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Sime~Gen Inc. Presents

Recommended Books

April, 2000

"New Coping Strategies of the Millenium"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952 

A Point of Honor by Dorothy J. Heydt, DAW sf, April 1998

Roswell, the Television Show syndicated on the WB network

The Garden of the Stone by Victoria Strauss, Avon Eos Fantasy pb. Nov. 1999 (A sequel to the Arm of the Stone reviewed here previously.)

In tandem with the melt-down of the publishing industry, we have seen the rise of the role-playing game, board games, live action games, internet IRC games, mush, and probably many types I've never heard of.


A Point of Honor by Dorothy J. Heydt, DAW sf, April 1998 is a novel based on the game format and extrapolating a level of Virtual Reality gaming you've probably seen in the movies. Winning in a VR game makes our hero, Sir Mary de Courcy, knightly champion of the Winchester Lists, a target of a killer determined to snatch her prize from her.

This novel has multitudes of what I consider flaws, structural, dramatic, story-logic, and point-of-view flaws. But DAW published it. I didn't call up and ask the editors why. I didn't even ask the author, who is of distant acquaintance from Star Trek fandom.

Despite all its structural flaws, I read the whole novel at one sitting. The most intriguing thing about this novel is how it discusses and treats the theme of Honor (which this column discussed at some length in 1999) from the point of view of a woman who is a hero. And the elements I consider "flaws" are actually integral to the game-based nature of the material, the game structure. If you like gaming, you'll love this book.

Where did I find this novel? At a dealer's table at a convention, a table run by Devra Langsam, who is an old friend, and the editor of the first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia, ( to which both Jean Lorrah and I made contributions).

This is one coping strategy readers have always used to sift the welter of novels for the one they would like to read -- get a trusted friend to recommend a good book. This is the strategy that amazon.com started using with its associates program. But now they're teaching associates how to pitch popular books in order to make money, instead of just recommending books in their areas of expertise, books they've actually read.

Why has amazon.com changed its tune to its associates? Maybe because they had too many associates accounts that made less than $100/quarter, and they didn't want to send out checks for less than $100? Amazon.com wants to make a profit for their shareholders. Join their associates program and look inside the website for associates, and you'll get an initiation in book etailing that will serve you well in developing your own coping strategy for the century ahead.

Fair disclosure. I buy books from amazon.com -- I love the place. Sime~Gen Inc. is an associate at amazon.com. We intend to join other associate programs so we can continue to provide free writing classes.

The meltdown in publishing started in science fiction and fantasy, (tech-minded people being the first to move to the web for their reading/leisure time) and is eating away at romance. The meltdown due to the web is continuing to cause mergers and bankruptcies among distributors, bookstore chains, and publishers. The number of editors making buy-decisions today is a bare fraction of what it was in the 1960's when I first broke into print.

Here is a continuation from last month of what Professor Jean Lorrah (www.simegen.com/jean/ )wrote on trends in publishing when she told me about the Eguild (http://www.eguild.org/ ) admitting the self-published as fellow professionals:

"But then we know what happened in the 1980's and 1990's. However, I don't think we have considered that the ruination of publishing actually began considerably earlier than we think it did, with the demotion of editors to employees. Technically, they always had been, but in the 1970's publishers started playing the musical-editors game that increased in intensity until it created the mess we have today. I remember back in the 1970's, before I was ever pro published, a friend who was an editor for a major publishing house said that she could not make a difference because no sooner did she get good at choosing and editing, say, mysteries, and create a rapport with several authors, than BANG! They would move her to westerns! After a few months learning the ins and outs of westerns, just as she felt qualified to choose and edit western manuscripts and start developing some promising authors--POW! They moved her to romance.

"And of course we know that in the 80s and 90s that trend not only continued, but worsened to the point at which instead of moving editors internally from genre to genre, they just fired and replaced them at an accelerating rate. Gone was the nurturing of authors by editors who occupied the same position for ten or twenty years--and gone was the guarantee of quality for the reader.

"Trade publishing, however, was by this time the only game in town--there was no way for authors to get around the dying horse blocking the only road to publication and distribution.

"And then came the Internet. Now we are back to the situation in the 18th and 19th centuries: individual authors can publish and distribute their works as efficiently as any of the Internet publishers, and no Internet publisher has yet succeeded in promoting an e-pub-only book as efficiently as J. M. Rose did her self-published novel (not talking about print publishers pushing their print texts via websites here, and maybe incidentally offering e-versions--talking strictly e-publishing). Most e-publishers do no promotion whatsoever of individual books, and very, very little of their own existence--they rely on the authors to do the promotion for them.

"As e-publishers are very small-press, we are seeing the return of the editor, who is usually the owner of the press. But no e-publisher has yet achieved widespread recognition as guaranteeing good books. … There are too many of them, and thus far no one has broken out of the pack.

"But it will happen. Before it does, though, the self-publishing author once more has a chance to write, edit, promote, and distribute his/her own books--and the stigma of self-publishing is dying. Maybe it's because e-books are so cheap. A self-published printed book is very, very expensive to produce because of the small print run. But an e-book costs nothing but the author's time and effort."

There is however, one new factor that has just entered into self-publishing and small-press publishing, e-publishing and other formats. The prices for buying ISBN numbers -- each e-published format requires a different number and fee -- has gone up in 1999 to where it will potentially bankrupt small publishers, or limit the titles they dare publish to ones they expect will sell huge numbers of copies.

You must have an ISBN number for a book before e-tailers and retailers can stock it on their shelves -- at least under present operating procedures. A publisher buys ISBN numbers in batches of 10 to 100,000. It's now $205 for 10, or $500 for 100 numbers. $12,500 for 100,000 numbers. See how the small press or self-publisher is not on a level playing field here? Odd that this change came just when e-publishing has gone to multiple formats to survive the rocketbook vs. palmpilot platform wars.

My trend-reading back-hairs say that the steepening of the price-curve for ISBN numbers will cause television to become a growing source of the kind of sf and fantasy that I prefer.

So it's a good thing I've just started watching the tv show Roswell. I have only seen a few episodes, scrambled out of story-arc order in reruns, but already I think I'm hooked. We have three very human looking kids with a few paranormal powers who were in the spaceship that crashed at Roswell, N.M. in the 1940's. They were kept in stasis, and emerged recently to start growing up. They don't know much about their backgrounds, and are trying to find out. They are completely acculturated, normal human kids with a couple of psychic gifts.

At this writing, I have not seen the episodes which have been advertised featuring a return of the aliens, but I want to.


The Garden of the Stone by Victoria Strauss, Avon Eos Fantasy pb. Nov. 1999 is a sequel to a book I liked. It's a very large book which follows different sets of characters all involved in the same overall political situation. At the end of the Arm of the Stone, the "stone" -- the magical focus that allows magic to work in this alter-reality -- has been stolen and taken back to our tech-based reality. Now, public works like roads and buildings are crumbling for lack of magic, and resistance fighters are trying to convince the general public that the stone is gone, and the Guardians of the Stone have become despots who should be overthrown.

There's an intriguing question at the core of these novels -- is psychic power -- or magic -- antithetical to technology? Or conversely is technology antithetical to magic? Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels approached this by assuming that where technology exists, psychic powers wane, and vice-versa.

Can they co-exist?

This is the same question we face in the battle between commercial publishing and the internet that empowers everyone to self-publish.

Is personal creativity antithetical to commercial interests? And where do you see more personal creativity than in sf/f?


Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg,



Until I get the direct links installed here, you can find these titles by using copy/paste (in MSIE use right mouse button to get the copy/paste menue to work inside text boxes) to insert them in the search slot below -- then click Book Search and you will find the page where you can discover more about that book, or even order it if you want to.   To find books by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, such as the new Biblical Tarot series, search "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" below. 

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