Commerce, first: having handed in "Rule 34" at last, my agent and I went back to negotiate a new three book deal with Ace (for North American rights) and, simultaneously, Orbit (for UK/commonwealth rights). What we offered was: a new Laundry Files novel, a new space opera (nominally a sequel to "Saturn's Children", to be titled "Neptune's Brood"), and a third Edinburgh near-future novel, which was to be "The Lambda Functionary". (I'll explain why this didn't happen in the forthcoming Miscellanea crib sheet.)
I felt slightly dirty about this. Sequels are an easy sell because your editor can simply look up the sales figures, take them to Marketing, and say "more of the same". But in 2009 publishing was still reeling from the events of November 2008 and Black Thursday, in which the New York publishing trade collectively shat itself over the economic outlook and quarterly figures and fired 10% of their staff. (The only dissident corporation being Hachette, who imposed a hiring and pay freeze but declared that even though times were grim right now, they intended to ride it out and keep their valuable editorial teams intact. (If you've ever wondered why I stick with Orbit—which is a division of Hachette—despite their obsession with DRM, this is your answer. I may consider one aspect of their business practices to be wrong-headed, but in other respects they win big.) Digression over.) And because of the general softness of the market, we decided to play it safe for the time being.
However. I wrote the first three Laundry novels in 1999-2000, 2005, and 2008. Pushing out a fourth in 2010-12 felt almost premature—going from a 3-5 yearly tempo up to a biannual one. Could I do it? More importantly, where was I going to get the skeleton? The first three Laundry Files novels were all homages to British spy thriller authors—Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, and Anthony Price. For reasons I'm not going to repeat, John le Carre was off the menu. So was Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor), although the title of "The Fuller Memorandum" reflected an early stab in his direction. (The first novel and movie about his master ferret, Quiller, was titled "The Quiller Memorandum". It's still a classic of cold war espionage pulp. Recommended, if you can find it.)
Several things were clearly happening in the series story arc that was beginning to emerge. "The Atrocity Archive" was written as a stand-alone, until "The Concrete Jungle" happened and proved that I had a protagonist. "The Jennifer Morgue" told me that I had a structural model for novels in this setting. "The Fuller Memorandum" extended it further and taught me that Bob was aging at roughly one year per year of real-world time, and that there was a story arc with Bad Things due to happen in another few years. It forced me to reset the clock on CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN (originally a throwaway in "The Concrete Jungle", intended to provide a pretext for the plot McGuffin of the SCORPION STATE network). And because Bob was maturing and presumably being promoted steadily, he was in danger of leveling up (to use a term of art series fiction has handily borrowed from the gaming world). A protagonist who levels up can meet new and bigger, badder adversaries. But a protagonist who levels up without new and interesting handicaps risks walking an endless treadmill rather than embarking on a hero's journey with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In "The Fuller Memorandum", the idiot meddling cultists inadvertently entangled Bob with the Eater of Souls; in return, he got a nasty physical scar and some deeper psychological wounds. So it seemed obvious that in the new book, Bob was going to be (a) promoted into junior management (he thought), (b) meet new and exciting co-workers and a new and unpleasantly exciting enemy, and (c) experience unanticipated side-effects of the changes inflicted on him in the previous book.
Then I saw the news that Peter O'Donnell had died and decided, "what the hell, let's write a Modesty Blaise novel," and ran into a woman called Persephone Hazard in the pub, and asked if I could borrow her nom de guerre, and Chapter One in Schloss Neuschwanstein happened. (I got to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein in 2012. I didn't get it too wrong, working from floor plans and internet resources, but Google Streetview didn't exactly cover itself in glory back then.)
But then I realized I had a structural consistency problem. Persephone Hazard and Johnny McTavish are freelancers. That's the Modesty Blaise paradigm. But we've been told consistently throughout the earlier books, by Bob, that everyone who learns The Truth ends up in the Laundry, toiling away as a civil servant. So I had to work out a rationale by which deniable freelancers could exist and work for the Laundry on occasion. Hence the invention of External Assets, and the gradual exploration of what Mahogany Row—initially seen by the lowly Bob as some kind of management and executive stratum—actually is and does. This in turn forced some expansion of the long-term back story of the Laundry, which has a pre-SOE history going all the way back to Sir Francis Walsingham and Dr. John Dee. Which in turn forced me to confront the issue of ritual magic in the Laundry universe—skilled mathematicians or symbolic visualizers who can accomplish some of the jobs Bob usually programs his PDA to do in their own brains, albeit at risk of Krantzberg Syndrome.
Now for the adversaries. For some years I'd been watching the gathering popularity of fundamentalist Christian supremacists with considerable unease. Speaking as an atheist, from the outside, Christian evangelism looks a lot like Amway, only the product being sold is Jesus, a kind of proxy server for divine salvation by way of Jehovah 1.0 (with the inconvenient early genocidal injunctions and the stuff about not mixing polyester with thy cotton, or observing times, swept under the rug). Some of the doctrines of the Millenarian sects bear such a striking resemblance to the Technological singularity that I can only view the latter these days as a post-rationalist, post-enlightenment, secularized paint job on the body of the former. And I feel able to confess that the Quiverfull movement scares me shitless. There are large numbers of people out there who believe that The Handmaid's Tale is a road-map rather than a warning (oh, and ditto for the NSA/GCHQ and "1984", but that's old news these days).
I recognize that my perspective on this belief system is not a universal one. But in writing a horror novel, it helps to have a concrete nugget of unease at the center of your big evil. Bait-and-switch scares everybody, so ... why not pick a fundamentalist cult that scares me, and demonstrate that it's a wrapper for something that scares everyone (at least, everyone who doesn't want to have their tongue eaten and their brain possessed by an extradimensional parasite—which I assume can be approximated to everyone reading this essay)?
So I sat down (metaphorically: this was all done in email) with some friends who were either ex-fundamentalists or had fundamentalist family members, to try and make sure that the Golden Promise Ministries held to an outer doctrine that was within the spectrum of existing evangelical churches. Then I worked out what Ray Schiller's inner doctrine might be (the inner/outer layered doctrinal split thing is common to many new model religions, such as a certain litigious organization founded by a former SF novelist). It's easy enough to generate a new religion simply by messing with the Bible. Different Christian creeds, ones following the Nicean Creed, may vary some of the books: the Christian Bible's Old Testament is substantially different from the Pentateuch and Haftorah, and there are plenty of apocrypha out there that got left out. In the Laundry universe, adding a bunch of extra relevations at the end is a no-brainer: and adding a character to interpret them (Pete the Vicar) goes with the territory—you will meet Pete again in future Laundry Files stories.
The key plot armature is this: it is notionally the duty of Christians to either live righteously and await the Second Coming, or to prepare the ground for the Second Coming (by bringing as many people as possible into a state of grace. (Indeed, if you think the Second Coming is imminent and you believe this stuff, then failure to convert everyone is to condemn their souls to hell, or at least purgatory.) But we can go a step further: suppose that one of the Apostles left behind a manual for setting up a summoning that would bring about the Second Coming. Isn't it also your holy duty to perform that rite? Well, it all depends on whether the label on the tin accurately describes the contents ...
Colorado Springs was the obvious and logical location to set such a church. Alas, I didn't get a chance to visit that city until one week after the time window for copy-editing the manuscript expired (at which point the book had to go into production). Luckily Google Streetview covers Colorado Springs a lot better than Schloss Neuschwanstein! The biggest error I made was the typical weather for the time of year the novel was supposed to take place, and as the weather in the book was anything but natural in origin, I think I got away with it.
Up against this doomsday-oriented cult we position Persephone Hazard, and Bob. Bob thinks he's there to manage Persephone. Bob is actually there to act as an intermediary between Persephone and the huge pool of resources that the Laundry can provide, and to some extent as an under-study, to determine whether he's suitable for this type of work (spoiler: he is).
We generate the Freelancer/Cult intersection by having the cultists get too close to the Prime Minister. One of the strong rules that the Security Service (MI5) runs on is that they're not supposed to snoop on cabinet ministers or the Prime Minister. (Anyone in those posts should have been vetted and cleared long before they got there; meanwhile, historically MI6 paranoia during the cold war nearly led to a military coup on two occasions. There were abrupt early retirements: nobody wants to go there again.) But if a loose cannon who isn't directly employed by the Laundry were to take an interest, the Laundry would have to send someone to keep tabs on them, and of course report back on whatever the deniable assets discovered.
Finally, we have the question of Bob's burgeoning powers. I don't think I need to go into them here, other than to note that if you compare Bob's capabilities in "The Fuller Memorandum" with "The Apocalypse Codex" and "The Rhesus Chart" (forthcoming in July 2014) you'll see a steady progression. In fact, it's getting difficult to write from Bob's point of view: he isn't an unsteady newbie any more, he's being forced to leave important material out of the work journals that might be used for briefing the next generation of Deeply Scary Sorcerer, and the next couple of Laundry Files novels after "The Rhesus Chart" will probably have to be narrated by somebody else (unless I can come up with a Boss-level threat, or a way to deprive Bob of much of his leverage).
Which brings me to another momentous decision that I think I can now confess to.
The first four Laundry novels were the spy thriller homages. But I ran out of authors I wanted to pay homage to after "The Apocalypse Codex", so I'm taking the series in a very different direction. The forthcoming novella "Equoid" (which will appear on Tor.com in September) is about alien parasitology and is narrated by a much younger Bob (midway between "The Jennifer Morgue" and "The Fuller Memorandum"). The next novel, "The Rhesus Chart" (appearing in 2014 instead of the I-couldn't-write-it-and-hit-my-deadlines "The Lambda Functionary") is a homage not to a spy thriller author, but to a fantasy sub-genre. That's what I intend to do with novels #6 and #7—focus on genre tropes rather than authors—and I intend to write and publish those novels sooner rather than later (in fact, as soon as I've written the next generation Merchant Princes trilogy).
So, those of you who've been demanding "more Laundry Files" are going to get what you've been asking for: only it's turning into a setting (like Discworld) rather than a series of pastiches about a central character (like Rincewind). I hope you like it ...
And I'm going to leave you with the first sentence of "The Rhesus Chart":
"Don't be silly, Bob," said Mo: "everybody knows vampires don't exist."
PS: Footnote about "The Lambda Functionary" and "The Rhesus Chart". TLF as pitched was going to be the hugely ambitious capstone to the trilogy beginning with "Halting State" and "Rule 34". However, by the time I got to summer 2012, it was obvious that (a) it would take me at least two years to write (and my contract allowed me 12 months), (b) my publishers might accept me being a year late on delivery but my bank manager certainly wouldn't (I'd be skipping a year's income), and (c) a novel set in a world I'd designed in 2006 to depict the near-future of 2017-22 would not be published until 2015, putting it in some sort of weird alternate present. This all looked like a really bad idea from a earning-enough-to-eat perspective. Then the first sentence of "The Rhesus Chart" bit me on the jugular, along with about 70% of the plot of the novel, in the space of about three hours. And it was obviously a novel that wanted to be written, now. So I did dinner with my editor from Ace during the Worldcon in 2012, and pitched it at her, and she said "get your agent to write me a letter asking for a variance on the contract", presumably because getting a novel Charlie is enthusiastic about writing and puts him ahead of schedule is a lot better than having a year-long gap in the schedule while a depressed author grapples with his unstrung harp and tries to learn to love lentils.
A counter-terror operation, codenamed Wildlife, is being mounted in Britain's most precious colony. Its purpose: to capture and abduct a high-value jihadist arms-buyer. Its authors: an ambitious Foreign Office Minister, and a private defence contractor who is also his close friend. So delicate is the operation that even the Minister's private secretary, TobGibraltar, 2008.
A counter-terror operation, codenamed Wildlife, is being mounted in Britain's most precious colony. Its purpose: to capture and abduct a high-value jihadist arms-buyer. Its authors: an ambitious Foreign Office Minister, and a private defence contractor who is also his close friend. So delicate is the operation that even the Minister's private secretary, Toby Bell, is not cleared for it.
Cornwall, UK, 2011.
A disgraced Special Forces soldier delivers a message from the dead. Was Operation Wildlife the success it was cracked up to be - or a human tragedy that was ruthlessly covered up?
Summoned by Sir Christopher Probyn, retired British diplomat, to his decaying Cornish manor house, and closely observed by Kit's beautiful daughter, Emily, Toby must choose between his conscience and duty to his Service.
If the only thing necessary to the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, how can he keep silent?...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 25th 2013 by Viking