How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 10

How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 10

          “Aye, Sir.” Lathyk nodded soberly. The good news was that Scrabble Sound ran almost a hundred and twenty miles south to north, which gave them that much sea room before they ran into the eastern face of Ahna’s Point or into Scrabble Shoal, itself. The bad news was that from their current position they couldn’t possibly clear Sand Shoal at the western edge of Scrabble Pass, the mouth of the sound. . . and even if they had, it would only have been to allow the wind to drive them into Silkiah Bay instead of Scrabble Sound.

          “Go about, Sir?” he asked. “On the starboard tack we might just be able to hold a course across the sound for Fishhook Strait.”

          Fishhook Strait, roughly a hundred miles north of their current position, was the passage between Scrabble Sound and the northern reaches of the Gulf of Mathyas.

          “I’m thinking the same thing,” Yairley confirmed, “but not until we’re past the southern end of the bank. And even then — ” he met Lathyk’s eyes levelly ” — with this wind, the odds are we’ll have to anchor, instead.”

          “Aye, Sir.” Lathyk nodded. “I’ll see to the anchors now, should I?”

          “I think that would be an excellent idea, Master Lathyk,” Yairley replied with a wintry smile.

* * * * * * * * * *

          “I don’t like this one bit, Zhaksyn,” Hector Aplyn-Ahrmahk admitted quietly several hours later. Or as quietly as he could and still make himself heard at the main topmast crosstrees, at any rate. He was peering ahead through his spyglass as he spoke, and the line of angry white water reaching out from the barely visible gray mass of the mainland stretched squarely across Destiny‘s bowsprit. He had to hold on to his perch rather more firmly than usual. Although the wind had eased still further, Scrabble Sound was a shallow, treacherous body of water. Its wave action could be severe — especially with a southeasterly blowing straight into it — and the masts’ motion was enough to make even Aplyn-Ahrmahk dizzy.

          “Not much about it to like, if you’ll pardon my saying so, Sir,” the lookout perched at the crosstrees with him replied.

          “No. No, there isn’t.” Aplyn-Ahrmahk lowered the glass with a sigh, then slung it over his shoulder once more. He started to reach for the back stay again, then stopped himself and looked at the lookout. “Best not, I suppose.”

          “Better safe nor sorry, Sir,” Zhaksyn agreed with a grin. “Specially seeing as how the First Lieutenant’s on deck.”

          “Exactly what I was thinking myself.” Aplyn-Ahrmahk patted the seaman on the shoulder and started down the more sedate path of the shrouds.

          “Well, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk?” Captain Yairley asked calmly when he reached the quarterdeck. The captain’s valet stood at his side, improbably neatly groomed even under these circumstances, and Yairley held a huge mug of tea between his hands. The steam from the hot liquid whipped away on the wind before anyone had a chance to see it, but its warmth felt comforting against his palms, and he raised it to inhale its spicy scent while he waited for Aplyn-Ahrmahk’s report. The steep-sided crest of Ahna’s Point was visible from deck level, however, which meant he already had an unfortunately good notion of what the ensign was about to say.

          “White water clear across the bow, Sir,” Aplyn-Ahrmahk confirmed with a salute. “All the way from the coast” — his left arm gestured in a northwesterly direction — “to a good five points off the starboard bow.” His arm swung in an arc from northwest to east-northeast, and Yairley nodded.

          “Thank you, Master Aplyn-Ahrmahk,” he said in that same calm tone, and took a reflective sip of tea. Then he turned to Lieutenant Lathyk.

          “The depth?”

          “The lead shows twenty-four fathoms, Sir. And shoaling.”

          Yairley nodded. Twenty-four fathoms — a hundred and forty-four feet —  accorded relatively well with the sparse (and unreliable) depths recorded on his less-than-complete charts. But Destiny drew just over twenty feet at normal load, and the leadsman was undoubtedly right about the decreasing depth. By all accounts Scrabble Sound shoaled rapidly, and that meant those hundred and forty-four feet could disappear quickly.

          “I think we’ll anchor, Master Lathyk.”

          “Aye, Sir.”

          “Then call the hands.”

          “Aye, Sir! Master Symmyns! Hands to anchor!”

          “Hands to anchor, aye, aye, Sir!”

          Bosun’s pipes shrilled as the hands raced to their stations. Both of the bower anchors had been made ready hours ago in anticipation of exactly this situation. The canvas hawse-plugs which normally kept water from entering through the hawseholes during violent weather had been removed. The anchor cables, each just over six inches in diameter and nineteen inches in circumference, had been gotten up through the forward hatch, led through the open hawseholes, and bent to the anchors. A turn of each cable had been taken around the riding bitts, the heavy upright timbers just abaft the foremast, before fifty fathoms of cable were flaked down, and the upper end of the turn led down through the hatch to the cable tier where the remainder of the cable was stored. The anchors themselves had been gotten off of the fore-channels and hung from the catheads, and a buoy had been made fast to the ring of each anchor.

          Under the current circumstances, there was nothing “routine” about anchoring, and Yairley handed the empty mug to Sylvyst Raigly, then stood with his hands clasped behind him, lips pursed in a merely thoughtful expression while he contemplated the state of the bottom.

His charts for Scrabble Sound were scarcely anything he would have called reliable. The sound wasn’t particularly deep (which helped to account for how violent the seas remained even though the wind had continued to drop), but the chart showed only scattered lines of soundings. He could only guess at the depths between them, and according to his sailing notes, the sound contained quite a few completely uncharted pinnacles of rock. Those same notes indicated a rocky bottom, with unreliable holding qualities, which wasn’t something he wanted to hear about at this particular moment. Almost as bad, a rocky bottom posed a significant threat that his anchor cables would chafe and fray as they dragged on the bottom.

Beggars can’t be choosers, Dunkyn, he reminded himself, glancing as casually as possible at the angry white confusion of surf where the heavy seas pounded the rocky, steeply rising beach below Ahna’s Point or surged angrily above Scrabble Shoal. There was no way Destiny could possibly weather the shoal under these wind conditions. She was firmly embayed, trapped on a lee shore with no option but to anchor until wind and weather moderated enough for her to work her way back out.

Well, at least you managed to stay out of Silkiah Bay, he reminded himself, and snorted in amusement.

“All hands, bring ship to anchor!” Lathyk bellowed the preparatory order as the last of the hands fell in at his station, and Yairley drew a deep breath.

“Hands aloft to shorten sail!” he ordered, and watched the topmen swarm aloft.

“Stand by to take in topsails and courses! Man clewlines and buntlines!”

Clewlines and buntlines were slipped off their belaying pins as the assigned hands tailed onto them.

“Haul taut! In topsails! Up foresail and mainsail!”

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36 Responses to How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 10

  1. Peter says:

    The seasickness has barely begun. Trying to anchor in this weather will make her bob like crazy, as well as working her seams even more. They are in for a very rough time. And that’s assuming the anchors don’t drag, or the cables break, or they get unlucky enough to run up against one of those uncharted pinnacles.

  2. Nimitz13 says:

    Absent any detailed maps, they appear to be close to the coast of Silkiah, north of the entrance to Silkiah bay. A shipwreck here will likely deliver the survivors to the Silkiahns, who owe their independence to the COGA. So our heroes would be turned over to the tender mercies of the inquisition and the Hektor/Irys fans are due to be disappointed. Hope the anchors catch and hold…

    Plot-wise I’m surprised they haven’t wrecked yet. Although this chapter shows how good Charisian sailors are, it’s dragging along S L O W L Y. Or maybe it’s the days between each post! ;)

  3. jgarland says:

    S L O W L Y…damn right. MWW has been making his books a lot longer, but I think part of this must be that he has become such a publishing force he can now cow his editors.

    For example, what would any decent editor do with the following phrase: “each just over six inches in diameter and nineteen inches in circumference”???

  4. jgarland says:

    added: And for that matter, do we REALLY need the qualifier “just over” to describe .047888in, or should I say “just under one twentieth of an inch” :-) ???

  5. Tim says:

    ZZZZzzzzz, wake me up when something happens ;-)

  6. PeterZ says:

    @4 How long have you been following Weber, JGarland? I can tell you there is a plethora of his fans who find that sort of detail too general by far and would refine it further. No joke here, just simple truth. It isn’t so bad when reading the book. The rest of us can just kind of skim through those “infodumps”.

    In snippet form it can be excruciating if one has no interest in the subject matter being expounded upon.

  7. Jeff Ehlers says:

    It’s hard to remember that these snippets are only about a page or so in length. Right now, this seems interminably boring (especially with Merlin’s steam engine experiment in the beginning), but it won’t be nearly so bad once we get to the actual book.

  8. jgarland says:

    re. possible excessive lengthening of MWW books…

    I have read MWW for about 15 years and have read most everything he’s written. That said, it is my opinion his editors are letting him get away with a bit too much these days. Below is a scatterplot of, for example, the 11 mainline HH books (I cannot find a page count for ART).

    | |
    | * |
    | |
    | * |
    | |
    | * |
    | |
    | * |
    | * |
    | |
    | * |
    | |
    | * |
    | |
    | * |
    | * |
    | |
    | * |
    | |
    | * |
    | * |

    OBS was 352 pages, MOH was 880. Other series, particularly and to the detriment of the writing, again in my opinion, the Hell’s Gate books, show the same lengthening by the inclusion of material that most editors would cut.

    Of course, we all here love MWW as well, so it’s a pain to say anything negative. But I don’t blame Dave here, I blame his editors.

  9. jgarland says:

    damn…the whitespace got canceled out.

    Anyway here’s the numbers:
    > SeriesNum 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
    > PageLength 352 464 416 416 480 544 544 736 672 976 912 880

  10. Joel says:

    “I think part of this must be that he has become such a publishing force he can now cow his editors.”

    Yup, I think that happened sometime shortly after Honor returned from Hades. All his books became longer and slower after that point. I definitely skim a lot more than I used to with Weber. Doesn’t mean I won’t buy his books, but if he replaced two current books with three of the length and pacing of Basilisk station, everyone would come out the winner.

  11. Rod says:

    hmm, I personally prefer a longer book, so long as it’s pace still moves along steadily. Gives more time to develop the story, but I agree the infodumps can be hard to get past sometimes.

  12. jgarland says:

    I should have added that the regression equation in the mainline HH books is:

    PageLength = 55.27*SeriesNum + 256.73

    Basically, on average, each book in the series has gained 55 pages :-) . R^2 = .86 which can be interpreted to mean that 86% of the variance on page length can be attributed simply to where the book stands in the series.

  13. PeterZ says:

    The most important relationship is to regress copies sold or revenue in the first year to page count. Your analysis assumes that time is the only independant variable. To support your claim that editors are being cowed, revenue must have either no relationship or a negative relationship to page count or even word count.

    T scores and P scores for this model may hekp shape the explanation.

  14. RobertHuntingdon says:

    @PZ #13 — OK I slept through statistics… you (or anybody else) want to explain what the heck you mean here?

  15. RobertHuntingdon says:

    Hmm make that “slept” through statistics… :) It was more like I attended as few classes in college as I could get away with, barely passed, and deliberately forgot everything ASAP.

  16. Joel says:

    Just checked Webscription. He’s now branching out into YA with a new Stephanie Harrington series (A Beautiful Friendship). Perhaps this will somehow remind him of the virtue of brevity and pacing.

  17. PeterZ says:

    RH, JGarland used linear regression to compare the co-movement between the sequence that a DW book came out (1,2,3,4…etc.) to the page count. The Rsq measure is effectively the correlation cooeficient for the two variables. His model states that each book begins with 256 pages and with each successive book adds another 55 pages. He believes that this suggests strongly that editors have grown less able to restrain DW’s verbosity.

    My contention is that there is something else that drives the observed verbosity. Should we make similar regression models for page count against first year sales as well as time, then we would find that other factors are equally if not more important in driving page count. Such proof may be found using not only the correlation coefficient but also measures of statistical significance as found in T scores and P scores.

    Does that clarify things more, RH?

  18. Bret Hooper says:

    DW I understand: David Weber; but what is MWW?

  19. Drak Bibliophile says:

    MWW means Mad Wizard Weber. [Wink]

  20. jgarland says:

    PeterZ…you could likely be right. However I don’t know where to get the other numbers. That said, parsimony is a wonderful thing. And parsimony at least says MWW is getting increasingly verbose even if the exact reason is unknown.

  21. jgarland says:

    added… oh, since I started the sequence at 1, not 0, the first book comes out to be estimated at 310. As OBS s 350, that’s not TOO far off.

  22. Mike says:

    Weber is not going to change his writing style as long as people keep buying lots and lots of his books. Why should he? He apparently likes what he is doing and gets paid well to do it.

  23. Tiina says:

    I like long books. And I techinal details pace things niocely.

  24. Bret Hooper says:

    @19 Drak: Thank you.

    @23 Tiina: I agree completely.

  25. PeterZ says:

    @ Yes, but the by starting at 1 you also separate the contribution of the sequencing from the base (intercept). I find it cleaner the way you did it. BTW, what was the T & P scores for the intercept and the sequence?

  26. summertime says:

    There,s some talk of “editors” here with the implication that they would delete stuff and shorten the work. My idea of editors duty is to correct misspellings and bad punctuation, reword awkward sentences, shorten runon sentences, etc. I don’t understand their function to include reading the author’s mind so as to chop content and put on the page what they think he meant to say, but in fewer words. After all, the author is paid by the word , I think, so removing words is cutting his pay. Drak, or someone else who knows, please correct me on the editor’s job if I am substantially wrong.

  27. msj says:

    @8 – Unfortunately, it’s hard to differentiate from lengthening just due to the sheer number of things going on in the Honorverse as opposed to lack of will on the editor’s part. A better time series would be all books by DW published by Baen in time order – not just the HH series or even the HH and side books.

  28. PeterZ says:

    Might it be that most of DW’s books are written as allegories? Starships with similar limitations as sailing ships; plots driven by very similar contexts and constraints as historical events. The connection between our history or technology and his contructs are very consistent, dependably so. The similarities are never exact with differences that open one’s imagination, but always in ways that are consistent with the subject matter being described.

    So, each of us with a passion/serious interest in the subject matter he is using to shape his world want to see how deeply he connects his contructs to reality. Over time as people read his work, a wider group of people with wider interests try to follow these deep connections.

    Perhaps, that’s what’s driving his verbosity and addiction to info dumps. In this forum alone (Safehold snippets) we have had discussions about, economics, political strategy, sailing, military development and Lod knows what else I have already forgotten. Baen’s Bar contains a larger and much deeper list of dicussion subjects. It may be assumed that we are not alone in our interests, only some of those most eager to share them in such a forum as this.

  29. Verbosity good.

    Brevity bad.

    I want something to read, thank you.

    However, the thought occurred to me that the point of sailing stuff is another series of Weber books, like Horatio Hornblower, written so they can get a short line in the next HH book when she is given a set, but also written with some other objective in mind. Other objective? I don’t know, of course. Perhaps as a hero a Spanish Imperial navy officer of the 17th century, who beats the British at every chance and has a paramour in every port, and who incidentally does things very well to lure in the large Hispanic reading public to where they would discover Weber and hence all his SF novels.

  30. Scott says:

    Here I was thinking that MWW stood for Master of the Written Word. Corrected. Long books are fine by this reader. Nothing worse in my view than something happening without explanation. I know nothing about sailing so an explanation helps follow the action.

  31. Joel says:

    @26 Good editors don’t do the chopping themselves, they push back at the author to do it. Someone at Baen or Tor needs to give him a word-length limit and make him stick to it. If he’d get back into the habit of writing like early in his career, we might get 50% more stories out of him.

    My problem is not the length, but the verbosity and pacing. I read Sanderson’s “Way of Kings” which is an absolute brick, but the pacing is good and there’s enough action for that length. Also extreme transparency of prose.

    Weber is a victim of his own success.

  32. Mike says:

    @26 summertime: Modern writers are not paid by the word. They are paid by the book. Typically they get an “advance on royalties” which is a contract to write a book for a publisher (which may or may not already be written). In most cases the “advance” is more than all the royalties will ever be, so that’s what the author is paid. But in some cases the book will stay in print and sell a lot of copies over the years, in which case the author may continue to get royalty payments over many years.

    There has been a trend (especially in SF) for novels to get longer and longer and longer. Lately it has become common for novels to actually be split into two books (not as a novel and its sequel, but as one story sold in two volumes).

    So part of the word inflation in Weber’s books is just him following the overall trend, but part of it is Weber finding out that he can publish almost anything and people will buy it. Why take the time to hone and rehone a novel down to its perfect length. Instead, publish as quickly as you can write and then write another one. If he writes two overly-verbose books instead of one that is tightly edited, he makes twice as much money and tells twice as many stories.

    I also think that Weber really likes being a pundit on things like politics, economics, and military history. I personally find his views on the subject boring and over-simplified, but I tolerate them by skimming through all that stuff.

    He did long ago move from the “authors I buy” to the “authors I read” category, though. I do prefer to collect authors where every word is finely crafted. Weber I just read for the plotlines.

  33. jgnfld says:

    @25 You must be using a different nomenclature than psych stats people use. What do you mean by T and P? I gave the R^2 (.86), the slope, and the intercept.

    Actually I’ve inputted ALL of Weber’s series into a data file by Name, place in series, year of writing (as reported on his site), and number of pages in the paperback editions. I will fiddle with it in R over the next while as I have time and post any interesting results I see.

    As for the comments on editing, yes editors cut. Or demand cuts as stated above. Compare the uncut version of Stranger in a Strange Land (which became available some years ago) with the original. The effect of the editing is clear and beneficial. In my first post I gave a clear example that no good editor–or first year English teacher–would fail to mark as redundant when presenting how large the anchor hawsers are: “each just over six inches in diameter and nineteen inches in circumference”. That phrase should be cut in half one way or the other to my mind, at least.

  34. jgnfld says:

    added: another variable in the file is “sole” vs name of co-author.

  35. jgnfld says:

    @25 If you meant the F-statistic of the regression and its probability value, it’s highly significant (as is obvious from the plot):

    lm(formula = PageLength ~ SeriesNum)

    Min 1Q Median 3Q Max
    -99.64 -55.27 -23.27 41.82 166.54

    Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
    (Intercept) 256.727 51.211 5.013 0.000527 ***
    SeriesNum 55.273 6.958 7.943 1.25e-05 ***

    Signif. codes: 0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

    Residual standard error: 83.21 on 10 degrees of freedom
    Multiple R-squared: 0.8632, Adjusted R-squared: 0.8495
    F-statistic: 63.1 on 1 and 10 DF, p-value: 1.253e-05

  36. Bob G says:

    I think that some of DW’s verbosity is due to his injury to his wrists. A number of years ago, he slipped on ice and landed on both hands, and as a result had to switch to voice-to-text. I think when you have to type it in, the actual physical activity tends to limit how much you write. However, DW is not typing now, but rather talking into the computer, and the price of verbosity has shifted from his hands to his voice.

    All that said, I’m stll trying to figure out the purpose of this long passage. It doesn’t seem to give us a lot of character development, much on the political situation on Safehold, or on technical development. I have to think that DW just wanted to write/tell a sailing sequence. If I were reading the book, it would not be an issue. But in snippet form, it seems long and I just want to know what’s happening. Also, David tends to split this sort of thing with a chapter about something else that’s happening elsewhere, which gives us a different direction. He didn’t do that this time.

    — Bob G

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