Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 29

Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 29

“Not surprising, really,” Howsmyn replied, looking back out the window. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot longer than you have, after all. But the truth is that all I’ve really managed so far is to go to a sort of intermediate system, one in which workmen make individual, interchangeable parts that can be assembled rather than one in which a group of artisans is responsible for making the entire machine or rifle or pair of scissors or disk harrow or reaping machine from the ground up. My craftsmen produce parts from templates and jigs, to far closer tolerances than anyone ever achieved before, and we’re using stamping processes and powered machinery to make parts it used to take dozens of highly skilled artisans to make by hand. They can produce the components far more rapidly, and I can put more of them to work making the parts I need in larger numbers, or making the parts that take longer to make, so that I’m turning out the optimum number of parts to keep the actual assembly moving smoothly, without bottlenecks. But each of those fabricating processes is separate from all the others, and then all the pieces have to be taken to wherever the final product’s being put together and assembled in one place. It’s not bad for something fairly small and simple, like a rifle or a pistol, but the bigger and more complex the final product, the more cumbersome it gets.”

“And it still makes your workforce many times more efficient than anything the Church has going for it,” Wylsynn pointed out.

“Yes, it does, and more and more of my fellow ironmasters are starting to use the same techniques. Some of them are clearly infringing on my patents, of course.” Howsmyn grinned at the intendant, who was also the head of the Imperial Patent Office. “I’m sure several of them — like that bastard Showail — wonder why I haven’t already taken legal action. Wouldn’t do to tell them how happy I am about it, now would it?” He shook his head. “Eventually, I’m going to have to take some action to defend the patents, if we don’t want them asking questions about why a mark-grubbing manufactory owner such as myself isn’t complaining about people robbing him blind. But even with the new techniques spreading, we’re still a long way from where we could be. And frankly, we need to crank our efficiency an awful lot higher if we’re going to compensate for the sheer manpower, however inefficient it may be, the Temple can throw at the same sorts of problems now that it’s finally starting to get itself organized. According to Owl’s SNARCs, Desnair and the Temple Lands are beginning to build new water powered blast furnaces and rolling mills, for example, with Clyntahn’s blessings and Duchairn’s financial backing. It won’t be long before they start improving their drop hammers, too, and however good that may be for Merlin’s overall plans, it’s not the kind of news the Empire needs. We’ve got to stay as far ahead as we can, and that’s especially true for me, since my foundries and manufactories are the Empire’s cutting edge. That’s where a real assembly-line would come in, if we could only make it work.”

“How does that differ from what you’re already doing?”

“In a proper assembly-line, whatever’s being built — assembled — moves down a line of workstations on a conveyor belt, or on a moving crane — or, if it’s a vehicle of some sort, on its own wheels, perhaps, once they’ve been attached. What matters is that it goes to the workmen, rather than the workmen coming to it. As it passes each station, the workman or workmen at that station perform their portion of the assembly process. They connect a specific part or group of parts, and that’s all they do. Whatever they’re building is brought to them. The work force is sized so there’s enough manpower at each station to let that part of the assembly be done in as close to the same amount of time as every other part, so that the line keeps moving at a steady pace. And because each group of workers performs exactly the same function on each new assembly, they can do their part of the task far more efficiently . . . and a hell of a lot more quickly.”

“I see.” Wylsynn sipped from his own glass, frowning, and rubbed one eyebrow. “I hope this doesn’t sound too obtuse, but why can’t you do that?”

“I can do something like that with relatively small items, like pistols and rifles. I have runners on the shop floor who wheel cartloads from one workstation to another. But to do that on a true industrial scale, I need to be able to locate machine tools — powered machine tools — at the proper places in the assembly process. Before Merlin, we really didn’t have ‘machine tools,’ although I’d been applying waterpower to as many processes as I could before he ever came along. Now my artisans’ve invented a whole generation of powered tools, everything from lathes to drill presses to powered looms and spinning machines for Rhaiyan’s textile manufactories. In fact, they’ve leapfrogged a hundred years or more of Earth’s industrial history — largely because of the ‘hints’ Merlin and I have been able to give them. But all of them are still limited by the types of power available — they’re tied to waterwheels or the hydro-accumulators by shafting and drive belts. They aren’t . . . flexible, and they are dangerous, no matter how careful my managers and I try to be. The steam engines are going to help, but we still can’t simply locate machinery where we need it located; we have to locate it where we can provide power to it, instead. Electricity, and electric motors, would give us a distributed power network that would let us do that. Steam and waterpower don’t.”


Wylsynn nodded slowly, thinking about all of the patent applications he’d approved over the last four years. Probably two thirds of them had come from Howsmyn or his artisans, although an increasing number were coming from Charisians who’d never heard of the Terran Federation. That was a good sign, but he hadn’t really considered the problem Howsmyn had just described. Probably, he reflected, because he’d been so busy being impressed by what the ironmaster had already accomplished.

Like the steam engine they’d just observed. Thanks to Owl — and Merlin, of course — Howsmyn had completely bypassed the first hundred or hundred and fifty years of the steam engine’s development back on long-dead Earth. He’d gone directly to water tube boilers and compound expansion engines, with steam pressures of almost three hundred pounds per square inch, something Earth hadn’t approached until the beginning of its twentieth century. Oh, his initial engine had been a single-cylinder design, but that had been as much a test of the concept as anything else. He’d moved on to double-cylinder expansion engines for his first canal boat trials, but no canal boat offered anything like enough room for that monster they’d just watched in action. Still, the boat engines had been a valuable learning exercise . . . and even they operated at a far higher pressure — and efficiency — than anything attainable before the very end of Old Earth’s nineteenth century.

The advances he’d already made in metallurgy, riveting and welding, and quality control had helped to make those pressures and temperatures possible, but Safehold had always had a working empirical understanding of hydraulics. That was one reason Howsmyn’s hydro-accumulators had been relatively easy for Wylsynn to approve even before he’d been admitted to the inner circle; they’d simply been one more application — admittedly, an ingenious one — of concepts which had been used in the waterworks the “archangels” had made part of Safehold’s infrastructure from the Day of Creation. But the compact efficiency of the engines Howsmyn was about to introduce would dwarf even the hydro-accumulators’ impact on what Merlin called his “power budget.” So perhaps it wasn’t surprising Wylsynn had been more focused on that increase than on the even greater potentials of the electricity he still understood so poorly himself.

Especially since electricity’s one thing we can be pretty certain would attract the “Rakurai” if the bombardment platform detected it,

he thought grimly. We’re lucky it doesn’t seem to worry about steam, but I don’t think it would miss a generating plant!
He shuddered internally at the thought of turning Charis into another Armageddon Reef, yet even as he did, another, very different thought occurred to him. He started to shake it off, since it was so obviously foolish. Even if it had offered any useful potential, surely Merlin and Howsmyn would already have thought of it! But it wouldn’t shake, and he frowned down into his whiskey glass.


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62 Responses to Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 29

  1. Kris says:

    I had a flicker of this thought a few books ago; I assumed that there was some technical reason it wouldn’t work. The one thing I’m wondering about, is he thinking of getting the platforms to shoot somebody specific or using up amo on those desert islands?

    • ElimGarak says:

      Yes, I had a similar idea, only I was thinking in terms of asteroids. The Rakurai system has to defend itself somehow. If Merlin can get a shuttle up and accelerate a bunch of rocks at the thing, then it must either destroy the asteroids or be destroyed. Either he can blow away its components with asteroid bombardment, or the system must use up its resources to protect itself.

      The hard part will be accelerating a big enough rock to sufficient velocity – Merlin doesn’t have a frigate with which to push things. However, it should be child’s play for Owl to construct a long duration but low intensity rocket engine. Then Merlin simply has to attach that engine to a rock, start it going, and wait a few weeks. Gravity and time will do the rest.

      • JimHacker says:

        The MWW himself has stated that Rakurai ‘might’ have defenses against that sort of thing. In the way that he says things that are, he just doesn’t want to canonically confirm.

        And if you were thinking of using a bigger rock, i think that might well do some damage to the planet below.

        • ElimGarak says:

          Nah, you can easily set things up so that it won’t do any damage to the planet below. You just need to aim things properly and time them right. Make sure that the rock is a near miss to the planet, and that it passes at exactly the right time so that any debris fall either into an empty stretch of ocean or some extreme wilderness (e.g. mountains). Unless the rock is big enough to cause a tsunami it shouldn’t be a problem.

          Besides, another option is to over-saturate the system with many smaller rocks. E.g. fire a few hundred small rocks at much higher velocity from multiple trajectories, see what happens.

          • JimHacker says:

            Except that Weber has pretty much said (whithout confirming 100%) that the Rakurai has anti-asteroid laser defences (the capacitators of which might be charged by solar power perhaps) to guard against accidental hits. Anything big enough to not be affected by the lasers would almost certainly be so big that it would ineviatably hit Safehold after hitting something in orbit unless it was mobing at fractional c velocities. And even then it would likely give off something of a light show which would be of propaganda use for the Go4.

            • andreas says:

              Asteroid defenses would not be neccessary. The probability of a random asteroid impacting a random satellite platform is miniscule. The chance of random asteroids taking all of them out? Impossible.

              • JimHacker says:

                Except that over tens of thousand of years I suppose they might be necessary? Or perhaps langhorne was just excessive. But these defences are referred to in the first book when they shoot snarcs out of the sky.

                Actually, I seem to recall that one or two satellites get damaged by meteorite strikes each year. of course, we have thousands of the damn things.

    • Spktyr says:

      I’m thinking more ‘someone specific’ and less ‘wasting ammo’ – I’ve been thinking about that as well. Want someone offensive from the CoGA gone? Well, I’m sure the CoGA capital would be in ‘target exemption’ list for obvious reasons, but if they ever leave the capital, well, how hard would it be to have a large and obvious to sensors use of electricity somewhere in the vicinity? “Oh, look, Vicar/Bishop Whoever, what you’re doing must be wrong because the Rakurai just came and visited their wrath on you!”

      In fact, I would seriously consider doing that *any* time you can get a CoGA force or leader away from an innocent populace. It wouldn’t get more convincing that the CoGA was doing things wrong than ‘the wrath of God’ striking them down.

      • ElimGarak says:

        First of all that’s tantamount to nuking a place on the planet. The weapon footprint is probably ginormous and you would have other effects that would hurt everyone on the planet. If it’s in the sea you could cause a tsunami for example.

        Second, activation of the Rakurai would almost certainly awaken whatever sits underneath the temple.

      • Anthony says:

        Big part of that is getting the a church leader you want killed away from the populace. So far it appears none of them have even gotten far from the temple, let alone Zion itself.

    • Nimitz13 says:

      I’m certainly surprised that after all the discussion about spoofing the Rakurai, it appears Paityr is actually considering it. There has been a lot of talk about planting a “generating plant” wherever the EoC wants a major enemy removed, but because 1) They don’t know what triggers it, 2) Merlin already has the blood of too many innocents on his hands, and simply wouldn’t allow such a move, since thousands of innocent people would die, and 3) the MWW has explicitly stated that Merlin doesn’t want to trigger the Rakurai because it might wake up whatever is under the temple – or make whatever it is aware that something is going on that it should take an interest in.

      So even if Paityr is thinking of spoofing the Rakurai, “surely Merlin and Howsmyn would already have thought of it!”

      They have, and they won’t do it. And the answer from the MWW is apparently “No way in Langhorne’s final resting place!”

      But he’s often mislead us before… Bleek!

      • Doubting Thomas says:

        My belief is that he is thinking of pneumatics as a way to avoid the Rukurai.

        • JimHacker says:

          I agree. I think Paityr is finally going to come up with his own invention – hydraulic/pneumatic powered tools.

          • Richard H says:

            It occurs to me to note here that the Amish are masters of pneumatic power tools, since they are religiously forbidden from using electricity.

      • JeffM says:

        I have a suspicion that Paityr is thinking of something else–otherwise he simply would have thought of Merlin, not Merlin AND Howsmyn.

  2. Allan G says:

    I wonder if the penny’s dropped that Henry Ford didn’t have electric power (just lighting) when he built the first assembly lines?
    You can go a long way with air and hydraulic power if you are that way inclined.
    (And even today air tools are prefered for some applications since they are smaller and lighter for the same torque).

  3. Mike says:

    Why not air power? Air tools work great. Better than electric tools in a lot of ways.

  4. Sanity says:

    the rakurai probably isn’t based around a central location, its most likely dispersed, so it can affect any continent regardless of planetary rotation, you could probably get it to waste ammunition by deliberately attracting its attention, but destroying a dispersed infrastructure would be very difficult, and pissing it off may trigger a more detailed scan of the planetary surface for forbidden tech

    • Nimitz13 says:

      Everything else you said was spot on, except for the Rakurai being dispersed around the planet. On that point I’m afraid the textev contradicts you. I’m quoting from memory based on what’s said in OAR, but we had a major discussion about this on the Weber forums if you want the exact details.

      The Rakurai is a group of observation satellites, solar receivers, defense platforms, and kinetic platforms formed into a defensive sphere that orbits the planet. So it IS sort of centralized, although it orbits the entire planet so you’re right that it doesn’t hover over Zion, for example.

      It can hit any spot on Safehold – eventually. We’re not told how long it takes to orbit the planet, but since it DOES, that means it most likely covers the planet in less than the 26.5 hour Safeholdian day, and I’m sure that murderous $%&*@rd Langhorne made sure its orbit was low enough to get to any “offenders” within an hour or two. Plus it can shoot at an angle, not just straight down, so it doesn’t have to be overhead to turn any location within its horizon into a smoking crater. (Though the damage from a shot angled through hundreds of miles of the atmosphere to hit a spot it can just barely target would be incredibly damaging to anything near its path – near being a relative term of course!) Bleek!

  5. arrrgh says:

    The capitol MIGHT be on an exempt list, but that’s by no means certain at all. As far as I can recall, the attack in the past seemed more like an extremely wide area bombardment system, not a tactical nuke scale system. ie taking out a country, not a valley.

    • Zak says:

      I remember from I think the first book that there was a church choir singing all the time in the temple and that the singing never stopped. That the next group would join in before the first group would stop. I remember thinking that if they stopped singing that something bad would happen. But that may just be my paranoid self. I mean come on like the bombardment system would waste some city if the temple singers stop. (grin)

  6. dave o says:

    Line shafts, whether water or steam powered, although dangerous, are a lot more flexible than this snippet suggests. Add hydraulics, and I don’t see why they need electric motors just yet. It’s really a question of designing the production line.

    Of course, it would be real nice to spoof the rakurai, But without knowing what can set them off, it’s a risky business to design the triggers.

    • Allan G says:

      Line shafts are still used in some shearing sheds even today. Possible and reasonably safe with suitable guarding (which the Victorian era hadn’t quite got round to). The other possible additional technology would be flexible shaft drives.
      Most production lines don’t have machine tools on them anyway, the machines make parts and the parts are transfered to the build stations. The exceptions are engine block build lines but these are relatively static and long lived.
      As for the rakurai a spark gap transmitter outside the temple would be an interesting experiment.

    • Anthony says:

      I wonder what the rakurai might do if it found something forbidden. Would it fire immediately (why have a key then?) or would it contact it’s control station with the information and request clearance to fire. It could very well wake up the “angel” underneath the temple (who might have another key).

      When woken up he sees an electrical signature in Zion, goes to learn more info, finds out about Merlin and rapid tech advances in Charis, and decides to destroy the island.

      Why tempt it when you don’t need to yet.

  7. BobG says:

    I’ve thought that Merlin should have had OWL start building a naval vessel capable of taking out the Rakurai platforms inside his base. Even if it takes 10 or 20 years to build, OWL has the cycles to spare, and should be capable of building the tools necessary to build the tools necessary to build the … to build the ship.

    I would think a DD or CL would be sufficient.

    • TenofSwords says:

      Would a shops tactical computer attached to a ships library have those sorts of designs? Would OWL have the capacity to build something that big, i.e. the machine tools to manage the enourmous construction? I would have also though that large naval vessels would have been space going only.

      • JimHacker says:

        Furthermore, OWL’s fabrication unit is already growing low on critical materials according to when Merlin asked whether it could fabricate a PICA.

      • BobG says:

        My point was that OWL would have time to build the tools to build the tools, and so on.

        I would think that OWL would have the full specs and maintenance information on Terran naval vessels, and while it might not have full designs of each and every piece, it could figure out the ones it didn’t have.

        And it could build stealthed mining robots and send them out to obtain critical materials. That’s why I said 10-20 years. It might even take longer.

        • Nimitz13 says:

          I’m not so sure that OWL has the blueprints and know-how to build a Terran Federation style ship. The original plan (before Langhorne dismantled it) was to leave at least one ship in the system under heavy shields to give the colonists a leg up in building their own ships when the time came.

          Perhaps having a working model would be more effective than just the blueprints and the information on how to make everything that goes into a starship. It may just be that the information the colonists were supposed to get was lost with the Alexandria enclave.

          For the sake of the survival of the human race, let’s hope “Building a Starship 101” is included in OWL’s data storage! Bleek!

        • BobG says:

          OWL is a tactical computer. Presumably a starship’s tactical computer.

  8. WP says:

    The Rakurai have to detect things somehow – they are not mystic devices. Rock or concrete are pretty good shielding for radio and electric. Could not electric devices be built underground with rock or concrete coverings? Getting people to accept power via wires would probably be a tougher problem.

    • Richard H says:

      The problem is, if the Rakurai has sensitive enough sensors, present-day electric motors generate an amazing amount of EM noise, and power transmission lines are gigantic antennas. Don’t tell me DC would be better than AC, either. They’re going to be transmitting a *long* way if the power plants have to be under mountains. I suppose iron foundries might be somewhat exempt from that if you build them next to the mines and put the power plants in the mines, but I think electric power matters more for end-use manufacturing.

    • JimHacker says:

      I would say that trying to explain why you’re hiding power cables from the wrath of god would be the big problem.

  9. TenofSwords says:

    What I don’t get is how the Temple has the information to replicate the water powered blast furnaces and drop hammers. Through that mole in the RCN who is now dead? Would he have really been able to provide the necessary detail? Are Charis deliberately allowing loyalist spies to send in formation back to begin the technological corruption of the temple?

    • RichardK says:

      Short answer is, Yes.

      If only one percent of the population is a temple loyalist, who is active enough to answer questions about what he does at work to his local TL priest, then the CoGA has a production flow diagram. Add in the ability to reverse engineer from an actual item (rifled musket, flintlock), and you can produce almost anything.

      I belive that if you took a blender to a 1700’s craftsman, he could have a working unit producted in 2-4 months, even if you would have to hand crank it.

  10. valinor89 says:

    I wonder if the patent records are freely available. Some enterprising spy could simply copy them and you get a very good start on replicating the inventions. I think this was one of the objectives of Merlin when he set them up.

    • Doug Lampert says:

      Secret patent records defeats the official purpose of a patent office, which is to encourage people to make inventions public and available rather than keeping them secret. Merlin would very definitely want to push that particular argument in favor, Safehold patent records are public or there is something very wrong.

      So yeah, one mole in the patent office and the CoGA has complete designs adequate to enable construction of a working model for anything that’s been patented, and EVERYTHING Houseman has been doing is patented.

  11. kari says:

    In the 1st book it mentions that the temple is built to withstand a bombardment. Nimue growses that it was so overbuilt that it had better defenses than many military depots on Earth. So, getting the AI’s to bomb it would only take out the innocent villagers around the temple but it would still be standing.

    • kari says:

      The 1st book also mentions that Nimue attempted to approach the platforms with small shielded probes that were immediately taken out no matter how stealthy she made them. Weber made it clear that she had nothing in the cave that could take those things out, and she ordered OWL to work on a solution. If I remember correctly the book also hinted that due to OWL’s limitations that there is a possible solution being overlooked.

  12. HenryS says:

    “In the 1st book it mentions that the temple is built to withstand a bombardment. Nimue growses that it was so overbuilt that it had better defenses than many military depots on Earth. So, getting the AI’s to bomb it would only take out the innocent villagers around the temple but it would still be standing.”
    But a bombardment, even if it didn’t destroy the temple, would sure cause some questions about whether the Go4 had lost God’s support.

    • Robert H. Woodman says:

      The moral price for killing so many innocent people to demonstrate the loss of God’s favor by the CoGA is too high. And when the truth emerged — as it inevitably must — the EoC could suffer grievously if the rest of Safehold decided that the bombardment was morally reprehensible, which, IMHO, it would be.

  13. andreas says:

    My thought actually was to build a generator into an ironclad with steam engines, try to get it close enough to an enemy city and then switch on the power generation, probably with a big antenna screaming “look how much EM waves I can generate!”

    But the loss of human lives might not be worth it. It’s a suicide mission with a few thousands or tens of thousands of civilian deaths…

    • JeffM says:

      Why would you have to build a generator into an ironclad, when you could just build one into a galleon? And why in the world do you think in terms of “a major city”???

      A military base, maybe, but most of those are surrounded by civilians. And Merlin and Cayleb have gone to great lengths to demonstrate that they are going to minimize the loss of civilian life, not just say that a certain number is “too many”.

      • Richard H says:

        A bit late for this, but… presumably you’d want an ironclad (as a shorthand for steamer) so you could hook the dynamo straight to the propeller drive shaft when you’re done getting to your destination.

  14. Adam says:

    It would be neat if they introduced pneumatics for the assembly line problem. I can see it also not any more concern than the steam engine itself. All that Father Paiter needs to do is explain that it is just storing wind power. Most likely they are waiting for the steam engine tech to be a little more commonplace before introducing pneumatics.

    The neat thing is after pneumatics is introduced someone is going to feel the tank as its being compressed or drained and remark that it is cold or hot. Then Charis will be on the road to refrigeration will all those benifits that has for a civilization. I wonder how society will react to that. They now have the same magic power that keeps the temple the same temperature.

    • JeffM says:

      I think you might be on to whatever might be about to “occur” to Paityr. Partly because blowing the hack out of Zion never would! :)

    • Allan G says:

      Another reason to look at ammonia synthesis (ammonia is a good refrigerant (and used in a lot of industrial and commercial refrigeration systems)).
      (Ammonia is a very useful material and its production (and the technology involved) leads on to a lot of interesting synthetic chemistry, including plastics production).

    • userunfriendly says:

      Of course, given the inevitable new lexicon and terminology that inevitably arises from new technology, this would allow truly horrible jokes…

      Father Wylsynn: So, pump 23 is out of order?

      Shop Foreman: Yes, Father, 23 has a broken wind.

      Father Wylsynn: Hmmm…that’s an interesting phrase…(coughing)

      Shop Foreman: Yes, Father, but as you’ve pointed out, the new system is just an accumulator for wind, right?

      • Nimitz13 says:

        Turning to hydraulics we could see another horrible joke:

        “So the ship’s main hydraulic system ruptured?” the chief engineer in charge of repairs inquired.

        “That’s right sir, ” Ensign Smyth replied. “Her water broke.”

        (And yes, I DO realize a liquid with a higher boiling point and lower freezing point than water will generally be used in hydraulic systems, but that would ruin the joke…) Bleek!

        • JimHacker says:

          I’m not sure Safehold has such a liquid yet – not one which would be suitable (eg, oil but not mercury) in any significant quantities anyway. So any hydraulics probably would be water based.

          • userunfriendly says:

            Does Safehold even have fossil fuels? I can’t remember if Anthracite coal has been mentioned, and no coal means no oil…the thought of using charcoal to bunkerage a fleet of Steam Ironclads boggles the mind!

          • Allan G says:

            Waters not a bad hydraulic fluid if your cylinders are bronze but it tends to boil at too low a pressure and is a lousy lubricant (and corrosive if oxygen is present) on steel (hence the use of oil in most modern hydraulics).

  15. JeffM says:

    BTW–I forgot to observe and offer credit where credit is due. Obviously Drak found yet another diabolical cutoff point…somehow I doubt this is the end of this dialogue.

  16. Adam says:

    Yay. Just to let everybody know, Tor book’s switch to DRM free just took effect. You can now get this series without drm :)

    • JeffM says:

      Dare I ask what DRM is?

      • Drak Bibliophile says:

        DRM = Digital Rights Management.

        It is intended to prevent “you” from sharing an ebook that you’ve purchased with anybody else (or from selling a copy of the ebook).

        Unfortunately, it also gives you problems if you have to replace your current ebook readers.

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