Publishing

I’ll Be At Libertycon July 8-10 in Chattanooga

Planning to attend Libertycon to see the people and hobnob with some greats. I think they’re almost sold out of tickets, but you might check. My schedule:

Scheduled Programming Events Featuring Jeb Kinnison

Day Time Name of Event
Fri 01:00PM Weaponized Artificial Intelligence
Fri 05:00PM Opening Ceremonies
Sat 01:00PM Perspectives on Military SF
Sun 10:00AM Kaffeeklatsch

 

You might also be interested in these…

Shrivers

Nemo’s World

Red Queen

 

New Review of “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Shrivers Kindle Cover

Shrivers Kindle Cover

Short but sweet review on Amazon:

5.0 out of 5 stars
Good series and a fun read.
May 7, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

I thoroughly enjoyed all three of these books, but then I also mostly agree with the philosophy put forward in them. Still, the author has great imagination and has given me what I suspect will be many hours of contemplation and fantasy. Thanks.

Of the thousand or so copies out, only 12 people reviewed it, all five stars; Amazon erased three of those reviews that came in on one day, claiming their algorithm made them do it. Sigh! So if you’ve read them and haven’t reviewed, please go here and do so — even one-line reviews help a lot to make books more visible.

Substrate Wars News: 1) On Best Books for Spring List 2) New Review

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

The Kindle versions of Substrate Wars books are still cheap — $0.99 for Red Queen, $2.99 for Nemo’s World, and $2.99 for the latest, Shrivers.

IndieReader picked Shrivers as one of its “19 Great Indie Books for Spring:”

Humanity’s attempt to survive first contact with a civilization that reaches back to the early days of the universe in: SHRIVERS

BY JEB KINNISON

star star star star star

Humanity has finally found peace among the stars thanks to quantum gateway technology, replicators, and powerful AIs. Before the dust can settle, the riddle of the Fermi Paradox is answered in the worst way possible.

Meanwhile, the first in the series, Red Queen, got a new Amazon review:

4.0 out of 5 stars
A nice mash up of science fiction, politics and economics
By Dave Carveron March 30, 2016

I try to avoid books that can’t be tied up in a single volume. However the blurb on this one looked like it was worth reading at least one. I’m glad I did as volumes two and three are now in my kindle queue.

It’s spring 2016 as I write this. There is craziness at Emory University and across the Ivy’s; and you can extrapolate that nonsense right into this storyline. There is terrible news from around the world as bombings are becoming more frequent; and you can extrapolate that reality right into the storyline. Now add in some interesting physics and a few “star trek” nerds and computer scientists and you get a great story that turns out to be too big for just one book. I’m glad I took a chance on it.

Somewhat reminiscent of the interstellar enigma series.

…which I haven’t read.

Fear is the Mindkiller

Dune cover art by Henrik Sahlstrom

Dune cover art by Henrik Sahlstrom

[Originally published by Tangent Online]

If a civilization is to be judged on how concerned it is with the weakest members, then we are becoming very civilized indeed. If college campuses are the bellwethers of the future, then we can look forward to a future of restricted speech and thought designed to preserve the feelings of those who perceive themselves to be weak. Crusaders for “social justice” will punish every microaggression with career-ending charges, and the bounds of what one is allowed to say without fear of reprisal will narrow further.

Meanwhile, the Internet’s worldwide range and anonymity allow sociopaths with free time to viciously attack those they want to injure — and allow those who want to make a career of being victims to claim they were attacked. The cruel and sadistic exist in small numbers in all groups and all classes, but their evil actions are used to justify broad-brush condemnations of all members of groups.

This new children’s crusade allows its participants to believe they are defending the weak and defenseless from bullies, with their favorite being the supposed malefactors of the Patriarchy — cis-white-male-heteronormative men. Since a few men in the past treated women and minorities badly, all men must atone and recognize that being male is inherently oppressive. Escaping this judgment, in their view, requires a male to adopt wholesale every cherished belief of the crusade — that there are no gender-based aggregate differences, that unequal outcomes always imply unequal treatment, that women should achieve equal numbers and pay in every job field (unless, of course, it’s undesirable or dirty work.)

This is identity politics, with government viewed as a tool to right wrongs and redistribute a fixed pie of wealth and respect so that everyone gets an equal amount. The pie apparently creates itself, and asking for accountability and productivity in return for a greater share is viewed as racist, sexist, and probably fascist.

Most of the people in the movement haven’t thought it through and have a cartoon view of good guys vs bad guys. They think they are defending the weak against bullies. In so doing, they lose empathy for those different from themselves, just as they believe their enemy has. The loathed Others are the mass of hateful and ignorant who disagree with any element of their program, and are labelled the Red Tribe, Red States, Republicans, traditionalists, conservatives, and so on. Meanwhile, political manipulators use their feelings to get their votes and use them as foot soldiers in bringing down opponents. The control of public education by statists has reduced the level of understanding of civics and constitutional government among young people, with a focus on climate change, recycling, and inequality all designed to make solution by government action seem necessary, if only inconvenient naysayers could be eliminated. The executive-branch use of Title IX warning letters to enforce the fake “rape culture” panic on campuses receiving public money is another tool being used to squelch free speech. When the problem is uncontrolled Other People Doing Bad Stuff, you vote in the people who promise to control them, and those politicians have an incentive to exaggerate problems further rather than help resolve them.

What does this have to do with science fiction? Much of this culture war has appeared in the Hugo controversy. A friend recently sent me a call for submissions to a new ‘zine focused on LGBTQ-etc topics and authors, and I considered what I might submit, since I love getting a microvalidation. Then I realized how retrograde the whole idea is to me.

Sexuality, romance, and pair bonding are always going to be elements of many engaging stories, but these problems are not different with LGBTQ-etc folks, though there are unique riffs based on being a minority or less understood. I guessed I was gay very young — like ten years old — but I always felt so different from everyone else in so many ways that that additional difference seemed minor. Readers should normally be able to get into any character’s problems, no matter what their flavor. I searched for gay characters when they were rare and it was always delightful to find them written well, as courageous people with problems and not sad-sack victims. But there are plenty now, sometimes too idealized and fighting cartoon villains — demonizing cis-het-white-males is just as bad as demonizing gays was. Making a character’s gayness the central theme is odd now, like having a female character whose only goal is marrying well in a modern context. Just not that interesting to me.

The drama around the AIDS epidemic, of course, is a worthy subject. Here’s the trailer for a friend’s documentary making the film-festival circuit; it’s about gay men who thought they were going to die moving to Palm Springs and living long and productive new lives. Touching: Desert Migration. I know most of the people in it, though I avoided the suffering by fleeing Boston when my friends started to die, and I was lucky and shy enough to not be directly touched.

In my MIT creative writing courses, I had a friend, David Feinberg, a geeky über-Jewish boy who tried to write like James Joyce. After he left school and moved back to NYC, he started writing about his life with AIDS. Freed of the urge to be “literary,” he wrote passionately and hilariously of what he was going through. See David Feinberg — he had a crush on me in school which I avoided seeing.

There were four of us in that group, all taking the advanced physics course and creative writing as freshmen. Alanna Connors was the beautiful blond girl from Connecticut, super-smart. If I had one last thought of being straight, it was because of her! She did some great work in astrophysics and died recently after years struggling with breast cancer. https://hea-www.harvard.edu/astrostat/alanna/

The last was Dave M, who got me my first permanent job at BBN Labs. He’s the only one left, other than me, and spends a lot of his time promoting home schooling from the progressive perspective.

I guess my reaction to “kids these days” and their desire to protect every special snowflake is based on living through the crucible of real trouble and life-and-death problems. Having a special LGBTQ zine is an idea of the past, that we needed protected spaces to get our writing published. It’s not true and it’s self-ghettoizing. Every second they spend attacking people for “microaggressions” is time not spent doing the productive things that would better their lives. It’s good to have empathy and make kindness toward abstract others a guide; it’s bad to stomp all over well-meaning real people for being insufficiently perfect, thus putting them outside the pale of your empathetic concern.

Science fiction has always been about freeing the mind to imagine, and one of the key take-aways has been seeing inside people to understand their actions and motivations, to not judge others based on their superficial characteristics. Even the most alien society can be understood based on the underlying biology, economy, and culture, and empathy for even the strangest Other is possible.

But victim-based identity movements require villains, who must be dehumanized and presumed hateful and ignorant, if not actively and intentionally evil. Feminism began as a movement to get equal rights and respect, but even in its early days, parts of it were aimed at getting special treatment for women — lesser prison sentences, exemption from the draft, alimony by default in divorce, child custody preferences. While one arm of the movement got the vote for women and opened up all fields to accomplished female candidates, the other created preferences for women based on their supposed fragility and the sentimental desire to protect potential and real mothers from hardship.

Today’s third-wave feminist activists denigrate women who choose to be full-time mothers or step away from the professional treadmill, and actively oppose men with what I will gingerly call “masculine virtues,” like self-defense, foresight, hard manual labor, and profitable enterprise. They believe women who want to enter tough, high-commitment fields deserve to be represented in equal numbers regardless of their willingness to sacrifice personal and family time, because employment is just booty to be divided and spread equally. Government should, if not directly employing everyone, force private companies to change the requirements of jobs so that women can have it their way. And to a great extent this is happening, with female-dominated HR departments gradually reforming big workplaces to take away rewards from the most-productive to make the diversity numbers look good. Some of these reforms have obviously been good for society and business, but once started, the push for change continued, and now it may be past the point of diminishing returns to the point where it damages us all. A software company that has a diverse workforce of excellent programmers will do well; if the same company is forced to implement employment quotas to make its workforce match some ideal race, sex, and age goals, it will be crippled compared to its competitors.

A significant chunk of the population is still guided by the sentiment that women are weak and need more protection. These people are the Baptists in a bootleggers-and-Baptists coalition that unites to give statists more and more power to meddle and regulate, with the bootleggers being political parties that use these sentiments to justify their social engineering. Every new law and regulation is an opportunity for graft and extracting campaign contributions from businesses who want to be left alone or mold the law and regulations to hurt their competitors more, and every new edict (beyond dealing with obvious externalities like pollution) decreases the total wealth and growth rate of the economy. Politicians whip up fear — fear of terrorists, illegal immigrants, “the 1%,” sexist men, authoritarian Christianists, whatever works — to gain power, and then shy away from any actual solutions so they can repeat these emotional hooks for the next election. “Fear is the Mindkiller” — make someone afraid, and you weaken their reasoning power.

Bringing it back to SF, there’s now a large number of writers who are supported by jobs in academia, government, or the literary publishing world, which tends to be progressive and to denigrate blue-collar, military, pop cinema, or other less literary science fiction. As the number of participants in the community who are supported by political and committee decisions grows vs. those who make their living in the market, the tendency to elevate less accessible litfic, especially if it supports a Progressive worldview, grows. To pretend this is not so is to miss why people on both sides of the Hugo kerfuffle have felt disrespected and threatened. Throw in the actions of Internet trolls and chaos-provocateurs, and you have a recipe for polarization.

Respecting differences in culture is what we are supposed to be about, and giving fellow fans the benefit of the doubt and not condemning them for their “unenlightened” culture and story preferences would be a good start toward healing the rift caused by the Hugo kerfuffle.


Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.

 


IndieReader All About the Book: “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

The IndieReader people have a brief interview with me up on their site:

ALL ABOUT THE BOOK
Jeb Kinnison on “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3″
By IR Staff

An entertaining look at a future where technology has freed humanity from poverty and war, yet faces real problems coping with its own violent nature.

Indie Reader Approved

Indie Reader Approved

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3, published Nov. 24th, 2015

What’s the book’s first line?

NASA astronaut Maddy Rahama picked up her flight bag and stood near the bulky boxed spacesuits she was bringing with her as the clock ticked down.

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.

The student rebels from the first two books in the series have been governing humanity for a decade since they invented quantum gateways, and in trying to free everyone discovered their ideals are not up to the task. Humanity may not be ready for the freedom they have engineered. And then they discover blasted worlds and that a terrifying fleet of robotic destroyers are coming towards Earth. The uploaded older civilizations have sent the Shrivers out to eliminate competing life while washing their hands of direct responsibility. The young daughter of the rebel leaders must plead humanity’s case for survival while the alien fleet attacks Earth.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?

I was thinking about the discussions of loss of agency in recent science fiction for young people, with the current popularity of dystopias that make the future seem hopeless. I decided to write something more hopeful that recalls Heinlein, where young people using science and courage can change the world.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

It’s an entertaining look at a future where technology has freed humanity from poverty and war, yet humanity faces real problems coping with its own violent nature.

Shrivers: the Substrate Wars 3, on Amazon.

Substrate Wars: Instapundit Plug

Over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds plugged Substrate Wars today — thanks to whoever suggested it, it wasn’t my idea!

READER BOOK PLUG: Reader Jeb Kinnison’s Substrate Wars series. Three books on Kindle; the first book is only 99 cents. It offers a great escape from today’s reality: “A science fiction thriller set in the US of a not-too-distant future, when the Bill of Rights is ignored and the US is run by the Unity Party, combining the worst of Democrats and Republicans.” Enjoy this unrealistic, but interesting, setting, and be glad that couldn’t happen in real life! . . .

I’ve had several readers make the same comment — how is that any different from the situation today? It’s not, really. But in an entertainment we want all readers, even those not paying enough attention to realize the US is already increasingly corporatist, where both parties are part of the Party of Government. Most partisans are absolutely sure their guys are the only people stopping the hordes from the other party who want to make the government over to control everyone’s lives. The joke, of course, is on the partisans, since both parties have gradually cooperated in controlling more and more of everyone’s lives while putting on a big show of opposing each other.

So it’s set in a near future after a terrorist event that enables even more emphasis on security over freedom, and even more control over business and personal lives invested in bureaucracies and security agencies. Those who don’t realize this is just a slight elaboration on what we see today will accept the story as fiction. “Good thing this isn’t really going to happen!” — Well, it already did, but your local sphere is still free enough so that you haven’t taken notice.

The Kindle versions of Substrate Wars books are cheap — $0.99 for Red Queen, $2.99 for Nemo’s World, and $2.99 for the latest, Shrivers. And all a FREE to read with a Kindle Unlimited subscription, which you can try out here: Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial

Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo

Sad Puppies 4 Logo

Sad Puppies 4 Logo

Scott Alexander took note of the Irene Gallo episode in his excellent post on the morality of intertribal warfare between SJWs and anti-SJWs, “Fearful Symmetry.”

The “mirror neuron” was a theorized but now mostly discredited idea that humans and perhaps a few other animals had specific neurons that fired when recognizing and emulating another being’s thoughts. The sympathy or empathy they were supposed to generate has always been one of liberalism’s strongest weapons.

A Christian doesn’t decide to tolerate Muslims because she has investigated Islamic doctrines, she decides to tolerate Muslims because she can put herself in a Muslim’s shoes and realize that banning Islam would upset Muslims in the same way that banning Christianity would make her deeply upset.

If the fear and hypervigilance that majority groups feel in social-justice-dominated spaces is the same as the fear and hypervigilance that minority groups feel in potentially discriminatory spaces, that gives us a whole lot more mirror neurons to work with and allows us to get a gut-level understanding of the other side of the dynamic.

Scott Alexander quotes from a comment on an earlier post:

About the same time that sort of thing was happening in that online community, the same thing was happening in the real-world meat-space gatherings, also quite literally with shrill screams, mostly by [redacted] [redacted]s, who would overhear someone else’s private conversations, and then start streaming “I BEG YOUR PARDON!” and “HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!”, and by [redacted] [redacted]’s who were bullying their way onto programming committees, and then making sure that various speakers, panelists, artists, authors, dealers, and GoHs known to be guilty of wrongthink were never invited in the first place. Were it not for the lucky circumstance of the rise of the web, the market takeoff of ebooks, especially a large ebook vendor (named after a river)’s ebook direct program, and the brave anchoring of a well known genre publisher that was specifically not homed in NYC, the purging of the genre and the community would have been complete.

Almost nobody wants to physically murder and maim the enemy, at least at the start. That’s, well, the Final Solution. Plan A is pretty much always for the enemy to admit their wrongness or at least weakness, surrender, and agree to live according to the conqueror’s rules. Maybe the leaders will have to go to prison for a while, but everyone else can just quietly recant and submit, nobody has to be maimed or killed. [The social justice community] almost certainly imagine they can achieve this through organized ostracism, social harassment, and democratic political activism. It’s when they find that this won’t actually make all the racists shut up and go away, that we get to see what their Plan B, and ultimately their final solution, look like.

I think Irene Gallo is very talented and focused on her work, and that she sincerely did not question what she had heard from people around her, that Puppies were “unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic.” It was poor judgment to post a Facebook update entitled “Making the Sad Puppies Sadder,” plugging “The Geek Feminist Revolution” by Kameron Hurley; the title of the post alone was a slam at part of the publisher’s audience, and unwise. Her off-the-cuff explanation of what Puppies were was just stating openly what everyone around her thought, and she presumably assumed it was uncontroversial among people reading her. The audience for *that book* would definitely be likely to agree with her… but it was still unwise to be doing PR that denigrates whole classes of customers.

I have some sympathy for Irene; social media mobs fixating on an unwise comment or tweet are never good for anyone, and I suspect she wouldn’t hurt a fly or intentionally be rude to anyone. But the incident *does* reveal the likely consensus in her immediate social environment, a consensus which is dismissive and intolerant of people in the other tribe(s). You can see this dismissive attitude among some commenters on File770, who use snark and ad hominem attacks to repel anyone they suspect has Puppy sympathies.

So now let’s talk Brad Torgerson, who has been roasted there with a lot of guesses and insulting presumptions. I was only paying a little attention when I read about the SP3 efforts and started to notice Brad. I suspect he, like other SP3s, expected their little protest to result in maybe a few noms, and he slapped it together in the limited time he had. Now we have people with the benefit of hindsight asking why it was so slapdash — the answer is because they didn’t expect to be very successful, and they were as shocked as anyone when they swept a few categories. We can now guess this was because of the more militant RPs truly block-voting, but no one knew that would happen, so it’s not reasonable to rake him over the coals for not being a strategic genius or putting together the best-thought-out list of nominees.

I know enough about Brad to assume that he’s generally kind and polite to everyone in person, and doesn’t go after people who don’t attack him. He is not perfect, but far from “unrepentantly racist, sexist and homophobic.”

This “attack the slightest flaw” pack behavior is destructive, and I would hope most commenters at File770 are kinder in person. And spending too much time warding off Vox Day is just feeding him; he thrives on chaos and being the center of attention of outraged Right Thinking People, which gets him more fans, and so on. Do you help or hurt someone like this by constantly speaking of them? Like Ann Coulter, he is making a career of being tactless and violating social taboos. This comment fragment from Scott Alexander’s post gets it right:

Vox does this cutesy coquettish flirting with white supremacy precisely so he can say “Why are you getting mad? I didn’t say neo-nazis were good I just said they might not be so bad, why are you getting all upset when I’m just trying to have a calm conversation?”

It really impresses his fans but all I see is a little kid waving his arms in front of his sister’s face and going “I’m not touching you! You can’t get mad because I’m not touching you!”

 

SJW leftism is the mechanism by which the scribes and academics in our society co-opt the victimization of distant others to defeat their imagined opponents — people independent of their committees and those who are too busy working in profit-making enterprises to watch their every utterance for perfect political correctness. The debates over “rape on campus” are not about rape, really. They are about using the victimization of rape survivors to ideologically cleanse academia, assisted by the current administration’s Title IX bludgeon. It only works because it isn’t rape survivors against evil rapists, it is administrators of universities and the US Dept. of Education against young men and the few remaining professors who might not toe the party line on sexual politics. And it plays into a manufactured “war on women” theme intended to put another Democrat in the White House.

Kirkus Reviews “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Shrivers Kindle Cover

Shrivers Kindle Cover

It takes a long time to get one of the legacy review companies to review a book, so finally Kirkus has posted their review.

KIRKUS REVIEW

A third adventure in a sci-fi series follows idealistic rebels who can manipulate reality using quantum portals.

Ten years ago, college students Justin Smith, Steve Duong, and Samantha West led a revolution that invented quantum teleportation and used it to eliminate the Earth’s nuclear arsenal. Now, that same technology, which involves tapping “into the computational substrate that runs the Universe and determines how matter and energy appear to interact,” allows them to live on New Earth. This planet is just one of over 100 worlds humanity has settled throughout the galaxy. Thanks to less condensed populations, the watchful, artificially intelligent Guardians, and replicator programs that provide food, shelter, and clothing, “crime and hunger are almost unknown.” Trouble arises, however, when decimated alien civilizations begin appearing in galactic surveys. Because Justin, Steve, and their programmers can’t find any thriving alien races, they suspect that another intelligence is manipulating the substrate. When Eddie, an artificial intelligence, makes itself known to Kat, Justin and Samantha’s 10-year-old daughter, dire truths trickle in. A race called The First, which lives immortally within the substrate, decides which civilizations get to upload and join it. Determined to test humanity, The First now sends its Shrivers—an AI death squad—toward every planet that the revolutionaries helped settle. Kinnison (Nemo’s World, 2015, etc.) bursts wide the scope of his continuously rewarding series in this latest entry. As in the previous novels, he challenges his characters to evolve morally as well as technologically; when Justin and Steve appear secretive about the discoveries on an alien ship, NASA astronaut Maddy Rahama reminds them why they fought the United States when she says, “I thought you guys were going to be the most transparent government ever.” Keen sociological insights are crucial to the plot, as when Justin says, “Just because no one goes hungry, doesn’t mean people stop envying and hating.” The narrative, despite approaching war, proves riveting in the classic mold of Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein’s works, in which action never eclipses heart and intellect.

A novel about a galactic threat that offers an addictive barrage of lofty ideas infused with soul.

Pub Date: Nov. 25th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-9961833-2-1
Page count: 360pp
Review Posted Online: Feb. 24th, 2016

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

 

IndieReader Reviews “Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3”

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

First “professional” review in — rather short.

Humanity’s attempt to survive first contact with a civilization that reaches back to the early days of the universe in: SHRIVERS

By Jeb Kinnison

 star star star star star 

IR Verdict: Somehow both contemplative and exploding with action, SHRIVERS is an engrossing story that shines a light on humanity’s best and worst aspects as a fleet races to wipe them out.

“Instead of relying on outlandish technology or eccentric alien species, Kinnison has crafted a futuristic world that touches on philosophical, moral, and ethical ramifications of survival.”

Humanity has finally found peace among the stars thanks to quantum gateway technology, replicators, and powerful AIs. Before the dust can settle, the riddle of the Fermi Paradox is answered in the worst way possible. All advanced civilizations are uploaded to a virtual realm, or completely eradicated. And humanity is on the chopping block.

SHRIVERS is the third book in the Substrate Wars series. 10 years after Justin Smith and Steve Duong invented quantum gateway technology, humanity spread to other planets in an era of peace without want or violence. After exploring destroyed world after destroyed world, a race known as the Shrivers target humanity for extinction. With a deadline on the clock, Justin and Steve race to prepare for the Shrivers’ arrival. Meanwhile, an emissary from the civilization hidden in the virtual realm (known as the “Substrate”) contacts Justin’s daughter and prepares her to speak on humanity’s behalf to the tribunal that decides all advanced race’s fate.

In a refreshing entry in a science fiction series, SHRIVERS excels at examining humanity’s growth into the wilds of space. Instead of relying on outlandish technology or eccentric alien species, Kinnison has crafted a futuristic world that touches on philosophical, moral, and ethical ramifications of survival. Of course, the tech and aliens are nothing to sneeze at. The use of AIs known as Guardians to curb violent acts, instruct and educate, provide all necessities, and function as humanity’s allies is engaging and intriguing. SHRIVERS is a captivating entry in the series and a stellar piece of sci-fi.

Somehow both contemplative and exploding with action, SHRIVERS is an engrossing story that shines a light on humanity’s best and worst aspects as a fleet races to wipe them out.

~ IndieReader.

Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3

 

Amazon Responds re Review Erasures

The Library

The Library

My last post was an open letter to Amazon head Jeff Bezos. Today I got a call from an “Executive Customer Relations Specialist,” a nice young man who explained what he could find out about the incident. We talked about their review problems for some time, and I continued thinking about it long after (as usual.) So of course I couldn’t resist writing them a memo:

[This message is intended for Bnnnn Bnnnn, ECR, but I have no direct email for him.]

Bnnn —

Thanks for taking time out to talk today. Our conversation has triggered a lot more thought, and since I now know you may actually be able to convey some of what we’re thinking out here back to the people who decide these things, I am writing in the interest of improving Amazon and self-publishers’ cooperation.

Why You Should Listen To Me – Qualifications

[Various accomplishments and credentials omitted] I was one of your earliest customers, perhaps back around 1995, and I have been a big supporter, doing an increasing amount of business with you over the years. I managed the investments of [tech guy], founder of [bubble-era company name], during and after the dotcom bubble era, and came away with [large sum of money], so my book earnings in retirement are not critical to me — unlike some of my fellow authors, who depend on Amazon sales for much of their income, and are too afraid to speak up to you in public. In my role as portfolio manager, I became quite familiar with e-commerce and marketing.

Market Trends

Amazon is a key actor in the restructuring of publishing and general retailing, disintermediating and lowering the cost while increasing selection of goods. Books are especially suitable for this, since they are not commodities — each book and its reader/buyer have a different relationship, and there’s no simple linear scale like star ratings which can predict how satisfactory the book will be for that reader. Formerly publishers treated books like produce — with a big marketing buildup, often with paid or negotiated display space in bookstores, and a short shelf-life, with the unpredictable return rate adding to risks and costs. This led to fads and copying of trends, flooding the market with books similar to previous bestsellers and shutting out some quality books that were less commercially promising.

We understand why legacy publishers want ebook prices to be very high, often higher than print — they control the print model, which can be very profitable still, and want to slow the disintermediation restructuring, which leads to a world where they have a lesser role. This is damaging the quality of books produced by their system, and their low-paid lower level employees keep out a lot of fresh new perspectives, especially if they’re not in agreement with their politics.

The future is with online groups of readers who cross-recommend books to each other. Online communities are not likely to promote crap books like those that make up 95% of Amazon’s new books catalog. All of us online have our own reputations to guard, and we don’t push stuff on our readers that they are unlikely to like. Amazon needs to encourage this kind of community.

The Problem of Crap — Book Discovery in an Age of Excess

We all know you have too much bad material on Amazon — quite reasonably, how could you judge quality with an automated process?

When I started relying on Amazon for books, you emphasized your algorithm for recommending suitable books based on the ratings of the reader for other books they had read. This has disappeared, and you recommendations are useless now. I relied on the list of new science fiction books you made available, and bought from it based on author’s reputation, “institutional” reviews, and lastly customer reviews. This is not working at all now, as there are far too many new books, some of the best writers are self-published, and the Big 5 push less quality stuff; most small and self-pubbed writers can’t afford the delay and expense of Kirkus reviews, and the other big reviewers refuse to review us. The gatekeepers have narrowed the gate so much that many quality writers can’t get through. Meanwhile, voracious readers of genres like Mil-SF can’t find enough to read, and often end up buying low-priced books that are barely literate to keep their habits going. Genres like Romance and Mil-sf are a big part of your ebook sales, and are very poorly served by the Big 5 — not enough books in some niches are legacy-published to satisfy reader demand. This situation will only get worse as your review policies make it harder for us to meet that demand by making it harder for us to get new books off the ground with enough reviews to round out the customer’s knowledge of whether that book is likely to satisfy.

Misuse of Customer Data – Violating the Customer’s Trust

I respect Amazon as one of the most ethical companies, working hard to make the customer’s lives better. This image was gained by being exceptionally careful to fight for customers when short-term profits might have been easier by agreeing to supplier’s demands. You risk that image, though, when you use private customer data in the interest of anyone but that specific customer — it simply does not fly that you can trace customer’s relationships and injure them as a result of your desire to protect the review system’s integrity. Using customer data to inform that customer about products they might interested in is fine; using it to erase the reviews they spent time and effort to share on your system is damaging to customer trust and results in strange advice like “don’t send de minimis gift books via Amazon to your literary group, it will forever bar them from reviewing your work.” It’s quite creepy and damages your image, the kind of damage that eventually leads to government regulation or antitrust issues.

Better Ideas – Some Problems and Solutions

Problem — fake reviews, generally paid-for. If anyone can review a product at Amazon without proof of purchase, then there really is no way to stop this entirely. The two ends of the problem can be addressed: 1) any account that has generated unusual numbers of extreme positive or negative reviews can be warned, then barred from reviewing if it doesn’t stop, and 2) reviews from verified purchases can be given display and rating priority, which I understand you’re rolling out now.

Problem — Helping new authors get real reviews, because they absolutely have to have a way to distinguish their good product from the flood of crap. You are actively damaging us now, but you could implement a system allowing a book’s author to send out codes redeemable for review copies, then let the reviewer use that code when entering their review to give it the flag “This item was reviewed in return for a certified review copy.” This neatly solves two problems: our difficulty getting DRM’d review copies to reviewers, and your fear that we will only select favorable reviewers. The reviewers can be watched and rated using your account system, so that those who are good get higher weights, and those who regularly trash everything or five-star everything get low ratings. Currently NetGalley has this market sewed up, but at high prices most authors can’t afford — $150 or more per book. You should displace them and give more support to the small and self-publishers that are your future suppliers.

Problem — review “skew.” Where an author’s successive works get higher and higher ratings, because as a known quantity, those buying his/her books are more likely to be previous readers and fans who already like that writer’s work. I’m noticing that now, where the list of people who agreed to read the ARC of the third volume of my series tend to like my work already, and gave it a higher rating than a more randomly-selected previous groups which included more science-phobic readers. But this is actually not a problem; it is the expected result of consumer preference and a writer’s reputation. That writer clearly has readers who love that style, and if the rating attracts a new reader who hasn’t read the reviews and noted how science-heavy those books are, then that reader may be disappointed. But you’ve protected them as well as you reasonably can.

So, recommendations:

— As you are already doing, weight product ratings according to likely reliability of reviewers,
— Additionally rate reviewers themselves, to weed out the bad ones and give the best more weight in ratings.
Stop erasing reviews because of de minimis connections, which abuses your access to customer data. At most put a disclaimer tag on suspect reviews and underweight them in overall rating.
Implement a “review copy” code system, which authors can use to send out review copies. These reviews can be quality-controlled statistically and help good authors gain enough sales to eventually have a larger number of organic customer reviews.

These recommendations are based on the special nature of the ebook market, but some of them can also work for physical product reviews, like keeping ratings of reviewers as a weighting factor.