Posted May 9, 2016
into Books by John Birmingham
One of the things about going back into the Axis of Time series is the frustrating delight of contemplating all the technologies I missed. We didn't get fusion stacks. Instead of Posh we got Siri and Alexa. We did get flexipads, but we got them in the form of mobile phones. Still, I don't see any point in slavishly adhering to the canon. So in Cairo we read a lot of detail about the mil-grade cell phones being used by Harry, Julia and Viv. I'm not sure flexipads are mentioned, and I'm certain that data slates are not. Nobody has complained yet.
So one of the things I'm enjoying as I return to the series is finding stuff that I can sneak in under the retcon radar. This bio-gel refrigerator concept for Electrolux, by Russian designer Yuriy Dmitriev is a great example.
Bio gel technology gets a few mentions throughout the original novels, enough to let me get away with putting something like this in the later books. Of course you can't build something like this with 1950s augmented technology – or at least I don't I think you can – but the nice thing about well-made refrigerators is that they run for years. And this bad boy doesn't even have any moving parts to break down. I can totally see Vice President Kohlhammer having a big green beer fridge just like this in his office. He couldn't keep his Heinekens in there, though. You'd never be able to find them.
19 Responses to ‘Admiral Kohlhammer's beer fridge’
Posted May 5, 2016
into Books by John Birmingham
Cairo went on sale today. Not that I expect to sell many copies initially, having just given away a couple of thousand freebies. But I do have my schemes and plots and cunning plans.
Initially, the book will only be available on Kindle, specifically in the KDP Select program. This means the Beast of Bezos get’s a grant of exclusivity for three months in return for some promotional juice and a better royalty deal. (Although, to be fair, Amazon’s royalty split is much more generous than any trade publisher).
I figure that having given away so many copies I’m better off parking it in Select for a couple of months until Paris comes out. I can then drop the price from $3.99 to either a buck or even to free. Why do this? Because free downloads count towards a books ‘popularity’ which helps with its visibility on various lists and charts. If you climb those charts you can generate enough momentum to sell a bunch of copies on the downside once you put the price back up again.
I could go into eye watering detail, but I won’t.
I sent out an email asking for reviews to the first 300 subscribers on my mailing list, which basically means to the regular readers of this blog . Again, these help with the arcane business of working the book’s mysterious popularity rating (but not it's sales rank. That is determined only by sales). So if you see this before you get the email, or if the email ends up in your spam trap, feel free to do me the courtesy of a decent reach around.
You'll find it here and on the other end of this Amazon link... (Unless, like me, you have an ad blocker installed. I really must get around to white listing my own site one day.)
I didn’t get much writing done today. I spent most of the day either working on this, writing a quick one-off column for The New Daily, and doing an interview for Channel 9 about Australia Post. Hoping to get back to Paris tomorrow.
Posted April 20, 2016
into Books by John Birmingham
One of my favourite scenes in Cairo actually takes place in London, as Harry walks through the city to his meeting at MI6. He’s drinking a cup of coffee, not tea. He passes by and around people lost inside clunky Walkman analogues, and takes note of the early model consumer electronic goods on display outside a couple of shops. He ponders the weather and the cricket and the news of the day, as anyone might, but it was imagining what might happen in consumer technologies that was so enjoyable in that brief section. I had to put away that speculation for the most part when the narrative engine spun up and we moved into the kinetic phase of the story.
One of the things I’m really looking forward to when I return to writing long form novels in this universe is having a chance to slow down and work these things out on the page. Slim Jim Davidson will reappear in the next book and he’s been doing a lot more than building boutique hotels in Cairo. Slim Jim has a street hustler’s eye for the main chance. He grabbed it in Weapons of Choice and never let go. That’s how he comes to feature as a player in Paris. Intrigued by the future career of Elon Musk, he was an early investor in the private space industry. He launches satellites for profit.
He tried to hire Professor Ernst Bremer once, but the German found him an odious character and judged him unlikely to be worthy of trust.
Slim Jim is just one of many in the corporate realm who has profited massively from the Transition. I’m still working out exactly what it is he’s into. It is easy to move Karen Halabi from a job with Hewlett-Packard’s Combat Optics division, into their satellite business. But someone like Slim Jim, he’d be into everything. He couldn’t help himself. This makes him a great character to explore both the technological and social changes wrought by the Transition after the end of hostilities.
I have a few ideas about what sort of investments his hydra headed omniglobal mega corporation might have got itself into. But I am open to suggestions. If he was into TVs, which would be a huge business in the 1950s, what sort of TVs would they be? He might start off with black-and-white, but by 1955 I imagine he’d be well into colour models, and looking to go flatscreen. Perhaps circuitry would not be miniaturised to the point where he could do that yet, but he’d know it was coming and he’d be hiring the best minds he could to make sure he got there first.
So, a Pepsi challenge for both Paris and the longer books which follow.
Posted April 19, 2016
into Books by John Birmingham
Warren Ellis often writes about the weather in his weekly email, Orbital Operations. This week he riffed on a big storm that blew through southern England a few years back and did a lot of damage, segueing from that to a discussion of technology and the future. He was particularly struck by the way the mobile phone caught sci-fi writers by surprise. I won’t ruin the analogy by attempting to paraphrase:
From this perspective, the Great Storm was the mobile phone. It could be seen in the distance, along with a dozen other swirls of stormy weather, but we had no idea it would hit hard enough to change the shape of the world. It hit hard enough to break science fiction, one of our traditional early-warning stations, and it became interpolated into and interrogated by contemporary and popular fiction without science fiction ever getting to lay a finger on it…
The future is a weatherfront, and attempting to predict single lightning strikes is stupid and wasteful. Understand the future as weather, and yourself as standing on the shore looking out to the horizon. Breathe the air and watch the water. There are dozens of different systems acting on the approach of the future. In order to get a handle on what’s coming, you need to be talking to and working with and keeping an eye on many different fields. Not just “technology.” The future is also always social, and economic, and political, and many other things besides, and those things act on the path of the storm. And, if you’re standing on the shore, you know that there are a lot of storms out there, and any one of them could hit like a hurricane.
I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, or even everything I’ve quoted above. But I do like the elegance of the idea. The future as a chaotic weather system. It’s been much on my mind as I immerse myself back into the Axis of Time story world. When I wrote Weapons of Choice I was projecting two decades into the future. Now the opening scenes of the book are just a couple of years away. There are so many things I would change if I could go back and rewrite the series, and I guess there's no reason I can’t do that. Movie franchises get rebooted all the time, and Charlie Stross has already done something right this with his Merchant Princes series, if I recall correctly.
But I won’t do that. I have enough on my hands wrapping up Paris to start a new series I have tentatively called World War 3.1 in my planning documents. And, of course, I’m also returning to the timeframe of the original series to fill in the gaps. What I hope to pull off is the narrative gymnastic trick of writing two books in one series, separated by a decade. We’ll see how that works out.
For now, however, we have Cairo to discuss. The Beta readers are probably more qualified than anybody to dive in at this point, having poured over the manuscript at a molecular level. But I now throw the comment threads open to anybody who wants to join in.
We can make this a general discussion, with spoilers, and open up more specific threads later in the week.
28 Responses to ‘Stalin's Hammer: Cairo. SPOILER THREAD. (General)’
Posted April 14, 2016
into Books by John Birmingham
Dan Lyons used to be the technology editor of Newsweek. And then one Friday morning wasn't. That particular Friday he was at home planning a family vacation to Europe. His wife had just quit work as a teacher. She had been suffering increasingly frequent and crippling migraines. They were readjusting to life on one salary, with young twins, but they had some savings, and Lyons job paid well. If they watched their pennies they could probably afford the trip.
The phone rang. His editor.
He excused himself to take the call upstairs, thinking she had rung to discuss the new technology blog he had proposed. But she hadn't. She had rung to sack him. It was a story familiar to thousands of journalists. Tens of thousands of them these last few years. His work was excellent. He was an asset to the company. But the company needed to cut costs. Lyons was blindsided. The news hit him particularly hard because although he had always been aware he worked in a struggling industry, he had felt himself less threatened by disruption when his editor, a friend of 20 years, had returned to Newsweek a few months earlier. They had been discussing ramping up his work, not cutting it back, and certainly not getting rid of it altogether.
He panicked. As you would. He begged. As you do. None of it made any difference. He was gone. Disrupted. A 50-year-old man kicked out of an 80-year-old company. It seemed impossible. He was the guy who had become a major-minor celebrity for creating the Fake Steve Jobs blog. He got a book deal out of it. A movie deal. He flew around the world and spoke at conferences. His opinion meant something. His name was known.
But none of it made any difference. He had to take a terrible job at a terrible website and started chasing clickbait. He left that job for the promise of bigger bucks and a brighter future at a start-up called Hubspot. It was at this point that things got worse. Much much worse. But only for Dan Lyons, not for us. Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, his memoir of middle-aged irrelevance and corporate savagery, is a brutally funny indictment of the new economy. It's bitter at times, but not written from bitterness. These days Lyons presumably has both money and cred as a writer on HBO's Silicon Valley.
He is a good writer, with a journalist’s knack of cutting in deep to get to the bone. The earlier chapters, where he details his shock, disorientation and fear at having lost his job are scarifying, but when he enters his own personal hell at Hubspot, the tone is less dark than it is darkly amusing. The company, which sells really crappy marketing software, presents as a cult, full of young, bright eyed true believers. It is not a small enterprise. By the time Lyons signs on, Hubspot has raised hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital, and is valued at billions of dollars for a potential IPO. There are thousands of employees, and to Lyons increasing dismay they cannot see just how badly they are being shafted. Indeed, they connive in their own economic destruction.
His retelling of the witless hysteria of Start-up-land is laugh out loud funny for page after page, but as the book progresses and he comes to understand what a gigantic scam he's been caught up in, not just at Hubspot but across the entirety of the new economy, Lyons turns his attention to the sort of hard-nosed analytic journalism he spent 30 years perfecting. The surprise of this book is not that new economy billionaires are ruthlessly exploiting their employees and their customers, or that wealth is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, but that the new emperors have convinced everybody that what's good for them is good for the world. Disrupted would make a great companion volume to Thomas Pickety’s Capital in the 21st Century. It is a highly personalised, very funny and deeply disturbing account of one man's experience of being crushed between the giant millstones of economic change. Millstones which are grinding all of us into a salty, pink paste which the super rich will eat as happily as pate de foie gras on a crispy little cracker.
17 Responses to ‘Disrupted, by Dan Lyons. And the rich will eat us all like pate de foie gras on a crispy little cracker’
Posted April 7, 2016
into Books by John Birmingham
Having decided to reboot* the Axis of Time series, I'm now wondering about the best way to do it. Not about what books to write – I've already decided that. The first book in the new series will pick up at the end of Designated Targets. In other words, I will be writing the invasion of Hawaii and the death of Dan Black. The second book will pick up from Stalin's Hammer: Paris, i.e. it will be set over a decade later. If the idea works I can then advance the two timelines.
Narrative arcs are not what's bugging me at the moment. Its production schedules and budgets and all of the manifold pains in the anus that would normally be dealt with by my publisher. But in this case, I am the publisher. So it falls to me to bend over and pucker.
I laid out my writing and publishing schedule a couple of weeks ago. Once I get Paris drafted in a fortnight or so I'll be done with juggling novella length e-books for a couple of months. It will be on to Stronghold to catch up with The Dave, and into The Cruel Stars for my major trade published commitment. I'm committed to offering Stronghold in paperback. I won't be doing a print run, of course. The Dave's next full-length adventure will be available print-on-demand for those who need to kill a tree. I spent most of this morning investigating the costs and scheduling demands of that decision. It's not cheap, but it would be foolish to attempt layout and typesetting on my own. That's a service you have to buy in, just like cover art and final editing.
Doing my research on getting Stronghold ready for print has given me reason for concern over the costs of any new Axis of Time book. It will be another four or five months before I see any return on all the investment I've made on these independently published titles and there will come a point at which I simply can't keep throwing money into the hole. I'm pretty confident these books will all pay off but if I'm not careful I will run out of money to pay for them before I get there.
For that reason I'm thinking about doing a Kickstarter for The Invasion of Hawaii. I've always been wary of crowdfunding. The whole thing reminds me of Deyan Sudjic's description of property development: an edgy, maverick industry defined by “the naked realities of guile, bravado, aggression and ego”.
On the other hand, a buck's a buck.
If I went down this path, I'd probably keep everything pretty modest. There is no point offering the usual gimcrackery; T-shirts, baseball caps, stickers and shit. Every time I have to go to the post office to mail something out into the world of real things it costs time and money. If I had to send anything to the US, I'd lose money.
So, I dunno. What do you guys reckon? Production costs would probably run somewhere between about five- and ten thousand dollars for a professionally produced novel, offered in both the book and paperback format.
Is this something I should look at kickstarting, or should I just suck up the pain myself?
* I say 'reboot' but it's really just a restart. There is one major plot twist which sort of reboots a storyline, and that will be revealed at the end of Paris. But I'm not reinventing the wormhole.
66 Responses to ‘Should I kickstart the Axis of Time reboot?’