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This Might Have Zipped Past September 23, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in ideas, inventions, movies, movies & TV, science, science fiction, sense of wonder.
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…because of the yeehaw! over CERN detecting neutrinos going faster than light. That one, if true, is more a theoretical problem since we’re not going to build neutrino starships and go to Zeta Reticulae any time soon, but the revolution in elementary relativity would be immense. But I’m not talking about that.

This is potentially more thrilling and frightening. If you get stuffed into an MRI, scientists can make a video out of your dreams. Grainy, indistinct, but mappable scenes. Sort of like the first moving pictures. It didn’t take long to go from early Edison pictures to Wizard of Oz. With a technology like this, progress might be even quicker. The people who go into comas for decades pose something of a moral problem for me, but this might be a way of communication–or knowing if anyone ever could communicate. And for whatever evolutionary reason, the people in such comas apparently are content, if not happy. I’d think they’d go completely insane but that doesn’t seem to be the brain mechanism. I remember one of the essays in Lewis Thomas’ marvelous Lives of The Cell where he says that the body can release immense endorphins at the time of death to erase pain.

But dipping into dreams? This is the stuff of science fiction. Even more, a video can be made of what people are currently seeing. This has to open comparisons of the subjective to the objective. Is the color red I see the same as the color red you see? We might agree on the wavelength (700nm) but the subjective part is up for grabs. This can hone in on a variety of visual problems.

Also from Berkeley comes stem cell work on revitalizing muscle tissue. We are reaching the transhuman threshold fast.

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Amazon vs Apple September 13, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, inventions, iPad, movies, movies & TV, music, VIPub, web & computers.
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The battle of the titans is about to begin. A month or two? Certainly before Christmas and during the presents-buying season. Amazon is about to launch its color Kindle tablet.

One difference is that the Amazon Kindle is Android app capable. Another is that the initial launch will be wifi connectable only. That can change easily enough since existing Kindles have 3G. What carrier wouldn’t want the chance to hook up a new major source of traffic?

The advantages for AK (would they have the nerve to launch with the numeral 47, making this an AK47? No, I didn’t think so.) are the huge content through Amazon. They are gearing up to compete with netflix, already sell 90% of the ebooks, is moving into music and undoubtedly are innovative. Plus the AK will cost $250. This is half the price of the iPad.

I see this as another nail in the B&N coffin since the AK will go head-to-head with the Color Nook. Amazon is turning into the 800 lb gorilla. The question is in the air how long before they start to screw VIPub authors? They have 750,000 ebooks available. Does it serve Amazon to winnow those numbers? Time will tell.

They have introduced a behind the scenes quality control that hasn’t been obvious to me (or probably to you, either, as a reader/consumer) but a friend said they returned one of his books that had been on sale for some time to correct scanning errors. This isn’t a bad service at all since it gives the author the chance to pick up on what look like typos (scanning can introduce systematic errors–OCR software is good but even at 95% good it lets in mistakes. One I find in a lot of my scanned books is “com” turning into “corn.”) It’s good that Amazon cares enough about what’s on its electronic shelves to request this and it certainly is a boon to authors. Trust me, no matter how many times you copyedit a book, there will be typos. Always.

The AK isn’t a game changer like the first iPad but it is ramping up the competition. Waaaay up. E-ink is striving to have its day, this time with a tablet.

existing Kindle--not the Kindle tablet

To The Bunkers! September 10, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, End of the World, fantasy, ideas, movies, sci-fi, VIPub, writing.
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Whenever anyone asks where do ideas come from, I have to marvel. Read the news. Haunt those “Weird” news feeds. Find things like Visual Pink, a movie porn business, building a massive bunker to withstand the apocalypse due in 2012. Those crafty Mayas probably knew this would happen. After all, they predicted this end of the world, didn’t they?

This strikes me as a clever way to get publicity, and good for them. But the stfnal part of me has to wonder that, if the Mayan Apocalypta happened, what would you have left? A bunch of survivalists and a bunkerful of strippers and porn stars, along with their customers and the people running the company now. What sort of society would come out of this? Granted, there are any number of movies that sound like this. Check out Cheese-magnet for long lists of them.

How can sf writers, meaning VIPubbers, get on the Mayan bandwagon to promote our work? While I wouldn’t mind building a huge warehouse stuffed with porn stars, that’s a bit beyond my budget. Of course, if I really believed the Mayas were right, what good would money do me anyway?

Bang for Your (Inflated) Buck August 18, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, movies, New Mexico, VIPub, writing.
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The newspaper this morning said that movie box office receipts were up 5% for the year, thanks in (almost toto) to Harry Potter, Transformers and, remarkably, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Without them and their billion dollar takes, the receipts would have been down, in spite of 3D and otherwise increased ticket prices.

The problem with all 3 is that they are franchise movies, sequels that play on prior popularity. HP is dead now, so…. There hasn’t been a single 2011 movie that launches a new franchise. And some of the franchise movies, such as Cars:2, faltered. This doesn’t bode well for future box office. Of course, there are always reboots of old movies, but the only one of those that worked (fabulously well) was Batman. And that was because of Christopher Nolan’s genius.

I saw a sneak preview of Fright Night 3D last night (movie filmed here in Abq). In its way it is a remake and sort of a reboot, but hardly a franchise movie. It was enjoyable but frankly I cannot say it would be worth 3D prices and only dollar theater prices for 2D. The exploding vampire scene was maybe the best. David Tennant as Peter Vincent worked well but I thought he was Russell Brand for a while. Colin Ferrel was kinda funny as Jerry the vampire but somehow not *that* menacing. I kept thinking about the ‘40s movies where you could tell a werewolf by the human’s eyebrows growing together. Maybe he should have been a werewolf? Imogene Poots (you know that cannot be a stage name, right?) was winsome as the love interest and Anton Yelchin did an ok job as the hero. Marti Noxon did the screenplay and it was a good one. But in its way, a movie like this reminds me of a wolf with its leg caught in a trap. Hollywood is chewing off its own leg repeatedly, over and over, redundantly remaking movies of other movies.

So, consider this. A couple hours of having vampire guts sprayed out in 3D might cost $12 (or more–NM is the Land of the Impoverished). $6/hr entertainment, a whole lot more if you spring for the $10k/ton popcorn or soda pop that costs more than gasoline by a factor of 5. Or you can buy a book. Five, six hours of reading for $5? $1/hr and you can reread it. Cost of Kindle? Less than 10 3D movie tickets. And you can d/l millions of books, a lot for free. Of course, you have cities like Detroit with 45% illiteracy (but that means 55% can read at some level, whether they read for pleasure or not.) And Liberty Media seems to have pulled out on the capital infusion to Barnes & Noble, so another brick and mortar store might bite the dust. John Malone reputedly only wanted the Nook business, anyway.

What’s working? VIPub. Go out there and corral a book or two. Price isn’t onerous, you can sample a chapter or two before buying, and if you get hooked on a series it might just continue for a very long time (without costing $250mega per installment).

I leave you with this look at Fright Night

Cowboys & Aliens (and Indians, Oh, My!) July 27, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in movies, New Mexico, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, UFOs, westerns, Wild West.
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Saw Cowboys and Aliens last night and enjoyed it a lot. Daniel Craig makes a great cowboy, acting in the Clint Eastwood minimalist spaghetti western vein, but with the presence of some of the better modern day cowboy actors. Scott Glenn came to mind, though Craig is bulkier rather than rangy.

Thinking about it, we’ve got a good spectrum of actors who can handle western roles. Thomas Hayden Church, of course, Kevin Costner does best in westerns and least in sf, Scott Glenn, Robert Duvall.

And Harrison Ford did an acceptable job of playing a heavy in this–and had the movie’s major character arc. Sam Rockwell wasn’t too bad, either, nor was Clancy Brown.

Paul Hutton, exec director of WWA, was listed as an historical advisor. And the entire movie was shot in northern NM (great locations, simply great.

I suppose I need to categorize this as a western with sf plot (it is not an invidious comparison to Gene Autrey and the Phantom Empire–I love that old serial since it has death rays and robots and underground hidden civilizations, but it is a western first and then sf). For whatever reason, it was just assumed you knew all the sf tropes. Accept them and go with the flow and it’s fine. One woman told the screening rep that she wondered why the aliens wanted gold. That seemed obvious to me but on reflection wouldn’t be to a non-sf reader.

Likewise why were the aliens snatching humans and keeping them roped up? No need to explain. That’s what aliens do and the end scenes were highly reminiscent of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind (which, btw, I am not a fan of). You know those movies and themes and the aliens are understandable. Don’t and they were pretty random.

Olivia Wilde had a nice role but seemed out of place somehow.

On the whole, like this but it’ll never be on my top 10 list for either western or sf. (And it can never replaced Phantom Empire in my heart for western sf).

Heat Death of the Universe July 14, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, e-books, inventions, movies, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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Just wanted to start with something cheerful, like our ultimate fate (I can make a case this has already occurred since the avg temp of the universe is about 3degK)

But in an anti-entropy fashion, here is a great interview with Michael Zapp the author of the LegendMaker software I use to generate my ebooks.

Check out the example, too. It’s my “Me and Mr Jones” short story. Snag it for free here.

Tomorrow Mythcon 42 begins and I will be out of touch, here and otherwise, for the weekend. Enjoy the con, see Harry Potter, don’t worry about entropy…

Fun and games!

Phat, Dumb and Harry (Potter) July 13, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, e-books, gummint, movies, sci-fi, sense of wonder, VIPub, writing.
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Been too long since I blogged but lots has been accomplished. The rewrite for God of War 2 is sent off. The fantasy football annual is done (online editing can be a pain with weird connections and error msgs that don’t correspond to reality). I’m a week behind on student lessons but am pumping on that since I will be at Mythcon this weekend.

I’m not sure how well I’ll handle it since my back is acting up, but at least my sprained toe is better. That’ll teach me to try to kick a cat downstairs.

I am some croggled at the news story that 20% of a state’s population being obese is considered bottom line. I am always suspicious of these numbers. After all, 87% of all statistics are made up on the spot. I calculated my BMI and found I was borderline fat and to hit median I’d have to lose 20 lbs. I weighed 135 in college and was skeletal. I don’t think I’ll go back to that and don’t think I’ll lose 20 lbs to be “average” either. I doubt I can pack it away like this
http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2011/07/spotted-michelle-obama-indulging-in-1556-calorie-lunch.html
but the public health idiots are decrying this about male anorexia and claiming it is due to male model envy. Howabout constant badgering that we’re all fat? The gummint would be better served letting us figure it out for ourselves. But then what would I have to write sf novels about?

Besides, without the pictures of Walmartians, what else is there to laugh at?

Saw happy Potter and the Deathly Hallows v.2 last night in 3D. A worthy end for the series. V.1 was dull with them standing around waiting to die and engaging in endless (shallow) soul searching, but v.2 is lively, has some fine scenes, completes relationships and the battle at Hogwarts is worth the price of admission (with Maggie Smith’s triumphant one liner). Wonderful performances by Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter. I barely remember the book but it seemed as if the movie hinted at something more about Snape and Harry’s paternity. Let me know about this. It certainly recreates Dumbledore. And the trip to Gringots is wonderful. No real need for 3D on this, but you ought to see it if you’re the least bit interested in the boy wizard.

Kudos to Kevin Anderson for starting the ebook discussion group. You can follow him on twitter at TheKJA (or me at BobV451)

Back to work on the lessons. Only 3 to go and I’ll be even. But still several to do for *this* week.

Free and Not So Easy May 17, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, contest, conventions, e-books, ideas, iPad, movies, movies & TV, New Mexico, science fiction, sense of wonder, steampunk, VIPub, writing.
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The Albuquerque Comic Expo is coming up next month. I bounced some ideas off Scott Phillips about drawing some eyeballs at the con since I am only selling books and not doing artwork or comics. Granted, mine are game tie-in books and even a movie tie-in novelization (for Stink of Flesh) but competing against professional displays, Stan Lee, movie and TV stars, well, it is a daunting task to draw people hurrying past. I suggested some ideas that would end up in a giveaway, such as going to several booths, getting a “key word” and then on completion winning something. Scott is a veteran of comic cons, especially the granddaddy of them all, San Diego Comic Con, and he said this wouldn’t work.

Giveaways don’t attract people to buy but rather to stuff freebies into their bag and keep going. Booth babes attract. Major established stars attract. What else does? I’m willing to try stuff since I don’t have anything to lose on this. If I sell one book, cool, if I sell a hundred (fingers crossed!) better yet. If I don’t sell anything at all, I’m still coming out ahead being surrounded by all kinds of fun stuff.

I am thinking of cards with discounts at my online store, for a short length of time. But this isn’t going to pull in new eyes but rather only go to established fans. Not bad, of course, but how do you lure in people who aren’t familiar with my work (but who would like it if they knew about it)? Dressing up, maybe steampunk to plug my story in the new anthology? Problem here is blending into the masses since there will be a lot of better costumes. Lots better. Ideas are appreciated.

But this goes to a bigger question of pulling in new readers online. Giveaways don’t work (over 3k copies of a short story were d/l’d and the best I can tell, this produced zero new readers for my for-sale work). Sampling might work, but they have to find the sample somehow. ACE is a microcosm of the bigger world. Using my iPad to show book covers works at other cons, but mostly with other writers. What would draw *your* attention at a con dealer room? (Other than the aforementioned booth babes, of course).

edited by Jean Rabe & Martin Greenberg

E-books R Us May 13, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, ideas, movies, VIPub, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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I did this for a Western Fictioneers post a while back. A lot of echoing Mike Stackpole and Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith. I am sooo busy right now with my son’s graduation and actual work, I haven’t been posting here as much as I’d like, so here is the “reprint.”

*****

The sales numbers are in our favor. We give 92% to a publisher to do
what? They don’t advertise or promote. If we publish an e-book at $5
and get $3.50 for every sale, that means we break even at (about) 15% of
a publisher’s sales level. Downside, we don’t get their money upfront
as a “loan”. Upside, we can leave the book on sale forever.

Here is the big advantage for those of us who do series books. A reader
sees book #3 in a trilogy but can’t find 1 & 2. Might not buy because
of that. With e-books, we leave them on sale forever. Readers can come
in with the expectation of being able to start at book 1 and read
onward. For very long series (I have a fantasy series that is a
complete story in 9 books) this is a distinct advantage. I am seeing
virtually as many sales on the later books as I do the earliest ones now
that all 9 are published. iow, once a reader buys into one book, he
goes for the entire series.

I coined the term VIPub a while back (Vertically Integrated Publishing)
to show how this is not only a business but one in which authors are
involved at every level. We write, we edit, we get a cover, we publish,
we promote, we get most of the money from sales. And why not? We are
our own publishing empire. And no one cares as much about my books as I
do. And nobody cares about yours as much as you do.

The legacy publishers will increasingly turn to bestseller titles and
tie-ins because that’s where their money is, leaving mid-list out in the
cold. And if you rely entirely on them, you will be left out in the
cold unless *you* are a bestseller. I get half in advance for a Jake
Logan now as I did in 1985. Back then I even saw some royalties. Now
at half the advance, they aren’t coming close to earning out. (And by
tie-ins, I suspect I mean more like novelizations of big movies and
other properties owned by yet someone else.)

Prepping an e-book is easy. E-books sales topped pbs in February (and
hcs last Sept). The point is coming in legacy publishing where they
lose their economy of scale on printing. I don’t know what that number
is but we have to be close. 18 months ago I said June ’11. They might
stumble on through this Christmas season, but come Jan ’12? Major
hurting going on in NYC.

With every iPad, with every tablet, with every smartphone, we have a
potential buyer.

Will dead tree books vanish? of course not. Will they change? Yes,
and we can take advantage of that, too. Ltd editions are easy to do POD
(and it will be possible soon to get hcs and pbs that are
indistinguishable from those of the major publishers.) I have done some
experimental publishing. A CAREER GUIDE TO YOUR JOB IN HELL is
available in both print and e formats. I did it to see what the
pitfalls and benefits are, how to publicize, what works and what
doesn’t. In that it is a traditional royalty structure with the
authors, I don’t like it. I have to do bookkeeping and divvy up money
every 6 months.

I’ve come up with a couple ideas I think are better that get away from
that. A friend and I are starting a series under a pen name. I do one,
tout his in an excerpt at the end, he publishes his in a month with my
next one promo’d, etc. We have to do a short story every other month
but the continuity of the pen name and characters is there. He
publishes his, I do mine. We each collect directly from what we sell
and yet publicize each other for free.

In the foreword to James Reasoner’s DIAMONDBACK, Bill Crider says that
men’s action stories are dead. To a legacy publisher, they are.
Wouldn’t it be nice to sell 1k copies of a fun story over a year’s time?
I’m working on a project like that now, following the ancient formula
Charles Dickens used so well–serialized fiction. Each of the 20-25k
segments is a complete story but the overarching story isn’t resolved.
At the end of 3 segments, the story ends and then all is published in a
complete volume with a couple short stories using characters from the
book tossed in as a bonus.

Another friend is working to put together a complete world where each of
us sets a story, uses interlocking references, etc. A shared world but
one where a reader can pick up an individual story and go find others in
that world (by different authors).

These aren’t formats possible with a legacy publisher, even if they were
interested. We can be nimble and not have 18 month lead times on our
work–if one theme gets hot, we do more right away, and if it isn’t we
can move on hunting for something that will catch fire. What is going
to die a messy death is “literary fiction” since this has been where the
big advances go for prestige reasons. Without the income, the
publishers have to cut back somewhere. They won’t do it on their James
Pattersons or Stephen Kings. I don’t know about them but the
heavy-hitter in sf is realizing he can sell as many e-copies on his own
as does his publisher–and he can collect 70%, not 17.5% (and this is a
squishy number–it might well be 17.5% of net to the publisher and so
amount to no more than 10% of the sale price).

Lit’ry authors will be out in the cold. Entertainment authors (take a
bow, y’all) will be in the catbird seat since we actually have an
audience for our work larger than the book reviewers at NYT. But we
have to work at it, find ways to promote and expand our audience, get
noticed, drive those eyeballs to our fiction. After all, writing is a
business so that’s not too much of a stretch, is it?

*****

And if you can get out, come by the autographing all afternoon at Burning Paradise. Lots of titles, lots of videos, Scott Phillips with his Squirrel Eyes, too!

Enduring Information April 2, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, e-books, inventions, movies, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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To the cloud with it seems a current notion. Somehow this is portrayed as something new, keeping information stored in a computer somewhere other than in your own hard drive on your own property. That, of course, is silly. Early remote terminals had punch tape readers for input and output while the computer could be off somewhere else. I worked on a PDP-10 and thought it was the cat’s meow. The real innovation was a computer with a drive large enough to store all that information so you didn’t need tape or cards.

I worry about someone else storing my important files. Not that they would goof and erase the 14th Century (or whatever the line was out of the original Rollerball), though that is part of my paranoia, but because they might go bankrupt. All that information would be someone else’s. Just as a writer’s contract has the lie put in that, should the publisher go bankrupt the writer gets full reversion of the contracted novel, so does the cloud storage. FWIW, that book the publisher bought and will revert in case of bankruptcy is *their* property, not yours, and as such is part of any court ordered settlement. Yes, they can say what they want but your book is an asset that does not belong to you because the clause is meaningless.

So might it go with cloud storage. Who do you want getting your work if the company goes belly up? Whoever took over in such a case would likely just erase the storage to use it for something worthwhile. You might get it back if the new owner was nice, but if all prior contractual agreements are voided by the court, you’re out that info. As Heinelin said, don’t depend on another’s better nature–he may not have one.

I’m not even going to mention Internet access, electrical outages or other man-caused disasters.

I like the idea of having my own data on my own hard drive with backups to (admittedly shaky) flash drives and even burned to CDs now and again. Terabyte sized external hard drives are dirt cheap now. I bought a 250gig one a couple years ago and paid twice what I would for a 4 terabyte drive today.

Granted CDs ands hard drives are impermanent storage solutions (ask the Library of Congress about that) but you might want to try several different ways. Even hard copy? Paper has a wonderful track record of surviving. And consider putting your work into a tapestry. The Bayeux Tapestry is a wonderful archive that has survived 1000 years.