Empire Games

I'm back home and over the jetlag, but I'm keeping a low profile because I'm doing my final check on the page proofs of Empire Games (cover above)!

Because I'm back in the Merchant Princes setting with a whole new near-future SF trilogy—my big fat post-Snowden surveillance state technothriller (with parallel universes):

The year is 2020. It's seventeen years since the Revolution overthrew the last king of the New British Empire, and the newly-reconstituted North American Commonwealth is developing rapidly, on course to defeat the French and bring democracy to a troubled world. But Miriam Burgeson, commissioner in charge of the shadowy Ministry of Intertemporal Research and Intelligence—the paratime espionage agency tasked with catalyzing the Commonwealth's great leap forward—has a problem. For years, she's warned everyone: "The Americans are coming." Now their drones arrive in the middle of a succession crisis, for their leader, First Man Adam, is dying of cancer, and the vultures are circling.

In another timeline, the U.S. has recruited Rita, Miriam's own estranged daughter, to spy across timelines in order to bring down any remaining world-walkers who might threaten national security. But her handlers are keeping information from her.

Two nuclear superpowers are set on a collision course. Two increasingly desperate paratime espionage agencies are fumbling around in the dark, trying to find a solution to the first contact problem that doesn't result in a nuclear holocaust. And two women—a mother and her long-lost, adopted-out daughter—are about to find themselves on opposite sides of the confrontation.

Empire Games is due out on January 17th of next year, and available for pre-order now (UK/EU edition here)!

I'm flying home on Wednesday, but tomorrow (Tuesday July 19th) I'll be drinking in Mikkeller Bar at 34 Mason Street, San Francisco, CA 94102 (near 5th and Market) from 7pm, and if you can read this you're welcome to join me.

I'm still on vacation (with a side-order of signing tour) and won't be home until Thursday evening, at which point I'll be jet-lagged for a few days. Meanwhile, History is happening, and I wish it would stop, or at least slow down.

As Lenin allegedly put it, "sometimes decades pass that feel like weeks: and sometimes weeks pass that feel like decades." Assuming the quote's correct (I haven't been able to run down a citation for it), he was on the nail, and we're clearly living through it: at the rate History has been happening over the past month I am expecting the date for a new Scottish Independence referendum to be announced, China to land a Taikonaut on the Moon, Turkey to declare war on Pennsylvania, and Boris Johnson not to offend anyone all week. (For those who aren't in on the joke, here's The Economist's take on Boris as Foreign Secretary—key phrase: "like putting a baboon at the wheel of the Rolls Royce".)

Seriously. 2016 sucks. It probably doesn't suck as badly as 1933, or 1943 come to think of it, but it's still a shitty, horrible, no-good excuse for a year in history, and future generations of schoolkids will ask their baffled teachers, "but what were they thinking?"

So. In an attempt to cheer myself up ... what am I missing that is outside the prevailing media narrative but is still worthy of reportage?

(Editorial note: this is not part of the Laundry Files timeline (which ends in 2015); it's merely a disturbing dream from one of the wrong trouser-legs of time, in which our protagonists are confronted with a threat infinitely less plausible than any tentacular alien horror from beyond the walls of the universe ...)

So I'm sitting in my office, staring despondently at a stack of ancient hard drives I'm supposed to be decommissioning per protocol (a ritual pass through the degaussing coil, followed by three brisk taps with a sledgehammer while chanting the drive's UDID, then interment at the bottom of an acid bath—or failing that, the cat's litter tray) when my phone screams.

I startle and nearly fall off my chair. It's the famous Elsa Lanchester scream from Bride of Frankenstein, a ringtone I've assigned to—

"Bob here. How can I help you, Persephone?" Because of course it's Persephone Hazard, doyenne of External Assets and not someone who generally calls me to make polite small-talk about the weather.

Yeah, totally boring academic title, but there's a point to it. Here in this online community, we tend to err on the side of rational analysis, and I'm going to be a stinker and point out how much politics shapes what passes for rationality. For example, if we were a rational species, there wouldn't be 20 million-odd people in Southern California where I live, because the area's semi-desert at best, and the only way people can live here is to have water pumped in from hundreds of miles away. If history and archaeology are any guide (going back to Mesopotamia), cultures that relied on long-distance irrigation have inevitably fallen when their water systems failed, and there's no reason to think southern California will be any different. So why are there so many people in this evanescent "paradise" that is southern California? Politics. Politics turns rational proposals, such as John Wesley Powell's 19th Century rational proposal to dam some western rivers and irrigate a bit of farmland, into the unsustainable sprawl of pork-barrel dams and water works that is the American West today. That's why I'm talking about political economy, not just economics: this isn't just about money, it's also about political power. That's what makes it more interesting, complex, and yes, irrational.

Speaking of rational proposals for restructuring civilization, there's one out there, by Stanford engineering Professor Mark Jacobson. He proposes that, by 2050, the US can supply its power needs entirely through renewable sources: photovoltaics, solar thermal, wind, waves, and hydroelectric dams (see The Solutions Project, among many others). Here I'm not going to analyze Dr. Jacobson's proposal in much detail, because most of you are more tech savvy than I am, and you're perfectly capable of doing that yourselves. What I'm more interested in is what politics could do to this rational proposal, and what kind of an America would result.

While I was at WesterCon last weekend I did a number of panel discussions. And one of the more interesting ones was on the topic of anthropogenic world-ending events.

So here are my post-convention thoughts, and a question.

Hi! I've been quiet because I've been busy—first, appearing at WesterCon 69 in Portland, and then driving cross-country down through Oregon and into California. As you might imagine, data is patchy (including broadband at some of the motels) and so is time for blogging.

Also, been busy with stuff like this:

Crater Lake

But all good things come to an end, and I'm arriving in San Francisco on Saturday. And I have some public events in the Bay Area that you might like to come to.

On Saturday the 9th I'll be appearing at Writers with Drinks in San Francisco at The Make Out Room, 3225 22nd St., on at 7:30pm (doors open 6:30pm).

On Sunday the 10th I'll be reading and signing at Borderlands Books, at 866 Valencia Street, from 3:00pm.

And on Friday the 15th I'm doing a reading and signing at Copperfield's Books (140 Kentucky St, Petaluma, CA 94952) from 7pm.

Blogging (by me, at any rate) will be erratic until I get home on the 21st—but stay tuned, I have something coming up.

This is a guest post by filmmaker, author, entrepreneur, and now Virtual Reality developer Hugh Hancock.

Virtual Reality's here. Woo. Yay. More tech toys.

The UK just voted to leave the EU. Trump's in line for the White House. Climate change is making its effects felt. Automation's really starting to bite. A lot of very smart people are starting to get very worried about AI.

So why exactly should you care about a bunch of nerds strapping really expensive phone housings to their face?

Well, I recently dropped a 20-year film career to go full-time into VR - specifically room-scale VR, the kind where you walk around and flail about. I've spent the last 2-3 months completely immersed in it, for full-on 80-hour-week crunch values of "fully immersed", developing Left-Hand Path, a Dark Souls-inspired room-scale VR RPG.

There's a reason for that. I've been doing the "futuristic tech" thing for a while and I've been involved in massive, super-exciting technology shifts before. I founded a rather successful dotcom during the first dotcom era, for example.

This feels as exciting. I'm pretty sure that ignoring VR right now looks a lot like ignoring that "Interweb" thing circa 1996. It's going to change the world.

And here's the important bit: it gives us a whole load of reasons to hope that it'll change it for the better.

Nightmare Stacks

"The Nightmare Stacks" (book 7 of the Laundry Files) comes out tomorrow in the United States. And in a classic example of the universe trying to obsolete my stories before publication, the UK went into total political, diplomatic, and financial meltdown last Friday. (There's a meltdown of similar proportions in the novel, but it's triggered by a much more fixable cause than a referendum-gone-wrong, namely an alien invasion.) So I guess that means "The Nightmare Stacks" is now lightweight escapism rather than a horrible threat!

Anyway, I'll be reading from and signing copies of "The Nightmare Stacks" in Powell's City of Books in Portland this Thursday evening. If you're not local, you can order copies here. (And if you don't need them signed, Amazon have the hardcover here or the Kindle ebook here.

So, I have some preliminary winners to announce!

If you're the author of one of the entries listed below the fold, please drop me an email with your real-world name and a postal address where you can receive a package?

No Laundry operatives will turn up on your doorstep with an arrest warrant, honest.

(Update: I am still waiting to hear from: Martin, Phil, and ecotax. And would appreciate it if Thomas Jorgensen would also get in touch.)

Contrary to popular belief, the UK does have a written constitution—it's just scattered across roughly 25 different pieces of legislation, subject to amendment on the fly whenever Parliament damn well pleases.

And since devolution came in, more than one parliament has to be convinced to amend the constitutional framework before it can be changed.

It is becoming apparent that The Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly may have veto power over BRexit per the House of Lords European Union Committee (11th Report of Session 2015-16,
"The process of withdrawing from the European Union"). See paras 70-71, "The role of the devolved legislatures in implementing the withdrawal agreement" -- section 29 of the Scotland Act 1998 binds the Scottish Parliament to act in a manner compatible with EU law, and Scottish parliamentary consent would be required to amend this. (A similar provision underpins the devolution settlements of Wales—which voted for Brexit—and Northern Ireland—which voted against it.)

So we have a royal mess coming down the pipeline.

Okay, so the idiots did it; they broke the UK.

This is a book launch month and I should really be blogging about "The Nightmare Stacks" but British politics has just entered a nightmarish alignment and we're in CASE NIGHTMARE TWEED territory. So book-related business as usual will resume tomorrow, after I've vented.

Annihilation Score

So, while this week sees the first publication of "The Nightmare Stacks", it also sees the paperback publication (on both sides of the Atlantic!) of "The Annihilation Score". And as is my custom these days, I figure it's time to post a brief essay about the novel. Keep reading below the fold if you dare; here be spoilers!

This week I'm doing appearances in the UK to launch The Nightmare Stacks—and can I take this opportunity to plug my local Edinburgh SF specialist bookstore, Transreal Fiction, who can supply signed copies of my work all year round?—but on June 27th I'm off to the USA for a few weeks in Portland and the Bay Area.

Crate of hardcovers

Here's what I'm getting up to:

Montage of Daily Express covers

British people don't like to talk about racism, much less admit that their fellow Brits—much less they, themselves—are racists. It's far too easy to point to other bad examples in foreign lands, from Jim Crow and segregation in the Deep South to men with Hugo Boss uniforms and gas chambers in the Nazi Reich. But racism is a thing in the UK, with deep-running currents that occasionally bubble to the surface. And right now we're getting a most unwelcome but richly deserved reminder of what it's about.

(Text below the cut contains strong language)




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