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"Write me something fresh and new, but make it just like the last one"

So, I was making slow but steady headway on "Invisible Sun" (Merchant Princes: The Next Generation #3) when I got bitten this morning by an Attack Novel. I mean, a rabid one. So far, I've confined myself to writing the first 2500 words of an outline; I plan to finish it today, stick it in a drawer to cool (or until the urge to create becomes irresistible), then go back to "Invisible Sun".

This isn't a unique event. You might have noticed Wednesday's wholly inappropriate blog entry about a political satire/thriller that is utterly unsaleable, revolving around the identity of the 2016 Republican Party Candidate for POTUS.

But there's more.

A couple of weeks ago, having publicly said a month earlier that I wisnae gonnae go there, I farted up a wholly new idea for another Near Future Scottish Police Procedural a la "Halting State"/"Rule 34"—only with a very different focus, and so different that I probably can't shoe-horn it into the niche of "The Lambda Functionary" (the planned third book in the trilogy). (It's about the homicide detective with a brain implant that keeps him from thinking he's dead, a viral encephalopathy pandemic that causes Cotard's Delusion, and an enforcer who goes around turning off zombies who've hacked the DRM on their implants. Yes, it's a cognitive zombie detective novel. No, I still can't write it—not until after we're past the Scottish political singularity. But at least I now know what it's about.)

And (I can admit it now) last summer I squirted out an entire unscheduled attack novel, "The Armageddon Score". It's a Laundry Files novel, but narrated by Mo, not Bob, and gives us a very different view of what's going on in the run-up to CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN. (Hopefully it'll come out next July.)

Anyway. I may be slow on the uptake, but I finally figured out what's going on in my head.

In 2008 I published "Saturn's Children". This was followed by "Wireless", a short story collection, and since then, every novel I have sold, written, or published has been part of an existing continuity or series.

It's true. If it's Laundry Files, it's in series. If it's Merchant Princes, it's in series. "Neptune's Brood" is in continuity with "Saturn's Children", and "Rule 34" was in continuity with "Halting State". I'm leaving out "The Rapture of the Nerds" because a collaboration is effectively a different author ...

... But I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms from creating something entirely ab initio.

Partly it's my own fault (Laundry Files novels are now pretty comfortable—I have a Method—and the Merchant Princes are a known quantity too), and partly it's a side-effect of the structure of publishing companies. While it's the job of a senior editor to acquire new books, another part of the job (which the public don't get to see) is that the editor has to sell the idea of the book to their marketing team, who in turn have to go forth and motivate the buyers for the various bookstore chains and wholesalers. It is much easier to sell another book in a series than to sell something wholly new, because it's simply that much easier to explain. You can replace a whole lot of brain-sweat and communication with a simple, "this is the next one in that series you sold last year". And so, whenever my agent and I sit down with an editor to discuss what I can write next year, we instinctively focus on what we sold last year.

But eventually something's got to give. Right now I'm writing the third volume of "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation". It will be followed by the rewrite/submission draft of Laundry Files book 6, and then (almost certainly) by Laundry Files book 7. By the time I've written "The Nightmare Stacks" in, say, early 2015, it will have been seven years since I was last let off the leash to write something wholly original. Nine novels will have passed under the bridge since then, in existing series. And I can feel the pressure to do something new beginning to build up.

PS: In case you were wondering? The outline I'm writing is for a Gothic architectural urban fantasy novel about a slowly dying family of magicians and the effects of the housing bubble on their ancestral home. And I am going to try not to write it before I've finished "Invisible Sun".



Finish Invisible Sun, and then write the family of magicians book. I'll read it. You know I'm good for it.

And its a safety valve for you! :)


Cognitive zombies and Cotard's? My chances of being able to offer Charlie useful consultancy comments just went up a lot :-)


I gotta say, that is so very much the literary version of a First World problem.

I would certainly be interested in reading the Gothic fantasy. It sounds oddly Tolkienian, in that the theme calls for a pervasive mood of regret for the fading past. . . .


Gothic architectural urban fantasy novel

3 out of 4 are fine, but what the hell is an architectural novel?


You are making me wonder if this might perhaps be how Jerry Cornelius was born.

My personal experience of having read Jerry Cornelius books (admittedly a looong time ago, so I may be misremembering) was, reading one of them did very little to prepare me for reading others. They were so disconnected from each other that I couldn't really go into any one with expectations beyond "someone will be named Jerry Cornelius".

Sounds like a way to "trick" publishing/marketing folks by giving them a "series", while retaining considerably more freedom than "series" usually implies.

(I happened to hate the books, myself. Not sure why I read more than one of them.)


Terry Pratchett is a spectacular example of successfully writing books about anything you want, while tricking readers into thinking it's a single series.


Sheesh. When I (and most folks) read a book on Behavioural Psychology (in this case, You Are Now Less Dumb) all I get is an appreciation for the enormous role of narrative in human thought. Charlie skims an article on Cotard's down the pub and comes up with a P. K. Dick brainfuck plot. And probably a new programming language for dessert.


but what the hell is an architectural novel?

I'd guess it's where a building is such a part of the story as to essentially be a character. Think nearly any haunted house story. Particular example could be "The Shining", which I recently, finally read and was massively disappointed with (but 'nuff said about that.)


Or Gormenghast.


I feel your pain. Every once in a while I have to attack something entirely outside my wheelhouse just to keep from going mad writing the software equivalent of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play maeks Jack a dull boy. All wrok and noplay makes Jack a dulll boy" then running rampant with a machete.


Mary Gentle and China Mieville have written what might be called architectural novels

Ken Brown


Too bad zombies are peaking (or even past peak) now.

As for those magicians, tie in climate change adaptation and you've probably got a winner. It's not just the housing bubble, it's the utter idiocy of so many of the homes built, from design to location. It's like worldwide late-classic Maya these days, everything predicated on continuing growth, on moving food even as the cracks in the system spiderweb. There's this terrible hope that, if we can jut hang on that much longer, things might collapse back to the way they were a century ago, when life was just that much more magical, slide rules and shortwave radio, local communities and pagan magic. Actually, I guess I've been reading too much John Michael Greer recently. Sorry.


The big problem with all those "modern fantasy" books is that they tend to all focus on the same fantasy-type issues: hero/heroine/heroes need to deal with the modern world, keep everything secret, while being caught up from behind by all kind of ancient powers/old conspiracies/immortal enemies.

What I'd like is a "new magic" modern fantasy. The last living Magician dies rather unexpectedly, without transmitting the ancient traditions, some random guy/gal stumbles upon the ritual knife intended to transmit the Gift (by blood sharing), completes the ritual by Pure Chance and finds him/her the only magician on Earth, without any guide whatsoever (the magician's distant and estranged heirs having promptly thrown into the trash all that rubbish to clean up the house for fast selling).

He promptly makes a lot of mistakes, and gets to invent basically all of the new magic spells, starting with the Coffee Staining Map Ritual (find what you need. Tends to be counter-productive when done on a GPS unit)


Things are never collapsing back to the way they were. This is the Fundamental Law of Things.


" Things are never collapsing back to the way they were."

Almost right? Say, rather, that Things are Collapsing in Memory back to the WAY that they ought to have been if only Things worked out the way that they should before ..THEY!! ..intervened .. and altered OUR Future/Nearfuture?

As an Aside ..WHY does our Hosts Dwelling Place have CIRCULAR ROOMS? Has HE inspected the floor properly to see what the Previous Owners might have inscribed beneath his feet? AN ....nd !!! Roll/role of DRUMS ..

Who are The Conservators?


Or, before that, Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris, which I think counts among the classical sources.

Then there is The Fountainhead, but that's "architectural" in a different set: It's about architecture from the producer's viewpoint rather than the consumer's. Howard Roark would have demolished the ancient Gothic pile and replaced in with something shiny and modernistic in the idiom of Neutra, whose magic came from Technology.


There are authors who don't hide their magic in modern fantasy settings.

For example, Ilona Andrews (who are actually a married couple that write together and publish under her name) have two series that defy that convention. The short-lived "Edge" series postulates a mundane world where magic doesn't work, a magic world where it does very nicely and an edge world where it sort of does and people can move between. The Kate Daniels series postulates magic coming back and swinging back and forth between tech and magic, not unlike Shadowrun the RPG although the way it works is quite different on all kinds of levels.

Kim Harrison in The Hollows series has most of her magical species out after a genetically engineered plague preferentially killed humans - although the Elves decided to try and stay in hiding. But witches, weres, vampires, pixies, faeries and more are out and proud. Personally I think the quality of the plotting tails off in the later books but the first five or six are worth a read if you like the first one.

And having pimped other authors on Charlie's Blog (sorry Charlie) I've got to say I'd love to see you take on UF. Sign me up!


My mom grew up on a farm, and any magic it may have involved was quite lost on her. It was mostly tedious, unthinking manual labor. It was so damn boring that the Ed Sullivan Show on a tiny black and white screen was comparatively fascinating. The few weekends I spent there as a child convinced me she was right.


You should hold off, let the pressure build, until eventually, you extrude diamonds. #Helping

Actually, I generally find that the stories you're most enthusiastic about writing are the ones I enjoy most as reader; something of that energy comes through. I'd still read anything you'd care to write though.

I guess the trick is finding space for the new stuff while still keeping the continuing series, er, continuing. And not dying.

ISTR that you had plans to turn "Palimpsest" & "Missile Gap" into full-fledged novels at some stage too. That's quite a to-do list!


Heinlein's "Magic, Inc." had magic-in-the-modern-world right up front, magicians as commercial agents who advertise. The Lord D'Arcy stories by Randall Garrett had an alt-history take with the same idea (forensic sorcerors and the like) and I'm sure Poul Anderson did something similar but I'm glitching on the title.

Manga and anime have played with the idea too, usually disguised as "espers" or folks with paranormal powers but sometimes they just go all-out with magic being magic in an otherwise normal world setting, nothing special or hidden.


You don't categorize the Laundry Files as UF? I am puzzled!


Operation Chaos, and I think the sequel was Operation Luna. And Harry Turtledove picked it up from Anderson in The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump.

For that matter, Liz Williams's Snake Agent and its sequels have a similar seamless integration of magic into modernity, though in her case it's not contemporary but near-future biopunk.


Urban Fantasy?

It's not even Secret History, is it? It's Lovecraftian Horror -- the more knowledge you have, the more risk you're at and the less hope you have. Knowing what you're doing in a lot of Urban Fantasy is difficult, it's not the assumed state, but knowledge helps you, it's not guaranteed to find a way to eat your soul.


Things are never collapsing back to the way they were. This is the Fundamental Law of Things.

Well yes, of course. It's a very popular fallacy though. If you look at the what people project into a post-collapse future, it tends to look a lot like the past of an equivalent distance back in time.

This was a comment about John Michael Greer, who's both a peak oil theorist (e.g. Long Descent) and a practicing druid who has written about druidic magic. One could easily use his works as a jumping-off point for someone writing a fantasy about a magical group that is getting ground down by modernity, but which is nonetheless preparing for the inevitable future when civilization collapses and they are free to be themselves again. Tom Brown Jr. has written similar work in a more survivalist vein.

See also Monster Truck Pagan (#23 on this list)


I don't classify it that way, either, though I suppose you could stretch a point and call it urban dark fantasy. But I tend to think of fantasy, even dark fantasy, as driven by the proverbial sensawunda, by the attitude that the magical stuff is cool and fascinating, even if scary. Just across an extremely blurry line is supernatural horror, which is where I put the Laundry Files.

Except, of course, that they're also cosmic horror (the genre created largely by Lovecraft), and they're also spy novels, and they're also humor. But I'd pick all of those before any sort of fantasy.


From a floor sales view, the authors who have book across multiple genres and sub genres (Stross, McAuley, Westerfield, MacBride, Mieville) are both great, and a bit of a pain. Their great for introducing customers across the genre lines if they like one of the authors works, thus opening that customer up to a larger selection of titles, and a bit of a pain because some readers will dismiss the author out of hand because the dislike one of the genres the author works in.


Probably better for the author than getting typecast into writing the same book again and again. I think that may have happened to Tom Holt, who is a nice bloke, a decent writer with lots of ideas, and great to talk to over a pint or five (especially if you are interested in Wagner, Ancient Greece, or, well, lots of things). But it seems as if publishers and booksellers have been asking him for rewrites of "Expecting Someone Taller" for 25 years. Its a genuinely funny book, but by the tenth time round...

Ken Brown


I'm glad the collaboration with John Scalzi is no longer part of your schedule. The whole idea of a starship made of nano-bacon was groundbreaking, as was the concept of a solar sail that could double as some kind of barbequing apparatus. Unfortunately, using the concept as a commentary on modern science fiction by killing off multiple groups of sentient iPhone programs... just too meta for me!


P.S. Is a review of Christopher Priest's new book on your to-do list? I really think you should make the time!


My favourite story in that genre continues to be Geoffrey Landis' Elemental. I'm sad he never did more with it (and I've told him so).


As an Aside ..WHY does our Hosts Dwelling Place have CIRCULAR ROOMS?

If he writes in an office with right angles, the dogs come from the woodwork out; this disrupts the creative process and scares the cat.


I tend to divide fantasy from horror with one question: Do the protagonists use magic? If the answer is "no" or "once, but then they have to survive the consequences", it may be horror. If magic is empowering for the protagonists, it's fantasy.


These two categories are not exclusive. You can have horror story in a fantasy world.


Ghormenghast Which is actually about the dying days of Imperial China & nothing at all to do with England, in spite of the tiltes ...


a Gothic architectural urban fantasy novel about a slowly dying family of magicians I see ... Sort of ... Strawberry Hill meets & mates (?) with Neverwhere spiced with The Dying Earth or, maybe Niven's The Magic Goes away . Since you have speciifcially said an urban setting, that, perhaps fortunately, means that places like Hermitage Castle are excluded.

Note to those not in the know ... the history of Strawberry Hill & it's owner is a fascinating tale. So is that of Hermitage ... which even for the wild borders of Liddesdale is steeped in blood. One of it's keepers was boiled alive in the lead from his own roof, & the "magicican" Micheal Scott had associations with it ..... &, of course both Sir Walter S, & Micheal Scott Rohan, couldn;t ;eave the place alone.


Perhaps oddly I don't think of many haunted house stories as architectural stories. All too often the house itself isn't integral - you could move the events to a different house and not notice IMO.

Quite a few stories set on a spaceship are, because the fabric and structure of the ship becomes integral for obvious reasons.

For a genre, or sub-genre, the locked-room mystery really has to be the epitome of the architectural story. Yes, its ostensibly a murder with all that means, motive and opportunity malarky, but unravelling the mystery is all about unravelling how the murderer either did murder by time shift so they weren't in the room when the death occurred or exited a room and appeared to lock it from the inside and so on. It's all about the room.


Speaking of Strawberry Hill, I nearly mentioned "The Castle of Otranto" as the original example, but read it 20 years ago and don't remember how much of a role the castle actually played. I just remember that is was one of the most (unintentionally) ridiculous books I'd read.


It's not magic per se that separates horror from fantasy, but empowerment of the protagonist(s).


Personally, I'd associate rounded rooms with Waldorf schools and friendly racist and ableist Rudolf Steiner:

Seems like he thought corners impeded the flow of the spirit, and no, I don't know what he was smoking at the time.

So, best way to drive a Waldorf pupil nuts? Tell him to stand in the corner. ;)


Any crumbs for those of us holding out for a certain barking mad deiselpunk exercise in unsaleable wordsmithing?

Also, Paul Cornell's London Falling was a very good take on urban fantasy, where the heroes are very definitely blindly stumbling around without a wise old mentor to guide them in (pick any - magic / the enemy / the nature of reality / etc...)


WAY off topic, but the follow up to London Falling, The Severed Streets is due out late May


And we also complain about Hollywood doing sequels and remakes, despite the rich vein of original stories that could be made into movies.

I was really hoping that you would write the "Palimpsest" novelization. After all, the novella has been "presold" :-) Are you really having second/nth thoughts about doing this because of the time travel issues you have raised in other threads?


I want to write the rest of Palimpsest, the novel, sooner or later.

But I wrote the novella in 2008. As I said above, that was about the last time I got to do something original and new. Palimpsest: the novel isn't new to me any more. I really would like to recapture the thrill of starting out on a project for the first time with no idea of where it's going ...

44: mean like “Behaviour Theraphy and the Neuroses “by H, J. Eysenck?

I’m afraid that that sort of thing is of limited value ...unless you are a UK Tory politician who is convinced that if only These People could have a Short Sharp Shock of Cognitive Therapy ..Insert LOW COST where you so choose...all would be DID read the SHORT part of that didn't you?

Over here in the UK there was a brief enthusiasm from the Tories for Cognitive ...Blah, blah, wot was that old boy? Until they discovered that actually it wasn’t like patching up an old motor car and that they would need to recruit LOTS of Psychologists...who would need to be paid? BAD, Bad Thing ... not Austerity at all!

Over here in the UK we havent heard much of Talking Cure Magical Fixes for the peasentry just lately ..can't think why.


M R James 'Ghost ‘stories perhaps?

“James redefined the ghost story for the new century by abandoning many of the formal Gothic clichés of his predecessors and using more realistic contemporary settings. However, James's protagonists and plots tend to reflect his own antiquarian interests. Accordingly, he is known as the originator of the "antiquarian ghost story".[1] "

I cherish the story in which the protagonist reaches IN to Grasp the Treasure Trove...only to have IT!! Reach Out to Grasp Him...wonderfully creepy when you are a precoatious 9 year old boy.


Hum? ... yes, well, all Right...BUT the said DOGs aren’t THE KEESHONDS of the Baskervilles whose DOOM it is to appear when The Head The HOUSE of The Baskerville is DOOMED in the near future!! Their Destiny it is to Appear ... Impossibly Cute and Lovable .. when DOOM is forboded...well it beats the ' Tear Your Throat and Soul out ' of 'The Hounds ' of Stross in the Laundry Files.

BRACE yourself for Cuteness of Supernatural proportions...

So, Err... Otherwise known as what our Us of American relatives call " Chick Magnets” You wouldn’t believe how many Girls of all ages have stopped me to inquire about Shona since my Lady Friend adopted Her and I have been taken out for walks.


If you havent done so already you might look at the construction of Anthony Prices pre/post cold war espionage series ...

" He is the author of nineteen novels in the Dr David Audley/Colonel Jack Butler series. These books focus on a group of counter-intelligence agents who work for an organization loosely based on the real MI5. They usually refer to their employer obscurely as "the Ministry of Defence", though it becomes clear in Our Man in Camelot that their specific department is rather like MI5. Other Paths to Glory mentions that the secret agency's budget is hidden under "Research and Development". The agency is headed by Sir Frederick Clinton and then by Colonel Jack Butler. Its best agent is David Audley, a historian turned spy. Audley is known for his unorthodox tactics, interest in history and his fondness for quoting Kipling, especially Stalky & Co..

Audley appears in each of the novels, but is not always the "point of view" character. In the first novel, The Labyrinth Makers, in which Audley meets his future wife, he is the central character, but other operatives are introduced and later have books of their own, including Jack Butler (Colonel Butler's Wolf), Squadron Leader Hugh Roskill (The Alamut Ambush), and historian Paul Mitchell, whom Audley first recruits in Other Paths to Glory. As in John le Carré's Smiley novels, there are rivalries and enmities within the department, but Price takes this further by telling whole books through the eyes of those who oppose or dislike Audley: notably Sion Crossing, in the voice of Oliver Latimer. Price's fictional spy service belongs to a more recent Britain than le Carré's, and includes women among its active agents: first Frances Fitzgibbon and later Elizabeth Loftus. Audley's Russian opponent, Professor Panin, also makes repeated appearances, and a recurring plot in the later novels concerns the "Debrecen List" of people who may, or may not, have attended a spy school in Debrecen, a city in eastern Hungary.

The novels traverse "real time", in that the characters change and evolve with each novel, with approximately twenty years elapsing between the first and last novel. A few titles cut away from this time-line by showing the youthful exploits of Audley and Butler during and after the Second World War. An unusual feature of the plots is that they are all somehow connected with one or more important events in military history, with most containing a strong element of archaeology."

I rather fancy that the Construction of The Laundry Files has followed, and will continue to follow, a similar methodology with various protaginists taking a view along a major time line, often each of each other ..Mo /Bob ? And others as well as those new characters.

Note that Price did KILL at least one major protaganist for more than good and sufficent reason! That person/s just HAD to die and indeed may well have wanted to die.

Got to keep the reader on his/her toes eh, wot?


Just to mention, to all but you, that the next in the series - a really good supernatural police proceedural with very convincing real people/cops - is due out real soon now ...

Yea ! A Book to look forward to reading!


" For a genre, or sub-genre, the locked-room mystery really has to be the epitome of the architectural story. Yes, its ostensibly a murder with all that means, motive and opportunity malarky, but unravelling the mystery is all about unravelling how the murderer either did murder by time shift so they weren't in the room when the death occurred or exited a room and appeared to lock it from the inside and so on. It's all about the room."

You are a fan of John Dickson Carrs work then?

Me too, and we are not alone in the Fantasy/SF fandom.

Long ago I was talking with the late great John Sladek in a really surreal location ..the bar of the students union of a UK Univerity that at the time had the reputation of having the highest student suicide rate in the UK .. and I asked him why he had abandoned his rather neat ' impossible locked room mystery ' series. John sighed and said that it wasnt for want of trying with his publishers ..Sladek just reckonded that the locked room mystery genre had gone out of fashion and was thus hard to sell.

Anyway some of that series is still in - electronic - print

Alas, long after Johns death we got the ..

" Jonathan Creek is a British dark mystery comedy crime drama series produced by the BBC and written by David Renwick. It stars Alan Davies as the title character, who works as a creative consultant to a stage magician while also solving seemingly supernatural mysteries through his talent for logical deduction and understanding of illusions. "

What goes around comes arround and all that sort of thing.


3 out of 4 are fine, but what the hell is an architectural novel?

I see know one's mention Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness yet. It's a short read. And Jack London, Clark Ashton Smith and assorted other fantasy writers make appearances.


If we're talking about novels where the architecture is the central player, Jane Lindskold's Child of a Rainless Year definitely counts. I love the house at the center of the story.


The House on Haunted Hill - classic Vincent Price film

Lots of potential using a house/architecture as a character or a spell. Who says spells must be uttered or written -- they could be built just like potions are mixed. You could even give it a 21st century technology spin: use 3D printing to awaken/increase spell-craft.

I look forward to reading this: no pressure but I do expect it to be your signature 'weird'.

Lots of potential using a house/architecture as a character or a spell. Who says spells must be uttered or written -- they could be built just like potions are mixed.

I think Sluggy Freelance did that about a decade ago?


Actually no, I don't read much in the thriller/detective fiction area. Sometimes I read fantasy noir that crosses over into it, but not that often.

But the locked room mystery is still a well enough known sub-genre that I know of it. And Jonathan Creek and Sherlock have both done them on the BBC rather neatly in recently years (as, I'm sure, have any number of other shows, they're just two I happen to know of - I'd have forgotten the Jonathan Creek one without the reminder though).

But I will go and look up Sladek and give it a go, thank you.


Unfamiliar with that webcomic ... from the Wikipedia entry, I'd probably enjoy the weird but have considerable trouble with the violent bits.


Not to mention Ghostbusters, or Lovecraft (Dreams in the Witch House).


Charlie, when you get tired of being kicked into work by your DM-booted muse, pass her on to me, will you?

Meanwhile, if we're talking architectural movies, then there's Thirteen Ghosts, a schlock horror film which features a house that is actually a ritualistic murder machine. It's not terrible for its genre — it has Ben Kingsley as the architect-cum-ritualistic magician villain, and some imaginative renderings of various psychotic ghosts caught in the mechanism of the house.


Damn, it's not Kingsley, it's F. Murray Abraham, another good actor who manages to appear in a lot of so-so roles but manages to make them less so-so.


You know, it's possible to like both Priest and Stross. Just because the former thinks the latter's work is "appalling and juvenile" and the latter thinks the former is shouting at clouds doesn't mean that they don't both write interesting stuff.


How did we not mention Little, Big as an architectural novel? Which it is in half a dozen ways, including having architects in it and the layout of streets and buildings supplying plot points and one of the main characters being a house.

And of course its also stunningly good. Must re-read again soon.

Ken Brown


Have you been around my flat reading my secret diary of a dissatisfied cognitive behavioural therapist?

I could say more, but this is the internet so I'd rather not.


"a Gothic architectural urban fantasy novel"

Here's a free alternative idea for you (and worth every penny!)

You mentioned in an earlier post that the Merchant Princes TNG will open with the forces of New Britain finishing up the war with the French Empire, just as the first observers from the USA arrive.

Why not start with the war against the French Empire? You could go into lots and lots of detail about battles, strategies, etc. This kind of thing practically writes itself-- you could get 5+ books out of it, even before the USA arrives.

For an added bonus, when they do show up, you could have the rulers of the USA be a bunch of bleeding-heart, always-wrong-and-evil liberals. I'm sure that some publisher would snap that series up.

[ducks and covers]


Laundry Files novels are now pretty comfortable—I have a Method

The last one I read was a lot like that.


No names, but I see one or two instances here where people have missed what OGH has already done.

Short fiction is more work than it seems, but I do rather wish it wasn't so obscure these days. If looks like a bad option for an established writer, a poor return on effort. Maybe I am not looking in the right places, but it is certainly an arguable point that books are too long. Maybe it is time to revive the Ace Double, so that two books in the 50,000 word class can be marketed amd a 100,000 word standard book.

I was looking at a list of classic movies, and a good many are around the boundary between the two Hugo Dramatic Presentation awards. But in those days the cinema experience was not the single film it is today. I don't think I ever saw a double feature. No newsreels, no shorts, just seemingly endless trailers.

I do remember the advert for the restaurant that was so good the chef ate there himself.


The last one I read was a lot like that.

I shook things up a bit at the end of book 5 ("The Rhesus Chart", due in July), and book 6 ("The Armageddon Score", hopefully due in July 2015) shakes things up a lot more -- for one thing, we have a shift of narrative viewpoint from Bob to Mo, and for another thing its focus is different.

But the core issue remains that it's an over-familiar setting with a recurring cast of characters who come on stage, do their stuff, then go off stage again (sometimes for George R. R. Martin Red Wedding values of "go off stage"). They're told in first person present tense (mostly), and the central conceit, the plot armature of the series, is fixed. So there's a limit to how experimental I can get without breaking the sequence, and if I did that, people would be Upset.


You're missing the rennaissance in the market for novellas.

Novellas are 20-50,000 words, i.e. too short to sell in a stand-alone mass market book (other than to a specialist audience). Because they're short, customers would expect to pay less, and most of the overheads in the mass market go on the distribution chain. So for decades they languished in the pages of the monthly magazines.

If your magazine runs 100,000 words a month, there is room for a single novella (30,000 words), 2-3 novelettes (8-15,000 words), 2-4 short stories (less than 8000 words), and a bit of editorial filler. So only a fraction as many novellas could be published as shorter works before the market hit saturation -- in the days of the digest mags, there was a market for maybe 2-5 novellas a month for the whole of the US SF field!

eBook publishing up-ended the applecart from the distribution end. And online magazines -- Clarkesworld,, (back in the day), Lightspeed and so on -- don't pay printing and shipping costs for lumps of dead tree. So the novella market has exploded in the past decade, probably by an order of magnitude.

And I think I can say here without offending anyone that on occasion my editors and I have discussed the possibility of publishing a book consisting of 2-3 novellas, rather than a full-length novel. (Arguably, "The Atrocity Archives" was exactly that.) And it might actually be more profitable to publish, say, four novellas as $1.99 ebooks than a single novel of the same length (launch ebook price: $12.99; dropping after 6-12 months to $5.99). People hit the "buy" button more easily at lower price points, after all.


The Laundry is one of those series where the antagonists pretty much have to carry the story. It reminds my of Yahtzee Croshaw's comment that Batman is the least interesting character in anything he's in.


Firstly, your suggestion is 18 months too late (I'm already writing book 3). Secondly, I'm not interested in writing carnography -- and as both sides in the war you speculate about have nuclear weapons, that's where it would go (and fast).

As it is, based on the way it's developing, you can think of this trilogy as "Charlie's big fat post-Edward Snowden technothriller". And remember: I don't believe in good guy/bad guy narratives -- everyone is the hero of their own story.


I realise it's a matter of personal taste (and I don't know I've read all of Charlie's short stories but I think I have - I don't know I remember them all) but personally I'm pleased to see the decline of the short story. While I've come across a few exceptions, there are very few short stories I've read that I haven't thought "That would be better as at least a novella, if not a novel."

I'm definitely seeing an uptick in the novella, with 2-4 of them being published together in a book, often in the ones I'm coming across with a theme and a subset of established authors and a new one thrown in as a kind of introduction. Sometimes they work well, sometimes badly - they appeal to the completist reader quite often because they'll be shorter stories set between two books to explain something - and they have obvious appeal as a marketing tool to the publisher.

The only time I "enjoy" short stories is when it's a book I have to read (which hasn't happened for a long time) by an author I just can't get on with. Read one story that I must, then read something I like, then one story I must and so on.

I can appreciate that writing a story in a very short form is definitely a skill and that are people who do it very well. I just like the space and development of a longer form more. That doesn't mean the longer form should just pile word on word on word for the sake of it (I can't stand Dickens for example and as a more modern example JK Rowling needed an editor who would stand up to her in her later books) but a well crafted novel is for me always more of a pleasure than a well crafted short story.


On architectural fiction, how about Heinlein's And He Built A Crooked House :-)


No kidding! One of the (many) things I like about your work is that the characters seem to be real people, rather than the cardboard cutouts produced by at least some MilSF writers.

The offerings of huge doses of gore, zero character development, and the good and evil nature of characters (authoritarian right-winger [usually also an impossibly multi-skilled Übermensch] = good; sappy left-wing environmentalist pinko wimp = bad) have made me stop reading most MilSF.

If I'm going to read fiction set in wartime, authors like Joe Haldeman, Patrick O'Brian, and John Biggins are much better. They have characters with real motivations, and can show the true cost, horror and absurdity of war.

While I've come across a few exceptions, there are very few short stories I've read that I haven't thought "That would be better as at least a novella, if not a novel."

On the other hand, some stories would completely lose their impact if you tried to spin them out any longer - I can see no way of spinning out Dick's "Roog," for instance.


Laundry Files can't be Urban Fantasy. The covers fail to include a sexy woman wearing tight black leather pants. That is a genre requirement.


Er does not Persephone Hazzard count? And presumably Mo could rock the mioror shades and leather look when she's doing her Direct Action work ala CLUB ZERO

Unless you mean a CP novel where you have to have some radical bod mods for the classic razor girl archetype.

And I am sure if Bob and Mo had a binge of the fringe box sets on rainy weekend that Mo would be sweet talking harry/alan for a DMR Rifle as a backup to the violin – as bolivia does :-)


The first one was basicly rewrite of one of the elric books - I think Moorcock had finacial probs at that time and bashed it out for monatery reasons.


"Invisible Sun" sounds vaguely like a sequel to "Iron Sunrise" to me. (We shall now have a moment's silence for the Eschaton series... ;) )

More seriously, it's now at the point where I automatically buy anything with "Charlie Stross" listed as the author, so please don't feel like you have to keep churning out the series. Of course, I want to read the rest of the Laundry (and the Merchant Princes, etc.) as much as any other rabid fan, but new stuff is also most welcome.


Oddly, these women all weigh 110 lbs soaking wet, but each is capable of manhandling three Navy SEALs at once.


Poul Anderson once wrote a short story/Novella called: "A Sun Invisible". Which turned out to be a type F1 blue (!)

( In the "trouble Twisters" series in the days of the "poleosotechnic empire" IIRC ... )

In other words, so damned obvious, that everyone just looked straight past it.


The anime and manga term for this is "waif-fu", girls (and sometimes boys) who would blow away in a strong wind carry swords and guns that outweigh them with no apparent strength augmentation suits or exoskeletons.


Navy SEALs are like ninjas: the more there are the less effective they are.


The title of this blog, makes me think of the essential vampirism of the true fan. ""Write me something fresh and new, that will make me feel like I did when I first read one of your books". Again.


" .. dying family of magicians .. " -- 'one hundred years of solitude' ?


One development that's vastly annoying is the habit of authors of established genre series putting major plot developments in short stories, developments that affect the main series. Now as a marketing effort I can understand. The publisher comes up with a funny theme for an anthology and the stable of writers submit something featuring their famous characters. Someone likes the short, they may try the full series. Everyone is happy.

But the offender in question is Kim Harrison from the Hollows. A major character is murdered in the main series and his killer is discovered in a short story. Mind you, this isn't a teaser story released six months before the main novel, it isn't included as a bonus at the beginning of the novel. Many, many fans who aren't regulars of message boards had to go online to figure out what had happened.

Other stunts writers will pull is introducing characters in short stories and then bringing them into the main continuity without much of a reintroduction. It makes readers feel like they must have skipped a chapter or have a failing memory.

I would have to say its been a long while since I've encountered a long series that ends well, the newer stuff I mean. It's like American television. The tendency is to run a property until people stop caring rather than tell a number of good stories and gracefully end it once the premise has been thoroughly explored. It's pretty much enduring that we will be working with the limitations of a discovery writer who doesn't outline. The pieces may be exquisite but the whole will be a shapeless mess.


Science fantasy was a term applied to Amber. How about Math fantasy? And the observations about the distinction between urban fantasy and horror seem on target.


Now that I think about it, writing series rather than standalone novels generally reduces my purchases of an author's work. If I like an author I'll generally look into each standalone novel and decide whether to read it or not. If I misjudge and I buy a book that's not to my taste, no big deal, I'll wait for the next one. On the other hand, if I'm not into one of the books in a series, that kills the whole series for me, since I'm not going to jump ahead to the next book.

So in conclusion: Hooray for more standalone Stross novels, I've been missing you since I stopped reading Merchant Princes and Laundry Files.


If I might be so bold :

John Michael Greer is currently having a contest about peak-oil related stories : (scroll a bit down for the details, he also explains why he thinks stories are important)

Now, I understand that as an acclaimed author you don't have any trouble getting yourself published, and that the submission limits expire soon, and that you might not be interested in the subject anyway... But if there's a possibility of my first favorite author in any way collaborating with my second favorite author, I just cannot let that opportunity pass.

And who knows, maybe that lack of creating brand new stories you're talking about might just spawn something, like what happened with the "Putin as Republican candidate for 2016".

Greer happens to sometimes write fiction himself (more for reasons that he find them important to communicate than for the artistic urge to create?), here's a sample : And the one I've already linked in the Putin thread :

Not sure if this is important, but exceptionally, he's going to be present in the UK next month, at the Economics, Energy & Environment course and conference by the The School of Economic Science (in London) :



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 11, 2014 5:02 PM.

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