Hi, I’m Cory Doctorow, award-winning science fiction writer and digital media freedom fighter. My newest book, Pirate Cinema, is out now and totally tearing up the internet.

Check it out here: http://craphound.com/pc

And also here: http://www.humblebundle.com

Ask me anything. I’ll be taking questions for about two hours starting at 4:00 PM ET.

Verification: https://twitter.com/doctorow/status/256226816237379584

Edit: Thanks, folks! Good questions, fun to answer. AAAAA+++ EXCELLENT REDDIT WOULD DO BUSINESS AGAIN!!!!1ONE!!!1

Comments: 1005 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

bubbletrousers186 karma

Which emerging technology are you a) most excited for? and b) most afraid of?

doctorow281 karma

a) I still think volumetric printing is where its at. There's a ton of basic patents expiring this/next year on powder deposition, and I think there's going to be a massive leap forward in innovation.

b) The governmental/corporate market for zeroday exploits - when you've got actors on the scale of a Fortune 100 company or a nation-state committed to buying vulnerabilities so that they can effect covert surveillance, we're all at risk, as this creates a perverse incentive not to report vulns -- or even to introduce them

2_minutes_ago150 karma

Do you feel the popularity of (user generated) sites like reddit are a threat to (older style) blogs like BoingBoing? Until a few years ago I visited Boingboing on a daily basis. It was my go-to-site for anything weird, interesting, funny. These days I get it mostly from Reddit, and I see some of the bloggers on Boingboing do too!

doctorow196 karma

I think that you're inserting an OR gate where you really want an AND gate. There's stuff that Reddit does well -- I read it! -- and stuff that BB and its ilk do well. I like community filtered material, and I also like the idiosyncratic, personal material you get on sites that are individually edited or edited by small groups.

leaveluck2heaven142 karma

Hi Cory! My name is Hannah and Little Brother is one of my favorite books. (I even quoted it in my thesis!) I have a couple questions about it though.

  1. You've spoken out against DDoS attacks before, on the grounds that they are at odds with free speech. Reasonable, but much of Little Brother is about attempts to clog and take down the DHS. What do you think is the major difference between the two and how do you reconcile it?

  2. The protest is one of the most memorable scenes in the book. Obviously it was written before the Occupy movement began, but there are definitely some similarities. Do you think that scene resonates differently now, in the wake of OWS? Did you expect it to become so topical so quickly?

Thanks, and take care! <3

doctorow83 karma

Hey, Hannah! Nice to hear from you!

  1. I think there's a difference between trying to oust an occupying oppressive police force and protesting corporate policies -- but in both cases, I think that there's a great force for moral suasion when the sit-on/DoS is done by people whose faces are visible to their neighbors.

  2. I didn't expect it to be so topical, but I was also struck by its similarity (my publisher Tor took CASES of Little Brother down to the OWS library). Occupy plays a major role in the sequel to LB, HOMELAND, which comes out in Feb (on the 10th anniversary of the publication of my first novel, DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM)

nickcan136 karma

Do you really blog in a cape and goggles? Be warned, no matter how you answer, it won't change the picture in my mind.

Also, what made you decide to dedicate so much of your time to internet activism?

doctorow101 karma

Naw. I'm actually afraid of heights, and it's hard to find goggs that fit over my glasses (as I find out the hard way every year at Burning Man).

I think it was the realization that the computers and networking technology I loved could be so easily turned to evil ends, and the desire to keep it free and open for the generations that came later.

OutSourcingJesus33 karma

Did you attend the burn this year, and if so, what were some of your favorite camps/experiences?

doctorow44 karma

I did. It was WARSOME. The fucking YOGABOT. Man. It CRUSHED.


xkcd has given you a lot of publicity- have you met Mr. Munroe? You seem a bit similar as well.

doctorow151 karma

I've met Randy a bunch of times, and we talk on the phone now and again (he's a serious long-distance phone-talker). He's a dude.

KellyCommaRoy84 karma

Hi Cory, I'm a voice actor with plans to do an audiobook of Down and Out. One question I had.

  1. Tim Fung's voice is described as "the flat no-accent of someone running a language module." Currently I'm planning on turning this into a deep voice with just the slightest hint of stiltedness, assuming that computerized translation and speech will be almost perfect by the time period of the book. Am I on the right track?

I'm sorry I can't think of more questions at the moment. I've read the book several times throughout the last couple weeks and it's really coming together in my head. I hadn't planned to bug you about this until after it gets finished, but then I spotted this AMA and my enthusiasm got the best of me.

Thanks for being so great when it comes to DRM and copyright. If it wasn't for you I'd have to look for something both old enough to be in the public domain and that I feel is suited to me, but thanks to you I can do a book that I really love and am passionate about bringing to life.

--Roy Kelly

doctorow56 karma

Hey, Roy! That sound like how I'd read it!

Thanks for the good words about the activism, too.

Looking forward to hearing your adaptation!

stefantalpalaru62 karma

Cory, you're known for opposing orwelian shifts in society and yet you're a British citizen by choice. Are you "fighting from the inside" or just being pragmatic?

doctorow103 karma

You know, it's not like the UK is vastly more Orwellian than the USA. They don't fingerprint me on the way into the country! The fact is that most of the western democracies have become battlefields over authoritarian policies, surveillance, etc.

farbeyondreality52 karma

Hey Cory, thanks for doing this AMA!

My questions:

  1. For the Win showed that you have some familiarity with MMORPG's. Have you played or do you still play any yourself? Or any other games?

  2. Loved the character 26 in Pirate Cinema, but it drove me as nuts as Trent that we never found out her real name. Any chance you'll share it here, or in a future story about her?

  3. How did you get involved with the Humble eBook Bundle, and have you read any of the other excellent authors in the bundle?

(Stefan who has reviewed a few of your books on Tor.com in the past - and who is bummed you didn't make it down to the San Diego Mysterious Galaxy on your current tour. Would have loved to meet you!)

doctorow67 karma

  1. I'm a bit of a gamer -- impossible not to be, if you were born in 1971 in Canada! -- but my wife is the big gamer in our house. She's a former Quake pro, got voted Best Games Publisher at SXSW, and once commissioned a game for young people about sexual health that was a fast sidescroller based in a vagina (http://www.e4.com/game/privates.html)

  2. I won't reveal her name, but I know it and it may appear in a future story!

  3. Humble approached me, in the person of Richard Esguerra, one of my former students who'd done me proud by going to work for EFF, then moved to Humble (he's back at EFF). I've read all the authors in the bundle -- I chose 'em!

Sorry I missed you at Mysterious Galaxy, Stefan! I'd love to meet too -- maybe at the WorldCon next year? Or on the tour for HOMELAND, the sequel to Little Brother, which is out in Feb.

Screw_The_Driver19 karma

Got to listen to you today at my high school and when you told my class about your wife's game Privates you really caught everyone off guard with the ending comment about the setting. But you did add in humor here and there during the presentation. Especially when you said the organized and inefficient example of the Italian Army that wouldn't even be able to run a lemonade stand.

Thanks for your time today in my class. Very cool.

doctorow12 karma

Thanks! I had a great time -- you folks looked like smart kids.

o88odianao88o42 karma

If the internet didn't exist, what do you think your career would be?

doctorow97 karma

When I was in high school, we had a PC that ran a "career aptitude" program that asked you a bunch of questions and spat out a recommended job. It told me I would be a great geriatric nutritionist -- that is, cooking food in old folks' homes.

drewfus9935 karma

I have greatly appreciated your efforts to remove DRM from the items you publish and even going as far as offering them for free from your site. Now, cheap bastard that I am, I have downloaded some and yesterday I bought the humble indie e-book bundle, but only for $5. Has your openness proved profitable, and are you committed to the open model?

doctorow48 karma

Well, I don't think I can force you to pay for stuff if you don't want to (copying won't ever get harder). So I need to convince you to do so. I need to "perform generosity" in the hopes of creating a reciprocal sentiment in you. It may not work every time, but I want all the money that people will part with, not for everyone who reads my books to part with money. cf "Think Like a Dandelion": http://www.locusmag.com/Features/2008/05/cory-doctorow-think-like-dandelion.html

tomdarch25 karma

(copying won't ever get harder)

Do you see the major OSes (Mac and Windows) moving to an ever more closed state - one in which most "normal" users really would have a hard time "copying" stuff, or even using non-DRMed info?

doctorow23 karma

Yes. Totally.

taleofthetub30 karma

I am curious about your daughter's name. Were you just stuck on like 7 names and used a bunch of them? My wife and I just had our first a few weeks ago, and we had a difficult enough time agreeing on a first and middle name.

doctorow53 karma

Pretty much! You get middle names for free. They don't cost anything, you don't have to use 'em, and they're like Easter eggs. I figure when she's 12 and going through her first identity crisis, she'll pick some variant on any one of her names and announce that henceforth, she is to be called, you know, "Natchi" or something.

medi0crity30 karma

What would be the best kind of apocalypse?

doctorow84 karma

Canadian zombies. Really polite.


(h/t Mark Askwith)

deerderp28 karma

What particular areas or tropes would you like to see in new science fiction?

What do you think has been overdone recently?

doctorow45 karma

You know, it's been years since I read sf for a specific trope ("got any bioapocalypse novels?) Ideas are easy and execution is hard. The oldest, dumbest trope can be brilliant in the grip of a wild imagination.

All that said, I've always loved the premise of Damon Knight's totally underappreciated comic masterpiece, WHY DO BIRDS?, which is the story of a man who is given an alien mind-control ring and tasked with putting the whole human race inside a box.

jabancroft27 karma

Hi Cory! I'm a huge fan, met you a few times at various conferences and readings. You've always had great answers to my questions about big things, so here's a little one.

When I finished reading Pirate Cinema, I was struck by how well you communicated the culture, language, slang, and overall vibe of the squatters in London. You've made the UK your home, but you're not originally from there.

How did you go about researching the slang? I have no frame of reference, being from the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., but it felt really authentic. Did you have advisors? Research trips in the streets?

I know I'd be terrified of getting it wrong, if I tried to portray a culture not my own in such detail. You've done it splendidly. What's your process?

doctorow27 karma

I had a secret weapon: Jo Roach! Jo's one of my wife's business partners and she's a proper Northerner, and she is also fiendishly detail-oriented. She went through the book with a fine-toothed comb and tweaked my dialect in a million wonderful ways.

But yeah, I was very worried about getting that right!

IranRPCV22 karma

Cory, I want to thank you for your work on behalf of digital media freedom, which benefits all of us.

I would like to ask you how much of your time is taken up with BoingBoing?

doctorow32 karma

It's hard to really pin that down, since my process for everything else starts with Boing Boing. I use it as a commonplace book, a living notebook where I note down all the interesting things in my life and explain them to other people (incidentally clarifying them for myself). This is powerfully mnemonic, making it easier to retain these things in my own mind. It turns my mind into a kind of supersaturated solution of snags and gewgaws that seem to have some greater significance, and periodically two or more ideas will stick together and nucleate, forming the core of a crystalline self-organized idea that emerges as a speech, a novel, a story, etc.

sheetzam18 karma

How has being a father changed your writing?

doctorow44 karma

It's made me a lot more careful about my time. I used to have SO MUCH TIME. Now I measure every second and ask myself if I'm being productive, and if not, whether I should be with my daughter.

Joename13 karma

Hi Cory. I'm a big fan of your fiction, talks, and Boing Boing work.

You write extremely well from the viewpoint of adolescent and teenage characters in your novels. How do you preserve that voice as an adult?

doctorow35 karma

I think my parents would tell you that it's my emotional immaturity... Seriously, though, I think that the trick to imagining an adolescent's point of view is to remember that kids are in a perpetual condition of taking substantial risks (doing noble things, foolish things, ignoble things) for the FIRST TIME, and that the first time you do these things, it's impossible to really understand what the consequences will be. It requires incredible bravery and recklessness, and is heady as anything.

stimpyrules11 karma

What do you feel is the biggest threat right now to user rights?

Thanks for doing this, you're awesome!

doctorow67 karma

I think it's a lack of understanding on the part of regulators that there is no such thing as "Turing Complete -1" -- a computer that can run every program that we can express in symbolic logic except for some program that pisses them off. They can't understand why you can make a car without a carphone feature, but not a 3D printer without the "print out an AR-15" feature. So they demand this, and what they get is a computer with spyware on it -- a computer that runs a hidden program whose job it is to say "I can't let you do that, Dave" when you try to do something that pisses off the regulator.

turbov2110 karma

As tablets and phones become more popular, as desktop and laptop sales decline, and trusted computing becomes an issue, do you foresee it becoming harder (more expensive) for hackers and tinkerers to put together powerful machines? If so, what do you see as the future of personal development computers?

doctorow14 karma

I don't think there's anything inherent to tablets that makes them untinkerable -- but we'll have to fight for the right to open the hardware and software up.

MikeBoda8 karma

Do you support the release of accused Lulzsec/Wikileaks hacker Jeremy Hammond, currently held without bail in a federal prison in New York?

doctorow18 karma

Sorry, i don't know enough about this. I'm doing this AMA now, but I'll look at it later.

boredzo5 karma

What role do traditional book publishers have to play in a world where anyone can publish a book themselves?

boomfarmer12 karma

He touches on that in the prefaces to Pirate Cinema:

About derivative works

Most of my previous books have been released under a slightly different Creative Commons license, one that allowed for derivative works (that is, new creative works based on this one). Keen observers will have already noticed that this book is licensed "NoDerivs" -- that is, you can't make remixes without permission.

A word of explanation for this shift is in order. When I first started publishing under Creative Commons licenses, I had to carefully explain this to my editor and publisher at Tor Books. They were incredibly forward-looking and gave me permission to release the first-ever novel licensed under CC -- my debut novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (‹http://craphound.com/down/)›. This ground-breaking step was only possible because I was able to have intense, personal discussions with my publisher.

My foreign rights agents are the inestimable Danny and Heather Baror, and collectively they have sold my books into literally dozens of countries and languages, helping to bring my work to places I couldn't have dreamed of reaching on my own. They subcontract for my agent Russell Galen, another inestimable personage without whom I would not have attained anything like the dizzy heights that I enjoy today. They attend large book fairs in cities like Frankfurt and Bologna in order to sell the foreign rights to my books, often negotiating with one of a few English-speakers at a foreign press, who then goes back and justifies her or his decisions to the rest of the company.

The point is that this is nothing like my initial Creative Commons discussion with Tor. That was me sitting down and making the case to editors I've known for years (my editor at Tor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, has known me since I was 17). My foreign rights are sold by a subcontractor of my representative to a representative of a press I've often never heard of, who then has to explain my publishing philosophy to people I've never met, using a language I don't speak.

This is hard.

Danny and Heather have asked -- not demanded, asked! -- that I consider publishing books under a NoDerivs license, so that I can consult with them before I authorize translations of my books. They want to be able to talk to potential foreign publishers about how this stuff works, to give me time to talk with them, to ease them into the idea, and to have the kind of extended conversation that helped me lead Tor into their decision all those years ago.

And I agreed. Free/open culture is something publishers need to be led to, not forced into. It's a long conversation that often runs contrary to their intuition and received wisdom. But no one gets into publishing to get rich. Working in the publishing industry is virtually a vow of poverty. The only reason to get into publishing is because you flat-out love books and want to make them happen. People work in publishing for the same reason writers write: they can't help themselves.

So I want to be able to have this conversation, personally, unhurriedly, one-to-one. I want to keep all the people involved in my books -- agents, subagents, foreign editors and their bosses -- in the loop on these discussions. I will always passionately advocate for CC licensing in all of my work. I promise you that if you write to me with a request for a noncommercial derivative use, that I will do everything in my power to see that it is authorized.

And in the meantime, I draw your attention to article 2 of all Creative Commons licenses:

Nothing in this License is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any uses free from copyright or rights arising from limitations or exceptions that are provided for in connection with the copyright protection under copyright law or other applicable laws.

Strip away the legalese and what that says is, "Copyright gives you, the public, rights. Fair use is real. De minimus exemptions to copyright are real. You have the right to make all sorts of uses of all copyrighted works, without permission, without Creative Commons licenses.

Rights are like muscles. When you don't exercise them, they get flabby. Stop asking for stuff you can take without permission. Please!

(Emphasis his)

doctorow10 karma

What you said!

JFoggers5 karma

I'm reading "Somebody Comes to Town, Somebody Leaves Town" right now. How exactly would a mountain and a washing-machine conceive?

doctorow5 karma

The goblins move the mountain's seed from the deep pool to the washing machine's basket.

hohlermann5 karma

Over the past 24 hours, the average for the Humble eBook Bundle has risen from roughly $9 to $12.41 (as of this writing); were you expecting the average to be this (compariatively) high this quickly? What has the industry reaction been so far?

doctorow5 karma

That's about what I expected. Industry reaction has been amazing. In particular, some of the writers whose publishers told them they couldn't participate in a DRM-free promotion have contacted me to say that their publishers are reconsidering.

bringbacktubgirl4 karma

If you were able to construct a super-powerful telescope that could travel through space and was much faster than the speed of light, what event in Earth's history would you like to view?

doctorow36 karma

When Xenu chained the Thetans to the volcanoes.

huitseeker3 karma

1/ Which emerging authors are you most excited about?

2/ Is there some exciting recent read you wouldn't expect in a regular SF & F diet you would like to suggest ?

3/ You often write about contemporary subjects that are 10 minutes into our present : from IP to Net privacy to 3D printing (...) Is there a recent subject you've recently been passionate about and would like to share a few words on ? (no strings attached as to whether it comes up in your writing, of course)

doctorow6 karma

  1. Madeline Ashby's debut novel vN KICKED ASS

  2. THE INFORMATION by James Gleick - history of information theory and Claude Shannon

  3. Hmm, well, I guess the corruption in making copyright laws that treat the Internet as a glorified video-on-demand service is something that gets me pretty het up.

mavsman223 karma

Just wanted to drop in and say I loved Little Brother. Really made me think differently about technology and government. Where'd the idea for that come from?

doctorow3 karma

Lots of stuff -- but in part, the reaction to 9/11, and in part, the challenge of writing a novel where the computers were real and usable, not just plot-devices.