I was reading the new Steve Jobs biography last week, and the author briefly touched on the roll-out of the iTunes store. Prior to the launch of the store, iTunes was just another place to organize songs, most of them no doubt stolen via Napster, which was terrorizing studios at the time.

Even with a promise to monetize digital albums, Apple had a tough go of getting all the major labels onboard. Were it not for the energetic push from one of the studio heads to corral the other five studios, it may not have happened. And were it not for charismatic Jobs behind the push, and Apple seen as a minor player, it might not have happened. It’s useful to remember that Apple had very little market share at the time; Windows was dominate. Jobs assured the studios that the iTunes store would not be made PC-compatible, which soothed the CEOs and bean-counters. The PC version would launch within the year, and within a few years, music stores would begin to shutter as listeners moved eagerly to digital.

The hesitation by studios to sign the iTunes agreement was largely due to the fear that they’d lose control of distribution, that they’d alienate existing retail partners, and that the then-existing model of selling entire albums just so fans could get the one or two tunes they wanted would wreck how music was produced and packaged. They were right to be worried, of course. These things came to pass. But they were wrong if they thought they could stop the change from happening.

Book publishers have been much more coordinated in their attempts to slow digital adoption, perhaps learning from music studios’ mistakes. The history of Amazon and Jeff Bezos getting publishers on board the Kindle store, and the subsequent pricing of ebooks at $9.99, similar to Jobs’ push to price songs at 99 cents, all have incredible parallels. Publishers eventually went to the enemy of the music studios for salvation, agreeing to a deal with Apple at the launch of the iPad to uniformly raise ebook prices and beat that $9.99 price point. But the fight against digital adoption had been going on long before that.

It started with a process called “windowing,” which meant delaying the ebook until after the hardback edition had its run. When readers revolted and peppered Amazon book pages with 1-star reviews on any release windowed like this, publishers gradually gave in on select titles. They next began protecting print editions with high prices on the ebooks, often higher than the eventual paperback edition. This, despite the paperback needing to be printed, shipped, warehoused, and often returned and pulped. The claim that ebooks cost just as much to produce as paperbacks always rang hollow, but the claim was debunked by publishers themselves with the release of these slides to investors. Continue Reading →

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The End Has Come

UPDATE! The first two books are currently on sale for 99 cents. For one week only!

This is a very special release day for me. It was nearly two years ago that John Joseph Adams and I had lunch in Chicago and he told me about his idea for a 3-part anthology or “Triptych.” Each entry of the triptych would focus on one stage of the end-times. With The End is Nigh, we looked at the pre-apocalypse. And then came The End is Now, which was when the bad stuff went down. Today, we proudly release The End Has Comewhich looks at the post-apocalypse.

The roundup of authors who signed on still astounds me. It’s been an all-star lineup, and I’ve been both terrified and honored to work with them on these stories. There’s a little bit of everything in here. Just what a great anthology should be.

A few notes about my story: This is the only place where I’ve continued to write about the world of WOOL beyond the original trilogy. The story arc of my three pieces was set up very deliberately. I wanted to explore how people with tenuous connections to one another can still manage to drastically shape lives, even over great distances of space and time. What we choose to do reverberates. What motivates us has consequences. There are characters here who make decisions out of fear and anger, and this leads others to make even worse decisions, and it all ends badly.

I know many readers will be shocked at the final page of the third story. Know that I don’t write in order to be gratuitous. Often, what I write hurts me as well. It hurts deeply. And that’s reason enough to go there and to explore those ideas and to commit to them. Because it shouldn’t be easy or flippant. Nothing about this series has been. And that’s why I’m as proud of these books as any that I’ve been a part of.

The End is Nigh

The End is Now

The End Has Come

 

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Technological breakthroughs are a lot like falling in love. The more you pine for a particular object of your desire, the more elusive it seems. Meanwhile, when you’re least expecting it, some stranger sneaks right up on you. Before you know it, you can’t live without them.

Over the past century, there have been a handful of major examples of technological progress occurring just like this. What we think will signify the arrival of the future doesn’t come to pass as predicted, while something else entirely changes our lives. In this pattern we can discover some deep truths about human nature. We might also be able to uncover the next unsuspecting stranger who will sweep us off our feet.

There are three major examples that I’d like to toss out there. Each example features a technology that came to symbolize progress. None of the technologies came to fruition, but something else that we didn’t foresee did. The things that did come to pass have changed our lives and our culture, and have turned small companies started by a handful of people into the largest and wealthiest corporations in the world. It will happen again. So what’s next?

Rather than play prognosticator, I’m going to play matchmaker. I’ll be that annoying aunt who tells her niece to stop chasing that boy who isn’t good for her anyway, and see about this nice young gentleman who has a lot of potential. But first, we’ll look at the ones that got away — and the sweethearts we fell in love with instead.

One of our earliest unrealistic crushes has been with robots. A staple of science fiction stories and popular science magazines, the idea of a robot goes back further than the name. Before it was robots, it was golems. Or elves that came out at night and did our work for us. Anything automated that would let us rest while our chores were done. For a species that is used to getting its work done by brute strength, the allure makes perfect sense. We have a long and ignoble history of subjugating animals and our fellow man for our labor, so naturally this is what we thought mankind needed from our machines. Continue Reading →

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Isn’t it weird how the more time-saving devices they invent, the less free time we seem to have? And what free time we do have feels like it’s jam packed with near-compulsory leisure activities. It’s impossible to fit it all in. We’ve got a Game of Thrones episode on the DVR; Netflix just dropped an entire season Daredevil; the kids are active in three sports; we’re trying to finish that book; and several social media outlets beg for our attention.

It makes it really easy to forego the things we’d love to procrastinate right into next year. Like exercising.

I’ve always gotten a decent dose of exercise, but it got really hard when I started spending time on the road. Hotel gyms were my friend, but I often didn’t have the time to even hit those. So I started looking for ways to get exercise during my normal routine. If there was a flight of stairs between two escalators, I took the stairs. If I had to carry luggage or groceries, I did it with arms away from my hips until I could barely feel my shoulders. What I found was that we have plenty of opportunities to make things a little harder on ourselves (like skipping the moving sidewalk), but we often fall into line with everyone else. I’m pretty sure it’s peer pressure as much as laziness. Working out while doing normal activities can draw looks. One of the best moves I ever made was to stop caring what other people thought.

Which brings us to something we do a lot of while missing out on an opportunity to get some great exercise, and that’s walking. We walk a lot, but walking isn’t a very good fat-burner or muscle builder. In fact, walking is so hyper efficient that we can do it for hours without breaking a sweat. Not a good sign that it’s doing much for us. Sure, it’s better than sitting on the sofa, but isn’t that a rather low bar to set?

This is where the lunge comes in. It’s an exercise so simple that you can’t believe how brutal it is. And you save enormous amounts of time. Are you currently walking thirty minutes a day for exercise? Do the following for five minutes, three times a week, and I promise you’ll be shocked by the results. I can only do about 50 lunges for the first set, and then I shake it out and get a breather, do another 30 lunges, and then finish with a final set of 30. I do these 2 to 3 times a week. I mean, you’ll be hurting everywhere, but especially in your butt and hamstrings. Your quads should be sore immediately after. Here’s what I mean by a lunging walk:

Once you feel restored (it might take a few days), do them again. Add them to your Five Tibetan Rites. With these two exercises alone, you can get into and keep yourself in amazing shape. And by “amazing shape,” I mean being fit so you can stay active in your life. Able to keep up with your kids, keep your heart healthy, and put on a little more muscle so your body is always burning energy. It’ll also help keep you feeling spry and light on your feet, which will get you more active in general. Try it once and see what you think.

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I used to drive my parents and my teachers crazy with impossible-to-answer questions that I wouldn’t leave alone. But if they thought I was annoying them, they had no idea what I was doing to myself. Because the same questions — and much worse — were constantly spinning through my young and ignorant noggin. I mean, almost nothing about life has ever made sense to me. I’ve devoted the majority of the last thirty or so years puzzling for answers, and all I’ve come up with are even more vexing questions.

Many of the questions that really used to bug me as a kid centered around the concept of death and the afterlife. I hit an age around ten or eleven where I became obsessed with — and mortified by — the idea of dying. I would lie in my bed at night and be so scared of going to sleep. I thought I’d never wake up again. I tried to imagine what death would be like if there was no afterlife, and I saw it as this complete blackness that I couldn’t even see! I was scared stiff. Literally. Lying motionless, clutching my sheets, staring at the ceiling, keeping that encroaching darkness at bay.

I wrote dismal poetry for years because of this. I thought I was alone in these nightly terrors until I saw What About Bob, where the son has the same questions and fears, and this was extremely and gratifyingly normalizing. The terror has since gone away, but all the questions linger. Among them is this question: If there is an afterlife, which version of us persists forever?

Because it occurred to me early in life that we aren’t the same person day to day, much less year to year or decade to decade. I think it was watching my grandfather succomb to Alzheimer’s that clued me in. He became a different person right before our eyes. And even as a very young tyke, I was reading about people like Phineas Gage, who suffered a massive brain trauma and saw his personality change overnight. And what about the young who die before they grow into their adult personalities? Or the infants who never say a word or have a coherent thought before some childhood disease or birthing complication claims them? Are we the average of all our selves? Is the version of “us” that we leave behind our prime one, or the fragile form we often inhabit last? Continue Reading →

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Regina asks:

So, I have a serious question here, and forgive me if you’ve addressed it in a blog or something somewhere. Why do you think that there are so many badly- or un- proofread e-books? It seems to me that writers have so many more editing avenues these days. I’m reading this great, imaginative story right now, full of adventure and great characters, and I keep getting sucked out of the moment by spelling, homophone, and syntax errors. Lord knows, I’m no grammar police, but it makes me a little crazy! What do you think?

Good question, Regina. The reason for so many poorly edited books these days is the same reason so many bands you go see at small gigs have an instrument out of tune, an amplifier that doesn’t sound great, or a singer who is off-key. Respectively, each of these is a matter of professionalism, cost, and ability (amount of practice).

Reviews certainly help highlight books with and without problems so readers know ahead of time. Be sure to notice the books that are well edited, and reward the author by highlighting this fact for other readers. Or do what my editor did and email the author with suggestions. Or reach out and offer editing services. Freelancers are popping up everywhere, and they are both sorely needed and greatly appreciated. Many of us just don’t know any better as we set out. We’re all still learning. Continue Reading →

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They are known as the Five Tibetan Rites, a handful of simple exercises that can be performed in less than ten minutes. How old the rites are and where they originated is up for debate. Some say they are over 2,000 years old.

What is beyond doubt is their efficacy. If you do these every day, you will see results in a week. You will see profound differences in a month. Practitioners claim that these exercises will keep you young, and I’m a believer. They fixed a nagging shoulder injury, and my back has never been stronger.

Amber and I are going to take you through all five with some explanations and variations. And then we put the entire routine together at a pretty upbeat tempo. You can do the full routine in five minutes once you get some practice. At first, they may take ten or fifteen minutes. Everyone can make time for the Five Tibetans. The trick is to do them every day. Like writing, the goal is to form a daily habit, the fruits of which come with time.

The first Tibetan is simply to spin in place. I was taught to alternate the direction of the spin each day. It’s okay if you can’t remember which way you went the day before; just mix it up! This exercise will improve your balance. Be careful, though. Don’t spin too fast or do this in an area where falling over could lead to injury. Continue Reading →

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Welcome to the Pot Luck Book Signing!

For a long time, I offered signed books on my website. When my book tour travels got hectic, and the number of orders grew to hundreds a week, I had to take a break. Now I get emails asking about signed books, and it breaks my heart not to make exceptions for everyone. So for a limited time only, signed books are going to be available. We’ll keep this going until May 15th, so everyone has time to stake their claim.

Here’s a glimpse of what’s up for grabs:

The logistics of signing and shipping tons of books can be overwhelming. The fairest solution I could think of is a “Pot Luck” book signing. You can list your preferences, and I will try to make them happen, but please understand that these items are limited, so you might end up with something unexpected. Pretend to be excited! (No, seriously, video yourself opening your package and really put on a show.) Continue Reading →

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As far as I know, this is the only “Pot Luck” book signing in the history of the universe, hence the superlative.

Here’s the dealio: Living on a boat is not conducive to owning things. Which is why I haven’t owned much over the years. But now I find myself in possession of a storage unit, which holds a gobsmacking number of foreign editions and collectibles that I’ve amassed. I keep getting emails asking when I’ll do signed copies again, and this looks to me like a match made in heaven. I empty my storage unit, and these books find happy homes.

More details soon. And spread the word. If we get enough interest, the coolness of the things I’m offering will escalate.

 

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Remember how disappointing this scene was?

Yeah, Al Capone’s vault was a bust. This weekend, Amber and I are going to try and make it up to you. We’re peeling the padlock off the old Howey storage unit and pawing through the treasures inside. Foreign editions. Original copies of the self-pubbed edition of WOOL. Pages of manuscripts with red ink all over them. High school poetry. Pictures of me with hair down to my waist. My stuffed animals (kidding. I would never put those in storage!)

Any surplus stuff will be up for grabs. I haven’t done signed editions in a while, and this might be the last hurrah for quite some time. What I’m thinking is figuring out what I have, letting you all call dibs, and then maybe order in copies of WOOL to sign for anyone who wants one of those. Or something. Details to be sorted out. Stay tuned.

 

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This blog post is a response to a comment, made on a blog post, that was also made in response to a comment, made on this blog post.

This is like the Inception of blog posts.

No one’s ever been three levels deep before!

The gist of the last post was that civilizations have a narrow window in which they are capable of settling the entire galaxy and yet still backwards enough in their thinking to want to. My hypothesis is not only that this is true, but that the window for galactic domination is only open for a few centuries. By the time a civilization sets out to take over the galaxy, filling every available niche, they will have progressed ethically enough to choose not to.

Daniel Knight commented and wanted to know why I think we will ever see the filling of available niches as evil. And it’s a great question, one I couldn’t attempt to answer in the space of a comment, which is why we find ourselves three levels deep (you know, at that snow fortress level, where shit really stops making sense).

One of Daniel’s points is that we will eventually have the means to live forever, and we will keep having offspring, and all those bodies have to go somewhere, which will mean taking over the galaxy. If you continue his reasoning, we will then have to take over the universe. And if you continue this reasoning further, even that won’t be enough.

I might end my response right there and point out that any race capable of seeding the galaxy will be able to extrapolate these base impulses and realize that there’s no end to such ambitions, that space will eventually run out, and so the move is not only pointless — is not only delaying the inevitable —but only stands a chance of causing harm in the process, both by increasing the frustration of our species, now swelling at the universes’ limits, and also by reducing the universe’s potential for diversity. Continue Reading →

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