Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Ebook Review: Privacy Most Public, by Andrew Burt

So, we've had some entertaining, gratifying, and occasionally head-desking discussion (in which in-between questions and comments about the final chapter of AQATDR, I had to use the firehose to prevent Israel/Palestine wank, Native American genocide wank, slash wank, and pro-life wank). That was fun. Okay, not really.

Anyway, I am still working on a long Author's Notes for AQATDR which I will post shortly.

I've been hanging around in writerly places and doing lots of critiques for fellow writers, which is actually an excellent way to improve your own writing. And I don't mean fan fiction, either. At one time, I was fairly notorious on MNFF for my harsh critiquing in their "Excerpts of Murtlap" forum, but I got tired of explaining how to use verb tenses (or a spellchecker), reading about Ginny's chocolate brown orbs staring into Draco's stony gray spheres, and being called a meanypants by fourteen-year-old girls. So anyway, I've moved on to places where people are actually polishing up their writing for publication and... holy crap, they still don't know how to use verb tenses (or spellcheckers) and they still write angsty purple prose about orbs and spheres.

So, I'm thinking of adding a new feature here (since if I'm going to continue blogging at all -- without the aforementioned wank -- I need something to talk about besides Alexandra Quick). I will still do regular book reviews, but as I've discussed previously, I find the exploding ebook market to be quite interesting, especially as now anyone can publish an ebook which is actually available on Amazon and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, most of this self-published material is, as you might guess, crap.

But I've decided I'm going to periodically read one of these self-published ebooks, or at least as much as I can stand. Let's call it my quest for an undiscovered writing gem hiding in the vast online slush pile.

Today's entry: Privacy Most Public, by Andrew Burt.

This is a 16176-word book (so it's really more of a short story) of which the first four pages can be read for free.

The summary:

In the future, the Minuteman software system listens to all phone calls, reads all messages, watches everything, to keep Americans safe... but what happens when it mis-hears what someone says? Who's watching the watchers?

Okay... not an original premise, and not a very well-written summary, but could be interesting. I begin reading.

Basically, we get a couple of typical bachelor dudes talking on the phone bitching about politics, and long narration about the Minuteman software that is monitoring their conversation, using key word and phrase lists and data mining techniques to assess the likelihood that these guys are actually planning to assassinate the president. (They aren't, but thanks to a few cracks like "Where's Oswald when you need him?", the system begins focusing upon them.) The author obviously knows something about computer science and electronic surveillance -- the operation of the system he describes is actually fairly plausible with near-future technology.

Unfortunately, his apparent desire to Make Us Think overwhelms the story. He describes all the different flags and triggers that go off as the Minuteman system eavesdrops on the telephone conversation, but we don't learn enough about the two men to care if they're going to be waterboarded by the NSA. In the first four pages, the most interesting character is the (non-sentient) computer program. Additionally, Burt's writing is sophomoric. I've seen worse (even, occasionally, in professional writing), but he keeps trying to insert clever lines:

The Bloodhound included this item in the case dataset and executed what some witty programmer had coded as the statement, "raise(eyebrow)."

Not clever, just dumb. Lots of telling, no characterization. Mediocre writing, and a plot that looks like it's intended to be more of a "message" than a story. Verdict: Fail. Sorry, Mr. Burt, I was not tempted to keep reading, and $3.99 for an amateur epublished book that isn't even quite long enough to be a novella is definitely overpriced.

ETA: I wrote all the above before I thought to actually check Andrew Burt's bio on Smashwords. Okay, I was definitely right about him knowing something about computer science. But -- professionally published? Former vice president of SFWA? Really? No offense to Mr. Burt, I'm sure he's a swell guy, but this writing sample was definitely not impressive. Anyone else wanna check it out and let me know if I'm just being an overly-critical meanypants?
Tags: books, ebooks, reviews, self publishing, smashwords

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