You couldn't make this stuff up (unless you're Tom Sharpe, maybe).
Charlie Stross: June 2006 Archives
I'm in Leeds, visiting relatives, so blogging will be light for a few days. Meanwhile, I'm mentioned tangentially in this article in the Guardian, by Wendy Grossman, on the subject of trusted computing, Vernor Vinge's "Rainbows End", and the panopticon singularity.
I'm very pleased to announce that my latest SF novel, "Glasshouse", is out now in hardcover from Ace. (Orbit aren't publishing a UK hardcover — if you want a British edition you'll need to wait until next March when it comes out in paperback.) You can order it from Amazon.com or find it in bookstores — Amazon won't ship it until Friday, but most shops will already have it on the shelves.
Publishers Weekly said:
The censorship wars -- during which the Curious Yellow virus devastated the network of wormhole gates connecting humanity across the cosmos -- are finally over at the start of Hugo-winner Stross's brilliant new novel, set in the same far-future universe as 2005's Accelerando. Robin is one of millions who have had a mind wipe, to forget wartime memories that are too painful -- or too dangerously inconvenient for someone else. To evade the enemies who don't think his mind wipe was enough, Robin volunteers to live in the experimental Glasshouse, a former prison for deranged war criminals that will recreate Earth's "dark ages" (c. 1950-2040). Entering the community as a female, Robin is initially appalled by life as a suburban housewife, then he realizes the other participants are all either retired spies or soldiers. Worse yet, fragments of old memories return -- extremely dangerous in the Glasshouse, where the experimenters' intentions are as murky as Robin's grasp of his own identity. With nods to Kafka, James Tiptree and others, Stross's wry SF thriller satisfies on all levels, with memorable characters and enough brain-twisting extrapolation for five novels.
As if that's not enough, Kirkus Reviews had this to say in their starred review:
A perfectly tuned combination of gravitas and glee (the literary/cultural references are a blast). Stross's enthralling blend of action, extrapolation and analysis delivers surprise after surprise.
And here's what SFreviews.net said:
This Glasshouse isn't just glass. It's a prism that Charles Stross uses to split his storytelling into all of its component narrative colors — suspense, action, satire. It may be his best book yet. It's his most consistently suspenseful, and his funniest. It's got the trenchant humor of The Family Trade gene-spliced to the thrillaminute pacing of Iron Sunrise. It's set far into the same future as his wildly praised (except by yours truly) Accelerando. But whereas Accelerando seemed to strip-mine its future of humanity, and came across to me as cold and uninviting, Glasshouse presents its posthuman "network civilizations" as a never-ending Willy Wonka factory of phantasmagorical technowonders, as frightening as it is exhilarating.
Go on, buy the book so I don't have to sell my kidneys for a living. Please?
... That the World Transhumanist Association have decided to award me the 2006 H.G. Wells award for Outstanding Contributions to Transhumanism.
(I'm still not entirely sure why — my contributions are of a purely fictional nature — but I'm pleased as punch; I just regret that I can't be in Helsinki this August to receive the award in person at TransVision 2006.)
The definition of a real Virtual Reality environment is one where somebody can hold a coup d'etat in it and make it stick in the real world.
I don't normally blog translations here, but I thought this was particularly noteworthy.
(Incidentally, if you've been wondering about the business side of publishing, it's worth noting that this is a book I wrote in 1995-98, that went on sale in a US hardcover edition in 2003, and it's still coming out for the first time in other countries and languages.)
In the week since I switched this new blogging system on, I've had more than fifty trackback spams ... and no genuine trackbacks at all. So I'm switching trackbacks off completely. (I'll review this decision in a few weeks time, but right now I don't see why I should enable a feature which seems to only be used by spammers. Even though the built-in spam filtering caught all of them, I can't be arsed riding herd on it.)
Interestingly, there have been no attempts at comment spamming — or none that have got through the various spam detector plugins I've installed.
Meanwhile, my email continues to attract 300-500 spams per day, and a total of 2-3000 per day for all ten or so users on my server.
You've boggled at Realdoll (yes, who would pay US $15,000 for what is basically a masturbation aid?) but the internet, that wonderful tool for bringing us into contact with things that make us wish we could scrub our brains out with dental floss, isn't through yet: these people will happily sell you an artificial corpse:
Each corpse is Hand-Made to your specifications. The Corpses For Sale page contains the variations that you can choose to make your corpse unique from all others. You can choose the Hair Color, Skin Color and the approximate Degree Of Decay. If you have any special request please E-mail me or note them on the order form and I will see that they are incorporated in the construction or notify you if it is not possible.(I notice that the options on the "order your corpse" page do not include "orifices — firm or squishy" so we're safe from necrophiliacs for the time being.)
Meanwhile, on a more serious note, The Observer says that up to 55% of death certificates filed in the UK are inaccurate or incomplete.
1. Smartphones are not yet there as word-processing platforms. Tantalizingly close, but no banana.
2. Writing a novel in the second person present tense is surprisingly easy. Ditto reading it, after the first ten minutes of extreme cognitive dissonance. What you do end up with is the same set of tiresome headaches you get with omniscient third-person — only more so.
3. Because it's an "intrusive" voice, you don't want to put words into your protagonist's heads that are likely to dump the reader out of their willingness to imagine themselves thinking those thoughts. So there's a tendency to leave the interiorization out altogether, or to paint it using delicate watercolour tints rather than vibrant saturated oils.
4. If your characters are looking over here there's no way to sketch in significant details over there.
5. The near future is frustratingly like the present, only different. I'm surrounded by electronics and media today that would have been bizarre and exotic back in 1986, never mind 1976 — but I'm still basically sitting in an office chair at a desk, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, typing away with some rock'n'roll on the stereo. Difference from 1996: there's a download going, the progress bar is ticking away tens of megabytes instead of tens of kilobytes, and the music's playing via streaming MP3s rather than CDs. Difference from 1996: back then, the word processor had a green screen and a 10Mb hard disk, and the music was playing on cassette tape. But the organizing parameters were the same — this is a writer in his study writing. How do you signal that the story is set ten years in the future, without succumbing to spurious futurism?
6. History inserts itself into our lives, seamlessly. When did you last get through a day without hearing some kind of off-hand reference to 9/11 or the Iraq war? Kids these days are learning about Margaret Thatcher in history lessons at school. In ten years time there'll be some other iceberg-like intrusion of History into the zeitgeist: the question is, what? (My money's on something energy or environment related, and big.)
7. Trying to get into the head of a 28-year-old British professional circa 2016 — the people this novel is about — is an interesting exercise, even though people of this generation are easy enough to track down right now: the trouble is, if I ask them questions now, I'm asking a bunch of 18 year olds. Whereas what I'm interested in is what they'll be thinking when they're 28 ...
You were one year old when the Cold War ended. You were thirteen when the war on terror broke out, and eighteen or nineteen when Tony Blair was forced to resign as Prime Minister. You graduated university owing £35,000 in student loans, at a time when the price of entry into the housing market in the UK was over £150,000 (about 4-5 times annual income; the typical age of first time buyers was 35 and rising by more than 12 months per year). Unless you picked the right career (and a high-earning one at that) you can't expect to ever own your own home unless your parents die and leave you one. On the other hand, you can reasonably expect to work until you're 70-75, because the pension system is a broken mess. The one ray of hope was that your health and life expectancy are superior to any previous generation — you can reasonably expect to live to over a hundred years, if you manage to avoid succumbing to diseases of affluence.
For comparison, when I graduated university in 1986, I had no student loans, first homes cost £30,000— or about 2-2.5 times annual income — and the retirement age was 60-65. So it should be no surprise if the generation of 1988 has very different expectations of their future life from the generation of 1964.
8. Agatha Christie once said, "when I was young I never expected to be so poor that I couldn't afford a servant, or so rich that I could afford a motor car." Yet these were the prevailing parameters from 1945 to the present. I might equally well say that when I was eighteen I never expected to be so poor I couldn't afford a four bedroom house, or so rich that I could afford a computer. What terms of reference will these people use to define their relative affluence and poverty? Motor cars and domestic robots? (Too facile.) Children and immortality treatment? (Too crudely obvious.) Privacy and ubiquity? (Too abstract.)
To be continued ...
SFReviews have a review of Glasshouse.
(NB: it's arriving in bookstores this week, so if you feel the urge to read the bits he's carefully not describing, you can get your hands on it now.)
"I want you to know, darling, that I'm leaving you for another sex robot -- and she's twice the man you'll ever be," Laura explained as she flounced over to the front door, wafting an alluring aroma of mineral oil behind her ...
(That's from Trunk and Disorderly, coming soon to a store near you, via Asimov's Science Fiction magazine.)
I'm very pleased to announce the Accelerando has won the Locus Award for best science fiction novel of 2005. Details here.
Yes, I know the layout looks hinky right now. Bear with us, please ...
Why is Frank Zappa dead and Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon? Feel free to discuss.
It's a hot Saturday afternoon in Edinburgh — I'm not betting against an evening thunderstorm — and I've got a blog, so I'm going to ramble on.
One of the curses of writing for a living is that life doesn't stop while you're trying to wrestle a story into submission. In fact, I could probably work a regular 40 hour week as a writer without actually writing any fiction. Where does the time go?
First of all, I get email. If you write me a note and (a) you appear to expect a reply, (b) you don't scare me, and (c) it's not one of those days when I don't want to get out of bed, you can usually expect a response. But I don't get that much mail; unless I'm up for a major award (or worse, have just won one) it doesn't take more than half an hour to deal with it.
Then there's the business admin side of things. Being a full-time writer means being self-employed. There's keep track of expenses, doing the accounts, and the usual stuff that goes with running a one-man business. Also wrapped up in this: keeping all the computers going. There's the colocated server I lease, which runs this blog (and a whole bunch of other stuff including the email server and the spam filter that keeps the 500 spams a day I get from washing out the reader emails). There's the laptop I work on. There's my smartphone, and the old laptop I keep as an emergency spare in case the work machine dies on me (as it did last month ... and again, last week, albeit for less serious values of "died"). Unfortunately for me, I'm an inveterate tinkerer and I can't hide behind my own ignorance and leave tinkering with the computers to someone else. Some guys do DIY, others do gardening, and more do car stuff. I don't do any of that. I do computer stuff, and it's even more annoying because if I don't keep an eye on my time I can mistake it for paying working hours.
Next, there are those odd demands on my time that come from the business of writing but aren't strictly writing per se. When you sell a book, and deliver the manuscript to your editor, that's not the end of the job. I reckon that it takes me somewhere between 3 and 6 weeks of extra work before a novel I've delivered goes into print — time spent checking copy edits, poring over galley proofs, writing up outlines and marketing pitches for the editor to point at their sales staff where necessary, and (this bit goes first) writing the original proposal for the book that gets sent to the editor before they buy it. If you write more than one book a year, this peripheral activity mounts up. And if there's a scheduling crunch such that three books I wrote some time ago end up coming out in the same 12 month period, that's up to a third of the current productive year gone before I start writing. Note that this doesn't mean I'm writing three books a year — just that they end up coming out in the same year.
And then there's marketing and promotion.
If you're a midlist author (one with maybe five or more books in print, but not a best-seller: you make a living, but you're probably driving a ten year old banger unless your car is your main recreational expenditure) then your publisher probably allocates a marketing budget to your books consisting of five tulip bulbs and a coat button. That's an exaggeration, but not by much. They'll probably purchase a few targeted ads in some of the trade and enthusiast magazines (like Locus or Asimovs), and they'll send out review copies and talk to the book chains, but you're not getting any signing tours or stretch limos with buckets of champagne. You're not even getting dump bins in the chain stores. (Those are expensive.) If you want your books to do well, you need to promote them: not necessarily by getting out in public and hectoring people to buy them, but at the very least you need to practice being friendly and helpful to reviewers and members of the press, however obscure their publications are. Sometimes it's hard: if you tried to contact me this week I'd like to apologize for being a little short. (Excessively hot weather, computers breaking, and being behind schedule on a deadline job, combine to have that effect on me.)
Science fiction conventions and fandom are a whole other kettle of fish; I'll talk about them some other time. Suffice to say that they suck up about another month per year, if not more. While SF/F has this subculture and other genres don't, you can easily spend plenty of time rushing from one book festival to the next.
Anyway. In combination, these activities can turn into such a sucking vortex of administrative inactivity that you can be horribly busy and not realize that you're not actually doing anything productive — the stuff they pay you for. I had a patch like that from February through late April; four SF conventions (three of them overseas — in two cases, on other continents), the Clarke awards, copy edits on three novels, galley proofs to check on two. It's a miracle and a wonder I got anything written at all over that period, although I did manage to fit the back half of a novel in somewhere along the line.
Now I'm running late on the next book — due on my editor's desk on September 1st, Or Else — with the first draft about 40% complete. There is, in principle, enough time to do a competent job of finishing it. Things look a bit more fraught if you factor in two weeks against an unscheduled illness (this is not the kind of job where you can outsource the heavy lifting to a temping agency), and another three and a half weeks booked long in advance for a vacation (and an SF convention appearance) on another continent. I suspect I'm going to be taking the laptop on holiday and working in the hotel room, if I don't want to blow the deadline (with a knock-on effect on the two novels that are due in next year).
So: business as usual. Why am I wasting time blogging? Because ... it's not a waste of time. It's time spent getting myself into a working frame of mind, and it's time spent communicating with you, the reading public. Some folks read my blog because they liked the books, and some folks read my books because they liked the blog. Blogging is, in fact, a vital marketing tool for midlist writers these days (as other authors, like Neal Asher — a few entries down from here — have figured out). There is no longer any pretense at there being a fourth wall between the show that is the writer's life and the audience who read their work. I wouldn't go so far as to say that writing books has become a performance art, but it's getting close.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go write some more of "Halting State" ...
Today's thought: when is a law of writing not a law?
Anton Chekhov (paraphrased): if you put a gun on the mantlepiece in Act 1, it must be fired no later than the end of Act 3. (Of a three act play).
This is pretty much a rule to live by, at least when you're starting out writing fiction: if there are lots of dangling loose threads in your story, diverticulae that don't go anywhere, then you're wasting words and misleading your readers.
However. It's not a rule to be taken as an absolute requirement.
Consider the crime novel. Your classic murder-mystery-whodunnit is almost by definition a maze of dangling threads, for the detective's overt task is to navigate among them and determine which of them are actually connected to the crime.
But not every gun has to be fired to serve a purpose within a story. Sometimes just the fact that there is a gun on the mantlepiece conveys a message. And not all guns are guns: sometimes a gun is just a signifier. There's an example in my latest novel to see print, GLASSHOUSE — click below to see the gory spoiler.
Trying to get the CSS and spam filtering setup sorted out here, folks. If you can see this entry, though, it means the new blogging software is mostly alive and kicking.
Click this link for the old blog.
You can find Neal Asher's blog at theskinner.blogspot.com. Another SF author joins the blogging borg ...
For the past few years I've been running the blog on Rael Dornfest's blosxom. Blosxom is a lightweight efficient blogging engine written in perl. However ...
Blosxom is a good piece of software — lightweight, efficient, and flexible. But I must be getting old or something; maybe I'm just going stale at this programming shtick. It's implemented in such a way that I can't get my head around what it uses in place of comments and trackbacks. Plus, writing entries in hand-carved HTML is a pain. I'm sick and tired of QuickTopic, don't want to pay them $100/year just to get rid of ads and gain the ability to ban readers, and had a Movable Type license kicking around (for Feorag's Prattle).
So this is my first attempt at setting up my blog to run on Movable Type. I'm not going to port the old entries over — there are four year's worth, for starters! — but will preserve them in a static HTML tree once I cut over to using MT instead. Meanwhile, I hope to add a whole bunch of additional features (and start posting more regularly).