Back to: Upcoming Appearances | Forward to: Media Piracy and Unpronounceable Names

"I doubt me an it be commercial."

Most of the pitches for self-publishing as an activity are about how you can make money.

If you want to make money, you need to publish rapidly and you need to have a consistent brand in terms of what the writing is like, what kind of reading effort is involved, and where it gets the reader in the feels. All of these things create the engaged fan base that results in sales volume, and you absolutely need sales volume if you're trying to make money.

Oh, and you need to publicize, which its own set of skills.

My publicist skills are plausibly negative. I write slowly; the books are different; readers report feels variously, and after five books, total sales via all channels is under two thousand copies. If I've got commercial objectives, they're failing miserably; not quite "died in a pit of desultory rat-gnawing", but certainly somewhere around "succumbed to exposure after the seventh hour of hard cold rain".

So why am I doing this?

"Commercial" means "a sufficient audience to support the writer and the production effort". My suspicion is that just as being able to make lots of money off of recorded music was a temporary aberration brought on by a particular tech level, so was being able to make money off of writing novels. That period hasn't quite expired, but it's gone from "skill and persistence and some luck" as the career criteria--this is the activity as keeps you fed and housed, career--to "skill and persistence are necessary, but not sufficient". You can't plan on a career doing it, even if it's something at which you are skilled.

Story was mostly a performance, for most of history. Written story was something a professional writer--meaning scribe--did in their spare time. I don't want to say hobby but it wasn't what kept you fed or housed. Novel-scale story is going back to being a kind of performance with the increasing market share of audio books; a distinct market, for which the written text version of the novel is not regarded as substitutable. Rather like how any camera that isn't a phone camera is niche, the written novel is an increasingly niche form of story.

That's the gloomy view; we had this thing, and now it's gone. But maybe you will get very lucky, if only you buy a ticket. (It's not a cheap ticket.)

I think there's a cheerful view.

If you're trying to make a commercial success of writing, the commercial objective is a constraint. Success requires consistent novelty, modest demands on attention, and, above all, appropriate emotional responses.

It becomes a kind of iron triangle; a narrative can produce novelty, immersion, and feels but only in a relatively small portion of the possible space. (At least for any specific reader. Lots of choice encourages particularity.) Get too far toward the novelty, immersion, or feels points of the triangle and you don't so much risk breaking the story as you make reading too much work for the story to have commercially sufficient numbers of friends. ("If you believe it is a work of genius, then you may lose a thousand pounds." There have been periods of time and publishing firms for whom "commercially sufficient" was flexible; such a publishing house might undertake a book perceived to be worthy even if it wasn't expected to sell sufficiently well.)

If you don't have those commerical constraints, there are things you can do that aren't otherwise possible. You're not going to make a living at it, and your share of the (growing!) market will be even smaller than it would otherwise be (the market is not growing as fast as the number of people entering it), but maybe you can have more fun.

If you can approach the text with an expectation that whomsoever shall read it knows they have to read all the words, you can get a degree of immersion not otherwise achievable because you get to use all of the finite number of words to contribute to the setting, rather than losing lots of them to narrative redundancy. You only get so many words; most words can't do two jobs. Ease-of-reading redundancy uses up the utility of a large proportion of the available words.

But if you can move toward the immersion point of the triangle; if there's the assumption the reader is going to read all the words and expect all the words to mean something and that there isn't any more redundancy than you find in life and that the viewpoint is never going to tell you anything because you're the reader, you can get places not otherwise reachable. (C.J. Cherryh is a master of this; Cyteen is not an easy book to read, however much the consensus has come down on "repays the effort".)

Similarily, you can go for novelty (classic Niven or Clement! This isn't a story, this is a travelogue of weirdnesses cut with physics explainers!) or feels (Pamela Dean's Tam Lin or The Dubious Hills). There are lots of other examples, and yes, the scope of commercial does move over time.

Is it worth it? Commercially, now, when there's so much available so easily that no one is going to feel compelled to finish anything because it happens to be the one book they're going to be able to find this month? No. Not even a little. The tech change means more genres, with narrower scope per genre. So for commercial, that's the end of it. If you're not so supremely gifted or so supremely fortunate that you can invent a genre (Pratchett!) your text, that story, this approach to narrative, aren't any of them getting to perform the experiment to enumerate their friends. Not by a commercial publication channel.

Not by any commercial means. But today, because self-publishing ebooks is technically trivial, they can.

I think that's a net win from the reader side. I think it's a net win from my side. I hope it's a net win for a lot of writers. (And that I'm not wrong about the readers!)

I think there's the example of Romantic poet and engraver William Blake, who produced an unusual body of work; never a commercial success, never widely known, difficult, and not permeating popular culture (Anyone know who Rintrah is?). Blake's body of work has still found enough friends to persist this long while.

Fame isn't worth much; "You'll be famous when you're dead" is worth nothing whatsoever. Word-fame does die, however well you achieve it. But what you don't publish, no-one reads.

So what have you read that you're glad of, published for no plausible commercial reason though it was?

286 Comments

| Leave a comment
1:
“So what have you read that you're glad of, published for no plausible commercial reason though it was?”

Back in the "SciFi for Nothing" thread, I followed up several suggestions; found a dozen or more online stories that looked worth checking out. About a half dozen of them I'm still checking regularly for updates.

I don't think there's anything with less "commercial plausibility" than a web novel or web comic.

2:

Graydon said: If you want to make money, you need to publish rapidly and you need to have a consistent brand in terms of what the writing is like, what kind of reading effort is involved, and where it gets the reader in the feels. All of these things create the engaged fan base that results in sales volume, and you absolutely need sales volume if you're trying to make money.

Look at the Bella Forrest website as an example of someone self publishing with "intent to succeed". HA!

Shade of a Vampire

This one section list 64 novels in a series. I sampled a few books, and most appear to be about 100k words in length. They are Romance novels so I haven't read them. When you look at Amazon for her books, most are in paper and ebook.

If you look at her Amazon book list for the series you can see the dates when the books were published.

A Shade of Vampire Book Series (64 Books)

I am in awe of what she has done. I wish I read Romance because when I see a series like this I feel the need to buy the books. HA!

I was curious, so I went looking for your stuff. I found only one ebook on Amazon with no paper books. I then searched for a website and found:

Dubious Prospects

From what I can see you set out to publish with as minimal a footprint as possible. I can respect that, but you can't expect to earn a living the way you are going at it. The thing to do is keep writing for your own pleasure and not worry about making money.

In my library, here in my house, I have thousands of books. I always thought those books had been read by millions, but it turns out most of the books only had a short print run of a few tens of thousands, not millions. A while back, I realized that I was one of a few people still alive who has read these books.

Have fun publishing. Build up a body of work for your own pleasure. In ten years you might consider putting the books in paper as well as ebook, but in the meantime, keep writing.

3:

There are, I suppose, some self-published novels that are worth reading. I still consider a lot to be vanity publishing (which is why I will do everything I can to get our novel published by a Big 5, or, at worst, large, old, small press with authors who win awards). It's why what I'm writing, I'm submitting to publications who pay.

I still feel that you know you're published with the publisher/editer sends you a piece of paper, with numbers preceded by dollar sign, and their signature on it.

Another point - I do not want to do advertising. I have miniscule knowledge of IP law and contract law. I do NOT, repeat, *N*O*T* want to deal with quarterly estimated tax payments, and/or self-incorporation, and.... I think it's simpler to write good stories and sell them.

I do read that some millenials, at least, are going back to *books*.

Btw, I have, in fact, finished the 1.5th draft of the story that Troutwaxer is guilty of inspiring, with his line A Hot Date With RAH and JK Rowling, with tentacles. I'm now leanign towards submitting the silly thing to Baen's Bar, unless anyone here can suggest a better place for a short.

4:

So what have you read that you're glad of, published for no plausible commercial reason though it was?

I'm going to be a crawling git, and say "your stuff". The March North was moving; and I loved a Succession of Bad Days. The phrasing is different, but I like it.

AIUI, "The Martian" was another work "not published with commercial intent"; and I rather liked that, too...

5:

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss. Nothing happens, and only one of the characters isn't an inanimate object. A great read, despite the lack of explosions and car chases. Amazing it was published.

6:

Not just fiction. I'm part of a community of on-line Alan Moore scholars whose work is utterly non-commercial.

7:

"I doubt me an it be commercial."

Who wrote this 'Greenfleeves' thing anyway?

8:

Having found the Commonweal series by following Charlie's blog, I can dispense with saying that I enjoy them.

Something that people do for the sheer enjoyment of other people reading them, though, are the online Let's Play and Choose Your Own Adventure genres. The vast majority of these are made without any expectation of fame or remuneration, and yet the best of them are fully worth reading. In terms of what's available, I'll submit Matul Remrit. It started as a Dwarf Fortress Let's Play on Something Awful, and ended up being one of the more touching fantasy stories I've read in the last decade: http://www.bravemule.com/matulremrit/

9:

"All of these things create the engaged fan base that results in sales volume, and you absolutely need sales volume if you're trying to make money."

Have you looked up Guy Windsor? He writes and talks a lot about the business of writing nonfiction on a niche topic which earns something on the order of 10k a year.

The entrepreneurial writers who write a novel every 1-3 months and blog on the side about the evils of traditional publishers and agents are one model but just one model.

10:

It is just one model, but it does seem to be the only "make a living" model out there.

From at least Walter Scott forward, the secret really does seem to be "write fast".

I had not looked up Guy Windsor, but while it's clear from a quick google that this is someone doing what they love, 10 K a year, even in pounds, isn't sufficiently remunerative to support someone. It's a sideline to a business that seems to be primarily performance-based.

11:

Thank you!

(You know there are two more now? :)

12:

A couple of my examples:

The Interior Life, originally with the byline of Katharine Blake but now out under the author's regular name of Dorothy J Heydt in ebook form. (James Nicoll review because that's way easier than trying to summarize it myself. It's quiet, and it's inward-looking, and it does a really good job of getting progressively stranger.)

C.J. Cherry's Wave Without a Shore, which (I think) is about whether or not it's possible to restructure reality enough that you can find someone to talk to for some strong value of "talk". It's short, slippery, and apparently out of print. It has also stuck with me this long while, and I'm pretty sure it was the one-free-weirdness book for someone who had just won the Best Novel Hugo for Downbelow Station. (And was just about to publish The Pride of Chanur.)

13:

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/5537755/1/Amends-or-Truth-and-Reconciliation

A fanfic about Hermione's first year after the end of canon. I don't think it will ever be finished, but I'm glad to have read it.

Has one of the finest "Oh, shit" moments I've ever seen.

14:

Vague memories of you saying the fifth one was largely done but needed the dates in number four sorting out. Should we be holding our breath in anticipation yet?

15:

According to Librarything C.J. Cherry's Wave Without a Shore is one of the 27 Cherryh books I own and from her position in the alphabet I expect it is in a box in the attic above me right now. And I probably read it in 1981 or so and remember nothing about it.

16:

It was only her one-free-weirdness book if you ignore _Voyager in Night_, which is the earliest-written book I've ever seen to take place entirely in (an alien) virtual reality, and in which almost all the characters don't have names representable in ASCII. Or pronounceable, for that matter. Most of them have extremely strange motivations and personalities.

(Collected with _Wave Without a Shore_ and _Port Eternity_, about which I remember nothing whatsoever, in the three-book collection _Alternate Realities_.)

17:

I would never recommend holding your breath!

Five -- A Mist of Grit And Splinters -- has its frame (whereby it is bolted to the timeline) and somewhere between three- and four-fifths of its Line-bits; I still need to write the gesith-bits (I think they're gesith-bits) and then all the production logistics need to happen. Given the noted skill, forethought, and civic-mindedness of those presently in control of the economies of the Anglosphere, I do not feel well able to suppose I know anything about just how long the writing or the production logistics shall take.

Sometime in 2019, I hope. Certainly not this year!

18:

I would be really hesitant to say Wave Without A Shore was THE weirdness, out of Cherryh's bibliography. (I can make an argument that THE weirdness in Cherry's bibliography is Lois & Clark: A Superman Novel.) I can just make the argument that Cherryh's agent had a Hugo to point to and the manuscript for Pride of Chanur at the time of its publication, so maybe it was one Hugo per "these use up a whole copy-editor, you know that? we don't get them back..." novel.

19:

Another difficulty with finding commercial success in writing is that good stuff keeps accumulating year on year and with digital publishing it is all more likely to stay in 'print'. Writers aren't just competing with the other new titles but all the back-catalogue of all other writers, living and dead. For a period in the 1970s I acquired and read nearly every SF paperback published in the UK and much of the fantasy, horror and related genres too. That was about 300 books a year then. That was about the last time it was possible to do that. The equivalent number of new books has been over a 1000 a year for decades and the number of excellent books I'm never going to find the time to read just keeps increasing. Not only have I not read all the Hugo, Nebula and other award nominees in years I haven't even read every winner since sometime in the 80s...

There's a similar problem with music and TV although technical barriers slightly reduce the quantity of some of those. Audiences don't want to see 4:3 aspect SD TV or even 16:9 SD so the TV glut doesn't begin until the early 2000's when everything began being made in 16:9 HD. Just look at the vast range of 'box sets' on Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming. Now new TV shows are competing for the attention of the people who haven't watched Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones yet.

20:

I shall continue respiring normally for a bit longer then. Ta.

21:

Also the enormous mass of fan fiction, which is often skillfully executed and even more often providing precisely what's wanted, as distinct from canon providing almost what's wanted.

Plus various new art forms; I think it's interesting that people's examples of non-commerical-but-valued run to the web serial and the web comic, rather than obscure novels. The novel may be heading off into the territory of the sonnet as an art form.

22:

Indeed. Sturgeon's Law very much applies - but so does the law of averages.

Most fan fiction is crap. Poorly plotted, poorly written, poorly rendered characters, whatever. But for any popular series one can discard 90% of the fanfic and still have a healthy supply of material that's worth reading. Many of those will be every bit as good as the professionally created original. A few will be better than the original.

It doesn't hurt for a creator to be motivated by love of the work.

23:

Re: 'The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss.'

Ditto! A beautiful book about a moment in time as experienced by someone we've been introduced to but can't really say we know. After finishing this story, I still don't 'understand' Auri, but I like her.

If I were to write a story about how it would feel to ride along in some alien's mind - to perceive and feel things without knowing whether that's how I'm supposed to understand those things, perceptions or feelings - I'd use this as my how-to guide.

24:

I liked your stuff Graydon for the novelty and the characters you came to care about. Even the nameless grunts who end up in the standard. Even Halt gods help me!

I liked the wizard school stuff because they really tried to get under the skin of what becoming such a thing might be like. And the characters. I play a tabletop RPG called Mage: The Ascension & I suspect your idea of training might become something of a baseline for me in that.

Other than your stuff?

Neuromancer, Hardwired, The Arabesk series by John Courtenay Grimwood. The Flix books by Mike Carey because of the worldbuilding and the snarky protagonist.

Most of C.J's output (though I do find it amusing how often the words "Hear Me!" turn up in her dialogue). Especially the Morgaine books.

The Falco books by Lindsey Davis and, along the same lines, the Crowner John books by Bernard Knight.

A good chunk of Bernard Cornwell's stuff. I especially like how he takes the time to explain exactly how he has warped history for his plot at the end of each book.

The Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko because of the twisty ethics that his characters have to deal with.

The Paksenarrion books by Elizabeth Moon because, good uncomplicated fun. Likewise Weber's Bahzell books.

Legend by David Gemmell, because you can tell, almost to the page, when he found out
the cancer wasn't going to kill him then.

Robert Rankin's books because they are downright trippy. And, of course, Terry Pratchett's body of work.

And Our Host's Laundry series because I work in Local Government and can identify with a lot of it (it's just the Laundry is turned up to 11).

25:

Rintrah?

You mean the green minotaur guy from 1980's DOCTOR STRANGE?

26:

Yup. Currently halfway-through the newest one...

:) Swans, and unicorns :)

27:

...not to mention Tanks! and Swords and Sorcery! (another fun, non-commercial series, well worth a read - by a site contributor)

28:

I meant William Blake's angry-prophet character Rintrah: "Rintrah roars and shakes his fires in the burdened air". Though I would be surprised if the Doctor Strange writers didn't borrow the name.

29:

Don't know that one! less ambiguous search terms?

30:

Do very obscure & minor scientific papers count?
Or, alternatively, mabe
THIS - some of you will have seen the reference before.

31:

I would think the original intent was fiction, since scientific publication is its own beast, or menagerie, really, with different constraints and history.

It took me several screens to decide that link was sincere, rather than very subtle humour. (London place names generally sound as though someone is having one on. The effect is multiplied considerably by the historical progression of London place names.)

32:

I agree that there's more room to publish unusual writing, though not to make a living from it. But if you're a reader, how do you find the wonderful thing you don't know you want?

33:

Graydon @ 10:

I had not looked up Guy Windsor, but while it's clear from a quick google that this is someone doing what they love, 10 K a year, even in pounds, isn't sufficiently remunerative to support someone. It's a sideline to a business that seems to be primarily performance-

Still, a "sideline" that earns you "10 K a year" is better than one produces no return or one that costs you 10 K a year.

34:

Depends on how much work it is.

If you're a chartered accountant of one of the proliferating flavours and you spend half your waking hours cataloging wildflowers in a basically revenue-neutral way -- the income from the extremely local species lists purchased by native-species gardening enthusiasts about pays your costs -- it's not an economically rational thing to be doing.

If you're Guy Windsor and your main line of business is performance involving knowing everything about the historical practice of fighting with swords from a specific period, having the sideline business of documentation derived from research you'd be doing anyway is a lot more economically sensible, though I doubt it's especially profitable on a short time frame. (Books are a lot of work. Illustrated books, with (at least) colour covers? More work and more expense.) So I think quite sensible on the whole but probably not as remunerative as putting the effort into getting movie or miniseries work.

There are a surprising number of really excellent amateur historians out there; some of them are making a living at it, which surprises me. And I certainly don't think anyone has an obligation to be economically rational. That people wind up valuing the results of throwing economic rationality, if not to the four winds at least over the windmill, is much of the point I was hoping I was making in the initial post.

35:

Well, right now I am half way through the second Commonweal book and loving it. Greatly looking forward to the rest.Would never have come across your books without this blog.

Casting my mind way back... Joy Chant comes to mind. "When Voiha Wakes" in particular.

37:

The Last Ringbearer, by Kirill Eskov

Well worth a read, I really enjoyed it.

38:

Writing does not have to be a full-time living, though. It just has to pay enough to justify spending one evening a week/every Saturday/two days a week/... in front of a keyboard typing. The people who self-publish four or more novels a year do not have the only model, they just talk a lot on the Internet because, well, they chose that model because they like the 2010s Internet (or because their real business is selling courses and webinars on HOW TO GET RICH WITH KINDLE ... but we had those in 20th century publishing too).

I sell my writing as a side job, the same way other people sell crafts or mow lawns or play in a band and don't have any ambition to quit their day job and start a landscaping business.

You are definitely right to think about what you want to get out of writing, because "I want to make a living as a writer" leads to different practice than "I want to write the definitive book on X" or "I want to write things which win prizes and are remembered by readers for decades."

39:

I guess that the music industry should be predictive. So, very popular writers make about the same. However, the lucky writers who could have made the midlist earlier get amalgamated into a vast strata of authors who didn't quite make the midlist but who can now publish...

From.the perspective of a reader, it is lovely. It is clear that stuff that interesting but known to be insufficiently broad or even just hard to classify for print publishing is now at least not net negative. I'm not sure that the writers on the midlist will be happy. In particular, hardcover sales may go down. At one point in my life, I tended to snatch up hardcovers as they were released. At this point, I glare warily at my unread books collection (backlog large) and watch as some of my favorite authors slip by multiple release tiers.

I'm not sure if Smallworld and Littlestar count as experimental. I suspect they weren't a commercial success. Pretty memorable. Also amusing.

Webnovels though - are the freemium version of books relative to apps. Build up a large following with free stuff, then charge for early access and sell some books for people who like the novels. Overall, more often than not, it seems that the actually good webnovel authors find self-publishing to Amazon relatively profitable. Intuitively, I'd guess that, for any multibook series, the correct pricing for the first book is either zero or negative, probably negative except for incentive problems. I find their rise kind of sad. Thing is, apps seem to make their money on whales. This implies that way too much purchasing power is bound up into a small elite. I wonder if authors might do something similar...it'd be an interesting experiment.

40:

A bunch of the stories I'm following right now are web serials. Most of them, when the started, were just the authors hobby and some have morphed into a full time paying job for the author as they've gathered success.

A few of my favorite authors growing up have been dying of late so I do like that there's new authors coming in who don't have to filter through a publisher. There's still a filter, a brutal one, the filter of whether people like your work and success is measured in patreon income, story rankings and page views etc... with better authors getting up-front payments from various sites to post their chapters there first.


Everything by Wildbow... except Pact.

https://www.patreon.com/Wildbow

The Wandering Inn by pirateaba

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4240617


Still not his full time job but:

Unsong + blog by Scott Alexander

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=926060

41:

I think "how do you find it" falls back to "word of mouth"; word of mouth can be really loud in the present social media climate, but it's still fundamentally finding someone whose taste you trust.

This would seem oppressive without the corresponding recognition that there's now far more stuff being published than anyone could possibly read. Missing some hypothetical optimal trajectory of reading is (I think) far less important than being pleased with what one has found to read.

42:

There's also far more stuff already been published than anyone could possibly read, even if you restrict the list to "stuff congruent with one's personal tastes". Project Gutenberg is one of those dangerous sites that you can spend weeks at a time on. So is that freesfonline.de site that someone posted a few threads back.

Once you find one concentration of stuff that is congruent with your personal tastes, it tends to provide connections (eg. links, or search terms, or names to half-remember and then go "oh yeah, I've heard of them, let's check this out" when you encounter something more substantial at a later time) to other stuff which is similarly agreeable, and you can usually walk that tree down several levels before stuff starts to diverge too far from the root to maintain your interest. It's only finding the root in the first place that demands any effort, and since there is such a vast amount of stuff, that effort doesn't need to be anything very substantial; even just poking around more or less at random will find something before too long.

43:

"...pay enough to justify..."

s/pay/be enjoyable/

There seems to be more and more of this going around these days - this notion that it's somehow not good enough to do things just because you like doing them; that you have to get money off doing them otherwise it isn't respectable; that you can't hold your head up and answer "why do you do this?" with a plain "because I like it", or the inevitable sequel "how much money do you make off that?" with "er, fuck all, what a strange question". It's not good enough to write stuff/draw things/take photos/play music/etc just because you want to, otherwise you're weird like a train spotter; you have to sell them on Amazon or Etsy or put them on some site that pays you for plastering them with ads, and make posts on twitter getting your knickers in a twist over copyright.

This is, of course, bollocks. You must have had some other means of keeping belly from backbone, that does not leave you devoid of free time, to begin with, and there's no more reason to mandate that using that free time to write/draw/photograph/play/etc is only acceptable if that activity brings in money than there is to impose a similar acceptability requirement on using that free time to go down the pub. Less, if anything, since beer costs money but writing doesn't.

And I thought that stuff written by people who agree about the bollocks part was what this thread was supposed to be about...

44:

I do find that a fair bit of what I appreciate is in categories related to Greg's post - non-fictional stuff produced by people writing up some technical-ish subject that happens to interest them and posting it on the net just for the crack. Things like Sam Goldwasser's laser FAQ or that chap with a site about uranium chemistry you can do in your kitchen. Such writings tend to be by far the most informative stuff you'll find on their subjects outside an actual technical library, and it makes me bloody furious that Google doesn't bother about indexing them any more and instead responds to searches with a couple of links to wikipedia articles, pages of links to pointless sites that automatically duplicate wikipedia articles, and a bunch of scientific papers on sites that try and rook you 40 bucks a pop to read a paper that is probably barely relevant to the actual search terms but happens to contain the same keywords.

45:

Pigeon @ 43:

There seems to be more and more of this going around these days - this notion that it's somehow not good enough to do things just because you like doing them; that you have to get money off doing them otherwise it isn't respectable; that you can't hold your head up and answer "why do you do this?" with a plain "because I like it", or the inevitable sequel "how much money do you make off that?" with "er, fuck all, what a strange question". It's not good enough to write stuff/draw things/take photos/play music/etc just because you want to, otherwise you're weird like a train spotter; you have to sell them on Amazon or Etsy or put them on some site that pays you for plastering them with ads, and make posts on twitter getting your knickers in a twist over copyright.

It would be nice if one of my sidelines would bring some monetary return. Doesn't have to be a profit, just a little bit to offset some of the cost. But it ain't happened yet, and I'm not holding my breath.

46:

Any chance of links to part 2 and part 3? Google only seems to be aware of the initial article.

47:

If you're a chartered accountant of one of the proliferating flavours and you spend half your waking hours cataloging wildflowers in a basically revenue-neutral way -- the income from the extremely local species lists purchased by native-species gardening enthusiasts about pays your costs -- it's not an economically rational thing to be doing.

Unless what you really love is cataloging wildflowers, in which case the benefit you get from spending half your time doing it might well be more than the benefit you would get from the extra income.

By your definition, having children isn't economically rational, and yet most people do it. If your homo economicus doesn't include non-monetary benefits (and costs) then your model is significantly incomplete. (As I understand it, that's what the whole field of behavioural economics does.)

48:

I check out what people here recommend. No guarantee I'll like it, but that happens more often than random recommends from Amazon or the 'new books' table at the library.

For spec-fic I read James Nicolls' blog, especially the reviews but also the comments. My tastes don't entirely overlap with his, but I can tell from one of his reviews whether it's worth pending time trying a book (which is my definition of a good review).

David Brin's recommendations are hit-and-miss for me.

Peter Watts is an eclectic reader. If he recommends a book I always try to get it. (I may not understand it, because I'm not as smart as him, but I give it a shot.)

49:

Not published (yet) though written at the same time as part one.
"L-R" has a problem with both too many & too few "scripts", editorial time & priorities.
All things considered, they do very well.
The subject will probably come up at the monthly pub-meeting this Thursday, actually, as we have difficulties given the latest Crossrail utter fuck-up & the now-certainty that TfL have taken to deliberately lying to the public ....

50:

Oh dear, OK, I thought that with the original being dated 2015 they'd have to have appeared by now. Still, it's something to look forward to :)

51:

Actually, I have the original, of course.
If people are interested, I could probably send them copies, though it's 40+ Megs of data ( The pictures, you understand )
I will have to re-format it, try to make a couple of minor corrections.
Part 2 will be uncorrected, though ...

Requests to ( spaced-out & space-lined to defeat the spammers )
f l e d e r m a u s
AT
d s l
DOT
p i p e x
DOT
c o m

52:

On the one hand, I *do* want to be paid for my tales. It will also get more eyeballs to read the story.

On the other hand... one of the things I *vehemently* HATE the GOP and the ultrawealthy psychos for is that they've taken our children's dreams away from them: if you can't monetize it, if it doesn't make you richer, then it's not worth anything.

If there were such things as souls, not a single one of them have one.

53:

Moonwise by Greer Gilman is easily the most implausible book I've ever seen published commercially.

It's a fantasy story-- two women create a shared world, one of them vanishes into it. Also, there's a summer goddess and a winter goddess, and the winter goddess decides to freeze everything.

The prose is remarkable-- full of references to myth, fantasy, and folk music, with plenty of puns.

54:

Yeah... you get it!

55:

Given that run also used the names Entharion & Urthona....

56:

So what have you read that you're glad of, published for no plausible commercial reason though it was?

The March North

Thanks for that!

57:

I found out about you (Graydon) from this site.

I am now the owner of all the books that you have self-published to date and I am well pleased with them.
I would be happy to buy more if you were to commit further books.

58:

That would be well off into "hint with a brick" territory, then!

I have now acquired an addition to the THX 1138 question ("Why would you put a full Turing AI on a munition?"); "How do you get from an angry prophet to a green minotaur?"

59:

("Why would you put a full Turing AI on a munition?")

Because you're the Culture, and can do it for LuLs!

60:

If we consider the Culture warship classes munitions -- which might be fair -- they're still sane and carefully backed up. The munition in THX 1138 is not so sane and needs to be talked out of exploding. I can usually produce a world building reason for something to be like that (which is not the same as knowing why the original creator did it that way!) but this one stumps me.

I mean, sure, lowest-bidder AI, it's got issues. But how did you get the contract to put the full AI on the bomb in the first place?

61:

You're welcome!

(I was expecting these books to find perhaps a dozen friends. The actual number continues encouraging.)

62:

Errr... John Carpenter's Dark Star, surely?

Talk to the bomb. You have to talk to it, Doolittle. Teach it PHENOMENOLOGY.

63:

I intend to commit some further books. (I have notes out to book 9 for the Commonweal.)

Whether I will or not, well, hard to say in these times. But I hope so.

64:

Well, I was thinking of knife missiles, not bombs! But for bombs, I agree with the suggestion of Dark Star.

65:

Damn, you beat me to the quote....

*Very* odd movie.

66:

Graydon @63 said: I intend to commit some further books. (I have notes out to book 9 for the Commonweal.)

I've realized that I've been kibitzing lately because I don't want to face my own five year production schedule. September always messes me up like that. Glug!

I posted this on another site where the guy was saying that maybe it was time for him to pull his notes out of the file cabinet and write the books.

In the Sandman comics, by Neil Gaiman, Dream had a library filled with all the books that authors saw, but never wrote. There are dozens of books that J.K. Rowling never wrote because the success of Harry Potter made it hard to publish anything else. She had to do some of her other books under pen names, the rest sit unread in Dream's library.

- Don't let your books only exist in Dream's library.

I've put that last quote up where I can see it, just to kibitz myself. HA!

67:

Errr... John Carpenter's Dark Star, surely?

Yes!

Regrettable material substrate memory issue there, no idea why I got that conflated with THX 1138.

68:

I have, I suspect you have, I would be astonished if our gracious host does not have, far more ideas for books than it would be possible to write. (I have an opening for, but will likely never write, the "what if we're so far in the future/so advanced/spread over so many planets that the ~SCA does re-creationist nuclear wars using archeologically discovered H-bomb designs?" book, for example.)

I think of it as getting as much done as I can in the time allotted.

69:

Charlie seems to tweet an idea like that about once a week :) Some of them are truly awesome, and it is a great shame that they are not compatible with his operating parameters.

70:

The Culture's version of the SCA must be awesome.

"You know Europeans alone had like a dozen different ideas about what dragons looked like, right?"
"Sure. That's why I've reserved three genetic engineering labs for next week."
"...okay, then. Let me know how the tourney goes."

71:

Gaiman picked up the idea from James Branch Cabell - John Charteris' library in Beyond Life, which not only has authors' unwritten works but also the Intended Editions of their published works.

Cabell's view, set out in Straws and Prayer-Books, was that authors write primarily to divert themselves, and many of his books certainly verge on the non-commercial (or did before Jurgen made him notorious).

The current e-book problem, of finding the jewels in the dung-heap of what used to be slushpile contents, is soluble mainly by reputational means. Graydon has some prominent voices to amplify his work (such as James Nicoll) as well as the benefit of a long history going back to the days of Usenet. The same is true, say, of Dorothy Heydt.

But, for authors without those advantages, my experience is that the presence of laudatory reviews on their own isn't much of a help unless the reviewer's taste and judgement are reliable (at least in how they match one's own). There are many books with enthusiastic reviews on Amazon or many review sites (not James, by the way) which I find derivative, predictable, and generators of the Eight Deadly Words. So finding the good / excellent work which is self-published is a significant problem; it's hard enough handling the Sea of published works.

72:

So maybe we should be sharing lists of reviewers that we have found reliable?

73:

JSBurbidge @71 said: The current e-book problem, of finding the jewels in the dung-heap of what used to be slushpile contents, is soluble mainly by reputational means.

Sorry, I don't mean to be contentious on the subject of reviewers, but most books can be sampled before read. If they use a good number of pages, not filled with huge pages of front matter that is not prose, most people can decide to buy the book or not, from the sample. Finding books to read by using samples is not a problem, it is a feature. I've been able to find a vast number of books that I'm happy to read again, that is my criteria.

The contentious part is, who is a reviewer. I love the stuff John Clute does. I've bought most of his books that are filled with reviews, and have harvested the reviews on his site. I've done that specifically because he uses his concept of Fantastika as part of his review. I've watched him develop and refine that concept over time, and I'm right on the edge of understanding it. I can "see" what he is pointing to, but can't yet duplicate the structure in my own stuff.

I enjoy reading his "opinion" on a book or story, but when you look back at some of his reviews they do not hold up with time. They reflect where he was when the books were written, not the books themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I have bought a huge number of books based on his reviews, but I take his reviews with a grain of salt.

Good samples trump any review.

74:

And that sort of conceptual library gets into the Curse of Dennett's Library, where you're trying to write and you _know_ that the better book is sitting next to, or four down from, or a shelf-foot from, what you're going to wind up actually writing.

I think the general affect is positive, though I agree that it's difficult to find a reliable reviewer. The most successful review mechanisms I've seen are message boards (or Usenet of old) where there were likely several views from personalities with known views.

75:

By the time you've got to the point of considering a sample, most of the problem is solved. The problem is the search space.

There are hundreds of traditionally published SFF novels every year. Once, those books got vetted by a bookseller: I can ask the staff about a book at Bakka. In a big-box store this is less likely to work - already an issue. There are many more self-published books. Just finding the books to sample is the problem.

76:

@ 66
I do wish you hadn't told us that.
It's worse than the library in U Ecco ...
Dream's library of the unpublished Pterry & Banks' novels.
Oh dear.

S-S @ 70
John Wyndham had a very amusing short, set in early-50's S Wales on that very topic, where two different dragons meet. ( "Chinese Puzzle" in the collection "Jizzle" )

77:

Assume access to hard copy, or genuine access to random samples of soft copy:-

I tend to ignore map shaped objects and regard cast lists as a negative. I then open an interesting looking book by $new_author "somewhere in the middle" and read a few pages. If those make me ask "how did they get here?", "where is this going?" type questions and think "I'd like to read more about these characters" that's when I'll buy.

Oh and I agree about "finding reviewers who's tastes seem aligned to you own".

78:

Reviewers who one constantly disagrees with are also useful, if less so.

Back when watching a film meant going to the cinema the Star-Phoenix had a reviewer who was very useful that way. If he liked a film I didn't spend my pocket money on it; if he didn't like it it was probably worth seeing.

Less useful now because so many films/books/albums/etc are being released, so even knowing what do avoid doesn't cut the search down much.

I think it's key not to fall into FOMO and accept that there will be many wonderful works created that one will never find out about and thus enjoy, because there just isn't enough time to do so.

79:

Re: ' ... open an interesting looking book by $new_author "somewhere in the middle" and read a few pages.'

That's how I first discovered Charlie's books. My local bookstore didn't have anything new from my then-current favorite SF/F authors so I browsed the aisles picking up books at random. Remember that I laughed out loud by the second paragraph. Flipped through to another part of the book and it still looked interesting, and have been buying/reading his books ever since.

If a book has really bad cheesy SF/F 'art', I seldom bother to open the book to sample read. E.g., SF/Fantasy with bodice-ripper covers. To me, this suggests that the target market is probably just a tad older than YA, the story will use some stereotypical identity/family conflict as its plot driver, and the protagonist will have the cognitive and emotional depth and experience of a door knob. 'Sigh, alas, woe is me ...' Another example is the manchild-that-never-grew-up 'space adventurer' holding some sort of hand weapon in some 'spacey/alien' situation.

Would like to read an SF author that rips into this nonsense: that all/any SF weapons can be deployed safely and correctly under all environmental situations like a laser gun under water or in a watery atmospheres ...? How about an anthology of short stories with poorly thought out weapons/spells as its theme? Or, maybe a contest for 'worst weapon-environment/-circumstance' pairing?

80:

The classic SF novel in that library is, of course, The Universal Pantograph :-(

81:

Well, MMDV on "discovering Charlie", but more because I happened to hear him chatting with a stall-holder at an Eastercon, which gave me an additional impetus to try something by him.

I can't help with your last paragraph, but Colin Kapp's "The Unorthodox Engineers" involves some decidedly off the wall thinking.

82:

Genevieve Cogman's "Invisible Library" series uses unwritten works and alternate variants of works as plot McGuffins.

83:

Would like to read an SF author that rips into this nonsense: that all/any SF weapons can be deployed safely and correctly under all environmental situations like a laser gun under water or in a watery atmospheres ...? How about an anthology of short stories with poorly thought out weapons/spells as its theme? Or, maybe a contest for 'worst weapon-environment/-circumstance' pairing?

Swords and almost everything works for that. Now I'll be hunted down and killed by the ghost of Musashi, so I'll change that to light sabers, so that the Jedi and Sith will come for me. IMHO swords are over-rated weapons, which is why most people go for spears first (sorry Harold).

The more general problem with this is that very few people have a good knowledge of weaponry of whatever era, and future weaponry is worse.

As one example, we're raised on the myth of the superiority of the katana and the samurai. Would you believe that the Mandarin duck formation, as used with conscripts in both China and Korea, annihilated tens of thousands of Japanese warriors with minimal casualties? Gory details are here, but the point is that a bunch of troops armed with bamboo spears, wooden shields, and similar weapons killed thousands of Japanese. While some of these Japanese were pirates, others were veterans from the Japanese Civil War, so these weren't idiots, just people who (as in WWII) believed in their own mythology of superiority a wee bit too much. Still, if you look at the weapons lists, if you had to guess which would win, a horde of samurai or a bunch of peasant conscripts, you'd guess the former, and you'd be wrong. The Chinese exported the mandarin duck to Korea, where the Koreans used it to do exactly the same thing when Japanese invaded Korea. Fear the Duck--if your fire arms aren't up to scratch, anyway (and neither side had decent guns)

Heck, even the Shaolin warrior monks routinely killed ronin. The problem the monks had was there were so few of them, and their appearance was so distinctive (ghost-faced killers with their faces painted blue), that they were targeted and mobbed on the battlefield and finally lost.

Anyway, if people don't know about this kind of thing, why should I expect any SF author to not use light sabers? Heinlein's giving nuclear missiles to front line grunts in starship troopers *for tactical use* doesn't prevent me from enjoying the story, any more than Scalzi piping the Gamerans' plumbing backwards prevents me from thinking Ghost Brigades was cool (although his strategic shortcomings later in the series kicked me hard out of that universe).

As for underwater guns, they're a huge technical problem, so I'm somewhat okay with authors handwaving the problem away until we figure out a better solution (cachalot-level 200 dB sonic weapons, perhaps?)

84:

Re: 'Colin Kapp's "The Unorthodox Engineers"'

Sounds like a fun read but am unlikely to dish out $115USD ... seriously?


How the above comment relates to this topic thread:

Have authors discussed/analyzed how big a factor the BigRiver pricing algo has on reaching various levels of unit sales. I'm of the impression that the 'best seller' metric is still 'units', not '$$$/revenue'. If the algo pricing of novels discourages sales, then that author is unlikely to establish and build a reliable readership base. Makes me wonder why publishers don't use an 'introductory author pricing' strategy.

85:

Then there are "reviewers" where you should contact their editor, and suggest they should find another job, given who they chose to do reviews.... I saw a review, once, where the "reviewer" said "I don't like this kind (comic book? sf?, I forget) of movie", and proceeded to go on an trash the movie he was reviewing.

Intellectual and professional frauds are what they are.

86:

Ok, thanks. Now I've started looking for a plot of a story to write that would be a straight sf with bodice ripping....

Please note, btw, that I once picked up a book at a yard sale, solely for the cover. I actually had it, with a reasonable cover, under the pseudonym of Judd, Outpost Mars. But there's a scene where the protagonist is talking to a woman, and while he's there, she changes her top while their talking. The cover I bought if for was a guy in a full spacesuit, with helmet on, smiling, while the woman was there pulling off a sweater, her bra showing, and they'd retitled it "Sin In Space"....

87:

Maybe if we offer him a kickstarter....

88:

While waiting for the timeout to post, I glanced at a few other tabs, and got it: they're in the cab of a nuclear locomotive, pulling a load of refugees and supplies, being chased by the war drones of the Bad Guys, and the cooling's damaged, and she's about to faint, until he rips off her bodice....

89:

Heteromeles @ 83
"underwater guns" .....
Are called: Torpedoes. ( ! )

SF book-covers
For a long time had NO RELEVANCE WHATSOEVER to the contents ( As far as I could see )
And several "popular" cover-artists who always made me cringe.
Chris Foss, shudder. I never liked Josh Kirby either - waits for sheets of flame to break out .......

90:

Re: (cachalot-level 200 dB sonic weapons, perhaps?)

Please elaborate ... not sure what you mean and search on the above only pulls up whale and squid related info.

Have heard stories about sonic weapons above water. But no idea how the damage from wave propagation in water compares to above water (air). Maybe at very close range, you'd get: permanent hearing loss (sonic waves either severely dislocate or fracture inner ear bones), heart damage (sonic waves interfering with the electrochem regulation of the heart), brain bruising - sorta like slow-mo concussion.

91:

Recent ( Breaking? ) news
US sunspot solar observatory closed by FBI - complete news blackout, appearing in various news sources.
W. T. F?

92:

Re: ' ... cab of a nuclear locomotive, ... war drones ... and she's about to faint, until he rips off her bodice....'

You got it!

Think you should write this up just for the hell of it adding in an unlikely-to-actually-work anti-drone weapon and how our heroes survive this daring unplanned escape with no food, no water, no sleep, no latrines, etc. on a robot/AI-piloted nuclear-powered cargo train.

Greg could probably provide interesting color/background and key historical development stages explaining why the nuke-loco (nuku-loco?) should be designed a very specific weird way.

93:

Graydon @ 67:

Errr... John Carpenter's Dark Star, surely?
Yes!
Regrettable material substrate memory issue there, no idea why I got that conflated with THX 1138.

Carpenter and Lucas both attended film school at USC. Both titles originally started out as "student film" projects.

94:

In your dreams .... After almost 40 years?

95:

allynh @ 73:

Sorry, I don't mean to be contentious on the subject of reviewers, but most books can be sampled before read. If they use a good number of pages, not filled with huge pages of front matter that is not prose, most people can decide to buy the book or not, from the sample. Finding books to read by using samples is not a problem, it is a feature. I've been able to find a vast number of books that I'm happy to read again, that is my criteria.

I spent a significant portion of my adult life as a traveling service tech for a fire & burglar alarm company. The territory I covered (approximately the eastern 3/4 of the state of North Carolina) meant that I spent a lot of nights away from home in cheap motels & ate a lot of meals in restaurants (learned early NOT to use the drive-thru, to get out & go inside to sit down and eat). One result of that is I read a LOT of sci-fi while on the road, often reading a book per day. I knew where all the book stores were, especially the ones that discounted or sold used books.

Mostly I looked for "new" books by authors I had already read, but failing that, whatever cover art that caught my eye I'd give a quick look to see if it might be interesting. That's how I found Charlie Stross. I ran across a "remaindered" copy of "The Clan Corporate" in a discount book store at an outlet mall where one of the customers I serviced was located. The cover art caught my eye and even though it was book 3 in the series, a quick read of the first chapter convinced me to buy it. It was good enough to make me keep an eye out for books 1 & 2.

96:

That's actually a different matter, a common abuse of copyright. Authors (not just of fiction) used to be forced to hand over their copyright in return for publication - they may still be, for all I know. The current copyright holders have no interest in republishing (because they don't believe it will sell), won't sell the copyright for less than best-seller prices, and will sue anyone who does.

97:

Heteromeles @ 83:

Anyway, if people don't know about this kind of thing, why should I expect any SF author to not use light sabers? Heinlein's giving nuclear missiles to front line grunts in starship troopers *for tactical use* doesn't prevent me from enjoying the story, any more than Scalzi piping the Gamerans' plumbing backwards prevents me from thinking Ghost Brigades was cool (although his strategic shortcomings later in the series kicked me hard out of that universe).

Heinlein's mini-nuke from Starship Troopers was based the U.S. Army's attempt to develop an "atomic hand grenade". The U.S. Army actually did try to develop it. The problem is How can a soldier throw an "atomic hand grenade" far enough to be outside the blast radius?

The best they were able to come up with was the Davy Crockett Weapon System. Heinlein merely anticipates further development in miniaturization and guidance systems.

As for underwater guns, they're a huge technical problem, so I'm somewhat okay with authors handwaving the problem away until we figure out a better solution (cachalot-level 200 dB sonic weapons, perhaps?)

"As for underwater guns" there's a lot of amusement to be had on YouTube.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=guns+fired+underwater

98:

Graydon @74 said:And that sort of conceptual library gets into the Curse of Dennett's Library, where you're trying to write and you _know_ that the better book is sitting next to, or four down from, or a shelf-foot from, what you're going to wind up actually writing.

I offer this quote:

If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.

- Edgar Rice Burroughs

No matter how many books I publish, there will be thousands that I left in Dream's library. This doesn't bother me, because the odds are in my favor.

The criteria I use when picking the next book to publish, is that I'm looking for the book that I want to read, again and again. I'm not looking for the book that will be successful/popular/make money. I literally do not care what other people think about the books.

- I am the Reader that the books are published for.

Remember: If you let other people into your workspace, they will crowd you out.

Robert Prior @78 said: I think it's key not to fall into FOMO and accept that there will be many wonderful works created that one will never find out about and thus enjoy, because there just isn't enough time to do so.

The thing about FOMO is that it's self fulfilling.

Visualize a kid learning how to ride a bike. He's walked his bike to a parking lot on a Sunday when it's totally empty. He has all the space in the world to ride his bike and not run into anything. Yet, there are light poles scattered across the lot.

He starts to ride, wobbly as hell, and says don't hit the poles, don't hit the poles. Guess what. He runs right into the poles.

- His fear drove him straight into the pole.

If someone is going all FOMO, that is exactly what will happen, because their fear is influencing their search.

When I search for books each week, I am looking for books to "read", not for what I am "missing". When the search gets intense I can have a dozen browser windows open, each with dozens of tabs, digging deep into the search. This is successful because out of the thousands of books I have, I have very few books in my library that I won't read again.

- You have to let go of your fears and preconceptions, and books will come streaming out of the search.

Elderly Cynic @80 said:The classic SF novel in that library is, of course, The Universal Pantograph :-(

Yes, exactly. Panshin has dozens that he did not write because he let too many people into his workspace.

- All those books exist in Dream's library.

If you map Dream's library onto the surface of a Faberge Egg, you can isolate various Vectors one at a time.

Activate Pratchett's Vector and you have a vast filigree of precious metals and stones dancing across the surface. Turn that view off and activate the Stross Vector. A completely different filigree appears. You can flip through each Vector one at a time and see those books that were published and those that are still in Dream's library.

Now, get that image clearly in your mind, then pull back, way back, and you will see an even larger egg that is floating beside the first. Think ostrich egg floating beside a hummingbird's egg.

That ostrich egg is all of the Vectors containing the stories by non-western authors that we will never read.

JBS @93

When bookstores existed, especially in the 90s, I would walk in to an independent bookstore every Saturday and books would fly off the shelves into my hands. I would find six to a dozen each week. Every quarter I would fill a hand basket, usually 30 books at a time. Then about '98 the books stopped flying off the shelves. For years it was all sweet watermelon flying off the shelves, then I was hitting rind.

After that collapse of the national distribution network I ended up at B&N and was lucky to find 3 or 4 books each quarter. I realized that those books were British imports. That's how I found Charlie's Singularity Sky. The rest is history. HA!

99:

Greg Tingey @ 91:

Recent ( Breaking? ) news
US sunspot solar observatory closed by FBI - complete news blackout, appearing in various news sources.
W. T. F?

This Gizmodo article suggests the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) that runs the observatory initiated the evacuation before the FBI moved in and locked everything down.

My guess is some crank made a bomb threat & the FBI is searching the site, while being the usual dicks about sharing information regarding "ongoing investigations".

100:

The weird part is that bomb sweeps normally take a few hours, and are public information. This complex was evacuated last Thursday, everyone packed up and left, and they've kept it closed.

So possibilities include:
--It's aliens/paranormals/transdimensional gates/other breakers of our consensus reality-hallucination (if so...yay?)
--One of the servers at the observatory is part of some national or international investigation into cybercrime, and the FBI wanted to get physical control of it, while making sure that none of the employees who might handle said server were physically near it. I believe something like this happened in the Ukraine during the Notpetya response.
--Option 3...?

I'm pretty sure it's not contagious or whatever (like a bioweapon deployed), because they let all the employees pack up and leave, rather than quarantining them.

Unfortunately, I also doubt that it has anything to do with that Mystery cloud released in New Mexico four years ago. Or with Roswell.

101:

"...only pulls up whale and squid related info."

That's what you're looking for... Sperm whales (cachalots) use extremely high intensity sound waves to disable prey. That's why they've got a bus on the front. The sound is produced by vocal chords right at the very front, passes backwards through the bus, reflects off the front of the skull (which is concave), goes forward through the bus again, out into the water, and is focussed on the squid, turning its cellular microstructures to goop. The bus acts as a lens group; it contains two different grades of oil in separate compartments to provide the appropriate refractive indices for the two stages of focussing (one backwards, one forwards). Other toothed whales also do the same thing, but it is the sperm whale which has by far the most developed and powerful version.

102:

I wasn't too keen on Josh Kirby's Pratchett covers either - I reckon they were OK if you hadn't read the books, but after reading them, it became obvious that the "real" appearance of the characters was far more normal than the deformed, twisted gnomes of the cover art. And the GIANT MASSIVE SPHERICAL TITS on every significant female character, regardless of how her appearance was described in the text, were a bit excessive, too.

Chris Foss, though, I always liked; it was just a case of getting over the obstacle of realising that his pictures had sod all to do with the content of the book, and were just supposed to look spacey, which they did very well for the most part.

103:

That's correct. Here's some relevant information:

"Sperm whale clicks—which are used for echolocation and communication, and max out at 236 decibels—can be heard several hundred miles away, and possibly around the globe. Sperm whales are the loudest animals on Earth.

In air, a 236-decibel sound would be louder than two thousand pounds of TNT exploding two hundred feet away from you, and much louder than a space shuttle taking off from two hundred fifty feet away. In fact, 236 decibels is so loud that a sound of that intensity cannot exist in air. Above 194 decibels, sound waves turn into pressure waves."

...

"Even underwater, sperm whale clicks are so loud they could not only blow out human eardrums from hundreds of feet away, but, some scientists estimate, vibrate a human body to death."

Nestor, James. Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves (pp. 171-172). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

This is a really fun book, incidentally, even if they science occasionally toys with the cringe-worthy.

Nestor also talks about people who've been echolocated by sperm whales at close range having their hands paralyzed (which is what happens when you touch the melon of a baby sperm whale doing normal echolocation) to paralysis from getting "shot" (temporary stunning, followed by a few hours of debilitating pain in stomach and chest) by a grumpy bull whale at some distance.

Since underwater bullets have ranges of under 10 meters IIRC, a 200 decibel directional underwater blaster isn't a stupid weapon. It is, however, very, very noticeable when you use it.

Incidentally, sperm whales have the equivalent of thousands of hydrophones in their heads, so you can imagine how much information about your internal body structure they're getting by doing a high intensity sonar blast at fairly close range. Finally, I'd point out that sperm whales also produce a rarely-recorded "gunshot" sound, which is even louder than their echolocation. Some scientists believe its what they use to kill giant squid, which swim a lot faster than do sperm whales. To my knowledge, no human's been on the receiving end of one of a sperm whale gunshot--or they haven't lived to tell the tale.


104:

Davy Crockett? Hah!

Eric Frank Russell's 1955 "Men, Martians, and Machines" had atomic hand grenades :)

105:

The Davy Crockett nuclear device was never an atomic "hand grenade" and there never was a realistic intention to develop one -- for one thing the minimum critical mass for a uranium or plutonium weapons is about 5kg and practically speaking 7 or 8kg is the best that can be manufactured (alloying the fissile material with 'other stuff' helps implosion). Add the rest of the "make it go boom" hardware around that and you end up with something weighing about 20kg, not exactly hand-grenade sized or realistically able to be thrown by hand. Makes a good 'yuk yuk' story though.

The larger Special Atomic Demolition Munition which was a shipping-trunk-sized nuclear device based on the Davy Crockett warhead, expected yields less than 1000 tonnes equivalent of TNT -- the basic nature of the device's engineering made exact yield estimates problematic. The Davy Crockett itself was only ever detonated twice in tests, once as a static device and once as a complete recoilless rifle shot resulting in yields of 22 tonnes and 18 tonnes TNT equivalent.

106:

I am glad that I self-published my one novel. It takes me an extremely long time to write, as I am fully employed elsewhere. I was extremely pleased to finish after about 3 years (much longer incubation time).

But it's only been seen by about a dozen people. I have no talent for self-promotion. Or the time.

And I'm 60.

So I don't really care about "a career" at this point, although I maintain a dream of writing more after I retire. So -- I'm not particularly marketable, right?

If it's cool I'll post a link. If it's not I'll say look up "Lesbian Clones in Outer Space". There's an alternate title if you want it.

Trying not to jack the thread,
ebie

107:

If they're the ones I'm thinking of, they put me off reading the books for over a decade.

108:

H @ 100
I'll go with the Gizmodo write-in response that suggests that the observtory accidentally broke into SEKRIT GUVMINT sigint channels ( with their ultra-sensitive equipment ), realised what it was & called the Feds ...
Who are now proceeding to screw-up by the numbers ....

109:

Re: ' ... echolocated by sperm whales at close range having their hands paralyzed'

Ouch! Surprising that there haven't been any news stories about submarines divers being vibrated to death by a pod of migrating sperm whales.

110:

I'll go with the Gizmodo write-in response that suggests that the observtory accidentally broke into SEKRIT GUVMINT sigint channels ( with their ultra-sensitive equipment ), realised what it was & called the Feds ...
Who are now proceeding to screw-up by the numbers ....

Dubious.

The Sunspot Solar Observatory hosts a bunch of optical telescopes, most notably the Dunn Solar Telescope. Where's the radio telescopes that would have caused all SIGINT trouble? These optical telescopes are aimed at the sun, so unless the NRO has a high noon surveillance system that hides in the light or some such, that lab's not in a good position to accidentally gather communications.

That's why I went with my notpetya 2 idea: that attack was launched from a suborned server, and the Ukrainian police ultimately swatted the hijacked facility and broke in to arrest the server. Since the Sunspot Lab is a university computer, I'd bet more that someone hid something on a computer there and the feds went in looking for it.

111:

Re: 'SEKRIT GUVMINT sigint'

Which guvmint? If you recall, there's a newish Russian satellite that's behaving oddly. Maybe this observatory tapped into its signal and found something.

112:

As I understand it, most of the complex has been abandoned, but is held on terms that require complete wilderness remediation if the occupants -- a university or university consortium -- ever leave. And since "take out the roads and foundations" is expensive and inescapable, the "but we don't want to spend money on that" has sort of stopped at a minimum, and there were squatting issues. I might suspect "make absolutely sure we've removed all the drug labs" scenario, possibly combined with doing the university a favour in return for a training opportunity or something like that.

113:

I don't think that's an inappropriate thing to mention in context!

It might help to turn some preview on; I generally use 20%, but even the first few pages can be a big help in letting someone decide if they like the writing.

114:

I found the book on Amazon.

Good cover -- readable at thumbnail size -- nice sample size. I like that it matches the "Look inside" feature. Too many people play coy with "Look inside" and you are forced to read the sample instead. When I reached the end of the sample I had to buy the book to find out what happens, and I don't buy many ebooks. Well done. Keep writing.

I need to finish reading the Dean Koontz book I'm in before I can finish your book. I do not trust Captain It, they seems to be up to no good. HA!

BTW, I have a similar story scheduled in about five years, based on the La Belle (ship) remains found years ago in Texas. They find the starship on a planet, just as buried, centuries lost, and in the process of excavation the reason for the starship being lost is revealed.

115:

when there's so much available so easily that no one is going to feel compelled to finish anything because it happens to be the one book they're going to be able to find this month?

My reaction on reading that was "NO!!". I feel quite frustrated when I have to grind through several start-of-books before I find something readable. It is not a fun experience. Worse is when it follows from a readable sample passage and I've actually bought the book, because then I've wasted money as well as time. I'd rather finish one mediocre book than read the first 100 pages of five mediocre books.

I dislike browsing in shops for the same reason - it takes a long time and I don't have good optimisations. Physical shops can be worse, since time in shops is so rarely enjoyable. But online shops that make it painful to navigate or have awful similar-to setups are bad ("you liked Laundry Files? Try Anne Rice"), sometimes bad enough to put me right off the whole shop. Google's book-buying system, for example, only works for me if I want a specific book. Still better than Amazons, where I still don't know how to tell whether I'll be able to view a book until after I've paid for it (albeit I have given up completely after ~5 bad experiences).

116:

Google's book-buying system, for example, only works for me if I want a specific book.

I laughed out loud when after reading John Scalzi's 'Head On', the Google Play recommended to me... John Scalzi's 'Head On'. I think there are still some improvements which could be made to the recommendation software.

117:

SFR @ 109
being vibrated to death ... produces an entirely different, erm "picture" to me ... oh dear.

And - I didn't sat which GUVMINT - did I?

118:

Amazon is very keen for me to write a review of The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman by Neil Willcox. Every time I order copies they send me an email with the header line "Neil Willcox, did 'The Inexplicable Affair of the Mesmerising Russian Nobleman' meet your expectations?"

Why yes, yes it did.

Greg @89 - Well now I feel the need for some kind of Stingray/Seaquest DSV/Octonauts style adventure with Sea Rangers having torpedo gun shoot outs with the bad guys. For best results have them be slow enough to dodge, leading to various attempts at ill-designed rapid-firing, homing, or multiple barreled torpedo weapons. Our hero keeps his trusty Cousteau Mark IV that he carried through the Baltic Campaign.

119:

Sadly, Colin Kapp has been mostly out of print for years. That leads to the sort of algorithm demand led price you've quoting.

Also, AIUI you're correct about "best seller status" still being units led rather than revenue led.

120:

At least he was sufficiently honest to say "ignore this review unless you're another intellectual onanist" up front!

121:

"...torpedoes", or spear guns.

SF book covers - Generally agreed.

Chris Foss - Popular, but as you say he seemed to paint by the yard, and cut off as required! ;-)

Josh Kirby - Also @Pigeon #102. First you had to realise that Josh was a cartoonist, not a realist illustrator. Then, at least in the case of his PTerry covers, that he had actually read the book and painted a lot of the "ain't it cool" elements into the cover illustration.

122:

Just finished the first chapter.

So far it’s simultaneously exactly what it says on the tin and not at all what you might expect from the title, which is a neat trick... :-)

123:

The Maretian.

A fanfic based loosely on The Martian. First contact novel, but it's intelligent equines from another dimension. A very weird dimension.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/396744/1/the-maretian/sol-6

124:

And occasionally the advice "do not look at the covers if you want to avoid spoilers" was needed.

125:

Re: ' ... an entirely different, erm "picture" to me ... oh dear.'

Hopefully eliciting a chuckle/snort vs. a gag/choke response.

But danged - English is such a dicey language! Despite a million plus different words in the current OED, many English words also have multiple different meanings. Then there are all of the idioms/phrases where those words might appear that add yet another bunch of possible meanings.

Based on what's happened to the English language which continually expanded its user base over the centuries, wonder how much other long-used languages have changed esp. languages of major/old religions (Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, Chinese, etc.).

126:

I guess, this comment section being over 100 posts long, it is time to throw some fresh links into the fan.

https://www.veteranstoday.com/2018/09/12/former-georgian-ministers-urges-trump-to-investigate-experiments-at-lugar-laboratory/
http://balkanspost.com/article/708/us-embassy-scandal-human-frozen-blood-pathogens-diplomatic-cargo
http://tass.com/world/1021513

This observation, of course, goes into the line of my previous references to the same matter.
This time it is not "highly likely", or "possibility of contact", or some other suggestion.
The secretive laboratories that are affiliated with US biological institutions, guarded by US army and hidden from public, are not a question of debate - there's no investigation needed. In case of severe friction between two countries, it is clear that they will be targeted to be eliminated with, uh, large, um, bigger margin of error.

https://themoscowtimes.com/news/US-tells-russia-it-could-avoid-novichok-sanctions-62894

Practically speaking, such threats in the past usually resulted in casus belli. The next question that comes up to mind naturally, is simple - in exchange US should allow Russian specialists to inspect all US chemical and biological laboratories in vicinity. Which, of course, will be declined, resulting in another stalemate - at best.

127:

Based on what's happened to the English language which continually expanded its user base over the centuries, wonder how much other long-used languages have changed esp. languages of major/old religions (Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, Chinese, etc.).

Um, yeah, that.

I'm not a linguist, just did some reading for Hot Earth Dreams because I wondered how languages change. So here's the scoop on Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, Chinese, etc., at least in my simplistic understanding.

--Chinese isn't a language, there's 7-13 mutually unintelligible dialects, depending on who's counting, with multiple ancestral versions (classical Chinese, old Chinese, etc.). The "7-13 mutually unintelligible dialects" is the interesting part. We've got similar situations in Europe, when you start arguing about how well a Spanish speaker can understand an Italian speaker, or whether Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish are all different languages if speakers can understand each other, vs. jokes about all the "mutually intelligible" dialects in English. In other words, it's political soup, and the street Chinese they spoke 2,000 years ago couldn't be used on the street today.

Speaking of which, Latin and Hebrew. Latin's a dead language, and only a handful of people (mostly in the Roman Catholic Church and some university classics programs) speak it with any fluency. A lot of people know Latin words, because it's the underlying vocabulary in much of western biology, but we don't actually speak it.

Hebrew was limited to being a ritual language in the 19th Century, and almost no Jews actually spoke it. They spoke Yiddish and/or the language of their country. With the rising Zionist movement and especially after the foundation of Israel, there was a concerted move in the Jewish community to make Hebrew the national language of Israel, and it has worked. I understand there are differences between the ritual Hebrew of the 19th Century and the Hebrew currently spoken in Israel, but wouldn't there be?

Arabic has a history I don't know. What I do know is that it's the ritual language of the Koran, and it's understood as such through much of Islam. What this means is that while Arabic words may come out of the mouths of about a billion Muslims, the number of people who use Arabic for everyday communication is much smaller, although it's still the official language of a number of countries. It has certainly evolved, but I don't know where the differences between classical and modern Arabic fall on the scale between, say, classical Chinese vs. modern Chinese, and Latin and modern Spanish.

Fun, is it not?

The bottom line is that English is not average in any way, shape, or form, and that rather distorts our ideas about how languages work. To put it briefly, English is rooted in a multiple creolization events, probably rather more than formed other languages, and it shows in many ways, including how cobbled together our whole language is.

128:

I'm not Charlie, but this is my post, so.

Digression arising naturally from the conversation is fine past a certain length. "I want to talk about $SUBJECT!" (or $CONTENTIOUS_SUBJECT) and throwing links is... less fine. You can presumably build your own audience for the purpose somewhere else.

The expectation is participation in, and contribution to, the ongoing conversation. Going all shouty about your political causes is not. (Especially not in a pleasant thread about the experience of reading obscure works!)

129:

Going all shouty about your political causes is not.
Not really shouting, and not actually political causes. I was referencing the same information in "The Pivot" post and now there was an update. People started going around the Solar Observatory conspiracy news so I decided to contribute to derailment - if you don't like to hear anything like that, take it easy, I get the hint.

130:

Semitic languages (with the verb-template and other startling things) start with Akkadian and (slightly later) Amorite; forty five hundred years or thereabouts. (Compared to the roughly thousand years for English as such, or fifteen hundred if you want to go back to Old High German for some reason.) I'd figure you could make nearly everyone mad if you published a book detailing how the modern Semitic languages are all just debased Babylonian, and I sometimes feel that many people approach English like that; they want it to be something else entirely, and claim ancientry for legitimacy.

"Verbing weirds language" is true, but it's also useful. And the speed at which syntax develops in textual communication online is amazing and interesting.

131:

Re: Secretive US labs in Georgia

Read only one link then decided to check that source's reputation - not so good/reliable and prone to conspiracy theories.

https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/veterans-today/

Pls note that I'm not blowing this off. I am aware of one documented instance of what is now considered a case study of unethical research that had been commissioned and paid for by a US gov't agency and that this particular project was conducted outside the USA (McGill - CIA - Project MKUltra). This project is sometimes cited when the ethics and consequences of Gitmo are discussed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_MKUltra

That said - if this news is of concern to real US veterans, they can get a lot done (e.g., initiate investigation and research) via the VA which has developed substantive working relationships with major top-tier US research universities and hospitals. Why this might concern US vets: previous biologicals developed/used by the US military have historically also caused injury to the US forces that used them or that fought in the geographic areas where those agents were used.

132:

Next, you're going to tell me you didn't like the abstract covers of the sixties and seventies....

133:

Which leads to the actual harm caused by the US, and probably other countries, testing long range, low frequency radar and communications, which actually hurt whales, dolphins, etc, and can disorient them. It's been suggested that such is the cause of some of the self-strandings of whole pods.

134:

I think I will, just for the helluvit.

You forget, however, that I'm also a rail fan. *sigh* Many years ago, my late wife was encouraging me to build an idea I had, of an N-gauge coffee table layout (trains under the glass top) based on a Planet Stories cover, with flying tracks from skyscraper to skyscraper, high above the parkland.

Oh, wait - there's my setting, I think...unless I put it on the moon, hmmm, she's wearing a pressure suit for someone smaller, and the pressure valve's damaged....

135:

I actually know something of this, and this has, mostly, changed. For example, I was at a presentation by Joshua Bilmas, of Jabberwocky (a very well-known agency), and he talked about all the rights he negotiates for the authors, and the number of points in the boilerplate contracts he has to argue (50 if you're lucky, mostly 75-80).

Which is one reason why I want an agent for our novel.

I've also read the descriptions of the contracts for Analog, Amazing Stories, Apex, and Clarkesworld, and they're explicit about what they're buying, and what they're not.

136:

Y'know, folks, at the rate I'm going - the Hot Date, this bodice ripper, I may wind up with a collection of shorts....

137:

It gets *much messier* than that! My personal favorite on the subject is John McWhorter's The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language. If you haven't read that, you really should: it's a fun book.

English is a mashup of two Celtic systems (with roots dating back probably to the Atlantic Bronze Age AND the Continental Bronze Age, due to multiple migrations over 1000 years), combined with Roman Latin (another invasion), combined with the Frisianish langauge of the Anglo Saxons (another invasion), combined with some old Norse (another invasion), combined with Medieval French (invasion yet again), then finally stabilized, somewhat by the invention of the printing press (check out the difference between Chaucer and Shakespeare vs. the difference between Shakespeare and Stross). Each of those invasions up there was an opportunity for creoles to form, and they did, one atop the other. This was then further shaped by English inadvertently becoming a lingua franca that also sucked up words from all over, as a product of both the British empire and the American hegemony.

What this means, in practice, is that, like most creoles, English runs on subject verb object, it has few conjugations outside its core vocabulary, it's very regular (again outside its core vocabulary), and things like gender and number are minimally or not-at-all marked (verb ending does not change based on the gender of the subject or object, for example). Status is marked by change in vocabulary, rather than change in verb form (as in, say, Korean, a very status conscious language where relative status is marked by the verb conjugation).

What being a lingua franca means is that most people in the world speak English as a second language. Thus, the driving force changing English is regularization, so that people can talk with each other, rather than as a marker of group identity, so that only the "proper people" speak English. This shows up in the evolution of words towards regularity. For example, goose being pluralized into geese makes perfect sense in old English, but sounds stupid to non-native speakers. However, it embedded early, and so few people raise geese that there's never been a strong force to talk about flocks of gooses. The plural of moose is mooses (or just moose), and the reason is that it's a non-English loaner word from when English was an imperial language. As a result, nobody tried to force "meese" as the plural of "moose," and it was formed with the regular "add an s at the end" rule.

With most languages (and by most, I mean ones used by small groups, generally spoken rather than written, and used to help establish group identity more than to communicate among groups), you get the opposite: language becomes ornate, baroque, with felicitous turns of phrasing and phraseology, obsequious adulation of those in power, and so forth. It's language that serves as a group-identifier: when you speak it people know who you are and where you came from. It's actually more like what happens with the development of slang within groups, but I'm not going to subject you to that. The point is that international English doensn't have this at all--it's standardized, because it's a language for inter-group communication more than for within-group identity.

I can get into the (white/male) politics of this too, but hopefully you get the point.

As for Semitic languages all being debased Babylonian--nope. Mutated Babylonian, perhaps, but the point is that languages evolve as bacteria do, not just through mutation, but by exchanges and picking up material from their environment too.

138:

I want to mention Phillip C. Jennings.

His short stories filled magazines in the 80s and 90s. Some of the stories were published in The Bug Life Chronicles. He started indy publishing new books around 2000 with no fanfare or marketing. I'm still waiting for him to do paper books, but I am so tempted to get them based on the samples.

His mistake is pricing many of the ebooks too high for my tastes. At those prices I want paper. HA!

As far as I can tell, he is in his 70s and still publishing.

139:

Latin's a dead language, and only a handful of people (mostly in the Roman Catholic Church and some university classics programs) speak it with any fluency. A lot of people know Latin words, because it's the underlying vocabulary in much of western biology, but we don't actually speak it.

This is all true but... people were seriously publishing in Latin well into the 19th century (and by that I mean they were writing about things that weren't the Catholic church or Roman history etc.) So a lot of historians of any period in Europe before the 20th century have enough knowledge to be able to read Latin, if not speak or compose anything other than basic sentences. Which to be fair is about like my French.

Or to put it another way, if you needed a Latin translator (perhaps a time portal has opened nearby, or you have two weeks to write a quicky time travel script for the (sigh) SyFy channel) then you could probably go to your local fourth rate university history department and call for help and get it.

(For a dead language Latin is still warm; in poor light you would hardly know it was gone)

140:

IF you want to really piss off people with language, postulate that post-apocalyptic English will evolve into a group of mutually unintelligible "Lish" languages, based on the current formation of spanglish, konglish, chinglish, and the rest for creoles in the language. I personally think this is almost inevitable with a breakdown in both public media and English-speaking hegemonic politics, but it's amazing how much hate this notion gets from white males.

For example, some poor dude in 25th Century Sacramento may speak "Calish" or some such.

141:

AFAIK the Koran has had a significant effect in temporally and geographically stabilising Arabic, because Islam puts a lot more emphasis on the importance of reading it in the original than Christianity does regarding the Bible (quite apart from the differences in the practicality of doing that between the two books). The exact degree of emphasis varies between different flavours of Islam, but by and large the view is that while translations of the Koran are something you have to put up with for practical reasons these days, they are still distinctly second-rate substitutes, and you should really read it in the original to get the full sense of it uncorrupted by translation inaccuracies.

This does lead to daft things which end up completely missing the point, like people whose native language is something else being able to recite the entire Koran in Arabic from memory but not knowing what any of it means. But I think it largely does work for people who do natively speak Arabic, such that if you learn Arabic according to the Koran you can still use it for conversation with modern Arabic speakers, although you do end up sounding a bit like someone who's learnt English from the KJV. I think the main difficulties are with pronunciation, which varies along a geographical spectrum so that someone from Morocco sounds very different from someone from Arabia.

142:

Re: VA research

Once the VA research shown below is published, you might want to compare symptoms and how they correlate vis-a-vis 'military exposure'. BTW, it sounds like this data base is intended to analyze one million plus veterans thereby providing good sample sizes for comparing active military vs. genpop for incidences of uncommon/rare (low incidence) disorders. (Hopefully the study will include health of progeny as some traumas have already been shown to run into the third generation.)


https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2717

'MVP, which has enrolled more than 390,000 Veterans so far, has already become the nation’s largest database linking genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military exposure information. Part of a beta test for data access, the newly funded studies are among the first to use MVP data to delve into pressing questions on Veterans’ health. MVP-based studies on PTSD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are already underway.'

143:

I think if your need arose from the appearance of a time portal, you might end up getting rather confused, because the Latin spoken by ordinary people was very different from the literary Latin that we know from preserved writings and its derivatives used for ecclesiastical and international publishing purposes. Even at school you can notice that "equus" means "horse" and then wonder why the fuck the word for "horse" in Latin-derived languages like French is nothing like "equus"; but they don't tell you at school that the reason is that "Latin-derived languages" are derived from everyday Latin, in which "horse" was "caballus". It's the same for loads of other words. So the version of Latin which is easy to get taught these days isn't the most useful for time travel.

Pronunciation is another problem; there are at least three different schemes you'll encounter these days, and even the one which is intended to genuinely sound like the original probably doesn't because it's basically just a best guess.

144:

Z-gauge track round the brim of your hat, magnetised to prevent derailments...

145:

Graydon, I was very impressed by the March North and A Succession of Bad Days. I thought the world building was exceptionally well done and the character development was great. I really liked the books. I will say that it took a few hours to get into the writing style you had developed but once I got into the flow I really enjoyed it. Really good books and I look forward to reading the rest. Thank you so much for sharing your creativity with the world. Mark

146:

Sure, I have no problem with the content of Kirby's Pratchett covers, it's just the style I don't get on with. Probably the more so because I picture the scenes and characters so vividly and realistically from the writing that I find the non-realistic covers more of a clash.

("Realistic" doesn't mean "right", of course. No matter how much Pratchett says that Vimes is supposed to look like Alan Rickman, the Dirty Harry references in the first book we see him make it forever impossible for me to see him as looking like anyone other than Clint Eastwood.)

147:

But if you are getting random Romans through a time portal, you can just write at them. Does not matter how atrocious your accent is, writing things down will work, because Rome was generally quite literate - (It was, for example, a requirement of legionaires.. )

148:

Post-apocalyptic? No way. It was common in the UK until within my lifetime, and still is for a few dialects. There are other such cases, too.

149:

What about reversing the sexes, and have a shorts ripper :-) Yes, it's been done, but it's not yet completely stale.

150:

Re: VA research

Once the VA research shown below is published, you might want to compare symptoms and how they correlate vis-a-vis 'military exposure'. BTW, it sounds like this data base is intended to analyze one million plus veterans thereby providing good sample sizes for comparing active military vs. genpop for incidences of uncommon/rare (low incidence) disorders. (Hopefully the study will include health of progeny as some traumas have already been shown to run into the third generation.)


https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2717

'MVP, which has enrolled more than 390,000 Veterans so far, has already become the nation’s largest database linking genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military exposure information. Part of a beta test for data access, the newly funded studies are among the first to use MVP data to delve into pressing questions on Veterans’ health. MVP-based studies on PTSD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are already underway.'

151:

Yes. The last time I checked, Latin was still the official language of botany, too.

152:

Actually, that's not true. See the recently adopted International Nomenclature Code for Algae, Fungi, and Plants. Article 39 changes the requirement for a Latin validating diagnosis or description to allow either English or Latin. Since it was getting silly to talk about "millimetrales" for measurements or to latinize genetic sequence information, this is all for the best, I think. Species names will still be treated as Latin words, though.

153:

Unless what you really love is cataloging wildflowers

This is very true. I'm a geek in my day job, and I like building physical stuff. But right now I'm trying to reduce the amount of stuff I have... so I'm on holiday at a friend's place building walls and so on to make an office area in his new factory. From my point of view it's great - he pays for materials, supplies 90% of the tools and I get to make stuff without having to pay for it or keep it. He's also happy.

The main downside is that I'm too old for this sleeping on the floor on an old foam mattress game, and apparently also too old for my hammock. It looks as though my plan to build a house-truck is a good idea just so "have comfy bed, will travel" is an option.

154:

For example, some poor dude in 25th Century Sacramento may speak "Calish" or some such.

Years ago I remember reading on a linguistics blog that some dialects of English are approaching mutual incomprehensibility — not there yet, but getting there.

On a linguistics blog years ago I remember one of the examples was walking up to a Texan at a bar and calling him a dinkum cobber — and seeing if that was taken as fighting words…

(Would it be? I know enough Australian to recognize that one, but my ESL students think it sounds like an insult.)

155:

Pronunciation is another problem; there are at least three different schemes you'll encounter these days, and even the one which is intended to genuinely sound like the original probably doesn't because it's basically just a best guess.

And Latin from which period? AFAIK it wasn't immune to linguistic drift…

156:

...and finished.

My god that’s dark and twisty.

Be assured that the time spent writing that wasn’t wasted as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll be recommending it highly to a carefully chosen selection of acquaintances I think will appreciate it!

157:

Don't get me wrong, you can't grab (for example) a grad student who is working on 15th century manuscripts (more than 60% Latin from memory) and talk fluently to our Pomepeian centurion who has turned up unexpectedly. But assuming both sides want to communicate, give them a few days (24 hours in our TV-film before COMPLETE TEMPORAL CHAOS) and they'll be able to make themselves understood. I mean there will still be amusing misunderstandings and obviously the important answers to WHAT IS GOING ON will be incoherently Ancient Roman.

I think what I'm edging towards is that Latin and ancient Greek* readers (if not speakers) are surprisingly common, at least in the UK, for dead languages.

* I don't know Greek, ancient, modern or in between. But I do read Greek letters, thanks to a mathematical education, and while at an exhibition of Greco-Bactrian artefacts, I found myself reading an inscription and realised that I knew what Alexandros Megas meant. Or the time I was at the Roman baths in Bath and they were selling mini-Venus de Milos. I glanced at the Greek inscription and foolishly opened my mouth to say "Wait, that doesn't say Venus, it's an Alpha, a Phi, a Rho... oh hang on..." Basically I am the comic sidekick of the improbably hot translator scholar.

158:

Heteromeles @140 said: English will evolve into a group of mutually unintelligible "Lish" languages

I'm watching The Expanse series on DVD, have not read the books yet, and they use a "Belter" language that is what you are talking about.

159:

Why would you put a full Turing AI on a munition?

Once you have the ability to back up and restore the notion of death becomes complex and "suicide" even more so. If I lose an instantiation is that more or less significant than trimming my beard or getting a tattoo?

Given the low cost of death, if I really want a guided munition to work doing the job myself seems like an obvious answer. Well, modulo my actual skill level, but if I can put a copy of myself there I can presumably also put 27 different automation systems in as well, possibly right up to "very fast copies of the 10 best missile pilots of all time" and let them work it out one nanosecond at a time (barring lightspeed weapons even microseconds is likely to be enough).

Having me there means decisions can be changed right up to the moment of detonation, which is a significant benefit.

160:

If a book has really bad cheesy SF/F 'art', I seldom bother to open the book to sample read. E.g., SF/Fantasy with bodice-ripper covers.

Quite a lot of older books and translations are published with "covers that sell", and that generally involves improbably breasts. Some of the books are quite good, you just have to remember that the artist(s) did at least 10 of those a week so reading more than the synopsis wasn't an option. And again... advertising is not content.

161:

Glad you liked them!

Someone somewhere once said something like "style is what you can't avoid doing". I have found this to be entirely the case.

162:

This isn't what was called for, but Kristine Kathryn Rusch at kriswrites.com has a bunch of articles on self-publishing and how to do it without publishing rapidly and having a consistent brand but instead treating your books and stories as artisanal products.

163:

This is how modern Chinese works in China. (Ignoring simplified for a moment) The spoken languages are all different, but the written are all the same. Back in the 80's if I had difficulty communicating with a street vendor, they'd whip out pen and paper and jot it down for me. Which of course was no help to me, but was the default action for 'customer has no spoken language in common' situations.

164:

"Dinkum" fell out of use, even by old people by the 80's. "Cobber", I've never heard used except for humorous effect, even by old rural people, and I'm 56.

165:

(Dog Latin alert):

Bonum Dei, homo! Don't you know how expensive paper is?!?! [And more humourous culture shock stuff].

One thing (among many) I liked about Under One Banner: we got the main character studying a pre-Commonweal tongue.

I know that one of the background things of the Commonweal is that there are about 100,000+ years of semi-documented horrible stuff happening before the Commonweal started. This is one of the places where this comes into play.

166:

One thing (among many) I liked about Under One Banner: we got the main character studying a pre-Commonweal tongue.

One of the difficulties of the viewpoint is that there is no way to point out that from the perspective of the other characters, Eugenia is doing the rough equivalent of a present-day person who works in engineering process documentation habitually swearing in fluent Archaic Sumerian. It comes across as much stranger than Eugenia notices.

167:

I am not a linguist, but I have a number of languages (including Latin, Greek, and Anglo-Saxon) and dabble in linguistics proper.

English's generally worn down character isn't the result of extensive creolization, though the result tends to look like it. Much of it happened between about 1000 and 1400 and the main external influences were bits of Norse and some Middle French. There isn't a heavy impact of any form of Celtic on, say, Layamon, and dashed little on any period after him. It remains structurally a Germanic language with worn-down forms and a lot of words borrowed from French between about 1100 and 1400, and Latin (plus a bit of Greek after 1500 or so) between about 1400 and 1900, the latter mainly in technical or learned contexts. (Thus "book" but "library", or, more learned still, "bibliophile". )

Much of the wearing-down is similar to French, in fact, and is, an example of a general and wide-spread process. Cases are reduced, tenses are simplified and some new ones created: "j'ai porté" and "I have carried" supplement the preterit in both cases. Order becomes less flexible. Both recreate their futures. Middle English wears down endings by turning them to - e or - en and then dropping them as useless, gradually. French similarly weakens its inherited noun endings and then discards them. Wearing down has also taken place in Italian. Modern Greek has reduced a largish set of vowels with melodic accents into mainly "i" with stress accents.

Modern Commercial English, as used in, say, Istanbul or Shanghai, is a different beast, arguably more creolized and with a much simpler vocabulary and structure.

On the other hand, the "stable" Latin Longinus the centurion and Isaac Newton could have used to communicate on a slate (assuming they used capital letters) has a beginning as well: Ennius would have had difficulties with it. (Latin's transition from -os to -us for the second declension, for example, is well within the period.)

You also have to worry about vocabulary: nothing breaks WSOD in pseudo-Jane Austen pastiches than characters using vocabulary which didn't exist yet. Though the core of our language uses old words - is, house, has, man, water, food - much of our daily communication uses words which entered circulation since, say, Dr. Johnson's time. And other words have changed meaning (condescend, nice, imagination, car).

There's a lot of confusion you can get into by assuming descent from a written form of a prior language. The written standard Anglo-Saxon of our Wessex documents is not the ancestor of the East Anglian English of the later Middle Ages. French, Italian, and Spanish are descended from Vulgar Latin, which had diverged significantly from the Latin of Cicero even in the very early CE - and which pro a lu overlapped only partially with Cicero's spoken idiolect itself. And the written English of Dr. Johnson was already rather divergent from the spoken English of his day.

My understanding is that there is a geographical spectrum of Arabic: the further awsy two dialects are from each other, the less mutually intelligible they are. "Everyone" can communicate using the classical Arabic of the Qur'an but it's a result of education, not easy understanding or lack of change; and there are intermediate levels of formality with moderate duffusion: two Arabic speakers from different places more or less negotiate the level of formality they have to use to understand each other.

Biblical Hebrew is unlikely ever to have been a true spoken language: it's an artificial, formalized version used only for writing in a scribal society, so evaluating rates of change compared to, e.g., Aramaic is difficult. The origins of Semitic with its root / vowel structure is somewhat murky, as well. Modern Hebrew was first repurposed by writers (e.g. Nahman Bialik, Joseph Brenner) before it was adopted and adapted for speech in modern Israel and varies significantly from its Tanakh predecessor, according to my friends who know both.

Written language in general hides barriers between dialects; this isn't true only in China. English attempts to use "phonetic" spelling have pretty well been abandoned, because not only would the changes between written English and the spoken form be extensive, they'd be different for each variant of English. Thus some dialects distinguish between "pen" and "pin" but southern US English does not. Scottish English (as distinct from Lallans, which is a dialect of English which split off centuries ago: I mean standard English forms spoken by lowlanders) uses glottal stops in some places where most dialects use 't' (bo' 'le rather than bottle). There are rhotic and non-rhotic dialects. I can follow the standard English of the Indian subcontinent which I hear from immigrants, but with difficulty. US AAVE can be unintelligible to me.

Written English is rapidly becoming the equivalent of Latin to a sixth or seventh-century speaker of a Romance language: a standard form with a recognizable relation, but not an identity, to what is spoken every day. (To continue the analogy further, Shakespeare is like reading Ovid and Chaucer like reading Ennius). Most of us do mental code page switching between the two effortlessly enough that we have to have our attention called to it. ("I gotta-go-t'th'store" with no breaks is thought of as separated words, "I've got to go to the store", unless one thinks carefully about it, or unless one is a frustrated foreigner learning the language.)

168:

Re: 'A brief history of language ...'

Beautiful! Bravo! (seriously)

169:

Latin: Various children of my friends studied Latin at high school back in the 1990s, with the intention of it being taught as a usable and conversable (is that a word?) language.
They went to several inter-school thingies where the use of Latin was the reason for getting together, drawing students from all over Oz.
They still rabbit on in Latin when together in a group, and my limited memories of some slight instruction in Latin back in the 1970s indicate they atre getting things right-enough.

English: How can a blog on an SF-writer's website not have already spat up, "English is the product of a Norman warrior trying to make a date with an Anglo-saxon bar-maid, and as such is no more legitimate than any of the other products of that conversation."??? (H. Beam Piper, Fuzzy Sapiens, 1964)

Or James Nicoll's classic from rec.arts.sf-lovers in 1990: "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary." (And yes, that's a typo in there.)

And Graydon, I'm re-reading all four of the Commonweal books, again, you have a great champion in Dorothy J. Heydt!

170:

RP @ 154
Years ago I remember reading on a linguistics blog that some dialects of English are approaching mutual incomprehensibility — not there yet, but getting there.
Or the other way around, even ...
WHen I was 15-17 I went to a farm/pub/post-office in the Lake District - their older farmworker spoke half-Cumbrian English half Old Norse - or so it seemed to me.
The really obscure dialects are, if not dying out, at least smoothing into a more general pronunciation.
Print & recordings & radio & TV have a unifying effect, even as dialectical variations occur.
Mind you, even now, if you listen carefully, there are still local variations in intonation, even inside London. Shaw's Henry Higgins was, of course, an exaggeration, but there was a serious point in his supposed ability to locate people by speech.

Neil W @ 157
I get that too, with greek inscriptions ( very slowly ) because Physics uses (almost) the entire Greek alphabet ....

JSB @ 167
Scottish English (as distinct from Lallans, which is a dialect of English which split off centuries ago: I mean standard English forms spoken by lowlanders) uses glottal stops in some places where most dialects use 't' (bo' 'le rather than bottle).
CAREFUL
You'll have the SNP's linguo-fascists after you for daring to suggest things like that - after all "Scots" is a SEPARATE LANGUAGE! And no, I don't mean so-called Scots-Gaelic either, which is a variant of a true language - I can't remember now whather it's a "P" or a "Q" variation. ( Goidelic / Brythonnic - though that may be the wrong way round! )

And yeah, the English beating up other languages & robbing them of words quote .....

171:

JSBurbidge I have a number of languages (including Latin, Greek, and Anglo-Saxon)...

grs1961 Various children of my friends studied Latin at high school back in the 1990s, with the intention of it being taught as a usable and conversable (is that a word?) language.

These sorts of things come up whenever I find myself discussing Latin. For a dead language it does seem to be on its feet wandering round in a dazed manner, possibly looking for brains...

While researching for a story set in 1902 I read a fair number of late Victorian novels and authors of that period would happily drop Latin tags into their work, including in some cases long untranslated passages. Usually they were from well known sources, but sometimes google would just return me the same damn novel it came from and google's translate would give... ambiguous results.

172:

Heteromeles @ 100:

The weird part is that bomb sweeps normally take a few hours, and are public information. This complex was evacuated last Thursday, everyone packed up and left, and they've kept it closed.
So possibilities include:

Another thought I had this afternoon/evening ... maybe the Trump administration screwed up funding - like the $10 million they took from FEMA to give to ICE. The people running the place did the best they could to close it in an orderly manner when they found out they didn't have any money left. That's probably not it, but I think it's within the realm of possibility.

173:

Martin @ 104:

Davy Crockett? Hah!
Eric Frank Russell's 1955 "Men, Martians, and Machines" had atomic hand grenades :)

Yup. And the U.S. Army DID try to develop one. But they never got a device that compact. The best they could do was the W54 warhead used on the Davy Crocket, Eleven inch artillery shells and the Atomic Demolition Munition.

The designer, Ted Taylor worked as a conceptual designer in the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory) stated that they could make a device the size of an orange, but it would never work; one the size of a watermelon (like the Davy Crockett) would work every time and one the size of a grapefruit would be 50/50 ... might work, might not.

The "joke" in the NBC schools I went to was that it had a 250 yard blast radius, but the farthest anyone had ever been able to throw it ws 50 yards.

174:

You are responding to what I didn't say, not what I said. What I said was true. I knew that a proposal for change was on the cards, but not whether it had been accepted (it had failed a couple of times previously). Thank you for informing me that it changed - last year!

175:

As Greg Tingey says, northern English (Northumbrian and Scots) has a slightly different ancestry. They have got closer, rather than separating.

The thing that I find really strange is that there is so little from Celtic languages in English, though a hell of a lot of it in place names. I can't easily check, as the OED doesn't provide a useful interface, but I am pretty certain there is more Hindi in (UK) English than all Celtic languages put together.

176:

There has been speculation that a lot of the transition from Brythonic (in particular) to English involved people rebranding themselves as English when they did not have the relevant descent. (There are some suspiciously Celtic names in lists of early alleged Saxon leaders, and there must have been more of this lower down the social scale). Such people may have made a real effort not to give themselves away by using their native language, even in restricted borrowings. Whereas the British in India were never in danger of being confused with actual Indians however much vocabulary they borrowed so did not need to be careful (and could use it to distinguish themselves from clueless newbies just arrived from Blighty).

177:

Actually it's most likely people were aware of their descent, they just tried to adhere to the other group's norms more than longer standing members.

Please note tribal units and ethnicity are complicated, and this doubles with the migration period.

Think of early Anglo-Saxons more as some mercenaries taking their favourite whor, err, wives with them, and deciding they liked the shop.

It's somewhat funny what stuck and didn't stuck. They speak Italian in Lombardy, French in France, but Hungarian in Hungary.

Maybe people just switched to Anglo-Frisian because they couldn't stand Celtic pronounciation. Or, somewhat more less tongue-in-cheek, because it helped with commerce over the North Sea...

178:

Saxons came into post-Roman Britain over generational time in multiple waves; some of them went back after the first wave stalled. It's still a confused timeline, but it's also pretty clearly a timeline in which maintaining long-term contacts with the Old Country happened, and in which this was important in terms of the ability to drive the invasion and the post-invasion settlement.

Post-roman Britain was not primarily a Celtic culture; the elites (at least!) are all speaking Latin, they don't think of themselves a Britons so much as Romans. The existing Celtic languages are dispersed (no single common court dialect) and not associated with any kind of power. There isn't anything economic for Celtic languages to generalize around or from, and there's lots -- ships, laws, military supplies -- driving generalization of the various Saxon language flavours. (If they've all got an army, they must be languages! Only really it's much more economic activity; the thing that establishes a lingua franca is some mix of trade and bureaucracy.)

179:

The best they could do was the W54 warhead used on the Davy Crocket

Both the US and USSR developed 152/155 mm (aka 6-inch) artillery rounds as early as 1960-ish, but they seem never to have been all that popular with the military. Similarly, Livermore is plausibly rumored to have developed an implosion bomb that would fit in a 5-inch naval gun shell; the laboratory was considerably miffed that the Navy wasn't interested.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_artillery

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W48

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W82

180:

US sunspot solar observatory closed

The situation continues. Most peculiar.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/09/remote-solar-observatory-remains-closed-after-mysterious-evacuation

https://www.space.com/41834-national-solar-observatory-facility-closed-security-issue.html

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which manages the Sunspot observatory with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, hasn't said much, either. The organization released a statement saying that AURA "is addressing a security issue" at Sunspot "and has decided to temporarily vacate the facility as a precautionary measure until further notice." AURA "is working with the proper authorities on this issue," the statement adds, without specifying who those authorities are.

And we may not get answers anytime soon. At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) today (Sept. 14), AURA Corporate Communications Coordinator Shari Lifson sent out an email update, which stated that AURA "has decided that the observatory will remain closed until further notice due to an ongoing security concern."

181:

And Graydon, I'm re-reading all four of the Commonweal books, again, you have a great champion in Dorothy J. Heydt!

I certainly do!

Dorothy's review of A Succession of Bad Days I particularly treasure.

182:

> The situation continues. Most peculiar.

Citizen reportage:

http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/23609/watch-this-guy-go-up-to-the-mysteriously-evacuated-sunspot-observatory-and-walk-all-around

I've been to Sunspot and, as far as I can tell, this seems reasonably genuine. But caveat spectator.

183:

Consider the possibility that the non-specific security reasons are an attempt to escape a contractual obligation to remediate the site back to wilderness -- remove all the foundations and roads, wilderness! -- if they observatory is closed.

If it's security, well, that's not the university's fault, and the observatory is not technically closed. So no need to spend all that money. Someday, the security closure will be lifted and the observatory will re-open, we promise!

184:

That's possible. I still think it has more to do with computers on the site than with the physical structure.

I'm not sure this is a zero-cost closure, either. The reason we watch the sun closely is that a lot of things can be damaged by solar flares, including the military-industrial complex.

Still, the Dunn solar telescope can crank out 12 terabytes of data per day. If that system has been suborned, I could see them taking awhile to get it secured.

Some other fun ideas:
--the bearing under the Dun solar telescope is 8-10 tons of mercury. Hopefully that won't spill.
--And above that, at least part of the telescope is a large vacuum chamber, to improve the image. I really hope they don't undergo a catastrophic loss of vacuum. That would be expensive. In other words, they likely need some maintenance engineers in there sooner or later.

185:

Re: 'Dunn solar telescope can crank out 12 terabytes of data per day.'

Dumb question time: Does this mean raw computational processing power that could have been hi-jacked or redirected into doing some off the books bitcoin mining?

186:

the bearing under the Dun solar telescope is 8-10 tons of mercury. Hopefully that won't spill.

That would be Bad.
My thought was that it’s something environmental; just looked it up and saw that the bulk of the telescope extends more than 200 ft. below ground, perhaps radon or something detected, or mild earthquake damage? Both fairly common in the Rockies. Though why they’d be keeping mum about it I don’t know, though admitting to a big mercury spill would be more than a bit embarrassing. Maybe blame it on Trumpian incompetence. Or is there fracking in the area?—another thing the administration wouldn’t want to place blame on.

187:

Since people are getting a bit silly, for story purposes the two fun explanations are:

- Carrington Event

We have a ton on "preppers" here in the US expecting the next Carrington Event. They have gone so far as to install expanded copper mesh in every roof, trying to block any EMF pulse.

A potential Carrington Event is observed, and reported to authorities. Trump ordered the FBI to shut the area down to prevent information going out and causing panic, thus of course causing panic. HA!

- Laundry Verse

Some of the older solar observatories send the light down to static optical tables so that people can stand around them and see the image of the Sun. They would put white paper on the table, and track the movement of sunspots by drawing on the paper. This design was long before computers came along to do graphics.

For Laundry purposes, the image could be projected onto the optical table that has a containment grid set up. They are trying to capture an entity that lives/feeds on the Sun. They succeed and have a dangerous light creature that they can't dispel, so everyone has to evacuate.

That's a classic Outer Limits episode if their ever was one.

- Look at YouTube for all the crazy stuff being mentioned. There are tons of story ideas being presented, ripe for the picking.

I love the people who have interpreted the Moon going across the screen as if a giant UFO were seen. That is an example of how too many people have zero science education, yet have access to the Internet to post their pet theories.

Some see that as a problem, I see that as a source for useful story seeds. HA!

The look of each solar observatory would make a great book cover.

Sunspot Solar Observatory
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunspot_Solar_Observatory

McMath–Pierce solar telescope
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMath–Pierce_solar_telescope

188:

What is certain is that the security balckout is the worst possible thing the "authorities" could have done.
Even if whatever "answer" they finally come up with is 100% true is anyone ( including us ) actually going to believe them .... ?
Oops.
The name: "Chernobyl" comes to mind

189:

I think the Carrington event would be here by now, but that's irrelevant. It doesn't look like the Dunn Telescope is part of the Space Weather monitoring system. In any case there are no sunspots at the moment. Which is weird, actually.

That might have been a tipoff. The 12 terabytes of data is the Dunn taking lots of really detailed, rapid pictures of the sun to see how the surface moves. If the sun was quiescent but the computer holding the solar imagery was extremely busy doing stuff, some bright bulb might have sussed out that Something Was Not Right and called the Feebs in to do their thing. The Dunn computer could be bitcoin mining, undermining American democracy, modeling nuclear explosions for terrorist bomb designers, sending out 2 AM tweets for Ted Cruz, whatever. I doubt it's simple, because they decided to send everybody home for an extended vacation, but it's not horrible, simply because they aren't doing anything unusual to secure the site. Criminal sounds about right, with a side order of boring solar dynamics meaning that no one loses serious research time if the operation's shut down until it can be rebooted.

Still, it's fun to speculate.

190:

What is certain is that the security balckout is the worst possible thing the "authorities" could have done.

Exactly. This smacks of incoherent amateurism on the "security" side. That could have been explained for a couple of days, but this has been going on a week: the FBI got involved early on, the local sheriff's department got blown off, people got evacuated, a couple of rent-a-cops appeared and disappeared, and people just walk into the mysteriously abandoned premises.

Jeez. Just make up a cover story about a chemical spill if necessary and keep a couple of guards at the gate. But what's happened has made things a lot worse for the authorities, whoever they might be.

191:

Lots of scenarios -- "what do you mean, bulk metallic plutonium?", "what do you mean, several tonnes of pre-Columbian gold artifacts?", "what do you mean, the secret component of the national command authority was NOT decommissioned in 1983 and would in fact still send a launch signal were someone to moves all those file boxes and insert some fuses?" -- where the only really important thing is to keep people away until it's dealt with. And especially if there's no single obvious authority everyone may agree on only that -- we don't need anybody inspired to poke around on the basis of ANYTHING specific -- you get this kind of blackout.

I wouldn't take a bet that way, but the category of "say nothing, ever" does legitimately exist.

192:

The "joke" in the NBC schools I went to was that it had a 250 yard blast radius, but the farthest anyone had ever been able to throw it ws 50 yards.

It's ironic that your statement actually holds true for many in-service hand grenades... you wouldn't catch me standing in line-of-sight to the ones I've thrown.

Basically, explosive hand grenades are designed in two flavours - somewhat oversimplified, these are offensive (which tend to rely on blast) and defensive (blast+fragmentation). The idea is that if you're defending something, you tend to be in prepared cover - if you're attacking, you have to take what cover you find.

You can throw something out of your trench that has a lethal radius greater than your throwing range, because you're got a trench to hide in - the attacking force hasn't. A grenade that flings fragments of metal around is just the ticket. Similarly, if you're attacking, you don't need to kill with the grenade (by definition, you're within throwing range), you just need to disable the defenders until you can cover those last few yards and shoot them; so a smaller, blast effect is a better fit.

Any "250yd blast radius" grenade is roughly equivalent to a large artillery shell; so long as you throw it more than a few meters away from your properly-constructed defensive trench, you'd probably survive the blast (although ground burst nukes aren't a healthy thing to hang around, in fallout terms...)

Delightfully, the British Army's HE grenade throughout the Cold War and afterwards was a defensive grenade (the L2, aka M26). This made training with it an occasionally stressful experience, especially if being used during an attack exercise...

193:

Okay, since people are still being a bit silly.

Wiki - Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope

If you look at the description of the system it is straight out of a Laundry Verse novel: 135-foot pyramidal tower, vacuum chamber, rotating on a mercury bearing. It writes itself.

- Preppers worried about a Carrington Event stumble into something beyond their understanding.

- The Entity that stepped in to take over in The Delirium Brief is not the only non-human to show interest in stepping into the coming chaos. The Entity calling itself "Trump" is in conflict with the Black Chamber, which is why Raymond Schiller left America for England. Black helicopters indeed. HA!

Or, it is beginning.

Annihilation (2018) - Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89OP78l9oF0

More. Give me more.

194:

We call the containment grids, but all they really do is compel locative specificity. Things could get out if they could be somewhere else.

A clever researcher developed something a lot like a containment grid algorithm trying to improve the focus on the interesting margins of sunspots and now a plasma creature from the beginning of time is slowly filling up the vacuum chamber. It's so very very cold, and so very very slow, but it's way too big for all of it to fit.

If it was all here, fission is easy. Anything dense can come apart and let it be warm again in a locally recapitulated Bethe solar phoenix.

Question is how to tell if enough of it'll be here when it leaks.

Destroy the Earth? Not precisely; it'll only be a couple-three hundred kilometres across, but it won't stop, and it doesn't care about gravity. It just wants to be warm.

195:

On language, I recall reading that midwestern US men were popular in the broadcast industry because a Kansas City accent was thought to be intelligible over most of the US, hence, Walter Cronkite of Saint Joseph, Missouri (About 100 KM north of Kansas City.) at CBS. An amusing memory on language, Red Foxx was entertaining at Jimmy Carter's inaugural and said "When people ask why do black folks talk funny? I say it's because we were taught english by southern whites.".

196:

If we're guessing, then I'll take "Illegal Bitcoin mining" for 10 points, please.

Astronomy uses quite a lot of hard-core compute resources. Quite a reasonable amount of money gets spent on compute clusters.

I just got slapped in the face by that: two days ago I lost the bright physics/comp sci graduate that I hired a few months ago, to a firm that'll pay him to do a PhD on algorithms for High Performance Computing to analyse outputs of square-kilometre telescope array they're building in Australia. That firm is building (parts of) the compute cluster that will go with the radio telescopes.

197:

There we go. That's what I wanted. That's "more".

Thanks...

Variation 1: Disaster

This is the Carrington Event. As before, a solar phoenix touches the Earth, only this time we are so dependent on technology that billions die from the loss of the grid.

Think On the Beach (1959 film) where only a few people in the Southern Hemisphere survive. Since they depend on the North for critical technology, they start to fail over time, and the survivors revert to native skills and walk the song lines a century from now.

Variation 2: Uplifting Insight

Everything would have been fine, the creature limited, contained, communication starts, wonders to be revealed.

Then some preppers force their way into the observatory believing some QANON conspiracy. The same way the idiot wandered in to the Comet Ping Pong Pizza looking for the nonexistent basement and the child sex ring, then fired off his weapon.

That's how things always go wrong, when nuts with guns show up looking for some imagined problems, only to screw something wonderful up.

I'm seeing a variation on Starman (film) or K-PAX (film). The phoenix in human form is hunted by authorities until he fully emerges safely and returns to the Sun, but along the way he heals people, gives profound advice, etc...

Then the point in the wiki page is, "that almost every large solar telescope built since then has been based on the vacuum tower concept" so the other observatories may have a visit from a solar phoenix in an ongoing series.

Variation 2b: Have the phoenix be a woman rather than a man.

BTW, What's interesting, is that all the variations can be used because they do not need to exist in the Laundry Verse to work.

Keep playing with the same starting conditions, and many more stories can emerge.

Feel free to use this. A dozen people will each write a completely different story because each person draws from their own shelves in Dream's library. No two stories the same.

198:

Moderation note

[Been away for a week for a spouse's birthday holiday then a couple of days dealing with family medical shit down south ... CS]

Gary, your comment was removed for excessive rudeness: it reads like a personal attack.

It also looks to me as if you didn't read Graydon's dissection of his motivation for writing and publishing, which is not the same as yours.

If you'd like to rethink your comments and re-post, bearing in mind that not everybody shares your goals or outlook, that's okay. But please do not make personal attacks on other authors.

199:

What is certain is that the security balckout is the worst possible thing the "authorities" could have done.

I don't think that's true. Announcing that a hitherto secret nuclear reactor has melted down and will almost certainly escape containment some time in the next week would be worse. Many people would likely die in the resulting panic, possibly more than would die if no-one mentioned it in public. Possibly not.

Likewise telling everyone that 8-10 tonnes of mercury has entered the local water system would likely result in distress, especially if accompanied by BP-style "we don't have a plan or budget to contain it".

Revealing that the computers and labs are being used by terrorists to manufacture chemical or biological weapons would probably also be unwise, at least until the problem has been contained (or sterilised with a nuclear detonation).

Then there's more SF explanations, like aliens, Trump clones, beings from beyond, grey goo and so on.

200:

Charlie, sorry to be a pain, but could you take the time to read sleepingroutine's comments in mostly the Heinlein thread?
His social comments on homosexuality may be contra the Mod-policy (?) And, less worryingly, but still of concern is his support for Putin ( & his policies ) - obliquely .....

201:

Yes, indeed. One possible scenario is that it was some USA governmental organisation hijacking the computers, for some purpose like a brute force attack on some Russian encryption. The resulting political chaos could easily lead to a total inability to agree on a story to tell the press and staff of the observatory.

202:

Greg: got a comment number for me to focus on? There are over 600 on that thread, and I haven't been following it for over ten days now because I just spent a week in Berlin then a couple of days visiting a hospital bedside ...

203:

Charlie
# 383 in the "Taxonomy of story thread & follow the comments back up-tread ... to approx.
368 & 357
HTH
( Got wrong thread, oops )

204:

With regard to the mercury spill/leak idea, that's the only thing I could think of that came close to making sense, but, FWIW, there's this:


https://www.alamogordonews.com/story/community/2018/09/13/sunspot-observatory-remains-closed-unknown-security-risk-nmsu/1296835002/

The Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope, which McAteer and his team operate, rotates on a mercury float bearing at the top of the tower. The mercury was not the reason for the closure, McAteer said.

“There’s no mercury incident. That’s a completely different set of protocols that would not have involved them locking all the doors,” McAteer said. “We have a very regular maintenance routine. There is no cause for concern there.”

But the same article has this:

A tent belonging to an employee and resident of the observatory was set up near the gate. The employee is allowed to enter the facility to do routine maintenance but can't stay in his home, Escalante said.

"He just comes in to do what's he's got to do, work his shift, and that's it," she said.

So maybe something in the water supply going to the homes? If so, you'd think there'd be Don't Drink the Water! signs.

205:

With regard to the mercury spill/leak idea, that's the only thing I could think of that came close to making sense

What I was thinking of was a leak of mercury into water that eventually got converted into https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methylmercury . Discovering that might have justified the evacuation, though all of the secrecy is still a puzzle.

206:

The place hasn't been fully occupied in awhile, and the existing staff were pretty minimal.

"On-site illicit drug lab concocts novel, highly soluble, decidedly psychoactive drug for which we have no material data safety sheet, LD50 information, or basically anything, we haven't even got the full chemical structure information. We know it was being stashed in various unoccupied houses, we know the drug lab operators had a shaky grasp of "unoccupied", we know it walks right through nitrile, we know Agent Smith needed eighteen hours on a ventilator and reports marvelous visions after finding out about the nitrile, and we know Agent Brown used a flashbang when entering a house suspected to contain drug lab operators. We have no further information about Agent Brown, their supporting agents have no all survived, we don't have enough ventilators, and we're praying that it doesn't rain."

207:

Given that the USA is not obsessively secretive, and the treatment of the maintenance employee, it indicates something that has the potential to be seriously embarrassing to some federal organisation. An external attack is unlikely if a non-security person is allowed in, and the place isn't swarming with security staff. That implies a high level of cock-up and cover-up, above and beyond AURA.

Also, it would be extremely surprising in the litigious USA if a methylmercury incident were not followed by testing of everybody resident or working on the site. An incident would be embarrassing; hushing one up and not testing the people would be explosive.

208:

Also, it would be extremely surprising in the litigious USA if a methylmercury incident were not followed by testing of everybody resident or working on the site. An incident would be embarrassing; hushing one up and not testing the people would be explosive.

Yes, that's right, though AFAIK the test would just involve a routine blood draw. We should be on the lookout for site personnel undergoing medical evaluation. Also former personnel, because this could have been going on for years before finally being detected.

209:

An incident would be embarrassing; hushing one up and not testing the people would be explosive.

That would have been the normal state of affairs, before Trump took a hatchet to the EPA. The Tangerine Terror is even trying to re-start the import and use of asbestos in construction: it's hard to see him understanding that a major methylmercury contamination incident isn't just an embarrassment that needs to be swept under the rug (like dead Puerto Ricans).

210:

Indeed. Just as in Flint. But this isn't a matter under direct presidential control, and it's not him who would be in the firing line. I was under the impression that federal organisations did not have the same immunity as state ones do in Michigan, but may be wrong. Anyway, that's not the only aspect.

Can you imagine what Trump would make of a case where federal organisations were involved in a cover-up of that seriousness? They already regard him as a disaster, and would be scared shitless if they gave him solid grounds to go after them. And this episode has the signature of organisations that are running around like headless chickens.

211:

Or they've hit something that requires a policy response. They don't have a procedure, and the normal thing to do is ask the administration. And they're pretty sure they can't.

212:

Re: Dunn Observatory

Read the Wikipedia entry on mercury which named a bunch of different Fed agencies that have historically been involved during spills, etc. - the FBI never appears on this list. Based on news coverage, these days you can figure out what the likely crime/problem is just by looking at which branches of the law show up. So unless the various agencies have very recently swapped responsibilities without announcing this to the media, it's very unlikely that this is a 'spill' and more likely that it's either a financial or interstate major crime. Another possibility is that the FBI is doing state police level work because the New Mexico state /gov't is unable to afford developing certain forensic skill sets among its forces. Another possibility/scenario: the FBI is also charged with helping whenever there's any major Native American issue. This could be anything including religious, historical, mass graves, etc.

Or, they found something interesting on Jupiter as per this Wikipedia article reference:

https://www.spiedigitallibrary.org/conference-proceedings-of-spie/10401/104010Y/Adaptation-of-Dunn-Solar-Telescope-for-Jovian-Doppler-spectro-imaging/10.1117/12.2275909.short?SSO=1

Abstract excerpt:

'The DSI is based on a Mach-Zehnder interferometer and measures the Doppler shift of solar lines allowing for the study of atmospheric dynamics of giant planets and the detection of their acoustic oscillations. The instrumentation is being designed and built through a collaborative effort between a French team from the Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur (OCA) that designed the DSI and a US team at New Mexico State University (NMSU).'

However, if this adaptation caused the entire structure to develop some sort of mechanical problem, the authorities/FBI would also have been in contact with the new-build 'partners'. So, any news about gendarmes/Interpol chatting up French astronomers?


213:

AFAIK the test would just involve a routine blood draw

I seem to have been wrong -- hair samples are apparently the standard.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minamata_disease

214:

Hmmm ... Unable to get to their staff directory page, some sort of interwebbie connection problem ...

Whatever the current problem is, pretty good chance that their public seminars (if any) ticket sales will go up.

215:

EC @ 207
Given that the USA is not obsessively secretiv
This is IRONY, right?
That implies a high level of cock-up and cover-up
Now THAT I would agree with ....

216:

There are a couple of weird things that need to be sorted out.

Since I'm 2-3 removes from the Santa Susana Field Site cleanup, which *was* a nuclear meltdown plus rocket fuel mess, I think it's silly to think that a big mercury spill is the cause of the AURA closure. First off, they'd cordon off the telescope, second off it's a moneymaker for the big company tasked with the cleanup, and that kind of thing is catnip to the current Republican Administration.

I could maybe believe a drug lab, but then why the FBI and not the DEA? The relative lack of security onsite still suggests computer crime to me, and if the computer system is down (as in bagged for forensics), there's little point in bringing anyone in to work. As Icehawk noted above, we'll see.

Note that my scenario doesn't go with why the caretaker's not be allowed back in his house, so it could easily be wrong.

217:

THANK YOU Charlie.
When someone like me, about 95% heetro, but with great sympathy for others not of the same persuasion, for very personal historic reasons, feels distinctly uneasy about posts, as discussed, it's a relief to see your comments.
Much appreciated

218:

Re: Dunn's French astronomy partner

Did a search for papers by the French partner observatory and found this Laundry-worthy article title:

'Discovery of a Little Homunculus within the Homunculus Nebula of η Carinae' The Astronomical Journal 125 (6), 3222, 118, 2003

Could work for matryoshka style nebulae, aliens or ancient gods/demons.

219:

I think it's silly to think that a big mercury spill is the cause of the AURA closure

The CH3Hg speculation is not that there's now a spill of elemental mercury, but that there was a spill/leak, possibly unnoticed(*), of perhaps modest amounts of Hg at least years and quite possibly decades ago. The mercury has been brewing in an aqueous environment since then, producing methylmercury that has found its way out, perhaps into the local water supply.

(*) And concern with elemental mercury was a lot less in ages past, as I well remember from the days when we played with it in high school. So even if the spill were noticed, it might have been shrugged off.

220:

I still disagree. Cleanup of industrial contaminants are big business. If there were a spill, you'd expect all the keep out/biohazard stuff to ring the spill site, while the nice young men in their long white suits were coming to take it away (ha ha).

Anyway, we're playing with pareidola here.

221:

HA! Got up seeing more.

Variation 3: She (1965 film)

The solar phoenix is the fire that grants immortality, or strips it away with the second exposure.

Depending where the solar phoenix is called down, the global damage can be limited.

Wiki - Libyan desert glass

where one event occurred, and later the Carrington Event itself, followed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, etc...

- Each story is about an immortal, made or destroyed.

- Being immortal does not make you young/beautiful. Some who step into the fire are already old and infirm, and will stay that way.

Then the discussion of a mercury leak makes me see the TV series Fringe where "shapeshifters - a human/machine hybrid that bleed mercury". The human form the phoenix takes uses mercury to stabilize the body just as in Fringe.

I have fun using gold or silver or mercury as blood.

BTW, the Homunculus Nebula and Eta Carinae in the Carina Nebula are deeply fun sources of story.

You can access jpgs of the nebula showing how they fit together at:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NGC_3372d.jpg

At a distance of a few thousand parsecs it is right next door.

Eta Carinae:Explosive Star System's Turbulance Revealed in Best View Yet
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzzO--1NrQk

Pareidola indeed. HA!

222:

BTW, the Homunculus Nebula and Eta Carinae in the Carina Nebula are deeply fun sources of story.

And, (ahem) of haiku-like microverse:

http://www.ultimax.com/pentapaul.html

223:

Anyway, we're playing with pareidola here.

Yes, we're making stuff up that kind of fits the observations.

Me, I think that The Authorities (AURA and maybe others) are still figuring out how handle the situation, whatever it is. Any physical response in the form of trucks, people in HAZMAT suits, drill rigs etc will appear after they've figured it out.

What I think we can say is that whatever it is doesn't require instant response. It's long and slow.

224:

They may not know for sure there is a situation, but are sufficiently convinced that there might be.

We can also be reasonably sure it doesn't involve anything like seismic events which cannot be hidden.

225:

SFreader @ 142:

Re: VA research
'MVP, which has enrolled more than 390,000 Veterans so far, has already become the nation’s largest database linking genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military exposure information. Part of a beta test for data access, the newly funded studies are among the first to use MVP data to delve into pressing questions on Veterans’ health. MVP-based studies on PTSD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are already underway.'

Actually, the "Million Veterans Program" has a much more mundane purpose. It's intended to give the VA reliable data on veteran's health care needs and document the care the VA is providing to meet those needs so that certain parties in Congress will be less able to use the VA as a political football.

It goes back a ways to when the Bush/Cheney administration CUT health care benefits for veterans in 2004. Subsequently, Congress cut VA funding. When the inevitable consequences of those acts hit the headlines, the Republicans tried to use those consequences to bludgeon the Obama Administration and further strip funding from the VA.

There is nothing wrong with the VA that can't be fixed by restoring full funding.

226:

JReynolds @ 165:

Bonum Dei, homo! Don't you know how expensive paper is?!?! [And more humourous culture shock stuff].

If my memory from High School Latin classes holds up, students in Roman schools used slates & charcoal to "write" upon.

I suspect our putative Roman Centurion popping through some kind of temporal gate into the 21st (or later) Century, would quickly get the hang of writing on an electronic tablet or an erasable white-board.

Learning to use a computer keyboard & a word processor might take a bit longer.

227:

Just a note: I've been kind of distracted the last 3 or 4 days. Hurricane Florence turned away from Raleigh and the Research Triangle area, so we've minimal damage & minimal clean-up here. But I didn't know that last week when I was busting my butt to get ready for it.

I hope the rest of you are well and haven't been adversely affected by Hurricane Florence or by Typhoon Mangkhut.

228:

Allen Thomson @ 179:

Both the US and USSR developed 152/155 mm (aka 6-inch) artillery rounds as early as 1960-ish, but they seem never to have been all that popular with the military. Similarly, Livermore is plausibly rumored to have developed an implosion bomb that would fit in a 5-inch naval gun shell; the laboratory was considerably miffed that the Navy wasn't interested.

Those were not included in the training I received. Training on the nuclear round for the 8 inch (203 mm) howitzers was minimal, more a survey of safety procedures for an un-fired round. In use, the weapon would have been delivered to the gun by a specialty crew who would have handled preparing the weapon & firing it. But any of us with an NBC MOS might be called upon to assist them.

The main thing I remember from the class was that the round had to secured across the cargo compartment in UH-1 helicopters (I was assigned to a helicopter unit at the time) so that in the event the aircraft went down, it wouldn't trigger the inertial safety. I think I may still have the TM that specifies how it was supposed to be loaded & secured in the aircraft.

... and, of course, jokes about "Atomic Hand Grenades".


229:

Allen @ 180:

US sunspot solar observatory closed

The situation continues. Most peculiar.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/09/remote-solar-observatory-remains-closed-after-mysterious-evacuation

https://www.space.com/41834-national-solar-observatory-facility-closed-security-issue.html

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which manages the Sunspot observatory with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, hasn't said much, either. The organization released a statement saying that AURA "is addressing a security issue" at Sunspot "and has decided to temporarily vacate the facility as a precautionary measure until further notice." AURA "is working with the proper authorities on this issue," the statement adds, without specifying who those authorities are.
And we may not get answers anytime soon. At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) today (Sept. 14), AURA Corporate Communications Coordinator Shari Lifson sent out an email update, which stated that AURA "has decided that the observatory will remain closed until further notice due to an ongoing security concern."

I'm leaning towards one of three possible explanations:

1. There's been some threat of sabotage and they're going to remain closed until the threat is resolved.

2. They broke something and the facility was shut down to prevent further damage.

3. Their funding was taken away (shifted to ICE & Border Patrol) and the facility was shut down to prevent damage that might result from not having the funds to operate it properly.

230:

Heteromeles @ 220:

Anyway, we're playing with pareidola here.

That's why I love this blog. There are so many new words for me to look up and learn.

231:

He would have to learn small letters first, and distinguishing u and v, before working with electronic media for which minuscule letters are the default.

And I'm not sure it would be entirely easy. I know some people who have never really adjusted from typewriting to screen input. Moving from writing short texts in majuscule only to long texts on a screen in mixed case is a fair-sized leap.

232:

Ok, thanks for the suggestion. I have "Look Inside" available but I haven't really worked out the finer points of product placement on their page yet.

233:

I used the GIMP to make the cover art. I wanted the title to really jump out. Seems like it did. Cool :)

234:

Excellent, glad you liked it! If you feel like dropping a review, that would rock. But even if not, I'm happy you read and enjoyed it.

235:

Wax tablets, I think, a layer of wax on a wooden backing. Of course, both may have been used at different times.

236:

I'm leaning towards one of three possible explanations:

4. There is no large underground facility. Never was. Instead there are a number of academics and administrators who pocketed a few hundred million between them and built some very nifty simulations.


I'm sure there must be a book that follows that plot-line somewhere, but if so I'm pretty sure I haven't read it.

237:

Papyrus/parchment for letters and the like: court documents, contracts, etc.

Wax tablets for scribbling notes, writing drafts, etc. Cheaper and could be erased. (The stylus had a sharp end for writing and a blunt end for smoothing away the marks (ie. erasing). Tablets were often in a hinged diptych with the wax inside, so when closed they were mostly protected from erasure.

AFAIK slates as a writing surface don't date before the 14th century. They weren't covered in the Roman technology course I took at university (papyrus and wax tablets were covered there).

238:

It may be that the combination of NoScript and ad-blocking prevents "Look Inside" from being presented as an option. (Or it might just be the case that not being logged in via an Amazon identity means it's not an option; either could apply.)

I could be a complete outlier here, is what I'm saying.

239:

What I do is find covers that look right on Amazon, then try to duplicate them.

I try to create a cover each week, then create variations of the cover, all to learn the "language" of covers.

If I can't work on a cover each week, I try to at least do two a month. By creating covers I keep in touch with the software and constantly refreshing what I'm trying to do.

My next major project is to duplicate this cover. HA!

https://www.amazon.com/Lake-Success-Novel-Gary-Shteyngart/dp/0812997417/

240:

Now this:

http://www.aura-astronomy.org/news/news.asp?newsID=389

AURA Statement about the Status of the Sunspot Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico
September 16, 2018

Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th

On September 6th, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) made the decision to temporarily vacate the Sunspot Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico as a precautionary measure while addressing a security issue. The facility closed down in an orderly fashion and is now re-opening. The residents that vacated their homes will be returning to the site, and all employees will return to work this week.

AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location.

The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety.

In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment.

We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.

241:

He would have to learn small letters first, and distinguishing u and v, before working with electronic media for which minuscule letters are the default.

Which might well involved the use of reading glasses, a whole other level of "getting used to technology". One thing I found interesting on Kiribati was the kids who finally got glasses and suddenly could actually see, it was the chance to see an actual miracle happen. Sadly a population of a couple of thousand doesn't allow for full-time ophthalmologists or even opticians. So lucky kids get to try whatever spectacles are immediately available and see if they improve things, but a lot of kids never discover that that helps.

Mind you, I was about 10 before we discovered that just like both parents I'm shortsighted... somewhat amusingly by me being caught "copying" answers in a test except that I got way more right than the kid I was copying off (which is how I'd escaped notice for so long). Being able to read what was on the blackboard made life a lot easier.

242:

....so a suspect on the loose, hiding in the area?

Makes me think of times when the local SWAT blocks off and evacuates a street, surrounds a house has a ‘standoff with a suspect’, and the house turns out to be empty.

243:

Then again they could be trying to intimidate a cardboard cutout or a window mannequin. I hear such things can be tricky.

244:

I'm sure you guys have seen this video from a local. Puts the official announcement in a different perspective. As has been said before, pareidola indeed.

Man Walks Through The Closed Sunspot Observatory In New Mexico And Films And Find Something Strange - 14 September
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=yTpRpySoi18

The beauty of all this, is I've got a folder full of future stories that are far more fun than the reality

Thanks for giving me "more".

245:

JBS @ 229
I think that we can rule this one out:
3. Their funding was taken away (shifted to ICE & Border Patrol) and the facility was shut down to prevent damage that might result from not having the funds to operate it properly.
If that were the case, someone wouild be "spilling the beans", probably by shouting it from the rooftops - I mean wahtan antiTrump publicity coup?

AT @ 240
OK, it's the USA - they had a dengerous probably armed loonie on the loose ... in other words, nothing unusual at all ....
{ Makes a perfect believable cover story, which might even be true! ]

246:

Both. I was initially taught using slates, and you don't use charcoal with either them or wax - you use different kinds of hard scriber. I haven't used wax myself, though.

247:

I don't do audio - does that video have a point, except to find nothing?

I am fully expecting the official explanation (when they can agree on what to invent) to involve Russian agents under the personal direction of Putin.

248:

From the Washington Post this morning:

https://tinyurl.com/yb4ostkn

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the association [AURA] did not return messages seeking comment Sunday night. Otero County Sheriff Benny House said Sunday evening that he had not been told why the facility was closed, and was not aware of an investigation in the area or a person who might pose a threat.


“I know absolutely nothing about what they’re talking about. They have not talked to us,” House said. “If there’s a threat, I think I should know. I’m pretty disappointed.”

249:

In case you didn't allude to it, mercury contamination and rec drugs are not mutually exclusive[1], Aluminum amalgam can be used for the reduction of imines to amines, which is central to some synthesis routes of arylalkylamines e.g. phenethylamines, amphetamines, tryptamines etc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium_amalgam

So Walter White or Jesse putting up shop at the observatory would be one possibility. Any yeast around[2]? Or E. coli, which seems to be a better procedure?

Though, Erdös nonwithstanding, meth is somewhat boring with the personal involved...

It seems the real fun can be had with people involved with psychedelic[3]. For the precedent, you might look at the case of William Leonard Pickard.

There is the usual VICE article about it,

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/znqv75/getting-high-on-krystle

and an article on Skinner,

http://thislandpress.com/2013/07/28/subterranean-psychonaut/

Actually, the drug lab rocket silo would be quite a nice location,

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/wamego-lsd-missile-silo

if Kansas had nice locations[4]. Added tidbit:

Nowadays, the former silo is now owned by the [redacted] family, who, despite the site’s scandalous past, still offer group tours by appointment. [redacted] is also a notable collector of military paraphernalia and equipment, and his collection is now housed in the silo.

Everything is better with survivalists and militias.

If you excuse me, where is my flyswatter[5]...

Tumbles around giggling...

As for likely substances involved in a hazmat situation,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromo-DragonFLY

might be an interesting starting point. though hearsay indicates most bath salts stem from China and India, incidently the same country also exporting pharmaceutical drugs...

https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm620499.htm

[1] I remember it being a minor plot complication in an episode of the somewhat forgetable series Eleventh Hour. People looking for a nice science drama would fare better with ReGenesis or Das Blaue Palais.

[2] E.g. hobbies of people you met in first year biology and who are a shared acquaintance of you and the computer science guy who started studying biology. Apparently he later on sobered up and later on even got a doctorate in biology...

[3] Err, no personal experience with the substances involved, but I guess I already alluded to the time I had to explain that E.O. Wilson is not R.A. Wilson. Got even funnier when a picture of quite a few of the persons

a) really liking Oliver Sacks and Stanislaw Lem
b) being somewhat bad with short term memory
c) being calmed somewhat by dopamine/noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors/releasing agents

and

d) being somewhat on the autistic spectrum

emerged. Add some pen and paper RPGs...

[4] Yes, the farm owned by Bunny's parents in "The Big Lebowski" was in Minnesota.

[5] Please update the pharmacy collection somewhat...

250:

None of the hypotheses explain the extremely unusual total silence on the cause, the lack of investigators in hazmat suits, or the fact that they are reopening the site with STILL no comment.

251:

I know I'm late to this conversation, but didn't Roman Britain have below-replacement level fertility for about a century before collapsing?

Also, here is a good summary of British ancestry.

https://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2016/09/19/how-british-are-you-dna-study-reveals-uks-ethnic-diversity/

Close to 1700 years later, the largest Saxon ancestry is 41%. This should put the Saxon migration into perspective.

252:

Actually, the secrecy surrounding the situation would not that surprising; "Last name? I'd rather not say. My brother's in politics."

On another note, maybe they discovered some processes in the solar photosphere involving quantum effects, and they have a working Quantum Entagloporter to change condictions on the sun through quantum entaglement.

The fact the light of the photosphere reaces us with, well, the speed of light, but the particles of the solar wind being somewhat slower made for thoughts of weaponization. Somewhat saner elements indicated reality might object to tries at causality violation.

Or the whole observatory was built over an Indian Burial Ground. Rumors the Dump Tangerine reality excursion was thought dead on site after a drunken drugged car crash back in 1981 but miracously recovered[1] are of course are only that, rumours. And of course there are no cell phone videos of DT cursing in Mescalero-Chiricahua or Enochian. I hope the Secret Service sees to this.

[1] Apparently the entity not to be named later on explained it by the demise of the host's brother.

253:

Re: 'Man Walks Through The Closed Sunspot Observatory ...'

The video that immediately followed the above* (as per whatever algo YT uses) added an interesting data point for conspiracy fans: this solar observatory faces a USAF testing area.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holloman_Air_Force_Base

* Hilarious that they found an X-Files DVD in the trash can.

254:

Please note I must suppress quite a bit of laughter when an article talks about "Celtic" and "Anglo Saxon" DNA when part of said Celts might have been Belgae, living just next door from what later on became Frisians, Angles and Saxons.

I guess disentangling the different stratums of trade, war, love and other kinds of conquest that made the British populations is going to be fun...

So quite a bit of the component termed "Anglo-Saxon" might be La Tene Celts. And I somewhat doubt the "Celtic" (or, better, Irish) component originally spoke a Celtic language...

255:

That provides a plausible explanation, not involving anything more than hearsay and cock-up.

Persons unknown (probably accidentally) start a rumour that the site is spying on some Top Secret project on the base. Senior Fuckwit A in the USAF jerks his knees and calls Senior Fuckwit B in the FBI to Stop This Immediately, who jerks his knees and issues embellished orders to Semi-Senior Fuckwit C in the FBI, who orders the evacuation. What they have been doing is to try to concoct a cover story that will stand up to even cursory examination, and does not find them exceeding their powers, removing people's rights, etc.

There is, of course, no need for there to have been any actual evidence, let alone facts, behind such a rumour.

256:

It's still somewhat funny Celtic languages left so little influence; BTW, there is a wiki article about it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_language_decline_in_England

257:

Oh, while scanning the article, a bishop named Chad...

258:

Longtime lurker on this blog, drawn out of hiding to reply to your comment.
This describes the secret hidden subplot of my SF novel series* so closely that you must be telepathic! My phoenix hatched from Sol and is female, an ancient immortal shape-shifter who appears to be human. My protagonist unwittingly shares her DNA.

*originally self-published, now produced by a US small press - it's reached volume 3.

259:

Re: 'plausible explanation, ...'

Given current politics and NYT best sellers, I'm more inclined to see the senior military and FBI as the sane players therefore suggest this 'alternate' scenario: the same guy that was part of the Obama-wasn't-born-in-the-USofA movement and who happens to be up for re-election in 2018 made a call demanding that the authorities check into the goings-on at this remote location. (Probably saw some bearded, sandaled post-doc in a Bowie, Alice Cooper, NIN, or Queen t-shirt walking around and thought some eevul hippies/commies had moved in.)

260:

There is a simple explanation, they had to get people off the mountain for the aliens to show up and offer "The Good Package" or "The Big Gun". HA!

Real Men (1987 John Ritter and James Belushi)
https://youtu.be/iZ3as6Vf1ao?t=1h16m42s

261:

*sigh*

I read, many, many years ago (perhaps Sapir?), that before @@I, there were 256 mutually incomprehensible dialects in the UK; meanwhile, before WWII, there were, in the US, count 'em, six.

People who travel a *lot*, vs. people who didn't. Then came radio and tv.... Post-apocalyptic, assuming that fertility rates didn't collapse, there'd be exactly the same linguistic drift.

262:

Hmmm, thanks, I can do both.... which leads to the sex scene, I suppose....

263:

Actually, you don't really need foreing influence for languages becoming mutually unintelligble.

When doing "tech support"[1] on telephone, general agreement was speaking to Bavarians (and Swabians/Alemannians) required advanced foreign language skills.

How we got there is, err, complicated,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_dialects

please note the maps don't show actual language use, e.g. most people around Münster speak variants of "Standard German", not Westphalian.

[1] Actually it devolved into "sorry to inform you your technician's appointment got cancelled, we have a new one in the next interglacial..."

264:

tabbycat @258 said:This describes the secret hidden subplot of my SF novel series* so closely that you must be telepathic!

Awesome!

Just tapping into Dream's library. All the stories are there waiting to be translated onto the page. HA!

I've put the series in my production schedule so I won't be publishing it for at least five years.

265:

You wrote:
While researching for a story set in 1902 I read a fair number of late Victorian novels and authors of that period would happily drop Latin tags into their work, including in some cases long untranslated passages.
---
And quotes in Latin, Greek, and Old French persisted easily into the mid-20th century. Which is why I've sworn for decades I was going to write a book, and put in quotes in Welsh and Finnish.

That, of course, I just realized will make it a balanced book, between the vowels and consonants....

266:

It's handling 12TB daily?

Ok, I now have two suspects: first, bitcoin mining. The other is far nastier: a Stuxnet varient attack, on a facility that the attackers either didn't know what it did, or chose because it wasn't hardened, so they ould test it out.

267:

I'm very glad to hear y'all are ok. My recent ex has a sister & b-i-l, and their grown kids in NC; sister & b-i-l are in Raleigh, not sure about the others.

Stay dry, guy.

268:

And not just those languages! But why not add Tagalog :-)

269:

Derail ...


Interesting world map that shows countries 'sized' by their populations. Good to keep in mind when discussing international matters.

https://ourworldindata.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Population-cartogram_World.png

270:

JSBurbidge @ 231:

He would have to learn small letters first, and distinguishing u and v, before working with electronic media for which minuscule letters are the default.
And I'm not sure it would be entirely easy. I know some people who have never really adjusted from typewriting to screen input. Moving from writing short texts in majuscule only to long texts on a screen in mixed case is a fair-sized leap.

Which is why I suggested something like erasable white board FIRST, then moving on to something like a tablet with OCR. He'd be able to communicate while learning. My experience learning to write, we learned all the capital letters first and were only introduced to lower case letters later. I figure if little kids can learn it in the frist grade, an adult ought to be able to grasp the fundamentals sooner or later.

271:

icehawk @ 236:

I'm leaning towards one of three possible explanations:
4. There is no large underground facility. Never was. Instead there are a number of academics and administrators who pocketed a few hundred million between them and built some very nifty simulations.
I'm sure there must be a book that follows that plot-line somewhere, but if so I'm pretty sure I haven't read it.

I think it's looking like #1 was most likely. AURA announced the facility is reopening today.

http://www.aura-astronomy.org/news/news.asp?newsID=389

On September 6th, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) made the decision to temporarily vacate the Sunspot Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, New Mexico as a precautionary measure while addressing a security issue. The facility closed down in an orderly fashion and is now re-opening. The residents that vacated their homes will be returning to the site, and all employees will return to work this week.
AURA has been cooperating with an on-going law enforcement investigation of criminal activity that occurred at Sacramento Peak. During this time, we became concerned that a suspect in the investigation potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents. For this reason, AURA temporarily vacated the facility and ceased science activities at this location.
The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety.
In light of recent developments in the investigation, we have determined there is no risk to staff, and Sunspot Solar Observatory is transitioning back to regular operations as of September 17th. Given the significant amount of publicity the temporary closure has generated, and the consequent expectation of an unusual number of visitors to the site, we are temporarily engaging a security service while the facility returns to a normal working environment.
We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.
272:

Elderly Cynic @ 250:

None of the hypotheses explain the extremely unusual total silence on the cause, the lack of investigators in hazmat suits, or the fact that they are reopening the site with STILL no comment.

The press release about reopening says there was a criminal suspect who "potentially posed a threat to the safety of local staff and residents."

The decision to vacate was based on the logistical challenges associated with protecting personnel at such a remote location, and the need for expeditious response to the potential threat. AURA determined that moving the small number of on-site staff and residents off the mountain was the most prudent and effective action to ensure their safety.
We recognize that the lack of communications while the facility was vacated was concerning and frustrating for some. However, our desire to provide additional information had to be balanced against the risk that, if spread at the time, the news would alert the suspect and impede the law enforcement investigation. That was a risk we could not take.

It doesn't say that the suspect was part of the staff, only that he posed a threat and that they thought making the reason for the evacuation public might tip him off.

It could have been someone on the FBI's 10 most wanted list lurking in the bushes.

273:

So far I've included Welsh, French, German, Russian, and Spanish; not sure if any Latin has happened yet but it's bound to eventually; Gaelic hasn't happened yet but probably will sooner or later; and pretty well anything else at least stands a chance. Motivation, in large part, being my disagreement with people calling down Dorothy L Sayers for including multi-page passages in French.

274:

I learned to type more or less before I could write - it was so much easier - and I remember when I went to school the teacher being put out by my writing imitating a typewriter typeface.

Still got the old "Underwood Noiseless" (which is an amazingly optimistic name) with transfers of lions and giraffes etc on the case :)

275:

Re: ' mundane ... reliable data on veteran's health care needs and document the care the VA is providing'

Perfectly okay with mundane reliable data which could allow for analyses re: effectiveness (medical & cost) for various treatment options as well as comparisons vs. genpop (HMO).

276:

Finally found a drawing for the telescope.

Schematic cross section of the Vacuum Tower Telescope
https://www.noao.edu/image_gallery/html/im0307.html

277:

allynh
Ye gods, that thing is massive - & the main Hg-mirror is "up in the air" with "sealed" mercury bearing elsewhere - keeping the bottom one from leaking under the load/pressure exerted must have been an .. interesting" engineering problem.
All dimensions & units in "imperial" sigh .....

278:

Someone reported seeing Vladimir Putin?

279:

Imperial feet and US feet aren't the same, which is one of the great things about metric measures, just one set of wrenches.

280:

Today I got a specially bright recollection about some stuff that might be useful here. As you may know, the books in USSR were rarely commercial, much less the books like science fiction or foreign literature (that doesn't mean people did not have them or didn't read much, to put it lightly).

I remembered the latest works of Strugatsky brothers, my favorite authors in high school and beyond. Most of their works were "social realism" sci-fi, which was encouraged by the state publishers at the beginning, but later stories were more socio-politically driven and more controversial, with progressively longer delays in publishing. The most interesting layer of their writing career is late period, which overlaps with general USSR ideology crisis in 1980s and onwards, which is almost unknown to Western readers and very rarely published even today. Most of them were only published in the later 80-s, in several years one of the brothers died.

This includes:

  • Definitely Maybe (1978) - pretty much a cosmic horror story without any horror elements, set within very casual environment.
  • Limping Fate (1976) - very much like previous, but more lightly played and just mysterious instead of grim.
  • The Doomed City (1986) - one of the first mystery-themed books, written in the 70s, yet one of the latest published. Very philosophical in nature - not that you would notice it in the beginning.
  • Overburdened with Evil (1988) - one of my favorite books, it's author's take on Biblical themes and their own philosophy, with some dry humor, but nevertheless a sad story.
  • The Time Wanderers (1986) - also a cosmic story about post humanism in more familiar setting (if it wasn't enough, it is referenced in upcoming Death Stranding PS4 game).

Some of the earlier story also have these elements, much like Roadside Picnic or Monday Begins on Saturday, and if you are not familiar with author's style, it is better start with them. Also there are certain solo works, but they are actually so depressing that I do not recommend reading them until maybe much later.

281:

Tim H. @ 279:

Imperial feet and US feet aren't the same, which is one of the great things about metric measures, just one set of wrenches.

... unless you end up having to work on some old piece of junk equipment that's not metric.

I'll just add that my mixed SAE/Metric Ford Pinto** and my entirely SAE MGB were both easier to work on & more reliable than than the all metric FIAT I once owned.

**I had the station wagon version of the Pinto. In order to fit the lift gate on the back, Ford had to use a gas tank with the fuel filler neck located to the side instead of sticking out to the rear. If you got rear-ended in the Pinto Wagon, the fuel filler neck didn't get slammed forward, rupturing the gas tank.

282:

There was a period of time hereabouts when attempting to purchase a quarter-inch bolt might get you an actual, honest-to-Tiwaz quarter inch bolt, British Imperial Measure; a 6.5mm bolt; a bolt which was neither 6.5 mm nor one quarter inch but which would be labelled one quarter inch. And of course people stocking hardware stores did not always realize that the "quarter inch" on the large box was a lie, and then the people shopping in hardware stores did not always put things back in the bin of extraction, so if you were buying bolts at that time you had to (at least) put all the washers and nuts you expected to need on the bolt before purchase, or, ideally, do that, and then use a known nut to check that you had what you thought you had.

283:

The instrument "floats" on the mercury, hanging from the bearing. The lower bearings keep it from swinging side to side at the bottom. That's what gives the instrument a smooth rotation following the motion of the Sun.

Cannonball in mercury
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm5D47nG9k4

anvil vs mercury
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krnIBV5Z6J8

A normal bearing would induce vibration in the instrument. The vacuum stops air in the column from heating up and distorting the image, and the mercury bearing cuts down on vibration, so the "seeing" is as sharp as possible.

284:

It's happened. I've been thinking that I prefer sf, but found myself writing fantasy shorts... and just now, I came up with the outline for the bodice *and* short-ripper, with a nuclear loco on the moon, no bad buys, just comet fragments.....

285:

Oh the joys of misreading ....
".... but found myself wearing fantasy shorts."
Presumably ready to be ripped-off?

286:


Back in my mid-teens, I wrote an sf short, alien landed, tryihg to get back into his ship. Finally, he gets the chance, and runs and leaps onto his UFO. The guard, chasing him, shot, but bounced off the force field.

Except my mom, the secretary, who typed it up for me, made a typo, and we both cracked up as I noticed it read, "the guard's shorts bounced off the wall".

Hmmm, fantasy shorts... I think that's a story for an erotica collection....

Leave a comment

Here's the moderation policy. If this is your first time, please read it before you post.

If you need to sign in and want to create a local account on this blog, select "Movable Type" from the "Sign in ..." menu. You will need a working email address.

Specials

Merchandise

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Graydon published on September 7, 2018 3:54 PM.

Upcoming Appearances was the previous entry in this blog.

Media Piracy and Unpronounceable Names is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog

Propaganda