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That's what I just typed.

(It's only a first draft: I need to go through it again with fire and the sword before it's ready to send to my editors. But it's a completed first draft, at 116,000 words, which means there will be a fifth Laundry Files novel on the shelves in mid-2014.)

I am now exhausted. So I am going to hoist a couple of pints tonight and take a day or two off work to recover (I averaged 1700 words per day, including weekends, a broken foot, and a chest infection). And I'm off for a long weekend in Germany next week. But I'll try to resume normal blogging again from tomorrow.



Meanwhile, internet commic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal riffs on some of the ideas behind Glasshouse:


Good for you, look forward to it.
In the days of manuscript books, the more secular books would finish with a line from the scribe "Finished, I think, for God's sake someone get me a drink"




"I averaged 1700 words per day, including weekends, a broken foot, and a chest infection..." How the hell do you even manage that? I'm lucky to hit 1700 words a week, and even that requires some major (legal) chemical assistance.


I think that may be why he's a professional writer and we aren't.

Anyway, enjoy those pints Charlie. That was a cheering message to read.


Good news for your readers. Cheers!



I believe that the very height of bad taste is to congratulate a new mum with "We knew you had it in you". Nevertheless, it does seem to fit, and I look forward to reading a story that seems to have driven you as much as you drove it.

Also: writing sounds like some fun and a lot of hard work. In other words, a good job.


Thus ( mostly) ends your sixish months of suffering and begins our collective eighteen monthsish of suffering. Our anticapatory misery thanks you!


"But I'll try to resume normal blogging again from tomorrow."

For what it's worth, I think as a commenting community we're aware that when you don't post regularly it's because you're really busy with a novel, or you're working through a medical issue, or you're assisting a family member, or something else is going on that we have no right to intrude on.

Which is to say, we don't care when you get back to normal blogging, we only care that you're taking care of yourself and the people you love before you dedicate the hours of thinking, research, typing & editing it takes you to make a blog post. We're sold on you as a writer of talent & insight, and we'll patiently await your blog updates no matter how much time you take to attend to other matters.




Has this one been harder to complete than your earlier work?


Neat. Glasshouse is a fave, read it four times, I think. Looking forward to the new Laundry though.


Has this one been harder to complete than your earlier work?

Not sure.

It went faster. I've only written two novels in less time -- "The Fuller Memorandum" and "Glasshouse" -- and part of the reason this one came in third was carpal tunnel syndrome limiting my output.

And I knew what it was about and where it was going before I began.

But it's not been easier -- this is the first Laundry novel that isn't a pastiche of another author's style.

And it's not finished until I've done another re-draft, handed it in, and had $EDITOR sign off the cheque for delivery.


In my circles, that's the generally accepted way to congratulate new mothers. Not sure what that says about me, or my circles ...

So, Charlie. What figures should I write on this cheque, made payable to you, to be an advance proof reader? Hint. Hint.


1700 words per day is very slightly more than the target average for the annual NaNoWriMo challenge, which is 50,000 words in a month. It's something a lot of people have managed, though a spell in hospital slowed me down, generally, to the point where I gave up trying. There are too many pharmaceuticals which cause drowsiness, for one thing.

Charlie works is a different way to me, but sometimes things go startlingly well. I have had occasional days in the 3500-word range. I do not claim to write good words.

If you're at all interested in writing, I think you would learn something from attempting the challenge. You might learn something about arranging your life to find the time. There's also the element of competition, and the site forums are the usual mix of interesting and idiotic.

50,000 words is enough length to qualify for the Best Novel category in the Hugo Awards, but these days a typical novel is about twice that. It's maybe a length that can still be sold in some niches.

I've had fun. It feels good to succeed. And, while most of the "prizes" are pretty pointless for me, they are a bit too America-biased, I did get a discount on Scrivener.

It maybe says something about the quality of my writing that one of my best daily wordcounts includes the term "coruscating beams".

I also used stabilised dioxygen difluoride as a small arms propellant.


So, if I may enquire into the magician's tricks, who was the first laundry novel a pastiche of? Doc Smith?


The first Laundry is a Len Deighton pastiche/tribute.

In fact - it's such a good one that when I re-read "The IPCRESS File" a few months back I kept catching myself waiting for it to be funny or for an elder god to pop up!

(... and may I add my congratulations to the pile for finishing ;-)


Seriously? You've used FOOF in a story?

Go the last mile: use Chlorine TriFlouride. CF3 is the worst of them all: Google for "Sand won' t save you this time" "Things I won't work with" and "Hypergolic …In contact with chemical engineers".

Mind you, FOOF is bad enough, and I'm not as disappointed as some by the cancellation of Apollo 18, which was to have flown with a FluOx mixture in the oxidiser tanks. That was a seriously bad idea - the exhaust would've been lethal a kilometre away.


I also used stabilised dioxygen difluoride as a small arms propellant.

This is one of those ideas that works best if the shooter doesn't have one of those pesky skeletons.


That was a very Clarkeian ahem. I do hope you've got your "Sorry about your patent, but" emails drafted. ",)


Hmmmm, starting to think about a Korean rapper named FOOF, a backing group known as the Sulfurs, and a youtube video called "Satan's Kimchi." Wonder whether the reaction would be as explosive as Gangnam Style?


Mr. Stross is WRITING them faster than I can READ them!

I wrote a tech book once, and very much like writing a large computer program I felt that the project required forward momentum or it would die.

That is, velocity had an intrinsic value.

Happy day to you, Mr. Stross! Hoping you are able to relax, get smashed, and dance naked around the tree come Solstice-Time!


Now that's funny.

The part where the mercury is irradiated for months and then has a half-life of much less than a month rings false. The isotope would reach a steady state after a few hours of irradiation, then decay as fast as it's generated.

Other than that, pitch perfect.


Oh, what the heck...

He can only have been surprised by what hit him as the yawning barrel of the Dardick blasted the needle-thin tungsten-carballoy penetrator into the armour. It was designed to penetrate, and put the full force of the column of expanding gas in the barrel into no more than a tenth of the cross-section of an ordinary round. The propellant, a hellish combination of stabilised dioxygen-diflouride, aluminium, and polynitropentaborate, took the barrel to the limits of its elastic strength, and such was the unimaginable velocity of the projectile that both needle-dart and armour acted more like liquids than respectable solid matter. The armour dimpled slightly and the imposter's head started to move forward, but that was due more to the muzzle-blast. A jet of unbearably hot plasma entered the base of the helmet, needle and armour vapourised by the collision and followed by the hot, corrosive, gasses from the barrel of the pistol. Whether the prospective pirate had the chance to sense their arrival, none can say, for the hypersonic stream punched through skull and brain faster even than the speed of thought. And the near impenetrable visor, taking the impact from the inside, snapped the hinge pins and, almost slowly, clattered to the deck. The vixen reached past the corpse, slowly crumpling against the resistance of the armour's joints, and switched off the drill. She released the clamps, and laid the heavy drill on the deck with surprising ease, before applying a patch over the half-drilled hole, the sort of patch that any spacer might carry in case of a sudden air leak. She tapped her 'phone. "Boss, we were right." Her ear twitched. "Nope, no trouble. His metabolic processes are now history. He's shuffled off his mortal coil, rung down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PIRATE!!"

Yes, it's the dead pirate sketch...


LURVE a Tall Tail .....


Of course, I am now fighting off Laundry Files #6 with a blunt instrument.

Because, right when I've just written THE END on a first draft of book #5, which isn't even due out until summer 2014, and which I haven't had time to polish and consistency-check edit yet, is just the right time to start writing the next book in the series, right?

This is how I feel right now.

Clue: this hypothetical sixth novel would be written from Mo's point of view. (Am making synopsis/notes to go back to later. Like, in 2014. Sigh.)


What makes you think that the hydrochloric acid that solid rocket boosters, as those of the space shuttle, spew out is any less toxic?


Burn hydrogen and fluorine and you get an exhaust of hydrofluoric acid. This is nasty in ways that hydrochloric acid is not, since it reacts in varous ways with bone, as well as causing much deeper bones.

It can be produced by the combustion of fluorocarbons, such as the widely-used PTFE, and there are enough of these in a modern motor vehicle that firefighters are extremely careful. There's a cumulative effect.

It was mostly in the 1950s that rocket scientists tested such exotic chemistries. They wanted storable propellants that provided a high specific impulse. Some of them that they did use were bad enough: red fuming nitric acid was discovered to react with, and decompose in, the tanks. It turned out that adding a trace of hydrofluoric acid stabilised the chemistry.

Incidentally, the molecular mass of the exhaust stream affects the specific impulse. A hydrogen-rich burn of LOX/LH2 gives more kick than a stochiometric burn. This really is rocket science.


Way to go, Charlie! Looking forward to it.


The main point I wanted to express was that I wouldn't want to be anywhere within 1km of a Shuttle launch either (or SLS launch for that matter), because of the toxicity of the exhaust. "Any less toxic" was certainly the wrong expression though.


I believe the shuttle viewing stands were at least 5km from the launch site. Any closer would be Ground Zero in event of a catastrophic failure on the pad -- the bloody thing was a stack of roughly 3000 tons of fuel and oxidizer, assembled by the lowest bidder (for NASA procurement values of "lowest").

There wasn't much risk of a ground-level catastrophe, but if one of the SRBs had failed catastrophically in the first 3-8 seconds after ignition, or if the structural linkage between an SRB or the external tank sheared before the stack cleared the tower, anyone within 1Km would be lucky to get a funeral with physical remains. Think in terms of a fuel-air explosion involving a thousand tons of liquid cryogens ...


heard this and thought of you (that is if your not sick of the genre)

Radio 4 8pm 1 Dec Archive on 4: great British spy books: fact of fiction?

"Peter Hennessy, the leading expert on state secrecy, asks how close the great British spy novels come to reality and explores what they reveal about the top secret world of intelligence and security - MI5, MI6 and Whitehall. By drawing on official papers and what were once top secret intelligence documents, and by interviewing former diplomats and former officers in MI5 and MI6, he compares and contrasts the great spy novels with the real world of espionage."

available for a week for those that can

looking forward to the book thanks for all the hard work



The "real world" of espionage is mostly boring tedious crap with occasional bouts of blackmail, bribery and coercion.


These days, it's mostly about economic secrets, not spy v spy shootouts. Alternatively, it's a bit more Kipling with the usual suspects on the North West Frontier.


Yes, I enjoyed reading that - and have a copy of the latter-day Tales From the White Hart that includes it.

We've both read 'Ignition', and we both know that someone actually asked John Clark to test the other (ahem) interesting chemical you mentioned. The Soviet Union had no monopoly on stupidity.

...But they did try CF3 in a flamethrower.

...In a confined space.


I wasn't inferring it wasn't. As our gracious host as demonstrated there's more to life than that manic Fleming. There's over 100 years of spy fiction and fact to mine here, including the psychological fall out from the Third Man and all that. I'm sure someone somewhere will write data mining suspense one day.


The STUXNET Story! Watch people in a room work for months doing programming! See a man who has been bribed insert a USB thumbdrive into a computer! See smoke coming from an industrial building!



Totally fannish and silly question for you: what kind of beer do you like?


...sixth novel would be written from Mo's point of view

Fleming managed to get to #10 (The Spy Who Loved Me) before he did that. Of course he wasn't writing other novels at the same time. ;)


The laundry series already has passages from female PoV in the second book. And the third. And the fourth.


Actually, those are Bob writing them. Charlie would presumably be talking about Mo's memoirs, which would be something very different indeed.


I'm now visualising a BLEVE (go search for that term on YouTube; I'll wait; fascinating stuff) with a tank of liquid oxygen thrown in for good measure.

My brain has shut down. Completely.


It could be good. Ever since the climax of Fuller Memorandum, Bob's been a bit different. Having his wife watch Bob turning into some eldritch horror gives a nice touch; Lovecraft didn't write Pickman's Model from Pickman's perspective for a reason.

He'd have to walk it back in Act 3 if he wants to use Bob again, though.




Congrats! That's great news! Looking forward to reading it.


Just to be check; Mo narrating Laundry 6 doesn't necessarily mean that Bob is no longer alive/corporeal/human after Laundry 5?

After all, Bob's entire day job is fighting monsters/staring into abysses, and his narratives are explicitly to preserve his experience post mortem or nearest equivalent, so it wouldn't be inconsistent.

Hopefully OGH hasn't got sufficiently fed up with Bob to do a Reichenbach Falls job on him quite yet...


Where you're going to stay in Germany?


SPOILER: Bob survives "The Rhesus Chart". (Albeit not unscathed.)

However, from where I'm looking at the series now, it seems to me that it'd be interesting to see subsequent events through Mo's eyes. Her viewpoint being somewhat different. (Bob is not the most emotionally mature guy on the planet, and his outlook is tempered by his ability for self-deception.)


With friends. (This is not a public appearance.)


Have a nice trip then!


Charlie @ 32 Re ... serious explosions @ launch-pads. Didn't this actually happen with (at least one of) the earlier soviet launches? Killing quite a lot of technical experts, as well as making a big bang & a hole in the ground?

Still not quite as stupid as the (non-military) just post WWI Germans finding out the hard way that it really isn't a good idea to break up a large quantity of Ammonium Nitrate, which has fused (the roof leaked IIRC) into a solid block, by drilling holes in it, and then firing charges ......


Well, if we're off on the line of "inadvisible rocket science", in WW2 the Germans Me-163 Komet used hydrogen peroxide as an oxidiser in a rocket-propelled fighter aircraft. this had a number of interesting side-effects:- 1) You had a powered endurance of 15 (fifteen) minutes or so. 2) You got the mother and father (and several aunts and uncles too) of all condensate trails whilst you had fuel. 3) In the event of an oxidiser leak, the propellant was capable of disolving the pilot (and did so on at least one occasion)!!


You're probably thinking of the Oppau event in 1921. Yes, big boom. There weren't all that many kiloton range explosions in Europe in the 1920s...

(PS: The login system seems to be acting up, not recognizing LiveJournal but allowing Google.)


Scott H S @ 54 Yes, that's it! My father, as an organic chemist & war-time explosives expert (Ardeer factory 1941-5) told me about it. What astonishes me is that BASF should have REALLY KNOWN what they were doing .....


And it's not finished until I've done another re-draft, handed it in, and had $EDITOR sign off the cheque for delivery.

I'm pretty sure vim can't do that, are you using Emacs? ;-)


Ah, that accounts for why your father can't place my grandfather and vice versa. While your father was at Ardeer, my Grandfather was at Powfoot (sp) in Dumfriesshire!


And Bob really ought to be showing signs of PTSD by now, partcularly after the events of "The Fuller Memorandum". It would take a special kind of crazy to survive that unscarred--to appearances at least.


I figure this crowd would know if any, so here goes:

During the shuttle launches, I always noticed there seemed to be a stream of sparks falling at an angle below the nozzle of the booster exhaust. After seeing it several times, I began to wonder if it was not just some random thing but in fact the actual ignition for the fuel.

Anyone know what I'm talking about that can confirm/deny?


I think this picture shows what you're talking about. I suspect that the 'sparks' are actually water droplets catching the glare from the engines. The water is from the Sound Suppression System that prevents the sound waves reflecting upward and causing vibrations in the shuttle as it launchs.


Nevermind, just remembered something else:

"The space shuttle main engine hydrogen burnoff system, located inside the tail service masts, eliminates free hydrogen present prior to main engine ignition. Hydrogen vapors are exhausted into the main engine nozzles during the start sequence; if ignited when the main engines ignite, a small explosion could ensue, which might damage the engine bells.

The six hydrogen burnoff pre-igniters are initiated just before main engine start. They throw off thousands of hot, luminescent balls into the area below the engine bells, igniting the free hydrogen and precluding a rough combustion when the main engines start. "


The difference between corrosion, combustion, explosion and detonation is time -- hours, seconds, milliseconds and microseconds. A really fast (high brisance) explosive is either a solid mass, cast material like Torpex or a "plastic" explosive like Semtex or Compound 4 where the detonating shockwave propagates at a multiple of the speed of sound in the material. Some stuff I used to work with had a detonation speed of 100km/sec, for example.

Separate tanks of LOX and LH2 going off in a rocket launch accident will combust rather than explode per se, although the results are hard to differentiate when you look at the resulting debris field but an oxidation event that lasts for several seconds is not really an explosion regardless of the amount of damage it causes. To get a really good explosion or better yet a detonation the two cryogenic liquids would have to be thoroughly mixed before ignition otherwise a lot of the fuel and oxidiser is blown away by the shockwave and does not contribute to the oxidation zone. BLEVEs and other fuel-air explosive devices are designed to mix the fuel thoroughly with the surrounding air before ignition, not something even a serious rocketry accident can achieve.

Compare the Hindenberg zeppelin fire with the hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima reactors, for example. The Hindenberg caught fire but didn't explode, in part because the hydrogen gasbags were oxygen-free whereas the upper spaces in the reactor buildings were filled with a mix of air and hydrogen which exploded hard enough to smash reinforced concrete structures even though the amount of H2 involved was a lot less than in the Hindenberg incident.


What's the motivation with putting 'The End' at the end of the manuscript?

Tradition, personal satisfaction, or is there some publiching reason like making sure the editor (or whoever else) knows they have a complete copy?


Agreed; other than when the flight termination system has been used (like that Arianne launch, when they caught it just as it started to tumble and was about 30deg off axis), rockets (and guided missiles) are typically lost to a deflagration rather than an explosion.

Similarly, the Hindenburg was definitely a conventional fire because the flame front was restrained to follow the envelope and the hydrogen bladders inside it.


What's the motivation with putting 'The End' at the end of the manuscript?

All the reasons you gave, plus: it underscores an end to weeks or months (sometimes years!) of single-minded effort. It's the emotional equivalent of climbing a mountain or finishing a thesis. Books are big writing projects: most people who try to write one give up after a chapter or two. Even though this is my (mumble) twenty-somethingth commercial, sold book (don't ask about the learning exercises that came first!) it's still pretty daunting.

Writing 'The End' doesn't mean the job's over. There's a bunch of editing and polishing, then the MS gets sent to the editors, who will suggest more changes, then there's the copy-editing to check, then the page proofs, and a bunch more to-ing and fro-ing that amount to at least a month of 9am-5pm working days. But writing 'The End' means that the scope of the job is fixed: the initial development effort is complete, the project compiles, everything else is bugfixing and productization.


A-hah, so the sparks are intended as ignition, but of stray gas, not the main rocket exhaust. Thank you very much.


Bob is not the most emotionally mature guy on the planet, and his outlook is tempered by his ability for self-deception.

Given the nature of the universe Bob lives in, self-deception is a necessary survival trait. The Laundry RPG even has a trait to measure character's capacity for obstinate denial of the obvious (it's called SAN).


I think the "sparklers" do double duty -- LOX and LH2 don't self-ignite the way other hypergolic liquid combinations such as hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide do. It's one of the problems SpaceX have to deal with, a re-ignition system for their LOX/RP-1 rocket motors if they want an in-flight engine restart mode.



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