Octopus's Garden

Issue Fifty-Six

8th October 2005

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HELLO, good evening and welcome to Octopusís Garden, the subzeen with its very own, repurposed (sounds so much better than "self-plagiarised") book review. Itís a subzeen to Jim Burgessí The Abbysinian Prince. Produced by Peter Sullivan, peter@burdonvale.co.uk. It's available on the web at http://www.burdonvale.co.uk/octopus/index.html.

What follows was originally written for my contribution to e-APA #18, the October distribution of a members-only APA. Itís actually an "electronic only" APA, distributed as Adobe Acrobat PDF files, rather than on paper. I did wonder about translating some of the jargon from "SF-speak" into "Dipdom-speak," but I think the article as a whole is still understandable Ė and just as relevant to postal games zeens as to Science Fiction fanzeens.

If anyoneís interested in seeing more of e-APA, the October issue is an "open" distribution that can be downloaded by anyone, from http://www.efanzines.com/eapa/. And anyone actually interested in joining e-APA (we currently only have 11-ish out of 15 slots filled) should contact the Official Editor, David Burton. His e-mail address is available from the website.

The Cathedral and the Bazaar

Being the first part of at least several in a series of "Books that are actually really about SF/fanzeen fandom, even though no-one else (including the authors) realise this." I feel slightly nervous writing about this in the presence of computerhistory.org guru Chris Garcia, but at least he can correct any horrendous fluffs next time.

"The Cathedral and the Bazaar" by Eric Raymond is the book on Free Software/Open Source development, credited with influencing Netscape to open source the Netscape Navigator web browser into Mozilla. Which eventually lead to Firefox, of the famous NY Times advert. The book talks a lot about the culture of Free Software/Open Source development, and in a lot of places it sounds awfully like fandom. Raymond talks about it as a gift culture, where oneís status is determined by what one gives away, in return for encouraging a gift culture in others. Can anyone say "The Usual"? And the concept of gaining the status of "hacker" by being recognised as such by other hackers is an almost exact parallel to fandomís BNF (Big Name Fan) status.

But one particular idea that Raymond talks about is "The Tragedy of the Commons." The idea being that, if you have a piece of physical property being held in common (whether the traditional common in the middle of an English feudal village, to North American First Nation hunting grounds), then it will inevitably get destroyed from over-use, as the freeloaders take more than their fair share. Worse than that, everyone knows that it will be destroyed as the freeloaders take more than their fair share. So everyone turns into a freeloader trying to take more than their fair share before the whole thing collapses. Making the whole thing collapse even faster in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Raymond notes that free software has managed to avoid the Tragedy of the Commons. Because intellectual "property," unlike physical property, is non-exclusive, freeloaders cannot destroy the commons. At worst, they are neutral. In practice, even freeloaders contribute, even if itís just by downloading and using the software to create that nebulous concept of "mindshare."1

SF fandom should be avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons in much the same way. The marginal cost to the editor of distributing an electronic fanzeen via www.efanzines.com is, basically, nothing. The marginal cost to the ever-wonderful Bill Burns, site owner and general all round good egg, is a little higher, but as still close to zero as makes no odds.

And yet SF Fandom has a Tragedy of the Commons problem of its own, and itís one that has been noted several times both in this APA and in other publications by APA members (yes, David, that is a reference to Catchpenny Gazette). The reader who downloads the zeen and doesnít contribute (which, given the cash contribution is neither needed nor desired, means either via LoC or "the usual") is a free rider, in that they are not contributing serious and constructive2 feedback (or, if you prefer, "egoboo") back to the editor.

Previous solutions to this problem have been based around trying to re-insert some kind of "payment" mechanism. Hence Davidís (short-lived?) experiment with password-protecting Catchpenny Gazette.

However, these types of barrier donít seem to have worked. As Eric Mayer notes in Catchpenny Gazette 6, they represent a deliberate neo-Luddite process of carving down the possibilities of new technology to match old expectations. Instead, we should be looking to leverage the limitless possibilities of the new technology.

The most famous free software project is Linux. But Raymond suggests that Linus Torvoldsí greatest contribution to both free software and IT generally is not the Linux software, but the development model that produces it Ė "many eyeballs tame complexity" (or, to put it another way, all bugs are shallow given enough "power users" capable of filing good bug reports). What we need in fandom is the same kind of paradigm shift.

I know that R-Laurraine Tutihasi already offers convention DVDs. How about taking this a stage further and having a completely virtual convention? Iím not sure that webcams are necessarily ubiquitous enough yet, but you could easily run a virtual panel session via text-based messaging, whether AOL, Yahoo or the older and non-proprietary Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Other convention activities could equally be virtualised.

A virtual convention actually offers some interesting possibilities for cheating in a masquerade contest. Instead of bothering to actually sew together some Starfleet costumes, you could just stream some video footage from your season 3 DVD and hope no-one noticed3. Of course, thereís still no saying that you would actually win. Like the (possibly apocryphal) story of Charlie Chaplin entering, incognito, a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest when on holiday in France one year. He came third.


1 For proprietary software, "mindshare" is a salesmanís term usually used in the context of "Iím not giving away free copies, Iím creating mindshare."
2 sercon (old usage) (I think)
3 As in "Gosh, Dave, you look the absolute spitting image of Jeri Ryan."

Yours Sincerely, Wasting Away

((SPOILER WARNING: This next section contains some fairly heavy spoilers for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. If you havenít read it yet, but intend to, I would strongly advise not reading the rest of this sub-zeen.))

Jim Burgess, Providence, RI: I'm just popping TAP out now so have properly read your LoTR review. I really liked it, very well done. It made me see something about a key connection between Harry Potter and LoTR, stimulated in part by your note at the end that your wife is reading the new Harry Potter. Have you read it already? I can't continue this discussion with you unless you've finished it. If you have, see if you know what I'm going to ask you.....if not, respond to this once you have....

The sub-editor replies: Don't worry, we are both up to date, so no need to worry about spoilers. I assume I don't have to either, but (just in case):






I am guessing you are going to say something like Dumbledore == Gandalf. Which I can sort of see, but I feel that a more appropriate parallel would be Dumbledore == Obi-Wan. As in "If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." (Irritatingly, IMDB doesn't have this quote, so I may be a word or so off, but the gist is there.) Of course, I gather that the current thinking on the fan boards is that Snape's killing of Dumbledore was, if not pre-arranged, at least with Dumbledore's implicit consent. See, for example, http://www.livejournal.com/users/fr_john/6922.html.

Jim Burgess, Providence, RI: Yes, I've not read the fan stuff, but figured it out on my own as I was reading the book. I did hear that that scene at the beginning with Snape and Malfoy's mother was originally going to go in the first book (which might have been better to throw people off a bit more). But I think that was pretty obvious (that Snape was the Half Blood Prince and that he is Dumbledore's spy in the enemy camp), I must be too much of a Diplomacy player. I really don't think this is a point of speculation, it is a fact. After all, Dumbledore petrified Harry so he could see what was happening but would be powerless to stop it when it did. Much of the drama of the last book will be whether and how Harry will accept SOME help from Snape in time to defeat he-who-must-not-be-named. ;-) And Dumbledore MIGHT just come back to speak to Harry through his "picture", as the other previous headmasters could have, but safe from Voldemort.... whoops, I named him. But I don't think that the Obi-Wan comparison is as apt, since it really is a case of Snape "killing" Dumbledore as a joint plan between the two. I suspect in that last book we'll also find out more about what Dumbledore was up to before that (e.g. he's been leaving things for Harry to find and use in the run-up to the final battle. A little bit of Dr. Who and assembling the parts of the Key of Time will be in there too).

I was actually going further than that, since I figured that out some time ago. As I was reading your LoTR review, I realized that "taking Gandalf away" from the hobbit, so he could "unlock the key" on his own was the same deal as taking Dumbledore away from Harry. I had been kinda thinking that Rowling was being really cool and innovative, now I think it might be a bit more derivative. Still fun, just a bit more derivative. I suppose everything is derivative, but it is only in this last book that all the derivative things seem to keep coming out and hitting me over the head.

So maybe it wasn't intentional, but that's what I got out of your review of LoTR!

The sub-editor replies: It wasn't so much the duel between Dumbeldore and Snape that gave it away for me, so much as Snape's actions when trying to escape from Hogwarts. Several times he prevents Harry from using unforgivable curses. Now, whilst he obviously has to do something about unforgivable curses aimed at him(!), it doesn't necessarily have to be preventing them, just blocking or countering them. And he also prevents Harry from using unforgivable curses on any third parties as well. None of this is conclusive, but I feel that it is suggestive. And I've had "Snape sacrifices himself in order to save Harry in the final battle with Voldemort" pencilled in as a possible ending for the series as a whole for at least 2Ĺ books now, and if anything the ending of Half Blood Prince makes it more rather than less likely.

That was Octopus's Garden #56, a Startling Press production

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