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I would find it easier to blog right now if I wasn't having fun blowing up planets. (The creative juices always flow more freely with a big explosion, in my experience. And this series has seen so many nukes go off already that I had to up my game.)

Normal service will be resumed when (a) I have something of substance to say, or (b) I get bored with blowing up the world. (I love my job, really.)

58 Comments

1:

No spoilers: I'm just getting to write the section where it becomes clear that the Merchant Princes: The Next Generation franchise has been taken over by a [imaginary] team consisting of mid-1970s Len Deighton (fine detail) and mid-1980s Greg Bear (big picture).

Or me, channelling them.

(<tongue-in-cheek>This is why I don't farm my universes out to other writers: can you imagine how much it would cost to pay Len Deighton and Greg Bear to write my novels for me?</tongue-in-cheek>)

2:

I remember your nova in Iron Sunrise. What's the largest astronomical object you've blown up?

3:

The one in Iron Sunrise. (Although my notes for the novel-length expansion of Palimpsest involve blowing up first a galaxy, then a galactic supercluster, and then a universe ...)

4:

Vast ist dis "gravitational binding energy" of which you speak? Threat, or menace? Must be overcome!...

5:

Hmm... I seem to remember that E.E."Doc" Smith used to enjoy blowing bigger and even bigger things up. When do you start dropping planets on you protagonists?

6:

Speaking of blowing up planets, how about a blog post on how you're going to be adapting Merchant Princes for use in the Storium on-line storytelling game if and when the Kickstarter hits $185,000? The Kickstarter's only got just over two days to run, and the boost from your blog readership finding out about it would probably be a big help.

(People who kick in can start playing the game with one of the default worlds or a custom one of their own right away. I'm having loads of fun with it myself.)

7:

(Whoops, meant to link to the Kickstarter main page instead of the comments page.)

8:

Did you plot these explosions when you outlined the trilogy? Or are these opportunistic blasts?

And I do hope that by "blow-up" you mean a Krypton-style core explosion, not merely scouring the surface....

9:

Speaking of blowing up planets, how about a blog post on how you're going to be adapting Merchant Princes for use in the Storium on-line storytelling game if and when the Kickstarter hits $185,000?

Nope. Because it's too far in the future. To clarify: I won't have time to work on Storium until (a) the Merchant Princes: The Next Generation trilogy is handed in, edited, and in print, (b) "The Armageddon Score" is redrafted, handed in, and in print, and (c) "The Nightmare Stacks" is written and handed in. Which is to say, I won't be working on Storium at all before mid-2015.

10:

Most of them are plotted. This is merely an escalation from a planned explosion to something much bigger.

And no, it's not (either) of your guesses ...

11:

I'm sorry, I think I didn't get across what I meant.

I just thought that you letting people know you would eventually be doing that, if the Kickstarter reaches its goal, would give them a chance to support the Kickstarter now, in its last couple of days right when it needs that support, to make it more likely it would reach that stretch goal. It's only 2 and a half days from closing, with $15,000 more to run to get there.

12:

Partly because of the different regulatory framework in the USA, I am a little more wary of Kickstarter, compared to the British equivalents.

13:

Already tweeted. (My twitter account has rather more reach than my blog.)

14:

Charlie,

Bah!

You killed an entire subset of the Multiverse in the Atrocity Archives. Don't you remember the monster of entropy unleashed by the Nazis? That's a bigger deal than blowing up a single star.

15:

For some reason, this post made me think at first that you were playing Planetary Annihilation (http://www.uberent.com/pa/). That game certainly has no shortage of planet-smashing and nukes.

17:

Hey, wow!

Charlie's Merchant Princes vol.6 is listed as an example in No Kill Like Overkill!

I should have known....

18:

Antonia: Unlike most Kickstarters, you get to start using this one as soon as you pledge...even if you later cancel the pledge. Anyway, it's a really fun game. And I'd really like to see one of Charlie Stross's worlds come to it, eventually. (Though I'd be even happier if the world of Accelerando/Glasshouse made it later on, too. Or even the Atrocity Archives. I haven't actually read Merchant Princes yet. :P )

19:

Jeez, Charlie, stop teasing us! Is The Nightmare Stacks the next episode of the Laundryverse, after The Armageddon Score?

20:

Once upon a time I used to play Masters of Orion obsessively. You win the game by exploring and colonizing planets, or conquering planets colonized by other races. I found it weak tea to win the game by becoming the dominant race. No fun unless I committed genoicide on all the other races and destroyed their planets. Evil me.

21:


I find it hard to believe that the novelisation of
Palimpsest isn't a project that your $Muse has such
a hard-on for that you aren't chained to your keyboard
until you complete it!

-- Andrew

22:

Charlie, regarding destroying astronomical objects, IIRC didn't you mention the idea that someone could have done "something very stupid to the structure of the false vacuum, somewhere outside our current light cone" in Accelerando? Or does that not count since it was never observed?

23:

Didn't Roger Zelazny "recall" dropping one planet on another in "Isle of the Dead" ??

24:

Looking through (Breifly) TV tropes ... "Chekov's Gun" ... I didn't go far enough, but surely the ultimat example is Gollum's ring in "The Hobbit" - a convenient plot device, no more than that .... until.

25:

I am in awe of Greg's willpower if he can look through TV Tropes "Briefly"!

26:

In the "Skylark" series, Ed actually uses one galaxy as a weapon to destroy another, whilst re-locating half of the habitable planets in the 2nd to a 3rd!

27:

Neal Asher is busily exploring the wild and wonderful fun to be had with hyperspace gateways. These operate essentially as a magic door; what goes in one door comes out the other one with unchanged energy (unless this is syphoned off in some automagical way).

His first effort involved a moon, which was used as an impactor to destroy an alien military base. Later on, he's pulled the same trick using the high energy jet from the pole of an active black hole; instant death ray of truly epic proportions. Other efforts involve enemy laser systems where the laser is modulated to conduct informational attacks at the same time as blasting things through sheer energy, and some truly insane bio-engineering.

28:

On that score, I do believe that there would be quite a bit of scope for a sci-fi type of game where the objective is to destroy a planetary ecosystem. The plot would be simple: you're a humble techie charged with first-stage terraforming of Earth-like worlds. Such places already have advanced life, your job is to kill off all the dangerous stuff and put an Earth biosystem of some sort in its place, so when colonists turn up, the place doesn't kill them out of hand.

That then lets me, the designer, play with all manner of ecosystems with hidden traps. Things like long life cycle beasties that have an r-strategist phase at just one point that normally (i.e. before the player has started clobbering the ecosystem) gets mostly wiped out, so the voraciously predatory next phase is mercifully rare, only with a disrupted ecosystem this time it isn't rare after all.

Larry Niven invented a horror of a predator with massive sexual dimorphism and age-related sex change; it went from egg to aquatic male, to amphibious female predator. Wipe out the local top predators (i.e. the females) and the males that would normally have been eaten before transforming into females don't get eaten; a year or so later the landscape is overrun with swarms of new predators.

A final idea is an ecosystem like the Pandora planet of Avatar, which looks just like a jungle until the player rocks up and starts trying to kill it. Then we see why the entire ecosystem is neurologically linked up, and what else besides trees it is hooked up to. Think "planetary defence lasers" and you're on the right lines; the entire place is a vast computer habitat for an ancient civilisation that decided to retreat into self-repairing bio-computers, and which has a very clear notion of what to do about invading aliens...

29:

Thanks for the tip off regarding the Storium kickstarter, it hadn't pinged my radar before.

As of 1200h BST it's 500 bucks beyond the 185k pledge level that unlocks the Merchant Princes world, so Charlie's got another entry for his 2015 workstack...

Regards
Luke

30:

Blowing up planets, plural.

Difficult: they're built to last.

Reading the comments, I like the idea of using the polar jet of an active black hole: that's just about the most destructive thing I know that remains within known physics and known phenomena.

Pity it needs handwavium and hyperspace to aim the jet at any targets.

Likewise, my idea of destabilising a small neutron star with a relativistic projectile: nice bang, not portable.

Charlie has mentioned using exotic-matter 'scrith' neutrino reflectors either side of a supernova: plausible physics, rather than known, but powerful - but still not terribly portable.

I mean, if you can move stellar masses at superluminal speeds, planet-plinking is beneath your dignity.

So what are we left with?

Solve the problem of a perfectly-symmetrical implosion, down to fusion densities, of a thousand-ton sphere of lithium. Or, more realistically, a thousand tons of Lithium in concentric spherical shells separated by Tritium, with a Plutonium sparkler at the centre...

That won't come close to breaking a planet, or even rendering it uninhabitable: but a handful* of them in a carefully-timed detonation sequence in the solar photosphere could plausibly trigger a starquake and a coronal mass ejection capable of stripping the Earth's atmosphere.

Known physics, and you could almost carry it around in your vest pocket.

Any other ideas?
.
.
.

* For special values of 'handful' applicable to planetary engineers with very large vest pockets.

31:

Neal Asher is busily exploring the wild and wonderful fun to be had with hyperspace gateways. These operate essentially as a magic door; what goes in one door comes out the other one with unchanged energy

Which is a very good reason for me not to write that sequel to "Glasshouse" that's been on the back-burner for a decade.

(Gates are a major plot driver in "Glasshouse", and are used as weapons: the problem is, the sequel was driving into a war zone (the Censorship Wars are still going on in the background) and trying to figure out all the twists 200-400 years of war might have put on gate-weapons would do my head in ...)

32:

One idea here is to use short-range gates as part of a hypervelocity accelerator of some sort; you have a long ship mostly constructed of superconducting coils and something to accelerate a mass, plus a gate at each end. Line it up on the target, start accelerating the mass and when ready to fire, turn off the gate at that end.

A bullet does not need to be all that big to cause incredible damage if it is moving close to lightspeed. Planets also are not completely solid; the crust is solid but under that is quite a distance of semi-liquid molten rock. Hit a planet hard enough and you'll set up resonance and waves; these will damp out quickly but not before massive vulcanism has rendered the planet uninhabitable.

33:

Oh dear lord, yes.

Larry Niven and Harry Harrison both did series of stories based around similar concepts, just exploring cheap teleportation (Niven) and gates (Harrison). It's almost a subgenre, and to do it right you would have to build on the existing ideas.

In the cases of Niven and Harrison, I suspect their stories came out of years mulling over the consequences.

34:

Also Dave Langford in "The Space Eater" with its extremely nasty 1.9 centimeter transport gate as the central plot device.

Any controllable transfer gate (select start and end points and activate) is indistinguishable from a weapons system, it just depends on what you push through it.

35:

Any other ideas?
Randall Munroe is always good for that:

http://what-if.xkcd.com/92/

36:

Harry Harrison did the whole-planet-as-organism thing in Deathworld. And James Hogan did something similar with his planet of evolved robots in the sequel to Code of the Lifemaker, The Immortality Option.

37:

Author sits in high-tech office armchair in front of computer with six to eight screens in front of him, all showing various word-processing files. A white cat jumps up on the arm of the chair; Author begins petting the cat.

AUTHOR: No, President Bond. I expect you to explode.

38:

See also the last Lensman book, "CHildren of the Lens", which uses planets from other planes of existence or whatever.


39:

OOps, someone else mentioned it first.

40:

Exploding planets ... by super heating the core from the inside out, like exploding beans in a microwave oven. An expanding sphere of debris. Probably wouldn't want to be anywhere in that solar system.

41:

Hey Charlie! Wanna to buy buy a Monorail?
Oops already sold.

43:

I didn't DARE look too deeply into it ... hip-deep in dire trash (!)

44:

Already done by Greg Bear in "The Forge of God" - large chunk of antimatter (neutronium/antineutronium) fired into the planets core and seeding of H-bombs along the continental fault lines. The effect is to fragment the planet and put the pieces into orbit around itself. Everything gets comprehensively minced.

45:

I always thought the H bomb bit was redundant, but that pair of books was all about overkill.

46:

@37:
Author sits in high-tech office armchair in front of computer with six to eight screens in front of him, all showing various word-processing files.
---
"People ask me, 'why do you have six monitors?' The answer, of course, is that I don't have room for eight." - pterry

For the most part, do you really need to blow up an entire planet? The part we're normally interested in is just the thin layer of the biosphere on the outer edge. If there's free water to hit somewhere, you can comprehensively schtupf the biosphere with a modest asteroid impact.

47:

you can comprehensively schtupf the biosphere with a modest asteroid impact.

Not good enough: insufficient visual effects, especially when witnessed from space.

48:

in an RPG I ran some time ago the players BIG PLAN involved stuffing an enemy cargo ship with lithium deuteride, and a fusion bomb to set it off, detonated in low orbit, looks like its a hemisphere fryer,,
after all there is no upper limit to fusion bombs..

49:

Planets, stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters, universes... blow them up at your leisure, so long as you leave my hyperverse well and truly alone! [Still busy inventing the laws of physic for that one!]

50:

No you can't; there's bacteria in the rocks down to a couple of kilometers, at least.

51:

Don't forget the bit from the Lensman books where they go to a universe with a different speed of light, find a planet going at trans-c velocities, and bring it back to ours... without changing the velocity. They weren't quite sure what happened, but the star they aimed it at went bang quite satisfactorily.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to invent a weapon whose main operating principle is to break your milieu's laws of physics...

52:

That is the one I meant, and it's already been brought up near the top of the thread.

53:

Surely it's obvious that our universe is merely the debris from the destruction of a larger and more complex universe.

54:

Given the kind of capabilities being discussed, I've always thought there was a kind of elegance in arranging some large black holes in a Klemperer rosette, spinning the rosette up as fast as you can, and firing the centre of mass of the whole construct over the target. The black holes won't hit it, but bad things ought to happen.

You then catch your destabilized rosette and put it back together, and maybe do the whole thing again.

55:

.. 400 years of gate war? There should be no targets left. All the planets would have been evacuated (to make them pointless as targets) or destroyed, and everyone still living doing so in randomly jumping floating stations to avoid sudden vaporization. Being in a predictable location means you end up very rich (because people can find you and do some commerce) or very dead, or both. Like, take backups, set up shop, do business and send off your profits asap until killed..

56:

Recall that Marion Zimmer Bradley's first Darkover novel, "The World Wreckers", was a response to E.E. "Doc" Smith's Cosmic Nutcracker, where he took two planets and put them on collision course, with his target planet squarely in the middle.

She mused that there had to be a less spectacular, more subtle way of destroying a world. That led into world destruction for profit: get paid to wreck it, then get paid to put it back on its feet.

57:

Sure, but Ed's idea was to destroy a planet inhabited solely by beings bent on galactic domination. This is at least arguably a Good Thing, whereas destroying a planetary economy for your own enrichment is probably a Bad Thing.

58:

"A final idea is an ecosystem like the Pandora planet of Avatar, which looks just like a jungle until the player rocks up and starts trying to kill it. Then we see why the entire ecosystem is neurologically linked up, and what else besides trees it is hooked up to."

It Has Been Done.

"Balanced Ecology", by James Schmitz.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 6, 2014 4:42 PM.

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