Books

Short works

Books : reviews

David Brin.
The River of Time.
Bantam. 1981

Contents

The Crystal Spheres. 1984
The Loom of Thessaly. 1981
The Fourth Vocation of George Gustaf. 1984
Senses Three and Six. 1986
Toujours Voir. 1986
A Stage of Memory. 1986
Just a Hint. 1980
Tank Farm Dynamo. 1983
Thor Meets Captain America. 1986
Lungfish. 1986
The River of Time. == Coexistence. 1981

David Brin.
The Postman.
1985

(read but not reviewed)

review of the film version

David Brin.
Otherness.
Bantam. 1985

Contents

The Giving Plague. 1988
Myth Number. 1994
Dr. Pak's Preschool. 1990
Detritus Affected. 1992
The Dogma of Otherness. 1986
Sshhh.... 1988
Those Eyes. 1994
What to Say to a UFO. 1994
Bonding to Genji. 1992
The Warm Space. 1985
Whose Millenium?. 1994
NatuLife (R). == Natubirth. 1993
Piecework. 1988
Science versus Magic. 1990
Bubbles. 1987
Ambiguity. 1990
What Continues ... And What Fails .... 1991
The Commonwealth of Wonder. 1990

David Brin.
The Transparent Society.
Perseus. 1998

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 14 June 2005

Surveillance technology is advancing, and we can't hold it back. Brin argues that attempts to do so, via privacy and strong cryptography, are not only doomed to failure, but will make things worse, as they will protect only the strong. He argues for the opposite: fewer walls, and more transparency -- and that only in such an open world can freedom prevail.

In particular, he argues for symmetric transparency, where we can see them just as much as they can see us. Only with debate and criticism can errors be uncovered and progress made. It is easier for the powerful to hide, and they will use secrecy to hide their inevitable mistakes, unless forced to be transparent.

p81. the case for monitoring executives is much greater because their performance is more crucial to company success, and because their errors ... may have far greater consequences.

I really, really wanted to dislike this book. I tend to come down on the privacy side, not seeing why people should know so much about each other (because not believing such symmetry is even an option). But Brin weaves a compelling argument for the way the transparent world could be.

p339, note 45. What matters to an artist nowadays is not how many people hate you, but how much attention you can get. Those who disapprove cannot have you burned at the stake. ... In a free and diverse society, majority opinion is meaningless to all but politicians. Sell yourself to a select group. Become a cult figure to just 5 percent, and you can reap rich rewards of money and ego from millions, while having the satisfaction of calling the remaining 95 percent idiots. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!

p347, note 123. it interesting to juxtapose what two motion pictures from the same franchise say about the toxicity of ideas. Throughout the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, viewers are shown a side plot about a daring thirst for knowledge. Characters in that film boldly create an entire solar system, including a planet covered with new life forms. The story ends with them gazing proudly at their beautiful creation. But the sequel, written and directed by others, seemed obsessed with reversing this theme. Step by step, Search for Spock checked off every box of the "Frankenstein Syndrome," preaching that humans who arrogate the powers of heaven will be punished, their false creations destroyed, and the individual responsible for this act of hubris killed by his own monster.

He paints an optimistic picture of a transparent society where, even though they can, people won't invade each other's privacy, out of a new form of politeness -- they way that people don't just stare at each other in public nowadays. And also because, with symmetric transparency, we could stare right back. Call me cynical, but I doubt it. Never mind the severely disturbed psycho stalkers -- if someone is looking at me, I have to know that before I can look back at them. And Brin's symmetry is legal (I have the right), not technological (I have the knowledge and capability).

The book was written before 9/11, which leads to such prescient passages as:

p105. As a mental experiment, let's ... try to envisage what might have happened if those bombers had actually succeeded in toppling both towers of New York's World Trade Center, killing tens of thousands. .... Now picture the public reaction if the FBI ever managed to show real (or exaggerated) evidence that they were impeded in preventing the disaster by an inability to tap coded transmissions sent by the conspirators. They would follow this proof with a petition for new powers, to prevent the same thing from happening again. ... once a bureaucracy gets a new prerogative of surveillance, it is unlikely ever to give it up again.

Post-9/11, the chances of symmetric transparency being an option have receded dramatically. But Brin makes a point that is now even more important to bear in mind: we should not assume that we have to trade off freedom for security; in fact, they increase hand in hand, and, despite various high-profile atrocities, we in the West live in both the freest and the most secure world there has ever been.

But despite these caveats, Brin has produced a well-argued, rational, calm, and thought-provoking book, well worth reading, and well worth debating.

David Brin.
Kiln People.
Orbit. 2002

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 30 October 2004

Al Morris lives in a world of dittos -- clay duplicates that last for a day, then have their memories downloaded into the organic body before decomposing into slurry. He's a private detective called in to investigate a ditnapping, a real-murder, and industrial espionage, and all of him are having a bad day.

This is a brilliant mess. The multiple first person viewpoint narrative, all from different copies of the same person, is very well handled. The consequences of the ditto technique are explored in some detail (and there's a demi-semi-plausible scientific gloss), and the very changed world is well-imagined and depicted with dry humour. The detective plot is interesting and intricate. But all that metaphysical mish-mash at the end is completely unnecessary -- all the myriad subplots are sufficient to carry the story, and this could have been, and so very nearly is, much better as an investigation of identity and what it means to be "me" in a world full of temporary and expendable duplicates, and almost totally lacking in privacy.

David Brin.
Existence.
Orbit. 2012

David Brin, ed.
Insistence of Vision.
Story Plant. 2016

Contents

The Diplomacy Guild. 1990
Temptation. 1999
Insistence of Vision. 2013
Transition Generation. 2014
Chrysalis. 2014
Stones of Significance. 2000
News from 2035: A Glitch in the Medicine Cabinet. 2003
The Logs. 2013
The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss. 2015
Eloquent Elepents Pine Away for the Moon's Crystal Forests. 2006
Mars Opposition. 2005
A Professor at Harvard. 2003
Gregory Benford, David Brin. I Could've Done Better. 2006
David Brin, Gregory Benford. Paris Conquers All. 1989
Gregory Benford, David Brin. A Retrospective by Jules Verne. 2016
Fortitude. 1996
An Ever-Reddening Glow. 1996
The Other Sideof the Hill. 1994
Avalon Probes. 2013
Six-Word Tales. 2006
Reality Check. 2000
The Heresey of Science Fiction. 2016
Waging War with Reality. 1992