History: is it about kings, dates, and battles, or the movement of masses and the invisible hand of macroeconomics?

There's something to be said for both theories, but I have a new, countervailing theory about the 21st century (so far); instead othe traditional man on a white horse who leads the revolutionary masses to victory, we've wandered into a continuum dominated by Bond villains.

Consider three four five, taken at random:

Mr X: leader of a chaotic former superpower with far too many nuclear weapons, Mr X got his start in life as an agent of SMERSH the KGB. Part of its economic espionage directorate, tasked with modernizing a creaking command economy in the 1980s, Mr X weathered the collapse of the previous regime and after a turbulent decade of asset stripping rose to lead a faction of billionaire oligarchs, robber barons, and former secret policemen. Mr X trades on his ruthless reputation—he is said to have ordered a defector murdered by means of a radioisotope so rare that the assassination consumed several months' global production—and despite having an official salary on the order of £250,000 he has a private jet with solid gold toilet seats and more palaces than you can shake a stick at. Also nuclear missiles. (Don't forget the nuclear missiles.) Said to be dating the ex-wife of Mr Y. Exit strategy: change the constitution to make himself President-for-Life. Attends military parades on Red Square, natch. Bond Villain Credibility: 10/10

Mr Y: Australian multi-billionaire news magnate. (Currently married to a former supermodel and ex-wife of Mick Jagger.) Owns 80% of the news media in Australia and numerous holdings in the UK and USA, including satellite TV channels, radio stations, and newspapers. Reputedly had Arthur C. Clarke on speed-dial for advice about the future of communications technology. Was the actual no-shit model upon whom Elliot Carver, the villain in "Tomorrow Never Dies", the 18th Bond movie, was based. Exit strategy: he's 86, leave it all to the kids. Bond Villain Credibility: 10/10

Mr Z: South African dot-com era whiz kid who made a fortune before he hit 30. Instead of putting his money into a VC fund he set his sights higher. By 2007 he had a tropical island base complete with boiler-suited minions from which he launched satellites and around which he drove an electric car: has been photographed wearing a tuxedo and stroking a white cat in his launch control center. Currently manufacturing electric cars in bulk, launching absolutely gigantic rockets, and building a hyperloop from Boston to Washington DC. Exit strategy: retire on Mars. Bond Villain Credibility: 9/10 (docked one point for trying too hard—the white cat was a plush toy.)

Mr T: Unspeakably rich New York property speculator and reality TV star, who, possibly with help from Mr X, managed to get himself into the White House. Tweets incessantly at 3AM about the unfairness of it all and how he's being persecuted by the false news media and harassed by crooked politicians while extorting fractional-billion-dollar bribes from middle eastern regimes. Has at least as many nukes as Mr X. Rather than a solid gold toilet seat, he has an entire solid gold penthouse. In fact, he probably has heavy metal poisoning from all that gold. (It would explain a lot.) Bond Villain Credibility: 10/10

Mrs M: After taking a head-shot, M was reconstituted as a cyborg using a dodgy prototype brain implant designed by Sir Clive Sinclair and parachuted into the Home Office to pursue a law-and-order agenda. Following an entirely self-inflicted constitutional crisis and a party leadership challenge in which all the rival candidates stabbed each other in the back, M strode robotically into 10 Downing Street, declared herself to be the Strong and Stable leader the nation needs, and unleashed the world's most chilling facial tic. Exit strategy: (a) Brexit, (b) ... something to do with underpants ... (c) profit? Bond Villain Credibility: 6/10 (down from 8/10 before the 2017 election fiasco.)

I think there's a pattern here: don't you? And, more to the point, I draw one very useful inference from it: if I need to write any more near-future fiction, instead of striving for realism in my fictional political leaders I should just borrow the cheesiest Bond villain not already a member of the G20 or Davos.

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I learned this from Robin Hobb, though I'm pretty sure she didn't realize that she was teaching it to me at the time: there is no extra credit in science fiction. 

By which I mean, one of the things that I do, that other writers do, that people in various other fields probably do too (though I don't have direct experience of that) is that we make extra work for ourselves because of... I don't know, acculturation probably that if we JUST WORK HARDER and are teacher's pets and volunteer for extra labor that somehow we'll get better outcomes. This is superstition, really--because publishing is an enormously unpredictable and random business where quality is not always rewarded, and a lot of things can go wrong. And like anybody who makes their living off a capricious and dangerous environment (actors, fishermen) writers are prone to superstitions as a means of expressing agency in situations where we're honestly pretty helpless. (Nobody controls the hive-mind of the readership. Oh, if only we did.)

Now, by extra credit, please note that I don't mean the things that I consider part of baseline professionalism in a writer: turning in a manuscript that is as clean and artistically accomplished as possible, as expediently as possible, and working with your editor to polish and promote the resulting book. What I mean is raising those bars to unsupportable levels, such as: "I will turn in a completely clean manuscript so that the copyeditor has nothing to do!" and "I have a series of simple edits here, which I will resolve be rewriting the entire book, because then my editor will be more impressed with me."

Spoiler: The copyeditor will have stuff to do, because part of her job is making sure that if you break house style you're doing it on purpose. Also, your editor will probably be a little nonplussed, and possibly sneak a pull out of the bottle of Scotch in her bottom drawer, because you've just made a lot more work for her.

Other manifestations include: "I must write forty guest blog posts today!" and "I must write at least twenty pages every single day to validate my carbon footprint!"

(That latter one is the one I tend to fall prey to, for the record.)

I see it a lot among women writers especially, probably because we feel like we constantly have to validate our right to be in a space that is only intermittently welcoming, but it's certainly not a gender-specific problem. 

And the thing is... it just isn't so. You don't have to do a pile of extra credit work. It doesn't help, and might in fact be detrimental--to your health, your sanity, and eventually your career. It's possible to out-produce your readership's appetite; it's possible to out-produce the publishing slots available to you; it's possible to fuss yourself so much over tiny details that don't actually matter that you add years to your production schedule and die broke in a gutter, or talk yourself out of finishing the book entirely.

They're never perfect. They're just as good as you can get them, in the limited time available, and then they're done and you learned something and the next one can be better, you hope.

And nobody's going to bump your 4.0 up to a 4.2 because you did a bunch of homework you didn't actually need to do to get the finished product as good as possible, and also out the door.

I am taking an (unasked-for) vacation from blogging to attend the bed of a close, elderly, family member who is dying. This is not unexpected, but death doesn't generally happen on a schedule and I've no way of knowing whether it is hours or days away at this point: so life for the rest of us is, perforce, on hold—and so are my blog updates.

(There may be some appearances, probably unheralded, by guest bloggers over the weeks ahead. Watch this space.)

The Delirium Brief

Today (Tuesday) is the official publication date for The Delirium Brief in North America. As of this book, the Laundry Files are moving to Tor from Ace, who published the series from books 3-7. Because it has a different publisher in the UK (Orbit), The Delirium Brief won't officially be out until Thursday—but I gather it's already on sale in many branches of Waterstones.

First week sales figures are really important to authors these days, much like first weekend audience figures for a movie. It'll eventually get a price drop (and a low cost paperback edition), but if you want to read it, you'd be doing me a favour if you bought it now rather than later. Also? Reader reviews on Amazon really help—the more, the better. Authors these days are expected to do a bunch of their own marketing, and if the number of reader reviews on Amazon passes a critical threshold (fifty is the number I've heard) then they're more amenable to promotional book-of-the-month deals and future discounts.

If you want to order a signed copy, read this. Oh, and there are still tickets to the launch reading/signing at Blackwell's Bookshop in Edinburgh on the evening of Wednesday 12th.

Frequently asked questions (below the fold):

So, the XPrize folks and ANA just announced a competition for submissions to an anthology of short stories, about the experience of passengers aboard a flight that mysteriously finds itself time-warped 20 years into the future. From the blurb:

Your flight has been mysteriously transported 20 years into the future. How could this happen? Wait, that's not important. Take a deep breath. Look around. Without a doubt, the world has changed. What new technologies and innovations have reshaped the way we live?

XPRIZE, ANA and the world's top science fiction storytellers are embarking on a journey to 2037, envisioning a world transformed by exponential technologies and a global community of innovators. We'd like for you to join us.

Seat 14C is, at its core, an earnest endeavor into our possible future. We invite storytellers from around the world to submit their visions of 2037, as told from a passenger aboard ANA Flight #008.

Your short story is a first-person account of the passenger seated in 14C aboard ANA Flight #008. What does this person experience as they arrive in 2037 and explore a changed world? How has emerging (or not-yet-invented) technology altered society for the better, and how does your character discover and interact with this technology?

We are hopeful for our future, and we ask that your story creatively weaves technology and culture, envisioning an optimistic and exciting future for mankind.

Disclaimer: when I was invited to contribute to the anthology I had to say "no" because I was up to my eyeballs in work-related rabid ferrets (read: deadlines). I'm still waaaay too busy to emit a short story, largely because I have recently discovered to my horror that my ability to write works of fiction less than 20,000 words long has atrophied due to lack of use.

However, if I was going to write an entry to this competition, it might read something like this.

The Delirium Brief The Delirium Brief

So The Delirium Brief is imminent! It officially goes on sale on July 13th in the UK and (in a different binding, from a different publisher) on July 11th in the USA.

I'll be doing my usual launch reading/signing event in Edinburgh at Blackwell's Bookshop on Wednesday July 12th — it's a ticketed event but tickets are free.

You can order signed copies of The Delirium Brief both from Blackwell's (see the bottom of the linked event page for details) and from my favourite local specialist SF bookstore, Transreal Fiction in Edinburgh. (Transreal takes Paypal and can ship overseas; Mike can also provide signed copies of many of my other books upon request.)

Hi: I'm back. And a regular commenter asked me an interesting question anent the state of current US/UK politics: how much money can you make by crying fire in a crowded theatre?

Note that "crowded theatre" and "crying fire" are not to be taken literally; rather, it's a question about how much money you can make by manipulating social media to drive public opinion.

I am off to Dortmund is a bit over than 12 hours.

Meanwhile, "Dark State" is coming soooooon ... click on the cover below to read an excerpt:

(You can now pre-order the US hardback and the UK trade paperback.)

Sorry about the quiet around here. I'm stuck dealing with a couple of parallel deadlines, and I'm about to take a week out for U-Con in Dortmund, the Eurocon (next weekend).

Meanwhile the UK has just gone through another surreal eruption of politics—and it's too early to say that it's over.

The Nightmare Stacks has been reissued in paperback in the UK and as a lower cost ebook in the USA, and The Delirium Brief is nearly upon us, so it's about time for me to write my usual crib sheet essay about the seventh Laundry Files novel!

It should be fairly obvious by now that, although initially the stories were set in the same year as publication, the Laundry universe has now dropped behind the real world calendar and diverged drastically from our own history. "The Annihilation Score" was set during the summer of 2013, in a UK suffering from a surplus of superheroes (or at least extradimensional brain-eater afflicted humans experiencing outbreaks of eldritch powers before their heads exploded: some of whom assumed that donning skin tight lycra and committing vigilante crimes was a sensible reaction to being parasitized). It reached a conclusive and grisly climax in the massacre at the Last Night of the Proms, an annual British cultural event; a horrible event the true nature of which was, nevertheless, suppressed and presented to the public as a terrorist incident not unlike the Moscow theater hostage crisis of 2002. At the end of "The Annihilation Score" the Laundry's cordon of secrecy was in tatters but plausible deniability had been maintained—barely.

"The Nightmare Stacks" takes place in March-May 2014, and is the story of how the continually escallating threats faced by the Laundry finally overcame the agency's ability to suppress and contain incursions without public notice, and is the first half of a two-book pivot point in the series (the ongoing consequences of the disaster in Leeds continue to the inevitable conclusion in "The Delirium Brief"); it's the beginning of the tumble over the cliff-edge leading down to the Lovecraftian Singularity.

And we have a new narrative viewpoint, and sundry new protagonists showing up.

"Maaaartin...?" begins one of Kurtzhau's friends.

I've just stuck my head around the door to offer refreshments to the gang of 13-year olds currently camping out around my son's wargame table.

"Remember that time the doorbell rang and there was nobody there...?"

 "Um," I say, yes remembering but also, cringing. Oh shit. I'd forgotten that.

When that doorbell rang, I was in the middle of writing a fight scene for The Wreck of the Marissa. It's first person, and the main character is a foul-mouthed former mercenary NCO I vaguely imagine played by Daniel Craig.

You ever seen that experiment where you get somebody who swears they never dream and you wake them up from REM sleep?

And they say something like, "But the giant chickens are genuflecting"?

Well...

Hello!

I'm thinking of writing something set in the mid-21st century and asked Charlie if he had any good resources for futurism on a ~30 year time scale. And lo and behold, a guest post appeared.

Now, I'm not much of a futurist, or really any kind of futurist in the formal sense. But I like to think I can see where things might be going, so here's a brief rundown of what I'm anticipating we'll see by mid-century.

Hi! Charlie here. I'm about to hit the road for ten days (I'm one of the guests at Italcon next week). And while I'm away, I'm handing over the blogging podium to a new guest blogger: April Daniels, author of Dreadnought (and, forthcoming, Sovereign).

April Daniels graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in literature, and then promptly lost her job during the 2008 stock crash and recession. After she recovered from homelessness, she completed her first manuscript by scribbling a few sentences at a time between calls while working in the customer support department for a well-known video game console.

She has a number of hobbies, most of which are boring and predictable. As nostalgia for the 1990s comes into its full bloom, she has become ever more convinced that she was born two or three years too late and missed all the good stuff the first time around.

Early in her writing practice, April set her narrative defaults to “lots of lesbians” and never looked back.

Dear Mr Stross

I'd like to apologize in advance, but after consulting with my colleagues in other departments at Reality Publishing Corporation, I'm afraid we can't publish your book, "Zero Day: The story of MS17-010", as things stand. However, I'd like to add that it was a gripping read, very well written, and we hope to see more from you in future!

Because the plot of your yarn is highly technical, we engaged a specialist external reader to evaluate it. And they had some unfortunate words to say on the subject of plausibility. I attach the reader's report, in the hope that you might consider amending your manuscript accordingly.

Signed

E. S. Blofeld, Editorial Director

Specials

Merchandise

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