Dark State

Today marks the publication of Dark State in paperback in the USA! And a price drop for the paperback in the UK—the UK first edition was a large format trade paperback, not a hardcover; this is the smaller "mass market" printing. (The ebook should also be getting a little cheaper by and by, but no new pricing has propagated yet.)

I've been quiet lately because we're going through a heat wave right now in the UK, and I'm a Discworld troll: if the temperature goes over 20 celsius in my un-air-conditioned office my brain melts. Also, I'm trying to take a sabbatical: I've been pushing out words faster than my natural long-term rate for a few years, and I don't generally take non-working holidays, and after a bit it all gets to be too much, with added close family medical woes on top. So, having turned in the manuscript of INVISIBLE SUN (which will be out next year, albeit no earlier than July and possibly as late as October) I'm giving myself license to do absolutely no scheduled work for six months, and see how it goes. And this is how it's going.

We are now 25 months on from the Brexit referendum. Theresa May filed notice of departure from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on 29 March, 2017: on 29 March, 2019 (in 8 months' time—approximately 240 days) the UK, assuming nothing changes, will be out of the EU.

You thought you were rid of me. Sorry, Charlie's still on vacation for a few more days, so here's something that has nothing to do with current politics. Just to be annoying, I'm going to revisit that ever-giving fount of joy, slower than light (STL) interstellar travel. You may think that, because it's not physically impossible, that it's inevitable that humans will travel this way one day. Sadly, it looks like blasting your way between the stars the hard way requires magical technology too, just as FTL does.

We've talked about this before on the blog, but unfortunately, the really good conversation was about 800 comments in and about 8 (?) years ago, so you can't just google it. Here, I'm going to cover two points: why canned monkeys don't ship well, and what the precursors to STL would look like, so that we'll know if our society ever starts preparing itself to expand into space at less than the speed of light.

So last week I finished the rewrite of "Invisible Sun", the third Empire Games novel, which feels as if it's been going on forever (I began it in mid-2014). The delivered manuscript is about 30% longer than the previous draft and 25% longer than the two earlierbooks, because of all the loose ends I was trying to tie up, and it all took longer than expected.

On Tuesday I'm off to Toruń in Poland as a guest of honour at Polcon, the oldest Polish science fiction convention. I've got a relatively quiet summer (although I might be doing a panel at MCM Comicon in Glasgow in mid-September and doing a reading in Berlin earlier in the month, subject to venue). Then in October I'll be a guest of honour at Vcon 42 in Vancouver; I may also be wandering around Canada for a couple of weeks before/after Vcon, but won't be visiting the USA on that trip.

Anyway, the blog is going to go quiet while I'm in Poland, but I hope to start updating it more regularly once I get home around mid-month and am no longer on deadline.

While I'd like to write SFF or rewrite Hot Earth Dreams, this year I'm stuck spending most of my energy fighting developers who decided not to let a good housing crisis go to waste and are busy clogging California with million dollar fire traps. Right now, worldbuilding is my way to blow off steam, and I figured I'd pass some of it along for your amusement. If you're a writer, feel free to appropriate anything here. My ask for comments is to contribute to the effort: help me unpack the science in this essay, ask questions, and contribute cool worldbuilding science of your own. If this goes over well, there are other topics we can cover.

The subject of this essayare the three little ideas in the title. Without further ado:

Hello strange people: by way of introduction, I am Dan Ritter, occasionally seen in the comments section as -dsr-. I live outside of Boston and work in Cambridge, doing various bits of computer work just off of the MIT campus for a small financial software firm -- if you don't work for a bank or brokerage, you probably haven't heard of it.

I once suggested to Charlie that since the Indian Navy was having budget problems, they might agree to sell a de-militarized Krivak-class frigate, which would make an excellent evil billionaire's yacht.

Today my subject is "free SF", by which I mean stories that you don't have to pay money to read. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are in the public domain, or that the author has given up copyright; it just means free of required monetary cost. Some authors do that as a sort of advertisement for their work; some do it because it makes them happy, some do it because they don't want to put it up for sale (or can't -- that's a whole class), and some are doing it for the exposure so that they can build an audience. All of this is only viable because the Internet has such a low marginal cost. For me, the best thing about free SF is that I have a zero-risk opportunity to read new authors, and the second best thing is that I have more money to buy books.

Something huge is happening in the UK right now, and I wonder where it's going.

Brexit requires no introduction at this point. Nor, I think, do the main UK media players. With the exception of two newspapers (The Daily Mirror and The Guardian) the national papers have been uniformly pro-Brexit to the extent of attacking national institutions seen as being soft on Brexit. The BBC news programs have also broadly pushed a pro-Brexit line, from Question Time (which gave Nigel Farage a semi-permanent slot but not once invited a guest speaker from the Green Party or the SNP—both pro-Remain by policy), to the Today Program (Radio 4's news flagship), whose John Humphrys pushes a hard Brexit line.

Although the referendum was framed as advisory and limited to leaving the European Union, it was received as a mandate by the Conservative hard right and their hard-left opposite numbers in Labour (who have their own reasons for disliking what they see as a neoliberal right-wing institution), and the current in-cabinet debate appears to be over whether to leave all European institutions immediately, or to provide an adjustment period for leaving organizations like the Customs Union (which wasn't on the ballot in the first place).

Here in the real world the drumbeat of bad economic news continues. Jaguar Land Rover to move production of Discovery from UK to Slovakia, because of course they're owned by Tata, most of their output is exported, and why would an Indian company want to invest in a UK beset by pre-Brexit uncertainty? UK manufacturing output is falling at its fastest rate since 2012. And the rest of the economy is doing so well that Poundworld (the equivalent of a US dollar store chain) has collapsed and is in bankruptcy administration.

Then, last week, something happened. Or several somethings. (From the outside it's hard to be sure.)

Here's the shape of a 21st century I don't want to see. Unfortunately it looks like it's the one we're going to get, unless we're very lucky.

Some of you might be aware of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that comes into force throughout the EU on May 25th. (For a broader lay person's introduction, see this essay by Jacques Mattheij.)

Here's what you need to know about this website and GDPR:

  • This may look like a personal blog, and as such you might think it's exempt from GDPR (Article 2 states that the regulation doesn't apply to processing of personal data "by a natural person in the course of a purely personal or household activity"). However, this blog is an adjunct to my business (writing novels) and is used for marketing purposes from time to time (carrying marketing information about my books, and links to third parties selling them). Prudence dictates that I should comply with the requirements of the GDPR—not to mention ethics: GDPR is about protecting individuals' privacy, and I'm all in favour of that.

  • I do business on such a small scale that, essentially, I'm responsible for everything on this website. (I sometimes pay other folks consultancy fees to do design or technical maintenance tasks I'm not competent to do myself.) Thus, all the corporate roles and responsibilities outlined in GDPR (such as the Data Protection Officer) devolve to me.

  • This website retains blog entries and blog comments. By posting an entry on this blog, or by commenting on an entry, you are implicitly agreeing to let me republish your material around the world. (This is mentioned in the moderation policy which you were advised to read before commenting, and I make it clear to the invited guest bloggers in their intro email.)

  • EDIT Spamming is a violation of the moderation policy of this blog and strictly forbidden. The blog uses external third-party services (specifically Akismet) to identify and reject spam comments that have been posted to multiple blogs. Because this is not a Typepad system, I have no access to Akismet-collected metadata about your comments. The content of your comments is publicly accessible, and is made visible to Akismet's service at the time of posting, as a precondition for posting on my blog. If for some reason you don't want your comment to be shared with Akismet, (a) stop commenting, and (b) contact me to have your earlier comments removed.

  • This website runs on top of a software stack using the Apache web server. Yes, Apache saves logfiles. These are only digested for statistical analysis of overall traffic. It also uses cookies to maintain your login session if you create a username and password so that you can comment (or post blog entries). Stuff it knows about you includes the IP address your browser request came from, the page requested, the referrer page (if any), and your browser identification string (if any). If this worries you, you're welcome to use a VPN and obfuscate or anonymize any or all of these things: you won't be blocked (although it may make posting comments problematic if you block cookies and/or javascript).

  • This website does not attempt to track you, does not knowingly feed your personally identifiable information to any other business or advertising affiliate or network—I don't even use Google Analytics—and I don't intend to start collecting or processing personal identifiable information.

  • This website may leak information about your session to third parties if you allow it to load content in the sidebar from Zazzle.co.uk (hint: the merchandise links), and if you view it with image loading enabled (I sometimes post image links that direct to websites I don't control).

  • Many years ago I ran a mailing list; this is now discontinued/deleted. More recently I set up a Google Group (antipope-storm-shelter or some such), so long ago I've lost track of it. That is covered by Google's GDPR compliance policy. If I ever decide to relaunch my author mailing list, I will do so by outsourcing operations to a third party organization that is GDPR compliant, and I will only ever operate a mailing list on a strict opt-in basis: I will never harvest your email address from your blog login for my own, or a third party's, mailing list.

  • If you want to exercise your right to be forgotten, or have personal information removed from this site, Contact me via this link if you don't already have my email address, or DM me on Twitter (@cstross). I do not use Facebook: requests made via Facebook will probably be missed. Note that I am not a corporation with a dedicated IT support staff and I spend 4-10 weeks of each year traveling, frequently without a laptop. If you don't get a reply within a week, email me again—I probably didn't get your request or I was swamped by other stuff.

  • Once I receive a GDPR request I will comply with it promptly, but bear in mind I'm a human being with a day job, and this blog is a peripheral pursuit. If your requests become an irritant (e.g. if you request multiple fiddly comment deletions or edits across multiple threads) I may just erase all your content and ban you from the blog in future. (GDPR gives you a right to be forgotten; it does not impose an obligation to be remembered.)

Any questions? Ask below. Use this link for GDPR requests

Nope, Charlie's not done, it's just me again.

Yes, I wish Cthulhu Counterfactual was the title of the book I was publishing, but alas. Charlie's tied up in a D=3.76931323 fractal dimensional knot that he needs to solve in order to bring his trilogy to a satisfying conclusion, and I decided to fill in the silence with some silliness.

So...Anyone interested in playing a game of Cthulhu Counterfactual?

It's simple, playing what-if with a question that subverts the Mythos in some way.

Stop me if you've heard this before:

Hobby Lobby, the American arts and crafts stores owned by anti-contraception Christian fundamentalists the Green family (who most famously sued for exemption from the Affordable Care Act because it required them to provide health insurance covering contraception for female as well as male employees) have been at it again.

The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC opened in November 2017; claiming to have one of the largest collections of biblical artefacts and texts in the world, it's primarily funded by donations from the Green family (owners of Hobby Lobby) and the National Christian Foundation. (You can take a biblical literalist view of history—young earth creationism—as a given.)

It now appears that a large number of artifacts in the museum, donated by Hobby Lobby, were smuggled out of Iraq via the UAE, as part of the extensive archaeological looting of historic sites that took place in the wake of the Iraq invasion. (Hobby Lobby was forced to relinquish 5,500 artifacts for repatriation to the Iraq Museum, and paid a $3M settlement.)

Anyway, the latest update: hundreds of the looted 4000-year-old cuneiform tablets in the Hobby Lobby collection appear to come from the lost Sumerian city of Irisagrig: they've been identified as legal and administrative texts between 3600 and 4100 years old, although a few contain religious/magical incantations.

So: dubious Protestant fundamentalist cultists, 4000 year old lost cities, looted archaeological sites, magic spells ... does this remind you of anything?

So, we upgraded the OS on the server that hosts this blog. Then discovered that Movable Type, the blogging system we use, is ... problematic ... with secure HTTP. (There's a fix, but it imposes a performance penalty.)

This coincided with (a) the UK eastercon and (b) the copy edits for "The Labyrinth Index" (which are now done and it's on course for publication on October 30th), but explains why I've been silent for the past week-and-a-half. The silence is going to be ongoing for a while longer, too: I'm about to head off to Fiuggi in Italy for Deepcon 19, where I am guest of honour, and I won't have much time for blogging until I get home in the last week of the month.

Also, reality is leaving me in the dust when it comes to making up surreal news headlines: Hackers in Finland acquired data from a North American casino by using an Internet-connected fish tank. With news like that, what's an author to do? (Part 942, contd ...)

Hi there. Sorry for the hiatus on blogging; I'm just back from the Eastercon, and managed to forget to schedule an April Fool update while I was gone.

The bad news is, the hiatus is going to continue for a bit longer—and I'm switching off comments, too! The good news is, this is so that I can do a long-overdue operating system upgrade and blogging system upgrade, and add support for secure HTTP (so that google doesn't start flagging my wholly non-commercial blog as an insecure ecommerce site and downrank it in search). There may be other new features, too, when service is resumed: I particularly want to see if I can make the blog more tablet- and smartphone-friendly (while not compromising on the desktop experience).

There will be a couple of regressions, however: notably, the secure web server support will not include Internet Explorer 10 and previous releases (yep, Windows XP is officially end-of-life at this point). There may be other issues with support for older/obsolescent standards too, although I'll try to keep the system accessible to users with browsers less than a decade old.

Schedule: as of now, I'm switching off comments so that I can take a complete and consistent backup of the database and download it to my NAS, so that if everything goes pear-shaped I've got the wherewithal to rebuild everything. With close to a quarter of a million blog entries and comments, running on an ancient machine, this takes some time. (Yes, I run periodic backups. But new comments are coming in all the time, so they're incomplete.)

Once the backup is done, downloaded, and verified, my highly experienced sysadmin will do a long-overdue security audit and operating system upgrade, we'll create certificates for SSL and set up secure HTTP servers, mess with the DNS settings for antipope.org to support them, and switch things back on. Then I will do a long-overdue blogging software upgrade (skipping the technology forward about five years) and make sure everything works.

We should be back up by this time next week (hopefully a few days earlier).

See you on the other side!

So it finally happened: a self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. And, of course, the car was an Uber.

(Why Uber? Well, Uber is a taxi firm. Lots of urban and suburban short journeys through neighbourhoods where fares cluster. In contrast, once you set aside the hype, Tesla's autopilot is mostly an enhanced version of the existing enhanced cruise control systems that Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes have been playing with for years: lane tracking on highways, adaptive cruise control ... in other words, features used on longer, faster journeys, which are typically driven on roads such as motorways that don't have mixed traffic types.)

There's going to be a legal case, of course, and the insurance corporations will be taking a keen interest because it'll set a precedent and case law is big in the US. Who's at fault: the pedestrian, the supervising human driver behind the steering wheel who didn't stop the car in time, or the software developers? (I will just quote from CNN Tech here: "the car was going approximately 40 mph in a 35 mph zone, according to Tempe Police Detective Lily Duran.")

This case, while tragic, isn't really that interesting. I mean, it's Uber, for Cthulhu's sake (corporate motto: "move fast and break things"). That's going to go down real good in front of a jury. Moreover ... the maximum penalty for vehicular homicide in Arizona is a mere three years in jail, which would be laughable if it wasn't so enraging. (Rob a bank and shoot a guard: get the death penalty. Run the guard over while they're off-shift: max three years.) However, because the culprit in this case is a corporation, the worst outcome they will experience is a fine. The soi-disant "engineers" responsible for the autopilot software experience no direct consequences of moral hazard.

But there are ramifications.

I'm not a Solarpunk, I just play one in real life, it seems. While Charlie's out doing important stuff, I decided I'd drop a brief, meandering essay in here for the regular crowd of commenters to say some variation on, "Why yes, that's (adjective) obvious," and to eventually turn the conversation around to the relative merits of either trains or 20th Century weapons systems, if we can get past comment 100.

As most of you know, I do a lot of environmentalism, so much so in fact that I'm not working any creative writing right now (except this!), just going to meetings and reading environmental impact reports (if you don't know anything about California's perennial punching bag, CEQA), well, don't bother, it's tedious). This post was inspired by what I saw in the process of the San Diego County Supervisors approving the most developer-friendly version of the County Climate Action Plan (CAP) that they could. The details of about seven hours of meetings really don't matter, but the universality of what happened might, at least a little.

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