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Down tools

So I just sent an email to my agent and editors containing [private] Dropbox links to the first draft of a vaguely trilogy-shaped thing. And I am exanimate. The trilogy-shaped thing, even in a rough first-draft form (which will expand as I stuff various left-over bits of plot up its arse, at my editors' prompting) is the longest first draft story I've ever written. In fact, I am thinking of changing my name to Mr Earbrass and emigrating to a land that has not yet discovered paper, never mind semiconductors.

Lessons learned?

I try to live my life by several simple rules, starting with "1: Don't Die". (If you violate rule 1, all the other rules become irrelevant.) Somewhere in the top 5 rules is "Never try to eat anything bigger than your own head", and I think I just broke a literary tooth on it. The longest first draft of a story I ever completed before this was the first draft of something called "A Family Trade", which ran to 156,000 words. It got edited, expanded, edited again, split into two books ("The Family Trade" and "The Clan Corporate"), published, then redrafted and recombined and republished as "The Bloodline Feud", in which form it runs to 195,896 words (I got down on my hands and knees and counted them). That was in 2002, before my arteries hardened and my memory softened.

This juggernaut weighs in at 303,397 words and can be expected to prolapse to around 330,000 before it's published (in not less than 12 months' time—it needs editing, redrafting, cursing at, ritually foreswearing, and then submitting to the production pipeline). And you should take it from me, it's quite challenging trying to hold the equivalent of an 800-900 page story in your head long enough to make sense of it and not randomly forget or confuse things like the main protagonist's age and gender, which of their relatives you killed off at the end of the previous series, and what time of year it's supposed to take place in. Or even what it's about. (I keep chanting "this is my big fat post-Edward Snowden near-future panopticon security state dystopia with parallel universes", but it isn't helping. I know: it's about badgers. Or the impossibility of badgers. Something to do with set theory, maybe.)

Part of what let me hold it together was Scrivener. I've praised Scrivener's virtues before; suffice to say, if you want a metaphor and you're used to writing software, if Microsoft Word is a text editor (probably some kind of cut-down crappy proprietary Emacs clone without the GNU functionality), then Scrivener is an Integrated Development Environment like Eclipse or XCode, only for books or other long compound documents. I've been slinging around a Scrivener project containing close to 930,000 words of prose—the current and new Merchant Princes series, in one handy cross-referenced hierarchical compound document with twiddly bits.

Another thing that helped me hold it together was Handeze orthopedic gloves, because near-fifty-year-old hands and this sort of word count do not make for pleasant bed-fellows.

Finally, I owe my sanity to having kept my attention focussed on the next-but-one novel in the pipeline. Because nothing gets you through the sucking swamp of despair that is the book you are writing right now like the bright, shining lure of the next-but-one book waiting just over the hill of optimism at the other side of this slough of despond.

But back to lessons learned: I humbly asked my agent to do me a favour. "Yes, what?" "Next time I express an interest in writing a manuscript more than 140,000 words long, would you mind hitting me in the face with a baseball bat until I return to sanity?"

She said yes! (My agent has my best interests at heart: letting my drive myself insane would be bad for her bottom line.) Anyway, just remember this, folks: it may be big, but it ain't clever.

PS: On another note: Now the Hugo voting is closed, I can let my arse-length hair down and vent, very diffidently, about my reviews. Specifically, reviews of Equoid (which is finally available in hardcover).

Yes, some of the reviewers spotted the odd pop-cultural reference in the novella. Many of them even realized it featured H. P. Lovecraft (gasp!) as a character. But honestly, does nobody read Cold Comfort Farm these days? Or grow up watching Trumpton, or reading about the adventures of the girls at St Trinians, or remember this sketch from Not The Nine O'Clock News? Critics! What is happening to your cultural literacy these days?



I didn't catch all of the references in Equoid, clearly...



Now go play with the cat.


Well some of us mentioned the Constabulary in comments back in September, though my suspicions about Inspector Dudley of the Ruralshire Constabulary Mounted Police were never confirmed or denied.

I will admit to not having previously read Cold Comfort Farm but rectified that immediately afterwards.


Hm. Maybe I'll give "Equoid" a shot after all. I don't usually do Lovecraftian horror but references to Trumpton, St. Trinians and the inestimable Constable Savage make it sound more appealing.

Meanwhile, I second Sean's comment and suggest the addition of beer (although possibly not at the same time).


I knew it was going to be Constable Savage!

OK, so... how did I know it was going to be Constable Savage?

Those gloves look rather good. I've been writing 2-3,000 words a day and playing concertina in the evening for most of the last month. On Tuesday I had a longer than usual session on the concertina & woke up in the middle of the night with hands that were simultaneously burning, aching, painful, stiff and numb. (Didn't last, but not nice.) I was recently diagnosed with arthritis - the non-scary but very permanent kind - but I think this was probably just the effect of vigorously wiggling my fingers for hours on end.


A lot of your references seem to be lost on the American audience, including me. Over here they're decidedly obscure.


I live in the US, and think everyone should read Cold Comfort Farm. It's hilarious.


Just saw the comment about Equoid and thought I'd go pick it up on Amazon - it's listed as published by Tor books, which I thought meant it'd be DRM-free - but doesn't have the "Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited" thing listed on the page.

Is that weird, or am I completely misunderstanding the Tor's DRM-free ebook policy (



I'm pretty sure it's 100% DRM-free. The limit on simultaneous device usage applies to DRM'd ebooks.


I keep meaning to download the Linux version of Scrivener and try it, but always waffle when I realize I should just grow more familiar with org-mode in Emacs (my word processor of choice).

I live a conflicted life.

I didn't get the across-the-pond references at all, though watching Constable Savage now reminds me mostly of the charges brought against "Occupy" protestors by the police.


Org-mode in Emacs is to Scrivener roughly how a rowboat is to a Boeing 767 when what you want to do is cross the Atlantic. No, seriously: you're making an oranges/apples comparison here.


I'm not surprised that people aren't getting the references. We tend to forget that what we know is often unique to us, and by that I mean I assume everyone picks up shout outs to Babylon5. Kosh, Vir etc. No way. I got a slap on the wrist for quoting B5, because the person who the comment was aimed at didn't get it

Face palm.

By Comparison I would have thought B5 was accessible in comparison to St. Trinians, Cold Comfort Farm, Trumpton and Lovecraft. Well maybe not Lovecraft, because well Lovecraft; tentacles, giant penguins etc. Having just written a Lovecraft short story what I can tell you is that there are large numbers of writers who have not read Lovecraft, or only have a superficial acquaintance with the mythos.

Still, it keeps us on our toes.


I've never watched Babylon V. Or Buffy. I gave up on the new Dr Who after the first 4 episodes, and I gave up on ST:NG halfway through the pilot episode. I've heard the words Farscape and, um, whatwasit ... Battlestar something? But that's all.

Cultural references are never universal. But I'm slightly surprised by the near-total ignorance. I think I saw one review of Equoid that mentioned Cold Comfort Farm (British) -- no mention at all of some of the other stuff! Even though the American acquiring editors knew it all.


So did you include the discussion of spacesuit design or did that get axed?


Thanks, you're right - just bought it and it does appear to be DRM free.

Weird, I thought all the DRM-free stuff on Amazon was explicitly labelled as "Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited" (i.e., that was how they pointed out a book was DRM-free), but clearly that is not the case.

Look forward to reading it!


My excuse is being American. I've heard of "Cold Comfort Farm" but didn't have much of an idea what it was about. I have been looking in the used bookshops for a copy.

Never heard of "Trumpton". How familiar are Brits with American children's shows, like "Captain Kangaroo" (probably not obscure enough, but can't think of anything else off the top of my head)?

I only became familiar with "St. Trinians"in the last year, after looking up on Wikipedia an Indian Tamil actress I had seen in an episode of "Dr. Who". A recent version of "St. Trinians" was mentioned and got me curious. As a fan of the original "Addams Family" and Edward Gorey it looks like my kind of thing.


Just watched the Constable Savage skit (hadn't seen it before), possible origins of The Thin Blue Line?


And while I'm at it... Any idea when Scrivener for iPad will be reality, and will it be a full version? Not asking anyone in particular. I've been wondering about this for a while, especially after finding that the word processor app that I use is no longer supported--company was bought and is now focussing strictly on their office suite app.


Given the distress you seem to be enduring, shall I gather then Mr. Stross that, in addition to the rigors of writing long works, you also went out and saw something nasty in the woodshed?


Excellent, Charlie, congratulations! Are you giving yourself a week off now?


I don't know Scrivener or Emacs org mode, but my text entry tool of choice is WordGrinder (binaries for Debian, Ubuntu, Windows, plus it'll build on other things):

It does plain text with a little style --- italics, bold, underline, plus a fixed set of basic paragraph styles. It's got a full-screen interface with no distractions (you can configure it to show nothing except the text you're working on, if you like); the Linux version runs in a terminal. It's got some basic tools for zipping around documents, keeping notes etc. I've written over 100,000 words on it and it works well for me.

(Disclaimer: I wrote it.)


I've heard of Cold Comfort Farm and St. Trinians; I think I once read a Buffy fanfic set at St. Trinians. But if there were any jokes based on them they sailed right over my head. I got the Lovecraft, the unicorns, and the parasitology. . . .


I watched the pilot episode of B5, twice, because I wanted a couple of trivia questions for a contest, and after that I didn't want to see any more. I once attended a club meeting that was showing an episode, and I thought the plot and the characterization were a solid mass of clichés; it really confirmed me in my lack of interest.

I could be wrong; I bounced off the first two Buffy episodes I watched. But right now I have several higher priority series in the queue. . . .

And, very generally, I'm not a very media-award person. There's a better than even chance that I won't get a reference to whatever is the current hot media f/sf item.


I once wrote a fanfic of 800k, but that was in two years, so I expect that should be prorated. Still, I did have a day job at the time...

But I need to go find a copy of Cold Comfort Farm--I've seen it referenced before, but it's finally made it over into my event horizon hearing about it here.

Congrats! And go soak everything a huge tub of hot water till all the muscles finally relax.


Er, I meant soak everything IN a huge tub of hot water.

Time to go home now!


Been trying to figure out how to use Scrivener — my oldest son got a twofer as some sort of a nanorimo (did I spell that right?) promotion, gave me one, and I have carefully walked my way through the tutorial a couple of times. I’m coming from a LaTeX background, not clear this is right for me.


James: as a Brit born in 1976, I'd never heard of Trumpton before this thread (though obviously had heard of the other two, and even read Cold Comfort Farm): and it predates me by less than a decade! Children's TV from before you were born dates so fast that it may as well be entirely extinct almost at once, certainly back in the days when children's TV programmes weren't huge corporate monsters and had a couple of series and that was it.

Born too late? You'll never see it. You'll never hear of it. (Sure, there was a VHS video of it released in the early 80s, Wikipedia tells me. As a child in the 1980s... I'd have had to have been lucky enough to have my parents buy it, and they were in uni and/or work when it aired, too old for children's TV, and were equally clueless about its existence.)


I don't know about the UK, but in the states there were also local shows, like The Uncle Floyd Show from New York, which I only know from the Bowie song "Slip Away". Then there were the franchised shows like Bozo the Clown and Romper Room (saw the Washington DC in the late 70s, couldn't stand it), with different people in various cities.

I don't seem to have a point, other than agreeing about the number of forgotten shows (not just kid's shows) most justifiably, some not. Oh, and I'm a few years older.



I'd suggest it's worth your time catching at least one Babylon 5 episode - I usually recommend "Passing through Gethsemane". Sure it has some 'american' issues, but watch that episode in the context of jingoistic right-wing US expectations, you can see the punch. And the treatment of religion is almost positive enough to make you think they have a role.

As far as picking up pop-culture references; I'd have thought that H P Lovecraft was bleedin' obvious and Cold Comfort Farm was fairly front and centre as well. Not quite sure where Trumpton comes in (Pugh, Pugh Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub), or St Trinians & NTNOCN either - hell, I'd have put Hot Fuzz and Chekhov in there too.

Someone's third law ought to be "Any sufficient convoluted literary allusion is indistinguishable from noise."

Oh, and that tweet on Shetland and 'the world's biggest oil field' - really? You think something bigger than Ghawar has managed to be missed for this length of time only to pop up just before an independence vote. And you think it's a 'NO' camp conspiracy? I'd recalibrate that bullshit meter if I were you - that's pretty obvious 'YES' camp prime bovine product in anyone's book ...


I've observed here before that Cold Comfort Farm isn't as widely known in the US as it seems to be over in the UK. On the other hand, since I was at my computer anyway I poked my local library about it. At the moment five out of their nine copies of the physical book are checked out, the DVDs of the movie are 8/10ths in use, and both of the audiobook readings are being listened to. Someone in America is enjoying this story.


As someone who could use a pair of orthopedic gloves, I tried visiting the Handeze link. Apparently I'm not the only one! You've managed to slashdot them (full 509) as of 3:45 AM UTC.

Congratulations on the completed draft; can't wait to wolf it down in a year or two.


I don't know about the UK, but in the states there were also local shows, like The Uncle Floyd Show from New York, which I only know from the Bowie song "Slip Away". Then there were the franchised shows like Bozo the Clown and Romper Room... I don't seem to have a point, other than agreeing about the number of forgotten shows (not just kid's shows) most justifiably, some not.

Sure. Something like Captain Kangaroo might possibly be known; a major landmark like Sesame Street is a safe reference. But as a little kid I watched Ramblin' Rod and I can't expect anyone who's not from just the right place and time to have heard of him.


Dear me I do love Rowan, so I'll see your link and raise you one of my faves (as a drummer myself, the reason why should be obvious... the cat!):

Didn't get a lot of references in the story though, my exposure to UK stuff is mostly just a love of the days when PBS would provide a regular binge of british comedies and watching Dr. Who with my mom before I was born. I suppose there may be a genetic component (a couple generations back there are some McAllisters lurking around as I understand it) but I do know a bit of an in-joke with my mom is when she finds out I've rigged up or repurposed something (once while helping the missus try out some different hair styles with extensions I got tired of the glue and mess involved so I grabbed some clips and sewed them in so she could just pop them in with ease... apparently this is a feature of the more expensive extensions?) and mentions that my "scottish is showing", to which I reflexively check that my fly is up as I don't wear kilts.

Aaaaaanyway, I've gotten lots of new Laundry/Stross fans from linking them to Equoid over on the Tor page, so hey, a missed reference or seven in a book isn't a bad thing, it's like an easter egg from a video game... but made out of trees!


For anyone interested in finding Hand-eze gloves, you might look in fabric stores, like Joann Fabrics in the US--don't know what the UK equivalent is.


Okay, how many of you have heard of Johnny Downs? He actually has a Wikipedia page: . I used to see him on my grandmother's TV after school when he was hosting a cartoon show on KOGO.


Oh, cough, that's awkward... the title "Babes in Toyland" looked familiar from somewhere, and then I realized it was probably not from the original film.


We could do with a few St Trinians girls in this country. As shown in the original movies, they have a strong sense of what is right and wrong. You could do a deal with them.

There are times when Cold Comfort Farm feels all too real for me. Part of the plot is the clash between rural life and the urbanite outsider.

James Herriot, OK.

Trumpton, and the related Camberwick Green, are available on DVD, and do get referenced in UK media. I think it got used in a Life on Mars trailer.

A lot of this stuff was old, but it was made in colour and, despite the aspect ration change is still attractive to children. And maybe a part of the Trumpton effect is that it's a snapshot of the Matter of England. It's maybe Grandad's day, but it's ours, not some American myth.


You mean this bit of Life on Mars?


Part of the trouble with any reference to another work is you never know what you remember and what they remember and how they'll match up and how they'll resonate with your audience.

I'm familiar with all the materials you've complained about the critics missing above.

It's a LONG time since I read CCF and I don't remember it well. There was enough I thought it seemed familiar but I'm sure there's loads I've missed. It's probably 40 years though, and I can live with that. Bob's introduction rings a bell, having reread Equoid.

Until I started watching the YouTube clip I'd forgotten he was called Constable Savage in the NTNON sketch. None of the things I remember from the clip that would have made me think of it have made it into the book. Obviously the things you remember and the things I do are either very different about the sketch, or you've watched it often enough just the title and the name is enough to remind you of it.

Ok, "Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, ..." if you remember Trumpton at all, you ought to get the reference. Especially since travelling into Trumpton is mentioned earlier. I got that one.

There is a St. Ninian, although Sussex isn't his stamping ground. Girl's public schools being "jolly hockey sticks and algebra and whatnot" especially when mixed with ponies, albeit unicorn/equiod ponies - there's lots of books and cartoons about girl's public schools you could be alluding to. Ok, St. Trinian's do cross my mind, but so do Enid Blyton books. A rhyme with St. Trinian... it's a lot to hang it on.

I do appreciate that you go to a lot of hard work to put all these clever things in. And the audience are ungrateful wretches that don't catch all your hard work and clever allusions and all the rest of it. But you do remember that I clamour for more Laundry books don't you? Even if I missed half or more of the references I thoroughly enjoyed the book (I read it again last night to see if I could catch them pre-warned and enjoyed it again) and I'm not alone in that. Even if we don't articulate and catch all the things you write in, you've got an audience that enjoy the craft and effort you put in and between us I'm sure we catch a lot of it. Please keep up the good work - and after a suitable gap feel free to share the things we've missed too!


For those looking for "Cold Comfort Farm", it's by Stella Gibbons, and Penguin has the commonwealth publishing rights (or they did about a decade ago, and I doubt this has changed since). Which means if you're looking for it in a bricks & mortar bookstore, you can probably find it in the "classic fiction" section.

(I seem to remember that's where I found my copy, anyway.)


Ok, I've never read "Cold Comfort Farm", I did grow up watching Trumpton "Pugh, pugh, Barney McGrew, Cithbert, Dibble, Grubb!" and watching the St Trinian's films (never read most of the original cartoons though), and thought the NTNON character was called "Constable Suggage".

Anyway, not waiting even less patiently for Equiod.

Still, since I've not actually read (but have bought) Neptune's Children, I've got some 5.5 of OGH's novels to read in the next 18 months or so.


Thanks quine.

Note for USians - a Penguin title probably indicates a well-written book, whether it's to your tastes or not.


I'd second that. There are few Penguin titles I can remember reading that I regret reading (even if I never want to read the book again and wouldn't say I enjoyed reading it).

OTOH there are a number of books from other publishers that I've read where I enjoyed the concept but wish they'd been better written/edited and I now regret reading them.


I'm saving reading either Equoid or Rhesus Chart until AFTER Worldcon - & hopefully got Charlie to sign them ....( & the re-issued "Family Trade, too! ) However, I will spot Stella Gibbons references - not sure about Trumpton, though - I'm of an older generation that remembers "Toytown" - a wonderful radio satire disguised as a "Children's Hour" programme! In line with the diktat about specific commenting, I'll stop here .....


I thought all the Trumpton references were there because OGH is a massive Half Man Half Biscuit fan - and that would really struggle to travel well...


Axed. It simply didn't fit. A lot of other stuff got axed, too -- like the detailed explanation of how the successor polity to the New British Empire went about designing its computer hardware/software ecosystem to leverage "lessons learned" from our time line (hint: they know what the internet will do for them, they also know about the need to bake security into their systems from the 1950s tech level onwards because it'll turn into a mass communications medium before they can blink; and while they're importing CS text books, they're designing their own hardware and software architectures from the ground up and eating their own dogfood because they don't want to be on the receiving end of nasty firmware-delivered exploits from the USA or Russian gangsters, for that matter) ...

I suffered for my research and I don't even get to subject you to it! Waah!


Been waiting for Scriv for iOS for years, it seems. It's promised for some time this year. It was promised for some time last year last year, too. I live in hope. My writing nirvana device would be a 5.5" iPhone phablet (as rumoured to be coming in October) running iOS 8.0 with Swype (thanks to keyboard extensions -- that's also coming) and Scrivener for writing.


David, the merchant princes project I'm working on is a hierarchical collection of roughly 800 sub-documents, including PDFs and web archives glommed from research sources, doodlings, notes, several earlier novels in the series (hyperlinked and tagged for searching), and the trilogy in progress (which itself consists of around 33 chapters each containing 5-10 sub-documents). Oh, and that's without the metadata tagging facilities to help me filter and track what I'm doing.

In other words, text editing is just part of what Scrivener does -- and quite a small part. It's actually a project management tool, not a word processor.


Oh, you should have no trouble with the cultural references in "The Annihilation Score" (the final redraft of which is my next job, after Worldcon/Eurocon): it's the Laundry superhero novel!

However, remember I grew up in the UK in the 1970s? Marvel and DC Comics were rarities with no high street distribution -- only specialist stores stocked them, and I had no idea of the existence of same. So there's a distinct lack of Spiderman, Thor, Captain America, et al, and a whole lot more derived from vague memories of 2000AD ...


I suffered for my research and I don't even get to subject you to it! Waah!

I would be interested in reading about that, but I understand that it couldn't fit in the book, and writing a companion book explaining the research is a can of worms (and work) you probably do not want to do.

It probably tells something about me that in the "Mission of Gravity" I liked the essay about the planet the most (not that I didn't like the story, but the essay was brilliant) and that the only book I still have of the "Night's Dawn" trilogy is the Confederacy sourcebook...

Also, about "The Annihilation score", drokk yes! Though my (rather limited) exposure to 2000AD has been mostly Dredd, Nemesis the Warlock and Halo Jones, and at least the first and the last ones are not especially superheroes. (Though one might claim that Dredd is a superhuman, but I'm not so sure about the hero status.)


2000AD is more my speed. Looking forward to your take on it with a Laundry spin!

Although I go to the Thor, Avengers, etc. movies, (and I quite liked the last X-Men one) I don't get the easter eggs. Actually I quite liked the last Thor one too but that was basically because it was a retelling of a Norse myth with spaceships. The previous one looked like a really uncomfortable cheap cosplay that didn't know where to go but the last one worked much better to my mind.


I'm not a massive Half-Man Half-Biscuit fan, I've just been listening to them since about 1984 (thank you, John Peel!) and have a few of their albums. And think "The Trumpton Riots/Back in the DHSS" is one of the classic albums of the Thatcher era. But hey, lots of the cultural references in that didn't even cross the Pennines as far as Leeds (as I discovered when comparing notes with $WIFE, who is Mancunian).


It's more a case of the superhero vibe in the Laundryverse being influenced heavily by a very undersold early 90s British shared universe anthology series titled Temps (which got binned by Roc one volume before I could contribute to it) ... sort of a British equivalent of George R. R. Martin's "Wild Cards", if you can imagine a very British "Wild Cards" spin-off co-edited by Neil Gaiman before he was famous. If you read "Temps" you might recognize some of the feel!

(Yes, Neil, Alex and Roz -- the Midnight Rose collective -- were consulted before I dug my teeth into this novel.)


{smug} Got it (well one volume anyway, or is EuroTemps volume 2?) {/smug}


My writing nirvana device would be a 5.5" iPhone phablet . . . Geeze, that's tiny. Your fingers must be a lot smaller than mine (I have a desktop machine just for the keyboard/monitor. My fingers are most definitely not tiny.)

I suffered for my research and I don't even get to subject you to it! Waah!

This clearly calls for essays! (When your hands have recovered a bit and you have some spare time, obvs.)


Heh. You know how hurtin' old bands will release a three-CD set with audits of how their 58-minute signature work from thirty years back came to be (often for absurd prices like $100?) Maybe Charlie can release those 800-odd Scrivener documents as a boxed set thirty years from now to finance his retirement.


Ah yes, Temps and EuroTemps, I have those somewhere.

I always was a little disappointed they never produced anymore.

I rather liked The Weerde books too which, according to Wikipedia, means I encountered OGH's work earlier than I had hitherto realised.


I'm pretty sure most of those references are going to fly by me like an SR-71. AFAIK, 2000 AD and Temps never made it across the pond.


Any Brit over a certain age who didn't listen to the John Peel show probably worked in an all-night garage (with talk radio on)..


I can't find it on my shelves but I'm sure I've read Temps and definitely The Weerde. But anyway... we'll see what I catch when the book comes out!


Is this material something that could fit into a future short-fiction work set in the Merchant Princes universe(s)? Since you've said that you prefer writing at that length anyway.


s this material something that could fit into a future short-fiction work set in the Merchant Princes universe(s)?

Only in a really boring one. It works better as an essay or a rant or over a couple of pints of beer or as back story. Fiction it ain't.


Well I'm a Brit over a certain age (I'm 68) & I can proudly say that I have never listend to whover John Peel is or was for more than a few seconds, until I got to either the "change channel" control or the OFF switch. Currently I am reall enjoying the 2014 Proms, so there ....

Remember Sturgeon's Law - except in popular "music" the number isn't 95%, it's at least 99%, unfortunately. I was very very fortunate in this time-line to be exposed to the Beatles - the exception that proves the rule ....


I read The Unstrung Harp around 1954, when it showed up at the Adriance Memorial Library in Poughkeepsie, NY, where I was biding my time between 4th grade and college. Mr Earbrass's struggles should be familiar to most novelists. My Gorey collection is pretty large these days.

Down With Skool, written later than the first St Trinians book, was my introduction to the hell of British public school life, somewhere around the same time. I read the Stella Gibbons well after I was married for the third time and found it hilarious.

Teevee stuff, British or US, is mainly a vast empty space to me, as I didn't own a box between the time I went away to college in 1958 and autumn 1979, when I acquired an old black-and-white from my parents to watch the Red Sox lose the World Series (clearly a false memory, because according to Wikipedia they didn't win the pennant between 1975 and 1986).


Remember Sturgeon's Law - except in popular "music" the number isn't 95%, it's at least 99%, unfortunately.

Yes, which is why it's a shame you never listened to John Peel -- he was the BBC's secret weapon on winnowing the 1% from the chaff, and the John Peel Show on Radio 1 at 10pm once a week was pretty much the highlight of my late teens/early 20s radio listening. There are some folks who try to do the same job on Radio 6Music these days, but they're definitely inferior imitations, and he is sadly missed (he died a few years ago).


2000AD may not have crossed (I was old enough to start reading it from issue 1), but you'll recognise some of the characters (Judge Dredd) and some of the authors (e.g. Dan Abnett wrote the original "Guardians of the Galaxy" for Marvel, AIUI)


Oh, absolutely! Scrivener's a pro tool for pros, while WordGrinder's a toy I wrote in my spare time. I'm not suggesting you use it, because that might interfere with your workflow and none of us want that, but merely that people might find it interesting.

Incidentally, if at any point you were to right a nice tech-heavy blog article on your development process, I personally would find it fascinating.


I checked the Wikipedia page for 2000AD. I've seen movie stills for Judge Dredd (but not either movie) and I'd heard the name "Strontium Dog". I've never read either one. The rest was totally unfamiliar, and I have significantly above-average exposure to obscure comics.


Ramblin' Rod! I saw him once in the Rose Parade when I was a kid (The Dalles is basically the furthest east suburb of Portland, culturally speaking).


Ronald Searle was responsible for St Trinians ... The original cartoon appeared in 1941. He was a survivor of the Burma Railway ....

He later co-operated with Geoffry Whillans to produce the "Molesworth" series of books ... totally hilarious, & now thoroughly integrated into educated popular culture ...

Reverting .. yes Charlie, quite possibly ... but how was I to find out that John Peel was supposed to be in some way different or "better"? He was a "disc jockey" remember ... & every single one of whom, as far as I could tell then, &/or right up to this present moment are posessed of a loud voice & a minimal collection of brain cells pandering to the lowest possible common denominator they could drill down to?.


I suppose there's no way you could have known, but John Peel (Perfumed Garden, Kat's Karavan, Top Gear etc) was pretty much an "anti-DJ": softly spoken, and with a self-defined mission to play what other DJs wouldn't.

Lots of sessions from Ivor Cutler, and he even managed to get Son House out to Maida Vale to play, which is remarkable when you consider Son House is alleged to have taught Robert Johnson to play. Peel was an early champion of most emerging genres of popular music - he gave airplay to Fairport when the folkies were turning up their nose at the loud long haired kids with electric guitars. In the 1980s he played Billy Bragg's early demos (in exchange for a mushroom biriani).

He was an early proponent of Bobby Gillespie's Law: "music is just music", and was never tied to a particular genre. If a band sounded like themselves rather than ran with the pack, he'd likely play them. Sometimes at the wrong speed.

I checked the Wikipedia page for 2000AD. I've seen movie stills for Judge Dredd (but not either movie) and I'd heard the name "Strontium Dog". I've never read either one. The rest was totally unfamiliar, and I have significantly above-average exposure to obscure comics.

Not many characters, apart from Judge Dredd, crossed the pond in a way that was obvious. A better idea of the influence of 2000AD on the UK, and comics in general, is a look at some of the artists and writers who started / worked with 2000AD. Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Bryan Talbot, Pat Mills, Peter Milligan and many more either started or honed a bunch of their craft writing for the comic.

For example, looking at Alan Moore's back catalog his Future Shocks, Skizz, DR & Quinch, Halo Jones were all original serialised in 2000AD.

In the UK it was pretty rare to see any Marvel or DC comics in the 70's and early 80's. They weren't generally available at newsagents and the specialist comic shop was almost non-existent. As a kid the only time I saw them was on seaside holidays coz they were shipped over as ballast and ended up at local shops.

2000AD, on the other hand, was almost universally available — and there was almost nothing else like it on the stands. Everybody in the UK of that era who was into superhero/SF comics read it. Anybody in the UK of that era who wanted to write or draw that kind of comic wanted to be in it.

Compared to Marvel/DC of the same era there was very different kinds of content too — lot of political commentary both subtle and broad, we had Alan Moore giving us things like Skizz and Halo Jones with "normal" female leads, some (gasp) non white-male central characters, etc. In genre they were much closer to SF than the US superhero mold.

There was also some god-awful tosh of course ;-) But the format of 4-6 strips per issue gave folk a lot of room for experimentation.

2000AD is to UK comics is sort of what Cambell era Astounding/Analog was to US science fiction.


If our host will tolerate the advertising, the Australian distributor for Dome's Handeze Gloves is -


Jay, if you were British and of a certain age (it began publishing in 1977, IIRC) you will have seen 2000AD. It was ubiquitous, and a huge hit in the newsstand weekly comic market.

If you've heard of Judge Dredd or Alan Moore or Grant Morrison or (I think) Warren Ellis, you will be familiar with some of the ideas and people that came out of 2000AD.

It's unlikely to have ever been distributed or sold outside the UK.


I don't think Ellis wrote anything for 2000AD, but he did do at least one short for the spin off Judge Dredd Megazine in the 1900s — and I'm sure he wrote for Deadline at some point which was created by a bunch of ex-2000AD folk.

He did like it though:

"I grew up with 2000AD, in which young children learned to appreciate splatter, gunfire, fetish gear, madness, anarchy, women who didn't take any shit, horror, rebellion, satire and dinosaurs eating cowboys. If your children do not like these things, then you need to shove them back up someone's womb until they are properly cooked."
Warren Ellis

I think one of the other ways to tell about the ubiquity (and influence) of 2000AD is in an interview with Neil Gaiman somewhere. Why it's one of his interviews I don't know but I'm pretty sure that's where I came across it, I don't read enough other comic book/graphic novel writer blogs and the like to have read it there really.

Anyway, where it was, somehow, there were questions about 2000AD and how many copies it sold. I don't remember the exact number but it was something like 250,000 copies per week. The people from DC wanted to know how many they published to sell 250,000 copies, (DC and Marvel publish their titles monthly and get a lot of returns) and the answer (probably not from Tharg) was 250,000. There was stunned silence.

Which also helps explain why it was never exported - there were never excess copies! But almost all the Brits that got tempted across the pond and were recognised as revitalising the US comic industry in the 1980's cut their teeth in 2000AD, yes. And a lot of the Brits that have gone across since have too, even if their names aren't as well known. And inkers, colourers and the like too apparently. Sometimes being friends with graphic designers has unexpected benefits.


… and Neil Gaiman is another writer who grew up reading 2000AD, and whose first commercial comics work were some Future Shock episodes in 2000AD in the mid eighties.


The only actual superhero I remember 2000AD ever doing was Zenith, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Steve Yeowell. The original bad guys were 4 dimensional 'many angled' ones (and super powered Nazis obviously) but it was when they traveled to other universes and met versions of old UK comic characters like Archie the Robot and Billy Whizz that it really got good.


It's unlikely to have ever been distributed or sold outside the UK.

It most certainly was, and is, available in any old newsagent here in Oz - both 2000AD and later the Megazine.

I spent a lot of time and money on them back in the late 80's and early 90's, and still have some of the graphic novels from then.

And I've started reading the Megazine again, to hand I have Issue 356 - "She Ain't Heavy" - with Joe carrying Cassandra on the cover because, well, spoilers.

(I think I missed 347, because 348 is over there! :) )


You might be surprised to learn that I was reading 2000AD in Malaysia(!), thanks to a friend who had more pocket money & would bring his 2000ADs to school to share (though most definitely not during lesson time).

Then when we moved to New Zealand, I had a standing order with the local shop newsagent for 2000AD.

The ties to the Old Empire remained & publications like 2000AD were able to reach out to the Commonwealth.


"...eating their own dogfood because they don't want to be on the receiving end of nasty firmware-delivered exploits from the USA or Russian gangsters, for that matter) ..."

It's more likely that the USA gives them a 'free' gigaton of nuclear weaponry, after what they did to the other world.

BTW, that attack was a definite Nuclear Winter level attack. It would have killed most people on that Earth over the next year or two. Did you have that in mind?


I'm guessing he did-- Charlie referenced "The Nine Billion Names of God" (a story about the end of the world) just before the nuclear attack began. So yes, total and utter destruction - of a whole world, 99.99% of whom had never even heard of the USA. Oops.

It makes me wonder, though. How long does it take for the USA to make a nuclear weapon? The USA of that world must have used up a large fraction of their nuclear stockpile in that attack on the Gruinmarket.


The USA of that world must have used up a large fraction of their nuclear stockpile in that attack on the Gruinmarket.

I seem to remember it was either stated or implied that the nuclear carpet bombing was seen as an 'easy' way to have near complete nuclear disarmament, meeting the requirements of a treaty. But it's been a couple years since I read it, and that last bit might have just been a thought I had.


I seem to remember it was either stated or implied.....might have just been a thought I had.

Well, nope. Just looked through my copy and couldn't find what I was thinking of. Must have been a thought I had while reading it, something along the lines of "I guess that's one way to get rid if them."

But Nuclear Winter is totally implied.


That was to my mind one of the most astonishingly "good" parts of the whole story. Everybody: the Clan, the Clan conservatives, the US Government was doing "the Right Thing" for their people. And millions died. History is like that and motives are like that - people are both right and wrong at the same time. In many ways the whole story there makes me think of what's happing in Israel and Gaza but a million times worse. One party can't just sit there and let what they perceive as terrorists operate with impunity - but when they respond it is with a massively asymmetric attack that seems to be just as wrong, if not more so, as the original attacks.

From the POV of the US in the novels, they are faced with the most terrible terrorist threat imaginable; a group that can appear, do terrific things like killing the President, and then vanish. They can't allow that to persist. Yet the result is - as you say - the death of millions, all more innocent of what is happening than anyone on this earth.

And all because the conservative faction were worried about the threat to them, thought that they would respond differently, and believed that this was the way to get them to talk.

Charlie often plays with moral ambiguity. This is it at its finest.


The "nuclear winter" scenario requires a lot of nuclear weapons detonated over a large area such as Siberia and the US plains to burn ground cover and add the resulting combustion products to the upper atmosphere. The Gruinmarkt attack was more localised, a few thousand square kilometres intensively bouncing the rubble over a small area. Probably not a nuclear winter scenario in this case. Spectacular sunsets though.

The US currently has about 1900 warheads "ready-to-use" although that includes a small reserve which aren't on a delivery platform at the moment, spares in case a deployed warhead gets downchecked. They also retain a few thousand extra warheads which aren't ready but which could be refurbished in a hurry given the perceived necessity and new launchers built to carry them. Assuming the MP version of the US is in the same situation then after using up some or most of their ready-to-use arsenal on the Gruinmarkt then they could replace them quite promptly given the will.


I think the attack pattern, in particular the type of warheads used and the delivery system, implied that the usual strategic systems were not affected by the MP scenario. It would take time to prepare the warheads, but most would come from the reserve pool.

The area attacked was large, but they didn't attack with ICBMs. Heck, is a nuclear bomber force a credible threat today? But how do you avoid spooking the other nuclear powers? Part of it must be maintaining a credible ICBM force while being careful how your aircaft operate.

Did the Gruinmarkt operation need tanker support? Keeping tankers on the ground might be important.


Those of a certain age may have noted Captain Kangaroo as a reference via the Statler Brothers Counting Flowers on the Wall. If you were to be known as Mr B Earbrass you would receive a warm welcome down here in the capital of Victoria,later christened for a British PM instead. Having read some Lawrence and Hardy for school Cold Comfort Farm, to the extent that I noted it, seemed like more of the same quaintly dated rural Englishness for a boy squinting into the sun out on the Australian plains.


Badgers. Set theory. Ohgod. Such punishment.


Cold Comfort Farm was meant as a satire on a certain sort of novel of its time. And, until WW2, a lot of farming was like that. The Starkadder's were not dreadfully far back. Farmers used horses rather than tractors. The technology was was looming. Tractors were coming into use. But it sounds very like my father's stories and I used some of those tools.

I've mown grass with a scythe, and here I am in the internet.


Nuclear winter is implied on pg.364 of the US mass market edition of ToQ: "In the aftermath, the people of the Gruinmarkt might well be the luckiest of all. It was their fate to be gone in a flash or burned in a fire: a brief agony, compared with the chill and starvation that were to follow all around their world."

Keep in mind that in their world, the eastern seaboard of No. America is heavily wooded--plenty to burn. The bombers were burning a swath 250 miles wide and, presumably, from where Boston would be, down to DC. Also I don't think refueling would be necessary, they could pop back into their own world and land at one of the east coast military bases, probably in Georgia or the Carolinas.

And I think my earlier ideas @85 came from Patricia/Iris thinking "They must be using all the nukes." on pg.359.


Yup. The climax of the first MP series ignites all surface-level biomass over an area of about 62,000 square miles; there's roughly 5000 tons of available biomass per square mile, so on the order of 300Mt of wood/vegetation gets ignited (this is an upper limit; the firestorm will starve the central zone of oxygen, although due to the intense heat it may smoulder for some weeks or months).

Number of bombs: about 350 x 250Kt, 1 x 6Mt (a fuck-off gesture for the Gruinmarkt's capital).

For comparison: the 1991 Mt Pinatubo eruption is estimated to have raised about 17Mt of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere and kicked out around 5 cubic km of magma (on the order of 25 Gt) although much of that will have fallen out promptly.

It's really hard to do a like-with-not-like comparison between H bombs and volcanoes, but we're getting into within-two-orders-of-magnitude territory here.

As for 350 nukes -- as noted, that's probably half what the Air Force have on hand as air-droppable munitions, and replacements can be manufactured surprisingly rapidly. ICBMs and SLBMs can't be used effectively as paratime weapons (at least, as of this point in the series), but world-walking B52s or equivalent make for a terrifying MAD destabilizer -- they're effectively 100% stealthed as they line up on their targets: who needs B1Bs or B2s when you've got a multiverse to hide in? -- and this gets explored in the new series.

(Hint: the New British Empire had a nuclear weapons program when Miriam found them. The new series kicks off 17 years down the line ... i.e. enough time later to have gone from 1943 to 1960, without a neighbouring time line to conduct industrial espionage against. I've always wanted to write cold war spy thrillers: and now I've done one!)


is a nuclear bomber force a credible threat today?

Theoretically, no. In practice, when the US military, DEA, and other agencies can't seem to see or track planes full of drugs crossing the Gulf of Mexico or the souther US border, and when airliners can just vanish...

It also depends on who you're attacking. Successfully intercepting even a large subsonic bomber takes an effective ground radar system, the ability to scramble fighters in time, or effectively-guided missiles. And that's before you saturate their defenses with cheap drones returning nice fat bomber radar signatures.

The USAF staged FB-117s out of Germany to hit targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first B-2s sent in left from Barksdale AFB in Shreveport, Louisiana. The B-52s left from Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They flew over seven thousand miles, dropped their payloads, turned around and flew back home. Successful intercepts: zero.

There's useful threat left in those airframes.


It's well outside my comfort zone, but I remember all the coverage of the early days being creating air superiority, denying Saddam's forces any air cover and the like.

Once they can't shoot down anything in the air, the bombers with nukes are just as good as bombers with any other sort of bomb or missile really.

The cold war equation was always "Can we do this to Moscow?" and countered with "Can the Russians do this to us?" For both of those questions the answer probably remains that bombers aren't much cop - establishing the level of air superiority required over the distances required is too hard.

But that's not to say they're not without utility. You could do some horribly efficient scorched earth retreats, and places that have strategic value and can't have the layers of defences built up such as ports could still be targeted that way potentially.


It also depends on who you're attacking. Successfully intercepting even a large subsonic bomber takes an effective ground radar system, the ability to scramble fighters in time, or effectively-guided missiles. And that's before you saturate their defenses with cheap drones returning nice fat bomber radar signatures.

More to the point: a large subsonic bomber travels at .8 to .9 Mach. So does a fighter or interceptor aircraft, unless it hits the afterburner, which eats into its range tremendously. That's why some of the newest fighters, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon II and the F-22 have the ability to cruise supersonic without afterburner. But even then, their range is significantly reduced -- atmospheric drag is higher at higher speeds.

So to defend against those subsonic bombers you either need fighters already airborn on combat air patrol around your perimeter, or you need an interceptor base every couple of hundred miles of linear frontier, with planes on the hard stand ready to scramble 24x7. This gets expensive fast. I've heard a figure of 12 Typhoon IIs needed to guarantee 2 available for quick reaction on a 24x7 basis, plus on the order of $50,000 per hour of flying time, plus 40 person-hours of maintenance per hour of flight, and several hundred flying hours per year per pilot ... it adds up fast, and just maintaining one base and the supply chain will chow down on a billion pounds a year. (Economies of scale apply, of course, when you add extra squadrons and bases, but even so ...)

Now, each of those fighters carries 4-10 air to air missiles, and the newer ones have beyond visual range capability, but even so, they can't really engage an enemy more than 100 nm away, and they have a combat radius of roughly 500 nm (assuming some use of afterburner to get where they're needed in time to do any good). So you also need long range radar.

Ground-based missiles don't help much, unless you're defending a dense high-value target like a city; B52s or Tu95s cruise around 10km up, and it takes a honking big missile to hit something that high at a safe distance (assuming it's carrying free-fall H bombs) -- when your ammunition costs $0.5M per round, this is a bit of a problem.

So yes, big-ass subsonic nuclear-armed bombers are still potentially a deadly threat -- why else do you think the USAF keeps those B-52Hs around, and Russia has a whole bunch of Tu-95s? On the other hand, they're not terribly cheap to operate, and they don't offer as good a guarantee of whacking the target as an ICBM. In particular, if the enemy has a first-rank air defense network (which nobody really does, these days) life for the bomber crews will be really exciting, albeit short.

Now, shove bombers like this into the universe of Merchant Princes, and add established tactical doctrine for using world-walker bombardiers or ARMBAND machines. Bomber takes off and transitions to uninhabited time line hopefully unknown to the enemy; bomber cruises to destination: 90 seconds out from the target -- about 15 miles as the B52 flies -- the bomber transitions to the enemy time line, makes the shot, then transitions back to safety again. That gives a defender very little time to get a lock on the target and launch a SAM, and unless there's a fighter on patrol above the target just as it arrives the bomber has a good chance of escaping unscathed.

It's like a 100% effective stealth retrofit. And it massively increases the effectiveness of those bombers.


Charlie wrote:

ICBMs and SLBMs can't be used effectively as paratime weapons (at least, as of this point in the series), but world-walking B52s or equivalent make for a terrifying MAD destabilizer -- they're effectively 100% stealthed as they line up on their targets: who needs B1Bs or B2s when you've got a multiverse to hide in?

I was thinking this as well. Once the USG start exploring the knotwork and find a suitably unoccupied Earth, transport a load of construction equipment over and start building airbases in equivalent locations to existing airbases. They could then "disappear" equipment at will into the doppleganger bases, possibly under the pretext of scrapping it, and it would be very difficult for the opposition to discover.

Also, to a certain type of maniac, the existence of an entire planet as a bolt-hole in case of war is likely to increase the probability of going to war in the first place.



I think most of the comic serials that started in 2000AD were published either individually or in "collection" comics in Sweden.

There was definitely a "Judge Dredd" comic, using various 2000AD material as filler ("Nemesis the Warlock", "Strontium Dog" for sure).

I don't think 2000AD per se was published in Sweden, though.


Now, shove bombers like this into the universe of Merchant Princes, and add established tactical doctrine for using world-walker bombardiers or ARMBAND machines. Bomber takes off and transitions to uninhabited time line hopefully unknown to the enemy; bomber cruises to destination: 90 seconds out from the target -- about 15 miles as the B52 flies -- the bomber transitions to the enemy time line, makes the shot, then transitions back to safety again. That gives a defender very little time to get a lock on the target and launch a SAM, and unless there's a fighter on patrol above the target just as it arrives the bomber has a good chance of escaping unscathed.

Viable defences for this kind of warfare seem few, but interesting. Assuming a faction didn't have the capability to keep an observation force in each adjacent universe the one thing that comes to mind is guerilla warfare. Lifestyle could assume the look of a trailer park, where each trailer was fitted with a universe hopping device. Some could be covered in solar panels and full of batteries, others hydroponics, fablabs, living spaces etc. At the first sign of any enemy each trailer jumps to a prearanged bug out location. Seems expensive to set up though and limited in how one would get resources.


In the event that worldwalking technology becomes widespread, the concept of "defence" changes completely. If the transformation "key" is some arbitrary mathematical function, it's reasonable to postulate that it can be arbitrarily transformed under any gauge - which is to say, there are an infinite number of universes, some fraction of which are inhospitable, or inimical to our form of life (from near identical, with only minor historical revision, to utterly unrecognisable, where, e.g., cp violation led to an anti-matter dominated universe rather than a matter one, or where the fundamental constants are slightly detuned)

In such a scenario, the original world (from the perspective of any given person) is more or less indefensible, since it's the focal point for anyone who wishes to cause harm. Infrastructure that cannot itself be moved between worlds becomes critically, fundamentally, insecure: it can be attacked through an infinite number of vectors. Personal security is then had through obscurity: hide in one of an infinite number of places.

In addition, finding "keys" to alternate worlds - and, to a higher order, "key-chains" from a first world to a second via one or more third worlds, becomes an enormous and highly valuable area of mathematical research, probably in the vein that zero-day exploit research, and knowledge of same, is today


Here's how the USAF thought it would go:

At 46:00 - estimated US casualties 60m - around 1/3 of the US population at that time


Cold Comfort Farm has a mimetic footprint wider than its readership. Most people here heard somewhere that "she'd seen something nasty in the woodshed" whether or not they knew who she was. That was about as far as I went. Then I read it. It's ace, and as it transpires, science fictional. Hello! Videophones!


Viable defenses ...

I think this would probably do the job, although it's a little drastic: launch to Mach 10 in five seconds, neutron bomb warhead, accelerates so fast it goes supersonic as it pops out of the launch cell ... it was really designed for terminal interception of ICBM warheads 15-30km up, but the neutron pulse would do a real number on the warhead of an H-bomb even inside the bomb bay of the delivery aircraft (not to mention frying the bomber).

Problem is, deploying these things around cities would be, ahem, iffy (fallout and EMP for starters!), and you then run into the fact that you've given your civilian air traffic control system a really unfortunate failure mode.

And then, for when you want to intercept something very close very fast indeed, there's HiBEX. Exits its silo in a quarter of a second, accelerates at 400g, burns out at 2500m/s (around Mach 8) after less than a second -- you really don't want to be standing anywhere nearby when this thing goes up!


Deploying them over cities might not have been the problem you assume:


This is starting to sound like something out of Niven's Theory and Practice of Teleportation: with no restrictions on sending packages, rival factions quickly bomb/gas/infect each other back to the stone age. Or at least back to technological levels where the bomb-throwing machinery is no longer possible.

Why does this remind me of stories where everyone has an id-coded collar fitted out with explosive charges ;-)


Ah, that would be Jack Vance's The Anome, if anyone who doesn't know the book is interested.


Defense would probably favor underground installations. In order to successfully attack, the enemy would have to do substantial digging in adjacent worlds, which may be relatively easy to monitor.

Obviously, I'm making certain assumptions about the connectivity of the universes. If there are infinite universes and each is directly connected to every other, then security through obscurity is probably your only hope.


strummist: Again - something that some people will resonate with .. "Disc Jockey" equated to "Football commentator" in my life - why should I even or ever bother to try to find out? Also, I must admit, I was already conditioned, to what is quite wrongly, called "classical" music, with a strong historical/folk compenent. Shortly beofre she was tragically taken ill (She had to be helped off-stage to an ambulance & died of cancer) I heard THIS ... Blow the Wind Southerly Please, do listen & try not to cry too much,


Charlie: So yes, big-ass subsonic nuclear-armed bombers are still potentially a deadly threat -- why else do you think the USAF keeps those B-52Hs around, and Russia has a whole bunch of Tu-95s? Tell me, again, why we scrapped the Avro Vulans then? A newer design than the B-52 IIRC & with a stealthier radar sig ....


On the note of the Judge Dredd movies, for anyone who's interested: Go check out the more recent movie "Dredd" with Karl Urban in the starring role, it's a superior action movie that (I think) channels the comics superbly (while updating the look and feel of the world). Avoid the older movie "Judge Dredd" with Stallone in the starring role, it is a steaming pile of rubbish, with almost zero redeeming quailities (the helmet comes off about 15 minutes in, and it's already got annoying and silly by that point).


Et seq to #88 inclusive:-

I'd agree with Nojay; it was clearly implied "look, we've just done this to these guys, oh and we can and will do the samee to you if we have to". So no shortage of stockpiles, and a reasonably quick ability to build more.


@strummist #60:

I stopped listening to John Peel when he started playing stuff by people who couldn't sing and couldn't play properly, and told us it was great... And further; insisted that stuff by bands that could sing and could play was pretentious pap. YMMV


Tell me, again, why we scrapped the Avro Vulans then?

1) Because a large bomber was not very survivable in the concentrated air defence systems of the period. (Hence the switch from high level airdrop to low level 'pop-up' and then the Blue Steel stand-off bomb.

2) The cost of devolping and upgrading to Blue Steel Mk.2

3) Hence Skybolt (U.S. development chosen as BS Mk.2 replacement, cancelled by the US as part of the IRBM treaties (I think).)

4) Inter-service rivalry, and the Navy winning the battle.

The US retained the B52 because it could (supposedly) clear its own path to the target, using a rotary launcher and short-range nuclear missiles to beat the defences down. Plus they were still using them with 'iron bombs' in Vietnam, etc.


I think you're making the assumption we have a nuclear deterrent as a real thing rather than a midlife crisis, Ferrari equivalent for our glorious leaders.

We keep a very limited nuclear arsenal. Just enough to say we're a nuclear power. That's no longer an automatic right for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council but it used to be considered to be (whether officially or not).

But if you're going to have a very limited arsenal so you can indulge in nuclear sabre rattling it becomes a battle for funding between the RAF and the RN. Clearly the RN won that battle and once you've committed one way, you're kind of stuck. Whether the choice was a good one or not isn't purely based in the bottom line I guess - a sub out on patrol is harder to find than an RAF base.

For some reason none of the politicians, once they get into power, ever seem to stop and seriously ask if we need the nukes, however anti-nuke they are in their younger life. I know there are arguments about lost skills and so on and things seem to be getting hotter with Russia again but I wonder how many people honestly think the Trident subs (or a modern equivalent to Vulcans) would keep us out of a shooting war with Russia if push really came to shove.


It's going to be a real problem for modern electronics and wireless. Lots of handy antennae in all those mobile phones to channel EMP into the delicate internals! Also not so good for grid interconnects -- AIUI eddy currents in long HT lines tend to blow out the transformers.

You could probably harden a city against EMP from a nuclear point-defense system, but it helps if the city you're hardening starts from a no-later-than-1960 tech base when you begin, and you're going to have real headaches hardening modern wireless infrastructure.

Mind you, it's probably still cheaper than an H-bomb shelter in every cellar ...


Tell me, again, why we scrapped the Avro Vulcans then?

  • They were nearing the end of their airframe life. (They got used very hard in the Hi-Lo-Hi mission role after their ability to survive an encounter with Soviet air defenses at 50,000 feet was compromised by improvements in Soviet interceptors and missiles.)

  • A political decision was made to hand strategic deterrence to the RN, in the shape of Polaris, in the 1960s -- this probably made sense given that Polaris was an effective second strike weapon (which Vulcan wasn't: Vulcan was use-it-or-lose-it, which is inherently destabilizing when your opponent has deployed IRBMs with sub-10 minute flight time to your bomber dispersal bases).

  • The tactical (non-strategic) nuclear bomb delivery role was taken over by the Panavia Tornado IDS. Basically a European equivalent of the F-111, only more modern (late 60s/early 70s design), much more recent than the Vulcan, cheaper to operate (2 engines vs. 4) and better in the tactical role (for one thing it was designed for hedge-hopping, unlike the Vulcan).

  • A credible alternative would have been either the TSR.2 (but even that would have been looking long in the tooth by the late 1980s) or the "Concorde Bomber" idea the RAF got a hard-on for in the late 1960s (Concorde prototype 001 was built with attachment points for a bomb bay; sketches circulated of a Concorde making a run on the Moscow air defences with three Blue Steels on board). Note: the "Concorde Bomber" was about as practical as the XB-70 Valkyrie (or the Soviet idea of using the Tu-144 to air-launch a cut-down variant of the SS-20 IRBM) -- monstrously expensive and still prone to someone whacking the dispersal runways with a first strike using missiles.


    I think you're making the assumption we have a nuclear deterrent as a real thing rather than a midlife crisis, Ferrari equivalent for our glorious leaders.

    Actually, the British nuclear deterrent is a real thing. IIRC The US is limited to 700 deployed missiles under the START-II treaty and had to convert a bunch of Trident subs to SSGNs (specops/cruise missile barges) to avoid busting the treaty limit or pissing off the USAF (who operate Minuteman and MX missile silos). The UK therefore subsidizes a handy annex to the USN's Trident force because there's not really any plausible way in which the UK could execute a nuclear strike on anyone without US approval and, probably, joint targeting.

    Ditto the RN's new Queen Elizabeth class carriers. The USN is overjoyed because it means NATO will have a couple more big aircraft carriers that can fill in when the USN's CVNs are over-stretched. In actual use, the QE carriers are useless without US support because they rely on an American-built aircraft (the F-35B) and their AEW capability is (cough) helicopter based, i.e. dogfood the instant an Su-35 gets within missile range; they probably need to work with an US carrier group to keep them viable.

    (Cynical, moi?)


    Charlie, I always believed that the UK deterrent (and French one) were to commit the US to the defence of Europe. Imagine, you are a Soviet commander and you see a missile strike in bound, do you say "Oh look only a few missiles it must be the British" or do you say "Shit inbound missiles let the US have it" The US gets it if it supports Europe or doesn't support Europe so it might as well support Europe and hopefully avoid a UK launch. ( Yes I am that cynical)


    Ah, thank you. I guess that helps explain why the left-leaning ex-CND PMs have kept it. I've never seen an explanation that made sense.


    The "Nuclear Winter" study was fairly thoroughly debunked when the Russian weather people got involved.

    Turco, Toon et al (authors of the Turco-Toon-Ackerman-Pollock-Sagan "Nuclear Winter" paper) calibrated their models against Martian data. Mars does not have oceans, lakes, or ANY freestanding bodies of water, meaning (among other things) that Mars does not have lake-effect snow.

    When the TTAPS models were re-run with lake effect snow taken into account, what they got was one really nasty winter, with a lot of snow. The snow scavenges the dirt and dust out of the atmosphere in one year, and things go back to more-or-less normal.

    Incidentally, we've seen global weather events on that scale before. 1816: The difference is that it was volcanic activity rather than nuclear weapons that made the dust clouds.


    Which left-leaning ex-CND PMs?

    Old Labour (Harold Wilson, Jimmy Callaghan) hated the Soviets (and it was mutual: to the Soviets they were class traitors), while since their day we've had Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Blair was in CND in his youth ... then got the UK into more wars than any other Prime Minister elected in the 20th century: a megalomaniac with narcissistic personality disorder, he would have been in CND in the late 70s/early 80s purely because it was a checklist item for promotion in the Foot-era Labour party. Gordon Brown ditto, maybe minus a little of the megalomania. I don't think what they did in their teens or early 20s is significant when evaluating their beliefs as adult politicians, and Both of them grew up to be staunch pillars of the post-cold war neoliberal Washington consensus.

    More to the point, I don't suppose Brown's chairing the World Economic Forum (all those junkets in Davos) of Blair being on the board of a multinational security/armaments conglomerate has anything to tell us ...


    My quick BOTE estimate suggests that the 1816 eruption kicked up 2-3 orders of magnitude more crud into the stratosphere than a 100-1000 H-bomb nuclear exchange. So, nukes are definitely at the bottom end of the climate changing scale, unless you deliberately work hard at it.

    (I'm thinking in terms of of a Tsar Bomba class device -- without the lead ballast replacing some of the 238U jacket to down-grade the yield to sub-100Mt levels -- parked at ground level on top of the Yellowstone caldera:

    The volcanic eruptions, as well as the continuing geothermal activity, are a result of a great cove of magma located below the caldera's surface. The magma in this cove contains gases that are kept dissolved only by the immense pressure that the magma is under. If the pressure is released to a sufficient degree by some geological shift, then some of the gases bubble out and cause the magma to expand. This can cause a runaway reaction. If the expansion results in further relief of pressure, for example, by blowing crust material off the top of the chamber, the result is a very large gas explosion.
    A 100Mt ground burst can be expected to dig quite a deep crater -- a 100Kt ground burst leaves a crater roughly 120 feet deep due to vapourization of the rock; the fireball from Tsar Bomba was over 5Km in diameter and it's a thousand times more powerful.

    Hmm. Talk about continent-busters ...

    And then there's this enlightening article. Bomb casing mass adds to the ground penetration effect; high-efficiency modern weapons that pump most of their energy into X-rays from the fireball are less efficient than an old-school heavy but low yield device. And high yield device cratering scales as an inverse fourth-root function due to gravity effects (the energy needed to eject debris from the crater). But if all you want to do is to fragment a channel through rock down to a highly pressurized magma chamber ...)


    While helicopter AEW may have been born of the necessity for a crash programme to put AEW on a small carrier like HMS Invincible, it was kept and updated. The Sea King ASACS has turned out to be very effective indeed.

    The difference between fixed-wing and helicopter AEW in terms of range isn't that much; while it can't fly up-threat as quickly, one huge advantage comes from the ability to launch from and recover to ships other than an aircraft carrier; essentially, any ship in the fleet, including RFA. The Sea King AEW replacement (CROWSNEST) will also be mounted on a helicopter.


    Oh - and as for the Su-35, any airborne AEW is vulnerable. The E-2 is propellor-driven, can't outrun a fighter, definitely can't outrun a missile. At least the AEW can see the fighter first, and the missiles on the ships are bigger and longer-ranged than the AAM on the Su-35


    I was thinking of Bliar really. While I'm old enough to remember Wilson and Callaghan (and met Wilson) I'm of an age with you and so not really old enough to remember their youthful political activities.

    But while New Labour was a long way to the right of Old Labour, it's a pretty long way left of the coalition, and it's looking like it's going to be miles to the left of the Tory manifesto for the next election. So left-leaning.


    I am not sure the USN is overjoyed by the Queen Elizabeths. No cats, no traps, and the STOVL aircraft look pretty marginal for air combat.

    The USMC might think differently. It's a big ship that operates the F-35B that they want.

    On the other hand, was it the price of the conversion (which was supposed to be a prepared option), or did somebody get scared of the political implications?


    If they'd converted to cat and trap, the next question would be, why go for F-35B tomorrow when F-18 is available off the shelf today? And Rafale? And wasn't there even a Naval Eurofighter option in the original spec?

    Rolls Royce, who do the F35B's lift fan, and supply the turbines for the carriers, would Not Have Been Amused.

    (A secondary reason: with reactors, the US CVNs have nearly unlimited steam for running cats. A QE class carrier runs on turbines, and so would need to use lots of electricity to boil water -- or run an untried electromagnetic cat. Hence the sudden price escalation once the catapult option was mooted, and the double-U-turn in just 4 months by the MoD. All in all it was a dog's dinner, and they'd have done better to make the carriers even bigger and shove reactors into them -- it's not as if we don't know how to build naval power reactors, after all.)


    Been a while since I last read any of the Merchant Prince series. Do all of the MP worlds/universes have identical geologies? Because access to the right uranium isotope would be necessary to acquire enough nukes to be a threat, assuming you could launch them extra-dimensionally. And, speaking of trans-dimensional launch capability -- why not figure out a system that launches 'tame/inert' modules that self-assemble and arm themselves only once they've reached the other side? This would reduce the risk of 'friendly-nuking'. To ensure that such modules have reached the target universe, you'd probably need all of the modules to test for some sort of trace element profiles/concentrations before self-assembly begins.



    Highly recommended. Buy them before you start needing them

    And I pass on what my hand therapist told me after the belated carpal tunnel surgery failed to help:

    1) Never trust a corporate doctor's opinion that you don't have carpal tunnel, just tendinitis -- go get a second opinion from your own doctor);

    2) You need two kinds of breaks while using a keyboard: Mini breaks, and Micro breaks.

    A Mini break is needed every 80 or so characters, and involves taking your hands off the keyboard and rotating your wrists briefly -- for about as long as you'd need to hit a carriage return on a typewriter.

    A Micro break is needed every 26 lines or so, and involves taking your hands off the keyboard and moving them about the way you'd do by rolling your typing paper and carbons out of the typewriter, separating and stacking the paper, picking up two more sheets of blank paper, inserting the carbon, squaring the corners, and rolling the stack into your typewriter platen and lining it up to begin typing.

    Those little breaks -- variations in your hand motions -- are enough to relieve the fluid pressure that builds up in the carpal tunnel space.

    That will relieve pressure on the nerve. When you don't interrupt the typing hand position, the fluid keeps accumulating.

    And one last fact: there are two nerve bundles in there, sensory (which signal pain when damaged) and proprioceptive (which don't hurt at all when damaged). Most people happen to get damage on the sensory nerves. But if it's the proprioceptive nerve bundle that's damaged, the symptom is very slight difficulty with feedback. You start to drop postage stamps, paper clips, Post-It notes, aspirin tablets. Then you get round to dropping pens, pencils, keys. Then flashlights and power tools. Then yourself, off a ladder.

    Don't let it get that far. As the neurologist told me: "Most people think they're just getting older, and they don't come in soon enough to diagnose the problem and reverse the damage."


    I'm not sure that a small nuke in the low kT (ie neutron bomb) exploded at (say) 10km altitude would generate significant EMP


    With respect to the F35, the industry consensus (outside of the manufacturers) is that its a flying turkey. In one exercise against Sukhoi fighters the latter's pilots likened it to "clubbing baby seals". We should have gone nuclear for the carriers and bought Russian - maybe T50.


    I kind of think a Eurofighter Typhoon II with an arrestor hook (they originally designed it to be capable of being fitted with one, before the French split with the consortium and went it alone with Rafale for their carrier fighter) would be a decent option, especially now it's acquired strike capability rather than pure air supremacy.

    But no argument about the F35 being a bad idea.


    Remember in all of this that the biggest element of the defence budget is salaries. Every sailor on a ship costs you £100k per year, minimum, by the time you factor in training costs, pay, harmony time ashore, etc, etc.

    The reason for F-35B rather than -C is easy; training costs. To qualify pilots for carrier landings takes lots of them. To keep them qualified keeps a lot more. The USN essentially has one of its carriers steaming around training pilots at any given time; that's not efficient for the RN. It would also prevent the QE from surging its aircraft stocks by pulling aboard RAF or RN reserve pilots in a hurry (as was done in 1982; many RAF pilots flying Harrier GR.3 did their first carrier landing in a war zone).

    The reason for not making QE nuclear-powered is also simple: cost. The RN has enough of a problem manning its nuclear submarine fleet with qualified nuclear engineers; why add more of a burden? Nuclear power demands more people, more training, more safety, and is in no way as simple as "stick a couple of sub reactor plants in a ship" (as the French Navy found out with the Charles de Gaulle, and the USN with the USS ENTERPRISE).

    While Sea Typhoon (and even Sea Gripen) have been suggested by BAE, these are essentially a whole new aircraft; carrier landings have been likened to dropping the aircraft from two stories up; quite apart from making everything proof against salt spray, and all the sensors safely interoperable with naval RF kit. Risks would be significant, the project would take years, and the costs would be... impressive. Of course BAE will insist it's possible, it's a potential gold mine (but not as lucrative as the UK's current 15% share of every F-35 built)

    As for F-35, there have been many suggestions that it's a turkey - mostly from internet experts, and those supported by Boeing. The pilots and maintainers, and those actually "in the know" apparently rave about it. Its sensor abilities and sensor integration are a full generation ahead of anything else (and so they should be, given the amount they've spent on it), and the capabilities they offer are apparently stunning.

    The current F-35 thread on the Army Rumour Service website is currently sitting at 120+ pages; while many of them offer heated opinion, it's worth reading any contribution by Magic_Mushroom, a serving and very well-informed RAF officer with (as his username suggests) an AEW background.


    Dirk - the F-35 has never flown in exercise against Sukhoi pilots, so I would suggest that your "clubbing baby seals" is perhaps.... fictional? (Obviously you're operating in good faith)


    Actually, the USN is quite impressed by the QE class. The modular build appears to have gone swimmingly, and the £6billion bill for two carriers is impressive next to the Ford-class CVN bill of $14 billion for the first vessel (albeit including $6billion research). The design can be run by 1600 crew, rather than the 4300 needed by a Ford-class or the 5600 of a Nimitz ( remember my comments about crew costs).


    The F-35B may not be very good as an airframe, but the electronics and missiles count for more in a low intensity conflict. There's a nice book "Your New Stealth Fighter is Really, Really Awful" by David Axe and co. which explains a lot of the problems with the F-35 program. (And one dissenter who points out that much the same was said about the F-4 Phantom when it first appeared.) A nice light read for those interested.

    Nobody outside the UK can understand why you'd build the QE class without catapults. It's just WTF? all the way.

    First you're stuck with the STOVL F-35B variant and limited take off and landing weights. Not a problem for CAP to defend against enemy aircraft, because air to air missiles are relatively light. But if you want to go after enemy ships or land targets, you need to carry heavier bombs or missiles, so you need catapults. And this is not theoretical. In the Falklands the UK and Argentine fleets at one early stage faced off at a couple of hundred km distance, which would have been well inside strike distance for a WW2 carrier. But the Harriers could either carry enough fuel to reach the Argentine fleet OR a decent bomb load, not both, so nothing happened.

    The other solution to limited take off weight is air to air refueling. Which requires you to launch at least one heavily loaded fuel tanker ... which needs catapults.

    And there's the big problem of no AWACS aircraft. Yes, the E2 is slow and vulnerable. But the idea is flies high enough with enough radar range to detect threats before they get in missile range of it. Yes, the UK has improvised an AEW helicopter. But the laws of physics say a powerful transmitter with a big antenna works better. (And stays in the air for longer, especially with air to air refueling.)

    US and French carriers have catapults, so higher performance aircraft plus AWACS, so can go head to head with land based air forces. Just one of the big US carriers has more air power than some of the smaller European countries.

    What can a QE do? Well, it can provide defensive air cover. Maybe not great, but far better than nothing, as the Falklands demonstrated.

    But if so, why build the QEs so big? A new-build Invincible would do the same job with less crew and cost. The Australian navy just bought a couple of Spanish amphibious assault ships which could operate F-35Bs and do other military useful things besides.


    Hugo - the reason that the Argentinian Navy failed to close with the RN task force was simple; the Vienticinco de Mayo was a bit wheezy, and there wasn't enough wind for it to hit full speed into wind, while achieving sufficient wind over deck to launch a strike package (even if they'd known where the Task Force was - HMS Exeter took out a Lear Jet, the Nimrods were being armed with AIM-9 so that they could hit any Argentinian 707 or Neptune maritime recce aircraft they encountered). A few hours later, they ran for home when the Belgrano was sunk, on the reasonable assumption that the RN had now taken the gloves off.

    The RN couldn't hit the Argentine a carrier group, because they didn't know where it was; HMS Spartan didn't find it. Had it the authority at the time, there would have been no need for an air strike, as it would have suffered the fate of the Belgrano.

    In these enlightened times, the need to carry dumb bombs is reduced by the existence of a Storm Shadow and TLAM...


    I could possibly be persuaded that an F-35 is better than previous fighter aircraft, but it seems very unlikely that an F-35 is better than $181 million worth of legacy fighters (about 13 F16s), let alone $181 million worth of air-superiority drones (which is probably what they should have invented instead). Advances in radar are rapidly eroding the value of the F35's stealth capability, which was one of its big selling points.

    140: seems very unlikely that an F-35 is better than $181 million worth of legacy fighters (about 13 F16s), let alone $181 million worth of air-superiority drones (which is probably what they should have invented instead)...

    I was out near my city's airport last week and spotted our local CAP's F-15s on touch and go runs. That hasn't been a state of the art design in a long time but it's still a fighter to take seriously.

    If we're lucky some government will get into air superiority drones and prompt the other players to invest in anti-drone measures before some crank in a garage builds a conversion kit to turn Cessnas into cruise missiles. Note that I'm not terribly optimistic.


    Let me know when you succeed in getting a Sea King Whisky up to about FL330. I won't be holding my breath.


    Unless they convert in the coming years to drone swarm defenses (?)


    Boeing - The company who's response to having it pointed out that the F-35 was doing hover to flight and vice versa transitions during the technology demonstrator phase whilse the F-32 was having bits bolted on and off to get from one to the other was "transitioning isn't in the URS for this phase", but when one company's demonstrating that they've already addressed the ultimate OR, and the other's saying "you didn't ask for this capability", just who are you going to choose?


    Replying to my own comment... "Drone swarm defenses" Could we see defence outpace offence again? Assuming the nation has the factory/industrial back-up to mass-produce the things, then we will be back to WWI warfare. Even at sea (?) Again a big ship could carry enough small drones to defend itself against any credible attack. You simply fly a small, cheap drone into the path of the long-range big attack missile, which then fails ....


    Is it possible? Sure. The nature of an arms race is that one side or the other gains an advantage, then the other does.

    And although Hamas wasn't firing state of the art rockets into Israel, their Iron Shield or whatever they called it was doing a pretty fine job of keeping Hamas rockets from landing. Not perfect, and the low casualty rate was helped by good civilian defence shelters and drills and so on, but the equivalent of a drone defence that you're talking about is more or less up and running and pretty efficient, even over quite short distances.

    Of course, even in WWI naval battles occurred. The difference between now and then is that we're still in a kind of IRA situation. The attacker only has to get lucky once, the defender has to get lucky all the time, to paraphrase. That's clearly not true for every type of attack - but most of the weapons carried by a modern aircraft that's likely to attack a ship will do a lot of damage to even a big one if they get lucky. During WWI, even a dreadnought had to get lucky to damage another dreadnought.

    But I think we'll see reactive defences start to become a reality, certainly if we start getting into bigger wars. There is an adage that we're always ready to fight the last war. I'm not so sure they're really useful for defending against the Taliban, which is really the last war. We'll find things that are great against IEDs and the like instead.


    Make that "even in WW2 naval battles occurred". Of course, in WW2, other than the obvious "Battle of Denmark Strait", the side that won tended to be the one with the better air power.


    But do you need to? The radar horizon against a 5m altitude target isn't that different; and you only need a couple of thousand feet of altitude to see to the full range of the ASTER 30.

    Meanwhile, it works the other way too. Against a medium-altitude target, the limiting factor is the radar range equation, and "not flying above 15,000 feet" doesn't matter so much. If it's a low-altitude target (forced there because anything higher means being shot down) then that low-altitude target's sensors can't see very far at all.

    The question is whether the extra 40nm visibility beyond 180nm against a 5m target is worth the significant extra costs of always needing an aircraft carrier to carry around your E-2.


    We are talking about the next Merchant Princes trilogy here, aren't we? I just finished the last volume of the initial trilogy a couple hours ago, and I have this to say about the ending: Mr Stross, that is sadism towards your readers :) At least you're younger than a certain other author, and you did finish the first draft of the 2nd trilogy. Here's to your good health so I get to read it next year...


    Greg Tingey wrote : Again a big ship could carry enough small drones to defend itself against any credible attack.

    Let's imagine what this big ship might look like ...

    Drones are small airplanes, because using wings to provide lift is much cheaper and more energy efficient for sustained flight. A horizontal take-off using thrust plus wings is likewise much cheaper and more efficient than the vertical launch of missiles. The ship needs storage space for a lot of these drones, and mechanisms and crew trained to launch them efficiently. You need radar, air traffic controllers and planners for the large scale tactical airspace around the ship. And, at least until we have much better AI, some drone controllers with experience of flying in sea conditions to keep the members of the swarm in the right places and heading in the right directions. (I assume they'll be supervising rather than actually flying the drones, so won't be needed 1:1)

    Flight deck, hangars, launch crew, air traffic control, pilots, ... an aircraft carrier! Or at least, something that looks a lot more like a current day aircraft carrier than anything else.

    The US Navy seems much more enthusiastic about armed high performance drones than the US Air Force, and probably one big reason is that drones don't threaten the self-image of the navy nearly as much. Sure the Top Gun pilots will be upset, but everyone else keeps on doing more or less the same job.


    WWI Naval battles occurred too. Battle of Jutland, Battle of Heligoland Bight, Battle of the Falkland Islands to name three (my Great Grandfather fought in all three according to family historians).

    The relevant wikipedia page lists many more than the UK was involved in.


    The range of the Whisky's radar is a whole lot more than that of an Aster 30 too, as long as you get it high enough to exploit the range. The real issue is being able to detect something that's sneaking in low level to launch sea-skimmers before it does so, and you have to start detecting things similar in size to a Mirach, and about 20 feet ASL.


    Sorry, I didn't mean to imply otherwise. What I meant was that the Battle of Denmark Strait (in itself; the subsequent sinking of the Bismark was a classic case of airpower trumps battleship) was the last classic engagement of capital ships to not be affected by carrier air wings or land-based air power.


    Tell me, again, why we scrapped the Avro Vulans then?

    Britain was in considerable economic distress at the time, and the Americans were offering a triple package of free, subsidized, or joint weapons platforms a'la carte.

    British engineering was top notch, but for the same financial expenditure they could get much more American equipment.

    "Easy payment plan? Friend, we'll put you on the NO payment plan! We'll even pay YOU! Such a deal! All it will cost is your military independence. And your soul, but who believes in those any more? Just sign here on the dotted line, initial here, and here... we'll start inserting our own people into your command structure immediately, and your shiny new toys are already on the way!"

    The decision was controversial at the time, and more so as time stretched on.


    The reason for not making QE nuclear- powered is also simple: cost.

    That, and the Royal Navy's mission profile is a lot more varied than, say, the US Navy's. The US Navy is a sledgehammer; carrier groups get positioned like stones on a go board. The Royal Navy moves about a lot more, "showing the flag," and making the point that it is a highly mobile tactical force.

    Now, imagine what happens when your nuclear-powered ship is successfully attacked near a major Commonwealth or friendly port. Ports are critical economic centers in most countries; a radioactive hulk near the harbor at Sydney, San Diego, or Halifax would be a major problem.

    Any nuclear vessel is a two-edged sword; independence from the supply chain makes them superior long-distance weapons, but if you lose one in the wrong place, the price might be more than it was worth. I'm sure the Admiralty still remembers what happened to the Prince of Wales and the Repulse; those unsporting buggers who attack from the air are still a problem even now.


    Ah, I see.

    I don't think we'll see a sea battle not affected by aircraft, they're just too integral to modern naval warfare, except I guess submarine-submarine warfare.

    However, unlike WWI, I think a lot of modern ships are capable of carrying ship-killing armaments too, no?


    All that is true, but a lot of the requirements get simplified. Drones are lighter than manned aircraft, so runways can be shorter. Getting pilots into and out of a stealthed aircraft is an enormous pain in the rear which drones make unnecessary. Drones can handle extreme accelerations better than humans, which permits the use of takeoff boost rockets that a human pilot couldn't handle. A fighter pilot, however well trained (and they are very well trained indeed), is still basically an ape; he is the squishiest, slowest, highest maintenance, and least reliable thing in the airframe.


    We are talking about the next Merchant Princes trilogy here, aren't we?

    Not that I know of, it's just the usual topic drift that has settled on missiles/air defence/et cetera.

    The relevence to MP is that Miriam & associates have seen what the USA will probably do when they find them again, so there will be a massive push to industrialise New Britain (already in a state of war against the French Empire) and get to a technology level that will ensure their survival when the USA comes knocking on the timeline. (This means a minimum of cold-war air defence radar and interceptors plus a suitable deterrent of their own.) It will also have the side effect of improving the living conditions of everybody in New Britain, and make the Frence empire something of an irrelevence. Basically they've got some breathing space (at least 17 years because that's when the next trilogy starts), and there's only one rule: survive.


    Agreed. As for potential ship-killers, well even just looking at the RN, all the Lynx fleet can carry torpedoes and/or missiles, and most of the frigates and destroyers are capable of carrying Harpoon...


    Paws I have a word for you: Matapan There is (IIRC) ONE survivor - he was a midshipman at the time ... HRH Prince Philip. Um


    The TTAPS study has been revisited several times, both with modern models that include proper precipitation (as pointed out, to wash out the aerosols) but also with proper aerosols, which are much more fractal and effective.

    The best most recent study is probably:

    A global average surface cooling of –7°C to –8°C persists for years, and after a decade the cooling is still –4°C (Fig. 2). Considering that the global average cooling at the depth of the last ice age 18,000 yr ago was about –5°C, this would be a climate change unprecedented in speed and amplitude in the history of the human race. The temperature changes are largest over land ... Cooling of more than –20°C occurs over large areas of North America and of more than –30°C over much of Eurasia, including all agricultural regions. In addition, they found that this cooling caused a weakening of the global hydrological cycle, reducing global precipitation by about 45%. As for the 50 Tg case involving 1/3 of current nuclear arsenals, they said that the simulation "produced climate responses very similar to those for the 150 Tg case, but with about half the amplitude", but that "the time scale of response is about the same." They did not discuss the implications for agriculture in depth, but noted that a 1986 study which assumed no food production for a year projected that "most of the people on the planet would run out of food and starve to death by then" and commented that their own results show that "this period of no food production needs to be extended by many years, making the impacts of nuclear winter even worse than previously thought."

    In practice, the effect is to change strategy. It rules out "First strike, 10s of millions of casualties but never mind we win" strategies, but does anyone still believe in such strategies?


    Using nuclear propulsion for "independence from your supply chain" is a myth; you still need an RFA to refuel all of the escorts in the CVBG (because a CVN on its own, without AAW and ASW support is a bad idea); and once the flying ramps up you'll see the need for weapons and aviation fuel resupply, let alone food and spare parts.

    Once you acknowledge you need a tanker in the group anyway, why spend the additional £4 billion per ship?


    and of course, if it all goes pear-shaped, the drone can be used as a missile itself

    Britain may want the F-35B, but it's not that much of a step up from a Sea Harrier FA-2 [scrapped by the Blair government] or a Tornado GR.4, unless invading the PRC or Russia is part of your future plans. The F-35 has always struck me as the twenty-first century equivalent of the TSR-2, the only difference is this time no-one is backing out this time.

    We shall only find out how good it may be, right at the moment when getting a refund is impossible.

    Defence procurement, eh?

    One can't help but think of Norman R. Augustine's famous Law#16

    "In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one tactical aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day."

    Moore's Law in reverse.


    Reminds me of the sequence in the Dr. Strangelove movie:

    General "Buck" Turgidson: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless distinguishable, postwar environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.

    President Merkin Muffley: You're talking about mass murder, General, not war!

    General "Buck" Turgidson: Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.


    They're trying to get rid of the tanker; the US Navy is researching using spare reactor juice to make fuel from seawater and CO2.


    For which the Allied OrBat opens "One aircraft carrier, Three..." and their losses include "One torpedo bomber shot down". By contrast, the Italians have no cited air power and 5 vessels sunk. Explain to me why you're arguing that air power was not present (or not a factor) in that battle.


    Cite needed for the Panavia Tornado deck landing trials.


    The production cost of a military aircraft is a far smaller fraction of the total cost than for, say, a car. The Canadians did a cost analysis (easy to find with a search engine) that suggested that it's as low as a sixth of the total costs, and that once you factor in maintenance and training costs, the cost of ownership of an F-35 is expected to be little different from an F-18 - but more capable.

    For instance, the F-14 was a maintenance pig that ate 40 to 60 maintenance man-hours per flying hour, and even then had poor availability. The F-18 got that down to 10 MMH/FH, and took 200 maintainers off every squadron's staff The figures for Tornado and Typhoon are 27 and 9; this is where the development cash gets spent.

    As for "improvements to radar", that applies to all aircraft. The low observable aircraft aren't invisible, but they're a lot harder to track and hence target. This can make all the difference.

    The sensors have also leapt ahead, courtesy of Moore's Law. The big transmitters in the F-35 don't just pump out the kilowatts for radar, they can apparently be used for offensive EW. Those big receivers are far more discriminating, and can apparently be used for ESM. These are game-changing capabilities. Maybe it's not a dog fighter, but if it can win all its fights from further away, that's a better answer.


    Nowt to do with "invade Russia or PRC". More to do with "Russia sells S-400 or one of the more advanced S-300 models to anyone with the cash".

    But yes, F-35 is apparently a bit more than "not that much of a step". SHAR FA.2 was, for all that I enjoyed helping develop its radar, short-legged and quite limited.


    I did enjoy the "Mr. Earbrass" link, though. Oysters and trifle? Wow.


    Er, my point was that the Tornado is not, and never even considered being, carrier-borne.

    I don't know enough about the SHAR FA2 to make meaningful comparisons with the F35.


    Moore's Law in reverse.

    Also known as Moore's Second Law.


    It seems awfully dangerous to assume the F-35 can win all its fights from far away. China has a couple of different stealth fighters in testing that could probably get close, for example. One of their newer designs (the J-31) basically seems to be a copy of the F-35, except without VTOL capability and all the compromises that come with it.


    No it wasn't, but it is one of aircraft to be replaced by the F-35B - 617 Squadron, will be the first unit to receive it.

    617's Tonkas got quite a few sorties under their belt without having to fly off a carrier, before the unit was disbanded in Apr 2014.

    Unsurprisingly, apart from the one-off of the Falklands, and the formation of [where are they now] the Joint Force Harrier [2000-2011] taking off and landing on carriers was not the RAF's job.

    The Tornado can drop all the ordnance the F-35 can drop, and the Typhoon is getting there.

    A bomb truck is still a bomb truck, no matter how sophisticated and expensive it may be.

    gravelbelly22 @171

    There's lots of "ifs", "mights" and "maybes" as to whether the F-35B could take on the S-400 Triumf SAM system

    Still, it's only money, innit...unless you are the pilot.


    And that's what I'm arguing; when the OR specifically includes "is capable of operating from an aircraft carrier", then the Fin is not, and never has been, a valid answer.


    this 'stealth' malarkey.. I have my doubts. the serbs managed to down an f117 and write off another with a 1950s era SAM and some ingenuity. this really low radar return, its just a data problem. it might have the return of a bumblebee, but its the only 500kt bumblebee in the sky

    we should just field these tanaris drones off the carrier, maybe some crazy skijump launcher gadget. perhaps fuel air?


    paws @ 175

    Yes, I get what you are driving at...perhaps I've not made myself clear. The F-35B maybe more versatile that a SHar or a Tornado, but that versatility will have been gained at a cost - shorter range, lower payload, worse acceleration/manoeuverability/higher unit cost.

    [There hasn't been a combat aircraft cheaper than the one it replaces since the P-51B/C/D replaced the P-47D in 1944.]

    This ensures the F-35B is not a straight swap for each aircraft. No aircraft, no matter how good, can do the job of two/three aircraft, or be in two places at once, or can be funded from a bottomless pit of taxpayers money.

    The aggregated capabilities of the F-35B may make it a vast improvement on the Tornado/SHAR/Harrier Gr9/Block Sixty F-16/F-15I/Slam Eagle/Typhoon/whichever, but if you are only using it on enemies whose idea of an air defence system is a 14.5mm heavy machine gun, the expensively acquired advantages cease to be.

    andyf @ 176

    only one F-117 was ever shot down - 82-806 - no other airframe was damaged by enemy action alone to put it out of service. The Serbs got lucky once and have been milking it ever since.

    Even so, you are right. If you design an airframe to deliver bombs whilst having a low radar cross-section, chances are that aircraft will sortie-to-loss ratio of 1:1300 [or better], but apparently the non-stealthy F-16 has a sortie-to-loss ratio of 1:4500.

    Is "stealth" worth the money/technical effort/training involved? I'm not 100% convinced.


    AIUI helped by some Vietnam-style thinking by the USAF who kept using the same waypoints, timings etc night after night after...

    I'm more counter-convinced by the RN frigate that detected a bogie on their surface radar but not on their air radar, and were about 3 minutes from slaving the Sea Dart to use the surface radar return as targettign info when they got a call from a US Military Aircraft Controller to tell them that the bogie was "one of ours".


    I'm not disputing that "quantity has a quality all of its own"; what I'm arguing is that 10 tactical aircraft based 300 miles from the battlefront are a more effective fighting force than 30 tactical aircraft based 3_000 miles from the battlefront.

    Assume 600 (statute)mph ground speed cruising, 30 minutes over the battlefront, and 30 minutes to refuel/rearm, and the 10 make 1 sortie/attack every 2 hours per aircraft, where the 30 manage 1 every 11 hours, so they're actually only about half as effective despite you having 3 times more of them.


    same waypoints

    That's the USAF's version of "working to rule." When the Pentagon doesn't like the orders they get from the Oval Office, they interpret them in such as way as to increase casualties.

    That's why they flew the same paths and altitudes hitting North Vietnam when they were ordered to make sorties to facilitate bringing the NV back to the negotiating table. When Nixon saw the rise in casualty figures he went ballistic; he talks about it in "The White House Years." It wasn't politically feasible to have the officers responsible executed, but I'm sure Tricky Dick thought about it.


    A CVN doesn't have "spare reactor juice" to make fuel from seawater and CO2. You can run the numbers yourself if you wish but to fuel up a two-plane flight for CAP purely from the reactors of a Ford class CVN would take a couple of hours of 100% of its 300MW maximum capacity, assuming an electricity-to-fuel efficiency of maybe 10%. To do that the ship would have to sit dead in the water (emphasis on the word "dead") with all internal systems switched off. Said recumbent Scipidae would soon be inducted into the Silent Service in a shooting war. "Glug glug glug" as submariners like to say to surface ship crews in the bars just before the fist-fights break out.

    Fuel isn't the only commodity carried by the escorts, of course, ordnance haulers are also needed if a high-cycle operation in in process -- for good reasons involving safety and available working space on carriers they don't store a lot of bombs and other ammunition on board at any one time. Adding avgas tankers to the escort mix isn't a big deal because of that.


    The plan isn't spare juice - the plan is to replace tankers which have to come and go from the group, with a dedicated jetfuel-manufacturing ship, which is basically a hull stuffed to the gills with chemical plant and reactors. Propulsion system? The water intake and outflow from the cooling system is what moves it through the water. Point being that it never leaves the aegis of the carrier group.

    That isn't the selling point for having a reactor in a carrier though. The point of having carriers be nuclear is that it gets you strategic mobility. A nuclear carrier isn't inherently any faster than a conventional one, but it can leave port, go to full flank speed and sail around the world at that pace. Trying this with a conventional carrier is going to get real expensive in fuel and logistics hassle, very fast.


    Sorry - your strategic mobility argument fails as soon as the escorts in your CVBG can't keep up. The carrier can't steam around on its own without AAW and ASW escorts, and the SSN that apparently escorts USN CVBG will lose all of its advantages.


    That's the USAF's version of "working to rule." When the Pentagon doesn't like the orders they get from the Oval Office, they interpret them in such as way as to increase casualties.

    Sorry, that's using conspiracy theories when plain old incompetence or complacency will do.

    There are some reasonable and detailed articles on how the Serbian cloudpuncher brought down the F-117; essentially, the lowered observability is aimed at the most effective guidance radar frequencies. The Serb, like the RN's Type 42 destroyers, had a lower-than-typical-frequency search radar (in both cases, rather old). This let them detect the aircraft; but not necessarily guide a missile to them, because the guidance radars (that give the fine resolution needed for missile guidance) operate at the lower-observable frequencies. Simplified, low frequency means big antenna, and that's a bit hard to fit in the front of a six-inch-wide missile. If, however, you fire in the right direction at the right time because you're right underneath the same old flight path, and the target is only a couple of km away, it's "low-observable", it isn't invisible.

    They flew the same route, for the same reason that Scott O'Grady (the F-16 pilot shot down over FRY) wasn't wearing the correct clothing under his flight suit (hey, it was warm in Aviano, why sweat on the way to the plane?), didn't pay attention in the lesson on "how to use your SARBE as a radio" and found himself shivering for several days until the CSAR team picked him up - because "it wasn't going to happen to them".

    Two Sea King Whiskey collided in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq; one explanation I heard was that they both plugged in a course from ship to centre of operating station, and hit each other head on; because they hadn't done the basic "always fly a couple of hundred meters to the right of any linear feature, just in case someone else is doing the same thing".

    As for "is stealth worth it", obviously. Look at a modern warship, and note the lack of right-angles. Most military aircraft these days (including the Typhoon) have "stealth" features, and even the Tornado received some RAM application during the 1991 Gulf War. Note for the unaware - Radar-Absorbent Material (only one part of "stealth") works the same way as the anti-reflective coating on spectacles; a quarter-wavelength thick, semi-transparent coating that produces cancellation in the key frequencies. The question isn't "is it worth it", it's "how much emphasis are you willing to place on it".

    Anyway, "Day 1" against even a third-world opponent means taking on any existing air defence system; suppressing or destroying people who have bigger power supplies, bigger antennas, and more space for computer power because they're on the back of a truck, not shoehorned into the front of a fighter aircraft. If you're bombing an opponent limited to a Toyota pickup with a heavy MG on the back, anything will do; but that is increasingly a rarity. Libya, Yugoslavia, and even the current mobsters in the Donbass, all had air defence equipment that would make a Cold Warrior smile.



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