Thursday, January 18, 2024

WEIRD TALES Centenary Tribute

I've recently finished reading an anthology called WEIRD TALES: 100 YEARS OF WEIRD, edited by Jonathan Maberry, current editor of "The Unique Magazine." As the subtitle implies, this book was published in honor of the magazine's 2023 centennial. It hasn't operated continuously all those years, having lapsed and been revived several times, but its present incarnation claims continuity with the venerable pulp zine famed for showcasing the early works of H. P. Lovecraft and many other classic twentieth-century horror and fantasy authors. The contents of the anthology consist mainly of fiction (plus a few poems) but also several essays. One of the latter, "Swords and Sorcery: WEIRD TALES and Beyond," by Charles R. Rutledge, is a reprint from the November 2022 issue of the periodical. The others, original to this volume, explore topics such as the history of the magazine, the evolution of occult detectives, cosmic terror, shared world authorship, and some sources of Lovecraft's visionary horror.

As for the fiction, I was mildly disappointed to discover that this isn't exclusively a reprint anthology. Stories from the actual magazine are outnumbered by new ones. In addition to two pieces from twenty-first-century issues, "Up from Slavery" (2021) by Victor LaValle and "Jagannath" (2011) by Karen Tidbeck, we get eight "classic reprints." The vintage authors comprise H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, C. L. Moore, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Tennessee Williams (under a pen name), Richard Matheson, and Allison V. Harding. While I thought it was a bit of a cop-out to choose what's probably Lovecraft's best-known and most often reprinted tale, "The Call of Cthulhu," to represent him, several other "classic" entries may be new to many readers, as some were to me. And one can hardly complain about the original stories, given their uniformly high quality. This compilation offers abundant thrills for lovers of weird fiction, however we define the term.

Horror fans in general would enjoy the anthology, and for devotees of WEIRD TALES, it's a must-read book. The numerous illustrations and ads reprinted from the magazine practically justify the purchase price in themselves.

I count as one of my most treasured writing milestones a story published in WEIRD TALES (September-October 2003): "Manila Peril," featuring Filipino vampires in southern California.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Once A Pirate...

"Once..." is an odd and exciting word. It sets up expectations for what is to come next. Three possibilities come to mind.

Once... Twice, as in "Once bitten, twice shy," the proverb, and the Great White hit.

Once... upon a time.

Once... Always... in the sense of irredeemability of a thief, a scoundrel, a kleptomaniac, a cheat, or the ingrained and noble nature of a king or queen, a marine, a warrior.

Once is an adverb, a conjunction, and very rarely and idiosyncratically, a noun (just the once). 

"Once a pirate" sounds like the title to a fantastic novel, and indeed, it is.

Not all pirates are equal. Business writer and regular Forbes contributor Tendayi Viki explains the difference between rogue pirates and government-licensed pirates (privateers) in an article on innovation and the advantages of not following the rules.

His most interesting point, IMHO, is about the piratical nature of Start-ups.

"Unlike startups, large companies have to follow the rules. As Steve Blank notes:

Startups can do anything. Companies can only do what’s legal.

Having no business model and no market reputation to defend makes startups quite dangerous as competitors."

Corsairs could be pirates or privateers. Buccaneers were the original pirates of the Caribbean, but many were under license to attack Spanish shipping. Paying taxes does not mean that one has Letters of Marque. What are we to call Big Tech?

Business writer Sara Todd makes some interesting points about piracy and the start up days of Apple Computers.

"[Steve Jobs] offered a maxim meant to motivate the developers: “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy.”

and

"The pirate metaphor also involved a certain willingness to plunder. “Steve also never minded occasionally stealing good ideas from others, like the Picasso quote—’good artists copy, great artists steal,’” Hertzfeld adds."

Picasso's might be a philosophy not only shared by tech geniuses, but also by great musicians, as Paul Resnikoff discusses for digital music news.

https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2016/04/19/robert-plant-and-jimmy-page-blatantly-admit-to-stealing-their-music-led-zeppelin/

Despite admissions, if one is good enough, one gets away with whatever alleged copyright infringement one might be accused of, presumably because the "borrowing" is transformative or otherwise is de minimus. 

The same may not apply to distributors of other people's whole work. Paul Resnikoff writes about the problems for musicians that streaming music has created.
 

Long time legal blogger about the music industry,  Chris Castle of Music Tech Policy speaks to the emerging moral hazard when a service provider unilaterally decides whom to pay and whom not to pay for essentially the same product.

What if Amazon were to decide not to pay self-published authors? Not that they don't. Oh, wait...

The authors who were allegedly punished, were the innocent victims of e-book piracy. The musicians who are being stiffed are the innocent victims of streaming fraud.

As Chris writes: "it’s good to remember that this whole episode is somehow excused by overcoming streaming fraud. I think there are a lot more direct ways to stop fraud than stiffing an entire category of artists."

Please follow the Music Tech Policy link for potential solutions.

Book piracy has many tentacles. Next time, I may look at the unfair use of copyrighted written works as AI training materials.
All the best,


 


Friday, January 12, 2024

Karen S Wiesner: {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier


{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier

by Karen S. Wiesner


A rare single title novel by New Zealand author Juliet Marillier, Heart's Blood was published in 2009. This historical fantasy is loosely based on Beauty and the Beast but it's a richer, more complex tale with a heroine, Caitrin, who flees a home life much more terrifying than anything she might encounter in her search for a safe haven. Her chief ability and means of employment is as a scribe, not a skill most young women in the time period possess. Her father taught his daughter his craft before his death.

Caitrin flees to Whistling Tor and its crumbling hilltop fortress. The chieftain, Anluan, is feared and repulsed by the townsfolk because of the dark curse over the ghost-filled woods that enthralls him. Not surprisingly, Caitrin causes a stir in the shroud that hovers like a dense mist over the household, bringing unexpected light and promise to most of the staff--and the reclusive master of the house caught in the web of sorcery that destroyed his ancestors and will soon claim his life as well. To free Anluan will also release Whistling Tor from the evil surrounding it, but to do so will require sacrifices and something perhaps more terrifying than misfortune: Hope.

This was a beautifully written tale, despite how slow moving (to the point of, at times, plodding). Complete with complicated, fully fleshed out characters and a rich, wonderfully elaborate setting, the Gothic atmosphere of creepiness in a dark castle surrounded by a forest haunted by spirits that may or may not be malevolent kept me guessing about who was actually trustworthy. I was interested, as well, in the plant in Anluan's garden called "Heart's Blood". I found out after reading this book that there's a flower commonly called bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos spectabilis, that's supposed to signify rejected or unrequited love. Too bad the beautiful woodland plant didn't make it to the cover of the book. It's really quite striking! 

Incidentally, while Heart's Blood is sometimes referred to as part of the "Whistling Tor series", the author's website states emphatically that it was intended as a standalone and no follow-up is planned. Bit of a letdown there, as this is an amazing world I would have liked to enter again. But the author does have six other series to immerse her readership in, and I highly recommend giving them a try.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

and https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

Find out more about her books and see her art here: http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor

Visit her publisher here: https://www.writers-exchange.com/Karen-Wiesner/


Thursday, January 11, 2024

Robotic Companions

A robotic device called ElliQ, which functions as an AI "companion" for older people, is now available for purchase by the general public at a price of only $249.99 (plus a monthly subscription fee):

Companion Robot

As shown in the brief video on this page, "she" has a light-up bobble-head but no face. Her head turns and its light flickers in rhythm with her voice, which in my opinion is pleasant and soothing. The video describes her as "empathetic." From the description of the machine, it sounds to me like a more advanced incarnation of inanimate personal assistants similar to Alexa (although I can't say for sure because I've never used one). The bot can generate displays on what looks like the screen of a cell phone. ElliQ's makers claim she "can act as a proactive tool to combat loneliness, interacting with users in a variety of ways." She can remind people about health-related activities such as exercising and taking medicine, place video calls, order groceries, engage in games, tell jokes, play music or audiobooks, and take her owner on virtual "road trips," among other services. She can even initiate conversations by asking general questions.

Here's the manufacturer's site extolling the wonders of ElliQ:

ElliQ Product Page

They call her "the sidekick for healthier, happier aging" that "offers positive small talk and daily conversation with a unique, compassionate personality." One has to doubt the "unique" label for a mass-produced, pre-programmed companion, but she does look like fun to interact with. I can't help laughing, however, at the photo of ElliQ's screen greeting her owner with "Good morning, Dave." Haven't the creators of this ad seen 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY? Or maybe they inserted the allusion deliberately? I visualize ElliQ locking the client in the house and stripping the premises of all potentially dangerous features.

Some people have reservations about devices of this kind, naturally. Critics express concerns that dependence on bots for elder care may be "alienating" and actually increase the negative effects of isolation and loneliness. On the other hand, in my opinion, if someone has to choose between an AI companion or nothing, wouldn't an AI be better?

I wonder why ElliQ doesn't have a face. Worries about the uncanny valley effect, maybe? I'd think she could be given animated eyes and mouth without getting close enough to a human appearance to become creepy.

If this AI were combined with existing machines that can move around and fetch objects autonomously, we'd have an appliance approaching the household servant robots of Heinlein's novel THE DOOR INTO SUMMER. That book envisioned such marvels existing in 1970, a wildly optimistic notion, alas. While I treasure my basic Roomba, it does nothing but clean carpets and isn't really autonomous. I'm not at all interested in flying cars, except in SF fiction or films. Can you imagine the two-dimensional, ground-based traffic problems we already live with expanded into three dimensions? Could the average driver be trusted with what amounts to a personal aircraft in a crowded urban environment? No flying car for me, thanks -- where's my cleaning robot?

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Scammer Time

Just what we need for an AI-enhanced Happy New Year: AI-enhanced scams, data breaches involving everything a "population health technology company" has on millions of patients, trademark scams from scammers pretending to be lawyers, untouchable data brokers...

So, my earworm for today is "Can't Touch This" in all its jolly, ironic glory.

For writers, blogsite owners, and website owners, it's that time (which comes around every two or three months) to update your passwords on the U.S. Copyright Office DMCA Designated copyright agent directory.

More annoying and depressing, if you write under the protection of an LLC, you should know that the laws are changing, and LLC owners' social security numbers and drivers license numbers are going to be a matter of public record.

Wealth Lawyer and Coach Mat Sorensen explains what a pain all this is:
 
For those of us who prefer advice in writing, lawyer Eli N. Krafte-Jacobs with the Finney Law firmhas an explanation.

One of many bottom lines is that, if you have an active LLC or Corporation and do not file a BOI (Beneficial Ownership Information) report, you could be fined, imprisoned, and your bank may refuse to do business with your business.

It's not a scam. My Norton 360 seems to think that a link on the topic with reference to Homeowners Associations and Condominium Owners Associations is a harmful link, and I surmise that Norton's AI systems detected an offensive word for a male member or a male barnyard fowl within the name of the respectable Massachusetts law firm and flagged it.

I think that is hilarious.

Now I will turn to scams.

Legal blogger and associate lawyer Lisa Bollinger Gehman for the intellectual property law firm Baker Hostetler reports on the increasingly sophisticated trademark email scams.

https://www.ipintelligencereport.com/blogs/be-aware-as-trademark-email-scams-get-more-sophisticated/#page=1

Some writers own trademarks, so this might be of interest. As you may know, trademarks have to be renewed with the USPTO something like every five years. Also, like copyright agent registrations, or website ownership information, anyone can search the database and send official-looking letters and emails aimed at tricking the trademark owner into sending them a huge fee. Usually, in my experience, if you read the fine print with a magnifying glass, they are selling SEO registration, or spurious trademark registration in a foreign country.

Lisa says:

"Trademark owners should be wary of official-looking email solicitations from attorneys or law firms that claim to specialize in trademarks and are masquerading as Good Samaritans who wish to aid in protecting the company’s brand against another company that has contracted that firm to register the same mark."

Among other valuable advice and insights, Lisa points out that email scammers may forget to spoof the official .gov domain extension. Maybe one cannot spoof dot gov.

Now, the scammers claim to be specialist trademark lawyers, and their pitch may attempt to outrage and panic their target by saying that someone else is trying to register the same trademark or business name.

More information about trademark scams can be found on the USPTO’s website:

Trademark scams: How to avoid them and what to do if you get fooled: 
 
Caution: Scam alert: 

 

Also of interest, a large group of bloggers for the law offices of Troutman Pepper including Molly S. DiRago, Robyn Lin, Natasha E, Halloran, Ronald I Raether Jr, James Koenig, and Kim Phan compiled a very comprehensive round up of privacy laws, breaches, and violations.

Their article More Privacy Please is compelling reading, discussing topical issues with a health care company that filed to adequately protect DNA data, and made misleading promises to potential clients about how their privacy and data would be respected and securely stored; also discussing tax preparation companies that share clients' information without permission; also revealing issues with generative artificial intelligence (GenAI).

In California, there is a Delete Act to rein in data brokers, but it does not appear that this Law will have any teeth for several years (until 2026). They also discuss investigations of alleged data leaks from 23andMe and from Twitter, and much, much more.

More detailed information on the ground-breaking, Californian "Delete Act" (to whom it applies, how it should work, why is it superior to existing law etc) is provided by Amy de La Lama, Christian M. Auty, Goli Mahdavi, and Gabrielle A. Harwell of the law firm BryanCave Leighton Paisner LLP.

Read more: https://www.bclplaw.com/en-US/events-insights-news/the-delete-act-a-first-of-its-kind-data-broker-law.html  

"Data brokers are entities that knowingly collect and sell to “third parties the personal information of a consumer with whom the business does not have a direct relationship.” Cal. Civ. Code §1798.99.80(c). This likely includes entities that receive personal information received from third parties and compile that data into a form that can be used to enrich data sets of third parties, such as by adding data appends to a third party’s data set for marketing purposes."

Shocking to this writer is the implication that some of these data brokers collect, store, and sell information about ordinary persons' reproductive healthcare. Another revelation seems to be that one has to resubmit requests to delete information every 45 days. In other words, it looks like its whack-a-mole with these privacy invaders. (My words!).

Finally, after all this talk of data leaks, breaches, and legal selling of personal information, class action law firm Shamis Gentile has a fascinating breakdown of what your data is worth to the first seller: https://shamisgentile.com/class-actions/data-breach-lawsuit/

While your social security number might sell for as little as $1, your medical records could be worth $1,000. Scroll down the page to see what everything else about you might cost a crook.

All the best,


Rowena Cherry 
SPACE SNARK™  

Friday, January 05, 2024

Karen S Wiesner: {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova


{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

by Karen S. Wiesner

A novel that took 10 years to write, completed in January 2004, sent to a literary agent in March of that year; two months later (and two days after sending the manuscript to publishers), the first-time author is offered a deal…that she refuses! The rights are auctioned off and finally bought for $2 million. That alone sounds like something made up. Add to the unrealistic quality of such a testament: Elizabeth Kostova's debut novel The Historian was published in June 2005, landed at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list in its first week, and by August of that same year, it'd sold in excess of 900,000 copies and gone through six printings.

I love vampires, Dracula (historical and fictional), and literary novels about people who love books--a particular theme in this book, as described by the main character Paul: "It is a fact that we historians are interested in what is partly a reflection of ourselves we would rather not examine except through the medium of scholarship; it is also true that as we steep ourselves in our interests, they become more and more a part of us." The history and folklore of Vlad Tepes and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula are explored in narratives told by Paul, a professor; his mentor Rossi; and Paul's daughter (who's never named), while utilizing letters and oral accounts, and covering 1930s, 1950s, and 1970s timelines. The goal is to find Vlad's tomb.

Described as a mash of genres including Gothic, adventure, detective, travelogue, postmodern historical, thriller, and epistolary, The Historian's origin centered on the author's father (a professor) telling her "real history" vampire tales when she was a child. Her librarian mother's love of books also had a profound effect on Kostova. Later, the author had a notion to write about a father spinning tales about Dracula tales to an entranced daughter with Dracula listening in--because Dracula's still alive. Two days later, Kostova started writing.

Interestingly, Kostova never wanted her novel to be classified as a horror, nor was she pleased with the comparisons it got with Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series. [Ironically, the reason for the bidding war for the rights to publish The Historian stemmed from the houses believing "they might have the next Da Vinci Code within their grasp" (according to Publishers Weekly).] While I can understand the connection to comparing The Historian to Brown's historical thrillers, better comparisons, I think, would be to Charlie Lovett's The Bookman's Tale or Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Club Dumas, both fantastic novels that won't disappoint readers.

The author intended to write a chilling Victorian ghost story. She chose the figure of a vampire for many reasons, not the least of which was because "our fear of Dracula lies in the fear of losing ourselves, of relinquishing our very identities as human beings." Not surprisingly, the main characters in The Historian become obsessed, all but losing their individual identities in their quest to discover the dark side of human nature in the complex figure of Dracula.

While this novel is large enough to be overwhelming to some readers (nearly 700 pages in the trade paperback), I found myself so riveted by the adventures these learned bibliophiles undertake that span the globe, I barely noticed the pages flying by. It's very hard to imagine that this was the author's very first book, considering how masterfully it's constructed and written. If you haven't already, I highly recommend reading The Historian. If you've already enjoyed it once, maybe it's time to re-read this timeless novel? I've already put it back on my TBR pile.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

and https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

Find out more about her books and see her art here: http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor

Visit her publisher here: https://www.writers-exchange.com/Karen-Wiesner/

Thursday, January 04, 2024

AI as a Bubble

Cory Doctorow's latest LOCUS column analyzes AI as a "tech bubble." What Kind of Bubble Is AI?

Although I had a vague idea of what economists mean by "bubble," I looked it up to make sure. I thought of the phenomenon as something that expands quickly and looks pretty but will burst sooner or later. The Wikipedia definition comes fairly close to that concept: "An economic bubble (also called a speculative bubble or a financial bubble) is a period when current asset prices greatly exceed their intrinsic valuation, being the valuation that the underlying long-term fundamentals justify." The term originated with the South Seas Bubble of the early eighteenth century, involving vastly inflated stocks. The Dutch "tulip mania" of the seventeenth century offers another prominent example.

Doctorow takes it for granted that AI fits into this category. He begins his essay with, "Of course AI is a bubble. It has all the hallmarks of a classic tech bubble." He focuses on the question of what KIND of bubble it is. He identifies two types, "The ones that leave something behind, and the ones that leave nothing behind." Naturally, the first type is desirable, the second bad. He analyzes the current state of the field with numerous examples, yet always with the apparent underlying assumption that the "bubble" will eventually "pop." Conclusion: "Our policymakers are putting a lot of energy into thinking about what they’ll do if the AI bubble doesn’t pop – wrangling about 'AI ethics' and 'AI safety.' But – as with all the previous tech bubbles – very few people are talking about what we’ll be able to salvage when the bubble is over."

This article delves into lots of material new to me, since I confess I don't know enough about the field to have given it much in-depth thought. I have one reservation about Doctorow's position, however -- he discusses "AI" as if it were a single monolithic entity, despite the variety of examples he refers to. Can all possible levels and applications of artificial intelligence be lumped together as components of one giant bubble, to endure or "pop" together? Maybe those multitudes of different applications are what he's getting at when he contemplates "what we'll be able to salvage"?

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

ANATOMY OF A SCAM

 

My topic for the day is "Pig Butchering", which is a brutal name for a type of scam. For my title (not to borrow someone else's title), I took Anatomy, with reference to meaning #6, Examination in detail.

Since the Welltock leak of more than the average amount of personal information, seniors (especially) have been receiving scam phonecalls from foreign-sounding persons who want to confirm that the person holding the handset has diabetes. Apparently, 11% of the American population is afflicted with that malady. One might be surprised. The way some politicians metaphorically beat their chests about the cost of insulin, one might have thought that the percentage would be at least double 11%. 

Or the affliction could be back pain (so much that one might jump at the chance of a free brace). Mixed metaphor deliberate.

That is probably closer to spear-phishing, if the calls are based on garbled information on the dark web. Pig butchery is a more lengthy process to cultivate misplaced trust, as Ian Debbage, legal blogger for the global law firm Squire Patton Boggs explains.

Lexology link:
 
Squire Patton Boggs link to the Pig Butchering scam story:

Ian Debbage concludes thus:

"Of course, the only sure-fire way to avoid losing money to the pig butcher is to avoid becoming the pig. This means being cautious of contacts that you do not properly know introducing investment opportunities and get-rich-quick scenarios that seem too good to be true."

The scams are not just shady investments. Some are much, much worse, especially with the rise in AI which facilitates deep-fakery, not to mention (which of course I am) the plethora of unreliably sourced information sold by dastardly "data-brokers".

"Granny, I've been arrested!" "You have a computer virus." "Your Everything-Store account has been hacked and you need to follow this link to reset your password..."

Katie Spence writes about what one might call apochryphal telephone scams that could cost the unwary recipient of a phone call or text message up to tens of thousands of dollars, and maybe a broken heart in the case of romance fraud. Click the apochryphal-word link to read dozens of stories of unfortunate, vulnerable people who got smished.

To add insult to injury, some cyber-criminals apparently keep a cruelly-named "suckers list".

Happy New Year!!

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 
SPACE SNARK™  

Friday, December 29, 2023

Karen S Wiesner: {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories and Farthing House and Other Stories by Susan Hill



{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories

and

Farthing House and Other Stories

by Susan Hill

by Karen S. Wiesner

Susan Hill is one of those authors that effortlessly puts you directly into the fictional settings and personal lives of her characters with so much atmospheric reality, you're convinced of the authenticity of everything. While many of her stories are ghost and/or horror, as in the case of the first collection I'll review today The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories, others are simply brutally realistic and disturbing vignettes of the darker side of life, as we'll see in Farthing House and Other Stories. One reviewer describes Hill's work as "locating the horrific in everyday life". Simply put, few other authors capture such haunting qualities that linger on in the memory long after reading as Susan Hill does consistently.

 

The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories was published in 2016 and contains four short stories. The 2017 edition also included a fifth story, "Printer's Devil Court", which I reviewed previously in this column. The title story is classic Susan Hill, when revenge takes on a new supernatural twist. A wife searching for answers to her husband's untimely death brings in a psychic detective to find out the truth by utilizing the deceased doctor's favorite travelling bag. This is as good of a story as any Hill has written. The focus of the story is a man seeking revenge on his apprentice who stole his life's work while he was besieged by illness. The unexpected denouement really makes this story clever.

"Boy Twenty-One" harkens back to two of Hill's stories I reviewed previously "The Small Hand" (2010) and "Dolly" (2012), adding a hair-raising element to the slightly disturbing, undying friendship of a young boarder at a boys' school with a fellow student who doesn't return after the summer holiday. This particular tale got bad reviews. One in particular said of it that "it feels more like indecision on the writer's part, as though she is still playing with ideas", adding that it wasn't "fully realised". I, on the other hand, believe the faltering is what added to the creepy aspects of the story. The narrator had trouble establishing friendships, finally found of soulmate of sorts, and unfathomably lost that friend. The story ended abruptly in a way that felt shocking, incomplete, unresolved--just as it needed to in order to realistically portray the events and the character's stunned uncertainty combined with an unwillingness to let go.

The story "Alice Baker" is a strange, tragic little tale. Office workers are using an old building that harbors a forgotten origin while a better one is being constructed for them. An odd new employee brings both curiosity and dread to co-workers. All the senses come alive in this lovely little spine-chiller.

"The Front Room" is menacing and goes against everything we're taught is good and right. A couple is inspired by a sermon about feeding the hungry and being a blessing to the destitute. They invite the husband's aged stepmother Solange to live with them and their growing family. The woman they remember, but weren't particularly fond of, has changed almost beyond recognition. What a wonderfully warped, ominous (but intriguing) story that might draw from it a lesson opposite of what the Good Samaritan parable tried to establish.

All of these tales are perfect for Halloween or when you're just in the mood for really good, short ghost stories.


Most of the nine stories included in Farthing Hill and Other Stories aren't supernatural or have little to do with such mystic meanderings, although "Farthing Hill" itself is, "Kielty's" has an edge toward the strange, "Red and Green Beads" is the quintessential ghost story, and maybe "Mr Proudham and Mr Sleight" could be considered otherworldly but I honestly didn't understand that particular story at all enough to figure out what it was intended to be. Oddly enough, given my love of all Susan Hill's other ghost stories, the weird, extramundane stories in this collection are the ones I liked least (though I did enjoy all but the latter one I mentioned).

The tale that stood out most for me was titled "The Custodian". For a good portion of the story, I had no idea why it was named as it was. An old man sacrificially takes on the care of his young grandson. The old man is good to the young boy, and they learn and enjoy their time together. Everything changes when the boy's father returns unexpectedly. What a devastating, forlorn glimpse of a life and what a sad commentary about putting all of one's self into another being--and yet this is the very thing that can give life meaning and purpose. There's no good reconciliation to this existential quandary. I was left gasping at the contradiction and simple summary of life as we know it.

"The Albatross" is another mournful story of an 18-year-old boy with disabilities who's taking care of his wheelchair-ridden mother. The mother is hard and harsh and does everything in her power to keep her son with her, even when the home environment becomes toxic and the breaking point is reached. While not much sympathy can be roused for the mother, I nevertheless found it easy to imagine feeling helpless in her condition. To be alone when there's no one to care for or about you, or to share your life is a terrifying, lonely thought--not that it justifies her behavior toward her son. I appreciated the efforts of secondary characters to intervene, but sometimes in life we learn there is just no way to turn something horrible into something good.

"Halloran's Child" moved me with this shameful tale of a family treated badly and shunned without justification by fellow townsfolk. I've always been disturbed about the "levels" in society and how badly people can treat others in the name of social status. The rich, the poor, the middle-class--we're all guilty of this kind of thing. Why can't we just genuinely show respect and kindness to everyone around us, not setting ourselves up as more worthy than anyone else? Sigh. This story really brings mankind's cruelties home, but it's told from the point of view of a human being who's simple, humble, and even sweet, so the despicable events are that much more shocking and dismaying.

"How Soon Can I Leave?" is another odd little slice of life revealing two women who share a strange relationship that both enriches and hinders their lives. We're only in the point of view of one of them, and you can't help but see in this tragic tale how a person can lie to herself and manipulate her own mind to believe what she wants to about herself, her motives, and those of others.

"The Badness Within Him" shares the sadness of the previous installments in this collection with a boy considered the black sheep of the family, but there's a twist that I didn't expect at the end. It really made me think and grieve about similar things I've her about and experienced.

Susan Hill's stories consistently highlight the bleak darkness inherent within the commonplace; the sinister, preventable failures, wrong-headed foibles, and fragile beauty in a life where least expected. In these two collections, this author nails those bitter, heart-rending and life-changing concepts.

Note that these stories are published separately as well as in the author's other collections.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

Visit her website here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/

and https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/karens-quill-blog

Find out more about her books and see her art here: http://www.facebook.com/KarenWiesnerAuthor

Visit her publisher here: https://www.writers-exchange.com/Karen-Wiesner/


Thursday, December 28, 2023

Celebrating Public Domain Day

January 1 is Public Domain Day for works still under copyright that were first released in 2028:

Public Domain Day 2024

The article includes selected lists of books, plays, films, and musical compositions being liberated, so to speak, in 2024. It also explains some of the intricacies of copyright law and explores the question, "Why Celebrate the Public Domain?"

Most famously, of course, the earliest version of Mickey and Minnie Mouse becomes available for public reproduction and reinterpretation in 2024 (with some qualifications and caveats -- trademark, for instance, has a longer and more tenacious life than copyright):

Mickey Mouse Will Soon Belong to You and Me

As an unintended side effect of what this essay labels "overlong" copyright protection under U.S. law, "many properties with less pedigree than Winnie [the Pooh] or Minnie can disappear or be forgotten with their copyrights murky." As Cory Doctorow is quoted as saying, the remarkable 95-year endurance of some classic works "makes you think about the stuff that we must have lost, that would still have currency," or might have, if that material had been freely available for reproduction and distribution.

As the first article cited above puts it, "Most older works are 'orphan works,' where the copyright owner cannot be found at all. Now that these works are in the public domain, anyone can make them available to the public. This enables access to our cultural heritage -- access to materials that might otherwise be forgotten. 1928 was a long time ago and the vast majority of works from 1928 are not commercially available. You couldn’t buy them, or even find them, if you wanted. When they enter the public domain in 2024, anyone can rescue them from obscurity and make them available, where we can all discover, enjoy, and breathe new life into them."

Having had the experience of editing two paperback fiction anthologies in the early 1970s, I've often mentally grumbled about the problems inherent in the "life of author plus seventy years" rule that reigned for several decades. An editor who wanted to "rescue" an undeservedly neglected story from obscurity would have to find out whether copyright was renewed under the older system, when the author died, and who holds reprint rights -- if they're still in force -- in the present. For a very old, little-known work, the latter information might be almost impossible to discover, as the above quote mentions. Nobody benefits from continuation of the copyright, and readers who might enjoy the story and appreciate the long-dead writer's creation are deprived of that opportunity.

As Cory Doctorow, again, says in an essay on the Medium site, "First in 1976, and then again in 1998, Congress retroactively extended copyright’s duration by 20 years, for all works, including works whose authors were unknown and long dead, whose proper successors could not be located. Many of these authors were permanently erased from history as every known copy of their works disappeared before they could be brought back into our culture through reproduction, adaptation and re-use."

Public Domain Is a Banger

His characterization of this process as "slow-motion arson" might be a bit extreme, but he makes a point well worth considering.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

TONGUE IN CHEEK WITH A TROLL

If you do an internet search for images of Trolls, you are likely to find small, colorful creatures with wild hair, big toothy grins, and retrousse noses with large, wide nostrils.

The nostrils might be the only thing that Dreamworks Trolls and Pottermore Trolls have in common. Pottermore has a nice guide to Trolls. 

On the other hand, if one does a search for trolls on the Lexology database (which is very good indeed) there's not a lot of snot and drool, and not a great variety. A few legal bloggers have in depth expertise with copyright trolls and patent trolls.

Tongue-in-cheek is usually an adjective, it can be a noun used adjectivally, or it can be a noun as an idiom (tongue in cheek). An idiom is a group of words which are used in a set order, and which are understood to mean something other than the meaning of each component word used on its own.

On the other hand, when you combine that particular idiom with a troll, something disgusting comes to mind... at least for me. 

Legal blogger Darrin Klemchuk wrote a self described, tongue in cheek guide; "Copyright Troll Step-By-Step Guide: How to Make Thousands as a Hobbyist Photographer."

For the benefit of the humorless or the dense (my words), Darrin Klemchuk wrote two, more serious articles spelling out the steps  -seven of them- that a website owner or blogger should take to mitigate the damage after they receive what appears to be extortion attempts by apparent copyright trolls over the use of photographs.

https://www.klemchuk.com/ideate/in-house-counsel-solutions-series-4q-2023

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=95729806-4e28-44f1-91f4-3c78662f3eac

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=f805d616-7cda-4a91-96bb-48c014b69563

The very valuable, and sometimes daunting advice of Darrin Klemchuk focuses on once the milk has been spilled and the horse is out of the proverbial barn. The unhappy defendant has made use of a photograph which they downloaded from the internet.

Possibly, if one absolutely must snag an image from the internet, one could extrapolate from Darrin's advice some precautions to take. Take a screenshot of the image in its context to show if it has any copyright-ownership information; which site it is on (for instance, a notorious pirate site, or a respectable site); whether there are any Terms of Use or Terms of Service posted on the site or page that might lead you to believe that the image was free to use; whether you paid for use of the image and if so, whom you paid and how much. 

Another step you might take, after snagging the image but before exploiting it, would be to use Google's excellent search-by-image feature to see where else the image appears. A copyright owner might have sued someone else over it, or the image might appear elsewhere on the web with copyright wording that might be missing on the copy that tempted you.

Ignorantia juris non excusat. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Jodi L. Miller writing for the New Jersey State Bar Foundation explains the ancient and almost global concept that "But I didn't know..." is not a legally persuasive defense.

https://njsbf.org/2018/04/23/ignorance-of-the-law-is-not-an-excuse/

It should be said, not every copyright owner who tries to protect their photographs or other intellectual property is automatically a "troll". 

Darrin Klemchuk offers this caveat, and it is a good one.

"By “copyright troll,” I am referring to a specific kind of plaintiff claiming ownership in a copyright with the intent to monetize it by cease-and-desist campaigns after the photograph becomes “available” on the Internet. Over the years, I have become suspicious that some of these plaintiffs purposely position images to be copied by na├»ve Internet users and use electronic files that can be detected by Internet crawlers to find potential infringers, then send demand letters seeking excessive payments."

 In 2018, legal blogger Brittany Frandsen of the law firm Workman Nydegger defined copyright trolls thus:

"A copyright troll owns a copyright, typically in a feature film or pornographic video, and attempts to enforce its copyright against individuals who download unauthorized copies of the copyrighted material using file-sharing software such as BitTorrent."
Visit her article for a clear explanation of how copyright trolls operated on BitTorrent, with the ability to target hundreds or thousands of copright infringers at once (because every pirated movie was shared in hundreds or thousands of fractions).

https://www.wnlaw.com/blog/copyright-trolls-new-face-copyright-litigation/#page=1

The troll business model was quite fiendish. Most illegal-file-sharers would pay the troll rather than face the embarrassment of defending themselves in open court over stealing porn, and risking a verdict against them of $150,000 in statutory damages.

Brittany Frandsen tells the tale of one accused "troll" who was said to have made six million dollars between 2011 and 2014. On the other hand, she points out that the type of troll action that she describes relies on the association of IP addresses with a pirated work. Yet, IP addresses are not reliable because routers can be hacked, and IP addresses can be spoofed.

At this point, the best advice is Benjamin Franklin's, "When in doubt, don't"

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 
SPACE SNARK™  

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Practice of Benevolence {A Reflection on Dickens' A Christmas Carol} by Karen S. Wiesner


The Practice of Benevolence

{A Reflection on Dickens' A Christmas Carol}

by Karen S. Wiesner


One of my all-time favorite stories is and always will be Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843. I imagine it's a story nearly everyone everywhere has heard in one form or another. For my part, I try to read the novella and watch one of the countless film adaptations every year around Christmas. Dickens wrote, "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it."

The messages in this story are timeless. I did an internet search asking what the major themes in this undeniable classic are, and almost none of the offerings that came up could focus on just one because there are so many good messages in this one little tale. Here's my attempt at coming up with a motif for the story:

The spirit of benevolence and goodwill toward our fellow human beings throughout the year is in the eternal need for compassion, kindness, and mercy to all, as well as the transformative power of change coming from within.

Benevolence is the disposition to do good, embodying a genuine desire to promote kindness, charity, and positive attitudes toward others along with an inclination to perform acts of goodwill or extend help to those in need. A benevolent person actively seeks opportunities to benefit others, often without expecting anything in return.

Our world and the people in it often aren't a very good reflection of that description, wouldn't you agree? Selfishness, putting one's desires first, despising one another because of our differences looks like the norm in this day and age--as, in truth, it was at the time Dickens wrote the story and probably has been all throughout time. Does this description of Scrooge (written 180 years ago!) from the narrator of the story sound like anyone you know? I can think of several (including myself) who fit some or all of the points:

"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster… But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance..."

I thought it would be illuminating to explore the many good lessons taught, in quotes, by the characters in A Christmas Carol as they reflect on life. Draw what conclusions you will from each quote, but I think most of the truths are self-evident.

Jacob Marley's Reflections of Life:

“I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it."

"...no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!"

"Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Fred 's (Scrooge's Nephew) Reflections of Life:

"...I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time...as...the only time I know of...when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave..."

“…his offences carry their own punishment… I am sorry for him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims! Himself, always."

Bob Crachit's Reflections of Life:

Bob told them of the extraordinary kindness of Mr. Scrooge’s nephew… "…he is the pleasantest-spoken gentleman you ever heard… 'If I can be of service to you in any way,’ he said, giving me his card, ‘…Pray come to me.' "Now, it wasn’t for the sake of anything he might be able to do for us, so much as for his kind way..."

Ghost of Christmas Past's Reflections of Life:

"Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it…

 “What!” exclaimed the Ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!”

Ghost of Christmas Present's Reflections of Life:

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Ghost of Christmas Future's Reflections of Life (note: this ghost didn't actually speak out loud, but Scrooge inferred its intentions based on the things shown to him by it):

"Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command: for this is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal! … No voice pronounced these words in Scrooge’s ears, and yet he heard them when he looked upon the bed. He thought, if this man could be raised up now, what would be his foremost thoughts? Avarice, hard-dealing, griping cares? They have brought him to a rich end, truly! … He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, a woman, or a child, to say that he was kind to me in this or that, and for the memory of one kind word I will be kind to him... “Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope! ... Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”

Ebenezer Scrooge's Reflections of Life:

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

Narrator's Reflections of Life:

"He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew…"

We live in a world that's ever in need of the very things that are least evident in it. Hatred, intolerance, and violence over things that shouldn't but inevitably and inescapably do divide us against our fellow human beings have become our daily bread. Every day, each one of us commits offenses against others in some way, shape, or form. As I reflect on this sad commentary, I often consider how much good benevolence would have on us and our world throughout the year, if only we practiced it.

Instead of fighting over all the wrong we see others doing, what if we as a whole didn't specify wrongdoing (as in transgressions, flaws, weaknesses, vices, and regrets) into its unlimited categories, instead generalizing wrongs as "wrongs"? We're all carrying around a big bag of those wrongs. If we didn't look inside everyone's "bag of wrongs", wouldn't we have to conclude that we're all equal in the eyes of God as well as each other? Would we then conclude--since we're all carrying around a bag of wrongs, regardless of what's inside--that maybe we should have compassion on one another and accept that we individually are not the only one in need of grace, forgiveness, and unquantified mercy? At that point, could we minister, show kindness and empathy for each other in the name of goodwill toward all? Consider also that, if we realize it's not our place to punish others for their perceived wrongs, a tremendous weight is lifted from our shoulders, leaving us free to pursue peace instead.

We're all on the road to death, and every single road in life inescapably leads to that conclusion. If we're all on even ground, then no one is better or more righteous than the next one, right? In the same vein, no one is more sinful than another either. We're all the same. If we each deserve unilateral hatred and scorn, then, by the same token, don't we all deserve unbiased love and tenderness? Shouldn't we then practice benevolence as our common ground? In this way, respect and courtesy could and should be given to every single person on the planet regardless of who we are and what's inside our particular bag of wrongs.

For as long as breath remains in our lungs, life in our bodies, blood in our veins, it's not too late to live out the benevolence of A Christmas Carol to the world around us every single day. In this way, we each do our part in sowing the world with life immortal.


Read A Christmas Carol free here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm#link12.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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