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A man walks into a bar

So, some of you are probably wondering how a novella like Equoid gets written.

Here's how:

A man walks into a bar.

Actually, two men walk into a hotel bar in downtown Denver, during the world science fiction convention. Charlie Stross is sitting in the bar, nursing a beer between events, and vaguely thinking about tracking down Peter Watts. But his attention is captured instantly as he notices something very odd about the two mens' body language.

One of them is John Scalzi. His body language is exuberant, extroverted, salesman-like. The other is noted editor Lou Anders. Lou's posture is defensive, arms crossed, cheek turned—almost as if he's biting back the words, get away from me, you creep!

Charlie has had a couple of beers and is feeling mischievous. So he gets up and approaches Lou and John. "Hi, guys," he says, "What's the argument about?"

"I'm trying to sell him a theme anthology!" Says Scalzi.

"But I'm not buying it," Says Anders.

"What's the theme?" Asks Stross.

"It's about unicorns!" Scalzi is bouncing up and down, almost vibrating with enthusiasm at this point.

"Unicorns?" Stross asks: "Surely there's got to be a new angle ...?"

"Yes! It's going to be a theme anthology of Unicorn Bukkake stories!"

Stross does a double-take as a light bulb—well, actually a stadium-sized floodlight—snaps on above his head and the hideous concept of unicorn bukake instantaneously cross-fertilizes with the sexually dimorphic marine predator he was wanting to ask Peter Watts about, and inseminates the Laundry Files universe.

"Lou, if you publish John's anthology I'll contribute a story: will that help? I've just had this idea ..."

Stross explains his idea about the life cycle of unicorns to Scalzi and Anders. When he stops retching, Scalzi's body language changes until it eerily matches Anders.

"Don't call us, we'll call you," he says with icy-sober politeness, and beats a hasty retreat.




That was in 2008.

Once the idea of unicorns as a sexually dimorphic species like unto ceratioid angler fish dug its way into my mind, I then began thinking about other aspects of the bizarre parasitic life-cycle of the unicorn. Mimicry is part of it. Co-opting a host to provide shelter and food is another. Having a distinct motile juvenile phase and a sessile spawning phase gave me a great explanation for some of the more disturbing aspects of unicorn reproduction. (Yes, I ran the Equoid life-cycle past Peter Watts for comment.)

Of course, the Equoid had other fortuitous side-effects for the Laundry universe: everything came together very neatly. The unfertilized juvenile female obviously provided an explanation for the pervasive mythology of the flesh-eating horse. And the adult, sessile, spawning horror lent itself to a particular interpretation of H. P. Lovecraft's nervous breakdown of 1908. Oh, and finally this allowed me to demonstrate the precise relationship between old HPL's mythos and the Laundry universe—namely that HPL is an enthusiastic but inaccurate guide, and about as much use to a practicing demonologist like Bob as a copy of the Anarchists Cookbook (the recipes in which are infamous for reducing the population of aspiring anarchist cooks).

All I needed then was a story. So I wrote about the first 4000 words in 2008, and let it settle for a year. Then wrote another 2000 words. Then had to put it away to make way for a novel. Or two. Or three. Finally, in early 2013, I had a gap—I'd just finished writing "The Rhesus Chart" and needed something to chew on. And it occurred to me that now was the best time to nail the sucker down, so I sat down in March and wrote the other 27,000 words of "Equoid" in about three weeks.

But anyway, I thought I'd give you this account of the origins of "Equoid", just so that Anders and Scalzi can take their fair share of the blame. Cheers, guys, and next time John pitches a theme anthology you'd better invite me!

70 Comments

1:

*snort*

So, did Scalzi get his anthology? (I'm presuming from the timeline that even if he did, Equoid isn't in it.)

2:

I don't believe either Lou or John really contemplated going ahead with it after I dropped my uni-bomb ...

3:

Fun! I have a disturbing mental picture of a pink fuzzy bunny surrounded by flesh eating snails.

I could envision the anthology fitting into the overall universe of "The Shadow War of the Night Dragons" trilogy. Perhaps something like "A Secret History of Unicorns: The Envenoming".

4:

Oh, right. I believe I remember reading some vaguely whispered horrors about that on LJ back when WorldCon was in town. I'd forgotten about that. Naturally, I'll have to check it out, and possibly leave it in places where innocent parties can stumble upon it.

5:

Oh noes, Charlie Stross, uni-bomber. Hahaha. I read the first page at Tor and immediately went over to Subterranean and reserved a copy. The Laundry is so very fun. Which is something I never ever expected to type, not ever.

I particularly enjoyed the nuanced professional frustration Bob relates in proclaiming how ol' Bat Wings doesn't exist, as if there's someone pestering him constantly about it. Will Santa Claus ever make an appearance in universe?

6:

Santa Claus? You might enjoy this tale, also on Tor.com, from nearly 4 years back

7:

Many thanks!

8:

Hmmm. I was wondering if Harry Connolly and Child of Fire were the inspiration. Now I know better.

And by the way, carnivory among herbivores, including among horses, isn't exactly a myth.

9:

So at what point did "Unicorn School™: The Sparkling" enter the picture?

10:

I wondered the same thing. (And excuse the semi-commercial interruption, but you do know that Harry has a Kickstarter going on right now, right?)

11:

Since they have the same mode of sexual behaviour as ceratioid angler fish does this mean that unicorns do their thing to the sound of the angler fish dance?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6Ek3h4HTRE

ANG-ANG-ANG

12:

Horses can be evil creatures at the best of times.

There is a horse, owned by a British fan, known as 'Grumpy Bastard'. His actual registered name is 'Angelo', but he is almost never known by that name, even his vet knowing him as Grumpy.

The only time I have met him, he tried to take a bite from me. At which point we discovered that his current owner tends to use a somewhat more earthy name for him much of the time, and also discovered how a relatively slight woman can scare an animal several times her size and most of her age with just her voice.

(GB is in his late twenties, old for a horse, so goodness knows how he was treated when he was young. But he's got a property to himself now, in a nice wooded Kentish valley, and a much younger companion he can dominate, so he ought to be happy from now on.)

13:

Unlike most of our domestic animals, we kept a degree of aggression in them so we could use them for war. If anything we made them bigger and meaner.

And since we've spent something like 20,000 years less time living with them, we haven't had a chance to build in loyalty to humans like we have with dogs.

14:

I'm not sure about that, really. Dogs injure and kill more people than do horses. The problem with a horse (as with a young bull), is that what to them is routine rough-housing and establishing dominance is a major mauling or death to a human. We're rather fragile in comparison to them. Both humans and horses need to learn how to negotiate this boundary in order to have a good relationship.

That said, an ancestor several generations back was a country doctor, rather well-liked by his patients because he was a very good diagnostician and didn't (so far as I know) kill them. He had a horse and buggy, and after evening visits (remember house calls? Yeah, me neither), he would often doze off in the buggy while the horse took them both safely back home. I find it deeply amusing that, over a century later, we're still trying to recapture this simple technology in our cars.

15:

Dogs injure and kill more people than do horses

I'm not disagreeing with the rest of your comment, nor with that statement, but I wonder how it works on a pro-rata basis. In the UK at least, dogs are far more common than horses. Even when I was a child and would go riding, it was someone else's horses I would ride.

(I do remember how it's a long way up onto a horse for a child, and a long way back down again.)

16:

I'm enjoying an anime at the moment about a city boy who ends up in an agricultural school, "Gin no Saji". He joins the school's equestrian club and is assigned a horse which is an evil sod and quite willing to step on his foot any day of the week. I immediately thought Grumpy Bastard-san!


17:

Yeah.

Our problem is not self-driving vehicles per se; it's self-driving vehicles that don't require two hours per day of maintenance (even on non-driving days), don't panic and bolt at random startle events, and don't spread killer tuberculosis.

(With serious attention to vaccination we could probably keep the equine TB vector under control, but reintroducing them on our streets in significant numbers would also reintroduce a certain effluent problem -- and they're really not suited to casual use.)

18:

Yup. Of course, when we go all electric, we'll be plugging our cars in every night for hours, and it won't make much difference. I'd also point out, among problems with horses you forgot the noise pollution (horse-hooves on cobblestones) and the massive manure problem. Whether car pollution and crash danger is better is one of those two beer questions, IMHO, and not meant as a thread derailer.

I'm not suggesting we go back to horses just yet, although I do suspect we ultimately will for different (post crash) reasons. It's more the propaganda of progress that I find amusing.

Of course, getting back to the topic of the thread: one of those awkward things about the Laundryverse is the past. With gorgonism, it seems to have been rather more widely known in the past than in the present, which is weird. Similarly, one would expect a plague of equoids to be rather more dangerous when horses were a major factor in war and transportation, but moderns, even modern equestrians, don't seem to know about them. It's all very Harry Potterish in some ways.

19:

An excellent twist in the long tradition of biologists writing of the horrors that are the family of Ichneumonidae (ichneumon wasps). (For those who odn't know, they're are parasitic wasps - and not just the famous one that paralyses caterpillars so itslarvae can eat their way out, guts first so it doesn't die too soon, but a whole ghastly array of different nightmares. Pompilidae (who prey on spiders) similarly. In fact the whole of the order Hymenoptera are, frankly, horrible.

(I've recently gone off bees, for the obvious reason.)

20:

Horses are also terribly allergenic. It wasn't a problem in the 18th century where anyone would have been regularly exposed since young, but in our sanitised world, expect problems. I know people for whom a horse act from the upper seats of a circus is a mild incapacitant.

21:

The title of The Anarchist Cookbook does not say which end of the cooking process the anarchist will be on.

22:

"In fact the whole of the order Hymenoptera are, frankly, horrible.

(I've recently gone off bees, for the obvious reason.)"

Nahh, there brilliant! We had an ozzy bee neuroscientist give a seminar a couple of weeks back. the long and the short of it is that it has O(10^6) neurons, and the honey bee is the smallest animal with cognitive abilities. Show it a (simple) puzzle three times and it'll remember for the rest of it's (admittedly short = two week) life.

The hypothesis is: the need for cognitive processing is driven by the requirements of social living.

So, a SpiNNaker board + ATIS DVS = bee simulator, or to return to Laundryverse world: = Basilisk gun. All we need is for Charlie to give us the brain schematic of the malfunctioning Basilisk brain and we'll be getting on with it.

Of course, if fiction follows fact, then the DSGE will steal the result rather than just purchase one. I have to say that Charlie rather underplays the techo-spy cards he _could_ play. For example one of the Manchester MK1 designers went on Operation Biting as tame boffin. He saw one of the commandos in the street in Manchester in 1947, commenting "You stuck so close to me, I assumed you were my bodyguard" [long pause] "You could say that Sir. Actually, I was there to shoot you in the head if it looked like we were going to be taken prisoner!"

By the way, the stolen ATIS device was in fact infra-red; an infra-red basilisk gun, anyone?

23:

There is an interesting Aside in Mary Gentles ASH right at the start where Ash and Her Doctor are having a discussion about how Horses have many more problems than the human members of the mercenary unit.

There is also a hidden Sf shout out right at the end which indicates the major changes that occur in that world.

24:

GB is in his late twenties, old for a horse, so goodness knows how he was treated when he was young.

I gather it makes a diference, like with dogs. I used to 'petsit' for friends who had a couple horses*, one of them came from Ecuador (I think), and had been rather abused during training. It would freak out if Spanish was spoken around it, fortunately I don't know enough to have been a problem.

*along with 8 chickens, a dozen or so (from multiple litters) barn-kittens, and 2-5 dogs.

25:

Off-topic, but just saw that Charlie tweeted that he's updated devices to iOS 7. Can we expect a Gadget Patrol post in the near future?

I'm refusing to update at the moment, since from what I've heard it's slow on iPad2, and I don't like the look of it.

26:

I have a later iPad but I cannot get through a comment thread on the
Major media sites without the whole thing crashing

27:

Well, that was about as horrifying as could be reasonably expected. (The novella, I mean, given that I'd heard the story of its creation before.)

EMOCUM, though? Really?

28:

DGSE, you mean? I don't mean to sound too continental, but

1) it's the GCHQ that gets caught with the hand in the honey pot spying on its European allies, and

2) the French have a self-developed nuclear deterrence, they do not lease it from the Americans.

Not to suggest that the DGSE doesn't do its homework,mind you. But for a variety of reasons, the French like to use home-grown weapon systems: they have their own nuclear carrier; their own main battle tank; their own assault rifle; their own fighter; their own missiles; etc. most other nations develop one or two of these, but not all of them.

Chances are that if you fielded basilisk guns and sided with the French, you would find a unit of the 13 RDP deploying, say, sphinx-based cognitive rifles of an original, viciously mean, and incompatible design.


29:

PS: Just to clarify: "most other nations develop one or two of these, but not all of them", while the French develop everything they can.

It's NOT a good thing!

It is terribly expensive, unaccountable funds are spent financing people like Dassault who is a horrible reactionary, and you end up with things like the FAMAS: an excellent design that everybody should be using except they do not, which entails that French troops on the ground use ammunition that is slightly different from the standard 5.56mm NATO, and incompatible.

Oh the joy when you are surrounded by Talibans, 20 to one, an American helicopter drops by with boxes of ammunition, and you have to send it back...

30:

Looks like horses might be more dangerous per capita than dogs, by a long way.

Population of dogs circa 8.5m. Deaths from dog bites in 2009, 5, 1 death per 1.7m dogs.

Horses are a little fuzzier.

Estimated population of horses, 400,0000 or between 600,000 and 1,200,000.

Deaths from horses (from the infamous David Nutt comment) 10 per year.

The 2009 mortality stats have 9 people dying from being bitten or struck by another animal – this would include cows and so on but are probably more likely to be a horse. I don’t think it includes people falling off horses.

So let’s take David Nutt at his word, deaths per capita from horse attacks are 1 for every 40,000, or 60,000 or 120,000.

At best you are about ten times more likely to be killed by a horse than by a dog.

31:

No problems with iOS7 so far, on either my iPad2 or iPhone4...

32:

I live "in a country area", and about a mile from a stable. Even so, dogs (plural) are a daiy site and horses aren't.

33:

The Japanese also make nearly all of their own military hardware including transport aircraft, fighters, ships, rifles etc. and their military establishment is a lot smaller than France. They don't export any of this equipment either unlike Dassault and other French manufacturers.

34:

If those "9 bitten or struck by another animal" include cattle, then I suggest a larger proportion of those 9 are caused by them and not horses than you think. Farmers are much more often in close contact with them, there's a *lot* of them, and they are quite dangerous.

Something impersonating evidence;

Unpredictable and lethally powerful, dairy and beef bulls have been killing farmers for centuries. Since 2000, bulls have killed at least 19 people in Wisconsin, according to a report by UW-Madison agriculture safety expert Cheryl Skjolaas. No other kind of animal has killed more than four people in the state during that span, the report said.

Source.

35:

Not to sound too non-continental, but...

1) Comparing GCHQ with DGSE - remember the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, and the capture of the DGSE team?

2) While the French deterrent was self-created, so was the UK one. It's only once you have proved you can make it for yourself, that the US will cooperate fully. See also "Airseeker". Note - the UK missile bodies may now be US-built (everything else, including the warhead, is UK built), but like the French Force de Frappe, they are independently controlled.

3) A fully self-reliant arms industry is all very comfortable; but having a captive domestic market doesn't guarantee that the equipment so produced will be first-rate (compared to a competitive market). There have been plenty of successful products; but the aircraft carrier has had a host of embarrassing problems, early French SSNs were allegedly noisier than others, the Rafale/FAMAS/AMX-30 are still trying to find their first external customer.

Meanwhile, the French deployment to Mali required UK strategic airlift and reconnaissance aircraft, and US aerial refuelling (to supplement their aging US-built KC-135 tankers). The French decided to buy the US-made E-3 AWACS for their Air Force, and the E-2 for their Navy's new aircraft carrier - perhaps watching the UK domestic attempt in the 1980s (Nimrod AEW) made them decide that sometimes it's better just to buy from abroad...

36:

...their equipment is also a lot more expensive; they pay through the nose for their pride. Each Japanese-built fighter (e.g. the F-15J) costs roughly twice as much as its equivalent; and the Mitsubishi F-2 was hardly a technical success.

They do import some systems; after all, their new "helicopter destroyers" carry Agusta-Westland helicopters...

37:

Anyway, enough of the strange attractors, back to horses.

Dad joined a cavalry regiment in his youth (just the job for a teenager from central Glasgow), and spent a couple of weeks caring for their horses at the Royal Tournament at Earl's Court - ending up with no illusions about the feral and carnivorous nature of equines...

He described how the cavalry mounts were tethered nose-in within the temporary stables, because otherwise they would kick anyone behind them. The stable had only just enough room for a young soldier to carry buckets down the centre aisle without fear of attack, so apparently the horses developed team tactics; one would lunge at you, and when you flinched away from them, their friend across the aisle would bite your shoulder.

38:

Remarkable. If it had been me, the motivation would have included a large component of chuckling, nihilist, punkish glee at the thought of injecting equoids into the long, moribund tradition of Thibaut / William Morris / My Little Rainbow SparkleToon unicorns.

It's good to know that you're above such base impulses.

39:

On reflection that makes perfect sense.

I recall hearing on the radio some years ago about farmers who had been crushed against fences by cattle.

40:

It's not exactly pride per se with the Japanese, it's more that as a demilitarised nation that is constitutionally limited to self-defence it doesn't want to be seen giving money to foreign military manufacturers even though it would be cheaper for them to do so. There's no reason they couldn't sell or at least offer their home-built military equipment on the world market but they don't for the same reasons.

Saying that of course they offer major military basing facilities to the US, their equipment is inter-operable with most US-centric gear (ammo, refuelling systems, comms etc.) and they licence some designs like the F-15J and Aegis.

41:

Loved the story!

Since this post is about how the story came to be, I'll hazard a question about writing that has been bothering me for some time.

In any nontrivial story there are lots of scenes. How many of them does a real writer have an idea about when you start writing the story?

For example, let's take the what happened in inspector Dudley's office. At which point did you find out that the story will include that scene?

42:

"I've recently gone off bees, for the obvious reason."

"Nahh, the[y']re brilliant! [...] = basilisk gun"!

This looks a lot like trying to convince me I should go back to liking bees ... because they're (potentially) clever enough to kill me with their brains.

Sure, I'm impressed by them, and respect them greatly. But not in a way that makes me want to spend more time with them. More like the way I am impressed by and respect hurricanes and volcanoes.

43:

Oh, sweetness! I get to be a horse nerd. That's not something I get to do very often.

The suspected origin of the meat-eating horse myth... is horses themselves. Horses were carnivores up until not so long ago, on the scale of evolution. (How long ago, I would have to look up.)

This has all manners of amusing consequences on the nature of horses.

Horses have been reported to enjoy a bit of ham now and then. This is not uncommon.

Male horses still have canine teeth. Females generally don't, but there are exceptions. This is sufficiently noteworthy that the French language has an adjective to refer to mares who have canines.

The digestive tract of horses is not done evolving for a purely vegetarian diet. Theirs substantially resemble ours, and notably lacks a rumen, the complex set of organs found in ruminants. Consequently, horses have a fragile digestion that upsets easily, and colic is the leading cause of premature horse death.

And we came this close to a universe where My Little Pony is a horror show.

44:

Google "My Little Nocturne" (include quotation marks).

45:

ricky the carnivorous pony... where DID I read that?


I remember reading some HG wells where they looked forward to the reign of the car- because of the massive drop in pollution it would bring. and the silence in the streets.
can only imagine how noisy it must have been

46:

cahth3ic wrote in part:
and you end up with things like the FAMAS: an excellent design that everybody should be using except they do not, which entails that French troops on the ground use ammunition that is slightly different from the standard 5.56mm NATO, and incompatible.

Only the F1 and G1 models, the G2 fires NATO M193 and SS109 happily all day long, and uses STANAG magazines.

Of course, only the French Navy and Marine special forces use them, apparently because the French Army are just like that...

47:

Or "My Little Denarian" if you're at all familiar with the Dresden Files.

48:

Are you sure about that?

Horses have been eating a variety of plants for a long time. Since Eohippus, . They're not descendents of the mesonychids, as are whales and hippos, so there's no good argument I'm aware of for them having carnivorous ancestors (reference). Note that lacking a rumen doesn't preclude many animals from being herbivores.

As for horse canines, they're far from the only herbivores that have canines. Male musk deer have lovely long canines, and I'm pretty sure that llamas and other camelids fight by biting.

49:

OK, you made me buy it. I've been putting off starting the Laundry books for a while because my local libraries don't have them, but this sounds like too much fun not to drop $1.99 on.

Also, if you're up for it, I'd be interested in hearing anything you know about the pricing rationale for your (or any other traditionally published author's) e-only works. I've heard about big-name thriller writers charging $2.99 for stories less than 10K, but the people I actually read (you and Warren Ellis) seem to be charging less for more. (Acknowledged: I'm using "author" to refer to "author's publisher," or at least I think I am. So for all I know the decision is black magic to you. But you've posted some nice insights on the inner workings of traditional publishing before.)

50:

"My Little Night-Mare" --too obvious?

51:

Lovecraft, married to the ex-girlfriend of one Mr Crowley.

52:

The point is not to start a cross-Channel pissing contest. My point is that the French do not spy to reproduce foreign industrial processes at home. The Soviet did (Atom bomb, Concordsky, etc.) but the French are too small for that. They spy for little things like tactical advantages in contact bids. Yes, they also spy to blow up things skyhigh, but that sort of things happen either in hostile countries, or in developing countries that cannot manage certain issues on their soil to the point where it becomes a threat to French interests. And they try not to do that on the turf of their allies.

The DGSE does not blow things up, it is not its job. The DGSE is the equivalent of the GCHQ and MI6 bundled into one organism. The Rainbow Warrior was sabotaged by a military team (possibly Commandos Marine), and the "couple" that was captured was DGSE personnel, present there for support only.

The term "Force de Frappe" has not been used since De Gaulle. I don't know why English-speaking people who want to appear knowledgeable about French nuclear weapons insist on using it decades after it fell out of use. Hint: it makes these people appear not knowledgeable, or at the very least not up to date.

British deterrence is not dependent on the US only for the missiles: British warheads are a derivative of the US W76, and a significant part of their assembly appears to take place in the US. As for the "independence", yeah, I am sure American hardware can be fully trusted. I mean, it's not like the USA are known for geopolitical Compulsive Backstabbing Disorder, right? Airstrip One for the win!

The Charles De Gaulle had the sort of problems a lead ship has; it is amusing and all, but she is not a lemon. French SSNs are very old, were completely refitted in the AMETHYSTE programme, and are being replaced; you are comparing vintage 60s technology with the 80s -- France doe snot have that much money to burn on weapons, and she has a land army to maintain that sucks funds off the Navy, unlike the UK. The Rafale sold successfully with India (I wonder whether it has its change with Brazil again, with the recent snooping scandal). The FAMAS is not used much worldwide, but still 12 countries have imported it (France not included of course). The AMX-30, besides being obsolete, sold actually quite well; you probably mean the Leclerc (AMX-56) -- of which hundreds of units were exported to the United Arab Emirates (arguably a quasi-captive market, but still).

The airlift to Mali was indeed aided by allies of France (probably out of embarrassment at failing to commit troops on the ground), but it would absolutely not have been impossible for France to deploy her troops; foreign assistance made it swifter and more convenient, it did not make it possible. Incidentally, airlift and air refueling are one of the priorities for capability upgrades, with the European A400 M and A330 MRTT.

Things like carrier-based radar picket are too specialised to warrant a national industry for a country like France (thanks Goodness there are limits to that madness), and while I regret that there is not European offer in this class for now, it is also the case for the E-3. Maybe if European countries genially committed to European defence instead of bickering for petty national short-term industrial advantages while importing F-16s and F-35s...

53:

Exactly.

Nah, the Army has tens of thousands of the damned F1 model, they make the most of it. Makes sense once you are in it...

Incidentally, idiosyncratic ammunition is a strong temptation for countries with this sort of industry. The Swiss Sig-550 has its own special ammunition too, though it is compatible with NATO standards. It loses a bit of accuracy when using the 5.56 NATO.

54:

British nuclear weapons are now and have been home-rolled ever since the Great Divorce of 1945. That doesn't mean there hasn't been a lot of back-and-forth between the US and British nuclear weapons development teams; British nukes were tested underground in Nevada and at least one American weapon test used British plutonium derived from short-cycling U-238 in a Magnox reactor. There's also some commonality of certain components purely on economic grounds, not because the British can't actually make them. Since the warheads and their ancillary components ride on a US-manufactured missile the interface bits tend to be American for that reason.

55:

"The point is not to start a cross-Channel pissing contest."

Likewise.

"My point is that the French do not spy to reproduce foreign industrial processes at home."

The interesting thing is that current development on the silicon retina which was stolen is undertaken in Paris by French nationals (plus others) funded in part by a French defence grant as well as INRIA/CNRS grants. As far as I know, none of our kit has disappeared into MilSpace. Yet. Of course a Stealth Basilisk Gun would be kinda cool!

ps Thanks for correcting the error in the TLA (alright "_four_ letter agency"). To get some idea about the quality of some of our spooks, try to get hold of Andy Hayman's evidence to the select committee. Then remember: this man ran the anti-terror squad and not Arthur Daly's used car pound.

56:

'Twas ever so. Consider the ' battle ' of The Little Big Horn, wherein that Pratt Custer was killed in a 'Last Stand ' that would have been richly deserved had he not taken so many people with him into the un-happy hunting grounds, thus...


" Debate over effectiveness of cavalry weapons
Map of the Little Bighorn Battlefield, 1876. This map was created by Capt. Robert E. Johnston, acting Indian Agent at the Standing Rock Agency, based on Kill Eagle's interview about the famous battle. Courtesy National Archives.

In defense of Custer, some historians claim that some of the Indians were armed with repeating Spencer, Winchester and Henry rifles, while the 7th Cavalry carried single-shot Springfield Model 1873 carbines, caliber .45–70.[38]:212–26 These rifles had a slower rate of fire than the repeating rifles and tended to jam when overheated. The carbines had been issued with copper cartridges. Troopers soon discovered that the copper expanded in the breech when heated upon firing; the ejector would then cut through the copper and leave the case behind, thus jamming the rifle. Troopers were forced to extract the cartridges manually with knife blades; thus, the carbines were nearly useless in combat except as clubs. During Reno's fight, Captain French was reported to have sat in the open, completely exposed to native American gunfire, extracting jammed shells from guns, reloading, and then passing them back to troopers in exchange for other jammed weapons to clear.[85] " which is here ...

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


As well as there and everywhere -this following my defective memories triggered web search for " defective copper jacketed ammunition battle of the little big horn "


And then there's my equally defective memory of the reports of defective ammunition for the colt AR15 during the early years of the USAs involvement in their phase of the Indo Chinese Wars... “Bounces off wet leaves " couldn't possibly be true! No it must be an erroneous factoid, so I shan't dig around for more in web space.

Not that we in the UK haven’t had our own problems. We had to buy a German Arms Co - Heckler and Kotch -to solve our design problems with our standard bull pup design rifle ..

" n 1999, Heckler & Koch is owned by BAE Systems as a result of a merger between BAe and MES.

In 2000, Heckler & Koch was contracted to refurbish the SA80 rifle for the British Army.[4] This contract entailed a modification programme to the SA80 series of rifles to address a number of reliability issues with the SA80. "

Oh, dear, Oh Dear ..Still, apparently the modified version works quite well.

57:

Dr Doug writes:

"I've recently gone off bees, for the obvious reason."

"Nahh, the[y']re brilliant! [...] = basilisk gun"!

This looks a lot like trying to convince me I should go back to liking bees ... because they're (potentially) clever enough to kill me with their brains.

Well, maybe. But they're a bit limited on the smart targeting front. Now cats, dogs -- and yes -- horses: now we're talking!

Sure, I'm impressed by them, and respect them greatly. But not in a way that makes me want to spend more time with them. More like the way I am impressed by and respect hurricanes and volcanoes.

Don't be such a wuss. The only job I've ever had which had a company car was temporary wasp contractor with Rentokil out of Baldock one summer vac. Hornets, well, they _were_ a slightly worrying encounter new Welwyn viaduct.

58:

MM yes I was shocked when i saw Andy Hayman's performance my thought this is a senior copper keeping the country safe fuck me I am not feeling very safe right now and then maybe the NKVD method of disposing of liabilities had some thing to recommend itsself

59:

I didn't see such a performance, do you have a date in mind?
A relative of mine who spent decades at the sharp, real end of policing commented once that once you get up to that sort of level (Chief constable and that area) it's all politics anyway, which means that there may well be an adverse sort of selection going on, with a happy outcome ensuing only if someone is both a competent politician and manager, or sensible enough to leave the actual work to people lower in rank who know what they are doing.

Which I can definitely see as a problem in the Laundry, and in a way it has happened already what with Bob's erstwhile time sharing managers coming to various sticky ends. I can imagine a war like clear out amongst the top brass, as the unlucky, incompetent or just not up to the job get killed or retired due to failure. Eventually they'll be left with the lucky and the competent, and maybe the war will be over then...

60:

Ah well, never mind, I found the stuff online.

Balinares #43 - those of us who know much about horses through such stories as those of James Herriot, already think that My Little Pony is a bit of a horror show. Let alone the bill for such an animal.

61:

Yes, I ran the Equoid life-cycle past Peter Watts for comment.

Adding Peter Watts to a Stross idea is more or less like squirting extra kerosene on a BBQ. Explosions may result and onlookers may be singed.

One thing about the unicorns that I noted is that the non-fertile females reminded me a lot of Gene Wolfe's "destriers," down to Bob's calculation of how fast they could run: carnivorous, fast, mean... No horns though.

62:

I commented on the story previously on the TOR site, but just wanted to say additionally that there were a couple of elements of "Equoid" that reminded me of Sheri Tepper's novel, "Grass", ie, big scary horse/not-horse creatures subverting humans, and the same big scary horse/not-horse creatures out for murder and mayhem.

It's not going to stop me from riding though, I'm afraid.
; )

63:

An article on knights versus snails made me think about how historical equoid outbreaks may have been recorded:

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/09/knight-v-snail.html

64:

Charlie
I understand the character with my name on him gets killed off – I think you now owe me a beer (when you start again, that is) … was the wedding THAT good – admittedly, you did seem a little *blink*daylight*blink* on Monday …. ??

Oh, apparently you got the rail-route-layout wrong …(or so someone said) – you did this in the first Laundry novel IIRC .. if it isn’t too late to correct proofs it might be a good idea ??
Look up the releveant TOC website HERE
Or the London map from National rail, for a wider picture … though you have to find the pdf, though & download – on-line direct doesn’t seem to be available.


Various correspondents on Bees.
Bumbles are cuddly.
I often see them, pissed out of their tiny (I nearly said “skulls” there!) brains, crawling around flowers of globe artichoke, or Teazle or the Marjorams. You can stroke them, with one finger, & they will raise one leg, go “bzzz” & carry on nectarising.
Very valuable for crop fertilisation, of course, especially for plants with closed flowers, like peas & beans….


Bellighman @ 6
Well there are also many accounts of the Great Tit Parus major turning carnivore … See here & here, too …
So, be careful when putting out the bird-feeder …

65:

Oops, missed a piece ...
Coming in the autumn (i.e. real soon now ...) & looks to be relevant ???
[ Begin QUOTE
Cryptozoologicon
The Biology and Mythology of Hidden Animals
By John Conway, C. M. Kosemen and Dr. Darren Naish
Our second book is a celebration of the myths, legends, speculative biology, and real biology of cryptozoology. will be available late in 2013.

66:

...married to the ex-girlfriend of one Mr Crowley

I really wish this were true, but alas it appears to have been entirely made up by one of the authors of a spurious Necronomicon and perpetuated by another. It's a pity.

OTOH, that's probably good enough for the Laundry-verse to make it canon, should Charlie care for the connection, and then you could drag in a Fuller connection via the A.A. (However, I've noticed that Charlie has studiously avoided any mention of Crowley, probably for understandable reasons.)

67:

@57: Hornets, well, they _were_ a slightly worrying encounter new Welwyn viaduct.

Hornets can definitely be worrying:
Giant Hornet Attacks Kill 28 in Southern Shaanxi.

OK, not the same as our hornets, but ours are bad enough.

68:

Quotation marks used to denote an actual title.

69:

Okay... this is probably a little weird, but bear with me. I read The Fuller Memorandum a while back and something occurred to me...

You know the bit where Bob goes to his meeting with a bunch of people from other government departments, and everyone has to introduce themselves and say where they work and what they hope to get from the meeting and all that jazz? Well anyway, within the part of the UK Civil Service that I have the rather ambiguous privilege to work for (which, as per our Code of Conduct, will have to remain nameless)this particular procedure has the rather gloriously apposite nickname (for the purposes of The Laundry anyway); we call it "The Creeping Death".

I am aware that those of us toiling in at least one of the other agencies refer to it this way. I'd hazard a guess that it's a pretty common parlance amongst we minor functionaries. So yeah, make of that what you will. I guess when you give a bunch of people some thankless and (figuratively, at least - I hope) soul-destroying jobs, they work out some pretty strange ways of amusing themselves.

70:

I don't know if you're aware of this, but Wonder Woman seems to be fond of using EMOCUM units...

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