Spoilers: it’s in the bag

I like this idea. Bryan Talbot’s new graphic novel, the latest in the Grandville series, has an unusual anti-spoiler device. A black plastic wrapper and seal prevents the reader from flipping though to certain pages at the back of the book, and thus spoiling the surprise…

Perhaps we need a digital equivalent. Tick a box on your Amazon Kindle account, and authors who put a snippet of anti-spoiler code in their ebooks / graphic novels / audiobooks get their story protected from ‘jump-ahead’ readers.

That might also be accompanied by a code-of-conduct for troll-reviewers on Amazon: you hide your plot spoilers in a cloaking code-wrapper, and those who don’t want to read huge spoilers don’t have to. It would be in Amazon’s financial interests to do that, as if the plot is spoiled in a big way, someone is then far less likely to buy the product.


Instapaper: “there’s definitely something wrong…”

Mobile Industry Review tests “Pocket vs. Instapaper”. I’m seriously looking at Paper, as I’m starting to loose count of how many times I’ve seen this frustrating notice from Instapaper, when trying to save out a Kindle .mobi collection of articles. The worst of this is, the wording suggests the user has done something wrong. When any regular user knows that it’s Instapaper that’s failed. If Instapaper can’t keep their servers online, and insults their users during such failures, then why bother with it when there are alternatives?

The core Dune trilogy – reading order with extras

I’ve recently become interested in reading the Dune series. In the first half of the 1980s I read nearly all important science fiction that had appeared before about 1985, but there were just a few big classics that I don’t remember ever quite getting around to reading — such as the Dune trilogy, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Atlas Shrugged. I guess, being just a teenager back then, I was probably put off by leftist fanzine editors and critics, who had political axes to grind against such books. Looking back, and looking through the archives, I can now see that there was a lot of that sort of politicised sentiment around back then. In that respect it was fortunate that I came to Tolkien early, via The Hobbit, so such critics didn’t put me off from enjoying The Lord of the Rings.

Possibly I was also put off Dune due to David Lynch’s dire movie of Dune, which I saw on release in December 1984. But by then it was too late, as I ceased to read science-fiction after about 1986. I felt that I’d read everything that was ‘worth reading’, and wasn’t really interested in early cyberpunk. That meant that I later missed gems such as Snow Crash (1992) and the Red Mars trilogy (1993-96), until Anathem (2008) brought me back to a (highly selective) reading of literary science fiction, and I did a bit of catching up.

Anyway, thirty years later… I’ve recently decided that, for one of my ‘catch-ups’, I might like to have a try at Dune this summer or autumn. But… I find that it’s one of those book series that has been franchised and flogged to death, over the intervening decades. So there’s now a whole lot of guff to be sifted, before one can discern what the originals actually were. Such guff has included some dire movies, two so-so TV mini-series from Syfy, and several truck loads of (reputedly rather poor) prequel/sequel books.

So for the benefit of other science fiction readers, here’s the core of the ‘original’ Dune — so far as I can make out through the smog of marketing and later unpublished add-ons unearthed from Herbert’s filing-cabinets.

Reading order / story-order for the core Dune story by Frank Herbert:

1. Book 1: Dune. The unabridged audiobook reading by George Guidall is very widely said to be the best one to listen to. Also, note that the Scott Brick audiobook version is abridged.

2. The first book has a “Deleted Scenes & Chapters from…” ebooks floating around the Internet, which might be looked at after the novel.

3. Interlude: “The Road to Dune”. A short work by Frank Herbert that sits between the first two novels, to be found in his short story collection Eye. There appears to be no audiobook of this story, so it would need to be read in ebook form.

4. Book 2. Dune Messiah. The unabridged audiobook reading by Scott Brick et al. is said to be the most listen-able.

5. The second book has a “Deleted Scenes & Chapters from…” ebooks floating around the Internet, which might be looked at after the novel.

6. Book 3. Children of Dune. The unabridged audiobook reading by Scott Brick et al. is said to be the most listen-able.

7. The third book has a “Deleted Scenes & Chapters from…” ebooks floating around the Internet, which might be looked at after the novel.

8. Book 4. God Emperor of Dune. It’s by Frank Herbert, but is said to be a rather depressing and dour coda to the original trilogy. It also departs heavily from the style of the core trilogy, and is set some 3,000 years after the end of the 1967-76 trilogy. As such, I suspect I’ll be happy with just the original trilogy.

There is also:

* Dune Encyclopedia. A weighty 1984 book, sanctioned by Frank Herbert and with an introduction by him. The later, lesser, sequel/prequel books are said to have departed from the facts in this Encyclopedia.

So as far as I can make out, that’s what someone undertaking the core of Herbert’s original story, in the order it should be heard/read, would want to have cued up.

EU court gives “second hand” resale rights for digital downloads

Some important news for ebooks from European Court of Justice

“The ECJ said that software owners exhaust their rights to control the sale of their copyrighted products when they first sell them within the EU, regardless of whether the sale concerns a physical product or one downloaded from the internet.”

This means that…

“Users of digitally downloaded software can sell it on secondhand, providing they deactivate or delete the original copy from their hard drive, the European Court of Justice has ruled.”

Since an ebook is software, these can also presumably be resold. Amazon authors who ticked “use DRM” when you uploaded a Kindle book will probably not have to worry about this, Because “cracking” the book in order to resell it would be illegal. If the book is out in the open, though, it looks like your EU buyers can now legally put it on a memory card and resell it. One time only. This may have implications for the more expensive types of books such as textbooks, perhaps especially in relation to medical and engineering students who sell off their textbooks at the end of the academic year. Users would not have to crack the DRM on these, they would just legally sell the entire device they used to read them, complete with their entire collection of texts.

The value of Kindle free samples to academics

One of the great things about Kindle ebooks is the ability to sample. For academics and historians this is most useful in the case of anthologies of stories or books made up of academic articles on a topic. What someone like me generally wants most is the introductions to these, and one can usually get all or most of them via the “10% free sample”. For instance, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s wrist-snappingly heavy 7lb anthology, The Weird: a compendium of dark and strange stories (Atlantic, 2011), has two forewords by Michael Moorcock and the Vandermeers. I was very keen to have these, although not willing to devote two months to reading the other 750,000 words. I got both for free, by downloading the free sample.

From Masters degree to ebook

Many people seem to be taking higher Masters degrees these days, or considering doing so. The need for re-skilling — in the face of advancing technology and evolving business approaches — seems to make a higher degree inevitable. Some will even do more than one Masters in their life. So I was wondering how one might transform the whole process into an ebook, thereby sharing one’s knowledge and perhaps even earning enough to pay for the course fees. The student has the final dissertation to write of course, usually at around 12,000 words. But let’s say you do something with topical appeal — one of a range of criminal justice degrees for example. How then to transform the whole experience and cutting-edge knowledge gained into a 50,000 word book, one that’s likely to sell? A lot would of course rest on the choice of dissertation topic. A student would want to choose something that has a balance of topical interest, longer-term sales potential, and of course the vital element of academic approval. A perfectly valid study of the changes in the typology of cybercrimes that affect the individual and small businesses, for instance, could then be added to with case-studies, and a practical guide to individuals on how to avoid being a victim of online crime. The result might be a substantial new ebook, with academic weight and scrutiny behind it, yet having popular appeal. Of course, these days one doesn’t even have to physically attend a course and tediously and expensively travel to a classroom each day. Skype, HD webcams and other methods have made classrooms obsolete for some types of course. One can, for instance, take a criminal justice degree online or any number of other subjects online. One can even sample online courses, via courseware freebies from the likes of MIT, Harvard, and others, thus getting a feel for the suitability of the process and also if one likes the potential topic of study or not.

The Spyders of Burslem: a dark historical mystery

I’m very pleased to say that my 60,000-word novel The Spyders of Burslem is now available to buy now as a paperback, or from Amazon USA or Amazon UK. If you’re in France or Germany, it’s also on their Kindle Stores.

“It is the year 1869 in the English Midlands pottery town of Burslem, where a new age of industry and learning struggles to be born. A young graduate has arrived to teach the workers, but finds himself on the trail of a deadly evil.”


Chapter One: Arrival.
Chapter Two: A Providential Meeting.
Chapter Three: The Raising of the Zodiac.
Chapter Four: A Pint of the Finest.
Chapter Five: In a Darkling Aetherstorm.
Chapter Six: Death and Time.
Chapter Seven: Discoveries.
Chapter Eight: The Scrying.
Chapter Nine: A Cunning Kiss.
Chapter Ten: What the Dark Brings.
Chapter Eleven: The Face and the Mind.
Chapter Twelve: The Shadows of the Blind.
Chapter Thirteen: The Workings of Men.
Chapter Fourteen: Lost and Dreaming.
Chapter Fifteen: A First Frost.
A historical note.

The Kindle edition is hand-coded, has a linked table of contents, and had several passes of extra proof-reading.

Doing footnotes on the Kindle

Mark Mason muses in The Spectator on the fate of the footnote in the Kindle. I recently hand-coded my Kindle ebook H.P. Lovecraft As Psychogeographer, New York City 1924-26 which had thousands of footnotes, using special round-trip links. But Mark rightly points out that we need some kind of flag to indicate when a footnote link contains substantial additional commentary by the author…

“Can’t risk missing those, can you? So you have to look up each and every note, just in case. Or, as I’ve started doing, scanning the notes each time I start a new chapter and trying to remember which ones are proper and which I can ignore. All very cumbersome.”

Do Kindle coders need to a convention whereby links to ‘substantial’ footnotes are at least placed in bold?

Espresso vanishes in froth

Those Espresso Book Machines we heard about a few years back? The ones that would sit in bookstores making any text available in print-on-demand, in less than one hour? How many are there now in the whole of the USA, in the run up to Christmas 2011? Just 23, according to a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal. Just another sorry example of the failure to adapt to a revolution in books that’s shaping up to be as big as Gutenberg. In this case, a failure of the bookshops to grab onto something that might make them relevant again to discerning buyers.

But it’s part of a wider failure. From authors who still don’t ‘get’ the internet and Kindles, through stick-in-the-mud publishers large and small who refuse to convert books to Kindle, via those who refuse to release ebook editions until well after the paperback version of the book is out. The pirates are going to eat you all for lunch, especially after the release of new non-destructive home book scanners.

Another thing. Why does no-one bundle the audio book with the same Kindle ebook, while offering a hefty discount? My buying thinking goes like this: If a new print hardback is $16.99, I’m going to wait a year until I can get it for $4.99 or less, used on Amazon. Don’t even bother to tell me “oh, there might be paperback in ten months’ time” — because by the time the publishers finally crank out a paperback, the used hardback will very likely be cheaper than the new paperback. Then I might review it, tell people about it, blog it. But that will be a long time after the publisher’s primary publicity/marketing window has closed. Many people will have the pirated ebook on their Kindle by that time, and will forget about buying anything. Now, sell me an audio book version and a Kindle version bundled together on the first day of the hardback sale, and let me have both for the half the price of the hardback (say, $8.49) and I’ll be very tempted. I’ll tell lots of people about the great deal. I’ll review the book on Amazon much quicker that if I had waited for that used hardback. Such a deal is not going to eat into new hardback sales to me, because of the reasons I stated earlier. And it’s not going to eat into paperback sales, because I want either: i) the Kindle version or ii) the used hardback. What it would do is provide a solid chunk of early revenue and publicity, and forestall any temptation of readers to piracy.

The new Mark Steyn book is a useful case study. On publication day you has exactly two choices, which you still have. You get the $19.99 hardback. Or you go download the pirated edition. That’s it. And for a gigantic New York Times bestseller. No official Kindle version, and no audio book version. Maybe we’ll eventually get these, but who knows when? Sell me an audio-book/Kindle combo deal on the first day for just $9.99, and I’d be willing to bet that piracy on this title would all but cease. And Mark would be richer than he already is, which he fully deserves to be.