Friday, August 15, 2008

New Free Stuff

I've added a new short story, A Brief Guide To Other Histories, to the fiction archive. First published in Postscripts #15, it shares the same multiverse as Cowboy Angels.

Coming soon: the first chapter of The Quiet War.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gosh Wow

After reading this, I'm (a) even more pleased that Gollancz had the foresight to bring out a new paperback edition of Fairyland and b) flattered to be in such prestigious company.

There Are Doors (8)

Edna Sharrow, a short story by Paul McAuley

Edna Sharrow was born in Glastonbury on All Souls Day, 1876. Claiming to be the last true black witch, she became a supporter of the Nazis in the 1930s and fled her homeland after a failed attempt to turn the gold reserves of the Bank of England into iron pyrites.

She survived the last days of Hitler’s bunker and kidnap attempts by the KGB, the CIA, and Mossad, returned to London in the 1960s, and drew a circle of protection around herself in a ground floor flat in Essex Road, Islington.

She’s been there ever since, living on spiders, woodlice, and pallid tendrils of ivy that curl through the rotten courses of mortar of the kitchen wall.

A few weeks ago, a young crack addict broke into the flat, hoping to find something he could sell for his next fix. Edna patched the broken pane in the front door with cardboard charged with a sly charm. An open invitation to another desperate chancer.

She’d forgotten how good fresh meat tasted. After another meal, she’ll be ready to go back into the world.


The hero of Whole Wide World works for the T12, the Metropolitan Police’s computer crimes unit. Alongside people like this gentleman, explaining in today’s Guardian about the persistence of information and why, when you dispose of a computer, you should always remove the hard disc first. Unless you aren't bothered about some stranger finding out about your interest in extreme knitting, Enid Blyton first editions, and ant sex, of course.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reality, Can’t Keep Up With Part 39

At the beginning of this century I started work on a thriller set a little way in the future. A terrorist attack had damaged the country’s electronic infrastructure. The police and security services had gained all kinds of new powers. Surveillance was omnipresent. Titled Whole Wide World, it was published in the UK in September 2001.

One of my little flights of fancy was that the government would require all ISPs to keep long-term records of emails sent and websites visited by their customers. But it was a step beyond plausibility to imagine that the government would want to keep a central database of that data. No matter how it was ringfenced, sooner or later someone would hack it. Surely, no one would be so stupid, even in fiction.

Until now, that is. Despite serious problems with every large-scale government IT project, and a series of embarrassing security violations, including leaving laptops packed with sensitive data on trains and losing CD-ROMs of tax databases, the Home Office has the brass neck to suggest that it can be safely entrusted with logs of the telephone and internet usage of every one of its citizens. But wait: there’s more. Local government, the health service, and hundreds of public bodies will be able to access this data at will. And investigators across the European Community will be able to use it too.

There’s no doubt that this kind of data can be useful in investigations of terrorism and crime. But in the topsy-turvy world of the government , the only way to protect us from terrorism is to treat everybody as a potential terrorist. While in the real world, the bad guys can use disposable pay-as-you-go mobile phones, temporary, anonymous email addresses, forwarding services, and many other tricks to prevent anyone tracking what they’re up to. And pulling the internet records of a suicide bomber after the fact may not be much use to anyone.

You really can’t make it up. And to think that there are still people who believe that governments can maintain massive cover-ups about black-op conspiracies ...

'I'm Ready For My Close-Up, Mr de Mille.'

Now that Cassini has finished its four-year mission, the people flying it can start to take some interesting risks. Like flying it to within 50 kilometres of the surface of Enceladus, right above the region that's jetting fountains of water vapour. And next time they're getting even closer.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Secret History Of America, Part XXIV

How David Lynch and Robert Ivers met Devo, an extract from Josh Frank's In Heaven Everything Is Fine, that describes one moment from a time when it was still possible for there to be forgotten moments in pop culture.
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