launches — many free books

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Jul 212008, the new website for Tor Books, has launched officially. And they’re offering up for free download the bunches of books that they were giving away to newsletter subscribers in their run-up to launch.

Among the books you can grab in DRM-free formats: Old Man’s War, Spin, Farthing, Crystal Rain, and much more. Plus a zillion gorgeous wallpapers from cover art.

Oh, and they cover games a bit too.

MiscBuilding the human algorithm

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Jun 042008

Some academics (including Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, author of the excellent Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means) have been doing analysis of human movements based on where people are making cell phone calls from.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Mobile phones expose human habits

The results showed that most people’s movements follow a precise mathematical relationship – known as a power law.

“That was the first surprise,” he told BBC News.

Is it really a surprise anymore when something happens to have a power-law distribution?

In any case, it does seem like we are inching ever closer to Asimov’s psychohistory. Given enough data, why wouldn’t we be able to build predictive algorithms for large-scale human populations and social trends?

ReadingYA SF/F is rockin’

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May 062008

In the wake of Little Brother coming out, John Scalzi has written a post about Why YA fiction. As regular blog readers know, I’ve been banging this drum for quite a while, citing folks like Scott Westerfeld and Tamora Pierce as authors that shouldn’t be neglected just because their books get shelved elsewhere in the store.

I have a friend with access to BookScan, which tracks book sales through stores and retail outlets, who at my request checked the aggregate bestseller list sales of adult fantasy and science fiction against the sale of YA fantasy and SF. Without mentioning specific numbers or titles, my friend says that last week, the top 50 YA SF/F bestsellers outsold the top 100 adult SF/F bestsellers (adult SF and F are separate lists) by two to one. So 50 YA titles are selling twice as much as 100 adult SF/F titles. The bestselling YA fantasy book last week (not a Harry Potter book) outsold the bestselling adult fantasy book by nearly four to one; the bestselling YA science fiction title sold three copies for every two copies of the chart-topping adult SF title.

So, as a reminder: one of the World Fantasy Awards finalists was what I’d call a YA title, Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword. One of the blockbuster movies this year was Jumper, which I haven’t seen, but which was based on a phenomenal series by Steven Gould. One of the grittiest police procedurals of recent times was Pierce’s Terrier (sequel is out now, I believe). Beautifully written literate fantasy is represented well by stuff like The New Policeman, all of Jeanne duPrau’s books (such as City of Ember, also recently optioned for a movie), or the astonishing Fly by Night.

King of ShadowsAnd of course, in a year that has taken people like Lloyd Alexander and Madeleine L’Engle from us, don’t forget the favorite writers who are still with us. Charles de Lint is writing good juvies lately: Dingo most recently, and The Blue Girl before that. Susan Cooper, whose stunning The Dark Is Rising sequence was recently filmed to mixed results, is still writing, and I just read Victory which was quite good, and King of Shadows which was fantastic.

ReadingCory Doctorow’s Little Brother

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Apr 192008

Little Brother, by Cory DoctorowMaking Light has a post about Cory’s new book, promising to send advance reader copies to bloggers who talk about the book. All the copies are gone, of course, since we live on Internet time.

But I’ve been lucky enough to have read it at various stages of development over the last year. So I don’t need a copy. 🙂 Connections have their privileges!

And the bottom line is, go buy Little Brother when it goes on sale in twelve days. It’s aimed at teens. Don’t let that stop you. It’s not a space opera, a military SF novel, not a Singularity sort of thing, and there are no elves. Don’t let that stop you either. Because it’s urgent, and real, and you will learn something from it.

It’s a book about a kid whose town (San Francisco) gets attacked by terrorists, and who finds it then slipping into a sort of Homeland Security nightmare. A kid who fights back with the tech he has to hand — videogame consoles and ARGs and friend networks. And also a lot of guts.

It’s a story not only about paranoia and freedom, but also about security and insecurity. The hacks described are real; there’s an afterword with real-world resources.

I am looking forward to reading it again, between proper covers instead of on loose sheets of paper.

ReadingArthur C. Clarke, RIP

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Mar 182008

For me, Arthur C. Clarke was never defined by hard science; he was defined by the unknowable. Whatever lay on the other side of the monolith. The agenda of the aliens in Childhood’s End. And of course, what was for me his most resonant work, Rendezvous with Rama. These are not stories that offer understanding — they offer, instead, mysteries a bit too big to fit into one book, one story.

Sure, he may have invented the communications satellite, but what he may be best remembered for in the end is an aphorism: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. As we live in an increasingly magic world, it’s good to remember that there are always horizons — that any sufficiently familiar magic is merely technology — and that there are always  new magic just over the horizon, barreling towards us and presenting new mysteries to attempt to resolve.

Sep 222006

Listen up, kids. I remember. I was there the day it happened. I know, you’ll say there’s no way I could have been alive back then, but it’s true — the pace of change is faster than you young whippersnappers think, and advances in long-life studies have kept me going far longer than I ever expected.

So yeah, I was around back on the day when it all changed — the day when we learned that TVs outnumbered people in most houses.

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