Book Review: Tithe to Tartarus

Highly recommended. Book 6 in John C. Wright’s 12 part Moth and Cobweb series, Tithe to Tartarus completes (for now, one hopes) the adventures of Yumiko Moth, AKA the Dark Avenger’s Sidekick, begun in  Book 4: Daughter of Danger and continue in Book 5: City of Corpses. A totally fun and uplifting series, suitable for kids of all ages yet plenty action-packed and deep enough for any adult as well. These are the books we need – heroism, high stakes, lovable and honorable characters, suitably villainous bad guys, yet with a theme of redemption offered again and again despite the evil done. Even the perpetrators of the most vile crimes can still turn from them, an eternal and eternally needed message!

Just as in the tales of Arthur upon which these stories are built and in many movies from the 30’s, Christianity is simply assumed. Nice, for a change. Whatever your beliefs, if you enjoyed le Mort d’Arthur and It’s a wonderful Life, I’d bet you’ll like Moth & Cobweb.

Through the first two books, Yumiko has struggled to discover who she is after awaking in a hospital bed with a near-complete loss of memory. The last thing she remembers is a dream or vision, in which a beautiful lady told her that her life was being given back to her, that all her previous vows were void, and that she needed to save the one she loved. She is also to relay a message to the elves and other twilight creatures she meets. She has somehow also acquired a magic ring.

By this the third book Yumiko has learned she is a ninja assassin with a sacred ghost-slaying bow and gadgets to put Batman to shame, as well as a magic super suit wherein to keep it all. She has found and lost a cousin and friend, a magical half-human fairy  Elfine captured by an elf knight, and learned that her beloved is to be sacrificed to Hell. She now knows her mother, a Grail matron, was murdered in the line of duty. An order of anarchists strive to overthrow all laws human, elfish and divine. She is the disowned former sidekick to a winged vigilante, who has told her to kill herself in dishonor (she refuses).  And everybody wants her magic ring, especially the anarchists.

So, in the next couple days, she hopes to free Elfine, save her beloved, avenge her mother all while keeping the Ring out of the wrong hands. She is aided more or less by the Last Crusade, which consists of a young Dominican friar Matthias, the Swan Knight Gilberec Moth and Ruff the Dog, everybody’s favorite pooka.  Gil wields a sword of blue flame that sets the blood of enemies afire, Matthias uses an exorcist’s tools and prayers as well as some hidden magic to defend against evil, and Ruff, as he repeatedly says, is a very smart dog. (Ruff is pretty much everybody’s favorite character. He is a Good Dog.)

Adventures ensue. There’s love, horror, heroism, magic, sword fights, and all manner of creatures eldritch and fell. I was sad to see it end, especially since the next book isn’t out yet! Noooo!

Get these books, read them, give them as presents to your friends.

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Lord of the World and the Death of God

As so often happens, a philosophical confluence. In the course of my more or less random reading, came across two writes, a century apart and coming at the issue from different angles, who notice the same thing. First, in Robert Hugh Benson’s wonderful and multiple-Pope-recommended 1907 novel Lord of the World, the rising English politician Oliver Brand thinks through what would nowadays be called his worldview:

As he looked from his window and saw that vast limit of London laid peaceably before him, as his imagination ran out over Europe and saw everywhere that steady triumph of common sense and fact over the wild fairy-stories of Christianity, it seemed intolerable that there should be even a possibility that all this should be swept back again into the barbarous turmoil of sects and dogmas…. Even Catholicism would revive, he told himself, that strange faith that had blazed so often as persecution had been dashed to quench it; and, of all forms of faith, to Oliver’s mind Catholicism was the most grotesque and enslaving….  There was but one hope on the religious side, as he had told Mabel a dozen times, and that was that the Quietistic Pantheism which for the last century had made such giant strides in East and West alike, among Mohammedans, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucianists and the rest, should avail to check the supernatural frenzy that inspired their exoteric brethren. Pantheism, he understood, was what he held himself; for him “God” was the developing sum of created life, and impersonal Unity was the essence of His being; competition then was the great heresy that set men one against another and delayed all progress; for, to his mind, progress lay in the merging of the individual in the family, of the family in the commonwealth, of the commonwealth in the continent, and of the continent in the world. Finally, the world itself at any moment was no more than the mood of impersonal life. It was, in fact, the Catholic idea with the supernatural left out, a union of earthly fortunes, an abandonment of individualism on the one side, and of supernaturalism on the other. It was treason to appeal from God Immanent to God Transcendent; there was no God transcendent; God, so far as He could be known, was man.

Later, Brand reads in the paper an account of the brave new world being ushered in by one Julian Felsenburgh, a mysterious American who is being called the Savior of the World:

“It is understood now, by fanatic barbarians as well as by civilised nations, that the reign of War is ended. ‘Not peace but a sword,’ said CHRIST; and bitterly true have those words proved to be. ‘Not a sword but peace’ is the retort, articulate at last, from those who have renounced CHRIST’S claims or have never accepted them. The principle of love and union learned however falteringly in the West during the last century, has been taken up in the East as well. There shall be no more an appeal to arms, but to justice; no longer a crying after a God Who hides Himself, but to Man who has learned his own Divinity. The Supernatural is dead; rather, we know now that it never yet has been alive. What remains is to work out this new lesson, to bring every action, word and thought to the bar of Love and Justice; and this will be, no doubt, the task of years. Every code must be reversed; every barrier thrown down; party must unite with party, country with country, and continent with continent. There is no longer the fear of fear, the dread of the hereafter, or the paralysis of strife. Man has groaned long enough in the travails of birth; his blood has been poured out like water through his own foolishness; but at length he understands himself and is at peace.

“Let it be seen at least that England is not behind the nations in this work of reformation; let no national isolation, pride of race, or drunkenness of wealth hold her hands back from this enormous work. The responsibility is incalculable, but the victory certain. Let us go softly, humbled by the knowledge of our crimes in the past, confident in the hope of our achievements in the future, towards that reward which is in sight at last—the reward hidden so long by the selfishness of men, the darkness of religion, and the strife of tongues—the reward promised by one who knew not what he said and denied what he asserted—Blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, for they shall inherit the earth, be named the children of God, and find mercy.”

and Brand’s young wife Mabel,  trying to convince her dying mother in law to abandon Catholicism:

“Mother,” said the girl, “let me tell you again. Do you not understand that all which Jesus Christ promised has come true, though in another way? The reign of God has really begun; but we know now who God is. You said just now you wanted the Forgiveness of Sins; well, you have that; we all have it, because there is no such thing as sin. There is only Crime. And then Communion. You used to believe that that made you a partaker of God; well, we are all partakers of God, because we are human beings. Don’t you see that Christianity is only one way of saying all that? I dare say it was the only way, for a time; but that is all over now. Oh! and how much better this is! It is true—true. You can see it to be true!”

She paused a moment, forcing herself to look at that piteous old face, the flushed wrinkled cheeks, the writhing knotted hands on the coverlet.

“Look how Christianity has failed—how it has divided people; think of all the cruelties—the Inquisition, the Religious Wars; the separations between husband and wife and parents and children—the disobedience to the State, the treasons. Oh! you cannot believe that these were right. What kind of a God would that be! And then Hell; how could you ever have believed in that?… Oh! mother, don’t believe anything so frightful…. Don’t you understand that that God has gone—that He never existed at all—that it was all a hideous nightmare; and that now we all know at last what the truth is…. Mother! think of what happened last night—how He came—the Man of whom you were so frightened. I told you what He was like—so quiet and strong—how every one was silent—of the—the extraordinary atmosphere, and how six millions of people saw Him. And think what He has done—how He has healed all the old wounds—how the whole world is at peace at last—and of what is going to happen. Oh! mother, give up those horrible old lies; give them up; be brave.”

Written in 1907.

Next, came across the Death of  God Fifty Years On by Matthew Rose at First Things, published a year ago. In 1966, Time magazine’s cover story was entitled “Is God Dead?” This article, what we would now call click bait, created a furor. For youngsters, way back then people took magazines like Time seriously as not only purveyors of “news” but as important social and cultural barometers. Weird, huh?

Rose’s essay is very hard to excerpt, as it spins together, from paragraph to paragraph, many sources and writers to paint its picture. What follows gives some of the flavor, but it’s well worth reading the entire essay:

Altizer was taken with Nietzsche’s idea that Christianity generated its own fatal undermining. But he challenged ­Nietzsche on a critical point: It was not Christians who murdered God, but God who abolished himself. Altizer arrived at this conclusion through a controversial reading of other theologians. Among them was Karl Barth, who according to Altizer had initiated the Death of God movement. (Alasdair MacIntyre made a similar reading of the Swiss theologian in 1967.)

A central thesis of Barth’s theology is that God’s nature is bound up with his revelation in salvation history. Since we cannot know God apart from his self-revelation, argued Barth, we have true ­knowledge of the divine only through Jesus Christ. Altizer translated this claim about knowledge into a metaphysical thesis. He stipulated that God has no being apart from the historical person of Jesus. This allowed Altizer to say, with quite shocking matter-of-factness, that God is dead because he died in history, on the cross. God is incarnate in Jesus—and he dies in Jesus. “The radical Christian,” Altizer wrote in his 1966 manifesto The Gospel of Christian Atheism, “proclaims that God has actually died in Christ, that this death is both a historical and cosmic event.”

From the perspective of classical Christian ­theology, Altizer’s views can only appear nonsensical, but his understanding of God differed in fundamental ways from that tradition. Its roots were in the nineteenth-century philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, who interpreted history as the progressive realization of human freedom. Hegel’s main idea was that contradiction—or more precisely, the overcoming of contradiction—is the law of life.

His Phenomenology of Spirit told the speculative story of how human beings attain free ­self-consciousness through conflict that always leads to a higher resolution. In this history, he claimed, we learn to see historical conceptions of God as symbolic representations of the human drama of cultural ­development.

Hegel was deeply entangled with Christian theology and saw himself as preserving the spirit of Christianity rather than overturning it. He maintained, with perfect sincerity and considerable ingenuity, that his philosophy advanced a rational articulation of the teachings of the Bible. There are many twists and turns to Hegel’s philosophical re-narration of the scriptural story, but its most important claim is that God entered history in order to abolish his separation from it. History’s meaning and purpose are no longer “above,” but instead operate within the ongoing flow of human affairs. God’s coming into the world in Christ represents, symbolically, man’s coming-to-himself as the rational author of his own destiny.

The essay concludes by remarking that, while the theology of the death of God has had little academic traction, as a reflection of what was going on in the culture, however inarticulately, it was dead on.

Benson might have agreed.

Finally, how does this sort of thing metastasize across a culture? Benson gives a clue earlier in his novel. Mabel and her mother in law went to hear Oliver deliver a speech. The people gathered began to sing:

There was no doubt that these Londoners could sing. It was as if a giant voice hummed the sonorous melody, rising to enthusiasm till the music of massed bands followed it as a flag follows a flag-stick. The hymn was one composed ten years before, and all England was familiar with it. Old Mrs. Bland lifted the printed paper mechanically to her eyes, and saw the words that she knew so well:

The Lord that dwells in earth and sea.” …

She glanced down the verses, that from the Humanitarian point of view had been composed with both skill and ardour. They had a religious ring; the unintelligent Christian could sing them without a qualm; yet their sense was plain enough—the old human creed that man was all. Even Christ’s, words themselves were quoted. The kingdom of God, it was said, lay within the human heart, and the greatest of all graces was Charity.

Quick Review: Osborn’s Rock & Roll: The New Madrid Fault System

Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System by [Osborn, Stephanie]Stephanie Osborn, that is.  Rock and Roll: The New Madrid Fault System is a 50 or so page essay Dr. Osborn (who has a very Renaissance Woman vita: Rocket scientist? Check. Geologist? Check. Author? Yep. And so on.) on the basics of the New Madrid fault system.

Osborn takes us through a brief tour of earthquake dynamics and terminology – Horst and Graben might not work as a band name, but a law firm? Oh yea – on her way to telling us that everyone in the lower midwest (or whatever people call Missouri, Western Tennessee and all adjoining areas) are DOOMED TO BE SWALLOWED BY THE EARTH IN A CATASTROPHE OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS. Not to put too fine a point on it.

You see, not only is there this major fault system right there in and around New Madrid, but when it pops, the areas affected dwarf what goes on here in California, and you get more of the more interesting earthquake effects, such as dramatic surface waves that may OPEN HUGE YAWNING CRACKS AT YOUR FEET. As Osborn explains, the underlying geology in California is solid rock to a fairly good depth, so that while earthquakes can certainly be severe, the rigid structure tends to stop the movement fairly quickly, and to not propagate those nasty rolling earthquake waves very well, comparatively speaking.

The vast area in and around the New Madrid fault, by contrast, is fractured and unstable and therefore more elastic rock covered by many feet of sediment that has not been crushed yet into solid rock. And earthquake in California is like someone bumping

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No, not this Osbourne – Rock n Roll, sure, but geology? Not so much.

a table; when the New Madrid faults pop, it’s like whacking a giant bowl of Jello. (My colorful analogy, not hers.)

So, yes, if you happen to live in the affected area, when the next Big One hits in Mid America, you will see you buildings, crops and livestock tossed into the air, rivers flowing backwards and forging new courses, all your building reduced to piles of rubble – at least, you’ll see it until THE EARTH BENEATH YOU OPENS UP LIKE THE MAW OF HELL AND SWALLOWS YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU LOVE BEFORE SNAPPING CLOSED LIKE THE MOUTH OF AN ENORMOUS CROCODILIAN DEMON-BEAST!!! While we out here in California will die more prosaic deaths such as being crushed by falling masonry or freeway overpases, midwesterners get the full Biblical style Judgement of the Most High there-one-moment-swallowed-up-and-vanished-the-next deaths. So, major style points to the Midwest.

Seems to happens every 3-4 centuries. Last really nasty earthquake swarm was 1811-1812. So, if you live there, you may be good for a few centuries. Or maybe not. Just be aware: Californians may be slow on the uptake, but after a few rounds of having building drop on people’s heads, we have taken many steps to keep that sort of thing to a minimum. Masonry building here are either a facade over a steel frame, or 75 or more years old (and small – the bigger building tend to be the ones more damaged in quakes.) Earthquake retrofitting, where typically steel and reinforced concrete are more or less discretely added to older buildings, is an industry here.

The Midwest, in my fairly extensive experience driving around there, seems to be infested with a LOT of brick and stone buildings. Lots and lots.

You’ll want to avoid those during a quake. To put it mildly.

Rock and Roll is by design and necessity a pretty light read, with a very extensive bibliography in case you want to dig deeper. (Osborn’s list of references is about 50% the number of pages as the essay itself.) As I mentioned earlier, it’s a bit like reading a very long Wikipedia article written by somebody with verve – it’s an easy and often charming read.

So, if you live in the frankly doomed, so doomed, area within a 1,000 miles of New Madrid, you might want to pick up a copy and give it a read. At the very least, it may cure you of any tendency to think how dumb Californians are for building right on top of major faults they just know are going to kill them all one day.

Ha. And the weather is really nice out here.

Update: Reading, Writing, Futzing Around

Added a couple more blog post drafts on Important Things – you know, Important Things – bringing the draft total to just under 100. Sheesh. Started writing about how behavioral scientists (whatever that’s supposed to mean) don’t care about brain science, as changing people’s behaviors are all they’re interested in, not how the brain actually works. Um, what? Very Bacon-ish (the British scientist, not the gateway meat): we’re in it for the Domination of Nature, not merely to understand anything. Let’s not get all philosophical here, we got behaviors to change! And how YA fiction provides something to kids sadly missing from their real lives: responsibility for meaningful stuff, especially stuff they *don’t* get to choose. Kids want to grow up, and the dirty little secret is that we choose here and there, but happiness and meaning are mostly found in living out duties we didn’t really choose: to family, friends, country. Kids need that, and YA fiction often provides at least stories of it.

And so on. Got partial drafts on bad philosophy and stupid theories, an attempt to explain supply and demand avoiding the baleful conventions of economics (not as easy as one would hope) and airfleet finance basics that I promised somebody months ago. And about 90 more! Things I thought important at the time!

Anyway, here’s two turntables and a microphone:

A. Reading, among other things, the first issue of Astounding Frontiers, a new publication from some of the people involved in Sci Phi Journal and Superversive stuff in general. About 80% through, need another hour or two. A full review will follow in a few days.

Short & sweet: great stuff, all kinds of fun. The format, at least for the first volume, is a set of short stories followed by the first installments of a set of serials. All the stories are at least good; the first serial is of Nowhither, the next volume following the Dragon-award-winning Somewither from the Tales of the Unwithering Realm books by John C. Wright. As good as you’d hope. You’d better love cliffhangers, though. Old-school serials are the model, after all.

Writing: So, I started to do what I said I’d do – pick a market and submit the recently-finished short story. Aaaand, that proved harder than I thought – while I’m pretty familiar with the old dead-tree markets – Analog, Asimov’s, SF&F – I’m not really up on all the new markets. So I asked myself: does this slight little story work in those old-school markets? Aaaand – IMHO, not really. It’s a gee-whiz story, where a guy faces death and second thoughts. Probably overthinking it (you’re shocked, right?). Other stuff I’m working on might fit better, maybe.

Anyway, I decided to keep looking for a better match. I began at the top of a list I’d gotten off the web somewhere, sorted by how much they pay, and started down, trying to imagine how what I wrote could fit within their guidelines.

Some not-fits were obvious, either from tone or just not fitting the guidelines. I soon became obvious I needed some quick filters to eliminate the obviously not gonna happens: In addition to wild mismatches on the guidelines, ended up crossing off ones who lead with SJW stuff, as it’s hard to imagine them wanting my stuff.

This still left a whole bunch of interesting possibilities. But I’d never heard of these publications, many of which seem to have mushroomed on the web in the last few years. So I find myself reading the sample stories, to get a feel.

By now, I’ve spent several hours reading stories online from the various publications. Unfortunately, while I did get a few decent stories read, I didn’t end up with much additional clarity. A couple of the stories I liked were so utterly different from what I’ve written that my brain sorta locked up.

And then life got busy. It may calm down for a few weeks, maybe not. Thinking I’ll just look among the PulpRev and Superversive markets for this particular story; others might go elsewhere, need to get my brain around what’s what.

B. Meanwhile, working on some other half (or more) finished stories. With the long daylight hours, I’m tending to work out in the yard until dark or dinner, meaning it’s after 9:00 before I’m in for the night – and, if I’ve been doing physical work, I’m probably tired. Yes, I’m a disorganized sissy with too much going on. Anyway, still need a bit of time to finish the 3-4 in the pipeline. The good news is that I should have a better idea what markets to pursue for them after getting myself caught up on what’s out there.

General experience: when I take a second look at something I’ve set aside for a long while, I tend to like it much better than when I set it down. Obviously need to get over these amateur emotional reactions that keep me from just getting it done. Story of my life, I suppose.

C. Speaking of late daylight hours, been working on the brick oven. When we last checked in, I’d decided to add a little shelf or lip on the oven’s front, changing my mind from when I’d poured the oven slab last summer, and left off the lip in the front.

IMG_4050
While beautiful after a fashion, this whole thing here is frankly insane. Spent hours trying to get it level enough so that the planned wooden butcher block would be level-ish and sturdy enough – and I just couldn’t see it working. Don’t know if any of you have this experience, but at least on projects like this, I’ll get a nagging feeling that it won’t work that eventually stops me cold. Got there on this.  Had to change course. Not getting any dubious vibes on plan D? E? where are we? Yet, anyway. 

Well, after way, way over-engineering it and spending hours (and way too much money!) building this metal angle-iron and threaded rod support system, changed my mind again and decided to pour a little more concrete. Had no confidence in the metal supports – too many things could go wrong, and even if I got it all installed successfully, if somebody decided to sit on it, it might even crack the bricks. So, reengineered. Again.

It should have only taken a few hours total to do this, but it’s been over 100F each of the last two weekends, and even I, home improvement project berzerker, can’t do a lot of manual labor when it’s that warm. So now I’m going to finish it after work, with any luck, before the summer ends. On the positive side: once I’ve gotten the lip finished, the actual oven build should go pretty quickly. Yea, famous last words.

In Atlanta: Reading Update

Brief update: Visiting a customer this week to help with the roll out of a new product of ours. This time of year in Atlanta, it is merely quite warm and humid, but certainly tolerable. I hope to take a couple long walks, with luck all the way to the Cathedral of Christ the King 2 miles away. Next month, it gets pretty icky here for a spoiled Californian like me.

A couple cross country flights and nights stuck in a hotel room mean one excellent thing: Reading Time! I’m trying to finish up William Briggs’s excellent Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. I am reminded a little of the experience of first reading Aristotle many years ago: you must understand the phrase before you understand the sentence, and then understand that sentence before going on to the next, or you will soon be lost.  While it is true that this book is not a math treatise, per se, it is also true that there’s a density to it like the density of math, where a simple formula can sometimes mean the world. I can breeze through a chapter and get something out of it, but if I really want to understand – well, then it’s one sentence at a time, don’t proceed until you’ve got that one clear.

But this is not a bad thing – when you actually do make the effort, what is understood is well worth understanding. I’m thinking I might do a chapter by chapter review, more or less, since I’d like to reread it anyway, and thinking about each chapter would be a good exercise. So, maybe next week.

Also reading Dawn Witzke’s Path of Angels because, what the heck, it sounded interesting, isn’t too long, and was cheap! Also picked up a couple of Heinlein novels from this stack:

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So, after I get back from this trip, thing are looking up reading and book reviewing wise. Writing, OTOH, suffers a little when I travel since I’m often tired or agitated one way or another – but I’ll give that a try, too. Things might be much better next week – let us hope.

Books: Today’s Haul & Writing Update

(Working on that How Airlines Finance Their Planes essay, but, in the meantime…)

Yes, I know I’ve got piles of books still to read cluttering up my desk, my Kindle and the floor near my bed. Yes, I have even more books that I’d really like to reread.  But how could one pass these beauties up?

Books

From right to left: The Forest of Time had been in my Amazon cart for a while, couldn’t put it off any longer; speaking of Mike Flynn, he quoted from and recommended R. A. Lafferty’s Fall of Rome here, and it sounded so good I had to; and finally, I don’t remember who recommended the Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages, but most likely it was that Flynn guy again. It, too, had been sitting in the cart for ages. Once you order one book, the next ones get much easier…

Meanwhile, I am so close to finishing this short story I started about a month ago! For the last week or so, I’ve tried the whenever-you-get-bogged-skip-ahead-and-keep-writing approach, and it has proved very helpful. Last night, couldn’t sleep, so sat up until I’d written the ending. Massive relief – I now know where everything is heading, and so, filling in the spots I’ve skipped and doing one and only one quick revision is proving much easier so far (woke up early and put another hour into it).

I’m going to put it aside for a few days once finished, give it another once over, then inflict it on my poor family. Hey, anybody want to read a story and give me feedback? It’s only maybe 6,000 words, not too big a deal…

Also, found the latest partial draft of a story I started a couple decades ago, which I liked enough to write it twice so far, each time deciding I didn’t like the draft, start a third time, and – it’s been there for a couple years now. Sheesh. But I really like the story, so, as soon as this one is done, I’m going to finish that other one. The good news is that I know exactly where it goes, lack of which knowledge has been the source of my petrification on many, many occasions.

THEN it’s back to the Novel That Shall Not Be Named, which – you’ll be shocked to hear – I don’t know exactly where it’s going, and so have become frozen in place. AND I’ve got to get back to Hegel and all that education reading I started.

Sure hope I live, and keep my eyesight and mind (such as it is), to at least 80 – because I’m booked (ha!) through then at least.

Publishing & the College Bookstore

The college bookstore is not like Barnes & Noble.  The economics are different.

Publishers and book sellers often operate under some peculiar economics. Sarah Hoyt got me to thinking some more about this, after first going there after reading comments on John C Wright’s blog. The following is some informed speculation on the economics of Tor and Barnes and Noble, and the book publishing and selling business in general, based on a few minute’s of web research. I have no background in this in particular, but a lot in business in general.

Image result for books & money
Not…really. 

Many people, with great justification and on the side of the angels, would like nothing more than to boycott Tor books into bankruptcy and oblivion. I wrote in a comment on John C Wright’s blog on why that’s unlikely to happen:

Think of it this way: Your purchases of Wright and Wolfe are not going to keep Tor afloat. There’s even a (theoretical) possibility of humiliations galore. In a free market, when the forced liquidation of Tor takes place, and the bankruptcy valuation people are pouring over the books, they’ll determine positive value – meaning, they think real people would pay real money – to the Wright, Wolfe, and Flynn rights, while counting all the money Tor spent on rights to almost all other current SFF authors as unrecoverable sunk costs to be written off. Tehe!

At least, in the real world, something like this is what would happen. In the phoney world of publishing – and here I speak only of the business model, not of any other fantasies that may be clung to by the people in the industry – Tor is owned by MacMillan, which makes a good chunk of its money by selling wildly overpriced textbooks into a completely rigged market. Tor is a pimple on the hindquarters of the beast. The ‘buyers’ are ‘educators’ immune to market forces (market forces = normal people behaving normally). Educators have open contempt for classics or even merely competent literature, and hold math and science to be social constructs of the Patriarchy. No, really. The publisher works hand in hand with the educators to produce ‘good’ books into a gamed market that forces purchases on the ultimate customers.

Further – and here it gets even murkier – MacMillan is owned by a privately-held German company, so I’m not sure how available or reliable overall revenue numbers would even be. I’m guessing that it’s far, far more profitable to sell $175 psychology books that will be outdated and need replacing in three years by the thousands to colleges that then force their students to buy them than to sell one novel at a time at $20 to people who can spent their money as they please. At the very least, it’s easy to see why a textbook publisher would try the same approach to bookstores: we’ll produce ‘good’ books full of right-think, and you make the students/customers buy them.

Just as a poser such as myself can support my writing Jones with my day gig, the owners of companies can support their publishing hobby – publishing books that make them feel good, but don’t make money – with other activities that do pay. A certain sort of billionaire will buy sports teams to be cool; literary imprints can be owned to stoke the egos of a different sort of rich person. That a particular publisher within the holdings doesn’t make money may just not enter into it, especially if it is a tiny part of the whole enterprise.

Further, as mentioned above, if I can sell expensive textbooks to college bookstores by the dozens or hundreds at a pop, and have the purchase decision made by one or few people who then push down the ultimate purchase to a captive audience – students – I’ll do that. For one thing, sales are almost perfectly predictable. Then, once I’ve got that model up and running, I’d try to see if I could expand it to other markets. Thus, big chain bookstores were treated largely like college bookstores, where numbers of books were ordered and shipped based on the assumption that the middlemen could then force them upon a captive audience. This approach could kinda sorta work – until an Amazon comes along. Once that happens, you need to sell single copies of relatively inexpensive books to one person at a time. That’s a different mindset altogether.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the current Big Five from a business point of view. (source)  (and another source)

Hachette Book Group (or Lagardère Publishing)

Hachette Book Group (HBG) is a division of the second largest trade and educational book publisher in the world, Hachette Livre. Hachette Livre is based in France and is a subsidiary of the French media company, Lagardère.

Financial: 2015 sales: 2.21 billion EUR; #4 in the US. Wholly owned by Lagardere, with had 2015 sales of  7.19 billion EUR.  So: its entire publishing arm accounts for less than a third of annual revenue. Less than 13% of revenue comes from the US – didn’t see how much of that is books, I would assume much less than all.  Arnaud Lagardere, current family member leading the group, has a net worth of about $2.4 Billion

Education sales accounted for 16% of total sales, illustrated books comprised 17%, Partworks represented 11%, and other sales were 16%. This only adds up to 60% – the other 40% isn’t publishing? Couldn’t tell from the available info.

Conclusion: financially, selling non-educational books in the US is not a significant enterprise for Lagardere, which is a media conglomerate. The subset that is SFF is a line item on the scale of office supplies, only smaller.

HarperCollins

HarperCollins Publishers is a subsidiary of News Corp, the global media company led by Rupert Murdoch.

Financial: News Corp, Murdock’s holding company, had 2015 revenues of $8.633 billion; Harper Collins piece was $1.67 billion, about 20%. Murdock’s net worth is estimated at $13.1 billion.

Conclusion: SFF is, again, some tiny fraction of the activity of News Corp. Murdoch probably spends more each year on yard care.

Macmillan Publishers

Macmillan is a global trade publishing company, which is owned by the German Company Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, with imprints in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa, and around the world. Macmillan publishes textbooks, journals, monographs, professional and reference works in print and online. Oh, yea, and some other books, too

Financials: As a privately-held company, Holtzbrinck doesn’t have to tell you much, and so doesn’t. 2014 revenues were 1.73 billion EUR; surprisingly, of that 1.64 billion EUR came from publishing, with 39% from North America.

Conclusion: Again, while books make up a bigger piece of the pie for Holtzbrinck than for others, it’s still unlikely SFF rises to anywhere near the top of their concerns – they’ve got that locked-in textbook/technical journals market to think of first.

Penguin Random House

Penguin Random House is owned by Bertelsmann, a private company, controlled by Germany’s Mohn family. It publicly discloses some financial data. It is one of the world’s largest mass media companies and also active in the service sector and education, worth about $30B by my rough estimate.

Financials: Didn’t come up with any hard numbers after a couple minutes of googling around, but it’s safe to say that SFF is not a major source of revenue for this gigantic company.

Conclusion: Elisabeth Mohn is worth $4.4B, and sits on the board of the Bertelsmann Foundation, which controls about $20B more. She ain’t sweating SFF sales.

Simon and Schuster

Simon and Schuster is currently the publishing arm of the media company CBS Corporation, and does adult publishing, children’s publishing, audiobooks and digital books. CBS has interests in commercial broadcasting, publishing, and television production, with most of its operations in the United States. (Aside: this curiosity: “The stories swirling around Sumner Redstone these days make Rupert Murdoch look like a boy scout.” Nope, not gonna bite. Nope.)

Financials: CBS had $13.88 billion in revenue in 2015. Google was not being very cooperative in digging  up Simon & Schuster info in the limited time I had to search, but it appears they have annual revenues in the $750M-$800M range across all their businesses – not bad. I would imagine a comparatively tiny portion of that is SFF.

Conclusion: Sumner Redstone, the major owner, is worth $5.5B. He’s not sweating SFF sales.

A logical cool-headed business person would be thinking of dumping traditional publishing investments, as the long-term prospects of even the education/technical side are grim. Selling may not be possible for any reasonable price – it’s a buyer’s market, which is another way of saying that there are not very many potential buyers, and those who do exist are looking for a bargain. Crunching the numbers might suggest – and I suspect it does – that simply running the current publishers into the ground and writing off the wreckage is the least bad solution, financially.

Meanwhile, a prudent business person will be asking: What’s next? Can we get in on it early? Problem is it seems Amazon is what’s next, and they own every desirable piece of real estate they’ve noticed, and are well equipped to buy any they spot in the future. But hope springs eternal – you don’t get into business unless you are an optimist.

Mostly put this together so that I’m not completely ignorant of the topic, as it is a big deal in one way or another among several authors and commentators of some blogs I follow. The only thing left to say: eventually, in an open market (however imperfect) what cannot go on will stop. Hemorrhaging cash is not a viable long term strategy, although it can go on for a long, long time if it is a) small enough, and b) important enough to the owners. I will say with little fear of rebuttal that millions have been and are being spent by business types in order to figure out how to work this new state of affairs.  So far, the evidence suggest they have not got a clue: Amazon is eating their lunch, indie writers and small presses are doing well, and the last of the big chain bookstores is watching the pretty trail in the sky left by that asteroid heading for the Yucatan.