Cover reveal! The Nightmare Stacks

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<p class="ljsyndicationlink"><a href=""></a></p><p><a href="""=";"><img src="" height="300" border="0" align="left" style="PADDING-LEFT: 15px; PADDING-RIGHT: 15px;"></a><a href="""=";"><img src="" height="300" border="0" align="right" style="PADDING-LEFT: 15px; PADDING-RIGHT: 15px;"></a></p> <p>I get new book covers! On the left is Orbit's design for the UK edition of "The Nightmare Stacks", the forthcoming seventh Laundry Files novel. To the right is Ace's cover for the US edition! (You're getting different covers on each side of the Atlantic because I have different publishers in different territories.)</p> <p>The book is available for pre-order: <a href="">In the USA, Amazon has it here</a>, and in <a href=""> the UK you can find it here</a>. They ship on June 28th and June 23rd respectively. (I'll be adding links, including to other bookstores, to the "Buy my books" section of the sidebar in due course.)</p> <p>My publishers gave <a href="">IO9 an exclusive</a> on the cover reveal yesterday, but I thought I'd announce it here as well now the cats are out of the bag. They also ran a short interview, which you can find below the fold.</p> <p><b>A Q&amp;A about The Nightmare Stacks</b></p> <p><b>Q:</b> How has the Laundry Files series changed and evolved in the dozen years or so that you've been writing it? Are there elements that you're still surprised became so prominent?</p> <p><b>A:</b> I've been writing the Laundry Files series for 16 years at this point. When I began, I intended the short novel "The Atrocity Archive" (published with "The Concrete Jungle" in the book "The Atrocity Archives"&mdash;note the plural!) as a one-shot. It was only a few years later, when people began asking for more, that I had any idea of writing a sequel, and only with the third book, 8 years in, that I realized I needed a Plan. And because the book's narrator, Bob, had been aging in line with the real world as I wrote the first three books, the most obvious plan was: track Bob's career as he grows older, more senior, and more cynical. </p> <p>This turned out to be a really fortuitous choice. It allowed me to fix some minor inconsistencies in the earlier books; because they're Bob's workplace memoir, he often gets the wrong end of the stick at first then learns better about some aspect of the job over time. It also allowed me to deepen him as a character, adding complexity to the narrative as he ages and possibly becomes more self-aware (although he doesn't really have to grow up until books 8 or 9).</p> <p>What I really wasn't expecting was that Bob's life would take over&mdash;and that the most important events in it would end up taking place off-screen, so far off-screen that I needed to pick new narrative voices! His wife Mo, for example, exhibits a very unvarnished perspective on Bob's seemingly bottomless reserves of self-delusion in "The Annihilation Score", and demonstrates that the series is very much about the Laundry as an organization, rather than just being Tales of Bob. And in "The Nightmare Stacks" I had to leave Bob behind entirely in order to give a worm's eye view of the start of events that will give rise (eventually) to the climax of the series.</p> <p><b>Q:</b> This book features a new character, Alex, instead of Bob. What's the reason for switching focus? </p> <p><b>A:</b> In "The Atrocity Archives" Bob starts out as a twenty-something tech support guy who has blundered into a Len Deighton spy thriller (with added tentacles). By the start of "The Rhesus Chart", Bob has leveled up so far that he can wade into a nest of vampires -- admittedly rather inexperienced vampires&mdash;and escape with mildly damaged dignity and a stack of paperwork. Power-ups are a constant problem for any multi-book series that riffs off the Hero's Journey: how do you engage with the underdog when your protagonist has risen from Midshipman to Admiral of the Fleet? </p> <p>Alex is in some ways not dissimilar to Bob in his early incarnation. There are drastic differences: Alex has powers of his own&mdash;although they come at a drastic price. But Alex takes us back to the guy who gets sent to fix the cabling rather than spending all his time in policy meetings. And he's got a young guy's problems and social anxieties, unlike Bob (who by this point is in his early forties).</p> <p><b>Q:</b> Also is a vampire protagonist harder to write in some ways? And what sort of vampire lore did you decide to stick with?</p> <p>The Laundry has been a fun sandpit for playing with occult parasites ever since the second book ("The Jennifer Morgue"&mdash;if you look at it through the right lens, the cat is a parasite), and I developed this through side-stories like "Down on the Farm" and "Equoid". In "Down on the Farm" I examined the micro-scale parasites that chow down on the brains of ritual magicians (as opposed to the body-stealing mega-parasites they're usually attempting to summon); and then in "The Rhesus Chart" I took a look at how brain-chewing microparasites might form a continuum with symbiotes at the other end. The Laundry Files vampires are of this kind: they're parasites, but rather than killing their host, they use their host as a vehicle to bring them into contact with their food. I wanted to take a pick-axe to the more overt religious associations of the various trad vampire mythologies, so I basically rolled my own variety. And of course, having invented a fascinating but really ugly commensal organism that gives its host certain abilities in exchange for food, I figured I had to explore the psychological effects on the carriers. </p> <p>Which are, of course, drastic: the cost of PHANG syndrome is high enough that most sane people who realize what they've become take a walk in the daylight immediately. The only reason Alex is able to exist is because a certain organization has a use for him and takes highly dubious steps to keep him alive.</p> <p><b>Q:</b> You've hinted on your blog that this book features a "worst case scenario" for a Code Nightmare Red, or alien invasion, involving elves. And that the events of this book cannot be covered up or dismissed as a mass hallucination. Is this book a turning point for the series? Is it all going public after this?</p> <p><b>A:</b> Yup, it's a turning point! It's also set explicitly in March/April of 2014. Up to this point, the Laundry Files have unfolded in step with the calendar, so that the first novel is set circa 2002-2003. But from here on, the history of this universe rapidly diverges from our own ...</p> <p><b>Q:</b> What's next for the Laundry Files series?</p> <p><b>A:</b> That's the novel currently titled "The Delirium Brief", book 8 in the series. It's set about a month later, and deals with the explosive repercussions of the Laundry coming to light in the middle of the biggest political and military crisis since the Second World War. The narrative viewpoint switches back to Bob again&mdash;and it opens with him being shoved into a TV studio in London to be roasted alive on Newsnight by a certain famous British news presenter ...</p> <center><br /><hr width="50%"><br /></center> <p>Finally, some notes on the covers up top:</p> <p>0. It is traditional for authors to destroy their home town, usually in their first novel. In my case, I believe in delayed gratification. (I escaped from Leeds back in the 1980s.)</p> <p>1. Yes, the building seen in both cover pictures is <a href=",_Leeds">Quarry House in Leeds</a>, known to locals as The Kremlin or The Ministry of Truth, for obvious reasons, and the designated site for <a href="">Gestapo HQ England</a> after the Nazi invasion (which luckily didn't happen).</p> <p>2. Yes, the Kettenkrad Bob dragged home in "The Atrocity Archive" turns up in this story, and yes, its driver is wearing 17th century cavalry plate for a reason. Two thumbs up to the US cover art designer!</p> <p>3. Unfortunately (according to the regular commenters) those are Challenger-1 MBTs, which was superseded by the Challenger-2 in the late 90s. (The turrets are somewhat different in profile.) And they masked a map of London into the design rather than Leeds. Possibly one thumb down for lack of <em>totally pedantic</em> attention to (foreign) detail; but at least they were trying, and in any case it's the same background design that they used for "The Annihilation Score"&mdash;let's mark it down to "series identity".</p> <p>4. Yes, there appear to be a pair of dragons attacking Quarry House. No comment (you'll have to wait for the book)!</p> <p>5. Finally: yes, it's the Elf novel. But Laundry universe elves bear about as much relation to typical high fantasy elves as PHANGs bear to typical urban fantasy vampires. Which is to say, myths and legends can be lethally misleading guides when you're dealing with them, and? It helps to flip <a href="'s_three_laws">Clarke's Third law</a> on its head and bear in mind that any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.</p>

Quiet in here, isn't it?

You're probably wondering why I haven't been blogging lately.

The answer isn't terribly complicated. I spent October rewriting two novels, and I'm now busy writing the first draft of one before I switch over to re-writing the second half of another. Yeah, it's a really busy time for me, work-wise! But hopefully I'll have a rough cut of "The Delirium Brief" in another few weeks and a shiny rewritten version of "Invisible Sun" not long thereafter, and you'll thank me for it ... eventually. (Or, on past form, just tell me to "write faster".)

One thing I've been leery about talking about is that both these books are pushing me into what for me, as a writer, is terra incognita: "The Delirium Brief" is the 8th Laundry Files book, and "Invisible Sun" is the 9th in the Merchant Princes series (although the new books are sufficiently different that they're getting a new series title). In each case, I'm working on pushing forward a project I began in 1999 and 2001 respectively, and both series are now around the million word mark. How do I keep it all straight in my head?

The simple answer is, I don't. I can't, and I'd be astonished if any writer working on such a project could claim otherwise. A million word narrative is a fundamentally different beast from a novel, both in structure and in the planning and execution. The Laundry files as envisaged in 1999 was a single short novel. Then in 2005 (circa "The Jennifer Morgue") it was going to be at most a trilogy. Now it's (sticks thumb in air to test the wind) a 12 book story arc, with optional side-branches in the same universe. But even as recently as 2013 I had no idea that one of the novels would be told by Mo, not Bob, much less that the series was going to go multi-viewpoint.

The Merchant Princes was originally pitched as a tetralogy of 600-800 page doorsteps, but got sliced and diced and reassembled: the first omnibus volume reflects the first book in that embryonic plan, but the second story arc spans the next two omnibus volumes (it grew in the telling). The new trilogy drives off the map in a direction I simply had no idea of back in 2001, so that tetralogy plan is basically dead.

A side-effect of this is that if you push a project along for 15 years, inconsistencies creep in—and are frozen in print in earlier books. In the Laundry Files I accidentally stumbled into a really smart decision early in the game by explicitly declaring that Bob is an unreliable narrator, and his workplace journals reflect the state of his current understanding of events at the time he's describing. In the Merchant Princes I wasn't so lucky (I didn't exactly plan to make Dick Cheney the uber-villain; but by the time I realized what I'd done in book 2 I was well into writing book 3 and book 2 was already typeset). I planned to work around the consistency problem in the new sub-series by drafting it in rough form before the first book went to press: it's possible to keep a 1200 page narrative self-consistent (with difficulty) aa long as you have the luxury of being able to go back and fix errors in book 1 while you're writing book 3.

But when I finish these novels? Sitting down and writing something entirely fresh on a clean sheet of virtual paper is beginning to look really attractive.

Introducing new guest blogger: Madeline Ashby

Charlie here. I'm off to Sledge-Lit in Derby tomorrow, a one day SF convention at Derby Quad. In the meantime, I'd like to introduce our latest guest blogger: Madeline Ashby.

Madeline is a science fiction writer, columnist, and futurist living in Toronto. She is the author of the Machine Dynasty series from Angry Robot Books, as wells as the forthcoming novel Company Town from Tor. Recently, she co-edited Licence Expired: the Unauthorized James Bond, an anthology for ChiZine Publications. She has worked with organizations like Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, the Atlantic Council, Nesta, and others. You can find her on Twitter @MadelineAshby or at

Magic, ecospeak and genre distinctions

image (Picture proves cats like me back).

Something I noticed recently while wearing my (completely invisible but highly attractive) writing teacher chapeau is that the welter of SF subgenres and categories of fiction generally are terra incognita to a fair number of newer writers. </p>
I’m okay with this. We begin as readers and viewers, after all. Many people coming into my UCLA courses are curious about speculative fiction. They aren't necessarily book-collecting, con-going, award-nominating fans. They've watched a fair chunk of genre TV and film offerings; they're up on the MCU, they can tell a spaceship from a unicorn and they even usually know which is the fantasy construct. They might have read a certain amount of fiction within their one or two favorite genres, or at least have read Harry Potter and his ilk to their kids.

Maybe this isn't especially nuanced, but it is a decent starting point. It’s only when we begin to write--and to consider selling what we write--that mincing the distinctions between, say, near-future SF and cyberpunk can become important. That's when you've moved beyond searching the bookstore for something you'll enjoy reading for pleasure. Finer categorization becomes useful when you’re aiming at a particular market, writing a review... or when you’re sitting in a workshop trying to articulate why the space unicorns just aren’t meshing well with the alternate history manor house homicide, with cyborgs, in a given piece.

So, a flashback: when my 2009 book, Indigo Springs, was in the pipe for publication, I took what was really my first run at writing publicity stuff, generating press releases and bits and pieces of blog stuff and other material whose primary thesis was: Hey, my book is so cool, buy my book, buy it buy it, OMG, candy giveaway, wheee!! Only, you know, subtle. </p>
One of the things I never quite managed was to come up with was a pithy label that captured its particular mash-up of urban fantasy and environmental science. This is a book whose main character finds a wellspring of magic that has become condensed--more powerful--and intensely toxic because of human impacts on the magical ecosystem. She then unleashes it into modern-day Oregon, creating a massive uninhabitable monster-infested forest that is both immensely contaminated and, as a result, weirdly enchanted.</p>
I played with words Eco-pocalypse a lot, but say it aloud and you'll hear how appalling and clunky that is. Apoca-green-alyse. Apocaenvirochockalocka.... argh! Why couldn't I just write a sexy vampire novel like that nice boy down the street?</p>
Anyway. The book came out and one of the first reviews had this word, ecofantasy. </p>
Oh! That's a thing? Thank goodness, I thought, and it’s catchy, too. </p>
Except: If it is a thing, who else is doing it?</p>
So I went looking. I didn't find a ton of stuff. Ecofantasy may be a thing, but it's not necessarily a huge one. My brain, which always serves up junk as its first ten answers, kept coming up with my favorite works of ecological science fiction, like Derryl Murphy’s “The History of Photography” or Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather and realizing, “NO! Not Fantasy! Too sciencey!” </p>
In time, though, I did find other works, like Walter Jon WIlliams's Metropolitan, where magic is a metered public utility. There's Harry Turtledove's Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand, and Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber. </p>
Even Patricia Briggs commits ecofantasy in one of her subplots--she’s got a storyline in one of her Mercy Thompson novels where werewolves get kidnapped for use as lab animals by a Big Pharma company.</p>
Looking at these and thinking it over, I came up with a few concrete ideas to spell out what ecofantasy is:</p>
  • Ecofantasy must contain some element of the magical; otherwise it's science fiction.

  • It nevertheless displays an awareness of the environment, of ecosystems science and biology.

  • Ecofantasies take place on worlds where the magical element is part of a larger system, whether it's a semi-sentient Gaian world-entity or a post-apocalyptic realm where dragons are used to incinerate garbage.

  • This one might be shaky but... the genre inhabits a middle ground between fantasy and science fiction in terms of prose style, combining the poetic sensibility often associated with the former with the harder-edged scientific language of the latter. It is neither A Midsummer Night's Dream nor Snow Crash, but something in between.

  • Ecofantasy often references or directly addresses current "green" societal concerns about global climate change, ocean rise, pollution, overpopulation, mass extinctions, the evolution of disease-resistant microorganisms and the coming peak oil crisis.

  • Ecofantasy recognizes the complexity of biological systems, and often echoes this in its magical aspects. Rarely do we see characters with the simple ability to wave a magic wand and thereby clean up an oil spill. In ecofantasy, the wizard who creates an oil-spill devouring monster will then have to find somewhere to keep that monster after the clean-up... not to mention figuring out how to get it to said quarantine, alive or dead.
  • </p>
    Do you have favorite books or stories that fit into this frame? I am always looking for more examples.</p>