Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Party in Denmark

In happier news, I was in Denmark the past weekend. I flew in on the Friday morning to do a presentation for a Danish customer, then on the Saturday travelled onwards to the little village of Store Sjorup, where Ralan Conley (I distinctly remember a picture at WorldCon of both Ralan and me drinking beer at the Asimov's party, but can't find it back. So the picture below will have to do) was celebrating his 60th Birthday.

I must say, I was treated like royalty. Ralan's oldest son, Michael (or Mikael, I'm not sure), picked me up from the station of Langå, and after a few stops on the way -- he was picking up things for the party, such as sound equipment -- we arrived in the charming little village of Store Sjørup. I received a very heartly welcome, and the party was on!

One of Ralan's friends -- Niels and his wife Disa (pictured above) -- have a local brewery called Wintercoat, and they supplied beer: Indian Pale Ale and Yellowjacket. I personally preferred the Yellowjacket, and of course it is pure coincidence that of Yellowjacket one more barrel was consumed than the Indian Pale Ale.

Another huge compliment to Ralan's wife Karen (I hope I remembered that right!) who tirelessly provided copious amounts of superb food. Only at midnight did Ralan himself start making hotdogs, but by that time my tastebuds were desensitised by so much Yellowjacket that I don't know if these were great or not.

The next morning, after some hair of the dog, Ralan showed me around the picturesque North-Danish countryside, before I was treated to a great lunch, after which he dropped me off at the Billund airport.

A great weekend!

Now, before I log off, a short reminder that August is fundraising month for Ralan. I already donated $30, so do join in (even if it's only a dollar) and support the best genre market list (I own several sales to market info from the Webstravaganza).

"Winning Mars" -- the novel

Jason Stoddard is putting up "Winning Mars" -- the novel version of the story that appeared in -- the sold out -- Interzone #196 for free on his website here (warning: 500 kB PDf file).

As it is, there have been complaints throughout the genre community that SF has become too dark and predominantly pessimistic (arguably greatly influenced by the zeitgeist): even most American SF at that (like: weren't the British supposed to be the gloomers'n'doomers?).

"Winning Mars" (and its sequel "Saving Mars" -- Interzone #200, also sold out) goes against that stream and depicts a bunch of cynical entrepreneurs who use a competition combined with a reality TV show to get teams competing for a race to be the first on Olympus Mons. The race itself works very well, but to me it was the behind-the-scenes, cynical cutthroat negotiations to raise the money that made the story outstanding. The high point being the scene where Jere Guttierez, Evan McMaster (the show's producers) and Ron -- Jere's father -- are confronted with US government agents who want to take over the project for political reasons (or otherwise cancel the launch): Jere is already mentally calculating how to turn that setback into a profit, when his father explodes:

“No fucking way!” Ron said. His face was almost purple. He levered himself up out of his chair and went to tower over the seated agent. The standing one tensed, but didn’t move.

Ron poked a finger in his chest. “We’re not going to Mars to plant fucking flags!”

“Dad . . .”

“Shut up.” Low and deadly.

“Did the fucking pilgrims come to plant fucking flags?” Ron said. “No! They came to get away from bureaucratic fucks like you! You assholes had your chance. How many billions did we give to you shitpoles? What did we get for it? Our lunar rovers in Chinese museums! A bunch of rusting hardware crash-landed on Mars. Thanks. Thanks a lot. Now it’s our chance!”

Ron's diatribe ignites popular opinion, and the launch and subsequent show go through. This -- for me -- was the turnaround point in the story, made me cheer inside, and somehow redeemed the cynical executives Jere and Evan because they, if even for the wrong reasons, got people on Mars.

Note that I haven't read the novel version, but I would be rather disappointed if that scene had been cut. To me, "Winning Mars" was one of the very best stories we published in Interzone that year, and I thought it was a crying shame that it wasn't reprinted in any YBSF.

Also, Jason's choice and rationale make me wonder: if a highly talented writer like Jason thinks the '2-year process of conventional publishing' is too slow (and do keep in mind that he runs a new media advertisement agency with offices in L.A., New York, and Shanghai, and that things go much faster in that business), and that his day job basically means he thinks that the average advance of said conventional publisher ('gigantic advance (LOL)') is financially irrelevant to him (and I sympathise: I won't be quitting the day job, either), then the conventional publishing industry has just lost a great, forward looking talent.

I don't know: on the one hand many publishers may say that "Winning Mars" -- the novel is either not good enough/ready for publication, or that they have better titles out/in inventory. Fair enough. On the other hand, though, I can't help but wonder: conventional (novel) publishing is losing a writer (with considerable short story credits) who is operating, very successfully, in the very forefront of the electronic frontier. Somebody who will, much sooner than later, find a different way of publishing (and making it available through a common creative license on his website is probably merely the beginning).

I know he's not the first to make a novel available for free on his website (Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, Peter Watts immediately come to mind, and there are plenty of others), and not even the first one to publish his novel before he sold it to a print publisher (John Scalzi with Old Man's War comes to mind). But I strongly suspect that Jason might not be interested in getting a novel published by conventional means at all.

Whose loss is this: Jason's or that of the conventional novel publishers? Well, I can only speak from personal experience: both Interzone #196 (with "Winning Mars") and Interzone #200 (with "Saving Mars") sold out, very fast. Faster than any other issues of the 'new' Interzone.