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.

Retired NSA director William Binney explains what the Snowden leaks really mean. This is an indispensable read if you're trying to understand the shape of the flypaper we're collectively stuck to. It's quite long, and it's a transcript of a lecture (with slides), but it's well worth persisting. In particular, do not give up before you get to the explanation of the term "parallel reconstruction" and see what certain agencies are using it for. I don't want to sound alarmist, but? Be alarmed, be very, very alarmed.

The European Convention on Human Rights was intended to enshrine the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in law for Europe. The UN UDHR was passed by the UN General Assembly in December 1948 as a response to the horrors of the second world war.

In no small part, the ECHR was pushed for by a fellow called Winston Churchill, who said:

"In the centre of our movement stands the idea of a Charter of Human Rights, guarded by freedom and sustained by law. It is impossible to separate economics and defence from the general political structure. Mutual aid in the economic field and joint military defence must inevitably be accompanied step by step with a parallel policy of closer political unity. It is said with truth that this involves some sacrifice or merger of national sovereignty. But it is also possible and not less agreeable to regard it as the gradual assumption by all the nations concerned of that larger sovereignty which can alone protect their diverse and distinctive customs and characteristics and their national traditions all of which under totalitarian systems, whether Nazi, Fascist, or Communist, would certainly be blotted out for ever."

So. Conservative-in-name Prime Minister David Cameron today promised to repeal the Human Rights Act, the legislation enshrining in UK law a chunk of supranational legislation put in place by notable former Conservative prime minister Winston Churchill as an anti-totalitarian measure.

Coinciding with Home Secretary Theresa May's attempt at reintroducing a universal surveillance regime of which the Stasi or KGB would have been proud, and her avowed desire to gag unpalatable political views from the media, you've got to wonder where all this is intended to go ...

Let's take a trip down memory lane to understand what the USA, UK and others bombing IS in Iraq is really about, starting with a quiz:

  1. What started on December 24th, 1979?

  2. What was Operation Cyclone?

  3. Who was Abdullah Azzam and what was the name of his young protege and follower who continued the organization he founded?

  4. Who did Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad originally pledge allegiance to, and what did that organization change its name to on October 17th, 2004, and then in 2013/14?

The lack of blogging this week has two roots: firstly, it was my parents' diamond wedding anniversary on Monday (which called for a road trip to visit them), and secondly, I'm still up to my elbows in the final draft of "The Annihilation Score", next July's Laundry Files novel. No, I can't say for sure when it'll be finished; probably early next week, but there's no guarantee. (I can say that this draft is 20% longer than the previous draft, which probably explains why it's taking so long ...)

In other news, some of you may have heard of this new-fangled social network called Ello. You can find me on it as @cstross, the same handle I use on twitter. Not much is happening there as yet (it's still in beta) but for now it looks a lot more interesting than Facebook (ack, spit).

Normal blogging will, I hope, be resumed early next week: or when I find something I feel compelled to rant about that won't fit inside a novel. In the meantime, watch the skies!

So: the referendum is over and the count is underway. I'm about to go to bed; when I wake up there should be a result. The final YouGov opinion poll today (not an exit poll) gave No a 54/46 lead, but earlier polls suggest the outcome is within the margin of error; I'd be very surprised if that final poll reflects the final count. In Edinburgh, the turnout was around 89.7% of the electorate, with voter registration running at 97% overall and more than 95% of postal ballots returned.

One thing is sure: even a "no" victory won't kill the core issue of the delegitimization of the political elite. (It has become not simply a referendum on independence, but a vote of confidence on the way the UK is governed; anything short of a huge "no" victory amounts to a stinging rebuke to the ruling parties of the beige dictatorship.) With that level of voter engagement we're seeing, and turn-out—probably setting a new record for the highest turnout in a British election—the number of "yes" votes is likely to exceed the number that would normally secure a landslide victory for the winning party in a general election: this will have serious repercussions in the long term. In event of a "yes" vote, negotiations will open over the terms of separation, and in event of a "no" vote, well ... promises were made by the "no" campaign in the last week that amounted to a major concession on Devo Max: will the Westminster parties keep those promises in the wake of a "no" vote on independence?

Anyway: I'm not staying up for the count. (I'm tired, boringly middle-aged, and the count will happen whether or not I'm glued to the internet feeds into the early hours.) Instead, I'll update this blog entry when there's a result tomorrow ... and in the meantime, open the discussion comments for a single question:

What comes next?

UPDATE: Final results: Yes, 44.7%, No, 55.3%, Turnout: 84.5% (setting an all-time record for a UK election—voting is not compulsory, and at the last UK general election, in 2010, the turnout was 65.1%).

UPDATE 2: First Minister Alex Salmond has resigned. (NB: it'll be utterly astonishing if his successor is anyone other than Nicola Sturgeon.)

You guys have listened to me go on for quite a few days now. I'm almost done! The material I've been talking about through this series of posts is all stuff that I was thinking about a lot during the time I was writing my novel Shadowboxer, which I began in 2008. These days I'm doing a physics degree that leaves me virtually no free time, but back then I was immersed in watching fights on You Tube and also looking at training footage from around the world in connection with my work with Steve.

So far I have talked about where I'm coming from when I talk about martial arts and the Philip K. Dick-like uneasiness I feel about the relationship between Hollywood and reality as I observe it play out in martial arts circles. Today I want to talk about representations of personal combat in popular media that I love. There are two examples that I want to share with you because I think they both exemplify the sincere effort to bring the live animal of the fight to the screen.

In my first post of this series I said I would talk about the depiction of personal combat in contemporary media. What I find most interesting here is the tendency to conflate stage-fighting with real fighting, and I am particularly impressed by the foolishness of movie-makers--who are themselves illusionists--when they are tricked by the illusionism of the martial arts into thinking they are showing something 'real' when in fact they are showing a martial art with only a tangential relationship to fighting

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  • Charlie Stross on Unwelcome reality excursion: Per James Bamford, who I tend to trust on such matters, the NSA had a 10 year lead on the consumer s...
  • Martin on Unwelcome reality excursion: As a result of all this, German military makes it to the Urals Not going to happen. Germany had an...
  • cahth3iK on Unwelcome reality excursion: Hmm, I don't know if you remember, but ECHELON. That was way before 9/11, and there was already quit...
  • Dirk Bruere on Unwelcome reality excursion: Where does the GCHQ money go? Well some of it undoubtedly goes on tech that is in general 5-10 years...
  • El on Unwelcome reality excursion: It's hard to say what a different POTUS to Dobya would have done. It kind of looks like a lot of th...
  • PrivateIron on Unwelcome reality excursion: I thought these current lines of discussion were exactly what Charlie did NOT want to hear. He was ...
  • El on Unwelcome reality excursion: Still bearing in mind I do think remaining in a federal Europe is the best way, I'm not sure that, i...
  • cahth3iK on Unwelcome reality excursion: Quite. There are two unspoken hypothesis behind my "only chance": "we" refers to all the people in ...
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