One of the realities of publishing that we don’t like to talk about is that a series generally lives or dies by grace of its first publisher. It’s extremely unusual for a series to hop from one publisher to another, yet with the recent publication of The Delirium Brief by Tor.com Publishing, the Laundry Files will be on its third US publisher (and fifth English language publisher overall). What happened and how did we get here?
Fiction and Excerpts 
The Laundry Files is a cross-genre series; it’s British, but beyond that it transgresses wildly by crossing the streams of normally rigid marketing categories. We have comedy, we have horror, we have magic, we have technology, we have spies. So: what else is out there that has a not-dissimilar feel to the Laundry Files?
The works I want to point you at today all share three or more from a set of six attributes: they’re mostly British, their protagonists mostly work for bureaucracies (government or police, but also academia), and they mostly involve magic. They may also share other attributes—humour, time travel, and a seasoning of steampunk—but the latter three are a little more optional. So, without further ado, here’s my “if you liked the Laundry Files you may like these” list.
Series: Five Books About…
Whenever the subject of writing about espionage comes up in conversation and I say it’s something I’m interested in, the immediate reaction I’ve come to expect is, “Oh, you mean like James Bond?” It’s actually quite predictable, just as “Oh, like Star Wars?” used to be the usual reaction to me saying I write science fiction … and it’s just as wrong.
This month Tor published Empire Games, the first book in my Empire Games trilogy. It’s a science-fictional spy thriller; so if you can imagine a James Bond movie set in the Star Wars universe? That’s almost exactly not what it’s about.
Espionage is about spies the way that science fiction is about rocket ships or astronomy is about building telescopes: yes, those items feature in the field to some extent, but there’s a lot more to it. Espionage—or more accurately, intelligence-gathering—is about the process of piecing together an accurate picture of a target’s intentions and capabilities, to enable policy-makers (be they corporate or national) to put in place an appropriate response.
Series: Five Books About…
The year is 2020. It’s seventeen years since the Revolution overthrew the last king of the New British Empire, and the newly-reconstituted North American Commonwealth is developing rapidly, on course to defeat the French and bring democracy to a troubled world. But Miriam Burgeson, commissioner in charge of the shadowy Ministry of Intertemporal Research and Intelligence—the paratime espionage agency tasked with catalyzing the Commonwealth’s great leap forward—has a problem. For years, she’s warned everyone: “The Americans are coming.” Now their drones arrive in the middle of a succession crisis.
In another timeline, the U.S. has recruited Miriam’s own estranged daughter to spy across timelines in order to bring down any remaining world-walkers who might threaten national security.
Two nuclear superpowers are set on a collision course. Two increasingly desperate paratime espionage agencies try to find a solution to the first contact problem that doesn’t result in a nuclear holocaust. And two women—a mother and her long-lost daughter—are about to find themselves on opposite sides of the confrontation.
Charles Stross builds a new series with Empire Games, expanding on the world he created in the Family Trade series—available January 17th from Tor Books!
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.
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.
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?.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Series: December Belongs To Cthulhu
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
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