Cheeseburger Gothic

Stalin's Hammer: Cairo. SPOILER THREAD. (General)

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)’

Dirk mumbles...

Posted April 18, 2016
Let me be then the first to provide you a blurb:
"A welcome visit of an old friend; or one from another future".

Pass the word, all good people, on the facebook!
And for your shelf you could add items listed on (for dutch viewers)
or for german viewers:;jsessionid=E0845ADE94F85A86080E58DC66CD1DDF.www03?searchString=john+birmingham&facetNodeId=-1&mainsearchSubmit=Suche

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Blarkon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 18, 2016
I'm probably wrong, but I get the sense that we haven't seen our last temporal wormhole in this series.

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WarDog mutters...

Posted April 18, 2016
You bastard, I wasn't expecting that deep a cliff hanger. Paris had better only be weeks away.

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sibeen would have you know...

Posted April 18, 2016
Bugger me, Viv StClair is not a fucking Sergeant or even an ex-Sergeant. He gets referred to as such at least once in this tome.
He was the fucking Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of the SAS Regt, which makes him a Warrant Officer Class One. You fucked this up in the books a few times as well, and it drove me nuts.
If you're going to kill the poor bastard off at least you could get his former rank correct.


John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted April 19, 2016
Hahahaha. We actually discussed and fixed this up in Beta. And then thought, I'd really like to see Sibeen's head explode. So I changed it back.

Murphy_of_Missouri reckons...

Posted April 19, 2016
What the fuck is it with the Brits and their mixing Sergeants Majors up with Warrants? That is not how we Yanks do shit. ;)

Troppo is gonna tell you...

Posted January 25, 2017

It grated with me as well.

Harry should have referred to him as "SarMajor".

Calling him a Sgt is a grievous insult.

insomniac reckons...

Posted January 25, 2017
Yeah but once you've been forcibly removed from the royal line of succession you probably don't really give a shit.

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Don Bagert is gonna tell you...

Posted April 18, 2016
Thanks for getting the spoiler thread up so quickly!
First of all, I'm glad that you have addressed the fact that the WW2.x trliogy was published in 2004-2007 about a future world of 2021 colliding with a past world of 1942, and now it is 2016 and many of those things didn't happen. (The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that not only did Hilary Clinton not become president in 2009, but she is now much farther to the left politically.) There were also some great predictions such as the drones and the flexipads (iPads). Some day, I'll try to write an essay devoted to it.
Meanwhile, the fact 2021 in our world is quickly approaching means that AoT books for here on will be different in tone. Eric Flint made a great comment about Weapons of Choice being both future history and alternate history. However, January 15, 2021 is less than five years away and the future history time is running out. Still, there was a comment or two in Cairo about soon-to-occur events (as someone who grew up in New Orleans, I found the "second hurricane" remark distressing...)
So I see that Harry Windsor has become Harry Wales. I assume you saw that when the real-world Harry got promoted to Captain a few years ago, it was noted in the media that he uses the last name of Wales in the military, and so future AoT novels should reflect that.
So Kolhammer is only Vice-President? I had wondered if the "Truman and Kolhammer" remark by Stalin in SH: Rome meant that the Admiral was in the Truman third-term administration, or if Kolhammer had succeeded Truman as President. So was Kolhammer made VP as a way of neutralizing him (a la Teddy Roosevelt in 1900) and/or of getting votes (LBJ in 1960 comes to mind)? If Kolhammer has an office in the White House (as Stalin implied) he then became the first to do so (it was Walter Mondale in our timeline).
Okay, I have to go to work. More later :)

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Marccarno mutters...

Posted April 19, 2016
I'm still unable to comment due to my grieving over the loss of Viv...its vicious I say, absolutely vicious! Not so much a cliffhanger as a CIA bag job and right now I'm hanging by my ankles over a cliff........
Once I've got over the shock I'll try to give some constructive feedback!

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Therbs ducks in to say...

Posted April 19, 2016
I was expecting one of the bigger characters to get iced in this and I thought Harry would be perfect for that kind of "shock the reader by offing a star".

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Don Bagert mumbles...

Posted April 19, 2016
Okay, work is over - back to my feedback!

Prologue: When I was re-reading Final Impact recently, I was wondering about Otto Skorenzy. He had been Berlin in charge of the disposition of Hitler's body on June 9, 1945 - plenty of time to leave on an assignment before the atom bombs struck on June 15. And that appears to be precisely what happened :) I wonder why we didn't see Harry having any problems during "SH: Rome" with his injuries from the fight with Skorenzy like he is in "Cairo" LOL

Chapters 1-2: 1% unemployment in the UK?!? I can't wait to see what it is like in the U.S.! Loved the inclusion of "C" and the discussion of Ian Fleming and the "00 section" (compared with the sanctions of the uptime multinational force). So Churchill is still PM - I wonder if he's served in that capacity continuous in 1945, or if they dumped him for Attlee as soon as war ended.

Chapters 3-4: I'm probably over-sensitive to this because a family member is having memory problems, but I notice that Julia twice mentioned problems with her memory related to her life uptime (once related to David Simon's other shows besides "The Wire" and the other regarding details about Cairo circa 2018-19). Anything there, JB? :)

Chapter 6: The "odious sobriety of campus Christians". Well, as a former campus minister, all I can tell you is that quite a few of them drink.

Chapter 14: Assuming that "UN" is United Nations, I'm surprised that it exists in this timeline. Can you tell us how it is different from our timeline's UN?

Finally: "Prince Harry will return..." No mention of Ms. Duffy? She won't like that LOL

Thanks for listening!

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Don Bagert ducks in to say...

Posted April 19, 2016
My apologies for thinking that Stalin had mentioned Truman in "Rome". Perhaps I was remembering a remark from this thread about you writing "Cairo" back in January 2013(!) and you trying to decide whether Israel would exist in the 1950's Post-Transition World. Certainly a good thread to review, considering the role of the Israelis in Cairo!

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Brad ducks in to say...

Posted April 19, 2016
If the story of Otto Skorzeny and Yitzchak Shamir teaming up to do wetwork for the Mossad in the 60s had come out before the AoT books were written, how much would be different?

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted April 19, 2016

sibeen swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 19, 2016
Brad, thanks for the heads up on that. Found a decent article on what little Otto appears to have been up to for those sneaky Israelis. Quite surreal.

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DarrenBloomfield is gonna tell you...

Posted April 19, 2016
I wondered about the Mossad thing too.
And in terms of the weather you didn't see coming, I think you once mentioned this here months ago - but 3 D printing. Makes the mobile phone look like a puddle, not a storm.
But fuck it - its fiction, not fricken Gospel.
And finally as the one (or at least one of) that raised the RSM/WO thing in beta can I say, I'm so pleased I'm not the only pedant here!

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Therbs swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 19, 2016
al Nouri reminds a bit of The Engineer in Miss Saigon.

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Sparty swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 19, 2016
Nice story - very Fleming like (original books) but with more humor. But Damn you Birmingham - Viv and Dan will be waiting for you one day and there will be a reckoning!
and the chase along the Nile read well (know the area pretty well or at least our timeline version))- particularly given I'm assuming it was mainly done through Google maps?
oh and for your information when writing the next chapter, - even "fictionally" describing the death of real royalty would probably be treason within the commonwealth....just sayin.......

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Marccarno asserts...

Posted April 20, 2016
I'm still unable to comment due to my grieving over the loss of Viv...its vicious I say, absolutely vicious! Not so much a cliffhanger as a CIA bag job and right now I'm hanging by my ankles over a cliff........

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Bondiboy66 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted April 20, 2016
I'm hoping its a Jon Snow type of moment....

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Turlogh Dubh O'Brien mutters...

Posted April 21, 2016
Loved the book. In my opinion even better than Rome.

The Good:
-love the little tidbits about the rest of the world, like the Principalities of the Indian Subcontinent, we learn about Israel, Soviet Greece etc.
-ending is visceral but fits so well.

The Bad:
- not much really, maybe a little more gems about how the rest of the world went, esp the Soviet-ruled parts.

The Ugly:
-i wasn't clear on the Serbs in that hit squad. Are they downtimers? Are they from the Soviet-run secret service? Wouldn't it be Yugoslavia? A lot of anti-communist Serbs, especially army and air force officers ended up in Cairo during our WW II and others and their king went to London. There was some friction between the London and Cairo faction. And there was a pretty thriving anti-communist Serb colony in Cairo until Nasser came around and flirted with Tito and the Sovs.

Otherwise I cannot wait until Paris and moreso the novels. Thanks for a high octane thrill ride JB!

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Gavin Syme mumbles...

Posted April 21, 2016
Thanks for the book.
Bloody hell, you utter bastard. To honest, I though al Nouri was going to be a turncoat.

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted April 21, 2016
No, big Al was an honest man.

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Guy ducks in to say...

Posted April 23, 2016
I'd love to be able to download SH: Cairo - please can someone tell me how? I'm afraid I'm something of a technophobe...

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JG has opinions thus...

Posted April 24, 2016
I thoroughly enjoyed Cairo, JB. Love the ego-driven character of Mister <font color="#333333">al Nouri, along with Prince Harry and Julia. Your degree in international relations and your background working for Department of Defence's Office of Special Clearances is evident. You certainly know the works, Bond. Wonderful detail.</font><font color="#333333">
</font><font color="#333333">I look forward to reading Paris. By the way, in the latest post 'Paris teaser and cover art', you have 'g orwn' [space added due to auto correct] typo, which you'd no doubt have picked up later. Love the cover art for Paris. </font><font color="#333333">
</font><font color="#333333">Nowhere to post a review for Cairo on Amazon as yet, I see. At the end of Cairo, I pressed 'finished' but when it came to share (5 stars), a message came up with communication error. Anyway, Cairo was a great read, and I'm glad it was the first ebook I've read on my Kindle.</font><font color="#333333">
</font><font color="#333333">Joanna</font>

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she_jedi mutters...

Posted April 25, 2016
I just finished Cairo, and my reaction when I got to the final page was "Wait, what? JOHN!!" Which I'm hoping was the reaction you were pitching for :)
I loved Mr al Nouri, his reassurance to Harry that, having cleared the club lounge of all the other guests for Julia's comfort, that indeed had Julia wanted to clear the lounge herself she could have done so with extreme violence,was simply wonderful. What a great yet tragically short lived character.

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Tim Jones mutters...

Posted June 7, 2016
Great read! Though at 4 in the morning, the cliffhanger ending is not conducive to good sleep :p.

I'm not too worried about the approaching collision with the novel future timeline - I just look at it as that would have been our world had Hillary become pres instead of Obama ;).

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