Thus spake the Squamous

An interview with Mr. Charles Stross:

Last year, you released your novel Accelerando in a free electronic version at the same time the hardcover version of the novel debuted. What did this do for the sales of the book or when it came time for awards consideration? Would you do it again if you could?

The free electronic version of Accelerando is an interesting question. It had about 60,000 downloads in its first two months; in the same period, the hardcover edition pretty much sold out and had to be reprinted (and it had a larger print run than my previous SF novel).

It’s very hard to prove that a free ebook edition of a novel either helped or hindered the sales of a paper edition published at the same time, but the email feedback I’ve had from readers has typically been along the lines of “thanks for making the ebook available, I have now bought a couple of your other books”, or “I read the ebook then bought the hardcover just so I could have it on dead tree as well”. Which is encouraging.

I also believe that the free ebook route is going to become increasingly important in the reader award ballots over the next few years (especially the Hugo awards, which are voted on by the public in the shape of members of the World Science Fiction Society). Over the past few years, it’s become almost impossible to win a Hugo without releasing a short story or novella on-line for the voters to read, as magazine circulations have declined so far that the voters are unfamiliar with the entire range of published stories for a given year. I think the same is, to a lesser extent, happening withnovels, as witness the 2006 shortlist (in which all the novels were available as downloads for the Hugo voters).

As for whether I’d do it again if I could … yes, I would. Contractual arrangements prevented me from doing so with my last SF novel, Glasshouse (essentially, it was published at different times in different countries, and my publishers quite reasonably objected to a free download appearing months before the readers could buy their paper editions), but I hope to be able to repeat the promotion again with a forthcoming book.

I can’t say that I’ve seen similar results with the ebooks available here – actually, I have absolutely no idea how many people downloaded them, except I’m sure it’s well short of 60,000. The forthcoming ebook for “The Wrath of Angels” will be a better test, as I’m probably only going to print 200 of them in the first run so it will be interesting to see if word gets out that the book is available or not.

In any event, “The Jennifer Morgue” is definitely on my Christmas list…. If you haven’t read “Accelerando” or “The Atrocity Archive”, I highly recommend both.

I missed that one

Kurtz comes at the social problem of atheism from a different angle:

Conservatives like George Weigel (The Cube and the Cathedral), Claire Berlinski (Menace in Europe), and Mark Steyn (America Alone) argue that Europe is being slowly killed off by its secularism. These authors root demographic decline, and the reluctance to stand up to Islamist foes, in a secular presentism, unconcerned with the existence or fate of future generations. I think Weigel, Berlinski, and Steyn have got a point, but it can certainly be debated.

Take a look at Russia, however, and you see a country with decades more experience of atheism than Western Europe, and a far more advanced case of demographic decline. To be sure, there are plenty of confounding factors that need to be acknowledged and accounted for. But as a candidate for the case that atheism has serious real-world costs, Russia is at the top of the list.

It is significant, I think, to note that Harris happened to leave out all of the countries of Eastern Europe from his discussion of social health in “Letter to a Christian Nation”. While he brings up the examples of France and the Scandinavian countries as being shining paragons of atheist paradise, the omission of those countries where atheism has been established longer and more powerfully is so obvious as to approach the appearance of disingenuousness at a minimum.

If it were someone else, one would have to give them the benefit of the doubt. But Harris has been caught out so often, and so badly, in making factual errors and engaging in deceptive spin, that it’s more likely more intellectual dishonesty on his part.

Striking gold

Even though I hadn’t read it in years, I was a little depressed to hear that the venerable Computer Gaming World magazine was being folded into a lifeless Microsofted bastard publication entitled Games for Windows. However, the discovery of this PDF archive cheered me up greatly, especially since I’d once tried to put together my own comprehensive collection of CGWs back in the early 1990s when Pocket and I had been discussing the possibility of an Encyclopedia of Electronic Games.

Unfortunately, not even CGW had a complete collection, having somehow lost many magazines in the move from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Or perhaps it was the other way, I can’t remember now.

It’s interesting to see how perceptive some of the early reviewers were. Wizardry was rightly identified as an instant classic, suitable for the then nonexistent Hall of Fame. On the other hand, I think most gamers would be surprised to know that SSI’s Kampfgruppe won game of the year in 1985, beating out the excellent Ultima III.