Apple Predictions

Steve Jobs may at times (reputedly)  display all the charm of an angry rattlesnake whose tail has just been trodden on when he throws one of his temper tantrums, but it's not hard to see the man is something of a marketing genius. It's difficult to think of any technology company other than Apple capable of generating quite such a level of fevered anticipation as the forthcoming Tablet.

I was initially interested in this from the ebook and magazine-reading point of view, although it's certain to be a multi-tasking device primarily oriented towards net-browsing or films and (even better) networked games. I'm sure I read somewhere it was expected to use an OLED screen. I've never seen one in action, but if the technology is all it's cracked up to be, maybe it really is the e-ink successor. I'm not well-informed enough to be able to say.

Would I get one? Well, probably not - unless my royalties take a sudden kick upwards - but I'd like to. It's the same with the iphone. I'd love one, but the cost for me is still prohibitive. In fact, I've never spent more than thirty quid for a pay-as-you-go mobile. I use an iBook, but it was bought as a refurbished model for half the price of an off-the-shelf equivalent in the Apple stores.

On the other hand, I read a forum  somewhere on the subject of the new tablet - it might have been at mobileread.com - that got me thinking the tablet might turn out to be much, much more than just a tablet, It could very easily turn out to be a desktop or portable computer with only a slight twist on current Apple designs.

It's arguable the Apple tablet computer already exists. Take a look at any iMac, and you'll see a flat slab of screen on a moulded plastic stand, accompanied by a wireless keyboard and mouse. Reduce the screen size and make the stand a foldaway clip round the back, and you have a tablet.

All you need after that is a standard wireless Apple keyboard and mouse, and you're looking at a shrunken iMac - and if it does have an OLED screen, one you can use in full daylight. And if there's one thing that gets  me enthusiastic, it's the idea of being able to actually sit in the sun while I work instead of being permanently squirreled away in a dark room with the curtains closed in order to be able to see what I'm looking at.

That would be nice.


Books on TV

If I had to pick one thing about TV programs about books that annoy me, it's their relentless middle-classness. I just checked out a UK show called TV Book Club and it's just ... irritating in a way that's hard to pin down. Don't get me wrong, I'm  all for books being reviewed on television, and more of it, I say; but does it all have to be so irredeemably cosy?

The one show that doesn't necessarily piss me off in this way - at least in the UK, and at least not all the time - is Late Review. It's not just about books, but they get a reasonably interesting range of people on to talk about film, music,writing and so on. And even when I wildly disagreed with him - which was pretty much all the time - the author Will Self (when they used to have him on) was at least entertaining, giving off the aura of a man trapped at an interminably awful  dinner party and desperate to find some excuse to leap up, grab his coat and escape at the first available opportunity.  And TV Book Club was like having a window into precisely that kind of stiff and awkward dinner party, but populated by people with their best showbiz faces on.

We live in the age of online video, and yet there seems to be a dearth of quality literary discussion that takes advantage of that technology, particularly when it comes to the sf and fantasy genres. And I'm talking about something with balls, with the kind of rancourous debate and excited opinion-chucking to be found at the best con panels. It's not like we're lacking in opinions - far from it. Yes, there are a couple of interesting podcasts out there, but I live in hope that someone out there with the requisite skill and ambition might just decide to create an online video show about writing and about the genre*. It would be nice.

*I believe there was a Canadian TV show along these lines called Prisoners of Gravity,  except what little I've been able to force myself to watch is so astoundingly, toe-curlingly condescending and cheesy, that whatever idiot came up with the idea in the first place should be dispatched without mercy.


On Agents

I was reading this article by Dean Wesley Smith on agents and whether they're required or not, and the various myths that float around them. Some people apparently feel they aren't necessary and you're better off keeping that ten or fifteen per cent to yourself.

Despite having several novels out, I'm no expert on publishing. Most of my writing career has taken place at a distance from my publisher of at least several hundred miles. If I meet them at all, it's at the occasional convention. Julie Crisp has been my editor for a couple of years now, and if I can make it to Eastercon  this year it'll be the first time I've met either her or any of Tor's current editorial staff. I've met my agent, Dorothy Lumley,  in the flesh less than half a dozen times, most usually when she happened to be up Glasgow way. All I can do is offer the details of my own personal experience of having an agent, which can roughly be summed up like this:

If I hadn't had an agent, I would likely never have got published.

This conclusion on my part largely comes  down to the four or five year gap between Dorothy taking me on board and my first novel selling. I wrote my first novel in the summer of 1997, having previously sold a handful of short stories. Dorothy was the second agent I posted that manuscript off to.  I first got a glimmer of interest from Tor in, I think, late 2002. At that time I'd decided to go for broke and write a second, third, however many novels in order to break through. I finished up Angel Stations, the manuscript I'd fortunately just started work on, and they bought it.

If it had been entirely up to me to send my novel off to various publishers during those intervening  years, I'm pretty sure I would have given up altogether and become entirely disheartened. I don't know how many publishers Dorothy sent that first unpublished novel of mine to, but I suspect it was quite a few. Enough, perhaps, to have persuaded me I was better off giving up and getting a 'proper' job than sending it off again and again if it had been entirely up to me. 

Instead the long and laborious process of agented submission, rejection and re-submission took place almost entirely outside of my awareness. In fact, I really didn't want to know just how many publishers might or might not be passing up on my book. So when that first glimmer of real interest appeared, it was a very pleasant surprise.

So are agents worth it? In my experience, definitely. 


Why I'm Glad We Never Got Our Jetpacks

Even when I was a kid, I had issues with Bladerunner when it came to the flying cars. They looked sort of pretty, but I felt pretty sure that if I lived in a city where one-ton hunks of steel were zooming above me all day long, I'd never go out for fear of  some idiot dropping one on my head.

I got thinking about this because over the New Year some news program or other got Jonathan Ross to select a 'tweet of the decade'. The one that won read something like 'Where are our jetpacks? We were promised jetpacks!', as if the internet and the many other technological accoutrements of our time were somehow disappointing by comparison.

Let's be clear on this. Even if the classical image of the jetpack existed - I'm not talking about those ones that hover in the air for about sixty seconds then run out of fuel, I mean the ones in movies or on  magazine covers - they'd be banned, particularly in cities. And rightly so. Because, seriously, do you want your drunk neighbour strapped into one crashing through your bedroom at five in the morning when he passes out six hundred feet up?

This is why I'm  glad we're in the 2010's, because we can stop hearing any more of that 'this is the 21st Century, so we should have jetpacks' nonsense. What  you got instead is a lot better, believe me. 



I've become very focused recently on the new book, which is probably why my 'why, look, it's the 2010's' blog entry is likely to be later than anyone else's on the planet, ever. That's whenever I get around to writing it, that is. On the other hand, I've been doing the occasional piece for BSCReview.com and elsewhere, whenever I a)get round to it or b)can actually think of anything to write about. Which is difficult,  given that every time I look at my RSS feeds I seem to be deluged by informed opinion from across the sf publishing world from people who I suspect have a better idea what they're talking about than I do. But hello, yes, it's 2010, and I'm very busy on new stuff. I intend  to say something about 2010. Eventually.

Felicia Day's space opera binge

A lot of you will have heard of Felicia Day. She's one of the stars of Dr Horrible's Sing-along Blog, and also of The Guild, an online comedy about a group of World of Warcraft players. I've seen the first season, and it's hilarious.

Miss Day likes to read quite a bit, and is apparently going on a bit of a binge on space opera and hard sf and is looking for recommendations at her blog. You might want to go over and give her some hints.

Not that I'm suggesting you should recommend Stealing Light to Miss Day. Not at all. Why, I'd never be so tacky. In fact, we never had this conversation, capische? (taps forehead, whistles tunelessly).