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Blackout

February 2, 2012

Looking for audiobooks at the public library, I came across Blackout by Connie Willis in a format that works in my car (CDs), so picked it up and began listening to it sporadically. I renewed it twice because I hadn’t finished it and I was just interested enough to keep going when there was no one else in the car with me. Finally, though, it was due for the final time and I hadn’t finished it, so I checked out the paper book and…I couldn’t finish it. Why oh why oh why oh didn’t I look at the end? It isn’t there.

Here I am, mildly concerned about the fate of Polly, who is stuck in London during the Blitz, and Eileen/Merope, who has been taking care of children sent away from London, and Mike, who wanted to interview heroes in Dover and ended up going to Dunkirk, and then all I get on the last page of Blackout is a notice that says “for the riveting conclusion to Blackout, be sure not to miss Connie Willis’s All Clear.”

You know, Alexander Pope made fun of “index-learning,” that is, trying to figure stuff out by reading only the (shorter) supplementary materials, but I think I’ve gone too far the other way. It’s not enough just to pick up a novel by an author I’ve heard about. I should have done some actual research! Before I’m even willing to find All Clear at the library and check it out, then, I look around to see if it actually concludes the story. It does.

Couldn’t Blackout have been published with some kind of warning that it’s only half of a novel? I am angry with booksellers already this morning, because Nick Harkaway’s new novel Angelmaker comes out in the U.K. today but it’s not available in the U.S. until March 20. And if you go to Amazon.UK, which so many of us learned to do when those first Harry Potter books came out, you can’t order the Kindle version from the U.S. (at least I can’t, with my resident internet genius out of town for the weekend).

There are no borders in cyberspace—except the artificial ones that people string up, hoping to make more money. And from what he says on his blog about the preview of Angelmaker, only available in the UK, I’m pretty sure it’s not the author trying to make that extra bit.

Here’s a “book trailer” for Angelmaker. If you haven’t already read The Gone-Away World, you have time to do that before the new novel comes out. But you don’t have to–The Gone-Away World has an ending, at no additional price.

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28 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2012 9:34 am

    This bugs me too. Luckily I was warned about Blackout, so although I’ve owned it since I won it in a giveaway in July, I refuse to start it without having All Clear at hand (I finally got it for Christmas, so now I can read both). And digital rights are just a nightmare :\

    • February 2, 2012 10:49 am

      I’m glad you were warned about Blackout. I’m spreading the warning further, I hope. The good news is that the public library has All Clear, and I’m going to get it today.

  2. February 2, 2012 9:41 am

    It’s amusing to tell young people today (as I sit in my chair and wave my cane) that once upon a time you had to wait YEARS to find out what happened in the next Harry Potter book.

  3. freshhell permalink
    February 2, 2012 9:58 am

    I don’t understand why a publisher would even publish half a book. And I don’t buy the argument that it would guarantee sales of the second one because plenty of authors can write a good, complete novel and then follow up with a good, complete sequel. Stupid.

    • February 2, 2012 10:47 am

      Someone could at least put on the cover that it’s the first of a series.

      • February 19, 2012 1:48 pm

        I saw Connie Willis at an event at the Poisoned Pen bookstore here in Phoenix last year, and she explained it thus: she handed in the book after almost 10 years of research and writing, the publisher laughed and said they couldn’t do it as one volume, she said “that’s your problem,” and this was the solution the publisher came up with. I can see how they wouldn’t want to flood the marketplace with 2 hardcovers simultaneously by one author and how that would confuse buyers, and that they might want to build a little buzzy anticipation. But I also recall that when Naomi Novik was first published the publishers put out the first volumes of her series simultaneously knowing that it would satisfy the readers and still allow the series to have legs. But that was an unknown author, published in paperback, and while the first 3 books tie things up nicely there was still room for the series to grow.

        • February 19, 2012 2:43 pm

          So it’s the publisher’s fault (start the chorus of the “So it’s his fault” song from Into the Woods)

  4. February 2, 2012 10:39 am

    I can’t speak to the thinking behind Blackout – it sounds weird, although maybe it’s supposed to be a cliffhanger – but with Angelmaker, the original idea was to have simultaneous launches in UK and US, but they drifted apart over time. It wasn’t about making extra money for either side, so far as I know. The US edition might benefit from the UK buzz (which, to my delight, there does seem to be about the book), but equally it might lose out because people will just get the UK edition shipped over – something which happened with the Stieg Larsons in particular, I gather.

    The drift happened slowly. Slightly different ways of doing things required slightly different amounts of time; differences in the cultural calendar of UK and US are perceived as requiring slightly different commercial schedules and so on. I don’t say it’s a good thing – I was the one who pushed for a simultaneous release – but it was weirdly inevitable, like icebergs calving.

    Edie Investigates (the short story/prologue), by contrast, is a deliberate temptation. It has a complete storyline, but the end result of that storyline leads into the opening of Angelmaker. I actually wanted to put it out free, but both US and UK teams were unhappy with that, and as with the timing of the main book, there comes a moment when you have to bow to the knowledge of your publisher. I definitely do not know the best way to make Amazon sales rankings work for me, to persuade reviewers and bloggers and readers that a given piece of writing is worth taking seriously, and so on. If you take a look at the cover art for both editions, at the luscious trailer the UK has put out, and the stuff the Knopf team will be putting out in the runup to publication in March, you’ll understand what I mean: it’s just really well done, and there’s no way I have the skill with design and so on to produce something like that. In the same way, I know the sales team and so on know their stuff better than I do. If they say “we have to hold off because it’s weasel season in Nebraska”, I have to nod and say I recognise the importance of that. Even if I don’t yet understand why it’s important. I’m a babe in arms in publishing terms.

    Once again, EI was initially going to release at the same time in the US and UK. That would have meant a longer gap for US readers between EI and Angelmaker – but more importantly, there were design issues with the main book and the short which Knopf wanted to nail before they released, so they let Edie Investigates slip to February 14th.

    Whatever else, international publishing is not nimble; fitting the pieces of a book together is like parking a ULCC oil tanker. It drives me nuts, but it does also do things which I love, like the art for the books, and the trailer. And the editing, without which I would look like a jackass.

    I guess what I’m saying is that this is much less a cold strategy of profit, and much more like baking sourdough: it’s messy, organic, and it tends to take over your kitchen and slop onto your shoes. But somehow at the far end you get something which delights the senses.

    I hope.

    But yes: next time, I will be banging the drum for even closer co-ordination of the launches, because I know how irksome the wait can be. (And of course, it makes me crazy too, because I really want everyone to be reading the book…:)

    Cheers,

    NH

    • February 2, 2012 10:46 am

      Thank you. That is every bit as satisfying an explanation of why this stuff happens as the explanation my technical genius gave me in the 1980s when my computer didn’t work: now when my computer doesn’t work, I just recite “sunspots” to myself. And from this day forth, when I’m irritated because I can’t get a book and it’s already out in another country, I will recite to myself “it’s weasel season in Nebraska.”
      (I’m not being sarcastic; sometimes I need a way to remind myself that life–and publishing–is less unfair than complicated.)

  5. February 2, 2012 12:29 pm

    Oh, I hate cliffhanger endings like that! This is one of the reasons why George R. R. Martin has really frustrated me because he takes like, seven years to write his books and I just can’t go back and reread so many books before the next one comes out, so I really struggle to connect all the dots in continuing the series. I’m just not getting the same pleasure from it that I did in the earlier volumes. I can see the same frustration stemming from Willis!

    I have only read one Willis book, but I loved it and also want to read more- maybe I’ll start with Doomsday Book, though!

    • February 2, 2012 4:52 pm

      Nobody doesn’t like the Domesday Book, as far as I’ve heard. (To paraphrase an old Sara Lee ad.)
      I stopped about halfway through the first G.R.R. Martin book. If he finishes the series, I might have another go at it sometime, but I’m mostly over reading a series that the writer is still churning out. I’m old enough that I did that with Dune when Frank Herbert was still alive.

      • February 6, 2012 11:10 pm

        I don’t like the Domesday Book.

        Your old Sara Lee ad made me think of a song on my childhood Sesame Street record: Everyone Loves Ice Cream. Only, the last refrain of the happy puppets singing about the universality of ice cream love gets interrupted by the voice of a puppet child explaining they don’t like ice cream, so they change it to “almost everyone.”

        • February 7, 2012 8:25 am

          It’s less universally liked than I thought, huh? Ever seen the Monty Python movie where the crowd recites “we are all individuals” in unison and then one guy says, “wait, I don’t think I am”?

  6. February 2, 2012 2:08 pm

    Irksome is a great word. I learned a lot here today. (I usually learn a lot here, any day.)

    • February 2, 2012 4:53 pm

      It is a great word. See, Nick’s a great writer! And thank you. For a would-be professor, that’s highest praise.

  7. February 2, 2012 2:44 pm

    Nick, you just made a fan and I have no clue what your book is about, except that I doubt it’s in my favorite genre, Rock Fiction. Who cares. You’re a cool dude, and you get how important it is to mention weasels in a comment on a cool blog.

    • February 2, 2012 4:55 pm

      Susan, I can see you liking Nick’s first novel. It has all sorts of amusing parts–of which his comment mentioning weasels is the palest reflection.

  8. February 2, 2012 6:41 pm

    IIRC, Jenny felt the same way as you about Blackout, but lucky for you All Clear has been published. Jenny was annoyed that she read Blackout, not knowing it ended as it did, and then had to wait.

    Alas, I’ve only managed to read To Say Nothing from the Dog by Willis, but I loved it and intend to try Doomsday Book next (although I do know at least a couple of people who disliked it).

    • February 2, 2012 8:46 pm

      It is annoying to get to what you think is the end and not get an ending! I thought I was going to get it at the library today, but my public library is being renovated and they can’t find it yet. I’m just going to sit here tapping my foot.

  9. February 2, 2012 7:47 pm

    Thankfully, I saw in some early reviews that Blackout was part one of two parts so I waited to read it until All Clear was out. Now I suppose I should get around to that some day…
    I’m just pleased to learn that Angelmaker exists and will be available at some point. Need it be said that I’m already hopelessly behind on reading.

    • February 2, 2012 8:50 pm

      March 20 is the date of Angelmaker’s US release. With any luck, my Amazon UK order will get here before then or Knopf will decide to send me an advance copy. I know the author was kind enough to put me on their list for an advance, but whether they care about blog publicity is unknown.

  10. February 2, 2012 8:00 pm

    Yup … the same thing happened to me. And it was super annoying because it was like 600 pages long!!! It does wrap up in All Clear, which really should have named Blackout 2.

  11. February 2, 2012 8:52 pm

    Yes, the initial investment better turn out to have been worth it! My mild interest in what happens to these characters could easily be quashed.

  12. February 4, 2012 10:08 pm

    I really want to read Blackout, but I figure I want to own it because it is so long and then I will want the second book, so maybe later this year I will treat myself…

    • February 6, 2012 8:27 am

      So far, as I said, I’m only mildly interested. The library still hasn’t found the second book for me, and if it doesn’t happen soon, I may forget about it.

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