When I was a kid, looking for books was a serious enterprise. We had our mall stores and our mom-and-pop bookshops, but the selection was limited to bestsellers (in the mall) or miles and miles of Harlequin romances (in used shops). For a treat, I’d get to go 20 miles out to the only sizable bookstore in town. Taylor’s Books was smaller than an average Barnes and Noble today, but back then it was enormous. They had a Dungeons and Dragons section that set my mouth watering, and the science fiction section spanned two whole rows (hey, I said it was big for THEN).
There was only one problem. I was a kid, and I couldn’t buy everything I wanted. One thing a kid does have (in spades) is time. I would sneak a peek at the latest Stephen R. Donaldson book, only to get called out by an employee, who would say "this is NOT a library!" Chastened, I would put the book back, making a mental note to peruse it more briefly, later.
In the 90s, all that changed. Waves of new corporate bookstores, like Barnes and Noble and Borders, swooped in with larger inventories and new policies. People talked about how they served coffee, and gave customers places to sit. Their real advantage however was especially relevant to me:
They let you read books for as long as you wanted.
Look, before you give me the speech about poor mom and pop (how are they going to pay their mortgage), let me just say that I kept going to those places… for years. The DO NOT READ signs were still up. There was still an absence of chairs. Taylors eventually put out a single pot of (stale) coffee, almost as if to say "there’s your stinking coffee, now shut up and shop with us again." Small business was not adapting to their competition. People talked about how local bookstores couldn’t compete with behemoth store pricing, but it was really the customer service that wasn’t competitive.
Today, the shoe is on the other foot. Last month, I walked into a Borders books with a huge "going out of business" sale. The whopping discount that generated all the crowds: 20%. Seriously. I mentioned to my buddy that Amazon had the same books at 40% with free shipping. A clerk overheard me and responded: "Yeah, but you can take this one home today. It’s worth paying more." Ah, I thought, this is why you are going out of business. It isn’t the price, per se. It’s the expectation that I (the consumer) will behave the way he expects me to. I was supposed to adapt to them. That clerk was right about one thing: Price isn’t everything. As a consumer, I am perfectly willing to pay more for something if I have a compelling reason… but it has to be my reason.
This is why mom-and-pops should celebrate the demise of Borders (and the subsequent troubles at Barnes and Noble). There is room, now, for brick and mortar competition. The little guys have a second chance, but now they have to adapt to Amazon as well as bigger (albeit struggling) stores. The good news? It can be done.
A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to visit Borderlands Books in San Francisco. They are a small shop that specializes in SF/F books. The store is physically small, but beautiful. It has well polished hardwood floors, custom-made bookcases that leave little room for empty space, and an exhaustive selection of new and used books (many of which are rare). The real secret of its success, however, lies in its employees. I wanted to document the store’s look, so I created a 2 gigapixel image to take home with me. While I waited for the gizmo to take its hundred or so pictures, I spoke with some of the employees, who had a great deal to say about virtually any book I mentioned. When was the last time I encountered real product knowledge from a clerk at a bookstore? Never. This was an entirely new experience for me, and I liked it. I also found out that Borderlands offers a monthly newsletter for their community (when have you ever heard of a Borders "community?"), and they seem to have 5-6 book signings each month. If these guys were in Dallas, I wouldn’t shop anywhere else.
Here are the advantages that I see for independents:
- They can be niche. There’s no way a corporate store could have much depth, because they are incented to not stock slow selling books. We have a list of SF/F bookstores that are making niche work.
- Higher margins. It may sound counter-intuitive, since chain bookstores get to buy new books at wholesale by buying in volume, but small shops often sell new and used books side-by-side. They can buy a $12 paperback off their customers for $3 and sell it for $6. That’s a 100% markup.
- The ability to browse. As good as Amazon is, it’s still not ideal for browsing. Fan sites (like Worlds Without End) try to fill this niche by organizing books according to awards, best-of lists, and the recommendations of fellow fans. Nevertheless, even we can’t compare to a brick and mortar store with a strong selection and knowledgeable staff.
As many shop owners may point out, there are many challenges to small bookshops that I have not addressed. Nevertheless, I believe having one fewer corporate chain in the mix can only be good for the sorts of stores I’d rather shop.
This is something quite different from our usual science fiction and fantasy news: German art student Benjamin Harff created a hand-illuminated manuscript of The Silmarillion for his exam at the Academy of Arts. In Harff’s own words:
I created the deluxe-Silmarillion for my exam at the Academy of Arts. My first idea was to create illustrations for the Lord of the Rings, but I realized that the films had left a too strong impression upon me, so I could not work free. So I decided to illustrate the Silmarillion. The calligraphy was first planned to be reduced to one single initial for each chapter. So I studied the “History of Middle-Earth”-books as well as the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and especially his works as an illustrator, which give many indications about his imagination of Middle-Earth that cannot be derived from written words. I also tried to find out what inspired him lyrically and visually and I think you can put that into one word: nature.
It is obvious that Tolkien was also a lover of calligraphy, especially medieval. In the book “J.R.R. Tolkien – Artist and Illustrator” I found a hint about a book concerning calligraphy Tolkien had read. So I bought the same book and worked it through.
That was the point where I had more and more fun in doing medieval calligraphy and finally I had to make a decision: Illustrations OR calligraphy. This was not easy, because I had made very excessive preparations for the oil-paintings, but my time was so short, that I could not do both.
I do not regret my decision, because I have made my exam now and there are still tons of studies and prepared wood-plates waiting for paint. One study in pencil I put along with these words, they show the taking of Arathorn by the Hill-Trolls.
Thanks to Make for the link.
Day 5 at Worldcon came much too early. Saturday at the convention was really fun but took a lot out of all of us. We attended the Hugo Award directly after and then went out to the parties etc. so we didn’t get much sleep. Add to that we had to get up early and pack for the return trip. We were ready to take it easy for the few hours we had left at the table and decided we’d just put out some bookmarks and spend the day wandering the hall.
One of the first people we saw when we got to the convention center was Connie Willis. I wanted to get her signature on my Blackout/All Clear bookmark but she was having breakfast with some friends so I decided to wait for a better chance. I’m sure she would have been happy to talk to me – you could tell she was still riding high on her Hugo win – but I didn’t want to disturb her whole table. There were plenty of people already hitting her up in any case.
Speaking of riding high, we next ran into Allen Steele with his Hugo. He was drawing a nice crowd of well-wishers – including one of my favorite authors John Scalzi – and he was just beaming with pleasure. Everyone wanted a picture and a closer look at the Hugo trophy which is freakin’ awesome in person. He was quite willing to let folks hold the trophy, which is pretty darn nice if you ask me. He must have posed for dozens of pictures in the few minutes we were there.
We all split up to take care of last minute stuff and Chris and I went off to get some stuff for our wives and kids. I had already gotten my girls an awesome comic book adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz but my wife had told me I better bring back some toys after being gone for so long. Fair enough. I eventually settled on some nice, but expensive, stuffed animal puppets while my wife just wanted a convention T-shirt. Easy peasy. With that done we decided to go see the art show which was very nice. I loved seeing the original art for so many of the book covers I’ve admired over the years.
After that, Rico and I hooked up in the autograph line for Seanan McGuire, a.k.a. Mira Grant, author of Feed. She was very pleasant and did not seem disappointed in not winning the Hugo though we met plenty of fans who really love her book who I’m sure were plenty aggrieved on her behalf. With her autograph in the bag all I had left to do was find Connie Willis before we had to leave for the airport.
I found Chris chilling out back at the table and told him I needed to find Connie fast. He just grinned and said: "Turn around, Dude." And there she was walking past. I flagged her down, got a pic and my final autograph and congratulated her on her win. A very pleasant lady to be sure and a great final note on our trip to Reno!
All in all it was a marvelous trip. It was my first Worldcon and aside from the expense and some minor bungles on our part it went off very smoothly. We didn’t really know what to expect but I think we did pretty good with the fan table. We got to show off the site to hundreds of people and even a few authors which was extremely cool. The response was very positive, to both the site and the bookmarks, with lots of people promising to help spread the word about WWEnd when they got home. We got to meet some of our favorite authors and many great people and spent the better part of a week talking nothing but science fiction and fantasy. Not bad at all. We’ll take what we learned in Reno and do it better next year in Chicago! It’s only 366 days away. Hope to see you all there!
Guest Blogger and WWEnd Member, Charles Dee Mitchell, has contributed a great many book reviews to WWEnd and we’ve invited him to contribute to our blog. This is the first in Dee’s series of Philip K. Dick reviews that he started on his blog www.potatoweather.blogspot.com/. We’ll be posting one every week until he runs out of reviews or gets tired of Philip K. Dick books.
I have decided that 2011 will be the Year of Philip K. Dick. (Early 2010 was the Year of J G. Ballard.) I have laid in a supply of novels, non-fiction writings, a biography, a French intellectual’s analysis of the work, and four, over-priced volumes of his letters. I am set to go.
I like to start at the beginning. Solar Lottery is the first novel, published in 1955, by which time he was already cranking out short stores for a variety of sf pulp magazines. I suspect I will fall back on the phrase "cranking out" fairly often when writing about Dick’s output, but I do not mean it derogatorily. Dick wrote fast. He also rewrote fast, and as someone who has done only journalism I am appalled at how many times a 5000 word short story, for which he is maybe getting paid pennies a word, goes back and forth between the editor and author. But he was lucky to have Anthony Boucher as an early editor. I don’t think Boucher’s influence on the shape of the early stories has been fully investigated.
Solar Lottery takes place in what will become the prototypical Dickian world — an illogical totalitarian state, where the population scrambles to maintain their "ratings" by working in the Hills, international conglomerates spaced around the earth, the capital of which is now Batavia, Indonesia. Society is controlled by the twitches of what is called "The Bottle," a lottery device for which the populace hangs on to their P-cards that promise them a one in six million chance to become quizmaster, an enviable top spot that also involves an army of telepaths to protect the winner from constant and legally sanctioned assassination attempts. Anyone with any sense wears good luck charms.
Our hero, Ted Benteley, has been laid off from his Hill. He is an 8-8 classified Biochemist and flies to Batavia in an attempt to get a job with the current quizmaster, Reese Verrick. What he doesn’t know is that he is joining the team of a man who has just been replaced, after ten years, by a twitch of the bottle that has transferred the role to Leon Cartwritght, an unclassified leader of a the Prestonites, a scraggly religious cult based on the teachings of one John Preston. Preston disappeared over a century before into the world beyond the nine planet system in search of the flaming disk.
But wait, I am falling into the thankless task of attempting to summarize a Philip K. Dick novel. The pleasures of the novel, which he wrote when he was twenty-five years old, lie in Dick’s ability to immerse you in this future world, where, as a reader, it is best to not ask questions and just enjoy the ride. Events race along, but overall they make sense and follow the logic of Dick’s 23rd century Earth. Dick seldom defines much of his invented nomenclature, but most is easy to follow. "Teeps" are the telepathic corpsmen protecting the quizmaster. When Varrick looses that role, he’s been "quacked." "Unks" are the unclassified masses. The bubble-like resort on the moon is protected from the atmosphere-free exterior by "exit sphincters." And as in all the Dick novels I have ever read, he proves to be quite the tit man. Standard female 23rd century dress tends to leave the breasts exposed, and Dick seldom fails to comment on those of each major female character.
The most obvious "first-novel" elements in Solar Lottery come towards the end, when Benteley does some of the type of soul searching that was in the Berkeley air at the time Dick wrote it. For example:
"I played the game for years," Cartwright said. "Most people go on playing the game all their lives. Then I began to realize the rules were set up so I couldn’t win. Who wants to play that kind of game? We’re betting against the house, and the house always wins."
"That’s true," Bentely agreed. After a time he said, "There’s no point in playing a rigged game. But what’s your answer?"
"You do what I did. You draw up new rules and play by them. Rules in which all the players have the same odds."
Good luck with that.
Dick will write better novels in the decades that follow, as he becomes more cynical but unfortunately also more delusional and paranoid. There is quite a cult surrounding Dick, which I am by no means a part of. I have not read enough of the work to know how I feel about it. That’s the purpose of the current project.
Stephen King is the third most nominated author in the WWEnd database. Like a lot of authors, he has embraced the new digital book industry with gusto. Now we find that his latest short story, Mile 81, will only be available with ebook retailers. Is this a trend? Are book anthologies and industry magazines, like Analog, Asimov’s and Clarkesworld, facing new competition from individual authors? With the recent announcement of Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine now offering a free bi-monthly digest, I’d guess yes.
The brief description that Scribner released evokes memories of Christine: "Mile 81 is the chilling story of an insatiable car and a heroic kid whose worlds collide at an abandoned rest stop on the Maine Turnpike."
We all know that President Obama is a nerd. After all, he grew up watching Star Trek, knows how to give a Vulcan salute, and once claimed to be from Krypton. Now, however, we have evidence that he’s reading at least one book from the WWEnd database. According to the LA Times, Aldous Huxley‘s classic Brave New World is on his summer reading list. He’s also apparently letting 13-year old Malia read it, since it is on her school’s required reading list (despite being one of the 10 most banned books in US schools). That’s one book marked "read" on BookTrackr™ for the Commander in Chief. What SF/F book do you think the President should read next?
[Many thanks to Jonathan for posting my Worldcon reports last week, he did a great job. This post is a few days late because Sunday was the last day of the con and a travel day and Monday was back to work…]
Each day of the convention got better than the last and Saturday was no exception. We were expecting the biggest crowds of the week and we were not disappointed. There was a lot of traffic past the table and we talked our fool heads off all day.
Among the folks we got to meet were many of my favorite authors. Kay Kenyon, who I had the pleasure of interviewing for WWEnd some months back, stopped at our table and I got her autograph. I got to show her the site and it was neat pointing out the books of hers that I’ve read. She got a kick out of that I think. I was so excited to be showing off her author page that I forgot to get a pic! Later we got visits from Robert J. Sawyer, David Brin and the Grand Master himself, Robert Silverberg!
Robery J. Sawyer recognized me from the autograph I already told you about and he really liked the site when I showed him his author page and the Hugo listing. I asked for a picture and he said “Sure, how about I pose with my page?” That was cool. It’s always a pleasure talking to Mr. Sawyer as he seems to really understand and appreciate his fans.
We had met David Brin at a party on Friday night and he was really great! I mentioned that my friend Tonya is a huge fan – Earth being her favorite book – and that she would be jealous we got to talk to him. He said he’d like to meet her and after we told him she was not with us he pulled out a business card and gave us a personalized autograph to take home to her. Classy. Liz had opted to go to the other hotel to do some gaming so missed out on seeing him too. When we spotted him coming down the tables the next day I thought she was going to pee herself! I pulled up his page and we lay in wait to ambush him. He looked over, saw his own picture looking back at him, and had to stop. He posed with his page too and had some nice things to say about the site. You might have guessed that the spazz behind him in the pic is Liz 😉
At one point I was looking through the program for author signing times and when I looked up there was Robert Silverberg sauntering past! Now it was my turn to squee like a little girl. I’m not proud of myself for that but he was one of the first authors I ever read and I dearly love his Majipoor series. Anyway, I called out that I was a huge fan and that I had him on my website. He stopped and asked “How does one manage to find oneself on your website?” I said, “We cover ALL of the best science fiction and fantasy.” To which he replied, very matter-o-factly, “Why yes, of course,” while stepping up for a closer look. Again I got to show off an author page to the author and he must have liked it because he posed for pics even though he clearly didn’t want to. He’s been doing this since before I was born so I guess he’s well past mugging for the camera. If you missed his presentation of the best novella award you can catch it on USTREAM. Priceless.
I was really excited to be talking to all these authors and was content to man the table most of the day so I didn’t see any of the programs. When I did get away from the table it was for autographs, shopping and food. One of my goals was to get all the autographs from the Hugo nominees on the bookmarks we made. I missed out on Lois McMaster Bujold the day before but I got a ticket to catch her at the SFWA table so I headed over there and got her sig then went and got in line for Ian McDonald. He had seen the bookmarks already but when he noticed my WWEnd shirt he commented on how much he liked them which was very cool. I never got to meet N. K. Jemisin but Rico did and got me her autograph so I now had 3 out of 5 with just a partial day left to get the other two.
The day was a real blur until around 5 when things really slowed down. Everyone was off getting ready for the Hugo Award ceremony. After the hall closed for the day we did the same. We were all eager to see the ceremony as you might imagine. We spend a lot of time covering the awards on WWEnd but this was the first time I’ve ever gotten to see them go down in person! The ceremony was fun though it went on a bit too long, as all such ceremonies do, and the seats were not the most comfortable. By the end I was ready to go. The MC’s for the evening were Jay Lake and Ken Scholes and they did a fair job of it but they seemed to be trying too hard to be part of the show. They were funny in parts but like a SNL skit that goes on too long I just wanted it to end already. Some of the recipients of the awards were really entertaining especially Fanzine winner Christopher J. Garcia who was just completely overcome with emotion and Allen M. Steele who won for Novelette. He was clearly and genuinely caught off guard with the win.
After the Hugo ceremony we hit a few of the parties then went out and got some breakfast at the casino café. We were all pretty tired by then so we called it a night around one in the morning. A pretty damn fine day for the Worlds Without End team.
You may have noticed on the novel page that a new button sometimes appears underneath the cover image. Worlds Without End has started including "Add to Amazon Kindle" buttons for those titles that are available on Amazon electronically. You will see this button more and more as we update our database. Once this project is completed, we’ll look at adding Nook, ePub, and mobi editions (where available)
This is our second push for ebook support. The first came a few years ago, when we added the public domain ebook list, where you can download dozens – destined to be hundreds – of public domain books to your ebook reader or computer.
Just as we begin to get serious about adding these links to our site, we hear that Gollancz, the second winningest publisher in our database, is taking many of their out-of-print classic books and making them available as ebooks. The SF Gateway website is going to be "the world’s largest digital SFF library." We couldn’t be more thrilled, since several of our (especially Hugo) winning titles have been out of print for some time.
Now, for your perusing pleasure, here is a list of authors, or their estates, who have already decided to release their corpus for digital reading:
Poul Anderson • Barrington J. Bayley • Gregory Benford • Michael Bishop • James P. Blaylock • James Blish • Marion Zimmer Bradley • John Brosnan • Fredric Brown • John Brunner • Algis Budrys • Kenneth Bulmer • Edgar Rice Burroughs • Pat Cadigan • John W. Campbell Jr • Terry Carr • Arthur C. Clarke • Hal Clement • D.G. Compton • Michael G. Coney • Edmund Cooper • Richard Cowper • John Crowley • L. Sprague de Camp • Samuel R. Delany • Philip K. Dick • Gordon R. Dickson • Christopher Evans • Philip Jose Farmer • John Russell Fearn • Alan Dean Foster • Mary Gentle • Mark S. Geston • Joseph L. Green • Colin Greenland • Nicola Griffith • Joe Haldeman • Harry Harrison • Frank Herbert • Philip E. High • Robert Holdstock • Cecelia Holland • Robert E. Howard • Raymond F. Jones • Leigh Kennedy • Garry Kilworth • Damon Knight • Henry Kuttner • Tanith Lee • Murray Leinster • H.P. Lovecraft • Katherine MacLean • Barry N. Malzberg • Phillip Mann • David I. Masson • C.L. Moore • Ward Moore • Edgar Pangborn • Frederik Pohl • Rachel Pollack • Tim Powers • Mack Reynolds • Keith Roberts • Eric Frank Russell • Josephine Saxton • Bob Shaw • Robert Silverberg • Clifford D. Simak • Dan Simmons • John Sladek • Cordwainer Smith • E.E. "Doc" Smith • Norman Spinrad • Olaf Stapledon • Theodore Sturgeon • William Tenn • Sheri S. Tepper • James Tiptree Jr • E.C. Tubb • George Turner • Harry Turtledove • Jack Vance • Ian Watson • Ted White • Kate Wilhelm • Connie Willis • Robert Charles Wilson • Gene Wolfe
Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz.
But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas-to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.
Congratulations to Connie Willis on winning this year’s Hugo!
[And now for Day 3 of Dave’s travel journal. -Jonathan]
Day 3 of the con and things just keep getting better. We set up shop the same as before and talked up the site to passers-by. Again the crowds were bigger than the day before which bodes well for Saturday. By now we’re really getting the hang of things and we’ve learned how to draw folks in. Of course it could be the free bookmarks — people love free stuff. It has helped that the table next to us is giving out free books and videos etc. too. A very popular table as you can imagine and very convenient for us. I got my hands on a sweet paperback boxed set of Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions and a cool, but slightly cheesy, Spock collectors plate. Huzzah!
Speaking of our neighbors, the table on our other side has been promoting a mystery since Wednesday. “Come to our party and all will be revealed!” After hearing their spiel for days we were definitely going to attend to see what it was all about. They also promised food and alcohol so it was a no-brainer. It turns out that they are launching a new convention called Convolution 2012: The Next Step (www.con-volution.com) to be held in San Francisco. The focus of the con will be professional development programming for aspiring writers and artists etc. who are looking to take “the next step” in their careers. Be sure to check out their site for details.
We talked to a lot of folks about the site and made a quite a few new fans in the process. We had the Banned SF/F Books list up on the big screen and it was a great conversation starter. It seemed like there were more costumes in evidence today, no doubt because of the costume ball tonight. One lady that stopped at our table looked like she jumped off the cover of a Parasol Protectorate novel. We had a great conversation about women authors and the SF Mistressworks list really piqued her interest.
We took turns again manning the table and running around trying to see everything. Rico, Chris and I insisted on getting away to see Lauren Beukes reading from her novel Zoo City. The reading was a more intimate affair than the giant room used for George R. R. Martin with around 30 people in attendance. The passage she chose to read happens to be the exact spot that I’m at in her book so I was thrilled. Her personality and style really made the reading come alive and you could tell the crowd was eating it up. Lauren did a great interview for us that you should check out and we stayed after to say hello and get her autograph. When we mentioned WWEnd she remembered the interview fondly and commented on what a lovely fellow Emil is. I got to have a picture with her and she threw her sloth scarf over my shoulder for good measure when I told her the pic was going to make Emil jealous! She’s a gracious lady and an excellent writer you should not miss.
There was so much to see today that it just went by in a blur. Boris Valejo and family did a live demonstration of their art which was really fascinating. I kept going over to see the pictures take shape and they had quite a large crowd of admirers doing the same. There was a concert in the main hall by Unwoman that Rico described as “Tori Amos on cello” that was quite good. Rico managed to get away to see Cory Doctorow and panel discuss social media. There were some great sound bites from Doctorow including this gem: “Facebook is the high-fructose corn syrup of social media.”
There were a ton of authors doing signings including one of my favorites Robert J. Sawyer! By the time I got to the table there was no line for Sawyer so I walked right up to him stunned I didn’t have to wait. He was in good humor and since he had time he drew and excellent starship Enterprise on the back of my program and signed it. After he drew it, he showed it off to his neighbor at the table, Allen Steele, who was suitably impressed. I gushed a bit about his books and the talk he gave in Dallas some months back then moved over one step to Mr. Steele’s line. When I got to the front I said “You know, Robert J. Sawyer drew me a picture…” He took my program and drew a Klingon bird of prey attacking Sawyer’s Enterprise and signed it. We all had a great laugh and I went away determined to read a Steele book right away.
I’ll have to tell you about the parties and some of the great people we met in another post – we’re late for the convention now. Until tomorrow!