Archives for 11 March 2013

WRITING DOWN THE DRAGON: Now available at Smashwords

After long delays, Writing Down the Dragon and Other Essays is now available at Smashwords for the absurdly reasonable price of $2.99. It will be appearing shortly at other ebook retailers, as the files propagate through the distribution system.




‘This book is not for the Wise, but for my fellow beginners in the craft of Fantasy, who are trying to learn some of the master’s techniques and want to compare notes.’ — From the introduction

There are shelves full of books about the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, most written from the perspective of academics and literary critics. Here is one from the point of view of the working fantasy writer. How did Tolkien produce his effects, and what can we learn from his methods? In this collection, Tom Simon investigates topics from the uses of archaic language to the moral philosophy of Orcs.

The book contains eleven essays on Tolkien:

The Riddles of the Wise
The Tolkien Method
The Rhetoric of Middle-earth
Frodo’s Vaunt
The Method and the Morgoth
What Is Elf?
The Terminal Orc
Writing Down the Dragon
Moorcock, Saruman, and the Dragon’s Tail
The Abyss and the Critics
Lost Tales, Unattained Vistas

Some of these pieces have previously appeared on the author’s website in slightly different forms.

Hysterical raisins: The ISBN

In the United States, ISBNs are issued exclusively by R. R. Bowker, a private company that used to be best known for publishing Books in Print. Their prices are heavily skewed in favour of large publishers: a single ISBN costs $125, a block of 10 $250, but if you are buying thousands, you can get them for as little as $1 each. (By way of contrast, in Canada ISBNs are issued by a government agency, and you can get them for free — if you can navigate the website, which is bureaucratic beyond the dreams of Byzantines.)

A certain Mark inquires, in a comment at The Passive Voice, why this private-sector monopoly is allowed to continue:

What’s wrong with letting a governmental agency register these numbers for free? They don’t charge for Social Security Numbers. Why ISBNs?

My response:

Why ISBNs?

Because, my dear fellow, it’s 1970. Computers are massively expensive beasts, mostly owned by government agencies, universities, and big businesses. There is no way for a member of the general public to get direct access to a computer — thank goodness! Imagine the damage they might do.

So if we set up a Federal agency to hand out ISBNs, we would need to spend millions on yet another IBM mainframe to handle the data, and then we’d need to hire dozens of technicians to run the mainframe, and scores of clerks to handle paper applications from publishers, and a battalion of bureaucrats to manage the technicians and the clerks. And you know there’s no money for that in the budget — not in this economy, or in this political climate — not to benefit a parcel of big New York publishers who can easily pay the cost themselves.

Instead, it will be far better to let the private sector handle it, and charge the cost to the publishers by selling them the ISBNs. And since this is Washington, and 1970, we’ll make the arrangement permanent. Because after all, everything has already been invented. Hasn’t it?