Saturday, April 28, 2007

Don’t call it Science Fiction!

Okay, my age is going to show here, but I don’t understand the death knell that is echoing for one of my favorite genres. When I was in elementary school, I watched television coverage of the rockets which occasionally propelled astronauts into orbit. I sought out books which explained the inner workings of these vehicles, and read fiction based on those early efforts. I know that Mike Mars Flies the X-15 didn’t make the bestseller list, but it was a keeper for me. Imagining that humanity would eventually try to conquer “the final frontier” didn’t seem too far-fetched, and still doesn’t to me.

However, I know that previous generations were not interested, because they wouldn’t see the dream become reality, and they seemed more interested in raises in social security and which denture cream might let them enjoy an apple.

My own children aren’t huge science fiction fans, although my son enjoys video games set in futuristic settings, and daughter has chosen to read a few volumes from my science fiction/romance shelf. Recently, Locus Magazine ran their annual poll of best science fiction works for last year, and there was a question at the end of the poll which addressed an important issue for the science fiction genre. I’m paraphrasing, but it referred to the lack of interest among young readers in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and asked for recommended reading to get young folks interested in sci fi and fantasy. This is a positive approach, but it does acknowledge that a problem exists.

I have experienced this first hand. People who gladly purchased a copy of my debut novel, The Gift Horse, refused to buy Trinity on Tylos. Or, worse, they purchased it and never read it. If I mention going to a sci-fi con, someone is bound to at least do that eye rolling thing which means I’m not entirely sane. I gave several talks after The Gift Horse came out, but I have given only two since Trinity on Tylos was published, unless I count visits to cons, and one of those was to the Atlanta Science Fiction Society. I am fifty-one years old, and I’d label many of them as “contemporaries.”

Perhaps the younger generation feels that the future is already here. Some of the gizmos that I could only dream about in elementary school are fixtures nowadays. Captain Kirk’s “communicator” looked a heck of a lot like my clamshell cell phone, and the computer that ran the Enterprise doesn’t seem too much more advanced than the iBook I am typing on. Dr. McCoy could administer a drug which seemed to cure diseases, and some of the concoctions we have now seem to work miracles. So, with so much high tech in everyday life, where should a writer venture? More importantly, what will entice the modern reader to come along?

The film industry and the publishing industry have decided to avoid the science fiction moniker, because they want to sell their products. So, Star Wars is shelved as “adventure” in the video section, and publishers are trying out terms like “speculative fiction” or “paranormal romance” and the darker side is now “post apocalyptic.” Recently, Wired magazine ran an article about the film industry’s avoidance of sci fi as a label, while embracing the themes for which it is known, and a couple of months ago Publisher’s Weekly featured an analysis of how publishing houses are using various approaches to reach a new generation of readers. Some publishers are continuing to embrace the term science fiction, but I just learned that one of the high quality small presses which has been devoted to the genre, Meisha Merlin of Decatur, GA, has decided to close its doors in May. I have to wonder, if they put a different spin on their books, would they have found the distribution and the customers that were lacking?

Anyone who has studied literature is aware that times change and culture tends to reflect that. I sincerely hope that works which I would term science fiction will continue to be produced, regardless of what labels the marketing people feel compelled to bestow upon them.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Price$ to be paid

The printer/distributer of my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, has raised the price by another three dollars per copy at Amazon. That makes the “drive out price” $21.94. Yep, for a trade paperback. The industry average price for one of these is twelve bucks. Since my last royalty check didn’t reflect a single sale of a paperback, it doesn’t really matter much to me, but I wouldn’t pay it. Anyone who wants a copy would be better off buying via my website, where I offer autographed copies sent media mail for sixteen dollars. I have decided to call it a “sale” and see if I get any customers.

I was sitting in a hospital waiting room this week and heard an elderly woman comment that gas prices are on the rise, “And there is no reason for it, none at all.” I do believe that the finite supply of dead dinosaurs might be a factor, but that doesn’t explain why my book has gotten a whole lot more expensive. Or does it? Maybe the printing plant is miles and miles from the nearest Post Office. That’s a thought.

As for high prices, I took a technology class last week as well, and the teacher shared this fact:

The ink in your computer printer is among the world's most expensive liquids, with a price per ounce outpacing Dom Perignon Champagne and dwarfing household products like milk. See how it stacks up, in price per ounce:

Printer ink: $60.88
Dom Perignon: $4.53
Milk: 3 cents

Update: I bought a Mac compatible Brother laser printer a few days after this post. It was $109 for a network printer, with toner, from, and I got free shipping. That is about forty bucks more than one set of cartridges for the HP inkjet.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Best of the web for Geek wannabes:

I’m not a geek, not really, but I’d like to be one. Really. As an independent person with more than a slight tendency to be a control freak, I enjoy solving problems on my own. Sometimes, it is even more fun to solve them for other folks. During my career as a high school journalism teacher, I had to teach myself quite a lot of tech, and I learned via the tutorials that came with software, (yes, they used to have those) from books, or from magazines such as MacWorld or Dynamic Graphics. Oh, the internet existed, but it was in its infancy, and the online resources that many of us take for granted were not yet available.

From time to time, I have taken classes at the UGAETTC, but I do prefer teaching myself, so the internet is often my textbook. Often, I learn about new products and what users think of them from Yes, it is a great bookstore, but they sell so much more. I have purchased cameras, printers, and even tea from Amazon. I always read the posted reviews, because I think it is one of the better sites for getting real world opinions of the value of the items I am thinking of buying.

For even more geeky learning sessions, I have three other suggestions:
TWiT, which is This Week in Tech, features many former on air personalities from the now defunct Tech TV. The site has both video and podcasts, and is a good way to increase your knowledge of many areas of technology. Once before I mentioned CNet on this blog, and I continue to really enjoy this site. Their short videos (click on CNet TV) are very helpful to anyone who wants to keep up with the latest products. Finally, you can learn quite a bit about How Stuff Works at the site which bears that name. I did research on Tasers while I was writing The Gift Horse at that site, and I based a few concepts which I used in Trinity on Tylos on my reading about space exploration at HSW as well.

These sites can help your geeky skills, and the pocket protector is optional.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

A Visit to the Poe Museum

We had spring break here last week. The schools let out for five days, affording us an opportunity to make a trip. Our destination was Richmond, VA, the capital city. My youngest sister resides in Bon Air, an older neighborhood, in a small brick house with a beautiful yard and a wonderful sunroom. Son enjoyed her wireless internet as well! The first day was spent at Bush Gardens, near Williamsburg, and having been tired out by all of the walking built into a "theme park" we had a much more relaxing second day, spent in and around Richmond.

Edgar Allan Poe was not born there, nor did he die there, but for many years, he called Richmond home, so it is fitting that there is a museum to his life and work. The Stone House was never home to him, but it is the oldest surviving house in Richmond, and Poe did visit there as a military cadet. The museum houses such artifacts as his walking stick (which he mistakenly left behind after a lecture in September of 1849, a few days before his death in October.) Other items of interest include the bed he slept in as a child, and of course, many first editions of his works. Daughter was especially impressed with the hand written notes and drafts of his work. "His handwriting was so neat, Mama!" she said, as we left to have some pictures made in the garden and near the bust of Poe which watches over the garden.

Most literary authorities acknowledge Poe as the inventor of the detective story, as well as the first writer to popularize the short story format. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have based Sherlock Holmes on Poe's French detective, Dupin. His poems are among the finest examples of American literature, and he did write some really bizarre and macabre works which have spawned movies and imitators.

I taught Poe's works for many years, since his works are typically included in both ninth and eleventh grade lit courses in Georgia, and as I sat in on a bench in the attic of the museum, I answered a question posed by another museum visitor. Once a teacher, always a teacher, I suppose.

If you ever get to Richmond, while you are downtown, don't forget the Poe Museum.

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