Charlie Stross: December 2007 Archives

Here's a brief list of my forthcoming publications in 2008. I'm only covering stuff coming out in the USA and the UK — keeping track of when translations are due out in different markets is hard work (especially as I'm now being translated into French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Czech, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Japanese).

The USA, first.

In January or early February, Ace should be publishing a trade paperback edition of "The Jennifer Morgue" (previously only available in hardcover from Golden Gryphon); around the same time, I'm expecting a mass market paperback of "The Atrocity Archives'" (although I don't have publication details yet).

Some time in August-October, Ace will be publishing my new SF novel, "Saturn's Children", in hardcover.

And some time in September-November, Tor will be publishing "The Merchants War" in paperback and Ace will be putting "Halting State" into mass-market paperback.

(There won't be a new Merchant Princes novel in 2008 — I'm behind schedule — but I'm currently working on "The Revolution Business" and "The Trade of Queens", and hopefully one or both of them will be published in 2009.)

And now for the UK.

Deep breath time: in early-to-mid January, Orbit will publish a very handsome trade paperback edition of "Halting State". (It's imminent; I've got my author copies to hand.)

This will be followed in March by Tor, publishing "The Hidden Family" as a mass market paperback.

In September or October, Orbit will be publishing "Saturn's Children" in hardcover, simultaneously with the Ace release. (From that point on, my US and UK SF publication schedules should be in synch again. I hope!) I expect they'll also put "Halting State" into mass market paperback covers around that time.

And in December, Tor will publish "The Clan Corporate" in paperback.

(Yes, you counted that right: I've got four novels coming out in the UK for the first time — although some of them date back to 2004 in US editions.)

For those of you who prefer to read ebooks, I hope to have some very good news in the first half of 2008 — but nothing is definite as yet, and I'm not going to tempt fate or editorial wrath by saying anything more at this point.

Let me start by saying that I'm not a Christian, nor — to the best of my knowledge — were any of my ancestors, and I don't believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or Lizzie Saxe-Coburg-GothaWindsor's ability to cure Scrofula with a touch. So this is just a theoretical exercise at best, or a daydream at worst. But since when has that stopped anyone?

Here's a list of ten things I want for Christmas, filtered for positives (this isn't an appropriate list for "I want the RIAA and MPAA to be investigated for racketeering, found guilty, and their executives imprisoned", however tempting that might be), and ranked in order of priority:

1) World Peace. (C'mon, it'd be churlish not to wish for an outbreak of world peace, however cynical one might be about its likelihood.) Alas, we've only had about four days since 1945 when there were no wars under way somewhere on the planet. The causes are numerous, but among the most obvious are fresh water rights (this was a huge aggravating factor in the first thirty years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and still isn't solved), energy, access to preferred agricultural land and mineral reserves, ideology, and religion (although I suspect the latter two are used as excuses as often as they're a primary cause of conflict). Total annual spending on matters military exceeds US $1Tn per annum, enough to fund roughly two and a half gold-plated NASA manned Mars programs per year, or to find some way of getting clean potable water to the 600M people who need it, or ...

2) There is a disease pandemic that affects all of us. Its onset is slow but progressive and it inevitably gets worse once it is established. Symptoms include skin damage and inelasticity, loss of muscle tone with consequent lethardy, neurological degradation, bone damage, and at a cytological level damage to chromosomes and errors in mitochondrial DNA transcription that appear to drastically increase susceptibility to cancer. In extreme cases, it kills, although victims frequently die of other causes first. It may well be an acquired zoonosis or an endogenous retrovirus, because it is more or less universal among mammals but members of some other classes of animal (such as reptiles and fish) don't show obvious signs of it. This disease is senescence, and it would make me very happy indeed if people stopped treating it as inevitable and started treating it as a pathological condition that needs curing. I am myself feeling the early onset signs (I'm in my forties) and having to watch the decay of elderly relatives, who I remember from their vigorous middle age, fills me with a sense of helpless anger. (In fact, I'm not sure abolishing senescence shouldn't be in the #1 place, ahead of world peace: at least we have a chance of avoiding war.)

3) I was originally going to put a cure for AIDS and Cancer in at this level — as a bumper-pack, I guess — but I've changed my mind. AIDS and cancer make life a misery for many and kill up to a third of us, but there's some hope that they can be abolished without invoking a magic wand. On the other hand, as a species, we suffer from a dismaying surfeit of, to put it bluntly, misogynistic old sacerdotal bigots. It's not simply a matter of being a member of the clergy; I have no beef with belief itself (although I frequently consider it misplaced, irrational, or just plain silly). Rather, it is with the expression of bigoted religious beliefs that punish or restrict the freedom of others, within a political or cultural framework that provides them with the force or actuality of law. In Saudi Arabia, a woman who was gang raped was subsequently sentenced to be lashed for adultery (yes, I know she was subsequently pardoned; that's not the point); in Africa, lying clergy assert that condoms spread AIDS and preach against their use: in Nicaragua a church-inspired ban on abortion is killing women with ectopic pregnancies: children are witch hunted in Nigeria, homosexuals around the world are routinely preached against and persecuted, as are religious minorities, such as Baha'i in Iran ... the list is endless. It's mostly women who are on the receiving end of this — the "minority" that's a majority, constituting about 51% of the human population — but when you add all the other out-groups up, I'd be surprised if less than two-thirds of humanity aren't suffering direct or indirect privation as a result of religious bigotry. I just want those who preach intolerance and hatred to stop.

4) On a much more limited (but achievable) level, it would be really cool if Airbus would relent and agree to provide technical support for a single aircraft of the type they designated the Airbus 200 to fly again as an experimental/demonstration craft. I believe there may still be a suitable airframe tucked away in a hangar at Filton, and there's nothing quite like the roar of four afterburning Rolls Royce Olympus engines to spice up an air show. Please?

5) On a related retro-futuristic note, please can Nokia see sense and release an identical-sized replacement to the 6310i, updated with the addition of HSDPA (or at least EDGE)? I don't need a camera, GPS, colour screen, multimedia messaging, games, memory cards, mp3 ringtones, or a pocket Transformers bot with guided missile launchers; I just want a human sized mobile telephone that can make and break calls and act as a bluetooth modem for my laptop. The 6310i, which went on sale in the ancient prehistoric depths of 2000AD, marked the climax of the mobile phone as an actual business tool for people who wanted to talk: after it came madness. Much kudos to Apple for trying to throttle the hydra-headed mass of random features that have turned modern mobile phones into badly designed rubbish, but even the iPhone isn't quite there (although I think a 3G iPhone that supported tethering, external bluetooth keyboards, and third-party apps would be very tempting to me). Modern mobile phones make my head hurt, and I speak as the owner of a sheepskin that proclaims me to hold a degree in computer science. (Failing that, I'll settle for a Palm Treo that does 3G and/or wifi but doesn't require me to grapple with the crawling horror that is Windows Mobile.)

6) This year's request for a pony is canceled because (a) I live in a city centre, (b) on the third (American: fourth) floor, and (c) I can't ride. It is retained in this list to comply with tradition.

7) Global climate change is clearly a big deal. It doesn't matter whether it's anthropogenic or a consequence of natural variation in insolation — it's going to affect us either way, and the cause only affects us insofar as it might determine some of the things we've got to do to survive it. Similarly, it's fairly clear that we are not, contrary to orthodox Green ideology, going to deal with this by wailing, putting on hair shirts, and going back to being pre-industrial peasant subsistence farmers. Nor are we going to deal with it by reducing our carbon budget. (You want to reduce our species' carbon budget? Get a rifle and shoot someone. You don't get a lower carbon budget than a corpse. NB: please don't suggest this to some of our more excitable politicians who might be worrying about meeting their carbon trading limits in the near future. That would be Bad.) No; dealing with global climate change is going to take big business and big engineering projects. Lots of nuclear reactors, solar power farms, and plants pumping CO2 into the salt domes of evacuated oil and gas fields. All of which means it's going to cost big money, but in turn, it's going to make big profits for the companies that wise up first and realize that mitigating climate change can be a shiny new business proposition. Please, let's stop thinking negative-sum about climate change and start thinking positive-sum? Capitalism will clean up its own shit — once it acquires a new set of taste buds and realizes it's delicious.

8) I know you colonial types are going to select a new king-emperor in October 2008. But please, can we have a bit more substance — some of those speeches and interviews are tooth-gratingly vacuous — and a lot less news coverage until there's something worthwhile to pay attention to? Over here, election campaigns last 6-10 weeks; anything longer gets old, fast. Starting a year before the main event is as bad as putting up the Christmas decorations in September. And while I'm on the subject — can you remember to elect a real president next time, with some gravitas and a bit of book-larnin'? I know this one promised a party, but the frat house antics are tiresome.

9) <dick-cheney>I want a USB-powered internet troll zapper. Push the button, apply a brief 50,000 volt electric shock to the troll's genitalia! Zap! (Use it too often, you become a troll. But just once in a while ...)</dick-cheney>

10) Finally, can some rich, beer-drinking Belgian entrepreneur please buy Liefmans Breweries, which were unfortunately declared bankrupt last Friday? It's a cash flow glitch, due to bugs in a new bottling line and scheduled duty payments; the brewery should be long-term viable as a business. (I feel that its continued existence would be a Good Thing for human happiness, if not the well-being of my liver.)

Bottoms up!

Here is the news (well, some of it):

Toot toot!

No, I'm not trying to sell you anything; but for those of you who come here because you've got an interest in how I go about writing, I'd like to commend you to a website called SF Novelists. It does what it says on the tin — that is, it's a group blog by a bunch of professional SF novelists, revolving around their work, their writing (the two are not the same), and the sort of stuff you'd expect a bunch of jobbing novelists to talk about. I find it fascinating — but then, I'm one of them.

I spent Thursday through Sunday last week in London, hence the silence in these parts. There's not much to report except that, yes, Tor will be publishing "The Hidden Family" and "The Clan Corporate" in the UK in paperback in August and December, and Orbit will be publishing "Halting State" in trade paperback in January and "Saturn's Children" in hardcover in August. And London is its usual cramped, busy, and increasingly paranoid self: cameras and cops everywhere, and hordes of people thronging the centre at a density that's closer to Tokyo than New York.

Halfway along a journey on the Northern Line I was idly reading the "snitch a terrorist" posters and counting CCTV cameras when a blinding realization struck me between the eyes, hard enough to leave a dent: I have the solution to Transport for London's security problem, and in a spirit of patriotic upstandingness I hereby donate it to the nation.

The solution to protecting the London Underground from terrorist suicide bombers can be summed up in one word: Daleks. One Dalek per tube platform, behind a door at the end. Fit them with cameras and remote controls and run them from Ken Livingstone's office. Any sign of terrorism on the platform? Whoosh! The doors open and the Dalek comes out, shrieking "exterminate!" in a demented rasp reminiscent of Michael Howard during his tenure as Home Secretary, only less merciful.

The British are trained from birth to know the two tactics for surviving a Dalek attack; run up the stairs (or escalator), or hide behind the sofa. There are no sofas in the underground, but there are plenty of escalators. Switch them to run upwards when the Dalek is out, and you can clear a platform in seconds.

Suicide bombers are by definition Un-British, and will therefore be unable to pass a citizenship test, much less deal with the Menace from Skaro. And as for motivating the Daleks, one need only mention that the current crop of would-be British suicide bombers are doctors ...

I'm away from home right now, with limited/intermittent internet connectivity. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Meanwhile, I'd like to congratulate the SFWA executive on doing the right thing and replacing Andrew Burt as chair of the copyright committee with Russell Davis, a far less divisive figure who can represent the organization in public on this matter without raising the unquiet ghosts of past acrimony.

(If you've somehow failed to notice Amazon launching their ebook reader, the Kindle, look here.)

I don't like the Kindle. Here are my reasons:

1. Aesthetics. The Kindle looks like something you'd shove under a door with a dodgy hinge to keep it from opening by mistake. It looks cheap, plasticky, and badly designed (at least, in image; I haven't seen a real one yet, for reasons that will become obvious in point #2, below). I mean, what were they thinking when they let it out of the lab? Compared to Sony's reader design, let alone the iPhone, this looks like cheap rubbish. Except it's not; it cost £200 US $399.

2. Network architecture. Unlike previous ebook readers, the Kindle can go online all on its lonesome to let you buy ebooks direct from Which is a truly excellent idea, except that instead of doing the sensible thing and building in wifi support, Amazon went with something called Whispernet that runs over a third generation telephony protocol called EV-DO, which doesn't work outside the US. Congratulations; you've just stopped me from buying one, because — surprise! — I live in a country where the wavelengths available for EV-DO have all been assigned to other services.

This is particularly inexplicable because Amazon's core market (folks who travel and read a lot) are far more likely than other folks to travel to places where their ebook reader won't work.

(I will concede that Amazon may be working on a UMTS or even a GPRS design for use in the rest of the world when they've ironed out their contractual requirements for licensing ebooks for sale in non-North American territories, but if so, guess what? Non-NorthAm Kindle's probably won't work in the USA! It looks like they've decided to enforce the arbitrary trans-Atlantic rights split in English language book sales in hardware.)

3. DRM. Digital Rights Management software means that you won't be able to read Kindle ebooks on other devices. Books you buy for your Kindle will vanish, in effect, if you change machine. Cory Doctorow nailed it in one when he pointed out that the Achilles' heel of the whole DRM argument is that DRM penalizes honest users, not dishonest ones. (Honest? You've got to jump through all these hoops to use the thing you paid for. Dishonest? You'll grab an illegal cracked copy, or crack the DRM, and thumb your nose at the inconvenience.)

We have a technical term for any business plan that relies on making life difficult for customers and easy for non-customers: we call it "circling the drain".

4. Intrusion into the reader's privacy. If you buy a Kindle you've got to accept that Amazon's ebook reader is monitoring your usage and transmitting data about you back to the mothership — yes, that's in the terms and conditions. (Look for "Information Received" in the small print.) It's outrageous: what would you say to a librarian who said that your lending rights were contingent on their monitoring precisely what you were reading and how long you were spending on each page? Reading is one of the few activities that we're used to doing in private, alone in the privacy of our own heads. Kindle is making a bare-faced attempt to strip away your privacy.

5. Marketing stupidity. Kindle is, bluntly, aimed at the wrong people — and it's the wrong size. It really needs an XGA or higher resolution colour screen — the display technology of the OLPC XO-1 would be perfect (for reasons I'll explain in the next paragraph). The XO-1 display is dirt-cheap, sufficiently high resolution, low power consumption, colour, and degrades to usable black-and-white in bright sunlight. (The obsession with epaper has drawn the ebook industry down a blind alley; sure epaper has a stupendously low power draw, but ubiquitous gadgets (ipods, phones, and the like) have trained us to plug stuff in overnight, and there are very few situations where you will find yourself reading for more than 12 hours straight without access to a mains socket.)

The ideal launch market for an ebook reader exists; it's college students and academics. They're used to paying over $1000 a year for textbooks and often up to $100 for a single book. The books are big and heavy and they need to carry them around. The books go out of date — an ebook reader with an online subscription service for correcting errata and adding supplementary material would be perfect. If Amazon had designed their hardware a little bit differently, then stitched up a deal with Elsevier and the other big publishers of peer-reviewed journals and textbooks, they could have rented pre-loaded Kindles out to students for $1000 a year and shifted container ships full of the things on day 1.

But instead of designing a device that will allow college students to carry all their (expensive) textbooks around in a single notebook-sized package, Amazon seem to be going after the consumers of (cheap) popular literature and fiction. Readers who are unwilling to spend much more than US $7 on a mass-market novel in the first place, and very unlikely to read more than 100 titles per year. And then they're expected to put up with intrusive DRM that devalues their purchases, intrusive privacy-invading monitoring, and (to add insult to injury) a $400 entry price before they can join the party.

Yes: for no obvious reason, Amazon have ignored the obvious, lucrative market and aimed Kindle instead at a tiny population of mad bibliophiles. They've invented the perfect Christmas present for Harriet Klausner.

Do I think Kindle is destined to succeed? Well ... this reader's a turkey, but the Kindle service might succeed, if they can iron the bugs out. But they're going to have to make a whole lot of changes, and some of those aren't up to Amazon — the publishers need to change their minds about DRM, and (perhaps more controversially) to accept that it's necessary to renegotiate their rights splits to permit a true worldwide English language ebook market to evolve.

Finally: some of my books are available on Kindle. I think I've made my opinion of the platform clear. However, if you must drink the Kool Aid, if you've already lost your saving throw vs. shiny!, then please allow me to encourage you to buy my ebooks.

I'll be in London, signing at Forbidden Planet's London Megastore next Saturday the 8th December, between 1 and 2pm. (That's at 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8JR.) It's been arranged by Tor for the UK launch of "The Family Trade", and FP note on their website that if you want to pre-order a signed copy you need to do so before noon on Friday.

And in other news, I get book covers. That little gem is the cover of the Czech edition of "The Family Trade" (see the British edition and US edition for comparison). NB: I didn't embed that image directly because I suspect some of you read my blog at work and your co-workers might want to know what the screams were about — I hear some Czech bookshops are apparently mis-shelving it under "romance", and I can only imagine what the readers will think when they get to the end of book #2. (Hint: the love interest's fate is not appealing.) What were they thinking?



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in December 2007.

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