Earth Inc by Michael Bollen
Well, here we are on the last day of my blog. There’s an end of term atmosphere in front of my keyboard today. I’ve been allowed to bring some games in, which is why this blog entry is later than all the others – I’ve been busy playing Ludo. The long summer holidays are stretching out in front of me, but there are a few bits of business to be dealt with first. There are some unanswered questions and topics from your comments which need to be seen to, so I can leave the place nice and tidy for next week’s occupant.
So, in no particular order, let’s start with a question from Ewan. Incidentally, Ewan made a very good documentary about Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World, which featured some music by my ‘band’ Cassetteboy. The documentary is called Brand New World, and it has a website here:
By a staggering coincidence, ‘Earth Inc’, was originally going to be called ‘Earth Inc, or Brand New World’, until I realised that having two titles is just greedy, and smacks of indecision.
Anyway, Ewan asked my why German keyboards have the letters “Y” and “Z” swapped round. Thanks for that Ewan, thanks a lot. Mind you, it is a question that has been puzzling me ever since I first heard about it, er, when I read Ewan’s comment. So here goes:
As the “Y” is traditionally in the middle of the top row, and the “Z” is tucked away down there in the bottom left hand corner, I assume that the “Y” is thought to be more important, or more frequently used. In Germany, the reverse must be true, and I think this is because of the language difference. In Britain we say “This is because”, but in German of course this translates as “Ziz iz becauze”. So the answer is, because Germans use “Z” more often. I think we can close the case on that one, although I should point out that I am basing my argument purely on the dialogue of the Nazis in ‘Allo ‘Allo. What a mistake-a to make-a.
(I’m doing my best here, I can only work with the material I’m given.)
Loz asked me if I have read Stewart Lee’s book ‘The Perfect Fool.’ No, I haven’t, but I keep meaning to. Phew, that was an easy one.
He also asked if writers don’t read other books, in case it influences their own writing. Personally I’ve always got a book on the go, but while writing Earth Inc I avoided anything from a similar genre, for that reason. The book I was reading did sometimes influence the book I was writing, but because I was reading very different types of books, hopefully that influence is hard for outsiders to spot. Unless they happen to have read the book from which I nicked the plot of Part Two…
Finally, Loz asked me if I’m the half of Cassetteboy who’s also known as Anne Frankingmachine. No, I’m the other half. (Another easy one there.)
The Mighty Mixomatosis asked where I get my crazy ideas from. Well, The Mighty, if that is your real name (I really should stop making this ‘joke’ every single time I encounter someone on the internet with a funny username, but I just can’t help myself) I don’t know. Of course you only asked that question because it’s the one that all creative types dread. But I do know where I got the very first idea for Earth Inc from.
I was reading a newspaper report about Bill Gates. I can’t quite remember it now, but it said something like if Bill Gates was a country, he’d be the seventeenth richest country in the world. It suddenly struck me that here was a man who could actually afford to be a James Bond style super villain, hollowing out a volcano to build a base, launching satellites that eat other satellites and so on. Then I realised that if Microsoft really did want to take over the world, there was a much simpler way. And that’s how the prologue to Earth Inc came about. As for the rest of it, I can’t tell you where those ideas came from, because I have yet to have the idea that explains how I have ideas.
Caroline asked why the public and publishers tend to be dismissive of sci-fi. Well firstly Caroline, I think you’re opening a can of worms by calling it sci-fi. I learnt recently that certain branches of geekdom will laugh derisively at you for using that term, when of course you should be calling it SF. (I have yet to summon the courage to ask what those letters stand for, as I’ve got a sneaking feeling that one of them stands for “sci”, while the other isn’t a million light years away from “fi”.)
Of course it’s this petty, obsessive minority who can give the whole genre a bad name. So people claim not to like any science fiction, because they don’t want to get lumped in with the people who have Star Trek weddings. (Have you done a google image search for that yet, you really should.) But obviously the vast majority of science fiction fans don’t speak Klingon and sleep alone under a Star Wars duvet, just as most Country and Western fans aren’t alcoholic hillbillies.
Yet for some reason, the stigma remains, perhaps because science fiction fans are more visible than fans of, say, detective fiction. They’re visible because they’re passionate and enthusiastic and loyal and opinionated, and it’s a shame that this is often portrayed as a bad thing.
Having said that, I’m still hoping that Earth Inc will crossover out of the sci-fi genre, because the focus of the book is not on the science, it’s on the jokes. The science in Earth Inc is no more rigorous or realistic than the science in the old joke “What do you get if you cross an elephant with a kangaroo?”
I don’t read much science fiction myself these days, but for me it’s still the best genre for looking at ideas, because you can create a whole world that is specifically designed to highlight certain concepts or positions. This of course makes it perfect for satire as well. Also, I like it because it’s got robots in.
Matt asked if I remember when we made some pies, yes Matt I do.
I think that’s going to have to do for now. Ewan also wanted me to talk about tandems, and I still haven’t covered alternative energy, as requested by Steve back on day 2. Maybe next time.
I’m going to end on a serious note. (‘What?’ you cry, ‘the rest of this rubbish was supposed to be funny?’)
Having had experience of independent record labels with Cassetteboy, it was quite a shock to realise just how much more difficult things are for independent publishers. Although, if you think about it for a moment, it’s really quite obvious.
Think about the town where you live, and how many independent record shops there are. There will be less than there were, but there will still be one or two. They may close down quite often, but new ones always come along. Now think about how many independent book shops there are, and the last time a new one of those opened.
Think about the last ‘lifestyle’ magazine you read, and how much space was devoted to music as opposed to books. It’s not as if less books are being published, it’s just harder to tell people about them.
And lastly, the way people buy music is very different to the way people buy books. People go to record shops looking for a specific album. But most books are bought by people who just want ‘a book’. They’re going on holiday, or have a long train journey, and they just want something to read. This doesn’t happen in record shops. People don’t log onto i-tunes because they just want some sound coming out of their speakers.
This means that almost all the books sold in this country are taken from the tables near the entrance in Borders and Waterstones. People only venture into the rest of the store if they are looking for something specific, and as books don’t get talked about that much, that’s quite unlikely. Unfortunately, the big publishers have the table space totally sewn up, so the only way Earth Inc is going to get on the tables is if I single-handedly go round to every store and put it there myself.
So if you’ve enjoyed Earth Inc, or any other Picnic book, please recommend it to your friends (or better yet, buy it for them). We’re relying on word of mouth here (and that’s your mouth I’m talking about). On the other hand, if you haven’t enjoyed Earth Inc, why not recommend it to your enemies?
Thanks a lot, you’ve been a wonderful audience, stick around for Caroline next week, my name’s Michael Bollen, goodnight.
(By the way, in case you were wondering, the answer is “Big holes all over Australia.”)