September 2015 Archives

Me again! M Harold Page, but you can call me "Martin" (I use my very fine middle name to differentiate myself from the folk singer and the French YA writer).

I've just published Swords Versus Tanks 1: "Armoured heroes clash across the centuries". It even has a cover quote from Charlie ("Holy ####!").  So now I'm here to shamelessly plug my new book (click through and take a look at the cover... Go on! You know you want to!).

However, you're a sophisticated lot, so call the above "A word from our sponsor" and let me tell you why I think tank stories make great tech myths.

First some examples...

Here's a technological question with philosophical side-effects that's been bugging me for the past few days ...

Today, the commercial exploitation of outer space appears to be a growth area. Barely a week goes by without a satellite launch somewhere on the planet. SpaceX has a gigantic order book and a contract to ferry astronauts to the ISS, probably starting in 2018; United Launch Alliance have a similar manned space taxi under development, and there are multiple competing projects under way to fill low earth orbit with constellations of hundreds of small data relay satellites to bring internet connectivity to the entire planet. For the first time since the 1960s it's beginning to look as if human activity beyond low earth orbit is a distinct possibility within the next decade.

But there's a fly in the ointment.

I've fallen silent because I'm drinking my way around Amsterdam this weekend. Tomorrow (Monday) I'm flying out to Portland, Oregon, for the H. P. Lovecraft film festival and Cthulhucon, where I'm one of the guests of honor. And on Monday evening I aim to be eating and drinking in Deschutes Brewery in Portland from about 7pm in a desperate attempt to stave off jet lag. If you're in town, why not come along and help keep me awake until local evening?

This week's amusing (albeit arguably libellous) allegations may be grounds for mirth, but I'd caution anyone who actually believes the Prime Minister stuck his todger in a porker to first remember the words of the immortal Hunter S. Thompson, from Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72:

This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics. Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble, and it has even been elevated to the level of political mythology in a story about one of Lyndon Johnson's early campaigns in Texas. The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent's life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.
"Christ, we can't get a way calling him a pig-fucker," the campaign manager protested. "Nobody's going to believe a thing like that."
"I know," Johnson replied. "But let's make the sonofabitch deny it."

I cannot speak to the nature of the bonding rituals of elitist Oxford University drinking societies, but I am fairly sure that Lord Ashcroft, as former treasurer and deputy chair of the Conservative party and being of an age to remember him, has read LBJ's play-book.

What I'm more concerned about is the question of who is supposed to replace Cameron in time to do damage control in the aftermath of the coming fiscal crisis. Theresa May, perhaps?

(This is the preamble to a complex open-ended question, below the fold. Bear with me ...)

Back in 1994-96, during the Big Bang era of rapid expansion as the world wide web expanded into the outline of its future shape, there was considerable discussion of how best to pay for everything. Back in the early days of the internet NSFNet basically forbade commercial use of internet connected systems — this went out the window rapidly once the world wide web caught on as a publishing medium.

There were two contenders for the funding mechanism in the early days: micro-billing (in which you pay pennies, fractional or otherwise, for access to web pages) and advertising (in which the page is nominally free but you pay the bandwidth overheads of downloading someone else's idea of what they want you to see). Advertising won out because in the long-ago era of modem-based downloads micro-billing was expensive; you might only need to exchange a couple of KB of data to fund a transaction, but when many folks were still using modems that topped out at an asthmatic 9600 bits/second, the bandwidth cost was just too high to support microbilling.

So we ended up with banner ads and spam, and then by a hop, skip and a jump today's hideously bloated ecosystem of ad exchanges, trackers, ghost cookies, third-party javascripts that download megabytes of libraries to figure out who you are and who is willing to pay the most for a few seconds in front of your eyeballs ... and so on.

I'm on the move again, from the middle of next week.

On September 24th, I'll be doing an interview, Q&A, and signing at the American Book Center in Amsterdam (the largest English language bookstore in the Netherlands).

This is while en route to Portland, Oregon, where from October 2nd to October 4th I'm guest of honor at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhucon. I'll post my program items here when they're finalized. In the meantime, you might want to keep an eye on my twitter feed for rapid-fire updates.

Because I get asked this a lot ... the US Audiobook edition of "The Annihilation Score" has finally materialized. (Actually, it dropped a week or so ago but I've been flailing around in the guts of a novel and too busy to mention it.) You can find the Amazon Audible page here;; if you know of different platforms/vendors feel free to add a comment.

No, there is no UK/EU audio edition. Nor are there other new UK audio editions of my books. Here's the (lengthy) explanation of why this is so.

Because Amazon hates your wallet, US customers can now buy an ebook bundle of all six Laundry Files novels. This includes "The Annihilation Score". (Yes, part of the high price is a side-effect of TAS still being priced against the hardcover. It'll get cheaper next June when the paperback comes out ... then shoot right up again a month later when they add "The Nightmare Stacks" to the bundle.) There's no UK bundle option yet, but I'm going to suggest it to the folks at Orbit.

If you're a completist, you may also want to add Three Tales from the Laundry Files — an ebook-only bundle consisting of "Overtime", "Equoid", and "Down on the Farm" (which are not collected in any other volumes so far). (UK customers should go here).

I'm head-down, redrafting a book right now. But in the meantime, I am mulling over a question.

Assume you are a historian in the 30th century, compiling a pop history text about the period 1700-2300AD. What are the five most influential factors in that period of history?

Please note that this is a 600 year span—around the duration of the entire mediaeval period. Events a mere 20 years apart, such as the first and second world wars, merge together when viewed through the wrong end of a temporal telescope, just like the 30 years' war or the Wars of the Roses. Individual people, even hugely influential thinkers and rulers and tyrants, are a jumbled mass of names with dates attached. This is a question about the big issues—the ones big enough to remember half a millennium hence, like the Black Death, the Crusades, or the conquest of the Americas.

I'm not asking for specific historical events but for major trends. Anthropogenic climate change is obviously one of the big ones, and I have a number of others in mind; I want to see if I've missed anything obvious.

(For the sake of argument we assume: no singularity/rapture of the nerds, no breakthroughs that lead to wholesale invalidation of the known laws of physics, and no catastrophic events that render humanity extinct, destroy all archival records, or consign us all to a pre-industrial level of civilization.)

Hi everyone, this is Aliette de Bodard peeking in from Paris. Charlie's been kind enough to let me borrow a spot on his blog while he recovers from jet lag (we both went to Worldcon in Spokane, but I have a big advantage over him: I wasn't in the US long enough and actually never really adapted to the 9-hour time difference, so when I came back I was basically functioning normally. On the minus side, I was a pumpkin in Spokane!). Anyway... *clears throat* Today, I wanted to talk about magic systems and how I built the one in my novel.

Magic systems, for me, are a bit like the air you breathe: I've found out (much to my dismay) that I can't start writing a story without having an idea of where the magic is coming from and who uses it. Magic conditions so much of the fabric of a fantasy universe for me that not working it out in advance feels a little like setting out across a blizzard without skis, warm clothes or a distress flare.

(Charlie here. The season of guest bloggers continues with Aliette de Bodard, an incredibly talented writer, who I unaccountably forgot to introduce at the same time as Fran Wilde.)

Aliette de Bodard lives and works in Paris, where she has a day job as a System Engineer. She studied Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, but moonlights as a writer of speculative fiction. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Obsidian and Blood trilogy of Aztec noir fantasies, as well as numerous short stories, which garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. Recent/forthcoming works include The House of Shattered Wings (August), a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, and The Citadel of Weeping Pearls(October), a novella set in the same universe as her Vietnamese space opera On a Red Station Drifting. She lives in Paris with her family, in a flat with more computers than warm bodies, and a set of Lovecraftian tentacled plants intent on taking over the place.



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