Back to: Upcoming reading/talk | Forward to: Post-oil ...

Because I am a glutton for punishment ...

With the exception of sequels to existing works or stuff I already wrote blog entries about in the "Books I will not write" series:

What would you like me to write next?

(Note that even if I like your suggestion, I am already under contract for 2012 and 2013. So consider this an exercise in idle curiosity feeding in to long-term blue-sky planning ...)

576 Comments

1:

I'd be fascinated to read something in the vein of your near future work, but set somewhere other than the first world. For example, set in India, or Africa.

I feel like technology is going to cause things to go in interesting directions and there is plenty of scope for interesting 'what if?'s.

2:

It might be fun to play an interactive text game of something you write.

I also think it might be fun to read a collaboration between you and another author where you both take on an adversarial relationship.

3:

Quite off-topic but I wanted to refer you to this changelog in a package of the Fedora Linux distribution. Looks like the submitter is a fan of your Laundry-novels - laughs and much confusion ensue.

https://admin.fedoraproject.org/updates/F14/FEDORA-2011-12302

4:

Yes, I'm aware of that.

5:

Lordy Charlie. That's a wicked question.
Hmm. Ghost Engines and Neptune's Brood are in the pipeline.
Eschaton is closed.

This may sound weird, but I wouldn't mind you taking a stab at some of the stuff Peter Watts is playing with - wide spread genetic engineering and neurological tinkering.

And since I'm suggesting playing in others sandboxes, I'd love to see what you could do with the Virga setting by Karl Schroeder. IIRC, he was hunting short stories for that at one point.

I'd also love to see what you could do with a setting similar to the Revelation Space books by Al Reynolds.

Some of the stuff you mentioned about a STL setting with some nasty options for light speed transmission of small packages. You know, with deep space colonization, Niholl-Dyson spheres and their use as lasers if anyone plays with the light speed transmission tick too much.

If you ever could get it funded, a non-fiction book about the difficulties of space travel and the depth and range of technologies needed to overcome that.

An actual fantasy novel.

The Merchant Princes books as you intended them.

6:

The former is unsaleable (and time consuming to bolt together), so isn't going to happen.

The latter ...

Will you settle for a collaboration with Cory Doctorow? We've nearly finished the first draft, honest!

7:

I'd sure like a space opera that surprises me by being wildly unconventional in some particular aspect that, well, if I knew what aspect it was, I wouldn't be the one getting the big surprise.

And frankly, you know, partly based on previous threads here... I'm actually kinda tempted to wonder what your take on the "bodice ripper" would be.

8:

I probably can't do that, unfortunately.

(Am monolingual and insufficiently travelled to do it believably; also, I don't cope well with heat.)

NB: If you haven't already done so, you really want to read Ian MacDonald's recent books: notably "River of Gods", "Brasyl", and "The Dervish House".

9:

A novel set in a world where narrative causality exists. What are the social implications where being a Plucky Young Hero going against the Evil Empire makes you literally stronger? Where going against someone important's storyline causes the world to actively work against you? Discworld jokes about this, but doesn't actually work through the practical implications. Stuff like the Wheel of Time has it but doesn't quite realize how much of a game-changer it is.)

(This naturally sounds like fantasy, but could be interesting in a modern setting too...putting aside the question of how you develop science when reproducibility depends on who _you_ are. For extra credit, go steampunk and build an industrial revolution out of hijacking prophetesses and Epic Quests into powering society's machinery.)

10:

Well, we're living through the golden age of exoplanetography. And my next novel is going to be a space opera ...!

11:

Done that already -- it was The Jennifer Morgue!

12:

Don't know why, but my mind just flashed on "Oliver Twist, but set in a world where both biotech and augmented reality have run amok".

13:

Well, that was a _plot point_ in TJM. I'd like to see you detail a setting where this is the default assumption.

But then again I'm greedy.

14:

Unicorn School: The Sparkling. 'nuff said.

15:

I would like to read a Charlie Stross first-contact novel.

16:

One other than "Singularity Sky"?

(However: I don't believe in aliens[*], and I find it hard to write about stuff I can't suspend disbelief in.)


[*] Of the coming-over-here-to-visit-us variety, that is; I can cope with the equivalent of prokaryotic life being widespread around the cosmos, but not so much with the humans-under-latex-face-paint conceit of something we can actually talk to. See also "Blindsight" by Peter Watts ...

17:

Hogwarts gets a visit from Bob..
.

18:

I'm guessing you will have read Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars. Set on earth(and a bit in space) one thousand billion years into the future. Something along those lines would be great.

Loved Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise by the way. Have to confess they're the only 2 of yours I've read so far, but I do intend to read more.

19:

I cannot really comment on what I'm going to like in several years. I do not know myself several years into the future.

But how about an international "war" set on an interstellar time scale (decades, minimum -- generations go by as this thing progresses), conducted as "electronic warfare" (disrupting the long term viability of each other instead of just throwing bigger rocks).

To make it saleable, I suppose you would need to make all the competitors be nations here on earth.

But if you could express something about the manipulation of long term issues that matter, in a narrative format which feels immediate? Personally, I think I would like that.

Mind you, I do not have a clue if or how you could pull this off...

20:

Try a challenge- figure out what technological developments would make socialism (the actual version, not the spooky "Ooooh, commies are going to eat your children" buzzword") either totally infeasible or at least inefficient compared to alternatives.

21:

"something about the manipulation of long term issues that matter, in a narrative format which feels immediate?"

That's actually the spec for "Neptune's Brood", which I start work on next month. (Space opera: subtype, slower than light. With economics that, I hope, works.)

22:

Short story: something set in the Laundry universe, but from the point of view of something other than human.

Novel: If you won't return to the Iron Sunrise universe, maybe you'll return to the Glass House universe?

Otherwise, just play another round of Dead Author Mashup and send us whatever results. The magic 8-ball says.... a Phillip K. Dickensian question of identity and reality that is revealed after an initial chapter or two of Wodehouse-style light comedy.

23:

I'd like to see you write a graphic novel. I think it would be great to see something new from you turned into sequential art.

24:

A monolingual sfnal author travels, full of doubts, to the site of First Contact, somewhere hot and humid and non-English speaking. The Aliens turn out to be false, sent by an emergent AI in order to judge human readiness for contact with something seriously Other. There is also another layer of the plot, over which the author stumbles accidentally. Hilarity ensues.

25:

How about another genre (again)? There is no much left after your recent escapades, but how about a western? You could wave some scify or fantasy elements into it.

You could do it either by introducing scifi elements into a western setting (like Cowboys vs. Aliens) or the other way around (like anime Cowboy Bebop). I am pretty sure you can do it better than first and different than the second :)

26:

I would love to see your version of a massive conspiracy theory, in the spirit of Foucault's Pendulum or the Illuminatus trilogy. Not because conspiracies are that interesting (because they're nuts), but because they are good way of reframing how we look at consensus reality. I know there is some of that in the Laundry, but I think you could bring a very different tone and underlying vision to the genre - definitely not a Dan Brown anyway.
Also, I think you could write a cracking line in stranger in a strange land satire, like Swift, or Doris Lessing e.g. The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire.

27:

On combining "first contact" with the "aliens, maybe, but not any kind we could talk to" position you seem to hold, I'm now thinking about something like "Dragon's Egg meets the War versus the Chtorr series", but where the invading ecosystem that's destroying everything and that nobody can communicate with is *ours*, and the victims are, I don't know, maybe chemosynthetics or magnetovores in a gas giant or something.

(And yeah, I do buy that reasoning w.r.t. aliens -- the "alien contact" novel that was furthest from the Fantasy genre for me was "Dragon's Egg". Fundamentally different geometric scale, fundamentally different temporal scale, fundamentally different "chemical" basis, et cetera. In some sense, the only thing that made contact possible *was* the differing time scale, since one party had the time to really analyze and understand the other party while it "held still", and had plenty of time to figure out how to bridge the gaps. It was the furthest biological aliens have been from the "alien forehead disease" Trek trope as I think I've encountered.)

28:

I'd love to see a full-length story with the sort of grassroots internet of Wireless as a core feature. Over a longer span, ad-hoc wireless (including cellular?) networks could spring up after a revolution (as an insurance measure), and spread across the world.

Lots of questions: How would developed nations react? Undeveloped ones? How perilous are the lives of the installers? How does law enforcement deal with tracking people? Maybe there's a more personal story following someone's fight to stop a threat that could disable the network?

29:

Re: "Eschaton is closed."

Darn!

30:

Easy - the other half of your "Merchant Princes" outline (if only TOR would let you do them).

31:

Just throwing this out there, as I figure you'll do whatever interests you (and I wouldn't have it any other way).

I haven't seen you do a proper, 80s-style post-apocalypse. You hint at it a bit with your blog posts speculating on what the minimum size of population is needed to sustain a technical base, and you've run us around through some ruins of advanced civs in the Merchant Princes, but the Saturn's Children world hasn't properly collapsed from the viewpoints of the characters, they still have plenty of sustaining industry.

What technologies do you think we'd keep if we shrank down to millions?

Of course, this has been done before, but if you have any Strossian twists, I'd pay to see them.

32:

The conflict between resentful and endangered humans and their newer and better genetically enhanced cousins.

33:

I am utterly uninterested in the Western genre. Wrong culture, wrong country (and I despise the value system that underlies it).

34:

Not terribly interested in catastrophe novels either, I'm afraid. Cosy catastrophes have extremely dubious class/race war subtexts, and un-cosy catastrophes ... let's just say, I wouldn't be one of the survivors.

35:

Ah, you want me to do an A. E. Van Vogt "Slan" novel, I see?

No, that subject was old enough to vote in the 1950s. I think I'll pass. (Plus, I disagree with the set of assumptions underpinning the whole scenario.)

36:

In your USENIX keynote address, you say that "I am going to explicitly assume that we muddle through our current energy crises, re-tooling for a carbon-neutral economy based on a mixture of power sources." I'd love to see a novel where you assumed the opposite--although the environment came up as a topic in Halting State, it wasn't really touched on directly IIRC. Something like what Kim Stanley Robinson did, in the Orange County trilogy and elsewhere.

37:

Yeah, I wasn't thinking the catastrophe so much as the world perhaps 50 years after. Mining of civilization's ruins, rebooting the supply chain, etc.

But, barring that... I do really enjoy your non-human viewpoints. (the Wunch, the Festival). How about a first contact with a sentient bit of code sent via radio or laser through a SETI scenario? Avoids the whole slower than light issue.

38:

Alternative history? Perhaps where Anthony Eden didn't get elected, something like that.

39:


Go on then....As an odd idea. Stanley Kubrick confused his audience by producing a piece of work that didn't fit in particularly well with rest of his continuity. (We'll ignore "Spartacus," just as he did.)

The majority of these films comprise modern, singular, masculine themes. War (As an officer), Technology, Violence and Horror, more war (As a Private) and sexual infidelity. These occur mostly from the male perspective apart from Nicole Kidman's character and her speech about the naval officer. (It would have been funnier if she was actually revealed to have been Domino though.)

These are all themes that concern singular, male issues, and yet there is one film, dropped in the centre of them that has no connections to it's otherwise regular audience - Barry Lyndon - Which largely is a straight film about the life of an 18th century Irish criminal with no apparent connections to life in our period: Unless you realize that their mode of war (As officers and as privates) things that they found violent and horrifying and their attitudes to marriage and sex where just as strongly held but were quite different to those we have now: Hence most people's confusion about the film.

...You could therefore:

1:Write a trashy romantic novel under an assumed name. The belated reveal of which is proof of your literary skill.

2:Write a purely historical piece with no technology element to it all. (It won't sell, but there you are.)

3:Tie a work into your own concerns but set it strictly in the British past. No time travel or aliens or "it's actually all inside a computer," or such. But it reflects current concerns about the promise of technology, and those who are falling behind from it....And be really obscure about the terminology that you use in the fashion that SF writers do.

I would suggest something about the Luddites and the time period of the early railways....Written in broad Yorkshire dialect. The reason for this is that people know it as the start of the industrial revolution, leading to much of the world we know today.

The cloth and weaving industries are the indirect source of both modern steam engines and the digital computer, as well as capitalist market exchange and modern managerial attitudes towards human labour. I.e. "Don't get lippy, your job is now sufficiently simple that you are expendable,"
http://www.maggieblanck.com/Land/WE.html

That then intentionally takes the audience somewhere else, in the way your other work does.

40:

One thing that's been teasing my mind but that I'll never have the perseverance to write myself is a conceptual cross between _Riddly Walker_ and _Tristram Shandy_, or maybe John Barth's _Letters_.

This probably comes from my continued reading of usenet.

Here's the set of circumstances that would have happened: Over the next few centuries, there are some stretches in which major hunks of the net stop working, but there's always some hobbyists with enough time to keep running bits in their garages, like nntp servers and Diaspora* pods and the like.

And every time the net gets back to up and running pretty well, these people produce their archives and try to re-integrate them into the net. But there are competing hobbyists, who say THEIR version of (for instance) the usenet archive is the actual true one. And only rarely is the accuracy cared about by the Powers That Be, so the arguments about archives are usually among hobbyists and other weirdos, and maybe some corporate shills trying to re-write their employers' histories. Nobody much cares except for those who care to an unhealthy degree.

That's the future that gradually is revealed by the book. The book itself is a set of a few usenet posts that quote previous posts and often call other quoted sections fabricated. And what's the argument actually ABOUT? Well, that's never revealed. (I did mention _Tristram Shandy_, didn't I?)

After reading this book, one could go to modern day misc.health.alternative and think, "Why, this all makes perfect sense!"

41:

I don't remember if this has been mentioned (and I don't have a copy of the book handy) but I'd love to see more of "Palimpsest".

43:

Basically you want me to re-write The Baroque Cycle. Right?

44:

OK, someone beat me to it - more Palimpsest.
Also, try writing something in the style of Chris Brookmyre/Carl Hiaasen/Tim Dorsey with SF-nal tropes. Rule 34 and Halting State don't count because they don't bring quite as much of the funny and lack goons that manage to get mutilated in the process.

45:

There are ideas that other authors wrote about that I would like to see a Strossian version come to print. I say this after reading John Scalzi's re-do on H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzies. I'm not suggesting an authorized re-write as in Scalzi's case, but a new take on the same idea. I like the puzzle solving in Murray Leinster's short story, First Contact, the "how can this be?" finding of a corpse on the moon in James P. Hogan's Inherit the Stars or a slightly more adult pastiche on ERB's John Carter of Mars or Carson of Venus.

The other idea would be a centred around a high school hacker who hacks into something BIG. Adventures ensue, thriller or fantastical, your pick. I think you'd get a kick out of retreating to your teen mind with your adult and current sensibilities. Sight unseen, I'd buy it.

And yes, against all the rules, I would like more Merchants whenever you get the urge.

GM

46:

"Palimpsest: The Novel" will happen sooner or later (as long as I don't die first). However, it won't happen before 2013 at the earliest, for commercial reasons too tiresome to enumerate.

One point you might all want to bear in mind is that I'm earning a living as I do this. I could, in principle, get a real job and write whatever the hell I feel like ... but if I did so, my output would probably drop to roughly one novel every 3-5 years, due to the "working for a living" problem (day jobs are tiring, writing books is tiring, which takes priority?). Or I could become a mega bestseller and get so huge I could do a book every two years for money and another book every other year for random lulz: yeah, right, just throw me in that briar patch!

But right now, in order to keep producing a book a year, I need to keep producing books that don't cause my publishers to hide under the bed and gibber.

47:

As I've written in some of my blog posts, I think that the world is going to become a very different place within a few decades.

If you want to follow Jonathans suggestion, then there is very little reason to tell a story from outside of Europe, if you want to tell a story about a country that is a bit of a backwater in the world. Just tell it from the place were you live.

It is not inconceivable to see China racing ahead with some as-yet-unidentified group of countries in its tow and leave Europe behind, struggling to find out what the hell happened to their economic and political superiority ... at least those of them who stopped living in the fantasy that it still exists.

48:

Also I'd love to read a farce that exploits the causal paradoxes of a time-travel to underpin a plot of Wodehouse-ian complexity.

49:

Nowt wrong with the 1950's. Some of my favourite and a lot of original Sci-fi was written in the 50's and earlier. Some of who's ideas are still being plundered, have yet to be bettered and still read fresh today.

50:

What would your classical dystopia be, the Stross equivalent to 1984, Brave New World and (maybe, maybe) The Dispossessed?

Or, your classical utopia? The "socialism brought to work" challenge - or some parody of the utopian elements in Star Trek / Banks Culture with six-decimal-earnest calculations in the background?

51:

I generally agree with your analysis.

But I'm under contract to do something like that anyway -- at least, "The Lambda Functionary" (which is due out in 2014, Cthulhu help me, and which is #3 in the series that begins with "Halting State" and "Rule 34") is set in the 2030s and could very well work on the assumption that the BRIC has rudely shovelled the old world (EU and USA) off-stage, and is now looking anxiously over its collective shoulder at the Sub-Saharan Miracle. Or something like that.

(Yes, the GDP of Africa is growing at about 6% per annum overall, despite various wars going on in other bits of the continent. And it may well hit the development ramp take-off point at just the time that China's single child generation is hitting retirement and the Indian economic miracle is running out of steam ...)

52:

I want a story that's "semi-mundane" science fiction.

I've been thinking a lot recently about the way Science Fiction writers thought in the sixties, and how they got it wrong. They expected a continued increase in the amount of energy available to humans, but didn't expect the information revolution at all. The reality of course, is just the opposite - enormous advances in information processing and only incremental advances in energy generation.

Think of how the plot points in the original Trek disintegrate if Kirk has a "control the starship remotely" app on his mobile phone, or the Enterprise's library computer fits inside the average communicator... Think what plot points become available.

Meanwhile, the starships must proceed from star to star at sublight speeds, probably stopping to fuel and rest at brown dwarves along the way.

There are equivalents of Klingons, Romulons, Borg, etc., but they're all in the same boat - they've got immense information processing, but not much energy. I want a Charlie Stross story where the protagonists set out on a "five-thousand year mission to seek out and explore new life and new civilizations," but they don't have warp drive, antimatter, or FTL communications. But it's real people in a real spaceships. No uploads in coke cans or anything similar.

53:

It's a fairly basic base concept, but what would full scale information warfare, with offensive malware at the level of stuxnet being used by both sides in large quantities, look like? What would the world - governments, banks, companies, general society - look like afterwards/

54:

Would love to see a book set post
"Trunk & Disorderly" and pre-"Saturn's Children." What happened to us?

55:

Dude, that's also on the to-do list for "Neptune's Brood". (Gaah. Can you spell "Mundane SF space opera where the main protagonist is a practising pacifist, there is fun with alien biospheres, and the economics of slower-than-light interstellar trade make at least a rudimentary kind of sense"?)

56:

Thinking about it a bit more, I might add:

Bonus points for writing it as a short story some-time-soonish. It's a shot in the dark, but at some point in the near future something is going to go very wrong indeed with the European economy. If you get the background of the story even roughly right, then being a "prescient SF writer" you might have a chance to see it getting turned into a movie, if it features the right plot at the right time.

57:

"Trunk and Disorderly" and "Saturn's Children" are set in different continuities. The former has an anything-goes approach to tech, aliens, and SF furniture; the latter is hair-shirt mundane SF.

There were originally going to be more stories after "Trunk and Disorderly" but they turn out to be really hard to write well.

In contrast, there are more stories after "Saturn's Children", notably "Bit Rot" (collected in "Engineering Infinity", ed. Jonathan Strahan) and "Neptune's Brood" (which I get to start writing next month).

58:

For about the past several centuries the cost of transporting goods and people around the world has been abnormally low, compared to most of history. Particularly since the invention of the steam engine and so forth.

But we've seen peak-oil, and burning all those carbon based fuels is screwing up the climate -- more frequent and more powerful storms, increased flooding and landslips, political instability etc. etc. none of which makes transport any easier.

What would the world be like, if the ability to move goods around was reduced to medieval levels? How does technology develop if the only bulk materials available at economic prices are what can be obtained within a few days' travel, on foot or by horse? If finished goods from China were as expensive relatively as spices, silk and porcelain were around the time of Marco Polo?

59:

... and mentions of the Baroque Cycle remind me of something I've heard asked: What if Newton, Leibniz and Descartes had been able to copyright or patent their bits of the calculus, so that their heirs were owed a bit on everything that used advanced math?

60:

A "mundane" non-SF drama where the heroes struggle to use the new "internet" to set up an online banking system?

Alt-history in the "1632" vein, where the area of Edge Hill at the time just before the battle swaps with the area as it is today (one of the largest ammo dumps in Europe)?

61:

What would the world be like, if the ability to move goods around was reduced to medieval levels? How does technology develop if the only bulk materials available at economic prices are what can be obtained within a few days' travel, on foot or by horse? If finished goods from China were as expensive relatively as spices, silk and porcelain were around the time of Marco Polo?

It won't be. Period. The only way that would happen would be a complete collapse of technological civilization, in which case the survivors will have much worse problems to deal with.

Reductio ad absurdam: sails haven't stopped working, and there are designs -- hell, prototypes -- of sail-assisted or sail-powered container ships, using automation extensively to replace the large crews. Again: solar and wind power are going to stick around. That's enough to keep manufacturing tech working, and also to run railroads and canals for heavy freight.

We may lose the individual motor car, but we're not going to lose the bicycle or the railroad -- or the trolley bus or the segway. And my belief is that if we do lose the ability to use oil as an energy storage mechanism for transport, a lot of ingenuity will go into massively expanding the transport infrastructure that doesn't rely on it -- such as electrified railroads.

62:

What if the singularity happened and no one cared? Except for the "criminals" manipulating people into "ascending" for profit?

I am thinking of a singularity where the persons that achieve it change so much that they have no interest in the conventional world. Uploaded consciousnesses? So there exists a gap where the unscrupulous could essentially murder someone to obtain control of their assets by forcing/causing their change.

63:

Sounds a bit along the lines of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.

64:

Who cares about the singularity this decade?

65:

Moar Laundry(-eous) stuff
Moar A Colder War(-eous) stuff
Moar Antibodieses
Moar Missile Gapses
Moar Palimpsestses
Of course, it's just a suggestion.

66:

I'd like to see more in the Missile Gap setting. Not a direct sequel, but it was implied that there were other instances of Earth that had been copied as well as another disc.

67:

And Appeal Courtses and Jury Services!

68:

A mundane first-contact story from the point of view of the aliens.

69:

"It is not inconceivable to see China racing ahead with some as-yet-unidentified group of countries in its tow and leave Europe behind, struggling to find out what the hell happened to their economic and political superiority ..."

Actually, it won't be Europe doing the hand wringing when China is No 1 but the USA.

70:

Every time this comes up, I say the same thing: Charlie needs to write the non-fiction book that will connect him to the broad masses, and who knows perhaps enhance popular consciousnesses regarding Current Social Issues.

The best bits of this blog, for me anyway, are the posts that deal with what sort of social and cultural world we're living in, and where it might be going (that, and the posts where Charlie takes the 'colonise the Moon and Planets by Magic Space Ponies' crowd and rips them a new one). But these posts are all written in the few spare moments Charlie gets in between his day job.

Now, maybe a 'Charlie Stross Guide to Life' might not be saleable enough to warrant inclusion in either our host's short-term or long-term plans. But what if it was?

71:

This may seem a strange request, but I'd like to see a nonfiction work in collaboration with David Brin.

I think that the two of you don't always see eye to eye, but you both are logical, intelligent, and seem to have a lot of cool ideas.

Plus, maybe he'd update his transparent society book then.

Regards,

Hans

72:

An updated sequel to "A Colder War", but without the Bob Howard humor (not that it existed in ACW). What's going on through those other gates?

73:

One thing I have not seen done well, though I might have missed it, is a post-global warming world. Raise the sea levels 10 meters or so, kill off a lot of people, but only a partial technological collapse.

Kim Stanley Robinson shows us it happening but not what it looks like after it happens

Eventually reach a steady state in ecology and new nation states start rising

What might the world look like it you reset it to a particular period in history only with a lot less people and a lot lot less oil

74:

Or how about China decides its going to colonise Mars and the asteroids the only way that is feasible - by megaton Orion ships transporting millions of Chinese off world along with a complete technological infrastructure.

75:

Really close in futures stuff. Assume a positive end to the Arab spring, and economic and industrial benefits for north Africa similar to all the ex Warsaw pact countries. What happens to Europe and the rest of Africa?

76:

Charlie writing informative lies in book-format sounds like something I'd buy into.

77:

I think tp1024 and the others hit my suggestion already. I'm currently reading John Michael Greer's "The Long Descent" which is basically a look at civilization may well fall post Peak-Oil. The point of the title is that if the US (and others) follow the model of Rome, the Maya, or many other empires (including earlier Chinese dynasties, perhaps?), it won't be a catastrophe but a long decline, with periods of stability, wars over key resources, and so on, as the US (gradually!) falls apart, the cities shrink, and the world goes back towards a more sustainable agrarian model, with a bit of solar, wind, and hydropower powering tech industry here and there, and shortwave radios tying the world together rather than communications satellites.

I like the idea of an African economic expansion taking off, too, especially given how much Africans have done in recycling and repurposing first-world trash. Throw in a Chinese economic bubble hitting in the next decade, and you might have a fun world to work with. Makerpunk, instead of cyberpunk. Given where you live, it's probably easier for you to write this than it would be for an American. We simply don't have the evidence of history staring at us every day.

If you want a third idea, look at the biochar movement, especially the new stoves designed to make the stuff. There are concerns that, if biochar works as described and lots of people start making it, we may revitalize our farmlands and simultaneously tip the world towards a new Ice Age by sucking too much carbon out of the air. I'd call that scenario The New Carboniferous. And it's not that hard to make a biochar stove, either...

78:

I find that really implausible.
The one thing E Europe did have was a very well educated population. Not even N Africa has that. I believe the African nation with the highest literacy rate is Libya at around 80%

79:

You are looking for "The Rapture of the Nerds", due out in hardcover from Tor next September (after Cory and I finish it -- hopefully later this month).

80:

Dang. Stay the hell out of my head dude!

Kindest regards,

Hans

81:

I'd like to see a non-fiction book on any topic that interests you.

For fiction, I wouldn't mind seeing you play around with Karl Schroeder's "rewilding" concept, particularly in a post-human world dominated by biotech.

82:

Since you've been writing homages of several classic authors I've been curious on a take on Asimov, preferably his robot-works. Robots as an everyday tool for humans, laws on robotics and how society has evolved around them.

Sure, you were close with Saturns Children, but it wasn't really in the same place.

83:

No, a long descent is certainly not what I was talking about.

It's more a matter of getting left behind, scratching your head. Like Paraguay or Uruguay. They certainly aren't any poorer today than in the 19th century, they just couldn't keep up with the rest of the world. Argentine is a similar story. During the first world war, it was among the rich guys - today ... not so much.

What if China figures out a way to avoid the demographic traps we are falling into? Look at Japan: lots of strangely employed people (waving flags on road constructions, replacing blinking lights) being unproductive. In Europe and the USA its simply unemployed or underemployed people, even though they are still lagging behind in the possibilities of automation and avoidance of mind numbing service-sector jobs.

The aging is not the problem. There are more than enough people in our societies despite the rather high quota of old farts. It's a matter of society being to stubborn to get used to this kind of world. When Bismarck introduced social security and health-care in late 19th/ early 20th century Germany, the country had the demography of 1980-ies Bangladesh. Systems in other OECD countries are very similar and simply not suited for our current demographies.

84:

You've said in the past that space colonisation is a non-starter for various reasons, including political will.

In the future an undeniable astronomical event changes the maths. Who plans to build generation bunkers? Who welcomes the end times? Who builds a ship?

The UK schedules a referendum on becoming a republic. Arthur and his band of Jolly Knights comes back in the darkest hour of the crown and try and fight an enemy who thinks they are funny in the name of a _woman_ who wants to be a scientist....

85:
But right now, in order to keep producing a book a year, I need to keep producing books that don't cause my publishers to hide under the bed and gibber.
So that would mean no more Laundry, then?

... I'll get my coat.

86:

"Systems in other OECD countries are very similar and simply not suited for our current demographies."

Times change, now faster than ever.
In fact, right now, we may be living in the initial stages of a global financial collapse and the beginnings of a New World Order (whatever that might mean). At its most extreme, the disappearance of the Euro, the breakup of the current EU and the collapse of the US dollar with massive inflation wiping out China's dollar/bond reserves.

87:

Something along the line of a Fantasy novel that isn't -- either a crashed post singularity world with people living in the ashes of a post singularity world with the tech mechanism replacing magic possibly from a split view of the mechanisms/sw agents and the 'traditional party'
You are one of the few out there who truly handles the extremes of tech well.

you are really good at writing brain bending sf, so something that is more out there as opposed to mundane SF

88:

Joke answer: a warhammer 40k trilogy (let's see if you can roll those eyes right out of your head)

Real answer: near future detective story involving a bodiless strong AI that solves mysteries. Nero wolfs except nero is an algorithm.

89:

How about a world where the AGIs have all gone, leaving behind tech trinkets so advanced that we have absolutely no idea of how they work, or even all that they can do? That are literally so advanced that Humans can *never*, even in principle understand them any more than we could understand a trillion page mathematical proof? The society it would be set in is *more* advanced than ours, by up to 50 years.

90:

Thanks for the correction.

I will note that your prediction and mine are not mutually incompatible. We may see African-style phone usage spread to the US, simply because we've got serious (and spreading) issues with our infrastructure here.

The ugly thing about the peak oil argument is that the long term decline of oil production does appear to be a reality. This doesn't mean oil runs out tomorrow, but it will be effectively gone by 2100. Coal production will probably peak around 2040-2050, and we can certainly recycle some trash into petrochemicals to extend out the supply, but basically, we're looking at a world where the average energy use per person is going to be lower in the future than it is now.

That's bad news for anyone who wants a 2000 US lifestyle (big SUV, McMansion and all), but it certainly may look like prosperity to anyone who grew up in an African shantytown with marginally clean water. They may well be better equipped to deal with the future than we are.

As for China, it sure looks like they are blowing a bubble in their building sector right now, and they are also not apparently producing highly educated students (ref:http://www.forbes.com/2010/09/07/china-economy-unemployment-leadership-managing-rein.html). While I certainly don't wish them bad luck--they've got bigger fundamental problems than the US does--I suspect that the China scare for the US economy may be similar to the Japan scare of the 1980s.

91:

I'd certainly love to see you produce more work set in alternate pasts, it also seems to broaden the audience (and sales). I'm thinking of Tim Powers as an example.

92:

X' "Someone's Watching" has just shuffled into play, and that reminds me of what I think will be the Next Big Unfortunate Development in the growing surveillance situation.

Somewhere, somebody watching a monitor will sue the subject of surveillance for sexual harassment. Perhaps it'll be a valid case of the subject getting lewd whenever he knew that person was watching.

But the Unfortunate Development would be that further cases would use this one as having established the principal that the subjects of surveillance are responsible to their watchers for any effects they may have on their watchers.

93:

I'll echo the calls for a story set against the backdrop of a peak-oil, resource constrained, financial fraud, political incompetence future. Global in scope, but being realistic about what can really happen. Innovation is good, but scale factors and time are the killer. It's not easy for our society to move fast enough to avoid its own feet, which Greer half notices.

It's either that or a get fit/diet/health book for sedentary, fat, middle aged geeks ...

94:

I'd like to see you write a science fiction novel about some scientists. Doing science. Kind of like Hogan's Giants trilogy. Start with the scientific equivalent of a locked room mystery (like Hogan's lunar corpse) and then follow the hypotheses, experiments, wrong turns, etc. leading to the truth, whatever it turns out to be. Scifi about science is one of my favorite genre, and I'd love to see the Stross version.

95:

BTW, the world will not end when oil runs out, nor will hitech civilization

96:

Let's simplify the idea then:

--The myth of progress fails under the assault of reality. I've proposed peak oil, but you can find any number of others. Perhaps the singularity doesn't life us to Nerdvanna.

--The myth of apocalypse fails under the assault of reality. Society doesn't die in a nuclear fireball, nor does it melt down under a zombie apocalypse, peak oil is a long decline rather than a sudden blow, the Singularity doesn't replace us with machines. In fact, it doesn't happen at all.

What happens next? What story lets people get on with their lives in a meaningful way?

In a way, this is as much about myth-making as anything else. It's not like this has to be de novo mythmaking either. There's plenty of old stories out there.

97:

The thing is, either the future is going to be a total wipeout and return to the dark ages, or it is going to get terminally weird rather rapidly. Can you imagine steady scitech progress after, say, another few thousand years? Will there be a 30th Century science?

98:

What I would like you to write? A fast book. One that gets published IMMEDIATELY after you write it.

Any book you do in the future, just try to start convincing editors, agents, publishers that the current paper-based publishing deadlines are an extremely bad joke. You finish a book and it comes out only a year from now? Come on! We're talking oxcart era publishing here.

Or you can look at if from the point of view of the author's blog/tweets/significant net presence. The readers ask for info/another/book/more of the same and the author answers with a soggy blanket similar to the standard NDA rebuke. It's in the publishing pipeline y'know. Can't do anything about it. Yes, can,t do anything about staid publishers slowly driving towards a cliff.

Even the most tech savvy authors say this plead helplessness as the chasm appears in the middle of the road. They all do it. The only ones who don't are those who shun the net.

It's time to save the publishers from their timidity. It's time to really get them in the digital age and scrap their antiquated editing process. Who better to help do it than established, esteemed authors?

99:

A world, perhaps Earth, populated by a combination of more-or-less V1 humans and post-singularity uploads/AIs. But the AIs are more stable than Vinge's vision, at least those that last.

Some of the AIs are preservationist trying to create protected habitats for humans, others destroy human civilizations almost without noticing. I'm picturing a universe where Dyson-sphere scale structures are built, taken over and destroyed over very short time scales.

100:

All the same, I'm with the commenters who want some near-future development of the currently possible set of catastrophes: peak oil, climate change and the bankruptcy of the global capitalist economy. Obviously you have thought about these topics and have opinions. They could make a good story. But even more obviously, a good setup does not guarantee a good story...

Anyway, thanks for asking. I appreciate it.

101:

I'm not sure the singularity is completely played out in fiction. The phrase that keeps running through my head is "Every species gets the singularity they deserve." I'm not sure that idea has been given a thorough or intelligent treatment. Maybe the trick to being a successful civilization is stay at a high level of tech while avoiding a singularity like it was an oncoming semi-truck. You've clipped that idea a time or two, so has Vernor Vinge, and Peter Watts came closest, but I'm not sure it's really been done with the kind of high-speed impact the idea deserves.

Am I guilty of extending a metaphor too far?

Anyway, my good singularity meets your bad singularity? My good deliberately-non-singularitized-society meets a bad singularity, (which might possibly be semi-defunct.) Singularities being culturally mediated?

Just some thoughts.

102:

How about a post singularity future where the first to the hard takeoff where Steam and sail punk enthusiasts? A nice sprawling space operaie universe where praying to one of the New Gods can move you between planets and the resistance has to try and cope with antagonists who can see the future.

Getting it published might be challenging

103:

Dirk, hope you're right, fear you're wrong.

It's all about scale. Even if you had some miracle breakthrough tomorrow (and they have been missing) then can you scale it at the same rate oil declines? And can you do it AND keep the plates spinning on society?

The reason so many scientists and engineers are worried is because we realise how unlikely is a miracle, what the shape of the thermodynamics says, and what it looks like when you overlay that on a society that is *just* surviving at present.

And remember, although the stone age didn't end through lack of stone - all past civilisations to date have fallen, in one way or another. While historians see gradual decline with 20/20 hindsight, to the individuals involved it was pretty damn sudden and unexpected.

104:

A story that takes place in a post-oil, global-warmed, container-ships-under-sail world would make it easier for folk to visualize life in that future than just short blog postings about it. It sounds like The Lambda Functionary may be set in an early and interesting part of that future, yes?

105:

Global financial collapse is probably the most realistic near-term massive disaster. Sort term effects are pretty obvious, but long term effects are harder to predict. Climate change and peak oil don't really work that great as sort term catastrophes but could work as part of a general dystopian background. But the hardest hit by any of this would be developing countries and the poor.

For example with Peak Oil, doubling the price because of scarcity would be a disaster in developing countries by just a point of annoyance in the developed world. Parts of Europe are already artificially doubling the price of motor fuel through taxes. It would mean they'd just have to lower the taxes, while places like the US would have to trade in SUVs for European models of cars. Even if you increase fuel prices 5x people just start driving hybrids more and mass transit becomes more crowded.

106:

Interesting thing is (to me), you got people preparing for the whole catastrophic enchilada. Take one of those groups into the actual near-future. See what happens to them.

(You got people preparing positively and negatively: that is, some to survive in a better way, and some to prey on the victims.)

107:

Intelligent nanobots, whose ancestors were built by humans but so many of their generations removed that they think of us as mythical beings, looking for God and re-discovering us - in human terms it's only been a few years since their original creation, of course.

Being so teeny they can exploit wormholes etc. for interstellar travel (yes, I know wormholes don't really work like that but you're allowed to cheat, I think) and time travel - but they have no idea what's important in the past etc., and their visits to e.g. Hiroshima to top up their batteries in the nuclear explosion have unintended consequences...

Bonus points if they talk like really laid back californian surfers!

108:

Andrew,

It's one of the thought confusions that hits people with peak oil - the idea that they could easily deal with a doubling in price, so what's the big deal?

Point is, consumption of oil is overwhelmingly in the industrialised world. If 10% less oil comes out of the ground then the price has to rise till 10% of the demand is destroyed. If doubling the price won't do it, then the price triples, or quadruples. At what point does it hurt you? Because that's the point it has to reach to have the effect needed to bring supply and demand into balance.

And swapping over the fleet of vehicles, or changing usage, takes time and money. Thus there is a maximum rate of decline that countries can adjust to; over that and things break, they don't bend.

109:

An e-book that's different every time it's read - using lots of $Protagonist tags etc, and a lookup table. Easy to do, probably extremely difficult to do in an interesting way? The same story could be re-read with the vocabulary, cast and other unique identifiers changed each time, producing a metanovel that's written in a different authorial voice each time.

110:

If we need to build 1000 nuclear reactors in less than 10 years, it will be done. In the meantime, private transport may cease to exist, but apart from that not much else would change.

111:

Or to put it another way, what does a 10% drop in the standard of living across the Western world buy when that is translated into energy generating infrastructure? How many solar panels, nuclear reactors, wind turbines does $30trillion over a decade buy?

112:

Not too serious a suggestion, but for something different:
How 'bout a Rucker-ish Transreal novel? Protagonist is a pharmacist, bored with his job and taking programming classes at nightschool. One day 'interesting' pharmaceutical reps show up pushing strange new meds. Not sure what they do or how, and doesn't like the idea of his customers as guinea pigs, he starts snooping around.
Can be set in the hear and now, can use various fields of science, and throw in a good dose of economics.

113:

Speed of any disaster is a major point, of course. With peak oil, we'll see demand decrease as price goes up. Though demand is rather inflexible in the short term, so prices are likely to rise quickly, level off, rise again, level again, etc.

But my point is that the developed world, while the largest consumer of petroleum, can handle price increases better than the developing world. People in the developed world will simply outbid those in the developing world and use their oil before reducing their own usage very much. After all, look at how happy we are to turn food in the ethanol and barely notice the rise in food prices while people in the Middle East riot because of it.

Though that points to another potential problem for the world. In a peak oil scenario, food gets diverted to fuel production. So the developing world is hit by massively increased food costs and fuel costs at the same time. You probably end up with uprisings, coups, and revolutions across the developing world, and the developed world reacting with sanctions and interventions that hurt them even more.

114:

A moment of whimsy: present-day or near-future tale of the misadventures of a traveling Brit on scenic roads in America? Or near-future version?

Or, for more fun...a small group of sci-fi authors travel on an America-and-Canada convention tour together, when a series of mishaps strand them in an off-the-grid, out-of-the-way location for a weekend...or a week...

Bill it as Survivor: stranded geeks or something like that.

(There are very few emergencies which would plausibly place a present-day motorist beyond help for more than twelve hours. At least, a present-day motorist in a developed country. But a man did die in Oregon after a wrong turn in a snowstorm in 2006...)

115:

Another author did it as referenced above, to Little Fuzzy, so what about the adventures of the progeny of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser?

And if you can't get rights for that I just know you have it in you for a hard SF style sequel to Finnegans Wake.

116:

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aaVMzCTMz3ms

It's never quite as simple as just thinking of a number and doubling it. And that's without grids not being able to deal with that power. That's why I said scaling, and the time it takes, is what kills the adaptation rate. You can't just throw money/people at something, it doesn't work.

And if there is no private transport, how do people get to work? Or the shops? And how do they greet this limitation on their lives? And what about other nations around the world that we are dependent on?

Nope, you could have a miracle technology arrive tomorrow, but if it won't scale easily into the transport arena, it's not going to help.

117:

Actually Andrew, China could probably outbid the western world for oil - their utilisation efficiency and value created/placed on it are higher than many of our uses. Plus they are sewing up long term contracts now, globally.

118:

"And if there is no private transport, how do people get to work?"

A massive increase in public transport.
As for the adaptation rate, it will not need to be that fast. Once oil passes $100 a barrel all kinds of tech becomes economical, and if it means trashing the environment, that's what will happen.

And a single Japanese plant supplies a vital component for nuclear reactors, and only turns out 4 a year? So, do the French and Chinese buy from them? Or alternatively, reactors without containment vessels. There is no shortage of designs.

In Britain we have been talking about putting in some 60 miles of high speed rail from London to the Channel Tunnel. It's been talked about for more than a decade, and it is estimated it will take 15 years to complete. The Chinese recently put in 600 miles of such rail in 3 years, because the govt was ruthless and single minded enough to make it so.

119:

Some collab with a visual medium, comics or animation. Just watched Rogue farm and it whet my appetite. I kept visualizing Saturn's children as an anime made by the people who did ghost in the shell...

Incidentally, I'm using a proxy to post this, as it appears my ISP might be blacklisted? Your site was apparently down for me all day until I decided to check and I found it was just me.

120:

Mash-up: post-singularity cyberpunks battle the forces of darkness...

121:

I'll bite. What would a Depression-scale labor market collapse look like in a modern wired society? Or the society of Rule 34?

122:

Charlie, this might get interesting. Write something like Paolo Baciagalupi's Wind Up Girl or Ship Breaker but with less environmental hair shirt, more thought and science involved.

123:

how about something about a post you human intelligence living in the sol matrioshka brain , maybe it decides to leave , or anieko

124:

How about a space opera within the Solar System? Suppose that we can, by spending a lot of money, put a basic self-reproducing industrial base in the Jovian moons, powered by solar energy and infrared radiated from Jupiter itself (which radiates more than it receives from the sun). Then some colonists take up residence (outside the Gallileian orbits because of the radiation belts). Eventually, because all the energy and materials necessary for a civilization are present, an independent nation is established, and the usual international rivalries begin between Jupiter and Earth. Travel between is slow for normal passengers and freight, but military and high-value cargo and passenger transit could be done much more quickly, especially with initial launch by rotovators. But travel within the Jovian system is expensive because of the high delta-v, which warps the way both commercial and military travel is done.

Any interest in a novel set in this background?

125:

Historical novel set in our time, as it would be written in the future. With the usual quota of misconceptions.

126:

Charlie, not too lng ago you took the Steampunk sheaf of tropes out behind the woodshed, figuratively, right here on this blog. You made it very clear how disgusted you are with the glossing over of the horrors of the Victorian era that generally underly those books. Would you ever consider writing a no-bullshit, this-is-how-it-really-was Steampunk novel? I know it would require a metaphorical swim in the cack but I think it would be valuable for many of us.

127:

That is an awesome idea. Box, out of.

128:

Charlie, how about a Laundry prequel, set sometime in the Middle Ages or Renaissance, and starring one of the great mathematicians? We know historically that Sir Isaac Newton tried to summon demons, though Copernicus or Kepler would also be interesting characters. Then there were Arab mathematicians like Al-Khwārizmī, who might be interesting to research and write about.

Or if you wanted to go the Steampunk route with a Laundry prequel, there's Ada Lovelace or maybe Marie Curie... just a thought.

129:

Start with the "Years of Rice & Salt" context. Project 100 years into the future; add singularity plus first contact. Enough similarities to current track for resonance; semi-familiar springboards to use for wildly different character rationale. Insert humor - that should be an interesting exercise in context - voila.

130:

Laugh if you like, but I would like to read a serious, well-thought-out utopian novel from you. Not just optimistic in the sense of "be grateful that a homebrew pandemic hasn't killed eveyone!" - but a book informed by your vision (if you have one) of the best decisions the human species could make over the next century or so.

131:

An updated version of Olaf Stapledon's future history or an alternate history of the twentieth century.

132:

Someone actually beat me to it. But yeah,I was going to say

"Sonething challenging: a happy novel. Not just an unambiguous happy ending [that's be novel too] but a world one would want to live in and characters one would want to be friends with, not suffering from ennui or fecklessness."

Unrelated worldbunnies: some tech possibilities get overlooked IMO. One I call "developmental engineering", where instead of (or complementary with) genetic engineering you simply tell a developing organism how to grow, by controlling the signals. Works best with an exowomb, obviously.

Another is cyborgs -- not cyberpunk "I has guns" but full-body cyborgs, like the Major in Ghost in the Shell, but more about mobile life support for someone with a failing body than about superhuman attributes. So, geriatric cyborgs. Social effects? Possible better space candidates, since they don't decay from low gravity or suffer zero-gee toilets?

133:

Historical novel set in our time, as it would be written in the future. With the usual quota of misconceptions.

Modest cough - Diana: Warrior Princess is an RPG based on this idea, see also:

The Beatles 3000: How will the Beatles be remembered a thousand years in the future:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Z2vU8M6CYI

Period Speech: The XKCD take on how the 20th century will be remembered
http://xkcd.com/771/

Now Showing: The Perry Bible Fellowship take on this
http://www.pbfcomics.com/?cid=PBF209-Now_Showing.jpg

134:


By the simple act of looking at my bookcases and seeing what made sense:

The Book of the New Sun. Or, at least, your version of a far-future galactic-diaspora book where the high-tech is invisible.

Venus Equilateral. Or, a book where engineers plausibly solving engineering problems is the key plot element. (You could probably get a "promotion-of-STEM" grant to write it).

Old Ironsides. Or, a "technical" biography of a world-changing figure from an alternate/future world, written by someone in the same line of work looking back several hundred years at a great figure of that time. Double-reveals of both eras.

135:

I too would be very interested in either a sequel to "Missile Gap" or something else set in that Universe. I got the impression that each of those disks were like giant Petri disks. In other words, the sites for experiments by the super advanced civilization in finding out what happens when humans and non-human intelligences interact. Is this what you had in mind Charlie ?

136:

I'll second the Missile Gap suggestion, if you find you have another story to tell in that setting.

What I want to see? Not soon, no, but...eventually I want to see a Laundry novel where Case Nightmare Green gets handled, in some manner that doesn't leave homo sapiens an endangered or extinct species. Something a little brighter than A Colder War - if nothing else, you've written that apocalypse and now you can take another tack, right? The Laundry has some very smart folks; I hope someone's thought up some clever plans for the end of the world. (And don't tell us details, but do you know what was in Angleton's 'retirement plan' file?) I'm not sure how you'll pull this off, but I'm confident you've spent more time thinking about the Laundry's problems that I have.

137:

Even if we lose oil/coal as portable energy supplied for vehicles, we're still going to have much else of the support infrastructure. Pick your favourite Age-of-Sail character and give them the radio tech of 1945. That's regular radio contact across oceans, radar, radio-direction finding with readings made by both the ship and shore stations, all the things which mean that you're not alone and you're not lost, and all done with pre-transistor technology.

Even in the 1930s sailing ships would carry grain and wool from Australia, under the instruction "Falmouth for orders", since they had no radio, and had to aim for a known port, where they could arrange the final delivery of a cargo.

138:

Trust me, you wouldn't like the result.

There is a widespread belief that the author is the only person who actually contributes anything of value to the process of turning a manuscript into a book. You seem to have fallen for it. In fact, there are a number of stages -- polishing, basically -- that a MS has to go through before it's ready for publication. Polishing is not unimportant. Or do you like your novels to come with an average of three typos per page and two plot-derailing logical inconsistencies per chapter?

Now, it should be possible to cut the lead time from 12 months. But that isn't going to speed up the rate at which I write books -- which is currently a little over one per 12 months. And reducing the lead time would also introduce unwelcome and unscheduled delays in publication when, for example, the author succumbs to a nasty chest infection for a couple of weeks (thus blowing the short project time scale out of the water).

And finally, as to self-publishing ... do you want me to spend my time writing books, or publishing them? Because I assure you that the latter role is just as time-consuming as the former -- I'd end up spending 3-6 working months a year working as a publisher, not an author, to the detriment of time spent writing.

139:

Interesting point: coups and uprisings hit autocracies and dictatorships; democracies just have elections, coalition negotiations, governments of national unity, and so on.

The point about democracy is that as a system, it solves the succession problem -- how to manage a transfer of power without risking a civil war.

Which suggests to me that peak oil may finally sweep the developing world clean of the various dictatorships that have been clinging on since the end of the European colonial era. (This will not necessarily play to the benefit of the USA, where the State Department has spent 50 years propping up dictators on the grounds that they were strong anti-communists and many developing world grass-roots political movements were overtly socialist because the first concern of peasants is land reform, i.e. kicking out feudal land-owners. Who are the rich, cultured folks the diplomats get to drink with.)

140:

"If there's no private transport how do people get to work? Or the shops?"

That may not be as much of a problem as you think.

As of 2004, at peak week-day rush hour, 90% of the UK's private vehicle fleet was parked up and unoccupied. The load factor for private automobiles is horrendous, compared to any form of public transport. Given self-driving vehicles and some sort of despatch mechanism we could make do with an order of magnitude fewer cars (i.e. when you're not using your car, would you mind renting it out as a self-driving taxi?). Of course, Ford, GM and Toyota might object ...

The real issue is zoning laws. The US has this insane suburban sprawl which has people living thirty to fifty miles out in open countryside. That's not sustainable as anything other than farm smallholdings if we go past peak oil. The UK, with its rabbit-hutch housing and green belts, is paradoxically much better positioned for this -- British "suburbs" would be classed as dense urban development in the US, and are consequently amenable to frequent, saturation-level public transport.

Another option is to personalise transport. Do you need to shift two tons of metal and plastic in order to move 100Kg of meat around town? Frequently not. The Segway human transporter may look comical, but in energy efficiency terms it's a vastly more efficient solution to the personal transport question than the automobile. Add in self-driving and guidance capability to a segway (itself much less hazardous than doing the same to an SUV, because the scope and scale of accidents would be much smaller) and you have a personal assist that comes when you whistles and carries you at up to 20mph around urban distances, with as much shopping as you can carry. And for longer distances, it'll fit reasonably well in a train's baggage compartment. Now imagine everybody using these instead of automobiles, and suburban McMansions gradually being replaced by high-rise inner-city condominiums right above the walkable downtown entertainment and shopping areas, and you have one option for the city of tomorrow.

141:

DNS trouble -- should be resolved now.

142:

Already done it -- the Merchant Princes series has my take on steampunk embedded in it.

143:

Why is it that you lot talk about peak oil, but pretend that the result will be effectively the same as in he 1970ies oil shock?

Sure, we could see another of those. Just have the revolution in Northern Africa spread to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait simultaneously and you're right back there. But that's not peak oil.

There is a shitload of incredibly dirty and incredibly plentiful sources of hydrocarbons (that includes coal) left in the world. Take just one example in Europe: You've heard about the (economic term) Dutch disease? It was caused by large quantities of natural gas found in the Netherlands. But this methane is merely a fraction of the gas that has been seeping out from the colossal coal seams that stretch all the way from the Ruhr (in Germany) under the Netherlands and the North Sea to England - of which we have only nibbled on both ends (but pretend that they are "exhausted"). There are much larger reserves of coal and lignite in Russia and many other places, they are merely a pain to get at - but they are there nonetheless.

Excavating this stuff is too expensive and/or dangerous to be viable right now, but that's just a matter of how high other prices are. And conventional oil production will taper off slowly enough for all sorts of stuff to be ready to start getting excavated at the drop of a few billion dollars.

Of course, this will lead to lifestyle changes. The USA is using twice as much oil as countries of equivalent living standards in Europe. So there are a lot of low-hanging fruits to be picked. Suburbia will be something history books will collectively shake their heads at for centuries.

It might even start a wave of Asian immigration into the USA. Because room is getting relatively sparse in China and South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh for the most part) but the USA is still ridiculously underpopulated and the suburbs will be incredibly cheap compared to real estate in an even moderately developed India, Bangladesh or Pakistan merely half a century down the line.

The cost of energy is only a daunting civilization-crushing factor if you waste it like an American. In Germany private households today pay about US$0.30/kWh for electricity, in Danemark it's closer to $0.40/kWh. (And the tendency is straight up.)

So yes, there will be some sort of shortage of some kinds of resources (but not their substitutes), but even that will not be a primary shortage, but a secondary one because of increased demand from all over the world. We're about to add 3-6 billion people to the (roughly) 1.5 billion people currently living in industrialized circumstances. In other words, we'll have to (gasp) share with the rest of the world and invest in other alternatives if we don't like the ones that present themselves most readily.

144:

Rather OT, but your reference to the Barsoom novels reminded me of something. When taking my son to see the final Harry Potter movie, I spotted a poster with a heroic looking chap, and the title 'John Carter'...

It's due out in March (marking the 100th anniversary of the series), and I can't decide whether to be excited or horrified. Off to look up trailers on IMDB now.

145:

Now imagine everybody using these instead of automobiles, and suburban McMansions gradually being replaced by high-rise inner-city condominiums right above the walkable downtown entertainment and shopping areas, and you have one option for the city of tomorrow.

Charlie,

All that you say is fine. However if the decline rate is anything like what it could be you don't have the time to do anything new. No new segways, no new systems, certainly no new inner-city high density living.

Putting on my fixer hat instead -

You are left with doing with what we already have, using rationing and laws to make the necessary changes and buy time. That means ride sharing for work, etc. It's the only thing that can scale at the right rate.

In the UK I think it might work (there is already a gov plan, after the fuel protests). However, in the US, with their lower densities and hatred of governments, laws, and sharing, things will be worse.

The decline rates that can be expected to be seen at the level of the individual can be very fast. Even if the decline rate due to geology might be 2-3%, once you add in the various sources of inequality of effect you can see rates well into double digits for the individual.

That's the killer, time for the societal systems to adapt will be missing because we have done little whilst production was rising or plateauing.

146:

A noteworthy point: energy consumption per capita in western Europe has flatlined or even declined slightly since the 1970s oil crunch. Nevertheless, Western Europe has experienced substantial economic growth since that time.

There's probably room for US energy consumption per capita to drop 70% before there's a significant impact on the standard of living -- if it happens slowly, with (for example) investment in insulation to reduce aircon/heating bills, re-zoning and movement of dormitory areas closer to urban hubs and re-purposing of suburban and exurban areas as market garden type high intensity farmland, adoption of smaller, more efficient automobiles, and so on.

147:

I don't have a plot for you but I do wonder if the new novels you're going to be working on involve synthetic biology. Playing around with the implications of manufactured life is an old SF trope but the technology is arriving right now so working that out in the short to medium term might lead to some interesting novels.

148:

The story of an Urban Animal Control Officer working shortly after the Christmas that the craze for genetically engineered pet Pygmy Dragons and pet Pygmy Rainbow Unicorns took off.

Make sure there's lots of snow, travel disruption, and very few hours of daylight (this being Scotland).

149:

Flushing DNS sorted the problem.

Anywhere I can go on a segway I'm going to walk, or cycle to, it's more dignified.

150:

I would really like to see a Quatermass/Hammer Horror style science fiction novel. Something which evokes that feel of the British equivalent of the 50s B-Movies. Not necessarily a period piece but certainly something where it feels like the main character could be played by Peter Cushing.

151:

Actually, there is a troubling third alternative - failure to adapt.

It has happened before, lots of face palming ensued among generations of historians, but no matter how stupid it was, occasionally it happened. So, I would not rule this out and include it among several other troubling scenarios (like the Tea Party going Germany'33 on the USA).

That doesn't mean there aren't any benign outcomes to consider, but the entanglement of adverse factors is certainly trimming this particular corner of the solution space.

152:

A ray of hope for the American suburban sprawl situation:
New potential home-owners (people who were born later than 1975) are much less interested in the white-picket-fences lifestyle than their parents. For these people, "walk-ability" is a major selling-point for a property. Add this to an increase in the price of gasoline and higher unemployment (and a childhood learning first hand the problems of suburban life) and the Sprawl does not look attractive. Fingers crossed, I think future US cities will look more like European ones.

And I agree about the Missle Gap Universe. Yuri Gagarin as Kirk on an atomic-powered airplane is an excellent vehicle for adventure.

153:

Take the future you believe in/hope for, come up with a setting in which it cannot happen for some reason, and use it as a setting for a story in a genre you like.

*shrug* It worked for Vernor Vinge in A Deepness in the Sky, or at least that's my theory.

154:

I do wonder if the new novels you're going to be working on involve synthetic biology.

Rolls eyes.

"... In other news headlines, cutting SF author ignores hottest new field to hit technology this century!"

155:

I wouldn't seriously presume to influence what you write. I just ask that you write books that are entertaining, set in interesting "worlds", full of ideas and thought provoking. Keep applying the Stross view and I'm sure you will do just fine. And try to get a movie based on one of your novels. The Laundry universe seems to touch the zeitgeist for a movie or tv series (even if it has to be set in the USA to be funded).

156:

There are some interesting problems in the energy sector:

1. Energy density. Coal, for example, runs 1/6 or less the energy density of oil, which is why we don't run cars on coal. We're already exploiting the best sources of energy out there, and absent some fusion actually working, the fuels that are left are less energy dense than the ones we've already burned through.

2. Energy cost to get energy: It costs energy to get energy, and if you include the energy costs of infrastructure, some technologies cost as much or more than they produce. The problem with coal is that we've already consumed much of the high-energy stuff (anthracite), and much of what's left is low-grade, where it takes almost as much energy to obtain it as you'll get from burning it. This is why China uses human coal miners. This is also the problem with tar sands, corn ethanol, deep ocean clathrates, and biodiesel from trash.

While I love solar, I'm in the camp that says we desperately need highly productive solar systems that produce more energy than it took to manufacture and move them. In this regard, passive solar makes more sense than a solar panel that needs rare earths shipped halfway around the world. Ditto wind turbines. Importing them from China is a problem.

3. Scarce resources. This is a problem for oil, but also for uranium, high grade coal, and others. These are things that you can easily dig out of the ground, which means you get a lot of energy out for a little energy in. We're running low on all of them. What was that about thorium reactors?

4. Infrastructure: As Charlie pointed out, we could have rebuilt our cities for efficiency. The perfect point to do this started in the 1970s in the US, when people first realized what the problem was, and we hadn't yet hit the oil peak (we hit it sometime in the last ten years) Unfortunately, Reagan happened, the sustainability movement withered for lack of government support, and now we don't have the cheap energy to make all these massive infrastructural changes. Oops.

5. Lying. Apparently, countries and big corporations routinely inflate reports of their known reserves. Who knew? It took a research group most of a decade to compile reasonably accurate data on how much oil and coal are really out there. It's less than is reported. Take reports of "The US being the Saudi Arabia of coal" with a cobble of salt. If coal were that good, we probably wouldn't have gone into Iraq. Twice.

Note that I don't think this is an apocalyptic vision. It's not the end of the world. I do, however, think that things are going to change quite a bit over the next decades.

And don't even get me started on the nitrogen fertilizer issue...

157:

Non-fiction: Enochian in a Nutshell. On O'Reilly.

158:

Per The Star Observer

The UK government will today commit to marriage equality, with plans to legislate for same-sex marriages before the next general election.

A public consultation will take place in March next year on how to make civil marriages available to same-sex couples.

So how about Pinky and The Brain's wedding? Will the nuptials be disrupted by terrible forces from beyond time and space? (That would make a great short story.)

159:

And don't even get me started on the nitrogen fertilizer issue...

Why not? You were interesting and entertaining enough up to this point. I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

160:

Uranium cycle fission reactors don't have a scarcity problem with fuel. Firstly, exploration for new resources stopped in the 1960s when the available supplies exceeded a century -- there was no advantage to prospecting. But there's a lot more ore out there. Secondly, the "high level waste" sitting in bunkers all over the USA waiting for deep disposal consists largely of fuel rods that have only had roughly 5-10% of their energy extracted. To get the other 90-95% out, however, would require reprocessing them, which would result in an embarrassing build-up of plutonium (also usable as fuel in reactors). Hence the 1970s era ban on reprocessing instituted under the Carter administration.

In point of fact, by starting up a reprocessing plant the USA could increase its fission reactor fuel stockpile by around an order of magnitude ... and reprocessing tech is available off the shelf from places like Japan, France, and the UK.

(This is before we get onto the subject of thorium cycle reactors.)

Next, solar: I'm still waiting, but the organic polymer solar cells have been in development for some time, and if they show up, the whole rare earth elements and molten silicon wafer problem goes, if not away completely, then way down the scale of importance.

As for the scarce rare earth elements? They're not going to be so scarce: since China clamped down on exports, there is now money to be made by mining them outside of China. So the older mines in the US -- which were mothballed over a decade ago -- are now being prepped to re-open, and exploration for new resources is under way.

The real fertilizer issue, I gather, isn't so much nitrogen (we should have GM nitrogen fixing plants in the near future) as bioavailable phosphorus.

161:

Dirk @ 86
The Euro (in its present form, anyway) is already royally f*ck*d.
THe EU has stopped being anything other than a bullying bureacratic absolutist nightmare in the making. I was strongly in favour, back in the day, but now I'm fervently anti.
What a terrible waste of a good idea gone horribly wrong.

hteromeles @ 90
We WILL have a lot of fission-power (It may be, ahem, *Necessary* to jail a few supposedly-green-nuts) and fusion really ought to be possible, provided enough money is actually spent in the right direction.
What we REALLY need, and would be a complete game-changer is a reliable high-power electrical storage mechanism.
I'm assuming artificial photosynthesis and "solar" power continue the steady (apparently invisible) progress that they are currently making.


Can I echo @ 128 & 131?
Plus more "Trunk & Disorderly" IF you can get it to work?

Charlie @ 139
A world where the USA is completely isolated (and the Euro has trashed) - the former because Bachmann or some similar nutter has become POTUS - I know, R.A.H. did "Revolt in 2100" - but more realistic, and dealing with the downfall of the US - halfway to "Handmaid's Tale, perhaps.
As a warning, because the religous are getting uppity, everywhere.
[ Ah I see @ 151 has thought of that as well - really nasty - something like, say R. Dawkins being judicially-murdered on a visit! ]

& also @ 140
One slight problem our STUPID guvmint has made Segways ILLEGAL in Britain (in public that is)

162:

I'd kind of like to see your take on the "big dumb object" genre, you know, like Ringworld or, on a smaller scale, something like the Shellworld in Matter (or even smaller, if you can find something cool enough). I know you've done something like this in some of your work (particularly Missile Gap), but it'd be cool to see a novel-sized exploration of something from the outside.

Full version of Palimpsest is one that's already been addressed, but still, want.

And I know you said no sequels, but do things in the same universe count? Ever since I read that bit in Accelerando where they said, basically, if you're recreated (a singularity-AI recreation of a real person who actually existed), okay, fine, you can try to continue your life, but if you're resimulated (a singularity-AI creation of a completely fictional character from literature or something), you have to report for termination because people don't want to deal with them and there's a greater risk you're some kind of trojan horse, I really wanted to see you do a story about a resimulated person who quickly figures out he (or she) is one and tries to pretend not to be, and deal with possibly being that trojan horse and being unaware of. I know it's staggeringly unlikely you'd tackle it, but hey, you asked.

163:

Moderator's note: "Lanius" is banned, permanently.

164:

Citation needed on the energy density of coal. Wikipedia on Energy Density has it as half the density of oil, J/kg. Wood, protein, and carbohydrates are 1/3. (47, 24, 16 J/kg). We don't use coal in cars because it's *solid*. We did use coal in trains. We can also turn coal and water and some extra energy into oil. We can turn air and water and a lot of energy into oil. I don't know what the cost per gallon range is.

I've read the price of uranium needs to go up by a factor of 10 to make fuel reprocessing worth the bother. Supposedly lots of uranium available as decent ores, without much exploration because it's been so cheap. And lots and lots available for more work, worthwhile because of nuclear energy density. And 3x as much thorium...

I thought we've had self-sustaining solar for years now.

165:

Nestor, the trouble with bicycles is that unless you live somewhere flat they're not very good as mass transport (says the guy who lives in a city on an extinct volcanic plug -- the summer rickshaws are ridden by the local triathlete's club because it's good training). Nor are they useful for people with the wrong number of limbs, with vestibular disorders, or with crap cardiovascular condition ... like the elderly, who make up an increasing proportion of our population.

Electrically assisted bicycles will, I think, play a huge role if we get to the point where automobiles are infeasibly expensive (but even so, why not move to electric cars instead?). But there's also a niche for a mobility platform for people who are not so infirm they need a scooter or powered wheelchair, but who can't effectively ride a bike.

166:

I had been wanting to suggest a new genre too, perhaps western, or exploration. I was thinking either arid exploration or antarctic. I enjoy the scenery in those settings. (KSR's Antarctica had me start reading about its explorers)

I haven't deconstructed the western genre. Is it the premise of unlimited exploitation of resources that is the disgusting part?

167:

I note that after Fukushima, I'm confident that we have the engineering knowhow to make pretty safe nuclear reactors. I'm far less confident that we have the social knowhow to make sure the engineering gets implemented without dangerous corner cutting, especially halfway through the reactor lifetime when people are paying less attention and the effects of cuts are removed in time from the people making the decisions.

168:

"why not move to electric cars instead"

If they remain permanently expensive due to supply/demand on lithium, and too limited if you use anything besides lithium?


Genre suggestion: Gobi Desert Opera. :p Tweak those space cadets!

169:

Since Charlie wrote a much more believable version of a Heinlein heroine, I fear in his dotage that he will be tempted to write a multiverse novel shoehorning-in all his various continuities, with perhaps not _all_ his characters sounding like each other and only _mostly_ agreeing with each other on all topics.

Also sex.

(E.g., Miriam with the Festival, Culture-Mind--parodies with one horrible mid-level female bureaucrat or all of them, Freya with every[one|thing]....)

170:

The issue with electric cars is the recharge time. Or infrastructure. (Pick one.) The technical capability to do it has been around since the 1980s -- or maybe even the 1920s.

Postulate a standard-size 200Kg lead-acid battery system designed to drop down out of a car/lift back into place. You could then have "garages" where you drive over a loading area, deposit your old battery, and have a new one lifted into place in a matter of a couple of minutes. The discharged one then goes on a rack to charge. You pay for the power, for the convenience of the "instant charge", and for any wear and tear on the battery.

So what if you can only drive 100-150Km before you need to swap batteries? That's what satnav systems are for! (Plotting you a route from battery depot to depot.)

What's wrong with this picture? (Aside from the need for umpty-thousands of garages equipped with drive-over battery change bays and battery storage racks, and for car manufacturers to agree on a standard size for batteries, and, and ...)

The point is, we could run an electric automobile infrastructure using lead-acid cells (which are extremely cheap compared to LiION, albeit with a much lower power density), and with effectively instant recharge as well -- but we'd need to mandate a standard and then require a lot of commercial infrastructure vendors to adhere to it. So it's workable, but not compatible with "free market" doctrine.

171:

How about a non-fiction work: "Linux, the first 20 years"?

(Kernel 0.01 was released 20 years ago today. System requirements: - 386 AT, VGA/EGA screen, AT-type harddisk controller, Finnish keyboard.) I remember wishing I had the budget for that kind of machine...

172:

Hard speculative fiction, because you are one of the very best at it and your other stuff just seems like a waste of your talent (perhaps because it just doesn't interest me). I read all kinds of sf (and other literature), so it isn't that. I just think that you should produce cutting edge, genre-changing work, because you are capable of it.

173:

If the refuelable liquid battery concept pans out, then maybe at least part of the battery and infrastructure problem is solved.

Liquid battery

The battery could recharge normally where the vehicle is parked, or could be recharged at existing gas stations with charged electrolyte delivery. This solves the range problem and could allow a faster transition to electric cars, while slowing phasing out gasoline engines, yet still maintaining the gas station as a business.
Ultimately, there is a problem of gas station availability if cars are all electric and mostly recharge at other locations.

174:

Two books I'd love to see you do:

1) A positive utopia novel ala the Culture by Iain M. Banks
2) A book about the disbelief and suspicion people like yourself would have over the discovery of classic Star Trek style aliens. They're so unlikely to exist that if we did find them it would only hint to some higher power appealing to our preconceptions.

175:

Charlie, you know better than I do that ideas are cheap and if you'll receive my suggestion in that spirit then I recommend you write your next novel with the highest concentration of female characters your publishers will allow. The idea that, lawks-a-mussy, an assassin could be a woman went from being unthinkable to a staple during the nineties; I'm sure you could make a similarly significant impression by filling a near-future story with female political leaders, bureaucrats, scientists, journalists and the like.

At the least, you'll do it badly enough to inspire female writers to show us how it should be done (all the while capitalizing on the female market which takes what it can get).

176:

Back in late 1999 I remember interviews with survivalist folk heading off to their bunkers/camps with N years of canned food because of the upcoming Y2K collapse of civilisation.

Never heard of them afterwards... what happened to 'em? Would love to find out :-)

(or - just for fun - s/1999/2035/ and s/Y2K/singularity/ - hilarity ensues)

177:

A novel about the Big Surprise of the 21st century.

The Big Surprise of the 20th century was the laser — as far as I know, no-one saw it coming. As a trivial matter, it gave us real Ray Guns, but (much more significant, IMHO) it also gave us the Internet: copper is limited as to bandwidth, and fiberoptics without lasers is useless.

(Atomic energy was a littler surprise — predicted in 1905, investigated and developed for the next forty years, demonstrated in 1945, and dealt with since then. Ironically, the theoretical basis of both lasers and atomic energy were discovered by the same man.)

Something is going to come along in the next few decades that's going to change everything. I doubt that Charlie will come up the the actual Big Surprise of the 21st century (if so, remember to lock up the patents!), but a novel of any Big Surprise of the 21st century would be entertaining.

178:

The Big Surprise of the 20th century was the laser — as far as I know, no-one saw it coming.

A triviality.

The real Big Surprise of the 20th century was the collapse of monarchism as the default system of government, world-wide. In 1900, there were a handful of constitutional monarchies, a couple of wild-eyed radical democratic republics (such as the USA and France), and everywhere else was either run by a despotic absolute monarchy, or an imperial dominion of someone else. Furthermore, this was the normal state of affairs since time immemorial!

Fast-forward to 2000AD and monarchies are a tiny minority of governments; all absolutist systems combined, including dictatorships and one party states, were by 2000AD under 50% of governments. Thanks to the Arab Spring, it looks as if the long-term trend is for the dictatorships to fade further.

And here's the weird bit: although the first world war explains why a bunch of the European monarchies came to an abrupt, screeching car-crash of an end, there's no obvious explanation for the triumph of democracy; indeed, in the 1930s it was looking very much as if democracy was a guttering candle in a strong wind.

(PS: I disagree with every single element of your assertions about the laser. (a) Coherent emission was predicted, IIRC, by Einstein a couple of decades before 1960, (b) lasers make really shitty ray guns (unless you use them for blinding -- which is a war crime), and (c) it didn't give us the internet; at best, it gave us faster, cheaper wired connections (hint: multiplexing over separate trunks works over copper as well as fibre). )

179:

If I had any idea of how many horses per person there were in 1900, I might be tempted to suggest that a hitherto-unanticipated development of the 20th Century was the rise of economies based on mobile climate-controlled isolation boxes, or automobiles.

I don't know how completely the UK has been sold on car-based life, but here in suburban USA, my nearest food store is four miles away. My commute distance is 18 miles each way, which is less than my state's average 30 mile commute.

If cars suddenly went away, my nation would shut down within three days.

180:

And Switzerland and Costa Rica. And Latin America was full of republics, though perhaps being run as military absolute despotisms or military and economic oligarchies, with a touch of economic imperialism from the US; they'd started out with democracy but not kept it well. I don't know the details, though I just double-checked Costa Rica.

The one-party states are interesting; while not *being* democratic, they pay lip service to it, which perhaps builds in instability and ideal expectations. So for much of the 20th you could say both "much of the world is not democratic" and "much of the world is or at least pretends to be democratic". A rigged election is still invoking elections for legitimacy, rather than asserting it by pure force or divine right.

181:

Straying into the edge of my family's territory here - as a very young child at Stanford (my dad was a postdoc there), I remember a story of a pupil proudly telling the class her dad invented the laser. "Nonsense", the teacher replied, "Everyone knows it was invented by Sam Laser". After tearful child reported this to her dad, Schawlow was known around the faculty as Sam Laser.

Anyway, the theoretical foundation was of course Einstein's 1917 extension of Max Plank's work. I can't be bothered to google it but I expect masers were demonstrated in the 1930s or 40s.

Laser blinders are indeed a warcrime, specifically mentioned in the Geneva Convention.

Lasers were the solution looking for a problem for a very long time. In decreasing probability, they have or will give us secure communication, quantum computers and nuclear fusion. They make awful weapons (unless you believe TRW etc) but are great for targetting systems - there's even a lidar unit that can pinpoint the location of a sniper. But it can't shoot the bullet down

Oh, Schawlow's another Nobel Prizewinner I've met. Wahey, how many can I collect?

The Internet's just a fancy version of telex, innit?

182:

Energy usage note: the US uses a lot per capita, but Canada's right with us. Iceland and Luxembourg use even more, supposedly, and the Nordics lead the rest of Europe.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_energy_consumption_per_capita

Some of this might be efficiency, but there's also aspects of having chosen to sprawl out in space and use cars (which you could call inefficiency, but Americans do like their space, and anyway it won't be easily fixable), and a lot of it is probably climate as well. Nicer climate = less energy used for domestic climate control. The bulk of Europe's population enjoys more moderate climate than most of North America.

183:

Obvious explanation for the triumph of democracy: USA was a democracy. USSR was a democracy (fake one, but it doesn't matter). Both superpowers promoted democracy. Combining it with the fact that the old regimes didn't work anymore, where do people turned to? Democracy.

184:

The bicycle, as we know it, depends on decent streets. When I was growing up in the country bicycles weren't used, the country was flat, but the roads weren't good enough.

OTOH, decent bicycle streets don't require anything like the maintenance of streets that handle heavier traffic. Any well run government can ensure that they are built and maintained. But there are groups that have different goals. If "property rights" are sufficiently enhanced, then maintenance of ANY streets will be purely local.

So the bicycle won't be lost globally, but it could be lost in various locales, for various different reasons. (Also the modern bicycle is a high-tech assembly. The one that survives a strong economic collapse is likely to be a much more primitive affair. Even tires become dubious.)

P.S.: Yes, the designs for technologies to avoid, or at least ameliorate, these problems exist. But things take time to build, and I'm not convinced that sufficient lead time will be available. Some places might prepare sufficiently, but I consider it quite unlikely that everywhere would. Those who benefit from the status quo will prefer to maintain it as long as possible.

185:

The problem with nitrogen is that getting it out of the air is energy intensive, whether it's done in a legume or in a fertilizer plant. We don't have any mineable sources left. Right now, nitrogen production depends on enormous inputs of cheap energy. When energy gets expensive, we produce less ammonium nitrate (for fertilizer and not-so-incidentally for the military industrial complex), and things get messy fairly quickly. A good chunk (30-40%) of the human population depends entirely on artificially fixed nitrogen, and it's the majority of nitrogen in most of our bodies. Growing nothing but legumes won't begin to make up the short-fall.

This is the nasty part of any energy crisis: an energy crisis is also a nitrate production crisis. If people don't prepare, it means both famine and the loss of ability to wage war. It would help if we got real good, real fast at recycling our sewage, but that won't entirely make up the shortfall.

The rare earths thing will be interesting in the short run. I've been following it a bit, and it's not entirely clear whether we'll have everything we want. Neodymium is one of the elements that's in high demand for the green industry (primarily for magnets in engines and turbines), and I'm not sure that the US has a good indigenous supply right now. Researchers are working hard on acceptable substitutes.

On phosphorus, in the short run you're correct: it's a problem now, because the only big deposits left are in Morocco. The slightly bigger problem is that for about 3-5 decades, crop breeders have been breeding for crops that respond well to fertilizer application, meaning they're non-mycorrhizal and fertilizer hogs. There are plenty of more efficient crops out there (mycorrhizal land races, cultivars from before 1940, etc.), but they're less productive per acre. If we can get our sewage clean enough to put on fields, we can also recycle a huge amount of phosphorus, just as we used to do. The nice thing here is that we can make large gains in phosphorus efficiency without rebuilding civilization.

Phosphorus is an easier problem than nitrogen, because it doesn't normally turn into a gas. Nitrogen can also be recycled from sewage (something we should also be doing big-time), but some of it is always outgassed during recycling, so you need to have a fair amount input into the system through nitrogen fixation.

186:

Steampunk: normally considered an alternative-history trope, but what will post-oil industrial design look like, as we revisit some of the low-energy technologies of yesteryear? Container ships with sails and carbon-fibre masts and a few nods to the Glorious Age of Sail? Locomotives that look like the coal-belching monsters of yesteryear if you don't focus on the little trefoils? Fashion might deliberately go for the nostalgia-heartstrings, especially if there are things to distract folk from.

Post-oil: the maps of who has oil, who uses it, and who has military strength don't all line up, and as it becomes clear there's not enough for everyone and will be even less in a few years, some countries (I'm thinking of Japan as an example) will be cut right off, go through major problems, but then be in the leading edge of post-oil tech while others are hanging onto the old tech. Wars over the stuff are likely. North America "letting" the enviros keep the Alberta oil sands and the ANWR oil in the ground until overseas is exhausted might look like wise energy management in the rearview mirror. And if someone else is forced to develop post-oil tech sooner and deal with the false branches, those who can delay and adopt the tech later can step into something more mature. It won't be a pretty transition.

Electric cars: I'm picturing a system where the electric battery gets you as far as the local monorail station, where your passenger compartment goes zooming to the destination station while the battery stays behind on recharger.

187:

I don't know how completely the UK has been sold on car-based life, but here in suburban USA, my nearest food store is four miles away.

My nearest food store is four doors away from my front door (less than 40 metres). Within just one kilometre's radius covers at least four medium-large supermarkets, a dozen smaller ones, and numerous specialist food stores (half a dozen asian groceries and an asian supermarket, three chinese/oriental supermarkets, two or three organic/wholefood stores, and so on). A four mile radius would encompass 80% of the population of a major city, and all associated amenities (multiple railway stations and bus depots, city hall, parliament building, national monument ...)

The UK population is over 70% city-based, for values of "city based" that correspond to "dense urban" in American terms (US "suburbs" would qualify as open countryside over here).

188:

Can't you just take a cart and walk 4 miles? You'll only have to do it like once a week. Plus it's good for your health.

189:

There's probably no sidewalk (meaning: towing a hand cart along the side of a road used by SUV drivers who are busy texting). And at some point in the year, either it'll be two metres deep in snow, or (at a different point in the calendar) over 40 celsius.

That's the trouble with suburban development, American style -- it's reliant on cheap energy, without which it is not fault tolerant.

190:

Charlie, how about you write a fantasy? But MY definition of fantasy, that is: story that takes place in the world that have magic. Where MY definition of magic is: anything that can't be researched by the scientific method.

191:

We are assuming a world with no cars - so you can walk on the road. In the winter you use a sled and warm clothing, and in the summer you put on a hat and take a couple of bottles of water with you. Come on, our ancestors used to run under the sun all day _naked_. Some natives still do. 4 miles to the store is nothing, especially when you are hungry.

192:

Er, yes, and no.

Yes, Einstein did do the paper that predicted coherent stimulated emission, in 1917, as I alluded above, and no-one that I know of saw the implications until the maser came along.

Yes, lasers make terrible ray-guns. But, until lasers came along, radiative (as opposed to particle-beam) energy weapons were considered impossible — violated the second law of thermodynamics. But anyone who has seen a laser cut through a 1 cm steel plate in under a second won't dismiss them out-of-hand. Give me enough power, and I'll zap a world.

Yes, you can send massive amount of data over copper — our home network is gigabit ethernet. Any communications medium that can reliably carry data can be ramped up to carry any data rate, as long as you are willing to add infrastructure. But an internet inexpensive enough to let me post comments on server in the UK for essentially zero marginal costs isn't going to happen on an all-copper backbone. While a communications network could (and can) be done without fiber and lasers (or the equivalent, using unobtainium technology), the Internet (as we know and love it) could not.

As to the collapse of monarchies and of absolutism in the 20th century, a definite surprise. But one that might have been predicted on two ideas: (1) free people tend to be more productive (hence, wealthier) than those held in bondage; and (2) wealthier people are harder to hold in bondage than poorer people. May Ghu save our liberties if the standard of living declines too much!

193:

That's actually an idea that's sitting on the back-burner. (Trouble is, re-inventing fantasy is a tall order. Because I don't want to churn out a classic swords'n'sorcery yarn, a high fantasy, urban fantasy, or anything instantly pigeonholeable.)

NB: While disagreeing fundamentally with his ideology (as much as I can see of it, filtered through a ridiculously unreliable narrator), I vastly admire Gene Wolfe's book of the new sun. But that's not exactly fantasy, for all that it has some of the superficial trappings of the genre ...

194:

I think the big surprise of the 21st century will be just how far the powers-that-be will go to protect artificial scarcity, the metered services model (water, power, information, etc.,) and the link between work and not-starving. I expect that by 2030 or so things will get positively ugly. It's not hard to imagine a full-blown war. Unfortunately, it will probably be a civil war in multiple nation-states at once, with some really ugly inventions and atrocities.

The big surprise of the 21st century... that's a little harder...

195:

I think the big surprise of the 21st century will be just how far the powers-that-be will go to protect artificial scarcity, the metered services model (water, power, information, etc.,) and the link between work and not-starving.

Have you re-read Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano" recently?

This wasn't a surprise in the early 1950s. Although it's astonishing how little influence that novel has had since the Reagan/Thatcher revolution.

196:

Charlie, you could write a fantasy set in a post-technological world. Nanotech has been subsumed into the vegetable kingdom, for example, and information processing is set into little animal robots which act as familiars - that kind of thing. I suppose you could call it the "Singularity as a Garden" model. Add to that a point system where players earn "mojo" by fixing problems and you've got a standard fantasy setting. Since this is essentially a gaming system, what happens when two such systems run on different rule sets collide?

I also like the idea of the Orcs as liberal democrats who have been cursed by magic for their opposition to the nobility.

197:

Boy busy thread:
1: Bicycles is not so much a subset of geography but a subset of people. They work fine for some people in hilly areas (take San Francisco as an example) and work even better once you build assistance into them (electric or gas) but agree they only work for very healthy adults

2: Charlie if you don't want to self publish but you don't want to do the publishing work/typesetting/cover art etc, the going rate to offload that seems to be < $1000. (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/guest-post-by-john-locke.html)

3: I also have several grocery stores within easy walking, and I am an American. It's really the suburbs that are the problem

198:

sorry it ate my formatting

2: Charlie if you want to self publish but you don't want to do the publishing work/typesetting/cover art etc, the going rate to offload that seems to be seems to be less then $1000 a book

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/guest-post-by-john-locke.html

199:

Do you realize it is a very old idea? Magic-as-forgotten-technology is passe. And it probably wasn't good the first time it was done...

200:

Actually, it costs a good bit more than US $1000 if you want to do the job properly and not cut corners. More to the point, doing everything in the book production pipeline takes roughly 160-320 working hours, i.e. 1-2 months of person-time, if you're a proper publisher. Yes, some of that is going to be dispensible if you do it yourself; but I see no reason why doing it myself would require less time for checking copy edits and page proofs, for example.

However, ebooks are heading towards 15-20% of the book market this year. Sounds good? Well, not so good if you think in terms of the other 80-85% of the market that I'd be waving bye-bye to. Yes, I could probably earn as much as I'm taking today by switching to 100% ebook and self-publishing (given that I already have a following) but I suspect I'd find it harder to grow my fan base. And I don't write solely to earn a living -- if I was primarily motivated by money I'd have gone into investment banking or cocaine wholesaling or something equally ethical. Ultimately, I want to maximize both my income and my audience -- or find an optimal trade-off between the two (whereby I earn enough to live comfortably while maximizing my readership).

Ebooks will not enable me to do that. Yet. (But you might want to bear in mind that I've been keeping a close eye on the field for nearly 15 years now, and if the New York and London publishing industry evaporated tomorrow I know exactly what I'd be doing.)

201:

I actually re-read it a couple years ago, but that particular book is not quite what I'm talking about. Vonnegut didn't like mechanization, and the book is an argument for human dignity in the face of a mechanistic society.

What I'm imagining is something a little different - maybe even the opposite - essentially a gigantic corporate attack against things like 3D printers, CNC programs that can be used by a non-specialist, DIY electronics, off-the-grid energy generation, FOSS, etc... in other words, all the things that could be used to withdraw from our increasingly noxious, disturbing corporate society and still live a middle-class (or better) life.

When the upper classes realize the full impact of a person being able to solarize their own house, (which was built with plans from the Free Architecture Society, out of the dirt in their yard) use that solar power to run a 3D printer that can create thousands of tools from open-source plans out of multiple materials (on a computer running a really secure operating system full of programs that nobody paid for) I expect that the rich will unite to throw a spoiled tantrum of truly epic proportions. That will be a very interesting war. You've touched the edges of this idea, of course, but it hasn't been the foundation of a book.

202:

Have you considered the possibility of writing more "Social/Economic" SF? In the Merchant Princes series, you examined the social and economic effects of introducing advanced technology to societies with primitive political systems. Maybe you'd like to examine and extrapolate current economic trends. The stories needn't be set in the future. The tropes of alternate worlds, isolated colonies or even outright fantastic situations could be used to illustrate the point you want to make.

You seem to have an aptitude for it, and this is not an area done well by other SF writers. There's a tendency for authors to drape their favorite political view over the changes wrought by technological trends, or go to the complete opposite and draw a dystopian picture of a world gone to hell--which, when you think about it, is really just a version of the old "there-are-some-things-man-is-not-meant-to know" trope. There seems to be room for a more nuanced approach.

And, if you feel you're out of your depth on the economic side of things and need someone to bounce ideas off, I suspect that if you wrote a letter to a Paul Krugman, he would predisposed to help you.

203:

I cannot speak to cutting corners but I did buy one of John' Locke's books just now to check it out (it's only $0.99 after all) and it does look a little funny on my ipad 2. The cover art does not come through correctly as a thumbnail for one thing. No table of contents. The pages look fine though. It's probably massively optimized for kindle readers.

Your 160-320 working hours is to create a book which can be printed, with all that goes along with that. From everything I know the amount of hours to create an ebook is significantly less. There is still the editing though

It's too bad that you have to be one or the other though, giving up your current arrangement is pretty negative.

Not sure how your contracts work. Is there any middle ground?

204:

No, my 160-320 hours is to create an ebook or a print book. There's no functional difference between the two, these days -- I'd be using my pet in-house Adobe InDesign driver to do either or both.

205:

Trying to figure out what software these Telemachus people use.

They seem to go through a 3rd party called "smashwords" which seems to have built a proprietary tech called "Meatgrinder". They likely outsources stuff overseas as well.

http://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq

206:

/fat_troll

Can't you just sell a .txt file?

207:

This 3D printer you imagine is impossible. You can't use plastic tools. And you can't print steel.

208:

An awful lot of you readers (including me) seem to want space opera, so…

As you don't want aliens, how about setting it so far in the future that humans have differentiated into separate species. This would fit with a slower-than-light expansion into the galaxy using "cities in flight". Not actually generation ships – I can't believe we'll have the technology for interstellar travel before we solve the cancer/geriatric problem – but non-ageing humans going to the stars. Of course this means much less genetic drift, but there will be a human half-life based on accidental deaths. And they'll leave Earth with the technology to modify their own dna. Such physical changes, propagated throughout the population (like fashions?), will change ways of thought as well. So you have a galaxy populated by different species (btw have you seen "Man after Man" by Dougal Dixon?) – but similar enough to do the Star Trek thing. Protagonists could be "reefer sleep" crews a la Alastair Reynolds.
Gives you verrry slow space opera, realistic first contact, and you could poke fun at various memes from the 21st century fossilised in the culture/species. (These may of course be the reason the original colonists left Earth.)

On a related point, I know that you have no control over the format in which your books are published, but if enough of us complain maybe your publishers will take note. I really, really hate the 4x4, forest-destroying, mega-paperback size in which Rule 34 has been published. Apart from anything else, it won't fit on the same shelf as the rest of your books. I'm actually going to wait until a smaller version is published before I buy it! If Orbit want to squeeze more cash out of fans who can't wait to get their hands on the latest tome, they could do a normal sized book with a special limited edition cover (embossed gold, 3-d, real human skin, whatever) and charge a massive premium for it – I'd actually pay for that!

209:

A sequel (direct or spiritual) to "A colder kind of war". Words can't describe how much that story rocked.

211:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9VOwqtOglg

You need a plant for this. Good luck printing steel at home.

212:

Well, we May lose the individually owned motor car -of the Sports Utility variety ?- but there are a hell of a lot of them hereabouts in my narrow street in a 'Leafy Suburbs ' high net worth individual' Planet Middle Class region of the north east of England. In major cities then, maybe, a gradual replacement of Petrol Head Power Mobiles by Something Else may be Possible.

Mind you I can't see the Scots Police Force cruising around Edinburgh on Segway scooters, even in the near future reach of " Rule 34 ". A copper on a Segway would look and feel .. SILLY so, in my 'umble opinion, it would never happen. But,but, This, Maybe ?...

http://psipunk.com/honda-rogue-futuristic-segway-based-vehicle-by-jon-degorsky/

Especially if it were remote controlled with the 'driver ' in vehicle in control only as Emergency Override extreme exception. I'd buy one if it weren't too expensive and IF it were separated from all Heavy Goods Vehicle transport lanes.A few years ago I encountered an accident on Wearmouth Bridge in which a light car full of Chinese students - who were studying at the local university- was caught between a bus and a heavy delivery vehicle.. a long way to come to die.

Cop vehicles would have an automatic by-pass over civilian vehicles- that would need to be justified after the event, with HEAVY financial and career progression penalties for miss-use of the over-ride.I can see that happening in ,say, 30 years time and .... So ?..a Political Thriller based upon this transport revolution?

" A political thriller is a thriller that is set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. They usually involve various extra-legal plots, designed to give political power to someone, while his opponents try to stop him. They can involve national or international political scenarios. Political corruption, terrorism, and warfare are common scenarios. Normally the political party in power has ulterior motives and often will wish for total Facist control and will work alone or with a shadow cabinet. Exceptions to this rule includes The Manchurian Candidate (2004 film), where the political character is influenced unwillingly, and Vantage Point, an assassination based political thriller, which became more popular after the assassination of John F Kennedy."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_thriller

213:

But it ended with Cthulhu eating everyone. What kind of sequel do you expect?

214:

... and what would I use to pay for my food? My job is in and around a semiconductor manufacturing plant, and its supply lines would be gone if cars were gone.


Speaking of supply lines, if a disruption happened that was major enough to disrupt Big Pharma's supply lines in my nation, we'd have a hundred million people coming off their anti-depressant prescriptions, pretty much ALL AT ONCE.

215:

I bought _Rule 34_ in hardcover.

Tho I'm in severely reduced circumstances from earlier decades when I could go to, say, Yale's bookstore and drop $300 in one trip, I still believe in authors' and artists' Getting Paid. So this year, Charlie made it to my short "Buy in hardcover at full retail price" authors list, bumping off William Gibson.

216:

Well, let's hope trucks and buses are still around. Oil won't all just disappear, it will be just too expensive to use a private car. So you'll walk miles in a snow to the bus station and back (uphill both ways).

217:

how about a bit of 'day after judgement'
cthulu and friends show up, generally approve of what their pets have become.. and use us to go on the conquer around the galaxy..
'pack up your soldiers General, they are needed'
the squid thing in the corner of the generals room fixed him with its single, pupiless eye.
'sir, yes sir!'

218:

You wouldn't be in the market for a full-time, live-in sysadmin, would you?

I pine for my old city-based life. I used to have this sweet efficiency in downtown DC ...

Ah, well. Enough about my bad choices.

219:

At the semiconductor plant, there's a lot of "just in time" part replacement that makes heavy use of private cars (including mine ... I'm sort of a glorified sneakernet among sites that are six miles apart.)

It's similar to Wallmart's "warehouse on wheels" model that James Howard Kuntsler ridicules so deliciously.

220:

When I read your stuff, what I really enjoy is you asking "what if" questions and then really hammering out some crazy, unexpected details. So I'm thinking about this question in terms of good "what if" questions.

I was going to say "what if we meet, or make, some really alien entities", thinking of Moties and Blindsight; but then again I suspect that is what you were up to in Rule 34 and the later parts of Accelerando. Still, I suppose I'd like a story written from the perspective of something really cognitively different from a human in a fundamental way, because there are fun details to be hammered out from such a story. Maybe a Laundry story where the terrible Lovecraftian monster is one of the good guys?

How about "what if the American Republicans aren't the last gasp of a crazy generation, but the next big trend?" What if similar movements develop, and gain political power, in Europe? Sort of depressing and been done a lot in various ways, I suppose.

Here's another way into pseudofantasy; what if Gini coefficients continue to get a lot worse, and at the same time we develop fast bioengineering, cheap energy sources, and self-writing software? (Ans; wizards! Bored already).

You know, I think you've been coming up with novel ideas longer than I have. What's something you really want to write, but makes Tor gibber and hide under the bed?

222:

I guess it's just what you're used to. I've never bought hardbacks - that was something only posh people did when I was younger. And also, by the time I've decided I like an author enough to splash that sort of cash, I've already got a shelf full of paperbacks (often received as presents) which I want to match to.

223:

You can't print a hammer, but you can print a handle. You can't print a good chef's knife, but you can print ladles, measuring cups, forks, spoons, etc. Hard plastic floor tiles? No prob. Plastic hoe? Plastic trowel? No problem for most of the tasks I'd be involved with. Lost a button? Print one up.

Add a kiln (which could be very simple since it only needs to harden one type of clay) and print with ceramics and now you've handled everything for which there isn't an absolute need for metal; bricks, tiles, pots, plumbing, and molds for metal.

DIY isn't for everyone, but in the hands of a determined person it replaces 80-90% of the stuff in your house.

224:

This one just came to me out of the blue...I'm not sure if it would make a novel (or even a short story) rather than a TV show script; but the idea is a blend of the present rash of 'reality' TV shows on junk auctions, storage units, restoration etc combined with a dark urban fantasy setting (or even a sci-fi one).

225:

Energy, or lack of it is not THE problem - yes it's a challenge but the science is well understood and is well understood by the people facing up to the challenge. What is needed is the equivalent of Maxwell's demon for finance - the simple narrative that immunises 'the smartest guys in the room' from catching whatever new variant of 'guaranteed vast profits with no risk' delusion the snake-oil salesmen brew up next.
The science here is pretty well understood - see the Limits of Growth.
So convincing economies would make a really good area for SF to explore - there's lots of potential. What are the implications of a society that develops the economical tools to achieve low level continuous non-turbulent growth? Would you have to ration disruptive technologies? Would the desperate to get filthy rich quick end of the gene pool form a militant underground? ...

226:

There is something which I tend to think of as British SF, where John Brunner's The Long Result is a good example, and Pavane squeezes in. More of that, please.

227:

Hmm, now that's an idea for a series - Victorian Scientist pre-invents everything important.

Hmm, shame that Roger Curry has done it there already.

228:

Thanks to Barnes & Noble and Amazon's self-publishing ebook authors I've seen what happens when you leave it up to the author entirely.... :)

229:

Tp1024@143. The US currently gets a substantial amount of its oil from the filthiest source conceivable, Alberta’s oil sands. We are now pushing hard to use fracked “natural” with chemicals which will - in spite of protestations to the contrary - wreak havoc with our fresh water sources.

To all the excellent comments on the subject of economic collapse in the developed and developing world; if everyone is bankrupt, what does bankruptcy mean? I understand that banks and nations going belly up is very bad. But, after much pain, we will probably develop a system to replace the bankrupt memes of both capitalism and socialism.

A personal note about Segways; I’ve ridden them and seen them on sidewalks. Dean Kamen may be one of the great inventors of our time but, that such a genius would spend so much time on as useless an invention as the Segway continues to stun me. It seems that context meant nothing to him. A fast walker could probably average around 6-7 kph. A Segway can go about 20 kph. In the hands of an average careless person, a Segway can wreak havoc on pedestrians. Put it on a street, and it will wreak havoc with traffic. In an ideal world we could build barricaded lanes for Segways. But, wouldn’t it be smarter to build them for bicycles? Any U.S. city would benefit from barricaded bike lanes.

Nobody benefits from Segways

230:

Land reform is one of those things I cringe at. Granted, the land was often acquired unjustly and the owners have abused their position to reach such a point of popular unrest. However, turning a large portion of your population in to subsistence level farmers is just asking for problems. And that's assuming the land isn't just handed out to the cronies of the new political class.

In terms of both social justice and raising the population out of poverty it is better just to let the wealthy landowners keep the land. Raise the taxes on them (not to break or punish them though), and use the revenue to help the landless poor. They might think they want the land, but nowhere has a wealthy modern country been built on small farmers today.

231:

We also have to consider the effect of the internet in a peak oil scenario. What if telecommuting and teleprocessing via robotics eliminates the need for commuting? Or even reduces it to the point where you only go into the office once a month?

Shopping is also impacted by the internet. It is more efficient for people to have goods delivered to their door by a large delivery truck than for everyone to take a car back and forth to a store. And it would be easier to upgrade a freight fleet to a new petroleum-free system than everyone's private car. Biodiesel, for example, or natural gas.

232:

Living in the Northeast, I can say that American homes up here are extremely inefficient. Many of them were built over 50 years ago, and not significantly upgraded. Oil heat is still very common, which isn't the best method of warming a home. On top of that, in the summer most homes have window-unit AC, which is very inefficient.

In contrast many of the newer homes built in the South and West were designed to be energy efficient. Central AC and electric heat with better insulation and windows.

233:

The US is also the main country building solar-thermal power systems. No need for rare earths, just mirrors and water or air.

234:

Zoning is an issue in a lot of US cities and towns. Planners have intentionally kept businesses out of residential areas. Remove the zoning and businesses will move closer to customers if there is a demand for it.

235:

Charlie said "many developing world grass-roots political movements were overtly socialist because the first concern of peasants is land reform, i.e. kicking out feudal land-owners."

Note the word "peasants". They're already (still) farmers, often subsistence ones. Land reform means they own the land they work rather than paying rent to a parasitic landlord.

Now, a land reform that sought to re-ruralize the urban poor, that wouldn't be so good. Though you could still distribute land rights, and let the big efficient farmers pay rent to the small landholders. Probably more efficient to have a land tax and basic income based on that, but there might be cases where individual title was politically more robust or plausible.

236:

The Baroque Cycle wrote about the birth of the modern industrial nation state (the birth of science, financing, politics, industry,trade, etc.).

It could be argued that the centralized nation state is a product of an industrial economy, starting with England's Glorious revolution, proceeding through the French revolution and coming toe full fruition under Lincoln in America and Bismark in Germany. The world is long past the industrial age, and in this post-industrial age the centralized nation state may be obsolete.

So write the anti-Baroque Cycle.

Create a future history story about the slow devolution of centralized government, economies banking, industry, etc. Portray through your characters' adventures the collapse of the EU, the dissolution of America into regional state groupings and China devolving back into regional warlord states. Throw in the effects of peak oil, end of globalization and aging populations.

"This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper."

237:

There's an interesting side to land reform that I hadn't considered until I read Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.

The problem is that, for generations, there has been a rural brain drain into the cities (think of Dilbert as Farmer John's son). People can argue about the reasons, but the end result is that there are relatively few really clever farmers, and a number of not-so-bright farmers blindly doing what Big Ag tells them to do, horribly in debt and hating their lives. When rural towns shrink and rural schools close, this is what's happening.

This is a problem, because some clever farmers (Joel Salatin, for example), have demonstrated conclusively that sustainable organic farming with minimal inputs is quite workable as a family business, and it can be used to regenerate heavily degraded farmlands. The problem is that all Mr. Salatin's knowledge is bound up in his particular farm, and it doesn't travel well. To copy him, you have to grow up on a farm somewhere and learn all its peculiarities, in order to run it sustainably.

Many of the problems we see with modern agribusiness would go away if we got many more smart people to take up farming again. Obviously, you can't simply pick up Joe Urban Wageslave and put him on a farm (as demonstrated by Mao and Pol Pot, among others). However, a back-to-the-land movement could do a lot of good, at least for people who have some knack for raising plants and animals. While few of us really want to farm (yes SoV, it's a lot of work), learning to garden isn't a bad idea.

238:

Or how about a space opera that doesn't break the rules of physics?

No FTL travel, but nuclear engines capable of taking crews and colonists to terraformed (and paraterraformed) worlds, artificial worlds built on comets and asteroids, brown dwarfs by the dozens beyond Pluto generating enough heat to have orbiting moons in habitable zones (and infrared based photosynthesis life forms.

No aliens with pointy ears and bumpy foreheads, but genetically modified humans and uplifted animals to provide enough intelligent species to fill a Federation.

Realistic space weaponry and warfare, using lasers not phasers.

Etc.

239:

Rick, I think you missed out on the juiciest bit of that story:

The US is getting lots of oil derived, barrel for barrel, by strip-mining Canadian boreal forest and tundra and turning it into a moonscape ... but at the same time US environmentalists protest drilling for oil in Alaska because of the odd chance to spill a bit of the stuff on a few acres of permafrost ground.

I mean, not that I would approve of the latter ... but damn it, it is a whole lot better than the Canadian solution, which has the only "advantage" of not spoiling United States soil (who cares about Canada anyway) - you gotta wonder what people's priorities are these days.

240:

I'm probably way to late, and somebody mentioned it in passing above. But I'd love a book about a future where AI made a centrally planned economy more efficient than the market. Partly because it would be interesting and partly because it would annoy the right sort of people.

241:

Accelerando, Chapter 2, if I'm not mistaken.

242:

sffgeek wrote:

As you don't want aliens, how about setting it so far in the future that humans have differentiated into separate species.

This is extremely difficult to do without coming off as racist. Very few people have done it well. Even if you avoid the caricature of noble Eloi and base Morlocks, there is still the danger of attributing mental, moral or social attributes to genetic engineering in an echo of current or past racist stereotypes. Not a good road to walk.

243:

Both Cordwainer Smith and C. S. Friedman have done that fairly well, I think. (For Friedman, I am referring to This Alien Shore.)

(It's not clear in either case that they're different species, genetically, but given the definition for speciation at the time for Smith, they certainly were. And that definition was still the main working one for Friedman.)

244:

A few thoughts:

An alternate history centering on a different Soviet Union, which survives until 2011 and remains an ideological challenge to ultra-capitalism

Not a direct sequel to "A Colder War", but other stories of that type: cosmic horror and Lovecraftian beasties in a "real-world" setting (Clarke's Law yadda yadda, but there is a lot of stuff in in the Bob Howard series I find a bit _too_ indistinguishable from magic. Did like the latest book a lot all the same.)

Alternate history with inter-timeline travel, like the "Clan Corporate" series, but long after travel between paralells has become both common knowledge and commonplace: perhaps a criminal investigation in a city that stretches across a dozen different histories...

A story set in what you would consider a plausible post-oil and post-warming setting, say around 2100: what do you think the world will look like once we've gotten past the present Era of Stupid?

245:

How about the flip side of the summonings in The Laundry novels (and standard daemonology)? What happens if some creatures somewhere start summoning us? What if they're summoning us because we have access to, say, Wikipedia?

246:

One of the big things with fantasy is creating the world. The standard tropes that you cite are sort of ways to cut corners, using premade templates and adjusting a few settings.

To really do a new fantasy you'd have to define the fantastic within your world. What is magic, how common is it, what are the limitations, are there magical creatures, etc. Once you have that, you then have to figure out how all of history would be affected by the rules you've created.

You end up with very different worlds, and consequently different stories, if anyone can recite a few words and cast a fireball, vs. random and chaotic miraculous happenings.

247:

I do not presume to tell you what you should write but this strikes me a nice place to start:

chickens, Thatcherism, murder, Hayek, pirate radio, rock and roll and think tanks.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2011/09/the_curse_of_tina.html

A particularly nice formulation of why neoclassical (post Hayek) economics is so similar to linear programming and so cybernetics. The pirate radio part is mind boggling...and of course the chickens and mad Col. (Maj.) Blimps...

See also Duncan Foley, Adam's Fallacy and Phil Mirowski's Machine Dreams.....and maybe some more of the Elder Gods, for laughs.

248:

This is selective. There are dozens of people currently being arrested in front of the White house for protesting against Canadian oil sands. There are several major protest movements in Canada as well. Right now, of course, they are losing. But that might not last forever.

249:

There's a major elephant in the room that I'd love to see you tackle - the continuing existence of a reasonable number of nuclear weapons. We've a well-founded taboo about their use and no-one has kicked one off since 1945, but as soon as someone does, the world will change, and change dramatically.

I think that we've the shared common sense not to get into a 1960s style insensate spasm of a civilisation-ending global war, but there's a non-dismissable chance of: a) the use of a terrorist nuke on a Western capital city, or b) a regional war between minor powers, with hundreds of nukes used. Either option will make life interesting.

250:

I want to read something you're excited abou writing.

Simple as that.

251:

3 ideas here:
1) an Ace Double-type book, two novellas / novellettes. Your post on long books caused me to reassess the length of SciFi I read.
(Of course, I'm currently reading The Quantum Thief, whose first 50 pages have more ideas than most novels)

2) I'd love to see something like Erik Frank Russell's "Sentinels from Space" or "Three To Conquer".

Three To Conquer is a near-modern-day thriller, with minimal tech mentioned, and with a mystery at its core. The only telepath, hunting down a killer. Which turns out to be much more. Character based mystery/thriller against an Other, with one or two changes off from the current-day baseline. (Sentinels from Space is none of that, but IMHO I love how the different plot threads combine)

And while I love EFR's sense of humor, and he's apparently known for being a "light"/"fluffy" author, this is pretty much a straight ahead action/thriller.

3) I'd also dig something like Daniel Keys Moran's "The Long Run", which is essentially a gigantic Chase Scene with one of the most charismatic thieves in Sci Fi. No idea how to approach that, but damn if it and its sequel aren't books of the finish-reading-and-immediately-reread variety. Jumps from clever scene to clever heist to clever scene to clever heist.

252:

I would love to read a book of yours that tackled the sociopolitical shift to the right that the developed world has been experiencing for the last 30 years, and investigated what kind of consequences these policies may have on those societies in the near future.

As someone who has grown up in the 90s and is fascinated by the history of the 20th Century, it really befuddles me that huge parts of the Developed World's population has suddenly decided to throw away most of the 20th century's social conquests, as, for example, the fraction of the U.S.A's population that wants to throw away social security and thinks "socialized healthcare" is a monstrous thing.

To me, it seems painfully obvious that right wing governments only lead to increased income inequality, economic downturns, repression, and, in some cases, completely absurd wars (ie, Iraq). History has made clear that the ones who benefit from rightist governments are the rich and the corrupt, and yet they get elected, time and time again.

Charlie, you are one of the few leftists science fiction writers that I know of in a genre where many expoents are affiliated to right wing extremism (Orson Scott Card, Heinlein)and I would love to see your take on the consequence of right wing policies to the next generations.

(as usual, apologies for any grammars mistakes - I find that writing on a language that is not someone's first is an exercise in mental contortionism)

253:

Are we allowed to pick from the list of "Books Charlie will not write"? Because I'm very partial to book #1 in that series (the dieselpunk British Empire).

I admit I fast-scrolled through the last third of the comments, so this may have been mentioned up-thread, but have you considered a kick-starter fund? Set the goal at your normal advance or whatever, to enable you to write the thing without worrying about putting food on the table, and early subscribers get signed editions, personal phone calls, or dinner, depending on the amount pledged.

254:

Remembering back to the discussion on 'important' books, and how importance is relative to the impact on the wider world, not literati, I'd suggest that Charlie aim to write an 'important' book - one that shapes and direct thought along new lines and helps to have a positive effect on shaping society.

So, Charlie, a thought leadership book? Up to that challenge?

255:

Well, what would be the current and near-future equivalent of Heinlein's juveniles (as opposed to his juvenals)?, a decision I am given to understand was shaped by both economics (school libraries?) and the desire to rough-hew young minds.

Video games? Writing for text-based fantasy games? I'm working on tech designed to change people, but only in the wsys beneficial to my masters....

256:

UGH. Did you have to drop that name? I just lost 15 minutes of my life and a billion brain cells checking Kuntsler's blog.

257:

Would like to read the "misconcepted alternate present" novel.

258:

What's up with all the horrors in this thread? Why do everyone want Charlie to write post-apocalyptic stuff?

259:

Isn't that - the anti-Baroque-Cycle, showing the disolution of the nation state in a thoroughly globalised informational capitalism - the standard background setting for much of cyberpunk (from Snowcrash and A Young Lady's primer to Neuromancer et al.)?

260:

Schismatrix?

261:

@ 200
YES!

I've got this problem RIGHT NOW.
I put a new nVIDIA card into this machine... and about a week later I lost "red" on the screen.
If you disconnect, red shows up, so it is inside the box. If I put the old card back in (for a short time - the fan's f'd ) it shows "no red" as well.
A new computer costs £300+. a new motherboard about £120 .. but WHICH ONE?
How can I fix this cheaply without being ripped off?
It's a con, I tell you.

"The rich" in the USA might throw that tantrum, but, in Europe and the UK?
Might happen in Russia, though - interesting idea.

heteromeles @ 235
Also ALLOTMENT HOLDERS (like me) you'd be suprised how much food you can grow on a plot 10x30metres!
Provided you have a garuanteed electical power-supply (for the freezer) you can easily feed yourself, on vegetables, at least.

Jez @ 247
Yes Pakistan gets wiped off the face of the planet, India v. badly damaged...
Or some other rligious loonie decides that getting all their own people killed doesnt matter, provided the "millenium/prophet/jubilee" comes.
Uggg.

Jack @ 250
Not quite.
Heinlein was a patriot, but he wasn't unthinking, nor that right-wing - ever read "Double Star" ??.
Card is a bloody Moron Mormon!
And the "left" hasn't done too well either - their body-count is pretty bad (Charlie mentione Mao & Pol Pot).
We need a new political system, that's obvious.

262:

Ford. Toyota etc will not object one bit. A taxi can rack up 200,000 miles in a few years, that means either more expensive cars that can hold up to the stress (though an AI would probably do a fair bit less damage than a human driver), or they get to sell a lot of replacement engines. Either way, the super cheap used cars they have to compete with now are going away.

263:

How about a book completely from an AI:s perspective. What kind of desires and dreams would an AI have ? What kind of instincts and subconcious behaviours ? What about AI sexuality, would it have that, would there be genders and procreation ? That would be very interesting to read about.

I think that most of the really interesting stuff you have written is when you cross over between genres, like in the laundry novels. How about a novel about the priest who finds science, or the reverse, a scientist who finds religion through their work in some field ? Or, a polarity reversal on Richard Dawkins ?


264:

The fundamental problem you're missing -- that everyone who wants me to go ebook only and kick out unedited manuscripts with shite cover icons as fast as I can write them ... is that they're not my market. They're a teeny tiny proportion of my market.

They just happen to be the most vocal subset of the market right now, and there's an implicit subtext in their fulminations against the traditional publishing industry which is "... and once you've sacked those overpaid shysters in their New York offices you can make as much money selling your books cheaper, to us!" (Trans: "I'm too cheap to pay list price for your work").

Ditching my publishers would not allow me to double my output. It would, at best, collapse the post-writing production cycle for my books down to 3 months from 12 months, so that a single book would come out nine months earlier. Thereafter, however, books would come out as fast as I write them, not on some magical high-speed production line. It would not enable me to write faster, and indeed would force me to slow up because I'd be taking time out to do all the post-writing stuff that I normally leave to my editor, copy editor, and proof readers because I'm lazy. Or it'd force me to turn into a manager, hire freelance editorial and production folks, and spend a chunk of my time riding herd on them to ensure they're doing their jobs.

Yes, I would make a buttload more money per ebook sold. On the other hand, I'd lose the buttload of money I currently make from dead tree books (which my publishers effectively produce and sell on my behalf).

Maybe when ebooks exceed 50% of my revenue stream it'll be worth revisiting the can of worms involved in doing it myself -- but not now.

265:

Dean Kamen may be one of the great inventors of our time but, that such a genius would spend so much time on as useless an invention as the Segway continues to stun me.... Nobody benefits from Segways.

During the Toronto Worldcon, I went to an exhibition that featured an entire room about the Segway and why Kamen was doing it. It's a toy, a deliberate toy, designed to test technologies and raise money for the real, less glamourous, much more useful project - a radical new wheelchair, that would be easier to use, could go more places and which took into account a lot of wheelchair users' complaints.

266:

So, Charlie, a thought leadership book? Up to that challenge?

That's the plan for "The Lambda Functionary" (which I'm due to write in 2013. (Near future, deals with politics the way that "Rule 34" dealt with criminology and "Halting State" dealt with artificial reality.)

First I have to do the mundane SF space opera ...

267:

-Kickstarter's for Americans only at this point

-The internet showed promise in the 90s as the definitive tool for self publishers, imho this has turned out not to be the case, and instead it's become a godsend for people who like to monetize other people's efforts, by legitimate or illegitimate ways.

-I spent a weekend at a remote village last week, and I really appreciated the unspoiled countryside in the are. The region is not abandoned, the fields are harvested but people don't need to live there full time (The few that do seem to be comfortable enough). I think the exodus to the cities isn't all that bad.

268:

Ah, but they're both data formats by then. Not that I actually know of anything in the works.

269:

Feòrag,

That was Clive Sinclair's idea with the C5 too.

Didn't work out too well then either.

270:

They show society after the Fall. The anti-Baroque series would describe the Fall itself.

271:

The iBot wheelchair actually worked, and looked like a great idea. Unfortunately, at US $21,000 per unit it didn't sell, and is effectively off the market.

Stuff it could do?

* Climb or descend stairs

* Raise the wheelchair occupant so that they're at face-to-face height with standing people

* Climb and descend kerbs and cover rough terrain, including fording water up to 10cm deep

* Tethered remote control, for parking or loading while unoccupied

The iBot was an amazing piece of kit. Unfortunately the one thing it needed to be, which it wasn't, was affordable.

272:

I quite enjoy reading military sci fi / space opera, a la scalzi, or enders game.

273:

You won't, however, get any of those things from me any time soon. (Ender's Game? Hate, hate, hate.)

274:

I just want to step up as one of those dead tree readers who can't foresee buying/using an e-reader any time soon. I read plenty on screen ( but it's all in one eye out the other ). I like my journal papers and quality stories on paper where I can remember them and enjoy them properly.

While I may be missing authors that only publish e-books, the current argument hasn't convinced me that I'm missing that much.

275:

Boy things are kinda gloomy now.

Charlie, you can all do us a favor of helping imagine a better (non-utopian, just more humane) future. Perhaps a novel with protagonists involved in a new political movement that eventually helps reform sclerotic Western democracies into something better.

Want realism but hopeful, want to imagine better political formations than what we've got now. Ala Rule 34, I want to see said movement believably portrayed in a context of climate change, emerging tech (including non-singularity expert system AIs, recommendation engines, search engines). Some ideas in Rule 34 can be explored more. Throw in some evil corporate baddies, fascists, and religious wackos to keep it exciting, not to mention strong debate and heart-felt backstabbing among the reformers.

Can have some limited space travel, since I don't think that a minor role for people (but mainly robots) in space is beyond feasibility. Though I'd have no idea how that could fit into a mainly Earth bound story.

276:

Charlie, you coud start a religion? I'd buy a copy of Strossanetics, and become a Science-Ologist.

277:

What scares you these days?

I find your writing most compelling when you're skirting the edges of bleakness - A Colder War, the non-comedy portions of the Laundry files, the dystopian aspects of Accelerando/Glasshouse. Reading the comments on this story, you're always nudging optimistic futurists back towards the middle of the bell curve of outcomes; what happens if we end up somewhere on the left-hand side?

I'm trying to leave this suggestion open-ended because I don't want to come across as one of the "post-apocalyptic setting leads to the triumph of $FAVORED_POLITICAL_PHILOSOPHY" crowd. Instead, I'm appealing to tone: pick a near/mid future outcome that scares you and the emotion will come through in the work.

278:

You write:
"Given self-driving vehicles and some sort of despatch mechanism we could make do with an order of magnitude fewer cars ... Of course, Ford, GM and Toyota might object"

I'm sure they would, but that isn't to say that they aren't going to be prepared. I remember a big policymaking conference back in 2001 where a senior Ford representative got up and mentioned that they were thinking of how they could move from being a carmaker to being a mobility provider. Huge difference between the two.

In a related vein, there are some interesting talks on TED (www.ted.com) about cities and where they're going. I saw recent talks by Alex Steffen and Geoffrey West yesterday. And of course, you're quite right that the key to much of our urban future lies in zoning (and town planning more generally). What you really want is for the goods and services that people use most often to fall within their home's ped-shed (a play on watershed, indicating easy walking distance).

279:

Been a long time since I read any Cordwainer Smith (I read Norstrillia and a few of his stories when I was a teenager) but I don't think he did avoid this pitfall. If his posthumans weren't Morlockian monsters, they were animal people falling into a curious anthropomorphised version of the "space jews" trope - where the animal species was a stand-in for some human stereotype - wise bird shamen etc.

Of your classic SF, I think Le Guin pulled this off best in her Hainish books, although it's worth noting that Le Guin has always made a conscious effort to be both sensible and progressive on the subject of race. (Read her comments on the whitewashing of adaptations of her Earthsea books, for example.)

280:

Charlie,

Have you seen these blog posts?

http://kriswrites.com/2011/04/13/the-business-rusch-royalty-statements/

and

http://kriswrites.com/2011/04/20/the-business-rusch-royalty-statements-update/

They are relevant to discussions about how well a hypothetical direct-to-eBook novel might do.

281:

Yes, I've seen them. They've been the subject of much discussion in the secret-water-cooler-mailing-list-for-working-SFF-authors that I hang out on.

TL;DR version: I don't believe there's deliberate fraud in ebook sales accounting going on at the big six. For one thing, standard book contract boilerplate includes clauses giving the author the right to audit the publisher, and awarding costs to the author if any significant discrepancy is uncovered. So by putting those accounts together with, say, the Bookscan figures (for actual copies sold at retail), it'd be fairly easy to prove that malfeasance was happening. For another thing, if it came to light it would cause a catastrophic loss of supplier goodwill (not to mention probably dragging in criminal investigators). In other words, it'd be commercial suicide.

282:

Moar Laundry(-eous) stuff
Moar A Colder War(-eous) stuff
Moar Antibodieses
Moar Missile Gapses
Moar Palimpsestses

Very kind of you, but isn't this Charlie's thread?

283:

Most of you that are UK based were probably force feed Charles Dickens wile at school...
...but since I read Bleak House I always thought that there was a satirical dystopic SciFi novel there waiting to get out.

I can imagine some really horrible future version of the Chancery court. The squalor and social upheaval could perhaps fit into a discussion of future emigration issues. The tongue in cheek description of characters would provide some light relief.

The question would be: What would be the secret in the past of our Lady Dedlock? Children out of wedlock would not carry over to SciFi.

284:

how about the rule 34 entity morphs into a sort of benevolent god?
you would even get people praying to it.. near a cashpoint, if you hadnt got enough to eat.. maybe youd have some money given you..

285:

I wasn't referring to the Underpeople, who are not human (although are people).

The humans in his series were varied. We only got to see a couple of them up close and personal (the Norstrilians and Terrans, of course). With one exception, they weren't particularly stereotyped, and they weren't treated as inhuman by other humans.

286:

Don't write a book, create a board game.

287:

What part of "earning a living" don't you get?

288:

Or a Laundry novel from another perspective, like Fleming's James Bond novel, "The Spy Who Loved Me"? That could be one of the people in Bob's circle, or even from the "other side".

289:

I agree. And when those electric versions start dying of bit rot, or be subjected to the data "Dark Age", the acid fee paper dead tree versions will still be readable.

290:

I know it is off-topic but: do you have contingency plan for the time when everyone have an e-reader and as a result people no longer _have_ to pay to read books?

And I mean a plan that allows you to keep writing, not the one where you say "screw it" and change a profession...

291:

You are missing the ability to read any book anywhere any time you want.

And no longer having to dust your books.

292:

I think the liquid battery concept has a lot of promise if the tech pans out. It occurs to me though that there is a lot of possibility for sabotage or just plain vandalism.

With the current gas station model the pumps only go one way. With the liquid battery exchange they'd need to pump the stuff out of your car into a charging tank. It seems like it'd probably be pretty easy to find some common substance that would pollute/ruin an entire supply of battery juice.

293:

Then of course there are naturally occurring lasers:
http://laserstars.org/news/MWC349.html

294:

I'd really like to see your take on some human superorganism. It's rarely done -- how a group sees itself versus how members of the group see themselves -- and even more rarely done in fiction (and when it is done at all in fiction, it's typically done along ant/bee lines, which is fairly tired: not all group minds are hives). I've been thinking a lot about the subject and how it relates to anonymity vs pseudonymity.

295:

Charlie seems to be adamant about not monetizing this blog, but if the dead tree industry keels over this site would be a good start at making a living exclusively online. Good search engine positioning, traffic, community, etc.

296:

An epic poem about a war between two separate factions of AIs.

297:

I can see the problems with both kinds of books - I've a failed hard drive, losing my local copy of Project Gutenberg (lucky it's free) (*), and I've recently discovered a ceiling leak has silently destroyed a whole shelf of books from the back. The books were double stacked and I've lost the rear half of that collection. Anyone want 20 years of mouldy, stinking, unreadable Analog?

(*) I know if they were Kindle books I'd be able to re-down them - but only for as long as the company exists.

298:

You know on a tangent but it was interesting to read that blog post about how the traditional publishers don't really know how many ebooks get sold.

My first though was "why don't they just tag them" since that is free?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_analytics#Page_tagging

Then I thought about it and realized the ereaders probably don't support full html includes yet. They will someday soon though.

I know Charlie has pretty strong feelings about privacy, but I wonder how useful an opt-in, fully anonymous behavioral analytics would be for authors?

Be able to tell where people stopped reading, what parts they skimmed over, what parts they re-read, most importantly where they bounced off the book entirely....

299:

@295

That is what cloud storage is for, like dropbox

I have all my ebooks on two different providers

@274 what acid free paper books are you referring to? Easton press is the only one I know of, very very limited selection

300:

E-books are small. You can easily create lots of back-ups, including burying a chest of DVDs in your backyard.

301:

A history of the now?

302:

One possibility might be the back story of the Glasshouse universe: the war, where Curious Yellow came from, who created it.

I'll be buying whatever you do write, but if it were my preferences, I'd like to see more Laundry and Halting State stories.


>If we need to build 1000 nuclear reactors in less than 10 years, it will be done.

@110, there is one company left in the world that makes the reactor vessels. These things are very thick (think 8-12 inches of rather special alloys of steel that don't get brittle when irradiated) and require very specialized construction techniques. That company has a 15 year lead-time.

Without turning this into a discussion about nuclear power (and politics), about the only reactor technology that stands a chance of getting close to that would be the CANDU designs. They don't use enriched uranium, so the other drawback - getting enough fuel enriched - won't be another bottleneck.

303:

I'm not sure I skipped it, but as far as I can see, there is still no comment from our gracious host on the "utopia in earnest" various people added to the wishlist. Charlie, even if you don't think an utopia would sell - I'm really curious what the matrix behind that would be for you for that. Maybe you can give us some kind of blueprint?

304:

That's (a) on the to-do list in short fiction, (b) arguably one of the core themes of "The Apocalypse Codex".

305:

do you have contingency plan for the time when everyone have an e-reader and as a result people no longer _have_ to pay to read books?

Firstly, the first part ("everyone have an e-reader") isn't going to happen, period. At least, not within my working lifetime. (Full disclosure: I turn 50 in another 3 years. So, call it within two decades.)

Secondly, "the no longer _have_ to pay to read books" is arguably already true (there is this thing called a "library" you might have heard of). What you're really asking is, "what will you do when piracy becomes universal?"

To which the answer is, firstly, I'm not sure it will: consider the iTunes Store, for example, and explain why it exists and is profitable for Apple to run despite p2p networks and mp3s being more or less freely downloadable. Secondly, we don't truly understand the price elasticity of demand for ebooks, but there's some evidence (all the $0.99-$2.99 self-published titles) that if microbilling is available and the price is low enough people will buy on impulse (if buying is convenient). I think that over-pricing the product actually drives piracy.

Finally: the novel -- a story that is the size and shape that fits inside a bound hardcover book -- exists largely as a result of technological and logistic constraints. Ebooks allow us to produce literary works that are either drastically shorter or drastically longer. Or to do other things -- for example, would you be willing to pay for a subscription to a Charlie Stross serial work, with chapters delivered every few days via email? Or to pay for an ebook that also gives you access to a wiki server run by myself with additional content, discussion fora, and extras?

306:

it'd probably be pretty easy to find some common substance that would pollute/ruin an entire supply of battery juice.

I have two acronyms for you: CCTV and ANPR. Which work adequately today to stop folks filling up with gas and driving off without paying.

307:

Comment 307??? I apologize for not scanning the other 306 and seeing if this has already been covered.


I think the most interesting new concept of the last couple of years has been intelligence vs consciousness. Your past work seems to go with conscious advanced AI -- the Eschaton seems conscious. On the somewhat other hand, your most excellent story "Missile Gap" suggests strongly that our beloved primate consciousness might not be the best model. I am going to reread "Blindsight" by Peter Watts shortly -- its take on consciousness was unique to my knowledge, although I think Susan Blackmore would agree with it.


***** Spoiler Alert *****

Not sure which side you came down on in "Rule 34". Athena was presented as pretty much not conscious -- until the last page of the book???

308:

i doubt privacy will ever become universal or even very widespread at a $0.99 price point, simply not worth the trouble.

309:

I wonder how useful an opt-in, fully anonymous behavioral analytics would be for authors?

It wouldn't be.

The feedback loop is w-a-y too long for behavioural analytics to come in handy for novels. Nor is the product useful -- we don't generally analyse books at the paragraph or section level when deciding whether we like them or not. About the only use I can see for it is in identifying where readers stop reading altogether; if lots of them stop midway through chapter one, that tells you something about the pacing of that particular book, but short of issuing a new version with a re-written opening chapter, what are you going to do?

310:

The other thing that i think that more flexible publishing opens up for SF authors is more of a tiered product releases model. Collectors editions, signed editions etc. Huge opportunities there

Musicians and video games are really getting into that. SF publishers have not really, other then Subterranean Press

I remember i did the math when Amanda Palmer released "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" that the collectors line (10,000 copies at $200/copy) had a good chance of generating more revenue then the economy line if it sold out.

http://www.abebooks.co.uk/Who-Killed-Amanda-Palmer-SIGNED-LIMITED/2932033795/bd

311:

okay, final submission - the same short story re-told as each of the "seven basic plots", and if you're feeling prolific, each told in various genres - penny dreadful, hard SF, space opera, polemic, roman policier, roman a clef etc...

312:

Yeah Charlie , guess it would be more like a long term teaching authors how to be better authors kind of thing. Might tell you some new things about your audience as well

Unless you were actually interested in doing point releases of a book, an interesting idea but not necessarily a good one...

313:

We are not short of U235 AFAIK, and have a lot of spare Pu. I'd rather see Thorium in use, and liquid Fluoride reactors, but agree that there seems a lot to be said for CANDU.

314:

(also @310). Oddly, there's not much wrong with that model, of rewriting novels that contain bugs and reissuing the new, updated, eBook version.

Thing is, I don't think you need behavioral analytics to do this. You (for example) can simply post a comment thread on your blog for each ebook and enter people who report bugs in a raffle for a signed copy of something or other.

For aspiring writers, getting feedback from people who've bought an eBook is wonderful, and a useful way to see how people are reading your work (and thanks again to those who have done this for me).

My personal guess on the near future is that publishers will simply cruise Amazon's eBook offerings, looking for those little gems that they can sell worldwide at a reasonable profit. Sales ranks, ratings, and other analytics are one way to cut down a bit on slush pile processing costs and find new talent, and if the authors have already invested in editing and copy editing, so much the better.

315:

Prequels to the Laundry series: a collection of short stories set in World War 2, World War 1, 19th century British Navy, Medieval times, Roman Empire or even Prehistoric times.

316:

yeah bugs is one thing, but if you were to say discover that 30% of the readers bounced on chapter 5 and then go back and rewrite chapter 5, that would be kind of problematic.

The analytics would work well if you were writing a serial style though, a chapter a month or something, like Warren Ellis did for FreakAngels

Comments on forums are dangerous, the people that comment on them are not a statistically valid sample. There is a lot of selection bias. You cannot trust them to be the voice of the wider audience.

The problem with the publishers cherry picking is that once an author has a following, they are making more money off the self publishing model. Publishers, like record labels, have their primary value add to the author in making the author popular.

317:

I agree with Daniel. I'd love to see you write a graphic novel. Maybe paired with Darrick Robertson as the artist?

318:

for example, would you be willing to pay for a subscription to a Charlie Stross serial work, with chapters delivered every few days via email? Or to pay for an ebook that also gives you access to a wiki server run by myself with additional content, discussion fora, and extras?

A subscription, sure. Especially if the updates were automatic like a podcast. (Email is kinda clunky: get email, copy attachment to viewing device, etc.) Actually, I'd happily subscribe to an automatic purchase scheme for novels and stories — no charges until work is delivered, then an automatic payment based on the cost of the work. (With a proviso for cancellation, a cap on purchases, etc — but those a details.)

Extra content? Maybe. I've been burned a lot of times by that kind of thing over the years, so I'd honestly be a bit dubious. And while I reread your fiction, I rarely go back and reread old blog articles.

319:

I'm not sure if this has been covered in previous posts, but since you generally abhor televised SF, I recommend changing the system from within and writing a TV pilot.

320:

About a half-dozen people have expressed interest in more stories set in the "Missile Gap" milieu, and I'd like to add my vote. Presumably, the Powers-That-Be in that universe could transpose the lands and peoples of just about any period from Earth history onto their disk, and there are other historical milieus that your readers might be interested in exploring through your perspective. (I had in mind the very end of the First World War, a period in which there were many intriguing historical personages and developments to play with.)

321:

Well, since the Laundry series was optioned (I believe), I suppose we might see The Laundry turned into a TV series. Whether this would be great television or a sign of the onrushing apocalypse would depend on whether it was Fox or the BBC doing the series, or some other network entirely (HBO?).

Not that this would bring Charlie much money, but it's conceivably possible that it might be good.

322:
Prequels to the Laundry series: a collection of short stories set in World War 2, World War 1, 19th century British Navy, Medieval times, Roman Empire or even Prehistoric times.

Ooo this, in the laundryverse, what was the antikythera mechanism actually for? Did the guys who killed Hypatia of Alexandria maybe have a good reason?

324:

Perhaps you could write some scripts? I don't know what connections you have for television or movies (which is where you'd get better money for such things), but possibly you could pitch a radio series to the BBC that you could write.

325:

Children's Stories.

326:

Spunky little cephalopod, evoked haphazardly throughout the cold, uncaring multiverse by mean, greedy, mad sorcerers? That might work as a faintly dickensian/ outsider story for kids....

327:

Postulate a standard-size 200Kg lead-acid battery system designed to drop down out of a car/lift back into place. You could then have "garages" where you drive over a loading area, deposit your old battery, and have a new one lifted into place in a matter of a couple of minutes.

That's more-or-less exactly what BetterPlace are doing. Check out a video of their battery swap machine and if you're really interested there's also a long Wired mag article. The plan involves a mobile phone model of car ownership, where you sign up to a two-year contract with $miles or $swaps per month included, and get a subsidised car for the system. Israel and Denmark seem to be interested.

328:

It wasn't entirely a straight suggestion but ai-in-everyday-objects/cornucopia-esque auto fabrication/things not being exactly what they seem would be in interesting setting for some modern day fairy tails.

He does need to remember the blood. All the best fairy tails have blood...

329:

heteromeles wrote:

Spunky little cephalopod, evoked haphazardly throughout the cold, uncaring multiverse by mean, greedy, mad sorcerers? That might work as a faintly dickensian/ outsider story for kids....

I love summoning / multiverse stories told from the "wrong side" - your comment made me think immediately of Phyllis Eisenstein's Sorceror's Son and Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves both of which I have read several times over the years. How exactly do you make a squamous horror from Places Of Which Man Was Not Meant To Know into a cute protagonist, though?

330:

I don't think that humanizing squamous beings is all that hard. For example:

http://dabbled.org/2009/01/cephalopod-love-and-free-valentine-card.html


331:

Anthropomorphising cephalopods is not hard.
Making said anthropomorphic cephalopods not creepy, on the other hand...

332:

Similar to comment 307, I'd like to see you take on concepts like this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_free_will

If your decisions aren't entirely "your own", then a) whose are they, and b) does the punishment/reward system make any sense? How would an indisputable proof of predestination affect society?

Although maybe this is a subtext of the Laundry series.

333:

(Apologies for the offtopicality -- my excuse is the constant mention of The Baroque Cycle here leads me to suspect this might amuse all of you.)

I just read a review of Stephensen's latest book _Reamde_ at Salon. The reviewer had to concede it was a total page-turner, but he was really upset about how it didn't live up to his (the reviewer's) expectations. So upset, he quoted at length from his OWN past reviews.

This, I found hilarious, and had to tell somebody ... see disclaimer, above.

334:

http://vimeo.com/4352688

Making octopuses cute can be done

335:

Re: Magic/fantasy
Rick Cook's Wizardry FORTH-programmer-in-fantasyland series could do with a bit of borrowing from...

336:

That's pretty much the Laundryverse, it's just that Charlie doesn't get into the details. (A story from the perspective of Pinky or Brains would almost have to, though.)

S. Andrew Swann wrote a strangely-named book called Broken Crescent which did that. A lot darker than Cook's series.

337:

Ahh, but what *would* enable you to write your books in half or quarter the time? Neuroenhancers of dubious legality? Perhaps making contact with a Charles Stross from a timeline sufficiently close to this one as to share frames of reference, and then publishing each other's books?

338:

Is there any way to convince you to write some cyberpunk? it is admittedly old-school, but I would like to a Charlie Stross take on cyberpunk...

339:

It has, sort of, been done. At The Mountains of Cuteness is in part a reaction to the whole Care Bear movement. Some of the guy's other stories do make the Cthulhu horrors into good guys. And deconstruction of the mecha archetypes (with 122mm APHE).

340:

Soooo... a Charlie Stross / Warren Ellis collaboration has been inevitable since "Yellow Snow" was referenced in "Lazarus Churchyard".

When's it coming out, then?

Mind, a collaboration with the other Warren Ellis would be awfully interesting, too.

341:

I would love to have you revisit Asimov's robots now that they're actually on the technological horizon.

Asimov wrote in a more civilized time; his robots not only obeyed his Laws; they were banned on Earth for contributing to unemployment.

In our day, however, maximizing efficiency rather than employment is the goal. And one of the leading edges of robotics research is the Department of Defense...

Have you seen the video of the robot that folds laundry? Much of this has to do with visual processing sophistication, and that just gets cheaper and cheaper.

342:

Charlie on robots... Saturn's Children?

343:

I would personally love to see you write a comic with Warren Ellis.

344:

I don't propose to read 343 comments just to find out how many other people said this, but I really like the idea of the Chris Brookmyre Laundry novel (Incidentally, his mum was one of my primary school teachers.)

345:

How about a collaboration with a female SF writer? As you pointed out a little while ago, there are lots of them out there who deserve a lot more attention than they're getting. M.J. Locke maybe?

346:

I'd like to see you subvert it (military sci-fi)...

Without resorting to the inaccuracy of the "Lions led by Donkeys" view of history, why not take a scalpel to the modern equivalent of the "Dulce et Decorum est" brigade?

Vested interest - I went to a military school in Scotland where the bulk of teachers were coming up to retirement, having spent their youth in the last Big Mistake. Having seen the worst, they chose a career that let them put "something back" - and were good and gentle men.

347:

Nope, I am not going to do cyberpunk.

Did cyberpunk in the mid-1980s, when I was learning the ropes. Cyberpunk died of old age in 1991, at Neal Stephenson's hands. Not going to the graveyard to fuck the mummified corpse.

348:

Collaborations are Hard Work. (I'm currently heading towards the end of a big one with Cory Doctorow and I'm a bit burned out on collaboration right now -- the thing is, two authors collaborating each end up doing 70% of the work.)

That's not to say it won't happen, but it's not on the cards in the next six months. And at novel length, not in the next couple of years.

349:

I'd love to see some messing around with alternative British Cold War military tech. An alternative future where the '57 and '66 Defence Reviews didn't happen and a lot of the wilder aircraft and ships then on the drawing board actually got built. Roll on a Laundryverse with Avro 730s and P.1154s flying off CVA01 fleet carriers. Could fit in nicely with any potential dieselpunk British Empire stuff.

350:

The trouble is that predestination is completely compatible with free will, as David Hume pointed out 250 years ago. (Arguably, macroscopic determinism is necessary for anything usefully described as free will.)

In addition, a conclusive disproof of "free will" has no implications for models of crime and punishment. Anything which is an effective learning mechanism in a world with free will is still effective in a world without it. So if you think punishment is effective now, it stays effective without free will. If you think early, consistent detection and feedback is effective now, it stays effective without free will. If you think prevention via detention or curfew is effective now, it stays effective without free will.

Society might acknowledge that the aim is to re-write behaviour rules physically instantiated in the brain, but it won't stop doing the re-writing via criminal codes and a court system. If we were very lucky we'd have less moralistic posturing from politicians, but that's probably too much to hope for.

351:

It's not the first "natural laser" - how about the Hubble detection of Eta Carinae C+++ line? Or much earlier the CO2 line in the Martian atmosphere in 1976. And Charlie Townes saw astrophysical masers way back in the 1960s.

352:

strangely, laserstars.org seem to know about all of the above but still called the MWC439 obs the "first".

353:

Firstly, the difficulty of writing near-future is already well-documented; secondly, if you won't start writing it for another 2 years, it's even harder to imagine what weirdness the intervening two years might bring.

But....

I'd like to see the autobiography of the 21st century's richest man.

354:

I'd love to have seen your take on Iron Man.

355:

I am late in the pack, but I would prefer a long work (with a few exceptions your ideas are too big for a short story), set in the near future, on how different society models tackle the energy crisis, the climate crisis, the water crisis, the food crisis, or several of them at once. From a Scottish perspective, of course.

I appreciate your sharp eye for technology extrapolation, and for a monolingual outsider you handle well other societies.

Something like the skipped years in Accelerando, and yes, I can imagine they were skipped for a good reason.

356:

I'd like to see you do in something in the aftermath/end days of a Arab Spring style/class war civil war in England, suburban militias with 3D printers knocking up open source drones and app controlled mini mortars, enclaves of yobbish conservatism (EDL thugs and their Bourgeois backers) holding out in the home counties but the Aristo/Kleptocracy (Cameron/Osbourne analogues) on the run or already facing charges in the Hague - Or Better yet, in Edinburgh, as a recently independent and relatively stable Scotland with an effective socialist government ( as opposed to three flavours of Right Wing Herd Think, all rubbish) emerges as the new seat of power in the Isles.

Heart of Darkness style journey through East Anglia to link up with a Kurtzian figure holding a key to stabilising the region

357:

Now you're just trolling!

358:

Charlie,

Back in comment 192, you mentioned doing something with Fantasy if it was not the usual stuff. How about the present world suddenly becomes one where fantasy replaces science. The people who have the easiest time adjusting are schizophrenics. The reason for the change is that it turns out that Nick Bostrum is right that the world is a simulation being run by a post-singularity AI who wants to better understand its origin.

359:

What about a "Agatha Christie meets the Singularity" story? A detective story set in a future where distributed personality AI agents are commonplace, each person being more or less like the center of a hive mind.

The body of a man living alone in his manor is found dead and a detective goes to investigate. If one of his AI agents (maybe the buttler, just for the fun of it) did it, is it murder, suicide or accident? And if one of his AI agents, equipped with his memories and personality, is legally authorized to act on his behalf, is he dead at all?

Bonus points for a robomaid that turns out to be a sexbot.

360:

Sounds like you want me to write one of the sub-plots of Hannu Rajaniemi's "The Quantum Thief"?

361:

I love the Laundry novels (although I'm a complete Cthulhu geek). I thought the sequence where you had the expert examining Zann's violin was a horrific as any in modern Lovecraftian fiction. So of course, if this is a vote I want you to keep producing stories, novellas or novels in this ilk.

Some things in the Lovecraftverse that hve not been very thoroughly explored are
1. Aliens who also are concerned about extra-dimensional god-like entities. The only series of stories that has gone here at all, as far as I know, are Jeffrey Thomas' Punktown books.
2. Space opera mythos has only been superficially touched upon by a few crummy self published novels, like The Eden Retrieval, and a few short stories like Tim Curran's 'Tomb on a Dead Moon', Lupoff's 'Discovery of a Ghooric Zone' maybe Basil Copper's 'Shaft Number 247' and the more recent but not as good 'Mongoose' by Sarah Monette and ELizabeth Bear. Surely there is some sort of market for this stuff, what with the popularity of all things Cthulhu these days.
3. Does Cthulhu hold any terror once the universe is post humanity?

362:

How about a novel where Brits or pseudo-Brits aren't Superhero/Good guys/gals? At the end, all your novels (that I've read -- I don't know your Merchant series) are about Anglos saving the day. The bad guys are pseudo-Germans, pseudo-Russians, pseudo-Third Worlders, even Americans (when not actively Anglophilic) -- or even worse, gray bureaucrats who seem barely human.

But how about avoiding all those class/race/caste assumptions in a work? One where the folks like you -- the smart well-intentioned technocrats who run the show -- are actually the bad guys?

363:

How about a book set in the mid-term future about how the rest of the world is enforcing economic sanctions - or even undertaking military action? - against the US for still not complying with the Durban (where the next United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held) protocols?

Even the staunchest allies such as the UK saying: "Come on, stop polluting, London is getting wet feet" and the US still going "La-la-la, I can't hear you!".

364:

There was a Jack Vance short story in which the scientific predictability of our world went away. It was told from the point of view of one of a small group of surviving 'sane' humans, who saw mad people comparatively thriving amidst the chaos.

The end of the story had predictability return just in time for the sane, but the mad creatures no longer able to cope.

365:

no villain ever thinks that they are the bad guy..
and so our genial host can't have a well-meaning tech villain..or can he?
after all , with his tales of Shoggoths has he not spread the belief in Cthulu? has he not made the walls of the world thinner?

366:

Paul Black @ 356 is ALSO trolling
Scotland free stable and independant - with the SNP in charge?
You what?

Charlie @ 360
Well, some of us have read Quantum Thief twice, and still can't get our heads round it....

Jan de Wit @ 363
This is a variant on my earlier proposal - which was much bleaker.
Because the Euro had collapsed, Bachmann had "won" in the USA (or someone similar) and A. Coulter's loonier options had been followed.
The UK is now "Airstrip One" ( using that name will get you publicly, slowly executed) under US christian fundie occupation - the murder of Dawkins on a visit produces a UK protest, but the planes mesnt to be evacuating the US forces from here, are doing the exact opposite - and all the US-backed fundie churches here turn out to be a Vth-column, starting simultaneous disruption of the system.
Thanks to every PM since 1979 traitorously cuting our defences, we ar overwhelmed easily, though waht's left of the Navy goes down fighting....
Novel opens with main protagonist looking at church of the Fundamentals (formrly the Nat Hist Mus in Kensington, gutted of all its' scientific records, of course), and wondering...

@ 365
And everyone else:
There's this little-known Zelazny novel:
"Night in the Lonesome October" that addresses that problem.
Funny, too!

367:

Actually Charlie, it's not so outrageous. You see, China Mieville once made an Iron Man pitch which of course Marvel rejected. The idea was very cool, however.

368:

Para 1 - It might happen, if we can get rid of idiots like Kenny MacKilljoy who think that taxes can be used as an instrument of social policy.

369:

How about a short story of a dry-cleaners hacker son who releases a virus that rewrites self cleaning clothes intodealing with the source of dirt instead of the dirt.

i.e. humans.

Failing that:

It's suddenly been revealed that Earth, like multiple copies out there, is actually an unwilling contestant in a universal scale reality show:

I'm a biological construct - get me out of here.

The closer we get to the finale more and more cultural hints are released until the big reveal and our DNA mutates us into our true form. Points are allocated for scientific discoveries, working out what's going on and booby prizes for the worst creationist/religious ideas.

370:

China may have pitched at Marvel, but Marvel came to me -- back in 2005 or 06 or thereabouts -- and asked me if I'd be interested in writing Iron Man.

Thing is, I've never been much of a Marvel comics reader. So I asked them to send me the basic care package I'd need to get up to speed on the property. But after reading it, I basically said "don't call me, I'll call you," and hung up on them.

Tony Stark is evil. He's Donald Rumsfeld's Mary Sue, and I wanted no part in writing a story in which he's the good guy -- or even a sympathetic protagonist, because he's my idea of a supervillain.

(On top of which, Marvel would have owned the copyright on my work. And on the other side of my desk I had two contracts for a total of five novels split between two major New York publishers, where I would own the copyright and could get to write about whoever I damn well pleased. And all told, the Marvel deal just looked like something I could happily live without. So I turned them down.)

371:

Another vote for the Fantasy novel. When you first suggested this idea a while back, I had the impression it was a anti-hero type thing (ie not following the established hero in fantasy tropes) which I thought that your take on would be thought provoking and entertaining. You could take the existing tropes and turn them on their head by showing the rotten assumptions they rest on (heritable dictatorship as desirable (monarchies) for example).


Related to 370, what if you wrote a book where Tony Stark like figure (file off the identifiable features as you say) was the evil sob that he is. A true anti-hero super hero story [alternatively, pitch it to Marvel as an alternative universe or such] with an exportation of what such a world would look like.

372:

I wasn't suggesting that you do Iron Man, (even I know you've got a thousand better things to do) I was suggesting that you click the link I provided. I suspect from just one or two things you've said that you'll be sympathetic to his take on the character. It's a very quick read, BTW.

373:

Pro tip for people with peak oil scenarios: read some history books. Long-distance trade was possible before internal combustion. In fact, it was *easier* than short-distance trade. Short-distance - horses. Long distance - sailing ships.

See the problem?

Elizabethan Londoners could get to Amsterdam faster than they could get to, say, Oxford. In many ways, the early modern Atlantic was a lot like a universe with wormhole FTL. All sorts of odd people clustering next to the corrupting sea, looking to each other across the sea rather than inland.

Example: the Yarmouth fishing fair was under the feudal authority of Bristol. But that's on the other side of Britain! Indeed. It's also on the other side of the sea, which was much more to the point.

It's still much more energetically expensive to haul a container from Felixstowe into London than it is to ship it from Shanghai to Felixstowe. I would expect a boom in coastwise shipping as a result of a major energy crisis.

374:

Also: loss of cheap oil for fuel won't deprive us of the other logistic techniques we've developed during the oil age. I don't think that freight containerization and the fork lift truck are going to go away, for example. Or railfreight, which is less energetically favourable than containerized ocean shipping but still an order of magnitude cheaper per ton/mile than road haulage.

What will happen is that stuff (and people) will travel more slowly. Which may mean less exotic foodstuffs (unless it turns out to be possible to maintain refrigerated shipping -- which I would not discount: the surface area of a refrigerated hold scales as the square while the volume/mass scales as the cube, so large chilled holds should be reasonably affordable).

375:

Push to /dev/charlie/...

I second the trashy romance proposal. There's something to be said for casting yourself savagely against type.

Alternatively, I saw the trailer for The Debt on Saturday night. Apparently it's some hokum with Mossad an nazi medics an stuff, but I couldn't help thinking "..with Helen Mirren as the European Central Bank and Winona Ryder as a quirky, independent collateralised loan obligation of credit default swaps".

376:

Charlie @ 374
Indeed, people don't realise how advanced the Victorians were in many respects.
Past peak-oil will look VERY STEAMPUNK and as for refrigeration, the first successful shipment of frozen sheep from NZ to Britain was done in 1882, no less and in a SAILING SHIP the Dunedin , and fitted with a coal-fired steam donkey engine to power the fridges ....

377:

>>>Past peak-oil will look VERY STEAMPUNK

It won't look like steampunk at all. Steam engines are horribly inefficient.

378:

stuff (and people) will travel more slowly

Time to buy shares in British Waterways. One horsepower was able to move a lot of freight back when.

I went on a guided tour of (King's/Bishop's) Lynn earlier this year with a local historian of the Hanseatic League. In Mediaeval times, most bulk trade was done across the seas and up the major rivers, and Lynn was one of the richest cities in England simply because it was at the mouth of one of the largest rivers. Goods were coming down the Ouse almost all the way from Buckingham (several days inland), and going out across the North Sea and up rivers such as the Rhine and so on.

There was interesting competition between Lynn and Yarmouth, the latter being the downstream port from Norwich. As ships got bigger, they'd stop going all the way upriver to Norwich or Bedford, and transship in Yarmouth or Lynn instead - which meant major employment in those towns, and probably the relative decline of Dunwich which didn't have a major river passing through it.

(The Church of St Nicholas in Yarmouth was one of the largest in England - a signifier of how important the town was to the Bishop of Norwich. In Lynn, the Chapel of St Nicholas is also pretty big - again, a sign that the town was important to the merchants.)

379:

What's trolling about a stable independent Scotland?

As for transport, there's also that lack of cheap oil or even natural oil does not mean lack of oil. We know how to make the stuff from other inputs. Cost from coal might be similar to current prices. Cost from air, I dunno. But applications that really want liquid fuel like planes and shipping can probably get it. Ground passengers can go by electrified rail, and done right in many cases travel faster than by car.

Now if there's no source of cheap *energy*, then the surviving third of the population can go back to sailpunk+.

380:

I wonder of we can power a refrigerator ship with photovoltaics?

381:

I think he's thinking "railroads and sailing ships" rather than steam locomotives. Electric traction on steel rail is about the most energy-efficient form of bulk land transport we've got; sailing ships -- rather, ships with motor-driven aerofoils, rather than canvas and rope and crews of hundreds -- would also be amazingly efficient, if combined with modern communications technology and meteorological monitoring. (Traditional sailing vessels were at the mercy of the weather, had no access to weather satellite data, and configured their breeze catchers by human muscle power. In the 21st century we can do a lot better ...)

382:

Come on, Charlie. Steampunk is corsets, clockwork and creaking steam engines. Railroads and sailing ships can be of any genre.

383:

I have met Greg, and I can't really see him in a corset.

384:

No-no-no, it's corsets for women, top hats for men...

Also bigotry for all.

385:

... does whatever an iron can. Creases, pleats ...

386:

Hmm. The dates sort of match for them to have then gone over to Adam Warren (Obviously a big fan of yours) who went on to write the Iron Man: Hypervelocity, a limited series that pretty early on dispenses with the spam in a can (I think that's the actual vocabulary used) in favour of a Stark upload running in the armor itself.

To be fair to Marvel, they've embraced the "multiverse" concept fairly enthusiastically and they don't have a problem with multiple interpretations of their characters running around, there's a few evil Tony Starks and even in the purported main continuity Iron Man was basically a government heavy oppressing his fellow superheroes during the "civil war" event a few years back. I think they did get Orson Scott Card to write ultimate Iron Man's origin story a few years back (Probably a more ideologically comfortable fit for Orson)

Yes superheroes are confusing. I think there's about a dozen different concurrent spidermans running around, the kiddie version, the young adult version, the "main version", the futuristic one, the grim and gritty one who recently got killed and replaced with a 13 year old black kid, the one in the romance line destined for girls... and that's without counting clones.

Yeah Charlie's probably better off not getting mixed in that mess. :)

387:

And the ape version! I can't believe I forgot about the Iron Mandrill! :^P

388:

Charlie, what superhero (from Marvel, DC or other universe) would you be interested in writing? For example, how about Batman or Superman?

389:

"There was a Jack Vance short story in which the scientific predictability of our world went away." "The Men Return."

390:

Superheroes are fundamentally uninteresting.

391:

Anatoly @ 377
"Steam engines are horribly inefficient"
Really?
Tell that to Charles Parsons, or ANY operator of a power-generating-plant. A steam turbine is pretty good, and even reciprocating, provided they are running at fairly steady speeds, with compounding and high (initial) pressure do pretty well. At least as well as any motor-car built before approx 1960, at the very least.

Come to that, Stirling-cycle can also be steam-powered ....

@ 383 & 384
ME IN A CORSET ? no, not really, not when I look like this right now!
Going both back and forward in time: correct, electric trains, Flettner rotor-sailing-ships, PV+ steam turbine Luftschiff ... semi-gliders+PV-powered engines LOTS of water (small hydro) power and water transport - look up Mitellandkanal for the PRESENT state of play, for instance.
No reason to be gloomy, excepting a complete fuck-up by the politicians, which is, unfortunately all too likely - see my earlier dystopia proposal.

392:

Why? In an essence, superhero genre is related to science fiction, only instead of asking "what if humanity had this amazing ability?" it asks "what if a person had this amazing ability?". Of course, the answer is usually "fight supervillians", but it doesn't have to be that way...

393:

That's what scared me about the many worlds theory, basically I reasoned, if every even spins off a multitude of possible universes then at almost every minute versions of me are being stranded on universes where extremely improbable events are happening*, after all even the laws of physics are largely probabilistic.

Suddenly the fabric of reality seemed very fragile indeed.

* Like the British couple whose holidays keep coinciding with terror attacks

394:

Superheroes -- the fantasy of human beings with super-powers -- are basically magic in modernist drag: even if you strip out the "they fight crime!!!" shtick and the skin-tight lycra, what you end up with is merely tired re-runs of chunks of Greek mythology. Which isn't, in and of itself, bad -- but it doesn't actually tell us much that's useful about those of us who don't have super-powers.

Put it another way: stories about superheroes that rely on the superpowers are thinly disguised stories about gods. And stories about them that doesn't rely on the superpowers don't require superheroes at all.

395:

When you have power-plants, it is not steampunk anymore.

396:

I was going to mention Alan Moore as one author who managed to write excellent superhero comics precisely by not ignoring the consequences and wider context, when suddenly it dawned on me that Alan Moore, the British writer who single handedly upends the whole American comic book industry is a perfect real life example of the trope we were discussing a few weeks ago of the foreign outsider who completely shows up the locals and improves on everything they've done before. :)

397:

>>>Superheroes -- the fantasy of human beings with super-powers -- are basically magic in modernist drag

You could say the same (magic in modernist drag) about science fiction.

>>>Put it another way: stories about superheroes that rely on the superpowers are thinly disguised stories about gods. And stories about them that doesn't rely on the superpowers don't require superheroes at all.

I think stories about gods can actually tell us useful stuff about ourselves. I mean, gods are a projection of human ideals and values taken to the extreme...

398:

You may not have noticed, but these days I'm writing mostly Mundane SF.

399:

Container ships are very very fuel efficient so cool as clipper ships are, probably not going anywhere anytime soon

I think for post peak oil, a lot depends on how well the problem of generating electricity in big power plants of some kind has been solved?

If it is solved pretty well, then everything becomes batteries and some restrictions are in place compared to current era, but not too bad

If even electricity is an issue, then things get REAL entertaining.

400:

I know perfectly well what I'd like. I'd like a novel by Charlie Stross. Although that doesn't necessarily help you much.

401:

Less in terms of novels, and more in terms of characters and prose, I like your mostly single viewpoint stories the best. Also, characterwise, Bob Howard has a "this is drawn from real life" feel that few others of your characters manage to get. So, more of those both, pleas, if for some crazy reason you decide to write to cater to me.

402:

That would make it cyberzombiepunk!

In all honesty, you should write whatever gets your creative juices flowing.

403:

Seems there's nothing new under the sun... How about a novel written in the first person of the PLURAL? Quite odd, of course, but the standard way of writting bureucratic reports of any sort. Also, probably how a hive mind will speak.

404:

If we can attach a nuclear reactor to a sub or a aircraft carrier, we can also attach it to a container ship and there'll be plenty of military contractors willing to join that kind of bussiness. I very much doubt we'll ever see sailing container vessels.

405:

Hard SF tries to be about stuff that could happen. Less hard SF still often isn't about "gods"; it's FTL or time travel or whatever to set up a different location and different people. A lot of fantasy does too. Some high magic fantasy might be more like superheroes.

If you have superheroes but let them change the world rather than just beating up villains, arguably it's not in the superhero genre any more. Which also resembles Greek myth in its messiness; they'd probably be better off completely scrapping the idea of continuity and reboots and just telling stories, which could conflict.

My favorite takes these days are _Astro City_ and _Runaways_,

406:

Not completely sail powered, but hybrid ones already exist

dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/23/look-its-a-freighter-its-a-sailboat-its-both/

407:

How about an utterly incompatible genre crossover eg Star Trek + Cthulhu Mythos? (With or without Daleks)

408:

No he's right, steam engines, even turbines are inefficient compared to internal-combustion engines or gas turbines. Carnot cycle efficiency, the amount of work you can get out of a heat engine increases with the temperature differential of the working fluid. Working steam limits out at 300-400 deg C, after that pressure and temperature problems increase (free oxygen in the steam causes accelerated corrosion, really high temps can cause odd catalytic effects such as the Fukushima reactor explosions when hydrogen and oxygen gas were catalysed from steam by zirconium alloys in the fuel rods at about 800 deg C).

On the other hand the working fluid of a gas turbine (fuel-air combustion) tops out at over 2000 deg C meaning you get a lot more work out of the same amount of fuel as you would for a steam-cycle engine.

409:

Thank you. I was at work at the time, and didn't have my library to hand.

410:

I agree on the post oil=steampunk idea.

Except for the nitrogen fertilizer. There's an excellent book called The Alchemy of Air, about the history of industrial nitrogen fixation.

The Victorians seeing the need to fix nitrogen for fertilizer (they saw mass starvation sweeping the globe ca. 1920 if a way wasn't found to increase food supplies). This was with a world population around 1.5 billion. The ability to make nitrates led directly to the chaos of WWI and WWII.

Take away a decent fuel supply, and the amount of food available in the world drops dramatically, along with the amount of gunpowder and explosives. One hopes this happens after the population has started dropping from a peak near seven billion, not if we top out at 9 billion.

Not that I'm not predicting an apocalypse, because I think we'll be able to autorotate down to walk-away sustainability, rather than just crashing.

The critical point is that we simply can't carry a 21st Century population on 19th Century technology. I *know* 19th Century tech is good, it's just that some of our critical food infrastructure depends on having huge amounts of cheap energy available, and that's what's going to be increasingly short in coming decades.

411:

Assuming they can still get electricity, airships might be a reasonable solution. If you use hydrogen for lift, then you have a fuel supply. It's probably only suitable for cargo, possibly unmanned.

412:


Actually, anything from the Vance-iverse might be worth considering as an inspiration. I loved his use of language (mostly).

413:
Time to buy shares in British Waterways.

It's a nationalised industry...anyway.

I can't find the chart I'm looking for at the moment - but the fraction of petroleum used in "critical food infrastructure" is surprisingly tiny compared to the 39% that goes into cars alone. We didn't invent the Haber process in 1950 - we invented it before the first world war, when oil was pretty scarce.

414:

See Stephenson's "the diamond age"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diamond_Age

415:

It's a good question, Alex. I've got Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma sitting here, and here's what he says:

>50 gallons of oil per acre of corn, which means that it's >1 calorie of energy in for every calorie of corn out (I've heard estimates of up to 16 calories in for every calorie out, but that may be for non-carb crops). Prior to the use of chemical fertilizers, the farms produced two calories of corn for every energy calorie they put in. (p.43-44)

For beef, a corn-fed steer uses 35 gallons of oil to reach a slaughter weight of 1200 pounds. (p.93) Note that's not 1200 pounds of meat, but 1200 pounds of steer. Most of the carcass will be used in some way.

One-fifth of US petroleum consumption goes to growing and transporting our food (p.93).

I don't know whether our food exports are counted in that last figure or not, because that does make a difference. US corn and soy beans are a global commodity.

416:

Elements for a GOOD Retro-Futurist (DieselPunk) Story:

1. "The Right Stuff" , especially those scenes of Buzz and Alan at that bar in AZ and doing Faster-Then-Sound tests.
2. Polynesian Cargo Cults
3. Hanna-Barbara'esqe Child Soldiers
4. Quiet Government Human-Experiments in other countries
5. The Annexation of Hawaii
6. Dying breeds of European Aristocracy (and their many little heinous secrets)
7. New and Interesting Rays (x,zeta,gamma)

417:

By an astounding coincidence Marcus Rowlands has just scanned in and released onto the Web a Victorian-era story centering around that era's "fixation" with atmospheric nitrogen as a fertiliser, although the steampunk solution detailed in the story was to create synthetic food directly from nitrogen and soil rather than producing fertiliser per se.

http://www.forgottenfutures.org/forgottenfutures.co.uk/barr.htm

418:

50 gallons of oil per acre of corn, which means that it's >1 calorie of energy in for every calorie of corn out

However much diesel you put in your tractor, corn won't grow in the dark. Plants absorb lots of energy from the big fusion reactor. That's sort of fundamental.

Where does Pollan imagine it goes? I suspect there's an accounting error here.

419:

Here's the one I was after. It really is your car. Ag isn't outbroken as a sector, but then again some series are 4% and are broken out, so you'd think it would be if it was that much...

420:

50 gallons is about 200 kg of oil. corn dryweight would probably be 400 kg for the same energy. Does an acre, 4000 square meters, getting that much oil produce 400 kg of dry corn? My notes have him saying both 1/5th of oil goes to food and that we're producing 160 bushels/acre, which is actually higher than my other sources. 160 bushels is 5638 liters. If 90% of that is water in the crop and we account for air in the packing that could be under 400 kg.

Note there's other parts of the corn plant; could be that oil + sun produces less *food* energy than the sun by itself, even though there's more in the whole plant. Stalk, husk, frigging corn cob itself -- a lot of dead mass here.

My notes also have him saying 1.2 gallons of oil to produce a bushel of corn. So, that'd be 50 gallons turning into 60 bushels. Also about 5 kg of oil turning into 35 liters of corn.

421:
The Victorians seeing the need to fix nitrogen for fertilizer (they saw mass starvation sweeping the globe ca. 1920 if a way wasn't found to increase food supplies). This was with a world population around 1.5 billion. The ability to make nitrates led directly to the chaos of WWI and WWII.


Take away a decent fuel supply, and the amount of food available in the world drops dramatically, along with the amount of gunpowder and explosives. One hopes this happens after the population has started dropping from a peak near seven billion, not if we top out at 9 billion.

As I'm sure you know, the key input to the Haber-Bosch process is hydrogen gas. Today the hydrogen input is mainly produced by the water gas shift reaction between natural gas and steam. It is also produced by the water gas shift reaction using oil or coal, and in the past has been produced by electrolysis of water. The water electrolysis process was used in some places until the 1960s because it is simple and the hydrogen produced is very clean, so it doesn't need special processing to avoid catalyst poisoning. It fell out of favor later as more profitable end-uses for electricity were found and cheaper natural gas provided lower-cost hydrogen.

Today, it takes about 12 megawatt hours of electricity to produce enough hydrogen from water for 1 metric ton of ammonia. The production cost per ton of ammonia, at 10 cents per kilowatt hour, is $1200 for the electricity and $200 for the rest, $1400 total. Currently anhydrous ammonia costs $590 per ton; electrolytic ammonia is too expensive to compete with natural gas.

According to A method of economic analysis applied to nitrogen fertilizer rate experiments on irrigated corn, in 1955 nitrogen fertilizer cost $0.15 per pound of nitrogen. This works out to $271.76 per metric ton of anhydrous ammonia, in 1955 dollars. In 2010 dollars that's $2187.52 ! I'm betting that renewable electricity will become inexpensive enough to keep nitrogen fertilizer at least as affordable as it was mid-20th-century for the indefinite future. Now I apologize that I can't find historical pricing figures for the late phase of the Green Revolution, say circa 1970, but I think it illustrates an important point: even without cheap fuel we're going back to (at worst) mid-20th century nitrogen prices and production rates rather than 19th century ones.

We also can make better use of nitrogen today than in 1955, for example combining computers, GPS, and variable-application dispensers to ensure that more nitrogen is turned into crop protein and less into runoff or nitrous oxide. This has the dual effect of decreasing negative environmental impacts and improving productivity. We've just acquired outsize expectations about how cheap fertilizer "should" be.

422:

Now do the sums when some of the corn is turned to ethanol to replace the oil

423:

In the multiverse you are immortal whether you want to be or not

424:

The oil energy goes into:
--fertilizer (the thing I've been harping about)
--pesticides (made from petrochemicals)
--planting the corn (with oil-fueled equipment)
--harvesting the corn (ditto)
--processing the corn for shipment off the farm (ditto).

This is a common dispute, and it shows up both in the energy cost of food and the energy cost of corn ethanol. I just grabbed Pollan because it's near the computer, but I haven't come across a case where you actually have a net system gain of energy from corn, whether it's food or fuel. While as you point out, solar energy is free, getting it into a useable form costs quite a bit.

The ratio of energy in/energy out is a problem for other fuels, notably low-grade coal, wind, and solar. It's not worth doing any of them unless you get more energy out that you put into them.

425:

@442 while I agree with 90% of what you are say, it is worth doing a negative EROI transformation if the resulting fuel is more portable. Even though ethanol is negative EROI it still might make sense to use it to run cars. The classic example though is synthetic aviation fuel

426:

Well, it doesn't make sense to turn oil, which you can burn in cars, to ethanol, which you can burn in cars. The promise of biofuel is harnessing solar energy, which oil-fed-corn makes a lie out of.

Okay, I guess you might be turning heavy crude into car-ready form, but I suspect industry could do that directly more efficiently.

427:

Sorry, but the argument that solar energy or wind doesn't recoup the energy it is generating is mostly bovine excrement.

It is true that solar cells mounted on the back on a laptop will never recoup that energy. It is also true that small wind turbines in urban areas will have trouble to break even. But that's it.

I'm not 100% sure about the situation with biofuels, but it is not a very credible claim that they use more energy than they generate - at least I have never seen any remotely plausible or complete tally of the energy costs.

In any case, biofuels take up land - lots of land. They have incredibly low power density (0.5W/square meter or less afaik), they are pure monocultures - needing copious amounts of pesticides. They are of a green color, but exactly the opposite of what one might call environmentally reasonable. In Germany there are 2.5mio ha used to grow biofuels which are still insufficient to provide the EU-mandated share of biofuels (ethanol, biodiesel) in German fuels, the rest gets imported from former rainforests in Borneo and other places where they grow oil and sugar palms.

Also, you don't need any oil for fertilizer, pesticides or anything else. Everything can be substituted by use of electricity, even though it is not always the most efficient way. You can also always build up any organic compound from scratch, using water to get hydrogen and coal/plants/carbonates for carbon, air for nitrogen etc. You can even get phosphates by electrolyzing sea water (and more than enough Uranium to recoup the energy that takes).

428:

Agreed. Portable energy is useful. It's just the conversion factor that can kill generation schemes.

As an aside, portable corn has been a big issue in the US since Revolutionary times. It's been fed to pigs driven to market, made into whiskey and moonshine, and so on.

There's even a political angle here. The nitrogen fertilizer industry is an integral part of the military industrial complex, and you can look at the massive amounts of cheap corn produced by the US as a consequence of the MIC's desire to keep large nitrate plants in operation, in case we have to replay WW2. The corn is both a byproduct, and a useful tool for US economic expansion overseas.

Eventually we're going to have to downsize this whole system, for one reason or another, and the social changes will be enormous.

429:

Not to derail the Post peak oil thread, but I'd like to pitch something a completely different and random:

I'm somewhat fond of Vance's Dying Earth scenario. I've toyed with a couple of Vance mash-ups:

--Dying Earth, post Cthulhu. The Great Old Ones have come and gone, and humans are still around, living on a profoundly changed Earth that's now a stagnating backwater in a greater cosmic system.

--Dying Earth, post singularity. I prefer the post-Orion's Arm scenario, but you can pick your singularity and add an eon or twenty. The great, post singularitarian entities have come and gone...and humans are still around, living on a profoundly changed Earth that's now a stagnating backwater in a greater cosmic system.

430:

sources for biofuel EROI, comment section is useful

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6677

431:

EROEI of biofuels: it matters a lot whether you're talking US corn to ethanol, covered in fertilizer and pesticide and with lots of irrigation, vs. Brazilian sugar cane, vs. oil palm, vs. some process that can take generic plant matter and turn into methane or oils or alcohols. Being

432:

None of that matters at all actually

Photosynthesis only seems to be able to deliver a 1% conversion of solar power to usable anything. That is the UPPER end of bio fuel energy extraction. assuming you do everything else perfectly

If other forms of energy harvesting do better, then bio is dead on arrival and rather then bio farms you should be building solar farms.

Unless you happen to need that energy in that particular format (i.e. portable)

433:
There's even a political angle here. The nitrogen fertilizer industry is an integral part of the military industrial complex, and you can look at the massive amounts of cheap corn produced by the US as a consequence of the MIC's desire to keep large nitrate plants in operation, in case we have to replay WW2. The corn is both a byproduct, and a useful tool for US economic expansion overseas.

I don't think that this is true, at least not anymore. Historically, artificial nitrogen fixation at Muscle Shoals was the first such facility in the US and was constructed by the government during World War I to supply the munitions industry. It was turned over to fertilizer after the war. During WW II the government again owned or at least subsidized several ammonia plants that were turned to fertilizer after the war.

In the 1990s the US still fixed the vast majority of its nitrogen domestically. From 1995 to 2010 the part of fixed nitrogen supplied by imports increased from 15% to 43%. Domestic production decreased in absolute terms also, from 13 million tons in 1995 to 8.3 million tons in 2010 (all figures from USGS). And this while (since 2003) waging two wars. The trend has everything to do with natural gas prices and free trade; ammonia plants are now built next to the globally cheapest natural gas sources.

It is unlikely that producing huge quantities of explosives is part of modern US war plans. Guided munitions have made each kilogram of explosive much more devastating. The US dropped about 60,000 tons of munitions on Iraq in Gulf War I; that's less than 1% of what was dropped on Vietnam. Yet Iraq was crippled to a degree that Vietnam never was. Even if you wanted to drop Vietnam-scale tonnage, it would take only ~1% of the remaining domestic ammonia production capacity to make the explosives. Fertilizer dwarfs the nitrogen consumption of war.

434:

political angle, but not war plans. It's subsidy to farm states.

435:

Since it seems Charlie gave us permission to be completely selfish when suggesting topics, I'm going to take advantage of that and say that the book I'd most like to read would be the Charlie Stross take on what's definitely an old topic - asteroid mining, and particularly how we'd get started doing it and what the effects on us as a society would be if we succeeded.

Yeah, I know, everyone from A to Z has done it in various ways and in every format, but it's my personal catnip, so I'm asking for it anyway - I mean, the worst he can do is say no, right?
:-)

436:

Late period commercial sailing ships didn't have crews of hundreds schooners especially needed remarkably few crew. The largest ship built as a pure sailing vessel was the steel hulled seven mast Schooner Thomas W Lawson. When launched in 1902 had a crew of 16. The largest ever sailing ship was the five mast Barque France II. After her auxiliary engines were removed in 1919 she had a crew of 50. The last area in which sail was competitive was the transport of non time critical bulk commodities, sail was replaced there around a century ago. The Thomas W Lawson was initially a collier and was then converted to an oil tanker while France II was a nickel ore bulk carrier.

437:

Hello,

What about a speculative fiction novel in a near future post-scarcity world in the 2030's where AIs and robots have replaced a lot of the jobs, solar energy is working greatly and most of the 8/9 billions people spend most of their day on internet? It could be for example based on "The Lights in the Tunnel" by Martin Ford, "On intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins,... It could be as in "singularity sky" a story all the technological, financial, legal aspects. I think that the world is so chaotic now that people would like to read some near future speculative novels in order to try to understand the world we leave in and its potentialities. The psychological impact of this world (in a Ballardian way) could be interesting too.

Cheers, Chris

438:

I was thinking of Accelerando and not singularity sky as the first part of Accelerando in the near future was the best SF I have read since Hyperion.

439:

I'm thinking of the Larry Niven novels I loved in my youth, and the earlier comment about how classic science fiction overestimated the development of power and underestimated the development of information technology.

Of course, a totalitarian government -- either of the Communist variety that we faced in real life, or the Patriotic American variety certain science fiction writers would have cheered on -- would have had to criminalize information technology, Soviet-style, while letting their engineers boldly develop their nuclear-powered day dreams without any need to listen to a publish worried about radioactivity and other environmental externalities.

In our timeline, the West developed information technology and the Soviets couldn't keep up. But if we had had a McCarthyite coup, Admiral Heinlein would be racing to the planets, and Grace Hopper and Vincent Cerf and Steve Jobs would be in the gulag....

440:

Thanks for the update. It's nice that it's domestic politics now driving fertilizer production, not war manufacturing.

Of course, for a post oil decline, this suggests that the weapons will get as nitrogen-conserving as possible: smart bullets, effectively (smart both economically and functionally). Perhaps we'll even see the functional descendents of the saltpeter-men showing up, if someone wants to prosecute a long war.

441:

Alex et al,

A factoid I remember hearing: It takes as much fuel to move an item 50 miles from the port as it does from China to here.

International trade with similar/same technology to today isn't going anywhere. Similar for farming, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, plastics - they will still be there for years into the future. Even if it has to be nuclear powered synthoil, or ethanol.

Local and distance trucks are more problematic, but they will probably still happen.

Nope, the problem comes in personal transportation. In the US it's half the oil usage - and its the bit that's likely to go first.

You are not moving far, fast or often in the future.

442:

Alternate history with inter-timeline travel long after travel between paralells has become both common knowledge and commonplace

I'm specifically thinking of creating forks and whether that could be leveraged for good or ill. I can see Asimov doing a short story on it, but I'm equally sure the auntypope could drop that into a novel.

I'm curious about just how dumb a big slow box could be and still make it between stars. Work out the optimal velocity based on ablation rates and just pump the suckers out. Thing is, what is worth shipping those distances that slowly?

Also, what keeps cosmic radiation from making your memory diamond mostly noise when it's out in deep space for a few centuries?

My thought for the morning was how small can you make a ramscoop? If you had a tiny one it might be plausible to wind it up with a track around the moon, fire it into a grazing orbit around the sun to light it, then send a few grams of payload anywhere you like at nearly c.

443:

1% is a common figure, but 8% is often given for sugar cane.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthetic_efficiency
which says 3-6% common, though then gives lower number for most plants. I think I've seen high numbers for algae in optimal conditions, too.
I think part of it is a difference between sunlight received and biomass produced over whole lifetime, vs. what a plant can do in the peak of its growth phase.

As for comparison to solar power: one is generating electricity, the other is generating carbohydrate fuel and other parts from atmospheric CO2. It'd be silly to burn ethanol for electricity; the proper comparison is using solar power to synthesize liquid fuel from atmospheric CO2. I have no idea what the efficiency there is; hopefully rather better than 1%, but a 10-15% panel power a typically 33% conversion process could easily underperform sugarcane.

444:

I thought it sounded more like Nancy Kress' Beggars trilogy.

445:

Something else to consider WRT a 'Sub-Saharan Miracle': Africa's population has most of the human genome's genetic diversity. At some point in the not-too-distant future, those variations are going to start becoming commercially valuable, potentially making Africa a net commercial exporter of genetic IP... Turnabout's fair play, right?

446:

Off topic but relevant to the shipping container discussion - Keith Tantlinger died a couple of weeks ago. He was the chap who came up with the practical shipping container (not the box, but the other bits and pieces that make it all fit together).

447:
Maybe when ebooks exceed 50% of my revenue stream it'll be worth revisiting the can of worms involved in doing it myself -- but not now.

Can you project an ETA for that?

448:
Put it another way: stories about superheroes that rely on the superpowers are thinly disguised stories about gods. And stories about them that doesn't rely on the superpowers don't require superheroes at all.

Hmm. You might take a look at Kurt Busiek's 'Astro City'. Quite a bit of it explores the dividing line between those two options.

449:

Okay, having made it through all the comments, I can now safely make my own suggestion:

How about another Heinlein, this time 'Citizen of the Galaxy'? Change the scale down to just Earth (Citizen of the Planet?), set it after the major economic dislocations caused by peak oil have passed, and you can have quite a bit of fun with the consequences of out-of-control income inequality and wealth concentration, information asymmetries, wikileaks-style data-dumps, freelance bloggers investigating who is really financing the pirates and human traffickers, and so on.

450:

Wow, Pavane. Read that in my late teens, then again in my twenties. (Now mid forties). Amazing book, slow start and hard to grasp, but fantastic.

451:

Seconded, with the note that IMO Astro City is at its best when it treats its Supers as "ordinary people with extra abilities" (Astra Furst, and the Tarnished Angel GN), or as the supporting cast (large parts of Family Album, Local Heroes and Dark Age GNs).

452:

Anatoly @ 395
You really ARE out-of-touch aren't you?
"Power Plants"
Distributed electic lighting: 1881 .....
AC Power 1886/7
Steampunk enough?

Diego @ 404
You too
Try looking up "Flettner Rotor" - scales UP very efficiently - not much use for small vessels.

R. Sneddon @ 408
Perhaps... but there's (effectively) NO OIL (remember?) so what's the next-most efficient?
Steam turbine!
And we already have a mature well-developed technology .....

Alex @ 413
Actually British Waterways are a "Public Corporation" (note their web-address ends ...co.uk)
They are styill a load of complete wankers though.
Near here, at Waltham Abbey, a canal goes along under the main road (right next to the "Olympic Whitewater Centree, UGGGHHHH) and there USED to be a good pub there, the "Old English Gentleman" - BW had the freehold.
ABout 4 years back, they turfed the landlord out.
Did they refurb the pub at this prime development site?
No.
They knocked it down.
Today, that excellent site for a pub remains empty and derelict.
Stupid bastards.

heteromeles @ 426
And everyone else on the "Corn" (presumably meaning Maize, rather than Wheat and Barley and Oats - Barley is ESSENTIAl - Whisky, you know!) thread/mantra.
Erm ... ALLOTMENTS
Two people can feed themseleves (more-or-less from a 10x30 metre plot + some extra "Normal" farming inputs for grains and meats.
It would mean a radical restructuring of local transportation systems, and land-use planning around the larger cities, but it COULD be done.
I worked ot that the (Approx) ground-area of Suffolk would be needed, split up inot lots of little plot-fields scattered around Britain, and we could feed ourseleves. Hard work, but do-able.
For fertilisers you use recycled semi-carboneted waste (hels at ~60-80C for about a week + animal manures) Certainly my Potatoes/Sweetcorn/Raspberries/Garlic/Beans/Peas/Radishes/Gooseberries etc ad nauseam did all right this year!
You'd have to restructure the working week, so most people wouold do their "normal" jobs 3 days a week, and the rest wouold be their own time, to spend growing their food.
Don't grow your own? Then starve.
There would have to be exceptions, especially for hi-tech specialisations, to keep the rest of the civilisation running, but, like I said, it's do-able. Notice, no collapse.

unholyguy @ 432
Yup
Thus exposing the lies of the TeaPartyers
The most heavily subsidised US states are those that vote REdneck - wierd.

Brett Dunbar @ 434
Erm, I know it's a luxury yacht, but I think it's the biggest in the world.
And a SMALL crew
Try Googling for: "Maltese Falcon Yacht"
Pictures, film and diagrams, yay!

Larry Y @ 437
I think you misjudge R.A.H.
He loathed McCarthy, as much as he loathed the communist religion, and for the same reasons.
Both of them wanted to control people, and tell them what to think.

453:

R. Sneddon @ 408
Perhaps... have a mature well-developed technology .....

This presumes that we can't further improve heat recirculation and turbine regeneration technologies.*

*This means I agree the base point, but think we can do even better given incentives.

454:

The problem is with no oil what are you going to burn to produce steam for your turbine? Pretty much any carbon-based fuel, from coal down through biomass can be decomposed into some form of gas that can be burned in a gas turbine more efficiently than a steam turbine; there have even been powdered-coal gas turbines built and tested.

We use lower-efficiency steam turbines a lot in coal-burning and nuclear thermal power stations because they're simpler to build and operate, not because they're better at turning chemical energy into usable power. Natural-gas peaking power plants are almost all gas turbine based in part because of their responsiveness (zero to max output in ten seconds) but also because of their higher efficiency which is necessary to make them economic to run as their fuel is more expensive per joule than burning dirt.

455:

The water electrolysis process was used in some places until the 1960s because it is simple and the hydrogen produced is very clean

This. Until natgas was widely used, nitrogen fixation was done with either coal or hydroelectric power. It's also the sort of thing that would make a nice sink for surplus overnight wind generation.

Also, heteromeles: all energy conversion is lossy by definition, so this is not as good an argument as it sounds.

456:

Welcome to the Fallout universe.

457:

Fallout?
Well, there's always the Fischer-Tropf process, to convert Coal to Oil &/or Methane, depending on the operating temperature.
PROBLEM
It's a really, really filthy and inefficient process, but if your'e desperate, as Nazi Germany and sanctions-hit SA were, you can do it.

458:

Nope, the problem comes in personal transportation. In the US it's half the oil usage - and its the bit that's likely to go first.

You are not moving far, fast or often in the future.

While I agree about the nature of the problem, I disagree about the prognosis.

The real nature of the problem is the development of zoning regulations and urban sprawl in the USA over the past 70 years. American-style suburbia isn't maintainable without cheap transportation, both for commuters and for goods and services to supply them with the necessities of life. But that doesn't mean the land isn't useful; suburbs are mostly built on what was originally farmland around the core of a 19th century (or earlier) settlement. Meanwhile, city centres still exist ... but in many cases the residential accommodation there is low density and of poor quality.

A third issue is public transport. Suburbs are, I think, innately incompatible with dense, frequent public transport -- that is, public transport with the two characteristics that make it useful to people. But I live in a European-style capital city with dense apartment housing in the city centre. If I go out my front door between 6am and 8pm, I will not have to wait more than 15 minutes for a bus. (After 8pm things get bad, due to temporary transport infrastructure disruption; normally it's a 15 minute maximum wait up 'til 10:30pm.) And I'm only a five minute walk away from a street where the bus frequency is every 5 minutes. Destinations accessible by those buses include two major railway stations, an airport, and a ferry port. (I don't count the long-haul coach station as that's a 10 minute walk from my front door.)

What I can see in America's future, post-peak-oil, is a protracted and painful period of infrastructure redevelopment. Suburbia will slowly rot, with property prices stagnating and many developments ultimately being broken up and returned to high-density farming (probably market gardening rather than endless corn fields). Meanwhile, city centres will be re-zoned for lots of high rise condominiums with good integrated transport: not just buses and streetcars but automated single-occupant electric taxis and zipcar-like hourly rental schemes.

This is going to take a generation and it's going to be incredibly painful because it's going to require writing off fifty years' worth of housing stock and replacing it from scratch; it's also going to require changes in the cultural consensus on what constitutes a desirable lifestyle (out with the white picket fence and the neatly manicured yard; in with the top-floor penthouse apartment with balcony overlooking the market square).

It's also going to require huge changes in corporate structure and retail logistics. WalMart and their ilk will have to ditch the big box stores and do what Tesco and their competitors do hereabouts -- flood the city with smallish 24-hour convenience store sized supermarkets linked to large supermarket hubs in malls with dedicated public transport access, backed up by online shopping and home delivery services. (If they stick with the "big box in the middle of nowhere model" that expects customers to burn expensive gallons of fuel driving to and fro, someone smaller will come along and eat their lunch.)

But if the will is there to make this transition, it ought to be possible to redeploy the majority of the US population who currently live in suburban developments and require an automobile or truck that averages 16,000 miles per year to an environment where they drive less than 2000 miles per year, mostly commute (if they still commute) by public transport, and still have a decent quality of life.

(Note the "if the will is there" in the above paragraph.)


459:

You are not moving far, fast or often in the future.

I lost track of that last bit ...

If the re-urbanization of America happens, a lot of folks will find it unnecessary to own a car and undesirable to commute double-digit miles each way to work on a daily basis. The real problem with long-haul travel will be transport infrastructure. US railways, to be blunt, suck -- at least for speedy passenger travel. (They're a fun way to see the scenery, if you're happy to kick back with a beer and don't mind arriving late.)

There's a tentative plan for high speed rail in some areas, though, and HSR is at its best for linking dense urban corridors. HSR is not, however, the answer: although steel-wheel-on-rail is the cheapest form of ground transport we've got, the cost escalates drastically once you increase speed, and by the time you're looking at 230mph trains, the energy cost per passenger is beginning to converge with aviation.

The US civil aviation system is meanwhile moving slowly from a hub-and-spoke model towards point-to-point free-flight. This is vastly more efficient for reducing passenger mileage flown (no more having to fly hundreds of miles out of your way to catch a wide-body flying from a major hub!); if the airlines can be made to kick their competition for maximum flight frequency on each route (leading to lots of regional jets flying hourly instead of one big planeload per day on a given route) then it's likely that air travel will remain the preferred "cheap" option for long-haul personal travel across distances of over 500 miles. And, more to the point, it'll burn a lot less fuel per passenger journey than it does today, even using the same aircraft.

460:

Does "more efficiently" in this context include supplying the energy used to break the solid fuels down into the "more efficient" forms?

461:

Michael Bernstein wrote:

How about another Heinlein, this time 'Citizen of the Galaxy'?

When was the last time you read that book?

You know, it's possible to write a story about the investigation of human trafficking without referencing Heinlein, you know? That would make it possible to write a story without an obnoxious hypercompetent boy (or worse, one of his smug self-justifying dirty old men) in it.

462:

ETA: not less than three years -- which would require a near-complete collapse of the dead tree book distribution system, Barns &: Noble going bust, nobody coming along to replace them, lots of small retailers going bust, Amazon getting out of the dead tree distribution business, and the major publishers making a series of really stupid decisions. (In other words, three years in event of a catastrophic publishing apocalypse.)

More likely, I think it'll take at least a generation (20-25 years).

463:

Greg, I hate to break it to you, but if there's no oil for powering ships, we won't be going back to steam turbines; marine diesel engines can burn orimulsion until the cows come home, and get way better Carnot efficiency.

464:

But if the will is there to make this transition, it ought to be possible to redeploy the majority of the US population who currently live in suburban developments and require an automobile or truck that averages 16,000 miles per year to an environment where they drive less than 2000 miles per year, mostly commute (if they still commute) by public transport, and still have a decent quality of life.

And we come back to the scale and decline rate problem.

In essence, we go to war with the equipment we've got. Unless the rate of decline in available oil is MUCH lower than expected, we just won't have the time to redevelop urban environments. And since the economy will be going into the **** at the same time, we won't have the money to invest either.

There are lots of assumptions and scenario gaming you can do, but if you play reasonable conservative we go from status quo to zero available oil for our cars, etc. in 7 years. Could be faster, could be slower, but that is a good RoM for planning purposes.

What changes can you make in that time, in the midst of the biggest ever depression?

465:

Carnot cycle is only one measure of efficiency Charlie; it's fine for leisure liners and cargo vessels at 10 to 15 knots, but people are going to want 30 to 40 knots for business vessels doing runs like Irish Sea, Western Channel and intercontinental, at which point other measures (including reducing passenger time aboard being more important than fuel burn per unit distance) become more relevant, and the turbine comes back on the scene, going astern, and leaves the cathedral diesel in its wake.

466:

Suburbs are, I think, innately incompatible with dense, frequent public transport

Would non-dense frequent public transport solve the issue? You could have a 'mile' bus station with a bike shed and perhaps even a shower.

467:

Or switch from the existing "heavy bus on main route" model to one where regional hubs are linked by heavy buses, and fed by minibuses which operate as feeders, similarish to the present US airline model?

468:

Would non-dense frequent public transport solve the issue? You could have a 'mile' bus station with a bike shed and perhaps even a shower.

Probably not -- you're assuming everybody can cycle. That's not going to work for large segments of the population (the elderly, anyone with cardiovascular issues, the obese, small children). It also depends on the climate; in -30 celsius winter blizzard conditions, or +40 celsius summer heat wave conditions, it isn't going to work. When you add in "cycle and carry the groceries" as a requirement, it gets even worse.

Folks in the US don't usually think of bicycles as an automobile replacement. In places where they are one -- such as the Netherlands -- everything's different, from road infrastructure to the design of the bicycles in question and the size of shops.

469:

I can see a problem with that; which is that smaller, nimbler buses are not significantly cheaper than giant double-decker haul-eighty-passengers buses. You still have to pay the driver, put fuel (or electrons) into the motor, and you have at the end of the day got the irreducible complexity of a complex powered wheeled vehicle with lots of seats.

What makes public transport work, and work well, is population density.

470:

Are you thinking of something like an Optare vs a Routemaster (picked because even the Yanks will know what they are)? If so, then I'll give you that they're both custom-made PSVs etc. I was thinking of using things like 18-seat Transits for the minibus end.

471:

Back to stories I would like to see written.
There was a short story I read long ago about a technology that allowed ordinary people to purchase a device for watching TV stations from parallel worlds. Some channels/worlds were banned as being "too dangerous".

I would like to see an exploration of that idea, and specifically what "too dangerous" might mean.

472:

Yeah, that's how I was thinking. (Note: the Ford Transit means something utterly different (and a lot smaller) in the US from what it means in the UK, where sticking 18 seats in a long-wheelbase version with a passenger cab would not be unreasonable.)

Nevertheless, you still need to pay the driver, and if you're running a public service vehicle that does a lot of stopping and has people jumping in and out every couple of hundred metres you still need various safety features that are going to drive the price up wrt. a baseline mini-van.

473:

ADMINISTRATIVE QUESTION:

Would folks like me to kick off a new topic specifically for discussion of "what life's going to look like once the cheap oil ain't cheap no more"?

474:

It's your blog, but I think that could be an interesting discussion yes.

475:

I wasn't aware that the Trannie was a totally different vehicle in North America. The one in our works car park is about 20 feet long and 6 wide. It also complies with all relevant regulations for a UK PSV in its class. AIUI it's about half the price of the Optare, so something like 1/4 to 1/6 the price of the 80 seater.

I'm not sure about fuel costs, but I know that bus companies used to pay drivers of the lighter vehicles lower rates than you'd get for a full-size vehicle (coach or decker).

476:
Would folks like me to kick off a new topic specifically for discussion of "what life's going to look like once the cheap oil ain't cheap no more"?

Yes please, even if it's a topic that gets my stomach in a knot; if you think it'll be hard for the US to reurbanise, think what it'll be like for Ireland, where we've built on the US model that assumes everyone has a car and cheap fuel, and where our public transport - outside of one or two small thin corridors - is woeful. And then add in the point that our economy is fundamentally broken (nobody's saying it out loud, but mass emigration isn't just likely anymore, it's being counted on by policy makers) and our population is aging and our healthcare system isn't up to current loads, let alone loads from an aging population who become immobile because public transport leaves them stranded and poor.

477:

I think it would probably stop this topic being quite so comprehensively offed, yes.

478:

Over here, that difference in pay grade is driven by varying licence requirements for vehicle size/passenger numbers - the higher the licence grade, the better the pay.
Also, Mark above is not wrong. Or even particularly pessimistic....

479:

My suggestion: the Merchant Princes series took one instance of 'hand-wavium' (being able to move between parallel worlds) and built out the logical consequences of that, rather than resorting to fantasy/space opera. How about doing the same for another instance of 'hand-wavium', e.g. FTL, telepathy, little furry green critters which can regurgitate whatever manufactured device you want as long as it fits inside a 50cm diameter sphere...

480:

Sure, if you do it in such a way that it doesn't die an immediate death-by-redundancy (we did discuss some of it already) ...

481:

My source being a garage manager for a bus company, your pay for the shift was set by what vehicle you were driving rather than which classes of vehicle you were entitled to drive.

482:

Maltese Falcon actually has a larger crew than the Thomas W Lawson had initially (18 as opposed to 16) and is a much smaller vessel, being about half the length.

483:

>>>Also, what keeps cosmic radiation from making your memory diamond mostly noise when it's out in deep space for a few centuries?

One word: redundancy. Have N copies of you memory, constantly check for "mutations" and correct them.

484:

Ignoring 348 and OGH burnout, (sorry Mr S, purely for the sake of stating a personal preference), I'd love to see a collaboration with either Chris Brookmyre or Carl Hiaasen. Black, twisted insanity ensues ...

485:

Oh dear. I feel that it will be easier for USA to invest all this money in nuclear fusion power.

486:

Huh? You think africans will make money selling sperm\eggs? I dunno, I just don't see the demand...

487:

Why not write Iron Man as the supervillain? Protagonist is ordinary person in a world dominated by smart but amoral douche with a tech advantage and his own abhorrent vision of where to take the world. Conspires somehow to take him down despite the opposition of apathetic or adulatory mass media. Possibly fails tragically.

488:

One exploration of handwavium I would like to see seriously done is the ability of building teleportation portals alla Stargate. Most of the works I've read / seen either treat them as relics of an ancient civilization who nobody can understand or fail to explore the subtler consequences of being able to connect two distant places at will.

For instance, portals should be movable. The Earth itself moves, so any functional portal should be able to connect two moving points of spacetime. Also, I could understand that you may need both gates energized during the initial setup, but once they're connected what prevents you to run a power cord though it and feed one of the gates from the other side?

Connect those two properties and what happens to your average generation ship? (If you're travelling at a significant fraction of c and you're looking through the gate, would you see the world outside it as if mooving in fast forwards?)

Furthermore, what are the effects on the society if your house can simultaneously have doors that open into your office, a mall, a tropical beach, an alpine resort and maybe even a room in Europa (the jovian moon).

Cue OGH pointing me to someone who already wrote that story.

489:

Larry Niven explored this. Can't remember the book(s), but he looked at it in some detail, as well as having it in the background in things like Ringworld.

490:

Yes, but we might need some prompts or some specific questions. We seem to have covered quite a lot of it already and have quite a consensus behind density for walking/public transport for people and rail and container ships continuing for freight.

What are we missing / assuming without noticing we are assuming?

491:

We summon something with benevolent intentions and it screws us up as bad and/or is as terryifying as Case Nightmare Green. Patricia Anthony had a great short story about how beneficial, but incomprehensible alien intervention could be mind-shatteringly awful to its recipients.

492:

Fusion reactors (a) aren't available off-the-shelf -- they're still two generations away from commercial production, optimistically -- and (b) they're not terribly portable. Aside from providing copious electricity for railway traction, I don't see how they're going to solve the personal transport problem (unless you're proposing to throw electricity at the synthetic fuel problem).

493:

>>>unless you're proposing to throw electricity at the synthetic fuel problem

That's exactly what I propose. Sucking CO2 back from the atmosphere and making fuel out of it. Solves global warming and personal transport problem at the same time. Depends on very cheap electricity...

495:

Para 2 - SG1 did the "Portals are moving and (trans)portaable", to the extent that they actually did have active and used portals on spacecraft. The reasoning was classical handwavium, but the ability to "run a power cord" through one was handled by the fact that even the original developers couldn't sustain the linking wormhole for more than about 30 minutes.

Whilst "our Earth" couldn't build a new portal, we did "MacGuyver together a controller out of several supercomputers".

Para 3 - No!! The portals are both stationary relative to their immediate surroundings even if their sidereal movement wrt each other is a significant fraction of c.

Para 4 - I'm pretty certain that Bob Heinlein did this or something similar. Check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_A._Heinlein_bibliography and look between "Farmer in the Sky" and "The Door Into Summer".

496:

Depends on very cheap electricity...

That's the problem, then: I'm not convinced fusion is ever going to provide really cheap electricity.

Certainly, the current indicators are that even if we can get a working fuel cycle -- that is, breed enough tritium from T + D fusion to keep it running indefinitely -- fusion plants are going to be (a) gigantic (minimum size likely to be multiple gigawatts of thermal output) and (b) produce lots of radioactive waste via secondary activation of structural material by the neutron flux. They're not even (c) going to prevent nuclear weapon proliferation (stick a blanket of U238 around the tokamak or polywell or whatever to soak up those neutrons and by and by you'll be breeding Pu239).

About the only advantage fusion offers over 4th generation fission reactors is that there's no obvious scope for a meltdown-sized containment failure and release of waste. But the waste's still going to be there, and managing it is still going to be problematic.

What this suggests to me is that we may not get commercially viable fusion reactors (they're a hugely expensive gamble, against an existing technology -- fission -- that's been around for 70 years and is fairly well understood), and even if we do, they're not necessarily going to be cheap to operate.

497:

I think that one's already been written. It's called 1984.

498:

Harry Harrison also did it back in 1970, in One Step from Earth. It's one of the best examples in SF of taking a single idea and seeing how many different ways it might affect the world, on a time scale ranging from the invention all the way to the far future.

499:

I knew there must be examples somewhere. Blame it on my not living in an english speaking country, which severly limits the books widely available (and not watching almost any TV). Hopefully an affordable for third world levels of affordable) e-book reader will come to the rescue.

Re Para #3 - My understanding of relativity probably has some gapping holes, but if there's a significative difference in c (or g) between both sides of the portal, time is experienced differently on each side. This means if you're on one side of the portal looking through the portal into the other side, you'll should be able to see that side of the portal moving a diferent rate. Think about two identical clocks, one on each side of the portal, and you looking at both of them at the same "time". The hands of one of them should move faster than the ones of the other.

500:

Damien those are peak efficiencies, not average.

Solar cells now are currently running in the 15-20% range, the theoretical arrays are hitting 25%

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081023100536.htm

Also bear in mind that those numbers for plants are the maximum possible energy extraction assuming the plant just grew magically and that the extraction process was completely efficient and it is still twice as bad as what we get out of solar panels today. And you are giving up arable land not desert to grow them

501:
Think about two identical clocks, one on each side of the portal, and you looking at both of them at the same "time". The hands of one of them should move faster than the ones of the other.

There are two possible solutions to the dilemma, however. Either you have time moving much faster on one side than on the other*, or you wind up with a portal that allows time-travel (although never to a point before it was built). Both have their problems and require some serious reconstruction of our current understanding of relativity. But instantaneous portal travel was always going to have that effect.

* One interesting observation about this possibility springs to mind - if there isn't some kind of neutral 'airlock' between stepping into the portal and getting out on the far side, then anyone trying to pass through a portal with a significant difference in the velocity of time on the two sides is going to die, very messily. (Why? Because on one side of your head, less than a second has passed, but the other side of your brain has been without fresh blood for much longer. Similarly, once part of your heart muscle is trying to beat at even twice the rate of the part on the other side of the portal, you're probably going to die. Almost any measurable difference is likely to be fatal.) Even pushing inanimate objects through will be tricky (more so in one direction than the other, of course).

502:

Charlie @ 463
Wrong assumption, CHarlie.
I was envisaging ships either like the "Maltese Falcon", but bigger or Flettner rotor-ships, utilising "Sail" (in its broadest sense) for main propulsion, with, probably a small, quite possibly directly coalfired donkey engine providing minimal back-up power, to boost the banks of (modern hi-tech) "Batteries" to run the other systems, like adjusting the ropes/angle of rotors/last-few-metres-docking.
Turbines would be in power stations, mostly.

@ 485
and others including OGH on "no oil - or rather very expensive oil"
Fission power.
Guvmints will come down heavily on "anti-nuke" protestors, and build the stations.
That'll get us through the next 50 years, whilst some SERIOUS work is finally done on fusion.
The creeping, almost-unnoticed improvements in both PV and "artificial algae" methods of generating electricty. Sometime in the next 10 years (ish) everyone will finally notice this, and there will be a large switch.
Of course the big power-generating crooks companies will fight tooth and nail, vested interests being what they are .....
Also, in spite of the filth, I suspect (marginally/significantly cleaner?)developments will be made in Fischer-Tropf systems, because we will still need the hydrocarbons as chemical feedstocks, not as fuels.

Which reminds me, an aside.

When I was teaching, I got a IVth form to demonstrate the manufacture of coal-gas, and the fractionation of coal.
Two boiling-tubes, linked by glass pipe, and second tube has glass-pipe outlet.
Heat first tube, cointaining coal-lump over Bunsen burner.
After a couple of minutes, you can light the gas-jet from pipe 2, whilst wonderful tarry gunge collects in bottom of tube 2, and ash builds up in tube 1.
By the time you've finished, the class have opened the windows, are coughing their lungs out, and you can't see across the classroom!
Taught'em something about REAL atmospheric pollution (I'm old enough to remember the great killer-smogs in London) and the problems of chemical power-extraction.
And, excuse me, but GREAT FUN!

And, I suspect, by the time this posts we'll be past 500.
Is this Charlie's longest thread?
It's certainly stimulating discussion and thought.

503:

Oscar, this also sounds a lot like Beggars in Spain if you replace the Y-Drive with solar panels and ignore all the handwaving about the Sleepless. I think Kress (a FEMALE SF author!) was a little pessimistic about the habit of the Livers, but not by much. It's a pretty bleak vision.

504:

ie desert solar circa 2025

505:

Using this to continue the entire thread Diego started:-

Diego, all the example books we drew from were first published between 1950 and 1970; if they're going to be translated (into Spanish?) they probably already have been!

On the velocity point, again using SG-1 as the reference, you'd be completely processed (disintegrated?) by your departure gate, then transmitted to your destination and re-integrated.

I agree that one conventional representation of relativity would have the clocks at each end of the wormhole diverging in time; the other view says that, since you leave $planet1 on departure_date_time and reach $planet2 at arrival_date_time and trip_duration is given as arrival_date_time - departure_date_time, then the diverging clocks are an illusion.

506:

I suspect that a time difference between portals would be equivalent to a very severe gravitational potential. In other words, portals could not be easily accelerated and probably not be created except when their gravitational and kinetic energies are (almost) equal.

507:

you could terraform with it too.. open 1 gate on Mars, drop the other onto venus.
( or pick any 2 planets )

508:

Just an outsider's comment. Are we seeing the Next Big Thing in Science Fiction?

Skimming through this long and fascinating thread...and after reading "Invasion of the Space Bats" on John Michael Greer's "Archdruid Report" blog, noticed lots of people in lots of places talking about science fiction set post "peak oil" -- some pessimistic, some "just muddling through," some surprisingly optimistic.

Looks like we're seeing the birth of a new genre of Science Fiction...first there was Cyberpunk, than Steampunk...now it's "Windpunk" or "Sailpunk" or something.

Frankly, this seems a lot more interesting to me than yet another iteration of Star Trek, Star Wars, Zombie Wars or cyberpunk.

Ed (for Ned and Fred)

509:

Yes, it would be great to have a separate post-oil thread. Thanks in advance.

I'd also add two points:

One is obvious. Oil won't suddenly go away one day. Rather it will get more and more expensive. The ideal situation is that it will take 50-100 years to become useless. It could take much less time, depending on how greedy/stupid we are about it. Anyone writing about post-peak oil can set their story anywhere they want on the decline side, because it will almost certainly take generations to play out.

The other note is that the current US population distribution depends on a couple of things: water pumps and AC. In much of the southwest, the water is pumped in from elsewhere. Yes, people like Mulholland were incredibly clever about creating aqueducts that needed as few pumps as possible--100 years ago. The current systems are pump intensive.

With infrastructure decay and power getting expensive, water will get expensive too, and AC will become a luxury for the wealthy. Most people will almost certainly move north, reversing the migration pattern we saw post WW2. The northwest and northeast will see population booms. John Scalzi is simply 1-2 generations ahead of his time in this regard.

511:

'Citizen of the Galaxy is relatively unique among RAH's oeuvre in that the Obnoxious Hypercompetent Boy is at least thinly justified (and I think CS could do a better job at both justification and making such a character less obnoxious), and the Smug Self-Justifying Dirty Old Man dies (quite early, too).

512:

Solar panel efficiencies are 'ideal' too, varying in practice with angle of sunlight and clouds. Plants too -- but I think plants actually look more efficient in diffuse sunlight, being limited at full sun by other factors like CO2 extraction.

And again, comparing solar panels making electricity to biofuels is comparing apples and oranges; for fuel production, you'd have to look at the whole cycle of building panels and using the power to make fuel from CO2 and water. What are the numbers on that?

513:

What is needed is an efficient process that does:
CO2 + H2O + electricity/sunlight = octane/ethanol

514:

No, not export sperm and eggs.

I think that (assuming the developed world continues against all reason to entrench an IP regime that encourages human genetic patents) that Africans will license useful human genetic variations applied to everything from chimeric genetic therapies for various ailments, all sorts of prosthetic enhancements, compound synthesis such as pharmaceuticals, and of course heritable traits.

And the USA may become a 'pirate nation' again, as it was for the first century of it's existence.

515:

Wait, since when we have genetic patents for natural genes? I wasn't aware of the fact.

516:

Re portals:
Peter F. Hamilton also uses this trope (burnished to a passable shine) in Pandora's Star and Judas Unleashed, and offers his version of how such tech might shape future expansion, societies, and politics.

*spoiler alert*
Jvgu fcnpr pbzcerffvba grpuabybtl gur qrsnhyg sbe geniry, fcnpr syvtug grpuabybtl (ebpxrgf, jnec qevirf be jungunirlbh) vf qrnq naq arneyl sbetbggra -- hagvy riragf uvtuyvtug (engure qenzngvpnyyl) jul univat pncnovyvgl sbe bss-tevq geniry zvtug or vzcbegnag.

517:

Before you said superheroes were fundamentally uninteresting, I was thinking of suggesting a superhero story... not a specific property like a Marvel or DC on, just your take on them in general, but that seems to be not in the air (unless of course, you take the old idea-generating method of taking something you find uninteresting and finding a way to make it interesting to you).

I've also long been a fan of... I'm not sure if there's a technical term for it, (it possibly fits within Slipstream) but sort of the "something fundamental changes" idea. Like, in Dies the Fire where all high-technology and even gunpowder just stops working, or, say, Brain Wave (and its successor, the zones of thought, if, say, Earth passed through a zone boundary). The importance in these kinds of stories isn't usually the 'how', but what happens in response to whatever fantastic change is wrought. But I suspect if you're mostly writing Mundane SF you'd probably not be terribly interested in this style.

518:
Ahh, but what *would* enable you to write your books in half or quarter the time?
My bet is, dumping the rest of us onto some craft that travels at relativistic speeds.
519:

Wait, since when we have genetic patents for natural genes? I wasn't aware of the fact.

Since ages ago. They just patent the antisense sequence corresponding to the gene, which is, of course, a human artefact.

The US patent system is broken. Unfortunately it's the one that the WTO is busily trying to export to the rest of the planet ...

520:

With all that post-oil stuff going on here: what about a SFictian exploration of the societal metabolism theory? (i.e. a deep link between social and energetic structure of society)

Cf. http://www.uni-klu.ac.at/socec/downloads/WP131FK_webversion.pdf

521:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_patent

A company called Myriad had patents on two genes that cause breast cancer and was preventing anyone else from offering (cheaper) diagnostic tests. Those patents were (fairly recently) overturned: http://scienceblogs.com/geneticfuture/2010/03/jaw-dropping_verdict_against_m.php

It is important to note, though, that a big part of the legal argument against Myriad was that the patients seeking to be tested already had the genes in question. That argument would obviously not apply to 'upgrades'.

But all that's just on the human gene front. Meanwhile, Monsanto is successfully enforcing it's patents with a will against farmers whose crops are becoming contaminated through accidental pollenization.

Given the genetic biodiversity (both human and non) currently being 'mined' by the developed nations in the developing world, I would not be at all surprised if more toll booths start being erected.

522:

I like the phrase "Makerpunk" myself, or Post-punk, if we're talking about a -punk genre. To each their own. Windpunk certainly describes our discussions well, though.

523:

>>>Furthermore, what are the effects on the society if your house can simultaneously have doors that open into your office, a mall, a tropical beach, an alpine resort and maybe even a room in Europa (the jovian moon).

Go and read Dan Simmons's Hyperion and you'll have your answer ... without major spoiler you can also know what is it to have your doors "closed" and you bedroom on another planet...

Charles, don't worry, you have only fans here and we will read (and buy) all your future books even if they are not laundry or colder wars bis ...For myself, I'd like to be surprised once more as I have always been reading you. But ... I'd also like to be able to buy ALL of you books in French before the end of the century. (by the way your new translator did a terrible good thing with palimpseste !)

And as a personnal wish, I just wonder what you could do with Tolkienish fantasy ... orcs, elves, racism, magic, swords, honor and all of that old stuff. My guess is you can twist it and ... I'd be surprised once more ! best luck

525:

Even worse with the pile o'crap 'America Invents' act passed recently. They had a great opportunity to do the right thing but, as usual, blew it.

526:

I'm interested in reading a book from you on something like the following:

- American politics continue along a linear extrapolation of the present, including heavy gerrymandering, dismantling of public education, unemployment, and dominioninsm. While its problems may be surmountable, it chooses to not address them. ("Bio-whatsit? We don't believe in Evolution 'round here, ya here? We're gonna -pray- for (light sweet crude) oil, and don't let me hear no lip about global warmin'".)
- Your choice of nation-state-coalition progresses along more amicable grounds, and addresses the challenges of the future.
- State B frees the hell out of the USA, killing them with kindness. (e.g., humane education along the lines of the Norwegian penal system, pro bono healthcare, genuinely sane less-than-lethal weapons as opposed to psychopaths with tasers)...

Ideally, it would start off looking like some macho survivalist thriller before sliding into a much different direction.

(Bonus points if someone comes up with a hard-scifi pill that cures tribalism.)

(Yes, I'm aware you need to make a living, but we might be in a buying mood for such a tale in a few years, and depending how things are gerrymandered there may be plenty of frustrated-yet-prosperous people to buy it.)

527:

Okay, I have two.

I do have a vague desire to try writing these myself - I've fleshed out the notes for both; unfortunately, I can't see that I would ever get around to it or do them justice.

Idea One: Near future sci-fi thriller with some horror thrown in (not exactly unprecedented ground).

The story is set in a near future world on the verge of falling apart - environmental degradation, peak oil etc.

Scientists develop an exotic communication tech (perhaps even a FTL one?) and turn it to the heavens. They're shocked to see almost every star pumping out transmissions. The Fermi Paradox is resolved, and the implications are not pretty: the universe seems to be consumed by horrific and vastly advanced civilisations/intelligences. Queue existential horror.

Idea Two: An Iain M Banks style, space-opera type story, but with a difference: instead of space, try parallel worlds: huge civilisations strewn across multiple universes. The story would be a human level, quite personal story set against the backdrop of a huge conflict.

528:
Think about two identical clocks, one on each side of the portal, and you looking at both of them at the same "time". The hands of one of them should move faster than the ones of the other.

Very impressive observation here. Yes, if you have a wormhole, you can build a time machine by keeping one end stationary and the other end going near the speed of light and return to the stationary point. Kip Thorne first discovered this after he suggested wormhole as a means of travel to Carl Sagan to be used in his novel Contact. I think Stephen Baxter used this mode of time travel several times in his Xeelee sequence novels.

529:

OK, so this discussion *tells* me what I want you to write next: discussion of such issues, fleshed-out. If it comes in the form of "As you know, Bob" infodumps embedded in fiction, that's a (big) bonus - but the key element is the thoughtful exploration of fact.

[Were I limiting my answer to 'fictional genre/trope,' I might go for a very different setting: future with low population density after (perhaps) lifespan extension and/or reduced interest in breeding, effectively-free energy; what are the societal issues, what does this do to government, and so on. The setting is, I suppose, akin to that at the start of John Ringo's "There will be Dragons" fantasy series, but the results I would expect to be massively different!]

530:

Two stories I'd like to see...

1)A character that is ready for one kind of singularity (i.e. a bio-tech one), but the world suddenly shifts to a second kind (a "wet" nanotech/cornucopria one), and the main character is trying to adapt to the changes when he discoviers that the second kind of Singularity is being used to cover a third kind...that would be a tyrant's dream.
2)A Laundry novel that basically can be summed up as "The Black Chamber wants a Liaison Officer with the Laundry. They're not willing to give the Crown Jewels but definitely willing to lend them out," and they want one officer in particular to fill the role-Bob. Why? As we go through the book, we figure out that the Black Chamber has been running scenarios-and the only one that doesn't see human extinction in six months is Bob Howard being in DC for those six months. Hilarity ensues.

531:

I actually checked the 'kickstarter' cost for the Brit Empire steampunk Nazi thing - it came in over $60K as I recall, and I decided that was too high to be plausible for me to organise; but I don't doubt that our host could get this pledged pretty fast via a kickstarter if he so chose.

See, though, assorted replies indicating that we'd also need to fund editors, publishing costs, etc, so that figure needs to go up from there.

532:

The US Patent System is changing. Instead of it being the first person to say they made something that gets the patent, it will be the first person who submits the form who gets the patent.

533:

The two books that I would like to read are:

1) A negative space fantasy novel; basically you typical heroic fantasy / SF story, told from the point of view of all the faceless chaf that get chewed up and spat out by the heros in their pursuit of whatever plotline they're chasing.

2) A timetravel/alt history story where a bunch of people get transported back to $more_primitive_time, and we get to watch them comlpetely fail to take over the world due to culture shocks / culture clashes and the fact that the locals aren't stupid.

I doubt that our gracious host would be the person to write them though, given that they are both pretty much in the bin of Things He Won't Write, and 2) is almost certainly unsalable. I'd still love to read them.

534:

For very limited values of "a time machine", since the wormhole will only enable you to move between when the wormhole was first established and FN_NOW(). Even then, I'd want convincing that you can "move forward" between the fixed end at $established and the moving end at FN_NOW(), rather than just backwards between FN_NOW() and $established. I rather suspect that movement between the fixed and moving end will not result in any movement in sidereal time greater than any duration in travelling through the wormhole.

535:

Arguing about the theoretical time-travel abilites of moving wormholes is like arguing about the theoretical poison-neutralising abilities of unicorn horns. They don't, as far as we know, exist. I suppose you could conceive of someone making one eventually (and that goes for unicorns or wormholes) but given the best-guess theoretical resources required, why the hell would anyone bother?

536:

Au contraire: knowing that if we had such items (moving wormholes) then we would also have to examine their causality violation properties is one of the secret weapons in the hard SF armoury.

(Note I specify "hard SF" as opposed to "mundane SF". Mundane SF insists that the weapons should be, if imaginary, then at least compatible with the known laws of physics and/or on the drawing board at DARPA or somewhere similar.)

If you consider hard SF to be a whodunnit where the job of the reader is to work out what the rules of the universe are (rather than who killed Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Candelabra) when being aware of this makes for a higher class of hokum.

537:

Are you prepared to put money on that claim? If so, which leading theoretical physicists and mathematicians would you accept as an arbitration panel on whether or not wormholes exist somewhere? Not on whether or not they can be generated artificially, since if they exist then that's just an engineering problem.

538:

I don't gamble (my mother hates gambling) but I don't mind saying I'm a wormhole "atheist".

I turn the question around to you - what empirical evidence can you or anyone else cite for wormholes? All there is, as far as I can tell, are several bits of mathematics that say that in certain entirely hypothetical situations it may well be that it is not impossible for wormholes to exist.

So, for me, wormholes are up there with unicorns. It might be interesting to write about them, but if I did I would use a different tense than you did.

539:

Fair enough. I'm running a bit on the "If $famous_scientist says something is impossible, he's almost certainly wrong..." argument.

540:

Buh? If you can move backward, you can move forward; wormholes are two way. Also, backward is the problem.

Make a wormhole. Shoot it out at near lightspeed for 10 light-years, so near lightspeed that it takes 1 subjective second for the ship pulling the hole, due to time dilation. (Yes these are magic numbers, they just keep the principle clear and simple.) The wormhole is a singular object, so if you're in Sol, and wait one second, and step through, you'll be one second ahead in the timeframe of the other mouth -- which is now 10 light years away, "10 years in the future".

This by itself is not a time machine.

But you can bring the wormhole *back*. So you wait 2 seconds, then step through -- to Sol, 20 years ahead.

And then come back, with the stock tips.

Bam, time machine.

This is a general relativity special, independent of the way special relativity turns *any* FTL into a time machine.

541:

Contrary-wise. When you can make the trip to the point 10LY distant, you have had to wait 10 sidereal years from when the ship departed in order to do it.

542:

Here’s an idea – although I’m not sure I’d want to read it, i’d like someone to write it. Not trolling but how about an “anti-science fiction” novel where CERN gets to the bottom of physics in the next few years to no great effect and technological advances top out with the mature technologies of the Ipad/Prius/whatever else. How does the western world cope with the promise of change evaporating? How much stuff do we put up with now in the belief something better or at least different will come along? Can western culture shake off the idea that it’s a process towards something and create an ongoing present for itself? Imagine the anti-future shock when changes in the human condition stop being due to technological change and are down to boring things like conflicts over resources/ideology/ethnicity.

543:

How about a near future novel set during a major episode of flood volcanism (Deccan Traps scale). The ash cloud would pretty much shut down air transport world wide (like the Icelandic ash cloud orders of magnitude bigger).

544:

The physicists say otherwise.

And even if you were right, that'd still allow for the classic FTL time machine.

545:

What would I like you to write next?

A novel. Possibly the first novel in a series, or perhaps a stand-alone novel, or maybe the sequel to something you've already written. Or the continuation of a series.

Or, if you want something shorter, type the following (or a variant on it, if you feel like embellishing a bit):

"I regret to inform you that your ideas do not suit my purposes at this time. Signed,"

Then put your signature at the bottom. Scan the result, and post it to your blog. We'll all know that it's meant for that other guy's second-rate idea.

(Ideas are like blocks of marble. If I hand somebody a block of marble, he is *not* splitting the proceeds from the sculpture at any rate better than 99%/1% in his favor, and that's if he's generous to the point of insanity.)

546:

"Prequels to the Laundry series: a collection of short stories set in World War 2, World War 1, 19th century British Navy, Medieval times, Roman Empire or even Prehistoric times."

Aubrey and Maturin fight Cthulhu! I'd buy it.

547:

Probably my favourite sci-fi trilogy of all time is The Golden Age.

I find it odd that it isn't often cited in discussions about groundbreaking hard SF, and even odder that The Quantum Thief, which has a very similar tone and borrows many of its ideas (that's not a criticism - great artists steal, etc. and Quantum Thief is brilliant in it's own right) seems to have a been a runaway success where Golden Age was largely lost in obscurity.

One of my favourite books of yours, Charlie, was Glasshouse - not because of the 1950s gender equality exploration, but because of the brief glimpses of the post-singularity (sorry, dirty word) society of their "real world".

I've encountered this genre so rarely that I don't even know what it's called. "Posthuman utopia" sort of describes it, except that usually what makes it interesting is that it it isn't a utopia - the stories are compelling because they take the premise that in a society where everyone is immortal, there are no alien menaces and everyone is more-or-less free to pursue their own intellectual paradise, it's still possible for there to be drama, conflict, evil and heroism.

There are a few writers exploring similar scenarios (Banks, Asher, etc), but their universes are generally populated by evil aliens, ancient, dead civilisations, etc and other handy tropes for building plots around. The "just (post)humans and their AI descendants" scenario is a much harder to write about but seems much more rewarding when done right.

So my question is, are you a fan of The Golden Age, and this genre in general, and is there any chance of you exploring it further in your own novels?

PS, I suspect you're going to point me at Saturn's children, which I enjoyed immensely but I don't think it's quite the same thing (for reasons I'm struggling to articulate).

548:

> American politics continue along a linear extrapolation of the present...
> [Utopian] State B frees the hell out of the USA, killing them with kindness.

Setting of Sterling's "We See Things Differently", premise of "Red Dawn" (from the villain's perspective).

Benevolent Invasions are for other people. Writing one that would play well in the US sounds like a hard (but interesting) task.

Alternate premise: after years of right-wing anti-Federalism, a group realizes that they can implement European-style social democracy state-by-state, using devolved Federal powers and money.
Irony ensues, followed by a tussle over the remaining resources/states. Extra drama points for making the origins of soc-dem group a bit mysterious and possibly sinister.

I suspect it's a poor fit for Mr. Stross, though.

549:

Michelle Bachmann isn't likely to get the Republican nomination, much less become President of the US. Nor is anyone much like her. For one thing, she actually believes in her version of Christianity.

Slight digression: The US has a heroin-cocaine cycle. At one point, even the dimmest drug users realize that heroin is dangerous; and many look for a safer drug. At that same point in the cycle, there are experts saying that cocaine isn't addicting; and it's generally "known" that cocaine is relatively safe. Farther along, people realize that cocaine is MUCH more dangerous than heroin. Repeat.

There's also a conservativism-liberalism cycle. Neither political potion maintains its popularity forever.

550:

I'm not sure there's a good tag for the "post-human utopia" setting either, but I'd certainly like to see stories that try to describe something like the greater world of Glasshouse or the far future of Accelerando. While physical wealth may be effectively unlimited, people will want things they can't punch up out of a replicator, leading to conflict at a level above high school personal drama. (Note: expect many drama queens in the Culture.) Plenty of general things come to mind for people to bicker over, and some can be done without seeming petty. Personal achievement, like being the first person to come back out of a black hole? Fame for coining a really new mathematical proof? In a society of telepaths, privacy comes into fashion - just another stupid fad or a cover for something sinister? Can you uplift your batch of genetically engineered pangolins to sapience before your rivals or the authorities catch on? Can you shut down Bob from Accounting before his unnatural genetically engineered squid achieve sapience?

551:

I concur with Scott Sanford et al. I'd like to see more set in the Accelerando/Glasshouse universe. Curious Yellow was a fascinating concept, and I'd love to see a detective novel trying to ascertain what person or Power was behind it.

552:

"Prequels to the Laundry series: a collection of short stories set in World War 2, World War 1, 19th century..."I'd like that! Mr homes was around a long time, so could waiting for Case Green.
But you know I like the old SF that was by people who had done things (like CS) not people who had writing classes and really wanted to do high literature. There is co2 killing sea life and ours. There is the environmental toxin beta-methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA produced by cyanobacteria, the blue-green algae that live in soil, lakes, and oceans.
studies have found BMAA in seafood, suggesting that certain diets and locations may put people at particular risk. More worrisome, blooms of cyanobacteria are becoming increasingly common in warmer waters making a upsurge in ALS—and possibly other neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s as well.

553:

Ok, we are at $junction1 in a 1-way system. To reach the adjacent $junction2 in $direction1, I intend to walk against the traffic flow. You indend to drive 2 blocks in $direction2, 1 in $direction1 and 2 in -$direction2. We arrive at $junction2 simultaneously. By your argument, we travelled at the same ground speed, rather than me travelling at $your_speed/5 over a shorter course.

Now do you see why wormhole travel does not imply FTL, never mind time travel?

554:

My personal favorite would have a Newton/Einstein/Hari Seldon figure (or an AI) founding a new science: Economics 2.0., able to make accurate predictions if

a) Enough reliable and up-to-date statistics and opinion polls are available

b) All the rest remains constant ('ceteris paribus'). For example, if a really huge earthquake shakes Japan or California all bets are off.

c) Predictions are kept a close secret, because their knowledge alters decisions - a sort of Heisenberg Principle applied to economic behavior. The more people in the secret, the more unreliable the results.

555:

I'd like to see you do something new.

I think of Warren Ellis's SVK work with BERG.
I think of you writing a game script. Or an ARG script.

I think of you teaming up with a good programmer to stitch a narrative together out of publicly available API's to tell me a story featuring my social graph. Featuring the street where I live or my friends. Something about the truly weird time we live in that uses the truly weird time we live in. This was a milestone but I think you could get people to pay for it.

The economics on books are changing. People are still willing to pay for experiences, but they are waking up to the realities of artificial scarcities. However - if I can pay to get in and read a story where some of the very marrow of it involves me personally or I can choose to borrow my friend's story and read something about them... I'm going to want mine.

556:

Neal Asher's Politiy series also has interplanetary portals.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neal_Asher

557:

Change of time frame: I just got some, ahem, interesting results for sales of "Rule 34" in its first two months.

Ebooks are not at the 50%-of-sales level yet. But my readers appear to be tech-savvy early adopters and I'm apparently way ahead of the other authors my agent deals with, and indeed, ahead of the curve for SF/F.

I'm locked down, in the middle of a multi-book, multi-year contract right now. But there may be some significant strategy decisions to be made before I sign another.

558:

Off-topic, I've discovered that my local library system purchased several copies of "Rule 34" - and the reserve requests suggest none will see the stacks this side of the Singularity. There's a healthy demand for Charles Stross books around here.

559:
CERN gets to the bottom of physics in the next few years to no great effect and technological advances top out with the mature technologies of the Ipad/Prius/whatever else. How does the western world cope with the promise of change evaporating?

Even if Moore's law came to an abrupt halt, with current hardware we're still poised for a major shift in biotech, it's all a matter of understanding the genetic code and workings thereof so your hypothetical world would have to just ignore major areas of science or allow for about 100 (estimate!) years of overshoot before progress really stops.

560:

Am I too late to place a vote?

I would vote for a YA coming-of-age story in an early post-scarcity world. Limited nanotech, limited AI (e.g., small, not-too-complex physical objects are print-on-demand, all AI are either kinda stupid or monomaniacally focussed savants).

561:

Charlie, I don't recall if you have been asked/answered this question before: why do you write more mundane SF now? There is no implied criticism to this question. I think Rule 34 is the best SF I've read in the past year, and I love the constraints imposed by a commitment to the mundane. The revelation at the center of Rule 34 is both fully compatible with known science and deeply, wonderfully weird.

But you're also clearly capable of writing non-mundane fiction, even SF-as-fantasy. Is it market success, personal preference, or something else that is driving your current focus on the mundane end of the spectrum?

For myself, I'll say why I love at least a part of mundane SF: the future is ripe with an embarrassment of changes and surprises even if you assume that we are not going to make contact with intelligent alien life, turn into or be ruled by runaway machine intelligence, or discover some convenient physics that lets us zip off to distant stars. In fact it seems like these fantastic elements are often used as a way to avoid dealing with the truly weird: comprehensible aliens, "general" artificial intelligence, and posthumans are convenient ways of introducing humans with rubber foreheads, or gods, under new names. Trotting off to distant stars with magic physics is a convenient way to tell adventure and exploration stories that don't have to seriously confront the vastness of space or its incompatibility with human limitations. Fantasy science is used to make the world mundane for human beings, whereas real science makes the world appear stranger to us than before.

562:

Charlie, I don't recall if you have been asked/answered this question before: why do you write more mundane SF now?

Because nobody else (or very few people) are doing it.

You don't get to break new ground by following the herd.

NB: I'm currently trying to nail down the end of the collaboration I'm doing with Cory Doctorow, which is anything but Mundane SF.

However, the project I roll into after that is an attempt at doing a Mundane SF space opera. (Which is part of the reason I'm off to DARPA's Hundred Year Starship symposium next week.)

563:

Moore's Law still has at least 30 years left

564:

scubapunk

565:

I know. I was answering a hypothetical scenario.

566:

Relatively Stable! RELATIVE! To a country succumbing to internal geographic, class based and economic divisions and descending into Civil War! Pretend like Salmond has cleared off somewhere...

567:

I was given a Kindle for my birthday last week and 'Rule 34' was my first purchase for it. It kind of felt thematically appropriate, ya know?

So I guess I'm squarely in some kind of Strossian demographic.

Regards
Luke

568:

You may be covering this in the Rule 34 politics sequel, but how would Glasshouse T-gates actually work? Several of my US friends or old classmates have been infected with "I am NOT Curious" viruses, one with "God's word governs," and the other with the "get your guns to resist the evil government" version. I don't want to chop off their heads and throw them through a t-gate (I think they may wish they could do that with me.)

You've banned several trolls for defending Hitler and whatever, but maybe the most interesting and difficult question is what motivated the evil doctor in Glasshouse. The drug-runners you could see as a psychopathic society, but it evolved that way and the conservatives didn't have enough imagination to realize what Cheney was like. And Cheney?

You suggest the psychopath in Rule 34 might still be alive. Can he get "fixed"? The AI who knocks off spammers seems straight from prisoner's dilemma tournaments - cooperate or be out of the game. That overdoes it - a hapless small timer trying to support his family gets knocked off. But "somebody" steers the police, and the psychopath's behavior. Can we have a happy ending? But what happens if the the AIs can manipulate us completely? Or if the AIs don't agree on the definition of cooperation?

569:

Glasshouse had a simple premise: T-gates are teleports -- basically artificial wormhole end-points. And A-gates are assembler/disassemblers that can destructively digitize a person (or anything else you put in it), or re-create said physical object from said data.

We're talking a very post-singularity tech level here; mind uploading is an implicit side-effect of A-gates, as is your nanotech cornucopia machine, while T-gates give you instantaneous (implicitly FTL) communication, and free energy (drop one end of a T-gate into a star's photosphere, put some kind of heat engine at the other end).

Possible spoiler for "Glasshouse":

"Glasshouse" also has a non-obvious premise: Reeve/Robin is what we in the trade call an unreliable narrator, and the "evil" doctor is anything but ... in fact, the whole point of the glasshouse is to get the inmates (who are badly damaged, many of them war criminals) to reject the pathological behaviour patterns being imposed on them by the "experimenters" and establish a new and liberal social consensus of their own accord. (Then isolate from external civilization for long enough for this new lifestyle to become settled habit and for the folks outside to do a bit of forgiving and forgetting. Which is where we are at the end of the book.)

I'm not going to provide explicit spoilers for "Rule 34" for at least another year -- until the mass market paperback has been out for a while.

570:

(Wow, this thread's still going!)

A couple nights ago, I had a notion of a challenging bit of fiction to write, so I'm passing it on to you.

Have you ever been tempted to write a "New York City" novel?

Thinking about a post-plentiful USA, I had a vision of a New York City of maybe a century from now where food was scarce enough that most people looked skinny compared to today and where the weather was hot and a bit arid.

But it was STILL recognizably New York City, in the way people acted and sounded.

(It was the antithesis of Lethem's _Chronic City_ in that people in my version of NYC were less bullshit-intensive and more alert.)

So, d'ya think you could write a New York City that was adapting to becoming like one of those ancient desert cities of the Middle East? I'm sure there'd still be murders and other narrative diversions to set the stage with.

571:

I guess I wasn't really looking for a post-singularlity answer (my religious friends would be really freaked - what happens to souls in an A-gate?)
I was more fishing for your ideas on how people change when they have deeply held beliefs that may not be based on "fact". Counter "Facts" tend to just harden the beliefs. So providing "transformative" experiences seem a/the? way to go. Creating a Glasshouse group that you can't easily get away from is one way (think T-groups and therapeutic communities). But none of the "survivor" tv shows have ever resulted in the competitors challenging the organizers. What's the difference?

And how do you deal with a open field? If you're trying to evolve cooperation ala prisoners dilemmas, you get clumping - cooperative groups that compete with other groups. Criminal enterprises are cooperative for their members. How do we wind up with sweetness and light for everybody? That may be post "rapture"

572:

I suggest that an effective tactic in this would be letting the subjects believe that the changing attitudes were a matter of natural evolution; they're likely to resist commands, but happy to go along with their own ideas.

In a setting where uploads are possible, a power with sufficient moral flexibility might reboot failed units (individuals or entire groups) as they went totally off the rails, ending up with whatever iteration finally "succeeded." Having progressive save points is obviously useful here.

As readers of "Glasshouse" will be aware, telling such a story from a participant's point of view is not easy.

573:

How about a Cloud Atlas, Charles Stross style, using the six historical periods for devices created by Bruce Sterling?

574:

I agree about fusion reactor, but don't forget 'cold fusion'.
Yes, that field get bad in the early's 90. But it's now a seriouly studied field: http://www.iccf-14.org/ 14th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science,
which is also known as the 14th International Conference on Cold Fusion (ICCF-14)
That might be the energy source of the near future...

And about the topic of that thread: more Laundry stories, pleaseeeeeee ;)

575:

Oh - disclaimer - Charlie, if you ever end up producing any work which has any similarity to my posts here or elsewhere - which I now stipulate are one or more of {bad, trivial, unoriginal, barely funny} - you are of course welcome to them and I hereby renounce any real or imagined "rights" to them, "rights" which I do not believe I have. (*)

(*) Unless you write something about a left-handed Telecaster player, the academic version of an army brat, who is into all of; cats, mountains, scifi, small unit tactics, philosophy & history of science, folk baroque guitar and all-night gigs during London Fashion Week. In which case I simply request you describe him as having an unearthly beauty.

Cheers, and enjoy the DARPA thing.

576:

Have you ever thought about the possibility that democracy is easier on corporate money? Not that I'm sure about it. But with democracy you can just spend money on the diverse parties and everyone will a)be indebted to you and b) all these individials will be far less powerfull than you.

While in a monarchy, the next successor might have radical ideas about you, your money and the state of the world and just, you know, take your stuff. Not because he's a nice guy and wants to make things better for the subjects but just because he can.

Specials

Merchandise

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 16, 2011 7:27 PM.

Upcoming reading/talk was the previous entry in this blog.

Post-oil ... is the next entry in this blog.

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

Search this blog

Propaganda