May 2014 Archives

I'm going to be on vacation from June 17th to July 1st in Orlando, Florida, having just finished the first draft of a trilogy. Part of my reason for going there involves giving a keynote at a conference—programming, not SF—but the rest of the reason is proximate burn-out, and not having had a proper vacation since last April. (If I finish the work in progress in time, then since that last vacation I will have written first drafts of three books and a good chunk of another. People who tell me to shut up and write faster will be shouted at.)

Anyway, I have a simple question: what interesting local attractions can I stick my head into? My wife is already bidding to ride the Disney monorail (she's a monorail geek). A day at one of the big amusement parks is pretty much inevitable. But what interesting tech stuff is there in that time period? Anything big launching from Cape Canaveral? Suggestions, please, in the comments below ...

On the previous discussion, one of the commenters observed:

One thing I am getting from this thread is a list of large management failures by the publishers, just on the basic 'running a business' level. Destructive competition between divisions, the fact that an author can extract significantly more money from them by selling rights in pieces that then hamstring the publishers down the road vs selling them in larger blocks, inability to track how their product is being sold. Sounds like they really ought to put a focus on getting their own houses in order.
I think this bears some exploration, so here's a footnote:

The problems are structural in the industry, but they're not an accident: they're a result of the way the (current) industry emerged. Publishing is a very old business—it's been around in some shape or another for over 500 years, and in much its current shape since the mid-Victorian period—and the way publishers do business is the intersection of the set of all business practices that did not cause one of their antecedents to go bust, over a roughly 250 year period.

And now to the current mess.

(I've written before on this blog, notably in 2012, about how to understand Amazon's business strategy. Consider this an update.)

Last week, began removing the pre-order links from titles by the publishing group Hachette. This is a cruel and unpleasant action, from an author's point of view; if you're a new author with a title about to come out, it utterly fucks your first-week sales and probably dooms your career from the outset. And if you're someone like me, with a title about to come out, it frustrates and irritates your readers and also damages your sales profile and screws your print run (because if Amazon don't order your books in advance in dead-tree form they don't get printed, and if they aren't printed and in the warehouse they can't be sold elsewhere). Make no mistake: Hachette may be hurting, the the people who take the brunt of this strategy are the authors.

(Disclaimer: I am published by Orbit, a Hachette imprint, in the UK. Amazon is not currently removing the pre-order option from titles sold through My Orbit books in the UK are published by Ace, part of Penguin group, in the USA. And I've got another series published (on both sides of the pond) by Tor. However, Amazon have played this nasty trick on Tor, Ace, and Hachette at different times: I've been caught up in it more than twice, and if they extend this strategy to again, my UK readers are going to be unable to buy "The Rhesus Chart" from Amazon.)

(I am scarce around here because I am simultaneously grappling with impending burn-out—I'm 240,000 words into a 300,000 word project, which is to say, neariy 800 pages into a 1000-page story, and it's hard going because my natural length is closer to 30,000 words—and trying not to scream myself hoarse with rage because politics. (Ahem. That is: we swim in a media environment that is designed to act as a potent neurological depressant, the various incumbents are currently covering possibly the most important election campaign I've lived through, and about two-thirds of them have a partisan agenda: the cognitive dissonance is getting to me.) But anyway: happy fun blog thoughts, or at least not overtly political blog thoughts, now follow.)

Where do heroes come from?

A joint statement:

It has become customary in recent years for authors of Hugo-nominated works to provide the members of the World Science Fiction convention who get to vote for the awards with electronic copies of their stories. The ball started rolling a few years ago when John Scalzi kindly took the initiative in preparing the first Hugo voters packet; since then it has become almost mandatory to distribute shortlisted works this way.

Unfortunately, as professionally published authors, we can't do this without obtaining the consent of our publishers. We are bound by contracts that give our publishers the exclusive rights to distribute our books: so we sought their permission first.

This year, Orbit—the publisher of Mira Grant's "Parasite", Ann Leckie's "Ancillary Justice", and Charles Stross's "Neptune's Brood"—have decided that for policy reasons they can't permit the shortlisted novels to be distributed for free in their entirety. Instead, substantial extracts from the books will be included in the Hugo voters packet.

We feel your disappointment keenly and regret any misunderstandings that may have arisen about the availability of our work to Hugo voters, but we are bound by the terms of our publishing contracts. The decision to give away free copies of our novels is simply not ours to take. However, we are discussing the matter with other interested parties, and working towards finding a solution that will satisfy the needs of the WSFS voters and our publishers in future years.

Finally, please do not pester our editors: the decision was taken above their level. Edit: Don't pester anyone else, either. The issue is closed.


(Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire), Ann Leckie, Charles Stross)

I don't need to tell you about the global surveillance disclosures of 2013 to the present—it's no exaggeration to call them the biggest secret intelligence leak in history, a monumental gaffe (from the perspective of the espionage-industrial complex) and a security officer's worst nightmare.

But it occurs to me that it's worth pointing out that the NSA set themselves up for it by preventing the early internet specifications from including transport layer encryption.

At every step in the development of the public internet the NSA systematically lobbied for weaker security, to enhance their own information-gathering capabilities. The trouble is, the success of the internet protocols created a networking monoculture that the NSA themselves came to rely on for their internal infrastructure. The same security holes that the NSA relied on to gain access to your (or Osama bin Laden's) email allowed gangsters to steal passwords and login credentials and credit card numbers. And ultimately these same baked-in security holes allowed Edward Snowden—who, let us remember, is merely one guy: a talented system administrator and programmer, but no Clark Kent—to rampage through their internal information systems.

The moral of the story is clear: be very cautious about poisoning the banquet you serve your guests, lest you end up accidentally ingesting it yourself. And there's an unpalatable (to spooks) corollary: we the public aren't going to get a crime-free secure internet unless we re-engineer it to be NSA-proof. And because of the current idiotic fad for outsourcing key competences from the public to the private sector, the security-industrial contractors who benefit from the 80% of the NSA's budget that is outsourced are good for $60-80Bn a year. That means we can expect a firehose of lobbying slush funds to be directed against attempts to make the internet NSA-proof.

Worse. Even though the pursuit of this obsession with surveillance in the name of security is rendering our critical infrastructure insecure by design, making massive denial of service attacks and infrastructure attacks possible, any such attacks will be interpreted as a rationale to double-down on the very surveillance-friendly policies that make them possible. It's a self-reinforcing failure mode, and the more it fails the worse it will get. Sort of like the war on drugs, if the war on drugs had the capability to overflow and reprogram your next car's autopilot and drive you into a bridge support, or to fry your insulin pump, or empty your bank account, or cause grid blackouts and air traffic control outages. Because that's what the internet of things means: the secret police have installed locks in everything and the criminals are now selling each other skeleton keys.

The only way out of this I can see is to abolish the secret police and build out a new secure internet before the inevitable processes of institutional change generate a new rationale for spying on us. Unfortunately I see no way (at present) to pursue this agenda.

I would find it easier to blog right now if I wasn't having fun blowing up planets. (The creative juices always flow more freely with a big explosion, in my experience. And this series has seen so many nukes go off already that I had to up my game.)

Normal service will be resumed when (a) I have something of substance to say, or (b) I get bored with blowing up the world. (I love my job, really.)



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