Friday, May 25, 2012

It's A Small World After All, Part 2

About a month or so I reported on blog readership and how I was surprised at an increase in Russian readership, which had pushed the Russian page views into second place, surging past the British. Inhabitants of the sceptered isles can rest easy; the previous redership pattern has reasserted itself. As cosmopolitan as the world is becoming due to the internet, there is still the matter of language, and as universal a language as English has become (whether American midwest, Oxford, or any version in between) it still helps to speak it as a primary language in order to enjoy a blog, or so it seems to me.

Here are the percentage breakdowns for the readership over the course of the last week, rounded to the nearest whole number:

United States: 65%
United Kingdom: 10%
Germany: 5%
France: 5%
Canada: 4%
Netherlands: 4%
Australia: 2%
Sweden: 2%
Russia: 2%
New Zealand: 2%

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Steampunk and Music -- Sort Of

Four Jacks and a Jill may have said it best way back in 1968: “It’s a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack.” But that’s okay; strange can be good, and what better example of that than the Dutch one-man-band Arthur van Poppel, performing under the name The Music Artist.

He appears at various venues with his Music Bike, Music Car, Jet Fighter (a drivable miniature version of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – I kid you not), and of course his most recent creation, the Nautilus!

His price for an appearance with the Nautilus is 950 Euros for a four-hour block, consisting of four performances of 30 minutes each, five of 25 minutes, or six of 20 minutes, your choice. If you have multiple acts and would like to add The Music Artist, a single 30-minute guest performance (with the Natilus) is 750 Euros.

Of course, The Music Artist is located in Tilburg, Netherlands, and the above prices only apply to the area within 100 kilometers of his home base. Beyond that radius there is a charge of 0.50 Euros per kilometer. So let’s see, from Tilburg, Netherlands to Chicago, Illinois is 6,689 kilometers, so an extra 3,344.50 Euros for travel . . . hmm. I suppose if you’re going to bring him all that distance you may as well spring for the full four-hour performance, huh?

Here’s a link to his web page. Thanks to the Traveler Steampunk Blog for having discovered this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Are E-Books Such A Big Deal? Part 1

I've said before here that everyone (including me) has an opinion about where e-publishing is going, but nobody (including me) really knows. The reason is the landscape is changing so fast. One element of human psychology is "presentism," (although I don't think that's exactly the term generally used) but what it means is that only the present is real and so we psychologically assign enormous weight to it -- correctly, for the most part. But it also means we have an easy time believing in gradual change but a very hard time believing in the possibility of sudden and very dramatic change. Hardly anyone foresees catastrophes, and those who do are branded crackpots, although to be fair, they are vastly outnumbered by the genuine crackpots who predict catastrophes all the time and are always wrong. What does that have to do with the future of e-publishing?

E-readership is expanding at a rate which, were it a disease or a climatic shift, would clearly be catastrophic. A study from Bowkers (one of the big names in publishing) which came out this last week drives that home. The study was of e-readership in the United Kingdom. Here are some of the remarkable changes it identified.

Effectively one third of all Brits are now or will soon be e-readers. 31% self-identified themselves as likely to purchase an e-book in the next six months. That's a big number, but what sort of a trend does it represent? The number of adults in the UK who have purchased an e-book has nearly tripled in the seven months from February of 2011 to the information cut-off of the study.

Tablets have become the reader of choice, with Kindle dominating the tablet market, with consumers purchasing well over one million of the eReaders per week from the fourth quarter of last year on. . I suspect the iPad is coming on strong, even though it is not a dedicated eReader.

So where this is going is anybody's guess. One effect has been the explosion of self-publishing. For the first time in history, authors have a nearly unrestricted access to the global marketplace, for better or worse. (One of the gatekeepers standing between authors and readers in the past was the editor, and lots of self-published eBooks would have benefitted from that particular gatekeeper having remained in place.)

Lots of folks will guess wrong about what this means for the future, but the one guess you can be certain is wrong is that this is all just a passing fad and won't have much long-term effect on publishing.

I labeled this entry "Part 1," because I'm sure I'll end up revisiting this subject again.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

More Game Pictures!

The game pictures (judging from page view counts and comments) are a popular feature, and why not? Everyone likes cool toys. Not only is it good for the soul to see other people having fun, the vignettes and conversions can often spark your own imagination. So here are some more shots from the event at the Historical Miniature Gaming Society Mid-West convention Little Wars last month. This time the emphasis is on hardware in action.

The foliage slightly obscures the barrel end, but here a Fenian gun crew mans the lightning cannon, plugged into its generator truck. This was a major asset for the Anarchist epedition but it never seemed ti be able tio hit anything -- the result of some very unfortunate die rolling.

Here is a back view of the Belgian walker, which you've seen before, advancing in support of some Belgian colonial troops. The trees in the shot, as with most of the trees in the terrain, are made from various bits found in the flower arrangement departments of craft stores. You can find some wonderfully exotic-looking stuff there for alien terrain.

Here's the same scene from the front. I do like how that walker came out, and not least because it was so little work.

The Japanese had two of these small walkers. The figure is from Parroom Station and is very nice, with a Gatling gun for a left arm.

Here's a nice view of Tom Harris's German walker in action. Aside from the common legs, you'd hardly know it was converted from the same model as my Belgian Walker. Also just visible in the lower-right corner of the picture is a German naval gun crew and their horse-drawn gun limber. Having horse-drawn (animal-drawn in the case of the Martians) vehicles alongside the more exotic ones adds a lot to the look of the game, in my opinion. The German scientific party is behind the walker. The piece of terrain behind them is from the acquarium department of a pet store. That's another good source for some great terrain pieces. I dry-brushed the piece with red to make it blend a little better with the other terrain, but it's subtle and does not show up in the photo.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Space 1889 Novel to be Published by Baen Books

Yesterday I promised you some big news and here it is.

I told you several months ago that Baen Books was publishing my novel How Dark The World Becomes. When they contracted for that book they asked if I had anything else for them to look at. I did: The Forever Engine, a Space: 1889 novel. I sent it off, we've talked several times since then, and Friday I signed the contracts and dropped them in the mail. A Space: 1889 novel will see print in the near future from one of the top science fiction publishers.

I don't have a release date yet. I'm working on some rewrites and once those are locked down to everyone's satisfaction Baen will come up with a date. But in the mean time this is very exciting stuff for me.

The novel actually takes place in 1888 and some of the events and characters from The Forever Engine appear as background incidents and minor characters in one (so far) of the Space: 1889 and Beyond stories. But it's not a prequill or a lead-in to other stories. It's a great big story which stands all on its own, and deals with nothing less than the fundamental fabric of the universe.

I can't tell you much more about it now. As we get closer I'll lay some groundwork, but right now publication is well over a year away, so everyne gets to work on refining the virtue of patience.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Great Review of A Prince of Mars!

I just got a great review of A Prince of Mars from the Traveler's Steampunk Blog. Ten out of ten zeppelins! He was very careful to touch on some of the critical features of the story without letting any spoilers slip, which I really appreciate. Those of you who have read it know there are some pretty sharp twists and turns and a place where, if I've done my job right, the readers will smack their foreheads and say, "Oh! Of course!" So I'm glad he didn't let any cats out of the properly-ventilated pet carrier.

Here's a link to the review.

I'd have held off on this announcement until tomorrow, but I promised you big news then and I didn't want to step on that story with this one -- not that this one isn't way-cool.

Game Pictures From Little Wars

Since travel has kept me from posting as often as usual the last two weeks, it's only fair you see some pictures from the games I've been running. Tom Harris and I ran a big game up at Little Wars two weeks ago and I ran anothe game out at Border Wars in Kansas City a week back. These pictures are all from the  Little Wars game, but the Border Wars game was visually similar.

The main difference at Border Wars was I tried out a little more detailed system for the game encounters, which tied them (and the associated wonders) to three general geographic types: Higland, Arboreal, and Lowland. That helpedthe game, as skills like botany and animal were more valuable in arboreal encounters, artifact in lowland encounters, and minieral more in highland encounters (at least for the wondes, and often for the encounters as well) it gave the players a little more strategy to deal with in sending their expedition around. There's still a high level of the unexpected, but players feel as if they can exert at least some influence on it. I think referees who use the system for running a specific crafted episode can use this to benefit as well -- for example giving an expedition a native guide or naturalist to forge a way through the steamy jungle to get to the Valley of the Kings, where the archaeologist will come in handy. (Oh, the killer vines got him? Bummer.)

To start with, here's a picture of the Japanese Hunting Party about to experience a Highland encounter. This also shows off the detail in the great highland terrain my pal Glenn Kidd made for the game last year. I don't know if I've shown you this before, but I made up these encounter markers with two exotic vases on them to mark the encounter points on the table. You need something which does not detract from the overall look of the table and these are just the ticket. I got the idea from Frank and Christin Sciuli who did a bunch of these for the White Pearl Black Heart game Glenn Kidd runs with Frank Sciuli a lot. (I'm not sure if Frank or Christin came up with the idea.) The "vases" are actually colored beads which come in a large plastic packet -- a lifetime supply for a couple bucks -- at most big craft stores. I just glued two to a round base and did a very little landscaping on the base. The beads are pretty glossy right out of the packet, but a quick drybrush in earth tone color fixes that. They come with the carved patterns already inked so that's all there is to it. If you were really ambitious you could paint a bit on the designs on the vases as well, but since I needed over twenty of these, this was good enough for me. There is enough variety in beads in the packet you end up with a nice mix of markers.

Here's another Highland encounter, this time the Belgians have run into a delegation of Hill Martians who have taken the opportunity to lodge a vigorous protest against King Leopold's colonial policies in the Coprates Rift Valley. Fortunately the Germans have decided to help them and a unit of Venusian Schutztruppen have charged the Hill Martians from behind, all but wiping them out.The two survivors fled immediately after this, as I recall.

Tom Harris has made up terrain peices which represent most of the wonders encountered, and while they are not absolutely necessary, they add a lot to the visual aspect of the game. Here the British discovered a large fossilized animal and we discovered the terrain piece fit perfectly on the mountain ledge where the encounter took place.

Certain types of "wonders" are associated with specific encounters. Most of the encounters with parties of native Martians involve freeing a prisoner or prisoners. By the same token, an encounter with native Martians does not have to end in violence. There is a listed chance the natives will attack immediately, modified if you have a character present with Native skill (a local guide, a Martian shaman, etc.) If they do not attack, you can of course attack them and get the element of surprise. However, if you do not attack, they roll again the next turn to see if they attack, and if they decline a second time they join your party and surrender up whatever wonder they were guading. In this case the Belgians have decided to break with tradition and try a peaceful approach to the locals, which has paid off handsomely. A party of ten Hill Martians joined their expedition (figures on the right) and freed a group of five European prisoners they had been . . . protecting. Yeah, protecting, that's it! The Europeans, spent by their ordeal, are about to board the Belgian steam lorry.

Here the Anarchists are about to come into conflict with the Japanese over who has access to whatever wonders are within the Village of the Pink Birds of Prey. The front rank of the Anarchists are a  unit of Evil Minions armed with electric rifles, and supported by a gaggle of clockwork spiders. The minions are figures from Parroom Station and the clockwork spiders are my conversions.

The clockwork spiders attack! It's always gratifying to to see your creations used for their intended purpose. Bwaa-ha-ha!

We've got some more pictures of the game and I'll post them in a few days. This should hold you for the moment, however. And tomorrow I'm going to post some really big news.