Charlie's Diary

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Fri, 30 Jul 2004

Random observations

Books and magazines and newspapers, here in the UK, are zero-rated for VAT (Value Added Tax -- sales tax, basically). But ebooks appear to be treated as electronic media, and like DVD's and CD's they are not VAT-exempt; thus, if you want to sell ebooks to a British audience you must sell them at a minimum 20% discount compared to the paper version, or the general public will sneer at you.

Home bread-making machines don't just do fluffy white supermarket loaves (he says, subsisting on a loaf of organic Russian black bread with the satisfying consistency of a concrete brick).

And I've really got to (a) get the redraft of "The Clan Corporate" nailed down and (b) lease a new server. Preferably both next week, because the week after that I've got to go on a road trip and visit members of my family, and two weeks later there's the worldcon, and if I haven't finished the novel by then I'll get to explain why to my editor ... and around the time I get home from that the lease on my old server expires, and it'd be deeply embarrassing not to make the transition in time.

So I expect to maintain a really low blogging profile next week and the week after.

posted at: 20:12 | path: /excuses | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 29 Jul 2004

Weird World Web

We interrupt this weblog to bring you news of Weird Technology ...

The Aviation and Missile Command in Huntsville, Alabama, are building a missile designed to patch up injured soldiers; the 10 kilo Quick-MEDS projectile will be launched from a UAV at injured soldiers who can't be evacuated by helicopter because a fire fight is still in progress: it's packed with "blood, bandages, an oxygen generator, burn packs, critical-care supplies, vaccines and bio-chem antidotes". The second generation of the missile, once they get past proof of concept, will be GPS-guided and accurate enough to land in a 10 metre by 20 metre area.

(Anyone willing to place bets on how long it takes before a recipient is accidentally brained by one of these things? Adds a whole new meaning to "friendly fire".)

Meanwhile, according to Gizmodo (who got it off the UPS newswire, so it must be true), "researchers in the Sao Paulo University's Physics Department have successfully connected a group of 11 neurons from a blue crab's mouth parts to a computer, allowing them to control the movements of the crabs mouth parts via electrical signals." I, for one, welcome our new cyborg crustacean overlords. (And make mine a caipirinha.)

(Speaking of cyborg crustaceans, if you want to know where the lobsters in ACCELERANDO came from, this was the inspiration.)

[Discuss singularity]

posted at: 22:30 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 27 Jul 2004

A brief rant about ebooks

[Yes, it's still on: I'll be reading at Ottakar's bookshop on George Street, Edinburgh, tonight at 7pm. Remember: free wine.]

EBooks -- electronic editions of books you can read on your computer or palmtop -- are still something of a rarity. There are a host of reasons cited for this.

Firstly, publishers can't sell enough of the things to make economic sense, because they're locked into trying to charge as much for an ebook as they would for a hardcover: nobody in their right mind will pay that, especially if the blessed thing is padlocked to only work on a particular palmtop which will be obsolete in six months time, because the ebook is perceived as having less intrinsic worth than the paper copy (which has a life expectancy of decades to centuries). A DRM-locked file is essentially a transient item locked to a piece of electronics which is disposable on a time scale of months to a couple of years. It is therefore less desirable than a paper book.

There are a few rays of common sense hope in this picture: Baen Books' excellent Webscription online storefront actually sells ebooks for less than the paper copies, and in open formats that are likely to remain accessible for a long time. But by and large, most publishers aren't going down that road yet.

Secondly, there is no such thing as a good ebook reader yet.

I use a Palm Tungsten T3. It works for me, but it sucks for a surprisingly high proportion of the non-technophile non-geek public. It's an order of magnitude too expensive ($300 rather than $30), the screen resolution is an order of magnitude too low (120K pixels rather than 1.2M pixels -- I'm looking for something that can display two pages, in monochrome if necessary but colour would be nice, at a resolution of 300dpi: the minimum you need to compete with paper), the battery life is an order of magnitude too low (3-6 hours, should be at least 30-60 hours), and it's too fragile (drop it on the floor, never mind in the bath, and it breaks).

The technology to build a viable ebook reader exists, but you can pick any two from low price, battery life, or readability. And it's going to stay that way until a mass market exists for the things so that enough people buy them to justify tooling up to make tens of millions of the critters and selling them for the price of a good hardback.

We may see an end run around the problem of ebook readers if mobile phones with fold-out digital paper or OLED displays begin showing up. I can read a book (just!) on my Treo 600, and the phone has all the processing power it needs. It also has the perceived low cost (tending towards free, if tied to a network, here in the UK). All it needs is an adequate screen, and we're training the new generation to use 'em instead of email for texting. But we're not there yet.

Currently the nearest thing to a proof of feasibility on the market is the Sony Librie. For reasons that should be obvious (read the review!) I consider Sony to be out of the race completely; . Sony Entertainment won't let the consumer electronics division manufacture an MP3 player, their ebook reader looks good but has DRM and proprietary formats up the wazoo to the point where it can't display ordinary ASCII text, and any attempt to make an open system would run into internal opposition. But at least it showcases Digital Paper, the display technology of the future.

Anyway. If ebook readers are embryonic and ebook business models that focus on making money by selling ebooks are fundamentally broken, where does this leave us?

The more I look at the issue the closer I come to Cory Doctorow's position, which he frames neatly in the talk Ebooks: neither E, nor Books, which he gave at ETCON '04.

Two quotes particularly caught my eye:

"Ebooks complement paper books. Having an ebook is good. Having a paper book is good. Having both is even better. One reader wrote to me and said that he read half my first novel from the bound book, and printed the other half on scrap-paper to read at the beach. Students write to me to say that it's easier to do their term papers if they can copy and paste their quotations into their word-processors. Baen readers use the electronic editions of their favorite series to build concordances of characters, places and events."


"Unless you own the ebook, you don't 0wn the book. I take the view that the book is a "practice" -- a collection of social and economic and artistic activities -- and not an "object." Viewing the book as a "practice" instead of an object is a pretty radical notion, and it begs the question: just what the hell is a book?" [ Long and contentious discussion ensues. ]

Some publishers, notably Baen, offer some of their titles for free online. Baen says it increases sales of the paper books. Their model is to use the digital version as cheap advertising rather than a cash cow

This bears some explanation.

As Patrick Nielsen Hayden explained it to me, "People use e-text to sample; they buy hard copies to enjoy. But they're significantly more likely to sample if what's on offer for free is the full text, rather than a lame-o 7500-word excerpt." Baen see a significant spike in sales of David Weber's Honor Harrington backlist novels on paper after publishing a new book with a CDROM bound into the spine containing the entire text of those backlist books. This isn't an insignificant cost; the cost of a CDROM is something on the order of $.05-$1 in this sort of quantity, commparable to the dust jacket or binding. Cory Doctorow saw very good sales of his first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, sales double or triple what a first time midlist novelist would normally expect ... after giving away the full text as a download under a Creative Commmons license on the first day of publication.

How to explain why this works?

My theory is this: reading online sucks, but those of us who are readers do it anyway, up to the point at which it gets too painful to continue.

If we see a novel with an online sample that looks interesting, we may look at the sample. But if it's limited to, say, two chapters, we hit a brick wall: we have to put the book down unless and until we stumble across a copy of it in a bookshop and remember reading it. Whereas if we run across a complete online ebook we can begin reading it and, if we like it, we keep on going. Because reading online sucks, the pain slowly increases -- but we get more and more hooked. Some of us get so hooked that we finish the ebook, but in a large number of cases we get hooked enough to want to finish it badly, but pained enough to be motivated to buy the hardcopy. And in those cases, the motivation to go out and buy a copy and finish the story is a much stronger one than in the cases where the experience is artificially truncated at the end of chapter #2.

So why isn't giving away the full text as a free download a more widespread practice?

Here we run up against the realities of the publishing industry.

For starters, the idea of giving something away in order to make more money is not intuitively obvious, especially to people who have been brought up in a business revolving around physical lumps of paper and cloth, rather than fungible data. The publishing business is not incredibly profitable for the most part, and non-net-savvy editorial folks (and marketing and sales people) are likely to be suspicious of a new-fangled idea that smells of dot-com snake oil. They'll be asking "where are the hidden costs?" all the way to the royalty statement.

For seconds, have you ever seen a book contract? It's scary. It's about the size of the deed of sale for a house. It's full of gnarly sub-clauses and grants of rights and waivers of rights and non-exclusive rights to this and that and reversion clauses and exceptions. Navigating them is a full time job for a highly specialised class of legal lizard. Many books are not only sold, they're re-sold.

Let me give a concrete example. The book-format (and ebook) US publication rights to SINGULARITY SKY were sold to Ace (aka Penguin Putnam), but the UK (and some other countries) were sold to Orbit (aka Time Warner UK). Contracts are in the works for translation rights in a number of languages. Any or all of these contracts may include subsidiary clauses governing ebooks, microfilm, movie, TV series, and radio rights, talking books for the deaf, seeing-eye dog books for the blind, and special icing-on-wedding-cake editions. In my case, this means that before I could do a free ebook release of SINGULARITY SKY I'd have to convince both Orbit (who hold the UK ebook rights) and Ace (who hold US ebook rights) that they want to do this, and to variously cede non-exclusive republication rights back to me. Did I say non-exclusive? Publishers almost never give up rights they hold. Although you can download Cory's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom free, you can also buy an official Tor DRM-locked Microsoft Reader edition of it for $10, if the fancy takes you.

This is why there are no ebook editions of my books, yet: the publishers don't see it as making enough money to be worth doing, because they're still locked into the "ebook as cash cow" paradigm and everybody knows that Ebooks Don't Sell. And I don't have the right to unilaterally release the books under a creative commons license. To acquire the rights would require serious contractual headaches. But it's something I'm working on for future projects.

Meanwhile, remember that the publishing industry only looks illogical because it wasn't designed; it evolved. The practices it holds on to are the practices which didn't result in a publisher somewhere going bust. If you want to make it do something it isn't used to doing, something new, you have to understand how to make the right arguments from inside the machinery and reassure the people who're affected that you're not going to end up costing them their jobs. Which is why the free ebook thing is taking such a long time to catch on, even though it's widely recognized that the potential revenue from a commercial ebook edition is dwarfed by the revenue boost to a paper edition whenever a free ebook edition is published.

[Discuss creative commons]

posted at: 14:52 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 24 Jul 2004

Now, where was I ...?

Last week, yr. hmbl. crspndnt. was immersed in the slow, painful process of redrafting a novel (the third one in the fantasy series I'm writing for Tor, if you must know), when a large bundle of galley proofs (for the first book in the same series) flopped through the letterbox.

As is so often the case, the bundle of proofs came with a covering letter (dated the 15th of July), and began with an apology: "Dear Charlie, this is due back in production no later than the 30th. Can you let me know if you have any problems with this ..."

"Due back in production" means that any corrections I have to make to the page proofs have to be in front of the typesetter so they can correct the Quark file and fire it off to the printer. At this stage, being late means the book won't make it to the printer on time, which means it won't make it to the shops on time. Which is a big oopsie. Especially as the typesetter is sitting in an office in New York and I'm in an office in Edinburgh and I have to allow time for the trans-Atlantic air mail on top of whatever allowances I have to make for my sanity. Because proofreading is not my favourite job. (Is it anybodies?)

This was basically a drop-everything task: tweaking the draft of a novel that isn't in production yet goes on the back-burner to make room for one that's due on sale in something less than a hundred days. And I've just now gotten through it, at least to a point where I'm willing to let it go with a shrug of resignation. Because I am a truly appalling proofreader. I mean, I'm crap. I know this because, years ago when I was earning my crust as a technical author, one of my managers tried to turn me into one. She gave up eventually, in disgust. I'm useless at spotting my own mis-spellings, because likelier than not they're one that I've got wired into my own head as a correct spelling: if a spelling checker and a copy editor let it pass, I'm not going to notice it. I'm a bit better at spotting dropped sentences or munged paragraphs, but I can't guarantee to get it right. And (like most would-be proofreaders) I tend to read what I expect to see, not what's on the paper. I'm especially handicapped by the attention span of a ferret on crack, a side-effect of my easily distracted neophiliac tendencies: this is very useful when nosing out weird new tropes to stick in a cutting-edge piece of SF, but less than helpful when the job in hand entails emulating an OCR package.

Anyway, I'm now at the breathe-a-sigh-of-relief stage. The corrected proofs are ready to go off, I'm about to go back to scratching my head over the draft on the cutting room floor, and I've got to sort out the passage I'm reading next Tuesday. And -- oh, that.

Special announcement time:

This server, which has served me doggedly (if not well) for most of the past three years, is about to go away.

Back in 2001, a basic web server with 64Mb of memory seemed reasonable. I leased it for three years, cash up front. I didn't bargain with the stupendous growth in spam (which can be filtered, but which entails running memory-hungry and processor-intensive scripts on a constant basis) and the need to run mailing lists and weblog software (which are also memory and CPU hogs). The Antipope box is now tottering under the load, and the lease is due to expire at the end of September.

Next Monday I'm going to cough up a painful lump of cash and, in return, lease a new box. One that has at least 16 times the memory, 16 times the disk space, and 8 times the processor power of the old one. Migrating everything over to the new system will take some time (we run six or seven mailman mailing lists, two blogging systems, email and DNS for five domains, two levels of spam filtering, a usenet news server, and various other kipple), so there might be some service (and blogging) interruptions during August. (The situation is exacerbated by a road trip I need to take in the first two weeks of the month.)

But aside from that, I'm going to try to get back in the habit of posting regularly.

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 19:18 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 21 Jul 2004

Is this mike live?

We interrupt this blogging hiatus (caused by novel redrafting and the sudden arrival of a batch of galley proofs that need checking, like, yesterday) to announce that I'll be doing a reading next Tuesday 27th of July, in Edinburgh, at Ottakar's Bookshop on George Street, at 7pm. Admission is free, so is the wine (I'm not kidding, there's free booze), and you can come and hear me read from SINGULARITY SKY (or get your copy autographed) if you're in town.

Be there (or be somewhere else)!

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 20:10 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 16 Jul 2004

... And getting slower

Because not only am I making slow headway on the novel redraft; I'm also expecting the proofs of another novel to arrive any day now (short turnaround! Schnell, vite!), my German translator just got in touch with a preliminary list of "what on earth does this mean" -type queries, and it turns out that some more edits for yet another novel are about to surface.

On the other hand. If you're in the US, you might want to pick up the current (August) issue of Popular Science, which seems to be mostly about me. Or so I'm told. If you're in Edinburgh, I am doing that reading in a couple of weeks -- more details nearer the time. And I'll try to update this blog more regularly once I crawl out from under the mountain of paper ...

posted at: 18:26 | path: /excuses | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 13 Jul 2004

Scribble scribble

I'm redrafting a novel (THE CLAN CORPORATE, due out from Tor some time in 2005/2006), so this is liable to be a slow posting week ...

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 19:41 | path: /excuses | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 11 Jul 2004

What I did yesterday ...

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

I must remember that digital cameras -- especially pocket snapshotty-things -- have significant shutter lag. I don't get to go to air shows often enough to justify buying a real camera and a telephoto Lens of Doom, which is why this shot of the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (Spitfire, Hurricane, and Lancaster seen in close formation) is a bit grainy and, well, crap. But we had a good time yesterday at the annual air show at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune, getting re-acquainted with the sound of fast jets on afterburner and gaping at the exotics (the only F-86A Sabre flying in Europe! The only airworthy Sea Vixen in the world!), and the Red Arrows were their usual inhumanly precise selves.

I was interested to see a WWII re-enactment society at the show. I wonder how long it'll be until we see a Cold War re-enactment society?

[ Discuss Cold War ]

posted at: 12:54 | path: /toys | permanent link to this entry

Stockbrokers of death

The Guardian runs a fascinating expose of the death broking business -- an example of risk management strategies run amok.

Death broking - or gambling on the lifespan of your fellow man - has become the latest way for investors tired of stocks and shares to reap a healthy profit.

Individual investors are making enormous returns by buying so-called impaired life insurance policies auctioned at a discount by terminally ill policyholders, desperate to unlock the benefits of their policies before they die.

'I prefer buying the policies of people who have certain sorts of cancer because, with the right sort of research, you can pinpoint fairly accurately how long they have left to live,' said 49-year-old Robin Harley.


'If people have money to invest, they become very cold about how they do it: it becomes an entirely commercial decision,' [said an anonymous FSA]. 'I have hesitations about individuals getting involved in this market because unscrupulous people purchasing policies from people who are quite vulnerable could easily abuse that position,' he added. Kennedy admits this could be the case.

Sometimes, however, the seller can triumph over the buyer ... 'We pulled out of this market altogether because we found the sellers were not dying when they were supposed to, and we were having to face huge numbers of disgruntled buyers,' [another FSA] admitted. (My emphasis.)

Now, let's see if I've got this right ...

A life insurance policy is basically a bet you make (with the insurance company) that you're not going to die. You owe them a chunk of money (with interest) which you normally pay in installments, monthly. If you die, they owe your estate their side of the bet. There are complications -- normally life policies pay off when they mature as well as when you die -- but it's basically a bet. And in this case, a transferrable bet. If you want to get into the death broking business, you pay out a substantial chunk of the maturation value of the policy -- typically 30-40% -- to the policy-holder, in return for which you inherit the policy. You keep paying the installments until the terminally-ill former policy-holder dies, at which point you receive the full balance of the policy, thus making a return of maybe 20-40% per annum on your investment. (If their cancer doesn't go into remission, of course.)

Which leads me to ask several questions. Can we conceive of trading forward death options to hedge ourselves against the risk of declining mortality among AIDS victims? Can we conceive of large-scale manipulation of this market? Is it possible that a burgeoning death broking business might lead some larger investors to attempt to stifle medical research into cures for commonly fatal conditions? And how do we deal with the equivalent of the free rider problem -- the free killer problem (wherein the equivalent of Murder, Inc. decides to get heavily into impaired life policies and then liquidates its investment, so to speak)?

The mind boggles (in between reaching for the sick bucket). I swear I couldn't make anything like this up and hope to get away with it in fiction.

What, I wonder, would Adam Smith think?

[Link] [Discuss market anomalies]

posted at: 12:01 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 09 Jul 2004

More toilet humour

... Of a feline persuasion.

(NB: We wish to apologize for the lack of non-feline-bowel-oriented content this week. Normal service will be resumed as soon as Charlie stops howling with mirth whenever Mafdet tip-toes mistrustfully up to the Littermaid, squats, and legs it. In print journalism, the correct term for this syndrome is "silly season.")

[Link] [Discuss toys]

posted at: 17:05 | path: /cats | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 07 Jul 2004

Toilet humour

So of course, this morning I decided to do the monthly total litter tray overhaul -- which consists of completely emptying out the sievable litter tray and re-filling it with about five kilos of expensive-but-worth-it premium clumping litter. And half an hour later the doorbell rings! Yes, you guessed it: it was the Littermaid.

At first sight, the Littermaid looks weird, sort of like a cross between a tank landing craft and a Robot Wars also-ran -- the urge to paint red and yellow go-faster stripes on its side is well-nigh irresistible. So far, the cats are treating it with mild confusion ("help! Where'd the toilet go?") ... but I'm sure they'll figure it out in time. Which has now got me very worried indeed, for one very important reason: it sounds like a tank landing craft with lubrication difficulties making its way through a railway stockyard. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, deafening. And while this might work okay in a huge mid-western split-level ranch-style house sprawling across six acres of virgin desert, it's a lot less okay in cramped old Blighty; due to the lack of space in my flat, it's going to have to live in the hall passage beside the bathroom door, about fifteen feet from my right ear when I'm lying in bed.

When the cats begin to use the Littermaid, my first warning will be a loud rumbling, creaking noise accompanied by metalic squeaking and a light artillery bombardment to soften up the beach-head -- at about four o'clock in the morning.

I originally seeded comments about this gadget under "toys", but I'm beginning to think "superfluous technology" would have been a better place for it.

[ Discuss toys ]

posted at: 16:35 | path: /cats | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 06 Jul 2004

Once is amusing, twice is a bad habit

Today is the official launch date for Iron Sunrise. There are no talking cats in this novel ... but it was not always thus.

Iron Sunrise was something of a problem child for me; while the final manuscript weighed in at 140,000 words, I probably axed 60-70,000 words from the five previous drafts and three major re-structurings it went through between 1998 and 2003. Along the way my focus changed somewhat. I'd started out writing a straight sequel to Singularity Sky, but while I was writing I embarked on other projects, including Accelerando. And ideas I was playing with in the early drafts of Iron Sunrise infected my other writing along the way.

Now, it might well be said that science fiction can encompass any number of completely alien entities. And it might equally well be said that cats are about as alien as they get, if you restrict your imagination to mammals. I was messing around with the idea of a talking cat in the early drafts of Iron Sunrise, and then with a robot cat-AI in Accelerando. And when Accelerando began to leak into print through the pages of Asimov's SF Magazine, it began to look as if a novel-structured version of Accelerando was going to be my third book from Ace, hot on the heels of Iron Sunrise. But this gave me a headache: because one book with a talking cat in it is amusing, but two in a row begins to look like a bad habit. I've already gotten perilously close to being pigeon-holed as The Singularity Guy -- if there is a worse niche to occupy in the science fictional hall of infamy, it's got to be The Crazy Talking Cat Guy. Right?

Some time in 2001 I ripped the cat character right out of Iron Sunrise. All the scenes featuring Fred got the axe, or were allocated to other characters. But here, exclusive to Charlie's Diary, is the first of the deleted scenes from my latest novel. Don't expect them to make much sense out of context ... (which in this case would begin round about, oh, page 116 of the Ace hardback):

In the early hours of the night after the party Wednesday lay on her mattress, trying to sleep. Her head hurt: it felt like someone'd left a window open inside her skull, flushing a cold steppe wind through it to clear away the drug-induced cobwebs.
Read on ...

[Link] [Discuss writing]

posted at: 21:43 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 05 Jul 2004

Progress through technology

Who says spurious technology can't improve our standard of living?

We're owned by two cats. Unfortunately they're big cats, and they're agoraphobic -- they've got a garden to go play in, if only they didn't panic on exposure to the room with the funny blue-white ceiling and the broken air conditioning. (They were raised in an apartment by a little old lady, and they're a bit set in their ways.)

One of the side-effect of living with cats is having to deal with that which comes out of the rear end of cats. And it's truly noxious. So it is with a sense of relief alien to all non-cat-owners that I've discovered a UK importer for the Littermaid electric self-cleaning litter tray. And now, my credit card slightly lighter, I'm awaiting the arrival of an extra-large LM-950 which, hopefully, will relieve me of yet another noxious domestic chore unknown to our ancestors.

Now if only I could find a robot mouse for them to chase while I'm writing ...

[Discuss toys]

posted at: 22:42 | path: /cats | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 03 Jul 2004

Weird Shit Saturday

I tend to poke around the web in the morning, reading the news. So what do I come across today? Here's Colin Powell in a hard hat, singing his own version of a Village People classic on stage at an ASEAN summit conference in front of the assembled diplomats. (Warning: requires Real Media player.) Then, via an acquaintances' weblog, I stumble across this proof that not only are fashion designers stranger than we imagine, but they may be stranger than we can imagine. (Not to mention being into recycling dead TV sets.)

And finally, in the real news, proof that what you spread comes back to haunt you; the Mouse, one of the prime culprits over many years in the corporate struggle to extend the term of copyright, is about to get bitten.

Ah, it's good to see the interweb dishing up some weird shit again. Things have been so boring for so long that I was beginning to get worried about the planetary weirdness drought.

[Link(Diplomat makes arse of self - thanks, Roy!]) [Discuss dumb]

[Link(fashion victims) [Discuss fashion victims]

[Link(Copywrong) [Discuss copyright-censorship]

posted at: 11:27 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 02 Jul 2004

Long train journeys

Yesterday I travelled about 850 miles by train. No exaggeration: I boarded a GNER inter-city express in Edinburgh at 9:30am, arrived in London at 2:08pm, crossed London, had a meeting, dropped in on the London SF meet at the Dead Nurse in the evening, then waddled back to Euston station for the Scotrail Sleeper Service at 11:40pm, which arrived back in Edinburgh at 6:50am. It is a truly weird sensation to lie awake in a tiny stateroom in a swaying, squealing railway carriage, staring out the window at the Scottish lowlands in the grey post-dawn light. You actually get a sensation of distance traveled that's missing when you fly, or hunker down in an express train travelling at twice the speed, or even drive (with your attention focussed on the road ahead of you).

While en route, I split my time between reading the manuscript of Karl Schroeder's next SF novel, "Lady of Mazes", and jotting down notes towards another novel of my own. I like what I've read of "Lady of Mazes" so far, but haven't finished it yet so I'm not going to spout off here. (What does strike me about it is that Schroeder seems to be intent on exploring the way in which the technology you use dictates your values, and vice versa. Very thought-provoking.)

All I can say about my own jottings so far is that I'm thinking about far-future SF novels including alien contact -- and how virtually no-one in the field has managed to invent an alien organism that's remotely as strange as a tree.

And then I got to thinking about the sheer speed of human cultural drift, the rarity of institutions that can survive even one human lifetime, and wondering what this might mean for a human interstellar polity where journey times are measured in decades and the centres of habitation have drifted apart culturally to such an extent that the idea of shared cultural values is oxymoronic.

Quote of the day:

Have you heard about the Edwardians? They are a gang of proletarian louts who dress like Beaton with braided trousers and velvet coats, and murder one another in 'Youth Centres'.

-- Evelyn Waugh to Nancy Mitford, 1954

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 17:05 | 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
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

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Missile Gap
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The Jennifer Morgue
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The Clan Corporate
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Iron Sunrise
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The Atrocity Archives
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Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
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Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
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Older stuff:

June 2006
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April 2006
March 2006
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December 2005
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November 2002
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March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

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