Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Collectible and Limited

Recently, I purchased a couple books inline with my new book buying philosophy I spoke about in a previous post.  Specifically, that I would try to limit the purchasing of physical books to limited editions and collectibles and purchase everything else as an eBook.  Well, here is the results of my new philosophy.  A tantalizing trio of limited editions.

The book I am most excited about is the limited (1500 copies), numbered and signed copy of Perfect Shadow by Brent Weeks.  This book was published by Subterranean Press, who I feel is a truly excellent company that specializes in limited run speculative fiction books.  The quality of the book is outstanding whether it be the binding, the heavy parchment-ish paper or the beautiful typesetting.  I particular I love the nice wide margins, perfect for jotting a note or two.

Physicality aside, Perfect Shadow is Brent Week's brief return to the world of the Night Angel trilogy to provide a bit more back story on fan favorite character, Durzo Blint.  Durzo's character was many layered and always mysterious, if perhaps too much so at times, risking Deus Ex Machina type moments.  I have been incredibly poor fan of the Night Angel series as I have yet to read this book, even though I also purchased the eBook months ago.  I need to fix this issue soon!

The remaining two books are a pair of Black Library offerings.  The first up is the Gold Edition of Aurelian by Aaron Dembski-Bowden and part of the The Horus Heresy series.  Again this is a numbered and signed edition limited to 3000 copies.  It is also a simply beautiful book, even more so than Perfect Shadow.  It has a wonderfully illustrated dust jacket, the binding front and back is also illustrated and it contains full color illustrations in the interior.  If that wasn't enough it also has a cloth bookmark.
Aurelian tells the tale of Lorgar's downfall, a pivotal moment in the history of Warhammer 40K.  The fall of Lorgar provides the Gods of Chaos the leverage they need to stymie the Emperor of Mankind's Great Plan.  It brings the Great Crusade to its knees and causes the Imperium to decend into civil war.  A civil war that sees the near death of the Emperor and arrival of a Dark Age of War and Ignorance that lasts for tens of thousands of  years with no end in sight.  So yes, this is an important tome and I can't wait to read it.
Lastly, is the Black Library Live! 2012 chapbook.  This is the first chapbook I have ever purchased and I honestly wasn't sure what to expect.  What I received was a pair of short stories printed onto heavy card stock with a very crammed typeset.  It seemed very in the spirit of a chapbook but with very high quality materials.  The chapbook itself contains two short stories: Bellathonis and The Shadow King by Andy Chambers and Reaper by Sarah Cawkwell.  Bellathonis is a Warhammer 40K story center on the Dark Elves and Reaper is a Warhammer Fantasy story about a Captain of the Empire.  Both seem like tasty nuggets of Warhammer goodness.

Image Sources: Scanned Covers

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bundling eBooks with Physical Book Sales

Brandon Sanderson started a good amount of chatter over the weekend based on his posts to Twitter & Reddit.  Notably, he is working to find some way to to include an ebook with the hardback edition of A Memory of Light.  I think this is a very noble effort but one that is simply not feasible with today's publishing industry.  Granted, I could see Tor doing this for just A Memory of Light as a marketing stunt, but I can't see this becoming standard practice.  I think there are a number of reasons why this would be difficult to pull off.

First, publishers are fighting a bitter battle over the perceived value of ebooks.  The combination of Amazon's $9.99 New Release pricing and the prevalence of self-published authors selling their books at $0.99-2.99 was establishing a new book pricing metric among consumers.  This was a pricing structure that major publisher would not accept, at least in the near term.  Consistently providing a "free copy" or even an "upgrade" for $1-2 would only reinforce the disposable nature of consumers.  Again, I can see free copies given away as a promotional tool but not as a standard practice.  This completely ignores the potential effects it would have on privacy.  Promoting the idea that the electronic copy is worthless or near worthless is a a dangerous paradigm to establish.  Even if it means threatening public libraries.

Next, I think the cost for a major publisher to format and distribute eBooks is under estimated.  While smaller more nimble publishers have appeared, such as Carina Press, the that specialize in eBooks, this business model runs contrary to major publishers established means of doing business.  Major publishers have a crushing cost of business between long term leases, material contracts, etc.  This stems both from the business of publishing but also from their location in New York City.  The inertia of this model does not change swiftly and so these costs are carried over into the eBook realm where major publishers are simply non-competitive at the moment.

The point being that for a major release such as a New York Times #1 Bestseller, these costs could be absorbed, it is probably untenable for a mid-list author who hopes to sell 50,000 copies of a book.  In the coming years this will probably cease to be an issue as major publishers lean down and build expertise, but for now, it is a fact of life.  Also, I am ignoring whether or not major publishers require their authors to submit their data in a structured format, critical to electronic formats because I simply don't have a clue.

Booksellers would probably reject the idea of a free eBook copy depending on how the plan was executed.  Anything changing or altering the Point-of-Sales system would likely be off limits without major concessions.  A system of distributing codes within the physical books would be a fiasco as well for no other reason than simple theft.  Regardless, all of these ideas would be a major headache for the booksellers customer support personnel.  Imagine the number of people coming back to the store complaining that a) their code didn't work b) does it work on my "insert device name c) can I give it to a friend since I already own the book?  The potential issues are nigh endless.
Now, should the major publishers go the opposite way and try and give away a free physical copy with each eBook purchase, they are probably creating a bigger problem.  Why?  Because their only logical choices will be to partner with Amazon and Barnes and Nobles and would completely ignore anyone without an ebook distribution platform.  Amazon is probably a publishers biggest enemy.  Barnes and Nobels is Amazon's biggest rival.  Not much of an upgrade there.  Regardless, both issues present a major problem.  Publishers would be referring business to their competition.  Publishers would be locking your customers in to their enemies' ecosystem via DRM.  Publishers would also be training their customer to buy and read eBooks versus physical books, further eroding the sales of physical books.  That isn't friendly a publisher's bottom line while they transition to a new eBook first world.

Image Source: Risingshadow

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bearers of the Black Staff by Terry Brooks

Terry Brooks will always have a special place in my memories. It was he who first introduced me to fantasy books proper when I was young. Yes Tolkien was second. So, it is always by the original Shannara Trilogy that I compare fantasy books. Does it create that same sense of wonder?

I haven’t read a Brook’s book in a number of years. The Heritage of Shannara quartet was the last series I read from Terry Brooks and that was a number of years ago. I have been lax and missed a lot of his more recent work. So, I was honestly looking forward to reading Bearers in the same way that you look forward to catching up with an old friend. You know the memories are there but hopefully you haven’t drifted apart too much over the years.

Without a doubt, Terry Brooks still has his magic. The themes of Shannara still shine through clear and bright. Man is always paying for the sins of his past and always missing his shot at redemption. But, there are always a few noble souls willing to pay whatever price is needed to give mankind and the rest of the world another shot.

Bearers of the Black Staff immediately introduces you to the main cast. You quickly greet Sider Ament, full of mystery, duty and regret and you are quickly lured into the story. Sider is the perfect set-up for a fantasy fan. The stage is set, a mysterious event occurs, dire portents follow and you are escorted off to meet the heroes of the story: Panterra Qu, Pan to his friends, and his companion, Prue Liss. Both are young, full of ideals and enormously naive. By this point, I was hooked. Granted, its a bog standard opening but Brook’s helped invent that standard, so its sort of his signature.

I really enjoyed reading Bearers of the Black Staff. There is action, betrayal and budding love. It is a classic fantasy book. It did everything I want a fantasy book to do, including a cliff hangar ending. But what really stands out about the novel is the growth in Terry’s writing. I know Mr. Brooks writes in at a torrid pace, releasing a book every other year it seems. But, in the years since I read the Heritage I can really feel his growth as a writer.

The pacing of the book is immaculate. There is never a wasted scene, dull moment or stray word. You are never confused as to what is happening due to a byzantine cast of characters. Time is not spent delving into the intricacies of dress or village economics. The story focuses on heroes and their growth as they respond to calamity. In particular I loved the spacing and timing of Sider reliving the memories how he came to be the Bearer and how these recollections foreshadow the next chapter.

Terry’s skill with words and descriptions has also grown and I found his prose to be much more artful than I remember. Where I find Terry Brooks very successful in his writing is how little time he spends at world building. As his characters move through the world, it is described in short bursts. Enough to give you a feel the surrounds and set up the story. The focus is always on the characters. This discipline probably shaved a hundred pages of the book. It also means the book “reads” quickly.

My only criticism of Bearers of the Black Staff lie with the romantic triangle between Panterra, Phryne and Prue and then with the over editing of the book. I disliked the love triangle that developed between Pan, Prue and Phryne because unlike so many other elements of the book it felt a little heavy handed. Especially when compared to the relationship between Sider Ament and Aislinne Kray. Perhaps it was meant to be juvenille, since the characters invovled are teens themselves. Regardless, it was one of my least favorite elements of the book.

My second criticism is that Bears of the Black Staff felt over edited. Yes, I am claiming this after praising the pacing, sentence length and word usage. These are all the products of good editing. But, when finishing the book, I couldn’t shake the feeling of the novel being over tweaked. It was almost too perfect. I feel like some of the rougher aspects of Terry’s voice were edited out in the way a singer’s voice looses its uniqueness to auto-tune. The end result is a more polished product but it’s these quirks and oddities that really add texture to a book, the same as it adds texture to a singer’s voice. I couldn’t find them in Bearers. This is a tiny complaint, but it is something that nags me, even days after finishing the book. I miss Terry’s voice from his earlier work.

To wrap things up, I really enjoyed Bearers of the Black Staff. If you enjoy reading “classic” fantasy, you will enjoy this book as well. Yes, the book will seem very familiar, treading over already well tread ground, but it is very well written. The characters are lively and the story interesting. It captures the Shannara feel.

I also can’t wait to read the next book. Why? Since Shannara is all one timeline, you know the end of the book will reveal something about the future. It is like finishing your Cracker Jacks and getting a prize. You know the series will be good the whole way through but what will the prize at the end be? That is something to look forward to in the future.

Image Source: Amazon
Review Copy: Self Purchased ebook
ISBN-13: 978-0345484192