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Weirdness Rodeo

Peter Blake - Through the Looking Glass
Your round-up of oddness. This time: pictures, websites, the importance of brands, submissions info and all the fun stuff Pornokitsch people are doing not-here.

#PicturesMeanBusiness and #WebsitesMeanAwards

An update on the #PicturesMeanBusiness from Sarah McIntyre, who met with Nielsen to understand how artists' data is (or isn't) captured:

If our economic value can't be assessed, we'll be forgotten by business people and written off as not contributing anything to the economy. Not even The Bookseller credited illustrators in sales charts until March of this year. You could see that Julia Donaldson was ruling the picture book sales charts, but you had no idea how The Gruffalo's illustrator Axel Scheffler's books were doing. In fact, if you entered his names into the Nielsen sales charts, he came out as quite a low moneymaker, since only the books he's written himself were calculated.

Sarah's explanation of the convoluted metadata of publishing - and its weird legacy systems - is the best I've read so far. Worth checking out.

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Friday Five: 5 Terrific Techy Ladies in Sci-Fi

Brave New GirlsThis week's guest is Mary Fan, co-editor of the brand new Brave New Girls. The anthology collects science fiction stories featuring "brainy young women who use their smarts to save the day". That is to say: it not only brings readers a whole pack of awesome role models, but they're also clever stories featuring brains over brawn.

All proceeds from Brave New Girls are being donated to a scholarship fund set up by the Society of Women Engineers, so buy with confidence - you're not just reading about bright futures, you're helping make them. With no further ado, we'll hand over to Mary...

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It’s no secret that there aren’t a lot of women in science and tech, both in the real world and in fiction. Which is a shame, really. There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem around this issue—are techy women not depicted in sci-fi because they’re rare in real life, or are they rare in real life because girls don’t see themselves depicted in those roles and therefore don’t pursue those careers? The fact is, pop culture is a powerful influencer, especially on girls and teenagers. And the scary thing is, your career is dictated by decisions you make as an impressionable kid (think about it… the college major you pick at age 19 determines whether or not you’ll become a research scientist).

While there are plenty of ladies in sci-fi, they’re usually not put in the science and tech-based roles. The scientists, hackers, engineers, etc. are usually guys. But every so often, you’ll stumble upon a character that makes you go, “Yes! More of her, please!” Here are five brainy sci-fi ladies who use their smarts to save the day:

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Immodest Proposals for the David Gemmell Legend Awards

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I'm reading and reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can follow along here.  And don't forget to vote.

I'm taking a brief break at the halfway point to stop talking about the books and talk about the Awards themselves. Please join in below.

There are two definitions of modest - "humble" and "small" - and generally when someone has a "modest proposal" they actually mean neither. So let's not beat around the bush here: this is about big changes, proposed arrogantly. 

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Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half-a-king-uk-mmpbI'm reviewing all ten of the finalists for this year's David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can see the list and my approach here, and vote in the Awards here.

Half a King (2014) is the first entry in a new series from Joe Abercrombie, one of the most well-established modern fantasy authors. It is hard to believe that it was only nine years ago that The Blade Itself hit the shelves or, that after six volumes in that series, the author has moved on to test his mettle in a new world. But, here we are - away from Logan Ninefingers and into the quasi-European world of Prince Yarvi and the Shattered Sea.

Yarvi is, as noted, a prince - the younger son of the King of Gettland. Born with only 'half a hand', Yarvi's ill-suited for combat, and doesn't fit in with the macho Viking culture of Gettland. Fortunately, a scholarly path is available to him, and Yarvi's happily studying to become a minister - a keeper of knowledge, an advisor to royalty, and an innocuous, forgettable nobody that will never have to lift a shield or lead soldiers.

Alas, fate intervenes. Yarvi's father and brother are killed in by the rival pseudo-Nordic Vanstermen. Not only is Yarvi suddenly elevated to the throne but also he's now a king at war. Despite an edict from the High King - the distant figure that owns all their fealty - Yarvi launches a raid on the Vanstermen. 

It doesn't go well.

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The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The-mirror-empire-by-kameron-hurley-cover-artI'm reviewing all ten of the finalists for this year's David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can see the list and my approach here, and vote in the Awards here.

The Mirror Empire (2014) is the new novel from many-award-winning novelist and essayist Kameron Hurley. The first in a series, The Mirror Empire is an epic that spans - quite literally - worlds.*

On a world rich with predatory vegetation, magic comes from the stars themselves. Each heavenly body comes complete with a package of powers. People born with a connection to a star (or, more rarely, stars), can be trained in their magic. But now a new - or very old - star is ascendent. Oma arrives every few thousand years, and with it, destruction. Every ascension of Oma is timed to coincide with the descent of the other stars, and, historically, a cataclysmic invasion.

As Oma rises, a handful of plots - some in place for centuries - come to fruition. Lilia is a young girl, born in a remote village. When invaders destroy her home, Lilia is cast through a portal to a different land, to be raised in a temple - a simple, innocuous kitchen drudge (as if). The Kai - the ruler of her people - dies under mysterious circumstances, and her brother, an untrained and ill-suited teacher named Ahkio, is called upon to take her place. Meanwhile, Roh, a student at Lilia's temple, is determined to be more than his destiny. He desperately throws himself into one scheme after another, keen to become a hero of some sort. The new Kai attaches him to a curious diplomatic mission, taken to a far-off - and not entirely friendly - kingdom. 

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Weirdness Rodeo

image from Andreas FeiningerSay hi to our newest contributor - Becky Chambers! Becky's Extended Memory column involves her reviewing all those wonderful (we hope) classic PC games, and she's kicked off by returning to her very first game - Beyond Dark Castle.

New short stories are coming from William Curnow, Jennifer Moore, David W Pomerico, Marie Vibbert, Michal Wojcik, Olivia Wood and JY Yang.

Meanwhile, on the rest of the internet...

A study out of the University of Colorado reports on an interesting trend:

The study examined in detail the yearly top 30 Billboard songs from 1960 to 2013 – a total of 1,583 – and found a steep increase in `advertainment’ or the use of product placement, branding and name dropping among the most popular music in the nation.

[The study] found a total of 1,544 product references in the five decades of songs he analyzed with more than half occurring between 2000 and 2010. The study also showed a direct link between product placement and brand awareness. For example, after the 2002 Busta Rhymes hit single `Pass the Courvoisier,’ sales of the cognac jumped 10 to 20 percent that year. 

Movies have already 'sold out' to product placement, music doesn't seem to be far behind... how long until some far-sighted marketer starts flogging products through literature? 

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Friday Five: 5 Jaunty Jolts of Joe R. Lansdale

Paradise Sky_A very specific Friday Five this week, to celebrate the release of Paradise Sky, the new Western from Joe Lansdale. Lansdale is the author of everything from the bizarro horror comedy Bubba Ho-Tep to the apocalyptic creepiness of The Drive-In to the steampunk hijinks of Zeppelins West to the rural noir of The Thicket to the long-running Hap and Leonard mysteries.

He is a personal favourite not only for his versatility, but for the incredible quality. Whatever Lansdale's writing, be it fun or somber, humorous or horrific, it is always a delight to read.

So... where to start? Or, if you've nibbled on a bit of Lansdale's writing, what to try next? Below, five of my favourites, all from different genres...

Savage Season (1990)

Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are one of the best detective duos in fiction, full stop. Imagine Sherlock and Watson, except without money, education, superhuman talents, a medical degree or any sense of Victorian dignity. So, really, don't imagine them at all. Hap and Leonard are both washed out West Texans ... general do-gooders, with day jobs that range from working at a deck chair factory to dubious 'security' gigs.

Hap thinks of himself as an ex-hippie pacifist (he's not, really) and Leonard is 100% pure hardness (except for his love of vanilla cookies) - as you'd need to be as a gay black man in rural Texas. Savage Season not only introduces the duo, but is an excellent example of one of their classic darkly comedic adventures, with betrayal, skulduggery, sleazebags and... a rather powerful emotional core.

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"What if digital came first?"

SLNSW_12850_Womens_formal_gownsThis is a rather stream-of-thought abuse of the 'spurious theories' tag, but I wanted to lump a lot of ideas together in one place.

The main cause of this? A great talk at Digital Shoreditch from Chris Bishop, who asked a simple, but heady, question. What if digital came first?

The talk - available online here - is largely from a consumer, retail, digital mindset. Bishop points out that a lot of ecommerce attention has been wasted trying to create physical experiences online, rather than embracing digital's strengths. And, similarly, the reverse is true: stores are now trying to imitate websites. His conclusion is that, eventually, the two channels will find their complementary ways, and physical stores will become an asset again. (Harsh, but not entirely fair.)

Anyway, this got me thinking. In publishing, we have two physical-first avenues: the books and the stores. And they're both taking a beating. So what if... digital came first?

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The Godless by Ben Peek

The GodlessThis is part of a series of of ten reviews, walking through the shortlists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can see the complete list here, as well as a bit about the awards, the books and the criteria I'm using. Voting concludes on 17 July.

Ben Peek's The Godless (2014) is the second of our five Morningstar* finalists, and, as you might expect from a fantasy debut, the first in a  new series. It is a very dense book, in an intriguing new world, with several full and rich themes.

In fact, here's a little game. Here's a book 'blurb' for The Godless:

The gods are dead. The moon is one god's corpse; a mountain range, another. The God-War's cataclysmic conclusion condemned the world as well; the lingering necrosis from the bodies of the divine permeating the soil, the water and the air. Humanity tries to rebuild and move forward, but the world itself has turned against them. Cannibals ravage the hills, settlements are disappearing, entire kingdoms have gone silent... Three outcasts unite in a doomed attempt to defend their home, the last spark of civilisation.

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