Back to: Catching Up | Forward to: Crying fire in a crowded theatre for pleasure and profit

Attention Conservation Notice

I am off to Dortmund is a bit over than 12 hours.

Meanwhile, "Dark State" is coming soooooon ... click on the cover below to read an excerpt:

(You can now pre-order the US hardback and the UK trade paperback.)



Dortmund, huh? Well, both D.U.B. & D.A.B. are highly drinkable - I prefer D.U.B. myself.


Already? Well great, preordering right away. On the other hand, not reading no stinking extract. That is like eating one Lays potato chip.


I have to finish checking the copy-edited manuscript a week by after I get home. (Done two chapters: looked reasonably okay. Then had to task switch to writing to deadline for another project.)

I'll probably get the page proofs in July or August. Then my big job for the rest of the year — after finishing the GHOST ENGINE rewrite — is to redo the second half of INVISIBLE SUN, the third book in the trilogy, due out in January 2019. Because it's written, but the ending kind of sags. (I failed to hit a couple of important waypoints in the first draft, but I know how to fix that now.)

This is why all enquiries about future projects will be welcomed with ARGH FLAIL BUY ME A PINT, YOU BASTARD until the start of 2018, or later.


Well, the next time there's a likelihood of us meeting in the flesh will be either Follycon or Satellite 6, and any "future project" I'm likely to attempt to interest you in there will be along the lines of "would you like to wrap yourself around a beer"?


I'm finally to the point where I'd pay premium prices for an e-book, if I could get it the same day the hardcover comes out.

That's not true of technical books yet, as they end up full of my scribbled notes, but for read-only media, I'll happily pay full price (;-))



Why no Kindle editions yet?

I'll buy you a pint on Thursday. :-)


Seven months is „sooon“? :/

Have fun in my hometown. I recommend drinking Hövels or even, should you get to Bochum, a Fiege Pils.


Christ on a crutch, Charlie...this excerpt is both awesome and also making me beyond paranoid!! The 4am Boston incident is insane! Pre-ordered, sir...can't wait to finish it!


Why no Kindle editions yet?

Because Amazon insists they're publishing the ebook as a new edition-thingy on the Kindle "platform" — their EULA terms for publishers aren't much friendlier than for end users, you know. Takes a while for the contracts to show up.

Don't worry, the ebooks will be published at the same time as the paper editions. They'll be orderable before the publication date (probably in the next few weeks).


Arrgg! Must resist. If I read this except I will have pre-read bits of Charlies next 3 books - counting the opening paragraph to the Labyrinth Index in the Nightmare Stacks crib sheet.

Must resist....


Is there a Stross upcoming books tracker somewhere. With graphical display of time to purchase? I can't keep up.


For the ebook-readers among us: Kobo has Empire Games without DRM (so you can actually buy it rather than renting). I'm guessing that this one will show up there similarly.


Excellent stuff. And readable without having to solve a letter-substitution cipher, too :) Neatly inserted Nacht und Nebel reference, and does the title happen to be a reference to Richard Rhodes?

Probably a redundant request, but please give us sufficiently accurate warning of the actual release date that I can still pre-order it in time to count for your first-week sales statistics. Reason for not doing it right now is that I am afraid of being caught by the all-too-common stunt that arseholes like to pull when it comes to receiving orders that have a known long delay between order and delivery: deliberately not taking the money at the time when I, placing the order, have been able to ensure it's there to be taken, but instead delaying the attempt until the order is ready to be dispatched, at which point there isn't money there to be taken and the whole thing fucks up.

I hope Rita gets a bit more chance to be active in this instalment. Miriam, finding herself suddenly landed with the part of major player in previously-unsuspected intrigue, kicked. Rita, in similar case, doesn't even seem to think kicking. Miriam drove the story by actively making things happen, while Rita seems more to function as a passive window through whom we see the story taking place as things happen to her. Certainly it makes sense for her to act like a plum pudding, but the various glimpses inside her head that we get give the impression that it's not just an act, but that she actually is one. I keep hoping for some indication that she is at least actively thinking in terms of looking for loopholes in the situation that she could turn to personal advantage, but so far it seems to be more a case of other people rebelling on her behalf because their feelings about the matter are considerably stronger and more coherent than her own... which is a little bizarre. With the original series I was interested greatly in what happened to Miriam; with this series I'm not so much interested in what happens to Rita, as in what happens to Miriam's hopes and her adopted homeland.


excerpt is gripping. After reading it yesterday, saw an article about defibrillator drones (Defibrillator drones could save lives before ambulance arrives) but fortunately (so far :-) it was just a clickbait title; it would deliver the defibrillator and give audio instructions for use. Taser drones are not quite yet a commercially-available thing AFAIK, but soon.


not taking the money at the time when I, placing the order, have been able to ensure it's there to be taken, but instead delaying the attempt until the order is ready to be dispatched

All payment processors (doing business in the UK at least) take a very dim view of sellers taking money at time of order rather than at time of dispatch and will quite happily cut off anyone doing it. It is permissible for them to ring-fence a payment but it's complicated and expensive and as I remember is only supposed to be for a few days while an order is assembled rather than the months between a book being announced and it actually being available.


So being a pain in the arse is actually officially mandated? How utterly infuriating.


Before what you want to do was outlawed / made against the rules, it was a major source of fraud against consumers.


Fraud, of course, being already illegal. So this is yet another instance of introducing unnecessary rules which make life more difficult because they can't be bothered to enforce the existing rules which already cover the situation.


And if a credit card had been used, left the card issuer on the hook for refunds.


The big reason the card companies don't allow it any more (instead saying that you are obliged to ship goods once you've taken the money) is that they ended up on the hook for the fraud - the dodgy merchant would disappear with the money, and it'd be card company Customer Services handling the refunds through the charge back route, complete with the "fun" of repaying any interest paid by the customer (as chargebacks for fraud are supposed to completely unwind things as-if the transaction had never happened in the first place).

So, card companies have said that you can't take money until you're ready to ship, because that avoids the fun of unwinding a transaction 9 months later. There's no good mechanism to put a hold on the money until ready to ship, as the existing "hold" system is designed for cases like car hire and hotel deposits, and doesn't have a good UX for pre-orders. And, of course, it's trivial to simply not ship until you have the money in hand as a goods shipping firm - wait for the charge to happen before you ship goods.


polite cough

These days, it's not the vendors that get left on the hook - it would be Host or Host's publisher (dependent on contract).

The way it works in the software / digital marketplace is this:

1 Grab X thousand cloned CCs 2 Buy Y thousand digital 'keys' / unique IDs to product 3 Put them on grey market sites for cheap 4 Customers buy them with grey market site taking a %cut + huge "at buyer beware" disclaimers 5 Bad guys now leg it with 100% legal, washed, genuine CC cash 6 Customers use said keys / IDs to unlock product on digital retailers' sites / platforms 7 Actual owners of CCs spot illegal payment, complain to CC company who then cancel transaction and wash their hands of it all 8 Digital Retailers demand payment from someone, that someone usually being the publisher / owner of original product

It's a very well known scam and is crippling the Independent Game industry (who usually cannot afford the insurance that the big fish can, nor can they afford to eat the cost).


(Step #9, which you might expect: Digital Platform cancels illegally bought keys / IDs has happened, exactly twice. The massive consumer backlash / fury / PR disaster / loss of sales that resulted means it only happens when the fraud is so noticeably huge that it would destroy the Platform. It's not worth it to the Digital Platforms to go after the consumers).

10% - this is the Piracy number that shows a functioning digital marketplace (related, but did some work on this a while back[1]) and is a lot better than Black CC markets feeding into Grey markets.

Independent Game devs actually prefer pirates than Grey Market key / ID sales as, well: they don't actually lose real money, only potential money. One lone developer was recently hit with more than $65,000 recently if you want a snifter at the scale of the thing.

[1] Hint: "told you so". MPAA, Disney etc are all total tools / idiots.


How would it be the publisher on the hook in the fraudulent case (which is the only one that matters here - there are long-established rules for dealing with the simple error case, where the publisher could end up on the hook depending on their relationship with the merchant)?

In the fraudulent case, I offer pre-orders of (say) Charles Stross books. I have zero relationship with OGH or his publishers, and, indeed, no actual intention to ship anything at all. I collect money from the hopeful, then vanish. Note that unlike the case you describe, no keys have been issued. The card companies move to cancel the transaction, but I've already vanished with the money, so they can't get the money back from me; there's no real product involved (I lied when I put the pre-orders up), so the publisher is out nothing. Instead, the card company is on the hook for the refund, as the dodgy merchant vanished.

You've described a different fraud, where the merchant is genuine, but it's stolen card details in use to order product.



A) You don't actually "own" ebooks in the traditional sense; look this up. Given that AMZN have just bought WholeFoods and are moving into the physical retail space (just at the moment malls die across America, noticed that? You should have)

B) You purchase a unique ID license rather than a book

you can also add in

C) You cannot (well, two years ago) 'give away' ebooks - even authors wanting to send free copies have to buy for self (70% royalties, or at least it was). This is a feature, not a bug.

So, you're not buying X,000 physical tomes. You're buying (from Amazon or where-ever) X,000 unique IDs that get put into their system. While that might mean the picker (soon to be Robot[tm]) picks you out a physical object, it could as well be a decryption key.

This is the Future[tm].


Better analogy: the case you're describing simply doesn't function in the digital retail space (well, it kinda does, it's called "Early Access" or "Kickstarter").

Think of it as Trading Futures: you're not buying X, you're buying the option on the potential License / ID for X. If X ever exists, it's yours.

The days of fraudulent middle-men in the net age is diminishing, largely due to Big Data + Supply Chain management coming together.


You'd think I'd have learnt by now from the likes of Robert Jordan to not buy books until the series in question has been completed.


Really looking forward to this one - if it keeps going the way the first one did...

(Side note: I'm about three books behind on the Laundry now. I want to get back into it, but suffice to say that my mental state has not been conducive to reading such material, for a number of reasons. A pity - I really was enjoying it, but so it goes...)


@Pigeon I personally got rather frustrated by Miriam, because she made the same mistakes over and over. Faced with a society very different to her own, she didn't stop to analyse before acting. In particular, in a society where she knows most people are out for themselves and there are spies everywhere, and most importantly where people have actively tried to kill her several times, she never really checks who she can trust. That simply never seemed credible - some parts of the story set her up as a brilliant planner, whilst other times she's dumber than Princess Peach saying "bet you can't catch me" to Bowser.


Is there a Stross upcoming books tracker somewhere. With graphical display of time to purchase? I can't keep up.

It's dead easy: two books a year (for now). In January, an Empire Games trilogy installment. In July, either a Laundry Files novel, or Something Else (space opera, near-future SF, something I haven't thought of yet, etc).

This will possibly change in a couple of years' time as age and the changing publishing climate take their toll on my brain. Writing two books a year that aren't formulaic is hard work. I might well cut back to one book a year ... but 2-3 novellas on top, so there'll be slightly fewer words but somewhat more releases.


The fraud you're proposing Can't Happen with ebooks (at least, not from the Kindle or iBooks stores). The products are locked by DRM keyed to a specific customer account associated with a credit card. Amazon (and Apple) are effectively "the publisher" in the transaction. You can't use a dodgy credit card to buy the ebook and do anything useful with it because the first step in the purchase process is to create a valid Amazon or Apple ID customer account and the credit card is authenticated at that time; if you use a stolen card, then any content you buy is locked to that account and when the card is cancelled the account is going to be nailed shut by the vendor's fraud division.

It is possible to set up a dodgy ebook download site and charge credit cards for access to ebooks you don't have; but it's commoner for the warez sites to offer up crappy PDFs or non-DRM copies of DRM-cracked ebooks, at a discount. Publisher legal departments play whack-a-mole with these folks on an ongoing basis; if you buy from them, you're getting the product you paid for (usually — assuming it's not a malware site or a total scam) but I probably don't get a bent penny. That's all.


It's a self-contained trilogy in the same universe. Book 2 (Dark State) ... I'm checking the copy edits now. Book 3 is written in first draft: it needs some tweaking later this year but should be substantially finalized by next February and on its way to publication in January 2019.


In the first series, Miriam has bags of agency (room to maneuver) but lacks awareness of cultures other than her own; she's not exactly blind, but overlooks nuance until it comes back to bite her on the arse, very hard indeed. This happens to her in two cultural contexts: with the Clan, and with the New British Empire. (She doesn't easily learn to think like a mediaeval lord, or a mercantilist living under an absolute despot: these are both profoundly alien ways of thinking to a late 20th century WEIRD American tech-head.)

In the new series ... Rita has far less agency (she's been drafted as a low-level functionary by an agency of a ruthless surveillance state that is keeping her in a carefully monitored environment), but she's used to living as an outsider in a culture that she finds profoundly alienating, and is a bit less susceptible to taking things for granted. (Except for her personal blind spot, i.e. Miriam.)


"I hope Rita gets a bit more chance to be active in this instalment. Miriam, finding herself suddenly landed with the part of major player in previously-unsuspected intrigue, kicked. Rita, in similar case, doesn't even seem to think kicking. "

Miriam is a creature of the 1980's and 90's.

Rita is a creature of post-9/11, post-nuking of DC. She's lived in something far closer to a right-wing wet dream. She's also non-white.



Trying to skirt around the actual fraud that's possible here so to not, you know, flag up SFO.Gov.Uk.

Give the Kindle books they want, delivered when you want. Kindle books can be given and received by anyone with an e-mail address.

The process is similar, just different. i.e. you gift (that's kinda why I mentioned it) to an email then share / divide from that point on. It's just a variant of the grey market scam I outlined. Botting X thousand CCs + unique accounts + gifts takes.. hmm. 45 mins?

And, bottom line: neither AMZN nor Apple are willing to burn this venue, since, you know, that entire "buy gift for other people" would have to be regulated then, tax tax blah Irish Dutch double DP sandwich etc.

Gatekeepers gonna Gatekeep, but it's really not all that hard to :cheese: it.


Zeek VC funded startup Gift Card Granny website

And so on.

Waves hand

Anyhow, it's mostly small time crooks who do this ($65,000, while being a personal disaster is nothing in the scale of things).


I really can just outline the blatant ways to do this, but hey. Gatekeepers gotta keep dat PR Hedge-Fund-Line active, no?



Spoiler: you can gift across Regional Boundaries. Same deal for Grey Markets. Arbitrage.

That's how leverage / "that technical term I won't use 'cause it triggers all the spiders" works.

Oh, and freebie: which is Linköping University in Sweden, their IDA department is hosting your books in entirety for free.

Accelerando is one:

Mentioned because fuck that PDF layout. Seriously not cool.


Oh, I'm aware of that. Trouble is, I bought the first book shortly after it came out, and then got antsy because the second wasn't available yet.

First world problems, and I'm most definitely not bitching about the author - I should have known better than to buy the first book in a trilogy before the other two were available; it's all on me. It's purely a case of instant gratification taking too long. :)


'car pound' —> 'impound [lot]', pron 'IMpound'

'parked up' —> 'parked'

'suburb of Cambridge' Cambridge has no suburbs, as it is a suburb. I am at this moment in a suburb bordering Cambridge, half a block from Belmont (and Belmont Street)…where there is not a sub shop in this time-line, but high-priced Armenian and pizza places, though I think there's one about 1km up the road.

Rita may have needed all her trade-craft if that grave is in Mt Auburn Cemetery, a fine example of a late 19th Century necropolis and hard to get into, very beautiful—my wife's allotment near it exists by its management's sufferance.


Most of the pizza places also do subs, though. And given general restaurant turnover, we're only one universe away from Michael's Pizza (and subs) being Michael's Subs (and pizza).

But what do I know, I like Tresca's.


Oh, I see where you're going. Set up a fake publisher, use fake/stolen CCs to gift ebooks to random amazon accounts/emails, then pocket the money and run, leaving amazon on the hook.

Won't work. Amazon have been wising up to publisher-fraud by way of Kindle Unlimited for years now. (KU distributes a fixed pot of money to authors based on how many "loans" they get/how many pages each reader reads from the loaned book/some other algorithm. Scammers zeroed in on it from day one, figuring to make a killing: I suspect Amazon deliberately used it as a lab for figuring out how to ablate supplier fraud because it instantly got them a few hundred thousand very small scale suppliers, not all of them squeaky-clean.) To publish via Amazon you first need an Amazon account with a CC or bank account on file, in order to receive payments. Doesn't matter whether you're a self-publishing author or a Big Five organization. And Amazon doesn't fork over the money immediately: they withold it for some period in case of fraud. (IIRC they initially handed over KU revenue monthly, then got burned by scammers and backed off to 90 days or something. Note: I don't publish via KU myself.)

The practice of withholding of royalties for n accounting periods against returns/chargebacks/damage has been part of how publishers do biz in the world of paper since well before the internet existed. Used to be the publishers who did it, but by taking on the role of providing a publishing platform Amazon now do it (and my own publishers don't get to do that any more: once they get the money from the ebook vendor, the royalties go to the author in the next billing cycle.)

It's probably more profitable to use a "DRM free cheap ebooks" web store (or the game/TV/Movie equivalent) to harvest credit cards from the gullible public, who're willing to buy a product at an 80% discount without blinking. Gets you a small revenue stream and a much larger stream of authenticated credit card credentials for accounts owned by idiots.


To clarify: trade books — dead tree ones that are shipped to bookstores, usually cloth bound (but large format paperbacks are included) — are sold on credit: the retailer must either return them undamaged to the warehouse or pay the full wholesale price for them after some period (usually 90 or 120 days).

Thus, a bundle of books go to a bookstore; some months later, payment for some of them, and a crate containing the rest of them, shows up back with the publisher's (accounts receivable department and warehouse respectively).

Obviously it's a whole lot harder to set up a bricks-and-mortar bookstore just to bilk publishers out of stock on credit than it is to set up an ebook storefront, so it didn't happen often enough to be a problem. But on the accounts payable side? The publishers contracted with the authors to disburse royalties usually two accounting periods (180 or 240 days) after the books were shipped, so as not to be liable for royalties on books that had gone out to booksellers but which would be returned unsold.

Amazon just continues the practice, more or less invisibly and behind the scenes (and in this relationship, the "author" is either the self-pub author or the publishing house). "Publisher" sells a bunch of ebooks as gifts to random customers, using stolen credit cards? Sure: but Amazon doesn't release the funds until a reasonable time period has passed to confirm whether or not the cards were bogus. If the cards were stolen, chargeback whackiness ensues ... but the scammer doesn't get paid either.


Hmm, yes. It'd be interesting to see how the big boys (AMZN etc) are dealing with it all (cue Shadowrun music).

Thinking more along these lines though (in a general, future sense rather than current practices in your field):

However, as it turns out, that anonymity goes out of the window when you pull out a computer to sell those gift cards online. In a recent scheme described in a previously unreported federal court case, some person or persons based in Florida bought 45,000 gift cards for Walmart and other stores with stolen card info and then sold them on gift card exchange site The gift cards' face value ranged from $2 to $2,000 each and were sold for a total of $9 million on Raise.

The Idiot's Guide To Laundering $9 Million Forbes, Jan 11th, 2017

Zeek is the much smaller Israeli version of Raise (about 10% of the series B funding) but mentioned because it was targeting UK markets rather than US ones.

Gift cards are already the 'go-to' for non-teched up scammers (notably Apple pre-paid etc) and small time drug dealers etc. While you can invalidate via unique code, you're left with the same issues: high / fast turnover, anonymous and so on, customers can be 'greyly' innocent.

It's an interesting one, where digital currencies (Square etc) and crypto-currencies hit the physical (notably Ethereum's Market Cap Looks to Overtake Bitcoin's Investopedia, 20th June, 2017 - major bit of tinkering going on there btw; looks like BitCoin is getting ditched for a more 'manageable' solution, and of course it's put a massive premium on AMD GPUs etc. Whose share price / corporate strategy recently has been, let us say, interesting for not behaving as the market thought it should. Lot of burnt small time traders in that pie).

Posit when AMZNGOOG (or whoever - Apple pre-paid) become de facto currencies (when your local currency just got burnt down by Wall St. for the fifth time) akin to Blue Jeans in Russia.

Hmm. Mental picture of people hoarding not gold, but pre-paid cards


Quite relieved I'm not a criminal mastermind ;)


Oh, and Book / Reality tie-in time (!always be marketing!):

Former NSA agents, secrecy members on product teams, and a screening apparatus bigger than the TSA.

The stolen parts often end up in Huaqiangbei, one of the biggest electronics markets in the world, located in Shenzhen, Southern China. This market employs about a half million people and does about $20 billion a year in revenue, Rice says. One “particularly painful year” was 2013, when Apple had to buy back about 19,000 enclosures before the iPhone 5C announcement, he recalls, and then an additional 11,000 before the phones were shipped to customers. “So we're buying as fast as we possibly can to try to keep it out of every blog on Earth,” Rice says...

Other tech companies have begun to follow Apple’s lead on instilling a culture of secrecy. According to a 2016 report from Business Insider, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel has a portrait of Steve Jobs hanging in his office, and the company has cultivated an obsession with leaks similar to Apple’s. Facebook is currently hiring a “Global Threat Investigations Manager,” and Google is facing a lawsuit in San Francisco alleging that the company operates an internal “spying program.”

Leaked recording: Inside Apple’s global war on leakers The Outline, 20th June, 2017

(The Outline is an interesting one: very diverse staffing, and it appears (!) to be Pakistan backed: Independent Media Corp, only it's not: The Verge Co-Founder Josh Topolsky Is Raising Money to Launch a Media Startup Recode, Jan 2016. Hmm: Engadge, Verge, Vox, Bloomberg, Outline... and willing to get into fisticuffs with Apple / Google etc. Now there's a story within a story).


The imaging-with-WiFI drones are also being worked on.


SPOILERS for entire MP series:

Old Brain: not remembering details from first three books so well.

How big a rat is Col. Smith?

Was he part of (or at least knowledgeable about) the team that sent the ARMBAND'ed FADM to the Gruinmarkt. My memory suggests that he was.

In Empire Games it appears that the knowledge that the US nuked the Clan first seems to be very closely held, if known at all to the DHS, since most of the instigators got blowed up themselves.

Thanks to all on this board for the immense amounts of entertainment and thought provoking commentary.


To continue my post:

More to the point, it would seem to me that if DHS or it's political masters (like the Pres or Dr. Scranton) lack the critical institutional knowledge that the US nuked the Clan first, they might have an even worse lack of insight into the folks they are dealing with in timeline 3 than is evident so far.

Bad enough for them to think that the Clan in its old form might be in control there.


Just got an AMZN note saying "Delirium Brief" up real soon now. If "Forbidden" don't have a copy, I'll get one from $Big_River .....


In the first series, Colonel Smith was a subordinate for a much nastier guy. In this series, he works for a much more reality-oriented executive branch that is aware they're facing off against a new rival who have probably got nuclear second strike capability against CONUS.

You don't deal with narcoterrorists — or with an extradimensional mediaeval kingdom — the same way you deal with a paratime nuclear superpower.

Smith is very smart but an uncritical American patriot, and doesn't tend to question his orders unless he thinks they risk damaging his own country. Which is problematic insofar as his definition of the entity to which he pledges allegiance is inadequately defined. (There's a passage later on in DARK STATE where Smith and Paulette are bickering about one another's motivations. Ask yourself who you think more highly of.)


There shouldn't be any availability problems for DELIRIUM BRIEF in the UK because the series is solid with Orbit and they're not messing around with the binding/format at the last minute (I have a single early hardcover copy so far; my crate of author copies should be turning up next week).


Meanwhile, Mike Pence was just in town to help Focus on the Family celebrate their 40th anniversary. If there was a side trip down the road to New Life Church, I could almost be tempted to worry about him leading a Summoning to open the Gate and awaken the Sleeper. And now I'm really trying not to think about what sort of parasites he's infested with.


And now I'm really trying not to think about what sort of parasites he's infested with.

Apparently something that gets uncomfortable and squirmy when exposed to 'teh wimminz.'


I can't imagine waiting for all three books - what if something happened to Charlie? I immediately bought Empire Games last January, and read it avidly.

I was thrilled yesterday to get a promo from Amazon for Deep State - nice to know that it's not vaporware (vaporpaper?).



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on June 13, 2017 7:08 PM.

Catching Up was the previous entry in this blog.

Crying fire in a crowded theatre for pleasure and profit is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog