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Administrative note

One of the hard drives in the server this blog resides on started malfunctioning just after midnight Saturday (UK time; about 4AM EST).

The server is running again for now, but I've put in a support request for a drive swap on Monday morning. As it's part of a mirrored drive array the server will be offline for a few minutes while my hosting provider installs the replacement, and may run slow for a few hours thereafter as the controller brings the new drive up to date.

Of course this happened just as I had a cracking idea for a substantial new blog essay, but I think it's prudent to leave posting it until after the hardware is fixed ...!

51 Comments

1:

Nooooooooooooo!

:) It's an existential recommendation to take the weekend off and renew acquaintance with the local pub. Or something.

2:

So that's what happened.
Wondered what was going on last night when the site wasn't loading.

3:

I'm sure you have backups as well as mirrored drives.

4:

Cursed by disk failure? We say Winchester Geas.

5:

Were you going to announce the book you're co-authoring with John Scalzi?

6:

No such book exists.

(And if it did, I wouldn't announce it until I/we had a solid publishing contract.)

7:

Old Man's Laundry? Colour me doubtful.

8:

But they referred to it on Tor's website!

9:

Someone got over-excited about a random twitter comment suggesting that John, Seanan McGuire and I should collaborate on a three-way. The peanut gallery approved and it made for good clickbait on a slow news day.

While John, Seanan and I like each other and have collaborated with other folks in the past and are open to collaborations in the future, any such venture would require (a) a shared focus, (b) a target market, and (c) (THE HARD BIT) all of us to have time to do it. This is why the last chunk of "The Rapture of the Nerds" took five years to emerge, after Tom Doherty (the publisher and proprietor of Tor) told his folks to stand over Cory Doctorow and myself with a whip: we both had multi-book schedules stretching into the future, and in Cory's case, an exhausting public speaking track on top.

In the case of me, John, and Seanan, I am currently (a) rewriting THE DELIRIUM BRIEF (because the Brexit lunacy put my insufficiently-over-the-top political satire subplot in the shade), (b) workflow relating to the ongoing EMPIRE GAMES trilogy (book 1 is nearly off my desk with just some final front matter adjustments for the UK edition; book 2 needs final edits doing by January, then production workflow; book 3 needs the second half rewriting before January 2018), (c) writing the first draft of GHOST ENGINE because I'm out of contract with Ace so my agent wants a complete novel in order to find me a good new US publishing deal. (GE was going to be written in 2017 and published in 2018. Now it's to be written in 2016 ... and published in 2018, because the UK/EU side of things is already locked in.) So I'm kind of busy.

John is busy too, working on a novel until late September. Also, he signed a thirteen book deal about a year ago, so it's not like he's going to be out of work any time soon.

Seanan, I am convinced, has an ACME Cloning Tank in her subbasement and a sweatshop full of mini-Seanans typing madly away to keep up with her insane workload, which is about 4-6 books a year as Seanan McGuire and Mira Grant ... and at least one other pseudonym (disclaimer: I don't know anything about it).

So we are basically a project manager's worst nightmare -- three parallel logjammed critical paths each owned by a single non-replaceable individual in middle age with varying degrees of health issues and/or sanity deficits.

And this is why superstar multi-author hookups are so rare.

(Where you see three or more names on a book spine, as is frequently the case at Baen, what you're actually looking at is a front-list author who has written a detailed outline, and a number of midlist authors who are sharecropping it -- all sharing the royalties, of course, but there's a project lead. This is at its most pronounced in a shared universe anthology series like George R. R. Martin's WILD CARDS; George designed the universe, then a bunch of other authors came on board -- my understanding (I'm not involved so this is second-hand) is that Melinda Snodgrass does most of the editorial coordination -- built up characters within the universe, and they discuss the overall plot direction and run it much like a TV series.)

10:

Thanks for the additional insight into the publishing business. I knew before I made the comment that the rumour had already been thoroughly denied by all concerned. I was trying to be clever - with 'trying' being the most important word there.

11:

Assuming it's actually server-grade hardware then the system won't need to come down for a simple hard-drive replacement as they should be hot-swappable (SAS at a guess). Once the replacement drive is slotted into the chassis the system will start repopulating it with data from the other mirrored drives in the set without any downtime. In theory.

12:

Bad guess: the server is cheap enough that it will have to come down (I didn't pay the extra thousand quid a year for hot-swappable). Flip side: the RAID controller will repopulate the new drive in the background (it's just RAID-1), and ByteMark are pretty prompt about their side of things -- actual downtime should be no more than five to ten minutes.

13:

The rumour isn't exactly denied -- we agreed it was an amusing idea -- but we're all too busy to even discuss it until the end of next month. If anything does happen it probably won't get started for at least a year, and you won't get to read the results for a considerable time after that. So don't hold your breath!

14:

I saw the twitter exchange and knew it wasn't too serious, but it made me wonder about the possibility of co-written, non-canonical crossover short stories, rather than novels. Don't know if that would be any easier to manage.
I suppose it might be harder to sell, but perhaps some editor could arrange an anthology of co-written stories, perhaps for charity?

15:

Sounds like a neat idea, but there are huge problems. For starters, anthologies famously don't sell very well, and for seconds, getting the crossovers to work would be a headache. (For example, one time Ben Aaronovitch and I kicked about the idea of a Bob Howard/DI Peter Grant crossover. Only problem is, the magic systems in the two series are not only incompatible, they're contradictory: Bob uses computers to do magic, Peter's magic fries electronics. We gave up after the second pint of beer.)

16:

That's pretty much what I figured. The incompatability problem is why I was thinking non-canonical, leaves it open for fudging, maybe go more for humor. And maybe you needed more beer?
I really need to get around to reading Aaronovitch, but "So many books..."

17:

...writing the first draft of GHOST ENGINE because I'm out of contract with Ace so my agent wants a complete novel in order to find me a good new US publishing deal.

How about Baen Books? (As I duck and cover my head!)

18:

There's probably in-canon ways (for both canons) to explain this and make a cross-over work. But, it would be at best a bit awkward. There's already priors for "some can work magic without frying electronics", the Rivers do, after all.

I mean, "fried electronics" is basically "silicon with K Syndrome" and maybe (just maybe) The Folly are not so shit-hot at containing their magic as they think they are...

19:

And the server is back up and running again with a new hard disk.

20:

Baen are a very unlikely home for the space opera I'm working on right now. Just sayin'.

(The term "space opera" covers a vast range of possibilities, and let's just say I'm much closer to the Iain M. Banks Culture end of things than the Honor Harrington side of the spectrum.)

21:

duck and cover you should, indeed... :-)
OK, I read Baen books (expecially Eric Flint), let's say it's a guilty pleasure... but publishing in the same catalog with Sad Puppies and their ilk? with Kratman the SS apologist of Watch on the Rhine fame? with John Ringo? Just to get labeled a SJW in cahoots with the enemies of freedom, justice and the American way? Better not

22:

Utterly OT, and sorry for it, but mention of Honor Harrington make me think about the late coup attempt in Turkey, the more I think of it and the more it resembles the aborted coup by Esther McQueen: life imitating art...just sayin'

23:

While I reckon that the editors at Baen themselves might quite like 'Banksian Space Opera', I suspect that placing such with them may well lead to all too many of your usual readers going "Oh, a Baen Space Opera" and ignoring it, and the people wanting a Baen Space Opera being a bit peeved too.

(I'm now mentally analogising with Motorhead signing to Motown, and wondering what the result would have been like.)

24:

For those who haven't seen yet, a Lovecraft ABC book for the kiddies, free to download.


Meanwhile, when exactly did Baen go all mil-SFF, with blah cover art? I have a few of their books from the 80s, Aldiss' "Hothouse" and Russ' "Adventures of Alyx" for two, but nothing more recent that I can think of (can't look either, everything's still packed up for the next few weeks). It seems in the early 90s they lurched right.

Oh, and Motown did put out some non-soul records. I'm pretty sure I have one or two 'alt-rock' albums, but see above wrt packing. Though, yeah I don't think they'd put out Mötörhëåd, mëtäl ümläûts ftw.

25:

There are some really good books and authors published by Baen. For example, P. C. Hodgell and Lois McMaster Bujold. Nor are their authors invariably right-wing white supremacist shitbags; consider Eric Flint, for example.

But they also publish a load of commercially-viable crud, as with any publisher (where "crud" is defined as somewhere between "not to my taste" and "rots the teeth"), and they target a highly specific market demographic that is probably incompatible with my own reader base. Being published by them might well be a marketing own goal, and I think my agent would be very cautious about striking a deal with them.

26:

That appears (to my eye) to be a big budget knock-off of Baby's First Mythos from 2003-05.

Baen found a market niche in the mid-90s and went for it; they still publish other stuff as well, but you have to look hard to find it -- mostly from the authors who were already there.

27:

Out of curiosity, are Orbit not big enough in the US, or are you just keen to make sure you aren't being entirely paid in pounds in the future?

28:

Great! Someone mentioned a "substantial new blog essay"? :-)

29:

Charlie,

About your server...this sounds so wrong on in so many ways.

First: I'm a sr. systems administrator (Linux), working for a US federal contractor. I started doing sysadmin work (yeah, I was a hot programmer, then made the mistake of saying I ain't afraid of no hardware to a manager....) for over 20 years.

1. It's RAID 1, and a thou quid a year for hot swap? You have to go for mind-boggling cheap to get a rack-mount server that *isn't* hot swap, and almost no one has bought them for over five years. Trust me, the US gov't is *really* cheap with budget money, but I think we got rid of our last server with an internal drive (except for a set of blades) years back. *All* that we've bought, or I've seen in the data center here are hot swap bays.They're claiming that they're running you on an old box, probably at *least* 6-8 years old, that they have to take down and open? What *are* you paying for? And is it a private, co-located server, and not just a VM?

Hell, I bought a hot swap bay for backups at Microcenter for my home workstation for $30.

2. I've changed out any number of failed RAID drives, and the most complicated thins is to remove the drive from the RAID, so you can put in a new one.

3. Most of our RAIDs are SATA, not even SAS (I told you we were tight on money, and we're a well-known large organization), and there's *very* little slowdown when a drive's replaced (unless they're putting in desktop-rated drives, that keep wanting to spin down, rather than NAS or enterprise-grade drives, 7200 RPM).

If any of that's true, you should either a) have a talk with your provider as to what it is they're selling, or b) consider a better provider.

mark

30:

Looking back at the comments in that io9 link, the idea has occurred a couple times, at least. May have to start a collection, to go with my collection of golem stories.

31:

I know. That was a joke.

32:

On one hand, completely agreed.

On the other hand, they do publish Lois McMaster Bujold, who certainly doesn't write typical MilSF (though her stuff would certainly qualify as Space Opera.)

I think it would have to be a Baen book without the Baen cover.

33:

There's a hypothesis that the late Jim Baen -- who had a really startling track record for starting successful imprints, having done it three times in a row when the usual expectation for success in such endeavours is well below half -- had sold a portion of his soul to the devil for commercial success. (Sell your whole soul, get the things. Sell bits of your soul, get the things with conditions. The smaller the bits -- and it's likely the portion was pretty small in Jim Baen's case -- the more onerous the conditions. So if you'd sold a tenth of your soul to be a successful song writer, you'd write all the hits but no one would know who you were and the money would always be late and awkward.)

By this hypothesis, Baen Books covers are part of the onerous conditions imposed by the devil.

34:

It might indeed by a knock-off, but I liked some of the art a lot, particularly the Byakhee. And it might not be a knock-off. A Mythos ABC is an obvious-enough idea for two people to come up with it independently.

By the way, do any of the computers at The Laundry use Multiplexing Yourdon-Theory Haskel-Optimized Systems as an OS?

35:

The singularity will undoubtedly be delayed 10 years (repeatedly) when a bunch of cheap-ass subcontractors decide that RAID and hot-swappable drives are an expensive luxury and tell the suits (who wouldn't know a RAID if it bit them) "don't worry, we have it covered". Needless to say, Microsoft ActiveSingular refuses to co-operate with Apple's iSingTheBodyElectric and OpenSing, creating multiple incompatible cloud systems tenuously held together by scarily kludgy transort layers.

But those are just the delays. The real crisis comes when Jonathan Ive, now having bought into his own pre-singularity deificiation, is appointed head of the UI/UX team. Everyone swipes left on the singularity in the hope of discovering what that gesture does, erases all their backups, and bricks their simulacrum. (Those who, as contrarians, swipe right, up or down? Same result: "UI consistency", says Ive.) But that's OK, because at least the crash screen is Ivelegant.

Bo noted: "Old Man's Laundry? Colour me doubtful."

It's a perfectly natural match-up: Senior citizens are offered the choice: to become dead, or undead. Many choose the latter. They are soon nicknamed "the ghost brigades". *GDRLH*

36:

I am extremely happy with my relationship with Orbit UK.

Negotiations with Orbit USA (which is a separate operation editorially) reached an impasse; nevertheless, we remain on amicable terms and I am happy to discuss future projects with them.

I am extremely happy with my relationship with Tor UK.

I am extremely happy with my relationship with Tor USA.

(Can I stop talking like a corporate VP in public relations now?)

37:

I need to review my hosting set-up (last did that, oh, most of a decade ago) but life is too short.

38:

As soon as I read about K-syndrome I assumed that the right kind of computation would wreck silicon, but that error checking would catch it for a while and the lease would be up in 3 years anyway. All the government IT I've worked for in the past had leased kit. The exception being Transgrid, which was the government monopoly long distance electricity transmission mob. They, being a monopoly, weren't allowed to charge any old price for their services, they charged a percentage of their current physical infrastructure. Which meant that 'retired' kit went in a big cage rather than being actually retired. The servers I got to play with were the biggest shiniest and most exciting (DEC Alpha clusters! TB size arrays!) but consumables... I had to sign for a photocopy. Floppies were old software distribution disks.

39:

(The term "space opera" covers a vast range of possibilities, and let's just say I'm much closer to the Iain M. Banks Culture end of things than the Honor Harrington side of the spectrum.)

Excellent! The world needs more space opera like Iain's Culture.

I'd have bought it anyway, but nice to know.

40:

Ha. You as a corporate shill is an interesting mental picture.
I always forget that they are different entities with the same name. Makes perfect sense that there would be different negotiations.

Do all the big labels generally have editorially separate US and UK operations?

41:

Ha ha leasing ha ...

I heard of one government agency who discovered they were leasing PCs for their staff for £2000/PC/year ... for clapped-out five year old Dell desktops that cost maybe £500 when they were new.

(Under pressure to make cuts, they cancelled the lease and brought everyone shiny new Microsoft Surface Pros. Much faster, better kit, better support, and cheaper into the bargain.)

42:

Okay, deep breath:

There are five major multinational publishing conglomerates, the "big five" (formerly big six, until Random House took over Penguin a couple of years ago). They account for about 60% of books sold by volume, so there's life outside them.

The conglomerates have diverse interests, so that Hachette (French) are also in the satellite launch biz if you follow the corporate ladder all the way up. Harper is owned by the Murdoch empire. And so on.

Books are low value/high weight commodities so historically they were not shipped internationally, except retail (someone mail ordered a specific book) or as ballast in cargo ships (cheap pulp digests/paperbacks). So parallel structures arose in different countries and remain in place to this day because of local cultural variations and business regulations that make it a total pain to draft publisher-author contracts in the UK that are valid in the USA, to do British VAT tax returns and accounting in NYC, to edit in local spelling/vernacular in another country, and so on.

Tor ... was an indy publisher until around 1990 when a creditor went bust, causing acute cash-flow agony; Tom Doherty (the CEO) arranged a friendly take-over by St Martin's press, another indy publisher -- on terms such that Tom would remain CEO of Tor and would run it effectively as an independent company. St Martins was then bought by Macmillan, the English-language arm of Holtzbrinck, the smallest of the big five. Holtzbrinck is German and has magazine/newspaper publishing arms but is mostly about publishing, not missiles or pharmaceuticals, and it's privately owned so somewhat more prone to turning on a dime and responding to new market shifts than the other goliaths in the field (who have to be wary of activist shareholders and class action lawsuits).

Macmillan is of course a long-established British publisher who opened a US subsidiary in the 19th century and spun it off; it was subsequently acquired by Holtzbrinck and became their US/North American arm. Macmillan is a long-established British publisher that was also and separately acquired by Holtzbrinck and is their English-language arm in the EU (and also in Australia and NZ, which are usually treated as part of UK/Commonwealth rights for contractual purposes).

Tor, St Martin's Press, and various other imprints are business units within Macmillan these days. So Tor is still run by Tom, the CEO, but Tom reports to John Sargent, the CEO of Macmillan, who in turn reports to the board in Germany.

(NB: this is changing, as both Tom and John are quite old and Tor have just announced this week a major executive-level re-org that brings in new blood from Editorial -- which you may consider this Tor author to be heartily in favour of.)

But that's Tor in the USA.

Tor in the UK is a completely different company. Back in the early 2000s, Pan, the SF paperback imprint of Macmillan (the UK company) did a survey and discovered to their chagrin that the Tor brand had better public recognition in the UK than their own venerable SF imprint, Pan. So they rebranded a bunch of their work as Tor (no Tor UK; just Tor) and began pushing Tor books in the UK.

There's a lot of history I'll skip over, including a 3-4 year moribund period in which Tor UK looked to be dying of neglect, but for now the current state of affairs is that Mac recently re-orged their trade fiction, absorbed a chunk of their former SF/F lists into mainstream fiction (the SF ghetto was perceived as being on the way out), and moved everything else into Tor, which is edited by Bella Pagan (who I have a long history with -- she was also one of my editors at Orbit).

The editorial teams at Tor in the UK and Tor in the USA get on just fine together and can coordinate effectively as a team, as is happening on the EMPIRE GAMES trilogy. But management are another matter; as usual, nobody wants to be turned into an appendage of an overseas boardroom, and so there's an element of rivalry that you don't get in less compartmentalized multinationals -- for example, the IT industry, where the same product is sold worldwide.

Because in publishing the same product isn't sold in all territories. Even in the case of EMPIRE GAMES, where Bella and David Hartwell (at Tor US) worked collaboratively on the editorial process until David's sudden Death (Bella is now taking the lead on active editing while US coordination is being handled by Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who came on board late enough that if he tried to play catch-up it would delay the project for another year), there's going to be a glossary of terms in the UK edition that's absent from the US one -- mostly of stuff that'll be familiar to US readers but perhaps less so to British readers in the wider market she's hoping to reach.

There are plenty of books with Tor USA that aren't published by Tor UK -- either they have no UK publisher at all, or someone else has the UK/EU rights -- and quite a few Tor UK books that are published by other folks in the USA. And so it goes.

43:

Thanks for the succinct summary of the state of publishing from your perspective. One quick quibble: Wikipedia claims that Lagardère no longer has aerospace interests, do you have a pointer if this is incorrect? (Arnaud Lagardère seems to have refocused on media, ceasing to be a director of the Airbus holding companies in 2013, and the shares seem to have been sold. Of course, they may simply have been shifted into a different vehicle, the trail gets hard to follow.)

44:

do you have a pointer if this is incorrect?

No; I'm just out of date. But you get the principle -- these are giant corporations and publishing is just one corner of what they do.

45:

"Harper is owned by the Murdoch empire."

Thank you. I was not aware of that. Now I know to only buy a Harper book if it's second-hand.

46:

Thank you for that. It's even more of a spaghetti pile than I ever guessed.

47:

"(a) rewriting THE DELIRIUM BRIEF (because the Brexit lunacy put my insufficiently-over-the-top political satire subplot in the shade),"


Life as a satirist is hard when the political arena looks like an Onion article. I have to double check all the news now because common sense is no more enough.

Well do not take too long, or at the current rate you may be out of readers before publication :


"Pvt. Joe Bowers: [addressing Congress] ... And there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn't just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again! "

48:

So you enjoy punishing authors for someone else's sins?

49:

Life as a satirist is hard when the political arena looks like an Onion article.

You're not kidding. Who needs Poe's Law when satire and political humor keeps happening before imaginary antics get to the public...

50:

No, enjoyment has nothing to do with it. I simply decline to give any of my money to the Murdoch organisation in any of its forms. Such a collateral-damage argument can be made against any boycott; the counter-argument is about complicity and the existence of alternative choices for those affected.

Another significant point is that really the only measurable effect is on the personal level, ie. to reduce the degree to which I feel tainted through the use of my expenditure by the less savoury parts of the overall machine. (Much like my habit of subverting consumerism by taking borked items which have been designed to be unrepairable, and repairing them anyway, instead of buying a new one like a good little drone - except that in that case there is enjoyment to be had as well.)

51:

So physical server, much 20th century, wow.

The market for VPS hosting seems to have become old and mature versus all the elastic cloud stuff around these days, and cheap too (likely cheaper than hosting your own physical boxen).

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 30, 2016 2:35 PM.

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