« Advertising interlude | Main | Why are SF and fantasy novels the length they are? »

Quiet patch coming up ...

Just to let you know that things here are going to be quiet for a bit.

Firstly, I'm putting a lot of blogging energy into a project elsewhere (the folks at Crooked Timber are having an online seminar on my books, and I'm responding to comments at length). Secondly, around the festive period I'm heading down south to visit my parents. Thirdly and finally, I'm nose-deep in deadlines — behind schedule and wrestling alligators to finish "The Trade of Queens", the sixth Merchant Princes novel.

Speaking of which ...

Last year, I ran really short on energy and output. In fact, I did quite badly, producing only one and a bit short novels. So I set myself a new year's resolution back in January. (Actually I set myself several, but I'm behind track on the exercise and cutting down on dairy produce fronts. Oops.) For work, I resolved to write 1000 words a day of finished, production-grade fiction. If taken literally, that comes out as over a third of a million words, or about 1000 book-length pages. Which is a lot. They won't let me publish books that long — it costs too much to bind the pages into the cover. They won't even let me publish books half that long. So, realistically, I was shooting for a three book year.

Needless to say, I have not written 366,000 words of fiction this year. But as of today, "The Trade of Queens" stands at 42,000 words. "The Fuller Memorandum", including the additional novelette "Down on the Farm" (also written this year) stands at 117,000 words. "The Revolution Business", which I wrote at the beginning of the year, stands at 103,000 words. And the novella "Palimpsest" (coming out in 2009's short story collection, "Wireless") racked up 30,000 words. There are ten days to go. If I average 1000 words per day for the rest of the year — as I have been doing for the past few weeks — I will pass the 300,000 word mark. And if I allow myself myself weekends and basic holiday time off work, I'm actually over quota (a thousand words per day for 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year, comes to just under 250,000 words). The real target is more ambitious: I need to write five novels (and a novella) in less than two years. But that's another matter.

For Christmas I'm going to buy myself a new keyboard and a pair of robot hands. Meanwhile, that's my excuse for not blogging profusely: I'm too busy writing.




So where exactly on Crooked Timber is that? I've been
checking it every day for over a month...


David, I don't think it's been published yet. But apparently it will feature comments from noted SF fan, Paul Krugman. See this paper for proof!


plus, interested question: what kinda keyboard? 'cos I've been wondering for quite some time now what to get ..


David: not until January or February.

Michael: an Apple one. Probably the flat aluminium board they currently sell -- works fine for me -- although a Mathias Tactile Pro 2.0 is another option. (My old Tactile Pro 1 broke ...)


Charlie, you may want to note on the Accelerando page that Instapaper picks up and displays the HTML version just fine.


Er, on the iPhone/Touch, that is.


Charlie@4: interesting. The other day at my dentists I saw such a keyboard, and a girl behind it (the assistant who does appointments and handles the phone and stuff). So, since the keyboard looked a little weird to me, I asked her whether one can actually type on one of those. Her reply was quite a forceful "no, but apparently its looks fit the office", after which she proceeded to also complain about the stupid mouse, both of which apparently led to a case of carpal tunnel syndrome for her. YMMV of course. Me, I am sortof going back and forth between the "Das Keyboard" and the Unicomp EnduraPro.


I've actually purchased one of the flat Alu keyboards for the Windows machine I use at work, in preference to our work supplied Dell and MS keyboards - largely because it means I share the same action across laptop, iMac, and work machine.

I was talking about it with someone at work and said I preferred it, but that may be because I effectively learnt to type on a membrance keyboard in the early 80s, rather than on something pretending to be a typewriter.

I'm sure it would be a hard transition if you're a trained touch typist with perfect hand posture.


If you like Alps-switch keyboards, these are excellent: http://www.northgate-keyboard-repair.com/

But they are very old school (AT connectors).


My dream-keyboard is in fact the EnduraPro by Unicomp .. which is basically an IBM Model M, only in black, with USB-connector instead of DIN and with one of the greater inventions of later times, i.e. the TrackPoint in the middle (great for shoving the focus to another window without leaving the ideal typing-position).

Only trouble is that it's currently hard to tell (from the website) whether the company even still exists and they say they don't ship the USB-version outside the US. Damn. Which made me consider the Das Keyboard III .. which lacks a TrackPoint and is not a Model M but rather an early Cherry keyboard .. maybe a bit less noisy but also nice. As a plus, it comes with blank keys (yay!)


Interesting... I'm currently I'm reading Eifelheim and preparing my soul for Anathem (which I ordered about one week before Jennifer but has already arrived). Anyways, this book is 900+ pages long and I guess the biggest problem is that it just frighten readers (kind of: "wow... what's that? A Bible under disguise?"). Nothing you can easily read in route to work or even carry around. Yeah... here we have a real use for kindle... :D


Personally I'm hooked on Maltron keyboards (like Kinesis keyboards only uglier and don't wear out), but a) they cost a lot and b) they take some getting used to. Squashed my RSI stone dead, though.

I've bought two (for home and work) and don't regret it for a moment, even though both put together come to over a thousand quid.


Casimiro: the cost of producing and binding a book block as big as, say, Anathem at 900 pages, is disproportionately higher than the cost of printing and binding three 300 page books. So publishers won't do that willingly unless they expect high enough sales to justify a big print run (which brings the per-unit price down).

My first Tor novel, "The Family Trade", would have been 600+ pages if printed as originally submitted. Instead, they chopped it in two ...


I'm with Nix (@13) - the Maltron 3D keyboards are absolutely awesome, and well worth the (substantial) asking price. They'll also rent them out to you; hire is about GBP10/week (I don't know how they'd feel about non-uk hirers) and gets taken off the price if you decide to buy having tried. Of course, people with bad RSI have a greater incentive than average to adapt to the strange layout....

(Maltron also make a flat aluminium keyboard, which costs even more than the 3D ones; I find it difficult to understand why anyone would want it except for looks, tbh.)


I buy cheap no-name keyboards and have two, so when cleaning out cat hair with a small crochet hook doesn't get enough, I can plug the other one in and take the current one apart to clean it. I did learn to type on a typewriter and I do like some feedback. What I would like to buy, if it was cheap enough, is a keyboard without the stupid keypad on the right.


I see the economic problem involved in printing large books. What I wanted to point out is that it is a risky business for author also. For me books from 200 to 350 pages are practical for readers and safer for authors.

One thing I noticed about publishers market is that they don't do "world launchings" like the Hollywood industry is used to do. For instance, your books are published first in UK (fair enough) but only later in US and God knows when in the rest of world. I think it is bad for writers both financially and from the point of view of the respect to the artistic integrity of the work of art (since translations are uncontrolled).


Re: 1000 page books. Tell that to Steven Erikson. His Malazan books are over 1000 pages. I think there's one that's 1200 pages. I can't read his stuff, because it's too big to hold comfortably.

About 700 to 800 pages is my limit. I'd prefer 400 or 500 pages for comfort. So if your publisher wants to split your books up into readable chunks, I agree with that decision.


Charlie: Oh. Sorry, I heard about it over a month ago. I'm a fan of both you and Krugman, so it seemed something worth looking for. So the thing is a discussion, which eventually gets edited and published? If it includes a detailed description of "Economics 2.0" from Accelerando, then it will definitely be worth the wait. : )


Joe @18: Steven Erikson is a major bestseller. When you're printing 50-100,000 copies of a book, the economics are very different from printing 5000-10,000 copies.

Casimiro @17: believe it or not, the more finely the territorial rights to a book are divided and parcelled up to separate publishers, the more money the author stands to make. (Publishers are generally not terribly good at selling subsidiary rights once they've bought world rights to a title; an author, or their agent -- on a 15% commission -- can clean up on the small $1000-6000 sub-rights, but a clerk on salary in a publisher's legal department has no such incentive.)


People doing a lot of typing should really avoid ordinary keyboards like the plague. I got my last institution to pay for a Kinesis Ergo. Now I need to decide if I'm going to take it into my new work, or pay for another one out of my own pocket ($$ == ouch).

The only problem is it takes a week to learn to type again when you switch to a keyboard that doesn't completely deform your hands, and people doing a lot of typing probably don't want to put up with that.

Anyone got any suggestions for an ambidextrous ergonomic mouse?


You should write quality work that will last, when inspired, not churn out as much "production-grade" (read: mediocre) work as you can.


@22: I take it you have a private income, then?

Some of us work for a living. If you don't like the results, you are welcome to give me more money so I can take my time.

(Here's a hint: your comment came across as not only snarky, but borderline-contemptuous. This is my blog, and I won't tolerate abuse.)


300,000 words / year = word generation at a mean frequency of 0.00950662939 hertz.

Homework for your readers is to convert this to Asimovs, calibrated to the late Isaac Asimov typing 90 words per minute, 10 hours per day, 363 days per year, and selling every word.

The jerk of #22 can now insult the extant Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, Robert Silverberg, or the late Isaac Asimov, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, or any other prolific author among whom Mr. Stross keeps good company.


Don't know if they're available outside the US but I got one of these for Xmas and I love it. Nicest keyboard I've ever used. Buckling spring like the old Model M's but shorter action. Plus USB interface with a PS2 adapter.


More expensive than a standard keyboard but considerably cheaper than DAS Keyboard.


Doc @25: Use that keyboard full-time for three years and your wrists will fall apart, buckling spring or not. The biomechanics of the rectangular keyboard are appalling, and wouldn't be tolerated in any other tool.


Chris @26, try not to generalize so much. I spend large portions of time typing on cheap rectangular keyboards and I don't have any RSI. Heck, there was nothing known as RSI when I started typing (although my first communications to a computer was via punchtape and the teletype takes more force). The only time my wrist hurt was when I had a gout tophus attached to a nerve sheath and once the hand surgeon took it off, the wrist was fine again.


Chris @26: Yeah, I gotta disagree with you. I've been using standard regular keyboards daily for more than 15 years and I've never had any problems. The only time my wrists get sore are when I spend too much time using the mouse. Keyboards never bother me in the least and I switch all the time between regular keyboards and laptops. And now I'm spending about half my time on an Asus Eee and it still doesn't bother me.
I'm not saying other people don't have problems with keyboards. Just that I'm one of those lucky people who don't have issues with them. And even if they come up with something better I'll probably still keep using my old keyboard. Hopefully, if the new one is durable enough, the same one for another 15 years.


"(Actually I set myself several, but I'm behind track on the exercise and cutting down on dairy produce fronts. Oops.) "

Find a good pub^H^H^H fermented grain health beverage shop that's a good walk away. Both problems solved. And if you take the long, wandering 'random walk' route home, you'll get even more exercise :)


Ditto on the keyboards. I learned on a manual typewriter more than 30 years ago; I killed it (the keys began snapping from metal fatigue) then moved on to heavier targets. I do get RSI ... when an office chair dies under me or I have to use a desk at inappropriate height. Solution: Herman Miller Aeron chair and an adjustable footrest (for the non-adjustable desk).


Write, write, write!

Put up a sign that you are going on a three month Blogatical.


Santa Claus LLC, Minutes of Executive Committee, 24 December 2008

Meeting convened, quorum present, SC presiding. Egg Nog was dispensed.

List Committee reports final rewrite. Heading the "Naughty" sublist is Bernard Madoff for his $50 billion Ponzi scheme, which cost Santa Claus LLC's portfolio about a gigabuck, details of which, along with a revision of the financial leaders naughty sublist since the Global Depression was triggered, will be described in the next meeting's Treasurer's Report. Fidel Castro of Cuba and King Mswati III of Swaziland were nudged out of the "top 10", which now consistes of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan; Kim Jong Il, North Korea; Than Shwe, Burma; Hu Jintao, China; Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia; Muammar al-Qaddafi, Libya; Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan; Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan; Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe; and Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea.

"Is Osama Bin Laden on the list?" queried Donder. There was a brief discussion of how badly the addresses are updated in that region.

Donner complained that the normalization was nonlinear with respect to previous years, mentioning in particular Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Nicolei Ceaucescu, Joseph Stalin, Maggie Bag Thacher, Mao Tse Tsung, Rocco Diina, Atilla the Hun ("The film 'Mongol' was awesome," interjected Comet), Nikita Khrushchev, Augusto Pinochet, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Neville Chamberlain, King Leopold II, Count Vlad Tepes Dracula, and Ferdinand Marcos.

Perennials Putin and Bush, which reminds us, Muntader al-Zaidi needs a new pair of shoes. No shotgun this year for Dick Cheney, a waterboard's been substituted. Rove, Donald Rumsfeld (toy soldiers again, but this time made of depleted uranium). Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gets a Top 12 Gay Persian wall calendar. "What do we do about Tony Blair converting to Catholicism?" came up. Hugo Chavez got mixed votes.

The Nice list began with Barack Obama. "Wishful thinking," scoffed Dasher. "Well, it IS that time of year," said Rudolph "Unless he really is Islamic...." Mistletoe berries were thrown in his general direction.

Single malt scotch was dispensed.

The celeb sublist of naughty is, according to Dancer and Prancer, topped by Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Christian Bale, Shia Labeouf, Prince (for threatening to sue the makers of a tribute album), Steven Page, and Amy Winehouse. Blitzen insisted that "Dark Knight" was awesome, but was reminded that the list is about personal behavior, not professional product. That settled, the nice list began, according to Cupid and Vixen: Tina Fey, Britney Spears, Tom Cruise, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, Leonardo DiCaprio (hanging out with Al Gore), Trent Reznor, Andy Samberg, Justin Timberlake, Axl Rose, and the Jonas Brothers.

Dasher reported for the Logistics committee, mentioning that countermeasures ensure safety when flying over Sarah Palin's Alaska residence this year.

Donder and Blitzen gave the weather forecast, and referred the long-term analysis to the Global Warming subcommittee, with new top tech advisor Steven Chu.

Comet gave a report on the extraterrestrial liaison committee, and muttered some snide things about "The Day the Earth Stood Still" not being as bad as the critics said.

Rudolph reported on New Business, and was shussshed for singing Rolf Harris's song about Santa using kangaroos instead of reindeer in Australia in his 1961 song "Six White Boomers."

List Topology Subcommittee reports technical progress in studying replacement of 1-dimensional Naughty/Nice parallelized vector in cryogenic CheckingItTwice server farm. Argument over Jerry Pournell's 2-D by "rational/irrational" axis and "individual/state" axis sent to Political Chaos subcommittee. Current 2-D revision is based on tech advisor Yuri I. Manin's Scheme-based advocacy for years the point that we should take the terminology ‘arithmetic surface’ for spec(Z[x]) a lot more seriously. That is, there ought to be, apart from the projection onto the ‘z-axis’ (that is, the arithmetic axis spec(Z)) also a projection onto the ‘x-axis’ which he calls the ‘geometric axis’. The report began (sorry that it's been squished into ASCII): As Mumford’s drawing shows, there's a clear emphasis on the vertical direction. The set of all vertical lines corresponds to taking the fibers of the natural ’structural morphism’ : pi: specZ[t]) rightarrow spec(Z) coming from the inclusion Z subset of Z[t]. That is, we consider the intersection P intersection Z of a prime ideal P subset of Z[t] with the subring of constants. Two options arise : either P intersection Z not equal to 0, in which case the intersection is a principal prime ideal ~(p) for some prime number p (and hence P itself is bigger or equal to pZ[t] whence its geometric object is contained in the vertical line V(p)), the fiber pi^{-1}((p)) of the structural morphism over ~(p))--
-- I don't know WTF you're talking about, said Blitzen, winging the List Topology Committee chair with a pewter jug of candy cane.

Brandy was dispensed in snifters.

A vote was taken to suspend Robert's Rules, after which my notes get hard to read.

Jonathan Vos Post, Acting Consultant Secretary


I thought Palimpsest was a memoir by Gore Vidal? Good luck with the writing matey.


David, book/story titles can be reused.


There's a generous plug for Halting State in the Technology pages of BBC at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7789115.stm if you haven't seen it.
Happy New Year



Latest crap from guvmint:

Relates to your recent piece "Rules for the New Century"

Also, "We can install Stasi/Nazi survellance over EVERYONE - but it's just to protect the CHILDREN ......"

All together now - AAARGGGH!


I saw that. Can't help feeling that whoever made the idea up knows less than zero about "web sites". Obviously, a regime that works (sort of) for films, DVDs and games MUST fit the Internet, mustn't it? We can require them to be submitted in advance. Of course, sometimes a web site may change a teeny bit, so we'd better require any changes to be approved too.

And joint discussions are being held with the US about policing "English language" sites?

It's difficult to know where to start, really...


I bet we get a comment piece about Israel/Gaza within the next 12 hours, max. C'mon Charlie me old blogger, you know that you can't resist analysing the situation.


David: Nope. (Because I am a long way away from home, visiting a relative who is in hospital.)


Damn, if I`d ever become a writer, it will be as a hobby only. I did write 1000 words a day for couple of months once (thanks to Stephen King`s "On Writing"), and it felt great, but planning for years ahead...

This is just crazy. 8-)

David @ 39:

Here is a short analysis for you:

1. Israeli citizens got tired of Hamas (again) and want to see blood.
2. Kadima party wishes to be seen as more warlike, if they are to have any chances to win in the incoming elections. So does Ehud Barack.


This is a good example of why countries shouldn't be made by religion. Every time the world lets that happen, we set up for future wars.


Marilee @ 42:

How about you do some minimal research on the topic before posting? 8-)


Seeing if I could interpolate somewhere between Stross and Asimov in daily wordage, I resolved to write 5,000 words per day for a while. I got 15,000 words done in 3 days (25-27 Dec 08) on a kind of prequel or appendix to the 3/4 done novel manuscript "Axiomatic Magic" about a murder mystery at the California Institute of Thaumaturgy solved by amateur sleuth Richard Feynman, and was feeling good about it, until both my wife and a Physicist friend expert in Science Fiction made the same complaint that I might think it alternate history, but to them it looked more as if I'd taken some wiki stuff and made mechanical changes to it, and that it wasn't funny enough, including the Beach Boys lyric parody and the anecdote about how my mother almost killed Albert Einstein, and didn't move the plot along. This writing stuff is harder than it looks. 1,000 GOOD words a day trumps 5,000 annoying ones. I can't justify this by pretending to be a teenager, either (Cf. John Scalzi's essay on "why the writing of teenagers sucks") since this is the last year when I'm 3 times the age of a teenager.


After the success of QEM (quantum electromagicodynamics, Thaumaturge/Professor Richard Feynman turned to quantum gravity.

By analogy with the photon, which has spin 1, he investigated the consequences of a free massless spin 2 field, and was able to derive the Einstein field equation of general relativity. However, a calculational technique that Feynman developed for gravity in 1962 — "ghosts" — later proved invaluable. Besides shedding light on previously unsolved mysteries of thanaton-photon interaction in hauntings, this led, in 1967, to Fadeev and Popov quantizing the particle behavior of the spin 1 theories of Yang-Mills-Shaw-Pauli, that are now seen to describe the Weak, Strong, and Psionic interactions, using Feynman's warpath integral technique. At this time he exhausted himself by working on multiple major projects at the same time, including his Lectures in Physical Spells, and his famous self-activated bongo drums. He also became interested in forensic magic, much to the annoyance of the Paradena Police Department...


Anatoly, Marilee, David: any further postings on the recent bombing in Gaza will be deleted without warning. (Flame wars not wanted here.)



Controlled Fusion - in, wait for it ..
LESS THAN 20 years.

If NIF works, I would guess a "commercial" station in 15, after trials and other prototypes....

P.S. Charlie, when you get back from your sick relative, I'd be interested in any second thoughts on "Protecting" everybody - for the sake of the children .....


"the folks at Crooked Timber are having an online seminar on my books, and I'm responding to comments at length"

I've done a search of their output for December, and find no trace of this: "online" where, please?


Gary, it won't be ready until February. These things take time!