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Pirate Cinema

Pirate Cinema
Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought this as part of an ebook Humble Bundle some time ago, and finally got around to reading it. It only took me me three flights to or from Boston to finish it! (This was largely due to finding other activities on the plane, like movies, iPad games, and designing D&D encounters.) That is for me a somewhat unusual context for reading a book, but it’s a good chance to find time to do so.

This is very political fiction; Doctorow has a strong copyleft position that comes out both in the overall plot of the book, and occasionally in multipage lectures conducted in the voice of one of the characters. If you agree with that position, you’ll probably like the story. The main character is famous for his recut films, using the movies of a particular actor to tell new stories; this naturally gets him in trouble with intellectual property authorities, who in this dystopian near future have significant powers. As the popularity of his repurposed art grows, the powers that be in Parliament and Hollywood try to put a stop to his art.

As a quick aside, from someone who strongly believes in Fair Use protections, I would recommend watching Kirby Ferguson’s series Everything is a Remix. It uses several examples (including Star Wars, The Matrix, and Steve Jobs) to demonstrate how art stands on the shoulders of giants even when considered a new work. The films the main character creates are to me clearly transformative works that are new art, so I definitely agree with Doctorow there.

The story is set mostly in London, so there’s a fair bit of British slang throughout. That, combined with the Chaotic to Neutral alignment of most of the characters, did make it a little hard for me to identify with them. The story is mostly interesting; there weren’t really any slow parts. I did find the denouement kinda disappointing; in that regard it reminded me of older Stephenson. It felt like the book very quickly wrapped up the remaining threads after the climax in an unsatisfying way. On the other hand that probably means I wanted to see more from these characters.

This is the first novel of Doctorow’s that I’ve read, though I have tackled a few of his essays online at various points. I didn’t really notice anything distinctive about his style, outside of the political statement underlying the story. I liked it well enough, so I definitely want to read some of his other books.

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Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth

Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth
Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth by Trevor Norton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I checked this one out from the library at work. It’s a basic collection of science anecdotes, mostly from the Enlightenment period up through WWII. The author is a British marine biologist, so most of the scientists mentioned are British, and the modern-day stories in particular naturally focus on the author’s mostly British contemporaries in the marine sciences.

One fairly clear agenda that the author has is wanting to recognize various scientists who made major “home front” contributions during WWI and especially WWII, often risking their lives to develop all sorts of non-weapon technologies necessary for the war effort, such as bomb disposal and submarine escape hatches. Many of them were Quaker conscientious objectors, and received no medals or official recognition of some of the dangerous experiments they performed on themselves to save lives on the battlefield.

There are a number of gross-out moments, mostly related to the symptoms of various terrible things either self-inflicted or applied to the public due to bad science.

I suspect there are fewer post-war anecdotes thanks largely to the standardization of experimental procedures with regards to informed consent and other protections for test subjects. Overall interesting, but not engrossing (as evidenced by it sitting on my shelf half-read for a few months).

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Nicolas Ward

Software engineer in Natural Language Processing research by day; gamer, reader, and aspiring UltraNurd by night. Husband to Andrle
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