May 2010 Archives

Read below the cut for some notes on the subject of writing with an iPad — word processors, keyboards, and stands.

Attention conservation notice: this entry is only of interest to iPad owners who intend to use the thing for keyboard work.

I've been a bit slack on gadget patrol entries this year. It's partly a side-effect of my new year's resolution to cut down on the superfluous technology; with a few notable exceptions, I'm trying to reduce my production of WEEE — and the best way to do that is simply not to buy as much.

However, I know my limits. And I knew the Apple tablet was coming back in December, so I allowed myself an iPad-shaped loophole (and an option to upgrade my mobile phone when it came out of contract — that'd be two months ago and counting, so maybe the resolution's working).

Anyway. My iPad arrived yesterday: a 64Gb Wifi plus 3G model, with assorted extras. (Keyboard dock, camera connection kit, spare power brick, case, and an O2 micro-SIM.)

What follows are some early impressions, hopefully avoiding the stuff you'll find in the regular reviews.

Back in mid-2008 I mentioned that what I thought was a futuristic-circa-2023 technology for the next novel was too damn close. Slightly more recently, in Living through interesting times, I mentioned that it was becoming near-as-dammit impossible to write near-future SF; I was sore because Bernie Madoff had stolen the plot of my next novel.

Well, I picked myself up, dusted myself down, re-framed the novel in question, and I'm currently about 80% of the way through writing it when it all happened again. First of all, Lothian and Borders Police actually established a recognizable-as-the-embryonic-form version of the unit that one of my protagonists, circa 2023, manages. (Only I got the staffing level and departmental mission statement slightly off-whack ...) Next, there's just been another revolution in Kyrgyzstan (a country which, for reasons I'm not going to discuss here, plays a significant role in "Rule 34").

But the worst thing? I've been sandbagged by an unanticipated event.

Authors don't work in a vacuum; they work in a social context, and what they write reflects their fears and hopes about humanity — in SF, we use the future as a projection screen for stuff we imagine in the social context of the present.

I started writing "Rule 34" (again) in 2009. Hopes and fears about the future: well, I knew that if it went smoothly, it'd be published in summer 2011. This is still on track. It was glaringly obvious that we were living through the dog days of the Labour government, and that unless Gordon Brown pulled a rabbit out of his hat, we were going to be roughly twelve months into a Conservative government by then. And Gordon Brown didn't seem to me to be big on hats, or rabbits. Ergo, I was going to be serving up a near-future SF novel for an audience who had just lived through 1-2 years of Tory rule, with a setting (circa 2023) that would correspond to 13 more years of unfolding British politics.

On the basis of the preceding three or four decades of British political history ("Rule 34" is set in the UK, OK?) it seemed logical that this hypothetical conservative government would be in its own dog days by 2023. And they'd have started out from a platform of, oh, call it post-Majorism, with guys like Iain Duncan Smith rattling their think-tank cage doors from the sideline. In other words, a sharp lurch to the right.

What sandbagged me was the fact that for the first time in a British general election, more people voted for minority parties than for any of the major players; a coalition or a (weak) minority government was inevitable. Then the libertarian arm of the Conservative party went and formed an alliance with the Liberal Democrats in an utterly unprecedented realignment, and according to the latest polls a majority of the population look set to vote "yes" to electoral reform in a year or so. (Link missing because I can't find the URL I read last night ...)

So it's back to the trenches on "Rule 34", because I have to do a complete re-appraisal of the world-building scenario underlying it in order to figure out whether it's still plausible; and if not, I have a lot of patching to do. This futurology gig is hard — I swear I'm going back to tentacle monsters and starships after I finish this book!

Environmental issues have been on my mind of late. From being stranded in Tokyo by the Eyjafjallajoekull ash plume, to the Deepwater Horizon disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, to the vexed issue of anthropogenic climate change, it's hard to ignore. And so are the human sociological side-effects as we all try to grapple with how best to respond to these issues.

Blog posts may be patchy for the next month.

I haven't fallen out of love with you or anything, it's just that I have a lot of work on my plate. This week I've been trying to clear a backlog of short non-fiction commissions, not to mention my sinuses (globe-hopping nose/throat bugs: we hates them). Next week I have to start the death march to the end of the first draft of "Rule 34", which currently stands at 87,000 words and is due to be somewhere in the 100-120,000 word range when complete.

Some novels flow easily, and some are a painful slog. This one is one of the latter. One of my quirks is that I usually get the idea for a novel a couple of years before I have time in my schedule to start writing it; consequently, by the time I'm working on it, I've been living with the idea for so long that it's not fun any more — my muse has already moved on to the next project. I've got a dose of this disease right now, and it's painful. Some writers claim that their muse is a delicate thing that whispers softly in their ear and requires careful nurture. Mine — when he's not AWOL, getting drunk and starting bar fights — trained as a US Marine Corps drill instructor. He sits on my shoulder, screaming abuse through a megaphone — "double down and gimme five thousand words, worm!" — and if I don't deliver, he hits me. Unfortunately right now I'm trying to finish "Rule 34" and he's screaming at me to get stuck into "The Apocalypse Codex" — the fourth Laundry book. Which would be highly inadvisable, because I don't have a contract for it yet, and if I write it prematurely it puts my agent in a poor negotiating position. Not to mention annoying my editor at Ace, because we already pushed back the schedule for 419 "Rule 34" by a year, and she wants that particular novel, not a last-minute unexpected substitute.

I'm going to try and cut a deal with my muse; just let me finish the job in hand, and I'll give him what he wants. You never know; it might work ...

... Ought to contain two novels that I've just read.

First up is "Deep State", by Walter Jon Williams, coming soon from Orbit (unless I'm very much mistaken). It's a sequel to 2008's "This is not a Game", a book which made me very glad indeed that I squeezed "Halting State" into print first. During an unfortunate hiatus from major publishing, Dubjay spent a chunk of time slaving in the guts of the game industry, and it shows in these two books. Set about half an hour into the future, "Deep State" continues the misadventures of Dagmar Shaw, gamer and erstwhile founder of Great Big Idea, an Alternate Reality Gaming start-up in Silicon Valley — in an alarming direction hinted at but not explored by the earlier novel. There are powerful ideas stirring beneath the skin of what to a first approximation resembles a taut technothriller, and it's brilliantly executed ... if you're reading my blog because you like "Halting State", you should take this as a recommendation.

Second on the block is "The Quantum Thief" by newcomer Hannu Rajaniemi, due from Gollancz in the UK this September. Full disclosure here: I've known Hannu for some years, and I've been waiting impatiently for this novel ever since I began reading his short stories at the local writer's workshop. He's Finnish, lives in Scotland, has a PhD in string theory, and — well, if you dropped Greg Egan's hard physics chops into a rebooted Finnish version of Al Reynolds with the writing talent of a Ted Chiang you'd begin to get a rough approximation of the scale of his talent. If that's a somewhat recondite metaphor, then alas, recondite is what you're getting: this is deep SF, and if there's any criticism I can level it's that readers may find "The Quantum Thief" hard to interpret without a prior background in the field. However, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I read it, and I think Hannu's going to revolutionize hard SF when he hits his stride. Hard to admit, but I think he's better at this stuff than I am. And "The Quantum Thief" is the best first SF novel I've read in many years.

So we have a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government (those words, I think, throw the difference between the British and American political weltanschaung into stark relief).

I'm really not a fan of the Conservatives; 18 years of ThatcherMajorism left deep scars. (If you're American and not a fan of George W. Bush, it was like this: Thatcher treated her foes with exactly the same contempt as Bush's people did. And eighteen years of contempt backed up by malice and a legislative sledgehammer leave very bad memories.)

On the other hand, the coalition platform seems to have retained a surprisingly large chunk of the LibDem platform on civil liberties. A lot of the most objectionable illiberal and authoritarian measures of the past decade look likely to be repealed in the early days of the new government. (This isn't as odd as it may sound to outsiders; the Conservatives have long harboured a Libertarian faction, and Cameron appears to identify with them strongly on some issues.) On constitutional reform, it looks like we're getting a fully elected upper house to replace the House of Lords, and a full referendum on electoral reform for the lower house — although the conservatives reserve the right to campaign against their coalition partners. I don't like the cap on non-EU immigration, but I suspect it was politically inevitable, as likely under a Labour government as this one.

All in all ...

We've got a government that, for the first time since the 1930s, more than 50% of the voters voted for. There are a lot of positive policies here, on civil liberties and constitutional reform. There are some stinkers, but fewer than I expected. There is also a systemic weakness, insofar as the extreme fringe of either of the coalition parties have the ability to take down the government. So we're probably going to see lots of compromises. In particular, I'm hoping the Liberal Democrats act as an effective brake on the Conservatives (who I fear are capable of behaving much like Stephen Harper's Canadian tories if governing on their own). But I'm deathly afraid of what the Conservatives are going to do about unemployment and drug usage, to name but two aspects of domestic policy where the doctrinaire right wing model is broken (and unemployment is at its highest level since 1994).

I don't think Nick Clegg had any choice but to negotiate with the conservatives, given the noises emanating from some senior Labour politicians: hubris led to a revolt that doomed their effort to form a coalition. And I find it hard to blame Clegg for wanting to be in the lifeboat, rather than swimming along behind it.

So I'm going to hold my nose, and abstain from throwing bricks at the Liberal Democrats for the next six months, by which time we should have some idea of what the unprecedented-in-British-political-history Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition means.

PS: I am waiting for tomorrow's newspapers. If the Murdoch press comes out in violent opposition to the coalition, I will take it as a promising sign ...

Ahem. It has just been drawn to my attention that the lovingly-compiled packet of Hugo nominated works, made available to the elligible voters by this year's worldcon committee, contains nothing but PDF (Acrobat) files. What can I say? I've been overseas, then I've been busy.

This is probably not the right place for my rant about why PDF is not an ebook file format (hint), but PDF is not an ebook file format. It's a page layout format, complete with margins, gutters, page numbers, and loads of white space. It is not designed to be reflowable either, meaning that if you try to view it on a screen smaller than the page it was designed to be printed onto, you either (a) get a shrunken-to-the-point-of-illegible miniature, or (b) a letterbox-sized window revealing part of the page. (Yes, some ereaders try to reflow PDFs — with erratic results — but often it ends in tears.)

PDF is a BAD format for people who read a lot of fiction online. About the only way to do worse would have been to have converted all the novels, novellas, and stories into a series of JPEG image files of each page.

Anyway, if you're a voter and you want to find copies of my nominated files in a sane format, follow this link. "Palimpsest" and "Overtime" are both available as HTML, and in the case of "Palimpsest" as a single file that you can download and convert into Mobipocket or ePub. (If you want a direct link to one of those formats because you can't convert the file yourself, bug me in the comments here.)

There is no topic in the publishing industry this decade that is the source of as many misconceptions, superstitions, lies, plausible untruths, and idiocies as ebooks. Ebooks generate more email to my from my readers than just about any other topic. And the situation is only going to get worse over the next few years, so strap your safety helmet on tight ...

I am coming to this topic from two different angles. Firstly, I'm an author and some of my books are published through ebook channels. Secondly, I've got a computer science degree — having graduated in 1990, this makes me about as current as someone with an aeronatical engineering degree issued in 1937 — which qualification, along with several years earning my crust as a programmer and as a computer journalist, has fine-tuned my bullshit detector.

Before I get stuck in, some revision is in order — notably, a re-reading of CMAP 2: How books are made, and my mid-2007 article , Why the Commercial Ebook Market is Broken. Then continue below for a round-up of some aspects of the ebook biz that are not immediately evident from the headlines.


While I'm disappointed by the evaporation of the Clegg effect, I'm really hoping that neither the Conservatives nor Labour have an outright majority (in the Conservative's case, a narrow enough shortfall to resort to the same pact with the Democratic Unionists that kept John Major's government running through its twilight years).

Let them learn how to negotiate again. And? A side-order of electoral reform, please.

(You might have guessed by now that I'm not an instinctive fan of doctrinaire ideologues and tightly whipped party discipline.)

(Updated Dec 2016)

There is (2010) currently a debate/flame war/storm in a teacup raging in certain quarters of the internet over fantasy author Diana Gabaldon's recent declaration of war on fanfic. Seeing this is a topic of major concern to writers and readers of fanfic, I thought I'd better nail my own colours to the mast. If you know what fanfic is and you don't care, you might as well stop reading now.

If you don't know what fanfic is, well, wikipedia has this to say: "... stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator. Works of fan fiction are rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work's owner, creator, or publisher; also, they are almost never professionally published. Fan fiction, therefore, is defined by being both related to its subject's canonical fictional universe and simultaneously existing outside the canon of that universe. Most fan fiction writers assume that their work is read primarily by other fans, and therefore tend to presume that their readers have knowledge of the canon universe (created by a professional writer) in which their works are based." And if you want to see what this means in practice, your first port of call is

(For the record I am neither a producer nor a consumer of fanfic.)

What follows below is my [draft] policy on fanfic with respect to my own work.

It probably hasn't escaped your attention that we're going through a general election campaign here — and it's the most fascinatingly unpredictable one in a third of a century. British election campaigns are fast and furious; rather than happening on a regular cycle, an election is called at some point within five years of the previous one — either at the discretion of the prime minister, or in event of the House of Commons voting a motion of No Confidence in the government. The campaign then runs from start to finish in less than ten weeks. It's a sprint, rather than the year-long marathon that is a US presidential election campaign, and in the case of the current campaign there's a lot of drama and day-by-day surprises.

I'm currently sticking my fingers in my ears (at least metaphorically) because I've already voted. I applied for a postal vote a couple of months before the election, knowing I'd probably be away when the election was called; consequently I'm locked in now, unable to change my mind. Here, in case you're interested, is a discussion of who I voted for, and why.



About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

April 2010 is the previous archive.

June 2010 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog