There's some kind of bizarre curse hanging over my Laundry Files series. Or maybe it's a deeper underlying problem with writing fiction set in the very near future (or past): I'm not sure which. All I'm sure is that that for the past decade, reality has been out to get me: and I'm fed up.
My first intimation came a long time ago—in 2001. I'd just finished writing "The Atrocity Archive" and it was being edited for serial publication in issues 7-9 of the Scottish SF magazine Spectrum SF (which folded a couple of issues later, in 2003). It was late September, and I found myself reading a terse email from the editor, Paul Fraser: "Charlie, about your story—do you think you can possibly find some new bad guys for Chapter 4? Because you've just been overtaken by current events ..."
In Chapter 4 of "The Atrocity Archive" Bob learns from Angleton who the middle eastern bad guys who kidnapped Mo, intending to use her sacrifice to open a gateway to somewhere bad, really were ... and when I originally wrote the story, in 1999-2000, they were a relatively obscure bunch of anti-American zealots who'd blown up the USS Stark and an embassy in Africa. I know this may boggle the imagination of younger or more forgetful readers, but Al Quaida and Osama bin Laden had not at that time hijacked any airliners, much less etched themselves into the pages of world history: they were not, at that time, the Emmanuel Goldstein of the New World Order.
So, on the 12th of September, 2001, the score stood at Reality 1, Fiction 0. And I hastily did an edit job, replacing ObL and AQ with Yusuf Qaradawi as inspiration behind a hypothetical radical group based in groan Iraq (hey, this was before the invasion, all right?). And lo, part one of "The Atrocity Archive" was published in November 2001, and parts 2 and 3 in March and June of 2002.
I don't recall being bitten by any such copy edits to reality in the process of writing "The Concrete Jungle", which together with "The Atrocity Archive" forms the first book, "The Atrocity Archives". Nor did anything particularly batshit derail me late in the process of writing "The Jennifer Morgue". But the Laundry Curse came back to haunt me again when I got to "The Fuller Memorandum", and it's been moaning and rattling its chains at ever increasing volume with every subsequent book.
I wrote "The Fuller Memorandum" in a cold-sweat panic in 2008. (It didn't come out until 2010 because I emitted it out of sequence in a frenzy of 24 consecutive 12 hour working days.) You may recall that the impact of the financial crisis of 2007/08 took a while to trickle down to affect all levels of the economy, precipitating a full-on economic recession in 2008/09.
For reasons of plot, I wanted to move Bob's office from the Laundry's HQ building at Dansey House—hypothetically, somewhere between Leicester Square and Charing Cross: the legacy of wartime spillover from Westminster—to a New Annexe located above a department store somewhere unspecified in South London. An ongoing background story arc that surfaces in book 7 concerns the abortive attempts to redevelop Dansey House, and their catastrophic consequences. While I was writing in the autumn of 2008, it seemed perfectly reasonable for the New Annex to be a dismal 1970s brutalist slab squatting on top of a branch of Woolworths, a downmarket department store chain that had been around for almost a century—at least until the chain's collapse on November 26th, 2008 left me grinding my teeth in frustration.
Take two: I briefly considered Marks and Spencer (too high profile, and anyway, these days they've all gone multi-storey), John Lewis (far too up-market), and British Home Stores (too likely to make non-UK readers go "whut?"). But the risk of any retail chain going bust before the book saw print seemed too great: so in the end I copped out and placed the New Annex atop a branch of C&A—who do not currently operate in the UK (although they have within living memory, and still trade elsewhere in the EU).
At least that zinger got sorted out before the novel went anywhere near a publisher. Right?
The next book I wrote was "Rule 34". I think I've already explained about how the first plan for "Rule 34" (titled "419") didn't survive contact with the
global financial meltdown enemy, so let's tip-toe past it. This brings me to the next Laundry Files novel, "The Apocalypse Codex"
Early in "The Apocalypse Codex", which I wrote from April 2010 to March 2011, Bob gets sent on a training course at the National School of Government at Sunningdale Park, the civil service training campus. However, in March 2012 the NSG was closed down for good—some of its tasks were taken on by Civil Service Learning, part of the Home Office, but it was a thing of the past four months before the book finally saw print. I'm a bit burned about that: I spent quite a few days finding out all the publicly accessible information I could about the NSG and talking to a few folks who'd passed through its doors, only for HMG to pull the plug after the book had been typeset (at which point changes are virtually impossible to make without pulping a whole shitpile of printed book blocks—which publishers are loath to do because it costs lots of money).
For a while I thought "The Rhesus Chart" might actually have dodged the curse. It looked pretty bulletproof when I put together the first draft between September and December of 2012, and it didn't have a long lead-time to publication: but the curse struck yet again, this time in the way that the NHS Central Data Warehouse was set up and accessed via users of NHS Connecting for Health. I am told I nailed the description of Bob's project closely enough that an actual medical statistician working with that hairball of hideous Excel-generating big data didn't stumble over the reading—and it's murderously hard to get the minutiae of someone else's job right when you're writing a work of fiction. So I was still patting myself on the back when I learned that the NHS Spine Secondary Uses Service had been completely reorganized between me handing in the final manuscript (in June 2013) and the book being published (in July 2014). As wikipedia explains, "NHS Connecting for Health ceased to exist on 31 March 2013 ..." And to put the final nail in the coffin, The Spine was migrated to a new Open Source system in August 2014.
Which brings me screeching up to the event horizon of the present.
I cannot discuss the contents of "The Annihilation Score", Laundry Files book 6, without some risk of spoilers. This book is so fresh it hasn't been copy-edited yet; it's due out in the first week of July 2015. But I am going to have to modify it to explicitly set it in 2014 or 2013 (coincidentally setting the Laundry Files chronology in stone, something I've been reluctant to do before), because ...
I don't think it's a spoiler if I mention that a big plot point in "The Annihilation Score", is goings-on involving an organization called ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers. (The specifics of which are quite intricate, and totally central to the novel.) Indeed, I don't think it'd be a spoiler to say that ACPO is as central to the plot of the new novel as the Black Chamber was to "The Apocalypse Codex". But I fucked up, because I didn't make ACPO up: they're a real thing. Or they were.
I handed the manuscript of "The Annihilation Score" to my agent and editors around September 28th, 2014. That's last month. On October 17th, 2014, it was announced that ACPO is being scrapped and replaced by a new body, the National Police Chiefs' Council, which will be hosted by the Met and have a somewhat different role and responsibilities.
(You may now pause to imagine yr hmbl crspndnt. leaning on his desk, weeping and clutching his forehead.)
I'm officially done with this shit. The Laundry Files explicitly exists in an alternate history to our own, okay? Word Of God speaking here. "The Rhesus Chart" is set in mid-2013, and "The Annihilation Score" in summer/autumn of 2013. I'm going to kick "The Nightmare Stacks" (or whatever book 7 is titled) down the road into a 2014 which will be well in our past and nailed down by the time the book is handed in, in autumn of 2015. Because I am sick and tired of reality refusing to conform to the requirements of my meticulously-researched near-future or proximate-present fictions. It's gotten to the point where if I write a book that is dead on target when it's handed in, at just the most inconvenient moment before publication reality will snicker and pull out its blue pencil. And I am too old for this shit. Do you hear me, reality? Do you hear me?
(Author screams quietly, then gets up and slowly backs away from the keyboard before turning and shuffling dispiritedly in the direction of the kitchen, and another mug of tea.)