having the titles you were after, frequently you had to get them ordered in. And good luck trying to find an author's older, out of print books. The relative ease and cost effectiveness of producing ebooks means that a lot of older books of established authors are now not only available, but available at the click of a button, filling two niches - the desire to read EVERYTHING an author has published, and the impulse of BUT I WANT IT NOW! I've forgotten how many books I've wanted to read but given up trying to find because it was just too hard to track them down, now I've got a lot of them on the fondle slab in order to save my precious analogue books from disintergrating with re-reading.

LIke many of us on the Burger I've found my book collection splitting into titles that are ebooks only, and esteemed titles that get read on the iPad but are also shelf worthy. I vaguely recall reading an article years ago discussing the threat that ebooks represented to traditional book markets. The author of the piece argued that the mass market paperback was the format that would suffer, but hardcovers were likely to have a renaissance for this very reason; people would have titles they want to keep in pristine condition on the shelf while they did their reading in ebook format.

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 7, 2013

I have forwarded your comment to Mr Stross. You may now squee.

she_jedi reckons...

Posted September 7, 2013

Squeeee!!

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Bezos buys a newspaper

Posted August 8, 2013 into Books by John Birmingham

If I was working for the Washington Post I'd probably be a helluva lot more relieved than concerned about Jeff Bezos buying my ass wholesale this week. Chances are the business desk will never write another decent story about Amazon's business practices, but other than that Bezos seems to be shaping up as very old fashioned hands-off proprietor in the tradition of American billionaires who buy a newspaper as a sort of charitable indulgence rather than a commercial investment.

He paid $250m for a masthead once valued at over a billion, and he probably overpaid. But he can afford it. Dude's personally worth over $25 billion. He could lose fifty or sixty million a year on the Post for the rest of his life and still die megawealthy. and that's without Amazon paying him another cent.

The thing about Bezos, he plays for the long run. He's playing for the long run in trying to monoplise the publishing industry, and probably in trying to roll over retail competitors like Costco and Walmart. He could afford to sit and wait for years, decades even, while the slow death of the old media kills of most of the legacy print competitors leaving a few globally recognised mastheads to survive as megasaurs in a radically changed ecology.

I can very easily imagine a future where a handful of brand titles like The New York Times and now the Post, become less about serving their local catchments and more about selling an increasingly rare - and thus valuable product - hard news, to a much wider market. (It's noticeable, for instance that the stories selected by the editors of the NYT for each day's live read on Audible seem very strongly slanted towards an international audience). I'd also add that there's no guarantee the Times will survive, given their parlous finances. But they're a lot better placed to do so than most papers.

4 Responses to ‘Bezos buys a newspaper’

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted August 8, 2013

It is charming and quite reassuring that the ultra rich of today are behaving like the benevolent robber barons of the past. I'm not being critical. I think it is wonderful that Bezos will be keeping the Post alive independent of any profit motive. It is even more reassuring to know that the accumulation of enormous wealth might foster the kind of man Karl Marx hoped would result from communism.

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Blarkon mutters...

Posted August 8, 2013

Nah, just another Dot Commer slowly coming to the realization that their industry is the one that killed serious journalism and that pyjama journalism isn't going to fix the crap that happens to democracy next.

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HAVOCK21 mutters...

Posted August 9, 2013

WAAAAAY of fkn TOPIC, I see that MURPH has popped up here!

"A 600-year-old statue residing in a museum in Florence, Italy, has one less finger on its left hand thanks to an American tourist who came in contact with the artwork and broke off a digit.

The tourist, whose name has not been reported, allegedly broke off the left pinky finger of the statue while attempting to measure it. The incident is thought to have been an accident, but officials in Italy questioned the American and are weighing what action to take.The fundamental rules for visiting a museum have been forgotten, that is: do not touch the works.

Reports have described the tourist as a 55-year-old man from Missouri in the US.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/travel/travel-news/american-tourist-breaks-finger-off-ancient-statue-in-florence-musuem-20130808-2rixt.html#ixzz2bPnryP9C

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The Alastair Reynolds book we should have read

Posted July 3, 2013 into Books by John Birmingham

Whoa.

That's right. Whoa.

Alistair Reynolds has written a Dr Who novel, and it's set in the Pertwee era, with Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart and Jo Grant and the Beardy Master. Deets at iO9, including spoilers.

"...he clearly has a lot of affection for the "UNIT family" era. But at the same time, Reynolds can't resist making things more intense and cosmic, and he winds up delving into some of the weirder contradictions of the UNIT era, including the sense that reality is always just a few threads away from unraveling, that runs underneath all the comfy "trundling around the English countryside in a yellow roadster" stuff in that era...

...

Reynolds is clearly having a lot of fun getting to play around with the Doctor Who universe, and he tosses out more ideas than he quite knows what to do with, somehow making the whole thing come together at the end. He's not just revamping the Pertwee era, he's making some interesting customizations to the show's mythology in general — particularly a lot of stuff about the Time Lords, and by extension the Doctor's own origins and ideals.

Reynolds brings out a lot of the weirdness that's inherent in a paramilitary organization coping with mind-bending terrors from outer space, and a lot of the threat that UNIT is dealing with this time around turns out to be existential in nature. On the TV show, UNIT soldiers deal with being frozen in time bubbles, de-aged into babies, mind-controlled by evil computers and whisked away to an antimatter universe — but Reynolds comes up with a possibly more surreal and jarring danger for UNIT to struggle against, as a result of the Master's evil-doing."

As much as I struggled thru a few passages of Chasm City, I'll be making my way from this place directly to Audible to see if there's an audiobook. And if not, an ebook.

11 Responses to ‘The Alastair Reynolds book we should have read’

Surtac mumbles...

Posted July 3, 2013

Got my copy a week or so back but was too busy re-reading Chasm City to get to it. :)

Now onto KSR's 2312 from my Hugo voter packet, but soon I will read Al's new shiny. Soon, I tells ya.

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Murphy has opinions thus...

Posted July 3, 2013

See, I look at that spaceship and think, "Mickey Mouse."

Don't ask me why.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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Maddoug asserts...

Posted July 3, 2013

Well I look at that spaceship and think it's a good thing the "mouse ears" are concave instead of convex, or it wouldn't be Mickey mouse i'd be thinking of...

Will certainly pick up a copy for myself in any case, I love his books and it'll be interesting to see what he does with Pertwee's Doctor.

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Spanner has opinions thus...

Posted July 3, 2013

Oh man *kicks nearest table* I just used my latest audible credit on Part 2 of Wise Man's Fear. I don't wanna wait another month. If only I had a time machine...

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Dino not to be confused with is gonna tell you...

Posted July 3, 2013

Time Lords

Delete or insert a bounded 'event horizon'.

I always wondered how quickly time travelled once changed.

It is instant as some would have us believe.?

How quickly can time/information dissapate?

'Non locality' and measuring Plank's constant is

Dino not to be confused with would have you know...

Posted July 3, 2013

It's a Lebesque

Stanislaw Ulam saw it, 0 to 1 with non linear coeffiecents making it difficult.

I'll shut up for a while and drink some pleasurable contemplation.

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Dave W reckons...

Posted July 3, 2013

Has he done any screenwriting for the current incarnation (or upcoming...)? In any case, I saw it on amazon this morning and you've just made this tome more enticing.

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Blarkon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 3, 2013

Yup - it's on Audible. I'm about half way through. The amazing thing is, especially in the first few scenes, he's managed to write aliens that look a bit like crap early 70's special effects.

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Quokka asserts...

Posted July 8, 2013

I clicked that link. ROFL and Barf, all at once.

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Quokka reckons...

Posted July 8, 2013
Eek, how did that happen? I thought I was clicking on 'respond' to Barnesm in the MOS thread. Never mind. disregard and carry on.

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The digital future of genre

Posted June 27, 2013 into Books by John Birmingham

Last year was a dark time in publishing. The year before even worse. The Australian retail market contracted by 25%, mostly due to the collapse of Borders, which had itself driven a number of independents and smaller franchises to the wall.

There are glimmers of improvement about though. The end of Amazon's effective monoply on ebooks is one, and the return of genre, especially sci-fi another.

Sci Fi has been deader than Elvis as a publishing industry segment for a long time. A few authors make a good, not great, living. But otherwise the era of spaceships and big fucking ray guns was judged to be over.

Until punters started buying SF titles in bigger and bigger and ever accelerating numbers in electronic form. It seems that like comic books and short stories, genre and SF in particular have found something of a 'mass niche' on tablets and ereaders.

Wired has long piece about it here:

There are multiple theories for the genre dominance in digital publishing, including the appeal of anonymity offered by e-reader devices, which don’t display the cover of a potentially embarrassing book for all the world to see. As Antonia Senior wrote in The Guardian last year, ”I’m happier reading [trashy fiction] on an e-reader, and keeping shelf space for books that proclaim my cleverness.”

But the digital delivery system also offers immediacy and ease of access for material that often is serialized and written to make you want to know what happens next, as soon as possible. Liate Stehlik, senior vice president and publisher at Harper Collins, subscribes to that idea, at least partially. Genre fans, she says, became “early adopters” of the digital format because e-books are the optimal format “for people who want to read a lot of books, quickly and frequently. Digital has replaced the paperback, certainly the paperback originals. I think the audience that gravitated to eBooks first really was that voracious reader, reading for entertainment, reading multiple books in a month across multiple genres.”

For both Random House and Harper Collins, moving to a digital-first publishing model not only offers a higher return on investment for genre publishing, but also opens the door for those publishers to experiment in a much more cost-effective way than print. “It’s not that we couldn’t publish these books before,” Dobson said, “but [now] that a certain consumer has migrated online, and the ease of buying these books has grown that consumer base substantially.”

This sits well with my own judgment that the industry will shake itself out into two fields over the next ten years, with disposable fiction migrating mostly into digital. Doesn't mean you won't ever see a hardback or even paperback SF title in future. But most of those titles will probably be consumed on iPads and Kindles.

15 Responses to ‘The digital future of genre’

pi mumbles...

Posted June 27, 2013

I'd say that the other advantage that is helped via e-books is the simple volume of books that you can carry around with you. Many sci-fi books form part of a greater 'universe' (if only Mr Bankscould take a bow... sigh) and if you want to access these books on a whim, you'd need to carry along a crate with you.

I also re-read sci-fi in a way that I don't read in many other forms. The whole immersion thing. When you have all of these titles at your finger-tips, this is possible. Otherwise, it's back to the crate thing.

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Barnesm asserts...

Posted June 27, 2013

"”I’m happier reading [trashy fiction] on an e-reader, and keeping shelf space for books that proclaim my cleverness.” This is a contributing reason I think why 50 Shades of Grey was a monster best seller.

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pitpat swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 27, 2013

Certainly gels with my personal experience. Prior to my kindle I would re-read old books until I got the chance to get into the city. The best option in my neck of the woods is Berkelouws and they don't have a huge Sci Fi/ explodey range but have great thinky range. With various devices I now have multiple options and it is very very easy to pick a new title or even just browse a chapter or even try your luck in the 99c or free range.

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Trashman swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 27, 2013

God, I hope not. I only buy digital when there's no other option. I don't care what people think of what I read, I'm a geek to the grave.

Much prefer dead tree - I read faster and I enjoy it more. Don't ask me why.

Plus, I can sell it on second hand (but never one of yours JB!).

Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 27, 2013

I imagine Amazon is already setting up the ability to sell back your kindel edition. At a much reduced cost of course

Trashman mutters...

Posted June 28, 2013

That way they control the second hand market as well.

It's only electrons, they don't physically exist and can be sold and then resold ad infinitum. At least a physical copy can only change hangs so many times before it falls apart.

They get their profit multiple times, you get a pittance and the author gots nothing.

Barnesm mumbles...

Posted June 28, 2013

I think you just successfully pitched the idea for Amazon.

Trashman asserts...

Posted June 28, 2013

Damn!

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tqft mumbles...

Posted June 27, 2013

I think the real money will be for the person who can make an AI editor rather than one of those pesky humans with bills to pay. At least some software that can do a lot of the grunt work.

Revenue will be determined as always by what people want and are prepared to pay. But costs? Someone somewhere probably has this idea in train. I was reading a post the other day by a person who does editing as a side job. She almost sent it back in digust as the just the formatting was making the work unreadable.

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Anthony would have you know...

Posted June 27, 2013

But how am I going to get a signed copy of an e-book?

pi would have you know...

Posted June 27, 2013

liquid paper.

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Therbs swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 27, 2013

Yep. Also franchise lines I reckon. The equivalents of Cussler and that bloke who did Red October. I also believe Dickens would have been into it like Havsy at a muppet capping.

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Murphy mutters...

Posted June 28, 2013

Be nice if there were more SF out there that didn't pound one in the head with their particular ideological bible. I love science fiction but man most of what is out there these days is so much third hand, politically correct sermonizing thinly coated with something that might vaguely be called a plot.

The most recent novels I've read are by Ted Kosmatka, The Games and The Prophet of Bones respectively. Both are solidly plotted, character driven novels serviced by either crunchy SF in one case or crunchy SF in an alternate universe. Politics is a spice in the later novel, not the main course, side dish and three trips to the ice cream machine at Hometown Buffet.

Frankly, I wish I could find more novels that were like Ted's. If I want some half baked poli-sci sermon, I'll just crack open the latest generation of American History textbooks.

Respects,

Murph

On the Outer Marches

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S.M. Stirling asserts...

Posted June 29, 2013

Yup. My royalties used to be derisory. They've gotten to be six-figure serious, and it's being overwhelmingly driven by ebooks.

They alter buying patterns, especially in genre(*). People read one book, and then go out and buy the entire series. Sometimes everything the author has ever done.

(*) apart from the particular genre known as "literary".

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Anders asserts...

Posted June 29, 2013

Also the fact that they actually have a sci-fi section to shop in. That really helps.

Aside from GRRM, Pratchett and OH GOD ALL THE TWILIGHT, there's scant few Fantasy/SF titles on the average bookstore's shelves. Borders was where I got most of mine in recent years, before that (when I was in a state without any) it was second hand stores. But on an e-reader? It's a never ending slide down the "recommended" list.

I'm also a lifetime member of Singularity & Co's "Save the Sci-fi", which serves up bizarre classics. And I also really appreciated the Humble eBook Bundle which introduced me to the remarkable "Zoo City" by Lauren Beukes - that kind of bundled approach is probably my preferred way of getting exposed to new authors as the content is curated, but costs are still low.

Finally a shout-out to Boroondara Library Service for having a HUUUUGE SF collection that I have plundered over the years. Since moving to this area, they're a definite reason for my purchasing habits declining.

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I dips me lid to the prof

Posted June 16, 2013 into Books by John Birmingham

My thanks to Professor Bryan Gaensler for delivering up this weekend's freebie read, an edited chapter from his awesome book of thinky science things about the universe. Yes. The whole fucking universe. Today's extract is a roaring piece about the loudest sound never heard, and Extreme Cosmos is chockers with stuff like this that kids and teen geeks in particular would love.

It's probably also worth bookmarking for Father's Day

1 Responses to ‘I dips me lid to the prof’

BigWillieStyle mutters...

Posted June 16, 2013

Meh. I don't care how many letters Bryan Gaensler has got after his name. I get all my sciencamatific knowledge from Alan Jones. Everyone knows the universe is not 13.8 billlion years old, and there was no Big Bang. It's all just leftist lefty leftard lefty hogwash, designed to cover up the fact that we'll soon be ruled by One World Order, and all of our income will go directly to single mothers and drug addicts.

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From the archives: Cell

Posted June 12, 2013 into Books by John Birmingham

Got a mess of my own making to clean up today, so I thought I'd reach back into the archive for this one, a review of Cell by da King. It got a relevence refresh with news that a movie adaptation is back on track and scheduled to begin shooting later this year. John Cusack is set to star. Given the success of The Walking Dead and the anticipation surrounding Under the Dome, it's almost a lay down certainty to reach the multiplexes sometime next year. I remember this as being one the creepiest King books ever, and viscerally horrifying with it.

The supermarkets and mega stores like Borders will probably discount Stephen King's latest novel, Cell, using it as a loss leader to drag punters into the shop. You might even get it for less than twenty bucks, but don't imagine for a second that's all you're going to pay. There'll be a heavy toll levied on anyone who reads this thing from cover to cover; vivid nightmares that wreck your sleep for however long it takes you finish and get the creepy thing out of your system

As with the best of King's work, Cell comes with a simple premise. At 3.03pm, US Eastern Standard Time, some sort of Pulse runs through every mobile phone in the world. Anyone using their natty little Erricson at that time goes violently insane. And as the author points out, who doesn't own a mobile nowadays? As millions of zombie's possessed by their batphones suddenly turn on the rest of the population, those not affected at first begin to ring friends and
family to warn them or to find out what's happening, and they too get zapped by Satan's Own telco. Only a small percentage of people remain unaffected, either because they don't have mobiles, or they stay off them long to realise that they are the source of the problems.

Keeping such a global disaster personalised is the role of Clay Riddell, 'a young man of no particular importance to history', a graphic artist caught in Boston during the Pulse. The book follows his attempts to make it home, a hundred miles away, to his twelve year old son, for whom he had only just purchased a mobile phone. Clay throws in his lot with an ensemble cast of suppporting survivors; notably Alice, a traumatised teenager and Tom, a confirmed bachelor of much less than heroic stature, who turns out to be one of the most sympathetically drawn gay men you'll ever find in pulp fiction.

Possibly the goriest of Stephen King's books so far, it won't be for everybody. Never one to resile from painting humanity in the worst light, recent events seem to have darkened his view of us even further. The book is current enough to include references to Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath of that disaster informs the shocking and occasionally sickening portrait of a world in collapse which takes up the first part of the narrative.

With it's legions of blank-eyed, shuffling undead unpeople, Cell quickly reveals itself as a zombie horror story, in the style of George Romero, one of King's favorite auteurs. And like Romero, King uses the iconic figure of the zombie for satircal as well as scarifying purposes. When the phone crazies, as they are quickly dubbed, begin to exhibit flocking behaviour, and march in jerky lockstep to nearest mega mall to strip it clean of rapidly decaying foodstuffs, they recall scenes from Romero's Dawn of Dead, which was as much a commentary on American materialism as it was a low budget splatterfest.

As usual, King's story is loaded with references to the world of real things – a phrase of which he is very fond – and while some of these merely provide verisimilutde, others point to a deeper intent on the writer's part. The opening scenes are purposely drawn in the shadow of 9/11, and Al Qaeda's mass casualty attack haunts both the action and the thoughts of the main characters throughout. King is also The King however, and a world full of flesh eating zombies isn't nearly
interesting enough to keep him at the keyboard. He amps up the story wattage with a developing subplot about the victims of the Pulse beginning to act as a single organism with weirdly otherworldly Stephen Kingly-type super powers.

It might all sound like a load of old cods, but all of his books would, when viewed in blurb form. King pulls them off because he has that rare facility of making you believe it could happen. I challenge anyone to read this book and feel comfortable making a phone call right afterwards. Indeed, like all true art, the Cell lingers in your mind, having its greatest effect when the immediate experience of the work is over. It's like a depth charge, sinking deeper and deeper into your subconcious and detonating days afterwards in the form of some
very unpleasant dreams.

It can and will be read on different levels. As simple freak show carnography. As a satire on commercial culture. A homage to Romero. Even as a reflection on the war in Iraq. (One character makes this link explicit). For me though, it marks a stunning return to form of the heaviest hitter in the world of the airport novel. If you don't mind being pursued through your dreams by a ravening host of zombies, this one is for you.

13 Responses to ‘From the archives: Cell’

Barnesm swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 12, 2013

Thank Darwin, I thought this was that awful serial killer movie starring Ms Lopez as child psychiatrist Catherine Deane who can enter the dreams of her patients.

Will check it out, $13.76 for the kindle. Personally I think I should only pay $9.99 that means I can steal it doesn't it?

This Stephen King fella is he any good?

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted June 12, 2013

"At 3.03pm, US Eastern Standard Time, some sort of Pulse runs through every mobile phone in the world. Anyone using their natty little Erricson at that time goes violently insane" I wonder if this was sparked by the series one finale of Dollhouse which mentioned similar idea, and why they wanted to head to the bunker.

You had me 'zombie horror story'.

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted June 12, 2013

so July Cheesebuger bookclub chosen I take it?

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted June 12, 2013

You'd have to lobby hard.

Jackie swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 12, 2013

Got my vote and I just purchased it the other day to read so I'm good to go :) #julybookclub :)

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Rob would have you know...

Posted June 12, 2013

Hopefully it will be faithfull to tthe book. I read a review of world war z and I'm already disapointed. So I will wait for that to be released on DVD to watch that particular puppy. The book has a really a really good well plotted story that goes from point a to point b, with dollops of Stephen King meloncoly thrown in. The creepy moments of the hives of zombies all listening to the same tune in the car parks as the characters sneak past was amazingly inventive. Stephen King has always had his eye on movies and their push through make sense logic. I even enjoyed Maximum Overdrive which King didn't like, but as a trashy B film it was brilliant.

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John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted June 12, 2013
Dollops of melancholy you say? I'd have thought oceans of it.
I wonder if they'll change the ending?

Rob reckons...

Posted June 12, 2013

ending?....Must read it again....get me to my bookshelves pronto.

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Analog Penetration mumbles...

Posted June 12, 2013

It is a great read. I liked his reference to "robo-80's radio stations" that are all called some guy's name like Mike or Bob. We don't have that here in Oz, but I was working in radio in Canada when I read this, and that is part of the landscape there (my town had a Jack FM).

And Moby was hurt/flattered by being bagged in one scene too.

Hope the movie lives up to the book. Although they seldom do, especially with King.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted June 12, 2013

Oh, man, I vaguely recall that Moby thing, but can't quite bring into sharp focus. I might have to revisit the book after all.

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Microbe74 is gonna tell you...

Posted June 12, 2013

I remember being un-nerved by the premise of this book, uncomfortable with my phone while in the process of reading it but as with much of King's work, absolutely transfixed by it.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted June 12, 2013

I was mostly unnnerved by the gore and violence.

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