By now, if you're one of Charlie's readers, you've probably absorbed the notion that security is a process. It's not easy to go from that to what it means in operant terms, but I lack sense so I'm going to try.

Most of the pitches for self-publishing as an activity are about how you can make money.

If you want to make money, you need to publish rapidly and you need to have a consistent brand in terms of what the writing is like, what kind of reading effort is involved, and where it gets the reader in the feels. All of these things create the engaged fan base that results in sales volume, and you absolutely need sales volume if you're trying to make money.

Oh, and you need to publicize, which its own set of skills.

My publicist skills are plausibly negative. I write slowly; the books are different; readers report feels variously, and after five books, total sales via all channels is under two thousand copies. If I've got commercial objectives, they're failing miserably; not quite "died in a pit of desultory rat-gnawing", but certainly somewhere around "succumbed to exposure after the seventh hour of hard cold rain".

So why am I doing this?

"Commercial" means "a sufficient audience to support the writer and the production effort". My suspicion is that just as being able to make lots of money off of recorded music was a temporary aberration brought on by a particular tech level, so was being able to make money off of writing novels. That period hasn't quite expired, but it's gone from "skill and persistence and some luck" as the career criteria--this is the activity as keeps you fed and housed, career--to "skill and persistence are necessary, but not sufficient". You can't plan on a career doing it, even if it's something at which you are skilled.

Story was mostly a performance, for most of history. Written story was something a professional writer--meaning scribe--did in their spare time. I don't want to say hobby but it wasn't what kept you fed or housed. Novel-scale story is going back to being a kind of performance with the increasing market share of audio books; a distinct market, for which the written text version of the novel is not regarded as substitutable. Rather like how any camera that isn't a phone camera is niche, the written novel is an increasingly niche form of story.

That's the gloomy view; we had this thing, and now it's gone. But maybe you will get very lucky, if only you buy a ticket. (It's not a cheap ticket.)

I think there's a cheerful view.

If you're trying to make a commercial success of writing, the commercial objective is a constraint. Success requires consistent novelty, modest demands on attention, and, above all, appropriate emotional responses.

It becomes a kind of iron triangle; a narrative can produce novelty, immersion, and feels but only in a relatively small portion of the possible space. (At least for any specific reader. Lots of choice encourages particularity.) Get too far toward the novelty, immersion, or feels points of the triangle and you don't so much risk breaking the story as you make reading too much work for the story to have commercially sufficient numbers of friends. ("If you believe it is a work of genius, then you may lose a thousand pounds." There have been periods of time and publishing firms for whom "commercially sufficient" was flexible; such a publishing house might undertake a book perceived to be worthy even if it wasn't expected to sell sufficiently well.)

If you don't have those commerical constraints, there are things you can do that aren't otherwise possible. You're not going to make a living at it, and your share of the (growing!) market will be even smaller than it would otherwise be (the market is not growing as fast as the number of people entering it), but maybe you can have more fun.

If you can approach the text with an expectation that whomsoever shall read it knows they have to read all the words, you can get a degree of immersion not otherwise achievable because you get to use all of the finite number of words to contribute to the setting, rather than losing lots of them to narrative redundancy. You only get so many words; most words can't do two jobs. Ease-of-reading redundancy uses up the utility of a large proportion of the available words.

But if you can move toward the immersion point of the triangle; if there's the assumption the reader is going to read all the words and expect all the words to mean something and that there isn't any more redundancy than you find in life and that the viewpoint is never going to tell you anything because you're the reader, you can get places not otherwise reachable. (C.J. Cherryh is a master of this; Cyteen is not an easy book to read, however much the consensus has come down on "repays the effort".)

Similarily, you can go for novelty (classic Niven or Clement! This isn't a story, this is a travelogue of weirdnesses cut with physics explainers!) or feels (Pamela Dean's Tam Lin or The Dubious Hills). There are lots of other examples, and yes, the scope of commercial does move over time.

Is it worth it? Commercially, now, when there's so much available so easily that no one is going to feel compelled to finish anything because it happens to be the one book they're going to be able to find this month? No. Not even a little. The tech change means more genres, with narrower scope per genre. So for commercial, that's the end of it. If you're not so supremely gifted or so supremely fortunate that you can invent a genre (Pratchett!) your text, that story, this approach to narrative, aren't any of them getting to perform the experiment to enumerate their friends. Not by a commercial publication channel.

Not by any commercial means. But today, because self-publishing ebooks is technically trivial, they can.

I think that's a net win from the reader side. I think it's a net win from my side. I hope it's a net win for a lot of writers. (And that I'm not wrong about the readers!)

I think there's the example of Romantic poet and engraver William Blake, who produced an unusual body of work; never a commercial success, never widely known, difficult, and not permeating popular culture (Anyone know who Rintrah is?). Blake's body of work has still found enough friends to persist this long while.

Fame isn't worth much; "You'll be famous when you're dead" is worth nothing whatsoever. Word-fame does die, however well you achieve it. But what you don't publish, no-one reads.

So what have you read that you're glad of, published for no plausible commercial reason though it was?

Charlie here (back again, briefly), with news on two upcoming appearances.

Firstly, I'm in Berlin next Monday (September 10th) (that's the capital of Germany, not the small town in New Hampshire—or the one in Maryland): I'm doing a reading and Q&A (and signing, of course) at Otherlands Bookshop Berlin, Bergmannstraße 25 (U7-Bahnhof Gneisenaustraße), 10965 Berlin, from 8-10pm. And afterwards I'm moving on for drinks at the Dolden Mädel Braugasthaus, Mehringdamm 80, 10965. (I am informed there's a Facebook event for this: if you plan to turn up, please sign in so we can give the bar some idea of how many people to expect.)

Secondly: this October, I'll be in Vancouver as one of the author guests of honour atthe VCON 42 SF convention, from the 5th to the 7th; memberships are still available if you go to SF conventions and are in the Pacific north-west. (Unfortunately I can't make it to CanCon in Ottawa the following weekend—the time line doesn't link up—but hopefully I'll be able to fit in a bookstore event or pub meet-up in Toronto or Ottawa before I go home, later in the month. Watch this blog entry for updates.

Charlie having been kind enough to hand me some blog keys, I get to talk about, not writing, since I may not know anything about writing, but about what kinds of things get written about.

So, this book—why's it got to be about a murder?

Yeah, I know, mysteries aren't everything, and sometimes the murder even in those is purely ancillary (Sayers' Gaudy Night has a murder, but the murder is in no way what the book is about), but story is pretty closely "Who do we have to kill to fix this problem and restore the natural order?" Then there's tension about whether or not it's going to happen, or happen in time, or what the cost will be. (Yes, there's variation; sometimes order doesn't get restored, sometimes it isn't what the viewpoint thinks it is, sometimes the murder is going on over there and we get people coping with the side effects, sometimes we get the main problem being keeping the corpse-pile to the smallest possible size, but the core of story, the presumptive bounds of narrative, are narrow.

Even in romance, which one might expect to have very little to do with murder, you've got a lot of tropes of conquest and surrender and whole ramifying sub-genres (paranormal romance) where the specific popularity might have something to do with the introduction of overt murder.

It's almost as though the only legitimate story is about conquest.

Now, I'm pretty sure this is an anglosphere genres thing, but in English it's pervasive. Man versus nature, man versus man, man versus self is much more about the versus than the participants. Why are—from various viewpoints and removes and angles of the light—the only real stories about conquest? There's a fight, which someone must win?

At this point someone might be inclined to point out that the first book I published was a military fantasy with an uncertain but not insignificant body count. And it was; I wanted to write the contrapositive of a Black Company novel.

Glen Cook—an underrated prose stylist—has a series about the Black Company, a group of mercenaries who are terrible people with no homes to return to and operating in a world where they wind up serving various dark lords running authoritarian polities. (The dark lords are mighty sorcerers.) So what happens if you try to write about a bunch of basically decent part-timers serving an egalitarian nation where sorcerers are forbidden political power? Where the political and social norms are against any form of conquest?

In my case, you get The March North; I also got the Commonweal. (And the idea of co-operative magical focuses, and Halt, wandered in from out of the dark.)

Once I had the Commonweal, well, sorcerers are forbidden political power. How do you arrange that while sticking to egalitarian principles and some materialist concept of abstract justice? What do you do when luck provides you with someone who will, permitted to grow into their power, become mighty indeed? How much do you trust your institutions and your mechanisms of government? How well can you avoid committing conquest out of fear?

That's A Succession of Bad Days; not so much sorcery school as an adult-learner educational cooperative for the unexpectedly talented, and a book frequently accused of being completely plotless. I think that's because there's no murder, and the lack of murder means there's a number of readers for whom it can't be a story. (Other readers report it a much-re-read comfort book. Tastes vary.)

Safely You Deliver is what happens when I try to write a love story in the style of Pamela Dean; there's some incidental murder in that one, but it really is mostly about Zora (who is in that adult-learner educational cooperative) and a unicorn, who is from the Bad Old Days outside the Commonweal and finds the whole place strange indeed.

And then there's the just-released Under One Banner where you get someone from a traditional background in the Commonweal starting to wonder if the Commonweal has persisted because the neighboring autocracies are generally incompetent at conquest and that perhaps this matters. Perhaps the Commonweal should be planning for competent opposition.

So, no, not entirely free from murder, but I hope free from the motivations of conquest. The point is the increase of knowledge and the breadth of prosperity, not getting anyone or anything to submit. And maybe, I hope, nudging toward a wider idea of story than some narrative of conquest.

The bit about why self-publishing means you can write what you want, and how sometimes those books find enough friends to seem worth writing but not to be worth the effort from a commercial publisher, and how this is generally a good thing for those as read fiction for enjoyment, and certainly a good thing for those of us who want to write decidedly non-commercial fiction, maybe that's the next post.

Anent nothing: over on his other blog, noted SF critic James Nicoll asked, "I wonder if there's an essay on why discovering a writer of a certain age is setting out to write a Heinlein-style book fills me with dread."

What follows is my attempt at answering his question. If you're unfamiliar with (or uninterested in) the bizarre hold the literary legacy of Robert A. Heinlein holds on the imagination of more recent SF writers, you can safely skip this blog entry.

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.

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