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June 2010
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August 2010

Love for Sale

There can be little doubt that these are turbulent times in publishing. With Kindles and iPads making a real, tangible impact on the book-buying market, the issues surrounding digital rights are getting ever more fraught. Literary agent Andrew Wylie's stab at the big-name publishers caused a stir a couple of weeks ago. It feels like everything is up for grabs, like nothing can be taken for granted - even the publishing deals an author might already have. 

It's starting to look like the relevance of the author him or herself is fading fast. The big deals today are about distribution and rights, not about the quality of what gets read in the end.

So, let's return to an ugly tale that doesn't quite feel finished, and have a look at what happened next - and what it might mean for 'niche' publishing today... 

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Swords & Silicon: Five Books that Cross Genres

667113503_e27b4b17ac Cross-genre - or, more specifically, cross-sub-genre - reading is all the rage. China Mieville refuses to accept boundaries. Steampunk mixes airships & swordplay. Zombies and vampires show up everywhere. 

A disregard for genre conventions isn't new (and it certainly isn't always successful). Here are five examples of books that deliberately toy with the traditions and tropes of multiple genres...

Apprentice Adept (Piers Anthony, 1987): A full review of this Piers Anthony series will come later, but, suffice to say, this trilogy is conceptually fascinating. A world is mirrored on two sides of an invisible curtain: Photon is science-fiction, Phaze is fantasy. The terms are blatant (the table of contents for each book labels each chapter "SF" or "F"). The two sides are analogues, with similar geography, resources & societies. The early books focus on travel back and forth, exploring the conventions of both worlds. (The later books lose focus and, with typical Anthonian style, degenerate into porn.)

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Underground Reading: Leviathan Rising by Jonathan Green

Leviathan Rising - Jon GreenLeviathan Rising (2008) is the second Pax Britannia adventure by Jonathan Green. Like his first, Unnatural History, it stars the intrepid Ulysses Quicksilver. Also like his first, Leviathan Rising can be read as a standalone adventure.

In Leviathan Rising, Ulysses packed off on the Neptune, the largest and most luxurious ocean liner in the Empire. This phenomenal vessel is not only piloted by the latest in Babbage Engines, but also is submersible. It's inaugural voyage takes it to America, New Atlantis and beyond. (Did I mention this was steampunk? This is definitely steampunk.)

Naturally (or unnaturally), things go horribly, terribly wrong.

For one, there's a big-ass squid monster with armor and huge teeth. For two, there's a mysterious agent of the Chinese Empire on board - and Ulysses has no idea what he's plotting. For three, guests keep dying - and Ulysses is somehow the prime suspect. For four, MEGALODONS. For five, .... really... I'm not sure I need to keep going. Needless to say, there are explosions, exotic beasties and a sprinkling of buxom young women.

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PK Draft: Lost in Translation

Pierre Pevel

[The drawing is done, but please feel free to keep chatting.]

A publisher recently poised the question "Who is your favorite French fantasist?" on Twitter, and got six people responding with "Jules Verne". 

This can't be right. 

According to recent studies, at least 4% of the world doesn't speak English, so there should be a few options out there somewhere.

Thus, this week's draft topic: Pick your favorite non-English-language genre author. 

The prize is pretty awesome... we've got a foxy proof copy of Pierre Pevel's The Cardinal's Blades. Originally published in French, this highly-acclaimed, Gemmell-shortlisted novel is the first English translation of Mr Pevel's work. 

A lovely book, and all you need to do for a chance to win is enter the draft...

Rules below the jump. Get drafting!

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New Releases: The Crown of the Blood by Gav Thorpe

The Crown of the BloodThe Crown of the Blood is the first book in a new series of martial fantasy from Gav Thorpe. I'll admit - I went into this wary. Genre fiction of military bent has never been my "thing". 300 pages of spear-sharpening and endless descriptions of battles? All sounds like the epic, world-building tripe that I'm trying to avoid in fantasy. (Plus, is that Robbie Williams on the cover?) 

My apprehension was misplaced. 

I tore through The Crown of the Blood in one long sitting, after which, I felt ready to conquer an empire or punch a dinosaur of my own. The closest comparison would be the feeling I get from "24": this is about the uber-manliness of the manliest of manly men. Minimum chest hair count required for entrance.

What makes The Crown of the Blood good, and not just some sort of heteronormative counterweight to paranormal romance, is that the author defines masculinity in wide-ranging way. If not outright enlightened, this is still infinitely more progressive than a slavish adherence to the conventional fantasy definitions and, as such, makes for an unexpectedly thoughtful read.

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“Above all, genres are marketing categories. Even what’s described as literary fiction is a genre; in Britain, it’s just the result of a very successful marketing campaign to persuade readers that it’s not a genre. But even if you think genre is a marketing idea, that isn’t to say it doesn’t have its own integrity and protocol. If you set really stupid, rigid rules for yourself, you can rise to the occasion.” - China Mieville at ComicCon


Underground Reading: Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Wizard's First RuleWizard's First Rule (1994) is the bestselling first book in "The Sword of Truth", a popular series that has spawned an indefinite number of sequels and a television show cancelled after two seasons. 

Although I've read this book before, years ago, I couldn't remember anything about it. I blamed jetlag for the memory loss, not realizing that it was actually self-defense...

Wizard's First Rule is the inspiring story of Richard Cypher, who, despite being mentally-challenged, manages to eke out a living as a rustic guide in the hills of fantasy Alabama. His evil older brother picks on him a lot, but, despite the teasing and the beatings, Richard knows that he is loved.

In fact, Richard's small world is so filled with special love, that his father's horrific murder comes as shock (less so to the reader, as it occurs on page 2, before we've ever met the character). To recover, he spends his days stumbling about the hills of fantasy Alabama, grieving for a character that is completely unimportant to the reader and described in a purely functional way. On one of these wandering journeys, something new enters Richard's life: breasts.

Kahlan is the first woman to ever appear in fantasy Alabama, so when she shows up in her clingy, white, figure-hugging, completely-impractical cocktail dress and 5-inch spike heels, Richard is overcome with strange new sensations. When he first spots her, Kahlan is under attack by no less than four assassins, but, since they're all walking single file, they trip over Richard's engorged member and fall off a cliff.

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