Octavia Butler’s Oankali

Amy Deng’s Oankali for an art exer­cise “Imag­in­ing the Oankali.” A Google image search for Oankali and Ooloi does’t turn up much oth­er than a lot of rough fan art, but I liked this draw­ing a lot; as much because of its ana­lyt­i­cal approach as the rep­re­sen­ta­tion itself.

For the sec­ond year now, I’ve read an Octavia But­ler nov­el dur­ing the month of Feb­ru­ary. Feb­ru­ary, being black his­to­ry month, seemed like a good time to read her work and pay respect to one of the great­est sci­ence fic­tion authors. How­ev­er, it’s also a bit ridicu­lous to only rel­e­gate her work to one month a year and I plan to fin­ish the Xeno­gen­e­sis tril­o­gy (aka, Lilith’s Brood) this year. I espe­cial­ly love sci­ence fic­tion with tru­ly “alien” crea­tures and But­ler’s Oankali are unique in every aspect.

But if you’re not famil­iar with Octavia But­ler and her work —and I was­n’t for most of my life— take some time to learn more about her. She was by all indi­ca­tions a gen­uine­ly won­der­ful per­son who proved hav­ing diverse points of view are impor­tant to sci­ence fic­tion or any genre. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed read­ing this inter­view from In Motion Mag­a­zine, which was like­ly one of her last as well as watch­ing this inter­view with Char­lie Rose for PBS. Sci­ence fic­tion and fan­ta­sy gen­res have always had an issue with a lack of diver­si­ty and it is extra­or­di­nary what she accom­plished for women and peo­ple of col­or.

This final quote from an inter­view she did in Locus Mag­a­zine in 2000 makes me espe­cial­ly sad that she aban­doned her final para­ble nov­el:

Para­ble of the Trick­ster – if that’s what the next one ends up being called – will be the Seat­tle nov­el, because I have removed myself to a place that is dif­fer­ent from where I’ve spent most of my life. I remem­ber say­ing to Von­da McIn­tyre, ‘Part of this move is research,’ and it is – it’s just that Seat­tle is where I’ve want­ed to move since I vis­it­ed there the first time in 1976. I real­ly like the city, but it is not yet home. As they tell writ­ers to do, I’ll take any small exam­ple of some­thing and build it into a larg­er exam­ple. I’ve moved to Seat­tle; my char­ac­ters have moved to Alpha Cen­tau­ri, or what­ev­er. (That was not lit­er­al.) But they suf­fer and learn about the sit­u­a­tion there a lit­tle bit because of what I learn about from my move to Seat­tle. Writ­ers use every­thing. If it does­n’t kill you, you prob­a­bly wind up using it in your writ­ing.

So if you’re inspired to learn more about African-Amer­i­can con­tri­bu­tions dur­ing Black His­to­ry month, then by all means start with Octavia But­ler. Just be sure to not leave her there but con­tin­ue enjoy­ing her amaz­ing writ­ing any­time.

Great Year for My Reading Habit

Twen­ty Four­teen is shap­ing up to be a ter­rif­ic year for my favorite authors and book series. Here are some of the books I can’t wait to read (in order of release date):

  • 2/20: Influx by Daniel Suarez – I’ve not read the most recent books by Suarez, but I loved the Dae­mon series and plan to read these Gib­son-esque near-future nov­els.
  • 3/3: Words of Radi­ance by Bran­don Sander­son – I just fin­ished the first Storm­light Archive nov­el (and it’s mas­sive) and it is already one of my favorite fan­ta­sy series, with a very unique world and ter­rif­ic char­ac­ters.
  • 3/11: Men­tats of Dune by Bri­an Her­bert & Kevin J. Ander­son – Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that the sequels/prequals/expanded uni­verse nov­els haven’t been as good as the Frank Her­bert nov­els. To be fair, not all of the Frank Her­bert nov­els were on the same lev­el, either. How­ev­er, I’m such a Dune junkie, I eat these up with glee.
  • 6/17: Cibo­la Burn by James S.A. Corey – A new Expanse book is also get­ting to be near­ly an annu­al event, thank­ful­ly (of course, with two authors under one pen name, one would expect some turn around!). I start­ed the series last year right on time for the third book, and I’ve been wait­ing for the fourth ever since about a day after­wards.
  • 7/15: Half a King by Joe Aber­crom­bie – Okay, I’ve got a few books to read in this fan­ta­sy series to catch up to this one, but I real­ly liked Aber­crom­bie’s first books.
  • 8/5: The Magi­cian’s Land by Lev Gross­man – The Magi­cian’s series has been one of the most refresh­ing things in all of fan­ta­sy in a very long time. I’ve eager­ly await­ing the final(?) book in the series to see what end­ing befalls Quentin and crew.
  • 8/12: The Fool’s Assas­sin by Robin Hobb – Anoth­er series I’ve got to play catch-up on, but I real­ly liked the first two nov­el of Fitz and the Fool.
  • 8/26: Lock In by John Scalzi – It’s a new sto­ry­line (and pos­si­bly a series; at least there’s a novel­la to pre­cede it), but Scalz­i’s wit is always wel­come in sci­ence fic­tion. He’s already released a novel­la in the same world as this nov­el.
  • 10/7: Ancil­lary Sword by Ann Leck­ie – Ancil­lary Jus­tice was one of my favorite books of last year and I’m very hap­py that Leck­ie had the sec­ond nov­el in the series in the cham­ber (or she is an incred­i­bly fast writer, which is rare but would be wel­come). Her first book was nom­i­nat­ed for almost every award imag­in­able and I sin­cere­ly hope she wins them all!
  • 10/7: Arma­da by Ernest Cline – I loved Cline’s first nov­el and can’t wait to see what he’s got next. Update: Well it was bound to hap­pen for at least one book on this list. This title has been pushed back until July 2015.
  • 10/21: The Abyss Beyond Dreams: Chron­i­cle of the Fall­ers by Peter F. Hamil­ton – A new Com­mon­wealth uni­verse book!
  • 10/28: The Periph­er­al by William Gib­son – He’s back into the dystopi­an, dis­tant future. Not that I haven’t enjoyed the future-of-10-min­utes-from-now nov­els, either.
  • 11/18: Clakkers by Ian Tregel­lis – A new series start­ing in Tregel­lis’ cold­est war uni­verse.
  • 11ish? The Thorn of Ember­lain by Scott Lynch – A new Gen­tle­man Bas­tards book is get­ting to be like clock­work from Lynch. So far, he’s kept the char­ac­ters rich and slow­ly pulling the cur­tain back on a much larg­er fan­ta­sy world. This one does­n’t yet have a firm release date, but I’m hold­ing out hope.

Of course, it’s high­ly pos­si­ble (actu­al­ly, almost cer­tain) I’ll not get all of these books read by the end of 2014, but I wel­come the chal­lenge glad­ly!

It’s tough to pick just one that I’m most anx­ious about, but it would prob­a­bly have to be Ancil­lary Sword.

I was going to end this post with a pithy remark how if only Patrick Roth­fuss and GRRM would release some new nov­els this year, it would be com­plete. Well, no new nov­els, but Roth­fuss is releas­ing a novel­la in the Kingkiller Chron­i­cles in Octo­ber and GRRM is also con­tribut­ing a Game of Thrones (actu­al­ly, Song of Fire & Ice) short sto­ry to a fan­ta­sy col­lec­tion (Rogues) out next month he is co-edit­ing (which also con­tains oth­er sto­ries from many of these authors along with oth­ers I enjoy read­ing).

So, yeah, 2014 is pret­ty much shap­ing up to be a near per­fect year for genre fic­tion!

That being said, Patrick Roth­fuss and GRRM hav­ing until about mid­night, Decem­ber 31st, 2015 to get out The Doors of Stone and The Winds of Win­ter until I start pes­ter­ing them.

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

I recent­ly lis­tened to the direct-to-Eng­lish trans­la­tion of Solaris com­mis­sioned by Audible.com. While I could appre­ci­ate much of the nov­el, I frankly did­n’t find it all that enjoy­able of a read/listen. I felt guilty about my 3‑star review on Goodreads.com until I noticed that Patrick Roth­fuss gave it 2 stars.
SolarisSolaris by Stanisław Lem
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

I love sci­ence fic­tion with tru­ly ‘alien’ aliens. That being said, per­haps Lem went a bit too far in cre­at­ing some­thing we lit­er­al­ly can­not com­pre­hent or com­mu­ni­cate with.

After hav­ing recent­ly watched the Soder­bergh film from 2002, I decid­ed I’d like to read the ‘orig­i­nal’ (well, the recent Ama­zon/Audi­ble-direct­ed trans­la­tion into Eng­lish; not the Pol­ish). Hav­ing read the book, I can tru­ly appre­ci­ate what a let-down the movie was. While it was great movie, to para­phrase Lem, it was “love in out­er space”, not “Solaris.” The film does­n’t show a sin­gle wave or sur­face for­ma­tion and I bare­ly recall them men­tion­ing an ‘ocean’. It’s pret­ty impor­tant to the book, which reminds me…

…this is a book review, so I’ll dis­cuss the book and why I felt com­pelled to give a wide­ly-regard­ed mas­ter­piece only three stars. I can cer­tain­ly appre­ci­ate that the book is about the inabil­i­ty for humans to effec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cate with a tru­ly ‘alien’ species. But the com­plete lack of any real inter­ac­tion between human­i­ty and the plan­et was frus­trat­ing. Peo­ple go there and occa­sion­al­ly die, but their explo­ration with this large­ly inert thing con­sists of fly-bys. How­ev­er, an entire branch of sci­ence has been ded­i­cat­ed to the planet/being. This results in lots of dry descrip­tions of explo­rations which sum to nill knowl­edge. Again, I con­cede it’s the philo­soph­i­cal point Lem is try­ing to make. I just argue it does­n’t make for the most engag­ing read­ing. It feels more like read­ing a Nation­al Weath­er Cen­ter’s descrip­tion of the his­to­ry of hur­ri­canes in out­er space (*makes note for idea of future sci­fi nov­el*).

Fur­ther, I felt the inabil­i­ty of the sci­en­tists to get over the shame, guilt, etc. they feel about their vis­i­tors hard to con­nect with. There’s been a shift in com­mon atti­tudes between 1961 Poland and 2013 Amer­i­ca which per­haps makes it hard for me to grasp the atti­tudes of ded­i­cat­ed sci­en­tists. Kelvin clear­ly rec­og­nizes this issue and hopes to address it, but I nev­er felt any sense of get­ting any­where this nudge in atti­tudes.

As I stat­ed, I tru­ly enjoy ali­en­ness in sci­fi, and I would rec­om­mend this book to any­one who does as well. I just wished I could have enjoyed it more.

View all my reviews

The Windup Girl

I fin­ished the audio­book of The Windup Girl, Pao­lo Baci­galupi mul­ti-award win­ning nov­el about life in a dystopic Thai­land after glob­al warm­ing and genet­ic engi­neer­ing have wrecked much of mod­ern soci­ety. Baci­galupi is a won­der­ful writer and it is an imag­i­na­tive sto­ry, wor­thy of the praise and awards that were heaped on it after the book’s release near­ly two years ago.

The Story

The sto­ry fol­lows the inter­sec­tion of a half-dozen-or-so key char­ac­ters who have all found them­selves in the Bangkok. While each char­ac­ter has a great deal of depth, it is real­ly the city and—through the lim­it­ed lens we’re allowed—the world that Baci­galupi describes that are the star.

Often, the sto­ry told in a nov­el falls into one of two cat­e­gories: an epic tale start­ing from small events lead­ing to world-chang­ing epochs and their after­math or (and this is case with The Windup Girl) we are giv­en but a nar­row win­dow into a greater world. Baci­galupi gives hints at the var­i­ous events that brought about the lives we are pre­sent­ed in this sto­ry though very lit­tle is giv­en as to where those lives go after­wards. We are just pre­sent­ed with a glimpse on the cross­roads of these char­ac­ters. While I found myself want­i­ng more of their sto­ries, I want to know more about the rest of the world even more so. I want to know about the inner work­ings of Agri­Gen. I want to know just what went down in Fin­land. And I want to know if life in Japan is as lux­u­ri­ous as it sounds when com­pared to the rest of the world in The Windup Girl.

Audiobook

The audio­book is per­formed by the excel­lent Jonathan Davis. The first audio­book per­for­mance I lis­tened to of his was Neal Stephen­son’s Snow Crash, one that remains a high mark of nar­ra­tion in my mind. His wide range of accents and voic­es tru­ly feels like a cast of per­form­ers. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, unlike Snow Crash, the pace felt too slow in The Windup Girl. Davis’ paus­es and cadences went beyond dra­mat­ic and bor­dered on tedious at var­i­ous points. The book isn’t a par­tic­u­lar­ly long nov­el but yet the per­formed at such a slow pace, the audio­book was ter­ri­bly long. For ref­er­ence, Snow Crash is 480 pages and the Davis-per­formed audio­book just over 17 hours where as The Windup Girl is 361 pages and the audio­book by the same per­former is 19 and a half hours long1. Though I’m a fan of Davis’ work and look for­ward to list­ing to more of his read­ing, this par­tic­u­lar per­for­mance drug on more than I cared for.

Slow pace aside, the audio­book is good and the sto­ry is great. I high­ly rec­om­mend it and tru­ly hope that Baci­galupi takes us back to this world again very soon.

  1. I’m aware page isn’t a stan­dard­ized met­ric, but I can’t account for that increase in length oth­er than very slow per­for­mance. []

The Hyperion Cantos

Last night, I fin­ished the final book in Dan Sim­mon’s epic sci­ence fic­tion tetral­o­gy1, the Hype­r­i­on Can­tos. My imme­di­ate reac­tion to the series’ con­clu­sion was that I only want to read it again. They are just that great of a read.

In fact, if any­one who knows me had read these pre­vi­ous­ly and did­n’t rec­om­mend them to me, we are no longer friends. I am sin­cere­ly angry that I did­n’t read these as soon as they were pub­lished (though get­ting to read the whole series back-to-back is at least some com­pen­sa­tion). I spent a por­tion of my col­lege years look­ing for more nov­els like Frank Her­bert’s Dune and, as it turns out, Dan Sim­mons was writ­ing them at that same time.

In spite of my sig­nif­i­cant and legit­i­mate­ly earned geek-cred.2, I have to con­fess a lack of knowl­edge when it comes to some of the high lit­er­a­ture of sci­ence fic­tion. I have done my best and was raised well3, but I had decid­ed that I need­ed to real­ly edu­cate myself on sci­fi and fan­ta­sy lit­er­a­ture. So, I added any Hugo or Neb­u­la win­ning books to my audio­book wish list at the library. By luck, Hype­r­i­on hap­pened to be one of the first that was imme­di­ate­ly avail­able.

I did­n’t have to get too far into that book to see that it was going to be some­thing spe­cial. Oh, at first, it seemed like a sci­ence fic­tion ver­sion of Chaucer, but I’m pret­ty sure Chaucer did­n’t have a Shrike; a crea­ture describe with such ter­ri­ble details that actu­al­ly found myself look­ing over my shoul­der at night. Some­thing can be said for any book that can ele­vate your heart rate.

And though the Shrike thing is undoubtable why many are attract­ed to the book, it is the sense of mys­tery and promise that some­thing lies deep­er. The read­er quick­ly sens­es that there are lay­ers here; that the sto­ry is unfold­ing in some­thing oth­er than a straight line. In fact, through­out the series, we learn that the events aren’t even sim­ply par­al­lel but tru­ly non­lin­ear.

Sim­mons uses var­i­ous writ­ing styles and lit­er­ary devices, but always with a sense of pur­pose. When it I first feared that Sim­mons was sim­ply exer­cis­ing, it would lat­er see that what­ev­er device was in play served the sto­ry rather than some writer’s need to exper­i­ment. What’s more, there is a real sense of clo­sure at the end that can only come from a writer’s long plan­ning and effort. Though at times, Sim­mons could have left a lit­tle more to the imag­ine of his read­er rather than grab them by the col­lar and shake them, I nev­er felt a sense that he for­got the pre­vi­ous events in this epic.

What’s more &emdash; and this is where I feel that the Hype­r­i­on Can­tos is clos­est to the Dune series &emdash; is that even though this is an epic jour­ney, with events span­ning a mil­len­ni­um and detail­ing the evo­lu­tion of the human race, the sto­ry focus­es on a few key fig­ures and remains a per­son­al sto­ry of their jour­ney. Jour­ney, in the Hype­r­i­on Can­tos, is a word which Sim­mons also embues with every mean­ing pos­si­ble. Again, what feels like some­thing which could have start­ed as a cre­ative writ­ing exer­cise is place in per­fect con­text to serve a greater sto­ry. I must not be alone as this is a series where each book was nom­i­nat­ed for notable lit­er­ary awards, with three of the nov­els win­ning one or more awards. Though this is tru­ly a book that has all of the trap­pings of sci­ence fic­tion, the per­son­al tales are the ele­ments which make it great. I can tell you with no sense of shame that there were moments that brought tears to my eyes.

So, if it is clear: go read these books if you haven’t. I won’t be the kind of friend who does­n’t rec­om­mend them. And, if any of you have any sim­i­lar rec­om­men­da­tions for me, you’d bet­ter make them now before I find them on my own. Else, we’ll be hav­ing words, my (for­mer) friend.

Which reminds, me I need to get back to my library list and see what­ev­er great gems are out there that I have missed, includ­ing some oth­ers by Sim­mons.

  1. Though, it seems that Sim­mons feels these are real­ly two nov­els, bro­ken apart for pub­lish­ing. []
  2. Seri­ous­ly, I throw down with you nerds any time. I was born a nerd and ain’t no John­ny-come-late­ly to this stuff just because skin­ny guys with iPods are cool. []
  3. Some of my very first mem­o­ries are of hob­bits sneak­ing into Mor­dor, as my mom read Tolkien to my broth­er and me. []

Free by Chris Anderson

In the pro­logue, Ander­son men­tions that his research showed two camps: those above thir­ty who remain skep­ti­cal of any­thing labeled “free” and those under thir­ty who think any­thing dig­i­tal is gen­er­al­ly free. This age def­i­n­i­tion has noth­ing to do with Tim Leary and every­thing to do with the tim­ing of the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion. It was my gen­er­a­tion that real­ly took the inter­nets from a academic/ gov­ern­ment exper­i­ment to the infor­ma­tion behe­moth that we know it as. These are the peo­ple that helped to cre­ate the new free and they watched and learned as oth­ers toyed with the idea. My posi­tion of “free is great so long as it pays” makes sense. I became an adult around this notion. My wife and I both have careers now that our users/patients don’t pay for direct­ly but are added on to make our employ­ers of greater val­ue to the cus­tomers.

So, it is from this per­spec­tive that I can say that many (most, even) of the core points in Free: The Future of a Rad­i­cal Price by Chris Ander­son are absolute­ly cru­cial to busi­ness. Espe­cial­ly small busi­ness­es and arti­sans, where nim­ble­ness is a advan­tage to be lever­aged. But still yet it is one that must be reck­og­nized by old, large media such as enter­tain­ment and news if they are to flour­ish going for­ward1.

emFree: The Future of a Radical Price/em by Chris Anderson (Hyperion)
Free: The Future of a Rad­i­cal Price by Chris Ander­son (Hype­r­i­on)

Free as a Concept

I think that there are many small con­cepts and exam­ples that make the entire book worth­while for most any­one. But I want to focus on a cou­ple:

First, the idea of exam­in­ing what is abun­dant and scarce to you and lever­ag­ing those. It is equal­ly impor­tant to real­ize that what is abun­dant or scarce changes over time and this is why busi­ness of old long since died off. Some­times a com­mod­i­ty may not be tru­ly free, but so cheap as to not make meter­ing it worth one’s time. Using some­thing like this to draw in cus­tomers and then get­ting mon­ey out of them (or even a select few, as I’ll get to momen­tar­i­ly) is a key part of mak­ing a busi­ness on Free.

Sec­ond­ly, if we are not going to mea­sure some­thing because it is free or near­ly free, we can in fact being to waste this sort of com­mod­i­ty. When there is such and abun­dance of a com­mod­i­ty that we can afford to throw count­less num­bers into our busi­ness, some entire­ly new ideas can arise. Ander­son pro­vides many exam­ples but suf­fice it to say that essen­tial­ly every­thing we do on a com­put­er these days would have once con­sid­ered to be a friv­o­lous use of pre­cious resources. Thomas Frei­d­man’s forces that flat­tened the world indeed have changed the eco­nom­ic land­scape as well (ref. The World Is Flat).

And it is impor­tant to con­sid­er scale. Rather than giv­ing away a free sam­ple to sell most of your prod­uct, think about giv­ing away the vast major­i­ty of your work in order to scale up to many, many cus­tomers. You may only be sell­ing some­thing to a few per­cent of your total cus­tomers; with the vast major­i­ty being free­load­ers. But if that total base is large and your work costs lit­tle to make — or, more like­ly, costs lit­tle to repro­duce — the busi­ness mod­el becomes sol­id.

Last­ly, make no mis­take: free is tough to com­pete with. So much, it is real­ly an entire­ly dif­fer­ent mar­ket all togeth­er. From Ander­son:

So from the con­sumer’s per­spec­tive, there is a huge dif­fer­ence between cheap and free. Give a prod­uct away and it can go viral. Charge a sin­gle cent for it and you’re in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent busi­ness, one of claw­ing and scratch­ing for every cus­tomer. The truth is that zero is one mar­ket and any oth­er price is anoth­er. In many cas­es, that’s the dif­fer­ence between a great mar­ket and none at all.

Cer­tain­ly, this sort of pric­ing psy­chol­o­gy can be applied either way. But in terms of cre­at­ing a large, new mar­ket almost overnight; noth­ing com­pares to free.

Free as a Book

Free is real­ly a sequel to — or, more accu­rate­ly, the log­i­cal con­clu­sion to — Ander­son­’s first book The Long Tail (which I pre­vi­ous­ly reviewed). I feel con­fi­dent that Ander­son, too, sees it this way. I think he cov­ers the key con­cepts of that book here as well in order to pro­vide con­text. Actu­al­ly, a siz­able por­tion of this book is con­text: his­to­ry of free as a price and mar­ket­ing scheme and how the dig­i­tal age has rev­o­lu­tion­ized its appli­ca­tion. There is also a num­ber of exam­ples of the appli­ca­tion of Free in real-world busi­ness­es and cul­ture. What there isn’t much of is spec­u­la­tion on the future of Free. Ander­son spares us from telling us how Free will change the world and spends most of his time explain­ing what effect it has already had.

Fur­ther­ing the case for Free as the son of The Long Tail, one of key ideas in Ander­son­’s first book which I point­ed out was the impor­tance of fil­ters in mak­ing long tail busi­ness­es pos­si­ble. Freeco­nom­ics takes the oth­er side of this coin by assum­ing the long tail as com­mod­i­ty and the fil­ter­ing as the scarci­ty; there­fore mak­ing that again the key to suc­cess.

Ander­son makes a sol­id case in oth­er aspects of free, as well. At least as sol­id as one can to mea­sure some­thing that is inher­ent­ly unmea­sur­able. After all, larg­er num­bers times zero are still zero. He uses a few rough cal­cu­la­tions to show a sense of scale. Some have wrong­ly crit­i­cized the accu­ra­cy of these, but as an engi­neer I see the val­ue in these “back of the enve­lope” esti­mates to deter­mine at least the mag­ni­tude of the issue, if not the pre­cise val­ue. Addi­tion­al­ly, he uses numer­ous exam­ples of how indi­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies apply free to make mon­ey and earn rep­u­ta­tion and atten­tion (which can, with some cre­ativ­i­ty, gen­er­al­ly be turned into mon­ey). He even has an appen­dix of sorts on apply­ing the con­cept of “Freemi­um2;” that is, giv­ing away part of the busi­ness but charg­ing for a pre­mi­um ver­sion for a select few (gen­er­al­ly 5–10% of the users). Clear­ly, this is where Ander­son sees the great­est oppor­tu­ni­ty from a busi­ness per­spec­tive.

Cer­tain­ly some of Ander­son­’s exam­ples are more con­vinc­ing than oth­ers. How­ev­er, no exam­ple of flour­ish­ing from giv­ing away prod­ucts is strong than that of Google. Just gawk at the raw scale of a com­pa­ny that gives away essen­tial­ly every ounce of inno­va­tion it gen­er­ates:

This has worked amaz­ing­ly well. Today, ten years after its found­ing, Google is a $20 bil­lion com­pa­ny, mak­ing more in prof­it (more than $4 bil­lion in 2008) than all of Amer­i­ca’s air­lines and car com­pa­nies com­bined (okay, that may not be say­ing much these days!).

Despite Ander­son­’s punch­line at the expense of some of Amer­i­ca’s last-cen­tu­ry indus­tries, I think in fact that this does say some­thing quite sub­stan­tial. Google real­ized that it had a num­ber of com­modi­ties on hand from its search busi­ness: stor­age, band­width, com­put­er horse­pow­er; and saw to take advan­tage of it in any­way pos­si­ble to extend its reach. Though many of its inno­va­tions were, in real­i­ty, acqui­si­tions: YouTube, Write­ly (aka Google Docs), etc.; it has lever­aged “cloud com­put­ing” to get its adver­tis­ing cash cow in front of more and more peo­ple. And when is the last time you paid a bill to Google3.

Per­son­al­ly, I felt as though much of Free was tan­gen­tial to the any argu­ment of how to apply free tac­tics to a mod­ern busi­ness. Most the chap­ters wan­der about in a very con­ver­sa­tion­al style. The core of the book could cer­tain­ly be boiled down into some­thing much short­er4. Though some of these his­tor­i­cal and eco­nom­ic tan­gents are inter­est­ing, they don’t do much to under­score the argu­ment that free is impor­tant to busi­ness (not that that is the only pur­pose of the book, of course, but it is the title after all). Though Ander­son attempts to cre­ate a tax­on­o­my of free in busi­ness, it nev­er real­ly gels as to where var­i­ous busi­ness­es fit in, oth­er than the cat­e­go­ry of freemi­um; which, as pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned, Ander­son goes into great depth into and even sub-cat­e­go­rizes suc­cess­ful appli­ca­tions there-of.

I also would have liked to see more con­crete evi­dence of Ander­son­’s argu­ment that free is some­thing of a nat­ur­al law in eco­nom­ics. I think that this is a key argu­ment in con­vinc­ing last-cen­tu­ry busi­ness that free is indeed the price of the future. More accu­rate­ly, I sup­pose, that chang­ing their busi­ness mod­el to giv­ing away some­thing that used to be a prof­it source in order to see rev­enue else­where. I sus­pect there is valid­i­ty to this “free is like grav­i­ty” the­o­ry, but this book leaves me want­i­ng some more sound evi­dence one way or the oth­er.

This book has gen­er­at­ed some chat­ter and even con­tro­ver­sy online5. Oth­er than to acknowl­edge their exis­tence, I don’t want to dwell on that. The book does­n’t exist in a vac­u­um but I’ll leave that sort of thing to oth­ers. Main­ly because most of that has long since blown over by the time I was able to get around to fin­ish­ing the text!

Free: The Future of a Rad­i­cal Price by Chris Ander­son on Hype­r­i­on books is avail­able (for pay, in a spiffy bound edi­tion) at most book sell­ers. True to his word regard­ing the research project nature of his book, it is also avail­able free in ebook and audio down­loads (with updat­ed text).

  1. I do not believe for one sec­ond that enter­tain­ment or news are going way. Rather, if the old com­pa­nies in these areas are to stay around instead of be replaced, they are going have embrace Free. []
  2. I should note that I believe the word Freemi­um to imply the oppo­site of what is intend­ed. It only makes sense in con­text of label­ing a busi­ness plan and not any­thing from the con­sumer’s per­spec­tive. It is intend­ed to rep­re­sent a solu­tion that includes both a free and a pre­mi­um (for pay) option. How­ev­er, from the con­sumer’s per­spec­tive, one would choose either free or pre­mi­um and not select some hybrid, port­man­teau solu­tion. []
  3. Unless, of course, you buy Google ads. Then you have the ben­e­fit of know­ing you have some the best tar­get­ed ads ever cre­at­ed. Ulti­mate­ly, per­fect adver­tis­ing is just infor­ma­tion; and Google is clos­est any­one has ever come to deliv­er­ing paid-for infor­ma­tion on a large scale. []
  4. Which of course Ander­son did in a Wired arti­cle last year and will even do with a cus­tom tai­lored mes­sage if you hire him for a speak­ing engage­ment. []
  5. See the Wikipedia con­tro­ver­sy, Glad­well’s scathing review and respons­es to it, as well as Ander­son­’s cranky inter­view with Speigel. []

Convert Text to iTunes Audiobook

Since I’ve been all about lis­ten­ing to audio­books late­ly (actu­al­ly, for the past year — just more recent­ly of the fan­ta­sy genre), this link was pret­ty time­ly. Using some of the inte­grat­ed Apple ser­vices and some script­ing, macOSX­hints user miketyson put togeth­er a Ser­vice in OS X to sim­ply con­vert high­light­ed text to an Audio­book and add to the iTunes library. I gave it a try with a web­page in Safari (the Speech → Start speaking text ser­vice does­n’t work in Fire­fox) and the result was pret­ty easy to lis­ten to. The new Alex voice in 10.5 helps, though I don’t know if I could lis­ten to an entire book this way. How­ev­er, it’d be per­fect for those longer New York­er (and the like) arti­cles I nev­er seem to have time to read. It would cer­tain­ly be nice to have this Ser­vice auto­mat­i­cal­ly switch the AAC encod­ing to “Spo­ken Pod­cast” instead of hav­ing to switch to iTunes and change the set­ting man­u­al­ly. I’ll inevitably for­get to switch it back and end up with some real­ly awful sound­ing music files, no doubt.

Five Fun Things Friday — Mid-April Edition

Oh, to have blogged in so long and only to come back with a measly list of fluff. Well, some­thing’s bet­ter than noth­ing, right?

I’ve been on a rather ram­pant fan­ta­sy kick as of late:

  1. “Dun­geons & Drag­ons” — That ven­er­a­ble fan­ta­sy RPG lost one of it’s founders last month. How­ev­er, not to be stopped, a new 4th edi­tion of the rules are being pub­lished in June. D&D has def­i­nite­ly come up out of Mom’s base­ment, show­ered, and decid­ed that hang­ing out with some of the cool kids isn’t so bad, after all. This, along with the fact that nerds are now cool, might just make for a renais­sance of table-top gam­ing.
  2. “Drag­onlance” — When I was a kid, “Drag­onlance” was the coolest D&D set­ting (at least to my pal, TJ, and I — he even had the cam­paign book). An ani­mat­ed film was released to DVD in Jan­u­ary of the first of the orig­i­nal tril­o­gy of nov­els. You know, the sort of the thing that every kid dreams about as they read fan­ta­sy nov­els at age 12? Ah, even at that age, I’d have under­stood just how bad this adap­ta­tion was. I was depressed but hap­pened upon a fan­tas­tic graph­ic nov­el by Dev­il’s Due Pub­lish­ing of the same series of nov­els made me almost com­plete­ly for­get what an awful film Drag­ons of Autumn Twi­light was. I even picked up a new nov­el by the same authors, which so far has been quite enjoy­able.
  3. Krull — Speak­ing of D&D and my child­hood (the two of which are pret­ty close­ly linked), I learned from IMDb that the 80’s fan­ta­sy film Krull was orig­i­nal­ly to be the first offi­cial “Dun­geons & Drag­ons” movie. I went back and watched it and too things struck me: A) it does­n’t real­ly resem­ble D&D at all and B) it was­n’t near­ly as good a movie as I remem­bered it being (Great way to start a career, there, Liam Nee­son!). Then I real­ized that pret­ty much all movies based on D&D have been awful: Krull, Dun­geons & Drag­ons, Drag­ons of Autumn Twi­light. When a movie by the Sci­Fi chan­nel is the best of the back, that’s just plain sad. I think Wiz­ards of the Coast should encour­age a TV series, instead. Bet­ter yet: more graph­ic nov­els.
  4. Graph­ic Nov­els — Hav­ing read the graph­ic nov­el of Drag­ons of Win­ter Night, I went in search of more graph­ic nov­els to feed my end­less need for sci­fi and fan­ta­sy. Oh boy, did I find them: Aliens, Preda­tors, Aliens vs. Preda­tors, Conan the Bar­bar­ian, G.I. Joe… okay that last one isn’t real­ly sci­fi, but did I men­tion child­hood nos­tal­gia? Maybe that’s a bet­ter theme here. Any­way, I’ve been on a graph­ic nov­el kick and, despite it being a rather pricey habit, it has been very reward­ing. A lot of these real­ly rep­re­sent some great com­ic book art­form and I’ve deter­mined are often my best hope for amaz­ing fan­ta­sy visu­als, grip­ping plot­lines, and epic char­ac­ters. They sure as hell aren’t to be found in any of the movies.
my fantasy audiobook collection in iTunes
  1. Audio­books — Last­ly, I’ve also been on some­thing of an audio­book habit (more posts to fol­low on this sub­ject). I was able to find some real­ly great audio­books by R. A. Sal­va­tore and Michael Moor­cock; two men who write about trou­bled anti-heroes with long, white hair. I even found audio­books for that orig­i­nal Drag­onlance tril­o­gy I men­tioned. There’s just one draw­back to the audio­books: I used to lis­ten to these (along with pod­casts) on my com­mute. Now that I hard­ly dri­ve at all, it’s going to me for­ev­er to lis­ten to them all!

Well, before you give me a wedgie and shove inside my lock­er along side my Play­er’s Man­u­al, I should also say that I’ve been enjoy­ing Sea­son Two of The Wire, as well as all this fan­ta­sy stuff. Per­haps that explains it: I need­ed some­thing whim­si­cal and out-of-this-world to bal­ance out the dark, grit­ty nature of a show like the The Wire. At least, that’s why I keep telling myself.

Collaboration Is Not Second Guessing

I real­ly enjoy most movies-based-on-books in which the author is involved in the film itself (“Hell­boy” and “Sin City,” for exam­ples). Of course, what hap­pens when a direc­tor or screen-writer decides to sig­nif­i­cant­ly change por­tions of the sto­ry (like in vir­tu­al­ly ever one of the “Lord of the Rings” tril­o­gy of films)? Well, I am not going to argue when the writer gives their bless­ing, as appears to be the case with Frank Darabon­t’s change to the end­ing of Stephen King’s “The Mist.” Darabont quot­ing King:

And I still have the e‑mail. He said, “Wow, I love the end­ing. If I’d thought of it, I’d have used it in the sto­ry.”