Weeknote, 2nd April 2023

I bought a new Mac. There was a bonus from work and it was exactly the amount that a new M2 MacBook Air cost, which I took as a sign from the fates that it was time to replace my 16in Intel-based MacBook Pro. I can also sell some machines which I have lying around and no longer really use to effectively cover the entire cost.

Of course I still have (and use) the ThinkPad running Linux but I can’t get out of the old technology journalist habit of having one machine for each of the main operating systems, because you never know when someone might commission me to write something. No one actually commissions me to write anything these days, mainly because I don’t actually have the time to write other than stuff for work, the odd blog post, and my creative writing. One day I will get everything down to one computer, but that day isn’t today.

Early impressions though are positive and it makes me realise quite how compromised the machines which Apple made during the 2010s were. Prior to 2015, I used a MacBook Air – first an 11in version, then a 13in one – and then in 2015 got the new 12in ultra-thin and light MacBook. That computer was Apple’s first to use the much-loathed butterfly keyboard, which was forgivable on a laptop which was designed to be incredibly thin. But using it on the rest of the range was one of Apple’s worst mistakes in its history, because it made their best-selling computers horrible to type on.

The 12in MacBook got replaced by a 13in i5-based MacBook Air (horrible keyboard, underpowered) and then a 16in Intel MacBook Pro (expensive, improved but still crap keyboard, underpowered because Intel was at a low point).

The M2 Air replaces that MacBook Pro and it’s like night and day. Literally, because I bought the “Midnight” version which is a delicious shade of almost-black blue. It’s also far snappier than the MacBook Pro, completely silent and – IMPORTANT – has a keyboard which you can type on. I can’t say how much of an improvement this keyboard is, and when you spend much of your life typing that really does matter a lot.

This MacBook Air is the first design that I’ve loved since the mid-00’s MacBooks, with their chunky polycarbonate (who didn’t love the black MacBook?). It’s almost as if Apple has remembered to make the Mac a combination of loveable and functional, after a fallow decade when it really lost its way.

Meanwhile we went to a local village fate yesterday where Kim was the judge for the cake category:

The fruit cakes were, apparently, all of high standard. While Kim was judging I spent some time working on some fiction I’ve been playing with for a while, re-plotting and outlining a story which hasn’t been quite hanging together. I’ve been using Aeon Timeline to do the outline, because it features some nice capabilities around navigating the complexities of multiple timelines while integrating with Scrivener. It’s a complex piece of software and I feel like I’m only just getting my head around it, despite using it for over a year.

This week I have been writing…

I wrote a short piece about the limitations of current AI, which takes me back about 25 years. Before I joined MacUser and became a journalist, I did a PhD in philosophy, looking at the implications of Kant’s philosophy of mind for artificial intelligence. At that time, cognitive science – a blend of computer science, philosophy and psychology – was the hot thing in AI, but in the past 10 years or so there seems to have been a return to the AI of the earlier years, which attempts to subdivide “intelligence” into a set of discreet functions capable of being developed in parallel.

My old thesis basically said the opposite: consciousness is a necessary part of what we mean when we talk about intelligence as it’s instantiated in humans, and consciousness is unitary (there are many functions in the brain, but only one “I”, no matter if you’re a human, a monkey, or a lizard). No amount of bolting a vision system on to an abstract reasoning processor on to a large language model will get you to unitary consciousness.

Was I right? I think the fact that despite the best efforts of very smart people, we are no closer to creating animal-like consciousness probably means I was. Large language models are impressive, but they “know” nothing – saying they do is a category mistake, as Gilbert Ryle would have put it.

This week I have been watching and reading…

We binge-watched What we do in the shadows this week and I haven’t watched anything which made me laugh out loud so much for a while. We’ve been wandering round the house randomly shouting “BAT!” in a Matt Berry voice, then collapsing into laughter. With Ted Lasso and The Mandalorian on at the same time, and The Power also now out, there’s plenty to watch.

Two new books on the virtual book pile: Ken McLeod’s Beyond the reach of Earth and Katherine May’s Enchantment. I enjoyed McLeod’s book is the second in a series, the first of which I enjoyed quite a bit, and I greatly enjoyed May’s Wintering too (pretty much a lockdown book) so I’m looking forward to both. But first I need to finish Becky Chambers’ Record of a spaceborn few which I have been dithering over for a while.

AI, like Jon Snow, knows nothing

This is a great illustration of how AIs don’t “know” anything – they generate an answer one word at a time based on a huge corpus of text, predicting which the most likely next word is based on what it thinks is relevant to the answer.

Even though Bing “knows” that Sunak is PM, as you can see from the second question, it can’t use that in an answer about public school members of the cabinet because the corpus of training data trends towards talking about Johnson’s cabinet (for a good reason – his percentage of public schoolers was much higher than that of Truss, so many people wrote about it).

Google’s bard has even less accuracy:

Almost every fact in this response is wrong. Johnson went to Eton, but is no longer PM; Sunak is no longer chancellor and went to Winchester, not Eton; and Truss is no longer in the cabinet and went to a state school.

The counterpoint to this is the idea that AI is only at the start of its journey, and all this will be ironed out “eventually”. My view is the opposite: I don’t think that, as currently constituted, large language model-based AI Is capable of much improvement. Like almost every kind of AI research in the last 30 years, it’s a one-trick pony rather than a generalised system. And the story of AI research since its foundation is littered with one-trick ponies which can’t be grafted onto a more generalised intelligence.

Animal-style intelligence is a set of emergent properties that evolved in parallel, not separately. Our ability to do vision and other sensations, abstract reasoning, and communications – which covers most of what we think of as intelligence – continually interacted with and reinforced each other over millions of years. We didn’t evolve any of those capabilities in isolation.

And that’s why all machine learning efforts that solve one thing at a time will fail to produce truly intelligent systems. You can’t just “solve the vision problem” then graft on a large language model, then crowbar in an abstract game-playing system and have something intelligent. It’s like putting together a jigsaw by ignoring the shapes and just cutting off bits of the pieces till they “fit” – you lose the complete picture.

Weeknote, Sunday 19th March 2023

Where exactly is the year going? This is week twelve, which means we are 20% of the way through 2023. I’ve been talking about 2024 as if it’s laughably far away, but it’s right around the corner.

This, of course, is part of what it means to get old. Our perception of time is inherently linked to how much time has passed for us, which means this feeling of the years rushing by will only worsen. I sit here with perhaps a third of my life left, assuming the Tories don’t manage to dump the entire country into poverty and destroy the NHS and welfare system.

I’m writing this sitting in my sister’s house, on a visit to their home in Suffolk. Both my siblings are older than me — my sister is just inching up to 70, while my brother is a couple of years younger. One of the joys of that shrinking of the perception of years has been that the mental distance that an 11-13 year age gap created has vanished. I am still very much the little brother: but now, our concerns, interests and thoughts are those of people of almost the same generation rather than entirely different ones.

The more negative part of this temporal senescence is that putting anything off becomes much more deadly to the prospect of doing something. You decide to delay getting something done to your house, and the next time you think about it, a year has passed, and nothing has happened. You think you need to do some preventative maintenance on your roof, and then the next time you consider it, your joists are failing. This is why old people’s lives slide into ruin: the “someday” that you say you will get around to doing something passes in the blink of an eye.

There are a lot of “somedays” surrounding our house at the moment. I’ll get on to that one of these days.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum, young people are being sold the lie that life is short, and if you’re not a “success” by age 25, you might as well give up on life. It’s one thing being taught some tips about making an effective to-do list and thinking about your priorities. It’s another thing being bombarded with toxic masculinity, which defines you as a failure unless you have a lambo.

The right talks about “groomers”, but if preying upon the anxieties of young people to indoctrinate them into a system where they can only fail isn’t a form of grooming, then I don’t know what is.

Of course, all this is an attempt to tap into the alienation that capitalism causes, persuading its victims that it’s all their fault and that if they just did the right things, they too could be rich, successful and forever young. There’s a certain element of gamer culture about this: if you hone your skills or know the right cheat codes, you can win the game. The problem is that this isn’t a game created for our amusement. It’s a game where the designers will never let you win and will change the rules if you start to do too well or if there’s a chance they won’t win.

I would much rather be old right now than young.

Weeknote, Sunday 12th February

Quiet week.

I went along to give blood on Wednesday, only to be turned down because my iron levels were too low. Nothing, apparently, to worry about — they were 128 and the minimum level is 135 — but something I’m going to keep an eye on anyway.

Today we headed over to Folkestone with our friend Edward. While Kim and Edward met up with Judith, their old drawing teacher, for a bit of cake and a chat I went into the newly-opened Fond for a cup of coffee and a good read.

Reading and watching

I’ve been rereading John Sculley’s book Odyssey: From Pepsi to Apple. I got a copy given to me when I started at Apple in 1989, and I remember reading it and learning a lot. It’s a blend of Sculley’s story, including the period when he booted Steve Jobs out of the company, and business advice, which holds up well.

It’s often forgotten Sculley took Apple from a $1bn company to a $10bn one, a major feat of growth. He also made a mistake at the start of the history of the Mac of pumping up the price by $500 per device to pay for a massive advertising campaign, and he kept Apple’s margins high.

In some ways, Apple is still the company Sculley built: high margins, well-designed products, and proprietary technology. After Sculley left, Mike Spindler and then Gil Amelio attempted to take the company in different directions, towards more generic hardware and licensing MacOS. When he came back, Steve Jobs returned Apple to the model which Sculley had set — which was ironic given he had been “exited” by Sculley.

Weeknote, 30th October 2022

I had a week off work. I intended to get a lot of writing done, but I slept a lot and generally lazed around. The best-laid plans, etc.

I did get some writing done on a ghost story which I started thinking about doing in time for Halloween and, judging the slow pace I’ve been working at correctly, named “A Christmas Ghost Story”. I associate ghost stories with Christmas far more than Halloween, which, when I was a child, was something which Americans focused on but the British did not. We had fireworks to celebrate the day of burning Catholic plotters (something which never seemed to be in my Catholic mind) and Christmas. Pumpkins and trick-or-treating were weird American things I only learned about because I read a lot of Peanuts comics.

Christmas ghost stories were definitely a thing when I was a child, at least on TV. I’m not sure if that is true — I hope it is. It’s a connection with the Victorians (think of A Christmas Carol, an archetypal ghost story) and the ancient pagan midwinter festivals. Christmas is a time of miracles and strangeness, something which our consumer-focused version doesn’t really encompass.

Musk bought Twitter. It’s a strange world we live in when a wealthy buys up what he calls “the digital town square” and gets to decide all the laws of it, laws which he himself can, of course, ignore. Or perhaps that, too is just a sign that we haven’t moved past feudal lordships, despite our brief foray into democracy and believing that things should be done for the mass of people. Read the comments that people direct at Musk some time: there is a real sense of the commoners taking their plea to the lord.

I haven’t yet decided if I will close my account. I joined on 3rd December 2006 and was user number 39,093. That on its own makes me not want to close it, but I don’t think I will carry on using it much. It hasn’t felt like a healthy space for me to be for a long time. I’m more active on Mastodon, but that’s partly because it feels like early Twitter — so that might not be something I carry on with in the long term as the service evolves.

Meanwhile, I’ve also broken my MacBook Pro. It failed while updating to Ventura with an odd error, so I decided the time was right to wipe it and reinstall the OS from scratch. This isn’t the simple process it used to be, involving a disk image and some time. Apple’s reinstall process now involves downloading code, and watching a progress bar with no information to it… and, in my case, failing at the end with a baroque error about cryptographic signatures on the disk. There shouldn’t be any: I just wiped it.

Of course, when you wipe a Mac, you don’t really wipe it: it’s still connected to your iCloud account. This does not feel like progress.

Thankfully I know some of the most technical Mac people in the world, so I’ll get it fixed, but it feels like it’s more difficult to do this on a Mac now than it is on Linux, which doesn’t seem the right way around.

I’m thinking of rebooting my newsletter, mainly to distribute this. If I do, I’ll use Buttondown as a service, partly because it allows you not to track subscribers, something I’m keen to avoid. I don’t want feedback on what you’re reading or even to know how many people are subscribed, particularly. Data may be power, but creatively it can also be a prison.


Speaking of Linux, I wrote something outlining how to get Scrivener working on Ubuntu. Like most things about running Windows software on open-source operating systems, it’s mostly about ensuring you have the correct libraries and stuff installed for Wine to work with. But there are also some ways to make Scrivener look less like a Windows app and more like one native to Linux, which are worth doing if, like me, you find such a distraction when you’re writing.

I also wrote something on John Gruber’s defence of the iPad’s current line up. I can’t understand anyone thinking this confusing mess is deliberate.

Reading and watching

The main thing I have been watching this week is rugby, with both League and Union having world cups. And, of course, Andor, which has fallen into a very slow period. I have no idea what’s going on.

One exciting thing on the reading front: the marvellous And Other Stories (the publisher, not the clothing brand) sent me a collection of Ann Quin books, which means I have five slim, pretty paperbacks to go through. Quin was active in the mid to late 1960s, a working class woman writer who pushed back against the prevailing gritty “kitchen sink” style in favour of something more interesting. Every now and then, there’s a Quin revival, mostly amongst writers, but she’s never had the recognition she deserves.

Weeknote, 18th September 2022

This has been a week of tech-futzing and annoyances. I converted my ThinkPad back to running Windows because I was desperate to use Aeon Timeline for part of my writing project. That was a big mistake for two reasons. First, I could have just used my Mac to run it. I have no idea why I didn’t just do that. Second, I have really grown to dislike Windows.

Not, I should say, because of the interface. Windows has never looked and worked better overall. Microsoft took the opportunity with Windows 11 to get rid of some of the crufty old settings which hadn’t been updated since the Windows 7 era (and in some cases, Windows XP). It’s just a lot nicer to use.

However, they are also determined to lock in – sorry, “integrate” – more of their services and software into the operating system. That nifty little widgets panel offers you your task list, in Microsoft To Do. You can see news and weather, but only Microsoft News and Weather. And if you click on a link, it’s opening in Edge not your browser of choice.

It’s clear that, like Apple, Microsoft sees services as the way to go to build revenue. Making Windows free to update probably still rankles, and they would like some revenue back, please. But that kind of stuff is not for me.

The Mac, too, is frustrating me for a few reasons. Don’t get me wrong: there is so much to love about the Mac, and my M1 Mac mini continues to be a delight. But again, it feels like a system that is becoming something Apple controls rather than me controlling it, and when things go wrong they often take far more futzing about to fix than they should.

Case in point: I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop using the very fast internet here to do some big downloads. Except that my Mac won’t properly connect to the WiFi. Apple uses its own system process to handle connecting to wireless networks which require authentication, showing you a little mini-window for you to login.

Except that it doesn’t always appear. Sometimes, when you have connected using another device, it connects, but doesn’t bring up the window – and because the network sees the Mac as another device it doesn’t properly connect. It claims to have connected, but it doesn’t log in, so you have no connectivity.

Sometimes all you need to do is turn WiFi on and off and it will work properly. Sometimes that doesn’t work, and you need to restart. And sometimes, like today, it just will not connect no matter what you do. I have even tried invoking the system application which does the captive WiFi connection, with no result.

There is probably a preference somewhere which will fix this. Maybe there is some cache that needs clearing. But whatever it is, nothing on the internet helps.

That’s very different to the world of Linux, where almost every problem you will ever encounter has been solved by someone and documented. The only problem I’ve ever found which doesn’t have a fix is, ironically, running Aeon Timeline in Wine. But to be fair, I never really tried particularly hard – and if I find a solution, you can bet that I’m going to document it.

And I still hate the MacBook Pro keyboard. Yes, I know that new MacBooks have reverted to sane key switches, but when I have tried them they still feel crap to me. Not as crap, but still crap. I’m now used to a mechanical keyboard, and only something as good as the ThinkPad’s keyboard suffices on a laptop. I have turned to the dark side.

There is a more serious and less grumpy point to all this. I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with the integration which Apple and Microsoft are focusing on. It’s not that the services are bad – in Apple’s case, at least, they are excellent – it’s that putting your entire computing life in the hands a single supplier seems like a bad idea. You only need to look at what happened to the man who Google believed had abused his children to see how bad it can get.

And I’m less happy too to have all my documents stored in the cloud. It is hugely convenient. It means that for about a decade I haven’t had to think about backing up, as everything is in iCloud or OneDrive and easily accessible. But it also feels like I am putting too much in the hands of companies which I don’t really trust.

Thankfully, at some point I have connected my phone to this WiFi and it is happily reconnecting, because the network recognises it. So I downloaded a nearly 6Gb file on my iPhone, and had to transfer it to the Mac later. Thankfully AirDrop did the job well.

So I lost a day to reinstalling Linux. I know. I know. This time, rather than Ubuntu, I went for the Ubuntu-derived Zorin OS. It’s designed to be as simple as possible to pick up for Linux novices and I think it hits that mark well. It includes nice little features like making using Windows applications easier by letting you just double-click on an installer while it adds Wine in the background.

This weekend is when the first tranche of new students arrives at the University, so the coffee shop I was writing in is full of parents taking their children for a coffee before they head back to whatever corner of the country they have come from. Outside the window there’s the constant bustle of wheeled bags going past, and our close will have more than one car load of people circle round it, with a parent saying “I don’t think this is the university…” before going back and finding the real thing. We should put up a sign.

It’s fun listening to the guy who works here ask each parent in turn if they have had far to come, telling them there’s more seating downstairs, pointing them in the direction of the shop or the library or Sainsbury or wherever they are off to next. Then there are the small groups of students who are obviously new, meeting for the first time and going for a coffee to chat. Or to sit awkwardly in semi-silence.

It brings back memories of my own first trip to college when my dad drove me down to Hatfield. Unlike many families I see, my mother didn’t make the journey: she was upset that the last of her babies was leaving home, and didn’t want me to see her cry. She also gave my dad strict instructions that he was not to use the M1 and to use the A1 instead, because motorway drivers were madmen and she didn’t want him to drive at the crazy speed of 70 miles an hour.


This has been a terrible writing week. I have struggled to get my head down and write. I don’t have any excuses: I have a good idea where the story is going and I have had the time available to keep writing, but I just… haven’t.

Reading and watching

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is actually very good. The characters and (especially) plot are better than Tolkien, who I tried to reread a while ago and found dreadful. Like a lot of people I read Lord of the Rings young, and raced through all three books in a week or two. I vividly remember staying up late and reading it in bed, gripped by it.

Sadly I haven’t retained that love – or perhaps I have just grown into better writing.

Please won’t someone stop the bullshit about RCS?

I am so tired of how tech sites preach the gospel of RCS as the “solution” to interoperability between messaging on Android and iOS, based on nothing more than parroting Google’s “talking points”.

Android Police:

Google is also calling attention to the fact that SMS and MMS are older and less secure than the RCS standard that’s now common on Android phones: While one-on-one RCS conversations are encrypted, SMS and MMS conversations aren’t.

The RCS standard- which Apple could adopt as an additional layer of fallback for messages- does not include support for end-to-end encryption in single or group chats. Instead, Google has built its own proprietary encryption extensions on RCS. Unfortunately, they only work if you use Google servers for messaging and with Google’s Messages app. Although Google has published top-level technical papers, there is no way that open clients, or Apple, can support Google’s proprietary encryption at this point.

The comments on that Android Police article prove just how well Google’s PR campaign is landing with some — and how important it is for tech sites to start getting this right. The comments are full of people talking about how Apple is stopping messages from being secure by not adopting RCS as if it was part of the open standard that Apple could adopt.

Now, of course, I am sure Google would be “happy to work with” Apple to support its proprietary encryption. But that would mean Apple effectively handing over control over messaging standards not to a standards body but to Google. Anyone who thinks that is likely to happen doesn’t know Apple. And anyone who says it should happen doesn’t don’t know Google.

Google wants to encourage the adoption of RCS because it offers another platform for advertising. And although messages sent between Android users (using Google’s app) are encrypted, and Google can’t read the content, it can track who you are messaging, which gives it a significant data point about who your social circle is. In addition, that gives it data about the strength of relationships in your social graph, which it hasn’t had much insight into since the decline of email as a personal communication method.

Adopting RCS, of course, also counters the real target of Google’s strategy here: Meta. WhatsApp is wildly popular, particularly outside the US, and Meta bought it in the first place to get access to that social graph data about who you message most often. So Google needs a counter, and RCS adoption — with its proprietary extensions — is what it is pinning its hopes on.

Miscellany, 6th August

Web3 provides both anonymity and accountability, they said. It has its own built-in protections against bad actors, they said. Oops.

It’s usually worth watching Windows Weekly, but this week included a long section on how Microsoft just can’t get Windows releases right — the cadence, how it communicates, everything. It’s well worth a look.

Speaking of classic Microsoft idiocy, its (very nice) little video editor Clipchamp used to have three paid tiers plus a limited free version. That was too complex; rightly, it has hacked that back to a single subscription price.

Unfortunately, that price is $11.99 a month, and you will need to link your account to a Microsoft account. It’s a nice product. But it’s not a $143.88 per year product.

Meanwhile, iMovie continues to be completely free on Mac, iPadOS and iOS. Clips is completely free on iOS and iPadOS. Clips even uses Lidar to let you put 3D objects in your videos.

That $148 a year probably adds up to the difference in price between a Mac and a PC over three years, too.

Microsoft really is clueless sometimes.

But don’t leap too quickly into AppleWorld. Here’s Apple again putting ordinary people’s rights in fifth place behind its need to placate the PRC, its need to make 40%+ margins on everything, freedom of speech and human rights in general. Privacy is guaranteed — as long as you’re not Chinese. Remember when they hid the Taiwan flag from customers in Hong Kong?

Weeknote, Sunday 3 July 2022

Some weeks fly by and leave you feeling that nothing has been done. Unfortunately, this is one of those weeks. While I’m sure that if I looked back through my calendar and plotted the meetings I’ve had and the places I’ve been, I would feel like the days had been packed, without doing that, I’m left with the thought that nothing much happened.

Work-wise, that’s not true: I spent two days this week in extensive workshops on a couple of projects. The travel involved (both were early starts up in Peterborough, a two-and-a-half-hour journey from home) also knocked out a lot of my spare time. Even if you’re getting home on time and the travelling is easy (it is), it’s wearing. Even quiet reading becomes a chore if you’re mentally exhausted.

June and July always feel like the sluggish months of the year for me, when the heat of the day saps my energy. Unfortunately, my Indian DNA doesn’t give me the gift of coping well in hot weather: instead, my father’s midlands genes kick in, and I feel like I’m wading through treacle. And apart from the absolute soaking I got cycling down to the station on Thursday morning, the warm weather doesn’t offer much relief.

Writing has been minimal, reading also, but we finished watching Danny Boyle’s Pistol. Unfortunately, the last couple of episodes lost their way a bit. Having focused on humour and fun in the first few, it was hard to turn it around when things got darker later. The murder of Nancy by Sid and Sid’s subsequent death just don’t lend themselves to lightness. Looking at the series as a whole, the episode which focuses on the back story to the song “Bodies” is the pivot: things got a bit scary for the Pistols, and the series reflects that. All that said, the performances are great: no one looks like their character physically, but absolutely nails the characteristics.

Weeknote, Sunday 5th June 2022

This might be abbreviated as we have just returned from spending a long weekend camping with some lovely friends. Memo to self: take more pillows. And a titanium back. Oh, and of course, it rained, because this is England in June. I am fond of camping, though, at least the whole sitting outside with a campfire reading a book bit.

Apparently, there was some kind of jubilee celebration too? Must have missed it.

After much fooling around, I managed to get Scrivener 3 working on Linux via Wine. In theory, this should be easy, but there are a lot of configuration bits and pieces to go through to make it work, and annoyingly the articles which tell you how to do it have some minor errors in the options they suggest. Now I’ve got it done, though. I have been able to completely nuke the Windows partition from my ThinkPad, as there are no other Windows applications I need to use on it.


Episode three — sorry, “Part III” — of Obi-Wan Kenobi was OK. I’m not really getting drawn into it, which has been true of quite a few of the Netflix/Disney+/Amazon Prime series. I haven’t even really got into the second series of Russian Doll. Maybe it’s me?


While spending time stuck in a tent, I finished Neal Asher’s Weaponized. Asher’s speciality is space opera on the cusp of horror, with a different take on what a post-scarcity society run by AIs would look like compared with Banks’ Culture. In this one, Asher comes back to a theme that he used in his first novel, Gridlinked — that of what it might be like to be so altered by technology that you start to lose your humanity. Where Gridlinked looked at this from the perspective of computing tech, this time around, it’s about genetic engineering of a sort.

If you’ve read and liked Asher before, you’ll enjoy this one, but parts of it definitely felt like Asher-by-numbers, and I’d like to see him abandon the Polity Universe — although he would probably end up suffering the same experience as Gary Gibson, dropped by his publisher after he started writing novels which weren’t like his Shoal sequence:

The thing I learned writing for Pan Mac was that publishers expect you to write books as much like each other as possible. In many ways, this actually makes sound business sense. It means readers come to you seeking the specific type of experience you can provide them with, and it also makes it easier to market you. You always knew with an Iain M. Banks Culture novel what you were going to get. Ditto with an Peter F. Hamilton book, or even a Clive Cussler book, and so on and so on.

My problem was that no one fucking told me this, so I had to figure it out largely for myself. Unfortunately, I had a problem: I get bored easily. Worse, while I have no trouble generating story ideas, they aren’t automatically ideas that fit in the context of starship+aliens+space travel. Or rather, I had plenty of mediocre ideas for space operas, but brilliant ideas for entirely different kinds of books.

Having read that and Alistair Reynolds’ Eversion in a row, it’s time for a change of tack, and I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I might finish off D. B. C. Pierre’s Release the bats, which is about as far away as you can get from space and aliens.