Monday, July 18, 2011

So it’s been a bit longer than I’d like between blog entries. That’s mostly due to some frustrating a/c problems, first with the wife’s car, then mine, and finally, last week, with the house. The expense of getting the car problems fixed has been a stress. Even more so were the house a/c problems. The repair were covered by our home warranty, but since we live in Las Vegas, and it’s July, having no a/c for a period of time was pretty awful.

We ended up boarding the pets for the whole eight days the a/c was out. So that was traumatic and upsetting for us, having an empty house that was also untenably hot most of the time. (It was also expensive, and not covered by the warranty.) We went out to the library or the movies to enjoy air conditioning. It was too hot to cook, so we ate every meal out, and that was expensive and also not healthy. We even spent two nights at Santa Fe Station when the week was at its hottest.

Anyway, no matter how you slice it, these past few weeks haven’t been very conducive to concentration or focus. So no blogging.

However, over those same past few weeks, I’ve been getting more interested in the ebook scene, thanks to a couple of projects that I would like to share with you:

James A. Owen announcing that he would be releasing his previously-unavailable-in-English series, Mythworld, as a series of ebooks, first piqued my interest. He plans to release one about every month or so, with a total of fifteen books in the series. I got the first one and read it as soon as it was available. It’s a bit talky, and focuses more on exposition and scholarship than characterization and action. But it’s still interesting.

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed in Owen’s work is the way he draws together various folklores and mythologies from disparate sources and creates his own mythology by unifying them. Those themes are very present in this book, which, to be fair, is probably mostly setup for stuff that will play out over the course of the series. And at only $4.99, it’s a good price for an installment in a serialized story.

I love serialized storytelling, whether it’s in comics, television, books, whatever. And reading the first Mythworld book made me realize that digital publishing may revitalize that method of storytelling in a way that couldn’t happen any more in print. By publishing Mythworld digitally, Owen doesn’t have to deal with the time and expense of printing copies of his story. The books don’t have to be shipped to stores, and stores don’t have to make room for fifteen new books coming out from one author in the space of a year. (They don’t seem to have that problem displaying James Patterson’s books, but that’s a different story, and a different scale of sales.)

Also, as a reader, the digital delivery means a lower price, which means I’m more okay with getting a serialized story. Even if the Mythworld books came out on a monthly basis in print, they’d probably cost at least $12-15 each. For that price, I’d want something a bit more self-contained, in case I didn’t want to continue with the series. At $4.99, it’s a lot easier to take a chance.

Mythworld was the first full novel I read on my iPad, as well. I had read that the iPad isn’t the ideal ebook reader, because the screen is backlit, unlike the Kindle or Nook. However, the iPad does everything else that I want it to do that dedicated ebook readers don’t, and I don’t want to have to buy yet another piece of hardware. Fortunately, I found the reading experience just fine. So, armed with the knowledge that reading books on the iPad for an extended length of time was something I could do, I started seeking out other ebook series that might interest me.

I had heard a lot about the Dead Man series, created by TV writers and novelists Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. Described as an attempt to revive the monthly men’s adventure paperback genre mixed with an ongoing horror story, the books tell the story of Matthew Cahill, a man who comes back from the dead with the ability to see evil physically manifested on people. Goldberg and Rabkin produce the series monthly with a variety of authors, treating it like a TV series with themselves as producers/showrunners.

So far, I’ve read the first two books. They’re fast-paced action stories with some genuinely creepy horror elements in equal measure. There’s also enough (dark) humor to keep things from getting too depressing. They’re quick reads, but at only $2.99 each, they’re good value for money. I’m looking forward to getting caught up on the series, and then reading each new one as it comes out.

Another new ebook series that I’m really enjoying is the Rancho Diablo series of westerns. The brainchild of three authors (James Reasoner, Mel Odom, and Bill Crider), the books tell the story of Sam Blaylock and his creation of the Texas ranch the books are named after. Three books are out so far, with plans for more, plus a spinoff series about some of the characters from the town’s backstory.

The first book, by Odom, dealt with Blaylock building the ranch. The second, by Reasoner, focused a bit more on Blaylock’s family, as well as darker elements from his past. I haven’t read the third one yet, but according to interviews, future books will focus on some of the other supporting cast members.

As a kid, I loved reading shared-world anthologies like Thieves’ World and Wild Cards. I loved the idea of a series of stories about a large cast of characters connected by their location. In a way, the Rancho Diablo series is reminiscent of that. Again, this is the sort of thing you couldn’t do in print: a series of shorter stories that don’t necessarily always feature the same central character. As a series of less expensive ebooks, there’s less financial risk on the part of the reader. Don’t particularly like this story? You’re out less than three bucks and maybe 90 minutes of your time.

Because there’s only three guys working on Rancho Diablo, they aren’t coming out as quickly as the Dead Man books. That’s fine; I’ve still got one to read before I’m caught up. After that, though, it’s going to be tough waiting between books.

And these books are only the tip of the ebook iceberg. More and more established authors seem to be turning to self-publishing via ebooks, rather than try to find a place in a traditional system that seems ever-more unfriendly towards the midlist authors. Authors like Peter David, along with friends of his better know for writing Star Trek novels than original material, have just started Crazy 8 Press, to publish their own work. Paul Kupperberg, whose comics I loved in the 80s, has started publishing his own novels as ebooks. Lots of good stuff seems to be coming out now that they don’t have to fight for space on the shelves of traditional bookstores. Plus, authors can continue to make their backlist available, instead of them going out of print.

Of course, there’s plenty of self-published stuff that isn’t necessarily any good. (Note to if I bought a book for my Kindle app on my iPad, that doesn’t mean that you should recommend every other book ever published on the Kindle to me.) So that’s another thing these authors will have to try to compete against. However, even if it means that these authors have to fight to get their work noticed among the crowd, at least it’s out there to be noticed. If Peter David has to publish his non-Trek work himself through Crazy 8, that’s fine, as long as it means there’s more non-Trek Peter David books out there. Because those are the books I want to read.