Monday, 25 June 2012

Timbuctoo by Tahir Shah: Book review

☆☆☆☆☆ If you like a story about the oppressed, the downtrodden or the outsider coming through in spite of harrowing events, grave injustices and enormous odds stacked against them; characters you love to hate; and a good old-fashioned love story, then you may well find wonderful resonances and enjoyment in Tahir Shah's epic novel, Timbuctoo. There are some anti-establishment sentiments in the mix and, given some of the characters' proclivities and activities -- such as the Prince Regent's whimsical excesses and the making of fortunes from trade in unfortunate African slaves -- rightly so, I feel. These themes are timeless.

There's a wise, old saying that you only possess that which would survive a shipwreck. In Robert Adams' case, this was faith, hope, gritty determination and above all the passionate love which fuelled and drove these qualities in him, and to which he clung on for dear life. We're all shipwrecked when we're brought into this world, become enslaved in one way or another and, separated from our "beloved", we yearn to be reunited. There's something about this process that touches on the mystical. In a sense, then, like the old woodcutter in the traditional story of Mushkil Gusha (Remover of All Difficulties), Robert Adams is telling us our own archetypal story and also showing us a way through all this to freedom. The details are very different for each individual, but the underlying pattern is the same.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fragmentation of attention in the internet age

In general terms, I’m tempted to think that in this second phase of the internet age, we’re now being overwhelmed with both choice and volume in information.

When I first ran a web site around 1999, many folk would browse the whole of the web site at a leisurely pace and even download all of the free pdf documents before moving on. More recently, I’ve seen that most visit for a specific purpose and often leave having read or flipped through one or two pages, sometimes within just a few mere seconds.

Over time I’ve also seen the old usenet newsgroups die a death, then yahoo! forums, with lengthy discussion threads giving way to one-liners or simple “likes” and more and more fragmentation of venues, of information, and of the participators' or audience's attention. Having said that, certain niche communities, such as pagans and conspiracy theorists, continue to buck such trends.

The indie author's quest for reviews

As an indie author, I've just spent the best part of a week googling and listening in on twitter streams like “science fiction”, in search of possible reviewers. I've managed to locate four lovely bloggers who are first of all willing to review indie authors and who, furthermore, are willing to read soft science fiction.

The gatekeepers and the slush pile 

What I've found time and time again, however, is that a great many reviewers (most of whom are themselves self-published) will not look at the work of the indie author or the self-published. One such reviewer, Gav Reads, has written a blog post entitled “Thoughts – Reasons Why We Reviewers Won’t Read Your Self-Published Book” which will give you a taste of what indie authors are up against, not only when looking for mainstream reviewers but also book review bloggers, and what reviewers are themselves up against.
With paragraph headings like “We [reviewers] know it’s going to be rubbish”, as you can imagine, this led to a lively debate and raised a few hackles – not least my own. I think that the mistake I made was to be mildly offended by the double standards operating between Gav's use of the term “We Reviewers”, which includes the self-published and suggests a superior class of sentient being, and the notion of “Real Writers”, which excludes self-published proles like me.

Quotes from The Dissidents by H.M. Forester

“When it came to dealing with feral dissidents, there was only one unwritten law that superseded all others: "An' it secure a conviction, do what thou wilt.”

“The worst of all was to be faced with the interrogation technique of Thirty Seconds. The interrogator would say something and you had to respond quickly, without once repeating yourself or using the personal pronoun. Very few dissidents could last the full thirty seconds, and a refusal to comply was taken as equal proof of dissidence.”

“I? This is the very root of all evil, Potter,” the Special Investigator shuddered, reaching for her spray, as if to rid herself of some malodorous aftertaste. “How we detest that vile word. It makes us feel quite nauseous.”

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Ray Bradbury's "great blizzard of rejection slips"

In Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz (son of Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon series), a number of authors and celebrities were invited to write a five hundred word essay on how a favourite cartoon strip from Peanuts related to some aspect of their writing life.

This is what the sci-fi author Ray Bradbury had to say, on the subject of the rejection of his work by publishers:

“The amazing Blackstone came to town when I was seven, and I saw how he came alive onstage and thought, God, I want to grow up to be like that! And I ran up to help him vanish an elephant. To this day I don't know where the elephant went. One moment it was there, the next -- abracadabra -- with a wave of the wand it was gone!

“In 1929 Buck Rogers came into the world, and on that day in October a single panel of Buck Rogers comic strip hurled me into the future. I never came back.