If you're wondering where I've gotten to since finishing the autobiography series, I'm back from a long weekend in London and getting back to grips with work: in this case, checking the copy-edits to the sixth Merchant Princes book, "The Trade of Queens" (due out next April in the US). (As an aside: if you're in the UK and waiting for #4, "The Merchants' War", to come out over here in paperback, I'm afraid I've got bad news: things seem to have vanished down a black hole. I don't know what's happening at PanMacmillan, but at a minimum there's going to be a big delay, and if you want to read the complete series some time before the next ice age you might want to consider importing US copies of the later books.)
Copies of my new short story collection "Wireless" should be showing up in book stores on both sides of the Atlantic by now. And it's summer. Which means, my schedule for the next couple of months consists essentially of: (a) going to Anticipation, the 67th World Science Fiction Convention (where I expect to learn that someone else has won the Hugo award for best novel), and (b) getting down to work on next year's big SF novel, which was going to be this year's big SF novel before Bernie Madoff stole my plot.
(NB: when I say "this" year I mean "the novel I'm working on this year", not "the novel that hits the book stores this year". By the time you see the paperback, it's at least two years since I handed the finished manuscript to my editor, and probably three years since I began writing it and four or five years since I had the idea for it in the first place. If you ever run into me at a public event and ask me about my latest paperback and I seem bored by the question, this is because I finished work on it years ago — wrung my brain dry, and moved on to obsess over new ideas. This is particularly problematic at SF conventions, where the programming committee almost invariably sticks me on a panel about the singularity; I finished writing "Accelerando" in early 2004 and haven't really been thinking about that stuff since then. But I digress ...)
The book I was supposed to hand in last month (and didn't) was, according to a schedule agreed to in late 2007, provisionally titled "419". A sequel to 2007's "Halting State, it was going to be the story of the biggest advance fee fraud (aka Nigerian Scam) in history; a couple of orders of magnitude bigger than the Banco Noroeste scam: a tale of augmented reality hijinks and a bunch of crooks creating an entire fake central Asian republic, to bilk the EU, the US, and the World Bank out of billions. Only I was about to get going in June 2008 when some odd news items began to crop up. Lehman Brothers were in trouble; the banking infrastructure of the western world was crumbling. And then this guy crawled out of the woodwork, with a scam so bare-faced and huge that my attempt at defining a biggest-possible-crime made me look like a piker.
Cue much grumbling on my part. Luckily I had a spare novel up my sleeve, "The Fuller Memorandum" (the third Laundry book, long-delayed), and it's now heading for publication in the summer of 2010. But it's now time to go back to work on "419". And what do you think happened?
I come up with a nefarious plot — this time about a bunch of scammers who are trying to get themselves an information channel with lower latency than anyone else has access to, in order to run the mother of all forex front-running scams. (It's the same fake-Asian-Republic scam, but in this remix it's a shell game; what they're after are the rights-of-way to the played-out trans-continental gas pipelines that terminate in the 'stan in question, through which they intend to run dark fibre that will allow them to front-run the big currency transfers that daily travel between Europe and the Pacific Rim by way of undersea cables, which add precious milliseconds of latency as they skirt the edges of continents.)
And then this shows up in my blog-hoovering. Goldman-Sachs, the FBI, and a gigantic can of worms. Possibly there's nothing to it, but some of the more alarming speculation is treading so close to my plot that it's looking like Madoff 2.0. (Specifically: Goldman-Sachs run large chunks of the network backbone for the NYSE. Goldman-Sachs have an automated low-latency trading system. If they were Very Naughty People, which of course they aren't, they could conceivably do deep packet inspection on traffic over the NYSE backbone, look for big trades, throttle the IP packets while the trade was in progress, and get their own trades in a few milliseconds in advance — front-running, in other words, but on an heroic scale. But they wouldn't do that because they are investment bankers and as we all know all investment bankers are utterly trustworthy models of law-abiding probity at all times, even when offered the opportunity to clean up $100M in profits per day with no come-back. NB: Sergei Aleynikov is not, to the best of my knowledge, an investment banker: but all I know about him is hearsay and should be discounted accordingly.)
I have now come up with a third, improved, hopefully banker-proof plot for the novel currently provisionally retitled Rule 34. The largest crime in it is comfortably small — small enough that you're unlikely to read about it in the Wall Street Journal, anyway. Which means I have a slightly greater chance of actually getting to finish the bloody thing without it being rendered obsolete by the creative accounting singularity ...
(Hey, didn't I write a novel about that once?)