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I am off to Loncon 3 tomorrow morning, by road. Stopping overnight in Leeds, then proceeding to London on Wednesday; I hope to be at the Angry Robot/Titan Books mass author signing at Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue, this Wednesday evening at 6pm.



Before or after going to GBBF? Or would that be overkill?

As a Life Member of CAMRA & long-term (since about 1955) reader of SF, this week/end is going to be hectic!


If your schedule permits, you might want to go to some of the speculative evolution talks at LonCon.


Well I'm going to hijack this comments thread in the name of picking the minds of regular posters.

I'm re-reading "Neptune's Brood" and a scenario comes to mind. Branch 50 (and presumably branches 1-49) had to infiltrate those systems, essentially as a covert activity. They can't re-ignite the beacon and beam out and build their ships in system without giving away their location. They'd need to jump in and somehow cover the fact that "holy shit a ship just appeared out of nowhere, that's impossible". They also can't bribe people to assist them (at least at first) because any money would be denominated in Atlantean slow dollars, which don't exist (and if you had them they'd be worthless or reveal that Atlantis is still around) Now I'm guessing that as an in story way, that comes down to 1) the governments aren't monitoring the whole system for ship traffic 2) exploiting holes in the data system of a polity to get their registry/history/ids forged so that it appears they are legitimate 3) come in carrying something with physical value to establish funds and move to a 4) As a corollary explanation for 2 and 3, they had the records of how a criminal conspiracy had infiltrated various governments and institutions to screw them over, so they could use those same processes and practices to exfiltrate (eg know that manager A can be bribed with B to do C) 5) even with the variation between polities inter and intra systems, there is sufficient standardization and overlap that there aren't huge gaps (eg they speak the same language, best practices in computer science have been standardized, GAAP follows enough for accountants to work in different systems, etc) so they won't out themselves as "alien" and there are no language/culture/protocol barriers to overcome

Now someone mentioned Babylon 5 in another comment thread, so it got my mind thinking on the parallels here - Morden had to infiltrate multiple established governments. But in that scenario the destruction of his ship wasn't known, he already had political and economic connections to play as the expeditions organizer before he left on it. And more importantly B5 was based on the standard classic space opera setup. No realities of space travel intruding, panopticon, 3d printers, etc. Computers are next to nonexistant so having to interface your literally alien system with them isn't a problem. Bricks of bullion are valuable rather than being a horrible waste of mass to lug between the stars. You know the drill.

So let me posit the scenario to consider: How would the agents of an alien power infiltrate a more modern space opera setting (eg akin to the one in NB; we have a realistic world built on current trends in technology and are constrained by the realities of traveling/living in space) with the intent of gaining influence among the dominant class/organization to bring it under their hegemony/working for their interests.

If you are bothered about how will methane breathers pass for human, go ahead and take the scenario of multiple worlds like out or merchant princes or assume they grabbed a sleeper ship on a one way trip to the oort cloud or something for their agents, but the point is the infiltrating civilization has nothing to cross reference with what they are infiltrating.

The question is less about "science fiction possibilities" and more about "how do you infiltrate, manipulate, coerce, and subvert" with zero ground for context. Think "first contact situation" meets "intelligence operation". We have trouble infiltrating agents into organizations in Afghanistan and North Korea, now imagine if those groups were really as alien as the nuts like to hype it as. Then add in things like pervasive monitoring systems and that smuggling operations for leverage are kaput because 3d printers and pirate bay mean that cocaine or diamonds you brought in can be synthesized with a few hours of work.



Any updates on the Forbidden Planet signing? Lugging a bunch of hardbacks cross country via the UK's overpriced and under-airconditioned public transport system is sufficiently soul destroying enough as it is; to do so only to be met with an absence of Strossness would cause irreparable harm to my already fragile psyche...


"Mass author signing" unfortunately brought to mind Sharpies and acres of very pale skin . . . .


Same here; for a second I thought it was the authors who were being signed.

Hey, it would be cheaper than paying for tattoos...


Re: "How would the agents of an alien power infiltrate a more modern space opera setting ...?"

Outsourcing all intellectual and artistic endeavors (as well as classic out-source of manufacturing) thereby making the economy completely dependent upon an outside supplier (the conquerors) to the point of where it can no longer sustain itself, i.e., self-destructs. This is worse than giving the target world everything for free (which OGH has also written about) because it's less obvious. Probably not too to difficult to accomplish since a good chunk of humanity is motivated by prestige, fashion, keeping up with the Joneses, etc. Information flow does not depend on biology/the breathability of the planet's atmosphere, so you don't have the old-fashioned physical cues to prompt any suspicion and have them run around screaming 'OMG, it's an alien invasion!'

BTW - the alien invaders don't even have to get a monopoly in any industry either .. just enough heft to steer the development of that industry. Plus any earnings gained could then be used to leverage other parts of the economy along the lines of highly leveraged stock trading of some sort.

Getting a foot in the door would probably be the most difficult and time-consuming aspect. So, would start with something very trivial, high volume and legal (no special licensing requirements).


@3 The first step would be hiding and gathering information. You might want to hijack a ship somewhere isolated and interrogate the crew to assist in this. Then you approach the target planet pretending to be from some other part of their space. Without FTL travel there is bound to be considerable variations in cultures on the different planets and any oddities could be explained by this. Money wise the replicators still need raw materials for input. I can imagine that there will still be rare elements and chemicals that it would be cheaper to mine and transport than try to produce locally through fusion or something. A stock of this material could replace the gold bullion. Additionally, there will be stuff banned or restricted by the local government. There will be opportunity for for smuggling resulting from that. Hacking into the computer systems would seem to be the most challenging. The alien would probably want to employ some local agent to handle this rather than try to figure out the totally different systems.


Any updates on the Forbidden Planet signing?

The drive from Leeds to London was hellish -- total of 2 hours of tailbacks on the M1 and M25 -- and I got to the hotel and checked in too late to check the blog before I had to rush off to the DLR to get to FP in time for the signing. So I was there -- by the skin of my teeth.

And now I am at Loncon 3, doing a quick catch-up before I head into the Excel centre and try to find where everything is in time for my first panel. As the Excel centre is longer than the runway at London City Airport (on the other side of the Thames) this involves a little walking ...


Re: "How would the agents of an alien power infiltrate a more modern space opera setting ...?"

Before you ask that question you've got to ask, "why would they want to?"


Money wise the replicators still need raw materials for input. I can imagine that there will still be rare elements and chemicals that it would be cheaper to mine and transport than try to produce locally through fusion or something. A stock of this material could replace the gold bullion. Additionally, there will be stuff banned or restricted by the local government. There will be opportunity for for smuggling resulting from that. Hacking into the computer systems would seem to be the most challenging.

Every last one of these assumptions is highly questionable and relies on naive extrapolation of historical conditions.


total of 2 hours of tailbacks on the M1 and M25 Is that all? I once managed 3 hours of tailbacks getting from Thiefrow to the M3 turning.


"Additionally, there will be stuff banned or restricted by the local government."

I don't see any government permitting personal ownership of large quantities of Plutonium - even less antimatter.


Ask how you, with all your modern knowledge, would hijack the government of Victorian Britain. [My answer is: Make shitloads of cash and buy the politicians]


That's a modern way to do it, Dirk. A more Bezosian way to take over Victorian Britain is to land an invading force in Saudi Arabia, make peace with the Ottoman Empire, set up a well-protected oil operation with which to power your factories in Persia. Turn the Persian gulf into a modern industrial power, using the local oil to run the show and making the Ottomans happy to be your trading partners by distributing your cheap, superior goods to Europe.

Then move to take over the Suez Canal and India.

Then modernize the Raj, and start out-competing the British mills. There's no particular point in dominating much more territory. The British could indeed attack you, but they've got to go through someone else first or sail around the Cape to attack you, the technologically and now numerically superior force with shorter supply lines and vastly more fuel to burn.

The point here is that much of the misery in modern Iran started when the British created BP to get oil from Iran to power their 20th Century military machine, an idea pushed by an obscure British pundit named Winston Churchill. Getting control of that oil in Victorian times would hamstring the British.


Every last one of these assumptions is highly questionable and relies on naive extrapolation of historical conditions.

If we assume that future technology is based off something like the laws of physics that we know, then conservation of mass will still exist (with the usual post-Einstein corrections). For the most part, nucleosynthesis involves very high energies and results in very impure products, so we can probably assume that elements tend to stay what they are (with some exceptions at very low or very high atomic masses for fusion and fission).

We pretty much have to extrapolate from history. If we extrapolate from biology, it's just too bleak.


Hasn't Charlie already written a book about this?


Is that all? I once managed 3 hours of tailbacks getting from Thiefrow to the M3 turning.

There was the hideous Leeds-London drive I did in 1991 or thereabouts when 2 miles south of Leeds I hit the tailback from a crash in freezing fog. Six and a half hours of queuing, nearly ran out of petrol, and the car's heater control broke on me, leaving self plus passenger shivering. We finally made it to London about 10 hours after we set off.

But that was specially memorable. And they're a bit better at clearing the wreckage these days.


Getting control of that oil in Victorian times would hamstring the British.

No it wouldn't, because:

  • Prior to 1900 the Royal Navy ran on coal. They had coaling stations all over the planet the way the US has basing rights at air force bases all over the world today.

  • The lead time on a battleship is measured in years, and it takes a couple of generations for your yards, your sailors, your officers (all the way up to flag rank) and your munitions factories to hit front rank. Going from cold, the best example of a determined catch-up is Meiji era Japan -- from high mediaeval in 1856 to punching out the Russian Navy in 1905, that's a 50 year catch-up.

  • Long before you are ready, the British will notice your clients building weird new-fangled ships and send a polite man on board a gunboat to have Words with you. And if words don't work, a battleship will materialize off your coast and trash your shipyards and oil terminal. (Unless you think you can keep a national-scale modernization/industrialization initiative within a couple of hundred miles of a global strategic choke-point secret from the global hegemonic superpower of the day?)

  • Basically this would be a bit like Chile making a bid to build nuclear reactors and crank up an A-bomb program so that it could launch Orion-drive space dreadnoughts and conquer Mars. It's technically feasible today ... but it would take many years and in the mean time the USA (not to mention the UN) would take a dim view of it and seek to shut it down, by force if necessary.


    That 3 hours was the worst I've ever been in, but I suspect I've been lucky to avoid a couple of others.

    Worst I ever heard of was, you know (of) Linda and Gary Stratman? They were going to the same small con as me in Nottingham, and it took them 11 hours to get up from London. This is also the one and only time I ever saw Gary look or act annoyed.


    On 3), I suspect that if the RN thought that you were up to something like this, the "gunboat" in question might have had a name like "HMS Dreadnaught". Enough said?


    I'd disagree. Basically (so far as I can tell), no one was paying much attention to the Persian Gulf before Churchill decided to upgrade the British Navy to oil in the 1920s, using Iranian oil. If some strange people showed up in Persia in the mid-1800s and started drilling in Iran (which, come to think of it, is a better choice), they'd be lunatics. No one would understand what they were doing. If they started using gas to manufacture lots of extra nitrogen, that might get someone's attention (because this was the era of Guano Wars), but still, if you're doing it in some place with not much infrastructure reaching the sea (e.g. Arabia), how are they going to take it away from you? Anyway, why bother building battleships? Head straight to air power, possibly with a stop at WWI chemical warfare as an intermediate step if you're truly evil. Heck, you could even use zeppelins, and simply bomb the British warships from high above as they come to try to put the boot down, much as they did in WWI. It's not that hard to get hydrogen or helium if you're drilling for oil. AFAIK, the Germans in WWI used cow intestines in the gas bladders for the war zeppelins they used to raid London. Those zeppelins turned out to be really hard to shoot down, too.

    Worse for the British, if you destroyed their Victorian warships while they were far out at sea, it would take a very long time for the Brits to figure out what happened, because they'd have no radio and no way to report the attack until they reached land, or unless some lifeboats got away.

    On the economic side of the coin, trading with the Ottomans and the Russians would make it harder for other Empires (e.g. the British) to attack overland. You can easily trade in things like dyes, pharmaceuticals, plastics, perhaps, anything that requires petrochemical-level energy concentrations to create.

    The key point here is that oil has way more energy per kilogram than does coal. Coal is more common, but if you're a time traveler wanting to overthrow a coal-based economy, go for oil, and go for all the other chemistry that petroleum enables, for good and ill. Since this includes industrial-scale nitrogen fixation, which also enables you to create lots of explosives and feed machine guns, this also enables you to become a major military power relatively quickly. Finally, since no one has seen this kind of power before, they'd deduce your dastardly plan only through dumb luck. For example, if you're building ammonia makers, all you're doing is making fertilizer to improve the agriculture of the backwards Persian and Turkish peasants, which looks like the work of a lunatic humanitarian, not a scheming, would-be emperor. Ditto if you're making pharmaceuticals and dyes. Who would suspect all the nasty chemicals you could so easily churn out by switching the production lines around? They didn't know those chemicals even existed.


    The evil time traveller would be well advised to commit before 1860, afterwards there'd be military attaches who'd seen an example of industrialized war. Military types can be enthusiastic early adopters.


    How are you going to conquer Saudi, make peace with the Ottomans and take over Persia (or get the capital to start your factories there?) You big a force of modern weapons and soldiers are you taking back in time with you?

    I would suggest it would be better to base your operations in Alaska/ Siberia. You still get large reserves of oil and considerably less traders/pilgrims/ diplomats tramping through. You could expand in the American West for a while before getting noticed.


    If you're in Persia, you get the capital from the Persians and Ottomans. Remember, while they were pretty corrupt in the 19th Century, the Ottomans had been a major trading power for centuries by that point, and the Persians were similarly old. They had some infrastructure, which you'd need to build an oil well or twenty, and better yet, they had access to world markets, which would be great if you wanted to, say, provide new dye colors for them to weave into rugs or some such petrochemical product. I'm pointing to a dye color, because it taps into an existing market. Shipping oil as fuel wouldn't work, because no one could burn it, but adding new colors for rugs, quietly making a bit of fertilizer, and similar stuff, those don't bring up quite as much notice at first.

    Since at least some of the Ottomans knew full well that they were at a technological disadvantage relative to the Europeans, quietly giving them a technical leg up would be a good strategy to get them to help you. This, incidentally, is the strategy that Pizarro used to conquer the Inca (he recruited about 10,000 warriors who were sick of the Inca and wanted them overthrown. Pizarro took the lead, then took down his erstwhile allies in the decades afterwards).

    The tricky part would be getting the aluminum for the zeppelin or plane bodies, if you're going to make a 19th century air force. I haven't figured that one out yet. Someone else can have fun shooting the plan full of holes. Or Steve Stirling can come along and turn it into another alt-history book, which would be fine by me.

    Thinking about it more, I'd probably go for Persia first, then the Arabian peninsula.


    Personally, I'd go to Hollywood first, or maybe west Texas, circa 1850. The American federal government had bigger things to worry about, culminating in a civil war in 1860. A few discreet tech disclosures to the Confederacy could have kept everybody back east even busier. Locals and the weather are a hell of a lot easier to deal with in California than some of these places (Siberia? No thanks.).


    Heteromeles wrote: "Basically (so far as I can tell), no one was paying much attention to the Persian Gulf before Churchill decided to upgrade the British Navy to oil in the 1920s, using Iranian oil. If some strange people showed up in Persia in the mid-1800s ..." [ munch ]

    Heteromeles, you seem to be making the common assumption that countries outside Europe were peaceful and minded their own business until European imperialists showed up.

    Iran in the 19th Century was going through interesting times. From the 1840s on the Qajars tried to modernize their army, so were building arms factories at various places. With British and Russian help. In the middle of the 19th C Iran was meddling in Afghanistan, suppressing the Baha'i religious movement, haggling with Britain and France to offer logistic support during the Crimean war, and trying to stop the Russians from taking over what is now the country of Azerbaijan. There were British and Russian merchants/diplomats/spies everywhere.

    Even the Persian Gulf wasn't that obscure. The Royal Navy had a presence there from around 1810 as part of the anti-slavery campaign.


    I wasn't making that assumption, exactly. What I was thinking was that I've been reading a bit about the Ottomans and about Afghanistan, and Persia didn't keep coming up in the material I was reading (which included Tournament of Shadows, about the Great Game). Hence I assumed it was fairly peaceful. I'm glad to stand corrected.

    It still makes for an interesting environment in which to work.

    Getting back to Dirk's original post, if I wanted to take out the 19th Century British Empire, I'd still go after the connection to India, rather than after the British Isles themselves. If you're small and have a substantial tech advantage, it seems to me that the best place to exercise the advantage is where you can be close to resources and people, and your enemy cannot. The major British imperial weakness was that they had enormously long supply lines and slow communications. I'd go after those, rather than trying to corrupt the already-corrupt lords of industry. Given how good British spy-runners were in the Great Game (about as good as the generals of WWI, it appears), I'm not so sure I'd worry about British acting on what their agents found. Ditto the Russians.

    Thinking it over even more, if you really wanted to change the Great Game, you could always take your advanced tech and go to China. It's always worth thinking about how, after the Qing Dynasty fell and after the Chinese had such incompetent military leadership up through WWII, they still basically fought the Japanese Imperial Army to a standstill, Rape of Nanjing, Unit 731, and all. It's worth thinking about what could have happened if they'd had the same kinds of technological advantages in the late 19th Century that they'd enjoyed before the start of the Industrial Revolution in Europe. The Opium Wars would have ended rather differently, and Europe would have been deep in debt to China at the start of the 20th Century. Hmmmm.


    "The first step would be hiding and gathering information."

    The web can provide all the info needed, from afar. And as far as getting the finances started - there's ebay, bitcoin, etc. which do not require any physical/fixed geo-presence. Essentially we're all set for a remote planetary take-over, and we'd never even know about it. As for the motivation for such an action: boredom, entertainment, status, scientific curiosity/knowledge, empathy (mentorship).

    Even human history hasn't always been fixated on money/power.


    Yes and no. If the remote overlords kept things relatively small, stealing a bit here and there, that would be nearly undetectable for the forseeable future. The more they tried to change society, the more resistance they would face.


    Only if humanity knew that the source of the change was alien/extraterrestrial.

    We're pretty good at convincing ourselves that we are the authors of our destinies, that we like something that we really don't, etc. Basically we've a history of rationalizing as well as bowing to peer/cultural pressure - and these two things have and can be used against us. Hearts and minds campaign.


    I'm sure the first assumption would be that the unwanted influence was not alien, but rather Chinese/Russian/Al Qaeda/drug cartels/communists/capitalists/cubists/imperialists/Zionists/Methodists/jihadists/Satanists/impressionists/whatever. Nevertheless, if random messages start appearing in the internet and changing human behavior, then some organized body is likely to take an interest. This may be the government, if the message is contrary to public policy. It may be one or more political parties, if the message is contrary to their plans. If the message involves investing, then possibly the Securities Exchange Commission (or local equivalent) and/or major banks.

    The specifics vary, but the general principle is that every society is composed of organizations that actively defend their turf. If aliens (or anyone else) starts stepping on their toes, they will respond both defensively (countermessaging, e.g. via advertising) and offensively (investigating, lobbying, litigating, possibly violence depending on the organization and the level of threat perceived).


    Getting back to the original alien infiltration question by krousedp, what's the alien motivation for taking over humanity, rather than just, say, sterilizing the earth and then taking our stuff?

    The only one I remember from science fiction that seems plausible is that humanity might be useful as a "warrior caste" to their new overlords.

    If so, I guess you'd want to start by sowing mistrust of some ominous but remarkably hard to track down threat among the most technologically advanced groups. Encourage military expenditure to combat said threat, even if the systems are massively over-specified and expensive. And get them used to constant monitoring and surveillance - you don't want your alien cannon fodder getting any ideas about a Sepoy Rebellion.

    Uh, hang on...

    David Icke, you're right!


    Surely the whole point about Aliens is that they are Alien, what makes people think they could understand an aliens motives?

    Getting back to the original alien infiltration question by krousedp, what's the alien motivation for taking over humanity, rather than just, say, sterilizing the earth and then taking our stuff?

    This week in Big Brother:Earth… Hijinks ensue as viewer favourite Franz "The Duke" Ferdinand goes to the Mostar Cafe! Will the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal be ready for the reopening ceremony? Khionia Guseva & Grigori "The Beard" Rasputin have a somewhat "pointed" conversation. All this and more!


    It hardly matters what the aliens want. What matters is how much what they want diverges from what Earth's movers and shakers want.

    Let's put it this way. If what they want is the development of some small technology item with plausible consumer applications, then making that happen will be simple. If what they want is a huge, multibillion dollar hadron-collider sized gizmo (or something of that scale), then that level of resource diversion will attract investigators, auditors, etc. If what they want is for all humans to wear maroon fedoras at all times, it's going to be pretty hard to keep that secret.


    Not quite, hugo. I'd been doing a bit of reading about the Ottomans and separately about the Great Game between Britain and Russia. Since I didn't see Iran coming up repeatedly, I figured it was relatively peaceful. Thanks for clarifying that.

    On the other hand, given that the Great Game seemed to be a training ground for the leaders of WWI, I'm not too sure I'd worry about imperial agents being able to do much, even if they were on the ground there.

    Still, if that's a concern, the discerning evil time traveler might want to go to Qing Dynasty China instead, if bisecting the British Empire and taking over the Raj seems too improbable.


    Agree - "It hardly matters what the aliens want. What matters is how much what they want diverges from what Earth's movers and shakers want."

    We could be an interesting lab experiment, a source of renewable resources, or we might even have a proven track record of looking at things differently that has considerable value to them. Any of these motives could be benign or not. How such objectives are pursued could range from your worst nightmare to mutually beneficial depending on what business/motivational model they use, and whether they adapt/personalize this or just use the one-size-fits all approach. Personalized motivational tools could easily be figured out by grabbing lots of Google data to derive best-fit algorithms that drive behavior in the desired direction.

    What would be really fun is if such an alien happened by just as Google officially launched an AI. Then the story would be whether the human-developed AI could/would work on humanity's behalf, would it opt out, or would it side with the alien. (Kurzweil joined Google last year to head their AI research.)


    Indeed ..and even the most casual of web searches, by google, gives this outline of, " The Great Game"

    ..together with such dThis left the border east of Zorkul lake in the Wakhan. Territory in this area was claimed by Russia, Afghanistan and China. In the 1880s the Afghans advanced north of the lake to the Alichur Pamir.[10] In 1891, Russia sent a military force to the Wakhan and provoked a diplomatic incident by ordering the British Captain Francis Younghusband to leave Bozai Gumbaz in the Little Pamir. This incident, and the report of an incursion by Russian Cossacks south of the Hindu Kush, led the British to suspect Russian involvement "with the Rulers of the petty States on the northern boundary of Kashmir and Jammu".[11] This was the reason for the Hunza-Nagar Campaign in 1891, after which the British established control over Hunza and Nagar. In 1892 the British sent the Earl of Dunmore to the Pamirs to investigate. Britain was concerned that Russia would take advantage of Chinese weakness in policing the area to gain territory, and in 1893 reached agreement with Russia to demarcate the rest of the border, a process completed in 1895.[10]iscursions as ... "

    It gets very complicated doesn't it ..where did the Chinese come from! And so forth. And then theres ..

    The "Tournament of Shadows." The main friction points were the Black Sea, the Baltic regions, Persia, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the Punjab, and the steppes and deserts between the Caspian Sea and China. The Russians called this extended intrigue the "Tournament of Shadows," a term coined by Count Karl Robert Nesselrode (1780–1862), but in the West it was known as the "Great Game," apparently the coinage of Arthur Conolly (1807–1842), a British military diplomat and spy against Russia in Persia, the Caucasus, and the Himalayas from 1829 until Nasrullah Khan, emir of Bokhara (reigned 18261–1860), beheaded him in 1842.

    Read more:

    Glad that we have got beyond this primitive practice of lopping off peoples heads eh wot? .. but wait?

    No matter .. "Tournament of Shadows." would make a terrific title for a novel.


    Heteromeles: 'Basically (so far as I can tell), no one was paying much attention to the Persian Gulf before Churchill decided to upgrade the British Navy to oil in the 1920s, using Iranian oil.'

    If you believe that, you know no history.

    Let me introduce you to an arguably more fascinating, brilliant and historically significant figure than Winston Churchill, his friend Jacky Fisher, who began moving the Royal Navy to oil-powered ships in 1904. Amongst much, much else.

    Merely look at the man's portraits. You may not be surprised to hear the British king had to apparently tell Fisher once to stop waving his fist in the royal face--,_1st_Baron_Fisher#mediaviewer/File:Admiral_John_Fisher.jpg,_1st_Baron_Fisher

    Aka John Fisher, 1st Baron Fisher, Admiral of the Fleet; The Right Honourable Lord Fisher, GCB OM GCVO,

    At age 14, Fisher started as a midshipman, then became: - Director of Naval Ordnance 1886–91 Admiral Superintendent Portsmouth 1891 Third Sea Lord and Controller 1892–97 C-in-C North America and West Indies Squadron 1897–99 C-in-C Mediterranean Fleet 1899–1902 Second Sea Lord 1902–03 C-in-C Portsmouth 1903–04 First Sea Lord 1904–10 and 1914–15


    Hi Arnold,

    There's a rather nice book about the Great Game called Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia by Karl Ernest Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac, and it's one of my main references for what happened during that whole episode.

    The relative absence of Iran from the book prior to 1920 and Churchill helping to form BP to go after Iranian oil is one reason I figured (wrongly, as Hugo pointed out), that Iran was a relatively peaceful backwater in the whole Great Game, and hence a reasonable target for an evil time traveler who wanted to bisect the Raj and bring down the British Empire.

    The major action of the Tournament of Shadows as in an area we'd recognize now: the "'Stans," especially Afghanistan, which was the fractured northwest frontier of British India, and Tibet, which was nominally a Chinese protectorate and formed part of the northern boundary of the Raj.

    We're still messing around in that area a century later, in part because of oil, but also in part because that whole area is what the sociologist James C Scott* might call a "shatter zone" eternally on the borders of major states and empires growing out of India, China, the central Asian steppe (in the days of the Mongols), the Ottomans (who combined the Mongol imperial playbook with the Caliphate and Byzantine playbooks) and later the Russian Empire (who similarly combined Mongol and Byzantine Imperial traditions). The question of where the boundaries of the great powers are, how porous they are, and how people who don't want to be ruled can interact with them seems to be one of those eternal historical conflicts. The Brits got entangled through the British East India Company and its relative incompetence at ruling India as a capitalist colony.

    *Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed is another great read, although it focuses mostly on the southeast Asian end of the massif, not the northwestern end.

    The general


    Curse You Red Barran ..or words to that effect.

    " Estimated dispatch: 18 Aug 2014 - 19 Aug 2014 Tournament of Shadows: The great game and the race for empire in Asia Tournament of Shadows: The great game and the race for empire in Asia by Shareen Blair Brysac £0.70 Only 1 left in stock. Condition: Used - Very Good Quantity: 1 Change quantity of Tournament of Shadows: The great game and the race for empire in Asia from 1 Sold by: betterworldbooksltd "

    More Holes in my bank account!


    Righto. For whatever reason, I'm Lord Protector of aliens/time travellers/world walkers/$OriginStory, and I wish to establish a foothold on Earth. (rolls up sleeves).

    We have biotechnology at least as advanced as 2014 state of the art - if alien, we're probably better, as due to plot, we can walk about and breathe etc, probably even pass for human.

    We have time.

    So I'd start in the early 18th century, and put my main basket of eggs in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. We grow coca leaf inside the fence, and deliberately encourage impassable jungle outside. Through the God Gambit, a good neighbour policy and brute force, we encourage locals to ensure privacy and obscurity.

    We find a young Joseph Conrad type fallen Westerner to deal with us - and we're just another tribe to him - help him become a player with John Company.

    Fast forward, the British fight a couple of wars with China to defend our right to be their pharmacist - probably burn the capital for us- and we end up a major Hong Kong bank. By 1900, entirely legit. And we settle for that. Who wants the whole world when you can rent or buy any particular bit?


    YES!! Congratulations to Charlie. No Loser's Party for you.


    Congratulations on the Hugo!


    Congrats on winning the Hugo for a story about sparkly horses - that April Fools was so close to being realised...


    Hmmm. Not to rain on your theory, but Papua New Guinea seems to be the High Tech Graveyard, although people are getting better at having their stuff survive field seasons. I love reading about PNG because it's about as close to an alien jungle as you can get on this planet in terms of human survivability, and it teaches some really good lessons about how far being smart and clever can get you on said alien jungle planet. That said, I suspect you'd need something a bit better than 2014 tech, and a better crop than coca, to pull that one off. Remember that coca was legal until 1961 (UN treaty, anyway) and coca preps were very popular in the 19th and early 20th Century (cf: Sherlock Holmes, among others).

    However, if you're looking for messed up drugs, you can always figure out how to make methamphetamine from some poor Eurasian Ephedra plant (the relevant plants grow all through the drier Himalayas) and start a 20th century-style drug running operation almost anywhere. It would be interesting to see if it was more or less effective than the British and their opium wars. Unfortunately, their poppy fields were based in, um, much the same area. Speed-balls, anyone? On third thought, scratch this idea. I'm going to go wash my brain out now.


    Congratulations on getting a nice sparkly pointy award for a story that sort-of involved the same! I can't honestly regret that you didn't get the twofer, since I think you were a witness to history this year, with Ancillary Justice.

    By the way, do your cats ever hold your awards shelf hostage?


    Congrats on the pointy thing, very well deserved :) Nice speech, too :)




    Yeah, congratulations.


    Congrats Charlie, well deserved win. I'm not sure if you genuinely thought you wouldn't win, or were just being modest when we wished you luck at the signing at Loncon3. We did try to find you after the ceremony, to shake your hand and buy you a beer, but Mary R-K had do to instead. Lovely lady.


    And congratulations too, to Ginjer Buchanan. Perhaps your shameless touting worked?



    If I understand the voting stats, "Neptune's Brood" came in second for novel. And VD's novelette came in behind No Award. So all's well with the world, at least parts of it.


    The tricky part would be getting the aluminum for the zeppelin or plane bodies, if you're going to make a 19th century air force.

    With your oil-based chemical technology, you could jump directly to fiberglass and carbon fiber.

    Also, the strength/weight ratio difference between steel and aluminum is less than you might expect; the Soviet MiG-29 and the American B-70 airframes were largely steel.

    Production of aluminum by chemical means is tedious and expensive. Enough that when the Washington Monument was built, it was capped with aluminum, which was more valuable than gold or platinum. But if you have electricity, separation of aluminum by electrolysis is trivially simple.



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    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 11, 2014 9:05 PM.

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