How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 03

How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 03

          “My head hurts trying to follow that,” Sharleyan complained. He gave her a look, and she shrugged. “Oh, I understood what you were saying, it’s just a bit . . . twisty for this early in the morning.”

          “I understand what you’re saying, too, Cayleb,” Merlin said. “For myself, though, I’m just as glad it didn’t happen that way. Sure, it’d be a relief in some ways, but it wouldn’t actually prove anything one way or the other about the decision-making processes we’re up against. And, to be honest, I’m just delighted we didn’t wake up anything under the Temple with our little test. The last thing we need is to throw anything else into the equation — especially anything that might decide to take the Group of Four’s side!”

          “There’s something to that,” Cayleb agreed, and Sharleyan nodded feelingly.

None of them felt the least bit happy about the energy signatures Merlin had detected under the Temple. The nativeborn Safeholdians’ familiarity with technology remained largely theoretical and vastly incomplete, but they were more than willing to take Merlin’s and Owl’s word that the signatures they were seeing seemed to indicate something more than just the heating and cooling plant and maintenance equipment necessary to keep the “mystic” Temple environment up and running. As Cayleb had said, it would be nice to know that whatever those additional signatures represented wasn’t going to instruct the orbital kinetic platforms which had transformed the Alexandria Enclave into Armageddon Reef nine hundred years before to start killing the first steam engines they saw even after it had been told about them. On the other hand, if whatever was under the Temple (assuming there really was something and they weren’t all just being constructively paranoid) was “asleep,” keeping it that way as long as possible seemed like a very good idea.

          “I agree with you, Merlin,” Howsmyn said. “Still, as the person most likely to catch a kinetic bombardment if it turns out we’re wrong about this, I have to admit I’m a little worried about how persistence might play into this from the platforms’ side.”

          “That’s why I said it looks good so far,” Merlin replied with a nod none of the others could see. “It’s entirely possible there’s some kind of signal-over-time filter built into the platforms’ sensors. I know it’s tempting to think of all the ‘Archangels’ as megalomaniac lunatics, but they weren’t all totally insane, after all. So I’d like to think that whoever took over after Commodore Pei killed Langhorne at least had sense enough to not order the ‘Rakurai’ to shoot on sight the instant it detected something which might be a violation of the Proscriptions. I can think of several natural phenomena that could be mistaken at first glance for the kind of industrial or technological processes the Proscriptions are supposed to prevent. So I think — or hope, at least — that it’s likely Langhorne’s successors would have considered the same possibility.

          “For now, at least, what we’re showing them is a complex of obviously artificial temperature sources moving around on several islands spread over a total area of roughly a hundred thousand square miles. If they look a little more closely, they’ll get confirmation that they’re ‘steam engines,’ and Owl will be turning them on and off, just as he’ll be stopping the ‘trains’ at ‘stations’ at intervals.” He shrugged. “We’ve got enough power to keep the emitters going literally for months, and Owl’s remotes can handle anything that might come up in the way of glitches. My vote is that we do just that. Let them run for at least a month or two. If we don’t get any reaction out of the platforms or those energy sources under the Temple in that long, I think we’ll be reasonably safe operating on the assumption that we can get away with at least introducing steam. We’re a long way from my even wanting to experiment with how they’ll react to electricity, but just steam will be a huge advantage, even if we’re limited to direct drive applications.”

          “That’s for certain,” Howsmyn agreed feelingly. “The hydro accumulators are an enormous help, and thank God Father Paityr signed off on them! But they’re big, clunky, and expensive. I can’t build the things up at the mine sites, either, and if I can get away with using steam engines instead of dragons for traction on the railways here at the foundry, it’ll only be a matter of time — and not a lot of that — before some clever soul sees the possibilities where genuine railroads are concerned.” He snorted in amusement. “For that matter, if someone else doesn’t see the possibilities, after a couple of months of running them around the foundries it’ll be reasonable enough for me to experience another ‘moment of inspiration.’ I’m developing quite a reputation for intuitive genius, you know.”

          His last sentence managed to sound insufferably smug, and Merlin chuckled as he visualized the ironmaster’s elevated nose and broad grin.

          “Better you than me, for oh so many reasons,” he said feelingly.

          “That’s all well and good,” Sharleyan put in, “and I agree with everything you’ve just said, Ehdwyrd. But that does rather bring up the next sticking point, too, I’m afraid.”

          “You mean how we get Father Paityr to sign off on the concept of steam power,” Howsmyn said in a considerably glummer tone.

          “Exactly.” Sharleyan grimaced. “I really like him, and I admire and respect him, too. But this one’s so far beyond anything the Proscriptions envision that getting his approval isn’t going to be easy, to say the least.”

          “That’s unfortunately true,” Merlin acknowledged. “And pushing him so far his principles and beliefs finally come up against his faith in Maikel’s judgment would come under the heading of a Really Bad Idea. Having him in the Church of Charis’ corner is an enormous plus — and not just in Charis, either, given his family’s prestige and reputation. But the flipside of that is that turning him against the Church of Charis would probably be disastrous. To be perfectly honest, that’s another reason I’ve always figured keeping the emitters running for a fairly lengthy period doesn’t have any downside. Now that we know — or if we decide we know — the bombardment platforms aren’t going to kill us, we can start giving some thought about how we convince Father Paityr not to blow the whistle on us, as well.”

          “And if it turns out the bombardment platforms are going to kill the ‘steam engines’ after all,” Cayleb agreed, “nothing but a bunch of thoroughly useless, uninhabited islands gets hurt.”

          “Useless, uninhabited islands so far away from anyone that no one’s even going to realize ‘Langhorne’s Rakurai’ has struck again if it happens,” Sharleyan said with a nod.

          “That’s the idea, anyway,” Merlin said. “That’s the idea.”

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42 Responses to How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 03

  1. SCC says:

    Seeing the argument they come up with could be good. this book or the next do you think?

  2. Greg says:

    I think convincing Father Paityr that steam is just another form of water, and that water power is allowable, is probably the best argument.

    I believe I saw, on one of the previous snippets, someone mention that they thought the Charisian Empire will soon begin building ironclad warships. I think it will be necessary for them to first add steam engines to their existing wooden ships and adding some iron armor to the sides. I believe this will be necessary for several reasons. First and foremost, they need to show an intermediate step to Father Paityr to get the Church’s approval. An ironclad warship has a radically different appearance from traditional sailing ships and some seamen in the 1800’s upon seeing their first ironclad did not recognize it as a warship. (The U.S.S. Monitor was described as a “cheesebox on a raft,” the C.S.S. Virgina as a “floating barn”.) These wooden ships could be modified again, at a later date, into simple casemate ironclads. The most famous example of which is the transformation of the U.S.S. Merrimack into the C.S.S. Virgina.
    Second is economical, wooden warships already exist, it would be faster and cheaper to modify existing ships than to build ironclads from scratch. The same reason mentioned in the first book when Charis converted from galleys to galleons.
    Third, the crews need to be taught to use the new ships with their new engines. Unless people really know how to use a new technology they won’t get the best advantage from it.

    For more information on how Earth’s navies transitioned from sail power to steam power read: “Steam, Steal and Shellfire: The Steam Warship 1815-1905”.

  3. KenJ says:

    Judy by adding a steam drive to a sail powered ship, they would regain the ability of a galley to go against the wind. And logistically, you would still be able to use the “free” power of wind for day to day work. save the steam (esp. 1st generation steam) for emergencies and combat.

    I think that they mostly need it to increase their industrial efficiency and so allow them to better make things like steel and transport the metal oars to the refineries (as Howsmyn said, using a steam powered wench rather than draft dragons would be enormously useful.

    Finally, Steam is the logical next step forward.

  4. KenJ says:

    Just continuing my thoughts from previous snippits.

    Now, we know the Wylsen’s have this Key that should only be used, once, when “the existence of the Church itself is threatened.”

    Here’s a Machivellian twist for you.

    We all assume that the Key activates something nasty. However we don’t really know what. Even the Wylson’s believe that it is some gift from the angles to protect the church in that extreme.


    What if we are all wrong? What if, upon activating the Key, all that shows up is a holigraphic message like from the Commidore in book 1. In it is a message from Schuler confessing that the Church is a massive Fraud… (and maybe opens up a cache of weapons for the rebels….)

  5. Robert H. Woodman says:

    That seems to me to be highly unlikely. It’s too much Deus ex machina. I would hope that MWW would not resort to such a cheap parlor trick.

  6. PeterZ says:

    Ken, you may want to discard this conflict asap so we can get down to technological advancement, I would prefer to see how these characters deal with the issues at hand. The set up has so far been to elegant to toss away with a deus ex machina event. Frankly, the story would be a huge let down if that’s how this dilema was solved.

  7. RobertHuntingdon says:

    Hmm, I at once like the twistiness of KenJ’s idea and agree with Woodman that it’s probably a bit of a Deus ex Machina. Especially if you throw in the arms cache. Besides, where would it show up? Schueler would have no idea where the rebels would be coming from, how would he be able to find the right place to deliver the cache? Unless of course the activation “ritual” for the key included speaking some info for a low-level AI (like OWL) to know where the rebels are based.

    On the other hand, what if you just drop the cache and leave the message? On one level it makes sense, and it’s less of a Deus ex Machina situation. But on the other, I can’t see anybody believing it. Even if the hologram appeared right there in the “sacred” grounds of the temple, people would dismiss it as a lie from a demon, even though the image looked JUST like the statue of Schueler out in the courtyard, it still wouldn’t work. And I’m quite sure the MWW knows that.

    So in some way, it makes a twisted amount of sense for this to actually happen. If the message plays and NOBODY BELIEVES IT, it’s actually not a game-killer scenario. Or maybe it sparks a orthodoxy war like on Armgaugh in the Empire of Man series. Just as long as it doesn’t end with the same weird results. Ugh. I sure hope not. One of those was an amusing oddity that could be laughed at because it was so absurd. Two would quickly become three too many.

    But I’m pretty sure that, though quite fun to play with, this particular speculation bears about as much relationship to what the MWW has planned as our speculations did after he dropped that “I’m not quite sure Merlin — or Nimue — is actually dead” bombshell… and then laughed his butt off at our ridiculous speculations.


  8. RobertHuntingdon says:

    @PZ… but what if it did NOT actually solve anything? Then what?

  9. PeterZ says:

    Then I would cheer with glee at the really twisted genius of the man.

  10. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Yeap, the MWW will surprise all of us. [Smile]

    Oh, by the way, this book answers some questions but still leave questions remaining (as well as creating new questions). [Wink]

    I’ll be glad when this book is out so I can post my “crazy ideas” about what will happen next. [Very Big Grin]

  11. PeterZ says:

    And yet…Yes, there is the great “and yet”.

    I don’t see any way that such a bombshell wouldn’t solve the dilema. All Merlin needs to a shadow of a doubt. Safehold theology is not based on inferential evidence about the divine inspiration of their holy texts. It is based on absolute concrete proof. Toss in anything that makes their proof less concrete and the foundation of their theology is destroyed. A new foundation must be constructed. The CoGA would be destroyed and a new basis for a church needs to be constructed. Dilema solved.

    On the other hand, that new foundation is a new start, so Maikel’s assertions are equivilent to the new interpretation of the CoGA hierarchy. I suppose that’s what needs to happen to make the moral dimension truly poignant.

    So, yes on balance that would fit with DW’s enjoyable twistyness.

  12. Terranovan says:

    @ the general argument of how to convince Father Paityr – It might also be useful to think of steam as a form of wind (i.e. moving vapor and therefore moving air) as well as a form of water. It might even be both simultaneously.

  13. summertime says:

    How technologically sophisticated will people in general on this world have to be before they recognise that the environmental controls in the Temple are not provided through supernatural manifestations of God or the Angels, that the whole system is artificial and manmade?

  14. wombatcombat says:

    The key might deactivate something not activate it

  15. PeterZ says:

    Rationale for steam power. I can’t help but think the way the proscriptions have been applied is very similar to the development of common law. Precedence is an important part to applying the actual language.

    So, then what was the rationale for allowing Gun Powder and its application in cannon? Cannons use a burning substance to expand air quickly. The expansion is so quick that the force generated sends a heavy object a substantial distance. How different is that to steam power? Steam burns something to expand water (into a gas). The expansion also moves a heavy object. The most obvious difference is that in a steam engine the heavy object is harnessed. The force is trapped.

    The objections are either one can’t harness moving gas or one can’t boil water for the purpose of harnessing it. IIRC, steam is used to heat up buildings. That means capturing steam is permissible. Sails are used to harness moving air so that is permissible. Cannon are used so that harnessing heat expanded air is permissible. What principle then is used the separate the use of moving air or steam from what is already being used?

    The only objection I can see is one relating to the reason why a principle is used. At which point we are really back to theological lawyering and rule making about what actions are permissible and not the technology being used. Absent a moral quality on technology, all tech is permissible, only uses of technology is proscribed.

  16. Damon says:

    DW has been slogging along in microtime on this story for a while, which is great as far as I am concerned. I like so many of the characters and story lines.
    My concern about introduction of steam or a trend of the rapid introduction of proscribed technology might herald another relatively abrupt ending to this fine series, something like what happened in “Out of the Dark”, a nice book that was developing a complex plot line then, WHAM, vampires, zip zap and the stories over.
    Just my own paranoid fantasy.
    I wonder how much of the speculation by readers about future plots on DW’s website fuels actual plot development?

  17. Drak Bibliophile says:

    I doubt that reader speculation is a major influence on DW’s major plot lines.

    He knows more about the “worlds” he’s created so our ideas are likely “shot down” by what he knows.

    On the other hand, I don’t think he’s above adding minor plot elements based on our discussions.

    As for where he’s going in this series, I suspect he’s heading for a solution to two major problems that his characters face.

    1) The problem of the orbital weapons.

    2) The problem of “what’s hidden within the Temple”.

    IMO as long as those problems exist, the heroes can’t win. If these problems are solved, the heroes could still lose but also can win. It would take time, but the other problems they face are “somewhat” easier to overcome.

  18. Maggie says:

    Drak, I would NEVER attempt to prompt a snerk from you, but I can’t help wondering….

    What if what’s “hidden within the Temple” is not a tool of the Archangels, but was in fact left by… SOMEONE ELSE.

    We know that the Command Crew split into anti-tech and pro-tech factions. We know that Commodore Pei told Nimue that ONE OTHER PERSON knew about Nimue/PICA and that “he” was to meet the Commodore before the meeting with Langhorne. We know that Elias Proctor was the one behind the software fixes to the PICA.

    What if Elias Proctor left a few goodies under the Temple???

  19. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Maggie, there’s no evidence one way or the other for your idea in this book. [Smile]

  20. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Oh Maggie, I just checked and Proctor was mentioned as one of the Archangels who “rebelled” with Shan-wei (and so likely died when Shan-wei did), so it is unlikely that he had the chance to “meddle” with any computers under the Temple. Remember the Temple was built sometime after the death of Langhorne.

    Still an interesting idea. [Smile]

  21. KenJ says:

    And still leaves unanswered; WHO is the OTHER person who knew about Nimue….

  22. Drak Bibliophile says:

    KenJ, I doubt that it matters since both him and Commodore Pei had an appointment with Administrator Langhorne and the Administrative Council. This was the meeting that ended with a “bang”. [Wink]

  23. KenJ says:

    So true, so true. Still, you may just wonder whether he actually made it to the meeting or not. (Probably did.) Still, 3rd 4th and 5th strings and conspiracy theories are fun to spec’late on ;)

    On an earlier point regarding whether Proctor/the speculative “other” placed anything in the temple: We need to remember the 1st temple/Headquarters was totaled by Pei’s Nuke. The new one is a complete re-build/upgrade on the site of the original. Therefore anything in it almost has to have been placed there by the surviving “angels”

  24. Willem Meijer says:

    @16 Damon: I disliked the ending of that book too. There are books you re-read. After the vampires came in I mentally put it on the ‘not for re-readding’ stack. Perhaps because I do not really like vampire stories. Something about childhood and scary stories perhaps? Mind you, the gradual way the vampires came in was something I liked, with the benefit of hindsight I thought is was quite crafty.

  25. Maggie says:

    Vampires. Sick and tired of vampires. What is the appeal of a blood sucking dead thing? On the other hand, I was just on a two hour drive with two teenagers in the car and “ZombieLand” as the topic….

  26. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Talking about Vampires is getting off subject here. [Wink]

    Seriously, I read the “Out of the Dark” short before I read the novel and I *knew* when reading the short that something was “strange” about “Mircea” long before we learned just who he really was. Of course, Your Milage May Vary. [Smile]

    Still, I don’t read much Vampire fiction and dislike most “Romantic Vampires” (at least in the Sookie Stackhouse books we see why many in that world rightly fear Vampires).

    Barbara Hambly’s vampires are IMO the best. [Smile]

    As for Zombies, burn them (including the books/movies about them). [Wink]

  27. KenJ says:


    I have a nice can of gasoline and a box of matches to help you get started.

  28. PeterZ says:

    If one thinks about it, a vampire is pretty much like an AI. Neither has souls and so are not moral agents; they cannot choose what they do. The issue of moral behaviour has been central to any DW story. Heck, this story arc is playing around with the innanities of moralizing technology and tools. “Out of the Dark” fits from that perspective, but a similar plot device would be a massive cheat for what we were asked to assume so far in this story.

    As for vampires I like Larry Correia’s best.

  29. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Larry’s are “good ones” for “vampires that need killing” but the thing that makes (IMO) Barbara’s better is that we get a better feel for why the vampires need killing.

    Larry’s are the classic “good people get bite and automaticly become evil” vampires.

    Barbara’s have an element that you have to *chose* to become a vampire and few good people will chose to become vampires and would likely chose “final death” rather than continue being a vampire.

    Her vampires *have* to kill humans to remain “healthy” and have to kill often.

  30. summertime says:

    Vampires? Don’t breathe, don’t eat, drink blood, live indefinitely. OK so far – I can suspend disbelief and read as fantasy. However, to discorporate into a mist, go through barriers, reform and attack foes, even ride into space on the outside of spaceships – this begins to approach eye rolling and donating to Public Library used book drive. What was Weber thinking?

  31. PeterZ says:

    Drak, I think being able to choose prior to becoming a vampire is a choice made in ignorance. Once turned the creature no longer has a moral capacity. It is only an appetite, an uncontrolable appetite. That is by definition a cancer which must be removed.

    The first part of “MHI Alpha” illustrates this rather nicely using Harbinger’s experiences, but I would agree that Correia’s characterization is not yet as good as Barbara’s. He is improving rapidly, though.

  32. Robert H. Woodman says:

    Back to the discussion about what’s under the Temple. Since the Wylsen family has the key and is allegedly descended from Schueler, perhaps the thing under the Temple is a Schueler PICA without the hack that allows it to run indefinitely like Merlin. This would explain why the key is to be activated only in time of greatest need.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  33. PeterZ says:

    If they had a PICA to begin with, the owner would have used it to keep tabs on Safehold from the get go.
    Even if the personality was saved onto a computer, the reason why the darned thing wasn’t activated from the start has to be plausible.

    Why did the suvivor not initiate the program to come to life after his bodily death? Whether PICA or program such a “counselor” would have kept the CoGA in line from inception. Why wait until things fell apart before activating the thing?

  34. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Peter, Robert’s idea is for a PICA that still has the “ten day” operational limit.

    Such a PICA could not be an immortal Archangel.

    It would like wake up for only a short time before shutting back down.

    Mind you, the idea that a PICA *without* the “ten day limit” exists does break down under the “why wasn’t it active when Nimue woke up” question.

  35. PeterZ says:

    If Software could capture a human personality in a human shaped robot, it should also be able to capture the same personality in a more traditional computer. If the PICA’s 10 limit was insurmountable for the survivor, download the personality in a computer like OWL.

    Another PICA but with a 10 day limit that no one knows about is too much like Vlad the Impaler reconstituting from the mist to Safe humanity again.

  36. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Nope, this is “Vlad the Impaler” returning to threaten humanity. [Wink]

    Seriously, two points.

    1) David Weber has stated that in Nimue’s time it was possible and somewhat common for human personalities to be permanently downloaded to computers and to “live” in the computers.


    Idiot snerk collar. [Wink]

  37. Robert H. Woodman says:

    Drak, yes, I should have specified the 10 day operational limit. Another PICA without the 10 day limit is another Deus ex machine idea, and I don’t like those.

    If the thing under the temple is the cybernetic personality of Schueler or possibly one of the other “archangels” living in a computer, then there isn’t really a good reason why it could only be awakened except in time of greatest need. Another possibility, I suppose, is an “archangel” in cryostasis, but I’m not sure I’d trust my life for eternity to an oversized freezer with life support functions. What could be an alternative to the PICA is an avatar in a computer similar to the Hari Seldon avatar in Asimov’s Foundation series. As we saw in that series, though, unexpected developments can make the avatar useless (remember the disconnect between what the Seldon avatar was telling the Foundation leaders to expect and what was actually happening at the time the “Mule” was introduced into the storyline).

    Just some more thoughts.

  38. RobertHuntingdon says:

    Ouch, you would have to bring up the Foundation series… gaaaah! Started out loving those books, and by the end I hated them. Garbage, just absolute garbage. At least he gave us a clue for the biggest kind of evil possible on the human level and likely directly allowed the creation of the Borg. That’s the only redeeming quality of those books, and even that is a stretch.

    Oh and Drak… I always love how your snerk collar can anticipate you are about to let something slip BEFORE you actually say anything. Pity there’s apparently only one device in the world with precognitive abilities like that. The world could probably use a few more of them.

  39. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Robert, the patented Weber Snerk Collar doesn’t have precognitive abilities.

    If I was able to write/speak as fast as I think, I could get a snerk out before it reacted.

    As it is, the Weber Snerk Collar “links” into my thought process so it knows what I’m *thinking* of writing/speaking and thus can “zap” me before I do so.

    [Very Very Big Grin]

  40. Robert H. Woodman says:

    @38 – Robert Huntingdon

    I read Foundation as a child and thought it was wonderful. I read it again as an adult, and I wondered what I had ever found so wonderful about it. Still, quite a bit of SF owes something to Isaac Asimov, and the Foundation series is a classic, even if it’s very obviously dated and not Asimov’s best work.

  41. John Driver says:


    One plausible explanation is that the PICA or electronic clone knows that Nimue or some agent of Shan Wei is lying in wait. Once the trouble starts, it’s highly probable that Shan Wei’s agent is behind it. The object would be to try to lure said agent into a prepared trap. Once that agent has been eliminated they can rule the world openly.

  42. kari says:

    I’ve wondered if Langhorne saw thru Nimue’s ruse a bit about her pica. In the 1st book before Nimue becomes Merlin, she notes that Langhorne really focused the bombardment upon the main Alexandria compound. What if he figured that was the most likely place for the pica to be hidden? Now, whoever built the temple..were they fanatic Langhorne followers or someone who decided to play both sides and ask “What if Langhorne was wrong”?

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