Next week I'm off to the land mass to the west of me, visiting Dublin and Belfast for the World Science Fiction Convention, then the following weekend Belfast for Titancon, the EuroCon (European annual SF convention). This is not without complication: sensing vulnerability, my ancient and venerable washing machine picked this week to finally expire, forcing me to embark on a perilous quest for a replacement—not to mention a launderette with service wash facilities—during the Edinburgh Festival. (Which is why this update is late.)

(Note: this is not a solicitation for advice on whether a hand-powered mangle and hot tub combination is more environmentally sound than a Miele TwinDos automatic washer-drier, or the best way to dry my jeans in the toilet, or suchlike helpfulness. As I approach my 55th birthday I'm pretty sure I'm on top of these issues.)

Anyway, I'm on the program at both conventions, and I'm posting an abbreviated version of my schedule below the fold.

Whoops Apocalypse was a six part 1982 TV sitcom that aired in the UK during a particularly dark part of the cold war. It purported to document the last few weeks leading up to the nuclear apocalypse, and starred such luminaries as John Cleese and Barry Morse: it's available on DVD here. It features a chaotic and increasingly unstable global political situation in which nuclear alerts are accidentally triggered by malfunctioning Space Invaders machines; the naive and highly unpopular Republican U.S. President Johnny Cyclops is advised by an insane right-wing fundamentalist security advisor, called The Deacon, who claims to have a direct hotline to God. And the Shah of Iran is locked in the toilet of a cross-channel ferry. (Bits cribbed from Wikipedia because my memory is weak after all these years.)

Anyway, here are my notes towards a Brexit specific re-make of Whoops Apocalypse.

I am fresh out of blogging ideas, and am off to Jyväskylä in Finland for Finncon next weekend. In the meantime, feel free to use the comments (below) to ask me anything! NB: I will do my best to lie creatively in my responses.

One of the hard disks on the machine that runs this blog has failed. Accordingly, I'm scheduling a drive replacement, hopefully around 9am tomorrow. The blog and website will be offline for up to a couple of hours when that happens. I'll update this note when we're online again.

In order to reduce the risk of data loss I'm going to disable comments on the blog when I go to bed tonight (probably before midnight BST, 8pm EST).


Hard drive replaced and everything working again as of 10:30am.

I do not write for Marvel or DC.

(Let's leave aside the time I had a close escape from writing Iron Man—back in 2005—but was offered a couple of book contracts just in time: Tony Stark is not my favourite superhero.)

(Also, the rest of this blog post will make no sense whatsoever unless you are at least minimally familiar with Batman and his frenemies.)

Anyway ... a couple of days ago I tripped over a tweet:

"The Joker should have been a woman. And she finally went insane because too many random dudes told her to smile, so now she perpetually smiles while terrorizing Gotham."

The author, Geraldine DeRuiter, explains the context here; I can relate, and I don't even have ovaries, let alone a head full of wasps.

It's a good and worthy idea and WHY AREN'T DC HUNTING DOWN GERALDINE AND OFFERING HER A CONTRACT RIGHT NOW, but it's her story to tell, not mine.

So a couple of months ago I handed in a new novel (it won't be out until the second half of 2020--these things have a long lead time). And it occurs to me that it's probably worth discussing book titles at some point, because I haven't really done so before.

As I noted in CMAP 6: Why is your book cover so awful? the only thing an author is expected to provide to a publisher is a finished manuscript containing the text of a novel (which they will then colaborate with the publisher on editing and proofread and, these days, marketing). The cover is not within the author's remit, and indeed the author may not see it before the general public. Nor is the cover marketing copy the author's job (writing cover copy that sells books, and writing books, are very different tasks, and many authors are utterly dire at writing their own marketing copy).

But something that also escapes many readers is that book titles are (a) fraught, and (b) not necessarily the author's job either. Which prompts me to write another entry in my ancient and haphazard series of essays about Common Misconceptions about Publishing (CMAP).

I live in an ancient city, in a medium-old apartment--one that is rapidly approaching its bicentennial. Like any building in continuous occupation for nearly 200 years, form and function have changed: it's been retrofitted with indoor plumbing, gas central heating, electricity, broadband internet. The kitchen has shrunk, a third of it hived off to create a modern (albeit small) bathroom. The coal-burning fireplaces are either blocked or walled over. Three rooms have false ceilings, lowered to reduce heating costs before hollowcore loft insulation was a thing. What I suspect was once the servants' bedroom is now a windowless storeroom. And rooms serve a different function. The dining room is no longer a dining room, it serves as a library (despite switching to ebooks a decade ago I have a big book problem). And so on.

But certain features of a 200 year old apartment remain constant. There are bedrooms. There is a privy (now a flushing toilet). There is a kitchen. There is a living room. And there is a corridor.

It's April 2019, and to my surprise I find I haven't been to any SF conventions so far this year. But that's going to change. Here's my (abbreviated) calendar:

18-22 April: Ytterbium, the UK eastercon, Heathrow, London. No, I'm not a guest of honour (for which I'm kinda thankful--I've been an eastercon GoH before, it's hard work), but I'll be on a few program items and hanging out in the hotel bar.

7-9 June: Cymera SF Festival, Edinburgh: not an SF convention so much as a literary festival specializing in SF/F; in particular I'm part of a double-header dialog with Jonathan Whitelaw on Saturday, June 8, 7:00 PM-8:00 PM.

5-7 July: Finncon, Jyväskylä, Finland: it's Finland's national SF convention, and I'm one of the guests of honour this year.

15-19 August: Dublin 2019, the 77th world science fiction convention, is held in Dublin, and I'm going to be there.

23-25 August: Titancon, the Eurocon (European SF convention) is in Belfast, and as I'm driving/taking the car ferry to Dublin 2019 and Belfast is on the road home ... nope, not even slightly kidding! (Doing conventions on consecutive weekends is normally one of my no-nos these days--it's exhausting--but I can hardly say no.) Program not finalized, but I hope to be on it.

I don't have any definite plans after Titancon, other than a provisional "let's go to the worldcon in New Zealand in 2020 (I have air miles to spend)", but doubtless stuff will come up.

Finally: no book launches this year, because 2019 is a gap in my publishing schedule. But that's going to be fixed in 2020, which should see the publication of both "Invisible Sun" and "Lost Boys", both of which will hopefully get launch events.

(Because the previous one passed 1200 comments and is getting a bit cumbersome ...)

So the Article 50 deadline has passed and we're now in penalty time. The British team is still arguing violently with itself while water pours through the changing room ceiling and the EU team looks on, bemused. 75% of the UK fans don't understand why they're playing this match and don't want to be there but the gates are locked until someone wins, and because nobody on the UK side read the rules their team is outnumbered 27 to 1 on the football pitch. The British team all hate their manager and want to sack her but they can't agree on a replacement; meanwhile the defenders are antsy because they placed bets on the outcome (they bet heavily that the other side would win) and they want to get to the betting shop. It turns out that most of them don't understand the rules of the game; some of them thought it was a cricket match, and two of them are playing bowls.

In other news, Serbian foreign minister advises citizens not to travel to the UK due to political chaos. I suppose he'd know the signs ...

So, I have some news to announce this week. Three pieces of it, in fact. All of them have been embargoed for sometime, but I'm finally clear to talk about it—just not all at once. So I'm going to update this announcement a couple of times between now and next Wednesday.

Firstly—I've been sitting on this for ages—but I'm now allowed to admit in public that THE LAUNDRY FILES has been optioned for TV by 42 (producers of Watership Down and Traitors (among other things). This has been grinding through the works for over a year. It's an option deal, meaning the production company are looking at writing a pitch and maybe a pilot script and seeing if they can get a network interested, so it's early days. It doesn't mean that a series has been commissioned or that anything is going to happen. (We've been here before, circa 2006-08, with an American outfit, and in the end nothing came of it.) However: it's a British production company, so anything that emerges this time round is likely to have a British feel to it, and they have a great track record.

Additionally: I'm pleased to announce the sale of the next Laundry Files novel, titled "Lost Boys", to be published by the usual suspects some time in 2020.

You might notice something odd about the title; it lacks a reference to any kind of document or archival storage medium. That's because "Lost Boys" isn't about the Laundry at all: it's a side-quest set in London under the reign of the New Management, and the only familiar character from previous stories is the Prime Minister (who appears briefly).

"Lost Boys" does for "Peter Pan" what "Equoid" did for unicorns. And that's all I'm going to say about it for now!

Finally: It has just been announced that The Laundry Files as a whole is shortlisted for the 2019 Hugo award for best series! And that's the third and final piece of news about the Laundry Files that I've been sitting on for a couple of weeks.)

(No, I don't know what's going to happen either.)

This isn't really a blog entry so much as the head of a discussion thread about the constitutional crisis currently gripping the UK, to stop Brexit neepery overrunning the comments on anything else I post here for the next month or six.

(We have: a minority government led by an instinctive authoritarian xenophobe who consistently fails to understand the relationship between the Crown-in-Parliament and the Government, not to mention an issue that has split the British public down the middle and similarly split both main political parties so badly that they're already fragmenting. It's being exploited as a wedge issue by the hard right and by foreign actors and unscrupulous investors who want to asset-strip what's left of the state and then repurpose it as a tax haven (there are signs that the hard left is also interested in the potential for what one might call "disaster socialism", but this is probably over-stated). The issue is also acting as a centrifuge on the Union, because majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland opposed Brexit from the outset—indeed, the third largest party in Parliament, the Scottish National Party, are adamantly opposed, but totally sidelined by the dominant Conservative/Labour factions. And we have a bunch of other splinters under the fingernails of the body politic: the DUP (from the quasi-Christo-fascist right of Northern Ireland) propping up Theresa May, for example. And on the other other side, we have the EU27, who are acting collectively and defensively to defend their stability by enforcing the rule of international law—which none of the British factions seem to understand.)

Anyway. What's happening today? What's going to happen tomorrow? Your guess is as good as mine, so feel free to have at it in the comments!

So, about a decade ago I wrote an essay on this blog about the writing of the Merchant Princes series (at that point, six slim novels—the Empire Games follow-on trilogy wasn't more than a daydream back then), in which I tried to pin down what I'd learned about writing a series.

Now, a decade later, I've written a whole lot more. The Merchant Princes/Empire Games sequence is now up to nine books (yes, "Invisible Sun" is in the edit pipeline: it'll be published in March 2020). The Laundry Files is up to ten books, plus nearly another book's worth of short stories. (That tenth novel isn't announced yet, but will probably show up in 2020.)

Having written a story over a million words long twice, I thought I'd sit down and do a brain dump of what I've learned about writing really long-form fiction—in the hope that it'll be useful to someone else who's just starting out on this ultra-marathon.

(By way of a yardstick, a 300 page book is roughly 100,000 words. "The Lord of the Rings" weighs in at 440,000 words: "War and Peace" is around 620,000 words.)

Things have been a little quiet around here lately, so by way of an apology, let me explain why this is so. And also why "Invisible Sun" is so late.

Back in late 2013 my editor at Tor, David Hartwell, somehow charmed me into writing a follow-up trilogy to the Merchant Princes series.

"Empire Games", the trilogy, was originally due to come out starting in 2015. Indeed, David was gung-ho to push out all three novels at three month intervals, like Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Wake trilogy. Unfortunately, what David hadn't reckoned with was that I was already committed to publishing a novel a year via my other publishers, and my natural output rate is about 1.5 books/year. Also, David was that rare bird in these modern times, an editor who liked to edit. Indeed, he just about edited me to death. The first two novels, "Empire Games" and "Dark State", were undoubtedly improved by his diligence, but it served me as a crash course reminder in why I had resolved never to work with David again after the first series. (If you've ever had a charming but intensely annoying micromanager: it was like that.)

So we were just getting to grips with "Invisible Sun", a couple of years late (that kind of delay happens when your editor edits the first two books three times) ... when a bookcase fell on him and he died.

(It gets worse.)

(Pinned to top because the Hugo/Nebula/other award nominations are currently open)

It's that time of year again, when some authors remind everyone that they're eligible for various awards for fiction published in 2018.

My total publications for 2018 consisted of: two novels and one novelette.

You probably haven't read the novelette because it's published in an anthology— Knaves over Queens, the first British-set collection in the Wild Cards series, a sequence of shared-universe stories edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass. My story, "Police on my Back", is published in Knaves over Queens, which is currently only available in the UK (first US publication isn't until next year). ( link.)

As for the novels, these are Dark State (Tor, UK and USA: January 2018), the second Empire Games book (or eighth Merchant Princes novel, depending on how you count them), and "The Labyrinth Index" (US Amazon link, UK Amazon link), published by Publishing (in the USA) and Orbit (in the UK). And that's the ninth book in the Laundry Files, or maybe the tenth (if you count "Equoid" as a really short novel rather than a novella) or eleventh (if you also factor in the really short short story collection published as an ebook).

So last night a British government was handed the biggest defeat in modern parliamentary history (since the middling-late 19th century, at any rate) in its attempt to systematically disenfranchise three million EU citizens, violate the Good Friday Agreement, generate a requirement for a racist and invasive population tracking system (hint: that's an implicit corollary of the NI border backstop, and the Home Office has had a hard-on for a National Identity Register since the 1950s), and irreparably damage the British financial, services, and manufacturing sectors ... all in the name of preserving Conservative Party unity.

(Lest we forget, in a 2015 poll of how the public prioritized different political issues, EU membership came tenth out of a field of ten.)

In the USA, the Republican-induced shutdown of government spending has resulted in Coast Guards being paid out of a charity, Air Traffic Controllers being fed pizza paid for by the Canadian counterparts, and diabetic civil servants desperately rationing their insulin and just hoping to wake up in the morning. If it goes on much longer, a lot of those civil servants won't be around to come back to work: they'll have had to go looking for jobs elsewhere. And yet, the shutdown continues because the mafia shill in the big house desperately needs a distraction from the 17 different investigations into his crime ring, and "build a wall" rallies his party base.

It's almost like these were two sides of the same coin, isn't it?

I'm trying to remember if I said this on my blog some time over the last 20 years, but: one of my working principles is that the event horizon in politics in a democracy is no more than 5 years. (Or: the maximum time between elections.) Consider Germany in January 1934, and how outlandish and dystopian the situation would have sounded if you'd described it to a German citizen in January 1929. (30% unemployment! A dictator and a state of emergency! Concentration camps! Anti-Jewish laws!)

Here's a reflection: the value proposition of democracy is that it provides for a peaceful transfer of power, once an incumbent regime loses its political legitimacy. If you have a working democracy you don't need revolutions to get rid of incompetent leadership. As Enoch Powell said, "every politician's career ends in failure" (unless they die unexpectedly): in a democracy they agree to step down, and life goes on.

But when you get a faction, party, or regime that no longer subscribes to the idea of democracy and refuses to back down gracefully, you get back the old problems: pressure for change builds up and when it erupts the effects can be devastating and unpleasant--especially, as we've had a crash-course reminder in recent years, when the tools of communication make it really easy for dangerous demagogues to draw a following.

I think we can safely say that since 2013, the grip of the beige dictatorship on the western system has been broken. Unfortunately, we're now living through a period of turbulence analogous to that which followed the collapse of the Age of Monarchies in Europe, 1917-1919 (during which pretty much every monarchy in central and eastern Europe went down like a row of dominoes). It took until 1945 for the dust to settle and a stable, broadly social-democratic new order to emerge in the west: I just hope our current turbulence settles down before 2045, because otherwise our planetary climate and biosphere is fucked.




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