Back to: Book Launch: Neptune's Brood, Edinburgh, Thursday | Forward to: Blogging for Orbit

Crib Sheet: The Fuller Memorandum

(Sorry 'bout the delay: I've been really busy.)

Some novels you want to write at some point in the future. Some novels want to be written, and others come on like cholera ...

"The Fuller Memorandum" was the latter.

It was 2007. I was burned out from writing "Halting State" in 2005-06, so the plan was for me to take a year out from writing novels for Ace to finish the Merchant Princes for Tor. Being a commercially-minded guy, the logical thing to do was to publish a short story collection. This is something of a privilege if you're with a major publisher: the collective wisdom is that short story collections don't sell, so the advance is about half the size as that for a novel—if they buy one at all (which will only happen after several novels).

I had enough material for a short collection, so it seemed sensible to write a completely original novella to accompany it—an extra something to keep the folks who'd already read all my short stories interested. That novella turned out to be "Palimpsest" (about which, more in another blog entry). Because "Palimpsest" was the only item in the collection to to have been bought by an editor, I decided to run it past my agent, who has a keen eye for commercial potential. "Charlie," she emailed back presently, "this is great. But it's not a novella; it's the first third of a novel. Why don't you finish it, and I can get the contract amended so that Ace take this in place of that Laundry novel you were going to write?"

My agent, at that time, didn't really get the Laundry files. She was dead right that "Palimpsest" wanted to grow up to be a novel, but I didn't have the other two-thirds of it waiting to be written: and the idea of cancelling the Laundry Files book, #3 on a 3 book contract I was working my way through, brought me out in a cold sweat.

So I sat down and wrote the first draft of "The Fuller Memorandum", all 107,000 words of it, in 24 days (with no time off). And then I keeled over from exhaustion.

The title "The Fuller Memorandum" was a riff on The Quiller Memorandum by "Adam Hall", a pseudonym Elleston Trevor used for spy thrillers. You're familiar with his work even if you don't know of him by name—"The Flight of the Phoenix" (filmed twice) was one of his. So was the movie "The Quiller Memorandum" and an immensely successful (British) cold war spy thriller franchise.

However, at the time I started writing I hadn't revisited the Quiller oeuvre for about 15 years. And I was working my way through the collected works of one of the more remarkable and unfairly overlooked British spy thriller authors, Anthony Price. It is to Mr Price that "The Fuller Memorandum" owes its structure, with the obsessive researching of buried historical records, the painstaking historical process of unearthing what really happened (with lethal consequences for the present), and the deeply sinister office politics. Also: a hat tip to the late John M. Ford, aka "Dr. Mike", who appears in "The Fuller Memorandum" as a kind of memorial to his own Anthony Price tribute novel (now long out of print), The Scholars of Night.

It's to the 24 day death march, motivated by the threat of cancellation, that the book owes its relatively tight pacing and structure: I wrote it so rapidly that I could hold everything in my head, rather than forgetting earlier parts and having to go back and obsessively re-read it. Which is why the first draft was very nearly published intact: it's almost the closest I've ever come to write-once-then-publish.

Buried easter eggs:

The correspondence relating to Roman von Ungern-Sternberg and his boyhood fossil collection is spun out of whole cloth, but Ungern-Sternberg himself was very real, and best described as a bloodthirsty lunatic: an occultist, later Tibetan Buddhist, White Russian general who was a virulent anti-semite and the first to ride under a vertical banner featuring a black swastika on a white circle in a red field. The agent who unearths his fossil collection is of course the equally real Arthur Ransome. And the officer in Naval Intelligence to whom he directs subsequent correspondence uses the identity number of one Ian Fleming.

The London Necropolis Railway was indeed a Real Thing (as is Brookwood Cemetery (which, unlike the railway, is still in use).

Edit: Major General J. F. C. fuller was also real, and even more barking than the wikipedia article suggests. Yes, he was a high-ranking member of the Argenteum Astrum (until his falling-out with Aleister Crowley): yes, he invented the combined-arms doctrine later known as "Blitzkrieg" just too late to see it deployed during the first world war (it was on the cards for 1919). Yes, he was the only British general officer not recalled to service during the Second World War, probably because he was the leading military advisor to Oswald Mosely, founder of the British Union of Fascists. Of course he would have been involved in the Laundry: where else could they put him?

No, I did not attend Sherborne School. (I just did my research.)

Yes, "Panin" is a shout-out to Anthony Price.

Yes, there was going to be an afterword, as with the first two novels. But I crashed and burned halfway through writing it, and couldn't finish it in time—and in any case, "The Fuller Memorandum" was long enough that it could stand alone without padding. Maybe I'll dig it out and try to finish it some day, and put it on the blog.

That's all for now. Any questions?



I think the Quiller books were my first encounter with the info-dump. He couldn't just use a camera with a long lens when doing surveillance, I think we got told virtually everything apart from the serial numbers of the individual components and batch number of the roll of film...


Infodumps are to technothrillers as lengthily-described kisses are to romance novels.


"Major General was also real,...." I think you out a word or two.


Synchronicity: I just got that book from the library for a reread.


I apologize if I missed it, but after enjoying all the laundry books so far is there an update on the new one? "The Fuller Memorandum" was probably my favorite, but I'm always eager for more.


"Boney" (for his bald pate) Fuller & Ransome are an interesting juxtaposition, anywhere, aern't they?

P.S. Quite a lot of "Adam Hall's" infodumps are wrong or at the least contain incorrect info, if you know that particular field, whatever it is ....
Spoils the image a bit, that.


J F C Fuller's "Decisive Battles of the Western World" has some entertaining polemic in it that I still enjoy reading today.

Also I request no more death marches and keeling over from exhaustion.


Charlie, you may also wish to revisit "The London Necropolis Railway was indeed a Real Thing (albeit , as is Brookwood Cemetery (which, unlike the railway, is still in use)."

I've spent too many years at Lisp-like programming languages; my brain is trained to throw up when it gets unbalanced parentheses.


I spotted Dr. Mike, because I'm a great fan of his work, though not having read Price I didn't see the connection with "The Scholars of Night". Speaking of which book, when I discovered Mike (unfortunately after his death; I would have loved to meet him) I went looking for his books and managed to get copies of all of his novels & short story collections either through Powell's or Abe Books. "Scholars" was quite reasonably priced for out-of-print.

Aleister Crowley and some of his friends and enemies were very colorful characters. I'd live to see a subplot in a Laundry novel involving the Golden Dawn, especially one which involves the feud between Crowley and Waite, the man who popularized the Tarot and got it all wrong.


So the Laundry Files was nearly shelved? I'm glad it wasn't, its one of my favourite series, I really need to see how Case Nightmare Green pans out.


As I did go to Sherborne School, this suddenly moves right up my to-read list ...


Laundry Files #5, "The Rhesus Chart", is due out in July 2014 -- hopefully they're now flowing at roughly 2 year intervals (rather than one every 4 years, as during the previous decade).

There will also be a novella (intermediate length, between a long short story and a short novel), "Equoid", coming in 2014 -- date and publisher TBD.


Bearing in mind it was 30+ years ago I read them, I suspect the reason a camera info dump sticks in my mind was that I was heavily into B&W photography at the time and bits of the shopping list didn't ring true.

Across genres, nothing really came close until David Weber started spending 20 or 30 pages describing the capabilities of every ship in a given fleet before it opened fire...


It's strange how attached we readers can get to a series. I remember when Stephen King had his encounter with a van, it must have been awful for his family I'm sure, but as I didn't know him personally, my first thought was, 'great, now I'll never get to see how the Dark Tower ends.' I find myself thinking about George R R martin and saying to myself, 'you better be taking good care of yourself, looking both ways when you cross the road, eating healthily.' I'm afraid Mr Stross now has to go on the list of writers who have to stay alive until they can conclude a series.


Problem: once a series gets successful enough to attract that kind of fan base, what kind of author in their right mind would kill the golden goose? (OK, Arthur Conan Doyle springs to mind, but ...)

The best we can hope for is a Jim Rigny (aka Robert Jordan) situation -- terminal illness long enough that author can leave copious notes and interview and choose his own successor.

(I'm not looking forward to it, but if I suddenly learned I had terminal cancer and I was selling well enough that my publishers would support such a move, I'd try to do that -- widow and cat(s) to support.)

((NB: I gather that Iain M. Banks left no such notes for the Culture. The end came much faster than anyone expected, Iain included.))


"Problem: once a series gets successful enough to attract that kind of fan base, what kind of author in their right mind would kill the golden goose? (OK, Arthur Conan Doyle springs to mind, but ...)"

Looking forward to a greyer and grubbier Scots remake of the TV show 'Castle' set in Embra where a burned-out sci/fi author helps a tough lady detective with weird cases of radgies and scunners :)


Not trying to be morbid but if the unthinkable we're to occur who would you choose to continue your works based on your notes?


Difficult question. Very difficult. It'd have to be an existing author with a track record -- but someone who's not doing so well for themselves that they can earn more money under their own name (otherwise, why would they do it?). Also, posthumous sharecropping usually sells worse than the original books. But you've got the dead author's literary estate wanting a cut, and an author to pay. So they may cost more to commission.

This is why such posthumous collaborations usually only happen for million-sellers -- believe it or not, Iain M. Banks is at the lower end of the scale where it might be practical. I'm not even on the map. (Although I can dream.)

Finally: who's got the combination of background, interests, and humour?

Answers on the back of a postcard, please ...


Elleston Trevor/Adam Hall. I just randomly remembered a bit from Volcanoes of San Domingo the other day - the protagonist suddenly suspects that he's been served poison, when his alleged Pernod fails to become opaque on dilution. He decides to offer some of it to a dog. The consequences are pretty cynophobic, but nothing as to what's going to happen in the rest of the story.

There's a very good sense of his struggling between the horror of falling into paranoia and the horrible possibility that paranoia has just become eminently sensible.

This is an important moment in all thrillers; the transition from whatever passes for normality into thriller-space. Graham Greene actually discusses it inside a thriller - I think The Confidential Agent - where he says of someone that fear isn't natural, "you have to learn to fear successfully".


Not sure anyone could replace you for the Laundry Files. Ben Aaronovitch or Paul Cornel could maybe capture the humour, but not the scientific aspects. It wouldn't be the same anyhow. Perhaps you could leave notes with Cubicle 7 so they could at least release a supplement for Case Nightmare Green. We could just roleplay the ending. George R R Martin has apparently left notes with the producers of Game of Thrones, just in case.


In addition to Doyle, there were L. Frank Baum, who declared Oz to be permanently cut off from the civilized world in The Emerald City of Oz and then yielded to pressure from his publisher by having the Wizard take up wireless communication; and Hugh Lofting, who sent Dr. Doolittle to the moon, and then yielded to his publisher some years later and brought him back. Such resistance to commercial success seems to have been more common a century back than now; I can't think of a major literary example. Though in comic strips there is always Bill Watterson shutting down Calvin and Hobbes.


In comics practically every major character has been killed, resurrected, had their costume taken over by another, had a sex change, been replaced by an alternate dimension version of themselves or just been ret-conned back into relevance (Batman is as good an example as any). I think comics run to slightly different rules than other media.

I think TFM was when I first noticed the Laundry books becoming a series, rather than a collections of stories.


Calvin & Hobbes is a good example. People are still making fan art today. Never mind appreciative cartoons, fans are making movies and posting them to youtube. Bill Watterson could bring it back tomorrow if he chose.


Peter Watts would be a good candidate, ignoring the part where he's older than you and keeps getting exciting skin conditions. Maybe you could sign a death pact where you each cede your respective universes to the survivor in case of early death...

Watts can certainly write fanfiction, as The Things attests so it would be fun to see what he could cook up in the Laundryverse.

Get some videogame adaptations done (Games is where the money is nowadays!) and you can have your pick.


Might I suggest the Elric of Melnibone solution?

It goes like this: Kill off the series soon, but set the final boom at some indefinite future point, with enough technical decay that it's impossible to tell when it happens (for example, if the cell network is down and people are conjuring eldritch horrors to fill their social media needs, who cares what kind of cell phone you have?). You can destroy the world in comfort, knowing that Michael Moorcock paved the way for destroying your world and all its characters without destroying the series.

Then relax and spend the rest of the series getting to that final conflagration.


I think you're missing a word or two in the paragraph about the Necropolis railway, after the word "albeit".


Nope, the "albeit" was left in from earlier editing. Deleted now.


It was quite common, and remains so to some degree. I personally refer to it as "Reichenbach Syndrome". I've read claims about both Doyle and Baum that claim that they really would have preferred to write other material. Sadly, despite having achieved significant personal name recognition, they could never get much in the way of actual *sales* on their other material, and were more-or-less economically forced to go back to their famous series. [I haven't read as much about Doyle, but Baum was *terrible* with money matters, and was working off serious debt burdens with those later Oz books.]

In relatively recent years, Douglas Adams put an ending on _Mostly Harmless_ that seemed designed to prevent the possibility of there ever being another Hitchhiker's book, despite being on contract to create at least one more.


That's a shame, I was hoping he was a real life inspiration for Maj. Major. And meanwhile my to-read list gets longer again....


This was the first of your novels I had to wait to read - I'd discovered you after Halting State had just come out and went on a complete binge reading all your back catalogue.

Its also meant that I went off reading Anthony Price to get a feel of how the book would play out , and I must say of the 3 AP novels I read you captured the style very well.

I did the same with TAC too , although to my shame I took too long to read Modesty Blaise that I dropped it when TAC came out, however the 16 or so pages I did read gave me enough of a clue as to how it was going to feel. I went back and read MB afterwards and it really did feel like TAC, minus the Strossian slant and the brain sucking monsters. Still have 2 more sitting waiting to be read , but for some reason other, newer, shinier things keep getting in the way.

A pity that there will be no more novelists to pre-read for your Laundry novels (and I certainly won't be reading Twilight beforehand), they add some excitement spotting the elements taken. Totally understand why, just it was a nice, fun way to "get" the book quicker.

A Novella as well in 2014. Why Mr Stross, you are really spoiling us.


Fuller's Plan 1919 got hyped by Fuller between the wars. It was maybe a little too optimistic in the resources available. But he was one of the planners for the Battle of Cambrai and the British offensive in 1918, and the plan builds on the tactical doctrine that had been developing through the war.

It was pretty quickly obvious that the last months of the Western Front were reverting to a war of maneuver. Plan 1919 was in many ways an extrapolation of that trend: faster tanks and infantry moved in motor lorries. The tanks that did get into service, could barely reach 10mph, and the Medium Mark D never got beyond a prototype, even though a lot of money was spent, post-war.

Fuller's influence on the Army on the 1920s was significant, but he eventually had a falling-out with the War Office (the Tidworth Incident) and retired. Nevertheless he was one of those responsible for the existence of the wholly motorised BEF of 1939. He knew that such things as horse-drawn artillery had huge disadvantages.

His weakness was that he believed in all-tank forces. Which experience shows don't work. Without artillery and infantry, there are operations they are incapable of.

He was also rather old. When WW2 started he was 61. By comparison, the oldest American Corps commander was 59 in 1941, the youngest 45. So there was a bit more than a question mark against his politics. Where would the Army have been able to use him?

In the Laundryverse, he fits better in the Laundry. After all, he associated with Aleister Crowley.


My mother knew a Maj. Major, when she was in the Army --late 70s Ft. Belvoir, Va.


There is, in the English Judiciary, a Judge Judge.

(He might even be referred to as Lord Chief Justice Baron Judge, though that is possibly an incorrectly formed title.)


Fuller was in many ways a perfect Laundry character - the guy was espousing drone warfare (admittedly in the form of tanks controlled from base stations in the UK) as early as 1926. Throw him into a universe where eldritch beasties actually pop up, and he's the sort of person who would have been right behind forming an anti-occult organization pre-war.

His Nazi-ness is a bit of a blemish though, although I'd attribute that more to the Mosely connection than, say, being invited to military parades in the 1930s in Berlin. Rather more British military people hung out in Berlin in the 1930s than I think is generally admitted - surprised to find out recently that even Eric "Winkle" Brown got his first flight from Ernst Udet and was in Germany at the time WWII was declared (he was politely asked to leave).

Very interesting person though - and not quite a legend in his own mind as Liddell-Hart was.

As for covering Case Nightmare Green - the problem there is that unless you actually do go and kill everybody off, the post-CNG world just wouldn't work in the books. The Laundry and the things it deals with would be very much un-secret, and while the occult level would return to business as usual, but the secretive aspect would be pretty dead. Plus the "everybody dies" book would be a bit of a downer for a series that, even in its darkest moments, retains humor. Much has been made of the poor punctuality of the Biggest Baddest Monsters, you could (good ideas permitting) get a decade of increasingly dangerous incursions without having to blow the whole thing up, and finish off just as CNG is starting, leaving the inevitable end unwritten.

Douglas Adams put an ending on _Mostly Harmless_ that seemed designed to prevent the possibility of there ever being another Hitchhiker's book, despite being on contract to create at least one more.

That didn't stop Eoin Colfer from writing the "6th book". I saw it at a second hand shop recently, but was not too tempted to pick it up. I felt it was in vaguely poor taste...


>>>As for covering Case Nightmare Green - the problem there is that unless you actually do go and kill everybody off, the post-CNG world just wouldn't work in the books.

I believe Charlie is good enough to perform the genre bait-and-switch and take us from The Masquerade to The Unmasqued World.


"My agent, at that time, didn't really get the Laundry files" So has she learned to appreciate Bob & Co. since?


The post-CNG world is likely to be one in which the next 20 generations of hunter-gatherers tell stories about the time of the gods, with each generation considering it more and more to be myth.

Unless they can find a way to leave the planet, I don't think CNG leaves a technological society behind.


I think that is an *entirely* too optimistic assessment. I suspect the phrase "post-Code Nightmare Green world" may be an oxymoron...


Unless I'm seriously misunderstanding I've got the impression that Case Nightmare Green is when the Eldritch Horrors from beyond the veil of time and space come to visit, attracted by the increasing "loudness" of mankind.

Doesn't seem like a traditional post-apocalypse as you describe, more like a hell-world with the odd enclave of humans holding out through occult-based technologies (e.g. Scorpion Stare)


The thing is, I can think of at least one solution to the CNG problem which would leave us with a reasonably happy ending.

Now speaking personally, I'd prefer a generally happy ending, rather than one like in 'a colder war', but then it isn't me writing it.


Actually if OGH did kill everyone off in CNG then he'd be one-upping GRRM in the death of every likeable character stakes.


I think James Blish got there first.


(Although that doesn't negate your point, of course, he added afterwards as he realised the bald statement was a bit too aggressive)


"I think James Blish got there first. "

In the Spindizzy series, Blish ended our universe and three others in a collision.

However, he left room for sequels -- though not with the same characters.

Black Easter couldn't possibly have had a sequel, but did.


Or, as I pointed out, the Elric series ended with Stormbringer, with every main character (but one) not just dead but with their soul eaten (by the last character) and the world changed into something radically different. That was (if I understand correctly) short stories 5-9 in the original run (collected in the book Stormbringer back in the mid 60s or so). Moorcock then went on to write Elric stories for decades thereafter, filling in all the gaping holes around his doomed hero's long life.

There's no reason for the Laundry stories to go in chronological order, after all. Personally, I suspect that the popularity of Zombie/Apocalypse stories is going to go downhill over the next decade, as more people actually get their heads around global warming and the WEIRD people who are driving the popularity of Zombie/Apocalypse stories get over it and accept the new reality of a messier world where total surveillance is not only known but despised and shown to be inadequate for its stated purposes.

Therefore, I'd say it's not entirely stupid to get the end out of the way with now, while the story will still sell, rather than run the series out to a less-salable anticlimax a decade from now.


London has a Brookwood cemetery? Ha, ha. Living in Sydney you become used to the fact that our colonial-era forebears had very little imagination and simply filched many of of the city's best-known place names from the Mother Country unaltered (Kings Cross being a famous example, there are many others), but this is the first hint I've ever seen that they had any sense of humour (or perhaps shame) about it. It seems they just dropped the leading "B" from the London original when they named Sydney's major necropolis Rookwood...

Not to mention the very similar railway line they built to it only ten years after the LNR:


There are other possibilities for Case Nightmare Green that should be pointed out.

Let's start with the fundamental observation that Americans consume roughly the resources of a great whale per capita. I suspect that even people living on $1/day take up more resources than does a comparably sized mammal.

One unquestioned assumption in the books
is that there's something special about a human soul. Otherwise, Case Nightmare Green would have happened millions of years ago, if not hundreds of millions of years ago. Remember what I said about humans are resource-intensive? The absolute number of vertebrate critters appears to be going down, not up. You can replace a human with a few thousand rats, for instance, not to mention millions of ants.

The whole point about Case Nightmare Green appears to be that there are too many human observers in the world, and that's going to either crash the system (assuming that this is all a simulation and the gods are servers), or too many observers is going to thin the walls of reality so that Bad Things get in.

Unless there's something special about the human soul as an observational vehicle, then the Earth, for most of its history (absent the mass extinctions) has had as many or more non-human observers than it does now.

Let's take the opposite assumption: let's assume that there is nothing special about human observation: we can be replaced by 1000 rats, for example, so far as eldritch horrors are concerned. We're nothing special, and there's nothing special about us being here on this planet at this time, at least from an extra-dimensional point of view.

What if Case Nightmare Green is a plot? It's never going to happen, but it's being used to get the Laundry tied into knots. Wouldn't it be interesting if the Laundry gearing up for a disaster that will only happen if someone in the Laundry does something incredibly stupid with all that prepared gear and precipitates the mess? I can even point to a character who would benefit from this scenario, although due to spoilers, I won't.

That would make for a very good ending, would it not? Bob destroys the Laundry to keep it from destroying the world through its own over-reach...


Even today there are worse ways to kill time than with a Anthony Price book. They are a look at the pssts way of thinking. I never found the last one.


I suspect that if Peter Watts starts writing Laundry novels, then we get to notice that Case Nightmare Green is actually the fantasies of a hysterical optimist who has had significant laughting gas.

Oh, and the reason the Old Ones are heading in our direction? - They're on the run. From...


The Fuller Memorandum is my current favorite of the Laundry novels. I enjoyed seeing, humanized? Well, at least rendered fallible.

One question I have is how the Fermi paradox applies in the Laundryverse. Apparently the multiverse is teaming with (hostile) intelligent life. Back in our universe, Earth alone has a couple of intelligent species based on the The Jennifer Morgue so why is SETI not finding other aliens around our galaxy?

So where are they? Does each intelligent species hit a Case Nightmare Green point - the great filter - and get wiped out before it can communicate? Also if some hapless NAZIs can stumble upon a universe eating entity, like the one in TAA, why does our universe even still exist? Surely, other intelligent species in other parts of our universe would have long ago summoned the wrong universe-eating guest. So why are we even still here?


Entropy monsters expanding through the universe at some multiple of light speed only requires a minor tweak to some of the terms of the Drake Equation.

You have either just given a convincing Anthropic argument for the non existence of extra terrestrial intelligence, or the non existence of Cthulhu.

I'm feeling optimistic so I will go with the second one.


"Finally: who's got the combination of background, interests, and humor?"

For the Laundry books, perhaps Toren Atkinson from the band Darkest of the Hillside Thickets?

He's certainly got the Mythos type stuff down. I don't know if he writes prose, as such, but he's done RPG stuff, illustration, and music. And as a musician in British Columbia, probably could use the money.


I wonder if its disturbing for the writer that we are dsicussing his potential death and replacement.


Don't worry, we can always discuss your death and replacement instead! Where did you say you live?


One question I have is how the Fermi paradox applies in the Laundryverse.

The Fermi paradox in the Laundryverse gets answered in several ways.

1. "The babes in the wood" answer, per Greg Bear (go read "The Forge of God" and "The Anvil of Stars" if you're not familiar with this). Sensible sapients lie low and try not to attract trouble, because all it takes is one species stupid enough to build a self-replicating fleet of robot warships programmed to seek out and destroy aliens, and everyone has to do so (for game-theoretic reasons). Replace "self-replicating fleet of robot warships" with "swarm of extradimensional brain parasites" and season to taste.

2. The aliens are here, it's just that "here" covers a span of roughly 4.5-10 billion years on Earth alone, and we've only been here for about 0.0003 billion years so far. Hence the relative paucity of neighbours right now (just BLUE HADES and DEEP SIX, neither of whom want our corner of the biosphere for themselves). NB: this puts some of the five great extinction events in a very different light.

3. The weak anthropic principle. There are many earths, but the one Bob is observing from is the one where this stuff works, and humanity survived long enough to find out about it.

Your final question will be answered in book #7.


OGH did introduce the subject in post #16, in response to your #15/


Charlie, I don't specifically want an answer so much as I do to mess with other people's heads.

On "unreliable narrators" - I've just found myself wondering whether Bob is the classical UN who's not telling the (full) truth as he knows it, or more of a "not fully informed narrator" who tells what he knows, but doesn't know everything that, say, Angleton knows about what's really going on (let's face it, anyone who's read the books knows that this has happened).


Your Fuller crib sheet is indeed timely! I'm just reaching the crescendo. Have to say I really enjoyed your florid description of Bob's mind-state following his kidnap and subsequent snacking on by Jonquil (what a great Sloane name too). The journey in the boot of the Merc is excellent.

I can't believe, as a life-long 'f'tang-banger', that I'd never come across The Laundry Files before. Indeed, I only recently encountered your good self via Glasshouse.

Your prose is top notch! Looking forward to immersing in your back catalogue.


The whole point about Case Nightmare Green appears to be that there are too many human observers in the world, and that's going to either crash the system (assuming that this is all a simulation and the gods are servers), or too many observers is going to thin the walls of reality so that Bad Things get in.

This is what will happen when CNG occurs.



Do universe-eating entities excrete universes?


"Your final question will be answered in book #7."

Thanks. I am looking forward to it.


In my personal head-canon, the universe-eating monster wasn't nearly that big, just solar system-sized, and the effects Bob observed were all local. Still a big scary monster, though. Also, I think the big eater needed certain conditions to survive, e.g. a planet full of smart biologicals approaching a CNG scenario, though not smart enough to take precautions against it.

On that particular Earth, either there were no DEEP SEVEN and BLUE HADES, or the war they waged over possession of the planet killed them both off. If the big eater had gotten through to this Earth our BLUE HADES and DEEP SEVEN would have dealt with it, though not necessarily easily or with any care taken to avoid smart-ape casualties.

As to the Fermi paradox, in my head-canon the solar system is also home to Mi-go-alikes, though they don't like venturing into the inner solar system, and Doctor Who's Ice Warriors, sleeping on Mars. So this is quite a crowded corner of space, really, considering that sensible civilisations try to avoid CNG areas just as they would any interstellar natural disaster.


s-s @ 24
Is there a complete set of Calvin & Hobbes anywhere on the web?
I’ve found one or two “partials”, but is there a single-source for all of it that you know of?

guthrie @ 44
“Black Easter” ??

heteromeles @ 49
or too many observers is going to thin the walls of reality so that Bad Things get in.

“Great Wits are to madness, close allied / And thin partitions do their bounds divide.”
And, don’t you mean “Human minds” not “soul” ? … the word “soul” is used in Laundry, but it is made clear that it is the computational intensity of information-processing that attracts the creepies, various. Hence the dangers implicit in our ever-increasing use of “mechanical” computers, also attracting unwonted unwanted interference from “outside”.

dpb @ 53
But the entropy-eating monsters are no in “this universe” are they? Are they? They are in parallel existences, or not?

Charlie @ 57
Your answer [1] is the Saberhagen “Berserker” scenario, isn’t it?
[2] is a re-formulation of some of the terms of the Flake Drake equation, isn’t it? And presumably ruling out ftl, at least in the immediate neighbourhood at present, as per Vinge’s “Fire upon the Deep” as well?
[3] See also my suggestion above, that “they” are in parallel “universes” - H.Beam Piper-style.
I assume book #7 is going to be hide-behind-the-sofa time, then?

paws @ 59
I think (IIRC) Charlie told us, long ago, that “Bob Howard” is unreliable, because he doesn’t know all of it, and some of it, he doesn’t want to give too much of the “true” picture (that he thinks he does know) in case it gives too much information away to the wrong observers.


Is there a complete set of Calvin & Hobbes anywhere on the web? I’ve found one or two “partials”, but is there a single-source for all of it that you know of?

Complete and well indexed? Not offhand. You can find a lot of strips here, but they're pretending it's still running rather than presenting an indexed archive by original date. Even in reruns it's an amusing part of my daily comic intake.

...“Bob Howard” is unreliable...he doesn’t want to give too much of the “true” picture (that he thinks he does know) in case it gives too much information away to the wrong observers....

Bob's an interesting case. Sometimes he's either underinformed or intentionally mushroomed, other times he's naive, and he's also smart enough not to write down everything he knows. (I just finished rereading The Jennifer Morgue last night. Ramona couldn't send a postcard? I like to think Bob's just not writing what the reader doesn't need to know.) It makes him an interesting variation on the usual unreliable narrator, who may have a single reason for distorting information.


Thanks for this crib sheet. One of the extra bonuses of your Laundry series, in addition to the books themselves, has always been the pointers into the old spy books. I've enjoyed revisiting old favorites and meeting new ones.

I forget whether I asked before -- have you ever considered The Riddle of the Sands as source for a pastiche?


The entropy monster in The Atrocity Archives was in a nearby universe, and nearly made it into the laundryverse. Data are limited but given that it ate one universe and had a plausible shot at another there is a finite probability of getting one.

So you need terms for probability of messing with the occult, probably of getting the principles right & the probability of hitting a universe eating horror. Multiply them together, combine with a term for the speed at which it devours universes and you have the basis for a lovecraftian Drake equation.

Of course it is complicated if you assume there are different types of eldrich horrors that spread at different speeds but you just use the physicists fudge and claim a gaussian distribution. Non propagating destroyers just go in the extinction term.


This probably isn't a spoiler ...

Characters from earlier Laundry Files novels (1-4) who recur later in the story arc as major characters include (but are not limited to) Mhari, Ramona, Rev. Raymond Schiller, Persephone, and Jonquil.

And Bob is at his most unreliable/least accurate when describing his interactions with other human beings.


Does Ramona count as a human being there? :)


Does that mean we'll find out what happened to Rev. Schiller's missing bits?
I don't recall an explanation of his peculiar form of self-mortification


That's no surprise, Charlie. Bob spends lots of time reading up on the subtle details of TCP/IP packet dynamics or buffer overflow exploits, and rather less on his fellow human beings. Ramona definitely counts as a human being here. She's also a woman, a variety of human that computer nerds find confusing and poorly documented.

Mhari disappeared out of Bob's life rather thoroughly, and he seems quite content with that; you've hinted before that she'll be back. She does strike me as a character who could complicate Bob's life considerably, whether it be for a purpose or just for the hell of it. Would it amuse you to write a scene with Mhari and Pinkie being drama queens at each other?

It will be nice to see Ramona again. Call me a big softie if you want, but you made her sympathetic enough that I was glad she escaped the Black Chamber for a happy, if wet, ending.

James...if you read the book carefully you may find the explanation you're looking for. You may also be happier without it. Because, ew, yuck.


“Black Easter” ?? Excellent story.

By James Blish. A weapons manufacturer, after a couple of preliminary murders, contracts a Magician to release all the major demons of the Key of Solomon into the world, just for the hell of it.

In so doing Armageddon is caused (Oops). In the sequel, the Day after Judgement the USA declares war on the forces of Hell, looses big-time and humanity through the main protagonists is put on the path to growing up.

Black Easter and The Day After Judgement.


I know this is the wrong thread, but was Rev. Schiller based on Ted Haggard, an American Evangelical preacher at the New Life Church in Colorado Spring, Colorado. He was on a program presented by Richard Dawkins and seemed like a complete psychopath. Maybe this has already been discussed, but the similarities are there.


Schiller is not based on any one preacher, although chunks of his course and delivery style are based on the Alpha Course, delivered by one Nicky Gumbel. (Note that the Alpha Course is promoted heavily by one Justin Welby.) But Schiller is basically a composite image, with, I will admit, some input from the fictional works of Grant Morrison (in particular, The Invisibles).


What's the point in unreliable narrators, besides absolving authors of the crime of inconsistency?


James...if you read the book carefully you may find the explanation you're looking for. You may also be happier without it. Because, ew, yuck.

Perhaps I blocked it from my memory?
I'll re-read it eventually--perhap in little less than a year.

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative Oscar Wilde

Insisting on total consistency in fiction is a bit daft. Because, you know, it's fiction and is therefore by definition inconsistent with reality.

So, given inconsistency exists, a writer can address it in a number of ways.

You can avoid its semblance by giving almost no detail. Since the devil is in the details, avoiding them avoids the problem, and a reader can't complain about finding something wrong if it's not there to be found. This can also help in stopping fiction from dating so badly - "I shot him" is much more timeless than "I shot him with my Lee Enfield 303".

You can put a decent amount of detail in, but make sure it's self-consistent. Since no-one can put everything in (and wouldn't want to, that's why drama is always far better than a Big Brother reality show), this is different from the previous mainly in degree.

And you can swamp the reader in detail, and spend a lot of time making sure it's all consistent. You'll almost certainly get something wrong, but the reader should be so overwhelmed that they don't notice.

(Sadly, there are writers who try this but get so much detail wrong that many readers will trip over the absolute bollocks and will distrust the rest of what they've written. This is why I find Dan Brown totally unreadable: everything he writes about stuff I know is badly wrong.)

Or you can start going to the next level and put deliberate inconsistency in. This is the point where the unreliable narrator comes in, because now the reader's game is to work out what the real story is. Not all readers like it, because it can seem as though the writer is deceiving them and that may be a problem. But done well the result is more satisfying, just as having believable emotions and motives is.

It does usually require dumping the omniscient viewpoints though. The Laundry novels tend to be close-in "only what Bob knows", but with the proviso that what he 'knows' is what he thinks he's witnessed and what been reported to him by people he considers reliable. Sometimes he's best-guessing from the available clues after the fact.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds Ralph Waldo Emerson

Quoting aphorisms doesn't make your point stronger. me


Also, you can have a narrator that's not omniscient at all and is still reliable.


I'll add that an Unreliable Narrator is also a way to mess with reader's heads, with misdirection. Only really works if the reader, and narrator*, eventually clue in to what's actually going on.

*assuming they're UN type that's not intentionally leaving things out. Like Bob catching on to what was going on in "The Jennifer Morgue".

And thank you for including the first two word in that Emerson quote, too often dropped.


You're happy with the rest of what I wrote then. Good, just ignore the aphorisms then.


I'd be very happy if you stay alive long enough to complete the series, preferably to start and finish several more series in the mean time.
That said, if you do feel like popping your clogs any time soon, can I have your cats? I'll teach them that gravity is optional, and the ceiling is a fun place to run around.


"There's no reason for the Laundry stories to go in chronological order"

Disagree. Half the fun is watching poor Bob Howard stumble up the bureaucratic ladder and deal with the office politics at the next level. Now that he's made Mahogany Row, it should be hysterical.


I'd disagree somewhat. One of the common formulas in spy memoirs, dating back at least to WWII, is to deliberately obfuscate on anything that the author felt would "compromise security." I even came across someone who wrote explicitly noted that he only wrote his WWII memoir after his buddies from the OSS told him about what he could leave in and how to camouflage the stuff he left out.

While this may be granting an unreasonably large fig leaf to OGH, I'd suggest that Bob's notes be read in a similar vein.


On the other hand, Bob's notes are supposed to be being written to inform his hypothetical replacement(s). They're not for general publication, they're for internal consumption by survivors.

Should he be there to assist with questions, that'd be a bonus, but the apparent expectation is that the shit is going to be coming down, and any information gathered in the process of his duties must not be lost.


What's the point in unreliable narrators, besides absolving authors of the crime of inconsistency?

Either you're trolling, or you don't have a clue about fiction. I suspect the former ...


You make a good point, Bellingham, and I agree. But consider that it still leaves Bob two reason to leave out details.

First, he won't want to spill things that are not part of the story at hand. If the report is 'Bob Defeats the Cannibal Rosebush of Liverpool' he is better off skipping the clever thing he did that keeps undead from using the Mersey Ferry[1]. That's a different report, probably with different code words.

Secondly, since he's writing for internal consumption he can skip over things that the intended reader already knows. (Since we're not those hypothetical readers, Bob repeats things like the features of his warrant card; it's an acceptable concession to the real audience.) This may get little coverage unless Bob's in a mood to gripe about it, or quite a lot.

[1] Back at the office Bob realizes the spell is a little buggy and technically only keeps them from getting off the ferry boats. Since there's no garbage collection function they may be accumulating there. A memo is in order.


There could be another reason for the weaknesses in Bob's narrative. Who is he really working for? There are all sorts of possibilities, some prompted by the way he seems to end up spoiling things for The Black Chamber. Is he a mole for another earthly power, or representing some other faction significant in the CNG situation?

Cthulhu Saves! For later.

Is CNG the arrival of a pack of wolves, while Bob works for the farmer?


I think, but amn't completely positive, that it has been stated that different parts of the reports can be under different keywords, and you CANNOT read the parts you are not cleared for.

Bob skipping parts intentionally is a way to get people killed.


Perhaps they are covered , but WE can't read them .....


This blog entry is classified LOLCAT TROLL WANK. If you are not cleared for LOLCAT TROLL WANK you should receive a browser error. If you accidentally see a post classified LOLCAT TROLL WANK, immediately ask your system administrator or Mister Angleton to clear your browser history and short-term memory.

Insisting on total consistency in fiction is a bit daft. Because, you know, it's fiction and is therefore by definition inconsistent with reality.

Real life is inconsistent. I would have thought those invisible gorilla experiments would be common knowledge by now. Maybe Vanzetti is confusing Bob's first-person story telling with omniscient third-person narrative.


Those show our inability to correctly perceive reality. I think you're stretching it somewhat to use limited perceptions of reality to try to show reality itself is inconsistent.

Studies of perception are fascinating, though. The human sensorium is pretty optimised to a 'good-enough' model — evolution prefers quick estimates to slow-but-accurate senses. It's better to occasionally be spooked by mistaking a rock for a lion than to be eaten by a lion that you're only 99.98% sure is a lion rather than a rock.

I think you're stretching it somewhat to use limited perceptions of reality to try to show reality itself is inconsistent.

Perhaps I should have said that dispassionate real life narrators with their supposed camera eye are inconsistent. That's what I meant and I can see how you would interpret it otherwise. It follows that any story told from a non-omniscient viewpoint will be suspect - at best. You can tweak this internally by referring to video-taped events, memorandums presented to the reader word-for-word, etc.

But casual narrative of the sort exemplified by Bob? I wouldn't trust Mo for that matter, and she's portrayed (I think) as being the most competent character who isn't anything other than human.


Ah, I see what you're trying to get at. And of course there is no omniscient real life narrator - that we have one so frequently in fiction is possibly pandering to a desire that everything be knowable, everything be certain, even though there is none of that in real life.

(I'm going to try to avoid the "if nobody knows something, can it be true?" question which is a real can of worms akin to the falling tree in the forest.)


yes, he invented the combined-arms doctrine later known as "Blitzkrieg" just too late to see it deployed during the first world war (it was on the cards for 1919).

Not so much invented...

Fuller's Plan 1919 got hyped by Fuller between the wars. It was maybe a little too optimistic in the resources available. But he was one of the planners for the Battle of Cambrai and the British offensive in 1918, and the plan builds on the tactical doctrine that had been developing through the war.

It was pretty quickly obvious that the last months of the Western Front were reverting to a war of maneuver.

Actually, if you compare the rate of advance of Commonwealth forces in the last hundred days of the war in 1918, with the rate of advance across the same countryside in 1944, the BEF didn't do that badly. In fact, they did just as well.

In an attempt at a nice segue, there's an on-line copy of the CRF Prize Lecture given to the Royal Society of Edinburgh by Richard Holmes; utterly fascinating, including as it does many excellent examples of very unreliable narrators...[1].pdf


I wouldn't say reverting to a war of manoeuvre - they still lacked penetration and exploitation capability. Rather they had the resources and tactical capabilities to break the german front one small bit at a time, push that back 5 or 10 miles, then stop. Next week, another part of the front. Repeat until the enemy armies are broken and exhausted.


Yep. Of course, the consistency of reality is essentially a religious argument right now, at least until they reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity.*

Still, assuming reality is fundamentally consistent, the problem with reality isn't illusion, it's Too Much Information. We're evolved to filter out the signals that promote our fitness, and this certainly propagates illusions. I'm in the camp that thinks that illusions are an unavoidable aspect of being human. In that sense, the world is something of an illusion, but only from the viewpoint behind our eyeballs.

* Actually, that would make an interesting "what if." What if, at the end of the day, the physicists find that quantum mechanics and general relativity are irreconcilable, but both are consistent with experiments and observation humans can make. What then? In the grand tradition of sneaking magic into the unclaimed portions of the science map, I wonder if there's room for, oh, something like the laundry in the blast zone between those two theories...


' .. a religious argument ' you say? Dunno about that. Hows about ..

" cogito ergo sum[a] (/ˈkoʊ.ɡɪˌtoʊ ˈɜr.ɡoʊ ˈsʊm/, also /ˈkɒ.ɡɪˌtoʊ/[b]; "l think, therefore l am"

So There! And also ...

And other such profoundly philosopical statments.

Religion depends absolutly upon Belief ..everything else is no more than icing on the cake - " icing is a sugar-rich coating usually used to glaze or decorate cakes, buns, biscuits and pastries. Soft, creamy icings are used to top or fill sponge...‎Icing sugar - ‎Buttercream icing - ‎Royal icing - ‎Fondant icing. "

I submit that it is altogether too easy to be over academic about these things.


Anyone who gets offended by statements that activities founded by unproved belief are similar to religions needs to remember (or learn) one thing:

The Judeo-Christian family of religions, including Islam and all offshoots, sects, and heresies, is probably less than 10% of all the religions that humans have come up with in the last 2000 years. Certainly in numerical terms it's a majority if you measure crudely, but when we take away the "religious by label only" (e.g. people who belong to a country that has an official religion, whatever they happen to believe), it's a very small minority of people. Assuming this small cadre of practitioners is the norm for all religious belief and practice is dubious at best. One could even argue that the idea of a religion as separate from daily life is a construct of Christian scholars, created (along with the original "religious studies") to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity over pagans and heathens, and explicated during the Age of Empire to justify colonialist practices.

That said, the central problems of physics are arguably an issue of faith:
Quantum mechanics doesn't handly gravity and time,
Relativity doesn't handle quantum indeterminacy,
String theory is so far untestable, and
96% of the universe is presumed to be unobservable except through gravitational effects.

Physicists have faith that humans can conduct the experiments and/or make the observations that will allow us to reconcile these problems into one Theory of Everything. While I think this is a faith worth pursuing for the moment, it's based only on past performance, and we're always warned to be careful about inferring future trends from past performance in different fields.

It's possible that it might require a black hole-sized particle accelerator to make the observations needed to create a Theory of Everything. Humans are unlikely to ever acquire the level of technology to construct that particular accelerator. Or not. As I said, it's a matter of faith, not knowledge.


Yes - & no.
Yes, it is a matter of "faith" that: "As yesterday, so tomorrow" & "no mystical explanations" are the foundations of science, coupled with the continual theory practice experimen observation theory feedbacks.
But, unlike any religion, it has worked every time, so far ... and we do, at least have some data.

Whereas no BigSkyFairy has ever been detected, & (I claim) remains undetectable, like the "Luminferous Aether" & therefore 150% irrelevant.
[ Though, would you believe that some are still trying to claim that "god" exist in a n other universe & can stil affect us in this one & then tries to say that this can produce effects here (ARRRGGH!)]



I think you are using "faith" in at least two different versions here.

The defining feature of the form of faith that a judeo-christian believer is encouraged to have by the central organizations of his religion is that it is faith *without* proof. In fact, the less proof, the higher the quality of the produced faith.

In contrast, the "faith" we have in science to solve problems and give answers is based on two hundred years of unprecedented accuracy in prediction. Two hundred years of proof that science works.

To then go on and use the fact that we have now moved on to such rarified spheres of inquiry as quantum and relativity physics as examples of why science is just as "faith"-based as religion is either staggeringly dumb or just an argument made in bad faith.


This is my favorite of all of the Laundry Books, with Apocalypse Codex coming in a close second as I am a big fan of the Modesty Blaze series.

I found Angleton to be one of the most interesting characters before this book, and finding out his backstory -- well I had to go back to re-read all of the others to find the nuances.


I'd argue that your two forms of "faith" are one in the same, at least to me. Faith is equivalent to the basic postulates of geometry (e.g. parallel lines never meet), and it consists of the fundamental assumptions you have to make in order to live the life you're living.

One of the fundamental postulate choices is whether the divine exists or not (followed by further postulates about the nature of the divine). I'm not doing this to troll-bait Greg Tingey. The point is that, you see the world differently under the postulate that God(s) exist than you do if you do not. Looking only at Christianity vs. Atheism, this is one of the problems with the argument about whether God exists. It's equivalent to arguing about whether parallel lines ever meet. You get one geometry if you assume they do, another geometry if you assume they do not, but you can't prove the one case within a system that makes the opposite assumption. Note here that I'm talking about people's brains. I agree that there's no objective proof of God. I also agree that millions of people have had (subjective) experiences with the divine that have profoundly affected their lives. They can't prove their God objectively exists, but equally, an atheist can't prove that the believers' God doesn't subjectively exist. It's a pointless argument.

Here, I'm saying that physics postulates that the universe is knowable and describable by a Theory of Everything. That's a statement of faith, not fact, based on the evidence we have at hand.


I fear only our good host's high busy-ness factor is allowing us to stray so far from topic. But as I am, well, me:

That's one enormous conceptual space you are asking "faith" to cover, Heteromeles. It seems to me if we follow your definition, then *every* human endeavour s based on "faith". Including love, throwing yourself onto a grenade, planning genocide and going to the toilet.

In which case you are certainly right that under your definition science and religion are both based on "faith". But since so is everything else, the statement has become so wide as to lose all meaning.

That said, the central problems of physics are arguably an issue of faith: Quantum mechanics doesn't handly gravity and time, Relativity doesn't handle quantum indeterminacy, String theory is so far untestable, and 96% of the universe is presumed to be unobservable except through gravitational effects.

I don't know what you mean by faith here. Note also that the faith that there's an invisible sky father is just a leetle different from 'faith' in QM or GR, since those models actually make testable (and accurate) predictions.

Finally - and this isn't really germane to the central point - but those statements about current theory aren't really accurate. String theory is untestable, yes . . . which is why most people don't think of it as a scientific theory and have moved on to something else. In fact, most departments won't even consider a string theorist as a possible hire. Contrast this with ten or twenty years ago when they were the bright young men of their day.

Moving on, dark matter (I think that's what your talking about here) is to the first approximation just a straightforward observation - we detect this stuff's gravitational effect, but we don't see it interacting with anything. Well there's also all those MOND theories - Relativity is Wrong, doncha know ;-) Ummm . . . here's a nice little (non-mathematical) post about MOND vs dark matter. Again, the main takeaway here is that hinky the gravitational effects are observations that look as if there's an extra something that obey the usual laws of gravity but is otherwise undetectable. More on that in a bit.

Finally, GR and QM don't conflict. That tired old canard may have powered a lot of Analog stories back in the day, but it really is well past it's sell-by date. Because what they really are is incomplete. And there's nothing wrong with that, contrary to popular folklore; we don't demand that the theory of evolution explain stellar formation after all. So it is with these two heavyweights - both work well in their own domains and they most definitely do not 'conflict'. What's really going on is that both theories are models. Gravity behaves as if it were the effect of curved space-time, but there's no compelling reason (other than perhaps aesthetics) to say that's what gravity 'really' is. As one guy said:

Why are we forced to take the drastic step of making spacetime itself into a pseudo-Riemannian manifold?
The answer seems to be that we’re not! It’s possible to treat general relativity as just a complicated field theory on flat spacetime, involving a tensor at every point — and indeed, this is a perspective that both Feynman and Weinberg famously adopted at various times. It’s just that most people see it as simpler, more parsimonious, to interpret the tensors geometrically.

So both GM and QR can be regarded as field theories, with the same mathematical machinery underneath and operating more or less in the same background. That's the first part. The second part is that there is a 'natural' way to extend both theories (think of the reals as being the 'natural' way to extend the rationals), but a) making predictions based on those extensions is computationally very, very hard, and b) the usual fudges for cutting off those computations past a certain point while still getting a reasonable answer (stuff like 'renormalization') just don't work. To say that QM and GR are in conflict because they get different answers is just a bit misleading when in fact both answers are wrong!

Now, some people have thought it would be very, very nice to unify them in some sort of super-theory, but in fact, it could just be that some answers are very hard to calculate. That may be unsatisfying and messy, but hey, protein-folding calculations are notoriously difficult, and you don't hear about anyone in the bio-sciences complaining about that, do you, or suggesting that there must be a 'better' theory where the computations become mysteriously easier ;-)

Anyway, my point is that 'faith' with regards to observations and models that are explicitly known from the get-go to be incomplete is just a little bit different than 'faith' in something that can't be shown to exist, let alone observed.


I like yours. But mine was more succinct.


I don't want to derail this thread with a side trip into QM vs GR, so here's another little (non-mathematical) post that goes into a little more detail. Somebody will no doubt say some of the stuff I said above is 'wrong', which is true. But that's for reasons of brevity in an already whacking long post and if they want to know more about the real deal without getting all medieval (mathematically speaking) they can go there. There is one additional thing I'd like to say about heteromeles post about faith, however. Several posters ask why can't the non-gravity stuff be looked at as geometry if gravity can be treated as a field theory? The short answer is, it can. But:

I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned it yet, but have you taken a look at Kaluza-Klein theory?
Right. If you take the Cartesian product of 4-dimensional spacetime with a small circle to get a 5-dimensional spacetime, then there is an extra gravitational force between two particles that have velocity in the circle direction. The behavior of this new gravitational effect is equivalent to electromagnetism; the velocity of a particle in the circle direction manifests itself as electric charge. Moreover, if the particles are quantum mechanical, then this manifested charge is quantized, because the velocity in the circle direction is an integer. You might think that the resulting force is weak at the usual experimental scales, as gravity is; however, by making the circle small, you can make the unit of charge as large as you like.
This beautiful geometric idea works so well that you might suppose that it has the ring of truth. It is not a complete idea of course, because it supposes without explanation the stability of the small circle direction. Even so, it is the best idea that people have for making short-range forces a manifestation of gravity. (Maybe even the only viable idea at present; I’m not sure.)
But, be warned: The Kaluza-Klein construction doesn’t yet predict anything new; it only at best explains things that we can already see. It is therefore the stifling dogma of the oppressor class of high-energy theory.

See, that's what the modern conception of what theories are all about: building models. It's all well and good for a model to be 'elegant'. But if it doesn't actually help any, doesn't really do anything new for you, why keep it? Iow, we care a lot less about the nature of 'ultimate reality' (whatever that is) or what something 'really' is than we do in making predictions. The former concern is what explanations incorporating the Great Sky Father are all about. The latter is really the kickoff of modern science.[1] I think this bit is what really confuses people and what gets them all tangled up in that faith thing. Models are really just tightly compressed descriptions of behaviour. They don't (or at any rate, shouldn't) make any pretensions about what's behind that behaviour. You want that sort of thing, you're really talking about metaphysics. Philosophy, not science.

I suspect as well that this sort of operationalism is distasteful to a lot of folks: They are emotionally unsatisfied, for example, with any explanation of how people behave if it doesn't reference the little guy inside. What they really want instead (and often don't realize that's what they want) is an explanation of how people 'really' think. That's why the Freud stuff remained popular for so long (imho), despite it being demonstrably wrong. How satisfying it is to know that people act the way they do because of Mommy issues, or Daddy issues, or sibling rivalry or somesuch!

Oops. Another overly long post. I'll stop now :-)

[1]Some give Newton credit for this one; no, Newton did not come up with a theory of gravity in the sense of what gravity 'really' was. Instead, he came up with a model, the inverse square law thing, that made testable and useful predictions. Iow, he didn't say what gravity 'really' was, he explained how gravity behaved. That may seem like an unnecessary bit of hair-splitting, but it makes all the difference in the world.


Actually I agree, and I'd say this is a matter of semantics. So far as faith goes, it's one of those things (like God, actually) that everybody thinks they understand, but nobody can really define. We get into arguments because no one bothers to review their understanding before they start telling other people they are wrong. The button I'm deliberately pushing here is that most people think that Faith is limited to church sermons. I think it's a lot more general than this. After all, faith is seen as something different from belief.

As for QM and GR not conflicting, I'm still confused about whether you can describe the curvature of space-time through QM, or the collapse of a wave function through GR. I'm saying that the statement of faith here is that it's possible to come up with a single model that describes both sets of phenomena in a predictive way, which I understand to be the Theory of Everything.

I'm still confused about whether you can describe the curvature of space-time through QM

That's like asking whether you can make chocolate brownies from bacon. It may, in fact, be possible to do so with sufficiently advanced tools, but you're better off starting out with the tools that were designed for the job. QM and GR don't "conflict" any more than bacon and chocolate "conflict"; they're two different things that serve different purposes. They may well be subsets of a larger category ("Theory of Everything" and "Nommables", respectively), but that's an entirely separate question.


k.m.p. @ 103
Thank you for pointing out the different "degrees" of "faith", there, & reminding everyone that "religious" faith means belief without any supporting evidence, whereas the sort of faith scientis have is, at least so far, backed by evidence ...
Something the religious pushers always try to hide, with their usual grossly dishonest bait-&-switch tactics.

heteromeles @ 105
You've fallen for the bait-&-switch bullshit the religious put up. And I think you are (very mildly) trolling ....
Except that my proposition: "No god is detectable" can be tested, can't it? Oops.
As for a "ToE" well, it is an ongoing project, & has been since "The New Atlantis" was published.

We (The Merchants of Light) make up the noblest foundation that ever was upon the Earth. For the end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes and the secret nature of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible.

SoV @ 107
Well there is "something" out there causing gravitational effects. The current label for "it" ( &, of course, there may be more than one "it" causing the observed effects ) is Dark Matter. Work is proceeding on finding greater details.
The exact opposite of religius mysticism, in fact.

Oh, & thanks for the "Dark Matter" link - most informative.


I wonder how many times I have to post that "I agree that there's no objective proof of God" (#105) before anyone notices?

Anyway, totally different subject. Since there's not a crib sheet for Charlie's A Colder War (sorry, I don't know if the online copies are pirated or approved, so no link here), I thought it worth posting here.

Anyway, great news: There's lots of life in Lake Vostok. For those who don't know, that's the frozen lake under a glacier in Antarctica. They claim over 3,000 separate taxa, including multicellular life and fungi. The bad news is, it's all Terran life, at least the ones they've talking about so far.


Actually, I think the belief in appliciability of the scientific method doesn't have to mean it's appliciable to every universe, e.g. Popper might have thought the human mind was excempt from it, while most psychologists would disagree. As for calling that one "faith", I guess it depends somewhat on the practitioner, there are quite some secular religions that use science, with debatable justification, DIAMAT is one example, but it seems Comte was subject to the braineater, too:

For me, it's more of a working hypothesis.

As for TOE, I guess "Nova Atlantis" is not the best book to argue there that TOE has no religious roots; BTW, I always like it when "progressive" thinkers have their reactionary moments, or reactionaries, in their quest for ancient privileges, inadvertantly defend human freedom...

The Tirsan cometh forth with all his generation or linage, the males before him, and the females following him; and if there be a mother from whose body the whole linage is descended, there is a traverse placed in a loft above on the right hand of the chair, with a privy door, and a carved window of glass, leaded with gold and blue; where she sitteth, but is not seen.

Err, make that:

"belief in appliciability of the scientific method doesn't have to mean it's appliciable to everything in this universe"

"As for calling the belief in the appliciability of the scientific method "faith", I guess it depends somewhat on the practitioner, it might be in some people, and there are quite some secular religions that depend on "science" explaining everything, with debatable justification, DIAMAT is one example, but it seems Comte was subject to the braineater, too:"


I wonder how many times I have to post that "I agree that there's no objective proof of God" (#105) before anyone else cares what my views are

There; fixed that for you! ;-)
Seriously, the only times I care about anyone else's views on the existence or otherwise of their imaginary friend, and the forms of "worship" of same is when they try and force their view down my throat.


Actually, you didn't need to fix that, but I appreciate the gesture.

The central paradox I like tackling is whether one believes what's in a book, or whether one believes the evidence of one's own senses, trained or not. This leads to some tricky issues.

For instance, an atheist would say that someone who believes in the literal truth of the Bible is deluded, because they're believing a falsehood they've read.

But what do atheists do about the people who claim to have seen God? Worse, what do they do when those people teach others to use their methods, and the students also have mystical experiences? That's the essence of repeatability. In his latest book (Hallucinations) Oliver Sacks reports on precisely this kind of study, undertaken by an anthropologist who studied with a group of fundamentalist Christians in the best tradition of experiential anthropology, and who had some of their mystical experiences

This is where it gets tricky. Do you trust your experience, or do you trust a book that tells you such experiences are false? If you trust the book over your own experience, aren't you as doctrinaire as those you think are deluded for believing different books? What happens if you have no experience, but you choose to believe a book over what other people say they are experiencing?

Personally, I believe in the subjective existence of God. That seems strongly supportable by a mass of evidence, and it seems to be trainable and at least partially repeatable. To my knowledge, no one has produced objective, repeatable evidence for the existence of God, and there's no obvious place (other than in the dark matter) for such a being or beings to exist. This is for the great sky fairy version of God, and ignores those who believe that the biosphere or the sun qualify as life-giving, superhuman deities in a very concrete sense. Worshipping anything physical is, of course, not religion, just pagan nonsense.


Well, that last was part serious, part snark.

I really don't care what anyone's views are, as long as they lead by "being nice to other people because they can be", and if they "go to service" it's because they actually want to do so rather than because they "want to be seen to do so" if you see the distinction?

It was put that way because I find "evangelical atheism" every bit as annoying as "evangelical $religion". If you think your belief system is so great then show me by living it rather than by talking it at me!


"Personally, I believe in the subjective existence of God. That seems strongly supportable by a mass of evidence, and it seems to be trainable and at least partially repeatable."

And I believe in the *existence* of hallucinations brought on by recreational drugs. To go from the existence of the *hallucinations* to the existence of the stuff the hallucinations *are about* isn't performing a repeatable experiment. It is misunderstanding the nature of reality and our interactions with same. Sorry, but I am starting to see why you think science and religion are both based on faith. And "not having a clue about science" is a big part of it.

"Worshipping anything physical is, of course, not religion, just pagan nonsense."

Aaaand we're done.


Well, as for Ian Fleming, James Bond surely looked kinda scary, especially in his late years...

Come to think about it, names of famous ornithologists might be good as aliases for RPGs and like. Though you easily get into, err, strange territory, as with this German guy, author of the standard guide around WW2:ünther_Niethammer

For those not fluent in German, Niethammer joined the NSDAP and the SS in 1937, which might indicate he was more into it for the connections and not for the ideology. In 1940, he joined the Waffen-SS which used him for guard duty. In one place called Auschwitz, 1940.

Now the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau only opened in 1941, so it seems likely this was Auschwitz I, which was not so much about gassing Jews, but about starving Poles and Russians, still, err, not a nice thing to have in your CV...

Actually, he didn't like it there, either, so he got the special job of looking after the birds in the neighbourhood. And a paper called "Observations on the birds of Auschwitz"...



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on July 1, 2013 8:25 PM.

Book Launch: Neptune's Brood, Edinburgh, Thursday was the previous entry in this blog.

Blogging for Orbit 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