Thursday, April 29, 2010

April 29, 2010 Links and Plugs

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Another title from Night Jar Press:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April 28, 2010 Links and Plugs

The anthologies A Time for Dragons and Philippine Speculative Fiction IV (that's IV, not V) is now available at Prime Books.

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It's out! And includes stories from Georges-Olivier Ch√Ęteaureynaud and Haihong Zhao.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 27, 2010 Links and Plugs

Another 7-day work week and a couple of obligations on my end (family dinners that you can't decline, interviews, etc.), so no essay for me in the next two weeks.

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Guest-edited by Jonathan Strahan:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book/Magazine Review: Yukikaze by Chohei Kambayashi

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

There are times when spoilers are needed to tackle a book and Yukikaze is one such case, so readers have been warned. Yukikaze feels like a very unique science fiction novel. The first thing that comes to mind is the format: eight stories that could stand on its own, but each succeeding chapter builds upon what's established before. There is also the central theme of the book, the clash between what it is to be human and what it is to be a machine, although Kambayashi presents this in both overt and subtle ways. Third, while this is definitely classified as science fiction, the author uses fantasy names which threw me a bit off at the start, but works well in the long run.

In terms of technique, Kambayashi frontloads all the necessary details in his foreword and while this isn't anything new (The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester comes to mind), what's different here is how the author subverts your initial impression as the story progresses. The most prominent aspect is the fact that the pilots of the Super Sylphs are supposed to be cold and inhuman yet by the end of the book, our hero's humanity is established. Related to this is the bonus material at the end, namely Ran Ishidou's essay "Human/Inhuman". It's a well-written essay, but it also explains what the reader is supposed to have figured out for themselves.

When it comes to the format, Yukikaze seems quick thanks to the division of its chapters. Each one is a self-contained scenario that focuses on one theme, at the same time contributing to the overall arc. In this sense, Kambayashi's writing can be transparent sometimes. In "All Systems Normal" for example, it's clear from the beginning that the character introduced in this story is going to die, especially when he's paired off with a love interest. Still, overall, these standalone segments give us enough snapshots of the larger picture so that the reader is forearmed with knowledge that the characters aren't immediately aware of.

I wouldn't describe Yukikaze as perfect by any means, but the way it tackles its thesis is definitely worth a read and is unlike anything that I've encountered before. That this was originally published in 1984 is surprising in itself, and shows how Japanese science fiction can be very different--and sometimes way ahead--of Western science fiction.

April 26, 2010 Links and Plugs

Home computer is dying so if I suddenly disappear this week...

Meanwhile, Rocket Kapre has a call for submissions: Alternative Alamat.

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Must buy?

Friday, April 23, 2010

April 23, 2010 Links and Plugs

I have a book launch tomorrow, Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 5, so I hope you can come and buy copies.

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And for Lavie (And Apex, and the various contributors):

Dark Faith edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon (Sedia)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Response to Deepad's Open Letter:

My response to Deepad's Open Letter:

Hi.

First and foremost, thanks for responding, especially considering your initial reactions, and how you find it unproductive engaging with strangers. To be honest, I was looking for constructive feedback, and the only place that linked to my essay was http://intranationalities.dreamwidth.org/, and it's a locked community, so I didn't know if people were praising me or ranting at me (and based from the comments in your post, it seems more of the latter).

Right from the outset, let me admit my faults. Heart of Darkness was a bad choice on my part. And it's a bad choice because I haven't read it. Shoot me now for using it as an example, not because of the points you raised, but because of the fact that I used a book I hadn't read as an example. People will mock me for this, and they deserve to.

(And at this point, it strikes me that I'm digging my own grave the more I speak.)

Okay, The Good Earth, that I've actually read. Haven't seen the movie though, so can't really comment on how it's being used as a precedent to for the upcoming Avatar movie. Did I find some of the text problematic? Yes. Is it perfect, in whatever context you prefer? No, definitely not. But I'd like to think it has some merits, no matter how small. Although each reader does have to ask the question whether the good points of the book outweighs the bad. For me, I'd like to think of it like Star Trek. Progressive for its time, not so progressive when viewed from today's paradigm.

For the sake of establishing culpability, my essay used horrible examples. Let me be transparent about my faults.

As for Vikram Seth, haven't read his works, and for all I know, he should indeed be lauded. But as you pointed out, we don't live in an egalitarian world. But I understand your point. Buck gets praised because she's a privileged writer, Seth isn't. Still, that brings me to my thesis: is it permissible for writers to write about a culture that's not their own?

As for my usage of small awareness of the literature of other cultures, well yes, I'm making a generalization, but here's how I see it: yes, each nation is aware of its neighbors to a certain extent: China is aware of Russia's literature, Korea is aware of Japan's literature, etc. But compared to the entire world, that's just a few countries out of hundreds. I'm from the Philippines for example, and I know a bit of Chinese literature and Japanese literature, and I'll be the first to admit that I know nil when it comes to Indian literature, Romanian literature, Australian literature, etc. (And yes, it is also unfair that Western literature is prominent in a disproportionate amount compared to other countries.) I think I was fair in my statement that there is a "small but growing awareness" and that's not tied to any specific culture or nation.

As for placing writers above readers, as I cited in my essay, cultural mistakes aren't excusable. If you feel someone did something wrong, people are free to correct the author. Which is also why we're having this exchange, and why I want to thank you for taking the time to point out the flaws in my essay. Instead, what I'm calling for is level-headed discussion. You could easily have rambled and used many swear words in your open letter (and some would say you're justified in doing so). But you didn't. That's what I want to espouse. It's not placing writers above readers (although my writing might be that bad that that's the impression you're getting), or that writers automatically get a free pass when making mistakes.

As for Germany and ethnocentrism, I'd like to think the latter led to ultranationalism, hence anti-Semitism and genocide, but at this point, it feels like nitpicking for me. It's almost midnight here, and I'm too tired to argue this point, so feel free to chide me on not doing enough research on this part if you want.

This entire response, however, sidesteps my thesis. So what's your opinion on what was supposed to be my main theme, which is whether it's permissible for someone to write about a culture that's not their own? Is it bullshit, or if the answer is yes, what are your qualifications before one does so?

April 21, 2010 Links and Plugs

Will have several books and projects to plug soon. But in the meantime, *goes back to work*

P.S. Just discovered that Sulu was half-Filipino; everyone remembers him mostly for his Japanese heritage (and that's a fair assumption considering George Takei was the actor).

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Haikasoru plug:

Slum Online by Hiroshi Sakurazawa

Essay: No Foreigners Allowed

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

Edit: Deepad's open letter and my response here.

I want to talk about what is labeled as "RaceFail 2009" and "RaceFail 2010". On one hand, it's great that there are people who are concerned--and speak out--when such topics arise. I've witnessed and read about ethnocentrism and it's a flaw that a lot of cultures fall prey to (Germany being the primary culprit during World War II). That there is a small but growing awareness of the literature of other cultures is, in my opinion, a liberty that only occurred because of humanity's continued struggle for "enlightenment" (or progress, if you find enlightenment such a spiritual or abstract term).

It's also all too easy to chide the ignorant or the ones who rally for ethnocentrism in literature (whether they're conscious of this or not). No, what I want to talk about is how the champions of cultural diversity can sometimes get it wrong.

When I read about RaceFail, one of the impressions it gives off (whether implicitly or explicitly) is that you can't write about cultures that aren't your own. This isn't necessarily what RaceFail champions are intending, but I've seen some people come to that conclusion, or are scared shitless by the incident that that's the implied threat of such a debacle.

Which is a tragedy as there is the possibility of genuine insight when an external party writes about another culture, in much the same way that there is value in someone writing about their own culture. In the former, because of distance and a lack of presumptions, fresh perspectives arise. For example, I've heard the Philippines described by a foreigner as "more America than America" due to the proliferation of shopping malls, high-rise buildings, and commercial outlets in Manila (specifically Makati City). Which, in retrospect, is true, but this conclusion would never have come from a Filipino (as it's typically a dream of poverty-stricken Filipinos to migrate to the US). In fiction, we have texts like The Heart of Darkness and The Good Earth which, for the most part, is Westerners writing about a culture that's not their own (although one could make the argument for Pearl S. Buck, who spent most of her life in China).

That's not to say that fact alone is excuse enough to arbitrarily write about another culture. As they say, do your research, but that's easier said than done.

And even if you do your research, the problem still remains that you won't convince everyone. Let's say you manage to write a great scene describing Manila. Some Filipinos reading your text will agree that it's a faithful description of where they live. Other Filipinos, on the other hand, will simply disagree with you. And it's very well possible that both sides bring up valid points, as both have different experiences and perspectives. Or to put in another way, we as critics don't agree on whether a book is a good or not (just look at the disparity of reviews in general, let alone consolidated reviews posted on Amazon). The perception of culture is similarly subjective. Just because one "cultural expert" doesn't veto your writing doesn't mean the next one won't. We can look at the writings of SF authors who write about other cultures: Ian McDonald, Geoff Ryman, Paolo Bacigalupi. Some Brazilians will praise McDonald's portrayal of Brazil. Others won't. Does that make McDonald a good or horrible writer of other cultures? Or better yet, as a writer, should the fear of being criticized as such stop you from writing, especially when you feel you have something important to say?

An example close to home is the novel Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. Oh look, the protagonist is Filipino. But to me, that's a superficial description. As far as I'm concerned, nowhere in the novel does the hero's Filipino identity come into play. In fact, if it wasn't mentioned towards the end of the book, you wouldn't really have guessed that he was Filipino. But that's my take on it. There are other Filipinos who love the book because hey, the protagonist is Filipino, if only in name. The book has personal value to them, even if that's not the case for me. I don't, by any means, have the last word when it comes to the Philippines in science fiction.

The problem with RaceFail is that while yes, it does champion doing research and being careful when writing about other cultures, there's also a sense of elitism that scares off potential writers. Instead of espousing "research about China before you start writing about China", the (un)intended effect is "I won't write about China because I can never do justice to my research of China". And that's a sad state for cultural diversity, because instead of encouraging people to write about other cultures, it halts the dialogue.

My generation was weaned on Star Trek: The Next Generation instead of the original series but there are some observations that can be made with regards to the latter. Yes, Star Trek was culturally progressive for its time, but it's also distant from our modern concept of racial diversity; the main protagonist was still a white privileged male, and while the supporting cast is multi-ethnic, they didn't stray too far from their designated roles (Star Trek's "trinity", after all, is Kirk, Spock, and McCoy). Star Trek is culturally flawed by today's standards, but because it did take steps to foray into cultural barriers--even if it got them wrong some of the time--it was a stepping stone that paved the way for cultural progress.

That's not to say cultural mistakes are excusable, or that they should even be tolerated, but when a conflagration like RaceFail occurs, I want everyone to keep in mind what the primary intent of cultural awareness is. In society, most people see imprisonment as the opportunity for punishment instead of reform, and while the former paradigm is valid, society benefits more from reformed criminals than dead ones. When it comes to cultural appropriation, I want to see positive reform, instead of simply condemning writers for making mistakes. I want to live in a world where writers are educated enough to write about other cultures and get it right, instead of a society where writers don't write about other cultures for fear of getting it wrong (or worse, getting it right and still drawing the ire of fans and readers; each culture has their own taboo subjects after all that someone within that particular culture will be apprehensive discussing in public).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April 20, 2010 Links and Plugs

Yesterday, I forgot to plug Marty Halpern's eArc giveaway of his upcoming anthology, Is Anybody Out There?

And my question for the day is who would win in this cage match: Death (Discworld) vs Death (Good Omens) vs Death (Sandman) vs Death (Marvel Comics) vs Death (Piers Anthony).

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You know you want to get a copy:

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book/Magazine Review: Inked

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Not that familiar with the current trends of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy genre, I decided to pick up Inked which features four stories (in the novella-novelette range) from writers of that genre. Karen Chance, Marjorie M. Liu, Yasmine Galenorn, and Eileen Wilks contribute to this anthology and it does give you a taste of their respective series. The conceit of the book is that the stories must include tattoos, and Inked for the most part fulfills that goal as three out of the four stories doesn't shoehorn that requirement. Another thing going for Inked is that while the contributors write under the same genre, each one's stories feel different from showcases a different facet of paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

In "Skin Deep" by Karen Chance, Chance's writing style is reminiscent of Laurell K. Hamilton in the sense that the consequences of her divergent reality is well thought out and explained. Her setting isn't simply the real world with supernatural monsters in it, but rather a seemingly-realistic take on what would happen if creatures like werewolves existed. For the most part, it follows the tropes established by Hamilton, such as the inclusion of a flawed and troubled protagonist. As for the story itself, it stands well on its own, although one can't help but feel there's a larger sub-plot in the background that this story is hinting at. It's not the tightest story, but it does succeed in piquing your curiosity.

"Armor of Roses" by Marjorie M. Liu feels the most unique. The reason for this is that this story leans more towards urban fantasy than paranormal romance, with the latter being only present in what serves as the prologue (although the little that there is is titillating enough). Admittedly, the atmosphere of "Armor of Roses" has less of an urgency compared to the other three, and while those looking for an adrenaline surge might find that detracting, for me it's not a deal breaker as the slower pace fits this particular story. The strength of this piece is how Liu conveys her version of China in addition to reconciling time travel tropes with the urban fantasy flavor. Overall, Liu's style feels refreshing and different, although this isn't necessarily the most compelling of the four stories.

"Etched in Silver" by Yasmine Galenorn honestly feels mediocre, and while the inclusion of tattoos flows is integral in the other stories, here it's not a vital element--which isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but worth mentioning nonetheless.

"Etched in Silver" is competent enough although it feels a bit generic with the melding of fey culture and the modern world. If Liu's writing leans more towards the urban fantasy side, Galenorn's story is slanted more towards the paranormal romance aspect, and it immediately gives off that vibe in the first few pages. If you want to be seduced by romance, this is probably the story that would appeal the most to such readers, but for me, this was fun albeit unmemorable.

The most polished piece in my opinion is "Human Nature" by Eileen Wilks. I find that to be the case because while the author hints at her larger series, there's little exposition spent at covering topics that's not relevant to the current plot. The dilemma of her protagonist is the sole focus of the story, and isn't hampered by continuity and sub-plots. Technique-wise, this is a formulaic investigation story with motivations and clues laid out. As far as the mystery aspect is concerned, I found it to be satisfying enough. Wilks also hits all the right beats, whether it's the genuineness of her characters, the timely inclusion of humor and romance, and the complexity of the situation.

Overall, Inked is a good way to get introduced to the worlds of its contributors. Personally, I found the book to be popcorn fun, but otherwise unremarkable.

April 19, 2010 Links and Plugs

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Looks like a must buy:
Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories edited by Jonathan Strahan and Charles N. Brown

Friday, April 16, 2010

April 16, 2010 Links and Plugs

Congrats to the Shirley Jackson Awards nominees!

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15, 2010 Links and Plugs

Busy busy busy. Day 11 of 14-days of straight work.

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Some Jim Butcher:

Changes by Jim Butcher

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Philippine Book Taxes: A Rant

One month ago, I received my copy of Shine, an anthology edited by my friend Jetse de Vries. It arrived via courier but along with it came an unexpected expense: a bill from Customs charging me for the book's importation. Now book taxes isn't quite a new phenomenon in the Philippines. Last year, we had the event dubbed the "Book Blockade" as Customs (in reality the puppets of the Department of Finance) prevented the importation of books by bookstores unless the latter paid exorbitant fees for them (this was taking place at the height of the Twilight phenomenon). Now this was a relatively new practice considering the Philippines is part of the Florence Agreement, which waives the taxes when it comes to book imports I'm fine with paying taxes for my books but in this case, the government should be transparent: either it's complying with the Florence Agreement or it's not.

The story of the Philippine Book Blockade fits the theme of Shine: optimistic science fiction. This particular news-worthy item wasn't covered by the major networks. Instead, a grass-roots campaign began through social media, whether it was blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Eventually, it was covered in individual columns in newspapers. A few weeks (which, in itself, is a red tape miracle) down the line, the Department of Finance was thwarted by the president herself who proclaimed that books wouldn't be taxed.

That's not the end of the story though. Like the stereotypical villain found in fiction, the Department of Finance proclaimed that this wouldn't be over. And they kept that promise.

You see bookstores aren't being taxed by customs for the importation of books. Individual citizens, however, are. When you order a book abroad and it arrives in the post office, you're charged an exorbitant amount. And in typical Filipino red-tape fashion, there are hidden costs in the price breakdown such as "import processing fee" and "customs documentary" stamps". In my case, Shine had a retail price of UK$7.99. I paid P548.60 in taxes for the particular book, which amounts to $UK7.99. And this was, mind you, a review copy sent to me, as opposed to a book I might have bought from Amazon.

Attached below are the official documents, as proof:


April 14, 2010 Links and Plugs

Phone lines are dead and flies are eating my carcass at the office...

Meanwhile, buddy Steve Berman writes in to mention that Filipino Noel Alumit is up for the The James Duggins Mid-Career Author Award, which will be awarded on the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival.

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Some nonfiction reading:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 13, 2010 Links and Plugs

More Shine interviews at SF Signal, namely with the Jasons: Jason Stoddard and Jason Andrew.

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Don't forget your parasol:
Changeless by Gail Carriger

Monday, April 12, 2010

April 12, 2010 Links and Plugs

I got a pair of 7-day work weeks so... (one down, one more to go)

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Some love to the editors:

Book/Magazine Review: Warriors edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Disclosure: The publisher sent a review copy for the purposes of this review.

On the outside, Warriors is an impressive tome: it's this massive hardcover that features an all-star lineup of contributors. Even the introduction sets the standard: this anthology is genre agnostic and simply tries to tell the best "Warrior" stories there is, whether it be historical, crime, science fiction, or fantasy. As praise-worthy as that is, the question is whether the book lives up to its packaging.

There are twenty stories all in all and thankfully, each one of them is a solid story. There are no weak or under-developed stories here, although each one does not necessarily stands out. And that, I think, is the blessing and curse of Warriors. The bar is admittedly high: whereas other anthologies might have stories that are sub-par, here, every story is more than competent and has a strong foundation. But just because a story is well-written does not necessarily mean it's automatically a favorite, and the dilemma here, like any anthology, is finding a wide variety of stories that stand out.

Take for example "The King of Norway" by Cecelia Holland, "The Triumph" by Robin Hobb, "Soldierin" by Joe R. Lansdale, or even the Song of Ice and Fire novella "The Mystery Knight" by George R. R. Martin. If it comes down to discussion of technique, there's nothing wrong with these stories. In fact, they work within the context of what the author sets out to accomplish and they are, when read indepedently, enjoyable stories. In the context of this anthology, however, they feel a bit too commonplace, meeting one's initial expectation of warrior-related stories. That's not bad per se, simply that they're classified as good stories when they could have been greater.

And then there are stories which experiment a bit and are memorable because they do so. Examples are "Dirae" by Peter S. Beagle which is admittedly confusing at first but readers eventually figure out the puzzle as the author presents an unlikely warrior; "The Girls from Avenger" by Carrie Vaughn which tackles the plight of female pilots during World War II and relies more on emotional drama rather than action to drive the narrative; "The Scroll" by David Ball which has has an Arabian Nights atmosphere to it, due to the setting and determinism philosophy belying the piece.

The strongest pieces for me are "Clean Slate" by Lawrence Block and "Out of the Dark" by David Weber. "Clean Slate" clearly overturns expectations as to what kind of story it is. There's a distinct transition as the reader experiences curiosity, eroticism, and finally horror. Block covers a wide spectrum of emotions and the fact that the story nonetheless retains its impact on the second reading makes this a noteworthy story in my book. "Out of the Dark", on the other hand, I feel will polarize readers. On one hand, Weber is a master of atmosphere: he sets and establishes the mood right from the outset, and while unwary readers might think this is simply the author using well-established techniques, this is actually Weber setting up the reader for the coup-de-grace. On the other hand is the ending and this will divide readers into two camps: either this is a brilliant finale or the worst. I belong to the former camp. Admittedly, "Out of the Dark" is more of a guilty pleasure rather than a piece you read for literary achievement (which I think the other stories in this anthology qualify).

Overall, Warriors is a solid and sturdy anthology and with all the A-listers included in the back of the book, it thankfully meets expectations. If this were a tournament, Warriors is the equivalent of betting on the expected winner as opposed to the underdog: the odds are for it and there's a good reason why that's so.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

April 7, 2010 Links and Plugs

Incredibly busy as of late, will be working 6-day work weeks for the month.

On a side note, I interview the Shine contributors over at SF Signal. So far, I got Madeline Ashby and Mari Ness.

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Some Rae Bryant love:

Essay: Fandom and Piracy (Part 5)

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

A fitting conclusion to this series is answering the question "Why pirate?" Now I'm not a pirate but there are several things that I've observed.

At the root of it, pirates are fans of the work they're pirating, either with specific titles or in the abstract. An example of the former is a pirate who's releasing scanlations of the manga Bleach is a fan of Bleach. When it comes to the latter, a pirate who's releasing thousands of books into the wild might not be a fan (or even actually read) every book they're pirating, but they consider themselves a fan of books in general (or maybe a specific genre). If not, why go through all the effort of acquiring and disseminating these titles? It's certainly not for profit--unless it's a paid site--and consumes time and bandwidth.

That however doesn't answer the question of why pirates pirate. One motivation might be to spread their love for a certain title and nothing is more efficient at this than the Internet. It's the same reason why one might loan their favorite book or CD to a friend. Never mind the fact that one's legal and the other isn't. Some pirates actually think that they're doing the authors a favor by pirating their work ("Look, you get more readers.") On the other hand of the spectrum are pirates who separate the text from the author/creator. They might like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone but dislike J.K. Rowling herself (especially if she asks them to take down her work). Compare for example the different kinds of dialogue author Nancy Kress has with pirates: An Exchange With a Pirate (& the eventual fallout More on the Story Piracy) and Dialogue With a Pirate.

Another motivation for pirates is more self-serving. Aside from the hits on a website ("Yay, I'm popular!"), pirates get a certain sense of emotional gratification when people download their stuff (and this is also indicative as to what actually gets pirated, and why popular books are also popular pirated downloads). It might be feeling satisfaction at the fact it's being downloaded (in the same sense that editors feel pride when authors they edit get read by others), or something more concrete such as fans thanking the pirate for disseminating such material. What makes this feedback loop possible, however, are the fans themselves. If people didn't download pirated stuff, then the former type would lose motivation to maintain piracy. If fans didn't thank pirates for what they do, again, they lose their motivation to keep on pirating (in fact, I've also witnessed drama where pirates threaten to stop releasing material because they feel their community doesn't appreciate them enough).

There is also the issue of different mores in the current generation. In my previous essays, I've stated how intellectual property feels abstract to some people, and this gives them the sense that it's reasonable to distribute such work because it's not a tangible product, such as an actual book (related to this is The New York Time's The Ethicist who finds it ethical to download pirated books if you bought the hardcover). There are also those who feel that just because they're not doing it for financial profit means that their actions are perfectly legitimate (this is also used to justify fan fiction). And then there are those who are outright vengeful: because the publisher won't release electronic copies, they'll pirate their own (and the community that sustains this kind of behavior is even scarier: people who download said pirated material expect such products to come out immediately--all without paying the author or the publisher their due).

Suffice to say, there are different kinds of pirates, and they can't easily be pegged under one general category. What might discourage one pirate won't necessarily discourage another.