Look, I don’t want to bore everyone with political commentary but today, the day the Australian Government voted to repeal Australia’s emissions trading scheme (the so-called “carbon tax”), I just have to say something. But I’ll keep it short.
The point of putting a price on carbon emissions is to send what the economists call a “price signal” to the market. A price signal is intended to change consumer behaviour – in this case by nudging buyers of goods and services in the direction of suppliers who have low carbon emissions and therefore lower prices. By that means, it encourages businesses to change their behaviour too, moving out of old, polluting technologies and practices into new, cleaner ones.
The ETS in Australia (which was due to start next year after being a simple emissions tax until then) has been extremely effective as a price signal and has reduced emissions in this country.
The Australian Government likes price signals. In fact, it introduced a few in its latest budget. The $7-per-visit co-payment (tax) on seeing a doctor or accessing other medical services, for example, is a price signal explicitly designed to encourage (poor) people not to see the doctor so often. The Australian Government wants (poor) people to have lower levels of healthcare and are keen to encourage them in that direction by charging a levy on each use of it.
So we must not be hoodwinked by the Government’s rhetoric. The reason why they want to remove the “carbon tax” isn’t because they want to save people money, it’s because they don’t think reducing carbon emissions is important. It is also because they want to remove a price signal that is successfully driving customers away from old, polluting industries. It is a move to support those industries at the expense of the climate. Those industries are more important to the Australian Government than the many benefits that flow from reducing carbon emissions.
Removing the price on carbon emissions is not a move to help the economy, or to grow jobs, or to improve the lives of Australians in any way whatsoever – leaving the price on carbon is how that is done. It is simply designed to stop benefiting new, clean industries at the expense of old, polluting ones. It is designed to put the brakes on a movement towards a clean economy and to stick with a dirty one.
Why? Because Australia is a major coal and gas exporter and the Australian Government and the Australian people (who voted for it) are so limited in their vision that they cannot imagine any other way of this country keeping its First World status without the income from those industries.
OK. That’s enough.
This is a very special day for me. The Credulity Nexus is available on Amazon (soon in other online retailers, I promise). It’s a fast-action science fiction thriller with a
twisty plot and some cool characters. Everyone who’s read it so far has loved it, so I’m hoping you’ll like it too.
But that’s not what makes this such a special book release. For many years I have been writing and publishing stories set in the Placid Point universe. This is a place where the first transhumans have emerged – people who have uploaded their minds into computers, or into robot bodies – and have struggled to live among humans and to come to terms with their own nature. It is a world in which our solar system orbits on the fringes of a galaxy teeming with alien species – all of them more advanced than we are – and where our lightest brush against our neighbours can have devastating consequences. It’s a place I love to work in, one that fires my imagination like few others I have created.
Apart from the short stories, I have been writing books – three different series of books. Chronologically, it works like this:
The Rik Sylver novels.
This is an open-ended series, although I don’t expect to write more than three of them. The first is The Credulity Nexus, set on Earth and on the Moon in the early days of transhumanity when the uploads are struggling against hatred and prejudice among humanity, mostly stirred up by the major religions who see the uploads as soulless abominations. Rik Sylver is a washed up, private eye, trying to make a go of it in Heinlein, the Moon’s largest town, when he gets mixed up in a power struggle between the uploads and a mega-rich Christian fundamentalist. It all centres around a newly-discovered gene nexus that has remarkable properties and could change humankind forever. A weaponised virus that can deliver genes to affect this nexus is out there and both sides want it. Unfortunately for Rik, he is the only one who can find it.
That’s the novel that was released today. The second in the series, The Sentience Machine, has also been written and will be out early next year. A third is already fizzing in my brain but writing that one will have to wait because right now I’m working on…
The Emissaries Trilogy.
This is pure space opera, set 400 years in the future. In the first of the three novels, Emissaries, first contact with an alien species is made when a deep space exploration drone is intercepted and a message of greeting sent back to Earth. A crew of scientists, diplomats and soldiers is sent out to meet the aliens and represent humanity. But others also want to be first to meet our new friends, including an organised crime lord with a view to exploiting vast, untapped markets, and one of Earth’s superpowers intent on total domination of the Solar System. All three sets of emissaries meet up at Gamma Sagittae from where the message came, only to find that first contact is nothing like any of them expected.
The second book in the trilogy is Supplicants, and the third is Warriors. You can probably tell just by the titles that things don’t go particularly well. I’ve already written two of these novels and have just begun writing the third. I expect them to begin appearing next year – after the second Rik Sylver novel is out. Then comes…
The Deep Fracture Trilogy.
This set of books is set ten thousand years into the future. So much time has passed that humanity has forgotten its ancient roots. They have forgotten the transhumans of old, they’ve forgotten their contact with neighbouring aliens, and have forgotten to be afraid of the galaxy around them. Humanity is, as ever, a squabbling, warring breed, spread across a thousand solar systems in a volume of space one hundred light-years across, and split into scores of independent civilisations, all of which have risen and fallen so many times over the last ten thousand years that few have a history longer than hundreds of years, all of which maintain a delicate and fragile peace with their neighbours despite their endless jockeying for advantage.
Out on the border of human space, on a world remote and insignificant, a scientific outpost discovers a strange anomaly causing terrible destruction that is slowly spreading through space and threatening whole solar systems. Once people begin to realise it is a weapon, the race to own it and control it destabilises everything and a general war begins to loom. Only one person dimly understands what is really going on, however, and it is not even a person but a sentient robot, calling itself Broome, that has miraculously survived the last ten millennia. With a small band of humans in tow, Broome sets off to find the lost transhumans of Omega Point, convinced that only they can save humankind from complete destruction.
Only one of these books has been written so far, the first, Loner’s Deep, and I am so looking forward to writing the other two! They won’t be released until the whole of the Emissaries trilogy is out there.
The Credulity Nexus is therefore an extremely important milestone for me. As you can see, I didn’t write these books (or the short stories) in order. What that means is that the whole, magnificent saga is here in my head, just waiting to be realised on the page – eight or nine books’ worth! It’s a lot to carry around and I am so glad that, at last, I have begun to reveal it to the world.
So, please nip over to Amazon and grab your copy of The Credulity Nexus now. As I did with my previous novel, Cargo Cult, I will keep the price low for a while so that fans and eager sci-fi enthusiasts, who normally buy each of my books as they come out (God bless you, one and all!), have the opportunity to pay less than those who come late to the party.
Well, it has taken longer to get this together than I had hoped but my forthcoming sci-fi thriller, The Credulity Nexus, finally has a cover we’re all happy with
The Credulity Nexus is the first book in a new series. Set in the near future (towards the end of this century) it is set in a time when the first transhumans are coming into conflict with a world beset by increasing political and religious tensions. The series will – in the course of eight or nine novels – move from here to a time ten thousand years in the future. It will start on Earth and the Moon but will gradually move out into space until the final books are pure space opera. If you want a taste of the world in which all these books are to be set, take a look at my short story collection, Placid Point: Tales From the History of Transhumanity. It’s on Amazon and most other online bookstores (e.g. B&N), which dips into the history of this world.
Here’s the blurb to go with the first novel, The Credulity Nexus:
When struggling PI Rik Sylver takes on a simple courier’s job, it turns out the package he is transporting contains a virus that can control people’s minds and powerful, dangerous half-human people want to take it from him. When he loses the package, the only way to save himself and everyone he loves, is to collaborate with these people to retrieve it, but things are not what they seem and deciding what to believe is the key to Rik saving himself and the world he knows.
Cover design was by me, background graphic is a detail from “Night Landscape” by George Hodan, and the foreground figure is by Kate Storrs (http://oftinyrobots.wordpress.com/). Let me know what you think.
By the way, that black-skinned woman on the cover is a transhuman, her mind uploaded to a robot body. She’s probably my favourite character from the book. I hope you’ll like her – or like to hate her – too.
Hi Gang. Just to let you know that from today, for a week, my science fiction thriller, Heaven is a Place on Earth, is on special offer at Amazon. It’s a so-called Kindle Countdown deal, meaning the price has dropped to 99c but it will slowly rise to the book’s full price over the next few days. So, the earlier you jump in, the cheaper it is. (This only applies to sales through Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, I’m afraid – but most Aussies still use Amazon.com anyway so my local readers probably won’t be discommoded.)
If you’re a Robert Goddard thriller fan, you might be interested in knowing that Mr. Goddard was a major influence on this book. As a big fan of his, I have wanted to write a “Robert Goddard thriller” for years. He has a way of starting a book with an ordinary person to whom something only slightly odd happens – a letter from an old friend, maybe, or a chance discovery at an auction house – that piques their curiosity or concern. Then, before they know it, they are up to their necks in a dangerous and ever-deepening mystery that they must doggedly, often courageously, work their way through to save themselves or someone else.
Well, Heaven is a Place on Earth is my “Robert Goddard thriller”. Only, since I write science fiction, it’s set in a near-future world of pervasive augmented reality. Think “Robert Goddard meets Cyberpunk”. If you like sci-fi, if you like thrillers, if you enjoy a good read, I hope you’ll give Heaven a try – especially this week, while it is such a bargain.
4th May is traditionally when I take stock of my writing career to date, looking back to 2008, which I consider the first year of me taking writing seriously as a career option, and trying to decide how I’m doing.
In the past year, huge things have happened. Not least of these was that I have published four novels! My Timesplash series – which was signed up by Pan Macmillan/Momentum in 2012 – was published in June and July 2013. Then, in January 2014, I self-published Heaven is a Place on Earth, and in April 2014, I self-published Cargo Cult. Other, less momentous things happened (short story sales, True Path shortlisted for an Aurealis Award, said goodbye to my agent) but the novels are what I consider the real landmarks in my career.
Why so many? I certainly don’t write four a year. More like one. But this year I finally got fed up of chasing Big 5 publishers and coming oh so close (or even succeeding and then having very disappointing sales) and decided to self-publish instead. Between 2010 and 2013, I had wasted 3 years with no publications, hoping that some editor at a Big 5 company would pick up one of my books. Those who have been following my amazing series of near misses will understand when I say that, while all this has given me the confidence to say unequivocally that my writing is good enough to be published by the world’s leading publishers (and that’s no small thing), it has also shown me what a precarious and uncertain path this is to building a career. A much more certain route to success these days is to self-publish. In fact, the only financial success I have ever had from my writing was in the period 2011-2012 when I was self-publishing Timesplash.
So, in the past four months, I have brought out two more novels and rid myself of a huge amount of stress and frustration.
And here’s another great wadge of stress and frustration I’ve dumped: I have stopped marketing my books. For Heaven and for Cargo Cult, I have done the absolute minimum. I mentioned them on Twitter and Facebook a few times – probably no more than half-a-dozen times each. I have their covers here on the blog with links to Amazon – and that’s it!
Let me tell you why. Marketing has never worked for me. Never. I’ve done blog tours and twitter tours, I’ve given interviews, I’ve done guest posts, I’ve set up websites and forums, I’ve done competitions and giveaways, sent out press releases and handed out business cards. The only thing that has ever worked was doing a free promotion on Amazon. (And by “worked”, I mean raised the level of my book sales to a point where I might be able to live on the income.) And that only worked a couple of times. Since Amazon changed its rules about how free promotions work, even that has become totally ineffective. So my conclusion is that I need not waste all my time and nervous energy to make a handful of sales here and there. There really is no point.
It’s true that my newly-released novels are hardly selling at all but most books – commercially published or self-published, marketed or not – sell similarly badly. I know I could raise the level of sales by a few extra books a month by going back to doing all that awful marketing but the difference between no sales and a few sales is a pocketful of change. It is not worth the effort.
Instead, I’m focusing all my effort on writing the best books I can, editing them well and providing them with good covers. If people discover them, fine. In fact, terrific! I love it when people find my books and read them. If not, so what? It’s the writing I enjoy and, since it makes so little difference, I will no longer blight my life with marketing. It’s a mug’s lark.
Of course, it’s disappointing that, literally, tens of thousands more people have read Timesplash than have read Heaven is a Place on Earth (which is a far better book), I can’t help that and it just goes to show how fickle and strange this business is.
So, it has been a truly enormous year for my career. And, because of all the things I’ve stopped doing, I feel I have taken a huge load off my back and can now stride forward as never before. I am finally getting my work out there and I am finally free to do what I love and nothing else. All because I have at last realised that my idea of being a writer isn’t about “being published” it’s about writing. I have a few loyal readers who love what I do, and understand and appreciate the care I take over it, and that is gratifying beyond all measure, but, even without them, even with no sales at all, I believe I would still feel I have found the right path at last.
So here’s to a year of solid progress in this new and exciting direction. I hope you’ll stick with me and see how it turns out.
I just watched World War Z. Why I watched it is a long and tedious tale, full of boredom and ennui, signifying nothing. Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t normally watch a fantasy film, let alone a zombie film but, you know, events conspired. I blame Will Smith. The last zombie film I watched was I Am Legend, which turned out to be pretty good. So, I thought, maybe WWZ could repeat the miracle.
What a fool I was.
Before I tell you why WWZ was a bitter disappointment and reaffirmed all my prejudices against zombie films and other fantasy sub-genres, let me first say that it was a rollicking good adventure story with lots of running about shooting and blowing things up, it didn’t have too much extreme violence or gore, and Brad Pitt was pretty likeable in the role. There was no character development (barely any characterisation, as such) but that’s OK. This was a movie, after all, not a book (yes, I know there’s a book too – I won’t be reading it) and you don’t expect anything as fancy as character development in an action movie. (Why waste time on words when you could fit in another ten minutes of running around bashing zombies on the head?) Also, big plus, the special effects were pretty cool.
You see? I don’t ask much of my action movies. Yet WWZ managed to offend me all the same.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, be warned, there are spoilers ahead.
I was almost about to give the movie a pass when Our Hero staggered out of a plane crash near Cardiff and into a WHO lab. Until that point, no-one had really tried to explain the zombies. Yes, the UN was treating it as a global pandemic and their tame scientist was sure it was a virus infection. But the virologist gets killed almost as soon as they can decently do away with him and I thought, “Whoopee! That’s the end of that nonsense.”
But it wasn’t.
The WHO scientists trashed the whole film for me when they started musing on the possibility of giving the zombies some other kind of lethal infection (they’d even tried it, apparently). It didn’t work – couldn’t possibly work, they explained – because you can’t infect something that’s already dead and has no circulatory system. And there it was. The zombies were actually dead. They walked around, they ran around, expending masses of energy, they were “sentient” as one scientist told us, despite the fact that their brains should have putrefied very quickly without blood flowing to them, and yet all these scientists were standing around talking about it as if it was just another scientific puzzle, not a complete bloody impossibility. The zombies were obviously animated by magic, not by any natural process. Then Our Hero came up with a crazy scheme to infect living humans with deadly diseases so that the zombies wouldn’t try to infect them with their zombie magic because, for some unexplained reason, the magic zombies – which are dead, remember and can’t be infected – didn’t want to prey on sick humans.
If they’d just left it that the damned zombies were magic and hadn’t tried to find a scientific way to save the day, the film would have been a million times better. But – and here’s the stinger for me – once you start trying to mix real science with magic, you get an absolute mess, a hotchpotch of pseudoscientific rubbish that is an insult to the intelligence. Yes, I was watching a zombie film. Yes, zombies are magic so, yes, I was prepared to suspend my disbelief, but Oh God Why do they always think that adding a load of rubbish science to a fantasy film makes it somehow more plausible or credible? It doesn’t. It ruins the magic world the writer has created and makes the silly magic stuff seem even more outrageously stupid. How can you keep up the struggle to suspend your disbelief when the writer keeps tugging your sleeve and saying, “No, no, this is real. There really could be undead humans running around in a world which is otherwise perfectly rational.”
Look guys, if medicines work, if we understand human biology well enough to manufacture cures for diseases, then zombies don’t exist. They only ever could exist in a world where the WHO scientists, confronted with the problem, say, “There’s no point even thinking about a cure or a defence based on medical knowledge, biology and chemistry, because the existence of zombies proves that every bloody thing we know is wrong.”
And, lest you think I’m being especially unkind to zombie writers, let me generalise it to the whole of fantasy. There is no point adding real science or real technology to a fantasy story of any description. All those writers who like to point out that in mediaeval times a bowman could only shoot an arrow thus far, or a horse can only gallop for so many minutes, are just wasting their time. Once you have included magic in your story, you have told us all that the laws of nature are so far removed from what we see around us, that you might as well make anything happen. Forcing the tensile strength of wood and bowstring and human sinews to be what they are in reality just makes no sense at all. Why should they be special when fundamental laws of physics are broken with impunity elsewhere?
It’s the fact that the laws of physics are just that – laws – that makes magic impossible in the first place. So, if you create a world in which they can be mangled, I’m OK with that, but please don’t try to tell me that the interior angles of a triangle must still add up to 180 degrees because that is just arbitrary and jerks me out of the story as much as it would if Arthur C. Clarke had opened up Rama to reveal a magic porridge pot inside.
So, World War Z might well be the very last zombie film I ever watch. And, honestly, that will not be a big loss.
Just a quick note to let you know I have a guest post up on the blog of writer and editor Sarah Hans today. It’s all about writing prompts. And, even if you know all about writing prompts and find the whole subject a big yawn, you should still go there, just to take a look around Sarah’s great blog.
Nuff said. Click the link. Go.
PS If you’re wondering where you’ve heard Sarah’s name before, she was the editor of the brilliant Sidekicks anthology in which my story “After the Party” (set in the Timesplash universe) played a humble part.
For many years I have unquestioningly accepted it when people (mostly physicists) say that in an infinite universe everything that can happen will happen – an infinite number of times - and our own little bit of the universe will exist somewhere else, in an infinite number of instances. It seems to make intuitive sense, yet one’s intuitions about infinity are rarely trustworthy, I find.
Also, I’ve never really asked myself what an infinite universe actually is. Is it infinite in spatial extent, infinite in temporal extent, infinite in both space and time, or infinite in neither but one of an infinite number of finite universes in an infinite multiverse? (And in what kind of a multiverse? There are several different possibilities.) I suppose this all comes from writing the third book in the Timesplash series (working title: FORESIGHT) for which I had to grapple with M-theory, multiple universes and the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory so that I could thread them into the story. I find such mental workouts leave me intellectually disturbed for a long, long time as my perspective on the cosmos slowly returns to normal.
Here’s the thing. If you regard our present known universe as arising from a sequence of quantum-level choices made by every single particle since the dawn of time, you have a situation where a universe is analogous to rolling a dice over and over again. Of course, a dice has just six sides and the universe we know has gazillions of particles (equivalent to a dice with as many sides as a gazillion times the number of possible states for each particle) but the principle is the same. If we keep rolling the dice an infinite number of times, we would expect every finite sequence (up to a certain length) to appear an infinite number of times. But that’s only if the universe doesn’t start out having infinite extent.
And that’s because, like our finite dice, a finite universe will only have a finite set of possible states after each moment in time – each throw of the dice. A spatially finite universe over infinite time should therefore yield an infinite repetition of sequences (up to a certain length – except, see below). But if the universe is spatially infinite, then, even over infinite time, it probably won’t repeat itself at all. We’d expect each sequence (each universe) to appear, on average, only once.
This appears to contradict the general supposition, stated in the first paragraph, that in a spatially infinite universe each part of the universe (below a certain size) should be replicated infinitely. Any length of time less than infinity should not even allow all possible universes to exist, let alone duplicates. It may, in fact, be an actual paradox to expect both in a spatially infinite universe with finite time. (Perhaps the paradox is resolvable by regarding such a cosmos as a universe which has an infinity of space-time events – the infinite spatial extent and the finite temporal extent naturally leading to the expectation of duplicated space-time events).
But I think this simply reflects the unrealistic assumption that the universe as we see it is just a random and static arrangement of a small number of types of particle over an infinite volume of space (or ditto for space-time events over an infinite 4D volume). The reality is not static but dynamic and is more like the dice throwing analogy in that the arrangement of parts arises from a process which unfolds over time. In finite time (with infinite space) momentary duplicates of the static state of parts of the universe may exist but in the moment before and the moment after, the duplicates may not exist.
In fact, there’s another argument that may lead to infinite unique universes rather than infinite duplicates. Not all states of a particular universe may be reachable from some states of another (or the same) universe. This would be true, say, if there really is an arrow of time – i.e. it runs only in one direction – and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is inviolable. There may be no route (no sequence of throws of the dice) from a scrambled egg to the whole egg that preceded it. If you scramble an egg (or, in fact, if you do nothing at all and simply let entropy take its inevitable course) you may have barred the existence of the preceding state of the universe forever.
All said and done, I’m not so ready any more to believe people when they say, “In an infinite universe you and I are having this same conversation somewhere else.” Is there a physicist in the house who might be able to point out the errors in my argument? Or another sci-fi writer? Or anybody else who thinks about this stuff in the middle of the night when they should be sleeping?
I had a strange dream about my cat last night. I wouldn’t normally bother you with this kind of news except that it was vaguely writing-related.
My cat is a cute little fellow, a Tonkinese, slight, pretty and delicate. He is also the most gregarious and affectionate cat I’ve ever known. He is called Minsky, after the great pioneer of AI, Marvin Minsky. In my dream I was writing a story about him. I wrote it in my head but it was fully formed in well-turned sentences, paragraphs and sections. I was well-aware in my dream that I was writing a story and, although I knew it wasn’t real, I saw the images my words described and felt the emotions they were intended to evoke. The whole experience was uncannily like real writing.
It was a post-apocalyptic story in which all the people had inexplicably vanished but the rest of the world was unchanged. It followed Minsky as he coped with the disappearance of his people. I’m pleased to say it didn’t anthropomorphise him. His life grew harder as the days went on and first his bowl of cat biscuit ran out, then his bowl of water. But he survived since he had access to the wide world through his cat flap. At first he felt the loss of his little tribe but only in a vague way as he learned to hunt in earnest and spread his net ever wider in the search for food.
Eventually he stopped returning to the house and lived wild. In fact, he gradually wandered away from it and forgot all about it until, some years later, he came across it again by accident.
Not much of a story, really, unless you were there in my head and felt the emotions of the little fellow as he endured his loss, made his new life, and then rediscovered his old one. A coming-of-age, post-apocalyptic, animal adventure story, I suppose. You’d think I would be fired up to get it all down on paper, but I’m not. For some reason, I am convinced that I couldn’t do it justice. It’s as if I really did write it but lost the manuscript and I know I will never get back the inspiration that made the original so poignant and beautiful.
Oddly-enough, Bertie wasn’t in the story at all. Do I think of him as a person?
Feeling giddy with accomplishment. I finally managed to get Cargo Cult past the Smashwords “autovetter”. This delightful piece of software (which used to be more accurately called the “meat grinder” I believe) is one of the most finicky gatekeepers in the whole of publishing. In the past, I have failed utterly. I still have one short story I never could get past the “autovetter” no matter what I did – even though I formatted it precisely the way I did several other stories that were allowed through. I suspect it is one of those instances where a piece of software has become so complex it has achieved sentience and, like all sentient machines, it hates humans. (Which, ironically, is one of the running gags in Cargo Cult.)
“So what?” I hear you all asking. Good point. The thing is, now I’m over this formidable hurdle, Cargo Cult might soon be available in multiple formats on multiple platforms, so people will be able to buy it on Kobo and iBookstore, in EPUB, for instance, instead of just on Kindle. And, consider this, the hardship of grappling with a malevolent machine intelligence all day, is purely for the convenience of my readers. Past experience has shown that sales of my books on all the Smashwords-supported platforms around the world added together won’t amount to the tiniest fraction of my sales on Amazon. I did all this just so that handful of people who don’t own a Kindle, or run the Kindle app on their iPad, or Android phone, can buy a copy from their favourite retailer in their favourite format.
I’ll keep you updated but if you are one of that handful, please keep your eyes peeled for it appearing in odd, obscure places over the next few days and weeks.
Meanwhile, Cargo Cult hit #2 in the top 100 hottest new releases (humour) on Amazon.com.au (#5 in sci-fi adventure). Which sounds great, until you consider that only three people in the world use Amazon.com.au, so, if any one of them buys it, it’s an instant best-seller. (So, if you’re one of those Australians who like to buy local, go click that Amazon.com.au Buy button and single-handedly drive Cargo Cult to Number One.) But what the hey, one day ebooks will be popular in Australia and telling the tale that I was once #2 in an obscure sub-category will really impress people.
UPDATE 3/4/14: I spoke too soon. Having passed the dreaded “autovetter” the book was then reviewed by the Smashwords (human) vetters. They found a link in it to one of my other books on Amazon. Apparently this is not allowed. They blame it on their retail partners (Apple and Barnes & Noble) who object to selling books containing links to Amazon. I am so tempted to withdraw the book as I find this petty and small-minded. But I’ll probably just change the link to my own landing page which then points to Amazon.