Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt

Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt
Off-Topic: The Story of an Internet Revolt by G.R. Reader

Creative Commons License

Last year, HTTP error code 451 was proposed for Internet Censorship. In memoriam Ray Bradbury.

Censorship on the internet, making it into walled gardens, striking down free speech, as the internet spaces becomes silos of data and creative work, all property of corporations.

This book is the live document of what happened in the Goodreads community.

This book was removed a while ago from the GoodReads site itself. Some said it wasn’t “a real book”. That is was a story that was never told.

But the story wanted to be told. People stood up against removal of their words, arbitrary enforcements that remove your speech from sight, against the transformation of a site for booklovers in a site for marketing, against so called rules that enable unwanted thoughts to be struck down and no longer heard.

These are their words, the words of the reviewers and readers, including mine, as part of that community.

The story wanted to be told, and we listened. We put your words together, tied the pages, and made this collection of your words a document of the September/October 2013 protests of Goodreaders to censorship.

I’ve seen people and media ignoring the real extent of the deletions. This book will give you numbers and examples.
I’ve seen misunderstandings of why people object. This book will give you answers.

We have been told long ago, that the internet will become private yards, walled gardens from where only approved speech will be heard. Sooner or later, the private owner “curates” their space from unwanted speech.

When censorship came to GoodReads, this is what happened.

Creative Commons License
This work by Alfaniel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Note: The book is available for free or for download fees, licensed Creative Commons in its entirety, so you can get yourself a copy.

Note #2: In his collection of community reviews, it looks like Mr. G.R. Reader has found around here and has included my review of The Art of War: Corporate Takeover of User Rights.

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Review: Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity

Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity
Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity by Lawrence Lessig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Free Culture, as in Free Speech (not as in “free beer”).

I have received an answer from GoodReads, on my objections to its removals of “not original” content.

Hi Alfaniel,

Thanks for the response. We didn’t mean to suggest that you were plagiarizing another review – our apologies! We should have clarified that we try to avoid users posting duplicate reviews to the point that it’s difficult for other members to find different perspectives about the book. When a book page is barraged with copy-pasted duplicates of a particular review, it can become disrespectful to other members.

If you have any further questions, please let us know.

Sincerely,
The Goodreads Team

First, I thank GoodReads for answering at all. Frankly, I absolutely didn’t expect an answer any longer. My email was sent over two-three weeks ago.

GoodReads would have a point there, if it wouldn’t have removed mark’s reviews. My reviews were the first Hydra copy of mark’s monday’s REMOVED reviews.

“Barrage” with a deleted, non-existent, review?

I think GoodReads only has to revoke the new policy and its enforcement, and civil disobedience may calm (though I’m not so sure about trust).

Then, our netizens won’t have to salvage them and spread them in response.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe GoodReads (or Amazon) is ready to do that.

Past overview

My objections to GoodReads are here:
And then there came the time for non-original reviews.
In short, the phrasing of the review rules implies that they need “original” content from us, because otherwise “it means” plagiarized or using copyrighted material without permission.

The phrasing is bad, the implication false, and the consequences relevant. It’s the copyright misconceptions, yielded by corporations to insinuate against free sharing, that are wrong, chilling, and concerning.

@GoodReads
Thank you for the apology, but it’s misdirected. I just don’t think that it’s me you should apologize to. It’s this lively, well read and opinionated community of readers, from whom you asked for all rights over their work, until you used that power, to strike down free speech, and chill it in this place probably for ever.

Free Culture is about Free Speech.

Reviewing is a creative activity. Reviews are creative work. And creativity lives and breaths only in a free speech environment.

Strike down the essential freedom of the act of writing, and people will revolt, will go in the background, will go elsewhere, but essentially, they will resist you. They’re the authors of their expressions of ideas, GoodReads. It’s only up to them and their peers to read, to write, to review and to judge. To figure out a way to communicate their thoughts in a socially acceptable norm of a sub-community, yes; but up to them.

Not to corporate power.

Creative Commons

This book is the book of a revolution, in the history and philosophy of intellectual property. Apart from writing well, Lawrence Lessig is a lawyer, but I will forgive him for that.

This book is about many things, internet, copyright, sharing, creativity, money, peer-to-peer, piracy, publishing, community. It’s Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed in intellectual property, but adapted to keep copyright and respect authorship. I don’t remember all the things that this book is really about. I’ve read it and I’ve internalized it years ago, and I live in its world.

That’s just me, though. Lets look at GoodReads.

GoodReads is today a 20+ million members site focused on readers, writers, books. Its mission was to be a “site for readers”, a site where people were free to write reviews for books or to use the book as a starting point for their own thoughts, freely flowing.

When the iron fist stroke down, many people objected. But things went as you’d expect: first they came after YA reviewers, as BirdBrian remarked at the time. Then, in only a few weeks, they came after “off topic” reviews, after reviews on GoodReads/Amazon, reviews on pull to published books. And “not original” reviews.

The Hydra movement kept the content online.

What does that have to do with Creative Commons?

Manny’s Hydra initial review and comments essentially amounts to a license to reshare the content freely. It’s not drafted as one; but it is one. This wide permission to reshare the content freely, is what made possible for us, otherwise careful not to infringe or simply to upset, to keep the content online.

It gave the necessary rights to reshare the content to the community. And they kept it, when the original copy was struck down. In the commons of the creative work.

I heard someone recently say that GR is wrong to delete because “it destroys the creative work”. Mmm, yes, indeed, but only if the creative work is under copyright restrictions. Only then, if the unique copy is destroyed, it may mean the work is lost, destroyed, something essential taken from it. Otherwise, it’s just a copy; the original, yes, but just a digital copy, which is so easy today to make. A click and save and upload under another site or account.

Copyright restriction on sharing is the default (in copyright law), and is the heaven of corporations. They like it that way. We have not.

It enables their control through controlling access to that unique copy (or almost unique) we offered them for free. But if the work belongs to the community commons instead, if the community has the rights to share it at their will, then when the corporation censors, someone else can keep it alive.

If only they care about that content, they’ll do it. And GR community cares.

Creative Commons, part 2

Creative Commons licenses were drafted by Lawrence Lessig and other founders of the organization with the same name. The licenses work on the copyright law: you keep your copyright over your work, your legal and moral right to be always recognized as author of your work, and you allow a limited right to share the content, to everyone, under certain conditions.

Creative Commons licenses are the Hydra in legalese. Only, Hydra is also a call for help. To which people answered.

People here are intelligent, GoodReads. They don’t need rules to tell them what they are “allowed to” post, from the corporate power. You could stop striking down reviews not of your liking, and ask nicely instead. I bet no one wants duplicates on the book page, but who cares; we all know that justification is just smoke, to fog the protests.

Talk about the author behavior
(I’m trying to help, GR)

Lessig is a radical, on copyright law and its philosophy. I don’t think I am; I don’t really want to change copyright law itself, but its interpretation in public perception. Lessig argues for a much lesser default copyright term, and even redraft copyright law to allow much more “space” for fair use.

Here’s a better one: the past years he left copyright work and Creative Commons, and entered politics. How boring is that. But he seemed to believe that for the law to change, he has to fight the corruption in politics first. He may be right.

Speaking of fair use. I read something fun: Record Label picks a fight over copyright with the wrong guy.
A record label sent take down notices and threats for a short fragment used in a video, “without permission”. Of course it should be fair use, and it didn’t need written permission. But they spread fear, uncertainty and doubt, by over-reaching claims on their apparent rights. They just didn’t realize they did it to an intellectual property expert!
As the reporter says, when the record label comes against you or I, we’d sure as hell just desist and hope we won’t be dragged in courts.

Now, lets take a look at this Amazon job ad.

We like to think of our forums as a Free-Speech Zone. And freedom works best at the point of a bayonet – or a “Delete Post” button

You may know we’re working to put together the book documenting the GoodReads community protests, The Goodreads Censorship Debacle, take 2. We’re working on and collecting existing reviews for it.

I thought about a critique of this ad, and reproduction of the whole text for it, in an article (maybe for the book, maybe only on my blog, same thing). However, people wonder, can it be reproduced as fair use, or will it infringe Amazon’s copyright? There are only two paragraphs of text; the first is only three lines. The text is not exactly “original” like a poetry or actual artistic expression. We don’t aim for actual profit from the book.

I’m no lawyer. I read US copyright law and the Berne convention, but I don’t know what lawyers can make of it. I *think* reproduction of both paragraphs, in a critical context, should qualify as fair use.
But, I’m John Doe, a dog on the internet. Can I have Amazon lawyers all over, pissed off by the very freedom to share that critique; with infringement claims, even if it’s not infringing?

I’m sorry. I will not make any submission that criticizes both paragraphs of the Amazon ad. Not this one, and not this time.

As for you, Lessig. Kick those guys butt. And welcome back!
It’s getting chilling down here, at the point of a bayonet.

Power through copyright

Copyright accumulation is power. Monopoly kind. GR/Amazon has the rights to do with your content what none of the members of the community possibly can. That’s a position of power.

GoodReads/Amazon owns your work, by holding almost all sub-rights of copyright over all members creative content and library work, and, more importantly, under no conditions for them to respect. Not even recognize your authorship.

The GR ToU is a unilaterally drafted agreement, where they say “all your rights are belong to us; we only leave you copyright itself [actually I don’t think they can hold copyright in lack of a *signed* agreement, but they’re not telling you that!]. We can sell, copy partially or fully, edit, remove, make derivatives of your work in any medium, we can publish it, sublicense it to anyone we please, and we don’t even have to attribute you in exchange. We can also change our terms at any time, and it’s your responsibility to dream *cough* find out about it, otherwise zap”.

There are thousands and thousands of edits to the book database contributed by the community, which we have no right to use elsewhere, because GoodReads forbids our own access to it. They call it “GoodReads data”, and keep it under very restricted walls, their API terms of use. The book database has been built almost like wikipedia, except that the work has been added to GoodReads’ “property”, and not open licensed.
The library of all books of the planet should be like wikipedia. Built by the community, but also freely shared with the community. It’s not here.

Copyright accumulation is power, and it’s an unnecessary power. Companies could live and make profit with much more limited rights on intellectual property, and thereby less power to chill creativity and fairness. They could make money by providing a good service, by being best at what they offer, in a level playing field competition environment. Instead, they entertain the illusion that they need to build themselves a monopoly (of which copyright is central), from your work for free.

Open Source and Creative Commons

Nothing is [only] yours. It is to use. It is to share. If you will not share it, you cannot use it.
(Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed)

A software or content commons is not exactly Le Guin’s anarchy, but it is realistic today and necessary. It’s the community-based answer to monopolies. On intellectual property, free/open sharing is a middle ground between “all rights reserved” and “give up all rights”: “Some rights reserved”. You keep your copyright, and you allow others to share your work perpetually, subject to certain conditions, such as, to attribute you fairly, to share alike at their turn, to use or not use your work in the commercial field.

Free Culture has been the answer of the GoodReads community to corporate enforcement. Because free culture is about Freedom, about Free Speech, first and foremost, and only additionally it’s also free as in beer.

I believe that there is no way any longer, to break or stop the GoodReads/Amazon monopoly. We have to answer it by creating a new place on the internet for this community, a place where software and content belong to it from the start. A place no one can take away from us. No BookLikes or the like, is the answer on long term. They can be bought out.

We have to base it on the principles of freedom, and recognition, and sharing. There are great software libraries out there to help, there are open protocols drafted and implemented. There are already thousands and thousands of people and projects, in community based environments, who work to take internet back from corporations. Book lovers do not have one. Not one both social based and book based, as GoodReads seemed to have been. But we can do it, and, I believe, we must.

The internet is for sharing, and we have to bring back to people. It may take an year, it may take three. But we have to be on our watch for control through copyright. Any commercial venue may be part of it or benefit from the project, except those who try to use copyright to turn our commons itself, software, content, books data, into an “owned property”.

I believe it’s possible, and I believe people can do it. I know I do. It has to use only free and open licensing for code, open protocols and standards for communication and APIs, decentralized architecture, creative commons for content around the project, perhaps non-commercial so that authors can commercialize it through other venues. For content, it seems ok to me. For software, I would not involve with any but free/open licensed work. With any of them, but only them.

My preferred license, as a software developer, is one I’ve seen drafted in a software hub by a lawyer (!), copyleft-next. It’s in the works, drafted with copyright control in mind. It strikes it down, it kills its incentives for the commons. It plays nice with any open license and yet, it uses the history of open licensing to detect the real loophole and close it, in the best way possible under the current copyright law. The real loophole… is more a mentality matter than a legal matter, and it stems from the apparent need for copyright control. From the fear, uncertainty and doubt, spread by big media corporations, that enables ownership over the commons to insinuate. But I digress again. That’s for another review, off-topic as usual on GoodReads, and it’s just my preference; any open license works.

Free as in Freedom

Lawyers. You’d say, who needs them. Well, actually we do. We need those dedicated lawyers who have given their time to draft good licenses, documentation and legal frameworks, who counsel and draft and put themselves in line, for our projects fighting to rebuild the freedom on the internet.

Lawyers dedicated to freedom, as in free speech, and free culture, and free software. Not always as in free beer, but I’ll drink one now for them.

Now, it’s up to us. I’m in.

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Review: Please Don’t Talk about Me When I’m Gone

Please Don't Talk about Me When I'm Gone
Please Don’t Talk about Me When I’m Gone by David Perlmutter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Short Story Presentation

Cicero Clayton and his gal pal, Suzy Mack, have had plenty of adventures in their fictional version of Halifax. After all, life as a cartoon character should be nothing but fun and excitement, right?

All things may be possible in the world of Cicero and Suzy, but the real adventure won’t begin until their show is cancelled – and that’s exactly what’s about to happen.

 

My Review

The perspective of cartoon characters, when their television show gets canceled.

Some might find this short story humorous. I don’t, though not because it doesn’t have its share of humor. It’s a parody, if you will, of the world of entertainment networks, one that feels sad all the way, shadowing its funny twists.

There is money, narrow mind and ego, corporate power negotiations, threats and ruthlessness. There is no place for quality of a show, for feedback from the audience, for a kid’s fun, in the decision making. Cartoon characters, the last ones out, fight their way and out of their way, for a few minutes on the air.

Note: I have received a copy for free from the publisher, with the purpose of an honest review.

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Review: Sorcery and Scholarships

Sorcery and Scholarships
Sorcery and Scholarships by Ian Isaro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Presentation

 

Everyone wishes the ancient prophecy would go away. Pixies commute to work and sirens make mp3s of their songs, yet antique forces stubbornly persist. They want to bring about a war between Light and Darkness in an era when most people just want to cash in on the merchandising.

Aki is struggling to make ends meet and hopes her scholarship can at least earn her a better apartment. Blake refuses to believe he could be something so cliché as a Knight of Darkness. Keisha is pursuing a career in law when she’s told she has no choice but to serve the forces of Light. All of them will be attending the same university, whether they like it or not.

It’s hard to think about dark omens when there’s a term paper due, much less a party that night. But they’d better relax while they can, because after college is only the real world, which is stranger and more dangerous than they could possibly imagine.

My Review

An uncommon book in the fantasy landscape, Sorcery and Scholarships is an on-going trip in a rich fantasy world. Dynamic and complex, the world is too rich to catch in a few words, and it is a setting hosting a saga of magic, youth struggles, destiny and war.

Characters

The new students to Axis University are distinct, well sketched characters. We meet Aki, a girl trying to live on her own and struggling with basic spells to prove herself. Blake, a powerfully distinct character from the start, presented to us as a bearer of Darkness and from his very introductory scene the author shocks us with his behavior. I would rather not give spoilers, so I’ll pass over the details, I’ll just say that not everything is rosy, and that has caught my interest from the start. Then we have Keisha, the smart girl aiming for law school, an overachiever in anything she puts her mind to.

The book is well written on characterization and point of view, though not easy: it switches often the points of view, following the experiences of every of our students. However, thanks to the skillful depiction of the biases of each and the clear distinction between their take on Axis, on their entourage, on the war going on, we have no trouble following them and enriching our experience of the world of Sorcery and Scholarship through the superposition of their perspectives.

World Building

The world is complex, and more than once, at the beginning of the book, I’ve felt it rushing to the reader with many assumptions on history or events we don’t know yet. We have to figure out as we go, the fey, the spites, races we’re dealing with in this world, the magic system, or rather systems, since there are more areas of magic, the prophecy that lies above the events and puts things into motion at the time we enter the world.

The book doesn’t have too long infodumps on magic, still it transmits a lot of information, through part-infodumps. That’s somehow more confusing, because they’re clearly only hanging parts, that we have to figure out how they relate in the bigger picture. The magic system is complex, with many areas and specific characteristics, partially dependent on the native abilities of the student as well as the willingness of their professors to train them. Weird things are happening, and in the course of the story we don’t know much of what or why. Only that it’s a war, a war between Light and Darkness, with many aspects we discover along the way.

Thankfully, the plot is character-driven, and very well done at that. We can easily sympathize and connect with Aki, and likely Keisha, from the start. Twists and surprises keep our interest alive as they move along, we can learn with them as they try to uncover the deeper meaning of what is happening in the university and in the world.

A complex fantasy with a complex magic world, Sorcery and Scholarship is an interesting read. Light, though snappy, switching fast through events, the writing style makes this book a pleasure to read, for the fantasy fans.

Note: I have received a copy for free from the author, for an honest review.
This review is part of Making Connections blog tour.

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Short Review: And They Called Her Spider

And They Called Her Spider
And They Called Her Spider by Michael Coorlim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What if Holmes’ friend was an engineer, they both lived in a steampunk England, and their story told in a witty style in a fantasy?

They would be Bartleby and James, the fun couple in this steampunk story.

Well written and a light read, the story has been a surprise. I found myself smiling at the tribulations of the engineer, enjoying his use of the detoxification apparatus, in a world excellently sketched with all its steampunk flavor.

This story is now for free on Smashwords, and it makes a good read for steampunk fans, and also an easy introductory read for those curious to try steampunk.

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Review: My Name Is Michael Bishop

My Name Is Michael Bishop
My Name Is Michael Bishop by T.R. Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fantasy is a RPG-like delightful episode.

The world in which we’re invited is immediately engrossing, we’re in a rich setting with a familiar and yet original feeling. We have sages and priestesses, dark magic and technological contraptions, apothecaries who sell plants for spells, we have lords at their manor, and we have picturesque carriages, and scientific endeavors. We have power of magic and fear and disdain for it. The characters and the world are familiar, they share many elements with the collective imaginary of every well written fantasy story, but the writer adds unique bits: he brings steampunkish golems, creates a distinctive magic system, and a poignant plot, with carefully prepared twists.

The world feels like a role-playing game universe, where immersion is how you step in and stay in all the way.

There are many things done well, the plot matters, characters are believable and likeable, the bad guy will surprise, and the writing flows just right. Sometimes the writing feels almost musical, in its rhythm. Most of all, the world building is exquisitely done, to the point where immersion in the world (more than in the plot) is how the book reads.

This book feels like a RPG. One for which you don’t need instructions, you’re in the middle of it. I almost have on the tip of my fingers the need to type the next scene, move a character, re-enter the manor and reach for the moondrop dew in the sage’s cabinet. In case I’d need it for the spell I will – I mean, my character will, learn. From the spell book, you know. OK. Turn the corner. The two stupid and hilarious guardians are not here yet, psst, I know when I’ll hear them coming, because they never stop talking…

I’m a sucker for RPGs, and My Name is Michael Bishop is an episode set in RPGish world, a well written scenario set in a world I wish it didn’t end.

I recommend this book for any fantasy/steampunk fans, and anyone looking for a great book.

 

Note: I received a copy for free, for the purpose of an honest review.

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Review: Bounty Hunter

Bounty Hunter
Bounty Hunter by S.J. Hollis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Summary

The book is beautifully written, and kept me engaged all to the last minute, in a fantasy world where the author treats jokingly everything, even the apocalypse, with the skill of a great writer.

My advice: ignore the blurb. It starts well, but, to me, it gives the wrong idea in the end about what matters in this book. It comes across as too hyperbolic and doesn’t do it justice.
We can ignore the title, too, while we’re at it. Did you think it’d be about bounty hunting? It’s not.

We’re in an alternative post-apocalyptic Earth. It’s an Earth with witches and aliens and demons, and where magilectricity is the power source for technology. 14 years ago, witches have opened a barrier between universes, and demons have fallen unto our world, wiping most of human race. Kai is a boy witch, in this moment in history when witchkind is not, understandably, very popular. The plot unfolds with many twists, developing characters, building the world they live in, and even change the world as they knew it.

World Building in motion!

World building is intertwined with the twist of events, sketched and increasingly polished as we move along. It’s world building in motion, unlike the static infodumps you commonly find in fantasy stories. The choice of the author on *how* to get us into the world has been surprising to me, because the world of Bounty Hunter is a rich magical world, it has a complexity that I wouldn’t have thought easy to present “in motion”. But the writer draws skillfully every detail at its place, shapes it along with the story, in the points where the plot needs it.

I love the world building style at Hollis.

We are drawn into the world in so many ways, through the eyes of Kai learning his way, through a witty turn of phrase, or lively through dialogue. It’s like the world is out there all around us, and we can look at it as if looking through a window, but we only have time to take a glimpse, then the plot changes, and we move along with it, until we catch another glimpse, and it all falls into place. It makes so much sense embedded in the story as it is, that our glimpses are unforgettable. But we can’t catch our breath, it’s world building on the run. What’s more, the world changes as events happen, it’s not just a background.

I think the sequel will have to have infodumps, and that’s fine, I actually like them. Bounty Hunter is the first book, where characters find the way to start healing their world from the consequences of an apocalyptic event. This healing starts towards the end of the book, I think in the sequel we’ll eventually experience the world at its fullest.

Characters

It’s hard to not like Kai. As clumsy and naive as he is, he’s trying to do what he thinks right and make everyone happy, with an innocence that I cannot but feel sympathetic with. He has the problems of the age (he’s only fourteen), but they only make him so easy to connect with.
Secondary or episodic characters are not so secondary after all, they’re well sketched, which makes the dialogue flow very understandable. Kai’s “uncle”, the team on the bounty hunters ship, are all recognizable individualities. As for Laon, the demon lord, although he appears rarely (more rarely than I would have wanted!), he’s a distinct and very likeable personality.
There are hardly any real “bad guys” in this fantasy. (except a witch queen, but who cares about her). The demons may have wiped most of humanity, but they’re definitely no cliche bad guys. I was thrilled by what we learned about them, from Laon’s first dialogue with Kai to the intellectually delightful episodes inside the demon ship. (did you think you’ll have quantum theory in a children book? You have it, and awesomely written and understandable it is!)

Races and characters form an ethically complex landscape, we’re not in a simplistic good-vs-evil war like too many fantasy books. That’s a really cool thing, it made me identify with more characters, and get involved all along.

Still, a few times through the story, I felt there is a superhero, that Kai’s destiny has a little too much of extraordinary. I think this is my problem with many YA/fantasy books, I’m not comfortable with the super in superhero. However, amazingly, every time I felt that, the next pages restored the balance, and Hollis had a joking take on it at just the right time ™. The perfect bit of joking makes it all fun, loads of FUN.

Writing style

Brisk, funny, lively, the writing style deserves the very special mention. I loved the turns of phrase, the ordinary dialogue or exposition suddenly turned around, with a deliciously revelatory twist. Hollis knows how to tell things differently than you’d expect. I found myself smiling in many scenes, and I’ve been entirely drawn in.

I don’t look at this book as any other Young Adult/Children book. The writing style is great, and it’s great writing that makes a book.
I recommend it for all ages, fantasy fans or fans of science fiction embedded in a fantasy.

 

Note: I received a copy for free from the author, for an honest review.

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Review: …And the Stars Will Sing

...And the Stars Will Sing
…And the Stars Will Sing by Michelle Browne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful book, smooth writing, strong characters, compelling science fiction landscape.

I think this book is a 4/5 rating in my bookshelf, but my subjectivity played a trick on me. I wanted to pick it up thanks to an impressive review, that excitedly recommended it for originality. As a science-fiction addict, I always have this nagging question in the back of my head: how much more can be said, in a book on wormholes, and with starships, and traveling faster than light? That is, the field has so many yet another of the same, that it’s hard to find your new “aaah wow”. This proved among the best reading I had for a while.

The novella puts a unique spin on a space story. Written as a journal of Glass, in her first mission to open a wormhole, it draws us directly in the reality of the main character, and in the world she lives in. It treats technology, alien relations, science theories, like common sense reality. The far future world is believable, and sound, and damn fun.

While the story is compelling, I had some issues believing the plot and characters. I didn’t quite buy the little romance between Glass and Jai, when he’s coldly letting her go in a reconnaissance mission. We’re told he’s scared, but he didn’t sound to me like he’s scared for her. I kept waiting to find out he has some agenda of his own aboard the ship, although that’s probably just me. I also was confused at some point on who is talking, in a dialogue between Kial and Ruzzan. With no consequence to the story, though. A few of the characters are very well sketched, a few others less so. I can easily identify with Glass, and Annamar has a recognizable presence, Kelna less so.

The girl gossip scene felt a little rushed. That is, the four girls eagerly meet during launch break, and take all the long way to the quarters, and once there, they exchange a few replies, then one of them gives the signal to go back. I was amused, not bothered, it just felt like something’s missing.

I’ve read the ebook version, and towards the end, I found a few editing issues, but they were very few and trivial.

The novella is an easy, fast and pleasant read. I loved the writing style, it’s flowing beautifully, and that makes it a very enjoyable experience. I found myself so drawn in, and at the end I agreed with the originality, and that’s the charm of it! This is Michelle Browne’s debut novella, and a fine debut it is. I will be looking for her next books.

Note: I have received a copy for free, for an honest review.

A closing remark, on the copy I read. In the introductory acknowledgments, there’s a misuse of the term copyright: original photo cannot be both public domain and copyrighted by an organization. Public domain is outside copyright of someone, it’s either one or the other. If the photo is public domain, the proper term is “public domain and credit to STSci”.

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Review: The Secret Lab

The Secret Lab
The Secret Lab by Steven M. Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I will disclose this: I picked up The Secret Lab because of Mr. Paws, the intelligent cat. Yes, I could not resist the temptation to read the adventure of a sentient, mathematics inclined cat, told by Steven M. Moore. It exceeded my expectations.

Mr. Paws is the result of a genetics experiment aboard a facility orbiting Earth in 2147. The cat and his newly found friends, a group of four smart teenagers, find themselves in an intrigue with corporate agendas, young curiosity, dangerous and ethically problematic research, relationships and their difficulties when coming of age. The complexity is enthralling, but the author also makes it easy to follow, using a light, natural style to tell us their story.

This is what Mr. Moore does at his best. Tell us a story, a cozy story, a story that makes me smile and enjoy comfortably the cat-like analysis on those humans, as it unfolds. Along with their obvious, though understandable, limitations.

At its core a young adult fantasy, the story takes place in a science fiction context, extrapolated from the physics and genetics of our time. The artificial intelligence dubbed “the AI” is very advanced, but you still know it’s a programmed entity, bound to its programming. The formation of mathematician and physicist of the writer shows in his brilliant and understandable description of the life in a space station.

All in one, the book is a very enjoyable read, appealing to all ages.

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