Back to: Checking in | Forward to: The prospects of the Space and Freedom Party reconsidered in light of the crisis of 21st century capitalism

Lighting up again

Sorry I've been quiet: blogging took a back seat last week because I needed time to recover after Satellite 4, the Eastercon, and had some additional travel—family time—and then a different writing project bit me hard and wouldn't let go.

There is, in this field, a rarely sighted beast known as an "attack novel". An attack novel is one that jumps you from behind and won't let go until you've written it. Sometimes that's a really useful thing; but at other times, it's a nightmare. Now, for instance. I'm working on book 3 of a trilogy with a deadline of September 1st, so now is absolutely not the time to go haring off on a side-project. Anyway, I did that last year—while blocked on book 1 of this self-same trilogy I was mugged by a Laundry Files novel and wrote the first draft of "The Armageddon Score" in a frenzy of hypergraphia: 109,000 words in 18 days, of which the first 50,000 words came out in two hours less than a wall-clock week. (I now consider myself to be disqualified from NaNoWriMo in perpetuity.)

To be mugged by one attack novel during a trilogy is an accident, but to have the same problem twice bespeaks an underlying problem. In my case, the problem is that everything I've written since "Palimpsest" in 2007 (that's when I wrote it, not when it was published) has been a sequel to, or in series with, something I began in 2007 or earlier.

This isn't to say that there's no originality in anything I've done since then. But to be so fettered by prior art imposes limits on creativity. So when I realized this, a couple of weeks ago, I was just laying myself wide open to an attack novel.

Good news for my editors: there is no attack novel. What there is, is a Scrivener project with copious notes, a detailed scene-by-scene outline, a bunch of characters, a setting, the first chapter, and a detailed book proposal ... for a gothic haunted house fantasy about mortgage anxiety among the Millennials. And now it's back to work on "Invisible Sun", which is either book 3 of "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation" or book 9 of "Merchant Princes" the original series, unless you're British in which case it's book 6. Sigh.

I anticipate that as soon as I've got the trilogy out of the way this one's going to catch fire, unless I'm bitten by another left-field attack novel in the meantime. And this is why I have not had time to blog since Tuesday.



Imagining you moving across a misty landscape of words, being stalked, mugged and attacked by half-formed, feral novels. Or are you really doing the stalking? Either way, thanks for heading out there to catch these specimens and bring them back for the rest of us. Hope you don't run into any kind of danger...



I was thinking more like a cave or D&D style "dungeon", full of wandering monsters novels, like a '60s horror movie version of the Truth Mines in Greg Egan's Diaspora.


We have much to look forward to.

I remember a few conversations at Eastercon: 'Gothic' describes it quite well, but there's room for 'baroque' and 'Its what Equoid did for My Little Pony... Only its doing it for Warren Ellis'.


Well, I have been dogsitting a ten month old labrador puppy for the last week, so I imagine Charlie trotting smartly along on a clear path when suddenly squirrel Squirrel SQUIRREL oh my god must catch the -- stick! STICK! I'm going to take this marvelous -- deer poop! DEER POOP! Must get some -- you get the picture. There is nothing quite so powerfully erratic as a 75 pound puppy. The OTC derivatives market might come close.


My peripheral vision caught "Palimpsest" and "sequel". Cruel trick, peripheral vision!


I finished reading Palimpsest, and think it is pretty perfect just as it is. OTOH I will read a novelisation of it too. I also gave you a shout out here:


You haven't dodged the Attack Novel -- you've merely postponed it. Briefly. Far too briefly. Fate trumps Reason, sorry.


Recall Goldfinger's Rule: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action." So far, it is technically merely COINCIDENTAL that your subconscious has thrown up TWO (2) attack novels at you when you were on deadline for something else. When the THIRD one pops out, THEN you are going to have to figure out what your subconscious is REALLY trying to tell you.

Having said that, the second sentence of your third paragraph, mentioning "Palimpsest", does seem to have the ring of truth.


"Palimpsest", as published, is the first third of a novel. I've known that since 2007. Trouble is finding time to write the rest of it (it's going to be challenging) before it goes too stale (writing the rest of something I began over 7 years ago is: a bit difficult).

Meanwhile I find myself moving in a very different direction this decade to what I was writing (and poking my nose into) in the previous decade. Make of this what you will. To some readers, my current work will be a continual and ongoing disappointment and source of disillusion -- I've had the same experience when other authors whose work I loved chose to move into new fields -- but hopefully other readers will prefer the new stuff.


'a cave or D&D style "dungeon"...'

You open the door. Immediately, you are attacked by a pack (1d6 + 1) of story synopses. Make a saving throw vs bite or be infected...


If the attack novel stems from an a-ha glimpse of a rarely seen/described human condition, given in and write ... because you need to.


Roger Zelazny said, in response to a question of mine @ Brighton, these many years ago: "I write what I do, because I HAVE to" - said with 150% conviction. He too got mugged by ideas that grabbed him by the balls & wouldn't let go. Wasn't there a page about that, i.e. an aggressive muse, in the very dubious (as in NSFW) cartoon-series, whose name I forget?


I'm pretty sure there's an Oglaf strip about an agressive muse, but that's one site to at least not search at work!


I'm pretty sure Charlie has linked to that, multiple times.


Well, I'm not at work today so... (NSFW)


The stalking is mutually desired in a conflicted way, right? So, maybe it's like a hazy landscape of potential drunk sex partners, and the eventual novels are expensive (but possibly, after a long gestation period, a source of pride) love-children?


Your constant and random switching between roman numerals and arabic numerals confuses and frightens me. Please write all numbers as pictographs of raised fingers on hands henceforth.

PS There's probably a unicode character range for that, though I haven't looked it up.

PPS I'm also pretty sure there's a unicode character for that raised finger too, before anyone asks.


As we approach Case Nightmare Green, the things from beyond are reaching in, attempting to derail your efforts to document the impending doom and warn us properly how to prepare yourselves. These ideas, these multifaceted ideas, they plant in your head like seeds, to blossom and distract.

Eventually your cats will have to knock you off the chair, your eyes glowing a luminous green, still typing away on the now-displaced keyboard.


So an attack novel is like a gru? Did it hit you in the dark?


Now, is it an attack novel, or is it your muse hitting you with a "work-to-rule" strike? You know, if the rules are, "I'll pound out X,000 words per day muse, you provide the inspiration," and the muse is saying: "here's your inspiration, boss, too bad working conditions are so tough in here."


I should not be laughing about this, two attack novels lodged themselves in frontal lobes over the weekend AND I HAVE NO TIME and three injured / ill relatives to help care for at the moment...


You're a victim of your own success, Charlie, in that you're turned yourself into a production line of Laundry and MP fiction. Novel-writing has for you become rote, and you are now like the checkout operator standing at the conveyor belt while staring out the window.

[In case it doesn't go without saying the above comment is very much tongue-in-cheek and I do not seriously think of your work as "rote".]


Your context is so faint it's scary.

(I take it you're referring to what he calls the fourth Satellite).


The Gulfs are seeding ideas into writers that could lead to someone on this side of the continuum opening the way for them.

This is why we don't see any intelligent civilisations in the universe: The aliens invent writing, their writers write about strange configurations of matter and electromagnetism, some crackpot try it out ... we should ban writing entirely, it is too risky with all these ideas we don't quite know the origin off.


On the subject of the next installations of the Merchant Princes series, I have a question about the end of the existing books. I've read the omnibus editions this year, and found the ending of The Revolution Trade rather abrupt, with several major plot lines unresolved. Is this an artifact of cutting the original six books (which I haven't read) into three? Or a result of the need to quickly wrap things up, back when the books were first written?

If you haven't read the books yet, there are spoilers ahead.

One thing that seems unresolved to me is the question who is actually the big bad of the series. A thread on this blog from last year settled on Dick Cheney. But he's too obvious an antagonist. He's not the puppetmaster, but more like a puppet that refused (and had the means to refuse) to be a puppet anymore. As for the true big bad, to me Patricia/Iris seems a good candidate. We still don't know for sure which game she is playing. Did she really just want to protect Helge/Miriam by raising her in the US? We already have enough reason to believe that she isn't fully open and truthful to her daughter. And during her last conversation with Hildegarde the narrator lets the Grand Dowager Duchess reveal her master plan, but cuts away from the scene when Patricia is about to reveal hers. Ultimately, we're left in the dark about her true plans, which made me expect that they'd be revealed at some climactic point. But it didn't happen before The Revolution Trade ended.

The other thing totally unresolved is the major cataclysmic event that the Lee family just went through. Elder Huan's strategy of securing the family position by choosing a patron backfired spectacularly, because his choice of patron proved to be catastrophically wrong. And as a result, the complete Lee family now finds itself detained in a comparatively small internment camp together with the much-hated other five families, and at the mercy of their dead patron's enemies. Also their lockets just became useless, because on the other side there is now a nuclear wasteland. What will this turn of events do to Elder Huan's authority, especially when James was already in opposition to the plan that went so horribly wrong? The Lees seem clearly set for an internal upheaval. And as if that wasn't enough, they also have to cope with being forcibly reunited with the long lost cousins, with literally no room to hide. I would have liked to read something about that.

I hope that's all going to be answered in the new books. I'm a little worried, though, because they're not going to be direct sequels, but will be set many years afterwards. At least, I can infer from this that not everybody killed each other in the interment camp, which is a start.


Hi Charlie:

Your readers/posters empathize since quite a few have their own muses/monkeys. So for those whose pet near-future scenarios include new materials technology that can be produced in any kitchen and with which anyone can change the world ...bwah, ha, ha!

Scalable production of large quantities of defect-free few-layer graphene by shear exfoliation in liquids (Keith R. Paton, et (very many) als ... after all, this was published in Nature Materials ...)

Seriously though, this author manufactured his own high-quality graphene using a kitchen mixer.


Here Be Spoilers (possibly). Mods: delete/hide if necessary.

I think you're possibly misreading the ending. At the end of the first trilogy Miriam is substantially in charge, has got the functional part of the families to (temporary?) safety from the U.S. Government and most of the internal squabbling will be over in the face of the need to work together against the common enemy. Cheney and disaffected members were (I think) the main enemy, assisted by the Lees, and that threat is over - assuming the disaffected members survived at all - Cheney is dead, the U.S. government doesn't know if there were any survivors, far less where they are, and the conservatives are toast.

It's pretty much a clean break, though I would like to have read the bit where Rudi demonstrates the Mosquito prototype to the Ordnance Board in New Britain.

The next trilogy is where the chickens start to catch up with Miriam, I suspect, and I'm <&em>seriously looking forward to reading it.


For your gothic horror novel of 21st-Century employment practices: read about a taxpayer-subsidised financial instrument that makes employees more profitable dead than alive:



My reading too, particularly in the revised edition.

Yes, the series so good I actually did buy it twice!


MSB: Is this an artifact of cutting the original six books (which I haven't read) into three? Or a result of the need to quickly wrap things up, back when the books were first written?.

The latter. (I was on a 3 book contract, 100,000 words per book +/- 10% permitted. I couldn't wrap everything up in volume 6 by the time I reached it, and I was too burned-out at the time to go back for another contract -- especially as I was being offered much more money for doing stuff that was more fun by my other publisher.)

As for the true big bad, to me Patricia/Iris seems a good candidate. We still don't know for sure which game she is playing.

By the time "Black State" opens, she's long-since dead -- but one of her plans is still ticking. No, she's not the "big bad" -- I don't believe in black hat/white hat fiction plots. But she's worse than Miriam realized, and is still raising trouble from beyond the grave.

I believe what happened to the Clan survivors after the internment camp may surprise you ...


I've just read the revised MP end-to-end and have some significant thoughts about the genetics. I'm not sure if I've spotted a major plot twist or have a major misunderstanding (as you know, 20+ years ago I was actually a geneticist).

Would you like me to drop you a long rambling email about it?


Potential spoiler: in the third volume, when the Colonel is being given the dog-and-pony tour of the research installation, their explanation of the world-walking mechanism is wrong. Understandably wrong, but it's a first approximation from a very new research program and there's stuff they don't know. (They get it a lot more right by the first book in the new trilogy, which is set 17 years later ...)


That 17 year gap between the books - must be interesting (challenging?) for you writing Miriam again: in the first books she was a young, ambitious journalist - presumably in the new trilogy she... won't be.


Indeed not. In fact, while she appears, she's not the central protagonist of this story.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 27, 2014 11:06 AM.

Checking in was the previous entry in this blog.

The prospects of the Space and Freedom Party reconsidered in light of the crisis of 21st century capitalism is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog