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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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Tolkien, Potter, and Pulps

Abandoned Spaces by Stefan Hoenerloh
Photograph by Stefan Hoenerloh

#MordorisforEveryone

Adam Roberts on the global success of Tolkien:

One reason Tolkien’s imaginary realm has proved so successful is precisely its structural non-specificity. What I mean is: Tolkien treats material that has deep roots in, and deep appeal to, various cultural traditions; but he does so in a way—as fictionalised worldbuilding rather than denominated myth—that drains away much of the poisonous nationalist, racist and belligerent associations those traditions have accumulated over the centuries.

This is very similar to what Henry Jenkins has to say about Harry Potter, where he argues (my paraphrasing) there is a world broad and shallow enough to include the potential of every individual reader's inclusion. 

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Mouseburster

Gigers_alien

Tomorrowland 2055 was to be an updated version of Tomorrowland..... One of the main attractions that was to be added was Alien Encounter. Initially Disney owned the right to the alien from the movie Alien and planned to use that as the alien, but some Imagineers thought that it would be too scary. There was debate over it and the Imagineers got George Lucas to convince Michael Eisner that it was too scary for Disney.

- Chris Ware, Disney Unbuilt: A Pocket Guide to the Disney Imagineering Graveyard (2016)

The book itself is not particularly well-written (I think, despite the Amazon/GR tagging, this is not Jimmy Corrigan-Chris-Ware), but there are a lot of interesting fun facts in here. As well as the Alien inclusion in Tomorrowland, there were also plans for a separate Nostromo ride. Other fun facts include the Black Cauldron and TRON attractions that never happened (but design fragments from the former wound up in, of all things, a Cinderella ride), as well as MYST Island, because, ... MYST.

Other, slightly creepier, ideas include the various country pavilions (all with planned corporate sponsorship!), with the Soviet Union Pavilion a baffling highlight, and about 10,000 different creative re-imaginings of 'American Mythology', including a Civil War themed attraction that is about sixteen types of terrible idea. Walt Disney's original scheme for Epcot - a Utopian micro-city - is also included, and would make an excellent backdrop for fiction.


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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Starring Colson & The Olsens

VirtualBoy-with-packaging

Nintendo Virtual League Baseball, via the Museum of Obsolete Media

Appointing Death Panels for Science Fiction

Clarke winner Colson Whitehead seems pretty cool, via the Guardian:

The Underground Railroad “could not exist without the toolkit of fantastic literature.... Way back when I was 10 years old, it was science fiction and fantasy that made me want to be a writer,” said Whitehead, whose previous novel Zone One featured zombies. “If you were a writer, you could work from home, you didn’t have to talk to anybody, and you could just make up stuff all day. Stuff about robots and maybe zombies and maybe even miraculous railway lines. Fantasy, like realism, is a tool for describing the world.”

I have genuine appreciation for anyone that freely conflates fantasy and science fiction in his first post-Clarke interview. Somewhere out there, a rocketships-and-math genre pedant is spinning in (undoubtedly) his grave.

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