Feeling Spammy

Small technical note:

More comments than usual seem to be getting caught by the spam filter over the last couple of days. I’m hoping this gets trained out of its behavior, but if you find your comment not showing up immediately, this is probably why. And if one never shows up, uh, sorry. Not intentional. Try again. Thanks.

The “I’m Writing This to Totally Make You Jealous” Post

In which I tell you about some of the ARCs I’ve received recently that mean I get to read all the books you want to read before you do. Bwa ha ha ha hah ha! Hi, I’m evil.

Let’s see what we got:

* Saturn’s Children, by Charlie Stross — It’s Stross does late-period Heinlein! Now there’s an image that will haunt your sleep for decades. Charlie actually gave me a peek at this a while ago, and I immensely enjoyed what I read, but then a computer implosion basically took that file away from me. Yes, we pause to shed a tear here. But now I have it! In ARC form! And lo, there was much happiness. It comes out in July, friends. Suffer until then.

* Ink and Steel, by Elizabeth Bear — “Queen Elizabeth rules by wit and by will, but magic keeps her on the throne…” reads the cutline. Well, yeah. I thought everyone knew that. Bear’s output makes me feel like a slacker, and there aren’t that many writers who can make me feel like that. The next time I see Bear, I’ll have to tell her that: “You make me feel like no other writer!” And then, the tasering will commence, I suppose. This also hits in July.

* The Edge of Reason, by Melinda Snodgrass — Patrick Nielsen Hayden described to me thusly: “a contemporary metaphysical thriller about the secret battle between the forces of rationality and the Old Ones From Beyond Time, the latter of whom are using superstition and religion as the means by which to knock over the barriers that prevent them from breaking through and eating our brains.” Really, he and Snodgrass had me at the brain-eating. I’m very excited about this one, and for the rest of you, you have until May to put your brains under lock and key.

* The Prefect, by Alastair Reynolds — This book was already nominated for the BSFA Best Novel award this year, so you could say it comes with a recommendation to you from all of British fandom. Which, you know. Is nice. And it’s set in Reynold’s Revelation Space universe, so fans of that have something to look forward to. In June. Which is when you’ll read it. After me. Ha!

* Lonely Werewolf Girl, by Martin Millar — As Publishers Weekly blithely summarizes: “Young werewolf skulks around London and struggles with anxiety and eating disorders while scores of subplots merrily explode around her.” Well, and isn’t that always the way, when you’re a young werewolf? That’s the way it was for me. Hmmm. I suspect I may have said too much right there. The publication date here is April 20, but Amazon says it has it in stock. So I can’t hold my ability to read it before you over you this time. Curse you, Amazon, for denying my cheap and tawdy attempts at literary superiority! We hates Amazonzes, Precious! We hates them forever!

Go on, admit you’re jealous. I’ll still respect you. Really.

Cover This

Tor art director Irene Gallo, prompted by a blog post by Pyr publisher Lou Anders, talks a bit about cover art and what “works” and why when it comes to sf/f fantasy books, and notes a point that many people who gripe about covers miss:

… as much as I’d like it to be otherwise, I am not really hired for my personal preferences on cover art, but rather to get books past book buyers. If the books don’t make it into the stores in the first place, readers can’t buy them in the second place.

Which is to say that cover art is explicitly commercial art; it’s designed first to convince shopkeepers that this book will move, and second to convince readers in a glance what the book is about and that it’s worth their time. In a book series there’s a third dimension as well, which is maintaining a consistency in feel across a series. There’s a reason that the cover to Zoe’s Tale is by John Harris and features spaceships: Because every other cover in the OMW series is by John Harris and features spaceships. If there’s a fifth book in the OMW universe, it very likely to have a John Harris cover, and feature, yes, spaceships. The cover to Jay Lake’s Escapement is by Stephan Martiniere and features an airship because the cover to the first book in the series… well, you get the idea.

Would people buy Zoe’s Tale or Escapement without a cover consistent to their series? I like to think they would, but you might lose that sort of single-reflex, automatically-familiar snatch-and-grab motion that this pattern of familiarity (hopefully) engenders. Tor (and the booksellers) want you to be able to recognize on OMW-series book across a crowded bookstore and home in on it like a heat-seeking missile. And for matter, you know, so do I. So I’m glad I like my OMW series covers, and hope nothing bad ever happens to John Harris, as long as I’m writing in that universe.

What’s interesting to me is how the cover dynamic changes, depending on the audience. For example, here are two covers for two different editions of Old Man’s War:

The first is the Tor trade paperback edition. It’s designed to speak to booksellers, as in “Look! John Harris spaceships! John Harris covers are on lots of successful science fiction books! Like Ender’s Game! You sell a lot of Ender’s Game! You’ll sell a lot of this, too! And look! Sci Fi says it’s essential! Essential books must sell! And look! Here’s a quote comparing the author to Heinlein, who, while dead, still sells! Lots! Sell! Sell! Sell!”

Note that I am not mocking Tor for doing this. We did, in fact, sell tons of the trade paperback of OMW, and the cover went a long way in selling to book to the booksellers. This cover did its job, and is a pretty cool cover at that. I’m deeply appreciative to Tor (and to John Harris, and Irene Gallo) for the work.

The second cover is the Subterranean Press limited hardcover edition of OMW. It’s not aimed at booksellers, because most of Subterranean’s business is direct to readers — and not just readers, but collectors, many if not most of whom have read the books they will now buy in this limited edition. This is what this cover says to them: “Hey, remember that time in Old Man’s War where the human soldiers totally squished those inch high aliens with their boots? Yeah, that was cool.” It’s still commercial art; it’s just commercial in another direction, and to another audience. This cover did its job, too, and is also a cool cover. So thanks here to Bill Schafer and artist Vincent Chong.

One of the interesting questions that writers and publishers will face in the presumed ascendency of electronic books, whenever it will happen, is whether “cover art” will survive the translation into an electronic medium. My suspicion is that it will because of its function — it’s advertising for the book. Whether it’s packaged with the text, or part of a Web page promoting the work or whatever, it’ll still be around, as long as it does the job of getting people to take a look at the text inside.