You're probably wondering why I haven't been blogging lately.

The answer isn't terribly complicated. I spent October rewriting two novels, and I'm now busy writing the first draft of one before I switch over to re-writing the second half of another. Yeah, it's a really busy time for me, work-wise! But hopefully I'll have a rough cut of "The Delirium Brief" in another few weeks and a shiny rewritten version of "Invisible Sun" not long thereafter, and you'll thank me for it ... eventually. (Or, on past form, just tell me to "write faster".)

One thing I've been leery about talking about is that both these books are pushing me into what for me, as a writer, is terra incognita: "The Delirium Brief" is the 8th Laundry Files book, and "Invisible Sun" is the 9th in the Merchant Princes series (although the new books are sufficiently different that they're getting a new series title). In each case, I'm working on pushing forward a project I began in 1999 and 2001 respectively, and both series are now around the million word mark. How do I keep it all straight in my head?

Charlie here. I'm off to Sledge-Lit in Derby tomorrow, a one day SF convention at Derby Quad. In the meantime, I'd like to introduce our latest guest blogger: Madeline Ashby.

Madeline is a science fiction writer, columnist, and futurist living in Toronto. She is the author of the Machine Dynasty series from Angry Robot Books, as wells as the forthcoming novel Company Town from Tor. Recently, she co-edited Licence Expired: the Unauthorized James Bond, an anthology for ChiZine Publications. She has worked with organizations like Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, the Atlantic Council, Nesta, and others. You can find her on Twitter @MadelineAshby or at

image (Picture proves cats like me back).

Something I noticed recently while wearing my (completely invisible but highly attractive) writing teacher chapeau is that the welter of SF subgenres and categories of fiction generally are terra incognita to a fair number of newer writers.

I’m okay with this. We begin as readers and viewers, after all. Many people coming into my UCLA courses are curious about speculative fiction. They aren't necessarily book-collecting, con-going, award-nominating fans. They've watched a fair chunk of genre TV and film offerings; they're up on the MCU, they can tell a spaceship from a unicorn and they even usually know which is the fantasy construct. They might have read a certain amount of fiction within their one or two favorite genres, or at least have read Harry Potter and his ilk to their kids.

A. M. Dellamonica

Hi, everyone! My name is Alyx and I'll be posting the occasional note here over the next few weeks, because Charlie was kind enough to hand me the mic. I thought I'd start with a long, musing whimsical thing about mincing subgenres and the nature of ecofantasy, because my upcoming book A Daughter of No Nation lies within that particular subgenre--when it's not passing for portal fantasy or a pirate story or crime fiction with magic.

Sadly, the opening of that essay is wayyyy too stuffy, at present, and needs to be beaten with a sack of oranges. Don't worry, I'll fix it before you see it. Anyway, I should introduce myself first, right?

So--official details: I'm in Toronto, I have gobs of stories out along with the four ecofantasy novels, the first two of which, Indigo Springs and Blue Magic, are chock fulla magically mutated animals, magical objects and queer folk. Seriously. I mention this last because a) I have the exceptional good fortune to be incredibly gay married to author Kelly Robson; b) my most recent book, Child of a Hidden Sea, was to my utter delight and astonishment nominated for a Lambda Award this year. The above-mentioned A Daughter of No Nation is its sequel. There will be a third; its current title is The Nature of a Pirate.

Weird to be Frank for a change. Oh well. Hi, I've got a story I want to share with you.

First, about the Heteromeles identity: Back when I first started posting comments here, I was working in an environmental consulting company that had a rule that they owned all their employee's creative output. My solution was to use "Heteromeles" for my private online activities and my own name for stuff I did for the company, so that if they ever did want to claim ownership, it was obvious how far they were over-reaching (they never did, of course). Heteromeles, for those few who haven't googled it, is the genus of my favorite plant: toyon, the "holly" that gave its name to Hollywood, which isn't too far from where I grew up. Toyon's not a holly (it's closer to photinias and hawthorns if you care), and it's known among botanists as the only woody plant in California that kept its Indian name. By the time I started freelancing, I decided to keep Heteromeles as my online identity more for the sake of continuity than anything else.

So about Hot Earth Dreams: Back in late 2012, I'd gotten well and truly sick of the Mayan Apocalypse (remember that? What were they thinking again?), and started wondering what it would be like to write a novel set in the deep future on a climate-changed Earth ...

Regular readers of this blog's comments will be familiar with Frank Landis, although not under that name—he comments here under the alias Heteromeles. Frank is a part-time environmentalist, a part-time consultant, a house-husband and a writer; he's one of the people who earned a PhD, in his case in botany (he's a plant community ecologist and mycorrhizast by training, with a background in environmental science), failed to land a job in academia, and got downsized out of the business world by the Great Recession. He's guest-blogging here tomorrow about his next book, Hot Earth Dreams, a look at how the Earth's biosphere is likely to change in the wake of anthropogenic climate change ...

So, I am currently investigating parasites, hyperparasites, parasitic castration, and other things that make readers go "ick". (Consider this a research question.)

I'm going to ignore bacterial and protozoal parasites for now, because my Toxoplasma gondii master tells me they're of no interest. And we all know about the mundane visible-with-the-naked-eye ones like tapeworms and pinworms, and the horrifyingly nasty Guinea worm that causes Dracunculiasis. But these are relatively straightforward parasites. Booooring.

However, parasites in general are fascinating and some of their variants are just totally bugfuck. Literally. Take Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, for example. It's a fungal parasite. Its spores hatch and brain-control its host—forest floor dwelling ants—makes them climb high up in the vegetation canopy, then digests its host's body and forms fruiting bodies to scatter new spores over the forest floor for more unfortunate ants to stumble across.

Or take the strange case of the hyperparasitoid wasps—wasps that lay their eggs in wasps that parasitize caterpillars: small cabbage white butterfly caterpillars are used as a host species by the parasitoid wasps—Cotesia rubecula and Cotesia glomerata—which in turn make a handly meal for the even smaller hyperparasitoid wasp Lysibia nana. (Thereby confirming something I've known since I was two years old: wasps are assholes.)

And then things get weird, because these are instances of parasitism where the parasitic life cycle is proceeding according to the script. When parasites go wrong, things get weird-ugly, really fast. Tapeworms sometimes run amok and end up encysting in the brains of their hosts. And then there was the recent case where an HIV-positive man contracted and died of cancer from a non-human source, namely an invasive tapeworm's own neoplasm (which became highly invasive in the immunocompromised host).

Anyway, I thought I should share the joy with you because I'm currently inventing semi-plausible parasitic and meta-parasitic lifecycles with humans as the basic host, for a future Laundry Files story (because Equoids are really just a little passé). And I thought you might like to share some of your favourite parasites and hyperparasites with me! (Nothing well-known or mundane, of course. Assume I'm already familiar with the common stuff.)

Anyone want to start?

This is by way of apologizing for the light blogging lately: I've been somewhat busy, because ...

This is not a post about Breaking Bad's brilliant Star Trek pie-eating contest scene, although the title would work.

Rather, it's about a pet theory of mine, which is that one of the reasons the matter transmitter is overlooked as an enduring and important trope of science fiction is because it doesn't have a cool name.

"Ray gun", and "robot" are examples of evocative nomenclature that entered common parlance way back when and stuck there. Alternatives exist, such as "blaster" or "android", but they're not universal. Everyone knows what a "time machine" is, if you want another great example.

So why not the matter transmitter?

I'll admit that this is a personal bug-bear. I've been selling matter transmitter stories since 1991, up to and including my latest novel, Hollowgirl. A couple of years ago I received a PhD for research into the trope, making me arguably the world expert on the subject. (Which is not to say that I am a complete authority, just that no one else has taken it on.) I'm currently outlining a non-fiction book called Traveling Light in order to explore the topic further, because I think it has interesting things to say about the evolution of science fiction and of science itself. The idea is almost a century and a half old, after all, and not much closer to becoming a reality than it was then, despite the convergence of 3D printing and scanning technologies. Maybe it's too fantastical for hard SF to deal with, or maybe the ramifications of the technology are too broad. Drop a working matter transmitter into your story, I'd argue, and everything changes. The trope is like a black hole, warping everything else around it.

Or maybe, as suggested earlier, it's just the name.

So where did it all go wrong?

Wouldn't you know, just as I put up a Kickstarter for a space opera set a thousand years in the (non-white-American, non-male-dominated) future, a new trailer came out for the latest installment in that great movie space opera series, Star Wars--and the screaming broke the sound barrier.

The latest outrage du jour? Black protagonist! Female protagonist! Cue Luke in anguish: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

There's even a boycott. Because Black! Female! Noooooooooooo!

Best/worst comment I saw on the subject was most hurt, hurt to the very butt, by the sheer unAmerican-ness of it all. "Luke is American. Han is American. Even Leia is American!" Because if you're not white and straight and either male or owned by a straight white male, how can you possibly be, you know, American?

Of course the dear boy was corrected. It is, after all, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Where unless one has access to time-travel technology, there really is no way for anyone in that universe to have ever heard of, let alone cared about, one very young country on a small planet in a minor solar system a fair ways out on a quite undistinguished, if rather pretty, galactic arm.

And that's the thing.

^^^M Harold Page here! Just to clear up some twitter confusion: I'm the guy currently serialising a Heroic Fantasy versus Steampunk  mashup called Swords Versus Tanks. I'm a bit further down the pecking order than our noble host, but still a professional author with four conventionally published novels and two -- now three -- "indy" ones, plus a book on writing called Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic.

Who's poised to embark on NaNoWriMo? Don't worry, this isn't one of those pep talk blog entries (Oh OK. Go YOU! Rah! You CAN do it! RAH! RAHHH!)

I like the idea of National Novel Writing Month. Companionship and a deadline together will motivate you get your ducks lined up in order to tackle a novel, especially if it's for the first time.

However, I don't think focussing on motivation is useful.There is no equivalent to NaNoWriMo for, say, Halo. Nor do gamers generally post on forums pleading for tips about self-discipline.

Yes, you do need some motivation to get started in the first place, to overcome insecurities and to elbow a place in your life in order to write.

Even so, writing itself is a quietly unheroic activity done - like gaming - in flow, "in the zone", and compatible neither with an agitated state of pumped up self confidence nor with taking it in turns to act as online cheerleader.

Conversely, if you are in the zone, motivation isn't an issue and distraction is unlikely; you're lost in your story, so why would you want to be anywhere else?

It follows that the real battle is not about motivation, but rather about getting in the zone and staying there. That's actually a much easier battle to win since the objective is clear and the opposition less nebulous. 

Here's what works for me: 

I want to complain to the studio execs who commissioned the current season of "21st century"; your show is broken.

I say this as a viewer coming in with low expectations. Its predecessor "20th century" plumbed the depths of inconsistency with the frankly silly story arc for world war II. It compounded it by leaving tons of loose plot threads dangling until the very last minute, then tidied them all up in a blinding hurry in that bizarre 1989-92 episode just in time for the big Y2K denouement (which then fizzled). But the new series reboot is simply ridiculous! It takes internal inconsistency to a new low, never before seen in the business: the "21st century" show is just plain implausible.

The series got off to a flying start with the epic wide-screen disaster story "9/11", guest-scripted by Tom Clancy, in which a steely-eyed two-fisted Republican president is confronted by a crisis; but to have him respond by reading a talking goats story book to pre-teens and then invading the wrong country is just a little bit bathetic, don't you think? The lead scriptwriter was either taking the piss or he just didn't care. And then the story line drove into a ditch. First we're fighting a shadowy James Bond terror organization called Al Qaida, the next minute we're propping them up while yelling at the Russians for bombing them! That's the Russians who were supposed to have suddenly become our best buddies in 1992 and joined the good guys team, at the end of the last season. But look, that whole BFFs twist has been retconned out of the show and they brought in a new Bond villain—a former KGB agent turned president of Russia, how cheesy is that?—who rides bare-backed across rivers while dropping oligarchs in piranha tanks and threatening to de-fund the international space station in order to burnish his villain credentials. Meanwhile there's another villain on screen, a South African dude who's trying to colonize Mars, while building electric cars. Why hasn't 007 assassinated him yet?

Oh, and speaking of villains: there's this American guy, he defects to Russia (despite the role reversal) and blows the gaff on a gigantic international conspiracy called the Five Eyes who are spying on literally everyone—including you, personally, yes, they're tapping everyone's phones and reading all the email and browser histories in the world, and their boss sends invisible flying killer robots after people his targeting committee disapproves of—their logo is even a giant globe-hugging evil octopus—only it turns out nobody gives a shit. Talk about dropping the ball!

There were a couple of good disaster movies buried in the mess as sub-plots. The Boxing Day Tsunami in the Indian Ocean was an excellent tear-jerker. And the Great Tohoku Earthquake started promisingly—but wasn't it a bit excessive to throw in three nuclear melt-downs? Why not stick to two and throw in a Kaijū, just for variety? (Also, the bit where the reactor buildings exploded wasn't a patch on 1988's "Chernobyl" episode.)

More consistency and continuity flaws: apparently China is now hyper-Capitalist, only nobody noticed the change and they're still called Communists. There were revolutions against tyrants all over the Middle East in the first decade, the whole "Arab Spring" sequence, but no, that's been airbrushed out and they're all dictatorships again except for Syria, which is this story arc's Bad Place where horrible things happen. (Although they've still got a dictator because plot, I guess.)The global economy crashes a couple of times and goes into a period of hyperinflation as all the central banks run the printing presses until they smoke, but the money ends up in bank vaults and nobody's too worried. Oh, and the whole "running out of oil" thing? You forgot to deal with that, too.

Even the technology background makes no sense. Apple, ferchrissakes, have toppled Microsoft and IBM and dominate the computer business! Volkswagen are apparently building self-propelled gas chambers, and airliners are getting slower! What the hell is going on? And whose idea was it to hire the ghosts of Philip K. Dick and George Orwell as showrunners anyway? Frankly, even Doctor Who makes more sense at a story level than this so-called future we're expected to believe in.

Anyway, I just wanted you to know that this viewer, for one, is deeply disappointed with "21st century" so far. And I'm betting I'm not the only one. I'm sure my readers can spot lots of other continuity flaws, or come up with better ideas for how this century should have proceeded!

So this week the usual folks have been all over China's proposal to use big data techniques to assign every citizen a Citizen Score. And while a tiny ethics-free part of my soul weeps for joy (hey, I never expected parts of Glasshouse to come true!) the rest of me shudders and can't help thinking how much worse it could get.

So, let's start by synopsizing the Privacy Online News report. It's basically a state-run universal credit score, where you're measured on a scale from 350 to 950. But it's not just about your financial planning ability; it also reflects your political opinions. On the financial side, if you buy products the government approves of your credit score increases: wastes of time (such as video games) cost you points. China's main social networks feed data into it and you can lose points big-time by expressing political opinions without prior permission, talking about history (where it diverges from the official version—e.g. the events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square—hey, I just earned myself a negative credit score there!), or saying anything that's politically embarrassing.

The special social network magic comes into play when you learn that if your friends do this, your score also suffers. You can see what they just did to you: are you angry yet? Social pressure is a pervasive force and it's going to be exerted on participants whether they like it or not, by friends looking for the goodies that come from having a high citizen score: goodies like instant loans for online shopping, car rentals without needing a deposit, or fast-track access to foreign travel visas. Also, everyone's credit score is visible online, making it easy to ditch those embarrassingly ranty cocktail-party friends who insist on harshing your government credit karma by not conforming.

The gamification of social conformity, overseen by an authoritarian government and mediated by nudge theory, is a thing of beauty and horror; who needs cops with nightsticks to beat up dissidents when their friends and family will give them a tongue-lashing on behalf of the government for the price of a discount off a new fridge?

But don't worry, I could make it a whole lot worse.

Me again! M Harold Page, but you can call me "Martin" (I use my very fine middle name to differentiate myself from the folk singer and the French YA writer).

I've just published Swords Versus Tanks 1: "Armoured heroes clash across the centuries". It even has a cover quote from Charlie ("Holy ####!").  So now I'm here to shamelessly plug my new book (click through and take a look at the cover... Go on! You know you want to!).

However, you're a sophisticated lot, so call the above "A word from our sponsor" and let me tell you why I think tank stories make great tech myths.

First some examples...

Here's a technological question with philosophical side-effects that's been bugging me for the past few days ...

Today, the commercial exploitation of outer space appears to be a growth area. Barely a week goes by without a satellite launch somewhere on the planet. SpaceX has a gigantic order book and a contract to ferry astronauts to the ISS, probably starting in 2018; United Launch Alliance have a similar manned space taxi under development, and there are multiple competing projects under way to fill low earth orbit with constellations of hundreds of small data relay satellites to bring internet connectivity to the entire planet. For the first time since the 1960s it's beginning to look as if human activity beyond low earth orbit is a distinct possibility within the next decade.

But there's a fly in the ointment.




  • Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed

Recent Comments

  • dpb on Quiet in here, isn't it?: *wild hand waving* Presumably you get more of a survival advantage from remembering the circumstanc...
  • SFreader on Quiet in here, isn't it?: True ... also this ...
  • SFreader on Quiet in here, isn't it?: Re: '...or all the little embarrassments and failures that happen in any life?' Actually, this is t...
  • Andreas Vox on Quiet in here, isn't it?: Also compare ObXkcd....
  • Charlie Stross on Quiet in here, isn't it?: Greg, I would be very surprised if Donald Trump's hairpiece has ever been seen in the same room at t...
  • SFreader on Quiet in here, isn't it?: Boils down to Buddhist meditation. So more than one (ahem) route to building a more robust hippocamp...
  • SFreader on Quiet in here, isn't it?: Trump - actual (vs. concept-board) end-product of late 20th century 'American-Dream'-self-actualizat...
  • Dan H. on Quiet in here, isn't it?: One aspect of human memory that has always intrigued me is the use of hypnosis as a tool to supposed...
  • Heteromeles on Quiet in here, isn't it?: Why should Buddhist monks be any better at remembering? Being in the moment means being in the momen...
  • dpb on Quiet in here, isn't it?: This is essentially the "killer app" for VR as far as I'm concerned. Once you have a perfect simula...

Search this blog