The Age of the Illustrated Primer

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I read Snow Crash ages ago, and had always intended to come back to Neal Stephenson and read more. I just didn’t get around to it until now. My boyfriend purchased me a copy of The Diamond Age, sure I would love it, and he was right.

The Diamond Age is a story not only about the coming of age of several young women of different societal statures, but also of invention, individuality, and the importance of education, all presented in a cyberpunk futuristic world with digital paper and cybernetic horses.

Now, one of the most interesting things about this book was the fact that it was originally printed in 1995 but the tech that he talks about in this book became a reality in 1997 when E Ink spun off of the MIT Media lab, and with the debut of interactive books for the iPad just a couple years ago, we are pretty darn close to the primary Maguffin of this book: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. All that is missing is a slightly more advanced AI that can adapt the story to the reader’s environment. Our Print to Voice technology is almost good enough to handle the read aloud component as is.

This makes this trippy, tribalistic future that much more realistic, which is both frightening and exciting. Imagine being able to adapt every child’s education to their individual experiences. The kind of creativity and advancement this could foster would be incredible.

But, enough about what this book talks about. Suffice it to say that the alternate future it plays with is just about as odd as the one in Snow Crash and just as fun to read about. The writing itself is flawless. Engaging and unique, as all of Neal’s books are, it also takes a chapter or two before you get used to the language he uses. He has a whole new vocabulary he introduces to deal with his fractured society, and it takes a little bit to understand what everything is, but that adjustment period is entirely worth it. Once you get past the first 12 pages, you’re golden.

So, if you’d like a not-quite dystopian conversation about the importance of education and individuality, The Diamond Age is definitely the book for you. Just have patience with the opening, Stephenson rewards you in time.

Writing Prompt!

Its time for a genre mashup! K.B. Spangler liberally mixes cyber-punk with procedural drama for a unique storyline in A Girl and Her Fed as well as her two spin-off novels, Digital Divide and Makerspace. Now you get to take two of your favorite genres and create a story that makes liberal use of components from each side!

Patchwork Flight – Judge’s Choice!

My flash fiction piece, “Patchwork Flight” was chosen as a Judge’s Choice for the 3-Minute Future’s Contest for To the Best of our Knowledge, a Wisconsin Public Radio program. It beat out over 750 other submissions! Too bad it didn’t win a dramatization, I really would have loved to have a few less degrees between me and my idol, Gates McFadden, but it’ll do…

Hop over to their site to read my story!

To Review or Not Review

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I hadn’t been aware of this until recently, but, apparently, there is a problem with ‘review bullying’ on places like Amazon and Goodreads whereby authors and fellow reviewers suffer at the hands of angry people and trolls who use the review section as their bully pulpits. The most recent and egregious example would be a young romance author that received multiple one star reviews before her book was even out with people heaping on the abuse, including rape and death threats. And, when this story went public, a lot of people rallied around her, but there were still a bunch of people who continued to heap on the abuse in reaction to her supporters. As of now, this author has declined to publish her book…ever.

Now, there are two groups rallying around authors to try and stop this kind of behavior: Horror Writers Association and a Change.org petition signed by many high-profile authors. The two groups, however, are taking radically different approaches to the solution of this problem.

HWA has proposed, in an open letter to Bezos at Amazon, that they update their policies in regards to flagging and removing reviews that

  • indicates the customer has not read the book, but only a small portion of it, such as a free electronic sample;
  • includes spoilers which, once revealed, could significantly reduce interest in the work;
  • includes negative personal remarks about the author; and/or
  • is focused on the work’s price rather than its content.

The petition, on the other hand, is calling for an end to anonymity in Amazon reviews, allowing only people who had verified their identity to be allowed to post reviews. They feel this will remove the mask of anonymity that most trolls thrive behind and lead to more honest reviews.

After reading the evidence and the various commentaries, I have to say that I think HWA is headed in the right direction, and the petition is entirely wrong. The anonymity of the internet not only allows more freedom of expression (sometimes for the worse) it also protects users. I choose, on forums like Reddit, to use my real name as I also promote my writing on that site and it would be easy enough to figure out who I was anyway. But there are people who have difficult personal histories who may not want someone to stumble across their review of a book or product and then be able to find them. The petition is reactionary and not entirely thought out. By trying to stem the trolls in this manner, they are also punishing people who do not feel safe in having their identities hanging out there for all to see.

Thankfully, at this point, I have not suffered any of the kinds of abuses other authors have, but I know in due time I will receive those scathing and vitriolic comments and reviews. I hope when this happens, Amazon and Goodreads will have updated their policies to better enforce a community which protects the content creators from the angry people who are only there to make trouble and try and tear other people down.

Do You Wanna Build a Cyborg?

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I am an avid fan of K.B. Spangler, what with A Girl and Her Fed and the first tie-in novel, Digital Divide. That’s why I got super excited for Maker Space, the sequel to Digital Divide. It came out not too long ago and immediately downloaded it for my Kindle. I jumped in and was not disappointed. Its another fast paced cyber crime thriller, only this time it touches on a cultural phenomenon close to my heart (and my day-job): Makers.

After a massive bomb rocks downtown D.C., Agent Rachel Peng is given a task force and autonomy to work outside the official investigation to ensure that nothing is missed. Her investigation brings her into contact with a community of Makers working out of a decrepit office space nee warehouse that they have turned into a Maker think tank of sorts. Makers are a newly identified kind of human, the kind who revels in constructing marvels of technology and art from otherwise basic components.

Makers tend to be open-sourced and concerned with the betterment of humanity…and having a lot of fun. I’m looking at you, Maker-Faire participants! They are an incredibly strong and welcoming community of people that I have the privilege of working with as an illustrator at O’Reilly Media. We used to publish a magazine called Make that has now spun off as its own company that produces the magazine, how-to books, and even kits to help beginning makers get started. We still help Make publish their books, so I still get to see all the designs for the fabulous projects they have created and are helping others learn how to become master builders in their own right.

But enough on the Makers themselves and my glee at seeing them featured in such a prominent role in a fiction novel. Maker Space turned out to be well worth the wait. It is eloquent, gripping, and exceedingly well-paced. I do have to admit, I was thrown a little bit by the fact that the Boston Marathon Bombing was mentioned in passing when a few characters were discussing preparation for events such as this. It is still so fresh in everyone’s mind out here in Beantown that it was just weird seeing it mentioned in a fictional novel.

Regardless, if you are looking for an excellent procedural cybernetic drama, I highly advise you to pick up both Digital Divide and Maker Space. They don’t rely on any knowledge from the web comic (though I highly suggest going and giving that a try, too, cause there are some excellent inside jokes) and Spangler presents a wonderfully fresh take on crime dramas and cyberpunk. I just wish I’d had the cash to spring for an O.A.C.E.T. badge during the kickstarter….

How nice would a 24-hour bookstore be?

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by  Robin Sloan has been on my “to read” list for a long time. Mainly because I loved the title and because the cover of the book was rumored to glow in the dark (the hardcover totally does!). Once I picked up the book though, I couldn’t put it down! Mr. Penumbra’s is a story about a young man who has lost his way in life and has landed the night-shift at an odd 14-hour bookstore full of odd characters and books that aren’t actually for sale. That’s as much as I can really divulge about the plot without giving away some major spoilers, so that’s all I’m giving you.

 

This book is a riot and a wild ride. Seriously. Its a treasure hunt and book lovers porn, all mixed up with the modern age and literary conspiracy. The characters are lively and fully developed and they bring you into their world and share their passions and their pains in such a way that you can’t go to sleep until you find out whether they will succeed in their quest or not. I may or may not have lost a lot of sleep to this book…

Once I had finished, I immediately went to see what else Sloan had written. I found two other works of his Amazon: Ajax Penumbra 1969 and Annabel SchemeAjax is great as it is a short story that follows one of the primary characters as he is first introduced to the nutty world of the 24-hour bookstore, before he comes to own the store for himself. I loved getting to read his book.

Annabel Scheme though is…well…I was not prepared for Annabel Scheme. I had gone from this slightly magical real world of Penumbra and dove without warning into a hard sci-fi noir, reminiscent of a mashup between the Dresden Files and Snow Crash. Once I got my feet back under myself, it was a hoot and I desperately hope that Sloan brings this world back to enjoy again, as there is a lot of material there.

Overall, I this is an author I really think you should check out. You should also check out his website for some more fantastic stories and articles. I especially love that Escape button…