Tuesday, November 03, 2009

DoubleBlind by Ann Aquirre

This is not so much a "review" as an exploration of a significant development in the SFR field.

I do intend to review Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre and it's a 5-star read if you overlook a couple of small things that irk me (matters of taste, not quality)

- see my post on Quality

Since I now have 3 titles of my own available on Kindle (The Dushau Trilogy), I've taken a sudden interest in Amazon again.

I don't understand that place as well as I once did, but I'm learning fascinating things about how they're growing, building independent sections then linked them in a crazy-quilt.

I found that Linnea Sinclair apparently started using the tag sfr and when I added that tag to a couple books, I suddenly found myself looking at a Community for SFR. (color me perplexed)

Tags? Something changed. I'd always ignored tags. What are they for, anyway?

So I started adding the tag "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" to some of my own books (haven't finished that yet) and suddenly found myself staring at a "Jacqueline Lichtenberg Community" -- huh?

OK, well, it had no posts in it so I wrote one. *shrug*

Then I went on poking around trying to trace the connections (there aren't many or even any!) between the Kindle Editions and print books.

The Dushau Trilogy Kindle edition is linked into a print edition page, but there are several print edition pages for each book.

The other pages are about copies from used book & collector jobbers often without the cover image, and no link to the Kindle edition on those separate pages. Most people shopping for Dushau won't know it has a Kindle edition.

When a listing for a used copy gets deleted (probably because the jobber sold all copies in stock), the reviews posted to that particular page apparently get deleted by Amazon.

The Dushau Trilogy has had many more reviews posted than are now showing, but somehow Kindle has let the remaining ones onto the Kindle edition pages.

Then on the Sime~Gen fan List, I discovered from a Kindle owner (I don't have one) that people can search for books by number of reviews listing it as whatever # of stars. Dushau would be closer to the top if the reviews hadn't been trashed by Amazon. *hmmmm*

So I went poking around again, and dropping the tag "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" on books by me. And on one of the pages, I found out that people who had bought that book by me (I don't recall which one) had also bought Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre.

What a coincidence!

If you've read my posts on Tarot you'll see that I treat "coincidence" more seriously than most people.


You see, I was just finishing reading Doubleblind, and when I saw Amazon associate the two with a "readers who bought this bought that." But because I'd been studying Doubleblind I understood how ingenius the amazon.com algorithm has become.

Usually, the "readers who bought" suggestions that I see do make some sense. There are vast similarities. I can see it most clearly when readers who've bought a novel I wrote (and know the mechanism of) have also bought a novel I've read. But rarely has the similarity shouted out at me like this one.

Amazon is getting better at associating apparently unrelated works, and that may be because of all the tedious effort put in by readers to rate books and group them into communities by tags.

This development -- computers associating and grouping ART -- is extremely significant, perhaps in all the history of mankind.

It was the potential that originally attracted me to Amazon, but at first launch, Amazon worked in a very clunky way, putting things together that don't belong together.

I was disappointed when Amazon branched out into general merchandizing and then started merchandizing books (getting publishers to pay extra to get a title featured or tossed into your face whether you like that kind of stuff or not). But they lost tons of money the first 5 years or so and only now are turning a profit, mostly based on that ingenius and innovative algorithm and its modern derivatives.

What's disappointing is not that they're merchandising books, but that in order to be profitable, they must merchandise rather than concentrate wholly on grouping works of Art.

In that context, my astonishment at finding Aguirre's Doubleblind associated with my novels may make more sense. And it may be the "tags" feature, or some additional algorithm behind the tags (this new Cloud Computing concept I discussed in some of my Web 2.0 posts) that did the trick. But something changed on Amazon.

There really is a texture in Aguirre's writing which is characteristic of what I like to read -- which has always been what I like to write.

It's very hard to pin down or articulate, but Doubleblind held my attention despite a couple of irksome traits. It's written in the awkward and distasteful(to me) first person present tense instead of first person past. First person present is used to disguise the artsy-fartsy shallowness of "literary" writing, not in serious storytelling. (see? I have a prejudice. How sad.)

But there are some good techniques in Doubleblind. The narration POV stays steady in the woman's head the whole book through, and she's the more or less sane one while the man she's determined to rescue/cure/love is pretty much flipped-out during most of the book. She knows she loves the sane version of this guy.

I dislike stories told from the POV of an insane person, but this novel has a big story to tell that is HIS story. Aguirre very cleverly gets at his story through her story. It's a well controlled, and well structured narrative.

I will include Doubleblind in my professional review column.

It's part of a series (everything is these days), and I do vaguely recall reading one of the previous novels, but this one reads just fine as a stand-alone. That's a difficult trick to pull off.

It has another awkward structural quirk, but one that I've used myself.

Aguirre inserts communications between people scattered around the galaxy, communications that the main POV character, Sirantha Jax, does not know about and which telegraph that her current mission may become much more complicated very soon now.

This is a device that I have seen used much better than this, and one that I have used with the awareness that readers will SKIP reading the insertions except maybe on re-reading.

Now here's something that happened to this book in production which is not Aguirre's fault or responsibility.

The insertions of "emails" flying around the galaxy are printed in such tiny print with such a thin font that I literally couldn't read them. There was a time when I could read that small fine print without difficulty, and many readers won't have a problem with it.

But this is one of those book-design quirks that may irk readers. It could put off some readers who will report (on blogs or Amazon communities) that they didn't enjoy the book, but they won't say why because they don't know why. (Really - not all readers know why they like or don't like a book! And many of those don't care why!)

The tiny print on the message inserts probably happened because the book designer ran out of space because they inserted a chapter of Aguirre's next book at the end, leaving no blank pages or author comments for the final folio.

That will be another book in a series I really like, the Corine Solomon Urban Fantasy series. This one is due out in April 2010 and is titled Hell Fire. It's about a magic worker and her sidekick who has a wild talent, and I love the Relationship between them.

It would be interesting to discover if those message insertions in Doubleblind were requested by the editor because the surprise ending didn't track without them, or if Aguirre planned it that way, or if she used the inserts to avoid changing point of view, or to make the book shorter. Or maybe she had to make the book longer? Or maybe she just wrote them to keep us advised on developments with characters we're going to get back to in a sequel and was just hoping to get away with it as a teaser to sell the next book.

At any rate, I would advise readers to get Doubleblind in the e-book or Kindle or Nook edition so you can adjust the print size to suit you. I found even the bulk of the text to be on the small side.

That should tell you something. I didn't have to squint my way all the way through the novel, you know.

Readers often attribute to author's choice what must rightfully be accounted for by publisher's choice or demands or by an author's attempt to comply with commercial requirements (such as how do I get readers to wait for my next book in this series?).

These are questions that readers need to learn to consider before "blaming" an author for something they don't like about a book.

The same is true of feature films and especially TV Series episodes. To get the thing OUT at all, it is often necessary to do things that distort the art. So it's worth a beginner's while to invest time in mastering craft skills that can solve the mechanical production problems in such a way that the art does not become distorted.

Now why did Ann Aguirre's Doubleblind come up as recommended to those who like my books? (or one could hope, vice versa)

It's this Web 2.0 thing that I've been discussing in some of my posts.


Amazon started collecting information about what readers like and want and milling it through their proprietary computer program. Others have imitated, but can't keep up with Amazon's innovation rate.

That's partly because Amazon started out tremendously well FUNDED. But that's not the only reason. Some other startups of that era are long gone, and of course Microsoft started on a shoestring.

When the whole era of interactivity with web visitors burst into high gear with Web 2.0 -- video, blogging, social networking, connecting web visitors not just with the purveyor but with each other -- Amazon was uniquely positioned to take advantage of the new web-savvy customer who was comfortable giving up personal information and asserting matters of taste in a public forum.

Amazon was ahead of the changes in the book-buying customer base, and ahead of changes in the general web-customer base. They even cater to the individual merchant providing a platform on which others sell things. Amazon gets all that cusomter information to mill over.

So far they've guessed correctly about the direction of customer behavior.

While I was writing this, Linnea Sinclair posted a note on my previous blog entry here pointing out how commercial writers, genre fiction writers, must LISTEN to their readers.

What Amazon has done (and others have copied) is LISTEN to book buyers.

That's why their computer associated Aguirre with Lichtenberg. It may have something very simple behind it - or something much more sophisticated than I can understand. That "tag cloud" thing may turn out to be the most powerful artist's tool yet invented.

Other book sellers - maybe e-book publishers? - may do what Amazon has done, and get AHEAD of where the "public" is going with this interactivity thing.

I suspect in that "tag cloud" instrument Google and Amazon are using, we will find the key to the next step in SFR, and the Romance genre in general. I have a lot more to say on the shifting sex-roles and sexual identity, and in general the "battle of the sexes" and Pluto's influence on our society, but that has to wait for next week.

There are ramifications here that I don't understand yet and so can't explain to you. Very likely, some readers of this blog entry already see the shape of the future to come.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. "While I was writing this, Linnea Sinclair posted a note on my previous blog entry here pointing out how commercial writers, genre fiction writers, must LISTEN to their readers."

    This hearkens back to your post on marketing through social media. So, what if an author does exactly what Linnea says, but the agent, editor, or whatever doesn't?

  2. Kimber An

    EXCELLENT question and that's the subject of a number of the news articles I've posted to my facebook page facebook.com/jacqueline.lichtenberg

    You should read the latest one and Jonathan Vos Post's comment.

    I've been following the meltdown of Publishing.

    There's an ATTITUDE that will soon give way, but what will the attitude that replaces it be? That point will be our opening with SFR.

    Read this article (which is the one I wanted to post to facebook, but the system insisted on the WRONG article -- but that was also relevant.


    Look at the end of that article.

    It says:

    Everyone outgrows the scene eventually, but it was nice to know it was there. And, I would guess, even the most jaded among our ranks are not ready to say goodbye to all that.

    Just pick up the TONE of the social group. Having been a member of that group for years, I can see how things have changed.

    The rate of change is accelerating.

    Follow my publishing contacts on Twitter where I'm collecting publishing and film making folks.

    Today publishers and editors have "official" twitter accounts.

    The savvy ones that will survive are indeed LISTENING as authors always have but editors and publishers never have.

    That's the point of my Web 2.0 posts. Connections that were one way are now become NETWORKS - editor-to-author and author-to-editor editor-to-author-to-reader reader-to-reader2 and reader2-to-author-to-editor

    PUBLISHERS are getting in the loop, but don't know how.

    They need a welcome.

    E-publishers (see my twitter followers list) have been in that loop all along.

    It is happening and it's happening today. Since it's so formless at the moment, our input can shape what comes out of all this.

    That's why this blog is here.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  3. "At any rate, I would advise readers to get Doubleblind in the e-book or Kindle or Nook edition so you can adjust the print size to suit you. I found even the bulk of the text to be on the small side."

    This is one reason why ebooks will grow in popularity despite what the naysayers predict. I love the way I can program my laptop reading program to choose my own font style and size.

    Readability is important and a big turn off if the publisher gets it wrong.

    The question of publishers listening to the readers is reassuring. I hope they're not only listening to "what" they're saying, but also asking themselves "why" they're saying it.

    In Linnea's blog, a poster commented she was weary of reading stories where the protagnist was "world-weary".

    So the "why" in this case was relevant. This particular reader likes upbeat stories maybe because her life has enough problems already.

    Others like reading books where problems get solved, as it gives them hope about their own problems. Some like exotic locations because it's virtual travel. Others like to escape to the past or future because they are depressed by their inability to change things in their current world.

    Seeing epublishing has so many avenues open to it that the traditional form lacks, I'd like to see questionnaires on their sites with more searching options rather than the generic how did you rate this book eg great, poor, etc.

    Reviews can give them feedback, but why don't they break it down, and find out specifically. Was it the plot/ writing style/ setting/ characters/ etc.

    I'm not saying this feedback should then lead to "Category" type plot requirements, but the technology gives them a great advantage into getting into the mind of the readers, so they should utilise it.

    It would be a more exact science than the "If you bought this, you might like that." concept they have at the moment.

  4. Ozambersand:

    You wrote:
    Reviews can give them feedback, but why don't they break it down, and find out specifically. Was it the plot/ writing style/ setting/ characters/ etc.

    I think the reason computer statistic gathering has not been applied with those questions to readers is that
    a) readers don't KNOW why they like this or that; there's no consistency
    b) readers don't want to know
    c) readers shouldn't know because it'll spoil the enjoyment

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg