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.

We interrupt the apocalypse to give you a shiny new cover reveal! Because the UK edition of Dead Lies Dreaming now has a cover and a release date (October 29th), even though Big River Co can't let you pre-order it just yet.

Dead Lies Dreaming UK cover

Obligatory disclaimer: this is being announced as Laundry Files book 10, because Marketing. But it's not actually part of the same story line at all — rather, it's the start of a spin-off series, set in the world of the New Management, after the end of the main Laundry Files story about Bob et al. No, you don't get to find out what happened to Bob, Mo, and the gang in this story: that'll have to wait for another book. (And not the next one: the next one in this setting will be a sequel to "Dead Lies Dreaming".)

As far as Bob goes—I believe I'm now allowed to say that I've sold an interstitial novella about Bob to Tor.com. So keep your eyes out for "Escape from Puroland", coming some time in the second half of the year.

PS: I haven't forgotten "Invisible Sun". In fact, I've been really busy rewriting it for the fourth time! It's now with my editors and scheduled for publication next March, assuming that no zombie plagues, dino-killer asteroids, or other disasters come along to derail it.

If that sounds like a weird disclaimer, it's because this has been the cursed project from hell. My first draft didn't quite gel at a plot level, then every time I tried to rewrite it—for three consecutive attempts—someone close to me died. This time round, no single person died—but we got the global COVID19 pandemic instead. I think I stuck the landing this time round, but it's almost as if the multiverse is trying to send me a message ...

This probably doesn't need saying, but I'm cancelling/avoiding public gatherings and/or public appearances for the indefinite, but hopefully short-term, future.

As of an hour ago the Scottish government announced that we're moving from "contain" to "delay" wrt. Covid-19—community transmission unrelated to travel or contact has been confirmed—and banning all assemblies of >500 people from Monday.

I'm personally in the high-risk category, being over 50 and with both type II diabetes and hypertension, so I'm self-isolating as of today.

Anyway. I won't be attending ConPulsion (local gaming convention in Edinburgh) in two weeks' time. I also expect the Eastercon in Birmingham to be cancelled, if today's COBR committee meeting in Whitehall announces a ban on public assemblies.

Looking more than two months ahead is pointless right now, but it's not looking good for this year's World Science Fiction Convention in Christchurch, New Zealand, either.

I'll update this if anything changes.

Stay safe.

Not much to say here: by now you've all heard of Coronavirus Disease 2019, and it's probable that there are cases in your country. (Another 13 cases just got added to the UK score this morning.)

Remember: Coronaviruses have a lipid membrane, which is vulnerable to disruption by detergents (including soap and water). It can persist for up to 24 hours on some surfaces (especially polished metal). Wash your hands! You're probably safe from droplet inhalation unless an infected person coughs in your face—droplets settle fast.

The headline mortality rate for COVID-19, 2%, is comparable to the 1918-20 Spanish Flu (an order of magnitude higher than a regular winter flu). However, it rises to around 15% in over-70s. This is therefore going to cause a crisis in the nursing home sector, where homes will either have to run on a skeleton staff by sending home sick care workers, or risk killing their residents in large numbers. (This is why we need statutory sick pay!) It has the potential for major demographic, political, and age/wealth redistribution as side-effects. Also for exposing butt-headed political moves like Boris Johnson demanding the UK leaves the EU's pandemic response early warning system (apparently viruses will give the UK a free pass because Brexit), or Iranian clergy in the holy city of Qom staying open to pilgrims because their shrines are places of healing. And I'm fairly certain that as soon as there's a vaccine, the Anti-Vaxxers will crawl out of the woodwork.

Anyway, feel free to discuss COVID-19 related matters in the comments below.

(Because I am still elbow-deep in the guts of "Invisible Sun", blogging is sparse right now ...)

I just asked a couple of questions on twitter, and I thought you might like to share the misery.

SERIOUS QUESTION for space geeks:

  1. The flight of Apollo 11. Postulate that Mike Collins is a werewolf. At what point during trans-Lunar injection does he go furry? And how many times during the mission profile is he forced to shapeshift by the light of the full Moon?

ANOTHER SERIOUS SPACE QUESTION:

  1. A full Moon must subtend an angle of at least 0.5 degrees to trigger shapeshifting in werewolves. A werewolf is aboard a spaceship bound for Ganymede, largest moon of Jupiter. In low Ganymede orbit, how many Jovian moons trigger shapeshifting?

Assumptions:

  1. Werewolves are real.

  2. Shapeshifting is not triggered by direct exposure to the light of the full Moon, but by the existence of a full, uneclipsed Moon in the sky (otherwise werewolves could just hole up indoors to avoid furry hijinks).

  3. Werewolves shapeshift involuntarily in an arbitrary short period of time (WARNING: any discussion of relativitic effects or the use of werewolves as an FTL signaling mechanism will be firmly discouraged).

  4. A Moon other than Earth's moon suffices, but it must be a primary Moon (by IAU definition) and not a Moon of a Moon, and also it must subtend an angle of no less than 0.5 degrees to be effective. Earthrise, from Lunar orbit, is not a lycanthropy trigger.

  5. The first rule of Vampires is: Vampires do not exist. (See also "The Rhesus Chart").

Have at it!

I watch as little television as I can, and most of it by accident.

Whenever I do catch an eyeful, it usually consists of one of three things: a talking heads news channel, organized sportsball, or a Reality TV show. The first I try to ignore (they're usually triangulated on the tabloid newspapers with added eye candy, then dumbed down: as information sources this century, TV news channels are useless). The sportsball I leave to my spouse (who is prone to lecturing me interminably about Manchester City). But the latter phenomenon—Reality TV—has all the grisly attention-grabbing potential of a flaming school bus careening out of control into a public execution: I basically have to leave the room in a hurry to avoid having my eyeballs sucked right out of my head by the visual media equivalent of internet clickbait. (Luckily, my glimpses into this surreal hell-world are usually transient, a side-effect of my spouse channel-hopping between football matches.)

What makes Reality TV shows so addictive?

In one of my previous guest stints on Charlie's blog, I wrote a post about low thrillers and high thrillers. If you don't want to click through and read the whole thing, here's the Twitter version: high thrillers deal with seats of power and show the inner workings of government agencies/other powerful organizations as they deal with large scale dangers like coups d'etat or bio-terrorism, while low thrillers deal with ordinary citizens facing smaller threats, like professional criminals or a serial killer.

Those distinctions were at the front of my mind when I sat down to write One Man: a City of Fallen Gods Novel. I wanted to try an experiment, to create a fantasy that felt huge, but had very small stakes. No Dark Lord. No invading demon army. No impending magical cataclysm.

I wanted to write a story about a nine-year-old girl who gets kidnapped by gangsters because of something stupid her mother did, and about her neighbor--a man bearing many old scars, not all of them visible--who tries to rescue her. That was it. The stakes are one life, an orphaned little girl in a city full of them. A girl with only one person left in the world who cares what happens to her. But, with magic. A fantasy version of a low thriller.

I've got a new book coming out next October 27th. And it's one I haven't said very much about, because it wasn't actually supposed to happen.

So here's a discursive history of events leading up to "Dead Lies Dreaming", and then an explanation of my train-wreck of a schedule (and how I got mugged by an entirely unplanned book).

(This is the text of a keynote talk I just delivered at the IT Futures conference held by the University of Edinburgh Informatics centre today. NB: Some typos exist; I'll fix them tonight.)

Good morning. I'm Charlie Stross, and I tell lies for money. That is, I write fiction—deliberate non-truths designed to inform, amuse, and examine the human condition. More specifically, I'm a science fiction writer, mostly focusing on the intersection between the human condition and our technological and scientific environment: less Star Wars, more about bank heists inside massively multiplayer computer games, or the happy fun prospects for 3D printer malware.

One of the besetting problems of near-future science fiction is that life comes at you really fast these days. Back when I agreed to give this talk, I had no idea we'd be facing a general election campaign — much less that the outcome would already be known, with consequences that pretty comprehensively upset any predictions I was making back in September.

So, because I'm chicken, I'm going to ignore current events and instead take this opportunity to remind you that I can't predict the future. No science fiction writer can. Predicting the future isn't what science fiction is about. As the late Edsger Djikstra observed, "computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." He might well have added, or science fiction is about predicting the future. What I try to do is examine the human implications of possible developments, and imagine what consequences they might have. (Hopefully entertainingly enough to convince the general public to buy my books.)

So: first, let me tell you some of my baseline assumptions so that you can point and mock when you re-read the transcript of this talk in a decade's time.

This should be a trenchant, witty, explanation of what's going on in British politics right now, in the run up to a sudden-death general election on December 12th, but ... I can't. Even.

Here is a thought experiment for our age.

You wake up to find your fairy godmother has overachieved: you're a new you, in a physically attractive, healthy body with no ailments and no older than 25 (giving you a reasonable propect of living to see the year 2100: making it to 2059 is pretty much a dead certainty).

The new you is also fabulously wealthy: you are the beneficial owner of a gigantic share portfolio which, your wealth management team assures you, is worth on the order of $100Bn, and sufficiently stable that even Trump's worst rage-tweeting never causes you to lose more than half a billion or so: even a repeat of the 2008 crisis will only cost you half an Apollo program.

Finally, you're outside the public eye. While your fellow multi-billionaires know you, your photo doesn't regularly appear in HELLO! magazine or Private Eye: you can walk the streets of Manhattan in reasonable safety without a bodyguard, if you so desire.

Now read on below the cut for the small print.

Three bits of random news (not related to Brexit or Trump (at least, not directly)) did the rounds on Twitter yesterday.

This is a challenge! Write a short story. Incorporate material from all of the following news stories (click on the links and read them, the headlines barely scratch the surface):

  1. Angus man who tried to fly drone into Perth Prison claimed Romanian circus stole his chihuahua
  2. Giuliani Butt-Dials NBC Reporter, Heard Saying He Needs Money
  3. Migrating Russian eagles run up huge data roaming charges

For bonus credit, also include:

  1. Five hitmen jailed after trying to subcontract job to one another

... Points will be allocated for internal consistency, self-reliance without dependency on external fantastic elements (but bonus points may be awarded for incorporating additional current affairs news stories exhibiting a similar degree of derangement), and style. Story must make more sense than reality. Post your work in the comments. Thank you.

I'm speechless.

Since the previous blog entry with this title (on August 28th, a scant 8 weeks or so ago) British politics has gone mad. The Prime Minister seized power so enthusiastically, that when he grabbed the levers of power they broke off in his hands. PMs are not supposed to lose Commons votes; in excitingly historic times it maybe happens a couple of times a decade. This guy is losing them weekly; in fact, it makes headlines when he actually gets a vote to go his way. When he arrived he had a narrow majority, but then he sacked 25 or so of his MPs, and now he's gone and pissed off the minor party that was propping his majority up so badly that the DUP has bailed on him (and are rumoured to be backing Labour's call for a second Brexit referendum). This is like having a skunk cross the road to avoid you because you smell bad. After the Scottish courts ruled his first Prorogation illegal on constitutional grounds Johnson has tried playing dog in the manger, culminating in his behaviour last night when, in response to the Benn Act requirement for him to petition the EU27 for a Brexit extension, he sent them an unsigned photocopy of the letter specified in the Act, with a handwritten request to ignore it. (We have a Prime Minister in full Petulant Schoolboy Meltdown Mode right now.) We have ... no, I can't go on.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic Preznit Shitrag (I love him really! No, honestly) tried to schedule the next session of the G7 at one of his own resort hotels, in order to line his own pocket. It's as if he can't spell "emoluments" and doesn't care that he's under investigation for impeachment, or something.

In today's Guardian, Nick Cohen has a column that makes sense of it all. In general, there are two rival schools of history: the Great Man theory (history is manufactured on the fly by very stable geniuses), and the movement of masses theory (aka Marxism, aka Economics, aka it's all about who's got the money). Cohen advances a third, highly plausible, theory, the Great Moron Theory of history, and manages to cite Norman Dixon's classic work, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence. Briefly: these political dumpster fires bear striking psychological similarities to the inflexible and incompetent generals who thrive in military institutions until they're challenged by the exigencies of actually having to, er, do war stuff. At which point they break, catastrophically: they confuse war with sport, expect their enemies to mindlessly impale themselves on the ends of their bayonets, and consequently pay more attention to self-advancement than victory. This can work (for a while) when you're not at the top of the greasy pole, but when you're at the top there's no further scope for self-advancement: you have to deal, or else.

Anyway.

I am now waiting with bated breath for the EU27's reaction to BoJo's clowning about. Hopefully, if they've got any sense, they'll grant him a 12 month extension (way more than he asked for); that'd instantly provide us with enough elbow room for a People's Vote and/or a general election. But more likely the pain is likely to drag out until the opposition get bored pulling the wings off the upside-down-and-waggling-its-lets-in-the-air Boris, allow a no confidence motion to pass, and then try to form a government headed by ... who? Jeremy Corbyn? (Forget Jo Swinson.) If we're very lucky it'll turn out that Keir Starmer is running the show behind the curtain and Jezza will obediently do as he's told: but that's probably too much to ask for.

One thing is, however, now glaringly clear: if BoJo manages to push a Brexit through (any Brexit) it's curtains for the Union. Currently polls in Scotland show a 54-56% majority for independence in event of a no-deal Brexit; this rises to 70% or thereabouts among the under-34s. Boris's contempt for Scottish politicians is pretty glaring: he's grown up in the wake of Margaret Thatcher's abandonment of Conservative seats north of the border circa 1980 and doesn't seem to realize that it'll take actual hard work to convince Scotland (and Northern Ireland) not to leave—prevaricating over issuing a Section 30 Order to permit a referendum only makes things worse (for which, see Barcelona). His predecessors are worried, with good reason; it seems likely that Johnson's bumptious Little Englander pose is going to rupture the UK.

So. What next?

This blog hosts comments. Boy, does it host comments.

Nearly two decades of comments on this blog leads me to advance the proposition that any computing or information technology enthusiastically endorsed by the collective commentariat of this blog will be unpopular with the general public, and vice versa.

Discuss!

(Ducks and runs)

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