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I Heart Digital Novellas

November 28, 2012

HarperTeen (a.k.a. where I work) announced a new digital short-fiction imprint today, an event that inspired me to sit down and write a post I’ve been mulling over for a while. It’s about–you guessed it–digital short fiction. I have some Thoughts.

The first thought is, I love this trend. I’ve said facetiously that I love seeing the word “novella” back in the limelight, which is true; but I also love seeing the form itself become more mainstream. It can be tough to sell readers (and publishers, for that matter) on short fiction. Novellas, let alone short stories, are too short to print on their own; but anthologies are tricky too, and literary magazines have never enjoyed the circulation they should. So although I’ll still choose to read in print over digital any day of the week, I’m genuinely excited to see short fiction carve out a niche in the ebook market.

I say “this trend” above, but really, what we’re looking at is a few different trends. Probably my favorite, though it’s a close contest, is the emergence of original short fiction from established authors. I’m not talking about exclusively self-published authors here; that’s an entirely different ball game. But I love the fact that someone like Brandon Sanderson, who is best known for what we could not under any circumstances call “short” fiction, can now easily publish something like Legion, an 88-page novella completely unconnected to his other works.

Legion isn’t strictly digital-first or digital-only–it has also been issued as a limited-edition hardcover from Subterranean Press–but it’s different from what I expect to see from Sanderson via his usual publisher, Tor. (Did I mention it’s short?) It is essentially self-published as an ebook (Dragonsteel Entertainment, the named publisher, is Sanderson’s company), and it isn’t quite as polished as some of his longer work has been. But it had a fascinating premise and was fun to read, so if he of a million epic projects didn’t have the time or inclination to write it as a novel, I’m happier to have it as an e-novella than not to have it at all.

A prequel novella from one of my favorite series, Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy.

Moving on with our established authors, digital shorts provide an interesting forum for series. More and more often, we’re seeing digital prequels, interstitials, and pieces exploring alternate viewpoints or characters’ backstories. A lot of this is marketing; some pieces are offered free or free for a limited time, and in any case, short interstitials help keep up momentum during the year(s)-long wait for the series’ next book.

Speaking just as a reader, I don’t really care why I’m getting more content from my favorite authors and characters–just that I am. Having grown up in the age of fan remixes and fanfiction, I’m familiar with works that fit into the cracks of a series, exploring what happened before, after, and most importantly, between moments in the series canon. As a fan, I’m happy to see that mentality taking root with the content creators themselves.

Last but not least, I’d love to see more solo digital reissues of short stories previously available only in print anthologies. Two of the launch titles in the aforementioned HarperTeen Impulse program fall into this category, and I’m glad to see them. For one thing, anthologies have the nasty habit of going out of print. For another, in the vast informational headache that is book metadata, short stories are tough to search for if–heaven forbid–you forget the title or editor of the anthology in question. And keeping one eye on the business of books as a business, which it is, I know I’m not the only reader who’ll sooner plunk down $2 to read a short ebook by an author I know and love than $18 or $25 on an anthology with one story by my favorite and a dozen by authors I’ve never heard of.

That last is unfortunate–the art and craft of building anthologies is a wondrous thing, and I know I’m also not the only reader who will forever be grateful to people like Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, or the only reader who’s discovered a beloved new author through an anthology. But across the entertainment industries, digital distribution is adapting to consumers who want more choices in how their content is delivered, be it without DRM or without an anthology. I’m just glad to see more people reading short fiction, in whatever format they ultimately choose.


Free Game Rec: Battle for Wesnoth

November 14, 2012

Are you a Fire Emblem fan? Stop reading this and download this game right now.

Everyone else should probably do the same.

“This game” is The Battle for Wesnoth, a fun, fantasy-themed, and astonishingly free PC game that might not pack a lot of graphical firepower, but does pack the elements of a strong turn-based strategy game into one neat and did-I-mention-free bundle. Here’s the trailer:


For a free game, Wesnoth is very well done. Your troops have strengths and weaknesses based on their race, the terrain, the type of unit, and even the time of day. They level up into more specialized and more badass versions of themselves. When you recruit them, they often come with hilarious polysyllabic medieval-ish or Elvish-ish names (I definitely had a peasant named Aethaennyc once. Pretty sure he died, but that’s the name of the game when you’re a peasant).

They’re also pretty easy to kill. If you’re the kind of person who plays the aforementioned Fire Emblem games with one hand hovering over the reset button, ready to sacrifice 20 minutes of progress to save your favorite cavalier (guilty!), you’re going to need to get over that. But I like it. Units aren’t that cheap to replace, and new recruits start at level 1, making resource management something you actually have to pay attention to.

Granted, you only have two “resources”–personnel, and gold–so it’s not the most complex system in the world. But the game has plenty of ways to make trouble for you. Your money comes from capturing–and defending–villages on each map, experience gains are slow, and healing is very limited.



On the narrative front, most of your units don’t have much personality beyond their names, and the writing isn’t going to bowl you over. But there are plenty of campaign storylines included with the game, and more available to download, along with community-created addons. There’s even a multiplayer mode for when you really think you know what you’re doing. (I don’t.)

Long story short: get yourself a copy. I’m guessing you won’t regret it, since–did I mention?–it’s free.

Link o’ THIS Week: Your Excuse Sucks

November 6, 2012

PSA for readers who live in the US: go vote today. (Unless, you know, you’re planning to vote for the other guy. Then you can stay home.)

Not convinced? Don’t want to wait in line? Heard they’re not handing out those nifty “I Voted” stickers and can’t be bothered now? Your excuse sucks.

It sucks so much that the funny, smart, and slightly profane folks at have devoted an entire website to explaining the error of your ways.


So whether you’re the one who needs a talkin’ to or your friends do, pass this along.

(Unless you are planning to vote for that other guy. You don’t want to go out and vote. It’s cold out there, and it’ll take a while, and they really aren’t handing out those nifty “I Voted” stickers in a lot of places…)

Link o’ Last Week: Monsters University

October 16, 2012

This Link o’ Last Week comes to you from the wonderful world of Disney/Pixar. I absolutely adore Monsters, Inc. Who doesn’t? (If the answer is you, don’t answer that.) And while Disney’s insistence on sequels is often ill-advised, I’m not going to complain about the upcoming Monsters, Inc. prequel that follows Mike and Sulley’s college days.

The other thing is, I love real websites inspired by fake/magical colleges, which is exactly what Disney/Pixar have created for Monsters University.

This is the most fully developed site of its kind that I’ve seen yet, which might be expected from a Pixar franchise. With pages for everything from Admission to Campus Life and different portals for students, staff, and parents, it serves as a fun piece of early marketing for the film and a gentle parody of actual college websites. Come to think of it, actually, Pixar’s made-up college website is an improvement on most real ones… information is easy to find. (Zing!)

Check out the site and all of its adorable copy here.

Strange Horizons Fund Drive

October 10, 2012

I volunteer as a proofreader for a fantastic speculative fiction magazine, Strange HorizonsNo idea what I’m talking about? You should: SH publishes great fiction, poetry, reviews, and essays every week, for free, without ads. It’s featured some amazing writers in the past (among them some of my personal favorites, the likes of Elizabeth Bear, N.K. Jemisin, and Jo Walton) and would like to carry on doing so in the future.

That’s where you come in. Running a free literary magazine isn’t actually free, and while SH staff like myself are volunteers, we hear it’s nice to pay writers, or whatever. You can donate to Strange Horizons’ fund drive here–and in so doing, enter to win awesome prizes, including books, ARCs, and even a tarot reading.

As we pass milestones on the way to our funding goal, you’ll also help unlock content in the Fund Drive Bonus Issue. Some of the work has already been done: you can already read the first part of Ken Liu’s short story “Good Hunting” here.

Plus, the campaign widget is a rocket. What more could you possibly want?

Link o’ Last Week: Will the Real Stephen Colbert Please Stand Up?

October 2, 2012

We all know the inimitable Stephen Colbert plays a character, and a hilariously over-the-top, hyper-conservative one, at that, on The Colbert Report. But I for one had never seen him out of that character on video–until I saw this. You’re welcome.

Giveaway! Redshirts by John Scalzi

September 25, 2012

It seems like moving must always come with obnoxious Internet/cable-related complications. To celebrate the restoration of Internet service to my apartment (yay!), Crunchy Dragon is hosting its first-ever giveaway!  Because free books are great, and I find myself with an extra copy of Redshirts, John Scalzi’s thoughtful and giggle-inducing metafictional exploration of a Sci-Fi TV Show That Isn’t Star Trek.

Haven’t read it yet? 1) What’s wrong with you!? and 2) Now’s your chance! Comment below with your favorite sci-fi TV show(s) to enter the giveaway. They may or may not be as terribly written as the spooftastic one in Redshirts, and they may or may not actually be Star Trek. Up to you!

Have only a vague idea what this whole “red shirt” thing is about? Get thee to TV Tropes.

Giveaway fine print: US only, please (woe to international shipping costs). Open for entries until 12:01 AM on Monday, October 1. Winner will be selected via random number generator, so don’t worry, you won’t be penalized if you hate Doctor Who or something. (Please tell me you don’t hate Doctor Who or something.)

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