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Books I will not write, #1 (of an ongoing series)

Ideas are cheap.

They're so damn easy to come by that I have difficulty understanding why so many people seem to want to ask me where I get my ideas from. All I do is read widely, and periodically bang a couple of random ideas together until I get a spark. It takes, on average, six to nine months to write a novel; but in brainstorming mode I can come up with half a dozen book-sized ideas in a week.

I have more ideas for books than I have time to write them. Also, some of these ideas are of ... dubious, shall we say ... commercial value.

These are book proposals that caught my attention for long enough that I made notes on the topic, in some cases pitched them at my agent or a passing editor or even a potential co-author. But for one reason or another, the opportune moment never came; or the editor was less than interested, or whatever. So it's about time I cracked the covers on a few of the concepts that didn't make it into my production queue.

First, from late 2001: the book I nearly wrote instead of "The Family Trade".

The scene: a starving author's garret. It's October of 2001, and I've signed a contract with Ace for two science fiction novels — specifically space operas. The first novel (eventually to be retitled "Singularity Sky") is in; the second novel ("Iron Sunrise") is nearly finished. Buried in the small-print there's a clause promising that I shall offer my next SF novel to Ace and give them first refusal on it before shopping it around. And I'm 18 months into living by my wits as a full-time freelance author and computer journalist, my previous change of employment status having coincided unfortunately with the dot-com bust.

I get an email from my agent. "Okay, so 'Iron Sunrise' is finished. That's good," it says, or words to that effect. "But you know that 'Singularity Sky' won't be out until summer next year? And they won't run 'Iron Sunrise' any sooner than 12 months after that. Have you thought about what you're going to do for the next two years?"

"Starve" is the thought that's going through my head at this point. (My book advances in 2002 were, shall we say, not enough to live on.) "Got any bright ideas?" I asked.

"Ace have an option on your SF output," she replied. "How about you have a think about writing a big fat fantasy series or an alternate history or something that I can sell without breaking your Ace contract, and make us both lots of money?"

(I ❤ my agent.)

Unfortunately I have an ideological problem with high fantasy, and this was before my urban fantasy/spy crossover thing went anywhere. ("The Atrocity Archive" was being serialized in Spectrum SF, a small Scottish magazine; my agent couldn't figure out how to sell it to a book-format publisher, and indeed it didn't catch fire for a couple more years.)

My problem with high fantasy is this: I come from a nation that has a real, no-shit monarchy and aristocracy. Consequently you get to learn about this stuff in high school, and see its stilted echoes on the TV news every week. Monarchism, the default political stance of high fantasy, sucks. We have a term for its latter-day incarnation: we call it "hereditary dictatorship", and point to North Korea for an example. From the point of view of most of the population, your typical fantasyland is not a utopia. Anything but! And to make matters worse, the traditional format of a high fantasy novel is that some source of disruption threatens to destabilize the land; it is up to the hero (usually it is a 'he') to set things right and restore the order of benign tyranny to the world. Fantasy, in short, is frequently consolatory, and I don't get on with it.

(Yes, there are exceptions: China Mieville, the new weird, yadda yadda. But throw yourself back to 2002. These exceptions were somewhat less visible then than they are today.)

((Incidentally, my problem with high fantasy probably tells you where the Merchant Princes series is coming from. Yes, in structural terms Miriam is the dark lord. Her enemies want only what the heroes of a high fantasy story traditionally want. OK?))

Anyway.

High fantasy didn't appeal much, but alternate history is an entirely different matter. So I dived straight in, and here's the proposal I generated.

First, some deviant history:

The year is 1950 -- but it's not our 1950. Things began to go off the rails, history-wise, in 1917-1918. Lawrence of Arabia was shot dead at the gates of Damascus, for example: the whole face of the middle east is utterly different. Trotsky had flu in October 1917 — the Bolshevik revolution happened in early 1918, and Stalin got himself killed in the process. Because of the late Russian collapse, World War One ended differently in this universe: the Kaisershlacht started in June (not April), the German high command collapsed in January 1919, and Germany was actually occupied by Allied forces (including the first large-scale deployment of what would later be called Blitzkrieg warfare — this was actually planned, but never used because of the German capitulation in November 1918). Germany was invaded, subjugated — no support for the "stab in the back" theory that Hitler used so effectively.

(In this world, Hitler ends up in Spandau prison in 1923: but instead of being there for treason, he's there for sexual offenses. He later becomes a gangster in Hamburg, and features in the Plot. Ditto Mussolini; he doesn't become Duce. In fact, in this world, Fascism is invented in Britain.)

Trotsky follows Lenin, and a series of bloody skirmishes are fought on the borders of the Soviet empire during the 1920's. Then the Great Depression arrives more or less on schedule, and everything goes to pieces. Britain has been trying to hold on to empire much harder in this history than in our own. Imperialism breeds repression breeds ... well, the results aren't pretty. In 1937, Moseley's New Party seizes power and declares a Republic. There's a worldwide clampdown as the Republican Empire tries to hang on to its assets with a bulldog grip. Moseley is followed in 1942 by Chairman Blair, veteran leader of the Authority's forces during the Spanish Civil War. Britain is under the grip of a grey, iron dictatorship aimed squarely at defying the looming forces of Communism, that squat on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone that is Germany.

By 1950, World War Two is imminent — and it's going to be a war between the Republican Empire and the Soviet Union. America is beginning to awaken >from a period of isolationism, punctuated by a short and inconclusive war with Japan in the mid-1940's; far-seeing diplomats realise that if they allow Fascism to take over the fragile democracies of the DMZ they'll end up standing alone against whichever dictatorship wins. And so they start a rearmament program and create an organisation — the OSS by any other name — to send agents into Europe and figure out what's going on.

And now, the plot:

Heroin is coming west across the Atlantic, from somewhere in the DMZ. In return, Differential Analyzers (early computers) are going east. The OSS want to know why. Cynical veteran Bill is called out of semi-retirement as station officer in Morocco and teamed up with a weird, dreamy wet- behind the ears agent called Phil K: their task is to follow the heroin supply back to its source somewhere near Afghanistan and to work out who's buying the computers.

(This is all rooted in a vision I had, of William S. Burroughs as a CIA agent, and Philip K. Dick as his young henchman, going head-to-head with notorious gangster and pervert Adolf Hitler somewhere in Hamburg to find out where Hitler is shipping all the computers he can get his hands on.)

The Great Game of the 19th century — between the British and Russian Empires — has hotted up; Afghanistan is occupied by the British (who are policing it with strategic bombers and nerve gas), while huge rows of fortresses block the Panjshir valley and the approaches to India. The heroin Hitler is smuggling comes from out East, deep in India. To get to the source Bill and Phil have to smuggle themselves at great peril through the dark periphery of the British empire, all the way to the depopulated island of Ceylon — where under the protection of the suavely sinister British secret policeman Ian Fleming, Doctor Clarke's team of engineers and astronomers are putting together a secret terror weapon that will threaten everyone on Earth.

(I want to have Ian Fleming as the bad guy in command of a James Bond style mountainside secret hideout, complete with en suite hot and cold running super-weapons. With Arthur C. Clarke as the scientist in charge of the space program — if I can get him to agree not to sue!)

The McGuffin that's going to be hinted at throughout is that although nuclear weapons don't officially exist, various nations have nuclear reactors, the British Republic's Navy has nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers ... so where are the bombs? The answer is in Ceylon, and that's where our heroes follow the trail of stolen computers. The British are building an atomic pulse-detonation powered spaceship (based on Freeman Dyson's Orion design), which needs about fifty A-bombs just to nuke its way out of the atmosphere — and which is why they've evacuated Ceylon. With a nuclear powered space navy Big Brother Blair's dictatorship will be unassailable: which threat gives me the time pressure that drives our OSS heroes towards a climax in which they have to choose which evil empire to do business with.

Can you guess why this novel never got written? (Hint: "dieselpunk" was not a word on everyone's lips back in 2002 ...)

(In the next thrilling episode: the early pitches and proposals for "The Merchant Princes".)

148 Comments

1:

That's pretty neat. But your agent would probably have stroked out categorizing it.

IIRC you've shown bits and pieces of this before somewhere?

Neat tho'. And thanks for sharing.

2:

I assume that's Eric Blair of some writing fame? If so, kudos for a nice placement.

3:

"With Arthur C. Clarke as the scientist in charge of the space program — if I can get him to agree not to sue!"

I don't think there's much danger of that. Unless his lawyer is a medium as well.

4:

Given your justified opposition to Monarchism have you ever thought of writing a fantasy with a good Republic vs the evil Kingdom/Empire Charlie?

There are many templates to choose from that kind of technological level Rome/Athens/Venice/Netherlands/Hanseatic league/Novgorod, etc..

5:

Is Blair here some evil version of George Orwell? If not, I am not sure who it would represent, apart from a vastly older version of Tony. Everyone else described sounds similar in character to their real-world selves, but your Blair sounds like the opposite of our world's Eric Blair, though the Spanish Civil War references and calling him "Big Brother" are obvious allusions.

I really like the idea of Burroughs and PKD as superspies. Although, Dick would arguably work best in a more metaphysically ambiguous plotline, in which the very nature of reality or humanity comes into question.

Incidentally, Borges often wrote about stuff which he could not write. For some reason, he never started a blog, though.

6:

@2 Andrew: Eric Blair was the real name of George Orwell - 'nuff said. (Although I did read most of the article thinking "my Charles really does not like Tony Blair" before the rest of my brain kicked in).

Personally I think the world having nuclear reactors and no weapons would be a problem. Man tends to find the peaceful commercial uses after it has developed the military ones.

7:

I would buy that. Heck, I would pay you to write it.

8:

Tony, this novel pitch dates to late 2001. Sir Arthur was still very much alive back then.

9:

Remember Eric Blair's early employment as a colonial officer? He didn't really start to radicalize until the 1920s. In this time line there's no Spanish Civil War as such, no Bolshevism, but a modernist post-imperial ideology with its roots in radical industrial age Britain. Chances of him having some opinion of such a movement? High, I'd say.

10:

What makes you think republics are "good"?

(Hint: I hold that good and evil are perspectives, not absolutes.)

11:

Darn. This sounds like a book I would love to read. I don't suppose you'd consider trying to sell it now?

Your rationale for avoiding high fantasy makes complete sense. You have entirely too much history to believe in a romanticized ideal of a single benevolent ruler.

I am working on a fantasy novel that employs the notion of a monarchy; however, it is exploring the interplay and politics of the nobility and the Church in an analogue of early-Renaissance Italy. Getting rid of the princes and dukes just won't do.

12:

That would have been a kick-ass novel

13:

Actually, the monarchy problem of high fantasy can be corrected in one of two fashions, both of which involve injecting a little historical realism into the subject. The first solution is that for most of history, monarchs were not the all-powerful figures that they were after the centralization and consolidation of power. Look at the Magna Carta and you do not get the impression that the monarch could do as he pleased. Power was a lot more distributed in older times.

The second is to remember people that democracy and even republican governments are a lot older than people think. Admittedly, the vote tended to be restricted to property owning male citizens, and the Roman view of democracy isn't anywhere near our vision of democracy, but it's out there. Something to remember is that there is no reason one cannot bring conventional political and economic science into a fantasy world where the laws of physics are operating differently.

14:

Whenever the estimable Stross pulls out his "Fantasy is about evil governments retaining control" stick, I wonder if he's ever thought about writing from the perspective of the Goblins.

Miriam's close, but you're dodging the whole high fantasy setting, which I'm not fitting into your distaste of the actual plots...or is there some reason you're against fantasy critters?

15:

Fantasy critters like goblins give the author two possible approaches: incredibly dodgy early 20th century race politics, or aliens. Neither of these appeal, and until I can come up with a better approach, I'm leaving well alone.

If you want goblins done right, go hunt down a copy of "Grunts" by Mary Gentle. OK?

16:

I, too, would buy and read this if it had been written: but Charlie's judgement of what he can/ should write and can't/ won't shouldn't seems very sound on the whole, so I won't cry that it never did.

As to Eric Blair/ George Orwell though - yes, he was an officer in the colonial Burma police, but wasn't it that that initially radicalised him (see his novel Burmese Days, for example, one of the first things he had published, I think, and anything but a gentle evocation of the joys of Empire). I'd find it hard to see him as any kind of authoritarian.

That said, it has been suggested that BB was a sort of alter ego, the physical description is rather similar (but that could be, you know, a joke!)

17:

Too much Spinrad to sell it?

18:

"Fantasy critters like goblins give the author two possible approaches: incredibly dodgy early 20th century race politics, or aliens."

Hm. If you have a world with several intelligent species, then can't you play with their perceptions of each other - we generally only get the Elves' view, maybe the goblins aren't really evil savages: that's only what Our Side tells us? (And those Elves that act so high and mighty have their nasty secrets as well...)

Or the goblins are nasty, but they're like that because they were made/ brought up that way by the evil power that uses them. Given a chance, they wouldn't be like that (cf the Orc in Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals).

Or something.

But, I can see the attraction of simply not having to negotiate all this to begin with.

19:

I have to admit, I'm a little surprised - I was half expecting you to be talking about the probably-never-to-be-written third Eschaton novel. (I actually have a few ideas on how the brokenness of that universe could be dealt with, but I rather suspect that they're excessively simplistic and/or clichéd and/or have too much of a "cop out" feel and that you'd shoot them down in flames in three seconds flat.)

20:

@IanS
I disagree with you about atomic bombs preceeding nuclear reactors in common production. The Manhattan Project was massive and expensive. (My memory is telling me that the cost is dollar was something like 4 Billion -- non adjusted, and that the Oak Ridge facility consumed 10% of the US electric production. That's is on the scale of Apollo.)
I find it entrely credible that power-plant are up and running for awhile before the bombs are made just because the bomb are so hard to make. What happened in reality was really quite unlikely.

21:

I concur with other commenters that this is a novel I would buy. It seems to me that nearly 10 years on, the SF landscape has changed sufficiently for this style to do well. Definitely elements from the movie "Sky Captain and..." and comics like "Ministry of Space".

Maybe someday it will be worth pulling out the notes, updating the plot and writing this? Never say never.

22:

Two thoughts:

1. I can see why you didn't want to try selling that story. Too many places where you'd need Wikipedia, which wasn't really around then...

2. High fantasy. L. Sprague de Camp had a lot of fun subverting the tropes of high fantasy/sword and sorcery in his Novarian series (Unbeheaded King et al.). Since de Camp has shuffled off to that great bookstore in the sky a decade ago, there's no reason not to start working in that vein if you ever get bored.

23:

I would have put Alan Turing in there, working for a British secret service that doesn't know what is going on in Ceylon. As their Difference Analyser boffin they send him out with Kim Philby, their Russian specialist. Hilarity ensues.

While Bill, PKD and Clarke fight over the big red button, Turing sets up a geiger counter to a difference analyser and a poison gas tank. They bundle Clarke and his depleted uranium gun into a cupboard with the poison device.

No sound.

They have to decide when to open the door and look...

The End

24:

I would buy such a book.

25:

Yes, and... If the Demon Core had taken out a few more people it might have put paid to a quick bomb production, especially if the Americans didn't feel the urgent need for a superweapon. Using hot stuff to produce steam is much easier.

26:

@IanS and @bobsandiego In our world, nuclear reactors preceded nuclear weapons. For one, they're a lot easier to design and build.

I just watched a special on the Manhattan project last night: the Manhattan project cost around two billion dollars. I lived in Chicago and Enrico Fermi ran a nuclear reactor in Chicago in 1942.

My wife worked at PNNL for DOE, working on the Hanford site. Oak Ridge ran the X10 graphite reactor in 1943. It was a continuous operation reactor. At Hanford, B reactor went live September 1944, D reactor December 1944 and F reactor February 1945. All three were large scale, continuous operation, commercial reactors, designed to operate at 250 MW each.

27:

Nuclear reactors had to precede plutonium bombs, didn't they, because that's how you make the Pu? But those reactors were only built because they were necessary for the bombs. The question is, would anyone have gone to the trouble and cost of designing and building reactors if they didn't mean to make bombs.

28:

If someone realised how useful they would be for submarines?

29:

>The British are building an atomic pulse-detonation powered spaceship

Project Orion
http://www.islandone.org/Propulsion/ProjectOrion.html

and if you needed death from above:

Project Pluto
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1565615/posts

30:

As with many of your plots, I get the evil giggles quite quickly. The historical/literary references remind me of Kim Newman's "Anno Dracula" stuff more than Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" even though there's not much of a fantasy element to yours.

Looking forward to more of this series, thanks!

31:

Dude, your book proposals are even funnier and more twisted than your actual books! I too would've loved to read that one.

32:

Blair/Orwell was first radicalised as a result of his experience in the Imperial Police in Burma.

33:

Actually, David's got a point:

How about an anthology of proposals of "books I will not write?"

That I'd pay to read. If you did it right, you could get several levels of meta-humor in there too.

34:

Goblins would make wonderfull self-justifying (violent, abusive) perverts, but I don't see how to work it through to anything interesting.

35:

Charlie said he doesn't want to write high fantasy, so why are so many of you telling him he should?

36:

Believe Charlie and read "Grunts". If you don't split your sides laughing you're a soppy elf.

37:

I've always wanted to run an RPG campaign (IANAW) where the "orcs" and such were treated, culturally, as they are in normal RPG settings (assumed to be irredeemably evil at birth) but were in fact a human race with green skin tone and bad dental hygiene.

I'm never brave enough to do it - to have the proper impact I'd have to feed the players the party line and have them discover the truth on their own, and after that one of two things would happen:
I. They'd realize they'd been implicit in genocide, and many players don't like icky genocide smeared all over their alter egos in escapism.
II. They wouldn't care, since their escapism ignores such subtle moral points as genocide, and I'd be creeped out.
Even better, I might get I. for some players and II. for the others.

38:

Oh, my. I don't like alternate history much, but I would absolutely buy that book. Oh well.

39:

Hereditary dictatorships are often unpleasant. Of course plutocracy (the system we live under) isn't that great either. You might find an inverse-hereditary monarchy to be fertile ground, however.

40:

I didn't grow up in a nation with a monarchy, but I did grow up deeply socialist, so I have had similar problems with High Fantasy. Which is why I so enjoyed McSweeney's wonderful parody DVD commentary of the The Fellowship of the Ring (the first movie of the trilogy) purportedly by Howard Zinn and Naom Chomsky. They really take Tolkien apart for his racist imperialist apologia. Some excerpts:

ZINN: Exactly. All Hobbits really do is abuse substances, sweep their porches, and march to the orders of their colonial overlords.
...
CHOMSKY: But who is more reliable than an addict? Gandalf has complete control over them. Look at this — the more they smoke, the more they praise him!
...
CHOMSKY: So if not to fight the "evil" Sauron, why are the Elves in Middle Earth? To secure the aforementioned natural resources their society requires. But how can they be custodians of a land in which a sizable portion of its peoples — perhaps a majority — is deprived of the most basic Orcish rights?
 
ZINN: Like nonmaggoty bread, for instance.
 
CHOMSKY: Or pathways deprived of giant spiders.

Some of that feeling about High Fantasy is undoubted what motivated Gregory Maguire to write "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West". It's a retelling of "The Wizard of Oz" from the political point of view of the late 1930's, complete with Fascist secret police, civil rights movements, and bomb-throwing anarchists.

As for why that alt history novel never got published, might it have to do with John Barnes' "Patton's Spaceship" having covered some of the same ground, and been published 5 years before?

41:

And here was me thinking it would turn into yaoi at this point. Disappointed.

42:

I missed out the good bits in the middle. I was thinking if they passed through India, Gandhi could probably do with being cheered up a bit at this stage of their history.

43:

Have you read Scarlet Traces yet? It goes a lot of these places.

44:

Fantasy from the point of view of the Goblins is explored somewhat in webcomics, Order of the Stick and Goblins come to mind, both are RPG gaming comics in that the worlds are deliberately artificial and overtly running under game mechanics, I don't know if it's a coincidence.

Charlie's outline reminds me of the manga mudazumo naki kaikaku which is a crazed comedy in which world leaders past and present fight each other through the medium of Mah Jongg. Of course being a comedy it doesn't bother justifying why Otto Skorzeny is still alive and playing Mah Jongg against Vladimir Putin. It must be nice not to have to worry about anything being even remotely plausible or coherent.

45:

Alternate history I'd like to see: the Russian Civil War goes differently enough that anarchists win. And the resulting not-a-state looks rather like the USSR.

46:

Steampunk seems played out to me these days - it's more like a fashion sense than anything else. But what about the period from 1940-1970, call it "Valvepunk"? I like reimagined First Men on the Moon stories, manned voyages to other planets by the end of 70's (at least out to Jupiter or Saturn), that sort of thing.

I don't like them when they're wistful retcons in the vein of "what NASA did wrong" tradition - just not my cup of tea - but how about something punkier, like really dangerous nuclear rockets developed in the 50's by guys who don't really care about the collateral damage?

47:

Fantasy and RPGs from the POV of the Goblins are also covered in the 'Jig the Goblin' novels by Jim C. Hines.
http://www.jimchines.com/novels/goblins/

48:

Add an ultra-capitalist secret agent Kim Philby versus a pure Communist agent, Ayn Rand.

49:

Jacqueline Carey wrote 2 rather good novels, Banewreaker & Godslayer, which examined the high fantasy plot from the other side of the hill. It was a tragedy of course. :-)

50:

But if you don't want to write it, why not franchise it? Why should Tom Clancy have about six spinoff series and you not? Created by Tom Clancy, written by David Michaels. That's where the gravy is. And the computer games.

51:

Well, I need to read it so I'm going to have to write it, you swine. I am a Dickhead and a fan of Burroughs and your proposal slipped inside my head and started breeding like one of your eldritch tentacly critters.

I quite like my first chapter. I haven't written fiction before though I did get paid for a few technical articles and spend a lot of time talking nonsense.

Beatpunk?

It was the Atomic Age so I suppose it could be Atompunk.

52:

I quite understand your position with ideas for novels, though in a different literary form: I've come up with more ideas for face-to-face roleplaying campaigns than I could possibly run in the rest of my life. They just sort of materialize in my brain. Not that an rpg is ever likely to have the literary quality of a good novel—it's a narrative work composed by a committee who only get to do a first draft—but it does take months or years to play one out, so the macroscopic time commitment's comparable.

53:

I'd read that. And I hope someone writes something like that. I could see it as a great film\anime series, too.

54:

That sounds like some book. I too, would pay you to write such a novel. Maybe we can get a collection going. Would that impress the publisher ?

55:

As "I stopped counting just how many" others, I would buy this book if you wrote it, or indeed franchised the idea to someone competent as a writer, if not an outline developer.

Also, I'm going to strongly 3rd the recommendation of Mary Gentle's "Grunts", and agree that anyone who's played (A)D&D and likes comics as well as prose should check out OOTS (but start at chapter 1, not the current 620-odd).

56:

"I've always wanted to run an RPG campaign (IANAW) where the "orcs" and such were treated, culturally, as they are in normal RPG settings (assumed to be irredeemably evil at birth) but were in fact a human race with green skin tone and bad dental hygiene."

In my world, I took Tolkiens view of orcs as tortured elves to the next level and added Darwinian evolution. When elves were tortured, the torturer rebuild their organism so that while their bodies were strong and sound, they would easily get rheumatism (often starting when they reach early adulthood). Along with some control of their upbringing this was used to make them much more temperamental and brutal, as well as breeding them for strength, not intelligence.

However, given time on their own, they start to develop so that the rheumatism begins to kick in later, and even disappear. Their elven legacy has the interesting implication that they have a strong talent for magic, but in brutal warrior-cultures this talent never became prevalent. However, as their culture starts to develop on its own, the harsh warrior culture receeds and leaves room for other influences. I call this group of orcs "wild orcs".

How much of this has the players figured out? The sad answer is not much. However, one of my groups did meet a tribe of wild orcs and managed to talk to them (and even ally with them) instead of hacking and slashing them, so there may be hope yet :) Another of my groups may be getting some hints, as one of them recently started a Human-Orc hybrid ("half orc"), who will suffer from rheumatism, just like his orcish ancestry.

57:

Martin@13: "Look at the Magna Carta and you do not get the impression that the monarch could do as he pleased. Power was a lot more distributed in older times."

Ignoring the fact that the monarchy only conceded the various Magna Cartas in return for baronial subventions, and even then getting the charters was like pulling teeth. The other major concentrations of power were themselves a hierarchy of regional and local hereditary dictatorships.

The only concentrations of power outside of the hereditary dictatorships were things like municipal corporations, which had varying degrees of autonomy usually inversely correlated to the strength of the hereditary dictatorships in their region, and the guils that made up the corporations. The corporations and guilds were themselves usually closed and oligarchical.

58:

A fascist Orwell? {sob} You, you *monster*!

Why a "Republican Empire"? Monarchy ticks a lot of fascist boxes: authority, hierarchy, national tradition. It also confers a legitimacy upon the regime and a reassuring continuity with what went before. There would be the danger of a potentially competing centre of power of course, although the British monacrchy has been thoroughly tamed by the political classes for some centuries now. Perhaps fascist Britain could go for the Franco/Horthy compromise: a monarchy in name with a "temporarily" vacant throne.

Of course, if the monarchy has been somehow thoroughly discredited, as was the Hohenzollern regime in Germany, all bets are off. Did you consider what your mechanism for the end of the British monarchy would be? A much nastier Abdication Crisis perhaps, or Eddie 8 staying on the throne and deciding that Something Must Be Done and he, not Chairman Moseley, was the man to Do it?

59:

It occurs to me that the future King George VI was at Jutland (HMS Collingwood), and if things had gone a little differently, he might not have survived.

60:

I see someone above beat me to the point about Orwell's Burmese days radicalising him.

Re: Mosley. IOTL, Mosley wasn't really the kind of human material that could really make a 'cavalry charge to power', as opposed to playing dress-up games. While he wasn't as unlikely a competent dictator as Ireland's own fascist beast Eoin O'Duffy (try saying 'Heil O'Duffy' and keep a straight face at the same time) Stanley Baldwin's line sums him up; 'he is a cad and a bounder and they will find him out'.

Fascists get into power when the capitalist class decide they need someone to display the smack of firm government on their behalf (the fact that the capitalists may sometimes find they have made a stick for their own backs doesn't alter this, and in any case the stick fascists give capital is rarely as tough as that which they give labour). Would Britain's leaders of industry, even in the alternate timeline Charlie proposes, have looked at Oswald M. and thought 'there's the man we need'?

Fans of alternate history, meanwhile, should seek out Simon Louvish's _Resurrections from the Dustbin of History_. It's set in an alternate 1968 where Rosa Luxemburg survived to lead the German Revolution in 1923, Trotsky had Stalin shot, and Adolf Hitler emigrated to the United States, where his son Rudolph ran for president on a 'Keep America White and Aryan' ticket. Key line: 'I can't bury any more of my friends; it makes my hands shake too much'.

As for Charlie's post, I'm reminded of the Stanislaw Lem book that consists entirely of reviews of books that never existed.

61:

"As for Charlie's post, I'm reminded of the Stanislaw Lem book that consists entirely of reviews of books that never existed."

That's A Perfect Vacuum. The first review, also called "A Perfect Vacuum", is a review of the entire book itself, and is Lem's introduction explaining why he wrote it, but in the guise of a poor review.

To summarise, Lem says some of the "books" reviewed are parodies or pastiches which would be too weak to make a decent real book, some are ideas and outlines that he doesn't feel capable of making into a real book, and others are his wildly speculative ideas about cosmology.

If Charlie ever wanted to do something similar, I'd definitely read it, although I suspect this blog does that already (and more besides).

62:

I do have to wonder though .. looking at LWEs Eshthar (sp?) experiments in prepaid writing, is there any amount of money from a non-publisher (i.e. crowd-sourced) that could convince you to write this (or, in fact, any other novel you didn't write not because you didn't want to but because there was no way to sell it to a publisher)?

Anyway. Love the idea of a dieselpunk/atompunk AH with these characters.

63:

I do have to wonder though .. looking at LWEs Eshthar (sp?) experiments in prepaid writing, is there any amount of money from a non-publisher (i.e. crowd-sourced) that could convince you to write this (or, in fact, any other novel you didn't write not because you didn't want to but because there was no way to sell it to a publisher)?

Anyway. Love the idea of a dieselpunk/atompunk AH with these characters.

64:

#60 "(try saying 'Heil O'Duffy' and keep a straight face at the same time)" - I've just tried this twice, and literally LOLed both times.

65:

The reason we had a World War II was that Britain and France could not compete with Germany without outside partners, be it Russia or the United States. By winning WWI, but losing their partners, they basically had a tiger by the tail and too much blood spilled to take a diplomatic tack at the start of the peace. Asking me to believe that Britain (in the 20th century), without even France in its corner, was going to terrorize continental powers would be too much of a stretch. You could maybe convince me that there was a sort of evil EU (with Britain (temporarily) in the driver's seat.) Or you could come up with a good Germany, reforged in the Occupation, as freedom loving Socialists, taking down fascist Britain and France. Though I think Moorcock has done something similar to the latter.

There's also the little matter of how easy it is to starve the UK if it does not have a continental friend. (Even if the US, France and Russia did not have the wherewithal to invade; they certainly would have the capacity to deny.)

Or you could cast Britain as a terrorist state, I suppose. Shorn of its colonial empire, but still possessing weapons of mass destruction and a naval presence to project same. Driven by a Recolonialist zeal to force the world back on its knees. Ha Ha. Though I think the idea works better with a Monarchist shell rather than needing a full blown Republic. The latter puts too much distance between "our" Britain and the alternative one.

Apropos of some other comments, I do not know what an SR Russian Revolution would have produced. My guess is that the SR's, even though they were the majority, were too disorganized to make an effective government. So you end up with government by the people who are ruthless bastards (Bolshevek, not even Menshevek Marxists) almost by evolutionary mandate. Any government that could tame the chaos and misery that was Russia in 1917 was almost by definition going to be nasty. (Though we can thank the British and French for eliminating what little chance the feeble liberals had by pushing them to stay in the war. They probably still would have been overrun, but a few million more people might have lived and the chaos might (I stress migh) have been reduced enough for SR/Peasant more or less democratically elected government rather than the heavy boots Marxist brigade.)

66:

Mind you, I might still have read Charlie's idea as a novel. It is nowhere near as ghastly as what does get published these days in alternate fic. (Century Rain comes close to being believable though.)

67:

I've always had a problem with fantasy where the guy running the government is evil, and the kid who doesn't know he's the *true* king is good.

I suppose it is a popular fantasy that kids have that they will be found out and given their props as the real king. It works the same way with Harry Potter even to having the illogical Quiddich hero.

And it may not be as destructive as what Disney teaches that we can instantly tell evil by the voice of its characters.

But it's disgusting nevertheless.

68:

Howard@67: It worked out OK for Ankh-Morpork if I remember correctly.

69:

@ 67:

And it may not be as destructive as what Disney teaches that we can instantly tell evil by the voice of its characters.

That's not a Disney tradition, but a fine old musical one; it's just that Disney does musicals. That's why, for example, the villain (male) is always assigned the bass register (well, almost always - Gaston, Ratliff and Frolo hold to the operatic tradition, Jafaar does not not.)

70:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers)@40

That's what Wicked was about? Damn. That explains why I was so disappointed with what seemed to be an over-hyped and boring book. I was coming at it from completely the wrong angle, paying attention to bits that were probably just there for colour.

It turns out reading an in-joke you don't get isn't particularly interesting. Thanks for the shift in perspective; although I'm unlikely to plough through it again, at least I can guess what others see in it.

71:

i'd definitely read that book.
would it be possible for the physicists who designed the bomb got it wrong in the first draught and only came up with a functioning bomb later?
perhaps the version of the bomb they proposed was more like the one from Well's 'war in the air'?
- basically an air-dropped meltdown-
unsure what the minimum size would be for such a horror though.

72:

Fascinating view into the mind of Stross. I do have one pet peeve, re the Merchant Princes.

I don't really know that much about military matters, but a king trying to prevent assassination from world walkers by dressing the same as the other army members would invite lots of mortar grenades every time he slept.

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

Given a dozen tubes, you shouldn't even need exotic loads, like nerve gas or anthrax.

It is hard not to see High Fantasy as another variant of space opera. But HF lacks psychological realism, too.

73:

ok, weird, its only 52kg for u235. dont know what else you'd have to do with it, be a pretty good terror weapon, an incendiary that doesn't go out, you can't put it out and it's lethal poisonous smoke will ruin your entire afternoon.

on the subject of fantasy races, our 'umble 'ost is right, orcs n elves etc are just like startrek villains- men in suits. I played the Age of Conan game for some time, it had no non-human races in it, you dont need them.
looking at it logically if 2 or more sentient races evolved that could compete over the same territory then long ago one of them would have beaten the other. way before things like recorded history or civilization- the winner would have , maybe, some legends at best. Look at the Neanderthals , thats what would have happened to the elves / orcs/ goblins/ dwarfs etc

74:

Charlie, you forgot to mention Adolph's boyfriend Rudy Hesse!

75:

I would love to read that novel....

76:

Hm. For your fans how about a limited edition of your book proposals that didn't go anywhere? It'd be fun reading.

On another note, Larry Niven did something of a take on a fantasy adventure with the Ringworld stuff. Almost all of the Ringworld residents were human, sort of.

77:

I want to steal this for an RPG session.

78:

#68 - Well except for the bit where Vetinari is most certainly an enlightened despot. Ok, he occasionally does something nasty to a specific individual (various references in Going Postal for example), but when he does so, his motive is not to make that individual suffer or to make a personal gain, but to make them do something which will benefit the city as a whole.

79:

I'd enjoy a side volume in this series where the Philadelaphia scientific plant where Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp and Asimov worked during WWII was taken over by the OSS instead of left in the hands of the Navy. (Ok, I'm 3/4's of the way through the first volume of the new Heinlein biography...).

I'd definitely read the main series, though. And please do include the line, "No, Mr. Dick, I expect you to die."

80:

Russ@70: Simply go and see the stage musical of Wicked. Makes the points of the book about authoritarianism and racism clearly, and even with some occasional humour.

81:

My post was mostly tongue in cheek, but I recall Vetinari having some ruminations in The Truth about how you used to be able to just make a person with inconvenient ideas disappear. You could make an argument that he is an enlightened despot because the times call for it, not from a naturally good disposition. I have not caught up with the series in a while, but I assume the true king never actually ascends or even learns he is king. Very Taoist.

82:

Not exactly. All the species on Ringworld are hominids evolved from homo habilis, which in his mileu is actually the juvenile stage of an extremely dangerous and intelligent alien race that happened to die out due to lack of the trigger metamorphosis that turns them into the adult stage. Hominids have spread out and occupied almost all ecological niches, including parasites and scavengers, but there's no actual humans per se.

PrivateIron 65> Moorcock's Hawkmoon featured an apparent high fantasy setting that was actually a late post apocalyptic world. The hero fought against the island empire of Granbretan, a crazed warrior culture that worshipped their ancient god of war, Aral Vilsn.

83:

SPOILER ALERT!
If you have read the truth yet do not know the answer to the question you asked, you've missed out something like 10 years of Discworld development. The situation regarding the King is that he knows he is rightfully king, but does not think one is necessary in the old fashioned style and therefore is content to let Vetinari run things. Read "Men at Arms" for more information, plus "Going postal" for a more up to date view of Vetinari's approach to government. In "Guards Guards" Vetinari also makes some clear statements at the end about what he believes about how the world works, which puts him something in the region of not weirdly good despite not being a good person the way Vimes is.

84:

The book sounds much more demented than J.P.H.'s "The Proteus Operation", and I mean it in a good way.
The inextricability of fantasy and royalty is a nasty business, and may show a lack of imagination, picture an ent airing grievances to the village government over a planned industrial park, or American style machine politics in Rohan.

85:

Unhh... WE are the descendants of the Neanderthals. Also of the Cro-Magnons.

The Neanderthals had problems. Their womens hips were too narrow, making child-birth difficult for babies with wide heads. Their musculature favored a thrusting spear rather than a thrown one, leading to lots of hunting accidents. They required a lot more meat in their diet, etc. As a result most of our ancestry comes from the Cro-Magnon branch, but a traceable link to Neanderthals exists. (Proving this by DNA studies was quite difficult, but it's been done recently.)

OTOH, Neanderthals were better adapted to a cold environment. They probably evolved during a cold snap known as "the ice age" in "Northern" Europe.

Ogres, Jötunn. etc. aren't memories of Neanderthals, they are much more recent memories of "The people over the hill with strange customs and language". It's common that cannibalism is attributed to such folk, but those who study them generally find that they also attribute cannibalism to the people on this side of the hill. And both stories are generally propaganda.

But Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals lived together[1] for at least centuries in many areas, especially in the Mid-East. [2]

Yes, I read the study of mitochondria that said we weren't related to Neanderthals. Even if that's correct (small study of reconstructed fragments), that merely says we aren't descended from Neanderthal women. This may mean that Cro-Magnon babies couldn't fit through the Neanderthal pelvic girdle. Which is plausible.

1: Separate camps, I *think*. The researchers weren't sure. They weren't even *certain* that it was at the exact same time. It's hard to be sure of that in archaeological digs.

2: Well, most of the places that have been well studied that I've happened to hear about were in the Mid-East. I think I heard about one in Spain, too, however.

86:

Is it absolutely certain that this will never see print? I could see it making quite a splash in the alternate-history market, considering the increasingly shitty oeuvre Harry Turtledove apparently keeps finding a market for.

88:

Marilee 35: Because a lot of people would enjoy the result, even if Charlie would not the process?

Agree on Blair having all the makings of a leftist long before 1920es. (See frex his memories of the boarding school; they don't feel like later rationalizations.)

89:

"try saying 'Heil O'Duffy' and keep a straight face at the same time"

Lord Boothby used to tell the tale of meeting Hitler when he was a diplomat before the War.

New to the job and rather clueless, he was assigned to meet Hitler. Hitler entered the room and, as usual, bellowed "Heil Hitler!".

Lord Boothby could only understand this as a way of introducing yourself in German. He replied with "Heil Boothby!" This did not go down well and he was moved to other duties.

90:

I loved the novel proposal, whether or not it was reversed engineered from existing fiction and notes in inventory.

I enjoyed writing carefully researched scenes starring Adolf in my own fiction, which I decline to post here without your specific request.

Good as we are, we have yet to invent a character as many sigma from the norm as he was.

If you are now working on your list of "Books I will not write" then I recently, on facebook, posted a list of 14 books that I'm halfway through writing.

I'd finish any of them if there were a contract and an advance, otherwise, it's a better roll of the dice to complete book #3 of a trilogy, already well past 400 pages.

I also have a list of "Theme anthologies that I should have been in." But that's another story. I'm a little grouchy right now because I just got my beard completely shaved off for an interview tomorrow, which I then got an email to cancel. All those months asymptotically approaching the Osama Bin Laden look, utterly wasted.

91:

You bastards. Now I've got "Heil O'Kitty" stuck in my brain, and my cow orkers are going to be confused by me breaking into fits of giggles for the rest of the day. At least.

92:

>Hominids have spread out and occupied almost all ecological niches, including parasites and scavengers, but there's no actual humans per se.

Meh, if it's a sapient Homo, it's a Human to me.

93:

#83 - Domo Oragato Guthrie san.

#86 - I've never really got on with Harry TD's work. I take it it's even less worth trying than it was 10 to 15 years back then!

#91 - It's 08:30 local, so my co-workers will have to deal with this all day, and you call me a bar steward! ;-)

94:

"Because of the late Russian collapse, World War One ended differently in this universe: the Kaisershlacht started in June (not April), the German high command collapsed in January 1919, and Germany was actually occupied by Allied forces (including the first large-scale deployment of what would later be called Blitzkrieg warfare — this was actually planned, but never used because of the German capitulation in November 1918). Germany was invaded, subjugated — no support for the "stab in the back" theory that Hitler used so effectively."

If you look at what actually happened, Germany made a last attempt to win the war in spring 1918 (Operation Michael) and failed; read John Buchan's "Mr. Standfast" (featuring one Richard Hannay).

The Allies then waged a very successful Blitzkreig (the "Hundred Days Offensive", and the Germans surrendered because the alternative was Allied occupation in a few more months. The German Generals were under no illusion that they had been defeated in the field, and would continue to lose.

The Big Mistake was to allow the Germans to sign an Armistice in 1918, and not to insist on unconditional surrender; it saved lives in the short term, but is arguable whether it cost lives in the long term. For an example of the opposite effect, compare Hiroshima/Nagasaki against Operation OLYMPIC and CORONET.

The British Army promptly had a stupendously successful loss of corporate knowledge (as the war-service-only types left, while the pre-war Officers stayed on and got back to the status quo ante) and managed to go from "Combined Arms champions of 1918" to "Runners-up of 1940", and never really got it right again until 1944. Or ever, if you see some of the professional debates on the subject.

Blackadder is great comedy, but lousy history (for a few years, you couldn't go on an Army course without a "Blackadder" clip being shown to introduce the teaching point in question; but then, I used to use "The Blues Brothers" as an introduction to SITREP. "It's 106 miles to Chicago...")

95:

Wasn't the armistince signed in 1919? I seem to recall that from reading SHeffield's book a few months ago. It seemed a likely reason why a lot of war memorials say 1919 as the end of the war.

96:

@85 does that mean were Half-orcs?

97:

I thought goblins, trolls, kobolds and whatnot are distorted tales of the first metallurgists. They're people, digging for the ore they need, probably using the resulting holes in the ground for shelter too.
They would be protective of their trade secrets, keeping the knowledge in the family or within a small tribe, perhaps taking apprentices. Most likely they'd die out within a few generations, at most.
I could easily see them hoarding both things perceived as treasure and things perceived as junk. Their wares would be extremely valuable, so they would be able to trade.
Unaware of the nasty side effects of the fumes from smelting (we're talking copper here, not iron) their children and pregnant women might live where they work, resulting in growth deformities and birth defects. Those that survive, might be strong like the stereotypical blacksmith.
Think of the other end of the curve of the singularity, where the percolation threshold hasn't been reached yet for a scientific community. When nearly all of the effort of a tribe goes directly to food-gathering and survival, it's a huge gamble to start doing enough of something like metallurgy to be useful. Your neighbours will resent you for your success, but would also want to get their hands on your superior metal tools and weapons. A few generations after the last metallurgist died or moved away or joined a normal tribe, or after a nomadic tribe moved away from the metallurgists, malicious rumours and children's tales are all that remain.

98:

No, the armistice was signed on 11/11/1918.

The Paris Peace Conference and Treaty of Versailles were both in 1919, though - I guess these war monuments are using the treaty date.

99:

Not all of the fighting and dieing stopped on 11/11/18. In particular the "Intervention" in Russia lasted well into 1919.

100:

Indeed. My paternal grandfather was wounded in Russia in 1919, and earned one of his medals as a result.

I'd be interested to know the ages of those British war memorials that list WWI as 1914-1918 as compared to the ones that list it as 1914-1919. I suspect that newer ones retconned the Russian adventure out of history.

101:

It is kind of scary that The Truth came out 10 years ago and I am that far behind on my reading list. On the other hand, it also means I got to Book 25 out of a current 32 book series. I did read the other two books you mentioned, so maybe the fine details have blurred over the years since I read them.

102:

The last Allied troops didn't leave Russia until 1920 (and the last Japanese troops not until 1922), which is why I thought the Treaty of Versailles was the more likely date. Not sure when hostilities ended, though, so you may be right.

103:

There was what amounted to a civil war in Germany between "Freikorps" and Communists/Socialists. (A few years later this submerged into the first spate of drive by shootings as right and left gangs machine gunned each other in the big cities.) Lenin invaded Poland hoping to kickstart the Revolution in Germany with fresh troops after he broke through. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Vistula. I don't think the plan would have succeeded even if the Red Army had gotten to Berlin, but a lot more people would have died, Germany would have been occupied and the Soviet Union might have collapsed.

You could also argue how much victory France and the UK could afford or would have been willing to pay for at the time. (And can you imagine them trying to get Wilson back on board for a real war in 1920? Or having to agree to allow the German war machine to at least partially reassmble itself?) Even as history actually played out, the West relied heavily on colonial troops to police the Rhineland, as evidenced by the thousands of Afro-Germans living there right before WWII. (Similar units were still deployed on that front in 1940. German propoganda films mocked them as "the defenders of the West" and forced them to wear "tribal" outfits.)

Both sides came close to collapse as the war drew to a close. Russian did collapse, arguably several times. Germany was starving until it got access to wheat and oil from the east. The Allies almost broke. In the longterm, both sides faced a horrific demographic shift. There are people who argue that fascism was in part a movement to appeal to boys who grew up without fathers. (Or even uncles and older brothers.)

Having written the above, it occurred to me that what actually happened was a lot stranger than the idea Charlie came up with. I mean who would write a story where the actual plan was to have more men (possibly) than your enemy had machine gun bullets.

104:

Primo Levi wrote a short story with this theme in one of his science-fiction books (The Periodic Table IIRC).

Come to think of it, his books that aren't science-fiction are about surviving an invasion by hostile aliens, invited in by their sinister followers among us, who abducted him and others, forced them to help build an industrial death star of sorts, picked his brains for scientific knowledge, carried out weird pseudomedical experiments on some of them, and eventually used millions of human beings as fuel. Like a proper hard-SF hero, he owed his own survival to his knowledge of fundamental scientific principles...

105:

I mean who would write a story where the actual plan was to have more men (possibly) than your enemy had machine gun bullets.

...once again, Blackadder (like "Oh! What a lovely war") is great comedy, but lousy history. There was no such plan.

A peacetime army of 100,000 soldiers, badly mauled in 1914, was turned into an army of millions by 1918. Apparently, there were only 400 staff-trained regular officers in 1914; many of whom didn't last until 1915. "Novices learning their jobs" is more accurate.

By 1918, the Empire armies (British, Indian, Canadian, Australian, New Zealanders were merely the largest contingents) had pioneered the development and use of tanks at Cambrai; had revolutionised the control of artillery as indirect fire; and formed the first dedicated Air Force. They then demonstrated that they had mastered combined arms warfare (the integration of artillery, infantry, tanks, and logistics); broke through the German lines; and were well on their way to Germany when the Armistice was signed. Not bad for a scratch team formed in three years.

For contemporary fiction by participants, try reading Hay's "The First Hundred Thousand", or Buchan's "Mr. Standfast". For non-fiction, try reading Jack Alexander's excellent book "McCrae's Battalion" about the 16th Royal Scots (a "Pals" battalion with a footballing theme, cut up badly on the first day of the Battle of the Somme).

As for "simple tactics", if you've ever tried to synchronize groups of people without the use of mobile phone or radio, you'll soon understand that whistles, flags, and keeping it really simple are the only way it will work once you start to move.

106:

Where do you see Blackadder or "simple tactics?" And for that matter, why was there a Soviet Union if the "Empire forces" were now masters of warcraft invincible? The French economy was heavily reliant on Russian investments; so leaving Lenin in charge would knock the Frogs for six, I guess. I stand corrected.

(Not to mention that Haig was harping on attrition until late 1917 because he now had American men and material to use up and the Germans did not. Just as German generals claimed victories of attrition in earlier years. In both cases to put a strategic gloss on what was actually simple failure. I guess 1918 was the year it all came together; better late than never, I guess.)

107:

Another entertaining alternate history, Norman Spinrad's "The Iron Dream", Adolf Hitler as science fiction writer.

108:

Exactly, that was my other candidate for a reason for some meorials saying 1919. An odd coincidence being that my great grandfather was stationed in Murmansk during/ just after the warfor a few weeks, and his son probably stopped off there during the next war as part of arctic convoys.

109:

I disagree with much of your post. To start with, smelting oxidic copper ores doesn't produce much in the way of unpleasant fume, in fact none that I could see when I helped do it last year. You may be thinking of the smelting of arsenical copper ores, which was commonplace in the middle east and central america, but the hypothesis there is that chronic lowlevel exposure to arsenic will lead to symptoms like those of the sterotypical smith of legend, i.e. halting and lame with some other behavioural problems.

The evidence of places in the balkans and elsewhere suggests that copper smelting was a major exercise, we're talking areas which contain many hundreds and thousands of tonnes of slag and debris built up over a millenium or two, and for your hypothesis to fit you'd have to somehow extend the initial period of use and knowledge of smelting for many generations and postulate a separation between smelters and copper workers and the rest of the population, a split which I am not aware that anyone has any evidence for. Interestingly, a lecture I was at early this year by someone who was doing research in the balkans, had a photo of snow white and the many dwarves - I think they were ceramic, several thousand years old, and found in a copper mine in the Balkans. So the idea of dwarves appears to go back thousands of years, but I can't remember what else was known or guessed at about their origins.

Finally, the evidence for first use of metals suggests that native copper and gold were beaten into jewellery 8,000 (more or less) years ago, and there appears to be a long familiarity with metal bashing through the centuries.

110:

Do you really dislike him enough to want him to write books he doesn't want to write?

111:

What, you were hoping for a three-way with Clarke, Burroughs, and Turing?

Anyhow, an AltHistory, I've had thoughts of is what if Burroughs got involved in the Family Business? With his drug use I can see him as the prototypical cyberpunk hacker. I don't know nearly enough about the subjects to pull it off though.

Also I'm somewhat reminded of Ian McKellen's film of "Richard III" set in a late 30s fascist Britain.

112:

I was hoping for a scene where Burroughs shoots a whiskey glass off of Dick's head with a pistol (and doesn't miss in that universe, as he did in this one). Then Dick flicks the pieces of glass off his head and says, "Shit, Bill, next time just hand me the glass with the whisky in it."

113:

Charlie, it seems to me this concept could be dropped whole inside a Laundry novel. In that setting the idea of alternate universes is well established. Let Bob Howard be sent on a mission to this almost Earth, with the events as you describe.

The tongue in cheek quality of the Laundry series would allow the Dickensien coincidences of this story to be swallowed - I mean enjoyed -and the steampunk aspects would fit in with the Laundry as an organization forced to use old typewriters and mechanical turing machines to avoid channeling brain eating nasties. He might even have difficulty telling if he's back home at the end of the story or still over there.

114:

I would read one hundred of that book. One hundred hundred!

115:

There were quite a few LOUD supporters of fascism in Britain in the 1930's, but they never got any sizeable either popular or "Inner circle" support.
So to take over, it would have had to be an illegal coup. Unless, of course, they could REALLY have subverted Edward VIII - and look how the Establishment pushed him out-the-door, once they realised what was going on. ( Wallis Simpson was a very convenient excuse)

116:

I like this idea too; Charlie, have you ever wanted to write a a Jerome Bixby (ST:TOS "Mirror, Mirror") tribute?

117:

'why was there a Soviet Union if the "Empire forces" were now masters of warcraft invincible?' (Privatelron, 106)
Those forces were for duration only and Russia would have been a whole another war. They had to be demobbed and sent home, and all that was available for Russian operations was a couple of brigades of volunteers in the Archangel front, a couple of thousand 'advisors' serving with Denikin plus some naval and air support. Not enough, that.
Britain had other problems at the time (unrest in India, Ireland, Egypt, Iraq...) and the military were quite unhappy with the intervention, seeing it as a potentially disastrous diversion.

118:

My apologies - I was reacting to your comment which I italicised, about how "the actual plan was to have more men (possibly) than your enemy had machine gun bullets."

There was a necessity to hold the Western Front, but given that the front line stretched from the mountains to the sea, the opportunities for "manoeuvre warfare" are somewhat limited. What alternative do you suggest? Attrition has always happened in warfare (and always will) but calling it "the plan" is inaccurate.

They kept trying to manoeuvre; see Cambrai. I had a great-grandfather who took part in the 1917 raid on Zeebrugge. Our local territorial battalions spent a lot of blood at Gallipoli (Mel Gibson is no believer in historical accuracy either; his baddies always get English accents). Similarly, look at the efforts of the mountain troops of the time to outflank rather than attack head-on.

As for "Haig was harping on attrition until late 1917 because he now had American men and material to use up"...

The uplift in manpower didn't just come from the Americans; a lot of troops had redeployed from the end of the campaigns in Palestine and Italy, and some of the strategic reserves had been released from the UK for service in France.

Haig wasn't itching to spend American lives, Pershing was doing that all on his own - 10th/11th November 1918 saw some very costly attacks launched by American generals (in a French sector) who knew that an Armistice was being arranged. It would be interesting to compare casualty rates among US divisions under British command (27th and 30th Divisions at the Battle of the St.Quentin Canal) or French command (92nd and 93rd Divisions) with those under American command (in the Meuse-Argonne offensive).

119:

Nope. I am unfamiliar with Jerome Bixby. (Googles) ... oh, It's a good life! No, I'm not unfamiliar with Jerome Bixby; I'm just unfamiliar with the later iterations of Star Drek.

120:

There was a necessity to hold the Western Front, but given that the front line stretched from the mountains to the sea, the opportunities for "manoeuvre warfare" are somewhat limited. What alternative do you suggest?

Open another front. It could have worked at Gallipoli if the RN hadn't cocked up the shore bombardment. It did work in 1917-18 in Palestine (my Grandfather was in that one; he advanced something like 300 miles in 6 months, which is certainly not the usual conception of WW1).

121:

"Ideas are cheap" rings true for me as I'm a patent attorney. But also "All I do is read widely, and periodically bang a couple of random ideas together until I get a spark."

I've read SF exclusively for entertainment since I can remember. In my last few years of reading, I've especially enjoyed Charlie's stuff (why I'm here), as well as Corey Doctorow, Roger Zelazny, and Richard Morgan.

I recently read a book in which the author acknowledged NaNoWriMo. WTF? Turns out to be National Novel Writing Month, in which participants strive to write a 50K word "novel" in the month of November .

I decided to do it, figuring I'd just output logorrhea, and maybe cut it down to a decent short story. Once I committed, and started thinking about it, I got the "spark" Charlie mentioned. So many ideas, contrary ideas, and extrapolations based on my own professional and personal experiences came together, I'm excited to start. Still, I think it's good that I'm not allowed to actually start writing until November 1. I figure it will be crap - it's my first attempt - but I'm excited, and think I have some good ideas that may be wasted on this effort but will serve as seeds for future projects.

122:

The first attempt is always crap. But you get points just for finishing.

(Another issue is that 50K words is feasible in a month, but it's not commercially viable unless you're writing children's literature: first published novels are in the range 85,000 to 110,000 words these days, with significantly longer stuff allowed/permitted in certain sub-genres or for well-established authors. But just getting to 50,000 words in a month means that you can certainly get to 100,000 words in three months, which is what it takes.)

123:

TOS - The Original Series. "Mirror, Mirror" was my first exposure to "alternate universe" fiction, which is why it's still the first thing I think of in that context. The episode where a transporter malfunction swaps Kirk and Spock with their evil alternates (and "Evil Spock" even has a goatee beard).

124:

Your remark about hitting two ideas together reminds me of Matt Ridley's recent "The Rational Optimist," where he defines creativity as ideas having sex. I don't know if you'd like the book as a whole (rather political, rather conservative) but that bit resonated.

125:

I've always been a huge fan of McKellen's '30s Britain but it may just be Anglophilia looking for a new angle. Say, what exactly *was* the relationship with France--were they the client on the continent?

126:

I'm probably going to do my third NANOWRIMO this year. It's fun, and I've learned how to write 1600 words a day through doing this.

A couple of notes: the standard format for NANOWRIMO is logorrhea: spout 1600 words and call it story. It's obviously possible to go from this to a published novel, but there is another way if you're an organized type. You can make part of that 1600 words things like outline, character notes, background, whatever helps you get organized. You end up with less story written, but if you've got a good story, this is a simpler approach to finishing it, compared with the massive rewrite job you have if you have to take unstructured output and rewrite it into a coherent story.

Hope you do it. Finishing it is fun!

127:

Gallipoli was the first serious attempt at large-scale amphibious assault; it wasn't just the RN and their shore bombardment, it was also their insistence on controlling the loading of troops and equipment, and then arranging them for maximum packing efficiency rather than keeping tactical formations together (i.e. how do you pack six battalions into five troopships? Do you just load five battalions and keep it simple, or do you have units spread across multiple ships?).

Add to that a rather "command-driven" rather than "initiative-driven" view of the initial land objectives (units stopped on their objectives rather than pushing on the absence of opposition) and the chances to take the peninsula were lost.

The same "efficiency" drive happened in 1956 - apparently the RN insisted on arranging the vehicle loadings, and apocryphal legend has it that the first vehicle to be offloaded in Egypt during the invasion wasn't a fighting vehicle, but the Officers' Mess truck of the Life Guards...

Amphibious operations are difficult; a lot was learned from the Dieppe raid and the North African and landings in 1942, and the Italian landings in 1943, before the Normandy landings were attempted in 1944.

128:

Okay, I'm intrigued. But what possible use would there be for an orion battleship?

129:

Ummmmmm, an orion battleship is flashy? And real scary to chase?

Actually, this is a serious problem. For Charlie the novelist. Here's why: In his world, they don't really have a metric for the kind of damage a nuke can do. The idea behind the London Blitz, the firebombing of Tokyo, and the bombing of Germany is just that, an idea. In our world, we've had ample evidence that bombing the crap out of a civilian center (from London to Baghdad) won't cause the government to capitulate. In the novel, it's just a neat idea that they want to try to end wars faster (just as poison gas was initially pushed as a war-ending weapon).

So Charlie has to write a novel for our nuclear-armed world (with its 60 years of Armageddon delayed), but in his book the characters are trying to figure out this new "atomic weapon" thingie...And probably thinking it's a good thing, because it will end wars, just as poison gas was supposed to. That's a cultural divide that would be deceptively difficult to cross, I think.

130:
(This is all rooted in a vision I had, of William S. Burroughs as a CIA agent, and Philip K. Dick as his young henchman, going head-to-head with notorious gangster and pervert Adolf Hitler somewhere in Hamburg to find out where Hitler is shipping all the computers he can get his hands on.)

Ah, I must be reading a Stross book again.

beginning to awaken >from a period of isolationism, punctuated by a

mbox format is bad for your health

131:

Not really valve punk but Stephen Baxter's "Voyage" is an interesting NASA alt-history which includes NERVA.

132:

ah, Charlie - if that really is Blair running the show, just who is the mysterious recluse called "Orwell" living on Jura? And why so many children in small sailing craft in the area? I suspect the invisible hand of the elderly Arthur Ransome, retired journalist and one-time confidante of Trotsky.

And what of the British aristocracy, marginalised by successive right and left-wing governments? Surely the Stately 'Omes of England have some plan?

133:

I don't see that there is much in my original post to disagree with, I stated a hypothesis as "I thought that...", and clarified how the first people dabbling in metallurgy might exhibit some of the features and behaviour associated with mythical creatures. It's not a hypothesis I have pursued, I have no evidence one way or the other. I merely proposed it as a third option (for a small, isolated group of goblins) to the two alternatives Charlie listed for getting goblins into a story.
I was indeed thinking partly of arsenic fumes, partly of heavy metals. How many times do you think copper smelting was invented, then forgotten again because the people doing it inadvertently poisoned themselves? How much archaeological evidence do you think those failed attempts would have left behind, compared to the sites where it was successful and where they carried on for much longer on a much larger scale? I think the odds of finding evidence of all the times they got it wrong are pretty slim. And I think the odds that they got it right the very first time they tried, are even slimmer.
Prior experience with metal bashing, and the resulting knowledge of how useful copper was, would have made people more willing to persevere in attempts to extract copper from special stones. Remember that native copper is a much rarer find than copper ore.
With regard to the separation between the "goblins" and the rest of the population, are you seriously suggesting that it is implausible that if some group tried copper smelting, did it unsafely, and some misshapen babies were born, that the group would kick out those deemed responsible for the misfortune and badmouth them for as long as they were remembered? Colour me cynical, but I don't have such a good opinion of basic human nature.

134:

Re: dwarves and metallurgists. The story originally was that short, dark Mediterranean types wandered into Europe looking for tin for their bronze, and brought bronze-making technology with them. Since the stereotypical northmen of this myth were tall and blond, they've talked about short magical toolmakers ever since.

Right.

Let's start with an alternative hypothesis before we demolish the whole metallurgical theme.

That alternative has to do with the red hats that many of the little people wear. These are quite likely to be the red caps of the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria. You can certainly enter fairy-land if you eat one of those (note that I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. Read this for more information). Heck, even Santa Claus is probably a mushroom fairy. Why else would he have a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer? Yes, Yes, I know the Brits think he's some sort of Sun God in Hiding, but if you go to Germany (home of the dwarves, not coincidentally), you'll learn differently (see link above).

Getting back to copper smelting...Where to start? South America? There's a much more recent history in the Andes of copper smelting shifting to bronze production. The Andean people had copper for a long time, but kept their stone tools for real work. Why? Basalt's a lot harder than copper, and flint's a lot sharper. Copper is a flexible, shiny rock, which is probably what got it noticed (that, and the fact that the ores are this pretty blue color). If I had to guess, I'd say that copper first got used for ornaments, rather than tools. Gold certainly did, and so did iron (think red ocher, which is an iron ore). Metallic tools came much later. So your story about people experimenting with metals to improve tools is shaky at best. The evidence from South America suggests that shiny came before useful.

As for the dwarf story, it's cute, but you know, we're talking about tin traders, not half-poisoned metallurgists. The problem with the traders-as-dwarves story is that we're assuming that the Mediterranean people were, well, more dwarfish than those allegedly tall, fair northern folks they were trading with. No racism there, oh no, not at all. No real evidence either, at least from the archeologists.

Personally, I'd recommend sticking with the toadstool munchers if you want to know where goblins came from.

135:

I've done NaNoWriMo twice now. You get some idea of how to find time to write. Second time, I went for a multi-threaded story, tracking several characters in parallel, and I found it did make some things easier--if I stalled on one character, I could switch viewpoints.

And if you've been trying to write stuff for decades, maybe your output won't be so bad.


136:

The Entente had adopted a Churchillian strategy (as in John rather than Winston). Marlborough's battle plans usually involved attacking the French army, the strongest part of the enemy forces, rather than the allied Spanish and Bavarian forces. He worked on the theory that if the French broke then their allies would panic and flee without a fight, while the Spanish and Bavarian troops fleeing would not panic the French.

The Entente figured that taking out Germany would cause the other Central Powers to collapse while taking out the other Central Powers would not cause Germany to collapse. The Ottomans were fairly vulnerable, being both weak and exposed, but as the Germans knew this they would be prepared for it. Austria-Hungary was far more vital but also far less exposed. The Italian front was even worse than the Western Front and while the Eastern front was more mobile Russia collapsed not Austria-Hungary.

137:

If you've somehow never encountered Phil Farmer;
's short story “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod”, please chase down a copy.

138:

Germany was the home of some mining dwarves but not all the mining dwarves. It seems to be an ancient motif, even among races stereotyped as short and swarthy.

The Hindu dwarf god Kubera is lord of the treasures of the earth, his attributes include a money bag.

The Kabeiroi were the dwarf sons of Hephaistos, Greek god of smiths. Their name may derive from the Sumerian word for copper.

The Dactyls were another dwarf tribe the Greeks said were from Phrygia. "The Dactyls were both ancient smiths and healing magicians. In some myths, they are in Hephaestus' employ, and they taught metalworking, mathematics, and the alphabet to humans."

139:

Not just the Middle East and Central America for arsenical copper. Ötzi was 5' 5" tall.

"High levels of both copper particles and arsenic were found in Ötzi's hair. This, along with Ötzi's copper axe which is 99.7% pure copper, has led scientists to speculate that Ötzi was involved in copper smelting."

140:

@ 127
Actually, no.
They had to re-learn techniques that had been perfected during the 7 years war, re-learned during the peninsular campaign, and then forgotten during the so-called "long peace" (1815-1914)

141:

I was particularly tickled to see Ransom's cameo in The Fuller Memorandum. I do like these little asides (I was delighted to have guessed it was him before it was given away).

Mind you, I liked the abbreviation for one of the mad religious organisations too.

142:

I am engaged! Please, reconsider it and write the novel! As an alternate history fan I'll undoubtly buy it!

143:

#various - If you think that early Bronze Age copper miners weren't "small" (at least by modern standards", may I recommend a trip to the Great Orme copper mine?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Orme - Particularly Section 4 and the External Links section (No responsibility is accepted for the result of visiting those).

144:

I would read that novel. Quite frankly, I'm willing to try any alt-history that doesn't use the Second World War or the US Civil War as its divergence point, as both of those have long since worn out their welcome. That this premise sounds interesting and exciting to boot is icing on the cake.

@13 Martin,

Yes, that would be more interesting, but most high fantasy writers, whether out of laziness or their love of messianic hero figures, favour the French absolutist model of monarchy over the English system or any other alternatives such as the Polish free election system. The exception are those Celtophilic authors who use a romanticized version of Irish monarchy instead.

To the uninitiated, Michael Moorcock's critique of Tolkien and his imitators, "Epic Pooh", is required reading.

145:

Charlie, thanks for the response and advice. Also thanks to heteromeles and Dave for the NaNoWriMo advice.

For heteromeles and Dave, what happened to your NaNoWriMo projects? For the 50K goal, is it better to go for a daily word count (1600+ a day), or wait for inspiration? I could crank nightly, but I find i'm most inspired after my regular work week ends and I pop a large format Belgian ale or split a bottle of champagne with my wife (3,000 words, easy)

Cheers

146:

Most "high fantasy" seems to favor a day to day world of affluent wholesome peasant communes who owe loyalty to a far away, mystical king who's basically hands off unless the goblins are attacking, but where the local aristos are a mixed bag, often corrupt or evil. The Shire, the Ents, the Beornlings, the Bardlings, even the Rohan all seem to enjoy day to day decentralized government. Gondor said no thanks to the Northern Carrot's and hired on a line of Vetinari's. The Mirkwood elves seem to drink and hunt all day. I suspect the dwarves are more like the Italian city states that had relatively weak princes and strong merchants/craftsmen. The only absolute monarch is Galadriel and I am not sure we are supposed to take her as a model of good governance, immense spiritual authority yes, but not great for her people's ordinary interests. Notice she gets on a boat and the rest of her family does not?

Now I am not saying this is a realistic model or any more radical than other fantasy tropes. (Also, the alternative I see as much as CeltoRomance is macho man viking libertarianism with a heart of gold, or hipsters run magic shops in [insert North American city] with or without S&M sub plot.) In fact it is probably more escapist than a piece actually worshiping a Pharaoh type king would be. On the other hand, as Tolkien points out, his fantasy was an escape. And he does highlight all through the book that the world the heroes want is unsustainable and doomed to pass away. Asking that Tolkien take a realistic look at the Industrial Revolution and its impact is like asking that romance writers emphasize subplots centered on realistic daycare schemes.

147:

Of course, dwarves probably evoloved - a tall person would be at a substantial disadvantage maneuvering in mining tunnels. They don't have to die, it's just that all the tall people leave the settlement, resulting in a locally smaller genetic pool.

148:

Massive reading comprehension fail.

The McSweeney two-parter is a *parody* of the inability of 'useful idiot' ideologues like Chomsky and Zinn to see open and manifest evil for what it is.

"The War of the Ring is all about pipeweed" "The invasion of Iraq was all about oil"

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on September 21, 2010 6:07 PM.

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