Tag Archives: e-books

Review: The Martian

I recently finished The Martian by Andy Weir.   I knew little about it, hadn’t read any reviews, and wasn’t expecting much.  In fact, I was ready to be disappointed. 

When we decided to write In the Shadow of Ares, we intentionally set it on a developed Mars.  For my part, I thought the story of a few astronauts and a dead planet had been done to death, with predictably mediocre results. 

I’ve never been so wrong.  This book is fantastic. 

Mark Watney is stranded on Mars when the rest of the Ares III crew have to evacuate for Earth shortly into their mission.  He is thought to be dead, and with no functioning communications and almost no food, his prospects are bleak. What he does have, though, is a mountain of ingenuity and a great sense of humor that give him a fighting chance.

The Martian is highly technical, but so funny and suspenseful that it should be accessible to nearly anyone (the language is genuine—and salty—so it’s not for all). Despite the bulk of the story consisting of the narration of the protagonist, the voice of that character is more than strong enough to carry the story along, and it doesn’t hurt that the pacing and suspense are outstanding.  I did have a few technical and editorial criticisms, but they are too insignificant to describe in detail here.

This is one of the most creative and enjoyable books I have ever read, and I recommend it highly.

E-Book Reviews

Another thing I wish I had time for is reading and reviewing hard-SF e-books, to help promote quality work and authors who, like us, are not part of the traditional publishing industry.

Instapundit often links to new SF e-books at Amazon, such as today’s link to Robert Sapp’s Lunar Dancebut (unsurprisingly) does not review all the books to which he links. We can certainly attest to the bump in sales one gets from a single Instapundit link, but consider how much more valuable a site with frequent and honest reviews of author-published hard-SF would be to both readers and authors.

Carl and I have discussed a few times creating a “label” or virtual publishing “house”  for similar purposes: a group of self-published authors who review each others’ work for quality and (in this case) hard-SF content, and publish under a recognizable label which serves readers as a hall-mark of sorts for new-to-them writers or books. Think Manana Society with an imprint. Like so many good ideas, however, this one has languished for the same lack of time that makes it hard to simply read the new material in the first place.

Scholastic Launches Storia

Scholastic Books has launched Storia, their eBook download application.  They indicate over 1500 titles available, ranging from pre-K to “7 and up”.

So Scholastic is finally getting with the program; not a choice, really, given the proliferation of eReaders.  Unfortunately, in perusing their site, I don’t see anything that allows for self-published or eBook-only publications.  So, at least for now, no bypassing the traditional publishing model.

Bright Young Minds

It was my pleasure this afternoon to speak to the After School Writing Club at Travis Elementary in Houston, TX.  I was invited by a fourth grade fan of our book (thanks, Anthony!), and enjoyed the opportunity to speak to them about writing in general, and In the Shadow of Ares in particular.

Based on the level of interest and strong questions that met my presentation, I have no doubt that some really good stories will emerge from this smart, enthusiastic group.

Roadkill

Bookseller Borders filed for bankruptcy yesterday.  That was hardly a surprise, and neither was the following:

Its inability to garner significant online business and its near absence from the growing digital book market have made it difficult for Borders to keep up with Barnes & Noble and online retailer Amazon.com Inc.  [emphasis added]

Really?  We’ve had requests to make In the Shadow of Ares available on Borders’ KoBo reader, but decided not to.  In addition to having a platform that was significantly more difficult to use than those of Amazon or B&N, Borders had higher set-up fees and lower royalties.

Looks like the future is here already, and you can get on board or get run over.

On E-Publishing

Sarah Hoyt has come to the same realization that we did regarding e-publishing our novel:

But the field is opening, expanding, and offering a lot of other chances.

As for writers? Well, while there are books I’m not willing to let go small press or e-only – not yet – that is changing, too, and ask me again in three years and it could be quite different. For years now, being published anywhere but by the big boys/gals was an admission of failure. Just the lifting of that taboo is huge. As is the fact that being self-published is not the end of the world, anymore.

As she and several of her commenters point out, one risk in e-publishing is that a solid editorial influence is not necessarily present. An author can side-step the seemingly closed circle of the traditional agent-publisher route, but they then bear the responsibility of thoroughly editing their own writing (which for most of us is a risky proposition) or finding and paying out of pocket a suitable freelance editor to do it for them.

What convinced me that e-publishing was not the kiss of death to our book’s prospects, or a mark of failure (ie: “your book’s so terrible you can’t get it published for real“), was actually seeing a Kindle. Before that, I figured it was a gimmick that would be resisted by established authors and publishers in the same way that studios and record labels resisted digital media to one degree or another. But after trying one out, I started paying more attention to e-publishing. Soon, I was seeing news items about this or that author publishing their books directly to Kindle, getting urged by friends to go straight to Kindle ourselves, and seeing people using readers in airports and other public places.

By August, it had occurred to me that what happened to the music industry with the emergence of iTunes was happening in similar fashion to the publishing industry with digital readers. The technology was right, the public had accepted it, and now serious content was becoming available.

The post above briefly discusses how – far from being a threat – e-publishing could actually expand business opportunities for the traditional publishing industry if they are wise enough to embrace them. As an outsider, that makes a lot of sense to me…with the cost of “printing” books reduced almost to nothing, and the demand for new material always increasing, publishers who embrace e-books as (if nothing else) a farm team for their more traditional publishing business will be well rewarded. The cost to a publisher of editing and marketing an e-book may be little different, but with the overhead associated with preparing, printing, and distributing a paper book eliminated the overall investment in a new book is reduced, and taking a chance on a new author or an innovative story is therefore less risky to the bottom line.

Another opportunity that might emerge (and I would be very surprised if it did not, given precedents) is for e-book “small label publishers”. These would be akin to indie film houses and small/personal record labels, bringing to market unknown or niche titles and authors who would otherwise go overlooked or ignored by the mainstream publishing industry. The benefits these small labels could provide might include streamlined versions of the editing, preparation, and marketing functions provided by traditional publishers, but more importantly, they could confer a degree of respectability to overcome the stigma of “vanity publishing”. The label would serve as a secondary brand-name, helping inform potential readers that the book they are considering downloading has been through some sort of selection process and (as their familiarity with the label grows) serving as an indicator of the quality they can expect even from an unknown new author. One of the commenters on the linked post indicates this is already happening with Baen Books, so it would not surprise me to see it happen soon with new, start-up labels as well.

In short, our perceptions of “self-publishing” have completely changed in the past year, thanks to Kindle and other e-readers. E-books no longer seem to be a flash-in-the-pan fad, and the traditional agent-publisher model may as a result be forced to change to something a bit more open.