In unrelated news: sudden unexplained rise in deaths from the common cold leave Moscow medicos baffled!
It's weird watching one of your books play out in real life. The last time I had this experience it was fun. The stage play of Falafel was running at the Bridge Hotel in Sydney and every now and then I would take an old flatmate through to see themselves on stage. Good times.
Now I read the news and see plotlines from my books being plagiarised by reality. Mostly Zero Day Code, of course. But bits and pieces from The Wave and The Dave trilogies too. The bits about things falling apart. We haven't got to the chapter in Zero Day where a free range militia shoots up the grocery store, but that's probably only a couple of weeks away in the US; once the supply chains start to break down. Once people can't get the money to pay for food.
This is what I've been thinking about recently. Money. The virus is bad and it's going to kill a lot of people, not all of them in their 80s and 90s. But the economic Holocaust is going to make the 1930s look like a pool party. With complimentary hookers and blow.
In Australia, hell, in most places that aren't America, we congratulate ourselves for our civilised workplace culture. Sick leave, annual leave, personal leave, and so on. But those things have limits. They usually tap out at about four weeks. What happens after that, because this thing is going to go on for months. The economy is a perpetual motion machine. It is never stopped before. We have no theories to explain what is about to happen. What's happening already. Nobel prize-winning economists are as clueless as talkback radio hosts. If I was plotting this out for a book however, and coincidentally I am, I would project forward to massive, massive job losses, bankruptcies, financial Armageddon. And then, Hobbesian violence.
Perhaps my view is skewed because I work in the arts and I look around me and I see people whose annual income has just evaporated. Mine has shrunk, but I still have options. Lots of people don't. And there are no boltholes. All of the shitty, low status, no future options in the gig economy are rapidly disappearing. Even Uber Eats and deliverroo are going to disappear because the café's and restaurants on which they feast like parasites are all going out of business.
Governments are talking about handing out money. Not much money, because they don't have much. Most of the world's wealth is hidden away in a PO Box in the Seychelles, or Bermuda or the Dutch Antilles, where a bunch of billionaires hid it to avoid paying tax. So maybe you'll get a cheque for $1000 in the next couple of weeks. And may be $2000 a couple of months after that. But then the well runs dry.
I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this. Nowhere, probably. I just needed to get off Twitter, and the never-ending shit show of my news apps.
I have plenty of things to be getting on with. Books mostly. So I suppose I should get back to it.
Good luck to you all. If anybody decides to put a raiding party together to go after Clive Palmer or the Walmart or Murdoch families, let me know.
33 Responses to ‘Good luck to you all’
Mr Zhao Lijian
Foreign Ministry Spokesman
People’s Republic of China
Dear Mr Zhao
We represent Mr John Birmingham, international super author. It has come to our attention that you, in your role as spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the People's Republic, have recently published via the microblogging service hereinafter referred to as ‘Twitter’, numerous works of fiction, hereinafter referred to as ‘tweets’ suggesting the US military might have deliberately infected the People’s Republic with the novel coronavirus.
This is an unauthorised use of Mr Birmingham’s copyrighted works, ZERO DAY CODE and FAIL STATE published exclusively in audiobook form and available for purchase right now at all good audiobook retailers as long as they are Audible.
You neither asked for nor received permission from our client to use his tremendously exciting and strangely prescient novel as the basis for your tweets. The People’s Republic of China has infringed our client’s copyright under numerous international statutes and could be liable for statutory damages and a most ferocious snubbing at the next meeting of the Author’s Guild.
We demand that the People’s Republic immediately cease the use and distribution of all exciting end-of-the-world narratives which were sourced from Mr Birmingham’s well reviewed audiobook about a desperate and collapsing US military deploying weaponised viruses to the Chinese mainland. The consequences for non-compliance could be grave, not just for the People’s Republic, but for you personally, Mr Zhao. Many, many book reviewers who have displeased our client have come to regret their precipitate actions when they found themselves coming to a sticky end in later volumes of Mr Birmingham’s works.
If we have not received an apology indicating that you intend to meet our requirements by close of business today, we shall immediately commence proceedings to recover damages or at the very least a couple of five star reviews from you.
On a personal note, our client advises us that your story as published, while serviceable for a first draft, could benefit from some structural work and a more personalised antagonist than something as vague as ‘the US army’. He is wiling to offer you a ten percent discount on his fiction writing masterclass upon production of this letter and the offer code COVID-19.
Mr Birmingham’s very expensive lawyer.
7 Responses to ‘Cease and desist’
I've been back in the country for a couple of weeks and working on a long post – "What I did on my holidays". Turns out mostly what I did was avoid catching the coronavirus. I was actually in Milan about a week before everything blew up. The city was crowded, busy, pumping. Even though the weather was cold, grey and drizzly. It's odd to imagine the streets empty and most of the businesses shuttered just a short time later.
And now of course the whole country is in lockdown. I imagine it won't be long before the rest of Europe is the same. And here too.
I've been pondering my current audiobook series – the Zero Day books – and wondering whether I should ramp up the background plague. Probably. On the other hand I'm also going to talk to Jason Lambright about doing a quick pandemic series. Something based on the reality of COVID 19, but fictional.
In the meantime I'm waiting for the hammer to fall. I have jujitsu tonight, and I don't think it'll be long before the health authorities shut us down. Gyms too. And bars, and restaurants, and public gatherings and the rest of it. A lot of businesses are going to go under in the next 3 to 6 months, and they're going to take a lot of people with them.
I think the virus will spread just as widely here as everywhere else, but it probably at a slower rate. Australia has an incredibly powerful Quarantine Act which hands a lot of the decision-making in these sorts of crises to medical professionals. Politicians get cut out of the loop. The Chief Medical Officers of the states and territories and the Commonwealth are teleconferencing a couple of times a week. Possibly every day. Managing the medical issues. It's up to the government to look after the economy.
(Spoiler: The economy is probably doomed.)
But the power given to the medicos means that all things being equal, the rate of infection will be slower here than it is in many other places, meaning that the health system can hopefully absorb the ever increasing number of patients.
For now, I'm just trying to get in as many gym visits as I can. I, er, put on a little bit of pastry and pasta weight while I was away.
11 Responses to ‘Back home’
I landed in Rome a day and a half ago and have been reacquainting myself with the city. Some things have changed. The Romans now obey the traffic signals, which is great. And some things haven’t. They still refuse to queue in an orderly fashion for anything.
One thing that’s changed about me; I’ve forgotten how to use cash. There’s no real contactless payment infrastructure here. Credit cards and eftpos, yes. But no PayPass as we’d recognise it.
Cash still rules. When I was last here it was Lire, which was awesome because you could feel like a millionaire for very little actual money. Now it’s the Euro, which is fine, because it makes everything seem cheap. (And of course somethings like pasta and wine are cheap). But I’ve found myself frequently standing with mouth agape and drool dropping slowly from my lower lip as I try to remember how the whole paper money thing works. Turns out it’s a minor life skill and it can quickly decay.
I’m very slow at counting notes. Even slower at recognising denominations. More than once I’ve just pushed a bunch of paper at the cashier with my apologies. The Romans, thankfully, are always happy to divest you of the appropriate amount.
8 Responses to ‘I have forgotten how money works’
I’ve been on deadline for a couple of weeks now, hammering away at the keys, croaking into the dictation rig, all aimed at finishing THE SHATTERED SKIES, the second book in the Cruel Stars series, before I get on a flight to Rome on Monday.
No way am I finishing that book.
But that’s okay. I knew there was no chance I would ever finish it in time, because...
NARRATOR VOICE: The deadline was coming from inside his head!
Cue Wilhelm Scream.
The deadline wasn’t set by my publishers. I did it to myself to avoid coming back from Europe in mid Feb with a truly impossible job to do. So for the last three weeks I’ve been cranking on 4000 words a day, or trying to, simply to get into a position where I could finish the manuscript at a more leisurely 2000 words a day when I get home.
Mission accomplished. I should have about 75-80K words in the bank by Monday.
One thing I am gonna try while I'm away is writing a couple of pars, here and there, that aren't driving the plot - they're just nice writing. I had a look through my story plan, plucked out a couple of scenes that are mostly descriptive, and opened some documents in Bear, the rather nifty little writing app I have on my iPhone for stuff like this. Maybe I'll never open those documents again. But hopefully I will as an alternative to, say, mindlessly browsing a Twitter feed if I find myself with ten minutes to wait for a train, or an hour or two on that train.
Example. I have to describe a ring world called Cupertino.
It's a megastructure, a Culture Orbital, as designed by Apple, or what Apple becomes given 700 years. At the moment I have no idea what it's like other than it's very big and very nice. Rather than breaking flow on the action driven plot to spend an hour or so describing this thing, I'm just going to play with the idea like a prose poem over the next three weeks and see what I have at the end of it.
The idea is I can then just cut and paste the words into the manuscript when the time comes.