Charlie Stross: August 2010 Archives

One of the hard drives on this 'ere server has died and needs to be replaced, so there may be some downtime on my blog on Tuesday or Wednesday. (It's a bank holiday back in Blighty this Monday and a dead drive in a RAID 1 system is not an emergency.)

We're also likely to be switching to a new server in mid to late September. I'll keep you posted when it's going to happen.

(In case you're wondering why the warnings are necessary, this blog appears to be turning into a community hub these days; if it goes down for any length of time I get email, and lots of it ...)

I'm busy being a tourist in Sydney and can't think of a suitable topic for a rant right now, so in lieu of an extended essay, here's an interview:

The rules:

You can ask me a question in the comments. Just one. I will answer if it pleases me to do so (and I will not answer questions that annoy or bore me or duplicate information in the FAQ or earlier answers). If I don't/can't answer but am not annoyed/bored I may issue you a coupon good for a second or subsequent question.

If there's a backlog of ten or more unanswered questions, don't bother posting until you see me answering the earlier ones. (Otherwise I may ignore you.)

Also note: I am in eastern Australia right now, nine hours ahead of the UK and 15 hours ahead of the US west coast. Nor am I an insomniac. If you get an instant answer, hey: someone got lucky!

So. Who's first?

I'm in Sydney this week, and Melbourne from the middle of next week (for AussieCon 4, the world science fiction convention). I'm making heavy weather of the jet lag right now — it's not only the nine time zones that are getting to me, but the shift from one hemisphere to the other has taken me from summer (sunset: 9:30-10pm) to winter (sunset: 5:30-6pm); it's fooled my circadian rhythm into thinking there's a full 12-13 hours of time difference.

This Wednesday, at 5pm, I'll be signing books (and maybe reading) at Infinitas Bookshop in Parramatta (Shop 22 Civic Arcade 48-50 George Street).

This Thursday, at 5:30pm I'll be doing a joint signing (with fellow Orbit authors Kate Elliott and Karen Miller) at at Galaxy Books in Sydney (143 York Street). I'm also planning on hitting the Redoak beer cafe afterwards to unwind: company welcome.

AussieCon are working on finalizing their program schedule. Here are the events I know I'm on, so far. (Note that Monday's schedule is liable to change, or they'll be carrying me away in a box — right now I'm down for four consecutive hours in front of an audience, which is a little intense.)

Fri 1300 Rm 203: (Panel) The future of privacy

Sat 1500 Rm 219: (Panel) Cyberpunk and the city

Sun 1100 Rm 219: (Panel) Anachronistic fiction: successors to steampunk

Sun 1300 Rm 201: Kaffeeklatsche

Mon 1100 Rm 219: Reading

Mon 1200 Rm P3: (Panel) The grandfather paradox

Mon 1300 Rm 201: Signing

Mon 1400 Rm P3: (Panel) Hand-waving, rule-breaking, and other dirty tricks of hard sf

(To folks who normally have access to my mobile phone number: I have a new one while I'm in Australia. Drop me an email if you need to get in touch. The old number will be back on September 10th.)

According to one estimate pushed by the FBI in 2006, computer crime costs US businesses $67 billion a year. And identity fraud in the US allegedly hit $52.6Bn in 2004.

Even allowing for self-serving reporting (the FBI would obviously find it useful to inflate the threat of crime, if only to justify their budget requests), that's a lot of money being pumped down a rat-hole. Extrapolate it worldwide and the figures are horrendous — probably nearer to $300Bn a year. To put it in perspective, it's like the combined revenue (not profits; gross turnover) of Intel, Microsoft, Apple, and IBM — and probably a few left-overs like HP and Dell — being lost due to deliberate criminal activity.

Where does this parasitic drag come from? Where did we go wrong?

I'm compiling a little list, of architectural sins of the founders (between 1945 and 1990, more or less) that have bequeathed us the current mess. They're fundamental design errors in our computing architectures; their emergent side-effects have permitted the current wave of computer crime to happen ...

Tomorrow (Wednesday) at zero dark o'clock, I'm setting off for Sydney, Australia. I should arrive late on Thursday evening, if there are no delays. It's not quite antipodal from Scotland, but it's close enough — I'll be airborne for about 24-25 hours.

While I'm there I will be doing a couple of readings and book signings.

First up is Infinitas Bookshop (Shop 22 Civic Arcade 48 - 50 George Street, Parramatta), where I'll be reading and signing from 5:30pm to 7pm on Wednesday 25th.

And if you can't make that one, there's a joint signing (with Kate Elliott and Karen Miller) at Galaxy Bookshop (143 York Street, Sydney) from 5:30pm on Thursday 26th.

Then I'll be showing up at Aussiecon 4, the world science fiction convention, in Melbourne (from September 2nd to 6th). I don't have my program schedule yet, but when I do I'll list it here.

(Tentatively ...)

Let's see. It's a decade-and-a-bit since Web 1.0 exploded messily. 2007 saw the initial bursting of the real estate bubble, propagating worldwide in 2008 and expanding into a full-bore liquidity crisis and a near-collapse of the global banking system. 2010 sees the Euro zone in crisis, somewhat mitigated by a spurt of growth in the German economy — and a British government that seems hell-bent on triggering a painfully sharp double-dip recession by slamming the brakes on government spending excessively hard.

On an orthogonal note, I am getting the impression from my reading that the accounting regulations imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley in the US has drastically reduced the attractiveness of the traditional IPO as an exit strategy for founders of start-ups: this might even be retarding the growth of a second web/mobile related market bubble.

Stuff is churning away under the waterline of the global economy. We're living through a period of unprecedented rapid change. Taking measures to suppress bubbles seems to be the new orthodoxy — after all, no investor likes to lose their shirt — but I've got a gut feeling that if you suppress bubbles you just end up building up pressure for an explosion somewhere else.

What am I missing?

On the space colonization topic — I'm flogging the dead equine until the ivory shows — it occurs to me to note that currently, whenever someone asks "who's going to pay for it?" the answer is some variation on "the Lunar He 3 will make us rich!"

For those who were asleep when the Clue Fairy rang the doorbell, the narrative goes like this:

Tor are publishing the first volume of a pretty much definitive biography of Robert A. Heinlein this month: Robert A. Heinlein: Learning Curve (1907-1948), by William H. Patterson Jr..

To mark the occasion, are running a web seminar on Heinlein for a week, starting today; various people (myself included) will be discussing his work in the context of his first 41 years. I'm still digesting the book (I'm currently up to 1942) but will contribute in due course — and will point you at my posting as and when it's up.

In the meantime, for those of you who might expect a more personal perspective from me ...

To say Robert Heinlein was a pivotal figure in the history of written science fiction is a bit like saying that water is wet: well duh. But what's coming through from the biography is that his emergence as that pivotal figure was anything but inevitable. He was driven and immensely (if not uniquely) talented, and he set his hand to enough enterprises that success in one of them was inevitable. Writing fiction for pulp magazines was both a long shot and some way down his list of desired outcomes — if anything, it was a consolation prize for missing the vocations he'd really desired (first, a naval career: second, the chance to make a difference for his fellow men and women through a career in progressive politics). And, at least through his first forty years, his political beliefs were very different to those attributed to him in later life — his early fiction is to some extent a misleading guide to his actual thinking, as his work was tightly tailored to John W. Campbell's publishing agenda (in order to pay the mortgage and supplement his navy pension).

Much to think on here. But I'll be saying it elsewhere. In the meantime, though, just one thought: I only discovered Heinlein in my mid-teens, so I have a rather different literary relationship with him from most (American) SF authors.

For those of you who care about such things, ten minutes ago I emailed the finished manuscript of "Rule 34" to my editors at Ace and Orbit. If they like it, it should be published in hardcover around the beginning of July next year. (If they don't like it, I've got a huge headache coming ...)

For those of you who care but who've lost track of such things, "Rule 34" is the kinda-sorta sequel to "Halting State". It's set five years later, is not about MMOs or virtual reality, and none of Jack, Elaine, or Sue appear in it (although Sue's boss, DI Kavanaugh, is one of the major characters). It's a crime novel — or, more accurately, a criminology novel, insofar as it looks at the future of crime and policing in the post-internet age.

According to my notes I started writing on March 2nd, 2009 and didn't get it nailed down until August 6th, 2010. Which is to say, don't expect me to squirt books like this out every year.

Toast cover

I'm pleased to announce the existence of a new! signed! limited edition! of my short story collection, "Toast and other Stories". Originally planned as the valuable, collector's final edition (that was to come out just before "Wireless"), it's been delayed by nearly two years — but it's at the printer now, with orders due to ship on August 28th. Remember, there are only 700 copies — once they're gone, they're gone!

This is a hot-button topic. Beware.

Attempts to discuss the prospects of human exploration and inhabitation of the cosmos on the internet tend to attract a certain type of participant. If you've been following the comment threads here you probably recognize them ...



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in August 2010.

Charlie Stross: July 2010 is the previous archive.

Charlie Stross: September 2010 is the next archive.

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