Bitcoin as free speech? Regulating cryptocurrency has

Currencies of Social Organisation: The Future of Money (Sherryl Vint)

so, was reading Davies, William (ed.) - Economic Science Fictions (2018) the other day, and thought i'd share the entire chapter Currencies of Social Organisation: The Future of Money from part I: The Science and Fictions of the Economy. bit long, but worth the while.
oh, and, how does it relate to holochain, some might ask again. read up. it quickly becomes self-evident.
"Presented with the prospect of its own eternity, capitalism –​ or anyway, financial capitalism –​ simply explodes. Because if there’s no end to it, there’s absolutely no reason not to generate credit –​ that is, future money –​ infinitely."
David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when thinking aboutscience fiction and money is the different kinds of currencies that are imagined for future worlds: the poscreds of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, a currency required for every minute transaction such that the door becomes not an item you own but, rather, a provider of services for which you must continually pay, leaving protagonist Joe Chip trapped in his own apartment until someone pays his door to open; the bars of gold-​pressed latinum used by the avaricious Ferengi on Star Trek, the only thing that cannot be replicated in this post-​scarcity world, useless other than as an atavistic marker of wealth; the reputation-​ based currency of whuffie in Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, used to replace the social role money plays in creating a hierarchy in another post-​scarcity world. The inventiveness of SF writers creating objects or systems of account that might serve as money is matched by its actual history and the wide range of items that have served as currency, from large stone wheels called Rai used as money on the island of Yap, to the split tally sticks of medieval English practice, to coinage and the ideal that a gold standard is the ‘real’ value of money, to slips of paper inscribed with various authentications and, finally, to the electronic signals used to store and transmit denominations of value. It turns out that, although most of the world uses money on a daily basis and has done so for almost as long as there have been records of human civilisation, it is not very clear what money actually is. How does money work? What is the underlying relationship among some underlying thing of ‘actual’ value (gold, land, the goods and services produced by a nation), the tokens of that value (coins, banknotes, electronic account balances) and the entity guaranteeing that said tokens are, basically, the same as that underlying thing of value (the King, the Bitcoin algorithm, the European Union). Reading about the history of money turns out to be surprisingly like reading science fiction: the kind of money a society has tells us a lot about the kind of human sociality that is possible in that world. Most definitions of money agree that it needs to be three things: a medium of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value. The ‘store of value’ requirement tends to be overlooked in science fiction extrapolations, confusing whether money is simply a way of keeping ‘score’ of who owes what to whom or whether money is itself something of inherent value (even if it has no ‘use value’, such as gold), such that it will continue to be accepted even through periods of massive social and political disruption. More importantly, however, commentators agree that changes to this configuration of value, accounting, exchange practices and objects-​ serving-​as-​money are deeply consequential for the surrounding social order. Jack Weatherford argues in The History of Money, for example, that new forms of money destroy old forms of governance that were premised on the prior system of economics. 2 His book takes us through a number of such transitions: from a tributary economy of empire based on commodity money that was destabilised by the invention of coinage; through the invention of a system of banking and paper notes that disrupted and undermined the feudal system of medieval Europe by opening a path for power based on wealth (stocks and bonds) rather than on heredity (land); to the prediction that our contemporary system of electronic transfer will have similarly transformative effects on the future. Although science fiction has often imagined new objects or systems serving as currency in the future, it has seldom worked through the cultural power of money as an engine of social control, preferring to either posit post-​scarcity societies of human fulfilment, such as Star Trek’s benevolent Federation of Planets or Iain M. Banks’ Culture universe, or else envisage worlds of ever-​deepening capitalist uneven development that polarises humanity between lush zones of privilege and apocalyptic zones of deprivation that are, crucially, simultaneously produced by the same forces –​ the Sprawl of William Gibson’s cyberpunk trilogy, the orbiting gated community of Elysium (Neill Blomkamp), the privatised air of Rose Montero’s Bruna Husky series or the future of privatised food and seed corporation governance in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. Although science fiction is frequently set in the future, it is always about its present moment of production. Thus, rather than predicting future kinds of money and sociality inherent in this coming shift, the more important thing science fiction can do is to help make visible –​ through estranging extrapolation that denatures what we take to be natural –​ how money functions in our present. In Money: The Unauthorized Biography, Felix Martin argues that we misrecognise money in its classic definition. Instead of thinking of it as a unit of exchange or store of value, he argues that money is a ‘social technology’ composed of three central elements: a denominating unit of value; a system of indebtedness and credits; and the possibility that debts can be transferred to another creditor. It is this third element that is the most crucial, and he contends that, ‘whilst all money is credit, not all credit is money’. Money is a social technology of transferable credit, ‘a set of ideas and practices which organise what we produce and consume, and the way we live together’. Martin goes on to explain that to arrive at this idea it was necessary first to develop one of a universal standard of value, a concept of economic value that is detached from any particular social organisation in which a debt might be incurred. Debt thereby becomes not a social exchange between people as part of a larger social structure of mutual obligations but simply a unit of account that might be transferred to another creditor and mean exactly the same thing, as if the value measured by money was a physical property in the world instead of a measure of human social structures and decisions. This idea of abstract and universal value opens the door to some of the more deleterious effects of the social technology of money. As Martin acknowledges, ‘[T]‌the choice of monetary standard is always a political one –​ because the standard itself represents nothing but a decision as to what is a fair distribution of wealth, income, and the risks of economic uncertainty.’ For Martin, the decision to view money as a thing rather than a social technology –​ which he dates to the Enlightenment and John Locke, with his insistence that the value of the coinage had to be the ‘material’ value of the metal, not the nominal value designated by the sovereign –​ was the first step in what would eventually become our 2008 financial crisis. In the Lockean understanding of money as a thing with inherent and universal worth, a centuries-​long question regarding the degree to which money should be allowed to structure how we live with one another was short-​circuited, taken out of the realm of ethical debate and put into that of natural ‘fact’. We treat money as a mathematical truth rather than a social choice with often disastrous consequences, reducing ‘vital questions of moral and political justice to the mechanical application of objective scientific truths’. 7 With this understanding of money, Western societies came to see a myriad of complex human social relationships through the single and narrow framework of economic self-​interest. In its role as a genre that defamiliarises the present by exaggerating it into an imagined future, science fiction can serve a vital role in reminding us that money is a social technology, not a thing. For example, Andrew Niccol’s film In Time (2009) posits a world in which the unit of account is simply time: one works not for dollars or credits but for minutes, hours, days and, ultimately, years of one’s life. One of the things it immediately makes clear is how ridiculous the fiction is that capitalists and workers (that is, sellers of labour-​power) meet at the market in any manner that remotely resembles an exchange among equals: the capitalist can always wait another day for a more favourable negotiation but the worker, who needs to sell his or her labour-​power to continue to live, cannot. Niccol shows the social costs of inflation, which makes a cup of coffee cost more ‘minutes’ than it did the day before, creating dilemmas for workers who can stretch the working day only so far to accommodate the change. More and more of one’s time is spent working –​ that is, accumulating minutes to live –​ but at some point the number of currency minutes needed to sustain life exceeds the time needed to accumulate them, and the most economically vulnerable simply die. The rich, in contrast, are seemingly immortal, since their time simply existing continues to accumulate ever more minutes through the crucial fact that what they own is capital, not mere labour-​power. Time is a problematic image for currency, of course: it can function well as a unit of account and perhaps even can serve as a medium of exchange (people gamble minutes, hours and years; people give one another minutes, and such economic support is, quite literally, life support), but it is difficult to imagine how time can be a store of value. This is where the film’s attempt to critique the discrepancy between the one-​percent and everyone else falls apart: a disaffected one-​percenter with centuries of life but no purpose (Matt Bomer) decides to give his years to protagonist Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), who uses this unexpected luxury (of time that need not be productive) to penetrate the echelons of the wealthiest citizens –​ tolls to these inner zones are paid in weeks, then months, then years –​ and attempt to destroy the system of lives held in thrall to generating money. The image the film uses to convey this revolutionary overthrow is a raid on a ‘bank’ that has an accumulated stockpile of time, time that is simply sitting there unused while people expire due to its lack. Salas forms a partnership with the disaffected daughter of one of the bank’s major stockholders (Amanda Seyfried), and together they steal and freely distribute this vast quantity of ‘unused’ time, thereby ending the structures of precarity lived by those struggling to ensure they have enough ‘time’ to live another day. Rather than critiquing the limitations of imagining time as a currency, I want to focus instead on what this image makes visible: that money is a social technology, that it always is, as Martin argues, a political tool that structures the way we live collectively and what we as a society have decided is a fair distribution of wealth and risk. By so directly linking the ability to secure a wage to the chances to continue to exist, In Time lays bare an underlying logic of neoliberal capitalism that is otherwise obscured by a discourse that naturalises the market and attempts to compel us to believe that we must accommodate ourselves to its dictates rather than recognise that its very functioning is a creation of human choice. If time in the film functioned as do other currencies, of course, Salas’s heroic gesture would simply contribute to inflation, the collapse of the ‘buying power’ of a unit of time. Despite this limitation, however, In Time points us towards the fundamental injustice of an economic system that extends some people’s lives and capacities while it shortens others. The underlying issue is the relationship between creditors (those with time to spare) and debtors (those whose very lives are in bondage to an economic system). David Graeber’s masterful Debt: The First 5,000 Years is actually another history of money, despite its title. One of his most powerful claims is that we more properly understand the social technology of money as a system of debt rather than one of credit. Whereas, for Martin, money is transferrable credit, Graeber points out that this is simultaneously a transformation of the social obligations that humans have to one another into specifically economic obligations, creating a society that, taken to its logical extreme, results in a world in which all social exchange is financialised debt. Graeber begins his book with an account of the massive social disruption caused by International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans to developing nations, indebtedness that required countries ‘to abandon price supports on basic foodstuffs, or even policies of keeping strategic food reserves, and abandon free health care and free education’ in the name of prioritising the obligation to pay back debt, leading to ‘the collapse of all the most basic supports for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth’. Whereas for Martin the transferability of credit is essential to making it function as money, for Graeber it is precisely the way credit (that is, indebtedness) becomes transferable that creates the social chaos of a society that is thus premised on inequality. For Graeber, debt can become transferable only when it becomes ‘simple, cold, and impersonal’, detached from any larger social context of mutual support and purely a ‘precisely quantified’ sum for which ‘one does not need to calculate the human effects; one needs only calculate principal, balances, penalties, and rates of interest’. He traces the history of debt –​ and social crises of indebtedness –​ from the beginnings of recorded human civilisation through to the IMF crises and beyond, connecting the 2008 financial crisis and bank bailouts to the same fundamental mechanisms of inequality that always structure an economy based on money: just as governments spent money to repay IMF loans rather than to offer social services to their population, so too did governments pay to protect the wealthy few who own bank bonds at the expense of other taxpayers. This was a crisis created by the seemingly endless generation of new forms of credit, new ways to make money out of records of debt, a specific form of money as capital –​ that is, as money that must continually grow. Only the power of the US military, Graeber argues, holds the world economic system together based on a fear of reprisal: ‘[T]‌he last thirty years have seen the construction of a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a giant machine designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures.’ Here his discussion of the history of debt begins to sound a lot like discussions of the SF imagination. In recent years critics such as Fredric Jameson and writers such as Kim Stanley Robinson have deplored the failure of the utopian imagination, our inability to imagine alternatives beyond the social order created by capitalism. For Graeber, the disappearance of hope has to do with the crushing circumstances of chronic indebtedness, a cycle that has recurred throughout history and for which, until modern times, a solution existed. This solution is an amnesty on debt, a decision to simply reset all accounts and start over whenever the burden of debt on one segment of the population became so heavy as to debilitate its chances to thrive and also to destabilise the entire social order premised on class difference between debtors and debtees. Graeber links debt forgiveness to an ancient biblical Law of the Jubilee, which ‘stipulated that all debts would be automatically cancelled “in the Sabbath year” (that is, after seven years had passed), and that all who languished in bondage owing to such debts would be released’. Martin dates the idea of periodic debt forgiveness as a way to manage the socially deleterious effects of indebtedness even earlier, arguing that records of this ‘Mesopotamian practice of proclaiming a clean slate when the burden of debt became socially unsupportable are almost as old as the earliest evidence for interest-​bearing debt itself –​ dating from the reign of Enmetana of Lagash in around 2,400 BC’. Graeber ends his book with a call for a contemporary Jubilee on international and consumer debt, arguing that it would be helpful ‘not just because it would relieve so much genuine human suffering, but also because it would be our way of reminding ourselves that money is not ineffable, that paying one’s debts is not the essence of morality, that all these things are human arrangements and that if democracy is to mean anything, it is the ability to all agree to arrange things in a different way’. The best kind of SF vision of the future of money may thus be an idea taken from the distant past, a period proximate enough to the emergence of money and its new social structures that people remained capable of recognising it as a social policy, not a fact of nature. While science fiction has often imagined post-​scarcity societies that thereby eliminate indebtedness, very little has imagined the future of monetary policy and banking. A notable exception is the work of Charles Stross, especially his novel Neptune’s Brood, which uses a passage from Graeber’s book as its epigraph. Stross imagine the future of capitalist social organisation as mutated to accommodate trading across the vast distances of space colonisation and at the high speeds of computer consciousness. Taking his cues from the fact that much of the derivative market consists of trades done by algorithms and software, often requiring an advanced degree in physics to be understood, Stross posits a future of artificial humanoid beings whose ethos is shaped by an ecology of capital treated as if it were nature. Most of the critical discussion about the novel focuses on Stross’s idea of slow, medium, and fast money. Fast money is what we are accustomed to: ‘Cash is fast money. We use it for immediate exchanges of value. Goods and labor: You sell, I buy.’ Medium money is something that more durably stores its value, and is not reliant on the vagaries of governments and fiscal policy like fast money, as in: ‘Cathedrals and asteroids and debts and durable real estate and bonds backed by the honorable reputation of traders in slow money.’ And, finally, slow money is the kind of money required to finance interstellar trade and colonisation in a world without faster-​than-​light (FTL) travel: ‘Slow money is a medium of exchange designed to outlast the rise and fall of civilizations. It is the currency of world-​builders, running on an engine of debt that can only be repaid by the formation of new interstellar colonies, passing the liability ever onward into the deep future.’The details of the novel’s adventure plot –​ featuring a forensic accountant hero –​ show us how such a society, continually passing along debt, would be filled with avarice and exploitation, with only the most instrumental of interpersonal relations. The novel is a careful and thorough figuration of the end extreme of capitalism. A vision of the future anticipated in the epigraph from Graeber above, a future of ever more overwhelming indebtedness, the flip side of money understood as transferable credit. The ultimate horizon of the novel is the reinvention of the Jubilee, the ‘systemwide rest of the financial system entailing nullification of all debts’. Its characters, shaped by capitalism as a necessary fact of life, struggle to imagine the possibility of such a Jubilee. The accountant protagonist, Krina, for example, is shocked when she hears of someone functioning as a debt termination officer, exclaiming: ‘[M]‌atters should never reach the stage where they need to terminate a bad debt! Far better to stir it up with a bunch of lumpen credit properties and shuffle it off to a long-​term investment trust for toxic assets.’ So how does Stross create the conditions for a Jubilee in Neptune’s Brood when no one is power has any incentive to forgive the debs that are the foundation of their social structure? The transformation happens because of the discovery of a kind of matter transmission that enables the equivalent of FTL travel, meaning all financial exchanges can happen at the speed of fast money, and so the accumulated stockpiles of wealth that are slow money are suddenly rendered meaningless. Indebtedness is thereby wiped out when the value of this currency collapses, since a vast slow money debt can now be paid with a pittance of fast money. Obviously Stross’s solution cannot easily be translated into our world, because we do not denominate our currencies in this way nor trade at interstellar distances. Yet I think it still holds a lesson for us that only the displacements of science fiction thinking can capture. The collapse of the slow money economy completely transforms existing power relations, and it is also devastating for those who have accumulated vast holdings in this debt-​based currency. At the same time, however, freedom from debt for others opens up so many more possibilities as to where the resources and energy might go that the positive elements of change are equally powerful to the disruptive ones. The transition is enabled in part by a branch of humanoids whose neural architecture has been transformed to communicate mental states through light, a post-​human redesign intended to make them more effective workers (bypassing the slowness of language). This transformation also changed their social order, however, in ways that ultimately sidelined money and property: ‘They’re still individuals, but the border between self and other is thinner. And they don’t hate. They own property but they don’t have strong social hierarchies –​ top-​down control is a dangerous liability to a team trying to trap a runaway natural nuclear reactor –​ they’re instinctive mutualists. They understand money and debt and credit and so on, but they don’t feel a visceral need to own: What they owe doesn’t define their identity.’ A different kind of human sociality plants the seed for a different relationship to property and money, which ultimately opens the door to detaching human futures from the tyranny of debt. If, as Martin argues, money is a social technology, ‘a set of ideas and practices which organise what we produce and consume, and the way we live together’, then science fiction can make visible the kind of social engineering done by the capitalist technology of money. As a social technology, the tool of money can be oriented towards other kinds of ideas and practices, other kinds of social orders, other kinds of subjectivities. Both In Time and Neptune’s Brood offer exaggerated and extrapolated visions of the society the current technology of money creates, focusing on the human suffering that is produced by keeping this technology in place. Science fiction has always been about the idea that social arrangements might be otherwise, about extrapolating known technologies towards novel ends. Stross gives us a tantalising hint of the possible future of a debt Jubilee, of one way we might reinvent the technology of money.

submitted by rhyzom to holochain [link] [comments]

[Table] IAmA: Charles Stross, science fiction writer

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Date: 2012-07-02
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Questions Answers
Are you planning a kickstarter game like Neal Stephenson? If you did what would it be about? Reverse order: no, I'm not planning a kickstarter game. And I'm not really a game designer. (Writing novels takes up about 100% of my available working time.)
Fellow early adopter here. TI gave me a TIPC with a 1200 baud modem and sent me home. I tripped over the usenet and compuserve by accident. What happened to keep you off for 6 months?! Left university and got a job with a company who had no internet connection, back in the days when a 2400 baud UUCP dial-up cost £900 a year (or about a months' gross salary). Remedied this by changing jobs :)
Hallo Charles. I'm in the UK. I just wrote a book and (it looks like) a good publishing house are going to pick it up. It is sort of sci-fi. For starters, there's a long-standing (50 year old) flame war within the field over whether it's "sci-fi" or "SF".
My question: all agents I've spoken to think that while selling a book to publishers it's best to avoid using the term "sci-fi" if possible. Ideally they want to sneak sci-fi stuff in, "under the radar", so it can get the sort of backing that only a big publisher can provide. Secondly, all these labels boil down to is a bunch of marketing categories that tell bookshop staff where to file the product (which they don't know from a hole in the road) on the shelves where customers can find it. SF has traditionally been looked down on by the literary establishment because, to be honest, much early SF was execrably badly written -- but these days the significance of the pigeon hole is fading; we have serious mainstream authors writing stuff that is I-can't-believe-it's-not-SF, and SF authors breaking into the mainstream. If you view them as tags that point to shelves in bricks-and-mortar bookshops, how long are these genre categories going to survive in the age of the internet?
How do you feel about this? Cheers. Note: this skepticism breaks down in the face of, for example, the German publishing sector, where booksellers are a lot stuffier and more hidebound over what is or is not acceptable as literature.
Could you give an example or two of large British publishers that you think are doing a good job in this respect? Ignoring genre barriers, taking risks etc? AhahahaHA!!
Sorry, no I can't. But not for the reason you think. Thing is, my agent is based in New York. And due to a historic accident, my publishing track is primarily American -- I'm sold into the UK almost as a foreign import! So I'm quite out of touch with what's going on in UK publishing. (Even my Kindle is geared to the US store.)
Did you end up with an American agent because all the British agents passed on you? Or did you actually want to do things that way? A bit of both. I wanted an agent who would actually sell stuff. After two British agents failed comprehensively, I was reading Locus (the SF field's trade journal) and noticed a press release about an experienced editor leaving her job to join an agent in setting up a new agency. And I went "aha!" -- because what you need is an agent who knows the industry but who doesn't have a huge list of famous clients whose needs will inevitably be put ahead of you. So I emailed her, and ... well, 11 years later I am the client listed at the top of her masthead!
One last question (if you can be arsed). When you look at the publishing process (particularly the point at which agents have to sell books) what do you think needs to be fixed/tinkered with? Are editors too short-sighted? In your experience is their predilection for putting things in boxes limiting? Biggest message: find your customers and sell them what they want to buy. DRM is bad for business. Territorial rights restrictions are bad for business. Amazon are utterly hateful and evil -- they will kill you and establish a monopoly if they can -- but their one redeeming feature is that they're good to customers: so learn from them.
Basically if you could sit all the big editors down and briefly lecture them on doing their job what would you say? Thanks Charles. It's not the editors I'd lecture, but the senior executives who give the publishing CEOs their marching orders (editors are a level below that). All the editors I deal with are extremely smart, clueful folks who are often frustrated by corporate policies -- because the publishing houses are divisions within large media conglomerates, and they're small, low-profit subsidiaries at that (and so don't get much say in group-wide policy).
Have you considered selling books via Baen? They seem to have the right idea, and you're in the right genre. Link to Not up to me, up to my publishers.
For someone who is unfamiliar with your work, what book would you suggest as a good starting point (if it's available for Kindle, I will get it as soon as I see your answer)? Any plans to follow in L. Ron's footsteps and start a religion? I'm an atheist (subtype: generally agree with Richard Dawkins but think he could be slightly more polite; special twist: I was raised in British reform Judaism, which is not like American reform Judaism, much less any other strain of organised religion). So: no cults here. Starting points: for a sampler, you could try my short story collection "Wireless". Which contains one novella that scooped a Locus award, and one that won a Hugo, and covers a range of different styles.
Thank you so much for releasing Accelerando as a freebie! I'd just picked up Stanza on my iPhone and was going through the free Sci Fi (or SF) books. That ebook got me hooked, so was a pretty savvy marketing move. Book depository is nothing new; there've been outlets selling books internationally via mail order for many decades -- the only change is that it's now easier to find and use such services.
So, is there an official term for "Polite Atheist"? Someone who doesn't believe, yet isn't offensive about it? I'm not sure. The trouble is, if you go too far towards being polite, the label that applies is "doormat".
Hi! Would you consider Halting State and Rule 34 Cyberpunk? I was heavily reminded of Neal Stephensons early books (the craziness of Snow Crash mixed with more current-day themes like Cryptonomicon). "Halting State" and "Rule 34" are cyberpunk only insofar as we are living in a 1980s cyberpunk dystopia, and these are very much novels of our time (plus 10-20 years). What I've learned during my life is that the near future is 90% identical to the present -- if you buy a new car today, it'll probably still be on the road in 2022. Another 9% is predictable from existing tech roadmaps: Intel's projected roadmap for where their processors are going, SpaceX's order book for satellite launches, and so on. And 1% is totally bugfuck crazy and impossible to predict. (Go back to 1982 and the idea that the USSR would have collapsed and been replaced by hyper-capitalist oligarchs would have earned you a straitjacket, never mind a book contract. Go back to 1992 and the idea that the USA and Iran would be fighting a proxy war on the internet would have ... well, ditto.)
While I love the Laundry books I consider A Colder War one of your best works, is there a chance that we will get another 'serious' story with Lovecraftian themes? Lovecraftian seriousness: well, book 5 or 6 of the Laundry series is due to get epically grim.
Case Nightmare Green? Yup.
It's always interesting to learn how different authors approach their craft. What's your "ritual" when writing? TL;DR: I don't have one.
Longer version ... (I want to apologize for keeping this short: I have carpal tunnel issues so I might have to switch to speech recognition soon) ...
I write exclusively using computers. Pens and typewriters can fsck right off -- I wrote my first half million words in my teens on a manual typewriter (had to trade it for a new one due to keys snapping from metal fatigue) so I am not a pen or typewriter fetishist.
I write almost entlirely on Macs, because: Windows gives me hives. (I first ran into Windows as of Win 2.11/386, back in the eighties. It did not leave a good taste. I then became a happy UNIX bunny. Mac OSX is the last UNIX workstation class OS standing. So I've learned to put up with its other foibles.)
I have no set writing routine other than: plant bum in chair in front of keyboard/on sofa under laptop, and start going. Oh, and I drink tea pretty much continuously at a rate of around 1 imperial pint/hour, which sort of enforces screen/keyboard breaks.
(I want to apologize for keeping this short: I have carpal tunnel issues so I might have to switch to speech recognition soon) I write exclusively using computers. Does this mean you use speech recognition while writing too? or have you been writing before the AMA and you're at your fatigue point? Speech recognition is utterly crap for writing fiction. If you try reading a novel aloud you'll soon figure out why -- written prose style is utterly unlike the spoken word.
Why Mac rather than Linux? (Esp. considering your background, e.g. Computer Shopper etc.) Excellent design values. ("Why drive a Porsche if you could drive a backhoe? The backhoe's got more torque and you can do cool things with it like digging holes in the road!" "Yes, but the backhoe isn't a Porsche ...")
It gets out of my way and lets me get stuff done. Seriously, Windows seems designed to make easy tasks hard and hard tasks impossible; Linux would be fine if it came pre-tuned to the hardware, but I've got a long term 30% failure rate getting any given laptop to run it properly with full device support -- I can do without the choice between badly designed, bulky, inconvenient machines that work with Linux, and taking pot luck that the latest well-designed sleek ultrabook will actually, um, boot.
TL:DR; I've reached an age at which I'd rather pay more for something that "just works" than roll up my sleeves, reach for a spanner, and make it work. Time is money, and the older we get the less of it we've got left ...
It's said that people have to write a million words of crap before they can rite good stuff. True, in your opinion? No. I wrote two million words of crap. Maybe I'm just a slow learner ...
Do you just put up with the carpal tunnel when writing? Up to a point. I don't want to permanently damage myself! On the other hand, a couple of days off the keyboard tends to make things somewhat better.
What are your views about people pirating your books? Back before the internet we had a name for people who bought a single copy of our books and lent them to all their friends without charging: we called them "librarians". Frankly, I couldn't care less about you loaning a copy of one of my books, on paper, to a friend. In fact, I think it's a good idea. Spreads the word, right? What I do have a problem with is people who sell my work for financial gain without paying me a cut of the proceeds. If money is passing hands, then the customer feels that they've paid for the right to read the work. But if they haven't paid me (or my publishers), then that's siphoning money out of my income stream. Today, we see some "file sharing" sites that rely on fans uploading cracked copies of ebooks, and which then make money off those books by charging for downloads (via cash subscriptions or advertising). Again: I take a dim view of this. They're making money off the back of my work without paying me.
2: Mr. Stross answered this question in far more detail while I was typing the above edit. Thank you! [Edit/afterthought] More often than not, piracy is a symptom of an under-provisioned market. People want to buy mp3s but can't? Piracy ensues. Then Apple strong-arms the music studios into the iTunes store and music piracy drops somewhat. The same, I believe, is also happening with ebooks.
Do you make a point of turning unpromising-sounding premises into something really extra-ordinary? Or are the back-of-book blurbs just over-simplifying? The back-of-book blurb is not written by the author (any more than the author paints the cover illustration). The sole job of the back-of-book blurb and the cover is to make a reader who is unfamiliar with the author or the book pick the product up in a store, because retail psychology studies show that consumers who handle the merchandise are more likely to buy it.
Hi Charlie! I've read much of what you've written, and I just have to say that you have a creativity rarely matched in SF - please keep it up. That said, what gadget do you think is going to have the greatest impact on the way we live in the next few coming years? Something like the Google glasses? Ultra-low power consumption ubiquitous embedded processors powered by ambient light or EM radiation are going to do insane things to our cities in the next 15-30 years -- far more significant than google glasses, which are just a slightly different UI (you can do much the same stuff already using a smartphone with motion/orientation/positioning sensors) ...
The radical transparency surveillance state that Brin predicted, open to all? Or data inequality leveraged by the HFT engines of the rich corporations to give them the edge to make a buck of it? Now add ambient genome sensing -- not human genomes, but the microbiome soup we live in (remember, sequencer costs are currently obeying Moore's Law) and start wondering where it's all going!
Been a fan for a long time. Got hooked via Accelerando (which I understand is something of an old shame at this point?), and stayed hooked via Halting State and the Laundry Files. Thanks for the AMA. :D. It's not an old shame, it's simply that I wrote it circa 1998-2004, and my views have changed somewhat over the intervening decade ...
Can you please expand on that? In what way did your views change? Accelerando is one of my all time favourites. Sure. See: Link to
Link to
Progress always get met with "but consider the ethics..". OK, let me ask you this: if you have a no-shit AI in a box, and it's running, when you switch it off/reboot it/reformat it/send it to the scrap heap, are you murdering a sentient being? Yes/No? Please justify your reasoning.
Now consider: your no-shit AI is the adversary in a computer game environment. What happens when you kill it (in-game)? What happens when you get tired of the game and delete it?
Hint: some fun background reading would be Ted Chiang's "The Lifecycle of Software Objects".
Have you ever used unused (or used) ideas from your D&D days in your stories, or vice versa? No. My D&D days are 30 years gone; it'd be a rare idea to survive from that long ago.
If you could meet any dead science fiction author for a day, who would you meet and what would you do? Roger Zelazny. And probably a pub crawl then a curry.
How hard was it for you to break into the US market? If I'd known how easy it would be, I'd have done it earlier!
If you could choose between The Merchant Princes becoming a video game, a movie series, a TV series, and a limited HBO TV series, what format would you choose? Who would you pick for a director and some of the leads? Would you want to do the screenplay yourself? None of those are media formats I consume, so I have no opinion on the options. (Nor do I have any idea who the currently interesting directors or actors are.) If I wanted to be in movies, I'd have gone into scriptwriting: the fact that I write novels should be a big hint about what I prefer to do!
(Final Q: I dislike Dr Who and Star Trek, so I shan't comment further.)
"I dislike Dr. Who and Star Trek..." This is like finding out your dad really can't beat up everyone else's dad. They've achieved cult following through character development, but as SF they both have gigantic structural flaws at the plot and tech level; great gaping internal inconsistencies! (Although I'm kind of fond of the meta-theory that explains Star Trek as being propaganda intended for external consumption by the Federation, which is actually the Soviet Union in Space in the 24th century.)
Next you will tell me Nutella doesn't really taste good. Damn you Charles Stross! Damn you to hell! I will still read your books, but I will do so with a smug expression of annoyance ;) Nutella is okay, but Marmite rocks as a sandwich topping!
You must try Vegemite. I like vegemite too.
(Alas - this may be TMI - I have a mild yeast intolerance; if I consume too much wheat beer or marmite or vegemite and my next morning will be exceedingly interesting, in a most unpleasant way.)
I saw that you started writing at the age of 15, novels at that. I'm a younger person myself, and for me and the rest of novel-aspiring-youth, what do you have to tell? Tips, motivation, etc.? Write. Every day, if possible.
Finish stuff.
Send it out, and when it comes back, send it out again.
Step 3 may be a bit premature if you're thinking about professional publication, but at the very least: workshop with other writers, learn to critique their work, learn to understand and listen to their criticism of your work, then apply the skills you learned dissecting other folks' writing to your own stuff.
Do you ever read something someone else has written and think "damn, now I cant do that". Who do you read? (if you have time) Yes, I sometimes get the "Damn, too late, [X] got there first" idea. But seriously? I have time to write 1-2 novels per year, and get roughly novel-sized ideas every month. I have to perform triage on my own writing impulses. So it's usually quite easy to shrug and write something else instead.
What I read: while I'm writing, I tend to go off reading fiction for relaxation -- especially the challenging stuff. It's too much like the day job. When I do get to chow down on a book, I try to read ones that are nothing like what I'm writing. So, as I'm currently working on a space opera (of sorts) I'm mostly indulging in urban fantasy.
Wow, I didn't realise the ideas flew in so fast. Is it morbid to ask if you worry about getting it all written before you die? (Im thinking of Terry Pratchett here...) Yes, I worry about that. I'm 47. I reckon I can count on 30 more writing years, averaging a book a year (I can't keep up the 2-2.5 a year I used to do these days). And these days I've gotten round to wondering, for each new idea, "do I want to be remembered for this?" before I get to the point of spending a year on it.
Asimov or Clarke? Neither, although I'm marginally less averse to Clarke's style.
Out of curiosity, what about Heinlein? (As a writer, at least - let's leave politics aside for the moment.) I have written a Heinlein tribute novel.
In general, who in sci-fi/SF inspired you, and/or inspires you now? (Unfortunately, while most authors who do that -- Scalzi, Varley, Robinson, et al -- pick Heinlein juveniles, I went for a dirty old man Heinlein tribute novel. Hence "Saturn's Children" and a novel that hinges on the word spung!).
Have you ever been afraid to actually publish a book for fear of what your fans may think? And how do you deal with writers block, or just actually getting the damn thing started? And lastly, do you read books that aren't in your current genre? And if so, what's your favorite? Publishing is the final step in making a book; if I was afraid to publish one, I wouldn't write it in the first place. (But in general, a little controversy isn't harmful: if anything, it gets people interested. I don't think most of my opinions, political or social, are so far outside of the mainstream that they'd cause massive outrage on a scale liable to provoke death threats or referrals to prosecutors for outraging public decency, so why worry?)
Writers block: when I get it, it's because my subconscious spotted that I'd make a huge structural mistake in constructing a novel before my conscious mind became aware of it, and threw on the brakes. So I've learned not to sweat it: take two days off, then back up a chapter, read through, and try to work out why I'm suddenly uneasy about continuing.
While writing a novel I almost completely stop reading books in the same sub-genre for the duration.
Hi there, funnily enough i just finished the Atrocity Archives, which i bought because i bought the Laundry RPG a while back. Awesome book. Loved it. Can't wait to run the game. So do you play Call of Cthulhu or the Laundry at all? Or are you just into the writing side? Strictly writing side. I was heavily into AD&D in my teens (late 1970s-early 1980s) but fell off the RPG habit in the mid-80s and have never gone back to it; my lifestyle today isn't very compatible with having a regular gaming group (too much travel).
Which do you enjoy writing more; the Laundry series or harder scifi like Glasshouse and Accelerando? That's a very hard question.
If I write too much of anything for too long, I burn out on it. So it helps to vary my output from year to year. That's partly why the Laundry books are coming out at 2-5 year intervals rather than every 12 months.
As someone who grew up reading Ian Fleming and HP Lovecraft, I think they're well worth the wait! (Just pre-ordered the latest iteration) Also, do you find it difficult to write your more abstract stories like Accelerando? I tried to explain it to a friend once, but failed miserably. Accelerando was murder. It took me more than five years, in the shape of nine stories. One of which (#5) was so difficult that by way of finding an excuse to dodge having to work on it I accidentally barfed up the first two volumes of the Merchant Princes series.
I am a huge fan of yours. Three of my favorite short stories are Missile Gap, A Colder War, and Unwirer. Well, I guess I just really love the whole "Wireless" collection. What inspired you to cross Lovecraft with The Cold War? Fear of nuclear annihilation. I'm a child of the cold war: I didn't live more than 10 miles from a major WarPac nuclear target until the Berlin Wall came down and the CW ended. Knowing you can die horribly at any moment because of decisions made by alien intelligences thousands of miles away who don't even know you exist -- there's something Lovecraftian about that, isn't there?
At what age did you start writing novels? I began my first novel when I was 15. It went through three drafts, of around 40,000 words each. If I find it, I'll burn it. (If you read it, you'd thank me :)
Hahahha I'm 15 now. Every time when i have to do an assignment for school, i don't really know how to start, could you give me some advice, please? Nope. Because I'm nearly a third of a century older than you, and any advice I could give you about school assignments would be slightly out of date ...!
The modern solution is to just wikiwalk until inspired. Or tropeswalk! Actually, no, don't do that. You'll get sucked into TVTropes and suddenly notice that the sun's peeking through your window, you're knee-deep in villain archetypes, and the assignment's due in three hours. Your warning comes too late. Actually, I was semi-immunized to TVTropes by being sent a copy of the Turkey City Lexicon by Bruce Sterling at an impressionable age: Link to
What do you think of TV Tropes, in general? Like all good things, it's possible to overdose on it.
But for someone who is starting out on developing their critical skills, just being aware of its existence is great: it can make the difference between trying to write a story around a cliche or an original idea, and better still, studying it can eventually clue you in on how to breathe new life into tired tropes.
One of the things that I liked about Halting State and Rule 34 was that they are set in a plausible near future where technology has made individuals much more productive than people from 50+ years ago. Given that with technological assistance one worker can now supervise many machines working to produce goods do you think that there will be a resurgence of a leisure class in the first world? Do you think that we are getting to the point where instead of overpaying people to do manual factory work there is room for another model that still resembles modern life? I have no answer to this question. Keynes asked it more than fifty years ago; something has clearly gone wrong, given that the folks with jobs seem to work endless hours while many people can't get a job at all.
Nice to see a bit of social marketing, it will be interesting to hear how it compares to the publishers' marketdroid efforts in terms of sales (if you can tease out the stats). Now the important question, favourite beer? My regular session beer is Deuchars IPA (Link to It's not an American-style bitterness wars IPA; it's a light, Scottish ale with just enough hops to tell you what it is, and it's weak enough that you can keep drinking it continuously for hours without any risk of waking up in a puddle with KICK ME tattooed on your bum.
Any other writing aids? Link to
What's your policy/opinion on adverbs? I ask because guys like Stephen King encourage writers to murder every adverb before it ever hits the page, whereas guys like William Gibson (my favorite author) use them liberally. I have no policy, for or against: only a personal style. (Which is to say, I use them when I think it's appropriate to; for example, an internal monologue by a locquacious and verbose narrator is more likely to be larded with adverbs than an exchange of instant messages between cops at a crime scene.)
I'm a new but big fan. The first book of yours that I read only a few months ago was Accelerando and it absolutely blew my mind! Not only that but it made me very excited for the near future, I see Google Glasses as being a very exciting tech that leads into your vision. Bitcoin: probably not, but it's intriguing enough to be at the root of an entire interstellar finance system in "Neptune's Brood" (due next July, 2013).
PS I'm really looking forward to seeing you when you come to Perth West Aus next year. Maybe I can buy you a beer! Perth, beer? Sure!
Bitcoins as... urrrrgh. Okay. I'll have to read that, then. Hope you got the failure conditions right! I hybridised it with Chaum's digicash. With the added twist that participants in exchanges had to be in different solar systems. It's called "slow money" for a reason ...
How do you make sure you aren't "inadvertently plagiarizing?" I think up ideas a lot but am sure they have already been done somewhere or that I am ripping something off I have read and cannot recall specifically. Original creativity seems difficult. First: plagiarism requires you to copy someone else's words. You can avoid this by, er, not copying! Writing your own story around the same ideas is not plagiarism; at worst, it's being unoriginal.
thanks for the books...I love science fiction and appreciate the work that goes into putting out novels to entertain us. Having said that, you're right: coming up with truly new ideas is hard. But I've got a method: I look for a couple of obvious ideas that have been done before (try: folks who can travel at will to parallel universes; in their home world they're the aristocracy, because: magic powers) and then look for the second-order side effects: stuff that other authors didn't dig into (for example: wrt. the previous idea, what are the consequences of these folks' ability for the ongoing economic and political development of their world? Can it have negative consequences? If so, what are they?)
How long did it take you to become comfortable writing in the second person? I finished reading Rule 34 and it was the first novel* i had read in this style. It took me about a hundred pages of "Halting State" to get the hang of it, and another hundred pages to feel comfortable. I also needed a reason to start doing it (2nd person is the natural voice of the text adventure game -- "you are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike").
A trilogy? Does this mean that a third book is on contract, or that you just have it kicking around in your head? EDIT: Nevermind, you answered this already. Looking forward to it! "The Lambda Functionary" is on contract for delivery on July 1st, 2013 and publication around July 3rd, 2014. And I haven't even begun writing it yet. Ulp.
Connected intelligence (as in, human intelligence augmented by online sources) seems to be on the perpetual 'five years out' list - do you think projects like Google Glass will finally make this a reality? What sort of timescale would you envisage for mass-adoption? (crosses fingures for a 'yes') Hmm ... what's wrong with a smartphone with always-on 3G or 4G data and google/wikipedia? Doesn't that qualify?
How much pre-planning would you say that you do before starting on a new book? Or do you subscribe more to the "Let's just start writing and see where it takes us" camp? Both :)
No two books come out the same way. Some I write by the seat of my pants; others are planned in minute detail.
The one thing that does happen, every time, though, is that I never get to write a book until I've already been thinking about it for a period of months to years. Unless it's "Glasshouse" (time from initial idea to starting writing: 9 days).
Rule 34 was one of my favorite reads last year, but I found the title to be a bit of a red herring since (without spoilers) neither memes nor porn ended being a big part of the story's resolution (other than the department Kavanaugh is in when she started). Was that intentional? What is ATHENA if not a meme with legs? (The relative lack of porn I'll grant you ...) Link to
Hi Charles, I'm Chinese and I live in Asia and most of the sci fi actually comes from the west. Is this due to cultural reasons, literacy or how technology/future seems to resonate more if written from a western perspective? Also, how can one become a successful sci fi/fantasy writer outside of Europe/America? I have no idea, frankly ...
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The Return of the Cypher-Punks Gas Station in Colorado Accepts Bitcoins! -- Bitcoin Poker -- New York Bitcoin FUD Getting started - Bitcoin - Fundamentals Explained Cryptocurrency & Blockchain Bitcoin Live Btc Price Liquidation Watch: July 14 2020 ...

Charles Stross, popular author and blogger, summed up the situation nicely. “Bitcoin is pretty much designed for tax evasion,” he quips. “Bitcoin is pretty much designed for tax evasion Charles Stross - The author of six Hugo-nominated novels and winner of the 2005, 2010, and 2014 Hugo awards for best novella businesses and individuals that might otherwise accept Bitcoin as payment for goods and service in forecasting Bitcoin exchange rate risk. Bitcoin can't be a viable long-term currency unless, and until, it is more Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "SF writer Charles Stross writes on his blog that like all currency systems, Bitcoin comes with an implicit political agenda attached and although our current global system is pretty crap, Bitcoin is worse.For starters, BtC is inherently deflationary. There is an upper limit on the number of bitcoins that can ever be created so the cost of generating new Bitcoins New submitter buddha379 writes "Over the holidays we discussed a story from SF author Charles Stross called 'Why I Want Bitcoin to Die in a Fire,' just as Bitcoin's price collapsed on news of the Chinese government's cautious approach to the fledgling internet currency.Well known economist Paul Krugman quoted the piece in a NY Times blog post called 'Bitcoin is Evil'. Author Charles Stross writes: BitCoin looks like it was designed as a weapon intended to damage central banking and money issuing banks, with a Libertarian political agenda in mind—to damage

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The Return of the Cypher-Punks

The Bitcoin Challenge -- Issued to Paul Krugman and Charles Stross 1. Sign up for Coinbase or any Bitcoin service and buy $10 worth of Bitcoin. 2. Send a $1 to a friend, via Email or with their ... Bitcoin Live Btc Price Liquidation Watch 24/7 Bull vs Bear Pump or Dump Bitcoin Currency Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency. It is a decentralized digital currency without a central bank or single ... An exchange is essentially an online platform that enables anyone to purchase and sell Bitcoin along with any other cryptocurrency that they have actually listed. More info on: Gemini is a simple, elegant, and secure platform to build your crypto portfolio. Buying, selling, and storing your c... Bitcoin ATMs act a bit like in-person bitcoin exchanges. Individuals can insert cash into the device and use it to purchase bitcoin which is then transferred to a safe digital wallet.

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