A short commercial interlude

Just so you know why I've been quiet lately, it's because this book-shaped object is now on its way to the copy editor for publication in late June/early July next year (assuming we survive that long.)

The Delirium Brief (UK) The Delirium Brief (US)

The UK edition is going to be published by Orbit, as usual, and that's their cover on the left (or above, depending on your browser). But in the United States, the series is now moving to Tor.com Publishing; so there's a whole new cover design coming. (To be clear: earlier books will remain with Ace, but "The Delirium Brief" and subsequent novels will come from Tor.)

You can preorder the books via Amazon here: US Hardcover Edition and here: UK Hardcover Edition; ebook editions are also available (US Kindle, UK Kindle not yet listed but available soon).

However, that's not my next book! This is:

Empire Games (UK)

It's coming out in late Jannuary ... and I'm going to have a lot more to say about Empire Games very soon! (In the meantime here are the UK Kindle edition and the US Kindle edition. NB: if you pre-ordered the UK hardcover, you probably want to cancel that order and try again. Tor UK made a late decision to switch the book to trade paperback, so existing pre-orders for the now non-existent UK hardback have probably vanished into limbo: on the bright side, their trade paperback edition should match the Merchant Princes omnibuses in size. The US hardcover is still A Thing.)

And now you know why I've been kind of quiet for the past few months. It's not just the insanely depressing news environment for 2016 (about which I'll have something else to say, when I've finally digested the indigestible implications); I've been gearing up to produce two books a year for the next few years, I've had to rewrite half a Laundry novel (because Brexit ruined the original plot of The Delirium Brief), and as I move to new publishing arrangements I'm busy working on my Next Big Thing, a space opera titled Ghost Engine which is only tenuously related to anything I've written before (hint: Palimpsest, only for intergalactic expansion over the next million years).

I'm distracted at present (sorting out the final edits to "The Delirium Brief", finishing the first draft of "Ghost Engine"), but I can't help thinking that it's about time we all re-read Umberto Eco's magisterial essay on Ur-Fascism, published in the New York Review of Books in 1995.

... The fascist game can be played in many forms, and the name of the game does not change. The notion of fascism is not unlike Wittgenstein's notion of a game. A game can be either competitive or not, it can require some special skill or none, it can or cannot involve money. Games are different activities that display only some "family resemblance," as Wittgenstein put it. ... Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

It's a long-ish essay, but absolutely essential reading. Remember, Eco wasn't just speculating—he grew up under a fascist dictatorship. And if you look around the world today and can't see the relevance of this essay, I suggest that you look again. Not just Trump: look at the BJP in India, the recent coup attempt in Montenegro, the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, Vladimir Putin's Kremlin, and so on.

PS: See also Dr Lawrence Britt on the common core features of fascism.

Update: I am seeing a number of commenters qualify their denunciations of fascism by taking ritual strokes on the dead horse of communism (or "extreme leftism") at the same time. Stop it. We do not currently have a systemic problem with a communist international seizing the reins on power in numberous developed nations; you appear to be twitchily recapitulating the doctrine of false equivalence that the news media in the US have fed you, and it's a distraction and a snare.

Little Harry blinks at me through his heavy Sellotaped glasses. "What's that for?"

"It's a submachine gun," I say. "It fires lots of bullets." I mime. "Bang bang bang!"

I'm helping out on a school trip. Normally I avoid volunteering - it's too easy for self employed parents to end up as the school's go-to. However this visit is to Edinburgh Castle and my daughter Morgenstern was very keen I should put in a showing...

So here I am helping to herd 5-year olds through the military museum. Morgenstern is nowhere in sight, but little Harry has latched onto me.

"Oh," says Harry. He copies my mime and sprays the room. "Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang."

"Not like that," I say. "Three round bursts or you'll run out of bullets. Plus the thing pulls up." I mime. "So like this: Bang bang bang!... Bang bang bang!"

So I've had a week now for the outcome of last Tuesday's US election to sink in, and I've been doing some thinking and some research, and my conclusion is that either I'm wearing a tinfoil hat or things are much, much worse than most people imagine.

Nearly four years ago I wrote about the Beige Dictatorship, and predicted:

Overall, the nature of the problem seems to be that our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change. They have done so by converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election. And in so doing, they have broken the "peaceful succession when enough people get pissed off" mechanism that prevents revolutions. If we're lucky, emergent radical parties will break the gridlock (here in the UK that would be the SNP in Scotland, possibly UKIP in England: in the USA it might be the new party that emerges if the rupture between the Republican realists like Karl Rove and the Tea Party radicals finally goes nuclear), but within a political generation (two election terms) it'll be back to oligarchy as usual.

Well, I was optimistic. The tea party radicals have gone nuclear, but I wasn't counting on a neo-Nazi running the White House, or on the Kremlin stepping in ...

Every so often, somebody posts some wistful meme about how nice it would be if duelling were legal again.

I'm increasingly less gentle in my response. Partly I don't want non-sword folk to start to thinking of Historical European Martial Arts as some kind of Fascist death cult (we really aren't, and we're a very geeky and inclusive movement).

Mostly though, as a historical novelist, swordsman, and father of a teenage boy, I can tell you that duelling was - and is - a bloody stupid idea.

(Writing in haste because I'm packing for a flight home.)

So: we wake up the morning after the US election to discover ... what?

Here's my short term prediction, followed by my long term prediction. (And if you are American, I'm very, very, sorry.)

I laughed at the mother who's bringing up her kids without electronic toys, but has a social media feed to boast about it... until I remembered the Red Train of Doom.

A relative once bought our son Kurtzhau a traditional wooden ridealong steam train. It was big and red and he was tiny and a boy and he was supposed to ride it around the flat.

You got the wooden part, right?

The damned thing took chunks out of the paintwork, hurt to trip over, and wouldn't steer. It was also uncomfortable to sit astride and too easy to fall off. Little Kurtzhau rode the train perhaps twice. Then he reverted to the comfy, steerable and less lethal plastic fire truck. Thank God.

However, the wooden train seemed somehow "special" and survived successive declutterings. These days it languishes at a relative's house for visiting children to ignore. Give it another half century and the train will be a heirloom dutifully hauled around between generations.

Nobody has the heart to throw it away!  What the hell is going on? Why is this thing special?

So every so often a random news article bites me on the world-building toe. Yesterday's came via Ars Technica in the shape of a very interesting research study on cultural attitudes to traditionalism and national parasite stress (Original source).

To quote the abstract of the paper in full:

People who are more avoidant of pathogens are more politically conservative, as are nations with greater parasite stress. In the current research, we test two prominent hypotheses that have been proposed as explanations for these relationships. The first, which is an intragroup account, holds that these relationships between pathogens and politics are based on motivations to adhere to local norms, which are sometimes shaped by cultural evolution to have pathogen-neutralizing properties. The second, which is an intergroup account, holds that these same relationships are based on motivations to avoid contact with outgroups, who might pose greater infectious disease threats than ingroup members. Results from a study surveying 11,501 participants across 30 nations are more consistent with the intragroup account than with the intergroup account. National parasite stress relates to traditionalism (an aspect of conservatism especially related to adherence to group norms) but not to social dominance orientation (SDO; an aspect of conservatism especially related to endorsements of intergroup barriers and negativity toward ethnic and racial outgroups). Further, individual differences in pathogen-avoidance motives (i.e., disgust sensitivity) relate more strongly to traditionalism than to SDO within the 30 nations.

This got me thinking: what are the implications for world-building in mid-to-far future SF and space opera?

I turn 52 next week, and I have a confession to make: I feel like a complete failure at "adulting". Adulting, loosely defined, is that set of activities and behaviours which we judge to be characteristics of grown-ups. You can stop now and make your own list: what I'm going to suggest, speculatively, is that you probably feel like a failure at adulting too. (If you don't, you can stop reading here.)

I'm not alone in this self-defined failure. Lots of people I know, my own age and younger, also admit to feeling like failed adults: "I haven't grown up" is merely the tense-shifted version of "I don't want to grow up". But what does this really mean?

I'm not blogging a huge amount this month because, well, it's autumn, I always have fun adapting to the shorter days at this time of year (as I grow older I tend to hibernate for 10-12 hours a day for about a month as the Scottish autumn and winter comes calling), and in those hours I'm awake I'm busy with other stuff.

~~Tomorrow~~ Sunday I'm flying out to Tel Aviv where I will be spending much of the week as guest of honour at the ICon Festival 2016, Israel's largest SF convention. A couple of weeks later (from the 4th to 6th of November) I will also be attending Bcon, the 2016 Eurocon in Barcelona.

And when I'm not at my last two SF conventions of 2016, I'm keeping myself busy working on "Ghost Engine", the space opera for 2018. (The first draft of which is just past the halfway mark—it's shaping up to be a big-ass 400+ page beast, longer than any other stand-alone novel I've written since "Iron Sunrise".)

I'd like to apologize for not giving you more chewy essays to gnaw on; it's just that time spent blogging is time spent not writing the next novel, and time spent traveling is time spent not writing anything at all.

(This blog entry is about British politics. If you aren't interested, don't bother commenting. I have to live here, so it's a matter of considerable importance to me. NB: While I appreciate that other countries have their own problems—one could point to Donald Trump's presidential campaign as reflecting the same disturbing populist reactionary xenophobia—this isn't about you, it's about me, and comments referring to the US presidential campaign will be deleted (until we pass the #300 mark, as is customary here).)

Brexit is going to kill people. And soon.

This week saw the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, and in among the rather scary exclusionist rhetoric it became apparent that the Nasty Party has decisively swung away from representing the interests of the business community and is staking its future on the xenophobic anti-foreigner vote which came out of the woodwork to swing the Brexit referendum in June. In particular, the Prime Minister has a plan for Brexit and it appears to be trending towards the hard option; that her priority will be to clamp down on immigration, and to do so she will abandon the free movement of people that is a keystone of the European Union.

Note that the EU has made it glaringly clear that retaining free movement is a non-negotiable prerequisite for retaining access to the European single market—they made this clear to Switzerland earlier this year—and there is clearly an appetite among other EU heads to state to drive a hard deal with the UK.

Now here is a graph (sorce: xe.com):

Sterling/USD, one week exchange rate

What does it mean?

So, this Tuesday SpaceX pulled back the curtain to announce their Interplanetary Transport System—a monstrously large rocket, fully reusable and about two and a half times the size of a Saturn V moon rocket—capable of transporting a hundred people to Mars, and with a goal of initial flight testing within a decade.

It's not total vaporware: in the past couple of weeks they also tested the first full-up Raptor engine that will power the ITS (a cryogenic methalox engine with a closed-cycle gas generator, which gives it a specific impulse head and shoulders higher than Apollo-era kit and the capability to operate on fuel generated from the Martian atmosphere for return flights). They've also unveiled the biggest carbon fiber tank ever assembled (the fully-reusable ITS will use carbon composites extensively), and have unveiled a bunch of targets for what the ITS stack will be able to achieve: in non-reusable form it will be able to deliver a 500 tonne payload to LEO, and with reusability in mind a 320 tonne interplanetary craft capable of landing vertically on Mars (and, when refuelled, of returning to Mars orbit without staging).

So, here's my question:

What are the other possible commercial applications of the ITS, besides sending a million optimists to Mars?

I'd like to give you a happy fun thought experiment to chew on.

It's 2016. And it's been a bad year. Let's imagine that it's about to get infinitely worse for everyone, and by December 31st, 2016, the human species is extinct. Cause: something minimally disruptive to the rest of the biosphere. (A very tightly targeted human-specific military bioweapon gets out and proves to be unexpectedly deadly: say, an IL-4 expressing poxvirus that goes above and beyond.)

Earth abides, of course, and without humans life goes on.

In a discussion elsewhere on the interwebbytubes, the subject of in media res openings came up.

An in media res opening is one where a story starts with a bang, a climactic action sequence -- then cuts away to a slow build-up to how the protagonists got to that point. It's a variant on the hook line, whereby the author sets out to snag the reader's attention right from the get-go (e.g. "It was the day my grandmother exploded." -- Iain Banks, "The Crow Road") but with a whole scene, rather than just a striking opening sentence or paragraph.

One or two commenters (in the discussion elsewhere) objected that IMR openings feel manipulative and increasingly fall flat; the event may be explosive (car chase! space battle!) but we've been given no contextual information about the stakes, no character to identify with, and it's clear that what follows is gradually going to focus down until it converges with the opening, thus undercutting any suspense until we get to see how it plays out at the end of the story.

But I don't think this is inevitable.

(Blogging continues to be sparse because, although I just sent in a final draft of "The Delirium Brief", I'm hard at work on other projects—notably my 2018 space opera, "Ghost Engine", and my 2018 Merchant Princes universe novel, "Dark State"—and taking time off to attend a birthday party in Berlin.)

The trouble with writing fiction is that, as a famous novelist once said, reality is under no compulsion to make sense or be plausible. Those of us who make stuff up are constantly under threat of having our best fictional creations one-upped by the implausibility of real events. I'm pretty much resigned to this happening, especially with the Laundry Files stories: at least space opera and fantasy aren't as prone to being derailed as fiction set in the near-present.

But there's a subtle corollary to the impossibility of story-telling keeping up with reality, and that's the point that it is also pretty much impossible to invent protagonists who can keep up with reality.




  • Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed

Recent Comments

  • Elderly Cynic on A reminder: Thanks very much! I will. ...
  • Elderly Cynic on Busy busy busy: I am no expert, because I gave up after a few dozen pages of Das Kapital (apparently quite good goin...
  • Minvera Owl on A reminder: Part of the beauty of Portia is that they have visual acuity equal to cats (slightly different to wh...
  • paws4thot on Busy busy busy: And, in a case of truth mirroring snark (or vice versa), I just saw an interview with Helen Marten (...
  • paws4thot on Playtime is over: I wouldn't even go as far as "NATO could have expanded into the Baltics"; I'd say that NATO would no...
  • Thomas Jørgensen on A reminder: And also failing to build desalination plants. This is a problem with a straightforward technologica...
  • Greg Tingey on A reminder: Basic category error: I'm currently excited about working memory in spiders (600k neurons, non-mamma...
  • Minvera Owl on A reminder: Note - dendrites etc. MRI =/= high enough definition to see yet? Tsk tsk, no cheating. You don't kn...
  • Minvera Owl on A reminder: Greg: serious point. If you grokked why I linked the topics / papers, you'd justifiably be scared. L...
  • hcmeyer on A reminder: I just finished reading Umberto's ?last? book, "Numero Zero". It is about a fake newspaper that blun...

Search this blog