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Acts of the Apostles

By rusty in Media
Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 10:31:45 AM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)

The science fiction writer who can create real, believable characters and weave a plot that keeps you turning pages late into the night is a good find. There's plenty of them, but I'm always glad when I run across a new one. But a science fiction writer who can do both those things, and base them on real, believable technical knowledge, well, those are rare as hen's teeth. Neal Stephenson is one, Bruce Sterling is another. And folks, add John Sundman to that list.

Acts of the Apostles is Sundman's first novel, and it may well be the ultimate hacker book. The story rocks, but more than that, the story behind the book is one of the inspiring legends of DIY publishing.

Acts of the Apostles is, well, complex. Nick Aubrey is a bicoastal software manager for "Digital Microsystems", a thinly-veiled amalgam of Digital Equipment and Sun Microsystems. After some fifteen-odd years at this, he's burned out.
The Juice, man. Residual perfume, fat feet and yuppie marriage angst were the price you paid to be plugged into it. The Juice was the adolescent Net, the nascent Web; it was intelligent agents, distributed objects, the Human Interface to cyberwhatever... So yes: present at the creation, check. Consequently today Nick's finger was charred black all the way to his shoulder.
After a brilliant start at "Dijjy-Mike", Nick has suffered a long slow decline, being shunted to lower and lower status projects. Finally he's hit rock-bottom: a Novell compatibility project (the horror!).

But suddenly, he's picked out by Dijjy-Mike's enigmatic and cultish guru, "Monty Meekman", and offered money and freedom beyond any of his dreams. And his life goes all to hell.

Sundman paints a world almost exactly like the one we live in right now. For all we know, it may be the one we live in. But it's a world where the rich and powerful are playing a game. They have all the money and power, the game now is, as Monty Meekman puts it, to "rule the roost."

The story ultimately involves Gulf War syndrome, Saddam Hussein testing new biological weapons for a nietzschean software mogul, a brilliant hardware hacker in a coma, and some really creepy surveillance moments. It's the book Michael Crichton would write if he knew anything about hackers.

And that's the real strength of the book. They say write what you know, and it's obvious that Sundman knows hackerdom. All of the characters ring true, which makes the extrapolations Sundman makes all the more believable, and terrifying. Good plot, great characters, action, drama, suspense and all that. But behind the curtain, Acts of the Apostles is posing a few questions that we better get around to asking ourselves pretty soon.

Can humanity be trusted with the technology we're creating? After avoiding nuclear holocaust by only the narrowest of margins (so far), what kind of blunders are we in for when nanotech and re-programmable genetic engineering are within our grasp? Is anyone besides Bill Joy and the Unabomber even considering the potential downside?

Sundman is, and what he sees isn't pretty. The scariest part of this book is how plausible it all is. Sundman takes a few key technologies that we know are coming "eventually", and looks at what might happen if they were suddenly here, now. In his view, we aren't even close to ready.

But I promised you the story behind the story too, and it's a doozy. Sundman's book is self-published. Yes, in a few places, it does show. There are more typos than you'd usually see in a novel, and there are a few rough cuts in narrative. Still, its easily good enough to overlook the formal issues. Sundman was once a technical writer for Sun Microsystems, out here in the evil Silicon Valley. Like his protagonist, Nick Aubrey, he got burned out.

He moved his family back East, to Martha's Vineyard, in 1995 and spent four months writing the first draft of what would become Acts of the Apostles, while living with his wife and three children in a tent in a friend's backyard. After house-sitting for other friends, and a stay with the in-laws in Indiana, the book was finally finished. It would be four more years before it ever saw print at all.

Four years of rejection letters, poverty, homelessness, menial labor, more rejection slips, lawsuits, bounced checks, and more rejection slips later, Sundman decided to publish the damn thing himself. Well, you can read the whole story on his website, but the short version is, it's been a very long, very slow road to, as Sundman puts it, his "microscopic fame". His self-publishing handbook could be titled "How to lose money the hard way." But you have to admire someone who went through what he's gone through because he believed in his work.

It's a book worth believing in. Read it, you won't be sorry. If you're still not convinced, the first 13 chapters are available online.

Acts of the Apostles
by John F.X. Sundman
published by Rosalita Associates, Tisbury MA
Paperback, 359 pp.
ISBN: 10929752-13-X

Buy this book from Amazon or Fatbrain.

Postscript: John Sundman has graciously agreed to attempt to answer any questions you might have about the book, writing, self-publishing, or the scary post-genetic future. Though he has no crystal ball, so don't expect miracles on that last one. He's known here as "johnny" and would love to hear from you. So ask away.


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Acts of the Apostles | 49 comments (29 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
Got me through the valley. (4.00 / 3) (#8)
by Seumas on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 04:21:03 AM EST

The typos in the book were annoying, but the story certainly compensated for them (again, these aren't always your random typos but typos which seem to change the meaning and interrupt the flow of a sentence or two).

Acts of the Apostles was so enjoyable, I read it in a single sitting. In fact, it may have been one of the few things that kept me from going nuts during my stint in the valley (ironically, for Sun) -- before I was able to move away and work remotely. I'd usually read it every other weekend as a way to force myself away from the computer and work. By now, I've probably read it six or eight times. I'm eagerly looking forward to other books by Sundman. I'm thinking ESR, RMS, Linus and an army of biogenetically enhanced attack penguins.
I just read K5 for the articles.

I'm trying... (4.50 / 2) (#9)
by rusty on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 04:25:28 AM EST

I'm eagerly looking forward to other books by Sundman.

I'm trying to talk John into publishing all of "Cheap Complex Devices" here. We'll see... :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

the genre (none / 0) (#11)
by Seumas on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 04:37:27 AM EST

What sucks is that there are shelves and shelves full of every posible genre, but the closest thing to books like Sundman and Neil Stephenson write are technical thrillers. Unfortunately, these are usually more your world-war/spy/military stories. There is something extremely appealing about the high-tech/techie/hacker genre that is really attractive. I'm not sure how enjoyable they are to people outside of the industry though. If written well (Cryptonomicron?), I think it could be enjoyed by people outside absolutely as much. Perhaps the reason we don't see as many books like this out there today is that we're all too busy posting on K5 and writing code to actually write a fscking novel. ;)

Of course, I seem to have given up writing years ago. Rather strange, since for about 15 years I couldn't have imagined myself doing anything other than writing for the rest of my life.
I just read K5 for the articles.
[ Parent ]

Cheap Complex Devices (none / 0) (#36)
by Bob Ince on Sat Apr 07, 2001 at 11:12:40 AM EST

I'm trying to talk John into publishing all of "Cheap Complex Devices" here.

Excellent, I do hope you succeed!

The deliberately confusing nature of the introduction online leaves one uncertain as to what exactly you'll be getting from the full book, so I'd definitely like to see it here.

(Really enjoyed AotA - congrats to johnny! Do the typos-to-be-fixed include some of the slightly dodgy German?)

-- This posting was brought to you by And Clover. (Sorry.)
[ Parent ]
We'll see (none / 0) (#37)
by rusty on Sat Apr 07, 2001 at 07:07:45 PM EST

That's pending current publishing negotiations. We should have an answer soon, one way or the other.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Goodness gracious! (5.00 / 2) (#24)
by johnny on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 05:00:56 PM EST

Read it six or eight times! I guess I need to finish that next book. I didn't know my reading public was so ravenous :*)

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]
It has to be a movie, damn it! (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by Seumas on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 07:04:46 PM EST

Actually, the first time I read the book, I told all of my friends and co-workers about it and insisted "this would make such a sweet movie!". After a half dozen reads, I still think it would be a great flick. And what with the earthquake and the mutant rats/hamsters, there's plenty of chances to impress the audience with cool special effects, which seem to be what draws the big directors and audiences these days.

Acts of the Apostles is one of the few non-technical (as in, not a manual or an O'Reilly type book) I've actually read all the way through in about six years. I've since forced myself to make a little time to relax and read every now and again. Unlike most other novels, where after I'm half way through, I start skipping entire pages just to get to the end and get back to work, this was a true page-turner. You have a great knack for story-telling (as I think my comment on Fatbrain.com last year also said) and I hope to see you pushing the level of a Tom Clancy one of these days -- audience-wise.

One of the things I really got a kick out of though, was the familiarity. The characters, from the very begining, evoke images of Jim Clark or Scott McNealy or Bill Gates -- only darker, more evil (well, except for Bill Gates -- dont' think evil can be over done there) and interesting. As someone who spent most of a year on the Santa Clara campus, and commuting in the San Jose/Mountain View area, I got a chuckle out of going down the streets of my normal commute and knowing that they were mentioned in your novel and finding myself day dreaming about all the sinister things that could be brewing inside all of the other high-tech companies and just what lay behind the dark tint of the office buildings.

A final comment. Knowing that you worked in the industry for a long time before finally writing and publishing something that turned out to be this great gives me a great deal of confidence that, sometime down the road, I'll be able to do something similar. Instead of fretting over "oh my god, I'm a techie and not an author" at the age of 23, I can think "hey, in another decade or two, I'll have so much experience and knowledge and wisdom and money that I'll be able to sit down and pour out a great story".

Or, on the other hand, I could end up dying from some freak computer accident and die having never realized my dream. It could go either way, I suppose. Just hope you get that book out and I can get a copy before some misunderstanding between my arms and a poorly made Taiwanese PC case puts me down for the count. ;)
I just read K5 for the articles.
[ Parent ]

Great book! (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by maleficent on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 09:52:24 AM EST

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; in fact, I contacted the author and got an autographed copy of it because, as I said, "it's an amazing piece of writing and I'd be privileged to have your signature on it."

I really hope that if he writes again, he gets distributed in a manner that enables him to earn a living from his writing, because he's one author that I'd be willing to read again and again.

Why thank you so kindly (none / 0) (#23)
by johnny on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 04:57:18 PM EST

Other readers, feel free to emulate Maleficent & heap praise : * )

And Maleficent, if you're feeling magnanimous, I sure would appreciate your repeating these kind words on Amazon. I know that supporting Amazon can make one queezey, on the other hand their reviews are a serious selling aid to me. Several people have ordered directly from me after reading the reviews on Amazon, so the more positive reviews there, the better.

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]

Self-publishing (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by leviathan on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 10:12:26 AM EST

I'm wondering if, because this book is self-published, that means the usual distribution channels aren't available to it? It's great that it's available from the big on-line sellers, but is it availble in traditional book stores? Will it be available in book shops outside North America?

I've not had chance to read the on-line portion yet, though I fully intend to. However, to me the paragraph Rusty quoted feels similar to Jeff Noon's writing (note I'm not a big SF fan). I like the gaps Noon leaves; his universe isn't alternate, it's very like ours but it doesn't tie itself to the real world very tightly. It allows the imagination much greater rein using allusion and metaphor, rather than chronological progression to the real world. Would anyone who's actually read the book care to make any comparisons?

I wish everyone was peaceful. Then I could take over the planet with a butter knife.
- Dogbert

Availablity of Acts of the Apostles (5.00 / 1) (#22)
by johnny on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 04:51:55 PM EST

Getting A of A into bookstores has been a lot of work, and I haven't worked too hard at it since last summer. I will probably make another push this (2001) summer. Bookstores can order directly from Rosalita (that's me), or through Bookpeople, a smallish distributor. I hope that soon they will be able to get it through Ingram, the giant distributor that virtually every bookstore uses. As of today Ingram has not agreed to carry my book, but I think they will say "yes" soon. What it boils down to is that my book is on the shelves of those few bookstores where I have personally convinced the store manager or buyer to stock it. It is my hope that (a) bookstores will order more copies once they discover that they can get it from Ingrams and (b) demand will continue to grow by word of mouth, and bookstores will stock it in anticpation of demand instead of only special-ordering.

As for outside North America, there is one shop in Basel that carries it. All other overseas sales have been mail order to me or (presumably) Amazon.

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]

NOT Jeff Noon (none / 0) (#38)
by Will Sargent on Sun Apr 08, 2001 at 07:54:28 PM EST

One of the things that really bugs me about Jeff Noon is that he sees no distinction between "cyber-reality" and reality, and makes no effort to create a logically self-consistent world even when the computers make the rules.

AotA may be science-fiction, but it is logically self-consistent according to its axioms (well, close enough if you don't think too hard about the nanotech aspect). There's even a section of the book where the protagonist finds out what happened to his brother and starts filling plotholes by logical deduction.

The biggest selling point of AtoA is that it's a tech novel which knows the tech intimately and isn't directly concerned with how cool it is. Nobody runs around in AotA flashing their geek chic style and explaining <hand-quote>cyberspace</hand-quote> to the dim-witted masses. The characters here are mid 40's been-there-done-that soldiers who are sick of the hype and starting to get a little scared of the consequences of what they started as kids. Everyone treats the world and their lives very importantly, and no-one really wants to step up to be the hero. It's very well done precisely because it shuns the cyberpunk affection that all of this stuff is automatically cool.

I'm pickle. I'm stealing your pregnant.
[ Parent ]
One Last word on the Typos (5.00 / 2) (#28)
by johnny on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 07:34:51 PM EST

So OK, I should have hired a proof-reader before I printed the first run. Sigh.

However, there may be an upside! Several readers have sent me either their corrected copies or lists of typos, AND, one friend of my wife, name o' Pam Spier, did a complete professional proofreader/copyeditor's markup. So, if and when I do a reprint, I'll correct the typos.

Now, I do have some editorial choices to make. Is it cheating to go back and change the (erroneous) "Thomas Aquinas" to "Thomas A Becket" (which I meant to say)? Should I rewrite sentences that sound jarring? Should I change the arrangement of Saratoga and Los Gatos, which I mixed up in the book (as I also messed up the Boston T station at which the Red and Blue lines cross? (It's Government Center, not Park Street as in my book.)

Anyway, the good news is that maybe if I fix the typos, the original print run will become collectors items, thereby rewarding those wonderful people who put down their money and took a chance on a self-publishing nobody. I notice that signed used editions are going for $28 on Amazon (odd: buy it from my website & I'll give you a NEW one, personalized, for $15.) It's fun to imagine that "A of A" will sell in Clancy/Crichton numbers some day, and when that happens those holding signed first editions will have something they can sell for enough $$ to buy a dinner or a coupla tickets to the cinema, at least.

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.

Why not? (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by emmanuel.charpentier on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 02:57:16 PM EST

You can actually have your readers participate in your work of creation, and that's quite some revolution in and by itself.
Why not let them be of some help? just like software users are so many times helping software editors ;-D
Who said that once a book has been read by a few people it can't be changed, modified, improved???

By the way, any chance to get my hands on a textfile version??? So I can actually put my palm pilot to some use?...

[ Parent ]
Fanfic (none / 0) (#31)
by cpt kangarooski on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 06:14:43 PM EST

That's pretty much the practice of changing/modifying/improving a story. Personally I rather like it. As always, 90% is crap, but in the remaining 10% you can get alternative versions of the story, or sequels, or different stories altogether with the same characters, or different characters reacting in their way in the same story, and it's hardly unknown to wind up with something BETTER than the original.

Yes, the authors of fanfic could have just written their own stories. But by using stock characters or settings they can both get their foot in the door with people who have enjoyed them in the past, and they can provide new interpretations of them as commentaries on the original. Shakespeare did this a lot - virtually nothing the man wrote was entirely his own idea, but he often did it better than the original authors had. (and people have then made their own interpretations of Shakespeare)

Waiting for the copyright to expire deprives the generation of the author's contemporaries from contributing. Indeed, given present trends, if this author died tomorrow (God forbid) I, my children, and pretty likely my children's children would be unable to do anything with what would likely become an increasingly irrelevant work. (really - start naming some of the people Bill ripped off ;)

With constant lengthenings of terms, who knows when anyone would ever be able to revisit this concept, and whether or not anyone would care? Discussions of the underlying, recyclable parts of a work between the author and his generation should not have to wait for the passage of nearly a century after the author's death. I respect the desire to make a buck from the sales, but there's also worthiness in letting other people demonstrate what they think of it, by doing it again, themselves. (whereupon the original author can, if he's bright respond in kind ;)

It's just a little pet peeve of mine, but as long as it was vaguely talked about, I thought I'd bring it up.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
Copyrights, intellexshul property, etc (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by johnny on Tue Apr 03, 2001 at 06:50:58 PM EST

In some ways this is whole question is changed by ubiquitous digital technology, and in some ways it's just the same old debate.

I myself spent a tenth of my life writing, producing, and promoting my modest little novel. I still haven't broken even on it. You can imagine how I feel about the proposition that it somehow doesn't belong to me. There are paragraphs in that book that I literally spent weeks writing-- rephrasing, rewording, reshaping, getting them just the way I wanted them. You can imagine how I feel about the propostion that any old writer in the universe should be able to hack them up however he or she sees fit for his or her own benefit. . . This kind of "information wants to be free" idea scares me. And it pisses me off, because of its dishonesty. Does the information in your bank account want to be free? Great! I think I'll just go appropriate your bits into my account! After all, it's only bits!

On the other hand, some ideas really *do* belong to all of us humans, I believe. If it were up the corporations, I couldn't say "hello" to you without paying a royalty--literaly a tribute to the aristocracy--for the use of a corporate-owned phoneme. So there are limits on the patentability, the copyrightability of, for example, words in a sequence. I'm not talking about "legal" limits-- copyright law favors corporations over people, no bout a dout it. I'm talking about "natural law" limits, or what have you.

Long term, it would be wonderful if my characters and story were so universally known that they had entered the cultural consciouness and people could refer to them the way we do to say, Shakespeare, or Homer Simpson. If that day ever comes, I shall look with great paternal indulgence on any Acts of the Apostles fanfic that springs to life.

In the meantime, I would greatly appreciate your purchasing a copy of my book, and leaving editorial discrection (although I would love to hear your opinions) securely in my hands :*)

-- yr frn, jrs

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]

Property? (none / 0) (#33)
by cpt kangarooski on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 05:25:31 AM EST

Well, I don't mean to offend you, and I'm prepared to defend the statement, but I wasn't proposing that your work didn't belong to you. I was offering it as statement of fact.

You don't think that the rather hoary phrase "Information wants to be free" is honest. Well, I think that perhaps you are misinterpreting it. Consider a similar expression: Water seeks its own level. Well hell's bells, water doesn't seek anything. It's water. It's an anthropomorphication of a natural behavior. Information, with regards to how it is disseminated is akin to a mathematical one-way function. It's trivial for two large prime numbers to be multiplied together. Reversing the operation and finding the factors of the product is so excruciatingly difficult that it serves as the basis of a lot of modern cryptography.

Information can be made unfree. It's just so amazingly difficult that it's rarely worth the effort, especially given the moral considerations. But please don't take it as being my mission statement. I avoid even discussing that because to get to any particularly useful interpretation of the idea takes a lot of effort, as you have seen.

Information is _great_ stuff. It's not like anything else I know of. It's absolutely moot until someone actually studies it or constructs a tool that can take action on it; it can be copied endlessly; it is utterly insubstantial, and relies on media to carry it, including our own brains. Personally I've found it very neat for a while now that I can cause electrical and chemical reactions in the brains of total strangers with a fairly predictable set of results, just by making a few marks on something that they can see. (in the case of aphasics things get much weirder)

But it's not that some ideas belong to all humans, simply due to their ubiquity or something. They all belong to all humans all the time! There's no natural law whatsoever to the contrary. (in Europe they call it such, but most copyright systems doesn't really stand up to scrutiny either. The US system does very well, though it's been increasingly misused as the 20th century progressed.) Please, please, demonstrate that there is, if you're aware of one; it'll be the first.

US copyrights - arguably the best, and in fact, the second system in the world - have never made such extravagant claims as to propose that authors own their works. Instead, Congress gets to grant copyright laws as it sees fit; it can even choose not to have any at all. When it does, they must not go into great conflict with the First Amendment. They must fulfill the purpose of promoting the arts. They must must satisfy a rather clever and utilitarian set of requirements set forth in the Constitution.

And never once is it even supposed that authors are anything special. Their job is to keep pumping out works that improve society somehow; rewards are given to entice betterment, not as entitlements due anyone who puts pen to paper. And copyrighted material certainly isn't property, though the medium in which a work may be fixed might be.

With regards to my original point, ever-expansive copyrights, trademarks and greedy authors and publishers (mostly the latter - they have always screwed authors with or without copyrights) have been turning our culture into a desert. It's a renewable resource, but we are no longer able to let it renew itself.

The characters and stories that make up _our_ cultural consciousness, for instance Homer Simpson who you name, are not free to use! I can write a story about an exchange of identities a la Prince and the Pauper, or John Henry (see the story of Mel, the Real Programmer) but honestly, unless reused these grow more and more dim all the time. Disney cartoons have been helpful for keeping some of these things alive, and expanding the audiences, but it's a constant battle against time.

They do vanish - You don't really see Scaramouch anymore. Or more than a handful of his entire type, which had dated all the way back to ancient Greek theater. Our modern characters, and some of the situations that form our cultural literacy have been locked away from our use though, even though they're all-pervasive! Talk about Auguste, or the characters of William Kemp to any ordinary person, and you're going to get blank looks, I guarantee. Drop the magic name of Homer Simpson, and instant understanding will surely follow.

It doesn't have to be everyone though; in my circles (anime-based fiction; stuff that will be copyrighted until at least the 2050s, when I'll be in my 80's and probably unlikely to care) I can refer to Ryoga or C-Ko and it serves as instant shorthand. (the former is most notable for getting lost for comedic effect, the latter a girl so sugary that you get cavities) This same familiarity is one of the reasons why adaptations of works should not generally be as sealed off as they are. My Fair Lady is great, and much beloved, and if the original Pygmalion myth were copyrighted, totally in violation.

I recognize that you want to make money from your work, and that you're posessive of it. But is it wise to say that it cannot be improved upon? Or that even if it can be, that those people who are most likely to be capable of doing so should not be permitted, nor their children for generations? It's short-sighted, and I fear that it will cause our culture to become impoverished over even twenty or thirty years.

(For instance, a lot of the counterproductive extension of copyright revolves around Mickey Mouse, who has been on the verge of entering the public domain for some time now. Outside of being some character who appears on merchandising, and who walks around Disney World, do little kids these days know what Mickey Mouse actually does? What sort of character he is? No. Disney hasn't done anything with him for ages, a lot of the older material has been permanently censored and locked away, and no one else can touch him, no matter how good a story they might have for to put him into. It's a shame, really)

Sadly, in the interests of disclosure, I must confess that while I rather liked the stuff I read online, I have every intention of reading the rest of the book without paying for it. What can I say? I find my local library a joy to use, and an inter-library loan is already placed. I read way too much to be able to afford even a decent fraction of it, I'm afraid, and tend to enjoy reading new material more than rereading the old. If one shows up (probably within the next 6 months) you can at least take heart that someone paid for it.

Hope I haven't rambled too much - it's kind of late.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
Well certainly (5.00 / 2) (#35)
by johnny on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 07:27:09 AM EST

As about the way information and water behave, certainly I agree with you.

About the impoverishment of our common culture by greedy publishers and corporations, I agree with you.

As to an author's "ownership" of his creation, I agree with you and disagree with you. Let's say that we agree that ownership (in the sense of copyright) is a limited franchise granted by government--well now we are getting into interesting territory. In what sense does one "own" anything? Is my ownership of my shirt a limited franchise granted by the government? No? Why not?

I grant you that my shirt cannot be worn by two people at the same time, but that doesn't mean that it is generating the highest value to society by sitting in my drawer. I'm not a wealthy man by any means, but there is somebody, I guarantee it, who needs that shirt more than I do.

But let's take an even murkier example: I read yesterday that last week 13 white farmers in South Africa have been murdered in the last month. Afrikanner farmers assert that they own their farms; many of the local people think they do not, claiming that the land was violently stolen and belongs to the commonwealth. Who is right? If the "commonwealthers" are right, what does that imply about land ownership in the USA? If the farmers, does that mean that anything taken by conquest is legally "owned"?

There was a murder trail in Boston in about 1980. Two men had raped and murdered a nurse. One of the men was apprehended while in possession of a radio "boom box" that had belonged to the nurse. On the stand he referred to "my boombox." Prosecutor says, "wait, that boombox was taken from her apartment." "yeah." "It was *her* boombox." "It's mine now." Q: was he right?

Whenever I hear people talk with passion about "property rights" I think of that nurse; I think of inherited wealth and power which in my country, the USA, derive from the land, and I ponder the whole notion of ownership.

Why is it any more rediculous for me to be able to pass onto my heirs the rights to my book than it its for some jillionaire to be able to pass onto her heirs the "ownership" of 4 thousand acres of the Hudson River Valley? Why is my franchise limited in time if hers is not? I'll tell you *my* answer: Because she has the power-- the police, the courts, the legislators.

I'm a writer & manager, not a legal philosopher. I don't claim to have a well-thought out theory of all this stuff. But I do believe that the concept of ownership is arbitrary, made up by society, and designed to favor the rich and powerful.

I am very happy that you plan to read a library copy of my book. I am happy to sell my book to libraries. I have given copies of my book to several libraries. I love the very idea of the library, as a public good that brings people together for the purpose of sharing ideas. I like museums, public parks, community swimming pools. God bless libraries!

If you do read the book, I hope you'll drop me a line to tell me what you thought of it.

yr frn, jrs

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]

Paypal (none / 0) (#34)
by emmanuel.charpentier on Wed Apr 04, 2001 at 06:58:33 AM EST

I still haven't used the micropayment thingy to make donations to those projects or persons worthy of it.

And when I read the way you actually managed to write your book, I considered it strongly, until I discovered I couldn't read your whole book in an electronic format. I don't blame you for that, it's your choice, but I don't feel like going through the ordering/waiting phase (I'm in Paris).

As a sidenote, copyrights are a difficult matter to discuss with an author. I'm against the very notion of intellectual property. And yet, I feel bad when I talk to someone who makes a living out of it... particularly because I'm afraid they will feel threatened.

About plagiarism, well, it's a non problem, because frankly, it's so damn easy to uncover a plagiarist, and to publicly humiliate him.

I tend to think that the best benefit for an author it to be recognised as a great donator for humanity, and I'm confident that those useful authors will find "patrons" all over the planet...

[ Parent ]
woah... cool (4.00 / 1) (#39)
by TePHLON on Wed Apr 11, 2001 at 05:38:40 AM EST

you wrote that book?
Wow, it's been awhile sence i've read it (I purchased it off (ThinkGeek) when Slashdot reccomended it way back when). I enjoyed it emensily, very gripping. My kudos to you, keep up the good work. I'm going to pull it out and read it again.


"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18. " -Albert Einstein

[ Parent ]
Blue line -> Red line not possible. (4.00 / 1) (#47)
by cdyer on Sun Jan 20, 2002 at 08:52:29 PM EST

I also messed up the Boston T station at which the Red and Blue lines cross? (It's Government Center, not Park Street as in my book.)

Neither Government Center nor Park Street will get you from the Red line to Blue line. There's actually not a single station where you can transfer from Red to Blue without taking an intermediate train. Believe me. I took that commute every day for about 8 months last year, and I had to switch at both Government Center and Park Street to do it.


Regime change begins at home. *VOTE*
[ Parent ]

Mostly cool. (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by eann on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 04:58:11 PM EST

Based solely on the fact that I saw it recommended here, I bought this book (via an excellent customer service experience at Softpro Books) to read on the plane to and from my vacation over the last couple weeks.

Some stuff I liked about the book:

  • Transportation. Too many books, especially sci-fi, let their characters get away with globe-hopping. And it mentioned lots of real places in Western Mass. And WMUA, which is #2 on my car radio's presets (Amherst College's WAMH is #1, since I'm a geek and 89.3 < 91.1).
  • The language, especially some of the metaphors.
  • The attention to what it means to be a geek, and that geeks come with all kinds of other little obsessions.

Some naggy points:

  • Logistics. Communications sometimes seemed a little cavalier for people who are being chased by the Overmind. Flying back and forth between California, Massachusetts, and Switzerland didn't give anyone jetlag? What's with that? And how are they paying for all that?
  • Was it really necessary for all the women to be beautiful? Converging plots (What's a good word for that? Stephensonian? Sterlingesque?) make for very tricky movies, so it's not like you need to be overly concerned with finding actresses later. :)
  • The book's width and height made it significantly larger than would comfortably fit in my back pocket, as well as on the bookshelf where I keep most of my other portable reading. I'd've preferred a smaller format with more pages.
  • I was occasionally distracted by the typos, but not as much by factual discrepancies.

For the most part, I really enjoyed it, and I'm glad I shelled out $15 for it. I hope to see more from "johnny" in the next few years.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.

Beautiful women, etc (none / 0) (#41)
by johnny on Tue Apr 24, 2001 at 08:06:13 AM EST

Hey Eann, Thanks for your kind note.

Several people have mentioned that all the women are beautiful. Heck, I just tried to draw them as I see them : *)

Seriously, I thought I had made one character, Casey, a perfectly ordinary-looking person. It's her personality that makes her look hot. Well, in theory. Since I fashioned her as an amalgam of two women I nearly married, I guess I'm not very objective. Having tried, and failed, to read some testosterone-poisoned Tom Clancy technothrillers, (Gawd, they're awful. (Sorry, I've been too polite to say that for a long time. I feel better now.)), I really wanted to make sure that the female characters were smart & interesting--not the gorgeous fiery-eyed bimbettes of the military-style thriller. OK, OK, I made my own female characters drop-dead gorgeous while I was at it. Didn't even realize I was doing it. I guess I'm too hetero for my own good. Sigh. BTW, it's no secret that the beautiful rational-emotional-impulsive-diliberate-sophisticated-naive walking contradiction "Bartlett" is modeled on my dear wife. I never know what the hell either one of them is going to do.

Jet lag. I lived in it for ten years. I used to do 80,000 miles/year. Since leaving Sun in 1994 I have not been on an airplane. If I need to go to California (from Massachusetts) I drive or take the train. It takes longer, but it's better than getting on a fucking airplane. They smell bad and put me in a bad mood. And I definitely prefer being unjetlagged. Took me years to realize what a normal sleep pattern was.

Thanks for the word about the language and metaphors. It's what I'm most proud of, but seldom see it mentioned. Similarly, (& oddly), virtually nobody has commented on the Christian allegory. This is good, since I hoped it wasn't too heavy-handed. But it surprises me that nobody mentions it at all. . . I suppose that if you didn't grow up going to church and studying the Bible you wouldn't hear the echoes. . .

RE: money, logistics: I did put in some hand-waving to take care of that in a legalistic kind of way, but I agree it could have been done better.

About the size of the book: I tried to make it a "premium" paperback so that I could plausibly sell it for $15. Otherwise I would have no chance of ever breaking even, much less making any money. As it is, I still owe the printer a few thousand dollars.

Which brings me to my next point: I entreat yourself and anybody reading to help me market this thing. Write a (glowing!!) review on Amazon. Email your friends. Make posts on boards. I mean, this is a political thing too. . . your chance to support the little guy doing it himself, an authentic voice amid the megacorporate drek (blah blah blah. . .). Serially, for all the kind words I've heard about my book--and I do really appreciate them-- I still haven't made any money on it. Almost, but not quite. So any help spreading the word sincerely appreciated.

yr frn,


yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]

Beauty, Christ, and Jeff Bezos (none / 0) (#42)
by eann on Tue Apr 24, 2001 at 10:30:35 AM EST

I don't have AotA here with me at work, so I'm having to guess at what I recall a couple weeks after reading the first half, and nearly a week after the second.

I never felt like Casey was described as "ordinary-looking" (whatever that means); I'm not even really sure she was visually described well at all. Part of it, I think, is that geek guys like to believe we're a little less shallow; Casey might only be attractive to me/us because she's another geek. I remember her saying something when she cut her hair that it was the only part of herself that she considered beautiful, and I thought "What? That's not right. She looks like... uh... what does she look like?" And all I had was this vague idea of a girl named Casey that I knew in college, who was very smart and tomboyishly cute.

The book would have been slightly more realistic if there had been a socially inept character who played D&D instead of going to senior prom, and who didn't drink in college; someone with that pasty, paunchy look of eating junk food and sitting in a cube farm all day; someone with their geek obsession tuned to vastly more bizarre things than music or baseball or weightlifting. A Coupland geek. On the other hand, that may be more realism than some stories need.

I've managed to avoid Clancy, but Crichton is my own personal train wreck. If I ever stop to look at one, I keep saying how horrific it is without actually being able to turn away.

Some of the religious references were a little heavy-handed. I was actually disappointed when I learned that Monty had deliberately changed his name (and then had its meaning spelled out); until then, I thought you'd pulled a very witty "Hiro Protagonist". Nick and Todd sorta remind me of the boys in A Separate Peace, which is full of allegory. But you're right--I was raised by someone who was rebelling against being raised in an oppressive southern protestant church, so I don't naturally read for that, even in a book with such a blatantly Biblical name. Thank you for being subtle enough (in most places) that it didn't impinge on my secular experience.

Amazon. Sigh. I understand this is a significant source of sales for you, but I'm encouraging my friends to buy the book at Softpro (or direct from you), for my own "religious" reasons. It took awhile (and Tim O'Reilly), but I managed to get through Amazon's patent policy just in time for them to change their privacy policy. I've only lived inside Western Mass' "Tofu Curtain" for three years, and it's amazing to me how much my attitudes about corporatism have changed.

Finally, what's with the middle names? John Compton Sundman is the editor of a computer-written book (which I suppose I should also purchase at some point), John F. X. Sundman is credited for AotA, and "jrs" ("John R. Sundman?") signs your comments here on K5.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.

[ Parent ]
Bezos, Compton, et moi (none / 0) (#43)
by johnny on Tue Apr 24, 2001 at 05:06:02 PM EST


First off, I prefer that people buy my book from me, softpro, anybody else, and Amazon, in that order. However, I would like *everybody* to write an Amazon review of AotA. A hundred Amazon reviews gives me credibililty that 5 Amazon reviews cannot touch. I have 24 reviews today. I would like to have 84.

Tofu curtain: it's not likely that you will find many more anti-corporate/corporate-paranoid types than meself. But Amazon reviews (and to some extent, the sales rank) provide a benchmark. Many people have purchased direct from Rosalita after having been convinced by Amazon reviews. If you can hold your nose and write one, I appreciate it. If to do so would too grossly violate your secular religion, believe me, I respect yr integrity.

What's a Hiro protagonist?

Separate Peace. . . my mind drifts back. . . Sorry, too long ago. (I do remember that the guy who starred in the movie went to college with me. All the chicks dug him. He had a waterbed. I believe he was on my intramural hockey team, but I'm not sure.)

If I were to do it over again I would leave out the "hit em over the head" message of Monty Meekman's name. Blame it on lack of confidence. First novel, you know.

I am John R Sundman. (Baptised Anthony, the R. stands for me confirmation name). John FX I thought looked good on the cover. John Compton. . . unknown recluse who bears striking resemblance. . .(see photo on my webpage http://www.wetmachine.com) (click on photo). Cheap Complex Devices is not yet available. If Compton ever gets his lazy ass in gear we may see the complet thing. For now we'll have to live with the excerpt on Wetmachine.

yr frn


yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]

All I want is a Hiro. (none / 0) (#44)
by eann on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 09:49:42 AM EST

I'll go write something at Amazon, but only because you asked, and because I believe I can do so anonymously. I really had a hard time cancelling my account there (and I still don't actually believe they deleted the relevant information), so I don't want to give them the satisfaction of getting "another" customer.

Hiroaki "Hiro" Protagonist is the main character ('hero', 'protag...well, you get it') of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. I figured it made a reasonable metaphor for "name that hits you over the head, but only if you're paying attention". Hiro's associate Da5id is the source of Kuro5hin's 5.

A dozen years after reading A Separate Peace, I remember only the basics of the plot and one line, "Swimming indoors is stupid" (the movie didn't even get that right), and that only because "relevant-gerund-of-your-choice indoors is stupid" became a communal joke among one of my circles of friends when we discovered that we'd all suffered through trying to learn literary interpretation using this same novel in disparate high school english classes around the country. The book is chock full of allegory, though not nearly as much as anything by Herman Melville.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.

[ Parent ]
Hiro (none / 0) (#49)
by carbon on Mon Oct 28, 2002 at 02:49:07 PM EST

Hiro is also a Japanese name. I'm not as much of an animephile as I'd like to be (darn, those DVDs are expensive!) but for example, it's the main character of Gundam Wing's first name. I've heard that it's supposed to be pronounced with a slightly rolling 'r', but I'm not at all sure.

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
Amazon Reviews (none / 0) (#45)
by Luke Francl on Wed Apr 25, 2001 at 06:37:52 PM EST

But Amazon reviews (and to some extent, the sales rank) provide a benchmark. Many people have purchased direct from Rosalita after having been convinced by Amazon reviews. If you can hold your nose and write one, I appreciate it. If to do so would too grossly violate your secular religion, believe me, I respect yr integrity.
This is definately true. Even though I won't shop at Amazon, I constantly refer to their reviews. They have a real asset over the other online bookstores there. Nearly every book has at least a few reviews. And they finally implemented a filtering ability! (I'd love to take credit for this, because I suggested it to a couple of their developers at a recruitment dinner, but I'm sure it's unrelated :-)

I wish Amazon didn't suck so much, because I would love to shop there. I think they "get" the Internet.

[ Parent ]

jonny's user info (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by Luke Francl on Sat Apr 28, 2001 at 04:03:53 PM EST

Hey, Mr. Sundman, you should update your K5 user info to tell a little bit about yourself in the bio and create a link to your homepage so that newcomers who just happen across one of your comments can find out about wetmachine.com, etc.

Just a suggestion :)

Acts of the Apostles | 49 comments (29 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
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