Scott Marlowe
Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Fine Wine: A Tale of the Assassin Without a Name – Free on Amazon

Fine Wine, the first short story in the Assassin Without a Name series, is now free on Amazon.

Making a title free on Amazon is not without its challenges. Amazon is determined to remain the price leader in books. I shop there a lot myself, so I'm good with that. To this end, though, one of the conditions of their TOS for authors is that the Amazon price must always be the lowest retail price. If they find a title elsewhere for less, they'll price-match it. But that's a violation of their TOS. So here comes the email telling you you're in violation. Unless the price-match makes the title free. Then it's ok to have the title priced at, say, $4.99 on Amazon but $0.00 everywhere else. Amazon will happily match the $0.00 price.

The whole process is kind of exhausting, and it'd be nice if Amazon would just let a guy (or gal) price a book for free if that's what he (or she) wants to do. No one understands the power of a loss leader better than Amazon, after all.

In any case, Fine Wine is free on Amazon. It's also free on Kobo and iTunes. Go download it, read, and let me know what you think.

What to do with an Amazon review containing spoilers

I set out the other day to start a blog post on an entirely different subject when I noticed this review out on Amazon for The Five Elements:

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No one likes getting 1 star reviews, though I'm finding so many are of the "dump and run" type that it's easy to ignore them. Given that this person chose to give me a 1 star review solely because he didn't like the novel's ending further discredits the review, IMO. Also, this review is so short, indicating the reviewer gave very little consideration to it, and written with maybe the grammar level of a 1st grader (am I insulting 1st graders with that snipe?), that it would have been easy to put it out of my mind if the person didn't also GIVE AWAY A HUGE PART OF THE ENDING IN THE REVIEW.

As you can see, I blocked out the spoiler. If you really want to see it, jump out to Amazon and check it out. My immediate reaction was to contact Amazon about either removing the review or, at the very least, editing it to remove the spoiler. Long story short, after a brief exchange over email, I heard from an Amazon "senior" customer service rep who basically told me the review was not in violation of their guidelines and that they therefore would not do anything about the situation.

Funny thing is, including spoilers in a review without indicating that the review contains spoilers is a violation of their guidelines. But only if you look at the right set of guidelines.

Turns out Amazon has two sets:

General Review-Creation Guidelines

General Review Creation Guidelines

Those listed under "General Review-Creation Guidelines" look like this:

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The ones under "General Review Creation Guidelines" look like this:

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There's a subtle but oh-so-important difference: the second set of guidelines points out as its very first bullet point under "Inappropriate content":

Inappropriate content:
Crucial plot elements (unless you offer a clear "spoiler alert")

Seems pretty clear to me. I presented this information to Amazon and they basically ignored it. So much for that. The review—and the spoiler—remain. My options are limited. I suppose I could unpublish the eBook and maybe re-publish under a different name/ASIN. I'm not ready for that extreme of a step, though. Not to mention, what's to stop someone else from just doing the same thing? Amazon clearly takes a very hands-off approach inasmuch as customer reviews are concerned, going so far as to ignore their own guidelines.

It's nice to know, however, that I wasn't the only one put off by this person's lapse in judgment. Numerous people posted comments against the person's review saying hey, no spoilers. Unfortunately, I doubt the reviewer will ever see those comments or bother to take action because of them. Also, the review has been so slammed by people marking it as 'unhelpful' that it's been pushed to the bottom of the 11 reviews out there right now. I can only hope people do not walk away knowing too much because of it.

So, basically I'm left with a bad review (which I can handle) that contains a major spoiler (which I remain annoyed about). It's a disservice to me and to potential readers which apparently is going to remain unresolved. I've posted my own comments out there as well, pointing out to the reviewer the error of his ways. Again, I doubt he has enough sense to take action and correct his lapse in judgment.

Sadly, I've spoken with other authors who have had similar reviews and similar inaction taken on Amazon's part.

I'll continue to stew a bit, but life will go on. I'll keep writing, too.

Amazon Top 10 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2010 (Editor's Picks)

Best Books of 2010

Amazon's list of Bestselling Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels of 2010alt is up. Below are the Top 10 editor's selections. Next post, I'll list out the Top 10 customer favorites.

While I am unfamiliar with many of the titles and authors, there are a few that I'll be adding to my 2011 reading list (#5 and #10 especially). Judge for yourself if any of them belong on your list as well.

It does strike me, though, that while these titles are science fiction or fantasy, some of them belong to certain sub-genres of which I'm not especially interested in. For me, I'll take a "Best Of" highlighting epic fantasy or sword and sorcery.

To each his own, though.

Nothing wrong with expanding one's reading horizons too.

1. The Golden Age

by Michal Ajvaz

The Golden Age is a fantastical travelogue in which a modern-day Gulliver writes a book about a civilization he once encountered on a tiny island in the Atlantic. The islanders seem at first to do nothing but sit and observe the world, and indeed draw no distinction between reality and representation, so that a mirror image seems as substantial to them as a person (and vice versa); but the center of their culture is revealed to be "The Book," a handwritten, collective novel filled with feuding royal families, murderous sorcerers, and narrow escapes. Anyone is free to write in "The Book," adding their own stories, crossing out others, or even ap- pending "footnotes" in the form of little paper pouches full of extra text—but of course there are pouches within pouches, so that the story is impossible to read "in order," and soon begins to overwhelm the narrator's orderly treatise.

2. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

by Charles Yu

Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market, lonely sexbots beckon failed protagonists, and time travel is serious business. Every day, people get into time machines and try to do the one thing they should never do: change the past. That’s where Charles Yu, time travel technician—part counselor, part gadget repair man—steps in. He helps save people from themselves. Literally. When he’s not taking client calls or consoling his boss, Phil, who could really use an upgrade, Yu visits his mother (stuck in a one-hour cycle of time, she makes dinner over and over and over) and searches for his father, who invented time travel and then vanished. Accompanied by TAMMY, an operating system with low self-esteem, and Ed, a nonexistent but ontologically valid dog, Yu sets out, and back, and beyond, in order to find the one day where he and his father can meet in memory. He learns that the key may be found in a book he got from his future self. It’s called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,and he’s the author. And somewhere inside it is the information that could help him—in fact it may even save his life.

3. Redemption in Indigo

by Karen Lord

Paama's husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents' home in the village of Makende, now he's disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones — the djombi — who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.

Bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail, Redemption in Indigo is a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord's world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals, inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale, will feel instantly familiar — but Paama's adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original.

4. The Half-Made World

by Felix Gilman

The world is only half made. What exists has been carved out amidst a war between two rival factions: the Line, paving the world with industry and claiming its residents as slaves; and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence that cripples the population with fear. The only hope at stopping them has seemingly disappeared—the Red Republic that once battled the Gun and the Line, and almost won. Now they’re just a myth, a bedtime story parents tell their children, of hope.

To the west lies a vast, uncharted world, inhabited only by the legends of the immortal and powerful Hill People. Liv Alverhyusen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels to the edge of the made world to a spiritually protected mental institution in order to study the minds of those broken by the Gun and the Line. In its rooms lies an old general of the Red Republic, a man whose shattered mind just may hold the secret to stopping the Gun and the Line. And either side will do anything to understand how.

5. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

by N.K. Jemisin

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky, seat of the ruling Arameri family. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate — and gods and mortals — are bound inseparably.

6. The Orange Eats Creeps

by Grace Krilanovich

It's the '90s Pacific Northwest refracted through a dark mirror, where meth and madness hash it out in the woods. . . . A band of hobo vampire junkies roam the blighted landscape—trashing supermarket breakrooms, praying to the altar of Poison Idea and GG Allin at basement rock shows, crashing senior center pancake breakfasts—locked in the thrall of Robitussin trips and their own wild dreams.

A girl with drug-induced ESP and an eerie connection to Patty Reed (a young member of the Donner Party who credited her survival to her relationship with a hidden wooden doll), searches for her disappeared foster sister along "The Highway That Eats People," stalked by a conflation of Twin Peaks' "Bob" and the Green River Killer, known as Dactyl.

7. The Dream of Perpetual Motion

by Dexter Palmer

Imprisoned for life aboard a zeppelin that floats high above a fantastic metropolis, the greeting-card writer Harold Winslow pens his memoirs. His only companions are the disembodied voice of Miranda Taligent, the only woman he has ever loved, and the cryogenically frozen body of her father Prospero, the genius and industrial magnate who drove her insane.

The tale of Harold’s life is also one of an alternate reality, a lucid waking dream in which the well-heeled have mechanical men for servants, where the realms of fairy tales can be built from scratch, where replicas of deserted islands exist within skyscrapers.. As Harold’s childhood infatuation with Miranda changes over twenty years to love and then to obsession, the visionary inventions of her father also change Harold’s entire world, transforming it from a place of music and miracles to one of machines and noise. And as Harold heads toward a last desperate confrontation with Prospero to save Miranda’s life, he finds himself an unwitting participant in the creation of the greatest invention of them all: the perpetual motion machine.

Beautifully written, stunningly imagined, and wickedly funny, The Dream of Perpetual Motion is a heartfelt meditation on the place of love in a world dominated by technology.

8. Who Fears Death

by Nnedi Okorafor

Born into post-apocalyptic Africa by a mother who was raped after the slaughter of her entire tribe, Onyesonwu is tutored by a shaman and discovers that her magical destiny is to end the genocide of her people.

9. The Fixed Stars: Thirty-Seven Emblems for the Perilous Season

by Brian Conn

Juxtaposing barbarity and whimsy, Brian Conn’s The Fixed Stars is a novel that has the tenor of a contemporary fable with nearly the same dreamlike logic.

At the novel’s heart are the John’s Day celebration and the interactions of a small community dealing with a mystery disease. Routinely citizens are quarantined and then reintegrated into society in rituals marked by a haunting brutality. The infected and the healthy alike are quarantined. In a culture that has retreated from urbanism into a more pastoral society, the woman who nurtures spiders and the man who spins hemp exist alongside the mass acceptance of sexual promiscuity. Conn delivers a compelling portrait of a calamitous era, one tormented by pestilence, disease, violence, and post–late capitalism. An unflinching look at a world impossible to situate in time, The Fixed Stars is mythic and darkly magical.

10. Kill the Dead: A Sandman Slim Novel

by Richard Kadrey

James Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim, crawled out of Hell, took bloody revenge for his girlfriend's murder, and saved the world along the way. After that, what do you do for an encore? You take a lousy job tracking down monsters for money. It's a depressing gig, but it pays for your beer and cigarettes. But in L.A., things can always get worse.

Like when Lucifer comes to town to supervise his movie biography and drafts Stark as his bodyguard. Sandman Slim has to swim with the human and inhuman sharks of L.A.'s underground power elite. That's before the murders start. And before he runs into the Czech porn star who isn't quite what she seems. Even before all those murdered people start coming back from the dead and join a zombie army that will change our world and Stark's forever.

Death bites. Life is worse. All things considered, Hell's not looking so bad.

Out with the old (Kindle), in with the new: Kindle 2 is here

The All-New KindleThe "All-New" Kindle is here.

The most significant difference, IMO, is that Amazon is now offering two versions of the device: one with wi-fi only capability and the other with more traditional 3G.

There are other differences: smaller form factor, longer battery life, higher contrast, a new graphite color, lighter weight, faster page turns, a newly enhanced PDF reader… the list goes on.

Of particular interest to me is the wi-fi only version and the form factor, mostly because those two things stand out as the biggest differences between this "all-new" device and my now not so new Kindle 2. Amazon's got a nice graphic showing the difference in size between the old and new models (I hope Amazon doesn't mind me using all of their images):

Kindle: Old vs New

If I didn't already own a Kindle 2, I'd place an order for the wi-fi only version of the new Kindle right now. It's not that having free 3G isn't useful. It is. But necessary? For me, not really. Seems like I'm always around wi-fi: at home, work, Starbucks. It's freely available enough that I could easily get by without 3G. I like the graphite color and the smaller form factor. Battery life? I get about 2 weeks out of mine with 3G off. The new, wi-fi only one gets 4 weeks with wi-fi off. It's a nice bump, but not enough to make me want to rush out and buy the new model.

I think this upgrade is really aimed at people who have owned a Kindle 2 for long enough that they feel they've gotten their money's worth out of it or, more likely, new adopters. You know, all those people who kept saying they'd love to own an eReader if they just didn't cost so much. Some people were claiming < $100 is the killer price point. Well, it's pretty close now.

And what about the competition? Sony says they want to compete on "quality, not quantity", and that they won't chase the "Cheapest eReader" title. Barnes & Noble, meanwhile, which had already cut the price of the nook, is gearing up for an all-out assault.

I think the saying, "May you live in interesting times", certainly applies here.

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Amazon cuts Kindle price to $189

Kindle Today Amazon.com cut the price of their Kindle eReader from $259 to $189. The last price cut for the device was in October of last year. Barnes & Noble prompted Amazon's price cut with one of their own as they lowered the price on their popular nook eReader while also introducing a wi-fi only model.

I think most people have been expecting this move since late last year when Barnes & Noble released their competing eReader, the nook, and especially now that Apple's iPad has proven itself a viable contender (and more depending on who you ask) in the eReader space.

I received my Kindle as a Christmas gift last year. My first impressions were favorable. As far as dedicated devices go, it's top-notch. I wouldn't want to have waited for this price drop, either. I've read about an eBook per week since turning the device on, so I think I've gotten some good use out of it. Of course, for someone new to the device, a lower price justifies the purchase that much more.

Back in April of 2009, iSuppli opened up a Kindle 2, identified the parts, and, based on their findings, figured out what the device really costs. Their finding: $185.49. I'm going to guess that component and manufacturing costs have since come down because otherwise that leaves Amazon with a paltry profit of $3.51.

The last point I want to make about this latest price reduction is to ask the question once more: Is now the time to buy a Kindle? No doubt, it makes the idea more compelling. But times have changed. There are viable competitors out there, including a just announced version of the nook with wi-fi only for $149. Apple's iPad is still hovering at $499, though the iPad is much more than just an eReader.

In any case, competition is always good from a consumer perspective; it drives prices down and hastens new development. For me, I still just need an eReader device, but it's nice to know prices are coming down while functionality continues to climb to new heights.

Kindle

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