Tag writing

Charles Stross – a classic example of bad luck = good luck

From the last installment of his tech biography series:

By summer 2001, we had our business plan and our proposals and our business cards printed. We’d bought an off-the-shelf shell company, zHosting Ltd. All we needed was £600,000 and a second-hand mainframe to install in a hosting centre like SCOLocate. So we booked our first meeting with IBM to discuss leasing options, and our first session with possible angel investors …

On September 12th, 2001.

So there you have it: the punchline to the extended shaggy dog story that is my career history in the computer industry. And now you know why I’m a novelist rather than the chief technical officer of a successful dot-com. Timing is everything – and my whole non-writing career has been one damn comic double-take after another.

That meeting was … well, the subject of conversation was rather overshadowed by the events of the previous day. NASDAQ was closed, air travel in North America was shut down: the hammer was about to come crashing down on the tech sector for the second time in two years. We buried zHosting outside the graveyard gate only a month later, and went our respective ways; Andrew back to consultancy for a couple of years (he’s now running a successful bespoke software business), and me to writing.

The perils of writing scifi

Well, near-future scifi anyway. From Charlie Stross’ blog, on which he announces that instead of a sequel to ”Halting State”, he’s working on a new ”Laundry” book instead:

Why the switch? Well, I was just settling down to work on the "Halting State" sequel last summer when the news went nonlinear. That book is meant to be near-future SF, which means it’s highly dependent on the state of the world today. It was bad enough when, as I was waiting for "Halting State" to work its way into print, bits of the plot kept turning up in the news; this time around, one of last year’s major news stories ate my plot!

I think we can all be very glad that he’s delayed a Halting State sequel to work on a Laundry story because the former came true in real life, rather than the other way around.

What is Warren Ellis on?

And where can I get some?

China began designing their own superhuman soon after, but didn’t have the tech for Megareactor Buddha’s Spine until 1990. Nominally, PRC is atheist, but the old religions never went away, and a surprising number of Chinese state scientists still think in terms of qi. The superhuman Maitreya was a subject enveloped by scanning tunnelling microscopes wired into his visual cortex, forced to meditate upon his own atomic structure until he could perceive the quantum foam of every particle of his being birthing and annihilating under the uncertainty principle. His emergence into superhumanity was heralded by the impossible light of zero point energy accessed from the spaces between virtual particles. The Chinese filled a warehouse with political prisoners and told Maitreya to kill them, to demonstrate his power over spacetime and matter. He instead fashioned them into a vast musical instrument of entrancingly beautiful tone. Then configured all the assembled soldiers and scientists into a self-supporting worm-like structure and fired them into space with/through the musical instrument, where they journeyed as a biological probe of brains linked in parallel that reported information about the solar system back to Maitreya via quantum entanglement until the structure, starting to break up, was identified as comet Shoemaker-Levy and eventually smacked into the surface of Jupiter.


That’s an awful headline, sorry.

Charlie Stross has another go at predicting the future – this time, of gaming. In bullet points:

  • CPU power is going to hit a brick wall pretty soon
  • There’s a couple of orders of magnitude of bandwidth to use up, but that’ll hit the buffers too at some point ("I don’t think we’re likely to get much more than a terabit per second of bandwidth out of any channel, be it wireless or a fibre-optic cable, because once you get into soft X-rays your network card becomes indistinguishable from a death ray.")
  • Mobile devices will continue to converge (of course)
  • They’ll all have picoprojectors in them
  • VR glasses are actually coming along nicely
  • All this leads to a lot of clever augmented reality stuff

Actually, just read Halting State.


I’m currently reading Perec’s blindingly awesome Life – a User’s Manual. It’s um.. hard to describe. A collection of 99 short fictions, intimately crosslinked in a very complex fashion; telling many stories – four or five big ones, lots of little ones on the way; and built around an extraordinarily complex set of writing constraints, described in brief here (in French, although the Wikipedia entry tries to describe it a bit too). All in the form of descriptions of each room of an apartment block in Paris at a single moment of time in 1975. And yet, at the same time, wandering all over the world and history in the descriptions of the rooms and the people in them.

Part of the joy of it is the beauty of the writing and the fun of the stories, but there’s an awful lot of fun to be had trying to figure out the systems he used…

the emperor’s old clothes

Programmer? Manager thereof? Then read this – it’s C.A.R. Hoare’s acceptance speech for the 1981 Turing Award. Hoare – the guy who invented Quicksort, implemented ALGOL60 and went on to do a lot of work in the field of correctness proofs and concurrency – discusses the problems with over-complex software systems, summing up by talking about bad programming languages. ALGOL68 and PL/1 are his examples, and he uses these examples to put the knife into the then-incipient ADA standard (fun reading for anyone who went to Aber in the 80’s/90’s and had to learn this bastard):

…there are two ways of constructing a software design: One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.

the new faith of the true emperor

Over the last couple of years, Dan Curtis Johnson has been adding mysterious little fragments of dark epic sci-fi to his livejournal, tagged (although I didn’t click at the time) lexicon. One of them I’ve blogged already, the lovely Old Faith of the Precursors.

Now all is revealed – he’s been playing an enormous game of Lexicon with his mates – and the result is a wodge of incredible writing, in the form of an encyclopaedia with commentary, describing the futile attempts of a far future ‘convocation’ of religious leaders to create a single unified faith. There’s a fascinating narrative – a set of narratives, really – to be teased out, by the looks of it.

warren ellis on food

He really needs to write a cookbook. Seriously:

Open a bottle of beer. Not fucking Budweiser or Labatts – a proper beer, damnit. During this experiment, I used the outstanding Black Adder ale from Mauldons. A good bitter, an ale, an IPA – a proper fucking beer, you know what I mean. Pour some down your throat. Now pour some in the tinfoil. A mouthful or so. Spit your mouthful out into the pocket if you’d like. I mean, it’d be disgusting, but the person you’re cooking for will never know, right? Close up the pocket, so you now have a sealed tinfoil bag full of a head of garlic and (possibly regurgitated) beer.

Sling it in the oven. Your oven is set to 190 degrees C, which is 375F or Gas mark 5. It’s going to be in there for an hour. Have some more beer. Swallow it this time, you freak.

David Foster Wallace

American author, dead. Now, he’s not big over here – he’s one of those American novelists who write great, sprawling works that we tend not to get into over here. His most famous work, Infinite Jest, sounds interesting (though quite a lot like Vonnegut). However, what really got me was this, a commencement address he gave in 2005 that someone posted to Metafilter, probably because of its prescient (but ultimately irrelevant) reference to suicide. The whole thing is well worth a read. Here’s another excerpt:

Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, cliches, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

wales book of the year gaffe

This story’s got legs, hasn’t it? If you haven’t heard it, the Welsh Assembly Culture Minister announced the wrong winner at the Wales Book of the Year awards ceremony on Tuesday night, despite reading it off a piece of paper – Tom Bullough, who thought he’d won, got as far as the stage before he was told it was actually Dannie Abse. Mind you, Bullough’s blog has now exceeded its bandwidth, so maybe he’s got some useful publicity out of this. Probably not enough to make up for the public humiliation, mind.

I was at this ceremony last year, as our friend Robin was one of the contenders, and I remember thinking it was unusual in being one of the few awards left where the winners didn’t know in advance. I had no idea that not even the presenter knew either – I’m sure that’ll change now.

But what on earth did that card say? "The winner isn’t TOM BULLOUGH! He’s one of the runners-up along with Nia Wyn. The actual winner is Dannie Abse."

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