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Productive For Whom? The Productivity Commission and Copyright in Australia.

So some months ago the Productivity Commission of the Australian Government released a draft report on ‘Intellectual Property Arrangements‘. The summary of recommendations can, as of October 2016 when I write this, at least, be found here: http://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/intellectual-property/draft/intellectual-property-draft-key-points-recommendations.pdf.

It suggests that copyright should expire much sooner…

DRAFT FINDING 4.2 While hard to pinpoint an optimal copyright term, a more reasonable estimate would be closer to 15 to 25 years after creation; considerably less than 70 years after death.

Many books are still valuable properties of the authors at 15 years out. An author writes a book at 25 and loses their own rights to it when still only 40 years old? Under such a recommendation, once a book is 15 years old, the publisher (any publisher?) can make money from it, a bookseller, a wholesaler, Amazon (poor, living-on-the-breadline Amazon) can make money from it, but not the person who wrote it. Madness. At least let them own it until they die. I agree, 70 years past death is a bit generous (is that the Walt Disney provision?) but at least let an author own their own work while they’re alive.

How about this one:

DRAFT RECOMMENDATION 5.2 The Australian Government should repeal parallel import restrictions for books in order for the reform to take effect no later than the end of 2017.

So while the UK and the USA and nearly every other major market in the world has such restrictions, we should remove them, handicapping our own industry. This one does make sense in one perverse way; we have already killed off manufacturing in Australia, and are currently in the process of killing off agriculture, by opening up our market to other countries who do not open up to us. No, of course I am joking; this one does not make sense. It might make books a little cheaper (though I doubt it. I can’t see the handful of big publishers (who such a change would put in an even more powerful position) passing on any savings; I don’t think there is real competition), but it will mean that Australian stories are harder to find at any price. Now, a significant amount of what the report suggests is not unreasonable, but some things are untenable. I wrote a submission to the commission, on the draft report, which I discovered is available freely on the web http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/199478/subdr165-intellectual-property.pdf. Please ignore the typo in the second paragraph (winces). Since it is freely available, I reproduce it below, because I can.

 


 

May 23, 2016

To whom it may concern:

I’d like to address the issues of copyright and parallel imports, though I am not a commercial author, editor or publisher or working in the industry at all.

Lifting of parallel import restrictions will reduce the number of locally made, written and published books. The case of New Zealand makes this clear, where multinational publishers have closed NZ offices. Since major players like the USA have parallel import restrictions, it is not like we are even creating a level playing field. It may be time to open an international dialogue about PIR, it is not time for self-destructive unilateral action. Unless we like the idea of local voices being even more maginalised.

As to ‘DRAFT FINDING 4.2’, this is clearly a discouragement to create. It is also absurdly inequitable. It may be true that most works have a short commercial life, but this is far from universal. How can the commission simply assume that all books have the same pattern of sales? Many books go through multiple editions over twenty, thirty or more years, especially in technical fields. Successful books by living authors remain in print for decades. Why after 15 or even 25 years is it acceptable for a publisher to make money from a book but not the author? What gives the publisher more rights than the actual originator and creator of the work? This priorities are, well, backwards.

And if an author does not want a book back in print, they need to keep that right, too. An author’s reputation is a major asset. Allowing publication of early, inferior works, or of works that the author no longer believes in, against the author’s wishes, has the potential to damage their reputation and hence livelihood. One can easily imagine a well-resourced publisher putting a non-copyright version of an early work up against a newer book by the same author, capitalising on the publication of the new book, but paying no royalties and possibly muddying the waters and reducing sales of the new book, which after all has to pay royalties where the out-of-copyright edition does not. That is not equitable. Maybe it is or is not a bad financial decision for an author to not allow a work back into print – but it must be their decision.

Just because it is easy to reproduce a work, especially in the electronic age, does not make it right. It is easy to slap a baby; that does not make it right. We download stuff for free all the time, legally and easily. We must guard against the attitude that we should get stuff for free just because it is easy.

Productivity includes ensuring that the creators have a position from which to create, otherwise there is no industry, no productivity. While it may be true that artists and writers are driven to express themselves, that does not mean laws should be changed to make them easier to exploit. If they cannot make a living from their work, they will do it part time or not at all, and we will all be the poorer.

Perhaps the pendulum needs to swing, but in this case it is swinging too far.

Best wishes

Darren Goossens

 


 

Shouting at the void.

In Your Face, a not-quite impartial review.

First, a statement of conflict of interest: I have a story in this book. Having said that, I can easily talk about the strongest stories without mentioning my own…

The front cover of <i>In Your Face</i>. Yes, it's ugly.

The front cover of In Your Face. Yes, it’s ugly.

The book sets itself to tackle potentially distressing subject matter, things that challenge what we think is ‘right‘ by showing the justification for the dark side, for example. Or just hideous mental images. It contains the long and somewhat contentious ‘Wives‘ by Paul Haines, and it and some of the other pieces (‘No Fat Chicks‘ by Cat Sparks, the story that triggered off the whole book, for example) ask us questions about the fundamental nature of human beings.

We are animals. For tens of thousands of years, might did make right. The ancient Greeks for all their civilisation kept boys for their pleasure — not something acceptable where I live. Mores change. What is universally ‘good’ or ‘bad’? The man who rapes a lot of women will ensure that his genes stay in circulation, and is thus anything but a perversity when viewed against the imperatives of survival and evolution.

We’ve been civilised for the blink of an eye. We have decided that some of these things are wrong only yesterday, in evolutionary terms. We have to try to control ourselves using our intellects, but should we be so surprised that it so often breaks down? No, not really. Should we think about this when we punish people – men – for crimes? Hard questions to look full in
the face.

Is tolerance really a virtue, or just the top of the slippery slope, asks Ian McHugh, in ‘Tolerance’, a story that opens ‘The paedophiles are protesting again’. ‘Home and Hearth’ by Angela Slatter is one of the most powerful pieces. It asks unflinchingly about the limits of parental love.

A clutch of stories look at the unseen implications of leaving our children a world in dire straits, when we are fighting the planet itself and there are no spaces left for niceties. And some, like Alan Baxter’s ‘Bodies of Evidence’, conjure up some gruesome scenes, enough to make me (not the toughest of mind’s eyes, I must admit) squirm.

I’m extremely pleased to be in this book. Not just because for me any story that sells is a minor miracle, but because the quality of the company is so high, the production values are so high, and the book aims to do something more than the already-tough-enough task of assembling some worthwhile reading material. Nearly every story worked for me (the strike-rate is very high), and every single one made me think about my assumptions, about maybe how I was, despite my best efforts, still a creature of the darkness as well as the light. We all think about doing wrong. We all act out of base motives sometimes. It’s hard to look that in the face.

The editor, who set out to confront, trigger off new, challenging thoughts, and at the same time to entertain, has succeeded, and succeeded comprehensively. Even if she was silly enough to buy one of my stories…

Available as ebook and large format paperback in most of the usual places, but here is the publisher page.

Born to be mild…

A little script to scan and OCR a bunch of pages

So this little script just uses scanimage, tesseract and vim to scan and process pages from my typewriter. It tries to produce sensible paragraphs, and outputs the results of multiple pages to a text file which can be read in and formatted using a word processor, such as LibreOffice.

It is an interactive script because I do not have a scanner fitted with a sheet feeder. To make it non-interactive, modify the scanimage line after reading the scanimage man page, and remove the line read Response. Nothing fancy, no error checking, no clean-up afterwards, no niceties. But it works pretty well, so far. If you want to use it, install any packages you need to to get scanimage, tesseract and vim to work, and cut and paste the below into a file in your path, and make the file executable.

cat type_ocr.sh
# /bin/bash
#
# type_ocr.sh v. 1.0
#
# Script to scan, ocr, process and concatenate pages, e.g. from a
# typewriter.
#
# D.J.Goossens, 14 July 2016. darren.goossens@gmail.com
#
# Start at 1001 so we can be (pretty!) sure all filenames have 4 digit
# numbers
#
# Create the output file.
echo This is type_ocr.sh v. 1.0
echo
echo Make sure you give it the output filename as a command line argument.
echo Ctrl-D escapes from the scanning, Ctrl-C quits elsewhere.
echo The resulting images and text files are not deleted.
echo They are of the form outXXXX.pnm and outXXXX.pnm.txt and
echo may be quite big.
echo
echo Hit Ctrl-C to exit now or Enter to continue.
read Response
echo 'Text file from type_ocr.sh v. 1.0' > $1
echo Processed `date` to $1 >> $1
echo 'Note: When it says "document 1001", treat it as document (page) 1'
scanimage --batch --batch-prompt --batch-start 1001 -p --mode=Gray --resolution=600
# Outputs are of the form out????.pnm. Loop over them
for f in out????.pnm;
do
tesseract $f $f
# The above produces out????.pnm.txt, which we can process,
# where first we replace double occurrences of newline with a placeholder
# string, then replace single occurrences with a space, then replace the
# placeholder with a return character (it is a trick of regular
# expressions that we search for \n (newline) but write \r (return) when
# we mess with the file).
vim -c "%s/\n\n/pLaCeHoLdErStRiNg/g" -c "wq" $f.txt
vim -c "%s/\n/ /g" -c "wq" $f.txt
vim -c "%s/pLaCeHoLdErStRiNg/\r/g" -c "wq" $f.txt
cat $f.txt >> $1
done
echo Try typing libreoffice $1 to see what you have got.
echo Setting paragraph formatting to indented and one and a
echo half space is a good start.

Your mileage may vary. Buyer beware. You get what you pay for. No guarantees implied or given. No warranty as far as possible. (Add here any other escape clauses you can think of.)

Because.

Quote of the day

Eighty-five to ninety-five percent of my work is rewriting and revision.

Samuel R. Delany, in Paris Review

No connection.

My Fiction on the Web

Some of my stories are available in webzines that make the material available freely. This little post is just a repository for those links.

Every Useless Parameter‘ was published recently in Kaleidotrope and is the subject of a post on this blog.  It is available here.

‘Unfinished Projects’ came out a couple of years ago in Interstellar Fiction.  That website is now dead.  Blog mention here.

The ‘Complete History of Science or whatever I called it is available on this blog (five parts, each worse than the last, though only if you line them up that way), but was originally published when I was much younger (young, in fact) in Ron Clarke’s fanzine, The Mentor, and the relevant issues plus a bunch of others are on the web at this link. Below I’ve pasted in a masthead from one of the PDFed versions from the website — it really does have some good contributors (Congreve, Williams, Darlington). Worth a look even all these years later.

Masthead and some contents for <em>The Mentor</em> number 75.

Masthead and some contents for The Mentor number 75.

 

 

Complete and utter something or other…

A foolish impulse: Impulse magazine Vol 1 No 1

In 1966 Science Fantasy magazine was a relatively venerable publication of 81 issues, having gone from a pretty flaky beginning to becoming an interesting, if erratic, magazine that operated at the edges of SF, fantasy and literature in general. Edited in its later days by the enigmatic, and some say lazy, Kyril Bonfiglioli (though apparently mostly by Keith Roberts) it was a successful little corner in the genre fiction landscape.  Its history is laid out in some detail in Strange Highways: Reading Science Fantasy, 1950-1967 by Damien Broderick and John Boston.

Cover of <em>Impulse</em> Vol 1 No 1.

Cover of Impulse Vol 1 No 1.  Note the coffee-cup shaped mark, the creases, and the scrawled in ’50c’; clearly this is in mint condition.

Perhaps life was too simple.  Perhaps Bonfiglioli needed a challenge, or perhaps it was just a thought bubble, but the decision was made to retitle the magazine.  To make it longer, more expensive and with a new, vague name that didn’t really tell the reader what was inside; thus was born Impulse.  The idiocy was later dulled by trying to call it ‘SF Impulse‘ but the damage was done, circulation fell, and when the distributor went under and the publisher came under pressure, Impulse had made itself vulnerable and had to go.

That is all not to say that the magazine was not interesting.  As you can see, it was in a paperback format (as was New Worlds), thus pre-empting a number of other efforts at paperback periodicals over the years, including one (Destinies) that made some claim to have invented the format even though it only came along in the late seventies…

Editorial...

Editorial…

Anyway, this ‘sort of first issue’ of Impulse makes for above average reading, though not far above, despite the big names (for the time) on the cover.  (Indeed, it is a measure of ‘the time’ that of the significant contributors only Aldiss and cover artist Judith Ann Lawrence remain with us.)  The Aldiss is more melodrama than anything else, the Anderson is a vignette about a man who has to betray Earth to save it, the Blish (‘A Hero’s Life’) is a rather nifty if overcrowded story on a similar theme, set in a ‘sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic’ mileau that would not have embarrassed Iain M. Banks; it later was reworked as ‘A Style in Treason‘.

The stories by Richard Wilson and Jack Vance are quite minor (though apparently the Vance was thought lost and even Vance was surprised when he found out  — years later! — that it had ever been published [see Strange Highways by Boston and Broderick]), and the last piece is the first instalment of Pavane by Keith Roberts, a minor classic.  It’s very atmospheric but probably does not deserve the number of pages dedicated to it.

Interesting is the Ballard, ‘You and Me and the Continuum’.  It is the first published section of what would become another classic of its kind — The Atrocity Exhibition.  This is the ‘New Wave’ in all its interesting, obtuse, experimental and pretentious glory.  In 8 pages he whips through 27 alphabetically arranged sections, ticking off a checklist of Ballardy images (lists of 20th century objects, quasars, someone called ‘Dr Nathan’, etc).  It seems to be about something — apparently a second coming that never quite came off.  There’s an extensive critical literature on this sort of thing.  I liked his slightly earlier work that was just a little more coherent, if just as fixated (‘Terminal Beach’ for example).

So we have here a volume that does one of the wonderful things that a periodical can do so much better than an anthology; we have a snapshot of the times.  The volume is poised between the new world of Ballard and the space opera of Anderson.  The Aldiss is minor but nevertheless is pushing SF away from outer space and towards inner (it is called ‘The Circulation of the Blood’), while the Harrison is a hard-nosed version of ‘The Cold Equations’ and the Roberts is lyrical alternate history, both well-established forms by the time of writing.  There is no agenda here.  Yes, Bonfiglioli did commission some of these works around a theme of ‘sacrifice’, apparently, although interestingly more of the stories would fit more snugly under ‘betrayal’.  But he had no preferred mode or style or world view.  Apparently if you want a copy it’s worth around 10 squid on Amazon, or was when I searched just now.

What can I say?  If I saw an issue of Impulse/Science Fantasy/SF Impulse/New Worlds at a car boot sale/trash & treasure/flea market/thrift store/opp shop for a dollar or two, I would probably pick it up — exactly because I would not know what to expect.

PS: Yes, I know there is little or no point ‘reviewing’ a book that nobody is going to be able to buy.

 

Exactly because.

‘Wynne Egan’s Fake’: Or How I Got Something Out of James Joyce.

This is a little post about how my story ‘Every Useless Parameter‘ got written.  It came out in the Winter 2016 edition of Kaleidotrope, which I consider to be a very fine venue and I couldn’t be more pleased.

"Cover

Cover of Kaleidotrope Winter 2016.

 

Finnegans Wake is perhaps the classic example of a book more known about than read. Well known for being a complex string of puns and allusions, it’s been called everything from a unique masterpiece and cornerstone of 20th century literature to an elaborate joke to pointless self indulgent nonsense. Anyone who writes anything for publication is assuming that their thoughts and words are worth someone else’s time. Joyce’s assumption is that his thoughts and words are worth the time to not only read but to then study and decode.

Maybe they are.

Anyway.

One day I was looking at my shelves. I have a copy of Finnegans Wake, but I must admit only because it was cheap and I was curious. I have read bits of it, and if there is one thing it is good for, that is reading aloud. It’s a bit like Mick Jagger’s singing on Exile On Main St — I often can’t understand it, but it sure sounds good. I was thinking about writing and jokes and stuff, and playing with words; and my brain recalled that there was an Australian writer named Wynne Whiteford, which lead to ‘Wynne Egan’s Fake’ which seemed too neat to ignore.

I decided to try to use more than just the title from the Joyce novel as a jumping off point; I started flicking through it for images and phrases. But in the end the idea that struck me was this: What if you met a being who natively thought in a language like Joyce coined for his book? Such a creature would be expressing multiple ideas and meanings with every phrase through puns and neologisms and allusions. Then I needed a place in the story for my character Wynne Egan — how about the linguist charged with decoding the language?

And thus, after much assembling of bits and rewriting and cutting and a conversion into present tense (much overused these days, I think) and back into past tense, and changing of titles (‘Wynne Egan’s Fake’ is too cute, or perhaps too smartarse, really) I sent it to Kaleidotrope, and to my great pleasure they took it and (after some very wise edits) it came out earlier this year.  Writing the alien’s dialogue was a lot of fun.

They paid me a bit more than I paid for my copy of Finnegans Wake, so I figure I’m ahead.

 

Insert Link Here.

Slave to a Pleasing Pattern: A review of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.

Slave to a Pleasing Pattern: A review of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.

HarperCollins 1993, 464 pages.

If the title of this review sounds a bit negative, let me say right off the bat that I really enjoyed this book. It is supremely entertaining. The Anubis Gates is probably one of the better-known standalone fantasy novels of the 1980s. (Copyright date is 1983.) It follows Brendan Doyle, Coleridge expert, as he joins an expedition to use mysterious gates to travel back in time to meet Coleridge and hear him speak. Of course, nothing goes to plan and Doyle ends up travelling through time, space and the underworld, having innumerable adventures, meeting a panoply of monsters and magicians, and in the end becomes somebody else.

Front cover of <em>The Anubis Gates</em> by Tim Powers.

Front cover of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers.

For breathless adventure, little beats it. There are the excessive coincidences that such a plot needs; London in 1810 was not as big as it is now, but it was a city of a million or more people, and even though the story is restricted to a few localities within the metropolis, key characters still cross each others’ paths with plot-driven regularity. Similarly, there are times when the actions of the protagonist do seem to grow out of the needs of the time travel paradox plot more than out of character, but that is often a problem when time travel crops up and Powers deals with it as well as anybody — partly by the simple expedient of not letting history change. More than once Doyle uses the fact that he knows when he is going to die to convince himself to take some action — well, he thinks, I might as well just let this guy take me prisoner, since I know I won’t die for 30 years yet. So the story takes place in the gaps in the protagonist’s knowledge, with a few episodes here and there acting as fixed points because they are known to have happened. In that sense it it the kind of ‘secret history’ that so beguiles; the idea that there is much more in the world than we know is more convincing and pleasing if it can be made to fit, and contribute, to the history we know, and contradict nothing that we (think we) know. At this Powers is a master.

In general the logic is solid, the action described evocatively and effectively, the writing economical and rises to the heights required at the climaxes.  Magic proves costly to the practitioners — always a good sign in a fantasy, where if magic is too easy and has too few rules then anything can happen and so the story suffers. There are no longeuers to speak of — Doyle seems impossibly resilient — and I’m not sure this is to the story’s benefit. But any quibble is minor in the face of the extraordinary invention and the cavalcade of adventures and marvels.

This is a must-read book for anyone who thinks they like fantasy. Further, if you have read some Powers but just the books that seem fixated on California (Expiration Date, Earthquake Weather… others), this is a welcome change of scene and pace, and in my opinion better for it I must confess.

I read it for the first time twenty years ago and then again just now, and it is odd what I recalled compared to what is really there. The wonderfully horrible Horrabin the clown and his spoon-sized boys, and Doyle’s journey through the underworld, loomed much larger in my memory than their page-counts warranted, while of many other characters I recalled nothing at all, though they played key roles in the plot and in one case married the hero.

Oh, and why not google ‘William Ashbless.’ He’s not the worst poet. (Wink.)

This is how it all ends.

Looking backwards: ‘Inversion Centre’ and Looking Landwards.

I cannot recall where I found out about Looking Landwards, but straight away I wanted to write something for it, just because the brief struck me as interesting and unusual — looking at the future of agriculture. I am not the most productive author, and in recent times I have found the truth in the well-known idea that constraints are very helpful. They mean the page is not blank. And they focus the mind. They automatically give me somewhere to start.

The cover illustration of Looking Landwards

The cover illustration of Looking Landwards

I had toyed with a setting in the past — a kind of superfarm, part of a project I imagined to reclaim desert, grow food, fight climate change. That idea grew out of driving through the outer suburbs of Melbourne and even Canberra. As humans multiply and move to the cities, we keep building houses on our best farm land, because our cities were founded partly because the land there is good. I recall thinking that ‘if this goes on, we’ll have the suburbs abutting the desert and nowhere to grow food’. Where grow food then? Why, by greening the desert. How? Well, anything can be done with energy, so if we have cheap renewable energy we can run a desalination plant and get all the fresh water we need from the ocean. So I imagined an installation somewhere on the coast of South Australia (SA), where the desert meets the sea and the sun shines for much of the year.

Of course, a location does not make a story. Stories need conflict and characters, and events that happen and more or less make some kind of sense.

I brainstormed in an old exercise book. I decided that the tone would be light, humorous (well, I hope it is) and conversation-driven, and that I would have two kinds of conflict, since that often works best for generating a plot. First, the project is losing funding and secondly things are going wrong technically.

The plot came from working these things through, forcing them to fit into the same story, and allowing the less than serious nature of the story to open up a wider range of possible endings.  I managed to bring some crystallography/symmetry terms into it, which was satisfying, too.

It was a useful experience in ‘working out’ a story in a highly methodical way, and then trying very hard to make the whole thing flow rather than plod. I often find that stories that are worked out like this can seem a bit flat and mechanical,  I worked hard to avoid that; the humour helps with avoiding that, and so did a hard cut that took 15% off the length and made the action more insistent.

As a bonus, my better half wrote her own story for the book and that got in too, so for me the volume is a unique memento. The editor even went to the trouble of having the authors post signature sheets round the world for the special hardback edition. So there are copies signed by all the authors — at great profit to various postal services!

 

Of course, you can take a look here for the book itself.  And at Amazon (as of Jan 2016 the Kindle version was $3.88 — not bad value).