I’m currently most of the way through finishing a collaborative novel with Cory Doctorow titled The Rapture of the Nerds. It’s been coming for a while. In 2003 or 2004, one of us suggested collaborating on a story, and I dug into my pile of unfinished stories and pulled out the first 1000 words of an idea and threw it at Cory. He continued with it and we came up with a strange fable about a curmudgeonly Welsh Green environmental activist type who trusts no technology more complex than his bicycle, living in a post-Singularity world. He has volunteered for ‘jury service’ to pass judgment on a random design schemata broadcast from the cloud of transcendent intelligences in orbit. His idea is to spike this new technology, but unfortunately, the cloud has other plans for him.

‘‘To our shock this novella, ‘Jury Service’, sold to Sci Fiction. Later we were commissioned to write a sequel novella, and by the end we had 40,000 words of fiction. We had this idea that we’d finish a collaborative novel called The Rapture of the Nerds by writing the final half of the story later – but we were too damn busy. Along the way Tor decided they wanted to acquire the novel if we could ever find time to write it. So for a period of a few years, every year I would e-mail Cory and say,’Do you have any spare time in your calendar this year?’ And he would say, ‘No, how about you?’ ‘No. Okay, same time next year?’ That’s how it went until last year – and I’m afraid to say it’s all your fault.

‘‘Last year Locus ran an April Fool’s article announcing that Stross & Doctorow had accepted a seven-figure commission to write an authorised sequel to Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I e-mailed Cory and said, ‘Have you seen this?’ He said, ‘‘Yeah – have you got any time?’ Because, in fact, a creative Objectivist does feature in the second novella, and the ghost of Ayn Rand puts in an appearance towards the end of The Rapture of the Nerds. We haven’t finished writing it, and I shouldn’t say more, because it’s a joint novel, and you’re only interviewing one of us right now.”

“I get contrary. One of the things that has made a big impact on my writing in the past five years was Geoff Ryman and his students’ idea of Mundane SF. A lot of people have misunderstood Mundane SF as being a sort of hair shirt – the ‘We can’t have nice toys’ school of thought in SF. But what Mundane SF is really about is pointing out that, if we’re trying to write SF that extrapolates believably about the future, we’ve gotten lazy. We’ve gotten into the habit of using stock tropes from our central supplies department: things like faster-than-light travel, or time travel, or AI, or alien contact – which are all, to greater or lesser extent, plausible, but which may not actually ever exist. We don’t have those things, we have no direct experience of them, and it may all be impossible. Like it or lump it, having faster-than-light starships or aliens in a novel makes it approximately as credible as having fire-breathing dragons and magic swords.”

‘‘Neptune’s Brood is going to be a mundane SF space opera about atomic-powered robot mermaids in space. Why? Because I can. We’re living through the golden age of exo-planetography and I have a yen to write something set on a water world, hence the mermaids. They’re robots because humans don’t adapt to other planets. I also have some interesting ideas about the economics of interstellar colonization that I don’t want to share with you just yet.

‘‘It’s basic worldbuilding. We’ve been to the moon, but we haven’t found an economically valid reason for going to the moon, so we haven’t been back there since Apollo. This does not mean we’re never going back, but it won’t be for the same reasons, and certainly not because it’s someone’s manifest destiny – unless of course it’s the Chinese demonstrating that they are the economic 500-pound gorilla on the block. Or the Indonesians, or whoever comes next.”