My next book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, comes out in November, but the reviews have just started to come in. Kirkus gave it a stellar review. Many thanks to @neilhimself and @amandapalmer for their wonderful introductions!
In his best-selling novel Ready Player One, Ernest Cline predicted that decades from now, Doctorow (Homeland, 2013, etc.) should share the presidency of the Internet with actor Wil Wheaton. Consider this manifesto to be Doctorow’s qualifications for the job.
The author provides a guide to the operation of the Internet that not only makes sense, but is also written for general readers. Using straightforward language and clear analogies, Doctorow breaks down the complex issues and tangled arguments surrounding technology, commerce, copyright, intellectual property, crowd funding, privacy and value—not to mention the tricky situation of becoming “Internet Famous.” Following a characteristically thoughtful introduction by novelist Neil Gaiman, rock star Amanda Palmer offers a blunt summary of today’s world: “We are a new generation of artists, makers, supporters, and consumers who believe that the old system through which we exchanged content and money is dead. Not dying: dead.” So the primary thesis of the book becomes a question of, where do we go from here? Identifying the Web’s constituents as creators, investors, intermediaries and audiences is just the first smart move. Doctorow also files his forthright, tactically savvy arguments under three “laws,” the most important of which has been well-broadcast: “Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and won’t give you the key, that lock isn’t there for your benefit.”
Read the whole review
Neil Anderson from the Association from Media Literacy (which has a great-sounding upcoming conference) has produced an excellent study guide for my novel Homeland (the sequel to Little Brother) -- Anderson's guide encourages critical thinking about politics, literary technique, technology, privacy, surveillance, and history.
I'm immensely grateful to Anderson for his good work here. I often hear from teachers who want to know if there are any curricular materials they can use in connection with my books, and several of them have shared their own guides with me, but this one stands out as an unusually comprehensive and thoughtful one.
7. Word Meanings
Because communications technologies are central to Homeland‘s plot, the novel contains many tech-oriented words that might be unfamiliar to some readers. Because Marcus is a young adult, some words are specific to young adult culture. Explain how readers could use context to infer the meanings of unfamiliar words.
Some words that you might use for inferring meanings include:
Marcus Yallow, Homeland’s protagonist, is a male. But there are several female characters: Ange is his girlfriend, Masha is an ally, Carrie is an enemy, and Flor is his campaign office boss.
Does Homeland represent a good balance of male and female characters or is it biased? Why?
Are the male and female characters fairly represented? Explain?
Homeland also includes representation from multiple racial/ethnic groups. Joe is African-American, Ange is Asian, etc.
How might this inclusiveness add to the novel’s authenticity and pleasure?
Some people think that it is important for audiences to see themselves represented in the media texts that they consume; that it helps them enjoy the texts and validates their own existence.
Does it really matter whether Homeland‘s characters represent a range of racial/ethnic groups?
Would the story be equally interesting and entertaining if all the characters were from only one racial/ethnic group?
Imagine that Marcus, Ange, Joe and Carrie are from other racial/ethnic groups, or that their genders are switched.
How might those changes influence readers’ responses to the story?
Homeland Study Guide [Neil Anderson/Association for Media Literacy]
Medium have published an excerpt from "The Man Who Sold the Moon, my 36,000 word novella in Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, a project to inspire optimism and ambition about the future and technology that Neal Stephenson kicked off (see also What Will it Take to Get Us Back to the Moon?).
The Open University's "Introduction to Cyber Security" is a free online course -- with optional certificate -- that teaches the fundamentals of crypto, information security, and privacy; I host the series, which starts on Oct 13."
Here's a reading (MP3) of the first part of my story "Petard: A Tale of Just Desserts" from the new MIT Tech Review anthology Twelve Tomorrows, edited by Bruce Sterling. The anthology also features fiction by William Gibson, Lauren Beukes, Chris Brown, Pat Cadigan, Warren Ellis, Joel Garreau, and Paul Graham Raven. The 2013 summer anthology was a huge hit -- Gardner Dozois called it "one of the year’s best SF anthologies to date, perhaps the best."
My latest Guardian column, Adapting gadgets to our needs is the secret pivot on which technology turns, explains the hidden economics of stuff, and how different rules can trap you in your own past, or give you a better future.
Depending on your view, the stuff you own is either a boon to business or a tremendous loss of opportunity.
For example, your collection spice bottles in your pantry means that I could possibly sell you a spice rack. On the other hand, it also means that I can’t design a special spice rack that only admits spice bottles of my own patent-protected design, which would thereby ensure that if you wanted to buy spices in the future you’d either have to buy them from me or throw away that very nice spice rack I sold you.
In the tech world, this question is often framed in terms of “ecosystems” (as in the “Google/Chrome/Android ecosystem”) or platforms (as in the “Facebook platform”) but whatever you call it, the discussion turns on a crucial different concept: sunk cost.
That’s the money, time, mental energy and social friction you’ve already sunk into the stuff you own. Your spice rack’s sunk cost includes the money you spend on the rack, the time you spent buying fixings for it and the time you spent afixing it, the emotional toil of getting your family to agree on a spice rack, and the incredible feeling of dread that arises when you contemplate going through the whole operation again.
If you’ve already got a lot of sunk costs, the canny product strategy is to convince you that you can buy something that will help you organise your spices, rip all your CDs and put them on a mobile device, or keep your clothes organised.
But what a vendor really wants is to get you to sink cost into his platform, ecosystem, or what have you. To convince you to buy his wares, in order to increase the likelihood that you’ll go on doing so – because they match the decor, because you already have the adapters, and so on.
Adapting gadgets to our needs is the secret pivot on which technology turns [The Guardian]
(Image: David Joyce, CC-BY-SA: Story, Lumix G1 Adapter Breakdown, Chad Kainz, CC-BY)
The summer annual features stories "inspired by the real-life breakthroughs covered in the pages of MIT Technology Review," including "Petard," my story about hacktivism; and "Death Cookie/Easy Ice," an excerpt from William Gibson's forthcoming (and stone brilliant) futuristic novel The Peripheral.
Other authors in the collection include Lauren Beukes, Chris Brown, Pat Cadigan, Warren Ellis, Joel Garreau, and Paul Graham Raven. The 2013 summer anthology was a huge hit -- Gardner Dozois called it "one of the year’s best SF anthologies to date, perhaps the best."
The 2014 edition is out this month, available direct from MIT Tech Review.
Twelve Tomorrows | MIT Technology Review
We're getting together to talk about Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future , a project that Stephenson kicked off -- I've got a story in it called "The Man Who Sold the Moon."
The project's mission is to promote "Asimovian robots, Heinleinian rocket ships, Gibsonian cyberspace… plausible, thought-out pictures of alternate realities in which... compelling innovation has taken place." Tickets are $5.
Neal Stephenson and Cory Doctorow: Reigniting Society’s Ambition with Science Fiction
I'll be joining thousands of fans and hundreds of presenters at Loncon 3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, later this week. I hope to see you there!
Weds, Aug 13
* 18h: Group signing at Forbidden Planet, Shaftesbury Ave, with Chris Achilleos,
Phil & Kaja Foglio,
V. E. Schwab,
Mike Shevdon and
Thurs, Aug 14
* 15.00-16.30 - Panel: Digital Vigilantes, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL);
with: Kin-Ming Looi, Lilian Edwards, David Dingwall, Neil McKellar
Fri, Aug 15
* 11.00-12.00 - Panel: The Pleasures of a Good, Long Info-Dump, Capital
Suite 7+12 (ExCeL); with: Jack William Bell (M), Kim Stanley Robinson,
M. Darusha Wehm
Sat, Aug 16
* 12.00-13.30 - Panel: Fresh Perspectives: Comic Books for Young People,
London Suite 3 (ExCeL); with: Emily Wagner (M), Inko, Kaluas AE
* 14.30-15.00 - Reading, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)
* 16.00-17.00 - Kaffeeklatsch, London Suite 5 (ExCeL), with Anne Lyle
* 20.00-21.00 - The Sidewise, Prometheus, Seiun and Golden Duck Awards,
Capital Suite 8+11 (ExCeL)
Sunday, Aug 17
* 09.00-10.00 - Stroll with the Stars, front of Aloft (ExCeL), with:
Judith Clute, John Clute, Farah Mendlesohn, Joe Haldeman, Gay Haldeman,
Elizabeth Hand, Tricia Sullivan, Jonathan Strahan
Monday, Aug 18
* 12.00-13.30 - Panel: Brave Young World, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL);
with: Heather Urbanski (M), David Farnell, Gillian Redfearn
* 13.30-15.00 - Panel: Young Adults in Fandom, Capital Suite 10 (ExCeL);
with: Kelley Armstrong (M), Monika Drzewiecka, Meg Frank
The UK parliamentary farce over #DRIP showed us that, more than any other industry, the political machine is in dire need of disruption.
In my latest Guardian column, How the Kickstarter model could transform UK elections, I suggest that the way that minority politicians could overcome the collective action deadlock of voters being unwilling to "throw away" their ballots on the parties they support, and so holding their nose and voting for the mainstream party they hate least, or not voting at all, by taking a page out of Kickstarter's playbook:
Here's how that could work:
"Yellow Party! Well, I love what you stand for, but come on, you haven't got a snowball's chance. It's throwing away my vote."
"Oh, I'm not asking you to vote for me! Not quite, anyway. All I want you to do is go on record saying that you would vote for me, if 20% of your neighbours made the same promise. Then, on election day, we'll send you a text or and email letting you know how many people there are who've made the same promise, and you get to decide whether it's worth your while.
"The current MP, Ms Setforlife, got elected with only 8,000 votes in the last election. If I can show you that 9,000 of your neighbours feel the same way as you do, and if you act on that information – well, we could change everything."
This threshold-style action system is at the heart of Kickstarter (pledge whatever you like, but no one has to spend anything unless enough money is raised to see the project to completion) and it's utterly adaptable to elections.
In democracies all over the world, voting is in decline. A permanent political class has emerged, and what it has to offer benefits a small elite at the public's wider expense.
How the Kickstarter model could transform UK elections