Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 37

Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 37

Seamount had initially proposed designating rifled guns by the weight of their solid shot while changing the designations for smoothbores to the diameter of their bores, since it was primarily the increase in projectile weight which presented the technical challenges he had to solve. In the end, however, he’d decided it would cause too much confusion. Every officer of the Imperial Charisian Navy knew exactly what a “thirty-pounder” meant right now, so he’d chosen to label the new guns using the new nomenclature rather than confuse the issue by making everyone learn yet another new one. Besides, the guns were all going to be firing more than one weight of projectile in the very near future, anyway. The thirty-pounder’s solid shot actually weighed almost thirty-two pounds, but its shell — with fifty-five cubic inches less iron and a roughly two-pound bursting charge — weighed less than eighteen. The six-inch rifle’s solid shot, on the other hand, weighed over a hundred pounds, and the standard shell carried an eleven-pound bursting charge and weighed sixty-seven pounds. And at the moment, Merlin knew, Seamount and Rahzwail were working on heavy shells for attacking armor and masonry. The thicker walls of the new shell’s central cavity would reduce the bursting charge to no more than three or four pounds but increase overall shell weight by thirty-five percent, which would give it much greater striking power and penetration.

It would also increase the bore pressures and recoil forces still further, of course. Still, the same basic design for a recuperator — effectively, a hydro-pneumatic recoil system — ought to work equally well for the thirty-pounder and the six-inch, although he understood Seamount’s reservations about applying their current design to the much heavier eight-inch and ten-inch rifles Edwyrd Howsmyn was currently designing. It ought to work, but until they positively proved it would, they couldn’t approve a final design for the new guns’ mounts.

The original concept had Mahndrayn’s, although Rahzwail had taken the dead commander’s original rough sketches and, along with Hainai, turned them into a practical proposition. Essentially, it was simply a pair of large, sealed cylinders, one filled with oil and the other with compressed air. The gun was rigidly attached to a piston inside the oil-filled cylinder; when it fired, recoil pulled the piston towards the rear, forcing the oil through a small opening into the second cylinder. The second cylinder’s free-floating piston separated the oil from a confined volume of compressed air, and as the floating piston was pressed forward, it compressed the air even further. The result was to absorb the recoil progressively, braking it smoothly as the internal air pressure rose, and at the end of recoil, that increased air pressure generated a back pressure that returned the gun forward to its original position.

It was only one of several approaches from Mahndrayn’s fertile imagination, including the pivoting slide carriage the Navy had adopted while it waited for the hydro-pneumatic system to be worked out. The current carriage, just being introduced, would have been called a “Marsilly carriage” back on Old Earth, and it was a major improvement on even the “new model” carriages one Merlin Athrawes had introduced only five years earlier. There had been some resistance to it, since it required iron or steel slides, but its advantages had quickly become evident. Pivoted at the front end of the carriage, it could be quickly moved to new angles of train. Two men with roller-ended handspikes could train it quite easily on its eccentric axles, and since it used the friction between the metal slide and the transom of the piece to damp recoil, its recoil path was much shorter, which meant it could be loaded and fired much more rapidly. It had already been tested satisfactorily with thirty-pounders, and it could be fitted with compressor screws to increase the friction for still heavier guns, if needed.

The Mahndrayan carriage was more practical than some of his other ideas, although his spring-driven recoil mechanism would probably work for lighter pieces. (Another design, for coastal artillery, using counterweights in a deep pit under the gun platform had proved practical even for the heaviest cannon, although the system would have been totally unworkable for a naval mounting.) As far as the recuperator was concerned, however, Rahzwail had profited in his development of Mahndrayn’s original sketches by consulting with the Royal College. Doctor Mahklyn had been able to nudge him gently past a couple of obstacles, but the vast majority of the work was his and Hainai’s original work, with substantial contributions from the College’s Doctor Vyrnyr. Merlin had found himself tempted to step in and push the project more than once, but Rahzwail and Hainai were doing exactly what he needed Safeholdians to learn to do, and so he’d let them run with it.


, he thought now, we do have a few advantages Ahlfryd and the others don’t know about. For example, I feel strangely confident that Ehdwyrd’s artificers will solve that leakage problem before too much longer. I believe “Doctor Owl” will have a little something to say about that!

“If — or, rather, when — we get the leak problem licked, we’ll have an effective recoil absorbing system,” Seamount continued, “and if we can manage that, I feel confident we’ll be able to produce the ‘pedestal mounts’ at least for lighter pieces.” He glanced at Merlin with a half smile as he used the term Merlin had coined. “For the heavier pieces, we’re still going to need something more massive, but I think the pivot mounts Fhranklyn and Master Howsmyn have been working on should prove practical. Frankly, one of the things that’s bothered me the most has been the need to integrate some sort of capture mechanism to latch the gun in the fully recoiled position for loading. It works fine with Urvyn’s counterweight system for the shore batteries, but I’m less comfortable with it for the recuperator. It’s an added complication and another potential failure point in the entire system, not to mention significantly increasing strain — or, at least, the period of maximum stress — on the pneumatic cylinder. But we have to bring the muzzle back inboard and keep it there if we’re going to reload it. Or” — he looked back up from his notes suddenly, his eyes sharp — “that’s been our working assumption from the time Urvyn and I started on the project. Now, however, Ahldahs and Fhranklyn have come up with a completely new suggestion.”

“New suggestion?” Rock Point cocked his head at Seamount and Rahzwail. “They do seem to come rather fast and furious around your lot, Ahlfryd. Is this another one I’d rather not get too close to on the proving ground?”

“It should work fine, Sir,” Seamount said reassuringly. “In theory, at least.”

“I could’ve gone all month without that little qualifier,” Rock Point said dryly. “I seem to remember a few other qualifiers which led to loud, noisy explosions.”

“But most of them’ve worked out in the end, Sir.”

“Including that flamethrower notion of yours? Or the liquid incendiary shell fillings?” Rock Point inquired just a bit tartly.

“I did say most, not all, Sir.”

Rock Point eyed him coldly for a moment, then snorted.

“Yes, you did. And, yes, most of them have worked out . . . so far. So what has Captain Rahzwail come up with this time?”

“Ahldahs?” Seamount looked across the table at his assistant, and Captain Rahzwail squared his shoulders.

“The idea actually came to me from another of Commander Mahndrayn’s sketches, My Lord. When he was looking at ways to seal the breach of his rifle, he considered the possibility of using a threaded plug, one that would screw in and out and produce a tight seal that way. He adopted the solution he finally chose because it would take much longer to screw a breech plug all the way in and out, and also because he was concerned fouling would cement the plug in place. But the notion of a threaded breech plug or block stuck in my brain, and it occurred to me that the plug didn’t have to be completely threaded.”

“I beg your pardon?” Rock Point frowned, his expression intent.

“If we were to cut away a part of the threads, My Lord, so that the plug could slide all the way into position, then rotate through a half-turn or so and lock solidly into place, it would greatly reduce the time between shots.”


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72 Responses to Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 37

  1. Adam says:

    Looks like it is the interrupted screw that is the winner. I think it is probably due to the fact that metallic cartridges haven’t been invented yet. We are at the point of shoving a paper cartridge into the breach and have the gun cut the backside to expose the powder to a percussion cap. Someones going to come up with the metallic cartridge that marries the bullet, powder and primer and then it is on to its bigger cousin the artillery with simpler and cheaper falling block breaches.

    This snippet does beg the question to what else did Dr. Owl teach. It is looking pretty firm that it was Owl acting on its own initiative to arrange the nitrocellulose incident but going on Merlin’s directive to help nudge research along.

    • Nimitz13 says:

      I’ll admit the whole spilling incident was a bit too fortuitous, but I can’t imagine Owl did it on his own. Merlin may not have done it, but he’s not the only member of the inner circle, and nobody has asked if Rock Point had anything to do with it, for example.

      Owl simply isn’t going to step in and cause a major discovery to happen without a human telling him what to do and overseeing the whole “accident.” The fact that it happened almost precisely like it did on Earth is EXTREMELY suspicious, and points to Owl being involved, but it wasn’t the instigator.

      Professor Owl is a librarian with some nifty tools at its disposal that it can use when DIRECTED to do so. The one incident we have of him exceeding his instructions was placing SNARCs in the church hostels to track the “Charsian assassins” when Merlin only told him to put remotes in hotels and inns. Owl went one step better – which is a FAR cry from deciding on its own what the Royal College needs to discover, then causing an accident to make it happen. Owl just doesn’t operate in that manner, and I don’t believe he ever will. He DOES follow directions well, especially if a human is riding herd on him in real time.

      Let’s ask Rock Point what he was doing that morning and watch him squirm. Bleek!

      • Matthew says:

        I don’t know about that… the books keep talking about Owl getting more and more self aware…

      • Robert H. Woodman says:


        In OAR, we’re told that OWL has the capability to become more self-aware over time, though Nimue discounts that as a real possibility. In subsequent books, we’re told or shown that OWL is getting more self-aware, though it is underplayed in the story line.

        OWL may not have instigated the spilling incident, but I’m confident that at some point in the future we will see OWL do something intelligent — even clever — on it’s own initiative.

      • Nimitz13 says:

        Do you really TRUST Owl to do something with no direction from humans and entirely on its own initiative?

        It will learn to volunteer more information, understand rhetorical questions, appear to develop more of a personality, etc. Nothing in the textev says it will eventually strike out on its own. I don’t think tactical computers were ever designed for that sort of thing.

        So if it ever DOES decide to help… duck!!!

    • Allan G says:

      Bagged charges do have advantages in large caliber guns as the components are more manhandleable (a 10″ cartridge is a beast to handle and a 15″ doesn’t bear thinking about without automatic machinery). Bagged charges also give a rapid way of varying the charge in the gun and thus the range (useful for large howitzers). (and if they get round to shelling the temple from Sidhamark it will be with a bagged charge gun…with multiple breaches…(got played with in WW11) (Hitler’s V3).
      Rapid fire guns do need cartridges though and it would be hard to exceed two rounds a minute with bagged charges.
      Horses for courses….

  2. Nimitz13 says:

    Yes, we get breech loading artillery! I thought they’d actually have a prototype ready though, but since there are better breechloading designs, perhaps its for the best.

    I hope Merlin or Rock point will help them skip through 75 years of different interrupted screw types and arrive at the “single-motion interrupted screw breech” produced by Smith-Asbury in 1916 which allowed the whole action of unscrewing and swinging aside of the breech screw to be accomplished in a single continuous motion. Prior to that breechloaders that used screws had 3, then 2 steps to unscrew and swing the breech open. (Many thanks to Wikipedia.) No sense wasting time and money on anything but the best!

    Thirsk is SO toast! Bleek!

    • Zak says:

      Maybe yes or maybe no (grin)

    • JeffM says:

      Thirsk’s FLEET is “so toast”. Whether he’s still with it or not.

    • BobG says:

      Depends on how long it takes to get things from development to production and then out to the field. Of course, if Clyhtahn replaces Thirst with a Church military commander, then things will be … easier.

      • JeffM says:

        Or, if Thirsk manages to flee, OR if he manages to find some way to surrender his fleet, put them into an indefensible position (with his family safe, of course).

  3. robert says:

    “The original concept had Mahndrayn’s, although Rahzwail had taken the dead commander’s original rough sketches and, along with Hainai, turned them into a practical proposition.”

    “had Mahndrayn’s” what?

    • jfenton says:

      probably, “had been Mahndrayn’s”, look forward to better editing in the book.

      • Matthew says:

        We hope… every DW book I’ve seen has had at least 2-3 glaring typographical errors, lol.

        • JimHacker says:

          That’s actually very good considering the length of the books. The only one which annoys me is where ‘Corisandians’ and ‘Chisholmians’ get mixed up – although less important now as they’re both part of the EoC.

          JackCampbell’s Lost Fleet series has about one error for every three pages throughout the series in the european edition/print run. Total immersion breaker.

          Actually (and i may be wrong about this) IIRC almost all the errors in MWW’s books are the result of voice recognition software misinterpreting what he dictated so most errors are words replaced with something which sounds similar or occasionally ommitted rather than the errors you normally get. Its possible i’m thinking about a different author though.

          • Matthew says:

            You’re right, it is pretty good, still with today’s ability do digitally distribute ARC’s I see no reason there should be any it would be simplicity itself to set up some type of electronic submission form for errors in the text.

  4. Ed T. says:

    One-hundred and eighteeen!
    That is an approximation of how many pages have been printed so far in the snippets up to date. Only four hundred and eighteen more to go!

  5. Frank says:

    I don’t know why they haven’t been prompted to invent metal cartridges yet. All this messing around with cloth cartridges is wasting time and resources. Personally I am waiting for the first ironclad encounter that the navy of god. Imagine their terror at the plumes of black smoke from the smokestacks, no sails, and and the ominous armor piercing exploding shells ravaging their fleets and harbors. That should strike absolute terror into the hearts of every inquisitor. Gorath is going to be razed to the ground. Not one building will be spared. Spare the people so they can watch everything being put to the torch.

  6. dave o says:

    I hope Merlin, or Owl, or someone/thing suggest the de Bang obturator, or whoever fires the first interrupted screw guns will not be happy. Toasted instead.

  7. arrrgh says:

    Mahndrayn’s sketches…..that would seem like a very easy way to sneak a boatload of new innovations in without having Merlin having to make any brilliant suggestions. An old bag or safe of Mahndrayn could be ‘discovered’, with a treasure trove of Da Vinci style sketches.

  8. JN says:

    The nitrocellulose is a cheat, because there was the accidental discovery on Earth to draw from. Put the right three ingredients close proximity, and this is inevitable. Nitro-glycerin is no harder, just much more dangerous. Easy to make. Difficult to make safely.


    • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

      IIRC (and it is a l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-n-g time ago when I first made it (more than 40 years)) nitro chemically has 2 of 6 configurations that are semi-stable (think medicinal nitro used for hearts and hemorhoids) in the correct proportions.
      There are also a few near-correct proportions (like with black powder) that will give an effective combination (nowhere near stable chemically or otherwise, but effective).
      And stability even for the correct mixtures is so v-e-e-e-e-e-r-y temperature dependent, that IMO safely making and maintaining nitro is about as good as a lottery win.
      Then again the author in the last snippet has a scientist breathing acid fumes without harm and guncotton heated over an open flame only deflagrating not detonating.
      And his Charisians are producing primers without blowing themselves up (which is a stretch for me if using a fulminate or azide process (or even potassium perchlorate) as stability is SO NOT their thing). What I love is that dangerously interactive impurities are not present! That for me says fiction.

      • Robert H. Woodman says:


        Yes indeed, it is fiction. OTOH, old time chemists in RL used to touch, smell, and taste everything (or almost everything, but including strong acids and bases) they made. For that matter, w-a-a-a-a-y back in time, doctors used to taste and smell their patients’ sweat and urine for signs of disease. Yuck!

        Stability of nitroglycerin is going to be a huge problem, and I hope for the sake of realism that DW presents (or at least mentions) the unavoidable accidents that WILL occur with nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin. Those accidents will lead to the development of dynamite. That’s going to be another game changer.

        You mentioned the multiple configurations of nitroglycerin. Are you aware of this recent discovery?


        • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

          @ Robert H. Woodman,

          Thanks for the link!!!!!

          So a new generation of young pyros is born.

          OTOH SHE didn’t conduct the physical experiment, only the theoretical model.
          Oh well, what can be said about the newest generation? I guess they aren’t as suicidally bulletproof as some of us were in ancient times when I grew up!

          And I HAVE burnt nose hairs in my remote past from quick sniffs of nitric and/or sulfuric acid concentrations, so the minor nose tingling the character got from heated fumes kinda got to me.
          Luckily even I shyed away from strong BASES (IMO they are just BAD JUJU!!!!).

          Hopefully rather than nitro the EoC will go the RDX route! And for primers I hope they go with potassium perchlorate rather than mercury fulminate (or even worse lead azides (copper contamination allowing formation of copper azide is really unstable AND a nasty bang that WILL act as detonator for anything else explosive sitting around))!!!

          I DO APOLOGIZE!!!! But I love boomenstuff!!!

          • JimHacker says:

            Please correct me if i’m wrong as explosives really aren’t my thing, but I thought that while RDX was slightly safer to make, store and use it was more technically difficult and comes with a host of production difficulties. Nitro is easier to make so long as you can accept a certain accident rate.

            Also, I thought perchlorate required electricity to produce in useful quantities.

            I’m not sure about this though, so anyone who does pl;ease say!

            • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

              RDX IS alot more complicated to produce than nitro or guncotton, but it more than makes it up in stabilty and safety of manufacture IMO.

              Nitro must be well refrigerated to transport even semi-safely over short distances. In OTL when used for demolition (in the US anyway) it is usually mixed on-site under controlled conditions for eaach use period. It DOES NOT store or transport well.

              Guncotton is one of the weakest of the explosive nitrate compounds and also doesn’t store well (IIRC it is fairly hydroscopic).

              Potassium perchlorate at the benchtop/bucket level of production does not require electricity. And since we are talking primers, why in hell would you want ANY large-scale individual production points!!

              Certain impurities if present during the mercury fulminate process can cause a very big boom during production and/or storage.
              And don’t get me started on azides!

              Choosing nitro and/or mercury/azide primers over the alternatives will be directly trading bodycount for ease of production IMO no matter how draconian your safety measures. Boomenstuff (even under the best circumstances) IS DANGEROUS!!!!!!!

              • KenJ says:

                I recall in the previous book that Mahndryn’s first primers were MercFulmate. Hence the fact that he had his own set of blasted fingers.

            • BobG says:

              Lead styphnate seems easier and safer to make as well, and I think can be used as a detonator in shells as well as portable weapons.

              Coming up with a plausable way to explain its discovery is a different story. Requires some coal tar chemistry.

              It was also, I suspect, the basis for the name of the gunpowder god in Lord Kalvin of Otherwhen.

          • Robert H. Woodman says:


            Smells and explosions were the reasons I became a chemist! :-)

            While RDX is much safer to produce than nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose, I imagine that DW is going to let his characters work through the issues and accidents of nitroglycerin before settling quickly on dynamite.

            I work with organic azides quite a bit with no problem whatsoever, but inorganic azides are a different story. Even the relatively innocuous sodium azide that’s used to power your automobile’s air bag can be potentially devastating under the right conditions. Lead and copper azides are just downright scary.

            OTOH, Merlin could have Owl surreptitiously sneak “sure fire” recipe for copper and lead azides out to Clyntahn. Wouldn’t that be a blast?


            • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

              To me copper azides are beyond scary!!
              I’ve worked with nitro, even sweated dynamite, and 35+ years old plastique/primacord (it was still labeled by the french manufacturer) and I didn’t sweat the issue half as much as disposing of some copper azide impurities. That s–t is terrifying!!!

        • Allan G says:

          Nitroglycerine is seriously dangerous to make & handle. I lost a classmate to the detonation of two tonnes in a production vessel ten years ago due to a stuck drain valve. Safer explosives should definitely be encouraged – like ANFO. With NG you dont even get a funeral (the largest piece of the plant recovered was 100mm square (other than the concrete slab it was built on.))

          • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

            But isn’t ammonium nitrate difficult to produce in its own right?
            OTOH this is Safehold so they may actually already be producing it as church-sanctified fertilizer!!

            For me, they should go to RDX and the derivatives. I l-o-o-o-o-v-e Semtex. I mean even dynamite sweats eventually, you can use a small piece of Semtex as Sterno (it is kinda stanky though; C4 burns cleaner).

  9. If Seamount authorizes the pursuit of the interrupted screw idea, he’s in for a rude awakening–and possibly a few dead gunners. The interrupted screw offers the advantages of less mass around the breech of the gun, and hence less overall weight of each individual piece of ordnance, but the sliding breechblock using a cased propellant is a safer alternative, mainly because the sealing problems that come with the interrupted screw don’t exist with the sliding block. I didn’t see any mention of any sort of breech cup design or breech pad along the lines of what Col. DeBange (isn’t that the perfect name for an artilleryman? It was his real name, too!) developed in the mid-19th Century. So without those two bits of equipment (cup and pad) there is still going to be significant gas leakage around the screw-breech, which means burst breeches and dead gunners–especially the latter if the flaw isn’t immediately exposed in proof testing.

    I’m starting to feel nervous over all of these innovations–not their volume, but rather their scope. Between the two of them, Housemyn and Seamount have effectively gone from about 1750 to post 1850 in the space of five years. Housemyn especially is starting to sound more and more like Alfred Krupp in the 1870s, both in terms of scale and capability. Much as I love this series, I’m starting to think that TMW is beginning to move too fast. Professor Owl is giving too much away, and not making the Charisians work for it; to me that undermines the whole purpose of Nimue Alban’s ultimate mission, which leads me to wonder of Merlin has tacitly abandoned it. Owl isn’t teaching them how to rediscover the scientific method, he’s simply handing them answers. This is something that I can foresee becoming a problem with the overall credibility of the series, with the characters having become so strong that they’ve hijacked the story arc. Please, Mad Wizard, say it isn’t so–or at least send the Bolshevik to say so for you.

    • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

      I am quite sure that (if neccessary) drawings of what we would call a Welin interupted screw and a De Bange obdurator could be found among our genius’ effects. I mean OWL is a forger par excellance!!

      But I do agree that the survival of the Charisian Ideal seems to have overcome the priority of advancing the scientific mindset.
      And in a way it seems to be handicapping the future of Safehold Science by so narrowing the POVs to the pathways -successfully- taken before.

      IMO Science learns as much or more from their failures as their successes!!!

      And sometimes that FAILURE is a simply commercially of politically nonviable experimental/prototypical SUCCESS (think 70 mpg carburators, etc.)!!
      And some alternate VIABLE pathways were not heavily explored (think 163x wierdtech)!!

      IMO the overuse of the deux ex machina of professor OWL may actually cripple Safehold against the Gbaba!!!!!!

      • JimHacker says:

        Hah, posted simultaneously!

        I would add to my previous comment that although the way OWL and the inner circle is fast forwarding R&D might harm the R&D apparatus in the long run, Merlin’s focus was to change attitudes about innovation and he is succeeding in that. And frankly, changing attitudes to make people see innovation as beneficial is probably more important than getting people to research safely and developing a scientific method. After all, they can always start on that once they have broken the Go4 and neutralized the Rakurai.

        And for now, Merlin needs to keep a grip on innovation if only to prevent the Rakurai being triggered, which could be disastrous not just to whoever it hits but by being seen as god’s wrath against innovation.

    • JimHacker says:

      I half-agree with you. On the other hand, apparently most of this was going on in the background the previous book we just didn’t see much of it. So it isn’t a sudden leap. Also, a lot of this seems to be coming from Mahndrayn’s sketches and other people’s ideas so they are inventing. Howsmym has commented that he hasn’t had to have many genius ideas lately as his engineers have started coming up with the things he wanted to introduce before he got around to it. Most of the contributions from the inner circle and OWL seem to be about putting things into production more quickly effectively, and safely rather than ideas themselves. This could have its own dangers, if a R&D culture which isn’t as risk-conscious as it might develops. But the problem isn’t as big as you believe. Sad to say, it may actually be more advantageous in the long-run for a there to be a bunch of accidents where gunners blow themselves up. While I would probably prefer for the process to take longer so Weber could play with each intermediate stage, it is now a Charisian-driven process. So long as we don’t find out that OWL forged Mahndrayn’s sketches and is secretly prompting every single one of the ‘inventors’.

    • Ronald Kim says:

      How was the steam engine developed?

  10. Frank says:

    Does anyone else have the sneaking suspicion that David Weber might be reading these comments and is laughing at us and all of our thoughts on these tidbits?

    • JimHacker says:

      I would, but I’m not sure he has time. Given the amount of time he sp[ends on his own forums, I’m amazed he has time to write so much.

      • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

        And from what I gather from some of those forums, he has some RW issues ATT.

        My heartfelt hopes for beneficial alternatives for him and his are hereby released into the universe!!!!!!

  11. arrrgh says:

    I really don’t understand the ‘we must slow down innovation to properly get them to own it’ angle. Sure, there are other reasons to slow innovation, but not that one. Everyone reading this forum lives in an age of vastly higher rates of innovation than 100 years ago…..yet we are more innovative, not less. How many of us really understand all the work that goes into all the innovations we deal with yearly?

    The key is winning the war, there will be new generations after the war, who will go through new schools, and live new lives of prosperity.

    Jumping from 1750 to 1850 in 5 years is not a social problem. 99.9% of people won’t even know the obstacles that were overcome, they will just see change as very powerful and effective.

    • JimHacker says:

      Very good point. And no-one understands all the innovations we have going on now. In fact, very few understand everything about their own area, just their specific part in it. These days things like computer chips are so specialised that tech engineers working on a new computer chip will rarely trully understand everything on the chip (although, of course, they will have a general idea), just their own part of it its so complicated an specialised.

      In many ways, its like understanding the human body. Its made up of organ systems, which are made up of organs, which are themselves made up of tissues. The hierarchy continues to descend: cells, organelles, molecular assemblies, macromolecules, molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles. With study, you can understand (or at least approach an understanding) any one of these to a lesser extent. If you want to truly learn everything possible about an area then you would have to specialise much further within those distinctions. You can also comprehend how elements of one hierarchy come together to make the next step in the hierarchy. But trying to study them all you can only learn the generalities. And comprehending how sub-atomic particles make a sentient human being is simply beyond the human mind.

      Widespread understanding on the individual level is perhaps less important than a culure which values knowledge, understanding and innovation on the societal level. Wittgenstein’s ladder is an essential element of any technological society.

  12. Daryl says:

    Frank, from his responses in other forums I’m sure he drops in.
    My opinion regarding the rapid development is that the mind set is different to OTL. In OTL of the equivalent period there was a lot of the ‘not invented here’, and ‘not the right sort of chap to instruct his betters’ that inhibited development of radical ideas. If you weren’t a member of the aristocracy your contribution was confined to doing what you were told.

  13. Robert Krawitz says:

    0) This is a work of fiction. Yes, it’s science fiction, but when you get right down to it, DW’s real aim is to sell books, which means that he has to tell a good story with good characters. Yes, progress may be a bit unbelievably fast, but the only alternative is for this to span generations, which means good-bye, Cayleb, we hardly even new you. This isn’t the Honorverse, where prolong takes care of that problem. The only alternative to seeing only (or almost only) successful experiments is to have an even longer series where each book spans even less.

    1) Big wars drive technological progress like nobody’s business. The 6 years of WWII spanned horse cavalry and nuclear weapons.

    2) EoC has a particular set of reasons to drive technology as hard as it can: it’s badly outnumbered (I don’t recall whether there are any numbers given, but looking at the map I suspect 10-1) and has a more or less unified foe. It’s not (fortunately) fighting a defensive guerilla war of tactics; it needs technology that the CoGA can’t match.

    3) The scientists and engineers who have been brought Inside aren’t the kinds who will suddenly abandon their thirst for knowledge when they learn what’s really going on. They’re intensely driven people who would probably be more interested in coming up with something Merlin and OWL don’t actually know themselves.

    4) The really big problem is what happens when Tomys Ehdyson somehow figures out that there’s something like electricity out there.

    • jfenton says:

      No, it won’t take someone figuring out electricity is there because the Holy Writ warns against using it, thus acknowledging that it is there. The really big problem is how to find someone who is too curious to leave electricity alone before they cause a lot of damage.

      • Robert Krawitz says:

        Given some of the folks we’ve encountered in recent snippets, I don’t doubt that there is someone that curious out there.

        • Drak Bibliophile says:

          Considering the history of man’s interest in static electricity (dates back to around 600 BC), it’s very possible experiments about it have taken place on Safehold before Merlin woke. Likely, the Church has cracked down on the experiments they knew about. The Orbital Platforms likely would react to only wide-scale electric generation.

    • JeffM says:


      1) Big wars drive *R&D*. In this case, Charis doesn’t so much need true R&D, as an excuse to implement the knowledge they already have access too. [G]

  14. Anonymouse says:

    Again, the most comments are generated by the engineering snippets.
    Not action.
    Not political intrigue.
    Not even the discussion on what dragon tastes like.

    • JimHacker says:

      You’re right, although I generally comment on the politcal ones rather than engineering. And I don’t remember any discussion about the taste of dragon. How could it go on for long? It obviously tastes like chicken.

  15. hank says:

    Just an OT note regarding safety & Guncotton and such things: My HS Physics teacher told some of us a story about his HS Chem teacher (1978 so the story would have been from the Fifties). Apparently they had a lab one day in which they mixed the approriate chemicals in a test tube, put a wad of cotton in the end of the tube and then placed it on a stand at a 45 degree angle. They then were to light a Bunsen burner and place it under the tube. When a fireball would arc across the room, the teacher would check off those at the table it originated from as having completed the lab. Btw, this same teacher told us that, while in college, he and some friends had liberated a 1 pound block of pure Sodium and thrown it off a bridge into the Mississippi river in Minneapolis/St Paul one night…

    • jfenton says:

      That is frankly awesome. I wish school science labs were still like that.

      • Matthew says:

        If they were still like that kids would still think science is cool…

      • Sq_rigger says:

        Are you kidding? When my daughter took high school chemistry back in 1989-90, the students weren’t permitted access to any chemicals in the labs. They were limited to weighing sand in lieu of the real chemicals using computer-linked scales, and then the computer would display what WOULD HAVE happened if they’d used those relative weights of the actual chemicals and had applied heat or solvents. It seems the insurance premiums were too high to allow the students to actually use anything that might combine spectacularly, or that was hot.

        When I was taking high school chemistry back in 1961-62, one of the students badly burned himself by grabbing a ring stand which had been over a gas flame for an entire period, in an attempt to disassemble it. His parents sued the school and the teacher for failing to keep him from being burned.

  16. JeffM says:

    “And in a way it seems to be handicapping the future of Safehold Science by so narrowing the POVs to the pathways -successfully- taken before.”
    Umm…you guys do realize that once the CoGA is taken care of, Merlin and OWL can just take the time, probably through the Royal College, to TRAIN people in the Scientific method?

    After all, they aren’t really *discovering* new ideas at all, just reacquiring old skills.

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      Yes and No Jeff,

      The danger is that Safehold may not *really* get into the mindset of true research and development because it has the “Oracle of Owl” to provide them with knowledge.

      Safehold has to surpass the levels of the old Terran Federation if they are going to win against the Gbaba.

      Merlin wants all of Safehold (not just Charis) to get into the mindset of seeking new knowledge.

      Of course, he cares enough about Charis that he feels the need to give Charis a helping hand when Charis is in a life-and-death struggle.

  17. Barry Kirk says:

    Along with all the technical knowledge, Merlin and OWL will leave knowledge of the scientific method. In OAR Safehold started out with some tech at fairly sophisticated levels, but some tech at relatively primitive levels. I’m guessing it was a mixture of 14th century through 19th century tech.

    In a lot of ways, we are seeing the spread of tech levels shrink as it advances.

    When the tech level reaches that of the TF, it might pause for a couple of years, but I think, that it will resume it’s advance. Maybe not as quickly as going from OAR levels to TF levels, but with increasing speed.

    RFC will most likely have the tech level just high enough for the “Safeholderens” to prevail over the Gaba. If the Gaba are a pushover in the next encounter it will be something of a let down.

    • Robert Krawitz says:

      I think they have a pretty good home-grown understanding of the scientific method, judging by the experiments that person who discovered nitrocellulose did before she came forward with it.

      I wonder if we’re ever going to reach the Gbaba, at the rate this is going. Aside from the fact that they’re pretty nasty critters, and Earth never came close to prevailing, this series seems to have taken on a life of its own. Look at how much longer the Honorverse is taking than was originally planned, and 1632 (which originally was about the Assiti, but somehow the 1632 timeline has completely taken over).

      • JeffM says:

        I don’t know that this series was ever intended to “reach the Gbaba”, other than as an epilogue to the struggles they are currently going through.

      • JeffM says:

        “I think they have a pretty good home-grown understanding of the scientific method, judging by the experiments that person who discovered nitrocellulose did before she came forward with it.”

        I have an odd suspicion that if/whem she becomes a member of the “inner circle”, she (or another member of the College) may begin training her students in now ways of thinking. Who knows, maybe she’ll even happen upon a “Chart of Elements” or somesuch! [G]

  18. CH says:

    I believe David Weber said he intended to cover the struggle with the Gbaba in a separate series.

    • JimHacker says:

      IIRC he didn’t say that it was something he intended to do, he said it was a possibility. So it depends on what he wants to do – it might be tied up in an epilogue or it might take a qhole new second phase with new characters.

  19. Wallace says:

    Despite the speed with which Mr. Weber has the Charisians finding innovations in armament, the problem of land military actions will be required to be addressed. Naval superiority will provide transport, but the infantryman will be required for a final military victory. Even that must be considered as secondary to convincing the dedicated that the actions of Langhorne and Bedard were intended to prevent innovation, and that invention should be encouraged.
    There is also room for the other, small political areas on Safehold to be brought into the story.
    On another point, there is a clue in the conversation between Earl Thirsk and the priest when Thirsk was ordered to surrender the captured Charisians; it involves a mention of a verse from the WRIT about keping one’s family safe. This suggests Thirsk may arrange for his daughters and families to escape to Charis (as did Iris, Daivyn and Earl Coris), and depart himself.
    Since the series will eventually come to an end, it will likely do so with Merlin and OWL bringing Safehold scientists along very fast, once the ban on innovation is totally discredited.

  20. Bill says:

    Do you think MT&T will see the beginning of an arms race where COGA starts having innovations of their own, rather than just keeping up with Charis ?

    That would cement Merlin’s original war strategy of forcing the enemy to commit intellectual suicide.

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