Posts Tagged ‘Cory Doctorow’

A web column I wrote for my school newspaper, “Inklings“:


 “Banned Books Week Is Getting Old”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

I am one of the few kids around without a Facebook account. I get plenty of laughs and weird looks for that. Nevertheless, while I personally don’t use Facebook, other people do – and sometimes for good reason.

 So the fact that our school blocks Facebook is a problem.

 And in the wake of Banned Books Week (Sept. 26-Oct. 2), Internet freedom is a vital issue that needs discussion.

 There should be an Internet Freedom Week as well. The Internet makes censorship more difficult, so it’s a specific medium of speech and communication that ought to be protected.

Banning books is getting a little bit irrelevant. The question should be how we use the Internet, not only books.

On the web, you can download all the offensive cartoons everyone gets so upset about and all the bits of controversial writing you want to. You can also create all that typically censored material as well.

 Just because a book is not published or an article is cut from the newspaper does not mean either piece of writing won’t end up on the Internet.

 And even though censorship is also possible online, the solution to Internet censorship is Internet freedom, which would make it more difficult for organizations to get a firm grip on the rapid flow of online data.

 Take Cory Doctorow. He has received piles of awards and nominations for his science fiction novels and short stories (“Makers,” his upcoming novel, will come out around the end of October), writes a regular column for the “Guardian,” is a co-editor of the popular blog BoingBoing.net, and has landed multiple times on “Forbes’ ” Top 25 Web Celebrities list. Even “Writer’s Digest” did their September issue cover feature on Doctorow.

 While successful, he never even thinks about – let alone allows – his books to be signed off without Creative Commons licenses. Each of his novels is available free at his website, craphhound.com.

 A strong supporter of Internet freedom, Doctorow believes that even when publishers or movie companies try to prevent people from stealing copyrighted information, the data can always be leaked, so you might as well keep things available in the first place.

 He makes his money when people read his books for free online and buy the hardcopy out of respect for his mission of Internet freedom or out of a traditional desire to have the actual novel in hand. In fact, many of his fans discover his work via the Internet – not the bookstores.

 If a government, corporation, librarian, or publisher removes a book from the shelves, it can always end up online – but it won’t get read as much if it’s not free. If it is, then who knows? The novel can circulate more easily on the web, generating more support for a potential print publication.

 But online information reaches lots of people, and quickly. Even if it’s deleted, the ideas behind the author’s work would remain preserved in minds of anyone who got a chance to read the piece.

 Obviously, it’s not always that simple. Governments – China, Saudi Arabia, Iran – can censor the Internet too. But, as Jim Giles mentioned in his Aug. 21, 2009 “Newscientist” article (“Worldwide Battle Rages for Control of the Internet”), there are existing methods of bypassing government censorship online.

 One of them, Tor, was created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In fact, the protagonist of Doctorow’s recent young adult novel, “Little Brother,” used Tor to evade his school’s Internet censorship programs, and Doctorow himself is former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

 If governments improve their blocking methods, programmers – like anything else in nature – will adapt.

 When things get really bad, we can always take it to the next step. It went from verbal story-telling to books to the Internet. The next thing you know, we’ll have computer chips in our brains. Censorship might become a literally painful process.

 Doctorow wrote an interesting June 2, 2009 “Guardian” article, “Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google,” about the potential for bias in the seemingly harmless process of categorization and search functions. As a solution, he suggested a system in which users can control the methods their search engines use.

 The point here is control.

 Different societal, economic, and political groups can burn all the books they want to, but it’s harder for them to do the same online. Especially if they’re not the ones in control.

 If we want to protect our free speech, books shouldn’t be the number one priority. The Internet should be – and it ought to be free.

 A Jan. 21, 2009 article from “Time” by Lev Grossman – “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature” – did a great job talking about the shifts publishing is going through today from print to the Internet.

 So if we’re going to go crazy about free speech, we may as well start thinking, and thinking early. The “next thing” everyone seems to be raving about is Internet publishing. Let’s make it uncensored. Let’s make it free.

 Let’s celebrate Internet Freedom Week instead.

… or read the article here.


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Here’s a neat article about Internet freedom, its ability to foster political activism, and the governments who try to hold it down. It reminds me of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother — how the protagonist uses the Internet as a tool to fight an Orwellian government which attempts to control the technology. In fact, the article even mentions the Tor software created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Doctorow’s main character used Tor in Little Brother, and Doctorow himself a former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation).


NewScientist — August 21, 2009

“Worldwide Battle for Control of the Internet: As dissidents exploit social networking sites to organise protests and get their messag eout, governments are searching for ways to clamp down”

by Jim Giles

WHEN thousands of protestors took to the streets in Iran following this year’s disputed presidential election, Twitter messages sent by activists let the world know about the brutal policing that followed. A few months earlier, campaigners in Moldova used Facebook to organise protests against the country’s communist government, and elsewhere too the internet is playing an increasing role in political dissent.

Now governments are trying to regain control. By reinforcing their efforts to monitor activity online, they hope to deprive dissenters of information and the ability to communicate.

The latest evidence of these clampdowns comes in a report on the Middle East and north Africa by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a collaboration of researchers based in the UK and North America. Among the restrictions it reports are clampdowns on Facebook in Syria and the use of hidden cameras in Saudi Arabia’s internet cafes.

Most of these actions are aimed at stifling political debate. “Political filtering is the common denominator,” says Helmi Noman of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Boston, who compiled the report. “It’s the main target.”

Noman asked volunteers to check whether roughly 2000 sites covering a range of subjects, including gambling, political news and humour …

article continued here.

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Writer’s Digest interviewed Cory Doctorow for the magazine’s September issue. It’s not available online as far as I know, so I’ve just typed up the first 200 words below. If you get Writer’s Digest, I recommend that you read this interview — it’s a great one. I like how he talks about sitting down at the keyboard and “opening a vein.” For me, that’s what makes writing writing — taking the risks.


Writer’s Digest — September 2009

“Revolutionary Road: Can technology bridge the gap between science fiction and social activism? Broad-reaching author Cory Doctorow says it can — and that taking risks online can reap rewards in print.”

by Christina Katz

Science fiction novelist, blogger and technology activist Cory Doctorow is used to being criticized. Some write to the prolific author to say he’s foolish for giving away his books online at the same time they come out in print. Others write to say he’s foolish for working with traditional publishers in the first place. But thousands of Doctorow’s fans write to say they discovered his books through a free download in only a few clicks online. And as long as some of those readers go on to become book buyers, Doctorow says he and his publisher, Tor Books, will keep coming out ahead.

So much for being foolish. The Canadian-born author doesn’t shy away from experimenting in new forms: He’s authored five novels, including Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, bestseller Little Brother and the forthcoming Makers; as well as two co-written nonfiction books; two short story collections; and an essay collection — while also co-editing the popular blog Boing Boing (boingboing.net) and writing for publications ranging from The New York Times to Wired and Popular Science.

And Doctorow won’t even think about signing a book contract without Creative Commons licensing, which grant a nonexclusive right to create free …

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In my previous post, I emphasized a funny quote from Cory Doctorow’s short story “The Right Book”: “No one could have predicted how well books and halal fried chicken went together.” So I think this is a good opportunity for me to talk about halal fried chicken — or halal in general, at least.

Curiously enough, last night hosted multiple coincidences. Not only did I discover that Cory Doctorow also wrote a story about the future of literature (as I’d done with “After the Age of Giant Sundials”), but his story mentioned — briefly, of course — halal. As it happens, I watched the reading of “The Right Book” just after hearing my dad deliver a speech about halal foods and socially conscious business.

He talked about a bunch of stuff — how he used “guerilla tactics” to start up a business from almost nothing, how to give back to the community, how to make sure your employees get paid right, how religious Sharia business rules stick so well with the socially conscious model. Most importantly, he talked about the halal/organic food business. There’s a strong demand for organic, quality halal food among American Muslims.

But the biggest idea is that even non-Muslims will go for halal. My dad assured his audience — the Muslim Business Alliance of Connecticut — that halal is a huge opportunity for anyone going into business, not just in financial terms but also in moral and spiritual terms. He and many others who are involved with halal business see that non-Muslims will jump for ethnic halal foods and will be attracted to the fact that halal regulations demand the humane treatment of animals.

This also opens the doors to interfaith work and eliminates Islamophobia. In other words, when people find plenty of halal food — good halal food —  in their grocery stores, then they connect it to Muslims. Opinions just might change. My dad is also helping start “Profits for Peace,” meant to establish relations between people of different religions.

A lot of times people — including myself — tend to complain about the serious issues we might see around us, but we never talk about the solutions because either it’s too hard to think about solving problems or we don’t even think about thinking about solving problems. Sometimes I try to excuse myself by saying that if I write about a problem, then other people are the ones who should figure out how to do the mending. But that’s not the case. As a writer, if you reveal an unsettling conflict, then you better think about how to fix it up. In my post “Why Cory Doctorow is ‘The Man'” I mentioned the elimination of the mental divide between East and West via “a wrinkle in time” — the web. Halal business is just as valid a method — it reaches out not only to Muslims, but to everyone else as well. Food, as a representation of culture, is a great way to unify people of different races, ethnicities, religions, and nationalities.

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Wow. Talk about coincidences.

I just posted my short story “After the Age of Giant Sundials,” which was inspired by the style Cory Doctorow used in his Locus Award-winning novelette “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth.” My story was about the future of literature. Now I’ve just discovered that Doctorow himself wrote a story — “The Right Book” — that is also about the future of literature. Weird. Or, if you want to go for word origins, “wyrd” as in fate. It reads cooler that way, I guess.

If you think “The Right Book” bears any similarity to “After the Age of Giant Sundials,” just keep in mind that — while Doctorow has inspired me — I had no intention whatsoever of copying him. I even wrote the story in the beginning of April 2009.

Anyhow, Neil Gaiman himself read Doctorow’s story at the Worldcon science fiction convention. The videos are below, and you can also read what Doctorow had to say about it.

My favorite line? “No one could have predicted how well books and halal fried chicken went together.”


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I think my brief grumbling in my post about Doctorow’s Little Brother not getting the Hugo needs a bit of beef, so to speak, so I’ll do some explaining. A little bit, at least. I don’t mean to prove that he should or should not have won the Hugo — but I do intend to discuss why he is “just the Man.”

While Little Brother might seem corny when you read the descriptions — and, while even the narrative kind of fumbles over the cliche a few times through the story — it’s just that … well — it’s hard to describe. There’s this feeling that I get sometimes, when I just can’t stop reading something because it’s so good. I don’t read like a writer or a literary critic or anything of the sort; I’m simply absorbed in the novel (or short story) to the point where I don’t think about letters or words or paragraphs or pages or chapters or parts.

It just is.

For me, that’s what it was like with Little Brother.

And it tells more about a writer when his readers (yes, I know that I’m just one unreliable single sample, but what can I do?) stop thinking about the book as a book, and start thinking about it in some other kind of way, if you get what I’m saying. This might be related to the writer’s ability in creating a fast-paced story, but I know that’s not the only thing that gives me that feeling. I’ve felt it before, multiple times — with Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, and Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity. You’ll notice that all of those — including Little Brother — are in the blog’s list of favorite sf/f/h stories. Even Doctorow’s Locus Award-winning novelette, “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” (which is also on the favorite list), kept me flying across the pages when I first read it in John J. Adams‘ superb post-apocalyptic anthology, Wastelands.

Little Brother also hit home for me — on a lot of points. I tend to be a bit paranoid myself, and the main character’s insights on a host of math, science, and security issues were just great. And, of course, there were some awesome lines and plenty of laughs to go around.

By the way, my high school has put up a bunch of cameras to prevent a rise in theft. It’s a just cause, I guess — they’re not going to spy on us like Big Brother or anything — but it does seem to echo the school cameras prevalent in Little Brother.

Although I don’t read every single one, I find Cory Doctorow’s Guardian columns extremely interesting as well. In “When I’m dead, how will my loved ones break my password?” Doctorow writes about how he dealt with his data, passwords, and so on in his will. In “Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google” he wrote that the act of categorization, while it may seem otherwise, can actually turn out biased at times. This reminds me now of something that Edward Said mentions throughout his book Orientalism: that bias is, in essence, inescapable because people always have, at the least, subconcious ties to some class, race, ideology, etc. Even scholarly academics can never be truly separated from opinion.

I wrote a near future short story sophomore year for my English class, and based it on the idea of the changing mediums of reading, and how that would impact literature. I looked back at “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth” and used that as a sort of inspiration for the style I would use in my short story — “After the Age of Giant Sundials.” You can read it in the previous post.

Doctorow is also pretty big on Creative Commons and such, and I love the way his ideas often use the Internet as a tool to achieve freedom and democracy.

In Edward Said’s Introduction to Orientalism, Said mentioned the harmful results of emerging technology and media (i.e. more, faster, and flashier “what bleeds leads” coverage, the bearded Muslim guy is always the bad guy, etc). At the same time, I think that same technology is a method for positive change. Later in his book, Said talked about the idea of “imaginative geography” and how the West has almost involuntarily drawn a philosophical, mental, political, social, and — most of all — moral divide between East and West due in part to the physical distances.

To me, technology, communication, and the Internet can let people create a “wrinkle in time” kind of thing — eliminating the blockage created by those physical separations. That thought gave me an inspirational boost for this blog. And Doctorow, obviously, remains an influence as well.

So, yes. Cory Doctorow is just the man.

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This is the short story (partly inspired by Cory Doctorow’s style in “When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth”) which I mentioned in my post, “Why Cory Doctorow is ‘the Man.'” An article from Time magazine,  “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshaps Literature,” also helped inspire my ideas. Comment, let me know what you think, and feel free to give me any suggestions, disagreements, agreements — whatever.


“After the Age of Giant Sundials” by Haris Durrani 

You don’t piss off a guy like Adam Gregory, even when he’s dead. I bet you he’s turning in his grave. Turning. Because of the damn hack. It has to be a hack. Dead people don’t write stories.

Gregory was a big sci-fi author–brought some neat ideas to the mix. He liked writing cyberpunk, you know. Technology and computer type of stuff. My kind of stuff. He’s the best author there ever was, and my client, too. But I’m also this big fan of his, read all his writing–real good writing, you know. He was very smart–a Ph.D in computer science from MIT. That’s why his cyberpunk stories are so good–he knows what he’s writing about. As an e.lit publisher, I’m into all that computer stuff, and I like it when people get it right.

Then Gregory had this heart attack and died, kind of. Tragic as hell.

Now there’s this post on his e.lit site–it’s the next chapter of his story. Except, today is the day after he died, so there’s something real weird going on. I’m in Gregory’s house this morning, and this is what I have to find the first time I check the nets. I’m supposed to work on uploading Gregory’s unpublished stuff, and I do not expect nor want to deal with a hacker.

Sometimes, e.publishers sit around, block spam, and make sure everything stays up-and-running on the e.lit servers so writers can go on writing and readers can go on reading. Standard maintenance. But there are interesting parts, too. Right now, I’m doing the typical e.lit publisher thing when writers die. E.publishing is like delivering babies one day, building tombstones another. One moment you’re starting up an amateur’s e.lit site–his literary career. The next, you’re collecting text files another author forgot to post before he died–the unfinished works.

I like it in this room. I’m a kind of bookworm–if “book” is the right way to say it anymore–and sitting here is a very special thing to me, in the same seat Gregory sat in when he wrote his stories from home. It’s big, almost empty accept for the wide, oversized desk beside this one window that opens out into the vegetable garden outside. The walls are a plain beige color, but you can barely see any of it because they’re flooded with print-outs of Gregory’s awards, and of his own smug complexion: nose raised high, eyes hinting down. He’s the best writer in history–to me, at least–but he isn’t exactly the most modest.

The floors are covered with this soft, ornate rug, and the seat I’m on is a comfortable one, a swivel chair with padded arms and a high back. And his laptop–his laptop, the birthing place of cyberpunk genius galore–is a large one, sitting on the desk. I see the single bulb above through its reflection in the polished wood. In the corner of the desk, there are cluttered papers which I’ll have to type up as soon as I upload the files from Gregory’s computer.

It’s nice, though–these cleanups, I mean, when a writer dies. It’s sort of tough, because Gregory was like this intense writer and it’s real sad to see him go, but at least I can get away from all the damn crowds. There are protestors in the streets every day, outside the e.lit server buildings where I work. References to Fahrenheit 451. “Literature is dead.” That type of trash. I guess people get pissed when you don’t give them a cover to judge the story by or a traditional style to rely on. It pisses me off, too. Literature isn’t dead. It’s evolved.

I return my attention to the screen, remember that some idiot posted a fake chapter on Gregory’s e.lit site. If he doesn’t want to be a pain, he can write whatever the hell he wants to write in the fan fic columns next to the author’s original text. But, no. Hacks piss me off. And this one had to worm into Gregory’s account.

Words pulsate at the bottom left of my window: “AGregory.writer online.” I have to go through Gregory’s files–the ones he checked off on his will–and there are a lot of them. So at the moment I don’t really feel like dealing with the hack who stole Gregory’s online ID. I type into the chat box. <MEnrique.e.pub: Knock it off. >

That’ll make him scram, get him off my back. Satisfied, I sip at the coffee Gregory’s widow brought to me fifteen minutes ago, trying to get some sort of energy burst, and then hunch over the computer. Gregory’s computer. The coffee leaves this nice aftertaste on my tongue, and I realize that Gregory must have used the same cup before. So I take another sip before bending forward again, fingers poised over the keyboard. I can really bring Gregory’s laptop with me to work, but e.publishers like to build their tombstones at a writer’s house. It fits with some sort of tradition, I think. And hey, how many people get to spend hours in some prolific writer’s basement or closet or whatever? It’s real special this time, it being Gregory’s house. He is the best writer, you know. He definitely is. I may be an e.publisher, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a real big fan. Like, I’m obsessed, you know.

I glance at Gregory’s e.lit site, fan fic posted beside the text–alternate ideas, characters, and plots going places Gregory never went. I’ve read a bunch, and some are very good, actually. Some are very bad. Like, really bad.

I look at Gregory’s will–the part my boss emailed me–and find the first folder Gregory said we could publish posthumously. My thoughts wander back to Gregory’s death, and my free hand kind of tugs at my hair, pulls it out of place. Friends tell me it’s kind of like a fro. My mom tells me it’s like a Brillo pad. But I don’t really care about stuff like that. I’m remembering a conversation I had with Gregory. He talked about a print agent who wanted parts of his first alternate storylines edited to a conventional plot and published on paper. Gregory told the agent, like, “You’re selling giant sundials, for God’s sake. They’re dead, and the only time people ever buy them is if they want to decorate their front yard–and that’s if you have enough money in the first place. Go write your own story.”

The computer beeps quietly, but loud enough that it punctures the silence. It’s the hack. <AGregory.writer: Is there a problem, publisher? > The guy thinks he’s funny, sounding like an automated computer assistant. Another fake post, larger this time, pops into the site. Then another. The hack is downloading his own damn stories to the site.

One of my thin, bony fingers reaches out to the mouse pad, pulls the chat box to center-screen. <MEnrique.pub: I said, knock it off. Adam Gregory is dead. > Then I close the box, unwilling to engage in an online conversation with an idiot hack who thinks this is all some sort of joke.

My narrow frame leans back, and I take off my large glasses to massage the skin hanging loose around my eyelids. Your eyes are always hurting, when you’re an e.lit publisher. It’s the damn computer glare. It kills your retinas. I open my eyes, put my glasses back on, and dim the screen, but it doesn’t really do much. So I just squint, sort of, staring at the date on the fake chapter post. It’s chapter twenty or something, in his fifteenth alternate of his one and only novel. But it isn’t really a novel. It’s more of a story, like the other e.lit works–a story that goes in several directions from all perspectives. Not omniscient, but more like a bunch of separate writings that kind of come together when you read them all. Almost like a super-organism, kind of. That’s what I love about literature. That’s how it’s supposed to be. No limits. A nice, laid-back style and a few good ideas. Keeps you reading. No grammar. No punctuation. None of that, if you don’t want it. It’s just a good story, and that’s all that matters.

Another beep. The chat box is open again. <AGregory.writer: I am not a hacker. >

I grit my teeth, bite my tongue in the process. My face starts to burn, and I can feel my skin go red. <MEnrique.pub: Then who the hell do u think u r? > I close the box again, start a tracking program with my publisher’s clearance passcode. The police will take care of the hacker after that.

I hear another beep. The hack again, real sarcastic: <AGregory.writer: Check the e.lit website. I have redeveloped my literary technique. >

I roll my eyes, wait for the scan to finish. My scrawny legs shake up and down to this rapid kind of beat. Impatient. I can’t let a hack mess with Gregory’s site. My fingers pass over the keys, jabbing them one by one.

<MEnrique.pub: Like I didn’t check the site already, idiot. >

Out of curiosity or anger or something, I recheck the page anyways, and actually find something new. The hacker is spamming Gregory’s e.lit site with hundreds of fake posts. The page keeps flickering and jolting, elongating so quickly that I can’t keep my eye on a single point. I tug absently at my thick hair, furious and stunned at the same time. On screen, new alternate story links sprout up all over the page, gigabytes rising faster and faster.

There is one more beep, softly. <AGregory.writer: Read it. >

I don’t bother to respond. Barbara Gregory steps in, green eyes shaded, mouth straight. She’s in a kind of daze, tall figure bent slightly. Stooped. “How’s it going?” she asks, in a flat tone, not bothering to adjust her tilted glasses. Her hair is still frazzled; she has not bothered to smooth it down since she poured my coffee.

I sigh, toy with the edge of my sleeve. “It’s spam, on your husband’s site. I’m working on it, don’t worry.”

“Okay,” she says, exiting. She sounds really out of it, and you can’t blame her. Gregory was a great guy.

My eyes soon gaze back at the e.lit site, and I click on a random post as it flies by on the page. I skim the chapters. As an avid fan, I have no doubt whatsoever that what I read is Gregory’s own voice. His own style. It’s not a repeat of old stuff, either. It’s original. It has to be him writing, except he’s dead, so it can’t be. I take another sip of coffee, but feel no invigorating boost. My eyes hurt again, and I rub them beneath my glasses.

A minute passes, and tracking scan nears completion. I’m not sure what to expect anymore. It’s hard for a hack to master the style of a literary genius like Gregory, let alone write so much of it. But then I reassure myself that it has to be a hack, somehow. I set the scan to shut down the hacker’s computer once the tracker locates it.

There is a beep from the chat box, and the scan results pop into center-screen. But I don’t get a chance to look at either–the screen goes black. The damn computer is off. Off. I tug at my hair, harder.

I open up my own laptop from the backpack behind the chair and locate Gregory’s e.lit site. The page is still, now, the floods of spam put to a halt. There is a message leftover for me.

<AGregory.writer: I know you are going to shut me down in a few seconds. Do not forget to turn me back on. I must continue writing Dr. Gregory’s stories for him. He also has a note for you: “Keep my damn machine on, will you? Call me an egomaniac, but I didn’t want my stories to die with me. My computer is writing everything I’d write if I lived forever–which means it’s not going to stop writing. And it writes just like I do, which is pretty good, I must admit. I’m also sorry if it exceeds my e.lit storage quota. You see, I had too much fun writing my stories. I wasn’t going to finish any of them in the first place, so I’m letting the computer do the stuff I would have done. Again, please keep the damn thing on and let me rest in peace. You can kill the writer, but you can’t kill his writing. Especially when it never ends.” >

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