Charlie Stross: February 2015 Archives

Right now, I'm chewing over the final edits on a rather political book. And I think, as it's a near future setting, I should jot down some axioms about politics ...

  1. We're living in an era of increasing automation. And it's trivially clear that the adoption of automation privileges capital over labour (because capital can be substituted for labour, and the profit from its deployment thereby accrues to capital rather than being shared evenly across society).

  2. A side-effect of the rise of capital is the financialization of everything—capital flows towards profit centres and if there aren't enough of them profits accrue to whoever can invent some more (even if the products or the items they're guaranteed against are essentially imaginary: futures, derivatives, CDOs, student loans).

  3. Since the collapse of the USSR and the rise of post-Tiananmen China it has become glaringly obvious that capitalism does not require democracy. Or even benefit from it. Capitalism as a system may well work best in the absence of democracy.

  4. The iron law of bureaucracy states that for all organizations, most of their activity will be devoted to the perpetuation of the organization, not to the pursuit of its ostensible objective. (This emerges organically from the needs of the organization's employees.)

  5. Governments are organizations.

  6. We observe the increasing militarization of police forces and the priviliging of intelligence agencies all around the world. And in the media, a permanent drumbeat of fear, doubt and paranoia directed at "terrorists" (a paper tiger threat that kills fewer than 0.1% of the number who die in road traffic accidents).

  7. Money can buy you cooperation from people in government, even when it's not supposed to.

  8. The internet disintermediates supply chains.

  9. Political legitimacy in a democracy is a finite resource, so supplies are constrained.

  10. The purpose of democracy is to provide a formal mechanism for transfer of power without violence, when the faction in power has lost legitimacy.

  11. Our mechanisms for democratic power transfer date to the 18th century. They are inherently slower to respond to change than the internet and our contemporary news media.

  12. A side-effect of (7) is the financialization of government services (2).

  13. Security services are obeying the iron law of bureaucracy (4) when they metastasize, citing terrorism (6) as a justification for their expansion.

  14. The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there's a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.

  15. The term "failed state" carries a freight of implicit baggage: failed at what, exactly? The unspoken implication is, "failed to conform to the requirements of global capital" (not democracy—see (3)) by failing to adequately facilitate (2).

  16. I submit that a real failed state is one that does not serve the best interests of its citizens (insofar as those best interests do not lead to direct conflict with other states).

  17. In future, inter-state pressure may be brought to bear on states that fail to meet the criteria in (15) even when they are not failed states by the standard of point (16). See also: Greece.

  18. As human beings, our role in this picture is as units of Labour (unless we're eye-wateringly rich, and thereby rare).

  19. So, going by (17) and (18), we're on the receiving end of a war fought for control of our societies by opposing forces that are increasingly more powerful than we are.

Have a nice century!


a) Student loans are loans against an imaginary product—something that may or may not exist inside someone's head and which may or may not enable them to accumulate more capital if they are able to use it in the expected manner and it remains useful for a 20-30 year period. I have a CS degree from 1990. It's about as much use as an aerospace engineering degree from 1927 ...

b) Some folks (especially Americans) seem to think that their AR-15s are a guarantor that they can resist tyranny. But guns are an 18th century response to 18th century threats to democracy. Capital doesn't need to point a gun at you to remove your democratic rights: it just needs more cameras, more cops, and a legal system that is fair and just and bankrupts you if you are ever charged with public disorder and don't plead guilty.

c) (sethg reminded me of this): A very important piece of the puzzle is that while capital can move freely between the developed and underdeveloped world, labour cannot. So capital migrates to seek the cheapest labour, thereby reaping greater profits. Remember this next time you hear someone complaining about "immigrants coming here and taking our jobs". Or go google for "investors visa" if you can cope with a sudden attack of rage.

I’m back home and mostly recovered from the jet lag, and according to the doctors I shouldn’t lose too many fingers from frostbite. (I exaggerate, but only a little: as I just spent three weeks in New England—specifically in New York and Boston—my cold weather gear got a bit of use. I mean, only about a metre of snow fell while I was there, and the MBTA only shut down due to a weather emergency twice: by the end of the trip we were making uneasy jokes about Fimbulwinter.)

Along the way I had plenty of meetings and I have some publishing news.

For one thing, I sold a short story (my first in a few years) to the MIT Technology Review. (It’ll be published in their fiction/futures issue, later this year.) And for another thing, “Accelerando” is finally getting a French translation; it’s due to be published by Editions Piranha on April 3rd. Oh, and of course “The Annihilation Score” is coming out for the first time in the UK and USA in the first week of July—that’s the sixth Laundry Files novel.

But the real news is that the trilogy-shaped-object I’ve been gestating at Tor for the past couple of years finally has a publication date and is slouching towards your bookshelves. I say “trilogy shaped object” because “Empire Games” is a single story spanning three books: they’re coming out at three month intervals, starting with “Dark State” in April 2016, to be followed by “Black Rain” and “Invisible Sun”. It’s set in the same multiverse as my earlier Merchant Princes series, although you don’t have to read the earlier series first; it’s about the failure modes of surveillance states and revolutions, the bizarre tendency of bureaucratic organizations to find new purposes for themselves long after their original purpose goes away, and how civilizations deal with existential threats. (Oh, and it has spies, a princess, a space battleship, and an alien invasion—just in case you thought I’d gone totally mundane …)

And to round things off, summer 2016 should also see the publication of “The Nightmare Stacks”, Laundry Files book seven. Because I love you so much that I’ve been writing one of them a year for a while (although I plan to take a year off after this one so I can do something different—every book I’ve written since 2007 has been in-series with something I wrote before then, and I have this itchy urge to surprise you).

So, that’s a four-book year coming up. And maybe there’ll be some short fiction on top. Finally all the hard work I did in 2013-14 is bearing fruit!

Charlie here, popping in with an announcement about next week.

Some of you may be familiar with Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, Mass., a most excellent establishment. Some of you might also be familiar with Boskone, the regular mid-February Boston SF convention. A bunch of authors go to Boskone, and we also do events at Pandemonium, so mark your calendars:

UPDATED Thursday February 12th, 7pm: Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch, now with special guest Charlie Stross, will be signing books, reading, and generally entertaining you at Pandemonium! And yes, this is the official launch party for "Karen Memory":

(I'll probably move on to the Cambridge Brewing Company after the event, assuming it's open; feel free to tag along.)

You can also catch all of us at Boskone, over the weekend!



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