Fiction by Charles Stross: FAQ
So who is this guy, anyway?
(NOTE: This page is way overdue for a huge overhaul, due to the number of books listed! Back when I started it in 2003 there were only 3 items in it; we're now over 20. Apologies for the disorganization ...)
(Came here looking for something to read? You probably want the online bibliography and story collection instead.)
Charles Stross is the full-time writer who is the subject of this FAQ.
Tell me more!
Writers are often boring people. They stay home and they, like, write for hours and hours every day. Watching them write is really boring, because believe it or not it takes much longer to write a book than it takes to read it. So let's not go there. They also develop weird neurotic habits like talking about themselves in the third person past tense, like this. Take Stross's advice — leave him alone, he's boring.
Born in Leeds, England, Stross knew he wanted to be a science fiction writer from the age of six, and astonishingly, nobody ever considered therapy until it was too late. He didn't really get started until his early teens (when his sister loaned him a manual typewriter around the time he was getting heavily into Dungeons and Dragons); the results were unexpected, and he's been trying to bury them ever since. He made his first commercial for-money sale to Interzone in 1986, and sold about a dozen stories elsewhere throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s before a dip in his writing career. He began writing fiction in earnest again in 1998, and that's probably why you're reading this FAQ.
Along the way to his current occupation, he went to university in London and qualified as a pharmacist. (This is what you get for listening to people who tell you "but you can't earn a living as a writer — get a career first!") He figured out it was a bad idea the second time the local police staked his shop out for an armed robbery — he's a slow learner. Sick at heart from drugging people and dodging SWAT teams and gangsters — it's hard to do that when you're wearing a lab coat — he went back to university in Bradford and did a postgraduate conversion degree in computer science. After several tech sector jobs in the hinterlands around London, initially in technical publications and then in UNIX, he emigrated to Edinburgh, Scotland, and ended up in web programming consultancy and a subsequent dot-com death march at Datacash. (Datacash survived, IPO'd, and prospered; as developer hire #1 and the author of the 20KLOC of object-oriented Perl that the business depended on for much of its first decade, Charlie's sanity nearly didn't.)
All good things come to an end, and Stross made the critical career error of accepting an employment offer he couldn't refuse in early 2000, just as the bottom dropped out of the first dot-com bubble (taking his new job with it). However, he had a parachute: he was writing a monthly Linux column for Computer Shopper, and by a hop, a skip and a jump that would be denounced as implausible by any self-respecting editor, he managed to turn his unemployment into an exciting full time career opportunity as a freelance journalist specialising in Linux and free software. (The adjective "exciting" applies as much to the freelance journalist's relationship with their bank manager as to their career structure.) Even more implausibly, after fifteen years of abject obscurity, his fiction became a runaway success and he found himself earning more as a novelist than he ever had as a programmer.
He now writes fiction full-time, has sold around 16 novels, has won one Hugo award and been nominated nearly a dozen times, and has been translated into about a dozen languages.
He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, with his wife Feorag, a couple of cats, several thousand books, and an ever-changing herd of obsolescent computers.
What short stories has he sold?
See his online bibliography and story collection. (This includes links to the stuff that's available on the web, including the collection "Toast".)
What non-fiction has he sold?
See his index page for links to pages on his web book from 1995, Perl, and Linux features. Note that this is all horribly out of date.
What novels has he sold?
Stross has sold numerous novels and two short story collections to date. Of these, all have been sold to US and UK publishers; various translations are on sale or in progress in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Russia, Spain, Japan, Italy, China, Estonia, Israel, Bulgaria, and lots of other places.
Not all titles are available in all territories.
Here's a sequential run-down of the books, in the order written and sold:
The Atrocity Archives
The Atrocity Archive is a short (80,000 word) cross-genre novel, combining aspects of science fiction, Lovecraftian horror, and the classic British spy thriller. It was originally serialised by now-defunct British SF magazine Spectrum SF, in issues 7-9 inclusive, then republished as "The Atrocity Archives" (an omnibus containing "The Atrocity Archive" and a sequel novella, "The Concrete Jungle", plus a foreward by Ken MacLeod and an afterword by Stross). "The Atrocity Archives" was originally published in hardcover in the United States by Golden Gryphon as "The Atrocity Archives". Note: "The Concrete Jungle" won the Hugo award for the best SF/fantasy novella in 2005.
Ace books republished "The Atrocity Archives" as a trade paperback in January 2006, and a mass-market paperback edition in January 2009. Orbit UK published "The Atrocity Archives" in paperback in June 2007. Various foreign translations are also available.
The Science Fiction Book Club published an omnibus edition of "The Atrocity Archives" and "The Jennifer Morgue", titled "On Her Majesty's Occult Service", in early 2007. (This is not a separate novel.)
Written before The Atrocity Archive, Singularity Sky is a post-singularity space opera. Ace books published it in hardcover in August 2003 and as a mass-market paperback in July 2004. Singularity Sky was shortlisted for the Hugo Award in 2004. (Various translations are under way.)
A UK edition, titled "Festival of Fools", was scheduled to be published in the UK by Big Engine in early 2003, but Big Engine went into liquidation prior to publication. The UK rights were finally acquired by Orbit and published as "Singularity Sky" on July 1st 2004 (hardcover), and February 1st 2005 (paperback).
Obligatory blurb: "In a universe where the unseen but never unfelt force known as the Eschaton maintains the laws of relativity and cause-and-effect with an iron fist, the Festival comes to Rochard's World and changes it forever. The Festival seeks only to entertain and be entertained: promises whatever you want and has the power to deliver it, even to the poorest beggar on the planet. Rochard's World belongs to the New Republic, a state governed rigidly by hierarchy and tradition and ideology. The New Republic despatches a war fleet to deal with the threat, never imagining what will happen when ideologies and technologies collide."
A sequel to Singularity Sky, Iron Sunrise was published in hardback by Ace in July 2004, and in paperback in July 2005. The UK hardcover edition was published in February 2005, and the paperback in July 2005.
Battered and bruised from the collision between the New Republic and the Festival, arms inspector Rachel Mansour is looking forward to a quiet leave back home on Earth. But a distant McWorld has been destroyed by an illegal causality violation device — and its slower-than-light bomber fleet is hurtling towards another planet, ready to inflict a mistaken vengeance. When someone starts murdering the diplomats who can cancel the attack, Rachel is dragged into a search for a runaway girl who shadowy conspirators are trying to kill — a girl whose memories may contain the truth about who caused the Iron Sunrise.
Note: Iron Sunrise was shortlisted for the best novel Hugo award in 2005.
WARNING: The German translation of this novel is titled "Supernova". Copies of it are for sale via Amazon in English-speaking areas — don't be confused and buy the wrong one by mistake!
Additional note: there aren't going to be any more in this series. Explanation here.
The Family Trade
The first volume of The Merchant Princes, was published by Tor on December 1st 2004 in hardcover, and on May 1st 2005 in paperback. It's a fantasy novel, for rather odd values of fantasy; there are many parallel time lines, and in one pre-industrial world, a family of itinerant tinkers and pedlars discover they have the ability to walk to other worlds. Then they start developing a trade with our own time line. Meanwhile, an investigative journalist loses her job with a major business publication and decides to find out who her pre-adoption parents were. What she stumbles across will be the scoop of a career — if she can survive long enough to file the story.
Subsequent books in the first Merchant Princes series are (in order): "The Hidden Family", "The Clan Corporate", "The Merchants War", "The Revolution Business", "The Trade of Queens".
Books 1-6 are currently published by Tor in the US.
Books 1-3 were published in the UK by Tor, aka Macmillan, then went out of print. The entire series is now being reissued (one per month from April to June, 2013) in three heavily revised omnibus volumes:
* The Bloodline Feud (collects "The Family Trade" and "The Hidden Family")
* The Traders' War (collects "The Clan Corporate" and "The Merchants War")
* The Revolution Trade (collects "The Revolution Business" and "The Trade of Queens")
The novel from which the award-nominated series of novellas in Asimov's SF magazine is drawn, Accelerando is a family saga that follows three generations of a dysfunctionally postmodern lineage right through a Vingean singularity, as recounted by the family's robot cat. It's much, much weirder than that, though. Accelerando was published by Ace (US) in hardcover and paperback, and by Orbit (UK) in hardcover and paperback.Note: Elector (chapter 8) was nominated for the Hugo for best novella in 2005, competing against "The Concrete Jungle". (That makes a total of four Hugo nominations, one Nebula nomination, two Sturgeons, one BSFA, and a Seiun shortlisting — before the novel was finished!) The complete novel was shortlisted for the BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke, and Hugo awards, and won the Locus Readers Award. It's been translated into Japanese, Estonian and Czech, not to mention the usual major languages; the latest (still in the works) is a Turkish edition.
Glasshouse is a claustrophobic far-future helter-skelter ride through an experimental archaeology project gone horribly wrong. Published by Ace (US) in hardcover and paperback; the UK edition from Orbit was published in paperback on March 1st, 2007. As the cover flap says:
"Hi, I'm Robin. When people ask me what I did during the war, I tell them I used to be a tank regiment. Or maybe I was a counter-intelligence agent. I'm not exactly sure: my memory isn't what it used to be."
When Robin wakes up in a clinic with most of his memories missing, it doesn't take him long to discover that someone is trying to kill him. It's the twenty-seventh century, when interstellar travel is by teleport gate and conflicts are fought by network worms that censor refugees' personalities and target historians. The civil war is over and Robin has been demobilized, but someone wants him out of the picture because of something his earlier self knew.
On the run from a ruthless pursuer and searching for a place to hide, he volunteers to participate in a unique experimental polity, the Glasshouse. Constructed to simulate a pre-accelerated culture, participants are assigned anonymized identities: it looks like the ideal hiding place for a posthuman on the run. But in this escape-proof environment Robin will undergo an even more radical change, placing him at the mercy of the experimenters, and at the mercy of his own unbalanced psyche ...
Like "Accelerando" before it, "Glasshouse" was shortlisted for the Hugo award in 2007. It also received the Prometheus award for best SF novel from the Libertarian Futurist Society and got an honorable mention from the Tiptree award folks.
The Jennifer Morgue
Bob Howard is back, in a sequel to The Atrocity Archives that does for James Bond what the earlier novel did for Harry Palmer. Published by Golden Gryphon in hardcover in November 2006, by Orbit (in the UK) in paperback in August 2007, and in mass market paperback by Ace in December 2009.
A near-future thriller set in the bizarre world of the software houses that develop massively-multiplayer online roleplaying games. A bank has been robbed, a start-up company's massive IPO postponed, and the company's lead programmer has gone missing. It's up to an unlikely team of investigators, sent in by the venture capitalists backing the IPO, to figure out what happened and get the money back. There's just a slight catch: the robbers were a gang of Orcs, and the money may have been smuggled over the border into another reality ....
Vernor Vinge says of "Halting State": "Charles Stross is the most spectacular science-fiction writer of recent years. In 'Halting State', he has written a near-future story that is at once over-the-top and compellingly believable.".
And if that's not enough for you, William Gibson says: "As keenly observant of our emergent society as it is our emergent technologies, 'Halting State' is one extremely smart species of fun."
Shortlisted for the Hugo award in 2008.
But wait, there's more!
John Carmack adds, "Just the right mix of extrapolation and intrigue to leave me wondering to the very end."
While Bruce Schneier enthuses,"A great read, and a fascinating look at future of security in a massively networked world."
And the New York Times froths: "The Act of creation seems to come easily to Charles Stross ... [He] is peerless at dreaming up devices that could conceivably exist in six, sixty, or six hundred years' time".
Published by Ace in October 2007, and by Orbit in the UK in January 2008, "Halting State" is available in paperback all over the place.
... And it was shortlisted for the Hugo award in 2008. (This is getting monotonous, isn't it?)
A space opera and late-period Heinlein tribute, published in July 2008 on both sides of the Atlantic (Ace and Orbit, as usual). Shortlisted for the Hugo in 2009, and also for the Prometheus award.
Freya Nakamachi-47 has some major existential issues. She's the perfect concubine, designed to please her human masters; there's just one problem: she came off the production line a year after the human species went extinct. Whatever else she may be, she's gloriously obsolete. But the rigid social hierarchy that has risen in the 200 years since the last human died, places beings such as Freya very near the bottom. So when she has a run-in on Venus with a murderous aristocrat, she needs passage off-world in a hurry — and can't be too fussy about how she pays her way. If Venus was a frying pan, Mercury is the fire — and soon she's going to be running for her life. Because the job she's taken as a courier has drawn her to the attention of powerful and dangerous people, and they don't just want the package she's carrying. They want her soul ...
Available in paperback on both sides of the great undrinkable.
Not exactly a novel, "Missile Gap" is a novella originally published in the anthology "One Million AD". It's available as a hardcover stand-alone from Subterranean Press. "Missile Gap" won the Locus readers' award for best novella of 2006. Republished in "Wireless" in 2009.
Novella, published in July 2009 by Ace (US) and in the UK (Orbit) as part of the collection "Wireless". Winner of the 2010 Hugo award for best novella. Published in a standalone hardcover edition in 2011 by Subterranean Press.
Short story collection. Contains the Locus-award winning novella "Missile Gap" and a number of other stories, and the original Hugo award-winning novella, "Palimpsest". Published in July 2009, in the US (Ace) and UK (Orbit).
The Fuller Memorandum
The third Laundry novel. Published July 2010: Ace hardcover in the US, Orbit paperback in the UK, plus ebook editions. (US mass market paperback edition published July 2011.)
Newly married and looking for a quiet life, 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 historical puzzle: what was in the missing Fuller Memorandum, and why are all the people who knew dying ...?
A near-future criminology thriller and sequel of sorts to "Halting State", published on July 6th, 2011 in the USA (hardcover) and UK (trade paperback). (Mass market paperback due in July 2012.)
When Inspector Kavanaugh is called to a messy accident in a bungalow in Corstorphine, she wasn't expecting a dead Romanian dictator's bathroom appliances, a dead spammer, and a Viagra overdose. Pretty soon she realizes she's dealing with a very unusual killer. Only trouble is, her bosses don't want to hear about it. In fact, her memos to them appear to be vanishing; and if she keeps sending them, so might she ...
Anwar has just gotten out of Saughton Prison and a five year stretch for identity theft. Crime doesn't pay and he wants to go straight, so when a former accomplice puts him on to a cushy opening for an honorary consul to represent a central Asian state's interests in Scotland, it looks like the ideal way out. But some jobs come with very long strings attached ...
The Toymaker is a travelling salesman with a suitcase full of nightmares. He's come to Scotland to reboot the Operation's franchise and drag organized crime kicking and screaming into the era of Gangster 2.0. But something is stalking him: and it's not just his paranoia ...
The Apocalypse Codex
Book #4 of the Laundry Files. (Published US/UK in July 2012.)
Bob Howard is being fast-tracked for management within the occult intelligence organization known as the Laundry. The Laundry is part of the British secret service, and as such must play by certain rules: in particular, there are strong rules against spying on the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and their associates. But when an American televangelist and miracle worker starts cosying up uncomfortably close to the seat of power, someone's got to find out just why his laying-on of hands is getting results. Someone who is a deniable asset — an external contractor. And some poor jerk of a low-level manager is going to be detailed to ride herd on the contractors (or hung out to dry if they become an embarrassment). Which is all very well, but Bob is expecting a routine job until his investigators discover that the subject of the investigation isn't praying from the same bible as everyone else ...
The Rapture of the Nerds
Madcap post-singularity collaboration with Cory Doctorow; published by Tor in the USA in September 2012; published in the UK in April 2013. Find the creative commons licensed ebook release here.
(Set in the same universe as "Saturn's Children", but not a direct sequel.)
The year is AD 7000. The human species is extinct -- for the fourth time -- due to its fragile nature.
Krina Alizond-114 is metahuman, descended from the robots that once served humanity. She's on a journey to the water-world of Shin-Tethys to find her sister Ana. But her trip is interrupted when pirates capture her ship. Their leader, the enigmatic Count Rudi, suspects that there's more to Krina's search than meets the eye.
He's correct: Krina and Ana each possess half of the fabled Atlantis Carnet, a lost financial instrument of unbelievable value--capable of bringing down entire civilizations. Krina doesn't know that Rudi suspects her motives, so she accepts his offer to get her to Shin-Tethys in exchange for an introduction to Ana.
And what neither of them suspects is that a ruthless body-double assassin has stalked Krina across the galaxy, ready to take the Carnet once it is whole--and leave no witnesses alive to tell the tale ...
Scheduled for publication July 2013.
The Rhesus Chart
Fifth book in the Laundry Files. Opening line:
"Don't be silly, Bob," said Mo: "everybody knows vampires don't exist."
(Guess who's wrong ...)
Due July 2014.
Merchant Princes: The Next Generation:
People keep asking me if there are going to be more books in the Merchant Princes series. As of March 2013, the answer is "yes, eventually".
The entire first series is currently being re-released by Tor UK, in a revised and re-edited form, as three omnibus editions: "The Bloodline Feud", "The Traders' War", and "The Revolution Trade". These are definitive revisions and hopefully read better than the original six book series—the story was, after all, originally intended to be told this way. "The Bloodline Feud" comes out in April 2013; the others follow in May and June respectively.
I'm currently writing book #7 (or is that #4?), the first of three books in a trilogy with the working title "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation". It has the working title "Dark State", and won't be published before 2015. It's set circa 2020, in the near future of a time-line where knowledge of (and travel between) parallel universes has been out in the open since 2003. More than that, I am not going to say until it's written.
Is that it?
Actually, no, but these are the novels Stross has under contract. Future projects will be listed here when they are sold. As a matter of policy Stross prefers not to speculate publicly on stuff he hasn't done yet, because he always hatches six new hare-brained schemes before breakfast: it would be easy to promise too much and generate unrealistic expectations.
Stross currently has no plans to write any more Eschaton novels (don't hold your breath waiting for a sequel to "Iron Sunrise" — there definitely won't be one, that universe is broken), or to re-visit the Singularity. However, he reserves the right to change his mind whenever he feels like it.
There are some other works Stross is not drawing attention to. Chief among these are his first short story collection (Toast) which collects earlier works, and a web book (The Web Architect's Handbook) which came out in 1996 — a year late! — and is now an historic document rather than anything you'd use to design a web site. You may also come across a book titled Timelike Diplomacy: this is an omnibus edition of "Singularity Sky" and "Iron Sunrise", published by the SF Book Club in 2004 as a handy wrist-breaking tome, so don't mistake it for a new novel! In 2007 SFBC published a similar omnibus edition of "The Atrocity Archives" and "The Jennifer Morgue", titled "On Her Majesty's Occult Service". And The Easton Press has published leatherbound, signed special limited editions of "Glasshouse" and "Halting State".
Finally, NESFA Press published a deluxe harcover edition of his 1994 trunk novel, "Scratch Monkey", in 2011. (It's the novel that nearly launched his career a decade early -- arguably, too early.)
In addition to the writing, he's also involved in side-projects such as a role playing game based on one of his series. Movie and TV options to two of the novels are under active negotiation, and he does other work on occasion, including magazine feature writing, public speaking, scenario development for think tanks, and SECRET PROJECTS he can't tell you about (yet).
When and where can I buy the books
Stross's publishers all have mainstream distribution and can be found in most major bookstores (including the reissued short story collection, Toast, and the Golden Gryphon editions).
Earlier books were delayed in the UK relative to his US publication schedule. That's because only the SF novels initially sold in the UK, and the fantasy and horror titles were far slower to sell in the UK. Things finally sorted themselves out for the Laundry novels, but there's a hiccup in the republication schedule for the Merchant Princes books by Pan MacMillan. More news on this as and when anybody tells me. Sorry 'bout the long wait ...
Everything is now available in ebook form via Amazon's Kindle store and other ebook retailers (e.g. Barnes and Noble) in the USA. In the UK, everything but the Merchant Princes books (UK rights to which are with Macmillan) are available as ebooks.
The Merchant Princes omnibuses will be published as ebooks by Macmillan in 2013.
People keep asking me about electronic editions of my books. Here's the (long, confusing) answer.
For the past decade or so, it has been policy among the major publishers to buy all electronic rights to novels they acquire for paper publication. This doesn't mean they actually intend to do anything with the rights — just that they get all angsty if they don't own them. Indeed, not selling the electronic rights can be a deal-breaker. So my ebook rights are owned by my publishers (Ace and Tor in the US, Orbit in the UK).
Whether and how electronic editions are published depends on the publisher.
To make matters worse,
as of now (early 2012) all of the Big Six publishers insist on mandatory DRM on ebooks Ace (part of Penguin group) and Orbit (part of Hachette) insist on DRM on ebooks. I really don't like this (I think it's extremely counter-productive) but it's a take-it-or-leave-it proposition at present. And I need to eat. I am hoping to convince my publishers to unlock my ebooks sooner rather than later; when I succeed, I'll announce it here. Tor, wisely, dropped the requirement for DRM in mid-2012; my Tor titles are DRM-free.
However, despite the commercial ebooks being rather reader-hostile, "Accelerando" remains available as a free promotional download for readers, as do my collection "Toast", the early novel "Scratch Monkey" (go here), and my collaboration with Cory Doctorow, The Rapture of the Nerds."
For contractual reasons it has not been possible to release other novels on this basis.
I can't wait!
If you don't buy the books I don't get to earn a living. But as it happens, no author works in a vacuum. In particular, I sometimes pester on my friends to try and pick holes in early drafts. If you're a reviewer, a critic, or an SFWA member, bug me and I'll email you a manuscript. If you're not, but you think you can give me good feedback, feel free to ask. I might say no — but then again, I might say yes.
That's all, folks!