Science fiction and fantasy                                            







   

Musings and rants

Reading Resolutions For The New Decade
Here are seven reading resolutions suitable for the 2020s.

Mastodon For SFF Fans
Where to go in the Fediverse to find the best speculative fiction and literary discussions.

Nine Political Books That Change The Conversation
Following news that Simon and Schuster plan to publish an inflammatory commentator, here are nine political books that deserve more attention.

Penguin Random House Withdraws Union Recognition
Penguin Random House have decided not to recognise Unite and the NUJ as a result of staff negotiations, leaving the publisher with a stain on its reputation as an employer.

Authors Support Stop Funding Hate
Some authors have had enough of divisive and xenophobic elements in the British press, and are willing to make an ethical stand.

Women In SFF: Indie Edition
A list of indie and self-published women writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres.

Amazon Finally Makes KU Appealing For Novelists
The new per-page payout for the Kindle Unlimited subscription service makes it a much better deal for authors of longer novels.

Thoughts On The Sieghart Report On Libraries
The Sieghart report on libraries missed its mark by miles. Yet the real cause of the decline of the UK library network is depressingly obvious.

A Shout-Out For The Good Guys
When nastiness dominates online conversations about books it is time to appreciate the well-behaved authors.

Critique Circle: Shaping Fabulous Stories
The appeal of a certain writing critique website. Or, why I have neglected this blog.

Where Shall I Point This Pitchfork?
Some thoughts on Jonathan Ross, Loncon, and the twitchfork mob.

Reading Is Not A Race
Why I will be abandoning annual reading challenges in 2014.

What Book Discovery Is Missing
The current state of book discovery is narrowing our reading choices and squeezing out midlist writers. How can it be fixed?

An Explosion Of Discovery Tools
New book discovery engines are popping up all over the web. But which ones will come out on top?

Blog Tours From Both Sides
Blog tours are the lastest marketing fad. But what are the pros and cons of this kind of publicity?

It's Not Your Story Any More
When a book is published, authors lose control over how the story should be read. They should let go the reins and enjoy the ride.

Same Old, Same Old
Are current methods of book discovery pushing us further away from original literature?

Female Protagonists In Genre Fiction
A list of recommended SFF books for adults which feature a female as the main character.

Is This The End Of Sweeping Vistas?
Do recent trends in fantasy art styles and the constraints of online book discovery mark the decline of landscape cover art?

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats
Authors: stop thinking of other writers as your rivals. They're not the enemy.


Pandemic Reading

15th April 2020

   A Journal of the 
Plague Year    

   The Stand    

   Station Eleven    

A pandemic virus rages, and normal life is changed beyond recognition. That sounds like the introduction to a sci-fi novel, but unfortunately it's not, it's life in 2020. With most of the world in a state of lockdown, confined to our houses except for essential trips, it would seem as though the activity of reading takes on much more significance.

How we read has changed

Very early on in the lockdown, and just before it was declared, there was a surge in book buying as people prepared for an extended period staying at home. Paperback sales rose in the third week of March, whilst ebook sales at Waterstones increased 400%. With bookshops and charity shops closed, and with online deliveries prioritising food and other essentials, physical books have become scarcer. Meanwhile, downloading an ebook comes without the guilt inherent in asking workers to handle and deliver a book to your door at a time when the virus could be on any door handle or surface.

So, ebooks or audiobooks it is.

What we read has changed

I love graphic novels, but I won't be buying any during the pandemic because they are much better read in paperback form than on my black and white ereader. The few times I have tried to read heavily illustrated books on my ereader it has slowed to a crawl. So for practical reasons, graphic novels will have to wait.

I've just finished reading Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, which is an account of how the plague affected London in 1665, written with a great deal of historical accuracy. The parallels between that account and the Covid pandemic are interesting, and it makes absolutely compelling reading during an infection. Although the 17th century Londoners didn't have modern medicine, they understood the importance of social distancing in staying safe, and those who didn't respect it came to suffer. What are particularly interesting are the psychological effects of different stages of the plague on the Londoners. The account serves as a cautionary tale. It also resonates with the Covid pandemic with the quiet streets, the rash of charlatans trying to exploit the crisis, and deaths when people let their guard down too early. It's available on Project Gutenberg.

As well as this, there has been some interest in dystopian fiction such as Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven, Peter May's Lockdown, and Stephen King's The Stand.

At the same time, the appeal of lightweight, heart-warming escapism is extremely strong. Click here for mood-based book recommendations if you need to read something that's more comedy than tragedy.

Another trend has been people taking on "bucket list" books, those heavy, classic tomes they planned to get through during long weeks of lockdown. However, it turns out that lockdown is much harder than most people anticipated, and merely staying alive and keeping it together is an achievement. Between obsessing over the awful news, worrying about friends and family, entertaining and perhaps teaching children, stress baking, and taking much longer to plan and go shopping yet succeeding in buying half as much, time for reading is reduced. Most people's productivity is down, and that includes reading.

Amongst writers and creative types, who in normal times might thrive on going out less, this tends to come as a shock. But these times aren't normal. We're in a pandemic, and although an introverted disposition may make staying in more bearable, it doesn't insulate against the psychological trauma, worries, or extra effort involved in getting through the day. So if you've lost your reading mojo, don't worry, and go easy on yourself. It's one of the symptoms of being human.