Thanks to COVID19 I'm not currently attending SF conventions in person, or traveling.

This means that for the time being there is only one source of signed copies of my books: Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh. Follow the link to order copies for mail delivery within the UK.

(You can also email for details of international postage, but be warned, Brexit has messed everything up, and we have a pandemic and a print supply chain crunch on top.)

Note that Transreal is not currently open to walk-ins—the ceiling collapsed just before Christmas, and Mike has the builders in. Hopefully he'll reopen within a week or two: in the meantime, he's operating as mail-order only.

Back in December of 2016 I took a look at what the next year held in store for us. It spanned three blog posts and ended happily in a nuclear barbecue to put us all out of our misery: start here, continue with this, and finale: and the Rabid Nazi Raccoons shall inherit the Earth.

It is now early 2022 and I clearly wasn't pessimistic enough.

Quantum of Nightmares cover

Enough with the pandemic and politics, the Scylla and Charybdis of 2021 on this blog: I've got a new book coming in less than three weeks, so let me tell you as much about it as I can without spoiling it for you!

Quantum of Nightmares is the second of the New Management books, a spin-off series set in the universe of the Laundry Files, and a direct follow-up to 2020's Dead Lies Dreaming. (The US edition comes out on the 11th of January, two days before the UK edition drops. If you dislike Amazon, here are links for US independent booksellers and UK independent booksellers.)

(NOTE: for some reason Amazon.co.uk isn't showing the Kindle or audiobook editions yet, but it is showing the paperback available for preorder. Don't order it unless you're happy to wait until November! As for Amazon.com, no paperback edition is planned—my US publisher, Tor.com, do not currently publish paperbacks: it's hardcover, audiobook, or ebook only.)

So what's going on?

I was supposed to be in Frankfurt by now, but my winter break—the first in three years—has been cancelled (thanks, Omicron!) and I'm still at home.

Probably very few of you track Nicola Sturgeon's weekly COVID briefings to the Scottish Parliament, but I find them very useful—unlike Boris Johnson there's zero bullshit and she seems to be listening to the scientists.

Today's briefing was palpably anxious. Some key points:

  • 99 confirmed Omicron cases in Scotland (pop. 5.6 million), up 28 from yesterday

  • Omicron confirmed in 9 out of 14 health districts, community transmission highly likely

  • Doubling time appears to be 2-3 days(!) with an R number significantly higher than 2 (!!)

  • Scope for vaccine immunity escape is not yet known, although hopefully it's not huge. However, Omicron is confirmed to be more able to evade acquired natural immunity after infection by other strains—if you didn't get jabbed and think having had Beta or Delta protects, you're in for a nasty surprise

  • It's not clear how deadly it is yet, but seems to be comparable to Delta. However, it's much more contagious

  • Scottish government is advising all businesses to go back to work-from-home, everyone should mask up and socially distance in public, and everyone should take a lateral flow test before going out in public for any purpose—work, pub, shopping, meeting people

  • Scot.gov moving to review the situation daily as of 8/12, rather than weekly (hitherto)

  • And get your booster shot (or first/second shot) the instant you're eligible for it

I'm bringing this up because this is the shit that the Johnson government should be doing, and on past form will probably copy badly in about 2 weeks (by which time it'll be 5-7 doublings down the line, i.e. utterly out of control).

It has not gone unnoticed that a strain that is twice as transmissible is much deadlier than a strain with twice the immediate mortality rate, because exponential growth in the number of cases means it ends up with many more people to kill.

My current expectation is that Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid will—have already—fucked up the response to Omicron and that the English NHS will come dangerously close to (or may actually) collapse by Christmas. Scotland handled successive waves better, but will probably still have a very bad winter (our border with England is porous, as in non-existent). And we may end up back in April 2020 levels of lockdown before this is over.

The blog was hacked: some arsewipe had figured out how to use it to host a bunch of links to dodgy sports videos, and in the process they messed up the permissions on the directory housing the scripts that run the blog.

All cleaned up now, everything back online. Free bonus extra: Markdown should be working in comments as well as basic HTML tags.

I plan to throw in some really major changes on the blog in the not too distant future—between April and September next year. (Hint: new and much faster server (this one is a 2008-spec machine), new blog engine, design overhaul, possibly a separate conferencing system—but right now I have other things on my plate.

November 2021, and Brexit is still on-going. I am trying to refrain from posting wall-to-wall blog essays about how badly the on-going brexit is going, but it's been about 9-10 months since I last gnawed on the weeping sore, so here's an interim update.

(If apocalyptic political clusterfucks bore you, skip this blog entry.)

Quantum of Nightmares (UK link) comes out on January 11th in the USA and January 13th in the UK. It's the second New Management novel, and a direct sequel to Dead Lies Dreaming.

If you want to buy the ebook, you're fine, but if you want a paper edition you really ought to preorder it now.

The publishing industry is being sandbagged by horrible supply chain problems. This is a global problem: shipping costs are through the roof, there's a shortage of paper, a shortage of workers (COVID19 is still happening, after all) and publishers are affected everywhere. If you regularly buy comics, especially ones in four colour print, you'll already have noticed multi-month delays stacking up. Now the printing and logistics backlogs are hitting novels, just in time for the festive season.

Tor are as well-positioned to cope with the supply chain mess as any publisher, and they've already allocated a production run to Quantum of Nightmares. (Same goes for Orbit in the UK.) But if it sells well and demand outstrips their advance estimates, the book will need to go into reprint—and instead of this taking 1-2 weeks (as in normal times) it's likely to be out of stock for much longer.

Of course the ebook edition won't be affected by this. But if you want a paper copy you may want to order it ASAP.

It's launch day for Invisible Sun in the UK today, so without further ado ...

Invisible Sun comes out next week!

If you want to order signed copies, they're available from Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh: I'll be dropping in some time next week to sign them, and Mike will ship them on or after the official release date. (He's currently only quoting UK postage, but can ship overseas: the combination of Brexit and COVID19 has done a whammy on the post office, however things do appear to be moving—for now.)

I'm also doing a couple of virtual events.

First up, on Tuesday the 28th, is a book launch/talk for Tubby And Coos Book Shop in New Orleans; the event starts at 8pm UK time (2pm local) with streaming via Facebook, YouTube, and Crowdcast.

Next, on Wednesday September the 29th, is the regular Tom Doherty Associates (that's Tor, by any other name) Read The Room webcast, with a panel on fall fantasy/SF launches from Tor authors—of whom I am one! Register at the link above if you want to see us; the event starts at 11pm (UK time) or 6pm (US eastern time).

There isn't going to be an in-person reading/book launch in Edinburgh this time round: it's beginning to turn a wee bit chilly, and I'm not ready to do indoors/in your face events yet. (Maybe next year ...)

Invisible Sun Cover

I have a new book coming out at the end of this month: Invisible Sun is the last Merchant Princes book, #9 in a series I've been writing since 2001—alternatively, #3 in a trilogy (Empire Games) that follows on from the first Merchant Princes series.

The original series was written from 2001 to 2008; the new trilogy has been in the works since 2012: I've explained why it's taken so long previously.

Combined, the entire sequence runs to roughly a million words, making it my second longest work (after the Laundry Files/New Management series): the best entrypoint to the universe is the first omnibus edition (an edited re-issue of the first two books—they were originally a single novel that got cut in two by editorial command, and the omnibus reassembles them): The Bloodline Feud. Alternatively, you can jump straight into the second trilogy with Empire Games—it bears roughly the same relationship to the original books that Star Trek:TNG bears to the original Star Trek.

If you haven't read any of the Merchant Princes books, what are they about?

Let me tell you about the themes I was playing with.

So, I'm going to talk about Elon Musk again, everybody's least favourite eccentric billionaire asshole and poster child for the Thomas Edison effect—get out in front of a bunch of faceless, hard-working engineers and wave that orchestra conductor's baton, while providing direction. Because I think he may be on course to become a multi-trillionaire—and it has nothing to do with cryptocurrency, NFTs, or colonizing Mars.

This we know: Musk has goals (some of them risible, some of them much more pragmatic), and within the limits of his world-view—I'm pretty sure he grew up reading the same right-wing near-future American SF yarns as me—he's fairly predictable. Reportedly he sat down some time around 2000 and made a list of the challenges facing humanity within his anticipated lifetime: roll out solar power, get cars off gasoline, colonize Mars, it's all there. Emperor of Mars is merely his most-publicized, most outrageous end goal. Everything then feeds into achieving the means to get there. But there are lots of sunk costs to pay for: getting to Mars ain't cheap, and he can't count on a government paying his bills (well, not every time). So each step needs to cover its costs.

What will pay for Starship, the mammoth actually-getting-ready-to-fly vehicle that was originally called the "Mars Colony Transporter"?

(This is a short expansion of a twitter stream-of-consciousness I horked up yesterday.)

The error almost everyone makes about COVID19 is to think of it as a virus that infects and kills people: but it's not.

COVID19 infects human (and a few other mammalian species—mink, deer) cells: it doesn't recognize or directly interact with the superorganisms made of those cells.

Defiance—a common human social response to a personal threat—is as inappropriate and pointless as it would be if the threat in question was a hurricane or an earthquake.

And yet, the news media are saturated every day by shrieks of defiance directed at the "enemy" (as if a complex chemical has a personality and can be deterred). The same rhetoric comes from politicians (notably authoritarian ones: it's easier to recognize as a shortcoming in those of other countries where the observer has some psychological distance from the discourse), pundits (paid to opine at length in newspapers and on TV), and ordinary folks who are remixing and repeating the message they're absorbing from the zeitgeist.

Why is this important?

Well, all our dysfunctional responses to COVID19 arise because we mistake it for an attack on people, rather than an attack on invisibly small blobs of biochemistry.

Trying to defeat COVID19 by defending boundaries—whether they're between people, or groups of people, or nations of people—is pointless.

The only way to defeat it is to globally defeat it at the cellular level. None of us are safe until all of us are vaccinated, world-wide.

Which is why I get angry when I read about governments holding back vaccine doses for research, or refusing to waive licensing fees for poorer countries. The virus has no personality and no intent towards you. The virus merely replicated and destroys human cells. Yours, mine, anybody's. The virus doesn't care about your politics or your business model or how office closures are hitting your rental income. It will simply kill you, unless you vaccinate almost everybody on the planet.

Here in the UK, the USA, and elsewhere in the developed world, our leaders are acting as if the plague is almost over and we can go back to normal once we hit herd immunity levels of vaccination in our own countries. But the foolishness of this idea will become glaringly obvious in a few years when it allows a fourth SARS family pandemic to emerge. Unvaccinated heaps of living cells (be they human or deer cells) are prolific breeding grounds for SARS-NCoV2, the mutation rate is approximately proportional to the number of virus particles in existence, and the probability of a new variant emerging rises as that number increases. Even after we, personally, are vaccinated, the threat will remain. This isn't a war, where there's an enemy who can be coerced into signing articles of surrender.

So where does the dysfunctional defiant/oppositional posturing behaviour come from—the ridiculous insistence on not wearing masks because it shows fear in the face of the virus (which has neither a face nor a nervous system with which to experience emotions, or indeed any mechanism for interacting at a human level)?

Philosopher Daniel Dennett explains the origins of animistic religions in terms of the intentional stance, a level of abstraction in which we view the behaviour of a person, animal, or natural phenomena by ascribing intent to them. As folk psychology this works pretty well for human beings and reasonably well for animals, but it breaks down for natural phenomena. Applying the intentional stance to lightning suggests there might be an angry god throwing thunderbolts at people who annoy him: it doesn't tell us anything useful about electricity, and it only tenuously endorses not standing under tall trees in a thunderstorm.

I think the widespread tendency to anthropomorphize COVID19, leading to defiant behaviour (however dysfunctional), emerges from a widespread misapplication of the intentional stance to natural phenomena—the same cognitive root as religious belief. ("Something happens/exists, therefore someone must have done/made it.") People construct supernatural explanations for observed phenomena, and COVID19 is an observable phenomenon, so we get propitiatory or defiant/adversarial responses, not rational ones.

And in the case of COVID19, defiance is as deadly as climbing to the top of the tallest hill and shaking your fist at the clouds in a lightning storm.

(Crib Sheet essays may contain spoilers for the book in question. Previously I refrained from writing them until the book was published in paperback, typically 12 months after first hardcover release. However, times are a'changing. In the UK, Orbit released the paperback of Dead Lies Dreaming only six months after the hardback. And in the USA, Tor.com is an ebook-first publisher; while they issue my books in hardcover, there will probably never be a paperback release unless for some reason they decide they need a trade paperback. (The mass market paperback channel for trade fiction has been dying by inches since about 2005, as ebooks supplant it.) Dead Lies Dreaming came out in October 2020, and I figure you've had time to read it by now: so I'm releasing this particular essay a few months earlier than I would have done for previous books.)

I wrote Dead Lies Dreaming in 2018-2019, during a difficult time in my life when I was unable to grapple with the book I was supposed to be writing (Invisible Sun, which got finished a short time later). Dead Lies Dreaming happened almost by accident—it wasn't on my to-do list at all, let alone planned with the idea that it might be the start of a whole new series (book 2, Quantum of Nightmares, is with the copy editor right now: it comes out next January 11th). That, and the chaos caused by the arrival of COVID19, probably account for it being marketed in hardcover as Laundry Files book 10, which it most certainly is not: but it's set in the same world as the Laundry Files, the world of the New Management, and that's why it says "New Management book 1" on the spine of the UK paperback.

I'm insisting on the distinction because the New Management books are not about the government agency known to its staff as the Laundry. Nor do any Laundry Files characters—with the significant exception of His Dread Majesty, the Prime Minister—show up in the first two books of the new series. As the first Amazon reader reviews predictably complained about the lack of Bob, Mo, and the Laundry, I want to make it quite clear: Dead Lies Dreaming is set some time (six months to two years) after the end of the final, not-yet-written (or titled) Laundry Files novel. Spoiler: the Black Pharaoh, N'yar Lat-Hotep, is still Prime Minister of the UK, and CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is ongoing (if not actually getting any worse). There may or may not be survivors and revenants from SOE Q-Division and Continuity Operations. We will get to briefly see Persephone Hazard again in book 3. But that's not relevant ot the plot of this book, which kicks off a whole new series.

The previous series turned out to be impossible to continue as of 2018-2021, a period during which British politics became so bizarre as to be impossible to satirize. I promise I'll get back to it eventually! But if I was to write more stories in the same setting, I had to drop the political/civil service angle, which meant dropping the Laundry and moving the spotlight to focus on civilian life under the New Management.

So what happened to trigger this unexpected attack novel?

This is well overdue because I kind of lost track of my irregular series of spoileriffic essays about my novels: it should have turned up in 2019, but I was dealing with a parental death, then trying to get my writing re-started (you might have noticed 2019 was The Year Without A Novel, for the first time since 2007), then COVID19 hit.

So I'm going to try and think myself back into my 2018 state of mind and brain dump whatever I can, and you can ask me fill-in questions in the comments below.

(NB: a Crib Sheet for Dead Lies Dreaming is due in the next few months. I need to catch up on the publication schedule to see where we're at, but as it went paperback in the UK and probably isn't getting a US paperback release, and Quantum of Nightmares is due out next January, you're welcome.)

So, without further ado ...

(I need to blog more often, so here's one of hopefully a series of shorter, more frequent, opinions ...)

NOTICE (as of comment 322): the discussion is about the book, not the Verhoeven movie, which I have not seen. Stop with the movie discussion or I will start to delete comments. I run this blog for my amusement and I have zero interest in movies/TV adaptations of this novel.

Anent the "Heinlein was a fascist" accusations that are a hardy perennial on the internet, especially in discussions of Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie, which I have not seen because it's a movie): I'd like to offer a nuanced opinion.

In the 1930s, Heinlein was a soft socialist—he was considered sufficiently left wing and "unreliable" that he was not recalled for active duty in the US Navy during the second world war. After he married Virginia Gerstenfeld, his third and last wife, his views gradually shifted to the right—however he tended towards the libertarian right rather than the religious/paleoconservative right. (These distinctions do not mean in 2021 what they might have meant in 1971; today's libertarian/neo-nazi nexus has mostly emerged in the 21st century, and Heinlein was a vehement opponent of Nazism.) So the surface picture is your stereotype of a socially liberal centrist/soft leftist who moved to the right as he grew older.

But to muddy the waters, Heinlein was always happy to pick up a bonkers ideological shibboleth and run with it in his fiction. He was sufficiently flexible to write from the first person viewpoint of unreliable/misguided narrators, to juxtapose their beliefs against a background that highlighted their weaknesses, and even to end the story with the narrator—but not the reader—unaware of this.

In Starship Troopers Heinlein was again playing unreliable narrator games. On the surface, ST appears to be a war novel loosely based on WW2 ("bugs" are Nazis; "skinnies" are either Italian or Japanese Axis forces), but each element of the subtext relates to the ideological awakening of his protagonist, everyman Johnny Rico (note: not many white American SF writers would have picked a Filipino hero for a novel in the 1950s). And the moral impetus is a discussion of how to exist in a universe populated by existential threats with which peaceful coexistence is impossible. The political framework Heinlein dreamed up for his human population—voting rights as a quid pro quo for military (or civilian public) service—isn't that far from the early Roman Republic, although in Rico's eyes it's presented as something new, a post-war settlement. Heinlein, as opposed to his protagonist, is demonstrating it as a solution to how to run a polity in a state of total war without losing democratic accountability. (Even his presentation of corporal and capital punishment is consistent with the early Roman Republic as a model.) The totalizing nature of the war in ST isn't at odds with the Roman interpretation: Carthago delenda est, anyone?

It seems to me that using the Roman Republic as a model is exactly the sort of cheat that Heinlein would employ. But then Starship Troopers became the type specimen for an entire subgenre of SF, namely Military-SF. It's not that MilSF wasn't written prior to Starship Troopers: merely that ST was compellingly written by the standards of SF circa 1959. And it was published against the creeping onset of the US involvement in the Vietnam War, and the early days of the New Wave in SF, so it was wildly influential beyond its author's expectations.

The annoying right wing Heinlein Mil-SF stans that came along in later decades—mostly from the 1970s onwards—embraced Starship Troopers as an idealized fascist utopia with the permanent war of All against All that is fundamental to fascist thought. In doing so they missed the point completely. It's no accident that fascist movements from Mussolini onwards appropriated Roman iconography (such as the Fasces ): insecure imperialists often claim legitimacy by claiming they're restoring an imagined golden age of empire. Indeed, this was the common design language of the British Empire's architecture, and just about every other European imperialist program of the past millennium. By picking the Roman Republic as a model for a beleagured polity, Heinlein plugged into the underlying mythos of western imperialism. But by doing so he inadvertently obscured the moral lesson he was trying to deliver.

... And then Verhoeven came along and produced a movie that riffs off the wank fantasies of the Mil-SF stans and their barely-concealed fascist misinterpretation: famously, he claimed to have never read the book. I pass no judgement on whether Starship Troopers the move is good or bad: as I said, I haven't seen it. But movies have a cultural reach far greater than any book can hope to achieve, so that's the image of Starship Troopers that became indelibly embedded in the zeitgeist.

PS: I just want to leave you wondering: what would Starship Troopers have looked like if it had been directed by Fritz Lang, with Leni Reifenstahl in charge of the cameras?

PPS: I don't agree with Heinlein's moral framework, although I think I can see what he was getting at.

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