February 2017 Archives

I suspect the UK might lose its nuclear deterrent (and with it, its permanent seat on the UN Security Council) before 2020, thanks to Donald Trump. Here's why.

I got home from a business trip on Tuesday morning, was a jet-lagged zombie for 24 hours, and between Wednesday morning and now (Friday morning) I have learned:

A new way of exfiltrating data from an air-gapped computer potentially uses malware to modulate the drive activity LED on a PC, which can then be monitored by a drone hovering outside the office window: this is apparently capable of getting up to 6kbps of data off a computer without any physical connection or leaving any signs in device access logs (because it relies on the timing of drive i/o activity).

The North Korean assassins who killed Kim Jong-nam allegedly used VX nerve agent by getting local women who thought they were working for a comedy show to smear it on his face. (Secondary reports say that it was a binary agent, and each woman applied a different precursor: given the nature of VX precursors this seems unlikely, but VX itself could have plausibly been applied by hand. (If confirmed, this falls into the "Polonium 210 is so mundane!" school of baroque state assassination tools.)

Finally, for your delectation, there are people who think this is a good way to deal with Donald Trump (well, if it makes them feel better) ... my only question is, which open source license are they using?

Really, 2017 so far feels like it's fallen out of a novel I wrote in an alternate time line round about 2005, while evidently depressed and suffering from unstabilized hypertension. Or maybe it's just that we swapped out the scriptwriters who showed up in 2001—the ghosts of George Orwell and Philip K. Dick—for a crew led by John Sladek and John Brunner.

Yeah, so I haven't been blogging for more than a week. Sorry 'bout that; I had a guest blogger lined up for while I was traveling, but they turned out to be a no-show and I was too busy to take time out from work.

This week's excuse is that "The Delirium Brief" is being typeset twice—separately for the US and UK releases—and the US page proofs landed in my inbox with a thud and a very short deadline which is going to keep me busy for the rest of this week once I'm over the jetlag.

Note that this isn't a separate edit; the US and UK editions were edited and copy-edited in a common process and share the same spelling, grammar, and word-shaped objects. But the US and UK publishers (who are two different companies who just happened to buy the respective territorial rights to publish the work on their own patch) decided to typeset the copy-edited manuscript independently of one another, which means I need to check a second set of page proofs for errors. It a while to plough through a 400 page book; even if you're just treating it as a reading text and can read at a page a minute, that's nearly seven hours—and checking page proofs for typos and errors is somewhat slower and more laborious. (Normally one publisher takes the lead on production and the others just buy in the typesetting files, but because of [REDACTED] that ain't viable this time round, hence the last-minute round of extra work.)

So normal blogging will probably wait until next week, and I'm going to be scarce in the comments for a bit.

Oh, that reminds me: some of you are wondering if I had any trouble entering the United States, right?

Assuming nothing goes too horribly wrong, on Monday I'm flying out to New York for a few days of meetings—my regular annual business trip, basically. (My agent and my publishers are all based in NYC so it makes sense to visit from time to time; Skype chats are all very well, but there's no substitute for serendipitously bumping into someone you've never heard of who works on your books in a back office job ...)

Anyway, I have two public things happening while I'm over there, and neither of them are in New York.

Thursday 16th is Pandemonium at Pandemonium—a multi-author evening event at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, MA. I often do readings at Pandemonium when I'm in Boston, but this time's special: you can expect to find me along with Elizabeth Bear, Max Gladstone, Scott Lynch, Ada Palmer, Jo Walton and Fran Wilde, answering questions, doing an extremely silly storytelling game, and generally having fun.

Friday 17th-19th is Boskone 54, the regular Boston SF convention I've been going to for far too many years. I'm on the program, and if you search the program for my name, you'll find my fixtures. (One update: I won't be taking part in the First Contact/Close Encounters program item on Friday afternoon.)

See you around! (Or not.) And don't expect much blogging before I get home again on Tuesday 21st.

There's a lot of concern about health care on both sides of the pond these days, with the recent worries about the National Health Service, and regime change in America bent on rolling back the benefits his predecessor put in place. In fact, one editorial to my regional newspaper had a headline that feared a return to the Dark Ages.

I write the Dark Apostle series for DAW books, dark historical fantasy about medieval surgery, which continues today with new release, Elisha Mancer. As a researcher into the history of medicine, all I could think was, they don't know much about the Dark Ages, do they? So here, for those who would like to make their comparisons more apt, is a basic primer to medical care through the 14th century.
Elisha Mancer mini.jpg
1. Medical practitioners were highly educated professionals.

Aside from those who needed the midwife (a specialist even then), most patients sought one of three levels of care, depending, then as now, on their location and their level of income (about which, more later).

As you probably noticed, I (me, Charlie) am a bit busy right now. (Actually, I'm in a three-book production deadline pile-up, and next Monday I'm off to New York for a bunch of meetings.) So you'll be unsurprised to learn that I'm lining up guest bloggers to keep you entertained and educated while I'm elsewhere! And first up is E. C. Ambrose, who has some interesting things to say about the history of surgery ...

E. C. Ambrose writes "The Dark Apostle" historical fantasy series about medieval surgery, which began with Elisha Barber and continues with Elisha Magus, Elisha Rex, Elisha Mancer, and a final forthcoming volume. Other published works include "The Romance of Ruins" in Clarkesworld, and "Custom of the Sea," winner of the Tenebris Press Flash Fiction Contest 2012.

As Elaine Isaak, she is also the author of The Singer's Crown and its sequels, The Eunuch's Heir, and The Bastard Queen. Elaine quite enjoys her alternate identity, aside from a strong desire to start arguments with herself on social media. A former professional costumer specializing in animal mascots, Elaine lives in New Hampshire with her family where she works part-time as an adventure guide. In addition to writing and teaching, Elaine enjoys taiko drumming, kayaking, rock climbing, and all manner of fiber arts.

Confession time: I'm an optimist, especially about the ideas of social progress that emerged in Europe at the end of the middle ages and became mainstream in western politics in the early 20th century. I called the outcome of the Brexit referendum wrong (by underestimating the number of racist bigots and Little Englanders in the UK population: Brexit is a proxy for English nationalism, which is absolutely not the same as British nationalism), and I called the US presidential election wrong (underestimating the extent of gerrymandering and micro-targeted black propaganda driven by data mining in the campaign).

Since January 20th we've seen a degree and type of activity emanating from the new US administration that is markedly different from anything in my politically aware lifetime (loosely: since Reagan). Blanket bans on entry to the USA by anyone associated with certain nationalities, mass firings at the State Department, a president railing against a "so-called judge", the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff being booted off the National Security Council and replaced by a white nationalist ideologue, and a former CEO of Exxon in the Cabinet: what's going on?

Let me pull on my pessimist's hat and advance the most scary hypothesis I can imagine that explains the current situation.

We interrupt this broadcast to announce ...

Empire Games came out a couple of weeks ago, right? And you might be thinking, "this is book seven in a universe, won't I be at a loss if I start here?" Well, Empire Games was written to be a new entrypoint into my Merchant Princes universe. But if you want to start from the real beginning, you need to read The Bloodline Feud, which is the revised omnibus edition of the first two books, reassembled into the original intended form.

And The Bloodline Feud is the Tor.com eBook club pick for the week of February 1st to 7th: if you click that link and sign up for the Tor.com newsletter, you can download a free copy in epub or mobi (Kindle) format. (Offer valid to USA and Canada residents; there is a dropdown menu that asks you to state your country.)

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