Sorry about the protracted silence.

This year has been kind of busy for me, and I've been head-down in a mountain of work rather than keeping up the blog. First on the agenda was my space opera for 2018, Ghost Engine, which is still not finished; it just keeps on growing. I'd been aiming to finish it before the new year, but a chest infection and some unforseen plot recomplications have kept it in play. And I was still writing when the copy edits for "The Delirium Brief" landed in my inbox for checking.

So here's the final (only slightly late) installment of my predictions for 2017.

Have a happy new year!

This seems to be shaping up to be a future counterfactual in the grand tradition of soc.history.what-if (which only chewed over historical counter-factuals), but what the hell.

The story of 2017 ("Things can only get better!") continues below.

Right, so 2016 has been a total shitebag of a year all round. Looking ahead, what can 2017 possibly do to top 2016 for sheer awfulness? Let me check my crystal ball ...

There appears to be a dedicated Laundry Files fanfic community on Archive Of Our Own. No surprise there. But the most recent poster may be of interest to some. Just saying ...

Empire Games

So, in case you were wondering what the thing I've been working on since late 2012 looks like, there's now a chunk of the first chapter of "Empire Games" up on Tor's website. And the book goes on sale just over a month from now in the US! Alas, we Brits have to wait an extra week—Tor USA and Tor UK may share a name but they're actually different publishers with different shipping schedules.

Preorder (via Amazon.com): US hardcover, US Kindle edition, UK Kindle edition.

(Amazon UK only list the Kindle edition right now because Tor UK decided to switch the paper edition from hardcover to trade paperback, and the change is still propagating through Amazon's database. I'll update with a link to the trade paperback as soon as I get it.)

Empire Games peek!

Normally, I use my blog as a soap-box for spouting complex opinions. Twitter, with its 140 character limit, is very constrained: it's almost impossible to express long, nuanced opinions. But sometimes it's necessary to eat your own dog food. Here's a series of eleven tweets I posted last week, expressing a hypothesis about what's wrong with twitter today.

A short commercial interlude

Just so you know why I've been quiet lately, it's because this book-shaped object is now on its way to the copy editor for publication in late June/early July next year (assuming we survive that long.)

The Delirium Brief (UK) The Delirium Brief (US)

The UK edition is going to be published by Orbit, as usual, and that's their cover on the left (or above, depending on your browser). But in the United States, the series is now moving to Tor.com Publishing; so there's a whole new cover design coming. (To be clear: earlier books will remain with Ace, but "The Delirium Brief" and subsequent novels will come from Tor.)

You can preorder the books via Amazon here: US Hardcover Edition and here: UK Hardcover Edition; ebook editions are also available (US Kindle, UK Kindle not yet listed but available soon).

However, that's not my next book! This is:

Empire Games (UK)

It's coming out in late Jannuary ... and I'm going to have a lot more to say about Empire Games very soon! (In the meantime here are the UK Kindle edition and the US Kindle edition. NB: if you pre-ordered the UK hardcover, you probably want to cancel that order and try again. Tor UK made a late decision to switch the book to trade paperback, so existing pre-orders for the now non-existent UK hardback have probably vanished into limbo: on the bright side, their trade paperback edition should match the Merchant Princes omnibuses in size. The US hardcover is still A Thing.)

And now you know why I've been kind of quiet for the past few months. It's not just the insanely depressing news environment for 2016 (about which I'll have something else to say, when I've finally digested the indigestible implications); I've been gearing up to produce two books a year for the next few years, I've had to rewrite half a Laundry novel (because Brexit ruined the original plot of The Delirium Brief), and as I move to new publishing arrangements I'm busy working on my Next Big Thing, a space opera titled Ghost Engine which is only tenuously related to anything I've written before (hint: Palimpsest, only for intergalactic expansion over the next million years).

I'm distracted at present (sorting out the final edits to "The Delirium Brief", finishing the first draft of "Ghost Engine"), but I can't help thinking that it's about time we all re-read Umberto Eco's magisterial essay on Ur-Fascism, published in the New York Review of Books in 1995.

... The fascist game can be played in many forms, and the name of the game does not change. The notion of fascism is not unlike Wittgenstein's notion of a game. A game can be either competitive or not, it can require some special skill or none, it can or cannot involve money. Games are different activities that display only some "family resemblance," as Wittgenstein put it. ... Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

It's a long-ish essay, but absolutely essential reading. Remember, Eco wasn't just speculating—he grew up under a fascist dictatorship. And if you look around the world today and can't see the relevance of this essay, I suggest that you look again. Not just Trump: look at the BJP in India, the recent coup attempt in Montenegro, the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, Vladimir Putin's Kremlin, and so on.

PS: See also Dr Lawrence Britt on the common core features of fascism.

Update: I am seeing a number of commenters qualify their denunciations of fascism by taking ritual strokes on the dead horse of communism (or "extreme leftism") at the same time. Stop it. We do not currently have a systemic problem with a communist international seizing the reins on power in numberous developed nations; you appear to be twitchily recapitulating the doctrine of false equivalence that the news media in the US have fed you, and it's a distraction and a snare.

Little Harry blinks at me through his heavy Sellotaped glasses. "What's that for?"

"It's a submachine gun," I say. "It fires lots of bullets." I mime. "Bang bang bang!"

I'm helping out on a school trip. Normally I avoid volunteering - it's too easy for self employed parents to end up as the school's go-to. However this visit is to Edinburgh Castle and my daughter Morgenstern was very keen I should put in a showing...

So here I am helping to herd 5-year olds through the military museum. Morgenstern is nowhere in sight, but little Harry has latched onto me.

"Oh," says Harry. He copies my mime and sprays the room. "Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang."

"Not like that," I say. "Three round bursts or you'll run out of bullets. Plus the thing pulls up." I mime. "So like this: Bang bang bang!... Bang bang bang!"

So I've had a week now for the outcome of last Tuesday's US election to sink in, and I've been doing some thinking and some research, and my conclusion is that either I'm wearing a tinfoil hat or things are much, much worse than most people imagine.

Nearly four years ago I wrote about the Beige Dictatorship, and predicted:

Overall, the nature of the problem seems to be that our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change. They have done so by converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election. And in so doing, they have broken the "peaceful succession when enough people get pissed off" mechanism that prevents revolutions. If we're lucky, emergent radical parties will break the gridlock (here in the UK that would be the SNP in Scotland, possibly UKIP in England: in the USA it might be the new party that emerges if the rupture between the Republican realists like Karl Rove and the Tea Party radicals finally goes nuclear), but within a political generation (two election terms) it'll be back to oligarchy as usual.

Well, I was optimistic. The tea party radicals have gone nuclear, but I wasn't counting on a neo-Nazi running the White House, or on the Kremlin stepping in ...

Every so often, somebody posts some wistful meme about how nice it would be if duelling were legal again.

I'm increasingly less gentle in my response. Partly I don't want non-sword folk to start to thinking of Historical European Martial Arts as some kind of Fascist death cult (we really aren't, and we're a very geeky and inclusive movement).

Mostly though, as a historical novelist, swordsman, and father of a teenage boy, I can tell you that duelling was - and is - a bloody stupid idea.

(Writing in haste because I'm packing for a flight home.)

So: we wake up the morning after the US election to discover ... what?

Here's my short term prediction, followed by my long term prediction. (And if you are American, I'm very, very, sorry.)

I laughed at the mother who's bringing up her kids without electronic toys, but has a social media feed to boast about it... until I remembered the Red Train of Doom.

A relative once bought our son Kurtzhau a traditional wooden ridealong steam train. It was big and red and he was tiny and a boy and he was supposed to ride it around the flat.

You got the wooden part, right?

The damned thing took chunks out of the paintwork, hurt to trip over, and wouldn't steer. It was also uncomfortable to sit astride and too easy to fall off. Little Kurtzhau rode the train perhaps twice. Then he reverted to the comfy, steerable and less lethal plastic fire truck. Thank God.

However, the wooden train seemed somehow "special" and survived successive declutterings. These days it languishes at a relative's house for visiting children to ignore. Give it another half century and the train will be a heirloom dutifully hauled around between generations.

Nobody has the heart to throw it away!  What the hell is going on? Why is this thing special?

So every so often a random news article bites me on the world-building toe. Yesterday's came via Ars Technica in the shape of a very interesting research study on cultural attitudes to traditionalism and national parasite stress (Original source).

To quote the abstract of the paper in full:

People who are more avoidant of pathogens are more politically conservative, as are nations with greater parasite stress. In the current research, we test two prominent hypotheses that have been proposed as explanations for these relationships. The first, which is an intragroup account, holds that these relationships between pathogens and politics are based on motivations to adhere to local norms, which are sometimes shaped by cultural evolution to have pathogen-neutralizing properties. The second, which is an intergroup account, holds that these same relationships are based on motivations to avoid contact with outgroups, who might pose greater infectious disease threats than ingroup members. Results from a study surveying 11,501 participants across 30 nations are more consistent with the intragroup account than with the intergroup account. National parasite stress relates to traditionalism (an aspect of conservatism especially related to adherence to group norms) but not to social dominance orientation (SDO; an aspect of conservatism especially related to endorsements of intergroup barriers and negativity toward ethnic and racial outgroups). Further, individual differences in pathogen-avoidance motives (i.e., disgust sensitivity) relate more strongly to traditionalism than to SDO within the 30 nations.

This got me thinking: what are the implications for world-building in mid-to-far future SF and space opera?

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