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Crib Sheet: Glasshouse

"Glasshouse" happened by accident, through a collision of unexpected intersections. But it was a happy accident, in the end.

Rewind to 2003. I'm still working on the last stories that went into "Accelerando", still unsure what comes next, and (I think) working on "The Clan Corporate". To distract myself from going mad hitting magazine deadlines (I'm writing 3-4 magazine articles a month to keep the wolf from the door, for novels at this point only amount to about 50% of my income) I'm fitfully poking at a colony of Sims. (It's amazing how much fun the Sims are, once you chuck the suburban dream narrative out of the window and start getting into surreal architecture, shark pools, and walling your virtual victims up in dungeons.)

And then a book by one of my favourite SF writers is announced—a new title by John Varley. As it happens, I've been waiting about seven years for "Steeltown Blues", the third in the trilogy of Eight Worlds novels that started with "Steel Beach" and "The Golden Globe". So when it transpires that he's written a book about time-traveling mammoths instead, I'm ... well, I'm about as pissed off as those Charles Stross fans who keep bugging me for a third Eschaton novel.

Varley's "Eight Worlds" universe was one of the most interesting and innovative deep space SF settings of the 1970s and 1980s; he tackled the whole bioengineering-rather-than-terraforming nexus way before it became popular, and asked questions about the meaning of identity and gender in a future where biology was as mutable as clothing is today. Sometimes he got things wrong, very wrong indeed (there's something to be said for the assertion that in the seventies everyone was a bit creepy), but sometimes he hit the nail square on the head, at a point when everyone else was trying to invent the screwdriver.

This was also the early 21st century. Post-9/11 security state, post Iraq invasion. Abu Ghraib was in the news. I was reading up on the psychology of abuse, coercion, and obedience to authority: on the work of Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Study. These experiments suggested that atrocities are in many ways situational: rather than arising from the behaviour of corrupt individuals, phenomena like the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib happened because the environment itself is inherently corrupting and most people will obey what they perceive to be lawful instructions emanating from a legitimate source of authority even if those instructions are themselves illegal or inappropriate.

(With hindsight I should also have read up on Altemeyer's theory of authoritarian followers, but I didn't know about it at the time.)

So. One rainy Tuesday afternoon in April 2004, I am sitting in the splendid main hall of "The Standing Order" in Edinburgh (a pub in the Grade A listed interior of a former bank headquarters), moaning about the lack of a new Eight Worlds novel in the direction of a friend, when a weird idea inserts itself into my head: why don't I write one?

And then another weird idea dogpiles the first: why not take the Stanford Prison Study protocol and apply it to gender roles among a bunch of posthumans who'd be at home in an Eight Worlds type environment—one in which physiology and gender and biology are mutable? What happens if you pin them down at random, frozen in one form or another, and give them incentives to conform to arbitrary roles, as a way of interrogating the assumptions and stupidities we take for granted?

Of course, this was such a juicy chew-toy that working on it was inevitable. I shambled home, wrote up some notes, and resolved to sit on it for six or nine months, until I was due to write another novel. And then ... then ... I managed to hold it back for almost ten days.

The first draft of "Glasshouse" poured out in 21 days flat, ran to 91,000 words, and was terrible. Or rather, the first two thirds worked okay; then it ran right off the rails. You do not emit the equivalent of a 260 page novel in three weeks of non-stop insanity without suffering some damage, and with 20/20 hindsight I overran my initial creative vision. I had a flawed hero/ine, Robin/Reeve, waking up in the classic white room setting with faceless enemies trying to kill him—enemies rendered even more ominous by Robin's awareness of having undergone memory excision surgery. The Glasshouse is presented to him as a refuge, but in reality it's a snare and a trap: the Stanford Prison Study in space, with a three year duration and oppressive flaws he doesn't recognize at first. For one thing, it's a Panopticon, a Benthamite tool of universal surveillance. And for another: the Glasshouse was the prototypical military prison in Aldershot, England, an ominous resonance which, alas, I didn't make clear enough in the novel (it was entirely deliberate but seems to have been missed by most readers).

But what was going on? Why was Robin on the run, and from who? It took me a bit longer—and a major redraft, ditching everything after the first 60,000 words and writing another 60,000 words of fresh material to finish the novel—to work out the background; the Censorship wars, Curious Yellow, Robin's own past as a war criminal no better than the odious administrators of the prison experiment. To realize that if you have a posthuman polity of immortals, then the only thing they can reasonably fight over is their memory of the past ("he who controls the past controls the present; he who controls the present controls the future", as George Orwell put it) and the only way you can rehabilitate their past crimes is to project them so far into the future that they are no longer relevant.

And so I ended up with a novel narrated in the first person present tense by the ultimate unreliable narrator (if your first person narrator is murdered two thirds of the way through the story then it's a fair clue that nothing in the story should be taken at face value, right?). Who in turn thinks they're being injected into a prison designed to rehabilitate war criminals, on a mission to expose the administrators' complicity in atrocities ... except that the narrator has a remarkably dodgy background, and indeed fits all the criteria for being incarcerated there himself. And nothing is what it seems, in this panopticon, and indeed our hero/ine may be the worst villain in the plot—or alternatively an innocent in search of redemption: as are they all, hopeful monsters on a one-way journey into a future where their sins can be forgotten.

Final notes ...

Firstly: yes, I have plans for a sequel (provisionally titled "Ghost Engine") set 200 years later, when the slower-than-light colony ship harboring the Glasshouse arrives at its destination to discover that the Censorship Wars are still in fact continuing. It's a coming-of-age story and a loss-of-innocence story. But it's probably not going to get written, because I'm told "Glasshouse" is my slowest-selling SF novel in the US market, and a sequel wouldn't justify much of an advance. So writing this one is on the back-burner until such time as I win the lottery.

Secondly: accidentally burping up a spare novel in 2004 really helped. It meant I had a spare book in the can when, a year later, a family member was taken critically ill—and then I lost six months' of working time while getting my hypertension meds adjusted. (That brain-fogging experience sucked, and took a long time to get over.) Alas, I don't knock out novels in three weeks very often—it's a once or twice a decade thing, and leaves me wrung out like a dish-rag. So by late 2006 the ace in the hole was spent, probably never to be replaced. But it saved me from a gap year in the publishing schedule along the way.

206 Comments

1:

I must be naively optimistic then - even reading it again with your previous warnings in mind, I still find I believe that Robin/Reeve is in search of redemption.

Have you considered something Kickstarter-ish for a sequel (I really enjoyed Glasshouse and would purchase its sequel in a heartbeat), or would that actually end up too much like self-publishing?

2:

It's a shame there probably wont be a sequel however the thing I liked most about Glasshouse might not have carried over anyway; namely the exploration of oppression being created by the system rather than individuals within it.

If it becomes clear that Ghost Engine will not be written would you do a "books I will not write" for it? I'd still be interested to know what happened to the characters and their descendants :)

3:

Of course Robin/Reeve is in search of redemption. (Here's a hint: I'm an atheist. I don't believe in original sin.)

Sequel, kickstarter ... eh. I have three books under contract that need writing, and at least three more books I want to write queued up behind them, which would get decent advances from my main publishers. That's a 2-5 year workload, depending on how much energy I've got. Why ask for extra trouble?

4:

I'm fitfully poking at a colony of Sims. (It's amazing how much fun the Sims are, once you chuck the suburban dream narrative out of the window and start getting into surreal architecture, shark pools, and walling your virtual victims up in dungeons.)

I suggest you never play Dwarf Fortress, Charlie, as you might never stop. It's ALL about surreal architecture, shark pools, and walling your virtual victims up in dungeons. Well, that and getting insane, drowning your enemies in magma and releasing demons from hell.

5:

At least Dwarf Fortress games generally have a stopping point. Usually it's when you've forgotten some piddly detail long enough that a tantrum spiral starts and all of your dwarves die.

6:

On a side note, has there ever been a pub called "The Moose & Squirrel?"

7:

I loved Glasshouse, though I did wonder about the psychological effects of having multiple copies of yourself wandering about. Any thoughts on that? I suppose it could just be another technology one gets used to...

8:

That's a shame about a sequel; Glasshouse is my favorite non-Laundry novel of yours.

9:

OGH: ("he who controls the past controls the present; he who controls the present controls the future", as George Orwell put it)

Slight misquote or testing us?

10:

Isn't the Orwell line "He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future"?

11:

There's a rumor that "glasshouse" is set in the same verse as acelerondo(between the last two shorts), and wikipedia says You've debunked this, but this needs a citation.(glasshouse wikipedia page, first paragraph)

What's the deal here? Left to the reader?

Would you give us somthing to cite either way for wikipedia?

12:

Okay, not simply in search of redemption, but... not so black as (elsewhere) you paint him/her.

And compared to the antagonists, who are convinced that what they're doing is Good and Right, and


Sorry, I've just realised that I'm trying to explain your characters to you. There must be a .GIF out there somewhere which can adequately point out the error of my ways.

13:


I'm ... well, I'm about as pissed off as those Charles Stross fans who keep bugging me for a third Eschaton novel.

..which is only about half as pissed off as those fans who would keep bugging you to write that dieselpunk novel you wrote you definitely are not going to write .. but still had to mention the outline off.. if they were not certain it would be pointless.

14:

Its actually one of my favorite novels that you've written, so its disappointing that it won't have a sequel.

15:

"I'm told "Glasshouse" is my slowest-selling SF novel in the US market"

Which just shows that the customer is usually wrong. Glasshouse is possibly the best thing you've ever written. Maybe it's slow-selling because it isn't part of a series? Although that's a chicken-and-egg situation...

16:

I loved Glasshouse. It struck me from early on as a great illustration of the "lottery of birth" argument. Imagine if you could be born (literally) more than once? Do you think you'd be better or worse off? I'm glad to live in a time where the odds are far better than they've ever been in human history. But they're still not what I'd consider to be good. Growing up in a third world country, I was literally born a few miles from being desperately poor with little hope of escape. That comparison was obvious. But how about being reborn as a 1950s housewife... that had never occurred to me before.

17:

well, as a data-point, to me it is one of the least-liked of OGHs novels. For the simple reason that I don't understand it. And even after reading the crib-sheet above, I don't understand it.

I mean I understand the surface-plot nicely, but the whole thing just leaves me at a head-scratching "wh .. eh? censorship wars? curious yellow? linebarsomething? WTF?"

Maybe it's one of those things where there's even more cultural allusions and cross-references to other works which I simply don't know about (either due to simple random chance or due to things that are assumed-to-be-known in the English speaking world that might not be so to somebody for whom it is a language learned in school).

Not that that explains why it is slow-selling in the US.

18:

Working from memory, couldn't be bothered to go dumpster-diving the library for the original.

19:

I originally wanted to use the "Accelerando" setting for other novels, including "Glasshouse", but decided it was too cluttered/unpredictable. So "Glasshouse" is a stand-alone, but doesn't overtly contradict the world-building that went into "Accelerando" except by ommission (you don't see Aineko, the Vile Offspring, etcetera stomping around in the background of "Glasshouse").

20:

Doesn't it just figure it's your slowest-selling novel, since it's the first I read and the one that made me decide I'd read anything you wrote. I never could manage to love popular things...

Thank you for the window into the process. Among other things, it's fascinating to see the Eight Worlds connection. I never would have picked up on it on my own, but as soon as you pointed it out, it clicked. That was one of the flavors that helped interest me in the first place, though it was Reeve the Librarian who really sucked me in. (And I used her to get my-mother-the-librarian to read it, too. *g*)

21:

Here's another piece of the puzzle: "Linebarger cats" - a sidelong reference to (a) SF author Cordwainer Smith, and (b) his alter-ego (in real life), Dr Paul Linebarger, who pretty much wrote the book on (or at least the first actual text book of) psychological warfare.

Yes, there are a lot of dense allusions to everything from The Sims to the history of psychological warfare and computer worms (that was Curious Yellow, BTW, named after a porno movie of some repute, just to muddy the waters) ...

22:

Thanks for hipping me to Varley and Eight Worlds, it looks to be right up my alley.

23:

For people about to dive in to Varley -- it's important to note that the Eight Worlds series is not completely internally consistent. In particular, technologies which appear to be ubiquitous in earlier stories become recent inventions or classified secrets in later ones; plots from short stories that look like they should have all-Humanity-shaking effects don't; people sometimes change gender in the middle of the story. Oh, wait, that last one was definitely intended.

Anyway, all the stories and novels are consistent inside themselves, just not with each other. He's a heck of a writer, though, so enjoy the ride.

24:

As one of the many who missed the military prison meaning of the title, I think in my case it is that the apparent meaning — a glass greenhouse within which one cannot hide — is sufficiently appropriate in a metaphorical sense that I didn't think to go searching for a more unusual one. When a meaning clicks for me, there has to be some quite strong wrongnesses with it for me to flip to another. So long as that 'everyone can see you' meaning was not obviously contradicted, it held.

Go figure.

(Our local Thai restaurant, which slightly predates your novel and which at the time we were frequenting about once a fortnight, is named the Glasshouse. I don't think that affected my reading too much.)

25:
"But it's probably not going to get written, because I'm told "Glasshouse" is my slowest-selling SF novel in the US market"

Ahhh. That makes me sad. Glasshouse is my favourite of your books. Mostly because I've gotten something different out of it every time I've read it - a rare treat.

26:

Oh dear, dearie me ...
Charlie, & Vanzetti @ 4 err ... what was that about panopticons?

27:

Definitely my least favorite Stross. I dunno, it was a worthy project, but . . . the writing. If Charlie had the chops he displayed in Rule 34 it might have been a different story. Literally. As it is, that's one for the archives; something for future liberal arts majors to pore over when writing their thesis.

28:

It's disappointing that a sequel is unlikely; Glasshouse was an incredibly engrossing read. It's a shame that American readers aren't agreeing, but what can you do?

29:

Huh, I always thought Curious Yellow was a nod to Vurt by Jeff Noon, shows what I know.

(Vurt is well worth a read, although quite different to OGH's work)

30:

Damn you Stross, why did you have to introduce me to Altemeyer? That was cruel! I've got other things to do, deadlines even. Argh!

(Oh yeah, and, erm, thanks in advance.)

31:

It would be nice if, one day soon, Charlie got a parcel in the mail. Opening it, he finds that it contains the books published by him from 2015-2021 (both hard- and soft- copies, natch). Reading them, Charlie recognizes that they are definitely his work. Also, there's a cover letter that reads:

Dear Charlie of 2013,

Here are the books that you will write over the next few years. This should give you time to write that Glasshouse sequel, plus other side-projects.

Charlie of 2021

p.s. You know how time travel is impossible? Well... not so much.

-C

32:

Maybe I'm missing something; could you be more explicit about what you thought were the good points? For myself, I'd like to think if Glasshouse was on the conveyer belt today we'd get more POV's. As it was, we were essentially stuck with one. Not even a Kay, let alone a Hanta.

Let me quote a bit from Egan's Distress to show where I'm coming from on this one:


Rourke turned to me. "What's the most patronizing thing you can offer to do for people you disagree with, or don't understand?" "I don't know. What?" "Heal them. That's the first H-word. Health." "Ah."

" . . . Whoever claims the authority to define the boundary between health and disease claims. . . everything."


Is Doctor Hanta sincerely concerned for her 'patients'? Is she genuinely trying to 'heal' them the best way she knows how? Can somebody who has done Very Bad Things be absolved if those memories are excised? What if someone hasn't done Very Bad Things but falsely remembers they have? Do they ipso facto become evil-doers? There was a lot of room to run with this one; don't forget that much of what we decry in the modern prison system was originally introduced in various attempts at humane reform and rehabilitation.

Or maybe this is a spy vs. spy thing, rival intelligence agencies have been rewritten by Curious Yellow to the point that each believes the other is the enemy.

Or maybe you could run with the MacGuffin that the Glasshouse is really a honey pot run by Yourdon, et al. to smoke out some major bad guys trying to do a Harry Angel/Johnny Favorite evade and escape routine.

The point is, we don't know, and we really don't know what's going on behind the eyes of the wardens. Maybe that was deliberate - but if so, the putative bad guys just don't work very well as characters, never mind the villains of the piece. At least, imho :-)

33:

A sequel to Glasshouse would be nice, but I've got the original to reread every few years, so I can suffer through the loss. It is my favorite Stross novel after the Laundry books. The first 3 or 4 pages in which a huge amount of background is made evident in what is to an infodump as a firehose is to a water fountain always blows me away.

The first of the Eight Worlds stories I read, "Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance" had much the same effect on me. It drops you without warning into a world far different from the one you live in, but where some basics are constant: people still love, make art, and deal with their fears.

I think the lack of success of Glasshouse may be due to the perceived moral ambiguities in the characters. Post-911 in the US especially people want to have white hats and black hats, and anyone who shows up in gray had damn well better convert ASAP. Too bad, that omits a large part of the world from their view.

34:

I feel exactly the opposite. Glasshouse is by far my favorite Stross novel (but only because palimpsest hasn't been turned into a novel yet).

I also think adding multiple viewpoints would ruin the story. The entire point (IMHO) is uncertainty. Of memory, of identity, of the true motivations of others, whether lover, friends or leaders. Popping into Dr Hantas head to have her lay out her motivations and the truth about everyone's background would completely betray those themes.

35:

but only because palimpsest hasn't been turned into a novel yet

I've got this trilogy to write first, but for the past couple of months I've at least known what the middle third of "Palimpsest" was going to be about. (The final movement is still a bit blurry ... think I need another year or two to think about it.)

36:

To be honest, I've found Glasshouse the most difficult novel of yours to get through. It starts strong and in an interesting future and then we get to the Glasshouse and that pseudo fifties setting and it all slowed down for me.

37:

I'm more curious about how the Censorship Wars played out. There's few things scarier to me than the ability to alter memories like that to the point that monsters could walk openly among us, their crimes literally forgotten and erased.

One of the more innocent scifi tools ever invented is mind eraser that will blot out the last hour or three from your memory. Sure, it would seem benign at first for the intended purpose. "I'm Bat Durston, Space Marshal, undercover. It would be awful to vaporize an innocent who blew my cover. I use the eraser instead." How progressive!

Then it falls into the wrong hands. "I'm Bob the horrible psychopath. I'm going to rape you in a way that won't leave scars, then wipe your memory of it. I get to rape you afresh every time and you will never know." Gah!

38:

I find it surprising that "Glasshouse" is your least-selling novel in the USA market, as it is also your best to date (OK, "Saturn's Children" is also a strong contender).

39:

I think this was the third book of yours I read, and I gave it a re-read a couple months ago, because I was one of those folks who didn't know the slang term "Glasshouse". It was definitely better the second time through. It's a brilliant thriller, but I'm a sucker for gnarly, difficult-to-understand thrillers.

Also, I re-read it right before doing up a new back-up script for some of the servers at work. Rather than figuring out the culling on weekly/monthly basis, I decided to go with megasecond, three megasecond and thirty megasecond time-to-live settings. This is, admittedly based on whether the backup was done on most days, a monday or the first monday of the month, and the time-standard for current second in this light-cone is the Unix Epoch (but what else was available?). So it isn't a pure Glasshouse time-standard system, but there's some inspiration.

40:

Well, given that we know Robin/Reeve to be an unreliable narrator, what makes you think the other characters could be trusted more than our first-person protagonist in this regard? When you say that "The entire point (IMHO) is uncertainty. Of memory, of identity, of the true motivations of others, whether lover, friends or leaders," I mostly agree. But I don't see how "Popping into Dr Hantas head to have her lay out her motivations and the truth about everyone's background would completely betray those themes" follows, given what we already know about how easily memory can be manipulated in this setting, heck, how easily people can manipulate their own memories, implanting false ones for a particular campaign, say, and retrieving the originals afterwards.

Try this one on for size - Doctor Hanta was too ethical to do any gross memory hacking on herself or anyone else. Ditto for everyone else on the team. So she rewrote Yourdon very slightly to be more of a dick than he really was, more rigidly ideological, just so he could operate in turn on her in the service of some much-needed 'mission clarity' instead of agonizing over the fact that her patients might not really be some really nasty war criminals.

Bureaucracy can be so convenient for people wanting some plausible deniability, can't it ;-) Think of the Emergency in A Deepness in the Sky for a particularly vicious take.

41:

(I'd also love for you to write the sequel to Glasshouse. Given the financial constraints and how awesome your 5 year road map is right now, I really cannot complain if you don't.)

42:

It is a nod to Jeff Noon, only at one remove.

Brandon named his hypothetical DHT worm after the feather in Vurt.

Glasshouse, at every turn, is a riddle wrapped in an enigma. It's tied with Accelerando for my favorite Stross novel, though I recommend it the least often. Mainly because all the people I know who I think should read it have read it already; most of my word-of-mouth promotion of OGH's work involves turning people on to The Laundry. ("Imagine there was this kid who wrote about 10% of the Fiend Folio, and then grew up to be a programmer who became a sci-if novelist. Okay, now stop imagining. This person is real. His name is Charlie Stross, and you really need to read this book he wrote called The Atrocity Archive...")

43:

I can't read Jeff Noon.

44:

I'm sceptical of Altemeyer.

He makes great sense, and I want to believe what he says. I'm now old enough to realise that that is an alarm bell.

A year or two ago, I went looking for critical appraisals of his framework. I could find quite a few papers using his ideas (quite uncritically), but nothing that tested them. A cause for concern, that.

45:

Well, if you do get a Kickstarter running, I'd kick in $50 for a promissory sequel (and settle for an epub version, too).

I didn't get the military prison allusion (I was thinking "panopticon"), but once mentioned that cleared up a couple of loose ends for me. (Lots of loose ends left, probably why I like rereading it so much, as every time I notice something new that shifts my viewpoint a bit…)

Hm. How much would you have to raise at a Kickstarter to make it worth your while to put a sequel into the schedule? (Wondering if crowdsourcing could supplement/replace a publisher's advance — blithely unaware of any contractual or procedural conflicts, of course.)

46:

I Am Curious (Yellow) is not a porno, at least not more than many other 1960s art movies. There's some nudity and sex scenes, but the movie is much more about politics of the 60s leftist type than anything else. (But what do I know, maybe some people are turned on by the minister of transportation talking about the class society in a meta-film setting?)

I'm assuming Jeff Noon got the name from the movie, and then according to mikecotton in comment #42 it inspired the worm name.

For what it's worth, The Fall named an album (I am Kurious Oranj) after the movie, which then in turned inspired a comedy show character according to Wikipedia.

Somehow this meme digging into half-certain connections and unclear historical influences seems fitting for a post about Glasshouse.

47:

But it's probably not going to get written, because I'm told "Glasshouse" is my slowest-selling SF novel in the US market, and a sequel wouldn't justify much of an advance.

But...but...what if [assuming it stays in print] it's a slow burn cult classic, that just calls out for a sequel? I'm gonna assume you keep notes just in case.


I'm with Bellingham @24 about how I understood the title. I suppose knowing the prison meaning may have added another layer to it, but the idea of a structure that you could see into, without necessarily being able to see out of, is there.

"Glasshouse" is the one Stross book I've had trouble with (was six years ago, had only read three previously). Cruising along in this neat setting, with gender-swapping characters, etc., then this 50s housewife stuff comes and hits the brakes--came close to tossing it across the room. But then I saw the Milgram/Stanford allusions, and started to clue in to what was going on (at least I think so) and settled in and enjoyed. I really ought to re-read it.

48:

I didn't know about the other meaning of Glasshouse either; the obvious one was apt enough that I didn't look beyond it.

The thing it most reminded me of at the time was (rather unimaginatively) "The Prisoner" (the Patrick McGoohan version).

49:

So you've said, and I wasn't trying to imply otherwise. I just really like the irony/synchronicity/whathaveyou of the way that, just as Glasshouse has multiple layers of misdirection, so too do some of the very minor footnotes in the crib sheet.

That's one reason I think Glasshouse has the best chance of still being read 50 years hence, it's a very satisfying blacksmith's puzzle for the mind. The other is that well-thought-out fiction about panopticon society, gamified mass-shame social control, and ominous hints of Cognitive Dictatorships in the back story will probably be more relevant to a wider audience 50 years hence than it is today.

50:

I think it's good to be suspicious. However, while I haven't read more than the first few chapters, I think there's a fairly mundane reason why there's not an Altemeyer school and its critics.

My guess? Money and tenure.

He admits straight off that he's funded all of this research out of his own pocket. While he received a pretty decent award for his work, there's not a huge market for it, and he's done nothing to create that market. He's giving the stuff away, for crying out loud.

Now, let's suppose someone does a test of his ideas. If they support them, so what? There's not a huge market for his stuff, because he doesn't have a lot of students pushing his ideas further. If they falsify it, they may be accused of being right-wing ideologues in the best case (best because notoriety can lead to work). In the worst case, their work will be ignored, which is bad for them. As a result, researchers borrow his ideas, don't use them for anything critical, and get on with their publish-or-perish lives, while pop psych people think that's the way things work.

That is the huge problem with not being trendy, as I think OGH has found out with Glasshouse.

And who knows? Perhaps Altemeyer's right. It's possible that his findings were so blindingly obvious to the psychology community that no one bothers testing them.

51:

"I can't read Jeff Noon"?

That's a hell of a comment to make without explanation. Especially as I suspect the explanation would be interesting.

52:

I recall being puzzled by the glasshouse being a physical construct, going into the novel I'd sort of assumed the story would take place in a simulation where absolute surveillance could really take place. As it was Reeve got into all kinds of unobserved hijinks.

That one would've really been hard to write though, so I can hardly blame you.

As for Reeve's war crimes, all that comes to mind was that incident of chopping civillians heads off and tossing them through a nonfunctional gate, but that's more of an accident than a deliberate atrocity.

Glasshouse does have the distinction of being the first time i've felt insulted by a character in a novel, I thought the quip about 20th century humans being "technology assisted apes" quite rich from a people who managed to fall into a genocidal galactic war because they didn't keep their antivirus up to date.

53:

This came up a few weeks ago, then Charlie said something like (IIRC) he had started reading "Vurt", but it was uncomfortably close to where his head was at, at the time.

Not sure what he meant by that. I still haven't gotten around to reading my copy.

54:

Yeah, I forgot to mention upstream: there are deliberate references to "The Prisoner" (there is no version other than the McGoohan version).

55:

There is this unpublished magical realist novel set in Dewsbury and written in 1989 that is far too similar to Jeff Noon's early work for comfort.

Maybe some other decade, when I've got time for a hobbyist project, I can revisit it ...

56:

I'm planning on living for a good long while, so I will look forward to it.

57:

My two cents - I want to read Ghost Engine. Regardless of which country it may be published in. I consider Glasshouse second only to your Accelerando stories.

Please keep on keepin' on.

Chris Pierik

58:

“Firstly: yes, I have plans for a sequel (provisionally titled "Ghost Engine") set 200 years later, when the slower-than-light colony ship harboring the Glasshouse arrives at its destination to discover that the Censorship Wars are still in fact continuing. It's a coming-of-age story and a loss-of-innocence story.”

WHOOOOOT!!

“But it's probably not going to get written, because I'm told "Glasshouse" is my slowest-selling SF novel in the US market, and a sequel wouldn't justify much of an advance.”

WHAAAAAA!!

This blog post has been an emotional roller coaster for me. Glasshouse is one of my favorites. I would love to explore that world further. I am super bummed that is a slow seller. I am a bookseller at a REALLY BIG BOOKSTORE in Portland Oregon, and i shove that book into peoples hands every day. It is one of my go to recommendations for people looking for smart, modern science fiction.

I must work HARDER!

59:

We'll just have to agree to disagree.

A book like Glasshouse except with multiple unreliable narrators does sound pretty cool. But being as how the most common complaint seems to be how hard the book was to follow this might not be the best direction to go in.

60:

I loved Varley's8 Worlds work from the first story he ever had published, and I have loved, and automatically buy, the Stross oeuvre. Since these crib sheets started I have re-read everything except Accelerando (can't find my copy), the Clans Corpoate (waiting for the director's cut) and Glasshouse. I even reread Toast and the stories on Tor.com.

Glasshouse is the one novel I bounced from the first time through: it started out great,(and I could hear the echoes of Varley) but then it got into the actual Glasshouse section and something else came in from the SFBC and I never picked it up again.

The fact that I am an American female born in 1954 is very strongly relevant. That wasn't an envvironment I wanted to live in as the price of getting to whatever interesting things might be on the horizon.

Honestly not sure I'd buy a sequel if there was one, since it would feel weird to read it without finishing Glasshouse.

61:

You might want to check his bibliography and footnotes, since he alludes to other people who have replicated his work with variations. Also, I think that psychologists have traditionally been reluctant to replicate experiments, although scholars from other fields have criticized them for that since at least Feynman's day. He does define his methodology and cite his sources, and those are the key things.

Or just write to him and ask.

62:

Glasshouse is my favourite novel of yours. I've been looking forward to another trip to that universe since I read it!

63:

Here's another vote for 'Ghost Engines', but only when you've got an appropriate gap in the schedule. I'm also looking forward to more Laundry books, and the sequel to 'Rule 34', and the new Clan books, and the novel of 'Palimpsest', and I'm sure there must be another Freyaverse novel in there somewhere.... Just promise not to forget Rule #1 and not to succumb to the braineater before you write them all.

I can't say that I paid much attention to the title of 'Glasshouse', or titles in general, really. By the time I'm into the plot, I don't regard the title as being particularly relevant; it's just the designator for the book I'm reading, if I happen to talk to someone about it. Still, I think I had the greenhouse interpretation in my mind up until Reeve started speculating about everybody in the experiment being a veteran-cum-war criminal, whereupon I thought, "Huh, double meaning, clever," and carried on.

Having mis-spent my childhood watching British war movies on the telly, it never occurred to me that everybody didn't know the alternative meaning for 'glasshouse', or that it was Brit-only slang.

64:

Have you never explored the possibility of having "Glasshouse" turned into a movie?

There are several of your books that *I* would like to see in movie form, but Glasshouse, with it's themes, seemed to be the one that most easily translated into a script.

Precisely those characteristics which I assume turned off the american readers would be the characteristics which would make it work in the third-person viewpoint of celluloid.

PS I always read the title in the prison meaning - that probably says something...

65:

I loved the Cordawiner smith references and I always wonder what happened to him in the laundry verse.

Interestingly enough during one of the gulf wars there was a spokesman from state with the last name linbarger - presumably a relative of pauls?

His Daughter runs http://www.cordwainer-smith.com/

Another Sf great who went to young

66:

It's only just made sense to me now - basically the war is about which is the correct entry in wikipedia?
With the winners getting to make the past that satisfies their egos more?

67:

Doesn't it just figure it's your slowest-selling novel, since it's the first I read and the one that made me decide I'd read anything you wrote.

THIS!!

It's not only the frist of Charlie's novels that I read, and the one that resulted in my buying the rest of his output, but also one of my least favourites. If a least favourite is this good, what does that say of the favourites?

Also, on the title, I got both the reference to Colchester Military Prison (but I'm British and interested in military history so I should), and that it was also USian for "Greenhouse", which also applies.

68:

Have you never explored the possibility of having "Glasshouse" turned into a movie?

AhahahahaHAHAHA!!!

I see I need to find time to write a Common Misconceptions About Publishing piece titled "why haven't you had a movie made from your book?"

(That question is as wrong-headed, and for a similar reason, as "why do you choose such awful covers for your books?")

69:

Glasshouse might fail in the US because of its very crass anti-Christian tone, where the church is just a meeting ground for abuse, the pastor is a dictator and the nod to the ultra-sexist 1950's society. All completely true, but hits probably too close to home for many US citizens. When you have been brainwashed into going to church every week, then you won't take lightly on a novel explaining to you that you've been brainwashed.

It's my favourite of your novels.

70:

"And so I ended up with a novel narrated in the first person present tense by the ultimate unreliable narrator..."


I always get the impression that you've never read a bit of Gene Wolfe. Can that really be the case? Probably not. No?

I think the man the best living Yank author.

71:

I see your point, but based on my acquaintances, the US "Bible Belt" is increasingly a myth outside of USin politics.

72:

I'm guessing you've read the Bas-Lag novels; you should bloody-well read _The Book of the New Sun_.

73:

Glasshouse is my second favorite novel of the current Millennium. I don't know if it needs a sequel, but I would certainly read one if it appeared. I think it is by far the best written of Charlie's novels. I caught the echoes of Bentham, Varley, Cordwainer Smith and the Prisoner, but not the computer worm or the British military allusion. I also thought it resonated quite closely with Chalker's work, but I get the sense Charlie has never read any of that.

I can't say I blame him for not trying to write more novels of this type. One, he has to eat and two, it sounds like his process for this novel would be hard to replicate on a steady basis. I would say a third reason is that it might be hard to live with characters like those in Glasshouse, but a lot of his books have unpleasant people in them (or narrating them.)

74:

Your theory fails because the readers in question won't get put off by those bits until they've already bought the book and are halfway into it.

75:

Yes'n'no. I like "The Book of the New Sun" -- at least, the initial tetralogy: I hate the subsequent books in that universe, and I'm very iffy on Wolfe's other writing -- some of it works for me, some of it doesn't.

(Mind you, I'm allergic to China Mieville's prose style -- something about it just annoys the hell out of me, fingernails-on-blackboard style. Which is a shame, because I love his ideas and I ought to love his novels. It's just a style/taste mismatch, I guess.)

76:

I've read Jack Chalker. A very mixed bag: he could have done so much more with his tropes, but generally settled for pulp adventure and a side-order of iffy exploitation.

77:

Add me to the list of those who got the army prison reference immediately upon seeing the title. As with others, growing up in the UK probably helped - the USian equivalent would probably be Fort Leavenworth, which appears to be bereft of architecturally inspired nicknames.

78:

Glasshouse is one of my favourites, only surpassed in mind-twistingness by Palimpsest.

But I must admit I was hoping that this crib sheet would give a brief summary of what's actually going on in the story. I'm not great at reading between the lines of unreliable narrators at the best of times, and when the unreliable narrator doesn't even know that (s)he is one... I don't have the right 'cryptic crossword' abilities.

There are some clues up above, but still, a plea to help the feebleminded: WTF was happening?

79:

Well, shit. Glasshouse is by far my favourite of yours and I'd dearly love to see, if not a sequel, further exploration of the ideas in it.

80:

There are some clues up above, but still, a plea to help the feebleminded: WTF was happening?

I'm trying to walk a thin line between helping the disoriented and spoon-feeding people spoilers.

However, it bears repeating that "Glasshouse" is a puzzle box -- you can reassemble it in several different shapes, all of which make sense. Thematically it's about the unreliability of human memory and perceptions. At a plot level, it's about the question of what a society of immortal posthumans do with their soldiers when the war is over. (Or about the significance of a war that has ended in victory, except that nobody now remembers what it was all about in the first place. Because the weapons it was fought with edit memories.) It's also about the tension between justice, rehabilitation, and redemption: when we talk about crime and punishment, we may find it easy to understand crime, but what exactly is punishment, and what is it for?

(For example: if killing people is a hideous crime, then how should we view the death penalty? In the world view of someone who endorses capital punishment and abhorrs murder, why is the death penalty not isomorphic with murder? Is not a pre-planned, carefully conducted execution actually worse than a murder committed in the heat of the moment? Hint: it's all about the identity of the parties concerned ...)

81:

Ach. Looks like I need to read Glasshouse again. Too bad my paper copy is long gone.

I know! I think it's time for Charlie to submit to the Beast from Seattle, and offer up Glasshouse as a Daily Deal. That way, I can pick up an e-copy for $1.99, and he can bump up his readership numbers for said novel in the US at the same time.

Two birds with one stone, eh? ;-)

82:

I can see why it doesn't sell well though; it does require the reader to be extremely well-read across a diverse range of fields to get the most from the book. There are so many things to miss, the lack of which leaves the book an empty shell.

I'd certainly settle for an account of the censorship wars.

IIRC you've said here previously that you're of an opinion similar to Scalzi in that you're an author and not a publisher and therefore uninterested in carrying out the ancillary work of self-publishing. Fair enough, but would a kickstarter-type campaign to generate an advance get around the perceived market-size => advance-size issues? You could then hand it over to your usual publisher for a smaller advance and still be able to fund the drunk-tweeting that we all love so much ;)

83:

"bible belt myth"

Do you mean as a geographic concentration of Christians or the strong religious beliefs of a significant fraction of the populace?

Religion is hugely important in this country. We'll see an openly gay person in the White House before we ever see an atheist of any race or gender.

84:

Glasshouse might fail in the US because of its very crass anti-Christian tone, where the church is just a meeting ground for abuse, the pastor is a dictator and the nod to the ultra-sexist 1950's society.

The crazy church scenes are one of the things that kept me in the book*. Also I gathered the 50s setting used within the Glasshouse, by those running the experiment, was based on edited history of the period (maybe along with some intentional warping) and the nostalgic stereotype of it--which is still too common, need I say that the show "Happy Days" is a myth? Especially if you were non-white/christian.


*I've mentioned before (too many times?) that I'm not a christian and live in Colorado Springs. I assume you've all read "The Apocalypse Codex"?

Also spotting the literary references was fun. I knew about Cordwainer Smith, but hadn't read him at the time. Did so soon after.

85:

Sort of neither of the above; I was referring to the concept of "everyone goes to (a Christian) church every Sunday" and actually believes in the Christian God.

Arguments about whether or not a proclaimed aetheist could achieve political office in the USA are a different thing to the concept of personal religion and morality that might affect sales of fiction.

86:

We view history through the wrong end of a telescope.

For example, the mediaeval period in England is typically taught as 1066AD to 1485 (end of the Wars of the Roses, start of the Tudor period). That's 419 years! To put it in perspective, it spans a greater gap than the Mayflower colonists arriving in Plymouth, Mass, and the present day. Yet most of us have this vague incoherent movie-set vision of the middle ages drawn from "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" or "The Knight's Tale" or similar historically inauthentic visual sources.

The reason I picked 1950s Americana as a theme for "Glasshouse" was not only because it was a rather oppressive period (unless you were a pale patriarchal protestant plutocratic penis-person), but because it predates the proliferation of cheap recording media (which allowed variant subcultures to document their respective experiences) and of digital media with DRM (which render said experiences inaccessible after a few years). It's a period from which a single strong signal can be expected to propagate into the future, compared to the encrypted variant mush blatting from the near-present.

Who will the people of 2500AD focus on for their image of our time -- 50s and 60s soaps which portray a common consensus culture, or a bizarre swamp of semi-corrupt dumps from Reddit, Facebook, MTV, the 500 Club, and Mumsnet? It seems like a no-brainer to me: the 1950s will be much easier to grasp than the 2000s.

87:

I note that the social dynamics surrounding church attendance in the US are rather different from the non-religious UK, where we have pubs for the social contact thing.

88:

Should you ever want to do a post on writers who could have done so much more with their ideas, Chalker's certainly way up there. High concept, particularly with the Well World which played with multiple tech levels way before Vernor Vinge got there.

(He was a bit too repetitious with forced body changes, whether gender or species or whatever. Poor Mavra Chang. And yet I remember her name decades later.)

Perhaps it's a fault of ambition, like PJF's Riverworld which was always going to have difficulty living up to its premise.

89:

"I'd certainly settle for an account of the censorship wars."

In my personal fanon I have recruited Walter Jon Williams' "Implied Spaces" as an account of how the Edit Wars got started.

Regards
Luke

90:

Not everyone goes to church or believes the same canon but it's pervasive.

During the last primaries, not a single Republican candidate said they believed in evolution.

"The majority of Americans (73–76%) identify themselves as Christians and about 15–20% have no religious affiliation.[3][4] According to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) (2008) 76% of the American adult population identified themselves as Christians, with 25% identifying themselves as Catholics, and 51% identifying themselves as Christians spanning some 30 religious groupings.[3][5] The same survey says that other religions (including, for example, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism) collectively make up about 4% of the adult population, another 15% of the adult population claim no religious affiliation, and 5.2% said they did not know, or they refused to reply.[3] According to a 2012 survey by the Pew forum, 36 percent of Americans state that they attend services nearly every week or more.[6]
Despite a high level of religious adherence, only 9% of Americans in a 2008 poll said religion was the most important thing in their life, compared with 45% who said family was paramount in their life and 17% who said money and career was paramount.[7]"

The most important takeaway from all this is that people make important decisions based on irrational criteria that might not even make sense. A neo-nazi doesn't have to have a coherent explanation of how jews control the world to kill someone. Being intellectually bankrupt doesn't make his victim less dead. Someone who identifies as Christian but never goes to church and doesn't live like a Christian professes they should, if they're voting for the "more religious candidate," that's what ultimately matters.

91:

Readers who are put off halfway through might still discourage their friends from buying more copies though. (I doubt it's a significant effect.)

I happened to know of the Army usage of "Glasshouse", but if I hadn't, I wouldn't have thought to look for a meaning for the title beyond the Panopticon one.

92:

gmuir77 @ 83
But the number of "believers" even in the USA is dropping & the rate of the trend is also increasing.

paws@ 85
But the xtian bigots made sure there was no film sequel to the "Golden Compass" the bastards, by freezing it out.
Magnificent flim great fun to work on & the "child" star was very good, with a great sense of humour on set, too!

Charlie @ 87
Also NOT going to a church (in many parts of the USSA) will land you in social & "town" trouble as much as not going to the kirk in commonwealth Scotland (eugh).

gmuir77 @ 99
You are not required to "believe" in evolution. It is a fact - whether you accept that fact, or ramble on about BigSkyFairy myths is another matter.
Slight error in one sentance, though: here's the corrected version (I think) ... people make important decisions based on irrational criteria that do not even make sense, ever ??

93:

I seem to recall a study claiming 10% was enough for a tipping point to be reached making an opinion or ideology the apparent consensus view in a society. Especially if that minority feels really, really strongly about it. All those vociferous reddit atheists are a tiny subset of people who honestly don't give a toss about religion. But most people aren't up to a big spat with auntie Flo every damm family reunion.

94:

(And Bellingham's post too) I think that is a very fair summation of Chalker, his strengths and his faults. I loved reading his paperbacks as a teenager, but he rarely went over the pulp level of storytelling. Great worlds and entertaining ones usually.

One interesting factoid for the purposes of this discussion: his degrees were in the History of Ideology.

95:

Lets us here in the UK not be too Smug about Creationism in US of A schools shall we? ...

" Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland, currently a private all-through school but approved last October by the Department for Education to open as a Free School from this September, has a "Creation Policy" on its website in which they "affirm that to believe in God’s creation of the world is an entirely respectable position scientifically and rationally" and state they will "teach creation as a scientific theory"; while Sevenoaks Christian School, a secondary school in Kent approved to open from 2013, sets out the creationist beliefs of the school’s founders, and explains that creationism will be taught in Religious Education (RE)."

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100171501/creationism-in-free-schools-the-whiff-of-a-witch-hunt/

A few years ago here in the UK there was a HUGE fuss after a local Free School here in the North East of England- for a given value of 'free' meaning in this case non fee paying and set up by a charitable founation founded by a sucessfu, multi millonaire, used car dealer - came under the spotlight of media attention when one of their Science Teachers conducted a lesson on Evil UTion by rote, from the required texts of the National Curriculum, and then declared to his class " THAT is what I'm required to TEACH but THIS is WHAT I BELIVE TO BE TRUE !! " as he slammed a Bible down on the Desk and proceeded to declare his Belief in Creationism as Science to the somewhat bemused class. Said teacher was kept in err... seclusion? ..from the media for a while whilst the various news media chased the older kids from the school hither and yon...I saw a brief news report on local TV and the boys who were interviewed by the Telly people for 'Look North ' were still a bit dumbstruck by the whole thing but the Big Fuss eventually went away and the School still remains ..it is not alone.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/jan/15/features.politics

It’s not so very long ago that we in the UK were burning various Religious Dissenters at the Stake dependent upon which Divine Right of Kings/Queens was in power at the time and most of those Exceedingly ODD, nominally Christian, religions in the US of A had their origins over here but became severely unfashionable over here in the UK after the first world war as gradually the bulk of the population became not so much atheistic unbelievers as pretty much, oh, let’s say shrug of the shoulders ‘wot the hell we ‘ll find out soon enough ..life’s too short to spend much of it in Church ‘ believers/unbelievers Lite.

At the moment here in the UK the Conservative Right wing of all political persuasions clearly long for the Good Old Days of Their Parents and Grandparents when the lower orders had Proper Respect For Their Betters and a substantial minority of the Political Class really do believe that things would be so much better if we returned to Traditional Family Values of the ..well 1950s at latest but the Golden days between THE WARS would be so much better.

96:

Arnold
Indeed.
During my shortish time as a teacher I was astounded to find creationists on the loose (& I'm sorry to say, my reaction was not nearly as aggressive as it should have been).
Note here ... the followers of the religion whose name means "submission" are also often cretinists, which really does not help.
Err... not quite. In England, at any rate, it was the RC (church) who had the monopoly of burning people alive. I think the Scots were a little slower - burning a "witch" as recently as (?) 1722 (?) ....
Your last para. suggests that you have been reading too much of both the the Grauniad & the Torygraph - & believing what both of them say - silly boy!

97:

Curious Yellow was rather good, as is its serialisation. I like the book.

98:

The first Mr Stross book I read was Glasshouse about 6 months ago- and I loved it. I found it quite a demanding story, and read it through a couple of times to get to grip with the concept of Curious Yellow transmission, willingly suspending disbelief with the multiple person instances plot resolution - and I now find it unnerving that I never thought to question Reeve's reliability - even when his history is described - that is another re-read on the way I think. I'm a fan of Cordwainer Smith (and was lured in to his works by The Game of Rat & Dragon) - so those references at least I appreciated :) thanks for posting more info about what was behind the novel. Anyway, Glasshouse sat lonely on the kindle shelf for a while until I realised you had other works out there, which have since pretty much all been devoured (the Laundry stuff was next, I couldn't stop laughing - brilliant) - but to me Glasshouse really stands out - and I'm not surprised to hear that it sprung near fully formed onto the page (albeit with no small helping of bs&t to whip it into shape). I don't feel the need for a sequel, as I thought the story was so well contained - some stories demand sequels, and some simply delight as they stand alone. Just please do keep writing!

99:

Actually, the US has a reasonable supply of non-church places for social contact.

Note: I do go to a church several times a month, despite being an ethnically-Jewish agnostic. For a 12-step meeting -- for several evenings a month, I'm a religious anarchist.

100:

Oh -- I'm an agnostic because I think being certain there is no God or gods would require divine revelation or some equivalent.

Three of my grandparents belonged to the Church of Marx, Scientist; the fourth was an anarchist.

101:

We don't need a movie for this one, Pleasantville seems to cover the ground pretty well.

102:

Well, I'll say it again. I think Glasshouse is the best science fiction novels written in the 21st Century (at least the best novel written in the 21st Century *so far*). I was saddened that it didn't garner a much bigger following. Let's hope you win the lottery.

103:

dsgood @ 99
Untranslatable USianism, there.
What: "12-step meeting" ??
oh & @ 100.
BEGIN
"No BiigSykFairy [insert preferred name here] is detectable.
Not detectable directly, indireactly or as an emergent phenomenon.
This is a testable proposition.
Uless or until it is shown to be false, that there is no BigSkyFairy is the default/logical position."
END

THAT for any form of religious belief. As for "agnosticism" - it's intellectual cowardice.

104:

Oh shit - sorry about the typos - not enough cups of tea to wake brain up & check "preview"!

105:

"I'm told 'Glasshouse' is my slowest-selling SF novel in the US market"

Which is a lie, of course. But he who controls the past...

106:

Twelve Step is a reference to a set of rules that originated in Alcoholic Anonymous. It's far more widely used, and some elements vary. Some 12-step programs are aimed at families of various sorts of addict.

107:

IIRC here in Scotland they hanged witches to death before they burned them at the stake, as a mercy. And they were hanging people for the crime of atheism as late as the first decade of the 18th century.

It's worth noting, however, that when your political system is a hereditary military dictatorship (Monarchy™) whose claim to legitimacy boils down to "GOD said I'm King, so there!" that public espousal of atheism -- or even the wrong strain of the right religion -- was as politically subversive an act as it would be for a North Korean native to declare themselves a social democrat rather than a follower of juche.

(This is one of the reasons I am a republican. I don't expect the House of Windsor to start burning heretics any time soon, but it still has that troubling claim to legitimacy based on divine intervention, which puts it on the same sliding scale as the witch-finder general.)

108:

Last killing for atheism ...
Thomas Aikenhead 8th January 1697. (I think)
I'd be careful about being a "republican" - like "Monarchist" it can mean so many things, apart from USian political parties.
I presume you would not want a republic to look like that of the most serene R of Venice, for instance?
Actually, as I've said before, Britain is a republic with an hereditary head-of-state. Like the Netherlands, & Norway, & Sweden, & Denmark.
Be very careful what you wish for!
Contrariwise, the monarchies of the Saxon kings, that of the Normans, that of the later Plantagenets & the Tudors (the latter being particularly variable) were not in any way identical. In many cases, the monarch was almost Primus inter pares & NOT a "supreme ruler".
In fact, apart from Henry VIII (after his jousting injury), & Mary, true attempted-dictatorial monarchy was a 17th-C invention, primarily as a weapon against the rising power of the minor gentry & what we would now call the middle classes.
It worked ( for a time ~ 1670 - 1789 ) in France, but when the untrained Charles I (remember, his older borther, Prince Henry was the one trained up ..) took over, it didn't take long for it all to fall apart.
Though the cure was in many ways, worse than the disease, & it took another 39 years; 1649 - 1688, before some sort of equitable balance could be struck.
Remember, that the last monarch to NOT sign a parliamentary Act placed before him or her, was (IIRC) William III.
Now then, what was your case for a republic in name, as opposed to a monarchy in name, but a republic in fact?
Bagheot is also relevant here ....

I'd disagree about N. Korea, just as a note, it's a classic Theocracy, with a god-king in charge (apparently). Though there, one wonders about the entrenched vested interests of the military, who want no change, because of loss of their priveileges (like FOOD).

109:

It might also be noted that 12-step programs tend to be faith-based and usually one of the steps is acknowledging a 'higher power'. I think there may be groups that skip that one, but you don't hear much about them. Works for some, but I think you have to be in that mind-set to begin with.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12-step_program
& also
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_prayer

110:

The fact that Glasshouse was your slowest seller in the US market saddens and disappoints me. Its one of my favorites and one I periodically re-read. Pity my hardcover is packed up for the move.

The Varley links were not immediately apparent, but once you pointed them out, I see them easily. And hopefully Varley will get around to Irontown Blues some day.

Anyway, I'd love to see Ghost Engine at some point. In the mean time, I read it, enjoy it and think about it.

111:

I much prefer the serenity prayer outlined by Bill Watterson, of Calvin and Hobbes fame:

CALVIN: You know what I pray for?
HOBBES: What?
CALVIN: The strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I can't, and the incapacity to tell the difference.

Makes me laugh every time.

112:

That's much better.

113:

Been looking at twitter. Apparently Charlie's muse has been shouting at him, along the lines of "What're you doing Maggot! Sit yer ass in that chair and give me 20,000 words!"

Halfway there in 18 hours. Seems there's some irony in him talking here about not writing anymore accidental novels. Jinx.

Question is: what's he writing?

114:

Question is: what's he writing?

No comment.

Because what I should be writing is more Merchant Princes.

There's no harm in taking the odd day off to pursue a speculative treatment on the side, but if I was to write another novel and try to sell it before I've handed in MP:NG, I would be in breach of contract, which is bad, and behaving unprofessionally, which is even worse.

(Contractual whoopsies can be negotiated around -- it's just money and time and headaches. Unprofessional behaviour ... that's career poison, in the long term. So you may take it as read that I do not intend to behave unprofessionally, even if my Muse has other ideas. Dammit.)

Going to the pub now, to anaesthetize my aching wrists.

115:

Well, wasn't really expecting an answer.

Think my muse's been getting lazy, more than usual that is. Need to work on that. Certainly not as forceful as yours.

116:

Charlie @ 114
Hope the medicine worked!

117:

I am getting better, too slowly for my taste. I've recovered about 30% of the mobility in the left side of my face, and at the end of each day my left eye is no longer sore from not blinking enough. I've now reached the stage where I can read for a reasonable length of time without tearing up, hence the sudden burst of hypergraphia after two weeks of enforced barely-writing-anything.

118:

This is one of the reasons I am a republican. I don't expect the House of Windsor to start burning heretics any time soon, but it still has that troubling claim to legitimacy based on divine intervention, which puts it on the same sliding scale as the witch-finder general

the so-called divine claim to the throne is undermined by the fact that current holders of throne of England [but not Scotland] hold it by conquest alone - 1688, 1485 or 1066, take your pick

Every King since 1485 has not had legitimate drop of royal blood in his/her veins, and has had to either use military force to hold power, or had to abide by the wishes of the people whom claims to head of state of...

The ruling class [however defined] effectively chooses the monarch or more often dispenses with the services of one whose activities have become politically unacceptable James II [VII of Scotland] and Edward VIII being the most recent. Also the rules by which the throne is inherited are much more elastic in the UK.

The true problem with UK is not the monarchy per se, but the power the [partly elected, part not] executive exercises in their name.

119:

Actually, the analogy I use for religious dissent or atheism before the French Revolution is questioning some Human Rights today. The usual secular powers like kings or the aristocracy were not exactly weak, but quite often disorganized and shifting, and the One True Church(tm) was something of a constant, which might explain some of the fervor of religious violence. It might also explain why religions had and have some problems with Human Rights, on the one hand it could be seen as a competing "secular religion", on the other, it might be just implementing God's Law(tm) like any human law.

Also look at More's "Utopia", Monod's "Chance and Necessity" and Pratchett's "Hogfather"; with More, the Utopians tolerate all religions, except for atheism, since

"...he therefore left men wholly to their liberty, that they might be free to believe as they should see cause; only he made a solemn and severe law against such as should so far degenerate from the dignity of human nature, as to think that our souls died with our bodies, or that the world was governed by chance, without a wise overruling Providence."

For Monod, while he was active with human rights issues, in "Chance and Necessity" we find quite a few snipe remarks about "natural" rights of man.

And for Pratchett, well:

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point—"

MY POINT EXACTLY.

BTW, it seems despite his writings in Utopia, Thomas More burned some Protestants, though it seems like when in power, those continued the, err, barbecue, as one historian friend once put it, the last man burned for heresy in England was under James I., who seems to not only had it with the pope...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Wightman

120:

Ouch...

A friend at university had Bell's Palsy; when the medical students found out, he had a stream of people coming up to him at the bar, and asking him to say "aaahhhh" so that they could watch his uvula behave asymmetrically. He was annoyed mostly because he was a very serious piper, and couldn't form his embouchure for several weeks.

Full recovery, in fact he now presents the Radio Scotland piping programme...

121:

"June 16th: On this day in 1943, Paul Blobel, an SS colonel, is given the assignment of coordinating the destruction of the evidence of the grossest of Nazi atrocities, the systematic extermination of European Jews."

Obviously the Blobel Commando failed. One wonders how many such commands succeeded.

122:

"In March 1942, SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich placed SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel in charge of Aktion 1005."

123:

Check Sean Williams' three and a half book Astropolis trilogy. It covers the topic of multiple versions of one's self, and is quite the gender bender as well. I wonder what Charlie Stross thinks of that series?

124:


The reason I picked 1950s Americana as a theme for "Glasshouse" was not only because it was a rather oppressive period

'Rather oppressive'
That seems grossly inaccurate.

I would describe the communist block in said period as 'rather oppressive'. Most everyone was afraid of the secret police**, dissidents were forced to mine uranium, for example, with inadequate protection. there was no freedom of expression, people like you (not parroting the party line, bourgeois ancestors) were kicked out of their jobs and sent to do manual labour -there's a so-called intelligentsia bridge over Vltava in Prague, built by ex-professionals or business people) ..

1950's US, oppressive? If you were black , sure. White women had no serious problems getting work or being independent. So what they could not choose some careers?

That seems more like middling gender discrimination, not a case of serious oppression..

125:

von hichthofen @ 188
One Lizzie is a direct descendant of Alfred the Great ....
Two, one could argue, as was stated at the time, that in 1688 the throne of England was vacant, & William (& Mary) were "invited" to take it.
Since 1688/9 the monarch has always, to a greater or lesser extent been "constitutional" & not by either conquest or "divine right".
The "divine right" now is like the Chinese "mandate of heaven" - whoever is occupying that position MUST be legitimate, because they have that position ...
However, you really hit the nail on the head with:
The true problem with UK is not the monarchy per se, but the power the [partly elected, part not] executive exercises in their name. Absolutely spot on - and whether we are a "Monarchy" or a "republic" matters not a whit at that point, does it?

Trottelreiner @ 119
One hates, ever to disagree with Ptery, but ... he ( & DEATH ) seem to ignore "emergent phenomena" like "Life" & "Intelligence", which then changes or falsifies his fairly obvious diatribe against "reductionism".
Um.

126:

1950's US, oppressive? If you were black , sure. White women had no serious problems getting work or being independent. So what they could not choose some careers?

Let me guess: you're a white middle-class American male, aren't you?

Here's a hint -- if you weren't a white middle class male, 1950s America was just slightly more oppressive than you seem to think. For white women, it wasn't merely about not being able to choose some careers: abortion was illegal, contraception was illegal, extra-marital sex was illegal, oral sex was illegal, obtaining credit without a male guarantor was usually impossible, starting or running your own business was difficult or impossible, living independently was difficult at best. And the punishments for non-conformity were draconian, if not necessarily enforced by criminal law as opposed to beatings, rape, and social ostracism. Addiction to cheap, readily prescribed benzodiazepine drugs was sky-high for a reason.

I think you need to read your Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer before you assert that this was just "middling gender discrimination, not a case of serious oppression."

127:

Add me to the list of people whose favourite of your novels is Glasshouse and who would love to see the sequel. My theory about the slow sales is that the blurb for the book is awful: every time I read it I thought "ugh, that doesn't sound very interesting" and put the book back down, until I'd exhausted all the other Stross available to me. The elevator pitch I use when trying to convince people to read it is "It's Total Recall meets MacGuyver meets The Stepford Wives IN SPACE!" or, for my more social-justicey friends, "Fifties gender roles as literal prison! IN SPACE!". Neither of which give you much insight into the novel's themes, but they do at least sound fun to read :-)

seanbroadley @121: your ObSF on the question of genocide-coverups is Iain M. Banks' Excession. And Hannu Rajaniemi does some interesting things with fungible memories in The Quantum Thief.

128:

Third try, dammit. I go to another tab to look something up and the page reloads when I come back, even after hitting Preview. Must remember to copy first.
Am forgetting a few points, but here's the gist.


Whether he's American or not, is certainly ignorant of American history. Adding to what you said.

Lynching in the South, wasn't limited to African-Americans, could happen to anyone on the wrong side of the Klan.

Anti-Semitism was still safe despite the Holocaust. A mild example; try checking into a nice hotel with the name Goldberg, suddenly there'd be no vacancies.

That all occurred up through the 50s.

Also add the McCarthy era Red-Scare blacklisting, ruining thousands of lives and reputations. And this is part of the Anti-Semitism; the Rosenbergs were executed though they didn't do any actual spying, they recruited and passed on information. But they weren't useful as scientists or source of information, and oh yeah, Jewish.

129:

Charlie:
Are publisher's contracts really that restrictive? As long as you deliver your ms to the publisher on time, what do they care if you hand in another novel to another publisher? Or are there non-compete clauses? SF is a genre big on series, and it seems to me that I've seen other SF authors pursuing two different series with two different publishers simultaneously. Do those circumstances require contractual dispensation?

130:

Will add that what 'Y' is talking about is repressive governments. I'm talking about an oppressive society, what people do to each other, which I think in some ways is worse, but can lead to repression by the government.

131:

Who will the people of 2500AD focus on for their image of our time -- 50s and 60s soaps which portray a common consensus culture, or a bizarre swamp of semi-corrupt dumps from Reddit, Facebook, MTV, the 500 Club, and Mumsnet? It seems like a no-brainer to me: the 1950s will be much easier to grasp than the 2000s.


I doubt if the signal will be any less clear going forward because of the proliferation of cultural noise. Historians will pick out a signal -- even if it isn't there. What we see of the past is a distillation (and simplification) of information down into convenient just-so stories of how we've gotten to where we are. I think the late 20th Century / early 21st Century narrative is pretty clear. Collapse of the Eastern Block as a cohesive political power, and the subsequent progressive consolidation of the political and economic power of the elites. (Not necessarily cause and effect, in that narrative, but I suspect it would be a very very different world if the Soviet Union's Empire hadn't collapsed and given the US elites unfettered hand to make mischief in the world.)

And it seems to me that cultural signal is pretty clear. We're entering a period of stagnation. No new musical genres in the past 20 or 30 years. No new art movements in the past 20 or 30 years. No new literary movements or genres in the past 20 or 30 years -- unless you consider post-modernism to be a movement and zombies and vampires to be genres. Although technically, we're still reaping the benefits of Moore's Law, most of the technologies we use today are based on inventions from the mid-20th Century. Big Pharma is having trouble creating any new miracle drugs. Materials science has made some advances, but I'm not sure anything done in that field will affect us significantly in the short term. there have been no real breakthroughs in our understanding of fundamental physics (despite the efforts of our neo-Pythagorean String Theorists). Yes, we have many new channels to distribute media and communications, but not much has changed in content. I think the signal is remarkably clear! ;-)

132:

Y is also using that "I wasn't so bad, he was worse" argument which is not even acceptable from small children.

("Forced to mine uranium with insufficient protection" meet the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (finally discontinued in the 1970s) - and yes, my country too, within my lifetime, has done shameful things.)

I am so very glad I don't have to live in 1950s America. Or 1950s Britain. Or 1950s almost anywhere.

133:

You're right: it is indeed a non-compete clause. Thing is, "Charles Stross" is a valuable brand. Publishers ideally would like to lock up that brand and profit thereby; in practice, we don't let them do that if we can help it. Usually we end up with a compromise, whereby an author can write for multiple publishers using different pseudonyms -- or sometimes the same name, but in different genres.

But either way you cut it, if you sign a deal saying you'll do work X for your customer, then do work Y for someone else, this looks like you're dealing in bad faith. So you don't do that.

Which is why, having been bitten by a wild idea, I am willing to spend a weekend working on an opening sequence, and will add a rough outline of the rest of the book ... then park it on the TO-DO shelf and go back to what I'm supposed to be doing. And I will complete that job per contract before I go back and pick up this weekend's mad idea.

(Because the world does not need a sixth Laundry Files novel writing more than a year before number five is in print.

134:

As an off-white middle class male who grew up in the 1950s in the US, I disagree very strongly with the idea that the period was "not too bad". Everyone in that society had a role given to them, and woe betide you if you tried to go outside of it. I watch "Mad Men" primarily to remind me of just how much I hated living then, and just how much better things are now for many people.

135:

Eh, I'm not American. I was born and live in the country for whose intelligence agencies recruited junior labour minister Barnett Stross..

Barnett Stross was not, as far as we know, a communist spy -- any more than his boss Harold Wilson was. Another Labour politician accused of being a communist agent by the lunatics in MI5 during the 1960s -- in a process which led up to an attempted coup.

(As far as we can tell, the MI5 allegations about Barnett were innuendo, based on general paranoia and fueled by his involvement in the memorial to the victims of the Lidice Massacre.)

NB: if you keep on about black-on-black violence in these terms, I'm going to have to consider issuing you a yellow card for racism. Here's a hint: think in terms of the war on drugs as a pretext for waging a war of cultural extermination against an underclass.

136:

"I am so very glad I don't have to live in 1950s America. Or 1950s Britain. Or 1950s almost anywhere."

I DID spend my early years of infancy in that Era in the UK.Happily, though, it WAS in the era of the start of The National Health Service and so I was Immunised – though not against Chicken Pox , which we all caught, and so I really must see about my NHS immunisation against Shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster.

I was born in 1949 in the UK and one of my earliest childhood memories was of my Mum opening the front door of our New Council House - that was situated in an Enormous Council Housing estate in the North East of England- to receive a Merry Greeting from the Royalist Street Party of up the Street who had Royalist Coronation Mugs to Gift to my Sister and me. Mum took the Mugs and promptly sold them...she wasn’t a Royalist but neither was she fool enough to stand, on point of Pride and Old Labour Party Principles, this despite having worked for the Labour Party before World War 2.


Not only that but I was Fed with dietary supplements – cod liver oil and rose hp syrup which I still remember as having tasted Ghastly - and eventually given Free School Milk...a Free Meal! As well as free meals in the middle of the day...Which Up North in the UK is DINNER TIME... try explaining that to a US of American.

It wasn’t a good time to be a working class woman and our hosts novel, in one episode, does give a pretty good impression of what it must have felt like to be a woman/person of the ..Middle? ..Classes in a somewhat different society...with an added frisson of “The Prisoner. “ Women really were imprisoned by social expectation way back then, and not just then but for a long time afterwards. For that matter so were men.

I can understand why it was/is a slow seller though for it must be bloody confusing to anyone who is of born of the Book reading middle classes of here and now. That’s the problem of being a Professional writer who wants to explore the stranger aspects of humanity whilst, at one and the same time, hoping not to actually starve to death whilst waiting for the Magic of Adult Fashion or Childish passion to Strike with the megaton force of Zillions of Mega buck, ‘ 50 Shades of Harry Pouter ‘ force.


137:

No one is claiming that the US of the 50s was as bad as (and certainly not worse) than the Soviet Bloc, only that in comparison to now it was pretty unpleasant (putting it mildly).

And as for murder rates being lower in the past, I think maybe it should be kept in mind that the world population has more than doubled in the last 50 years. And weapons are more accessible. Etc.

138:

This is an extremely contentious area for any discussion, but, might I suggest that you broaden your viewpoint...

“I don't think you can compare tens of thousands of political prisoners of whom a lot contracted lung cancer after the uranium mining, hundreds of executions with that medical study. A pretty sick piece of work though.”... to include the many working class people who have died through industrial disease because they had no other means of earning a living other than by working in horrific conditions? ..Thus? ..

"Asbestosis is a chronic (long-term) lung condition caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos.

Asbestos is a soft, greyish-white material that does not burn. In the past it was widely used in building construction to protect against fire and as a form of insulation.
Symptoms of asbestosis

Breathing in asbestos dust can scar the lungs, which can lead to:

shortness of breath
cough

These symptoms usually begin many years after the initial exposure to asbestos. In most cases, the symptoms do not become apparent until 15 to 30 years after exposure.

Swollen fingers, known as finger clubbing, is a less common sign of asbestosis. It is usually associated with more advanced cases.

Asbestosis means the lung tissue has become scarred due to previous asbestos exposure. Pleural plaques or pleural thickening caused by asbestos are not the same as asbestosis. In these conditions, the membrane that covers the lungs (pleura) is damaged by asbestos, but the lungs themselves are unharmed."

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Asbestosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx

139:

Administration note: 'Y' has been banned for comments (now cancelled) directly attacking Charlie and his family.

This countermanded the "Don't be a dick" part of the moderation policy.

140:

Another anecdote about the dangers of being working class. In the 1950s & 60s one of the big US chemical companies encouraged the workers who cleaned out the reaction vessels in which polyvinyl chloride was synthesized to get in there and scrape them clean without bothering with protective suits or masks, because the gear slowed up the work. The workers were told that the chemicals weren't dangerous at all, that in fact they were good for you. Google health effects of PVC to find out just how bad an idea this was.

141:

Ever since I finished "The Golden Globe" in 1998, I've been waiting for the next novel in what was clearly a trilogy. I'm VERY glad to hear that the last novel is coming out.

That said, I haven't been able to find any reference to "Steeltown Blues" by John Varley anywhere on line, including http://www.varley.net/.

Does anyone know when "Steeltown Blues" is supposed to come out? Or has Varley just mentioned that it's in the works?

Loved "Glasshouse", "Neptune's Brood" preordered in hardcover.

142:

It's not coming out. Varley seems to have moved on and appears to be uninterested in writing that novel.

143:

It happens doesn't it? No matter what the Reader might wish - Things Happen.

For years now I've been looking forward to the Second Trilogy in Arabesque sequence by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. I'm sure that I read of/heard of the intended fourth novel that led to another two, and indeed the author may have mentioned it in conversation way back then, but, no show, and instead we have a series on Vampires in Venice rather than a continuation of a really good cross genre espionage /police /politics series ..That anyone who enjoys your Laundry Files novels – and short stories /novellas – would also enjoy.

"Set in a mildly different alternate world, Pashazade is a thriller with a solidly imagined mystery at its core; it is also a novel about a man finally and belatedly growing up. Ashraf's sense of responsibility for an orphaned girl and for the woman with whom he has refused an arranged marriage are part of what makes him admirable; he has learned the hard way not to treat people as disposable. The details of this alternate near future--an Arab world that remained Turkish after a 1914 war that never quite became important, and into which some slick cybertechnology and genetic gadgetry have slotted without changing anything fundamental--are effectively imagined, but never more important than the people. --Roz Kaveney "

Not that there is anything wrong with Vampires in Venice, and I’m sure that they sold very well, and I’m certain that I’ll get around to them one of these days, but I do still await the Forth ...And Fifth and Sixth... Ashraf Bey books.

What’s needed is a tremendous surge in people buying the Arabesque Trilogy, which is bound to lead to Jon Courtenay Grimwoods deeply avaricious publishers commissioning the second trilogy. This is My Theory which is mine and which is called My Theory.

144:

Well, I guess our ideas of justice, rights etc. are somewhat contingent on our biological history, you only have to look at sociopaths to get an ideas that there is something in our (somewhat variable) nature that predisposes us such.

Problem is, yes, natural selection sometimes favours cooperation over competition, but sometimes it favours competition over cooperation. And quite often it favours cooperating, but looking for a cut at every instance. Fun is, that also goes for the other side, and has been going for some time, which makes cooperation somewhat cognitively demanding. Maybe our presumptions of honesty and justice are something of a heuristic to circumvent that, most people won't cheat that much because it's not worth the hazzle when getting caught, and we are not too suspicious, because computation power is a valuable resource, and most paranoiacs are not that efficient. Still, I guess an evolutionary stable strategy is not what most people would think about as justice.

Of course, you can assume that with our intelligence and social emotions, we can get some kind of generalized behaviour out of these ESS, and thus call it justice or Human Rights. That would be somewhat like the "natural law" approach, which goes back to Aristotle. Problem is, this is first if somewhat contingent on human evolutionary history, or as Darwin put it:

‘If… men were reared under precisely the same conditions as bee-hives, there can hardly be any doubt that our unmarried females would, like worker bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering’

Second of, the exact contents of this "natural law" are somewhat coloured by the culture they stem from, historically, our Human Rights are shaped by continuation of and confrontation with the Christian scholastic ideas of "natural law":

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

We just have to look at a culture our modernity is sometimes seen as a continuation of, namely the Ancient Greeks, to see that e.g. the idea of universal freedom is hardly universal, to quote the dialogue between Meno and Socrates:

SOCRATES: Then all men are good in the same way, and by participation in the same virtues?

MENO: Such is the inference.

SOCRATES: And they surely would not have been good in the same way, unless their virtue had been the same?

MENO: They would not.

SOCRATES: Then now that the sameness of all virtue has been proven, try and remember what you and Gorgias say that virtue is.

MENO: Will you have one definition of them all?

SOCRATES: That is what I am seeking.

MENO: If you want to have one definition of them all, I know not what to say, but that virtue is the power of governing mankind.

SOCRATES: And does this definition of virtue include all virtue? Is virtue the same in a child and in a slave, Meno? Can the child govern his father, or the slave his master; and would he who governed be any longer a slave?

MENO: I think not, Socrates.

So well, Socrates questions the idea of gouverning, which might be somewhat close to our idea of free, souvereign individuals, as an universal virtue by confronting it with slavery. He doesn't question slavery by confronting it with the virtue of gouverning or freedom, actually.

So if we go into the other extreme, we could say that indeed universal, inalienable, natural Human Rights are just a fiction, or reading something into the universe that is only in humans, namely intentions or care. That is what Monod'd call animism. Of course, he goes on to defend Human Rights, not because they are natural, but because nature is cold and uncaring and we should create something better. Though still, there is this little problem with deciding which ethic to adopt, Spartan society surely had its positive side, so why not try it once again, with chrome-plated jackboots this time, to quote OGH. Or circumventing these whole inequality issues by phasing humanity out in favour of identical, asexual clones.

Long story short, maybe there is something in the basic makeup of the human species that predisposes us towards what we call Human Rights.

And maybe societies need some axioms to build on. Even if those axioms are in fact just conventions or postulates:

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

145:

Charlie,

We own a copy of Glasshouse but I can't find it on the shelves. However, our local library has 2 copies. I am now 3rd on the list waiting for it.

Either this blog has sparked a renewed interest or there is a steady demand.

146:

And it seems to me that cultural signal is pretty clear. We're entering a period of stagnation. No new musical genres in the past 20 or 30 years. No new art movements in the past 20 or 30 years. No new literary movements or genres in the past 20 or 30 years ...

You're out of the loop on some things.

Dubstep may not be your preferred musical style - it's not mine - but it has arisen in the last 20 years; the first proto-dubstep releases appeared only in 1998. It's only been played on the BBC for ten years. Apparently there derivative styles already. And it's a musical style so new some people are unaware of its existence.

Steampunk has become popular and its precursor works go back a long way, but it's existed as an identified style only since 1987, when K.W. Jeter needed a term to describe what he and others were doing.

I'm not in the loop on what Serious Artists are doing, so I can't say about their "movements". But how about art forms? Machinima didn't exist for technical reasons before your 30-year limit; the first stirrings of it started with a 1992 game (21 years ago), and the first video that we'd now recognize as machinima appeared in 1996.

I think it's much too early to write off creativity.

147:

@ 142, 143
Ditto Diane Duanes last book in the chronicle of the five.
Oh dear.
Trouble is, DD seems to have been infected by the christianity-meme & it's getting worse.
oh & Arnold in 143 ... an Arab world that remained Turkish after a 1914 war that never quite became important, all that needs for that to happen would have been for Milne in Indomitable & Inflexible to catch SMS Goeben & Breslau before they made Constantinople.
As Barbara Tuchman said ... No other single exploit of the (Great) War cast so long a shadow upon the world ...
[ "August 1914" - "Guns of August" in the USA. ]
So great a change, for so small a deviation.

Trottelreiner @ 144
Dawkins said something similar, which is always (of course) ignored by the BigSkyFairy-ists: "Rebel against the selfish replicators"

148:

I agree with you about the Arabesque trilogy -- it's one of the most important works of British SF of the first decade of this century -- but my understanding is that its sales prospects in the USA were sandbagged by the first book coming out between 9/11 and the Iraq invasion.

Subtle political SF thrillers set in the Middle East were basically unsaleable in that market at that time. So Random House published it but didn't give it the push it deserved.

Incidentally? If anyone's interested in reading it, start here.

149:

all that needs for that to happen would have been for Milne in Indomitable & Inflexible to catch SMS Goeben & Breslau before they made Constantinople.

That is indeed the incident that JCG latched onto as the turning point behind history in these books.

150:

During the last primaries, not a single Republican candidate said they believed in evolution.

And?? It just wouldn't occur to me to make that statement, because it's irrelevant to a politcal platform rather than because I do not believe that Darwinian evolution is a valid mechanism.

"The majority of Americans (73–76%) identify themselves as Christians and about 15–20% have no religious affiliation.[3][4] According to the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) (2008) 76% of the American adult population identified themselves as Christians, with 25% identifying themselves as Catholics, and 51% identifying themselves as Christians spanning some 30 religious groupings

And?? again. At least 50% of the people I know who identify with a Christian church would probably "get off" in a fair criminal trial if they were arrested for "being a Christian" and "visits $church on Sundays" was not taken as evidence.

151:

#92 part2.

I can't comment on the film which I've not seen but I gave up on the trilogy after part 1 because I felt that Pullman was introducing a new character as the means of escape every time his "hero group" got into trouble (form of deus ex machina writing IMO).

And at least it shows that they were thinking about Pullman's subtext.

152:

It just wouldn't occur to me to make that statement, because it's irrelevant to a politcal platform

You're being obtuse. There are three possibilities for a candidate.

a) They state they don't believe in evolution
b) They make no statement
c) They state they do believe in evolution

When a number of the candidates are in category (a), and all of the rest are in category (b), then you know that even if some of them do accept evolution, they're too scared of that peculiarly US sect of Christianity to stick their head above the parapet.

If "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing", then this is a case where 'evil' has won.

153:

It's been so long since I read them that I can't remember the particulars of Pullman's style, but my particular problem with "His Dark Materials" was that the subtext didn't remain "sub" for very long. Certainly by the end of the trilogy Pullman seemed to be suffering from a case of Oliver-Stone-ism, and was hammering his point home with all the subtelty of a 12-pound sledgehammer applied to the gonads.

154:

Loving Glasshouse. I am about 1/3 of the way through. Great Stuff.

155:

Once I'd figured the whole people-as-data thing (you really know your sys admin Mr. Stross) I was totally amazed at the level of fluidity this concept allows. I think Glasshouse is one of the first sci-fi novels to give me sense of literary vertigo!

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned The Prisoner ("Be Seeing You").

For me it's a wonderfully self-contained tale and really don't see the need for a sequel.

156:

its sales prospects in the USA were sandbagged by the first book coming out between 9/11 and the Iraq invasion.

So that's what happened? Was wondering. I'd seen trade paper editions of the whole trilogy when they came out, and bought the first, intending to buy the rest later, but never saw them again. After several years of keeping a lookout for them I finally gave up and ordered them a few months ago. Still haven't read them though, I want to read Effinger's trilogy first--for no particular reason.

More recently I had to order Saladin Ahmed's book, after not finding it in the stores. It may have been available when it first came out, but didn't know about it at the time. "Alif the Unseen" was available, in the non-genre fiction section, but I was already planning to order it.

end of my little ramble.

157:

I think it's much too early to write off creativity.

Yes, this.

For me, creativity seems to work a bit like evolution: you get an explosive phase when everyone is seeing what limits are out there, and then a consolidation phase as the various possibilities are explored and the failures discarded. Eventually, a new explosion occurs, perhaps enabled by new technologies or philosophies, or by recombination of existing art forms.

Right now, I think we're mostly in consolidation, with the possible exception of some of the more outré artists. Perhaps consolidation is more attractive in uncertain times. And perhaps we need previous experiments to become mainstream before we can build new schools, new artforms, on them.

In my opinion most 'conceptual' art is rubbish IMO, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be tried, any more than geographic explorers should stick to known routes.

158:

Ok, how many of the UK candidates (ignore the occasional "Christian church" ones) actually felt a need to state a position on evolution or creationism?

Or is the Yousay possibly sleepwalking into becoming a theocracy in all but name despite the Constitution?

159:

Well, IMO any form of "art" is potentially rubbish when no-one except a small group seems to get anything out of it. That said, I wonder whether the issue with "conceptual art" is more that no-one seems prepared to explain it to the rest of us than that it's actually stuff that requires more skill in making up b0110cks about the piece than in creating the piece?

160:

Similarly, I doubt I'll ever see United States Calvary, the long-awaited final novel in Kim Newman's Demon Download cycle :-(

Scott Sanford @146: "Apparently [dubstep has] derivative styles already."

Er, yeah, you could say that... check out the sidebar of the dubstep subreddit for some idea of the variety. In general, electronic music is undergoing a huge and long-lived period of inflationary expansion, with a mindboggling number of subgenres splitting, sharing genes and recombining (if dubstep's not your thing, try starting with electroswing and following your nose, or rather your ears). You can point to plenty of predecessors over 30 years old (Wikipedia goes back to 1907!), but I think it's fair to say that the field only got big in the 1980s.

Dave @153: I was literally unable to put the HDM books down, so gripped was I by them. However, the sledgehammer-to-the-gonads delivery of the "theism sucks" subtext annoyed me a lot. As did the bizarre and uncritical acceptance of aristocracy - in order to do anything right in that trilogy, you have to be of Noble Birth.

161:

'potentially' being the operative word. And rubbish in whose eyes? Beauty being in the eye of the beholder, the necessary corollary is that rubbish is too.

Both music and figurative art have had creators who have created stuff that was considered absolutely awful at the time, but that I, a generation or few later, love.

Of course, that gives your contemporary artist a lovely escape clause: the whole "Nobody liked Matisse at the time" is for me dangerously close to the "Nobody believed Galileo at the time" of your crank scientist.

(On the other hand one reason to pay these people is that it at least keeps them off the street.)

162:

mhmm, any crossover of psytrance and gothic/industrial yet?

once in a while, mimicking tonic-clonic seizures to trance while under the influence of nothing more than my usual prescription and some caffeine gets me into quite an enjoyable headspace, both dreamy distracted and concentrated...

163:

RATZ!

Sorry, I misunderstood. Thanks for letting me know.

164:

Assorted observations about Glasshouse.

The hardcover Ace US edition that I have has a number line ending in 2. Did it have a second printing? I think I bought it from a Friends of the Library sale so can't say when it was originally sold.

Two or three weeks ago I had occasion to be looking round new and used bookstores in deepest darkest downtown Googleville (Mountain View). Glasshouse could be found in paperback in each.

It bears re-reading well. There's a lot in there. I've passed the paperback I first bought and read along to a friend. I think it may pass the test of time. It'd be nice to read more from that universe.

165:

Dawkins is somewhat continuing Monod here, and Sunday to Wednesday, I think similar. On Thursday to Saturday though, I think that as any disturbed teenager experiences, there are many ways of rebellion, and that for example, there is hardly a more fundamental rebellion against the selfish replicators than not just neutering yourself, but also hunting down and killing all your offspring. Which is, come to think about it, not that ethical.

And when arguing against this Repliminator, we are likely to make a recourse to some "natural law" derived from our emotional makeup, e.g. parental instincts, empathy etc.

Though as already mentioned, those same emotional makeup is likely to be inherited from the murderer, not the murdered. So when going for the instincts, it seems prudent to be at least somewhat cautious.

It'd be easier if nature was only claws red with blood etc. and justice was something alien to our human biological nature, though as noted above, not necessarily that nice. Or nature was really just.

In the long run, what we end with is likely to be something like a sanitized version of our social instincts. And historically, there has been a tendency to conceptualize these somewhat arbitrary rules as a "natural order of things", not just in the descendents of the Mediterrenean cultures, but also in quite a few East Asian ones. See dharma, dao etc. And to make any questioning of those somewhat anathema. Not that I think questioning Human Rights in general is that good, wise, sane or ethical an idea usually.

Thing is, what difference is there between our treatment of Human Rights and the treatment of the Thora, the Quaran or the Veda in the religion in question?

166:

I'd purchased the book some time ago but managed to forget to put it in the stack of "things I haven't read yet", this conversation prompted me to go read it.

Nice. I love that there are huge questions left unanswered.

167:

The world needs more works by Charlie Stross. Whether said works are set in the Merchant Princes, Laundry, Eschaton (yes, I went there), Halting State, Accelerando, or Saturn's Children universes doesn't really matter.

But then, I'm a raving fanboy (in his mid thirties) who has Our Good Host on the "buy, sight unseen, as soon as it comes out" list (current occupants: two: OGH, and pterry), so take this assertion with the appropriate quantity of salt.

168:

I wonder whether the issue with "conceptual art" is more that no-one seems prepared to explain it to the rest of us than that it's actually stuff that requires more skill in making up b0110cks about the piece than in creating the piece?

I am afraid that much literary science fiction -- like wot I rite -- falls into this category. As John Clute put it, it has been impossible to write a naive time travel story since about 1950; that is, a time travel story in which the author can't reasonably expect the reader to be familiar with H. G. Wells' "The Time Machine", and perhaps to have stubbed their toe on stories with the Grandfather Paradox already. All post-1950 time travel stories are therefore what he terms "deep genre" -- impossible to read without prior exposure to genre tropes and concepts relating to the core subject.

You are therefore an aficionado of an art form which, to the uninitiated, is recondite meaningless crap that only a small group seem to get anything out of. (Because you're one of the initiates who gets the in-jokes.)

((Bear this in mind next time you see an exhibition of incomprehensible art, m'kay?))

169:

The hardcover Ace US edition that I have has a number line ending in 2. Did it have a second printing?

Almost certainly not in hardcover. Before the ebook format shift really geared up around 2010, Ace rolled books out into paperback exactly 12 months after the hardback release date, at which point h/c sales fell off a cliff so there would never be a post-mmpb release hc reprint order.

170:

Charlie
Contrariwise (what a suprise!) there are, & always have been "artists" who suvive by passing-off incomprehensible bollocks as "art" & making a nice little earning from it, as long as they can talk fast enough.
Which is why it is very difficult for the real experts (maybe geniuses, sometimes) to make headway.
If one actually looks at works by Salvador Dali or Roy Lichtenstein (as I have) ... then one begins to appreciate that there IS something to it.
Very difficult in the case of an extreme self-publicist like Dali, but he was ahead of a lot of the experimental psychologists when it came to "double vision" & pictures (painted, still oil-paintings, remember) that morphed the image one saw, according to where one was standing relative to the original.

"Installations" are another one - some, occasionally work & can work very well, but Sturgeon's Revelation applies here in spades - like "at least 95% of everything .." in these cases.

171:

1950's US, oppressive? If you were black, sure. White women had no serious problems getting work or being independent. So what they could not choose some careers?

Let me guess: you're a white middle-class American male, aren't you?

Here's a hint -- if you weren't a white middle class male, 1950s America was just slightly more oppressive than you seem to think.

The founder of computer science was so oppressed in 1950s Britain that he killed himself. White, middle-class, male: even that didn't stop the UK being just slightly more oppressive, and I doubt it would have the US.

172:

It a pretty old part of art. You might find that the old murals in some churches has a purpose of telling bible stories, but a huge amount of "classic" art is packed with symbolism for the cognisant to see and understand. Dan Brown, for all his flaws, has that element right.

The thing to remember is that what makes non-representational art different is that there isn't a pretty picture containing the symbols. Here we are in the 21st Century, arguing about the symbolism of the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, but it doesn't change what we see, and can admire.

173:

Not proven

Yes, he was certainly oppressed, and that was unforgivable. But whether that actually led to his death is not so certain, since he was pretty open about what he was, refusing to be shamed. I am not convinced that he did suicide. On the other hand, having known too many suicides who took their lives for no externally obvious reason, I cannot either say he didn't - he might even have done so, yet for some other reason. Perhaps the hormones had a psychological effect. For me, the verdict is still open, and I suspect it will remain so.

174:

Darn. Ah well, at least I have The Golden Globe.
Now, to re-read Golden Globe or Glasshouse? Decisions, decisions.

175:

Ah well -- I understand economics... but, as I've said before, Glasshouse is my most favorite of all of your novels. Of course, I like all the rest, too, so-- keep on keeping on, Charlie!

(But I'd sure love to see something in that world again-- though it would seem difficult to me to replicate the delightful mystery-scifi fusion that you produced for the plot of Glasshouse.)

USA here btw. I did my part!

176:

The Hodges biography makes use of material declassified circa 1975 under the 30 years' rule, relating to Enigma and Turing's time at Blechley Park.

I am wondering if there's other stuff he was involved in that's still in the archives under a 75 or 100 year lock which might cast new light on his mind. But the suicide ... we don't know enough about his personal circumstances to be sure why he did it, and we almost certainly never will. I suspect it was just a toxic combination of depression, social isolation, and emotional disturbances induced by hormone treatments. Barbaric, any way you look at it.

177:

I'm not aware of gothic industrial psytrance being A Thing, but a search on SoundCloud turns up a few hits. This thread from a psytrance forum might also be of interest.

178:

I'd flip that on it's head, actually.

If you're looking for deep, meaningful symbolism, I'd suggest checking out some Aboriginal rock art. Abstract paintings with multiple meanings have been around for tens of thousands of years. It's part of that whole "landscape as memory palace" thing that so many ancient hunter-gatherers used.

It's been used ever since, particularly in temples for non-literate worshipers. Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism are rife with it, as are the old cathedrals and churches of every branch of Christianity.

My grumble with much of modern conceptual art is not that it's symbolic, it's that it's so darned shallow, and often poorly crafted, compared even to the work of unlettered artists drawing on rocks out in the deep desert. That's where the crap factor comes in for me.

These poor modern salespeople (I'm not sure I'd call them artists) don't have the metaphysical chops to really make their pieces speak. Instead, their pieces mumble, and like the keepers of the old Delphic Oracle, they pass off these mumblings as Stuff with Deep Meaning, and then they see how much they can get the supplicants to fork over for the whole experience.

Admittedly, this isn't a critique of all modern art, because I've seen some very well-crafted pieces that do speak (such as the miniature, highly detailed cathedral crafted out of the pieces of a bunch of assault rifles...). Still, if I want conceptual art, I'd rather go look at something from Oceania or Native Americans. Their pieces at least have a voice and something to say.

179:

Who will the people of 2500AD focus on for their image of our time -- 50s and 60s soaps which portray a common consensus culture, or a bizarre swamp of semi-corrupt dumps from Reddit, Facebook, MTV, the 500 Club, and Mumsnet? It seems like a no-brainer to me: the 1950s will be much easier to grasp than the 2000s.

You know, I don't find this convincing. There's just so much more stuff about 2000's than about 50's, even the unencrypted part will vastly outweigh it.

180:

So which do you prefer for 2500 AD: Looney Tunes, The Simpsons, or Speed Racer?

181:

I assume the people of 2500AD is smart enough to understand that the culture of 2000AD had more than 1 cartoon.

182:

I think you missed the point. Badly.

Most of what "the common people" (European and American flavors) know about Elizabethan England comes from a couple of Shakespeare plays they saw in school. Knowledge of "the Middle Ages" comes either out some mishmash of cartoons, Lord of the Rings, Chaucer, and possibly a couple of other movies (although, as Charlie noted, we're talking about everything after Beowulf and before Columbus). Arabian, Indian, and Chinese history come from Marco Polo or (more likely) Mulan and Aladdin. And most of what they know about 2000 years of ancient Egyptian history is that they extracted mummy's brains out of their nose with a hook.

You get the idea.

Now, the question is, if some 2500 AD Jose Average Dufus is getting a sense of 20th Century America, what would you rather he saw: Looney Tunes, the Simpsons, or choice 3? (I posted Speed Racer, but you can substitute something else, like Transformers, if you think it fits better).

183:

We're entering a period of stagnation. No new musical genres in the past 20 or 30 years. No new art movements in the past 20 or 30 years. No new literary movements or genres in the past 20 or 30 years...

Kage Baker, in The Life of the World To Come had something to say about that.

Nearly every social event anybody threw in the twenty-fourth century was historically themed. Most people, if asked why historical reenactment was so popular, would have replied that the present age was boring. The truth, however, was more complicated and consequently even more boring, a societal phenomenon that had been set in motion centuries earlier:
With the invention of printing, mass standardized culture had become possible.
With the inventions of photography and then cinema, the standardization of popular culture began to progress geometrically and its rate of change slowed down.
In addition, the complete documention of daily life [gave humanity] a mirror in which to regard itself.
Less and less had it been able to look away, as its image became more detailed and perfect, especially with the burden of information that became available at the end of the twentieth century.
What this meant, in practical terms, was that retro was the only fashion.

184:

We're entering a period of stagnation. No new musical genres in the past 20 or 30 years. No new art movements in the past 20 or 30 years. No new literary movements or genres in the past 20 or 30 years...

It's absolutely and truly hilarious to post this on a blog. As a work of absurdist artistry, it shows true genius.

Did you post this over a kalbi taco? Or was it at a molecular gastro-pub? Was your food printed? With a 3-D printer, or a retro 2-D style flavor chip? Were you listening to Gangnam style, which is hip-hop sung by a Korean? on You Tube? Or were you watching So You Think You Can Dance, where Krumpers, Animators, and Hip-Hop artists are competing with Ballroom dancers, Modern dancers, and Tap dancers for a prize?

Certainly, it's equally absurd to post this on OGH's thread about his most advanced, post-singulatarian book. Try saying that back in 1983. It might have worked better on the crib sheet on Halting State, which was certainly understandable (although unsalable, due to the lesbian protagonist) 30 years ago, although it's MMORPG thing would have been quite avant-garde, considering how minor RPGs were back in 1983. But explaining why it was a failure due to the fact that it aged badly compared to real history? That would have scared even the futurists a few decades ago, left them mumbling about how Toffler's post-industrial society from Future Shock was coming true. We'd laugh, talk about locavorism, maker culture, and the Open Source movement. In some ways, we're already posting past Toffler.

Oh, and if blogging isn't a new genre, I don't know what is. Tweeting, perhaps?

185:

Vanzeti: " I don't find this convincing. There's just so much more stuff about 2000's than about 50's, even the unencrypted part will vastly outweigh it."

That's the problem[1] not the solution.

Access to the media was pretty tightly controlled in the 1950s (by cost and technical difficulty if for no other reason) and controlled by a fairly limited number of gatekeepers (again as much for economic reasons as any other) and as a result what made it into the cultural mainstream was heavily curated and pretty much portrayed a single (albeit largely artificial) narrative, and that's where the twisted "I love Lucy on acid" vision of a '50s or early '60s USA in Glasshouse has its origins as far as I can see...

These days anyone with a mobile 'phone can splurge GBytes of video onto Youtube, anyone who can drive a web browser can post their thoughts to a blog, and anyone with even a fairly modest computer can release an album. Good look to future Historians/anthropologists/archaeologists trying to tease a coherent thread out of that lot...

[1] If it is a problem. I tend to the "cultures are diverse. Deal with it..." outlook....

186:

Minor nit:

Oh, and if blogging isn't a new genre, I don't know what is. Tweeting, perhaps?

Actually, blogging is old. Newspaper columnists were filling editorial inches with their lunchtime maunderings when actual news was slow centuries ago. The strap line "from our foreign correspondent" bears consideration in this context. The shift online ... is also old. Bruce Sterling declared that blogging was dead about a year after I started the first incarnation of this blog, circa 2001. Blogs, on the internet, in HTML, have been going for around 15-18 years at this point.

When you get down to the bottom of it, all art is an attempt to communicate. Beyond that, everything is just a permutation. But there are an infinite number of possible permutations, and I think that Kage Baker's theory about the future of art and culture (above) is highly questionable; retro referentiality is one thing, but nobody wants to be seen as derivative or unoriginal, and unironic retro is nothing if not derivative.

187:

Now, the question is, if some 2500 AD Jose Average Dufus is getting a sense of 20th Century America, what would you rather he saw: Looney Tunes, the Simpsons, or choice 3? (I posted Speed Racer, but you can substitute something else, like Transformers, if you think it fits better).

I don't really care about the average Dufus. A dufus won't be able to design a matchbox, not to mention a historical simulation with hidden sinister objectives. The Glasshouse in the book was not designed by dufuses. They had access to all remaining historical information, and I find it unconvincing that they had more information about 1950's than the 2000's. I can think of 2 conditions that might lead to it:

1. The Curious Yellow worm during the War was for some reason deleting everything from the post-50's, era, so they really didn't have any better information.

or

2. They actually wanted to simulate the 50's.

However, I tend to think the real reason is:

3. Our Esteemed Host's (not entirely rational) dislike of the USA is well known, and this is what disposed him to use American 50's, despite the existence of more oppressive societies in more recent periods (they still exist).

188:

These days anyone with a mobile 'phone can splurge GBytes of video onto Youtube, anyone who can drive a web browser can post their thoughts to a blog, and anyone with even a fairly modest computer can release an album. Good look to future Historians/anthropologists/archaeologists trying to tease a coherent thread out of that lot...

I disagree. Future historians will have much more information about the actual historical event. Think about the footage and documentation of 9/11. No compare it to the the footage and documentation of Jesus Christ. :-)

189:

The Glasshouse in the book was not designed by dufuses. They had access to all remaining historical information,

... And it was set up after a war where the opening was a surprise attack aimed at killing historians and archaeologists and deleting information about the past. A war which in turn followed on from whatever conflicts overturned centuries of cognitive dictatorships. A war which was "won" except nobody knows what the worm was trying to censor. (Implicit upshot: the war is over because the bad guys won, and censored their victory from the memories of their entire culture.)

Our Esteemed Host's (not entirely rational) dislike of the USA is well known

* Rolls eyes *

If I dislike the USA so much, why do I spend a month or two a year over there?

Here's a clue: my primary market is American readers. If I'd made the Glasshouse a model of rationing-era 1950s Britain, it would have rendered the set-up sufficiently alien that my readers wouldn't feel it as directly, personally, oppressive.

And also, you're so totally wrong about the pervasive spread and relative persistence of cultural phenomena.

Final hint: contemplate the First Emperor of China for a while. Then get back to me.

190:

OK. Then the reason they model the 50's in Glasshouse is because 50's is what the Worm left them, not because the 50's impact is so powerful they naturally dominate further eras. Or are you saying the 50's are so powerful that even the Worm could not censor them out even if it tried?

What I find unconvincing is the idea that the 50's will leave a greater impact on the future because it predates the proliferation of cheap recording media. I think the opposite is true, and in a 100 years _everything_ that predates the said proliferation will be swamped out and feel tiny and insignificant compared to the enormous wealth of information about the later era. The Internet is a watershed event.

If I dislike the USA so much, why do I spend a month or two a year over there?

It's not mutually exclusive. '-)

Here's a clue: my primary market is American readers. If I'd made the Glasshouse a model of rationing-era 1950s Britain, it would have rendered the set-up sufficiently alien that my readers wouldn't feel it as directly, personally, oppressive.

OK, I stand corrected, I didn't consider the possibility that you cater to your primary market.

(BTW, it's still not mutually exclusive with you disliking USA.)

191:

"What I find unconvincing is the idea that the 50's will leave a greater impact on the future because it predates the proliferation of cheap recording media. I think the opposite is true, and in a 100 years _everything_ that predates the said proliferation will be swamped out and feel tiny and insignificant compared to the enormous wealth of information about the later era. The Internet is a watershed event."

In terms of sheer quantity, quality and richness of source material I think you're absolutely right. In terms of being able to distill the 20somethings into a single, simple (albeit artificial and inaccurate - I'm not naive enough to think that "Happy Days" is a complete and accurate record of what it was like to be a teenager in small town USA during the early '60s...) cultural narrative I actually think that richness will make the signals we're leaving behind much more difficult to interpret...

192:

OK. Then the reason they model the 50's in Glasshouse is because 50's is what the Worm left them, not because the 50's impact is so powerful they naturally dominate further eras. Or are you saying the 50's are so powerful that even the Worm could not censor them out even if it tried?

Both.

The "I love Lucy" vision of the 1950s is rather popular with conservatives -- or hadn't you noticed? It may in part be down to misplaced childhood nostalgia, but I suspect there's rather more to it than that: it was a very conformist, authoritarian era.

(BTW, it's still not mutually exclusive with you disliking USA.)

I don't dislike the USA per se; there are aspects of it that I like and admire a lot. There are other localized aspects that I despise: but hey, don't let my nuanced opinions get in the way of your desire to pigeon hole me.

193:

Charlie, do you realize that you are using the 50's as a Stepford Suburbia because that's exactly how it is widely perceived today, by you and a lot of like-minded people? Shouldn't this run against the notion that 50's will remain as a coherent vision for the ages? It's not coherent now.

194:

Unless Glasshouse is a future where American conservatives won and imposed they vision on everyone. Are they behind the Curious Yellow? 0_o

195:

@186:
Oh, and if blogging isn't a new genre, I don't know what is.
--
Blogging is the written equivalent of standing on a box on the sidewalk, expounding to passers-by. Such acts were once relevant to political and social development.

196:

There are all sorts of approaches to that question.

The " Stepford Wives " viewpoint.. As you express it? Is clearly a very US of American point of view and it’s worth noting that and that “...? The Stepford Wives is a 1972 satirical thriller novel by Ira Levin. The story concerns Joanna Eberhart, a photographer and young mother who begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive housewives in her new idyllic Connecticut neighborhood may be robots created by their husbands.

Two films of the same name have been adapted from the novel; the first starred Katharine Ross and was released in 1975, while a remake starring Nicole Kidman appeared in 2004. Edgar J. Scherick produced the 1975 version, all three sequels, and was posthumously credited as producer in the 2004 remake. "

No link in the interests of avoiding the Harsh LASH of Moderation...in which interest I will allow myself only ONE Link hereafter...but note the dates.

Here in the UK the principle source of In Home Entertainment in the 1950s was much as it had been for decades and that was the Radio...yes I know but Sex Hadn't been Discovered Yet, and Contraception was very chancy and unreliable . But TV was coming along and by the time of the '60s we were being BOMBARDED...more than one TV channel, Gosh WOW ! And ..." By the dawn of the 1960s, television in the UK was no longer merely a gimmick or a novelty. Following the broadcast of Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation in 1953, the number of television sets had grown spectacularly in homes up and down the country. Regular programmes were being scheduled on both ITV and on the BBC, and several programmes had caught the imagination of viewers like little else before (for instance, Nigel Kneale's Quatermass science fiction thrillers, shown from 1953 to 1959).

Despite its burgeoning popularity, the technology required to broadcast signals and receive them in homes was decidedly primitive. Family evenings spent huddled around a tiny black and white set could be easily spoiled if the wind dislodged the aerial by even a fraction. Owing to the exorbitant cost, most TV sets were rented rather than purchased - so a familiar visitor to many households was often the TV repair man, somebody whose knowledge of valves and horizontal hold knobs was nigh on miraculous.

At the start of the decade, the commercial channel ITV had a stranglehold over the ratings in the UK. Not restricted by the higher 'Reithian'1 ideals of the BBC, ITV's stated aim was to provide programmes with mass market (often lowest-common denominator) appeal. Much of its schedules comprised a tasty melange of imported American action series and Westerns with big-money game shows and quizzes. However, in December 1960, ITV showed the first episode of a drama series that would go down in history as Britain's best-loved programme of all time: Coronation Street. At roughly the same time, ITV increased the amount of drama and plays it was carrying, generating huge audiences for what now appear to be quite high-brow adaptations of complex stage plays. The man responsible for a lot of this shift in thinking (and for commissioning such legendary programmes as The Avengers) was a Canadian called Sydney Newman. Seeing how successful he had been at ITV, the BBC decided to poach him and offered him a job as head of Series and Serials for the BBC. "

And so forth, as being easy to look up. My first Boss/Line manager was ex RAF and he enjoyed a certain local fame in his neighbourhood for having the first TV ever seen in town. Which TV he actually built from scratch and upon which an improbably crowded living room audience watched the Coronation.

When TV appeared in the days of my teens it was absolutely LOADED with bought from US of American TV programming. Every Night a Western plus many variants on The “I Love Lucy” pattern and this plus the British Social Pattern of Marriage and The Woman’s Place. All of this piled on top of the Radio Programming...The Archers, Mrs Dales Diary and so forth...again A Woman’s Place was fixed as if in Stone. This wasn’t Stated, because it didn’t NEED to be, anymore than did other social attitudes for...well , one of the Really Popular Light Entertainment TV shows on British TV was “The Black And White Minstrel Show “ ...look it up if you haven’t heard of it. I think that you will find it instructive that it was so very popular. The Black And White Minstrel show was last broadcast in the UK in...1978! Look it up on U Tube but prepare to feel nauseous.

But back to The Step ford Wives?

Way back in the late 1970s my Mother demanded that I teach one of her friends “To FIGHT” this because my principle physical recreation of those days...apart from Girls...was Martial Arts in various forms. I explained that her mate would be much better off going to a regular self defence course as maybe run by a female copper or an ex military female person - and I would find one! Mum EXPLAINED that this was a very BAD idea since her mates Husband...who was very Upper Middle Class Professional, had taken to punctuating their arguments on the future of their kids by seizing her by the throat and shaking her. Apparently they had met at university and thereafter married with children, after which time HE had become much more fundamentalist Jewish and SHE considerably less so and this made the very serious Stepford Difference.

So I discussed the wisdom of establishing a safe house to retreat to...take the Kids and RUN, but where and how?...and then taught her how to break a forward strangle hold and counter attack and follow up to that attack if it was only partially successful . And so on and so forth, and this in my Mums very tiny kitchen. It worked. Hubby suffered a burst eardrum...glad she didn’t have to follow through for it becomes ever so slightly lethal after the initial defence...and they divorced. Last I heard he had retired to Israel and she was running a restaurant ...after he failed to become a fully qualified murderer he was not such a bad chap really for he helped me to bury my Mums old Dog -who was dead - and explained to me that I was pronouncing 'RIGOUR ' incorrectly ..This as I was standing shoulder deep in a grave in my garden.

All so very long ago, but all such a short time ago.

But Things are So much better these days, Eh Wot?

I don’t know about Stepford Wives Land but, well, we in the UK owe an awful lot to Barbra Castle ..

“Barbara Castle should have been Labour's – and Britain's – first female prime minister. What a role model she would have been: passionate, fiery and absolutely committed to social justice.
She was a brilliant orator. In her diaries, she writes about "playing" with the audience – teasing them, driving them to anger, to laughter and back again. And there was no one better at getting Labour conference on her side. In an age of tub-thumping, political rhetoric, before television put a premium on conversational styles, Barbara found a way of speaking that was strong, commanding but never macho.
I first met Barbara in the early 1970s when she was shadow social security minister, I was in my first job, at Age Concern, and we both appeared on a TV special on pensions, pouring scorn on Keith Joseph's proposed second pension scheme that would have left women with lower pensions than men in return for equal contributions. Afterwards, she was mobbed by an adoring studio audience. Back in government a few years later, she introduced Serps to guarantee a second pension to all employees, women as well as men.
Barbara's biggest achievement, of course, was the Equal Pay Act (pdf), introduced in 1970 following the strike by women workers at Ford's Dagenham plant. Women MPs were few and far between – indeed, there were more MPs called John than there were women in the House of Commons. They were the butt of sexist jokes, from Tory and Labour men alike, and stereotyped as only being interested in "women's issues". But Barbara never flinched from taking on the cause of equal pay. “ ..

Which should take you to the quoted article without giving a Link.

But that Link that I’m allowing myself?

There was a piece in the BBCs site a few days ago that should serve to ward of any self congratulatory smugness that we might feel on the WE Have Progressed so Far ... RA US!

“ Violence against women worldwide is 'epidemic'”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22975103

197:
The Glasshouse in the book was not designed by dufuses. They had access to all remaining historical information, and I find it unconvincing that they had more information about 1950's than the 2000's.

I can think of a couple of organizational factors and human behavior that might lead to it.

Specialists syndrome - their focus was on X. The trappings were just bait. If they could have figured out another era to run the experiment with internal consistency they would. But it came up first, and no one objected, so off they went. See also, groupthink.

Also, if information comes from outside the specialty (psychiatrists/sociologists/anthropologists (IIRC), its likely to be given less weight or outright ignored.

Related to Specialist's syndrome - let the intern/junior associate/low paid consultant/contractor do it. Someone who doesn't give a damn and merely wants to be done and over with. Or worse, they were a fan of the era...

I bet others who've had experiences with odd to inappropriate choices by large organizations can come up with more with a bit of thought.

198:

Someone needs to re-read Glasshouse, and I hope it's not me. Do others remember that the simulated era was supposed to fast forward through eras, only starting in the 1950s? To be sure, the scheme goes off the rails before the late 1960s when tie dyed clothes show up, but for an experiment intending to model a society going through the millennium their choice of the 1950s is a good one. Earlier and they'd be butting up against WWII, which would be an unnecessary distraction, and if they started much later the participants wouldn't have time to accustom themselves to thinking of the world as "normal," and so wouldn't react naturally when stuff like VCRs showed up.

That's the in-world logic, of course; the logic for the author of using the Stepford Wives stereotypes of the 1950s is self-evident.

199:

Yes, you're quite right. Dubstep is rocking the foundations of our musical world. Jazz, Blues, Rock, Reggae are now but pale candles against the tidal wave of our Dubstep-permeated culture. ;-) Except that a lot of Dubstep can be seen as synthesis of earlier musical styles (Sound System, Reggae, Dub, and probably a bunch of DJ mixing styles). Just because you call something by a new name, doesn't mean it hasn't been around it's not recycled.

And excuse me if I also chuckle at the unintended irony of you using steampunk as an example of a new literary genre. This is fiction that worships Victorian the tropes of industrial progress. How derivative can you get? Not saying it isn't fun. But is really original or just a rehash?

200:

But it's probably not going to get written, because I'm told "Glasshouse" is my slowest-selling SF novel in the US market, and a sequel wouldn't justify much of an advance.

...which explains why I was able to pick up the US hardback so cheaply - [less than big-river-marketplace lowest price of £2.81]

it's an ex-library book in VG condition

the cover art wouldn't lead anyone to rush across a bookstore to buy it, IMO

it was issued fourteen times in its life, if that's any consolation

so OGH has some readers in Jefferson County, WA

201:

#168 + 170 + 178

I think I'm with Heteromeles on this one; I'm arguing that "conceptual art" requires no real skill to make: surrealism, the miniature cathedral H instances for examples, SF (yes even a good time travel story even if it's informed by earlier works) so require skill by the creator.

202:

The "I love Lucy" vision of the 1950s is rather popular with conservatives -- or hadn't you noticed?

Oh the irony. The Lucy character was not only a fairly powerful (if not in a making money outside the home sense) female character, but married to {shock, horror time} a Mexican.

In a case of life imitating art (or vice versa) Lucille Ball actually was married to Desi Arnaz, and they were the real-life co-owners of Desilu Studios, which name may be familiar to people.

203:

paws4thot wrote in part:
but married to {shock, horror time} a Mexican.

Detail - Desi Arnaz was a Cuban-American, not a Mexican or Mexican-American.

His family were well off in Cuba before the revolution. His father was apparently the mayor of Santiago de Cuba, the second biggest city in Cuba, immediately prior to the Revolution. He was arrested after and jailed for six months, and all the family property confiscated. They apparently left for the US shortly after.

204:

Cheers for the correction. Doesn't that actually make matters worse from the USian "conservative" PoV though?

205:

No, it makes matters considerably better. American conservatives have always been fond of formerly rich Cubans persecuted by Castro.

206:

+1 yank whose favorite Stross book is "Glasshouse".

When it was initially proposed that "Glasshouse" may be tied to the "Accelerando" universe I felt the segue between the two was perfectly clean. The tech in "Glasshouse" is derivative of the tech at the end of "Accelerando" and the absences (Aineko, the Vile Offspring, etcetera) I always interpreted as collateral, or even the purpose, of the Censorship Wars.

As for cluttered and unpredictable, the Censorship Wars are the perfect 'cure'; you now have a human universe that knows of no outside influence (see above absences) which can be reintroduced/ignored as the new plot dictates.

Sorry, too many years overthinking the plot. Regardless, would love to see a sequel someday but will be more than happy with more Laundry and Halting State universe books.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on June 13, 2013 1:20 PM.

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