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Missile Gap

I'm very pleased to announce the release on the web — in honor of International pixel-stained technopeasant day — of MISSILE GAP, which is shortlisted for the Locus readers' award for best novella this year.

Read the whole thing here.




Excellent initiative, Charlie. Now where's my e-book reader gizmo gone to? ;-)


I knew Jo's idea would have multiple goods come out of it. Excellent.


Oh, that's an excellent story. "A Colder War" meets the Eschaton, starring Yuri Gagarin as Captain Kirk, and an excuse for Carl Sagan to say "billions and billions".

With due apologies, I hope you'll excuse me going into nerd mode long enough to mention a couple of technical nitpicks...

Chapter 4: "The disk’s thickness is unknown ... but we can estimate it at eight thousand miles, if its density averages out at the same as Earth’s." If its surface gravity and bulk density are the same as Earth, its thickness would be 4241 km (2636 miles). (Surface gravity of a disc = 2 pi G times density times thickness.)

The descriptions of the ekranoplan in chapters 9 and 15 don't match; you've put the nuclear engines in different positions (next to the catapults on the central fuselage in chapter 9, on the tail in chapter 15).


thanks for saving me $35 usd. you kickass. and so does the inventer of pixel-stained techno-peasent day


i downloaded accelerando before i bought it in paperback. i never got around to reading the digital version, but when i wanted to re-read a few chapters it was good to have after i traded the book in to a used book store


I often wondered what New Soviet Trek might be like :)

Many, many, years ago I remember reading a Trek/B7 crossover. There was much confusion, but I don't think Kirk and Servalan ever met.


Dave, you ever seen Star Wreck?


Best Trek/B5 (kinda) crossover ever!


Project Plowshare, Project Pluto, Project Orion, the Savannah, and the ekranoplan? Nice. Very dieselpunk.

Given the setting, I suggest an alternative title of "A Colder Discworld".

I often wondered what New Soviet Trek might be like

Star Trek is already Soviet. Haven't you worked that out yet? No one uses money, and Spock is obviously the Enterprise's Political Officer.

Yeah, yeah, "Science Officer". Like that's a bridge-level position in any navy; let alone a position that allows you to argue with the Captain. No, it's the typical non-job that the Sovs used for the political representative. (On the Klondikers, the "First Mate" was the political guy.) The science in question is obviously Marxist Political Science. And Kirk, with his unimpeachable peasant background on the farms of Iowa - like Gagarin, he's of peasant stock - is obviously a New Soviet Man.




Charles, you rule, what can I say.

I'll read it and drop my opinion here, fwiw.


Ooh, what a fine giveaway! I read this in hardcover and got a great kick out of it. And a big thank-you to Subterranean for letting your release it; I'll be forwarding the link to several friends.

I particularly enjoyed your Penguicon panel on Cthulhu, by the way. Here's looking forward to the third Laundry novel!


Wow, it is good. I guess I'll always have the doubt of how and why the humans were moved to the big disk.


The East German defector, Wolff, maintains a smug silence: I are above all this.



Dave Bell #6: Many, many, years ago I remember reading a Trek/B7 crossover.

I've always liked the theory that Star Trek and Blake's 7 are actually the pro- and anti-government propaganda from the same universe. (The government, obviously, has a bigger budget.)


Another pair of minor nitpicks:

"now the sky is louring and dark" is a typo I assume?

S. Doradus is in the Large Magellanic Cloud, not the lesser one.


This is great. I'd been on the fence about this one Charlie. As beautiful as Subterranean's books are, they aren't cheap. But after reading the first two chapters, I think I'm about to order a hard copy. Does that mean I'm only pixel-smudged?


Lots of vodka could explain Kirk I guess. :)


I too had been struggling over the price of the limited edition. Charlie, you're an angel.

P.S. "lour" is a valid and archaic word. Merriam-Webster has it as an alternate spelling, but they're a bunch of 'merkins.

Main Entry: 1low·er
Pronunciation: 'lau(-&)r, 'lO-&r
Variant(s): also lour /'lau(-&)r/
Function: intransitive verb
Etymology: Middle English louren; akin to Middle High German luren to lie in wait
1 : to look sullen : FROWN
2 : to be or become dark, gloomy, and threatening


Not a spoiler, I think but...

I enjoyed the not-too-hidden Fred Hoyle and Fritz Leiber allusions in the final chapter. I think I read October the First Is Too Late when I was 11 or 12, and it made a powerful impression on me.


Mr. Stross, I told you need to set another story in the Missile Gap Universe! People love this stuff. Even my friends that don't really like reading sf have enjoyed your books that I have given them.



Loved the Teller dig...


Excellent story! Likely to cause some nightmares.

Couple of nitpicks concerning Russian names. Borisovitch is not likely as last name, Borisov sounds better. Suvurov (last name ) is probably Suvorov. If this is a reference to second-rate defector from USSR to UK turned prolific alternative history writer, the last name should be Rezun, not Suvorov.

"It doesn’t take much to get the human hives buzzing with positive feedback" -- just great.


I'm currently burning through the SFBC Laundry compilation at a prodigious clip. Pratchett's "Wintersmith" arrived just as I was finishing up "The Atrocity Archives", but I have set it aside until I finish "On Her Majesty's Occult Service" -- I really can't give anyone higher praise than that, Charlie.





Wow. You never disappoint, do you?

(Chekov is a sound man. HA!)


I like everything about it!

I am especially touched by by the Dan Alderson references. Dan and I were friends, both at JPL and beyond. It was he who got me to stop merely visiting LASFS, but become a member. I spent time with him even as diabetes blinded him, then led to amputations. He loved figuring out real spacecraft trajectories -- in his head! -- as well as Science Fiction (famously the origin of the Alderson drive in Niven and Pournelle's fiction, and the Alderson Disk, which grew out his high school science fair project). Our last hour together, we discussed the space program we had versus the one that we deserved, and favorite comic books.

Diabetes notwithstanding, I believe that he died of a broken heart. he lost his will to live when JPL wouldn't let him continue to work on missions and trajectories, with a friends reading to him what was on the computer screen. His body dragged him down, bureacrats cast him out of the garden, yet his mind ranged beyond the cosmos that we know.

I miss Carl Sagan, but he was (selfishly speaking) merely a co-worker, mentor of friends, and acquaintance. Dan Alderson was a friend, and would have been very happy to be in a Stross universe.


It's a cracker, with the dose of menace that characterises good SF, like the gin in the gin and tonic. (Which is obviously a modern/postmodern version of the Romantic Sublime.) And any excuse for an Ekranoplan, eh.

9: Ajay, this should not be surprising. Star Trek is a product of the Khrushchev era - Peaceful Coexistence, Samuel Huntington estimating that Hungary and Italy were industrialising in much the same way and the systems would simply converge, Raymond Aron suggesting the real divide was between the World of Order and the World of Chaos.

26: I regularly expect to discover that Jonathan Vos Post is an extended science-fiction media hacking project.


Alex, he's either that or a groupmind. It's obvious that no one human can have done all the things the JVP entity claims to have done, but a hundred or a thousand people could plausibly have done it, if they all cooperated closely enough and worked really hard.

He's probably part of a first-strike force for our new insect overlords.


What kind of creature has a brain distributed among multiple nodes, and more than the usual count of arms? I blame the squid.


If the explorers had been 1960s Brits rather than 1960s Soviets, they would have set off in an immense atomic-powered hovercraft. "It's a work of genius, Mr Cockerell!"


Nah. Tony Benn would order the blueprints burned, as he did with the TSR2, and later prove to be a hive-entity secret agent.




To: all distributed sub-entities:

Must pass Turing test, must pass Turing test...

De-archive all references to KPFK-FM "Hour 25" radio show hosted by Mike Hodel and Mel Gilden, then Harlan Ellison, then Steve Barnes. Insert audiotracks of Jonathan Vos Post construct on each show where external labels indicate his alleged presence. Alert all "coauthors." Stand-by with photino birds and photon torpedos.

10% of the Disk is only the beginning. First 100% of the Disk, then the other Disks, then the more significant Kardashev III structures not yet discovered by puny humans.

Failure is not an option. Threat from those Not Of The Body is increasing. They must be assimilated. Bask in the glory of the Heinlein construct's clever disinformation that "specialization is for insects..."


I intend to welcome our JVP overlords.


Alex @34: s/welcome/be assimilated by/g



Any comments wrt hovercraft and ekranoplans?


Thank you very much, Charles.


Any comments wrt hovercraft and ekranoplans?

I think the difference between "My hovercraft is full of eels!" and "My ekranoplan is full of eels!" illustrates that hovercrafts are indeed comedy.

Unless, of course, we're talking about "The Trouble with Tribe Eels", from the Korolev's five-year mission. Hmm...


Coming soon to a theatre near you:

"EELS ON AN EKRANOPLAN" starring Samuel L. Jackson.


I just read "Missile Gap" and enjoyed it. :)

One question: Does this supermassive "disc world" spin and create its own time-loop?
I got the impression that when the Russians travel outward, they run into what could be their own future (the ruined cities, the decaying monument) or one of their "copied" Earths. So if they traveled all the way around the disc, would they cross into their own past and meet themselves (or copies of themselves)???

(See also Kurt Gödel's model of a spinning universe, where you can travel in time and space.)


A.R. Yngve, I wasn't sure about some aspects of the story, and I'm glad someone is now talking about it. It was my impression that the Disk offered so much space that different experiments could be run, over and over again, and that what was discovered was just a "failed" experiment. I think those responsible for the disk (Eschaton-like entity?)were trying to figure out if its own evolution could be altered by changing the conditions out of which it evolved, hence the multiple experiments. Or, I could be wrong and I need to be corrected. More data is required.



I had the impression that dangerously destructive civilisations were confined on it, and that occasionally, the diskers found it necessary to kill some of them off when they showed signs of getting subversively curious.


Or, it could just be another case of 'as flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods - they kill us for their sport'.

There may have been no higher motive beyond that of putting two insects in a glass jar and shaking it so that they'll fight, purely for one's own amusement and entertainment.

Now, while I share the high opinion of this shorter work from the Stross ouevre, I have to say that there shouldn't be any more stories set in this universe. To do that, would be to devalue the shock value, the frisson which comes with the pay off in the last chapter.

In any case I'm sure that Herr Doktor Stross is currently hard at work in his Secret Laboratory deep beneath Edinburgh Castle, striving to produce new horrors and torments to unleash on a complacent and unsuspecting humanity. . .


Another thing I wondered about: Why did the "Overmind" create a world so obviously artificial that humans would immediately spot the fakery, and not a more "faithful" copy of Planet Earth?

OK, the disc world functions as a perfect "gravity trap," making all escape impossible. Then how about a sneakier trap?
For example, an Earth copy surrounded by an impenetrable shell -- with Sun, Moon and stars painted on the inside -- or a straightforward computer simulation.

But I digress... "Missile Gap" is still a good story, and making the reader think is the premier virtue of SF lit.


See my last post: the new world is obviously artificial because that will make it clear to humans that they are being toyed with much as a cat might toy with a mouse, enhancing the sadistic pleasure which the Overmind derives from its little hobby.


I think the point of the artificial world is not to observe the experiment in its natural environment, but to run faster-than-normal experiments. Putting multiple civilizations on the disc means that they can interact using ship ships, not space ships - effectively creating FTL travel on petri dish. Space opera.

I think the bug-eyed men are rival experiments, not staff members.

I am interested in the answer to A.R. Yngve's question about the spinning world & time, so I hope someone else resolves it.


A.R. Yngve:

The JVP construct cites the Wikipedia construct citing an alleged astronomer about a posthumous revelation by the Gödel construct, to write as follows.

No. The Alderson Disk does not satify the Gödel metric. It is not dust. See also: the Greg Egan construct on Cantor Dust.

"... The Gödel metric is an exact solution of the Einstein field equation in which the stress-energy tensor contains two terms, the first representing the matter density of a homogeneous distribution of swirling dust particles, and the second associated with a nonzero cosmological constant (see lambdavacuum solution). It is also known as the Gödel solution. This solution has many strange properties ..."

"Because of the homogeneity of the spacetime and the mutual twisting of our family of timelike geodesics, it is more or less inevitable that the Gödel spacetime should have closed timelike curves (CTC's). Indeed, there are CTCs through every event in the Gödel spacetime. This causal anomaly seems to have been secretly regarded as the whole point of the model by Gödel himself, who allegedly spent the last two decades of his life searching for a proof that death could be cheated, and apparently felt that this solution provided the desired proof. This strange conviction came to light decades after his death, when his personal papers were examined by a startled astronomer..."


Re: all the questions about time travel, etc.

You really need to re-read the story again, carefully and slowly. I wouldn't want to spoil it for new readers, so I'm going to drop hints as to how I've interpreted it.

Information that's provided late in the story should influence your interpretation of information that's provided earlier in the story. For instance, Gregor's talk with Sagan is riddled with misleading truths and half-truths. Second, consider that a disk shaped world provides space for a lot of experiments to be run, sequentially or simultaneously. Consider also some of the later discoveries[*] on the ekranoplan, and the sandking-like[*] discoveries of the American colonists. And yes, the experiments are clearly implied to be Eschaton-driven.

[*] There are unusually many allusions or homages to other classic stories here. I took these incidents to have some allusion to stories by Alfred Bester and George R.R. Martin respectively.


Thought Missile Gap to be well written and interesting but so bleak... Had the same feeling reading A Colder War. This is stuff that makes Lem, Brunner and Ballard look like optimists!

Which makes me wonder, how come the characters in these extreme SF situations (waking up in another part of the galaxy, for example) don't go stark raving mad, after all, some people end up in therapy just by dealing with a tough mother in law.

Enjoyed the Gagarin/Kirk parallels, the Soviets did make
a kiddie/Trek feature film clone in the late 70s- embarassing piece of trash it was.




"Space... the final frontier of the Revolution.

"These are the voyages of the starship Lenin. Its five-year plan: to seek out new life, to overthrow the capitalist bourgeoisie of other civilizations, and knit ties with the universal brotherhood of socialism... to boldly go where no Soviet man has gone before!"


Loved the story. :)

It would have been interesting to see what happened if they made contact with the other discs. Would they be the same -- an advanced group mind slowly taking over, or would different things be happening on them? Perhaps they were populated from a different slice of galactic history?

I'd love to see a sequel or other continuation of the setting. Did New Iowa survive the war? Gagarin and his people?


No! No sequels! A sequel implies a future, and a future implies hope, and hope is not consistent with the Missile Gap message.


I dunno, I think there would be a great deal of hopelessness being one of the survivors on New Iowa or one of the Soviet colonies. Knowing that you're all that's left of your civilization, cast adrift. Searching for some sort of salvation, which may not be what you want once you find it...


Well, one thing that's not explored in the story is what the consequences were for the world religions. . .


What I don't understand is the relationship between us showing up and Greg. Was he here first with a giant head start? Was there a reversed WHOP sound as a few continents appeared? If so, why is the competition interesting as anything other than a Civ3 scenario?

[...a shoe drops...]


Yeah, the bit that bugged me as I read the story was, why is the Eschaton-like entity allowing the various snapshots to interact so readily, especially since that seems to mean the bugs wipe out everything else. But considering the disc as a form of introspection by a rather powerful entity makes sense. Perhaps at some point after 1962 but still in the Eschaton's past, humans had interactions with the bug-people.

Re hovercraft and ekranoplans: why not have both?


Gregor seemed to think that it was his kind who had formed the Galactic Mass Mind they could see at work. His species' main objection to humanity seemed to be that humans would also come to believe they were destined to create god, but in their own image.

It seems to me that new worlds were being added all the time for some reason, rather than all at once. Perhaps once a species gets wiped out it's added back again in an empty region.

We also don't know what's on the other disc worlds. Humanity could have been placed on those as well, with different results. And there could be more out of sight. No reason the creators of the discs just made three. They could be running millions of experiments...


Perhaps the disks are actually a representation of science-fiction itself. Flattening out interstellar space into the sea being equivalent to bringing bizarre universes into words. Hence all the inside-baseball intertextuality.


off topic


another step in the direction you forsaw with your lobsters.



Thought Patterns? The researchers see evidence of thought patterns? I, for one, welcome our new Rodentianetic overlords.


I wrote the following in another thread, but maybe it was overlooked. Apologies for the redundancy, anyway.

(SPOILER WARNING for Missile Gap)

In Missile Gap, near the beginning, the Milky Way is below the horizon; but further through, it's visible. So does that mean the disc is spinning like a flipped coin? That would lead to a sideways component to gravity. A calculation showed me that it could spin with a period of about 30 days, with gravity being 5% sideways at 1AU from the centre (at 2 opposite points). And more as you go further out.

Is this intentional? I was kinda guessing that something like that wouldn't need to rotate.

And, creepy story! Atrocity Archive still makes me queasy inside when I think of it. "They did it to themselves"! Brrr-rr!! This has some of that to it.

I subsequently realised that it's worse than that—any non-0 "flip" to the disc is going to lead to all the water slooshing right over the side. So I think I've found a legitimate mistake!

I still love the story though ...


A nonrotating disk would have some inward component to gravity — all else being equal, everything will want to clump into a sphere at the center of mass. So presumably a slow enough spin won't actually lose the oceans, it will just change the shape of the geoid. This could be compensated by contouring the surface to match, or by varying the density of the überdense layer...


But that wouldn't lead to a sky that changed, just a sky that rotated about its own zenith. For the effect that's described, the disc also has to rotate about an axis in its own plane. You're right, I hadn't considered the inward component of gravity, but if it's nicely cancelled by the outward centripetal force of rotation, that still leaves the flip unaccounted for.

H'mm ... might need a bit more maffs here ...


Great story. I couldn't really picture how the sun worked. Did it stay in a single position above the disc? There's a description of "The bar of solid sunlight...". Did I miss a sentence somewhere explaining it?


Well I personally hope that Charlie has got whatever itch he was scratching with Missile Gap out of his system...the alternative history personalities, the weird local system setup and the expansion by various methods into the disk boonies were great fun.


And then the whole setup gets swatted by smarter bugs
who understand us so well that they can mimic us completely - insert themselves seamlessly into our
security structures and lead us to kill ourselves with
our own paranoia.

Both Soviets and Americans knew that they weren't in
Georgia / Kansas anymore - they also knew that previous
instances of their civilisations had apparently fought each other and everybody died...so they went and fought each other anyway!

I have a love/hate relationship with John Barnes who has far too much of an affinity for this sort of plot - it
isn't clever, its just depressing.

I loved the pieces that Missile Gap was made of, but the
whole disappointed.

(ducks to cover)

-- Andrew


Re #64:

Johnathan, I'm not sure, but if a disk is spinning about its central axis (like a old LP on a turn table), it would have to spin very slowly. As you traveled further from the center the centerpetal force would be enormous. I'm not sure how the mass of the disk would be able to stay intact. Field technology must be used, and in that case there would be no need to spin the disk--it could be kept stationary. I think a ring world sounds easy compared to a disk world.



@Cliffton #48
"And yes, the experiments are clearly implied to be Eschaton-driven."

Say what?!? Wasn't it some massive hive mind that evolved from various smart bug species?
It kind of annoyed me that the humans lost so badly. The implied inferiority was artificially injected. The bug's they came up against were far far ahead of the 1960's humans in both technology and time spent on the disk. Perhaps another story about a meeting of humans and bugs when things are more even would be interesting?