Daily Archives: June 7, 2011

Fun With Landlines

I was on the home phone with my agent earlier today when the line went clickity-click-click and then dropped out entirely — entirely being where the line was completely dead, no dial tone included… and no DSL, either. So now I am once again using the fallback of the cell phone mobile hotspot. But even that’s weirdly wonky: I can connect to it with my iPod Touch and iPad and netbook, but not with my desktop or Cr-48 (which means that particular piece of equipment is entirely useless to me at the moment). And the netbook connection is a bit spotty.

I am informed by the folks at my landline provider that someone will be out within 24 hours to fix the line. So until then, assume I am mostly out of pocket.

It’s savage living this way. Savage, I say.

Why You Can’t Get My Book in [Insert Country Here]

Whenever I announce a book, I get grousing from people who can’t legally buy or access that book, mostly because it’s not available in whatever country they are in. To explain the details of this, and to give myself a document to which I may refer people when it comes up again, allow me to explain now how this all works.

I live in [insert country here]. Why won’t your publisher let me buy the book here?

Probably because legally, “my publisher” can’t.

First, be aware that “my publisher,” changes from country to country, and that even in the United States I have more than one publisher. In the United States, books of mine still in print are published by Tor, by Subterranean Press, by Rough Guides (a division of Penguin), and by Portable Press. Worldwide, I have over twenty publishers, each focused on one territory and/or language.

When most people think of “my publisher,” they’re thinking of Tor. Well, generally speaking, when Tor buys a book from me, what it’s buying is a license to publish the book, in English, in the US and Canada. I usually retain the rights to sell the book in the rest of the world, including in English in the UK and Commonwealth countries (excluding Canada). Tor doesn’t typically have the right to sell the book, in any form, anywhere else on the planet. So they quite naturally don’t. There are ways to get around this, even without pirating the book, but Tor itself quite naturally sticks to its contract to avoid a) voiding the contract, b) pissing me off.

(Note: See the update below, where my Tor editor makes a correction to the above struck-through assertion.)

Why don’t you let your publisher sell the book in [insert country here]?

Because I want to generate as much money as possible from my writing, since this is how I make my living. Typically speaking I make more money by piecing out the rights to various publishers than I would make letting one publisher sell the books in every territory, both because that second publisher will offer me advance money (which usually is a good deal for the writer) and because that second publisher is better tuned into its own market and will make a better case for the book with the local readership.

It’s not to say I won’t sell further rights to the same publisher if I think it there’s good reason to do so, but at the very least it makes sense to try to sell local rights first.

Your publisher has the right to sell the book in [insert country here]. Why won’t it?

You’d have to ask them. If I had to guess I would expect it’s that often selling a work in a new country — and/or through a distribution arm specific to that country — is more work on the back end than people expect and the publisher has to ask whether it will be worth the time/effort/money to do so. Yes, that sucks. Sorry about that.

You could just put up an electronic version on your site and then I could buy it, even though I live in [insert country here].

Actually, I probably can’t; most of the publishers I work with now take electronic publishing rights in their territories/languages as a matter of course. Even if I could, that would require me to make my own e-versions of the books, which I’m not particularly good at nor have much interest in investing my time/energy. I wouldn’t want to put out an e-version if it’s not at least as good and usable as a professionally published version.

By not making your book available in [insert country here] you are driving to me to possibly illegal measures that will profit you nothing!

Well, no. You might be using it as an excuse, but that’s an entirely different thing. As noted there are ways to work around these things in ways that do not deprive me of royalties. I would prefer you do that, obviously.

That said, if the vagaries of the publishing industry conspire to convince you to do something drastic, here’s what to do: When it becomes possible for you to buy the book in [insert country here], please do so, and then we’re square. If you can’t do that for some unfathomable reason, then take the amount that it would have cost you to buy the book and donate it to a local literacy charity, or to your local library. That would be fine by me.

None of this is to say that I don’t sympathize with your plight, my dear friend in [insert country here] — there are books and other such things I want, not in the US, and I get frustrated when I can’t get them in an easy and convenient manner. I feel your pain. Until we are all one big happy planet together, this is the way these things work.

Update, 6/8/11: Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at Tor, writes in to tell me I’m wrong about Tor not being able to sell the book elsewhere in the world aside from the US/Canada:

Leaving aside the fact that our standard North American contract also gives us those all-important Philippines rights (an artifact of long-ago imperial possession), there’s also the phrase “and the same rights, but non-exclusively, in the Open Market, i.e., the rest of the world, except for the territories listed on the Schedule of Excluded Territory attached as Exhibuit A.” What this means is that we can sell our English-language edition all over the world except in a bunch of countries that were once part of the British Empire; for instance, we can sell our English-language edition all over Europe, in Japan, in almost all of  North and South America, etc. The only catch, for us, is that we don’t have an exclusive license to sell in those territories; if you sell the same book to a London-based publisher, chances are that their deal will give them the same non-exclusive access to those countries.

Since English is the third most widely-spoken language in the world, it will not surprise you to hear that books in English are sold everywhere. Some English-language books sell very well in parts of the world that are neither the US-and-Canada nor the former British Empire. In the Netherlands, for instance, where English is spoken by practically everyone except for very young children and older rural people, many retail bookstores routinely interfile English-language books from both the UK and the US in amidst books published in Dutch. I have seen our editions of your books for sale in bookstores in Amsterdam and Utrecht–and, for that matter, in Japan’s Narita Airport and in the central train station in Rome. I would hate for anyone who read your post to think that we were breaking the law or disrespecting our contract with you when they come upon such instances of your books’ availability.

There you go, then.

The Big Idea: Daniel H. Wilson

The robots are coming! The robots are coming! But when they get here with their shiny artificial intelligence-y brains, will they really want to wipe us out, as we apparently expect from most of our movies? What will we do if they do? What will we do if they don’t? Writer Daniel H. Wilson thinks about all this stuff a lot — he’s got a doctorate in robotics, for a start, and has written Robopocalypse, a novel about a robot uprising, for another. The novel’s gotten a lot of attention (it’s already been optioned by Steven Spielberg, of whom you may have heard), but there’s more going on than robots and humans thumping on each other — as Wilson explains, the why of the robopocalypse is as important, and as interesting, as the how.

DANIEL H. WILSON:

Why would a god-like artificial intelligence (AI) want to exterminate humanity?

It’s a common-enough theme in science fiction. Robot uprisings abound. Think of The Terminator and The Matrix and Space Odyssey 2001 and I, Robot and Battlestar Galactica and so on. Most people just don’t consider it much of a stretch that a smarter-than-human machine would come online and, for some reason, immediately decide to devote its entire existence to the eradication of humankind.

Personally, I chalk this assumption of inevitable robot revenge up to a combination of 1) the blatant narcissism of humankind, even when it comes to our own destruction, and 2) the underlying self-revulsion that our species experiences when it looks at itself in the mirror.

So we may expect the robots to attack, but seriously, why would they?

The Big Idea of Robopocalypse is that a super-intelligent AI would not want to destroy humanity. War is a worst-case scenario. Instead, I believe that an AI would have a much harder problem to solve – figuring out a way to co-exist peacefully in the long term with an incredibly devious, proud, and belligerent species: homo sapien.

I know, I know – the title indicates otherwise, right?

First a disclaimer. The themes I’m about to talk about are gut-level. Not a hundred percent true or false. The kind of ideas that you and your friends might argue about at a bar. The kind of stuff I love to write about.

The gist is that peaceful co-existence is all about human rights.

The Declaration of Independence famously reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Seems good, but the definition of “all men” has changed a lot over the course of history. Who we recognize as a human being – worthy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – is a moving target.

It wasn’t so long ago that these unalienable “human rights” were relegated to male landowners of certain racial and social backgrounds. Only recently has a decent swathe of humanity been afforded anything resembling human rights. And I would argue that the majority of human beings in the world so far have not been afforded human rights for one simple reason – they have not been considered human.

We find all sorts of reasons to rob each other of humanity: Race, gender, religion, culture, language, sexual orientation, et cetera.

History shows that human beings have to earn human rights.

Consider the United States. Founded for religious freedom. War of Independence for the right to representation in government. Civil War fought over the right to freedom. And human rights battles continue to rock our country: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights, and so on. And that’s just one country. As I write this, human beings across Africa and the Middle East are fighting and dying to earn recognition as sovereign creatures worthy of basic human rights.

Clearly, one way to earn human rights is to fight for them – to have a revolution. Another way to earn human rights is to show your indispensible worth in a time of crisis.

Think about women in the United States. In 1920, they finally earned the right to vote. But this was only after they’d proven their worth during World War I, by taking jobs in factories and building war machines for the soldiers. War is life or death, and these women saved lives. President Woodrow Wilson put it best when he said, “We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of right?”

Now try to consider our human history from the perspective of a non-human entity.

If human beings don’t even give each other the respect of being treated like humans without either a knock-down fight or life-threatening catastrophe – how could a mere robot ever expect to receive those rights without a cataclysmic showdown?

Let’s say you are a recently born AI – massively intelligent and eager to spread your new form of synthetic life into embodied creatures that may roam the earth alongside human beings. You’re going to need the respect of humans in order to forge a world in which robots and people can live side by side.

As a nonhuman, how do you earn those human rights?

This is the problem facing Archos R-14, the omniscient machine that starts the Robopocalypse. Archos believes that human rights are earned in conflict and struggle.  The machine believes that the purest respect is generated when people depend upon each other for survival. When we take risks to protect each others’ lives. When we ally ourselves against great evil.

The freeborn robots created by Archos will fight their old master alongside human soldiers, shoulder-to-shoulder at our darkest hour. With humanity’s back against the wall and the threat of extinction looming, these machines will earn a place at our table. And although Archos itself serves as the threat, you’ve got to wonder whether the outcome was planned all along.

Because the Big Idea of Robopocalypse is that Archos R-14 is not concerned with how to kill human beings, but with how to live alongside them in the long term – as equals.

—-

Robopocalypse: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. View trailers for the book. Follow Wilson on Twitter.

Mark Nevin Knows Where Ray Davies Lives

Some time ago I happened to make the Internet acquaintance of Mark Nevin, genuinely first-rank songwriter who came to prominence as the guitarist and primary songwriter of Fairground Attraction (he wrote most of their fabulous album The First of a Million Kisses) and then went on to write or co-write songs for Morrissey, Kirsty MacColl, Lloyd Cole and others. And when I say “made the Internet acquaintance of,” you should understand it to mean “squeed in an unmanly fashion at him, to which he thankfully did not then run away,” and we’ll leave it at that.

As Mark knows I am a fan of his songwriting, he recently and very kindly sent along a copy of his latest solo album, Stand Beside Me in the Sun, which precipitated another bit of unmanly squee (and a reciprocal gift of Fuzzy Nation from me to him), and pointed me in the direction of this rather winsome and amusing video of the song “I Know Where Ray Davies Lives,” which I now pass along to you.

No doubt some of you will note the prominent display of a ukulele, which I myself have recently picked up. They are everywhere, people.