1. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I cannot believe this gets published - or why SF is dying in pain

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by jonathan hernandez13, Oct 10, 2011.

    I'll admit right now, this is a rant. It's been a long time coming, this is just too painful to ignore.


    Long Intro


    I don't normally don't do reviews unless what I read is very good or very bad - this is no exception. I have often wondered, as I cruise the SF isles at any given book store, whether or not something may be wrong with me. Nothing on the shelves seems very tempting, in fact it seems somewhat offensive. From the cover art to the plot descriptions, the products seems vacuous and lacking. More and more I find that the only titles appealing to me are the classics or titles written by classic authors. Unfortunately, many of them are dead and often have been for decades.

    Baen books, I'll go ahead and paint a bullseye on my back now - and I don't care if I get blacklisted by them because I'm saying write now I will NEVER submit to them and I have about zero temptation to but from them. I am ashamed to admit that I have bought Baen books, but only because they own the rights to material from some of my beloved and deceased authors like Keith Laumer.

    So Baen is publishing shovel fulls of cheap juvenile drivel and calling it SF. Even worse, it appears that some of their writers have extreme right wing conservative biases and it shows up in their writing from time to time. And knowing that Baen books is selling these turd trophies like hot cakes is really telling and disturbing because it means that SF readership has regressed back to pre-golden age era pulp fiction crap.

    This new age of defeatist post-modernist SF is remarkably dark, cynical, and pessimistic. Military SF sells like cyberpunk sold in the 80s, with none of the intelligent and thoughtful, suave (if deliciously noir) juxtapositions with 80s technological horizons and political concerns. This new SF is quite literally paper thin, with simple and boring characters killing simple and boring aliens in battles that are a headache to read through because, well, they're poorly written. Whatever happened to the days of the sometimes charmingly if preachy morally upright characters who defend ideals and kill only if needed? And then afterwards reflect solemnly, learning important lessons? Well, in the days of Bush JRs wars of terror, the characters are non-grokking, hyperviolent, airhead jarheads who kill without compunction for bubble gum governments over ideals that are not even tangentially addressed.


    The Meat


    If I wanted to do all the research I could compile a list of steaming crap thats being mass produced by Baen, but not today. I just had to concentrate on three major offenders as far as I'm concerned, all "bestsellers", althouth the word best is highly subjective and given content a dubious accolade. All this crap got started because as I said, I'm a Keith Laumer fan. Look him up, he's no Heinlein or Clarke but damn it I love his stories and his style, but the man is dead. He had fans in his day up until now, but since he's dead Baen is filling in a niche, rather shamelessly. Laumer created a Bolo series, about huge cyborg tanks - cool stuff. Often the stories were entertaining, even kind of cute, with strong charcters with strong convictions and---hope in the face of overwhelming odds! The very stuff of epic sagas and legend, right? Corny, sappy, jevenile, I know-but entertaining and at least well written for Krishna's sake. Let's see how Baen royally f's this up...

    The Best of the Bolos: their finest hour - I bouth this, it's from Baen

    David Weber - I actually don't care much for him, I've tried several times to read the Honor Harrington books, the series that made him a god to legions of glassy eyed sycophants, but I cant manage it - as far as I can tell he's a poor writer. Now, if you are a writer, you should know how to write or be working on ways of improving that. Well, twenty something books later in this series alone - its physically painful trying to get past the first page because its so bad. He begins with an info dump, this continues for pages. Even when a scene begins with MCs, a perfect opportunity for dialogue, he STILL info dumps, Arrrgggh! He is caught up with the obsession for details, but his details are mundane, pedestrian, readers digest, airport shooping store paper back quality - sheesh.

    Anyway, I was surprised to read from the intro of "The best", which was written by Weber, that he actually DOES know how to write. He wrote concisely, descriptively, passionately, about the Bolo series and Laumer - about why is does so well and why it appeals to people. What's the deal, he only writes well when it's non-fiction? I'm suspecting a ghost writer here folks >_> It's like a Bible author dropping anachronistic hellenistic words - there is a hint here of some subtle phantome hand---

    I decided to give him another try, what the hell, he wrote 3 stories in the collection! Sheesh, prolific bastard. A Time To Kill by Weber, a Bolo story set in---I'm not even certain, and that's why Weber sucks. He has an entire prologue dedicated to telling a backstory but its a droning on about nothing. Some would say I need to have a firmer background in the Boloverse or Weber's counterfeit version of it. I say Weber needs to learn how to write.


    "It was called Case Ragnarok, and it was insane. Yet in a time when madness had the galaxy by the throat, it was also inevitable"

    Is how the prologue starts, actually not half bad, but then the prologue drones on and on and on---essentially humans no like aliens, aliens no like humans---war. It takes him about 5 pages to get this out. The reason makes no sense, from what I can tell, the aliens did not want to trade with humans, or something - it's really not clear and it's not meant to be. These Baen writers must be xenophobes because the aliens are always "others" there to be killed by the dozens by our *heroic* humans. Whatever happened to the days of friendly aliens?

    I ahd to stop reading the story at page not because it was a gutter of dead pan lameness and hyperviolence (it was), but because the writer made me read and try to sympathize with the MC *hero* committing large scale atrocities. After they destroy an entire city, killing without disgression---

    "---we see the Melconian mothers and pups fleeing---they are not combatants, but---hyper-velocity flechettes scream through mothers and their young, impacts exploding in sprays of blood and tissue, and then---"

    :O dear god, it goes on - he then tells us how the artillery bombards the area - I guess to turn ribbons of flesh into a fine paste - this is disgusting. It's almost as bad as reading the atrocities in the Bible, but at least the people in then were in the Bronze age, not the cocky-doddy future! We should be MORE civilized by then! I stopped at that point, this makes me sick. Is there any kind of post ad hoc justification, thoughtful reflection, or subconcious battle of conscience? No, the battle just continues as if they were sowing seeds in a freaking garden.


    I had to vommit a little bit in my mouth, I have more to write, but I need to stop now to meditate or something. Weber makes me hate humanity the way Baen makes me hate *trendy* SF. Discuss amongst yourselves, I'm gonna get a Chai tea and a massage.
     
  2. Dante Dases
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    Dante Dases Contributing Member Contributor

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    Never read anything by Weber. Whenever I've seen a book by him on the shelf at a bookshop I've generally dismissed it as being cheap pulp. And there's some cheap pulp SF I like, but there's something about them which just turns me off ever trying to read one (I have the same problem with Harry Turtledove - it just looks tacky and unchallenging).

    But I can say there's plenty of superb new SF being written. Just look at the Hugo shortlists if you need an idea of what to read. The Windup Girl, by Paulo Bacigalupi, and The City and the City, by China Mieville, are both spectacular, intelligent reads (they shared the Hugo for best novel in 2010, and worthy winners they were). Iain M. Banks releases something intelligent and fresh every couple of years. Then there's John Scalzi, Alastair Reynolds (with his short fiction in particular being worth reading), Jason Sanford, Lavie Tidhar, Dan Simmons... Looking back a few years, there's Arthur C. Clarke, Brian W. Aldiss, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, William Gibson, etc. There's plenty out there to satisfy your taste for intelligent SF. It's just that sometimes it isn't the best selling stuff there is and you have to look a little deeper for the choicest cuts. Excuse the mixed metaphor there.
     
  3. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Those are great points Dante. I forgot to mention that there is and hopefully will always be some great SF out there on the shelves (and I'll say right now there are great new writers too, I just don't know many of their works unfortunately). The problem is that according to SF writer's Sturgeon's law, 90% will probably be crap.

    The trick is to find out what the crap is and avoid it, but in the meantime it is selling and I fail to see how or why. What demographic of readership likes it and where can I find a breath of fresh air that is many times removed from it?

    And as for the classics, I mentioned those in the OP, they are an exception to the fluff. They are classics for a reason and ironically, the Baen-ers have read them too, they just took from their writings very different things than what I got.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Baen published some good stuff. And some pretty bad stuff. About like any publisher, I imagine. I haven't seen too much extreme right-wing conservatism out of there. A lot of libertarianism. But there's also a lot of science fiction that has left-leaning political bias. To me that's irrelevant to whether it is a good story or not. If the author keeps it interesting he/she can have whatever political views she/he wants.
     
  5. adrenaline7
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    adrenaline7 Member

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    I remember seeing a lot of David Weber books at my local Borders before it closed down, and I must admit, they looked incredibly tacky. Put me right off.

    As for Baen, seems like they're trying to make a quick buck and selling stuff for casual (and even younger) audiences. Doesn't phase me much.

    But sci-fi dying? I kinda agree with you in a way. Maybe dying in book form. I don't think there'll be another Golden Age, at least for a long time. The 50's and 60's had Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury, Dick, and the 80's had William Gibson make cyberpunk popular and Orson Scott Card making his hits. But what did the 90's have? I can't recall anything off the top of my head. Don't quote me on this, because I don't believe I am well informed, but I think this is when sci-fi started going downhill. The next decade showed some revival with older artists creating and releasing new stuff like crazy, or just remaking old works to make it look new again, but I don't think it went far. Some artists are still fresh, even after years of writing - Joe Haldeman comes to mind - but it seems like everyone, myself included, is going back to reading books from the Golden Age.

    However, where books has dropped the ball, I think video games have come to pick it up. There have been some wonderful sci-fi games with great stories, environments and memorable characters, such as Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex and Fallout. I also think that cyberpunk may be coming back into fashion, with the release of the new Deus Ex game not long ago, and EA are thinking of remaking Syndicate, a cyberpunk game from the 90's.

    I don't particularly blame Baen for making this move; I mean, the music industry has been doing similar to this since the 80's. Sci-fi variety and quality in books is lacking severely since after 2000 (to me, anyway), but what I learnt from society and cultural studies is that (to put it basically) no style or genre dies; it just moves to another place. So to me, quality sci-fi has moved from books into other media, namely video games.
     
  6. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    First of all, I'll admit again as I already noted that Baen publishes some decent stuff from time to time, usually they're reprints. It's just crap flushed down the tubes most times. It's quality is notably lacking, it goes without saying, just check it out. As for he extreme political biases in it's fiction.

    John Ringo's "Watch on the Rhine" is a disgusting piece of *literature*, nothing more than jingoistic Nazi sympathizing disguised as SF. The *liberals* in the book are simply portrayed as near mindless idealistic peace-mongers who stand between humanity and salvation. Orson Scott Card's "Empire" is another steaming pile where liberals actually begin a second civil American war and only the conservative heroes can stop them. Now while Empire was published by Tor, Card has been published by Baen too. There are other exaples of this poisonous bias.

    Every writer has bias, yes, but when writing a story can become compromised if the writer's biases are allowed to corrupt the story. The story should not be about a person, personal baggage should be left out or at least, for Krishna's sake, hidden more. Politics is only part of the problem anyway, the biger issues are that some of these writers just plain suck and, in a Freudian sense, I think show how disgusting and perverse they are with their gleefully anti-enlightenment drivel.

    Now the overall quality of SF may be at a level unchanged, but it could be hard to see all the "good stuff" because of the avalanche of refuse piled around it - that's my theory. As an indication of how desperate and shameless it has become, there is a huge market for reprints, often of dead authors, and making sequels and spin-offs from successful themes. To me this is nothing more than corporate greed and subverts the genre.

    I never blamed Baen as the source of this grand problem, it's just part of the equation. I think the biggest problem is the uninformed masses feeding the fire. As the quality of the product is poor, the readership includes some uncritical readers who are more concerned with a cheap thrill than thinking too hard about serious issues. I in part blame the post-modernist movement for that but I'll go into that some other day.

    Video games? Really? Nothing against them or players, but I would not say it comes anywhere near the prestige or qualkity of literature as an art form. If they ever come close to SF then I'll never read a novel again because it means the novel has died. That sounds harsh, I'm not against the electronic media, I just don't see them as the heir to any kind of legacy and even the best modern game is still lacking in content.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds like you're mad primarily because the authors and/or characters in the book hold political viewpoints you do not. That is unfortunate in a reader in my view. Your idea of when it 'corrupts' a story seems strange to me.
     
  8. adrenaline7
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    adrenaline7 Member

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    "Orson Scott Card's "Empire" is another steaming pile where liberals actually begin a second civil American war and only the conservative heroes can stop them."

    I was hoping to read this sometime soon. Not that you've spoilt anything for me, as I was aware of Card's political views. I'll take your opinion on board, but I might still give it a read.

    "Video games? Really? Nothing against them or players, but I would not say it comes anywhere near the prestige or qualkity of literature as an art form. If they ever come close to SF then I'll never read a novel again because it means the novel has died. That sounds harsh, I'm not against the electronic media, I just don't see them as the heir to any kind of legacy and even the best modern game is still lacking in content."

    Fair enough, I can understand that. I usually wouldn't compare books and games in most situations because they are two totally different mediums. I will always favour a story from a book than a videogame, no question. Books on videogames don't count; I wouldn't touch that stuff to save my life. Still, I feel there are some games that can give almost as much detail as a novel could, but it's a different art form. But it's nice to see that you're so passionate about the novel as an art form.

    My point is that regardless of what happens to novels or books in general, there will always be a sci-fi story somewhere that will be told, whatever art form it may be.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I would take the objection to "Empire" with a grain or five of salt, adrenaline. Again it is couched only in political terms. Jonathan doesn't like anything that isn't biased to the left, apparently. I don't know if Empire is good or bad (being by Card, I suspect it is at least well written), but much of the reception of the book appeared to be based on whether the story aligned with one's personal political views, which is a mistake in my view. I'm not sure when we all became so insecure in our beliefs that we can't tolerate an opposing viewpoint, even in a work of fiction. "Poisonous" is a ludicrous characterization. This thread also seems to have contradictory views expressed in it. For example, that Baen books are selling like "hot cakes" while at the same time the genre is dying. Doesn't make sense. Baen books sell because there are a lot of people who want to read them. When it comes to militaristic SF, for example, one of Baen's major writers is John Ringo. not one of my favorites, personally, but the guy sells a lot of books. Why? Because there are a lot of people who want to read those books. If no one wants to read them anymore, Ringo will have to write something else or he won't sell books. As for reprints of works that are out of print, I'm glad for it. It seems a strange thing to criticism. Baen is taking books that otherwise wouldn't be available and making them available to a new generation of readers. Oh, the humanity!
     
  10. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dude, I already said that I didnt want to go into the politics right now, and I said that the politics is only a small part of it! Maybe YOUR problem is that you are being so defensive youre steering the ship off course. I am not primarily "mad", and not because of the politics so much. My biggest gripe is that I think its bad SF and I hate that bad SF sells.

    Yes, I am a liberal. Would I love to write a story where conservatives get killed and lampooned? Meh, not really. Would I write one? No. Would I feel comfortable venting that way for 200 pages or more? Hell no, posting a thread like this is enough for me, and life goes on. I don't take my politics too seriously to where it ruins my day, and I would never dare allow it to compromise my fiction.

    "Empire" is a pile of shit, let's be honest.

    You accused me of not liking anything without a left bias which is a lie - it's not true, and not even the point!

    Baen books are selling well, but the genre as a whole is selling far fewer books than Fantasy, where at one time they were at comparitive levels (and theyre in the same sections of bookstores, fro cripes sake).

    My criticism is not that reprints are being made, I like that too. I was just making an onservation that a huge gross of profit is being made by reselling older fiction. This is a bad sign because it could mean that SF readers are aching for something far different than the crap available now. I dont even know who the good new authors are right now.

    I'm not ideologically opposed to Baen, Ive made judgement calls on them and some of their authors based on what Ive seen.

    Ive tried several times to read Weber stories, they suck. They sucked before I reacted to what I saw as a conservative bias in some Baen books, and they still suck.

    If you want to get into a debate over politics we can do it in private, please keep it civil and avoid slanders and ad hominems or I will report you.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Threatening to report to the mods is exactly the sort of thing I'm referring to. It's exactly what gives me the impression that you can't take things you are in disagreement with. That impression may be wrong, granted, but you're not exactly dispelling it by threatening to run to the mods because you don't like what I have to say. I don't like Weber, or Drake for that matter. And those two seem to be among the top sellers at Baen. I do not understand why you would "hate" that it sells. So you don't like it. So what? There's plenty I don't like at Baen and elsewhere. Do I hate that it sells? No. If authors and publishers are successful these days, then good for them. I'm glad they're finding an audience and selling stories. Yes, Fantasy is dominating SF right now. That seems to me to be more a reflection of what people want at the moment than anything wrong with the SF genre itself. There is plenty of good SF out there, but it still doesn't sell as well as the big name fantasy authors. A lot of the material coming out of Baen is pulp/adventure SF. That has a fairly long history in the genre. So does the American slant that some of their stories have (what is to be called jingoistic I suppose). Take a look at a lot of SF coming out post WWII - late 40s, 50s, early 60s. Looks to me like Baen is publishing some things in that vein, as well as a lot of stuff that is meant to be read purely for pleasure, without bringing complex ideals into the mix. They're just sort of average adventure stories. And if enough people start reading SF to read some of those adventure stories, that may help the genre as a whole and not hinder it. I can see people I know who don't read SF at all reading some John Ringo books. Maybe a percentage of those will become more interested in SF and look at deeper works. I hardly think it can hurt the genre, particularly if it keeps an imprint like Baen alive. As for Empire, I haven't read it. All I said above is that based on it being Card I suspect it is well-written if nothing else. And whenever I read reviews of it, the negative ones were all fixated on the politics, which I think is a mistake. In any event, if you don't like the current state of SF and what is out there in the market, write your own SF and get it published. I may not agree always agree with what you have to say, but I hope you sell books or stories to people. The more SF people are selling, the better.

    ---------- Post added at 10:23 AM ---------- Previous post was at 10:22 AM ----------

    ** As and aside, what's up with my formatting? When I type a message on my screen it has line spaces. When I post, they're gone. And my "edit post" feature doesn't work at all...**
     
  12. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    Disclaimer I don’t know much about publishing companies, not even their stocks.

    However I do know this, when a product is in demand, companies find a way to supply it to consumers. If people want campy science fiction, well by the Benjamin’s in my pocket lets sell campy science fiction. If it’s a profitable margin why should a publisher not? I don’t know what the margin is in that industry but I can’t see it being very high per individual book.
    In reality we have no logical or ethical legs to stand on being angry at companies that provide something that customers demand. We might not like the political bend of some of what is published, or the quality of it, but it is there business decision, just as it is ours not to buy it.
    So my advice is if you think that current consumers are looking for something different, provide it for them. if your right the financial benefits could be sweet.
     
  13. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess a better question to ask in then...why do people want to read it? What does it say about us? o_O

    I admit it was a rant, I made some normative claims, but what readers want interests me as a writer and lover of SF. Why is poor quality work selling so well?
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think "poor quality" is your subjective opinion. The thing is, just because we may dislike something doesn't make it "poor quality." As I stated above, many people enjoy these kind of adventure stories that don't necessarily tackle complex issues that requite a lot of thought. That doesn't make the adventure stories poor quality - they're good for their intended purpose, which is entertainment and nothing more. Many of those readers also likely read more complex, intellectual works. I might read Vladimir Nabokov or Roberto Bolaño, and then turn around a read a horror novel that I can go through in a few hours. The horror novel isn't low quality, in my view. It simply serves its purpose, which is purely to entertain. If you don't like the SF novels that are out there for pure entertainment value and prefer the more substantial ones, that is great. But a lot of people after a long work week want to read something that is sheer entertainment. Nothing wrong with that.
     
  15. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    Now that’s a good one.
    If you want my guess, some people want brain candy. They want something to read to take there mind of what is going on around them. sadly it science fiction that a lot of people look to now for this brain candy. It’s something science fiction lends itself to pretty well, because it has a lot of chances for escapism and divorces from reality.
     
  16. rainshine
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    rainshine Senior Member

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    hmm sounds a lot like me after reading HP. They recomended Fairy Wars, and Twilight as the logical next step for readers, but they didn't live up to the mantle. Every thing else including paolin fails in comparison. I dont read SF as a rule Isamov and Clark years ago but nothing since. I remember another internet poster or writer I cant remember, being driven by a similar frustrated mode to be inspired to create her own.
     
  17. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    To defend my position that Baen sucks (and this anthology I bought), I present to you a reading from "Lost Legion" by SM Stirling.

    "It had to be sharpened with a hone of synthetic diamond, but it would take a more than razor edge and keep it while it hacked through mild steel."

    WTF? No, I did NOT incorrectly type it, that's how it appears in the book word for word. Yes, read that line again-it makes no damn sense. That line could have been written by Miss Teen South Carolina. Someone did a bad job of editing this junk and it slipped through the presses. Baen does stuff like this all the time. SM Stirling, Weber, and I think Drake but certainly Ringo also have a tendency to jumo from past to present tense.

    If I worked at Baen, and sold my name as well as books, I would be ashamed to let this bleep get sold, but they dont seem to care very much.
     
  18. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    There not publicly traded so it’s not like we could look at their financials. However my money is that they are not doing too badly. Sell low quality to the masses is a viable sales strategy.
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That does look like sloppy editing. I see more and more of that sort of thing these days from many publishers. I don't think they edit as carefully as they used to, in an effort to save money. That's an old SM Stirling story and they probably just reprinted it as it was without giving it much of a look. I do believe Baen is doing fairly well, James. I think you are correct about that. They seem to have found their market. For people who don't like what they're selling, there is other good SF out there.
     

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