Tom Abba on the future of the book

I went to a talk last night by Tom Abba entitled “This isn’t the future of the book”. I was expecting something different – more to do with eBooks, iPads and Amazon – but what I got was altogether more interesting.

Abba is a lecturer in New Media and Visual Culture at University of West of England in Bristol and recently completed a PhD, out of which came the subject of the main part of his talk. What concerns Abba is the future of the book in an age where both creation and consumption is (or can be) digital. Right away he suggested that “we can’t see the wood for the huge tree labeled ‘interactive fiction’ that is blocking our view.” By this he means multi-threaded or hyperlinked stories where your route through the story is determined by choices you make, but all the paths are predetermined by the author. Continue reading

Useful sites for writers (2)

Editors and proofreaders may be suprised to discover that there is an organisation devoted to their needs, namely the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The society runs training courses, holds conferences and has a magazine called (rather cleverly) Editing Matters. It even includes a self-test in proofreading that you can run online to find out just how good you are at proofreading.

It’s also worth noting that Scrivener for Windows 1.0 has now been released. You can buy a copy from the Web site for just $40 or download a 30-day trial version for free, and I highly recommended it.

Games theory

Although often discredited, Games Theory can still shed light on human behaviour. What follows is an extract from a work-in-progress:

Game TheoryGames Theory is the study of situations where two or more players interact in accordance with a set of rules, and in particular where such situations arise in our political and economic life. Surprisingly it is fairly recent, generally considered to date from 1928 when John von Neumann’s book Zur Theorie der Gesellschaftsspiele (‘On the Theory of Parlour Games’) was first published. This was followed in 1944 by Theory of Games and Economic Behavior which Neumann co-authored with Oskar Morgenstern.

There are essentially two types of games. Zero-sum games are those where one player wins and the other loses. Typical examples include tic-tac-toe (also known as noughts and crosses), chess, poker and football. Rather more interesting are non zero-sum games where outcomes include the possibility of both players improving their situation. Perhaps the most important non zero-sum game in the economic world is the act of shopping. Sellers only sell their goods when they regard the money being offered as having greater value than the goods itself. Buyers only buy when they regard the goods as being worth more than the money asked. If both sides can agree a price then both walk away from the deal as winners. Continue reading

Costa Rica zip wire experience

I took this video as I was zipping down the longest stretch of the zip wire complex at Selvatura Park, which runs above and through the Monteverde cloud forest in central Costa Rica. The Canopy Tour consists of 15 zip cables running over a total distance of 3km, most a few 100 metres in length but the longest (this one) measuring 1,000 metres. As you can see I am sitting in a harness behind the guide, which leaves me hands free to manage the camera. Continue reading

Useful sites for writers (1)

There are a number of Web sites that I’ve come across recently which are particularly useful to those of us involved in the writing of books.

The first concerns the word processor Scrivener, virtually unknown in the Windows community but well-loved by writers who use the Mac. Scrivener is specifically tailored to the needs of those writing books or scripts. Perhaps its most useful feature is the ability to split your manuscript into individual scenes, represented by index cards that can be re-ordered with ease. Each card has a status, which can range from ‘Todo’ through ‘First Draft’, ‘Revised Draft’ and ‘Final Draft’ to ‘Done’, and can be assigned notes and a title. The good news for Windows users is that a Windows version is being launched soon, and you can download the Beta now. Check out Scrivener for Windows for more information.

Then there is the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society. If you have written a book or two, or had some articles published ages ago, then you might be owed secondary royalty payments which they will track down for you. Membership is £25 (subtracted from their first payment to you) and they do charge a commission, but they did recover over £400 owed on a book I had published over a decade ago, which is not to be sniffed at.

Finally, as I’m sure you know, you do not need to explicitly register a work for copyright as it is automatically granted on anything you have written. Generally this is respected throughout the industry, however plagiarism is not unknown, in which case it might be useful to be able to prove that you had written something on or before a particular date. This is where the UK Copyright Service comes in, providing secure storage for an encrypted copy of your work. All you have to do is register and upload the relevant files, which can be text, PDF or images. Probably unnecessary, but the charge is only £39 for a five year registration which does not seem excessive.

Roadside Picnic

I have been a fan of science fiction almost as long as I can remember, starting with the short stories of Isaac Asimov which I used to read by torchlight under the bedclothes. Since then my tastes have grown broader, but I find myself returning to science fiction over and over again.

A few years ago, a couple of friends and I formed a book club, meeting in a local pub every six weeks or so to discuss life, the universe, and the latest science fiction book we’ve read. We take it in turns to choose a book, which has broadened our reading experience considerably. I, for example, would never have put myself through Russell Hoban’s wonderful Riddley Walker (which is written in a made-up language) unless James had suggested it.

You can find our reading group’s blog at Roadside Picnic. The blog title does superficially resemble the title of this one, but is in fact a reference to the book Roadside Picnic which was written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and inspired the Russian movie Stalker.

Another Roadside Attraction

For those who are wondering, the title of this blog comes from one of my favourite books of all time, namely Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins. It seemed somehow appropriate as I set out my stall on this virtual roadside.