July 2012 Archives

This Thursday, I'm one of four authors reading at Blackwells Bookshop on South Bridge in Edinburgh as part of their Writers at the Fringe program. It runs from 6pm-8pm and is free.

Also of note: Tor have organized a signing tour for me and Cory Doctorow to coincide with the launch of "The Rapture of the Nerds". Dates:

Wednesday, September 5
7:00 PM
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Lexington, KY

Thursday, September 6
7:00 PM
Makerbot Industries
Brooklyn, NY

Friday, September 7
7:00 PM
Brookline Booksmith
Brookline, MA

Saturday, September 8 & Sunday, September 9
11:00 PM on Saturday, 1:00 PM on Sunday
4th International IEEE Consumer Electronics Society Games Innovation Conference (Rochester Institue of Technology)
Rochester, NY

This follows on from Chicon 7, the world science fiction convention, where I'll be (in Chicago from August 30 to September 3).

[ Discussion here ]

Comments are shut down because a botnet is spamming so hard it pushed the load average on my server up over 60.

Discussions continue in the antipope storm refuge, which you can join here. (It's a google group, accessible via the web or as an email mailing list.)

I have an iPad. I also have a Google Nexus 7 tablet (and yes, it basically fixed everything that was wrong with my Samsung-delivered sub-par Android experience). Both tablets are really optimized for slightly different tasks. However, they share a common Achilles' Heel: neither of them is designed to accommodate additional storage. If you bought one of these tablets with 8Gb or 16Gb you're right out of luck if you want to carry 32Gb of stuff around with you.

So I went looking for a solution, and found one.

The final typo hunt! If you've noticed any typos or errors of fact in the two aforementioned novels (books 5 and 6 of the Merchant Princes series) I'd be very grateful if you'd list them in a comment under this blog entry. Note: it's now too late to notify me of typos in the first four books in the series. As before, please provide some verbatim textual context I can search for in the manuscript, or a page/line number ... and specify which edition you're talking about: ideally the US mass market paperback, which was the final corrected edition prior to the one I'm hunting down typos for.

fuck the olympics!

(Image reproducted by kind permission of the inestimable Smuzz, who has been illustrating stories by me since 1986.)

The 'chemputer' that could print out any drug. For implications, see "Rule 34". (Or 1998's "Holy Fire" by Bruce Sterling, for a look a little further down the line ... Bruce is always a decade ahead of the rest of the SF field.)

I'm pretty sure some of the British police forces are proactively engaging in internet monitoring already; here in Edinburgh they're already running anti-cyber-bullying campaigns in schools.

So far I haven't heard about any venture capital partnerships throwing the rule book out of the window and getting into organized crime business process re-engineering, but I may have been thinking too small.

So. Just as "Halting State" was basically at the "stick a fork in it, it's done" stage when Google announced project glass, I think we're creeping up on the finishing line for "Rule 34".

And in about a month I'll be getting down to work on "The Lambda Functionary", the third book in the trilogy, set circa 2030, in a world where the second and third generation descendants of ATHENA are in widespread use, the global population is ageing and greying (in particular, in Europe, where by 2030 the median age is projected to be 45.4).

What are your expectations for the world of 2030? (Singularities and catastrophic collapse of civilization scenarios excluded: I want "if this goes on ..." projections, not Book of Revelations schadenfreude.)

This is the one you've been waiting for! If you've noticed any typos or errors of fact in the two aforementioned novels (books 3 and 4 of the Merchant Princes series) I'd be very grateful if you'd list them in a comment under this blog entry. Note: not the last two novels in the series, just the middle two—the latter will get their own thread. As before, please provide some verbatim textual context I can search for in the manuscript, or a page/line number ... and specify which edition you're talking about: ideally the US mass market paperback, which was the final corrected edition prior to the one I'm hunting down typos for.

(Yes, I've been quiet for the past week; death-marched my way to the end of a novel, took one day off, then edited my way through two more novels, then went to a crime festival without a laptop. My hands are thanking me for that latter decision, and I hope to get back to work as usual next week, starting with the next editing marathon. And maybe even an essay or two for the blog ...)

The death march is over, the manuscripts are safely in my editors' email inboxes, and I can sleep in tomorrow.

This weekend I'm going to be appearing at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate; in particular, I'll be part of the "Crime in another dimension" panel discussion on Friday at 10:30am, with Ben Aaronovitch, Christopher Fowler, Stuart MacBride and David Quantick. (Tickets still available.)

I hope to have enough brain cells left over to say something interesting on my blog shortly thereafter. But tonight I'm just celebrating the end of about three weeks in which I've had maybe three days off-work, due to carpal tunnel problems rather than actual, y'know, rest days. (It's a side-effect of the freelance lifestyle—work deadlines always show up simultaneously ...)

I'm busy editing a manuscript right now, and when I finish I have to head for a crime fiction festival.

So, while I'm gone, here's the extremely scary and deft HAMDAS-R robot, mashed up with a calm and happy soundtrack by Bjork. (You may need to enable flash video if you routinely run Flashblock in your browser, like I do):

Press Play and welcome your new robotic meat-flensing overlord

(Incidentally, what makes Mayekawa's HAMDAS-R so impressive is not that it's got a bunch of robot arms doing stuff to products on a production line, but that the products in question are not identical cookie-cutter items like automobiles; in other words, it's processing differently-shaped items at high speed.)

be glad you can't see this! The horror, the horror!

To all those of you who live in London and are having to put up with the current Olympic insanity, I send my condolences.

For those of you who don't, to give you some idea of the sheer cognitive weirdness of LOCOG (who, I swear, could keep a psychiatrist working on new diagnoses to add to DSM-VI for a decade), here's one example of how London (and the UK in general) is responding to these neo-fascist killjoys.

See, the Olympics have two cuddly toy mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville. (Never mind, for now, that these focus-group-tested horrors resemble a bizarre cross between an animated CCTV camera and a dildo with legs: it's the thought that counts.)

Of course, as is always the case with sporting mascots these days, merchandising happens: toy plushies are on sale. And so are much more dubious souvenirs. ("Hello, I'm Wenlock! Don't I look smart in my police officer's uniform? I have the important job of protecting you on your journey to the London 2012 Games ... we can have lots of fun together!")

No, seriously: go marvel at the true Orwellian horror of the product, then read the customer reviews. Especially the one-star reviews.

The Blitz Spirit is still alive and screaming and on display inside Amazon.co.uk's reader feedback!

(Final note for LOCOG rights gestapo: I do not consent to the idiotic terms of use that I have been informed can be found at the other end of that link. If you object to this blog entry, feel free to piss up a rope.)

Some of you probably know about Scrivener, the writer's tool from Literature and Latte. (If you don't, the short explanation is that it isn't a word processor, it's an integrated development environment for books. It's cross-platform (although initially developed for Mac OS X —versions for Windows and Linux are available, and it's being ported to iOS and Android), modestly priced, and has more features than you can wave a bundle of sticks at, mostly oriented around managing, tagging, editing, and reorganizing collections of information including rich text files.) I've used it before on several novels, notably ones where the plot got so gnarly and tangled up that I badly needed a tool for refactoring plot strands, but the novel I've finished, "Neptune's Brood", is the first one that was written from start to finish in Scrivener, because I have a long-standing prejudice against entrusting all my data to a proprietary application, however good it might be. That Scrivener was good enough to drag me reluctantly in is probably newsworthy in and of itself.

The botnet is back again so we're suspending comments until it stops trying to nuke my server.

(The spam volume was up to 300-400 per hour. None of them were getting through into comments, but the filtering process involves multiple HTTP requests to blacklist services and multiple SQL SELECT and INSERT statements, and the server was beginning to smoke. Hence the 500 server errors some of you will have been seeing. Experience suggests that shutting comments down for a few hours causes the worst offender to go away for a few weeks. Unfortunately it's a botnet, so IP address filtering is useless—thousands or hundreds of thousands of machines are participating in the spam campaigns.)

I'll remove this post when normal service is resumed.

UPDATE: Just before 7pm I re-enabled comments. Within a minute the load average spiked from 0.1 up to 10+ — and I noticed twelve comment processes running simultaneously. These spammers are so dumb they're whacking on the server hard enough to bring it down if I re-enable comments. So I'm disabling comments again, for a while.

In the meantime, I've created a Google Group (mailing list) for folks who want to carry on chatting: the Antipope storm refuge. Consider this an experiment in alternative social networking ... if you want to chat, bounce on the link and come on over: I won't be moderating sign-ups for the first 72 hours.

I just an hour ago typed THE END at the end of a rather annoyingly long Scrivener project titled "Neptune's Brood".

I've been having to ration my typing due to the carpal tunnel issues I alluded to in an earlier blog entry. My hands are getting better (slowly), and despite everything I have managed to complete another novel. It's about 10% longer than expected, which accounts for most of the delay. (And I had to re-write most of it earlier this year after reading Debt: The First Five Thousand Years by David Graeber, a most interesting and provocative investigation of the sociology and anthropology of money and debt.)

If you want to know what it is, well, it's a mundane SF space opera (something that's supposed to be more or less impossible) set in the universe of Saturn's Children (only a very long time later). For added stunt writing chops, we have a non-violent protagonist (ask yourself when you last read an SF/F novel where the protagonist didn't kill someone—you might be shocked: if not, you ought to be), a financial framework for a universe reliant on much slower than light space travel, and communist space squids. There is a fat lady, but I don't think she sings. And writing it gave me a high concept nose bleed, so if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the pub tonight to cauterize some neurons.

Normal blogging service will resume subsequently, I promise.

Apocalypse Codex UK cover

If you're in the UK, you've probably been grinding your teeth over the two-week delay in publication of "The Apocalypse Codex".

The folks at Orbit have been listening. And while they can't get the paper edition into the shops any faster, they have brought forward the publication date of the ebook edition to the 9th of July!

You can pre-order the Kindle edition here and it will be delivered to your device tomorrow.

Waterstones are still showing a publication date of July 19th for the ebook, but I suspect if you pre-order it here it'll show up tomorrow.

(This announcement was going to be a Monday morning surprise for you all, but as Amazon have plastered the revised publication date all over the book's web page, there doesn't seem to be any point maintaining the embargo. Happy reading!)

PS: If you have links to other UK ebook stores, feel free to add them in the comments. And if someone from Australia or NZ could let me know if the release date has propagated through to amazon.com.au, I'd be grateful.

Two key points of difference:

1. Genre-based marketing. With a paper book, the cover design, artwork, pull quotes, title, and other front material—and the publisher's imprint logo—serve to tell the bookstore staff which shelves to put the item on, and to cue readers that this book is similar to others with similar design values. That's all. Genre is basically just a tag to identify how the item is to be sold.

Because this system is static, printed on paper and card, it's inflexible. You can't easily market a novel as both crime fiction and SF simultaneously; you have to pick one, or the other, and hope to hell that the genre you put the product in is the one that will sell best.

You can, in principle, put different covers on the same book. But it's expensive, and you also have to get the [reluctant] distribution channel, the booksellers, to understand why you're trying to jam twice as much content down their throats to fill their precious shelf-inches. (After all, they can't sell something if they don't have shelf space to display it on.) It works for bestsellers like the early Harry Potter books while they were breaking. For midlist authors? Go away!

Ebooks don't need to take this one-shot approach to marketing. It's possible to apply multiple genre tags to books; Amazon already do this. With a bit better storefront design it's possible to give readers browsing by genre views of titles that they otherwise wouldn't notice. It's even possible (in principle) to design different covers to display to readers using different search criteria. Expensive, but possible.

2. No reprint delays. If a hardcover breaks big in its first week on the bookshelves, it will rapidly sell out and be replaced by ... empty shelves! Yes, publishers can go back to press. And they do. And in this age of PDF-to-press printing, it's possible to have more hardbacks available within a matter of several days to a couple of weeks. (The same goes for paperbacks.) But in the meantime, the ramp-up in sales, and thereby the ramp-up in reader interest, stalls and goes off the boil.

With ebooks every print run is infinite. I suspect this is behind the success of titles such as "Fifty Shades of Grey". Ignoring its explosive bestseller growth in print for a moment, FSoG started out as a purely ebook phenomenon. If it had been printed the traditional way, in a run of 2000-8000 hardbacks, they'd have sold out. Period. A few weeks later a trickle of new stock would have shown up in the bookstores. Meanwhile, everyone would have forgotten the title of that sizzler they'd been reading a couple of weeks ago, thereby depriving their friends of the hot tip.

Other key points:

It's irrelevant in trade fiction, but epub 3.x permits embedding of Javascript. Which means that technical books can contain anything, up to and including a full i486 emulator running Linux. Or a Python interpreter. The LLVM compiler can emit Javascript instead of machine code; arbitrary programs are now embeddable in ebooks. This is going to revolutionize some aspects of publishing; imagine a programming tutorial where the code examples are editable and executable, inside the ebook.


What other fundamental differences can you think of, from a publisher's viewpoint? (Not including the whole DRM/file format stuff we routinely rehash here. I'm looking for angles that change the shape of the whole game.)

Yes, it's published today!

... And if you've already read the prologue and first chapter, here's the second chapter of "The Apocalypse Codex"! (Below the cut.)

Today, because the impulse took me, I am taking questions on Reddit.



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