Things have been a little quiet around here lately, so by way of an apology, let me explain why this is so. And also why "Invisible Sun" is so late.

Back in late 2013 my editor at Tor, David Hartwell, somehow charmed me into writing a follow-up trilogy to the Merchant Princes series.

"Empire Games", the trilogy, was originally due to come out starting in 2015. Indeed, David was gung-ho to push out all three novels at three month intervals, like Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Wake trilogy. Unfortunately, what David hadn't reckoned with was that I was already committed to publishing a novel a year via my other publishers, and my natural output rate is about 1.5 books/year. Also, David was that rare bird in these modern times, an editor who liked to edit. Indeed, he just about edited me to death. The first two novels, "Empire Games" and "Dark State", were undoubtedly improved by his diligence, but it served me as a crash course reminder in why I had resolved never to work with David again after the first series. (If you've ever had a charming but intensely annoying micromanager: it was like that.)

So we were just getting to grips with "Invisible Sun", a couple of years late (that kind of delay happens when your editor edits the first two books three times) ... when a bookcase fell on him and he died.

(It gets worse.)

(Pinned to top because the Hugo/Nebula/other award nominations are currently open)

It's that time of year again, when some authors remind everyone that they're eligible for various awards for fiction published in 2018.

My total publications for 2018 consisted of: two novels and one novelette.

You probably haven't read the novelette because it's published in an anthology— Knaves over Queens, the first British-set collection in the Wild Cards series, a sequence of shared-universe stories edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass. My story, "Police on my Back", is published in Knaves over Queens, which is currently only available in the UK (first US publication isn't until next year). (Amazon.co.uk link.)

As for the novels, these are Dark State (Tor, UK and USA: January 2018), the second Empire Games book (or eighth Merchant Princes novel, depending on how you count them), and "The Labyrinth Index" (US Amazon link, UK Amazon link), published by Tor.com Publishing (in the USA) and Orbit (in the UK). And that's the ninth book in the Laundry Files, or maybe the tenth (if you count "Equoid" as a really short novel rather than a novella) or eleventh (if you also factor in the really short short story collection Tor.com published as an ebook).

So last night a British government was handed the biggest defeat in modern parliamentary history (since the middling-late 19th century, at any rate) in its attempt to systematically disenfranchise three million EU citizens, violate the Good Friday Agreement, generate a requirement for a racist and invasive population tracking system (hint: that's an implicit corollary of the NI border backstop, and the Home Office has had a hard-on for a National Identity Register since the 1950s), and irreparably damage the British financial, services, and manufacturing sectors ... all in the name of preserving Conservative Party unity.

(Lest we forget, in a 2015 poll of how the public prioritized different political issues, EU membership came tenth out of a field of ten.)

In the USA, the Republican-induced shutdown of government spending has resulted in Coast Guards being paid out of a charity, Air Traffic Controllers being fed pizza paid for by the Canadian counterparts, and diabetic civil servants desperately rationing their insulin and just hoping to wake up in the morning. If it goes on much longer, a lot of those civil servants won't be around to come back to work: they'll have had to go looking for jobs elsewhere. And yet, the shutdown continues because the mafia shill in the big house desperately needs a distraction from the 17 different investigations into his crime ring, and "build a wall" rallies his party base.

It's almost like these were two sides of the same coin, isn't it?

I'm trying to remember if I said this on my blog some time over the last 20 years, but: one of my working principles is that the event horizon in politics in a democracy is no more than 5 years. (Or: the maximum time between elections.) Consider Germany in January 1934, and how outlandish and dystopian the situation would have sounded if you'd described it to a German citizen in January 1929. (30% unemployment! A dictator and a state of emergency! Concentration camps! Anti-Jewish laws!)

Here's a reflection: the value proposition of democracy is that it provides for a peaceful transfer of power, once an incumbent regime loses its political legitimacy. If you have a working democracy you don't need revolutions to get rid of incompetent leadership. As Enoch Powell said, "every politician's career ends in failure" (unless they die unexpectedly): in a democracy they agree to step down, and life goes on.

But when you get a faction, party, or regime that no longer subscribes to the idea of democracy and refuses to back down gracefully, you get back the old problems: pressure for change builds up and when it erupts the effects can be devastating and unpleasant--especially, as we've had a crash-course reminder in recent years, when the tools of communication make it really easy for dangerous demagogues to draw a following.

I think we can safely say that since 2013, the grip of the beige dictatorship on the western system has been broken. Unfortunately, we're now living through a period of turbulence analogous to that which followed the collapse of the Age of Monarchies in Europe, 1917-1919 (during which pretty much every monarchy in central and eastern Europe went down like a row of dominoes). It took until 1945 for the dust to settle and a stable, broadly social-democratic new order to emerge in the west: I just hope our current turbulence settles down before 2045, because otherwise our planetary climate and biosphere is fucked.

So, 2018 is nearly over, at last. It was an absolute shit-show of a year for numerous reasons. On a personal level, I'll be remembering it primarily as the year I hit a personal wall, flaming out and delivering a novel six months late (for the first time in my career). In reaction to which, I decided to take a six month sabbatical (my first break from writing in a decade) ... then had the sabbatical interrupted by a family medical crisis, of the "an immediate relative spends three months on a stroke ward and will never recover" variety.

In comparison with the global political picture, my personal 2018 was all butterflies and rainbows. 2018 was the year that the global climate change alarm sirens began to sound continuously, with wildfires and heat emergencies and melting icecaps. 2018 was also, by no coincidence whatsoever, the year in which the global neo-Nazi movement made considerable headway, with neo-fascist demagogues grabbing power in Brazil, tightening their stranglehold in India, the Philippines, Turkey, the USA, Italy, and elsewhere. The UK was, for a third consecutive year, paralyzed by the utter shit-show that is Brexit, with the deadline now looming less than 100 days ahead of us. It was the year in which it became glaringly clear that the 2016 US election was rigged by a combination of election fraud and AI-controlled targeting of individual voters by state-level propaganda systems in order to amplify internal hatred and dissent: and that the same people and tools used in the US campaign had also driven the Brexit referendum result, and were in use elsewhere around the world.

I am looking for any silver linings to 2018 and coming up blank.

So, can you help me? What was the good side of 2018, the things we should remember this year for happily rather than with a curse?

Just popping in to note that, in the wake of the failed ERG leadership challenge against Theresa May, Brexit hysteria has escalated so far that mainstream political pundits in major newspapers are invoking Cthulhu in print. Words fail me. I really, truly, cannot cope with this shit: the Laundry Files are satire, dammit, not a political documentary!

(Normal blogging might resume whenever I manage to stop gibbering in a closet.)

So, it has come to my attention that there are a few typos in "The Labyrinth Index". Can you help me track them down so I can get them fixed in future editions?

Reporting requirements: it's not useful to tell me "you misspelled 'Bob' somewhere". I need to know:

  • If a paper edition, then which publisher and which page and paragraph (the US hardcover is published by Tor, the UK hardcover by Orbit, and the page numbers don't match because they use different paper and typeface sizes).

  • If an ebook edition, then the ebook platform you're using (Kindle, Kobo, iBooks), the publisher (Tor, Orbit), and ideally the Kindle file location or equivalent and a text string containing the typo: e.g. "fly anohter 3000 fly another 3000" (which is the blooper in chapter 11 that everyone is telling me about).

Typos I know about:

US kindle edition, Location 5534, "fly anohter 3000" should be deleted

US hardcover, Page 245 (footnote 8): "dick picks" should be "dick pics"

US hardcover, Page 362: "I his paydirt" should be "I hit paydirt"

Stuff I want confirmation of:

US kindle edition, location 2115, "Slide 9"contains the string "In excess of 109 directed human sacrifices". This is rendered correctly (10^9, 10 superscript 9) in the Kindle app on iOS, but I've heard reports of it being rendered as "109" (no superscript) on other ebook platforms. If you noticed this, please report (including the type and software version of your reader).

(Please don't re-report mis-spellings already reported on other platforms; if it's mis-spelled on paper in one country it'll be misspelled in the other, and in the ebooks too.)

Can you find anything else?

So: Brexit means Brexit means, apparently, a choice between a deal negotiated by Theresa May's government which is broadly as appealing as eating a shit sandwich, or leaving the EU with no transitional arrangement in place, the equivalent of stripping naked and rolling around in the contents of an entire sewage farm.

(Consequences of May's deal include: millions of people lose the right to move freely and live in the UK or EU territory they've relocated to, British citizens lose the right to move freely through 27 other countries, the UK has to abide by EU rules we don't get to vote on for an indefinite period, and a bunch of other unpalatable issues summed up, ironically, by pro-brexit politicians as "loss of sovereignty". Consequences of no deal make May's deal look like a walk in the park; food and medicine shortages, flights grounded, currency crisis, companies going bust because inputs and outputs are unavailable or suddenly subject to high tariffs, troops on the street, state of civil emergency likely.)

My money is on—eventually—either a parliamentary coup and a new Conservative PM who unilaterally withdraws May's Article 50 submission, or a period of chaos leading up to a second referendum (at which point the Leave side will be soundly defeated).

But. In the meantime. What options, however implausible, might make Brexit work?

Let me give you some ideas. (Then you can try your hand at 'make Brexit Brexit' in the comments!)

Sometimes current affairs rally round and serve up the perfect backdrop to a book launch - and so it was earlier this year, when the Cambridge Analytica story broke just as my debut novel Everything About You was published.

Faces pic

As you probably remember, data was taken from around 87 million Facebook profiles and used to target thousands of adverts. Whatever Cambridge Analytica did with the information, it did effectively, contributing to changes in the political landscape that are still hard to credit.

Now that the firm is no more, there is one part of the story that has stuck with me. According to whistleblower Christopher Wylie, the firm consciously targeted people’s ‘inner demons’. How is it possible that a company had access to millions of people’s inner demons? Ten years ago we would have laughed at this idea and wished them good luck.

When writing Everything About You, I was setting events in the near future (the book is about a virtual assistant who takes over the protagonist’s life through knowing everything about her). But what the Cambridge Analytica scandal brought to light is that a time in which our hopes, dreams and deepest fears are known, interpreted and sold is almost upon us, and for the next generation it's virtually unavoidable.

Hello everyone, and apologies for the lack of activity here lately!

I'd like to introduce you to our new guest blogger, Heather Child. Heather is a Bristol, UK based author who has worked in non-profit marketing for the last twelve years, coming into close contact with the digital automation and personalisation technologies that herald the 'big data' age. Everything About You is her debut novel, published by Orbit Books (US edition here); her second novel, The Undoing of Arlo Knott, is due in July 2019. You can find out more at www.heather-child.co.uk: she's on twitter as @Heatherika1, and on Facebook too. And I'm very pleased to say that she'll be posting here later this week.

The Labyrinth Index is here in time for Halloween, because 2018 just hasn't been scary enough!

US coverUK cover

The year: 2015, in an even worse time line than this one.

The place: The Palace of Westminster, London, and parts further west (a long way west).

The person: Dame Mhari Murphy, BSc (hons), MBA, FIC, DBE, styled Baroness Karnstein, member of the House of Lords and Chair of the House Select Committee on Sanguinary Affairs (ahem: vampires).

Her reporting chain: direct to the Prime Minister, his Dread Majesty N'yar Lat-Hotep, the Black Pharaoh—also known as Fabian Everyman MP, leader of the British emergency government of national unity known as the New Management.

Her mission: ... well, that's where our story begins.

If you're in Edinburgh, I'm doing a launch event (a reading and signing) at Blackwell's Bookshop on South Bridge at 6:30pm on Tuesday the 30th (tomorrow!); you can reserve a free ticket here.

Alternatively, you can buy the book in all good bookshops. Order the Kindle ebook here (for the US edition) and here (in the UK/EU)—they're published by different companies even though the launch is simultaneous. (Audiobooks: they're out now, from Audible! (First time I've had a simultaneous release in audio.) If they show up any time soon I'll put links here. Paperbacks: not 'til next year! Sorry!)

And if you want a signed copy, Transreal Fiction and Blackwell's Bookshop (Edinburgh) will be happy to ship signed copies locally or internationally.

The problem of fraud on the internet needs no introduction, but sometimes it takes on manifestly surreal forms. Here's an extract from the US National Cyber-Security Center's weekly threat report from last week: Publishing House Phishing Warning:

Penguin Random House North America has issued an alert to staff following a spate of global phishing scams attempting to access agencies' and publishers' manuscripts and other sensitive information.

The UK arm has been similarly targeted, with fraudsters posing as literary agents and foreign-rights staff from seemingly legitimate email addresses. Macmillan has confirmed that it has also been targeted by scammers trying to access manuscripts and has reportedly issued an internal briefing to staff.

I will confess I was somewhat boggled when I stumbled across this one. Everybody knows that the best way to make a small fortune in publishing is to start with a large one. And while there are some reasonable targets for fraudsters targeting a large publishing house (the accounts department springs to mind), author's manuscripts are not among them! Targeting manuscripts for profit is a bit like burgling a farm in order to steal all the crops growing in the field, three months before they're ready for harvest.

But still, it caught my attention. Scammers posing as literary agents and foreign rights staff have apparently targeted Macmillan and Random Penguin? My author-brain immediately started generating screwball heist caper comedy plot lines in which hapless scam artists discover how publishing really works.

(Continued below the fold.)

Shockingly, it has been drawn to my attention that The Labyrinth Index is nearly in print and yet I have failed to issue my usual crib sheet for The Delirium Brief. This cannot be! So without further ado ...

The eighth book in The Laundry Files (a title pinned on the series by marketing fiat at Random Penguin—sorry, Penguin Random House, Inc., who decreed that all series of more than three novels had to have a series title, and by an editor who wanted to leverage the brand name recognition of another urban fantasy author she edited, Jim Butcher) was written in early 2016 with a very specific goal: to deal with the aftermath of The Nightmare Stacks, which in turn had decisively broken the doldrums that nearly becalmed the "big picture" series story arc between books 3 and 6. That story arc is, loosely speaking, the story of the Lovecraftian singularity: in which vast, transhuman, and unsympathetic intelligences disrupt humanity's tenuous position of terrestrial dominance (but note they're not artificial intelligences but godlike alien ones—yes, it's also an alien invasion narrative, if you squint at it hard enough.)

Labyrinth Index cover

Hi! I'm in Toronto right now, and back in Edinburgh next week. Which leads neatly into me announcing the two launches I'm doing for The Labyrinth Index.

North America launch: although the official publication date remains October 30th, Tor have kindly given me the green light for a special event—a reading/signing on October 20th at Bakka Phoenix Books here in Toronto, this Saturday at 3pm. (Facebook event here; bookstore website here.) There will be hardcover copies for sale! (Note that this is the only time/place to buy copies ahead of the official launch on the 30th. It's a one-off preview event.)

UK launch: the UK edition launches on October 30th with a reading/signing in Edinburgh at Blackwells Bookshop on South Bridge, from 6:30pm: event signup page—it's free!—here.

Signed copies will probably be available for order from Bakka Phoenix books, but in limited supply; once I'm back in Edinburgh I will, as usual, be signing stock for Blackwells and also for Transreal Fiction, who are both happy to supply copies by mail.

The folks at Tor.com have kindly posted the first chapter of The Labyrinth Index for your reading edification.

Enjoy! (I hope.)

So, anent nothing in particular, I was contemplating another of James Nicoll's essays on Tor.com the other day—this one concerning utopias in SF—and found myself trying to stare into my own cognitive blind spot.

Like all fiction genres, SF is prone to fashion trends. For example, since the late 1970s, psi powers as a trope have gone into steep decline (I'd attribute this to the death and subsequent waning influence of editor John W. Campbell, who in addition to being a bigoted right-winger was into any number of bizarre fringe beliefs). "Population time bomb"/overpopulation stories have also gone into decline, perhaps due to the gradual realization that thanks to the green revolution and demographic transition we aren't doomed as a direct consequence of overpopulation—climate change and collapsing agriculture are another matter, but we're already far past the point at which a collapse into cannibalism and barbarism was so gloatingly depicted in much 1960s and 1970s SF. And so are stories about our totalitarian Stalinist/Soviet overlords and their final triumph over the decadent free western world. These are all, if you like, examples of formerly-popular tropes which succumbed to, respectively, critiques of their scientific plausibility (psi powers), the intersection of unforeseen scientific breakthroughs with the reversal of an existing trend to mitigate a damaging outcome (food production revolution/population growth tapering off), and the inexorable historical dialectic (snark intentional).

Oddly enough, tales of what the world will be like in the tantalizingly close future year 2000 AD are also thin on the ground these days. As are tales of the first man on the moon (it's always a man in those stories, although nobody in the 1950s thought to call the hero of a two-fisted space engineering story "Armstrong"), the big East/West Third World War (but hold the front page!), and a bunch of other obsolescent futures that were contingent on milestones we've already driven past.

Some other technological marvels predicted in earlier SF have dropped out of fiction except as background scenery, for they're now the stuff of corporate press releases and funding rounds. Reusable space launchers? Check. (Elon Musk really, really wants to be the Man who Sold the Moon.) Space elevators/tether systems? Nobody would bother writing a novel like "The Fountains of Paradise" these days, they're too plonkingly obvious. It'd be like writing a novel about ITER, as opposed to a novel where ITER is the setting. Pocket supercomputer/videophone gadgets in every teenager's pocket? No, that's just too whacky: nobody would believe it! And so on. (Add sarcasm tags to taste.)

We are living through the golden age of grimdark dystopian futures, especially in Young Adult literature (and lest we forget, there's much truth to the old saying that "the golden age of SF is 12", even for those of us who write and read more adult themes). There's also a burgeoning wave of CliFi, fiction set in the aftermath of global climate change. We're now seeing Afrofuturism and other cultures taken into the mainstream of commercial SF, rather than being marginalized and systematically excluded: diversity is on the rise (and the grumpy white men don't like it).

Which leads me to my question: what are the blind spots in current SF? The topics that nobody is writing about but that folks should be writing about? (Keep reading below the cut before you think about replying!)

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