Daily Archives: December 29, 2006

Books to Spend Your Gift Cards On

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All this talk about marketing and publicist guidelines and so on reminds me that there’s a stack of books on my desk that I’ve been meaning to chat about for a while but which I’ve neglected to because I’ve been all about me recently. Well, enough about me, let’s talk about some of these books for a while.

1. The Blonde, by Duane Swierczynski — Swierczynski’s a man after my own heart because he’s clearly a follower of the Theory of First Sentences, which states that the first sentence of your book damn well better grab your reader by the throat and then drag their eyes down the rest of the page. Anyone’s who’s read The Android’s Dream will tell you that I’m a subscriber of this theory myself, so it’s nice to see another member of the secret club. No, I’m not going to tell you the sentence. You should read it yourself. I will tell you the tagline on the back of the book, though: “It’s your typical love story: Boy meets girl. Girl kidnaps boy. Boy loses girl and is pursued by a professional killer carrying a decapitated head in a gym bag.” Boy, if I had a dollar for every time that happened to me.

Anyway, this is a fun hard-boiled thriller with just the tiniest dash of science fiction dropped in, and you’ll like it or I’ll send ferrets to chew off your toes. No, really. I will. I’ve just roped Swierczynski into an Author Interview, so you’ll have a chance to learn a little more about him in the next couple of weeks. But in the meantime, check this one out.

2. Hart & Boot & Other Stories, by Tim Pratt — Speaking of Author Interviews, another fellow I’ll harangued into an interview is Tim Pratt, and a good thing too, since I’m on a short story kick and this is a fine collection of a baker’s dozen of his stories. So I plan to learn all his secrets and suck his brain dry and leave him an enervated husk. Don’t tell him; it’s meant to be a surprise. The title story of this collection, incidentally, was selected for The Best American Short Stories 2005 anthology by Michael Chabon. Yeah, I don’t know who he is, either. But he does have pretty good taste, apparently.

3. Trial of Flowers, by Jay Lake — I’m a little behind on this one, since it came out in September, and I actually read it after Mainspring, Jay’s upcoming novel from Tor (which I liked quite a bit). I like this one too; one of the things I find interesting about it is how different it is from Mainspring, in various interesting ways. I think of Jay a bit like I think of Elizabeth Bear: writers who apparently won’t be satisfied until they write in every possible sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy. This is not a criticism, especially since (so far, at least) Jay and Bear are showing they have the chops for it. I think it also means that fans of Jay Lake’s work are ultimately fans of Jay Lake, and like the idea the he sprints after his muse no matter what direction she wanders off to.

4. Dreadful Skin, by Cherie Priest — This one’s not out until March, so I won’t go into too much detail now, but suffice to say that my reader crush on Cherie continues unabated. Don’t worry, my wife knows. And approves! Because she likes to read Cherie too. Remember that while you’re waiting, you can read the first third at the Subterranean Press Web site.

5. The Future is Queer, edited by Richard Labonte and Lawrence Schimel — What? An anthology of queer science fiction? Dude, that’s so gay. It’s also pretty good, although I have to confess that outside of Neil Gaiman and editor Lawrence Schimel, I’m entirely unfamiliar with the folks in this anthology. This is a feature, not a bug — it’s nice to read people I haven’t read yet — and I expect it says more about my need to read more widely in SF than the obscurity of the authors in the collection, since people in it have won Arthur C. Clarke and Tiptree awards, and have been nominated for the Nebula. I am abashed in my ignorance. I’m working to correct it.

6. Trouble Magnet, by Alan Dean Foster — Someone at Del Rey unwittingly has my number, because I feel about Alan Dean Foster pretty much the way I feel about the rock band Journey, which is to say he’s someone whose work I gorged on in my younger years and enjoyed so much that even today my residual affection for the author inclines me to enjoy his work fairly independent of the work itself. Incidentally, I think this says something very positive about Foster, because something like that doesn’t actually happen without talent. Foster has this science fiction thing down, he gives fine value for the money, and you walk away satisfied with the reading experience in no small part because Foster is extremely competent at the writing craft, and that baseline competence is, alas, always underrated (as it was, incidentally, with Journey, the members of which, individually, were amazing musicians). Now, clearly, I understand that not everyone wants a Journey-like experience in their science fiction literature; that’s fine. Just means more for me.

Hey, if there are any books written in the last year or upcoming that you’d like to plug, the comment thread is a fine place to do it. This is a non-self-pimping thread, however: Promote other people’s good works, if you would. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for self-pimpery here at other times, trust me.

And Now, On an Entirely Self-Serving Note

Hey, now that I think about it, why wasn’t I tagged by Microsoft for their nifty “here’s a laptop with some Vista on it” promotion? I totally have a higher Technorati ranking than most of these dudes! I get 25,000 visitors a day! I’ve got a punchy, engaging prose style! Clearly, there was an error in the selection process. They should send me that laptop with Vista on it. Also, Office 2007. And an Xbox 360 with the optional HD-DVD drive and Gears of War. And a pony. Which I know is not something that Microsoft usually produces or markets, but, you know. They have to make it up to me.

Indeed, I don’t know why I’m not entirely flooded by tech gadgets from tech publicists and marketeers all the time. I am the disposable income demographic. That’s all I’m saying. Tech folks, you know where I am, and you know how to get your stuff to me. I’ll be waiting. Oh, yes. Waiting.

World Domination via Blog Marketing: Don’t Hold Your Breath

Dean Esmay (who has a new book out, incidentally — congratulations, Dean!) pointed to my Publicist Guidelines yesterday as part of a larger column about a recent Microsoft blogger publicity attempt, in which Microsoft and its PR company Edelman shipped off bitchin’ new laptops with Windows Vista on them to a selected number of bloggers so they could try out the new OS — and, oh, yeah, they could keep the laptops after they were done looking at Vista.

This incensed geek overlord Joel Spolsky, who accused Microsoft of trying to bribe bloggers, which in turn prompted Esmay to tell Spolsky to take a nice cold shower. Now Microsoft is taking the position that, uh, the bloggers should, like, you know, give back the laptops they were told they could keep, a position which, strangely, some of them find annoying. Some intend to keep the thing (or give it to family or friends) and others are going to auction it off.

There are two things here. First, Microsoft wasn’t trying to bribe the bloggers, it was trying to overwhelm their tiny little brain circuits by throwing such sweet swag at them that the bloggers would explode with joy all over their blogs, and also mention Vista. Speaking as someone who spent years in the fetid swag pits of movie reviewing, giving away a computer as swag is excessive but not entirely outside the realm of publicity strategies. Excessive though it may be, I see it as basically harmless, as bloggers tend to be deliriously transparent about these things, and everyone with a brain larger than the size of a walnut is going to internally adjust their bias filters as soon as the blogger writes “Dude, Microsoft sent me this.”

I’m more interested in Spolsky’s cri de coeur about the evils of marketing in the blogosphere. Spolsky’s main concern seems to be that Microsoft is corrupting the credibility of the whole blog world by its nefarious attempts at publicity. I’m not especially persuaded by this line of thinking, first because I’m not sure how Microsoft is acting differently than any other corporation trying to convince consumers to buy its latest product. How dare Microsoft try to generate conversation in its products! It’s just a plot to get people to buy Vista! Well, yes. That’s indeed the point.

Leaving aside the idea of Microsoft being pure, unmitigated evil that destroys everything it touches, Spolsky is falling victim of a series of misapprehensions. First to the misapprehension that the blog world has monolithic standards on anything, which it doesn’t, second to the misapprehension that there was a halcyon time when the people who wrote blogs steadfastly refused the predations of commerce, which there wasn’t, third to the misapprehension that the blog world, as a whole, has any measurable standard of credibility, which is news to me, and fourth to the misapprehension that blog writers ought to have some obligation to act in a professional manner or only write about particular things in a particular manner, which, believe me, they surely do not. If the blogosphere has a motto, it would be “You’re Not The Boss of Me,” and Joel Spolsky is just as much not the boss as anyone else. His ability to dictate the policies of the blogosphere end at the borders of his own blog.

Likewise, I think Spolsky is deeply undervaluing one aspect of the blog world, which is that the sheer mass and diversity of the blogoverse means that it’s difficult for anyone to get away with much of anything. Microsoft decides to hand out free PCs; here comes Spolsky (and others) to complain about it. The result is that the publicity spin of the event is already out of Microsoft’s hands and curving away in an unexpected fashion. This is how the blog world works, precisely because it isn’t a monolith. Also, Spolsky appears to be under the impression that blog readers are stupid, and they don’t recognize blatant publicity handwaving when they see it, and neglect to factor accordingly. In this he is just as far behind the times as the marketers who are under the impression they can somehow control the blog dialogue about a product by putting it in blogger hands.

Now, Spolsky should know this already because he nabbed the same Sprint phone offer I did, hated the phone, and crapped all over it. Spolsky worries that getting a nice toy will cause some bloggers to feel some sort of reciprocity toward the toy giver, but inasmuch as he himself stands as an example of how that doesn’t work, I’m not entirely sure why he feels that other bloggers will fall into the trap he himself avoided, or why the blogger’s readership won’t see through transparent and blatant marketing for what it is.

I think Spolsky’s big problem is that he doesn’t like being seen as a dancing monkey by tech marketers and has decided not to play their games any more. This is of course fine; good for him. I support his lifestyle choice and wish him all the best. It should not imply that bloggers who are trying out tech doodads are being turned into zombie marketeers for the loss-leader price of a shiny new toy, or that, even if they are, their readers are guilelessly swallowing the lines these zombie blogger marketeers are feeding out. People aren’t entirely stupid, and the blog world shows a startlingly robust tendency toward overall transparency. No one in the blog world, blogger or reader, gets gulled unless they want to.

Since Dean Esmay points to my publicist guidelines as an example of perfectly ethical blogger behavior when it comes to marketing, it’s worth asking what I would do, if Microsoft asked me if I wanted the shiny new laptop with the Vista operating system on it. My first impulse is that I would ask if I could just get a copy of Vista Ultimate instead, because I already have several computers in the house, including the new one, which is more than Vista-ready. Also, as a practical matter, it’s useless to talk about an OS without talking about the process of installing it, so sending me a computer with it already installed is missing the point. If Microsoft insisted that I take the computer, after I was done using it I’d probably give it to my daughter and then take the computer she’s currently using and donate it either to her school or the local library.

Would this mean Microsoft is trying to use me? Well, duh. They’re trying use me just as much as book publishers are trying to use me when they send me book to mention in the Whatever, or DVD distributors are trying to use me in my guise as a DVD reviewer. This is axiomatic. Moreover, I am trying to use them as well. Why did I start reviewing music when I was in college? Because I was broke and it was a way to get free music. In the late 90s when I seriously got into video games, I started up a video game reviewing site (Gamedad) because in addition to offering a service that didn’t yet exist (reviews with clueless parents in mind), it also allowed me to get all the games I wanted at no cost to me. Today, I talk about books here on the Whatever and do author interviews on By The Way not only because I want to promote really excellent authors and books, but because — much to the despair of my wife, who lives to fight clutter — I also get tons of books coming my way, many of which I would not have known about otherwise (I still buy books, too, since I like giving money to writers I like. More clutter. More despair from my wife).

As far as technology is concerned, I am interested in it and do write about it, so being approached by any tech company to try out their wares just means I have more things to play with and write about. I’m not going to be corrupted if they don’t their toys back because, honestly. My price is so much higher than that.