Sunday, 24 September 2017

Fairness and the SPFBO

No System is Perfect


Kenneth Arrow won a Nobel prize for proving that no voting system is perfect. Each has its strengths but also, under certain conditions, will seem deeply unfair to someone. All democracies are flawed.

This observation extends to many other systems. Importantly for us it extends to selecting the "best" book from a field of 300.

It is possible to see a flaw and suggest a fix. But this will still leave the system flawed - just in a new way that may seem better to you and worse to someone else.

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A natural consequence of this truth is that any such system will be subject to valid criticism. This is something that the system has to live with.

In addition to the unavoidable flaws a system may be corrupt. Flaws cannot be avoided but corruption can. A system that allows room for corruption (unfairness) will attract accusations of foul play even if none is actually happening. Hence it is important to have rules that allow no room for it.

For the SPFBO it is better that we select a good book by a process that is not only fair but seen to be fair, than to select the best book by a process that has room for unfairness in it (even if none is actually present).

Requiring each blog to choose the best book from their batch is a flaw since the blog may feel that a better book exists in the remaining 270 and has not made it to the final. It is a flaw that can only be fixed by introducing other flaws.

One seriously considered fix was the "Senlin Net" whereby a blog with a very strong 2nd choice (like last year with Pornokitsch and Senlin Ascends) could offer that book to other blogs to consider as their finalist instead of one from the batch they were assigned.

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This is a reasonable idea whose only drawbacks are that it involves more work for the blogs (in the limit we could ask all blogs to read all books, resulting in a LOT more work but a better result - the line has to be drawn somewhere though) and that it may feel harsh to the "best" book from the batch that gets bumped to make room.

Other suggestions for the Senlin Net involve additional finalists. But this increases the workload for bloggers while diluting the cachet of being a finalist.

The Senlin Net was never entirely ruled out.


Importantly the Senlin Net suggestion always involved a push rather than a pull. I.e. one blogger with no connection to the author pushes the title out for consideration.

All bloggers are asked at the start of the SPFBO to identify any books in their batch by authors who they know. Those titles are then swapped with ones from other blogs. This is naturally to ensure fairness. It's not because anyone is saying they don't trust the blog to be impartial given the relationship with the author - it is to stop anyone being able to say that.

A possibility that has been suggested is that a Senlin Net be employed based on a pull. I.e. that the blog could select any entry over the best from their own batch.

The reason this isn't tenable is that we then have to consider the mechanism by which this book came to the blog's attention. It would be a system that favoured:

i) Authors with a high profile.
ii) Authors with pockets deep enough to send out physical review copies.
iii) Authors with whom the blog has some relationship, anything from best friend to casual social media acquaintance.

This is not to say that any of these things would happen or are even likely to happen, but that someone would then be able to say that.

In a contest where 97% of all entries are cut at the first stage it is natural for some to look for fault. The SPFBO must admit to its unavoidable flaws and to allow no space for accusations of unfairness.

A Senlin Net based on pull would allow the accusation that the blog that did it was always going to choose their friend. Valid or not, such an accusation would taint the contest and lessen the value of "finalist". The taint would spread to the winner and to past and future winners.

So, in order to avoid such issues, there will be no Senlin Net based on pull.

Whether there will be one based on push is still a matter for consideration and will only need to be considered should a blogger have a second choice they were very upset not to be able to put through, and another blogger is unhappy that the best from their batch is not good enough.














Monday, 18 September 2017

REVIEW: The Final Empire

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This was an odd one for me. I've seen an enormous number of opinions about Sanderson's books on the fantasy forums I hang out on, the great majority favourable. I was interested to see what it was that had sold so very many books and got such an incredibly high average score on Goodreads. 

The opening was strong and engaging. Then I started to falter. For most of the book I didn't think that I would be giving it 5*. I started to worry that I might have a legion of Sanderfans on my case :o

I think I am too much of a scientist for the magic system not to jar against me. I liked the complexity, and the effects, and the ways it was used were cunning, clever, and ingenious. But the ingredients and the execution fill me with unanswered questions.

And for much of the middle section I was struggling through all the balls and house politics, having a hard time caring.

And the plans felt flimsy and dubious...

***BUT***

But, the last hundred and fifty pages were a huge payoff and I really liked all the twists and turns. Also the action scenes were great, and the tension was kept high, nobody felt safe, the reveals kept coming ... it was all really well done and I had a blast with it.

I've heard it said that Sanderson's biggest strength is plotting, and yes, the plot unwound splendidly.

The reading experience and writing put me in mind of Brent Weeks more than any other writer I know.

A really fun read.


You can go like my review on Goodreads if you like.







Book sales: how's it stacking up?

As I've noted before, the number of Goodreads ratings a book has give a good indication of sales

This, combined with Goodreads willingness to let you have the daily ratings statistics on any book for the last six months (though, annoyingly, not any longer than that) means you can generate all manner of analysis. Recently, some publishers have begun to offer their authors access to detailed and high tempo sales data online, but in reality a pretty good version of that is available to Joe Public on Goodreads.

Here are the daily ratings numbers for all 7 of my books for the last 6 months, stacked up in order, with Prince of Thorns at the bottom and Red Sister at the top.


So you can see that around its release Red Sister was outselling Prince of Thorns but that currently Prince of Thorns has regained the throne. You can see that collectively the Red Queen's War trilogy sell around the same as Prince of Thorns does on its own. And by using the ratings-to-sales ratio of 7.7 you can see that I'm selling around a thousand books a day in English.

Do publishers use these sources of data when looking at authors they might want to sign? My feeling is that they don't, but they probably should.







Friday, 8 September 2017

Why you're not getting a map.



A question posed to me on this blog.
Q: When are you going to draw a map for Book of the ancestors series? I'm dying to read Red Sister but can't bring myself to do it without a map.
A: I'm not going to. If you can't read a book without a map I guess it's not a book for you.

I'm often asked: "Did you draw the map first or as you wrote the book." This is frequently by people who haven't read any of my books. 

There is an assumption there ... fantasy books have maps. Which is odd, since I have read hundreds (possibly thousands) of novels without maps, many of them set in regions I'm unfamiliar with. The fact is that for a great many works of fiction maps are irrelevant, they are about what people are doing in their lives, if Sarah goes to visit her uncle in Vostok it is sufficient for me to know it took her several hours on the train and when she got there the forests were covered in snow. I don't need to look it up on a map. It doesn't matter. 

(small spoilers for the setting in The Broken Empire and The Book of the Ancestor trilogies follow)

When I wrote Prince of Thorns I did not draw the map first. Or during. Or the day, week, month, or year after I had finished. I didn't consult some map in my head. When Jorg goes to Gelleth it was enough for me to know that it took him and his men several days to get there, crossing through mountain passes ... or whatever ... I forget the details. It was never important to the story. The fact is that what was important was that he had to go somewhere and do something.

I drew the map for Prince of Thorns three years later when my publisher asked me to. Sure, I thought, I can draw a map. At that point I thought it would fun to use the map of Europe with a raised sea level. The map never mattered to me writing the story, so it can't really add anything to reading the story except for an illusion of "control".


I've nothing against maps, I just never look at them. I've read the five books of A Song of Ice and Fire twice. The first time I saw the map was when watching the credits of the Game of Thrones TV show. I certainly acknowledge that the map in a story of many nations and multiple widely separated PoV characters does have value to add, and if I wrote a story like that I would draw a map. But the fact remains, I very much enjoyed the story without reference to the map.

In Red Sister the vast majority of the story takes place within a circle a few hundred yards across. The small amount of traveling is simple. The rare references to remote places are similarly simple. The habitable world is a corridor fifty miles wide and tens of thousands of miles long, following the equator. The empire is flanked to the west by one country behind a mountainous border, and to the east by a sea with another country on the far shore.

A map would be a long skinny thing on a page that was 90%+ white space. The detail would be hard to see and invented by me entirely to fill the map ... no other reason. Or alternatively it would fill a dozen or more pages (the corridor now the height of the page and the length stretching through many pages) filled with even more arbitrary detail, hills, mountains, forests, rivers, roads, and towns never referenced in the book.

Well ... I'm not doing it!


By way of compromise, here's a "word map"



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<-Points East, Scithrowl (mountains) Empire (Marn Sea) Durn, Points West->
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Chocolate ... no wait ... more ice.
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Saturday, 19 August 2017

Grimdark. We're nailing it down!



Over on the Grimdark Facebook group we're compiling a list of books which we're going to rate for grimdarkiness.

It seems to be not a war of words but a war for a word. There are those who use 'grimdark' as a pejorative for a vague group of things they dislike, there are grimdark aficionados who see the term as descriptor for an aesthetic that requires the presence of a number of distinct elements which may include moral greyness, bleakness, and nihilism, and there are an (apparent majority) who just see it as the setting on a control knob relating to general levels of violence and ickyness... Here all are free to battle it out and define this word through usage and example. Let your voice be heard!

Note, this isn't something you "win" at. Nobody is saying a high grimdark score means a good book, or vice versa.

grimduck


One thing to note is that if you look at the individual polls it's hard to find any single book that doesn't have at least one vote in every category. This wide spread of opinions on every book shows that the voters' opinions on what grimdark is must be quite diverse. The elements one reader considers grimdark can be quite different from those of the next reader.


This is the list of titles, ranked by average grimdark content:
(this list says nothing about quality, many excellent books at all levels)
Please only vote on a book IF YOU HAVE READ IT, not based on other's opinions.


Beyond Redemption - by Michael R Fletcher, Grimdark Rating 4.71
The Darkness That Comes Before - by R. Scott Bakker, Grimdark Rating 4.49
Prince of Thorns - by Mark Lawrence, Grimdark Rating 4.45
The Court of Broken Knives - by Anna Spark Smith, Grimdark Rating 4.23 (*)
Godblind - by Anna Stephens, Grimdark Rating 4.20 (*)
Heroes Die - by Matthew Woodring StoverGrimdark Rating 4.09 (*)
The Steel Remains - by Richard K. Morgan, Grimdark Rating 4.00
The Black Company - by Glen Cook, Grimdark Rating 3.84
The Blade Itself - by Joe Abercrombie, Grimdark Rating 3.84
Low Town - by Daniel Polansky, Grimdark Rating 3.72 (*)
The Left Hand of God - by Paul HoffmanGrimdark Rating 3.69 (*)
Horus Rising - by Dan Abnet, Grimdark Rating 3.60 (*)
Gardens of the Moon - by Steven Erikson, Grimdark Rating 3.56
Blackwing - by Ed McDonald, Grimdark Rating 3.56 (*)
Elric of Melnibone - by Michael Moorcock, Grimdark Rating 3.45
The Grim Company - by Luke Scull, Grimdark Rating 3.45
The Mirror Empire - by Kameron Hurley, Grimdark Rating 3.42 (*)
A Game of Thrones - by George RR Martin, Grimdark Rating 3.41
Prince of Fools - by Mark Lawrence, Grimdark Rating 3.27
Lord Foul's Bane - by Stephen R Donaldson, Grimdark Rating 3.18
The Vagrant - by Peter Newman, Grimdark Rating 3.11
Red Sister - by Mark Lawrence, Grimdark Rating 3.08
Shadow of the Torturer - by Gene Wolfe, Grimdark Rating 2.96 (*)
The Library at Mount Char - by Scott HawkinsGrimdark Rating 2.89 (*)
Bloodsong - by Anthony RyanGrimdark Rating 2.88 (*)
The Last Wish - by Andrzej Sapkowski, Grimdark Rating 2.82
The Way of Shadows - by Brent Weeks, Grimdark Rating 2.78
Conan - by Howard, Sprague de Camp & Lin CarterGrimdark Rating 2.68
The Gunslinger - by Stephen King, Grimdark Rating 2.66
The Red Knight - by Miles Cameron, Grimdark Rating 2.66 (*)
Half a King - by Joe Abercrombie, Grimdark Rating 2.64 (*)
The Traitor Baru Cormorant - by Seth DickinsonGrimdark Rating 2.62 (*)
The Warded Man by Peter V. BrettGrimdark Rating 2.56
Legend - by David Gemmell, Grimdark Rating 2.27
The Lies of Locke Lamora - by Scott Lynch, Grimdark Rating 2.26
The Fifth Season - by N.K. Jemisin, Grimdark Rating 2.26 (*)
Malice - by John Gwynne, Grimdark Rating 2.26 (*)
The Final Empire - by Brandon Sanderson, Grimdark Rating 1.97
Assassin's Apprentice - by Robin Hobb, Grimdark Rating 1.96
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - by N.K. Jemisin, Grimdark Rating 1.75 (*)
The Innocent Mage - by Karen MillerGrimdark Rating 1.54 (*)
The Sword of Truth - by Terry Goodkind, Grimdark Rating 1.51
Magician - by Raymond E Feist, Grimdark Rating 1.46
The Pawn of Prophecy - by David Eddings, Grimdark Rating 1.26
The Sword of Shannara - by Terry Brooks, Grimdark Rating 1.16

(*) Average based on fewer than 100 votes




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Thursday, 17 August 2017

The biggest fantasy debuts in the past decade!


This list is restricted to "epicish" fantasy, which by my off the cuff definition generally involves a secondary world and warfare based on sword and spear.

The reason for such restriction is simple - it's my favourite kind of fantasy, and were I to include YA fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal fantasy, romance fantasy etc the great majority of the the books below would be swept off the table because the truth is that "epicish" fantasy is a niche genre and sells far fewer books than the kinds of fiction I just listed.

I crowd sourced this list over at r/fantasy and if you have a debut book you think fits, please mention it in the comments.

The numbers in brackets are the number of Goodreads ratings the book has. Since this is directly related to sales it is a clear indication of the "size" of that debut.

I have included three titles that aren't really "epicish" but don't seem to fall into the other categories I mentioned either. They are probably close to magical realism, which crosses over well into the general readership and gets big sales. I've left them (shaded red) as reminders that the kind of fantasy shown here constitute small fish in a big pond!

Where I had more than three I have stuck to the top three except in cases of ties.



2007 - The Name of the Wind (449K)

2008 - The Way of Shadows (114k), The Warded Man (77k)

2009 - The Dwarves (7k), Lamentation (3K), The Adamantine Palace (2K)

2010 - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (32K)

2011 - The Night Circus (474K), Prince of Thorns (63K), Blood Song (52K), Theft of Swords (37K)

2012 - Malice (8K), Throne of the Crescent Moon (8K)

2013 - The Golem and the Jinni (71K), Promise of Blood (25K), The Thousand Names (12K), A Crucible of Souls (5K), The Grim Company (5K)

2014 - The Emperor's Blades (23K), The Goblin Emperor (14K), Traitor's Blade (9K)

2015 - The Library at Mount Char (16K), Dawn of Wonder (12K), The Grace of Kings (7K)

2016 - Hope and Red (1K), The Summer Dragon (1K), The Crimson Queen (1K), Benjamin Ashwood (1K)

2017 - candidates include, The Bear and the Nightingale (14K wow!), Kings of the Wyld, Blackwing, Godblind, The Court of Broken Knives...











Monday, 14 August 2017

Prince of Thorns at 6!

Prince of Thorns is 6 years in print!

Check out the fifthfourththirdsecond, and first birthday round-ups. 

I now have 7 books on the shelves!


Being a numbers guy as well as a words guy I like to keep track of things and record them for when I'm a doddery old guy looking back at my 'glory' days.

In its 5th year the 500,000th copy of Prince of Thorns was sold!

And the book was translated into its 23rd language (Iranian!)

On Goodreads Prince of Thorns has passed 60,000 ratings!


And Prince of Thorns continues to attract ratings on Amazon

And the blog has very nearly broken two million views!

And finally my snail's pace conquest of Twitter continues its crawl.