Thursday, January 29, 2009

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The Worlds of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson: FIREBALL XL5

I’ll never forget my first time.

As though someone had peeled away the veil of innocence, the experience opened a gateway to a whole other dimension. My eyes went wide, my body rigid, astonished that anything like it was even remotely possible. Fireworks flared, dazzling the senses and slaking a thirst I hadn’t known existed until that moment.

Wait a minute.

Let’s be sure we’re on the same page here. You know what I’m talking about, right? Hmm…let’s be certain. I’m referring to my first exposure to the superlative Supermarionation marionette extravaganza, otherwise known as The Worlds of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson!

STINGRAY. THUNDERBIRDS. CAPTAIN SCARLET.


These and other shows were created by the dynamo team of Gerry & Sylvia Anderson (fortunately, before the two parted ways). The operation, called Century 21 Productions (a.k.a. AP Films), birthed a series of children’s television shows unlike anything before or since.

From the secret base of Tracy Island, to the shores of Marineville, to the airborne heights of Cloudbase, and with organizations sporting names like International Rescue, Spectrum, and World Aquanaut Security Patrol, these shows combined ingredients guaranteed to make a child’s heart race and her imagination soar.

Nowadays, such vintage 60’s fare offers a decidedly quaint form of entertainment with a side of nostalgia. They’re best served if you happen to be reliving he experience, but even if it’s your very first time, a few episodes here and there are good for a few chuckles. (“Oh, check out the puppet chomping on that cigar!”) And I wasn’t kidding about the fireworks—the first scene I watched involved a fireworks display!

For both the hardcore fan and uninitiated noob, I’m presenting the first installment in a series of periodic posts about my favorite Supermarionation productions. You see, this trip into retro SF children’s shows will help explain a thing or three about my rabid attachment to science fiction romance.

Cue the trumpets as The Galaxy Express inverts the cosmic hourglass for a journey back to the (not so distant) future….



FIREBALL XL5, set in the far flung year of 2063, focused on the exploits of one of science fiction’s grooviest spacemen, Colonel Steve Zodiac of the World Space Patrol. Each episode unveiled his adventures on exotic worlds and encounters with naught but the hippest of aliens, all while he and his loyal crew secured the safety of Sector 25 (perhaps taking the counsel of “keep it simple, stupid” a little too far). Naturally, intergalactic villains abounded, such as “Plant Man from Space” and “Space Monster.” These devious, ingeniously christened characters stole every scene in which they appeared.

Filmed with the increasingly specialized puppetry and model techniques described as “Supermarionation,” FIREBALL XL5 was the last Anderson show televised in B&W and ran from 1962-63.

Venus & Steve


Here’s a rundown of Fireball XL5's estimable crew:

Colonel Steve “I’m too sexy” Zodiac (pictured above): The blond haired, blue eyed, chisel-featured pilot is also the intrepid mission commander. He never met an order he didn’t like to give.

Professor Matthew ‘Matt’ Mattic: This eccentric (is there any other kind?) scientist is the brainiac behind Fireball XL5’s design. And as if he didn’t have enough to do, the Mattster slaves away as both navigator and ship’s engineer.

Doctor Venus: Venus is the ship’s, uh, doctor (though her exact specialization is a little vague, unless coffee making counts) as well as Steve Zodiac’s main squeeze. This blonde bombshell gave Brigitte Bardot a run for her money, and during various missions caters to Zodiac’s every need like it’s going out of style.

Robert the Robot: Loyal co-pilot, created by none other than the famous Professor Mattic. Trivia tidbit: Robert was voiced by Gerry Anderson.

At Mania.com, Brian Thomas presents FIREBALL XL5: Space Opera’s Missing Link. He breaks down everything that’s wrong with the show:

Among the creaky ideas featured in the show is the fact that only “oxygen pills” are required to protect people from the vacuum of space as long as they've had a pill, Zodiac and crew can swim around outside the XL5 and talk to each other without radios. Space travel takes place in jet fueled rocketships. Officers are armed with sparking “coma guns.” Most aliens speak English, sometimes with “Oriental” accents. One especially obnoxious episode has Matic inventing a time machine, which sends the cast back to the Old West in alternate identities.

Venus, though credited as a highly skilled “space doctor,” still acts like a 19th century female in many situations, making coffee and cooking for the men. In some episode’s[sic] she’s seen cleaning Zodiac’s apartment while he relaxes, and when captured by villains, her first reaction is always, “Oh, if only Steve were here!”


…as well as what’s hot about it:

It’s clear that Zodiac and Venus are spending the night together [emphasis mine] in some episodes, either at her posh beach house or in his apartment in the revolving Space City tower, but no romantic relationship is evident between the two. Steve Zodiac remains essentially sexless at all times, only excited by adventure and rocketry. Though Venus obviously has a crush on her commander, and rebuffs the attentions of other men, she often sighs and resigns herself to her role as one of the boys.

(Thomas’ article also goes on to describe how this show influenced STAR TREK and its descendants.)

Pulpy plots, retro rockets, an offstage romance, and politically incorrect characters/situations—FIREBALL XL5 has it all.

But there’s more! The show’s closing theme, the oh-so-romantic Fireball, was composed by Supermarionation regular Barry Gray. Australian musician Don Spencer sung the lyrics, and the song became a minor hit at the time in Britain.

Here’s a video of FIREBALL XL5's opening credits, and a bonus feature: Steve Zodiac and gang perform Fireball at Space City Music Hall. Enjoy!



Joyfully yours,

Heather


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Written on

Number 36 With a Bullet and Other Fine News

I’m awfully flattered that The Galaxy Express has been included in Jessica Meritt’s Top 100 Science Fiction Blogs. Great resource, so please check it out.

Care of Lisa Paitz Spindler, I recently learned about Authonomy, a community/social networking site for “for writers, readers and publishers, conceived and developed by book editors at HarperCollins.”

If you’re looking for a way to support science fiction authors (and the subgenre), here’s your chance: Rock the SFR vote for aspiring author Lisa Paitz Spindler’s THE KINSHIP. She needs about 400 points to win that prized editorial review. It’s quick and easy so click here to register.

*Shiny!* CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (April 2009) author Katherine Allred has updated her Web site!

*Sparkly!* Linnea Sinclair’s Web site also sports a sporty new look. And HOPE’S FOLLY (February, 2009) is a Romantic Times BOOKreviews top pick!

New-ish author alert: Autumn Dawn has written two SFR adventures. The first is NO WORDS ALONE (available now from Dorchester Publishing). The second in the series is WHEN SPARKS FLY (June 2009).

Author Jess Granger (BEYOND THE RAIN, August 2009) reflects on the “old concept of high-conflict” in Why Science Fiction Romance?


And now for something completely different: my latest Tor post, Are Comic Books Dying?

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

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Inside The Movie Mogul’s Lair: SFR Goes Hollywood

So Harvey’s agreed to see us for five minutes. That translates into two—while he’s checking email. We gotta make it good. I ask Jane if she’s ready. She nods a quick affirmative. And with that, into the lion’s den we go.

Harvey looks up. “FOX just opened at number one because of that POS kid’s thing…the one with the talking goat. Didn’t we turn that down?”

Yes, we did. So did every other studio. He wants me to rat out whose fault it is. I don’t take the bait. “No idea, Harvey. We see a lot of properties here.”

The man shakes his head as his eyes drift to his iPhone. He’s checking his email, right on schedule. The clock is now ticking. Two minutes. Thanks, Steve Jobs. “So whatta you got?”

I cast a look to Jane. She reads my thoughts and takes the lead. “Well, the latest from market research says the public’s trending to a new genre—science fiction romance. It’s getting tremendous buzz online. Tremendous.”

Harvey’s face sours, but remains transfixed on the iPhone. What's the cause? Could be us, could be the wife, could be spam. Impossible to tell at this juncture. Jane remains silent, casting a furtive glace to me. We have approximately 1 minute and 38 seconds left. Silence fills the room.

Finally, Harvey mutters an expletive. It was the wife. Whew. Without looking up, he continues: “Oh, yeah. So what’s that? Like THE BIONIC WOMAN or something?”

Jane’s crystal blue eyes bore into mine. The verbal baton passes. I take the lead.

“Imagine STAR TREK meets THE LOVE BOAT. It’s like that.” Harvey can only relate to properties over thirty years old, so everything is pitched this way. I thank God for IMDb’s power search by year every night.

48 seconds remain. Harvey taps his electronic friend. Beside me, Jane shifts oh so slightly. We both know what this means. He’s thinking.

“THE LOVE BOAT in space, huh…? How will it do in foreign?”

“Europe’s hot for it, too. We’ve been tracking sales of…”

Harvey waves Jane silent. His eyes meet ours for the first time since stepping into his pristine imported 17th century Italian coiffed office. “Greenlight three. $100 million each. We lost our last tentpole after that idiot director tried to turn it into an arthouse pic.”

The words strike us. Jane and I betray nothing. Inside, our hearts just catapulted over our medulla oblongatas—twice. “T-three. Got it,” I say.

With 20 seconds remaining, we turn to take our exit.

“Just don’t forget one thing.” The words plunge into my back, freezing every corpuscle in my blood.

I turn. “What’s that, Harvey?”

“They better sell tickets. Lots of 'em.”

The message is clear. It always is. If Satan were alive and living on this earth, he’d be a studio exec with a penchant for iPhones.

“You got it, Harvey. No problem,” I add with as much aplomb as I can muster.

And with that, we take our leave. Another day, another $300 million spent.

********************

So, my dear passengers, put yourself in their shoes. If you were the producer of one of these films, which published science fiction romance book would you adapt for the big screen? What elements would you heighten/change in order to make it appeal to the widest demographic audience possible—audiences who aren’t familiar with SFR? Who would you cast?

Just remember—don’t go over budget, or Harvey will be extremely…vexed.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Written on

Can This Puzzle Be Solved?

Join me at Romancing the Blog for a discussion about marketing labels and playgrounds in The Paranormal Puzzler.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Thursday, January 22, 2009

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2009 Science Fiction Romance New Release Roundup

I’ve compiled a list of the forthcoming science fiction romance titles from mainstream print publishers for 2009. Included below are links to more information about each book, and by clicking through you can read blurbs and/or excerpts.

But, I need your help!

As vast a territory as the Web is, I may have inadvertently missed a few titles. So this post is also a call for information about any other science fiction romance print or ebooks (non erotic; non self-published/vanity) that will be released in 2009.

I need this information for you, my ultra hip passengers, as well as another exciting development (but that's off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush, for now).

Please spread the word!

Authors, please leave the information in the comment section or email me at sfrgalaxy “at” gmail.com.

Here’s the current list so far:

Linnea Sinclair – HOPE'S FOLLY February 2009

Karin Shah – STARJACKED February 10, 2009

Susan Grant – THE WARLORD’S DAUGHTER February 24, 2009

Katherine Allred – CLOSE ENCOUNTERS April 1, 2009

Autumn Dawn – WHEN SPARKS FLY April 2009

Catherine Asaro – DIAMOND STAR May 2009

Wen Spencer – ENDLESS BLUE (paperback) May 2009

Karen Kelley -- CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE SEXY KIND (MMP re-release) June 2009

Kristin Landon – THE DARK REACHES June 2009

A.J. Menden - TEKGRRL June 2009

Jordan Summers – SCARLET June 2009; CRIMSON November 2009

Sandra McDonald – THE STARS BLUE YONDER July 2009

Jess Granger – BEYOND THE RAIN August 2009

Susan Kearney -- LUCAN September 2009 (Grand Central Publishing)

Ann Aguirre – DOUBLEBLIND October 2009

Claire Delacroix – GUARDIAN October 2009

Susan Kearney -- RION December 2009

Susan Kearney -- JORDAN March 2010

Gayle Ann Williams - TSUNAMI BLUE April 2010

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Written on

All About Science Fiction Romance

All About Romance hosted a three part Paranormal Roundtable in September 2007. Hosted by Senior Reviewer Anne Marble, it’s an intensive discussion about the roots and evolution of paranormal, fantasy, and science fiction romances.

Authors Linnea Sinclair, Eve Kenin, and Susan Grant join in the discourse. While about a year and a half old, much of it reads as currently as if it were held yesterday. And the title belies the amount of information therein regarding SFR.

I’m serving the article as today’s sole post not only because it’s lengthy, but also because it touches upon a number of themes that I’ll be exploring in the weeks ahead.

Enjoy!

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Written on

Happy Inauguration Day!


Happy Inauguration Day



Sunday, January 18, 2009

Written on

Tor Galore

In light of the US holiday--not to mention our recent marketing marathon--Chef thought it best to ease you into the new week. I agreed.

So on that note, kick up your heels and take a gander at my two latest Tor.com posts if you missed them earlier:

* 10 Hella Sexy Discoveries in THE OUTBACK STARS

* When Earth Is Gone

We'll be back chugging along the rest of this week.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Written on

1001 Ways to Promote Science Fiction Romance, Part V: Build It and They Will Come

1001 Ways To Market SFR, Day 5


Day 5 arrives with the conclusion of this special 5-part series on promoting and marketing science fiction romance. We’ve covered substantial territory:

* Niche markets and their (often) untouched profits
* The current strengths and weaknesses of e-readers
* The business models of other entertainment industries
* How all of this can help SFR readers, authors, and publishers

Now it’s time to address you creative folk out there.

If you’re interested in writing books that fall under a niche market category, there’s a strong chance that others wants to read it, too—and probably in greater numbers than you may think. Just ask Hideshi Hino and Norman Spinrad.

Niche genres have birthed many a bizarre, eccentric tale (and that’s one reason we love them!), which demonstrates that artistically they can offer tremendous freedom to stretch one’s creative wings. Because a niche genre often represents unexplored territory, authors can experiment with all kinds of plots and characters and push envelopes—unapologetically so. And it offers content providers a chance to gauge where tastes are shifting and still earn money.

As with anything, niche markets ebb and flow. Sometimes they explode into the mainstream, or simply fly the niche market banner with pride. But no matter how long they last, one of the most important strategies for survival is to become queen of the niche market instead of a pawn at the bottom of the slush pile.

The creative constraints may be few, but the risks are higher. However, if you’re writing for a niche market, you already know it’s going to be a long haul. So below I’m brainstorming a few strategies that might help mitigate the risk—and increase the reward.

The 50% Rule



Books may be art, but marketing is 50% of the equation. For some, it can be a cold splash of reality to accept that even HAMLET sits on department store shelves with a price tag and SKU number, just like any mundane can of hair spray or Hannah Montana tchotchke. Big business concentrates on moving units, not patronizing the arts.

If you’re planning on a career in science fiction romance (or any other niche genre), there are a number of benefits in allocating 50% of your efforts toward marketing. No author can afford to wait for someone else to do it for her, especially with publisher layoffs left and right.


Publishers vary in the level of marketing support they provide. Regardless of publisher, these days it seems unrealistic to depend on them for a marketing push, especially if you’re not above midlist author status. Even for midlist authors, it’s a matter relegated to chance. For a niche market product, a small to zero amount of marketing support is par for the course.

Therefore, it behooves SFR authors to prioritize the development of a formidable online presence, now more than ever. And I’m not just talking a Web site and/or blog. It’s time to get a spitfire marketing vehicle in motion.

As advised in the book PUNK MARKETING, gurus Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons enjoin: “It pays to act small while continuing to think in the biggest possible way. That may sound obvious, but people forget that image matters most” (page 59). Too true, and the Internet makes it possible for you to hone that image—all you need is a little (or a lot) of elbow grease.

Blogs Are the New Hand-Sell

Bookseller Chick often mentions the importance of hand-selling (to wit: Entering the SciFi Zone). Her post got me to thinking: how would that translate to online interactions?

Why, blogs of course! It’s been happening for some time now, so my revelation isn’t new. However, it’s important to emphasize that blogs should be the de rigueur promotional vehicle for science fiction romance books (whether print or ebook).

And not just because I run one. Think about it: blogs are operated by devout readers. They are committed to spreading the word about good books and take much time doing so. It’s a labor of love, given freely, and the only thing an author has to spend is time (and said commodity can be precious little, I understand, but wouldn’t it be more cost effective than paying a publicist?).

Not only that, but a blogger’s efforts can multiply exponentially by way of networking and other opportunities. Authors can end up with twice or three times the exposure than originally projected. Another advantage is that authors can more readily interact with bloggers, whereas interacting with customers in brick and mortars across the country is prohibitive. No one can blog in a bookstore, either.

Frankly, I’m amazed at the number of authors that don’t take advantage of this strategy. Now, I understand that life happens. Priorities should be given to matters like family emergencies, illness, or job demands.

Or maybe sales are great for those authors, and the promotion is unnecessary (power to them!).

For everyone else, blogs (e.g., blogging on your own site, commenting, interviews, doing guest posts on other blogs, giveaways) are a terrific way to repeatedly get your name and book information circulating through the SFR community. For debut authors or established authors breaking into the subgenre, it’s a must. Don’t wait for the book’s release date, either. In fact, don’t even wait for the ink to dry on the contract—let fans know something’s in the pipeline, even if you can’t spill all the details.

Bloggers can’t blog about books we don’t know about.

Where There’s a Will…

Whether you’re an author with a print or an epublisher, online marketing will become increasingly important. Think about all the eight year olds already involved in online social networks like Club Penguin. In a decade or so, they’ll have money of their own to spend, and these Web savvy customers will spend it online. Downloadable content is now the norm to them, and for many of their teenage siblings.

These are the future blog readers and consumers of books, and their numbers will grow, and grow, and keep on growing.

When they start looking for books, you’ll want to be ready. With a little creativity you can create your own “endcaps” and other promotions using blogs or Web sites. The beauty of online promotion is that you can track your efforts and get instantaneous feedback (e.g., Google Analytics).

Of course, consistent, extensive use of online marketing strategies will cost money, time, or both. Time is a given, but what about the knowledge it takes to be Web savvy? If you can’t afford to pay someone to build and maintain a Web site, it might be time to learn some new skills. Remember, publishers aren’t going to do it for you.

Before you write that book, it might very well be in your best interest to take a few weeks (or months) to live the DIY edict. For those who can’t afford to drop several hundred dollars on Photoshop, there’s GIMP. It can take care of most—if not all—of your imaging needs, and did I mention it’s completely free? Many Web hosting companies, such as 1 and 1, also provide free WYSIWYG software. No HTML knowledge is required. Shop around for the best deal for you.

Of course, learning all of this doesn’t equal hiring a good designer with years of experience, but it’s an entryway. What you lack in CSS finesse can be ameliorated by sheer tenacity. No one will ever work harder for your book than you will.

And there’s another angle here for you, unclaimed and untapped.

A Match Made in Cosmic Heaven: Science Fiction Romance and Epublishers




It’s important to acknowledge that technology hasn’t made e-readers an affordable option yet, and much of the reading public isn’t accustomed to ebooks. Then there’s the fact that currently, most revenue is still generated by B&M bookstores.

There’s also an image/respect issue. Epublishers aren’t accorded the same amount of respect as print publishers. It’s not viewed as the same kind of “hurdle” as getting a book released by a mainstream print publisher.

That last part is true in some cases, but a fallacy in others. It depends on the epublisher. That’s why it’s important to do one’s homework (and for a free epublishing 101, visit Romance Divas. The site hosted a workshop January 13-15, 2009, on epublishing, run by Samhain Publishing Executive Editor Angela James. Free registration required).

But might all this change within a few years, as both ebook demand and advances in e-reader technology drive prices down? I think it’s important to think not just in terms of current customers, but future ones as well. These next few years may continue to be a time of struggle and reorganization, but it’s also an opportunity to prepare for the oncoming changes.

Epublishing may be just learning to walk, but SFR isn’t exactly on the New York publishing radar either. There are less than a handful of debut SFR authors each year. Perhaps even fewer than that. Statistically, the numbers represent a very low chance of breaking into this market with a mainstream print publisher. And even published SFR authors face immense odds involving a variety of issues related to writing these cross genre novels.

Where does that leave the stories yet to be told? Should aspiring authors even bother trying to crack the New York barrier with their SFR manuscripts right now?

The Promise of Ebooks…

Now is not the time for the industry to rest on their laurels. No one said it was going to be easy. These are developments years in the making. Years. But as technology improves, options will increase, leading to a more vibrant market.

Not only that, but ebooks are creating opportunities for niche genres such as science fiction romance. Ebooks can potentially offer not only more product but also increased story experimentation—for example, m/m SFR. Many readers expect more daring, different, and adventurous tales from science fiction romance. I know I do.

Ebooks also present an opportunity for mainstream print authors to write stories (even shorts and novellas) that their mainstream print publishers can’t support right now (barring option clause limitations). And lucky for them, a few epublishers accept agented submissions!

It might be worth taking a page from the erotica/erotic romance “book” on achieving mainstream status. Those authors took advantage of epublishing years ago, and after a lot of hard work from everyone involved, many benefited. This is a business, after all, and one way New York sits up and takes notice is a steady profit.

Consider this scenario: What if a wave of aspiring science fiction romance authors became published with reputable epublishers first?

This group of authors could build a history of collective sales and engage in a collective marketing campaign alongside authors whose books are currently in print. Wouldn’t it make sense to start building a backlist now, while the market’s wide open, in preparation for the day when e-readers are affordable and all of the technology has been ironed out?

So, the final equation looks something like this: SFR print/ebooks + affordable technology + niche market queen + time + strong online marketing campaign=The Next Big Thing.

It’s not a matter of can it be done—of course it can. Therefore, the only question remaining is, who’s with me?

Thanks for reading. It’s been a blast assembling and researching these posts for you, my dedicated passengers. Now let me hear your ideas!

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Other links of interest courtesy of Dear Author:

Don’t Let Fear of Piracy Rob You of Profits

The Good News Is DRM-Free Is Pirated at Lower Rate Than DRM Pirating—Numbers Still High

Harper Collins Has Paid an Expert Hacker to Develop Pirating Software for 10 Years

From BookEnds, LLC: Can You Do Better?


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Written on

1001 Ways to Promote Science Fiction Romance, Part IV: Love at First Sight: Niche Genres and Ebooks

1001 Ways to Promote SFR, Day 4


Day Four of 1001 Ways to Promote SFR poses the following hypothesis:

What if you owned a restaurant where you could serve every different type of menu item imaginable? You’ll always have some big ticket items (New York pizza, yum!), but there’s money to be made by also offering palak paneer, bibimbap, and mochi.

With this myriad variety, you’re almost assured no one will leave without buying something because everyone will find something he or she likes to eat. Great, eh?

Niche market products available online are like this restaurant.

One long held fallacy of the music industry is that everyone only craves a Top 40 hit. But if that were true, satellite radio and Slacker wouldn’t even exist. Many believe books followed a similar model with bestsellers. After all, those are the best ones, right? (Don’t answer that!)

The large corporations of these industries evaluate the metrics of current book buyers, often forgetting or ignoring the large portion of consumers who would spend more money—but don’t—since they can’t find what they want. These readers comprise the silent majority.

The Manga Miracle

Another fallacy: Just because something doesn’t exist in voluminous numbers, doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong market for it. Let’s look at manga, for example.

Manga was once a niche market. So niche, in fact, that fans went to extensive effort to find and translate works (for example, from Japanese to English) just so they could read and share them with other fans. (I should know. I’ve got a whole collection of Japanese manga from back in the day.)

Now, only a few years later, manga is mainstream with huge sellers. Hundreds of titles are available. No longer do fans have to pay scads of money for imports—they’re easily and cheaply available and in a variety of languages. When I see whole sections in U.S. bookstores devoted to them, I can only stare with a sense of surreal awe. Then there’s the wealth of titles I can order online.

But, did those early years represent a multitude of lost sales because publishers didn’t invest in that niche market earlier? Or did manga only hit stratospheric sales later because the audience was now primed and ready? And what can publishers learn from this?

Let’s postulate, posthaste.

The Niche Genre and Ebook Grand Slam

While ebooks won’t supplant print books anytime soon, there will come a time—whether we’re all in agreement about it or not—when they will be prevalent, readily available, and supported by inexpensive, easy to navigate technology.

Ideally, e-readers will become flashy enough to attract even “casual” or infrequent readers who can no longer resist their allure.

Don’t think it can happen? Take a look at the Wii. After coming in third with the last round of console wars, Nintendo did a reboot. They decided they couldn’t compete against the combined hardware/software might of Sony and Microsoft. So in sports terms, instead of running it, they performed an audible.

Nintendo took aim at the non-gamers—the moms, grandparents, etc.—to bring them into the fold. And, the plan worked, tremendously in fact. Two years after its launch, the Wii is still nearly impossible to find on store shelves.

Nintendo entered into this foray with a very strong and recognizable brand intact. They then recognized the inefficacy of following everyone scrambling for a few apples in the top of the tree, and redirected their energies in acquiring the then-ignored low hanging pears that were present by the bucketload.

The ironic thing is, if Nintendo had polled every one of their fervent fans—and believe me, there are many vociferous members in the “Church of Mario”—they probably would have told the company to just stay the course with the usual “twice the power, twice the graphics” console.

Regardless of the minority opinion, Nintendo is now practically printing its own money, and more people were inducted into gaming, which can only help everyone in the entire industry (so much so that the gaming industry as a whole is laughing all the way to the bank even during this economic slump).

So what does all of this mean for the publishing industry?

Reinvention. Innovation. Rebirth.

Regarding print books, it’s understandable that it’s not possible to provide a physical slot for every one released. But this doesn’t mean mainstream print publishers shouldn’t make other books available online. Some, like Harlequin and Dorchester (who recently announced a deal for ebook conversion), have taken the lead in this area. Others have yet to catch up.

While the blockbuster mentality is a necessary part of the book business, what if I don’t want that type of book? Ebooks and niche genres offer something for everyone. Coupled with aggressive online marketing campaigns, both publishers and authors stand to benefit when they explore possibilities off the beaten path.

And if now is not a time for reinvention and innovation, when is?

Infinite Shelves, Infinite Opportunities

When books are available online there are no shelving issues—a boon for cross genre novels like SFR. Agent Kristin Nelson discusses the shelving issue at length with her client Linnea Sinclair in this podcast radio interview. The exchange underscored my current purchasing habits: When I have time to browse bookstore shelves while indulging in a grande caramel macchiato, I’ll head to a brick and mortar. Maybe I’ll stumble on a science fiction romance book; maybe I won’t.

When I actually want to find science fiction romance books, I’ll settle for a mug of Folger’s Choice and indulge in the convenience of what a few mouse clicks can bring.

Here's another example of low hanging fruit: “…female-centric ebook market.” This quote is from a recent blog post by Samhain Publishing Executive Editor Angela James in which she discusses the ways in which epublishers have “thrived” by appealing to a “…wide demographic of readers” with all sorts of goodies.

I’ll toss out another possibility: ebooks could be offered for download over airport WiFi or kiosks (akin to a recent videogame model). The more pervasive the reach, the more "out of the box" sales opportunities open up.

Remember the long tail? It’s a place where publishers, both mainstream print and epublishers, can mine a niche market like science fiction romance. Publishers can take risks on books that otherwise would have languished in the slush pile, especially if they increase the number of available ebooks.



Hie thee and pluck that low hanging fruit!

So, my hardworking passengers, what other avenues could publishers could explore to sell science fiction romance books? When it comes to locating niche genre books, what process could make it more convenient?

In our final installment, we’ll explore the intersection of niche markets, ebooks, and promoting science fiction romance from the author side of the equation.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Written on

1001 Ways to Promote Science Fiction Romance, Part III: Kindles & E-readers: An Overview of Your Reading Future

1001 Ways To Promote SFR, Day 3


Day Three of 1001 Ways To Promote SFR picks up where Day One and Day Two left off. So let's dive right into it!

We’ve all heard the arguments against moving to ebook readers. The most salient being, “it’s just not the same.” Of course it’s not the same, and print books aren’t going away anytime soon. Yet it’s possible for both to coexist peacefully.

However, there are pros and cons with each, so let’s take a look at how the formats differ:

E-Reader Advantages

The cost of paper and printing seems to soar to new heights every year; this doesn’t affect e-readers.

Physical books require paper, paper requires planetary resources, and resources require money. Other than the initial construction material and transportation for the device itself, e-readers thrive off only 1 and 0s. Which leads me to…

…the limited storage space for physical books. I don’t know about you, but I have books piled everywhere. And unless I can persuade an errant Time Lord to share the secret of dimensional transcendentalism with me, my house remains smaller on the inside than the outside. As an alternative, cheap, large capacity flash memory cards are commonplace now—and 16GBs can store more books than I could possibly read in a decade.
A physical book’s font is fixed; an e-reader’s font can be as
small or HUGE as you like.

A physical book’s copy isn’t searchable, while an e-reader can locate the exact page where Rochester and Jane Eyre first meet in less time than it took you to finish this sentence.

And finally, lest we forget, there’s an entire library of public domain ebooks yours for the taking—FREE! Sure, some may have been written decades ago—if not several hundred years—but somehow LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER just became that much hotter when it’s 100% gratis.

Note: Publishers should NOT fear this, as I know the classics are still big sellers. Free public domain ebooks can serve as an introduction to e-readers, which will only spark an appetite for more recent books—i.e., serve them up as the gateway drug for the literary world.

Then there are promotions such as Orbit’s new deal: “…an ebook a month for just $1.” (Thanks to Angela James for the link.) And don’t forget the Baen Free Library!

Hmm…so everything’s super cool and we should all run right out to buy e-readers, right? Hold on there, mon ami. Everything isn’t completely dandy just yet.

E-Reader Disadvantages

The current prices for an e-reader are probably the biggest hurdle for most people.

As of this date, the Kindle runs $359 USD, while the Sony 700BC Reader is $399, and the iRex iLiad is a wallet-bustin’ $699. Methinks you’re going to have to read a LOT of free/low cost ebooks to compensate for the initial cost for one of those.

As with all gadgets, these prices will, of course, drop over time as technology improves, but we’re talking about the here and now.

Aside from the prohibitive cost though, there’s another issue…and it’s a biggie.

The DRM Blues



Waiting in the wings lies the lurking specter of Digital Rights Management (DRM). This thorny issue could consume the entire week’s worth of posts, but succinctly put: The powers at be ostensibly place DRM in their media to limit—or prevent—copying or sharing (or printing or whatever else someone decides). But really, it’s there to retain control of the material you purchased.

Ever since Napster rose so meteorically and flung open Pandora’s file-sharing box, most content publishers (mainly the RIAA & MPAA) break out in a very cold sweat when someone utters the word “Internet” in their vicinity. It needn’t be this way, however.

I believe most reasonable people think that authors, artists, and filmmakers should be rightfully compensated for their work. (Somehow, I doubt those who disagree work a 40-hour week for free.) The creators/licensors rights should always be upheld and protected.

But on the other hand, if you buy something, it should be yours, Ms. Consumer.

You should be able to read your ebooks however you like, on any device you like—not have them tied down in a way that only benefits a specific corporation. This is what the Fair Use Doctrine is all about.

After all, a physical book won’t deny you entry into its intrinsic joys, just because you changed the dusk jacket or passed it onto a friend or family member. And photocopying has been possible for several decades, but we’re still buying books and publishers are still in business.

Heavy-duty restrictive DRM does little to stop the real pirates, the ones who are mass producing $5 street copies of THE DARK KNIGHT faster than the Batman himself can track them. It only annoys/confuses the vast majority of customers who aren’t crooks and don’t like being treated as such.



Ignoring this only causes confusion and anger in consumers—two ingredients that result in unsold inventory. Imagine if you had to match up Sony DVDs with Sony players; Toshiba DVDs with Toshiba players; etc. Silly, huh? That’s just one way DRM hurts and chases away consumers. There are others.

But If Some Form of Protection Is Needed, What’s The Compromise?

I personally don’t mind stepping into a large department store with the knowledge that my every move is being watched indiscreetly. Sure, it would be nice if none of this security were required, but that’s too Pollyannaish. It’s unrealistic to base a B&M business model around, “Pick up what you like and drop the cash in a bucket on your way out. We trust you!”

Fair enough.

But if that scenario is too gullible, consider this one: Stepping into a store only to be escorted by an armed guard—someone who points a gun at your head, and tells you exactly what to look at and what to buy. After all, you’re just there to steal, ya crook.

Would you go back and patronize that place? Yeah, I wouldn’t either. And that, in a nutshell, is why most people hate DRM. It becomes that intrusive guard.

If readers are confronted with this nonsense on their shiny new e-readers, the majority are just going to stick with their dog-eared paperbacks of D.H. Lawrence.

When it comes to technology, people like it to work and be dead simple to use. Period. I fear that if more DRM appears on the ebook horizon, it may kill, or at least heavily stunt, the nascent industry before it has a chance to flourish. (Just ask the original DIVX how it’s doing. Great idea, Circuit City! Major props!)

But, a shining light at the end of the industry tunnel suggests corporations are waking up to this.

The Dawn of A New Era...?

Foxit, known for its PDF software, just announced the eSlick, the newest foray into the e-reader market. At first glance, it appears to be a glorified PDF reader—that means no proprietary media formats. (It’s also $120 cheaper initially than the Kindle, although it lacks built-in WiFi.) Sony’s e-reader, the PRS-505, also provides native support for DRMless formats. Both provide a step in the right direction. While it’s possible to circumvent DRM with the Kindle, giving customers what they want right out of the box is what they really crave.

Amazon knows a DRM-less future is high on our wish list, too. It started touting their DRM-free MP3s for sale a few months ago. This, plus a higher bit rate (256) combined with lower prices and ease of use made their music store a formidable opponent against the ubiquitous iTunes. (Apple got hip to this and it’s now offering DRM free downloads.)

But why would Amazon make such a strong stance against DRM in one department (music) and not in the other (ebooks)? Competition for one is the answer. With over 6 billion songs sold(!), iTunes is the leader in MP3 sales. Amazon + Ebooks = a different story, however.

With the Kindle, Amazon appears to be king of the e-reader mountain so they probably feel more confident in their choices. I also suspect the DRM-laden ebooks at Amazon comply with demands made by some overly-skittish publishers themselves. (Tech scuttlebutt says that Apple has been wanting to move against DRM for some time but the music industry said no-no.)

But since the Kindle generates so much buzz, should Amazon and the industry worry? Yes.

There IS competition—in the form of physical books. And for the e-reader industry to compete against this, you have to offer something much more compelling to give print books a run for their money. Old habits die hard—and offering a completely different model that’s only 5% better won’t categorically change people’s way of buying books.

There’s Room for All

Of course, some readers will continue to invest only in print books. One doesn’t exclude the other. Vinyl records still exist and enjoy healthy sales to this day. (And oral storytelling is alive and well, thank you very much).

The publishing industry only needs to capture part of the overall market with ebooks to be a runaway success. And it appears to be working, as increasingly more readers are supporting both formats. This aspect represents a gain for authors.

Bottom line, it’s worth emphasizing that print and ebooks will coexist for some time. Niche genres like science fiction romance will need both to thrive.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore other changes the publishing industry should consider to reinvent itself for the 21st century. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on e-readers and DRM?

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Monday, January 12, 2009

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1001 Ways to Promote Science Fiction Romance, Part II: Taming the Niche Market Frontier

1001 Ways to Promote Science Fiction Romance, Day 2


Day Two of our marketing week poses the heady question, “How does one effectively promote a niche genre?” Answering this, however, may first require a bit of reorientation—a reboot of previously held ideas.

To wit: Science fiction romance is a niche genre in the publishing world. This is true. But that description needn’t be held in a pejorative light. In fact, I see it as an opportunity.

“Beg pardon?” you ask. Here’s what I mean.

By the very fact that SFR is niche at the present means that it offers a vast repository of unmined materiel to exploit. (That’s a good thing.) Its blended nature also connotes the welcoming feeling of familiarity to science fiction as well as romance readers. (And that’s a great thing!)

SFR’s untapped potential + commercial appeal = the best of both worlds.

As an endless series of remakes of sequels to other remakes hit the big screen, and the umpteenth vampire/werewolf paranormal trots out on bookshelves, the time for something fresh in entertainment is ripe.

But trying to market a property that’s too original bears its own albatross, too.

Selling Niche To The Public...

Unless products couch the exotic in a familiar package, the general public tends to scratch its collective head and walk away. As an example of this, look no further than the box office receipts for the average David Lynch film.

It’s sad that a big budget movie like THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS can bring in over seven times the amount of BLUE VELVET at the box office, but those are the facts. Fred and Wilma had some serious marketing cash clout and exposure backing them.

Despite this, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s the latter film that made money, while the former lost it. In fact, all Lynch films earn their money back and make profits.

Continuing this film metaphor, SFR stands poised and ready to be our JUNO—clever enough to stand out in the crowd, but not so niche in idea and scope that it can’t earn money.

And therein lies part of the promise of a niche market—fulfilling a need that isn’t being met: The ultimate goal of any commodity. Let’s explore this issue more deeply.

Unexpected Results Arise


In Chris Anderson’s book, THE LONG TAIL: WHY THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS IS SELLING LESS OF MORE, he argues that current technology, mainly the Internet, essentially throws out the long held Pareto Principle (i.e., the “20/80 rule,” which asserts that 80% of sales arise from the top 20%). This is the model that drives businesses (and certainly publishers) to strive for only home runs.

After all, B&M book stores possess limited shelf space, and they would rather devote that valuable real estate to a few more copies of J.K Rowling or Nora Roberts than an unknown author or unproven genre. The other 80% is there either for the occasional sale (think: holidays) or as window dressing (a bookstore with only a few hundred stocked books just wouldn’t look or feel right).

But here’s one problem with that paradigm: Sometimes the “sure thing” isn’t always so sure (paging Dr. Kaavya Viswanathan).

Books, As A Whole, Aren't Spring Chickens

Further compounding the issue, so few books actually sell. Depressing fact alert: According to Nielson BookScan, only 2 percent of the 1.2 million unique titles sold in 2004 had sales of more than 5,000 copies. A staggering 98% hardly budged. Couple this continued environment with the current economic malaise, and you have continued flat sales in this extremely mature business. People get excited about new, sexy things. MP3 players/smart phones currently represent this; 15th century Gutenberg technology does not.

That’s where the strength of the Internet comes into play and usurps the old way of doing business. Places like Amazon and ebook retailers aren’t so restricted in space; in terms of the latter, it’s limitless. These vendors can offer far more than the top 100 bestsellers. And guess what? The demand for more niche genres can be huge.

Huge…and often ignored. Publishers ignore this at their peril.



In THE LONG TAIL, the author makes several surprising revelations:

* A digital music provider tells how a whopping 98% of the albums in his inventory sells at least one track per quarter (and this was in 2004, a time of far fewer MP3 players). Others suggest this figure is in line with books sales on Amazon (page 7-8).
* The documentary is one of the best renting genres through Netflix (page 182), despite the fact that a breakout hit like SUPER SIZE ME earned less than $12 million at the box office.
* Profit margins for publishers increase—sometimes greatly—as products move farther down “the tail” and into the niche category (pages 132-134). This is the inverse of the Wal-Mart model of only offering the top selling products at low margins, and provides a clear way to compete against the big guys.

Niche Isn’t As “Niche” As It May Seem

This isn’t to disregard the sales at the “head of the tail.” The “head” and “tail” work in tandem. Naturally, your HARRY POTTERs and DARK KNIGHTs of the world are going to remain the prominent revenue generators. But those properties remain few and far between, and require a huge financial push by the publisher/distributor for marketing.

I once recall catching the following cogent point, made by an unnamed industry insider: “Think you’ve written a bestseller? Great. But do you have a well-connected publicist? Do you have several million in marketing behind you? No? Then guess what, you don’t have a bestseller.”

Yes, those words lean to the pessimistic side—as there are a few exceptions—but the point does resonate. Marketing is just as important, if perhaps even more important, than the book itself when it comes to selling. Just ask any popular fast food place. A staggering 96% of U.S. schoolchildren can identify Ronald McDonald, according to Eric Schlosser’s FAST FOOD NATION (page 4). I ask, is this a result of the high quality food or the wily clown’s unrelenting marketing? Quality alone isn’t enough.

However, quality content accompanied with equally superlative marketing can greatly increase a book’s chances of success. Now on the surface, this statement above may seem obvious when presented as such, but it demands print as I often see real-world accounts where the marketing is all but ignored. More on that later in the week.

This brings me back to niche markets….

Why Not Beat The Crowds?

Even if you’re an author who’s 100% gung-ho on getting your book out there, how can the average first-timer stand out from the crowd? You’re up against paid endcaps, discounts, and ads from the big guys (Forget David vs. Goliath. Think David vs. Galactus!)

It’s akin to staring down high tide with nothing but a broom to protect your sand castle. Unless you move away from the ocean, that is.

Sure, the crowds may be at the beach, but so are the waves, hovering perilously over your meticulously constructed art. Why not separate yourself and stand out? If the beach is the “head,” think of the “tail” as a boardwalk stocked full of various attractions. That smorgasbord of entertainment offers its own set of rewards as well.

Boiling It All Down:

Everyone has both mainstream and niche tastes in some category; one could watch a summer blockbuster film followed by a meal of exotic ethnic fare. Readers can enjoy Stephen King and then move onto Suehiro Maruo. In marketing terms, it “funnels down.”

Both of these examples hinge on the alternative being available, however. In the case of the former, a Vietnamese Phở restaurant isn’t located everywhere; but the Internet can deliver even the most outré works to the Outback.

I’m talking about ebooks, and we’ll cover this topic in Day 3.

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Sunday, January 11, 2009

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1001 Ways to Promote Science Fiction Romance, Part I: The Nature of the Beast

1001 Ways To Promote Science Fiction Romance


Welcome to the first installment of the Galaxy Express’ special weeklong series on cultivating and marketing a subgenre near and dear to our hearts—“1001 Ways To Promote Science Fiction Romance”!

If you caught my post over at Dear Author, you have some idea of where we’re going. And in these tumultuous publishing times, subgenres like SFR have to pull out all the stops in order to survive.

But this time we’re going to up the magnification—exploring the various possibilities for nourishing the subgenre’s potential. The main concentration will be on books, but the issues explored will have relevance to film and television as well. This promises to be an intensive, white-knuckle ride, so this week we’re going to be broadcasting every day.

Our spacious conference room awaits you, and Chef’s laid out a piping hot batch of hors d'oeuvres; your choice of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and wine awaits you. (Hey, I said this was special!) I even believe I caught a whiff of freshly baked yeast rolls after passing the galley.

So with that said, let’s dig in and get to it!

Science fiction romance, as it currently stands, is a niche genre. You aren’t seeing it advertised on Times Square billboards or buying Happy Meals filled with toys celebrating it. But since you’re here reading these words, there’s definitely an interest in this scintillating genre—and it’s growing.

Given this, how can the advocates of SFR help give it a leg up in the publishing world? A valid question, but in order to answer it, we first need to outline the top SFR challenges. Alongside these, I propose a few initial ways to overcome them:

1) SFR isn’t a big seller now, there’s only a tight market for it, and the industry as a whole is downsizing. Why devote time to it?

Because just like alternative energy, science fiction romance holds tremendous promise and untapped potential—it just needs to be harnessed and directed. It also depends on which market is under discussion. Some are more open than others.

2) The genre is too bifurcated between romance and science fiction to be a mainstream success.

Upon prepping his follow-up to STAR WARS, George Lucas realized he had to address several criticisms—one being that the sequel needed to attract more women of all ages. Low and behold, there’s a strong romantic thread in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, despite the plot’s darker tone.

And there it is: Science Fiction + Romance = The Ability to Draw Big Bucks. It just needs the right mix of ingredients.



3) Yeah, but that’s STAR WARS! Not every SFR tale holds Darth Vader’s appeal.

Perhaps, but that can always be remedied. And this subgenre offers loads of action and adventure, mystery, and thrills in addition to solid characterization and romance. Elements that would appeal to, say, fans of authors like Suzanne Brockman.

4) Very few authors can successfully blend the subgenres.

This factor, of course, depends on who is submitting work at any given time. For all we know, authors are pitching plenty of quality SFR, but the works are rejected because of the tight market or editorial conflict. Yet some creative risk taking by publishers can yield highly lucrative results, as we discussed here.

Conversely, the premises and/or writing could be falling flat. Some craft issues can be remedied, others not. But simply by examining the successful SFR stories already available, we know entertaining stories can be told. And how many writers have the ability and desire, but didn’t attempt it because of the reality of a tenuous market?

Then there’s the challenge of offering an appealing blend of SF and romance to satisfy readers from different backgrounds. Some want less peanut butter than jelly; others crave more. Compounding this, authors are under pressure to deliver both elements with equal skill. But given enough books, these issues become increasingly less problematic since authors would write a variety of stories to meet a variety of needs.

In fiction, one size will never fit all. But a carefully nurtured genre can fit most.

5) Because of its dual genre nature, SFR is difficult to market, especially regarding book covers.

Stories inspire covers, and so it behooves authors (published and aspiring) to write the tales that will make marketing departments swoon. If they see a book’s commercial appeal, it’s the one that gets the kick-butt cover, a sizeable print run, and bigger marketing pushes. Flashy titles are also a plus.

Marketing departments are accustomed to overcoming such challenges, but why not mitigate any problems from the start?

Many times a marketing team faces ridiculously fast turnaround times. They just don’t have the time to consider every angle of a story and its intended audience. They also may not know the genre or demographic as well as they should. This is where a little input from authors and readers would facilitate the development of stronger marketing campaigns that foster a cohesive strategy for tricky subgenres like science fiction romance.

After all, even marketing experts can’t successfully market something they don’t understand.

6) Okay, but I still think SFR is too much of a niche genre to achieve success similar to subgenres such as paranormal romances or urban fantasy. How can it succeed if only a handful of readers know it exists?

To that, I say, “Hello, Internet!” and “Ni hao, World!”

This is exactly why we’re going to focus on that very point for the duration of our journey this week.

I’d like to acknowledge that the process isn’t a peaches and cream scenario, either—be it for fans, authors, or publishers. For any genre to achieve even a moderate level of success, a certain amount of heavy lifting, hair pulling, and headaches exists. And even then, there’s no guarantee.

But, the rewards can be—and will be—equally great as well.

So, my keen passengers, are there any other challenges you’ve identified? Might as well lay ‘em all out now so we can tighten our belts and yank up our bootstraps for the climb ahead.

Next up, we’ll cover the power and perils of tapping a niche genre’s true potential. Don’t miss it!

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Friday, January 9, 2009

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3...2...1...


Something Wicked...


Thursday, January 8, 2009

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The Bestest of the Weirdest, Part III: KNIGHT OF A TRILLION STARS

Dara Joy’s KNIGHT OF A TRILLION STARS knows no boundaries, and thank Venus for that. I’m including this book in the Bestest of the Weirdest series because not only does the story break rules, it does so with gleeful abandon. Dara Joy’s unique voice is, in a word, wild.

The first in a trilogy known as the "Matrix of Destiny" (take that, Wachowski brothers!), this is the type of science fiction romance that probably won’t be written anymore (except maybe as a parody), but it deserves accolades nonetheless for the spirit in which it was written.

Here’s the basic blurb from the publisher’s Web site:

Fired from her job, exhausted from her miserable Boston commute, the last thing Deana Jones needs when she gets home is to find an alien in her living room. He says his name is Lorgin and that she is part of his celestial destiny. Deana thinks his reasoning is ridiculous, and she knows he is making an error of cosmic proportions. But his touch is electric and his arms strong, and when she first feels the sizzling impact of his uncontrollable desire, Deana starts to wonder if maybe their passion is indeed written in the stars.

Indeed. Below is why I'll be forever dazzled by this keeper of a tale:

The title

Remember the scene in RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER when Santa Claus, upon seeing Rudolph’s glowing nose, exclaims, “That nose!” Well, that about explains my reaction when I read “That title!”

First of all, it’s a rare five word title (for romances). In this case, the length works because it hints at the sex-stuffed epic tale within. The hero is an actual knight (from an alternate dimension), so the first word clearly conveys that an Alpha male prowls the pages.

Next, we have use of the word “trillion.” Not million, not billion. Trillion. If one has any doubts about hero Lorgin’s virility, they end with that superb stroke of foreshadowing. As with the title word count, “trillion” also works to give the story scope. “Stars,” of course, informs us that the story takes place in the future. (Er, kind of, because it begins in a contemporary setting.)

The cover


Oddly enough, this is one case where the images on the cover pretty much match the characters. Even the band around heroine Deana Jones’ neck reflects an aspect of the story. Gotta love that heart with the ring around it! It’s an interesting bit of retro futuristic romance cover accessory. The more I look at it, the more I laugh because it’s such in-your-face marketing, but then I realize that the cosmic hot pink symbol is totally sucking me into the whole mood of the book. How did they know this would happen to me?!

Lorgin’s shaft light saber

The Weirdest Moment Award in KNIGHT OF A TRILLION STARS goes to the scene in which Lorgin brandishes a light saber (and that wasn’t spoiling anything as it happens in the first chapter). And...it’s described specifically as a “light saber!” All I can say is, Dara Joy has balls of brass.

The plot of diminishing returns


When I finished this book, I realized that the experience was the first time in my life that I’ve read a science fiction romance or an SF book where the fundamental plot ebbs away with each turn of the page. As Spock would say of the barely there plot, “Fascinating!” That factor alone was enough to keep me reading—just to see what would happen, naturally—but there are so many other fireworks happening in the meantime that it’s impossible to look away.

This is a quest story, which leads me to another unusual aspect about it: the structure was atypical for a romance book, at least in my experience. The structure was closer to what you’d find in a Tolkienesque fantasy.

And whatta fantasy! The tale abounds with wizards and staffs and Yoda-speak intermingled with wormholes and psychic powers and exotic worlds. Honestly, this book is like STAR WARS, LORD OF THE RINGS and EMMANUELLE(?) rolled into one. Half of me is amazed that Dara Joy pulled it off, and the other half thinks, that’s just weird!

Lorgin and Deana

These two are the least unusual elements of the book: Endearingly arrogant Alpha male + Sweet, innocent heroine=

More sex than you can shake Lorgin’s light saber shaft at


I started this book knowing next to nothing about the plot. I only skimmed the jacket copy. Well, color me naïve because I thought I was getting a blend of SF and romance—not wall-to-wall sex scenes. Those alone help account for the hefty page count.

The most imaginative sex scene happens on top of a camel-like animal. Never mind that in real life such a creature would emit strange odors, feel unusual between one’s thighs, and make bizarre sounds during the act, Lorgin—I mean, the alien camel—actually makes for a quite titillating catalyst for doing the deed.

What also struck me was the presence of a "shape changer" who is a great secondary character (Rejar gets his own story in the imaginatively titled, of all things, REJAR). Then there was the very erotic feel every sexual encounter had. All of this was found in KNIGHT OF A TRILLION STARS long before the wave of scorching paranormal romances and the current erotic romance boom.

Sure, KNIGHT OF A TRILLION STARS isn’t quite THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Yet despite all of its flaws, the story is never, ever boring, and that's more than I can say for some tales with light sabers--illicit or not. (*ahem* Right, Jar Jar?)

Joyfully yours,

Heather


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

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Mission to Planet Gor: I Ain’t Never Going There Again! (The Bestest of the Weirdest, Part II)

It had seemed like a simple enough mission: rescue a kidnapped princess and return her to her extremely wealthy family and adoring public. I knew that Planet Gor was a dangerous place, especially for women. I had read John Norman’s multi-volume account of the society and customs of Gor and thought I could handle it. I mean, I knew most of the women on the planet were slaves. I guess I thought I could fit in–you know, disguise myself and act subservient.

Actually, I was kind of looking forward to it. I thought it would be nice change to meet some real alpha males, after the long procession of manicured metrosexuals that have been parading through my life (at least, that was the advice Heather gave me.) I packed all my fanciest duds and my new rinky-dink, super-secret spy camera. The mission didn’t exactly turn out the way I had hoped, but at least I got some pics for my album!

Five minutes after getting off my ship I was captured (as was my plan), and dragged off to a bachelor pad that looked more like a seraglio. I had to play along for the sake of the mission. First, the manly men of Gor…




…made me wear a skimpy outfit and dance for them, while they all sat around eating, drinking, leering and scratching themselves. That wasn’t too bad. I like dancing! It was a little tough doing all that gyrating while keeping that tiny outfit on, though. While I was dancing I spotted the guy who had made off with our little princess. I made googly eyes at him (it took me years to learn that skill), and before I knew it…



…I was wearing a different skimpy outfit and was being forced to kneel, while he waved his sword around and made a very long speech about a woman’s true nature being subservient to man and the dangers of feminism and so on and so forth, yadda, yadda, yadda. I was beginning to get a bit impatient when he suddenly grabbed me, ripped off my skimpy outfit and said it was time for me to be branded. Well, I didn’t like that one bit. So I…



…pulled out a wicked little revolver from under the sleeping furs - and shot the bastard right between the eyes. Oops, Z., I said to myself–that was so not a good move. I still didn’t know where the princess was and I had just gone and killed my only source of info. Just then this goofy-looking guy came in and I was so thrilled. He was carrying the princess! I was quite surprised when he went into the same long speech about a woman’s true nature being subservient to man and the dangers of feminism and so on and so forth, yadda, yadda, yadda. I mean, his buddy was lying dead in a pool of blood on the floor and all. I really never thought that these Gor guys would be such chatterboxes. Just as I had figured out that the princess was (thankfully) still alive…



…a whole bunch of goofy-looking guys rushed in. They gave me the whole speech again about a woman’s true nature being subservient to man and the dangers of feminism and so on and so forth, yadda, yadda, yadda. Then they dragged me off to…



…the dungeon. Yeah. Well. It wasn’t my first time in jail and it probably won’t be my last. And I did get a brand new skimpy outfit to wear. Does my ass look fat in this dress? Oh, and I saw this really cool bird. Hold on–I’ve got a better picture of it here somewhere. Yup–here it is! Pretty cool, huh? So, where was I? Oh, yeah–so then…



…I escaped. I found the chief of the goofy-looking guys and convinced him that I was truly a good slave, worshiped him, etc, all that stuff. I blamed it all on the princess. Said she’d been trying to organize an uprising of dancing girls and that she was totally a bad influence. Couldn’t quite believe that he fell for it, but there you go. So, he had her called in to the throne room, and while he was admiring her …



…I slit his throat with a wicked little dagger I had hidden in my hair. I didn’t have anywhere else to hide it, what with being nekkid and all. Then his buddy (do these guys ever shut up!) started giving me the speech about–yeah, you guessed it–a woman’s true nature being subservient to man and the dangers of feminism and so on and so forth, yadda, yadda, yadda. So I had to kill him, too. I grabbed the princess and tried to hustle her off to my ship. But would you believe it? She refused to go! Said she liked the lifestyle, liked the clothes, the dancing, the whole bit. Said she’d never been happier. I was quite annoyed, I can tell you. After all the trouble I had gone to to rescue the wench! At first I thought it must be Stockholm Syndrome, but she was adamant. So I got her to write a letter to her folks. I got a picture for proof of life (and so I’d get paid!) Last I saw of her…



…she was wearing a skimpy outfit and making googly eyes at a really goofy looking guy, while he delivered the same long speech about a woman’s true nature being subservient to man and the dangers of feminism, and so forth, yadda, yadda, yadda. Bloody hell! Whatever happened to the strong, silent type?

I’ll tell you something, though – it was an interesting place. I wish I’d gotten to meet the wild warrior panther girls that are said to lurk in the mountains. I wish I’d gotten to fly on one of those birds. I wish I’d gotten to keep my skimpy outfits. But, alas, I had to cancel my planned vacation on Gor. The men just weren’t my type. I’m not averse to a little role-play, but these guys–jeez. They took themselves way too seriously. But I did learn a couple of things. 1. Never to take travel advice from Heather, and 2…

…I ain’t never going to Planet Gor again.


Being seeing you!
Agent Z.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Written on

Science Fiction Romance: The Bestest of the Weirdest, Part I

To help welcome 2009 here on the Galaxy Express, Chef suggested a full course of exotic food and drink. A fine idea, but since stores are running low on coriander (as well as melange) until we reach Andromeda, I offered up an alternative:

A weeklong tribute to some of the strangest science fiction romance out there.

While not traditional fare, there is a surreal intersection of science fiction, romance, and weirdness in the works that will follow, without which no one can claim her life is complete.

Let’s get started right now with the first item up for bid and…wait for it…

Take a Bite From…THE APPLE!

“Life is nothing but show business…in 1994.”

Yes, you read that quote correctly. A science fiction horror movie musical set in 1994—from a film made in 1980.

One fine summer day, my husband excitedly informed me, with a mischievous grin upon his boyish face, that he had acquired THE APPLE, a sci-fi disco disaster just released on DVD. Well, I’d watched my fair share of “worst movies” from the interminable ASTRO ZOMBIES to ZOLTAN: DRACULA’S DOG (with a little MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE thrown in for good measure). After all, I’m a MSTie through and through.

Given this cinematic pedigree, I was prepared for anything…or so I thought.

From the opening number credits of auteur Menahem Golan’s masterpiece, I could see that this was one of the most cinematically challenged films ever. In fact, this film is so horrendous that “Reportedly, during its premiere at the Paramount Theater in Hollywood, audiences threw their free souvenir soundtracks at the screen, causing extensive damage.”

Take a look at the trailer for THE APPLE and you just might be able to empathize with their sense of justifiable outrage:




So it should come as no surprise that we launched a jibe-studded commentary the minute the film began. Indeed, THE APPLE was a real winner. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to last more than two minutes. But then, something strange happened.

Something really weird.

I actually started to like THE APPLE. Like it in the sense that the film is one of those “so bad it’s good” experiences. Like it in the sense that the story engaged me. Even my body posture changed. I stopped making fun of it. I leaned forward in order to not miss a second of the outrageous musical numbers that’d put anything in SHOWGIRLS to shame. I catalogued which songs were already a perennial favorite.

Not only that, but I became invested in the love story.

The hero of this celluloid disaster is named Alphie. If that’s not Alpha male enough for romance lovers, I don’t know what is. Bibi is his TSTL* paramour. They’re a couple when the story begins, and after their devastating separation, it’s a nail biting ride of will-they-or-won’t-they-reunite.

Yes, it’s that gripping. (Well, okay…actually it isn’t. But stay with me here.)

If that’s not enough to convince you, THE APPLE features a uniquely designed futuristic setting—albeit one designed by a gaggle of blindfolded chimpanzees. BIM emperor Mr. Boogalow is the arch-nemesis of the story, and not only does he drive the plot with his unique brand of conflict, overacting, and glamorous wardrobe, he built an empire around show business. He rules the world with impunity through brainwashing the masses through his music TV show (predating AMERICAN IDOL by nearly two decades— Boogalow was clearly ahead of his time).

Gaze upon His Evilness just once, and you’ll forget Darth Vader ever existed:



THE APPLE is like a cross between XANADU, STREETS OF FIRE, and Laz Buhrmann’s MOULIN ROUGE!—on crack, that is. Yet many of the musical numbers have an endearing quality, and like any properly structured musical, actually serve to move the plot forward. The songs are even somewhat catchy; in fact, I listen to the soundtrack while driving on occasion (and you’d better believe I take advantage of warm weather days when I can open the windows and blast the volume).

This one in particular gets a lot of airplay:



Now even with all of the above, you wouldn’t think there could be more to loathe love about THE APPLE. Well, strap on your seat belts, because this film involves one of the most appalling abuses of deus ex machina that I’ve encountered--ever! This jewel of an ending alone is worth the price of admission.

Want to know more? I know you do, because one bite of THE APPLE just isn’t enough. Like Adam and Eve of old, feast upon the links below:

* The 80’s Movie Rewind site amassed all sorts of trivia and behind the scenes info.

* Here’s an in-depth, riotously funny review from Cold Fusion Video Reviews. [Beware the Spoiler Alerts, however] My favorite quote from the review is this: “So it’s startling to see, back in the early days of their careers, how they [the producers] teamed up to make a movie that met no demand, that nobody wanted to see.”

* Another musical number in It’s a Shiny, Dancy, Pop-Fascist Future in “The Apple”, thanks to the brave souls at io9.

* But if you just can’t bring yourself to watch the movie firsthand, Cool Cinema Trash provides a summary along with images of this lush musical sensation.

Somehow, THE APPLE transcends the sum of its bizarrely jointed parts. It’s an awful bit of filmmaking from the Golan-Globus pair that would later give us BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO; nevertheless, upon seeing it, I still connected with the spirit of what the film wanted to be. It has a futuristic setting. It has a romance. It tells a gripping story (umm…well, it has the first two at least).

THE APPLE just goes to show how far and wide I’m willing to travel for a science fiction romance experience. Cry for me:



Joyfully yours,

Heather

*Too Stupid To Live