Right now, I'm chewing over the final edits on a rather political book. And I think, as it's a near future setting, I should jot down some axioms about politics ...

  1. We're living in an era of increasing automation. And it's trivially clear that the adoption of automation privileges capital over labour (because capital can be substituted for labour, and the profit from its deployment thereby accrues to capital rather than being shared evenly across society).

  2. A side-effect of the rise of capital is the financialization of everything—capital flows towards profit centres and if there aren't enough of them profits accrue to whoever can invent some more (even if the products or the items they're guaranteed against are essentially imaginary: futures, derivatives, CDOs, student loans).

  3. Since the collapse of the USSR and the rise of post-Tiananmen China it has become glaringly obvious that capitalism does not require democracy. Or even benefit from it. Capitalism as a system may well work best in the absence of democracy.

  4. The iron law of bureaucracy states that for all organizations, most of their activity will be devoted to the perpetuation of the organization, not to the pursuit of its ostensible objective. (This emerges organically from the needs of the organization's employees.)

  5. Governments are organizations.

  6. We observe the increasing militarization of police forces and the priviliging of intelligence agencies all around the world. And in the media, a permanent drumbeat of fear, doubt and paranoia directed at "terrorists" (a paper tiger threat that kills fewer than 0.1% of the number who die in road traffic accidents).

  7. Money can buy you cooperation from people in government, even when it's not supposed to.

  8. The internet disintermediates supply chains.

  9. Political legitimacy in a democracy is a finite resource, so supplies are constrained.

  10. The purpose of democracy is to provide a formal mechanism for transfer of power without violence, when the faction in power has lost legitimacy.

  11. Our mechanisms for democratic power transfer date to the 18th century. They are inherently slower to respond to change than the internet and our contemporary news media.

  12. A side-effect of (7) is the financialization of government services (2).

  13. Security services are obeying the iron law of bureaucracy (4) when they metastasize, citing terrorism (6) as a justification for their expansion.

  14. The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there's a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.

  15. The term "failed state" carries a freight of implicit baggage: failed at what, exactly? The unspoken implication is, "failed to conform to the requirements of global capital" (not democracy—see (3)) by failing to adequately facilitate (2).

  16. I submit that a real failed state is one that does not serve the best interests of its citizens (insofar as those best interests do not lead to direct conflict with other states).

  17. In future, inter-state pressure may be brought to bear on states that fail to meet the criteria in (15) even when they are not failed states by the standard of point (16). See also: Greece.

  18. As human beings, our role in this picture is as units of Labour (unless we're eye-wateringly rich, and thereby rare).

  19. So, going by (17) and (18), we're on the receiving end of a war fought for control of our societies by opposing forces that are increasingly more powerful than we are.

Have a nice century!

Afternotes:

a) Student loans are loans against an imaginary product—something that may or may not exist inside someone's head and which may or may not enable them to accumulate more capital if they are able to use it in the expected manner and it remains useful for a 20-30 year period. I have a CS degree from 1990. It's about as much use as an aerospace engineering degree from 1927 ...

b) Some folks (especially Americans) seem to think that their AR-15s are a guarantor that they can resist tyranny. But guns are an 18th century response to 18th century threats to democracy. Capital doesn't need to point a gun at you to remove your democratic rights: it just needs more cameras, more cops, and a legal system that is fair and just and bankrupts you if you are ever charged with public disorder and don't plead guilty.

c) (sethg reminded me of this): A very important piece of the puzzle is that while capital can move freely between the developed and underdeveloped world, labour cannot. So capital migrates to seek the cheapest labour, thereby reaping greater profits. Remember this next time you hear someone complaining about "immigrants coming here and taking our jobs". Or go google for "investors visa" if you can cope with a sudden attack of rage.

I’m back home and mostly recovered from the jet lag, and according to the doctors I shouldn’t lose too many fingers from frostbite. (I exaggerate, but only a little: as I just spent three weeks in New England—specifically in New York and Boston—my cold weather gear got a bit of use. I mean, only about a metre of snow fell while I was there, and the MBTA only shut down due to a weather emergency twice: by the end of the trip we were making uneasy jokes about Fimbulwinter.)

Along the way I had plenty of meetings and I have some publishing news.

For one thing, I sold a short story (my first in a few years) to the MIT Technology Review. (It’ll be published in their fiction/futures issue, later this year.) And for another thing, “Accelerando” is finally getting a French translation; it’s due to be published by Editions Piranha on April 3rd. Oh, and of course “The Annihilation Score” is coming out for the first time in the UK and USA in the first week of July—that’s the sixth Laundry Files novel.

But the real news is that the trilogy-shaped-object I’ve been gestating at Tor for the past couple of years finally has a publication date and is slouching towards your bookshelves. I say “trilogy shaped object” because “Empire Games” is a single story spanning three books: they’re coming out at three month intervals, starting with “Dark State” in April 2016, to be followed by “Black Rain” and “Invisible Sun”. It’s set in the same multiverse as my earlier Merchant Princes series, although you don’t have to read the earlier series first; it’s about the failure modes of surveillance states and revolutions, the bizarre tendency of bureaucratic organizations to find new purposes for themselves long after their original purpose goes away, and how civilizations deal with existential threats. (Oh, and it has spies, a princess, a space battleship, and an alien invasion—just in case you thought I’d gone totally mundane …)

And to round things off, summer 2016 should also see the publication of “The Nightmare Stacks”, Laundry Files book seven. Because I love you so much that I’ve been writing one of them a year for a while (although I plan to take a year off after this one so I can do something different—every book I’ve written since 2007 has been in-series with something I wrote before then, and I have this itchy urge to surprise you).

So, that’s a four-book year coming up. And maybe there’ll be some short fiction on top. Finally all the hard work I did in 2013-14 is bearing fruit!

WARNING DANGER THIS COLUMN CONTAINS PATHOS, ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION, AND RAMPANT SENTIMENTALISM. If that bothers you, turn back now.

I feel a great pathos for robots.

Not just any robots, mind. But explorer robots. Brave little space robots. Voyager and Venera and Curiosity and Beagle robots. Spirit and Opportunity robots, possibly even more than all the others.

I think, honestly, most people do. We personalize the brave little toasters. They have twitter accounts and show up in completely heartbreaking xkcd strips. We root for them, pull for them, and appreciate their triumphs, tribulations, and traumas.

Scientists are still learning new things from images of Jupiter taken by Voyager I in 1979, when I was eight years old.

Eight. Years. Old.

Hello. I'm Rachel Manija Brown, co-author (with Sherwood Smith) of the YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, Stranger, and its sequel, Hostage. Stranger was published by Viking. Hostage was self-published. More on that in a moment.

Hello again. I'm also Lia Silver, author of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance series, Werewolf Marines, which is about werewolf Marines. Also PTSD and breaking the rules of at least two genres. (In my "Rachel no-middle-name Brown" identity, who doesn't write anything but treatment plans, I'm a PTSD therapist.)

And hello yet again. I'm also Rebecca Tregaron, author of the lesbian romance/urban fantasy/Gothic/romantic comedy/culinary mystery/everything and the kitchen sink Angel in the Attic, and the lesbian erotica, "Bound in Silk and Steel," in Her Private Passion: More Tales of Pleasure and Domination. (That's an anthology of lesbian erotica with 100% of its profits donated to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Please consider purchasing it or its companion gay anthology, His Prize Possession if your interests include human rights, lesbian spanking, or gay tentacles.)

Lia and Rebecca are self-published. Rachel is traditionally published and self-published. Since you probably already know plenty about traditional publishing, I'm here to talk about self-publishing.

If you click on the cut, you will eventually get to a discussion about the indie erotica subgenre about sex with dinosaurs, minotaurs, and Bigfoot.

Normally, I do this kind of thinking-out-loud on my own blog, where about thirty people are paying attention. But then Charlie said "hey, I've got this guest spot, come make yourself vulnerable visible here!" And sure, why not?

Hi, my name's Laura Anne, and while in the past I've mostly been known for urban fantasy (of the modern-magic-and-mystery variety) and the fact that I convinced a publisher to pay me to write three books about wine-based magic (and got a Nebula nomination for it!), my next project decided that it was going to drag me screaming and kicking somewhere slightly more problematic: American history.

Now, the talk in genre these days is about diversity, calling for more characters of color and alternative cultures, and more writers of color and non-Western backgrounds.  And I'm 100% behind that  - not because I'm a guilty white liberal.  Because I'm needy.

There.  I admit it.

Yes, literature - genre or mainstream - is a mirror.  We look into it to see ourselves, through whatever reflects back. And that's why it's important for there to be diversity - so everyone gets a chance to see themselves.  But literature is also a window.  It's how we see things that aren't us, that bring new views, new light into who we are

So I want to see more stories set in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, in cultures that aren't mine, with characters who aren't me, in race, religion, color or sexuality, because they let me see something else, something I can't get any other way.  I need more of that, please!

But where does that call for diversity, and cultural authenticity, leave me as a writer?  I'm of mixed and muddled background - four different bloodlines each carrying several different countries on their backs and continents in their wake.  But for me to claim one of them as my mirror?  Would be false, because I'm not a member of those cultures: I'm American, three generations deep.   So how much of American culture can I claim? 

At the start of this year Rachel Manija Brown and I decided to self-publish Hostage, the second book in our YA dystopia series. The long explanation is here.

Some people applauded, others shook their heads, but most discussion has not been about our books so much as about publishing in general. Underlying that I think is the anxiety many us writers feel about how fast publishing is changing, and what it all means for each of us.

Maybe it's just because I've always been a history geek, but the more I talk about this stuff, the more I'm reminded of the ways people dealt with the rapid changes of publishing during the wild days of the early novel, specifically in England. (Yeah, I know that Cervantes, and Madame de La Fayette, etc, were all early novelists, but I mean the eighteenth century when novel publishing went from a few to hundreds and beyond over a matter of decades. Kind of like genre books went from a few a year during the fifties and sixties, to hundreds a year, and then thousands.)

Charlie here, popping in with an announcement about next week.

Some of you may be familiar with Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, Mass., a most excellent establishment. Some of you might also be familiar with Boskone, the regular mid-February Boston SF convention. A bunch of authors go to Boskone, and we also do events at Pandemonium, so mark your calendars:

UPDATED Thursday February 12th, 7pm: Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch, now with special guest Charlie Stross, will be signing books, reading, and generally entertaining you at Pandemonium! And yes, this is the official launch party for "Karen Memory":

(I'll probably move on to the Cambridge Brewing Company after the event, assuming it's open; feel free to tag along.)

You can also catch all of us at Boskone, over the weekend!

Ahem. That is to say, my name is Elizabeth Bear (I bet many of you knew that already, since it shows up at the top of the page.)

So I wrote this book. No, not that book. This book:


[SUBLIMINAL MESSAGE: BUY MY BOOK.]

And it's new, out just this week. It came out on Tuesday. It's called Karen Memory, and it's a Weird West thriller with steampunk and alternate history elements. It stars a wisecracking cast of saloon girls, an itinerant and deadpan U.S. Marshal and his even more deadpan posseman, and a deaf white cat with an attitude problem. It features adventure, hijinks, shenanigans, murder, gunfights, rooftop chases, steam-powered mechs, and the occasional airship, as contractually required!

There's this thing in the industry we call the "elevator pitch." Which is what it says on the box.

The elevator pitch for Karen Memory is "Heroic steampunk prostitutes versus disaster capitalists, in the Gold Rush American West." In any case, I think it's a lot of fun, and I hope you will too. This is one of my favorite casts of characters of all time.

Yesterday, it was #16 on Amazon in Science Fiction and #2 in Steampunk. I had threatened to get on the internets and sing a Tom Waits song if it made #1, but no luck so far.

You can read an excerpt here.

And if you buy it and hate it, you can frame the cover art. Seriously, look at that cover art.

Do you guys follow Every Frame A Painting, on YouTube and Vimeo?

Film editor Tony Zhou makes short video essays examining individual directors and individual techniques, and for someone like me who loves movies (that most 20th Century of art forms), it's incredibly instructive to watch.

I'm going to embed his video about lateral tracking shots, mainly because he re-edits a certain scene to show the real power of this technique. It's only six and a half minutes: here you go:

If that iframe doesn't work, this is the direct link.

His other videos are amazing. The one about Edgar Wright made clear to me why I'm such a fan of his Wright's work, and why I've pretty much stopped watching Hollywood comedies. The "Bayhem" video--even if you don't like Michael Bay--shows what he's doing in a technical sense to achieve that Michael Bay look that audiences love. Recommended.

Watching them, I was struck by the need for something like this in prose, a way to closely examine word choice and sentence structure so that these creative choices can be better understood by readers and writers everywhere. There was some of that in one of the only helpful books about writing I've ever read--Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein--but there's always more to be done.

So I'm nominating myself to do it, and I'm going to make the attempt here at antipope, where it's likely to be seen by a lot of people. With luck, others with more expertise will try their hand at it and we'll see more nuanced examinations elsewhere.

Most everyone reading this who knows me (and I figure there might be a few of you) recognizes me as the author of a failed urban fantasy series, Twenty Palaces. The blog post I wrote about my failure to find an audience for those books (and the reasons why) continues to be the most popular post on my site, almost three and a half years after I wrote it.

I hate it. I hate being defined by my response to the worst failure of my life.

Last year, after it became clear that no NY publisher was going to pick up my new epic fantasy trilogy (another failure!) I put together a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the editing and other publishing costs of the books. (Don't worry, I'm not asking for pledges. The campaign ended long ago.) I set the goal at $10,000; I raised a little over $50,000.

A big success, right? Absolutely. At the time I write this, I'm still ranked ninth on the list of "Most Funded" Kickstarter campaigns in the Fiction category. Still, that post (which I'm not linking for obvious reasons) about my cancelled series is still my most popular.

But! in the spirit of moving forward, I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned in putting together a successful crowd-funding campaign. Maybe you have thought about a crowd-funding project of your own. Maybe Charlie will want to Kickstart something someday, and antipope readers would like tips on how best to help. Maybe what I learned re: that campaign are applicable elsewhere.

Yes. I've seen the Lars Andersen archery video*. Everybody can stop sending me links to it now.

Speaking as a mediocre archer in my own right, and as somebody who's written three novels with a Mongol archer as a protagonist and done a fair amount of research on the subject of worldwide bow techniques...

That guy's a really good marketer.

But he's not actually doing anything we didn't already know about, he's not shooting in a manner that would be at all effective in combat or for the historically more common purpose of feeding his family, and his quiver-handling skills are worthy of the "before" segment of an infomercial.

I'd like to see him cut a sandwich with a regular knife! It might result in an explosion.

Here's the thing. He's basically misrepresenting a bunch of well-known techniques in non-Western-European archery as his own invention or "rediscovery" (bonus cultural appropriation!), and into the bargain, he's not actually putting any strength into that bow of his.

I'm off to New York on Thursday, weather permitting, and won't be back until late in February. I'm in the US for business, and while I'm there I'll also be appearing at Boskone 52 in Boston from February 13-15; you can find me on the program schedule here.

I'll also be hanging out and drinking beer from 6pm on next Monday, the 2nd, in Pine Box Rock Shop in Brooklyn. It's really close to the Morgan Ave L stop (opposite side of the block), has good beer and spirits, and can feed vegans (not me: my wife). You can find it on Google Maps as Pine Box Rock Shop, 12 Grattan Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206, United States. If you're reading this, you're welcome to come along. (I'm told there's a facebook page for the event here. NB: I don't do Facebook.)

While I'm away I'm handing the blog over to an ensemble of all-star SF/F writers. We'll have Harry Connolly, Laura Anne Gilman, Elizabeth Bear, and the collaborating duo of Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown.

It is Saturday January 24th, 2015. Greece is going to the polls tomorrow, in an election triggered by the main centre-right coalition's inability to form a consensus on who the president should be. (The Greek President is elected by members of the Parliament rather than by the public or an electoral college.) It takes place against a background of traumatic externally-imposed austerity that is familiar, in watered-down form, to anyone living in the UK outside of London and the south-east, and to many elsewhere in Europe. And it is looking as if Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, is on course to win an outright majority and form a new non-coalition government.

This is not an insignificant regional event. Events in Greece set a precedent for the next election in Spain, where support for Podemos ("We can") is growing rapidly. It may also provide a precedent for the UK, which is due to undergo a general election this May, and where polling suggests that the once-dominant share of the vote held by the Labour and Conservative Parties (around 97% of votes cast, in 1950) has declined to around 60%, and where hitherto marginal parties (UKIP on the right, the Greens on the Left) are rising towards, or passing, the 10% milestone.

Syriza is a left-wing party, unapologetically opposed to the policies of austerity and IMF imposition of deficit-reduction on the Greek public. They don't want to leave the Euro (to do so would cause, at a minimum, a banking crisis and a worsening of recession), but the widespread pain of austerity has reached the point where the downside of leaving the Euro may be seen as less unpleasant than continuing along the current path. (Nor is austerity without its critics; it's deflationary, damaging to growth, and there is some evidence that it is being chosen as the course out of the 2007/08 crisis by the rich for ideological reasons rather than efficacy—it doesn't harm continued accumulation of capital, but it places a disproportionate burden on the poor.)

Predictably the big political guns throughout the EU have been wheeled out against Syriza, to frighten them into going along with the post-2010 arrangement. But it's looking increasingly likely that the Greek public are about to say, not merely "no," but "hell, no!"

So what happens next? Monday's papers are going to be an interesting read ... as for me, I'm speculating idly if, now that Lenin's not-so-excellent experiment has been dead and buried for a generation and the crisis of capitalism has given us a salutory lesson in the consequences of unbridled greed, we aren't now drifting back towards the realization that it's time to try Socialism 2.0.

I have not been blogging much lately because I have been a bit busy. "The Annihilation Score" (Laundry Files book 6) has been copy edited and is on course for publication in the first week of July, and I'm now about a quarter of the way into writing "The Nightmare Stacks" (Laundry Files book 7). This is a priority right now, because on January 28th I'm off to New York and Boston for my annual winter trip (and expect to come back with a bunch of edits to process on the new Merchant Princes trilogy). As my literary agent and my US publishers are all based in New York, and there's an SF convention—Boskone—in Boston, it's really a work thing, but I'm going to find time to send up the bat-signal for a brewpub evening in both cities: watch the skies, or this blog entry, for details.

Read below the cut for my itinerary and Boskone program items.

(Oh yes, one other thing. This is the time of year for Hugo nominations. 2014 was a bit of an odd year for me, insofar as I published just one piece of Hugo eligible fiction. It's a novel, an earlier work in the same series won a Hugo last year, and that's all I'm going to say. I am going to try to get off my arse and write a bit more short fiction over the next year or two, though, so things will be more interesting next year.)

Our glorious prime minister, failed TV company marketing director David Cameron, has proposed banning all forms of encryption that can't be broken by the security services. I'm not the only person who thinks this policy is beyond bonkers and well into criminal insanity (even his own deputy prime minister has reservations), but for the record, let me lay out why this is such a bad idea.

0. It is already a criminal offense to refuse to disclose your encryption keys, or to decrypt an encrypted file, on receipt of a lawful order to do so by the police or a court, under powers granted by Part III of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), in force since 2007. (Immediate consequences: paranoid schizophrenic jailed for refusal to decrypt his files. Apparently French anti-terrorism police became suspicious when he ordered a toy rocket motor. Strong encryption is the new tinfoil hat for technically ept paranoids: there's a human rights issue here. But I digress.) The point is, legal powers to essentially compel compliance with Cameron's goal already exist.

1. What Cameron is asking for, however, is a lot more drastic: the outlawing of endpoint-secured communications protocols. In other words, the government must be able to decrypt any encryption session used within the UK. This has drastic consequences which would, in my view, drastically undermine British national security (and cripple our IT industry).

What are these consequences?

2. If the government can decrypt an end-to-end encrypted session, then a third party can in principle use the same mechanism to decrypt it. (The third party could be a rogue government employee, or a crypto hacker.) This is not a hypothetical: it's intrinsic to how cryptography works. It's either secure against all third-party snoopers, or it isn't secure and will be cracked in time inversely proportional to the value of the data conveyed. Also, merely knowing that an encryption protocol has a weakness makes it easier to attack.

What sort of stuff would be at risk of third-party snooping by criminals or random hacker gangs like the denizens of 8chan or Anonymous?

3. Let's start with email. Not just your regular email: how about privileged lawyer/client communications? Internal transmission of confidential medical health records within the NHS backbone network? Your accounts, going to and from your accountant?

4. But email is only the tip of the iceberg. How about the encrypted web session you use to check your bank account? Or to pay your income tax? If you're a small business, the VATMOSS system is obviously a target—and a high value one, where an attacker could steal large amounts of money. Mandatory back doors in encryption imply weakening the security around the government's own tax-raising system. (Talk about sawing off the branch you're sitting on.)

Some systems require end-to-end encryption or they are simply too risky to permit. What are they?

5. Let's start with SCADA systems that control blast furnaces, nuclear reactors, water treatment plants, and factories. Then we can add other online systems: the in-cab signalling system used to deliver signals to drivers of trains on railway lines cleared for high-speed running, traffic signal boards on motorways, and in the not too distant future systems used by air traffic control for filing flight plans and transferring security-related passenger information.

We should then add online finance systems, from Paypal to the APACS credit card settlement system, the BACS payment system through which about 80% of the pay cheques in the UK are sent straight to the recipients' bank accounts, to inter-bank settlement and reconciliation, the share dealing system used by the London Stock Exchange, and every supermarket and wholesale warehouse inventory management and stock control/ordering system in the country.

What is the worst case outcome of mandating that the security around all these systems is weakened?

6. How about a group within 8chan deciding, purely for lulz, to scramble all the patient medical records accessible over the NHS Spine? Or that the Russian Mafia, who are already very much into cybercrime, hit the BACS system and use it to siphon off or scramble all payments going into the HMRC Income Tax accounts on January 31st?

Here's the key message that Cameron simply doesn't understand:

7. There is a trade-off between internal security and external security. You can have perfect security against message traffic between external hostiles if you ban encryption ... but by so doing, you destroy your internal security against attack from any direction at all. Or you can have total internal security with end-to-end encryption of all communications, and be pretty much immune to certain classes of hack attack, but lose the ability to listen for terrorist chatter. These two circumstances are opposite ends on a scale. You can adjust the balance between the two, but mandating either end of the scale is idiotic. Our prime minister has mistaken the rotating knob for a push-button with a binary on/off state. Hopefully his advisors will take him aside over the next few days and teach him better, or he'll lose the election this May. Either way, though, this proposal is disastrous and if it happens, well, I'll just have to get used to being a criminal.

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