Charlie Stross: April 2011 Archives

For approximately the next 24 hours (at a minimum) there is going to be nothing in the public media spotlight except an impending fertility ritual involving an amiable but allegedly none too bright helicopter pilot and a conventionally pretty party planner.

So I thought I'd make up a somewhat less happy news report from another time line for you to talk about.

(Royalists and those of a nervous disposition may prefer to ignore this blog entry.)

... I have been finishing the first draft of "The Apocalypse Codex", Laundry #4, due for publication in July 2012. It weighs in at 111,000 words, a tad longer than "The Fuller Memorandum", and I will confess to being slightly tired now.

But there's no rest for the wicked. So to celebrate the royal wedding I'm going to spend tomorrow doing my tax for 2010/11, then get steaming drunk before I turn the page and get working on "The Rapture of the Nerds" next week.

(Just in case you wondered where I was.)

I'm back home after a long weekend at the British eastercon; I'd be feeling recharged if it hadn't involved a 650 mile drive and the discovery that since I last dusted off the car the price of petrol has hit £1.44 per litre at motorway service stations (about US $8.60 per US gallon for you foreign Johnnies, in case you were wondering — we're not far off $10/gal).

Meanwhile, from the annals of corporate stupidity, I'd just like to share with you the discovery that Penguin Group's email gateway bounces email containing the word "viagra". Presumably they were experiencing a slight spam problem, but when the email in question is a glowing review of a book that includes the use of viagra as a murder weapon the lack of a whitelisting mechanism for known external correspondents (or any kind of sane error message to tell them what's going on) becomes glaringly obvious.

This isn't quite as crazy as the Tor/Holtzbrinck email fiasco of a few years ago, when the corporate mail gateway began eating mail with large attachments consisting of novels being sent to editors by, oh, yours truly and Orson Scott Card that I know of (they fixed that real quick when the editorial department began sending out parties with pitchforks and torches), but it is leading me to wonder how much longer email is going to remain viable as a communications tool ...

I'm 9 scenes and around 5000-6000 words away from the end of the first draft of "The Apocalypse Codex". And I'm off for a long weekend on Thursday. So I shall not be posting much in these parts this week, as I try to get everything done in time. (The long weekend involves a last-minute trip to the UK eastercon, which is a whole lot more accessible than Minicon, which I was going to be guest of honour at before the family medical crisis blew up. I'd rather be in Minneapolis, but that'll have to wait for another year.)

Meanwhile a couple of thoughts:

1. I will be voting yes for a switch to AV from first past the post in general elections in the UK. Not because I think AV is the ideal voting system, but because it's not as crazy-unfair as the FPTP system the UK currently runs on. The last Blair/Brown government was voted for by roughly 15% of the electorate. The current Tory/LibDem coalition got 54.5% of the votes cast in a 65% turnout: nearly a 40% mandate from the voters. This isn't right: under the current system, minority views are under-represented and a winner-takes-all confrontational style of politics is encouraged. AV isn't automatically going to fix everything (as a glance at Australian politics will show), but it's not as bad as what we've got now.

2. Meanwhile: Apparently 40% of British residents polled do not think the UK has benefited in any way from immigration.

Well, if you're one of that 40% you can stop reading my books right now, because obviously they are of no benefit to you. My grandfather was an immigrant. Didn't speak a word of English when he came here, either. That didn't stop him joining the army during the first world war, or founding a business that eventually employed more than fifty people. It didn't stop his kid brother from becoming a cabinet minister, or one of his other brothers from dying as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. One of his nephews emigrated to the United States and ended up as a Hollywood film director and producer, married to Anne Heywood. I'm proud to be descended from immigrants. So I invite anyone who thinks immigrants have nothing to contribute to the UK to re-examine their assumptions.

Update: Feorag reminds me that she has compiled a list of the pernicious influences immigrants brought to the UK that xenophobes can boycott. Maybe they could read the list over their morning tea — except tea is one of the items on the list.

People send me books in the hope that I'll say something nice about them in public.

Lots of people do this. I probably get a couple of blurb requests every week, despite going out of my way to be non-user-friendly in that respect.

Unfortunately, I'm a slow reader. I'm especially slow at reading fiction when I'm working on a novel, and as I'm working on a novel most of the time these days I'm embarrassingly poorly read right now. I've managed to read one novel in the past four weeks, and that's typical of my attention span while I'm writing.

That novel is Karl Schroeder's "Ashes of Candesce", which is the fifth and final book in his Virga series, and brings it to a solid conclusion. That series kicks ass, and I'm more than happy to say nice things about it in public.
However, it took me a month to plough through in my spare moments — and it's in a series that would be on my automatic buy-in-hardcover list if Karl wasn't nice enough to feed them to me in manuscript form. As you can see, I'm so far behind on my reading that I can barely keep up with stuff that I badly want to read — let alone random input from editors or authors who want a response in time to put a Charles Stross quote in the publicity material.

So I'm declaring Blurb Bankruptcy. With one exception, if you're waiting for me to read and say something nice about your book, I must offer you my most groveling apologies because if I stopped writing my own novels for long enough to clear the queue there'd be about a one year gap in my own output. I simply can't keep up, and it's time to admit it in public.

(On the other hand, in happier news, the family medical crisis that caused me to drop a bunch of public engagements over the past six months appears to have been resolved. Both family members are recovering, and hopefully I'll be able to resume accepting speaking/convention engagements again in the near future.)

I'm keeping a low posting profile here at the moment because (a) I'm on the death-march to the end of "The Apocalypse Codex" (which is 90% done ...) and (b) I've been coping with fallout from the family medical crisis that blew up in January (prognosis: excellent, looks like a complete recovery is likely). One side-effect of (a) and (b) is that I'm being boring — when your life's focused on two priorities, you don't have a lot of time and energy left over for blogging.

So it's interview time again.

This is your chance to interview me. You get to ask a single question. I may decline to answer it if it's rude, silly, I think you're taking the piss, or I don't feel like it, so don't repeat unanswered questions. If I don't want to answer it but think you're interesting I'll give you a cookie valid for one more (different) question. I may answer truthfully — or with a creative lie, but this time I'll flag any lies thus: Lie. And because I'm still working on that novel, if I build up a backlog of unanswered questions I may suspend comments (i.e. further questions) until I've got time to tackle them.

Let the interview begin!

On Thursday 14th in Edinburgh, Blackwell's bookshop are running a panel discussion, subject: Fiction to Future: The Science of Science Fiction. It's at the Pleasance Theatre, tickets are £3, and for that you get to see a discussion moderated by Andrew Wilson (The Scotsman's SF critic) in which Ken MacLeod, Iain Banks and I discuss, well, the science of science fiction.

(It's a tie-in with the Edinburgh science festival, but they aren't listing it in their online catalog — possibly because tickets are being booked via the Pleasance box office rather than the science festival.)

Anyway: all welcome!

UPDATE: Tickets are available from Blackwell's Bookshop on South Bridge, and will also be available on the door.

SpaceX announce Falcon Heavy. It's been expected for some time — it's been on their road map for a few years — but it's worth repeating: man-rated and with a payload of 53 tons to Low Earth Orbit, Falcon Heavy has the largest payload of any space launcher since Energiya and the Saturn V [*], and it's dirty-cheap by EELV standards at $80M-120M per launch. Moreover, it can't easily be dismissed as vapourware because it's an evolutionary development of a real, flying launch vehicle (Falcon 9) — a Falcon 9 core with two extra first stages strapped to the sides as boosters (and some fancy cross-stage plumbing to run the central core motors off fuel bled from the strap-ons, so that at BECO the central stage still carries a full fuel load). With the giant Iridium NEXT contract SpaceX have landed (the largest commercial launch contract in history), not to mention the ISS resupply contract, SpaceX looks likely to have the cash flow to build and fly this thing.

It occurs to me that, while Falcon Heavy doesn't have the payload to do a direct manned Moon mission via Lunar-orbit rendezvous (as in Apollo), it'd probably suffice for Earth orbit rendezvous missions: one launch for the Lunar Lander, one launch for the Earth Departure Stage, and one launch for the crew capsule (possibly an evolved Dragon capsule).

Cost? $120M each for two Falcon Heavy launches. $80M for a Falcon 9/Dragon launch. Cost of an uprated Dragon able to accommodate two astronauts for two weeks. Cost of a Lunar Surface Excursion Module. Cost of an Earth Departure Stage to boost the LEM/Dragon combo up to trans-Lunar injection.

If this were NASA, you'd need to get a bigger calculator to show all the digits on the budget. But given SpaceX's track record, I think by 2016 they'll be able to plan and run a moon mission on a budget of under US $1Bn — possibly under US $600M.

Note that these days the budget for a big Hollywood blockbuster — Avatar, for instance — can push over the $0.3Bn mark. It's hard to say what the media rights to the second! ever! manned Moon program! would be, but it's hard to see them going for much less than a major blockbuster movie. I think it unlikely that the expedition could be run entirely on the media rights, but they should certainly make a double-digit percentage contribution to the budget. Add the opportunity to tout for the science budget of some major agencies (by carrying lunar orbiter packages as payload, perhaps?) and it might be possible to raise $250-500M towards the costs of a $600-1000M expedition.

Is Elon Musk planning on being the 13th man on the moon?

[*] The Space Shuttle, with payload, outweighs the payload capacity of Falcon Heavy — but the Shuttle payload itself is much smaller. Besides, the Shuttle is an inelegant turkey designed by a committee and it's going to die. So there.

Those of you who are regulars here will doubtless know that I live in the UK, a nation which still has some quaint vestiges of monarchism embedded in its constitutional machinery.

As happens from time to time in a monarchy, the heir to the throne is getting married — at the end of this month, in fact. As I predicted last year the media has now worked itself up ("25 days to go!" says the BBC headline; "Kate Middleton's engagement blouse is back in stock at Whistles!" announces the Daily Telegraph) into a self-amplifying frenzy capable of temporarily drowning out multiple simultaneous nuclear meltdowns, a series of civil wars and revolutions in the Middle East, and the most savage spending cuts since the early 1920s.

... Meanwhile, due to unforseen family circumstances I find myself unable to flee overseas to a suitably non-anglophone anti-monarchist haven of beer and sanity for the duration. The horror! The horror!

But I digress.

Making lemonade with the proverbial, I am led to ask: what are the psychological underpinnings of the cult of personality? Why are we — as a species — so prone to empathizing with remote figureheads? It doesn't have to be a handsome prince and his simpering bride: it could equally be Vladimir Lenin or Barack Obama. Indeed, the trappings of pomp surrounding any head of state seem to tend towards those of royalty. Look at Colonel Qaddafi's uniforms, for example, and compare them to those of Kaiser Wilhelm II. (Barack Obama's uniform is, of course, the lounge suit, because the USA's chief executive is very emphatically defined as a civilian office by the constitution, despite being head of the armed forces.) Or look at their bijou apartments.

Is this necessary? Is it even useful? While the existence of a high executive office implies a need for an office building, and presumably some sort of apartment for the occupant of the office to live in, why do we always seem to end up with bad parodies of 17th century imperial palaces? Which in turn were attempts to one-up the palaces of earlier dynasties? And why is it that even when we separate decision-making from monarchy hereditary dictatorship by the short, sharp expedient of a revolution, the trappings and traditions of royalty keep sneaking in through the back door?

Edinburgh, UK, April 1, 2011 — Cheezburger (, the Internet publisher best known for popularizing LOLcats, FAILS, and other Internet memes, today announced it has acquired Charlie's Diary, the authoritative and amusing weblog of science fiction author Charles Stross.

Created by Hugo-winning SF author Charles Stross, Charlie's Diary is dedicated to giving people an overdose of the florid imagination of a science fiction writer who gets bored easily and has too much time on his hands. Over the past decade Charlie's Diary has trolled the internet for lulz at the expense of space enthusiasts, trekkies, sad-faced clowns, and proletarian chew-toys, in the process delivering a spectacular Google pagerank and accreting a vibrant community of snarky nerds, general-purpose pedants and drive-by spammers.

"I'm excited to see the Charlie's Diary community joining the Cheezburger community," said Ben Huh, CEO and founder of Cheezburger. "Since Cheezburger is the playground of choice for millions of Internet culture fans, the addition of regular commenters such as Jonathon Vos Post and Heteromeles is a natural complement for our community. Now, in addition to delivering 5 minutes of happiness through I Can Has Cheezburger?, FAIL Blog, Memebase, and The Daily What, we can host interminable flame wars about whether ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny and the prospects for saving the environment by installing a molten thorium salt reactor in every basement."

"Thanks to the amazing community, Charlie's Diary has become one of the Internet's top five science fiction weblogs," said Stross. "It's taken a decade and I'm all burned up, so I've finally decided to monetize you bitches and cash out." To aid in this process Stross intends to throw the gates open for guest bloggers to contribute their content for a small consideration. "Ben Huh is enthusiastic about providing user analytics and behavioural advertising for Charlie's Diary, and we expect this will enable us to recoup some of the investment in time and energy the blog has cost me during the ten year bootstrap process." Charlie will continue to market his science fiction under the brand name Charles Stross™ for the next five years, at which point the Charles Stross™ brand will be wholly transfered to the Cheezburger Network intellectual property portfolio and the author formerly known as Stross will rebrand and launch under a non-conflicting identity.

Media Reaction

The media response to word of the Cheezburger Network's expansion into the world of science fiction blogging has been mixed."This is just the kind of move you'd expect of that back-stabbing mercenary Stross," said John Scalzi, "selling his reader community down the river. We'd never sell Ghlaghghee to Cheezburger Inc.," he added, stroking his unfeasibly hairy pussy: "now where did I tape the bacon?" Teresa Neilsen Hayden was more sanguine: "we at Making Light are open to reasonable offers, as long as they are compatible with our coverage of hamsters." The bacterial colony formerly known as Peter Watts declined to comment.

About Stross

Charles Stross, 46, is a full-time science fiction writer and resident of Edinburgh, Scotland. The winner of two Locus Reader Awards and winner of the 2005 and 2010 Hugo awards for best novella, Stross's works have been translated into over twelve languages. He is also the proprietor of Charlie's Diary, a weblog dedicated to investigating the pressing question of whether there is anything better in life than drawing on the sole of your slippers with a biro instead of going to the pub on a Saturday night. Charlie's Diary boasts a readership of over 150,000 cantankerous geeks who post over a thousand argumentative comments per month. The diary has been a vanity project and white elephant ever since its inception, receiving revenue solely from the Amazon referrals program until the author deleted all his links to it in a fit of pique.

About Cheezburger

Cheezburger, the company which publishes popular sites such as I Can Has Cheezburger?, FAIL Blog, Memebase, and The Daily What, is one of the largest online humor publishers in the world where millions of people come every month to get their 5-minutes of happiness. Cheezburger counts a passionate fan base of 17.5 million people who upload more than 500,000 pictures and videos as well as view 400 million pages and 110 million videos each month. The company has been profitable since its inception with revenue from advertising, traditional media publishing including books, and merchandising.



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