I’ve started putting my latest project into the Pressbooks platform, which I also used for a collection of essays, Babel Fish Bouillabaisse; it’s a very easy WordPressy platform that does a nice job of creating both ebook, pdf, and html versions of a book for a reasonable price. (You can try it for free, but it comes with watermarking; or if you’re handy with code, there’s an open source version. If you want to avoid watermarks or work, it costs $99 per book, unless you wait for a sale, in which case it can be as low as $50. That seemed an incredibly affordable price for not learning how to set up my own.)
The new book is If Then Else. There’s probably a better title for it. I just haven’t thought of it yet. It’s intended for young adults or adults who like to read this sort of adventure and don’t mind that the protagonist is a teen. The book grew out of my frustration – well, let’s be accurate, my rage at the way the surveillance-industrial complex has taken over our world. It’s a weird convergence of Silicon Valley values (free is a low, low price; just make micropayments of personal information every time you touch a keyboard) and Big Brother collect-it-all arrogance. It’s telling that the government couldn’t implement its overreaching Total Information Awareness program in 2003. People objected to it even though they were scared. The 9/11 attacks were still a fresh memory, but the idea of a total surveillance system was scarier. Then a year later Facebook was founded and our feeling about personal data aggregation gradually changed. Yes, people were upset and angry when Edward Snowden revealed the scope and audacity of the government’s surveillance programs, but they also were growing cynical and resigned. The entire internet relied on spying as its business model, or so it seemed. Of course the government would tap into those giant data banks. How could they resist?
How can we resist? Or is it futile?
I don’t think it is, but it’s going to be a long and difficult fight to fix it. Meanwhile, I did what I usually do when I get angry: I started to make up a story, this one mixing the problem of privacy with the way that the FBI has frequently set up stings that coax not-very-clever people into saying and doing things that they would never have considered if not groomed by a paid informant. So that’s the genesis of this story – a kid whose big brother has been arrested on bogus terrorism charges decides to fight for his freedom.
I have some work to do yet, but a couple of chapters are out and more will follow shortly. I was going to wait until I made a last pass at editing, but then last week it was my mother’s birthday and I decided that was the right day to start posting.
My mom (who died a few years ago at age 95) was remarkable. She knew everything but often insisted you look it up anyway, just for practice. She knew foreign capitals and historical events and the meaning of Latin phrases, even though she hadn’t had a chance to finish high school. It was the depression, she was the eldest of nine children, and her father died when she was sixteen, just old enough to become the family breadwinner.
She read all the time – mostly mysteries that she brought home in great stacks from the library. She didn’t teach me how to read – nuns did that, and it wasn’t easy – but she taught me why to read. For that (and many other things) I owe her a lot. And if she were here to read it, I’m sure she would find every typo I miss.
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in privacy issues, there’s whole resistance toolkit available at the Library Freedom Project. Also, you might enjoy The Internet With a Human Face, a talk by Maciej Cegłowski. It’s by turns depressing and hilarious, and ends with some good suggestions for change.