November 9th, 2014

Somebody Saw This Day Coming

Nate Hoffelder, of the excellent blog The Digital Reader, pointed me at this Vanity Fair article.

It’s a little incoherent, largely because it has sort of bit off a whole bunch of things at once. I have a bunch of carping little things I could complain about, but I’m going to do what Keith Gessen did not do, and focus on Publishers, Discovery, Amazon and Negotiation. They are related in a way that rarely gets talked about.

First, the disclaimer that I increasingly feel is required when I write about stuff like this, because someone is going to really complain about it otherwise: I am long AMZN and I used to work for from 1996-8.

The subtitle of the article includes this: “How did Amazon—which was once seen as the book industry’s savior—end up as Literary Enemy Number One? And how much of this fight is even about money?”

Is it fair to say that Amazon was once seen as the book industry’s savior? Yes. Barnes & Noble and other chains had become big enough retailers of books that they were able to extract substantial concessions (price, terms, co-op dollars, etc.) from publishers. If you didn’t give the chains the books they wanted in the numbers they wanted, those books (and maybe everything else you published) didn’t move. Worse, the chains wanted to have a copy in every one of their stores of almost every book carried in almost every store. Which meant that they had hundreds of single (or a few) copies scattered around the country of a book that might sell super well in a handful of cities. The rest were all gonna be returned, which means, pulped if a paperback, or sold to a discount house if a hardcover. The bigger the chains got, the bigger the returns issue became, and it made life very difficult for publishers, pushing them towards bestsellers and regional niche products and basically killing the midlist. As Amazon grew in the latter half of the 1990s, there were articles about how Amazon was good for book culture because it was the primary force against bestsellerdom, the only thing keeping midlist authors afloat.

Why were Amazon’s returns so low? Well, they had this business model where they ordered from distributors (returns went back on the shelf, hypothetically) AND didn’t actually order anything at all unless they had a customer order in hand. That didn’t stay true (and, ironically, I think they may have gone back to that model for Hachette in the current dispute, but I digress.). They were stocking a lot of books ordered from publishers before I left in September of 1998, but by that time they were moving so much product they were really good at predicting what they were going to move (this is probably also how pre-order got started, but that happened after I left so I don’t really know). They had a tiny number of DCs versus the chains with their hundreds of retail outlets.

Then what happened?

Gessen says, “It has been said that Amazon got into the book business accidentally—that it might as well have been selling widgets. This isn’t quite right. Books were ideal as an early e-commerce product precisely because when people wanted particular books they knew already what they were getting into.” And then he gets sucked into the Look At All These Books in the Catalog! thing.

Gessen isn’t quite right. Here is the actual explanation for why Bezos picked books:

There are a lot more books than CDs (what we would later term, longer tail). The book universe was at least 10X the CD universe.

There was and is less coverage of the book universe by book publishers than there was coverage of the CD universe by CD publishers (more of the long tail). That is, there were more books published by small and medium sized publishers than published by the top few publishers.

Book publishers in general are less well run as businesses than CD publishers.

Ergo, if (when!) Amazon gets big and starts to be kind of scary to the publishers, the publishers will lack bargaining power against Amazon (hard to cartelize because too many players and too much product outside the potential cartel). They will not notice this ahead of time (not as business like as the music companies). They will love Amazon for a very long time, because Amazon will provide balance versus the chains (and this kind of reactive vs. strategic thinking is also characteristic of not very business-like businesses). Further, by Amazon’s very nature, Amazon produces zero returns, which is the single biggest problem in book publishing.

These are NOT (hopefully obviously, because he’s much funnier and punchier than I am) actually Bezos’ words. But this is the gist of what I heard him say over and over and over again in 1996 and 1997. This was the business case for books vs. CDs.

Bezos knew that a day would come when publishers would no longer like him. He was careful to not make that day happen any sooner than necessary. For example, while I was still there, someone proposed selling Amazon-published out of copyright books (classics), which Barnes & Noble and other chains had experimented with. The reason he gave for not doing this at the time was to avoid pissing off the suppliers (publishers) by going into competition with them.

When (much later) the publishers understood that they were in a position of diminishing negotiation power with Amazon, they -- well, they formed a cartel, price fixed, got busted for it, settled and moved on. Gessen describes this sequence a little differently. But that’s what their initial effort was to regain bargaining power. But remember: they are still up against this Big Universe of Books, of which they only publish a fraction of. Worse, they do not actually know the size of the total universe and their guess is probably low and getting more wrong over time.

Most of my time at Amazon was spent on the catalog, and a lot of that time was spent making it easier to get more items and eventually more types of items into the catalog, in turn making it easier for small publishers or self-publishers to be listed in the catalog. (Essentially: send us an ASCII text file, new line terminated, tab separated fields in the following order, etc.). Bezos had some fairly specific ideas about marketing that involved numbers of items, or numbers of discounted items or whatever in the catalog, so at least early on, Amazon wanted bragging rights on how much stuff they listed that did not (or discounted, that others did not) and didn’t really care if they ever sold a single copy of the item listed, much less made money on it.

It was also desirable to get electronic listings directly from small publishers, rather than through other collectors of the information, such as distributors. The distributors’ databases were intended for employees of book shops, not end customers -- the employees could tolerate a pretty high rate of weirdness like truncated titles, misspelled author names, etc. Customers don’t like that. The publishers’ catalogs were better, and Amazon fielded a lot of author and customer complaints about errors, so there was a labor issue.

While the biggest traditional publishers knew what the 8 or 6 or 5 of themselves were doing, they weren’t that aware of what all the medium and smaller publishers were doing. But increasingly, Amazon _was_ aware of what those smaller companies were doing. The little guys were pretty unhappy about Amazon’s terms (and Amazon’s people were nerds and thus terrible at schmoozing, which presumably was a factor as well), but generally recognized they were moving a lot more product than they ever had before. That was a huge problem for smaller presses which weren’t in it to make money; the more they sold, the bigger a hassle it was for them.

Amazon did a variety of things to collect information about books customers would buy if they were available -- OOP, not yet on the kindle, more by a particular author etc. -- that increased their knowledge of what customers really wanted versus what they settled upon when they couldn’t get what they really wanted. Bezos also recognized very early the discovery problem that it has apparently taken lo 20 years for the big publishers to recognize. He made it easy for customers to post reviews and made sure negative reviews were allowed. He knew that “staff picks” in bookstores move books -- but he also knew that people would rather buy something that is the thing they like, and sometimes negative reviews not only steer you away from lemons, they steer you to exactly the kind of book you were looking for. Human staff at a bookstore looking down their nose at you for wanting the latest in some paranormal series may well stop you from buying, because you have to do the purchase through them. But negative reviews on Amazon do not slow you down from hitting the Buy Now button, if those negative reviews confirm this is exactly the kind of thing you were looking for. He hired I have no idea how many rounds of people to work on the recommendations engines, many of them with PhDs in computer science (turns out producing useful recommendations on a long tail is very, very difficult -- but they sure have gotten good at it). There was a steady stream of purchased reviews databases to incorporate into the user experience, from almost the very beginning.

Taking a step back from this list, what did Bezos do?

He picked an industry segment that had a product that was temperature and drop tolerant, could be shipped cheaply, and which customers did not need to physically touch to assess quality. He noticed that figuring out which of these book-widgets to buy was actually a very difficult problem, and he worked consistently and imaginatively to solve that problem (customer reviews, recommendations engines, See Inside This Book, better meta-data about books and authors, etc.). Bezos recognized and worked to solve the book discovery problem. He. Solved. That. Problem. This is a big deal. Do not lose sight of this. When traditional publishers complain about the discovery problem, it is because they recognize they can’t buy the kind of advantage at that they have grown accustomed to in bricks-and-mortar stores. “Chandler remembers being deeply impressed by a publishing executive’s telling him, in 2006, that the way to make a best-seller was to put a copy of the book on the front table of every bookstore in the country.” Customers are not having trouble discovering books. Publishers are learning that their books aren’t necessarily what the customers wanted, when they aren’t tripping over them on the way to the book they do want.

After almost accidentally making it possible for any size publisher to sell through Amazon, he started actively growing the self- and very small publisher segment, particularly post-kindle, but even before with POD. As long as the tail was when he arrived, he worked diligently to fill it out completely -- and to be the sole aggregator of many of those listings (exclusivity requirements on kindle unlimited and similar deals). Amazon knows the size of the market. In detail. And I doubt any other enterprise on the planet does.

I recognize that non-genre readers find the genre market confusing and opaque. But even if you don’t _like_ a particular product shouldn’t stop you from noticing that there are a certain number of people who are willing to purchase items in that category at a certain rate for a certain amount of money -- probably in strata, with some buying more volume and some being more price sensitive. Gessen and others like him seem perpetually skeptical that there’s really any money to be made there -- the books are so cheap! And also there is a sense that the trashy novel and the Quality Book are somehow incompatible. But I’m perfectly comfortable paying $1.99 for a trashy novel or $12.99 for a trashy novel with an established brand like JAK -- or $44.99 for a monograph from a university press on a topic that has caught my eye. People who can afford to drop $100/person for a group outing to a restaurant do actually also consume burgers or coffee from Dunkin’, at least on occasion. The cheapness of the burger or the coffee does not mean we then expect the Domaine Drouhin to cost the same as two buck chuck.

Gessen wishes this were a morality play.

“But doesn’t Amazon deserve something for building the device, for making it work?”

It is not a morality play. It is a negotiation. It is a business. The customers want something -- genre novels, enough of them to not run out of the kind they like, at a price they can afford to buy as much as they like. Someone can supply that something. If the publishers don’t want to supply that product (history says that it really makes them unhappy to do so) or at least not at that price (that’s the current sticking point -- the publishers got used to genre hardcovers in the 1990s, they’d just rather get over $20 a pop for it), and someone else does, then someone else will get the customers’ money and affection.

When Wylie thinks he can take the books off the kindle, he clearly isn’t thinking in these terms.

““If the Kindle didn’t have any books on it, guess how many Kindles would be selling,” Wylie said, putting up his fingers to indicate zero Kindles. “They want the books, and they want the publishers’ profits, too? They should get nothing. Zero.””

We will see, in time, who is right.

Administrivia: returned from WDW, upcoming book reviews, trip reports, etc.

We're baaaaccck! We had a good time. Trip reports will ensue, but here are some highlights.

(1) Turns out security doesn't actually notice a 2ish inch lockback buried in a purse consistently, if you have been foolish enough to leave one there. I would have been horribly embarrassed and thrown it away on the spot if it had been noticed, but in the event, I didn't realize what had happened until much later, so I don't have to replace it. Yay.

(2) JetBlue's Fly-Fi is awesome.

(3) WDW has implemented the We Know Who You Are Don't Bother to Stop to Buy a Ride Photo feature. I haven't checked yet to see if all the ride photos really are connected. I will expand upon this later. They do not yet appear to have implemented a Find My Kid Feature, yet, at least not based on what happened when A. and I went different directions in a shop at Hollywood Studios. I'd love to have a Find My Kid feature.

(4) Seven Dwarfs is definitely not worth the current long waits but it is probably the single best Kiddie Coaster I have ever been on.

(5) The Domaine at Citrico's is amazing. (Got it by accident, so didn't have to meet the minimum ticket. We were only about $100 short, tho, so another bottle of wine would have done it.)

(6) The stepsisters and step mum of Cinderella were hilarious at Park Fare and visible more generally in the park. I Approve.

(7) Grand Floridian Villas are very comfy.

(8) I'm reading Liaden universe books; spoiler-ridden reviews to follow, along with Milan's _Unraveled_ and Cindy Spencer Pape's _Moonlight & Mechanicals_.

And we all have colds or really bad allergies or both. Ah, well.

_Moonlight & Mechanicals_, Cindy Spencer Pape, Gaslight Chronicles, SPOILERS

I am really not kidding about those SPOILERS so you should RUN AWAY NOW BECAUSE

are we safe down here?

Steampunk cybermen and

Steampunk cyber DOGS are gonna getcha!

I suspect, but am not entirely certain, that this would be a really confusing standalone novel so maybe you should read the earlier part or parts of the series first. Your call. If all you want is Victorian Steampunk Cyber Dogs, well, they are here For You.

As always, there is a romance and there is a Problem To Solve that the nascent dyad and others are attempting to solve. You can either view this as a mystery with romantic interruptions or a romance with mysterious interruptions or accept the two as a way of showing that human relationships are really there to enable us to collaboratively get through life a little more successfully.

The romance, in this case, is a non-triad. Connor loves Winifred. Winifred loves Liam. Liam is convinced he is Not Safe to Be Around and is thus trying to foist Winifred off on Connor. Speak For Yourself, John or shades of Cyrano or however you want to think about it ensue. Obvs, duh, Liam and Wink are gonna get together and Wink will be the instigator.

The mystery, in this case, is two-fold and unsurprisingly, both halves are closely related. A bunch of younger sons are agitating against primogeniture. And there are people and dogs disappearing from Wapping along with sightings of Cybermen (and Cyberdogs!). There is believed to be a threat against the Royals to occur on race day (true!) and that's pretty much where the plan comes together and then promptly falls apart.

We get some additional backstory on Winifred and the rest of her adoptive sibs time in Wapping. A lot of this feels weirdly like Chronicles of Elantra, and, to add to the confusion, I read _Unraveled_, either before or after and THAT felt like Chronicles of Elantra so I assume that the originator of this particular slum-with-mysterious-overlord thing dates back to some Dickens I haven't read and should have or something similar.

Look, this is not great literature. And it has some real problems as alternate tech. But seriously: vampyres, werewolves, Sidhe, cybermen (cyberdogs!), mechanical dogs, etc. If this is the kind of thing that you like, have at! And if you just think this is ridiculous, well, duh. It's just a particularly lovable form of ridiculous.

_Unraveled_, Courtney Milan probably spoilers

I believe this to be the last in a series (the Turner series, maybe?). This is Smite ("Lord Justice") Turner's story.

I have no idea why anyone would read my review of a Milan novel because there are so many other people writing so many better reviews of her books than I do. So if you don't know me and you just landed here, you should probably go somewhere else.

The back story on the Turner clan is kinda horrifying. I can't seem to figure out what happened to dad, but mum was "mad", and scary abusive. The boys' sister died as a result, and Lord Justice has that "I Don't Deserve/Can't Afford Happiness" sort of thing going on that is realistic (abuse really is all-too-often internalized in exactly that way, and no matter how smart the person, they just build some complex cognitive structure to make sure they can't ever be happy). The story is a little too close to the annoying Finding the Right Person Will Fix Me meme, but escapes it narrowly. Turner actually has great relationships with his brothers and their families. What he is looking for is someone whose personal background shares some of the terrifying lows and amazing successes that he experienced (essentially: a life history of bipolarity to mimic the parental bipolarity likely suffered by his mum and her dad).

Enough of the psychodrama. What actually happens? Miranda is living in a Temple Parish in Bristol in the mid 19th century. A decade-ish back, there were terrible riots, violently suppressed, and in the aftermath of that, a Patron arose to dish out rough justice in Temple, since the Magistrates couldn't be bothered. As is often the case with overlapping and neighboring jurisdictions, there is some competition between the Patron and the Magistrates and that competition gets way worse as Smite Turner attempts to actually provide Real Justice (TM) in Temple Parish. Miranda (you saw this coming) is in debt to the Patron and she is caught in the middle.

And the next component of my irritation is now relevant: Miranda likes Bad Boys and she is very articulate about this. That is what got her in debt to the Patron and that draws her to Turner. And she will describe this at paragraph length. That's mostly okay. Turner understanding her desire for high risk stuff is also kinda cool. That actual details of what he does for her I have a little more trouble with. I actually _get_ the whole sex in public thing (wow, memories), but what they did was insanely over the top risky and it sure did not need to be.

As always, Milan has created emotionally compelling characters with dark history, a powerful drive to make the world better, a genuinely funny sense of humor and believable attraction. There is kind of a lot of plot here, but it mostly works. I don't know if I will read more, however, all the indications are that I will read more Milan in the future, if not this series than another. I mean, everyone loves here, so it seems inevitable.

No vampires, magic, Sidhe, cyberdogs, airships or anything funny like that. Historical romance. And I am not interested in hearing about the unrealistic dialogue, clothing, etc.

_Local Custom_, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller SPOILERS RUN RUN RUN the yxtraing will get you

Last month, I posted a review of _Agent of Change_:

While on vacation, I felt a need for some trashy reading, so along with some Gaslight Chronicles and Turner series, I read some Liaden. When I got home, I read some more Liaden. Gosh there is a lot of Liaden.

In this outing, we meet Anne Davis who had a fling with Er Thom and, without telling him, stopped using contraception and had his child, Shan yos'Galan. This sort of does not make sense. In the Liaden universe, it seems to be the case that there is fertility control that is fully internal and available to both men and women and requires conscious effort to turn off. It doesn't make much sense that Er Thom would have been shooting other than blanks, whatever Anne decided to do -- unless Er Thom _also_ decided to turn his off. Tree involvement at that distance seems unlikely. I chalk this up to the fact that _Local Custom_ was written and published early on, before the universe was more completely developed.

Er Thom is supposed to produce a child with a contract-wife, and he doesn't want to. He wants Anne. He goes to University, where she is (another planet), and discovers the kid. Obvs, Er Thom sucks at Liaden-style cyberstalking. His brother Daav has no trouble discovering the existence of the kid and the kid's name and assumes that is why Er Thom went to see Anne. But nope, Er Thom had a Focus and the kid is a surprise to him. I found this confusing. I feel like the presentation was intended to be a Secret Baby story but with Daav as this sort-of-omniscient Here's What's Going On person.

The next thing that happens is irritating: a comprehensive misunderstanding occurs between the Liadens and Anne about the implications of Shan being Seen by Delm Thorval. I find this unlikely. Anne teaches Liaden; Er Thom is a Master Trader. And yet they don't apparently know basic stuff about each other's culture's marriage and family raising customers. Seriously? Are you guys adults? On the other hand, young women wander the world and marry young men from Saudi and similar and are surprised at what happens next. And a FOAF married a woman who was sufficiently Missouri Synod to have attended Concordia University (the Portland, OR one) -- and then was surprised at how religious she was (and the kind of religious). So maybe this happens a lot, but I still don't have to respect it.

When Anne works out what has just happened, it calls into question all the rest of her interactions with the Liadens (reasonable), and that opens her and Shan up to an attack and the resolution of that helps everything get explained. The mechanics of the plot are really creaky through this bit (seriously, at what point is someone going to realize that CompLing getting all blowed up might have been related to Anne's work?). Once everyone is back down on planet, they still have to deal with gratuitously stupid and evil (bigotry edition, complicated by a strong desire to make everyone else as miserable as she is) Petrella, Er Thom's mum.

Er Thom's mum (and, for that matter, Birin Mizel in other novels, not to mention Kareen) does not actually make any sense to me. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are consciously writing a Regency Novel (with elves!) in space, but they really went way over the top with Petrella. I don't think there is anyone in Georgette Heyer as gratuitously horrible as Petrella, in a way that runs counter to Petrella's own interests.

You might think from reading this review that I really didn't like this book. That would be wrong. This book has amazing narrative momentum. I really, really did want to know what was going to happen next, and given that is Prime Directive in novels, Lee and Miller for the win. There are enormous weaknesses in characterization: smart people doing stupid things that are inadequately motivated. There are weaknesses in worldbuilding (one more room in Liad or elsewhere piled everywhere with booktapes and I think I really will scream, and of course the above mentioned contraceptive confusion). Loose ends abound (I'm several more books in at this point, and I still don't see any indication that anyone has followed up on the CompLing explosion and honestly that really makes me nuts). And there are well respected Healers all over the place that people are really resistant to making use of. But, you know, for Narrative Momentum, I will put up with a lot worse than any of this.

Administrivia: repost of Somebody . . .

Nate over at The Digital Reader reposted my Somebody Saw This Day Coming post, and the Passive Voice picked it up as well. I'm carefully sitting on my desire to post in the comments thread in either case (author referred to as "he". Am not a "he"!), because authors stepping into comments threads are annoying and I don't want to be That Person.

But I'm happy that what I had to say is reaching a wider audience while not inviting a bunch of randoms over here to interfere with my review-trashy-books-and-talk-about-my-life fun, which is otherwise dominating my blogging today and for the next two days as I catch up from being away from a keyboard for a week.

_Scout's Progress_, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Liaden universe, SPOILERS RAN ELD IS GONNA BEAT YOU

Not kidding about the spoilers. You should scoot.

By the time of Scout's Progress, Anne Davis and Er Thom have hooked up and Er Thom has become Thodelm since Petrella has finally moved along. So that's a mercy, anyway.

Being a pilot involves a bunch of math and math references works: tables. The tables were revised by Aelliana Caylon some years before the events of this book (I want to say eight, but that would mean she did the revision in her late teens if my math is right, so I could absolutely believe that I misunderstood something. OTOH, maybe she did that as a project after her horrible marriage ended. *shrug*). Aelliana Caylon teachs a Math for Survival course mostly taken by Scouts-in-Training. She teaches the class at a small town technical college, which is a little weird but is explained in _Mouse and Dragon_. Basically, she's too depressed to actually pursue her career as a career with any avidity.

The depression is because her mother Birin, Delm Mizel, is mostly absent and shows wildly bad judgment. The Nadelm is her brother Ran Eld who if you read the subject line you now know is physically and in every other way abusive. Turns out he set up the marriage with a friend of his who was more of the same plus a bit more. So this is a real classic of the romance genre: super smart, utterly beautiful, graceful, strong person aggressively hiding their light under a bushel because of relentless abuse is rescued by a Rich, Powerful, Super Cool Guy who is pretending not to be Rich, Powerful, etc.

It's a pretty good entry in that genre. The Rich etc. person is Daav yos'Phellium, Delm Korval, and about half the book is set at the port among pilots everyone hanging out being mostly equal and a lot of the highly structured Liaden stuff in abeyance. That's all fun. Aelliana gets sucked into helping some of her students get revenge on one of those classics of the Regency novel: rich guy who suckers youngsters out of their money at the gambling table is in turn suckered himself. She wins his ship, and Lee and Miller actually go to the bother of explaining what else happens to the guy to explain why he doesn't just come around and beat her up and make her sign it back over to him. Nice!. Then she works through the requirements to become a pilot (she's done a lot of it already, with a plausible reason given connected to her job and that seminar she teaches). Her family slowly figures out what is going on, and then the conflict with Ran Eld spills over to the port and things get really ugly. There's a bunch of pressure on Daav to sign a marriage contract, but the Tree turns out to not like the lady in question. And then one more severe beating, a trip to the Healer's, a hug, and a satisfying if abrupt ending.

I'm not a huge fan of the abuse-victim theme. OTOH, this version did a really detailed development of getting from a really bad, trapped place to a much better one, and while there are some miraculous elements (Daav), mostly Aelliana does it on her own.

_Conflict of Honors_, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Liaden universe, SPOILERS EEEK Vibroknife!

Moonhawk/Priscilla is kicked off her planet/ostracized/treated as if dead by family for unclear reasons. She spends some years kicking around space, working her way up on ships. She's so happy to get a gig as Cargo Master she doesn't think about it too hard, and winds up on a Liaden ship run by people shipping contraband. And they are very Not Nice people. The only decent person breaks contract to leave, and things go way downhill for Priscilla thereafter. She's tricked into a warehouse, bashed on the head and abandoned. But from there, she gets a job as Pet Librarian on the Dutiful Progress, currently captained and many more things by Master Trader Shan yos'Galan ("sparkles!" kid of Anne Davis and Er Thom, who are apparently dead by the time of this novel). She learns a lot, but is continually dogged by the Not Nice people from her previous ship, mostly Dagmar, who keeps attacking her, taking hostages, etc. until Priscilla invokes some magic to put an end to that nonsense.

So we have another abuse survivor story. Priscilla is a dramliza and apparently somewhat crazy powerful, altho a little uncertain about the status of her powers because of complications associated with the obscure Moonhawk thingie. As is apparently typical of a Lee and Miller novel, she gets better clothes, friends, eats a lot of good food, develops romantic relationship(s), etc. as part of the process of getting her Happily Ever After. Honestly, in the Liaden universe, you'd _better_ enjoy yourself as you go along, because your HEA probably won't last very long. I digress.

It isn't just Dagmar, tho. For somewhat obscure reasons, probably having to do with Shan doing some things that threaten Priscilla's previous employer's Trader license, they are attacked and Priscilla is crucial to saving the ship (should have been a boring exit from Jump but it wasn't boring at all). That part kind of felt ST:TNG Wesley Crusher-like, but that's okay.

In the end, Liaden family structure is invoked to put a stop to the Evil People Causing All the Trouble. A meeting is called to Balance, and it turns out the Horrible Bigoted Trader elf hasn't just been _dealing_ the dope. This results in an especially nice moment for Priscilla to demonstrate her Special Powers. I hope we get to see more of this. I liked this bit.

I think this is the book where I started to realize how short the lives of most of the main characters in these books turn out to be. I'm not real happy about that. That's just entirely too much realism for Elves in Space with Psi or Magical Powers

_Mouse and Dragon_, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Liaden, SPOILERS TERRAN PARTY AAAUGH!

This is a _much_ more recently written book. But it fits in relatively well with the older books -- much better than typically happens when a series is written over a very long period of time and publication order and internal order aren't great matches.

This starts off slightly before the tail end of _Scout's Progress_ and follows the development of Aelliana and Daav's stunted lifemating. With Ran Eld "dead" and no on else to really be Nadelm and so forth, Birin would like to make Aelliana at least do all that work if not actually have the title. WHICH IS RIDICULOUS. Birin is another Petrella: she doesn't actually make any sense. If she were even remotely better behaved, she'd get way more of what she wants (Kareen is the same, altho not nearly as over the top). But, you know, villains. Gotta be villainous.

Mizel is very backgrounded for the first chunk of the book, but then shows up to put pressure on Aelliana and Daav: sues to kinstealing. Where being lifemates pretty much checkmated (er) Petrella (Anne Davis didn't have a clan to get in on the political action), here being lifemates doesn't actually resolve the Clan-specific issues. And, of course, Kareen has to try to disrupt things by PROVING how EVERYONE is going to have CONTEMPT for Aelliana. Yeah, Kareen. Sure. Queen Bee stereotype much? Mary Sue action ensues, right down to Daav thinking repeatedly, Aelliana conquers all. (No, really.)

Once the lifemating issues are resolved and shopping has happened and Samiv is maid of honor (not precisely) at the impromptu ceremony (AT KAREEN'S PARTY TO MAKE AELLIANA LOOK BAD. Because.), you would sort of expect the end of the book to happen fairly shortly, but no, it does not. We still have to (had pregnant woman visiting gangster) (cute kids playing in ways that foreshadow their adult selves in chronologically later but publication order earlier books) kill Aelliana off to make one final point about lifemating, which is Aelliana will live on in Daav's head, even after he "dies" and goes off to live Kiladi's life.

I was not real impressed with that ending. YMMV. I'm on pause for the moment while I try to figure out how to deal with this. I still kinda want to know what happens to Val Con and Miri, tho, so I will probably be back. I'm just gonna go read about distributed energy generation and pricing reform for the grid for a while.

Oh, and Daav is just about the worst King (I know, not really) ever, in terms of his obliviousness to major political movements both on and off Liad. He spends way too much of his time hanging out at the spaceport reliving his glory days as a pilot, or getting more degrees as his alter ego Kiladi. (Apparently Kiladi shows up in chronologically later but publication order earlier books. Hmmm.)

November 2014 WDW Trip Report: Grand Floridian, including Park Fare, Citricos Domaine

We stayed at the Grand Floridian. The two bedroom villa is a little different at GF vs. BLT, where we have stayed in the past. I like the layout better. Instead of a sleeper chair, there's Murphy bed (single) under the TV in the living area, along with the usual double sleeper sofa. T. really liked that bed. The fridge in the kitchen is one of those two-drawer freezer affairs. It worked fine.

I don't think anyone used the big tub. The large shower is just like what we're used to and a combo is a combo is a combo. Our room was first floor near the entry, which was convenient in some ways, and a little noisy in others. Also, we picked up some wafting cigarette smoke on occasion; not sure why because there isn't a smoking area near there. People.

We had dinner with the whole group (12 -- half adults, half kids) at Park Fare, which was new for us (we did Chef Mickey and O'hana also, but those were basically same old same old, always fun). The characters were deliciously smarmy and very entertaining. Food was good -- buffet, but not mirrored so a lot of selection. Allergies were handled well for me and the child in the group with allergies (who has more and more severe than I do).

The adults only had dinner at Citricos, in the private dining area called "the Domaine" (possibly spelled wrong). Normally, you should reserve this and expected a substantial minimum check (I think they said $650, but obvs you would ask when you made a reservation). Citricos is a $40+/entree sort of place and you can get a dozen people in the room so hitting the minimum should not require a ton of effort with a large group. Since they decided to seat us there, we didn't have to hit the minimum, and I suspect we didn't get as much chef attention as normally is part of the deal, however, our server was amazing and the chef came out to deal with my allergies. It is _amazingly quiet_ in that room. I am wildly excited about the idea of reserving private dining spaces; I will get over this once I try to set this up somewhere else and feel sticker shock and decide Hey I Don't Really Need That After All. But it was great being able to have conversations around the table and not constantly be going, "WHAT DID YOU SAY?"

R. and I have been to Citricos before. Having been twice, we think that the pork is probably just about the best thing on the menu. Altho that tofu thing, which I got last time and my sister got this time, is really amazing, too. Gotta remember to order some Domaine Serene -- we had the Yamhill and it was nice.

T. and I bought the refillable mugs. I don't think T. got his money's worth; I probably did. We ate at Beaches once and at Gasparilla's a couple times. I have no complaints about either. The pool only has the one slide (it's quite decent) -- no small slide and no hot tub that we spotted. Great splash area. Getting from the ground floor to the monorail is interesting. At BLT, we usually take the bridge across, so it's walk to elevator, bridge to the Contemporary and up the escalator or elevator to the monorail. At GF, it's walk over, and then around part of the interior courtyard to either elevator or stairs, then backtrack to the monorail. It's probably shorter overall, but feels weird every time because there really is no direct route. Monorail to MK or TTC to switch to Epcot. Monorail or boat back from MK (I guess you could boat over, too, altho why? It's just the one stop on the monorail). Buses to Hollywood and AK. Lots of benches at the bus stop.

November 2014 WDW Trip Report: Ride photos, Seven Dwarfs, JetBlue's Fly-Fi

Disney is now using the RFID info it gets from you band to auto-magically connect your ride photo to your account. It appears to work well. If you don't have a band and account, you can still tap your ticket card to be able to retrieve the photos later.

If you are traveling with a large group, and set up friends etc. correctly, you'll be able to collect everyone in the group in one MemoryMaker. This probably makes the MemoryMaker price make sense. There were a couple mystery photos, however, I think that is because A. tapped her band to a couple of random photo selections along the way. If you have a photographer take pictures of you and connected that to your band, they'll show up as well, however, the Belle story telling attraction is still only on the card so you do have to hang onto that. For now.

I finally rode Seven Dwarfs! Best family coaster ever. The seats feel a little small, but not in that horrible my knees are jammed sort of way. The lap bars are individual, so if a parent with a belly can ride next to a small child and no one is unsafe or miserable. It is SMOOTH! There's this great sort of swing on the curves, but mostly just no jarring bumping rattling. My daughter complained about the lack of bumping because that sort of means coaster to her. But I _loved_ the smoothness. [ETA: But the lines are nuts. If you can't get a FastPass, just ride it another year.]

The first and last thirds of the ride are runaway train type action. The middle third is a dark ride with dwarfs singing Hi Ho Hi Ho It's Home from Work We Go and a bunch of diamonds and time punch cards and so forth. Pretty. The sequencing works well. As with almost all of the newer dark rides, there isn't really a lot of small detail -- you really can grasp virtually every visual element the first or maybe second time through. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I miss the surprises of the nth time through a ride ("That woman has a baby in a baby carrier on her back!" on Peter Pan, type of thing). On the other hand, this is a much better fit for the medium.

JetBlue's Fly-Fi is wireless on a plane. Cool! Not much more to say about it than that. It is there. You can use it during the main part of the flight. It seems to mostly work. I didn't use it much because I get motion sick on everything if I try to read for more than a few seconds at a time.