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.

I'm making a few public appearances over the next months:

First up, on Saturday 10th of March I'm doing a public Q&A, short reading, and signing at the American Book Center in Amsterdam. (Click link for details.)

Then, from March 30th to April 2nd I'll be at Follycon in Harrogate, the 69th British Easter SF Convention. (Guests of honour are Kieron Gillen, Christina Lake, Nnedi Okorafor, and Kim Stanley Robinson, so it's going to be good. OK?)

Finally, from April 19th to 22nd, I'm a guest of honour at Deepcon 19 in Fiuggi, Italy.

I am working (for reasons of my own) towards a comprehensive list of plausible technothriller plots from 2010 where the MacGuffin is named Satoshi Nakamoto.

Before you go off prematurely: a MacGuffin in fiction is ... "a plot device that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation". Can be a person as well as a thing. "Satoshi Nakamoto" is the pseudonym of the entity who designed BitCoin and the blockchain database. Whoever they are, they're anonymous and they own a bitcoin wallet containing one million bitcoins (worth approximately $19 billion at present market rates), making them the 44th richest person in the world—if they dared spend them, because if they spend any of their bitcoins they'll risk exposure. And "technothriller plots from 2010" is the deadline because that's the year when Nakamoto went inactive, roughly 12 months after the initial release of Version 0.1 of the bitcoin software via SourceForge (January 2009). (If I'd picked an earlier year—say, 2008—the subsequent BitCoin mania could only be described in science fictional terms.)

So, here are some plausible technothriller plots about "Satoshi Nakamoto", from 2010—all of them entirely fictional, of course. Feel free to add your own in coments.

So, a brief update about "The Labyrinth Index" and British audiobook editions of the Laundry Files!

Firstly, "The Labyrinth Index" will now be published on October 30th in both the US and UK, not in July as previously scheduled. (It takes time to turn a manuscript into a book—copy-editing, typesetting, checking proofs, running the printing press, distributing crates of books toshops—and due to a cascading series of delays (that started with me not deciding to write it until after my normal 2018 novel deadline had passed) we had to add three months to the production timeline.) On the other hand, the manuscript has been delivered and should be with the copy editor real soon now, so it's on the way.

Secondly, some unexpected good news for those of you in the UK, EU, Australia and NZ who like audiobooks: "The Fuller Memorandum" and "The Apocalypse Codex" are getting audio releases and are due out on May 24th!

This has been a sore spot for years. Recording audiobooks is expensive and the British audiobook market is a lot smaller than the North American one. The Laundry Files have been released in audio since book five, "The Rhesus Chart", and a couple of years ago Orbit worked with the RNIB to release the first two books in the series, but books 3 and 4 were missing—back-list titles that were uneconomical to record (and the US audio publisher wanted too much money for a license to re-use their recording).

Anyway, it looks as if the growing market for audiobooks and the growing sales of the Laundry Files have finally intersected, making it possible for Orbit to justify paying for an audio release of the missing titles, and you'll be able to listen to the entire series.

Being a guy who writes science fiction, people expect me to be well-informed about the current state of the field—as if I'm a book reviewer who reads everything published in my own approximate area.

(This is a little like expecting a bus driver to have an informed opinion on every other form of four-wheeled road-going transport.)

Similarly, marketing folks keep sending me SF novels in the hope I'll read them and volunteer a cover quote. But over the past decade I've found myself increasingly reluctant to read the stuff they send me: I have a vague sense of dyspepsia, as if I've just eaten a seven course banquet and the waiter is approaching me with a wafer-thin mint.

This isn't to say that I haven't read a lot of SF over the past several decades. While I'm an autodidact—there are holes in my background—I've read most of the classics of the field, at least prior to the 1990s. But about a decade ago I stopped reading SF short stories, and this past decade I've found very few SF novels that I didn't feel the urge to bail on within pages (or a chapter or two at most). Including works that I knew were going to be huge runaway successes, both popular and commercially successful—but that I simply couldn't stomach.

It's not you, science fiction, it's me.

UK Labyrinth Index

Yes, this is the British cover for "The Labyrinth Index", the ninth Laundry Files novel, coming in the second half of this year.

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