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Books I will not write, #2: Iron Sunrise Variations

It takes an insane amount of time to get your first novel published, when you're just starting out.

I wrote the novel that finally appeared as "Singularity Sky" between 1995 and 1998 (hey, I had a day job); it eventually came out in early 2003, and was lapped part way by my next-but-one novel, "The Atrocity Archive" (which was serialized in an obscure Scottish magazine called "Spectrum SF" from 2001-02).

In 1997, after a decade of failure to launch in the UK, I sat down, took stock of everything I'd learned from my mistakes, and resolved not to do that again. I came up with a master plan and resolved to give it for five years before giving up and throwing in the towel. Rule #1 was, "sell into the American market" (because if you want to write fiction for a living it's a good idea to focus on the biggest market). And Rule #2 was, "write novels, in different sub-genres (because you can't tell in advance which will sell), and make sure each one can be the first book in a series (because you want to be able to follow up whichever sells)". Of course, I didn't expect everything to sell, leaving me juggling about three series' ...

However. Back in 1997/8 I was still learning how to do this thing. And after I finished the third draft of "Festival of Fools" (aka "Singularity Sky") I kept going for another 45,000 words, working on a sequel titled "Iron Sunrise", until sanity (and the business plan) asserted themselves.

Very little of the original material in "Iron Sunrise" made its way into the final published book (which was mostly written in 2001-02). Here's why ...

The original first half of "Iron Sunrise" contained numerous items not present in the final published book. In fact, when I picked it up again in 2001, with the goal of turning it into a working sequel to the newly-sold "Singularity Sky", I found only about 30% of the original material was usable.

Stuff that went on the cutting-room floor included the entire sub-plot about the Final Structures left behind on Earth by the Eschaton (gates or wormholes leading ... somewhere else), the exploration team waiting for one to open so that they could go through them, and of course Fred.

Fred, Wednesday's talking cat sidekick and comic relief.

Non-human sidekicks have a long history in SF, for obvious reasons; there's a whole sub-genre of companion-animal fantasy (most recently skewered mercilessly by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette in A Companion to Wolves). In the Eschaton universe there's a somewhat more clear-headed rationale for the existence of smarter-than-normal animals; they're tools, engineered for a purpose.

In the case of Fred the Cat: vermin are a really bad thing to have on a space colony, such as the one Wednesday grows up on in "Iron Sunrise". They chew wiring, potentially causing hideous equipment failures. So it's a good idea to have a self-sustaining vermin control program. It's a waste of human resources to spend working lives on rodent control, especially when cats are available off-the-shelf — but you don't want unmodified cats on a space station, either: you want cats with boosted linguistic abilities and opposable thumbs, so that they can read the warning signs, flush the toilets, and drag their prey to the correct recycling point rather than leaving them to rot in situ. Unfortunately, a sub-culture of semi-intelligent feral cats is also something you don't want on board a space colony ...

Alas, I was already working on "Accelerando" by this time. "Accelerando" features an AI who has discovered it's easier to manipulate humans if it uses a furry critter as a sock-puppet; but alas, early feedback showed that about 90% of readers were mentally filing Aineko under "talking cat", not "scarily manipulative AI". There is a rule in the field, that if you use the same trick twice in a row you'll get pigeon-holed as "the [trick] guy". And there was no way I was going to let myself be filed under "talking cat dude". So Fred had to go. Leaving this fragment behind (along with the pregnant phrase, "put down the fishing rod, back away from the aquarium, and nobody needs to get hurt"):

In the early hours of the night after the party Wednesday lay on her mattress, trying to sleep. Her head hurt: it felt like someone'd left a window open inside her skull, flushing a cold steppe wind through it to clear away the drug-induced cobwebs. She found it difficult to drop off: it was always a bummer when you came swimming back up from thick-headed giggling idiocy. You wondered how you could have been such a fool; the only compensation was that it doesn't matter. The only witnesses were the other D-zone dipsies.

She'd bubbled home in silence and gone straight into the bathroom: stripped off the ragged black dress -- soiled in places, stripped of romance, just a tatter of black fabric -- dropped it in the recycling bin. Facing the mirror she deprogrammed the smart pigments in her face with a light pen; swollen red lips faded to pale pink, small blood vessels opened and flooded her cheeks with warmth. Finally the ink-black membranes around her eyes turned hangover red and began to itch furiously. She still felt dirty, greasy from the heat and stink and idiocy of the party: but she'd shower in the morning. The important thing was to sleep behind her own face, not the vamping giggling party-stranger who'd made a fool of her imaginary self, even though she hadn't managed to fuck like the bunny Alice had invited her to be.

She yawned and stared at herself in the mirror. How did people cope with the embarrassment thing before they could change faces? She wondered. Frustration, mortification, and sex. She yawned again. Morris and Indica had taken Jeremy on a weekend trip to Carter B, to gawp at the sights there: she had the apartment to herself for a day or two now. Go to sleep, Wednesday.

It was still darkside shift-time and she was lying awake, frustrated and annoyed with herself for not making a move on Vinnie or one of the other shutdown cases, for not wanting to make a move on one of them, when she heard a quiet clattering noise. If she'd been asleep she probably wouldn't have woken up: but she was on her own, and a sudden nervous thrill of fear ran through her. Herman? She thought, but as usual there was no reply. (It was almost a personal prayer, this constant appeal to an absent deity. Or maybe a phantom itch, like the irritation from an amputated limb. Sometimes she wondered if she'd ever learn to do without the memory of him.) Clattering in the next room: someone was in there, someone noisy.

She was on her feet before she quite realised what was happening. There was a wooden baseball club thing she made in a crafts class, learning to use a lathe on real synthetic wood -- she took it, silently but sure in the darkness of her own room. Who's there? Her chest felt tight and her guts bubbled loose. Someone was in the kitchen.
She quietly pulled her bedroom door open and tip-toed out into the passage. The kitchen was next door, opening off the same curving corridor as the rest of the apartment. No light. The door was shut: tensing, she glanced over her shoulder. A fright-memory of those dreadful dogs sent a shiver of fear right through her, but she steeled herself to deal with it: she was been trained not to lie huddled under the covers by a subtle and ingenious teacher, trained without even realising it. She yanked the door open with one hand and palmed the light switch, bringing the club up --

-- And a very large tabby cat looked guiltily at her from the food preparation surface. The cat had a long, well-groomed coat, large paws, and a slightly bulbous forehead; he wore a waistcoat, pockets bulging with small power-tools. In one remarkably humanoid hand, he held a can opener. In the other hand, he clutched a brightly coloured tin with a cartoon picture of a grinning fish on the label.

"Who the fuck are you and what are you doing here?" she demanded, glaring.

"Through hole in roof. I'm a cat, me." He clutched the tin protectively. "Food? Eat!"

The ceiling air duct gaped open: the contents of a drawer lay scattered on the floor below. Wednesday took it all in with a glance. The cat burglars had been getting dangerously smart, stealing survival tools and blinding surveillance cameras -- but they were still cats. The beast was probably frightened half out of his mind: she outmassed him ten to one. "You won't get far with that tin," she warned.

The cat put it down between his hind legs and clutched the can opener in both hands. "Food! Mine! Escape-fear-pounce-jump!" When he became agitated his stream of consciousness sprayed everywhere: his ears folded flat and his tail began to puff up. Then he glanced up at the hole in the ceiling. Morris and Indica couldn't afford a good neighbourhood; the cubic they lived in was under point eight gees and it was nearly two metres straight up to the roof.

His expression was so worried that Wednesday couldn't hold it in any longer: she laughed aloud. When she stopped the cat was glaring at her aggrievedly. "What you've got there is a tin of spaghetti shapes. Want to tell me what you're doing here?"
"Food -- " He glanced away and licked at the back of one furry hand. "Not me. Was some other cat." Lick lick lick. "Didn't do it. Not see me. Jump-escape."

While the cat was in denial, a thought occurred to Wednesday. "Someone sent you, didn't they? Who was it? Tell me and I'll get you some real food. Good food, not like that."

"Me hungry." The cat glanced down at the tin between its feet. She could almost see the gear wheels whirring busily between its ears. "Food?"

"First tell me who sent you," she repeated.

"Boy," said the cat reluctantly. He held up the tin opener. "Feed me!"

"What did the boy tell you to do?" demanded Wednesday.

The cat reached into its harness, produced a small black bead: an eyebug of some description. "Put in shower," he said. His voice was throaty but not deep, like a human child with laryngitis. "Go back, jump-escape, boy feed me. I'm a good cat!" He paused, then picked up the tin. "Food now?"

"Not that tin." She put down the baseball bat, opened a cupboard door. More tins. Jeremy had discovered the kitchen's ice-cream making attachment the other week, and busily explored its potential in conjunction with the grocery tube service: tofu and aniseed, banana and spinach, haggis and chocolate. Indica noticed and stopped him before he got to the threatened coup de grace -- cranberry and tuna-flavoured lemon sorbet. As punishment she'd forced him to read aloud the traditional recipe for haggis. (First take a sheep's stomach and lungs ...) "Here." Wednesday found what she was looking for.

"Meat?" the cat asked suspiciously.

"Give me the can opener," she said. For a wonder, the cat passed it to her. You could never tell with a cat: they were just smart enough to think everyone else was dumber than them. Wordlessly she wrapped the can opener around the lid and gave it a brief squeeze. The lid lifted free and she passed the container to the cat, who emitted a deep grumbling noise and took it in both hands. "Fork's in the draw below you," she said before he could dig his face in. "This boy. Was he fat?"

"Eating. Go 'way." The cat chewed as he talked, dripping fragments of fake fish flakes all over the worktop. Wednesday's stomach grumbled. The cat burped and stopped eating for a moment. "Fat boy," he said. "Me smart cat." With a can of ersatz tuna in his hands and an electric screwdriver in his belt he was a lord of infinite space. Rrrrr. Pig boy. Eat pig?" One ear twitched.

"I don't think so," Wednesday said drily. She picked up the bug and scrutinized it. "Hmm. Remember to put the duct cover back before you leave," she said and, closing and locking the kitchen door, went back to bed.



Do I see quotes from two other talking animal stories? The night chough from The Book of the Long Sun. ("Food now? Fish heads?") And the Cordwainer Smith story whose title I can't remember, where animals get turned into sub-humans. ("Me smart cat. Handsome, too.")

I was right about Stephen Maturin, wasn't I? And how come no one else notices the Steely Dan quotes in William Gibson's books?


I haven't read the Book of the Long Sun, don't remember that line from a Cordwainer Smith story, and you're wrong about Stephen Maturin.



(Really, just want a sequel to Iron Sunrise...)


You're not getting it. Although later in this series of blog entries you'll get an explanation as to why, along with the fragmentary plot of Eschaton #2.5, "Space Pirates of KPMG".


Well, what about another book in that universe? I mean, you're only juggling… what, five or six other universes? It should be no problem for you to chuck another one in there.


our esteemed host has (leading to a lot of sadness and griping on my own part as well from others) stated quite often that he sees heavy problems with the world-building of that universe and therefore will not write any more stories in it.

It saddens me (because I really want to see how the whole Eschaton vs the ReMastered thing plays out) but even if it were possible for us to force him to write it, it would probably suck. I mean a book that the author doesn't like will not be very good, I guess.


Speaking of authors repeating their tricks, I read Iron Sunrise after The Atrocity Archive, and was surprised at the similarity between the endings of Iron Sunrise and "The Concrete Jungle" -- [SPOILERS] rivy ohernhpeng crefrphgrf ureb ivn ohernhpengvp zvahgvn, naq yngre gheaf bhg gb or trahvaryl zheqrebhfyl rivy crefba jub vf n zrzore bs gur zheqrebhfyl rivy tebhc gung xvpxrq bss rirelguvat gung gur ureb unf orra pbcvat jvgu/svtugvat ntnvafg va gur pbhefr bs gur fgbel.

Anyway, it made me go Hm!

Was there a reason for this similarity?


I'd like to cheekily venture a topic for this series. Will you write some kind of sequel to Glasshouse (even if only loosely so), or is that universe done too? And if so can you tell us why?

I ask because much as I've enjoyed everything of yours I've read, Glasshouse - to my tastes - stands out as your transcendent work. You achieved a particularly fine mesh of fresh takes on SF conceits and genuinely insightful yet light-handed sociopolitical commentary, and in the process told a darn good yarn.


Absolutely wonderful. Stuff that I wondered about. Honest and clear.

How long before: "Rule #1: sell into the American market" becomes "Rule #yi: sell into the Chinese market"?

If ever...


I didn't notice that similarity until you mentioned it.


As it happens, I have provisional plans for a sequel to "Glasshouse". (Title: "Ghost Engine". Subject matter: what happens when the Harvest Lore reaches it's destination, 200 years later.) Alas, "Glasshouse" is my worst-selling SF track novel with Ace, so a sequel is a commercially iffy proposition that wouldn't draw a large advance.


Well, the Eschaton may send a bedraggled rook to scratch against his window pane some dark and stormy night, whining "want in, want in..." until he throws his phone at it.

Then he'll have to write the story, just to pay for the new phone and window pane.

That said, I think the Eschaton series has the same issue as Palimpsest, which is that, to put it metaphorically and inoffensively, trees don't grow in those forms, even when they're made of plot lines.


Gah. Disappointing - yet not a huge surprise - that my tastes are not shared by the greater buying public.

I can promise a handful of purchases for a published Ghost Engine (myself and a few friends who I correctly surmised would become Stross fans if introduced via Glasshouse). Not that such a handful makes much difference in the larger scheme of things.


I would be deliriously happy with another Glasshouse universe novel! I recommend it to everyone I know that likes intelligent sci-fi


"Space Pirates of KPMG" See, I'd buy that. I don't care what universe it's in, I'd buy it for the title...

Re Glasshouse. I ended up liking it, but for a long chunk of the middle of the novel it's not very SF, nor is it off enough to be a bit disorienting and keep the reader wondering. I loved the start with the implication of a complex, odd SF world... but the characters moved from people in that world to people playing standard 1950s suburban power games a bit too fast and, for me, it stayed there a bit too long. It's the only book of yours I've not re-read so perhaps I'm missing subtleties that I'd notice the second time through, but I think if people came to it expecting the mind-blowing world of Accelerando or the SF of SS/Iron Sunrise, they didn't really get it and so perhaps didn't do the word of mouth thing that creates some sales.


This series is making me wish (not for the first time) you'd do like Rudy Rucker and have downloads of your story notes and outtakes.


Well, drat. Glasshouse is perhaps my favourite book of yours.


Bummer about Glasshouse's sales figures. I would have liked to see a deeper exploration of the mode of warfare in use in that universe. (And I bought a hardcover copy, so, y'know, I tried to cast my vote on the matter...)

And for what it's worth, I think at this point in your career you could get away with another talking animal in your work, if you felt like doing one. I still get a kick out of the bear market that turned up in Toast. :-)


I think Glasshouse suffers from being too challenging for the average casual reader. I read it once on a flight, and didn't enjoy it. It was only a year later that I reread it and actually appreciated it. I still don't consider it a light read, and I haven't yet used it when trying to hook other readers on your writing.


Rick - I agree that many who came to Glasshouse with expectations moulded by Accelerando et al were in all likelihood disappointed. That's why I'm not too surprised it didn't sell so well, but I think it's a shame. I think there's a potential unreached market for Glasshouse of readers who don't enjoy the heady rush of ideas that marks Charlie's other work (as well as those, like me, who enjoy it all).

Ironically, though, 'off enough to be a bit disorienting and keep the reader wondering' captures exactly what I liked about the middle section. I liked the sharp transition from futurescape to familiar suburban territory and then the gradual and uneasy revelation of this latter environment's SF underpinnings. I liked the extra time spent on the psychology of the protagonist, and the unexpected twist in the narrative voice. I am, however, a huge fan of SF that plays games with my expectations of the genre, that takes the time to tell a great story with interesting characters, that uses SF elements to support and enrich the narrative rather than to drive it. Glasshouse is, for me, exemplary in this respect.

(BTW apologies to our gracious host for somewhat derailing this thread, though this topic is at least vaguely apropos!)


That character might work better in a visual medium like a comic or animation, cats are lovable despite their personalities and without the visual jamming field of "Oooo kitty" they just come across as the obnoxious creatures they are


Too bad Bob Howard can't have a Familiar. That cat reminds me of my Powder. He starts grooming to try to look innocent.He can't talk but his brother can sort of meow "Out".


Will it help if we all pout, stamp our feet, and scream, "WANT MORE ESCHATON! WANT MORE ESCHATON!" in unison?


Oh well, worth a shot.


Me too! Am good customer! Am FAN! Want sequel!



I remember the line from Cordwainer Smith, now that I'm reminded of it. The C'man who said it was as smart as a rather stupid human...and was a rathe stupid C'man, not like C'mell. (Should those M's be capitalized? I don't remember, but it doesn't look quite right.)

I can't remember precisely which story it was in either...but it was in one of the collections, because I didn't read the stories when they were first printed (or see them in used magazines). The title that springs to mind, however, is "Lords of the Instrumentality". That would be a collection title rather than a story title.

OTOH, it's also the kind of line that one WOULD invent to display that a character was proud of his rather limited intelligence. I.e., because of it's utility, obviousness, and functional nature it shouldn't be copyright-able.


"It's fun to charter an accountant And sail the wide accountant sea To find, explore, the funds offshore And skirt the shoes of bankruptcy!"


I Am now imagining comic relief cats in every stross work, including A Colder War and Missile Gap.

time passes

I am now sorely tempted to write cat based fanfic.


pitty - I found Glasshouse the best of your works (and I've read them all more than once :). Let's hope the other lines bring enough gold to keep the dragon happy so that we can have a Ghost Engine.


The Cordwainer Smith one that sprang to mine was The Game of Rat and Dragon.


Why, if I search for "Charlie Stross" on the Kindle Store are there only 10 results...even though you have more than 10 books on the store?

Why is the fourth Merchant Princes book apparently missing from the Kindle Store?


Why is the fourth Merchant Princes book apparently missing from the Kindle Store?

Merchant Princes 1-3 were published and went out as ebook editions during Tor's short-lived fling with webscriptions.

Corporate brakes were applied. Two years passed. Then Tor began publishing ebooks again. And Merchant Princes book 5 and 6 came out after Tor began routinely publishing everything in ebook format.

Have you spotted the gap, yet ...?

MP #4 is slated for ebook publication ... eventually. But Tor have a multi-thousand book backlog awaiting ebook conversion, which in many cases involves completely re-typesetting the book from scratch. I'm yelled and stamped and threatened to hold my breath until I turn blue or they publish "The Merchants War" as an ebook, to no avail.

Eventually it'll happen, and you can expect to see a celebratory blog entry. But don't hold your breath.


Yes, it is a damn shame that "Glasshouse" was not as good a seller as your other books, though I suspect it has legs; it's still my favorite book of yours (only just barely since I read "The Fuller Memorandum", though). I think "Glasshouse" will pick up a solid readership over time.

If you were to market "Ghost Engine" by subscription I'd pony up the full amount in advance, and wait a year or two if necessary; I liked "Glasshouse" that much.


Getting more Eschaton books is easy. We simply need to convince Charlie that all the problems he has identified with the Eschaton Universe are in fact not bugs, but features.

Any software salesmen in the house?



Glasshouse was phenomenal, and I'd be the first in line to buy a sequel.

Sad that there will be no more Eschaton stories, but we can't have everything.

I don't know if you've answered this before, Charlie, but is there a possibility of a sequel to Saturn's Children? That was the first book of yours I read, and I was absolutely blown away.


It's a great idea, but it's an idea that'll dominate the readers' perception and recollection of the novel and it will, even now, get Charlie permanently ghetto-ised as 'Funny talking-cat guy'.

Unless you pitch the book explicitly into the 'Young Adult' or 'Younger readers' ghetto. A difficult trick to pull off: most authors can only get books published and promoted in one narrowly-defined category that permanently defines them and all their work; and a dangerous trick to try, as there's a risk that the book will sell well enough to trap you in 'Young Adult' forever, never to write 'serious' SF again. But maybe, just maybe, worth a try; and in amongst the fetid morass of worthy and uplifting YA, I feel sure that there's a space for some really, really dark humour.

Meanwhile that throwaway remark about whatever did people do before faces were just a removable cosmetic... It's a great idea, an amazing stop-the-world idea, intriguing and perverse and subversive. And superseded by the Facebook and post-privacy world in which everything we ever say or do or end up tagged for in a photograph stays with us forever; facial-recognition software capable of seeing through anything short of major bone surgery will fit in the next-but-one iPhone, and cloud computing means that the video feed from every camera in the party, in the nightclub, or outdoors is recognising you, attaching Facebook picture tags of you to every frame, and dumping the results into a fully-searchable Twitter feed, nonstop.

The market for apps to read and summarise the data stream will be enormous but the results will become ubiquitous and invisible. Asking your phone - or whatever devices supersede it - will get you the name of the blonde at the bar, pictures of her with whoever she was snogging here last night, and an amusing story about her cat - by name! - to start a conversation.

She, of course, will know your HIV status (and probably your medical history if it involves STDs or psychiatric medication) and an awful lot of things that your last girlfriend said about you on It's just a right-click or a double-blink behind the 'Whos This' tag in the people-recognition software.

Which is to say: faces are sooo twentieth-century.


I've seen electronic versions of books where the person who ripped the book inserts a three-page colophon about the poor editting quality of the original, and how much work they had to do to clean up the text to a readable standard.

So I guess you might be able to find a copy of your own texts in "more cleanly-editted" form online somewhere.

If you then passed those on to said publisher, told them you'd subcontracted the ebook, and here it was all shiny and ready, d'you think they'd put it out?


I know you've talked about the "heavy problems" with the universe. But you're god there. If you want to write the problems away you have The Power


I'm very glad you ended up cutting out the talking cat from Iron Sunrise. I don't think I would have enjoyed the book very much if there was a cutesy talking sidekick in it.

Also, I really like the suggestion for a kickstarter-ed Glasshouse sequel. But you probably have contracts (and, I imagine, other reasons) that prohibit going out on your own like this, so we will just have to keep dreaming.


Occam: If I read it right, the problem is with some of the things the other gods of that universe have said and done. Fundamental problems the likes of which I shall not spoilerize.


Over the last few years I've found myself to be intensely interested in AI's and Augmented humans/animals.

I've also recently adopted a cat which lives in my truck with me 24/7.

I'm wondering how likely such a critter as an augmented cat would be?


Regarding Glasshouse -- I've liked all your other books and recommended them to others, but not that one.

I have to admit I set Glasshouse down somewhere in the middle and never picked it up again. I'm female and (just barely) old enough to remember the 50s, and I found that headspace repulsive. I've spent a lifetime staying the hell away from that kind of life: I don't need to spend my leisure time in there... perhaps males find it exotic? Or at least less obnoxious?

Very disappointing after the interesting introductory section.

I'd need reviews strongly indicating that a second book in that world was less annoying before I would consider buying it.


Augh! A cat with thumbs and enough smarts to use tools! We're doomed! They'd look at us like our ancestors looked at mammoths...

And off topic - Ghost Engine sounds like it could be very interesting. Its a darn shame about the sales numbers, but its not a comfortable read for folks. Still, I'd like a sequel, but then again, I admit I'm a minority taste.


The 1950s social structure encountered in the middle of Glasshouse is meant to be obviously (to the reader; only to some of the characters) hellish and repulsive. It wouldn't serve the purpose plot-wise (either, um, book-plot-wise or conspiracy-plot-wise) if it wasn't. I read Robin's condition on entering said environment as being intended to emphasize that. It would have been a nasty place anyway, but is more obviously so because Robin has been artificially dropped down the social scale by the changes. Robin, coming from a culture that's inherently much more egalitarian than ours is today, never mind fifty years ago, provides a narrator who's keen to point this out.

[Charlie - I hope I've avoided anything that you'd regard as a spoiler, but if you disagree I'll quite understand if you delete this comment.]


The plot of the Eschaton novel I dreamt up one night before I realized Charlie had given up on the universe involved the idea that the Eschaton was the universe's mechanism for ensuring that causality wasn't violated (so much less energy-intensive than blowing up stars a la Niven), and that Herman was lying (or being lied to by the Eschaton) when it spoke of the Eschaton's confusion about the events of Iron Sunrise. If I had any talent and wasn't so damned lazy, I'd file off the serial numbers and write that book.


I'm entirely with Elyse Grasso: I found the subworld in Glasshouse to be really hard to deal with. Excellently written, novel, and entirely repulsive. Watching the social structure play out to its inevitably horrific end was... not an enjoyable experience for me.

The guys I know who've read Glasshouse really liked it. The couple of other women I know who've read it found it deeply disturbing. I think it just hits a nerve in some of us, even if we weren't alive during the 50s.

Chrisj: Yes, of course the world's meant to be hellish and repulsive. It's the mark of a great author that it was, in fact, completely hellish and repulsive. But like Elyse said, I don't need to spend my leisure time in there.


How about a novel Charlie ought to write? A near-future really nasty dystopia, structured like U.K le G's "Dispossesed", beginning in the "middle" of events (about 2020) and the alternate-chapters progressing sequentially from 2016 through to, about 2022.

"Raymond (My father's name, and the narrator is myself, disguised) stood outside the great church of the Creation, which he still privately thought of as The Natural History Museum, and wondeed how did we come to this pass?" Plot synopisis: Tea-Party "wins" 2016 US election, by very dubious means, and immediately grabs levers of power, declaring state of emergency, and (temporarily, OF COURSE) suspending the Constitution ... atheism persecuted ... agreement with fundie muslim states that the Enlightenment is the real enemy ... Prof Dawkins judicially murdered on visit in 2017/18 ... Brit guvmint finally wakes up to threat, askes all US military to leave, they appear to agree, send over big fleet of transport planes to evacuate, but, actually, they're filled with troops, Britain overrun, helped by religious plants all over country, especially US-run churches .... Wholesale destruction of biological and geological knowledge bases, and religious indoctrination. Post 2020, having overrun the enlightenment, the christians and muslims then turn on each other, to enforce their own special versions of the holy truth. Novel ends with Raymond, dying of burns and radiation after multiple small-nuking of London, planted by devout suicide bombers (Mecca is already a glowing sheet of glass). He realises that he really IS going to hell, because his consciousness, or at least a good chunk of it, is being uploaded by a christian stormtrooper into an AI memory stick, so that it can be tortured everlastingly for not believeing .....


For those who hated the "Glasshouse" world within a world, it was only that - effectively staged. The "real" Glasshouse universe is, clearly, much more diverse, freer and weird - so another novel set in the Glasshouse universe would presumably be very, very different.

For my part I enjoyed "Glasshouse" - not because the 1950s set up was in any way attractive but rather the opposite: because I was waiting to see where, and how, it would be blown apart.


Have you ever considered a juvenile, readable by an audience around the age of 14 as well as your established market? There's a lot of fantasy out there but not much SF (lets ignore Little Brother) and it would be nice to see something a little more thought provoking for that age group.


Yes, I've considered it. However, (a) I have no children to beta-test it on (nor do most of my social circle have friends of an appropriate age), and (b) career structures in publishing being what they are, if I did one YA book, I'd probably be expected to move wholesale into the field. And adding another publishing track at this time is not on my to-do list.

(Actually, I'd like to cut my output down to one book a year, plus a Laundry novel on top every 2-3 years, plus room for short fiction if I feel the urge. It's hard to keep up the quality when you're squeezing out 2 novels a year like clockwork.)


Am I the only person here that does not like the Merchant stuff and the Fuller stuff and likes all the other stuff Charly wrote?


Hi Charlie,

Ever considered co-opting and corrupting a group of kids at a local library? You could talk to them about being a writer, they could help you stay relevant to their age group.

Heck, you could use the standard dealer protocol, and give away free YA short story samples to get them hooked on your harder stuff as they get older...


not much SF (lets ignore Little Brother)

Is Little Brother SF, though? I don't recall anything in there that's particularly science-fictional. (Unlike Turtledove's Crosstime Trader series…)

In terms of YA fiction, I liked it. We picked up a dozen copies for the library and they're always out, so the kids like it too. And from the questions they ask in class some of them are thinking about the issues, which is what Doctorow wanted, so I'd say it's a good YA book. But I'm not certain it's science fiction.


I wasnt sure where you were going with that and then the end line chilled me, a singularity is sometimes called the Rapture for Nerds but I'd never have thought that it could be possible to write fiction based on a religious singularity.....


IMHO, a society gets exactly the Singularity it deserves. Someday I plan to write a science fiction book with this as the premise.



How about... Don't write a book. You keep your draft material, I think it would be interesting enough in itself. I think most artists like to keep the drafts hidden, with pride in the finished product, and fair enough, but sketches are still compelling to many.

Re Glasshouse - I know you have to eat, but please remember that your constituency can change with your work. Of your stories, it's so far my joint favourite along with Missile Gap and Palimpsest. But this is an indulgence - do what you will, I'm happy to feed on whatever ideas take your fancy next.


I'm entirely with Elyse Grasso: I found the subworld in Glasshouse to be really hard to deal with. Excellently written, novel, and entirely repulsive. Watching the social structure play out to its inevitably horrific end was... not an enjoyable experience for me.

The guys I know who've read Glasshouse really liked it. The couple of other women I know who've read it found it deeply disturbing. I think it just hits a nerve in some of us, even if we weren't alive during the 50s.

Chrisj: Yes, of course the world's meant to be hellish and repulsive. It's the mark of a great author that it was, in fact, completely hellish and repulsive. But like Elyse said, I don't need to spend my leisure time in there.

Not just women, as a guy I found it pretty unpleasant reading and the only reason I didn't give up on it was because I'd read enough other books by our gracious host to have faith that just desserts would be forthcoming.

Did take me about a week to grit my teeth through that entire middle section though (vs about 4 hours for both the front and tail ends of the novel combined), virtually any other author and I'd have filed it at the bottom of the "if I ever completely run out of other books to read" pile and started something else.

I loved the background story of the universe though, just hated the whole 'Glasshouse' bit of it. ;)


Re: Glasshouse - I found it fascinating reading, but coming from a sociology/gender politics background, that's not that strange. Maybe Glasshouse could be sold into that direction, i.e. find someone who makes it requiered reading in some college course or seminaire or other on, say, "The narrative deconstruction of gender in post-2000 science fiction"?


"Glasshouse" got started in a pub on a rainy Tuesday afternoon when I was bitching to a friend about how John Varley had puked up "Mammoth" instead of "Steeltown Blues" ... and suddenly a thought popped into my head: what if you applied the Stanford Prison Study protocol to a bunch of people out of Varley's Eight Worlds Universe, only randomized by gender role rather than prisoner/guard?

Then I had to come up with a narrative hook to hang it on.

(Add having read "The Female Eunuch" and "The Feminine Mystique" at an impressionable age and you can probably see where my approach to coercive emergent gender roles comes from. That, and having been playing "The Sims" too damned much ...)

Incidentally, in case it isn't obvious, Robin/Reeve is a hilariously unreliable narrator -- as witness her getting murdered two thirds of the way through a first-person-present-tense novel (and keeping on going). The Glasshouse is a posthuman immortal civ's solution to what you do with the soldiers and/or war criminals when the war's over -- you don't want immortal desensitized killers knocking around, so you suppress the worst memories, then isolate them, put them under pressure that breaks down their normal behavioural responses, and leave them find their own way back to a sane social equilibrium over a very long incubation time.

Robin is told the Glasshouse exists to reprocess war criminals. Robin is sent into the Glasshouse to do something -- she's not sure what -- and is having flashback nightmares -- and at the end, the inmates have collectively rebelled against [SPOILER] and are building their own new society in isolation as the ship the Glasshouse is aboard chugs towards a rendezvous 170 years in the future ...

Anyone who takes Robin/Reeve's interpretation of the events in "Glasshouse" at face value hasn't been paying attention.


I'd call it near-future SF. The US has a large police state, the kids have new devices, and the kids have a closer way to work together.


I loved Glasshouse. If a sequel eventually makes its way to retail, I'd be all over that.

I know you've probably answered this before, Charlie,(I've skimmed a few comment threads looking for an answer, to no avail) but what problems do you have with the Eschaton universe? I personally found Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise(and Bear Trap) to be great stories.


Glasshouse is good. I think clones are more use for employers than employees though.


Well, shucks If you're not planning on writing anything more in the Eschaton universe, would you consider farming it out, perhaps in the way Eric Flint and Baen Books did with 1632?

For that matter, would you care to comment at some point on what Eric Flint and Baen Books did with 1632? (Personally, I find the series quite readable at the present but I can't convince myself it's going to seem attractive to readers in say 2100.)


Rod McBan the 151st said it, shortly after thinking bad thoughts so strongly that numerous nearby Earthlings died. To escape detection, he then said to himself, I am just a dumb cat. I do not know much. To stay in character, he then said out loud, in answer to a challenge from investigators, "Me smart cat. Very handsome too".

I also don't remember the title, but do seem to recall that he actually was, at least at that moment, a cat.


Have a read of comment 17, over here.


Hey Charlie,

With regard to the Eschaton Universe, how about something like this:

"Reports of a series of really terrible solar flares in ReMastered space start filtering back to the UN. To most of humanity it just looked like bad solar weather playing havoc with inhabited planets, (if the humans in question were paying attention at all) but Rachel and Martin know what's going on... and when a theocratic empire built on the principals of Third Testament Christianity began to move into ReMastered space, the writing was on the wall.

Meanwhile, the Potentate of Zarquon has sent agents into UN Space, searching for the plot coupons necessary to build an Illudium Q33 Explosive Space Modulator, so our heroes are sent back into the field."

The Eschaton's super powers fade back into the background, Rachel and Martin are off on another mission, and the Grand Cosmic Issues are handled off stage and treated as incidental to the story.


Roderick (Frederick Ronald Arnold William MacArthur) McBan Hundred and Fifty-First, Sir and Mister and Owner of the Station of Doom, uses the line in "Norstrilia."


(Actually, I'd like to cut my output down to one book a year, plus a Laundry novel on top every 2-3 years, plus room for short fiction if I feel the urge. It's hard to keep up the quality when you're squeezing out 2 novels a year like clockwork.)
I was wondering if the pace of the last few years would start to tell; not that I'm complaining that you were able to produce the goods, but it seemed like you'd have to yell "uncle" eventually. And I'm all for quality over quantity, so I'd rather you take your time and satisfy both yourself and your readers while leaving time for a pint or two as required.

"Glasshouse" got started in a pub on a rainy Tuesday afternoon when I was bitching to a friend about how John Varley had puked up "Mammoth" instead of "Steeltown Blues"
Aha! Someone else who'd rather have stories from the Eight Worlds than faux-Heinlein-objectivist silliness. I still think his best work is the short stories from that series, especially "Lollipop and the Tar Baby" and "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance".


Would love to see something like Accelerando (where tech is going) meets Merchant Princes (for political intrigue) but present day/near term future, present Earth : )


That would be "Rule 34", due out next July.

70: 1 - I don't notice Steely Dan refs because I don't listen to Steely Dan! Various - Glasshouse was my first of Charlie's books (random choice after meeting him in the dealer's room at an Eastercon). I now own all his books that are in paperback, so I'm going to ask the questions:-

1) What is the "attach rate" for people who read Glasshouse first? 2) Similarly for other titles.

Various - Cats are manipulative anyway. Aineko was clearly a manipulative AI using a "cute" form to make manipulation easier.

@53 It is meant to be a REALLY NASTY dystopia, remember?

And a serious warning, given past examples, of "innocent" physicists, and others making apparently innocuous compromises with their local government, which has gone power-mad and cruel. Such guvmints will use anything that is convenient, if it will preserve their power. Such a guvmint can also use the former soviet "First Circle" system, to get work out of such people.

Also, it's a warning about what can happen when a friend, whom you thought you could trust, at least most of the time, goes completely Upney (1 stop past Barking). Remember that most people didn't realise that Adolf was a serious threat until at least 1938, and some blinded themselves with wishful thinking, even then.

An electorally-dubious, but actual takeover of the US by the Teabagger/christian/dominionists in 2016 would be just like that. There would be all sorts of apologists and wishful thinkers going on about how wonderful "faith" is (see the papers over the past month re. the vile Ratzinger's visit here, if you can do so without vomiting).

As for the lines about the destruction of biological/geological learning, and replacement with churches - well, that's what the Taliban do, isn't it? And the RC church as well in the past. The last line of my original short comment was deliberately meant to echo Orwell/Blair, and make the line about a boot stamping on a human face look positively benign.

You could also think of the whole thing as an "anti-Heinlein" novel, in that the Revolt in 2100 fails, and the churches succeed, and then, of course, fight amongst each other for the corpse of the world.

@ 54 See @ 53, above...


It didn't show until 1943, but surely Hitler was at least Dagenham East?


On reading 64 above:
Ooooh yeah! Dump Rachel and Martin into a Peter Watts story, then let's see people ask for sequels after that!

I'm loving this small series of outtakes, the bits you decided not to publish. It's a fascinating look into the eternal development process.

PS.Shiny new server!


I think the best Stross story to add intelligent cats to is "Big Brother Iron."

What could possibly go wrong?


Looking forward to it then. WG's ZH was satisfying, but not satiating. Bigend made me think of Aineko (for me/10% = "scarily manipulative AI").


Lots of people are suggesting story ideas to you. Would you be able to use them if you wanted to?

If your stand is "I can't incorporate plotlines that are suggested to me into books because then there might be lawsuits afterward from people who want part of the royalties", people need to know, so they don't poison all of the good ideas for you.


Tim, see the "FAQ: Fan Fiction" linked to from the sidebar.


It was pretty obvious to me that Herman was lying through his nonexistant teeth (or possibly being deceived by Eschaton for plausible deniability, but it's probably bright enough to realize what's going on itself.) and that the big E was the responsible party.

It's also clear that the ReMastered threat is almost trivial to deal with now that it's known. Moving all of your government function onto starships that make frequent microjumps may be inconvenient and expensive, but compared to the alternative... (Keeping your quantum OTP communication channels open and secure is a bit trickier, but requiring the personel running them to make regular trips to the government ship and back goes a fairly long way.)

So given that, IS doesn't really need a sequel. Or if it gets one it should go in a completely different direction alltogether.


Some of the more interesting parts of the Eschaton universe are those that happened before the books, that is, what happened on the many planets before the dust settled? What are the embarrassing details of how people found out that Star Wars tech is no use in space combat?

I guess you could serialize it in a planet-of-the-week kind of way, without so much as touching the somewhat more unpleasant parts of this particular universe.


The problem with Iron Sunrise was the domestic bliss. Kill Rachel or Martin on the first page. Then have the survivor go nuts and try to invoke an Eschaton immune reaction under the guise of preventing one. At least one Hermann instance should get hacked and used as a back channel.


Accelerando is my favorite of your books, read it several times.

I particularly liked your "resimulation by creating a simulated individual who produces the same written output as the original."

It is an amazingly good takeoff on an exchange Hans Moravec and I had on the Extropian mailing list in the late 80s or early 90s. Hans took the position that he could be brought back from his writing and didn't need to be frozen. I took the position that it's something that can be done if you have ridiculous amount of computer power to throw at the problem, but there is no reason to do it, and you would have to discard billions who were close but failed to regenerate Mind Children to the last comma.

Never thought that it could become an element in an SF novel, but am delighted it did.


"Space Pirates of KPMG" ? Is that the sequel to "Hedge Fund Managers of Gor" ?


I think I've just come up with an idea for re-financing the banks; chain up their investment "managers", and let people whip them for a fee! ;-)


in case it isn't obvious, Robin/Reeve is a hilariously unreliable narrator

Oh yes - and, as I read it, the ending was the most unreliable part of the narration. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose - something that Robin/Reeve doesn't expect is still going to happen 170 years later.

"Ghost Engine" is needed.


Well, I only read "Singularity Sky", "Iron Sunrise", "Accelerando", first book of Merchant Princes, and "Saturn's Children". I think "Singularity Sky" is excellent, and "Iron Sunrise" and "Accelerando" are pretty good. Loved first half of "Saturn's Children", then completely lost track of which of Freya's sisters is supposed to be what, and never finished it. I did not like "Family Trade" at all and have no intention of reading sequels (although I did manage to finish it).

Judging from the reviews of "Glasshouse" I don't think I would enjoy it either. I am simply not fan of multiple identities and intertwined plotlines which you never know when might turn out to be fabricated covers for some deeper plotlines.


Greg, do you consider this turn of events actually likely? Or even possible?

Because I don't, and there are few things I hate more than cautionary tales that caution about some catastrophe which is simply too unlikely to happen. To me at least, they make the author come across as a conspiracy nut, and cheapen the very concept of cautionary tale in general.


Some of the more interesting parts of the Eschaton universe are those that happened before the books, that is, what happened on the many planets before the dust settled? What are the embarrassing details of how people found out that Star Wars tech is no use in space combat?

I guess you could serialize it in a planet-of-the-week kind of way, without so much as touching the somewhat more unpleasant parts of this particular universe.

Seconded. That's what I would really like to see about Eschaton universe.


@87 No, I don't consider it likely, but it is distinctly possible, particularly if people don't guard against it. Godwin's law violation - the Nazis had only about 31% of the vote in 1933, and were a minority in the first part of their government, but Adolf was Chancellor, and manouvered around, faked-up a crisis, and bingo, was really in charge! Now consider the Rethuglican electoral frauds (Florida) etc under the Shrub in the USA, and the way really devout religious believers will tell any lie and do any evil, provided it's "for god" ... Then look at the insanities of fundie groups (I see one such almost every day - ugh)

Come to that, "1984" didn't happen, partly because Blair warned us, didn't he? I suggest you read som H. Beam Piper, about if IIRC "Graeco-Alexandrian, off to a flying start, well on the way to true civilisation, when some idiots revived two almost-dead-religons, and now they were back to slugging it out with matchlocks..." (from "lord Kalvan of Otherwhen")


I thought aineko the cat added to Accellerando, first impression, clever talking cat-bot, second, fiendishly clever cat-bot and third, WTF?, meddling demigod in cat form! You do quite fine with talking cats, though I understand your reasons for leaving that to David Weber's Honorverse.


No, I don't consider it likely, but it is distinctly possible, particularly if people don't guard against it.

Are you in US? If not, you may not be aware of how many Americans are paranoid about -- and/or downright terrified of, -- Tea Party. I would say "people don't guard against it" is not in the cards.


The tea party is interesting, but save the question for when our host wants to discuss it. FWIW, they've got some valid grievances, but their suggested remedy is like hoping a lot of whiskey will cure rabies.


Hmm, I think you read that excerpt at a reading at Worldcon that I went to. :) I like the AI/cat more, I admit, but semi-smart uplift cat is pretty entertaining too.


I am in the States.

I think we're going to get President Palin in 2012, because the US electorate really is THAT stupid.

The problem is, we're not as crazy as they are, so will lose.

Though the most comforting thing about Matt Tiabbi's piece in the Rolling Stone is that he thinks they can be reined in by the ruling US kleptocracy - the really scary thing is that that is actually the best possible outcome.

On the other hand, I'm in California, maybe we could defect the whole state to Canada.


Singularity Sky recomended as a development model for Afganistan. By the blog of the Department of War Studies at King's College London. Not kidding...



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