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Why Wikipedia is the writer's friend

Always do, at a minimum, a brief fact-check on everything you write in a work of fiction with a non-fantastical/far future setting. Otherwise you will be sorry.

We who write fiction are in the business of telling entertaining lies for money. If the lies don't entertain, we don't get paid: more to the point, if our audience can see through the lies, they don't entertain. Fiction relies upon the reader's willing suspension of disbelief — if you're immersed in a novel, it helps not to be jerked up short every ten seconds by the realization that the setup is nonsensical.

I just had a collapse of suspension of disbelief — a cognitive toe-stubbing — in the first two pages of a novel, so I thought I'd share it with you while it's still fresh. What makes it annoying is that one minute with wikipedia (no need for a serious research library here!) would have enabled the author to avoid it.

The author is (roll of drums, please), Carrie Vaughn, and the book is her recent novel, Discord's Apple. Which I picked up to read because I need something relatively lightweight to distract myself with on a long train journey.

I don't want to single Carrie out; all of us make these mistakes from time to time. She's a smart, thoughtful writer and most of the time she gets things right. Unfortunately for me, she left a landmine buried in the first couple of pages, and I'm enough of an obsessive-compulsive nerd to shriek "owwww!" and post a ranting blog entry rather than mutter "whatever" and turn the page.

For context, our protagonist is on the phone to a co-worker. Who command-detonated my suspension of disbelief with the following:

"The Kremlin's been bombed. Obliterated. A Cessna filled with drums of kerosene rammed it. They're thinking it's Mongolian rebels."
Let me anatomize the wrongness of this paragraph ...

This isn't obviously a novel set in a bizarro-world alternate history; it's a fantasy, but so far so realist. In this time line, "The Kremlin" is usually shorthand for the Moscow Kremlin (Kremlin being Russian for "Citadel").

What tripped me up? First, a word: "obliterated". (Then, the dawning realization that someone is wrong on the internet.)

You see, if you follow the wikipedia link to the Moscow Kremlin (above), the Kremlin is ... not small. In fact, at 68 of those weird colonial Acre things, the Kremlin is more than twice the area of The Pentagon building in Washington DC, the largest office complex on the planet (by area). More Kremlin facts: it contains three cathedrals, and is surrounded by 20 towers and 2.2 kilometres of walls between 3.5 and 6.5 metres thick.


You probably could obliterate the Moscow Kremlin from the air, but you'd do better to take something bigger than a Cessna. About the biggest thing Cessna ever made is the Citation Columbus, a small biz-jet with a maximum payload of 880 kilograms. Fill one with kerosene — and fill up its fuel tanks — and it'd certainly make a dent in one of Kremlin buildings. But it's less than a tenth the size of a real airliner like, say, the Boeing 757 that hit the Pentagon on 9/11 and failed to collapse more than one wing of it.

To take out the Kremlin, you'd do better to take a fully-laden 747 or A380. But even then, that might not be enough. (The Kremlin is big.)

Finally there's the Mongolian bit. Which left me puzzled as to why Mongolian rebels would be attacking the seat of the head of state of a different nation rather than, say, the Presidential Palace in Ulan Bator.

Chechen rebels I could buy, but Mongolian rebels are attacking the wrong country: It's a bit like writing about separatists from New Mexico trying to attack the Presidential palace in Mexico City in order to rebel against the United States of America. It is so far at odds with what we know of politics, world affairs, and the news headlines that it simply does not make sense. And not making sense is the one thing guaranteed to throw a reader out of their willing suspension of disbelief.

Let me tell you what happened here. $AUTHOR needs a conversation between protagonist and co-worker, to sketch in our protag's life (of which employment is a part, because our book opens in realist mode). Some disruption has occurred back at the office, and our heroine is being updated by her co-worker. What kind of disruption? Quick! Let's think of something that throws a current project out of whack! Our protag is involved in the entertainment biz, scripting a popular show, so let's play the ever-popular "something newsworthy has gone wrong with our next setting" card. And at this point $AUTHOR puts fingers into gear without pausing to sanity-check their trivial throw-away plot point because, in the grand scheme of things, it's a really insignificant part of the novel they're trying to write — a disposable single-paragraph throw-away to justify a phone call.

Alas, for those readers who have any kind of familiarity with the contents of the throw-away, it's a tripwire. Something is wrong. And if something is wrong with one part of the world-building, there are probably loose ends elsewhere.

Which is why, if I'm going to throw in side-references to stuff I'm not intimately familiar with, I at least poke at wikipedia to ensure I haven't gotten them completely wrong. (And even if I am familiar with the subject, I try to fact-check before I pull the trigger.)



Nowadays im constantly surprised when someone incorrectly states something but then has no willingness to look it up and learn why they are wrong. Sources like wikipedia are amazing for getting a quick conceptual (and sometimes very detailed) idea of something you know nothing about. Some people are just not in the right mindset to look everything up I guess?


Conceivably some of these kinds of faux pas can be blamed on characters with a tendency to over-dramaticise and be inaccurate.

Though in this specific case presumably the protagonist, if he/she is on the ball, should pick up on the error.


An early Ian Rankin (pre-Rebus) book had someone's hair turning white overnight with shock. As in, all the hair now looks white. I've kind of given up on that book.

Although, to be fair, she fell into a stream with chemical waste in it. I suppose it could have bleached her hair but that wasn't what the story seemed to be saying.


Even if you are writing in a fantastical/far-future setting, it's probably a good idea to fact check anything you're not inventing out of whole cloth. For instance, I was about to use the ion drive as an example of something that's been written about in enough sci-fi to merit a fact check; so I ran one, and it turns out the thing actually exists and operates on well-defined principles.

But the point stands: If you're going to write about, say, a warp drive, you should probably make sure it's consistent with the warp drives that other authors have been writing about for years.

For that matter, if you're going to invent some horrible space monster for your protagonist to fight, a quick Google search on its name might save you the embarrassment of putting Captain Spacehelm up against a ten story chitin-plated grue.


This actually made me think of , which also proves Charlie's point about using Wikipedia as a "fast fact check".

Am I allowed to mention "The Fuller Memorandum" and the various branches of the IWM and RAF Museum in this context? Particularly given just how uncharactoristic an error this seems to be.


To be fair, some of the early news reports about 9/11 were massively inaccurate and exaggerated (I remember hearing that the Pentagon had been destroyed).

But if the narrative actually confirms the 'obliterated' verdict later, then fair enough, it's an authorial cockup.


Just to play devil's advocate, I think the Mongolian rebels attacking the Kremlin thing could probably work pretty well as one of those throwaway details that gets you to fill on the blanks.

From what the Wikipedia article on Mongolian foreign relations tells me, Mongolian-Russian relations are pretty tight, and it's not like Russia's against meddling in the internal affairs of other states. So our Mongolian separatists could be somewhere between the Sandinista's and al Qaeda. Which in turn makes us speculate about all sorts of interesting things about relations between Russia and China.

Of course the word "obliterated" does kind of cut this sort of speculation short. But if it hadn't been for that, she too could have had William Gibson singing her praises:


There is, of course, the possibility that her co-worker was Kay Burley or a fan of hers, remember how the eastern seaboard of the US was decimated by the attacks on 9/11?


Yesterday, I started off a story (which, at the moment I'm writing purely for my own enjoyment) with a gun having been fired and the smell of cordite hanging in the air. I looked up cordite on Wikipedia, just because I couldn't 100% remember whether it was spelled cordite or chordite. To my surprise, I found that it hasn't been used in handgun ammunition since roughly World War II, and that all those pervasive mentions of the smell of cordite in detective novels since then was just authorial neglect.

So yeah, fact-checking stuff (even if you think you know it) seems like a good idea.


That reminds me of a book a read years ago (think it was Anne McCaffrey but could be wrong) that had a daring helicopter rescue in it, unfortunately it was from an airless planet. . .

I guess sci-fi writers should also make sure they have a basic grounding in science.


Except... sometimes, especially in fantasy and other sf setups, the cognitive toe-stub is an intentional device to let the reader realise that, despite the world being realistic, it isnt necessarily our realistic world. Obviously I cant say what was going on in Vaughn's mind when she wrote the offending paragraph, but it becomes increasingly clear that the world of Discord's Apple isnt really much like ours, and this paragraph may have been intended to have discordant elements specifically to act as an early warning.

(Watsonian explanations are also possible, of course: The caller is an artist of military comic books and so might be expected to have at least a passing knowledge of aeroplanes, explosives, the Kremlin and Russian rebels (though this could also be explained away as "alternative time-line"); but presumably he was getting most of his info from TV rolling news, which is probably no better at giving accurate and balanced information about a disaster in their universe than in ours...)


Having learnt to fly in a Cessna 172, I have to say the whole quote made me giggle.

Think of that scene from the Simpsons when Sideshow Bob tries to kill Krusty the clown by flying the Wright Brothers plane into the civil defence shack he's hiding in.


One common version of this is writers using units they're not familiar with. Especially common with USAian space opera from the 80s, where they knew that everyone in the future would be using this new-fangled metricism thing but didn't feel energetic enough to actually check the definitions. It works especially well when combined with an author who either can't do maths, or can't be bothered to do maths.

Related to this, of course, you get the, generally non-scientist, skiffy authors (and sometimes other genres) who simply have no concept of scale. People travel to another star - one that's millions of miles away! A decent meal costs ten credits, a taxi-fare is twenty - and you can buy a battleship for a thousand! (I have fond memories of some characters who landed at the major spaceport nearest their destination, and then spent nearly a month on a sleeper train. Being that way inclined, when the author mentioned it slowing down to $fixed_speed for some bad track, I calculated the minimum distance travelled.)


Another one of MacCaffrey's books --- the awful The Tower and the Hive, IIRC --- has a mighty space fleet doing a majestic 360 degree turn as it reverses course.


Would that Hollywood scriptwriters followed this advice.

I was recently watching a (fairly old) episode of "Without a Trace". (Not by choice; my wife had the remote.)

Anyway, at one point in the story, a fugitive is on the run between New York City and Philadelphia. Our intrepid agents decide to enlist the resources of local law enforcement and direct someone to call the "New Jersey Port Authority" and, later, news that "Jersey Highway Patrol" have found the suspect. Neither of these entities exist and even a cursory bit of research could have found the real ones. As a native New Jerseyan I found it rather jarring. To me, the story (such as it was) was now completely unbelievable and all I was getting from the show was that it was written by people who live in Los Angeles and who don't spend much time on the East Coast.

At least in the next scene the logos on the police cars were reasonable facsimiles of the New Jersey State Troopers, but by then the episode was ruined for me.


I've seen the same. Johm Birmingham' axis of time series has a carrier flying off F22's. and it uses a fuel-air explosive to power the catapult- just so a WW2 era plane can damage it at all.


and of course in the Xmen film- the one with that silver guy. American troops with assault rifles etc are running around in the middle of to parliament. foreign armed forces next to parliament. hmmmm. we might be lap-dogs , but not by that much surely


An episode of the X Files had a Royal Navy battleship sailing from Leeds to somewhere (probably Northampton).


"In the heart of London's docklands, with a chill wind blowing in off the Atlantic..." (Marvel's "Tomb of Dracula" comic).

On a slightly more serious note, Charlie, this entry is why thee and me must discuss bits of "The Apocalypse Codex" sometime.


"Fantastic 4 - Rise of the Silver Surfer" even. ;-)


It's interesting that commenter #3, fairyhedgehog, complains about a book in which someone's hair turned white overnight. I'm reading a completely different crime novel right now--Dennis Lehane's Darkness Take My Hand--in which the same thing happened. It happened three pages ago, in fact. I was just scoffing about this half an hour ago.


This is one of the (many) reasons that I don't read any Dan Brown novels.

Digital Fortress was a case in point; being a novel of which one of the central and important themes was encryption and security. And was clearly written by someone who a) did not have the first clue about encryption and security, and b) despite crediting some people with helping out with the subject, had not listened to/did not understand (delete as appropriate) anything they said.


In The Fuller Memorandum, Bob offhandedly mentions that there's a memex in the US's National Cryptologic Museum (the museum in the former motel across the street from the NSA).

Having just been there a few weeks ago, I found myself thinking, "Huh? Is that correct? I saw a lot of cool obsolete hardware there, but I didn't see a memex!" Then: "Oh yeah. In our timeline I don't think anyone ever actually constructed a memex."

Though now that people are building analytical engines, who knows?


Now I'm really glad I researched military ranking terminology for my own throw-away paragraph to set up a conversation. For this very reason: didn't want to blow it in the first two pages!


Although Anne McCaffrey's 360° course change is a Thog favourite, I don't think she ever perpetrated a helicopter on an airless world. That was Judith Merril's The Tomorrow People (1960). Damon Knight said in his review: "... when a lady scientist escapes from Red Dome on the Moon, she does so in a helicopter. (Think of that word, and the author who wrote it; the editor who read it, and copyread it, and proofread it.)"


Am I allowed to mention "The Fuller Memorandum" and the various branches of the IWM and RAF Museum in this context?

Yeah, I noticed that one too. Hmm, is the Laundryverse alternate history or secret history? If it's the former, it's possibly set in a universe where Duxford is in north London.

Scott Westerfeld annoyed me in his excellent Leviathan when he referred to a London (presumably Met) police officer as both constable and chief constable. Though that's a universe with diesel-bots and living airships, so a different rank system for British police is perhaps not inconceivable.


I read Discord's Apple a week or two ago, and it was clear to me by the third or fourth page that we were in an alternate universe; this became even more obvious as the book went on.

(I agree about the Cessna being insufficient to destroy the Kremlin -- but as it's being mentioned by one character as something he saw on the news from the other side of the world, I didn't take it as a reliable account of anything other than what the news was reporting.)


How about the politicians who make up "facts" or deny they said something when a quick Google search proves otherwise. Of course they deny & deny and still fool some people!


To expand on your point Charlie, where was editor/copy editor/proofreader/fact checker while this collision between the Kremlin and a Cessna was taking place?


Funny you should mention this now. I've been reading the Fuller Memorandum this last week (nearly finished, enjoying it greatly!) and there are several references to the laundry's current office being above a C&A store on whichever anonymous high street it is. To my knowledge, there hasn't been a C&A store on any UK high street for about 10 years! Not a major faux pas, but one that had me searching on Google to confirm my suspicions. People how live in glasshouses(!) shouldn't throw stones ...


Sometimes it ain't even that hard. I was reading a mystery novel once in which a character called room service and ordered a martini...on the next page, the waited showed up with a bottle of whiskey, a bowl of ice, and a pitcher of water...and the guy who placed the order had no reaction. Took me right out of the book...


We also don't have any human beings who, due to a brain tumour, acquire the ability to transmute carbon to silicon merely by looking.

The Laundry universe is not our own. For which one should generally be grateful, I think.

Also, given the subject... it's entirely possible Charlie put that in there to make it clear to anyone who used Wikipedia that it's not our universe.


In fairness to Birmingham, the USS Clinton was NOT a contemporary vessel. That novel was set in the near-future, in the sense that it was only 20 years from now, but it had been 20 years of aggressive warfare, with very clearly quite substantial changes in military technology. So I think it's acceptable for him to let the Clinton have whatever features he requires. Apparently its designers were not anticipating the threat of being attacked by the US WWII Pacific Fleet.

As for Charlie's original complaint: if the attack actually happened as described, and was as effective as described, and was done by actual Mongolian rebels in a world in which the Russians hadn't conquered Mongolia, then yes, this would be really bad. But (a) perhaps the novel is set in a world in which the Russians have conquered Mongolia, and this section is the first subtle hint of such differences (probably not, but I'd be willing to keep my suspension-of-disbelief in effect for a little longer until I found out), and (b) I have to second everyone else's note that media reports ain't exactly known for their accuracy, especially right after a major attack. So, if later in the book more accurate reports come out, then this passage is helping establish that these media types are idiots. So, again, I would give the author the benfit of the doubt and keep my suspension up, at least for a while.

On the other hand, if you've read the whole book and there's nothing to justify such a claim, then I agree that the author should reasonably expect a large chunk of the readership to know enough about the Kremlin and cessnas to be worth checking.

On the other hand, post 28's complaints about C&A stores seems to be a much less serious issue. As is Charlie's deciding to stick a memex in whatever museum he pleases (post 21). I'm willing to give authors leeway on the small stuff--which invites judgment calls about what counts as small. I have to agree with Charlie that the basic size of the Kremlin is something you'd expect them to get right....


Yeah, I'm siding with you about unreliable news. The world in question is falling apart.

(When the Loma Prieta quake hit in California in '89, there were people who honestly thought the entire Bay Area had fallen into the sea. And world-wide communications were a lot better off than they were in Discord's Apple.)


I think what's missing from the Kremlin discussion are visual aids. this is a pretty good shot of the centre of the complex, the Red Square. Note I said "centre" -- there is a whole lot more around. (photo is most likely from the 1980s or early 90s, as there is a line heading into Lenin's mausoleum)

And here's a shot across the Moscow River. You're looking at the corner of the wall. Everything inside the wall is part of the Kremlin. Note that you can't see any of the other corners of the wall.

I think part of the problem is that there is a distinct dearth of aerial photos of the Moscow Kremlin. There's a reason for this: Until the end of the 90s at least (possibly today as well), civilian flights over Moscow were banned outright. That's why Rust's landing was such a scandal internally -- he quietly penetrated no fewer than six lines of AA defenses.

Of course, Kazan', Tula, Novgorod, Pskov, all had their own kremlins.

Personally, I'm most bugged by the Anglophone writers' assumption that no one reading their books will be bilingual, so they can take liberties with foreign languages and do no research. Honestly, folks, tacking an "s" onto the end of a Russian word does not make it plural! And that's the least of some authors' sins.


hmm, near future or not, I wouldnt have that dangerous a system for operating a catapult, the carrier has fusion power- why not electromagnetic? and an f22 is not a carrier plane, if you try launching planes not designed for that method with a cat. youll be recovering a lot of broken planes from the did pull me out of the book a bit.

on another note, maybe it was an alternate world kremlin. a lil one, and cessna is that worlds version of boeing?


Charlie, I haven't checked, but I think you're falling into the Trope of New York Reality. That trope is that things have to be accurate if they reference New York, but the further away they get from New York, the less it matters. This is because the publishers are based in New York.

Hence, Carrie's cardinal sin wasn't screwing up the engineering, it was screwing up the "terrorist-flies-plane-into-building," especially when you're reading it near 9/11.

Compare the TV Tropes "somewhere an ornithologist is crying," and "somewhere a paleontologist is crying," and other tropes about artists getting the life sciences wrong.

When you point out some really egregious errors in the life sciences, you're told that 99% of the audience wouldn't get your point, so even though you're technically right, you're considered both wrong and irrelevant, especially if the work is popular.

Since New York is urban, no one there (especially in the publishing industry) cares about the trees, or the critters, or even putting together dinosaurs that didn't live within 100 million years of each other.

But I'm not bitter. Really.


I think "kerosene" is a simple misspelling of "plutonium-239". (Yes, I asked Wikipedia which isotope is the fissionable one.)


Interestingly (to me), it is exactly this sort of fact-checking that draws me to authors like Charlie. In general, a novel may contain facts and explanations both within and outside my sphere of expertise, and when the references you already understand are coherent, it allows you to have more trust in the new ones. The other way to put this is that I especially enjoy novels by authors that are smarter than me (or at least, not demonstrably less-smart - replace "smart" with experienced, or carefully-researched or whatnot if you wish). This has led me to Stross, Watts, Egan, Stephenson - not necessarily in that order....


Even AH has to have a plausible divergence from reality. That's (one of the many reasons) why I found Stirling's Draka hard^wimpossible to take seriously: a British colony in S. Africa running its own independent foreign and colonial policy during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars which resulted in their first colonising Madagascar then taking Egypt from the Ottomans?

I mean, I know about sub-imperialism and all, but that was just utterly bonkers.

Oh and don't get me started on the trans-Pondian assumption that if Britain has a Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines it must have a Royal Army too.


Maybe in this alternate reality, it's a really, really small Kremlin...(I am also sure that there is a tvtropism for this as well, but I haven't reached the topic on locations yet...)


OK, Mr. Stross

I believe it is now time for you to have a little contest among your readers to submit a factual/scientific howler for you to insert in your next book to see which editors catch it :-)

Blimps on the moon, maybe? Propeller-driven spaceships?

I just read the original book "Planet of the Apes" (which is really a fun 60's read) which had solar sail spaceships able to tack and change direction by changing the angle of the sail to the sun.


how about in Scalzi's old mans war series, where every other spacefaring race eats people. no problems with different amino acids there. they even have cooking programs.


I would have stuck at Discord's Apple, people have no respect for the Greekness of the Greek myths.

I had my suspension of disbelief in the film Greenfingers destroyed. A violet was an important plot point and when it flowered it was obviously an ordinary violet plant with African violet (no relation, tropical houseplant, does not look the same at all) flowers stuck on by some poor props assistant. I hung on until Helen Mirren waved at a border and complimented various plants that clearly weren't there.


andyf @ 41:

Andy, aliens eating humans is one of the standard tropes of that kind of science fiction, (and I suspect it's a universe where the panspermia theory is true) so it didn't disturb me. Also, IIRC only one species out of the dozen or so they fought ate people, so it's not hard to suspend disbelief on that basis as well.


You could have the Star Trek explanation that all humanoid races were the result of a seeding experiment by an ancient race. Or they just absorb the minerals. Or their metabolism is designed to deaminate amino acids then reaminate in the preferred configuration and ignore any residues they can't use. This could be because their native animals are very cunning in their poison production.


One I noticed was in the episode Homecoming of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There was a line "Frederick and Hans Gruenshtahler. Wanted in Germany for capital murder, terrorism, the bombing of flight 1402." The problem with that Germany does not have capital punishment, and the constitution forbids capital punishment. It was abolished in West Germany in 1949 with the adoption of the Basic Law.


I came across a thriller recently whose author( and I cannot even remember his name) was touted on the inside page as having spent years of research into police operations and firearms.

And a few pages into the story he has his ex Special Forces hero thumbing the safety off his Glock.

By the way any aspiring writers who would like to know a little about firearms and their usage might find this liitle piece by William Sanders of interest.


I spent weeks going through the draft of Stephen Baxter's Voyage (when it was still called Ares, before someone in Marketing decided that might get it shelved under 'astrology'), fine-tuning the already pretty accurate and detailed rocket science of his alternate-history 1980s NASA Mars mission.

What I missed was the scene where two characters are in the back seat of a Corvette. As one reviewer on Usenet noted scathingly, Corvettes don't have back seats...

  • Simon

Roy: I was asked this, back when I was in the RAF, by my USAF Liaison Officer.

"We did have a Royal Army once," I explained. "But it lost our Civil War..."

Yes, that's a simplification. And I did go on to explain how it was more accurate to think of the British Army as lots of Regiments and Corps (many of which are indeed Royal) that form a sort of squabbling family that loathe and detest one another but unite instantly in the face of an enemy - i.e. the Royal Air Force.

  • Simon

Surely solar sails can change direction by angling their sails? If not, then Arthur C Clarke lied to me, the cad.

Looked at one way, it's not actually tacking, because that would be accelerating into the wind, which isn't possible. On the other hand, if one angles the sail to slow one's orbital velocity so that you fall towards the Sun, then that might be close enough to be called 'tacking'.


Y'know, that's the first time such an issue ever crossed my mind.

Why doesn't Britain have a Royal Army?

Wikipedia, here I come! :-)


Yes, solar sails can tack. Remember, the sail moves in relation to how the photons bounce off of it, so if the sail is 45 degrees to the sun, the light will reflect at 90 degrees and the sail will move at 45 degrees relative to the sun. Or, if you turn the sail to 90 degrees, parallel with incoming sunlight, the sail will generate no propulsion, and the ship will fall towards the sun due to gravity.

The site has some simulators to play with, if you need to convince yourself.


Thanks for the solar sail science! I should have checked first, (lol, what was the topic of the post that this is a reply to?). I assumed that they accelerated directly away from the photon source, but bouncing changes that.

OK, blimps on the moon it is, then.


RE: Things not being located in the Real World (tm) where they are in the Fictional Invented World (tm)...

...that's a whole other animal. Authors do that all the time to accommodate their story's needs. Not the same at all as suggesting a Cessna can carry enough fuel to blow up the Kremlin. Unless, as others mentioned, it's a Alternate Reality Kremlin that is a LOT smaller -OR- it's that whole "California fell into the ocean, saw it on the news" phenomenon.


I haven't read the book so maybe this is out of line, but is it possible that it was a character getting things wrong? In the massive game of panicked Telephone Relay that people unwittingly play during crises, things get massively exaggerated, distorted, mangled, and otherwise cocked up. So maybe the author knowingly had the character state something that was in character, a greatly exaggerated version of what actually happened?

(Like I say, I haven't read it. Just trying to give maximal benefit of the doubt…)


While we're at it, let's pick on the straight-up fantasists.

How about Jacqueline Carey, for the plants in her Kushiel series? Remember the Cereus house? It's a house of courtesans whose motto is "All loveliness fades," and whose standard is pale fragility and fleeting beauty? Beautiful image, because everyone's heard of the "night-blooming cereus?" Such a beautiful image.

She should have checked Wikipedia.

The "night blooming cereus" is a cactus. The name refers to a bunch of unrelated cacti, including the hallucinogenic San Pedro Cactus and the moonlight cactus. Truly, Cereus house is a good name for a house of courtesans, because the plants themselves are basically bushes of phallic stems. Of course, they're covered with spines, so maybe they would be more into BDSM? Or hallucinations and vomiting?

I won't even mention that all night-blooming cereus are New World species, so they wouldn't grow naturally in the alternate Europe of the Kushiel series.

Ms. Carey also forested Africa with eucalyptus (from Australia, of course). To her credit, they were widely planted in Africa in the 20th Century. In pseudo-medieval times? Not so much. Perhaps she meant Acacia. They both start with vowels, after all.

While Ms. Carey clueless about plants, she is a good writer. Personally, I just wish her editors would bother to check. After all, bryony and mandrake may sound good as names for courtesan houses, but they're plain flowers and poisonous to boot.


A solar sail gets a portion of its thrust from photons and the rest from solar wind particles. The photons are reflected off and the momentum transferred allows tacking by angling the sail. The solar wind particles impact the sail surface and "stick" and provide thrust only along the line of impact.


George MacDonald Fraser, in one of his horrifyingly-accurate McAuslan stories explained that the reason the British Army never brought all the Scottish regiments together in one place was the well-founded fear that they would either destroy each other or, worse, band together and march on London.


If we are going to use Wikipedia as a fact checker, it might be worth noting that the Moscow Kremlin actually contains four cathedrals not three as you claimed in the post.


Flaws in Books and Factual Error can be a, Great Game .. tm. ... Come now, some one in the Games Fraternity just Has to have tm ..ed the wonderfully Kipplingesq term The Great Game as a computer game set in the 19th Century Great Game with an Excursion to real Shoot Em Ups with the Jezaill that Shot the likes of Dr Watson where it most Hurt in a previous excursion into Afganistan in which our side discovered the virtue of Marksmanship, perhaps featuring alongside Mountain Howitzers and such like things? ...

Even the likes of the pre Wikipedia Greats could get it Wrong sometimes, and the Late Great Ian Fleming was, I seem to recall,supposed to be WRONG in his accounts of of Bonds personal equipment as in, say, his use of Berns Martin Holsters .... ~" Bond is issued a Walther PPK but is told to carry it in a Berns-Martin triple draw holster, which is designed only to carry revolvers. This mistake was possibly due to an error in Fleming's notes, transposing the Walther PPK for the Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight. However, Fleming lore says that Fleming had bought such a holster and had it sent to Jamaica, making this error all the more puzzling. It has been argued over the years that Q-branch could have modified this legendary holster to accommodate automatics, but this is unlikely- the design of the holster was centered around the cylinder of a revolver, where the spring clip would "grip" the pistol."

but look at what is available to the Historian now ...

My own vague memories of passing criticisms of Fleming are corrected with a few clicks after a Google of " Mistakes in Bond Books " ..and I didn't even bother to look at my bookshelves for " The James Bond Dossier " by Kingsly Amis.

Wikepedia is indeed the authors friend but you have to regard it as being a tool like any other and just as prone to the oddly endearing error after the event.

What matters is the Story and Errors tm. can be corrected with a new edition .. some editions of ancient Books are rendered more valuable by their interesting Textual Errors .. This is Fun ...

Its all Right for an Author to Kick himself and his contemporaries for easily avoidable errors but .. well, what the Hell, thats what Editors are for ..whilst the Author gets on with the task of writing an engrossing story.

I did miss the C and A error but the location of The Laundry IS concealed and it could as easily Really be above say a Branch of Primak in a store formerly occupied by Woolworth's ... no need for alternate realities when you have the dictate of SECURITY to fall back upon.

Incidentally you do all realize that Out Hosts Influences for ' The Laundry ' stories do flow beyond Len Deightons early novels as mentioned in his essay .. not the later 'Hook Line and Sinker ' ' Game Set and Match 'series where Deighton did slip toward the Upper Class Power-brokers of Le Carres novels .. but rather the Un-Named as Harry Palmer until the films books of the sixties books that do I think include 'Spy Story ' and " XPD " ....

DING !!! I'd set myself 10 minutes including typing time to research that..and I'm still suffering from the effects of stupidity in as much as I made the mistake of changing a light bulb by standing on my office chair and though I did fall on my Feet my feet are linked to an arthritic spine and thus control over fingers is a bit wobbly at the moment.

We all make mistakes from time to time.

Incidentally, Oh Noble Host, there are those of us ..all right Me ..who are vain enough to play the Great Game of Spot The Influence ... Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise and Willy Garvin in " The Fuller Memorandum " of Course and this beyond the credited influence of Anthony Price - I do so hope that people will be encouraged to read Prices Stuff and I recommend "Other Paths To Glory " and " War Game " but the rather understated and meditative "Here Be Monsters " is pretty good - but then there's the Climax of The Fuller Memorandum ... which calls to mind that Great Masterpiece of Imagination ... " The Perils of Penelope Pitstop " with Bob as Penelope and the Laundrys Heavy Mob in Pursuit as the Ant Hill Mob own literary erudition amazes me sometimes

" set the characters into an active adventure format strongly reminiscent of the 1920s. Adding to the cliffhanger serial feel, episodes typically started with a recap such as "Last time we left Penelope, she was in the clutches of the Hooded Claw". Contrary to later editing of the series in rebroadcasts, the original format of the series was to introduce the successive episodes at the end of the just-finished broadcast for the successive week that would present and leave Penelope in the middle of a dangerous situation to overcome. The cliffhanger would end with Penelope being shown placed in direct danger such as being shot out of a circus cannon to land in the wild animal cage. The audience is left there with the indication "Tune in next week for danger in the 'Big Top Trap' ". The successive episode would include recapping the previous week's end scene introduction and continue onto Penelope's successful avoidance of the danger she encountered. " ...

You really shouldn't encourage us to do Literary Research Charlie. This sort of thing Should Not Be Done At Home Children!

Oh, and I am right in thinking that you have read Angus Ross Charlie? ... "The Leeds Fiasco " ?


The commanders of the various Dominion forces in the Western Desert in WWII[1] were only half-joking when they suggested to the commander of the Highland Division that he have a word with the Scottish Secretary when he felt hard done by the C-in-C.

[1] The Australian General Blamey was Deputy C-in-C, due to the high proportion of Australian Divisions present at the time.


I was hoping this meant the line in the wikipedia article about gelignite not sweating was an easter egg, but it's in the earliest revision, three years before the publication date of Jennifer Morgue.

It didn't offend my suspension of disbelief, since I'd never heard of gelignite, but it was amusing.


The 'Hair Turning White ' Trick is an old literary device for Extreme Shock but ..aparantly it is possible .. " hair turning white overnight " as a google search gives you this

I suspect that the victims hair may already have been Whitish but been powdered or concealed under a hat most of the time and so the first sight of the suddenly White Haired and Horror Stricken victim would give reports of Sudden White Hair Syndrome.

Extreme Shock can have all sorts of effects on the body and mind and so I think that, maybe over a week, say, and under conditions of extreme stress its not all that un-likely.


I'm neither a frequent nor particularly skilled sailor, but it seems to me that tacking would be awfully hard without the rudder and keel to keep the boat from blowing directly downwind, regardless of whether it's at 45 or 90 degrees to the wind.

What are you going to use for a keel on your solar yacht? Or is this a bad analogy?


That reminds me of Marion Zimmer Bradley's 'The Mists of Avalon'. She describes a meadow of wildflowers where there are many American species at Glastonbury.

Lucius Shepard in 'The Golden' had an American tree (choke cherry, perhaps) in a Transylvanian forest.

There are other little differences apart from the C&A, I didn't think it was an error.


It's a bad analogy.

A sail on a boat is basically an aerofoil, at least whenever the boat is not running directly before the wind. This is quite different to a solar sail, which in all cases relies on direct momentum transfer.

If the solar sail is tilted so that the photons bounce off at an angle, then the momentum transfer is also at an angle, but always away from the sun. No keel is needed. But there is no way to head a solar sail into the solar wind.

J Homes.


It's something that annoys me too.

Was reading a story set in a medieval sort of universe and the author threw in a can of Pepsi. When flagged on it she saw absolutely nothing wrong with what she'd done, but it ruined the story for me and I abandoned the author as a waste of my time.

Once I get derailed like that, I find it difficult to get back into the story.


For that matter, a few years later I was watching the Oakland fire on TV and was sure the entire city was gone. When I got home the story was a bit different however. One (or two, depending on how you count) large hillside was gone.

It was, indeed, a disaster (bad stars?), but not even approximately what the TV was showing as PICTURES. (Carefully choosing camera angles can do marvels.)

I can't think of a possible news story that would ruin my suspension of disbelief. I've seen headlines that an invader from Mars was attacking the world (illustrated by a picture of a chambered Nautilus). (Well, the was the Weekly World News. Most media aren't that imaginative with their fabrications. But they don't seem any more reliable.)


A lot of entertainment changes the names of the police groups. They may get sued otherwise.


Are you sure solar sails couldn't tack? They can't tack against the solar wind, but I think they could tack against light pressure. (Wouldn't be as effective, of course, but solar sails are pretty slow anyway.)


No. It'd be very difficult for any (US) government law enforcement agency to sue someone for the fictional depiction of said agency.

The main reason movies and TV shows make up their own agencies is so they don't have to worry about getting hassled, don't annoy anyone in power, and don't have to worry about someone saying, "Hey! That's not how the LAPD behaves/dresses/whatever!"


FYI, the Russian republics of Kalmykia and Buryatia are largely Mongol. ( , )


I don't think of this one as a mortal sin (hihi), as the Capital murder term is commonly used to refer to particularly heinous crimes even in jurisdictions that don't have capital penalty… which is arguably a case of "reality fails to fact-check on wikipedia".

Also, in the context of Buffy, where all sentient (dead or alive) beings seem to speak colloquial Californese, it is to be expected some leeway in translation from the original warrant wording (presumably German).


One common faux pas when writing is to assume that your own knowledge, no matter how long ago acquired, is still correct. I almost fell into that one myself last year while writing some fanfic: I had several senior US military intelligence officers talking about how they got involved in the current situation, and assigned them ranks and units based on my own service experience from more than 40 years ago. Luckily I caught myself about halfway through and did a quick sanity check on Wikipedia and the US Army website. Good thing, too: I'd put a couple of the characters in an intelligence organization that was absorbed into a different one more than 25 years ago.


I read a story last night in the current Asimov's where the equivalent of a Pepsi in the wrong time period was the point of the story.


I've read it otherwise, but you do make more sense.


Are you testing us?

"The Pentagon building in Washington DC"

The Pentagon is in Virginia.

"the Boeing 757 that hit the Pentagon on 9/11 and failed to collapse more than one wing of it."

The Pentagon doesn't have wings, it has sides. Part of one side collapsed, not all of the side, much less others.


Bad analogy. The reflection of photons from a solar sail isn't like wind hitting a ship's sail, it's the vector sum of the incident and reflected photons resulting in a transfer of momentum to the sail surface. Square on to the sunlight, the photons are reflected straight backwards resulting in maximum force. Angling the sail means that there is less light intercepting the sail area but the reflected photons bounce off sideways and the resulting reduced thrust is applied at half the included angle -- if the sail is held at 45 degrees to the light the photon thrust will be at 22.5 degrees from the light beam.

A modern ship's sail is more like a wing than a simple wind-force capture device with high and low pressure areas developing over the curved surface causing force on the mast. Adding a keel allows ships and boats with sails to quarter into the wind.


I think the big worries are groundless hassling (I think the FBI or CIA recently threatened a website over their seal being replicated, as an example), and worries about someone getting annoyed and saying "You made a fake badge, that's illegal!" In most cases, they're probably going to prevail in a court challenge, but why antagonize someone in authority? Especially if you want to use them as consultants :).

(Hollywood props for such things -- uniforms, badges, cash -- tend to be subtly to grossly wrong to avoid such complaints.)

(The one that makes me laugh is the show The Mentalist which invented "The California Bureau of Investigation," so they could have FBI-like range, but still be a limited, state agency. Some states do have their own BI; California isn't one of them though.)


Others already hammered on the fact that light-sails work differently than do wind-sails on terrestrial sail boats. They are mirrors, not wings.

That said, tacking is the terminology that the solar sail proponents use, rather than shunting or something else equally inappropriate. This is in the category of suck it up and deal, at least until people actually start sailing upstairs.

The other thing is that a solar sail can get to the sun. All it has to do is align the sail parallel with the sun's rays, and gravity will carry it inward. This is another reason why the sailboat analogy is actively misleading for a solar sail.

To my crude knowledge, no one has looked at how useful and/or dangerous coronal mass ejections are for solar sails. A nice ol' ball of swirling, dusty plasma should do interesting things to a thin metal sheet, I think.


@ Sean Eric Fagan - "I think the FBI or CIA recently threatened a website over their seal being replicated, as an example"

It was the FBI saying Wikipedia can't publish its seal on their site, as per this story from boingboing.

They have form: I just read Ian Copeland's Wild Thing (pub 1995) and in pre-www days 30 years ago he founded his music agency FBI - for Frontier Booking International* - and got a bit of hassle from the FBI.

*It was a family thing - his brother Miles had a record company called IRS, other brother Stewart had The Police, and their father Miles was in the actual CIA.


One on hand, the Russian dialogue in The Fuller Memorandum is grammatically correct. On the other hand, it's not really believable — it sounds more like a faithful translation, quite formal and a bit bookish, but not like something colloquial (which is especially true in case of zombie thugs crashing Bob's home). So yes, Wikipedia is usually a lifesaver, though not always.


One thing that gets me about this one is that kerosene on it's own isn't explosive! Fuels that are designed for things other than rockets tend not to explode without being mixed with a serious quantity of oxygen. So if you can disperse a barrel of kerosene over a target in an even manner and then ignite it after a delay then the result might be spectacular. But if you crash a plane full of kerosene then you will at most get some flames on the ground. If the kerosene was spilled inside a building then it will probably set the building on fire (it's widely regarded that burning jet fuel weakened the steel beams of the WTC buildings on 9-11 and caused them to collapse). But a Cessna full of kero probably wouldn't be enough to collapse a big building.

icedrake: If you have an English speaking character then it can make sense to have their thoughts narrated in an English mis-representation of local words. Some time ago I read a book where an English character visited the Netherlands, the way they represented some Dutch words was quite odd (by the standards of someone who's lived there and read some Dutch) but also a reasonable literal translation of an English person who wrote down what they heard on the street. I've always wondered if that was deliberate.

After living in the Netherlands for a while I gave up on the idea of trying to properly pronounce place names when speaking to taxi drivers, they understood me better if I deliberately mis-pronounced the words in the way that Americans typically did (a perfect mis-pronounciation was apparently more intelligible than an attempt at saying things properly).


I recall a post on the BBC webpage which explained that the Indonesian hobbits were only three metres tall.


Never trust Wikipedia!

I've been a Wikipedia contributor for a bit more than six years. Everyone contributing usually does his or her best (when they're not busy fighting each other) but there isn't enough of us. For instance, for a few years the Industrial Revolution article was being vandalized in a regular way. It seemed to be for no religious or political reason, the usual suspects. Then it suddenly stopped.

The best theory was that schoolchildren had been assigned to do Industrial Revolution related work on Wikipedia by a hated teacher and that they were getting their revenge by vandalizing the Industrial Revolution article.

So, always check the discussion area "behind" the article (also called the "talk pages") and also the list of edits to see if there's a long edit history of vandalism and/or "undos" for a particular page.

Then, check other related articles for corroboration.



Speaking of errors, if one spots any in your writings, do you want to hear of it ? I found a small one in Palimpsest.


On the other hand, abuse of wikipedia can hurt a writer not in full command of fiction-management capabaility.

There is the tendency to wear one's research on one's sleeve.

Instead of writing: "She poised at the edge, on the other side of the handrail, and prepared to plunge from the Brooklyn Bridge to the icy waters below" the author with an open browser has to resist writing:

"She poised at the edge, on the other side of the handrail, having entered the pedestrian walkway from Manhattan from the end of Centre Street, as opposed to through the unpaid south staircase of Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit Company) subway station, and prepared to plunge from the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridges (the deck , i.e. the load-bearing portion, being hung below suspension cables on vertical suspenders) in the United States, which had been completed in 1883, it connects the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, to the icy waters of the East River below, a tidal strait in New York City which connects Upper New York Bay on its south end to Long Island Sound on its north end. The Brooklyn Bridge was initially designed by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling, who had previously designed and constructed shorter suspension bridges, such as Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, and the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati, Ohio."

"While conducting surveys for the bridge project, Roebling sustained a crush injury to his foot when a ferry pinned it against a piling. After amputation of his crushed toes he developed a tetanus infection which left him incapacitated and soon resulted in his death, not long after he had placed his son Washington Roebling in charge of the project."

"Washington Roebling also suffered a paralyzing injury as a result of decompression sickness shortly after the beginning of construction on January 3, 1870. This condition, first called 'caisson disease' by the project physician Dr. Andrew Smith, afflicted many of the workers working within the caissons."

"Of course, dear reader, we know that Decompression sickness (DCS; also historically or colloquially known as divers' disease, the bends or caisson disease) describes a condition arising from dissolved gases coming out of solution into bubbles inside the body on depressurisation. DCS most commonly refers to a specific type of scuba diving hazard but may be experienced in other depressurisation events such as caisson working, flying in unpressurised aircraft and extra-vehicular activity from spacecraft.

"Since bubbles can form in or migrate to any part of the body, DCS can produce many symptoms, and its effects may vary from joint pain and rashes, to paralysis and death. Individual susceptibility can vary from day to day, and different individuals under the same conditions may be affected differently or not at all. The classification of types of DCS by its symptoms has evolved since its original description over a hundred years ago."

"Although DCS is not a common event, its potential severity is such that much research has gone into preventing it, and scuba divers use dive tables or dive computers to set limits on their exposure to pressure and their ascent speed. Treatment is by hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a recompression chamber. If treated early, there is a significantly higher chance of successful recovery."

"Depressed by the lack of availability of a recompression chamber for poor Washington Roebling, she decided that life was not worth living, flung herself over the guard rail and plummeted towards terminal velocity, when when the downward force of gravity (Fg) would equal the upward force of drag (Fd), thus causing the net force on the object to be zero, resulting in an acceleration of zero."

Given a PC and internet hook-up, Harold Hart Crane (July 21, 1899 – April 27, 1932) never would have successfully written his great poem The Bridge (1930), where the Brooklyn Bridge is both the poem’s central symbol and its poetic starting point.

"... Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks, A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene; All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . . Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still...."



In the first draft of TFM, the New Annexe was located over a Woolworths.

A week after I finished it, Woolies went bust. So I decided to move it (Woolies being too recent a casualty) and not risk jinxing another department store chain who're still trading.

(For a while I had M&S in the crosshairs, but then they announced some alarming financials ...)

NB: the arab terrorists in "The Atrocity Archives", trying to summon Yog-Sothoth in Santa Cruz in a novel written in 1999 were, in the first draft, an obscure group called Al Qaida ...


Nope, the Modesty Blaise Laundry novel is going to be "The Apocalypse Codex". (Which I am currently writing.)


Washington DC? South Virginia? What's the difference? They're both provinces of the United States of America. Next thing you'll be telling me that people will be reading this blog entry who've actually been to the USA! But that's crazy talk. Nobody travels internationally any more, not since 11/9.


@88 , reminds me of Dickens

thats what you get from 'paid-by-the-word'


In her collection of essays "The Language of the Night" the great Ursula K. le Guin once completely trashed a piece by Lin Carter, by changing merely four words in the quoted piece. (it's in "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" if you really want to know .... Oops.

@ 17-19 And if Charlie has any train journeys in "Apocalypse C", could he please make them plausible ones?

@ 34 News / unreliable accounts... reminded me of another thread. We all remember the disastrous Haiti earthquake last year (?), well ... there was an even more violent 'quake underneath Christchurch in NZ a few wekks back. Not only were they lucky (no-one AT ALL was killed) but the material damage was not nearly as great. Why? NZ is a 1st-world country, the building regs are observed, and they have 1st-world rescue services ( unlike the USA - see "Katrina" / New Orleans ), and they mopped up quickly, and crooks were not allowed to steal any relief materials.

@ 35 Try Google maps, zoom in on central Moscow, then go to "satellite". Quite a good picture, actually .... Though even there, we have problems, since the photo of my house labels the greenhouse at the rear as "Church Hill Nursery School" - which is across the road. Oops. Must be a winter Saturday, 'cause the L-R isn't there!

@ 59 Ah "Der Damen aus Nifelheim", as both the Kaiser's army and the Nazis called them.

@ 63 Gelignite did, indeed "sweat" - and what it sweated out was one of its' components, Nitoglycerine. No loud noises or sudden movements, children.

@80 Exact copies - of official uniforms etc... NOT ALLOWED in the UK. JAIL if you do - comes under the heading of "Impersonating a Police Officer". So they use fictinal forces, or subtly alter the uniforms (wrong buttons, usually). Dito for the armed srvices. I used to have an ex-RAF greatcoat (superbly warm), but the buttons had been altered to Belgian air force ones. There was also the hysterically funny case of the "anangrammap", where someone took the LT tube map, and re-wrote all the station names as anagrams of the originals. LUL/TfL had a SERIOUS sense-of-humour-failure over that one, and threatend to sue the perpetraors to permananet penury, on grounds of copyright violation. Pity. We could do with all the copies in London being substituted when the vile "Olympic Games" are foisted on us in 2012

JvP @ 88 Forgot to take your Dried Frog Pills, did you?


Le Guin used a passage from Katherine Kurtz's Deryni Rising, actually.


Greg Tingey @ 93:

Let's not forget the canonical "do your research" piece, On Thud and Blunder, by Poul Anderson.


You just need a stronger power of disbelief suspension, that's all!


Related to this topic: what stopped me in reading English books in the German translation was the introduction of factual errors by the translators. One example that comes to my mind is Kim Stanley Robinsons Red Mars - which I read in the German translation - that included some really non-sensical lines (it is full of scientific and psychological references, so it's easy to miss them). At the time I was reading Red Mars, I studied psychology, so it was quite obvious for me.

I just browsed the book again to find the place I jotted down "the translator don't knows psychology". It reads:

Sax ... hob aber einen Finger und sagte 'Die Revidierte Vielphasige Personenbestandsaufnahme von Minnesota', und allgemeine Heiterkeit brach aus. Sie hatten alle diese Prüfung ablegen müssen.
Sax ... raised a finger and said, "The Revised Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory," and a great jeer went up from them all. They had all been required to take this exam;

What's wrong here? Just the fact that the title of the test is translated, it's Minnesota Multiphasiv Personality Inventory also in the German psychological literature. And if one really, really wants to use a German translation for the title, "Personenaufnahme" as translation for "personality inventory" is just wrong - translated back, it would be something like

"The Revised Minnesota Manyphasic People Stock-check"

Another quote (the ship psychologist reflects about the selection process for the astronauts):

One of the many double binds, in fact.


Tatsächlich eine der vielen doppelten Bindungen.

"Doppelte Bindung" is a literal translation of "double bind", but again, the psychological term is used as "Doublebind" also in German. If one really wants to translate it, says it should be "Doppelbindung". Just a minor difference to "doppelte Bindung", but the difference between a believable psychologist musing to himself and an obvious translation error.

Another related thing: when German is used in English-language books, the thing that most often get's wrong (besides umlauts at the wrong places/missing umlauts) are the articles. If I remember correctly, even our gracious host has made this mistake of confusing "der" and "die" ... something a native German never would do.


I remember some earlier discussions on how hard it was to write/publish books of quality and one of the costs incurred was all the editor-minions at the publishing house making sure things were done right. Since Amazon seems to think this book has a publisher and charges $10.99 for a Kindle version ($15.90 in hardcover), I wonder if the editor-minions are on holiday or somesuch.


(Just to correct myself, after re-reading the thing I just posted: the back-translation would be in fact something like

"The Revised Manyphasic People Stock-check from Minnesota",

which makes even less sense.)


Exact copies - of official uniforms etc... NOT ALLOWED in the UK.

Only certain uniforms are legally protected in this way, strangely including the Salvation Army.


@94 That's it - I didn't realise it was on the web - I just went and referred to my (signed) copy ..... Besides, it is surely still in copyright, or has U.K.le G. given permission & been paid?


If I remember correctly, even our gracious host has made this mistake of confusing "der" and "die" ... something a native German never would do.

Well, the only time he's ever used German, he was reading something which had been written phonetically for him, admittedly by a native English speaker (and he still got it wrong).

German definite articles are not straightforward to the learner. I suspect many British people of a certain age, thinking of a certain hit record, and not knowing anything about the dative in German, will think it's der Autobahn, for example.


Understandable, if that's a word in English. A grammatically advisory label for Kraftwerk?

What I had in mind wasn't a speech, but the use of German in the gracious host's books. One of the Bob-Howard-Books has some words in German, and of course, there's Hochsprache in the Merchant Princes series, where the definitive article has become a "d'", if I remember correctly (but it definitively feels very Germanic).


re UK uniforms - when The Bill telly series wrapped up a few weeks ago after being on weekly for 126 years [check this - ed], much was made in a docco just after of the fact that they used real police uniforms bought from the police, and the police were buying them back afterwards to keep them out of the hands of various ragamuffins, vagabonds and ne'er-do-wells.

Also, all their location shoots were accompanied by proper plods.


Re: On Thud and Blunder. Great to see it on the web. I read a copy in my Dad's collection a long time ago. He was a Poul Anderson fan.

FOR all the aspiring Sword and Whatever writers, out there, I strongly recommend reading There is No Best Sword as a chaser to On Thud and Blunder. The difference is, Anderson helped found the SCA, these guys are reconstructing the martial arts the knights of old actually used.

Beyond that, there's a whole community of weapons collectors and hobbyists out there who can help you get the details right on a lot of armaments. Finding out what the tribesmen of Darkest Africa should be carrying when they attack Big Whitey is easy these days, although some eras and areas are less known than others.


Ah, that's probably where I got the idea.


Yeah? And where've you just been?!


Oh, I should have remembered this. I'm reading the Richard Jury mystery series (I may stop before the end) which is staged in London and other places in the UK, but written by an American who lives in DC. In one book, she has a young boy flown to Dulles, in DC. It's a fairly long distance from DC to Dulles, and of course, over a state line.


Some things can't be checked just by looking at a wikipedia entry but need some basic physics understanding. e.g. in Paul McAuley's Secret of Life the author seems to think that the crew of a spacecraft will feel the acceleration when the spacecraft undergoes a gravitational slingshot (it's still free fall) and he has a spaceship in a low Earth orbit with a period of 3 hours (it should be roughly 90 minutes).


I've just remembered reading an Arthurian fantasy where an American comes to Britain and finds out he is the reincarnation of Arthur. Written by a pair of Hollywood screenwriters who thought that was such a recommendation they put it on the dust cover. The most jarring mistake was their assumption that a publican in England would have been called "Red" when he was a child as he had red hair.

I would defend Paul McAuley as he is a botanist, if only more people were interested in botanical SF he would be able to concentrate on his speciality ;0)


I wouldn't be too hard on him, as I think it's possible to orbit every three hours if you really want to.

That said, I did an extensive numerical simulation of an alien moon for a manuscript I submitted a couple of months ago, and I even had an astrophysicist check my work (this was basically the question of what the sky would look like, if the setting was a moon orbiting a gas giant. The phases of the other moons and the primary over the course of the story were relevant).

He pointed out one thing I missed, then gave me the best advice I could get. His advice? The less precise detail I put in, the less chance I had of being caught wrong. Words of gold.


Charlie is a bit kinder to Ms. Vaughn than I would have been. Somebody mentioning a "Cessna", without any additional information, is almost certainly talking about one of their light trainers, not a Citation jet. And you couldn't even put one drum of kerosene into one of those and still be able to fly it.

My guess is she was thinking of Mathias Rust, and didn't think about him very hard.


Henry @ 108

I could be wrong on this, but IIRC the gravitational slingshot maneuver works best if you accelerate into the gravity well. (Whether accelerating into the gravity well is possible depends on the spaceship design, I suppose - our current designs probably can't do this.)


Remember the Cereus house? It's a house of courtesans whose motto is "All loveliness fades," and whose standard is pale fragility and fleeting beauty? Beautiful image, because everyone's heard of the "night-blooming cereus?" Such a beautiful image.

She should have checked Wikipedia.

The "night blooming cereus" is a cactus.\

She's absolutely right. Absolutely appropriate.

And you absolutely miss the point.

The flowers of Peniocereus greggii are very beautiful and delicate. The reason it's called the "Night-Blooming Cereus" is they only last for a single evening. Opened after dusk they are gone by morning. The plant lives on, but it's sexual allure doesn't even survive a single turn of the Earth.


Thud and Blunder is an excellent essay. It's good insurance against bouncing one's reality checks.

With all due respect to the late Mr. Reinhardt - and we did speak of this and were mostly in agreement - there ARE best swords. The question, of course, is BEST FOR WHAT?


In the three-legged race between tactics, armor and weapons the best depends on the totality of the combative environment.

For civilian self-defense in an age where nobody wears armor a cup-hilted rapier or smallsword is excellent. Against plate armor it's pretty useless. For that matter, so are most swords. A big two-handed sword is more of a hindrance than a help in the narrow streets of a cramped medieval city and would probably get you run in by the local authorities. On the battlefield in context it was a monster.

A kilij or long, curved no dachi is a cavalryman's weapon, less useful in unmounted combat.

The Malay keris isn't the best weapon in the world in some sense, but it's one which a Javanese could carry without attracting unwanted attention.

The gladius was nearly perfect for its intended place in the Roman legion. It would not have worked well from horseback or as a duelist's weapon.

The shotel only really makes sense against people with a certain sort of shield and light or no armor.

In the modern era a sword is pretty much worthless as a weapon. We don't right duels. It's been superseded in war. If you carry it in public you will get arrested or shot.

And so on.

Each of these things was highly optimized for its particular use in a certain time and place with the materials available - another important concern.


The flowers of most of those cacti smell good and last only a single night, and no, I didn't miss the point. The meter-long spiny green phallus of the plant body is even funnier in context, but totally missing from the novel. If you're a zoology nerd, you'd also know that these cacti (there's more than one "night-blooming cereus") are pollinated by the tongues of bats and moths. That's another sexual innuendo sadly missed by the series.

Beyond that, how does a cactus from Florida get to Paris? It's not like she ever showed them growing in the countryside Phedre tramped through.

Anyway, it's not the first time I've run into this, and I even posted about the topic on my own blog. Since I work with plants professionally, I feel sorry for anybody who gets stuck on the black and white words about plants and misses the multidimensional reality of the real things. They're missing so much.


Charles, the Oakland Hills fire was about 2.5 square miles of hillside covered in houses (quick fact check - Wikipedia says 1520 acres, so yes). "A couple of hills" is inaccurate. It was also accurately at imminent and serious risk of burning down out of the hills and across the flat parts of Oakland writ large, had the winds not abated.

I was watching the fire from Berkeley; there was a very large angle of the hills on fire from my vantage point about 2 miles away. I'd nearly gotten an appartment up at the place the fire first burned down.


You need to remember that most native English speakers consider both diacritics and grammatical gender to be effete affecations that just get in the way of communication. When we try to speak or write languages that feel differently on this point, it shows.


Swords - and - Botany ... There's the other nonsense in many books, perpetuated from a myth that sprung up in the mid-20thC, that plate armour was so heavy, that you couldn't get on your horse without assistance, get up if fallen, etc. The modern re-creation armourers have shown this to be complete cods. A good set of modern plate, lined (apart from being expensive) weighs in at about 17 kg / 40 lbs, which is, of course, an evenly distributed load. Some of us live close enough to RBG, Kew to be able to go there regularly; the garden of Earthly Delights, if ever there was one. I caught the last day of their "butterflies" exhibition, which was also about tropical and semi-tropical plant pollination. Some beautiful sculptures of bats and beetles, and several parts of one of the main (PoW) greenhouses had had many butterfly species turned loose, with feeding stations provided. I got some passable pictures, including one of a translucent red-blue-and-a-little-bit-of-purple one, sitting on my hand.


"a pretty good shot of the centre of the complex, the Red Square. Note I said "centre" -- there is a whole lot more around."

Actually, Red Square is outside the Kremlin walls, slightly to the northeast. St Basil's is likewise outside the Kremlin. Ditto Lenin's tomb and the large dark-red brick structure in the right-hand part of the picture. The center of the Kremlin is out of the photograph to the left.

The length of the line to see Lenin is a good clue to the era of the photo (they were shorter when I was last there, as most of your waiting was done off of Red Square), but the better one is the USSR flag flying over the domed building on the left. The red star atop the gate tower, for all I know, may be there still.


One of the worst is when authors talk about guns. Not everyone has to be a hardware-obsessed Tom Clancy who pauses every twenty pages to masturbate over technical details of caliber and bullet design. In fact, I wish there was a lot fewer of that sort.

It detracts from the story when the UK and NYC authors or publishers can't be bothered to even get the bare basics right. The most egregious is people blown several feet backwards by a gunshot while the shooter isn't. Apparently shooters are such outlaws they can ignore Newton's Third Law. Then there are the safeties on Glocks and revolvers (yes, I know a Glock has several INTERNAL and TRIGGER safeties, fellow gunnies). Or "racking" a double-barreled shotgun. Or in a recent Simon Green novel where someone emptied her long arm rapid-fire in "less than a minute".


Yeah, and you missed the bit about the F1 burning hydrogen and oxygen and the direction of acceleration on the TEI burn (chest->back) being wrong.


For me, one of the most irritating things about US writers setting stories in the UK is the "candies and sidewalks error". For instance, I've forgotten the author's name, but an otherwise excellent and well-researched short story set in the London Blitz with an entirely British cast of characters had said characters walking on "sidewalks" and giving "candies" to their children.
It's not even completely confined to American writers - a book written by a British author and set in WW1 Plymouth also had its characters strolling along sidewalks and taking their children to candy stores. I actually don't mind US writers using American vernacular when the setting is non-US, but for heavens sake, please be consistent - have the characters who have just stepped off the "sidewalk" outside the London Hilton whilst chewing some "candy" put bags in their car "trunks" and check their "tire" pressure before going off for a drive to Edinburgh on the "freeway".


Perhaps the most obvious sexual connection with Cereus is that all of the columnar cacti in some parts of South America are called "Dildo" as a generic term. Despined and peeled before use, I hope.


re: Dan Brown - in one of his books he has a scene in a women's public toilet at a French airport. Now I suspect French bathroom arrangements might be slightly different to British/American ones, but I strongly doubt that Continental women use urinals.

I can forgive an author making technical mistakes in specialised areas, and editors for missing them, but really, that's a bit much.

Not sure which Brown book that's in and I'm proud to say I don't have a copy to hand.

re:pavement/sidewalk - these don't mean the same thing to our American friends. "Get on the pavement, there's a lorry coming" - cue flattened American in middle of road looking for bird.


One of my nieces gave me Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons" for my birthday a few years ago. I tried to read it, but upon discovering that "Islamic" is a language I gave up.

I could (barely) understand him getting the bit about antimatter wrong, but I'd assumed an English teacher would know a bit about languages…


It's certainly possible to have a 3 hour orbit, just not at the ~100 km altitude McAuley gives!

He also describes multiple-aerobraking events around the Earth with the astronauts being concerned that at any encounter they may "skip off the atmosphere" and go into interplanetary space. But, if you're already in orbit (which you have to be to be able to have a 2nd encounter, you can't gain energy and are going to remain in a bound orbit.

I presume/hope his biology is better than his physics and can't judge that myself...

For the slingshot maneuver, if you have a motor you could have an additional energy gain by firing the engine at the bottom of the gravity well. However, you do get an energy gain anyway from the encounter (the planet loses energy to make up for this of course). And I think that all interplanetary slingshots have been done without firing an engine during he encounter.


Since the author is having a character describe the putative plane crash, it is the character's stated belief that the Kremlin has been obliterated - and humans do exaggerate. That says nothing about the author or any research done, unless it shows up later in the story in a not-a-character-quote context. It's a handy deliberate way of decrediting the reliability and knowledge of the character speaking.

If the characters are not know-it-alls, the book is more interesting. If the author's voice is not know-it-all, the book is more interesting.

That, in brief, is what's wrong with Accelerando.



If there's a mention of F1s using liquid hydrogen, that is an embarrassing error, and I'm surprised neither of us caught it.

But there's nothing wrong with the TEI (or Mars insertion) burn being eyeballs-out. Given the need to reconfigure the stack for docking to give the crew access to the mission module, it's hard to avoid it. The CM docking ring structure was very robust, so it would have been practical in engineering terms. As for the crew, several missions involved eyeballs-out acceleration, including the later Gemini-Agena missions and indeed Apollo 13 (when the LM was used for backup propulsion).


Serendipity strikes in the Washington Post today:

"One soldier created a ruse that they were under attack, tossing a fragmentary grenade on the ground."


Fraid so Simon - it's on p.8 of the paperback "liquid oxygen and hydrogen were rushing together, mingling in the big first stage engines' combustion chambers."

Eyeballs out would indeed be OK - but you had it the other way round. p. 87 "York felt a push at her back."

Still, I didn't let these stop me reading it a few times, so don't be too hard on yourself.


Perhaps not French public toilets, but one of the public toilets at the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-on-Trent does in fact have a women's urinal. It is adjacent to the revolting and highly amusing toilet history exhibit (the mediaeval part of it is in what, for want of a better word, I would describe as odorama).


There are some far more extreme examples, especially in television. I stopped watching CSI after a CSI Miami episode used "your shirt had carbon dioxide on it" as evidence for someone having committed arson. If you went through elementary school, you should know that carbon dioxide is a gas at room temperature, and that animals exhale it.


"In the modern era a sword is pretty much worthless as a weapon."

Oh, you'd be surprised what it's like when an officer forgets to take it off before he/she dances.


Wrong link, it leads back here.


I wouldn't call it a urinal, but squat toilets are still all over Europe.



Odd that there appear to be many instances of links not having any thing to point to in the HTML. Not sure if someone has mentioned this or not (I stopped reading the thread as it was annoying).

I'm looking at the site with FF 3.6.10 with no add-ons that are doing (or should be doing) anything to the experience.

After the first few I took a look at the source and just searched for an anchor tag without an href.



I haven't read Carrie's book cited by Charlie but I might now. There is a trend toward sensationalism in journalism at odds with the publics right to good information. The phenomenon has been getting worse since 9/11 with more writers attempting to take the publics suspension of disbelief to new levels. As more media migrates from reporting news to earning better ratings, the free world that depends on accurate and comprehensive reporting to protect its liberties is being served less of what it needs. Carrie's scenario is an example of what now might pass as a believable "breaking" news story. Her book might be more enjoyable if she treated it as such and later enhanced the "reporting" with more accurate details one would hope to receive were something similar to actually happen.


@ Phil Knight - "I strongly doubt that Continental women use urinals"

I haven't read the book etc etc, but I will just comment that at a French motorway service station I visited about ten years ago there was a unisex lavatory (not a one-at-a-time tiny single cubicle, but big enough for several people to mill about in at once. Alas, I cannot absolutely remember the urinal situation but I think they were in there as well).

And Finally... I was in a bar in Santa Barbara at New Year about 20 years ago, with a female friend & colleague. Due to long queues at the Ladies', my friend was grabbed by a local woman we'd been chatting to and dragged into the Men's to stand guard at the door as she used a urinal (I was told)(I believe she reversed into it). So it can be done.


Actually the area of Dulles airport is somewhat special in that it and it's access road initially belonged to the FAA, a federal U.S. government agency, and was thus "federal land", even if situated in Virginia. Today it's owned by the MWAA of which, if one presumes voting rights are a measure of ownership, three thirteenths are owned by the city of Washington D.C.

See, this wiki-triviality game catches on...


But David Caruso's acting (as well as the writing) turned CSI Mami into a parody years ago!


I am always throw by that absolute tin ear Americans have for English names. In a crap Christian thriller called "A man called blessed" about a search for the Ark of the Covenant one of the McGuffins is a letter from a crusading templar who found the ark had moved to Ethiopia at some vaguely given date approximately 800 years ago. It begins "I, Sir Wallace Thronburgh III...."

That 'III'... Mencken notes: "The use of 2nd, 3rd, etc., is marked as an Americanism by the DAE and traced to 1804. ... The use of the Roman numerals II, III, etc., came much later. It is frowned upon in England as an invasion of Royal prerogative..."

Even some good writers, though, have the same tin ear; "Lord John Marbury"(the 'hereditary Earl Of Shelbourne') in West Wing still rankles.

What is it about Americans and English names?

142: Various - I've got this notion that, yes, the Laundry was described as being "over a branch of [Coats an' 'ats]" (how the blazes do you deal with something like that which uses 2 apostrophies to denote abbreviations, double quotes to show that it's a quote, and could do with marking C&A as a proper name? I've used [] round it.). Given the level of inertia in renaming some of these places, if it was still C&A when Bob first went to work there, he could still be describing it as such 15 years later even though it's not been C&A for 15 years. For example, the C&A in Glasgow Trongate is still externally recognisable as having been C&A, even though the new owners have had their branding on the shop front for over 10 years.

New example - And, speaking of errors, how about an auther having the principal character in the book describe themself as being 5'3", introduce a friend as being 5'9", and 2 pages later say that said friend is 5" taller than the PC is?


David Caruso's "acting"!!? ;-)

You also missed Emily Proctor's chest! I mean. that's got to be satirical, hasn't it?


@142: "how about an auther having the principal character in the book describe themself as being 5'3", introduce a friend as being 5'9", and 2 pages later say that said friend is 5" taller than the PC is"

Rounding errors. Height is not quantised.

(Well, it probably is, but the Planck length is nowhere near an inch.)


I don't mind American writers using terms like "sidewalk" or "freeway" in a British setting so long as they don't have /British/ characters (visiting American characters are fine) use such terms unless clearly accommodating for said visiting American characters.

Now, should English-language authors using a German setting use "autobahn", "freeway" or "motorway" or something else?


Well, I have friends who use autobahn, autoput, autopista, autostrada, freeway, motorway... depending on which nation they're talking about driving in.

147: 144 - I suppose, but I can't help feeling it would have been easier to have the difference as 6", or if the PC really has a thing about "being short", go to a place of decimals on their heights.

As Charlie said in the posting; this sort of thing makes some of us stop and go "whaaaa!?" In this case, it also had me backtrack to check I was correct about their heights after seeing the 5" difference.


An episode of the X Files had a Royal Navy battleship sailing from Leeds to somewhere (probably Northampton).

IIRC the awful Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies" had the Royal Navy sailing for China and getting there two days later.

The story involving the helicopter on Mars isn't necessarily impossible. Mars does have an atmosphere - just not much of a one. Maybe the helicopter just had a huge rotor disc. In fact, NASA's planning along those lines.

But it did remind me of "Red Mars", in which our heroes are in a zeppelin on Mars, being blown off course by a storm - their electric engines aren't powerful enough to push them upwind. Solution? They remember their cargo consists of wind turbines, hang a few out the belly of the gondola to turn in the storm wind, and feed the additional power to the engines! (This is essentially Popeye making his dinghy go faster by sitting in the stern and blowing into the sail.)

149: 148 and one much earlier - An episode of the X Files had a Royal Navy battleship sailing from Leeds to somewhere (probably Northampton). Ok, I'm not sure they're big enough for a battleship, but there must be a reason for all the tunnels under the Malvern Hills? ;-)

Well, the whole "wind turbine" concept of Red Mars was a bit naff... it just screams "I've never heard of the conservation of energy". Under the circumstances, it can't be explained away as character ignorance, either - these were the best and the brightest, as near as could be recruited and selected.


It depends a lot on the rifle and the user.

Most military bolt-actions had a five-round magazine. The Lee-Enfield had a ten-round magazine. The still-standing world's record for a manually loaded rifle was set in 1914. Using a magazine-loaded Lee-Enfield rifle, Sergeant Snoxall of the British Army's School of Musketry shot 38 rounds into a 12-inch bulls-eye set 300 yards away in just one minute. The minimum standard in the British Army at that time was 15 rounds.

More recent military rifles have magazines with 20 or 30 rounds. Even fired semi-auto, 30 aimed shots in a minute seems possible.

Whether it's plausible for the situation in the book is a different issue, but that basic statement seems OK.


I recently had my suspension of disbelief kicked around by another urban fantasist, I wonder if something is going around.

I think this one was probably my fault. I failed to look up the author in Wikipedia before diving in. If I had, I would have seen that her writing chops, previously, were for romance novels, and thus her urban fantasy was written at more or less that angle. Every scene, no matter if it contained mobsters and cops, monsters, or curses, was subservient to playing up the main love interests' awkward, and fairly boring relationship.

I won't be reading any more urban fantasy without first checking up on the author's background, at least.


Like any former world-spanning superpower, the UK doesn't keep all its ships in the home waters. It's not entirely unreasonable for there to be elements of the RN within a couple of days' sailing distance of the South China Sea.


I think you may be approaching this from the wrong end of the problem. I read Occam as thinking that emptying a 30 round mag on full rock'n'roll in under a minute wasn't really worth mentioning, rather than just plain wasn't possible. Even on single-shot, assuming you're not aiming for anything smaller than man-size, at range distances rather than sniper work, you make emptying the mag in 60s seem like it should be regarded as the norm.


Also, the Bond movies exist in an alternative reality where the UK has somewhat more influence and power than we do in the real world, so even having an entire fleet on hand (rather than a fleet auxiliary, say) might not be out of the question.


With Iain here. I've put deliberate obvious differences from our reality into the first page or two of book so that the reader immediately gets a cue that this is not their beautiful Minneapolis, or whatever. Reader: "Hey that building's not really in Minneapolis." Me: "Yes, exactly."


The AK-47 has a 75-round drum magazine available as an option which would take a certain amount of time to empty on single-shot or even rock-and-roll.

As for the original quote, "less than a minute" could mean a much shorter period than 59 seconds. An M-16 firing consecutive 3-round bursts from a 20-round magazine could run empty in under a minute since ten seconds is "under a minute".


@157 : The AK-47 fires 600 shots/minute in full auto. Even with a 75-round magazine, one can empty it in just a few seconds... And the FA-MAS fires about 1000 shots/minute... All that being theorical of course, as there are not 600 or 1000 round magazines... and well, I used to empty my 9mm 9round magazine handgun in just a few seconds during the speed shooting exercices when I was a soldier. and it was not full auto.


@ 142 The retention of old names for buildings ins interesting, especially for pubs. The ghastly pub-chains rename their establishments, but it takes a long time for the old name to be dropped (unless if course, they've ruined the place completely...) Example: In Stratford E.London (postcode E15), there is a well-known pub, always referred to as "The King od Prussia". Except that it was renamend the "Edward VII" in 1914 .....


I meant something a little different, in fact just the opposite. Mr. Green obviously doesn't understand how quickly a person can fire when motivated.

I was never more than a duffer, but it didn't take more than a few seconds to empty a pump-action weapon during training. World class types can throw a handful of clay pigeons into the air and hit each one before any reach the ground.

In close combat - the story had our heroes rushed by a howling mob - I can't imagine it taking as long as minute for a shotgunner to run dry.


Well, at least nobody mentioned so far has been daft enough to set a scene on the Coast of Bohemia...


Minneapolis? Is that a city in Canada?

See, sometimes the cues can't be subtle. Because you can't make assumptions about your readers' backgrounds. (If that book of yours is ever published in the UK, nobody will spot the clue that it's not our Minneapolis, because Minneapolis is a middling-sized city in Minnesota that is not exactly on the tourist trail. Just you wait for the whacky fan mail to start ...)

In "The Revolution Business" I wanted to telegraph that this was a parallel universe similar to but different from our own, increasingly divergent after 2000. So I field-tested various cues using a poll in [another place on the web].

I thought that -- for a novel set in 2003 -- having Chemical Ali stage a coup, run Saddam Hussein's head up a flagpole, and sue for peace might just put the readers on notice that this was an alternate time line ... but no! Nor did actual use of Mustard gas against coalition troops, followed by carpet-bombing of Baghdad.

It turns out that around 50% of a sample of American readers -- interested readers, engaged with events -- didn't remember the course of the Iraq war clearly enough, five years on, to recognize major WTF?!? injections as, well, major WTF?!? injections.

The only cue that 80% of test readers reliably received was Paris Hilton dying in a drink-driving car crash. (Ba-da-boom!)


Ah, pub names.

Here in Edinburgh there is a fine drinking establishment called Dagda, on Buccleugh Street. (Note for Americans: of the three nouns in that sentence, only one is pronounced even approximately the way it is spelled.)

If you want to go there, you need to know to tell the cabbie to take you to Proctor's Bar ...


Not as I'm in a position to complain about eccentric pronunciation, I live in the state of Missouri, where there's disagreement about how to pronounce that. (When we're having shitty weather, it's pronounced "misery".)


You wanna be careful about that. Look what happened when they tried to Change the Sacred Name of Arkansas.


I should have been clearer. The idea that it would take a whole minute to empty your shotgun into a charging mob betrays Mr. Green's ignorance of firearms.


It's a little bit more complicated than that, and not true to type, as the canonical form seems to be "Dagda, on Buccleugh Street, used to be Proctor's Bar". I don't think it was Proctor's for long enough for it to have stuck that well.


Yor originally said "longarm", not shotgun which is where I think the confusion arose. There are longarms such as the FN Minimi which can be fitted out as a man-portable shoot-from-the-hip bullethose with a 200-round belt box. Assuming the wielder of this +6 Instrument of Destruction is using it appropriately. i.e. short controlled bursts as targets present themselves it could well take them over a minute to run dry.


The MC-51 Vollmer can be belt-fed (so presumably all G3 rifles). Of course, if you're talking aimed shots, that doesn't help much. But a minute of full auto, that's got to be enough metal to make it worth a trip to the scrap dealer...


Or even a couple of hours away, if the ships had been hanging around Hong Kong harbour.

(I allow two hours for getting out of that harbour simply because it's the heaviest marine traffic I've ever seen.)


I don't need wiki-trivia, I live here. Dulles is not in DC. It is partially owned by all the local states and DC, but it's not in DC.


I finished the October/November 2010 "Asimov's" last night and the last fiction was a novella by Rick Wilbur. It had misspellings, words arranged wrongly, missing words, a character gets the wrong name for a bit, and so forth. I find it hard to read that kind of story. (I wonder if he was late and they just shoved it into the issue without copy-editing.)


Now, you know perfectly well that Minneapolis is in the US -- you're GoH at Minicon next year!


I'm might set a scene on the coast of Bohemia, but then again, I'm still figuring out where the coast lines where in the European paleocene for a time-travel story. The "continent" looked more like Indonesia then, a bunch of islands that Africa proceeded to ram together and suture with the Alpine orogeny in the Eocene and afterwards.

Since the Mesozoic oceans in that part of the world seem to have largely subducted and folded up, I'm not at all sure where the coast would be, but Bohemia is likely.

Thanks for the input. I was thinking of focusing more on the volcanic highlands west of Glasgow, but Bohemia's a good backup.


Can you get the Laundry to go after your most insidious UK agency, namely the HMRC...

The UK’s tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.

The proposal by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.

Thinking like this makes me glad, for as screwed up as the United States is at the moment (i.e. a panel of economists declared the "great recession" actually ended a few months ago) that we actually held a tea party and revolted from British rule.

176: Been There "To my surprise, I found that it hasn't been used in handgun ammunition since roughly World War II, and that all those pervasive mentions of the smell of cordite in detective novels since then was just authorial neglect."

Um, no. It's not authorial neglect - it's tradition to call various propellants of projectiles from tubes 'cordite', even though cordite is long gone from the scene. Or, IOW, research the subject you're writing about - which in this instance is "nicknames for gun smoke" not "real names for propellants".


Since the UK has a PAYE (pay as you earn) tax collection mechanism fro most employees this just strikes me as an attempt at efficiencies (open to debate if its actuly going to be more efficient) rather than the evil tenticles of evil government you seem to think.

178: 162 - "The only cue that 80% of test readers reliably received was Paris Hilton dying in a drink-driving car crash. (Ba-da-boom!)"

Please write it in somewhere Charlie, pretty please with sprinkles, a flake, and a cherry on top! I'm sure I'm not the only person who'd pay money just to read that scene!


Or the Rubaiyat (yes as in Omar Khayyam) on the corner of Byers Road and University Gardens in Glasgow; it's had at least 2 other names that I know of, but almost everyone I know just knows it as the Rubaiyat irrespective of the sign over the door!

180: 174 Para 3. - If you need to look at the geology of that area in more detail, I'm an amateur geologist originally from that area, and I know there's another Scottish geologist on here.

Charlie, if Heteromeles e-mails you asking you to forward something to me, please do so.


It is indeed name-checked (twice) in the latter two Merchant Princes books.


Also Nicholas@103

The irritating thing is watching British Army uniforms on film and TV - the headdress is almost always awful... but at least it means that no-one will mistake the wearers for real soldiers :)

Through a friend of a friend of the family, I ended up trying to help the costume designer for a local TV show called "Taggart" achieve something vaguely realistic ("This is called "Mess Dress". These are what the rank badges look like. Now, go the local recruiting office, ask for their help, and they will fall over themselves to help you"). For my sins, a key character got my surname...

As an aside, the British Army can be quite tribal in some respects. The same rank can have several names, it can even be spelt differently (i.e. a Sergeant in some Regiments can be spelt "Serjeant" in others; and may even be "Corporal of Horse" in the Household Cavalry). Don't even try to count the different titles for the rank of Private Soldier (Private, Fusilier, Highlander, Queensman, Kingsman, Gunner, Driver, Trooper, the list goes on...).

It wasn't even a cunning effort to make life hell for Soviet staff officer courses, as apparently they didn't bother to study the British, just the Germans and Americans. At least, not until after 1982 (apparently, "able to arrange and deploy a task force over a weekend, travel 8,000 miles to the South Atlantic, conduct an opposed amphibious operation, and then win a war while outnumbered two to one" changed that).


ANyone remember Thin's in Edinburgh? My aunt used to work there, and I still call it Thins. On the other hand my dad was a bit surprised to find that the Meadows bar is still called the Meadows bar, since last time he knew it was back in the 70's when he was a local constable and they sometimes had to deal with drunk people from there.


Checked: ~26 years, not 126.

It just seems longer.

Pointless factoid - as noted in a full page article in our local newspaper* - Sun Hill was named from a street here in Royston, at one end of which the old Police Station was. (There's a newer station, much bigger, behind which is our house.)

The lesson: no matter how slight the detail, someone will know more about it than you. For almost any value of you.

*It was obviously a slow news week, as the front page picture was one of a small bunch of people displaying vegetables. One of whom was my wife, which is why I bothered checking the paper at all.


Someone who earns a regular salary (as opposed to the self employed, rentiers, etc.) has tax withheld in the US. I don't know what the exact mechanism of "send in your paycheck and then send it back" actually means as opposed to "use a program the government provides to deduct taxes from a paycheck and send those to the government," at least as a practical matter for the average worker. If anything sinister is going on, it already happened a long time ago.

On another posted topic: Federal land is a complicated issue in the details, but for most purposes it is still considered a part of the state within which it is located. People do not drive down the Dulles Tollroad, laughing, ha ha, I defy you, laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.


The 2 I haven't read yet (one in the "to read" pile, and one only available in hardcover [which I don't have space for]). Still, it's another reason to recommend the series to all the Paris Hilton haters I know!


How can a hotel die in a car crash? (Oh, to be so innocent or live in a far alternate world.)


Here in Edinburgh there is a fine drinking establishment called Dagda, on Buccleugh Street. (Note for Americans: of the three nouns in that sentence, only one is pronounced even approximately the way it is spelled.)

I know you meant proper nouns, but I spent a few seconds wondering "did he mean 'establishment', or 'street'?"

With Scottish accents you can never be sure.


[giggle] Not the hotel; a pointless, talentless attention wh0re who was born to the family who own the hotel chain.


If you want to get pedantic about it, there are 5 nouns (3 proper nouns and 2 common nouns", and 2 pronouns in that sentence! ;)



Feel free to contact me via my blog: I like getting input from people who know what they're talking about.


Charlie, doesn't matter. The change wasn't intended to jolt those who don't know Minneapolis into realizing "ah this world is different." There are other cues that will do that just fine. It's intended to jolt those who do know Minneapolis into realizing "ah this Minneapolis is different" and so not freaking out about much subtler changes later on.


Hit submit a paragraph too early.

The point wasn't about the specific instance of the building in Minneapolis but rather an illustration of the note that just because something doesn't match a reader's understanding of our world as it is, doesn't mean the author didn't do their homework. Such a divergence is often a deliberate step on the path to painting a different world. And, actually having read all of Discord's Apple in ARC form a while back, I'm inclined to that think that's what Carrie was doing in the passage you noted, taking the reader on the some of the first steps down the rabbit hole.

Mind you that's probably a digression from your main point that the author needs to do their homework, on which I am in complete agreement.


I think that in the original post, the excitable caller might be forgiven for exaggerating, and that someone might actually have tried to fly a Cessna with kerosene into the Kremlin expecting to do real damage. Someone tried crashing an SUV into Glasgow airport loaded with flammables and expecting it to explode, after all. It would be interesting to have gone further into the story to see if the writer points out how wrong both were.

I've just had a 'take book back to shop' moment, though, when the heroine of the story and a senior British law enforcement official both agree that Canterbury is a port town. It's not the only flaw in the book by a long way, but it was the "I'm not wasting any more time with this" point. Given the premise of the book, Canterbury might well be a port town, but I'm sufficiently fed up with the infelicities of prose and point of view that I'm not going to keep with it to see.


This is late, but still... take this as a classic apologia/defense of the faith

I've read the book in question

  • The conversation that threw you out was between a comic book writer and her artist (who was established in the course of the book to tend to speak in hyperbole), about newscasts the artist had seen but the writer hadn't. She (the writer) is getting the story second-hand from the artist, based on shortly-after-the-event newscasts. The importance is that it directly impacts the mostly completed plot of their next issue. (she writes a sort of G.I. Joe type comic about an elite strike team, the next issue involves them working with a joint Mongolian-Russian project)

  • This isn't our world. In this world, it is established, as the book goes on, that there has been brush wars and pop-gun wars for the last decade that has created constant boundary shifts. Explicitly mentioned is a low-volume conflict between Russia and China that resulted in Russia having control (supposedly) of Mongolia.

  • The title of the book isn't metaphorical (or at least not just metaphorical), it's literal.

  • 196:

    175 / 177 / 185 et al The ludicrous proposal by HMRC is being shouted down by just-about everybody. No-one trusts them to get it right, or not to steal ALL your money (because they've screwed-up) and then not give ANY of it back. Needless-to-say this was a proposal from the previous (anal-retentive and control-freak) governemnt, that has just surfaced ....

    194: And yet, in one story by a fairly well-known writer, Rye is a port town ... He gats away with it because Rye USED to be a port (It is one of the original Cinque Ports) and has become one again .....


    Re: Jacqueline Carey

    Does there ever come a point, though, where the appropriateness of the properties of an element used in fiction can trump details like its location in the "real world"? There are so many divergences from the "real" in the Kushiel series, not least the religious figures (I believe she even has her Jewish stand-ins being the folk who believe in the Jesus stand-in). I think I can forgive her transporting her flora to a different location. If I recall correctly -- and I might not -- she doesn't mention the Cereus House people actually having the plants in their possession -- just knowing what they are, more or less.

    Now if she had them growing in a completely unsuitable climate, I might take issue. Might have preferred her to just make up something with the properties she wanted and give them a fantastic name.


    Kremlin is often used as shorthand for the Soviet/Russian government. Why hasn't anybody considered that what the Cessna did was crash into a cabinet meeting, obliterating the Russian government? In that case we can merely accuse the author of poor wording.


    Charlie yes, you are right "Kremlin" is a huge fortified complex But for Russian "Kremlin" often means Spasskaya tower, one of the Kremlin's towers, the most famous one


    My understanding FWIW:- 1) The word "kremlin", uncapitalised, is a Russian word best translated to English as "fortress". 2) "The Kremlin", capitalised as shown (and sometimes as "the Kremlin", is used as a proper name in English, and refers to the entire fortified complex, rather than to an individual citadel (used to mean a sub-complex capable of standing independantly against an attacker who has taken part of The Kremlin) or tower within the whole. 3) "The Politbureau" is the term which we would normally have used to refer to the cabinet of the government of the USSR.



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