What “A Theory of Justice” needs is a little “Slaves of the Volcano God”

I am following through on my resolution to read John Rawls’s magisterial A Theory of Justice.  But I’ve gotta say that it doesn’t have a lot of laughs.  Approximately zero laughs so far.  Nowhere near as many, in other words, as you’ll find in my friend Craig Shaw Gardner’s Slaves of the Volcano God.  I’m even using my valuable Slaves of the Volcano God bookmark to mark my place in A Theory of Justice, in hopes that some of Gardner’s humor will rub off.  No such luck.  (Of course, if what you’re looking for is political philosophy, I’m pretty sure you won’t find much in Slaves of the Volcano God.)


By the way, something else that could have used a few laughs is Manchester By The Sea.  Casey Affleck is good in it, I guess, but mostly what he does is mope.  Maybe he’ll get an Oscar for moping.  (His big scene with Michelle Williams, though, is epically good.)

If you’ve already read Slaves of the Volcano God and still need some laughs (don’t we all?), you should try Gardner’s new novel, Temporary Monsters

Temporary Monsters

Now that you have dutifully purchased Dover Beach at its amazingly low price of $0.99, you will want to also purchase my friend Craig Shaw Gardner’s new funny fantasy novel Temporary Monsters.  If you are wondering whether this novel is worth the $4.27 that Penguin Group (USA) LLC is charging for it, I have just three words for you: Bob the Horse.  Bob the Horse is perhaps the most irritatingly comic character ever invented.

Here is the clever cover:


Ebook Originals

It appears that major publishers are thinking about entering the world of ebook originals — books that are sold only in digital editions.

One such book that I’m aware of is The Rent Is Too Damn High by Matthew Yglesias, published by Simon & Schuster.  It’s just too short (about 64 pages) to be worth printing and distributing.  On the other hand, Sam Harris’s Free Will (which I will report on before long) is just slightly longer, and it is available as a paperback for $9.99.  Pretty expensive for the amount of content!  His essay Lying, which I talked about here, is available as a Kindle single, which is a very interesting model for making short-form content like that available. (By the way, some authors do quite well with their Kindle singles.)

I can see the attraction to publishers of putting out their authors’ shorter content as ebook originals — it makes the authors happy, keeps their names in the public’s consciousness, and eliminates most production costs.  But now my friend Craig Shaw Gardner reports that he may soon be signing a deal with Ace to write one of his trademarked funny-fantasy trilogies as ebook originals.  That’s a model I’m still puzzling over.

For the publisher, I guess the advantage is that it’s low risk.  Their costs go way down if they don’t have to print, warehouse, and ship hardcopy books.  Publishing becomes mostly a marketing effort (although they still have to create a cover and do their usual editorial work).  If the ebooks become really successful, they can always come out with a print edition.  But they’re giving up their major asset — their access to shelf space in bookstores.

For the author, I guess the advantage is that you get some money up front, and you don’t have to spend your own money on covers and other production costs.  And conceivably the publisher can do a better job of marketing your book than you can on your own (although I have my doubts).  But in return you’re giving up a large chunk of the royalties you’d get if you went the ebook self-publishing route.

Is it worth it?  Ace and Craig seem to think so.  So I wish them luck!  Also, prepare to be entertained!  I have read a chunk of the first book in manuscript, and I can say that, once you meet Bob the Horse, you will never forget him!

Why “Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies” is a better title than “Dover Beach”

I’m not the best guy to offer advice on titles, so I won’t.  Most of my titles are single-word descriptive titles: Senator is about a senator; Pontiff is about a pontiff.  Shorter is, I think, better than longer, but then again, I really like the title The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  The problem with shorter titles is that they can tend to mislead.  Pontiff is about more than a pontiff; Summit is about more than a summit.  But, when combined with the cover, they do the trick.

Titles get easier if the book is part of a series, like A is for Alibi.  Funny books should have funny titles.  The best title I’ve ever been involved with is Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies by the great Craig Shaw Gardner.  I recall a good bit of discussion about just what adjective should be applied to those bunnies.  Having arrived at fluffy, I can’t imagine what other words could possibly have been considered.

Titles serve two purposes. The obvious purpose is to make a reader want to buy the book (or read the story, or click on the blog post).  Like the cover, they’re part of the way you market the thing. Who wouldn’t want to read a book called Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies? (Well, if that’s not the kind of book you want to read, the title will do a great job of steering you away from it.)

But titles are also part of the aesthetic experience of the text, if I can get high-falutin’ for a minute.  The title Gravity’s Rainbow means nothing by itself; its significance grows out of the novel to which it’s attached.  Same with Ulysses.  Same with A Canticle for Leibowitz. You don’t come up with titles like that to sell books.  You come up with them because they grow organically out of the story you’re telling.

This brings us to Dover Beach, which is going to show up as an ebook before very long.  The title was suggested by my editor at Bantam, and I loved it.  The novel is about love and loyalty in a grim world after a limited nuclear war, and I liked the way the title brought out the connections with the themes of Matthew Arnold’s famous poem.

Which is to say, the title works really well in the “part of the aesthetic experience” department.  But Dover Beach was a mass-market science fiction paperback.  The title also needed to move product, as they say.  And that product didn’t move–at least, not compared to its predecessor Replica.  I think the title must have had something to do with it.  If the average science fiction reader read Arnold’s poem at all, it was probably because he was forced to in sophomore English class, and who wants to be reminded of sophomore English class?

For good or ill, the title is Dover Beach, and I’m sticking with it.

Here is the last stanza of “Dover Beach”, which is still moving a hundred and fifty years after first publication:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.