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Coming next September ...

Due to a combination of jet lag and the untimely death of Steve Jobs, I forgot to mention another piece of work-related news: Cory Doctorow and I have just handed in our novel, The Rapture of the Nerds, to Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Tor. And if all goes to plan, it'll be published next September.

It's been an odd project. Writers of fiction, by their nature, tend to be solitary; you have to be somewhat introspective if not introverted, and have a strong creative vision. But because the conditions of the job (holed up for hours each day in an office with no human companionship) are not exactly stimulating, sometimes you have to look for a way to vary your routine. Some successful writers hold down part-time jobs just for the human contact (as opposed to the money; many more writers have day jobs because the pay for fiction typically sucks). Others travel a lot. We tend to spend a lot of time on email and social networks. And sometimes we look at someone else's work and think, "hmm, I wonder what it'd be like to work with them?"

Back around 2003 or thereabouts one of us — I can't remember whether it was me or Cory — said to the other, "wanna collaborate on something short?" I had an unfinished story beginning kicking around; a guy wakes up in someone else's bathtub after a riotous party, and discovers there's a biohazard trefoil on his arm. I chucked it at Cory, who went "hmm," and added a thousand words to it before throwing it back at me. We continued in that vein for a few weeks, and somehow this monstrous hybrid thing emerged: a tall post-singularity tale about a curmudgeonly welsh environmentalist called Huw (who doesn't trust any technology more sophisticated than his bicycle), who somehow ends up in Libya on a very peculiar jury empanelled to pass judgement on a downloaded something that has arrived from the transcended cloud, high above. And we sold the story to SciFi.com, back when they published fiction. Then we wrote a sequel for the short-lived reboot of Argosy magazine.

Now, we'd had it in mind to write a third chunk, turning the two novellas into a book-length story. But Cory Doctorow is a busy guy, and I spent most of the noughties pushing out two books a year, and one of the truisms of collaboration is that if you've got two writers, they each get to do 75% of the work. (Three writers? No problem, they all get to do 75% of the work. Some weird creative sector variation on Brooks's Law applies: adding authors to a book in progress increases the amount of work without increasing productivity.) So, despite learning that no less a fellow than Tom Doherty had thundered at his editors, "buy the Doctorow/Stross collaboration!" we left it at an annual email exchange: "you got any free time this year?" "Nope, how about you?" "Nope, I was just checking."

Until 2010.

Locus magazine is the trade rag for the written SF and fantasy field. And every year they run some April Fool news items. Their 2010 piece was a bit special, though: Doctorow and Stross to Write Authorized Sequel to Atlas Shrugged.

Today the estate of Ayn Rand announced that they had authorized science fiction writers Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow to write an official sequel to Rand's bestselling novel Atlas Shrugged.

"Given that the original novel features an amazing new metal alloy, a secret valley protected by force field, and an unlimited new energy source, we felt that a science fiction perspective was key to carrying forward Ayn Rand's ideas," said Rand estate spokesman Perry Leikoff. "And what better science fiction writers to chose than two collaborators who were also past winners of the Prometheus Award given out by the Libertarian Futurist Society?"

Stross, author of the Prometheus Award-winning novel Glasshouse, said that he and Doctorow (author of the Prometheus Award-winning novel Little Brother) were hesitant at first. "But then we realized that both of us shared one important trait with Ayn Rand: all three of us really, really like money. That made it much easier for Cory and I to cash the seven figure check."

As you can imagine, this set me to thinking. And as it happened, I had a light schedule planned for 2011. So I poked Cory: "have you got time for that collaboration this year?" And to my amazement, he replied, "sure! I'm free from September ..."

Let me reassure you that "The Rapture of the Nerds" is not an authorized sequel to "Atlas Shrugged" (although the uploaded AI ghost of Ayn Rand makes a cameo appearance). Nor is it entirely like a Doctorow novel or a Stross novel — it's got a bizarre kind of double-headed Borg mind all of its own, and quite a twisted one at that. It could be read as a kind of comic coda to "Accelerando", or maybe "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom", but it takes a drastically different view of the singularity from either of those novels.

And we hope you'll like it.

49 Comments

1:

I fully intend to like the hell out of it.

2:

Sounds great!

Now, when will the two of you have time in your schedules to write Atlas Rebound? I think that would be a great read....

3:

Having read Down & Out and your blog for a few years, I somehow doubt that either of you like money as much as Ayn Rand did.

4:

I agree!! I can't wait for the part where Dagny Taggart gets her Medicare card.

5:

My attitude to money is: life is like a shit sandwich -- the more dough you've got, the less shit you have to eat. But it doesn't take too much dough to enable you to eliminate the brown stuff from your diet entirely; beyond a certain threshold, doubling your income doesn't do much. As one of my main goals is to maximize my readership, I therefore have a trade-off: focus on making money, or focus on being read? And "being read" usually wins.

If you have fans you can earn money. Whereas no matter how much money you have, it's almost impossible to buy fans.

6:

True.

But get enough money, you can skip fans entirely, and go straight to air conditioners.

And I'm cool with that.

7:

You're a much deeper thinker and stronger writer than Cory. I think this will diminish you

10:

Plorf! Noggle! Pizwitz?

11:

"The Mythical Man-Month". A classic about software development.

12:

Your novels tend to be on the hard-scifi side, and Cory's tend to gloss over the tech to focus on the macroscale social ramifications (sometimes skipping the science bit entirely, like in Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town -- whereas even the Laundry series, ostensibly urban fantasy, manages to be harder sci-fi than your typical science fiction novel by another author). Can we expect your characteristic scifi hardness here?

[Disclaimer: I haven't read a great deal of Doctorow's novel-length stuff, so perhaps Someone Comes to Town is a major outlier skewing my perspective. Eastern Standard Tribe is bordering on Gibson's "20 Minutes Into Last Wednesday" Bigend Trilogy in hardness, and most of the devices described in Makers are showing up on BoingBoing now]

13:

Let me reassure you that "The Rapture of the Nerds" is not an authorized sequel to "Atlas Shrugged" (although the uploaded AI ghost of Ayn Rand makes a cameo appearance)

I seem to recall an AI ghost of Ayn Rand in a book before...Matt Ruff, I think? He delightfully tortured the character mercilessly.

14:

You touched on it a little in describing
your collaborative short story writing but
I would be interested in any comments you
might make about the actual work-a-day
process of your collaboration with Cory
Doctorow; was there a single text that went
through successive iterations as it was
passed back and forth between the two of
you or was there a more definable division
of labor, with,say, one of you doing most
of the actual writing while the other worked
out the 'engineering' that goes into a novel
(plot mechanics, chapter outlines, story arcs,
etc)

Forgive me if my question seems naive; I
imagine that it may ultimately come down
to a mysterious literary alchemy that a
non-writer could never understand.

15:

The bit about the "double-headed Borg mind" is just a metaphor, Charlie and Cory aren't actually going to have surgery to join into a nightmarish shambling mockery of nature, so it's unlikely there will be long term dramatic effects such as being "diminished".

adding authors to a book in progress increases the amount of work without increasing productivity

And yet some people seem to be addicted to it. I'm guessing the kind of Big Name/small name author collaboration we see often have a more hierarchical structure than the meeting of minds kind of equality your collab probably has.

16:

Ayn Rand's ideas were nuts. At the last of her live she was on NY state welfare.

17:

Knowing your attitude towards the likelihood of a technological singularity occurring, I'm just curious as to why you want to write another book on the subject. (Not that I don't think I will enjoy it immensely: It will be great fun to see what you and Cory can do together. I'm a fan of his work as well, and hoped something like this would happen.)

Also, on the subject of money, how much income do you feel is enough to prevent you from having to swallow any shit?

18:
Charlie and Cory aren't actually going to have surgery to join into a nightmarish shambling mockery of nature

One might suggest that being a nightmarish shambling mockery of nature is their job. Nature certainly needs a good mocking.

19:

Yeah, after I wrote that I couldn't help thinking to be a nightmarish shambling mockery of nature sounds really cool.

Maybe Cory could start a kickstarter campaign to fund the surgery.

20:

I've been waiting a long time for another double-header from you guys (Jury Duty and Appeals Court were both great fun), and I'm simply delighted that it's going to be a full on novel!

Roll on September 2012.

21:

...I would be interested in any comments you might make about the actual work-a-day process of your collaboration...

Yes, Charlie will you and Cory hand over your email logs from the last decade for the the-making-of book?

More seriously, do you have your passwords in escrow with a layer or maybe backups in a deposit box with your will saying "yo dawg, plz give these to the people"? It's cool that we know so much about how HPL thought because he left a bunch of physical letters around. But how will we know what CS and CD were thinking!?

22:

So who does Dagney get on the rebound? :-)

I will also enjoy the hell out of it just as soon as it's available. The two previous collaborations had a somewhat quirky and very definitely humorous take on the Singularity; I've been jonesing for more of that for several years now.

23:

But how will we know what CS and CD were thinking!?

Both have mastered a trick called 'blogging.' This was something people did before they could upload their whole brains to the internet.

24:

>>Both have mastered a trick called 'blogging.' This was something people did before they could upload their whole brains to the internet.
It's sounds so old fashion now with everybody being uploaded to the matrix. Did they really "eat shit" back in those old days ? I could never understand those 21st century people ... ;)

25:

The last sentence of the Locus quote was the real give away: if they had been genuinely quoting you I'm sure it would have said "Cory and me", not "Cory and I". Up until that point I'd have believed it ;-).

26:

I beg to differ with Our Gracious Host on money not buying fans: Donald Trump. Were it not for his bongo-bucks (or the appearance thereof, according to the bankruptcy courts), nobody would pay attention to the Combover That Walks Like A Man.

Other examples abound; it's in our primate nature to defer to the ape who claims the largest pile of poo.

27:

I never was really into Vingepunk, but judging by my recollection of Jury Service this is right up my alley.

I just wonder how you can upload the mind of someone who's brain has rotten away for multiple decades.

28:

Scanning a brain seems much easier if there actually is, you know, a brain around someplace.

On the other hand, people have been kicking around the idea of reverse-engineering a personality from the available biographical evidence, arbitrary amounts of time after the fact. Like uploading, this is not currently possible. On the other hand, there's probably somebody at Apple thinking about the question right now.

29:

A joke I'm not using much this week is: what do you think the huge Apple data centre in North Carolina was for? Obviously if you're going to try mind uploading in the early 21st century you need a big server farm ...

30:

It's apparent the proposed new Apple HQ in Cupertino is Steve's pyramid, although perhaps without the jars of organs.

31:

Will Steve's pyramid have a big eye on it? ILLUMINATING THINGS?

32:

Ok, so I have 11 months to get round to reading the CG that's sitting in the "to be read" bookcase. Your mission, Mr Stross, should you decide to accept it, is to not make any interesting introductions for/of "new to me" authors in the next year.
As always, should you, or any of your team, be captured, the Scottish Government will deny all knowledge of your activities.
This blog posting will self-destruct in 5 seconds. ;-)

33:
I seem to recall an AI ghost of Ayn Rand in a book before...Matt Ruff, I think? He delightfully tortured the character mercilessly.

Yup, in Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, which, by Baader-Meinhof, I have come into possession of just this weekend.

34:

Maybe you mean money can buy sycophants, which is certainly true.

35:

I might have missed this, but where are the older collaborations published? On Corey's site there are references to New Faces in Science Fiction which I think was published as New Voices in Science Fiction (have to check at home) and ReVisions anthology.

http://craphound.com/unwirer/archives/000006.html

Is Jury Services available someplace? (Link in above is dead).

Charley

36:

"Jury Service" was online on scifi.com, but they shitcanned their fiction website a year or two ago; I believe the Wayback Machine still has it. "Appeals Court" I'm not so sure about.

We will be releasing the novel-length version as a free download on publication day, if you can bear to wait ...

38:

Thanks - I look forward to reading them!

39:

Well, that's helpful; I had just found earlier today that the old Jury Service site was gone. Now I've got it, although in PDF. (And I've discovered that our host and my sister share a birthday. You learn something every day.)

40:

You should collaborate with Peter Watts for a story about a reincarnated Ayn Rand who goes on a rampage because of a biological eco-disaster.

Or just leave her on the bottom of the Pacific. The damage to the future would be minimized that way.

Love the idea, will buy the book. freaking guaranteed! And don't wait a bunch of years to go audio, please!

41:

Eric, to you really think our friends who co-signed the Benthic Treaty would react well to such pollution of their habitat?

42:

I recently enjoyed the first two parts from Feedbooks. Should I just read the third installment or have the previous ones been changed much?

43:

The first two parts have indeed changed significantly.

45:

Right you are! Sewer Gas and Electric is a delightful romp, and I suspect anyone looking forward to a Stross/Doctorow romp will enjoy the heck out of SGE while you're waiting.

46:

You mention that the collaboration has spewed out neither a Stross nor Doctorow novel made something dislodge in the sub and fall into the conscious.
What you describe sounds like "The Third Mind" a book I remember reading, (though alot of the content has fallen through the filters), which describes a collaboration between William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Luckily, the Wikister regurgitates: The significance of "The Third Mind" is that it is a shared consciousness that can only be reached by two (or more) people together-- they access a place that neither could reach alone. Person A and Person B can find new ideas in dialogue because they are improvisationally responding to each other's unpredictable mind."
Interestingly makes me mentally wander toward the idea of what Burroughs could have done with the cut-up technique collaborating with an AI?

47:

Interestingly makes me mentally wander toward the idea of what Burroughs could have done with the cut-up technique collaborating with an AI?

There is no such thing as an AI.

(Yet.)

So speculating on an AI's collaborative writing style is a bit spurious.

Mind you, here is a book written by a computer.

48:

This week the NY Times Sunday Book Review has an article on RoboBooks.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Authors.

Apparently a German company prints out Wikipedia articles in book form and charges ridiculous amounts. They're more edited by computer than written. Not quite the same thing. The article also goes into whether computers will be able to actually construct (I won't say write) a novel.

49:

Not to mention Burroughs (non)state of mind

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 8, 2011 1:54 PM.

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