A piece of ebook-reader software called Clean Reader has been generating headlines and causing indignation among authors recently:

A new app that allows readers to swap swear words in their novels with sanitised versions is facing a backlash from furious authors, who have accused it of setting a dangerous precedent of censorship.The app, entitled Clean Reader, has been designed to take explicit words out of any book printed in electronic format - with or without permission from its author - to swap them with child-friendly versions.

(I'm not linking to Clean Reader directly—don't want to give them any free inbound Google mojo.)

The US (not UK, alas) ebook edition of "The Atrocity Archives", Laundry Files book 1, is on a special promotion. It's $1.99 for the rest of March! you can find the Amazon.com Kindle edition here, or the Barnes and Noble Nook edition here, Google Play store version here, and Apple iBooks store version here.

If you're reading this on my blog you're probably already aware of my Laundry Files series; in case you came here from elsewhere, "The Atrocity Archives" is book #1 in the sequence, and the latest novel, "The Annihilation Score" (book 6) comes out in the first week of July. In fact, I just finished checking the page proofs now, so it's heading back to the typesetter agency and then on to the printers next month ...

I've been quiet due to (a) recovering from delivering the hopefully-final draft of "Dark State" (the first book in the "Empire Games" trilogy, due from Tor next April), (b) visiting relatives, (c) having a nasty head-cold, and (d) having the page proofs of "The Annihilation Score" (July's Laundry Files novel) land on my desk. Normal service will, as they say, resume as soon as possible.

My current plan is to tackle the aforementioned page proofs, work on the next book, then head for Dysprosium, the British eastercon, over the Easter bank holiday weekend. And before I go I really ought to fit in time to catch up with the last Jim Butcher book that I haven't read yet, because he's one of the two guests of honour at Dysprosium and I'm on program to interview him. (If you've been reading the Laundry Files you might have noticed a tip of the hat in his general direction.)

Finally, here is an extremely dangerous toy (probably illegal in all sane jurisdictions).

Friendship is context-sensitive.

I wouldn't describe Terry as a friend, but as someone I'd been on a first-name acquaintanceship with since the mid-1980s. If you go to SF conventions (or partake of any subculture which has regular gatherings) you'll know the way it works: there are these people who don't really see outside of this particular social context, but you're never surprised to see them in it, and you know each other's names, and when you meet you chat about stuff and maybe sink a pint together.

I haven't seen Terry since the Glasgow worldcon in 2005. The diagnosis of his illness came in 2007; I'd been spending a chunk of 05-07 out of the country, and after the bad news hit I didn't feel like being part of the throng pestering him (for reasons I'll get to later on in this piece.)

Some of you may be aware that there's a tabletop role-playing game set in the Laundry Files universe, sold by Cubicle 7 Games.

It's available on paper, and as PDF downloads via the usual folks (such as DriveThruRPG).

Anyway, there's a special promo for the next couple of weeks; Bundle of Holding, who do humble bundle style sales of RPG materials, are doing a special Bundle of Laundry offer. For $8.95 or more, you get the core rule book and the player's handbook as PDFs; if you pay more than their median price (currently $24.32) you get a whole bunch of extra supplements—basically the entire RPG for under $25 (or about £16.50 in real money). Oh, and this stuff? Is all DRM-free.

So if you've had a vague yen to dust off a tabletop RPG for an evening's fun with friends, why not see if you, too, can survive your training as a Laundry operative without losing your mind?

I have a new book coming out in the first week of July: it's The Annihilation Score (UK ebook link), and here's the cover Orbit have done for the British edition!

Annihilation Score cover

And in case that's not enough, because it's published on both sides of the pond, here's the US ebook edition, and the American cover art:

Annihilation Score cover

If you detect a certain violin-theme running through both covers, you'd be perfectly right. Because this may be the sixth Laundry Files novel, but there's a new twist: this one isn't about Bob, it's about Mo. And superheroes. And a certain bone-white instrument ...

I am still suspended head-down in a vat of boiling edits. The deadline is next Friday, so don't expect normal blogging to resume before then.

(The book in question, "Dark State", is tentatively due out from Tor in April 2016—assuming I can hit that deadline.)

Harry Connolly posting again, while Charlie hammers away at his work.

I'll confess that I was startled when I saw Elizabeth Bear's earlier Obligatory Author Shilling post. Sadly, my first thought was "Is that even allowed?"

As in: Are we allowed to confidently tell readers about our books? Are we allowed to talk about our books as though they're good things that readers would enjoy, without a whole shitload of fancy footwork first?

What can I say? The Imposter Syndrome is strong with me. But I'm going to follow Bear's excellent example and write a straight up post about my new book, which drops today.

It's an urban fantasy called A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark and it's the last fiction stretch goal for my Kickstarter.

Here's the cover:

Key/Egg cover
Art and design by Duncan Eagleson

Readers familiar with my Twenty Palaces novels be warned: this isn't that. Key/Egg is a pacifist urban fantasy. In a genre where protagonists routinely behave as though they live in a lawless frontier where every problem must be solved with a bullet from an enchanted Glock, this is a book where problems are solved through diplomacy and trickery.

Also, in a genre filled with 20-something ass-kickers, the protagonist is a woman in her mid-sixties who's a cross between Auntie Mame and Gandalf. Why should older characters be constantly relegated to expository roles? Why not let them strut their stuff a little?

The story is set in modern-day Seattle, and involves one of those murders that Leads to a Larger Scheme. If you're a long time reader of James Nicoll's LiveJournal and you read to the end, you'll know why I thanked him in the acknowledgements.

Anyway, after the bleakness of the Twenty Palaces novels, I wanted something light and fun. This is it; a thriller without violence.

Check out some sample chapters here. Thanks.

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!

Afternotes:

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!

WARNING DANGER THIS COLUMN CONTAINS PATHOS, ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION, AND RAMPANT SENTIMENTALISM. If that bothers you, turn back now.

I feel a great pathos for robots.

Not just any robots, mind. But explorer robots. Brave little space robots. Voyager and Venera and Curiosity and Beagle robots. Spirit and Opportunity robots, possibly even more than all the others.

I think, honestly, most people do. We personalize the brave little toasters. They have twitter accounts and show up in completely heartbreaking xkcd strips. We root for them, pull for them, and appreciate their triumphs, tribulations, and traumas.

Scientists are still learning new things from images of Jupiter taken by Voyager I in 1979, when I was eight years old.

Eight. Years. Old.

Hello. I'm Rachel Manija Brown, co-author (with Sherwood Smith) of the YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, Stranger, and its sequel, Hostage. Stranger was published by Viking. Hostage was self-published. More on that in a moment.

Hello again. I'm also Lia Silver, author of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance series, Werewolf Marines, which is about werewolf Marines. Also PTSD and breaking the rules of at least two genres. (In my "Rachel no-middle-name Brown" identity, who doesn't write anything but treatment plans, I'm a PTSD therapist.)

And hello yet again. I'm also Rebecca Tregaron, author of the lesbian romance/urban fantasy/Gothic/romantic comedy/culinary mystery/everything and the kitchen sink Angel in the Attic, and the lesbian erotica, "Bound in Silk and Steel," in Her Private Passion: More Tales of Pleasure and Domination. (That's an anthology of lesbian erotica with 100% of its profits donated to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Please consider purchasing it or its companion gay anthology, His Prize Possession if your interests include human rights, lesbian spanking, or gay tentacles.)

Lia and Rebecca are self-published. Rachel is traditionally published and self-published. Since you probably already know plenty about traditional publishing, I'm here to talk about self-publishing.

If you click on the cut, you will eventually get to a discussion about the indie erotica subgenre about sex with dinosaurs, minotaurs, and Bigfoot.

Normally, I do this kind of thinking-out-loud on my own blog, where about thirty people are paying attention. But then Charlie said "hey, I've got this guest spot, come make yourself vulnerable visible here!" And sure, why not?

Hi, my name's Laura Anne, and while in the past I've mostly been known for urban fantasy (of the modern-magic-and-mystery variety) and the fact that I convinced a publisher to pay me to write three books about wine-based magic (and got a Nebula nomination for it!), my next project decided that it was going to drag me screaming and kicking somewhere slightly more problematic: American history.

Now, the talk in genre these days is about diversity, calling for more characters of color and alternative cultures, and more writers of color and non-Western backgrounds.  And I'm 100% behind that  - not because I'm a guilty white liberal.  Because I'm needy.

There.  I admit it.

Yes, literature - genre or mainstream - is a mirror.  We look into it to see ourselves, through whatever reflects back. And that's why it's important for there to be diversity - so everyone gets a chance to see themselves.  But literature is also a window.  It's how we see things that aren't us, that bring new views, new light into who we are

So I want to see more stories set in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, in cultures that aren't mine, with characters who aren't me, in race, religion, color or sexuality, because they let me see something else, something I can't get any other way.  I need more of that, please!

But where does that call for diversity, and cultural authenticity, leave me as a writer?  I'm of mixed and muddled background - four different bloodlines each carrying several different countries on their backs and continents in their wake.  But for me to claim one of them as my mirror?  Would be false, because I'm not a member of those cultures: I'm American, three generations deep.   So how much of American culture can I claim? 

At the start of this year Rachel Manija Brown and I decided to self-publish Hostage, the second book in our YA dystopia series. The long explanation is here.

Some people applauded, others shook their heads, but most discussion has not been about our books so much as about publishing in general. Underlying that I think is the anxiety many us writers feel about how fast publishing is changing, and what it all means for each of us.

Maybe it's just because I've always been a history geek, but the more I talk about this stuff, the more I'm reminded of the ways people dealt with the rapid changes of publishing during the wild days of the early novel, specifically in England. (Yeah, I know that Cervantes, and Madame de La Fayette, etc, were all early novelists, but I mean the eighteenth century when novel publishing went from a few to hundreds and beyond over a matter of decades. Kind of like genre books went from a few a year during the fifties and sixties, to hundreds a year, and then thousands.)

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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