Monthly Archives: March 2013

The New Yorker Rejects Itself: A Quasi-Scientific Analysis of Slush Piles

One of interest to writers and would be writers.

It began as the kind of logical argument that seems airtight to anyone who has never studied logic.

If the New Yorker is the most desirable literary magazine in the world, and if the New Yorker can have any short story the New Yorker wants, then whatever story the New Yorker gets would—logically—be so intrinsically desirable that all lesser literary pubs (e.g., everyone) would pine for it. Just like the prettiest girl at the dance: the guy she picks is the guy chicks dig. Basic deduction 101.

After a few glasses of two-buck Chuck I was ready to test my hypothesis. I grabbed a New Yorker story off the web (no, it wasn’t by Alice Munro or William Trevor), copied it into a Word document, changed only the title, created a fictitious author identity, and submitted it to a slew of literary journals, all of whom regularly grace the TOC of Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, O’Henry, etcetera and etcetera. My cover letter simply stated that I am an unpublished writer deeply appreciative of their consideration.

. . . .

That was it. I sowed the seed, and waited.

. . . .

Dear reader, every single one of these journals rejected my poor New Yorker story with the same boilerplate “good luck placing your work elsewhere” auto-text that has put the lid on my own sorry submissions. Not a single personal pleasantry.

. . . .

Still, my work wasn’t done! No scientific experiment can be taken seriously unless it is reproduced, and so I grabbed yet another story, this one by a rather celebrated youngish New Yorker author (not Zadie Smith or Karen Russell) and repeated the process. The results, as scientists so often say when describing a perfectly corroborated protocol, were “elegant.”

Thus ended my life in research.

. . . .

A part of me really wanted to be outed, to have some vigilant editor write back and say, “Nice try. Consider yourself blacklisted.” Or even to put me in the horribly awkward position of an acceptance! That would mean there’s hope, that open submissions weren’t  just, in so many cases, empty gestures.

While academic publications are subject to rules of their own, I suspect that the same is true in any kind of publishing and it does expose the problem of traditional publishing. The reason for traditional publishing existence has always been that it sorts through the rubbish so the reader doesn’t have to. The problem being that it doesn’t appear to be very good at it. With every big success in literature there is always a tale about how they tried for years before someone finally ‘took a chance’ on them (JK Rowling springs to mind).  While it is true the ‘good’ is wildly subjective would be writers tend to figure out pretty quickly that publishing is roll of the dice. Hardily then surprising writers – some very good writers at that – are sidestepping the gatekeepers to reach the readers directly. Traditional Publishing’s future depends on showing the reading public that their label actually means something.

REFERENCES

This comes from The Review Review and the full version can be found here.

This abbreviated version came from The Passive Voice.

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Warrington bomb 20th anniversary

A minute’s silence will be observed in Warrington to mark the 20th anniversary of the IRA bomb attack in which two boys died.

BBC News

My old home town.

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Ships of the Fleet – K Class Courier

Background

At present the best human Faster Than Light transmitters are limited to no more one point five pulses per second. With such low bandwidth, the role of the courier has always been essential for maintaining contact between Earth and its colony worlds. The K Class began to enter service in 2057, replacing the I class by the beginning of 2060. Currently the fleet’s primary courier, the K Class is a modified version of the highly successful Boeing 235 family; it continues the fleet policy of buying in and militarizing commercial courier designs as opposed to developing an in-house design.  The K Class is the most numerous jump capable vessel in service and expected to serve to the end of the 2060’s.

K Class Courier K7

K Class Courier K7

Design Details

As with all courier designs, the K Class is very spartan. A light weight hull wrapped around the very minimum systems required to make high speed runs from Earth to Landfall and Dryad. With the reactor and engines housed in the bulbous rear mount and the jump drive in the prominent ‘chin’ which has given rise to the class’s nickname of Desperate Dan. The most significant difference between the K Class and their civilian counterparts is to be found in the machinery spaces, with the original three vent sub light engines replaced with a five vent system. This gives the K’s a twelve percent acceleration advantage over the civilian models, making them currently the fastest human vessels (excluding dedicated racers). However the structural strength of the hull has not been increased to compensate and at full power there is a danger of full structural failure. This is a matter Fleet policy that couriers should be as fast as possible, with speed being their principal defence. However in peacetime the class is subject to restrictions limiting maximum thrust to seventy five percent of maximum.

Going full burn

Going full burn

Service

With no centrifuge and minimum the K’s are not considered to be standalone starships. A minimum of two crews are assigned to each ship, flying alternate missions. In addition to courier duties, the K’s are used to make high priority personnel transfers, with space for up to four individuals in addition to the crew.

On approach to Landfall

On approach to Landfall

In addition to its peacetime role a conversion pack has been developed to allow the K’s to serve as deep space scouts, thereby freeing up larger vessels for combat roles. The K Class has also been the basis of the A Class Escort Boat and B Class Strike boats, although these have only been produced in small numbers to date.

Personnel transfer to River Class Cruiser

Personnel transfer to River Class Cruiser

Details

Length: 38 Metres

Beam: 8 Metres

Height: 10 Metres

Crew: 6 + 4 passengers

Armour: None

Armament: None

Endurance: 20 days

Number Built: 28 + 4 under construction.+

The Nameless war now available on Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

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Weapons in the Battle Fleet Universe

Lasers:

The laser is a tight beam of coherent photons that is projected over significant distances. A laser weapon systems greatest advantage lies in its status as a light speed weapon. The target will only become aware it is under fire when struck. It is also the only known form of energy weapon that will function effectively within planetary atmosphere. While laser based weapon systems are used in ground based point defence batteries and the Star Forts of Planetary Defence, to date Battle Fleet has declined to arm any ships with laser weapon systems. This reluctance stems from a number of inherent problems. Against all but the most fragile target the beam will be required to focus on one location long enough to achieve a burn through. Under combat conditions with both target and firing maneuvering, this may difficult to achieve, especially if the target is armoured, thus requiring an even longer focus period. Exacerbating this problem is the localised nature of any damage inflicted, on the target. At present laser weapon systems are used as primary armament by most of the star nations of the the Tample and in the point defence systems of the Aellr.

Laser cannon

Plasma Cannons:

Standard anti-ship weapon system in both Battle Fleet and the Aellr Defence Fleet, this weapon launches a bolt of fusion temperature plasma at high speed. The bolt integrity is maintained by magnetic field, generated with bolt by a device known in human service as a sustainer rod. While the rod itself is vaporised within moments of the bolt being formed within the cannon firing chamber, the magnetic field fades only over the course of several seconds. The bolt is launched via an modified railgun type assembly. The dissipation effect means a hit from plasma bolt at point blank, will strike with considerably more force than at extreme range. The plasma cannon is not a light speed weapon therefore across standard fighting ranges more deflection will have to be applied to compensate. Starships are equipped with four or more guns to allow them to fire salvo at four subtly different location, to cover all possible locations of the target by the time the plasma bolts arrive. While there are currently numerous versions of plasma cannon in service they can be broadly broken down into three categories: Light, Standard and Heavy. Light are found on destroyers and other small craft. They have the short range at only 60,000 kilometres but the lowest weight and power requirements. Standard size is the most numerous form is found and provides cruiser classes with their primary armament. These weapons are considered effective out to 100,000 kilometres. Heavy Plasma Cannons are currently at the pinnacle of energy weapon technology. While at least twice the size of contemporary Standard Plasma Cannons with a matching power requirement, they allow Battleships to deal out shattering damage at ranges up to 160,000 kilometres.

Plasma Cannon 1Plasma Cannon 2Plasma Cannon 3

The only significant difference between Human and Aellr is in terms of physical dimensions. Aellr plasma cannon are roughly two thirds the size of contemporary Human designs.

Railgun:

A railgun is an electrically powered electromagnetic projectile launcher firing unguided projectiles along a ballistic course. While impact is likely to prove catastrophic for any vessel, irrespective of armour or any other passive defences, the relative slowness of the projectiles and the lag between firing and impact mean a direct hit is unlikely against a maneuvering target at standard combat ranges. However the sheer lethality of large caliber railgun rounds means that even at standard range, they can be used to break up an opposing starship formations. In recent years Battle Fleet has sought means by which the effective range of Railguns might be improved. Ammunition with proximity fuses have entered service and linked fire from several ships concentrated on one target, hemming it in has been experimented with.railgun turret

Flakgun:

A sub category of the Railgun, the Flakgun is designed for long ranged defence against fighters and missiles. Flakguns have a higher rate of fire and smaller explosive projectiles. To date Flakguns are only found in Battle Fleet and even there only in a handful of dedicated escort craft. Flak guns have been developed in single, double and quad mounts.

Flakgun

Missiles

Self propelled guided projectile. Common to all of the known races while details and level of sophistication alter between them. In theory able to inflect far greater damage than any of the gun types, the requirement for a missile to close on a manoeuvrings target and penetrate point defence fire makes these subordinate weapons to guns. In Aellr and Human the missile is seen as a mid range weapon to be used against target already damaged and slowed by gunfire. Where they are used at longer range, it is generally in massed salvos, to saturate defensive fire.

Point Defence:

Point Defence can be loosely described as a collection of small, low powered versions of the weapons listed above designed to provide a ship with an active defence against fighters and missiles. With short effective ranges they are not suitable for anti-ship roles and are the only weapon type to be routinely found on non-military vessels – for protection against micro-meteorites. At present the Aellr have tended to favor Plasma pulse guns, while the Mhar have only been able to manufacture small caliber railguns. The Tample use a mix of small lasers and railguns, while humanity uses a mixture of all three.

Point defence 1Point defence 2Point defence Laser

The Nameless war now available on Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

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Smashing On Through With Minimum Swearing

A shameless and somewhat overdue plug. After several months of quality procrastination I have finally got Book one up on the Smashwords system.

So that means the Nameless war can now be found on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords and for those of you who prefer their reading more analog here.

The Smashword wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Admittedly I didn’t try to do anything complicated. The text was nuked (put into notepad to remove all formatting because WORD puts in all kinds of nonsense) and then the formatting had to be put back in. That second part was largely why it took so long for me to get it done. There is a convention that ship names are in Italics. That is a lot of italics to put back in.

Book Two will be put onto Kobo and Smashwords in the next month and a half.

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Bit like being told what a sweet, pretty victim you are by your mugger

Came across the following on John Scalzi blog and felt it was worth passing on for writers and would be writers.

A Contract From AlibiMarch 6, 2013 By John Scalzi

So, don’t ask me how, but I have in my hands (from what I consider a reputable source) a contract from Alibi, which is the sibling imprint of Hydra, the Random House imprint that I thumped on roundly in the previous entry. You will recall that I thumped on Hydra because its contractual terms were so heinous to authors (including, but not limited to, offering no advances). Well, it appears that Alibi’s standard boilerplate contract is no less horrible than — or, more accurately, it appears to be exactly as horrible as — Hydra’s contract was reported to be. This suggests to me that the contracts for Flirt and Loveswept, Random House’s other two eBook imprints in this grouping, are likely to have similar boilerplate.Shall we dive in? Oh, let’s!

But before we do, just to have this out there:

THIS IS A HORRIBLE AWFUL TERRIBLE APPALLING DISGUSTING CONTRACT WHICH IS BAD AND NO WRITER SHOULD SIGN IT EVER.

The rest which is well worth reading can be found here

The publishing industry has of course been buffeted in recent years by the winds of change but this kind of thing really does make you wonder at the thinking within traditional publishing. Sure there have been writers that had one huge hit but in the ranks of writing they are the aberrations. Most successful writing careers are based on a succession of books. Terry Pratchett, Stephan King, JK Rowling to name but a few. Sure they have had individually successful books but the bulk of their success is based on the number of titles each had written over the course of decades.

I have heard that a massive percent of traditionally published books failed to turn a profit and every best seller subsidized a dozen flops. So I’m guessing the thinking here is:

  1. If it is a flop the publisher covers their own costs at the writers expense
  2. If a success the writer is tied to the publisher for at least a second book.

Flawed thinking to my mind since writing is a hard way to earn a living especially when you’re not being paid. Offering a contract that a writer will want to get out of a soon as they realize how little they are going to get for their efforts seem evidence of short-term, no-further-than-the-next-quarters-figures thinking. A strange attitude to take when success takes time. It may even kill a few promising writing careers after all, who wants to be played for a fool?

Note: Blog title came from a commenter on the Scalzi page going by the name Mark Terry

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When to let go of the setting

Recently a reviewer commented about that he would like to see the Nameless War/Battle Fleet setting go on beyond the Trilogy that is currently WIP in progress. Certainly friends and family have joked about me writing a trilogy in seventeen part (which I am categorically NOT doing) but when should a writer walk away from a setting?

Now to my mind a setting where as a reader you can only imagine it supporting one story is not a very good one (a statement some of you may disagree with) a setting should have space in which other stories can happen.  That being said I don’t like stories where it is the same character(s) saving the world again, and again, and again, and again… which is probably one reason why I never got into comic books. However I don’t mind where the writer reuses a setting with new characters; in fact I’ve come across writers who as one hero rode off into the sunset, moved a new character or a previous sidekick centre stage and have made it work very well. Even so every setting will I think soon or later hit the wall. Whether because events have altered the setting or characters so drastically that further adventures will seem forced or the need to do something new, makes the later works so different from the first they really should be separate setting.

Of course I am – and am content to be – an amateur, not a professional[1] writer. The money I make is a supplement to rather than my income and I don’t have a publisher on my back demanding that my next book reuse my most popular character or setting. Walking away from a successful setting means rolling the dice in terms or whether you can bring your readers with you. Stay in the creative comfort zone however and a writer may go stale (how often have you through: I loved his/her early stuff but the new is rubbish) So the decision for the professional must be a desperately nerve-racking one.

As I mentioned in a previous post the Nameless War  was not the book I set out to write. What would now be a prequel was in fact the story I intended to tell. Since I know how book three and the trilogy as a whole will end, I know the Battle Fleet Universe has a lot of room for further stories. I have some rough ideas for further events and perhaps even side events, which could fill anywhere between one and three books. But only rough ideas since I’m not going to waste thinking time which could be more productively used on the book I’m actually writing. Beyond that however I have at this point no real desire to go further because I think the setting would have gone as far as it could do. Anything more would be at best the lesser son of a greater sire.

Also like a good entertainer I believe you should leave your audience wanting more[2]

[1] My definition of Professional being anyone who relies on writing as their primary revenue source  (if that seems a little clinical I would remind that a work in accounts so I’m never going to take a fluffy view of money)

[2] although not too much more – I don’t want to be lynched.

ON AN ENTIRELY UNRELATED NOTE

I haven’t forgotten about Ships of the Fleet. I started work on the Luna Class Cruisers (Deimos) but then the muse clocked on and frankly when she say jump, I say how high?

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