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Wurk

Part of the joy of the writer's life is getting to check copy-edited manuscripts (CEMs). This week I got home from an SF convention in Dublin to discover not one, but two CEMs awaiting my urgent attention. I am therefore knee-deep in paper right now, and not up to writing a long, thoughtful blog update. On the other hand, I can at least say with some certainty that "Halting State" is due out from Ace on October 1st, and "The Merchants' War" (the somewhat late fourth Merchant Princes novel) is due out from Tor in hardcover on October 17th.

Back to the salt mine ...

48 Comments

1:

Well, a post doesn't have to be long to be interesting.

I suspect you could start a thread of more than a hundred replies by posting a single well-chosen sentence. Probably not with a single word, though.

2:

Well to keep you at your labours, Glasshouse, received a very positive review in the Sunday Times last week...and as a modern novel rather than sci-fi!

Times they are a changing...

-- Andrew

3:

I haven't read this review but it sounds good:

Welcome back to the Orbit trade newsletter.

There was more good news this week for Charles Stross' new novel Glasshouse, with a fantastic lead review in the latest issue of Starburst, which awarded the book five out of five and described it as: "A genuinely unmissable page-turner . . . A genuine triumph of a tale that you can never quite tie down."

4:

Andrew: got a URL for that Sunday Times review?

5:

Okay s/Saturday Guardian/Sunday Times/ for my last post...

You'll find it at http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2025119,00.html

Ah well, the frail humanity of context sensitive memory,

-- Andrew

6:

"Halting State" is around a year from starting writing to publication, or was it a month or two longer.

Still, it feels rather quick. Is that good or bad?

7:

Kee 'em coming, Charlie! :-) I'm dying for some good sf here.

8:

Doh! The p got lost...

9:

Dave: I was planning it for close to a year before I wrote it. And the publication schedule is a lot closer than it used to be -- whereas it took two years for "Singularity Sky" to come out after I handed it in, "Halting State" is going into a scheduled publication slot just 8-9 months after submission.

As for the speed/quality trade-off ... it's possible to write crap extremely slowly. And it's possible to write good stuff in a white-hot creative fever, at high speed. Go too fast and eventually the polish suffers -- but it's possible to do good finished prose at about 3000 words per day if you're in the groove, and that's a novel in five or six weeks. (I normally take four times that long, this decade.)

10:

Take Lester Dent - the uy who wrote one Doc Savage short novel a month for almost 15 years - as an example. Not haute prose by any means but some were clearly better or worse than others by often wide margins. One old fan of my aquaintance who claimed a pen-pal relationship with the man said that Dent once told him that some of his worst stuff was delivered barely before deadline but some of what he considered his best was dashed off in a matter of days.

11:

re: the writing crap slowly. Robert Jordan is a very good example. He's spent the last 15 years rewriting Tolkien in the most boring and cumbersome way possible. IMO Jordan is the epitome of mind-numbingly boring fantasy...

12:

I just added "copy-edited manuscript" under "CEM" in the Wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CEM

Why? Just because.

13:

He's spent the last 15 years rewriting Tolkien in the most boring and cumbersome way possible. IMO Jordan is the epitome of mind-numbingly boring fantasy...

I did in fact read some unconscionable number of those books before the scales fell from my eyes...I can't quite put my finger on his (evidently considerable) appeal, but I *think* it's something to do with the soap-opera style, combined with the fact that pretty much all of the characters stand in need of firm and oft-repeated slaps, and you keep hoping that someone or something is going to deliver them, but the big tart endlessly disappoints you.

14:

I read the first one. Apparently that's a very good place to stop as well.

15:

Yes, the first is a fine place to stop. Before the first would be fine too.

I was put off reading Jordan by some simple arithmetic.

After about the 3rd, I realized: after the first book he's killing off one big bad guy per book like clockwork, and he's set up that there's like 13 big bad guys, plus one super big bad guy, and to hell with slogging through 14 volumes of this stuff.

It's a pity, because there are actually some very cool fantasy ideas in there, nearly buried by all the tedium of too-similar spoiled brat characters plodding hither and yon, whining all the while. Boromir was the only real whiner in Tolkein and look what happened to him. After that everyone realized they'd better suck it up and get down to the heroing business.

16:

I wouldn't call Boromir a whiner.

He's somebody who, when you give him a hammer and tell him not to use it, sees every problem as a nail.

There's a lot of not-that-great fantasy novels out there, written by people who regurgitate the memes of other writers. It's not just a rework of some well-known story, whether they copy Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars; it's the things they don't think about. Stuff like feeding a horse, and getting dry socks. There's all sorts of things that you have to allow for in your timing, even if they don't get mentioned (unless, as in Ice Cold In Alex, they turn out to be plot-significant).

In the Bakshi LotR movie, one of the characters re-sharpens his sword using a convenient boulder. The thought's there, but that's an improbably convenient lump of geology.

And reforging a broken sword? With all the complex methods used by swordsmiths, combining different sorts of steel to get a blade which will hold an edge without breaking, this seems a trifle far-fetched.

17:

Yes, the first is a fine place to stop. Before the first would be fine too.

Nevertheless, I think it's good to have a really solid counterexample to the notion I've heard floated in various fora that "if loads of people buy X's books, that means X is a good writer".

18:

It's not just a rework of some well-known story, whether they copy Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars; it's the things they don't think about. Stuff like feeding a horse, and getting dry socks.

Hell, it's fantasy, not everyone is going to need all that attention-to-period-detail stuff. Some of my favourite fantasy is by Michael Shea - the original Nifft stories, and In Yana the Touch Of Undying. Great imagination and prose style, and hardly any consideration given to socks whatsoever. He kind of lost it a bit with the later sequels, tho'.

19:

Book I of Robert Jordan's saga sails very close to a direct re-write of LOTR, plot point for plot point. Books II and III are better in terms of originality - I especially enjoyed the four page essay on blacksmithing in III. They are addictive in the same sense that a soap opera is addictive. Now, there's nothing wrong with addictive characters; look at "Prison Break". However, they do need a good plot and a decent non-Rural-England-in-1920 background. I broke my addiction after book III (mostly because I couldn't find IV). For really, really good epic fantasy with fascinating characters and great, witty prose(although a bit too much desert...), try Steven Erikson. I'd call Steven Eriksen the Charlie Stross of fantasy. (Sorry, Charlie, if that offends anyone). For some neat, well-worked-out concepts set in a traditional fantasy mould, look at James Barclay.

20:

If you want fantasy of the "I really know what this means" vein - try K.J. Parker.

Sometimes I'm not 100% sure where he's going with the plot, but by gods he knows how to make stuff (In the 'weapons' series he may as well have written manuals on Sword making, bowyering (?) and armour smithing).

If you want realy heroic, killin' folk whilst defending the walls stuff though - try the late David Gemmell. Especially his earlier works.

Of course I'm still interested in finding out where the Family Trade is going...

21:

Serraphin: Of course I'm still interested in finding out where the Family Trade is going...

I think I can say, without fear of spoilers, that Miriam's exit from book 3 is a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire. And that the US government, having finally noticed the Clan, is getting Very Serious Indeed about them. And that it's book #4 where the SFnal underpinnings of the series really start to show through the thin veneer of high fantasy tropes. But more than that? My lips are sealed ...

22:

And reforging a broken sword? With all the complex methods used by swordsmiths, combining different sorts of steel to get a blade which will hold an edge without breaking, this seems a trifle far-fetched.

I've read that the early Germans would use scrap iron in sword making -- old broken swords and armor. You'd have to basically melt it down again and make an entirely new blade, it wouldn't just be a matter of joining the broken parts.

In essence, you'd be starting again from scratch.

23:

Adrian, it's not that the details need to appear in the text, but fantasy needs enough reality in the supporting structure to sustain the fantastic.

There's huge amounts of reality lurking in Tolkien. The plants mentioned change in a sensible way, both altitude and latitude. The battles have a foundation in examples from ancient history. And, remember, it was written by a man who had been a junior officer in an Army that still relied on horses.

On the other hand, there was some pretty dire stuff in the Seventies and Eighties. And, however much might have come through D&D, which was originally written by a bunch of wargamers, there are a lot of wargamers who just don't get the concept of friction. Wargaming gives you a god's eye view of events.

I suppose the Battle of the Pelennor is an example. You have four, maybe five, distinct armies. One, the garrison of Minas Tirith, is fixed in place. The forces of Mordor include various subsidiary forces, but their arrival sets the timetable. If the Haradrim were a day late, the start of the battle would be a day later.

What defeats the attacker is luck, if luck you call it. The walls of Minas Tirith hold for just long enough, and the two armies arrive at the same time. So the Army of Mordor is committed to storming the city, and gets hit in the flank and read. Worse, they mistake one of the two armies for friends.

There's no way, short of active magic, that the climax could be coordinated. At best, it's people riding hard, and making a good estimate of when they might arrive, so that Theoden and Aragorn can count off the days.

But you read the histories, and that sort of thing could be done. "Dawn on the third day", rather than H-hour, and it works. And the key fantastic element happens off-stage, and is told in flashback after the battle is won.

OK, so there's the idea lifted from the Scottish play, and a lot of legends. But the consequence isn't fantastical. Alexander the Great won battles by going after the enemy commander.

And, to some extent, that's why both The Return of the King and 300 disappoint. They bury reality under a surfeit of the fantastic. The Persians at Thermopylae were not a quasi-orcish horde, and the Pelennor was not won by a horde of ghastly green that consumed all before it.

These battles were fought by people like us: Tolkien even takes the trouble to show us the orcs as being people. Not nice people, but just as prone to fear, and complaining about the food, and bitching about the serjeant-major, as any human soldier.

24:

First: Neal Stephenson makes a good point about "The 300" as well - that it's akin to science fiction set in the past, an imaginative look at an alien culture.

Maybe not particularly good sci-fi, since they neglected to ask Mr. Stross to "punch up" the screenplay, but the SFnal viewpoint may be a better way to interpret the movie than as an historical epic.

Second, I take History seriously enough to research and write it.

Third, my wife, my 18-year-old son, and I all enjoyed "The 300" very much when we saw it on the Universal City IMAX.

That would be the way for the rest of you to see it, if the reviews haven't dissuaded you. It is the future of movies, or at least A future of movies.

The director, Zack Snyder, lives in Pasadena, less than 5 miles from me. He's said that he was, essentially, making a movie of the Frank Miller graphic novel which Frank Miller said was based on his
childhood memories of the 1962 Sir Ralph Richardson version.

This is one of the rare cases of a translation of a translation of a
translation being as great or greater than the original.

The sword, axe, spear, and shieldwork is (to my amateur eyes) astonishing, and my son (professionally trained sword fighter) was equally ecstatic.

Filmed entirely (except for a galloping horses sequence) in a Montreal warehouse, live action greenscreen/bluescreen shooting within 60 days total; a year of postproduction by a graphics software genius.

The review by Howard Waldrop & Lawrence Person at locusmag.com damned with faint praise, saying a good film but not a great film. That's because it breaks the paradigm. It is one of the defining great films of the new approach, which is very cost-effective and scares the pants off the traditional studios.

The others of the new style being "Sin City" also a Frank Miller graphic novel
adapation beyond gory, and what Pixar would do if they wanted to make something that children should NOT see.

Since it is inevitable that we'll be seeing Stross film adapations some day, the paradigm shift of the movie industry matters to us all.

So which of the Stross oeuvre would be most desired for the big screen? The small screen? The teeny-weenie hand-held screen? The 3-D theatre?

I like bad movie reviews as much as the next guy. More, actually, because there are so many film reviews on my web domain, which is in its 12th year, and getting 15,000,000+ hits per year.

For my film data, start at:
http://www.magicdragon.com/movies-index.html

25:

I'm not sure that Halting State would translate well, as a story, but it's within the level of tech effects that includes Doctor Who and Primeval. And two of the big CGI sequences don't even need live actors.

Well, that's the first two or three episodes of a series.

26:

>>So which of the Stross oeuvre would be most desired for the big screen? The small screen? The teeny-weenie hand-held screen? The 3-D theatre?

Ooohh, I'd like to see The Atrocity Archives directed by Terry Gilliam Or even better: Singularity Sky directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky or Jean-Pierre Jeunet!!

27:

Speaking of copy-editing and the teeny-weenie screen, I'd originally tried this comment at (but it might be more appropriate here if you forgive the inherent egocentrism of the reminiscence-based meta-analysis):

Cory Doctorow: You Do Like Reading Off a Computer
Screen
http://www.locusmag.com/Features/2007/03/cory-doctorow-you-do-like-reading-off.html#comments

Anonymous [JVP] said...

I've read Cory Doctorow fiction on big screens, small screens, and printed out. It seemed equally delightful either way.

One needs to keep a historical perspective. When I did primitive word processing in 1966 (yes, 41 years ago) it was ugly fonts badly printed, and correction by replacement of punchcards.

I became addicted to composing my fiction and poetry directly at the punchard machine or teletype. Without computer support, I'd never have reached 2,400 publications, presentations, and broadcasts to my credit. I contend that, independent of quality, the computer infrastructure can increase a writer's productivity by one or two orders of magnitude. Of course the reader experience has not increased as fast -- but the Web itself is a rather significant chunk of
hypermedia.

I used to tell people, via panel discussions in the 1970s, that they would be reading and writing via computers, and all but hard-core geeks didn't believe.
For that matter, I ticked off j michael straczynski when we paneled in the late 1980s, by my saying that the 3 major artforms of the 21st century would be
music videos, hypertext, and terrorism. In retrospect, a darned good extrapolation.

I recall Robert Silverberg telling me in the 1970s that he didn't want to be read on computer screens "because I don't look good in green."

We've come a long way, baby!

-- Jonathan Vos Post
http://magicdragon.com

Monday, March 19, 2007 10:29:28 AM

28:

Heh. I do a lot of reading off my screen, and if I had a deacent (cheap, no frills) e-ink reader I'd do more. Of course, I'd add to that that this means a large chunk of my book budget (although I did finally buy _Toast_ the other day) currently goes to Baen.

*bludgeons publishers*

29:

Andrew: take a look at the Nokia N800 web tablet and FBReader. That combination gives you an 800x480 colour screen, two SD card slots (there's a kernel in development that can read SDHC cards, so up to 16Gb of storage is feasible if you don't mind dinking with Linux kernels), and an eBook reader that can digest Palm doc, plain text, Plucker files, Mobipocket files, RTF, HTML ... basically just about any open ebook file format that doesn't include DRM. Better still, if you dial the backlight brightness down and switch off wifi and bluetooth the battery is good for 7-9 hours on a charge, it takes standard Nokia mobile phone batteries if you want to carry a spare, and you can charge it off a phone charger (with a new-model 2mm Nokia tip or an adapter and an old-model 3mm Nokia tip).

The older Nokia 770 tablet has just as good a screen but doesn't take standard SD cards, and is slower -- the N800 is the sweet spot.

Once the promised port of AbiWord is released I may be switching to it as an ultra-portable writing machine. (Did I say it can play MP3s as well, and there's some video playback capability -- albeit still under development?)

The only drawbacks are that (a) Maemo is still very much a developer- rather than user-friendly platform, and (b) there's no screen cover. (But as it's almost exactly the same dimensions as the old Psion Revo, just buy an old Revo case on eBay and you'll be all set.)

If Palm would release a machine with something like the N800's specs I'd probably marry it.

30:

Reforging a sword blade depends on a lot of things. If your talking about an early Viking pattern welded blade, with the core of twisted bars with outer sharp brittle edges welded on, then thats rather tricky.
Re-forging a much later sword would still be difficult, because even with more uniform steel, it's difficult because the temper is not even along the blade, inside and out.

As for 300 and it's fighting, I watched the trailer and all I could see was fantasy fighting. Most of the people I know who know much about sword and other fighting generally agree that a real battle would be very dull for the audience. Real historical fencing, like what me and some friends try and do, is dull. A couple of clashes, often very messy looking, and someone is hit in the face.
Game over.
No whirling about dervish like, no leaping theatrically into the air etc.

31:

I suppose since Charlie's original post mentioned Halting State, which I gather has something to do with MMOs, I can claim to be on topic with something vaguely resembling a straight face. Anyway, I just came across this and instantly thought, this sounds like something that would be right up Charlie Stross's alley...

Online Gamers can now pay with their blood

An online game operator has demanded that banned players donate blood to be allowed back into the game. Moliyo, which runs a 3D massively multiplayer online game in China, made the demand after banning 120,000 players who attempted to hack the game.

More than 100 players had already signed up to exchange half a litre (1 pint) of blood for game accounts. The company has also offered free accounts to ordinary players who give blood.


32:

Charlie, see, that's pretty much precisely what I don't want. I'm after an e-ink reader. Single card slot is fine. Bookmarking ability. That's IT.

I don't want it for wireless, or music, or any of that. I have other bulkier devices for that allready. I admit I'm that rare breed of a game designer who ISN'T a technophile (I'm tech-as-a-tool). But that's a pretty expensive device and it's not what I'm looking for.

There seems to be a gaping market gap. Something for under �100, frankly. Mass production, mass market.

33:

Andrew: I know what you're looking for, and for reasons to do with the structure of the consumer electronics industry you won't get it. See also my rant some way down the blog about why the One Laptop Per Child program is about 95% of the way to making my ideal writing machine -- and something like it has been feasible from the CE industry for the past decade and a half, but nobody saw any profit in giving me something so useful I'd stop buying new stuff.

Basically, the profit margin on a retail $100 ebook reader is peanuts. And you still won't sell many until they're more like $50, with a couple of free books thrown in. So why bother?

My guess is, we'll see ebook readers begin to gain a toe-hold when (a) the hardware drops to $100 or lower (see also: Chinese market) and (b) someone comes up with a workable book club scheme to subsidize the initial cost of the reader, much as mobile phone costs are subsidized by lock-in contracts.

When the ebook reader seems to cost $25 to the public, and comes with most of Project Gutenberg pre-loaded, then the mass market will begin to open up. Never mind that they really cost $100 and you have to buy six books over the first year at full hardcover price (minimum) before you can pay it off.

34:

Charlie, quite (although I said UKP100, not USD100). But until they do, I'm not buying the overpriced, overfeatured alternatives. And yes, the failure of the OLPC program to offer their laptop retail in the first world is glaring.

In the PC arena, there are people bending over backwards to create pretty much any addin card I'd care for (and a lot I don't). Why this should be so different* for handheld devices is bewildering.

(*Not entirely, mind you. I have a GamePark 32 handheld which I like a lot - but again that's Asian...)

35:

I thought there was a scheme to offer them retail for $200, or more specifically, to require anyone who bought one to donate one?

I also got to fiddle with them at 3GSM this year, and they are extremely cool. If the RM Nimbuses at school had been anything like that I would never have left the computer room, and would probably now be researching quantum computer-squid interfaces.

But on the other hand, I wouldn't know any women.

36:

Alex: there was a proposal that such a scheme should be developed, but then the foundation went all tight-lipped and said "we are not doing that at this time".

37:

and something like it has been feasible from the CE industry for the past decade and a half, but nobody saw any profit in giving me something so useful I'd stop buying new stuff.

Rapid upgrade cycles (aka buying new stuff) drive innovation, all else is communism.

I thought there was a scheme to offer them retail for $200, or more specifically, to require anyone who bought one to donate one?

I don't get the $100 price point as a useful one for the third world, though I can see it as being a good one if you wanted to get all the kiddies wired up in the developed countries. In Africa, where a hundred bucks can go a long way, I can't help thinking most of them would promptly be absconded with by heavily armed people in technicals.

38:

37: a) not all of Africa=Somalia. b) So what? Send some more. It's not like they can eat them.

39:

37/38: I'd also note that the first run of OLPC machines appear to be destined for countries that have electricity, running water, and per-capita GDP that in earlier days would have been described as "second world", i.e. on the order of US $1000 per person. Which makes a lot more sense than describing them as laptops for the third world.

40:

a) not all of Africa=Somalia.

A surprisingly large chunk of it is Sudan and Congo, tho', and they'd have technicals in Congo if they had any roads to speak of. And I know a lot of the rest isn't *that* bad, but I lived in Botswana (which is wealthy by African standards) for most of '93, and I really wonder whether even they would have the educational infrastructure to take advantage of such things. I suppose they're thinking that having a laptop each would bypass the need for infrastructure altogether, sort of like that book in Stephenson's The Diamond Age, but I'm not totally persuaded myself.

b) So what? Send some more. It's not like they can eat them.

Well, yeah, but these things are presumably coming out of yer evergenerous aid budgets, and if a vigorous market develops selling them back to (say) Western geeks who want to make all-singing-all-dancing personal organisers out of them it may run counter to the original intentions of the project somewhat.

41:

I'm still not sure why everyone seems to assume that the OLPC is meant for African school children. It's not -- only 2 subsaharan African nations are even interested, Nigeria and Rawanda. The nations who are involved in the project are places like Brazil, India, Argentina, Venezuela. It's meant for countries who can't afford $600-$1000 for a full laptop and who want more than a computer lab at the school.

And the real benefit would come if they could replaced physical textbooks with ebooks for the OLPC. It probably costs well over $150 per student to purchase books for them.

Personally, I think there's more future in something like Korea's "Digital Textbook" project: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Textbook

42:

Congo has GSM/GPRS mobile phone service..

43:

In addition to being one of the most corrupt countries on the planet, Nigeria also has a space programme:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/world/nigeria/index.html

Africa is a rather more complex and surprising place than people outside the continent tend to assume.

44:

Andrew G: I think there's a lot less future in the Korean project.

Yes, it's higher spec machinery. But even in bulk, it's an order of magnitude more expensive. Being required to run Windows XP eats up nearly a third the manufacturing price of the OLPC in licensing alone. The battery life is inferior, and if you've ever messed with a Tablet PC, you'll know they're simply not up to being drop-kicked around a school playground (one of the things the OLPC is designed to survive). Finally, because it's based on commercial CE technology and it's already trailing-edge/obsolescent, the temptation to upgrade it will be well-nigh irresistible. Meaning that the government who buys it -- for $1000 a pop rather than $100 a pop -- will probably face pleas to replace it with an upgrade in 2-3 years when the batteries begin to fade. And what are you willing to bet that in a couple of years time shitloads of these undermaintained child-used Windows boxes are going to end up crawling with spyware and adware, then zombified and turned into botnet nodes?

That's exactly why the OLPC is a better bet for developing nations. South Korea has a per-capita GDP comparable to Europe or the USA -- if their government wants to waste money, they can afford to. Meanwhile, the OLPC isn't capable of running industry-standard games, spyware, viruses, worms, and expensive commercial operating systems.

45:

Charlie,

You're likely right if they try and keep the Digital Textbook cutting edge. But in 10 years something with those specs will probably be as cheap as the OLPC is now. Running Windows is overkill, but a good tablet running Linux or another slim OS would be much better than the OLPC. My biggest problem with the OLPC and the Classmate PC is the size of their display. I'm reserving judgement on the OLPC's OS as well, I'd rather see something more mainstream but maybe they're on to something.

But I'm not really thinking of the second or third world right now. The OLPC is probably the best they can hope for. But what about the first world. Sure, a lot of kids now have a computer at home. But I think it would be far better to have one at school, with all of their textbooks preloaded. Interactive homework assignments, media from networked servers in the school, collaborative work, etc. could all be features that would be of great value to education. Add a wireless keyboard and they can use it to type up reports as well.

The area I live in already spends over $10,000 per student each year, I think another $1000 spread over a couple years is of greater value than a $150 toy.

46:

No 'fraid not.

A lot of schools are now starting to look at thin client technology to try and offset the constant upgrade costs of stations.

Up to about 10% of schools in Eng & Wales are at least enquiring about this and some have gone ahead with trials and installs. It means that a lot of the technology in schools is actually getting downgraded at user level.

What you will start to see is pupils using their own kit and linking into the school portal to claim their work, do their work and submit their work. They don't actually connect to the network directly - it's all web based. So less chance of viral infection on those really secure MS Sharepoint Portal servers *cough*.

What this does mean, though, is that apart from us poort fools who'd really just like to have a simple Word Processor and text web browser - the requirement for low spec laptops will never reach the plateu requirement for someone to produce them.

Our best hope is some kind of powrful mobile system that has a usable ergonomic keyboard.

47:

Semi-dirty laundry being semi-aired in semi-public, at John Scalzi's blog, on what Science Fiction authors and wannabees say about SFWA elections:

http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/004960.html

March 15, 2007
SFWA President: I'm a Write-In Candidate

I got a ballot from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America about a week ago...

[quickly becomes hard to summarize, but generally entertaining... but would be much more fun if Mr. Stross commented thereunto]

48:

Re the fighting in 300: the key to Spartan infantry success was the highly disciplined phalanx, and Thermopylae was the ideal spot to apply this formation (a position not needing much maneouvering and hard to outflank because of the terrain). The fighting would surely have been largely in rigid formations, with the Hellenes presenting a solid wall of spear-points and shields. Herodotus notes that the Persians had shorter spears than the Hellenes, so you can imagine the difficulties the invaders faced. Herodotus adds:

The Lacedemonians meanwhile were fighting in a memorable fashion, and besides other things of which they made display, being men perfectly skilled in fighting opposed to men who were unskilled, they would turn their backs to the enemy and make a pretence of taking to flight; and the Barbarians, seeing them thus taking a flight, would follow after them with shouting and clashing of arms: then the Lacedemonians, when they were being caught up, turned and faced the Barbarians; and thus turning round they would slay innumerable multitudes of the Persians; and there fell also at these times a few of the Spartans themselves.

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