Charlie Stross: May 2009 Archives

Now that I've got my schedule for next year untangled ...

First up in print in 2010 will be "The Trade of Queens", book #6 in the Merchant Princes series — due out in April, this concludes the current story arc (the one beginning in "The Clan Corporate" and most recently continued in "The Revolution Business"). That'll be a hardcover release from Tor, at around the same time that "The Revolution Business" shows up in paperback (and hopefully in the UK).

There are more stories to tell in that universe, but I'm taking a couple of years off from writing them: I need a break.

The second novel in 2010 is a surprise substitute: rather than the previously-scheduled sequel to "Halting State", it's going to be book #3 in the Laundry files: "The Fuller Memorandum":

In the shadowy world of the Laundry, there is One True Religion. Bob Howard is about to become a true believer -- and he really wishes he wasn't.

Stressed-out and looking for a quiet life after a work-related fatal accident, Bob Howard thinks that a spell working in the Laundry's secret archives and catching up on the filing is just the ticket. But when his boss Angleton falls under suspicion and a top secret dossier goes missing, Bob is determined to get to the bottom of a puzzle: what was in the missing Fuller Memorandum, and why are the Russians so interested in it?

I've always had a secret hankering to write cold war spy thrillers; thanks to CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the Laundry, and a hidden nameless horror from the NKVD's files, I'm getting my opportunity ...

(Why the switch? Well, I was just settling down to work on the "Halting State" sequel last summer when the news went nonlinear. That book is meant to be near-future SF, which means it's highly dependent on the state of the world today. It was bad enough when, as I was waiting for "Halting State" to work its way into print, bits of the plot kept turning up in the news; this time around, one of last year's major news stories ate my plot! So I decided to (a) go back to the drawing board, and (b) wait for the financial crisis to settle down a bit. I'm now in the re-planning stages, and the book should see the light of day in mid-2011.)

I'm back home and more than a little jet-lagged: for some reason my regular strategy for kicking myself back onto UK time failed, and my biological clock thinks I'm in Sydney right now.

Things to do when you get home with jet lag: run the washing machine 24x7 until the mountain of dirty underwear goes away, collect the cats from the cat-sitter, stumble to the local grocery for some fresh food, and catch up on your reading.

One of the perks of this job is getting to read next year's SF novels in manuscript form. It's almost like having a time machine — a time machine that inserts typos. In my case, I've just finished "The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories" by Walter Jon Williams, for which I will shortly be writing a foreword and which I can highly recommend to you when it's published, and am now chewing on "The Restoration Game" by Ken MacLeod, ditto.

And while I'm recommending stuff you can't read yet: here's a plug for Moxyland (sorry 'bout the flash-ridden web page), a first novel by Lauren Beukes, due to be published in the UK in September by new HarperCollins outfit Angry Robot. It's what you get when you take your classic 80s deracinated corporate alienation sensibility, detonate about six kilos of semtex under it, and scatter the smoking wreckage across 21st century South Africa — full of unselfconscious spiky originality, the larval form of a new kind of SF munching its way out of the intestines of the wasp-paralysed caterpillar of cyberpunk.

I Do Not Use Facebook. Or MySpace.

I created a facebook account solely to pre-empt identity squatting. I don't use it. Don't friend me there; I will not friend you back. One social network is enough for anyone, and Facebook doesn't fit my requirements.

Yes, I know I ought to be blogging more frequently; but I'm at Balticon right now, being their guest of honour, and it's a wee bit time consuming.

We're flying home on Tuesday, back in our own bed Wednesday, and ought to be over the jetlag by Friday. Until then, posting may be patchy.

On Friday I had occasion to travel by train in the United States. I caught an Amtrak train — the #513 from Seattle to Portland, business class. It was that, or fly (I don't drive in the US), and I'm fed up with security theatre.

You can get beer on that train. In fact, there's a choice of microbrews (as well as the usual horse piss) in the galley.

However ...

I was gobsmacked by how slow and inefficient the process of catching the train in America feels, compared to even the ghastly suboptimization of Virgin or National Express in the UK, never mind Japan Rail. First you book the ticket and a seat. You have to present photo ID to claim a boarding card —like airline travel in the 1950s — an intrusive and annoying but not actually effective security measure. Then you check your bags — all but the two carry-ons you're allowed— not less than an hour before departure. For boarding, there's a long queue while all those folks who didn't think to book a seat present their tickets at the gate and are issued with seat allocations. Only then do folks get to go on board the train — which makes boarding it a half-hour torment rather than a rapid, relatively painless rush.

(Comparison with JR, on a Shinkansen 700 Nozomi express: you roll up 15 minutes ahead of departure, buy your ticket and reserve a seat at the booking office, and you'd better be waiting on the platform when the bullet train slides in because it's only going to stop for 90 seconds. But that's okay, they've got marks on the platform to show you where the doors will open and where to queue ...)

Back to the journey experience: the seats were fine — wide and comfortable in business class, with seatback power. The tickets were cheap by railway standards (even with a business class upgrade: $56 per person, one way), the galley was as good as can be expected on a rail service, certainly on a par with non-US equivalents, and the staff were friendly and helpful. However, the ride was so bumpy we were wondering if they'd outsourced track maintenance to RailTrack (in the bad, pre-Hatfield days). And the train was so slow it was almost surreal. It took three and a half hours to cover just 144 miles. A good thing the scenery was picturesque ... I had a lot of time to stare at it.

Finally, at the end of our journey we had to wait another 20 minutes for our baggage to arrive at the baggage office so we could claim it. So the total travel time was roughly 5 hours — because of the need to check and reclaim bags — on a 144 mile route.

In the UK, with a rail network even older than the US one, three and a half hours will take you from London to Newcastle — 302 miles — and a full five hours will get you to Edinburgh if not Aberdeen. I have no idea how far that'd take you in Japan, except that a 350 mile journey on the aformentioned Nozomi express took just two hours and four minutes!

There are many reasons why passenger rail is the unwanted stepchild of transport policy in the USA; a lack of suitable track signaling, priority given to freight over passenger services, routes laid out in the 1930s and earlier rather than between current centres of population and commerce, and so on. But despite understanding why, I find it really strange that in this day and age, a critical chunk of the USA's infrastructure barely rises to the level of third world quality.

I've just given one of the keynote speeches at the LOGIN 2009 conference here in Seattle. Here's more or less that I said ... Imagine you're sitting among a well-fed audience of MMO developers and gaming startup managers (no, nobody video'd the talk):

Good morning. I'm Charlie Stross; I write science fiction, and for some reason people think that this means I can predict the future. If only I could: the English national lottery had a record roll-over last week, and if I could predict the future I guess I'd have flown here on my new bizjet rather than economy on Air France.

So that's just a gentle reminder to take what I'm going to say with a pinch of salt.

For the past few years I've been trying to write science fiction about the near future, and in particular about the future of information technology. I've got a degree in computer science from 1990, which makes me a bit like an aerospace engineer from the class of '37, but I'm not going to let that stop me.

The near future is a particularly dangerous time to write about, if you're an SF writer: if you get it wrong, people will mock you mercilessly when you get there. Prophecy is a lot easier when you're dealing with spans of time long enough that you'll be comfortably dead before people start saying "hey, wait a minute ..."

So: what do we know about the next thirty years?

I'm in Seattle this week, doing this gig. Flew out on Friday, jet-lagged on Saturday, then 36 hours of tourist stuff culminating in the regular tour of the Boeing Everett factory. If you ever need to recalibrate your sense of scale you can do worse than stand on a viewing gallery with, on your left, an assembly line pumping out Boeing 777s nose-to-tail like SUVs, and on your right, an assembly line gearing up to pump out 787 Dreamliners. (The first 787 test flight is due in the next couple of months. They hope.) To say the factory floor is huge doesn't really convey the scale of the place — to put it in perspective, tucked away in a corner behind a queue of 250-ton wide body airliners I spotted a five story office block about the size of the Marriot I'm staying in.

My website is nearly old enough to vote.

I'm not joking; the first version of it went live inside my then-employer's intranet in late 1993. (I've still got it lying around somewhere — must dust it off one of these days.) This version, on, has mutated but is largely unchanged since 1996, save for the addition of the blog some time in early 2000.

When your website has acne and hangs around pubs trying to get someone to buy it a pint, it's probably time to think about an overhaul. And so, the overdue overhaul is underway.

The first major change is this: your new entrypoint is

I registered back in 2005, for the book of that name; it's been moribund since 2006. Don't worry about the content, I've still got it; what's new is that the www.domain redirects to this blog, and I'm planning over the next few months to gradually slide across the bits of stuff that I want to keep, while leaving as a mostly-untouched historical relic.

The old blog entrypoint ( will continue to work for the forseeable future, but there will be New Stuff showing up by and by if you enter via

Update: Here's the old Accelerando site (in abbreviated form, but including the download links and the Tough Guide To The Singularity).

Sorry, I've been in London — where I saw these guys and did this gig, plus a signing at Forbidden Planet, lunch with my editor from Orbit, a kaffeeclatch that wasn't, this exhibition, and a partridge in a pear tree.

I am now flattened: which would be okay if I wasn't trying to write a keynote speech for this conference, running the washing machine until its bearings glow red hot, checking that my travel insurance is kosher for swine flu pandemics in strange places, and being stalked by an unhappy cat (she's upset because I haven't been around for her to ignore).

I'm going to be hitting the road on Friday, for about three weeks — this trip takes me to Seattle, then Portland, then (via an overnight stop in Chicago) to Baltimore, where I'm guest of honor at Balticon over memorial day weekend. (I may also be doing signing and/or readings in Seattle and Portland; this isn't confirmed yet, but I'll update here as/when I know what my schedule is.) This is, however, a working vacation, so I am going to try to not do any writing work.

When I get back, I will probably be facing a stack of edits for "The Fuller Memorandum", the third Laundry novel — then a super-sekrit side-project, and then the sequel to "Halting State". Assuming my schedule comes untangled the way I expect it to, TFM will probably show up in bookshops next year, to be followed by the HS sequel; then on to other projects, such as the fourth Laundry novel and, oh, we'll be into 2010 by then so there's no point guessing. There's no end to this job in sight, for which I am deeply grateful.

And so, to bed.



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in May 2009.

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