Saturday, July 30, 2005


Continued from yesterday. Doctorow on open source publishing, terrorism, and the intersection between fantasy and science fiction...

Hamlet Linden: [Book club member] Random Unsung had a question about the permissions and rights for the SL edition [of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town], but I'm going to direct that question to [creator of the "official" SL edition of Someone] Falk Bergman and the other creators of the [Expo] books for after. So, onward…

Cory Doctorow: I wouldn't mind hearing the answer to that question regarding permissions and rights for the SL edition...

HL (relenting): Random Unsung says, "You've made your book available for free to anyone in SL through Hamlet's innovative contest-- but none of the contestants are making this technology available for free or for sale. When will Gutenberg come to SL?"

Cory Doctorow: Yeah, I'd be pretty disappointed if the effort that my sharing inspired didn't end up getting shared as well-- I was really hoping that the in-game book would turn out to be a template for lots of in-game books, including Gutenberg and Charlie Stross's Accelerando and a whole SL library. Now, THAT would be a legacy to leave in this place.

Falk Bergman: Random, the page scripts are secret because of the autograph function. I do not want people to send goatse pics to some poor unsuspecting avatar reading a book.

HL: I certainly hope so, too. I left it up to the creators of each prototype what kind of Creative Commons they wanted to offer to their technology, if any. But I do think Falk's is open [source], right Falk?

FB: Yes-- everything except the pages. I did not think it to be that valuable of a creation-- as soon as html-on-prims gets here, everything [else] will be obsolete.

HL: Caliandris Pendragon asks, Why do you use so few colors in your writing? As I was trying to make clothes for Mimi [on the cover of the SL edition], I realized that you don't often talk about a specific colour for clothes.

CD: Colours-- well, for one thing it turns out that I'm slightly colour-blind. I live in a flat with a green room that I see as grey! But it's a fair cop -- I should certainly be using more colours as I write.

HL: [Audience member] Jarod Godel asks, "How do you think Someone Comes To Town stacks up or compares to Anglo-Western comic books, where magic and technology operate in conjunction all the time? Would you say your book is a good model, or extension, for the comic industry..."

CD: Jarod, I don't know much about the comics industry, apart from what I've observed on the sidelines. It's a severely screwed-up industry by all accounts. For example, if you go into a bookstore and buy the first perfect-bound edn of a new comic (say the issues 1-3 of Trasnmet that first came out), and then go to a comic store to find issue 4, chances are they don't have it and can't get it. So there's no way for people to go from being bookstore patrons of perfect-bound collections to comics-store patrons of individual monthly editions.

Regarding the sf/f crossover, I think that the conceit of sf as predictive of the future and hence different from fantasy is pretty bankrupt. Not only is any sufficiently advanced tech indistinguishable from magic, the reason to WRITE about sufficiently advanced tech is to incorporate magic into your storylines (e.g., Gibson's cyberspace). So I think that the field is ALREADY incorporating magic into its science. And vice-versa.

HL: [Audience member] Neal Stewart says, "During a conversation about Alan and Kurt's network, the 'Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse' are mentioned ('kiddie porn, terrorists, pirates, and the Mafia'). As an EFF supporter, how do you respond to this criticism of their network and similar projects like Freenet, etc.?

CD: It's pretty straightforward: we can't let the bad guys set the bar for how we limits the freedoms of the good guys: we can't punish the innocent to get at the guilty. If our litmus test for an architecture of control is, "Could this be used by the evil to do evil," then everything from the car to the kitchen knives would have to be locked away.

HL: Then again, when you're talking about full-scale terrorist attacks, that does sorta change the context, doesn't it?

CD: Nope -- it sure doesn't. We've all given up our shoes, our nail-scissors, our dignity and our Fourth Amendment rights, and it STILL hasn't stopped terrorist attacks. If creating a system of internal passports for Americans who want to cross state lines worked to prevent terrorism, then maybe you'd have a point-- but the object of terrorism is to frighten people into behaving irrationally, and to abandon their principles. If the response to terrorism is such an abandonment, then the terrorists really do win.

Concluded tomorrow...

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Doctorow's last comment is kind of tricky. If indeed communications avenues are left open the natural progression is an arms race of encryption and code breaking/surveilence. If you are going to take the reactionist method and shut down a particular stream of comunication within a medium another will take it's place. There are no technological solutions to terrorism.

Posted by: William Malaprop at Jul 30, 2005 11:05:40 AM

Due to popular demand (Over four people have asked!), I've placed open permissions versions of the HoloReader edition of EST and Down and Out... on the picnic table near Louise (178,175). I'll also post the code on the SL scripting forum. Feel free to use it for whatever you like. (If you use it to import and display your BDSM leather porn collection, I'd prefer you *didn't* tell me about it!) Please note that I'm offering this as-is. It's kind of klunky at the moment, but perhaps someone more skilled than I can streamline it a bit.

Now, pardon me while I rant. As for the "When will Gutenberg come to SL?" question, well there are a couple of things I'd like to add. A few people have been importing Project Gutenberg texts into SL for quite a while now. I know there are others, but the one I'm most familiar with is OmegaX Zapata's Librarium, in Abitibi. He's imported a few dozen of the public domain texts already, in the form of notecard dispensers bound in book prims. (Granted, notecards are not as fun to read as nicely typeset pages, but they are much easier to create.) The project has foundered somewhat lately, in part due to RL conflicts for the creator, in part due to lack of volunteer support (transcribing books is tedious- it's mostly copy-paste, but it's a LOT of copy paste), and in part due to an apparent lack of interest in in-game reading from the SL community at large.

The latter point is the killer. I've watched several in-game libraries and book stores rise and fall, even in the relatively few months I've been in game. People just don't seem interested in reading books in SL. The larval metaverse feel of SL just doesn't seem to add anything to the experience of passively reading a book. So far, in spite of the excellent additional features offered in some of the Expo readers (Falk's reader has some NICE features- I learned quite a bit just being around him), SL books offer nothing to replace or improve upon the simple experience of a paperback in your Laz-E-Boy. (Yeah, yeah, laptop in your Laz-E-Boy, bladdy bladdy. You get my point.) We may get to the point where SL readers are a preferable alternative to the dead tree editions, someday, but for now I'm afraid SL book imports are just a novelty.

I might also add that "typeset" books, like those featured in the Expo, are expensive to produce in terms of time and Linden dollars. Falk donated a daunting number of hours creating, importing, and processing the hundreds of textures for the three Doctorow books. The significant upload cost (at $10L per page) pales in comparison, but even that is an serious impediment. (Maybe the time has come for a third party SL Endowment for the Arts, which would be sponsored by Linden-rich players and designed to defray the cost of bulk uploads for cultural/literary projects such as this. But project approvals- and rejections- would be a political nightmare that I wouldn't wish on anyone.) Like everyone else, I have high hopes for the upcoming HTML functions. But, even given the eventual ability to strap a full featured web browser on the inside of a beautifully detailed prim book, we're still left with staring at a book on the screen. I'm just not optimistic about the viability and public appeal of in-game books. Someone, please, prove me wrong!

Posted by: Moriash Moreau at Aug 1, 2005 9:11:11 AM

Moriash, I'm glad I kick-started you into giving this script. You could have sold it. In fact, I will probably pay somebody to fiddle with it for me because I'm too busy to do that myself. My question about Gutenberg stands. Notecard dispenders are very widely in use, as are newspapers that rely on bunches of tga files. But that's not really book publishing as you know. It's not really a flippable and really easily distributable book. Nowadays, half the time even notecards won't transfer to inventories when someone is offline due to some bug.

Maybe with your invention and the work of others book-publishing will start to come into being. Your notion of "The larval metaverse feel of SL just doesn't seem to add anything to the experience of passively reading a book" just seems a rather narrow take on the entire subject.It's just that the attention-deficit- type gamers who need constant stimulation and eye-darting movement have trouble focusing on a book and doing the *work* of moving the mind along ideas, they want to be spoon fed, but others don't mind this challenge. This problem of how reading has really gotten dumbed down -- along with thinking -- is one that a lot of people in academic circles are pondering about.

And not all books are going to be books like RL books, they might be a mixture of all the things SL has to offer, with landmarks to take you places and web on a prim and an object inside the spine you take out and look at and do something with and you might write on it yourself and pass it along or it might just be a cartoon chapbook. I'm sure it will be different. But it will be necessary. Every world needs the word.

I always marvel at the indifference of creators to the potentials of their inventions. I guess they just don't like customer service LOL. Already a book shop has opened in Grignano with tongue-in-cheek bodice rippers. I'm discussing a book deal now for "The Secret Life of Prok". It'll all be there...the late-night hidden trysts with Linden liaisons...the secret FIC love-child...the Shame of Seldig...the Confrontation at Frontenac....in serialized fashion...I'll bet you can't wait : )

Posted by: Prokofy Neva at Aug 3, 2005 10:16:10 PM