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Astrolabe 19: Why you need to pre-order this issue, FFVI for people with jobs, and Austin Channing Brown's quest to prove she's still here

Join 'round this soapbox, fellow villagers, for Astrolabe's very first guest editorial is here! This issue, I've invited Jason Sanford, whose own brilliant newsletter, Genre Grapevine, is a finalist for this year's Hugo Awards, to write a guest editorial. Jason's got his finger on the pulse of SFF fandom, and he's going to tell us why you always see authors talking about pre-orders.



Why Pre-Orders Matter to Authors by Jason Sanford

Photo by Cederic Vandenberghe on Unsplash

My first novel Plague Birds comes out on September 21, so if you think an essay about the importance of pre-ordering books is a bit of a self-promotion, why yes, it is.

But this is also the reality I’m living right now. I’ve spent most of my life working on my writing. I’ve published short stories in a number of magazines and even won a few awards. However, Plague Birds is my first novel and, unfortunately, how the book does will be seen as a judgment on my entire career as a writer.

This isn’t my opinion. This is the opinion of all the booksellers, literary agents, publishers, and others who obsessively track book sales in today’s literary marketplace. How your first book does directly impacts an author’s ability to sell future books.

While this has always been true to a degree, an author’s sales numbers have been increasingly critical since 2001, when BookScan launched and began providing easy to access sales numbers of print books in the United States. Then Amazon came along and took the tracking of book sales to new, ever obsessive heights.

As Fonda Lee recently said in a very good tweet, it can be difficult for novels to succeed these days unless the book has a big publisher marketing campaign or the author is a celebrity. However, as Lee also pointed out, the good news is word of mouth can help an author when they don’t have the first two keys to success. This is why it’s so important to post reviews of books you love and tell others about these books.

But there’s also another thing which can help authors: pre-orders.

Pre-orders are essentially a vote of confidence in an author and their book. Amazon heavily tracks pre-order metrics and these numbers determine how many physical copies are stocked. Even Kindle pre-orders help position a book for more success. The same happens with independent booksellers.

And you better believe publishers pay attention to pre-orders.

These are tough times for authors and it’s increasingly difficult for individual books to gain attention. So if you love a particular author, definitely review and recommend their books.

But also consider pre-ordering their next book. Pre-orders show the publishing world that an author’s fans are invested in their books. And pre-orders definitely help position an author's books for success.

Pre-order Plague Birds by Jason Sanford

Jason Sanford, author of Plague Birds

Jason Sanford is an award-winning author and a full member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Born and raised in the American South, he currently lives in the Midwestern U.S. with his family. His life's adventures include work as an archaeologist and as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Out & About

(Out & About is where I highlight my work around the web—some recent and some old favourites.)

The Rise and Fall of Shannara: The Last Druid by Terry Brooks | Tor.comwww.tor.com

I've made no secret of the way Terry Brooks and his work has shaped my career as a writer. "The Rise and Fall of Shannara" is not only a review of the long-running series's final volume, but an extensive look at the series's turbulent history with several suggested jumping on points.

Shannara is one of the most prolific and longest-running continuous fantasy series ever, but the release of The Last Druid, which concludes the ominously titled Fall of Shannara series, marks its conclusion. One of the series’s defining features is that it takes place over thousands of years, switching to a new generation of heroes every few books, and Brooks, now in his mid-70s, decided it was time to wrap things up by bringing the series to a chronological conclusion. After thousands of pages, Brooks is finally pulling together his various strings into a climatic conclusion that answers many of the series’ longest standing questions.

Read "The Rise and Fall of Shannara" on Tor.com

Some more:

LTTP—Quartet (Something Classic Games)

( LTTP stands for “Late to the Party” and is a regular column where I let Twitter decide which retro game I’ll play for an hour. Do your worst, Twitter!)

This issue, Late to the Party looks to the future with a retro-inspired JRPG from Something Classic Games called Quartet. I recently spoke with the game's director Pat Holleman for a project, and I came away impressed by what he had to say about the game and the state of western indie JRPGs. (But, more on that later.)

Quartet looks to the Golden Age of JRPGs for inspiration, and the result is a snappy, nostalgic experience that still feels modern and in conversation with the past rather than shackled by it. At the game's outset, the player is provided a choice of four protagonists, each of who has their own opening chapter. These can be played in any order, and once they've all been completed, the narrative shifts to a party-based quest with all the characters united (along with four other adventurers they've met along the way—including a full-on playable HIPPOPOTAMUS named Juno). In this way, it brings to mind classics like Dragon Quest IV or Wild Arms as it weaves separate stories into one cohesive narrative quilt.

Quartet is Final Fantasy VI for people with a job,” Holleman told me when we spoke about the game. As gamers during the JRPG Golden Age, Holleman and his colleagues saw an opportunity to make games that evoke their favourites through similar storytelling techniques, combat systems, and graphics—but they also want to make games that fit into their increasingly busy lives as adults and parents. So in Quartet story quests take only 20-30 minutes, not hours, and the overall experience lasts half the length of a typical JRPG.

The demo itself takes place in the middle of the game, after the eight protagonists have met. Right off the bat, I was impressed with the game's visuals and atmosphere. Something Classic's previous game, Shadows of Adam, was a great throw-back to 16-bit generation JRPGs like Final Fantasy IV, and you can continue to see the influence that Golden Age had on Quartet. I could see the fingerprints of many of my favourite titles on the game—from Lufia 2 to Live-a-live, and of course the Final Fantasy games. The pixel art graphics are rich and full of charm, and the music evokes some of my favourite soundtracks of the era, with perhaps a touch of influence from the PlayStation-era with added complexity to the melodies.

The game really shines in its combat system. It's quick and snappy, and the turn-order (which is one of my favourite JRPG combat mechanics—hearkening back to the days of Grandia) gives you strategic control over the course of battle. Each character provides unique opportunities in and out of battle, and the unique AP system encourages the player to go full out each turn (AP is restored at the end of each turn, changing combat into a resource management tug-of-war).

Holleman tells me there will be no required grinding in the game—as long as the player follows the critical path and doesn't run from battles they'll be more than capable of progressing through the game. Playability in the age of day jobs and children is a huge priority for the Something Classic team, and it shows in the snappy pace and forgiving systems built into Quartet's narrative and gameplay.

“We all have mortgages, right?” Holleman laughed. “We’ve got 20 hours a month, or maybe even 20 hours a year, to play games. So, we want to make a game players like us can can finish.”

Quartet is currently nearing the end of its Kickstarter campaign—with stretch goals for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4/5 coming down the pipeline. I've already backed the game, and, based on the demo and Something Classic's pedigree, Quartet looks like another great addition to the modern trend of JRPGs that call back to the genre's Golden Age.

Austin Channing Brown, author of I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness

I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

Since the 2020 BLM movement, I've been making an active and sustained effort to improve my understanding of racism, anti-racism, and how I can make individual changes to play my part in creating a more equitable world.

Austin Channing Brown's I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness is a concise book bursting with voice and intelligent dissection of race relations and intersectionality—all told with Brown's trademark storytelling knack. She's able to draw on personal experience, and tie those anecdotes into larger societal narratives in a way that's effortlessly readable (or, in my case, listenable. The audiobook, narrated by Brown, is terrific.)

Of particular note to me were Brown's observations about how white organizations often fail to deliver cultural change and better equity and inclusion by hiding behind passive talks and seminars, often aimed at the bulk of lower-level employees, instead of engaging in active change from the top down. It's a brilliant book, and Brown covers a breathtaking amount of ground within its short page count.

Quest Markers

(Quest Markers is a collection of the coolest stuff I’ve read around the web lately.)

Canon, fanon, shipping and more: a glossary of the tricky terminology that makes up fan culture - Voxwww.vox.com You/this fandom vocab guide = OTP.

On Orientalism and Exoticism in Videogame Music | Unwinnable The insidious way that Orientalism exists in videogame music.

The amazing sea wolves of the Great Bear Rainforest | Canadian Geographicwww.canadiangeographic.ca First Nations and scientists work side by side to better understand — and protect — coastal wolves living in the Great Bear Rainforest

How Gaming Will Change Humanity as We Know It - Bloombergwww.bloomberg.com The self-contained nature of games means they are not only eroding mass culture but also making government regulation more difficult.

Tales of Arise Breathes Life Into a Previously Stale Serieswww.fanbyte.com Tales of Arise escapes the cookie cutter formula of the series and expertly weaves something fresh.

In Praise Of Movies That Just End (Because They Used To Know When To End)uproxx.com Movies used to “just end” once the lot was over, now they keep going and going, and we wanted to find out why.

What Final Fantasy VI Means To Me - Sebastian Dekenwww.youtube.com Sebastian Deken talks about his experiences with Final Fantasy VI (1994) on SNES and what the game has meant to him.Where to find Sebastian:Twitter - https:/...

Susanna Clarke: ‘Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman taught me to be courageous in writing’ | Books | The Guardian The Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell author on an underrated work by CS Lewis and the dangers of giving Richard Osman’s novels as a gift

5 Home Bases From RPGs I Wish I Could Visitwww.fanbyte.com Roleplaying games provide plenty of lavish locations for the player to explore. Here are five RPG home bases it'd be nice to visit.

When Fandoms Stop Playing Nice | Vanity Fairwww.vanityfair.com

Ratcliffe notes that devotion to fantasy is often the result of people seeking escapism. Fans may have been teased or bullied when they were younger—and it’s human nature, unfortunately, to pass hurt on to others.

The Dragonlance Books Launched My Lifelong Love of Fantasy | Tor.comwww.tor.com

Bottom 10 Game Boy Games We Want to See on the Switchwww.thegamer.com These aren't the worst games on the Game Boy, but they are the worst ones that might one day be on the Nintendo Switch.

She's breaking barriers for women in gaming. Here's how - CNN Videowww.cnn.com Art director Lisette Titre-Montgomery wants women to see themselves in the video games they play. Watch to see how she's breaking barriers in gaming.

Chasing the Anti-Colonial Video Game – Uppercutuppercutcrit.com

“Ted Lasso” Can’t Save Us | The New Yorkerwww.newyorker.com In Season 2, our eponymous coach is withering, bucking against the themes of therapy and self-help—a welcome contrast to his belief in unabating optimism.

Saving Pop Punk? That’s Just Their Warm-Up Act. - The New York Timeswww.nytimes.com Meet Me @ the Altar want to be household names — and that’s not a crazy notion.

End Step

Um. Would you LOOK at that cover art for Jason Sanford's Plague Birds? Gorgeous. I'm a big fan of Jason's work, so I've been looking to have him guest write for Astrolabe for a while now. Let me know if you'd like to see more guest editorials in the future!


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Keep In Touch

Enjoy Astrolabe? Want more SFF and retro gaming goodies? You can find me on Twitter and my website.


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