Credit: Sue Blanchard

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National Read an E-Book Week runs to March 14.

“I Have Read the Future,” declared the headline of a 1999 Slate piece that lauded the Rocket eBook. In it, author Jacob Weisberg argued that next Darwinian transition in publishing was imminent.

But while major publishing houses are suffering sliding sales and have axed jobs, e-books have been a perennial Next Big Thing—except to authors without name recognition or comfy advances who’ve taken cues not from Slate but from indie musicians. “I’ve seen bands do this for a decade,” says Don Carr, a press secretary and Washington City Paper contributor.

Carr self-published his satirical novel Psaurian as an e-book after agents wouldn’t bite. “After a while, you say: ‘Fuck it. I’ll do it on my own,’” he says.

David Rothman understands the sentiment. Since the late 1970s, he’s been shopping The Solomon Scandals, a thriller that’s been rebuffed by publishing houses large and small. “It’s no longer like the F. Scott [Fitzgerald] days, when Maxwell Perkins decided what books to publish. Now it’s the MBAs,” Rothman says.

Rothman went on to write six nonfiction books, many of them about computers and digital publishing. In 1992, he founded TeleRead, a Web site dedicated to lobbying for digital library systems. And this January, the final draft of the book Rothman banged out on a Nixon-era IBM Selectric finally hit streets—Twilight Times released the book in both electronic and paperback formats.

Quintin Peterson, an officer with the D.C. Police Department’s Public Information Office, has followed a similar approach for his novels and short stories. Peterson, who was anthologized in the 2006 George ­Pelacanos–edited D.C. Noir, self-published his first novel, SIN, in 2000.

Since then, he’s self-published a second novel and achieved modest success with some Amazon Shorts, stories that people who own the company’s Kindle e-book reader can get for 49 cents apiece. His first effort, “A Dark Place,” made the list’s Top 100.

“There’s not much money in it,” Peterson says. “But it’s not about the money—it’s about making sure that you get read.”

“E-books allow me to be optimistic about publishing,” Carr says. Electronic publishing, he says, “makes me want to keep writing more books.”

Here, some works by local authors that you can read without causing a single tree to fall.

The Solomon ScandalsBy David Rothman

Tracing the conscientious reportage of hard-nosed Washington Telegram correspondent Jon Stone, Rothman’s thriller weaves together society gossip, zoning reportage, and union grumblings into a pulp-ish web of international intrigue. Stone is the Cassandra of the D.C. press corps—his hunches mocked, his scoops unpublished until it’s too late. In the meantime, we get to relish his chatty first-person narrator spinning characterizations of D.C. with the same dark zeal Hammett held for Frisco or Chandler had for Los Angeles. (A Deep Throat wannabe named Lucky O’Brien drops pearls of wisdom like, “I’m a red-blooded American. It’s simple. I hate queers, and I want a hundred thousand dollars.”) Granted, some of the hardboiled constructions strike an unwelcome chord (“maybe the flow of semen would in some way correlate with the flow of money,” Stone muses at one point), and the narrative takes time to pick up speed, but once the thing gets rolling, it’s hard to put it down. (Pay close attention to the preoccupation with obsolescence—Rothman’s intro and epilogue play postmodern havoc with the book’s own tortuous path to publication.) It’s hard to call an e-book a page-turner—novels like The Solomon Scandals require a new word. —Ted Scheinman

Various short storiesBy Quintin Peterson

Quintin Peterson’s cops and villains teeter on the edge—between lightness and darkness, sanity and madness, the right and wrong ends of a gun. Peterson works like a dark caricaturist, embellishing real life with CSI-worthy touches. Characters such as “Hollywood Frank” (a showboating medical examiner) and “The Bushman” (a serial child rapist) inhabit a monochrome D.C. of little joy and even less justice in “A Dark Place” and his other shorts, and Peterson renders this cosmos with a gruesome bluntness that is almost farcical: A cuckolded cop plots revenge against the protégé who’s sleeping with his wife (“The Kingsley Affair”); a veteran officer gets splattered with baby brains and goes berserk with an Uzi (“Forsaken”). That the farce is unintentional comes across pretty quickly, through lines like “he concealed the turmoil beneath his seemingly calm exterior, just as the calm surface of the murky Potomac River masks its turbulent undertow.” Only in rare moments do we discover a cop thicker than the paper he’s not printed on—Winston Henderson, for example, an over-the-hill homicide detective who mourns that “his arms were too short to box with the devil.” Peterson’s stories read with the granular expertise of a veteran officer; unfortunately some of them also read like a crime report. —TS

Psaurian: A Novel of Semi-Intelligent DesignBy Donald Carr

Ex-military man and active wino Deacon Flick has been recruited by the International Federation of Cryptozoology and tasked with protecting humankind from aliens and the secrets of its own origin. In the tradition of the Halo videogame series, Deacon and crew slowly discover that some of their human loyalties are misplaced, and that the aliens aren’t as terrible as they seem (consider this the anti–Starship Troopers). In select passages, Carr’s expository chops rival those of drugstore jockeys like Elmore Leonard, and his morbid sense of humor ranks right up there with Caarl Hiassen’s, but the jig is up when his characters open their mouths. While Carr occasionally treats his readers to a flash of genuinely good dialogue and he approaches satire with a bitter absurdism, he dedicates too much space to jargon and melodramatic flashbacks meant to make his characters’ crazy abilities seem legitimate. Still, Psaurian is a good early rebuttal to the bad rap most e-books receive. —Mike Riggs

As the Mirror CracksBy Steve Jordan

The virtual-reality-run-amok theme of Steve Jordan’s As the Mirror Cracks sounds frighteningly familiar, both because the technology at the center of it already exists (see: Second Life) and because the modern world’s second-biggest fear, after unshorn men with boxcutters boarding airplanes, is losing our power over the things we create. But Jordan’s novel isn’t a horror story as much as a cautionary tale about the growing rift between our online and real-world identities. Tomas “Tom” Calavero, a popular syndicated writer with a penthouse downtown (that’s how you know it’s sci-fi), is the novel’s protagonist. He assumes the identities of both a superhero named Zenith and a scroungy swinger named Norm Thomas when he heads into a virtual reality called the “Mirror” (about which Tom is writing an e-book), where he flies around and battles a gang led by the villain Minimizer. The storyline for As the Mirror Cracks resembles the average superhero comic, as Calavero, who keeps his Zenith alter-ego a secret, attempts to go after hackers, corrupt corporate types, and other threats to the Mirror’s existence while keeping his identity concealed. While Jordan’s self-referential tech-nerdiness is the novel’s most irksome narrative, he seems to have a knack for spelling out the etymology of strange technology: In fact, As the Mirror Cracks would probably make for a better alternative history of virtual reality than a sci-fi novel. –MR