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Crib Sheet: The Merchant Princes

This is going to be slightly abbreviated, because I've already written about the creation of this book — originally written as one big fat brassy thriller/SF novel in portal fantasy drag, chopped in half for publication as two thin fantasies, then reassembled as "The Bloodline Trade" for the UK market — in several places. In fact, for the revised, authoritative version of the crib sheet, read this essay before continuing to the footnotes below the fold.

When Tor UK were getting ready to relaunch the series, my editor Bella Pagan asked me if I could write some essays for the Tor UK blog, discussing the books. I am too lazy to cut and paste and reformat everything, so I'm going to deep-link to Tor, and hope they don't drop the files:

* Introduction to The Bloodline Trade

* On world-building the Merchant Princes

* On the political determinants of economic development in the Merchant Princes

Finally, some words that didn't make it into any of those essays: a subjective recollection of the UK sales track of the series.

Back in 2002, when my agent sold the rights to "The Family Trade", she tried (as is usual) to run an auction in New York. We had high hopes for the series: it was designed, near as I could, to go front list, or even (we hoped) bestseller. Alas, only one bidder showed up. When you're in an auction and that happens, suddenly it's a monopsony: which is how David Hartwell scooped up world English language rights for Tor US.

Now, when a US publisher buys world English language rights to a book, this does not mean they're going to publish it worldwide. They don't generally have the sales, distribution, marketing, or accounting infrastructure to sell it outside of North America. So, traditionally, what they do is license the territorial rights to a local publisher.

By 2002, Tor was part of Macmillan, a large English language publishing group which was in turn part of Holtzbrink, one of the big six global publishers (the German one, in case you hadn't guessed). In the UK, their sibling company was Macmillan, whose SF imprint, Pan, was quite successful ... but according to their marketing research, had less of a reputation (in the UK!) than the foreign imprint, Tor. So Macmillan in the UK established a Tor imprint as a sidecar hanging off the PanMac SF publishing side of the operation. In those days, SF and fantasy at Macmillan was run by one of the grand old men of British publishing, Peter Lavery (now retired), and his assistant editor. But I didn't know this at the time — all I knew was that David Hartwell, and his boss (Tor's CEO, Tom Doherty) had the rights to my series and would try and sell it in the UK.

And it didn't sell. And didn't sell.

I kept asking: "any news on the UK rights?" And David kept telling me, "it's really bad. Peter won't take it, so we're doing the rounds everywhere else."

Around 2006, my agent and I were getting fed up. Tor's lock on non-North American rights had a sunset clause; as I recall, if they couldn't publish within two years we had the right to ask for those rights back and try to sell it ourselves. Back in the prehistory of ebooks and self-publishing this wasn't a good idea, but it was better than nothing. So I was getting ready to talk to my agent about getting our rights back when, as happens, I ended up at the pub crawl after a book launch in Edinburgh. It was a first novel by a local writer, published by Macmillan, and while I couldn't make the launch and reading, everyone was converging on a bar afterwards. So I cut out the middle-man and headed out for an evening on the town.

Three half-litre bottles of Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier later, I was chatting with friends when I happened to spy someone who matched a description, standing around in amiable companionship with a bottle of wine.

Now, it is generally stupid for an author to cold-sell to a publisher. It is especially stupid to do so when drunk. (Reduce the stupidity coefficient if the publisher is also drunk.) But I didn't see that I had anything to lose, and in any case, I had a hypothesis ...

"Hi," I said, "I believe you're Peter Lavery?"

Peter nodded at me, only slightly warily. (See, editors have a reflexive response to being approached by random drunken strangers. It's a bit like your reflexive response to being approached by a random drunken stranger.)

"I don't want to waste your time," I explained, "so I'll keep this short. I believe that about eighteen months ago Tom Doherty and David Hartwell visited you and tried to convince you to take on a fantasy series by a hot new American writer. Firstly, it's SF, not fantasy, and secondly, I'm not American. Cheers."

Then he smiled. And that was the sum total of my sales pitch, aside from telling him my name when he asked.

Two weeks later I got a phone call from New York. It was my editor. "Charlie! You'll never guess what's happened! Peter Lavery has changed his mind ..."

Alas, it didn't last.

Tor UK did indeed take on the Merchant Princes series. They put fairly forgettable generic fantasy covers on the first two and pushed them out into the market, where they disappeared, leaving barely a ripple. Then, as they were about to release "The Clan Corporate", disaster struck.

First, Peter Lavery retired. This wasn't unexpected; they'd been planning for it. Indeed, his senior editor, Stephanie Bierwerth, was due to step into his shoes and take over running the shop. And this worked smoothly until, a month later, a rival publisher made Stephanie an offer she couldn't refuse.

Tor UK was without an editor (not just an editorial director, but any editor at all, as far as I can tell) for some months. Then Julie Crisp arrived, in conjunction with a sweeping change of senior management at Macmillan. My series was orphaned (sales figures were poor: both editors who'd been involved had left: the entire Tor UK list was deprecated for a while), and books 4-6 simply never came out.

Fast-forward to late 2011.

My agent and I had been discussing reverting the UK rights to the series when I got an email from my editor at Orbit, Bella Pagan. "I'm sorry to have to break the bad news to you," it began, "but I'm leaving for a job with Macmillan. I guess I won't be editing you any more!"

My email response: "Bella, don't be so sure of that ..."

If you've got an orphaned series stranded with a publisher who haven't even issued the second half of it, about the best thing that can happen to you is for your dynamic, efficient editor from your other publisher to get a job there. Bella blew the dust off Tor UK, and I pitched my idea: that we could try to relaunch the series, in a form factor more acceptable to the UK market. These were originally going to be big (600-700) page books, parallel-universe technothrillers rather than genre fantasy — could she publish them as such if I did the necessary work to re-assemble six thin books into three fat ones?

Well, the answer was "yes" — but with one string attached: Bella wanted to launch the books, for maximum impact, at one month intervals.

The first six Merchant Princes books weigh in at 640,000 words. I had to fix any errata, redraft, and edit them into three books in three months.

Let me give you some figures:

War and Peace (Nikolai Tolstoy) — 620,000 words

The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkein) — 460,000 words

Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson) — 350,000 words


Yes, I did succeed in redrafting something longer than "War and Peace" — two thirds the length of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle — in under twelve weeks last summer. It nearly broke me. I had to use Microsoft Word, because we were using change tracking, and I wasn't going to trust any other word processor to be 100% bug-compatible with MS Word (as used by publishers) on a job of that size — not if the price of incompatibility was having to redo three months' work. Per Word, I made around 12,500 insertions, deletions, and changes to the series. Note that those were mostly word or phrase sized modifications, not individual characters: it's an average of 5-7 changes per page, as published.

For the final run through the page proofs, in October to December, I surrendered to the inevitable. I am a crap proofreader. I know this for a fact: I've had tech publishing jobs in which management tried to turn me into a proofreader and lived to regret it. It's the author's job to check the page proofs (in parallel with a proofreader paid by the publisher), but, although I wanted an extra pair of eyeballs on the page, I simply wasn't up to doing it. So I paid a local editor and SF writer I've worked with before to do the job for me. Checking the proofs to the Merchant Princes in three months nearly broke him. (The stack of foul paper — marked-up papers: he likes to work it old-school — is more than a foot deep). But we made it, delivering the finished, checked pages only a couple of weeks later than planned, and I believe the third and final book should be in the shops later this week.



"Shit happens" ?? Amazingly well-done, both/all of you, given the grind, & I expect I'll buy the revised versions & store the originals, since, from all information so far, the 3-vol set will be much more coherent than the first time around. Like many people (I suspect) I didn't realise it was SF, thanks to the aformentioned publishers' screw-ups. We know better now. Good luck with the sales, Charlie!


I think Charlie did try to shoehorn it in as Fantasy because he had another publisher with first dibs on his next SF novel :)

I think anyone who's read OGH and/or this blog for a bit will agree that OGH can write hexameter epics about rainbow unicorns and STILL be writing Science Fiction in it's best incarnation : A (scalding) commentary on today's world mixed nicely with a plethora of ideas on how to (re-)create the next world, again.


and I'm still trying to decide whether I should get the new versions or not .. I mean I do own all the American hardcovers (and I won't give them away since they're signed), but still .. This is, after all, the way the story was supposed to be told. And when I read the original version and did read it all in one go, the "this is what happened in the last books" bits got on my nerves a bit and detracted from an otherwise fascinating story.


The electronic UK version should be available starting tomorrow (June 6th). The paper version, I don't know.

Having read the two volumes that comprise The bloodline feud in the past, I can definitely say that the single-volume version is better. I thought I'd read the first of the two volumes that made up The Traders' war but it turns out I hadn't (plowing through that one at pace, though).


I have the first three books of the Merchant Princes as hardcover, but the splitting up in a way that was clearly not intended originally and the price Tor wanted (20 USD for a 300 page book I think? Would have to look it up) made me stop the series. Bought the Omnibus versions for the Kindle now and started it again.


I read the first original volume in paperback, the second in the briefly available ebook edition. I had a feeling I might have read more but my LibraryThing said otherwise.

So far I've read the first two in the new edition in ebook (because I'm over fifty and I can increase the font size I now mostly read ebooks if I have the choice) and will be getting the third tomorrow in ebook and starting it immediately (or after I finish the other book I started reading in between).

And I hadn't read past the first two originally - there's just so much plot it seems like more than two books worth in memory!

Great stuff and hopefully should be more popular this time round after the somewhat botched first publication.


I bought the Tor (US) series on import, and it's now being replaced by the somehow more satisfying re-write. If nothing else, it will help with the delay until Neptune's Brood arrives in paperback.

Incidentally, AMZN UK have started shipping V3 whether they should have or not. (Look, I live 200 miles from a bookshop and assuming $indy_retailer charges the same postage as AMZN marketplace the saving in postage costs alone on the set is about the price of 1 volume).


These pieces have been quite interesting both as historical and process pieces. Here's a bit of info for you back--Waterstone's doesn't seem to have the eBook version of either The Bloodline Feud or The Traders' War. Odd as I had gotten the Bloodline Feud from them last week. Luckily, Kobo had the Traders' War in eBook. Just finished The Bloodline Feud. Good work on the editing and good story--can't believe it took so long to find it a home.


As the official launch date is tomorrow, shipping it by mail a day or two early is no big deal -- it means readers will get it on the day, rather than late.

Also: it's not a proximate-bestseller so nobody cares too much about ramping the first week sales figures so it spikes onto the bestseller lists (the main reason for restricting pre-launch-date sales).


I managed to get all the volumes imported, except the last (Trade of Queens?), which I'm ashamed to admit I had to pirate to find out how the story ended.

I will of course be picking up the new UK editions, although my reading time is pretty much halved this year after someone got me a subscription to New Scientist, which, while great, does eat about half the time I usually spend reading each week.


Ah yes, the ebook versions of The Bloodline Feud etc. still don't seem to be on the store, which is a bit odd. (sorry for the double post)


Ah yes, the ebook versions of The Bloodline Feud etc. still don't seem to be on the store

Yes they are (sort-of).


I bought the full set of three on May 31st at Waterstones in Amsterdam (ABC had run out so I got an autographed Rule 34 instead :). Then I went on to visit Brouwerij 't IJ for one of the first nice days of the year.


The funny thing is, that I buy on "just liking the writing style"; so I will read one, probably due to the author being a contemporary of another author I have read already. In your case Ken Macleod, and in his Peter Hamilton etc. ...and then set them all out chronologically from there. In other words, I never read intros or covers and have no idea if the book is/has struggled to be noted/popular, which is what I was getting around to saying here! All that this series went through is news to me, until now.


It's slightly embarrassing that the descriptions there for The Trader's War and for The Revolution Trade are the same.


Editor's shins kicked. (Or rather, discreetly nudged.)


I've just bought the Kindle version of The Revolution Trade from I can read it on my kindle device and at the beginning it clearly says that the book is DRM free. That, however, is wrong. The book is encumbered with DRM.

This has happened to me with other books in the past (not yours) and I've emailed amazon and the publisher, but my emails have always been ignored.

Can you do anything to address the issue?

Sorry to be a nuisance.


OFF TOPIC But hopefully relevant, just the same ...

Jack Vance of Dying Earth fame has just died, aged 96.


The same thing happened to me when I bought the The Trader's War from It clearly but erroneously stated that it was DRM free.

I'm traveling now. Will pick up The Revolution Trade when I get back home as I have to do a dance with multiple accounts/devices to get a legal copy in Japan.


Here's a tip for anyone living in Japan: Rakuten Kobo Books have the omnibus available, clearly marked DRM free, on their online store. Prices are very reasonable too. I just picked up all three.

The Apocalypse Codex is unfortunately DRM-encumebered (with the Adobe thingy that I can't seem to use on Android readers nor on my Ubuntu desktop), or I would have gotten that one too.


Can you do anything to address the issue?

Yes; I'll nudge my editor again. This happened for each of the previous books -- looks like someone in the loop (most probably at Amazon) is blanket-applying DRM until a publisher actively asks them not to. Tor UK have found this happening to books by other authors, and are apparently not terribly pleased: they can get it fixed.


That one is published by Orbit (UK) and Ace (US), whose parent companies (Hachette and Penguin) insist on DRM for all books.

My editors there are aware of my opinion of DRM, and if and when those companies amend their policies to permit exceptions I will be in there like a greased weasel. Until then, alas, I suggest you look here.


It’s not as if the reader’s problems with the folly of DRM are new.

There was an interesting piece in the Guardian on e book formats ages ago...

" Which is the best format for ebooks?

Lydia would like to buy an ebook reader, but which format should she choose to avoid getting stuck with the latter-day equivalent of Betamax? "

In the comments that followed a reader said ..

" Good thorough article, but as Lupton says, for most of us it's more a question of which reader + shop to use, more than formats per se.

Calibre is great. You can trensfer between formats and it's a good resource for finding magazines and price checking too, as well as managing your books on your computer. I almost paid for a particular book on Amazon but used the Calibre price checker and discovered same book on same site for free. "

I've used " Calibre " on my main PC to 'manage ' my e book library since I first started to buy e books and it enables me to add e book formats to any given book and of course to download meta data for such books and then load the books on any device that I might happen to have. At the moment my tablet - real paper book substitute - is a Nexus 10 but its predecessor is a kindle... of the old fashioned ' wet news paper ‘screen ... and the only problem that I've ever had with Calibre was recently when I moved my old 'Library ' to my new PC and that was solved by downloading a new, 64 bit, version of calibre on my new pc and then coping my old library to my new PC. It was a fiddly task but that was because of Bloody Microsoft’s Bloody...err I'd better leave off there before my blood pressure rises too far.

I've no idea how well calibre works if you rely solely on a tablet with a calibre compatible ap but it is a solution to the DRM problem if you have access to a PC or a Laptop type computer.

My first choice is always going to be a hardback book and although I've become quite fond of my Nexus 10 I do feel a sense of relif when I switch it off and turn to a REAL BOOK.



While in Estonia, I contracted some kind of minor inner ear inflammation. The main side effect of which is that I am now suffering from mild-to-medium Bell's Palsy.

(Yes, I have seen a doctor: no, I have not had a stroke: yes, I am being treated for it in accordance with current best practice: no, suggestions for vitamins/homeopathy/quackery/doctor shopping are not welcome.)

The main side-effects are (a) I drool, (b) I gurn like a cinema pirate, and (c) because I can't blink my left eye properly my eyes keep watering until I hold them closed for thirty seconds. Side-effect (c) means that I can't drive (not a problem) and, more importantly, I can't ready very much (a big problem).

So I am likely to be a bit quieter than usual around here for the next few weeks.


I love Calibre. I just wish it could cope with PDF properly.


Case in point - this year's Hugo Packet. Three of the novels are in PDF only, two (IIRC) being passworded PDF. I can't read PDF on the Kindle, for me it's crap. And the conversion leads to bits of page headers and footers being intermingled with the main body of the text, which breaks up my concentration every three screens.

So, I'll have read two of the novels. One of those will get my first place vote, the other my second. I will not have read any of the PDF candidates, and so I cannot give any of them a vote.

(I do buy books. And if I own those books, then their also turning up in PDF on the Hugo Packet that year isn't a problem for me. But when the only format I have is PDF, well sorry guys, but your publisher prefers DRM to getting my vote.)


Don't get me wrong - PDF has its place, and in that place it's the right choice. And I've done conversion to/from PDF, and I understand why Calibre has such a low chance of getting it decently right - it's more akin to working with ultra-clean OCR rather than with content.


Charlie @ 24 Euuwwww ..... Hope the corticostroids (yes, I've just read the Wiki article - help to nuke it!


So instead of unqualified para-medicinal hogwash, best wishes for rapid restoration of health and reading capabilities.


I'm seconding the motion of ernstschnell75: best wishes for a quick and full recovery.


Just to know, if one want to order your current omnibus merchant prince books, what is the most remunerative option for you? that we order the paper book or the electronical one? Especially if for a variety of reasons one must order them from amazon?


Good suggestion, Jan. I have gotten so used to using Amazon, that I quite forgot about Rakuten Kobo. I think I will start dealing with them for ebooks that are DRM free. Charlie@21: That probably explains why "someone in the loop (most probably at Amazon) is blanket-applying DRM". If you read on a Kindle, DRM forces you to Amazon. Can you spell lock-in?


I'm not sure, but I think the ebook edition pays more in real terms.

(The royalty rate on an ebook is significantly higher, but the cover price is lower. On the other hand, paper books are often sold at a wholesale discount which depresses the royalty rate further. On balance, ebook pays author more than paperback, so ...)



Tor have investigated. The book was uploaded to Amazon with the check-box for DRM not checked, but DRM has nevertheless been applied to it. Ass is being kicked, and the DRM should be removed within the next few days (sorry I can't be more specific).

In the meantime, if you trip over DRM on an ebook published by Tor UK, you can report it to and they will investigate it. (Note that this is only for UK Tor books, not US Tor. They're different companies with different ebook teams.)


If you read on a Kindle, DRM forces you to Amazon. Can you spell lock-in?

Ahem: I think I'm ahead of you.


Ahem: I think I'm ahead of you.



Hell. Some people have all the luck? Saw about this on twitter the other day, but didn't want to say anything here until you did.

I'd say take care, but of course you are. So, like the others said: best wishes for a quick recovery.

I think I now have an explanation to something I've wondered about for 27 years. When I was a kid at spacecamp, one of the counselors (probably about age 24) woke up with the left side of his face drooping. They didn't seem to have much explanation, not that they'd tell us kids much. They gave him an eyepatch, and things went on as normal.


I have the first 2 volumes on my mobile phone via google play, and I'll order the third volume when it's available. I seem to recall preordering the previous two but whatever helpful link or prompt led me to do it the last time is abstent now. Typical contextual advertising, when you actually want to buy a product it fails to deliver.

All the old editions of the series are up on google play, I imagine they'll be retired once the new volumes are online? Or wait, they're published by a different company so they stay online?

...Found a preorder link for Neptune's brood, didn't know it was coming out so soon, so my consumerist urges have been sated for now.


I find Calibre to be a very useful tool.

It is also worth remembering Project Gutenberg. Different countries copyright laws set some grey areas over availability, and the local status of a download, but there are good books in the lists, available in a Kindle-compatible format. I was looking at Clarence E. Mulford's Bar-20, and I can see why it thrilled me, all those years ago. It reads more like Libertarian thuggery now.


All the old editions of the series are up on google play, I imagine they'll be retired once the new volumes are online? Or wait, they're published by a different company so they stay online?

Let me explain it sequentially:

  • In the beginning, I wrote six books. Tor (US) bought world English language rights to them.

  • Tor (US) sub-licensed UK rights to the different publisher called Tor (UK) (both are semi-independent subsidiaries of the same German multinational).

  • Time passes ...

  • Tor (UK) agree to re-launch the books in their territory in a new, "directors author's cut" verison, if I do the work up front. (I don't get an advance for this work, but anticipate lots of sales and hence royalty payments in due course.)

  • Tor (US) and Tor (UK) are happy to see my revived interest in the series and offer me a juicy contract to write books 7-9. (Which is currently my main day job for the next year and a half.)

  • Tor (US) may acquire the rights to the revised edition from Tor (UK), via some internal deal. I gather they may publish the omnibuses in the USA in 2014 or 2015, in the run-up to the release of the new series. I don't know the details of the internal contract between Tor (US) and Tor (UK) but I believe Tor (US) has the right to pull in the editions revised/re-edited by Tor (UK). But Tor's US publishing schedule is settled a year in advance, and Tor (UK) rushed the process, so they didn't have time to bring them out in 2013. And they in any case need to work out the trade-offs involved in retiring a slow-selling backlist series of six books in favour of a revised edition of just three books (i.e. less money overall). Personally, I think they should do it -- but I don't have the final say.

  • Are we clear as mud yet?


    Yuck! Well, be glad it's not Lyme's disease, and get well soon. Do you have a piratical eyepatch with which to scare the cats?


    The other parental unit is a librarian and generally disapproves of my book allowance - especially since I sorta get my way when it comes to library purchases of sf. It helps to have someone on the inside.

    But since my birthday is next month, and these are what I think of as OGH's best stuff, well, I'm buying the entire set come July. How come more people don't do this sort of thing?


    You wrote:

    In the beginning, I wrote six books

    a juicy contract to write books 7-9

    The inference is that what you're now doing is 50% the size of the existing corpus. But with that original set now being three books, another three books would presumably be (a) books 4-6 (but I appreciate your unwillingness to add to the confusion), and (b) the same size.

    So do you see these three volumes being another 600K+ words, or half the size, or something in between?


    Three notes:

    One, regarding the plotline described in your other blog post about Merchant Princes from 2010 (the one where your agent said it was too weird): I would buy the hell out of that book. Were you to write it, you might want to try to convince Rudy Rucker to contribute and have his name on the cover, since it's more in line with what his audience expects (makes me think of shades of Turing and Burroughs a bit, with a side order of Man in the High Castle). I agree that it probably wouldn't have the mass appeal of some of your other stuff; selfishly, I just want to read it.

    Two, regarding the upcoming stories set in the Merchant Princes multiverse: are you going to deal at all with tech leap-frogging? (((SPOILER ALERT

    The benefits of leap-frogging seemed to be almost entirely ignored with regard to world #3, in part because patent archives were being used as a cookbook, and in part because infrastructure technologies like radio and telegraph were already in place. So, it was sort of justified. However, realistically, one could introduce vacuum tube amplification tech, metallurgy techniques, and quickly move onto discrete transistors and go to cell phones as designed by Bell Labs in the 60s without ever bothering to upgrade the telegraph network into a land line telephone network, say. The hohsprache-speaking world (world 1? world 2? I can't remember) took advantage of some of this, but never developed ANY infrastructure, so this was neatly avoided. )))

    Three, regarding the re-release: I'm in the states, and while I have all six of the US-released ones, I'd like to see them in their originally intended form. Is there a particular means that's preferable to you for getting an import copy? (For instance, will that bookstore you often mention ship over the pond?)


    They're going to be 100-110K each. I think of it as a "trilogy" for some value of a single story, of length comparable to "Cryptonomicon", with two dotted lines down the spine.

    Unlike the previous books I intend to finish all of them before I hand them in. It's hard on the cash flow but means I don't have to tap-dance around having inadvertently painted myself into a corner in an earlier book that is now frozen and in-print.


    Not planning to write it.

    Writing books takes a long time. My firm (because it's under contract) plan is to do Merchant Princes: The Next Generation. The tentative plans thereafter include: "Palimpsest" (the full-length novel), and three more Laundry novels, and possibly another near-future SF novel -- similar in feel to the future of "Halting State"/"Rule 34", but not in series because time has moved on a decade since I began writing those two.

    That is enough work to keep me busy for 5-6 years. Doubtless I'll have new plans by the time I'm halfway through that period ...

    No comment on tech development in the New British Commonwealth in the MP:NG series. Let's just say, it's pivotal to (and a spoiler for) the plot, and I've been giving it a lot of thought.


    You said, “and three more Laundry novels ". Does that, ' three more 'include the "The Rhesus Chart" which is due out in July 2014?

    Any chance that "The Rhesus Chart" might be published a bit ahead of the planned publishing schedule?


    No and no.

    (I get one book slot per year with Ace and Orbit. It's allocated years in advance and rescheduling would be difficult. Even the "surge" of Merchant Princes releases in the UK was planned 12 months out -- and a tight timetable to meet!)

    Note that this is speculative, as in I'd like to do three more Laundry Files novels (after "The Rhesus Chart"), but there's no guarantee that's what will happen.


    John, Rakuten sells in the US as well, and have the three new editions. Might want to try there.


    On one level, that must be a little reassuring. But I really hope they have slots available for the new authors, for the unexpected books which somehow get through all the barriers.

    Or does a new author have to hope somebody dies? That's silly, but somebody could make a novel about it.

    Speculating: a series of very similar deaths (the same MO) with no apparent connection between the victims, not even geographic, until a spike in Kindle sales, brought on by the publicity for the murders, triggers the delivery of small royalty cheques from Amazon. And now some poor sod has to read the books to discover what connects them.


    Yes, they can open up new slots. But what marketing wants is one novel per year per author, allocated 18-24 months in advance. (They're running a production line, remember, averaging 10-20 books/month.)

    When my agent sold "Singularity Sky" and "Iron Sunrise" to Ace, it took them 18 months to get the first into print -- everything subsequent has rolled on a 12 month treadmill, shipping some time in the first week of July each year.

    If something with serious high volume/bestseller/topicality potential comes along, they can rush it through in a matter of low-double-digit (or high single-digit) weeks. But it's highly disruptive, wrecks everyone's planned workflow, and causes havoc -- it's not good for the production line, so they only do it if they stand to make enough profit to justify the pain of breaking their carefully-constructed conveyor belt.


    "If you read on a Kindle, DRM forces you to Amazon. Can you spell lock-in?"

    That's a key reason why I (and I suspect many of the other commenters) use Calibre. The current e-Reader bunfight is going to leave a bunch of stranded media when it finally shakes out.

    Since I have pretty much completely subbed in eBooks for paperbacks when it comes to book purchases I don't want to lose a few years worth of my library if it turns out that my wife backed the wrong technology horse when she bought me an e-Reader for my 45th birthday. The format conversion and DRM-stripping modules in Calibre void that risk - plus it gives you a platform-agnostic eBook library rather than having your books scattered across different walled gardens as you migrate from e-Reader to e-Reader.

    Granted it's another 'thing' to get familiar with before you start on the e-Book habit, so it's not as frictionless as getting a Nook or whatever and just buying books; but having experienced the pain of systematically ripping our CD collection and then trying to merge it with the chaotic melange of an uncurated iTunes database of several years vintage I was more than willing to put a bit of effort into getting my setup squared away before my eLibrary became unmanageable.

    Regards Luke


    I am 100% with you on the DRM-stripping thing.

    I went 100% ebook some years ago -- not enough room for more bookcases -- and I routinely crack the DRM on every ebook I buy that has it; if it's DRM'd and I can't crack it, I don't buy it.

    This is technically breach of contract according to the ebook vendor's terms and conditions of service, and may even be illegal (ripping your LP collection to compact cassette was still illegal in the UK last time I looked) but I view it as no more unethical than running nightly backups of my laptop's hard drive -- as long as I'm doing it for backup purposes rather than piracy.


    A question about referrals to Amazon: If I follow the links to Amazon on your "Buy my books" page, I end up on Amazon UK. But shipping-wise, Amazon DE is better for me. Can I carry your association there? (There seems to be a common "charliesplace-21" in the URLs so it might be possible).

    Second: my OpenID url stopped working, so I used another one (from LiveJournal). I didn't change anything...


    Speaking to the topic at hand BTW, I had somehow got the release of 'The Revolution Trade' mentally pencilled in for next week and was mildly peeved at myself for getting to within sight of the finishing line of "The Trader's War" with a week still to go - so it was a nice surprise to spot this post on my feed and realise that I was going to be able to smoothly roll through vol 2 and straight into vol 3.

    Thus far (I have just reached the exploration of the ruined dome) I think the retooling has been a success - the pacing and structure work much better across three larger volumes and I think the low profile 'edit for quality' pass that was done has polished things up nicely.

    Would I be right in thinking that part of the re-edit was toning down the codeword salad a bit in the FTO sections and making the Bush II/Neocon links more explicit? There certainly appear to be more references to 'Cheney' and fewer to 'Daddy Warbucks' than I remember.

    Regards Luke


    Would I be right in thinking that part of the re-edit was toning down the codeword salad a bit in the FTO sections and making the Bush II/Neocon links more explicit?


    I tried to keep the polishing low-key, rather than re-writing huge chunks from scratch, but hopefully it's a bit smoother and more consistent at series scale.


    The google play books seem to be DRM'd since there's no obvious way to save them in another format (The share function just helpfully saves a text file with the url to the play store location) and no obvious "books are here" folder in the filesystem.

    I might be missing something obvious, but It's not really a big priority with me.


    Please report this to the email address I gave above?


    Done, I was fishing for confirmation or instructions if I was wrong (Surely I'm not the only one who buys books on an android platform around here?). The only download option seems to be through adobe digital editions which also seems to be DRM happy.


    Charlie In your Tor "Merchant Princes Crib Sheet", you write: All we really know is that, prior to 1700 or thereabouts, Great Britain was economically not very far out of line with the rest of western Europe. But by 1860 the UK had achieved a mind-boggling industrial Great Leap Forward, becoming the first truly modern superpower May I put in my own tuppenceworth? The critical event was (I think) The Edict of Fontainbleu 15-17th October, 1685. That one single event simultaneously handed the planet on a plate to the English-speakers & guaranteed a strictly constitutional monarchy, because, within 3 years, William (& Mary) were "rulers" in England, but constrained buy our Bill of Rights. No monarch since Mary's sister, Anne, has ever refused to sign an Act passed by Parliament. Also the money & the technical expertise ( & the desire for revenge against both the the French monarchy & the catholic church ) were factors. Since we are talking (you are talking) economics, it is worth remebering that the first Governor of the bank of England was himself an Huguenot ex-refugee, Jacques D'Houblon. I must declare an interest here - I'm a Huguenot, among other things.

    I note you rightly point out 1688/9 - much more important, long-term, than Cromwell's lot. Also, the gradual erosion of those rights, in recent years, both by our own government, & by the EU's transition to a fully-fledged bureaucracy are building unpleasant pressures in OUR time-line. [ e.g. EU arrest warrant is contrary to Bill of Rights - no Prima faciae case has to be presented, before you are thrown into a foreign slammer. ] So parallels are interesting, are they not?


    A lot of people fall prey to the idea that the Bill of Rights is somehow more special than it is. I know that it contains a clause concerning changes, but that clashes head-on with the principle of the Supremacy of Parliament, and the idea that no Parliament can bind a future Parliament.

    It's still important. it still gets invoked in political argument, but, as with the ECHR, some of our politicians have a pretty cavalier attitude to the idea that people like us have rights.


    Went into local "Waterstone's" this AM ... "Oh, those, no we haven't got them in stock.." Never mind, I'm going into town on Wed, so I'll just pop into Dark they were & Golden-Eyed err, Forbidden Planet & buy them.


    Just finished the Trader's war, somewhat bemused to find it ends in a cliffhanger. Was under the impression this kind of thing was an artifact of the previous artificial subdivision of books and not something that was going to happen in this re-edition.

    Not a biggie, I understand the next volume is due out soon, but a little surprising.


    I'm really glad you are taking this story line forward. I remember the way the ending in the previous version impacted on me and it isn't any better this time around. I really don't want things left there.

    Overall I did find the revised version flowed better. I couldn't see all of the changes but I sense you changed some of the storyline details - the way in which Reynolds was dealt with for example and the BushII/Cheney/Rumsfeld chain was much clearer.

    In a sense Miriam's world is of course a parallel world to our own. I don't know if that's something you are going to run with but its intriguing to think about.


    Middle volume of trilogy needs to end of a cliff-hanger. If you write one and it doesn't, you aren't doing it right. Look at The Lord of the Rings!

    (Also: the last two omnibuses -- which collect the last four slim novels of the original stories -- cover what was originally designed to be the second story arc in the series. Which I was intending to write as a single 900 page doorstep. As with all second books (or releases of a new piece of software), bloat happened, resulting in a 1370 page story in four volumes, which got refactored and cut back to around 1300 pages in two volumes.


    I'm running with Miriam's world. Circa 2020, imagine how much more paranoid our War on Terror/Global Security State would be if the terrorists had nuked the White House and came from parallel time lines. For one thing, the entire territory of the USA could legitimately be considered to be a border, for Customs and Border Patrol purposes (look at those guys' powers -- they're scary) and DHS purposes. And then there's going to be the US government's institutional response when they discover the dome in the forest and realize PDQ that they're not the big swinging high-tech dick in this corner of the multiverse ...


    The bit about B-21s over Iraq after Saddam was deposed by an internal coup (And Paris Hilton's funeral!) clued me that it's just very close to our world but not quite us.

    I read the lord of the rings as a big ol' paperback so if there were any cliffhangers there I missed them. But I already got my sticky mitts on the revolution trade so any cliffhanger was more of a speedbump than an obstacle.

    Thanks be to e-books and instant satisfaction.

    (Speaking of which, your catalog is spotty in google play, I can't seem to find Glasshouse there, for example)

    And on the tangential subject of rigths, I wondered if you could talk about that 3d animated adaptation of your work that's floating around called something like "Rogue Farm" - I gather you weren't directly involved, just curious as to how likely another project like it might be.

    Ah, found it hmm, the fact your name isn't anywhere on that page isn't a good sign...


    The Lord of the Rings is structurally six books published in three volumes, though the big cliff-hangers are at the end of the volumes. In The Two Towers, that's Shelob and Cirith Ungol. The mid-volume split is more of a looming threat, and the preparations, and then switching to follow Frodo and Sam.

    The Fellowship of the Ring has two cliff-hangers, one for each of the component books, while The Return of the King has a cliff-hanger at the end of the first book. So The Two Towers is maybe a little odd.

    The film does things differently (you may face-palm now) but the extended versions of the three parts are spread over two DVDs, and approximate to the six books. But the structure of The Two Towers is very different. The two component books overlap in time, and follow different groups. The film interweaves the two distinct blocks of the book. That would be typical of the modern multi-viewpoint novel, such as from Harry Turtledove, so it's not just the difference between film and text. I wouldn't want to point to one of the other approach as better. It might depend a lot on the story, but on the general theme of the Merchant Princes you could have a large block focused on Miriam, and then switch to a block of US politics. You could have a quasi-medieval fantasy, and then go from Game of Thrones to Primary Colors.

    From my own efforts to write, being able to switch from one viewpoint to another makes some things easier. There's no single pathway that can be blocked. But would the pattern of scene-writing be a part of the final structure? Not necessarily.


    A manager from Pan Mcmillan just got in touch, saying they've amended the google play settings so that the merchant princes books are DRM free. Yay!


    Doesn't sound like there's cosy to be a cosy wrap up to the story, but then I can't imagine how there could be.

    The idea of US Customs and Border combineing with DHS is enough for several nightmares, before you add in all the other non-attributable agencies...


    The bit that caused me to lose immersion in this series was likely just because IRL I'm a neuroscientist: the apparently-unquestioned leap by the US from 'poke a cell this way and it vanishes' to 'therefore it is vanishing TO THE EXACT TARGET UNIVERSE we want.' Which is quite plausibly another example of assuming that if you only know of two worlds, there are only two worlds, but I would have thought/hoped that one of the science guys would have noted that sticking in some cAMP is NOT close to the downstream effects of a specific stimulus to the optic nerve arriving at the LGN :).

    [Semi-related, I'm betting that 'not electrically-connected' as a limit to world-walking is one of the bits that had to be shoe-horned in to volumes after the first to meet already-in-print constraints... and even then why not a car with rubber tyres?]

    But I enjoyed the neurogabble nonetheless :)


    There's stuff I couldn't shoe-horn into books 5 or 6 -- basically, the researchers don't understand what they're messing around with, and get critical aspects of it wrong, but not too wrong to have an effect.

    By book 7, they've figured a lot of it out. And I'm now trying to shoe-horn the extra stuff into the narrative just to satisfy people who worry about that kind of thing ....


    Remember that they weren't experimenting with the cells initially: they had subjects, and a known pattern, and could subject them to the pattern while studying the brain in real-time.

    They weren't randomly poking a cell and having it vanish; they were poking it in a way duplicating what was done in a living brain.

    (That said, I couldn't read them, too much evil. I had to stop when they were mentioning using slices taken from living brains.)


    Sean Eric: Naah :). The manipulations required are very explicitly on the subcellular level; there's no technique (and certainly not in the books' timeframe) that would permit looking at that in vivo. [There are things that might perhaps have been possible to measure in a living human brain - I dunno, say rhythmic fluctuations of calcium at a frequency half of theta, or excretion of a slightly-modified neurotransmitter, or some such - but nothing subcellular without post-mortem analysis, and they don't have enough subjects for that.] [Let's skip over how they honed in on the LGN in the first place - that's a separate issue but unlimited funding would help :)]. Also, and more anal: most unlikely to be slices from the description - more likely neuronal cultures, the slightly odd [because irrelevant] comment regarding Bush's attitude to embryonic stem cells notwithstanding - these would be (again slightly but not awfully anachronistic) cultures derived presumably from small samples of the LGN grown up in vitro. And that's surprisingly plausible - with sensible neuroanatomical guidance, taking even medium-sized chunks out of a brain can appear to have relatively little consequence.

    Yeah, this is definitely a case where too much knowledge gets in the way of the story.



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    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on June 5, 2013 9:15 AM.

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