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Charles Stross

British science fiction writer and blogger


Singularity Sky (2003)Edit

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books ISBN 978-0-441-01179-7
Nominated for the 2004 Hugo Award.
  • The sheer waste of human potential that was the New Republic’s raison d’être offended her sensibilities as badly as a public book-burning, or a massacre of innocents.
    • Chapter 2, “Preparations for Departure” (p. 33)
  • “Hello, Martin. What can I do for you?”
    “Got a problem.”
    “A big one?”
    “Female human-sized.”
    • Chapter 3, “The Spacelike Horizon” (p. 60)
  • The first rule of space that mistakes are fatal. Space isn’t friendly; it kills you. And there are no second chances.”
    • Chapter 4, “The Admiral’s Man” (p. 72; ellipsis represents a minor elision of description)
  • Any job I do—if it doesn’t work, somebody pays. Possibly hundreds or thousands of somebodies. That’s the price of good engineering; nobody notices you did your job right.
    • Chapter 5, “Wolf Depository Incident” (p. 127)
  • Before the singularity, human beings living on Earth had looked at the stars and consoled themselves in their isolation with the comforting belief that the universe didn’t care.
    Unfortunately, they were mistaken.
    • Chapter 6, “Telegram from the Dead” (p. 131)
  • I am the Eschaton. I am not your God.
    I am descended from you, and exist in your future.
    Thou shalt not violate causality within my historic light cone. Or else.
    • Chapter 6, “Telegram from the Dead” (p. 132)
  • As every secret policeman knows, there is no such thing as a coincidence; the state has too many enemies.
    • Chapter 6, “Telegram from the Dead” (p. 139)
  • “Didn’t I have you executed last week?”
    “I very much doubt. It.”
    • Chapter 6, “Telegram from the Dead” (p. 142)
  • “I Critic am. Critics follow Festival for many lifetimes. We come to Criticize. First want I to know, am I Criticizing sapients? Or is just puppet show on cave wall of reality? Zombies or zimboes? Shadows of mind? Amusements for Eschaton?
    A shiver ran up and down Burya’s spine. “I think I’m sapient,” he said cautiously. “Of course, I’d say that even if I wasn’t, wouldn’t I? Your question is unanswerable. So why ask it?”
    Sister Seventh leaned forward. “None of your people ask anything,” she hissed. “Food, yes. Guns, yes. Wisdom? No. Am beginning think you not aware of selves, ask nothing.”
    • Chapter 6, “Telegram from the Dead” (p. 143)
  • Quote, the viability of a postsingularity economy of scarcity is indicated by the transition from an indirection-layer-based economy using markers of exchange of goods and services to a tree-structured economy characterized by optimal allocation of productivity systems in accordance with iterated tit-for-tat prisoner’s dilemma. Money is a symptom of poverty and inefficiency. Unquote.
    • Chapter 6, “Telegram from the Dead” (p. 143)
  • “Talk you of tradition in middle of singularity.” Sister Seventh twisted her head around to look out the windows at the foggy evening drizzle beyond. “Perplexity maximizes. Not understand singularity is discontinuity with all tradition? Revolution is necessary; deconstruct the old, ring in the new. Before, I questioned your sapience. Now, your sanity questionable; sapience not. Only sapient organism could exhibit superlative irrationality!”
    • Chapter 6, “Telegram from the Dead” (p. 144)
  • “Do you believe in angels, Robard?” he asked faintly.
    “No, sir.”
    “Well, that’s alright then, she must be a devil. Can deal with those, y’know.”
    • Chapter 7, “A Semiotic War” (p. 159)
  • “We have a problem, sir.”
    “What do you mean, a problem?” demanded the Admiral. “We’re not supposed to have problems—that’s the enemy’s job!”
    • Chapter 7, “A Semiotic War” (p. 159)
  • Time travel destabilizes history.
    History is a child of contingency; so many events depend on critical misunderstandings or transient encounters that even the apocryphal butterfly’s wing is apt to stir up a storm in short order.
    • Chapter 8, “Confessions” (p. 177)
  • “I don’t like their system, and they know it. That’s why I’m sitting in this cell instead of in my cabin, or on the engineering deck. But—” He shrugged. “Their social system is one thing, but people are people everywhere you go, just trying to get along in this crazy universe. I don’t like them as individuals, but that’s not the same as wanting them dead. They’re not monsters, and they don’t deserve what’s coming to them, and life isn’t fair, is it?”
    • Chapter 8, “Confessions” (p. 183)
  • Unfortunately, it appeared that she was going to be around when they learned the hard way that interstellar wars of aggression were much easier to lose than to win.
    • Chapter 8, “Confessions” (p. 188)
  • Intelligence and infinite knowledge were not, it seemed, compatible with stable human existence.
    • Chapter 9, “Diplomatic Behavior” (p. 198)
  • True revolutionary doctrine teaches that the only law is rationalism and dynamic optimism.
    • Chapter 11, “Circus of Death” (p. 234)
  • “They’re too literal-minded,” he said quietly. “All doing, no innovative thinking. They don’t understand metaphors well; half of them think you’re Baba Yaga returned, you know? We’ve been a, ah, stable culture too long. Patterns of belief, attitudes, get ingrained. When change comes, they are incapable of responding. Try to fit everything into their preconceived dogmas.”
    • Chapter 12, “Bouncers” (p. 253)
  • A curious horror overtook him, then. His skin crawled; the back of his neck turned damp and cold. I can’t go yet, he thought. It’s not fair! He shuddered. The void seemed to speak to him. Fairness has nothing to do with it. This will happen, and your wishes are meaningless.
    • Chapter 12, “Bouncers” (p. 257)
  • It was a lousy plan, the only thing to commend it being the fact that all the alternatives were worse.
    • Chapter 13, “Jokers” (p. 274)
  • Ultimately, it was easier to change the subject than think the unthinkable.
    • Chapter 13, “Jokers” (p. 280)
  • “But then—you’re telling me they brought unrestricted communications with them?” he asked.
    “Yup.” Rachel looked up from her console. “We’ve been trying for years to tell your leaders, in the nicest possible way: information wants to be free. But they wouldn’t listen. For forty years we tried. Then along comes the Festival, which treats censorship as a malfunction and routes communications around it. The Festival won’t take no for an answer because it doesn’t have an opinion on anything; it just is.”
    “But information isn’t free. It can’t be. I mean, some things — if anyone could read anything they wanted, they might read things that would tend to deprave and corrupt them, wouldn’t they? People might give exactly the same consideration to blasphemous pornography that they pay to the Bible! They could plot against the state, or each other, without the police being able to listen in and stop them!”
    Martin sighed. “You’re still hooked on the state thing, aren’t you?” he said. “Can you take it from me, there are other ways of organizing your civilization?”
    “Well—” Vassily blinked at him in mild confusion. “Are you telling me you let information circulate freely where you come from?”
    “It’s not a matter of permitting it,” Rachel pointed out. “We had to admit that we couldn’t prevent it. Trying to prevent it was worse than the disease itself.”
    “But, but lunatics could brew up biological weapons in their kitchens, destroy cities! Anarchists would acquire the power to overthrow the state, and nobody would be able to tell who they were or where they belonged anymore. The most foul nonsense would be spread, and nobody could stop it—” Vassily paused. “You don’t believe me,” he said plaintively.
    “Oh, we believe you alright,” Martin said grimly. “It’s just—look, change isn’t always bad. Sometimes freedom of speech provides a release valve for social tensions that would lead to revolution. And at other times, well—what you’re protesting about boils down to a dislike for anything that disturbs the status quo. You see your government as a security blanket, a warm fluffy cover that’ll protect everybody from anything bad all the time. There’s a lot of that kind of thinking in the New Republic; the idea that people who aren’t kept firmly in their place will automatically behave badly. But where I come from, most people have enough common sense to avoid things that’d harm them; and those that don’t, need to be taught. Censorship just drives problems underground.”
    “But, terrorists!”
    “Yes,” Rachel interrupted, “terrorists. There are always people who think they’re doing the right thing by inflicting misery on their enemies, kid. And you’re perfectly right about brewing up biological weapons and spreading rumors. But—” She shrugged. “We can live with a low background rate of that sort of thing more easily than we can live with total surveillance and total censorship of everyone, all the time.” She looked grim. “If you think a lunatic planting a nuclear weapon in a city is bad, you’ve never seen what happens when a planet pushed the idea of ubiquitous surveillance and censorship to the limit. There are places where—” She shuddered.
    • Chapter 14, “The Telephone Repairman” (pp. 296-297)
  • The Cold War was all about who could build the biggest refrigerator, wasn’t it?
    • Chapter 14, “The Telephone Repairman” (p. 298)
  • “Will you stop calling me a child!”
    Rachel hunched around in her chair and stared at him. “But you are, you know. Even if you were sixty years old, you’d still be a child to me. As long as you expect someone or something else to take responsibility for you, you’re a child. You could fuck your way through every brothel in New Prague, and you’d still be an overgrown schoolboy.” She looked at him sadly. “What would you call a parent who never let their children grow up? That’s what we think of your government.”
    • Chapter 14, “The Telephone Repairman” (p. 299)
  • “A cure for old age is a very common wish,” Kurtz observed. “Dashed slug-a-beds want to be shot by a jealous husband, not a nurse bored with emptying the bedpan.”
    • Chapter 15, “Delivery Service” (p. 317)
  • Never underestimate the intrinsic, as opposed to ideological, conservatism of an idea like revolution once it’s got some momentum behind it.
    • Chapter 15, “Delivery Service” (p. 323)
  • You got overdraft at the mythology bank.
    • Chapter 15, “Delivery Service” (p. 329)

Iron Sunrise (2004)Edit

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books ISBN 978-0-441-01296-1
Nominated for the 2005 Hugo Award.
The chapters in the novel are not numbered. They are numbered here for ease of reference
  • And that’s when it turned intae the full-dress faeco-ventilatory intersection scene.
    • Chapter 2, “Out of the Frying Pan” (p. 45)
  • “He’s an artist,” she said calmly. “I’ve dealt with the type before, and recently. Like the bad guy said, never give an artist a Browning; they’re some of the most dangerous folks you can meet. The Festival fringe—shit! Artists almost always want an audience, the spectacle of destruction.”
    • Chapter 2, “Out of the Frying Pan” (p. 47)
  • Er, I can’t confirm or deny, but that’s a good guess.
    • Chapter 4, “Magical Mystery Tour” (p. 67)
  • Well, now is the time to peel back the foreskin of misconception and apply the wire brush of enlightenment to this mass of sticky half-truths and lies. The truth hurts, but not as much as the consequences of willful ignorance.
    • Chapter 5, “Another Day, Another Editorial” (p. 71)
  • Worlds with a single planetary government aren’t meant to be peaceful and open and into civil rights! When I see a planet with just one government, I look for the mass graves. It’s some kind of natural law or something—world governments grow out of the barrel of a gun.
    • Chapter 10, “Murder by Numbers” (pp. 160-161)
  • New Dresden is not a McWorld: it’s a shitty little flea hole populated by pathologically suspicious Serbs, bumptiously snobbish Saxons, three different flavors of Balkan refugee, and an entire bestiary of psychopathic nationalist loons. The planetary national sport is the grudge match, at which they are undisputed past masters. I say “past masters” for a reason—they’re not as bad as they used to be. The planet has been unified for the past ninety years, since the survivors finished merrily slaughtering everyone else, formed a federation, had a nifty little planetary-scale nuclear war, formed another federation, and buried the hatchet (in one another’s backs).
    • Chapter 13, “Hold the Front Page” (pp. 200-201)
  • I wasn’t exaggerating the national suspicion toward strangers. It’s a survival trait on New Dresden; they’ve been breeding for paranoia for centuries.
    • Chapter 13, “Hold the Front Page” (p. 202)
  • It was an okay vintage, if you could get past the fact that it was wine, and—stripped of the ability to get drunk on it—wine was just sour grape juice.
    • Chapter 14, “Sybarite Class” (p. 228)
  • People didn’t always follow their best interests. Human beings were distressingly bad at risk analysis, lousy with hidden motivations and neuroses, anything but the clean rational actors that economists or diplomats wanted so desperately to believe in, and diplomats had to go by capabilities, not intentions.
    • Chapter 15, “Preparing for Ghosts and Dogs” (pp. 245-246)
  • I just don’t like it, for extremely large values of don’t and like.
    • Chapter 15, “Preparing for Ghosts and Dogs” (p. 251)
  • The first time Wednesday saw a flag she had to look away, unsure whether to laugh or cry. Patriotism had never been a huge Muscovite virtue, and to see the way the fat woman in the red pants held on to her flag as if it were a life preserver made Wednesday want to slap her and yell Grow up! It’s all over! Except it also felt watching Jerm, aged three, playing with the pewter pot containing Grandpa’s ashes. Abuse of the dead, an infection of history.
    • Chapter 17, “Set Us Up the Bomb” (pp. 277-278)
  • Along the way she’d acquired a powerful conviction that history was a series of accidents—God was either absent or playing a very elaborate practical joke (the Eschaton didn’t count, having explicitly denied that it was a deity)—and that the seeds of evil usually germinated in the footprints of people who knew how everybody else ought to behave and felt the need to tell them so.
    • Chapter 18, “Grateful Dead” (p. 294)
  • “Everybody thinks they’re doing the right thing, kid. All the time. It’s about the only rule that explains how fucked-up this universe is.” A wan smile crept across her face. “Nobody is a villain in their own head, are they? We all know we’re doing the right thing, which is why we’re in this mess.”
    • Chapter 23, “Messengers” (pp. 383-384)

Accelerando (2005)Edit

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books
  • The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.
    • Chapter 1 (“Lobsters”), p. 1 (quoting Edsger W. Dijkstra)
  • “Sounds kind of long-term to me. Just how far ahead do you think?”
    “Very long-term—at least twenty, thirty years. And you can forget governments for this market, Bob; if they can’t tax it, they won’t understand it.”
    • Chapter 1 (“Lobsters”), pp. 14-15
  • Welcome to the early twenty-first century, human.
    It’s night in Milton Keynes, sunrise in Hong Kong. Moore’s Law rolls inexorably on, dragging humanity toward the uncertain future. The planets of the solar system have a combined mass of approximately 2 x 1027 kilograms. Around the world, laboring women produce forty-five thousand babies a day, representing 1023 MIPS of processing power. Also around the world, fab lines casually churn out thirty million microprocessors a day, representing 1023 MIPS. In another ten months, most of the MIPS being added to the solar system will be machine-hosted for the first time. About ten years after that, the solar system’s installed processing power will nudge the critical 1 MIPS per gram threshold—one million instructions per second per gram of matter. After that, singularity—a vanishing point beyond which extrapolating progress becomes meaningless. The time remaining before the intelligence spike is down to single-digit years ...
    • Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), pp. 38-39
  • Manfred decides that he’s going to do something unusual for a change: He’s going to make himself temporarily rich. This is a change because Manfred’s normal profession is making other people rich. Manfred doesn’t believe in scarcity or zero-sum games or competition—his world is too fast and information-dense to accommodate primate hierarchy games.
    • Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), p. 41
  • He’s been off-line for the best part of six hours and is getting a panicky butterfly stomach at the idea of not being in touch with everything that’s happened in the last twenty kiloseconds.
    • Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), p. 54
  • Annette’s communiqué is anodyne; a giggling confession off camera (shower-curtain rain in the background) that the famous Manfred Macx is in Paris for a weekend of clubbing, drugging, and general hell-raising. Oh, and he’s promised to invent three new paradigm shifts before breakfast every day, starting with a way to bring about the creation of Really Existing Communism by building a state central planning apparatus that interfaces perfectly with external market systems and somehow manages to algorithmically outperform the Monte Carlo free-for-all of market economics, solving the calculation problem. Just because he can, because hacking economics is fun, and he wants to hear the screams from the Chicago School.
    • Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), pp. 57-58
  • His ideas are informed by a painfully honest humanism, and everyone—even his enemies—agrees that he is one of the greatest theoreticians of the post-EU era. But his intellectual integrity prevents him from rising to the very top, and his fellow travelers are much ruder about him than his ideological enemies, accusing him of the ultimate political crime—valuing truth over power.
    • Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), p. 60
  • She still believes in classical economics, the allocation of resources under conditions of scarcity. Information doesn’t work that way.
    • Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), p. 72
  • Experiments in digitizing and running neural wetware under emulation are well established; some radical libertarians claim that, as the technology matures, death—with its draconian curtailment of property and voting rights—will become the biggest civil rights issue of all.
    • Chapter 3 (“Tourist”), p. 88
  • Things have gone downhill since Mom decided a modal average dose of old-time religion was an essential part of her upbringing, to the point that absolutely the best thing in the world Tante Annette could send her is some scam programmed by Daddy to take her away. If it doesn’t work, Mom will take her to Church tonight, and she’s certain she’ll end up making a scene again. Amber’s tolerance of willful idiocy is diminishing rapidly, and while building up her memetic immunity might be the real reason Mom’s forcing this shit on her—it’s always hard to tell with Mom—things have been tense ever since she got expelled from Sunday school for mounting a spirited defense of the theory of evolution.
    • Chapter 4 (“Halo”), p. 130
  • A religious college in Cairo is considering issues of nanotechnology: If replicators are used to prepare a copy of a strip of bacon, right down to the molecular level, but without it ever being part of a pig, how is it to be treated? (If the mind of one of the faithful is copied into a computing machine’s memory by mapping and simulating all its synapses, is the computer now a Moslem? If not, why not? If so, what are its rights and duties?)
    • Chapter 4 (“Halo”), pp. 146-147
  • Here we are, sixty something human minds. We’ve been migrated—while still awake—right out of our own heads using an amazing combination of nanotechnology and electron spin resonance mapping, and we’re now running as software in an operating system designed to virtualize multiple physics models and provide a simulation of reality that doesn’t let us go mad from sensory deprivation! And this whole package is about the size of a fingertip, crammed into a starship the size of your grandmother’s old Walkman, in orbit around a brown dwarf just over three light-years from home, on its way to plug into a network router created by incredibly ancient alien intelligences, and you can tell me that the idea of a fundamental change in the human condition is nonsense?
    • Chapter 5 (“Router”), p. 184
  • “Friendly fascism,” says Sadeq. “It matters not, whosoever is in charge. I could tell you tales from my parents, of growing up with a revolution. To never harbor self-doubt is poison for the soul, and these aliens want to inflict their certainties upon us.”
    • Chapter 5 (“Router”), p. 201
  • Well then. Will the naysayers please leave the universe?
    • Chapter 5 (“Router”), p. 215
  • Humans are just barely intelligent tool users; Darwinian evolutionary selection stopped when language and tool use converged, leaving the average hairy meme carrier sadly deficient in smarts.
    • Chapter 7 (“Curator”), p. 266
  • “You grew up during the second oil crunch, didn’t you?” Sirhan prods. “What was it like then?”
    “What was it ...? Oh, gas hit fifty bucks a gallon, but we still had plenty for bombers,” she says dismissively. “We knew it would be okay.”
    • Chapter 7 (“Curator”), p. 269
  • Growing old is natural,” growls the old woman. “When you’ve lived long enough for all your ambitions to be in ruins, friendships broken, lovers forgotten or divorced acrimoniously, what’s left to go on for? If you feel tired and old in spirit, you might as well be tired and old in body. Anyway, wanting to live forever is immoral. Think of all the resources you’re taking up that younger people need! Even uploads face a finite data storage limit after a time. It’s a monstrously egotistical statement, to say you intend to live forever.”
    • Chapter 7 (“Curator”), p. 279
  • She may be mad, he realizes abruptly. Not clinically insane, just at odds with the entire universe. Locked into a pathological view of her own role in reality.
    • Chapter 7 (“Curator”), p. 289
  • “Not everyone is concerned with the deep future,” Manfred interrupts. “It’s important! If we live or die, that doesn’t matter—that’s not the big picture. The big question is whether information originating in our light cone is preserved, or whether we’re stuck in a lossy medium where our very existence counts for nothing. It’s downright embarrassing to be a member of a species with such a profound lack of curiosity about its own future, especially when it affects us all personally! I mean, if there’s going to come a time when there’s nobody or nothing to remember us then what does –”
    He stops in midsentence, his mouth open, staring dumbly.
    • Chapter 8 (“Elector”), pp. 347-348
  • Democracy 2.0.” He shudders briefly. “I’m not sure about the validity of voting projects at all, these days. The assumption that all people are of equal importance seems frighteningly obsolescent.”
    • Chapter 8 (“Elector”), p. 353
  • But if we run away, we are still going to be there. Sooner or later, we’ll have the same problem all over again; runaway intelligence augmentation, self-expression, engineered intelligences, whatever. Possibly that’s what happened out past the Böotes void—not a galactic-scale civilization, but a race of pathological cowards fleeing their own exponential transcendence. We carry the seeds of a singularity with us wherever we go, and if we try to excise those seeds, we cease to be human, don’t we?
    • Chapter 8 (“Elector”), p. 356
  • Humans are not as unsophisticated as mulch wrigglers, they can see the writing on the wall. Is it any surprise, that among the ones who look outward, the real debate is not over whether to run, but over how far and how fast?
    • Chapter 8 (“Elector”), p. 363
  • The turbulent lives of their entrepreneurial ancestors led to grief and angst and adventures, and as Sirhan is fond of observing, an adventure is something horrible that happens to someone else.
    • Chapter 9 (“Survivor”), p. 387
  • “Simple old-fashioned death, the kind that predated the singularity, used to be the inevitable halting state for all life-forms. Fairy tales about afterlives notwithstanding.” A dry chuckle: “I used to try to believe a different one before breakfast every day, you know, just in case Pascal’s wager was right—exploring the phase-space of all possible resurrections, you know? But I think at this point we can agree that Dawkins was right. Human consciousness is vulnerable to certain types of transmissible memetic virus, and religions that promise life beyond death are a particularly pernicious example because they exploit our natural aversion to halting states.”
    • Chapter 9 (“Survivor”), pp. 396-397
  • “Now, consciousness. That’s a fun thing, isn’t it? Product of an arms race between predators and prey. If you watch a cat creeping up on a mouse, you’ll be able to impute to the cat intentions that are most easily explained by the cat having a theory of mind concerning the mouse—an internal simulation of the mouse’s likely behavior when it notices the predator. Which way to run, for example. And the cat will use its theory of mind to optimize its attack strategy. Meanwhile, prey species that are complex enough to have a theory of mind are at a defensive advantage if they can anticipate a predator’s actions. Eventually this very mammalian arms race gave us a species of social ape that used its theory of mind to facilitate signaling—so the tribe could work collectively—and then reflexively, to simulate the individual’s own inner states. Put the two things together, signaling and introspective simulation, and you’ve got human-level consciousness, with language thrown in as a bonus—signaling that transmits information about internal states, not just crude signals such as ‘predator here’ or ‘food there.’”
    • Chapter 9 (“Survivor”), p. 397

Glasshouse (2006)Edit

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books
  • A dark-skinned human with four arms walks toward me across the floor of the club, clad only in a belt strung with human skulls.
    • Chapter 1, “Duel” (p. 1; opening line)
  • Time is a corrosive fluid, dissolving motivation, destroying novelty, and leaching the joy from life. But forgetting is a fraught process, one that is prone to transcription errors and personality flaws. Delete the wrong pattern, and you can end up becoming someone else. Memories exhibit dependencies, and their management is one of the highest medical art forms.
    • Chapter 2, “Experiment” (p. 22)
  • I’m wearing black leggings and a loose top festooned with a Menger sponge of empty pockets stitched out of smaller pockets and smaller still, almost down to the limits of visibility—woven in freefall by hordes of tiny otaku spiders, I’m told, their genes programmed by an obsessive-compulsive sartorial topologist.
    • Chapter 2, “Experiment” (p. 22)
  • In my experience, the best way to deal with such people is to politely agree with everything they say, then ignore them.
    • Chapter 2, “Experiment” (p. 30)
  • I’m trapped in a fun-house mirror reflection of a historical society where everyone was crazy by default, driven mad by irrational laws and meaningless customs.
    • Chapter 7, “Bottom” (p. 107)
  • The idea of Curious Yellow, of surrender to a higher cause, seems to appeal to a certain small subset of humanity. These people manipulate the worm, customizing its payload to establish quisling dictatorships in its shadow, and the horrors these gauleiters invent in its service are far worse than the crude but direct tactics the original worm used.
    • Chapter 12, “Bag” (p. 210)
  • If I forget, then it might as well never have happened. Memory is liberty.
    • Chapter 13, “Climb” (p. 224)
  • I killed you! And you didn’t even notice!
    • Chapter 14, “Hospital” (p. 235)
  • Can I remember— “I remember lots,” I say. How much of what I remember is true is another matter.
    • Chapter 15, “Recovery” (p. 250)
  • You know, if I tried to change the minds of everyone who I thought needed changing, I’d never have time to do anything else.
    • Chapter 15, “Recovery” (p. 255)
  • Where would dictators be without our compliant amnesia? Make the collective lose its memory, you can conceal anything.
    • Chapter 17, “Mission” (p. 288)
  • “Bad day at the office?”
    “It’s always a bad day at the office, insofar as the office exists in the first place.”
    • Chapter 18, “Connections” (p. 302)

Halting State (2007)Edit

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books ISBN 978-0-441-01607-5
Nominated for the 2008 Hugo Award.
The chapters in the novel are not numbered. They are numbered here for ease of reference
  • Adams fancies himself as a big swinging dick in risk analytics: Leave out the “big” and “swinging” and he’s right.
    • Chapter 6, “Elaine: Death or Coffee” (p. 42)
  • You know there’s no advantage to be gained by murdering idiots—it doesn’t teach the idiot anything and it might give onlookers the idea that you take them seriously.
    • Chapter 6, “Elaine: Death or Coffee” (p. 42)
  • It’s a thing of beauty, the ability to spin the cloth of reality, and you’re a sucker for it: Isn’t story-telling what being human is all about?
    • Chapter 13, “Jack: In Hell” (p. 96)
  • “You have an evil mind!”
    “And this is a bad thing how, exactly?”
    • Chapter 28, “Jack: Sex Offender” (p. 235)
  • Liz isn’t simply not going by the book, she’s just about throwing it in the shredder.
    • Chapter 32, “Sue: Civil Contingencies” (p. 263)
  • There used to be an old joke in role-playing circles—it isn’t funny these days—that there were only a thousand real people in the UK—everybody else was a non-player character. Now it’s pretty much the reverse.
    • Chapter 33, “Elaine: Gentlemen and Players” (p. 272)
  • I’m not going to make the mistake of appealing to your patriotism: It’s a deflating currency these days, and an ambiguous one. But I would like to put a word in for ethics, fair play, and enlightened self-interest.
    • Chapter 33, “Elaine: Gentlemen and Players” (p. 274)
  • Never trust a man who thinks his religion gives him all the answers.
    • Chapter 33, “Elaine: Gentlemen and Players” (p. 275)

Rule 34 (2011)Edit

All page numbers from the hardcover first edition published by Ace Books ISBN 978-0-441-02034-8
Nominated for the 2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award.
The chapters in the novel are not numbered. They are numbered here for ease of reference
All spelling, punctuation, hyphenation, and italics as in the text
  • No plan of battle survives contact with the enemy, and time is the ultimate opponent.
    • Chapter 1, “Liz: Red Pill, Blue Pill” (p. 16)
  • It turns out you left something rather important off your career plan: for example, there’s no ticky-box on the diagram for HAVING A LIFE—TASK COMPLETED. And so you kept putting it off, and de-prioritized it, and put it off again until the law of conservation of shit-stirring dragged it front and centre and lamped you upside yer heid, as your clients might put it.
    • Chapter 1, “Liz: Red Pill, Blue Pill” (p. 16)
  • The unspoken ideology of capitalism didn’t admit, back then, of any corporate duty beyond making a return on investment for the shareholders while obeying the law.
    Then the terrible teens hit, with a global recession followed by a stuttering shock wave of corporate scandals as rock-ribbed enterprises were exposed as hollow husks run by conscience-free predators who were even less community-minded and altruistic than gangsters. The ravenous supermarket chains had gutted the entire logistic and retail sector, replacing high-street banks and post offices as well as food stores and gas stations, recklessly destroying community infrastructure; manufacturers had outsourced production to the cheapest overseas bidders, hollowing out the middle-class incomes on which consumer capitalism depended: The prison-industrial complex, higher education, and private medical sectors were intent on milking a public purse that no longer had a solid tax base with which to pay. Maximizing short-term profit worked brilliantly for sociopathic executives looking to climb the promotion ladder—but as a long-term strategy for stability, a spiraling Gini coefficient left a lot to be desired.
    • Chapter 7, “Liz: Black Swans” (pp. 82-83)
  • Privacy is a luxury; to buy it you need to be able to buy space and fit locks, to switch off the phone and live without fear of dependency on others. Privacy is a peculiarly twentieth-century concept, an artefact of the Western urban middle classes: Before then, only the super rich could afford it, and since the invention of e-mail and the mobile phone, it has largely slipped away.
    • Chapter 8, “Anwar: Diplomat” (p. 93)
  • Policing is one of those jobs that will always revolve around a meatspace hub, if only because you can’t build a cellblock in cyberspace.
    • Chapter 10, “Liz: Snowballing Hell” (p. 116)
  • Little white lies shining like baby teeth in a shallow grave.
    • Chapter 12, “Toymaker: Reality Excursion” (p. 143)
  • You say paranoia, I say surveillance state. Worried about being tracked by hidden cameras stealthy air-borne remotely piloted vehicles, and chips implanted in your skull? You’re merely a realist.
    • Chapter 12, “Toymaker: Reality Excursion” (p. 143)
  • Some say the Internet is for porn; but you know that in truth the Internet is for spam. As communication technologies got cheaper, the cost of grabbing a megaphone and jamming it up against the aching ear-drums of an advertising-jaded public collapsed: Meanwhile, the content-is-king mantra of the monetization mavens gridlocked the new media in an advertising-supported business model. The great and the good of the Academy have been fighting a losing battle against the Anglo-Saxon hucksterization model for the past thirty years: But the sad truth is that the battle’s lost. The tide of war was turned in Beijing and New Delhi, when the rapidly industrializing new superpowers climbed on the MAKE MONEY FAST band-wagon and gave free rein to the free market, red in tooth and claw—just as long as the sharp bits were directed outwards. And today the entire world is still drowning in a sea of attention-grabbing unregulated unethical untruthful spamvertising.
    • Chapter 13, “Kemal: Spamcop” (pp. 154-155)
  • Ninety-five percent of all human-readable traffic over the net is spam, a figure virtually unchanged since the late noughties.
    • Chapter 13, “Kemal: Spamcop” (p. 155)
  • Truly the jaws of irony are agape!
    • Chapter 13, “Kemal: Spamcop” (p. 157)
  • “The programmers have a saying, you know? ‘If we understand how we do it, it isn’t artificial intelligence anymore.’”
    • Chapter 16, “Liz: Mote, Eye, Redux” (p. 177)
  • Anwar is as bent as a three-euro note: just bright enough to think he’s smarter than everyone around him, just stupid enough not to realize that they’ve got his number. He’s a walking poster-boy for the Dunning-Kruger Effect: If he says he’s going straight, it probably means one of his idiot friends told him shoplifting is legal.
    • Chapter 20, “Liz: Bereavement Counselling” (p. 215)
  • You’re like a priest who awakens one day and realizes that his god has been replaced by a cardboard cut-out, and he’s no longer able to ignore his own disbelief. And, like the priest, you’ve sacrificed all hope of a normal life on the altar of something you no longer believe in.
    • Chapter 20, “Liz: Bereavement Counselling” (p. 229)
  • But policing, crime prevention and detection, is a Red Queen’s race: You have to run as fast as you possibly can just to stand still. You can collar criminals until the cows come home, and there’ll still be a never-ending supply of greedy fuckwits and chancers. It’s like there’s a law of nature: Not only is the job never done, the job can never be done.
    • Chapter 20, “Liz: Bereavement Counselling” (p. 229)
  • You take after your dad, a high-functioning sociopath with an incurable organic personality disorder. It’s one of the special-sauce variety, the kind with a known genetic cause.
    Your uncle Albert was something different, and worse: He was a man of faith.
    • Chapter 22, “Toymaker: Happy Families” (p. 248)
  • Perforce, the family that preys together stays together.
    • Chapter 22, “Toymaker: Happy Families” (p. 251)
  • I think we may be mistaking the elephant’s tail for a bell-pull.
    • Chapter 26, “Liz: It’s Complicated” (p. 279)
  • “Well, moving swiftly sideways into cognitive neuroscience...In the past twenty years we’ve made huge strides, using imaging tools, direct brain interfaces, and software simulations. We’ve pretty much disproved the existence of free will, at least as philosophers thought they understood it. A lot of our decision-making mechanics are subconscious; we only become aware of our choices once we’ve begun to act on them. And a whole lot of other things that were once thought to correlate with free will turn out also to be mechanical. If we use transcranial magnetic stimulation to disrupt the right temporoparietal junction, we can suppress subjects’ ability to make moral judgements; we can induce mystical religious experiences: We can suppress voluntary movements, and the patients will report that they didn’t move because they didn’t want to move. The TMPJ finding is deeply significant in the philosophy of law, by the way: It strongly supports the theory that we are not actually free moral agents who make decisions—such as whether or not to break the law—of our own free will.
    “In a nutshell, then, what I’m getting at is that the project of law, ever since the Code of Hammurabi—the entire idea that we can maintain social order by obtaining voluntary adherence to a code of permissible behaviour, under threat of retribution—is fundamentally misguided.” His eyes are alight; you can see him in the Cartesian lecture-theatre of your mind, pacing door-to-door as he addresses his audience. “If people don’t have free will or criminal intent in any meaningful sense, then how can they be held responsible for their actions? And if the requirements of managing a complex society mean the number of laws have exploded until nobody can keep track of them without an expert system, how can people be expected to comply with them?”
    • Chapter 26, “Liz: It’s Complicated” (pp. 286-287)
  • “Prosthetic Morality Enforcement. The idea is that by analogy, if a part of your body is deficient or missing, you can use a prosthetic limb or artificial organ. Well, our ability to make moral judgements is hard-wired, but it’s been so far outrun by the demands of complex civilization that it can’t keep up. For example...have you ever wondered why discussions in chat rooms or instant messaging turn nasty so easily? Or wander off topic? It’s because the behavioural cues we use to trigger socially acceptable responses aren’t there in a non-face-to-face environment. If you can’t see the other primate, your ethical reasoning is impaired because you can’t build a complete mental image of them—a cognitive frame. It’s why identity theft and online fraud are such a problem: There’s no inhibition against robbery if the victim is faceless. So we need some kind of prosthetic framework to restore our ability to interact with people on the net as if they’re human beings we’re dealing with in person.
    • Chapter 26, “Liz: It’s Complicated” (pp. 287-288)
  • Human consciousness isn’t optimized for anything, except maybe helping feral hominids survive in the wild.
    • Chapter 29, “Liz: Project ATHENA” (p. 305)
  • Most police work boils down to minimizing the impact on society of stupidity; of the remainder, the overwhelming majority is about malice and deliberate evil, but it’s still almost all stupid.
    • Chapter 31, “Dominoes Fall” (p. 322)

The Laundry FilesEdit

  • I am sick and tired of reality refusing to conform to the requirements of my meticulously-researched near-future or proximate-present fictions.

The Atrocity Archives (2004)Edit

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books ISBN 978-0-441-01668-6 (January 2009) 7th printing
Omnibus of the novel The Atrocity Archive and the novella The Concrete Jungle
  • Imagine a world where speaking or writing words can literally and directly make things happen, where getting one of those words wrong can wreak unbelievable havoc, but where with the right spell you can summon immensely powerful agencies to work your will. Imagine further that this world is administered: there is an extensive division of labour, among the magicians themselves and between the magicians and those who coordinate their activity. It’s bureaucratic, and also (therefore) chaotic, and it’s full of people at desks muttering curses and writing invocations, all beavering away at a small part of the big picture. The coordinators, because they don’t understand what’s going on, are easy prey for smooth-talking preachers of bizarre cults that demand arbitrary sacrifices and vanish with large amounts of money. Welcome to the IT department.
    • Ken MacLeod in Introduction: Charlie’s Demons (p. xvi)
  • “Am I making myself clear?”
    I sit down again. “Yes, for very bureaucratic values of clear.”
    • Chapter 1, “Active Service” (p. 14)
  • “Fred was a waste of airspace and one of the most powerful bogon emitters in the Laundry.”
    “Hypothetical particles of cluelessness. Idiots emit bogons, causing machinery to malfunction in their presence. System administrators absorb bogons, letting machinery work again. Hacker folklore—”
    • Chapter 2, “Enquiry” (p. 45)
  • I don’t hate him—he’s just a bore but that isn’t a capital offense. Usually.
    • Chapter 2, “Enquiry” (p. 46)
  • My impressions are of a huge stainless steel kitchen and Australian expat waiters on rollerblades beaming infrared orders and wide-eyed smiles at each other from handheld computers as they skate around the refectory tables, where earnest young things in tiny rectangular spectacles discuss Derrida’s influence on alcopop marketing via the next big dot-sad IPO, or whatever it is the “in” herd is obsessing about these days over their gyoza and organic buckwheat ramen.
    • Chapter 4, “The Truth Is In Here” (p. 97)
  • I hate it when people let their professionalism get in the way of real life.
    • Chapter 6, “The Atrocity Archives” (p. 151)
  • Do you want me to strangle him now, or wait till he’s finished annoying you?
    • Chapter 7, “Bad Moon Rising” (p. 163)
  • “Thank you for that reminder, Jimmy,” says Alan. “Any more compelling insights into why the laws of physics are not our friends?”
    • Chapter 7, “Bad Moon Rising” (p. 173)
  • Didn’t they know that the only unhackable computer is one that’s running a secure operating system, welded inside a steel safe, buried under a ton of concrete at the bottom of a coal mine guarded by the SAS and a couple of armoured divisions, and switched off?
    • The Concrete Jungle (p. 275)
  • I’m beyond introspective self-loathing by now—you lose it fast in this line of work.
    • The Concrete Jungle (p. 284)
  • Bet you he’s a smart sociopath, the kind that does well in midlevel management, all fur coat and no knickers—and willing to shed blood without a second thought if it’s to defend his position.
    • The Concrete Jungle (p. 305)

The Jennifer Morgue (2006)Edit

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books ISBN 978-0-441-01814-7 (January 2010) 1st printing
Omnibus of the novel The Jennifer Morgue, the novelette Pimpf, and the essay The Golden Age of Spying
All ellipses and italics as in the book, unless otherwise noted
  • Some of the worst crimes against humanity are committed by architecture students.
    • Chapter 1, “Random Ramona” (p. 18)
  • I’m only twenty-eight: I’m too young to die and too old to drive fast.
    • Chapter 1, “Random Ramona” (p. 19)
  • PowerPoint is symptomatic of a certain type of bureaucratic environment: one typified by interminable presentations with lots of fussy little bullet-points and flashy dissolves and soundtracks masked into the background, to try to convince the audience that the goon behind the computer has something significant to say. It’s the tool of choice for pointy-headed idiots with expensive suits and skinny laptops who desperately want to look as if they’re in command of the job, with all the facts at their fiddling fingertips, even if Rome is burning in the background. Nothing stands for content-free corporate bullshit quite like PowerPoint. And that’s just scratching the surface...
    • Chapter 2, “Going Down to Dunwich” (pp. 42-43)
  • I have a feeling that a bored Ramona would be a very bad girl indeed, in a your-life-insurance-policy-just-expired kind of way.
    • Chapter 3, “Tangled Up in Grue” (p. 53)
  • “They’ve sicced a demon on me.”
    “Jesus, Bob.”
    “Yeah, well, He isn’t answering the phone.”
    • Chapter 3, “Tangled Up in Grue” (p. 56)
  • Not only is the past another country, it’s one that doesn’t issue visas.
    • Chapter 4, “You’re in the Jet Set Now” (p. 75)
  • I’m still wearing my shoes, I realize. And I’m still wearing this fucking suit. I didn’t even take it off for the flight—I must be turning into a manager or something. I have a sudden urge to wash compulsively. At least the tie’s snaked off to wherever the horrid things live when they’re not throttling their victims.
    • Chapter 5, “High Society” (pp. 100-101)
  • In this line of work, too much paranoia can be worse than too little.
    • Chapter 5, “High Society” (p. 101)
  • They’re nuts. Completely insane! I don’t get this gambling thing. Didn’t these people study statistics at university? Evidently not...
    • Chapter 5, “High Society” (p. 109)
  • My stomach flip-flops. No electronics? That’s heavy. In fact it’s more than heavy: to compute is to be, and all that. I don’t mind going without clothes, but being without a microprocessor is truly stripping down. It’s like asking a sorcerer to surrender his magic wand, or a politician to forswear his lies.
    • Chapter 7, “Nightmare Beach” (p. 143)
  • Nobody taught me how to say no when a beautiful naked woman begs me to take my clothes off.
    • Chapter 7, “Nightmare Beach” (p. 144)
  • Yup, that pretty much confirms the diagnosis. This is the desk of a diseased mind, hugely ambitious, prone to taking insanely dangerous risks. He’s not ashamed of boasting about it—he clearly believes in better alpha-primate dominance displays through carpentry.
    • Chapter 11, “Destiny Entangled” (p. 218)
  • He gestures at a skeletal contraption of chromed steel and thin, black leather that only Le Corbusier could have mistaken for a chair: “Have a seat.”
    • Chapter 11, “Destiny Entangled” (p. 218)
  • He stabs at the mouse mat with one finger and I wince. But instead of fat purple sparks and a hideous soul-sucking manifestation, it simply wakes up his Windows box. (Not that there’s much difference.)
    • Chapter 11, “Destiny Entangled” (p. 222)
  • I stare longingly at the bare chunk of space on the desktop. There may be a keyboard stitched into the lining of my cummerbund, but without a machine to plug it into it’s about as much use as a chocolate hacksaw.
    • Chapter 12, “Power Breakfast” (p. 234)
  • “It’s top of the range.” She pats the other side of the rack, as if to make sure it’s still there: “This baby’s got sixteen embedded blade servers from HP running the latest from Microsoft Federal Systems division and supporting a TLA Enterprise Non-Stop Transactional Intelligence™ middle-ware cluster‡ connected to the corporate extranet via a leased Intelsat pipe.”
‡Translation: “a bunch of computers.”
  • Chapter 12, “Power Breakfast” (p. 252)
  • Most of what we get up to in the Laundry is symbolic computation intended to evoke decidedly nonsymbolic consequences. But that’s not all there is to...well, any sufficiently alien technology is indistinguishable from magic, so let’s call it that, all right? You can do magic by computation, but you can also do computation by magic. The law of similarity attracts unwelcome attention from other proximate universes, other domains where the laws of nature worked out differently. Meanwhile, the law of contagion spreads stuff around. Just as it’s possible to write a TCP/IP protocol stack in some utterly inappropriate programming language like ML or Visual Basic, so, too, it’s possible to implement TCP/IP over carrier pigeons, or paper tape, or daemons summoned from the vasty deep.
    • Chapter 12, “Power Breakfast” (p. 254)
  • The dirty little secret of the intelligence-gathering job is that information doesn’t just want to be free—it wants to hang out on street corners wearing gang colors and terrorizing the neighbors.
    • Chapter 12, “Power Breakfast” (p. 254)
  • “Watch out for any signs—anything, however small—that suggests Billington isn’t in the driving seat, if you follow my drift. Got that?”
    Mo stares at him. “You think he’s possessed?”
    “I didn’t say that.” Alan shakes his head. “Once you start asking which captains of industry are being controlled by alien soul-sucking monsters from another dimension, why, anything might happen.”
    • Chapter 14, “Jennifer Morgue” (pp. 294-295)
  • It’s a classic case of misplaced accounting priorities, valuing depreciable capital assets a thousand times more highly than the fruits of actual labor—but that’s the nature of the government organization.
    • Chapter 15, “Scuttle to Cover” (p. 300)
  • “Why are you trying to shoot that cat?”
    ”Because—” I squeeze off another shot “—it’s possessed!”...
    Mo turns and looks at me harshly. “That looked just like a perfectly ordinary cat to me. If you’ve—”
    “It was possessed by the animation nexus behind JENNIFER MORGUE Two!” I gabble. “The clue—he saw a laser dot and dodged—”
    • Chapter 16, “Reflex Decision” (p. 329; ellipsis represents a half-page elision)
  • I head off to the conference room for the Ways and Means Committee meeting—to investigate new ways of being mean, as Bridget (may Nyarlathotep rest her soul) once it explained it to me.
    • Pimpf (p. 365)
  • The literary James Bond is a creation of prewar London club-land: upper-crust, snobbish, manipulative and cruel in his relationships with women, with a thinly veiled sadomasochistic streak and a coldly ruthless attitude to his opponents that verges on the psychopathic.
    • Afterword, “The Golden Age of Spying” (p. 385)
  • Criminology, the study of crime and its causes, has a fundamental weak spot: it studies that proportion of the criminal population who are stupid or unlucky enough to get caught. The perfect criminal, should he or she exist, would be the one who is never apprehended—indeed, the one whose crimes may be huge but unnoticed, or indeed miscategorized as not crimes at all because they are so powerful they sway the law in their favor, or so clever they discover an immoral opportunity for criminal enterprise before the legislators notice it. Such forms of criminality may be indistinguishable, at a distance, from lawful business; the criminal a paragon of upper-class virtue, a face-man for Forbes.
    • Afterword, “The Golden Age of Spying” (pp. 388-389)

The Fuller Memorandum (2010)Edit

All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books ISBN 978-0-441-02050-8 (July 2011) 3rd printing
All ellipses and italics as in the book
  • There can be only one true religion. Are you feeling lucky, believer?
    Like the majority of ordinary British citizens, I used to be a good old-fashioned atheist, secure in my conviction that folks who believed—in angels and demons, supernatural manifestations and demiurges, snake-fondling and babbling in tongues and the world being only a few thousand years old—were all superstitious idiots. It was a conviction encouraged by every crazy news item from the Middle East, every ludicrous White House prayer breakfast on the TV. But then I was recruited by the Laundry, and learned better.
    I wish I could go back to the comforting certainties of atheism; it’s so much less unpleasant than the One True Religion.
    The truth won’t make your Baby Jesus cry because, sad to say, there ain’t no such Son of God. Moses may have taken two tablets before breakfast, but there was nobody home to listen to the prayers of the victims of the Shoah. The guardians of the Kaaba have got the world’s best tourism racket running, the Dalai Lama isn’t anybody’s reincarnation, Zeus is out to lunch, and you really don’t want me to start on the neo-pagans.
    However, there is a God out there—vast and ancient and infinitely powerful—and I know the name of this God. I know the path you have to walk down to be one with this God. I know his secret rituals and the correct form of prayer and his portents and signs. I have studied the ancient writings of his prophets and followers in person, not simply relying on the classified digests in the CODICIL BLACK SKULL files and the background briefings for CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.
    I’m a believer. And like I said, I wish I was still an atheist. Believing I was born into a harsh, uncaring cosmos—in which my existence was a random roll of the dice and I was destined to die and rot and then be gone forever—was infinitely more comforting than the truth.
    Because the truth is that my God is coming back.
    When he arrives I’ll be waiting for him with a shotgun.
    And I’m keeping the last shell for myself.
    • Prologue, “Losing My Religion” (pp. 1-2; opening section)
  • The Laundry is the British Government’s secret agency for dealing with “magic.” The use of scare-quotes is deliberate; as Sir Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” so “magic” is what we deal with. Note that this does not involve potions, pentacles, prayers, eldritch chanting, dressing up in robes and pointy hats, or most (but not all) of the stuff associated with the term in the public mind. No, our magic is computational. The realm of pure mathematics is very real indeed, and the...things...that cast shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave can sometimes be made to listen and pay attention if you point a loaded theorem at them. This is, however, a very dangerous process, because most of the shadow-casters are unclear on the distinction between pay attention and free buffet lunch here. My job—applied computational demonologist—comes with a very generous pension scheme, because most of us don’t survive to claim it.
    • Chapter 1, “Going to See the Elephant” (p. 10)
  • Beauty may be skin-deep, but horror goes all the way down to the desiccated bone beneath.
    • Chapter 1, “Going to See the Elephant” (p. 19)
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged that a sane employee in possession of his wits must be in want of a good manager.
    • Chapter 2, “Pointing the Finger” (p. 32)
  • Unfortunately it’s also true to say that good management is a bit like oxygen—it’s invisible and you don’t notice its presence until it’s gone, and then you’re sorry.
    • Chapter 2, “Pointing the Finger” (p. 32)
  • People tend to underestimate him on first acquaintance. It’s a mistake they only make once. Whether or not they survive.
    • Chapter 2, “Pointing the Finger” (p. 35)
  • “Here, take this. How about a toast? Confusion to the enemy!”
    I raise my glass. “What enemy?”
    He shrugs: “IT, Human Resources, the grim march of time—whoever you want, really.”
    • Chapter 3, “Things That Go Bump in the Daylight” (p. 44)
  • She’s half-past overdrawn at the bank of life.
    • Chapter 3, “Things That Go Bump in the Daylight” (p. 52)
  • Our trains are not ambushed by dragons, suicide bombers, or chthonian tentacle monsters. Frankly, given the quality of the postprandial conversation, this is not a net positive.
    • Chapter 5, “Lost in Committee” (p. 77)
  • The trouble is, you can ignore history—but history won’t necessarily ignore you.
    • Chapter 5, “Lost in Committee” (p. 87)
  • But who cares?
    That is, indeed, the big-ticket question.
    • Chapter 5, “Lost in Committee” (p. 87)
  • You can do magic by hand, without computers, but magic performed by ritual without finite state automata in the loop—calculating machines, in other words—tends to be haphazard, unreliable, uncontrollable, prone to undesirable side effects, and difficult to repeat. It also tends to fuck with causality, the logical sequence of events, in a most alarming way.
    We’ve unintentionally rewritten our history over the centuries, would-be sorcerers unwinding chaos and pinning down events with the dead hand of consistency—always tending towards a more stable ground state because chaos is unstable; entropy is magic’s great enemy. When the ancients wrote of gods and demons, they might well have been recording their real-life experiences--or they may have drunk too much mushroom tea: we have no way of knowing.
    • Chapter 5, “Lost in Committee” (pp. 87-88)
  • Let’s just say that you can’t always trust the historical record and move swiftly on.
    • Chapter 5, “Lost in Committee” (p. 88)
  • On the other hand, unreliability never stopped anyone from using a given technology—just look at Microsoft if you don’t believe me.
    • Chapter 5, “Lost in Committee” (p. 88)
  • It’s like a steam locomotive or a stone axe: just because it’s obsolete doesn’t make it any less of an achievement, or any less fit for purpose.
    • Chapter 7, “Beer and Tea” (p. 111)
  • Cultists. They’re like cockroaches. We humans are incredibly fine-tuned by evolution for the task of spotting coincidences and causal connections. It’s a very useful talent that dates back to the bad old days on the savannah (when noticing that there were lion prints by the watering hole and then cousin Ugg went missing, and today there are more lion prints and nobody had gone missing yet, was the kind of thing that could save your skin). But once we developed advanced lion countermeasures like stone axes and language, it turned into our secret curse. Because, you see, when we spot coincidences we assume there’s an intentional actor behind them—and that’s how we create religions. Nature does weird stuff, so it must be governed by supernature. There’s lightning in the clouds: Zeus must be throwing his thunderbolts again. Everyone’s dying of plague except those weird folks with the strange god who wash every day: it must be evil sorcery. And so on.
    • Chapter 8, “Club Zero” (p. 128)
  • I generally try to avoid funerals: they make me angry. I know the purpose of a funeral is to provide comfort and a sense of closure for the bereaved; and I agree, in principle, that this is generally a good thing. But the default package usually comes with a priest, and when they start driveling on about how Uncle Fred (who died aged sixty-two of a hideous brain tumor) is safe in the ever-loving arms of Jesus, the effect it has on me is not to make me love my creator: it’s to wish I could punch him in the face repeatedly.
    • Chapter 8, “Club Zero” (pp. 133-134)
  • I’m a child of the enlightenment; I was raised thinking that moral and ethical standards are universals that apply equally to everyone. And these values aren’t easily compatible with the kind of religion that posits a Creator. To my way of thinking, an omnipotent being who sets up a universe in which thinking beings proliferate, grow old, and die (usually in agony, alone, and in fear) is a cosmic sadist. Consequently, I’d much rather dismiss theology and religious belief as superstitious rubbish. My idea of a comforting belief system is your default English atheism...except that I know too much.
    See, we did evolve more or less randomly. And the little corner of the universe we live in is 13.73 billion years old, not 5,000 years old. And there’s no omnipotent, omniscient, invisible sky daddy in the frame for the problem of pain. So far so good: I live free in an uncaring cosmos, rather than trapped in a clockwork orrery constructed by a cosmic sadist.
    Unfortunately, the truth doesn’t end there. The things we sometimes refer to as elder gods are alien intelligences, which evolved on their own terms, unimaginably far away and long ago, in zones of spacetime which aren’t normally connected to our own, where the rules are different. But that doesn’t mean they can’t reach out and touch us. As the man put it: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Any sufficiently advanced alien intelligence is indistinguishable from God—the angry monotheistic sadist subtype. And the elder ones...aren’t friendly.
    (See? I told you I’d rather be an atheist!)
    • Chapter 8, “Club Zero” (p. 134)
  • If there’s one thing extreme god-botherers of every stripe have in common, it’s that they don’t have any sense of humor at all where their beliefs are concerned.
    • Chapter 12, “Countermeasures” (p. 211)
  • There is a philosophy by which many people live their lives, and it is this: life is a shit sandwich, but the more bread you've got, the less shit you have to eat.
    These people are often selfish brats as kids, and they don't get better with age: think of the shifty-eyed smarmy asshole from the sixth form who grew up to be a merchant banker, or an estate agent, or one of the Conservative Party funny-handshake mine's-a-Rolex brigade.
    (This isn't to say that all estate agents, or merchant bankers, or conservatives, are selfish, but these are ways of life that provide opportunities of a certain disposition to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Bear with me).
    There is another philosophy by which people live their lives, and it goes thus: you will do as I say or I will hurt you.
    It's petty authoritarianism, and it frequently runs in families. Dad's a dictator, Mum's henpecked, and the kids keep quiet if they know what's good for them—all the while soaking up the lesson that mindless obedience is the one safe course of action. These kids often rescue themselves, but some of them don't. They grow up to be thugs, insecure and terrified of uncertainty, intolerant and unable to handle back-chat, willing to use violence to get what they want.
    Let me draw you a Venn diagram with the two circles on it, denoting set of individuals. They overlap: the greedy ones and the authoritarian ones. Let's shade the intersecting area in a different color, and label it: dangerous. Greed isn't automatically dangerous on its own, and petty authoritarians aren't usually dangerous outside their immediate vicinity—but when you combine the two, you get gangsters and dictators and hate-spewing preachers.
    There is a third philosophy by which—thankfully—only a tiny minority of people live their lives. It's a bit harder to sum up, but it begins like this: in the beginning was the endless void, and the void spawned the Elder things, and we were created to be their slaves, and they're going to return to Earth in the near future, and it is only by willingly subordinating ourselves to their merest whim that we can hope to survive—
    Now let me drop another circle on the diagram, and scribble in the tiny patch where it intersects with the other two circles, and label it in the deepest fuliginous black: here be monsters.
    • Chapter 12, “Countermeasures” (p. 211)
  • Once is happenstance but twice is enemy action, and thrice is a fuck-up.
    • Chapter 16, “Eater of Souls” (p. 286)
  • Finally, as if all of that isn’t bad enough, the dead are rising.
    This latter item, Alexei thinks, is deeply unfair. He’s a sergeant in Spetsgruppa “V”—a professional, in other words—and when he kills someone professionally he expects them to stay dead. These walking abominations are an insult to his competence.
    • Chapter 16, “Eater of Souls” (p. 286)
  • I’m not one hundred percent clear on the clinical definition of death, but I’m pretty sure that lying trapped in my own unbreathing body meets some of the requirements.
    • Chapter 16, “Eater of Souls” (p. 294)
  • Like I said: the only god I believe in is coming back. And when he arrives, I’ll be waiting with a shotgun.
    • Epilogue, “On the Beach” (p. 301)


  • ’Twas the night before Christmas, the office was closed,
The transom was shut, the staff home in repose;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
But St. Nicholas won’t be coming because this is a Designated National Security Site within the meaning of Para 4.12 of Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act (Amended) and unauthorised intrusion on such a site is an arrestable offense ...
  • Had enough of my poetry yet? That’s why they pay me to fight demons instead.
    • Overtime (2009)
  • Like the famous mad philosopher said, when you stare into the void, the void stares also; but if you cast into the void, you get a type conversion error. (Which just goes to show Nietzsche wasn't a C++ programmer.)
    • Overtime (2009)

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