Saturday, April 21, 2012

Week in Review (Apr.14-21)

A very busy week around the book-related regions of the internet, with a bundle of interesting articles. I’ve included a couple of older articles, because I was slow and didn’t get around to them until after I posted last week’s links round-up. One is a particularly good comment from John Scalzi.

Herein: Aidan Moher on Women in Fantasy, Elspeth Cooper on Disabilities in Fantasy, Jeff Salyards on being Embedded with the Enemy, an interview with Amanda Carlson, Brad Beaulieu on how he likes shades of grey, John Scalzi on eBooks Drama, The Atlantic on the eBooks Drama, The New Republic on the Dept of Justice & Monopolies (related to eBooks drama)

A Dribble of Ink: “Women in Science Fiction & Fantasy” by Aidan Moher [Article/Round-Up]

Aidan takes a look at some of the best contributions to Fantasy Cafe’s “Women in SF&F Month”, which has explored and celebrated the impact of female authors and characters in the genres. Aidan teases out some great quotations, offers some of his own thoughts and provides plenty of links.

Bookworm Blues: “Disability in Fantasy” by Elspeth Cooper [Article]

The guest post by Elspeth Cooper talks about one important thing from Songs of the Earth, and that is that “most of the principal characters in my debut novel are physically impaired in some way”. This was an interesting decision, especially for a genre in which

“heroes and heroines have a tendency to be clean-limbed and strong. Physical disability rarely gets a look-in, and scars are usually sexy rather than disfiguring, or else they’re lazy-writer-shorthand that a character’s a real badass.”

It’s a really interesting article and I believe it will spawn a few more posts on this topic.

A Dribble of Ink: “Embedded with the Enemy” by Jeff Salyards [Article]

Debut novelist Salyards discusses how his fascination with “embedded” journalists inspired some of his Scourge of the Betrayer.

“I’ve always been fascinated by embedded journalists. Chronicling a military campaign right in the middle of the action rather than second- or third-hand, at a safe remove. It’s hard to get more visceral than that — dust in the face, grit in the teeth, adrenaline thumping, shadows jumping, blood splattering immediacy, all while trying to just stay alive long enough to somehow give what happened some kind of coherency. Whether book or article, writing is often a solitary, quiet affair, but writing front and center on a military endeavor changes the whole ball game.”

It’s a great guest post, and I hope to dragoon Mr Salyards into writing something for Civilian Reader in the near future, as well as interview him and review Scourge of the Betrayer. Watch this space!

Bastard Books: “Interview with Amanda Carlson”

I must admit, I’d not heard of Amanda Carlson before this interview, but I’m intrigued to read both Blooded and Full Blooded. I hope Orbit start releasing the novellas for UK Kindle readers…

Whatever: “The Big Idea” by Brad Beaulieu [Article]

“Do you like a little gray — that is to say, moral complexity and ambiguity — in your fantasy?”

Beaulieu, author of The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh, talks about how he likes shades of grey in both his own writing and in his reading.

Staffer’s Musings: Agency Series

This week, Justin’s been hosting a number of articles by authors on the subject of “Agency”. Here’s how the idea came about:

I’ve noticed more and more authors lamenting the treatment of women in fantasy novels. Despite widespread agreement that there should be a more concerted effort to depict strong women, I wasn’t necessarily coming away with the impression that agency is something a character has to have. I asked a swathe of fantasy authors about their thoughts on the subject.

With this in mind, Justin contacted a number of authors, asking for their thoughts with the following considerations in mind:

What is agency?

Why is it important?

Why do we find more male characters with agency in fantasy novels than females?

Is it OK if a character doesn’t have it?

Can a character still be interesting if it lacks it?

Can a book be good if none of the characters have it?

The links: Elizabeth Bear (author of Range of Ghosts & more), Michael Sullivan (author of the Riyria Revelations), Mazarkis Williams (author of The Emperor’s Knife), and a “Weekend Edition” omnibus post (featuring observations from Kameron Hurley, Myke Cole and Anne Lyle).


And now three articles about the US Department of Justice eBook-Pricing Drama…

Whatever: “Dear Consumers Who Apparently Think the Current Drama Surrounding eBooks is Like a Football Game” by John Scalzi [Article]

Scalzi explains things clearly. Every paragraph could be a pull-quote. I’ll leave you with this one, though:

“ditch the simplistic binary framing. You’re not watching a sporting event, with simple rules and clear-cut goals. It really is more complicated than that, and your understanding of it should reflect that. When you reduce the players and tactics down to a simple ‘us vs. them’ framing, you lose a lot of the reality of the situation. You also look like you’re not actually following what’s really going on.”

Scalzi’s next novel is Red Shirts (published by Tor), which I am most eager to read. While I’m waiting, I might read Fuzzy Nation, which is apparently quite fun.

The Atlantic: “The Justice Department Just Made Jeff Bezos Dictator-for-Life” by Jordan Weissmann [Article]

“For the next two years, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will be free to dictate the price of eBooks across much of the publishing industry.”

So begins this other late-find.

“Readers will pay less. That’s the bright side. The settlement gives Amazon carte blanche to discount the eVersions of popular titles, much as it used to. Of course, that also happens to be the dark side. Because that control over price is going to reinforce the monopoly power of the world’s largest online retailer.”

I’m not really sure what conclusion we’re meant to draw from this article. Weissmann lays out the pros and cons of Amazon having more control over costs, mentions DRM, the DoJ’s genuine interest in keeping costs for consumers low, and then suggests that it’s all about “shackling” publishers…

The New Republic: “How the Obama Administration’s Suit Against Book Publishers Proves the Bankruptcy of our Antitrust Laws” by Jeffrey Rosen [Article]

An interesting article, and one that takes a slightly different approach to the Department of Justice’s case against Apple and five publishers accused of price-fixing.

“There does seem to have been collusion among them to fix the price of e-books. But even if the book publishers’ actions were illegal, that’s not to suggest what they did wasn’t understandable. Indeed, there’s a plausible case to be made that the actions of the publishers actually amounted to combating an abusive monopoly — namely, Amazon.”

The case, Rosen argues, “only highlights why the laws in question are in desperate need of an overhaul”. The case against Amazon doesn’t quite fit the parameters of a narrow interpretation of anti-trust laws, which are meant to prevent companies from crushing competitors by cutting prices so low:

“Amazon’s pricing arguably isn’t predatory because its using e-books as a ‘loss leader’ to drive sales of the Kindle.”

Rosen also makes a good point: Amazon achieved its top position by creating the Kindle and marketing it relentlessly. It also helps that it’s a superb piece of technology, which is easy to use – something Rosen doesn’t mention.

“publishers aren’t allowed to take the law into their own hands, violating current antitrust laws for some greater good. But it’s understandable if they are frustrated by the fact that Amazon’s effective and powerful monopolistic behavior has received the government’s tacit sanction, while their own clumsy attempts at price fixing seem bound to be punished.”

Rosen also got a good suggestion from Robert Lande, a director of the American Antitrust Institute:

“You could imagine saying that the Kindle is an essential facility in the e-books market, and you could order new versions of the Kindle to play any e-book, no matter where it was purchased, and not just the e-books bought on Amazon”

Unfortunately, Rosen finishes, the Supreme Court has “moved away” from decisions like this in recent years, and “Congress seems unlikely to resurrect” an approach like this.


On CR this week, we’ve had a rather mixed bag of content. On the review side, there’s been the Gotrek & Felix Anthology edited by Christian Dunn (a post which also included a number of other short stories based on the characters of that series). Sadly, I didn’t get my act together to get my review of Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle reviewed (it was very good). There was an interview with David Tallerman, author of Giant Thief one of this year’s most anticipated debuts (published by Angry Robot). And there’s also been the usual collection of comics reviews.

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