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Not dead, just writing ...

I hate death marches.

(But a death march is what I'm on. Another three or four days and I should have a finished first draft of "Rule 34". Until then? Talk among yourselves ...)



Okay. (just thinking out loud) Reading through Heilein. Trying to decide if he's as much of a libertarian as all his characters seem to be so far, or if he's just having lots of fun with the idea.

Either way, I can only think that if I'd read these books at 13 instead of Atlas Shrugged, I'd be a libertarian today.


New to your works I am enjoying Accelerando very much. It is a refreshing surprise as I have not read much Sci-fi in the past ten years or so. I am curious as to your (or anybody else's influences for that matter) favorite near future sci-fi works. I suspect once I finish Accelerando I will have to fill that empty feeling inside.


I'm interested to see how you retool the political premise

Hope you don't have to rewrite too much of the manuscript


Hey, the first private launch of a space shuttle happened successfully today. Heinlein would be proud.


It's not a shuttle, it's a re-hash of the mid-1950s Semyorka.

Still not bad, though: fifty years after the Chief Designer's biggest success story, finally an American gets over their national Not Invented Here syndrome and steals from the best.


I just finished Wireless and enjoyed it. On the last page you write that you regret that "Palimpsest" has not become a novel. Isn't Saturn Children itself a kind of Palimpsest? As in Palimpsest, the main character is never sure which version of herself she is or who she really is. Both are stories of shifting identities.


The other two-thirds of "Palimpsest" (the novel-length remix) go in a radically different direction -- there's more than identity at stake.

But if you want shifting identities, you probably want "Rule 34" ...


I want "Rule 34", shifting or not. :-)

Ad I am glad to learn that there is a "novel length remix" of "Palimpsest" on the way. Its "to-the-end-of-the-universe" span is beautifully original and intriguing.


Novel-length-Palimpsest isn't definite yet (and certainly isn't written) -- merely planned.

(First you're getting "The Fuller Memorandum" next month. Then "Rule 34" next year. In-between, there'll be a NESFA Press special edition of "Scratch Monkey", my 1994 trunk novel; then there's going to be "The Rapture of the Nerds" -- a collaboration with Cory Doctorow -- and quite possibly "The Apocalypse Codex", Laundry #4. There's also $SEKRITMEDIAPROJECT which may or may not come about, but the first rule of secret media projects is: we do not speak about secret media projects (until they are funded). Only then, in mid-to-late 2011, am I likely to get time to write "Palimpsest", assuming nothing more interesting has captured my attention!)


Have you encountered The Windup Girl yet? Its different, but beautiful. Rather a story of what could go very, very wrong.


Heinlein when?

Heinlein's positions changed over the years. He started out left of liberal, became a conservative, then something of a libertarian.

And at each stage, he also had positions which didn't fit well into any ideology.


I`d say Falcon 9 is better than Semyorka. Only two stages, engine-out capability, higher payload... 8-)


Oh kill me, merciful Cthulhu, I can`t stand it! So many cliches...

The Windup Girl is set in the 22nd century: Global Warming has raised the levels of world's oceans, the American Economic Empire has disintegrated, and digital technology has almost faded out. Carbon fuel sources have become depleted, and manually wound springs are the ubiquitous energy storage devices. Biotechnology is dominant and mega corporations like AgriGen, PurCal and RedStar (called calorie companies) control food production through 'genehacked' seeds, and use bioterrorism, private armies and economic hitmen to create markets for their products.


Better yet, Chtulhu, eat the author before he writes more shit like this.


The abort-at-T-zero and recycle in less than 2 hours was pretty amazing, too.


I'd say the Falcon 9 is (currently) worse than the good old Soyuz.

1) Falcon 9 is ugly. My communist propaganda infested mind just can't think of anything more visually pleasing than a Soyuz launch. Period.

2) [More seriously.] The Soyuz has 1700 flights to her name, whereas the Falcon 9 has ... one test flight. Sure, this argument will get old quick, but for it to get old, it has to get old first ...

3) The test flight had more troubles than SpaceX currently admits. Like achieving a 240x280 km orbit, instead of a circular 250x250 km orbit. Also, during the last part of the flight, the second stage was out of control. (For relatively benign values of "out-of-control")

4) During the test flight engines operated approximately 20% below nominal thrust. (No good figures there, but it was between 800,000 and 900,000 lbs, nominally its supposed to be 1,100,000 lbs.) This means that they can lift less fuel and consequently less than the nominal payload.

During the Challenger investigation Richard Feynman was told that a reduction of thrust by 5% roughly doubled the life-time of the Space Shuttle engines. Taking this as a basis for speculation, a 20% reduction could make the Merlin at least 10 times more reliable in the test flight than at nominal power. SpaceX has yet to make a single flight of a Merlin 1c engine at full power. (The Falcon 1 engines operated at a similar level of thrust.)

Despite the negative tone of this comment, I'm wildly enthusiastic - trust me. :)

It just means that there's a lot of work left to be done. But then again, at least some reasonable work is being done. (Unlike, say, for the propaganda flight of the Ares 1-x. This sub-orbital firework alone cost as much as the whole development of the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 up to now.)


Oh, you're not wrong about them needing more work. But? Making orbit at all on the first flight of a new vehicle is unusual enough. Compare to the run of early failures that dogged Atlas, Ariane-4, Ariane-5, and probably the Soviet R7 (back in the 1950s in its first incarnation as an ICBM) or the N1.

They've done very good work on a shoestring budget by commercial space standards. My guess is that they'll get a man-rated Dragon launch vehicle flying to the ISS while they're still inside what NASA would budget on design studies.


Ben at # 1:

I've always thought there were two kinds of libertarians; those who were unaware that Ayn Rand was writing fiction, and those who were unaware that Heinlein was writing fiction.


Man-rating is Something Else...

There was talk at one point a while back about man-rating the Delta 4 Heavy. It's a well-proven design, an affordable heavy launch vehicle off an established production line producing enough thrust to carry a decent-sized service module as well as the command/re-entry module. The cost of the planned man-rating exercise was up there in lights as the failure and abort modes necessary would mean a complete redesign of the core of the launcher, the fuel systems etc. There was an article in Spaceflight about five years ago or thereabouts when the Shuttle replacement programme was being initiated and alternatives to the Constellation programs put forward.

Frankly given the paranoia about safety after the two Shuttle disasters would have meant the SaturnV/Saturn1B hardware would never have been deemed acceptable if today's standards were applied. If the Spacex people want to fly meatbags it's going to cost them a lot of dough before the US government will let them do it.


You might have missed it, but Falcon 9 is already man-rated. It was designed this way from the start.


Yes as to Charlie's comments about early rocketry in the 50s. The Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS has video running in the part of the museum representing that era of all the rocket failures.

There has to be a start. That it got off without going 'kablooie' is an excellent start.


It looks like 3 consecutive failures of Falcon 1 put SpaceX into paranoid mode and helped them polish Falcon 9 into perfection.

All in all, the story is totally unreal. Crazy billionaire building his own rocket? Ten years ago, people would laugh at the idea...


Black Arrow; one suborbital test, one suborbital flight, one failure to orbit, one orbit, cancelled.

Of all the things you could do with a couple of billion, Elon Musk has picked well so far. Rockets. Lotus Elise chassis wrapped round a big fuck off electric motor. Yes. Beats shorting Greek government bonds, buying real estate, or snorting coke.


Where's the capsule escape system? Not yet built, not yet tested. Dynamic G-loadings resulting from individual engine failures in flight? Modelled but not yet tested. Capsule separation tests? Capsule re-entry tests? Capsule life support testing and a whole load of other stuff not yet even begun. I don't know when they plan to actually fly their first manned mission to orbit, anyone know? They're going to burn through a lot of cash in the next few years before they can get the licences and permissions to actually put people in orbit and bring them home again and their bankroll is now in the process of a messy diverce and claiming he's broke.

As someone else pointed out major things went wrong during this test flight -- failure to achieve the planned circular orbit for one thing which is a biggie if the purpose is to sell this rocket as a ferry to the ISS, something which requires very accurate orbital insertion. I watched the launch on webcam and I noticed the second stage was wobbling and rolling (about 3 rpm or so from memory) as it approached the orbital insertion. I wondered if this was induced deliberately for some reason, perhaps to equalise the thermal load on the hull of the second stage/dummy load. It looks like it wasn't deliberate after all.


Sure, it has been a great success, especially after the Falcon1 near-disaster and considering the budget. There has been a lot of praise that everyone has read and I think any more would be redundant anyway. I wouldn't follow them as closely as I do, if I wasn't a fan of them.

So, take my compliments for granted and listen to my critique. ;)

The one point that I'm worried about, is that ferrying goods to the ISS is quite a competition. And I don't take fairness for granted in competitions, especially when the very survival of the competitors depends on winning the competition.

For all the warm fuzzy feelings that I have for SpaceX, I cannot ignore the fact that the Merlin engine just doesn't deliver the the 512 kN of thrust it's supposed to, it does seem to reliably deliver about 400 kN though. (There may be some non-trivial non-linear behavior on the way to 512 kN...)

There has been no publicly available data or demonstration that it can do so and I have had enough bad experience in my life not to suspect that it may just not be able to do that. Promising more than you can deliver has been a time tested method to scare off competition after all.

According to SpaceX, the Dragon is supposed to carry 1,300kg of propellant and up to 6,000 kg of cargo. We can infer a weight of about 3,200 kg for the Dragon itself. (No official values are provided. But max. payload for the Falcon9 is supposed to be 10,500 kg.)

If the Merlin engine can't be pushed much above its current thrust, the performance of the Falcon9 may turn out to be less than the Soyuz. And in fact, SpaceX plans to make 12 flights to accomplish a contract calling for 20,000 kg of delivered goods... That's about 1,800 kg of cargo per flight or altogether 7,300 kg of payload. (Soyuz delivers 7,800 kg.)

Those are my reservations.

But building this thing from scratch on a $400 mio budget is quite an accomplishment and depending on how many they are going to build, it may even turn out to be relatively cheap in the long run. Using 10 mostly identical engines per rocket is crying economies of scale. The first 6 flights will use more of the little suckers than the number of Vulcain engines (of Ariane-5 fame) produced in the last 15 years or so.


Where do you get the information about Merlin underperformance?


The calculated payload of the Falcon 9 is 6,300 kg, of course.


The official data on the SpaceX website and the stated performance at ... or at least the performance they stated yesterday. ("more than 800,000 pounds of thrust")

The number of 800,000 has since been shoved into the memory hole and "redacted" to "one million".

Google for [falcon 9 "more than 800000 pounds of thrust"] and you'll find a lot more. All of which is rather strange, as the assembly hasn't been tested at a million pounds of thrust ...


According to

Sea Level Thrust : 556 kN (125,000 lbf) Vacuum Thrust: 617 kN (138,800 lbf) Sea Level Isp: 275s Vacuum Isp: 304s


Exactly. The nine Merlin engines should have produced 1,125,000lbf at sea-level.

But they were tested at "over 800,000lbf" in march (according to spaceflightnow) and I don't think they increased this by 25% in the meantime.

There is no data about the weight of the Dragon mock-up that was carried into orbit and there is no data about the dry mass of the Falcon 9 stages either, any of which would be sufficient to calculate actual performance from available data.

Mind you, I don't mean to be overly critical. I'm just trying to point out that quite a bit of the information from SpaceX is contradictory or just doesn't exist.

If you can read German, this blog has some pretty good analysis (and the underlying webpage has a collection of information on rockets that is just breathtaking):


Here are the numbers from the SpaceX site on the Falcon 9:

Mass: 333,000 kg (-200kg LEO, +400kg GTO) Thrust (vacuum): 4.94 MN (1,110,000 lbf) (with 1 of 9 engines out) (in-atmosphere 8-engine thrust is 4.45MN (1,000,000 lbf))

Per engine: Sea Level Thrust : 556 kN (125,000 lbf) Vacuum Thrust: 617 kN (138,800 lbf) Sea Level Isp: 275s Vacuum Isp: 304s

Cape Canaveral (CC) / Kwajalein (K)

Mass to Low Earth Orbit (LEO): 10,450 kg (23,050 lb) (CC) (28.5 degree inclination) 8,560 kg (18,870 lb) (K) (polar orbit)

Mass to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO): 4,540 kg (10,000 lb) (CC) (28.5 degree inclination) 4,680 kg (10,320 lb) (K) (9.1 degree inclination)

Payload bay: 4.6m dia. x 6.6m length cylinder topped by a 4.6m dia. 4.8m height cone. (approximate, actual space slightly larger)

Mission Type Price* LEO (s/c<80% capacity to the customer orbit) $45.8M LEO (s/c>80% capacity to the customer orbit) $51.5M GTO (s/c<3,000 kg) $45.8M GTO (s/c up to 4,680 kg) $51.5M

$/kg / $/lb for full load: (without insurance or financing) $4,928/kg ($2,240/lb) LEO $6,016/kg ($2,735/lb) polar LEO $11,004/kg ($5,002/lb) GTO (K)

$/kg / $/lb for 80.001% load: (with re-launch insurance but not financing) $6,653/kg ($3,024/lb) LEO $8,122/kg ($3,692/lb) polar LEO $14,855/kg ($6,752/lb) GTO (K)

Financing: LIBOR [1 yr. currently @ 1.2%] +2.5% Relaunch insurance: 8%


@ Alex: That's perfect. I'm totally stealing that when you're not looking.


Ian @ 31:

Thanks. Please feel free to use it anytime you'd like.

The joke, "There are two kinds of libertarians; those who are unaware that Ayn Rand was writing fiction, and those who are unaware that Heinlein was writing fiction." and all reasonable variations on the above, is hereby placed under a Creative Commons license for the use/abuse/enjoyment of all sentient life forms, (except Eric Raymond.)


It looks as though there are several different versions of the Merlin rocket engine. Most significantly, the version used on the second stage is optimised for vacuum conditions.

So be careful comparing figures. But there's certainly a huge jump in the thrust claimed for the Merlin 1C, used as the first-stage engine. As said, without knowing the mass of the components, it's not possible to do an assessment, but they have to have increased thrust-per-engine over the test figures quoted, just to get to orbit.


My younger sister introduced me to your books and I've been reading through them the past few weeks. Very impressive and refreshing. Seems like there's a lot of people around thinking the same things. Acceleration must be close at hand, though it's impossible to predict. :]

35: 1 and #11 - I presume "Starship Troopers" is Heinlein's extreme right-wing period then? 22 - I'm pretty sure Charlie already knows this, but the Scottish Museum of Flight at East Fortune (maybe 30 mins door to door for him) has (or had) most of the remains of the UK rocketry programme, including a pretty much complete Black Knight, a Blue Steel, and a static Avro Vulcan. Sadly, a lot of their rocketry stuff is now in storage or transferred elsewhere since Hangar 1 is presently pretty much nothing but a Concorde these days.

@Ben - does that mean that you now feel you should be a libertarian, but are too old to change your ways? Or are you saying that your younger self was easily lead and that you dodged a bullet by not reading Heinlein until you were older?

@Alex - are you saying that fiction is without merit as a means to advance philosophy or politics? I always figured that thought exercises were quite an effective tool for exploring ideas. I rather wish the Marxists had spent a little longer exploring their philosophy in fiction before they tried it out in the real world. Or maybe I just need to realise that Animal Farm and 1984 were fiction.


paws4thot: I believe Heinlein was clever enough to write novels as thought-experiments exploring belief systems he wasn't necessarily advocating, as such.

And yes, I am very familiar with the museum at East Fortune. (Must check to see when their next air show is due ...)


So Charles, when you're on a "death march" what is the music in your mind:

A: "Song of the Volga Boatmen."

B: "Bridge on the River Kwai."

C: Joy Division's "Isolation."

D: Something else.

39: 37 - That's entirely possible, but I started reading Heinlein (also Asimov, Clarke, Andre Norton, Roger Zelazny... you get the idea) when I was still in primary school, so my view of their work tends to be coloured by when I first read it.

Oh and I knew you'd know East Fortune; we spent most of Sunday Afternoon at Satellite 2 swapping aviation and spaceflight views and stories! I did the formal description of the name for the benefit of people who might be interested but would need more of a steer than just a random placename! Speaking of which, SMoF is part of the "National Museums of Scotland" if you (general, not Charlie) need to fire a search engine at it.



The latter. at 13 I could have been easily convinced of nearly anything if you threw in enough action, cleverness, and sex.

I might not have become a lifer, but I would have been insufferable for at least 6 months or so.

I suffered through Atlas shrugged, my eyes nearly rolling out of my head the entire time. "The Cat who walked through walls", on the other hand, was great fun, and I think "fun" is probably the difference.


I couldn't believe there wasn't a copy of 'Starship Troopers' in a single library in the city of Perth in Western Australia, when I made inquiries a few months back.

Then again, there weren't any copies of Ceasar's 'Commentarii De Bello Gallico' in all of Western Australia either, when I checked.


Nick @ 36

Nope. I'm not saying that at all. I'm not a fan of Libertarianism, and the comment is merely a witticism - funny, I hope, but with no more depth than a bowl of clam chowder.

43: 39 disambiguation, and relevant to #40.

I was talking about the period around 1970 to 75 so before the "doorstep sequalitus" that gave rise to things like "TCWWTW" (qv).

41 - I couldn't say if Starship Troopers is in print just now or not; my copy was printed in about 1970 and bought second-hand as well! I was at school or uni, or unemployed when I bought it.

Just so long as his death march anthem isn't "Phil Collins' "I don't care any more"... That one never works.

As for thought experiments in fiction: you can get in trouble when they get popular. Still, anyone who could write Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers probably isn't an ideologue, or if he is, he's a highly malleable one.

Still, I'm surprised that no philosophy (or religious studies) department has taken up Terry Pratchett studies. He's actually pretty self consistent in his worldview. I personally subscribe to his theory of dark energy and dark matter: the 94% of the universe that we can't observe is the book-keeping and audit trail of the 6% we can observe. This makes more sense to me than dark energy, WIMPs and branes. For those theoretical boffins who are talking about how information cannot be destroyed (as opposed to mass-energy), it's probably even true.


Alex: Now that got me laughing out loud, or chuckling anyway. You clearly know your audience here.


There wasn't an under-performance of the Merlin engines on the first Falcon 9 flight, it's just that it was a "Block 1" Falcon 9. Of course, SpaceX has the Block 2 numbers on their web site. They still haven't said what F9 will be the first Block 2. At one point the Falcon 9 users manual delineated the differences, not sure if the current version on their web site still does.

Block 2 Falcon 9 and Falcon 1e are dependent on the next upgrade to the Merlin, which involves an updated turbopump. I'm not sure if they'll call it Merlin 1d. Supposedly it is in qualification testing, however.

The later Falcon 1 flights had a Merlin 1c operating at less than full thrust, but the Falcon 9 was using them at full thrust.


Charlie's choice of title raises an interesting question. We all know what the title Rule 34 refers to, but is there porn of Rule 34?


Rule 34 in full - "If it exists, there is porn of it, no exceptions. If you are unable to find porn of it, your search parameters need changing."

Accordingly, there must be porn of Rule 34.


Is the merit of literature based on the originality of the topic, or the quality of the work itself? Which is to say, perhaps one should do more than read a paragraph long blurb on the setting of a novel before condemning it.


Porn about a book that references a rule about porn about non-porn material. Hardcore metaporn, coming soon to your local literary magazine.

@ Uns, when you're trying to convince people to read your work, your blurb should be at least as good BUT PREFERABLY BETTER THAN your actual work. It's supposed to be a hook to draw people in.


uns @ 49

Sometimes I think Science Fiction has become a little like Jazz - not so much about originality anymore, but about combining old, well known elements in a new way, restating the classics and bringing old ideas into a new and interesting light... I don't object, and the average Honor Harrington book is a very good read, so yes, quality definitely counts, even in the absence of new and weird sci-fi type ideas.

What I like about Charlie is the ability to play both Jazz and Rock with intelligence and flair. I would define the Laundry novels, for example, as Jazz. They combine several familiar elements in a broth I might define as "light goth," and they're really fun to read, whereas "Singularity Sky" or "Accelerando" feel more like Rock and Roll - there's still new ground to be explored.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on June 4, 2010 7:28 PM.

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