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"In the last episode of the apocalypse..."

Posted December 19 by John Birmingham

One of the knotty little challenges in writing any series of books is the reader who arrives halfway through. It happens. All the time.

Some of them don't even realise they've stepped into a story that's already rolling. They just feel a bit confused and frustrated and don't know why.

All writers have ways of dealing with this. In Harry Turtledove's World War series, the leader of invading space lizards had a debriefing at the start of each book, bascially recapping the story. In After America I used the ceremony to appoint the next US Poet Laureate to go back over the events of Without Warning. (Even paid an actual poet to write me a poem).

In FAIL STATE, the sequel to ZERO DAY CODE, I was lucky in having one trick I could turn to two purposes. The little vignettes scattered throughout the manuscript to give the reader/listener a broader overview of the cyberwar and civilisation collapse also proved super useful for recapping. One of my faves is below, a cut away in the second chapter to the International Space Station, a location we never visit again, for reasons that quickly become obvious.

The end of the world had arrived. It just wasn’t evenly distributed. Darkness fell hardest where the light of civilisation had burned with the brightest splendour. The crew of the International Space Station were ideally placed to observe the dying cities of the North American continent, but immediately after the Chinese cyber attack on the US, there was surprisingly little to note. Unlike the morning of the 9/11 atrocities, no vast grey plumes soared into the atmosphere like dark volcanic ejecta.
Indeed, as the edge of darkness crept across the continent at the end of that first day, the Canadian crew member, Dan Frith, noted that the dense filigree of electric brilliance that traced the veins and arteries of urban life far below, seemed noticeably brighter – a consequence of tens of millions of automobiles trapped in gargantuan traffic jams. Second order effects of the cyber strike, such as panic buying, creeping hunger, and eventual mass starvation were not readily obvious from four hundred kilometres above the Earth’s surface, unlike the accelerating collapse of the power grid over the following week and a half.
It would be six months before the continental United States was completely dark, save for a few hundred pin points of light scattered far from the ruins of the great cities. But by then the four men and two women who had observed the trifling struggles of mankind as the Gods once had looked down from Olympus, had themselves perished. No NASA missions came to their rescue. The European Space Agency, like Europe itself, was taken into the maw a new Dark Age. Roscosmos, ESA’s Russian equivalent was quickly militarised with the outbreak of hostilities on the Eurasian landmass, and just as quickly destroyed in the short, brutal war that followed.
Roscosmos was always an unlikely hope for salvation, Frith noted in one of the last mission logs. A quirk of the crew rotation schedule meant that he had replaced the previous Russian crewmember, Cosmonaut Colonel Danya Spasojevic, when the final Soyuz docked with the space station, two weeks before the catastrophe that came to be known, however briefly, as Zero Day.
Nobody read Frith’s mission log.
The ISS burned up on re-entry fifteen months and two days after General Chu Jianguo of the 2nd Bureau, Third Department of the People's Liberation Army General Staff pressed a single bright red key, labeled ENTER, to launch Operation Golden Path.

You can grab the books here, if you have a credit going spare at Audible.

5 Responses to ‘"In the last episode of the apocalypse..."’

she_jedi would have you know...

Posted December 19
Just got your email pimping out Fail State, even though your pimping is too late because I pre-ordered it, so there. But this line "...all your favourite characters are back, unless I killed them. Sorry." made me laugh very loudly in a quiet office and everyone looked at me strangely. I regret nothing #WorthIt

Ceramic mutters...

Posted December 22
Yeah, I chuckled at that line too. Now that I know it's a writer's thing. Helped by writer's discussions after George RR Martin's line about killing off a character whenever someone asked about them.

Like the idea of the space station's crew setting the scene.

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jl reckons...

Posted December 20
FAIL STATE was excellent; I burned through it in a few days of chores and car rides. Frightening book, really. Of course I left a review on the Beast.

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted December 20
I’ve been really surprised at how well it came together. It was Hell to write.

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pitpat ducks in to say...

Posted December 20
Thanks John,
I have it loaded up and am waiting until the Christmas drive fest between the Smoky Coast and the still bright lights of Brisbane. Can't wait and might just crack the first bit of Christmas cheer early. I am treating it as my little present to myself as no one else in my tribe appreciates the whole dystopian future thing. Yep, I am surrounded by barbarians more interested in Agatha Christie and Anime than modern literature that explodes in your ears.
Have a great break and thanks for all the words this year, hope they paid off handsomely.

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Missed it by this much

Posted December 18 into Books by John Birmingham

Had a moment of high excitement today when James McPherson on Twitter reminded me that Felafel was a book I wrote.

He was excited that he'd been able to find a couple of second-hand paperback copies, but his tweet reminded me that the contract I signed with Pan Mac handing over the rights to Felafel and Babes (just before everything went pear-shaped with them) was coming up on the end of its term.

Perhaps it might even be over by now! I dug up the papers, amazed I could find them to be honest, and rifled through looking for that all important end date. Gah!

It's November 15 next year.

Sad trombone.

Still, that's something to look forward to. I don't know what I'm going to do with those books when I get them back, but I will definitely do something.

8 Responses to ‘Missed it by this much’

she_jedi puts forth...

Posted December 18
At least you know, and can plan now. How peeved would you have been to discover that it was Nov 15 last year, and you'd wasted all this time? :)

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted December 18
You are very wise.

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Leftarc mumbles...

Posted December 19
Maybe an update for today's kiddies stepping out into the brave new world. Instead of druggies stealing spoons, and how to get free food, it's sharing Netflix passwords and slurping of the neighbors unsecured wifi hotspot.

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jason puts forth...

Posted December 19
I reckon this lends itself to a "Demons of Butte Crack County" type arrangement where people can contribute true share house stories to a compilation as part of a relaunch.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon is gonna tell you...

Posted December 20
That would end up being a never ending stream of quality content. As soon as the kids are finished with school i'm booting them out to go experience share house living. Grows hair on yer chest it does.

Ceramic mutters...

Posted December 22
Yeah man, I'd totally be up for that. Was telling someone a bunch of first rental and sharehouse stories stories on Thursday.
We were out at Wynum eating fish and chips. She asked if I'd find it easy to write at the beach. I was like "My Wynnum stories, yeah. I reckon I could do that with the suburbs I'd lived in". Like a writing road tour.
Will have to admit to some crappy and irresponsible stuff. I'm one of those peeps who kept being kicked out or just slipped away in the night. Couldn't handle confrontations.

Made my oldest friends in a sharehouse. They had a party one night where I, dressed elegantly as always sang Hallelujah then rocked Bloodhound Gang's Fire water Burn. The shocked faces looking up at me was gold. Was it inappropriate or was I subverting their expectations? Either way, they knew I was more than an apparently shy pencil skirt, hehe.

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Therbs puts forth...

Posted December 20
Rewrite it in the Dave universe and have monsters eating housemates and then becoming housemates. Sometimes who'd know the fricken difference?

she_jedi has opinions thus...

Posted December 20
THIS!! I'm sure we can all contribute stories

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Rusty

Posted December 18 by John Birmingham

Finally returned to the mat last night. The first time I’d trained at the dojo, in about five or six weeks. I was away of course, and when I came back I promptly caught a tummy bug. Missed a week or so before travelling too, with all of Thomas’s graduation stuff.

Long story short, I was rusty.

So of course we did knife work, all night.

It was interesting to be reminded just how quickly your skills degrade when you’re not working on them all the time. Even a dull bladed training knife will do that. I kept my fitness up while we travelled. The hotel gym was pretty swish and I was walking about 20km a day, most days. Even with all the beer and chicken I kept the weight off.

And last night, my base level of fitness was still there. One of the ways I turn up the calorie burn at jujitsu—which isn’t always cardio intensive—is to do a burpee up off the mat whenever I get put down. That can mean doing twenty or thirty of those bad boys every session.

No problem with that last night.

But the jujitsu itself?

Rusty.

And not just in body, but also in mind and spirit.

I looked across the dojo at one point, watching about a dozen pairs of uke and tori doing various knife defences, many of them involving the breaking of limbs and the gouging of eyes, and I recall thinking very clearly, almost in surprise, “Holy shit! This is really dangerous. A bloke could get hurt doing this stuff!”

Just for a moment last night I felt myself a newbie again, and newly exposed to harm.

Of course, part of the art lies in training to do harm without coming to harm, and I’ve been doing it long enough now that even after five or six weeks away, I have enough muscle memory and neural imprinting to move along pathways laid down over the years. I also know from previous breaks that it wont take long to get back up to speed. About three sessions.

But man, the skills do decay when you don’t tend to them.

4 Responses to ‘Rusty’

jl mutters...

Posted December 18
"The skills do decay..." Yeah. Very, very true. And not just the skills, the body too.

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she_jedi reckons...

Posted December 18
I really felt this. I took up Pilates at the beginning of the year, which is a particular form of torture, and then I got a cold that knocked me on my butt for a week, and then lingered for another 3 weeks. And then I got diagnosed with low iron and low vitamin D, both of which contribute to feeling fatigued, and I missed about six weeks of Pilates between the cold and the diagnosis (I came second in my doctor's annual 'which of my patients is a vampire?' competition. A healthy level of Vitamin D should have a recording in the 70s. Mine was 16. The winner of the competition's reading was 6. It was not a shock that both of us work in IT).

Now that I'm on supplements for the iron and D deficiencies I'm feeling better and went back to Pilates and oh boy were my glutes and abs PEEVED at me. For weeks. In fact they still are. I had Pilates this morning and I know I'm going to wake up tomorrow and everything will hurt and I will feel like I'm dying, and then I'll go back on Friday and do it again. Then I'm out of the country for a couple of weeks and will miss it again so the small progress I've made will be lost again. Sigh.

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted December 18
Yup. We break for Christmas at the dojo this Thursday. Don't resume until mid January. And then I'm off overseas again in Feb.

she_jedi puts forth...

Posted December 18
Ouch. You're going to be hurting in March!

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The Sturm's next move

Posted December 17 by John Birmingham

I had a chat with Jason yesterday about the outline for the next book in the The Cruel Stars series, a draft of which is due with the publishers at the end of January.
I already knew in broad terms where I wanted to go. One thing holding me back, however, was wondering where the Sturm might go.
Those who read TCS will recall they got a ferocious arse kicking from Hardy & McLennan and Co at the end of the first book. But the Sturm, I can assure you, have more than enough arse to absorb the kicking.
There’s no question about what our heroes have to do next. Get the fuck out of dodge and re-arm, before ginning up a resistance movement.
But what do the bad guys do?
At this stage, they’ll keep driving for Earth. Because that’s the mission and the loss of a mere fleet shouldn’t interfere with that.
It will take nearly two years to get from the edge of the Greater Volume into the Sol system, where the Sturm’s decapitation strike has wreaked utter havoc. But that’s two years for our guys to get their shit together.
McLennan in particular will want to delay the enemy’s advance as long as possible.
How he does that is massive spoiler so I won’t go into it here.
But in the first instance I am interested to hear from any readers about what they imagine the Sturm might do in response to the loss of Admiral Strom’s 101st Attack Fleet.

9 Responses to ‘The Sturm's next move’

Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted December 17
Go into the hall of mirrors take a good hard look at themselves Re-evaluate their fundamental beliefs, remember its a game with two halves and go out there and win one for the gipper?

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Dirk reckons...

Posted December 17
Being the Sturm and having a crooked logic, but a logic anyway, I would see them making up a tally. You don't attack unless you have a 3:1 advantage, and your opponent is severly weekend. True you lost a battlefleet, so you moarn and glorify the dead. But you push on: your strength/advantage vis a vis your enemy hasn't changed. Ok, they have superior tech, but you can overcome that with a combination of tech and tactics of your own, the willingness to take huge sacrifices in men and material and pure grit and determination. And keeping your populus in line with harsh terror and propaganda always helps. So the Sturm will rage, probably even harsher then before. "Prisoners? We don't take prisoners! Remember glorious heroes of the 101st!"

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Rob mumbles...

Posted December 17
the sturm had a lot of time for planning and war gaming and may have created backup plans, worst case scenario outcomes . eg what if we lose the first fleet to an obnoxious immortal Scotsman ? do we have back up? or a 1000 cuts have been made to a home world now run by digital zombie class ridden filth so we can bide our time to move on to the earth while personally taking out said Scotsman, before he does something super clever (and obnoxious) again.

or

2nd fleet better than the first .

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jason mumbles...

Posted December 17
After getting an arse kicking it is important for morale to deliver an even greater arse kicking , possibly to an opponent who looks stronger but is essentially a punching bag. This should improve morale and establish that the first loss was a fluke.

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insomniac is gonna tell you...

Posted December 17
If I know the Sturm, and apparently I do, I'd have sent two fleets concurrently, where the second went on a longer Earthbound arc in some sort of flanking strategy.

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Leftarc would have you know...

Posted December 17
Sturm seem abit like the Soviets of WW2.
Quantity has a quality all of its own.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon puts forth...

Posted December 17
Do they happen to have a couple of elite fighting units specialising in cruel and unusual punishment (allowing a tight focus on narrative as they harass our heroes) while the main fleet continues with their mission in the background? (just putting on a thinking cap - the good guys defeat the big bad in bk1 but not decisively, second book is getting their arses handed to them by the gods of retribution . . . . which i hate to say it means sacrifices of most likely my favourites . . . and then the third book gives a satisfying arse kicking by the underdogs to the big bad previously defeated in book 1) . . . . . . with lots of explosions.

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she_jedi mumbles...

Posted December 17
Would the Sturm lower themselves to sending assassins after that annoying immortal Scotsman, while their Fleet 2.0 with a commander less prone to hubris chugs away to Earth? Could be a fun B plot; while Our Heroes are trying to work out WTF the second fleet are up to, they're distracted and distressed by some Sturm space ninjas messing with them?

Matthew F. is gonna tell you...

Posted December 20
I like this idea.

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FAIL STATE chapter one

Posted December 16 into Books by John Birmingham

The full audiobook hasn't dropped yet, but for anyone who'd like a sneak preview, the first chapter is on SoundCloud.

You can listen here.

4 Responses to ‘FAIL STATE chapter one’

she_jedi puts forth...

Posted December 16
Squeeeeeeee!!! This dropping a week before Christmas is everything :)

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Barnesm asserts...

Posted December 17
The whole thing has dropped to the race is on to listen and provide the first 5 star review on Amazon.

jl is gonna tell you...

Posted December 17
On. It.

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Dirk has opinions thus...

Posted December 17
Huzzah! Tenfold Huzzah!

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Hey man, it’s my bag

Posted December 16 by John Birmingham

I’ve been using the same beaten up shoulder bag for just under twenty years. I picked it up for a trip to the US back 2001, and it’s served me well ever since. Indeed it it gave yeoman’s service just recently in Korea and Hong Kong.

I fear those days are coming to an end though. A couple of small holes have opened up in the corners and I can easily imagine my very expensive Apple Pencil slipping right through one of them.

I’m having a surprisingly difficult time replacing it.

There’s a few things that come come together to make a Goldilocks bag; as in - just right.

It’s not too big, or heavy, and yet in a weird Tardis-like fashion you can fit a lot of stuff into it. My big arse iPad Pro, for instance - with the Smart Cover and bunch of other things. Notebooks. Phone. Wallet. Headphones.

For a wonder there’s also, for such a small, simply designed bag, a surprising number of little pockets and hidden slots for documents, keys, coins, AirPods, Kindles and suchlike.

Stitched together from soft but durable canvas and cut just so, it’s very light and when empty moulds to my side so that I forget I’m carrying it. The strap is wide and fixed directly to the main body of the bag. (Buckles are an abomination, and thin straps the tool of assassins). The main flap seals with Velcro, making it difficult for pickpockets and direct marketers to gain access to the inner volume without my knowing.

I’ve got a new Crumpler coming for Christmas, but I doubt it will replace my much loved and far travelled old companion.

15 Responses to ‘Hey man, it’s my bag’

jl puts forth...

Posted December 16
Do they still make this bag? Then it's no problem- order the exact same bag. I did this recently with the wallet that lasted through three tours and retirement- a SpecOps T.H.E. wallet. The best, toughest ever with a lifetime guarantee that actually means something. So I get it about being attached to a good piece of gear. Nothing beats the best.

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andrew mumbles...

Posted December 16
That's a nice looking satchel! If you're fishing for alternative suggestions, I offer my well-worn Peak Design messenger bag. Not twenty years old yet, but hanging in there admirably. Has one feature that I particularly like: it fits exactly under the airline seat in front when standing up, even when full of camera gear and tablet and what-not. That means that you still have room for your feet. No velcro, except to hold the internal partitions in place. Lots of interior pockets and places. Canvas. Wide strap.

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John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted December 16
I will check out both of these fine product recommendations.

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insomniac asserts...

Posted December 16
Have you thought about getting it repaired, or at least get an Apple Pencil pocket installed.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted December 16
Oh I would be totally up for repairing it with gaffer tape and using it another twenty years. But unfortunately the flaw has been noted by Jane. And she is made of sterner stuff. The bag must die.

Bondiboy66 reckons...

Posted December 16
Surely a good tailor, bootmaker, backpack fabricator or some such could effect a decent repair. Perhaps enquire through a better camping shop for referral to a pack and tent repairer? Clearly this bag is worth keeping and repairing!

she_jedi mumbles...

Posted December 16
Yeah maybe they can reinforce the corners with leather corner wrap thingys? Like on a book bag? It seems a tragedy to summarily execute such a faithful workhorse...

FormerlyKnownAsSimon mutters...

Posted December 16
i also suggest asking at a shoe repairer. Leather and canvas being their . . . . bag

jl mumbles...

Posted December 16
It is exceedingly difficult to find a real, honest to God repairer. My wallet, for example. I learned when I purchased a new one that SpecOps had a lifetime guarantee. So I sent the old one back, wanting a repair. Me and that wallet had a history, you see. Did they fix it? No. They pitched it and sent me a brand new one. Can't complain, brand new wallet. But the old one could have been saved. No one repairs anymore. A real shame.

spankee ducks in to say...

Posted December 19
JB there is a luggage repairer on Vulture St, West End. We've had great success with cricket bags and the Boy's school bags. Could be an option while you wait for your Crumpler to wear in. Just past Kim Thahn bakery, where they do those meatloaf sized sausage rolls.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted December 19
Noted. Thx mate.

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Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted December 16
Good luck on your hunt. I would like to think that in 20 years bag technology would have improved better materials, better designs and of course cheaper- however, that has not been my experience. After using the same bag I picked up on an overseas trip well over a decade ago I have gone through three bags in the same period of time.

Currently trying to find an old grizzled merchant in a cursed store to purchase a replacement.

Bondiboy66 has opinions thus...

Posted December 18
'the Froghurt is also cursed'

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Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted December 17
Personally I am a bit of a traditionalist and believe in waiting to make one with leather made from the leather of the first climate denier I kill and skin in the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

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Leftarc puts forth...

Posted December 17
Crumpler are worth a look. I have a Crumpler messenger bag that is 18 years old and been to Norway and back. Black and responsible on the outside, orange and loud on the inside. It is starting to fray on the top of the inside pocket where my laptop goes, but I think that is from putting too much in that slot.
Good luck with your search.

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