So Goodreads are trolling for author content. And they're trying to get authors with goodreads listings to make themselves available for Ask the Author events!

Shocking. I'd never have thought of doing that.

Anyway: here I am, I haven't done it for a while, so consider this your invitation to an open mike Q&A with me.

Note that I will be spending a good chunk of this week visiting relatives, so on a train/using an iPad/not responding promptly. I may decline to answer any question for any reason at all. I may even lie to you. (I am not a performing monkey: I will not dance if you shoot at my feet.)

What do you want to know?

In the previous discussion thread, someone mentioned having a problem with one particular far-future (well, set 400 years hence) SF novel that disrupted their reading of it so badly that they ended up giving up on the book. Interestingly, I had the exact same problem (and ended up bailing 50 pages before the end of a 1100 page novel—there's your sunk cost fallacy in a nutshell). And I think it's worth taking a look at it, because it's one of my own pet shibboleths and I'm bored and I want to take it out for a walk today.

I'm fifty. I'm not the same guy I was when I was forty, or thirty, never mind twenty, or ten. I visualize identity not as a solid object but as a wave form travelling along the temporal dimension through a complex emulsion of memories, experiences, and emotions, bounded at front and back by singularities—boundaries beyond which there is no continuity (and almost certainly no persistence of identity). We're all waves travelling through this common soup of human existential phenomena, occasionally refracting through one another and being changed thereby. And as we move, we change. Not only are our physical bodies not made up from the same individual atoms: the bits you could notionally use to describe us change, too. New data is added, old patterns are lost (I have the memory of a goldfish these days).

Beyond the obvious (gross physiological deterioration and pathologies of senescence), what are the psychological symptoms of ageing?

To the eternal whine of the superannuated free-range SF geek ("dude, where's my jet pack? Where's my holiday on the moon? Where are my food pills? I thought this was supposed to be the 21st century!") can be added an appendix: "and what about those L5 orbital space colonies the size of Manhattan?"

Well, dude, I've got your L5 colony right here. In fact, they turned it into a vacation resort. I just spent a day checking it out, and I'm back with a report.

I'm in Berlin! (Combination of vacation and research trip.) And I'll be in Brauhaus S├╝dstern (Hasenheide 69, 10967 Berlin) on Sunday evening from about 7pm. I gather they have good beer, and food. Conversation too, if you're in town and want to drop by.

(Facebook event here.)

The Japanese economy is officially in recession, and David Cameron chose to use his last speech at the G20 summit to warn of the risk of a new global economic crisis. I wonder if he knows something that the rest of us don't (yet)?

I'm off to Berlin tomorrow. I'll try to blog, if I have time and if the global economy doesn't collapse while I'm away. (If it does, I'm going into hiding.) Alas, the Stasi Museum is shut for construction; guess I'll just have to be content with the DDR Museum instead. Oh, and one final piece of news: I finally got (and signed) the US contract for "The Annihilation Score", so I guess next summer's Laundry Files novel is officially A Thing. (I never quite believe it until I have a chance to read the small print.)

This is an open question primarily for British readers. (If you're American and a non-expert on British political/constitutional affairs, I reserve the right to delete your comments in the interest of keeping the signal to noise ratio high on this discussion.)

Where do you think the sources of power in the British political system will lie in 2034?

Bonus points for references to Bagehot, Piketty, Marx and Wiener.

(Note: I'm making the key assumptions that the Beige Dictatorship is unstable and that something else will come to replace it in time: also that the Labour/Conservative political duopoly is drawing to a close after nearly a century as both parties lose their mass base, that they won't be replaced by other mass-movement parties as such (unless Anonymous qualifies as a political party), that the average age of TV audiences is going up by more than 12 months per year, that newspapers are in a death spiral, and mass media in general are being replaced by a foamy carbonated sea of micro-targeted filter bubbles. I'm also making the assumption that we're not all going to go a-flying up to AI Singularity Heaven within the next 20 years. So: after the next couple of stuck coalitions/minority governments, and maybe a fiscal/banking crisis or three, what replaces the current system?)

Answers on the back of a postcard, please.

I've been quiet for the past week because I've been hammering on the redraft of "Dark State", the first book in my big fat post-Edward Snowden near-future SF trilogy. (Same universe as the Merchant Princes, set 17 years later, but still awaiting a new series title because, eh, series reboot.) For some reason I don't have much energy for blogging while I'm elbow-deep in the transmission tunnel of a novel: must be getting old or something.

Later this month I will be visiting Berlin. (That's Berlin, Deutschland, not Berlin, North Dakota. Sorry, folks.) Partly it's R&R—I've rewritten two novels since the beginning of September—and partly it's research (big hunks of "Black Sky" and "Invisible Sun", the second and third books in the trilogy, are set there, and I need to refresh my memory, walk some routes, and check out certain museums). But while I'm there, I'll be doing a kaffeeflatsch at Otherland bookshop (Otherland Buchhandlung Schmidt, Tress & Weinert GbR Bergmannstra├če 25 10961) on Thursday November 20th from 7:30pm. (Facebook event sign-up here.)

I also intend to go here and here: guess which is for R&R and which is for Research? (Actually, that might not be obvious: Tropical Islands is like something out of a William Gibson novel—it's really mind-blowing, like an L5 space colony that has touched down on the East Prussian plains.) And there will be a pub meet-up announcement in due course!

The Scottish Political Singularity is not only far from over, it's showing every sign of recomplicating, bizarrely.

From The Guardian:

a new poll by Ipsos Mori for STV showed that a record 52% of Scottish voters would vote SNP if there were an immediate general election, implying the SNP would win 54 Westminster seats - a nine-fold increase on the six seats it currently holds - leaving Labour with just four. Carried out in part after Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont's sudden resignation last Friday, the poll put Labour at just 23% - its lowest figure in over six years, with the Tories cut to 10% and the Lib Dems down to 6%, tying with the Scottish Green party.

What does this mean?

Here's a brief thought-experiment for you: imagine what the UK would look like today if the outcome of the second world war had taken a left turn early in 1940, and the whole of western Europe somehow ended up under Soviet control by 1946. (No nuclear weapons or gas attacks need apply: this speculation is about outcomes, not processes—so discussion of precisely how the British People's Democratic Republic comes about is left as an exercise for the reader (and is not to be explored in comments)).

Let us further postulate that Stalinism passes with its creator, much as happened in our own experience of history: that the Soviet empire eventually undergoes the same fiscal crisis and collapse (alternative discussion of the same process by a former Soviet minister—you can forget the urban legend that Ronald Reagan did it) much as we remember, except possibly somewhat later—as late as the early 21st century, perhaps.

What interests me, in view of recent revelations about police spying and the extent of the British surveillance state is: How would the practice of internal suppression of dissent and state surveillance have differed in a post-Soviet Britain from what we appear to be living with right now?

There's some kind of bizarre curse hanging over my Laundry Files series. Or maybe it's a deeper underlying problem with writing fiction set in the very near future (or past): I'm not sure which. All I'm sure is that that for the past decade, reality has been out to get me: and I'm fed up.

Today is my 50th birthday. As Terry Pratchett noted, "inside every old man there's an 8 year old wondering what the hell just happened". In the absence of some really big medical breakthroughs I'm almost certainly more than halfway through my span: so what have I learned?

(Note: I'm putting this in a blog entry rather than a novel because this is the right place for self-indulgent bloviating and miscellaneous wankery. Put it another way: if you read it here, you don't have to get angry at me because you paid good cash money for it. Just file under getting-it-out-of-my-system and move on.)

It's a truth universally acknowledged, that every comment thread hanging off a blog entry sooner or later veers away from the original topic and ends up approaching a stable orbit around the usual strange attractors of the blog commentariat.

For example, in the last-but-one blog entry, over the course of 350-odd comments we veered from a not-a-manifesto about urban fantasy to the subject of future transport tech in a post-global-climate-change world, and thence to a discussion of Californian aquapolitics.

There is of course a reason for this phenomenon. In general, folks who use the comments do so either to express an opinion on the original blog entry, or to carry on a discussion. As the volume of comments expands, most casual readers skip past them to deposit their fragrant opinions on the original essay—but the folks who are there for the discussion read all (or most of) the comments, and participate in the top drift. As the volume of observations on the original entry dies down, the comment thread comes to be dominated by the ongoing discussion: which is to say, it's perpetuated by the usual suspects, who continue to focus on their usual subjects.

What are the usual strange attractors for this particular blog? Discussion of this topic is welcome, and encouraged! (But discussion of the strange attractors themselves may be moderated or deleted, lest this topic vanish up its own recursive arse.)

UPDATE: The server this blog runs on will be shut down for 1-2 hours between 0700 and 0900 (UTC+1) next Monday the 13th of October. This is to permit the installation of additional memory.

The server will then be shut down again, for five hours, on the evening of Tuesday October 21st. Maintenance starts at 2230 (UTC+1) and should be over by 0330 (UTC+1). (That's 6:30pm on the US eastern seaboard, ending a bit after midnight.)

This is to permit the server to be physically moved from its current hosting centre to a new one with better bandwidth (and cheaper ground rent).

Normal service will be resumed on the 22nd. OK?

I'm just not that interested in writing science fiction this decade. Nope: instead, I'm veering more and more in the direction of urban fantasy. Here's why.

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