I've been spending a little time lately asking myself questions about the near future. And in particular—this is especially relevant if you're planning on writing a near-future SF novel set maybe 15-30 years hence—what it's going to be like as an experience for, well, not for my generation (I'll be 65-80 if I live that long: of declining relevance) but for the next generation on. And I suspect it'll be pretty shitty.

I was born in late 1964, the youngest child of older-than-average parents who married late: my cousins are (or were) part of the baby boom generation, but culturally I'm an early type specimen of Generation X.

So, I was making slow but steady headway on "Invisible Sun" (Merchant Princes: The Next Generation #3) when I got bitten this morning by an Attack Novel. I mean, a rabid one. So far, I've confined myself to writing the first 2500 words of an outline; I plan to finish it today, stick it in a drawer to cool (or until the urge to create becomes irresistible), then go back to "Invisible Sun".

This isn't a unique event. You might have noticed Wednesday's wholly inappropriate blog entry about a political satire/thriller that is utterly unsaleable, revolving around the identity of the 2016 Republican Party Candidate for POTUS.

But there's more.

Some of you might have noticed something called heartbleed generating a lot of tech news smoke and heat this week.

This web server runs on Apache, yes. But I don't provide an encrypted server connection over SSL—it's an unencrypted set-up because I'm not in the business of selling you something or handling your confidential information, and I don't see a pressing need to make your life and mine more complicated in order to provide an illusion of (non-existent) security. If you're not running an SSL encrypted service in the first place, then you're not vulnerable to a particularly nasty zero-day hitting OpenSSL. QED.

One of the problems with spending an evening in the pub is that I get ideas. Some of them are viable and useful—the core of "Glasshouse" more or less congealed around three pints of Deuchars IPA in The Standing Order in Edinburgh one rainy Tuesday afternoon in early 2003—but others should be tagged "back away from the keyboard, put down the mouse, and nobody needs to get hurt".

Last night's was one of the latter. And so instead of hunting for a collaborator and then trying to pitch and/or write the sucker, I'm going to exorcise it right here on my blog (so that I lose any urge to pursue it further).

George Osborne has committed the Conservatives to targeting "full employment", saying that tax and welfare changes would help achieve it.

Firstly, this is impossible. Secondly, explaining why is ... well, George Orwell coined a word to describe this sort of thing, in 1984: Crimestop

The faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.
Today, in the political discourse of the west, it is almost unthinkably hard to ask a very simple question: why should we work?

See subject.

Sorry folks, there's nothing funny to see here (unless you want to get painfully, recursively meta about it.)

I have two works that are eligible for Hugo nominations this year:

* Neptune's Brood (novel, pub. Ace (USA), Orbit (UK)
* Equoid (novella, pub. tor.com)

I have three other books that are not eligible, as far as I know: "The Bloodline Feud", "The Traders War", "The Revolution Trade". They came out in 2013 but are essentially remastered omnibus versions of earlier novels which were eligible for nomination in previous years (and while they never made a Hugo shortlist, the Merchant Princes series won the 2007 Sidewise Award for alternate history).

You can stop filling my email inbox now, kthx?

Nominations for the 2014 Hugo awards close on Monday night.

It occurs to me—rather late in the day, I admit—that there's a strong case I'd like to make for one particular nominee who may otherwise not make the list.

One of the less well known categories is "Best Editor, (Long Form)" meaning, basically, books. And I'd like to remind you, if you're eligible to nominate, of the existence of Ginjer Buchanan, Editor-in-Chief of Ace books, the oldest continuously-publishing SF/F publisher in North America. Ginjer has been at Ace since 1984, and is marking thirty years there, the past eight of them as Editor-in-Chief. She's a living legend, one of our field's last remaining connections with the golden age of SF; she was one of Robert Heinlein's last editors, and among other authors she's responsible for the success of Jim Butcher, Laurel K. Hamilton, Joe Haldeman, and myself. Oh, and Al Reynolds, Jack McDevitt, Charlaine Harris, and Patricia Briggs. Not to mention many others, far more than I can name here—for years she was the powerhouse behind an imprint that published over 150 books a year.

And she retired yesterday, so this is the last year she'll be eligible for the Hugo award for best editor (long form).

I'm putting her name on my ballot, and I hope that if you're eligible to nominate in 2014 you will at least consider her track record.

(Ginjer, if you're reading this it's been great working with you!)

I'm back home from Poznan. It's quite a journey from Edinburgh: we set out on an express train to Berlin (dep. Poznan at 10:27am), then continued by air from Tegel to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Edinburgh, making it home by 11pm after setting foot in four countries in twelve hours.

Pyrkon was ... unexpected. Think in terms of the feel of San Diego Comicon, if you removed the big commercial stands (for some reason, Marvel, DC, Electronic Arts, and Hollywood studios don't think regional Polish SF conventions are worth going to). They stopped charging for admission a couple hours before the closing ceremony, at which point they'd sold 24,513 memberships—no, that is not a typo: this convention was getting into DragonCon scale and is in Poland. (2013's Pyrkon was only 13,000 strong; back around 2011 it had 3000 members.) It's about five or six times the size of a worldcon. A dizzyingly unexpected gathering of the geek tribes in an unexpected place—although if it's going to happen anywhere, Poznan is a good bet: it's a prosperous university city with a bunch of high-tech corporations and a population that skews young relative to Poland as a whole.

Anyway, I'm now facing a stack of page proofs that need checking within the next week, or else bad things will happen to the publication schedule of "The Rhesus Chart". And while I'm doing that I'll try and think of something to blog about. (Current leading contender: the background music playlist for "Dark State", the first of the Merchant Princes: The Next Generation trilogy, due out next April.)

I am entranced by cause and effect.

This probably has some direct bearing on my chosen career as a storyteller. The real world is devoid of narratives, after all. Narratives are just a thing that our brains do with facts in order to draw a line around the incomprehensible largeness of reality and wrestle it into something learnable and manipulable. Existence is devoid of plot, theme, and most of all moral.

And yet I can still be struck dumb when two facts I knew, but never really considered before, snap into synthesis. The a-hah moment is incredibly powerful.

Consider: wildfires appear to have been more common and more widespread during the Cretaceous period. Consider also, that oxygen levels may have been considerably higher--as much as 35%, by some sampling techniques, as opposed to today's paltry 21%.

(I've found a few references to a 2013 study that seems to indicate that Triassic oxygen levels may have been even lower, but that's a whole different era of the same eon. (Or aeon, if you prefer.))

I knew these two facts in isolation for some time. But at some point they clicked into place for me, and I realized that each implies the other.

Huh.

Or more precisely, a-hah!

#

One of my great joys as a writer lies in teaching. I have been privileged to teach at several workshops over the years, and one of the things that I try hardest to teach my students is that the most powerful emotional effect a story can have on the reader is the one summoned when the reader figures things out for themself. Where the writer provides the information--the clues--and the reader puts them together and figures out how something works.

I also teach them that one of the coolest tricks to pull in worldbuilding is to imply things. An oaken chair implies cold, temperate forests harvested for timber. Shipping implies trade. And so forth.

Of course, it's also the trickiest trick to pull off, because the necessary clue level varies from reader to reader, and nobody likes to feel led by the nose, and some readers don't actually want to figure things out: they just want to be told.

The deep irony is, of course, that while I can tell an apprentice writer this, they won't really understand it until they figure it out for themself.

I love unreliable narrators. I love those moments when as a reader, I realize something slightly before the narrative makes it plain. I love the little neurological endorphin cookie that my brain feeds me: "Congratulations! You learned something! Perhaps you'll live another day!"

This is also how inspiration works, incidentally: you stack up disparate things against one another until suddenly, your brain arranges a connection. It makes a pattern. It creates a narrative, where no narrative was before.

#

So it turns out that one can use fossil carbon beds as a predictor of prehistoric atmospheric oxygen levels.

One thing is implied in another. A-hah.

Next weekend I'm going to be in Poznan, Poland, for Pyrkon 2014 at the Poznan World Trade Center—a really remarkably large multigenre SF convention (last year had over 13,000 attendees, making it more than twice the size of a worldcon). Yes, I'll be giving a talk and bloviating on panel discussions as usual: also present from the English language sector will be Tad Williams and Lauren Beukes. See you there!

Obviously I'll be short of blogging time over the next ten days, but Elizabeth Bear will be dropping in by and by ...

(This is my last posting on the disappearance of flight MH370—at least until we find the wreckage.)

Having eliminated the stolen passport holders (illegal immigrants joining their families) and heard new admissions from the Malaysian military about the track of the airliner, I have a hypothesis about the disappearance of MH370 that doesn't require human malice—just a single terrible coincidence (of the kind that causes most major air disasters).

Until a couple of days ago, Malaysian Airlines owned or operated seventeen extended range Boeing 777s. Then, on the 8th, the 777-200ER operating flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing was lost in flight with 239 souls on board. Wreckage has not yet been found.

(Tangential connection: Malaysian Airlines operates flights between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur using 777-200ERs. Indeed, my wife and I flew KUL-AMS last April—there's a non-zero chance that I've flown on the aircraft that was lost, although we didn't make a note of the tail number at the time.)

I am now about to engage in baseless conspiracy-theorizing, which as you know has an almost zero probability of being an accurate reflection of the actual cause of the tragedy.

Menhit, washing herself, beside a book

The Advance Reader Copies of "Equoid" have arrived. They're uncorrected paperback-bound proofs for reviewers, not the handsome hardback that will be published this September by Subterranean Press (yes, pre-orders are open).

Menhit (named for an Egyptian cat-goddess: literally "she who massacres" — a good description of her personality) seems unimpressed.

Here in the UK, we are a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights, which among other things includes an explicit right to privacy (considerably stronger than the implicit privacy rights acknowledged in the US, which are not enumerated directly by the US constitution).

Anyone running a database with personal information in it is supposed to register with the Information Commissioner's Office and follow best practice guidelines for ensuring confidentiality.

So, Google, am I pregnant?

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