How do you follow up one of the greatest sci fi debuts in recent years?

Andy Weir’s debut The Martian was originally self published, before going on to be picked up by a major publisher and later turned into a movie starring Matt Damon.

His follow up, Artemis, was released late in 2017.

So how did he approach what could have been a difficult second novel in the shadow of such previous success?

Weir has produced Artemis, which more than stands up as a good novel in its own right and is not overshadowed by its predecessor.

Artemis is set on the moon, in and around the city of that name, the only city on the moon.

The main character, Jazz, is a young woman. But she shares enough personality traits with Mark Watney, the hero of The Martian, to keep things interesting.

Watney was alone on Mars for several hundred pages so he needed a bucket load of personality.

Jazz is not alone, but has enough of Watney’s brand of humour to keep the plot running along while interacting with a host of other characters.

Sample line: “on a scale of one to ‘invade Russia in winter’ how stupid is this plan?.”

The only area I felt The Martian could have been improved was through more descriptive sections around the plot.

Artemis has more descriptive parts than The Martian and this works well.

While The Martian didn’t lend itself to an obvious sequel, Artemis could easily be the first in a series.

Whether this is what Weir has in mind, or not, I have no idea.

Whether he chooses to visit Jazz again or do something else with his next novel, I will certainly be happy to read it.

This is a solid novel, with enough twists and turns to keep you interested. There is enough world building going on for the novel to work in its own logic, without the back story being overbearing.

I had hoped for a knowing reference to The Martian somewhere in the narrative, but didn’t spot one (please use the comments to tell me if there is one I haven’t picked up on).

Expect to see a big Hollywood movie version in the near future.

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As usual I have read quite a few books this year.

Here are some highlights of books I read this year:

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham – love this author (The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos are two of my all time favourite sci fi books) and this book, while taking a while to get going, ended up un-put down able. A great exploration of unfounded intolerance, and relevant today as when it was written.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – which I wrote about before, is a tour de force in modern teen fiction. Better than SE Hinton – and my teenage self is properly upset I have written that statement. Highly recommended.

Archangel by Robert Harris – any novel which can make me interested in post WW2 Russian history must be doing something right. This is a real page turner from the opening right up to its fabulous, if ambiguous, conclusion. Some of Harris other works I have found slow, or the world building more attention grabbing than the plot (Fatherland), but this has it all going on.

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds – in a future where faster than light travel is impossible a house of long living clones travel the galaxy in cycles, spending vast aeons of time in suspended animation, holding reunions every few millennia. The scope of this novel is breathtaking and while it feels like it wanders off from the plot towards the end, maybe the real point of the novel is how even hideous events lose their horror after 17,000 years or so. Up for debate, which only adds to the positive feelings I have towards the book – still deciphering meaning long after reading is always a good sign about a book.

Please feel free to share your views on these books in the comments and also any novels you read this year, either ones published this year or otherwise.

Happy reading in 2018.

An article here about the issues authors have with publishers over what the book cover should be like.

Having sat on both sides of this debate – as an author and as someone who has worked with author’s on brining their books to publication, I feel the author should have their say and the publisher should listen – but the final say should go with the publisher as they have the experience of doing more book covers than the authors have (and te cover is one of the top items of advertising for any book, and needs to work on a physical object and as an Amazon thumbnail) – and crucially are not as close to the book as the author’s inevitably will be.

The same is also true of the editing process, but that may need to be another blog post!

Quite some time ago I suggested in a post that in the future  books will be sold in hardback a bit like rarities (a bit like how vinyl is produced and sold now in the era of iTunes) based on the theory that you can buy cheap text as a digital file (altho this has still not quite happened – yet) and if you really, really like the book you can buy it as a luxury item to have on show in your house (altho this will most likely be a wider trend than those few who still buy vinyl – and it is entirely possible this will herald a return to a bygone era when only rich people had books as they were expensive – altho in the future the less affluent will still have access to them, just via digital mediums rather than bulky paperbacks).

Out Christmas shopping in Exeter (UK) recently I saw this in Waterstones (the large store, not the small one – for those of you who know the city):

 

IMAG0387

The text on the display, which you can partially see reads: “Classic books beautifully bound” – hardback books – objects of beauty and curiosity.

Expect to see more of this for all books as the digital revolution continues.

Digital publishing should be leading a revolution in publishing bringing great books to the masses – but this is stalling due to price.

Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, introduced paperback novels in 1935 with the intention that books should cost no more than a packet of cigarettes.

I don’t buy cigarettes, but my friend Google tells me in the UK they cost a bit less than £6.50 for a pack of 20.

Second on the Amazon best selling book as I write is by Bradley Wiggins, the paperback costs £7.19 from Amazon (RRP £7.99)  while the Kindle edition costs £6.29 (and the reason I have selected 2nd on the best seller list is because first doesnt appear to have a Kindle edition thanks Jamie Oliver)

So the paperback costs more than the cigarettes, while the digital edition costs marginally less than they do.

Let’s think about this for a minute – the difference between a paperback and the Kindle edition is 90p.

That 90p must account for the cost of printing, the cost of paper, the cost of shipping, the cost of storage and possibly other costs I am not factoring in. And bearing in mind publishers sell to retailers at least 50% discount for paper books, then we should be looking at 45p as being the cost of each of those things.

While the Kindle edition is some data uploaded to Amazon who then download it after the customer purchases. Quite often the data is a couple of megabits which if it costs anything at all to store and transmit, cannot be more than a few pence.

So why does a couple of MBs of data cost not much less than a paperback (with all the costs of printing, transporting and storing) ????

I don’t know what is going on in the offices of big publishing houses across the planet, so I hesitate to say this is all about profiteering – they may have a legitimate reason – which I would really like to hear (feel free to comment to explain yourself if you work at a big publishing house).

However, what I do know is I have four books available on Amazon* – three are almost out of print as paperbacks (and the publisher doesn’t plan to print anymore as they will be available forever on Kindle) – but all are available in Kindle.

The paperback prices are in the range you would expect as compared to books from other publishing houses. But, the Kindle editions all retail at £1.92 (which is based on the US price of $2.99 which I understand is the minimum price you can put on a Kindle book). 

I mention the prices of my books primarily to make the point I am practicing what I am preaching (and if Amazon removes their minimum price I think they would go down again – publishing to a literate world should be about volume of sales not price per unit – the industry values best sellers (not highest priced sellers) after all.

Market forces will win out and the big publishing houses will flourish or not in the digital era. But keeping prices more or less the same for paper objects compared to couple of MBs downloads is probably not sustainable – look at what Apple has done to CDs with iTunes at 79p a track. Look at what Netflix and others are doing to movie and box set DVD sales.

The digital revolution is here and if the old publishers cannot change the price then new ones who will change the cost and the business model to compete will rise up and take their place – it is how the market works.

 

*My books available on Kindle:

The Joy of Ex

Fragments

UHF Shadow

The Great Wide Open

Apple is launching an app for designing textbooks. These will be content rich experiences.

Apparently the cost will be capped at $14.99 and you will be able to buy individual chapters for a lower price.

This will save schools and colleges (and students!) an absolute fortune. The costs historically in publishing has always been in the paper, printing, distribution and storing. All of this is quickly vanishing as the traditional book (printed paper) starts to disappear being replaced by eBooks in their many forms.

Books with sound?

September 29, 2011

One of the latest innovations in e publishing is books with sound effects.

Hmmm… I may be wrong, but I have to say, I am not convinced. Why would you want your eBook to play music throughout, like the incidental music in films.

Surely, you just need to buy an audio book and have it read to you with the incidental music there, rather than alongside your actual text? I often listen to random music when I read, but it is usually something I block out when I get engrossed (usually only noticing the sound when the playlist ends and some random mp3 comes on).

So, I remain unconvinced by the innovation of reading with its own pre-defined soundtrack, as do others. But let’s see what the eBook buying public think.

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