Monday, April 12, 2004

Millions and billions and trillions and quadrillians: why you need the British kind.

So, this is a much-too hasty for the subject matter post, but I just learned to my delight and surprise that THE WOLVES IN THE WALLS won "Best Short Fiction" in the 2003 BSFA Award Winners, and I'm dead chuffed.

I've been remiss in posting awards nominations and things here, which is mostly because I forget, so for those of you keeping track of such things...

"A STUDY IN EMERALD" has just been nominated for a Hugo award for best short story. With the permission of the editors and publishers of the anthology SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET, I'll post it at within the next couple of days, and keep it up until Worldcon, for anyone who wants to read it.

The Eisner award nominations are out at for example and Sandman: Endless Nights has been nominated for a few, as has It Was A Dark and Silly Night....

The Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker award nominations are also up -- Sandman: Endless Nights and Wolves in the Walls are both nominated...

Next weekend is the Nebula Awards, and Coraline is nominated as best Novella. (I cannot be there -- I'm a guest at Penguincon that weekend.)

(And, looking at the Penguincon site I see that Wil Wheaton can't be there. What a real pity -- I was looking forward to meeting him. On the other hand I see from the page with the Sophia Quach photo of me in the Library Hotel last year that artist Vince Locke will be there.)

I finally figured out (with the help of the mammoth OED) the difference between British and US billions, trillions and quadrillions, and thought I would post it here in case there's anyone else who's been scratching his or head about it for ages...

In order of magnitude, it's million, billion (bi=there's two of them), trillion (tri=there's three of them), quadrillion (Quad = there's four of them).

The British decided the unit was the six zeroes after the initial 1.

So 1,000000 is a million. A UK billion is two sets of six zeroes -- 1,000000,000000. A UK trillion, three sets of six zeroes -- 1,000000,000000,000000. (A UK quadrillion would be one followed by 24 zeroes.)

The US (and France, for some reason) decided that the unit was the three zeroes between the commas. So even though a million starts with two of them -- 1,000,000, -- a US billion simply adds a three zero unit to a million and becomes 1,000,000,000 and a US trillion adds another and is 1,000,000,000,000, while the quadrillion would add another 000 unit to give you 1,000,000,000,000,000 -- one followed by 15 zeroes.

Probably you've known this forever, or, even more probably you didn't even know the British counted big numbers differently to the rest of the world and do not care that they do, but it's something I've been puzzling over since I was a boy, and finally understanding it made me happy.


There are some interesting short films over at:

Hey Neil, have you seen this?
The Exorcist in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies.

I can't seem to stop watching...


Hi Neil,
As an author of some of the most unruly characters since those of Mr. Trellis in Flann O'Briens At Swim Two Birds, I thought you might appreciate some assistance in keeping track of them. Shivering Jemmy of the Shallow Brigade plays a delightfully chilling role in one of the finest pieces of CGI animation I've come across. You can catch her performance here
Do let us know what you think.
Mick Hanafin

I think that really was Shivering Jemmy, wasn't it? I thought it was disturbing in all the right ways, and sent it on to Dave McKean, who I thought would enjoy it. I also think people should read Flann O'Brien books. You could start with The Third Policeman, which is unlike anything else.

And that reminds me that James Stephens' marvellous novel The CROCK OF GOLD seems to be in the public domain, and is up as an e-book at It's not for everyone: the first paragraph of the first chapter is as follows:

IN the centre of the pine wood called Coilla Doraca there
lived not long ago two Philosophers. They were wiser
than anything else in the world except the Salmon who
lies in the pool of Glyn Cagny into which the nuts of
knowledge fall from the hazel bush on its bank. He, of
course, is the most profound of living creatures, but the
two Philosophers are next to him in wisdom. Their
faces looked as though they were made of parchment,
there was ink under their nails, and every difficulty that
was submitted to them, even by women, they were able
to instantly resolve. The Grey Woman of Dun Gortin
and the Thin Woman of Inis Magrath asked them the
three questions which nobody had ever been able to an-
swer, and they were able to answer them. That was
how they obtained the enmity of these two women which
is more valuable than the friendship of angels. The
Grey Woman and the Thin Woman were so incensed at
being answered that they married the two Philosophers
in order to be able to pinch them in bed, but the skins of
the Philosophers were so thick that they did not know
they were being pinched. They repaid the fury of the
women with such tender affection that these vicious crea-
tures almost expired of chagrin, and once, in a very ec-
stacy of exasperation, after having been kissed by their
husbands, they uttered the fourteen hundred maledic-
tions which comprised their wisdom, and these were
learned by the Philosophers who thus became even wiser
than before.

...and it continues in a similar vein for a whole book. I loved it.


For some reason I've decided not to post the Subservient Chicken link, although about twenty people have sent it to me. (I think I've assumed that if twenty of you know about it, then probably the rest of you do as well, and it's even been featured at If you're curious, the snopes link will explain it and take you there.


There was a very odd moment in the middle of reading the Dame Darcy interview at where I thought I'd slipped into a parallel universe, or just had started Forgetting Things. I mean, I know I'm a fan of hers, and lord knows I'd happily write something for her if asked, but... well, read it and you'll see what I mean.


Meanwhile, Michael Chabon writes an essay as a New York Times op-ed piece that is wise and wonderful, and terribly sensible...