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What if Apple bought publishing?

Chocolate Dinosaur
If you're going to be a dinosaur, be a chocolate one! (via Reddit)

Apple announced a $1b 'war chest' for original content (Wall Street Journal). This is still much, much less than its rivals - Netflix spends an estimated $6b each year, and Amazon Video $4.5b. Let's face it. That's a lot of money, but the world's richest company may be critically far behind. They can't follow in their rivals' footsteps with any hopes of catching up.

So, here's a lateral way of approaching it. What if they just bought the entire British fiction publishing industry?

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Amazon is a Slytherpuff and Other Revelations

The brand that lived

The managing director of the Licensing Industry Merchandising Association nails it in a guest piece for Campaign

Harry Potter is more than the films, more than the books. It is a genuine lifestyle brand.... Along the way its brand DNA has grown to encompass imagination in all its infinite possibilities, outdoing conventional fashion brands at their own game.

I've argued in the past that Batman, Superman, Spider-man are all t-shirt brands with comic book spinoffs. I think Harry Potter belongs in that pantheon as well: geek culture brands where the identification is now so embedded that they're part of the visual vernacular. It isn't just about a nerd franchise being in Primark, it is about a nerd franchise being in Primark and coverage in the Sun.

If anything, Harry Potter's gone a step further and given us four lifestyle brands. Superhero logos say, generously, something about you. But the four Hogwarts houses have become a socially-accepted Meyers-Briggs self-classification

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50 Books on Imagining and Re-Imagining Cities

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-08-12/8cef1c9a-0c5b-4709-8d9f-88c5b1bf0a13.png
Moil houses from China Miéville's Un Lun Dun

I've been thinking about cities - and how we imagine and definite and interpret them - since the panel at Nine Worlds was announced. The panel itself, chaired by architect Amy Butt, and featuring Verity Holloway and Al Robertson, was brilliant and free-ranging.

One thing we didn't do is lapse into 'here are some books about cities that I recommend'. I'm grateful we skipped that because a) that's boring on a panel and b) that makes cracking blog content. Listicles are good fun.

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Are independent bookshops the new conspicuous consumption?

Nom nom nom

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett's new book looks at the changing consumption habits of the wealthy in the West (especially America):

Over the past 100 years, improvements in technology and globalization have made consumer goods increasingly accessible to the average American. Currid-Halkett says this led to the “democratization of conspicuous consumption,” which has made consumer products a less appealing way for the wealthy to show their class. Rather, acts of conspicuous consumption are now focused on limited edition versions of goods that are difficult to imitate, like $20,000 Birkin bags and rare vintage wines.

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All The Eggs, One Basket [Click to Buy!]

Roadside America
Roadside America, photo by John Margolis

If you're not reading Lisa Schmeiser's So What, Who Cares,... get in there. It is a brilliant bi-weekly newsletter that connects the dots in fascinating ways. Her thoughts on this matter are much more considered, and interesting, than mine - so go read that.

The most recent issue examines the connections between Amazon and journalism. Not in the conspiratorial way, but in an economic one: Amazon affiliate links are a huge source of revenue for professional and amateur journalism.

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The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

The Dark NetThe Dark Net (2017) is the new thriller from Benjamin Percy who - for many reasons - is on the 'must-read' pile. But we'll get to that in a moment. The Dark Net is a strangely 'classical' horror novel, in the Straub/King model, not, say, Poe. There's an evil rising in Portland, and a rag-tag group of people are drawn together to stop it.

Like a Straub or a King (or a McCammon or an F. Paul Wilson) there's a metaphysical element: a greater contest of Good and Evil taking place. It is implied that Portland is merely the latest battleground, but, unless our heroes band together... it could also be the last. If you know the genre, you know how it works, and can predict the properly embiggened and important ending.

While all the cosmic epic stuff happens up there (hand-waves), there's a lot of stuff happening on a more immediate, visceral level. The Dark Net is super-squishy, and properly downright terrifying. The monsters are monstrous and the people are worse. It is genuinely horrific in the true sense of the word: juxtaposing the uncanny and the unnatural into everyday life to get the reader recoiling in fear and disgust. Well done, really.

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Review Round-Up: Cardigan, Stormswift and Tregaron's Daughter

30220686Historical romance edition! Three historical romances - from the wilderness of pre-Revolutionary upstate New York to the fishing villages of Cornwall - love finds everyone. Especially if you're attractive and of noble birth. 

Robert W. Chambers' Cardigan (1901) was, within his lifetime, his most famous work. The King in Yellow was a cult favourite, and certainly proved the most long-lasting and influential. But it was Cardigan that established Chambers as a best-seller and a popular favourite. There's some merit to Cardigan's success. If we posit (tautologically) that this was an era in which Chambers succeeded, so therefore Chambers books were successful, there's a lot about Cardigan that is, well, Chambersy. It has, amongst other things:

  • A suitably jingoistic plot - set in the early days of the American Revolution, and firmly establishing American exceptionalism
  • A charming, if utterly hackneyed, romance - a young boy (Cardigan) and a young woman (whom he always refers to as her childhood nickname, 'Silver Heels') are raised together as wards of an important pre-Revolutionary figure.
  • A coming of age story, in which Cardigan realises that loyalty is more than an oath to a distant King, and maybe his dream of becoming an officer isn't the best thing in the world and whatnot
  • A ton of very florid nature writing - including meandering treks across the wilderness, countless fishing expeditions, and a general, ubiquitous appreciation of all things related to sunsets, sunrises, the moon, water features, trees, mountains, skies and/or dirt

All of which, as noted above, are hallmarks of Chambers' writing. As mixed a bag as this is already, Cardigan also features some of Chambers' less appreciable writing quirks. 

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The War of Undoing by Alex Perry

25328003The War of Undoing is, at first appearances, a pretty straightforward book. The humans and the vuma live in an uneasy (and clearly temporary) peace. [ominous thunder]

With that established, cut to...

Three children - the Rainings - living alone, unchaperoned, and in poverty in the unwelcoming city of Tarot. They receive a mysterious message saying that they're needed for a Great and Magical Cause. This gift horse seems like a truly spectacular chance. They can leave the city, pursue their capital-D-Destiny, and maybe even find - and bollock - their absentee parents.

Of course, things are never really so simple - not even in even high fantasy. The Rainings are quickly separated, and head down their own paths, making new friends (and enemies) along the way. More worrying, what they assumed was their Destiny is perhaps someone else's. The three children learn that being the instrument of a Great Cause is less about being a hero and more about being, well, a tool.

This is a long - and often quite meandering - book. There's a slow start, followed by a lot of quiet, discursive tangents. Several of Undoing's plots and 'hints' don't coalesce until the very end, and certain momentuous occasions and world-changing events - which would be the very heart and soul of other fantasy novels - are downplayed, and shifted to the background. As a result, The War of Undoing can feel frustrating at times. But, and I can't stress this enough, stick with it: this book simply has different priorities.

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Irons in the Fire by Antonio Urias

26240720Talis is one hell of a city. It is both a bustling metropolis and the edge of the civilisation, home to millions of humans and faerie, and the centre of trade and magic. Ruled by a benevolent, but firmly entrenched, duke, Talis has a history dating back thousands of years, including centuries under the oppression of Witches.

Talis is also packed with stories. The Witches were overthrown by a human/faerie alliance - an alliance that has since dissolved. The faeries are second-class citizens in the city. They live packed into a ghetto, the population of which increases daily with refugees from the surrounding wilderness. Others have assimilated into human society, trying to fit in as merchants, artists or political power-brokers. On the human 'side', the Duke has no heir, and the city's many aristocrats and nouveau riche jockey for position - while the Emperor looks on, impassively, from afar. The city guard is rife with corruption and intrigue, but still stands as the last line between the city and total anarchy. Talis is the proverbial powder keg, with strangers, politicians, rebels, wizards, and detectives all running around with matches.

Appropriately enough, Irons in the Fire begins with an explosion.

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