Charlie's Diary

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Tue, 30 Nov 2004

Memo to self

I have just remembered why it is that I don't play computer games.

Roughly 25 hours immersed in Neverwinter Nights -- in just 3 days -- is all it took. Now I'm on the wagon for at least 24 hours, because I need to (a) get some sleep and (b) get back to work on rewriting GLASSHOUSE, and (c) the cats were complaining.

Avoiding computer games is a vital defense mechanism, in my case. And it goes double for the kind of computer game that has narrative drive and a nondeterministic story line and even -- horrors! -- rudimentary characterization. Like, uh, NWN, even if it is just warmed-over AD&D. Okay, multi-player networked AD&D with user-extensible bits and cracking graphics. After that 25 hours or so of gameplay I'm still learning, and I'm maybe halfway through the introductory module, and have about five more stacked up behind it -- I reckon I could easily lose six months in here if I don't exert iron self-control.

(I'm just wishing I'd tried it earlier in the chest bug from hell.)

[Discuss toys]

posted at: 13:55 | path: /toys | permanent link to this entry

Sat, 27 Nov 2004

Cost of war

In late October, The Lancet published an epidemiological study suggesting that the civilian death toll since the US invasion of Iraq was likely to exceed 100,000 (relative to the projected death rate from pre-invasion demographic figures).

(Note to those who don't believe The Lancet study methodology was accurate: the cluster survey explicitly excluded known hot-spots for violence, such as Fallujah. Neither does it assert that the increased death rate consists of civilian casualties inflicted directly by the occupiers. For a not-too-unreasonable critique of the study, see The Economist's commentary.)

The flip side of the coin has now been revealed: CBS managed to get the Pentagon to admit the true scale of US casualties in Iraq -- and as with the civilian death toll, it's way higher than the news headlines suggest. See, it's impossible to conceal the death toll (1230 troops killed in action), but the injuries are another matter. So far, 9300 troops have been injured in combat -- seriously enough that 5000 were unable to return to duty. Translation: limbs blown off, brain injuries, crippled for life, medical discharge territory. But wait, there's more: over 15,000 troops have been evacuated from Iraq with "non-battle injuries". "Non-battle injuries" covers just about anything not directly inflicted by the enemy -- if you're hit by a bullet it's a battle injury, but if your Hummer swerves off the road to avoid an IED and you break your neck in the resulting crash it's a "non-battle injury". Of course, this covers lesser conditions too -- psychiatric problems, dysentery and other diseases, and so on -- but that's 15,000 medical evacuees who warrant a flight to a hospital in Germany, and 20% of them never rejoin their units.

So the total US casualty count so far is over 25,000, with over 9,000 permanently out of combat (dead or crippled). As 300,000 troops have been rotated through Iraq, that makes for a total casualty rate of around 9%. To draw an analogy to another insurgency in which a western nation got pinned down in street fighting over a period of years, the average rate of attrition is roughly ten times the peak sustained by the British Army during the Northern Ireland Troubles at their worst (circa 1972-74) -- but as the rate of attacks on US personnel is increasing rapidly, I suspect it's much worse than these figures suggest.

[Link(Lancet paper)] [Link(Casualty report)] [Discuss Iraq invasion]

posted at: 14:24 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 25 Nov 2004

Still Ill, Part 2

I'm still not better. The cold is drying up slowly, and the really worrying cough has gone -- but I've still got a residual dry tickly cough (irritated bronchi, I reckon) and I feel weak as a dishrag. I managed to get out of the house today and walk into town and back, and what's normally a one-hour routine errand left me feeling wiped out. It's not a pleasant sensation, and it's played havoc with my work schedule: I think I'm now about two weeks behind on the rewrite of GLASSHOUSE. Luckily I was six months ahead before this bug bit me ...

Being too unfocussed to work I've been catching up on my reading, both recreational and research. Let's draw a polite veil over the Laurel K. Hamilton vampire books -- if I say they're research you'll draw all the wrong kind of conclusions, and if I say they're recreational some of you will question my sanity. (What's left of it.) Let's just say that, while I've been thinking a lot about vampires of late, I'm not about to jump in and imitate that particular best-seller.

On a very different note I can wholeheartedly endorse Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. It features his usual calling-cards -- deracinated middle eastern youth, someone in a situation where his own actions suddenly acquire a power and significance he doesn't want, seedy goings-on in dusty North African alleyways -- but there's a lightness of touch, combined with a deft multi-threaded plot reminiscent of Iain M. Banks on a good day, which makes it most enjoyable, and there are also some very un-JCG touches of far future big-universe gosh-wow SF that suggest he's breaking new ground.

On the research side, I've just ploughed through A Matter of Risk by Roy Varner and Wayne Collier (published in 1978 -- thanks John, for lending me your copy: I'll return it as soon as the one I sourced arrives). It's a journalistic account of the CIA's project to raise a sunken Soviet Golf-II class ballistic missile submarine from the floor of the Pacific in 1975, under the code names "Azorian", "Jennifer", and (cancelled at the last minute) "Matador" told in rather breathless (and intermittently plodding) prose. I wouldn't recommend it unless you're actually trying to research the background to the voyage of the Glomar Explorer and the huge Clementine submarine grab -- there are more recent and better written books around that cover the whole weird caper without the tedious detail -- but it served its purpose. (If I mention the next book on my to-write stack is titled "The Jennifer Morgue" I'm sure you'll draw the relevant conclusion.)

One little tidbit did, however, stick:

[Loss of USS Scorpion] ... During the spring of 1968, three other submarines had also gone down: the Israeli Dakar in the Mediterranean, with a crew of 69; the French Minerve nearby, with a crew of 52; and the Russian Golf-II northwest of Hawaii. A total of 290 sailors died in submarine disasters over a four-month period. In fact the year 1968 had two-thirds of the marine disasters of the previous sixteen years, and three-fourths of their fatalities -- and all in the first five months.

(And if you can't hang a thriller plot off that, you shouldn't be writing thrillers. Right?)

Finally, my current reading matter: having stalled out on GLASSHOUSE (due to the chest bug and two lots of copy-edits arriving simultaneously at the beginning of the month) I'm pacing myself and updating my background reading before I go back to it. One useful source has shown up since I wrote the first draft, and is sure to feed into the final one: The Man Who Shocked the World, The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram, by Thomas Blass. Milgram was a hugely influential figure in the field of social psychology and -- equally importantly -- his work cast a fascinating (and rather unpleasant) light into some dark and dirty corners of human behaviour, going some way to explain why perfectly ordinary-looking people may commit atrocities when ordered to do so by an authority figure. The book itself turns out so far to be one of those scientific biographies that place the work of their subject in the perspective of their life and times; if it continues as it begins, it will be very good indeed.

[Discuss writing]

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

Mon, 22 Nov 2004

Still ill

This is getting extremely tedious. First it was a sore chest and a rattly cough combined with extreme tiredness. Then it turned into something a lot nastier, with overtones of bronchitis. Yesterday it mutated into a dry cough (no more death rattle, thankfully) combined with a nose-cold of the variety that produces bucketloads of slime. Now the dry cough has turned irritating, my head feels like it's stuffed with cotton wool, and every cough makes it feel as it my face is about to fall off. I've got a disturbing feeling that things are cycling back to setting one, and it's all about to repeat on me. Stop the roundabout: I want to get off.

I respond to illnesses oddly, mostly on account of my commute to the workplace being approximately three metres. If I take to my bed things are really bad; by the same token, if I'm in my office it doesn't mean things are good. So I'm spending most of my time hunched in front of the computer, not able to focus well enough to actually do anything useful, but too disturbed to take my hands off it and go back to being convalescent. At least yesterday I managed to watch Kill Bill Volume 1, even if I don't have the energy to try playing games.

At least the web is entertaining, albeit not entertaining enough to spark any creative thoughts. By way of Brad DeLong's blog I ran across The US as a Net Debtor: The Sustainability of the US External Imbalances (authors: Nouriel Roubini and Brad Setser (2004), (New York: NYU)), which scared the pants off me when taken in conjunction with the recent mutterings by the US Treasury Secretary and the head of the Federal Reserve. America is my largest market, and the idea that the dollar is heading over a cliff and the driver's boot is jammed on the accelerator instead of the brake does not fill me with joy. Maybe I need to start sniffing around Frankfurt for opportunities. But that'll have to wait until next year, now, by which time it might be too late.

Frankly, staying in bed is sounding more attractive all the time.

[Discuss market anomalies]

posted at: 19:07 | path: /excuses | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 18 Nov 2004

Excuses, again

I hit Dublin last Friday, with a somewhat sore chest, only to discover that none of the local cellphone carriers provided GPRS service, which I'd been planning to use from my Treo 600 to stay in touch. As we travelled by air I didn't bother bringing a laptop, so I couldn't take advantage of any of the (few) WiFi hotspots. So I was offline until I got home late Tuesday night. By which time the sore chest had acquired a nasty cough on top.

I'm now resting up, drinking lots of fluid, and staying mostly in bed. If I had a day job, I wouldn't be going in to work this week, let's put it that way.

Mind you, more signs emerge that we're living in the right century -- that is, the 21st one. This has been slashdotted to hell and back so it's old news, but while I was away the Liftport group successfully tested a prototype space elevator climber -- and here are some photos. Okay, so that's about 70 metres gone, 70,000 kilometres to go -- but it's an interesting proof of concept. (A climber, in case you didn't know, is the ascending/descending component of a space elevator, which I figure is a hell of a lot more likely to give Feorag and myself a holiday in orbit before we're 65 than any rocket technology that doesn't involve fast neutrons.)

Back to bed, now.

[Discuss space]

posted at: 17:04 | path: /excuses | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 11 Nov 2004

Scribble, scribble

The copy edits arrived on Tuesday morning, right after my last posting here. They're due back in production a week today -- which sounds like plenty of time until you consider that the production department is in New York, and I'm away from tomorrow through Tuesday evening in Dublin. So I've just spent a few happy fun 12-hour working days slaving over a hot manuscript.

For those of you who don't know what copy edits entail, it's like this: your editor sends the typescript you sent them on to a freelance copy editor. The copy editor's job is to look for errors and fix them -- not big, sweeping errors but little ones like using "email" on page 47 and "e-mail" on pages 192 and 256. Typos, naturally, fall within their remit, but consistency is also part and parcel of the job -- it's amazing how characters middle names can change in two hundred pages that were written four months apart, or how someone can drain the same cup of coffee twice on successive pages while wrapped up in a conversation. The copy editor fixes typographical stuff using a red pencil, with occasional marginalia on a cover note (and you'd better read those questions, and answer them, unless you want your readers to think you're an idiot), renders your usage and spelling consistent, maybe draws up a list of odd words or names that appear in your book (optionally with a concordance, just to make the typesetters job easier -- this is less important when the author is submitting electronic copy which just needs to be re-flowed and tweaked in Quark), and so on.

It's not entirely a one-way process. If you take exception to what your copy editor is doing (they're not telepathic, and sometimes they misinterpret what you're trying to say) you can scribble STET in the margin or over their changes, using a different-coloured pencil, and insert your own corrections. Sometimes you find they've been tweaking your text for consistency and missed something: at this point you get a warm glow of satisfaction from finding the poor copy-editor's omission.

This time, I did a couple of extra steps. I updated my own manuscript copy -- this forced me to read every change the copy editor made, carefully noting it down, and dragged everything into greater focus than usual. (I have my own reason for wanting a 100% up-to-date manuscript copy, and it's easier to generate my own than to dig one out of the bowels of a big publishing company on the other side of the Atlantic.) And I fed the entire thing to a scanner with an automatic document feeder, saving a PDF image of the pages. That way, I can ship it back to the publisher via regular air mail (printed matter rate plus signed-for delivery) rather than an expensive courier firm, knowing that if it goes missing I've still got a copy with all the painstaking work that's gone into it. (Given the amount of stuff I'm shipping across the Atlantic these days, this measure saves a not insignificant amount of money.)

Anyway, I reckon I've put in the equivalent of a 40-hour working week and then some in the past three days. And as I'm about to slouch exhaustedly off to the post office to pass he two-kilogram brick of paper across the counter, one question keeps floating through my mind:

Why, when I have two novels coming out in the whole of next year, do both publishers decide to send me the copy-edits for checking within two weeks of each other?

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 14:00 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 08 Nov 2004

I'm back

(Albeit somewhat exhausted from my share of the 320-mile drive.)

Novacon was a gas, modulo the not entirely satisfactory hotel arrangements. I'm off on Friday to P-Con II in Dublin, and planned to take a couple of days off in between to do some work. However, I've now been led to expect a > set of copy edits to arrive on my doorstep tomorrow or the day after. It'll be the second novel I've had to check the copy edits on this month! I thought I was going to spend this month tidying up GLASSHOUSE; that now looks like a December job to me.

The prospect of starting work on the next novel (the one I sold last week) is receding into 2005 ...

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 22:15 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry

Thu, 04 Nov 2004


I'm off to Novacon in a couple of hours.

Hopefully the world will still be there when I get back.

posted at: 08:35 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 02 Nov 2004


I am not going to be able to go to bed until I have some idea of where the US election is going.

Luckily there is beer in the fridge for celebrating/commiserating, depending on the probable outcome.

(Side-effect of planetary media saturation: colateral psychological damage goes inter-continental. Especially as Bush the Younger is the first politician since Thatcher to give me the instinctive put-boot-through-TV-screen reflex whenever I see his face on the box.)

I need happy fun distration, and I need it now.

[Discuss funnies]

posted at: 23:21 | path: /misc | 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

Quick links:

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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
Via (US HC -- out now)

Via (US HC)
Via (US PB -- due June 27, 2006)
Via (UK HC)
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Free download

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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