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Not dead, just editing ...

I got the first draft done, then took some time out while my beta testers kicked the tyres (I have other jobs to occupy my copious spare time). Now I'm back at work on what I hope will be the final pre-submission draft of "Rule 34".

The first draft, which I finished on the 8th, is not something that is fit to publish. It's a story, certainly: the guts are all there, stitched inside the skin. It's even been spell-checked. (Insert hollow laughter here.) Earlier sections have already been reviewed, edited, and polished to a fine gleam; the last quarter, not so much. But not everything works properly. There are a ton of snags: red herrings that I forgot about part-way through the 15 month long writing process, stuff that isn't needed (and so needs to be cut cleanly away), other stuff that needs to be inserted to foreshadow later scenes — very often the climax of a novel doesn't make complete sense unless the author's taken the time to go back through the book and insert a bread-crumb trail of arrows leading up to the summit. This is especially true of a crime novel (which "Rule 34" undoubtedly is, albeit somewhat unconventional).

And there are more subtle problems. It took me 15 months to write the first draft of this one. Think back to whatever book you were reading 15 months ago. Now, how many of the details can you remember? Try to write a synopsis and you'll probably find (especially if, like me, you have a poor memory) some of the details are blurred. Re-read it and compare what you're reading with the synopsis and you'll probably unearth a number of surprises. This is exactly my position when I go back and edit something I wrote more than a year ago.

Here's another problem. Because I lose the plot every few months (to be honest, I get tired and have to take a break), I start each iterative attempt to spin the novel out by re-reading and editing the earlier sections. After a while I get over-familiar with the text, and lose the ability to focus on those early bits closely enough — while the later sections haven't been re-read and edited anything like as often. So there's a quality control issue here.

Anyway, that's what I've been doing for the past few days, and what I'll be doing for some time to come. The novel exists; it just hasn't passed its QA checks yet. But it should be done by the end of this month (July), a month ahead of the deadline.

After that, what am I going to do next?

Among other things, I've got a couple of unusual book projects to work on. First of all, I'm guest of honour at Boskone in Boston next February. A long-standing annual SF convention, Boskone is run by the New England Science Fiction Association, NESFA. NESFA have their own small press, and one of their traditions is to publish a book by the guest of honour — frequently a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I'm not going to pre-empt their announcement, but I just turned something in. So hopefully that means there'll be a new short-run hardback next February.

Next, I'm going to try and make an April Fool's joke come true.

Back on April 1st, Locus Magazine announced that Cory Doctorow and I were going to write an authorized sequel to Atlas Shrugged. As it happens, we don't have the permission of the Ayn Rand estate, but we're not going to let a little thing like that stop us! A couple of years ago we wrote a couple of fun novellas, collectively titled "The Rapture of the Nerds"; we plan to finish the long-planned and long-overdue novel, for publication in 2012 by Tor. (Locus editors: the joke's on you now!)

Finally: I have a superstitious dread of talking in public about projects that aren't under contract yet, just in case the deal falls through. (This happened to what very nearly became my first published novel, back in 1992.) Ace and Orbit won't discuss future books until I finish my current contract workload — that's how this business works. But what I am willing to say is that I'm aiming to hand in "Rule 34" in about nine days' time. Assuming all goes well, shortly thereafter I hope to announce a new two-book deal. I'll be pitching for a fourth Laundry novel, and a new far-future SF title. Here's hoping they like the idea ...

50 Comments

1:

I'm not surprised that you will forget some (or rather: a lot) of the details of a book that you're writing. But what I keep wondering about, is how you managed to go from rather short texts that you can write in one sitting (and fully keep in your mind) - to longer texts written over a couple of days, months, not to mention years.

I for one keep trying and failing to get back into the mind of that lunatic who wrote that stuff a couple of days ago. ;)

2:

Great news about all the Strossian stuff in the pipeline. I'll update my buying schedule accordingly.

3:

@1: I have that with programs/scripts I wrote, and I am not even using Perl.

4:

Any wild guess on when the next Merchant Princes installment might crop up?

5:

and a new far-future SF title

Related to something, or unrelated? (Not asking for any details more than that, and feel free to not say :).)

6:

Nope. Do not hold your breath: even if I started writing one right this moment it couldn't be published before summer 2012.

7:

A year ago I was considering writing the rest of "Palimpsest".

But any unspecified SF title won't be started until some time in 2011 at the earliest. I may have something better to write by then.

(Other candidates include: the sequel to "Glasshouse", something else in the universe of "Saturn's Children" but not involving Freya, and something so new I haven't thought of it yet. Candidates definitely do not include: the third Eschaton novel.)

8:

We'll know the next time there's a blog entry asking for our thoughts on manned spaceflight or something. ;)

Charlie: feel free to write some unrelated decoys next time. You'll get us on a wrong track and we've always had some fun with those.

9:

I'll bite, why the Eschaton non-love?

10:

" But it should be done by the end of this month (July)" whoa, you ARE tired... :)

@9 - Charlie feels he's written that universe into a corner I believe. I like the two books he did, but can appreciate the issues that arise from writing about a causality violating entity. And, if I'm misspeaking here I'm sure he'll let me know...

11:

Yay for a new far future Stross novel, especially if it's a sequel to Glasshouse. :)

12:

As, I guess, an alpha-reader, I've seen Rule 34 appear in sections. Each time, I've started at the beginning, because there have been changes. It give me an ankling of the problem Charlie must be facing now, with that so-familiar early part to wade through.

13:

A sequel to Atlas Shrugged? One of the most compelling comedies of all time? By Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow?

I will pay you EIGHT GRILLION DOLLARS to make that happen. I am not even kidding.

14:

Charlie - you've spoken in the past about the similarities between writing code for machines and authoring code that runs on the human brain. I'm curious what sort of marginal notes an author uses during the process which would provide a crutch similar to commented code. Would a more formal sort of in-line documentation - instructions for the future you as it were - be helpful to avoid the sort of issues you raised here?

15:

I rather like the notion of Something New. John Scalzi discussed this recently, in a discussion of what he wasn't looking to do sequels on.

At an extreme end of this sort of thing, Star Trek wrote itself into such a set of continuity corners that they couldn't keep writing anything worth watching that wasn't just repetitive and contradictory of what they'd already done. Star Wars sprawled into contradictory-disaster, too.

While there's something comforting about settling into a comfortable set of characters and overall venue, a new universe means not needing to worry about nit-picking readers complaining about continuity errors. And you don't want to "mine" a universe until you're left pulling out tailings.

I think seeing some other "edge" of Saturn's Children would be pretty interesting; certainly things aren't "mined out" after one one story.

I hate to say that I didn't like Glasshouse all that much, although perhaps a sequel would show off places that I would like.

Consider, of course, that adding another "universe" means having something extra to mine the next time you're looking for a sequel :-).

16:

Much like Terry Pratchett did with Thief of Time, I imagine the world of Palimpsest doesn't have a problem with continuity errors by definition.

17:

As long as you don't make your own April Fools come true... that'd be just a little too scary.

18:

Agreed. I liked the first one and loved the second one, so why not?

19:

If you're asking Charlie for what works or might work for him as the equivalent of commented code, there might be an answer. But for writers in general -- I think human thought processes are too diverse.

I'm not a professional writer, but my brain is the one closest to hand. I've come to realize that most of my thinking isn't in words. (It was something of a shock.) This makes outlining on paper (or pixels) difficult.

More generally: If you read any edition of the Mystery Writers of America handbook, you're likely to find writers talking about processes so different that it's hard to believe they all belong to the same species.

20:

No Eschaton love? Woe.

I guess that's one of the modern signs of the apocalypse: hell freezing over; pigs flying; Charlie writing the third Eschaton novel ...

21:

Yeah, but it's *the* third Eschaton Novel. It has *definite* article. There's hope!

22:

I'm up for either of Glasshouse sequel or Palimpest expansion. Very slight preference for Glasshouse. Original would also be an interesting choice.

Also, the idea of a Stross/Doctrow collab sequal for Atlas Shrugged induces an evil laugh. It would be worth it just to hear the screams.

23:

 

  • re Eschaton: I have been aware of your stance for a while, but I'm still pouting over here. Not in an aggressive, entitled-feeling manner, you know, just pouting. *snif*
  • Have to say that I also wasn't that thrilled with Glasshouse, I believe it's actually the only Stross I don't own in dead-tree form, but I do think the background world (the future one) had promise for stories that might interest me, it was just that the plugged-in twisted-present story didn't do much for me.
  • Yay for Palimpsest, even though I am still slightly confused as to what actually happened in that book. And in what order.
24:

@15:

While there's something comforting about settling into a comfortable set of characters and overall venue, a new universe means not needing to worry about nit-picking readers complaining about continuity errors. And you don't want to "mine" a universe until you're left pulling out tailings.

Hopefully the universes will never meet. Picture an eighty-year-old Stross writing a Hermann meets Freya meets Bob meets Rugose Horrors crossover. Hmmm . . . well at least the description sounds better than "The Number of the Beast".

25:

Pretty much like research, it seems. You write a paper, send it in, you may get rejected once, try somewhere else, reviewers sitting on it and all of a sudden, when you're rewriting its easily been two years since you first submitted. Now, why did I define things THAT way in Matlab?

Charlie, any reason you're bundling contracts as one laundry novel and one far future SF; does one pay the way of the other? is there something you would really want to do and then have to make a cash-cow for publishers to get on board? is that how it works?

26:

/Glasshouse/ is one of the best "social science fiction" I know of - a sequel would be an interesting thing, even if I'm not sure if it would hold plot-wise. Maybe something like /The Left Hand of Darkness/ set in space? Or, even better - if /Glasshouse/ is seen as Stross' /The Left Hand of Darkness/, I would like to read our gracious host's version of /The Dispossessed/.

27:

I like Glasshouse.
It has lots of dangling hooks, but they don't need tying up just because of that.

I expect I'll like what comes next.

28:

Hurrah for the "The Rapture of the Nerds". I CANNOT wait for an upcoming Stross/Doctorow novel.

And I would be very excited to get to read the 12" extended mix of Palimpsest.

29:

Really REALLY glad to hear about Rule 34 coming out. But Atlas Shrugged? With enough Compazine and Mirtazapine I suppose I could get through it. Of course, I ended up enjoying The Iron Dream in a sick twisted way...

30:

And if it's written by you and Mr. Doctorow I would by enough anti-emetics. Your stuff really is worth it.

31:

I'm not going to beat up a dead horse by begging for more Eschaton, so put me down for Glasshouse-sequel or new universe. I found _Saturn's Children_ depressing, though intellectually interesting, and would not particularly care to revisit that universe.

If you were to find that it's easier the second time around, an extended riff on _Trunk and Disorderly_ would also go down well, but I remember your post describing how hard that had been!

32:

Maybe not so completely OT, if you are looking for future dystopias .
Scary, I think.

33:

Re the Locus announcement: That's oddly similar to the process that led to Robert Heinlein writing "Gulf" for Astounding.

34:

Charlie, every time you say "fourth Laundry novel", I smile. I know it's not official yet, but it still makes me happy to know that, if you had your druthers, a fourth Laundry novel wouldn't even be halfway through the series.

Does anyone know if Pandemonium Books and Games will (and is still) taking phone orders for signed copies of "The Fuller Memorandum"? Although, I suppose I could ask one of my relatives in MA to go in person. Hmm.

35:

When Asimov and Heinlein tried to "tie things all together" by coming up with "worldverses" that unified a substantial portion of their respective novels, this headed towards being quite terrible.

  • Asimov's connecting-together of Robots and Foundation cheapened both.
  • Heinlein's "pantheistic solipsism" just turned everything into muddle.
  • I'm getting irritated at the Doctor Who "muddle" of, at the end of every season, drawing in either all the companions or a muddle of all of the villains. No, I don't need to see the Daleks again every other week.

Charlie, please don't try to combine Eschaton, Laundry, and World Walking. Unless it's presented in a subplot of Atlas Rebound as the writings of the characgter called Kilgore Trout.

36:

The Heinlein stuff in the last few books didn't bother me. He was having some well-deserved fun towards the end of his life, and I read it (and re-read it) in that spirit. I found his "incest is OK" riffs much more disturbing...

The "Robots and Foundation" connection was just as much a stretch, but it didn't have that "I'm gonna have a ton of fun and you can come along for the ride" vibe of the later Heinlein, though the idea that the robots had killed off all other intelligent life in the Galaxy as an extension of the Three Laws was fairly interesting.

37:

Interesting.

Ooo! Something new and shiny! And revisiting the Jury Duty setting (which I swear looks like Accelerando from the viewpoint of someone other than the Macx family)!

Boskone book = Scratch Monkey? Hmmm. Decisions, decisions. For the more than mildy curious how would we buy a copy?

I guess I'm a minority because I liked Glasshouse (and considered the untied plot hooks a function of "leave 'em wanting more) and Saturn's Children. SC was grim, but ultimately hopeful. And I guess I'm weird because I'd consider the 'bots of that setting to be people.

Authors tying together their disparate settings - so I'm not the only one that thinks that is a bad idea? The Foundation and Robots got old quick, Heinlein's things were initially fun, but also got old. And the way it looks like Stirling is going does not fill me with hope.

38:

@36:

The "Robots and Foundation" connection was just as much a stretch, but it didn't have that "I'm gonna have a ton of fun and you can come along for the ride" vibe of the later Heinlein, though the idea that the robots had killed off all other intelligent life in the Galaxy as an extension of the Three Laws was fairly interesting.

!?!?!?!? I missed that one. Are you sure? That really doesn't seem to have been the Good Doctor's style. I wasn't enamored of the Robot/Foundation merge either, but at least it (sorta) explained where the Mule's power came from. Hard to believe that just evolved "by accident", though that's definitely a retcon. Harder to justify - though actually it appears to be just one throwaway line in one book - is the merging of Eternity into the amalgam as well.

39:
I guess I'm weird because I'd consider the 'bots of that setting to be people.
I think that was the general idea...


Re: OP - I have a horrible feeling I will have to read Atlas Shrugged to properly enjoy your forthcoming sequel. Or will a "previously in Galt's Gulch" precis be supplied?

40:

(Sigh.)

Folks, the "sequel to Atlas Shrugged" thing is a joke.

(The forthcoming collaboration with Cory, not so much of a joke.)

41:

When you get this kind of reaction to a book idea maybe you should just run with it. There's obviously money in it for you. I for one would be more than happy to pay just to see what you and Cory do with the perpetual motion machine at the end of the book.

42:

Ya know Charlie,

It may not be worth seven figures, but I think parody is covered by legitimate uses clause of US Copyright Law.

Considering that the zombie of Ayn Rand has been resurrected by the american teabaggers, it might be a profitable time to write that parody...

43:

As the dumb guy you were nice enough (that's not facetious or sarcastic BTW several people said so) to tell " look at the date" I think the Rand estate is right in holding out for Ed Lee & John Shirley Thanks for the source of the rumor though

44:

I second the "Ayn Rand in the Eschaton" vote.

45:

I always thought that the backstory of the Eschaton would make for an interesting read. It's hinted at in the two books, so I would vote for a timewise regression in the third Eschaton (which might fit quite well into the causality breaking theme).

One idea I had was the Eshaton engineeering the past to eliminate the Eschaton (although that might me something of a fizzle - with my very limited plotting ability!)

46:

@41:

When you get this kind of reaction to a book idea maybe you should just run with it. There's obviously money in it for you. I for one would be more than happy to pay just to see what you and Cory do with the perpetual motion machine at the end of the book.

Hasn't Matt Ruff done this one already? "Sewer Gas Electric"?

Speaking of which, are there any decent biographies of Rand that don't have an axe to grind or coloured by too close a relationship to the subject? While she may have been a lot of things, none of them terribly complementary, she's also a fascinating historical character, an emblem of her time. Sort of like Art Deco.

47:

Dunno - one complaint from an acquaintance was "I'm supposed to emphasize with this?" I don't think he got to the details about the 11th birthday...

48:

Freya has been one of my favourite characters (full stop, really) since I first read about her. The 11th birthday scene was just... urgh. I mean, I felt ill. I feel ill today, thinking about it.

I'd really like a sequel to SC for what it's worth - another side of that solar system could be really interesting to read about.

49:

I'm still waiting for Charlie to get around to his long-promised but never delivered heroic fantasy novel involving the slaad. Thought we'd forgotten, huh, Charlie?...

(oooh, oooh - have a lawful slaad! With, with two swords and, and a magical tiger statue, and, and married to a human - yeah, that could work!)

50:
Folks, the "sequel to Atlas Shrugged" thing is a joke.

I hate to break it to you, but you've come up with so much spectacularly implausible stuff that it's no longer possible for you to say things like that and have people not take you seriously. Most people have an "absurdity threshold", beyond which people know they aren't serious. Yours got eaten by a transcendent AI cat. Anything is possible now.

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