The Inspiration for the Ghost Line

Photo credit: Maurizio

Our Novella The Ghost Line, published this week, is the story of an abandoned luxury liner travelling between Mars and Earth, and what happens when a small group of explorers break into her (hint: it’s not as abandoned as it looks) sprang into our heads from a couple of places.  J.S. Herbison provided the initial spark when she read this article on the BBC about Ghost Trains.

Ghost Trains still operate – they run empty, between stations that themselves may also be empty. They’re legal placeholders. As long as there’s a train on the route, even infrequently, and even with no passengers, the company running it keeps the right to the route. Of course there are enthusiasts who try to sleuth out the trains, take photos of the stations and even manage to get tickets to ride on them.

The next spark came from urban explorers. These intrepid souls live to find abandoned places and explore them. They post haunting videos online of decaying hospitals, schools and industrial buildings. Detroit is a favourite of ours, as is Chernobyl. J.S. is an avid follower of Bionerd23 a (possibly German) woman who is obsessed with exploring Chernobyl and finding traces of disaster in the plants and animals near the nuclear plant.

So, we have empty trains. We have obsessive explorers, captivated by decay, abandonment, the traces of humanity we leave behind us. And then we started thinking about a spaceship that was similarly abandoned. Though in space, you don’t get animals and plants reclaiming human creations. Things stay the same.

Or do they?

So we created the Martian Queen, a former luxury liner that had travelled to Mars with a string quartet on her maiden voyage. We thought about Bionerd23 and about explorers, and what motivates them. We soon had Saga, formerly an urban explorer from Iceland, now doing salvage and creating interactive art in abandoned asteroid mines and spaceships.

The rest of the story fell into place, inspired by our love of films like Alien and The Shining, as well as the rich possibilities of an industrialized solar system that writers such as Kim Stanley Robinson have explored.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed creating it.

Publisher’s Weekly Review

The publication date for The Ghost Line is still over a month away, but today I was delighted to find a glowing early review in Publisher’s Weekly. They compare it to Alien and The Shining (a fantastic movie and a fantastic movie and book), which is delightful. I think possibly the most creeped out I’ve ever been by a book was when I read The Shining as a teenager.

They finish by calling it “shiver-inducing, thought-provoking, and decidedly eerie.”

You can pre-order / order The Ghost Line from your favourite e-book or print book retailer, or see the Publisher’s page for a quick list of buying locations:

Disagreeing with Turow on the ‘Slow Death’ of Authors

Scott Turow, president of the Author’s Guild, has an op-ed at the New York Times bemoaning the “Slow Death of the American Author.” The issues he raises sound scary enough: resale of foreign editions of books, resale of ebooks, ebook piracy. Any of those could be bad for writers and publishers, and all of them together with a culture of free information on the Internet seem as if they’re a perfect storm that could reduce publishing to ashes. But really now: the death of authors?

I’m reminded of what Clay Shirky wrote about the newspaper business in 2009. “‘If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?’ To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.”

Many found what Shirky wrote in 2009 frightening, and indeed we still haven’t figured out what will work. But it’s not like nobody is publishing newspapers, or news-like web publications. The world is lousy with them. Shirky wasn’t saying we were all doomed, just that the future has yet to be written, but it’s not going to look like the past.

Is book publishing broken? No, not yet. Whatever happens, I doubt there will be less books in the world. Almost 350,000 books were published in the US in 2011, an increase of 20,000 titles from the year before. Many of them were self-published; many e-books. The barriers of entry to publishing keep dropping lower and lower. But it’s very possible it may not be easy to make a comfortable living being a writer (was it ever, other than a for lucky few, though?).

In the New York Times piece, Turow writes: “Now many public libraries want to lend e-books, not simply to patrons who come in to download, but to anybody with a reading device, a library card and an Internet connection.” I’m not sure what we’re supposed to get from this, but imagine he’d written ‘books’ instead of ‘ebooks’ there. I fail to see how being able to borrow a book from home rather than from inside the library is such a bad thing.

And really, picking on libraries? Anyone who’s checked out an ebook online from their library knows there are many hurdles and complexities; enough that going to buy the book from Amazon is a welcome lesson in instant gratification.

This is the point where I think I get it – what bugged me about this op-ed. If Turow is irked by libraries making it possible to borrow e-books, is he just as antideluvian about everything else he’s worried about? From the people I know in writing and in publishing, I know there’s fear and confusion. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen. But I’m not sure what Turow thinks we should do about it, other than cling to the copyright rules that haven’t prevented the issues he’s worried about.

He finishes up: “Soviet-style repression is not necessary to diminish authors’ output and influence. Just devalue their copyrights.”

So it’s output and influence that depend on copyright? I’m not so sure. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I do know that in every industry so far where artificial barriers of scarcity are imposed on things the Internet makes easier (copying, sharing music, etc), the barriers don’t hold for long. I still hope to publish my novels and make some money for the time and effort I’ve put into them. But who knows? I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll see a million books published in the US in a decade, almost all of them self-published e-books. It will be a different world, but I sincerely doubt authors will stop writing, or being read. I won’t. It just might be harder to become a Scott Turow. And maybe that’s not so bad.

Update: I’m not the only one (far from it) rubbed the wrong way by this. And I’m certainly not the most articulate or knowledgeable – TechDirt has a great, comprehensive piece on this, calling Turow “an absolute disaster as the Luddite-driven head of the Authors’ Guild,” and pointing out the myriad ways in which he’s wrong. Good stuff.

The past and future of publishing

An interesting article at Wired about the state of publishing right now, with attention to the growing power of (some) authors as e-books take a larger share of industry sales. What I found encouraging from this piece is their contention that e-books have increased the overall market for books (Amazon says that customers who buy a Kindle increase their book buying by a factor of five compared to their previous habits) and that major publishers, though definitely in transition and turmoil, are doing just fine financially.

Read the rest

And then to follow up on this, a sophisticated, fascinating piece from the Virginia Quarterly Review about the business of literature over the past few centuries. Some quotes:

“It is the Exceptionalists, the ones who claim the mantle of defender of the book, who undermine the book by claiming that it is a world unto itself, in need of special protection, that its fragility in the face of the behemoth or barbarian du jour (Amazon, the Internet, comic books, the novel, the printing press, illiteracy, literacy, to name but a handful of purported sources of cultural decline) requires insulation, like the skinny kid kept away from the schoolyard and its bullies.”

“Books not only are part and parcel of consumer capitalism, they virtually began it. They are part of the fuel that drives it. The growth of the chain model in books offered the twentieth-century public the opportunity to decry the groceryfication of the bookstore, utterly belying the reality, as Striphas outlines in The Late Age of Print—by quoting Rachel Bowlby—that the bookstore is in fact the model for the supermarket”

“The publisher is an orchestrator in the world of book culture, not a machine for sorting manuscripts and supplying a small number of those manuscripts in improved and bound form to a large number of people via a retailer-based supply chain best suited for the distribution of cornflakes, not ideas.”

Read the rest

Update: Salon has a response to the Wired piece, saying “If print could talk, it would surely be telling the world, Mark Twain-style, that reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated…E-books are definitely here to stay, but it seems that many, many readers — a threefold majority, in fact — still prefer print.”