Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Alan Furst: Mission to Paris

I think I've read everything that Alan Furst has published. If I haven't, it's an unconscious omission. And I wrote about him at some length in 2005.

So, what of his latest, Mission to Paris? Well, once again, it may be just me, but I thought this one was disappointing. It is a feature of Furst's work that it is (for me) patchy. All you can do is suck it and see.

As in all his work, the pre-war period and the European setting are immaculately researched; and the period details, even if invented, are entirely convincing. The portraits of the Nazis are accurate and, I'm afraid, all too realistic in revealing (as I mentioned in 2005) what an appalling and terrifying bunch of shits they all were.

And therein, for me, lay the rub. My age is such that I have some personal memories of the second world war. So for me, it's not just an interesting period of history, like, say, Tudor times. It's a time when people I was just old enough to know personally went off to war and didn't come back. (You might, perhaps, care to look at my review of an autobiographical book, To War with Whitaker, where I discuss this personal history in the antepenultimate paragraph.)

So, I didn't take to Mission to Paris. In particular, I find that it prompted me to start thinking about all the present (largely financial) difficulties in the Eurozone. It seemed to me that there are worrying parallels between the Europe of 1938 and the Europe of today. Massive problems,and everyone just hoping that, with a bit of luck, they will all go away. Let's hope they do, otherwise the financial system of Europe (not to mention the world) will probably collapse.

So, for me, reading Mission to Europe was an unnerving and unsettling experience. And, frankly, I don't read novels to be unnerved and unsettled.

After writing the above, and only after it, I went to the novel's Amazon.com page, and found it instructive to read the one-star reviews. These contain, I fear, a large measure of truth; though the reviewers are, I think, unnecessarily brutal. I would give it two or three stars. But I also think it is worth noting that nearly all of the one-star reviews clearly come from educated and literate readers who had hoped for so much better.

As for the price business, which I discussed the other day, I can only say that I am very glad I didn't pay £9.99 for the Kindle version.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The multiple causes of mouth-frothing

Every so often -- well, about twice a day, actually -- I come across something about traditional/legacy/print/big 6 publishing which rouses me to a blood-pressure-raising fury during which I may well attack the furniture and, on occasion, start biting the carpet. Yesterday, for example, the news that three harmless ladies were kindly offering to consider unagented manausrcritps for a whole two weeks was enough to do it. And I did suggest, afterwards, that perhaps I might have got out of bed the wrong side. No such thing, actually. This was just another instance of the mouth-frothing stimuli to which I am daily subjected.

Here's another one. Passive Guy, who is American and a contract lawyer by profession, offers the following:

Passive Guy has often been struck by the similarities between the way publishers and agents regard authors and the way former slave-owners regarded former slaves following the American Civil War and for many decades thereafter.

In a million different ways, the attitude manifests itself.

Why do slaves and authors get whipped? They brought it on themselves. If they had done what Ole Massah told them to, he wouldn’t have whipped them. Good slaves don’t get whipped.

Enough said, I feel. Further contemplation of these words will entirely spoil my tea. To which I am really looking forward.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

SF and the amazing generosity of publishers

Perhaps it's just me, but I get the feeling that a great many novels these days have a touch of fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and the like (see, for instance, the Rivers of London series). Either that, or they fall outright into one of those categories.

Anyway, news reaches me of a recent science-fiction novel by Geoff Nelder. Titled Aria, it comes with recommendations from such as Jon Courtenay Grimwood, who is no mean judge. It has also appealed, I see, to Gladys Hobson, who forever has a place in my heart as the fearless author of a book about a Granny in search of an orgasm.

Meanwhile, Harper Voyager, which is HarperCollins's science fiction and fantasy imprint, has announced that they will lower themselves sufficiently as to agree to consider 'complete and unagented' manuscripts for a period of two whole weeks. Galleycat has the story.

I must say that when I first read this announcement my lip curled and I was inclined to turn my head and spit. But then, gritting my teeth, I tried hard to understand their point of view. And, yes, I suppose it's just arguable that it is not cost effective for a publisher to wade through piles of unsolicited slush. But either do the job properly, for ****'s sake, or don't do it at all. Two weeks? What kind of impression does that give? To me, it says, arrogant, stupid bastards, frankly. Clearly, they don't expect to find anything. But just to show willing, just to show that their heart is in the right place.... Et cetera, et cetera. I don't happen to have a novel to offer them, but if I did I think I would write in and tell them where to shove it.

Perhaps I just got out of bed the wrong side.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Department of Justice and all like that

I don't know if you've been following the story about the Department of Justice beating up the big six publishers (and who, one might reasonably ask, is more deserving of a really good thumping?). I certainly have not followed every spit and cough, because life is too short.

Anyway, it seems that there have been developments, and the Passive Guy has his own take on the report in the New York Times. 

Passive Guy, should you not know, is a lawyer by profession, and, despite the proposal put forward by one of Shakespeare's characters ('the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers'), these guys do have their uses. And they are pretty smart at summing up a situation. In respect of the wonder boys (and, doubtless, girls) at three major New York publishers, PG has this to say:
The big players in an industry can’t get together in an expensive New York restaurant or anywhere else to set prices on their products and plan ways to force all retailers to abide by their pricing. There was nothing subtle or sophisticated about this conspiracy. This was a bush-league play by some immensely clueless executives.
A sentiment with which I heartily agree. Business as usual, then, as far as the publishing industry is concerned.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Enoch Soames is not forgotten

Jessica Crispin, the well known Bookslut, comes up with a lovely story about Max Beerbohm, Enoch Soames, and Mr Teller, from that Penn & Teller outfit. I always knew they were a class act.

Don't miss this.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Sue Grafton and the indies

By about 1990, Sue Grafton was already well known as the author of a series of very successful crime novels, each of which began with a letter of the alphabet. Thus, "A" is for Alibi appeared in 1982, "B" for Burglar in 1985, and so on.

In 1990 I attended a crime-writers conference at which Ms Grafton gave a good humoured and well balanced speech to the usual dinner. And although I never read any of her books I assumed from that point on that she was, by and large, a pretty good egg.

So it was with some surprise that, in the last week or two, I have seen reports that Ms G was sounding off about self-publishers (indies) in the digital age, and generally making out that they were a goddamn nuisance and morally defective to boot.

And now... Seems the lady has listened to those who abused her as a result of her rash comments. She has admitted that, prior to opening her mouth on this subject, she hadn't know what she was talking about (which we already knew), and that she was sorry to have spoken so precipitously (which we knew she would be, in due course).

Richard Curtis has the story and some sensible comments to add.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Gods, madness, and ebook prices

OK, further to my post of 20 August, suggesting that some UK publishers have taken leave of their senses -- judging by their ebook prices -- here is more evidence that the gods intend to destroy the leading print publishers of our day, because they have assuredly driven them nuts first. (A dictum often attributed to Euripides, but apparently wrongly so.)

Over the weekend I noticed a couple of books, reviewed in the Times, which look like the kind of thing I might like to read (and who knows, even review). Both were thrillers.

Now in the ordinary way of things, I might be willing to take a chance on buying both of these, in ebook form, if the price was, say, equal to what I shell out for a small black in my local Costa. That is, £1.95. Or I might go to £2.95 if I was feeling particularly interested.

Book A is apparently priced by its publisher at £15.21, and Amazon will knock it down to £11.96. So the publisher wants, for an ebook, more money than I would expect to pay for a trade paperback. Hell, I have written, published, printed and sold my own trade paperbacks for about £11.

Book B is offered on Amazon for £6.99. Still way too high.

Meanwhile, following my post of 20 August, muttering about the ebook price of the latest Alan Furst, I reserved the hardback at my local library, and yesterday I collected it. Cost to me could be zero, but they ask for a £1 donation, and, after a search for a box to put it in, that's what I paid.

Now, lemmee see... Could it be that someone is doing something wrong here? I am, after all, a person of some goodwill towards fellow writers. But I am not going to sit (or, more probably, lie) here while someone fucks me up the arse. Because I tried it once and I didn't care for it.

On the other hand, if a sensible publisher will put out a book by a class act, a known quantity, then of course I'm going to pay the price of a cup of coffee. But not a lot more.

So take your pick, boys (and girls). You can either price things sensibly and maximise your income, or you can charge £15.21 and go bust. See if I care.