It is something of a truism that the reward for a job done well is another job.
In my case ... "Halting State" was that rare, unexpected thing: a commercial breakthrough novel. (The initial hardback run sold out before publication date, and it went into reprint twice in its first month: it earned out the hardcover and paperback advance in its first three weeks.) I was busy finishing "Saturn's Children" when this happened, and regretting not having a sequel up my sleeve—but "Halting State" had been hard to write (it took me 15 months; my contract allowed 12 months per book, so I got paid late).
So my agent went into a new contract round with Ace and Orbit, and this time came back with a three book deal: a short story collection (to give me time to recharge my batteries), a sequel to "Halting State" titled "419", and "The Fuller Memorandum".
So what happened to 419?
I sat down to write "419" in early 2008, right after I wrote "Palimpsest" and then "The Fuller Memorandum", in that order. Then I got blindsided by the future.
"419" was going to be the tale of the biggest bust-out in history: an Advance Fee Fraud targeting the World Bank and the EU and the US Federal Reserve to the tune of (raises little pinkie, Dr. Evil style) "twenty beellion dollars!"
I'd read about the Banco Noroeste collapse, in which a Brazilian bank was brought down by Nigerian scammers who convinced them to invest in a new airport for Abuja. My scammers were going to go one bigger. Key to their scam was a played-out gas field, circa 2020, in Khazakstan or Turkmenistan: it's a little-known fact that when natural gas pipelines are laid, the company that operates the pipeline acquires a right of way not only for the fuel it transports, but also for their maintenance equipment and monitoring telecoms. If you have a gas field in central Asia, with pipelines going west to Europe and east to China, you can blow a lot of fibre optic cables down the empty rusting tubes, and shave milliseconds off the packet latency between the trading floors of London and Frankfurt and those of Guangzhou. And if you've co-opted the government of the country with the gas field, you can then run a man-on-the-middle attack on all those deal orders ...
Then Lehman Brothers went bust, the global banking system coagulated like full-fat milk on a hot summer's day, and Bernie Madoff popped his head up and said "oops", like a bizarrely polite financial groundhog that has surfaced in front of the cameras as a harbinger of the imminent collapse of the global investment banking sector.
As you can imagine, this brought my plans for "419" to a complete screeching halt. Suddenly a novel about a heist netting $20Bn seemed paltry in the face of the rampant corruption that had just come to light. So it was clearly necessary to go back to the drawing board—and to buy more time. I asked my agent, and she negotiated a swap with my publishers: they'd run "The Fuller Memorandum" first, instead of "419", while I worked on a new near future thriller that fit the "sequel to 'Halting State'" remit while not being rendered obsolete prior to publication.
"Rule 34" was a bear to write. It took me eighteen months of skull-sweat, even after I decided to go back to basics, pick up one of the more interesting characters from "Halting State", and focus much more narrowly on her preoccupations five years after the events of that book. The Rule 34 Squad itself seemed like an obvious extrapolation; so did the seedy world of backyard printcrime. The Toymaker and his shadowy criminal entrepreneurial backers ... well, organized crime traditionally runs on the application of business practices to activities that are legally prohibited: where there's a market there's a profit, even if it's a bit marginal and you have to cover your own enforcement and insurance overheads. Organized crime today simply doesn't seem to have assimilated the lessons of a thousand MBA courses, much less agile and just in time production and supply chains. It seems inevitable that if we get over the War On Drugs in the next decade, those criminal cartels that don't curl up and die will have to evolve: hence the Operation, which (coincidentally) appears to be based not a million miles away from Santa Cruz.
A chunk of the background behind ATHENA comes out of discussions I had over a couple of years with Karl Schroeder, whose novels you will probably enjoy if you like mine enough to have read this far. You might also note some influences from the direction of Peter Watts with respect to the utility of consciousness to an artificial intelligence. And I'd been reading too much about soft paternalism as a tool of social control.
Gender issues: I was going through one of my periodic bitching and moaning phases about the ubiquity of stereotyping of non-heteronormative characters in SF and the lack of plausible fictional role models for LGBT folks, and doing a bit of anxious navel-gazing over maybe having fallen into that trap myself. So I decided to make "Rule 34" a decisively non-heteronormative work. The only significant character who is remotely conventionally heterosexual is the psychopathic gangster: everybody else is somewhere else on the Kinsey scale, even if they don't admit it (as is the case with Anwar). If you read it, you might want to keep half an ear open for the sound of breaking genre gender cliches.
Reality issues: I wanted to write a story set in a future I could see myself living into. An inhabitable one, in other words, full of people just muddling through their day to day lives. (Turns out you can get there really easily if you just ignore the big global news items ...)
The second person thing: "Halting State" is written in the second person because that is the natural voice of the computer game. ("You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alive ...") "Rule 34" is in the second person for an entirely different reason. ATHENA is a non-self-identifying AI; ATHENA has no sense of "I", but instead focuses its identity onto whichever human it is monitoring. The "you" is the natural voice for a narrator who isn't human, has no sense of "I", and is in fact the observer in an emergent ubiquitous-surveillance panopticon state.
Any questions? Ask here! (I may update this crib sheet entry if you remind me of anything important I forgot to mention.)