How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 17

How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 17

“That’s part of the problem,” he acknowledged. “In fact, it’s a very large part. I’m afraid it’s not quite all of it, however. The truth is that I’m grappling with doubts of my own.”

“We all are, Father.” Howsmyn smiled crookedly. “I hope this won’t sound presumptuous coming from a layman, but it seems to me that someone in your position, especially, would find that all but inevitable.”

“I know.” Wylsynn nodded. “And you’re right. However,” he inhaled more briskly, “at the moment I’m most interested in these ‘accumulators’ of yours. I may have seen the plans and approved them, yet there’s a part of me that wants to actually see them.” He smiled suddenly, the boyish expression making him look even younger than his years. “It’s difficult, as you’ve observed, balancing my duty as Intendant against my duty as Director of the Office of Patents, but the Director in me is fascinated by the possibilities of your accumulators.”

“I feel the same way,” Howsmyn admitted with an answering gleam of humor. “And if you’ll look over there” — he pointed out the window — “you’ll see Accumulator Number Three beside that blast furnace.”

Wylsynn’s eyes followed the pointing index finger and narrowed as the furnace’s seething glow illuminated a massive brickwork structure. As he’d just said, he’d seen the plans for Howsmyn’s accumulators, but mere drawings, however accurately scaled, couldn’t have prepared him for the reality.

The huge tower rose fifty feet into the air. A trio of blast furnaces clustered around it, and on the far side, a long, broad structure — a workshop of some sort — stretched into the night. The workshop was two stories tall, its walls pierced by vast expanses of windows to take advantage of natural light during the day. Now those windows glowed with internal light, spilling from lanterns and interspersed with frequent, far brighter bursts of glare from furnaces and forges within it.

“In another couple of months, I’ll have nine of them up and running,” Howsmyn continued. “I’d like to have more, honestly, but at that point we’ll be getting close to the capacity the river can supply. I’ve considered running an aqueduct from the mountains to increase supply, but frankly an aqueduct big enough to supply even one accumulator would be far too expensive. It’d tie up too much manpower I need elsewhere, for that matter. Instead, I’m looking at the possibility of using windmills to pump from the lake, although there are some technical issues there, too.”

“I can imagine,” Wylsynn murmured, wondering what would happen if the accumulator he could see sprang a leak.

The use of cisterns and water tanks to generate water pressure for plumbing and sewer systems had been part of Safehold since the Creation itself, but no one had ever considered using them the way Ehdwyrd Howsmyn was using them. Probably, Wylsynn thought, because no one else had ever had the sheer audacity to think on the scale the ironmaster did.

Howsmyn’s new blast furnaces and “puddling hearths” required levels of forced draft no one had ever contemplated before. He was driving them to unheard-of temperatures, recirculating the hot smoke and gasses through firebrick flues to reclaim and utilize their heat in ways no one else ever had, and his output was exploding upward. And it was as if each new accomplishment only suggested even more possibilities to his fertile mind, like the massive new multi-ton drop hammers and the ever larger, ever more ambitious casting processes his workers were developing. All of which required still more power. Far more of it, in fact, then conventional waterwheels could possibly provide.

Which was where the concept for the “accumulator” had come from.

Waterwheels, as Howsmyn had pointed out in his patent and vetting applications, were inherently inefficient in several ways. The most obvious, of course, was that there wasn’t always a handy waterfall where you wanted one. Holding ponds could be built, just as he’d done here at Delthak, but there were limits on the head of pressure one could build up using ponds, and water flows could fluctuate at the most inconvenient times. So it had occurred to him that if he could accumulate enough water, it might be possible to build his own waterfall, one that was located where he needed it and didn’t fluctuate unpredictably. And if he was going to do that, he might as well come up with a more efficient design to use that artificial waterfall’s power, as well.

In many ways, vetting the application in Wylsynn’s role as Intendant had been simple and straightforward. Nothing in the Proscriptions of Jwo-jeng forbade any of Howsmyn’s proposals. They all fell within the Archangel’s trinity of acceptable power: wind, water, and muscle. True, nothing in the Writ seemed ever to have contemplated something on the scale Howsmyn had in mind, but that was scarcely a valid reason to deny him an attestation of approval. And wearing his hat as the Director of Patents, rather than his priest’s cap, Wylsynn had been more than pleased to grant Howsmyn the patent he’d requested.

And tomorrow morning I’ll inspect one of them with my own eyes, he reflected now. I hope I don’t fall into it!

His lips twitched in an almost-smile. He was quite a good swimmer, yet the thought of just how much water a structure the size of the accumulator might hold was daunting. He’d seen the numbers —  Doctor Mahklyn at the Royal College had calculated them for him — but they’d been only figures on a piece of paper then. Now he was looking at the reality of a “cistern” fifty feet tall and thirty-five feet on a side, all raised an additional thirty feet into the air. According to Mahklyn, it held close to half a million gallons of water. That was a number Wylsynn couldn’t even have thought of before the introduction of the Arabic numerals which were themselves barely five years old. Yet all that water, and all the immense pressure it generated, was concentrated on a single pipe at the bottom of the accumulator — a single pipe almost wide enough for a man — well, a tall boy, at least — to stand in that delivered the accumulator’s outflow not to a waterwheel but to something Howsmyn had dubbed a “turbine.”

Another new innovation, Wylsynn thought, but still well within the Proscriptions. Jwo-jeng never said a wheel was the only way to generate water power, and we’ve been using windmills forever. Which is all one of his “turbines” really is, when all’s said; it’s just driven by water instead of wind.

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42 Responses to How Firm A Foundation – Snippet 17

  1. KenJ says:

    Oh, what a sneeekeee devil!!! Turbines will be needed for truly efficient steam engines, not to mention once people step over to Electricity. (True, there are still several hurdles to cross but the basic foundations are being laid right here.)

    This will get the concept out and into the minds of the average person,so that once other, more radical changes are presented, they won’t seem /quite/ so radical… sort of.

  2. Peter says:

    A turbine can be thought of as a sort of inside-out waterwheel. I wonder if Clyntahn would regard the ‘inside-out’ aspect to be sufficient reason to ban it? (Is a bear catholic?)

  3. Glowfish says:

    “Jwo-jeng never said a wheel was the only way to generate water power”

    Well, that’s going to be the reason to alloq steam.

  4. Thomas Park says:

    80 feet of head isn’t all that much, but how do you get the water into the accumulators from the river? The amount of work involved in getting water to the top of one of those accumulators is staggering. One cubic foot of water would take about 480 lb-ft of work, or to put it another way, to put one cubic foot of water/second into the accumulator would take right at one horsepower. My question is how does he get the water into the accumulator?

  5. Bret Hooper says:

    Let’s hope the following will be corrected before the book is printed: “Far more of it, in fact, then conventional waterwheels could possibly provide.”

    Than, not then!

  6. San says:

    @2; Is a bear catholic? , I think The proper Expression is, “Does the pope shit in th woods”

    btw, i cannot wait for this book to come out, it just keeps getting better and better. is their any author as good as weber at creating and describing a world for his stories?

  7. Jeff Ehlers says:

    Change begets change.

    And in this case, it’s a good thing. Anything to break the stasis Langhorne in his idiocy set up.

  8. EM says:

    @1: Steam turbines IIRC have far higher demands on the materials used. Water may be pressurized (in this case about 1-2 atm?) but is nowhere as aggressive as high pressure live steam. That said, the idea of the steam turbine will doubtless be on file for when it’s needed. The initial variant on the theme however is far more likely to be the marine propellor.

    Merlin & Co have to keep things simple due to materials and manpower constraints and so as not to trip Wylsynn’s demon detector right away. The first steam engines (outside laboratory prototypes) will likely be beam or other fairly low-efficiency stationary steam engines, the idea of which however is still likely to initially give Wylsynn conniption fits. Innovations (uniflow, multiple expansion, condensing, superheat) will likely come quickly over the next decade or so. All of this still ignores the engines’ mobile applications, starting with harbor and river/canal tugboats and maybe industrial cranes.

    Hmm. Will the availability of extra power make steelmaking easier? Large cyclonic fans or double-acting bellows to blow the iron with etc.


  9. saladin says:

    well steam is nothing else but hot water :-)

  10. saladin says:

    well steam is nothing else but hot water :-)

  11. PeterZ says:

    We have the trinity of allowable power; water, wind and muscle. Where does gunpowder come in? Is it the wind of expanding gas? If so, how does the use of fire/heat become acceptable? Whatever that rationale, it may be used to support steam power. Ignoring that rationale going forward won’t work. Since people already consider gunpowder acceptable, the justification to allow gunpowder will induce people to apply it in different ways. Once Ehdwyrd’s innovations spread, we will have people mixing and matching his ideas with what he hasn’t tried yet, like the heat exemption for gunpowder.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that we may get a discussion on the finer points of the proscriptions in this snippet. Perhaps even why gunpowder is allowed.

  12. justdave says:

    @11 gunpowder was approved via some juicy bribes from Harchong whose orthodoxy is unquestioned

    as far as steam, I’ll refer you back to snippet 1

  13. corpronj says:

    IIRC Merlin was suprised about the gunpowder because Jwo Jeng did not allow it. Merlin suspeced there had abeen a massive bribe on the part of Harchong to get the allowance for it. It simply illustrates the difficulty of banning technology because if you explain what you’re banning people will have the technology.

  14. There is some question of how the accumulators get filled. Perhaps they are downhill of a drop in the river and there are short aqueducts.

    Turbines being more efficient than waterwheels is true. Low-head turbines do exist. Steam turbines being needed for electricity is not so true. The first American city to be substantially electrified (Buffalo) used water turbines at Niagara Falls.

    Gunpowder is frozen wind.

  15. PeterZ says:

    Wonderful turn of phrase, George! It is then possible to release/defrost frozen wind via the agency of fire. Does frozen wind exist in other substances? Not saying that is the logic behind gunpowder, but whatever the logic it may be applied else where.

  16. robert says:

    How is proscribed technology detected? Or is it detected at all? How does Merlin get around on that way-beyond-steam-technology skimmer without being detected and blown away? Has the author given us a red Rakurai herring? Maybe detection is NOT automatic, but requires a human to detect it and give the commands to blow it away. Just sayin’…

  17. Matthew says:


    Merlin’s skimmer is state of the art for an advanced space faring civilization, any detection stuff would be geared towards things like jumbo jets and and railroads.

    It also makes sense because presumably the archangels were jetting around on these same skimmers.

  18. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Robert, as Matthew pointed out, the Archangels were using aircraft so Merlin’s skimmer wouldn’t be automaticly a target.

    All we know about the Rakurai and the proscriptions is Merlin’s speculations which he was testing earlier.

    Remember, the Rakurai didn’t even *ask* for instructions when Merlin’s “steam engines” went active.

    How they’d respond to electric generation (for example) is still unknown.

  19. Robert H. Woodman says:

    @14 — George Phillies

    “Gunpowder is frozen wind.”

    So, exploding gunpowder can be likened to breaking wind???


    Sorry, I just could not resist that one.

  20. Mike says:

    @18 Drak, how do we know it didn’t ask for instructions? Maybe it did ask, but nobody was listening.

    This whole series seems to parallel Heirs Of Empire. In that book, there was a control room hidden deep inside the temple, but the priests monitoring it did not realize what it was.

  21. PeterZ says:

    As I recall, Mike. There was no transmission detected. Any transmission, like the Charsian Empire’s network, would be encrypted but I suspect it would still be detectable.

  22. KenJ says:

    @19: Well, it stinks enough… and it IS a byproduct of $#!+ too. (VBEG)

  23. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Mike, Merlin kept asking Owl if there was *any* communications between the orbital weapons and the Temple.

    Owl’s response was that there were none detected.

    Remember that Merlin (and Owl) had good reasons to make sure their communications were undetected but why would the builders of the Temple and the orbital weapons want their communications undetected?

    While I agree that it is very possible that the orbital weapons can be controlled by something under the Temple, the evidence so far is that the orbital weapons are not “talking” to the Temple.

    As for Heirs Of Empire, we saw the priests activitely involved in using the control room even if they didn’t know what it really was.

    If there is a control room in the Safehold Temple, there’s no evidence that the Priesthood knows about it (unlike the situation in Heirs).

  24. WP says:

    I might be concerned about detection by either the platforms or the Gababa. I wonder how well generating the electricity in caves, or at least underground, and burying the power lines would work? Put the power lines in ceramic conduits so the ground does not “extract” the electricity maybe. In all cases use it for short distances first.

  25. Jeff McCulley says:

    “If there is a control room in the Safehold Temple, there’s no evidence that the Priesthood knows about it (unlike the situation in Heirs).”

    And what do you think Father Paityr’s “Key” is for??? Especially as he regretted probably not ever being able to ever use it, since he wasn’t likely ever to return to the Temple Lands.

    Apparently he (or the Key) will, since this would seem to be the inevitable final stumbling block to Merlin’s Quest.

    ““In another couple of months, I’ll have nine of them up and running,” Howsmyn continued. “I’d like to have more, honestly, but at that point we’ll be getting close to the capacity the river can supply.”

    Next thing they’ll be creating lakes. Or making dams alongside the already existing locks, the way that the Army Corps of Engineers used the flow of the Mississippi to generate electricity.

    “It’d tie up too much manpower I need elsewhere, for that matter.”
    For some reason, Weber seems to be running the War on solely the original resources of Old Charis. At the very least, there is the workforce of Emerald, Chisholm and Zebediah (not to mention likely Tarot) to draw upon, and even Corisandians could likely be used to fill less sensitive positions, freeing more trusted “Charisians” for those more desperately needed roles.

    For that matter, I am always surprised at how amalgamated resources never seem to get integrated into, for example, the Imperial Charisian Navy’s force structure. but that’s another post for another time.

  26. Peter says:

    Re 25;
    Actually, I suspect there’s a lot of amalgamated resources at work, but we haven’t been shown them because we’ve mostly only seen high-priority stuff like the Navy’s big ships and the iron foundry. But local economic activity within the Charisian Empire is probably undergoing a lot more change that we’ve been shown yet, as tarrifs and trade barriers come down, etc.

  27. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Jeff, in Heirs the entire Priesthood knew about the control room since controlling the orbital defenses was part of the role of the Priesthood.

    Father Paityr’s “Key” is a secret of one family and can be only be used once.

    That’s a far cry from the situation in Heirs.

    Oh, why *should* Father Paityr and his Key be a stumbling block for Merlin?

    It might be something that could help Merlin. [Very Big Grin]

  28. Robert H. Woodman says:

    Changing the subject a little bit, it seems to me that if there were any intelligent assassin planners in the CoGA, they would be targeting Howsmyn. He is the apparent engine driving Charisian industry. Kill him and there may not be another (so a CoGA assassin would think) who could take his place. Plus, kill enough peripheral players, and the guards get stretched thin, leaving the Emperor and Empress more vulnerable to assassination.

    Any thoughts on that?

  29. Adam says:

    Love this snippet. The turbine is used in so many high volume processes. From the turbine that is shown to impeller pumps that will replace the reciprocating pumps that probably are in use in safehold at this time. Propellers, water jets will certainly be essential to warships as soon as ‘hot waterpower’ ie steam is approved. This will let the ships carry significant amounts of armor which will make them impervious to the shells. I do not know if it will be wood armor or iron/steel but this is only a short step from an all metal hull.
    For the mainland armies to overcome this tech, they would have to match all the innovations that Charis will be showing and also rifled artillery that Charis is keeping as an ace in their pocket since smooth bore artillery is limited to a round ball and doesn’t get the velocity needed to penetrate armor.
    On a side note, I wonder if breach loaders will be introduced in this book.

  30. Mike says:

    @29: This gets to the heart of my dissatisfaction with this entire genre of books (future tech introduced to past tech society). We end up asking questions like “I wonder when breach loaders will be introduced.” Where is the wonder and excitement in that, really? I mean, we all know from history that these innovations make for better killing power, but it is at best “empty calories” when we read about how devastating the higher-tech armies turn out to be. All we have to do is look back at something like the Battle of Rorke’s Drift.

    This whole series is starting to remind me of too many other similar series … all of which fell apart when the author became so involved in playing with the mismatches in historical technology that they forgot they were supposed to be entertaining the rest of us with a story. Conrad Stargard comes to mind as a particularly extreme example.

  31. Johnny Davis says:

    If gunpowder is frozen wind, then I imagine internal combustion engines would be all right. Not gasoline because it requires electricity, but diesel would work…

  32. Mike says:

    Back in the days when Catholics did not eat any meat on Friday, but could eat fish, almost anything found in or near the water was sometimes counted as “fish.” Dolphins and porpoises sure, but also turtles and even beavers and otters. Nobody can twist religious rules around like a theologian. But that doesn’t mean they will be consistent about it.

    Basically, if they really wanted to, they probably could find a way to make jet engines be considered acceptable but Watt-type steam engines be outlawed.

  33. @30

    Ultratech. It worked so well at Isandhlwana. Not to mention all of the colonial armies that invaded Afghanistan.

    There is also the fine bit — see Hell to Pay — of the Japanese deploying — except for a few tests, not yet released for attacks–wood and canvas kamikaze aircraft, which with fair frequency did not trigger proximity fuses.

  34. Mike says:

    @33: And yet, the Zulus lost the war. The Japanese lost the war. The Afghans … well, it’s more like people just get tired of fighting to control the poorest country on Earth.

  35. Pyrrhic says:

    Dear Fellow-Addicts:

    A couple of points. Putting electrical wires underground is phenomenally expensive at least for our civilization and the reason (not widely known by the public at large) is simply that lines losses are something like 40x as great for buried high-tension wires as for those same wires in air. This is a question of basic physics. I do not think that burying power lines will be a very good idea for Safehold either, as a result. I am also not certain how deep those wires would have to be buried to prevent detection. Second point about innovation and steam. The patent holders on the original steam engines (Boulton and Watt) were terrified of high-pressure steam. The reason was materials science. However, this snipped notes Howsmynn’s relentless innovation in processes and production of metal. That is key to the rapid introduction of high-pressure (and hence, high efficiency steam engines). Weber seems to be well on top of the elements required to progress technology in Charis!

    My great question is this: “Why is Merlin not instructing her fabricating equipment to start to build the components for the equipment to build the components … and so forth … resulting in equipment that CAN successfully take out the orbital installations that are blocking progress? Hmmmm… ?

    Best to All…


  36. robert says:

    Who buries power lines? Underground power lines are run through underground conduits, that is, pipes, not buried in dirt. It is as much a question of maintenance as line efficiency.

  37. MTO says:

    There is soooo much Merlin could be doing, its not funny! He could find a small habitable island, build a modern colony&stronghold, kidnap a kid or 2, and start a second Alexandrian enclave. Properly armed and hidden, they could build an isolated civilisation for a generation or two, then start a war of conquest that the CoGA has no hope of wining. Entire wood fleets could be leveled by one assault shuttle. Cities can be leveled trivially from space. a tank platoon would be able to face and destroy entire armies. Raising the colony with the truth, and with the same level of education as the terran federation, would mean he doesn’t have to worry about teaching *humanity* how to think again.

    Merlin could be stacking the deck time and time again with the use of nanites: targetted poisonings, canon and musket failures, abnormally fast wood rot…

    Modern propaganda techniques are probably not well understood on safehold, but he and owl do! Where is the propaganda from 3rd parties? why isn’t he trying to create flashpoints of dissent everywhere? For that matter, he could be building hospitals, schools, and foodbanks, and he could be doing it in Zion. Humanitarians denouncing the CoGA would have some political pull.

    Wealth… He can make anything. He could have introduced one or two important innovations elsewhere, and made a mint. With wealth comes power, which he could use to manipulate politics world-wide. Where are the bribes manipulating the Harchong, etc?

    He’s smart enough that he should be able to fight this war from many fronts. Pei Shan-Wei had a second string; Merlin should have at least 2 more.

  38. Anthony says:

    Humanitarians that denounced the Church would get executed (ritually tortured to death) as the heretics they are. Most of the circle were involved in charities, and Clyntahn’s goons were not.

    one of the previous books mentioned p[problems with propaganda in one of the nations, and even talked about how the church propaganda is normally superior to what dissenters produce. This indicates a better understanding of human psyche by the priests at least. Some of the modern propaganda techniques necessitate modern technology.

    As for building a fully advanced colony to start, reading about future tech blow away early eighteen hundred tech would not make for as good a story. Also Merlin wanted to avoid a situation where much of the planet was enslaved by demon worshipers and the servants of Shan Wei.

  39. Adam says:

    @30 Yep you are reading the wrong genre. Nearly all of David Weber’s books are techno thriller’s set in a sci-fi setting. Your reading the wrong author if you do not like it. This series is neat as in that we all know what the ‘new’ inventions are and wondering when they will come about is part of what I like about this series.

  40. kari says:

    @35 and @37 It’s not just the tech that Merlin is reintroducing. It’s a creative mindset and the scientific method of innovation and testing and always looking for new ideas that’s the important thing for him. Doing what you suggest and creating a hidden enclave of trained humans would be denounced as heretics when revealed. It wouldn’t change the rest of the society in the world. Ultimately, he needs to force ALL of Safehold into thinking anew and shedding old dogmas. Furthermore, there would be the chance that even a child born and raised in the enclave would listen to the teachings of the original church and be converted. There’s nothing more fanatic than someone converted from ‘religion’ to another.

  41. kari says:

    Oh btw – in case anyone’s interested, Jim Butcher is posting the 1st 5 chapters of Ghost Story – the latest novel of the Dresden Files before it comes out on his website.

  42. blind_pyro says:

    @4 – The windmills pump the water to the top of the water tower (accumulator). 80 feet of head is about 35 psi (in one g) which isn’t too shabby at all. If you read the text carefully, it is implied this stored energy is greater than the existing methods.

    “All of which required still more power. Far more of it, in fact, then conventional waterwheels could possibly provide.

    Which was where the concept for the “accumulator” had come from.”

    This is really a neat idea, although as mentioned in the comments above, fossil fuels are a denser energy storage medium than water.

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