Stop It Already! Cyberwar will hurt US #pauto #stuxnet #cyberwar

About a year ago, in the cybersecurity community, and in the pages of Control and, we started talking about the very real possibility that the United States, with help from Israel, had originated Stuxnet, the first virus to attack automation and control systems directly to cause harm. I wrote about in in an editorial in Control magazine last December:

Now, the New York Times has run a story that puts more facts behind the apparently very real story that the US Government was behind Stuxnet (and probably DuKu and the recent Flame virus as well), not a possibility, a fact. Called Operation Olympic Games, according to the story ( the project was started by the Bush Administration and continued and directed personally by President Obama.

This jives well with the timetable I'd put together. See, the real victims here are the Iranians, and also Siemens.

You see, Siemens innocently brought the S7 controller product and the PCS7 control system to the Idaho National Laboratory, because INL was offering red team testing of controllers, PLCs and control systems. Siemens actually paid INL to determine the vulnerabilities of their control system. Several of those vulnerabilities were the main exploits of Stuxnet.

It was obvious at that time that the US Government had had at least a hand in writing the virus.

I point blank asked Marty Edwards, at the time a project manager at INL, "Did INL write Stuxnet?" He replied, "INL did not write Stuxnet. I give you my word."

I have known Marty a long time, and I believed him then, and I believe him now. Of course, what he didn't say, and what is blindingly obvious now, is that INL gave their test results to the NSA, who DID write the virus. Marty, incidentally, is now deputy director for cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security.

I posted yesterday ( a blog post on my professional blog, Soundoff!, concentrating on the automation and control consequences of this. I've dealt with the technical issues in that blog post.

What I want to do here is to talk about the issue I raised in my December editorial...the continuation of the 19th century concept of Manifest Destiny in American foreign policy.

We keep doing incredibly bad things, and we wonder why the rest of the world hates us, because, after all, we're the good guys.

We've attacked the Venezuelan banking system. Hugo Chavez may be a world class evil butthead, but when he claims he is being attacked by CIA operatives, he's not paranoid.

We've attacked the Chinese economy, too. Yes, it is true they've attacked us as well, and I don't want to get into a "Well, they started it, so it's okay for us to retaliate" argument.

Recently, and I can't remember where, I saw a graphic of all the US bases within 50 miles of the Iranian border. The country is surrounded on three sides by US military presence. Obviously, the government, whether Democrat or Republican, believes that's the way to keep the Mullahs in check. But turn it around. If you are an Iranian, not a Mullah, just an ordinary Iranian citizen, how safe do you feel, knowing it would take an hour for the US to invade your country, and how pro-American could you possibly be?

I traveled in Europe during the Vietnam War, and it was expedient to not wear American clothes and if pressed, admit to being Canadian. I didn't do that, but I know people who did.

I proudly said I was an American. I am a citizen of the greatest country on earth. And it really pisses me off when our leaders do not live up to our standards.

And so I am really pissed at the Bush and Obama governments for being the first country to start a hard-core cyberwar with another country. Operation Olympic Games was already going on when the Russians invaded Georgia, with a cyberattack on the Georgian internet structure as a central part of the invasion.

What's even sadder, or perhaps stupider, is that Marty Edwards and his boss Janet Napolitano, and the House and Senate cybersecurity committees, haven't legislated requirements for US industry to improve their cyber vulnerability.

Joe Weiss, who blogs for me at is one of the world's experts on cybersecurity. He has been saying for years that most of the infrastructure of the United States is incredibly vulnerable to the same kind of attacks that the US Government is now revealed to have made on Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment complex.

Much of American industry has responded by inserting their heads either in very deep holes in the ground, or in a very warm dark smelly place. NERC, the National Electric Reliability Corporation, which self-polices the grid, including the smart grid, responded by saying that because they had more than one plant, they had no cyber critical infrastructure so they didn't have to do anything.

Others have been saying that we (we're the "good guys" remember) are so far ahead in cyberwarfare that some dumb backwater country like Iran couldn't possibly attack us back. Therefore we don't have to upgrade our security in our manufacturing plants. What bullshit! Last month I published an article on Stuxnet from the Iranian point of view, and this week, the Flame virus was identified and published by the Iranian CERT (computer emergency response team). If they want to, they could retaliate every bit as strongly as we hit them in the last five or six years.

Let's hope they have more restraint than we've shown.

I personally know three ways to take down one or more of the interconnected electrical grids in North America and keep it down for more than 30 days. I will not tell you what they are.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle have described twice what the likely outcome of that might be, so I don't want to go into the gory, and I do mean gory, details. All I can say is that it is now prudent to keep a "bug-out" kit together at all times.

And for my progressive friends, historically gun control advocates, it is time to get that training on how to use weapons that you've been saying you didn't need.

The odds of us being attacked back depend at this point on how angry the Iranians actually are.

Of course, what will happen when they do attack us is we will unleash the nuclear option. Because we're the good guys, and we deserve to respond in that way. We're going to "solve the problem" (that we've been creating for ourselves since the CIA unseated the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953) by black glassing one of the oldest civilizations on the planet. What hubris!

I don't really see any way out of this, except to get off the grid and find a relatively safe place to go when everything goes to smash.

One thing is certain. Romney won't be attacking Obama on not being bloodthirsty enough.

I want to be proud of my country. We are the first to respond in disasters with relief and help. We have one of the most open immigration policies in the world (even though it could and should be more open). We are the land of opportunity, as my Nigerian neighbors continually tell me.

We were founded on a set of moral principles. We are the only nation that was actually founded on moral principles. We are unique and it saddens me when we act other than the best we can.

Some Bananaslug thoughts about women and women's rights...

This is one of those really uninviting topics that I just hate, but have to get off my chest. No matter what I say, somebody is going to not like it, and probably somebody is going to not like me. Too bad.

There's a huge uproar going on in the United States that is beginning to make me crazy. After 30 years of increased acceptance that women and men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights... there has suddenly been mounted a campaign to change that back to the way it was in the 1960s and before.

Think of it this way. This campaign would not be countenanced by anybody if you replaced the word "woman" in most of the discussion with the word "black" or used the "n-word." But examine what is going on. What would happen if somebody actually said they were going to roll back the tide of "blacks' rights" instead of rolling back "women's rights"?

With apologies to, I think it was Heinlein, there are so few people who think, think regularly, and think well and deeply that it ill behooves us to complain about the package their brains come in.

So, now we come, of course to the issue of abortion "rights." What is really going on is that the argument is not about abortion at all, regardless of what the little old Nazi in the white dress in Rome says, or all of his friends and associates in the US say.

Please understand that how I feel about abortion is really not relevant here. I'm going to tell you anyway. Like most things, it is complicated.

In 1986, my late wife Betsy conceived what was to be our first child. We knew, from the ultrasound that it was a boy, and we had already named him. His name was Trevor. Unfortunately, Betsy had a miscarriage and we lost him. She had to have a D&C to remove the fetus, and that was done at Seton Hospital (a Roman Catholic establishment) in Austin, Texas. While she was being wheeled into the operating room, an orderly leaned over and said to her, "Wow you must really know somebody. We just don't do abortions here."

Aside from the fact that I almost killed the son of a bitch, here's the interesting part of the story. According to Roman Catholic doctrine, and according to the theology of most fundamentalist Protestant sects too, the soul enters the body at conception, even when there are only two cells. Yet, when they flushed Trevor's body out of my wife's uterus, it was disposed of as hazardous medical waste, not given to us for a funeral. What does that tell you about what the Christian belief in the magical mumbo-jumbo at conception is? And you can't say they were only following the law, because they don't want to follow the law making abortion legal. They didn't ever campaign against disposing of fetuses as medical waste. So what makes it different after the baby is born?

In all human societies up to the 1960s, there was no reliable method of controlling conception. No birth control. Whether the society was a patrilinear one like Rome, or most of Europe since then, or a matrilineal one like early Ireland, the Cherokee and others, it was important to know the parentage of the baby.

This has been taken in some cultures to mean actual ownership of the womb the baby came out of, and of course, ownership of the woman surrounding that womb. Radical Islam is a good, but not the only, example of this in human culture.

If society gives a woman control over her own reproductive organs, this ownership immediately goes away.

What we have is a group of radical far-right-wing religious believers who are using "abortion kills babies" as a screen for their arrogant desire (yes there are women who have not only fallen for this, but actually aid and abet it) to own women so that they can own their wombs and be sure of the genetic inheritance of the woman's offspring.

If it was so important to Christians and Islamists that "abortion kills babies" why aren't they campaigning to bury fetuses in consecrated ground, as if they were real human beings? The answer is clear...they don't really think they are real human beings. It's just a way to gloss over what they really want.

In exactly the same way, the cry "Separate but Equal" was raised throughout the country, North and South, during the Civil Rights movement, even though everyone knew that it was kind of a code for good schools for whites, bad schools for people of color.

So when you think about the Republican and Tea Party stance (and the Taliban's and Wahabi's stance for that matter) on abortion and restricting women's reproductive health, if you agree with them, at least be honest about what it actually means.

Calling it a War on Women has opened up a whole bunch of smokescreen arguments about how much worse women have it in, oh, sub-Saharan Africa, so it can't possibly be a war. Well, it isn't a War on Women. That's correct. What it is, however, is something far worse. It is an organized attempt to enslave women by controlling their reproductive organs, cloaked in religious fervor.

Again, if you're going to support restricting abortion, restricting birth control, restricting the concept of marriage, and the whole constellation of efforts to own women and their wombs, at least be honest and say that's what you want to do.

Repeat after me: there are no such thing as women's rights. There are only human rights. Either we all have them, or we all do not.

Remember Pastor Martin Niemoeller's poem, "When they came for the Jews, I did not stand up, for I was not a Jew..."

Book Review: The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

WHY hasn't this woman won the Hugo, the Nebula, the Compton Crook, the World Fantasy and any other award we can give her? It is a crime against the SFF community that she has not. There, I got that off my chest. For once, I agree with Locus, who gave her an award last year.

Nora Jemisin is THE most original voice in Fantasy to emerge in the past five years. I include a lot of other people in that statement, and feel free to tell me I'm fulla stuff if you want.

Why is she so good?

Well, aside from the fact that her Inheritance Trilogy is deep, highly original (in other words it doesn't take place in a phony medieval europe without slops and bathrooms) and has a fascinating plot. She thinks even more deeply than Neil Gaiman has about the nature of godhead, and what it might look like to be inside the head of a god(dess).

And damn! The books are for readers, not the intelligentsia. They carry you along all the way through to the end, breathlessly.


Now we get to The Killing Moon, book one in the Dreamblood duology. Lookie, an author that can get it all said in two books, instead of three or more. Cool, neh?

The Killing Moon is even more interesting as a world building exercise than the Inheritance Trilogy. Set on the moon of a Gas Giant planet, the priest of Hananja the goddess of dreams, Inunru, discovers that some people are sensitive and can interact with each other in the land of dreams, Ina-Karekh. Highly influenced by the religion and civilization of ancient Egypt, Jemisin builds a world in which Gatherers collect the essence of dreams, the dreamblood, and give it to healers to aid healing the sick. When the Gatherers gather, they allow a person to slip away to Ina-Karekh, to die really, and the Gatherers give them a dream full of bliss to send them on their way.

Wanna live there? Probably not. The Gatherers often go mad, and become Reapers who kill indiscriminately and instead of guiding the soul (like the Egyptian Ba) to the afterworld, they destroy the soul as well as the body.

Inunru was hounded out of his homeland, and he founded a city-state called Gujaareh, full of his followers, goddess-worshippers and sensitives.

Centuries later, Jemisin's story opens with Ehiru, a Gatherer, facing a great mystery and a moral quandary that can only be dealt with if he goes against the entire priesthood of Hananja. There is a Reaper in the city, and somebody is protecting it, and using it to kill people's souls. Is the culprit the priesthood? Is it the Prince of the city? Is it a rogue Reaper?

Like her other novels, The Killing Moon
moves very swiftly. She deftly mixes spare but atmospheric description with clean, clear dialog that carries the reader to the end of the story.

The second book in the duology The Shadowed Sun will be out in June.

Go buy this book. If you haven't read any of her other novels, you must. This woman is a fantastic writer. Buy this book!

Book Review: Sarah A. Hoyt writing as Sarah Marques-- Sword and Blood...Five Stars

In a new twist on The Three Musketeers, Hoyt, writing as Sarah Marques,(from Naked Reader Press ebooks) creates a world that is creepy beyond belief. In her prequel novella, First Blood she shows us a world of the 17th century in which the human race has been probably fatally menaced by the arise of vampires. She explains that treasure hunters or some such, opened a tomb in Eastern Europe, and suddenly Europe is filled with bloodsuckers and their Judas Goat human hangers-on. In the novel, Sword and Blood she paints a blood-tinged portrait of people at their most stressed, doing what they need to do to survive, and survive honorably.
The story is dark, menacing, and essentially heroic-- in keeping with Hoyt's newly proclaimed "Human Wave" in Science Fiction. Her musketeers, and young D'Artagnan (whose parents have been killed and sucked dry by vampires and who stood outside in the sunlight so they would be utterly destroyed), fight what seems to be a losing fight against incredible, insurmountable odds. To give you more of the plot would make my electronic snerk collar start to choke go buy the books-- the novella, First Blood as well as the novel Sword and Blood. I give this series five stars already.

Book Review: the Nocturnal World of Amanda S. Green-- Four Stars

Amanda S. Green, editor of Naked Reader Press is also the author of a series of paranormal mysteries she calls the Nocturnal Lives series, and, of course, published by Naked Reader Press.

There are now two novels and a novella in the series, and I’ve just finished reading all three. I’d read the first one, Nocturnal Origins, when it was originally released, so I re-read it and followed it with the other two, Nocturnal Serenade and the novella, Nocturnal Haunts.

Green does a pretty good job of worldbuilding—there aren’t a lot of differences in her Dallas from ours. Except of course for the fact that there are shapeshifters in her Dallas. In fact, there are not one but two kinds: the “pure” who are genetically shapeshifters who inherit their ability, and “weres” who are made shapeshifters, usually wolves, by infection. Needless to say, the “pure” and the “were” do not play well together.

Into this mess steps Mackenzie Santos, a career detective with the Dallas Police Department, who has no idea what’s going on. Investigating a strange homicide, she is attacked and bitten by what appears to be a wolf or a large dog, and killed. Or so everyone thinks. But later, at the morgue she sits up on the gurney and scares the medical examiner half or three quarters to death.

Strange things begin to happen to Santos. She has weird dreams. She finds herself in places she didn’t remember going, and in many cases is naked. Eventually it begins to dawn on her that she is a shapeshifter, and she can become a jaguar (the beast, not the car).

Santos has no idea why this is happening, but her Captain and other members of DPD do know. They are hidden shapeshifters belonging to something called “the pride.”

Santos is amazing at how well she adapts to being a large cat part of the time, and at the end of Nocturnal Origins, she takes on the big baddie were in “the Circle” and wipes the floor with him, killing him and ending his conspiracy to take over the Dallas area were pack.

In Nocturnal Serenade, things become much clearer. The Pride has as much DNA capability as the CSI lab—for a very good reason.. they ARE the CSI lab. They discover that Santos belongs to an old bloodline of “pures” and that explains who she is, even though she didn’t know what she was. Apparently, when the were bit her, instead of infecting her, it turned on the existing shapeshifter genes. Also in Nocturnal Serenade, we meet her mother, from whom she is estranged and her grandmother, from whom she is not. Her mother, not a shifter, has worked very hard to keep her children (Mackensie and her younger twin half-siblings) from knowing about the family “curse.” The grandmother, of course, is a powerful shapeshifter and formerly one of the members of the Conclave…the organization that rules the pures and the weres.

The big issue for both is that human gene therapy and DNA sequencing technology is becoming quickly good enough for the normal humans to accidentally find out about the shapeshifters in their midst.

Of course, since this is a paranormal romance, there is the obligatory love interest for Mackenzie—Jackson Caine, the pride’s “second” or assistant leader.

This becomes a little bit of a readers’ trance issue with the novella, Nocturnal Haunts, because Jackson Caine does not appear in it. After the first two books, and the fact that Nocturnal Haunts is long enough to be a novel, not a novella, I found that a little like a continuity break in a long running TV show story arc.

Green is self-admittedly one of the leaders of the indie movement in self-publishing, and for the most part, the three books look pretty professional. The copy editing is rather poor, with lots of typographical errors that should have been caught, but frankly I’ve seen worse in mainstream publishers’ releases. The story editing is good, and the books are enjoyable and interesting and exciting. It isn’t hard to achieve a willing suspension of disbelief and follow the story line, however implausible on the surface, because Green is a good enough writer, a craftsperson, to be able to sell it to us.

How do I rate the "Nocturnal Lives series"? I give it four stars. Get these stories on your Kindle or Nook and you won’t be disappointed.

I am truly sorry Rick Santorum has dropped out-- Some Bananaslug thoughts...

Now before anyone decides that I've gone completely off the rails, I want to be clear that I am not/was not a Santorum supporter. That would be the furthest from the truth.

Indeed, I thought and still think that he is a complete and utter idiot. His grasp of history and the underpinnings of our society are less than adequate, and his ability to picture the scope of events is unparalleledly nonexistent.

And therein lies the reason for this post.

If Santorum had won the nomination, he would have been far easier to defeat in November than Mitt Romney. Every time Santorum opened his mouth, he shoved his foot into it harder and deeper. He reminded me of "The Igli," a character Robert A. Heinlein wrote in Glory Road who had both of his feet fed to him until he disappeared.

Now it is obvious that barring assassination or being caught in a compromising situation with a young child, Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican presidential nominee.

That's scary.


It is scary because, unlike Gingrich, Santorum, Perry, et al., Romney appears as if he will run to the right, but govern to the center. He seems to have done that to some extent in Massachusetts as Governor. The difference, of course, was that the Massachusetts Legislature is and was Democrat controlled, and he needed to govern at least to the center if he wanted to get anything done.

In most scenarios, a Romney win will be accompanied by a Republican takeover of the Senate, and maintaining control of the House. Most of the newly elected, in both the Senate and the House, will be of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party. In order to get along with "his own" party, Romney will have to govern even more to the right than he will have to run.

So we will have a right wing President, and a right wing controlled Congress.

Romney, if elected, will have the opportunity to appoint at least two Supreme Court Justices, thus giving the right wing control of the judiciary for the next 30 years or more. Considering the expected makeup of Congress should he win, the appointees will be further to the right than if he was facing confirmation of those nominees in a Democrat-controlled Senate.

And given the likelihood that the Supremes will strike down the Affordable Health Care Act (I refuse to call it Obamacare) as unconstitutional on the grounds that citizens cannot be forced to buy insurance, we will have a visitation from the Unintended Consequences Squad.

Senior Citizens Take Note

By most estimations, if the Supremes say that nobody can be forced to buy insurance, Medicare is by definition also unconstitutional, as is Social Security. Why? We are forced to buy annuities (pay into the plans) whether we want to or not. That is the same as being forced to buy health insurance BEFORE we become 65.

The thousands of elderly and soon to be elderly who are so violently opposed to the Affordable Health Care Act are going to be deeply surprised and distressed when the Republicans go right ahead with what they have been suggesting for years: the "privatization" of Social Security and Medicare...on the grounds that the enabling legislation for each is now seen to be unconstitutional.

Of course, the Unintended Consequences Squad can take joy in the huge number of class actions against the Federal Government demanding return of all the premiums paid into both plans that are certain to be filed...

Rollbacks aren't just for Wal-Mart, they are for women and minorities too

And then there is the movement to roll back equal opportunity legislation for minorities and women. Okay, in deference to several of my friends, including Sarah A. Hoyt, I won't call it "the Republican war on women." Yes, women have it far better in the United States than, oh, Somalia for instance, or Afghanistan.

So freakin' what?

The reason people come here to live and be citizens is because we strive as hard as we do to level the playing field. When you have Republican idiots like Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman saying, "Money is more important to men than it is to women," because women stay home and have kids, and the Wisconsin governor quietly repealed Wisconsin's equal pay law, and with dozens of other assaults on the rights of women and minorities, it is hard to not call it a war. Sure, nobody is shooting women or blacks or hispanics or gay people very much here, but the tide will turn, and as Pastor Niemoller famously said,

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Sure, there's some hyperbole in this post, but based on the rhetoric of the right wing that has stolen the Republican party from us centrists and made it uniquely their own, I honestly can't say I know how much hyperbole there is.

The German upper class and the middle class made the fatal mistake of thinking they could "do business with Hitler," because he seemed to them so reasonable. I am NOT equating Mitt Romney with Hitler (Mussolini, maybe) but what about the right wingers who follow him?

Help Kickstart Titans of Industry(tm) and support STEM and manufacturing

I've been trying to get somebody to design and build a manufacturing based board or video game that allows people to build and operate manufacturing plants for years. The only entity I know of that is doing it is Siemens, with their "Plantville(tm)" game, now in v.2.0. So I keep pushing.

It happens I know a guy who designs and builds board games. His name is Matt Duhan, and his company is Gozer Games. Today I got an email from Matt, asking me to @Kickstarter his newest game. I don't play many board games, but this one got me really excited. It is called Titans of Industry(tm), and he's using Kickstarter to fund the final development of the game.

Some of you may know what Kickstarter is, but if you don't, here's what it does. Kickstarter is one of the new crowd-sourcing funding concepts that authors, game designers, artists, and others are using to fund new projects. There are some cool projects that have been funded or are being funded by Kickstarter. It is sort of like the "storyteller's bowl" on steroids. You know, when the storyteller stops at cliffhangers until some more money rattles into the bowl sitting in front of him...

Well, I'm in. I am officially a backer of Titans of Industry(TM).

If you want to help get young people, and even adults (grin) interested in manufacturing, here's another venue. Here's Matt's blog post introducing the project:

Titans of Industry launches on Kickstarter
What if Boardwalk, Park Place, or Reading Railroad was named after you?

We all know the names of the properties of the best selling board game in the world from countless hours of rolling the dice and landing on these properties, going bankrupt or wiping our friends out. How incredible would it be to have a degree of immortality by having those properties named for you?

Gozer Games, the Chicago-based brainchild of its founder and president, Matthew Duhan, is offering just that. People who support the Kickstarter for their fourth and newest game, Titans of Industry(TM), can gain a degree of immortality by having properties in the game named after them. Kickstarter is a crowd-funding web site for creative products that Gozer Games has used to launch previous games. For a pledge of $250 or more, you get a building named after you or your company, along with a copy of Titans of Industry TM and other bonuses.

Titans of Industry(TM) is a competitive board game for gaming entrepreneurs set in the 1920s, a time of much industrial building and growth. It is what is known as a Euro-style game, which has seen a dramatic increase in popularity lately, appearing everywhere from Time and Wired magazines to popular TV shows like Big Bang Theory. In Titans of IndustryTM, players invest in building factories and businesses, in order to produce goods and sell them to gain victory points. It is a delicate balance of money, production, and goals. The person who best manages their buildings and goals will win.

You can find the Kickstarter page for Titans of Industry(TM) at

A Bananaslug's Thoughts on Writing

There has been a lot of discussion on the Interwebs the last year or so, due to the explosion of eBook venues and the ease with which aspiring authors can publish their own material, instead of trying to go through the "traditional publishing process."

Traditional Publishing Wasn't Very Good, You Know?
Traditional publishing, that is, author -->agent--> publisher-->wholesaler -->retail bookseller, worked as long as the ticket of entry was high. That is, it cost a whacking great lot of money to edit a book, copy edit the book, edit the galleys, have it printed and bound, warehouse it and ship it to distributors and booksellers. So, traditional publishers (and to a very great extent, agents) became the de-facto gatekeepers between aspiring authors and their audiences. But because of costs, manpower, and scheduling issues, publishers could not publish anywhere near the number of high-quality publishable manuscripts they received every year. We know this from the numerous tales of Pulitzer-quality manuscripts bouncing from agent to agent to publisher to publisher maybe as many as 17 or 18 times or more before somebody bought it and brought it to print. We know this because of the number of mid list writers (good, workmanlike authors who'd been published before) being dropped from traditional publishing houses and agents because their books didn't sell enough.

So it isn't an issue of not enough quality. What it is about is limited bandwidth, and a perceived limited market. We know now that that perception was wrong. eBook sales have shown that the market for books is vastly higher than the Big Five or Big Six publishers thought it was.

The question, now, is what does an author get from his agent and publisher that he/she cannot get elsewhere?

The answer from agents and publishers is, of course, self-serving. You get a gatekeeper against crap. You get an editor who knows what he or she is doing. You get a copy-editor same-same. You get good cover art, a distribution system with sales people and promotion and marketing people. You get good royalties, and you don't have to do anything but write your next book.

Nyaaaaaah! Anything you can do I can do better!

With the advent of freelance editors and copy editors, graphic artists and print on demand, most of the "advantages" of traditional publishers go away. And for a mid list author or a new author in most cases, the sales people and promotion and marketing people slip away as though a morning mist.

What mid list and newbie writers have known for years is that if they want to have a successful book they have to promote it and market it, and in many cases, sell it themselves. I am NOT talking about the so-called vanity press publishers. I am talking about the large publishing houses like Simon and Schuster, Scribners, and so forth. Most publishers will tell you that they think they lose money on a writer's first book. Maybe. With their overhead, it is more than possible.

So, mid list and new authors have known for years that if you want it done, you better do it yourself. So what is the difference between that and self-publishing? The stigma?

Well, the stigma surely exists, but it is fading fast under the impact of the people who have self-published, made money and then gotten a traditional book deal, or kept on self publishing.

And it is fading under the impact of reduced costs to take a book to press. One popular new publishing methodology is to produce an ebook, a video trailer for the ebook, and then as demand grows, a print on demand paper version...which comes directly from the ebook files and doesn't cost extra, except for the printing.

So, it is not about how to take a book to market anymore-- literally anyone can do it. It is, rather, about whether the book is ready to go to market...and therein lies the rub.

The Importance of Being Good

Recently I was asked to review a manuscript and give an opinion. It wasn't either science fiction or fantasy, it was a romance the author claimed as a geopolitical thriller. The author wanted an introduction to an agent or two, if I could do that.

Unfortunately, the book wasn't, in my opinion, ready. Like many self-ePublished books (I know, I know, she didn't epublish it) it had many of what I call newbie mistakes that would keep it from being picked up by a traditional publisher.

When Eric Flint got the contract for the first Ring of Fire anthology, he decided to open some of the slots to people who hadn't necessarily been published before. He asked me to write something. I did. He called me up and asked me, "How big is your ego?" He swears this never happened. But it did. I told him I didn't have one as far as writing is concerned. "That's good," he said, "because I'm going to buy your story, but it is crap and it needs a lot of work." What he was explaining is that there is a difference between a good story and a publishable story. Over the next couple of weeks, and in public on Baen's Bar, he used my story as a teaching tool about how to make something publishable.

Some of the newbie mistakes I see a lot in self-published ebooks:

o Too much description
o Stilted dialog
o Staff-meetings
o "AsyouknowBob"
o unnecessary POV shifts

All of these things are common mistakes that can be corrected almost always just by bringing the writer's attention to them. This is what beta readers, and a freelance editor can do. And not very expensively, either.

It doesn't take much to "typeset" an eBook. You can do it yourself, or spend a couple hundred dollars having somebody do it for you, in multiple formats. You can have a cover designed for a hundred or so dollars, if you're careful. You aren't going to get Dave Mattingly or John Jude Palencar, or somebody like that, but you certainly can get somebody decent.

The rest of it is mechanics. Getting it up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony and Apple bookstores, and offering a print-on-demand version...

That takes care of distribution, too, basically. Where do you think the Ingrams and Baker and Taylors distribute their books to? That's right. And maybe Wallyworld and Target and those few supermarkets that still have book won't see that, as a self-published author, unless your book really takes off. But there's plenty of distribution without.

So what's left that an agent or publisher can do, that you can't do? Publicity and Marketing!

You can't do that? Of course you can. It takes time, and it takes money. But the principles are simple. In fact, Mary Robinette is doing a great example right now. Yes, Tor is paying for it, but the example works for indies and self-publishers. She is moving from Oregon to Chicago, so she set up an ad-hoc whistle stop tour. She is asking her friends and readers to find bookstores along the way where she can do a signing, get them to order books, and schedule the signing. You can do this too.

That's just one example of how to market your own book. I have more, but this is getting way too long already.

Where did liberty come from?

I went to the Field Museum of Natural History today, to see the Genghis Khan exhibit. It is, of course, much more than an exhibit about history's greatest conquering general and one of the greatest rulers of all time.

A contemporary portrait of Genghis Khan

Individually I knew all these things...but one of the exhibits had a list of concepts and ideas that were introduced during or just after the Great Khan's life:

--religious toleration and religious freedom
--postal/pony express service
--broad-based representative democracy (Yes. It wasn't only the Romans and Greeks!)
--regulated money supply
-- meritocracy for promotion in the army and civil service
--modern mobile warfare strategy and tactics

Lots of these things we think of as "Western" accomplishments, when, in fact they came to us through the Mongol domination of the Silk Road in the 13th and 14th centuries. It wasn't just silk and spaghetti.

About saving the world...

As many of you know, in my day job, I am the Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning B2B magazine and website I wrote in my Aapril editorial about what I call "The League of Competent People" -- who I described as the "Sons of Martha" after Rudyard Kipling's poem. You can read the editorial on when the April issue is posted, or you can read another version of it on

Here we are all Sons of Martha...the quietly competent people who make the world work. We aren't financiers or big bankers, or big politicians...they are in a way, parasites on the world and the culture that we Sons Of Martha keep trying to maintain and grow. We are the ones that, when we finally become enraged, take steps to finish the argument permanently.

Sarah A. Hoyt blogged about the end of the world, and said she hoped we could survive the current maelstrom of concurrent social, political and technological change without the bloodshed the Industrial Revolution caused...but that she didn't think it was going to be likely.

Unfortunately, I find myself agreeing with her. We have become as polarized politically and socially as we were in 1860, and look what happened. I profoundly hope we aren't facing a bloody revolution, but we may well be. And we should remember that revolutions always eat their young.

It is up to us, the Sons of Martha, to see to it that as many of us globally as possible survive to help us rebuild the world. I posted earlier about my being without a party. Maybe those who mostly agree with me will join together to help. In my editorial, I noted that we needed to save the world one bit at a time.

So when do we start?