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Another Worldcon, Another Bonfire

So another Worldcon is now history, and people immediately began asking me what I thought. When Kansas City won the 2016 bid as MidAmericon II a few years ago, I’d had some hopes of attending. Then we decided to move to Phoenix, and our near-term lifestyle choices narrowed radically. Next year the con is in Finland, which would be a cool trip, but…well…no.

So all I know is what I’ve heard. And most of what I’ve heard about is, once again, focused on the Hugo Awards. Here’s the official summary. I wasn’t particularly surprised by any of it. Each of the three major factions won a little and lost a little. It’s a complicated business, and I’ve written several popular entries on the subject. If you’re coming to the Puppies Saga for the first time, you should probably read what I’ve written in the past:

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 1

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 2

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 3

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 4

The Human Wave, Sad Puppies, and SFF Monoculture, Part 5

Rant: Sad Puppies vs. Anti-Puppies, as the Kilostreisands Pile Up

Rant: You Can’t Shame a Puppy

Sad Puppies Summary and Wrapup

Rant: The Lasting Legacy of the Sad Puppies

Most of what I’ve linked to above applies to 2016, even though I wrote it all last year, and what I wrote focused on Sad Puppies 3. There was a Sad Puppies 4 campaign this year, coordinated by Kate Paulk, Sarah A. Hoyt, and Amanda S. Green. I wrote about that earlier this year, when the 2016 nominations appeared:

Sad Puppies 4 and the Doomsday Slate

As you can see from the marvelous SP4 logo from Lee “Artraccoon” Madison, the SP4 motto was “The Embiggening.” The goal was to bring still more people to Worldcon and the Hugo Awards process, as a means of fighting the worsening numeric irrelevance of the con and the awards. The other, more subtle goal of SP4 was to combat the ideological monoculture of Hugo-nominated fiction, art, and media, by nominating works and people outside the narrow boundaries of what’s acceptable to the ideological progressives in SFF.

Mike Glyer did a very good comparison of the final ballot against the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies lists back in April. Vox Day got 64 of his 81 recommendations on the final ballot, which I found nothing short of astonishing, especially considering some “poison pill” items like Chuck Tingle’s “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” and an episode of My Little Pony. Sad Puppies didn’t do quite as well, placing only 36 out of 80 recommendations on the final ballot.

A sidenote: I do not use the term “SJW” (social justice warrior) for a couple of reasons, which I’ll explain here on Contra at some point. Basically, it’s about accuracy and the objective meanings of words.

So what happened at MidAmericon II? These are the major items:

  • Sad Puppies 4 brought a significant number of new memberships to Worldcon. Attendance figures have not been released at this writing, but 4,032 valid nomination ballots were cast, and 3,130 valid voting ballots. That’s about twice last year’s numbers. Obviously, not all of those additional people were Sad Puppies supporters, but many of them were certainly APs (Anti-Puppies) who might not have joined except to counter the Puppies threat.
  • Virtually all of the winners were people and works favored by the Worldcon Elite and their loyal followers.
  • Vox Day continued his efforts to get the Worldcon community to destroy its own Hugo Awards by voting the doomsday slate of No Award over anybody recommended by either the Sad Puppies or the Rabid Puppies, or anything published by Vox Day’s publishing company, Castalia House. In the process, they gave him a fortune in absolutely free publicity, which he promptly used to build Castalia’s readership. I don’t know Vox and certainly don’t agree with all his positions, but I marvel at the hammerlock he has on his opponents’ attention. They. Just. Can’t. Get. Enough. Vox. Day.
  • MidAmericon II utterly soiled itself by expelling Tangent Online‘s Dave Truesdale from the con because he made several members of the Worldcon Elite…uncomfortable. Rob Kroese wrote up an excellent summary of that little disaster earlier today, and I won’t attempt to summarize here. Read The Whole Thing, as Glenn Reynolds says. Even Moshe Feder, definitely of SFF’s left wing, thinks that Truesdale did nothing even close to warrant expulsion from the con. As with Vox Day, Dave Truesdale got a fortune in free publicity. MidAmericon II basically lit a bonfire and threw itself into the flames.
  • The con venue made hotel room parties almost impossible, and so the much-anticipated Sad Puppies party had to be held sub rosa. I hope this isn’t a trend in con venues. Much of what we used to go for in the 70s and 80s were the room parties.

I’m not sure what more could be said, since I wasn’t there. Worldcon continued to make more enemies. John Scalzi smugly insists that the Puppies should all go home, a sentiment tweeted emphatically by the enigmatic Brianna Wu, who says that SF is her home, and not your (the Puppies) home. Howzat again? I was published and a member of SWFA before she was even born. Sheesh.

Scalzi has said more than once (and he isn’t alone) that Worldcon management should have the power to toss out any Hugo ballots that show evidence of slatework. Oh my, what could possibly go wrong? In essence, he and many others want the Hugos to become a juried award, with their people and only their people on the jury. He wants Sad Puppies supporters to leave the SFF fan community, perhaps not realizing that a great many of them already have, taking their money, their energy, and their insights with them. The great irony of the Worldcon progressive wing calling for more diversity is that diversity of worldview is quickly vanishing from Worldcon. It’s all progressive, all the time, all the way down.

To them that sounds like victory. To me and many others, it sounds like a bonfire.

Sad Puppies 4 and the Doomsday Slate

SP4 Logo 500 Wid.jpg

Earlier today I sensed a great disturbance in the Internet, as though millions of heads had suddenly exploded in anguish. Oh, wait–today was Hugo Nominations day! So I took a quick look around, and…

…the Puppies had done it again.

I would try to analyze the numbers here, but the folks over at Chaos Horizon have already done it for us. Check back there over the next few days; I suspect a lot more analysis is coming.

My first insight: Only novels get any respect in the SFF universe these days. 3,695 people nominated in the Best Novel category. The next category down only got 2,904 nominations (Dramatic Presentation, Long Form) with ever-slimmer pickins’ after that. Barely a thousand people nominated for the Best Fan Artist category.

The really good news is that there were 4,032 nominating ballots cast, roughly twice what Sasquan got last year. It’s impossible to tell where those new people came from, but whatever their provenance, I’ll bet MidAmericon II isn’t complaining about all that delicious money. That was the idea, after all: The subtitle of Sad Puppies 4 is “The Embiggening.” I was not alone last year in suggesting that the only thing really wrong with the Hugo Awards is that almost nobody participates. 4,000 ballots sound like a lot, but when you consider that 100,000+ people routinely attend events like DragonCon and ComiCon, the Hugos start to look like a rounding error. If 25,000 people registered for Worldcon, and 20,000 nominated, there wouldn’t be enough logs in the Western Hemisphere to roll any single faction to victory.

By my counts (starting with a nice tally on Breitbart) only ten nominees out of a total of eighty were not on one of the Puppy ballots. 70 of 80 is 87%. Obviously, a lot of those 87% were just really good people and works that probably would have been on the ballot anyway. However, one must consider finalists like the TV cartoon show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and (egad) “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” by Chuck Tingle. The works are real, and not hoaxes (though I had to check on Chuck Tingle to be sure) but the nominations sound to me like shows of force.

Which brings us to the Big Ugly: Which Puppy list was the most influential? Another count from the Breitbart results tells me that 61 out of the 80 nominees were on the Rabid Puppies list. 76%. 36 out of the 80 (45%) were on the Sad Puppies list. I grinned to see that, as much as the Puppies claim to loathe Mike Glyer and his fanzine File 770, both are on the final ballot–and both were on the Puppies lists. Anybody with an IQ greater than 17 knows what’s up with that: Last year’s tactic of voting against anything on the Puppy lists will be…complicated…in 2016.

What the anti-Puppies seem to be saying is that they’ll kiss off 2016 and bide their time, confident that E Pluribus Hugo will be added to Worldcon rules next year, and the Puppies will henceforth be out of luck. I’m not going to explain EPH here, though I’m willing to give the new rules a fair chance, knowing that they will be analyzed to death by people way better at number crunching than I. (I doubt I’m alone in thinking that changing the rules after you get your butt whipped sounds, well, weak-king-ish.)

The problem is this: The Puppies may not dominate the ballot in years to come, but one particular slate just might. Nothing in EPH makes the No Award slate difficult to use. (As I suggested earlier, having several anti-Puppy favorites on the Puppy lists will indeed make it a little tricky.) Last year the anti-Puppies encouraged their followers to vote a slate of one–No Award–against any category dominated by the Puppies. It worked: Five categories were reduced to irrelevance via the No Award slate. I suspect it’s going to happen again this year.

What happens in the wake of EPH? Well, c’mon. Do you honestly think Vox Day won’t use No Award too? He’s said straight out that he intends to burn down the Hugo Awards. Last year the APs pretty much did it for him, but if he can get his recs into three quarters of the slots, he can burn down as many categories as he wants via No Award. This isn’t the place to get into all the usual fistfights about Vox and where he gets his power and why we all need to condemn him. (That’s been done to death.) This is the place to realize that what one side can do, the other side can too.

It’s a mess, eh? Well, I have an audacious suggestion: Change the Hugo rules again so that No Award is outlawed. If EPH works as designed, the APs won’t need No Award. And if No Award is outlawed, somebody like Vox can’t use it.

No Award is The Doomsday Slate. Unless it’s outlawed, people on one side or another will use it until there’s nothing left of the Hugo Awards. Think hard now: Is that really what you want?

Odd Lots

The Duntemann Ensmallening Continues

As I lugged box after box from our furnace room up All Those Stairs (people who have been to our Colorado house known of which I speak) it wasn’t just the boxes that were heavy. These were boxes of computer books and magazines, and all of them went into our recycle can for next week’s pickup. With each tip of a box into the recycle can, my heart grew heavier. These were not somebody else’s DOS programming books. Uh-uh. These were copies of Degunking Windows, Degunking Your PC, Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses, Jeff Duntemann’s Drive-By Wi-Fi Guide, and Assembly Language Step By Step, 2E (2000).

Lots of them.

When an author writes a book, the publisher typically sends him one or more boxes of books without charge. I’ve been a published tech book author since mid-1985. Do the math. Ok, sure, I no longer have box quantities of Complete Turbo Pascal. However, I do have the printed manuscript for Complete Turbo Pascal 2E (1986) in a monsteroso 3-ring binder. (See above.) The damned thing is 4″ thick. That book was work. And if I recall (I no longer have it) the printed manuscript for Borland Pascal 7 From Square One was in two binders, each 3″ thick. I also found the original submission manuscript for Pascal from Square One with Pascal/MT+, from mid-1984. That manuscript was sold, but the publisher prevailed upon me to rewrite it for another Pascal compiler whose name you’d know. (Alas, they changed the title on me. But they’re dead, and I’m still alive, so I win. And there will be a Lazarus from Square One someday.) Do I keep these manuscripts? I still have the word processor files on disk, though I’m not entirely sure about the Pascal/MT+ ones. It’s another ten or twelve pounds of paper, and I freely admit I haven’t looked at either binder since we moved to Colorado in 2003. So I guess they have to go.

How heavy can your heart get before it collapses into a black (red?) hole?

I know a lot of you have been through one or more ensmallenings of your own, because you’ve told me. A couple of you have offered me your complete runs of PC Techniques/VDM. I already have five or six copies of all sixty issues. I’m keeping a full set. The others will feed the can as soon as I catch my breath enough to lug them up the stairs. (I’m not writing this entry because I have time on my hands…)

A lot of other odd stuff has come to light: My original Rio MP3 player, year unknown. A box of 3.5″ floppies. My father’s medium-format Graflex camera. My own trusty but now useless Nikon film SLR. What’s to become of it? The Rio is scrap, as is Carol’s final-generation APS film camera. My SLR is probably not worth much anymore. About my dad’s Graflex I have no idea. I’ll probably keep them both for the time being. A great deal of other stuff is going out on the curb. The concrete people are replacing the garage slab on May 4, and the garage has to be dead-empty by then. What needs to be kept from the garage collection has to come down to the furnace room, which means gobloads of other stuff must exit the furnace room first, and forever.

Man, this is work. And work at 6600 feet, at that.

You’ve heard me say this before, though I’ve forgotten who said it originally: Not everything from your past belongs in your future. Keep everything that reminds you of your past, and you end up turning into a museum that only you ever enter…

…if you ever actually do.

Time’s up. Another load or six needs to go up the stairs. They say it gets easier after the first twenty loads. I guess I’ll find out.

A Grand Ride North, and a New Grand Champion

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We’re back in Colorado Springs, and sooner than we thought, too. A day came early last week when we realized that we had pretty much gotten everything done that we expected to while wintering over. Furthermore, there was a big dog show in Denver on April 9-10. Dash’s coat was in pretty good shape. The weather forecast looked marvelous throughout the West. (Sorry about the East Coast, guys.) So we looked at each other, nodded, and started throwing things into the Durango.

It’s 835 miles, all of it Interstate, and we’ve done it many times by now. We did well enough to stop for an afternoon in Albuquerque, to visit with a friend of ours who has Dash’s brother, Charlie. As we had all four of the Pack with us, and Sherry has two Bichons of her own (both boys) it turned into a backyard Bichon party very quickly. There was much running around and squirting-of-things, which is all any (male) Bichon would ask of a party. Everybody slept really well that night, not least of whom were the two of us.

We got into the Springs Thursday night, turned on the water, and got a decent night’s sleep. We dropped everybody but Dash off at Gramdma Jimi’s the next morning, and headed up to Denver for the show. Most of our Bichon Club friends were there, and nine Bichons were entered. Dash won Best of Breed for the Owner Handled category both days. This meant that he would represent the breed in the Group competition. As its name implies, the Non-Sporting Group is a kind of none-of-the-above category containing breeds including the Poodle, Shiba Inu, Dalmatian, Boston Terrier, Keeshond, and others that aren’t good fits in any of the other groups. I’ve often wondered why the Dalmatian isn’t in the Working Group, and why the Boston Terrier–sheesh–isn’t in the Terrier Group. Doubtless there are historical issues, all of which have long been forgotten.

No matter. Dash looked about as good as he ever does, thanks to a foot bath and a great deal of fussing by Carol. On Saturday he took Third Place in the Non-Sporting Group for owner/handled dogs, and on Sunday he took Second Place, ditto. We took home two very fancy ribbons, and–more important–a large number of points. Dash won 45 owner-handled points at the show, which gives him 225 owner-handled points overall. This makes him the #2 owner-handled Bichon in the country right now. Given that the #1 Bichon has only 350 owner-handled points, it’s actually a contest. (The photo above is by Patrina Walters Odette, and used with permission. Thanks, Patrina!)

But more than that, the additional points make Dash a Grand Champion. Championships in dog showing are a little like dans in karate: There is an ascending hierarchy of championships, based on an entirely different tally of Grand Championship points. Dash made Champion a couple of years ago. The Phoenix Project slowed us down; there wasn’t a lot of showing going on in 2015. However, Dash has done so well in the few shows we’ve entered that he accumulated 25 Grand Championship points and took Grand Champion this past weekend. The next step is Bronze Grand Championship, which requires 100 Grand Championship Points. This is four times what Dash has now, but we may give it a shot. Beyond that are Silver Grand Championship (200 points), Gold Grand Championship (400 points) and Platinum Grand Championship (800 points.) Whew. That’s a whole lotta brushing, on both Dash’s and Carol’s ends of the brush. Let’s see how life unfolds for the next couple of years.

And unfolding it is. We now have the task of getting the Colorado house ready to sell. This means sifting, sorting, selling and/or giving away a lot of stuff, and shipping the rest down to Phoenix. It was necessary (if maybe a little unnerving) to dump two boxes of my books into the recycle bin. I have a couple of pristine copies of Degunking Your PC and Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses…do I need a whole publisher’s box of both? It’s going to be harder with my assembly book and my Wi-Fi book, but downsizing means…cutting down the size of your stuff. As people who have been here know, we have a lot of stuff.

So the downsizing continues. More as it happens. Anybody want some plywood?

Odd Lots

Guest Post by Brian Niemeier: Announcing Souldancer

Before I turn today’s entry over to Brian, a few words of explanation: In the wake of the Sad Puppies explosion almost exactly a year ago, my career as a writer changed. When 2015 opened, I was still locked in a state of existential paralysis, trying to decide if it was worth hammering on tradpub doors trying to get a (lousy, all-benefit-to-the-publisher) contract for Ten Gentle Opportunities and whatever works I might produce going forward. And I wasn’t writing very much at all. Moving to Arizona was time-consuming and didn’t help, but every time I tried to get a new writing project underway, I failed. I didn’t say much about it here. Why bitch online? You folks don’t need that. I started to get depressed again. Been there. Faced that abyss in 2002 for reasons you all know. Climbed out again. I’m not going back.

A year later, I have four books on KDP and KU, and they’re making money. I’m not talking about a buck here and a quarter there. Think hundreds of dollars most months. Not riches…but would I have made more in tradpub? Not likely. So I tossed tradpub overboard, and for the first time in my 42 years as a published author, I control my writing career completely.

What happened? Sad Puppies. In researching the phenomenon I found people who were facing the same problems I was. They were writing adventure stories in the old style, and getting sneered at. They dared question the elites who dominate tradpub and con-oriented fandom, and were called every name in the book. I reached out to them, and they pulled me in the door, handed me a drink, and made me one of the gang. I was called a moral coward at one point for daring to embrace the Puppy culture, but by then I just laughed. I had already won that argument. I had new friends, and they had my back.

One of those friends is Brian Niemeier, a new author whose path into indie publishing has been very much the same as mine. His debut novel intrigued me: Nethereal is a seamless blend of space fiction and a sort of theological fantasy that admits to a deeper strangeness in the universe than most are willing to accept. No spoilers here, but I will caution that people with an instinctive dislike of fantasy may not care for it. Radical materialists will probably loathe it. Their loss. In truth, I’ve never seen anything remotely like it. I’m now reading it a second time and will review it here as time allows.

So on that note, I’ll turn it over to Brian, who has a few words about his new novel. I bought it an hour ago and (obviously) haven’t read it yet, but I have this sneaking hunch that I’m not going to be disappointed.


SDcover-small-2.jpgAnnouncing Souldancer, Soul Cycle Book II by Brian Niemeier

First things first: thanks to Jeff Duntemann for lending me his platform. The higher elevation lets my voice carry farther. [Ed: About a mile less high than it used to be!] He’s given me a few digital inches to announce the release of Souldancer, the sequel to my debut space opera-horror novel Nethereal.

My indie publishing journey has felt like riding a spaceship at relativistic speeds. The past months have seemed like days, and in that time I’ve gone from an obscure SFF writer with a couple of short story publications to an obscure SFF writer with enough reader loyalty to get my first book into the Sad Puppies 4 top ten.

I’m quite sure that my readers wouldn’t have had Nethereal to suggest if I’d stuck with my initial plan of riding the tradpub rejection carousel. I can now focus on writing, and it took less time to release a second book than the big publishers often take to do initial edits. It’s a crazy time to be alive in a lot of ways (read the news much?) but it’s also the best time in recorded history to be a writer.

If you’ve got a story to tell and the discipline to tell it in prose fit for public consumption, you can be an author. You don’t need the Manhattan crowd. The only people you need are readers. If your primary motivation for writing fiction is anything other than pleasing your readers, you really don’t understand writing.

Yes, the money is thin. It’s a long game. Hardly any authors ever got rich, even back before publisher advances began imploding. Self-published millionaires are likewise extreme outliers, but the data show that indie allows more authors than ever to at least earn a decent living. Not only are NY publishers no longer the boss; they never were the boss, and it’s not surprising that readers are flocking to authors who understand that publishing sovereignty rightfully belongs to those same readers.

And so to my new book Souldancer. It’s a true sequel to Nethereal; not the second part of a single story split into two halves [Ed: Or three halves?] like certain Hollywood adaptations of popular YA books that I will not name. The action picks up a generation after the first book’s ending, and we immediately get to see the changes that resulted from the prior story’s climax.

As Jeff said of Nethereal, it’s almost impossible to say much more about Book 2 without spoilers. I can say that Souldancer features stronger romance and horror elements than its predecessor-and yes, it’s scarier than a book that’s largely set in Hell.

I appreciate the chance to launch Souldancer here, because my own SF sensibilities could justly be described as contrarian. Fans of Nethereal (including Jeff) have told me that, for all of its nods to classic SF, gaming, and anime tropes, they’ve never read anything quite like it.

You can buy the eBook right now from Amazon. For those with more old school tastes, the trade paperback edition will be available soon on Amazon CreateSpace.

Thanks again to Jeff, and as always, to the readers who make indiepub possible. We’re all in this together, and the fun is only beginning!

Ten Gentle Opportunities: Go Get It!

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In case you hadn’t gotten the word yet, this morning Amazon cleared my upload of Ten Gentle Opportunities, and it’s now in the catalog, ready to buy for $2.99, or as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. No DRM. Cover by the utterly amazing Blake Henriksen. It’s in a genre that barely exists anymore: Humorous SF and fantasy, with a pinch of satire for those with ears to listen. I tried to shop it to tradpub imprints for a couple of years after I finished it in 2012. An editor at a major press told me that Douglas Adams did SF humor so well that nobody else can ever hope to compete.

Huh? That’s like saying that Heinlein did hard SF so well that nobody else should bother to try. Well, dammit, I’m competing. More than one of my beta readers said the book kept them up all night, and one called it “pee-your-pants funny.” Me, I consider that a win.

The book has an interesting history. I’ve been fooling with it for almost fifty years.

Here’s the story. Back in 1967, when I was 15, I got an idea: What if there were a sort of partial or incomplete magician who could change magical spells, but not create them? What sort of mischief could he get into? I called him The Spellbender, and started writing a story about him. I shared it with the writer girl down the street, and we talked about collaborating on it. Nothing came of that, because she and I had utterly incompatible understandings of magic. She saw it as a sort of moody, ethereal, hard-to-control spiritual discipline. I saw it as alternative physics. (We had other issues as well; when I finally meet God I’m going to ask him if He could please flash the human firmware and get rid of puberty.)

Not much happened on the story. I had a short catalog of gimmicks and little else. The Spellbender had a sidekick who was an incompetent djinn named Shrovo. Not only could he not remember how many wishes he gave people, he simply couldn’t count, and so had had his djinn license revoked for reckless and excessive wishgranting. Sure, it sounds dumb. I was 15.

I eventually got bored with it and tossed it back in the trunk, where it stayed until 1978. That year I read it over, dumped Shrovo, and told another tale about the Spellbender, which I presented at the Windy City Writers’ Workshop, in front of luminaries like George R. R. Martin and Gene Wolfe. Nobody liked it. Back in the trunk it went.

Come 1983, I had become a close friend of Nancy Kress, and we surprised one another by collaborating on a novelette that was published in Omni and drew a surprising amount of favorable buzz. If we could pull off “Borovsky’s Hollow Woman,” well, what else could we do? Nan suggested a contemporary fantasy, and I was quick to sketch out still another take on the spellbender concept, adding in the sort of universe-jumping gimmick that Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt had used to such good effect in the Harold Shea stories. A spellbender who had gotten on the wrong side of a magician jumps universes to finds a place to hide, and lands in a small-town advertising agency in our near future. Nan was working for precisely such an agency at the time, and told the story of a staff meeting at which someone was talking emphatically about tangential opportunities, which Nan heard as “ten gentle opportunities.” I knew a great title when I saw one, and grabbed it.

I also drew on a novelette I wrote in 1981, which centered on a war in a robotic copier factory, and an AI named Simple Simon.

We tried. We really did. But as it turned out, Nan could move in a hard SF world a great deal more nimbly than I was able to move in a fantasy world. Shades of Lee Anne down the street. (Puberty, at least, was no longer an issue.) After a few thousand words she ceded me what we had and we decided to set it aside. Back in the trunk it went, this time for almost 25 years.

The Cunning Blood came out in hardcover in 2005, and garnered enough rave reviews (including one from Glenn Reynolds and another from Tom Easton at Analog) to make me feel like I should start something else. As was my habit, I went digging around in my trunk for concepts. Three aborted novels came to hand: My cyberpunk experiment, The Lotus Machine; a gimmicky hard SF concept called Alas, Yorick; and Ten Gentle Opportunities. The Lotus Machine went back in the trunk almost immediately; by now I understand that, as cyber as I might be, punk remains forever beyond my powers. I spent a fair amount of time reading and meditating on the 14,000 words I had of Alas, Yorick, but ultimately went with Ten Gentle Opportunities. Why? I like humor and I’m intrigued by the challenges of writing it. I had an ensemble of interesting characters, and the very rich vein of “fish out of water” humor to mine. And–gakkh–it was fun! Can’t have that now; we’re serious SF writers…

Basically, I went with fun. And it was.

I wrote three or four chapters in 2006, then got distracted by another concept that I’ve mentioned here, Old Catholics. TGO didn’t exactly go back in the trunk, but I didn’t touch it again until February 2011. That’s when I took it to this new writer’s group I’d joined. I submitted the first thousand words or so for critique and asked them if the concept was worth pursuing. The answer was yes, and it was unanimous.

I took it to Walter Jon Williams’ Taos Toolbox workshop that summer, and got my momentum back. After that it was my main writing project until I finished it in November 2012. I asked my nonfiction agent to shop it, and some shopping got done, but there were no nibbles. So several months ago I took it back and decided to publish it myself.

Oh–and then we kicked into high gear with our move to Phoenix. Writing of all sorts went on the back burner.

Which brings us to the current day. There’s a lot to be done yet here in the new house, but the end is at least in sight. We’re far enough along that I can afford to take a couple of days a week to Just Write. Which brings me (again) to the question of what I do now.

Truth is, I don’t know. But I’ll think of something.

Downsizing in the Age of Stuff

I’m culling the collection. It’s making me a little nuts. Carol and I are moving from a house with 4600 livable square feet (plus an oversized garage) to 3100 square feet plus a garage that will fit two biggish cars if you smear Vaseline all over them. (There will be another 350 square feet of livable space once our contractor installs an air conditioner in the small garage.) We’re in our sixties now. We’re trying to simplify and streamline, which sounds easier than it is, simply because a good deal of it is learning how to let go of Stuff.

The 21st Century may well be remembered as the beginning of the Age of Stuff. We’ve always had a certain amount of Stuff, and one of the legacies of the Industrial Revolution is, of course, allowing poorer and poorer people to have more and more Stuff. When I was a young teen, I thought I was as rich as Croesus (quick, without googling him: Who was Croesus?) simply because I had a typewriter, a telescope, a pair of walkie talkies, and a VOM. Now I look around the house, and I ask myself how many standard Croesuses the collection represents.

Wow.

China has a lot to do with the Age of Stuff, as does eBay. Stuff that used to go out on the curb can now be bought by people who really really want just that precise model of waffle iron. (What used to be considered trash I often think of as “parts units.”) I found a NOS hair curler on eBay precisely like one that Carol had owned and loved in the 80s. Better engineering means that the Stuff we have is often better Stuff, and careful people like Carol and myself have an instinct for being careful with things, making them last longer and longer. We still have the blender we got as a wedding present in 1976, and we still use it several times a week. 70s cars may have been crappy. 70s blenders rock.

So we’re keeping the blender. But what about all the rest of it? That is pretty much the current challenge. The Big Truck will be loading up some time late November or early December. We’ve already taken several carloads of Stuff to Goodwill, and given the best of it to our friend Diedre for her indoor flea market table. And damn if the house doesn’t look the least bit emptier.

The worst of it is about books. The last time I cataloged our library, we had about 2500 books. We did an initial purge last year and got it down to about 2200. I let go of Charles Platt’s Garbage World, and had the fleeting insight that it was symbolic. I gave away Lupoff’s Sacred Locomotive Flies even though it’s my favorite SF book to make fun of. I got rid of stuff that was badly written or simply a bummer, like Malzberg’s wretched Beyond Apollo. If I ever discover an aching desire for bad SF, well, there’s always eBay.

But really, it’s getting tough. The “why the hell do I still have this?”purge is over. Now I find myself on my rolling library ladder, staring at the spines of books that, if not excellent, actually have some value, or at least served me well at one time.

One time, sure. Often a very long time ago. I realize that I’ve kept a lot of them for sentimental reasons, like my father’s 1940 drafting textbook. My college career was a very mixed bag, haunted by a lot of third-shelf thinkers who didn’t know how to teach and didn’t like being challenged. Still, there were some gems in all that dirt: I’ve kept some books because they were given to my by Dr. Rachel Romano, who took a special interest in my talents as a writer at a time when most of my knucklehead profs were telling me deadpan that I should apply to law school. I look at some and ask myself, “Did I ever actually read this?” Dr. Romano died in 1985. I don’t think I will do her any disrespect by putting her books in someone else’s hands. She was a wonderful influence in my life, and the influence is what matters. The books are simply mementos. I don’t know who originally said this, but I’ve been saying it a lot to myself recently:

Not all of your past belongs in your future.

It’s true. Very true.

I’ve got about 75 books in the purge pile right now. A few were easy pitches, being slim and having somehow escaped my notice for 40+ years, like Philip Slater’s silly-ass tantrum The Pursuit of Loneliness. Many were good books on science and tech that are now simply obsolete, irrespective of their excellence, like Pickering’s 1001 Questions Answered about Astronomy, and the 1990 first edition of Microsoft Computer Dictionary. I had several books on film photography that clearly won’t be helpful anymore. Some are now sad, like Enterprise by Jerry Gray, which is all about how the Space Shuttle was going to make space travel easy and cheap and open up the road to the rest of the Solar System. A mere handful are books that I literally don’t remember either buying or reading, nor, in truth, how they came to me at all.

Some purges reflect my changing interests. I used to read a lot about ghosts and the paranormal, but I suspect I’ve long since read everything useful on the subject, and many of those books are now on the pile. (I made good use of some of that weirdness while writing Ten Gentle Opportunities.) I’m culling my theology shelves, which is harder. I got rid of my books on theodicy, and all but one of Peter Kreeft’s books, he being a crypto-Calvinist pretending to be Catholic and saying stupid and damaging things like “There are no good (that is, innocent) people.” Sorry, Peter. “Good” does not mean “innocent,” and you disqualify yourself as a thinker for saying so. I’ve finally come to a good place in my (often agonized) quest for sane religion, so many of the inspirational books I used as steppingstones are now unnecessary or redundant.

The toughest calls of all are those books that contain some but not always a lot of useful material. How much usefulness is enough? I have a lot of books about the brain and personality, many of them now pushing a quarter century old. Some of those books are timeless. Many aren’t. But in quite a few cases, the clarity of the writing in the intro portions makes me want to keep them as quick brushups, should I need one. Hard call. Intros matter. I’ve made my career writing them.

And so on. We’ve done this before, and in fact, we’ve done it every time we’ve moved. This is our seventh house. You’d think it would get to be second nature after awhile. However, this particular purge is especially difficult, since it’s the first time we’ve gone from a larger house to a smaller one. We designed this house to have a lot of storage, because we knew damned well how Stuff multiples over the years. The new house, well, it doesn’t have all the crannies and under-the-stairs places (no stairs!) and this means we’re going to have to be extra careful deciding what survives and what goes to Goodwill. The hardest part of packing the house has nothing to do with boxes, but in fact is all about how much of the past will still have a role in our future. And if you think that’s easy, just try it sometime.

KU, “Turniness,” and the Reshaping of Genre Fiction

There’s a marvelous weirdness about Kindle Unlimited that I have not yet seen anyone else comment on. For the last two weeks, since I posted The Cunning Blood on KDP Select, I’ve kept the reports dashboard open in a window, and every five minutes or so, I refresh it. Almost invariably, the KENP numbers go up by a hundred or two, sometimes more. It’s a very weird feeling: Somewhere people are reading my book Right Freaking Now. It’s like looking over God’s shoulder down at the universe of people sitting in chairs and on buses and trains and airplanes, and knowing for sure that a certain nontrivial number of them are following Peter Novilio’s adventures at this very moment. I have no way of knowing precisely how many, but I can guess (given that a person doesn’t read a hundred pages a minute) that it’s more than one or two.

I’ve had a number of surprises since my first novel went up on July 31, but KU was the biggest. I’m getting a lot of page turns; on August 11 alone I got 12,448. Given that the book is 643 KENP pages long, that’s 20 full copies of the book read in one day. Of course, it may be 30 or 40 or more partial reads. I have no way to tell. But at the estimated rate of $0.0057 per page turn, KU earned me $71 that one day.

The numbers since the beginning two weeks ago were surprising, and I’ll gladly share them with you: I’ve sold 662 copies of the ebook, of which 21 (3%) were sold to countries where the 35% royalty is in force. The rest (97%) were sold at the 70% royalty rate. I’m still not entirely sure how KDP handles royalty currency conversion, but I’m assuming the cover price is roughly equivalent to $2.99 USD in all currencies. That makes my total take on sold copies about $1,304.

The KU payout is a little simpler to calculate, although we’re still not completely sure what the July and August per-page rates will be. I’m going with the estimate of $0.0057. Since publication, The Cunning Blood has recorded 127,749 page turns. Multiplied by .0057, that gives us $728.17.

Adding that to the books-sold royalty of $1304, I get $2,032.17 as royalties earned so far, in the book’s first two weeks.

That’s pretty damned surprising right there. I was expecting about half that. But what really surprised me was that over a third of that revenue–36%–came from KU page turns. In truth, I had no way to guess how many borrows I’d get nor how many borrows would be completely read. My gut told me 10-15%. I was very glad to be wrong.

Now, there’s a number I would love to be able to calculate, but which I can’t calculate from the information Amazon gives me. Amazon does not tell authors how many KU borrows a book has gotten. If I knew how many page turns I’ve had across how many borrows, I could calculate how many pages were read per borrow. This factor could be interpreted as the degree to which a book grabs the readers’ attention and keeps them turning the pages. I might as well call it “turniness.” If I could calculate how turny a given book is, over time I could probably make them turnier. In the new Kindle Unlimited universe, the turnier a book is, the more money it will make. Smart authors will thus strive to make their stories as turny as possible.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. There’s no incremental cost to making a KU borrow, and a certain number of people who borrow a book purely on spec will read a few pages, realize it’s not their thing, and return it, irrespective of the book’s quality or its turniness. Then again, that factor is probably constant across books and cancels out. We don’t know yet and won’t know until Amazon gives us more data to play with.

What this means is that literary and experimental writing will not pay as well as engrossing genre fiction. What follows from that is that that authors may pay more attention to the factors in their writing that contribute to turniness (suspense, rapid pace, constant action, mysteries revealed over time, etc.) and strive to be better at them. Over time, genre fiction will follow the money and become better and better at its own stated mission of keeping readers entertained.

My conclusion: Kindle Unlimited is the best thing that’s ever happened to genre fiction.

Genre authors, if you haven’t tried KU yet, you’re missing out. The Turniness Revolution is upon us. Let us unroll our mats, boil those pots, tell our tales, and cash those checks.