The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll

 
On the final evening of the 2014 Out of Excuses Workshop and Retreat, Mary Robinette Kowal and I sat with students and talk about historical stuff, and Mary brought up some fun 18th- and 19th- century spy techniques.
 
I realized that the 1980's are far enough back that the spy tech from that era seems weird and outdated. And that reminded me of a book I skimmed while working at Novell in the '90s. I spouted a quick synopsis at the students, and realized that it might be fun for me to re-read.
 
So I bought a copy online and re-read it on my iPad, and as I did so I realized that the reason I was able to do this is because guys like Clifford Stoll took it upon themselves to build "trustworthiness" into the digital and social structures of the Internet 25 years ago.
 
The Cuckoo's Egg, by Cliff Stoll, is a non-fiction account of the author's discovery of a far-reaching, insidious hack, uncovered because of what looked like an accounting error. The technology he describes is antiquated, but the logic behind the hacker's exploits remains valid today, and Stoll's attempts to rally the authorities demonstrate how very unprepared we were back in 1987 for the big disruptions of next 20 years.
 
It's dry in spots, and didactic in others, but I plowed through it voraciously. Stoll's descriptions of the Internet of 1987 seem kind of quaint, but they're also spot-on for his time.  His political views were very refreshing--he writes as a self-proclaimed liberal hippie, and yet he had to work with the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the Army, and the Air Force for an entire year. This was pretty conflicting for him, and for his friends, and was every bit as interesting to me as the computer stuff.
 
I met Cliff Stoll in 2006 at an Apache conference where he and I were keynote speakers. It was kind of cool to realize that he was one of the giants upon whose shoulders my entire business model was standing, and yet we had lots of common ground. In re-reading The Cuckoo's Egg I found a chapter in which young Clifford Stohl sat down and talked to a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, asking for advice, and yes, there seemed to be some symmetry there for me.
 
[EDIT: As was pointed out by a reader, Cliff Stoll can be found making 3D immersions of Klein bottles with his family in Oakland, California. Looking for something awesome for that person who already seems to have everything? Look no further.]
 
(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Massively Parallel Pre-Orders Open on Wednesday

Pre-orders for Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, the eleventh in the current series, will open on Wednesday, October 15th, at around 8:00 AM Mountain time. 

This is the largest Schlock Mercenary book we've ever done. 255 full-color pages, lots of new margin art and footnotes, and a 13 page bonus story that features my writing atop art from me, Brenda Hickey, Keliana Tayler, and Travis Walton

We're also going to be opening pre-orders for the 2015 calendar at the same time. This will save you money on shipping, but wait, there's more. (Because there's always but-wait-there's-more.)

The slipcase for books 6 through 11 is part of this same print run. Yes, the slipcase, Massively Parallel, and the calendar will all fit inside a single flat-rate postage box. And if you haven't yet grabbed Book 10, Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, that'll fit too! 

Do you not yet have a slipcase for the first five books? Well, we reprinted those, so they'll be back in stock. Yes, we'll have boxed-set bundles available for the first five books as well as for books 6 through 11, and you'll also be able to buy empty slipcases. (Of course, the bundle prices miiight tempt you into buying full slipcases, and then giving the extra books to a friend.)

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls is quirky, funny, dark, and a little disturbing in all of my favorite ways. I enjoyed it, but I can see lots of places where folks might not think it's their thing. Then again, there are probably other folks who will love it a lot more than I did. It comes in just a hair below my Threshold of Awesome.

It's dark for a kids' movie, but it's definitely a kids' movie. You can tell because all the adults are either evil, disinterested, or too stupid to help, leaving our young heroes in charge of fixing things themselves. A trope, yes, but handled in ways that I found very satisfying.

Did I mention that this film is beautiful? Oh, my. I don't even know where to start. Even the ugly bits were beautiful. This is one that I may want to own on Blu-Ray just so I can freeze scenes and stare deeply into the designs. On that note, though, the poster above does it a great disservice. It hints at some of the energy of the film, but fails completely to catch the spirit or the beauty of it.

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

Lock In, by John Scalzi

Lock In, by John Scalzi breaks a couple of big rules, but gets away with it quite handily. 

It's near-future science fiction in which a plague has created a whole new class of people whose minds are in fine shape, but who have no ability to move their bodies. They're "locked in," and as the prologue (okay, THREE rules) tells us, the fact that some very high-profile people get locked in results in hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency research, several breakthroughs, and a cool system whereby these folks can function like normal people -- they teleoperate robot chassis, and yes, this causes some societal upheaval.

But that's the prologue, and I've left lots of stuff out. The story itself is part mystery, part sci-fi police procedural, and part technothriller, and covers a lot of ground in some very efficient words. It's fast-paced, and I found it really engaging from the beginning all the way to the end.

The book felt kind of thin on descriptions. It's not quite white-room, but it depends heavily on the fact that the readers can be depended upon to fill in a lot of blanks with their own experiences -- something readers are going to do anyway, really. It's near-future SF, so it's not much of a problem, and Scalzi gets away with this on the strength of the book's pacing. Rich descriptions would have broken the pace, and besides, he describes the important stuff.

The big issue for me was that the main character did not have a compelling arc beyond getting the mystery solved and keeping his new job. I gave this a pass for a couple of reasons: first, the story is more of an Idea and Event story than a Character story. Second, the main character is a Lock In, and the fairly shallow character arc makes him seem normal compared to the people around him. Sure, he wants the same sorts of things that you and I want, but he's not a cop on the edge, or a rookie with a dark secret, or any of the other plot-shortcut tropes.

So I guess it's not a big issue. It only came up when I got to the end and realized that although the end was satisfying, the main character's journey wasn't really about him at all. 

The book has already been picked up for a TV series, and I think that it's kind of perfect for that. There are plenty more stories to be told in the Lock In universe, and they're good, thoughtful stories that a competent screenwriter can wrap up in 43 minutes, or can wrap a season of 43-minute episodes around. 

(cross-posted from howardtayler.com)

My Reddit AMA is Live!

My Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) has been posted. As of right now you can start adding your questions over at http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/2h8ooh, (or, for your mnemonic convenience, http://schlock.us/ama01)

I'll begin posting my answers at around 7pm Eastern time.

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