The Day After The Book Bomb Dropped

I plunked down $2.99 for Tom Kratman’s novella “Big Boys Don’t Cry” during yesterday’s ”book bomb” pushing novellas on the Sad Puppies slate, because I just can’t stand on the sidewalk when the parade goes by. Sometimes this leads to good things. I bought Redshirts a couple years ago because of the social media campaign and it turned out to be pretty good. Can lightning strike twice?

Maggie, the protagonist of “Big Boys Don’t Cry,” is a Ratha — a sentient armored weapons platform, the human race’s ultimate ground combat unit. Spoiler warning: She’s not a boy. And apparently she can cry.

As a big fan of Keith Laumer’s original Bolo stories, as well as Elizabeth Bear’s 2008 Hugo-winning ”Tideline”, I find Kratman’s variation compelling because he asks important questions about intelligent, self-aware tanks the earlier classics never investigated.

Like: Why do artificial intelligences subject themselves to human command? Why do they sacrifice themselves for human interests?

This is something Iain Banks answered minimally about the Culture’s intelligent ships. His answer seemed to be – well, you just program them to. Kratman feels the question deserves to be addressed in far more horrifying detail.

And the horror of Kratman’s explanation is convincing for as long as you’re reading. (Somewhat the same way I believe in Ann Leckie’s ancillaries til I close the book.) Only afterwards did I wonder about Ratha training – would any culture deliberately choose such a crude process, or is the author being satirical? Quite possibly the latter, for Kratman calls the whole story a “deconstruction of that liberal meme on the easy, certain, and reliable programming of altruism in sentient beings.”

Yes, he’s more than a little contemptuous of these fictional forerunners. Even in choosing his title, “Big Boys Don’t Cry.” Do you remember the first line of Bear’s “Tideline”?

Chalcedony wasn’t built for crying. She didn’t have it in her, not unless her tears were cold tapered-glass droplets annealed by the inferno heat that had crippled her.

Well, Kratman’s Maggie – short for Magnolia – may be fearless but she is not unfeeling, as he shows with a mosaic of combat action scenes that begin with her last mission and, once she’s consigned to salvage, move through progressively earlier memories.

My lone complaint about the story is that after beginning with a splendid action scene, Kratman brings everything to an ass-grinding halt to deliver an Encyclopedia Galactica-type info dump.

Then he does it a second time.

Who started this trope anyway? I know Asimov used it in Foundation. Plenty of pulp writers have done it. But, jeepers, is it hard to tolerate, especially when we don’t need the info Kratman is dumping. Which isn’t to say it was uninteresting, it’s just not doing work, and it interrupts the entertainment something fierce.

Fortunately, he soon abandons that pattern and lets the reader enjoy the things he does best. Describing combat. Illustrating the warrior’s psychology. Casting aspersions on bureaucrats. And proving how dangerous it is to abuse the loyalty of a veteran soldier.

59 thoughts on “The Day After The Book Bomb Dropped

  1. Thanks for explaining what “swatting” is.

    That’s not what swatting is, Andrew. Swatting is when you call 911 and tell them there is something that requires the immediate intervention of a SWAT team.

    What I did, and the reason the police have been in contact with you, is “file a criminal complaint”. You have been in repeated violation of the Massachusetts cyberstalking statutes, and you know perfectly well that it has been recommended to your guardians that you not be permitted Internet access.

    If you keep attempting to harm my business through malicious libel you know to be false, there is a non-zero chance I’ll own your mother’s house in a few years.

  2. Just because you filed a complaint doesn’t mean I’ve actually done anything criminal.
    Spoiler alert: nothing I said is criminal.

    And if your business is harmed, it will be your words that harm it, not mine.

  3. And if your business is harmed, it will be your words that harm it, not mine.

    That’s not how it works, Andrew. If my business is harmed, and you are found to have maliciously and knowingly lied about it with the intention to do so, you can be held responsible. The same thing goes for my reputation.

    If you actually believed that my own words harmed my reputation, you’d simply shut up, sit back, and wait for it to happen. But you don’t believe that, so you run around posting comments everywhere that won’t ban you knowingly telling lies about me.

    That is actionable. And if you won’t stop, then sooner or later, I’m going to be coming after you. I warned you about the police, you didn’t listen, and then you were dragged down to the station. I’m warning you now to stop telling lies about me or you’re going to be facing civil lawsuits that will bankrupt your family even before you lose. And lose you will, because I now have a very large database of your comments on dozens of different sites as well as the public police records.

    I’m giving you fair warning, Andrew. How many billable hours can your family afford, Andrew? Go ask your mother about the size of your battle chest. In what scenario do you come out ahead? Even if you don’t have to pay me damages, you will still have to pay your lawyers.

    Remember, me and my boys beat GT Interactive and their high-priced Manhattan hotshots. They ended up writing us a check that was bigger than the price of your mother’s house. You think we can’t beat you?

  4. Cat said: “By timing everyone’s purchases to happen in the same day they artificially push a story farther up that ladder than it would have earned on its own.

    and: “Either bestseller lists *are* a measure of quality, or they aren’t. If they are, then artificially altering a story’s place in them either shouldn’t be possible at all, or at least is something honest people just don’t do.

    Do you similarly complain when Hollywood “artificially” times the release of a movie to not coincide with the release of a gonna-be-blockbuster, in order to push their opening box office numbers higher onto the (presumably) “bestseller/must-see” list?

    I see no functional difference between that and a book bombing, as they both seek to minimize the signal-to-noise ratio. As Ravenshrike noted above, it’s about exposure. And a book bombing is about getting as much exposure as it can, just as a studio optimizing the opening release date seeks to do.

  5. WaterBoy: While your comparison with Hollywood timing of movie releases is probably right for those whose purchases (of books or movie tickets) are influenced by seeing what the herd has bought ahead of them, the book bomb process has the even cannier result of actually generating income for writers as participants carry it out, while the studio’s decision is only made in hope of maximizing a film’s revenue, and may or may not work.

  6. Mike Glyer said: “the book bomb process has the even cannier result of actually generating income for writers as participants carry it out

    I would argue that the movie release timing also incorporates both effects (exposure and income-generation) in one action. That is its primary purpose: the one feeds the other (greater opening weekend revenue => greater recognition => more revenue => even more recognition……).

    If you think that income-generation for the listed authors is also a goal of this book-bombing, that only serves to reinforce the analogy. However, I think that revenue enhancement is not the primary intent of the book bomb, but is rather more of a secondary effect.

  7. “Top bad example I recall was Jackqueline Susanne whose book VALLEY OF THE DOLLS was given best seller status by people buying the book at the target stores back in the mid 1960’s.”

    Oh … Susann and her husband were far more cleverer than that. They looked at how books were distributed and took advantage of a weakness in the system. For decades books and magazines were distributed through local distributors … they had a lock on everything. There was no Ingram and Baker & Taylor was pretty much just the library trade. As the sales manager of one local indie distributor said “I decide what people here read”.

    What they discovered was that by arriving at the loading docks first thing in the morning with coffee and donuts for the drivers who put the books in the newstand racks, the drugstore racks, the airport newstand racks … those drivers remembered her and essentially made sure the books stayed and were replenished – the life of a paperback at an airport newstand can barely be measured in days.

    So yes, pretty much any bestseller list can be manipulated be it with coffee and donuts or having your church members go out and purchase the latest L. Ron Hubbard novel.

    A bestseller is just what the name says: it is the best selling book that week. It may be good … it may not. It’s popular for any number reasons … ideally because a lot people really like it. Anyone who has been in the book biz long enough knows that most bestsellers are ephemeral.

    Anyone avidly collecting Allen Drury??

  8. One 1960’s best seller I recently read was INTERN by Dr X. It was on the best seller lists for a while. Looking into the internet, I discovered it was Allen Nourse, sometime SF writer. Dunno if it was propped up to sell, but it seemed to be better than the average best seller, and far more interesting. Not too many books are recalled these days from the crowd on the lists.

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