(This was originally a comment on the preceding thread. I decided to promote it to blog entry, just because.)

If you've read Season of Skulls you probably guessed I did some research on travel in England in 1816 (plus before and after). So, some notes follow ...

Season of Skulls cover

(Season of Skulls is the third book in the New Management trilogy, following on from Dead Lies Dreaming and Quantum of Nightmares. It's an ongoing story ...)

It was a bright, cold morning in Hyde Park, and a detachment of Household Cavalry was riding along North Carriage Drive in parade dress, escorting a tumbril of condemned prisoners to Marble Arch.

Season of Skulls cover

My friendly neighbourhood SF/F bookshop here in Edinburgh, Transreal Fiction, is now taking advance order for signed copies of Season of Skulls (follow the link to the bookshop's blog).

(I'll probably be popping in to sign stock at other bookshops in the area, but Transreal is the place to put down advance orders. Note that they won't be mailed out until on or after the official publication date.)

I am a Republican[*].

On the occasion of the horrifically expensive and pointless coronation of King Charles III I want to state clearly: I want to live in a nation governed with the consent of the people, rather than by the divine right of kings.

We got through seventy-plus years under the reign of Elizabeth II without too much controversy over her role. Credit where credit's due: she managed the duties of head of state with dignity and diligence for decades on end, even if a lot of skeletons were forcibly locked in closets (consider what NDA Prince Andrew's victim much have been required to pay in return for a royal cash pay-out, or what acts of parliament were modified or never brought forward because the monarch didn't want to see them). And even if she and her family came out considerably richer at the end of her reign, even accounting for inflation.

(One thing I'll say about the House of Windsor: they don't engage in vulgar looting of the British state on the same scale as, say, the Putin family in Russia. But the Windsors have reason to be confident they'll be around for generations. A burglar doesn't need to hurry if the police are there to guard their back.)


Elizabeth Windsor is dead. Her successor is a snobbish, reactionary seventy-six year old multi-billionaire. He's so divorced from the ordinary lived experience of his subjects that he reportedly can't even dress himself.

I didn't vote for him.

Nobody did. Nobody does. Nobody ever will, because this is not a democracy.

There is no democratic accountability in monarchy. As a system of government, in undiluted form it most resembles a hereditary dictatorship — current poster-child: Kim Jong-Il. The form we have in the UK is not undiluted: Parliament asserted its supremacy with extreme prejudice in 1649, and again in 1688, and ever since then the British monarchy has been a constitutional, rather than an absolute one — a situation that leaves odd constitutional echoes, such as the fact that we have a Royal Navy but we a British Army (loyal to Parliament, and not under royal command).

For the Americans reading this blog, let me provide a metaphor: let us postulate the existence in the antebellum Deep South of benevolent, morally righteous slaveowners who did not flog or rape or oppress their slaves. (I know, I know ... it's a thought experiment, okay?) Would that be enough to exculpate the institution of slavery? I'm pretty sure the answer lies somewhere been "no!" and "hell, no!" Slavery is an inherently oppressive institution because it deprives a class of victims of their most basic right to autonomy. The failure of a [hypothetical] individual slave-owner to be corrupted does not invalidate the corrupt nature of the system.

Similarly, the existence of benevolent, incorruptible, morally righteous monarchs who do not tyrannise their subjects citizens does not redeem the institution of monarchy.

Both slavery and monarchy are affronts to the principle that all people are equal in law. They may differ in detail of degree or circumstance — after all, is anyone seriously comparing King Charles to Kim Jong-Il, or Henry VIII? — but the very existence of the institution is, in and of itself, dehumanizing.

Now we are being treated to the sight of a billionaire scion of a hereditary dictatorship being feted with a Β£50M party and national holiday to celebrate his unelected ascent to the highest office in the land. It is, of course, a religious ceremony—the religion in question being a state-mandated Christian church of which maybe 10% of the population are adherents to any extent—but hey, pay no attention to us apostates. This is happening in the middle of a ghastly polycrisis, with inflation running in double digits, the Bank of England advising people to "accept that you are poorer" as a result of the government's ghastly mishandling of brexit and the post-COVID economy, a government actively trying to suppress voter groups who don't support them and refusing to track numbers of those turned away at the polls, jailing political dissidents, ignoring their obligations under international law on refugees ... in the middle of this mess our quasi-fascist government is trying to distract us with an appeal to tradition! pomp! ceremony! dignity! and the usual tired bullshit the right roll out whenever they don't have a coherent plan for fixing the damage.

And I just want to say: not in my name.

The system is morally bankrupt and it's past time to tear it down.

[*] I use "Republican" to mean "supporter of a republican form of government"; I despise the USA's Republican Party and everything they stand for this century.

SPECIAL OFFER (USA Only): today and tomorrow (April 27th/28th) Barnes and Noble are running a special 25% off promotion on pre-orders of books with voucher code PREORDER25. This includes Season of Skulls, so if you want it and haven't ordered a paper copy yet, B&N is a good bet. Here's their page for Season of Skulls.

So, just to avoid the threat of silence, here's a little hyper-local author-specific news.

Firstly, Season of Skulls should be in shops in the next few weeks! While the official publication dates are the 16th (in the USA) and the 18th (in the UK), physical hardcovers now exist—at least of the British edition from Orbit: my author copies arrived. (The US hardcovers are probably in transit.) Audiobook versions are in the works but may not surface until some time after the physical publication date—work on recording the audio edition doesn't start until the page proofs of the print edition are signed off on (because that's what they're based off of).

Next up: I don't have a publication date yet, but the next book after Season of Skulls will be back to the Laundry Files proper with A Conventional Boy—a short novel about Derek the DM, the Satanic D&D Panic of the 1980s and its long-term consequences, and, oh, more Iris Carpenter. Forthcoming some time in 2024 from Orbit and Tor.com.

(Back when I began planning it in 2009 ACB was going to be a short story, but it grew more complex over time and now it's ... well, it's a Laundry novel, longer than any novella has a right to be albeit a bit shorter than The Atrocity Archive.)

On an entirely different note ... I had had hoped to have some news about the 2nd edition Laundry Files role playing game, but nope: not ready for an announcement yet because nothing runs to schedule. Sorry. (But it is in the works now, and hopefully you should be able to get your hands on it this year.)

As for what happens after that? I'm still wrestling with the long-delayed space opera Ghost Engine which I started in 2015 (lots of stuff got in the way! No, seriously), but hope to have it finished this summer and hopefully scheduled for publication after A Conventional Boy. And then I need to either start work on the Last Laundry Novel (working title: "Bob Bows Out"—but that's obviously not the final title it'll appear under), or the fourth New Management book. (In which Imp gets bored with Peter Pan and decides to use the ghost roads to film a new movie, on location: Narnia Porn. Because what could possibly go wrong?)

And finally, something completely different.

(I'm bringing this blog update forward a couple of days because the Shitlord of Twitter himself, Dilbert Stark, has announced that during April he'll be stripping the blue ticks from verified but non-paying Twitter accounts like mine and drop us from being boosted by the all-powerful algorithm. So if I wait a couple of days longer, my tweet linking to this post will sink like a stone. To which all I have to say, "fuck you, Elon"—and if you wish to be notified in a timely manner of future blog updates, follow me on Mastodon where I am @cstross@wandering.shop.)

Escape from Yokai Land is a slim novella in the Laundry Files, published by Tor.com Publishing in the USA in March 2022. There is as yet no UK edition, but you can buy the hardcover or ebook as an import in the UK. As a special promotion, Tor.com are cutting the price of the ebook to $2.99 for the month of April—otherwise it's a somewhat steep $11.99. Here's Tor.com's landing page with links to where you can buy it.

As to the UK edition: I eventually intend to publish a Laundry Files short story collection in both the UK and USA, and Yokai will be included—but for commercial reasons, my US publisher is reluctant to release it until after the final Laundry Files novel, so it's not going to happen for a couple of years.

It's about a year since Quantum of Nightmares was published, and the third New Management novel (Season of Skulls) is less than two months out. So this seems like a good time to resume my intermittent series of Crib Sheet blog entries about specific books.

Here's the Crib Sheet for Dead Lies Dreaming, the first book in the series.

As I mentioned in that earlier crib sheet, Dead Lies Dreaming embodied about half the ideas I'd originally developed for an earlier abortive novel project, Ghosts in the Dream House. Well, it ended inconclusively and obviously wanted to be more than just a standalone novel, and the question of where to go next was bouncing around my brain in September 2019 when I found myself in a bar at the world science fiction convention in Dublin, and a certain person who was one of my regular test readers asked me, "what if ..." and then an absolutely terrible, no-good, horrible suggestion that left me rubbing my hands in glee.

The thing I find most suspicious/fishy/smelly about the current hype surrounding Stable Diffusion, ChatGPT, and other AI applications is that it is almost exactly six months since the bottom dropped out of the cryptocurrency scam bubble.

This is not a coincidence.

To me it looks very much as if the usual hucksters and grifters are now chasing the sweet VC/private equity money that has been flushed out of the cryptocurrency market. AI is the new hotness, all of a sudden, not because it works but because it delivers panicky investors on a platter.

If you're thinking about investing in AI startups now? My advice is to avoid them like the plague (unless you are absolutely certain that you understand both the technology and the market for the proposed applications): it's too late, and you'll wake up one morning only to discover you've had your pockets picked.

Much of what passes for "journalism" these days is just stenographers feverishly copying the press-releases they're spoon-fed. Real journalism is a niche sector, and unless you subscribe to the exhorbitantly priced newsletters of the high-end analysts who are paid to work full-time studying the sector, what you're seeing on the news websites and in the newspapers is the product of PR firms paid to push AI. And you really need to ask who is paying them.

The AI sector will tick along for a while, generating positive headlines, but there's going to be a crash, sooner rather than later. The Bing/ChatGPT fiasco is just a harbinger of the way deep learning models are going to be discredited in the public eye, as people gradually realize that most of what you get out of a garbage model is more plausibly remixed garbage, and that producing a non-garbage training model requires careful human curation of the sort of giant heap of data that is incredibly labour intensive to prepare. I give it about 1-3 years until the crash. (Although I tend towards optimism: the cryptocurrency bubble took a bit over a decade to implode, but back in 2011 I prediced its demise within, yeah, 1-3 years.)

As for what you should look to invest in?

I'm sure it's just a coincidence that training neural networks and mining cryptocurrencies are both applications that benefit from very large arrays of GPUs. As in, hundreds of thousands to millions of GPUs soaking up entire nations' worth of electricity. (If I recall correctly, the latest ChatGPT model was trained on a supercomputing cluster that turns nearly $2M of electricity a year into waste heat: and it took a couple of months of 100% usage.) And of course, AMD, Nvidia, Intel, and the usual suspects have never imagined paying a PR firm to talk up markets for their latest products.

If I was a VC I'd be hiring complexity theory nerds to figure out what areas of research are promising once you have Yottaflops of numerical processing power available, then I'd be placing bets on the GPU manufacturers going there. Then I'd start seeding the field and hiring PR firms to push the narrative.

But I'm not a VC, so this is just spitballing.

(From elsenet, copied with permission, because I don't have a ChatGPT account and didn't ask the question) ...

Question to ChatGPT: What is the plot of the unpublished script Charles Stross wrote for Wallace and Grommit?

The villagers of a quaint and idyllic hamlet tucked away in the rolling hills of rural England suddenly realized that their beloved cheese shop, the lifeblood of their community, was closing its doors for good.

At first, they couldn't quite believe it. After all, the cheese shop had stood for generations, a symbol of the village's continuity and stability in an ever-changing world. But then, the whispers started. A dark rumour, like a cold gust of wind, that the cheese shop's proprietor, old Mr. Wensleydale, was retiring, and his business was to be taken over by a faceless conglomerate from the city.

Panic set in as the villagers imagined a future without their favourite cheeses and the comforting smell of cheddar wafting through the streets. The loss of the cheese shop would mean more than just the absence of a local business. It would symbolize the erosion of their way of life, the death of tradition, and the triumph of progress over all that was good and wholesome.

But then, on a drizzly Thursday morning, as the villagers gathered in the town square to mourn the loss of their cheese shop, something strange happened. A shimmering portal opened up in the sky, and a figure stepped out, a visitor from another world. The villagers looked on in awe as the stranger began to speak, and slowly, they realized that their cheese shop was not doomed after all. The future, it seemed, was not set in stone.

And so, with hope in their hearts, the villagers rallied together to save the cheese shop, fighting against the forces of change and entropy with a determination that would have made Mr. Wensleydale proud. In the end, they emerged victorious, their cheese shop still standing, and their community stronger than ever before.

This is a comedic and absurd tale set in a dystopian future. The story follows Wallace and Gromit as they navigate a world filled with sentient robots, interstellar travel, and advanced technologies. Despite their best efforts, the duo finds themselves entangled in a web of corporate espionage, alien conspiracies, and bureaucratic bureaucracy.

The familiar stop-motion animation style combined with elements of cyberpunk, wit and satire, is a unique and off-the-wall addition to the beloved franchise.

ChatGPT should need no introduction to anyone reading this blog. The ripples are still spreading out. However, I have seen a couple of interesting use cases (other than cheating at exams).

Firstly: provide a script (film, TV, or comic script) as input and ask ChatGPT to output the novelization of the film/show/comic, and apparently it can emit a pretty credible first draft. It will be missing details: scripts don't include visual descriptions of characters or physical action, so the author/editor will need to fill in the gaps—otherwise it's incredibly dialog-heavy, as if it's a novel by Samuel Beckett.

Secondly: provided with a novel as input, emit the film/TV/comic script as output. Again, what you get is very approximately a script-shaped thing. It'll get the dialog right, but it's lifted verbatim from the prose—and the cadence and rhythm of book-speech is very different from actual human speech, especially the dramatic spoken word in visual media. It may or may not get directions right, and it will probably make a horrible hash of any introspection/description, and in any case a prose novel is a bad fit for a movie script. But the point is, it's a starting point from which a good scriptwriter can probably distill something workable with much less effort than required in starting from scratch.

Third use case: ChatGPT is currently trained on an English language text corpus. It would be very interesting to see what it could do by way of translation with a sufficiently large input corpus of translated texts—like the huge trove of EU and UN documents that Google Translate was trained on.

It's not going to put movie/TV tie-in writers, scriptwriters, or translators out of a job any time soon (based on the quality of its output). But it might prove a useful tool for them, assuming the copyright issues are surmountable (and they are numerous).

Then Bioy Casares recalled that one of the heresiarchs of Uqbar had declared that mirrors and copulation are abominable, because they increase the number of men.

— "TlΓΆn, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", Jorge Luis Borges, tr. James E. Irby

the guymaker is a chaotic diety. with the ability to create human-like "guys" i could do something productive but instead I choose to make weird people who I get to watch do weird things. there is rarely an agenda behind any given guy other than "heh. funny"

— Twitter user @makeupaguy

Imagine that you could push a button and create a new person.

Or imagine that you were a witch and you could flick your wrist and curse any innocent passing toad with sudden humanity — a human body, a mouth, a name, free will, dreams. For the sake of argument let's say that they would be an adult, with an intellect appropriate for an adult. Maybe with a language or two; maybe amnesiac, but maybe with a cushion of forged past experiences to draw from. Other than that, what you would get is mostly random. (No, I'm not going to try to define a random variable on the set of all possible humans.)

And let's say you had the toad in hand. Let's say the toad was ready to go. Would you do it? If so, why? If not, why not?

My first new year's resolution for 2023 is to start inviting guest bloggers to post on my blog again—I slackened off after 2018—so here we are!

First up in 2023 is qntm. He self-describes thuswise:

qntm has been writing science fiction for most of this millennium. He has self-published five books so far, the first four of which are novel-length serials originally born on the web. Ed, Fine Structure and Ra were first posted on the persistently uncategorisable mid-2000s Web 2.0 project, Everything2. There Is No Antimemetics Division originated as a series of tales set in the collaborative sci-fi/horror universe of the SCP Foundation. His fifth book, 2022's Valuable Humans in Transit and Other Stories, collects the highlights of his short fiction, notably "Lena".

He develops software for a living. His notable personal software projects include HATETRIS and Absurdle, adversarial takes on Tetris and Wordle respectively. His website is qntm.org.

I've been a fan of his fascinating, cerebral writing for some time; particularly his short horrifying and brilliant short story Lena (which I've mentioned in various comment threads here previously). Oh, and (shameless promotional moment) we now share a literary agent, so hopefully you'll be reading more of his books soon.

So I hope you'll extend a warm welcome to qntm ...

I thought I was unshockable.

But if this is real—I think it's most likely a hilariously bleak piece of internet satire, but there's an outside chance it's what it says it is—well, I don't want live in a world where there is a real market for this kind of thing.

Anyway, I present to you: The Billionaire Bone Bureau.

PS: they advertise on Twitter.

PPS: my fingers are itching to write them into a horror story, but only if it's confirmed as real. I mean, you just know supplying them is a profit centre for the Wagner Group, right?

(What's your most shocking find on the internet? No limits!)


Trying to keep up with the news this month is hard. Trying to derive patterns from the news in order to blog about them coherently? Even harder, leading to decision fatigue—but I'm going to have a stab at it ...

The big buried lede of the past decade is that authoritarian conservatives network internationally as pervasively as the soi-disant "international communism" they railed against from the 1920s through the 1960s. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine it's become glaringly clear that authoritarianism is the preferred governmental mode of petrochemical resource extraction economies (money attracts sociopaths, sociopaths like authoritarian leaders because they are convenient single points of failure for corruption-prevention systems, authoritarian leaders appeal to authoritarian followers).

(I'm going to be quiet on the blog for a while: recovering from COVID and I have to check the page proofs to Season of Skulls in the next couple of weeks. SoS is on track for publication in May next year, so at least something is going right ...)

So, La Trussterfuck's career is approximately over. At 45 days, she's the shortest-serving Prime Minister in British parliamentary history; she's been in and out of office so fast there hasn't even been time for an episode of Doctor Who to air during her tenure (caveat: there's a Doctor Who special due this Sunday and she's not out-out until they elect a new leader, but this is very much a transitional period: she has definitely resigned).

There is now going to be a leadership run-off in the 1922 Committee. My original belief that it was going to be a rigged one-horse race has apparently been quashed: mooted contestants so far include Penny Mordaunt, Rishi Sunak, and ... Cthulhu save us ... Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, the latter undeterred by the fact that he's still under investigation by the Parliamentary Standards Committee for lying to Parliament which means he technically can't hold office (in other news: the PSC is also investigating whether bears shit in sylvanian settings, Popes are Catholic, and the sun rises in the east).

Reader: if they select Clownshoes Churchill again, the Conservative Party is dead. Arguably it's a dead party walking anyway, but that'd be an classic symptom of denial-of-reality.

The server hosting this blog will be going offline this Friday (the 14th) at roughly 10pm.

If all goes well, it will come back up on Saturday morning at 7-8am ... in another data centre.

I'll be shutting down the commenting system on Thursday night to ensure I can take a clean backup of the blog in case I need to rebuild due to a disaster. (Trucks full of servers sometimes crash ...)

See you on the other side!




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