The UK is heading for a general election next Thursday, and for once I'm on the edge of my seat because, per Hunter S. Thompson, the going got weird.

The overall electoral picture based on polling UK-wide is ambiguous. South of Scotland—meaning, in England and Wales—the classic two-party duopoly that collapsed during the 1970s, admitting the Liberal Democrats as a third minority force, has eroded further. We are seeing the Labour and Conservative parties polling in the low 30s. It is a racing certainty that neither party will be able to form a working majority, which requires 326 seats in the 650 seat House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats lost a lot of support from their soft-left base by going into coalition with the Conservatives, but their electoral heartlands—notably the south-west—are firm enough that while they will lose seats, they will still be a factor after the election; they're unlikely to return fewer than 15 MPs, although at the last election they peaked around 50.

Getting away from the traditional big three parties, the picture gets more interesting. The homophobic, racist, bigoted scumbags of UKIP (hey, I'm not going to hide my opinions here!) have picked up support haemorrhaging from the right wing of the Conservative party; polling has put them on up to 20%, but they're unlikely to return more than 2-6 MPs because their base is scattered across England. (Outside England they're polling as low as 2-4%, suggesting that they're very much an English nationalist party.) On the opposite pole, the Green party is polling in the 5-10% range, and might pick up an extra MP, taking them to 2 seats. In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (who are just as barkingly xenophobic as UKIP) are also set to return a handful of MPs.

And then there's Scotland.

Not too long ago, someone in the twittersphere asked, "Whatever happened to psi? It used to be all the rage in science fiction."

The answer, essentially, was that John Campbell died and nobody believes in that crap any more. And anyway, it's fantasy.

Now here's the thing. If you accept Clarke's Third Law, which boils down in the common wisdom to "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," you kind of have to ask, "Do we believe psi is crap because it really is crap, or do we just not have the technology to detect or manipulate it?"

Hi! This week, for a change, I'm handing over the soapbox to a new guest blogger—one who's been publishing books almost since I was in high school: Judith Tarr.

Her first fantasy novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985, and went on to win the Crawford Award. Her space opera, Forgotten Suns, has just been published by Book view Café. In between, she has written historicals and historical fantasies--including World Fantasy Award nominee Lord of the Two Lands—and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. A short story, "Fool's Errand," a prequel to Forgotten Suns, appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of Analog. She lives in Arizona with three cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

OK, here's an idle thought (and a question) for you ...

A couple of weeks ago at the British Eastercon I found myself on a panel discussion about vampires. (Hey, I've been trying to get the hell away from being Mr Singularity Guy for years now; what's your problem?)

Anyway, there I was sitting with Freda Warrington and Jim Butcher, and our moderator opens up by asking, "what makes vampires sexy?"

And I suddenly realized I had come to the right place for an argument. Because ...

Vampires are not sexy. At least, not in the real world.

So IO9 ran a piece by George Dvorsky on ways we could wreck the solar system. And then Anders Sandberg responded in depth on the subject of existential risks, asking what conceivable threats have big enough spatial reach to threaten an interplanetary or star-faring civilization.

This, as you know, is basically catnip for a certain species of SF author. And while I've been trying to detox in recent years, the temptation to fall off the wagon is overwhelming.

(Warning: some links lead to to triggery ranting. As James D. Nicoll warns: "memetic prophylactic recommended".)

By now, everybody who cares knows that the nominations for the 2015 Hugo Awards reflect the preferences of a bloc-voting slate with an agenda—and their culture wars allies. But, interestingly, a new Hugo-related record has been set: for a Finnish publisher few people have ever heard of is responsible for no fewer than nine nominated works.

The Clean Reader debacle got me fucking thinking.

I am fundamentally opposed to blue-nosed bowdlerizing gobshites, puritanical prudes, and nattering slobberdonkeys who advocate censorship. And piss on you if you want to conscript my books into fighting your culture war.

And it seems to me that there's too little goddamn swearing in the world. Hell, even in my books.

So I am pleased to announce that I have negotiated an exclusive ebook distribution deal for all of my titles. Henceforth my titles will only be available for purchase through the new ebook reader app Dirty Reader:

dirty fucking reader, yeah!

Dirty Reader uses advanced NaughtyWords™ artificial intelligence technology to scan a corpus of text and detect the optimum location in which to insert a metric fuckton of cuntybollockspoofacefucknuggets to enliven your reading experience and bring it closer into line with the author's state of mind after spending 180 consecutive working days alone in the office except for a sullen, intermittently incontinent cat, wrestling with a buggy word processor while fending off dumb-ass editorial emails and bloody inane suggestions from Marketing. It's enough to drive anyone to drink, and indeed, "novelist" is right up there with "farmer" and "quality assurance engineer" in the alcohol consumption career stakes.

Dirty Reader debuts today, April the toad-felching first, 2015.

On Wednesday I'm heading off on the long road trek to Heathrow (what, you think I'd fly into that sucking vortex of despair?) for Dysprosium, the 66th British eastercon.

A piece of ebook-reader software called Clean Reader has been generating headlines and causing indignation among authors recently:

A new app that allows readers to swap swear words in their novels with sanitised versions is facing a backlash from furious authors, who have accused it of setting a dangerous precedent of censorship.The app, entitled Clean Reader, has been designed to take explicit words out of any book printed in electronic format - with or without permission from its author - to swap them with child-friendly versions.

(I'm not linking to Clean Reader directly—don't want to give them any free inbound Google mojo.)

The US (not UK, alas) ebook edition of "The Atrocity Archives", Laundry Files book 1, is on a special promotion. It's $1.99 for the rest of March! you can find the Amazon.com Kindle edition here, or the Barnes and Noble Nook edition here, Google Play store version here, and Apple iBooks store version here.

If you're reading this on my blog you're probably already aware of my Laundry Files series; in case you came here from elsewhere, "The Atrocity Archives" is book #1 in the sequence, and the latest novel, "The Annihilation Score" (book 6) comes out in the first week of July. In fact, I just finished checking the page proofs now, so it's heading back to the typesetter agency and then on to the printers next month ...

I've been quiet due to (a) recovering from delivering the hopefully-final draft of "Dark State" (the first book in the "Empire Games" trilogy, due from Tor next April), (b) visiting relatives, (c) having a nasty head-cold, and (d) having the page proofs of "The Annihilation Score" (July's Laundry Files novel) land on my desk. Normal service will, as they say, resume as soon as possible.

My current plan is to tackle the aforementioned page proofs, work on the next book, then head for Dysprosium, the British eastercon, over the Easter bank holiday weekend. And before I go I really ought to fit in time to catch up with the last Jim Butcher book that I haven't read yet, because he's one of the two guests of honour at Dysprosium and I'm on program to interview him. (If you've been reading the Laundry Files you might have noticed a tip of the hat in his general direction.)

Finally, here is an extremely dangerous toy (probably illegal in all sane jurisdictions).

Friendship is context-sensitive.

I wouldn't describe Terry as a friend, but as someone I'd been on a first-name acquaintanceship with since the mid-1980s. If you go to SF conventions (or partake of any subculture which has regular gatherings) you'll know the way it works: there are these people who don't really see outside of this particular social context, but you're never surprised to see them in it, and you know each other's names, and when you meet you chat about stuff and maybe sink a pint together.

I haven't seen Terry since the Glasgow worldcon in 2005. The diagnosis of his illness came in 2007; I'd been spending a chunk of 05-07 out of the country, and after the bad news hit I didn't feel like being part of the throng pestering him (for reasons I'll get to later on in this piece.)

Some of you may be aware that there's a tabletop role-playing game set in the Laundry Files universe, sold by Cubicle 7 Games.

It's available on paper, and as PDF downloads via the usual folks (such as DriveThruRPG).

Anyway, there's a special promo for the next couple of weeks; Bundle of Holding, who do humble bundle style sales of RPG materials, are doing a special Bundle of Laundry offer. For $8.95 or more, you get the core rule book and the player's handbook as PDFs; if you pay more than their median price (currently $24.32) you get a whole bunch of extra supplements—basically the entire RPG for under $25 (or about £16.50 in real money). Oh, and this stuff? Is all DRM-free.

So if you've had a vague yen to dust off a tabletop RPG for an evening's fun with friends, why not see if you, too, can survive your training as a Laundry operative without losing your mind?

I have a new book coming out in the first week of July: it's The Annihilation Score (UK ebook link), and here's the cover Orbit have done for the British edition!

Annihilation Score cover

And in case that's not enough, because it's published on both sides of the pond, here's the US ebook edition, and the American cover art:

Annihilation Score cover

If you detect a certain violin-theme running through both covers, you'd be perfectly right. Because this may be the sixth Laundry Files novel, but there's a new twist: this one isn't about Bob, it's about Mo. And superheroes. And a certain bone-white instrument ...

I am still suspended head-down in a vat of boiling edits. The deadline is next Friday, so don't expect normal blogging to resume before then.

(The book in question, "Dark State", is tentatively due out from Tor in April 2016—assuming I can hit that deadline.)

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