David Brin is best-known for shining light — plausibly and entertainingly — on technology, society, and countless challenges confronting our rambunctious civilization. His best-selling novels include The Postman (filmed in 1997) plus explorations of our near-future in Earth and Existence. Other novels are translated into 25+ languages. His short stories explore vividly speculative ideas.
Brin's nonfiction book The Transparent Society won the American Library Association's Freedom of Speech Award for exploring 21st Century concerns about security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
As a scientist, tech-consultant and world-known author, he speaks, advises, and writes widely on topics from national defense and homeland security to astronomy and space exploration, SETI and nanotechnology, future/prediction, creativity, and philanthropy. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow.
where Brin brainstorms contemporary problems & opportunities
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Following the publication of the The Transparent Society, David Brin became a prominent voice in the debates over information openness and the value of light in the modern world. Find more articles, books, and media about the central issue of our age.
Media advances don't always liberate, at first. The tracts that emerged from printing presses enflamed Europe's 16th Century religious hatreds, while the 1930s-era radio and loudspeakers helped consolidate the power of tyrants. Our new media — the Internet — has inspired its own peril: the rise of fake news and too-easy proliferation of alt-facts. Can ordinary citizens can separate truth from manipulation before the harm spreads? Brin's proposal, as outlined in "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit," could teach us how to out-run a lie.
In this essay Brin discusses reviving the "lost art" of forming special-interest clubs and organizations: As a teenager, growing up in Los Angeles, Brin participated in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), gathering mountains of data for professional astronomers" — one of countless such groups formed around a limitless range of interests. In Existence, he portrays this trend as it can become, as individuals and small groups become ever more agile at sleuthing, data collection and analysis & forming very very smart, ad-hoc, problem-solving 'smart mobs.'
In one of the boldest and most popular essays about our destiny, "Singularities and Nightmares: Extremes of Optimism and Pessimism About the Human Future," David Brin explores a startling range of possible changes available to us — changes that could occur within the next twenty or so years, roughly a single human generation. It's an opportunity for humanity and the Earth to avoid dangers and inspire hopeful futures — if that's what we choose. Weigh the range of possibilities for yourself. This article is also available on the Lifeboat Foundation website.
... toward the vast, vast majority of all that's been achieved. And after decades of doldrums, after the obstacles thrown up against us, it seems we truly are regaining some momentum in space exploration. Have you been keeping score? We are a people who are doing all these wondrous things, exploring our solar system with pennies out of each citizen's pocket. We are doing all this, and so much more! We are a mighty folk — a folk of legend who will be the subject of songs, in times to come. Problem-solvers who will go ahead and save the world, despite the doubters and skeptics. And go on to the stars.
What will happen as we enter the era of human augmentation, artificial intelligence and government-by-algorithm? Those fretfully debating artificial intelligence might best start by appraising the half dozen general pathways under exploration in laboratories around the world. While they overlap, they offer distinct implications for what characteristics emerging, synthetic minds might display, including (for example) whether it will be easy or hard to instill human-style ethical values.
Rebuilding a region devastated by a natural disaster means not only recovery but also building infrastructure to ameliorate future occurrences. Money, combined with ingenuity and goodwill, can take care of the short-term solutions: Stop the dying and bury their dead; provide survivors with food, shelter and basic sanitation; help restore basic utilities; repair the ports and roads enough to get commerce flowing again. So far, no arguments. It's when we start talking about longer-term, preventive solutions that the discussion gets clouded by xenophobic preconceptions and anti-globalism dogma — 60 years after the Marshall Plan proved that foreign assistance can work, some of the time.
Here David Brin offers some rebuttals to those denying the possibilty of human-caused climate change — with links to the full climate science. It's extended, exhausting and somewhat repetitious. Print it out before your next crazy-uncle encounter. BONUS: Print too the latest report that details how denialism is beginning to harm the economy.
The motivation for the Boston Tea Party protest serves as a Rorschach test for each succeeding generation. The 1920s viewed the rebellion as a phase shift from monarchal domination to empowerment of the bourgeoisie. In the 1940s, literalists took the Founders at their word — that the Revolution was an idealistic exercise in limiting the scope of government. During the 1960s fashions changed again, viewing the rebellion as a manipulative putsch that allowed local gentry to displace others at the top of the heap. What these generations of scholars all seemed to agree about was that the colonists weren’t rebelling over the raw magnitude of taxes.
Nothing could better indicate the turn in our national fortunes than to see science no longer dismissed as a realm of pointy-headed boffins, but viewed as part and parcel of our nation's future. If we want a resilent government and responsive politicians, perhaps it's time we restore independent science advisory agencies.
The schism over global climate change (GCC) has become an intellectual chasm, across which everyone perceives the other side as Koolaid-drinkers. Right now all the anecdotes and politics-drenched "questions" flying now aren't shedding light. They are, in fact, quite beside the point. That is because science itself is the main issue: its relevance and utility as a decision-making tool.
Anthropologists tell us that every culture has its core of central, commonly shared assumptions — some call them zeitgeists, others call them dogmas. These are beliefs that each individual in the tribe or community will maintain vigorously, almost like a reflex. We, too, have our zeitgeist. But contemporary America's dogma is very, very strange in one respect. It just may be the first society in which it is a major reflexive dogma that there must be no dogmas!
I do not need 'liberal thought' to make me favor equality of opportunity (while opposing artificial equalizing of circumstance). All I need is the blatantly obvious fact that we were wasting staggering amounts of human creative potential when people were repressed because of presumptions having to do with race and gender and class. The fantastic success of pragmatic 'liberalism' at spurring us to take on these devils is so overwhelmingly more important than any other event of the last century that the burden of proof is on anyone who disses 'liberals.'
A deep flaw — perhaps the most tragic in human nature — makes delusional hallucinators of us all, blinding our eyes to any evidence that runs counter to our favorite dogmas. (This applies in all directions, to all dogmas, left as well as right.) Even more urgent is the need to find excuses forour side, our team, our tribe. In the face of this core human trait, it takes an awfully big person to admit that cherished, idealistic plans went awry... even diametrically opposite to every fervent hope.
Is the internet era empowering us to be better, smarter, more agile thinkers — or devolving us into distracted, manic scatterbrains? Is technology-improved discourse going to turn us all into avid, participatory problem solvers? Or will the Web’s centrifugal effects spin us all into little islands of shared conviction — midget Nuremberg rallies — where facts become irrelevant and any opinion-monger can be a memic god?
After September 11, 2001, thoughts and feelings come spinning like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, ravaged by a cyclone. Rationalizations, cultural panic and xenophobic hatred ebb and flow, as do kindnesses, gratitude, and cultural resilience. So here, in rambling segments, are some of Brin's humble efforts to make sense of what happened on the day the world was thrust into the alternate reality 6 billion people did not want.
As the 20th Century became the 21st, the trend in our culture was monotonic, toward ever-increasing reliance on protection and coddling by institutions, formally deliberated procedures and a small group of officially-sanctioned insipid, inbred aristocrats marketed to us as 'miracle men.' Hence the question: Is it possible that a new direction for our 21st century requires only that we snap out of our present funk? Perhaps the events of the 21st suggest a different approach is necessary — a far older notion of a confident, self-reliant citizenry — capable of rescuing ourselves.
There are good reasons for concern about what is going to happen, given that we are mired in blowback from failing to correctly anticipate our 21st Century crises — ranging from new ways warfare and terrorism are waged to the economic uncertainties of a cybertechnological world. Can we uncover who is anticipating new, un-dreamed of threats — and listen to them, instead? Brin worked to establish Predictions Registries, a method that might help us identify new oracles, to better "score" the credibility of those who want us to trust their vision of tomorrow. (Readers maintain a Predictions Registry page that tracks hits and misses for Earth.)
Suppose we get a Congress that's willing to push back against idiocracy. What item should be number one on its to-do list? How about ending the War on Facts, with legislation to restore access to useful and confirmable information for public officials, politicians and citizens. Likely effect? Congress-members will no longer be able to shrug off fact/scientific questions with "I’m not a scientist."
About a hundred years ago, people all over the world began drifting away from priests, kings and national flag-totems, transferring their loyalties instead to fervid ideologies — models of human nature that allured with hypnotically simplistic promises. Often viciously co-opted by nation states, these rigid, formulaic, pseudo-scientific incantations helped turn the mid-20th Century into a hellish pit. In "The Odd Way We Design our Destiny," Brin asks: will we remain mesmerized by ideology, return to totem-worshipping, or ...?
Big institutions, small institutions, and individuals all pay their connection charges, phone bills or whatever, to maintain the computers and the nodes... and nobody controls the whole. Some companies and educational institutions willingly take a bearable financial loss in order to support this new commons which is expanding inventively everywhere, allowing chat-lines, special interest groups, even anarchists and net-parasites, to join the flow. Why? Because the fruit of this commons — enhanced creativity — is worth whatever it costs.
Whatever your level of involvement, you can have the satisfaction of participating in humanity's greatest endeavor. In an era when political factions and media empires are waging relentless "war on science" this trend toward active participation — supporting a climate or other pro-science campaign, volunteering for a school's STEM program, or providing some financial support for orgs and start-ups — is the surest way to support an active, vigorous, future-hungry and scientific civilization.
BASIC used to be on every computer a child touched — but today there's no easy way for kids to get hooked on programming. Very few young people are learning those deeper patterns. Indeed, they seem to be forbidden any access to that world at all. This is not just a matter of cheating a generation, telling them to simply be consumers of software, instead of the innovators that their uncles were. No, this goes way beyond that. In medical school, professors insist that students have some knowledge of chemistry and DNA before they are allowed to cut open folks. In architecture, you are at least exposed to some physics.
Imagine a "reality" TV show with a more elevated aim and loads of attractive content for the mind... but also heaps of tension and drama. Picture "Survivor" meets "The 1900 House" meets "Junkyard Wars," then add a sensation that viewers are actually learning something of value, becoming a little more capable and knowledgeable about their own culture. In the ultimate challenge, competitive teams race each other, starting from scratch, to rebuild civilization!
Nothing demonstrates the silliness of left-right "culture war" more than the illogical fight over human-caused climate change (HCC). People who take fierce positions over a scientific matter based on their politics should be ashamed of themselves. Originally published in Skeptic Magazine, "Skeptics versus Deniers: Creating a Climate of 'No!'" shows you how to tell a true "skeptic" from an opportunistic "denialist."
Every few years a new battle begins in the seemingly-neverending Global Climate Change culture war. Trained as a scientist, and knowing many who research the atmospheres of 8 planets or who propelled spectacular advances in weather forecasting, Brin tends toward listening to expert advice on this one — especially since we're only being asked to do things we should be doing anyway. In 2007 he posted an essay dealing with some logical flaws in the denial-movement, going after those who claim: "I'm not denying science, just asking questions!"
Throughout the 20th Century, the trend in our culture was monotonic, toward ever-increasing reliance on protection and coddling by institutions, formally deliberated procedures and official hired guns — none of which availed us at all on 9/11/2001. Rather, events that day seem to suggest a reversal, toward the older notion of a confident, self-reliant citizenry.
Of course it’s too early to forecast a major counter-trend. But indications are provocative. Rather than diminishing the role of the individual, advances in technology seem to be rapidly empowering average citizens, even as professional cynics forecast freedom’s demise.
The monotonic trend all across the 20th Century was a steady "professionalization of everything." Since Vietnam, this High Dogma seemed to have very good reasons (e.g., unpopularity of the draft and a need to train extensively for use of high-tech weaponry). Within a single generation, our focus shifted from utilizing large numbers of "Cincinnatus" citizen volunteers, to the kind of super-elite mobile forces that the Roman Empire relied upon, during its final century of existence. Has history served this methodology well?
Will bitter ideological rifts dominate the 21st Century, as they did the 20th? Or might we shrug off some of the obsolete intellectual baggage we've inherited from past thinkers who (in fact) knew much less than we do now? David Brin's questionnaire regarding ideology and human destiny pokes at the deeper assumptions that underlie the many assumptions we take for granted.
The worst aspect of this century's polarization has been the devolution of politics into clichés, outright lies and a relentless disdain toward scientists and every other “smartypants” profession, from medical doctors and teachers to journalists, economists, civil servants, skilled labor and law professionals. All are now targets of trumped-up hatred. Isaac Asimov once commented: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
Brin predicted it in 2007: Just as Soviet commissars recited egalitarian nostrums while relentlessly quashing freedom in the USSR, many of our new clade of American Commissars mouth "pro-capitalism" lip service while doing everything they can to cheat and foil competitive markets. In "The Relevance of an Old Nemesis — as Even Older Ones Return," he reminds us: We always have to push uphill against a perilous slope of human nature.
Here's an idea for the 21st Century: Why don't all reasonable people break free of the left-right stranglehold imposed on us by less-reputable politicians and form an Alliance for a Modern World? One approach may be to form coalitions that agree to promote — boldly and openly — a dozen consensus agenda items, and refuse to be drawn into other fights. Is it possible to negotiate a list of desiderata that all modernist defenders of the Enlightenment might stand behind?
In today's world, it is foolish to depend on the ignorance of others. If they don't already know your secrets, there is a good chance someone will pierce your veils tomorrow, without you ever becoming aware of it. The best firewalls and encryptions may be bypassed by a gnat-camera in your ceiling or a whistle-blower in your back office. In "Probing the Near Future," Brin discusses how, by thoughtful planning and preparation, we can make the scary parts of the near-future less scary, and the good parts better.
Why do so few politicians — especially incumbents — run ON their record? They run FROM it: Every election they vow to tackle problems they were elected 10, 20, even 30 years earlier to fix. What do they do between elections, when they are supposed to be exercising the power they've been given? Are there any statistically measurable accomplishments or proved positive effects? Don't effective leaders normally brag about their past effectiveness? In this article, "The GOP won’t run ON their record — they run FROM it," Brin takes a look at the notably substance-free campaign rhetoric.
This essay's topic is war. I will concede that we are at least another generation away from abolishing the foul practice, at long last. Until then, wars will happen — as today's primitive nations and angry peoples jostle for advantage, as shortages of resources, even water, propel rising tensions, and as fierce cultural drivers that ignite the worst violence. Instead, let's focus on how our two U.S. political parties differ in the ways they wage war — their distinctions in doctrine, policy, professionalism, style and effectiveness.
Many of us recall the decade when confidence in tomorrow become a sin. But even amid the tense and dolorous 1960s, a few like John W. Gardner dissented. "What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems." Can it be that we took up Gardner's challenge, like decent, pragmatic people, and solved many insoluble problems... without ever noticing?
In the aftermath of two major 21st century disasters — the Asian tsunami and the preventable destruction of New Orleans — David Brin posted a political essay about how such crises are worsened when experts and citizens turn on each other. A second, more philanthropic, essay discusses proxy activism, a convenient way modern folks can hire others to save the world for them. Finally, there's a science-oriented notion (cribbed from my novel Earth) about how it might be time to let the Mississippi forge its natural path to the sea.
Can anyone honestly claim to know if we're prepared to deal with an emergency? Are we still preparing for war by building machines designed to win World War II? Can a readiness system designed to deal with a single natural emergency handle multiple simultaneous-yet-different 21st Century emergencies — super storms and mega-wildfires and fracking earthquakes? For answers, take a look back at our last readiness crisis. After the Iraq War debacle, Brin asked: Is it prudent to overstretch our military reserves waging wars that are, at-best, elective? A second article, written after the Hurricane Katrina debacle, suggesting how the Guard and Reserves could be returned to a healthy readiness state.
After every mass murder journalists, shrinks and the public fret over each killer's declared motivation, perhaps hoping that knowing what sparked that particular killing frenzy might prevent the next one. Yet, when we stop and look for common threads, a pattern emerges: these seem to be less about the killers' specific hatreds than a frenzied, bloody tantrum staged by a string of losers with one common goal: immediate, global fame. It's time to deny wanna-be killers the notoriety they seek.
For 2,000 years the enemies of democracy, led by that infamous so-called “philosopher” Plato, have tried to undermine the Periclean experiment by couching the debate in terms that work to the detriment of freedom. In order to do this, they pulled many tricks. Foremost, they emphasized and concentrated on the LEAST important and least honorable aspect of democracy — majority rule — while downgrading the most important aspect, which is open and knowing reciprocal accountability.
The United States of America has been the most exceptional thing ever to happen to humanity. I say this not out of reflex triumphalism or chauvinism, but as a simple matter of outcomes appraisal. Indeed, I bet that in the grand context of time, the American Experiment will turn out to have been one of the major reasons, if we wind up succeeding as a species and even reaching for the stars. Yet... those aren't accomplishments of jingoist flag-waving but of relentless, day-to-day creativity, good-natured progress and lots of self-critique by every generation of new Americans.
In 2009, the new Congress and President buckled down to fix the economic mess of the Great Recession of 2006-2008. We all wished them luck and wisdom... and it seemed that everybody — columnists, political sages, bloggers and citizens — was chirping in with suggestions from the wings, calling for more than a bandaid-and-a-bailout solution. Were any taken? Can they still be implemented?
That the 20th century escaped the destiny portrayed in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four may be owed in part to the way his chilling tale affected millions, who then girded themselves to fight "Big Brother" to their last breath. In "The Self-Preventing Prophecy: How a Dose of Nightmare Can Help Tame Tomorrow's Perils," Brin notes this and more: how a society's continued success depends at least as much on the mistakes they avoid as on the successes they plan and implement.
Three times David Brin has been asked to talk about this invention: First, as science fiction (see Existence). Then as a future possibility (see speaking and consulting topics). Now? See his article in Variety magazine, "Google Glass Pros: In the Long Run, the Benefits Outweigh the Drawbacks," about the real-world pros and cons of these wearable devices.
In "Do We Really Want Immortality?," Brin predicts what would happen if, through a mix of compassion, creativity and good luck, we complete the difficult transition and manage to spread a life span of eighty- or ninety-years to everyone across the globe. Will future generations take a full life span as much for granted as modern Americans do? And will we be able to extend it even further? How long can humans live?
Widespread interest has been generated by Brin's concept, outlined in "Horizons and Hope: the Future of Philanthropy, of an "Eye of the Needle" (EON) Foundation. EON proposes an entirely new kind of proactive charitable institution, one that offers the super-wealthy (and us, too) a unique incentive: Invest now in a brighter tomorrow. Over fifteen trillion dollars may transfer between generations during the next decade or two in the United States alone. If even ten percent of this money went toward projects neither governments nor private capital controlled, we could create a thriving and prosperous future for our descendants.
Is Nehemiah Scudder our President? In 1953 Heinlein predicted how an American tyrant could get elected, noting "... our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington." The antidote Robert Heinlein and I both advocate is light as the cleanser and liberator. We must all see as much as we can handle, and then more. It is a citizen’s duty to look! And yes, to re-examine things we had been comfortable believing.
Should we establish a new and important post, the office of Inspector General of the United States? Far from creating another vast new bureaucracy, this proposal would utilize current Inspectors General, already charged with examining operations and issuing warnings — or else stepping in more vigorously when things get out of hand. The problem? Nearly all of these inspectors owe their jobs and paychecks to the very same secretaries and directors who head the agencies they are charged to scrutinize. Often they are appointed pals, ensuring partiality and conflict of interest.
The notion of gun-propelled launchers goes back to Jules Verne, and have been envisioned in numerous Sci Fi tales, including Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Heart of the Comet by Benford & Brin. Now, two researchers propose that a space-capable mass driver may be feasible. James Powell and George Maise take a highly optimistic view, claiming that a system capable of launching a payload into orbit for less than $40/kg could be built using existing technology — if it were to gather substantial international R&D support.
Proclamations of doom are perennial flowers which have sprouted in the garden of human imagination since earliest times. Oracles appear whenever turmoil causes nations and peoples to feel uncertain about the future. Ambiguity is the prophet's major stock in trade. For example, King Croesus bribed the Delphic Oracle for good news, so the priests told him what he wanted to hear — if he marched on Persia he would destroy a great empire. He marched, and the empire he destroyed was his own. Other doom-prophecies prove devastatingly self-fulfilling.
We need to be idealists, but pragmatic ones who are capable of jiu jitsu, when it seems called for. And, when it comes to Afghanistan, jiu jitsu is always called for. Think. When did we do our very best against the Taliban? During the initial post-9/11 intervention, when they had something to lose. Something that could easily be taken from them. Guerillas are at their best sneaking around in barely more than the clothes on their backs, sniping in target-rich environments. They know that they are absolutely terrible at holding onto discrete, well-defined territory, let alone governing it. Not against a coalition of modern powers.
On ReInvent, SciFi author David Brin and an amazing roundtable of space entrepreneurs, experts and NASA scientists rough out some of the ambitious new goals that could drive the next Barnstorming Era in space, goals ranging from mining asteroids to exploring to....
Brin participated in a panel discussion (with science fiction authors Vernor Vinge and Phil Osborn, and technology journalist Mitch Wagner) about the Technologigical Singularity at the Los Angeles Science Fiction Convention (LosCon 39).
In this video, two renowned futurists, David Brin and John Smart, discuss what inventions and adventures await us in the next 40 years.
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!). Learn More
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form. Learn More
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore. Learn More
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages. Learn More
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research. Learn More
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy. Learn More
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.Learn More
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others. Learn More
All the Ways in the World to Reach David Brin
"David Brin excels at the essential craft of the page turning, which is to devise an elegantly knotted plot that yields a richly variegated succession of high-impact adventures undergone by an array of believably heroic characters."
— Entertainment Weekly
"Brin has lectured worldwide on topics as diverse as Ecology, Information Technology, Twenty-first Century extrapolation, Spaceflight, and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent Life. He serves on government and non-government advisory committees dealing with the future 'information age.'"
"David Brin is one of the few people thinking and writing about the social problems we are going to face in the near future as the result of new electronic media. The Transparent Society raises the questions we need to ask now, before the universal surveillance infrastructure is in place. Be prepared to have your assumptions challenged."
"Brin deftly explores the issues of identity, privacy and work in a world where everyone is supported with a living wage and has ready access to duplication technology. The book features the author's usual style, with a lighter touch and punnish humor abounding amid the hard SF speculation. The duplication of the 'ditective' makes for a challenging twist on the standard private eye narrative, allowing Morris to simultaneously lead the reader through three separate (and interacting) plot lines."
— Publisher's Weekly