Pluralistic: 14 Mar 2020

Today's links

  1. Masque of the Red Death: Macmillan Audio gave me permission to share the audiobook of my end-of-the-world novella.
  2. When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth: A new podcast audiobook of my 2005 end-of-the-world story.
  3. Ada Palmer on historical and modern censorship: Part of EFF's Speaking Freely project.
  4. Glitch workers unionize: First-ever tech union formed without management opposition.
  5. Women of Imagineering: A 384-page illustrated chronicle of the role women play in Disney theme-park design.
  6. Tachyon celebrates 30 years of sff publishing with a Humble Bundle: DRM-free and benefits EFF.
  7. Honest Government Ads, Covid-19 edition: Political satire is really hard, but The Juice makes it look easy.
  8. TSA lifts liquid bans, telcos lift data caps: Almost as though there was no reason for them in the first place.
  9. CBC postpones Canada Reads debates: But you can read a ton of the nominated books online for free.
  10. Star Wars firepits: 750lbs of flaming backyard steel.
  11. This day in history: 2005, 2015, 2019
  12. Colophon: Recent publications, current writing projects, upcoming appearances, current reading

Masque of the Red Death (permalink)

Edgar Allan Poe wrote "The Masque of the Red Death" in 1842. It's about a plutocrat who throws a masked ball in his walled abbey during a plague with the intention of cheating death.

My novella "The Masque of the Red Death" is a tribute to Poe; it's from my book Radicalized. It's the story of a plute who brings his pals to his luxury bunker during civlizational collapse in the expectation of emerging once others have rebuilt.

Naturally, they assume that when they do emerge, once their social inferiors have rebooted civilization, that their incredible finance-brains, their assault rifles, and their USBs full of BtC will allow them to command a harem and live a perpetual Frazetta-painting future.

And naturally – to anyone who's read Poe – it doesn't work out for them. They discover that humanity has a shared microbial destiny and that you can't shoot germs. That every catastrophe must be answered with solidarity, not selfishness, if it is to be survived.

Like my story When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, the Masque of the Red Death has been on a lot of people's minds lately, especially since this Guardian story of plutes fleeing to their luxury bunkers was published. Hundreds of you have sent me this.

I got the message. Yesterday, I asked my agent to see if Macmillan Audio would let me publish the audiobook of my Masque of the Red Death for free. They said yes, and asked me to remind you that the audiobook of Radicalized (which includes Masque) is available for your delectation.

I hope you'll check out the whole book. Radicalized was named one of the WSJ's best books of 2019, and it's a finalist for Canada Reads, the national book prize. It's currently on every Canadian national bestseller list.

There's one hitch, though: Audible won't sell it to you. They don't sell ANY of my work, because I don't allow DRM on it, because I believe that you should not have to lock my audiobooks to Amazon's platform in order to enjoy them.

Instead, you can buy the audio from sellers like,, and Google Play. Or you can get it direct from me. No DRM, no license agreement. Just "you bought it, you own it."

And here's the free Macmillan Audio edition of Masque of the Red Death, read with spine-chilling menace by the incredible Stefan Rudnicki, with a special intro from me, freshly mastered by John Taylor Williams. I hope it gives you some comfort.

(Here's the direct MP3, too)

Ada Palmer on historical and modern censorship (permalink)

My EFF colleague Jillian C York's latest project is Speaking Freely, a series of interviews with people about free expression and the internet, including what Neil Gaiman memorably called "icky speech."

The latest interview subject is the incomparable Ada Palmer: historian, sf writer, musician, and co-host of last year's U Chicago seminar series on "systems of information control during information revolutions," which I co-taught with her. Ada's interview synthesizes her historian's distance from the subject ("yes, this is my subject, and these people are terrible, and it’s kind of fun in that way") with her perspective as a writer and advocate for free speech.

"One of the victims of censorship is the future capacity to tell histories of the period when censorship happened….. It renders that historical record unreliable… makes it easier for people to make claims you can’t refute using historical sources… It’s similar to how we see people invalidating things now—like 'that climate study wasn’t really valid because it got funding from a leftist political group”—they’re invalidating the material by claiming that there has to be insincerity its development.

"Pretty much every censoring operation post-printing press recognizes that it isn’t possible to track down and destroy every copy of a thing…An Inquisition book burning was the ceremonial burning of one copy. The Inquisition kept examples of all of the books they banned."

Fascinating perspecting on whether nongovernmental action can really be called "censorship."

"The Inquisition wasn’t the state – it was a private org like to Doctors Without Borders or Unicef, run by private orgs like the Dominicans and it often competed with the state." As she points out, everything the Inquisition did would be fine alongside the First Amendment, because it was entirely private action.

Next, Palmer talks about market concentration and how it abets this kind of private censorship. This is something I've written a lot about, see for example:

"If you have a plural set of voices, then you’re always going to have some spaces where things can be said, just like you have a plurality of printers printing books, and some will only print orthodox things and some will only print radical ones."

And while the internet could afford many venues for speech, in practice a concentrated internet makes is plausible to accomplish the censor's never-realized dream: "You can make a program that can hunt down every instance of a particular phrase and erase it."

Tiny architectural choices make big differences here ("Architecture is politics" -Mitch Kapor). Amazon can update your Kindle books without your permission, Kobo can't. Amazon could delete every instance of a book on Kindles, but Kobo would need cooperation from its customers.

Palmer is just the latest subject of Jillian's series. You can read many other amazing interviews here:

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth (permalink)

Over the past two weeks, hundreds of people have written to me to draw comparisons between the pandemic emergency and my 2005 story "When Sysamins Ruled the Earth" – an apocalyptic tale of network administrators who survive a civilizational collapse.

I started writing this story in the teacher's quarters at the Clarion Workshop, which was then hosted at MSU. It was July 6, 2005. I know the date because the next day was 7/7, when bombs went off across London, blowing up the tube train my wife normally rode to work. The attacks also took out the bus I normally rode to my office. My wife was late to work because I was in Michigan, so she slept in. It probably saved her life. I couldn't work on this story for a long time after.

Eventually, I finished it and sold it to Eric Flint for Baen's Universe magazine. It's been widely reprinted and adapted, including as a comic:

I read this for my podcast 15 years ago, too, but the quality is terrible. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I should do a new reading. So I did, and John Taylor Williams mastered it overnight and now it's live.

There's a soliloquy in this where the protagonist reads a part of John Perry Barlow's Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. Rather than read it myself for the podcast, I ganked some of Barlow's own 2015 reading, which is fucking magnificent.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this. I've spent a lot of imaginary time inhabiting various apocalypses, driven (I think) by my grandmother's horrific stories of being inducted into the civil defense corps during the Siege of Leningrad, which began when she was 12.

You can subscribe to the podcast here:

And here's the MP3, which is hosted by the Internet Archive (they'll host your stuff for free, too!).

Glitch workers unionize (permalink)

The staff of Glitch have formed a union. It seems to be the first-ever white-collar tech-workers' union to have formed without any objections from management (bravo, Anil Dash!).

The workers organized under the Communications Workers of America, which has been organizing tech shops through their Campaign to Organize Digital Employees.

"We appreciate that unlike so many employers, the Glitch management team decided to respect the rights of its workforce to choose union representation without fear or coercion."

Women of Imagineering (permalink)

Next October, Disney will publish "Women of Imagineering: 12 Careers, 12 Theme Parks, Countless Stories," a 384-page history of a dozen pioneering woman Imagineers.

Featured are Elisabete Erlandson, Julie Svendsen, Maggie Elliott, Peggy Fariss, Paula Dinkel, Karen Connolly Armitage, Katie Olson, Becky Bishop, Tori Atencio, Lynne Macer Rhodes, Kathy Rogers, and Pam Rank.

When I worked at Imagineering, the smartest, most talented, most impressive staff I knew were women (like Sara Thacher!). It's amazing to see the women of the organization get some long-overdue recognition.

Tachyon celebrates 30 years of sff publishing with a Humble Bundle (permalink)

For 30 years, Tachyon has been publishing outstanding science fiction, including a wide range of stuff that's too weird or marginal for the Big 5 publishers, like collections of essays and collections.

Now, they've teamed up with Humble Bundle to celebrate their 30th with a huge pay-what-you-like bundle that benefits EFF. There are so many great books in this bundle!

Like Bruce Sterling's Pirate Utopia, Eileen Gunn's Stable Strategies, and books by Michael Moorcock, Thomas Disch, Jo Walton, Jane Yolen, Nick Mamatas, Kameron Hurley, Lauren Beukes, Lavie Tidhar and so many more!

I curated the very first Humble Ebook Bundle and I've followed all the ones since. This one is fucking amazeballs. Run, don't walk.

Honest Government Ads, Covid-19 edition (permalink)

Good political satire is hard, but The Juice's "Honest Government Ads" are consistently brilliant.

The latest is, of course, Covi9-19 themed. It is funny, trenchant, and puts the blame exactly where it belongs.

If you like it, you can support their Patreon.

TSA lifts liquid bans, telcos lift data caps (permalink)

Your ISP is likely to lift its data-caps in the next day or two. AT&T and Comcast already did.

And TSA has decided that 12 ounces of any liquid labelled "hand sanitizer" is safe for aviation, irrespective of what's in the bottle.

What do these two facts have in common? Obviously, it's that the official narrative for things that impose enormous financial costs on Americans, and dramatically lower their quality of lives, were based on lies. These lies have been obvious from the start. The liquid ban, for example, is based on a plot that never worked (making binary explosives in airport bathroom sinks from liquids) and seems unlikely to ever have worked, according to organic chemists.

Keeping your "piranha bath" near 0' C for a protracted period in the bathroom toilet is some varsity-level terrorism, and the penalty for failure is that you maim or blind yourself with acid spatter.

And even if you stipulate that the risk is real, it's been obvious for 14 years that multiple 3oz bottles of Bad Liquid could be recombined beyond the checkpoint to do whatever it is liquids do at 3.0001oz.The liquid ban isn't just an inconvenience. It's not even just a burden on travelers who've collectively spent billions to re-purchase drinks and toiletries. It's a huge health burden to people with disabilities who rely on constant access to liquids.

And as we knew all along, the liquid ban was a nonsense, an authoritarian response to a cack-handed, improbable terror plot. It embodies the "security syllogism":

Something must be done. There, I've done something.

Think of all those checkpoints where all confiscated liquids were dumped into a giant barrel and mingled together: if liquids posed an existential threat to planes, they'd dispose of them like they were C4, not filtered water. No one believed in the liquid threat, ever. TSA can relax the restrictions and allow 12oz of anything labeled as hand-san through the checkpoints. There was no reason to confiscate liquids in the first place. But don't expect them to admit this. The implicit message of the change is "Pandemics make liquids safe."

Now onto data-caps. Like the liquid ban, data-caps have imposed a tremendous cost on Americans. In addition to the hundreds of millions in monopoly rents extracted from the nation by telcos through overage charges, these caps also shut many out of the digital world. They represent a regressive tax on information, one that falls worst upon the most underserved in the nation: people in poor and rural places, for whom online access is a gateway to civic and political life, family connection, employment and education.

We were told that we had to tolerate these caps because of the "tragedy of the commons," a fraudulent idea from economics that says that shared resources are destroyed through selfish overuse, based on no data or evidence.

(By contrast, actual commons are a super-efficient way of managing resources)

Telcos insisted that if they didn't throttle and gouge us, their networks would become unusable – but really, what they meant is that if they didn't throttle and gouge us, the windfall to their shareholders would decline.

What's more likely: that pandemics make network management tools so efficient that data-caps become obsolete, or that they were a shuck and a ripoff from day one, enabled by a hyper-concentrated industry of monopolists with cozy relationships with corrupt regulators?

So yeah, maybe this is the moment that kills Security Theater and data-caps.

(Image: Rhys Gibson)

CBC postpones Canada Reads debates (permalink)

The folks at the CBC have postponed next week's televised Canada Reads debates, so we're going to have to wait a while to find out who wins the national book prize.

Obviously, this is a bummer, though equally obviously, it's a relatively small consequence of this ghastly circumstance.

And on the bright side, the CBC have just released a ton of excerpts from the nominees:

If you're looking for some Canada Reads lit for this moment, my novella "Masque of the Red Death" appears in my collection Radicalized, one of the finalists. I put up the story as a free podast last night (thanks to Macmillan Audio for permission).

Star Wars firepits (permalink)

West Coast Firepits went viral when they produced a Death Star firepit, though of course, I lusted after their Tiki Firepit.

But now they're really leaning into the Star Wars themed pits, with an Interceptor pit ($2500):

Or, if you prefer a post-apocalyptic version, there's a Crashed Interceptor pit, also $2500.

If those prices seem high, consider that they're hand-made onshore, and contain 750lbs of 1/4" and 1/8" steel.

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago How DRM will harm the developing world

#5yrsago Anti-vaxxer ordered to pay EUR100K to winner of "measles aren't real" bet

#1yrago A massive victory for fair use in the longrunning Dr Seuss vs Star Trek parody lawsuit

#1yrago A detailed analysis of American ER bills reveals rampant, impossible-to-avoid price-gouging

#1yrago Ketamine works great for depression and other conditions, and costs $10/dose; the new FDA-approved "ketamine" performs badly in trials and costs a fortune

#1yrago Facebook and Big Tech are monopsonies, even when they're not monopolies

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: EFF Deeplinks (, Waxy (, Slashdot

Currently writing: I've just finished rewrites on a short story, "The Canadian Miracle," for MIT Tech Review. It's a story set in the world of my next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. I've also just completed "Baby Twitter," a piece of design fiction also set in The Lost Cause's prehistory, for a British think-tank. I'm getting geared up to start work on the novel next.

Currently reading: Just started Lauren Beukes's forthcoming Afterland: it's Y the Last Man plus plus, and two chapters in, it's amazeballs. Last month, I finished Andrea Bernstein's "American Oligarchs"; it's a magnificent history of the Kushner and Trump families, showing how they cheated, stole and lied their way into power. I'm getting really into Anna Weiner's memoir about tech, "Uncanny Valley." I just loaded Matt Stoller's "Goliath" onto my underwater MP3 player and I'm listening to it as I swim laps.

Latest podcast: When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

(we're having a launch for it in Burbank on July 11 at Dark Delicacies and you can get me AND Poesy to sign it and Dark Del will ship it to the monster kids in your life in time for the release date).

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.