I'm a multiple Hugo-award winning SF author. I have a new novel out tomorrow ("The Apocalypse Codex", pub. Ace: ISBN 978-1937007461). And Reddit ... I'm all yours!

(Authentication: check Twitter for @cstross )

(Update: wrists blowing out from carpal tunnel, keyboard on fire! You've been great, but we can't go on like this ...)

Comments: 1020 • Responses: 80  • Date: 

cstross80 karma

Thanks! (If there's any remaining doubt I can briefly update my main blog, http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/ )

GGCObscurica56 karma

Been a fan for a long time. Got hooked via Accelerando (which I understand is something of an old shame at this point?), and stayed hooked via Halting State and the Laundry Files. Thanks for the AMA. :D

cstross71 karma

It's not an old shame, it's simply that I wrote it circa 1998-2004, and my views have changed somewhat over the intervening decade ...

AndrewDowning46 karma

Can you please expand on that? In what way did your views change? Accelerando is one of my all time favourites.

cstross76 karma

Sure. See: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/06/reality-check-1.html

Note that my views fluctuate wildly. I have another singularity novel coming out this September 4th, co-written with Cory Doctorow: "The Rapture of the Nerds":


exex29 karma

You don't seem to take computer games serious when you write that we don't want programs to be lazy or emotionally unstable or having own motivations. One of the (or just the?) commercially most successful computer games of the world is The Sims series - doing just all of that. And game companies probably spend more money on developing artificial worlds than anyone else right now - including developing AI's which try to act-human like. So maybe don't write super-intelligent human-like AI's off too early ;-)

Anyway - love your books and also the fantastic blog.

cstross49 karma

Good point: games are a major driver for software agency. But (clutches head) the ethical problems ...!

JesusLasVegas116 karma

Hallo Charles. I'm in the UK. I just wrote a book and (it looks like) a good publishing house are going to pick it up. It is sort of sci-fi.

My question: all agents I've spoken to think that while selling a book to publishers it's best to avoid using the term "sci-fi" if possible. Ideally they want to sneak sci-fi stuff in, "under the radar", so it can get the sort of backing that only a big publisher can provide.

How do you feel about this? Cheers.

cstross146 karma

For starters, there's a long-standing (50 year old) flame war within the field over whether it's "sci-fi" or "SF".

Secondly, all these labels boil down to is a bunch of marketing categories that tell bookshop staff where to file the product (which they don't know from a hole in the road) on the shelves where customers can find it. SF has traditionally been looked down on by the literary establishment because, to be honest, much early SF was execrably badly written -- but these days the significance of the pigeon hole is fading; we have serious mainstream authors writing stuff that is I-can't-believe-it's-not-SF, and SF authors breaking into the mainstream. If you view them as tags that point to shelves in bricks-and-mortar bookshops, how long are these genre categories going to survive in the age of the internet?

Note: this skepticism breaks down in the face of, for example, the German publishing sector, where booksellers are a lot stuffier and more hidebound over what is or is not acceptable as literature.

JesusLasVegas38 karma

Great answer, thanks.

Could you give an example or two of large British publishers that you think are doing a good job in this respect? Ignoring genre barriers, taking risks etc?

cstross78 karma


Sorry, no I can't. But not for the reason you think. Thing is, my agent is based in New York. And due to a historic accident, my publishing track is primarily American -- I'm sold into the UK almost as a foreign import! So I'm quite out of touch with what's going on in UK publishing. (Even my Kindle is geared to the US store.)

JesusLasVegas32 karma

Did you end up with an American agent because all the British agents passed on you? Or did you actually want to do things that way?

cstross91 karma

A bit of both. I wanted an agent who would actually sell stuff. After two British agents failed comprehensively, I was reading Locus (the SF field's trade journal) and noticed a press release about an experienced editor leaving her job to join an agent in setting up a new agency. And I went "aha!" -- because what you need is an agent who knows the industry but who doesn't have a huge list of famous clients whose needs will inevitably be put ahead of you. So I emailed her, and ... well, 11 years later I am the client listed at the top of her masthead!

JesusLasVegas21 karma


One last question (if you can be arsed). When you look at the publishing process (particularly the point at which agents have to sell books) what do you think needs to be fixed/tinkered with? Are editors too short-sighted? In your experience is their predilection for putting things in boxes limiting?

Basically if you could sit all the big editors down and briefly lecture them on doing their job what would you say? Thanks Charles.

cstross69 karma

It's not the editors I'd lecture, but the senior executives who give the publishing CEOs their marching orders (editors are a level below that). All the editors I deal with are extremely smart, clueful folks who are often frustrated by corporate policies -- because the publishing houses are divisions within large media conglomerates, and they're small, low-profit subsidiaries at that (and so don't get much say in group-wide policy).

Biggest message: find your customers and sell them what they want to buy. DRM is bad for business. Territorial rights restrictions are bad for business. Amazon are utterly hateful and evil -- they will kill you and establish a monopoly if they can -- but their one redeeming feature is that they're good to customers: so learn from them.

jvin24813 karma

Surprising about Amazon comment. Since you're traditionally published and have been writing for years, do you have any novels that all rights have reverted to you? Many traditionally published novelists have a book or two they got back with a note from their publisher "this thing isn't selling so you can have it" and then the author puts it on Amazon/Smashwords/etc and sells more in a year than the traditional publisher did in the last ten (and makes more per copy sold at 70% on Amazon vs 12.5% or 17% depending on your old contracts). Since you're an established writer your self published titles will sell well from the start - you have an established brand. Of course some new contracts have the publisher owning your soul on any future work (some discussion of this on Dean Wesley Smith's blog).

cstross36 karma

Here's why I don't like Amazon (wearing my author hat, not my customer hat):


Nope, none of my books have reverted yet! So I'm not selling direct via Amazon.

GGCObscurica68 karma

It's always interesting to learn how different authors approach their craft. What's your "ritual" when writing?

cstross124 karma

TL;DR: I don't have one.

Longer version ... (I want to apologize for keeping this short: I have carpal tunnel issues so I might have to switch to speech recognition soon) ...

I write exclusively using computers. Pens and typewriters can fsck right off -- I wrote my first half million words in my teens on a manual typewriter (had to trade it for a new one due to keys snapping from metal fatigue) so I am not a pen or typewriter fetishist.

I write almost entlirely on Macs, because: Windows gives me hives. (I first ran into Windows as of Win 2.11/386, back in the eighties. It did not leave a good taste. I then became a happy UNIX bunny. Mac OSX is the last UNIX workstation class OS standing. So I've learned to put up with its other foibles.)

I have no set writing routine other than: plant bum in chair in front of keyboard/on sofa under laptop, and start going. Oh, and I drink tea pretty much continuously at a rate of around 1 imperial pint/hour, which sort of enforces screen/keyboard breaks.

GeneralWarts27 karma

(I want to apologize for keeping this short: I have carpal tunnel issues so I might have to switch to speech recognition soon)

I write exclusively using computers.

Does this mean you use speech recognition while writing too? or have you been writing before the AMA and you're at your fatigue point?

cstross84 karma

Speech recognition is utterly crap for writing fiction. If you try reading a novel aloud you'll soon figure out why -- written prose style is utterly unlike the spoken word.

GeneralWarts27 karma

Do you just put up with the carpal tunnel when writing?

cstross39 karma

Up to a point. I don't want to permanently damage myself! On the other hand, a couple of days off the keyboard tends to make things somewhat better.

beslayed9 karma

Why Mac rather than Linux? (Esp. considering your background, e.g. Computer Shopper etc.)

cstross25 karma

Two reasons:

  1. Excellent design values. ("Why drive a Porsche if you could drive a backhoe? The backhoe's got more torque and you can do cool things with it like digging holes in the road!" "Yes, but the backhoe isn't a Porsche ...")

  2. It gets out of my way and lets me get stuff done. Seriously, Windows seems designed to make easy tasks hard and hard tasks impossible; Linux would be fine if it came pre-tuned to the hardware, but I've got a long term 30% failure rate getting any given laptop to run it properly with full device support -- I can do without the choice between badly designed, bulky, inconvenient machines that work with Linux, and taking pot luck that the latest well-designed sleek ultrabook will actually, um, boot.

TL:DR; I've reached an age at which I'd rather pay more for something that "just works" than roll up my sleeves, reach for a spanner, and make it work. Time is money, and the older we get the less of it we've got left ...

cavedave65 karma

You write very well about we interact with technology nowdays. The use of smartphones, email and social networking in Halting State and Rule 34 is very believable. With the possible exception of Sherlock very few pieces of fiction actually use these techniques. In horror films "out of coverage" has become a cliche. If All Movies Had Smartphones is a funny video on how writers can't create plots that take technology into account.

How are you doing this right and nearly everyone else isnt?

Are you planning a kickstarter game like Neal Stephenson? If you did what would it be about?

cstross107 karma

Reverse order: no, I'm not planning a kickstarter game. And I'm not really a game designer. (Writing novels takes up about 100% of my available working time.)

How am I doing this "right" ... well, I have a CS degree and a history that includes working as a software developer and being a computer magazine columnist back during the 1990s. I guess I simply paid attention to the social effects of the IT revolution as I lived through it.

An important factor to note is that it's rare for anyone to sell a first novel written before they turned 30-35; long-format fiction tends to require a bunch of experience of human life that takes time to acquire. So your average mid-career novelist is in their forties to fifties! In consequence, most established novelists are writing books informed by experiences gained in their youth. Middle age is not the best time to be changing smartphones every six months or adopting new technology platforms -- because we tend to get slower and less accommodating to change as we age. So we're currently living with a generation of established novelists who are embarrassingly out of date with respect to social networking, internet skills, and so on.

(I was an early adopter: have been on the internet continuously since late 1989, barring a six-month loss of access in the early 90s.)

Wawgawaidith17 karma

Fellow early adopter here. TI gave me a TIPC with a 1200 baud modem and sent me home. I tripped over the usenet and compuserve by accident. What happened to keep you off for 6 months?!

cstross37 karma

Left university and got a job with a company who had no internet connection, back in the days when a 2400 baud UUCP dial-up cost £900 a year (or about a months' gross salary). Remedied this by changing jobs :)

revjeremyduncan53 karma

For someone who is unfamiliar with your work, what book would you suggest as a good starting point (if it's available for Kindle, I will get it as soon as I see your answer)?

Any plans to follow in L. Ron's footsteps and start a religion?

cstross106 karma

I'm an atheist (subtype: generally agree with Richard Dawkins but think he could be slightly more polite; special twist: I was raised in British reform Judaism, which is not like American reform Judaism, much less any other strain of organised religion). So: no cults here.

Starting points: for a sampler, you could try my short story collection "Wireless". Which contains one novella that scooped a Locus award, and one that won a Hugo, and covers a range of different styles.

Otherwise ... if you like spy thrillers/Lovecraftiana, try "The Atrocity Archives", if you like space opera try "Singularity Sky"[*], if you like singularity-fic try "Accelerando", if you like near-future thrillers try "Halting State".

[] Which was originally titled "Festival of Fools"; the "Singularity Sky" title was imposed on it by editorial fiat ("hey, isn't the *singularity kind of hot this month? Let's change the title!").

myinnervoice18 karma

Thank you so much for releasing Accelerando as a freebie! I'd just picked up Stanza on my iPhone and was going through the free Sci Fi (or SF) books. That ebook got me hooked, so was a pretty savvy marketing move.

Speaking of cheap books, do you have an opinion on sites like Book Depository? I live in Australia where the publishing industry is heavily protected. This means books at brick and mortar stores cost $24-27, yet I can have the same one delivered to my desk from the UK for $12. Does this low cost impact your earnings, or are all the cost cuttings downstream? Also, yeah I know I should be on a kindle, but I'm not quite ready to let go of dead trees.

cstross55 karma

Book depository is nothing new; there've been outlets selling books internationally via mail order for many decades -- the only change is that it's now easier to find and use such services.

As long as you're not buying from a pirate publisher (i.e. someone who is selling copies of my books and not paying me) I'm okay. (Pirate publishers are effectively stealing my income stream. Mere amateur/peer-to-peer file sharing probably isn't.)

DrLocrian41 karma

Hi! Would you consider Halting State and Rule 34 Cyberpunk? I was heavily reminded of Neal Stephensons early books (the craziness of Snow Crash mixed with more current-day themes like Cryptonomicon).

While I love the Laundry books I consider A Colder War one of your best works, is there a chance that we will get another 'serious' story with Lovecraftian themes?


cstross110 karma

"Halting State" and "Rule 34" are cyberpunk only insofar as we are living in a 1980s cyberpunk dystopia, and these are very much novels of our time (plus 10-20 years). What I've learned during my life is that the near future is 90% identical to the present -- if you buy a new car today, it'll probably still be on the road in 2022. Another 9% is predictable from existing tech roadmaps: Intel's projected roadmap for where their processors are going, SpaceX's order book for satellite launches, and so on. And 1% is totally bugfuck crazy and impossible to predict. (Go back to 1982 and the idea that the USSR would have collapsed and been replaced by hyper-capitalist oligarchs would have earned you a straitjacket, never mind a book contract. Go back to 1992 and the idea that the USA and Iran would be fighting a proxy war on the internet would have ... well, ditto.)

Lovecraftian seriousness: well, book 5 or 6 of the Laundry series is due to get epically grim.

Vaughn30 karma

Case Nightmare Green?

cstross40 karma


SideburnsOfDoom36 karma

I picked up "Glasshouse", read the back of the book, thought "Big Brother ... in space. It doesn't sound like much" But I ended up really liking it and recommending it as insightful speculative fiction.

I picked up "The Family Trade", read the back of the book, thought "alternate worlds meets startups, it doesn't sound that good" but I ended up really liking it.

I picked up "The Atrocity Archives", thought "James Bond meets Cthulhu" but ended up really liking it...

... do you make a point of turning unpromising-sounding premises into something really extra-ordinary? Or are the back-of-book blurbs just over-simplifying?

cstross68 karma

The back-of-book blurb is not written by the author (any more than the author paints the cover illustration).

The sole job of the back-of-book blurb and the cover is to make a reader who is unfamiliar with the author or the book pick the product up in a store, because retail psychology studies show that consumers who handle the merchandise are more likely to buy it.

I've given up griping about my covers and book blurbs in public, but if you turn your question upside-down you'll see it's more a case of "how do they come up with such unpromising blurbs to describe a novel like THAT?"

cheradenine_Zakalwie36 karma

Do you ever read something someone else has written and think "damn, now I cant do that". Who do you read? (if you have time)

cstross57 karma

Yes, I sometimes get the "Damn, too late, [X] got there first" idea. But seriously? I have time to write 1-2 novels per year, and get roughly novel-sized ideas every month. I have to perform triage on my own writing impulses. So it's usually quite easy to shrug and write something else instead.

What I read: while I'm writing, I tend to go off reading fiction for relaxation -- especially the challenging stuff. It's too much like the day job. When I do get to chow down on a book, I try to read ones that are nothing like what I'm writing. So, as I'm currently working on a space opera (of sorts) I'm mostly indulging in urban fantasy.

cheradenine_Zakalwie28 karma

Wow, I didn't realise the ideas flew in so fast. Is it morbid to ask if you worry about getting it all written before you die? (Im thinking of Terry Pratchett here...)

cstross80 karma

Yes, I worry about that. I'm 47. I reckon I can count on 30 more writing years, averaging a book a year (I can't keep up the 2-2.5 a year I used to do these days). And these days I've gotten round to wondering, for each new idea, "do I want to be remembered for this?" before I get to the point of spending a year on it.

argibbs9 karma

I believe Roald Dahl used to keep a little notebook with all his ideas in, and would jot stuff down whenever and whereever the idea struck. (might not have done, it's been years since I read that nugget). Do you keep a stash of ideas on file (and if so in what format?), or is it simply you write whatever idea strikes most recently? (Related to but not the same as having extra books filed away for when writers block strikes.)

cstross36 karma

No, I don't keep anything on paper (except within an actual novel in progress, at which point I need a file to keep track of plot threads, characters, and so on). If an idea is compelling enough it'll stick in my head until I am forced to write it. If it's forgettable, who cares?

plainsnailing36 karma

Asimov or Clarke?

cstross69 karma

Neither, although I'm marginally less averse to Clarke's style.

ericastor18 karma

Out of curiosity, what about Heinlein? (As a writer, at least - let's leave politics aside for the moment.)

In general, who in sci-fi/SF inspired you, and/or inspires you now?

cstross65 karma

I have written a Heinlein tribute novel.

(Unfortunately, while most authors who do that -- Scalzi, Varley, Robinson, et al -- pick Heinlein juveniles, I went for a dirty old man Heinlein tribute novel. Hence "Saturn's Children" and a novel that hinges on the word spung!).

Prooffreader31 karma

What are your views about people pirating your books?

EDIT: Mr. Stross answered this question in another post.

EDIT 2: Mr. Stross answered this question in far more detail while I was typing the above edit. Thank you!

cstross137 karma

Define "pirating".

Back before the internet we had a name for people who bought a single copy of our books and lent them to all their friends without charging: we called them "librarians".

And the dirty little secret of publishing is that, all along, each book sold has had an average of 5 readers. That's an 80% "piracy" rate if you insist on looking at it in those terms.

Frankly, I couldn't care less about you loaning a copy of one of my books, on paper, to a friend. In fact, I think it's a good idea. Spreads the word, right?

The problem with ebook filesharing is simply one of scale. But I think the "piracy" problem is massively over-rated.

What I do have a problem with is people who sell my work for financial gain without paying me a cut of the proceeds. If money is passing hands, then the customer feels that they've paid for the right to read the work. But if they haven't paid me (or my publishers), then that's siphoning money out of my income stream.

Back in the pre-internet age there were pirate publishers, especially in the third world, who would print physical copies of books, sell them, and never inform the author/their agent/their publisher -- just trousering the money. I think we can agree that this was piracy?

Today, we see some "file sharing" sites that rely on fans uploading cracked copies of ebooks, and which then make money off those books by charging for downloads (via cash subscriptions or advertising). Again: I take a dim view of this. They're making money off the back of my work without paying me.

What I really think is that our current model of copyright is fundamentally broken.

We badly need to replace it with a different system for remunerating creators, which gets it the hell out of the face of the public (who were never aware of it to begin with in the pre-internet dead tree era). Unfortunately, the current copyright model is enshrined in international trade treaty law, making it almost impossible to work around.

[Edit/afterthought] More often than not, piracy is a symptom of an under-provisioned market. People want to buy mp3s but can't? Piracy ensues. Then Apple strong-arms the music studios into the iTunes store and music piracy drops somewhat. The same, I believe, is also happening with ebooks.

cheechwizard30 karma

just saw your post on twitter.. came to say, ive pretty much read everything you have written and need to know when im going to get the next fix of Miriam

cstross42 karma

I'm not ruling out more Merchant Princes books, and indeed there's a revised edition in the works (of the existing books), but even if I dropped everything and started a new book tomorrow it couldn't be published before July 2014.

And I have two novels under contract (i.e. paid up-front to write) before I could start one. So: most likely not before 2015 at the earliest, more likely 2016. (But if I do any more Merchant Princes, expect at least two books to show up in consecutive years ...)

EmergencyShower30 karma

Which do you enjoy writing more; the Laundry series or harder scifi like Glasshouse and Accelerando?

Love your work!

cstross49 karma

That's a very hard question.

If I write too much of anything for too long, I burn out on it. So it helps to vary my output from year to year. That's partly why the Laundry books are coming out at 2-5 year intervals rather than every 12 months.

EmergencyShower14 karma

As someone who grew up reading Ian Fleming and HP Lovecraft, I think they're well worth the wait! (Just pre-ordered the latest iteration)

Also, do you find it difficult to write your more abstract stories like Accelerando? I tried to explain it to a friend once, but failed miserably.

cstross63 karma

Accelerando was murder. It took me more than five years, in the shape of nine stories. One of which (#5) was so difficult that by way of finding an excuse to dodge having to work on it I accidentally barfed up the first two volumes of the Merchant Princes series.

eskachig28 karma

Love your books. I was wondering if you're ever going to do something else in the Eschaton universe.

cstross22 karma

Correct. (Previous wrong URL left in place simply because, well, it has generated replies already.)

uplift1727 karma

Hi Charlie! I've read much of what you've written, and I just have to say that you have a creativity rarely matched in SF - please keep it up. That said, what gadget do you think is going to have the greatest impact on the way we live in the next few coming years? Something like the Google glasses?

cstross66 karma

Ultra-low power consumption ubiquitous embedded processors powered by ambient light or EM radiation are going to do insane things to our cities in the next 15-30 years -- far more significant than google glasses, which are just a slightly different UI (you can do much the same stuff already using a smartphone with motion/orientation/positioning sensors) ...

SideburnsOfDoom22 karma

So, the impact will be mass surveillance meets open data? Real-time pollution and traffic levels mapped onto your google glasses as you cycle to work (and realtime uploaded video from said google-glass cam) plus that iPhone app that can tell you on a Friday night which club the girls are at by analysing twitter/foursquare/facebook chatter? (plus your boss's version that knows where you are. And maybe something that can track and force Parcelfarce to really deliver when they say they will. )

The radical transparency surveillance state that Brin predicted, open to all? Or data inequality leveraged by the HFT engines of the rich corporations to give them the edge to make a buck of it?

cstross38 karma

You're getting the idea.

Now add ambient genome sensing -- not human genomes, but the microbiome soup we live in (remember, sequencer costs are currently obeying Moore's Law) and start wondering where it's all going!

slimme_shady21 karma


cstross52 karma

I began my first novel when I was 15. It went through three drafts, of around 40,000 words each. If I find it, I'll burn it. (If you read it, you'd thank me :)

slimme_shady14 karma


cstross51 karma

Nope. Because I'm nearly a third of a century older than you, and any advice I could give you about school assignments would be slightly out of date ...!

GGCObscurica44 karma

The modern solution is to just wikiwalk until inspired. Or tropeswalk!

...actually, no, don't do that. You'll get sucked into TVTropes and suddenly notice that the sun's peeking through your window, you're knee-deep in villain archetypes, and the assignment's due in three hours.

cstross37 karma

Your warning comes too late. Actually, I was semi-immunized to TVTropes by being sent a copy of the Turkey City Lexicon by Bruce Sterling at an impressionable age: http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/turkey-city-lexicon-a-primer-for-sf-workshops/

Vaughn9 karma

What do you think of TV Tropes, in general?

cstross26 karma

Like all good things, it's possible to overdose on it.

But for someone who is starting out on developing their critical skills, just being aware of its existence is great: it can make the difference between trying to write a story around a cliche or an original idea, and better still, studying it can eventually clue you in on how to breathe new life into tired tropes.

Fallenangel15220 karma

Hi there, funnily enough i just finished the Atrocity Archives, which i bought because i bought the Laundry RPG a while back. Awesome book. Loved it. Can't wait to run the game.

So do you play Call of Cthulhu or the Laundry at all? Or are you just into the writing side?

cstross39 karma

Strictly writing side. I was heavily into AD&D in my teens (late 1970s-early 1980s) but fell off the RPG habit in the mid-80s and have never gone back to it; my lifestyle today isn't very compatible with having a regular gaming group (too much travel).

cheradenine_Zakalwie15 karma

theres a laundry RPG?

cstross29 karma

Yes, published by Cubicle 7. More info here:


ApathyJacks19 karma

What's your policy/opinion on adverbs?

I ask because guys like Stephen King encourage writers to murder every adverb before it ever hits the page, whereas guys like William Gibson (my favorite author) use them liberally.

cstross40 karma

I have no policy, for or against: only a personal style. (Which is to say, I use them when I think it's appropriate to; for example, an internal monologue by a locquacious and verbose narrator is more likely to be larded with adverbs than an exchange of instant messages between cops at a crime scene.)

enuffings18 karma

After I've read a book or two from the same author, I find myself wording myself exactly like they would have. Not with the same quality content, but I build up the sentences like they do. i.e after reading Roald Dahl I make my posts on Reddit sound warm, eccentric and playful, but after reading Nietzsche I get all philosophical, negative and judgmental.

Have you ever caught yourself doing that, or do authors build up a sort of resistance?

cstross26 karma

I have to force myself not to. One of the reasons I try not to read stuff similar to whatever I'm currently writing.

Sanderlebau17 karma

I am a huge fan of yours. Three of my favorite short stories are Missile Gap, A Colder War, and Unwirer. Well, I guess I just really love the whole "Wireless" collection.

What inspired you to cross Lovecraft with The Cold War?

cstross50 karma

Fear of nuclear annihilation. I'm a child of the cold war: I didn't live more than 10 miles from a major WarPac nuclear target until the Berlin Wall came down and the CW ended. Knowing you can die horribly at any moment because of decisions made by alien intelligences thousands of miles away who don't even know you exist -- there's something Lovecraftian about that, isn't there?

tennisplayingnarwhal16 karma

I saw that you started writing at the age of 15, novels at that. I'm a younger person myself, and for me and the rest of novel-aspiring-youth, what do you have to tell? Tips, motivation, etc.?

cstross54 karma

Pretty much the same thing Robert Heinlein said:

  • Write. Every day, if possible.

  • Finish stuff.

  • Send it out, and when it comes back, send it out again.

Step 3 may be a bit premature if you're thinking about professional publication, but at the very least: workshop with other writers, learn to critique their work, learn to understand and listen to their criticism of your work, then apply the skills you learned dissecting other folks' writing to your own stuff.

cuidadollamas15 karma

How long did it take you to become comfortable writing in the second person? I finished reading Rule 34 and it was the first novel* i had read in this style.

*I'm not counting the choose your own adventure book series since they're not traditional novels in my view.

Edited: Early morning writing fail and bad link.

cstross30 karma

It took me about a hundred pages of "Halting State" to get the hang of it, and another hundred pages to feel comfortable. I also needed a reason to start doing it (2nd person is the natural voice of the text adventure game -- "you are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike").

Other writers have done this (Jay MacInery, "Bright Lights, Big City"; also chunks of Christopher Brookmyre's thrillers) but I must be weird or something because I'm doing an entire trilogy this way.

enkiv27 karma

A trilogy? Does this mean that a third book is on contract, or that you just have it kicking around in your head?

EDIT: Nevermind, you answered this already. Looking forward to it!

cstross22 karma

"The Lambda Functionary" is on contract for delivery on July 1st, 2013 and publication around July 3rd, 2014. And I haven't even begun writing it yet. Ulp.

vladimir_puta14 karma

How are your wrists doing?

cstross26 karma

When I stop answering questions here you'll know they've blown out.

Prooffreader9 karma

That's got to be a rather inconvenient healthcare problem for a professional writer. How do you cope with it day to day?

cstross18 karma

Luckily I don't have a bad case of it. I find resting from the keyboard for a couple of days helps immensely. So does varying my work position. The problems kick in when I have a tight deadline and a large word count to make in order to meet it.

jonathanskull14 karma

I noticed that you used the phrase "esprit up to here" around p. 40 of the American edition of Rule 34. I remember that that phrase was used in the first chapter of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. (Mafia pizza boy, the Deliverator; it just stuck with me.) Was this an homage to Snow Crash, or is this phrase more common than I thought? ...Was this an in-universe reference to Snow Crash?

(Thank god for Reddit IAmA so I can ask piddly pedantic questions that I've been curious about for a month.)

cstross17 karma

I'm not certain but it's probably a Snow Crash reference.

Srol14 karma

Rule 34 was one of my favorite reads last year, but I found the title to be a bit of a red herring since (without spoilers) neither memes nor porn ended being a big part of the story's resolution (other than the department Kavanaugh is in when she started). Was that intentional?

Whenever I recommend the book to someone, they hear the title and either double-take or start smirking and I have to tell them "Whatever you're thinking the book is, it probably isn't."

cstross28 karma

What is ATHENA if not a meme with legs?

(The relative lack of porn I'll grant you ...)

One of the points about "Rule 34" is that the second person narrator isn't human; it's an artificial intelligence with no sense of personal agency or identity (no "I"), focussing in turn on each of the protagonists. Hmm. In fact this may help:


DoktorDemento13 karma

We're halfway from when you wrote Halting State (2007) to when it was set (2017); between Google's Project Glass, Neal Stephenson's CLANG, the SNP's agitations towards a referendum (and the Eurozone's issues!), and the 'cloud computing' infrastructure changes which have happened - how are we doing? What would you change about 2017 Scotland if you were writing it now?

Love the books and the blog, by the way!

cstross40 karma

"Halting State" is mostly obsolescent. The political independence in the novel may not arrive on schedule, but a lot of the tech is actually here already. Stuxnet looks a whole lot like a certain SCADA attack, Google glasses speak for themselves. I'm just hoping something unexpected crops up by 2017 so that I can deny predicting the future accurately in "Halting State"! I'd hate to get a reputation as a prophet.

Wawgawaidith13 karma

What software do you use while writing. I'm hooked on Scrivener.

cstross27 karma

Ditto. (I'm just finishing my first novel to be written 100% inside Scrivener, but about the past four wouldn't have worked properly without it.)

Other vital software: BBEdit or MacVim.

pfitz613 karma

How do you feel about the following statement?

Oops, my book just ran out of batteries.

cstross24 karma

"There there, have a photovoltaic cell." (Or a USB top-up battery.)

canyouhearme12 karma

Nice to see a bit of social marketing, it will be interesting to hear how it compares to the publishers' marketdroid efforts in terms of sales (if you can tease out the stats).

Now the important question, favourite beer?

cstross47 karma

My regular session beer is Deuchars IPA (http://www.caledonianbeer.com/deuchars.htm). It's not an American-style bitterness wars IPA; it's a light, Scottish ale with just enough hops to tell you what it is, and it's weak enough that you can keep drinking it continuously for hours without any risk of waking up in a puddle with KICK ME tattooed on your bum.

mystikmike8 karma

any other writing aids?

splenetic12 karma

Hi Charlie, I'm a big fan of your work and particularly pleased that there's a new Laundry novel out just in time for me to go on holiday. Nice timing!

I have a question: One of the minor themes in Rule 34 was about the rise of government-mandated ethics in business following "Depression 2.0". Given that we seem to be living that depression right now, do you really see the push for ethics to actually come in or was that more a "Hey, a man can dream..." kind of thing?

cstross14 karma

It's already happening. Here's a news headline from the UK today, regarding the LIBOR scandal in banking: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jul/02/libor-scandal-george-osborne-inquiry

What I'm hoping for is something that goes much, much further than the conservative enablers of dog-eat-dog capitalism putting on a puppet show of cleaning house. But that's probably not going to happen just yet ...

red_shift_ltd11 karma

Hello Charles,

First off let me say I enjoy your writing and have been reading the blog for the last few months.

One of the things that I liked about Halting State and Rule 34 was that they are set in a plausible near future where technology has made individuals much more productive than people from 50+ years ago.

Given that with technological assistance one worker can now supervise many machines working to produce goods do you think that there will be a resurgence of a leisure class in the first world? Do you think that we are getting to the point where instead of overpaying people to do manual factory work there is room for another model that still resembles modern life?

Thanks again!

cstross37 karma

I have no answer to this question. Keynes asked it more than fifty years ago; something has clearly gone wrong, given that the folks with jobs seem to work endless hours while many people can't get a job at all.

If I was a Marxist I'd call it the crisis of capitalism. Even though I'm not a Marxist, that seems like a not unreasonable term for the widening gap between the rich and poor that we're seeing ...

Shnakepup11 karma

On your blog, you seem relatively pessimistic about various spaceflight technologies and/or schemes (or at least, pessimistic about how feasible they are). What would you say is the one that you'd most like to be proved wrong about?

cstross20 karma

I'd like to be proven wrong firstly on the difficulty of building a self-sustaining closed circuit ecosystem in space that can support human life. (Biospheres: they're a lot harder than they look at first glance!) Secondly, I'd like to be proven wrong on the difficulty of handling the medical side-effects of long term exposure to deep space (both microgravity induced illnesses and radiation damage).

If I'm wrong about both of those things (biospheres are going to be very hard to get right; medical side-effects of space travel are very damaging) then ... well, at least we won't be staring at a locked gate wrt. having a future in space.

[deleted]11 karma

How do you make sure you aren't "inadvertently plagiarizing?" I think up ideas a lot but am sure they have already been done somewhere or that I am ripping something off I have read and cannot recall specifically. Original creativity seems difficult.

And thanks for the books...I love science fiction and appreciate the work that goes into putting out novels to entertain us.

cstross45 karma

First: plagiarism requires you to copy someone else's words. You can avoid this by, er, not copying! Writing your own story around the same ideas is not plagiarism; at worst, it's being unoriginal.

Having said that, you're right: coming up with truly new ideas is hard. But I've got a method: I look for a couple of obvious ideas that have been done before (try: folks who can travel at will to parallel universes; in their home world they're the aristocracy, because: magic powers) and then look for the second-order side effects: stuff that other authors didn't dig into (for example: wrt. the previous idea, what are the consequences of these folks' ability for the ongoing economic and political development of their world? Can it have negative consequences? If so, what are they?)

giantrobothead11 karma

Whose beard wins in a fight? Yours, or Warren Ellis's?

cstross14 karma

Warren's, I think. It's bigger, and anyway, he carries a big stick.

fluxian10 karma

Loved Accelerando. What do you think of Frank Herbert's singularity avoidance strategy in the Dune series? Do you think any modern sci-fi work that doesn't address the singularity is just fooling itself?

cstross13 karma

Frank Herbert wrote Dune long before the singularity idea actually took coherent shape.

I believe modern SF needs to at least be aware of the singularity, if only so that it can dismiss it intelligently (or work around it). But I suspect the singularity is like faster-than-light travel for the IT generation. We may hope for it, and the rules don't forbid it, but we don't know how to do it yet (and it may not be possible).

TheZaporozhianReply10 karma

I've been a big fan ever since I picked up Singularity Sky on a whim. Just wanted to say keep fighting the good fight/writing the good write. You and Iain Banks are, in my mind, the greatest SF writers out there today.

Also: I've been running low on consumable material on my kindle. Which of your novels are you most personally proud of? I'll pick it up in honor of this AMA! (I just finished with wireless, and I've read accelerando/singularity sky/iron sunrise.)

cstross15 karma

Personal pride is probably a bad guide to merit. However, I think "The Fuller Memorandum" (Laundry Files #3) did pretty much what I wanted it to ... and "Rule 34" is a particular favourite. (Probably works best if you read "Halting State" first.)

bluemeep9 karma

How much pre-planning would you say that you do before starting on a new book? Or do you subscribe more to the "Let's just start writing and see where it takes us" camp?

cstross23 karma

Both :)

No two books come out the same way. Some I write by the seat of my pants; others are planned in minute detail.

The one thing that does happen, every time, though, is that I never get to write a book until I've already been thinking about it for a period of months to years. Unless it's "Glasshouse" (time from initial idea to starting writing: 9 days).

codenamegizm09 karma

I live in France where an author's work is considered pretty much sacred by publishers and editors. Has any of your work ever been butchered beyond recognition?

cstross16 karma

Not in the English language.

I'm told that a couple of my Russian translations are just plain terrible, though, and there may be others.

delitomatoes9 karma

Hi Charles, I'm Chinese and I live in Asia and most of the sci fi actually comes from the west. Is this due to cultural reasons, literacy or how technology/future seems to resonate more if written from a western perspective? Also, how can one become a successful sci fi/fantasy writer outside of Europe/America?

cstross14 karma

I have no idea, frankly ...

My gut feeling is that SF as we know it today is actually a heavily propagandized field that grew out of a specific set of cultural trends running in the USA and Europe between 1918 and 1950, during the post-imperial modernization period.

There's certainly room for SF coming out of China and the PacRim; there's a thriving field in Japan, for example, possibly addressing many of the same modernization pressures (which really started to kick in there after 1945).

My understanding is that there are large circulation SF magazines in China, and an increasingly engaged readership -- because they're undergoing a vast, rapid modernization process (and that's what SF synergized with in the west, half a century earlier). But it's a closed book to me; I don't have the local contacts or insight to tell you what to do.

DoesntBrian2Gud9 karma

I love New York Cities' subway tunnels. They're just, they're just nice. And part of the reason for that is due to the fact that it's a sort of isolation chamber. I don't know anyone in the tunnels and they don't know me, and it's a relief to get away from everybody. Or as close as you can get in a place like New York at least. Anyways, the reason I'm telling you about this is because you write about technology a lot, and how we interact with each other through it in some ways. Recently, some of the tunnels have been given cell phone/wifi access. Do you feel that the constant interaction with each other that we have is a bad thing or a good thing and what do you think the future ramifications of those kinds of things will have, if any?

cstross18 karma

I'm writing a trilogy that talks about this problem indirectly: "Halting State"/"Rule 34"/"The Lambda Functionary". Or at least, it's a major theme in the background. There's a sharp dividing line between those people who matured with information technology and social networking and mobile phones and those who didn't, or who came to them as adults. I'm probably on the wrong side of that line, running to keep up with the younger generation. It's at least as profound a change as the advent of the mass automobile culture. Whether it's a good thing or not ...

Well, I don't see smartphones in fifty years' time killing two million people a year around the world the way cars do today. But I may be wrong.

senectus8 karma

I'm a new but big fan. The first book of yours that I read only a few months ago was Accelerando and it absolutely blew my mind! Not only that but it made me very excited for the near future, I see Google Glasses as being a very exciting tech that leads into your vision.

Q: I know that patents were a big driver behind the original protagonist, but I find the current patent choked world to be very frustrating. what do you suggest the Gov's of the world do with the current situation?

Q: How do you feel about the bitcoin concept? Do you think it'll go far?

PS I'm really looking forward to seeing you when you come to Perth West Aus next year. Maybe I can buy you a beer!

cstross26 karma

Patents: the gridlock there is going to be a big chunk of my next-but-one novel ("The Lambda Functionary", sequel to "Halting State"/"Rule 34", due out 2014).

Bitcoin: probably not, but it's intriguing enough to be at the root of an entire interstellar finance system in "Neptune's Brood" (due next July, 2013).

Perth, beer? Sure!

ticktocktech8 karma

Hi Charles. Big fan of the Laundry series (as is my father). Looking forward to The Apocalypse Codex. Do you have plans/a deal to write any more in this series after this novel?


cstross17 karma

The current plan is for a nine-book story arc, possibly with a couple of books branching off to either side. But I won't be starting work on book 5 for at least another year (meaning: at least 3 years from now until publication).

synthaxx7 karma

Your books rank among my personal favorites. Thank you for doing an AMA!

As for the question; what's your personal view on the idea of the technological singularity, and do you think it's possible it could happen within our lifetime?

cstross12 karma


(TL:DR; It's not impossible, but there are reasons to believe that the whole singularity idea may be a disastrous mis-framing.)

Buried_Dolls7 karma

Hello and welcome to Reddit!

Have you ever been afraid to actually publish a book for fear of what your fans may think? And how do you deal with writers block, or just actually getting the damn thing started? And lastly, do you read books that aren't in your current genre? And if so, what's your favorite?

cstross27 karma

Publishing is the final step in making a book; if I was afraid to publish one, I wouldn't write it in the first place. (But in general, a little controversy isn't harmful: if anything, it gets people interested. I don't think most of my opinions, political or social, are so far outside of the mainstream that they'd cause massive outrage on a scale liable to provoke death threats or referrals to prosecutors for outraging public decency, so why worry?)

Writers block: when I get it, it's because my subconscious spotted that I'd make a huge structural mistake in constructing a novel before my conscious mind became aware of it, and threw on the brakes. So I've learned not to sweat it: take two days off, then back up a chapter, read through, and try to work out why I'm suddenly uneasy about continuing.

While writing a novel I almost completely stop reading books in the same sub-genre for the duration.

yanggmd7 karma

When working do you feel you become anti-social? I find people very distracting while trying to write.

mrs_stross29 karma

Yes he bloody does!

cstross13 karma

ID confirmation: yes, she is who she says she is. (Her preferred nom de guerre is already taken on Reddit.)

atgm6 karma

I love your Merchant Princes series. That series and the Honor Harrington series stand out in my mind as good science fiction with strong female characters. I don't usually enjoy stories with female leads, but I enjoyed every minute of the Merchant Princes.

Have you ever used unused (or used) ideas from your D&D days in your stories, or vice versa?

If you could meet any dead science fiction author for a day, who would you meet and what would you do?

How hard was it for you to break into the US market? It seems like it's relatively uncommon to see authors from other countries -- the one big exception I can think of right now is Neil Gaiman (and Terry Pratchett, who's done it so well that I forgot he isn't American, and a ton of other people that I feel bad about forgetting now...) -- and absolutely rare to find translations of science fiction authors who don't write in English. Do you have any thoughts on that? Any translated authors that you have your eye on?

If you could choose between The Merchant Princes becoming a video game, a movie series, a TV series, and a limited HBO TV series, what format would you choose? Who would you pick for a director and some of the leads? Would you want to do the screenplay yourself?

Do you have any go-to books or authors for when you're feeling down?

Do you yearn to pen a script for Doctor Who? Who would your personal choice for the next Doctor be, if you happen to be a fan?

Thanks in advance!

cstross22 karma

Have you ever used unused (or used) ideas from your D&D days in your stories, or vice versa?

No. My D&D days are 30 years gone; it'd be a rare idea to survive from that long ago.

If you could meet any dead science fiction author for a day, who would you meet and what would you do?

Roger Zelazny. And probably a pub crawl then a curry.

How hard was it for you to break into the US market?

If I'd known how easy it would be, I'd have done it earlier!

If you could choose between The Merchant Princes becoming a video game, a movie series, a TV series, and a limited HBO TV series, what format would you choose? Who would you pick for a director and some of the leads? Would you want to do the screenplay yourself?

None of those are media formats I consume, so I have no opinion on the options. (Nor do I have any idea who the currently interesting directors or actors are.) If I wanted to be in movies, I'd have gone into scriptwriting: the fact that I write novels should be a big hint about what I prefer to do!

(Final Q: I dislike Dr Who and Star Trek, so I shan't comment further.)

[deleted]14 karma

"I dislike Dr. Who and Star Trek..."

This is like finding out your dad really can't beat up everyone else's dad.

cstross40 karma

They've achieved cult following through character development, but as SF they both have gigantic structural flaws at the plot and tech level; great gaping internal inconsistencies! (Although I'm kind of fond of the meta-theory that explains Star Trek as being propaganda intended for external consumption by the Federation, which is actually the Soviet Union in Space in the 24th century.)

[deleted]6 karma

Next you will tell me Nutella doesn't really taste good. Damn you Charles Stross! Damn you to hell!

I will still read your books, but I will do so with a smug expression of annoyance ;)

cstross11 karma

Nutella is okay, but Marmite rocks as a sandwich topping!

[deleted]6 karma

What was your biggest influence to get you to begin writing?

Thank you for doing this AMA, by the way, I'm a big fan of your work.

cstross17 karma

Biggest influence: my mother.

Who is one of those unpublished authors. But when I was about 6, I vividly remember her spending an hour every day hammering away on her typewriter on the kitchen table, trying to write a novel.

She never finished it, much less sold it, but ihat I somehow internalized from this was that writing was something normal adults were allowed to do. And so it didn't look like an insane move when I was thinking of what I wanted to do when I grew up.

2ply5 karma

Why do I love the Laundry series, but hate the Merchant Princes?

cstross10 karma

They're very different, and written for different audiences. (You might be unsurprised to learn that the MP series was originally going to be published under a pseudonym ...)

girlwithblanktattoo5 karma

In Singularity Sky, Rachel Mansour is referred to as an "invert" and called "he" by the New Republicans. Am I right in thinking that Rachel is a transsexual (and "invert" is from the Victorian word for such)?

cstross18 karma

No. "Invert" was a term sometimes applied by the Victorians to homosexuals. Basically she just doesn't conform to the New Republic's tightly segregated vision of gender roles.

We_Are_The_Romans5 karma

Hi Charlie, love your work and love Banks' work. Since you guys don't live too far apart and would appear to have some vaguely compatible ideas, the obvious question for me is - any chance of a collaboration?

cstross7 karma

Iain doesn't collaborate.

[deleted]5 karma


cstross11 karma

Any tips I could give you from personal experience would be 20+ years out of date (I first began selling short stories in 1985-86). The industry is changing too fast: it'd be like giving you tips for how to become an airline pilot circa 1933!

danielwb4 karma

What's your favorite book and movie? :) Thanks for doing an AMA.

cstross23 karma

My favourite movie is: "Dr Strangelove". (I haven't seen any films released in the past 2-5 years, I'm afraid: I don't do TV/cinema).

Favourite book ... that's a lot harder! I have a different one every day.

Prooffreader9 karma

What is a favorite book of yours? Just pick one off the top of your head, no implications as to its superiority to others will be inferred.

cstross30 karma

Okay: "Schismatrix" by Bruce Sterling. Invented the new space opera in the mid-1980s, ten years ahead of the pack (only nobody noticed).

Alternatively: "One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night" by Christopher Brookmyre -- darkly humorous Scottish noir crime thriller involving bungling terrorists, oil rigs turned theme park, and the High School reunion from hell.