Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween memories

This time of the year is always a little odd and a lot nostalgic for me. It's change of season ... in the northern hemisphere autumn (fall, if you prefer) is sliding down into winter; downunder, spring is drying out and heating up toward summer. In the north, it's Halloween (or Samhaine, if you're of the pagan persuasion), and no matter how long I spend in the southern hemisphere, the week which includes Halloween, my birthday and Guy Fawkes's Night still feels like it ought to be cold and dim, with possible early snow showers...



I guess, spending the first twelve years of your life celebrating your birthday while you scrape candle wax off the cement in the yard, and counting your fireworks, hoarding them against the big day -- November 5th -- makes so indelible an impression on a kid's brain that, 37 years after leaving the north, I am still haunted by thoughts and sounds, smells and impressions, of a time ... and a place ... that don't even exist anymore...



Small town England has been vanishing steadily as the cities conquer the landscape. Three or four villages collide with two towns and ... you've got a small city that swiftly expands. It was happening when I was a kid, and that was a long, long time ago. I remember the new housing estates (subdivisions, if you prefer) going up on every parcel of land that wasn't actually under the plow. But even so, small town England was never far from Nature, and when the seasons turned, when the land itself began to close down its branch offices in preparation for suspending business for the winter, you -- the human, even if you were only eight years old -- felt it...



In fact, you felt it keenly. All at once, you were looking for the biggest turnip or pumpkin you could find, to make a lantern (turnip lanterns were much more common in our part of the world; in those days, and in that place, pumpkins were close to unknown. I don't think I'd even seen one before landing in Australia in '71), and you were wearing your heavy coat, and the scarf, and the gloves. The days were shorter, not to mention colder. The shops were lit up by four in the afternoon -- and the display windows were full of fireworks...



Now, in almost every part of the world these days, fireworks are illegal. But in those days ... kids stood in line at the counter at the magazine shop to buy them ... 6d for this one, 9d for that one, and the others were four for a shilling. They had a fascination about them that belonged to this exact time of the year -- and also to this place. The US, Canada, Aus, Europe -- nowhere else in the world associates the smell of cordite, brightly-colored little cardboard cylinders, and the smell of raw turnips, and sizzling sausages, and woodsmoke, and cold, misty evenings with the first stars beginning to show...



Halloween and Bonfire night went hand in hand. The shops were full of fireworks for a couple of weeks before Guy Fawkes's Night, so one celebration overlaid itself on the other -- which was just as well, because Halloween itself was not the three-ringed circus it is today. In those days (and in that place) it was an excuse for a party for the adults, and a major romp for the kids, who would dress up as witches and goblins ... in home-made costumes, because the night was not (yet) commercialized, you didn't buy this stuff ... and have a turnip lantern bash in the back yard, with a sausage sizzle on the side. Talk about fun...



Winter was coming in, and in the back of every kid's mind was SNOW, and CHRISTMAS, and TIME TO GET OUT THE SLED (which in our part of the world was known as a sledge). Autumn, and Halloween, is a time every little northern hemisphere kid has to love, because you can feel the world changing, and you know Christmas is close. And for us, in a few days, on November 5th, there was going to be a ten-foot-high bonfire on the village green, where people would bring their fireworks and let them off, and it would be GREAT. There was no giant sky-show, as you see today (though, full marks go to the local County Council -- think city hall -- for organizing the biggest pyrotechnics show in the region, to replace the big bonfire and "b.y.o. fireworks," which were discontinued only a few years ago...



I feel myself privileged to have been there for the real thing: dwarfed by the bonfire, eyes watering on the woodsmoke, full of sausages and onions, watching my father set off rockets and Roman candles and Catherine wheels and what have you ... while forty other kids were doing the same. Guy Fawkes's night -- bonfire night -- was sheer magic, and also the day after my birthday ... made the celebrations go on and on, and you had the time of your life. Of course, it all began with Halloween, in a time and place where "Trick of Treat" was a phrase which was heard only in American movies. We had no idea what that was all about, couldn't make head or tail of it...



We lived in a particularly "haunted" part of the country, at a time when people were a lot more "sensitive" to the other, paranormal side of life. The past was all around you, in the form of streets that had been there since the time of Dickens and churches that looked like something right out of the Middle Ages. And some of them had great stories attached. Like the one above. It's ruined now ... vandals burned it to a shell. They also tried to burn the tree that stands in the foreground, but the tree ... wouldn't burn. Locally, it's been known as the "Witch Tree" for longer than anyone can tell. The legend says, a young woman accused of being a witch was been pursued by a rampaging band of Christians in a murdering mood. She fled to the church to beg for sanctuary, protection, but the priest denied her. To prevent the mob from burning her, she turned herself into a tree. And that tree will not burn. Eventually, after the church itself was abandoned, young vandals burned it, but still, the tree wouldn't burn, though God's House went up like a torch...



The place and time time seemed "haunted" by otherwhens and otherwheres. I was always a little bit psychic (not very; that, I left to my mother, who inherited it from her Irish grandmother), and I suppose I was half-aware of the other times, places and people that seem to come in close at Halloween -- if you can divorce yourself from the commercialized American kiddy-fest and remember the age-old night of Samhaine. The Celtic tradition, several thousand years old now, holds that on this night the "veil between the worlds" is so thin, it barely exists at all. The dead can and do walk; you can talk to them, be visited by departed loved ones -- and also by those who might have a grudge against you, so beware! This is the essence of Halloween, and when I was a kid, one had this half-awareness of it, which was the product of growing up in a very big, very old Irish community where the Catholicism was a paper-thin veneer laid over traditions which are so old, they were around when Christ was still swinging a hammer...



So, this was Halloween, for me: standing in line to buy fireworks, with the nose full of the sharp smell of gunpowder ... carving out a turnip lantern, inviting friends over for a bash in the backyard ... collecting twigs and sticks in the ancient church yard that dated back to the Napoleonic Wars, to make a backyard bonfire ... feeling the crispness in the air, smelling the woodsmoke of the bonfires which were bring lit all over the countryside as the "hedgers and ditchers" cleared out the byways before the snows came ... wondering if I was going to get for my birthday what I really wanted ... wondering when the first snow would come ... making some kind of costume to wear for the Halloween party ... all with the thoughts of Christmas in the back of the mind, and the much clearer thought that the 4th was my own big day (good golly, I'm in double figures this year!), and then it would be off to the village for the massive bonfire, and let off the fireworks I'd spent my pocket money on for the last couple of weeks...



To this day, chilly mornings, skeletal trees, mist curling in the shadows, the smell of woodsmoke (albeit, now, from the chiminea), the smell of sausages and onions sizzling, the whoosh!! of small fireworks, the smell of raw turnips and candle wax and toffee apples (think candy apples) -- it all brings back memories of a time, a place, which I don't suppose exist outside my own mind. Right now, we're making preparations for having miscellaneous kids knock on the door come twilight, yelling "trick or treat" and expecting candy ... only the pre-wrapped variety and no fruit, because in our lamentable era, one can't trust people not to put poison or razor blades in the mandarin oranges and home-made goodies. Kids aren't safe, knocking on doors ... some of them don't even dress up in costume, they just knock, yell "trick or treat" and expect candy ... and almost none of them know anything about the essence of Halloween -- Samhaine, when the earth is settling down to hibernate and the veil grows thin, and the dead walk.

Happy Halloween, 2008
MK

(Photos for this feature are by Mike Adamson, a writing partner of mine who was fortunate enough to visit the area in 2006, and brought back the evidence on a couple of flash cards.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Lords of Harbendane cover proof...!

Yet again, a second post (I seem to be making a habit of this lately), because there's something very exciting to share. The cover proof for THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE was just finished, and I have to say, I'm thrilled. Check this out:




I think this is probably our best cover yet ... and I know I say that every couple of books. Kudos to the artist, Jade. This one has a "wow factor" off the scale.

Apparently the foreground is someplace in Scandinavia; the mountain range and lake is in Denali National park, Alaska; the sky was repainted from a shot captured in the backyard. The character (Rogan Dahl, the Zhenander) is a composite of three faces, so if he reminds you of someone -- it could be three someones. I'm not telling who, but you'll almost certainly going to be guessing [snicker, snort, grin].

Stay tuned for the first chapter online, on the blog here!

Writing, Publishing, and odd ways to spend your life

A couple of readers' questions today ... meaning, the piece I'd wanted to write will have to wait till tomorrow -- because I can't locate its images. They're here somewhere, on SOME computer (there are five, and just as many floating hard drives), but after an hour of searching, damned if I can find them. And the person who would know where they are won't get here till after three in the PM.

So my reminiscences of a Northern Hemisphere kid-hood in the week that contained Halloween, my birthday and Bonfire Night, will have to wait, which gives me time and space to answer some questions which have been waiting for a few days.

First question: I write so much about the sea, I must really love it; what's my experience of working in it, on it, and under it?

Do I love the sea? Well, yes and no. In my entire life, I've never lived more than five miles away from it, so there's a fundamental "marine awareness" in the back of my mind. When you grow up with ships, you're not necessarily going to be a mariner, though the thought has occurred to me a few times. My parents were both associated with the Navy in one way or another; I have one uncle who captained a passenger ship and another who served aboard a battleship. My partner grew up on and around sailboats, and his brother is a 20-year USN veteran, and my brother is one of those bods who strap tanks to their backs and sink into the deeps. I can tell you hair-raising stories of scuba tanks in the trunk on days when its 160 degrees in the Sun, bouncing over speed bumps and holding my breath, waiting for the kaboom!! to happen.

Fortunately, it never did ... or I wouldn't be writing this. I grew up in a place where there was so much iron ore in the hills, compasses didn't work properly and incoming freighters used to routinely plow up on the beach. One of my most vivid kid-era memories is of being about four and building sand castles in the shade of a huge, beached, rust-rotten hulk of a freighter ... alas, if you put your spade in the sand, under 2" of pale yellow sand, it turned black with oil. So many ships had wrecked there, the coastline was as oily as Prince William Sound ... and the tragic thing is, in those days (looooong ago), nobody cared, although I will say, at least they did notice.

Since landing in Australia (37 years ago), I suppose I could say I've lived in, on and sometimes under salt water, on a more or less permanent basis. The sea isn't something you think about; it's just there. Which is to say, I'd miss it, big time, if we moved to a landlocked area; but having said that ... I'm more of a woodland person. I like boats. A lot. I also like cabins in the woods. A whole lot.

Second question, from a gent in the Pacific Northwest (which, to Alaskans is of course the Pacific Southeast ... though the denizens of the Olympic Peninsula don't like hearing it): "How do I find a publisher? Do they prefer folks who've gone to school for this, or at least taken a course? Can I make enough money out of writing in the short term to save my house?"

That's actually a bunch of questions, not one ... and they're tough to answer concisely enough to make them a fair topic for a single blog post. In fact, I've blogged on this topic several times, and rather than saying it all again, can I give you a couple of links -- one on-site here, and one off.

Take a look at this:
http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/09/publishing-series-read-it-in-order.html

This is the index to a series of articles I posted back in September. It's six inter-linked pieces which, slapped together, make a decent-sized book ... a lot of reading, at any rate, which addresses most of the questions raised by the gent in the Seattle area. I began with a look at the New York publishing industry, which is ailing, and went on from there to look at many aspects of writing and publishing -- including (but by no means limited to) the field of POD and do-it-yourself publishing. I also went into the whys and wherefores of how Keegan wound up in POD after signing more professional contracts than you can shake a stick at!

To this I'd just like to add ... sorry, it would take magic, or an act of the gods, for a beginner to make enough from writing to save his/her house. It takes YEARS to get a start in writing, and your first paychecks will probably be so small, you'll be stunned. First pay check I saw, for writing, was A$2000 in 1989 -- not an advance, a one-off sum, for the total sell-thru of a full-length novel. Given inflation, you'd probably get $3000 - $4000 today, but this won't pay your mortgage for longer than a few months, especially since (rats!) it's taxable, too. And when I got that first check, how many years had I been trying to find a publisher?! A lot. A BIG lot.

(Don't let this stop you trying ... but don't make your universe revolve around the necessity of being published and selling big, inside the next year ... it's a one in a million shot.)

There's also a very, very good free download ebook you should read:
http://hollylisle.com/downloads.html#mugging

Mugging the Muse is a collection of articles and features by fantasy novelist Holly Lisle. Doesn't matter if you're not a fantasy writer: Ms. Lisle talks about the business of writing and selling books in the completely generic sense. This isn't advice specifically for fantasy writers, or any particular kind of writer; it's sound advice for any writer who wants to take a serious crack at finding an editor, an agent, a publisher, and paying their way through life by writing. Highly recommended.

In the opening piece of Mugging the Muse, Ms. Lisle tells the horror story of how many (most?) writers are almost certainly going to land in the wonderful world of POD (like Keegan). I'm going to give you a quick outtake about the chain store practise of "ordering to the net", in the hopes you'll be inspired to go get Ms. Lisle's book:

    Every author you read, every author you like, is struggling to sell his work against an increasingly hostile computer ordering system that routinely decreases the size of book orders until it has decreased the author right off of the shelves. This system, called ordering to the net, is wiping out the midlist faster than you can blink, and with it, thousands of writers whose work you have read and loved for years. If you make it into print with a professional publisher, you too will be fighting against this pervasive evil.

    It works like this. The chains put in an order for 10 books per store. (That’s pretty high, incidentally, but I’m ever the optimist.) Of those, seven sell, one is read to death in-store and has to be scrapped, and two are still sitting on the shelves. This is a 70% sell-through, which will have your agent and you and your editor and your publisher dancing in the aisles. Nobody ever sells through at a hundred percent. 50% is considered acceptable, a 70% sell-through is considered terrific, 80% or better and you might as well be walking on water where you publisher and editor are concerned.

    I’ve had a number of books sell through at 70% or better . . . a couple way better. The sounds of jubilation are spectacular. While they last.

    Because then the chains reorder. Logically, if you have a book that sells through at 70%, you will order twice or even three times as many of that author’s next book, because sell-through remains constant. If you sell 70% of ten books, you will sell 70% of twenty books. Independent booksellers know this, and follow it. Chain stores do not. Chain stores order to the net – that is, they let the computer automatically reorder only the number of books that sold before. Therefore, they will not order twenty copies of your next book. They will not even order ten. They will order . . . seven. Why? Because they sold seven. And because sell-through remains constant, they will sell roughly five copies of your next book. (70% of seven is four-point-nine, or about five.) And because they only sell five copies of your second title, they ill order . . . you guessed it . . . five of your third title.

    And because sell-through remains constant, the chains will sell three-and-a half copies of your third book, and will also show a three-book pattern of dwindling sales. The fact that they and their computerized ordering system caused this pattern will not be brought out in your favor. The fact that your books are still selling through in great percentages will not be brought out in your favor. Only the fact that the computer has been ordering less and less of your books will ever be considered within the chains. So after three books, all things being equal, you are probably doomed. The chains won’t order your titles. Your publisher won’t be selling enough of your books to make it worth his while to publish you. And you can go forth to write under a new name, or you can go back to work as whatever you were before.
    http://hollylisle.com/downloads.html#mugging (Reproduced without permission, in the "fair trading" spirit of review, quotation, and advertisement. Now, go visit http://hollylisle.com/!!)

It's a sad end to an industry that was the pinnacle of achievement for the arts and magicks of the writer. However, POD, the Internet, computers, globalization, are also coming to the rescue. Writers like myself who have a large backlist can pick up our own reprints and market the hell out of them. Books can stay in print on a more or less permanent basis.

For example, FORTUNES OF WAR will be on Amazon, in its new edition, in a few weeks -- the first edition is 15 years old, and rather than a reader having to pay silly prices for an original "collector's edition," s/he can have the new edition for about $20. You gotta like that.

And speaking of silly prices at Amazon, there's some copies of the first book of my HELLGATE series changing hands for OVER US$200!!!! People, please! The new edition of The Rabelais Alliance is readily available, there's no shortage of copies:

Just go here: http://www.dream-craft.com/melkeegan/catalog.htm ... and click on HELLGATE from the menu on your left! This one click takes you to this screen:



...doesn't this look better than US$235 for one book?! Damnit, you could get the whole NARC series and the whole HELLGATE series for US$235.

Calm down, Keegan. Take a deep breath. Breathe. Frequently.

There. I feel much better now.

With luck, this will answer the questions readers have been asking, and tomorrow (also with luck) I'll find those images and be writing nostalgically of a time and a place which literally, are no more.

Join me for a Halloween amble down a memory lane smelling of woodsmoke, fireworks and sizzling sausages!

Cheers,
MK

      Wednesday, October 29, 2008

      Keegan's at Amazon at last!

      A second post for today, because when news is this good, you have to share it:




      Patience is rewarded It took 12 days out of a possible 15, but THE SWORDSMAN is now available on Amazon. If you don't have it because Amazon.com is the only online supplier you trust, now's the time to snag yourself an early Christmas present.



      Read the first segment of the book right here:
      http://www.dream-craft.com/melkeegan/swordsman_samp.pdf
      (Be aware that THE SWORDSMAN is a gay novel and unsuitable for younger readers. Consider yourself duely warned and ... enjoy!)

      Cover by Jade,
      284pp, 6" x 9"
      US$22.50
      Buy THE SWORDSMAN right now from Amazon!

      POD Publishing: good news for independent publishers

      For those of us who use Lulu.com as well as CreateSpace, there's been some great news recently. The only problem with Lulu has been the price to manufacture an individual book -- they were a LOT more expensive than CreateSpace, which made it utterly impossible for a Lulu book to get onto Amazon.com at a price where you could 1) expect to sell any copies, and 2) make anything out of the sale, or indeed, the venture as a whole.

      Lulu calculate their prices at (for a normal 6" x 9" trade size paperback) .02c per page plus $4.50 for the standard price of printing the full-color cover and perfect (glued spine) binding the book. So a 300pp book will be $6.00 + $4.50 ... $10.50. Dead simple. Change the numbers around to suit your book, to a maximum of around 700pp. (I think it's actually 740pp.)

      Now, CreateSpace has a much more baroque method of calculating prices, especially when the book is going to go to Amazon. To say it's complicated is putting it mildly:
      https://www.createspace.com/Products/BooksPrices.jsp

      However, if you just plug in the numbers and let the calculator do it for you ... and if you do the upgrade to the "pro" package for a POD title, you get a price of $4.45 for the same item. This is so low a "price to manufacture" that you, the indie publisher, end up with enough elbow space to actually get the book onto Amazon at a realistic price.




      Now, CreateSpace only buddied up with Amazon in the last half year, after Amazon really set the cat among the pigeons with its attempt to monopolize the POD industry. I've already blogged about this, and instead of reiterating, I'll just give you the link to the other post:
      http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/10/pod-publishing-amazon-and-gay-books.html ...

      ...and, if you want to go directly to the absolute nitty-gritty of this story:
      http://writersweekly.com/the_latest_from_angelahoycom/004597_03272008.html

      ...where Angela Hoy's article outlines the situation which prompted Amazon to buddy up with a real, genuine POD printshop -- CreateSpace.

      All well and good ... unless you were Lulu.com. Until the Amazon/CS partnership, Lulu was the best deal in town. Suddenly, though, there were more attractive ways to go -- and like any healthy animal with a desire to survive, Lulu checked out its options and decided to compete.

      Well, they're not 100% percent competitive (yet?) with the Amazon/CS deal, but they're not far off, and they just offered a package which is extremely attractive:



      Now, the Publisher Grade paper is only available at this point in US Letter and Half-Letter (something similar to A4 and A5), so the formatting for the book interiors will be a tad bit different, but the tradeoff is this:
      http://www.lulu.com/en/products/paperback/

      ...there's a price calculator on that page; plug in your numbers, select half-letter and prepare to have your chin hit your knees. At 6" x 9" on the normal creme paper stock, a 300pp book costs US$10.50 to manufacture, as I explained above. Drop the size to half-letter (a half inch smaller than 6" x 9" in both axes) and select the "publisher grade paper", and the same book can be made for (!) US$7.00.

      In other words, you're US$3.50 more profitable on any one item -- and with the bottom dropping out of the Aussie dollar, that could easily amount to A$7 better per sale -- which is a relief.


      (Contrary to what you might think, it takes between 150 and 300 sales to break even on the set-up work for a POD book, even though you only print them one at a time. Before selling them, not being Michelangelo yourself, you'll need to pay a cover artist; you might also have paid an editor to do a final check on the finished work; you'll have printed out no fewer than three copies of a 300pp manuscript; you might have mailed copies to your "proofies" intra- or interstate. You'll need to order at least one if not several pilot, or proof copies of the book to make sure it's good to go (Lulu can be fraught with font issues, since they use EPS printers ... makes like interesting.) You'll need to pay your proofies in copies, and then send out up to 20 review copies. You'll need a website, and unless you're skilled, you'll have to pay someone to build it. You'll also need to buy advertising in order to be visible in a world wide web which has swelled to incredible proportions... In other words, if you slap $10 per copy onto the book as your (ha!) profit margin, somewhere between sale #150 and sale #300 ... you finally, finally, finally, see black ink.)

      So this new option from Lulu.com comes as a tremendous boost to indie publishers. It's not quite enough to get the Lulu product onto Amazon at good prices, but it's close. (If you're interested, a book printed via Lulu's new offer would result in a list price of US$22.40 (about A$40) with US$5.00 or so leftover as the (ha!) profit margin for the publisher. At this price, you will sell copies if people want the book enough ... but Aussie and Kiwi readers won't be able to afford you, because it costs another US$12.50/A$20 to get the book shipped down here. Very few Aussies can afford $60 for one book these days ... if, indeed, they ever could.

      However, since most of your sales will always be made in the US -- it's not too bad at all. You're close to being competitive, and if Amazon decided to offer your book at a discount price, they take said discount out of their 60 share of the list price, not yours. Nice.

      Speaking of books, publishing and Amazon --



      THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE is going to Lulu first, and then CreateSpace/Amazin ... and very soon. The cover is almost finished right now, and I'll be able to show it to you, and let you read the first chapter, right on the blog here.

      THE SWORDSMAN -- available at the CreateSpace estore, STILL waiting for it to show up on the Amazon engine. Remember this post: http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/10/pod-publishing-and-amazon-patience-is.html

      NOCTURNE and TWILIGHT -- manufactured by CreateSpace in three days, and shipped out ... still waiting for delivery to Aus; could be another week or two.

      FORTUNES OF WAR: going up to CreateSpace today; the month-long process of getting a book to Amazon commences. Take a deep breath and cultivate patience!

      Tuesday, October 28, 2008

      Race riots, Prop 8 and economic gloom: civilization on the skids

      Keegan is not in an effervescent, cheerful mood today, so gird your loins and fasten your seatbelt for a ride down Damnation Alley on the skateboard from hell ...

      Eschatology. It's a cool word, isn't it? And we're hearing it a lot these days. It's also one of those words where the exact meaning dances around on the periphery of your brain, defying you to actually nail it down ... until you hit something like http://www.dictionary.com/ or maybe Wiki, and something along these lines pops up:

      Eschatology
      Es`cha*tol"o*gy\, n. [Gr. ? the furthest, last + -logy.] The doctrine of the last or final things, as death, judgment, and the events therewith connected.
      Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

      Even if you completely strip away the Biblical connotations, peel off ten onion-skin layers of theology, you're still going to wind up with the inescapable definition of "The study of The End of Something or Everything.

      And that old R.E.M. song inescapably leaps to mind...
        Six o'clock - TV hour. Don't get caught in foreign tower. Slash and burn,return, listen to yourself churn. Lock him in uniform and book burning,blood letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate. Light a candle,light a motive. Step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh,this means no fear - cavalier. Renegade and steer clear! A tournament,a tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.

        It's the end of the world as we know it.
        It's the end of the world as we know it.
        It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.


      Hollywood has been making megabucks out of this theme for -- how many years? Movies galore are predicated on the basic idea that civilization ... the world as we know it ... slides on into the sweet bye and bye, leaving heroes in small numbers to somehow survive and start again with the potential for a "new and better world," to quote Jules Verne, who wrote that line so bloody long ago, it's not funny. (It's from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Or, in fact, was the line written for the movie? If so, it still goes back 55 years ... to the Atomic Bomb era, and in gains a whole new resonance. Ouch).

      I Am Legend, Reign of Fire, Planet of the Apes (whole movie series, TV series, new movies), Final Fantasy II, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Mad Max/The Road Warrior, Soylent Green, The Omega Man, On The Beach, Escape From New York (and LA), The Terminator (and offspring), Survival Run, Fire in the Sky, Waterworld ... and Doctor Who has flattened the planet Earth so many times lately, you've just lost track (mind you, Captain Jack was great in the Dalek ones...)





      Captain Nemo had the right idea ... which would have been echoed by Ted Bullpit, no doubt: "Somebody should blow governments up." But --

      Hey guys, it's SCIENCE FICTION!! We don't really want to go ahead and do it ... or see the whole place slide feet-first into any reality we actually have to live in.

      And yet right now we're watching weird, weird thing happening, and we're going about our business as if it's just same old, same old.

      Climate change. Pollution. Economic collapse. Maniacs in charge of the most powerful government, with their finger on the big red button labelled 'Nuke Launcher.' Christian Fundamentalism gone bonkers. Right wing racists wanting to kill the only guy with any different answers to an impossible problem. Did I mention economic collapse?

      It won't be the end of the world. (Unless the aforementioned Fundamentalists decide to usher in Judgment Day; and according to their own icons and spokespersons, they're longing for Armageddon, so they can be raptured ... while the rest of us get snuffed.) But it could easily be the end of things as we've known them since the end of World War Two.

      Huge changes are coming in ... old markets vanish, new markets flourish; countries that were once rich are now broke; the climate goes boom!! and some of us are living in the desert while others are skating to work...


      Did you ever notice what's painted down the side of the truck in the above pic from Mad Max 2? (You knew it in the US as The Road Warrior, but to us, it was always Mad Max 2.) It says, "The vermin have inherited the earth."

      Now, way back when it was on the big screens ... is it really 27 years ago when this movie came out?! Good gods, where does time go? ... everyone believed that the cockroaches which would inherit the planet after the Big Crunch would be the rough, tough, nasty, horrible, cruel, mean, rotten bast-fellows at the bottom of the social ladder, who were "mobile enough to scavenge, ruthless enough to pillage."

      Uh-uh. Wrong. The fact is, the cockroaches inherited the Earth while we weren't looking; and they're so powerful, they're untouchable; and they live in the stratosphere of human society. Druglords. Warlords. Senators. Congressmen. State Gubnors. Churchmen of every religion, Christian, Muslim and whatever else you care to mention. And of course, the captains of industry.

      The eschatologists are, right now, studying at firsthand the breakdown of the societal model we've known since 1945 ... but apparently it's happening faster than we'd imagined. So much is happening, so fast: Prop 8 will show where the hearts and minds of the people really lie in regard to civil liberties. I've blogged about this before: http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/10/gay-marriage-rights-prop-8-opens-door.html ... there's a dim future lying behind the door marked "Prop 8," but this is still only one small facet of the big picture...

      The loss of marriage rights for the GLBT community might easily open the gate on the loss of civil liberties for Americans of color, women, impoverished minority groups and Americans of other religions, but even so, these social tragedies will only affect some of the population of one country -- the US.

      Meanwhile, economic collapse, spearheaded by the US, will affect billions of people, with at least some political pundits speculating on another war as a way to break out of the rut. Remember, it took World War Two to kickstart industry in the west, get the gears turning, after the Great Depression.

      These are not happy thoughts, but with this morning's news featuring another market downslide, plus the ATF department revealing yobs and slobs planning to go on a killing spree with the death of Obama as its bottom line ...
      http://www.reuters.com/article/wtMostRead/idUSTRE49Q7KJ20081027

      ...prompting this, from Black Star News:

        "McCain and Palin again proved that they were reckless and willing to appeal to, and even hope for, the basest and most hateful instincts. They were both quick to call and offer sympathy to the family of Ashley Todd, the crazed white woman who claimed that she had been attacked by a Black man who carved out the word “B” for Obama on her face, in Pittsburgh. Turns out that she had concocted the whole incident. McCain and Palin had been hoping that the incident would appeal to race sentiments that they would be able to convert into votes. What a sorry pair of losers.
        This nation would never fully recover from the mayhem and destruction that would erupt if Senator Obama were to be harmed. Even skinheads and others who wish the senator ill must have more sense.
        http://blackstarnews.com/?c=135&a=5044

      And try this one for size: "A woman in Somalia has been stoned to death after an Islamic Sharia law court found her guilty of adultery. The woman was buried up to her neck and then pelted to death with stones in front of a large crowd in Kismayo." That story broke about the time I was starting to type this.
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7694397.stm

      And how about this one: "Syria yesterday condemned the US for launching "criminal and terrorist aggression" on its soil while the Iraqi government defended action against foreign jihadis amid warnings it might complicate plans for a controversial security agreement..."
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/oct/28/syria-usa-iraq-bush-terrorism

      Want more? How about this, from the San Francisco Chronicle (the last place the country you'd except to read this): "Go ahead: It's a little crazy, but vote "yes" on Proposition 8. We are all feeling just a bit helpless in scary economic times. So, get a little thrill when you vote to deny some folks in our state their civil rights. It might even make you feel as though you've regained some control in your life."
      http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/26/ED5113L0MS.DTL

      And what's Australia doing? Our government is trying to censor / block / filter the Internet with more fervor than is invested in a smiliar project in Iran! Porn and terrorist subjects are a fine place to start (to protect our children...) but how easy would it be to extend the block list to include political subjects, and topics the government just doesn't want you to know about. What better way for the aforementioned cockroaches to keep the rest of us muzzled as the whole place melts down into chaos:
      http://mel-keegan.blogspot.com/2008/10/australian-internet-censorship.html

      What burns your noodle is, these are all the stories of ONE MORNING. You'd be forgiven for being convinced the world as gone utterly, completely bonkers.

      Of course, the solution to the whole situation is ... don't read the news.

      Oh, boy,

      I'll find something cheerful, righteous and uplifting tomorrow, I promise.

      Ciao for now,
      MK

      Monday, October 27, 2008

      Publishing, ebooks, Amazon ... and the future

      In almost every part of the publishing industry the plaintive question is the same: "Where did the customers go?!" Readers aren't in a buying mood ... they're looking to get "more for less," and who can blame them? I know I've said this before, but when you're trying to make the mortgage, car payment and cover the power bills, and you have a hankering to eat once or twice this week, something has to go -- and the first things to get nixed are your luxury goods and services.

      Books, DVDs, music, the salon, the more expensive restaurants and boutiques, that $25 bottle of wine, the trip to Tahiti. All of the above turn into a trip to the book exchange, Blockbuster to rent something, DIY primp-and-preen at home, a swing by Pizza Hut, a swift duck into K-Mart for a teeshirt, beer instead of wine, and a weekend camping.

      All very good for your budget -- and "good on you," because these are the strategies through which you will survive the lean times and come out the other side of this (gak, choke, retch, puke) global recession with a nice life.

      The other side of the coin, though, is what's happening in the luxury goods and services market! Just have a look at these stats for book sales in the USA, and give a thought to writers, publishers, booksellers:
        Among the book groups registering decreased sales were higher ed, down 30.5 percent to $8 million; religious books, down 21.5 percent to $34.2 million; children's/YA hardcovers, down 19.9 percent to $39 million; university press paperbacks, down two percent to $2.7 million; the important adult hardcover sales category, down 4.6 percent to $110 million; and children's/YA paperback sales, down 3.1 percent to $39.3 million.

        Not all sales were down. Among the book categories registering increased sales were inexpensive e-books, up 19.9 percent to $3.4 million; university press hardcover sales, up 12.1 percent to $5.6 million; adult mass market sales, up 4.7 percent to $53.2 million; adult trade paperback sales, up 4.5 percent to $118.3 million; and audiobooks, up 1.7 percent to $12.6 million.
        http://bookpublishingnews.blogspot.com/2008/07/book-sales-in-decline-as-us-economy.html

      That post on Book Publishing News, Book Sales in Decline as U.S. Economy Contracts, goes back to July 13th, a couple of months before the "big crunch" we're feeling now. You know what'll have been happening in the last few weeks, since Wall Street started to melt down.

      But out of the gloom comes one stat which makes you lift a brow. The antennas go up ... inexpensive ebooks are up almost 20%.



      Meaning, people still like to read. Some are shopping for used books; some are buying sale stock off the remainder tables. Both of these shopper strategies are Sudden Death to publishers and writers, incidentally. Writers don't get paid at all for remainders and used book sales ... publishers lose a ton of money. Here's another quote from the same post as above:

          "Most bookstores buy stock for 20 to 40 percent off suggested retail," May said. "But they can buy remainders and other bargain books for as much as 90 percent off retail price. That means they can sell the books for less in a time when consumers are spending fewer dollars on books, and still make a higher profit margin."

        Do read the whole thing if you have an interest in any part of the book trade ... it's well worth a look.

        But other readers are willing to embrace the concept of ebooks. And, as a writer, I have to say this interests me strangely. From my own experience, since the Keegan books were uploaded to Payloadz.com, I know that ebooks sell at least as well as paper copies...

        And Amazon also sells ebooks these days ... for high prices as well as budget prices. The way it works seems to be, if you want your ebooks sold via Amazon, you get them registered with one of the electronic fulfilment companies (Lightning Source, for one), and "enable" Amazon sales.



        So you know we'll be looking at this, as soon as the project to get all the Keegans up on Amazon is complete. I just had a look at the "Kindle Store" and to date there are 7,779 titles listed under Science Fiction, and 1,082 titles listed under Gay.

        (Incidentally, keeping you up to date with Keegan's progress to Amazon: we're now three weeks into the process of publishing THE SWORDSMAN to Amazon via CreateSpace ... and still waiting for the book to show up in the book search engine at Amazon. It takes a solid month to get a new title through the cogs and gears of the machine, and "up there." We have another week to do. Meanwhile, both the gay vampire books have been re-published in the last week, but they have a loooong way to go before they show up at Amazon. It's a long, infuriatingly slow process. The pilot (proof) copy of NOCTURE was shipped in three days ... we were just lucky to get SWORDSMAN shipped overnight. Now, we wait for the post office to deliver; and USPS warns it can take 28 days for delivery. Yeeeouch.)

        Now, the downside to the Amazon kindle thing is the price of the doohickey itself. A Kindle reader costs US$359.00, ... which is something in the nature of A$650, and to that you can add postage and insurance. It'll be costing A$700 for an Aussie reader to buy the damned thing, and about NZ$800.

        Very few readers down here would be investing in this, when you could buy about 70-100 used books for the same price! (If you're interested and haven't seen the Kindle, and in fact the price sounds okay to you ... perhaps you're in the US or Canada ... here's the link to take you right there:

        http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FI73MA/ref=sv_kinc_0

        Now, having said all that about Aussies and Kiwis not being in the market ...

        About 90% of all book sales we make take place in the US. And right now, you know from the statistics given above, US readers are slowly making the switch to e-gear, with ebook sales up almost 20% as long ago as July, before the krapp started to hit the fan.

        I'm going to go off at a tangent here for a minute. Three YEARS ago, a Chinese economist based in Hong Kong and writing for China Daily, analyzed the American financial situation ... the way George Dub-yuh is covering the deficit by selling Treasury Bonds to the central banks of countries like China, Japan, Russia, and printing money to cover said deficit. This economist predicted the entire Big Crunch we're suffering right now -- with one exception: he figured it would happen in 2006 or 2007. He was off by twelve months:

        Let me give you the high points ... but please do read the whole thing! ...

          The US Government indebtedness is financed this way: The US now runs a trade deficit roughly 6.5 per cent of its GDP and the gap is widened every day. Its citizens are spending ever more on foreign goods, and with the US dollar as the international currency, the US Government just prints money to finance the deficit. And with this money, central banks in the surplus countries purchase most of the US Treasury bonds as currency reserve.

          By now, Japan is the largest creditor of the US Government, and the Chinese mainland has been a fervent buyer for the last few years. As for Hong Kong, most if not all of our reserves are in US dollar denominated assets. The US Government in turn uses this foreign borrowed money to finance as much as 90 per cent of the federal deficit which stood at US$412 billion last year. The federal deficit is expected to be running at about US$2 billion a day at the moment.

          Put it simply, the Americans have been living way beyond their means for much too long. On top of this, the Bush Administration is cutting tax at least three times while fighting an expensive war in Iraq, which has already cost the country US$700 billion, and currently progressing at US$5.6 billion per month. Now the US economy is dependent on the central banks of Japan, China and other nations to invest in US Treasuries and keep American interest rates down. The low rates keep American consumers snapping up imported goods.

          Any economist worth his salt knows that this situation is unsustainable. This includes the country's economic guru driver Alan Greenspan, who recently warned his countrymen that the federal budget deficit would hamper the nation's ability to absorb possible shocks from the soaring trade deficit and the housing boom. Now he may have to add two more worries: soaring oil prices and cyclones.

          The US is now clearly in huge trouble, economically, socially, politically, and internationally. The Bush Administration bungled big in cyclone Katrina's aftermath in New Orleans, and then a minor rerun from Rita in Houston, and this will trigger the general outburst of people's dissatisfaction with the government, leading to great internal turmoil lasting for many years. In all likelihood, long-term interest rates are going to rise, and the greatest property bubble the world has witnessed is going to burst in the next one to two years.

          The countdown is in progress, and there is no way that anybody can do anything to reverse it either by short-term measures such as fiscal and monetary policy, or through long-term reform of tax policy, entitlement programmes and even the entire federal budget. This is as inevitable as gravity, and it will take place under a new and inexperienced chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. I do not want to sound alarmist, but I see very bad omens.

          To make things simple, let us just examine some key economic issues raised by some economists:

          What if the dollar plummets? Do stocks follow? How about pensions?

          What if interest rates soar? How would all the new homeowners, who stretched to buy with adjustable and interest-only loans, cover their mortgages?

          How would consumers with record credit-card debt make their payments? Would they stop buying? Stop taking vacations? What will happen if they go bankrupt? New rules going into effect later this year make it harder on such debtors.

          How would a government, which depends on the taxes of a strong economy to operate, keep all its promises?

          To us, the good news is that when the country is in deep trouble, the US will not have the energy to pick on China. Even when it is necessary to start another war to divert people's attention, it would pick one much smaller in size and weaker in strength, like Iran. This will provide a much more amicable environment for China to make good use of its "period of strategic opportunity" till 2020 for the country to pass through a turbulent zone between per capita income of US$1,000-3,000.

        http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=1110

        ...in other words, it's absolutely no surprise that what's happening is happening. The practical upshot of this is that publishers and writers are going to have to find a way to navigate through the troubled waters ahead.

        To begin with, surveys say plainly, less people are reading less often, and spending less on books ... and growing numbers of Americans can't read at all! Hard to believe, I know, but check out this article from The New Yorker ... and it's almost a year old! ...
        http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2007/12/24/071224crat_atlarge_crain

        Shocking, isn't it? So, on a global basis, the reading public can be said to be contracting to a core of folks who LOVE to read, and probably read all the time for the pleasure of it. That's no bad thing. But at the same time, these readers are finding it harder to afford the book AND the groceries. So, prices must come down ... and how do you manage that, with the price of everything from gasoline to gumdrops heading north fast?

        Bookstores are looking at remainders at sale prices (which is Sudden Death for publishers and writers, as related above) ... and at the same time ebook sales are increasing. Fast. Very soon, ebooks will be commanding a market share that is impossible to ignore, and they will become very attractive indeed.

        Food for thought, isn't it? And it's giving Keegan a sense of direction for 2009.

        For the moment, if you're reading this and have no idea who this Keegan dude is, but these gay ebooks are sounding pretty interesting, here's the Ebook Kiosk on my website:
        http://www.dream-craft.com/melkeegan/ebooks.htm

        Cheers,
        MK

        Sunday, October 26, 2008

        Sunday in Groovetown


        A long time ago (in a galaxy right around the corner) there was a movie made about how the Apocalypse hit Aus. It was made in 1977 or thereabouts (it actually was on the big screen at the same time as Star Wars), and top of the cast was one of everyone's favorite gay actors, Richard Chamberlaine ... still quite young and handsome, and very charming.

        The movie was called The Last Wave, and in this prediction of The End of the Antipodes (they never said anything about what was happening in the rest of the world), it started with a massive tidal wave -- like something out of the director's cut of The Abyss -- clobbering the fair city of Sydney.

        But throughout the movie, it was water ... water ... water. Rain, rain, rain. Floods and more floods. WATER. Eschatology never had it so wet.

        And right now, The Last Wave's take on the apocalypse is looking mighty appealing. We look less like the Australia of this movie than like Tatooine. Seriously.

        It's still October -- meaning, mid-spring here. Yesterday it was the Celsius equivalent of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, massively too hot for the average temp. for this month. The wind direction changed and it's cooler today, and SIX whole spots of rain fell this morning. I know they fell; I counted them.


        Right now, we'd be happy to have the kind of apocalyptic scenario depicted in The Last Wave ... at least we wouldn't be heading back into water restrictions! What basically happens is that you carry a lot of buckets of water, without which your garden will die, because by January you won't even be allowed to hand-water with a hose.

        If you like your garden, you get callused hands. Meanwhile, a lot of people are taking the gardens out and putting in concrete or pavers. You'll certainly have softer, smoother, younger looking hands, if you have concrete where the lawn used to be.

        Now, the city of Adelaide does, at the very least, have a lot of reservoirs; we've never (yet) reached the point where the government has turned off the water (though rellies in the UK have reported their water being turned off in the worst heat waves; one shudders at the thought).



        At this point, I'm still making light of the situation, but in fact it's no joke. Desalination and storm water capture are necessities for the very near future ... or we'll be renaming this city Mos Eisley and keeping a weather-eye open for ships matching the description of the Millennium Falcon ... which wouldn't be so bad, if Han Solo were to show up unexpectedly at the local boozer now and then, but with our luck we'll get JaJa Binks (and no, I have no idea how to spell that, and am disinclined to learn).

        Seriously, we need some rain -- we need a LOT of rain. The hills are already burned yellow, and October has been way too hot for this time of year. Global warming ... it's hard to believe that there are still people out there who deny the reality. Not too many of 'em live down here.

        Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go chase the Jawas out of the driveway before they make off with the car --

        And you're absolutely right: nothing is happening in the Keegan Zone. Well, nothing you'd want to read about on a blog post, anyway.

        Ciao for now,
        MK

        Saturday, October 25, 2008

        Australian Internet censorship: government v. the people

        A second swift post for today -- a kind of post script to my main post. Interested in Australian Internet censoring / filtering / blocking ...? Then, you must read this:

        http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/biztech/government-gags-web-censor-critics/2008/10/23/1224351430987.html

        ...Filtering out the fury: how government tried to gag web censor critics.

        This appeared in the last 24 hours or so, and it's a beauty. If you don't have time for the whole thing (though it's highly recommended) I'll give you a couple of the high points here:

          The Federal Government is attempting to silence critics of its controversial plan to censor the internet, which experts say will break the internet while doing little to stop people from accessing illegal material such as child pornography.

          Internet providers and the government's own tests have found that presently available filters are not capable of adequately distinguishing between legal and illegal content and can degrade internet speeds by up to 86 per cent.

          Documents obtained by us show the office of the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, tried to bully ISP staff into suppressing their criticisms of the plan.

          Colin Jacobs, chair of the online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia said: "I'm not exaggerating when I say that this model involves more technical interference in the internet infrastructure than what is attempted in Iran, one of the most repressive and regressive censorship regimes in the world."

          Critics of the ISP-level filtering plan say software filters installed by the user on their PC, which are already provided by the government for free at netalert.gov.au, are more than adequate.

          ACMA released a report in July detailing the results of laboratory tests of six unnamed ISP-level filters.

          Only one of the filters tested resulted in an acceptable speed reduction of 2 per cent or less. The others caused drops in speed between 21 per cent and 86 per cent.
          The tests showed the more accurate the filtering, the bigger the impact on network performance.


          However, none of the filters were completely accurate. They allowed access to between 2 per cent and 13 per cent of material that should have been blocked, and wrongly blocked between 1.3 per cent and 7.8 per cent of websites that should have been allowed.

          "Why would you want to damage the performance and utility of the internet and not actually keep the bad stuff out anyway," said John Lindsay, carrier relations manager at Internode.
          In Senate Estimates, Senator Ludlam expressed concern that all sorts of politically-sensitive material could be added to the block list and otherwise legitimate sites - for example, YouTube - could be rendered inaccessible based on content published by users.


          "The black list ... can become very grey depending on how expansive the list becomes - euthanasia material, politically related material, material about anorexia. There is a lot of distasteful stuff on the internet," he said.

        Naturally, the Australian government is going ahead regardless, even though it's been pointed out that the filtering won't stop P2P downloading, which apparently accounts for about 60% of download traffic ... and if the child pornography is getting in somehow, bet your pension, that's how it's happening.

        Go figure. But think about this: every 1% of the Internet as it stands today is 60,000,000 pages. Sixty million pages. If Australia loses 7% of the Internet -- which was wrongly blocked in the first place, because these were legit pages! -- we'll lose 420,000,000 legitimate pages ... maybe pages talking about health issues or AIDS, or cancer in various body parts where the word "breast" or "testicle" or "penis" will get the page blocked.

        Meanwhile, 13% of the material that should have been blocked got through. Now, the bold, unstoppable Keegan just hit Google for a web search on the simple keyword SEX. Ma Goog returned "about 730,000,000" results. If 13% of that lot get through, you have 94,900,000 potential porn pages available to sweet little Australian kiddies.

        At the same time, the Internet just slowed down by over 80% of its speed, meaning dial-up users can't connect and sites like YouTube, CNN, even the notoriously slow Hotmail, will be useless to Australians.

        Porn-wise, it'll be as if nothing was being done to protect the poor little children whose parents are so stupid, they can't get Net Nanny and install it...

        Rural Australia wise: the dial-up accounts are worthless...

        And almost HALF A BILLION legitimate pages have vanished utterly...

        And, "Senator Ludlam expressed concern that all sorts of politically-sensitive material could be added to the block list..."

        And Kevin Rudd's witless government, under his Christian guidance, is steaming ahead with a plan that'll put us further out there than Iran.

        Ooooh, boy. Stop this planet, I want to get off.

        Internet filtering, banned books and the APA

        I was thinking again about Internet censorship and its impact on the free (as in, uncluttered and unfettered) transmission of information, and I got to wondering if we're not focusing too much on the media, and forgetting the content. Let's be logical about this: as phenomenal and indispensable as it is, the Internet is only around 15 years old, and if you go back to 1993, you land in the Outer Limits, or the Twilight Zone, of Telnet, BBSs, notice boards, Compuserve, and other subscriber services which were like the WWW but not really the same as what we know today.

        (The only services I can think of on today's Net that are similar are the subscription pages where they'll give you the summary of an academic paper, then tell you that you need to pay a whacking great fee to get access to the archive where the material lives ... also, those "friends only" blog pages where you need to be logged in to read more than the first 100 words of the post. In other words, you have to be a member (either for a fee or a registration) to access the content.)

        So, as fantastic as the Internet is, it's so recent a medium that getting one's knickers in a twist about censorship of (or on) it is only partially intelligent. It's not the medium we're actually fretting about; it's the information which is transmitted over the web, to which we stand to lose access if they're start in on this Internet filtering stupidity. Right?



        Long before the Internet, there was a beast called the Amateur Press. APAs (amateur press associations) flourished back as far as the days of mimeograph machines and staplers; and when photocopying and laser printing came in, they enjoyed a golden age. In the 1970s right through to the 1990s, the APA-sphere went absolutely berserk.

        What did they publish? Magazines. Newsletters. Books. Catalogs of the above. Fiction; nonfiction; critical review of anything, anywhere, and everyone. Celebrity watches. Anthologies of short stories; poetry; artwork; photos; full-length novels; book and movie reviews; political commentary...

        In fact, everything that would be replaced by wepbages and, in these last years, blogs.

        In a worst case scenario, if the Internet ends up crippled, we can always fall back on the APAs. And it will be a worse-case scenario for several reasons. First, we'll have to pay money for photocopying and postage (shock, horror) as we used to 20 and 30 years ago. Secondly, we'll have to wait 2-3 weeks for the post office to deliver (ditto). Aaargh, we'll never survive!

        We're used to getting everything NOW, and mostly FREE. That's the real lure of the Internet -- not the fact that it carries materials which you can't get anywhere else (yes, you can), or because it transmits information that's so far out there that there's no other way to get it (yes, there is), but because we want our goodies NOW, and we don't wanna pay.

        In other words, we're spoiled rotten. Or are we? Consider this:

        Cost of an ordinary PC: $1500. Extra harddrive: $200. Big jumpdrive: $50. Broadband connection: $720/year. Scanner: $100. Garden variety color printer: $100. Spindle of blank DVDs: $60. Box of budget paper for printer: $30. Ink tanks or toner cartridge: $90. Basic color laser printer: $400. Color toner refills: $800.

        You're up around an absolute minimum of the three grand marker now ... that's a high price to pay for your "free" feed of censorship-sensitive goodies, guys (say that three times, fast; have three vodkas and try it again).

        Way back when -- let's go back to 1988 -- you bought your reading in the form of an APA magazine. It was photocopied onto whatever paper size, and very nicely bound (could be on a coil; could be perfect bound). Big-run magazines had full color covers. Smaller run mags had silk-screened color work, including color interior art. Photos and art were "screened" and printed at quite high quality. Color photos were sometimes shipped separately on a 3.5" floppy disk -- or perhaps a set of 2 or 3 disks which shipped along with the magazine. And this "mag" might be 300pp thick ... more like a massive book than a magazine.

        Subject matter? You name it. Anything. Everything. Price tag? Could be $30 + postage -- meaning, maybe $50 to get it delivered to your door. For that, you got up to a half million words to read and scores of photos, illustrations, plus photo disks.

        You're going "ouch! Fifty bucks!" Well, you just don't realize you're paying three grand to get your "free" Internet goodies. How many APA mags could you get for that price? You could get about two new ones a month for three years. That's maybe 20,000 pages of ... whatever; as much as twenty million words to read, and dozens of photo disks.

        In fact, it probably turns out that your "free" Internet feed is costing you more than the old APA supply, where you'd watch your mailbox and a great big, thick, beautiful book would be delivered with virtually any content you can imagine.

        Uncensored. Unfiltered. Uncut. Because you bought direct from the APA, and they printed five or ten as they needed them. Inside these magazines, a contributor would say anything, about anything ... the era of free speech was never so liberated. For example, gay fiction abounded in the APA long before it dared come out significantly in the commercial world. And as for erotica ...! Also politics, pop science, UFOs, climate watch, conspiracy theories, book reviews, anything, everything.

        The Internet came along as both a blessing and a curse. In the early days of the changeover, APA publishers used webpages to sell their magazines. Slowly but surely, the magazines went online; some became blogs, others became archives. Newsletters turned into emails. The physical magazines vanished altogether...

        Everything became free (or, "click the $2 donation button" to help pay for the costs of website hosting and anti-virus software and graphics ... and you'd be shocked to know how many people are so cheap these days, they won't even click a dollar donation button).

        And then we started to realize that there were strings attached -- but in the early days the strings were long and loose, and there weren't too many. I recall a time when there was no advertising on the web. None. The first strings to be attached to the Net were the ads -- suddenly you had to endure the fluttering, flickering, dancing animated GIFs that made pages take an hour to load over slow connections...

        But behind the scenes the software routines were being written to target ads, set cookies, handle sales, record customers, block IP numbers, track searches ... and report.

        Report what, and to whom? Essentially, to report everything; and it's neither a secret nor a joke that Google answers to security services such as the CIA and FBI. The argument is that Google is used to plan terrorist campaigns.

        It's a good argument, almost certainly true; but the use to which the argument is being put is not so cool. Search Engines record the IP address (which is the unique ID of your computer) behind every search, everywhere, all the time.

        So, if you think there are no strings attached when you go online and search for pages about [fill in the blank] which are perhaps a little naughty, think again. Google knows which computer originated the search. What Ma Goog knows, the US government knows. It's dead easy to track an IP address down to a street address ... your ISP knows where you live, because you use a credit card to pay your account.

        The strings attached to your "free" information are getting shorter all the time. Now, for myself, I don't have a problem ... I don't surf the "mature content" sites, and the only interest I have in terrorist activities is a morbid fascination which I share with all other humans. Also, as a writer, I need to know a bit about them, otherwise I can't characterize them believably...

        What troubles me, personally, about Internet censorship is that it will inevitably be widened to include subjects like politics, religious freedom, sexual preference, euthanasia. Say, you're a gay pagan who's just been diagnosed with a terminal disease. You're going to score highly in all four categories: you're politically marginalized everywhere you turn ... and just looking for a way to safely and painlessly get the hell out of this life before the end turns too ugly.

        In a censored world, where Big Brother is not only recording your web searches but (and it's the next step) filtering the content you need to see to make your death as pleasant, as spiritual, as tranquil, as painless, as possible ... you're screwed. You'll land on a respirator in a geriatric ward with a homophobic nurse and a Christian chaplain reading Bible-babble to you, as you shuffle off this mortal coil.

        Not good enough, is it?




        This is the price of "free goodies" in medium that's widely thought of as being free ... and in fact, isn't. The WWW is bloody expensive, and the strings which are attached to everything we do online are getting terribly short -- they're just shortening and tightening invisibly.

        Governments like those in America and Australia are playing with fire, though they don't yet know it. Censorship of the Internet will -- in the honest opinion of Nostrakeeganus! -- usher back in a new version of the old APA era. When you drive freedom of speech underground, it bears fruit ... with bigger, juicier, sweeter crops than ever. Think about this:

        You want your stuff (paganism, euthanasia info, erotica, gay stuff, whatever). You visit a webpage you've read about in an email attachment on a newsletter, or more likely on the grapevine. The attachment was zip file for which you need a password; the password is given in a second, GIF attachment. Inside the zip file is a directory of what's in 1,257 other zip files, all accessible from a plain page. You read your catalog, decide what you want, download the zip archive of your fancy ... enjoy ... and for godsakes have the decency to click the $2 donation button and help cover the costs of this setup. Also, tell your friends. The grapevine rules. The more the merrier. Searchbots cannot read passwords given as GIFs, and they cannot open ZIP archives.

        The age of the APA could easily be reborn. Of course, the government is going to know full well what's going on, because pages will be popping up everywhere with thousands of ZIPs linked to them, and healthy -- bland -- email newsletters going out, all with these two attached files, the ZIP and the GIF.

        Push will quickly come to shove ... you know the people responsible for Internet censorship and filtering, and search engine monitoring, will get into the eAPA archives and look for ways to shut them down. And yes, they'll find ways. What's next?

        Let me put it like this: desktop printed magazines are really, really pretty ... guys who refill toner cartridges are going to start getting rich, and the post office will start making a fortune. And unless Uncle Sam and the dickheads in Canberra fancy opening every parcel heading into any country carrying a label saying, "Contents: 1 Book," you'll get the stuff you want exactly the way it was delivered as long ago as (!) 1965.

        And here we begin to slither into a whole new area: banned books. You can bet your bottom dollar there will be banned APA books, the same way books are still being banned right now, today. What kind of books? At the moment it's less about sex than about information:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banned_books

        For example, euthanasia is a topic some governments (Australia's) don't want you to know about, no matter how sick you are, how much it hurts, and how much you believe in life after death. If they can find the book with the real data, they'll ban it. But copies will slither through and, hey, we all know how to work xerox machines. Even beyond the APA was 'circulation" ... features articles, stories, even whole novels carrying the "print me, pass me on" label.

        You won't be able to buy the books you want at Amazon.com, and you certainly won't be able to download them. But you can be on a grapevine that'll tell you where to go to download a ZIP file, and then you print out the PDF and ... done. Pass it on, pass it on. Remember what I said a moment ago about driving freedom of speech underground?

        Freedom of speech might have to find a way to hang on by its fingernails, until the current age of rabid irrationality and Big Brother wannabe governments passes by. But that's what photocopy machines were invented for. You could be printing things like this (and no one would know about it, which is a far cry from anything that happens online these days):



        With the forward race of technology, liberty finds itself in jeopardy and doubles back to old solutions ... before the dark times, before the empire. (Thank you, Obiwan Kenobi; who also said, "You must do what you feel is right, of course.")

        Cheers,
        MK

        Friday, October 24, 2008

        Will Smith or won't he? Turns out, he will!

        Just a really quick second post on Christmas Shopping Day here, because I had to chuckle, and it's well worth sharing...

        This, on Best Gay Blogs (snorts and snickering) --

          Will Smith would go to great lengths to keep his indiscretions with the random men he’s had sex with for years a private activity. A Hollywood Madame says that Will Smith was a client for years, requesting men to sleep with, concerned about keeping it secret. “I had to reassure him over and over that I could guarantee discretion,” she said. “Once I convinced him I could, he placed his order. It was for a man. I had 14 women working for me and two guys.”

        Well, there's no answer to that! Will beats out his brains trying to get this female person (I can't say "lady," cuz she's voided that part of her warranty with the above indiscretion!) to guarantee confidentiality, and then ... here we are, reading all about it on this here page: http://www.bestgayblogs.com/2008/10/featured-celebrity-blogs/pop-on-will-smith/



        Well ... shoot. Nice to know Will Smith has at least one foot in the local camp (!), a bummer to know that even if you pay a fortune and get the confidentiality guarantee, you're going to end up blogged about. Will Smith or won't he, indeed? And it happens, Will will after all.

        My apologies. I couldn't resist.

        All quiet on the Keegan front

        The Mel-0-Sphere is a flat calm today ... which is good. Actually, it's nice when things are not going awry, and you can stop and catch your breath, think about trivial things ... go Christmas shopping.

        Yep, the stores are stocked to the rafters with Christmas stuff, and we thought we'd beat the rush and get the gift shopping done ahead of time. It actually feels like time to go shopping for "chrissie pressies," as they're often called down here ... it's getting hot. The weather is still very changeable, buy dry and dusty is the way of things right now, and you can't help feeling we're heading into another drought as summer approaches.

        THE SWORDSMAN still has to make its appearance at Amazon.com (another week to go), but it's available at CreateSpace:
        https://www.createspace.com/Customer/EStore.do?id=3356474

        Both NOCTURNE and TWILIGHT have been uploaded to CreateSpace, but they won't be showing up on Amazon.com for weeks yet. As I noted in an earlier post, it's a month-long slog to get a title through the CreateSpace/Amazon process, and available for sale, which is why THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE may not make it onto Amazon for Christmas '08.

        I have to admit, when it comes to shopping I'm not as impressed with the CreateSpace interface as with the Lulu.com interface. It's very hard to search. For example, if you just logged on to http://www.createspace.com/ and hoped to be able to search on Mel Keegan and find me, you'd draw a blank, even though I'm there. You have to click through to the SHOP, and then search ... and the problem is, the only searches we can find are for DVDs, not books, so you still won't find me.

        So, shopping via CreateSpace itself won't be a terribly rewarding experience for anyone who's just browsing. You need to know what you want, right down to the URL for the page -- like THE SWORDSMAN page, which I was able to give you above, which leads you to this screen:




        As I was saying a few days ago, it's a long, slow process, but in January or February of 2009, all the Keegan books will be there.

        As I go into 2009 myself, I'll be finishing the haunted house novel (!) which was shelved for extra work a few months ago, because I'd written myself into a corner and had to think my way out. A while ago I was reading a book on paranormal encounters -- ghost hunters, that kind of thing; and the solution came to me. So the novel is now "on" for early/mid 2009.

        Right after that, it's HELLGATE ... two novels, back to back, finishing out the whole series. Two paperbacks into print for Christamas '09, and then the re-cut of the whole thing as three big hardcovers. This project will keep me busy for most of the year -- and that's cool. I like to be busy.

        Other news? There really isn't any! The Keegan Zone is absolutely, totally event-free at this time, and there aren't even any bees buzzing in my particular bonnet. Other than Christmas shopping in the heat, which I realize is premature ... also weird, at least to folks from the north, because even now, after 37 years downunder, I still think Christmas ought to be cold and snowy.
        Alas, it never is. Christmas is about a walk on the beach in the morning, champagne and strawberries and apples and blue cheese for lunch while opening pressies; Polynesian pineapple pork for dinner; and a dip in the pool, with a beer balanced on the side.

        I admit, I do have fantasies about spending Christmas in the north, at least once. Maybe one of these days ...

        Oh -- last note as I sign off. We should be able to show you the cover art and the first couple of chapters of THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE in the next week or so.

        Ciao for now,
        MK

        Thursday, October 23, 2008

        You must remember this ... or, maybe not

        As a science fiction writer, I keep an eye on breaking science and technology stories, and sometimes they can be a leeetle bit perturbing.

        Where's the story about the flying car, the starship engine, the time machine? Of these, there is no sign, and yet mind control and memory erasure are apparently (!) almost within our grasp. Which is worrying, because this planet is in an incredible mess, both environmentally and politically speaking,with an assortment of lunatics and maniacs in charge ... and scientists are rapidly placing into their hands the tools to bring about the classic Orwellian future.

        Did you see the story, yesterday? It's all over the web today; here is is a Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081022135801.htm

        Memories Selectively, Safely Erased In Mice.

        Well, everything starts out with research in mice and progresses up the ladder from there, which is fine ... unless you're a mouse, of course. But then again, since you just had your memory erased, you can't remember what the humans did to you, so, what the hey?

        Is anyone out there old enough to remember the SF novels from the 1960s? The best of the earlier SF from 1940 onward was reprinted in that era, as well as a lot of new stuff. You had short novels like The Android Avenger and The Mad Metropolis and what have you ... the word "dystopian" took on a whole new meaning.

        A familiar theme in those days was "the government uses a massive computer to scan people's minds, and then either wipes the minds of the "deviants," or sends them laboring in the asteroid mines, or executes them. It made for fun reading, I'll tell you -- and Ace Science Fiction made a ton of money on these novels, at about 40c a pop. I read this stuff in the late 60s and early 70s ... I read way ahead of my reading age, and was encouraged to read anything and everything.

        But there was always a cushy sense of, "it makes a good story but it can't possibly happen, because these things are utterly impossible."

        Uh...huh. Right. Okay. That certainly explains TIME Magazine's feature article last month, "The Army's Totally Serious Mind Control Project." Read it here:
        http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1841108,00.html

        The issue of memory erasure is yet another double-edged sword, which goes hand in hand with mind control. Consider this:



        First, you'd blank key memories in the person's mind ... those memories which tell you and me what's right, wrong, rational, compassionate, sane and bonkers. Then you reprogram the individual with whatever the game plan is today, wind him up, (or her; I'm impartial), hand out the automatic weapons, and send 'em off to war.

        This is an SF scenario from waaaay back when. It was done best in the Kurt Russell movie, SOLDIER. If you can rent it, do. It's ... a very good movie, as well as being chilling in more ways than on. Russell must have worked for months to get the physique ... time which he didn't have to spend learning his dialog; he doesn't have any. Cool.

        (It's not a movie you'll watch often, but Jason Scott Lee and Jason Isaacs were very good in this; and Russell was in another league from the usual. I can't say "highly recommended" as a movie, because it's not that pleasant; but "highly recommended" as a piece of movie making, with a "message" that has (unfortunately) been lost among the SF and special effects. Take a fresh look at it, in light of what's starting to happen on the line where science and SF meet and become somewhat fuzzy. Hmmm.

        Of course, it's not all bad news. We might not be getting flying cars anytime soon, but a little while ago BMW unveiled a new model ... imagine this: a Bimmer that's also a shapeshifter. The car changes its morphology to suit the caprice of its driver. (Take that, Batman!) BMW released a photo shoot of the car in various modes, and I was reminded of something right out of the NARC series:



        Some things in the future are going to be very cool indeed. Mind you, they're also going to cost an arm and a leg. Seriously. We're slithering into an era where you could sell your limbs and organs for human transplants. No joke. Did you see the news story last week about the guy in German who lost both arms in a combine harvester accident, and back in July surgeons grafted on a pair of replacement limbs ... and they work. See it (with picture) here:
        http://www.newsvine.com/_news/2008/10/08/1969564-german-doing-well-after-1st-double-arm-transplant

        ...woah. But it's all going to cost megabucks. Folks like you and me won't be able to afford this stuff, though we'll be able to drool over the later offspring of the BMW Gina (the shapeshifting car, above) as it drives by ... "poodling" sloooowly down the street so everyone can see it.

        And you find yourself imagining a society in which the super-rich can have the high-tech cars and the transplant organs, while the story at street level doesn't change a hell of a lot -- save for the gradual phasing-in of things which are for our own good; like the selective memory erasure.

        Suppose the Dominionists get into power in the US in 4, or 8, or 16 years. (Don't get me started on Dominionists! If you're not aware of who they are, just SEARCH on this blog, right here, and I've posted several times about them -- and how close they are to the White House.) Suppose they do indeed intend to switch out the US Constitution for Old Testament law, which folks like McCain and Palin believe has to be instituted all over the world and reign for a thousand years (!) before Jesus will get himself back here...

        Now, it would be bloody damned hard to make a country like the USA conform to Old Testament law ... unless you selectively erased what you didn't want people to remember/know, and replaced it with, say, Biblical teachings dished up in classrooms, along with the Creationism lessons.

        In fact, it's not actually that hard to get people to forget what's important. Alas, it's happening every day -- and an unfortunately apt example of this is the fact that African Americans are much more likely that their white neighbors to vote "Yes" to Proposition 8, which will ban gay marriage rights in California.

        It's counter intuitive. You'd be prepared to swear that Americans of color would fight tooth and claw to prevent civil liberties being taken away. But in fact, they're likely to believe that "marriage is something that happens between a man and a woman." Why? Because their pastor told them so.

        Half a century ago, African Americans were categorized as labor-grades by society, and as the comedy relief in movies. Their rights were few, and they were often treated with derision -- especially when they attended church, where they sang and danced. Other Christians would respond with gales of laughter to the weird exhibition in the church. It took many years of struggle, hard work, clean living, courage and intelligence to earn, and keep, the civil liberties African Americans enjoy today. And then you read stuff like this:

        http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-blackvote22-2008oct22,0,895684.story



        The story is called, "Black clergy both for and against gay marriage speak out."

        ...and at this point, one just gives up. In future, we're going to get to the point where memory erasure can be achieved chemically in an afternoon; but right now we're at a point in history where all you have to do is tell people, "God says this," and "God says that," and tell them often enough, and loudly enough --

        And they'll forget the past and, secure in their own civil liberties, blithely vote to confiscate civil liberties from other users of this poor planet, who are just as deserving of freedom as they are. (Unless you listen to churchmen, of course. Then the whole world goes haywire.)

        Meanwhile, UFOs have been seen over Australia in vastly increasing numbers in the last few years. Any chance the aliens might get here in the nick of time and rescue us all from ourselves?!
        Cheers,
        MK