September 2013 Archives

Every innovation in transport technology has geopolitical consequences.

Railroads facilitated the great mass infantry wars that ravaged Europe from 1870 to 1945. Rocketry made the Cold War icy-cool. Air travel gave us Douhet's doctrine of strategic bombing. Cobbled roads built by Roman legionnaires made the Roman Empire possible. And so on.

So: What are the likely geopolitical consequences of self-driving cars and trucks?


So, some of you are probably wondering how a novella like Equoid gets written.

Here's how:

This weekend I'll be appearing at Shoreditch Town Hall in London at FutureFest, a two-day event backed by NESTA (formerly the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, before it was spun off as an independent charity last year). FutureFest is a two-day event which "will be exploring four big themes, ranging from future humans to future tech and creativity" — and on Sunday morning I'll be part of the SF Writers' parliament:

Science Fiction writers often give themselves the license to imagine whole new societies, their rules and norms, and test them to destruction (or raise them to a heavenly perfection). Imagine if you actually gave them real power? Robin will be hovering above a team of some of the best SF writers on this planet or any other as they argue their cases for what the future will hold - and put their futures to a public vote.
So if you're in London this weekend, why not book a ticket and come along to watch me, Ken Macleod, Cory Doctorow, Pat Cadigan, and a bunch of other writers arguing on stage?

Tor are publishing "Equoid" on their website today; after 9am EDT (2pm, BST) you can find Equoid here.

(And if that doesn't sate your appetite you can pre-order the $1.99 ebook edition here (in the US) (or the UK Kindle store has it here), or pre-order the Subterranean Press signed limited edition hardcover here (note publication date: for contractual reasons there's a 12 month wait).

Yes, I will answer questions about "Equoid" in the comments below. So, HERE BE SPOILERS.

(I'm off to London for the weekend so will be scarce around here until Tuesday.)

Parasites. By some estimates, up to 75% of identified species are actually parasites of some kind, feeding directly on other organisms. Predators also feed on other organisms. The difference is that predators kill then eat their targets; parasites may damage their host but don't usually kill them directly. There's a sliding scale of lethality. Outright lethal parasitism such as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis or parasitoid wasps do indeed kill their hosts. Others may not kill their hosts but prevent them from reproducing in order to divert the host organism's metabolic surplus towards the castrating parasite. But successful parasites don't kill their hosts, they may even help them: look at the role human gut bacteria play in fermenting undigested carbohydrates into more easily absorbed forms. The most successful parasites become symbiotes—in return for nutrients and shelter they contribute to the host organism's survival. By far the most successful are the endocellular symbionts such as mitochondria, without which complex eukaryotic organisms (from amoebae to human beings) wouldn't exist. It's parasites all the way down, too: some parasites are themselves parasitized by so-called hyperparasites.

Anyway, my starter question is this: what is your favourite parasite? (And why?)

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: Ha ha, very funny, no: congressmen and estate agents are not parasitic species, whatever one may think of their niche. I'm deleting all suggestions of human beings. Stick to wildlife. And hey, why no plants yet?

I mentioned this in early July, but it bears repeating:

I have written a new Laundry Files novella, titled "Equoid" (if you're interested in continuity, it's set between the events of "The Jennifer Morgue" and "The Fuller Memorandum", after "Down on the Farm"): (cover on left) will be publishing it on their web site on September 30th, and selling it for $1.99 as an ebook on October 16th. If you enjoy it and want your very own copy, consider this a way of giving me (and my editors) a kickback. American ebook store links can be found via the menu here; so far the only UK store I have a link for is

If you want the deluxe limited edition signed hardcover, Subterranean Press (cover on right) are going to publish it in 12 months' time. They're planning on printing just 500 copies of the signature run, illustrated by Steve Montiglio (who did the covers for the original Golden Gryphon editions of "The Atrocity Archives" and "The Jennifer Morgue").

As for your questions: (1) it's a novella, meaning it's about a third the length of a full novel (around 100 pages), (2) I'm not going to tell you what it's about, (3) there should be no DRM on the ebook (if there is, let me know and Tor will get it removed), (4) if this leaves you wanting more Laundry Files, you will have to wait until July next year, when "The Rhesus Chart" is due to be published (it's officially In Production—meaning, on its way to the copy editor—as of last Friday). Anything else? That's what the comment thread is for!

A collection of fallout from the previous piece on gender and time travel ...

Why can't women time travel? —asks Anna Smith in The Guardian, in a rather interesting op-ed piece on science fiction. While focusing mostly on movies, she's got a good point; women are seldom the protagonists of first-person time travel stories, especially in cinema. And while I can think of a number of exceptions in written fantasy and paranormal romance, I'm coming up with pocket-lint in genre SF.

Today is September 11th, 2013.

Twelve years ago today, a cell of angry, highly committed, and (by the standards of their peers) extremely well trained young men executed the simultaneous hijacking of four airliners, and used them to mount a suicide attack on those they perceived as their enemies.

What have we learned from this?

This is my surprised face.


Okay: This is my ironic face.

(Same face. I don't gamble, otherwise it would be my poker face, too.)

I am having enourmous trouble resisting the urge to say "v gbyq lbh fb", so, er, v gbyq lbh fb, only you mistook it for pulp/genre fiction. And by you, I don't mean you, I mean everyone who had the opportunity to read Applied Cryptography or The Puzzle Palace back in the day, and didn't. (Or even Bruce Sterling's Hacker Crackdown, which is free on the interwebbytubes these days and they know you know it, too.)

Ah, what's the use? We did this to ourselves, or by negligence allowed it to happen. This is the emergent consequence of the west lacking the moral spine to keep its utilitarian appetites in check in the wake of the collapse of the ideological rivalry that was the only thing that kept the Owners straight for so many decades.

And now we're screwed. Welcome to the Panopticon, it's been nice being able to live in ignorance of your innermost secrets for so long.

This is a reminder that, for the next 72 hours, folks in the UK (and most of the EU) can buy "The Atrocity Archives" in ebook formats for £1.99. Details here.

Special offer extended through the 11th, by special dispensation of the folks at Orbit!

(And yes I am elbow-deep in a book right now, working my way up to its climax: blogging's going to be scarce for the next week or two. And if you were wondering about which book my piece in Foreign Policy ties in with, this would be the one.)



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