I had a difficult decision to make when Chris deRose (host of the Bitcoin Uncensored show) asked me to review a copy of the first book “CCme” in Bitcoin Belle’s fictional novel series “Cryptonautica”.
The deal was he’d send me a copy of the book. I would spend a few days trying to digest what seemed to be an erotic novel from the steamy preview I had flicked through on Amazon. Then I would try and write an honest review that might be of interest to Orphan Blocks readers — an eclectic bunch of people more interested in learning about hidden chunks of Bitcoin history they might have missed or what alt-coins they should buy next.
However since we do have a reputation for being the kind of open minded blog committed to providing our readers the kind of fresh content they won’t find elsewhere, I agreed to be sent a copy of the book and made my way through the 240 odd pages that make up the first novel.
Then I decided to seek the author out and interview her to answer any lingering questions left on my mind.
As I dug further into this Bitcoin Belle character, her motives for creating the novel series and her involvement in some of the murky recent past of Bitcoin, I found a fascinating story and one that feels worthy of writing about on Orphan Blocks.
However before I start reviewing the book itself, it is important to set the stage. If you are not already familiar with the author, you might well be wondering why it would be worth consuming any of her work? “CCme” is a fictional novel. It will not explain to you the inner workings of Proof of Work or give you a technical argument for why the block size limit should be raised. So why should you be interested in this book? Well let me explain…
Who is Bitcoin Belle?
Here is a question that would have had most of our readers and maybe even the outspoken feisty redhead herself scoffing a few years ago. Bitcoin Belle is a name synonymous with the early days of Bitcoin.
It is said that each hype cycle of Bitcoin brings in a wave or generation of users. The latest wave in 2017 brought in the disaffected millennial — lambo seekers and meme merchants. Before that, in 2013, you had Chris deRose, Tone Vays, Vinny Lingham, Brian Armstrong and a host of others. In early 2011, in one of the first waves, it was the libertarians who flocked in, Eric Voorhees, Roger Ver, and so on.
Bitcoin Belle (real name Michele Seven) is part of the 2011 generation of Bitcoiners. She was living in New Hampshire where the Free Talk Live show was based when she got her first taste of Bitcoin.
As one of the co-hosts on the show, she was introduced to Bitcoin by Gavin Andresen who had begun to promote Satoshi Nakamoto’s fledgling project to libertarian activists. His strategy worked as libertarians like Michele naturally found the ethos of Bitcoin extremely compelling and became the first generation of adopters.
Another libertarian endeavour is the Free State Project. According to her blog Michele had connections to this group as well. Free State Project members like Roger Ver and Eric Voorhees were introduced to this un-seizable digital electronic cash system through the sermons on Free Talk Live, so Michele can even claim a degree of responsibility for introducing at least two major stalwarts to Bitcoin in 2011. The rest of the script (or at least the way Roger Ver tells it!) is no mystery to us…
Bitcoin Belle it has to be said — was not just a random peripheral character in the space — her original Twitter account had 15,000+ followers at a time when most cryptocurrency personalities had nowhere near that figure. All of whom she had painstakingly built relationships with both online and on the conference/meetup circuit.
Put it this way — she was connected to the point where Adam Back (CEO and co-founder of Blockstream) felt compelled to wade in and defend her when she was banned from Twitter. Wladimir van der Laan (chief maintainer of Bitcoin Core) counts her as a close associate in the Bitcoin space and seems quite fond of her. Definitely not a lightweight in the space.
So now we’re caught up… it begs one question…
If Roger (flipping the bird, CEO of Bitcoin.com, first investor in Bitcoin startups) is someone we are all intimately familiar with and many of us have encountered one of Eric’s projects in some form (ShapeShift, SatoshiDice etc) — why does Bitcoin Belle no longer register in the Bitcoin public consciousness?
Perhaps it’s because in 2016 she dropped off the radar. Why did Bitcoin Belle drop off the map completely?
The answer to that lays in one of her most recent contributions to the Bitcoin world… a panel show event which contrived to changed the trajectory of the lives of two members of her panel, whilst sending her into a two year self-enforced absence.
The Craig Wright affair. Introducing ‘Satoshi’ to the World.
Satoshi Nakamoto was last officially heard from in 2011, his involvement in the Bitcoin project had lessened in the winter of the previous year and once Gavin Andreson had announced his decision to meet with the C.I.A and Wikileaks followed up with their announcement to start accepting Bitcoin for donations — the elusive inventor decided that it was time to take a step back.
Gavin was left in charge of the project and the world was left wondering who Satoshi actually was. As we all know, in 2016 — the Australian businessman Craig Wright announced to the world that he was Satoshi. But after failing to provide comprehensive proof he later retracted his claim and posted the following apology:
… before returning to the public consciousness a year later by attaching himself to the Bitcoin Cash (BCH) project, his company nChain is one of the number of development firms that contributes towards BCH and files for patents based on their developments. It’s no stretch to say that Craig Wright is a bonafide “personality” in the blockchain space regardless of whether he actually is Satoshi… and it’s quite interesting to explore how he actually got there.
The answer of course is through Bitcoin Belle.
Here is a very quick rundown (for those of you that did not have the pleasure of being around in 2015) of the “version of events” that most people seem to believe:
- Craig contacts Bitcoin Belle in early 2015. Convinces her that he is Satoshi. The two begin a relationship of sorts.
- Bitcoin Belle introduces Craig to a bunch of other influencers and uses her own credibility in the space to get him onto panels and conferences. People like John Matonis, Roger Ver and Gavin Andresen believe Craig is Satoshi and risk their reputations to support him.
- Craig drops Bitcoin Belle once he has enough contacts and introductions. The two stop speaking until Bitcoin Belle arranges a panel event later that year with a host of big names including Nick Szabo, who until that point had not made a public appearance in forever.
- Craig takes the bait, accepts a place on the panel but does not use the conference to announce himself as Satoshi. Bitcoin Belle does not press further with her questions (perhaps still believing he might be Satoshi) and Nick Szabo only has a limited tussle with Craig much to Bitcoin Belle’s chagrin.
- Craig Wright once he has seduced enough of the community eventually announces himself as Satoshi … but as mentioned earlier, the proof he provides is found to be not sufficient and as a result the community turns on him and Bitcoin Belle for facilitating his introduction.
My research for this article involved going through old Twitter posts, combing through the Reddit archives and interviewing people who had been around as this story unfolded… and then I penned that version and sent it to Bitcoin Belle for her to review.
Later we had a lengthy phone conversation where she filled me in on the story from her perspective. I’ve decided to present that version below, with as much evidence that I could corroborate and let the reader sift through the narrative and make their own conclusions…
Serendipity or something far more malicious?
Craig Wright did indeed make contact with Bitcoin Belle towards the middle of 2015. Virtually an unknown at this point, he replied to one of her tweets and the two began to exchange messages. Michele told me she found him to be a charismatic individual and they had many engaging conversations on subjects such as philosophy.
Sadly her @BitcoinBelle account was suspended with all tweets removed and Craig Wright has gone on to register another Twitter handle. So evidence of their early relationship is not really something we can verify unless either of them decide to offer up emails or chat logs.
Michele also told me of a harrowing event in her early life, something that she has not revealed to many people. Craig had eerily mentioned to her that a similar event had happened in his formative years. His ability to conjure up the story was either serendipity or something far more malicious — but for the time being at least, Michele was affected by his story and found herself bonding with him.
Once Craig has managed to win her trust, he began to lace the early relationship with endless romantic overtures. Claiming for example to have followed her for a number of years and even going as far as to state he invented Bitcoin for her.
His initial revelation that he was Satoshi was jarring however, even for a smitten Bitcoin Belle. She admits that it was her who questioned him on his identity. “So you are saying you are Satoshi?”. His reply was still stunning. “Wait what? Why would you admit that?” was Michele’s response.
From the multiple interviews I did with her, I realised that Michele has many trust issues. It’s not easy to get her to open up fully. Equally it is very easy to lose her cooperation. So Craig’s tacit admission must have triggered some alarm bells.
“I could just screenshot this conversation” she claimed. Craig was not fazed. He replied with a technobabble explanation for why it did not matter even as Bitcoin Belle explained that Satoshi would surely use PGP or some other method when confirming his identity. She then told me that her next sentence changed once it had left her phone and said something entirely different when appearing on the same conversation open on her laptop. Now she was freaking out.
The conversations continued however and Craig managed to rile up an already paranoid Bitcoin Belle through his habit of making grandiose claims. His numerous boasts included assertions that he was a…
- Michelin star chef
- World record holding rower
- Classically trained concert pianist
Sadly basic knowledge of a paella pan, poor rowing form and his underestimation of a gifted young girl’s ability on the piano was enough to debunk these claims and Michele states at this point she was left with no doubt that she was dealing with a fraudster.
Regardless, of her doubts Bitcoin Belle introduced Craig Wright to people like Gavin Andresen, who was also taken in by the revelation of the identity of his former mentor and Jon Matonis. Both Gavin and Jon are mentioned in the apology from Craig Wright above.
When I spoke to Bitcoin Belle, she claimed that the apology was edited and originally mentioned her as well. I took the liberty to use the internet archive web site and various other crawlers to see if I could corroborate her claims. The only thing that turned up was this post on Reddit:
You’ll note that every entry on the first comment in the link above shows only the apology that is widely quoted in the media. The Reddit user “wonderkindel” did not reply to a private message I sent him requesting information on where he got his quote from. The date of the post on Reddit is a year after the actual apology, so isn’t the best proof either.
But evidence of their relationship is not hard to find.
The tweet on the left is from Lisa Edwards, who is Craig Wright’s sister. She’s claiming that Craig told Bitcoin Belle that he loved her but lied.
So there is some proof that the story as told by Bitcoin Belle is not a complete fabrication and quite clearly there was some relationship between the two.
The beginning of the end…
As mentioned earlier, Bitcoin Belle had no problems with facilitating introductions for Craig Wright and we’ll explore why in a second. But first, her hastily thrown together relationship with ‘Satoshi’ was going south almost immediately.
In June 2015, she had a family issue to contend with. Michele made it clear that she did not want me to elaborate on this story despite the fact salacious gossip can be found with a simple Google search.
Throughout our collaboration, she would demand that I rewrite certain paragraphs of my story to protect her friends. For example she did not want any ambiguity about her relationship with Wladamir van der Laan. She said Nick Szabo was a private man and would not let me expand on her relationship with him.
Likewise she was fiercely protective about her brother who was facing jail time. For the sake the narrative, I’m going to use publicly available information to continue the story in spite of her objections. Her younger brother was facing a third strike and she said so (or perhaps more) in a conversation with Craig.
Craig’s response was shocking and brutal. Since her use to him had diminished, he rebuked her for being too much to handle and no longer wanted to deal with her. By this point Bitcoin Belle was more than aware of his problems with the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and need for $2m USD to repay a fine levied and asked him what about the money he was after. Craig’s interest was suddenly piqued again.
She made introductions for Craig to Jon Matonis and Roger Ver. The former was unable to find the $2m that Craig needed but until recently performed the role of Vice President at nChain (Craig’s company).
Roger however was more than happy to jump at the opportunity of helping “Satoshi” as long as Craig was able to provide some form of crypto-graphical proof. Craig provided the same proof that was refuted by the community a few months later, but Roger was easily duped at this point.
When I asked her why she tried to secure money for Craig Wright, her response was “If he simply lied to me to woo or use me for contacts, that’s my problem; if he defrauded someone, that is a crime even by anarchists measurement.”
Furthermore, neither Jon nor Roger were in her good books. Jon Matonis had stated she was “unemployable” a few years earlier and his role in the Bitcoin Foundation had always been contentious in her opinion. She also confessed certain doubts about Roger Ver which she asked me to keep off the record. I short, these were two bad actors in Bitcoin and she was going to use them in the long game of “exposing” Craig Wright.
The rest of the story continues as we know it. By July of 2015, the two were no longer on talking terms as CSW had achieved his objectives and blocked her from all forms of communication minus Skype.
But Bitcoin Belle had an ace up her sleeve and she decided to play it. She asked Nick Szabo (the creator of the precursor to Bitcoin and someone who has been around the cypherpunk movement since the early 90s) to join an all-star panel that she had been asked to organise. Nick Szabo was making his first public appearance in forever.
The opportunity to be on the same panel as Nick was enough of a bait to Craig Wright’s ego for him to invite himself as well.
Sadly the panel discussion did not turn out the way that she may have expected. Craig made his now famous claim that Bitcoin was Turing complete, Nick opposed him. When Craig proposed his unique solution, Nick conceded he should write a paper on his unusual method… not quite the explosive climax she was looking for! Craig wasn’t in a hurry to out himself as Satoshi on the panel in front of Nick and Bitcoin Belle was hesitant to press him on the claims herself for reasons unknown.
The panel did not make waves on YouTube either and it’s only with the benefit of time that the video has started receiving the views that such a momentous occasion in Bitcoin history should have received.
In the immediate aftermath of the panel in late October, Michele left for Hawaii with the co-founder of Blockstream in an effort to get away from it all. With thanksgiving and various holidays, it wasn’t until her birthday in early December that the story began to pick up again.
She was contacted by Andy Greenberg from Wired who wanted to do an interview with Craig Wright. The problem was Craig would only agree to do the interview in January, Andy wanted it done earlier.
So Bitcoin Belle rang Craig only for the grumpy Australian on the other end to reaffirm that he was only going to do the interview in January. Meanwhile Belle received a message from Sam Biddle at Gizmodo — telling her that they were going to publish an article doxxing Craig as Satoshi the next day and wondered if she had any comments to add.
The comment was short and simple “go f*** yourself”. But Gizmodo’s feckless attempt to juice up their exclusive gave Bitcoin Belle had one final say in the story. She contacted Andy Greenberg immediately to relay Craig’s grumpy comments and added “did you know Gizmodo are releasing an article doxxing Craig tomorrow?”.
The tip was enough to send Wired scuttling to trump Gizmodo to the exclusive and both publications (without much fact checking) rushed their stories to print the next day.
The rest of the story is well known to us… Craig was raided by the Australian tax authorities, before hiring a PR company and breaking the news that he was Satoshi the following year to the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones. Sadly the proof he provided was immediately refuted by the geeks within the community… the signature Craig provided was simply lifted from a well known Satoshi transaction on the blockchain.
The repercussions for everyone involved in this murky story was varied. Craig as mentioned is now a central figure in the BCH project alongside Roger Ver and Jihan Wu (although rumours of a rift with the latter have been rife recently). Nick Szabo found new fame after his public appearance and is now a prominent and quoted member of the community.
Gavin Andresen and John Matonis apologised or later retracted their support for Craig. For Bitcoin Belle, the story was similarly not so pretty. Her reputation took a massive hit as she was the one that introduced Craig Wright to everyone in the community as Satoshi. She felt the onslaught from the cryptocurrency community as prominent influencers and personalities turned their back on her.
The notorious duo of Junseth and Chris deRose (who later asked me to write this review) from Bitcoin Uncensored harangued her for weeks, demanding to know why she invited Craig Wright onto the panel. She was mocked and pilloried on Twitter and Reddit by all and sundry:
She decided to deal with the outcome by disappearing from the public eye almost completely. For two years, Bitcoin Belle drove across the United States, attempting to heal her wounds. That might sound a tad over the top, but when I spoke to her initially in January, it was clear that she was still deeply hurt by the incident and in no mood to stop her nomadic existence.
Thankfully, she has now finally settled in the Hollywood area of California and intends to put her best foot forward and start making more of an impression on the community she has been involved with since the early days of 2011.
One advantage to her self-enforced absence was that she also secluded herself for a year to write a book… the subject of this article and perhaps after this long meandering start, it is time for a review of the actual book itself :)
The good, the bad and the ugly.
So with the back story out the way, and probably a couple of thousand words into this article, time to start talking about the book itself. As mentioned at the start, this is a fictional account of the early days of Bitcoin and one specific event in particular and there’s no surprises for guessing what it is. The pay off however is in how the event is weaved into the story itself.
The book follows nineteen year old protagonist Phalaen, a tech wonderkid who is leaving home to study at the prestigious MIT university with the blessing of her widowed father. But the journey she embarks upon instead ends up unraveling some of the deepest mysteries about her family and childhood and in particular her enigmatic mother.
“CCme” is the first novel in the series and sets about world building in earnest. The tone is set early (crime, mystery with a dash of humour thrown in) as we are introduced to all the characters that populate the world that Belle is painting.
The story zig zags across time, fleshing out Phalaen’s character in the present whilst occasionally dipping into the past to give the reader additional insight into the characters.
Since I don’t want to give away the plot of the book, I’ve organised the review into three sections below but before that I wanted to quickly explore some of author’s motivations for writing this book.
The tweets I’ve copied from her timeline conveniently bring me to a point I wish to make about the book before progressing to the review.
Belle claims in the blurb for “CCme” that the motivation to write the book came after a challenge from her daughter. In my conversations with her — the idea of starting dialogue between generations was something that she touched upon frequently.
Belle told me she wanted to write a story, a vehicle through which to pass on her experiences as a young woman growing up — the effects the Vietnam war had on Americans of her age, her growing distrust of the government and the erosion of privacy and other basic fundamental freedoms, and the ways in which the struggles of her generation are replayed in the lives of younger millennials.
If you take that on board, “CCme” gains another dimension and it’s not just a first time author’s stab at a thriller/crime mystery genre but an attempt to bridge the gap between generations through a shared interest in cryptocurrencies.
Anyway with that said, onto the review itself…
- The female characters in this book are strong, punchy and of course highly opinionated. The book is written by a woman who wanted to write interesting female leads rather than complain that they didn’t exist. Phalaen, Vivienne and the rest are not just built up as ultimate “Mary Sue” characters, they have their flaws as well. Thankfully there is no pointless pandering in this book.
- At times, the pacing of the book is fantastic. You will find yourself turning the pages in anticipation, wondering what is going to happen next. There is a lot of sharp dialogue and the constantly shifting voice of the story is an interesting narrative device. Mixed nicely with the occasional bit of quirky humour. All of this points to signs of genuine talent on the part of the writer. Belle is a clearly a good if not completely polished writer.
- The book touches on some important topics relevant in today’s world. It does a good job of challenging people’s preconceptions about cryptocurrencies, the dark-web and of course the cypherpunk movement in general. For those that approach this book without the intimate knowledge of the space, it is an interesting and thought provoking read.
- If you are a fan of subtle references and hidden easter eggs, they’re scattered all over the book and there’s even an insert with discussion questions at the end to mull over and perhaps prompt a re-read!
- If you like naughty stuff, the racy prologue will set your heart racing before delivering the first of many twists — there’s a layered story in “CCme” with the theme that “things are not as they seem” — sometimes this is delivered in a slightly ham-fisted way but other times it’s masterfully done (more on this later).
- At times, the pacing of the book goes awry. It’s quite evident that Belle has talent as a writer but this is her first book and you can see the experimentation as the author tries to find her voice and confidence.
- There is lots to love about the Phalaen character — she is smart, loyal, conscientious, sassy, rebellious and boy can she put food away! But I found myself thinking that she is nothing like any nineteen year old woman that I know. She does not talk like them nor does her character traits lend themselves to youth culture as I know it. I’m aware the author wanted to write a role model that little girls reading her book could look up to. It’s hard to do that if they can’t identify with the lead character.
Edit: after speaking with Belle and highlighting my concern about how the Phalaen character did not act like any nineteen year old woman I knew, she replied “sucks to be you!”.
- An example of awry pacing can be seen where the author goes overboard in the description of food. The reader is waiting for the story to progress but the author is intent on a detour and decides that describing how the characters passionately indulge in solving their hunger pangs is more important. The first few times it’s jarring, by the later chapters it becomes almost a parody. You only need to browse through Belle’s personal blog to get the distinct impression she is a massive foodie and it’s not surprising she wants to share her love of flavours and the experience of eating in the book… but it just comes across a little odd.
- I found myself not caring about some of the characters and their motivation. For example, there is gushing praise for Phalaen’s mother at the start of the book. I have neither an emotional connection to Phalaen or Vivienne at this stage so it felt a little over the top and indulgent. I can see why a nineteen year old bereft of her mother would be clinging onto her memory so strongly, but good writing should be able to convey that with more subtlety. Of course the pacing, characters and story itself tightens up as we go along but a good editor might have fixed some of these issues as well as the jarring spelling mistakes that absolutely should not have found themselves into the final book!
- The book’s review on Amazon has a lot of praise for the updated prologue but if I’m being frankly honest, it has no place in this book. If you want the book to be completely accessible, if you want to provide a role model for children — a prologue that ventures into the realms of pornography is a really odd choice. It is not indicative of the rest of the book and I found some of the dialogue in the prologue to be cheesy and completely the opposite of it’s intent to add sexiness and shock appeal.
- I’m sure the twist at the end of the prologue (cannot give much away without spoiling it for readers) could have been delivered without the intimate description of the hooker and her client which would be more at place on literotica.com. The prologue is the first impression of the book and it doesn’t do the rest of the pages any justice. You’d be hard pressed to find many parents wholeheartedly recommending the book to their children if they only took the time to read the first few pages. There may be some precocious sixteen year olds who read it and then recommend it to their parents!
- Given that Belle writes some discussion questions at the end, which really drives home the point that this a layered and complex story, could she not have gone one step further and provided a family tree so that the reader could conceptualise all the different relationships that are introduced in this book. The author has to do an incredible amount of world building in 240 odd pages … sometimes it feels like there are too many people (with their own cute pet names) introduced at once and the net result is not a lot of room for the characters to breathe. I struggled to keep track of all the relationships — who was whom’s husband and how did they relate to Phalaen etc.
- It’s been over a year now (the first edition of “CCme” came out in October 2016 — nearly two years ago) — can we please have the next book already? :)
The final verdict
When Bitcoin was introduced to the world by Satoshi Nakamoto with his now famous whitepaper, the ground breaking idea whilst fully functional came with a few obvious flaws. “CCme” in a similar vein is the first fictional novel in the cryptocurrency space, it brings together many different ideas into a unique package which whilst not fully polished, definitely contains nuggets of true brilliance.
Without damning the book with faint praise, it’s a far better read that I expected it to be. Like many of the reviews on Amazon, I desperately want Belle to pen the next edition of the series, to find out what happens… to see how she weaves more recent events in cryptocurrency into the book and my greatest hope is that like Bitcoin and the deluge of alt-coins it inspired, that “CCme” also spawns more books in this genre.
I’m well aware that artists cannot survive on critiques and reviews alone and that if we want to have more fictional cryptocurrency stories and art produced, then we have to vote with our wallets - show that appetite and demand exists for them.
So I hope that if you are reading this review, you are intrigued to buy a copy and support Bitcoin Belle in her venture.
You can obtain a hard copy of the book from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/cc-me-Cryptonautica-Bitcoin-Belle/dp/1539478947