Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Digital Rights - Brent Knowles

Author: Brent Knowles
Date: 2011
Setting: A space station colony, 2180
Availability: Buy Digital Rights at Smashwords

Story: Humans have colonized space so long that there is a real disconnect between those who live in space and those on Earth. There are even third-generation colonists who have never been to earth. People have android Assistants who carry out many tasks, and the androids are programmed by pulling information from people's actual brains. This technique has been used so long it is standard procedure, but there is always the possibility for abuse.

One of the supervisors, Rutgers, may have been taking personal information from people. Isabel (Izzy), an engineer, suspects this, but thinks it's both none of her business and fairly harmless. She thinks he is just creating a virtual game as a diversion. She has enough problems of her own, as she keeps receiving messages from a "ghost," a section of one of her past Assistants that should have been long dead. She eventually has to confront both Rutgers and the ghost.

Commentary: Digital Rights is science fiction, and won first place in the L Ron Hubbard "Writers of the Future" contest in Q3 2009, for fantasy and science fiction. This award has been running since 1983. That should tell you something about the quality of the story before you ever begin.

I don't mind science fiction, but I'm not a huge fan, unless the writing is really good. Digital Rights kept me interested. I was hooked right away, and I didn't stop reading until I finished, despite its being fairly long for a short story at 12K words. There are a number of really good things about the story.

In the first place, Knowles plunges you right into the scene. There is no setup, and you have to figure out where they are and how society has changed by the descriptions of what is being done and how it's being accomplished. And he gives you the information to do this, so you feel that you are right there. Eventually he gives out the fact that it's the year 2180.

The mix of familiar technology with speculative processes and machines is well done. As any culture evolves some things change completely, while other archaic forms and items persist. All of the invented machines and techniques seem plausible while e-mail and wearing green on St. Patrick's Day are still around.

This may be personal preference, but I like a sci-fi story to have some twist that makes me think about the nature of reality, or what makes us human, or what sort of "creatures" might actually populate the universe. I'm not very interested in stories that are just space wars, or romances, or B-westerns in airtight suits. Digital Rights does a good job of making me think.

Digital Rights is the best sci-fi story I've read in a while. You can take that at whatever value you want since I don't read lots, but I do read some.

Author info: Brent Knowles is a writer, programmer, and game designer. He has been living in Edmonton, Alberta for the last ten years, and is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s computer science program. He worked at the role-playing game studio BioWare for ten years (Baldur’s Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age), during most of which he was a Lead Designer/Creative Director. Now he writes full time. He has been published in a variety of magazines including Neo-Opsis, On Spec, and Tales of the Talisman. See Brent Knowles blog

Language skills 7
Depth of meaning 7