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We get reviews (contd.)

Dark State

I have a new book coming out in less than eight weeks' time.

Which means the reviews are beginning to show up, starting with the trade publications bookstores and librarians read to see what's coming and what to stock.

Here's what Kirkus Reviews had to say about "Dark State" in their starred review:

This sequel to Empire Games (2017), set in the same world as Stross' Merchant Princes series, plunges us deep into a nightmarish clash of arms, politics, and wills between near-future governments in alternate timelines. In timeline No. 2, which chillingly resembles our own, the United States has morphed into a full-blown police state in which surveillance is universal and inescapable and the paranoid powers that be are willing to use, and have used, nuclear weapons to achieve their aims. Timeline No. 3 presents a bizarre fun-house-mirror world in which the U.S. never existed; instead, a corrupt, despotic British empire persisted until its recent overthrow by the revolutionary, democratic New American Commonwealth. The U.S. desperately wants to learn what's happening in this less technologically advanced but nuclear-armed timeline, so the Department of Homeland Security's Col. Smith coerces people, called world-walkers, who possess the ability to cross between timelines, into becoming spies. Critically, recruit Rita Douglas happens to be the estranged daughter of Commonwealth biggie Miriam Burgeson, herself a refugee from the radioactive wasteland of timeline No. 1 and now guiding the rapid development of the Commonwealth with technology purloined from the U.S. The Commonwealth faces challenges from counterrevolutionaries and the huge, powerful French empire, while the U.S., terrified of nuclear weapons in any hands but its own, probes yet another timeline where the hostile remnants of a still more advanced civilization lurk.

Tension crackles from every page as readers grapple with the horrifying sociological and political implications, the looming threat of another intratime nuclear war, and the fates of individual characters embroiled in disturbing intrigues. Even the fact that every scenario ends in a cliffhanger isn't too annoying given the enormous care and skill Stross expends on getting the details right and rendering meticulous accounts of complex, intersecting events. Not to mention the real-world implications.

Sheer brilliance: when Stross is in this mood, nobody else comes close.

(Mind you, this is the middle book of a trilogy. Middle books are always weak—it's a tradition or an old charter or something—and Kirkus' reviewers are famously curmudgeonly. So I'm inordinately proud of this review.)

Anyway, if this captures your interest you can preorder the book via these links:

[US Hardcover] [UK Trade paperback] [US Kindle ebook] [UK Kindle ebook]

Footnote on ordering: if you're in the UK and want a US hardcover, you are allowed to buy one from a US bookstore and have it shipped. Vice versa if you're in the USA and for some reason want an expensive trade paperback instead. It will be out in a small format paperback in the UK in late 2018: no word on whether there'll be a small format paperback in the USA. The ebook price will reduce when the small format book shows up, as is usual these days, but I'd rather you bought it now—I get paid more.



In other news: I finished the first draft of "The Labyrinth Index" so normal blogging activity will resume shortly ... only I came down with a chest infection this week, so may be a bit sluggish at first.


Looking forward to diving back into the world, particularly the Commonwealth. Having re-read Empire Games recently I can’t help but have caught a bit of the Stross bug/curse where on-paper dangerous societies seem attractive compared to the real world.

Would much rather have revolutionary democracy as the economic bedrock of society over the mutant offspring of nationalism and neoliberalism. Even with the persistent threat of nuclear war.


For what it's worth, my spouse (occasionally employed by PW as a reviewer) says that is an amazing review.


That is a lovely review. Looking forward to the release so I can dig into it.


For some reason, the US and UK e-book editions are both available for preorder here at exactly the same price. Which choice would be more helpful to you?


I'm looking forward to learning more about the dimension-hopping, too.

The world(s) intrigues me also as a roleplaying setting, but I have enough campaign ideas already and not too much time and energy to play them...


I've just bought the series up to Empire Games on the UK's branch of the Big River.

RPG-wise I'd be inclined to see how well the setting matched up with the Luther Arkwright game. Or, for that matter, the Arkwright backstory. However I have much reading to do first.


Take care of yourself, Charlie - lots of bed rest until you see off this chest infection.

I'm really looking forward to DS. I'm counting the days.


Any chance of spending a fortnight (or even a week) somewhere sunnier this winter?


Looking forward to it. As I think was previously suggested on Twitter; I assume that last line in the review will show up on future dustjackets?

(And thanks for the answer in the last post.)


Ha ha nope.

Assuming all goes to plan I'll be in Leipzig to deliver a talk at Chaos Communication Congress between Boxing Day and Hogmanay, but that's not exactly sunny.


Yep. I've had starred reviews in Kirkus and PW in the past, but this one is something special. (Kirkus always find something downbeat to say about a book. Always. Except this one.)


Signed copies in future? London signing, maybe? ( Beg, grovel, creep, crawl, etc ... )


Signed copies from the usual bookstores (I'll do a blog entry in December/January).

I haven't visited London this year so far. It's not impossible I'll visit London in 2018, but it's not currently planned.


I had a really fun idea for an RPG back in the early 80's: you get to buy anything you, personally, can afford, and come with me into my basement (that was a nice basement I had), and you get into my Machine, and get to visit a parallel world. One thing: if I set it in one direction, science, or at least the fundamental forces, get stronger. Watch out with that gun, it might blow up. But then, magick starts becoming usable. In the other, the forces get weaker, and you get a lot less bang for your buck. You'll note that you can't go too far in either direction, or life becomes impossible....

Part of the idea, though, was realism: you're wearing armor? How fast can you run in it....


Um, er, yes. In the US, the State Dept, and other agencies, are being hollowed out... except for Homeland Insecurity, military, and police. And, well, I saw a headline in the WaPo this morning, to the effect of "a year ago, Trump called for unity; now we know what he meant", and my instant reaction was, "Yes, Fearless Leader, you are the Greatest Fearless Leader that has ever been...."

Hmmm, Charlie, I didn't notice that your timeline#2, if there was a cult of personality there, too.

And then, as I type this, a Thought struck me (ouch!): the post above, where I mentioned how the parallels change? From the chapter in the Other, Other paralell, do I notice something similar, with the fundamental forces changing value?


Yeah, it's a fun idea and I've heard of such games before. I haven't myself run them, though. Also, the venerable Manual of the Planes for AD&D has a chapter for just that: there are three parameters which can vary what a certain Prime Material plane is like and you could do nice dimension-hopping games with that. In AD&D the Planescape campaign is all about plane-hopping, but it's decidedly different from the book series we're supposed to be talking about.

I'll drop the RPG stuff until later in the thread now.


As for a personality-cult figure in T2, having such a figure would have strained the boundaries of plausibility too far. No author would expect a reasonable readership to buy so unlikely a character as Trump.


I wonder how much we'll get to see of the world beyond the United States in Timeline 2. After all, they'd be affected too if the US and the Commonwealth bathe each other in Oppenheimer's light...


You're coming to 34C3? Hooray! If you want, you can have a small loyal posse following you. :-)


"Oppenheimers Light" would be a great name for a band or a doomsday cult.


I hope you print this out and place it somewhere discreet in your workspace. I was just thinking of your post from a while back when you sounded a bit run down, "learning to kick back against the little voice in my ear whispering "you're an old has-been" and "you're past it" and "your best work is behind you: you're coasting on fumes now" and say "fuck you, I'm going to prove you wrong..."

This review should make that process a bit easier:)


Especially after the mostly positive - followed by knife-dig review they gave Empire Games.


If you happen to pick up an old Heinlein juvenile, you're likely to see the reviews that Virginia Kirkus wrote herself. Crackling tension is all very well and good, Charlie, but "lift and zip" were what Virginia Kirkus was looking for in an SF novel! ;-)

From a Kirkus review on back of a very old paperback of Heinlein's Space Cadet: "A writer well-known in the 'astounding story' field, and author of last year's Space Ship, projects us into the year 2075 with all the lift and zip of which he is capable ... "

I wonder if she misremembered the title of Rocket Ship Galileo as Space Ship?


I've no idea if this'll get you extra commission, but your (affiliate, I assume) link also works after doing s/, which's what I then used to order my copy.


I'd never heard of Kirkus reviews, what an excellent discovery. Having just painfully ground my way through a couple of Todd McCaffreys rather dire Pern books, the Kirkus reviews were an entertaining read.


Which leads me to wonder: just how democratic is the Commonwealth of Timeline 3? Miriam doesn't seem to be worrying about re-election, but she is deeply concerned with avoiding the attention of her own security forces. Granted the Timeline 3 French and Timeline 2 Americans are bigger threats, but presumably somewhere there is a loyal opposition. Or is anyone opposed to the government simply deemed an enemy agent?

Perhaps we find out more in this book. I'm looking forwards to it.


just how democratic is the Commonwealth of Timeline 3?

How "democratic" is the UK of 1910 compared to the USA of 1950 or the Islamic Republic of Iran of 2000?

Serious question. All these examples are notionally democratic, but disenfranchise certain sections: no votes for women (UK in 1910), African-Americans theoretically allowed to vote but in practice disenfranchised in many states (USA in 1950), universal franchise but candidates pre-filtered for compatibility with Islamic constitutional framework (Iran 2000).

And that's before we get into the late USSR (voting was a legal obligation, even if there was only one party) or today's USA (see gerrymandering).

TLDR is that the Commonwealth is doing at least as well as circa-2000 Iran, and probably better, but a chunk of the constitutional framework is effectively reserved for the Radical Party, which isn't a "party" in our sense of the word, but a Deep State like the Iranian religious academy that happens to run military and ministerial organizations. Lawmakers? You can elect anyone you want, as long as they're not a monarchist or a totalitarian or an "enemy of democracy" (as defined by a shadowy constitutional court that is theoretically about defending democracy but which is slowly experiencing mission drift as the revolution recedes into the past).


And that's just about the franchise and exclusion of candidates, but there's a lot more to democracy than that. A relevant question here is how democratic is the UK of today compared with that of 1957, and that's moot.


The UK of 1957 was arguably less democratic than today since most constituencies only had Labour or Conservative candidates . But you could also argue that it was more democratic in that the first past the post electoral system works best with only two parties.


And it was arguably much more democratic because (a) the 'information' on which the electorate decided wasn't dominated by a very small number of (in the largest case, foreign) oligarchs and (b) because local elections weren't dominated by the national parties. Democracy is not JUST about voting.


Though it is remarkable how little difference there is between commentary about newspapers from 50 or 100 or 150 years ago by writers/ex-journalists of the time, and the complaints we have about them today. One particular example that springs to mind is that of George Orwell's various remarks to the effect that nobody who hadn't actually been involved was in a position to know anything about what really happened in the Spanish Civil War, because all the newspapers were reporting the same twisted propaganda bollocks.

just how democratic is the Commonwealth of Timeline 3?

How "democratic" is the UK of 1910 compared to the USA of 1950 or the Islamic Republic of Iran of 2000?

The latter three have demonstrated their ability to perform the key function of "peaceful transfer of power." The first hasn't, and at the moment its chances don't look good.


Interesting thoughts... which leads me on. In the UK, you've got federally-funded media that really controls access, and so all candidates get equal time (yes, I'm not talking about Murdoc's crap, etc). Perhaps what we need in the US is something like what the League of Women Voters guides, except run by the federal gov't, all can put in their own statements, and it gets sent to ALL REGISTERED VOTERS, AND has the same info online, and on public TV. It would probably get too much counterattack to require all news media register as such... and then make them publish/broadcast the same.


That is a large part of my point. In 1957, there were a good many, independent and British, newspapers, and television and radio were required to be impartial. While the BBC is still trusted, people get their emotional brainwashing from the dominating Murdoch crap and very similar crap owned by a 'non-dom'.


Five weeks from tomorrow!

I'll reread Empire Games a few days before DS comes out.


Too soon to ask when book 3 is due?


If "middle books are always weak," it sounds like you've just pulled an "Empire Strikes Back" out of the hat then?


Book 3 is due out in January 2019.

(I need to rewrite the second half of it before handing it in; that's due in February, and it will definitely be late, because I'm still working on the book before that.)



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 22, 2017 10:13 AM.

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