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Charles Stross

Fiction and Excerpts [7]
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Fiction and Excerpts [7]

The Annihilation Score

|| Dominique O’Brien—her friends call her Mo—lives a curious double life with her husband, Bob Howard. To the average civilian, they’re boring middle-aged civil servants. But within the labyrinthian secret circles of Her Majesty’s government, they’re operatives working for the nation’s occult security service known as the Laundry, charged with defending Britain against dark supernatural forces threatening humanity.

Equoid

, || Winner of the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novella. Charles Stross's "Equoid" is a new story in his ongoing "Laundry" series of Lovecraftian secret-agent bureaucratic dark comedies, which has now grown to encompass four novels and several works of short fiction. "The Laundry" is the code name for the secret British governmental agency whose remit is to guard the realm from occult threats from beyond spacetime. Entailing mastery of grimoires and also of various computer operating systems, the work is often nose-bleedingly tedious. As the front-cover copy line for Ace's edition of The Atrocity Archives noted, "Saving the world is Bob Howard's job. There are a surprising number of meetings involved." Previous "Laundry" stories on Tor.com are "Down on the Farm" and the Hugo Award finalist "Overtime."

The Annihilation Score

Dominique O’Brien—her friends call her Mo—lives a curious double life with her husband, Bob Howard. To the average civilian, they’re boring middle-aged civil servants. But within the labyrinthian secret circles of Her Majesty’s government, they’re operatives working for the nation’s occult security service known as the Laundry, charged with defending Britain against dark supernatural forces threatening humanity.

Mo’s latest assignment is assisting the police in containing an unusual outbreak: ordinary citizens suddenly imbued with extraordinary abilities of the super-powered kind. Unfortunately these people prefer playing super-pranks instead of super-heroics. The Mayor of London being levitated by a dumpy man in Trafalgar Square would normally be a source of shared amusement for Mo and Bob, but they’re currently separated because something’s come between them—something evil.

An antique violin, an Erich Zann original, made of human white bone, was designed to produce music capable of slaughtering demons. Mo is the custodian of this unholy instrument. It invades her dreams and yearns for the blood of her colleagues—and her husband. And despite Mo’s proficiency as a world class violinist, it cannot be controlled…

From Hugo Award-winning author Charles Stross comes The Annihilation Score, the next case in The Laundry Files—available July 7th from Penguin Books.

[Read an excerpt]

Equoid

Winner of the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novella. Charles Stross’s “Equoid” is a new story in his ongoing “Laundry” series of Lovecraftian secret-agent bureaucratic dark comedies, which has now grown to encompass four novels and several works of short fiction. “The Laundry” is the code name for the secret British governmental agency whose remit is to guard the realm from occult threats from beyond spacetime. Entailing mastery of grimoires and also of various computer operating systems, the work is often nose-bleedingly tedious. As the front-cover copy line for Ace’s edition of The Atrocity Archives noted, “Saving the world is Bob Howard’s job. There are a surprising number of meetings involved.” Previous “Laundry” stories on Tor.com are “Down on the Farm” and the Hugo Award finalist “Overtime.”

Like some other stories published on Tor.com, “Equoid” contains scenes and situations some readers will find upsetting and/or repellent. [—The Editors]

This novella was acquired and edited for Tor.com by senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

[Read “Equoid” by Charles Stross]

Neptune’s Brood (Excerpt)

Take a peek at Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross, out on July 2 from Ace Books:

The year is AD 7000. The human species is extinct—for the fourth time—due to its fragile nature. Krina Alizond-114 is metahuman, descended from the robots that once served humanity. She’s on a journey to the water-world of Shin-Tethys to find her sister Ana. But her trip is interrupted when pirates capture her ship. Their leader, the enigmatic Count Rudi, suspects that there’s more to Krina’s search than meets the eye.

He’s correct: Krina and Ana each possess half of the fabled Atlantis Carnet, a lost financial instrument of unbelievable value—capable of bringing down entire civilizations. Krina doesn’t know that Count Rudi suspects her motives, so she accepts his offer to get her to Shin-Tethys in exchange for an introduction to Ana.

And what neither of them suspects is that a ruthless body-double assassin has stalked Krina across the galaxy, ready to take the Carnet once it is whole—and leave no witnesses alive to tell the tale?.

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Charles Stross on the Merchant Princes Series: Crib Sheet

There’s nuts and bolts science fiction, and then there’s science fiction where the ideas are all drawn from some other field. In the case of the Merchant Princes, underneath the second world fantasy meets techno-thriller car-crash, there’s a science fictional examination of a topic that seldom gets air-play: the political determinants of economic development and industrialization.

The world of the Clan is mired in a classic development trap—a situation that prevailed for the vast mass of humanity until roughly 1800, and which we have no actual deep understanding of how to break out of. All we really know is that, prior to 1700 or thereabouts, Great Britain was economically not very far out of line with the rest of western Europe. But by 1860 the UK had achieved a mind-boggling industrial Great Leap Forward, becoming the first truly modern superpower: with naval basing rights in 130 other countries, a navy larger than the two next largest combined, and a staggering 60% of planetary GDP, it occupied much the position in the late 19th century that the USA occupied by the late 20th century.

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Charles Stross on the Merchant Princes Series: How I Built A World

I have a confession to make: I hate clichés. This is a problem, because a cliché is a good idea that has been re-used so often that it outstays its welcome.

Also, being a Brit of a certain outlook, I do not view monarchism or aristocracy with any degree of nostalgic fondness. The divine right of kings is a post-hoc justification for hereditary dictatorship (current poster-child: Kim Jong-Un) and the feudal age was one of total militarization of society, of petty lords with the right to hang any serf whose face they didn’t like, and of wars ravaging the land every generation.

Finally: I’m lazy and cynical, I get bored easily, and I have a warped sense of humour. Which is how I came up with this series. I grabbed hold of a bunch of clichés and rammed them together until I achieved fusion. And that’s how The Bloodline Feud starts.

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Charles Stross Introduces The Bloodline Trade

All that is old is new again; I began writing this book in late 2002, but this is the first time it’s been published in the original form I intended. How did we get here? Let’s take a trip down memory lane….

Back in 2002, an eleven-years-younger me had just sold his first two SF novels to Ace, an American imprint of Penguin. As is usually the case, the contract for the books gave Ace the right of first refusal on my next SF novel. “But they won’t be interested in seeing your next until the first two are in print, which will take a couple of years,” said my literary agent. “So why don’t you write a big fat fantasy or alternate history series, something which isn’t SF, so I can sell it elsewhere?” (I love my agent: she’s got all the cold-blooded business sense that I missed out on at birth).

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A Tall Tail

This year for Tor.com’s birthday, we’re initiating a tradition of Rocket Stories! For this inaugural year, enjoy an exclusive read of “A Tall Tail” by Charles Stross a week before it appears on the site! (One of the perks of being a registered user on the site.)

“A Tall Tail” is by Charles Stross, a British SF author who now lives in Scotland. He is the author of the Laundry series and the Hugo-winning novella “The Concrete Jungle.”

This story was acquired and edited for Tor.com by Tor Books editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

[Read “A Tall Tail”]

Rapture of the Nerds (Excerpt)

We’re going to take a look at Cory Doctorow’s upcoming novels this week! Let’s start with a joint work between him and Charles Stross, out on September 4 -Rapture of the Nerds:

Welcome to the fractured future, at the dusk of the twenty-first century.

Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most part, they are happy with their lot, living in a preserve at the bottom of a gravity well. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining one or another of the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures the sun. 

The splintery metaconsciousness of the solar-system has largely sworn off its pre-post-human cousins dirtside, but its minds sometimes wander…and when that happens, it casually spams Earth’s networks with plans for cataclysmically disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures, and spiritual systems. A sane species would ignore these get-evolved-quick schemes, but there’s always someone who’ll take a bite from the forbidden apple.

So until the overminds bore of stirring Earth’s anthill, there’s Tech Jury Service: random humans, selected arbitrarily, charged with assessing dozens of new inventions and ruling on whether to let them loose. Young Huw, a technophobic, misanthropic Welshman, has been selected for the latest jury, a task he does his best to perform despite an itchy technovirus, the apathy of the proletariat, and a couple of truly awful moments on bathroom floors.

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Through a backward telescope: Heinlein’s context

History is science fiction’s dirty little trade secret, as many an author in search of a plot has discovered. But more than that: history is also the clue to unlocking the writing of our forebears.

For me, the fascination of Patterson’s biography lies in the social and historical context it provides for Heinlein’s work. I was born in 1964, by which time he was 57; there’s more than half a century between us (not to mention a continental gulf—he being a midwesterner, Californian by adoption, and me being British), and consequently I’ve always found many of the attitudes exemplified in his fiction strange. But no longer; Learning Curve provides the key to unlocking Heinlein’s social attitudes and ideas, because it’s as much a social history of the United States of America during the first half of Heinlein’s life as it is a biography.

And it all goes to show just how strange Robert A. Heinlein was.

[Read more…]

Series: Robert A. Heinlein: The Tor.com Blog Symposium

Overtime

All bureaucracies obey certain iron laws, and one of the oldest is this: get your seasonal leave booked early, lest you be trampled in the rush.

I broke the rule this year, and now I’m paying the price. It’s not my fault I failed to book my Christmas leave in time—I was in hospital and heavily sedated. But the ruthless cut and thrust of office politics makes no allowance for those who fall in the line of battle: “You should have foreseen your hospitalization and planned around it” said the memo from HR when I complained. They’re quite right, and I’ve made a note to book in advance next time I’m about to be abducted by murderous cultists or enemy spies.

I briefly considered pulling an extended sickie, but Brenda from Admin has a heart of gold; she pointed out that if I volunteered as Night Duty Officer over the seasonal period I could not only claim triple pay and time off in lieu, I’d also be working three grades above my assigned role. For purposes of gaining experience points in the fast-track promotion game they’ve steering me onto, that’s hard to beat. So here I am, in the office on Christmas Eve, playing bureaucratic Pokémon as the chilly rain drums on the roof.

(Oh, you wondered what Mo thinks of this? She’s off visiting her ditz of a mum down in Glastonbury. After last time we agreed it would be a good idea if I kept a low profile. Christmas: the one time of year when you can’t avoid the nuts in your family muesli. But I digress.)

* * *

Christmas: the season of goodwill towards all men—except for bank managers, credit scoring agencies, everyone who works in the greeting card business, and dodgy men in red suits who hang out in toy shops and scare small children by shouting “ho ho HO!” By the time I got out of hospital in September the Christmas seasonal displays were already going up in the shops: mistletoe and holly and metallized tinsel pushing out the last of summer’s tanning lotion and Hawaiian shirts.

I can’t say I’ve ever been big on the English Suburban Christmas. First you play join-the-dots with bank holidays and what’s left of your annual leave, to get as many consecutive days off work as possible. Then instead of doing something useful and constructive with it you gorge yourself into a turkey-addled stomach-bloating haze, drink too much cheap plonk, pick fights with the in-laws, and fall asleep on the sofa in front of the traditional family-friendly crap the BBC pumps out every December 25th in case the wee ones are watching. These days the little ’uns are all up in their rooms, playing Chicks v. Zombies 8.0 with the gore dialled to splashy-giblets-halfway-up-the-walls (only adults bother watching TV as a social activity these days) but has Auntie Beeb noticed? Oh no they haven’t! So it’s crap pantomimes and Mary Poppins and re-runs of The Two Ronnies for you, sonny, whether you like it or not. It’s like being trapped in 1974 forever—and you can forget about escaping onto the internet: everybody else has had the same idea, and the tubes are clogged.

Alternatively you can spend Christmas alone in the office, where at least it’s quiet once everyone else has gone home. You can get some work done, or read a book, or surreptitiously play Chicks v. Zombies 8.0 with the gore dialled down to suitable-for-adults. At least, that’s the way it’s suppose to work . . . except when it doesn’t, like now.


[Read more]

Series: December Belongs To Cthulhu

On July 20th, 1969…by Charles Stross

Much to my surprise, I remember the Apollo 11 landing, and the first moon walk. My wife—who is 22 months younger than me—doesn’t. She was three years old at the time; I was not far off five, and somewhere in that gap lies that developmental point where most infants start to remember significant events.

I live in the UK. The precise moment when “Eagle” touched down, 20:17 UTC, would have been around 9pm; rather late for a toddler to be up, but I think I remember my parents bringing me into the living room to watch something important on the new, 625-line black-and-white PAL TV set. That memory is vague—I’ve seen footage of the descent so many times since that I can’t rely on my own experience.

What I definitely remember is my mother waking me up really early—it was still dark—and bringing me downstairs. It would have been around 2am the next morning. I was sleepy, and couldn’t make much sense of what I was seeing on the screen; the upside-down image (at first), the hazy, ghosting figure in the big suit clinging to a ladder, very slowly climbing down it, the crackling static on the sound. I knew something important was happening, because my parents had woken me up and told me to remember it. But after about fifteen minutes, not much seemed to be happening: and I was very sleepy. Back to bed.

The next day, and the day after that, the news sank in; and so did the meaning. Newspapers bore huge headlines, as large as for a royal coronation or wedding, or the assassination of a foreign president: and the pictures that accompanied the headlines made it clear that something epochal had happened, the significance of which—I was four. (Nearly five.) Significance was to come later, gradually sinking in. I was, of course, space-mad for six months, like all my peers. I knew that when I grew up I was going to be an astronaut! There were collectors cards, and colouring books, and all the ephemera of childhood overrun by the Apollo brand. I memorized all the facts and figures I could find, understanding very little. I watched the TV news in 1970 as Apollo 13 ran into trouble, with a five-year-old’s understanding; I watched the final take-off of the Apollo 17 LM ascent stage on that same black and which TV in 1972 as an eight-year-old, still unable to quite comprehend that the program was over. Then it began to sink in—that I probably wasn’t going to grow up to be an astronaut, after all.

They’d taken the moon away from me.

 


Charles Stross is a British science fiction, fantasy, and horror author. His work has earned over a dozen award nominations, and his most recent novel, Saturn’s Children, is up for this year’s Best Novel Hugo.

Series: Moon Landing Day

“Where do you get your ideas?”

(The death march is over: the manuscript will be in my editor’s inbox on Monday morning. So I’ve got time to blog again …)

One of the questions that every SF author gets asked sooner or later is “where do you get your ideas?” For better or worse, I seem to get a double dose of it; ideas are my particular speciality, or so it said in the last fortune cookie I opened. So I thought I’d give the game away by explaining just where they come from.

Unlike Roger Zelazny I don’t leave a glass of milk and a plate of cookies out by the door; unlike Harlan Ellison I don’t use a mail order supplier in Poughkeepsie. (Or is it the other way around?) I don’t invent invent neat new ideas at all. Instead, I trip over them—because they’re lying around in heaps. The trick is to pick several up at the same time and smush them together until some of them stick to each other—creating something new and interesting.

[More below the fold.]

Death March

I’m supposed to be blogging here regularly this month. So sorry: but I’m delinquent, and consequently my presence is likely to be a little erratic. The proximate cause of my delinquency is a deadline (long overshot) and a promise—to deliver a manuscript to my editor, David Hartwell, some time before the next ice age. I am, in short, embarked on the final death march to the end of the sixth Merchant Princes novel, The Trade of Queens, and on the off chance that some of you are curious—what does this mean?

This novel has been a long time coming. I wrote the original proposal for this series back in 2001, and finished the first book the same year; since then it’s been an on-again/off-again proposition and the road map for the series is almost laughably out-of-date. I originally posited a four book series: this is book six, but going by the original road map it’s actually the climax of book two. I originally posited books in the 600-800 page range: yeah, well, that plan didn’t survive contact with the enemy, or in this case the economics of book binding and production. And there were a couple of other setbacks along the way, I admit—illness, insanity, and the competing demands of other publishers among them.

[So: here]

(Tap tap) Is this thing on?

Hello. I’m Charlie Stross; as you probably guessed, I write novels and I’m here because my latest book from Tor The Revolution Business is published this week.

I’m not going to push this particular book at you, because unless you’ve read its four predecessors it’s pretty inaccessible. The Revolution Business is the fifth book-sized chapter in an unfolding serial novel, The Merchant Princes; I’m currently working to finish the sixth book in the series (and the final one in this story arc), The Trade of Queens. If you want to dip a toe in the water, I’d recommend starting at the beginning with The Family Trade.

Meanwhile, I’ll be blogging here for at least the next month. And if you want to ask me any questions (especially about The Merchant Princes, but I’ll try to field anything else that comes my way) feel free to ask!

Down on the Farm

In Charles Stross’s novel The Atrocity Archive and its sequels, the “Laundry” is a secret British agency responsible for keeping dark interdimensional entitities from destroying the cosmos and, not incidentally, the human race. The battles with creatures from beyond time are dangerous; however, it’s the subsequent bureaucratic paperwork that actually breaks men’s souls.  Now, in “Down on the Farm,” Laundry veteran Bob Howard must investigate strange doings at another obscure, moth-eaten government agency — evidently a rest home for Laundry agents whose minds have snapped…

“Down on the Farm” was acquired and edited for Tor.com by Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

 

Ah, the joy of summer: here in the south-east of England it’s the season of mosquitoes, sunburn, and water shortages. I’m a city boy, so you can add stifling pollution to the list as a million outwardly mobile families start their Chelsea tractors and race to their holiday camps. And that’s before we consider the hellish environs of the Tube (far more literally hellish than anyone realizes, unless they’ve looked at a Transport for London journey planner and recognized the recondite geometry underlying the superimposed sigils of the underground map).

But I digress…

One morning, my deputy head of department wanders into my office. It’s a cramped office, and I’m busy practicing my Frisbee throw with a stack of beer mats and a dart-board decorated with various cabinet ministers. “Bob,” Andy pauses to pluck a moist cardboard square out of the air as I sit up, guiltily: “a job’s just come up that you might like to look at—I think it’s right up your street.”

The first law of Bureaucracy is, show no curiosity outside your cubicle. It’s like the first rule of every army that’s ever bashed a square: never volunteer.

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