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Charles Stross: Fast Forward January 2005

Charles Stross started writing SF at age 12. He earned a bachelor's degree in Pharmacy in 1986, qualified as a pharmacist in 1987, then enrolled at Bradford University (1989-1990) for a post-graduate conversion degree in computer science. He worked as a technical author and programmer until 2000, when he began writing full time, mostly tech-related non-fiction at first, with an ever-increasing emphasis on fiction.

Stross has published short fiction regularly since his first professional sale, "The Boys" (1986). Novelette "Lobsters" (2001) was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo, and was the runner-up
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Official website: Charlie's Place
for the Sturgeon award; novelette "Halo" (2002) was a Hugo and Sturgeon nominee; "Router" (2002) was shortlisted for a BSFA award; and novelette "Nightfall" (2003) was a Hugo and a BSFA nominee. Collection Toast appeared in 2002. Lovecraftian spy thriller The Atrocity Archive (serialized 2001-02) appeared in hardcover with novella "The Concrete Jungle" in 2004, with sequel The Jennifer Morgue coming in December 2006. Hugo-nominated far-future space opera Singularity Sky (2003) was followed by sequel Iron Sunrise (2004). The first book in his "Merchant Princes" fantasy series, The Family Trade, was published in December 2004, with sequels The Hidden Family and The Clan Corporate to follow. His "Accelerando" series of SF stories, which appeared in Asimov's beginning in June 2001 with "Lobsters" and ending in December 2004 with "Elector", have been adapted as a novel, Accelerando, due in 2005. SF novel Glasshouse is coming in 2006.

He has collaborated with Cory Doctorow on several stories, notably "Unwirer" (written publicly on a weblog), "Flowers from Al", and "Jury Service" and its sequel "Appeals Court" (published together as "The Rapture of the Nerds").

He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland with wife Feòrag NicBhride.

Excerpts from the interview:

“Writing is an odd job. It's solitary: you lock yourself in the study for eight hours a day and work on your own. As Mary Gentle put it, 'You have to structure your work life around your recreation to have enough human contact to keep going.' And that can very easily lead you to stay at the pub five nights a week, which is not good. When I was doing freelance journalism, I basically kept it to weekdays and took off bank holidays, making sure it was a routine. But when I'm into a book and it's going easily, it doesn't merely become a daily routine; it becomes 12 hours a day, continuously. With my next novel, Glasshouse, the first draft just came out in a mad frenzy. It would not let me get up from my word processor for a month! I basically had an entire novel materialize in my head in two hours flat one day, which had to be written -- and it was, in a solid 24-day consecutive rush. (And then I fell over.)”


“I'm also working on a fantasy series. 'The Clan' started out with a cynical exchange of e-mail between me and my agent, discussing the idea of me writing a big fat fantasy or alternate-world series, mostly for the money. I pointed out that there was no point in trying to write a Robert Jordan clone because Jordan already exists and is in the market, and I'd cut my wrists before I got more than halfway through one, anyway! You've got to write something you're reasonably enthusiastic about and find interesting. If you only write for the money, it's hard to write well. So I decided to brainstorm a bit until I could find something that was marketable but I could enjoy doing. I have enjoyed writing it -- it's been a blast! Family Trade and sequel The Hidden Family were originally one volume, but for editorial reasons we're running them as short novels.

“I had wanted for a long time to write a fantasy series as told from the point of view of the Dark Lord. Given that fantasy is a literature of the Eternal Return, the Eternal Cycle, what is the Dark Lord's role? The adversary in high fantasy often symbolizes a disruptive modernizing influence who wants to industrialize and bring about the age of reason and enlightenment. I didn't quite go that far in Merchant Princes, but there are traces of it. While the Clan are locked into a positively medieval mercantilist mode of trying to make money, the viewpoint character is a vaguely liberal business journalist from Boston. Miriam is not stupid -- as Orson Scott Card wrote in the blurb, 'At last a fantasy heroine who doesn't behave like a complete idiot on finding herself in fantasyland.' In fact, she's too clever by half. Miriam isn't obviously a Dark Lord, but she has the same disruptive effect. What she doesn't realize when she tries to impose a new business model on the place is that she is dipping her oar into politics in a big way: major, balance-affecting stuff that's going to have horrible consequences down the line.”


Accelerando was originally just one story, 'Lobsters', which then seemed to demand a sequel -- and halfway through the sequel I got this insane idea about a trilogy of trilogies of stories covering three generations! If I tried to write novels like that one constantly I would starve, because it took five years. Maybe I'll replicate it some time, but not for a while. I think the novel version is about 10% different from the original stories in Asimov's. I caught a couple of really major plot inconsistencies that hadn't occurred to me when I was writing over that five-year period, and I had to do a lot of polishing and cutting out redundant information, but it's similar. If you've read the stories, you won't have many huge surprises. On the other hand, if you haven't read them you're getting a novel rather than a set of short stories. It hangs together a lot better.”


“I am not amused by this 21st century. I want to take it back for a full refund, and can we have a real one, please? That's a sentiment I think most people will agree with. I should put a cautionary note in here: the only thing I'm politically opposed to is excessive ideological dogmatism. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal, for British values of Liberal (which translate very imperfectly into American politics). (I've been accused jokingly of being a member of the Scottish Socialist SF Cabal, but it's worth remembering that by US standards, almost everybody in the UK is a socialist.) As I see it, our biggest problem is that we've effectively got a planetary government that's running on autopilot, governed by international treaty law and the fundamental systems of the way the global free-trade regime has been set up. Not only is there nobody at the controls, there's nobody to complain to when things go wrong -- it's unaccountable. Traditional empires had safety valves for public protest -- the current system doesn't have one.”


“I had been writing for nearly 18 years with remarkably little success, and then all of a sudden somebody bought a novel, and then somebody else bought another, and everything changed very quickly. And I thought, 'Wow! Can I do this for a living?' What's happened since then is the after-effect of those years of sitting with my nose up against a plate glass window trying to get in. In just four years I've got nine novels under contract, seven of which are handed in; the eighth is being worked on right now. I'm now slowing down, because I have so much stuff in production that the copy-edits and proofreading take huge bites of time. If I was just doing first drafts I could probably do three novels a year (short ones, not 800-page doorstops), but if I have to produce finished work, that slows me down to two a year, max -- which means I end up thinking of ideas for new novels faster than I can write them. Ideas are the easy bit; if I stopped having them now, I could carry on writing novels for the next decade before I ran into a shortage. What I need to do now is focus on focusing!”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the January 2005 issue of Locus Magazine.

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