Charlie's Diary

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Thu, 30 Sep 2004

Things to do in Brussels when you're dead

I'm tired of travelling. But I'm off to a couple of friends' wedding in London this weekend, and spending most of next week in Brussels, administrative heart of the EU and generally picturesque burg.

Aside from the Atomium, and the numerous local beers, what should I be looking to do in Brussels for a couple of days of creative slacking?

[Discuss Brussels]

posted at: 23:56 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 28 Sep 2004

It never rains but it --

Yesterday, I made a herculean effort to get on top of my accounts. This is one of the tasks you never fantasize about when you lust for the job of being a full-time novelist -- but it's part of the package all the same, along with the book signings and the reviews and all the rest of it. Yes, for about 1% of your working life you turn into a bookkeeping clerk, in order that the authorities leave you alone to carry on writing tales of far- flung adventures beyond the cosmos. It's no wonder so many authors wig out and become libertarians (unless they're Tom Holt, in which case they have an unfair advantage over the rest of us) ...

Being a native of Airstrip One, I don't deal with the US IRS's schedule but with Her Majesty's Inland Revenue (who are pretty much similar except for a different style of pastel-tinted brochures, which you can find on their immense website if you feel like seeing how the other side live). I pay my tax on the basis of an annual estimate (the self-assessment system), and have to file my accounts for a given tax year by January 31st of the next year or risk a hefty fine. If the earlier estimate turns out to be off-base the IR then either charge me an extra dollop or give me a refund.

Being too chicken to do the job myself, I pay an accountant to deal with the Inland Revenue for me. But my accountant charges an accountant-worthy hourly rate, so I don't just throw raw receipts at him -- I tally them up first in a spreadsheet, broken down by category. Yesterday I ploughed through an eight-inch thick stack of receipts, weeding out irrelevant junk that had crept in by mistake (like restaurant meals at home an car petrol vouchers), and sorting and collating the important stuff. Then I entered it all in the spreadsheet. I figure I'm about halfway through the job. If I'm lucky it'll even all add up in the end.

This is, of course, the real reason why I've finally come down with the cold that's been hovering over me for the past week. Feorag's already had it and is recovering. It's the usual fallout from too many long-haul flights and dry air-conditioned hotel rooms. I just wish it would go away in time before my next flight (Saturday) and leave me to the misery of doing the annual return without the added sniffles.

I'm half-tempted to go into more detail and rant about the headaches of accounting for income in half a dozen currencies (some of which is paid net of local withholding taxes, some of which is tax-exempt, and some of the tax on which can be claimed as a tax deduction from the UK's tax authorities -- let's just say, I've had more than one brush so far with the mind-numbing complexities of international reverse double-taxation treaty law) ... but I suspect you'd stop reading pretty rapidly if I did that.

So instead I'm going to hole up in bed, snuffling into a pile of tissues and drinking a hot toddy, leaving the tax return for another day, while I muse about the possibility of writing a story about the Inland Revenue's crack vampire audit team ("you may be undead, sir, but that does not qualify you for a tax holiday").

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 22:03 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 25 Sep 2004

Excuses time (again)

I know, I know, I haven't been updating the blog enough lately. That's because in between travelling to far-flung places I'm currently spending a lot of time with family and the rest of my time being exhausted. (I haven't even had time to migrate the rest of my web site and email setup onto this spanking new server I've paid for and am running ... hopefully in the next week or so this'll happen.)

I've worked up a backlog of committments to write short stories and novellas for various anthologies. I'm now planning to spend the rest of this year trying to catch up with them all so I don't blow any deadlines. This means that if you're thinking of asking me to contribute to an anthology or magazine ... just don't, okay? (If your deadline falls after mid-2006 I might be able to do something, but right now I'm logjammed, with about 60,000 words of short fiction committments to meet.) If you'd told me five years ago that there'd come a time when I'd be turning down invitations to write for paying markets I'd have thought you were nuts, but that's what's happened. The flipside of this (if you're a reader rather than an editor) is that it means I might eventually have enough material for a new short story collection in 2006/2007. We shall see ...

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 18:37 | path: /excuses | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 21 Sep 2004

October Surprise?

I know I've been trying to keep off the topic of the Iraq fiasco, but this is something that's too good to miss.

According to this month's Guardian/ICM poll the British electorate is overwhelmingly in favour of pulling all UK forces out of Iraq immediately -- a 71% majority, split along gender lines 77/63. Approval for the invasion runs at 40%, with 45% saying it was unjustified. It's a running sore in Tony Blair's re-election chances, with an election due in the next 15-18 months. Unlike Bush's republican base, support for withdrawing troops is almost as strong among Labour voters (73%) as Liberal Democrats (75%), and even among conservative voters a clear majority want to see a definite withdrawal date set.

All of this wouldn't signify much, except that The Observer (a Sunday newspaper) reported, on the 19th, that the British Army is to start pulling troops out of Iraq next month, reducing strength in Iraq by a third over the course of October. "The forthcoming 'drawdown' of British troops in Basra has not been made public and is likely to provoke consternation in both Washington and Baghdad. Many in Iraq argue that more, not fewer, troops are needed. Last week British troops in Basra fought fierce battles with Shia militia groups," as the paper felt it necessary to explain.

Now. Let us postulate that Blair committed to the Iraq exercise for a variety of reasons other than the stated excuse about weapons of mass destruction -- a combination of belief in the necessity for regime change to oust an odious dictatorship with a measure of cold-blooded diplomatic necessity: the need to rebuild the trans-Atlantic relationship with a unilateralist US administration that bears grudges. (Blair's Labour Party central office had offered advice and support to the Gore campaign to during the past election -- a long tradition, but not one guaranteed to build a good working relationship with the Bushies.)

Next, let us also contemplate a forthcoming US presidential election which is still, post-convention fluctuations aside, too close to call.

Despite his apparent support for Bush over Iraq and terrorism, Blair clearly isn't enamoured of the current president -- both for historic reasons and on matters of policy (as witness Blair's recent designation of global climate change as the number one threat to humanity today). They're not reading from the same hymn book, and I suspect Blair would be deeply relieved if Bush was to be replaced as president by a Democrat with a reputation for thoughtfullness. But Blair can't risk the sort of partisan campaigning support for Kerry that used to go on between Labour and the Democratic Party (and between the Conservatives and their Republican allies). If Bush were to be re-elected the consequences could be very grave for a British government that supported his rivals. The Bush administration not only bears grudges -- it acts on them.

But employing some sort of tactic that would throw the election at the last minute is another matter. And I suspect one of the few signals that could get through to the US media right now would be a unilateral British withdrawal -- or draw-down -- in Iraq. The British contribution was, at its peak, bigger than all the other non-American contributions to the coalition combined; remove it, and all you've got is a fig leaf plastered across a public embarrassment that no less a luminary than the UN secretary general just declared to be illegal. Would this be enough to get through to the American public the fact that they are in this mess on their own? A British withdrawal certainly wouldn't encourage the other small-scale players to leave their forces in jeopardy, and it would highlight the US's military isolation to any undecided voters who haven't yet realized that the coalition is, in fact, just camouflage. The war isn't all that popular in the US, and heaping more echoes of Vietnam on top of the existing warehouse-load of deja vu isn't likely to do Bush's re-election chances any good.

I wonder if Blair is planning to deliver an October Surprise that will swing the US presidential election against Bush?

[Discuss Iraq invasion

posted at: 10:13 | path:
/wartime | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 20 Sep 2004

The future, redux

Can anyone tell me if this is a fake? (The TTY looks a bit too modern to me ...)

Update: A MeFite writes, It's actually the maneuvering room of a US Navy nuclear submarine, circa 1960's. The original is a photo from the Smithsonian, and this pic is a result (I'm pretty sure) of a Fark PS contest a couple weeks ago. The wheel is the steam throttle valve for the propulsion turbines.

[Discuss toys]

posted at: 18:27 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 16 Sep 2004

This is more like it ...

For the past nearly-four years I've had this odd feeling that I'd been handed the wrong 21st century. But every so often bits of the real one keep leaking through: things like the third international conference on space elevators remind me that maybe, just maybe, things are moving in the right direction some of the time.

(Yeah, space elevators. That's so 1980's, isn't it? But as Arthur C. Clarke pegged them as happening some time after 2060, and these guys are talking about building one in the next two decades, I live in hope of maybe actually getting to see the Earth from orbit before I die of old age.)

[Link] [Discuss space]

posted at: 20:30 | path: /excuses | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 15 Sep 2004

Welcome to the new server

If you're reading this, you're looking at my new server. Don't bother updating your bookmarks or links -- if you hit on my blog at its old site you'll be taken straight there, and in a week or two (when I've moved some other stuff over) I'll point to this machine. In the meantime, let me know via the mail form if you notice any oddities (other than the server responding faster).

posted at: 14:42 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 11 Sep 2004

Quiet in here, isn't it?

I'm back in Boston, recovering from the past week or so.

First rule of worldcon-going, if you're a new writer, is to volunteer to be on lots of panels and do lots of signings and other Exciting Author Stuff. Work that turf, right? This is true up to a point (and if the con breaks even you might even get your membership fee back), but the Second rule is a bit less obvious: don't volunteer for too much. You will inevitably be booked up for lots of signings at obscure (and less obscure) dealer tables and bookstores, your editor will probably want to drag you out for lunch or dinner (this is a Business Meeting which means they get an excuse for living high on the hog at their employer's expense), and -- hell, just leave some time for sitting around relaxing and chatting to friends, or sightseeing, or going to parties, or something, right?

The second rule really kicks in when you are writing for Asimov's SF Magazine, have three book publishers, an agent (who also wants to do lunch in order to talk strategy), a couple of other editors who are publishing anthologies you're in or trying to get you to sell them a short story collection, and a sometime collaborator who is no less busy than you are, i.e. jumping around all over the place like a performing flea on crack. Volunteering for four hours of panels a day is a heavy but sustainable load -- if you have nothing else on your plate. If you're in demand, though, that basically means you're working 8-12 hours each and every day of something that's meant to be an enjoyable convention as well as a working event.

Anyway, Noreascon 4 zipped past me at about eighty miles per hour over the speed limit. I wouldn't say it wasn't fun, but the only things that got me through it were huge amounts of caffeine and somewhat more moderate amounts of beer. And right afterwards I zipped down to New York for three days of trudging around in the sweltering heat, having half a hurricane's worth of rain (excuse me, it's a tropical storm once the wind speed has dropped) dumped on me, and so on. The hotel booking was the first time has let me down badly: it is not a good thing when you arrive at the street address of the budget hotel to find that if you go up an obscure flight of stairs you find a handwritten note on the glass door of a tailor's shop saying CHECKIN HERE and nobody home. Luckily we had the prior offer of a spare bedroom (many thanks, Moshe!) so all was not lost, but it got us off to a bad start.

I'm not going to bore you with my New York travelogue (unless you want me to); suffice to say, if you've lived in London for a few years New York is basically the same application implemented on a different operating system (America 1.0). Manhattan has some truly wonderful architecture, but the effects at ground level -- everything scrunched up into the edges of canyon-like streets -- is rather less charming. Anyway, I did most of what I went there to do, and now I'm back in Boston (in the Marriott again) taking a couple of days to recover from the combination of worldcon and side-trip to New York. Hopefully I'll have something more interesting to talk about sooner rather than later ...


posted at: 16:15 | path: /fandom | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 05 Sep 2004

The Hugos

No, I didn't win one. But a good time was had by all. I'd write more, but I'm dog-tired and in the middle of the two busiest days of the con ... I guess a summary is in order, once I've got time to breathe and get my thoughts sorted.


posted at: 05:34 | path: /fandom | 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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Buy my books: (FAQ)

Missile Gap
Via Subterranean Press (US HC -- due Jan, 2007)

The Jennifer Morgue
Via Golden Gryphon (US HC -- due Nov, 2006)

Via (US HC -- due June 30, 2006)

The Clan Corporate
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The Hidden Family
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The Family Trade
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Iron Sunrise
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The Atrocity Archives
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Singularity Sky
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Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
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) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
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:

June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
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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