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.

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.

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.

Galactica One Step Closer

I finished correcting the proofs for Battlestar Galactica today. A book always feels different when you see it typeset, and I’m happy to say that it I was pleased by the way it came out. I enjoyed reading it (not always true of reading my own stuff), and I got excited in the right places, and felt for the characters in the right places. So my hopes are high. Still no official word from the studio yet, but assuming nothing goes wrong there, it’s in Tor’s schedule for February 2006. If the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.

At the same time, life just got busy on another level: we started dress rehearsal for Bye Bye Birdie at the Arlington Children’s Theater, and as I’m the head sound guy, I have to be there a lot, trying to get the sound to work out right and training a couple of new people—other parents who want to learn sound. That’s going to take up a lot of time for the next two weeks. My own kids are in four performances of the blue cast, plus there are four other performances by the red cast. It’ll be fun, but tiring.

I haven’t forgotten that I promised to write about rewriting, per Harry’s query. Just haven’t had time to do it yet.

Rocket Ride, Redux

My short-short story, “Rocket Ride: a Short Day’s Journey Into Space,” saw its second publication (slightly updated) last weekend, in the travel section of the Dallas Morning News (sans title). It’s a fun little piece that I wrote originally on commission from the Boston Herald travel editor, at a time when the Ansari X-Prize deadline was looming. Now, that prize has been won—which was why I had to update the story slightly.

Funny how these things happen. I’ve probably earned more per word, and per hour, on this story than on any other piece of fiction I’ve written. (Which tells you that, by and large, fiction doesn’t pay all that well.) I wrote it while on vacation at my in-laws in Puerto Rico, sitting under a cork tree.

Oops. I see you need to be registered to get to that link I put up above. Odd, I viewed the story just fine by following links to the travel section. Oh well, you can see the same story on my web site, if you’re interested. The pre-updated version, at the moment. Until I get around to uploading the changes.

Writing Progress

While doing all this home renovation, I have been trying to keep the writing projects in motion.

The page proofs for Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries have arrived, so it’s time to go through the novel one more time. Advance reading copies are probably being printed as I speak, for the sales department and chain buyers, etc. Still awaiting word, though, on actual approval by the studio.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to return to work on Sunborn, the fourth book of The Chaos Chronicles. As usual, when I return to my own work after some time away, my eyes react to the sight of my manuscript like Teflon to water. It’s maybe a little worse this time, because this first draft has more than its share of problems. Oy. Does it. I’ve got my work cut out for me, rewriting and taming this book. I may need that chain saw again.

Hal’s Worlds

Hal Clement was a towering figure in hard science fiction, probably best known for his seminal novel, Mission of Gravity, recently reissued as part of Heavy Planet: The Classic Mesklin Stories. I was awed by his work when I read it as a young adult, and I still point to Mission of Gravity as a classic example of SF world-building in the truest sense of the word. Hal’s real name was Harry C. Stubbs, and his life experiences ranged from World War II bomber pilot to high school science teacher. He lived in the Boston area, where he had more friends than wildflowers in a meadow. Not long after his death a couple of years ago, a particularly close-knit group of his friends, a writing group called “Hal’s Pals,” put forth the idea of a memorial anthology which would include essays about people’s memories of Hal, as well as short stories in the Hal Clement tradition.

That book is now a reality. Called Hal’s Worlds, it has just been released by Wildside Press in trade paperback. I’m happy to have been asked to contribute a piece, and so it includes a short essay I wrote on my personal interactions with Hal. I held the book in my hands at Readercon, but don’t yet have a copy of my own. It’s a fine-looking volume, with quite a lineup of writers who wanted to offer a tribute to Hal. You can buy a copy directly from the web site of Wildside Press.

All author and editor royalties from the book are being donated to two charities selected by Hal’s widow.

Byron Preiss (1953-2005)

Science fiction publisher/editor/writer/packager/entrepreneur Byron Preiss died in a car accident last Saturday, while driving to his synagogue in New York. He was a significant figure in the SF publishing world (and not only SF—he published in many areas). I learned of his death from my agent, who said, “It is shocking beyond belief and the entire publishing community is stunned. Although Byron was controversial in many ways, he was a friend, and he left a wife and two young children.”

I didn’t really know Byron personally—I think I met him only once or twice. But recently he brought out a new edition of my novel From a Changeling Star under his iBooks imprint, and he was planning to do the same with Down the Stream of Stars. Years earlier, I wrote my novel Roger Zelazny’s Alien Speedway: Clypsis under the aegis of Byron Preiss Visual Productions. It was a quick project that turned out to be great fun in much the way the Battlestar Galactica novel was, and a project that brought me new readers and more fan mail than I’d gotten from all my other books combined. I had had hopes that he would one day reissue it through iBooks.

Byron had a wife and two daughters, just as I do. One of them was 16 years old—the same age as my older daughter, as of two days ago. That’s what hit me the hardest.

There’s a fuller tribute to him at comicon.com.

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