The Basilisk Murders: Now Out!

My new novel The Basilisk Murders is now out in hardback from Lulu, and in paperback and ebook from Amazon (UK ebook), (UK paperback), (US ebook), (US paperback). Those of you with Kindle Unlimited or the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library can read it for free — and if you *don’t* have those, you can sign up for a thirty-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited and read it for free anyway — and I’ll still get paid (though you’re more than welcome to buy a copy rather than read it free if you want to make sure you can keep it). Patreon backers should be receiving their free copies soon.

For those who haven’t seen me talk about this book, here’s the blurb:

“Was this going to be the end? I wondered as I sprinted down yet another flight of stairs. Was I going to get caught, and get killed, by a geek serial killer?”

When Sarah arrives at a tech conference she’s meant to be covering for her magazine, she thinks it’ll be a few days away from her marriage problems on a tropical island. Instead, she’s surrounded by sleazy men who want to build a computer God, thousands of miles from home and her wife. She hates where she is, and the people who are around her.

But when someone starts killing those people off, Sarah has to investigate. What is the Basilisk? Who is committing the murders? Why is everyone talking about blackmail? And why is everyone drinking fish?

Surrounded by Russian billionaires, gropey bloggers, alt-right computer scientists, and philosophy professors, can Sarah solve the murders and win back her wife before the Singularity? And can she do it without having to deal with her racist ex-girlfriend?

Part cozy mystery, part technothriller, part biting satire, The Basilisk Murders is a hilarious, gripping, story of irrational rationality, staying kind in a hostile world, and building a better sandcastle.

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Coming This Weekend

“Was this going to be the end? I wondered as I sprinted down yet another flight of stairs. Was I going to get caught, and get killed, by a geek serial killer?”

When Sarah arrives at a tech conference she’s meant to be covering for her magazine, she thinks it’ll be a few days away from her marriage problems on a tropical island. Instead, she’s surrounded by sleazy men who want to build a computer God, thousands of miles from home and her wife. She hates where she is, and the people who are around her.

But when someone starts killing those people off, Sarah has to investigate. What is the Basilisk? Who is committing the murders? Why is everyone talking about blackmail? And why is everyone drinking fish?

Surrounded by Russian billionaires, gropey bloggers, alt-right computer scientists, and philosophy professors, can Sarah solve the murders and win back her wife before the Singularity? And can she do it without having to deal with her racist ex-girlfriend?

Part cozy mystery, part technothriller, part biting satire, The Basilisk Murders is a hilarious, gripping, story of irrational rationality, staying kind in a hostile world, and building a better sandcastle.

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Proper Posting Resumes Tomorrow

I had a post planned for today, but had to use all my energy fixing the washing machine. Should be several posts over the next week, though — the next Prometheans, a politics one, the next Nilsson one and reviews of Thursday’s Richard Thompson gig and a live Hammer Horror event are all planned. Also The Basilisk Murders should be out within a short time.

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The Good Place

The Good Place is, for a US network TV series, a remarkably daring piece of work, but to explain why will require HONKING GREAT SPOILERS. I’M NOT KIDDING, YOU KNOW I DON’T NORMALLY CARE ABOUT SPOILERS BUT THIS TIME I DO

I’m actually going to put a big picture in so those of us who read fast won’t read the rest by accident.

Still here? Good. For those who don’t know, The Good Place is a US half-hour network sitcom that first aired last year, starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. Its second season started a couple of weeks ago, and Netflix got the streaming rights for the UK, putting the whole first series online at the same time as the first episode of season two, which is currently being added every Friday.

The first episode sets up a premise that has near-infinite potential. Eleanor Shelstrop is a bad person who has died and been sent to what is always referred to as “the Good Place” by mistake. The angel in charge of her case, Michael, has mistaken her for someone else of the same name, and now she’s in a small village of three hundred people — one of many such villages, full of monks, humanitarians, people who gave their lives to save others, and just generally the most morally good people there are.

Her being there and behaving like herself causes things to go wrong, though — she’s like grit in the clockwork, and when flying shrimp and giraffes start causing havoc, she realises that she can’t continue to stay in the Good Place as she is. But if she’s found out, she’ll go to the Bad Place, which would mean being tortured for eternity.

She confides in Chidi Anagonye, a professor of ethics, who agrees to teach her how to be a good person, but of course she keeps making mistakes.

And this, in itself, is the premise of a series that could run for years — you’ve got an indefnite story engine in Eleanor trying to keep her true identity from Michael, and along with that you’ve got the “professor in the afterlife trying to teach a bad person to be good” plot and comedy hook that worked so well for the first few series of Old Harry’s Game. The comedy isn’t the funniest thing ever, but there’s at least a couple of genuine laughs per episode, and as Rick & Morty has also been showing, the half-hour sitcom format is a good container for imaginative SFF, which this definitely is.

The cast is great (and diverse — the protagonist is bi, and the other three main human characters are a British-Pakistani woman, a black man from Senegal, and a Filipino man. Other than Danson there are almost no white men in anything other than bit parts or guest roles) and the series could easily continue with Eleanor learning her lessons for ten seasons or so.

Apart from one thing that bothered me as I watched the first few episodes. You see, the characters here are all meant to be moral exemplars — Tahani Al-Jamil, for example, raised sixty billion dollars for charity — but they know for sure that Hell really exists, that there is an infinite amount of suffering there, and that the vast majority of humanity go there. Any *remotely* decent human being would, on arrival in the Good Place, immediately decide to devote the whole of their infinite existence to the destruction of any system that allowed such inconceivable horrors, not sit around eating frozen yoghurt and hosting extravagant parties, as the people of the Good Place do.

Now, this would be OK as just a game-rule of the show — fair enough, the rules of the programme say there has to be a hell, but don’t poke too closely at the characters’ reactions. At some point *all* TV programmes have a point where you have to do this, and that’s just something you have to accept, unless you want to end up saying “but that’s not even the real Latin name for a road runner! You know, I think this cartoon may be lying to us!”

But the series seems to just sort of… keep *poking* at it. Chidi’s ethics lectures to Eleanor actually deal with some real, serious, issues of moral philosophy and ethics, and give at least a broadly correct overview of the major positions held by different philosophers. Not an in-depth one — this is, after all, a half-hour sitcom with fart jokes and will-they-won’t-they romances to get in — but it clearly takes the issue of ethics and morality seriously enough that it expects the viewer to as well. And yet this aspect was never brought up.

After about four episodes I started seeing this as a major flaw in the series, and trying to figure out ways they could improve it, because as it was one had to either see the sympathetic characters as monstrous or ignore the ethics that the show clearly thinks is important. And I figured out one way round the problem, but thought “they can’t possibly do that, because that would completely break the story engine they’ve got, and no TV writer is so profligate with ideas that they’ll smash a story engine”.

So in the first season finale they did exactly that. They did what I thought would be too daring for them to do, and stated that the Good Place we’d seen all season is really the Bad Place, that almost all the human characters are really demons there to torture our human principals, and that there was no-one good in the whole programme. Then they wiped the characters’ minds and started the whole thing over.

So the second series, currently airing, has what amounts to a totally different premise — can our major characters realise they’re really in Hell without alerting the demons that they know, can they keep their memories, and can they somehow escape from the Bad Place and make it to the real Good Place. What was a slightly-more-imaginative-than-average sitcom has now become The Prisoner meets Old Harry’s Game (and Danson’s performance as Michael, which I thought was far better than I expected from him when I thought he was playing an angel, having only previously seen him in Cheers where I wasn’t impressed by him, is astonishing once you realise he’s playing a demon playing an angel. One of the best TV acting jobs I’ve seen in recent years).

This is now a series that has already pulled the rug from under its viewers once in a major way, and has burned through a good premise for an ongoing series and turned it into a magnificent premise for a definitely-finite series. It’s rare that you can say of a series that you don’t know what kind of thing it’s going to do next, but here I truly don’t know, a third of the way through season two, what on Earth the show will even be by the end of the season.

I can’t recommend this enough, with one caveat — which is that there are three occasions in the series so far where bad things happen to dogs. It’s all cartoony and completely unrealistic, but I do know some people who will want a warning anyway (though there’s nothing that will traumatise anyone if they’re prepared, and it shouldn’t put you off watching).

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A Question of Ethics

(Proper post later)

I am, as you will know, about to put out a short mystery novel, The Basilisk Murders — it should be out early next week, and it’s the first in a series of three featuring the same protagonist (the other two will be out over the next few months — they’re both in various stages of work).

Now, normally, I make my books available on every platform, but I am *debating* with myself as to whether to make this book only available digitally on Amazon, at least for three months (I would of course still email Patreon backers their free copies).

The reason I’m debating is simple — my fiction doesn’t sell. At all. I’ve made about four hundred quid this month from ebook sales of my non-fiction, and probably another fifty from physical book sales (I won’t know exact numbers for a little while, as different online shops take different times to report, but it’s about that). I’ve made under a tenner from sales of my fiction titles.

Now, there are various reasons for that, but I think a *big* one is that *sales* of independent fiction by less-known authors have been almost completely cannibalised by Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited programme, which allows Prime members to read books for free and pays the authors anyway. Now, I think this programme is *utterly evil*, for a variety of reasons, but sadly this seems now to be the primary — and in many cases sole — way that independent novelists are making their money. Especially in mystery and romance, it seems that people have almost entirely moved over to the Kindle Unlimited service (or the similar Kindle Owners’ Lending Library)

So I’m *considering* balancing my ethical qualms against my desire to actually get paid for something that took a great deal of work for me. The main problem as far as readers are concerned, though, is that getting on Kindle Unlimited requires exclusivity — I would not be able to sell the ebook through any channel other than Amazon for three months. (The upside for readers would be that any of you with Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited would be able to read the book legally for free while still getting me money — quite possibly as much money as if you’d bought a copy). Anyone who buys physical books, or who buys Kindle ebooks, would still pay the same and so would be unaffected. (And the books would still be DRM-free, so you could buy the book from Amazon, download the file, and convert it to an epub easily enough).

After that three months I would, of course, make the ebook more widely available. My question is whether anyone (who wouldn’t be getting a free copy from Patreon) was actually planning to buy this book from a non-Kindle ebook store. I seriously dislike participating in a fairly disgusting monopolistic practice, but am more inclined to do so if it doesn’t directly harm a reader.

I should note as well that this will not ever apply to my non-fiction. Those books sell enough, and through a diverse enough set of channels, that my ethical and financial goals align perfectly there. But what I do with my fiction is very much up in the air.

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Cover Feedback?

My new book will be coming out soon — probably in the next week. I’m currently working on the cover, and would be interested in people’s feedback about it (especially from those of you who’ve beta-read the manuscript).

For those of you who don’t know the book (most of you) it’s structurally a cosy mystery, but stylistically a satire of technolibertarianism. I don’t know any genre it would fit in (Paul Magrs suggested “technocosy”, but there are no other such books), but a list of books that I think would appeal to the same people who might like this might be something like:
The Dirk Gently books by Douglas Adams
The Laundry books by Charles Stross (especially the first few)
The Mervyn Stone Mysteries by Nev Fountain
The Rivers books by Ben Aaronovitch
Most of Neal Stephenson’s stuff, especially the sillier, more satirical, stuff.

But with none of the supernatural or SF elements most of those books have. And less masculine — all of those have male protagonists, while mine has a woman (in a relationship with another woman).

When I started writing it I was aiming for somewhere close to The Name Of The Rose, but I missed and ended up with something far lighter and frothier, I think.

Anyway, does that cover suggest that kind of book? Any suggestions for improvements gratefully welcomed. (I’d also be interested to hear if that list of similar books lines up with what people who’ve read this in draft think).

Edit Within about thirty seconds of posting this, two people told me the title font isn’t great. I’ll be changing that to lower case, so it’ll look like the author name, though with the same colour it is now.

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Quick Question

I’m just finishing a draft of The Basilisk Murders after getting feedback from a couple of beta readers, but I’m after a second round of feedback on this draft before I release it to the public, ideally from people who haven’t already given me some feedback.

What I thought I might do is make the draft available (for free) to Patreon backers and ask for their advice on it — it might be a nice little extra for my backers, and they’re all people who like my writing, and they’re generally people whose opinions I trust.

On the other hand, though, that feels to me like it might be taking the piss a little — beta reading is work, after all, and saying “as a reward for paying my wages (which Patreon backers are essentially doing) you get to do my work for me” seems a little off.

What do people think?

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