29 January 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Starplex by Robert J Sawyer

StarplexStarplex by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The acclaimed author of Far-Seer and End of An Era embarks on a fantastic journey. A series of mysterious, artificial wormholes have brought the far reaches of space immediately close. But is the Earth ready for who--or what--the wormholes may bring?

I'm not normally a great fan of hard science fiction and that's exactly what this book is, but there's a really cool story in there too, intertwined with some pretty mind-boggling astrophysical space science stuff. These two elements combine into a really good story, and a relatively short book too. The story has our galaxy permeated with a vast array of artificial 'gateways' that link various points across the galaxy, and there is also two other known intelligent species. These species (including humans and dolphins) learn to use the gateways and go on to form the Commonwealth of Planets. A combined exploratory team aboard the massive vessel Starplex discover in deep space some huge beings principally composed of dark matter and through communicating and helping them, learn some startling facts about the cosmos and it's origin. The story line is well thought out and enjoyable and it all comes together at the end of the story in a really satisfying way.
There was a couple of things that I didn't like about it, chiefly the dolphins. I don't know, but to me the concept of intelligent dolphins piloting space ships from inside water tanks is silly. People claim that dolphins could be as intelligent as humans, but I remain to be convinced. Is that arrogant? Maybe it is. Anyway, this is relatively minor but the main reason I didn't award it the last star. On the positive side, there is some nice descriptive action scenes, almost space-opera in scale.
Overall this is a good book that I really enjoyed. If you like deep space adventures, unusual alien species and numerous mind-bending cosmic concepts, then you'll totally love this.

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14 January 2014

Public Libraries Show Why Sharing Culture Should Never Have Been Banned in the First Place

From TorrentFreak
by Rick Falkvinge
January 12, 2014

A public library - similar to 'illegal' file sharing

You’ll have a hard time finding a copyright monopoly maximalist who insists that public libraries should be banned. This would be political suicide; instead, they typically tell lies about why it’s not the same thing as online sharing. Let’s have a look.

A concept that’s becoming increasingly useful is “Analog Equivalent Rights”. Culture and knowledge should be just as available in the digital space, as it is in the analog space. We should enjoy exactly the same privacy rights and civil liberties online, as we do offline. The concept is completely reasonable, and nowhere near rocket science. This is a tremendously useful concept, as it makes lawmakers and others reflect on the liberties they are killing off for their children, sometimes followed by a mental shock as they realize what has been going on with their silent approval. Let’s have a look at how this applies to public libraries.

When you are challenging a copyright industry lobbyist over the concept of public libraries, and ask them if they are opposed to people having access to such culture and knowledge without paying, they are smart enough to not deride public libraries – as this would weaken their political position considerably. However, online sharing of culture and knowledge is the Analog Equivalent Right to the public libraries we've had for 150 years. Lobbyists will sometimes try to change the subject around this, or more commonly, lie using one of three myths. Here are those myths and lies, and why they are untrue:

Lobbyist lie: The library buys all its books. Therefore, it’s not comparable with online sharing of culture.

Fact: Laws in most countries say that for every, every, book published, the publisher must send a number of copies of that book to certain large libraries at their own cost, to be available without charge for reading by the public.

When the copyright industry complains that they “can’t possibly accept” laws that mandate them to “give away their product for free”, as they tend to put it, it’s only prudent to point out rather sternly that those laws already exist, and have done so for more than a century. The key difference with online sharing is that the analog-equivalent mechanism wouldn't incur any cost at all to the publishers, something that would normally be seen as a good thing, both from a political and publishing perspective.

Obviously, it’s true that many if not most libraries buy additional books and additional copies of books. However, the main point here is that there are already laws on the books that say that every single book published must be supplied to a library, in order to be available to the public free of charge.

In addition, this ignores the point that the copyright industry doesn't get to “accept” or “not accept” laws. They get to run a business in a particular legal environment or choose to not do so, and that’s where their prerogative starts and ends. On a functioning free and fair market, entrepreneurs do not and should not have any say whatsoever in what the legal environment looks like. (We still have some distance to go with regards to this point in replacing clueless and dangerous yes-men politicians.)

Lobbyist lie: The rights holder gets paid when a book is borrowed from a library.

Fact: This is a myth on two fronts – what we would call a “double-fault” in popular sports such as Counter-Strike.

It is true that, under certain conditions and in several countries, some spare change is sent to somebody when a book is borrowed from a library. However, that somebody who receives money is not the rights holder, nor is it some kind of compensation for a lost sale. In most European countries, it is a governmental culture grant intended to boost the amount of culture available in the local language. Therefore, and this context is crucially important, that spare change has absolutely nothing to do with the exclusive rights of the copyright monopoly. It is a unilateral cultural governmental grant that happens to be based on library statistics, as they are a convenient measure.

If a book in Swedish is borrowed from a Swedish library, then the person who made it available in Swedish gets a very small amount, provided they hit a minimum threshold and hasn't hit a maximum threshold. Sometimes, this happens to be an author that wrote originally in Swedish, but much more often, it is somebody who translated a book into the Swedish language. Other countries have similar arrangements.

To wit: When somebody borrows Harry Potter in Swedish translation from a Swedish library, J.K. Rowling – the rights holder – doesn't get a single penny from that. The myth is just not true on any account.

Lobbyist lie: A library can only lend its book to one person at a time, and therefore, this limit must be artificially imposed in the digital age.

Fact: This was a physical limitation, not a conceptual one. If a library could lend its books to multiple people, it would have done so in a heartbeat long ago. To argue that this physical undesirable limitation should form a basis for limiting legislation in a new environment where the limitation doesn't exist is worse than a logical fallacy; it makes no sense on any level.

The purpose of the public library is not and was never to “lend books”, as is asserted in this myth. It was, and is, to “make knowledge and culture available to as many people as possible at no cost to them”. What’s possible has expanded greatly with online sharing, and it is only proper that we take advantage of this fantastic potential.

The online sharing of culture and knowledge is the greatest public library ever invented, and the ability for all humankind to take part of all culture and knowledge 24/7 is arguably one of the largest steps of civilization of this century. All the technology has already been invented, all the tools have already been deployed, the ability to use it has already spread to all of humanity: nobody needs to spend a dime to make this happen. All we have to do is to lift the stupid ban on actually using it.

What we need to do is to replace the yes-men politicians who let themselves be puppeteered by an obsolete but lucrative gatekeeper industry in order to make this great leap of civilization. Often, the mere trend to replace such politicians is enough for bad policy to change on a dime.

About The Author

Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at falkvinge.net focuses on information policy.

13 January 2014

Pulp Magazines Project

I found the Pulp Magazines Project website recently which is an open-access digital archive dedicated to the study and preservation of one of the twentieth century's most influential literary & artistic forms: the all-fiction pulpwood magazine. The Project also provides information on the history of this important but long neglected medium, along with biographies of pulp authors, artists, and their publishers.

This is another of those excellent and fun sites that I love, playing their part in keeping alive our culture through preserving our literature. Pulp fiction played a huge role in society that cannot be understated and gave many authors their beginnings. At their peak of popularity in the 1920's and 1930's, the most successful pulps could sell up to one million copies per issue.

Pulp fiction magazines were the main source of everyday entertainment for the masses during the first half of the 20th Century. These magazines delivered action and heroes that were some of the most creative in literary history. Pulp heroes and their authors have influenced every medium including comics, movies, and television.

The most successful pulp magazines were ArgosyAdventureBlue Book and Short Stories described by some pulp historians as "The Big Four". 

Among the other notable titles of this period were Amazing StoriesBlack MaskDime DetectiveFlying AcesHorror StoriesLove Story Magazine, Marvel TalesOriental StoriesPlanet StoriesSpicy DetectiveStartling StoriesThrilling Wonder StoriesUnknownWeird Tales and Western Story Magazine.

The collapse of the pulp industry changed the landscape of publishing because pulps were the single largest sales outlet for short stories. Combined with the decrease in slick magazine fiction markets, writers attempting to support themselves by creating fiction switched to novels and book-length anthologies of shorter pieces.

04 January 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Commando - Weapons of Vengeance by Calum Laird

Weapons of Vengeance: Three of the Best Secret Weapons Commando Comic Book AdventuresWeapons of Vengeance: Three of the Best Secret Weapons Commando Comic Book Adventures by Calum Laird
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exciting stories of the deadly V weapons dropped on Britain and the brave men sent to destroy them.
British warriors are shown here at their best as they try to find and destroy Nazi V2 rockets before they can be fired at Britain, sabotage the Nazis' sinister space program that would otherwise win the war for Hitler, and thwart the launch of one of the deadliest rockets of all—the V4. Includes "Operation Valhalla," "Rocket Strike," and "Project 'Doomsday.'"

Avery nice compilation of three excellent Commando comic adventures that are centered around the fight to stop the Nazi V-weapons ('Vergeltungswaffen' or 'reprisal weapons') during the later desperate days of WW2. I really enjoyed the stories, although the plots are not as straightforward as I first thought they'd be, but that was one of the things I enjoyed. A well composed compilation that any fan will love.

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02 January 2014

Free eBook: THE GARDEN OF THE STONE by Victoria Strauss

Phoenix Pick continues their free eBook promotion this month with The Garden of the Stone by Victoria Strauss.

At the heart of the Fortress lay the Garden.
At the heart of the Garden lay the Stone.
It was a living entity of power beyond understanding–not even by the men who had used its energies to control the unGifted masses, ever since the wrenching cataclysm that shattered the union of Hand and Mind and split the world centuries ago. Then came Bron, his arrival long foretold, destined to restore the balance between Hand and Mind. But Bron had other plans. He stole the Stone…and vanished.
Now Bron’s daughter Cariad, a powerful empath and skilled assassin, must follow the footsteps of a father she has never known, into the depths of the same Fortress. Waiting there is Jolyon, her father’s deadly enemy, a man whose thirst for domination is matched only by his taste for blood…and who possesses the power to satisfy both appetites. Cariad must learn the secret of Jolyon’s strength before it is too late. For just as her father’s arrival was prophesied, so too is his return. And this time Jolyon is ready–for Bron to die.

Instructions and download links can be found on Phoenix Pick’s catalogue page. The Coupon Code for the free eBook this month is 9991387 and is only good between January 2 through January 31, 2014.