Read Asimov's SF, January 2012 Online

Authors: Dell Magazine Authors

Asimov's SF, January 2012 (3 page)

BOOK: Asimov's SF, January 2012
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Polls like these have helped give ebooks some serious buzz, but even as we discounted uninformed skepticism in the early days, it's a good idea to take today's exuberant optimism with many grains of salt. There is a lot of information out there for the armchair pundit, but how to interpret it? For example, recent monthly statistics from the
Association of American Publishers
[
publishers. org/press/38
] show that adult hardcover and adult paperbacks and ebooks rank first, second, and third in revenue respectively in trade books. The hard numbers? Adult hardcover: $111.4 million, adult paperback: $95.9 million, and ebooks: $72.8 million. Obviously, it's a bit premature to crown ebooks, at about 17 percent of trade net revenue, as the new publishing champ! Monthly revenue from ebooks one year prior, however, was just $28.3 million. This 157 percent increase is even more astonishing in light of the fact that net sales for all trade categories
declined
2.4 percent. Is it any wonder that the title of the 2011 annual Conference of the AAP's
Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division
[
publishers.org/attachments/docs/library/psp winter-spring 2011.pdf
] was “Digital or Die; Inventing Our Future"?

But what inventions will help them invent that future? The research firm
In-Stat
[
instat.com/newmk.asp?ID= 2852& SoureID=00000652000000000000
] claims that ereader shipments will jump from 12 million at the beginning of 2011 to 35 million in 2014. Meanwhile it projects tablet shipments to reach “approximately 58 million” by that date. However,
Informa Telcoms and Media
[
blogs.informatandm.com/1420/press-release-e-readers-to-lose-out-to-smartbooks-in-battle-of-the-tablets
] expects “mobile broadband ereader sales will peak at 14 million units in 2013, before falling by 7 percent in 2014 as the segment faces increased competition from a wide range of consumer electronic devices.” Will our digital libraries come to live in ereaders or tablets or something that doesn't even exist yet?

* * * *

do it yourself

Even as publishing bosses scramble to understand the changes that the ebook revolution is making to their business, literary workers (i.e., writers) are being offered access to the means of production. Through ventures like
Kindle Direct Publishing
[
https://kdp.amazon. com/self-publishing/signin
] and
Pubit
[
pubit.barnesandnoble.com
], it is now possible for anyone to write, publish, and sell an ebook. It used to be that self-publishing was a dirty word—or was it two dirty words?—but now it's where some claim the smart money is. Established writers with an inventory of out-of-print novels and stories can bring them back under the light of readers’ eyes for a minimum amount of effort. Unpublished writers can bypass the fierce editorial trolls who once guarded the gates of Literatureland. Is this a good thing?

Yes, lost treasures will be rediscovered. Idiosyncratic new talents will emerge.

No, so many choices will lead to reader paralysis. The ratio of noise to signal will soar.

All of the above.

While many of my entrepreneurial colleagues have leapt into the digital marketplace, more have held back because they don't control their electronic rights or because they perceive epublishing as too complex and time-consuming. After all, it's a daunting enough life task to learn to write well—now we're supposed to understand the difference between an
epub
[
wikipedia.org/wiki/EPUB
] and a
mobi
[
wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/ MOBI
] file? Novelists, particularly those who have managed to hold on to their electronic rights, have discovered that bringing their oldies but goodies back can be a lucrative sideline to their careers. But this is
Asimov's
and we're all short fiction fans here, right? The prospect for making money posting short fiction ebooks is somewhat less rosy, but that hasn't daunted some of the best and net-savviest short story writers working today.

Take for instance,
Tim Pratt
[
tim pratt.org
], who is most familiar to readers of this fine publication for his Hugo-winning story “Impossible Dreams” from the July 2006 issue. You can read this great story today on the Nook and Kindle as a solo ebook for a mere $.99, or you can buy it in his collection,
Hart & Boot & Other Stories,
which includes the title story, selected for the
Best American Short Stories 2005
. Your cost for the collection: $2.99. Tim wrote some advice for would-be self-publishers: “My single stories on Amazon sell vastly better than my collection, even though the collection is a dozen stories for $2.99, as opposed to .99 cents each. So I would recommend posting stories individually. Some stories only sell a handful of copies per month, and some sell into low triple digits. I've only been selling them for two months, but it's definitely brought in some grocery money.” Or
Tobias Buckell
[
tobias buckell.com
], whose wonderful stories are not only available on the major ebook vendor sites but on his own popular site as well. He has been experimenting with unbundling his collection
Tides from the New Worlds
, by putting individual stories up for sale. He writes “(The collection) had settled into a forty to fifty dollars a month pattern of royalties. Since releasing the single shots, it has plunged to half that. So selling the singles certainly affected that. I saw Tim Pratt mention his own singles experiment on twitter. He released a bunch of them and flooded in quickly, and he's seeing better results. Looking also at sales and how they seem to cluster, my take is that readers are buying one, liking it, buying another, and moving through the stories quickly. Although it would be cheaper to buy the short story collection, the initial 99 cent value proposition creates demand.” For the record, my own self-published ebook sales are roughly in line with Toby and Tim's.

* * * *

exit

You can get
Asimov's
on just about any ereader, but did you know that Sheila has started creating special e-anthologies of stories that have appeared in these pages?
Enter A Future: Fantastic Tales from Asimov's Science Fiction
is available now; more will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, you can buy individual ebook stories for a buck by Michael Jasper, Eric James Stone, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mary Robinette Kowal, Nancy Holder, Jeff VanderMeer, David Brin, Jeff Carlson, George Alec Effinger, and Robert Sheckley, to name but ten.

Oh, and FYI: ebooks are here to stay. You read it here first.

Copyright © 2011 James Patrick Kelly

[Back to Table of Contents]

Novelette:
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
by Paul McAuley
Paul McAuley worked as a research biologist in various universities, including Oxford and UCLA, and was a lecturer in botany at St. Andrews University, before becoming a full-time writer. His latest novel,
In the Mouth of the Whale,
will be out from Gollancz in January. Paul tells us that his favorite Springsteen album is
Nebraska
; his favorite song is “Darkness on the Edge of Town."

"I like your philosophers,” the alien said. “Most were unintentional comedians, but a few were on to something. Baudrillard, for instance."

I said that I wasn't familiar with Mr. Baudrillard's work.

"His speculations about things standing for things that do not exist were relatively sophisticated. Perhaps you will resurrect him one day. He and I would talk about where his ideas fit in the spectrum of simulacrum theory."

I said it sounded interesting.

"You are being polite because part of your profession is to listen to the confessions of strangers. But you do not know what I am talking about, do you? It does not matter. I am mostly talking nonsense. I am free-associating. An effect of this interesting drink."

"Are you ready for another?"

"This one is still working on me,” the alien said.

A shot glass of neat Seagram's was balanced on top of his tank. Somehow, elements of the whisky were making their way out of the glass and into whatever was inside. According to the alien, a teeny-tiny demon was influencing space-time, inflating the usual, vanishingly small chance that certain molecules would be somewhere outside the glass. Not molecules of alcohol, but what he called congeners. He was getting a buzz on the complex chemicals that gave the whisky its unique taste.

The alien was a !Cha, of course. They'd made themselves known to the human race some five years ago: the second species we'd met since the Jackaroo had given us a gateway to the stars. One moment, there were no aliens on First Foot apart from a few Jackaroo ambassadors; the next, !Cha were tick-tocking all over the place, asking questions, paying people to tell them stories, telling fantastic and improbable stories about long-dead species that had preceded us, of empires, and wars, and alien versions of the Rapture.

This one had stalked into the Deadwood Gulch Roadhouse and Casino like it wasn't anything unusual and headed straight past the slots and video poker machines and the tables. Four in the afternoon, the place pretty much dead apart from the regulars at the slot machines and a couple of truckers playing blackjack. Hardly anyone paid attention as the alien went past, his squat black cylinder raised up on three skeletal legs like a miniature Martian fighting machine, heading to the Last Roundup bar at the back of the roadhouse's dim barn, where I was working on my own. The day manager, Li Hui, came over and told the !Cha that drinks were on the house, gave me a look that told me it was my problem, and left me to it.

I'd seen plenty of !Cha around Mammoth Lakes, but this was the first I'd talked to. It called itself Useless Beauty, claimed that it was a collector of human foolishness. Whatever that meant.

Saying now in its mellow baritone, “My favorites of your philosophers are Dr. Seuss and Samuel Beckett. Both are very good on the absurdity of life."

"I know Dr. Seuss."

"Seuss is very funny, but Beckett is even funnier. Especially his piece about two dispossessed waiting for the person who stands for their release or redemption. The person who never arrives. Who represents the things they can never have. Very funny.” The !Cha turned on its stool, and with a curiously human gesture flapped the terminal joint of one of its legs. “One of your customers is ‘smoking.’ An interesting transgression."

"Give me a second while I tell her to put it out,” I said, and went and did just that, before Li Hui came over to give me trouble.

She was blond and tanned, somewhere between thirty and fifty, dressed in a dark blue skirtsuit, the blouse under it just the decent side of translucent. She'd definitely had some work done around her mouth and eyes, and I was pretty sure her breasts weren't original. She'd come in a little after the !Cha had settled at the bar, ordered a vodka gimlet and asked if she could run up a tab, shrugged and paid cash when I explained that we didn't do that on the wild frontier.

Now, when I asked her if she could put out her cigarette, she immediately stubbed it on the side of the packet and smiled and said, “I've been sitting here trying to work out how to get you away from that thing."

"It worked, ma'am. But don't try it again. You'll get us both into trouble."

There was a moment of distraction, then, as the !Cha unfolded itself from its stool and stalked off. Sunlight flashed for a moment as it went through the doors; then the roadhouse was plunged back into its perpetual twilight.

The woman leaned close, giving me a good view of her cleavage and enveloping me in her perfume. She read my name off my staff tag, said, “I'm Rachel. Tell me about your idea of trouble, and I'll tell you mine."

* * * *

Inside of ten minutes, I'd told Rachel that I'd come up to First Foot two years ago, that I'd kicked around Port of Plenty doing odd jobs, window washer, shrimper, security guard, and ended up at Mammoth Lakes, working at the Deadwood Gulch Roadhouse and Casino. It was a low point in my life. The roadhouse was way out at the edge of town, your first chance to lose some cash on the way into Mammoth Lakes, your last chance to make that final life-changing wager on your way out. Most people went right on by. The owner was waiting to sell the site and his license to one of the big operators; half the staff were drunks and burnouts; the rest, like me, were trying to stretch minimum wage and tips into a stake that would buy their way into a job with one of the casinos on the Strip.

Rachel finished her vodka gimlet. When I asked if she wanted another she pushed a five-yuan bill into the well. There was a number written on it in lipstick. “That's my room,” she said. “I'm at the Stardust Motel. When do you get off ?"

And that was that.

I can't say I was ever in love with her, but there'd been a spark between us from the first. A connection. It wasn't just the weirdness of having an alien turn up at the bar and ask for a shot of Canadian whisky. Well, that was part of it, but the plain fact of the matter was that Rachel was very definitely my type. Older than me by five or ten years, easy with what she was. Someone who'd lived a little and taken some hard knocks, but knew how to look after herself. Someone, I thought, who was passing through. A change from the waitresses and kitchen staff.

We spent all night in her room. Sex, talking, more sex. Pizza, most of a bottle of vodka. Somewhere in there I fell asleep, woke with sunlight falling through the blinds and striping my chest, and knew that I wasn't going into work that day. It was a good feeling. Rachel was next to me in the bed, propped on one elbow. She had green eyes. Green as the most expensive lawn grass back on Earth: contacts.

"Hey,” she said.

"Hey."

I realized I didn't know much about her but her name, and the deep jones she had for Bruce Springsteen. We shared the last of the vodka cut with warm orange juice, and over this breakfast of champions we got to know each other a little better.

It wasn't just that she liked Springsteen's music and fancied the pants off of him, Rachel said: his songs had helped her understand America when she'd moved there. Although her accent sounded half Californian, half Australian, she was a Brit who'd spent ten years in New York, working in the antiques trade, before she'd won the lottery, come up, and made it big, not once but twice.

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