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Empire Games

Empire Games

I'm back home and over the jetlag, but I'm keeping a low profile because I'm doing my final check on the page proofs of Empire Games (cover above)!

Because I'm back in the Merchant Princes setting with a whole new near-future SF trilogy—my big fat post-Snowden surveillance state technothriller (with parallel universes):

The year is 2020. It's seventeen years since the Revolution overthrew the last king of the New British Empire, and the newly-reconstituted North American Commonwealth is developing rapidly, on course to defeat the French and bring democracy to a troubled world. But Miriam Burgeson, commissioner in charge of the shadowy Ministry of Intertemporal Research and Intelligence—the paratime espionage agency tasked with catalyzing the Commonwealth's great leap forward—has a problem. For years, she's warned everyone: "The Americans are coming." Now their drones arrive in the middle of a succession crisis, for their leader, First Man Adam, is dying of cancer, and the vultures are circling.

In another timeline, the U.S. has recruited Rita, Miriam's own estranged daughter, to spy across timelines in order to bring down any remaining world-walkers who might threaten national security. But her handlers are keeping information from her.

Two nuclear superpowers are set on a collision course. Two increasingly desperate paratime espionage agencies are fumbling around in the dark, trying to find a solution to the first contact problem that doesn't result in a nuclear holocaust. And two women—a mother and her long-lost, adopted-out daughter—are about to find themselves on opposite sides of the confrontation.

Empire Games is due out on January 17th of next year, and available for pre-order now (UK/EU edition here)!



Before you ask:

a) Simultaneous releases from Tor USA and Tor UK. Different bindings and distribution channels is all.

b) Ebooks will be DRM-free.

c) Yes, it helps if you've read the Merchant Princes series first (ideally in the revised omnibus edition) but you should be able to find your way in without doing that: "Empire Games" is a new series entrypoint.

d) The next book, "Dark State", is due to drop in January 2018; the third in the trilogy, "Invisible Sun", is scheduled for January 2019.

e) Yes, it's near-future SF. So was the original Merchant Princes series, it just wasn't marketed that way.

f) For reasons beyond anyone's control or comprehension they've been delayed by a couple of years from my original timetable. Trust me, long-form SF is a lousy medium for timely political commentary: but at least they're coming out at last. And if you've been wondering why for the past few years my output seemed to have dropped right back to a book a year and no short fiction, this is why -- I've been saving up, and for the next three years I'm putting out a book every six months (my normal production rate is about 1.5 books a year).



g) I said a book every six months, but these are coming out a year apart. Reason: July 2017 is scheduled for the next Laundry Files novel ("The Delirium Brief"), and July 2018 for my big fat new space opera, (probable title: "Ghost Engine").

h) DO NOT ASK ME ABOUT ANY OTHER BOOKS I think having five novel-length projects in varying stages of production simultaneously is quite sufficient, m'kay?


Aha! This looks fun. Been looking forward to this.


For those who can't do "the google/bing/yahoo" it's also available for preorder in the US here

and here

Think I'll order, glad I relented with Nightmare Stacks instead of waiting for mass market paperback, preferably used. Hit the spot.

So, do I need to reread the original Merchant Princes series? It's been years, what the last one came out in 2010 or something? I know I have to re-watch the entirety of Orphan Black every year before the new season comes out or I will be lost. Something about a knot and the right genes and you can trance into a parallel world, but only certain ones from certain places, and carry only what you can carry.


for the next three years I'm putting out a book every six months

Many more cheers than three. I've just got round to (re)reading the original series in the revised edition, immediately after reading The Nightmare Stacks, so obviously I'm looking forward to next year's output.

Am I right in thinking The Delirium Brief has been brought forward a bit? I was under the impression it was due in 2018.


So, do I need to reread the original Merchant Princes series? It's been years, what the last one came out in 2010 or something?

Not compulsory, but it would make it easier to get into the new series. (Some old characters re-appear.)

NB: the omnibus editions are strongly recommended -- I did a lot of work to fix bugs and polish them so that they read more smoothly.


Nope, Delirium Brief was always due in 2017. There'll be a gap in the Laundry output in 2018 -- I'll push out a novella if I have the energy, but there won't be a novel that year -- because I need to commit space opera.


Kobo used to have one called an omnibus edition, but now has only three separate, double-book ones. Are the latter also the edited form?


I have not read the revised edition of the merchant princes, only the original series. So I wonder if you've corrected a minor mistake - calling the French king the Dauphin - as Dauphin means heir and son of the reigning king and is not a title yhat is kept upon becoming king.


Yes: those are the omnibus editions.


But it's a fictional setting. Maybe it works differently. Kind of like in Abraham's "Dagger and the Coin" series where a Baron seems to outrank a Viscount. Who knows, history took a different turn and the terms got switched.


I knew that when I wrote the first series and I'm pretty sure if there was a blooper it will have been fixed in the revised omnibus version; it's certainly not a mistake present in the new trilogy.


So Bob vs Mothra is on hold, pending your available willpower. (Or is the DM novella the priority anyway?) I guess I will have to live with just five novels. Sigh.


Ghu be praised! I confess that, though I find the Laundry amusing and do buy the books, my preference is for the Merchant Princes and paratime stuff in general. Probably because I learned to read from Astounding and other Late Golden Age SF. H.B. Piper continues to be favorite read-again.


I remember suggesting Patriarch Games as a possible title when you were crowdsourcing suggestions (, looking forward to reading it.


It will be interesting to see if Miriam has gotten any better at long-term planning. She used to include steps like "3. A miracle occurs and my nasty relatives suddenly decide to leave me alone."


long-term planning.

Yes, she did seem to be good at seeing what might be done in the near term (Business Plans!) but kind of missed the Big Picture in which she was operating. Of course, the Fifth Bomb Wing altered that quite a bit, so let's see what's coming.

And what about the Alien Horrors that took out the dome in the glacial World Four?

[Please excuse all the caps.]


Yes, she's gotten much better at long-term planning.

Bad news: so have her enemies.


because I need to commit space opera

New series? Apologies to be the one who came late, in the case that you've already explained this at length...


Oops, I now see you mention Ghost Engine above


Which figures!

I never felt she was actively bad at it so much as in a situation where she hadn't got the means and thus had to shake up opportunity just to get to the point where it was possible a long term plan might exist - everything was changing rapidly and getting a reasonably accurate picture of her circumstances was itself not an option. There's only so much you can do when the only reliable solution to the things that keep affecting you is "be somewhere else" and there's nowhere else that's free of such threats.

Of course, getting the chance to actually plan and see how it plays out is still going to let you learn some. And I have my own reasons for "be somewhere else" to come to mind.


Are you going to blow up New York or at least Chicago with a nuclear bomb?


because I need to commit space opera.

Space opera is neither sin nor crime.


No, I've got something much bigger up my sleeve.


Not a spoiler: Miriam got handed a lever in time line three at the end of "The Trade of Queens" -- a simple slogan: "The Americans are Coming" (and here's what they do to other time lines).

How much development can you manage in 17 years with a superpower-sized government on a total war footing backing you, and a thousand world-walkers? I'm pretty sure readers of the first series will be going "holy crap ..." at least once every three pages from about page 50 to 150 of "Empire Games".

(There are real-world precedents. The Meiji restoration period in Japan, South Korea from about 1970-1995, and so on.)


If you like late Golden Age and like MP, then you should get yourself a copy of Clifford D. Simak 'Ring Around the Sun'.

It's the book that got me into SF in the mid 60's. Imagine MP written by Norman Rockwell and you'll get a good flavour for it. I re-read it a couple of years ago and though they say you should never try to revisit your childhood, it stood up well.

Second hand paper books are worth a bomb, but it's available on kindle for virtually nothing.


Ohh that was a mistake, I had assumed their was a Prince-Regent thing going on.


I'm really looking forward to this series.

the newly-reconstituted North American Commonwealth

I've been wondering whether the successor state to the New British Empire would try to keep the (presumably still Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking) parts of the realm. If they did, the amount of repression required would make their state as repressive as the USSR.

It seems that the NAC went the route of the post-1991 USSR: break-up into a bunch of successor states, with the NAC simply the largest and strongest of the bunch.


It seems that the NAC went the route of the post-1991 USSR

Nope, it went the route of the post-1917 Russian Empire, only with shiny extras.

To say more about the extras would be a real spoiler (for book 8, "Dark State", if not book 7).


Clifford D. Simak 'Ring Around the Sun'.

I probably read that when it appeared in Galaxy, but that was a while back. Time to read it again, I suppose. (Simak is another favorite.)


Off topic but I have just seen reports of serious wild fires in California, best Wishes to Heteromeles and I hope you are all right. let us know how you get on


it went the route of the post-1917 Russian Empire, only with shiny extras.

Ok, so Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Beria, plus nukes, world walking and, one supposes, shoggoths. Yikes.


I'm looking forward to these.

Wrting a section of my thesis on atom-light interactions (specifically: on what transitions are permitted between quantum states; and under what circumstances otherwise forbidden transitions become weakly allowed, as well as why some transitions are weaker than others) suggested a number of concievable ways that one might decide such a multiverse worked... and I'm looking forward to seeing how you decided that they did.


Sovietism with Persian Characteristics. Also, a fanatical commitment to democracy.

(Because Miriam's masterstroke is to give the revolutionaries a playbook listing all the failed revolutions of her own time line, and what went wrong with them, along with advice: "try to find a new way to fail". And they listened.)


Surely the masterstroke is not so much providing the playbook, but in getting them to listen...


Great, looking forward to it! Will there be a sample chapter at some point?


It will be interesting to see if Miriam has gotten any better at long-term planning.

I never read it as her being bad at it, more that she was in entirely unfamiliar surroundings... Even in the best of circumstances, it usually takes years to settle in a strange place; hers were far from the best, she had weeks or months at best — and the place was stranger than most. At that, she did quite well.


Cool. I've always liked these, the more since the faux fantasy gloss was rubbed off (around book three or omnibus two, iirc). Seeing how this plays out in the wake of the nuking of timeline one and how two and three diverged from initial state should be interesting. And the current event monster doesn't count because timeline two was ALWAYS different from ours, with "Chemical" Ali instead of Saddam in charge at the beginning of Enduring Freedom.


I have awful timing to bring this up now (since it's presumably too late for OGH to take it into account in the new books, even to the extent of better explaining rules that are already clear in his head), but comment #4's mentioning of knots suddenly reminded me of something that bothered me about the explanation of world-walking rules in the original series:

Knot #1 takes you back and forth between America and Gruinmarkt. Knot #2 takes you back and forth between Gruinmarkt and New Britain. Using knot #2 from America takes you to world #4 (and back).

One of the characters offered an analogy about how the knots specify directions rather than destinations; something about one of the knots being like a knight's move in a game of chess. Even if you're making the same knight's move, if you start somewhere different, you end up somewhere different.

But following a given set of directions a second time does not usually take you back to where you started. If you walk 5 miles north, and then want to go home, you can't walk 5 miles north again; you need to invert the directions and go 5 miles south. But in the book, the world-walkers don't appear to be taking any steps to "invert" the directions when going home. And this apparent flaw in the analogy is never brought up (that I can recall).

There are ways to handle this with exotic topologies, of course. Maybe the chess board is only 2 squares wide, so when you move left twice you "wrap around" and end up back where you started. If that's the case, then using knot #1 should (probably) also take you back and forth between New Britain and world #4, and those will be the only 4 worlds you can reach with those 2 knots, because you've covered the entire 2x2 chessboard. (Of course, there could be 8 worlds if it's a 3-dimensional 2x2x2 chessboard, and you can keep doubling by adding more dimensions...)

Or maybe you've got the worlds arranged in a zig-zag line, where knot #1 can only take you along the "zig" lines and knot #2 can only take you along the "zag" lines. In this case, either knot will only bounce you back and forth between 2 worlds, but you can alternate them to travel any distance along the zig-zag, and with each knot taking you either "forward" or "backward" along the series depending on whether you use it in an odd-numbered or even-numbered world.

Or maybe the character's conjecture is wrong and the knots aren't really like directions of travel at all.

But for the rest of the 6-book series, I was watching for an explanation that never came.


This winter I read the recombined books. They seemed a lot smoother this time around, though that could just be the result of reading them close together rather than as the paperbacks came out. At least based on my experience, it was time well-spent.


I didn't get the impression that she was bad at long-term planning, more that she simply didn't think it was necessary. Her long-term goal seemed to be to get out of the current situation and not much beyond that. After the end of the third omnibus, it was pretty clear she was going to be anywhere except NAC for a long, long time. Given that situation, yeah, she'd start thinking in longer terms pretty quick.


If it helps this is how I imagine it:

Each square in the grid is a universe, each number is a direction a knot can take you. The in-universe description seems different, but this one seems to make sense to me.


I think the problem for you is that it is an analogy not a model.

(BTW: following a given set of directions a second time does not usually take you back to where you started. If you walk 5 miles north, and then want to go home, you can't walk 5 miles north again — Well actually you can, if you start in the right place. Start near enough to the North Pole, and this is does happen. Your mental model (understandably enough) has you somewhere more conventional.)

The described analogy works for me, but then I'm considering the transitions as transforms, not just translations. If a knot does "Move 15 steps in direction faced and then rotate by 180 degrees", then it is self reversing. I'm quite happy to consider each knot a self-inverting transform in multi-dimensional space.


Regards development...please keep the trams :)

(I'll get my anorak...)


I think 17 years in a superpower on a war footing is going to pretty much guarantee that the trams (or trolleybuses, etc.) will still be there, along with other light & heavy rail and the prioritization of public over private transport. There will be no room for wasted effort or resources in Miriam's plans.

The twin threats (of the French Empire and the USA) will force massive advances in useful technology (especially air and coastal defence) and a quick march into the Atomic and Information age(s) - aided by already having a pretty good roadmap.

Miriam is a Leveller when you get down to it.


Wait, really? I didn't pick up the Chemical Ali thing at all!


Another clue is that Paris Hilton is very briefly mentioned as having died in a car crash.


I believe that's just a higher-dimensional version of my "zig-zag line" example.


Your "move 15 steps then turn around" example seems to imply the existence of some mechanism for preserving state from one iteration to the next (your facing). Similarly, you could have self-modifying directions that say "invert the rest of the instructions written on this page, and then go..." but that implies that the directions "remember" that they've been inverted when you start following them again (so that inverting them a second time restores the original).

While it would certainly be interesting if world-walkers born in America followed different routes from those born in the Gruinmarkt, that doesn't seem to be the case. It seems implausible that there is any "memory" to work with other than which world you are currently in.

And "go 5 miles north" is (at best) an ambiguous instruction if you are less than 5 miles from the north pole, but sure, there are a few very specific places on Earth where going 10 miles east will cause you to end up back where you started. But that's not generally the case; if we discovered the story happened to be set at such a special point of geometry, we would expect an explanation for why they happen to be in such a special point...and then an additional explanation for why a random mistake in their knot also had that special property...


(hoping I don't inadvertently drop spoilers in here for those that haven't completed the released books - if the moderators deem this to be the case, please censor as required)

I was curious to know if the US is the only state within the Datum Earth[1] to have the world-walking knack as the series progresses - some hints about tensions between India and Pakistan seemed to imply that they might also have the ability, but this wasn't definite - certainly the US demonstrates it to others at one point, so the idea is out there ... also, itching to hear more about the advanced civilisation discovered by Huw et al and the possible origin of the biological ability for the knack ... are any of these elements likely to be expanded upon?

[1] a term purloined from Pratchett and Baxter - not sure of your preferred term


Interesting juxtaposition of two takes on the parallel-worlds concept... I first came across The Long Earth shortly after having discovered Merchant Princes, and so couldn't help but constantly compare the two treatments as I read it. I guess the result is something of a score for Charlie, as I never bothered with the subsequent Long Earth books, but think Merchant Princes is great.


My take on the knots and world-addressing...

Each world is designated by a sequence of numbers (eg, 3, 76, 230, -17, -84, 0, 0, 0)

Each knot multiplies one of the numbers that applies to the person's locality by -1.

So do it twice -> back where you started.

Knot(3) + knot(4) = knot(4) + knot(3), although the intermediate worlds will differ.

Of course, proper knowledge+control over this means that otherwise impossible jumps are routine.


That seems like an odd thing to actually work. I mean the vast majority of revolutionaries in our own world have had access to lots of history books full of the details of why many other revolutions failed and most of them just repeat the same old failure modes.


On the subject of knots and addressing, I was thinking that a knot might simply designate a point between universes, which the mind translates the walker around.

So, if you use the first not you translate around a point in the continua and come out in the universe transcendentally equidistant from the point on the knot, and using the same knot again translates you back - but using the other knot changes your point of reference, translating you somewhere else.

(Apologies if that doesn't make sense, I don't really have the vocabulary for this!)


Hmm. So if we take 'the universes' as a set of points (A, B, C, D, &c.) in a plane, and we take application of a particular knot as a rotation from your start point around a particular axis embedded in the plane, then ...

The path of the rotation is like a circle perpendicular to the plane. There is a pair of points on that circle that intersect the plane. If we name the first as A, and the second as B, then a rotation from A gets you to B, and from B gets you to A. But if you start from C, you'll go to D instead. A different knot rotates you round a different axis, so it might take you from A to C instead. Whether the geometries then work for that knot to take you from B to D or not is a question I don't feel equipped to answer.

There's a major unstated question, which is how knots work. What makes one valid, and another not?

(I think I prefer the more numeric approach of Ian Mackenzie in #53)


"There's a major unstated question, which is how knots work. What makes one valid, and another not?"

And on similar lines... how come America's artificial world-walking technology has a constraint to follow the Knot 1 path baked in? Or did I miss something?


If ALL knots work by multiplying one of your coordinates by -1, then you can never change the magnitude of any coordinate, so your coordinates might as well just be binary on/off. That's equivalent to my 2-space-wide chessboard (in N dimensions) with wrap-around.


The knots may not be necessarily related directly to the operation of world-walking; they could be an arbitrary code. The world-walker module may in fact be two modules: the engine that takes the world-walker to another universe including handling the navigation, and the module that activates that engine. The knot could be a code that tells the engine to move the user along one tramline, analogous to a season ticket. If they're at terminus 1, they get moved to terminus 2, and if they're at 2, they get moved to 1, according to the knot-code.

It may just so happen that the code is such that the season ticket can take you ten stops up the Northern Line (and back) or a different ten stops from another station, or ten stops along the Victoria Line, all depending on when you start out. The one thing it can't do is move you from Embankment Station to Embankment Station, like the Enigma code can't change any letter to itself.


Remember that knot #2 is basically a randomly-corrupted version of knot #1. The hidden family tried several unsuccessful patterns before finding it, but if knots were just arbitrary code, it's unlikely that the first one that actually compiled would take them safely to another world and back.

Since the first knot they found that worked at all worked very similarly to knot #1, it is likely that the encoding system isn't capable of expressing anything that's much different.


I had the numbers because I thought the ones who put the quantum dots into the group of humans and gave them the first toy (knot) could move through the vast multidimensional space that a knot-user who starts at a given universe could never access because the knot-user can't change the magnitude of hir starting numbers.

Also, because I find extended cartesian axes easier to think about than topologies ;-)

It mainly seemed like a way of coming up with a simple description that supported both reversible knots and knots that commute.

If you want a "random mistake" to produce the results as shown in the books, how about the idea that the cellular quantum dots are programmed to react to that family of knots by flipping the sign bit, with some deeper encoding within the knot designating the bit to flip.

So if my model is a special case of yours, then you definitely have priority - I just didn't realise the topology -> numerical translation (um... language-style translation, I realise I should have said...)


Remember that knot #2 is basically a randomly-corrupted version of knot #1. The hidden family tried several unsuccessful patterns before finding it, but if knots were just arbitrary code, it's unlikely that the first one that actually compiled would take them safely to another world and back

I'd have to go back and find the relevant parts, but IIRC the unsuccessful patterns failed either because a) they didn't work at all or b) the world walker disappeared and never reappeared. a) might have been because of glaciers and the like, b) because of that "safely" bit. Huw in his researches for Angbard was certainly aware of the possibility of b), but earlier experimenters might not have been.


That's because most revolutionaries ate both "stupid" (in spite of being apparently-intelligent) & double-blinded by groupthink & their own idealism. Momentum & the "occupy" idiots are classic cases in Britain, right now.

The give-aways are: (i) Oh but Stalin wasn't a PROPER Communist { Insert other $NAME & $Belief-system as appropriate )... (ii) Oh, but WE'RE DIFFERENT ( With the implication that they are "pure of heart" to use a christian phrase & can therefore do no evil ... )


If you are going to play it like that:

"Mornington Crescent!"


Will there be Audible editions of Empire Games?


No idea; that's up to Tor.


Because I've always wanted to do this - "Upney"!


Upminster Carriage Sidings ( a.k.a. "Broadmoor" See: HERE ... )


That's great news- looking forward to what happens to Miriam and all my favorite characters... is there any snippets available or going to be any? Right now the release date seems so far away (like an addiction I can never wait!)...



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 23, 2016 2:25 PM.

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