Charlie Stross: July 2008 Archives

Alison Bechdel, cartoonist and author of Dykes to Watch Out For, has an interesting observation on movies — a little test she applies to them. It's a very short checklist, viz:

1. Does it have at least two women in it,

2. Who [at some point] talk to each other,

3. About something besides a man.

I bring this up as a point of interest, because of what it says about the blind spots of popular entertainment. Most Hollywood movies fail this test; if you extend #3 only slightly, to read "About something besides men or marriage or babies", you can strike out about 50% of the small proportion of mass-entertainment movies that do otherwise seem to pass the test.

The reason Bechdel's test is important is because it's a diagnostic indicator for the objectification of women. It's designed to identify the kind of film where, if two women talk to each other at all, the only subject of conversation is men (or babies). What it tells us is that our current movie and (to a lesser extent) our TV culture is pathologically misogynistic — be it in in the adoption of conservative Kinder, Kuche, Kirche values or the more extreme violence of women in refrigerators.

The current decade is characterized by security anxieties writ large, a socially conservative culture of retreat from liberalism, and a strong anti-feminist backlash. Our popular media, far from being the bastions of liberal values that conservatives say they are, are actually belwethers of popular culture, amplifying, reinforcing, and reflecting our culture's normative values back at us the silver screen. What they're showing this decade is really rather disturbing if you happen to agree with the core feminist ideological belief that women are real people too, not just baby factories and sex objects.

TV has always been bad — a hypothetical alien trying to make deductions about humanity by watching our TV signals would conclude that our normal gender ratio is four males to each female, and that's just for starters! — but of late, the messages coming at us out of the mass media are nothing short of toxic. If movies and TV objectified people of colour the way they do women, the only reasonable conclusion one could draw would be that a concerted propaganda campaign was under way to return us to the unquestioned institutional racism of the 1950s.

It's interesting to apply Bechdel's test to written fiction, although under some circumstances it breaks down; if the book you're analysing is a first-person narrative from a man's point of view, then it's relatively unlikely to pass: similarly if it's a depiction of skull-duggery in a mediaeval monastery (thank you, Umberto Eco). But it's a chastening warning when you apply it to your own fiction and find out that large chunks of it fail the test. I looked at my own novels: I've habitally made an effort to include strong female characters who are not just there to serve as a trophy or handmaiden for the Hero Protagonist, and even so, a couple of my books fail. Looking at my recent reading in the SF genre in general, the picture isn't good; while written SF comes off a lot better than Hollywood overall, with the exception of fiction set in all-male environments, passing the Bechdel test should be the norm, not an unusual occurrence.

PS: From now on I intend to start applying this test to my fiction before I embarrass myself in public. And (I realize this is offering up a huge hostage to future fortune) if anyone ever offers me a movie or TV deal, I am going to hold out for a clause in the contract requiring a scene lasting at least 30 seconds per hour of running time that passes Bechdel's test. Because? What hurts my fellow humans hurts me, and I can in conscience no more lend my implicit support to an anti-feminist backlash than I can lend my silence to a racist or homophobic campaign.

I am in San Diego. I hesitate to say I'm at ComicCon because I haven't even picked up my badge yet — I am only just in the vicinity, and not even in the right hotel yet.

I really shouldn't have asked about travel disasters. Let's just say: 63 hours in transit, three canceled flights (including a 4 hour tour of the taxiways at JFK on a 767 that never took off), a diversion via Dallas, two fucked-up hotel reservations, and a rainy night in Brooklyn. On the upside, I got bumped to business class by Air Lingus and first class by American — a twofer on one trip that probably tells you my luck is wandering aimlessly through the twilight zone.

More later. Right now, I'm about to go into vampire emulation mode for about twelve hours before trying to reconstruct the smoking wreckage of my schedule.

PS: the Luggage followed me. It is currently lurking in the shadows of this echoing shadowy conference suite that they've parked me in, gaping ominously ...

I'm heading off to ComicCon in San Diego in a couple of hours: my schedule is here. Updates may be erratic around here for the next three weeks ...


Well, I thought I was heading off to ComicCon! Props to Air Lingus for bumping me to business class on the trans-Atlantic flight, and no props to American for (a) giving me a four hour guided tour of the taxiways at JFK before cancelling my flight, and (b) losing my suitcase (on a one sector flight that never left the ground).

Stayed the night in Brooklyn with a friend; making a second stab at getting to ComicCon today (Thursday), and hopefully finding my luggage along the way (because it's where I stashed my meds, because I wasn't expecting any airline to rise to the level of brilliant incompetence necessary in order to lose a suitcase on a single sector flight with no connections).

It's something of a truism that the larger a publisher gets, the more trouble they seem to have in understanding this interwebnet thingy. While smaller outfits like Baen Books and Subterranean Press seem to have more than half a clue, it's been almost embarrassing to watch the larger book publishers flailing around, roughly half a decade behind the state of the art. Currently most of the big imprints have caught on to the fact that you can use the web as something more than a copy of the quarterly sales brochure, but they're still standing on their soapboxes, honking into megaphones; so it's nice and refreshing to see one of them get their act together.

Case in point: — Tor's revamped and relaunched web presence. It's very Web 2.0, with original fiction, blogs, and social networking bells and whistles; hopefully it'll be linked up to their long-awaited ebook store fairly soon so you can all buy my books. (Ahem ...) And it actually looks like more fun than a corporate sales pitch.

Anyway. I mentioned free fiction? Go there and you'll find stuff by John Scalzi and, um, some guy called Stross. And if you stick around to tell us what you thought of it you might even get an answer. It's that kind of place.

Oh, and to celebrate their launch they're giving away free books.

On Tuesday afternoon, I'm due to fly out to Dublin. And on Wednesday morning, I'm due to fly from Dublin to New York, switch planes, and fly on to San Diego.

Which is obviously why I have come down with a nasty summer cold (streaming nose, sore throat, and sinus headache). And why a €5 network card has decided to enliven my life by inflicting rolling delays on all flights in and out of Dublin.


I ought to be able to throw off a cold in 72 hours, and I've got more than 12 hours between my flight into Dublin and my onward connection (I'm booked into a hotel overnight), but I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Let's see: there's going to be a terror scare and they'll ban iPods or books or something equally implausible. Or I will just miss my connection at JFK, and be condemned to wander the decrepit airside terminal for an extra six hours before making a standby slot. Or my hotel room in San Diego will turn out to be on the party floor, next door to an amphetamine-crazed drummer ...

I think I'm going back to bed. Again. Meanwhile, what are your favourite travel horror stories?

I'm off on a signing tour next week. Here's where I'll be, and when:

Saturday 26th: I've got a panel and signing at Comic Con, San Diego.

(Description: 10:00-11:00am, Looking at Our World: Eye on the Future — Speculative fiction authors discuss shaping the future through their fiction and shaping their fiction to the future. Panelists include Robert J. Sawyer (Rollback), Ann Aguirre (Grimspace), Tobias S. Buckell (Ragamuffin), William C. Dietz (When All Seems Lost), Alan Dean Foster (author of more than 100 books), Charles Stross (Saturn's Children), and John Zakour (Dangerous Dames). Moderated by Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy. Room 8. Signing to follow at 11am in the autograph area.)

Sunday 27th: Signing at Penguin booth, #1117, 11am.

(Note: I arrive at ComicCon on the 23rd, and I'll be mooching around until the 27th. I may post updates to this entry at short notice as/when I have extra fixtures to announce.)

Monday 28th: I'll be in Los Angeles.

Reading and signing from 7:30pm at Mystery & Imagination, 238 N. Brand Blvd, Glendale. (For more information, call (818) 545-0206.)

Tuesday 29th: I'll be in Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

I'll be doing a live interview at 10am on KUSP's Geek Speak program, presented by Rick Kleffel.

And in the evening I'll be doing a reading and signing in SF at 7pm at Borders, 400 Post Street.

Wednesday 30th: I'll be in Phoenix.

In the evening I'll be doing a reading and signing at Poisoned Pen, 4014 North Goldwater Blvd.

Thursday August 7th: I'll be in Denver.

I'm doing a reading and signing at Tattered Cover (Colfax Store), 2526 E. Colfax. It's a joint signing! With Kat Richardson and Joe Haldeman!

I'm also (predictably) going to be in Denver for the Denvention 3 world science fiction convention. I've got a bunch of items scheduled at Denvention; here's my preliminary (subject to change) list:

Friday August 8th:

Panel: Twisting Time: Alternate Histories (10am)

Panel: Timeless Stars: H. P. Lovecraft (1pm)

Kaffeeklatch (4pm)

Saturday August 9th:

Reading: 1pm

Panel: The Evil Empire: Microsoft or Amazon? (2:30pm)

Sunday August 10th:

Panel: The Coming Thing - what's next and newest in SF (1pm)

And I am flying home on Monday 11th, arriving late on the 12th.

From Author Advocate Defense Fund:

On September 20, 2007, Barbara Bauer filed suit in New Jersey against a list of defendants, ranging from the Wikimedia Foundation, to message board owners, to bloggers.

More information about the precipitating events can be found in the archives of Making Light. There is additional information about the case regarding Wikipedia at the Electronic Frontier Foundation site.

Another defendant is the Science Fiction Writers of America for its Writer Beware "thumbs down agencies" or "Twenty Worst" list. Yet others are the former and current owners of Absolute Write, which has a thread about the Plaintiff on their site. [Which I am not linking to for legal reasons — c.]

I cannot comment on the subject of Barbara Bauer and her lawsuits, because what I want to say is (a) not suitable for a family publication and (b) would provide her with fuel for yet another lawsuit, which I can live without. However, if you google for the words "barbara bauer worst agent" you will probably find out what the fuss is about.

I am donating to the defense fund, and it would please me immensely if you would consider doing so as well. (I've made enquiries and been assured by parties close to the defendants that this fund is, indeed, legit. )

[Comments disabled for reasons discussed in somewhat more detail here.]

Okay, so I wasn't too keen over the last couple of covers that Ace unleashed on me, but I think this one's a corker:


It's finally scheduled for US publication in trade paperback next January, at the same time The Atrocity Archives goes mass-market.

James Howard Kunstler's calling Time on the American dream today. Personally, I think he's over-egging the pudding; when I hear his wild effusions about $10/gallon gas I laugh, bitterly — over here we're at $11 and rising, and have been north of $8/gallon for years — it's not the end of the world. But on the other hand, this isn't good news: about 50% of the US mortgage market is now on life support, circling the drain, just as the rest of the US economy is sliding into recession. (And there's no room for schadenfreude over here, either.)

For a perfect storm, all it'll take is for the fruitcake-in-chief to decide that two wars isn't enough, and order an attack on Iran before he leaves office. Or for another hurricane to make landfall on the Gulf coast. Or a coup in Saudi Arabia. Or, or. Too many ors.

I think I'm going back to bed, now.

I just finished the first draft of a novella (for next summer's short story collection) and am feeling tired and lazy; writing a novel and a half in six months while making five international trips does that to me.In fact, I've been falling behind on the news coverage and not even keeping up with my daily intake of blogs (although yes, I have noticed Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac falling through the floor, thank you very much, and the idea of the two companies that hold 50% of the USA's collective mortgage debt of $12Tn imploding at the same time does not fill me with optimism for the future).

Current activities: kicking back with a good book (in this case, an ARC of "A Snowball in Hell", by Christopher Brookmyre — out on August the 14th, and a major return to form after the last couple of near-misses; and then, I think, "The Caryatides" by Bruce Sterling); making sure I've got all the travel adapters, spare underwear, and general kipple I need to tow around for three weeks on the road (starting on the 22nd); and spending some quality time with my nearest and dearest (who aren't coming along on this trip).

No, I am not buying an iPhone 3G: thank you for asking.

Incidentally, packing for this tour is ... annoying. Last time round, I was only gone for a week, so I was able to take two pieces of hand luggage — a backpack and a wheeled flight case. The flight case flew over in the hold on the first flight (from the UK to the USA) due to the one-bag-per-passenger restriction, but once I was in the USA I could fly with two pieces of hand luggage; and the flight case was big enough to hold all my clothing.

This time round, I'm going to be gone for three weeks, and in addition to the signing tour I've got a formal/semi-formal event (the Hugos) to pack for. I'm not inclined to hire a tux and I don't think I can comfortably cram three weeks' stuff into a hand-luggage sized package, so this time I'm going to break rule #1 of signing tours, and travel with a hold bag. Luckily I've got no multi-sector flights between tour destinations, so opportunities for the hold bag to go missing are restricted to my arrival and departure flights: in both cases, I'm staying at the destination long enough for a bag to catch up with me. Still, I'm avoiding Rule #1 of long-haul travel in and out of the UK this summer: Avoid Heathrow Terminal Five.

Oh, I hinted that I was going to be on a signing tour, didn't I? Silly me!

The tour dates aren't 100% set in stone yet, but they should be nailed down by early next week. So far what I've got looks like this:

July 23-27: I'll be at Comic*Con in San Diego.

July 28th: I'm doing an evening reading at Mystery and Imagination in Glendale, Los Angeles.

July 29th: I'll be on KUSP radio (live) from Santa Cruz in the morning, and doing an evening reading at Borders on Post Street, San Francisco.

July 30th: I'm doing a reading at Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Phoenix.

July 31st to August 5th: I will be Officially Dead from Overwork™ (but trying to pull myself together for the next fixture ...)

August 6th to August 10th: I'll be at Denvention 3 in Denver.

August 7th: I'm doing a reading and signing at Tattered Cover in Colfax (Denver).

There are other things going on in between these events — these are the public ones. I'll post more details next week (when I've got them), including addresses, times, and stuff like that.

The IMCO/ITRE vote went through yesterday. Good news and bad news, basically; the amendments were adopted, but Notice Was Taken and to quote Professor Edwards:

the drafter, Malcolm Harbour, got interviewed by the Beeb, and reiterated that it was not not not the intention of the amendments to lay the foundations for "3 strikes and you're out".

AND - that if the amendments could be so interpreted, were too wide basically, then he'd be happy to accept other amendments making it clear this WASN'T intended to be the case. ie EXCLUDING any claim that this law legitimised 3 strikes in EU law.

He's now on record about this and it should provide an opportunity to sew these loopholes up much tighter.

This bears watching further, but I think it's an excellent result for last-minute grass-roots pressure (at 48 hours' notice, basically!) and bodes well for the future.

And now, in happier news ...

The marketing folks at Ace would like me to tell everyone that they're giving away posters of the cover of Saturn's Children. If you want a chance to win some embarassing high-quality Stross cheesecake, this is your golden moment!

My signing tour of chunks of California (plus Phoenix, AZ) is on for the end of this month. There are some minor bugs to iron out of the itinerary, but I'll be posting it here once it's frmed up, hopefully later this week.

(I've been quiet for a couple of days because I'm simultaneously guest-blogging for Ace and trying to finish a long-short story, "Palimpsest", for my forthcoming short story collection — probably to be titled "Palimpsest" — that's due (not entirely coincidentally) from Ace next summer. Normal service should be resumed just as soon as I finish battering the time paradoxes into submission ...)

Some very stinky shit is about to hit the fan in Brussels, on Monday the 7th.

To quote Hugh Hancock who spotted it a few hours ago:

You remember that proposal to remove internet access for filesharers after three infringements? The one that was blatantly excessive and bloody worrying?

Well, someone at the EU looks to be planning to stealth it through on Monday!

Professor Lillian Edwards of the University of Southhampton has an article on the subject. It’s tough going, but you need to read this - she’s one of the UK’s foremost experts on Internet law, and she lays out just what’s so very, very bad about this whole thing.

(Here's a law professor trying to explain things. Here's La quadrature du Net's analysis of the proposals. Here's The Open Rights Group sounding the alarm.)

In a nutshell: Members of the European Parliament were asked to vote for a draconian three-strikes-and-you're-out policy that would force ISPs to monitor users for signs of file sharing behaviour and cut them off. They very sensibly voted against it. Now an entirely different bill is before the IMCO and ITRE committee — a sensible and boring Telecoms Package — and a whole bunch of stealth Intellectual Property Rights amendments which have crawled out of the woodwork. And guess what they're about?

This is a serious attack on our civil liberties. For one thing, cutting off broadband connections for copyright violations risks stumbling into the muddy waters of collective punishment (in which one person's sin results in an entire group, such as a household, being punished). For another thing, it would require ISPs to snoop on their customer's communications, be they illegal or legal. It's an explicit violation of the principles of human rights at the heart of European treaty law, and it will badly damage net neutrality and privacy.

If you live in the EU, contact your MEP this weekend.

You can send them an email — some guidelines and suggested points to raise are here. Send email via Phone them as well, on Monday morning (or leave voice mail over the weekend). If your MEP isn't on the IMCO and ITRE committee, they will still know colleagues who are, and can ask them pointed questions.

Go ahead. You've got nothing to lose but your broadband connection (and your freedom).

Update: Cory picked it up — phew. (BoingBoing has immensely more punching-power that I do, or the Open Rights Group, for that matter. I suspect the phones will soon be ringing off the hook.)

Jackie Kessler writes paranormal romances. Which isn't particularly unusual, except her fictional protagonist, Jezebel (a Succubus from Hell) interviews other author's protagonists on her blog, from time to time. (It's the sort of thing folks in our line of work get up to, when staring at the walls doesn't work any more; that, and taping bacon to the cat.)

saturn's children - US cover

This week, it's Freya Nakamichi-47's turn to be interviewed. She sneaked out of "Saturn's Children" while I wasn't looking. (Sounds like I'd better watch my back for a while.)


Well, I exaggerate. An honest answer would be, "Independence Day means that all the editorial folks in my US publishers are taking a long weekend, anything I buy from will probably be delayed, and the interwebbytubething is not providing me with its normal output of schizophrenic brain drippings." But you get the picture: today, July 4th, is an ordinary working day like any other.


Well, I'm not American. I don't live in the United States. I live in the country that lost the toss when the USA declared independence. Consequently, independence day is an un-event, ignored for much the same reason that the US doesn't have a public holiday to celebrate its triumphant military victory in Vietnam. ("Pay no attention to the noisy colonials; carry on as usual.")

On the other hand, Independence Day does carry some associated freight. It lies not the public holiday, but in the historic event it commemorates: the moment when the second major rupture between the English-speaking peoples and their government came to a head. (The first such moment, interestingly, doesn't rate a public holiday either in the USA or the UK: it remains politically controversial to this day; but without this shocking precedent the political establishment of the New England colonies, never mind their progress towards independence, would have taken a very different course.)

And, glibly leap-frogging across thirty years of history, it can be argued that without the US War of Independence the French monarchy wouldn't have mortgaged itself into a smoking hole in the ground; there would have been no revolutionary republic: no Emperor Napoleon: and the whole shape of politics and history throughout Europe (which in this context stretches from Lisbon to Vladivostok) would be unrecognizably different today.

So: Independence Day — an un-holiday — Declaration of Independence of the United States of America — the second domino in a chain that is still collapsing in thunder to this day, rattling through the annals of history.

What holidays do you celebrate that other people see differently? And why?

I'm back home from Berlin, beer, and sunbathing on a tropical beach inside a zeppelin hangar. For some tidbits about my vacation you might want to hope over to Penguin Group's blog where I'm guest blogger this week; alternatively, I'd like to bang the drum for my new novel, "Saturn's Children", which is published tomorrow in the UK and yesterday in the USA:

saturn's children - US cover saturn's children - UK cover

Orbit have kindly stuck an extract on the web, which you can read here. (Note: read this before you sound off about the cover artwork or I will mock you.)

Meanwhile, I have just realized that I haven't mentioned my big news here yet: the new book deal!

I don't usually discuss work that I haven't sold yet — I'm superstitious that way. However, although the contracts aren't signed, at this point my agent is working over the small print and someone at one of the publishers told Locus, so the cat is out of the bag: three books over three years, with Ace as the US publisher and Orbit as the UK publisher.

The books, which are due at roughly 12-month intervals, are:

* A new short story collection (provisionally titled "Palimpsest"), which will show up next summer in place of my usual SF novel. (I'm trying to complete two Merchant Princes books this year; I don't have the energy and time to do a new SF novel as well. However, I can promise that this one will collect a bunch of my short fiction from 1998 on, including the novella "Missile Gap", and a new novella/short novel, "Palimpsest".)

* A sequel to "Halting State", provisionally titled "419", set five years later. (It's not about Sue, Jack, or Elaine; it's about Inspector Kavanaugh, who has a singularly peculiar crime to solve — before it metastasizes and drowns the entire world in spam.)

* The third — but by no means the final — Laundry novel, "The Fuller Memorandum". ("The Atrocity Archives" was a Len Deighton tribute, and "The Jennifer Morgue" was Ian Fleming/James Bond; this time I'm planning to play chords in the key of Anthony Price.)

This is going to keep me busy for a while, but hopefully you'll enjoy the results!



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in July 2008.

Charlie Stross: June 2008 is the previous archive.

Charlie Stross: August 2008 is the next archive.

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

Search this blog