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Brief absence

Hopefully you haven't been too incommoded by my absence from the blog for most of this week. (Hopefully you didn't even notice it.)

The reason for the absence is that I've been nailing down what I hope is the final submission-grade draft of "The Apocalypse Codex", aka Laundry Files book four, which is due for publication in the first week of July 2012. It's been a long haul but it's with my agent now, and if she doesn't raise a red flag over it, it's cooked.

Elevator pitch below the cut.

"In the world of the Laundry there is One True Religion — and we know what we do with Cthulhu worshippers when we find them."

So, what about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism? Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for that matter?

One of the problems with writing paranormal/horror — be it vampires or werewolves or golems — is that you have to deal with various bits of the monster mythology that impinge on religious doctrine. Golems have the name of God inscribed on their forehead, werewolves can be harmed by silver, but vampires are worse: there's a whole bunch of stuff involving garlic and holy water to deal with. If you leave out the religious trappings you end up with revisionist vampires, and because the vampire mythos (in the form propagated by Bram Stoker) is so widely understood, it puts you on the back foot before you even begin.

The Laundry Files are a series of books and stories that take the Lovecraftian mythos seriously — or rather, they use Lovecraft as a rough guide, an unreliable narrator who got some things right and some things wrong. (That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.) Moreover Bob, our guide to the Laundry, is himself something of an unreliable narrator; he tells it as he sees it: through a glass, darkly, most of the time. So in this book I decided to play some head-games. A mid-western televangelist is visiting London, holding a sell-out revival tour. He appears to be working miracles through prayer. There's just one problem: in the Laundryverse, if you pray and someone answers, it's not Jesus. Some high powered "external assets" are sent to investigate, with Bob riding their coat-tails and filing reports. Whacky theology ensues, and not in a good way ...

PS: If you're looking for the spy thriller homage, I'd like to refer you to the works of Peter O'Donnell.

85 Comments

1:

Will Bob now get a blond sidekick who's really good with knives? So looking forward to this.

2:

"publication in the first week of July 2012"

Does that mean we'll see it on shelves then, or it will begin to print then?

3:

If it's an authentic televangelist, you can use hookers in the story.

4:

Rock on! I love the Laundry series. Just read Rule 34 and loved it. Keep 'em coming!

5:

That's when it should officially be on shelves. (It may show up a week or so earlier in practice.)

6:

Just finished Rule 34, and I'm looking forward eagerly to this one.

7:

Is there anything else in your publication pipeline between now and next July? I miss the days when I first got into your books and could get a new one practically every week.

8:

Is there anything else in your publication pipeline between now and next July?

Nope.

I'm writing very few short stories at present (about as many as I write novels) and I can't keep up the torrent of two novels a year I've sustained for most of the past decade. (For one thing, I'm getting old and slowing down. For another, I'm trying to write better novels, which generally take longer.)

However, next July you should get two books with my name on them -- the other one being "The Rapture of the Nerds", a collaboration with Cory Doctorow that is about 80% complete at present.

9:

Oooh! I had a hard time not squealing in a crowded train carriage!

I adore both the Modesty series and the Laundry series... Looking forward to seeing what sort of perverted offspring they produce.

11:

Congratulations on another book done (Hmm, is there an author equivalent to break a leg? )

My copy of Fuller Memorandum arrived yesterday and Rule 34 will be ordered soon, so hopefully that will tide me over this next year.

12:

All hail Charlie, first prophet of ... datapunk?

Oh, okaaay.

(Why does everything have to end with '-punk'? Or '-gate'? Will we see 'punkgate' soon?)

13:

"Whacky theology" - hee :-) Great term!

14:

Can't wait for this to come out, the Laundry books are my most recent favourite series. Do we get a UK Kindle version at the same time ?

I recently downloaded the audio book version of Overtime and I must have listened to it a dozen times at least. People keep wondering why I start laughing for no apparent reason.

By the way, have you seen yesterday's xkcd comic here? Either he's just read Rule 34 or it's a case of great minds thinking alike!

15:

Is This news from Austria at all related to the wacky religion theme, or is it just a sign of July, like Carmageddon?

Have fun, Charlie. Don't forget to decompress properly before coming up for air.

16:

Sounds excellent! Aside from Rapture of the Nerds any hints on what's next in the pipeline Charlie? Aside (hopefully) from a well deserved rest

17:

It's going to be October before both the 2012 novels are nailed down and on editors' desks.

After that, I'll be working on the 2013 novel; a space opera (same universe as "Saturn's Children", but a very long time later and featuring an all new cast) titled "Neptune's Brood".

18:

With all the excellent discussions regarding space colonization on this blog (insufficient data, Space cadets, Redux: the high frontier) I can't wait to read it.

Keep up the good work!

19:

Yeah - too bad he's got no credentials, otherwise this blog might be valuable reading.

Looking forward to more Laundry!

20:

The big McGuffin in "Neptune's Brood" is that us shaved apes aren't a good fit for environments other than the one we evolved in ... if we're going to be successful space cadets, we're going to have to adapt ourselves to wherever we end up, to an extent so extreme that it challenges our current definition of humanity. (See also, Surface Tension.)

21:

Squeee.

Of all your creations, the Laundry is probably the most spectacular to date for its sheer sideways brilliance. It's a world where things make sense, yet are so crazy that you never expect what's coming next.

(I am now envisioning a t-shirt that says "God does drugs". It's probably one of Pinky's)

22:

Us shaved apes, or the tortured non-biological toys we left behind?

23:

Arghhh!!! I can't wait that ong. Stop with the damned teasers, they do nothing for my ticker.

24:

"through a glass, darkly,"

I see what you did there?

25:

Isn't that the entire point about "environmentalism"? It's likely there is always going to be an environment that is going to be inhabited by some organisms. If not, so what? It's still going to be an environment for rocks and gases. Environment doesn't need protecting.

Protecting an environment that supports humans 1.0 is in dire need of a rethinking of survival strategies by said humans, though.

26:

I know the space colonization issue has been debated to death, but just to review, aren't there a few plausible ways we could create livable environments for ourselves off-Earth without radically modifying our biology?

27:

Um, would you believe me if I said I don't follow Delta Green supplements?

28:

Here is a random question with some tangential relevance to this post: can anyone recommend any good cosmic horror / "Cthulhu Mythos in space" stories, something like H.P. Lovecraft meets Arthur C. Clarke? This would be my dream genre, but strangely I've found almost nothing that fits that description.

29:

aren't there a few plausible ways we could create livable environments for ourselves off-Earth without radically modifying our biology?

The trouble is, we don't know how to do that.

A lot of people somehow think we do know how to make liveable environments for ourselves, but they tend to overlook the freebies we get just for living on earth -- everything from a comfortable gravitational field and solar UV shielding through to a breathable gas mix. It turns out that manufacturing a closed-circuit life support system for humans that can run with only energy as an input is one of those fields that sounds as if it ought to be easy ... but the devil lurks in the myriad details: ultimately it needs to be not just a life support system for humans, but for the commensal organisms we rely on in order to live. For example, it's no good sorting out the human micronutrient cycle if we don't also sort out a micronutrient cycle for the food crops we eat, and for the fungi in the bioreactors that break down the stems and left-over biomass of the food crops, and so on.

And that's before you start looking at the engineering side of maintaining/repairing such a habitat in a toxic/thermally challenging environment (or in vacuum).

... And that is before you start looking into the human resources necessary to maintain and reproduce the infrastructure that supports such a habitat in a challenging environment and manufacturing new mechanical bits as old ones wear out and break.

Short form: it's not like colonizing North America -- you can't breathe the air, drink the water, or farm the land without serious deployment of mature engineering techniques (that we haven't rigorously developed yet), and you can't send home for spares if something breaks 10^8Km from Earth. And that's before we get into happy fun topics such as high energy cosmic rays, bone/musculoskeletal loss in non-standard gravitational fields, and so on.

30:

"Blindsight" by Peter Watts. It's exactly what you're after, I think.

32:

"Moreover Bob, our guide to the Laundry, is himself something of an unreliable narrator..."

So Bob is actually a simulation on a starwisp headed toward the brown dwarf Hyundai +4904/-56? He doesn't know it but his other iterations have spent time as an obsolete sex toy, a long lost scion of a dimension-jumping family, an unwilling subject of a social experiment and an agent of a post-human entity.

33:

I'm reminded of Farmer in the Sky. which pretty much completely ignores all the problems. But, giving Heinlein his due, he takes the time to outline the ecological complexity of a shovelful of terrestrial soil and how the titular farmers need that soil to be able to grow crops.

34:

Ahem. Brown dwarf surface temperature of appx 250-1700K? Sorry, but without fusion a "star" is somewhat pointless, isn't it?

35:

A brown dwarf may be a bit dark and chilly compared with our current sun, but it's still a convenient source of gravity and effectively limitless energy.

36:

I believe the point was "Accelerando".

37:

Another thing:

The sheer knowledge in ecology and biology needed to pull this off, would be out there.

To assume it wouldn't be used in other ways, is plain weird. This alone would be fairly disruptive to humanity as we know it...

38:

chris@35, lee@36:

I'm not saying it can't be done: How to harvest energy without decaying orbit or slowdown of our dyson sphere to tidal lock was going to be the tricky part, right?

39:

Quick question to Charles - what's your average usable word output per day?

40:

We might be talking across each other here: in "Accelerando", a starwisp was sent to the brown dwarf powered by a laser aimed at it from Jupiter orbit. The return trip from the brown dwarf was another problem, one that as it transpired during the story, happened by a different mode.

41:

In a word, variable.

(What I have noted is that as I get older I work more slowly, and in bursts. And if I go over 4000 words in one day -- a very good output these days -- the quality drops through the floor so that past 4500 words I basically have to rewrite from scratch, the next day. But usually I consider anything over 1000 words to be a good day's work.)

42:

Technically said televangelist is not based in the "Midwest", which are the states south of the Great Lakes and the ones just to the west of that. Colorado is in the next "west" of the US, often called the "Mountain West".

45:

So you're not going to do a Glasshouse sequel? Is it because that (as I think you said before) Glasshouse was your least financially successful novel? I guess I'm in the minority, then, but I think it was the best damn SF novel written the past decade. Oh, well.

46:
So, what about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism? Or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for that matter?

I would dearly love to read a story in which Bob Howard encounters His Noodly Majesty.

47:

So Bob is actually a simulation on a starwisp headed toward the brown dwarf Hyundai +4904/-56?

And he meets a nice mechanical girl on the way to the Festival? My, what an evil idea. The first novel would have to be Singularity's Edge, to be followed by Robots and Laundry. Hopefully it will be a while before this happens.

48:

"Robots and Laundry" sounds a bit utopian to me.

49:

If I needed saving from a crazed cult, Modesty Blaise would be close to the top of the list, I reckon.

50:

The Glasshouse sequel is on the back burner for now because of two things: first, as noted, it's my least commercially successful SF title in the US (therefore would pull a smaller advance), and secondly, it's not calling to me loudly enough to write it despite that.

This doesn't mean it isn't going to get written eventually, though.

51:

Following the question about usable word product per day (further up the thread), I'd like to ask Charlie how he handles 'the morning after the night before', and specifically how he stops the deferred side effects of alcohol consumption eating into his productivity.

So, Charlie, how do you do it? Or do you just save those 'why did you have to hit the whiskey when the party ran out of beer' moments for the downtime between manuscripts?

(And yes, this post is 'inspired by real events').

52:

1. I am old enough to have learned that I don't enjoy hang-overs. So I make sure to try not to get them in the first place. Remember, kids, if you drink slowly enough that you break down the alcohol faster than it can build up, you can consume a prodigious amount of beer: whereas if you neck three pints in an hour, you will get hammered. So don't do that!

2. If that fails, the old "drink a pint of water before you go to bed" trick works wonders for mitigating the damage (which is mostly caused by dehydration).

3. Alcoholism is a recognized occupational hazard for writers, and I don't want to go there. So I really don't drink on my own, I generally avoid distilled spirits, and if I think I've been drinking too much socially I give myself a dry week, just to confirm that I'm not tip-toeing towards dependency.

4. As for the morning-after effect, it's quite simple: the morning is for attending to email and catching up with the news, not for writing.

53:

Thanks for the detailed and quick answer!

I never used to get hangovers (really) but that was a long time ago. . . fortunately I've always been a slow drinker, so I don't get that hammered. That much. That often.

BTW, I especially liked your fourth point, a policy I shall now emulate until lunch.

54:

(Why does everything have to end with '-punk'? Or '-gate'? Will we see 'punkgate' soon?)

You're probably old enough to know that "Watergate" got its name from the name of the building (my sources vary on whether it was an office building or a hotel) where the taping that caused the scandal took place.

I think that $word-gate for a scandal is the fault of UK-based 3rd rate "reptiles of the press" looking for a lazy way of describing events that "fill them with outrage".

Of course, if "Watergate" occurred now, said individuals woule want to call it something like "Buggate"!! [screams]

55:

There is one that Charlie didn't mention - neck a pint of Barr's Irn Bru the "morning after" as well. It's bulk liquid, but well loaded with sugar and electrolytes too, so helps with the dehydration.

56:

I am indeed old enough. And my 'why' is more of a 'why oh why oh why'.

As it happens, I saw a genuine watergate last Saturday. It's in the cellar of Clifton House in King's Lynn - the building itself is a one-time Hansa merchant house, and the (long-since-bricked-up) doorway used to lead directly to the bank of the river where the merchant's ship would be moored.

57:

Peter O'Donnell was a SIGINT radio operator? Sometimes I get the impression that the WW2-Cold War British intelligence establishment was nothing but a massive Arts Council program for literature.

58:

Don't worry - a snort of heroin is a guaranteed hangover cure.

59:

It would of course be called "Watergategate"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vB9JgxhXW5w

60:

I've found a witch; may I burn him?

61:

Any news from the Guys that own the TV Rights for the Laundry? I'd love to see how badly they can corrupt it with americanisms.

62:

Going from memory ...

Peter O'Donnell: SIGINT. Len Deighton: RAF intel. Ian Fleming: Secretary to CNI. John le Carre: army intel then MI6. Graham Greene: MI5 or MI6. Dennis Wheatley: SOE.

Anthony Price was too young for WW2 but served in the army in the late 1940s, retiring as a captain: judging by his output he probably had something to do with army intelligence.

I'm just astonished that Kim Philby wasn't writing thrillers too.

63:

They coughed the cheque to re-up for another year. Otherwise, silence, more's the pity.

64:

July of 2012? I should have time to buy and read it before the world ends ;-)

65:

paws - the miracle of Barr's Irn Bru has yet to make it to the Land of the Deutsch, which I currently call home. But thanks for playing. It's five pm here, and I'm finally starting to feel human again.

66:

D.J.P. Im Deutschland, you have Bionade, though.

67:

I find the following will cure hangovers (but like Charlie, I try not to get them in the first place - until the next time I end up bored with a bottle of Laphroaig)

1 Full English Breakfast (other nationalities available)
1/2 loaf toasted wholemeal bread
2 pints Earl Grey Tea, hot, with milk
500ml Haagen Dazs Vanilla icecream
450g mango, papaya & passion fruit yoghurt
one -ONLY one - bottle ale (whatever's handy - even Budvar, if you're slumming it)
Two days on "light duty".

smoke 'em if you got 'em.

68:

A year from submission-grade draft to publishing seems a bit long. Or am I misunderstanding what 'submission-grade' means?

69:

Let's not forget Club Mate and other Mathe soft drinks.

Rehydrating though? Guess you need extra rehydrating after the caffeine bomb...

70:

Err, that was Mate soft drinks, but given the usual suspects, err, customers, Mathe is something of a Freudian slip.

To go more naughty still, today was the beginning of a new part of my life; it seems to contain private sessions with older gentlemen that like to stick lubricant coated fingers and other objects into one's anus. That's right, it's proctologist time. Colonoscopy next month, argh...

71:

Norman Lewis: Field Security Police, Intel Corps.

Roy Jenkins (a major author as well as a politician): Bletchley Park cryptanalyst.

Michael Frayn, Alan Bennett, many others (Mervyn Peake?): Joint Services School for Linguists as national servicemen and then usually something intelligence related in the Army or RAF.

JSSL alone generated a fearsome number of writers - it taught on a total immersion basis and encouraged the students to soak themselves in Russian culture. The student magazine was apparently far better than Granta when it was a Cambridge student mag rather than a professional production.

72:

...and how could we forget Arthur C. Clarke at TRE/RRE Malvern?

73:

A year from submission-grade draft to publishing seems a bit long. Or am I misunderstanding what 'submission-grade' means?

No, you're just misunderstanding how the publishing industry works.

From the point of view of a major publisher, they are running a production line that punches out between 100 and 300 titles a year. Each book goes through a number of distinct stages on the production line -- critical path dependencies on the PERT chart, if you like.

The special wheeze, however, is that the products may come out uniformly packaged, but the critpath stages involve further work by the supplier -- checking copy edits and page proofs -- and the suppliers are artisans who work at different speeds with different tools.

J. Random Propeller-Head for example may be happy to use state of the art authoring software and be able to do everything by return of email; but Literary Figure Snr may want to do everything using the same manual typewriter he's been working on for 50 years and doesn't have email. Consequently, everything is scheduled with lots of slop for delays imposed by external constraints (the hunk o' dead tree with the chicken scratchings that have just been vetted by Lit. Fig. Snr going missing in USPS without a photocopied backup, for instance -- it happens a lot).

This would be manageable without delays except that the products are not interchangeable in the marketplace. You can't simply swap a couple of novels around if one of them is delayed. If the new Charlie Stross novel is delayed, my readers aren't going to shrug and accept a Laurel K. Hamilton novel in its place -- and vice versa.

So the production line moves in lockstep at a sufficiently slow pace that there's time to play catch-up if one of the suppliers (who is still bashing them out in cuneiform on clay tablets) encounters a hitch (like a global clay shortage).

74:

Reply-gate:

1. By all rights, Watergate should have been Watergate-Dome

When I was a lad, the biggest scandal we learned about in school was this one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teapot_Dome_scandal

2. The Watergate Complex takes up 10-acres (40,000 m2) in D.C, and contains office, apartment and hotel buildings.

"So many members of the Nixon administration settled there that the Washington, D.C., press commented on it and nicknamed it the "Republican Bastille" -wikipedia

Makes you think the Democratic offices there were just asking to be burgled.

75:

Charlie @ 52
As another, even older lover of beer etc. I concur.
Like you I almost never take a drink on my own, and although I LURVE single-malt Highland-&-Island Whiskies, I usually only have very small ones.

& @ 62
And quite a few others, IIRC.
Dodn't Ian Carmicheal learn his trade of imitating slly-ass character form his National Service?
Etc ad nauseam, as Private Eye would say.

76:

Just think of some of the Bad Surfaces (and internal sub-structures) a 3-D printer in the Laundry's Multiverse could get up to....

77:

Wheatley was an established author before he got involved with SOE. His major activity seems to have been writing papers on unlikely things the enemy might do and how to counter them. I have his book about this, with a lot of the papers, but the writing has not aged well. At all.

78:

The America's Cup yachting event had 'Underwatergate' back when the Kiwis decided that they didn't have to build a '12 metre' boat out of aluminium.

80:

Watergate has actual watergates -- that's how it got the name. We had some really bad flooding on the Potomac earlier this year, and Watergate had new management who didn't really think they needed to get the watergates up. Look at the third picture to see them partway up. They come up from underground and are concrete. They work fine when you get them up in time.

81:

Sean the Mystic asked:

Here is a random question with some tangential relevance to this post: can anyone recommend any good cosmic horror / "Cthulhu Mythos in space" stories, something like H.P. Lovecraft meets Arthur C. Clarke? This would be my dream genre, but strangely I've found almost nothing that fits that description.

The only "Cthulhu In Space" story I've ever seen is in a collection of short stories edited by Darrell Schweitzer called "Cthulhu's Reign" (which answers the question what happens after the stars are right).

The story in question is called "Remnants" and was writen by Fred Chappell. The collection is available on Amazon for Kindle at GBP 4.61.

Possibly the story is available as a stand-alone, but I haven't looked.

But I think your enquiry is quite interesting in as much as it suggests some crossover possibiities: how would (for example) the minds of Culture cope with Cthulhu much less the Elder Gods? What if their recreation in "the land of infinite fun" had the unfortunate consequences thinking too hard about certain kinds of mathematics can have in the Laundry series?

The Federation of course would have no problem. They'd simply invent a completely new physics in around 52 minutes and prevail and conquer (in the nicest possible way).


82:

Two of the earliest writers of modern spy fiction were also spooks - Erskine Childers (Riddle of the Sands) was in Naval Intelligence, where his job was precisely the reverse of the plot of his novel.

John Buchan worked for the War Propaganda Bureau and later the Intelligence Corps. After WW1, well there's so many that I'm not going to further bore people by listing them.

However, I can't resist mentioning Uncle Mac (from Listen With Mother), who was quite senior in SIS, and instrumental in operations in Iran. I'm not claiming the Ovaltineys were involved.

83:

Strictly speaking, Dennis Wheatley wasn't SOE, but was MI9 (support for escape and evasion from within occupied territories).

His book about his experiences was fascinating - lots of details about the stuff they made in advance (Eric Frank Russell must have read it when talking about his escape kits). Buttons that contained compasses, flying boots that could be converted to civilian-style shoes.

They came up with a way of wrapping parcels in "brown paper" that was in fact two layers of very thin paper sandwiching a silk escape map (using a water-based glue) ...genius...

Meanwhile, you forgot Pam Ayres (a popular poet of the late 1970s) - RAF intelligence, where she was a photographic interpreter.

84:

Oh, and no-one's mentioned Michael Bentine, of the Goons (and Potty Time, if you're my age). RAF Intelligence; his book "The Long Banana Skin" was a very funny read.

...also an extremely good pistol shot, and one of the fastest guns in Britain. To the extent that when the Army were trying to develop pistol training for those-soldiers-who-did-not-wear-uniforms in Northern Ireland, he was asked to demonstrate and teach...

85:

Conan E. Moorcock said:

The Federation of course would have no problem. They'd simply invent a completely new physics in around 52 minutes and prevail and conquer (in the nicest possible way).

... Reconfiguring the deflector array is bound to do the trick. Particularly if they divert power from life support and recalibrate their instruments...

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