Category Archives: The Essence of Evil

Wanted (No Questions Asked)

Have you seen me (in HTML or Plain Text)?

Walter Jon WIlliams is looking for pirated scans of his novels. In this article on Torrent Freak, he explains his rationale, and it’s a good one.

Having recently scanned and coded the forthcoming ebook issue of A Death of Honor, I can see the genius of this move. Why bother scanning when there’s someone out there who may have already done it? Or somebody who can be bribed with autographed books, a mention in the appropriate ebook edition, or perhaps even small amounts of cash to produce a new scan?1

So if any of you ace searchers out there can point me to a torrent where any of my titles (except A Death of Honor – done already) can be downloaded, let me know. Or if anyone out there is willing to do an OCR scan of one or more of my titles (preferably into html format), get in touch also.2

As I said, bribes are definitely in order. Although baked goods might be a bit hard to ship.

  1. Hey, we are in a recession, folks. If I were Stephen King, I’d be more generous. But then, if I were King, I wouldn’t have this issue.
  2. To answer an obvious question – I do have electronic copies of all my novels except Honor (which was written and edited entirely on an old device called a typewriter). The problem with these is twofold – one, they are all stored on 5 1/4″ floppies. Two, they are not the edited version as produced by the publishers.

Piracy on the High E’s!

I’m not sure where you come down on the issue of piracy. Not the Somalis in a speedboat with some vintage Soviet RPG type. The new-fangled method of copying intellectual property that has been the bane of folks from the members of Metallica to J.K. Rowling.

And to show that nobody is safe, even I have been pirated. That’s right. No sooner were the Angel’s Luck novels in print over in Russia than somebody with a scanner and some OCR software gutted copies and converted them into files for the RocketBook – a late 1990’s eReader that is so vintage that there’s almost no information on them out in Internet land… not even on Wikipedia. All I could find is this rather odd video.1 Apparently it never took off here, but was popular in Europe, judging from the accents on the video (and the Russian piracy).

It’s probably also worth mentioning that if you’re Russian, you can also read the Pembroke Hall series online – here and here. More wonders from scannerland. I suppose if you’re a dab hand with cut and paste, you could bring up the pages and put them piecemeal into one of the many online translation apps out there and read yourself the books for free. Sorry, I can’t guarantee it’ll be an effective use of your time, but the many quirks of online translation are guaranteed to make the story more amusing than it already is.

So where do I come down on the side of such hijinks?

It doesn’t bother me. Maybe if I were an impoverished musician like the members of Metallica, I’d have a different attitude toward it – after all, what do you do when your “loyal” audience is cheating you out of the money you desperately need to feed your family? But in the case of a writer, the objective is to be read – and judging from the glowing reviews Ferman/Boddekker have gotten, Russians are reading the books.

Plus, to be honest, if I complain about this, shouldn’t I be complaining about that grandaddy of file sharing schemes, the public library system?2

Also, I have a day job that helps me feed my family. Maybe those tapped-out souls in Metallica should look into getting one themselves. Hey, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

The Russian Cover for Harry Harrison's "Galaxy Hero Returns"

What’s particularly fascinating about piracy of intellectual property is how it seems so boundless. For example, here’s the cover of a Harry Harrison novel that was recently brought to my attention. It’s a version put out by a Russian publisher. Looks pretty exciting – but then notice the odd resemblance between Harry’s Russian cover and this American one by yours truly.

What’s interesting is that we’re getting into a whole different field of piracy here. I’m not sure it was out of laziness (although the artist did take the time to replace the green hologram on my cover with what looks like a full color holo of what might be a pole dancer – although that image might be nicked from somewhere, too.

While I find this amusing, I feel bad for David Mattingly, the artist who did the work on my original cover. Unfortunately, like the online version of Ferman’s Devils, there’s not a lot I can do about it were I so inclined. It’s what comes from dealing with countries with a more relaxed attitude towards intellectual property than ours.

Meantime, I guess we can take consolation in the fact that it ain’t just me and it ain’t just Russia. Witness this cover spotted by my son in a bookstore in Hangzhou, China:

Photo courtesy of my globe-hopping son.

It’s for Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I suspect Harriet Beecher Stowe would be amused and even flattered by this whole thing, but no guesses where Mr. Freeman or Ms. Judd would come down on this whole thing.

Oh, and three words of advice for the malnourished members of Metallica: monster dot com.

  1. Although, admittedly, I only spent about five minutes looking.
  2. Which I once attempted to satirize here… but nobody got the joke.

The Old Gray Genre Ain’t What She Used To Be

I just received an e-mail from a reader who tells me he has read through the Angel’s Luck trilogy about ten times (!). I don’t think I’ve been through those books that many times counting writing, rewriting, editing, proofreading, and correcting the galleys (I never read the books after they come out). In his letter, he asks me, “Do you have anything on the horizon?”

This put me in the position of telling him that, with the exception of one SF novel that I really want to finish, I’m not really writing Science Fiction anymore.

Part of this is by choice – I realized a couple of years ago that there were other genres where I could do quite well that have larger audiences than SF, and my agent agrees.

But there are also some factors at work that I don’t have much control over. For one, I think a Joe Clifford Faust SF novel would be a tough sell right now. I was dropped by Del Rey for disappointing sales – never mind that there was zero advertising or promotion, other than the fact that they were fired up over the book and pushed a copy into the hands of anyone who came into their office (this is how I ended up getting my first agent, which is a lengthy story for another post – if I haven’t already told it). When I asked about advertising before A Death of Honor came out, I was told “Our novels sell themselves.” Guess what, folks?

A few years later the Pembroke Hall novels landed at Bantam. They did advertise them, in Locus, the magazine of the SF trade. When I told them I had an idea for a promotion involving putting copies in the hands of the people most likely to appreciate the book – ad folk – I was given another line about how they knew how to sell their own books. Guess what, folks?

The month that Boddekker’s Demons came out was the same month that Ferman’s Devils was taken out of print. I got a call from Bantam asking, “Do you still have that marketing plan of yours?” I did a mental debate about the wisdom of marketing a book that was the second half of a duology, especially when the first one had been taken off of the shelves, but shrugged and sent it to them anyway. I don’t know if they did anything with it. Likely not. The two books were my two worst sellers of all time – the two books combined sold fewer copies than my previous underachiever, The Essence of Evil.

It’s not a cry in my beer kind of story, and I’m not looking for sympathy. It happens a lot to authors. Musicians, too. Ask Stan Ridgway why he didn’t stay with Geffen Records. The bright side is that, because of the movie deal that went nowhere, the Pembroke Hall novels were also my biggest moneymakers, making more for me than what I made on the other five novels combined.

However, editors don’t look at what books make for authors. If a new Faust SF novel lands on an editor’s desk, he’s going to look at what previous titles did for Bantam and Del Rey. And that sales record sticks to authors like a bad credit rating. Thus, that one SF novel I really want to finish will be a hard sell if and when it gets to that point.

Another factor is that SF just ain’t what it used to be. It’s been beaten back into a corner by Fantasy, and what’s left of the genre has been co-opted by franchises, the largest offenders being the Star Trek/Star Wars axis.

There are still SF authors publishing SF novels, but try to find them. Just try. Without going to a specialty store. If you go into a drugstore or grocery store and find any speculative fiction at all, you’ll find a couple of classic novels by old masters (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke), a couple of StarWarsTrek novels, and the rest are fantasy. Go into a Waldenbooks or other mall store, and you’ll get the same mix, only more of them. If you’re lucky you might find an old William Gibson (whose current works are now considered mainstream) or, if the planets are aligned just right, a Lois McMaster Bujold. It’s even getting tougher to find new and proper SF at Borders. But maybe that’s because the titles sell out because it’s the only place where they can be found.

Why has all of this occurred? A couple of reasons. As far as the dominance of franchises goes, it’s because, heaven help us all, they sell. Slap “Wars” or “Trek” on the cover of a book and you’re guaranteed that your carefully calculated print run will more or less fly out the door. Publishers, not being stupid, put before the public what sells, and it’s not necessarily what is good for them.

(This brings to mind the notion of another unwanted government agency coming up with an ever-changing, increasingly incomprehensible chart of Daily Intellectual Nutrition Requirements – “Sorry, you’ve had enough Piers Anthony – time for some Phillip K. Dick!”)

The rise of fantasy is something else altogether. Around the time the Lord of the Rings film frenzy was in full swing, one of the Mainstream Media newsmags ran a sidebar article on why SF had been supplanted by Fantasy as the escapist literature of choice. Their theory – and to be honest, I can’t disagree with their thinking – is that science has let us down.

I love to look at magazines like Popular Science from the ’50’s and’60’s. You get visions of personal flying automobiles, undersea highways – that whole sense of optimism captured by Donald Fagen in his song I.G.Y.: On that train all graphite and glitter / Undersea by rail / Ninety minutes from New York to Paris / Well by seventy-six we’ll be A.O.K.

Well, we might have the equivalent of Dick Tracy’s two way wrist radio now, but I still don’t have my own personal Gyrocopter. The underseaways and zeppelin routes never materialized. We did get longer life spans, but the antibiotics that did it for us are now creating superbugs that eat them (and us) for lunch. We used to go around in a peaceful oblivion, not knowing that a well-placed asteroid could End It All for us – now we’re setting up telescopes and satellite networks to warn us of things that we won’t have a chance to save ourselves from. We avoided the nuclear war bullet, but the waste management is another thing. We’re close to all being wired, and what does it bring us? Ads for Teen Slut web sites and prescription drugs without a prescription.

Sheesh. Compared to that, facing down a Balrog in a deep, dank mine, armed with nothing but a little mithril and a sword that glows when orcs are around is a picnic. A picnic, I tell you!

If SF is no longer the escapist literature it once was, it’s because science, in all actuality, is in the business of raising more questions than it answers. And, as I have alluded to before when writing about how to craft the genre, one thing you have to look out for is that An Answer science gives us always has some kind of unforeseen side effect. Nuclear power, si! Nuclear waste, nuclear weapons, hmmm…

There’s one last factor I suppose I should mention. I started out wanting to write mainstream thrillers to begin with. My big influence at the time was Michael Crichton, who had just blown me (and everyone else) away with The Andromeda Strain. Those were the kind of books I wanted to write. Adventures with cutting edge science. That I ended up in SF can, as well-chronicled elsewhere in these pages, be attributed to the fact that I got mononucleosis at an inopportune time in my college career and ended up writing what would become Desperate Measures just to prove a point.

So that’s where SF is, and where I’m not, and why. It makes me a little wistful thinking about it – it’s like leaving your small hometown and coming back to find they’ve built an Applebees. I will always like and respect the genre, but I don’t know that it’s home anymore.

Not to worry. My love of science is going with me. There are some science moments in and that’s the end of the news…, albeit in a more Crichtonesque vein. If you look at it that way, then perhaps I’m not so much leaving home as coming home.

Listening: Talking Heads, “Crosseyed and Painless” (via iPod Shuffle)

Repeating Yourself

I was so ticked off by this that I went out and bought a bag of Oreos. Dunked in hot black coffee and eaten when about ready to crumble, they’re heart-stoppingly good.

Had an interesting postmortem on last night’s writing session while brushing my teeth this morning. I realized that, more than anything in the world, I wanted to stay home and work on the book today. The words are all there, migrating from my brain to my hands. All I have to do is put my fingers on a keyboard and wiggle them. That’s what it feels like.

It got so bad that I actually opened up the document this morning and changed a line I wrote last night (I realized it was a punch line of sorts that didn’t live up to the setup I had given it) and typed in some notes for tonight’s go at writing.

I also thought about my inadvertent recycling of an idea from PH (the sudden revelation of an affair), and using it as a plot turn in And/News. In PH I used it as an icing-on-the-cake kind of thing (or as one of the Pembroke Hallers says, “A sweet little cupcake iced with cyanide”); it was just one more thing to go wrong for poor Boddekker (who was undergoing the usual end-of-novel torture that I put protagonists through).

In And/News, however, I do more with it. It’s a revelation about one of the characters that sends a relationship into a totally different direction, setting up a number of things for the end of the book.

I’ve debated doing this for a while and thought about doing something a little more conventional, but the thought of doing it that way seemed so… well, conventional.

The whole argument against doing it is that “I used the same device in another book;” and not just another book, but my most recent one prior to And/News (all right, I didn’t use it in the children’s book, but give a break there, huh?).

What I’m worried about is becoming John Irving. I was in college when The World According to Garp came out, and I read and loved it. So I tracked down some of his earlier books. Imagine my dismay when I started reading one… and looked at the summaries of the other three pre-Garp books… and found that they all contained the same key elements of writers, wrestlers, trained bears and quirky family members. It was like Irving rewrote the same book over and over and over again until he got it right with Garp – and then he wrote it one more time (The Hotel New Hampshire) for good measure.

(To be fair, I’ve been told that after Hotel, Irving retired his well-used props and went off in other directions. Good for him. I just don’t feel like following him there.)

I came to a couple of conclusions about the matter by the time I finished brushing my teeth. First, and the most obvious, was that in all likelihood the use of the same plot device wouldn’t even show up on the radar because nobody bought the Pembroke Hall books. Remember when I said the two books didn’t even outsell my previous worst-seller (The Essence of Evil)? It would have taken a third novel in the series to pass EoE, and even then it would have been only by about a thousand copies. The numbers were that abysmal.

But then it occurred to me – how do you determine what is an overused plot point and what isn’t? After all, love triangles figure conspicuously in five of the seven novels I’ve published (only DM and EoE lack one), and there’s one in And/News. Does that mean the device is overused?

I think it all depends on what you do with it. Is there a new approach taken with it each time, or is it predictable – like the character of the cop who is “only a month away from retirement?”* That could well be the case with the Suddenly Revealed Affair, too; it’s all in what is done with it, how it affects the plot and characters (pardon my cultural ignorance. but aren’t John Updike’s Rabbit books all about SRA’s?).

Of course, I could be overanalyzing things again. Perhaps I could have a Suddenly Revealed Affair in all of my books from here on out.

Sure. And they could all be about wrestling writers with quirky relatives and trained bears, too.

Just this one time, I promise. And then I’ll stop before I go blind.

NP – iTSP (Joe Jackson, “You and Me Against the World”)

*The sure sign of impending death or worse in many a novel and film.

Foreign Affairs

I was killing a little time by egosurfing, and I came across this review of my work from a German website. I ran it through Google’s translator to see what it was all about (“Faust” is the German word for “fist,” which the program translated literally):

Joe Clifford fist customer reviews

The books of the Joe Clifford fist have all together a completely certain Flair. It understands it to lead around the reader at the nose and to bring new idioms again and again in the Plot. Here one can know really only end the conclusion, what is now really before-pleased. That keeps the readers.

This gave me pause for thought. It was a long pause, and afterwards, I decided to try another translation site, with these results:

The books of the Joe Clifford fist have altogether one entirely conscience Flair. It understands it that readers to bring at the nose herumzuführen and again and again new turns in the Plot. Here one can know really first to the end, what now really before favor is. That holds the readers in the pole.

I hope this means they like my work.

For comparison, here is a translation of a blurb about the release of The Essence of Evil in Russia (italics theirs):

There appeared one additional book of American visionary- humourist, joe Of k. Faust (Joe Clifford Faust, 1957 -) from the trilogy “Angel’s Luck”. In this year already left two novels of cycle – “desperate measures” (“Desperate Measures”, 1989) and “precious load” (“Precious Cargo”, 1990). And here now steeled the turn of last part – “essence of evil” (“The Essence of Evil”, 1990).

Here is already truly “DEVILISH LUCK”! In vain named so his spaceship the desperate nezavisimyy merchant by captain James mey… Just barely miraculously rescued two civilizations – terrestrial and arkolianskuyu – from the intergalactic scandal. They just barely transferred respiration. And – THAT?! Coma, you will excuse, to the first after sending into the head clever idea it did drive in “corporations extract” soiled in the hold of the “devilish luck” of ampule with the essence of human personalities, corporations, strictly, and belonging? Who, will forgive, he managed it let go young copilot into the local bar, where it to sp’yanu produced SUCH, that also is thought terrifically?! Who, pardon finally generally let out from the field of the sight of arkoliantsa, from which eye and for the minute it was impossible it got down?! You dumayete – this already limit to everything? In vain you dumayete! Events only razvorachivayutsya… What? Read – and you uznayete!..

I like the fact that they think of me as an “American visionary-humorist,” but I can’t say the book will do all that well over there based on this description. No wonder the Cold War went on for so long.

Apparently automated translation technology still leaves something to be desired.