Charlie's Diary

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Wed, 31 Dec 2003

Happy Hogmanay

Tomorrow is Hogmanay.

In the spirit of the celebrations, I've just laid in a serious stash of beer. Later on this evening, via a couple of pubs and a party or two I should be installing a hangover. Tomorrow I will repent my wicked ways (until, oh, this time next week), and the day after that I will start writing another novel. In the meantime, happy new year!

posted at: 18:24 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 29 Dec 2003

Things that come in my postbag

Well, the mail has resumed normal service after the Christmas glut. And boy, did I receive an interesting assortment!

  • Credit card statements (naturally)
  • A couple of late Christmas cards (ditto)
  • An invoice from the Inland Revenue for next year's income tax (hollow laughter)
  • An author copy of New Voices in Science Fiction, a short story collection I've got half a story in (two weeks after I gave up hope, cracked, and bought my own copy)
  • An advance proof copy of Bruce Sterling's next novel, for comment (which I'm really looking forward to)
  • Three copies of the dust jacket for "Iron Sunrise" (they're dropping the definite article from in front of it -- oh, and apparently if the cover doesn't look like I imagined it would, I must now do my best to bring Western Civilization to a screeching halt: thanks for the tip, Teresa!)
  • A summons for High Court jury service
  • The bills aren't a problem -- but the jury service falls right in the middle of next month's planned writing death-march. See, I've got this novel that is due in at Tor either December 31st, or as soon as it's written, whichever comes first. (Let's be fair: due to the previous novel running behind schedule -- the publisher decided at a rather late stage that they wanted it splitting into two volumes -- I've got an extension. But I don't like extensions, I like hitting deadlines: and the original deadline is now 48 hours away and closing.)

    I've spent the Christmas period tooling up this enormous, tightly-planned outline, which is now ready to go. I've got a bluetooth keyboard, so I don't break the laptop, and I've got a truck-load of soft drinks and snacks sitting on the mezzanine, and a spare set of anti-RSI gloves, and about 20,000 words of off-cuts from the previous draft (back when I was writing a 250,000 word novel instead of a 100,000 word book), and, well, I'm generally pumped and ready for action. As of January 2nd (one must respect Hogmanay, after all) I was planning on getting down to work and beating NaNoWrMo by a factor of two. But trying to do all that while concurrently sitting on a jury is a bit ... hmm.

    Hmm ... again.

    Like I said, it's interesting what comes in my post-bag. I just hope I can get this all sorted out in time.

    [ Discuss writing ]

    posted at: 12:35 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

    Sat, 27 Dec 2003

    More news from the Barbie Liberation Organization

    Astute afficionados of the weird may recall the Barbie Liberation Organization, who in 1993 carried out mass voice-box transplants on GI Joe and Barbie dolls in shops leading up to the Christmas rush. (The resulting epidemic of Barbies saying "dead men tell no tales" and GI Joes expressing a desire to go shopping triggered much clucking in the media, although the original grossly gender-stereotyped voiceboxes had caused no such fuss.)

    Well, it turns out that dressing as Barbie is a survival trait -- if you're a lobster:

    Practical jokers Jim Bright and Chris Costello never imagined that their idea of dressing a female lobster in a Barbie outfit - accessorized with pink high heels - would save her from the steam pot.

    But it did - at least 10 times.

    As a gag, the fishermen clad the crustacean and placed her in a friend's trap last September.

    "It's a monotony hauling traps day after day," said Costello, "and we just wanted to break it up a little bit. It totally worked."

    Barbie Lobster, as she has come to be known, has been hauled up - and thrown back - at least 10 times. The radios used by lobstermen buzzed with chatter and laughter each time a new sighting of Barbie was reported.

    Costello made a special trip to Wal-Mart to buy the blue blouse, red- and white-checkered skirt and shoes.

    The men had wanted to dress up a jumbo lobster, but it was too fat to fit into a Barbie ensemble. Instead, they chose a svelte 1½-pound model.

    "They slipped right on, just like Cinderella," Bright said of the footwear.

    Costello disagreed, saying it was a challenge to put the high heels on the little lobster legs. There are four legs on each side so the men attached them to the two in the center.

    "You try squeezing Barbie shoes on a lobster," he said. "That was the most time-consuming thing."

    Barbie hasn't been seen since early December and apparently was unkempt and nearly naked, except for her shoes.

    (A reference to this incident has got to make it into the final draft of "Accelerando".)

    [Link (thanks, Teresa!] [Discuss pomo]

    posted at: 21:01 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

    Thu, 25 Dec 2003

    The work is done

    I don't have enough energy to write about this at length yet ...

    Back in mid-1999, life was stressful. I was lead programmer on the server development side of a dot-com that was experiencing business growth of 30% per month. I had a to-do list years long, a standing order for ten minions (who would turn up far too late to be helpful, at least at the time), and a job that involved grappling with web services at one end and the arcane guts of the British credit card clearing system at the other. (If acronyms like APACS, X.25, RID and TID mean anything to you, you have my deepest sympathies.)

    Pressure does odd things to you. Sometimes you crack; and sometimes you find a way out. My way out was a novelette called "Lobsters", which exuded lots of the high-pressure weirdness of my day to day life on the sharp edge during the peak of the dot-com frenzy. "Lobsters" was a breakthrough story for me. It ended up coming out in the June 2000 issue of Asimov's SF Magazine, was shortlisted for the Hugo, Nebula and Sturgeon awards (losing in each category to Ted Chiang's Hell is the Absence of God -- one of those once-a-decade stories that scoops the awards and makes everyone else green with envy), and drawing quite a bit of attention.

    Well, the ending of "Lobsters" seemed to demand a sequel, so I sat down a few months later to write "Troubadour" -- and realised halfway through it that actually I was writing a novel, in nine episodes spaced out across a century of subjective time. Each group of three novelettes would study one generation of a dysfunctional family, living through a period of rapidly accelerating technological change -- a Vingean singularity.

    (Oh yeah. Did I mention that the conventional wisdom in interested circles, since Professor Vinge coined the term, is that it's impossible to successfully treat this topic in SF? There's nothing like biting off more than anyone believes it's possible to chew ...)

    The compressed time frame brings its own challenges to a novel, too. Back in the 1980's, Bruce Sterling wrote a brief series of hyper-compressed short stories set in the not too distant future, and a hauntingly evocative novel called Schismatrix. Pseudonymous reviewer Vincent Omniaveritas (actually Bruce himself) writing in the cyberpunk ideology critzine Cheap Truth summarized it thus: "boils down the three-percent beer of space opera into a jolting postmodern whiskey." Which is all very well, but if you grab a pint glass full of whiskey and try to chug it you'll end up spraying everywhere if you're not lucky. "Cheap Truth" was the clarion call of the cyberpunk generation of the 80's; now twenty years in the past, cyberpunk imagery is so mainstream that it shows up in night clubs, second-rate knock-offs of "The Matrix", and dot-com boardrooms. Being stoned on my own hubris it seemed entirely appropriate to steal Chairman Bruce's clothes and try to turn out a novel in the form of a series of compressed, linked stories that distilled the three percent beer of cyberpunk into something you could use as fuel in a Zippo lighter. I'd say each episode in "Accelerando" contains about half the hard-SF idea quotient of a normal novel. At least, each one of these nine chapters left me feeling as wrung-out as if I'd written half a book.

    I said this was a case of biting off more than anyone could reasonably expect to chew, and I was right. Writing those stories was hard work; in the middle of #6 I actually took some time off to write a 195,000 word fantasy novel because it was easier. On the other hand, hard work brings its own rewards. In the case of "Accelerando", the first five stories have picked up two Hugo, one Nebula, one Sturgeon and one BSFA award nomination; the other stories haven't been out long enough for the annual award cycle to tick round, but I live in hope. Meanwhile, my agent sold "Accelerando" (as a novel) to Ace, who should be publishing it in July 2005. The novel will be somewhat different from the stories -- for one thing, it's all joined-up -- but it's the same essential concept. Three generations, one singularity, massive social and technological and cultural change, to such an extent that each successive generation is almost a different species from its predecessor. (They think differently -- one of the traditional blind spots of the early cyberpunk obsession with brain implants and "jacking in" to the net, seemingly without asking any of the deeper questions about what this means for the nature of intelligence.)

    Anyway. Today is Christmas day, 2003, and after four and a half years I have just finished the first draft of the final chunk of "Accelerando", which sort of ties everything up -- or at least the most important pieces -- and brings that particular story to a close. The outline of the novel is now more or less clear to me, although there's some significant restructuring and a bunch of additions to be applied to it before I can send it to my editor at Ace. (Those of you reading the installments in Asimov's should -- I hope -- get to see the last chunk a bit sooner, assuming Gardner Dozois likes it as much as the previous eight pieces he's bought.)

    Meanwhile, I'm feeling a little bit giddy. "Accelerando" currently tops off at 140,000 words, but while I have been writing it I have written -- and sold -- another 620,000 words of fiction (including five other novels and a fistfull of novellas and stories). The world has moved on, not entirely along the trajectory I expected, but not too far off course either. There is already a sort-of companion novel, "Glasshouse", set in the same universe as "Accelerando" (but some centuries later), written and due out from Ace the year after. But for now it's time for me to (a) blow off steam, and (b) take stock.

    Where the hell do I go from here?

    [ Discuss writing ]

    posted at: 11:38 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

    Wed, 24 Dec 2003

    Incidentally ...

    If you were to ask me "what are you doing for Christmas?" I would have to give my usual answer: "I'm working, of course".

    Christmas bugs me. Not the religious side of it, although that isn't my cup of tea (I suppose anyone who believes in that particular religion is perfectly entitled to go to church, but do you have to play insanely irritating religious music everywhere for a month in advance?) ... but the whole secular-consumerist package with added overtones of seasonal excess sticks in my craw. The assumption that everybody is on vacation gets right up my nose, too. I am not on vacation: I am determined, come hell or high water, to get the final chunk of "Accelerando" finished tomorrow -- at least in first draft. (And at 12,000 words I am very near the end indeed.) I'm not going to down tools for a week off from the climax of my masterwork just because the collective wisdom of marketing managers past insists that I need to eat and drink to surfeit then sleep off the hangover for the greater glory of the retail industry's profits!

    So here's a seasonal bah! humbug! to you all.

    posted at: 20:23 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

    Happy Newtonmass

    Tomorrow is the birthday of our favourite eccentric mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton. Shame it keeps getting confused with all those Mithraist solstice celebrations, but what the hell.

    In line with the seasonal spirit, Feorag ran up this solstice greeting card for you all to imagine kissing under the mistletoe:

    kiss the Cthulhu!

    [ Discuss The horror! The horror! ]

    posted at: 17:54 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

    Sun, 21 Dec 2003

    From the classified ads column

    Someone's selling an aircraft carrier on eBay.

    It appears to be the 17,500-ton Colossus Class light fleet carrier HMS Vengeance, most recently used by the Indian navy as a helicopter carrier and refitted with an angled flight deck after the second world war. The minimum bid is US $6.5M, with an instant sale for offers over $8M, and you'll probably want at least double that to get it even remotely seaworthy -- it's not exactly in good shape.

    My alter-ego the Evil Overlord is counting his filthy lucre and speculating about the cost of buying a brace of Sea Harriers and setting out to conquer a small Pacific atoll for use as his Island Base ... although he'd rather own the current HMS Vengeance, if given the chance: what's the point in being Evil Overlord if you don't have any weapons of mass destruction?.

    [ Link ] [Discuss Evil Overlords]

    posted at: 20:50 | path: /toys | permanent link to this entry

    Fri, 19 Dec 2003


    Still spraining my cerebrum. Off to a party in Fife this evening, and hoping to get back before the blizzards the Met Office is forecasting for late Saturday arrive ...

    posted at: 11:25 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

    Wed, 17 Dec 2003

    I need a word

    ... For the sensation of thinking so hard that your brains feel like they're oozing out of your ears under the pressure.

    Yes, I'm halfway through "Accelerando" story #9, "Survivor". And it's hard work, because I'm trying to somehow combine that elusive sense of closure that all long works of fiction need (and without which, Gardner assures me, I can expect an angry mob of Asimov's SF magazine readers to come and burn an upside-down microprocessor on my lawn) with a viable final episode in the bugfuck family saga I've been writing for four years -- despite having to cram it all into a novelette.

    On the plus side, I got 1500 words done today. On the minus side, I think I just sprained my cerebrum. (The fantasy novel I've got to write next month is going to seem like a stroll in the park in comparison.)

    [ Discuss writing ]

    posted at: 17:54 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

    Must write harder

    Back from three days of spurious sysadmin work in Leeds. Followed by a day of exhaustion; now it's time to get back to work, I think.

    Meanwhile the new printer arrived (an HP Laserjet 1300) and is plugged into the Airport Extreme pending my big network switch-over from the old, crummy Belkin router.

    In other news from the reality-especially-when-simulated-is-far-stranger-than-fiction department, the controversy continues over allegedly under-age teen prostitution inside a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (i.e. a computer game). The whole issue of copyright inside MMORPGs is increasingly bizarre (warning: Microsoft Word document) and there seems to be a trend towards allowing gamers who create objects within the game to own copyright in them, potentially turning internal game universe entities into something exchangable for real money. How long until someone exposes a 419 scam running entirely in a gaming universe?

    [ Link ] [ Discuss copyright-censorship ]

    posted at: 14:19 | path:
    /writing | permanent link to this entry

    Sun, 14 Dec 2003

    Saddam captured ...

    ... in Tikrit. And they're going to put him on trial.

    While shedding no tears for the beast of Baghdad -- who climbed to the top of the Ba'ath party of Iraq over a pile of corpses, by way of the secret police -- I can't help wondering whether this is a good thing for the west. I suspect his being at liberty may have been a restraining factor on the various Iraqi factions jockeying for power -- and taking pot-shots at the occupiers. Now he's out of the way, the spectre of a revived Ba'athist dictatorship has lifted from the followers of al-Sadr and the various other Shi'ite factions and the communists and the nationalists and the just plain pissed-off that their country has been invaded. The factions who suffered under Saddam no longer have to worry about that stuff: we may just have released the brakes on the armed resistance. Moreover, if Saddam is smart enough (and I hope he isn't) and the military authorities stupid enough (and after Gantanemo Bay I fear that they are), he may use a trial as an opportunity to wrap himself in the flag of Iraqi nationalism and turn himself into a martyr to the anti-American cause.

    Saying "ding dong, the wicked witch is in custody" is a dangerously naive reaction to this kind of news. By way of a thought experiment, I suspect a good metaphor is this: imagine it's November 1945, and Adolf Hitler has been dug out of a cellar, alive, in the US occupied sector of Germany, where he has been coordinating sporadic resistance attacks. He goes on trial at Nuremburg and is in due course sentenced to hang. What, sixty years later, would his historical record have been like? And more importantly, what, twenty years later, might the German people have made of a leader who put up a spirited defense in a kangaroo court, rather than taking the coward's way out of the consequences of his actions by shooting himself?

    [ Link] [Discuss Iraq invasion]

    posted at: 11:59 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

    Sat, 13 Dec 2003

    Excuses, excuses

    The reason I haven't blogged lately is that I'm in Leeds. Where my family live. Where I'm busy upgrading my sister, brother-in-law, and father to run OS/X on various shades of surplus-to-requirement powerbook and iBooks, installing Airport access points, configuring broadband lines, and otherwise catching up on a year's worth of system administration work for my blood relatives. In return for this they're feeding me, watering me, and telling me to get my hair cut.

    As this posting demonstrates, I've finally managed to get my sister's NTL broadband connection talking to an Airport and thence to my own iBook, in the wind-swept garrett on the top floor. This is a Good Thing. Less good is the fact that I talked myself into buying a copy of Poser for Feorag and began playing with it, instead of working on the current story. But piling real work on top of mere system administration is, well, just not on.

    Meanwhile, by way of BoingBoing, here's news of a fascinating development: the first demo of an open source CPU core that can be implemented using FPGAs -- cheap off-the-shelf reconfigurable chips that can be programmed to emulate other circuits. It's a long way to go until we see the Free Hardware Foundation's GNU Nanoassembler 1.0, but this is clearly a significant step on the way because it means goddamn royalty and copyright encumbrance free microprocessors that run goddamn royalty and copyright encumbrance free software (sorry for shouting there). All too many linux geeks think that it's enough for the software not to involve paying the Microsoft tax -- without realising that Intel, AMD, and the like are ultimately just as restrictive. FPGA based CPU cores running open RISC architectures are the first step towards really free (as in speech, not as in beer) computers and, by extension, towards the development of an architecture of the commons. Which is critically important because computing these days is infrastructure, and by building it on foundations owned by rapacious multinationals we're leaving our future working environment in hock to them.

    (Do I hear a chorus of "give the workers the means of production and they'll feed themselves for life" in the house?)

    [link] [Discuss microsoft]

    posted at: 23:27 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

    Tue, 09 Dec 2003

    Bampots in the News

    (Being the first of an irregular series of bulletins about bampots.)

    Investigating the german cannibal subculture: federal investigator Wilfried Fehl claimed during the trial of Armin Meiwes (for killing and eating another man) that there's a whole "flourishing cannibal scene" in Germany. "We are talking about dentists, teachers, cooks, government officials and handymen."

    Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post dirty bombs are going missing in Transdneister, a country most of us have never heard of for the simple reason that most governments don't recognize it. Transdneister issued a unilateral declaration of independence in 1990 and fought a brief civil war with Moldova -- it's a predominantly Russian region and didn't want to join in the perceived likely Moldovan merger with Romania. Anyway, they've got scads of SAMs, dirty bombs, all sorts of left-over Soviet weapons, and a government that makes Zimbabwe look like a model of moral probity ... and they're selling them to the highest bidder.

    Finally, White Supremacist terrorists in Texas developed chemical weapons and were only detected when a cyanide shipment they'd ordered was delivered to the wrong address. None of the arrestees are talking, and it's feared that accomplices may still be at large and planning to mount a gas attack somewhere in the US.

    [Cannibal bampots] [Worrying post-Soviet nuclear bampots] [Chemically assisted bampots] [Discuss bampots]

    posted at: 20:29 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

    I'm back

    ... Despite the 2 hour delay on the return flight caused by freezing fog around Edinburgh. (Standing around in a car park at 1am while de-icing the vehicle for the trip home is no fun. Once I got it running the thermometer read -4 degrees celsius. Brr.)

    Some good news emerging from the trip is that I now have some vague publication dates for my novels in the UK. "Singularity Sky" will show up in hardcover from Orbit in July 2004. And "Iron Sunrise" (out in hardcover in the US from Ace in July '04) will arrive in hardcover in the UK in February '05 -- Orbit are playing catch-up with my US publishing schedule, but I am hoping that by mid-2005 my SF novels should emerge at roughly the same time on both sides of the pond.

    Hint to gizmo-obsessed UK air travellers; Dixons (big electronics retail chain) run duty-free stores at most UK airports, and while the prices are generally no lower than street price, they run a few loss-leaders to get the punters to part with their money. One particular loss-leader right now is Apple's 40Gb iPod -- the saving from buying one at an airport shop instead of direct from Apple (or an Apple dealer) was not unadjacent to the price of two return air fares to London! So I'm currently schlepping all my backup data off the old 20Gb iPod and onto a new 40Gb model.

    (In case you were wondering, the iPod isn't just a mobile music player -- it's a fast external hard drive for my Mac. I keep a backup of everything on it. Because it follows me outside the house, the house could burn down tomorrow and I'd be back in the writing business just as soon as I could find a second-hand iMac. But the 20Gb one has been getting a bit full recently, and an upgrade was in order.)

    Other things ...

    Well, London is still there. And life is as surreal as ever; while out and about shopping on Friday, who should I run into but Cory Doctorow? We really have to get this synchronicity thing under control. Oh, and hi to all the rasfc folks I had lunch with on Sunday -- it was nice to meet you!

    [ Discuss writing ]

    posted at: 14:47 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

    Wed, 03 Dec 2003

    I'm outa here

    I've been moaning about needing a vacation; so I'm taking one. Won't be back on the blog until Tuesday next week at the earliest -- got stuff to do and places to go.

    In the meantime, it's now a dead cert that Orbit (Transworld) will be publishing "Singularity Sky" and "Iron Sunrise" in the UK -- at least, they've paid for them -- and issue #1 of the resurrected Argosy magazine will be coming out with a chapbook containing two collaborative novellas by Cory Doctorow and myself -- "Jury Service" (previously published by and a new sequel, "Appeals Court".

    posted at: 14:40 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

    Mon, 01 Dec 2003

    Scribble, scribble

    So I just finished (modulo some polishing by Cory) our latest collaborative novella, "Appeals Court", a sequel to Jury Service. (No, you can't read it yet -- not until it's published, at least.)

    Now to whimper, grit my teeth, and attack the final novelette in Accelerando.

    [Link][Discuss writing]

    posted at: 18:14 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry


    Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
    Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
    Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
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    Some webby stuff I'm reading:

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    Bruce Sterling ]
    Ian McDonald ]
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    Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
    Atrios ]
    The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
    This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
    Jesus's General ]
    Mick Farren ]
    Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
    Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
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    Grouse Today ]
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    Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
    GNXP ]
    Justine Larbalestier ]
    Yankee Fog ]
    The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
    Cough the Lot ]
    The Yorkshire Ranter ]
    Newshog ]
    Kung Fu Monkey ]
    S1ngularity ]
    Pagan Prattle ]
    Gwyneth Jones ]
    Calpundit ]
    Lenin's Tomb ]
    Progressive Gold ]
    Kathryn Cramer ]
    Halfway down the Danube ]
    Fistful of Euros ]
    Orcinus ]
    Shrillblog ]
    Steve Gilliard ]
    Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
    The Panda's Thumb ]
    Martin Wisse ]
    Kuro5hin ]
    Advogato ]
    Talking Points Memo ]
    The Register ]
    Cryptome ]
    Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
    Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
    Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
    Simon Bisson's Journal ]
    Max Sawicky's weblog ]
    Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
    Hitherby Dragons ]
    Counterspin Central ]
    MetaFilter ]
    NTKnow ]
    Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
    Fafblog ]
    BBC News (Scotland) ]
    Pravda ]
    Meerkat open wire service ]
    Warren Ellis ]
    Brad DeLong ]
    Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
    Jeff Vail ]
    The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
    Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
    Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
    Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

    Older stuff:

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