Charles Stross's Blog, page 2
March 12, 2015
I have a new book coming out in the first week of July: it's The Annihilation Score (UK ebook link), and here's the cover Orbit have done for the British edition!
And in case that's not enough, because it's published on both sides of the pond, here's the US ebook edition, and the American cover art:
If you detect a certain violin-theme running through both covers, you'd be perfectly right. Because this may be the sixth Laundry Files novel, but there's a new twist: this one isn't about Bob, it's about Mo. And superheroes. And a certain bone-white instrument ...
March 6, 2015
I am still suspended head-down in a vat of boiling edits. The deadline is next Friday, so don't expect normal blogging to resume before then.
(The book in question, "Dark State", is tentatively due out from Tor in April 2016—assuming I can hit that deadline.)
March 2, 2015
Harry Connolly posting again, while Charlie hammers away at his work.
I'll confess that I was startled when I saw Elizabeth Bear's earlier Obligatory Author Shilling post. Sadly, my first thought was "Is that even allowed?"
As in: Are we allowed to confidently tell readers about our books? Are we allowed to talk about our books as though they're good things that readers would enjoy, without a whole shitload of fancy footwork first?
What can I say? The Imposter Syndrome is strong with me. But I'm going to follow Bear's excellent example and write a straight up post about my new book, which drops today.
It's an urban fantasy called A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark and it's the last fiction stretch goal for my Kickstarter.
Here's the cover:
Readers familiar with my Twenty Palaces novels be warned: this isn't that. Key/Egg is a pacifist urban fantasy. In a genre where protagonists routinely behave as though they live in a lawless frontier where every problem must be solved with a bullet from an enchanted Glock, this is a book where problems are solved through diplomacy and trickery.
Also, in a genre filled with 20-something ass-kickers, the protagonist is a woman in her mid-sixties who's a cross between Auntie Mame and Gandalf. Why should older characters be constantly relegated to expository roles? Why not let them strut their stuff a little?
The story is set in modern-day Seattle, and involves one of those murders that Leads to a Larger Scheme. If you're a long time reader of James Nicoll's LiveJournal and you read to the end, you'll know why I thanked him in the acknowledgements.
Anyway, after the bleakness of the Twenty Palaces novels, I wanted something light and fun. This is it; a thriller without violence.
Check out some sample chapters here. Thanks.
February 25, 2015
Right now, I'm chewing over the final edits on a rather political book. And I think, as it's a near future setting, I should jot down some axioms about politics ...
We're living in an era of increasing automation. And it's trivially clear that the adoption of automation privileges capital over labour (because capital can be substituted for labour, and the profit from its deployment thereby accrues to capital rather than being shared evenly across society).
A side-effect of the rise of capital is the financialization of everything—capital flows towards profit centres and if there aren't enough of them profits accrue to whoever can invent some more (even if the products or the items they're guaranteed against are essentially imaginary: futures, derivatives, CDOs, student loans).
Since the collapse of the USSR and the rise of post-Tiananmen China it has become glaringly obvious that capitalism does not require democracy. Or even benefit from it. Capitalism as a system may well work best in the absence of democracy.
The iron law of bureaucracy states that for all organizations, most of their activity will be devoted to the perpetuation of the organization, not to the pursuit of its ostensible objective. (This emerges organically from the needs of the organization's employees.)
Governments are organizations.
We observe the increasing militarization of police forces and the priviliging of intelligence agencies all around the world. And in the media, a permanent drumbeat of fear, doubt and paranoia directed at "terrorists" (a paper tiger threat that kills fewer than 0.1% of the number who die in road traffic accidents).
Money can buy you cooperation from people in government, even when it's not supposed to.
The internet disintermediates supply chains.
Political legitimacy in a democracy is a finite resource, so supplies are constrained.
The purpose of democracy is to provide a formal mechanism for transfer of power without violence, when the faction in power has lost legitimacy.
Our mechanisms for democratic power transfer date to the 18th century. They are inherently slower to respond to change than the internet and our contemporary news media.
A side-effect of (7) is the financialization of government services (2).
Security services are obeying the iron law of bureaucracy (4) when they metastasize, citing terrorism (6) as a justification for their expansion.
The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there's a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.
The term "failed state" carries a freight of implicit baggage: failed at what, exactly? The unspoken implication is, "failed to conform to the requirements of global capital" (not democracy—see (3)) by failing to adequately facilitate (2).
I submit that a real failed state is one that does not serve the best interests of its citizens (insofar as those best interests do not lead to direct conflict with other states).
In future, inter-state pressure may be brought to bear on states that fail to meet the criteria in (15) even when they are not failed states by the standard of point (16). See also: Greece.
As human beings, our role in this picture is as units of Labour (unless we're eye-wateringly rich, and thereby rare).
So, going by (17) and (18), we're on the receiving end of a war fought for control of our societies by opposing forces that are increasingly more powerful than we are.
Have a nice century!
a) Student loans are loans against an imaginary product—something that may or may not exist inside someone's head and which may or may not enable them to accumulate more capital if they are able to use it in the expected manner and it remains useful for a 20-30 year period. I have a CS degree from 1990. It's about as much use as an aerospace engineering degree from 1927 ...
b) Some folks (especially Americans) seem to think that their AR-15s are a guarantor that they can resist tyranny. But guns are an 18th century response to 18th century threats to democracy. Capital doesn't need to point a gun at you to remove your democratic rights: it just needs more cameras, more cops, and a legal system that is fair and just and bankrupts you if you are ever charged with public disorder and don't plead guilty.
c) (sethg reminded me of this): A very important piece of the puzzle is that while capital can move freely between the developed and underdeveloped world, labour cannot. So capital migrates to seek the cheapest labour, thereby reaping greater profits. Remember this next time you hear someone complaining about "immigrants coming here and taking our jobs". Or go google for "investors visa" if you can cope with a sudden attack of rage.
February 22, 2015
I’m back home and mostly recovered from the jet lag, and according to the doctors I shouldn’t lose too many fingers from frostbite. (I exaggerate, but only a little: as I just spent three weeks in New England—specifically in New York and Boston—my cold weather gear got a bit of use. I mean, only about a metre of snow fell while I was there, and the MBTA only shut down due to a weather emergency twice: by the end of the trip we were making uneasy jokes about Fimbulwinter.)
Along the way I had plenty of meetings and I have some publishing news.
For one thing, I sold a short story (my first in a few years) to the MIT Technology Review. (It’ll be published in their fiction/futures issue, later this year.) And for another thing, “Accelerando” is finally getting a French translation; it’s due to be published by Editions Piranha on April 3rd. Oh, and of course “The Annihilation Score” is coming out for the first time in the UK and USA in the first week of July—that’s the sixth Laundry Files novel.
But the real news is that the trilogy-shaped-object I’ve been gestating at Tor for the past couple of years finally has a publication date and is slouching towards your bookshelves. I say “trilogy shaped object” because “Empire Games” is a single story spanning three books: they’re coming out at three month intervals, starting with “Dark State” in April 2016, to be followed by “Black Rain” and “Invisible Sun”. It’s set in the same multiverse as my earlier Merchant Princes series, although you don’t have to read the earlier series first; it’s about the failure modes of surveillance states and revolutions, the bizarre tendency of bureaucratic organizations to find new purposes for themselves long after their original purpose goes away, and how civilizations deal with existential threats. (Oh, and it has spies, a princess, a space battleship, and an alien invasion—just in case you thought I’d gone totally mundane …)
And to round things off, summer 2016 should also see the publication of “The Nightmare Stacks”, Laundry Files book seven. Because I love you so much that I’ve been writing one of them a year for a while (although I plan to take a year off after this one so I can do something different—every book I’ve written since 2007 has been in-series with something I wrote before then, and I have this itchy urge to surprise you).
So, that’s a four-book year coming up. And maybe there’ll be some short fiction on top. Finally all the hard work I did in 2013-14 is bearing fruit!
February 18, 2015
WARNING DANGER THIS COLUMN CONTAINS PATHOS, ANTHROPOMORPHIZATION, AND RAMPANT SENTIMENTALISM. If that bothers you, turn back now.
I feel a great pathos for robots.
Not just any robots, mind. But explorer robots. Brave little space robots. Voyager and Venera and Curiosity and Beagle robots. Spirit and Opportunity robots, possibly even more than all the others.
I think, honestly, most people do. We personalize the brave little toasters. They have twitter accounts and show up in completely heartbreaking xkcd strips. We root for them, pull for them, and appreciate their triumphs, tribulations, and traumas.
Scientists are still learning new things from images of Jupiter taken by Voyager I in 1979, when I was eight years old.
Eight. Years. Old.
We made a robot the size of a car, and we fired it into space, and it's never coming home. It's going to zoom around out there for-functionally-ever. Someday, a squintillion years from now, when we're long gone, there's a tiny possibility that some other people might find it and stare at it and know that we once existed.
It's a gigantic "Fuck you," to the Drake Equation. It's futile and beautiful, and it matters desperately.
That emotion right there? That thing you just felt, if you are anything like me?
That was sense of wonder.
And that is also what the word "humbling" means.
Brave space robots literally make me misty. And it's not just because they serve as a proxy for the East African Plains Apes millions of miles away, at their controls. In fact, I think most of the time we forget that our speciesmates are back there (back here!) on Earth, fiddling with joysticks and flipping toggles. Or tapping away on keyboards and puzzling over ambiguous shadows in photographs.
We say, "Curiosity discovered--" after all. We even construct gender for her and her and her sister Martian rovers--they're female, a pack of brave, adventurous Girl Scouts out there earning merit badges and drilling in to rocks.
I may have shed a tiny tear when I stayed up way, way too late to 'watch' her land. I was certainly rooting for her with as much ferocity as I've ever rooted for a Bruce Willis character, and considerably more than I could muster for WALL-E. (That'll be my unpopular confession for this column.)
It's interesting to me that we can individually haul up this emotional connection, this strength of empathy, for a machine that--objectively speaking--is just a machine. Not a living creature with feelings and agency; nothing with an object position of its own. More than that, that that empathy is easy for us.
Collectively, we seem to have a hard time summoning that understanding, that complex imagining of the other, for beings who are far more similar to us than these brave space toasters. Who are separated only by a gene controlling pigmentation, or a religious or political belief structure. Possibly it's because brave little robots are so alien. We don't come with any installed stereotypes or unexamined prejudices, and they're not exactly competition. Maybe it's because robots don't have political opinions, or a convoluted and shared history of competition and oppression.
In any case, maybe it's a good sign.
If we can learn to care about robots, maybe we can learn to care about less alien but more strange creatures, such as each other.
February 11, 2015
Hello. I'm Rachel Manija Brown, co-author (with Sherwood Smith) of the YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, Stranger, and its sequel, Hostage. Stranger was published by Viking. Hostage was self-published. More on that in a moment.
Hello again. I'm also Lia Silver, author of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance series, Werewolf Marines, which is about werewolf Marines. Also PTSD and breaking the rules of at least two genres. (In my "Rachel no-middle-name Brown" identity, who doesn't write anything but treatment plans, I'm a PTSD therapist.)
And hello yet again. I'm also Rebecca Tregaron, author of the lesbian romance/urban fantasy/Gothic/romantic comedy/culinary mystery/everything and the kitchen sink Angel in the Attic, and the lesbian erotica, "Bound in Silk and Steel," in Her Private Passion: More Tales of Pleasure and Domination. (That's an anthology of lesbian erotica with 100% of its profits donated to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Please consider purchasing it or its companion gay anthology, His Prize Possession if your interests include human rights, lesbian spanking, or gay tentacles.)
Lia and Rebecca are self-published. Rachel is traditionally published and self-published. Since you probably already know plenty about traditional publishing, I'm here to talk about self-publishing.
If you click on the cut, you will eventually get to a discussion about the indie erotica subgenre about sex with dinosaurs, minotaurs, and Bigfoot.
All discussion below is of the American publishing industry, because that's what I know about. I would be interested to hear about publishing in other countries.
The advent of the e-reader brought about a dramatic change in self-publishing. As Sherwood discussed in her blog post, self-publishing has a very long history. But with the rise of publishers as we now know them, self-publishing became both denigrated and difficult. It's the rare person who can make a living, or even break even, selling their own books out of the trunk of their car.
And then there were e-books. In particular, there was Amazon. Over the course of a few years, self-publishing became technically simple and potentially rewarding. "Should I self-publish or traditionally publish?" is now a serious question for many new writers, who formerly would not have considered self-publishing until and unless they'd been rejected from every traditional publisher in existence.
There are plenty of reasons to traditionally publish, such as advance money, your book placed in bookstores, prestige, library sales, lack of interest/skill at the business aspects of being a writer, potentially better publicity, the publisher providing editing and cover art for free, distrust of Amazon, and so forth. These are all clear benefits, so I'll leave it at that. Instead, I'll focus on the reasons writers choose to self-publish.
One of the most obvious reasons to self-publish is that, for whatever reason, your book is unconventional, cross-genre, hard to categorize, hard to market, rule-breaking, or simply in an unfashionable genre. My own Angel in the Attic is both cross-genre and peculiar; the Werewolf Marines books have very unconventional elements for their genres. Courtney Milan, formerly a Harlequin romance novelist, turned to self-publishing in part because the books she wanted to write were too quirky and her protagonists didn't fit the popular mold. As her FAQ says, The notes on everything would have come back as "NEEDS MOAR JERK." Space opera with intricate worldbuilding seems to have largely fallen out of fashion, which may be why Ankaret Wells self-published her charming Maker's Mask books.
But there are more serious reasons. Belonging to a minority or marginalized group means that you face obstacles that members of the majority don't, and traditional publishing is no different from any other field in that regard. Obviously, some books by diverse writers and about diverse characters do get published traditionally. But the barriers are real.
Before we sold Stranger to Viking, an agent offered us representation on the condition that we make a gay character straight or remove his romance and all references to his sexual orientation. If you read the comments of the article, you'll see many more writers discussing their experiences with agents and editors requesting that they make characters white or straight. Our experience was not a one-of-a-kind fluke, but a single example of a real problem.
I'm sure you can think of YA novels that have LBGTQ characters. But it's like naming female heads of state: everyone can name a few, but they tend to be the same ones. That's because there's not very many of them, so the few that exist are memorable. As of 2011, less than 1% of all YA novels had any LGBTQ characters at all, even minor supporting characters. (By 2014, the percentage had risen to 2%, but most were from LGBTQ small presses.) And this doesn't just involve sexual orientation: Characters in children's books are almost always white.
So where does this leave the writers who belong to those underrepresented groups or just want to write about them? A few do succeed in traditional publishing. Many more write for small presses. But increasingly, they're turning to self-publishing, where they can connect with readers who either want to read about people like them, or are simply tired of only reading about straight white able-bodied British or American characters.
Dr. Zetta Elliott writes here about independently publishing African-American children's books. Neesha Meminger wanted to give South Asian teens something fun to read. Courtney Milan writes witty romances with protagonists who have mental illnesses, are people of color, or (in an upcoming novel) are transgender. And then there's the booming genres of gay and lesbian romance. Not to mention the indie writers of contemporary and paranormal (heterosexual) romance, thrillers, science fiction, and romantic comedy whose books are similar to those published traditionally except that the protagonists are not white.
I self-published my Werewolf Marines books partly because of those issues. The heroine of Laura's Wolf is Jewish. I can count the numbers of Jewish heroines I've encountered in traditionally published romance or urban fantasy on the fingers of one hand. The hero of Prisoner and Partner is Filipino. Asian-American heroes in those genres are about as common as Jewish heroines. That's not to say that it would be impossible to sell a book in those genres with the protagonists I had. But I didn't want to risk banging my head against the wall for years and years, and then find that it was impossible.
Which brings us to the next reason writers self-publish. Time. Traditional publishing has always operated on a long timeline. But it seems to have gotten longer and longer for all but the most successful authors. Indie sf/fantasy author Andrea Host took that route after a publisher took ten years to consider her manuscript.
Sherwood and I chose to self-publish Hostage largely because of the issue of time. Stranger was published in November, three years after it was purchased by Viking. Though we turned in Hostage a year before Stranger came out, it wouldn't have been published until a minimum of two years after Stranger. Similar gaps between subsequent books would have been likely, no matter how fast the books were written. We felt that such long delays between books in a series are deadly for sales, and often lead to them getting canceled midstream.
Traditionally published writers who are prolific may put out books under pen names, or simply have manuscripts pile up. Prolific indie authors, especially those who write in popular genres like romance, can publish books as fast as they can write and edit them, and some parlay that into devoted audiences and large sales. Sherwood, who is a prolific writer, has self-published a number of books.
It turns out that readers have no qualms about reading more than one book by the same author in a year - far from it! They sign up for their favorite authors' mailing lists, get emailed when a new book is released, and automatically buy every one. Since indie authors tend to price books lower, at an average of $4.99, this is affordable for the readers and profitable for the writers. (On Amazon, the royalty from a $4.99 ebook is $3.50).
The ability to set the price is a huge benefit to indie authors, and was another factor in the decision to self-publish Hostage. Few readers will buy an e-book priced over $7.99 by an author who's not already one of their very favorites. Not having your debut novel sell at $10.99 as an e-book is very useful for indie authors.
They can also do things like set the first book in the series free, as I recently did for my own Prisoner (Werewolf Marines). I hope to lure new readers to the sequel, Partner, which will be released next week. "The first hit is free" is still an excellent marketing tactic. It has been used with great success by adventure sf author Lindsay Buroker and rule-breaking romance novelist Courtney Milan, among others.
But, of course, what you really want to read about is dinosaur sex. Such as Ravished by the Triceratops (Dinosaur Erotica). As Sherwood noted in her post on the history of publishing, sex sells and always has. Any kind of sex. Acrobatic sex. (Not worksafe). Gay sex. Tentacle sex. (Not worksafe). Incest. Oil Change 2: Racing Hearts (Mechaphilia Transformation Erotica)
A number of writers are doing quite well selling short erotic stories for between 99 cents and $2.99. The latter may seem outrageous if you think of it as the price of a short story. It's less so if you think of it as the price of an orgasm.
Writers have always been able to sell erotica. Indie publishing just makes it easier. And, as has always been the case, the writers and readers are in a constant battle with pearl-clutching moralists who really hate the idea of women enjoying sex. Even fictional sex. Oh, yes. As with romance (which nowadays often contains extremely explicit sex scenes) the majority of the writers and readers of indie erotica appear to be women. (Based on indie writers' forums, asking around, and personal knowledge - of the many erotica writers I know, about 70-80% are women.)
Periodically, Amazon and other vendors ban kinks deemed too shocking, so erotica writers need to stay on their toes. One month lactation kink may be banned, and the next month it's rape fantasy. Incest is banned, but pseudo-incest (step-relatives) is allowed. And so forth.
There are several ways that readers and writers can evade the misogynists and moralists to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. One is to set up their own company. Bestselling erotica author Selena Kitt created Excessica for exactly that reason. (Even outside of the erotica genre, some writers simply don't want to deal with Amazon or other middlemen. Writers' collectives like Book View Cafe enable writers to keep 95% of their profits in exchange for working to support the collective.)
But most indie writers do make most of their money on Amazon. To evade the censors, they use an array of code words, which their readers then learn. (All these code words are for use in the titles and blurbs; you can use the real words in the books themselves.) "Taboo" means pseudo-incest, since both that word and all family terms are banned in erotica. "Feeding" means lactation, since the word "milk" is banned in erotica. "Possession" or "captive" substitutes for the banned "slave." And so forth.
Marketing on Amazon is done largely by inputting keywords when uploading your book. Keywords and phrases are search terms readers use. For instance, "gay young adult novel" or "strong female characters" or "zombie steampunk." In erotica, you can use the real terms in keywords even if they're banned from blurbs. So if you go to Amazon and type in the banned word "orgy," you'll get books that used that as a keyword but have discreet titles like The Arrangement. (Or less discreet titles that at least don't include "orgy.")
Amazon is aware of this, of course. It seems that they're less interested in outright banning all erotica than in banning certain types and in keeping a virtual brown paper wrapper over graphic language visible in the storefront.
As for the dinosaur, minotaur, and Bigfoot sex, it's part of a subgenre called "monster sex," which is erotica about mythical beings. Bestiality is banned, so you can't write about sex with a bull. (Unless you're Ovid.) But you can write about sex with a minotaur.
Think erotica readers are freaks? Fantasies about strange sex are nothing new. Think of Pasiphae and her bull, or Zeus transforming into a swan or a shower of gold. Think of what you fantasize about when you're alone in bed. Yes, those fantasies. The weird, wild, strangely specific ones. Erotica isn't about realistic depictions of sex, it's about sexual fantasy. People don't pay $2.99 to fantasize about having safe, sane, consensual, protected sex with an ordinary person, in an ordinary way, at an average level of mutual satisfaction. That's what real life is for.
Then again, many of the authors are clearly just having fun with the whole thing, as are their readers. (Not worksafe, but hilarious. My favorite is the gay billionaire living jet plane.)
But the fun is also serious business. Lurk on indie erotica and romance forums, and you'll hear lots of stories about women and men, some of whom had never written before, writing themselves out of poverty and unemployment. Many indie authors fail. But many succeed. Erotica and romance are genres particularly known for enabling writers to support themselves and their families when they were about to despair. And they're doing it by providing their readers with the joy of sexual fantasy, at only $2.99 a pop.
That's what I call a happy ending.
Note: When commenting, please don't judge people for what they enjoy reading, even if you personally find it offensive or unappealing. What people like in fiction often has nothing to do with their real life opinions and preferences. Enjoying murder mysteries doesn't mean that you want to murder people, and enjoying fictional rape fantasies doesn't mean that you want to rape or be raped, or think that rape is okay. Etcetera.
February 8, 2015
Normally, I do this kind of thinking-out-loud on my own blog, where about thirty people are paying attention. But then Charlie said "hey, I've got this guest spot, come make yourself
vulnerable visible here!" And sure, why not?
Hi, my name's Laura Anne, and while in the past I've mostly been known for urban fantasy (of the modern-magic-and-mystery variety) and the fact that I convinced a publisher to pay me to write three books about wine-based magic (and got a Nebula nomination for it!), my next project decided that it was going to drag me screaming and kicking somewhere slightly more problematic: American history.
Now, the talk in genre these days is about diversity, calling for more characters of color and alternative cultures, and more writers of color and non-Western backgrounds. And I'm 100% behind that - not because I'm a guilty white liberal. Because I'm needy.
There. I admit it.
Yes, literature - genre or mainstream - is a mirror. We look into it to see ourselves, through whatever reflects back. And that's why it's important for there to be diversity - so everyone gets a chance to see themselves. But literature is also a window. It's how we see things that aren't us, that bring new views, new light into who we are
So I want to see more stories set in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, in cultures that aren't mine, with characters who aren't me, in race, religion, color or sexuality, because they let me see something else, something I can't get any other way. I need more of that, please!
But where does that call for diversity, and cultural authenticity, leave me as a writer? I'm of mixed and muddled background - four different bloodlines each carrying several different countries on their backs and continents in their wake. But for me to claim one of them as my mirror? Would be false, because I'm not a member of those cultures: I'm American, three generations deep.
So how much of American culture can I claim?
The modern side, absolutely - I've spent ten books, three novellas and a number of short stories writing about the American immigrant and integration culture through the Cosa Nostradamus novels. I think I've done a reasonably good job, there.
But what about where all that formed? If my next book were, say, set in a divergent history of pre-1800's North America - is that my culture? Is that my mirror, too? Or is it a window?
Was I appropriating something that didn't belong to me?
That's a thought to stop a writer dead in their tracks, if we're being honest. Both the fear of being called out for it, rightly or wrongly, and the inevitability of getting it wrong, because short of growing up immersed in something, we WILL get things wrong, and "but alternate history!" only buys you so much wiggle room.
But I had a story I needed to tell, things I needed to say, and this was how they were going to be told and said. So it was important for me to figure it out.
The book - the working title was THE DEVIL'S WEST - plays with the idea that rather than the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 that doubled the size of the United States with a pen stroke and a large check, that area was left in the hands of an entity known in the newspapers of the time as The Devil: an entire Territory within which the tribes remained unmolested, and any people of any nation who wanted to settle there needed to play by the devil's rules - or else.
I thought I could write my main character Isobel's point of view reasonably well - she's a first generation immigrant who thinks of this land as her own, as her home. But what of those she encounters, on both sides of the colonization argument?
The real history that created this setting is at heart the history of the hundreds of tribes and dozens of confederations that western incursion pushed to the side. In that sense, I am the outsider, the observer through the window. And for a non-Native American, writing about that portion of our history is deeply problematic on pretty much every level. I could not imagine what life had been like back then; the truest histories are locked away from me by nature of my skin and language, and I have access only to the things that were written down and shared - and too often when they were shared, elements were reserved, lost, or destroyed. I could only be true to what I could see through that window, and be aware that there was much beyond that window, out of my sight.
But the settlers who chose to risk, to go to a new world and find their fortune and their future, knowing that they left all security and certainty behind? I knew those people, though these were none of mine, coming predominantly from western and northern Europe. I knew what it felt to hope for a welcome somewhere else, to plant the seeds of your future in that hope - and to arrive only to discover that the streets were not paved in gold, but rather hardship and distrust. There was my mirror, the familiar things I can study, and know.
And so that was how I approached my research, and my story: as a mirror reflecting into a window, casting a third image. And there were a lot of days I couldn't write, because what I'd researched required me to tear up things I'd thought I'd known, or stop and process something I hadn't known. And knowing that this was necessary, for the story and for my own ability to tell the story, ended up being small comfort.
Did I stay on the line of respect and accuracy, while playing with real history, and real cultures? I hope so - for my sake, and the sake of those who shared their knowledge with me.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Because in a very real sense, that is the legacy of my nation, that is the culture I've been born into; problematic from the start, sometimes blending and sometimes clashing, the things that are good and the things that are bad, the things we are proud of and what we regret. My country, tis of thee I write.
As to how the whole thing turned out.... That, the future will have to tell (October 2015, to be exact).
February 7, 2015
At the start of this year Rachel Manija Brown and I decided to self-publish Hostage, the second book in our YA dystopia series. The long explanation is here.
Some people applauded, others shook their heads, but most discussion has not been about our books so much as about publishing in general. Underlying that I think is the anxiety many us writers feel about how fast publishing is changing, and what it all means for each of us.
Maybe it's just because I've always been a history geek, but the more I talk about this stuff, the more I'm reminded of the ways people dealt with the rapid changes of publishing during the wild days of the early novel, specifically in England. (Yeah, I know that Cervantes, and Madame de La Fayette, etc, were all early novelists, but I mean the eighteenth century when novel publishing went from a few to hundreds and beyond over a matter of decades. Kind of like genre books went from a few a year during the fifties and sixties, to hundreds a year, and then thousands.)
The way I see it, right before that, England's (after 1707 the UK's) publishing history divides off from the rest of Europe with two big changes: after 1695, the Licensing Act was let lapse, and in 1709 the first copyright law passed. Before then, like the rest of Europe, political ups and downs were reflected in the struggle between printers and booksellers for ascendancy in restricting or promoting publications, while the government tried with varying success to control the whole.
That's not to say that after 1695 the English government didn't give up oversight. They brought the hammer down against blasphemy, obscenity, and seditious libel--in 1719, the last man swung from the gallows for printing Jacobite material--but it was increasingly a rearguard action.
Like now, there were ripoff booksellers masquerading among the legitimate ones, though today's scammers (see Writer Beware) are rarely as colorful as the rascally Edmund Curll -- printer, pirate, and pornographer. He stole material with flagrant disregard for copyright. As soon as some prominent person died, he collected gossip -- it didn't matter if it was true -- for a biography, and if he didn't have enough material, he made it up. Prominent people reportedly dreaded dying because of what Curll would do to them. A faint echo of the Curll treatment occurred a couple weeks ago, when Colleen McCullough's obit started off by noting how fat and unlovely she'd been.
Curll churned out so much X-rated stuff under various guises that the word 'Curlicism' became synonymous with porn. Prison, a stint in the stocks, even being blanket-tossed and beaten by the boys at Westminster school not only didn't stop him from theft and libel, he turned them all into marketing opportunities. Even when he was convicted of libel and forced to publish an apology and a promise to stop printing, his repentant words touted his latest books.
He's best known for the twenty-year running duel with the poet Alexander Pope, from whom he not only stole, he lampooned under his own name and with sockpuppets. It began when he first pirated Pope, prompting the poet and his publisher to meet Curll at the Swan, where they slipped a mega dose of "physic" (think ExLax) into his drink. He turned that, too, into a marketing event, once he'd recovered from the extremes of ejecta; when Pope published a couple of triumphant pamphlets, claiming Curll was dead, Curl came right back with new material demonstrating that he was very much alive and up to his usual racket.
Their history--and there are other equally crazy-ass stories--remind me of the whoops and hollers of internet feuds and FAILS now, among writers, editors, publishers (some individuals wearing all three hats).
Aside from the Curlls, most booksellers, the publishers of the eighteenth century--like the editors working at traditional publishers now--were hardworking people who made careful decisions about what to publish because they were the ones fronting the costs of printing and of copyright.
The booksellers of Grub Street were all about copyright. For most of the eighteenth century, they met yearly, over sumptuous dinners, to hold a copyright auction that was exclusive to the booksellers. Interlopers were unceremonious chucked out.
Of course for every success there were misses, such as booksellers refusing refused to pay the asked-for five pounds for the copyright to the satiric poetry of the rakish clergyman Charles Churchill--who then self-published his Rosciad, clearing a thousand pounds in two months.
Most of the time the booksellers knew a good bargain when they saw it, such as John Cleland's lubricious Fanny Hill, whose copyright sold for 20 guineas. The Griffiths brothers, booksellers, cleaned it up a little, turned around, and raked in ten thousand pounds' profit -- before they all were arrested. Then, of course, it was pirated.
In 1740 Samuel Richardson's mega-hit, Pamela, started out as a work-for-hire piece jobbed out by booksellers Osborn and Rivington, who wanted a series of morally instructive letters. It quickly turned into a phenomenon reminiscent of reality TV, complete to heavy merchandising: Pamela fashions, dishes, etc.
In 1809 Jane Austen, using a pseudonym, wrote a crisp letter to Benjamin Crosby of Crosby and Sons demanding the return of the early version of Northanger Abbey when the bookseller lagged without printing the book for six years. His answer back was equally crisp: pay me back the ten pounds I paid for the copyright and it's yours. (She wasn't able to do that until 1816, not long before she died.)
The easiest way into print was through the periodicals, but self-publishing could be accomplished by anyone who managed to beg, borrow, or buy a printing press, like Horry Walpole, who was such a snob that he had to do everything himself to insure his printed matter came up to his standards of good taste; he dismissed with lofty contempt the very idea of making feelthy lucre off his books, which he largely gave away. For those who couldn't buy a press and had no issue with feelthy lucre, there was always the subscription method, which today we call crowd-funding.
Early in the century Grub Street was an actual place (Milton Street in the Moorfields part of London), most booksellers having their shops in that part of London; by the end of the century publishers were everywhere. Adventuresome booksellers in Ireland energetically competed with those in England, such as when a team of covert ops printers scored the sheets to Sir Charles Grandison from Richardson's own press and smuggled them to Dublin, where the book came out before its author published his legit edition in London. Copyright theft was flagrant -- especially in the nascent States: Frederick Marryat talks in his memoir about the stinging irony of fans coming up to him in New York to rave about his books, for which he never received a penny. His daughter, a generation after, expressed the same regret in her memoir.
Piracy -- copyright -- how one got into print all seems to me to reflect patterns, then and now. But there's more. Until the eighteenth century, art (which included literature, which in turn was beginning to include literature's raffish bastard, novels) had been the preserve of kings and church. During this century it became the property of a larger public.
At the same time, a revolution in perceptions of privacy was also going on. The tension between the interior self and the public face, what is art and who gets to define it, is still going on three hundred years later. We call that outing and doxxing. There is also -- still -- a tension between originality or novelty and the sure sell; a struggle between what is literature and what is trash, who claims authority to establish standards, and how all these are marketed.
One heat-inducing question that has come up again in recent years is the question of patronage. Patrons have a tendency to want to get their money's worth, if they aren't tampering with the products they patronize, at the very least by only choosing works that appeal to their tastes.
In the 18th century, not surprisingly, wealthy noble patrons favored work that supported the aristocratic ideal, claiming that this was art as opposed to popular trash. If patrons didn't actually contribute cash to needy authors, they could influence the marketplace by using their rank, wealth, and position in promotion.
Jump up 300 years to genre.
It's tougher to sell mixed genres to traditional editors today, though it's happening, whereas it was nearly impossible twenty years ago. I don't believe the reason is fear of taking risks -- there are some terrific books coming out from all the major publishers that push boundaries all over the place -- so much as the question of marketing is for them still tied to the printed book, specifically to slots at the bookstore. Where do you put something you can't easily categorize?
But this has got pretty long. Rachel is going to talk more, specifically self-publishing and why people do it, on the 11th.
February 5, 2015
Charlie here, popping in with an announcement about next week.
Some of you may be familiar with Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, Mass., a most excellent establishment. Some of you might also be familiar with Boskone, the regular mid-February Boston SF convention. A bunch of authors go to Boskone, and we also do events at Pandemonium, so mark your calendars:
Tuesday February 10th, 7pm: Charles Stross will be signing books at Pandemonium (and possibly giving you a sneak reading from "The Annihilation Score", forthcoming from Ace and Orbit in July 2015). (NB: This isn't listed on the store website yet—just on their Facebook page.)
Thursday February 12th, 7pm: Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch will be signing books, reading, and generally entertaining you at Pandemonium! And yes, this is the official launch party for "Karen Memory":
You can also catch all of us at Boskone, over the weekend!
(Finally: I'm planning another of my regular pub evenings—all welcome—some time that week: it'll be one of Sunday, Wednesday, or Thursday evenings, and I'll update this blog entry when I've confirmed the time and venue.)