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By TheophileEscargot (Mon Apr 26, 2010 at 02:12:04 PM EST) Reading, Watching, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "The Revolution Business". Watching: "Centurion".

What I'm Reading
Finished The Revolution Business, latest entry in the Merchant Princes parallel-world series by Charles Stross.

Not as bad as the last one, where the heroine basically sat on a train for the whole book: has a few interesting developments. Apparently one problem with the early part was that the publishers insisted on slicing up the story into different volumes than originally intended, so some bits just didn't make sense, like a single chapter with characters totally isolated from the rest of the action. That seems to have been sorted out now. However, I don't think Stross has really got the hang of epic-fantasy style plotting: you really need a kind of Fourier synthesis of a book-level story arc with some kind of climax, and a series-level story line. Instead he just has a series of events with a fairly pointless cliffhanger at the end (the synopsis of the next book reveals it anyway).

At the beginning of the series the interesting ideas and economics carried it through, but there's not much new in this volume.

Even so, I do want to find out what happens so I'll probably keep following the series, but as with this one I'll wait for a cheap paperback or library copy rather than grabbing the initial hardback as I did at first.

What I'm Watching
Saw low budget Britflick Centurion at the cinema. Loosely based on the legend of the Ninth legion. In Roman Britain a small group of survivors of a legion massacred by Picts in Scotland tries to make it to safety.

Starts off reasonably well, but gets steadily more boring after the first half-hour or so, for a number of reasons. The budget for extras and CGI seems to evaporate after that, so instead of a legion you just have a handful of characters, with fight scenes a bit reminiscent of those embarassing documentary-history reenactments.

If you're going to have a movie where the protagonists are remorselessly pursued, the pursuers really need to look scarily remorseless. Here though the chief pursuers are slightly-built young women, and the dramatic tension of "will our rugged hero get beaten up by a girl" isn't that terrific.

Also, the plot is predictable, and with both sides depicted unsympathetically it's hard to care too much about the group.

So, nice idea, but not really recommended. Nicely OTT turn from Dominic West as a hardbitten Roman general though.

Text. Long, interesting Richard Seymour article on UK racism. Evolution of Cosmpolitan magazine.

Politics. UK Polling Report on the YouGov regional polling: uniform swing gives CON 245, LAB 273, LD 100; but this suggests both Con and Lib Dems will do slightly better with CON 262, LAB 245, LD 111.

< The Enchiridion | The People vs. Star, Little >
By your command | 11 comments (11 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Vonnegut in Cosmo by georgeha (2.00 / 0) #1 Mon Apr 26, 2010 at 04:23:54 PM EST
the mind reels.

I suppose "Always wear sunscreen when you're skinny dipping to protect your hoo haa" works.

Although by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #2 Mon Apr 26, 2010 at 04:34:17 PM EST
a substantial theme of Breakfast of Champions is that of Kilgore Trout's stories only being published in porn magazines.

[ Parent ]
I love the title by purr (2.00 / 0) #3 Mon Apr 26, 2010 at 10:23:14 PM EST
of your diary posting.
Life is good when you are young. Then it sucks when you are old. And then you die. Live it while you got it.
Stross by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #4 Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 03:51:28 AM EST
I've stopped reading/buying his stuff. There's a few neat ideas but the quality of what surrounds it is terribly random.

Got to agree by jump the ladder (2.00 / 0) #5 Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 05:36:09 AM EST
He seems to have lost his way a lot recently.

[ Parent ]
Problem is by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #6 Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 06:56:00 AM EST
He started this series when he was good, and I want to find out what happens.

I think Stephen Baxter has the same problem; to make a living they seem to need to churn out about 4 books per year and the quality suffers.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Baxter's stuff by jump the ladder (2.00 / 0) #8 Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 07:33:34 AM EST
Didn't like his time travelling series with the weaver but the rest of his recent suff has been pretty good like Flood and Ark (which was a real page turner).

[ Parent ]
One or two books a year by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #10 Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 05:40:26 PM EST
Publishing has high fixed costs and low variable costs, so a publisher makes much more money off one book than sells 100,000 copies than off four books that sell 25,000 copies each. I think the economics are frightening for the individual author. Most fiction authors don't make a living. Perhaps an author has a few books that sell well, but if he is to remain a commercial author and not be forced back to the day job he needs to continue to score high sales figures.

What is especially scary is that science fiction requires novelty and one might even say meta-novelty. Think about Charlie writing a second Accelerando. Even if the ideas were, in detail, new and the second book were as good as the first, it would still be yet another Singularity-wow book and not sell as well.  Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise built and populated an entertaining universe, but it would be self-niching to write a third. The author needs to stop at two and come up with something fresh for his next book or sales will flag.

Obviously a commerical author has to finish and publish the books he writes, but the commercial pressure is to make the next book better so fans love it, his reputation builds, it sells more copies, and reaps the rewards of low variable costs. I think that authors feel this acutely because sales are not only the cause of the royalty cheques that pay bills, but sales determine the size of the advance for the next book. The author is always trying to do better and the danger is that he will choke on this.

It feels rather odd to be writing in this impersonal and critical thread because I looked after Charlie's cats while he was in Japan, and when I returned them this afternoon he gave me a copy of The Revolution Business. I enjoy his books and it feels natural for me to praise them. However, given my curious  and unorthodox taste in books it is unclear whether my praise would recommend them to others.

[ Parent ]
Not sure if quality affects sales that much by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #11 Wed Apr 28, 2010 at 02:24:40 PM EST
It might be that a bad book still sells 80% as much as a good one. However good it is, non-Stross fans probably won't be interested; however bad it is, fans will probably still buy it.

Lately with Stross: I probably won't buy "Saturn's Children", I bought "The Revolution Business" in paperback instead of hardback, not sure if I'll buy "The Fuller Memorandum" but certainly won't get the hardback.

So if he'd taken his time and written one good book rather than three mediocre ones, from me it would only mean he got a hardback sale rather than a paperback sale. If I give in on the last one, he might even still get two paperback sales instead of a hardback; so he'd still get more money from me by writing quickly and badly.

Maybe I should make more of an effort to boycott authors who start phoning it in. At the moment, with my wallet I'm voting for two average books as worth more than one really good one.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Shame about Centurion by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #7 Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 07:11:18 AM EST
I thought it could be really good. Might wait for the DVD.

Keep an eye out for Valhalla Rising, another mixed bag but a very dark, interesting take on paganism vs Christianity in the wild fringes of Europe. Again though, it goes rapidly downhill from a brilliant first half.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Others might like it more by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #9 Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 01:52:34 PM EST
The reviews seem a bit mixed.

I've waitlisted Valhalla Rising on Lovefilm now, cheers.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
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