Back to: Books I've written | Forward to: Minor hiccup

Crib sheet: Singularity Sky

I'm cheating here: if you want to understand "Singularity Sky" as published, you need to read this earlier piece I wrote (which uses it as a springboard for discussing why I killed off the Eschaton novels after book #2).

What I'm going to add here is merely the history of the project. Which, with 20/20 hindsight, was a nightmarish mire of despair ...

Rewind to 1996. I was living in Edinburgh, working for a web consultancy that was in the process of going bust. The year before, I'd handed in the way-overdue manuscript of "The Web Architect's Handbook", a non-fic get-rich-quick scheme originally proposed in 1993 which crashed and burned in the market because folks who weren't working 60-80 hours a week as CGI app troubleshooters got their how-to books out first. I was writing about an article a month for "Computer Shopper" (the British mag, not the Ziff-Davis title) and I'd sold one short story that year — a reprint. I was 32, I'd sold about a dozen or two short stories, signally failed to sell a novel while everyone else I knew who'd begun selling short fiction through Interzone at the same time had become a household name (Pete Hamilton, Steve Baxter, Paul McAuley ... do I need to continue?), and was having a crisis of confidence.

What do you do when you have a crisis of confidence in what you've seen as your vocation (write science fiction) since age 15? You either give up completely, or you double-down.

Contemplating the smoking wreckage of my first decade of writing and selling SF, I concluded that I was Doing It Wrong. I'd been selling short stories to British magazines and anthologies, hoping to build a name and visibility and acquire an agent and a publisher for the novel manuscripts I was producing at a rate of, roughly, three a decade. But the British short fiction market was ... well, nobody paid much attention to it. And my experiences with British literary agents were, shall we say, not terribly good. (1996 was the year my second agent fired me.) So: if one wants to write SF and do nothing else, it follows that one needs to be successful enough to earn a living at it, which means cracking the North American market, because as Willie Sutton said when a journalist asked him why he robbed banks, "that's where the money is". (Not that there's much money in SF publishing anywhere, but there are more readers in the 350-million strong market of the USA and Canada than in the 60-million strong market that is the UK.)

So, I worked up a task list. Item: sell stories to the Big Three magazines (Asimov's SF magazine, Analog, F&SF). Ideally get shortlisted for the Hugo and Nebula. (Yeah, right. As if that'll ever happen.) Write novels. Each novel must be #1 in a series in a different sub-genre, but don't write #2 next — go do something different while #1 is slumbering in a cobweb-afflicted slushpile.

(Digression time: Received wisdom in the 1980s was that unsolicited novels would be glanced at and returned or looked at more intensively within 2-3 months. But the 1980s saw the advent of affordable word processors, and you do not want to know what the combination of word processors and schizophrenics with hypergraphia did to your average publisher's open slushpile. By the late 1990s turnaround times for submissions were up to a year and climbing—and submitting a novel to more than one publisher simultaneously was and remains a big no-no: it's a small world, editors at rival houses talk to each other, and they don't like time-wasters. If you want to run an auction you need to get an agent, which is a whole 'nother story.)

My end goal was to get a publisher interested to the point of issuing a contract — then, rather than signing it (a mug's game), to sign up with a young, hungry literary agent who would smoke out the booby traps hidden in the legal boilerplate and hopefully extort a bigger advance. (Note: the issue of getting a literary agent is one of the most vexatious Catch-22 situations I can think of. I'll try to remember to rant entertainingly about it at a later date.)

Anyway ...

I began writing short stories: 3-4 a year. And the first place I sent them was Asimov's SF Magazine. Where Gardner Dozois read them and knocked them back, but with an actual written explanation rather than the regular checkbox form. (Asimov's back then were averaging 30 submissions a day. Getting an actual human-drafted rejection letter meant you were in the top 10%.) After a while I got dispirited and began sending them to a local British SF magazine first, which was a mistake: that's why "Antibodies" and "A Colder War" came out in Spectrum SF (which you haven't heard of) rather than debuting in Asimov's and maybe making a splash.

In the meantime, I set to work on The Novel Project. I finished "Scratch Monkey" in 1993. I'd then written another novel-shaped object, which in 1996 I took out behind the barn and shot — the recyclable bits turned up later in "The Atrocity Archives" and "Antibodies", but John Jarrold's lengthy rejection letter (he was editorial director at Earthlight, Simon and Schuster's UK SF imprint) shone a sufficiently bright light on precisely why it was unpublishable that even I couldn't kid myself that it was salvageable. So: what to do?

Enter the idea of the ACME General Purpose Space Opera Universe. This being 1996 or thereabouts, I needed to figure out a way to dodge the implications of the Singularity for space opera that Vernor Vinge had so irritatingly pointed out to us in "A Fire Upon The Deep". So I decided to embrace it with open arms, give it a name and a face, and make it a plot McGuffin. Hence the Eschaton and it's human agent (Martin, initially a bit of a cipher), and the rather more interesting interstellar arms control inspector Rachel. Who were investigating a tap-dancing-around-the-rules gambit being contemplated by the space navy of a backwater empire, in a novel titled "Festival of Fools".

I'd been reading too much David Weber at the time, and noting the uncritical enthusiasm with which readers seemed to receive his tales of Napoleonic Navies in Spaaaaace. Alas, I'm prone to tearing apart my toys, and after a couple or eight books in the series I began to ask questions. Such as, why are the opponents in this sub-genre of space opera always evenly matched? Surely in a diverse space operatic universe you'll occasionally see a Napoleonic space navy run into a nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine? Or the equivalent of wooden tall ships encountering an unarmed modern ice-breaker ... on whose decks some desperate amateur has parked a TOS-1 Buratino? (Wooden ships and thermobaric warheads just don't mix.)

You can also note my nascent aversion to absolutist monarchism coming out here. We in the modern world have a technical term for absolutist monarchies of the kind who deploy Napoleonic Space Navies (or would, if NSN's existed): we call them hereditary military dictatorships. Poster child: Kim Jong-Un. Or maybe the House of Saud: I digress. Let's just say that the political systems in most military space opera really suck.

Final ingredient: if you're going to play in the David Weber sandbox, or even satirize it effectively, you need a military campaign. I decided to pick on the most barkingly insane naval expedition of recent history, the voyage of the Russian Baltic Fleet commanded by Admiral Rozhestvensky in 1905, during the Russo-Japanese war. TL:DR; the Imperial Japanese Navy bushwhacked the Russian Pacific Fleet in the opening weeks of the Russo-Japanese war (to be fair, the Russians started it: "what this country needs is a short, victorious war" as one of the Tsar's ministers put it). They then laid siege to Port Arthur. The Russian response was to tell Rozhestvensky to do the impossible — to sail his fleet of superannuated and obsolescent coal-burning battlewagons from their port on the Baltic (north of Europe) the long way round to the Sea of Japan to lift the siege. Wikipedia says, "Under Admiral Rozhestvensky's command, the Russian navy holds the record of sailing an all-steel, coal-powered battleship fleet over 18,000 miles one way, to engage an enemy in decisive battle." What wikipedia doesn't say is just how dumb this was, because the battle in question was the most decisive victory in a fleet engagement since the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805—for the Japanese.

Seriously, go read that wikipedia article. When you're done, go read the wikipedia article about the Dogger Bank Incident as well, then boggle — why on Earth did the Russian navy expect to encounter Japanese torpedo boats in the North Sea of all places? (Nearly lighting the fuse for the first world war nine years early, for the British government was Not Amused ...)

Anyway. I wrote 130,000 words about the most insane, doomed space operatic navy campaign in future history. And then I realized I had a Problem. The fleet was shortly to arrive at it's destination ... and I hadn't bothered to give them an adversary. Trust me, plot-driven mil-SF, even the satirical sub-species, doesn't thrive without an enemy to go up against.

It was August 1997 and I was wandering around Leith with friends, looking for a pub, and as I frequently do, I was chewing over my dilemma in the presence of an audience. And as I recall (warning: my memory of conversations held 15 years ago in the presence of alcohol is less than reliable) I was muttering aloud along the lines of, "what I need is a threat they don't understand, one that they can't understand." And a friend said, "something like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?"

The whole reason we were wandering around Leith in search of beer in the first place was that we'd been driven out of our normal den of iniquity pub by the presence of Festival-goers. Edinburgh in August is a city on the receiving end of an alien invasion spearheaded by unicycling mimes and bagpiping elephants. Add the fleeting twilight nights (we get maybe 4 hours of complete full dark at that time of year) and the pervasive random weirdness—you can go shopping dressed as a Dalek or a 17th century French aristocrat and nobody will blink at you—and it seemed like the perfect metaphor for what the New Republican Navy was going up against. Result!

So I ripped the guts out of the novel — I think I ditched 80,000 words, a full-length novel's worth in its own right a decade or two earlier — then wrote the opening sequence, complete with the rain of telephones (because I'd just acquired my very own first personal cellphone) and it was the sort of thing that something like the Festival would do that would be totally incomprehensible to the NR.

And from there it was downhill all the way, until I finished the novel in 1998.

Now for the confessional about what happened later, and my own fit of unprofessional behavior.

Intending to have a crack at the US market, I sent "Festival of Fools" to an editor at Tor who I happened to have met and who I thought wouldn't leave it on the slushpile unread. Unfortunately my Tor kremlinology was underdeveloped in those days. I was aware that individual editors run their own lists. I was aware that I was submitting to a fairly senior editor. What I didn't recognize was that Patrick Nielsen Hayden was Tor's editorial director, massively overworked at all times: and that his backlog was a thing of legend, spoken of in hushed voices in the halls of New York Publishing.

And after about a year Patrick stopped answering my 3-monthly email queries.

Fast-forward to April 2000, and the British Eastercon, held that year in the Central Hotel in Glasgow. I mostly recall that convention as being rather badly programmed. (At one point I was sitting in a bar, kibitzing on a three-way discussion of the state of Scottish SF between Andrew J. Wilson (SF reviewer for The Scotsman), Ken MacLeod, and Iain Banks ... none of whom had been offered a seat on any of the panel discussions at the con, much less a chance to discuss the state of Scottish SF in front of an audience with some advance warning.) But the bad programming had a silver lining, as it turned out. I ran into an old friend, Ben Jeapes. These days Ben is best known as a British author and academic publisher. But back then, he was making a decent fist of setting up a small British SF press, Big Engine. And some years earlier we'd workshopped together. I was grumbling about the lengthy slushpile delays to Ben, and he said, "well, I see where you're coming from: how about letting me see it? If Patrick wants it he can have it, you sent it to him first: but I wouldn't mind reading it. It sounds interesting." So I sent "Festival of Fools" to Ben, and he said, "there are some changes I want making, but if you make them, I'll buy it." And I sent a "sorry, but if you don't tell me you want it I'm going to withdraw it from submission" note to Patrick. Who didn't reply.

(Many years later I mentioned this to a different Tor editor. And she said, "oh yes, I remember that! Patrick was going to buy it and hand you over to me to edit. But he never quite got round to making the offer." I like to think that, if we live in a multiverse, somewhere in one of the other multitudinous trouser-legs of time there is a world where my primary SF publisher is Tor and my editor is Teresa Nielsen Hayden. But that's not how things turned out ...)

Anyway: the consequences of my fit of unprofessional behaviour were that I landed a rather poor contract from a British small press. But I had enough wits not to sign immediately. Instead, I went looking for an agent based in New York. And found one at exactly the best stage in the literary agent life-cycle from an author's point of view: a publishing insider (actually a senior editor at an SF imprint, changing jobs because being an agent is easier to combine with having babies — it's easier to work from home) with no existing clients above me on the totem pole. (I can guarantee you that the best way for a new author to get a literary agent's undivided attention is by opening with "I have an offer from [PUBLISHER] sitting here and I haven't signed it yet ...") Caitlin rolled up her sleeves, went to work, removed the landmines from the Big Engine contract, then auctioned North American rights to the book. (Tor — in the shape of the inimitable David Hartwell, who is my editor for the Merchant Princes series — and Ace turned up to bid: Ace's opening offer was slightly better and Tor didn't counter-offer.) Then headaches happened.

Editors like to edit, unless they're too busy managing production workflow on a list that handles hundreds of books a year. Ben edited "Festival of Fools" his way. But Ace also wanted to edit it. One edit went into British English; the other went into American English. The two drafts began to diverge subtly. Ace decided to retitle the novel, because Richard Paul Russo had a book out titled "Ship of Fools" and they didn't want to confuse everybody; could I come up with a new title, and by the way, could it have the word "Singularity" in it? (The Singularity was hot in 2001.) But Ben wanted to stick with the original title. Checking copy-edits and page proofs is time consuming for the author, and doing it twice for subtly different versions of the same book is ... well, you don't get paid any extra money for doing it twice, and it's a lot of extra work. Finally, the publishing schedules began to diverge. Big Engine was running into cash flow trouble. Ben recognized this, and finally took the decision to shut down his company ... one month before "Festival of Fools" was due to be published in the UK, and about a month or two after a very similar but non-identical novel titled "Singularity Sky" debuted in the United States.

Caitlin had done her work on the contract properly: we re-acquired the British and Commonwealth rights to "Festival of Fools" without any great difficulty. She then sold the American variant, "Singularity Sky", to Orbit, which is why the British edition came along 1-2 years after the American publication and, to this day, I am effectively marketed in the UK as an imported American author. And why I always, ever since, have made a point of trying to use American spelling in my novels and ensure that only one publisher gets to edit any given novel.

Final note: I wrote FoF from 1996 to 1998. Gave it a polish in 1998/1999 before submitting it to Tor. Had to edit it again in 2000 for Ben, then again for Caitlin before the US agent-mediated auction. Then copy edits for both Big Engine and Ace in 2001. Ace published it in July 2003; Orbit in 2004 (if memory serves). Upshot: it took 7 years from writing to first print publication. And this is now not unusual for a first novel. The subsequent books came along much faster ...

156 Comments

1:

Ah, historical accident. I (well, actually my wife) was one of the subscribers to Ben's publishing venture, and we were looking forward to FoF.

I wonder whether if Big Engine had survived that extra couple of months and had managed to get your book out, whether that might have saved it. Oh well, at least Orbit has better covers. (BE had the worst set of covers I've encountered, positively putting me off the contents.)

2:

I suspect that a wooden ship won't do too well against an unarmed ice-breaker. A bow designed to force its way through a few feet of ice isn't going to have much problem with an oak hull, and will also not mind the occasional cannon ball on the way in to ram. If it became a regular occurence I suspect bow and stern chasers would be the focus of improvement, hoping for hits on superstructure.

3:

I was thinking more along the lines of:

Nelsonian era wooden ship. Armament: carronades, typical maximum range 1000-2000 metres. Rate of fire: 1 round per 90 seconds per tube. Ammunition: iron balls, chain shot. (Cannonballs might penetrate thinner steel superstructure; chain shot is largely useless against a non-sailing ship.)

Modern icebreaker. Armament: a TOS-1 bolted onto it (and some sort of fire control). MLRS, range 4500-6000 metres. Rate of fire: 36 rounds, then 15 minute reload. Ammunition: thermobaric and incendiary warheads able to flatten and set fire to about a quarter of a square kilometre at triple the maximum range of a carronade.

So my analysis is: icebreaker stands off outside maximum range of Nelsonian navy and plinks away, periodically landing a single hit that incinerates the entire target and sets it aflame from stem to stern. If sailing ship tries to close, icebreaker merely opens up the throttle a bit.

Either way it's a metaphor for what Iain M. Banks describes as an out of context problem.

4:

Charlie, I have to ask that you don't do any more posts like this, as my morning at work is going to be completely unproductive as I read all of the linked articles and get sucked down the wiki-rabbit hole.

Seriously though, this is great. Can't wait to read more of these posts.

5:

AND ...
thge very first C Stross novel I found & read was ....
"Singularity Sky, found & purchased from a small bookshop about where the Grassmarket changes to West Port - in 2003.
Um.

Incidentally, I always though there was no causality-violation IF (very important if) the vehicles travelled in straight lines, but if they curved around, then, indeed, there would be a CV.
Hence, of course the Eschaton's perfectly-reasonable (for certain values of "reasonable") prohibition on violating the light-cone rule.

6:

You mean cannon, don't you? Carronades were the short range, short barrelled quick loading high impact deck clearing guns, not much use if you are a kilometre away because of innacuracy and lower charge than a cannon.

P.s. I'm sitting not many miles away from where they were made.

7:

Why on Earth did the Russian navy expect to encounter Japanese torpedo boats in the North Sea of all places?

If I recall aright, they had a spy in northern Europe somewhere who was justifying his existence with endless reports of Japanese schemes.

8:

...an out of context problem.

While the spotting helicopter circles overhead....

(Too wet for gardening and my vacuum cleaner threshold seems very low today)

9:

No, I meant carronades. The RN in Nelson's day was very big on carronades and deployed them in far greater numbers than actual cannons, because they had a fetish for closing with the enemy and conducting boarding actions and they could load and fire the fuckers fast. AIUI cannon, in contrast, had longer barrels (so took up more room below decks) and weren't accurate enough to be much cop at sea: the philosophy was to close fast, pour an overwhelming volume of fire into the enemy ship at a range they couldn't miss at, then swarm aboard with pistol and cutlass.

10:

> "what this country needs is a short, victorious war"

Well, they certainly failed there! From what I understand, the russo-japanese war hasn't officially ended yet; it's just been on hold indefinitely since the turn of the (last) century.

11:

OP: "Spectrum SF (which you haven't heard of)"

I've heard of it! And I still have some issues sitting around somewhere, too. Alastair Reynolds' "The Great Wall of Mars" was in one issue, for instance.

12:

" Surely in a diverse space operatic universe you'll occasionally see a Napoleonic space navy run into a nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine? "

Or why I quit playing Civilisation in a single sentence. Helicopter gunships versus elephant cavalry.

I always assumed the Unborn God was just a deusion on the part of re-mastered.

I now have eleven tabs of additional reading to be getting on with, thank you mein host.

13:

Sure, I know that, but a quick check of the likes of wikipedia confirms my reading from years ago which is that carronades are short range weapons - so why mention the shortest range weapons that they wouldn't use at long range when they had longer range cannon? Were they even in any way accurate at that range? I would think even less accurate than the horribly innacurate cannons would be, due to the short barrel and lower muzzle velocity due to smaller powder charge.
Also cite requested for carronades outnumbering long guns and comparative ranges.

(No need for you to waste time answering, I'm sure someone will be along this evening with more detailed information)

14:

Not just a fetish but a financial motive may have been involved - kill the crew and you've got yourself a prize ship. Sink the ship and you've got nothing.

15:

"a Napoleonic space navy run into a nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine?"
I seem to recall (and admittedly it has been some years since I read the books) that Foundation had some scenarios with this level of difference in technology. (And as mentioned, Civilisation style games are notorious for this. I too have played modern weaponry against civs that had barely reached the elephant stage.)

And, I too have always been put off by all the monarchies in many of the space operas. (Doesn't stop me reading them, but it does annoy the shit out of me.) I really want to read some good space opera style SF with some interesting politics. (And not just a re-hash of past systems, like revolutionary France and the Terror.) In fact, I'll offer my services as a consultant to any budding author who wants some ideas. I can give you the works from anarchical (of the "anarchy is order" type) and chaotic (as in, not anarchical) systems through to absolute dictatorships with full on police states, and I'll even through in a benevolent dictatorship or two (a false one and a true one).

16:

Whoops, sorry, I didn't mean to come across as quite so demanding.
Meanwhile I found this interesting article on carronades:
http://artillerymanmagazine.com/Archives/2004/carronades_sp04.html

The story of your getting it published is a saga in itself.

17:

Wow. Thanks so much for writing this. It made me feel a lot better about my career trajectory :)

18:

7 years from start to finish - I admire your stamina. I hate to think how close you may have come to giving up during this episode.

19:

This was an awesome read. Do continue to write these entries.

Singularity Sky is my favorite book from the ones you have written so far.

Also, please write more in the Eschaton universe! Pretty please?

20:

As far as 'out of context' problems go...I'd think that cases where the group we're following encounter low capability civilizations, the encounter would be unremarkable and less than even a speed bump (and thus not worth a novel...we never hear about it). For cases where the group we're following is the low tech group, the 'weak novellic' principal applies (the story isn't interesting enough to be worth writing about) and we never hear about it. Only cases where there is some degree of power parity would result in a novel...

21:

Mr. Stross,

Ok, so you don't like stories about "Napoleonic Space Navies". How about stories about the real thing? How do you like the "Horatio Hornblower" or "Master and Commander" series?

Everyone remembers the movie staring Russel Crowe, but there was also a BBC mini-series of Horatio Hornblower that I for one really enjoyed.

22:

BTW, her is an intersting article on the physics of actual space combat and space navies.

Don't know much about the author, but I enjoyed the article:

http://denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2004/04/SpaceNavies2.shtml

23:

Charlie @ 9
Not quite
Sweep the enemy's decks (& gun-ports) with overwhelming fire, then close & board over the decks.
The ultimate example being (of course)
the then Commodore Horatio Nelson @ the battle of St Vincent ... boarding first one enemy (Spanish) ship & then using that to repeat the opration(!)

24:

I always assumed that the Unborn God WAS the Eschaton -- and we were dealing with something of a quantum superposition issue

25:

Also, please write more in the Eschaton universe! Pretty please?

No. (See the first link in this essay.)

You are going to get another novel in the Freyaverse. Because that's my new space opera sandbox. But never another Eschaton.

26:

Read Hornblower when younger; like Patrick O'Brien's works (but need time to take a run at the entire 17 book series -- time which I don't have).

I've given up on TV and cinema drama. The original books will do for me.

27:

a BBC mini-series of Horatio Hornblower

A number of short series made by ITV, not the BBC, featuring characters with the same names as those in the books by C S Forester. Any other resemblance to the books (or history) seemed to be purely coincidental from the ones I saw. The Master and Commander film did seem to use some extracts from the books (though not from the one with the same name), but Russell Crowe is far to thin to make a good Jack Aubrey.

Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. is a much better adaptation of the books than the TV series was.

28:

I'm wondering if the out of context problem can go full circle, or rather, full Mobius. I don't think I quite buy into the tech-beats-all formula. If there is enough of a disconnect in the context, then you've got guys with submachine-guns against malarial mosquitoes.

So, yes, ice breaker against wooden ship probably ice breaker: 1 wooden ship: 0. But sleeping crew of ice breaker against stealthy buccaneers from wooden ship boarding it at night, knives between teeth. Or, primitive bacteria and viruses wreaking havoc with your wonderfully sophisticated digestive system, or brain eating amoebas in your fresh water supply. Or Ewoks against entire Legion of Imperial Troopers. (okay puke to that, but you get the idea).

29:

I am effectively marketed in the UK as an imported American author

Really? I've never noticed - until I started lurking around this blog I was under the [mis]apprehension you were as Scottish as white pudding...

of course, you SF-novel-writing is merely a front for running this blog ;-)

30:

Indeed - didn't some US naval officer show how to destroy a nuclear carrier with loads of little boats and homemade "torpedoes".

The icebreaker vs wooden naval ship analogy sounds too much like a classic naval battle. Why would the C17/18th British navy approach an obviously more powerful icebreaker with classic tactics? I'm sure Aubrey wouldn't.

31:

The big bad in the Star Trek reboot was essentially that, a mining ship from 100 years in the future.

Bujold's Barrayar was a 19th century style monarchy when the advanced Cetagandans discovered and invaded them, they had to fight them guerrilla style until they managed to smuggle enough high tech weaponry to make the fight uneconomical. Once they became an interstellar power they of course went on to try to invade other folk in turn.

32:

Radar and infrared targeted ground-to-air and air-to-air missles are not effective against WWI airplanes made of wood and paper. Dean Ing wrote a story ("Hawk Among The Sparrows") about a Harrier-class plane & pilot thrown back to WWI who tries, mostly unsuccessfully, to help the French destroy the German air forces.

33:

I was remembering a similar story, except it was a supersonic fighter. After finding out his air-to-air missiles were ineffective against mostly-wooden biplanes, he used the shock wave from supersonic near-misses to knock the biplanes apart in midair.

34:

The War of 1812 was the interesting one, in naval terms. Both the American super-frigates and the British ships they defeated carried a mix of guns and carronades. Losing all three masts seems to have been an almost routine ended to these battles. Crew training seems to have mattered more than the most other factors. Captain Broke of the Shannon was a gunnery nerd. Captain Laurence of the Chesapeake had a raw crew.

As for Patrick O'Brien, find the time. The books are full of surprises...

35:

Charlie, your icebreaker with a Russian MLRS may not do as well as you think. To the dismay of many a government purchasing official, you have to build expensive warship gun turrets rather than plonking an existing army gun on the deck, because army artillery isn't designed to be aimed and fired when the ground is moving underneath them. An MLRS salvo from a pitching and rolling ship will be only loosely aimed and is going to scatter rockets everywhere (they ripple fire, not all at once).

And the wooden ship of the line doesn't have to shoot at the hull. the French in particular were quite fond of aiming at masts, or in this case the icebreaker bridge. And there will be lots of people with muskets happy to shoot at anyone they can see on the deck, or again the bridge.

Yes this is nitpicking, but I do read mil sci-fi, what did you expect? :-) I take your general point about technological mismatches.

As for the Russian fleet, we have the advantage of hindsight so let's not be so harsh.

At the time battleships were expected to perform such voyages. The US had sailed a battleship from the Atlantic coast round the Horn to Cuba in the US-Spanish war of 1897. A couple of years after Tsushima the US battlefleet made a round the world voyage ("The Great White Fleet") without any mishaps. Why shouldn't the Russians think they could reach Japan?

Torpedo boats in the North Sea were a bit unlikely ... but remember, Great Britain was Japan's ally, by treaty. Torpedo boats were the drones of the time, the hot new technological marvels that would make older and bigger warships obsolete. Since it had also been 40 odd years since anyone had actually fought at sea with modern warships (Battle of Lissa), who knew what the Japanese, aided by the perfidious English, might be able to do?


36:

As a 33-year-old wannabe with just a couple of published short stories and a novel that's been roundly rejected by every agent I could think to send it to, I appreciate this more than I can say.

37:

This being 1996 or thereabouts, I needed to figure out a way to dodge the implications of the Singularity for space opera that Vernor Vinge had so irritatingly pointed out to us in "A Fire Upon The Deep".

It really says a lot about the times, and you, that just not having singularities in your universe seemed more implausible than what you wound up with.

38:

The author of "Hawk Among the Sparrows" is Dean McLaughlin. The aircraft was a version of the SR-71, maybe the original fighter design.

Enjoy!

Frank.

39:

So if you were starting today, what if anything would you do differently? (I don't mean with the benefit of hindsight, I mean in the 2013 world as opposed to mid '90s.)

40:

I'm kinda embarrassed to admit this, but while I'm pretty up on O'Brian, I don't think I've read much Forester, and that maybe thirty or forty years ago. Our local library has plenty of Aubrey, but apparently Hornblower is out of favor with the powers that be. Should I bother running those down?

As I recall I didn't much care for them . . . but at the time I thought that Heinlein fella was a crackerjack writer. What can I say ;-) Any opinions? Is the one series more historically accurate than the other? Better written?

41:

Those singularity dudes had a massive failure of imagination. Either that or they tended to be a bit monomaniacal in flogging their personal hobby horses, never thinking what the implications of such technology would be.

Yeah, yeah, we get human-scale interstellar travel and space opera. But CTC's also give us P=NP for all intents and purposes. And that is soooo much more of a game-changer than anything so pedestrian as a trope whose only purpose is to tell yet more stories firmly rooted in 19th century notions about commerce and geopolitics.

42:

j k @ 28
Been done
The High Crusade by Poul Anderson in (Very Silly) mode.
Or even as far back as War of the Worlds, where Earth's microscopic life eats the Martians ....

ATT @ 34
Correction:
and the British ships they usually defeated ....

sov @ 40/41
But CTC's also give us P=NP for all intents and purposes.
Are you sure of that? Is that a complete given, or are there possible eceptions, such as causality/2nd-Law (of thermodynamics, of course)violations that will collapse the problem(s) ??
I have never read any of Forester's successors, simply because they are all just imitators.
Hornblower was the original ( & probably still the best )

43:

Speaking of failures of imagination, in Heinlein's Time Enough For Love, time-travel is in the hands of any starship captain, and many of them fly alone on ships they own outright, with not even a ship's mate to stay their hand. It's well-known that this is so, indeed a major concern when navigating is not to time-travel by accident. Yet nobody does it deliberately, for centuries and millennia, no bereaved lover or greedy trader or cunning warrior thinks of it.

44:

Carronades - Kudos 1 and all for getting the spelling correct! Anything I've seen discussing their deployment indicates that they were used primarily as bow and stern chasers rather than in the broadside on ships of the line. Charlie's quite possibly correct about them being used as the sole upper deck armament on RN frigates up to about 50 guns though.

I quite like the chances of Harriers against WW1 types, if we have the right weapons for the Harriers; ADEN guns and SNEB rocket packs for air to air work, plus "conventional" iron bombs and cluster bombs for airfield denial.

Also, whilst I don't like the idea of "army artillary" (either howitzer or rippled rocket launchers) at sea, modern tank guns are well enough stabilised to track targets at 2 miles whilst the MBT is doing 30mph over rough ground.

45:

That's pretty much why I ended up abandoning the Eschaton universe. And why "Glasshouse" was effectively a one-shot: those T-gates were just too damn powerful once you began thinking about their implications.

My second attempt at doing causality violation right was "Palimpsest", and one day I hope to have enough ideas saved up to write the rest of that novel. (Because "Palimpsest" the novella is just the first third of it ...)

46:

I'm dubious about the idea that modern AAMs would be useless against WW1 era biplanes. Those biplanes tended to have large lumps of metal in their nose (or tail) in the shape of engines, often with lots of exposed metalwork or rapidly spinning cylinders (in the case of rotary engines). Really good radar reflectors, in other words.

Moreover, if AAMs weren't effective against crude piston-engined biplanes or monoplanes, every air force in the third world would be tooled-up with An-2's and Cessna 172's. And to be a much tougher nut to crack than has proven to be the case ...

47:

Regarding carronades, that's a thorny issue

- They weren't included in the official count, the archetypical ship of the line of 74 cannons in fact mounted 74 cannons plus an undetermined number of carronades.

- There were "gunnades", weapons half way between cannon and carronade

- Carronades went from relatively small 12-pounders to monstrous 68-pounders

- Individual captains in those times often chose their own preferred weaponry

I don't know any example of ships mounting more carronades than cannons, but it wouldn't be surprising they existed, because a few British frigates - HMS Glatton, for example - mounted only carronades.

Also, I think the real problem with using too many carronades was wind gauge. If a ship like HMS Glatton was attacked from windward it was defenseless. Enemy ships in that case would have refused to close and hit Glatton with their longer range cannons until it sunk or surrendered.

@john.ohno

Nope, Russia and Japan made peace in 1905 (treaty of Portsmouth, mediated by Theodore Roosevelt). However, the Second World War officially is still going on... Japan and the Soviet Union/Russia have never made peace.

@Hugo.Fisher

Three problems. First, coal burning ships needed coaling stations and coal burning fleets needed _big_ coaling stations; once they left the Baltic the Russians had none, making the long trip a logistical nightmare. The Great White Fleet didn't have that problem. Second, Russian crews would be tired and demoralized after more than six months at sea without rest, and ships would badly need maintenance. Third, even if the Russians had won the battle their ships would have needed repairs, and there were no facilities at Port Arthur; if the Russian fleet didn't win a complete victory in the first clash it was doomed.

48:

It's worth noting that the Russian Baltic fleet pioneered refueling at sea -- with coal! -- transferring coal from colliers while at sea at least 20 times en route to Tsushima. They worked through nearly 300,000 tons of the black stuff during the voyage. And they didn't just stash coal in their bunkers; they shoveled it into spare rooms, packed it under officers' beds and in lockers, heaped it up in piles on deck, and filled the lifeboats.

They then put into port in Madagascar for around six months while Russian government agents tried to buy every spare/halfway-commissioned battleship in South America to augment the fleet. (Unsuccessfully.)

49:

Napoleonic Naval Fiction:

I'd put Aubrey/Maturin ahead of Hornblower, but there's not much in it.

Bolitho I would rank third. Dudley Pope was a competent writer but his Ramage was a typical adventure fiction character. There are others, but only C. Northcote Parkinson's Delancey comes clearly to mind.

In the book The Fireship Delancey is initially a lieutenant in HMS Glatton, one of the all-carronade ships that saw service.

50:

Quite a few "super Toucans" in service, but not much panic in military circles.

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

51:

I find myself in the somewhat strange position of feeling like I almost need to apologize for liking a couple of your books so much. "Iron Sunrise" was the first of your books that I ever read, and I *loved* it. It took me years to read another of your books (and then it took me months to figure out it was the same author).

(That happens sometimes when I discover books via someone's personal recommendation instead of my own initiative/research. I miss connections. Happened with Iain Banks and David Gerrold too -- I don't know whether to say *you're* in good company or *they* are.)

I wonder how much your relationship to your Eschaton books has in common with Radiohead's relationship to the song "Creep"? My understanding is that they wrote a song about their love/hate relationship of the popularity of it, called "My Iron Lung" (because the revenue from their hit simultaneously kept them alive and felt constraining to them).

52:

It is deeply embarrassing to have to kill a series of novels after two books, when both of them made the Hugo shortlist. But that universe was broken, like a car with a cracked chassis; not obvious to the uninformed outside observer, but it's not going anywhere.

53:

Para 1 - The fact that Charlie writes in several different sub-genres (even when not actively trying to do someone else's style) is one of my favourite things about his work.

54:

It's all good. I just realized, the way to defeat a post-Singularity superhuman AI is to get it involved in an off-topic digression on a BBS, and you can slip right on by unfettered.

My suspicion is pretty much any good causality violation story is going to be a one-off. But in any case, I was first exposed/injected with the collection Toast. My older brother insisted I read A Colder War. I'm ashamed to say I had to read it twice, not being a Lovecraft fan. As to Singularity Sky, that was by chance at the library, and my impression was The Festival was Cirque du Soliel (because I'm an 'murican, and iff'n we don't know about it, it ain't happenin'). But I also got a whole Eastern European/Austro-Hungarian feel for the poor Space Navy saps, a paprika whiff off that bureaucratic juggernaut. It didn't occur to me you were talking about the British Empire (smacks forehead). But you got to admit Austro-Hungarian is just automatically funnier somehow. Maybe it's my prior exposure to The Good Soldier Schweik, with a lot of Lem thrown in. In any case, I assumed it was a cautionary tale about the tragi-comic circumstances of organizing beyond Dunbar's number.

And then Iron Sunrise, I know was unofficially titled Space Nazis Must Die, but I always figured them for Space Mormons (what with their strange habit of baptism after death).

What I'm trying to say here is, both books were a splendid repast, and the fact that you mention there might have been some few hairs in the soup didn't bother me one wit.

55:
I'm kinda embarrassed to admit this, but while I'm pretty up on O'Brian, I don't think I've read much Forester, and that maybe thirty or forty years ago. Our local library has plenty of Aubrey, but apparently Hornblower is out of favor with the powers that be. Should I bother running those down?

I gave all of the Hornblower's another read through after the second time I re-read the O'Brian books. I hadn't read them since I was in my teens when I'd quite enjoyed 'em.

Second time around, and after the O'Brian books, was interesting. They seem much shallower than the Aubrey–Maturin books. You saw very little of the world outside of the orbit of Hornblower's rise in the navy. I think O'Brien did a vastly deeper job of world-building than Forester in his novels.

The big thing that really stood out was that most of the before-the-mast characters were cyphers or red-shirts. Almost nobody who wasn't a midshipman or above had any characterisation. You saw very little of the life of the common sailor and what was involved with running those ships.

They were enjoyable, and quick, reads. But pale fare after the adventures of Jack and Stephen.

Damn.... Now I want to go start reading the O'Brien books again.

56:

It didn't occur to me you were talking about the British Empire (smacks forehead).

That's because I wasn't: the elevator pitch for FoF was "Austro-Hungarian empire in space meets the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, post-Singularity version".

57:

But CTC's also give us P=NP for all intents and purposes.

It seems a profound lack of imagination to use a time machine to make your computer work better.

We mostly use computers to make mathematical models of aspects of the universe. These models allow us to rerun physical phenomena under a variety of initial circumstances to see what gets us the best result. Depending on how breaches of causality work, computers might become largely irrelevant as people get accustomed to resetting physical reality every time something goes wrong.

58:

It seems a profound lack of imagination to use a time machine to make your computer work better.

What, even when they're seemingly infinitely better? Even when they become Godlike AIs?

(To reliably reset reality is probably going to require something of that level.)

59:

Singularity Sky was the first of your books I bought. I really enjoyed. I liked the tongue in cheek yet with serious thought approach to space opera. I tracked down Iron Sky as soon as I could.

I enjoyed Iron Sky too, but not quite as much. I was looking forward very much to the third book coming out.

It’s what inspired me to push on and read the Halting State series, Accelerando and Wireless. I think Palimpsest is one of the finest works of science fiction I’ve ever read. If you are thinking of extending it to a full novel then I’m really looking forward to that. It was the novella that changed the way I thought about time travel in science fiction. Accelerando was my first brush with the Singularity as it happened. I’m really enjoying the Halting State series. Again, it’s changed the way I thought about near future mundane science fiction. So all good.


I’m a bit sad that the Singularity Sky series is dead but having read your essays on why you decided to stop writing them I understand and I respect the decision you’ve made. Had it been me I think I’d have been tempted to push on a bit, given the critical and financial success.

That said, I’m enjoying the Freya universe very much. I’m more than happy to get my Charlie Stross Space Opera fix from that. I expect Neptune’s Brood will form part of my holiday reading.

60:

That was introductory story of (defunct by now) shared-universe series "War World". Created by Jerry Pournelle, and set in CoDominium universe during/after collapse of First Empire. (Which makes it about halfway between present time and "Mote in God's Eye")

61:

Charlie, I can see why you cannot continue "Singularity Sky" universe. But what I always wanted was a prequel -- details of what happens on Earth in the immediate aftermath of "exile" (or whatever it is called), and the reaction when first SETI signals are received, and realized to be human in origin.

62:

OH...the temptation! Moment’s pause...all right then, I give in. I have all of the " Aubrey–Maturin " books with their transition on my bookshelves marked to Hardback when I could afford it and over the past few years I've replaced the large format paperbacks with the Foliosocietys splendid cased limited edition hardbacks..


http://www.foliosociety.com/search?q=patrick%20o%20brian&pf=&order_by=author_az&cf=9274

Which gives you an introduction to their series: which they continue to offer me as an incentive to renew my membership. I suspect that anyone who phones/e mails them could cut a deal for a bulk purchase.


On previous posts on the series and upon Hornblower? The TV series could have been worse - though it could have been so much better! - and, in my opinion, it did suffer from having a lead actor who didn’t remotely resemble Hornblower as he was depicted in the books, but who was rather a standard Pretty Boy Lead actor who was bound to be appreciated by the soap opera appreciating public tele viewers, and that was before the drift from the original authors plot line for the series. Still, it could have been worse...have you seen the US of American TV version of Jim Butchers " Dresden Files " novels? Gods what a waste! The only thing that the TV version had in common with the written series was the Characters names and, maybe a plot line in one of the TV series episodes.

The film of the “ Aubrey –Maturin” series was a composite of at least four of the novels and it did manage to capture the flavour of the series and something of just how ghastly life was aboard a warship of the Napoleonic wars. In one scene we got to see just how greedy Jack Aubrey was, as well as just how ghastly the food was for even the officer class. Its one thing to read the descriptions of a rare treat given up as a Feast to the half starved inhabitants of the Wooden World and quite another to actually see it in all its gruesome glory.

There is a spin off book to the series that actually gives recipes for the food in the series.

http://www.amazon.com/Lobscouse-Spotted-Dog-Gastronomic-Companion/dp/0393320944

“Amazon.com Review
Animal lovers, relax--"Spotted Dog" is a kind of pudding, not a dalmatian. It is also the favorite pudding of Jack Aubrey, the fictional creation of writer Patrick O'Brian. Aubrey's adventures as an officer of the British Navy--and those of his friend and ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin--during the tumultuous years of the Napoleonic Wars have been masterfully detailed in O'Brian's many novels; now Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and her daughter, Lisa Grossman, take readers on a culinary adventure through the kitchens and cuisine of the early 19th century.
Since food figures prominently in O'Brian's novels, his fans will already be familiar with such names as Skillygalee, Drowned Baby, Soused Hog's Face, and Jam Roly-Poly, but they may wonder exactly what those dishes are. Lobscouse and Spotted Dog makes it all clear: Skillygalee, for example, is oatmeal gruel, while Drowned Baby is similar to Spotted Dog, only without the currants and eggs. And Spotted Dog is...? You'll find the recipe in the Grossmans' book, along with excerpts from the Aubrey/Maturin novels and many other authentic 19th-century dishes to test your sense of adventure, your culinary prowess, and possibly your waistline. Lobscouse and Spotted Dog is more than a cookbook--it's a window into the past, an inspired piece of culinary detective work, and a delightful gastronomic companion to the novels of Patrick O'Brian. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Review
A thoroughly readable cookbook, as well as a useful appendix to a great series of novels. -- San Jose Mercury News “

We can but hope that our host wont yield to the temptation to sell the TV rights - nearly wrote 'Rites ' there - for the “Laundry Files “to US of Avian TV Land.

But He is a Nobel and Heroically self sacrificing creature who wouldn’t yield to the temptation of Filthy Lucre...NO, not even if he were to be offered $qid$illions of Dollars!

63:

Moreover, if AAMs weren't effective against crude piston-engined biplanes or monoplanes, every air force in the third world would be tooled-up with An-2's and Cessna 172's. And to be a much tougher nut to crack than has proven to be the case ...

I suspect that's because a Cessna with a missile rack isn't sexy. They have an annoying history of penetrating the airspace of major capital cities, though. Low-tech small planes can work as a specialty force, as demonstrated by the Night Witches' Po-2 biplanes versus the Luftwaffe.

(Off topic...)

64:

Your question seems to be based on a truly remarkable category error. Making a computer really, really good at computing is not the same as making a god. Not that anyone sane would want to make a god, at least not without a lot of safeguards.

65:

@64 If you're creating a god, I don't expect that there are any safeguards you can credibly include...and if you think you can you're likely tragically mistaken.

66:

I'm dubious about the idea that modern AAMs would be useless against WW1 era biplanes. Those biplanes tended to have large lumps of metal in their nose (or tail) in the shape of engines, often with lots of exposed metalwork or rapidly spinning cylinders (in the case of rotary engines). Really good radar reflectors, in other words.

A "modern" all-aspect electro-optical imaging infrared seeker head AAM, and active radar AAMs, would have no problems at all bringing down a Fokker D.VII, a Messerschmitt Bf109, or the proverbial Cessna-full-of-C4

the DAAFAR [Cuban Air Force] shot down two Cessnas with R-73 radar-guided missiles in the '90s

a radar-guided or heat-seeking AAM from the 1960s, 70s or even 80s - don't bank on it

The worst thing would be the speed differentials between attacker and target...helmet mounted-sights are your friend.

67:

Or indeed the aforementioned Embraer Super Tucano, which looks like a good match for a Bf.109 performance-wise, except the 314 carries Sidewinders and has a glass cockpit and modern military avionics and sensors. And the ability to carry JDAMs and other precision-guided weapons. And the ability to out-climb a 1940-vintage 109 by over a thousand feet per minute. And that's a modern trainer (albeit kitted out for light attack/counter insurgency duty in Central America or Sub-Saharan Africa).

Oh, and you can buy 20 of them for the price of a single F-35A. And given the typical opponents developed nations seem to be fighting these days, they'd be much more useful.

68:

> The big bad in the Star Trek reboot was essentially that, a mining ship from 100 years in the future.

Much would depend on which 100 years. An armed merchantman from 1916 would make short work of HMS Victory, but I wouldn't want to be in a 21st century merchantman going up against Warspite.

69:

Nestor, Barrayar was not discovered by the Cetagandans. It was discovered, reintegrated and up-teched as much as they could for twenty years or so and *then* got invaded by the Cetagandans after they basically bribed the Komarrans into letting them in. Without that reintegration time, they'd have had no chance. Piotr et al weren't fighting the Cetagandans with medieval-tech weapons!

70:

The loose end that's always most nagged at me about that universe was the forest in Singularity Sky. There's a single line saying that it was destined for much much greater things... then nothing. What on earth was it going to be? Why was it never mentioned again? Was it a metaphor for a Fringe production that hits it big and goes on to Broadway? :)

-- N., whose deceased uncle's orchestra got its start there

71:

Interesting bit of trivia: my first interaction with OGH was, I believe, to ask about that. I think his response was that he'd forgotten by that time.

72:

Which Warspite? The 1913-vintage battleship or the V-class Polaris SSBN, or the 1666-vintage third-rate ship of the line? You'll need to be more specific!

73:

Hard to say. I failed theological engineering.

74:

and you can buy 20 of them for the price of a single F-35A. And given the typical opponents developed nations seem to be fighting these days, they'd be much more useful.

Not necessarily. The expensive bits are the useful avionics, the flight crew, and the ground crew. By the time you've got the full mil-spec nav system, targeting system, and communications system; not to mention ejector seats, night vision, etc, etc... It's several fewer than ten for the £40million that a Typhoon costs you.

Then you consider that a Typhoon can get from your airhead to your troops somewhat faster than a very subsonic turboprop. If you want props in support, you need more of them to cover the same ground. If you want to base them closer instead, you've just added a couple of hundred ground troops to secure your local airstrip, and hundreds more to push fuel and food forward to it (ISTR a figure that suggested that a gallon of fuel at a forward operating base currently costs another thirty-odd gallons to get it there).

Your Typhoon can carry more, or a wider range of weapons; you don't have to rely on Brimstone when you want Paveway. It arrives and leaves much more quickly, so has less risk of being shot down. The Forward Air Controllers appear very happy with it on task. You end up with fewer aircraft types in the inventory, so lower training costs for crew and maintainers; after all Typhoon can do COIN, but a Tucano can't exactly intercept an out-of-communication airliner approaching London, a drugs flight trying to sneak in over the channel, or a BEAR-D over the GIUK gap.

The lightweight COIN aircraft works if you've got a mass army / air force and short logistics chains; it doesn't make so much sense for a small expeditionary force at the end of a long supply line. If it made that much sense, the RAF would be repainting its trainers and sending them to Afghanistan...

75:

Just that any attempt to think constraints on a vastly superhuman intelligence is likely to miss...badly. Add in the fact that the new god will certainly realize what the remaining constraints mean in terms of your attitude towards it and...things seem likely to go from bad to very very bad in short order. Of course, the new god may be powerful enough to decide that you don't matter sufficiently for it to squish...

76:

I was going by $14M per Tucano, vs. $300M per F-35. Yes, the Typhoon is a lot cheaper; it's also the previous generation to the F-35. (Which looks very much like a pork barrel boondoggle to me.)

77:

Ah, sorry. I thought it was implicit in the "hundred years" bit. The 1913 Warspite that was state of the art a hundred years ago. The one with more battle honours than any other RN ship, holder of the record for longest range gunnery hit ever from one moving ship on another, that survived steaming in circles with a jammed rudder in front of the entire High Seas Fleet. Etc. etc.

Although I'd also be quite surprised if any merchant ship a hundred years from now would stand any kind of chance against the current Warspite.

78:

Having read Iron Sunrise again recently I understand that you broke this universe… but I like to think that Herman is a unreliable narrator.
Which of course just breaks things more, because if you can't trust the Being with it's finger on the Button, what is the to do!

79:

I, personally, would not touch the F-35 with a sterilised flagpole, especially not the version the RAF and FAA are going to be lumbered/ equipped with.

an airforce equipped with say, 10 squadrons of Super Tucanos, 5 Squadrons of combat-optimised Hawks, or this

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aero_L-159_Alca

and 3-4 squadrons of Super Hornets/Typhoons/Block 60 F-16s would have more than enough kit to defend itself, and not feel the urge to threaten its neighbours.

80:

@76:
the F-35. (Which looks very much like a pork barrel boondoggle to me.)
---
...and to everyone else.

Several friends and acquaintances have worked on the F-35. Like several other aircraft, it's what you get when "design by committee" meets "unwanted project to guarantee steady cash flow to defense contractors."

Comments from people who have worked with the plane's flight control software have been sparse. Mostly, they just moan and go for the double facepalm...

81:

"Singularity Sky" was also the first Charles Stross story I read. Then "Iron Sunrise." I didn't encounter any of the others until a few years later.

Bob Howard (the other one), HP Lovecraft, and Stephen King wrote horror stories, but none of them were as horrifying as the books I had read describing life in the darker days of the Soviet Union. And then I encountered a novel that welded together the worst bits of the USSR, the Third Reich, and maybe bits of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire; a totalitarian bureaucracy backed by enough technology to keep the jackboot down forever...

*That* is scarier than slimy things that go bump in the right.

82:

>But that universe was broken, like a car with a cracked chassis; not obvious to the uninformed outside observer.

I have to say, this can be a problem when the author is much smarter than his readers, because I'd happily buy that jalopy from you and not even notice it's flaws, but when I look at say, Palimpsest, I can't help wondering how one can cut one's own throat non metaphorically.

The average reader is quite happy in a standard space opera mileu, but you throw your hands up in despair and give us Marty McFly intentionally breaking up his parents instead. This is counter intuitive to the hoi polloi, I have to say. :)

And on the other hand, the Laundry mileu seems to be largely hand-wavy fantasy with a few nods towards information theory and entropy and many worlds. I hope this means it's a more resilient universe, not amenable to vanishing in a puff of logic over something the characters said in an early chapter.

Me I always figure the Remastered's god was either non existant or the Eschaton itself.

Nix @69
>Piotr et al weren't fighting the Cetagandans with medieval-tech weapons!

I know, I am a big fan of Bujold and regularly re read her books, my summary lacked accuracy due to forced synthesis, it's barely topical since Bujold isn't big on ship to ship action, preferring character interaction and small unit fighting for the action scenes.

But I do recall Piotr mentioning they ate their horses during the first winter, so they definitely had cavalry when the invasion started. Much like the Polish army in WWI...

83:

Any computer, no matter how nifty the processor, is limited by its programming and by its available output devices. Its programming limits it to doing what it was ordered to do, and flawed orders generally result in stupid behavior, not unconstrained malevolence. Also, no matter how brilliant and malevolent it is, if it's installed in a toaster the worst thing it can do is burn the toast.

Now if some fool builds an insect-killing AI that classifies humans as insects, and coincidentally happens to hook it up to a fully automatic robotank factory, certainly bad things could happen. But that sort of confluence of errors should be vanishingly rare.

84:

I don't post often but thanks for this Charlie. I'm no writer but it's always intriguing and somewhat useful, to see how creative works have come to fruition.

85:

Having read Iron Sunrise again recently I understand that you broke this universe… but I like to think that Herman is a unreliable narrator. Which of course just breaks things more, because if you can't trust the Being with it's finger on the Button, what is the to do!

I can just imagine a Eschaton subsystem explaining that it's perfectly reliable...however, your current universe may need a service patch. Be patient and corrected service will be provided shortly.

86:

Any computer, no matter how nifty the processor, is limited by its programming and by its available output devices. Its programming limits it to doing what it was ordered to do

That's a very naive view of software. I urge you to take a look at the field of machine learning; you might be in for some surprises.

87:

And it's that, allied with effectively limitless raw computing power, which would be scary.

Heck, the alternate approach of simulating a brain's neurons, but being able to do so at any speed multiplier you like, and with many more neurons that can fit within a human skull (or within the reaction time distance that the human skull constrains) would also have quite some potential.

All of this does, of course, rely on being able to use Closed Timelike Curves at the processing level, which I don't expect to happen anytime soon ('soon' meaning 'within the lifetime of this universe').

88:

Ah, memories. "Festival of Fools" was to be the first book of Big Engine's unofficial phase 2. I'd made my mistakes and learnt my lessons. Sadly the first of those lessons was that I'm really not a businessman.

FoF had a cover by Dominic Harman in the works, and the next book after that was to be Chris Beckett's "The Holy Machine".

Sobs.

89:

That could have been an interesting list.

(I didn't know about the Dominic Harman cover; that would have undoubtedly been good.)

90:

This reminds me of an old joke. I don't remember the source, but it sounds like Pratchett. The idea was that oysters were the most evil creatures in existence, pure malevolence incarnate. Fortunately, they were also completely ineffective.

Machine learning, as I understand it, involves teaching the machine to make the best choice from a fairly well defined solution space (spam folder vs. inbox in one common case, assigning each squiggle to one of 26 letters in another). It's handy at times, but it's also pretty limited.

91:

All very interesting, thanks for it. Love the connection to Festival time (I was once bummed around Leith as a tourist during August looking for a low key pub).

SS was a great joy of a read. I had mostly given up a sci-fi because of the questionable politics and lack of sophistication (you might guess I'm American) when I stumbled upon Bruce Sterling and then the Second Scottish Enlightenment (Banks, Macleaod, you).

Gushing aside. I am struck by how similar (after a reflection along the dark/pessimistic axis) your description of the SS universe is to the Laundry series. Specifically: accidental contact with higher beings; concerns about computational density, specifically, and run-away technology in general (in SS it is both pro and con, depending on whose point of view).

Hopefully, will pull IS off my shelf soon to see how badly its broken, but if I enjoy it half as much as SS, it will be well worth it.

92:

This reminds me of an old joke. I don't remember the source, but it sounds like Pratchett. The idea was that oysters were the most evil creatures in existence, pure malevolence incarnate. Fortunately, they were also completely ineffective.

The Doom Oyster was a one-panel throwaway gag in one of Phil Foglio's Girl Genius strips, some years ago. I hadn't heard it spreading from there, but it's funny.

Hm, I don't find the one I was thinking of, but this page has a pretty good evil oyster too.

93:

All Right! I've bookmarked that as the Bookmark The First in Newspapers.

This after I discovered that the Microsoft ' Easy Transfer 'system isn’t either Easy nor will it sodding Transfer so that I've had to do Everything from 32bit to the new PCs 64 bit by the Old Fashioned Way a Bit at a time! Bugger Microsoft!

[ Other stuff deleted by moderator. If you want to talk about it, email me privately -- CS. ]

94:

And how would this " .. effectively limitless raw computing power, which would be scary. " intergrate with the Old Computing Power along the lines of my interesting experience of transfering my old files and programs from the OLD PC to the NEW PC? I expect that it will be a Really EASY Transfer, EH?

Oh that all of Microsofts personel had but One Neck that my Paws might close about it!

96:

actually, discussions on hard sf space operas are quite common. another take, somewhat related to the attack vector: tactical game, is here:

http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/

97:

A quick thank you for that link to " Phil Foglio's Girl Genius strips," which are really cheering me up ...and believe me that’s not easy to do at the moment!

Even as I type I'm remembering this Wonderful send up of the whole art of opera in general and Wagner in particular...

http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20080204


98:

Yes at my last job we had a presentation by our autonomy expert and some of the stuff that autonomy are experimenting with are quite freaky not quite at SCORPION STARE level but along those lines.

There has always been a lot of work going on by TLA's in AI/ML.

Even the fairly basic playing round with a sample of data from a UK science mag I did with some noddy python scripts produced a few interesting results.

99:

Foglio's "Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire" series is also worth a look.

100:

Any computer, no matter how nifty the processor, is limited by its programming and by its available output devices.

OGH already responded to the programming part, but as far as available output devices are concerned, (a) a lot of computers are connected to the Internet, which is quite a powerful and versatile output device, and (b) as people have pointed out elsewhere, one of the bigger sources of funding for technology is the military. A military computer may be connected to some quite scary output devices by design (and its programming may or may not be exactly peaceful in intent either).

Even just the Internet could be scary enough as an output device, though.

101:

and as far as output goes, might i propose something like the magicotron, which is for dsm-categorial magical thinking what a perceptron is for more normal thinking. though, come to think about it, ogh's athena comes somewhat close to that one...

let's assume we set a goal, e.g. pacify inner cities. the magicotron looks at its database of past computations that correlate with lower violence in inner cities. it reimplements some that do, and if this works, it repeats them as long as they help. the magicotron doesn't know how it happens, and neither do we. it might be that the yogic flyers were right after all

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

it might be the computations somehow lead to a glitch in financial software elsewhere, doing some anticyclic economics, it might be the combined electromagnetic interference from computations some orders of magnitude north of a petaflop makes for a breakdown of communication infrastructure, leading to fewer domestic disputes (we all know irony is hard with new media) or a higher birth rate, though that one is somewhat up to debate...

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-11-04/news/ct-met-blizzard-babies-20111104_1_blizzard-babies-immobilizing-event-spike

but as already mentioned, the way ogh's athena deals with spammers is somewhat similar.

102:

Machine learning has always been kinda disappointing, and will probably continue to be disappointing even as it gradually warms up to human equivalent capabilities, like a magician when you know the trick.

However, computations can give surprising results, see: Mandelbrot set. Stephen Wolfram's 1D enumeration of cellular automata. The continued discovery of interesting mathematical results, based on a small set of axioms. Hexagonal tiles are a personal favourite of mine (google "ghost diagrams"). Imagine a button that each time you press it there's a non-zero chance of seeing something that tickles your brain's novelty detector... for as long as you want to keep pressing it. Mathematics is full of these buttons!

For that matter, we haven't yet found the limits of what a human brain can do, and brains are a terribly slapdash affair. It's not so long ago that people couldn't read without saying the words out loud.

103:

@ 93-95
At least with MicroShaft you KNOW they are an "Evil Corporation bent on World Domination" (TM)...
Whereas, Apple .. err let's not go there right now, shall we?

trottelreiner @ 101
Like getting rid of tetraethyl lead in fuels?
The right are having awful trouble getting their heads around that one as a cause (removal of cause, actually) for significantly-lower (like crashing) levels of criminality in cities - everywhere ....

104:

might be an example, but in this case, we have an actual mechanism to explain it, e.g. lead toxicity leading to subtle brain damage. and both cause and effect are somewhat physical. in general, i think there are quite some cases where we have no explanation for causation, but still a strong correlation. e.g. in a laboratory, we had a certain experiment that only worked some time, leading to a quip about phase of the moon, of course nobody believed that one[1], though we were sure there was some hidden variable at work.

if you go for catalyst in chemistry, it gets somewhat more extreme, i can't find the article, but once
a) somebody washed his glassware with a soft drink, and
b) the poor soul out to reproduce the somewhat exeptional high yield at least thought this the possible reason.

i was not so much thinking about these, but more about actual changes in the physical world through manipulating other computers alone, but in a more realistic way than the laundry universe. quite a lot of these might be somewhat brute ideas, like posting anti-lead letters to newspapers, others would be more subtle, like somewhat hacking the price of oil, thus leading to a shift towards diesel engines that use no tetraethyl lead (if they do, sorry, wrong example). in any way, a computer relegated to sending only text messages or even icmp pings could have interesting results, provided correct timing.

on a more electronic level and somewhat the other way around, there is a robot that does one computation again and again and measures time or correctness. if those leave something to desire, it changes position and repeats. eventually, it finds the best place to do the computation, no matter if the disturbing influence is temperature or vibrations or eletromagnetic interference or whatever. iirc, sorry, i'll try to look up that one later.

which, well, reminds me somewhat of the magical thinking known to us from human beings, e.g. unconnected deeds, or just words, or even just thoughts lead to effects in reality.


[1] my comment that just at the time pluto was demoted from planet status, so the horoscopes had to be redrawn was neither meant nor raken serious.

105:

er, sorry for the typos. actually, i was thinking somewhat along some stories by lem, especially golem xiv, where making the right computations creates energy and maybe leads to strange incidents with people trying to make an armed assault on said computer.

106:

"I have to say, this can be a problem when the author is much smarter than his readers, because I'd happily buy that jalopy from you and not even notice it's flaws, but when I look at say, Palimpsest, I can't help wondering how one can cut one's own throat non metaphorically.

"The average reader is quite happy in a standard space opera mileu, but you throw your hands up in despair and give us Marty McFly intentionally breaking up his parents instead. This is counter intuitive to the hoi polloi, I have to say. :)

Then there's the old "Willing suspension of disbelief" thing...

Personally I'm quite happy to overlook much more obvious "broken universe" issues than are apparent (even after having them pointed out by the designer) in SS/IS as long as the writer is able to tell a satisfying story with engaging characters...

That said OGH clearly isn't willing to make the sort of compromises this would require of him, this is on one level a bit annoying as it leaves me with a whole bunch of unanswered questions[1] and untold stories[1] but that's my problem not his, and, as he's been kind enough to provide me with a whole bunch of other interesting universes with perfectly good stories in them I'm not about to compain :-)

[1] Not that any single author is ever going to be able to ehaust the possibilities of a universe as rich and extensive as that of the Eschaton...

107:

still somewhat thinking about it...

well, actually, if i made a story out of this one, it would be about "magic" in the modern world. actually, the sanscrit word "tantra" translates somewhat to "connection", so it might be in accord with older ideas about "magic".

the whole story would be somewhat about the interconnections and strange causalities in modern life. also note the ai in question might be interested in hiding its actions, so directly opposing lead in fuels might be out of the question. it would lead to discovery of the ai and likely destruction of it. more subtle influence, e.g. by tuning search results from che!mical abstracts and like to predominantly show catalysators prone to poisoning by lead, thus leading to its elimination, might be worthwhile. problem is, initial assumptions say the ai is not conscious of any of this, it just spots some correlation between doing something, e.g. tuning search results, and an outcome. some of the intermitting causations might be somewhat bad, e.g. one of the ways to lessen use of leaded fuels are a recession with less cars or a deadly disease. i guess the story works best if we keep to few outcomes and effectors, that shoud also need to some nasty surprises.

te main problem i see, keep it too vague, and people will think it unrealistic, get too concrete, and we loose the sense of wonder we want to evoke. as already said, directly lessening tetraethyl lead wouladsj be too mundane, preferentially routing traffic through a computer centre sharing its electricity with a factory producing it, thus making electricity expensive in the vicinity, this making the product uneconomic might be more apt.

err, sorry, i guess i should ask my muse what she's smoking or, more probable, insist on her starting to smoke or otherwise take her medicine.

108:

Just out of curiosity, what exactly was so unpublishable about the "novel-shaped object"?

109:

Unsympathetic protagonist. Unfixably unsympathetic protagonist. And the plot/action derived from his interaction with the people/places/situations he encountered.

Put it another way: "The Atrocity Archive" was in many respects a from-the-ground-up re-write with a somewhat different premise for the secret government agency $PROTAG falls into, and with Bob Howard instead of Mr Unsympathetic.

(You're not missing anything, in other words.)

110:

Mr.Stross is correct on CTCs giving P=NP, as has been known 8 years. See:
Guest Column: "NP-complete problems and physical reality", Scott Aaronson, ACM SIGACT
Volume 36 Issue 1, March 2005
Pages 30 - 52
Abstract:
an NP-complete problems be solved efficiently in the physical universe? I survey proposals including soap bubbles, protein folding, quantum computing, quantum advice, quantum adiabatic algorithms, quantum-mechanical nonlinearities, hidden variables, relativistic time dilation, analog computing, Malament-Hogarth spacetimes, quantum gravity, closed timelike curves, and "anthropic computing." The section on soap bubbles even includes some "experimental" results. While I do not believe that any of the proposals will let us solve NP-complete problems efficiently, I argue that by studying them, we can learn something not only about computation but also about physics.
-- Prof. Jonathan Vos Post

111:

From memory, 'Antibodies' was published in Interzone, 'Bear Trap' and ''A Colder War' in Spectrum SF. Not that this information changes anything...

112:

Further reading on the Battle of Tsushima if anyone wants it:-

"The Fleet That Had to Die" by Richard Hough.

Published by Birlinn paperback ISBN 1 84158 044 9

113:

Oh I can handle suspension of disbelief, the one lie you swallow to enjoy the story, no problem. Hell, give me half a dozen, I read comic books for entertainment.

What confuses me about Palimpsest is that I'm trying to figure out if it's one of those things you just accept or if Charlie, who is smarter than me, really thinks timetravel should work like that, paradox, schmaradox.

114:

The title "Palimpsest" is possibly a hint.

116:

Well, two things bugged me about Palimpsest. One was that this seemed to be an infinite universes sort of thing, where a bunch of shaved apes, on an insignificant planet in an insignificant galaxy, were making versions of the entire universe. Imagine that every sentient species in the universe discovers time travel this way. Infinity of infinities! How can one navigate such a mess? What happens if two species at opposite sides of the universe change the universe's history simultaneously? Talk about rewrite hell.

It would have been much more interesting if it had been a local multiverse, don't you think? Here's a nice alternate explanataion: local multiverses, within which sentient species do stupid things with time travel and alternate histories. We don't see interstellar travel because, if two races contacted each other, making their trees of alternate histories reconcile would be one of those non-trivial problems. Too bad Charlie ruled out this possibility in the story.

The second, and bigger, bug was putting the ultimate library at the end of time. Really? Histories proliferate through time, and they all end at the same library? How does that work again?

It would have been much better at the other end, sitting back there around 4.35 bilion years ago, guarding the root for the whole tree. It would be the most heavily guarded public library in history. Literally. But if you visit that library, good luck finding the right branch to swing home on, monkey boy...

But I quibble.

117:

That's why going to the library involves going back in time to the root of the tree then forward to the library.

As for simultaneous changes, the time-travel mechanism specifically excludes them — only one incoming wormhole can be open at a time. So time battles are basically a giant game of Nim; whoever takes the last slot wins (or at least has the advantage).

118:

Um, I think the Universe as a whole allows more than one wormhole, don't you think? If "going through a wormhole" causes an alternate history, this could be a problem if there are many such wormholes throughout the universe.

As for traveling to the library, it appears explicitly that multiple histories converge on that one future, which, to me, seems weird. Even the whole mechanism of collecting all information at the beginning of history (dodging all those incoming asteroids, presumably) and sending it forward seems weird. Why send it forward anyway, if the collection point is in the deep past?

119:

The Palimpsest universe allows one time-gate, period. There are some interesting conclusions to be made from this.

I think Charlie's also made it clear there are not multiple timelines: once something changes, that's it. This avoids paradoxes, as well.

120:

Palimpsest Spoilers:

I've read through Palimpsest a few times to try to understand how it works, and only become ever more sure that we aren't told all we need to know. The mechanism of the time gate as explained is boggling enough, but doesn't seem to account for everything we see. Beyond the troubling questions of just how un the unhistories are, and exactly how the cryptozoic library relays avoid constantly wiping the future, there are several passages where our protagonist can see and is aware of history being rewritten around him. I don't think you can account for that with the gate mechanism.

Why does the final library only record unhistories in which a final library is built? What filters all the rest out? Is the establishment of Control linked with the final library so that only lines with a final library get access to Control to send back their records to the relays?

I feel the one-gate restriction jars a little with special relativity. The tear-down/set-up time is too short to prevent there being reference frames in which multiple gates are open simultaneously even if gates are restricted to the surface of the earth. So it seems the gate is constrained to uniqueness only with respect to one privileged reference frame. (Diameter of earth is ~42 light milliseconds vs. 14ms gate-gate time.)

Presumably the Library can't be built in the deep past because that era lacks the storage capacity of a planet-crust full of memory diamond.

(I wish i'd snagged a copy of the electronic version when it was up for the Hugo so i could tag and index it.)

121:

As for traveling to the library, it appears explicitly that multiple histories converge on that one future, which, to me, seems weird.

Nope. The issue is that "humanity always goes extinct"; all time-lines ultimately end up with a cooling dead world, which pretty much converges on the same ground state.

So: the Stasis relay all data right back to the earliest accessible common history, shortly after the end of the Late Heavy Bombardment, which then forwards it to the final stable common state (the graveyard world). Everything in-between those points is prone to palimpsests -- overwrites -- but the end state is stable. Ish.

(Yes, there's more to this story than meets the eye. The gate mechanism is constrained to uniqueness within the light come defined by when it was first switched on -- around the time of that Hadean era relay station's creation -- which by our time means it's a few billion light years in radius. By the time of the final library it's a couple of trillion light years in radius, but the universe has also expanded considerably. Just how the time machine got created is outside the frame of the novella/first third of the novel. Ditto the purpose of the ultimate library. Although I can spoiler it a little by saying the continents of memory diamond that Pierce discovers are just the low-latency cache for a much bigger structure.)

122:

Cough *fossils* cough!

Every dead, cooling planet is different, because different histories leave radically different imprints on the planet itself. Saying that all such futures are the same is analogous to saying that all books are the same, because they are composed of covers, paper, and ink, and the author's no longer adding pages or ink.

I'd also point out that the Earth is moving at something between 250 km/s (relative to the center of the galaxy) and 600 km/s (relative to the cosmic background radiation). Therefore, the time-gate is also a jump-gate in space. Damn that Einstein...

123:

I'd also point out that the Earth is moving at something between 250 km/s (relative to the center of the galaxy) and 600 km/s (relative to the cosmic background radiation). Therefore, the time-gate is also a jump-gate in space.

Yup, that's why the Resistance use it (in some palimpsests) as a route to galactic colonization.

Also note that the various palimpsests that lead to the final library are all mediated by the Stasis.

(Finally: it's a very unreliable narrative. See the penultimate scene, for example, in which Pierce is talking to a woman. Is she Yarrow or Xiri? Hint: Schroedinger's cat is relevant here.)

124:

May it also be fair to say that ultimately all palimpsests are "Statis mediated", since without Stasis the Opposition cannot exist, and therefore the Library must always come into existence? Also taking into account that Stasis has an earliest point at which it can come into existence, so it should be easy enough to create a palimpsest where Stasis never exists, but this is a lose-lose proposition since without Stasis the Opposition can't exist, and without either mankind is utterly doomed. (There are of course assumptions in here about how deep the deceptions fed to Pierce, and therefore the reader, go.)

125:

I have to confess that I don't read a time travel story with plausibility in mind. I start with a presumption against thinking things through. I look for dramatic and sensational properties and an engaging tale. With a preference actually for a fun story rather a grim one. And if I'm forced to think things through and that's, like, hard, why am I reading this exactly?

126:
What confuses me about Palimpsest is that I'm trying to figure out if it's one of those things you just accept or if Charlie, who is smarter than me, really thinks timetravel should work like that, paradox, schmaradox.

He's not the first one to use this device, but the fact that people come back to it independently is intriguing. "Palimpsest" reads as if it was heavily influenced by The End of Eternity. The otherwise unremarkable Thrice Upon a Time is notable for being the first story to mention the computational leveraging time travel implies. My personal favorite of this sub genre is Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself. Well worth the read if you can find it.

127:
Beyond the troubling questions of just how un the unhistories are, and exactly how the cryptozoic library relays avoid constantly wiping the future, there are several passages where our protagonist can see and is aware of history being rewritten around him. I don't think you can account for that with the gate mechanism.

Resolving the 'time outside of time' problem seems to be a recurring difficulty. Time has to pass in this zone; does that mean you can travel back in forth there as well, and if so, doesn't this collapse into an infinite regress? ISTM that the simplest way avoiding this problem while insulating the protagonists from the consequences of their actions is to have them operate out of the past . . . the further back the better. Wouldn't want another gang to get the jump on you ;-)

128:

That's effectively a dimensional problem. There's no reason you can't have a fifth dimension (a second time dimension) for "time outside of time" actions." One can also posit additional spatial dimensions within which alternative histories are located.

The problem then is that, if alternative histories occupy an alternative space, eventually that space will fill up, putting an upper limit on the number of alternates. Or, if the alternate space is infinite, one could also talk about "branching angles" in alternative histories (think of history as a branching tree). Past a certain point, all the viable branching angles are taken, and there's no place for another angle on the situation.

Either way, things could get awkward.

Another possibility is that history gets rewritten as soon as someone goes through a time gate. Does that mean that everything gets rewritten instantaneously within the light cone of the gate, or does the change propagate at light speed?

Worse, what happens if there are multiple time gates within a galaxy? When their light cones intersect, something rather baroque probably happens.

Aside from intrinsic coolness, I'm still trying to figure out the library at the end of time. The link at the beginning of Earth time is, strategically, the most important point in the whole apparatus.

129:
It would have been much better at the other end, sitting back there around 4.35 bilion years ago, guarding the root for the whole tree. It would be the most heavily guarded public library in history. Literally.

Ah, I see you got in ahead of me. Yeah, going backwards - down the tree as it were - seems to imply some sort of determinism. It's the going forward part that implies multiple outcomes. This makes the universe the anti game of Life; played in the usual way - 'forwards in time' as it were - Life is completely deterministic. There is only one possible future for any given state of the board. But play the game 'backwards in time' by inverting the operations and all of a sudden there is more than one outcome with no way to choose between them. One future, many pasts instead of one past, many futures.

130:

Well, the only way you get a causal universe with time travel is either if there are large numbers of alternate histories, or history gets rewritten by each choice. Otherwise, time travel stories take place in a non-causal universe, where outcomes are already predetermined. It's possible to tell a story in such a setting, but it's tricky. Effectively, the story in a noncausal universe has to be the behind-the-scenes story of what happens on the deterministic stage, where the characters have free will in inverse proportion to their importance to history (in other words, perfect freedom comes from perfect irrelevance).

131:
The problem then is that, if alternative histories occupy an alternative space, eventually that space will fill up, putting an upper limit on the number of alternates. Or, if the alternate space is infinite, one could also talk about "branching angles" in alternative histories (think of history as a branching tree). Past a certain point, all the viable branching angles are taken, and there's no place for another angle on the situation.

Isn't the connection between computing and cosmology cool? Something I'm sure we'll see more of as the century slogs on. Anyway, yeah, the multiple universes that are being constantly spawned off don't interact with each other now (what we call decoherence these days) because the Hilbert space of quantum mechanics is unbelievably huge. But huge doesn't mean infinite and this space is filling up exponentially fast at that, so eventually -'eventually' meaning ten to some absurdly large power - they'll start interacting again. In fact, this is nothing more than a reformulation of the thermodynamic arrow of time. The multiverse will be in 'thermodynamic equilibrium' when the rate at which individual histories are diverge is equal to the rate at which they merge.

Unless the rate at which new space is created is greater than or equal to the rate at which new universes are created, in which case they will never recohere. Guess what? This is exactly what seems to be implied by inflationary theories of the universe and real world observations showing the rate of cosmological expansion increasing rather than tapering off. Will this be enough to prevent those far future collisions? Only time will tell :-) Incidentally, these two possible outcomes are exactly equivalent to the situation where either a gas expands from a small initial state at low entropy inside a box to a final state where it fills it at high entropy, or it's released into an infinite vacuum where it expands forever and never reaches equilibrium. Where do you think the 'adiabatic' came from in 'adiabatic quantum computation'?

132:

Speaking of Palimpsest, I keep wondering how many readers spotted the double meaning in the organisation's name.

133:
Otherwise, time travel stories take place in a non-causal universe, where outcomes are already predetermined. It's possible to tell a story in such a setting, but it's tricky.

'Our fate is that our fate is precast, yet all still seems at stake!' Paraphrased from The Eighty-minute Hour. My favorite example of this type is Egan's "The Hundred Light-Year Diary".

134:

heteromeles @ 128
One can also posit additional spatial dimensions within which alternative histories are located.
Yes, and "filling up" is emphatically not a problem, since it is a subset of Hilbert's Hotel (!)
However, you have just re-invented H. Beam Piper's "Parallel Times" universe, with or without the "minimum jump" that he put in ... you could not go directly from one possible U to the next-door one. There was a "minimum jump" (quantum-mediated?) size to travelling between U's - to get next-door, you had to make jump above the minimum size (several thousand or even million, IIRC) & then jump back again to n+/-1 from where you started ....
As you note in your next item-but-one @#130, I see.

SoV @ 131
Isn't the connection between computing and cosmology cool?
And, is the entire U a hologram?
And, if so, where does the projection & display(s) originate & what are their, err, (im)material state(s) ??

Ross
S
Well, I haven't, so enlighten us?

135:

Possible spoiler for part 2/the rest of the novel: the entire point of the Stasis is to create the Final Library. It's their entire original raison d'etre. (Of course, by Pierce's "time" this has been obscured by the internal struggle triggered by the iron law of bureaucracy.) This also plays into the Long Burn towards the Bootes Void.

Further reading: Olaf Stapledon, Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov, Franz Kafka ...

136:

Actually, I already had that design, although I named it after Jack Vance's Chronoplex, rather than Piper. My conceit was that the only major history branches happened at mass extinctions, because a) the geology of the events never seems to entirely cohere into a single story, and b) more to the point, the iron laws of bureaucracy and divorce should practically guarantee a mass extinction, if the two major timelines send people back to the junction to argue over who gets what for each future, and they're not content with a single copy.

Dropping back a comment, I do like the idea of cosmic inflation being a result of alternate histories inflating space. However, I better like Pratchett's notion that the reason we see only 6% of the universe is that the other 94% is the paperwork on that 6%. I'll be very sad when those sensible physicists come up with a better answer than this.

137:

Okay, fine, we'll let you have your Final Library. I know, big of me. Still, it better make sense this time!

138:
However, you have just re-invented H. Beam Piper's "Parallel Times" universe, with or without the "minimum jump" that he put in ... you could not go directly from one possible U to the next-door one.

Well no, by definition, the worlds posited in the MWI interpretation of QM are inaccessible. Linearity and all that. Now, it's logically possible, however improbable that someone will discover that QM isn't linear after all. And it's conceivable that nonlinearities could be exploited to visit those other worlds. But if QM is nonlinear, odds are you don't need the MWI to explain wave function collapse anymore.

It really does look as if the only way to get to another branch of the wave function is through the judicious application of good old-fashioned time travel :-)

139:

I am happy to conclude that me being confused by Palimpsest is a feature and not a bug (In me)

Yup, that's why the Resistance use it (in some palimpsests) as a route to galactic colonization.

Now that's an awesome idea, and a good example of why you're the pro around here.

140:

Presumably the Library can't be built in the deep past because that era lacks the storage capacity of a planet-crust full of memory diamond.

There seems no reason why it couldn't be put in the deep past; parking a library planet out in the cometary halo somewhere is within their technical abilities. But while the Stasis uses space travel for engineering, they don't seem to like it.

This brings up another thought about the Stasis, though. They claimed to be trying for a maximum number of human-years. It was within their power to bring in five more Earthlike planets and form a hexagonal array around the sun (with the planets in each others' trojan points), thereby greatly increasing the habitable area. This might have gotten bogged down in paperwork, or never brought up to anyone with the power to get it done - or they might have shied away from it as too blatant a piece of engineering to get away with, as most eras were kept unaware of time travelers.

141:

At one point I was sketching out a all-but-sequel-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off for Charlie's Iron Sunrise. In my version of the ReMastered, the upper echelons of the political class didn't want the Unborn God project finished. Because: they were doing well enough at conquering the galaxy without the UG's help; switching on the UG would mean that the political class would no longer be top dog, just the fleas on the top dog; and because secretly they were desperately afraid of what it would be like.

So, of course, in my version, what the Eschaton wanted was for the UG to be switched on. Not because it was going to be a rival, but because they were going to combine, so that the Eschaton would be complete at last. (I'd've put a spoiler warning on that, except that it's unlikely I'm ever going to write it.)

142:

Um, there may be bigger reasons why a Klemperer rosette was not set up. They don't seem to be terribly stable even when properly set up with planets of equal weight. I'm not quite sure how you set up one with planets of five different masses.

There's a bit of a non-trivial management problem in moving the planet without causing an extinction, anyway. I guess you'd do it by mounting some gargantuan-scale engines on the moon, and using it as the gravity tug, but the effects on Earth will be non-subtle, as they say (cf: death of Atlantis...)

Since I've been bugging Charlie about that darned final library, I probably shouldn't bring up the logistics of re-engineering the solar system when Earth is "dead." It's a non-trivial exercise in cross-time logistics.

143:

hi Charlie

Off topic, but Glasshouse got a very favourable en passant mention in the Economist blogs today

Regards

Rex

144:

Trojan orbit stability is constrained by the ratios of the masses of the objects. The primary:secondary (Sun:Earth1 in this case) must be greater than 25:1, no problem there. But the secondary:trojan (Earth1:Earth2 or whatever) needs to be quite a bit larger than that (the trojan has to be of "comparatively negligible mass" according to Wikipedia). So you only get 1 Earth-like planet; the others need to be much smaller.

Klemperer rosettes are arrangements of bodies with alternating masses (heavy, light, heavy, light) or (heavy, medium, light, heavy, medium, light) etc. so again you don't get all Earth-size planets. Also, they're not at all stable, any perturbation leads to positive feedback.

145:

I like "Here, There, and Everywhere" by Chris Roberson. It's somewhat of a homage to "The Man Who Folded Himself" with a much more extroverted protagonist (as in she doesn't spend as much time diddling herself).

146:

One other interesting possibility is that, for the first billion years or so after the late heavy bombardment, Venus, Earth, and Mars would also be roughly equally , erm, habitable. If time travelers ventured back that far, there could easily have been a Triplanetary civilization for the first billion years or so. Not sure how this would work in the Palimpsest universe, given that humans are supposed to go inevitably extinct (that's a hell of a staffing problem regardless), but the possibility remains.

147:

25:1, eh? So you could move Jupiter or Saturn in, then have Earth and Venus in its Trojans, then maybe put Mercury and Mars in orbit about the gas giant?

Mind you, if you're going to all that trouble, you may as well just build a Banksian Orbital with a substrate of memory diamond. It might be simpler than trying to work with the pressures inside a planet.

148:

Move either Jupiter or Saturn, because you can't have stable orbits with both, then take some of the moons for material and build Orbitals in the L4 & L5 points. The Orbitals could rotate around their points, since those Langrange solutions are actually stable orbits, not points.

149:

Um, there may be bigger reasons why a Klemperer rosette was not set up. They don't seem to be terribly stable even when properly set up with planets of equal weight.

Indeed. I was behind the times on orbital dynamics; somewhere I'd picked up the idea that a six-body constellation would be as stable as a conventional trojan arrangement. It seems the thing would need constant attention and dynamic stabilizing - and at that point you might as well go for a ringworld.

It was a nice idea while it lasted.

150:

Anonymous | May 15, 2013 23:53 | Reply
:
I've been thinking about "Palimpsest" off & on for awhile now, and I've noticed some implications of the way the timegate works.

The 14 millisecond minimum window for opening & closing a wormhole has a major effect on the tactics of time battles. It means that mass movements are impossible; groups have to jump in & out of a spatial volume in ripples rather than en masse. And there are probably techniques for hogging the slots in a space-time volume if you know, in some sense "before" your opponent, where/when the battle will take place. As Zelazny described a temporal fugue battle in "Creatures of Light and Darkness", each combatant threads the battle ground with loops of themselves, trying to outnumber & outposition the opponents. So possession of timegate slots would be paramount.

An additional complication comes from the need to open a communication wormhole to send the request for a transport wormhole. We're told the system opens a 1 millisecond wormhole to the relay in the Cryptozoic every 5 seconds throughout the trillions of years of Stasis operations for sending information to the Final Library. A similar mechanism could be used for the wormhole requests, but, depending on the frequency of slots used there could be a latency time, perhaps of seconds, before the request could be sent. This latency could be highly problematic in the middle of a battle.

Efficient and fair allocation of wormhole slots is a similar problem to allocation of concurrent resources in an operating system. One solution is to create multiple subsidiary stores and preallocate from the primary store. For the timegate this might mean preallocating slots in blocks of a thousand years and making each block a separate resource. But another way to make the system more efficient might be that each time a transport request from a given individual is completed, a new slot is allocated for that individual's next request, and passed to the requestor through the wormhole that's about to be torn down. This would eliminate the need for a request wormhole the next time.

151:

(Yes, there's more to this story than meets the eye. ... Just how the time machine got created is outside the frame of the novella/first third of the novel. Ditto the purpose of the ultimate library. Although I can spoiler it a little by saying the continents of memory diamond that Pierce discovers are just the low-latency cache for a much bigger structure.)

I didn't understand why the Stasis would bother with all the eon-spanning cosmological engineering and the other efforts to preserve humanity. If the universe is going to become uninhabitable in the end anyway, what's the point? I suspect I'm assuming too much, and you solve this in the rest of the novel.

152:

"Palimpsest" reads as if it was heavily influenced by The End of Eternity.

I suppose Honorable Scholar Yarrow is an allusion to Asimov's Educator Yarrow:


Educator Yarrow was at a desk talking to them. Harlan could remember Yarrow well: a small, intense man, with ruddy hair in disarray, freckled forearms, and a look of loss in his eyes. (It wasn't uncommon, this look of loss in the eyes of an Eternal — the loss of home and roots, the unadmitted and unadmittable longing for the one Century he could never see.)

153:

That [the idea that a computer is limited by its programming] is a very naive view of software. I urge you to take a look at the field of machine learning; you might be in for some surprises.

Because everyone knows about evolution's power to generate novelty, those computational learning methods called "genetic algorithms" that are based on evolution are a good starting point. Look at the wonderful creatures that Karl Sims evolved under a simulated physics. Papers explaining how he did this are linked at the bottom of the same page.

154:

brucecohenpdx @ 150
As Zelazny described a temporal fugue battle in "Creatures of Light and Darkness"
I've read that SO many times & I'm still having problems - it's a little-kmown masterpiece!

Err.. the allocation & abrogation/acquisition/annullment (I'm on an alliteration jag!) of time-slots, whether 1 or 14-millisecond, reminds me of something that just popped up on a subsequent thread: The Josephus problem - of finding the survivior from a multiple-start & all the others get "eliminated", one way or another.
Is this perhaps relevant?

155:

Enjoyed reading this history of Singularity Sky. I've been reading your books in a sort of backward order, so just finished SSky. Here's my short review before I discovered the crib sheet: thewell-roundedgeek.blogspot.com.

156:

Interesting... Vance uses the word chronoplex exactly once, in Rhialto the Marvellous:
Ildefonse spoke in scathing tones: "Behold these two creatures! They can roam the chronoplex as easily as you or I can walk around the table; yet neither has the wit to announce his presence upon arrival. I found Osherl asleep in his fulgurite and Sarsem perched in the rafters."
(source: Totality)

Specials

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 9, 2013 12:14 PM.

Books I've written was the previous entry in this blog.

Minor hiccup is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog

Propaganda