Most of my reading is Science Fiction, and a major concern in that field is availability of older books. That is to say, the diminishing backlist. Lots of fine books are published and for all practical purposes are unavailable after the few months they are displayed in bookstores, or the slightly longer time they may still be obtainable from the publisher. As far as I can tell, this problem is still worse in the Romance field. There, the backlist seems almost non-existent.
A lot of folks have suggested that new technologies can solve this problem. Print-on-demand books are one potential solution, and electronic books are another. (Keeping in mind that the interests of authors, readers, and publishers often clash in these areas, and that if a solution which seems ideal to a reader means an author doesn't get paid, for instance, it's not a very fair solution.) One company has just appeared and is reprinting some fine recent SF and Romance books, quintessential "midlist" titles, in electronic format, suitable for reading on a computer screen. This is Embiid, a Hawaii based company, which maintains a website at www.embiid.net.
I recently obtained a copy of the proprietary Embiid reader (available free with the purchase of one book: or a sampler version is completely free), along with one Embiid book. This reader has two functions: it decrypts the Embiid file format (an anti-piracy move), and it provides some basic functionality to help read the book on screen. This functionality includes such things as easy font size changes, display size changes, bookmarking, cover illustration display, and reading progress monitor. I found it easy to use, and in general the reading experience was tolerable. I am still much fonder of reading books on paper, but this reader did make it convenient to read a novel on screen without eye strain or difficulty finding my place.
The book I read was The Covenant, by Modean Moon. This novel was published in 1995, and won the Romance Writers of American Rita award for best Paranormal Romance. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Besides the romance element, there is a contemporary suspense story, and a link with an historical story. The various strands of the story are well integrated, with the romance arising naturally as part of the story, rather than driving the story, and with the resolution of the book being more closely tied to the characters' solving their personal problems than to the culmination of their romance. Despite the paranormal element (which involves the contemporary woman sort of "channeling" an historical woman), this isn't really an SF or Fantasy book: it's quite solidly a genre Romance. It's quite a good genre Romance, though. The novel concerns Megan McIntyre Hudson, a newly-widowed Senator's daughter, and Jake Kenyon, former Sheriff of Pitchlyn County, the rural part of Oklahoma where Megan has come after her husband's death. When the new Sheriff starts harassing Megan, Jake gets involved, and they both soon are worried about why so many people seem interested in trespassing on their (adjoining) property. At the same time Megan begins "channeling" Lydia, a 19th century woman involved in a tragic relationship with a half-Choctaw ex-Ranger named Sam. The novel plays itself out with a solid and suspenseful resolution to the story of Jake and Megan, as they fall in love, and also figure out the mysterious doings on their property, which turn out to have connections to both Jake's past and Megan's past, and perhaps even to the story of Sam and Lydia. The latter story is nicely revealed as well, and is effectively emotionally wrenching. The backdrop of the Oklahoma landscape is also well-evoked. The characters are convincing, and the love story is believable. This is a good example of what a "romance novel" really should be, in my opinion: a good novel on its own that has a solid romance story as a significant thread, as opposed to a contrived romance that drives the plot willy-nilly (which I've seen too often elsewhere). Definitely worthy of reprinting.
Worthy as Moon's novel is, most SF Site readers are more interested in Science Fiction. As it happens, Science Fiction (and Fantasy) are the main focus of Embiid, which is run by SF writer Melisa Michaels and her husband Richard. The list of novels available from Embiid in its first few months of existence provides excellent testimony to the value of having such a way to make pure quill "midlist" titles, that never really make anybody's backlist, available again.
One of the best books they publish is William Sanders' The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan. Sanders was pushed to self-publish this book through Xlibris, but it's an outstanding book. SF Site listed it as one of the 20 best SF novels of 1999. This story of Billy Badwater, a Cherokee and a Gulf War veteran, and Janna Turanova, a doctor from Kazakhstan trying to raise the world's consciousness of nuclear waste problems, and in particular the disproportionate effect of poor nuclear and toxic waste storage on indigenous people, both in Kazakhstan and the US, is sexy, fast moving, and a good story besides touching on serious issues. And self-published books don't get wide distribution: so it's good to see it finding another avenue for selling. Embiid is also offering a collection of some of Sanders' SF and Fantasy stories on Indian themes, called Are We Having Fun Yet?, which includes the Hugo and Nebula nominee "The Undiscovered" along with such other fine stories as "Elvis Bearpaw's Luck".
Another great example of fine books long buried is Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden series. The first three novels of this colorful space adventure saga were published in the late 80s by Del Rey, but they soon went out of print. In the following decade they built up an impressive following, and a sequel was published by Meisha Merlin just last year. The original books are available as a fine trade paperback omnibus from Meisha Merlin, but Embiid is also making an electronic version of each book available. The titles are Agent of Change, Carpe Diem, and Conflict of Honors; while the new book is Plan B.
Another series being reprinted at Embiid is the Skyrider books by Melisa Michaels. These are light Space Opera from the 80s. They feature hotshot spaceship pilot Melacha Rendell, the Skyrider, and an ongoing conflict between the Asteroids and Earth, resolved over several books. They are breezy reads, good fun, full of sometimes implausible action, not terribly serious but brushing up against earnest political questions. Just the sort of books that aren't obvious candidates for staying permanently in print, as they are unquestionably minor works, but still they are good fun. As such, it's a good thing that they are again available to interested readers. Titles in this series include First Battle, Skirmish and Pirate Prince.
Other offerings from Embiid are The Age of Reason, edited by Kurt Roth, a decent original anthology from 1999, some more books by Modean Moon such as A Little Peace and Quiet, and some books by Christie Golden such as King's Man and Thief. The publishing world is changing, little by little, and one of the little guys that's doing good for writers and readers is Embiid.
Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.
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