Project Paperless LLC, a strange company whose ownership is shrouded in mystery, wants $1,000 for every person in your company who scans documents and e-mails them. They claim that they have a valid patent covering this ‘‘invention,’’ and while $1,000 per employee is a lot of cabbage, it’s nothing compared to what it would cost you to prove to a court that the patent is as bogus as we all ...Read MoreRead more
At the start of the summer, I traveled to Chicago for the annual national conference of the American Library Association. It was great. There are many utterly baseless clichés about librarians – the shushing spinster who prefers the company of books to humans is a creation of pure and unimaginative fantasy. But there is one way in which librarians live up to their reputation: they are superbly organized. I’ve been ...Read MoreRead more
A quote variously attributed to Richard Feynman and Albert Einstein has it that ‘‘If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t really understand it.’’ Most of us have encountered this in our lives: you think you really know something and understand it, and then you try to teach it and realize that you never understood it in the first place.
Computers are the children of the ...Read MoreRead more
I’m not complaining when I say that YA book-tours are a death march. I relish the chance to go on the road, and I’m profoundly grateful to my publisher, Tor, for sending me out with my books – in February, I hit 23 cities in 25 days with my novel Homeland, and in most cities, I did multiple school presentations as well as press stops and then a public ...Read MoreRead more
On February 5, 2013, Tor Teen published Homeland, the sequel to my first YA novel, Little Brother. As I write this in January ’13, I’m just gearing up for the tour, which mostly involves sending semi-form e-mails to nice people who’ve asked me to do something time-consuming, explaining that I’ve only got two weeks left until I disappear into the Tour, wherein I will see 22 cities in ...Read MoreRead more
Fiction is weird. The people in fiction are, well, fictional. Made up. They have no lives, and nothing they do, and nothing that happens to them has any consequences in the real world. By definition: made up people don’t affect reality.
And yet, our bodies don’t seem to know this. Yesterday, I actually made a loud, horrified noise as I read an advance copy of Daniel Kraus’s forthcoming – and ...Read MoreRead more
As I write this in September, 2012, Charlie Stross and I just returned from a tour with our novel Rapture of the Nerds, a book about – among other things – technological immortality as achieved through brain uploading. Digital mortality was very much on my mind as we crossed the country. I had begun my trip with a few days in Toronto, attending to a strange and new kind ...Read MoreRead more
My friends (and especially my wife) all understand that I’m the wrong guy to take to a big budget science fiction movie. I will freely admit that this is the case. Every summer, as I sit down in one darkened cave after another to eat candy and watch some very expensive polygons interact with another bunch of very expensive polygons, I find myself swirling with a curious and unpleasant mix ...Read MoreRead more
In a recent Search Engine podcast, host Jesse Brown wondered about music’s ongoing centrality to the debate over file-sharing and freedom. After all, the music
industry has all but abandoned lawsuits against fans, and services from Last.fm to the Amazon MP3 store present a robust set of legit ways of hearing and acquiring music. The labels have even abandoned DRM. So why is the music industry the enduring bogeyman of ...Read MoreRead more
Back in 2005, I did something weird. I decided that I would embark on a project to write short stories with the same (or similar) titles to famous science fiction books and stories. My initial motivation for this was Ray Bradbury objecting to Michael Moore calling a movie Fahrenheit 9/11, which led Bradbury to call Moore an ‘‘asshole’’ and a ‘‘horrible human being’’ who’d ‘‘stolen’’ the title. Like many ...Read MoreRead more
Computer science has long wrestled with the question of how anyone can know what a computer or the programs running on it are doing. The Halting Problem described by Alan Turing in 1936 tells us that in complex cases, it’s impossible to predict what a computer program will do without actually running it. A related problem is knowing whether any defects or errors exist in a computer program. This is ...Read MoreRead more
Science fiction writers and fans are prone to lauding the predictive value of the genre, prompting weird questions like ‘‘How can you write science fiction today? Aren’t you worried that real science will overtake your novel before it’s published?’’ This question has a drooling idiot of a half-brother, the strange assertion that ‘‘science fiction is dead because the future is here.’’
Now, I will stipulate that science fiction writers often ...Read MoreRead more
I inaugurated this column in 2008 with an editorial called ‘‘Why I Copyfight’’, which talked about the tricky balance between creativity, culture, and the relationship between audiences and creators. These have always been hard subjects, and the Internet has made them harder still, because the thing that triggers copyright rules – copying – is an intrinsic part of the functioning of the Internet and computers. There’s really no such thing ...Read MoreRead more
One of my most important formative experiences as a writer was working in bookstores. I worked in three shops: a specialist science fiction store (Bakka Books in Toronto), an academic store near the University of Toronto campus, and a dreadful suburban mall bookstore. Going into my first bookstore job, I’d been supremely confident in my understanding of the bookselling trade: after all, I’d been spending all my pocket money and ...Read MoreRead more
My 2009 novel Makers concerned itself, partly, with the upheaval that might attend cheap, ubiquitous 3D ‘‘printing.’’ I put ‘‘printing’’ in scare quotes because calling a device that produces arbitrary, articulated three dimensional objects (including functional, assembled multipart mechanisms and solid-state devices) on demand a ‘‘printer’’ is like calling a car a ‘‘horseless carriage’’ or Skype an ‘‘Internet telephone.’’
One aspect I didn’t delve into with much depth is the ...Read MoreRead more
‘‘Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?’’ It’s a question I get asked so often that I have a little canned response I can rattle off without thinking: ‘‘In order to be an activist, you have to be both: pessimistic enough to believe that things will get worse if left unchecked, optimistic enough to believe that if you take action, the worst can be prevented.’’
But there’s more to ...Read MoreRead more
If science fiction’s unofficial motto is ‘‘All laws are local and no law knows how local it is,’’ then the purest expression of that law is the ‘‘Explaining things to a Martian’’ story – a tale in which humanity’s irrational frailty and manias are laid bare because some poor protagonist has to defend our practices to an alien (it helps if it’s a wise old alien, but a noble savage ...Read MoreRead more
Imagine this: you pick up the phone and call Vito’s, the excellent pizza joint down the road where your family’s gotten its favorite pepperoni and mushroom every Friday night for years. The phone rings once, twice, then:
‘‘AT&T: The number you have called is not engaged, but the recipient has not paid for premium service. Please hold for 30 seconds, or press ‘one’ to be connected to Domino’s immediately.’’
This ...Read MoreRead more
Standing in Melbourne airport on the day before this year’s World Science Fiction convention, I found myself playing the familiar road-game known to all who travel to cons: spot the fan. Sometimes, ‘‘spot the fan’’ is pitched as a pejorative, a bit of fun at fannish expense, a sneer about the fannish BMI, B-O, and general hairiness. But there are plenty of people who are heavyset, and practically everyone debarking ...Read MoreRead more
Last week, I found myself wide awake in bed next to my wife, mulling over an e-mail I’d gotten just before lying down (checking e-mail before bed being as bad a habit as eating before bed – both of which I’m trying to stop doing).
The e-mail came from a very nice person who co-curates one of my favorite internet resources: a LiveJournal group devoted to scanning, posting and discussing ...Read MoreRead more
From time to time, people ask me for an inventory of the tools and systems I use to get my work done. As a hard-traveling, working writer, I spend a lot of time tinkering with my tools and systems. At the risk of descending into self-indulgence (every columnist’s occasional privilege), I’m going to try to create a brief inventory, along with a wish/to-do list for the next round.
First, the ...Read MoreRead more
My friend Katherine Myronuk once told me, “All complex ecosystems have parasites.” She was talking about spam and malware (these days they’re often the same thing) and other undesirable critters on the net. It’s one of the smartest things anyone’s ever said to me about the net – and about the world. If there’s a niche, a parasite will fill it. There’s a reason the cells of the organisms that ...Read MoreRead more