Wednesday, 23 February 2011
It’s easy to look at the title or cover of a free e-story and download it on a whim as it costs no more than the negligible download data-size, and if you haven’t got a download limit it doesn’t mater at all. However, that all changes if the story costs money, even if it’s only 99p. I don’t think it’s necessarily the amount that makes the biggest difference, just the fact that you are now purchasing this commodity rather than merely acquiring it. Do people equate a low price to low quality? How different is it with no price? I don’t think this is ever equated to no-quality, or nobody would ever take a free download.
On occasion it seems that, for some people, the fact that a download costs anything is often too much, and this isn’t necessarily because they are too poor to afford it. I think it’s all down to perception of worth.
I’ve done it myself many times, whether it’s an e-book or a game download, I’ve thought ‘even 99p is still money.’ That suddenly makes it a transaction, and I find myself wondering if it is worth it when I wouldn’t think twice about spending vastly larger amounts of money on other, and far more mundane, things.
So why is this? Then I wonder why anyone should spend that money on my download rather than another one of the many available? It’s a decision I’ve personally made as a consumer many times, but when you are on the other side it’s all very different. No sale means nobody wants your baby, even if the decision is solely based on a title, a picture, and possibly some blurb.
I haven’t got an answer, but I am left with plenty questions…
What are people’s expectations of free and low-priced books?
Is ‘free’ seen as a taster of good things, where low-cost is seen as low-quality?
Are people more or less likely to buy an e-book priced at .99p than they are for $4.99, what about £7.99, or £17.99?
I think this mindset of ‘paying-for-something’ can obviously be applied to a much larger market than e-books. It’s determining the tip-over point between paying out any money at-all for something and deciding when the cost outweighs the possible risk. In the case of an unknown e-book the risk would be purchasing a badly writer book, or simply one you do not personally like. For some this tip-over point may well be anything, whether it is £20.99, .99p, or even .1p.
So what do you think that tipping-point is for you?
Tuesday, 22 February 2011
For a good few years my new hero was Scott Adams, and I spent many hours wandering through Adventureland, trying to find treasure in the Pirate's Cove, or attempting to kill The Count, but the technology of the time was limited, especially in terms of memory and this meant the story had to be told in the smallest amount of characters possible. Descriptions were sparse and responses short and to the point. Non of this diminished the fantastical worlds that these programs built up in my head, even today’s photo-realistic graphics cant hold a candle to those imaginary worlds summoned up by a handful of text.
So why did text adventure games disappear? Well, they didn’t really. They went to the deed-poll office and changed their name to Interactive Fiction, and to be fair some of this is really well written and rather good. Long gone are the days where text is restricted by memory size, now everybody’s phone has more memory than anyone dreamt possible back then. Location descriptions can flow on as long as they like, character responses can say as much, or little, as they need to, and the atmosphere, characters and plot can be built up just as good as any traditional book can, given an author with the appropriate skill.
And so to my original point: why aren’t digital-based Interactive-Novels big businesses already?
I see this as a logical extension of the text-adventure, the technology is here, the talent is there, and the technical groundwork is already well-and-truly done.
There is a relatively large and thriving underground Interactive-Fiction scene nowadays, a ready-made market waiting to happen, but absolutely no mainstream interest. So why is this?
Is it just that quality writers don’t consider this a proper use of there talent?
Is it just that nobody is willing to take a chance on this market? Games publishers are now polarising around the big-money first-person shooter genre, and book publishers may see this as well outside their market area, but in a world of e-everything how much longer will this be the case? E-readers are now becoming fairly common, and look like they are set to grow their market share. Maybe the next generation of e-readers can go interactive?
Then again, maybe it’s just that most ‘serious’ readers view an interactive book as in some way childish, or solely in the realms of games, and not for them. If this is currently the case, how long will that attitude last? Remember, we are coming up for three generations of adults that have grown up with computer games, the world and peoples attitudes move on.
So what do you think, why isn’t it already big, and what’s stopping it?
As I finish this post, the radio is singing ‘that’s entertainment’ at me, I couldn’t agree more!
Friday, 18 February 2011
The book in question is ‘Vurt’ the début novel by Jeff Noon. I bought the original Ring-pull Fiction version of this book when it was first published way back in 1993, and was instantly hooked. It went on to win the rather prestigious ‘Arthur C. Clarke Award’ in 1994. So my initial reaction to some of the scathing reviews was astonishment, quickly followed by confusion. Then againe, the main-stream publishers of the time weren’t interested in Vurt, so the small independent publishing house named ‘Ring-pull Fiction’ was set up by a publishing acquaintance of Mr Noon, more or less, in order to publish the book. And this may be the crux or the matter, because Vurt isn’t your ‘normal’ book, and this was my first clue to the origins of the rather scathing comments.
If you don’t know, Vurt follows the adventures, or more accurately the misadventures, of Scribble and ‘the stash raiders’ a group of society drop-outs generally on the wrong side of the law. Nothing miraculously original here, but where Vurt shines, for me, is in the fantastical pseudo, part hallucinatory, part virtual, reality that Noon constructs. This world along with the cut-and-slash fast-and-loose use of language is what makes Vurt for me. These were also the two most complained about aspects of the book. The fast pace of the text and copious use of slang and sometimes juvenile-sounding terms won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it does lend itself well to Scribble’s world view. I think you have to accept this view in order to fully accept and understand the book.
And so to the plot: basically, Scribble’s sister has been lost in the Vurt and replaced by a goo-oozing many-tentacled creature, referred to as ‘the thing from outer-space’. The story follows Scribble in his attempts to find his lost sister in the most dangerous layers of the Vurt, leading to mad chases to find meta-feathers that may or may not exist, close escapes from the shadow-cops, and encounters with robo-crusties, dog-men and zombies… none of which are exactly what you think they are.
The main plot-device in Vurt is the use of specially treated feathers to enter the strange shared reality of ‘the Vurt.’ These come in many flavours from the harmless to the potentially lethal. Enter the Vurt and you will become familiar with terms like ‘curious-yellow’ and ‘English-voodoo-garden’ as you eagerly seek the feathers and the meta-feathers, creations that only exist inside the Vurt.
The book has a strong undercurrent of tongue-in-cheek pseudo computing terms. These can be fun, if you recognise them, and manifest themselves in the structure of the Vurt and the techno-entwined ‘real’ world, as well as in characters such as ‘the sniffing general.’ But don’t worry if you don’t get the references, unlike some harder sci-fi it isn’t necessary or fundamental to be aware of the presence of this layer of the book. Vurt is all about layers, the corruption of the apparent ‘real-world’, the various levels of the Vurt, and meta-Vurt. The story plot’s its fevered way through all this, to what some called an anticlimactic ending, but things don’t always end with a bang, sometimes much-ado ends in a whimper.
Vurt was described on the site I read as ‘ a Cyberpunk novel’ and to those who deem themselves knowledgably in these things, that invariably invites direct comparisons to the 1984 ‘Neuromancer’ novel by William Gibson. Vurt is, in my opinion, nothing like this, and I don’t think it was ever intended to be. So if that was someone’s watermark expectation, I can see why a Vurt-feather may leave a bitter taste in heir mouth.
This book seemed to polarise a lot of readers, with some exalting it’s virtues, and others sighting accusations of ‘childishness’, ‘incoherent ramblings’, and even ‘destroying the English language.’ Wow, if one book was able to do that, surely it would truly be a book of note.
I’m not saying Vurt is a work of genius, but I did think it was a good, fast, and fun piece of nonsense, and what’s wrong with that? Surely not every book needs to have some deep profound meaning. Even my wife, who almost exclusively reads Star-Trek novels, couldn’t put Vurt down until she finished it in one reading.
Thursday, 17 February 2011
As I didn’t drive at the time and the nearest proper book-shops were all some distance away, it wasn’t particularly practical to visit these with any sort of regularity. So the mail-order clubs were a decent way into new fiction.
I quickly learned to ignore the reviews in the monthly ‘magazines’ they sent, as these were basically just ‘very’ thinly disguised advertising blurb. Forgivable, as after all selling books was their business, not educating the unread masses.
If you didn’t order from the magazine on a monthly basis you got sent the ‘editors choice.’ Basically in order to get your bumper-pack of ‘introductory books’ very cheaply you agreed to order something from each month’s catalogue, for a year, or you got sent a default book each month; probably something that wasn’t selling too well.
I was happy enough with the deal. I got a lot of books I wanted from the introductory offer, and there was generally more than enough in the monthly catalogue to catch my eye, although there were some months when, ether due to other commitments, circumstance, or simply forgetting I didn’t order in time and the default book was sent. Sometimes I did return these and ordered something else, ‘generally stating problems with the post’ as my excuse. I’m sure they had heard it all before but were generally very good at changing the books. However, sometimes I did discover a real gem that I wouldn’t normally have picked up.
It was through this mail-order subscription that I discovered some of my all-time favourite books, often by authors who were new and relatively unknown at the time.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain about things like this in the past, but I’m glad I signed up for this type of scheme. It opened a lot of literary doors to me that I wouldn’t have otherwise taken. For good or bad it was also largely responsible for introducing me to Terry Pratchett’s writing, and starting my extensive collection of Discworld books, merchandise, and general what-not's …
Tuesday, 15 February 2011
“Alice in Wonderland is a children’s book.”
“Alice in Wonderland is an old book.”
“Alice in Wonderland is a classic book.”
All things I’ve heard people say time and time again, but in my opinion the most important thing isn’t said often enough. Alice in Wonderland is a good book.
Now, you may think you’re in for a very bias review. In that case I hope to both disappoint and persuade you. Disappoint, because I’m not going to gush about its merits without showing just cause. I freely admit that I do want to persuade you that this is a good, well written, book suitable for anyone. If that makes it a children’s book, then fair enough, I can live with that. I’m not saying I want you to like it, that’s an entirely different thing.
So, if you don’t know, (is there anyone?) Alice in Wonderland was written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the pen-name of Lewis Carroll, and follows the adventures of our heroine, Alice, as she adventures through Wonderland and attempts to escape. Of course that is an apt description and a vast understatement of the plot. Alice herself isn’t depicted as a truly likable character. She can be obstinate, and obtuse. Her thought can be somewhat random and muddled, but can’t that be said about all our thoughts. Some of the, mostly anthropomorphic, characters she meets on her journey may seem rather clichéd to our contemporary eyes, but remember this was written in 1865 and has been credited for inventing some, if not most, of those clichés.
So why am I reviewing a book that was written almost one and a half centuries ago? Well, because I like it, but more than that I think it still reads well and has something interesting to say. Isn’t that what a good book should do? Yes, the language and prose is dated, and a modern book would probably not be written in this style. Things move on, but good ideas can live forever, and Wonderland is positively bursting with ideas. Logic is twisted into any shape Dodgson needs it to be, and the, occasionally inane, twittering voice of Alice is always written to further the nonsense of the story.
It may be argued that the plot, such as it is, is fairly inconsequential to the story. Nonsense, you may say… well yes nonsense indeed. The book is full of it.
I said I wanted to convince you that Alice in Wonderland is a good book. Well, it has a story, I won’t say plot, which positively drags the reader through it, not letting up for an instant. It is full of interesting and bizarre characters, and has a heroine who, if not immediately likable, is a complex and solid creation that drives the story forwards. Although the language and style of the writing is old, it is easy to read and follow. I’m not saying everyone will like the story, but it is a solid read, that in my opinion still technically stacks up well against the best of our current writing. Not bad for book from the mid eighteen hundreds.