Charlie's Diary

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Thu, 27 Jan 2005

Down the rabbit hole, again

So much for a month of lying around not writing anything; I'm now 10,000 words in on the first draft of "The Jennifer Morgue" (which will hopefully be published in December 2006 by Golden Gryphon), the sequel to "The Atrocity Archives". Just as nothing diminishes one's appetite for reading fiction as the job of writing it, so too it should be noted that nothing diminishes one's ability to blog quite as much as being elbow-deep in the guts of a novel.

I do not take much notice of the outside world when I'm doing this stuff. And as I segued into "The Jennifer Morgue" right after the penultimate draft of "Glasshouse" (which needs a final run-through before I hand it in, but which is mostly there) I haven't had much time to engage with the rest of the universe. And this looks like it's going to be a year in which the first six months are front-loaded with a metric ton of work.

But at least "The Jennifer Morgue" isn't meant to be heavy ...

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 21:40 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 24 Jan 2005

A note from our sponsors ...

(Yes, I'm back.)

As some of you might know, Interaction, the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention, is being held in Glasgow this August. Members of Interaction, and of Noreascon 4 (last year's worldcon) are eligible to nominate and vote in the Hugo Awards, the leading award for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy.

The first stage of voting is the nomination ballot. If you're elligible you can nominate up to five works in each category. The nominated works with the most votes are then placed on a final runoff ballot and the final vote winners are announced at the convention.

Nominations are open: you can find the nomination form here, and they must be received by the 11th of March.

(Clears throat.)

Far be it from me to tell you who to vote for, but in case you were wondering, I have three eligible novels: The Family Trade, Iron Sunrise, and The Atrocity Archives.

Of these three books, only Iron Sunrise will be in print on both sides of the Atlantic during the voting period. This means it's the only one of them to stand a snowball's chance in hell of winning the final ballot. I'm not saying the other books are bad -- but this worldcon will be held in the UK, neither of the other books have a UK publisher, and thus it is unlikely that enough of the British members will have read them to make a difference. Whereas the UK edition of "Iron Sunrise" is due out on March 2nd (if not sooner), well before the final vote takes place.

If you're a supporting or attending member of Interaction or a past attending member of Noreascon IV, I'd like to ask you to fill out a Hugo ballot. While I'd obviously like you to vote for me, I think it's important to repeat that the Hugos reflect the views of the worldcon membership, and in recent years a dismayingly small proportion of attendees have voted. Your opinion does count, and I encourage you to express it.

[Link] [Discuss]

posted at: 17:25 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 19 Jan 2005

The crapness continues

Am feeling under the weather; on top of which, I'm off for a long weekend visiting relatives. Feel free to talk among yourselves.

posted at: 19:33 | path: /excuses | permanent link to this entry

Tue, 18 Jan 2005


So I woke up today feeling a bit under the weather. (Snow, with added sleet and gusts of wind outside the windows.) Nasty taste in mouth, fuzziness around the edges, lack of motivation. I put the page proofs in the post (hurrah!) and decided I'd resume my interrupted week of doing nothing in particular.

There's a fine art to doing nothing in particular. There's only so much reading of books that I can do, and I'd already exceeded this week's quota of staring at a non-interactive screen by Sunday night (thanks to a video evening -- theme: 007, content: "Diamonds are Forever" and "Licence To Kill"), which leaves magazines, computer games, and poking around the web. The latter rapidly turns onerous as I can't stumble across a fire hydrant spraying opinions without feeling the need to adorn it with my own scented -- ahem, so in an attempt not to do that I decided to go back to Neverwinter Nights.

It is at this point that the annoyance made itself known.

Headphones. They breed in dark corners, don't they? For my iPod, I use a pair of rather nice Sony MDR-NC11 noise-cancelling earbuds. But it's a pain to disentangle them from the 'pod and add them to the Mac, so I went in search of another pair I could leave permanently on my desktop.

Now, I know for a fact that there are three pairs of decent enclosed headphones in this flat. One of them is a pair of Sony professional ones and they're plugged into Feorag's G4, the better to save me from aggravation if, in a fit of insomnia, she should decide to get up and play Sim City at four in the morning. So they're off-limits.

The other pairs are a set of perfectly decent Koss folding headphones and some budget Sennheisers. Lo, as soon as I want them both pairs vanish into the headphone equivalent of a Japanese love hotel. Even worse, all the in-ear phones also go to the mattresses. It is beyond a joke. Normally I can't turn round in this place without tripping over a stray headphone lead, but as soon as I actually want a pair they all vanish!

I go online to see if the nice cheap Koss headphones are as cheap as I remember. Turns out they're priceless -- Koss don't make them any more, dammit. (To add insult to injury, I missed the chance to snap up a pair when Richer Sounds were remaindering them six months ago.)

I normally view headphones as a sort of consumable item, a bit like toner catridges, with the exception of the MDR-NC11s. (They definitely don't fall in the category of "consumable" unless you're Bill Gates, and indeed I whimper faintly as I recall what I paid for them: I'm not about to start yanking them back and forth between machines. They can stay with the iPod and their padded bag.) But as soon as I start poking around online in a desultory manner, wondering if I should replace the Koss headphones with something new, all the cheap headphones scamper away and hide, leaving me to be drawn unerringly to web pages describing the Etymotic ER6i. This is a Bad Thing. Headphones that come with a toolkit and a range of replacement parts are officially Scary, even before you get to the frequency response graphs. All I want to do is play a computer game in peace: I'm not looking for an audiophile grade shopping accident!

The worst of it is, I know that I won't find my headphones until I buy a new pair. Then they'll surface ... two minutes too late to cancel the online order.

[Discuss hifi]

posted at: 16:31 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Fri, 14 Jan 2005

Accidental book acquisitions

Wandering around town today (between fits of proof-reading) I ended up in the local remainder bookshop. Which had a title in it that I simply had to take home -- Bioinformatics for Dummies.

It's a long time since I did any biochemistry or genetics and I'm very out of date. I'm hoping this book will bring me up to speed -- it looks to be a real blast.

(And yes, this posting was motivated solely by the desire to make the preceding pun.)

Is there any topic too obscure for a "... For Dummies" approach?

Discuss ... For Dummies

posted at: 16:22 | path: /fun | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 12 Jan 2005

The writing life, part 102

Yanked from the sleep of the dead by a doorbell, I grab my dressing-gown and shamble up the front hall, managing not to trip over Frigg (who as usual is running ahead of me but keeps stopping to look over her shoulder at the food ape to make sure I'm following). Opening the door, I am engulfed by a gale. The postman -- for it is he -- thrusts a piece of paper and a pen at me: "sign here". In the pre-dawn twilight I slowly realize that I'm not wearing my glasses and my right eye (the night-blind one) isn't reading, while to my left eye (the myopic one) the page is a gray blur. The porch light would help if it wasn't an elderly fluorescent bulb that takes half an hour to reach full brightness. Hail rattling around my ankles I hastily scribble something that might approximate an end-of-signing autograph and then grab the package and retreat indoors.

When I scrabble my way through the packaging I discover that it contains the page proofs for "The Hidden Family", and I've got about a week to turn them around and get them back in the post. This happens to be the middle of my week for lying around recovering from "Glasshouse"; so it goes. Ominously, the arrival of "The Hidden Family" means that "Accelerando" is probably already on its way towards me, so if I don't get this one out of the way fast I'm likely to find myself in a proofreading train wreck.

I do what anybody in their right mind would do: I go back to bed.

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 13:44 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 10 Jan 2005

Shop for Scandal

I've been quiet recently because I've just finished a novel and, being somewhat tired, have been resting up. I've also been a bit too angry to write my next blog entry, and consequently decided to give myself a few days to cool off and think about it before firing up the text editor.

Our story starts either eleven years ago, or last Wednesday, depending which end you want to hear it from. Eleven years ago, a young and enthusiastic fellow called Joe applied for (and got) a job with Waterstones, a major bookshop chain, at one of their main stores in Edinburgh. Last Wednesday Joe was sacked for alleged gross misconduct and bringing the company into disrepute. His offense, it appears, was to have a weblog, maintained in his own time and at his own expense, from home.

From the disclaimer on, it's clearly a let-your-hair-down, blow-off-steam affair. "The Woolamaloo Gazette is a satirical newspaper I first started on email way back in 1992. It allows me to vent steam on stories which are bugging me or amusing me and hopefully make people think at the same time. Satire is the best defence in any democracy. Items in the old Woolamaloo Gazette style newpaper articles will be obvious from the bold-face banner headline. Anything else is just my ramblings, mumblings or rants." And ramble, mumble, and generally rant is a fair description of what Joe did -- advisedly or inadvisedly -- for about twelve to thirteen years, without any trouble until now.

It seems that when push came to shove, this wasn't enough of a disclaimer to protect Joe from being fired for gross misconduct and bringing the company into disrepute. Rambling, mumbling, or ranting outside the workplace is now, it would appear, a sacking offense.

A couple of circumstances are worth bearing in mind.

For starters, Joe is an extremely knowledgable specialist bookseller. He's an SF fan. Not just an SF fan, but a reasonably personable bookselling SF fan with an encyclopaedic grasp of the field and an enthusiasm for it that was infectious -- it was difficult to walk into that shop and walk out again without having spent far too much money. His buying recommendations spread throughout the company (and outside it, as a regular reviewer writing for the online SF lit crit field), to an extent such that one editor of my acquaintance knew him by name as one of the key people to target if you wanted a new SF book launch in the UK to go down well. People trusted his opinions, people inside his company. The combination of specialist knowledge with enthusiasm isn't something you can buy: if you're running a business you just have to hope you can grab it when you see it. For a fellow occupying a relatively humble niche -- no manager, he -- Joe was disproportionately influential.

For seconds ... over the past few years Waterstones has plotted a precarious path through the turbulent waters of corporate retail. Most recently, the company was taken over by HMV, another large retail media chain. About six to eight months ago a new manager arrived at Joe's branch, and reading between the lines it appears that there was an immediate negative reaction: perhaps calling it a clash of corporate cultures wouldn't be excessive. Joe was banished from the front desk to the stock room, a grubby windowless basement from which he had no exposure to customers. The previously thriving program of author readings and signings mysteriously vanished. Shelf space devoted to SF and fantasy -- Joe's speciality -- receded into the shadowy depths of the store and shortened, shedding titles and variety (which, for a genre where sales are largely midlist driven and readers are browsers, is the kiss of death). And finally, Joe was accused of gross misconduct by his manager on the basis of a trawl through his online journal.

Bluntly: it appears that someone in the company's management (I suspect the store manager) decided that the face didn't fit. In so doing, they set up a kangaroo court using any evidence they could find -- and Joe's weblog came to hand. As with most journals where the author thinks they have a sympathetic audience, an unsympathetic audience can find copious quantities of ammunition. Waterstones has no company policy on employee weblogs. One would think that a bookshop might not want to discourage employees from writing (in their own time), but one would be wrong when a case for dismissal is being whipped up out of nothing in particular. Joe offered repeatedly to rectify any specifics which might have unintentionally caused offense, and was ignored. It seems that the maximum disciplinary response was required for grumbles written two years earlier: just as it would be for an airline pilot found stinking drunk at the controls, or an employee found stealing from the company.

How to explain the unwisdom of this decision ...?

Firstly, Waterstones have just lost one of their two most knowledgable employees in a field that generates a reasonable amount of their revenue. So purely from a business point of view, this was a dumb decision.

Secondly, they're booksellers: booksellers should not be in the censorship business. It makes them look stupid, and obsessively self-important, and a little bit malignant on the side.

Thirdly, I am led to believe that proceedings before an industrial tribunal are likely to commence once the official letter of dismissal arrives. If Waterstones win such proceedings, they'll have effectively established that employers can exercise prior restraint on anything their employees care to publish outside of their job. I don't suppose I need to explain why I think this would be a Bad Thing. On the other hand, if Waterstones lose, they'll have established that some of their management is willing enough to contrive baseless allegations in order to sack employees. (I have difficulty imagining a more efficient impediment to recruiting quality staff in future ...)

This is a lose/lose situation for Waterstones, and I sincerely hope that somebody at head office is awake enough to realize that they don't need the self-generated adverse publicity. I would suggest an equitable solution would involve reinstating Joe to an equivalent post at one of their other branches (to minimize friction), and adding a policy on staff weblogs to their terms of employment so that similar incidents can't happen in future.

More urgently, I'd point to this as a warning for anyone who isn't self-employed and who writes a weblog: watch out. Indeed, it's a warning to anyone who isn't self-employed and who wants to write in their own time. Corporate reach is threatening to deprive you of the right to self-expression. Censorship is no prettier when it's exercised by corporate fiat instead of government bureaucrat: I don't want to paint Joe as some kind of martyr to a civil rights campaign, but that is exactly what Waterstones have unwittingly made of him by their disproportionate response.

[Discuss corporate stupidity]

posted at: 16:45 | path: /misc | permanent link to this entry

Wed, 05 Jan 2005

You will see this again

... In July:

Accelerando book cover

(I will confess that I am slightly bemused to see my name on a cover where the dust jacket copy goes on to say, "An ideological tour de force, Accelerando is destined to stand beside Neuromancer and Snow Crash as one of the most seminal works in science fiction". sic.)

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 12:38 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry

Sun, 02 Jan 2005

And now ...

It really is finished! Modulo an all-nighter to read through it checking for continuity errors while it was still fresh in mind. The effect of GLASSHOUSE is ... well, I'm not sure: I started out planning to write a John Varley novel but I seem to have ended up with equal parts Philip K. Dick and Franz Kafka, by way of The Stepford Wives, The Prisoner, and Starship Troopers.

But this time round, the pacing works properly and the ending fits neatly on top of the build-up rather than being "book stops here". I really am going to have to work on not having to re-write endings extensively -- it's a major overhead.

On the subject of overheads, the wasted word count on GLASSHOUSE was smaller than on most previous novels. I ended up with a total word of 126,000 words in the final manuscript, and 9,200 words left on the cutting room floor. (Aren't word processors great?) Compared to IRON SUNRISE (finished in 2002) this is a big improvement -- IRON SUNRISE ran to 145,000 words but ended up with about 75,000 words left over. SINGULARITY SKY was much worse, to such an extent that I probably wrote the damn thing twice. I'm still worried about the wastage, mostly because I don't seem to have any significant amount when I'm writing fantasy or horror (the amount in GLASSHOUSE would be annoyingly large), but at least it's coming under control. Experience, I guess.

And I shall shortly begin talking about something else, for a change.

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 13:23 | 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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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
Via (US HC)
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The Family Trade
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Iron Sunrise
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The Atrocity Archives
Via (Trade PB)
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Via Golden Gryphon (HC)
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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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