Ebooks are not ‘stupid’ – they’re a revolution

22 February 2018

From The Guardian:

I was a relatively late convert to the e-reader, getting my Kindle five years ago when it became clear that reading 600-pages of A Suitable Boy while breastfeeding wasn’t going to work. After a frenzied few months of almost exclusive e-reading, I returned largely to the traditional printed book for a number of reasons: screen fatigue, a tendency to scrawl in margins, because I want my kids to see me reading, and because I’m a passionate supporter of bookshops and booksellers. Hachette Livre CEO Arnaud Nourry recently called ebooks “stupid” – but last summer, they changed my life.

My novel He Said/She Said, a psychological thriller about a couple who witness a rape, was a Sunday Times bestseller, but three months out of the trap, the hardback began the soft fall in sales that is the norm that period after publication. When the ebook edition began selling for 99p on Kindle for the summer, I’ll admit that I flinched, but – excluding a few days’ concession of my throne to Neil Gaiman – it topped the charts for six weeks and I was able to take my family on an overseas holiday for the first time. (On that trip, I took seven novels in a device that weighed less than a paperback, like something out of Star Trek.) I’d always had a core of loyal readers – but these numbers were something else.

The subsequent revival of my backlist was a welcome surprise. Readers have been writing to me to praise, criticise and debate; more often than not, they sign off by saying they’ve bought my other titles as ebooks. This effortless chain-reading is something hard to replicate with the physical book – very few authors can be confident of walking into any bookshop or supermarket to find their entire canon for sale. The ebook of He Said/She Said has reignited interest in my other books, and brought new readers to the novels that, in genteel publishing speak, “underperformed” at the time. I’m as grateful for that as anything.

Given that backlist especially is free money for the publisher, I’m bewildered by Nourry’s dismissal of the ebook. Of course there are caveats; Amazon’s near-monopoly of the market is worrying, and we have already reached the tipping point where competitive pricing has become a race to the bottom in which profit margins are negligible. But a stupid format?

. . . .

“It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience,” said Nourry. Fake news! The built-in, one-tap dictionary is a boon for Will Self fans. And as an author, I’m fascinated by the facility that shows you phrases other readers have highlighted; what is it about this sentence that resonated with dozens of humans? It’s an illicit glimpse into the one place even a writer’s imagination can never really go: readers’ minds. And Kindle’s Whispersync facility lets the reader fluidly alternate between reading a book and listening to it. What are these if not enhancements to the reading experience?

And then there’s the simplest, most important enhancement of all: on any e-reader, you can enlarge the text. That in itself is a quiet revolution. Page-sniffers who dismiss ebooks out of hand are being unconsciously ableist.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Felix for the tip.

‘The ebook is a stupid product: no creativity, no enhancement,’ says the Hachette Group CEO

19 February 2018


With over 17,000 new titles each year and sales of $2,826 million in 2016, the Hachette Livre Group of companies comfortably sits among the Big Five English language publishers, alongside Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and MacMillan Publishers. Headquartered in France, its authors include John Grisham, Enid Blyton, James Patterson, Robert Ludlum and Stephen King. While its India subsidiary just completed 10 years of operations in India, the parent company has been in business for almost two centuries.

. . . .

The Chairman and CEO of the Hachette Live Group since 2003, Arnaud Nourry, was in India recently to celebrate a decade of Hachette India and spoke to about their strategy and the future of publishing.

. . . .

Is Europe still your largest market? Which are the emerging markets with the most potential that you see right now?
One-third of our business is in the French language across France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and other French-speaking countries, 25% in the US and English-speaking Canada, 20% in the UK, India, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, 10% in Spanish, and another 10% in the rest of the world.

. . . .

In 2014, Hachette famously took on and won against Amazon in deciding who gets to control ebook pricing – them or publishers. Looking back, has that victory helped?
When I took the job of Chairman and CEO of Hachette in 2003, I studied what had happened in the music and video industries, or in the present, take the example of the magazine industry. I realised that they made two mistakes. The first was to delay the digitisation of their product, which helped piracy to emerge. The second mistake was that they didn’t keep control on the price point of their creations, so they were unable to protect their turnover, the revenues of their singers or writers.

So, in the year 2006-2007, when ebooks came to our market, I was absolutely convinced that when we jumped into the ebook market, we needed to keep control of our price. This wasn’t just coming from thinking of our revenues. If you let the price of ebooks go down to say $2 or $3 in Western markets, you are going to kill all infrastructure, you’re going to kill booksellers, you’re going to kill supermarkets, and you are going to kill the author’s revenues. You have to defend the logic of your market against the interest of the big technology companies and their business models. The battle in 2014 was all about that. We had to do it.

It’s not that we’re against ebooks. People have to pay a price that is about 40% lower than the print price. And it works. The ebook market has gone down a little bit, not much, from say 25% to 20% in some countries. There is still a readership for ebooks but at a price that keeps the ecosystem alive. That’s absolutely key because the music business has lost half of its turnover in ten years. I love music but books are about culture, education, democracy, so it’s even more important to keep the diversity in book publishing, more so than music publishing.

It’s been a little over ten years since ebooks came to the market in the form of Kindle. You mentioned a small decline – do you think the market has plateaued? Are there formats other than ebooks that publishers should be looking at?
There are two different geographies to look at for this. In the US and UK, the ebook market is about 20% of the total book market, everywhere else it is 5%-7% because in these places the prices never went down to such a level that the ebook market would get significant traction. I think the plateau, or rather slight decline, that we’re seeing in the US and UK is not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the ebook format. The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience. We, as publishers, have not done a great job going digital. We’ve tried. We’ve tried enhanced or enriched ebooks – didn’t work. We’ve tried apps, websites with our content – we have one or two successes among a hundred failures. I’m talking about the entire industry. We’ve not done very well.

I’m convinced there is something we can invent using our content and digital properties beyond ebooks but I reached the conclusion that we don’t really have the skills and talents in our companies because publishers and editors are accustomed to picking a manuscript and creating a design on a flat page. They don’t really know the full potential of 3-D and digital. So we acquired three video game companies in the last two years to attract talent from different industries and see how we can nurture one another and how we can go beyond the ebook on digital. We need to offer different experiences to our consumers.

. . . .

Do you really think their role is limited to discoverability and advertising? In term of impact, while not being direct competitors to traditional publishing, they are also providers of content and free content at that. Is that something for publishing to factor into their long-term plans?
I don’t think we’ll ever be publishers who give content for free. It’s not something we’re good at. We’re good at selecting, curating, promoting and selling value-added content, which is kind of the reverse of what others do. I don’t think there’s any kind of competition with Google or Facebook. There is only one thing – it’s that the time spent reading books tends to decline everywhere and goes to social networks. So yes, we are competing for people’s time. It’s why we need to be more attractive in the way we deliver our content. But not beyond that. Even self-publishing, which Amazon does a lot and is sometimes pitched as competition, is the opposite of our business. Our business consists of saying no to three thousand manuscripts and saying yes to one. And self-publishing says yes to three thousand and doesn’t see the one that there should be investment and support around. But yes, because of digital, we are competing against all other forms of leisure. We do need to take that into account.

. . . .

France, where Hachette is based and which forms your biggest market, has legislation restricting the amount a bookseller can discount a book. It stands at 5%. But what about a market like India where deep discounting is a big part of bookselling strategy? Do you think that’s just a way to develop an untapped market and eventually all book markets should reach a place like France? Or is there always going to be this difference in consumer behaviour across geographies?
The purpose of the law, which was voted in 1981, was to protect all the independent booksellers from the bigger players by preventing them from discounting and putting the small ones out of business. It worked very well. If you’re in a city in France, you can go to a newsstand, a bookstore, or order from Amazon and you’ll get the book for the same price. This being said, there is no such agreement in the US and the UK, where deep discounting flourishes and that also works. There are independent bookstores that specialise in backlists, curation, they still exist. That environment, in fact, helps sell more copies of one book, which in France is more difficult.

. . . .

You just mentioned the continuous acquisition of smaller publishers. How does that affect the publishing and editorial landscape – when smaller publishing houses end up under the umbrella of a larger conglomerate, sometimes swallowed by it?
You’ve used a word I hate – conglomerate. I’m not a very good swallower. Acquiring a publishing company to swallow it is the stupidest thing you can do. Its value comes from the fact that it is a different imprint. Of course when you acquire an independent publisher, you’re not going to keep the accounting department, the IT department, etc., – that doesn’t make any sense. In most cases, these companies don’t have huge profits due to costs that bring them down. So we get rid of that and let them grow and develop their publishing list and have entire freedom.

Link to the rest at and thanks to Nate for the tip.


Publishing’s remarkable resilience is amazing: Hachette UK’s David Shelley

18 February 2018

From LiveMint:

In 18 short years, David Shelley has gone from being an editorial assistant and then publishing director at independent publisher Allison and Busby, to becoming chief executive of Hachette UK last month—a career that’s nothing short of phenomenal. Along the way, the Oxford graduate in English literature has also been the CEO of Little, Brown and Orion.

Shelley is seen as one of the hottest young talents in global publishing and has worked with authors such as J.K. Rowling and Mitch Albom. A passionate advocate for publishers adapting to the digital environment, Shelley also oversees Hatchette UK’s inclusion initiative, Changing the Story.

. . . .

Congratulations on your new position David. What are your plans now for Hachette UK?

I think one thing is really exciting: there is the potential for understanding consumers better. Very successful businesses like Amazon or Netflix are extraordinary in the way they use data, algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning. In book publishing, we’re just sort of starting on that. So I feel for me this is an exciting time coming to the job I’m doing. At the moment, we’re publishing a book, putting a cover on it and hoping for the best. I think it’s really probable that in the years to come, we will test a book before we publish it. We will also look to see what people’s reactions are. We ought to know how to describe a book in a way that excites people, and what cover to put on that really interests readers. We’re only as good as the authors we publish. On the other hand, we will be a brilliant partner for authors if we can get them to as many readers as possible.

. . . .

Opinions are divided within the sector about the health of the publishing industry. What’s your take?

I think that publishing is a little bit like farming. If you get a group of farmers together, they’re always going to disagree about the harvest or the market. I think it is the same for publishers. It often feels like something very big is happening—certainly in the UK, a few years ago, supermarkets started keeping books and this started destroying small bookshops. Now we have Amazon. I think these things come and go; the amazing thing about publishing is its remarkable resilience, and that’s because of people’s desire for long-form content, both fiction and non-fiction. If you look at book sales, then the value can go up and down but actually the number of sales remains very stable and strong. The industry probably needs to become more a part of the digital world. And that doesn’t mean just publishing e-books, but how we operate in the digital environment. We need to understand online retail very well, as well as the connection between offline and online retail. We are in a pretty strong place, with some challenges.

Link to the rest at LiveMint and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

Testing a product with potential customers before releasing it has been routine in the reality-based business world for 60 years, maybe more.

PG suggests the bar for qualifying as one of the “hottest young talents in global publishing” is extremely low.

China confirms Swedish publisher Gui Minhai has been detained

15 February 2018

From CNN:

China has confirmed for the first time that a Hong Kong-based Swedish citizen who published and sold books critical of the Chinese government has been detained following his purported arrest last month.

At a Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing Tuesday, a spokesman said that Gui Minhai, who was apprehended by plainclothes police on a train in January in front of Swedish diplomats, had been “subjected to criminal coercive measures.”

“Gui Minhai broke Chinese law and has already been subjected to criminal coercive measures in accordance with the law by relevant Chinese authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, also criticizing a Swedish statement issued Monday.

“I want to once again stress that China opposes any form of speech or actions that ignore China’s legal sovereignty.”

. . . .

On Monday the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the arrest and detention of its citizen a “very serious matter,” and said it contravened “basic international rules on consular support.”

“The brutal intervention in January against a Swedish support operation was conducted in spite of repeated assurances from the Chinese authorities that Mr Gui was free at that time,” said the statement, attributed to Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom.

“The current situation also raises questions about the application of the rule of law, including the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. We demand that our citizen be given the opportunity to meet Swedish diplomatic and medical staff, and that he be released so that he can be reunited with his daughter and family.”

The Foreign Affairs spokesman, Geng, said that, “Although Gui Minhai is a Swedish citizen, the case he is involved in must be handled in accordance with Chinese law. China and Sweden are maintaining open communication channels on this case.”

. . . .

On Tuesday, Geng slammed Sweden’s handling of the incident and said that the European country should not do anything that would adversely affect bilateral relations.

“China absolutely does not accept Sweden’s ignoring China’s notifications and repeatedly making irresponsible remarks. We strongly call on Sweden not to do things that may damage mutual trust and the macro bilateral relations between the two countries.”

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to N. for the tip.

From PEN America:

A recent video of detained Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai, in which he claims not to desire international attention for his case, fits a pattern of staged or coerced statements made at the behest of Chinese authorities, PEN America said today.

On February 9, bookseller Gui Minhai was featured in a video interview in which he accused Swedish authorities of “sensationalizing” his case and said he felt like Swedish authorities had made him a “chess piece” and that he “would never trust the Swedish ever again.” The release of Gui Minhai’s video comes days before Gui was awarded in absentia the prestigious Prix Voltaire from the International Publishers Association. During his interview, Gui reportedly disavowed the award, saying “I do not want to receive, and will not receive, this award.”

These comments come days after Chinese security agents took Gui Minhai into custody for a second time in two years. On January 20, Chinese security agents seized Gui Minhai while he was traveling with Swedish diplomatic officials to receive a medical exam. Gui has reportedly recently been exhibiting symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), symptoms which he did not appear to have before entering Chinese detention.

“It is painfully obvious that this video has been staged and that these statements are what the Chinese government wants said, and not what Gui Minhai himself want to say,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Gui Minhai’s claim that he has become a ‘chess piece’ of the Swedish government—as a result of their efforts to gain his freedom and to supply him with adequate medical care—are farcical. From the beginning, it is the Chinese government that has treated him as a pawn. They abducted him, moved him against his will, and kept him in illegal detention for years. This clearly-staged video is yet another demonstration of China’s lack of regard for international law or human rights.”

Gui is one of five booksellers associated with the Mighty Current Publishing House and its affiliated Causeway Bay Bookstore who were seized by Chinese security agents in late 2015, in an episode known as the “Causeway Bay Bookstore Disappearances.” Gui was detained in China for two years without charge, before being placed on supervised release but forbidden to leave China. PEN America has documented the events of the Causeway Bay Bookstore Disappearances in its 2016 report Writing on the Wall, in which it concluded that the booksellers’ “confessional” videos were staged. PEN America has also published analysis on how China’s scripted “confessional” videos often make a key point of rejecting international assistance or intervention. This includes a video in 2016 in which Gui Minhai previously stated that he did not want Swedish officials to intervene on his behalf.

Link to the rest at PEN America

From The Guardian:

Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai was transporting secret documents to the Chinese capital when he was seized last month, a Communist party-run newspaper has claimed, as Stockholm hit back at the decision to parade its citizen before the Beijing-friendly press.

Gui, a publisher of racy tomes about Chinese politics whose stranger-than-fiction tale might have been lifted from one of his own titles, was snatched on 20 January as he attempted to reach Beijing with two Swedish diplomats.

On Friday, the 53-year-old Swede resurfaced at a detention centre in the eastern city of Ningbo, telling a group of handpicked reporters Sweden had tricked him into a botched bid to flee China.

“I fell for it,” Gui told journalists from Xinhua and the Global Times, two party-run outlets, as well as Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, which faced criticism in 2016 for printing an apparently coerced interview with a young Chinese activist.

Activists condemned what they called Gui’s “venal” forced confession with Sweden also dismissing the claims.

“This video changes nothing,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Katarina Byrenius Roslund told Reuters. “We continue to demand that our citizen be given the opportunity to meet with Swedish diplomatic staff and medical staff.”

Xinhua, China’s official news agency, claimed Gui had “applied to authorities and asked to speak the truth before media”.

. . . .

An editorial in the same newspaper, which is known for its aggressive, nationalist tone, launched a scathing attack on Stockholm. “They tricked Gui into cooperating with their plan … They wanted to arrange Gui’s ‘escape’ by breaking Chinese law,” it claimed, belittling Sweden as “a relatively small country in Northern Europe” that was trying “to demonstrate its diplomatic heroism by ‘saving the bookseller Gui Minhai’.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Book clinic: why are some titles changed from country to country?

11 February 2018

From The Guardian:

Q: Why are book titles sometimes changed depending on country of publication (for example, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK/Sorcerer’s Stonein the US) and what factors are considered when making a title change?

. . . .

A: From Rebecca McNally, editorial director of the children’s division at Bloomsbury Publishing.

There is a little bit of magic in a good title. It must entice and intrigue potential readers. Titles are the “word” in a “word-of-mouth” bestseller. Until recently, changes were common – for commercial reasons, cultural sensitivity or because of a pre-existing book with a similar moniker. And really, it did not matter unless/until a film came out that favoured one title over the other, which was a nice problem to have.

Children’s books have been particularly prone to transatlantic title shifts: Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights became The Golden Compass; Jennifer Donnelly’s US bestseller A Northern Light became A Gathering Light; Diana Wynne Jones, Anne Fine and Dick King-Smith all found that a title beloved of British children was deemed unenticing elsewhere. Who knows why Where’s Wally? became Where’s Waldo?, but it worked. Legend has it that 20 years ago Philosopher’s Stone was considered a little arcane in America and so, no one knowing quite what a phenomenon lived within its covers, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published a year after UK readers first met the boy wizard.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

What drives non-resident authors to write in Bengali?

8 February 2018

From The Times of India:

One is a scientist. Another is a chemical engineer. The third is a doctor. The list of non-resident Bengali authors writing in Bengali and flocking to the bookfair is growing by the year. But are these attempts only a way of connecting with the roots? Or are they qualitatively contributing to the treasure trove of Bengali literature?

Be it literature, films or music, there is always a penchant among the Bengali diaspora for attempting a work that will be appreciated back home. For some, it is a way of remaining in touch with their motherland. For others, it is a passion that keeps them afloat while pursuing their dreams in greener pastures abroad. But in their zest to connect with the roots through arts, they sometimes end up compromising on their quality.

Some non-resident Bengali authors too admit that not everything that the Bengali diaspora is churning out is qualitatively excellent. “There are a ton of writings that appear in multiple printed and web-based spaces, which are not at all good,” said Boston-based Bengali poet Alokesh Duttaroy. “In the digital media, everyone is writing. Everyone thinks he or she is coming up with great works. But everything needs time and practice,” said Dallas-based Bengali author Goutam Dutta. New Jersey-based Alolika Mukhopadhyay even said that most publishers don’t agree to spend money on publishing these books.

. . . .

But that’s hardly an impediment for any author based abroad. While earning in dollars, organising funds to self-publish a Bengali book isn’t too difficult. Creating a buzz isn’t tough either. Bengali celebrities, who often stay over at their place when they come visiting the US, are more than willing to attend their book launches in Kolkata. That, in turn, helps to boost their social standing when they return home to their peers with photos of celeb-studded book launches.

. . . .

According to author Subodh Sarkar, “Those who write poetry in Bengali from USA are perpetual fighters. They are neither respected as poets in America nor are they seriously taken in Bengal.” This, according to Sarkar, is “doubly frustrating”. “But I wait for good poetry whether it is in California or in Kolkata. I find Alokesh Duttaroy of Boston, Goutam Dutta of Dallas and Rudrasankar of Atlanta quite engaging. They really write good poetry,” Sarkar pointed out.

Link to the rest at The Times of India

Indigo Reports Its Highest Quarter Revenue Ever

7 February 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

Indigo Books & Music had a solid third quarter, with revenue up 8.2% over the comparable period in 2016. Net income in the quarter, ended December 30, 2017, increased 6.5%. Sales in the period were C$433.3 million, while earnings hit C$42.6 million. Indigo noted its sales in the quarter were the highest quarterly revenue in its history.

The Canadian chain attributed the sales gain to double-digit growth in its general merchandise category, as well as strong online sales. Overall same store sales were up 7.9% led by a 26.4% increase of online sales with comp store sales up 4.9% in Indigo’s superstores and 2.3% in its smaller format stores. Sales of books increased over last year’s comparable period, but the company did not say by how much.

. . . .

The priority in Canada is to continue to remodel more of its superstores to become what the company calls “cultural department stores for book lovers.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Top 10 books about the Scottish Highlands and Islands

7 February 2018

From The Guardian:

“Wherever I wander, wherever I rove / The hills of the Highlands forever I love,” said Robert Burns, and I high-five him wholeheartedly.

I’ve been obsessed with the Scottish Highlands and Islands since first going there on a family holiday at the age of 10. Its remote, rugged landscape has pulled me back most years since, whether to stay in the remote Moor of Rannoch hotel – where the nearest village is 13 miles away – or camping in Glen Coe and Glen Nevis .

To me, it’s the most beautiful place on Earth, but to ignore its raw, forbidding nature would be wrong. It’s a real place, and real people live there. My novel, Swansong, throws a 20-year-old English student into a disquieting world; it draws on a West Highlands version of a folk ballad, but is as much inspired by the real people I’ve encountered there as by the jaw-dropping scenery and often endless rain.

In fact and fiction, these books shine different lights on Scotland’s distant north.

1. The Crow Road by Ian Banks

With one of the best opening lines of any novel (“It was the day my grandmother exploded”), Iain Banks’s book follows a large, eccentric family, the McHoans, as the slightly feckless student Prentice plays detective within his own family to explain the disappearance of his uncle Rory. Set mostly in the West Highlands in the early 90s, there are plenty of familiar tropes here – whisky, ceilidhs, Uncle Fergus’s huge country pile – but just as many idiosyncrasies, from the looming Gulf war to the Cocteau Twins, a struggle between religion and atheism, and a massive, cement installation on the Isle of Jura. It’s a warm, witty and ultimately very poignant book.

. . . .

3. Corrag by Susan Fletcher
A historical novel set around the Glencoe massacre of 1692, in which three dozen members of the MacDonald clan were brutally slaughtered by William III’s redcoats. It is told from the perspective of Corrag, a young woman regarded as a witch who is incarcerated in Inveraray after the event, and by the Jacobite priest who is sent to interview her. Fletcher’s prose is shimmering, particularly when she writes about Corrag’s relationship with the natural world.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Even what doesn’t happen is epic

1 February 2018

From The London Review of Books:

Science fiction isn’t new to China, as Cixin Liu explains in Invisible Planets, an introduction to Chinese sci-fi by some of its most prominent authors, but good science fiction is. The first Chinese sci-fi tales appeared at the turn of the 20th century, written by intellectuals fascinated by Western technology. ‘At its birth,’ Cixin writes, science fiction ‘became a tool of propaganda for the Chinese who dreamed of a strong China free of colonial depredations’. One of the earliest stories was written by the scholar Liang Qichao, a leader of the failed Hundred Days’ Reform of 1898, and imagined a Shanghai World’s Fair, a dream that didn’t become a reality until 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, given the degree of idealistic fervour that followed Mao’s accession, very little utopian science fiction was produced under communism (in the Soviet Union there was plenty, at least initially). What little there was in China was written largely for children and intended to educate; it stuck to the near future and didn’t venture beyond Mars. By the 1980s Chinese authors had begun to write under the influence of Western science fiction, but their works were suppressed because they drew attention to the disparity in technological development between China and the West. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when Deng’s reforms began to bite, that Chinese science fiction experienced what Cixin calls a ‘renaissance’.

Cixin himself has been at the forefront of the scene since the 1990s. He is the first Asian writer to receive a Hugo award (in 2015), and the author whose work best captures the giddying, libidinous pace of the Chinese economic boom. His monumental Three-Body Trilogy – first published between 2006 and 2010, and recently translated into English by Ken Liu, a Chinese-American sci-fi writer – is Chinese science fiction’s best-known work. Barack Obama is a fan, and the forthcoming movie adaptations are already being described as ‘China’s Star Wars’. The trilogy concerns the catastrophic consequences of humanity’s attempt to make contact with extraterrestrials (it turns out that the reason we haven’t heard from aliens yet is that we’re the only species thick enough to reveal our own location in the universe). It is one of the most ambitious works of science fiction ever written. The story begins during the Cultural Revolution and ends 18,906,416 years into the future. There is a scene in ancient Byzantium, and a scene told from the perspective of an ant. The first book is set on Earth, though several of its scenes take place in virtual reality representations of Qin dynasty China and ancient Egypt; by the end of the third book, the stage has expanded to encompass an intercivilisational war that spans not only the three-dimensional universe but other dimensions too.

. . . .

One of the most visionary scenes comes towards the end of The Three-Body Problem, when the Trisolarans develop ‘sophons’: tiny robots made from protons that have been ‘unfolded’ into two dimensions, according to principles derived from superstring theory. The plan is to send them to Earth to confuse the results from particle accelerator experiments and report news of humanity back to Trisolaris. But attempts at unfolding the proton, using a giant particle accelerator, go wrong. On the first try, the Trisolarans go too far and unfold it into one dimension, creating an infinitely thin line 1500 light-hours long that breaks apart and drifts back down to Trisolaris as ‘gossamer threads that flickered in and out of existence’. On the second attempt the proton is unfolded into three dimensions. Colossal geometric solids – spheres, tetrahedrons, cones, tori, solid crosses and Möbius strips – fill the sky, ‘as though a giant child had emptied a box of building blocks in the firmament’. Then they melt and turn into a single glaring eye, which transforms into a parabolic mirror that focuses a condensed beam of sunlight onto the Trisolaran capital city, setting it ablaze.

Besides theoretical physics, Cixin appears to have read widely in history, political theory, game theory, sociology, even aesthetics.

Link to the rest at The London Review of Books

Here’s a link to Cixin Liu’s books.

Mexican Publisher Grano de Sal Looking for World Spanish Rights

30 January 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

Launched late last year, Grano de Sal—as in a grain of salt—is a Mexico City-based publishing company focused on contemporary debate in politics, natural sciences, philosophy, society, and the arts for Spanish-language readers.

While concentrating initially in Latin America’s markets, “The next goal is Spain, because we have the worldwide Spanish-language rights to all the books,” says Tomás Granados Salinas, the company’s founder and editor-in-chief. “That was a priority strategy.”

. . . .

Publishing Perspectives: Is it Grano de Sal’s intention for all the books it publishes to be works in translation?

Tomás Granados Salinas: It’s our intention, yes, for them to be the first Spanish-language editions, which is the case of our books by Jan Werner-Müller and Barbara E. Mundy.

PP: Has procuring the rights for the books been an obstacle?

TGS: Of the 10 books we have taken on, eight have a co-publisher, and that’s our business model—to have the books bought or financed before bringing them to market. And in the face of the critical situation we’re facing with a lack of bookstores, we’re unable to live off what’s sold from the shelves. Therefore our model is prior sales.

. . . .

PP: Would you also publish a first edition Spanish-language book with a view to selling the rights? 

TGS: Yes, but the advantage of working in translation is that the book has already been worked on, so it’s a little less risky, even though it can be costly initially.

We’re also interested in the books being visually pleasing, with attractive colors and a granular texture. And we aim to have a touch of humor in their presentation, in contrast with academic books.

All of which comes right back to our goal of provoking a reaction among readers. We’re trying to be controversial.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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