Books written by Ray Sullivan

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What does a SciFi Writer Read?

All writers need to read - nobody is a literary island.  To write SciFi needs at least a basic understanding of science, I would suggest, however too complete a knowledge could possibly act as a barrier.  The aim, for me, of writing SciFi is to present an alternative version of reality that could, just maybe, be real.  Sort of.

On my Kindle right now is a book I downloaded just after Christmas in the Amazon Christmas sale.  Produced by the team at New Scientist it is called 'Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze?' currently selling for £3.98, I bought it for £1.  If you've ever read New Scientist you'll know that near the back page they hand the magazine over to the readers who pose and collectively answer science based questions, hence the book title. 

At variance with the majority of the magazine, where virtually every statement and assertion is qualified - probably life changing, almost certainly the most powerful generator etc the weekly questions and answers are a mixture of genuine expert opinion mixed with semi-plausible intuition and plain bonkers answers.  It's the latter that are the fruitful resource a SciFi writer needs, mixed with the offbeat ideas people come up with.

Probably only a small fraction of the content of this book will permeate into my future writing, at least consciously, but every fifth or sixth topic brings a 'hmmm' thought to me as I read.

Another piece of reading I've undertaken has been some of the Kindle discussion groups on Amazon.  I've mixed feelings aboout these - I feel there should be a real use for them but in reality I find the forums I end up looking at, although interesting sounding topics, often end up with a bunch of writers pitching their books at each other, the result being everyone talking, nobody listening.  Occasionally I find myself blindly pitching my titles to these forums even though I realise nobody is reading, only writing.

I did stray onto one thread that should have been of interest to writers and readers alike, and to be fair it was predominantly readers contributing, a couple of writers including myself plus an angry person hiding behind a handle serving bile at virtually every post, which almost stalled the thread at one point.  The topic was titled How Much should Kindle Books Be?'  Given that writers want to make money from their books, otherwise they would find a way to give them away, and that readers want to buy books at as fair a price as possible, this should have been a fertile ground.

However, it looks like I made a heck of an assumption about readers.  My position is that ebooks don't require anyone to kill a tree, log, pulp and then convert it to paper, bleach it in chemicals, ship, print, bind, store and distrubute it - all costly actions that are needed by printed books - I believe that ebooks should be a fractional cost of the three dimensional variety.

Many of the readers sounded like they believed themselves fortunate if ebooks were at least as inexpensive as paperbacks and some even suggested that ebooks costing a little more than the paperback equivalent wasn't necessarily outrageous.  It was a small group of contributers so may not have been representative, however I think many believe the artificial price of ebooks - often a straight translation of print book costs - is not offensive.  My guess is that in most cases the authors don't gain any share of the greater markup and certainly readers don't!

I did stumble across one interesting book on the forum, though, titled '101 Amazing things to do in Great Britain', costing £0.71.  It's on my Kindle now for reading later in the month.

My latest book, DLF, has reached a crunch point.  I've left the story at a cliff-hanger and, although I know the resolution of the issue, I need a good run at writing it.  I estimate it will take about two hours to draft the first run-through and I just didn't have the time to do that last night, so it will have to mull around in my head for another day or so.  I did promise to reveal the meaning of the title in the first blog, so I'll reveal that today and my plan is to lay out the ideas behind the story in future blogs.

DLF, naturally enough, stands for Digital Life Form, but I guessed everyone would have worked that out.  In case it isn't too obvious these are the space-borne bacteria that arrive on the backs of meteorites; silicon is their food, electricity is their water and programming code is their DNA.  You'll have to wait for a more detailed explanation of what the book is about, though.

I also intend to explain some of the background to my published books on Amazon (for Kindle) and Smashwords (for Sony eReader) in future posts.

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