Contrary to popular belief, the UK does have a written constitution—it's just scattered across roughly 25 different pieces of legislation, subject to amendment on the fly whenever Parliament damn well pleases.

And since devolution came in, more than one parliament has to be convinced to amend the constitutional framework before it can be changed.

It is becoming apparent that The Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly may have veto power over BRexit per the House of Lords European Union Committee (11th Report of Session 2015-16,
"The process of withdrawing from the European Union"). See paras 70-71, "The role of the devolved legislatures in implementing the withdrawal agreement" -- section 29 of the Scotland Act 1998 binds the Scottish Parliament to act in a manner compatible with EU law, and Scottish parliamentary consent would be required to amend this. (A similar provision underpins the devolution settlements of Wales—which voted for Brexit—and Northern Ireland—which voted against it.)

So we have a royal mess coming down the pipeline.

Okay, so the idiots did it; they broke the UK.

This is a book launch month and I should really be blogging about "The Nightmare Stacks" but British politics has just entered a nightmarish alignment and we're in CASE NIGHTMARE TWEED territory. So book-related business as usual will resume tomorrow, after I've vented.

Annihilation Score

So, while this week sees the first publication of "The Nightmare Stacks", it also sees the paperback publication (on both sides of the Atlantic!) of "The Annihilation Score". And as is my custom these days, I figure it's time to post a brief essay about the novel. Keep reading below the fold if you dare; here be spoilers!

This week I'm doing appearances in the UK to launch The Nightmare Stacks—and can I take this opportunity to plug my local Edinburgh SF specialist bookstore, Transreal Fiction, who can supply signed copies of my work all year round?—but on June 27th I'm off to the USA for a few weeks in Portland and the Bay Area.

Crate of hardcovers

Here's what I'm getting up to:

Montage of Daily Express covers

British people don't like to talk about racism, much less admit that their fellow Brits—much less they, themselves—are racists. It's far too easy to point to other bad examples in foreign lands, from Jim Crow and segregation in the Deep South to men with Hugo Boss uniforms and gas chambers in the Nazi Reich. But racism is a thing in the UK, with deep-running currents that occasionally bubble to the surface. And right now we're getting a most unwelcome but richly deserved reminder of what it's about.

(Text below the cut contains strong language)

Just a quick reminder: the UK Laundry Files competition from last month is closing next Tuesday! If you want to enter for the chance to win some free swag, you've got about four days and some hours left.

Note that announcing the winners may take a few days—I'm going to be in London next week (List of events here) and there are a lot of entries to sort through!

And in other news: audiobooks of THE RHESUS CHART and THE ANNIHILATION SCORE are now available in the UK from the usual sources. (Just don't ask me about THE FULLER MEMORANDUM and THE APOCALYPSE CODEX: they fell through the cracks a few years ago, dammit.)

A stack of US hardcover copies

So "The Nightmare Stacks" is just 11 days away in the UK (and 18 in the USA) and my UK publisher, Orbit, have kindly posted an extract from the first chapter:

A vampire is haunting Whitby; it's traditional.

It's an hour after dusk on a Saturday evening four weeks before the spring gothic festival. Alex the Vampire strolls along the sea front, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his tweed jacket. There's a chill breeze blowing onshore, and he has the pavement to himself as he walks, eyes downcast and chin tucked into his chest, lost in thought. What profound insight does the creature of the night contemplate as he paces along the North Promenade beside the beach, opposite a row of moonlit houses? What ancient wisdom, what hideous secrets haunt the conscience of the undying?

Let's take a look inside his head ...

Carry on reading "The Nightmare Stacks"

In case you were wondering where to buy it, here are some handy links:

[US Hardcover via Amazon] [US Kindle store] [All formats via Barnes and Noble]

[UK Hardcover via Amazon] [UK/EU Kindle store] [Via Waterstones]

There's an old saying that only two things are unavoidable: death and taxes. I think this is wrong—the two unavoidable things are politics, and it's seldom-admitted offspring, bureaucracy. (Their Titan) parent is of course economics.)

Politics: you may not like it but you can't ignore it because whenever two or more people have ideas about how to do something requiring the participation of two or more people there's going to be an argument about how to do it. Bureaucracy: because once the argument is settled you need to coordinate the tasks, and once your community exceeds Dunbar's number you need to develop mechanisms for managing work and social relationships between people who don't know each other.

It's fairly obvious that technology affects the implementation details of politics and bureaucracy (and there's feedback involved too, via market regulators and command economies). And there are scale issues too. Back in the 1670s and 1680s century when Samuel Pepys served as Secretary for the Admiralty, administration for the Royal Navy ran on a handful of staff and relied on disbursement of funds—in cash—to ships' captains to see to their maintenance and the pay of their sailors. Today it's hard to imagine a modern defense ministry running on cash-in-hand: even Da'esh have accountants and an org chart. But the ability to run a modern bureaucratic defense procurement and supply organization is required due to the capital-intensive nature of modern warfare (you try buying an Aircraft Carrier with cash) and relies in turn on availability of modern tools: not just computers, but accounting procedures, project management, quality assurance, process control, and a host of other specialities that simply didn't exist back in the age of sail. On the other hand, back in the 17th century ships and squadrons might be commanded by officers weeks or months from the nearest political point of control and operating on the basis of orders which, although obsolete, had not been countermanded (and it wasn't just at sea: for example, the Battle of New Orleans took place in 1815, weeks after the treaty ending hostilities had been signed).

So. Taking the space cadets seriously for once ...

What are the political problems that would arise from the extension of an Earth-based political framework to governance of off-world space colonies? And what kind of bureaucratic mechanisms might be developed to deal with the arising issues?

A crate of Nightmare Stacks

We interrupt this blog to bring you a news flash: somewhere in Scotland, an author just got home from a trip (hence the recent quiet) to discover a crate on his doorstep! A crate of nightmares! Grimoires bound in lurid magenta-on-black sleeves, pulsing and squirming to escape into the wild!

(The American edition is somewhat more discreet, and is probably a week behind.)

Publishers always ship authors a box of books right before publication. It's evidence that the thing has been printed and over the next few days cartons like this will be winging their way to warehouses, distribution hubs, and the stock rooms of bookstores who have pre-ordered it. It's not due to go on sale until June 23rd in the UK, and the 28th in the USA, but it takes a couple of weeks to filter through the supply chain so that stock is on hand everywhere.

I'm going to be in London on the 22nd, where Professor Ed James will be interviewing me on behalf of the British Science Fiction Association from 6pm; all are welcome. (Hopefully there'll be video of the event afterwards.)

The next day (the 23rd) I'm doing a launch/signing at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore at 6pm! Again, all are welcome, and FP are taking pre-orders (via that link).

And on Friday 24th I'm doing a reading and signing at Blackwell's Bookshop in Edinburgh from 6:30pm!

(These bookshops—and Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh—will have some signed copies for sale afterwards as well; they're generally happy to sell via mail order.)

The following week I am off to the west coast of the USA, for a number of events starting with the launch of the US edition, which comes out five days later (because supply chain reasons). I'll put up a separate itinerary on the blog in due course.

(I'm back from Balticon and blogging again. Sorry about the hiatus!)

If you're a regular on this blog you're probably more than a little familiar with the Rapture of the Nerds (as Ken Macleod calls it)—the particular variety of eschatological singularity initially proposed by Russian Orthodox theologian Nikolai Federovitch Federov and championed more recently by Raymond Kurzweil that posits that the great destiny-determining task of humanity is not space colonization, or achieving immortality, but the "great task", The Religion of Resusciative Resurrection. In Federov's view it's our duty not only to transcend human limits but to strive to bring about the resurrection of everyone who has ever lived, or who might have lived.

You're probably also familiar with the Simulation Argument, originally proposed by philosopher Nick Bostrom and most recently discussed in public by Elon Musk; that in a future-unbounded cosmos there can only be one first time for everything, including intelligence, but subsequently any number of intelligent civilizations might want to introspect about their origins by running simulations of their predecessors, and so we are almost certainly trapped inside a giant game of Minecraft.

The Nightmare Stacks

There are only 30 days to go until the UK release of The Nightmare Stacks, and to celebrate, my UK publisher Orbit are giving one lucky and inventive reader the chance to win a Laundry Files pack, including signed copies of The Nightmare Stacks, plus a Magic Circle of Safety mug and a Laundry Files tshirt. All you have to do is come up with your own Laundry Files gadget, app, or piece of tech - for good or evil. Give us a name, a classification and a brief explanation of how it works/what it does.

Five runners up will win a signed copy of The Nightmare Stacks.

Here are some examples of gadgets you might run into, or might run into you, if you work for the Laundry. (Terms and conditions apply: continued below the fold.)

Just a warning: the blog (and this server) will be offline for about ten minutes between the hours of 5am and 8am on Thursday the 19th (tomorrow)—that's 1am to 4am Eastern Seaboard Time—while technicians hook it up to a new power distribution board in the data center.

Hopefully this will go without a hitch. In event of hitches, yr. hmbl. crspndnt. will shoot trouble when he's out of bed.

Comments on the blog will be disabled until the server is up and tested tomorrow morning (so I can take a clean database backup without worrying about missing stuff, Just In Case things don't go smoothly).

Update: comments are now back

Upcoming events

Next week I'm going to be in Washington DC and Baltimore. The primary reason I'm going is because it's the 50th Balticon SF convention this Memorial Day weekend and, as a previous guest of honor, they've invited me back. (I'm not the real draw: this year the guest of honor is George R. R. Martin, with a side-order of John Picacio (artist guest of honr), Bill and Gretchen Roper (music), R. Shirley Avery and Martin Deutsch (fan guests of honor), Alexandra Duncan (Compton Crook Award winner) and Kim Stanley Robinson, just because they can. Oh, and they've also got Harry Turtledove, Joe Haldeman, Jo Walton, Larry Niven, and a bunch of other previous guests.

(I'll update this blog entry with my program items when I get a finalized schedule.)

But that's not my only appearance. The Open Technology Institute in conjunction with the ACLU have kindly invited me to an evening event on Tuesday May 24th, 5:30-7pm:

What Can DC Learn From Sci-Fi? A Conversation With Author Charles Stross

In a world where cars drive themselves, everyone has a supercomputer in their pocket, and billionaires are building their own spaceships, where can policymakers and citizens turn to make sense of it all? Perhaps they should talk those people whose entire careers are devoted to imagining the future: science fiction writers. From the White House to think tanks like the Atlantic Council and Data & Society to tech commentary outlets like Slate's Future Tense, more and more policy thinkers are turning to science fiction writers to help them understand our futuristic present--and now you can too. Join us for a conversation over drinks with one of the 21st centuries most influential science fiction authors, Charles Stross. Interviewed by two tech policy experts (and science fiction fans) from New America's Open Technology Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union, the prolific Scottish novelist and blogger known for modern sci-fi classics like Accelerando, Singularity Sky and many more will talk about the future of surveillance and privacy, why the idea of space colonization is unrealistic, whether or not we are in the midst of a technological "singularity", and what science fiction can--and can't--teach us about how to live in the 21st century.

Take part in the conversation online using #SFinDC and following @OTI.

Beer and wine will be served along with some light snacks.

(And if you want me to sign books I'm happy to do so after the talk.)

The event will be held at New America's Open Technology Institute, 740 15th Street NW, #900, Washington DC, 20005 (not far from the White House) and you can find updates online at Open Technology Institute > Events.

In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services—the predecessor of the post-war CIA—was concerned with sabotage directed against enemies of the US military. Among their ephemera, declassified and published today by the CIA, is a fascinating document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual (PDF). It's not just about blowing things up; a lot of its tips are concerned with how sympathizers with the allied cause can impair enemy material production and morale:

  1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
  2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.
  3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off "accidentally," or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
  5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an "interesting" argument.

Some of these sabotage methods are commonplace tactics deployed in everyday workplace feuds. It's often hard to know where incompetence ends and malice begins: the beauty of organizations is that most of them have no effective immune systems against such deliberate excesses of incompetence.

So it occured to me a week or two ago to ask (on twitter) the question, "what would a modern-day version of this manual look like if it was intended to sabotage a rival dot-com or high tech startup company"? And the obvious answer is "send your best bad managers over to join in admin roles and run their hapless enemy into the ground". But what actual policies should they impose for best effect?

This is a guest post by filmmaker and VR developer Hugh Hancock.

OK, at this point we can call it. VR is definitely here, it works, and it's not going away.

I was one of the first people in the UK to get the consumer version of the HTC Vive, the VR headset designed around standing up and walking around in a virtual space, not just sitting looking at it. I bought it for research rather than because I was sure it would be good - but when it arrived, it was absolutely amazing.

We're in full-on Holodeck territory here. Whether you're shooting ninjas with arrows or wandering around on the bottom of the ocean, it's incredibly immersive. And Valve's legendary "taking a dog for a walk" sim is... well, just spookily good.

So yeah. It arrived. I used it. I promptly put every project on my slate on hold and decided to focus on room-scale VR for the indefinite future.

It's that good.

Now, it's all but guaranteed that we're going to see a lot of scaremongering about VR in the near future. It's ripe for the next moral panic, and there are plenty of people looking for clicks on their articles about how VR must be banned now or it will cause the end of humanity.

So I thought I'd get in there first - with some unforseen side-effects of VR I've observed or learned about that will make the world better, not worse...




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