Authors Guild Sues Google

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Well. Timing is everything. After my comments last night about Google’s display of book pages, I got a notice today that the Authors Guild has filed suit about this very issue:

NEW YORK — The Authors Guild and a Lincoln biographer, a children’s book author, and a former Poet Laureate of the United States filed a class action suit today in federal court in Manhattan against Google over its unauthorized scanning and copying of books through its Google Library program. The suit alleges that the $90 billion search engine and advertising juggernaut is engaging in massive copyright infringement at the expense of the rights of individual writers.

Through its Library program, Google is reproducing works still under the protection of copyright as well as public domain works from the collection of the University of Michigan’s library.

“This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law,” said Authors Guild president Nick Taylor. “It’s not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied.”

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. I’m a member of the Authors Guild, but I’m not immediately sure that I agree with them on this. Whether Google’s usage properly falls under “fair use,” I’m not sure—and I suspect it hinges partly on what percentage of any given work they’re displaying. I know when Amazon started doing it, there was concern about whether books in which smaller contributions played a bigger part—such as collections of poetry, cookbooks with individual recipes, and so on—would be adversely affected, more than something like novels.

Speaking for myself, I’m happy to have excerpts available, as I figure it won’t hurt sales and might help them. But I agree that authors should have the right to say. Should publishers ask them before offering their books to Google? Yes. Did mine? Not that I can recall.

I’ll be watching this.

Google’s Display of Pages

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I went as Tim suggested to print.google.com. I had no idea Google was doing this, though it appears pretty similar to what Amazon.com has been doing for a while. I have no fully formed opinion on the matter, but my gut reaction is, as long as they have some protections in place to prevent excessive downloading of copyrighted work, it’s probably a good thing. I mean, I put chapters of my books up on my web site in hopes that people will read them and become interested enough to want to read the whole book. This seems like one more way for someone to stumble across your work and maybe buy it, or at least read it. And the material, as I understand it, is supplied by the publishers.

The startling thing was seeing my brother’s book listed under a search of my own name. He’s Charles S. Carver, a psychology professor and coauthor of a well-regarded textbook in personality, as well as a scientific monograph, On the Self-Regulation of Behavior, published in 1998. I was surprised not just at seeing his book, but at seeing a reference to a quote from my novel Panglor in it. I’d completely forgotten that he’d quoted me in his work of serious science. But I pulled my copy of his book off the shelf, and yep, there it was, at a chapter head. That was kind of a cool rediscovery.

By the way, for the same reason I approve of this, I’m glad that used copies of my books are so readily available on the net. Even if it cuts out a few new sales (not that many, I’m guessing), it makes it easy for curious—or impecunious—readers to give my stuff a try. And it’s not as if the publishers are keeping the books in print forever. (The one place where this does grate is when I see Amazon listing used copies of a new book on the date of publication–or even before–which means people are selling off review copies. Still—that’s not as bad as finding one of your own books at a yard sale, with the cover torn off. That has happened to me.) Despite the occasional wince, though, I figure there’s generally no such thing as bad exposure.

Tim was asking which of my books I think has the best movie potential. The short answer is: all of them. But I suppose you’d rather have the longer answer. I thought so.

Well, I have long felt that Star Rigger’s Way was perfect for making into a movie, partly because it’s got a lot of very visual elements, plus it’s a fairly simple and straightforward plot. I also think Eternity’s End would work well, because it has really interesting visuals and is a more complex work. So, really, it would be great as a 6 or 8-hour miniseries.

On the other hand, the Chaos Chronicles are my choice for a 12-hour miniseries! The escape from Neptune, the arrival at Shipworld, the attack of the boojum, the undersea world of the Neri…they could do great things with all this!

The problem is, nobody is signing on for the rights to any of these. Not even a nibble from Hollywood. Come on, Mr. Spielberg, give them a try! You’ll like them. Are you listening?

Okay, okay, it’s not tomorrow yet. (Well, actually, it is, I suppose.) Anyway, I’m going this up, so you get two posts in one night.

Tomorrow I’ll try Tim’s question about Google and showing pages. (Which I knew nothing about until I saw Tim’s question!)

Which Book, Which Book?

Okay, I haven’t actually abandoned this blog, though you might be forgiven for wondering. Just had a really busy week, is all.

So, my last entry netted a number of questions, which I’m now going to take a shot at answering. Note: I going to be making a lot of this up as I go.

Tsmacro asks what’s the best order to read the books of the Star Rigger universe in. Good question; I’m not sure I have a good answer. If you’d like to follow the chronology of the universe in order (sketchily filled in by the books), then you ought to start with Panglor, then follow with Dragons in the Stars and Dragon Rigger, then move on to Star Rigger’s Way followed by Eternity’s End, and finally end up with Seas of Ernathe. (They’re all described on that same page–see link above–just scroll up and down.) Panglor starts you before star rigging has been discovered, and leads you toward the discovery. Seas of Ernathe happens after the secrets of star rigging have been lost, and we’re trying to rediscover them.

That’s chronological within the universe. But if you’re more interested in following my development as a writer, then you might do it differently. I wrote Seas of Ernathe first, when I barely knew anything about the universe; I’d only written the short novelette “Alien Persuasion,” which later became the basis for Star Rigger’s Way. Plus I was a very young writer. After that, I wrote Star Rigger’s Way and Panglor, then left that universe for a little while, before coming back to write the two dragon books. (The main thing that places the dragon books earlier in the universe than Star Rigger’s Way is that the heroine, Jael, is abused by her ship’s owner in a way that would never be tolerated by the RiggerGuild described in Star Rigger’s Way.) Finally, I wrote Eternity’s End in answer to my editor’s question: “Whatever became of that character in SRW—Legroeder? We last saw him a captive of pirates, and probably in trouble because he helped his old friend to escape…”

In general, I feel that the later books are a lot better written and more satisfying than the earlier ones. But is that a good reason to read them in the order written? I don’t know. What do you people think?

Tomorrow I’ll answer (or try to answer) Tim’s question about the movie potential of my books.

Write SF

Some years ago, I created an online course in SF and fantasy writing, aimed primarily at high school and middle school students, called Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. It was published on CD by a company called MathSoft, and eventually put online by them, also. (It actually grew out of a distance-learning TV broadcast I hosted, which was beamed into middle school classrooms for two seasons.)

It’s been unavailable except on the used-CD market for a while, but that’s about to change. I’m refitting the course for online viewing, and hope to have it up again and open to the public in the next week or two. It’ll be free of charge, and as friendly to the user as I can make it. The URL will be writeSF.com. If you’re an aspiring writer, or know one, come check it out in a week or two.

Hurricane Katrina and America

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I haven’t written anything until now about the disastrous hurricane and the terrible aftermath because, truthfully, I didn’t know what to say about this horrific event that others haven’t already said better. But I received an email from an SF fan in Germany, lamenting the devastation and the apparently incompetence of federal officials in dealing with it—or in preparing for it in the first place.

My friend Tobias deserves an answer, so I’m going to write it here. The problem is knowing where to start. Maybe not by answering directly, but first by praising the heroism of those who have been putting their lives on the line in search and rescue operations, and maintaining order in the face of despicable violence—or by bowing my head to the suffering of those who waited far too long for aid, or who lost people they loved or everything they owned to the hurricane. Or maybe extending a hand of solidarity to the millions of people who, like my family, have tried to help their neighbors in need by contributing in whatever way seemed best, usually a cash donation to relief organizations. (I was perhaps most moved by reading that a gift of $3000 had been forwarded from the people of Honduras to the relief effort, people who have very little, and who gave anyway.)

But that doesn’t really answer Tobias, who said, “I see a president far away in Washington, DC who is completely overwhelmed with the situation… Where was FEMA and the national guard, the military?” Well, yeah. Much of the National Guard—and their equipment—is in Iraq, where they were sent on a pretext by their commander in chief. As for the president being overwhelmed, that’s not much of a surprise, given his overwhelming incompetence. We all remember his deer-in-the-headlight reaction to the news of 9/11, don’t we? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you really need to watch Fahrenheit 911, and watch the actual video footage of his paralysis when told of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. It’s frightening, it really is.)

Then there’s the head of FEMA, who didn’t know that there were a few thousand people trapped in the Superdome, and whose previous disaster management experience was in helping to run an Arabian horses association. And of course there’s the Bush administration’s recent cancellation of funds for improvement of the levee system around New Orleans. Not to mention the reversal of wetlands protections that had been put in place by earlier administrations. (Wetlands, in case you aren’t up on your estuarine science, help provide a shield against such things as devastating hurricanes.)

Tobias also says, “I wonder when USA will sign the Kyoto environmental protocol to stop the carbon dioxide emissions responsible for the warming of the atmosphere.” A lot of us wonder that, Tobias. I’m not sure we should necessarily blame this particular storm on global warming gases, but there’s little doubt that this sort of thing will only keep happening, and get worse, if the global community—in particular the U.S.—doesn’t start taking global warming seriously. So, Tobias, don’t be embarrassed to keep asking your American friends these questions. And we’ll keep asking our elected officials.

I keep telling myself, it’s got to change. The Bush people can only fool the voters for so long, until the people wake up to reality. This is my prayer. Please, God.

Blog Scum

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My last blog entry generated more than a dozen spam comments, most of them probably deposited by blog-prowling robot programs. Thank you, you jerks, for trying to ruin something that other people are supposed to enjoy.

Following advice from Blogspot, I have changed the comments settings to require “word verification” — meaning that you have to read a word in an image and type it in before you can leave a comment. I’m sorry, because this will be a pain for any of you wanting to leave comments. (A pain for me, too. I’m not exempt.) But it seems to be the only way to stop the scum spam robots.

. . . and I’m Taking the Cat

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Okay, I’ve survived a month of house guests (hi! very nice house guests!), home renovation, a new back yard construction project dreamed up by my wife and her dad, children who want to stay up all night “writing” (read, playing computer games), and a new, incomprehensible passion of my wife for somehow finagling a way to buy as “investment property” a house that’s laid out like something between Hogwarts and the Crooked House built by the Crooked Man. I have somehow managed to keep my sanity, though you could safely say that I haven’t gotten very much writing done during this time. But now…

Now, my daughter announces that she’s found a way to get free bagpipe lessons, and she wants to get on board. Bagpipe lessons!

That’s it. I can take no more. I’m acting on my long-standing threat.

I’m moving to a hotel—and I’m taking the cat.

New Movie Showing Powers of Ten

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Some of you may remember the Eames film “Powers of Ten,” which dramatically showed changes of scale from the microscopic to the cosmic. I don’t think you can view the film on the web, though you can read about it and see other stuff on their web site.

Well, there’s a java applet from Florida State University called “Secret Worlds: The Universe Within,” which you can view on the web, and it’s a very dramatic demonstration of the same concept—from the cosmos to the quark. Take a look at it, then show it to a young person. Or an old person. Or even your spouse (which is how I heard about it).

Writing Question #8: When to Rewrite?

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This is a question Harry raised: When you’re writing a story, is it better to rewrite as you go—getting the beginning right, for example, before you move on to the next scenes—or is it better to get the whole story out, no matter how rough the draft, and go back and rewrite it later?

As is usual with writing questions, the answer is: It depends. It depends on what works better for you, and it depends on the particular situation.

In general, I favor the “get it all down first” approach to writing—because you have a better chance of writing it all out in a creative burst, or a least a sustained creative flow, rather than letting the editor in your head slow you down and maybe even stall you before you ever really get going. On the other hand, some writers don’t let go of a page (or a scene, anyway) until they’ve polished it to their satisfaction. I’ve heard that this is Orson Scott Card’s approach, and he’s certainly no slouch as a writer. (I didn’t hear it from Scott Card himself, but I did hear it from a friend who heard him say it. So apply your own standards of credibility to me as a source on this one.) Most writers I know well, though, tend to plow ahead, unless there’s something that’s really bothering them about what they’ve already written.

I actually use a modified form of “get it all down.” I show my work to my writing group as it gets written, a chapter or several chapters at a time. I do not, however, inflict my raw first draft on them. I get it down, then before I send it to them, I go back and do an edit pass to clean it up some and make it more like what I was intending to say the first time. Sometimes doing editing on yesterday’s work is a good warm-up to creating today’s work. But I try not to indulge too much in that.

Here’s the thing. What most people have the most trouble with is the story structure: getting the bones laid out in a way that makes sense, is interesting and entertaining, and—if you’re lucky or good—even compelling. And the structure is easiest to see when you have the whole story in front of you, for good or bad. It’s very easy—and God knows I fell into this trap over and over as a beginning writer—to fuss and fume over little points of style, getting the descriptions just right, getting the words to flow in a pleasing way, tweaking dialogue, and all the while overlooking the fact that your basic story is flawed. Maybe it doesn’t go anywhere, or the motivations don’t hold up, or you’ve only got a piece of a story or a mood piece. You become so involved in the minutia of rewriting line by line that you miss the larger flaws altogether. (Reason number 3 for being in a writing group or workshop; your colleagues will help you catch that.)

Now, using this method can mean that you have a hell of a lot of revising and rethinking to do when you go back to rewrite. That, in fact, is precisely the situation I’m facing right now with Sunborn. I have tons of notes for revision that I compiled over the course of the first draft, and I have a fair number of chapters that I might have spent time polishing, when I see now in the context of the whole book that I need to cut them drastically, or perhaps out altogether. It doesn’t make the rewrite fun, but it does (I think, for me) offer the greatest chance of success in the end. Eternity’s End was a mess in its first draft, and so were many of my other books.

On the other hand, when I wrote Neptune Crossing, I got about sixty pages in and said, this just isn’t working. I threw it away and started over. (I’d originally started to write it in first person, and I changed to third person, among other things.) But that wasn’t a case of rewriting early; that was a case of cutting my losses.

Based purely on my own experience, I’d say that for most new writers still trying to get a handle on the craft, it’s best to say, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” And then go back and see what you’ve done, and don’t be afraid to change it radically if that’s what it needs. Sometimes, though, you’ll be surprised at how well you did. Those are the good days.

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