I've been writing Laundry Files stories since 1999, and there's now about 1.4 million words in that universe. That's a lot of stuff: a typical novel these days is 100,000 words, but these books trend long, and this count includes 11 novels (of which, #10 comes out later this month) and some shorter work. It occurs to me that while some of you have been following them from the beginning, a lot of people come to them cold in the shape of one story or another.

So below the fold I'm going to explain the Laundry Files time line, the various sub-series that share the setting, and give a running order for the series—including short stories as well as novels.

(The series title, "The Laundry Files", was pinned on me by editorial fiat at a previous publisher whose policy was that any group of 3 or more connected novels had to have a common name. It wasn't my idea: my editor at the time also published Jim Butcher, and Bob—my sole protagonist at that point in the series—worked for an organization disparagingly nicknamed "the Laundry", so the inevitable happened. Using a singular series title gives the impression that it has a singular theme, which would be like calling Terry Pratchett's Discworld books as "the Unseen University series". Anyway ...)

Entanglements Cover.jpg

Many thanks to Charlie for giving me the chance to write about editing and my latest project. I'm very excited about the publication of Entanglements. The book has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and terrific reviews in Lightspeed, Science, and the Financial Times. MIT Press has created a very nice "Pubpub" page about Entanglements, with information about the book and its various contributors. The "On the Stories" section has an essay about by Nick Wolven about his amazing story, "Sparkly Bits," and a fun Zoom conversation with James Patrick Kelly, Nancy Kress, and Sam J. Miller. I think the site is well worth checking out, and here's the Pubpub description of the book:

A young editor once asked me what was the biggest secret to editing a fiction magazine. My answer was "confidence." I have to be confident that the stories I choose will fit together, that people will read them and enjoy them, and most importantly, that each month I'll receive enough publishable material to fill the pages of the magazine.

It's been ages since I last hosted a guest blogger here, but today I'd like to introduce you to Sheila Williams, who will be talking about her work next week.

Normally my gues bloggers are other SF/F authors, but Sheila is something different: she's the multiple Hugo-Award winning editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine. She is also the winner of the 2017 Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award for distinguished contributions to the science fiction and fantasy community.

Sheila started at Asimov's in June 1982 as the editorial assistant. Over the years, she was promoted to a number of different editorial positions at the magazine and she also served as the executive editor of Analog from 1998 until 2004. With Rick Wilber, she is also the co-founder of the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy. This annual award has been bestowed on the best short story by an undergraduate student at the International Conference on the Fantastic since 1994.

In addition, Sheila is the editor or co-editor of twenty-six anthologies. Her newest anthology, Entanglements: Tomorrow's Lovers, Families, and Friends, is the 2020 volume of the Twelve Tomorrow series. The book is just out from MIT Press.

Dead Lies Dreaming - UK cover

Today is September 27th, 2020. On October 27th, Dead Lies Dreaming will be published in the USA and Canada: the British edition drops on October 29th. (Yes, there will be audio editions too, via the usual outlets.)

This book is being marketed as the tenth Laundry Files novel. That's not exactly true, though it's not entirely wrong, either: the tenth Laundry book, about the continuing tribulations of Bob Howard and his co-workers, hasn't been written yet. (Bob is a civil servant who by implication deals with political movers and shakers, and politics has turned so batshit crazy in the past three years that I just can't go there right now.)

There is a novella about Bob coming next summer. It's titled Escape from Puroland and Tor.com will be publishing it as an ebook and hardcover in the USA. (No UK publication is scheduled as yet, but we're working on it.) I've got one more novella planned, about Derek the DM, and then either one or two final books: I'm not certain how many it will take to wrap the main story arc yet, but rest assured that the tale of SOE's Q-Division, the Laundry, reaches its conclusion some time in 2015. Also rest assured that at least one of our protagonists survives ... as does the New Management.

All Glory to the Black Pharaoh! Long may he rule over this spectred isle!

(But what's this book about?)

Global viral pandemics, insane right-wing dictator-wannabes trying to set fire to the planet, and climate change aside, I'm officially declaring 2020 to be the Year of the Conspiracy Theory.

This was the year when QAnon, a frankly puerile rehashing of antisemitic conspiracy theories going back to the infamous Tsarist secret police fabrication The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, went viral: its true number of followers is unclear but in the tens of thousands, and they've begun showing up in US politics as Republican candidates capable of displacing the merely crazy, such as Tea Partiers, who at least were identifiably a political movement (backed by Koch brothers lobbying money).

Nothing about the toxic farrago of memes stewing in the Qanon midden should come as a surprise to anyone who read the Illuminatus! trilogy back in the 1970s, except possibly the fact that this craziness has leached into mainstream politics. But I think it's worrying indicative of the way our post-1995, internet-enabled media environment is messing with the collective subconscious: conspiratorial thinking is now mainstream.

Anyway. When life hands you lemons its time to make lemonade. How could I (if I had more energy and fewer plans) monetize this trend, without sacrificing my dignity, sanity, and sense of integrity along the way?

I'm calling it time for the revival of the big fat 1960s-1980s cold war spy/conspiracy thriller. A doozy of a plot downloaded itself into my head yesterday, and I have neither the time nor the marketing stance to write it, so here it is. (Marketing: I'm positioned as an SF author, not a thriller/mens adventure author, so I'd be selling to a different editorial and marketing department and the book advances for starting out again wouldn't be great.)

Way back in 2000, when I published my first collection of short stories, "Toast, and other rusted futures", I wrote a slightly tongue-in-cheek foreword explaining that time has a way of rendering SF futures obsolete.

For example, after the probe fly-bys of the 1960s it was no longer possible to write planetary romances set in the swamps of Venus or among the barbarian tribes roaming the arid deserts of Mars. After 1969 it was no longer possible to write a story about the first human landing on the moon without being aware of Apollo 11. Even though those futures are still accessible via contrived parallel universe or alternate history conceits, you can't write them naively or unironically, and unironic or naive stories written beforehand tend to read badly after the events that rendered them obsolete.

One of the stories in "Toast" was a Y2K parable. I was working in IT during the 1990s, and while Y2K denialism is a Thing in the media today, it's only a Thing because a lot of people worked a lot of overtime hours to ensure that almost nothing went wrong on the day (the dog didn't bark because the dog was in intensive care at the time and made a full recovery).

Anyway, the 21st century has rendered a whole slew of 20th century plots obsolete, including the first moon landing, habitable planets elsewhere in our solar system right now, Martian and Venusian aliens, Y2K causing the downfall of civilization, a USA/USSR nuclear war causing the downfall of civilization, and so on.

But what are the contemporary plot lines from the first two decades of the 21st century that no longer work?

Post-infection cardiac damage found in 78% of recovering COVID19 patients

That's 78% of a cohort, average age 49, of whom 67% had recovered at home (ie. disease was not categorized as severe enough to need hospitalization). Cohort was normalized with respect to other risk factors relative to uninfected patients. Diagnosis by MRI. Looks reasonably solid, at first glance, publication in JAMA Cardiol. (Journal of the American Medical Association, cardiology). Study coordinated via a German hospital.

Reason for "no comment necessary" is that this suggests most COVID19 survivors—including mild disease survivors—suffer cardiac damage.

You don't want to get this virus.

On April 16—gosh, it feels like an entire year ago—I made some predictions about where we were going. How do they hold up?

  1. Vaccine development will take a flat minimum of 12 months.

Too soon to tell; it's only been two and a half months. A few people have signed up for testing, but we won't know if the prototype vaccines have provided any protection for months yet. (I haven't seen any reports of them killing the guinea pigs though, so there's that.)

Manufacturing of vaccine adjuvants and the little extras required to turn a raw product into a deliverable medical treatment are in progress, though.

  1. Lockdown can't be sustained more than 1-2 weeks after peak ICU occupancy passes, so it will be lifted in mid-May in the UK and possibly as early as May 1st in the USA.

I am really glad I got this wrong. Lockdown lasted until the end of May in the USA; it began being relaxed in England in mid-June, and here in Scotland non-essential shops are due to lift in July. The English government (that is, the Westminster parliament governing England: Scotland is run by the Holyrood parliament in respect of domestic affairs such as public health and education) tried to convince schools to re-open, but that mostly flopped; Scottish schools are, I believe, staying shut until the next academic year (the Scottish school year ends earlier than the English one by a couple of weeks).

Incidentally, Scotland is broadly coping better than England per this dashboard: there have been no new COVID19 cases confirmed in the past 4-5 days. However, Westminster's desire to dink with the statistics in order to justify a premature re-opening is making it hard to tell just WTF is going on.

  1. Trump is shooting for May 1st because he's been told the economy will take 6 months to recover ... 1-4 weeks later there will be a secondary surge in infections and it'll follow the same exponential growth

Because the US lockdown didn't really begin to lift until June, the USA is hitting this secondary surge right now, and some states are trying to lock down again. Red states with Republican governors who are in complete denial are getting hit badly, though—notably Texas and Florida.

  1. Extra Lulz in the UK

Boris clung on to power and is now visible again, busy pulling levers and waffling in public, Cthulhu help us. His main approach to COVID19 is to treat it as a public relations project, so he's going with patriotic rah-rah rhetoric rather than coolly rational choices. Because he's not a planner he delegates everything to Dominic Cummings, who is in the process of purging the top ranks of the civil service and replacing the current leadership with those willing to swear a loyalty oath to Brexit.

It'd be hilarious if I wasn't trapped in the back of the bus these clowns are driving towards a cliff.

  1. Wildcards: we might conceivably find a simple and effective medical treatment.

Hydroxychloroquine is a bust (snake oil is about what you can expect from a snake oil salesman). Dexamethasone improving the prognosis for ICU patients is a welcome finding, but it's not a magic bullet—it just reduces the death toll by up to 30% among people who require mechanical ventillation. Trump buying up the global supply of remdesivir (even though it's not very effective) is exactly the kind of Milo Minderbinder act you'd expect of the guy. Prediction: it won't work, but it'll make Trump lots of enemies and a little bit of money.

What did I miss?

I missed: the rest of the world, where populist authoritarian leaders everywhere are trying to make Trump and Johnson's handling of COVID19 look magisterial and professional, from Brazil's Bolsonaro to Russia's Putin.

I totally didn't see Black Lives Matter turning into a global protest movement. To be fair, George Floyd was brutally murdered by the Minneapolis police department on May 25th, and the predictive blog entry I'm referring back to was posted more than a month earlier. (I've only posted once since then, prior to this, and that last blog entry was about brainstorming a fiction idea, not current affairs.) In retrospect I should have anticipated that heavy-handed racist policing of lockdown would lead to numerous flashpoints worldwide. There have been other side-effects: illegal raves and parties in the UK, for example. Widespread flouting of social distancing and/or masking guidelines, and the emergence of anti-mask rhetoric among Trump loyalists as a very disturbing kind of political statement.

There's a growing, seemingly global, sense that we can't or shouldn't go back to the status quo ante—in many ways, this sentiment ehoes earlier occasions when pressure for major social change emerged during and after world wars. The long term global economic effects, and possibly the death toll, are clearly in the same order of magnitude as a 20th century global war: it may be that such wars (or in this case a frightening pandemic) provide the trigger for the sort of societal change more normally associated with revolutions. (This certainly happened in 1917-19, and again in 1945-49.)

A new world is being born. I just hope I live to see it, and that there's room in it for someone like me to exist.

From one who has not played AD&D since (checks) 1983 or so (and is ignorant of anything TTRPG since they stuck "1st edition" on its name) ...

Posit a D&D campaign being run in the Laundry Universe, during/after CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (so circa 2015-20, in a world where magic has been out of the closet and rattling its fingerbones under everyones' nose since 2014).

What strange character classes and odd tropes might a sufficiently creative GM come up with? What existing mechanisms and monsters would have gone abruptly out of fashion, and what might be the new hotness in a campaign where some of the players might be accountants by day, and others might be capable of setting their hair on fire?

(Yes this is a "do my homework" question, and I have zero intention of explaining why. Suck it up!)

You better watch out
You better not spy
Don't go out
I'm telling you why
Dominic Cummings is coming to town

He's taken a test
And ignored it twice;
COVID19'll take him in a trice
Dominic Cummings is coming to town

Doesn't care where he's sleeping
He just knows he's exempt
He doesn't care if he's being bad
Pandemic lockdown can go and get bent
So stay in for goodness sake!
O! You better mask up!
You better not cry
Better not cough
I'm telling you why
Dominic Cummings is coughing
Dominic Cummings is coughing
Dominic Cummings is coughing on you

(To the tune of Santa Claus is comin' to Town)

... I'm not even ill.

However, I'm unproductive because I'm mildly depressed, and mildly depressed in part because I'm unproductive. Also the world is a flaming dumpster in a toxic waste site next to a reactor meltdown and I want to get off.

I think I wrote almost a thousand words last week. (About 15-20% of my normal output.) But that may be optimistic.

On the productive side: I suddenly realized my public profile had dropped to zero these past couple of years so I've done a couple of podcast/interviews and have a couple more lined up over the next week or so.

And who knows—maybe tomorrow I'll mop the kitchen floor then write another thousand words.

(This blog entry exists to serve notice that I'm not dead, and because the comments on the previous blog entry have become way too cumbersome and slow to load. So feel free to chat among yourselves in the comments on this entry instead!)

Let me make some predictions, starting with:

No it won't.

Vaccine development will take a flat minimum of 12 months. Then another 1-3 months to ramp up (on a Manhattan Project management basis) and a to-some-extent-overlapping 1-3 months to roll out around the various nations that are involved. (I predict the USA will merrily go its own way and faceplant, unless y'all elect a competent next POTUS. Or VPOTUS, insofar as Biden appears to be past it and Pence is incompetent at anything but arse-licking.)


Lockdown can't be sustained more than 1-2 weeks after peak ICU occupancy passes, so it will be lifted in mid-May in the UK and possibly as early as May 1st in the USA. (I know the Eastern Coalition are kicking back against Trump's deranged demand for an early restart: I expect other states may also join in if their estimates of the long-term damage track reality.)

Trump is shooting for May 1st because he's been told the economy will take 6 months to recover, minimum, and he's shooting for the November election deadline. This is laughably optimistic, even if the pandemic had burned out by May 1st: we're in Greatest Depression territory already, the hospitality sector has crashed 75%, airlines have crashed 90%, etcetera. It's not going to be back to normal by November, even if the Fairy Godmother shows up and banishes the horrid virus with a wave of her wand. Period.

So. The immediate peak hospital occupancy will pass, lockdown will be lifted sector by sector (or all at once) and region by region ... and the 50% of COVID19 cases who are asymptomatic will go back to work, mingling with the uninfected.

1-4 weeks later there will be a secondary surge in infections and it'll follow the same exponential growth as the first spike in Feb/March. And lockdown will resume, probably in mid-June. (It may be mitigated by summer heat, in which case things will look good for a month or two longer, but I'm not holding my breath: even if heat prevents spread, the prevalence of air conditioning in public spaces in the US provides a transmission-friendly environment.)

If the howls of rage at the first lockdown are deafening, the second lockdown will be worse: think of toddlers being sent back to bed with no supper. And that's the lucky work-from-home class: the working poor—with no savings and jobs they need to be physically present for—are going to be increasingly angry and fractious at their exposure. Expect civil disobedience and possibly summer riots unless central banks throw money at the grassroots -- and not $1200 for 10 weeks: more like $1200 per week.

Oh, and then there are the hospitals. Hospital staff will begin to catch their breath in mid-May after two months of running at maximum speed ... then it'll all crash again 4 weeks later. They're getting no respite. About 25% of medical staff are off sick with COVID19 themselves at present, far as I can tell: this cohort will be coming back to work by the second lockdown, but a bunch more will be down and sick.

You can't run doctors and nurses at full pandemic intensity for all that long without them burning out, as well as getting sick. There will be horrifying staff attrition, and although this year's graduate cohort got pressed into service early, next year's cohort will be suspended because teaching ain't happening.

So we're going to see repeated 4-6 week lockdown periods alternating with 2-4 week "business as usual" patches. Somewhere during the second or third lockdown most of the pubs/bars/hotels/restaurants that hibernated during the first lockdown and came back from the dead will give up the ghost: by September-November the damage to about 10-30% of the economy, disproportionately the service sector, will be permanent (FSVO "permanent" that means not coming back until after the pandemic, growing afresh from zero rather than reviving from hibernation).

I do not know what the hell Trump will do when his "get America open again" agenda runs into pandemic spike #2, around the beginning of June. Expect denial and heel-dragging and a much worse death toll, this time reaching the rural heartland (where hospitals may not have any ICU beds at all: there's going to be carnage). By August he may well be in full-on meltdown. I wouldn't even be surprised to see a second round of impeachment hearings as the Senate Republican Party tries to throw him under the bus so they can pivot to President Pence. Assuming it's not too late to save their campaign ...

By September there's going to be social unrest just about everywhere that hasn't nailed down a massive social spending/social security project on a scale that makes the New Deal look restrained and conservative.

And that's going to be the picture until June or July 2022.

Extra lulz in the UK: the Prime Minister is out of hospital but hasn't been seen since Monday—my guess is he's hors de combat for at least another two weeks. A quarter of the senior ministers of state are rabid objectivists who actively hate the poor and want them to die, and a majority of the cabinet are still going full steam ahead for a no-deal Brexit transition on January 31st, at which point the UK economy shrinks another 8% overnight. Boris, in principle, has the credibility to pull them back from the brink (and is a perfectly ideology-free vacuum of naked ambition, so he's personally capable of pivoting) but if they try for a maximalist brexit in the middle of a pandemic there will be pandemonium.

Wildcards: we might conceivably find a simple and effective medical treatment. Or vaccine development is ridiculously easy. Or the 50% of asymptomatic carriers are a sign that the pandemic is more advanced than we realize, that immunity is long-lasting, and that we're much closer to achieving "herd immunity" than anyone in the epidemiology community currently realizes. But I want to emphasize that these are all straw-clutching exercises. In all probability, they're not going to eventuate.

Have I missed anything out? (Aside from the giant meteor, Cthulhu awakening, Krakatoa erupting, and a Dalek invasion. NB: one of those things actually happened last month.)

So, some years ago I blogged a whole bunch of times about books I wasn't going to write for one reason or another.

Now, thanks to COVID-19, I can add another to the list.

Some of you have been waiting years (is it really a decade? Gosh!) for a third book in the would-be trilogy that began with Halting State and Rule 34. The third Scottish near-future police procedural kept getting put back and back because reality wouldn't sit still and behave itself: it's really hard to write something set 10 years in the future (or even 5) if you don't even know what the country it's set in is going to be called. I named the period starting in 2012 "the Scottish political singularity", because it made all near-future fiction set in Scotland problematic: first we had the referendum on independence from the UK, then a general election, then the Brexit referendum. Back in 2012 I thought things would have settled down by 2016 or so: alas, I was sadly disillusioned.

So around 2016 I hatched a Plan B.

(Had, past tense.)

Life comes at you fast.

On March 12th, this was my provisional plan for public appearances.

Here's the update: ConPulsion is/was cancelled. Eastercon is cancelled. Satellite VII is not cancelled but is being postponed at least 8 months and might yet be cancelled). ConZealand, the world science fiction convention in New Zealand, is switching to a virtual/online-only format: as a face-to-face gathering, it's cancelled.

(Novacon isn't until November so they don't need to make a decision yet, but if this isn't resolved by August—widespread test kits deployed in the community, initial infection spike smoothed, and treatments coming online—my money's on "cancelled".)

Given the news none of this is surprising (they postponed the Olympics—that normally only happens during a world war). Whether SF conventions will ever get restarted is an open question at this point: the hospitality industry and public transport (including airlines) are taking it in the neck, and even after COVID-19 ebbs away people are going to be very nervous about mingling in large public gatherings with people who've come from far away. Certainly, with the exception of a trickle of events postponed from before the pandemic, I don't see much happening in 2021 or 2022. And it's kind of hard to pitch for/organize a future world science fiction convention when your venue is a plague hospital and half your committee members are in lockdown overseas.

2020 may be remembered as the year convention-going SF fandom died. I hope not, but there it is.




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