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With all of the public debate about the role of innovation in music and movies, it’s not surprising that discussion of the uses of Creative Commons licenses tends to be about their place in the music and movie industries. When there is discussion about text and books, it tends to be about academic works, like Professor Lessig’s book Free Culture or the Public Library of Science, and even then it’s discussed much less. Fiction books, such as the science fiction and fantasy (from now on abbreviated as SF, and please don’t start with me about that) that occupies most of my spare time, seem to glide almost completely under the radar.
Part of the reason no one worries about books is that there isn’t a BPAA, and the print publishing industry is much less deserving of vitriol than the music publishers; part of it is that authors have or at least appear to have much more creative control than the musical artists who tend to take point on the screaming about infringement; but most of it is that reading real books is satisfying in a way that reading PDFs or HTML on a screen, or a Palm, or even a bunch of laser-printed pages completely fails to be.
However, there are a few enterprising SF authors who have, in addition to publishing their books through traditional methods, released Creative Commons-licensed copies of their work. As I’m the local SF nut, I was asked by the bosses to give a basic rundown of what’s out there. I was also told very firmly not to get into reviews, merely survey the field; I don’t do too well with limits, and there’s only so much hard drive space…
Anyway. The first name in Creative Commons-licensed SF is the one and only Cory Doctorow. If you’ve made it all the way here without encountering that name, then I have to wonder where you’ve been looking. Cory has three full novels, Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom, Eastern Standard Tribe, and Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town, all
of which have been CC-licensed. He also has any number of shorter stories (such as his ongoing “Deconstructing SF” series), many of which are, again, licensed. Cory is probably the most vocal supporter of the Creative Commons in the fiction world, so if you’re looking for some SF and you want to be CC-conscious, there are no better places to start. His work tends to be near-future nanopunk, but it’s solid nanopunk; if you’ve never read in the genre, it’s not a bad introduction to the genre, and if you have, and didn’t like it, this may be a better example. If you don’t like this either, then nanopunk probably isn’t for you.
Next up is Charles Stross, an occasional collaborator with Cory, who released his most recent novel Accelerando under a CC license just a few weeks ago, and who has some older works licensed as well. Like Cory, Charlie–ah, the wondrous informality of the Internet; if ever I met them in person they’d be “Mr. Doctorow” and “Mr. Stross,” is that just me?–deals in near-future nanopunk (actually, Accelerando starts at near-future and just goes further thataway), and he has made a big splash with this novel. He certainly has one fan in high places.
Now we’re leaving the safe areas of books I’ve read or at least skimmed. There are two other authors whose CC-licensed work has been brought to the attention of us here at CC-HQ. First is Peter Watts, who has released his first two novels Starfish and Maelstrom under CC licenses, plans to do the same for the third novel in the trilogy, Behemoth (sorry, Peter–there it is again–but I’m not putting in the Beta), and has a handful of earlier stories available as well. By all lights Peter’s area is not nanopunk; he seems to be closer to biopunk. Topics in his “Rifters Trilogy” include evolutionary biology, marine mammalia, sexual sadism, and dystopian futures. Lest you think I’m kidding, I took all of this from his website. Like I said I haven’t had the chance to sit down and read his work yet. But I’m certainly looking forward to the change of pace. Then again, I do remember that Neal Stephenson wrote Zodiac: An Eco-Thriller before he became the second darling of the cyberpunks, so you never know…
The last author that’s on our list of known CC-licensed SF is Kelly Link, who released her short story collection Stranger Things Happen at the beginning of this month. While I haven’t yet read the collection, I’ve been reading up on it and her and, again, I’m looking forward to my next chance to sit down and really tear into the material. It’s a little more fantastical than some of the other work (apparently she’s been compared to Neil Gaiman, a comparison no one can win but the ultimate case of praising with faint damnation), not that I’m complaining mind you, so it would probably make a good chaser for some of the harder nanopunk.
That’s all that we know of so far. A list in progress can be found at http://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Books#Fiction, so if you know of more CC-licensed SF books or fiction in general feel free to add it.
I should mention, before I sign off, that we do know there are some other free but not CC-licensed SF sources out there. Baen Books has been keeping its Baen Free Library since before Creative Commons was founded, and Neal Stephenson has put up a copy of In The Beginning Was The Command Line at Cryptonomicon.com. Allies in spirit, I hope.Posted 27 July 2005