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Frequently Asked Questions

Perhaps it is because of the nature of the books that David writes, perhaps it is because David Weber's fans are unusually dedicated and inquisitive... but it seems that everyone has a question! Here are a few that David finds he gets asked most often.

If you have a question that you would like to see considered as a FAQ, please e-mail us at Responses will be posted if and when David can get to them. We'd love to hear from you! 

Series Question Posted
Safehold How is the Harchongese army organized? (Asked August 26, 2016) August 2016

Someone asked about Harchongese rank titles, so here's a section from the series tech bible which was written before LAMA. I mention this because Church rifle production numbers  have been substantially increased by several factors since October 896. There's a section in ATST in which Green Valley is rfelecting on Temple production numbers and comparing them to what the Union managed during the American Civili War with a total population of only around 15,000,000.

The projections are . . . illuminating. :o

Imperial Harchongese Army

Ranks and nomenclature:
Lord of Armies — Army minister
Lord of Hosts — field marshal
Lord of Horse — general (a floating rank)
Lord of Foot — brigadier
Captain of Horse — colonel
Captain of Foot — major
Captain of Swords — captain
Captain of Spears — senior lieutenant (no precise equivalent in other armies)
Captain of Bows — lieutenant
Captain of Staves — cadet/midshipman

Noncommissioned ranks (which are less important and therefore less flowery) are the same as those used by other armies: corporal, sergeant, etc.

The Imperial Hanchongese Army traditionally has relied upon mass and the toughness and endurance of its serf and peasant soldiers. Cavalry has much greater prestige, and traditionally missile weapons have been regarded as suitable for serf soldiers but not for noblemen. There’s been some change in that attitude since the introduction of gunpowder and the emergence of a professional standing army, but old habits die hard, especially given the enormous expansion of the standing army demanded by the requirements of the jihad.

The quality of the standing army is actually quite good, although it can be badly hampered by the influences of nepotism and aristocratic privilege within its officer corps. Long-term noncommissioned officers and enlisted are professionals who spend too little time in training in many ways but who compensate for that with length of service and experience on deployment. They are as much (or more) wedded to old model tactical doctrines as anyone else — in part because whatever the faults and flaws of the Imperial Harchongese Navy, the Imperial Harchongese Army has had a tradition of success in battle. Of course, it never came up against the Republic of Siddarmark, where it would undoubtedly have experienced much greater difficulty. The levees conscripted for the jihad are not going to approach that level of competence; the professional regiments are extremely proficient within the limitations of their tactical doctrine and their archers/arbalesteers are well-trained and accurate, able to produce a very significant volume of fire at ranges which would allow them to more than hold their own with slow-firing smoothbores.

Outside the professional regiments, Harchongese archers tend to have very limited proficiency. This is a direct result of the Harchongese aristocracy’s determination to keep effective missile weapons out of the hands of serfs. For the most part, the Harchongese peasantry is allied with the aristocracy against the serfs, because liberating the serfs would threaten the peasantry’s landownership (the serfs would need land of their own), because the serfs provide a lower-class to which even the poorest peasant can feel superior, and because the peasantry is usually attacked along with the aristocracy in the event of a servile insurrection and peasants usually lack the organized military force to defend themselves. Peasant landowners are permitted to possess arbalests and bows and are subject to emergency call up by the militia in the event of servile insurrection. As a result, many of the peasants are proficient archers. Serfs, who are punishable by death if they are found to possess any missile weapon other than a shepherd’s sling, have no opportunity to develop archery skills during peacetime. This is one reason why the IHA continues to deploy slingers in its missile troops; serfs (and especially serfs who work as shepherds for their masters) are likely to be skilled with that weapon.

The conscript troops raised for the jihad are, for the most part, not very skilled in missile or melee combat and have highly inexperienced officers. The men are tough, by and large, and controlled by brutal discipline and impelled by faith in Mother Church, they possess (or will initially possess, at any rate) a great deal of determination, but their forte is going to be hard, stubborn defensive fighting rather than offensive operations. The standing army, on the other hand, is actually well-suited to old model offensive operations and, in addition, will find its own morale and determination enhanced by its sense of superiority over the vast sprawl of the conscript army.
The peacetime strength of the Imperial Harchongese Army (standing regular army, not counting cadre of feudal cavalry regiments) was 471,310, organized as follows:

Household Cavalry (heavy); 45 Regiments; 89,955 men
Household Cavalry (light); 40 Regiments; 79,600 men
Line Cavalry (heavy); 10 Regiments; 19,990 men
Line Cavalry (light); 70 Regiments; 139.930 men
Heavy Infantry; 75 Regiments; 111,975 men
Light Infantry; 20 Regiments; 29,860 men

In addition to the combat formations above, the Emperor’s Spears (military police) contributed an additional 20 cavalry regiments (29,860) and 25 infantry regiments (37,325), for another 67,185 men, bringing the total peacetime armed forces of the Harchong Empire (excluding feudal cavalry regiments and purely local militia units) to 538,495 men.

For security purposes, given the perpetual Harchongese fear of servile rebellion, 20 percent of the standing army and 50 percent of the Emperor’s Spears have to be left home both for security purposes and as training cadre, so the maximum deployable force of “regulars” would be approximately 375,000 combat troops and 34,000 military police, or 409,000 men. This means that of the estimated 1.5 million men being sent to the Republic (actually closer to 1.75 million, in the end), approximately 1,341,800 (or better than 75%) are conscripts or feudal cavalry. The actual breakdown is (approximately) :

Feudal cavalry; 135 Regiments; 269,865 men
Conscript cavalry; 53 Regiments; 105,947 men
Conscript infantry;**  647 Regiments; 965,971 men
Total: 835 Regiments; 1,341,783 men
*Number of regiments for feudal cavalry is approximate because of fluctuation in unit organizations.
**75 percent of the conscript infantry regiments (485 regiments = 724,105 men) are heavy infantry. The remaining 162 conscript regiments (241,866 men) are light infantry, of which 45 regiments (67,185) are actually slingers.

Of this total force, 40 regiments of regular heavy infantry are equipped with bayoneted rifles (total of just under 60,000) and 10 regiments are equipped with matchlocks (15,000). Thirty of the heavy Household Cavalry regiments are equipped with pistols (59,916) which have long enough barrels to effectively be treated as carbines. None of the conscripted infantry regiments had firearms initially, but all of the military police are equipped with them, the infantry (12 regiments) with rifles and the cavalry (10 regiments) with pistols, adding an additional 17,916 riflemen and 19,990 pistol-armed cavalry. That gives the field force an initial total of 15,000 matchlocks (all line infantry); 77,636 ML Rifles (59,720 line units); and 78, 926 pistols (78.916 in miltary police hands)

What all of this means is that of the 1,750,000 Harchongese troops in the Mighty Host of God and the Archangels, only 4.4% have rifles and only only 4.5% have pistols, and roughly 30% of each are in the hands of the military police rather than the combat formations, as of October 895. This means, of course, that they are totally and completely unfit for combat against the Imperial Charisian Army or the re-armed Siddarmarkian regiments.

In light of the poor equipment levels of the IHA, extraordinary measures are imposed by Maigwair and Ducharn. Until their meeting in September 896, all new production in the Temple Lands and Border States was intended for the AOG, although transport difficulties had caused quite a bit of the new weapons to pile up in the rear. After their September meeting, however, everything not already forward of the Border States is subject to reallocation. In addition, the decision is made to recall all pikemen from the Army of the Sylmahn and the Army of Glacierheart. They have proven ineffective in combat, making them useless mouths at the end of a long, difficult supply chain. Those pikemen are drawn on for the AOG cadre being spplied to the IHA under the agreement Maigwair and Duchairn (with Clyntahn’s support) have rammed through. With the pikes withdrawn, the supply situation is improved and there’s less reason to get new rifles to the front and many of the rifles which were supposed to be sent to the AOG by the various other realms are diverted to the IHA, instead. Of the roughly 295,000 rifles produced between October 895 and October 896, 225,200 went directly to the IHA, a 317% increase in the originally projected number of weapons going to the IHA.

Safehold Why are the Gbaba so mindlessly bent on genocide? (Asked April 5, 2015) April 2015

I can't explain the behavior behind the Gbaba without explaining things about the Gbaba themselves that I don't want to explain at this point.

I will say that I strongly disagree with your father's these us that they "must have evolved as a social species and so should be pre-inclined to cooperate with any new species they encountered." As you yourself point out, there are more than enough instances of human societies waging merciless war against other human societies in order to "take their stuff," if for no other reason. Further, it doesn't follow that our own psychology will be a close match for that of an alien society emerging from an entirely different evolutionary process. The best argument that I have heard for "they should be pre-inclined to cooperate" is based on the thesis that any species which wasn't so inclined would undoubtedly have destroyed itself once it acquired the technological capability to do so because a society which wasn't pre-inclined to cooperate (at least with other members of its species) would undoubtedly enjoy a brief but lively experience of nuclear fusion and that would be the end of it. Again, however, that is (in my opinion) a conclusion whose foundation rests upon a humanity-centric perception of what constitutes "reasonable" or "rational" behavior, and even among humans, "reasonable" and "rational" are not, alas, the default setting of far too many societies and social constructs. There is an unfortunate tendency to argue that other human beings must be "just like us" when it comes to their basic motivations and that they must therefore share our basic worldview and concept of rationality. Those who embrace this argument usually believe that adversaries whose fundamental psychology and motivations are fundamentally different from their own really share their understanding of how the world works and have simply chosen to act in a destructive or irrational fashion out of the selfish objectives of the adversary society's leaders. I certainly don't know that this is the case with your father, and I'm not trying to suggest that it is; I'm simply pointing out that we are governed by our own fundamental mindsets and that even intelligence analysts who consciously try to avoid doing that do it anyway on an almost daily basis.

I will also say that there is, indeed, a reason the Gbaba act in the way they act, that they did not simply evolve from the protoplasmic ooze equipped with starships or the technology to build them and an unreasoning bloodlust. There's not any reason why a sapient species shouldn't evolve "hardwired" to instinctively attack and seek to destroy any competitor/threat species it encounters. One may argue (somewhat precariously, in my opinion) that this isn't the case with homo sapiens, but that clearly doesn't eliminate the possibility of its happening with some other species evolving under different constraints and with a completely different historical/social experience. While I can't (and won't) explain at this point what it is about the Gbaba that satisfies the conditions of my previous sentence, be assured that I have at least thought through the reasons for their behavior on a basis which makes sense to me and does not rely on an unquenchable, totally irrational mania for homicide on their part. And I should also say that the same thing which explains the Gbaba's behavior explains the stasis in their technological development which was observed by the Terran Federation during its losing war against them.

Hope this helps, and if I'm remaining too inscrutable, I apologize, but an author needs to keep at least a few surprises in his shot blocker.

Safehold Why aren't they training dogs to sniff out Clinton's Rakaurai agents bombs? January 2015

I don't recall anyone saying that they aren't training dogs. I do recall saying that the melange of animal waste smells and other odiferorous distractions have made it difficult for chemical sniffers to pick explosives out of an entire city's background emissions, which is how they got past Owl on more than one occasion. On the other hand, if you will recall, it was Owl's remotes which picked up the rakurai headed to blow of Father Payter and the Patent Office.

I haven't specifically talked about dogs being used, but, then, there are (believe it or not) quite a lot of things I haven't specifically addressed in the books but which are cooking away in the background just the same. So far as sniffer dogs are concerned, this is not something you can set up with a snap of the fingers, however, and even after you have the initial program in place, getting enough of them trained and distributed is going to be a bottleneck.

Safehold Why didn't the Terran Federation send out swarms of automated vessels with virtual personalities? Also, since Operation Ark had two separate terraforming fleets, why didn't they colonize two planets? September 2014

What makes you think (a) that the Terran Federation was still running a capitalist economy, on the one hand, or (b) that a capitalist economy is incompatible with maximum efficiency, on the other? One can certainly argue that “capitalism” wasn’t suspended by the United States during World War Two, despite which the US managed to be the greatest industrial power in the world. There is absolutely no reason to believe that state planning/coordination and capitalism are somehow antitheses. Central planning/coordination and unfettered free market capitalism probably are incompatible, but that doesn't mean the capitalist system per se is unworkable under those circumstances

Was the Terran Federation sitting around and letting Apple and Samsung duke it out for the civilian market? Absolutely not. Was the Terran Federation backing competitive projects by Boeing and Lockheed in order to keep production lines running? Of course not. Were the Federation authorities allowing anyone to profiteer at the expense of the war effort? Puh-leese! :roll: I remember a remark made by one of the naval officers involved in the USN’s World War Two buildup. He said that money wasn’t an issue; you could get all of that you wanted. It was steel and government-assigned priorities for it which were the constraints. I guarantee you that with the human race facing extinction, those "government-assigned priorities" were pretty damned steel clad and every industrial facility in the Solar System was running at full capacity 24-hours a day.

Now, does that mean that no consumer goods whatsoever were being produced? Of course it doesn’t. And does it mean that somebody who was the equivalent of a majority stockholder in Boeing in 1942 wasn’t still able to pull strings sufficiently to acquire a single PICA for his beloved, only-child daughter? In what world do you live that you think Howard Hughes or Warren Buffet or George Soros couldn’t pull that off no matter what the priorities were? The diversion from the war effort would be so minute, so miniscule, that no one would ever notice. It literally would make exactly zero difference to the war effort, and the authorities would probably think it was an extraordinarily minor concession to someone who was an enormous net contributor to that war effort. And that someone, if I haven’t been perfectly clear, was Nimue Alban’s father. He wasn't just sitting on an inherited trust fund somewhere. He was one of the handful of wealthiest people in the entire Federation, and he'd placed his resources completely at the service at the Federation fifteen years before Nimue was born. That's why he knew just how bad the situation was long before it became evident to the majority of the human race. In fact, Elystan Alban was one of the individuals who'd been pressing the Federation to pursue a much more robust military budget well before the Gbaba were actually encountered at Crestwell's Star.

Remember that only forty-three years elapsed between that moment and Operation Ark. (Nimue was born less than sixteen years after Crestwell's Star, which is one reason her mother was able to convince herself that her father's pessimism about humanity's future was unfounded. On the surface, things just looked grim to those outside the innermost circles, not hopeless.) Now, forty-three years may seem like a long time, but given the distances involved, the nature of the threat, the fact that humanity had multiple star systems to defend, that its military machine had to be essentially built from the ground up, and that the Gbaba had a pronounced tech advantage from the outset, it really isn't all that long, and for that entire time period, humanity had its back to the wall, whether everyone realized it or not. The Federation's government had every reason to use its already existing infrastructure and economy as the basis for its war effort rather than trying to build something new on the fly. So, yes, they retained a capitalist structure under a strictly rationalized war planning authority, and it worked very well for them. In fact, for the first twenty-odd years, while a majority of the human race was still able to convince itself that the Gbaba were not, in fact, unstoppable, the retention of a familiar, known economic system — on the surface, at least — was a plus for civilian morale.

As to why the Federation might still be producing something as "frivolous" as a PICA, I've already told you that PICAs were being produced throughout this period both for industrial applications and for people who needed them for medical reasons. And unlike the purely "industrial" models, most of those PICAs being manufactured for people who needed them for medical reasons were last-generation PICAs, just as capable as Nimue’s. They were no longer being built for recreation (although there were more of those "recreational" PICAs than you might think around, most of which had been built before or during the first couple decade or so of the war against the Gbaba), but they were certainly being currently manufactured for medical purposes, and Nimue's father happened to own one of the companies which built them. So basically, he diverted a wheelchair from the Army Medical Corps's delivery queue and repurposed it as a gift for his daughter. Somehow, I don’t think FDR would’ve gotten his undergarments in a wad over that, and neither did the Terran Federation, war of extinction or not.

As for the eggs in a single basket and the second terraforming fleet.

There was never any intention for the Safehold colonization fleet to establish multiple colonies. The planners calculated that the existence of a second colony would have more than doubled the possibility that the Gbaba would stumble across one of them and realize that any colony had gotten past them, but they could have lived with that, given the survival benefits of redundancy. A far larger factor in their thinking, however, was that they had decided that they needed all 8,000,000 of those colonists in a single colony, sufficiently widely spread across the surface of humanity's new homeworld that no conceivable natural catastrophe or unanticipated environmental disaster was likely to wipe them out. (Excluding, of course, the probability of some planetary extinction event like a cometary collision, but for that to happen the human race would have had to crap out, indeed.) If they were only going to get one shot at building a new home for the human race, then they intended to give that shot the very best odds of success and survival that they could.

Even if the original mission planners had intended to provide for the possibility of a second Operation Ark colony, however, Langhorne and Bédard would have scotched it. They didn’t want an additional colony world. They wanted one world, so deeply buried the Gbaba would never find it, and the anti-tech fanatics of the command crew frankly doubted that they could have found someone as committed as they were to their vision of perpetually preventing the evolution of advanced technology to oversee the creation and establishment of a second colony outside their own direct control. They had enough trouble with Shan-wei right there on Safehold. Did they really want to empower a second Shan-wei in another colony (where they would have no control whatsoever) to undo their “hide forever” strategy? Especially since what Shan-wei wanted to do was exactly what the original mission orders had called for before Langhorne and Bédard . . . modified them. Who knew who else in the command crew might secretly have sympathized with Shan-wei and seized the opportunity to reinstitute the original mission plan?

As for the more . . . esoteric notions being floated about, there are two problems. One is that some of the people proposing them seem to be making assumptions about Federation technology based on facts not in evidence. For example, the notion that “the entire human race” could have been recorded on a molecular disk and that the necessary biological material could have been synthesized from elements extracted from asteroids. If you think the Federation was capable of that, then you are are hugely overestimating its capabilities, at least as constructed in my tech bible. The second is that most of the other proposals — for O’Neil cylinders or colonies, for example — would have left/generated a far more detectable “footprint” than a pre-technic colony at the bottom of an atmosphere. Terran Federation stealth systems were very, very good, and emissions control would obviously have been a huge part of any such colony operation. Nonetheless, the creation of a self-sustaining deep space habitat, including the resource extraction necessary if only to provide raw materials for expansion and maintenance, would be much more apparent to a scout ship passing within a few light-years of a star system than a bunch of human beings emitting carbon dioxide into a planetary atmosphere.

The Safehold colony was not the only colonization attempt the Federation made. If you recall, they got one colony fleet (that Nimue knew about) out, only to have the colony detected and destroyed (and see also my final paragraph below). The Federation was probably technologically capable of building a fleet of von Neumann probes, but they couldn’t build interstellar-capable ships with that sort of capability so small that thousands of them could evade the Gbaba blockade. (Considerations of power supply and the need to build a hyperdrive into them, if they were going to attain FTL movement, meant they had to be a certain minimal size, and that size was big enough that the sensor net the Gbaba had constructed around the Sol System would have seen them coming. That was one of the reasons Operation Ark had such a strong military escort — not simply to fight its way through the blockade, but to be big enough for its active emissions to hide the stealthed colony ships accompanying it.) Moreover, as I’ve already stated above, the Federation’s nanotech, good as it was, had not reached the point of being able to build zygotes out of any handy elements. Given another few decades, they might well have attained that level of medical tech; they didn’t have it yet, any more than they had the ability to place someone indefinitely in cryo and ultimately revive him.

The suggestion that they might have effectively sent out a fleet of PICAs (or of von Neumann ships capable of building a tech base that could then build the PICAs) with recorded human personalities is probably the most workable of the options suggested. Even that, however, would have required multiple breakouts from the Sol System, which was problematical at best.

Essentially, the Federation strategists who came up with Operation Ark put everything the Federation could spare from its defenses into a single roll of the dice that was the very best roll — had, in their estimation, the best chance of breaking out and breaking free — available to them in the time window they had. You may disagree with their analysis; you may disagree with my analysis. There were however reasons for their decisions other than abject stupidity or a desire to lose the war. Had there been time, the fleet that was sent to Safehold would have been followed by a second attempt, and a third attempt — as long as the Federation lasted — to create “hidden” colonies, with each expedition dispatched in a totally different direction from any other expeditions. The problem is that there wasn’t time, and there wasn’t a sufficient covering force to get more than one colony fleet out and away in the window available to them.

The clock ran out on the human race. It was that simple, exactly as Admiral Pei remarked to his chief of staff just before his final battle.

Safehold Why doesn't Merlin use SNARCs to sabotage the Church's war efforts? May 2014

Initially, Merlin didn’t use the remotes for targeted “untraceable assassinations or sabotage” because they either (1) wouldn’t have been traceless but would have been inexplicable or (2) fear of exactly the same sort of reprisals which were seen in the last book.

Remember that Merlin was flying completely under the radar and doing everything he could to stay under the radar for multiple reasons. One was to prevent the Church from seeing what was coming for as long as possible, another was to disperse the new ideas over as many legitimate, known innovators (like Howsmyn, Seamount, Sir Dustyn Olyvyr, etc.) in order to make them less suspect and more "explicable," and another — and perhaps the most important of all — was to stay away from anything which the Church could convincingly have portrayed as demonic. It wasn’t so much that he was afraid that the “demon” charge would have any effect on the people close to him, but in a civilization where the single religion’s validity is totally unquestioned, any charge of demonic influence or origins could be catastrophic. In the early days, it would have been catastrophic even within Charis; later, it would have been catastrophic in terms of undercutting the willingness of people like Nahrmahn, Gorjah, or Greyghor Stohnar to have anything to do with the "demonically assisted" Charisians. Because of that, he really couldn’t go around committing all sorts of untraceable assassinations without someone beginning to wonder just how they were magically happening. If you’ll recall, he actually considered the possibility of assassinating Hektor by using two or three (or several) of the SNARC parasites to basically set off a thermite charge in his inner ear. He rejected it for two reasons (1) because any trained healer/surgeon who examined Hektor would realize that something very peculiar had happened at a very convenient time for Cayleb Ahrmahk and the Empire of Charis, and (2) because he didn’t – and doesn’t — want to get into the habit of going around assassinating anyone who seems to him to be an obstacle to his plans.

By the time of the last book, the Church has gotten around to officially labeling Merlin a demon, anyway, which leaves them with the problem of where the true seijins which the Holy Writ promises will turn up to defeat genuine demons. In addition, however, by this time the Church’s credibility has been massively undermined. Or, rather, the credibility of the Group of Four and — especially — Zhaspahr Clyntahn has been hugely undermined, and not just in the Empire of Charis. Because of that, you’re seeing him using not simply his SNARCs but others of his technological goodies more offensively, as, for example, when he took out the semaphore towers to clear the way for the Great Canal Raid, or when Dialydd Mab took out the inquisitors on the canal barge in LAMA. On the other hand, we saw in MT&T Clyntahn carrying out precisely the sort of mass reprisal Merlin had feared when the powder barge exploded and neither Merlin nor any other saboteur had had a single thing to do with it.

Moreover, even though Clyntahn’s credibility has been undermined, at some point (hopefully) the Church is going to be defeated and people are going to begin looking at the “historical record” of what actually happened. Don’t forget that the big reveal about the truth where Langhorne and the creation of Safehold and the Church of God Awaiting is concerned has not happened and that it will not happen any sooner than they can possibly avoid. The reason, obviously, is for them to have the greatest possible opportunity to prepare the ground for revealing the truth. It would be a very, very bad thing if someone whose credibility hadn’t been destroyed started looking at two or three instances in which assassinations or sabotage had been so “traceless” as to leave no non-demonic explanation for them.

There are obviously some exceptions to that rule. For example, Merlin has already promised himself that if he ever gets a clean shot at Zhaspahr Clyntahn, he will take it. In the meantime, as Dialydd Mab and his friends and associates, he has a face, a persona who can carry out assassinations without anything more inexplicable than a “normal” seijin’s mystic capabilities. He is extremely unlikely to attempt to “tracelessly” sabotage foundries or manufactories, for a lot of reasons, including the fact that he wants the rest of Safehold, not just Charis, to be developing those capabilities and facilities. He’s perfectly prepared to do what he can to assist them in being. . . less than efficient, shall we say (which was what he hoped to accomplish with the original Mahndrayn breech-loading rifle design), but he is not going to attempt to eliminate any innovators, even on the Church’s side. Or perhaps even especially on the Church’s side, since he’s already pretty much undermined the anti-innovation mindset in the Empire of Charis.

In theory, there are quite a number of things that Merlin could do using his SNARCs or Owl’s remotes which would hasten a Charisian victory; there is, however, nothing he has to do at this point to ensure a Charisian victory. While the Church is fully capable of producing weapons and using them in ways which will lengthen the war and increase the casualty total, there’s not really any probability at this point that they are going to be able to turn the war’s momentum around. (Absent, of course, some sort of catastrophic explosion that completely wipes out the Delthak Works. Short of the kinetic bombardment system, I can't think of any way that might be contrived, however.)

There was a significant chance of the war's momentum being reversed when what became the Army of the Sylmahn was about to hammer its way through the Sylmahn Gap, in the east, and Glacierheart was about to fall in the west. That is one of the reasons why he was willing to use his technology — which, by the way, I would point out includes every single thing he's ever done with his PICA — in order to clear the way for the canal raid. Should a similar situation arise, he would probably be prepared to use technology at least that “openly” once more.

Readers sometimes forget that while Merlin loves his Charisian allies, regards them as the family Nimue Alban never had in the face of the Gbaba onslaught, his and Nimue’s primary mission is to break the Church of God Awaiting’s stranglehold on Safeholdian society and — even more importantly — on technological advancement. He bleeds inside for every single human being killed in the religious war raging across Safehold, but in the final analysis, Gray Harbor, Cayleb, Sharleyan, and Maikel Staynair are all absolutely correct when they say that Clyntahn would have launched a war against Charis whether or not Merlin had ever waked up on Safehold. Moreover, it’s going to take something as catastrophic as the Jihad to break that technological stasis and keep it broken, and in that regard, the longer the war lasts (in very cold-blooded terms) the better for Merlin’s true mission. I’m not saying that he has reasoned it out that way, but those considerations underlie every single decision he’s made. And, if you’ll recall, when he rescued the kids from the krakens in OAR, and when he rescued Sharleyan from assassination in BHD, he told himself the entire time he was doing it that he couldn’t risk doing it. In those instances, he allowed his heart to overrule his head, but he knows that’s exactly what he did. It was simply something he couldn’t not do, but the sort of things which are being suggested here — traceless assassinations, traceless acts of sabotage, etc. — are things he doesn’t have to do, things he isn’t driven by his heart over his head to do, and things which might actively impede his primary object.

I’m sure some readers will insist that he ought to do them anyway. My response is that he is already operating extremely effectively against the Church and the Proscriptions and that he isn’t going to do anything to muck that up.

Safehold Given the sort of attention Merlin's appearance draws, what sort of ethnical distribution is there on Safehold? (Asked Sat Dec 07, 2013) December 2013

Not quite correct. The darkness of Nimue's/Merlin's eyes is pretty remarkable anywhere on Safehold; they got the huge degree of notice they did early in the books because that coloration is unheard of in native Charisians, however. By and large, the people of Safehold tend to a sort of warm beige coloration, rather like that of my beautiful Cambodian born twin daughters, but the northern portions of both Havens, in particular, have very extreme winters and lighter complexons and blue and gray eyes are much more common there. Blonds and true redheads like Paityr Wylsynn are quite rare even on the Mainland, however, and most people who are described in the books as "fair haired" are generally more of a very light brown or sandy --- or honey --- blond than your true golden or platinum blond. You'll come across an occasional character described as "golden haired," but you should also notice that they're very uncommon.

Chisholm's winters aren't quite up to Mainland standards for cold, but they're in the running and Chisholmians tend more towards the same sort of "northern" genotype. Emerald and Corisande, even more than Charis, tend to have equatorial climates, with darker coloration being the norm there, hence the comments about Irys' mother's exotic coloration and the comments on her own eye color. Harchong was initially heavily Asiatic (and especially Chinese) when it was first settled and continues to demonstrate that genotype pretty strongly. More "Nordic" coloration is sometimes (rarely) found in Northern Harchong, and the "ethnicity" of names and coloration should not be taken to imply that Harchong today is any particular era of historical China. I think of it more as a fusion of medieval Russian social norms mixed with a Mandarinate bureaucracy, in fact.

By and large, the populations originally settled by the Ark command crew were fairly homogenized. Harchong was something of an exception, but that was largely because the initial population had been drawn fairly proportionately from all area of Old Earth, there were a lot of Chinese, and China had specifically requested that even though their colonists were going to lose all memory of technology they retain as much as possible of their cultural heritage. Most of the other Old Earth ethnicities and groups were less concerned with that issue, however, and Harchong lost most of its Chinese "identity" anyway (aside from the heritage of Chinese names and naming conventions) when Langhorne and Bedard rewrote their memories so much more completely than anyone on Old Earth had intended.

There are quite a few echoes of Old Earth still rattling around the planet, but thanks in no small part of Langhorne's and Bedard's personal prejudices (and their own backgrounds, which they leaned on heavily when restructuring the memories of the Adams and Eves), a very "Western" blend of culture was imposed on the planetary population from the outset. Remember that they wanted everyone starting from the same cultural and belief template, and they used the one with which they were most familiar as its foundation. One might, I suppose, argue that this is the ultimate case of "Western Imperialism," although I didn't really intend to make any statements in that direction, I promise! :)

It's not the case that ethnicity in names has disappeared on Safehold, however. Whoever it was that suggested there were no Hispanic names in the mix seems to have missed a few (like Faidel Ahlverez, for example), but that's probably in part because of the altered spellings. There are, in fact, names from almost every cultural group, but they are (admittedly) biased towards "Western" names (outside Harchong, at any rate).

In general, you can think of the Safeholdian population as having "smoothed out" the extremes of genetic diversity on Old Earth (with the exception of Harchong) when the planet was first settled. For the most part, that smoothing out has continued over the centuries since, but the same environmental factors which selected for differences in things like skin pigmentation and eye coloration have been in play for the better part of a thousand years, as well. Hence the difference between "Northern" and "Out Island" appearances.

Safehold Why was Kau-yung surprised by the orbital bombardment system? (Asked Wed Dec 04, 2013) December 2013

The Commodore never saw the original OBS [orbital bombardment system] coming for a very good reason, which I didn't really intend to share with you at this point, but . . . .

By the time the OBS was deployed, all but one of the colony's ships had been disposed of (as per the original operations plan) by dropping them into the local sun once they were no longer needed. The ship which remained had been Langhorne's flagship all along and he'd been very careful about vetting and reassigning shipboard personnel while Kau-Yung and Shan-Wei were off prepping the planet. By the time he came to join them, he'd had several years to weed out any potential weak spots in the crew.

Now, these were big honking ships, and his flagship had been chosen (and hung onto until last) in part because it was one of the main fabrication vessels --- that is, it represented a very impressive industrial base. Officially, it was retained till last in case something unexpected came up on Safehold which would require industrial support to rectify. There were no "system defenses" as such any longer, since they were now committed to staying on Safehold no matter what might happen and the small number of relatively light warships Kau-Yung had retained had been destroyed (for the same reasons as the rest of the colony fleet), since they would have been totally inadequate to defend the planet anyway. The military forces which remained under Kau-Yung's command essentially consisted by that time of a handful of passive sensor platforms (which were looking out of the system and not inward) and the ex-Navy personnel who were now part of the command crew and served more as police than any sort of serious military force. Don't forget that the entire command crew (less those in the Alexandria Enclave) were in on Langhorne's basic plan, which came to . . . lots of people. Exactly how many "lots of people" is something I don't intend to tell you just now. There were enough of them to require policing, and Kau-Yung's people would also have been in charge of disaster relief or any other emergency that came along.

Langhorne and his inner circle were well aware of how loyal to Kau-Yung his own people were, and despite the deep estrangement between him and Shan-Wei (which most of the "archangels" accepted as genuine) Langhorne was less than confident that Kau-Yung would be in favor of turning her and all the rest of the Alexandrians into ground zero for a kinetic strike. For that matter, Langhorne was far from certain that all the rest of the command crew would think it was a good idea to commit the mass murder of colleagues they'd known and worked with for decades, even if they had reached a point of bone-deep philosophical disagreement.

As a result of that uncertainty on his part, the original OBS was a relatively simple (and cheap) system built for a single purpose --- to take out the entire Alexandria Enclave in a single strike --- and it was intended to do so so quickly that neither Kau-Yung and his loyalists among the ex-Navy personnel nor any other "archangels" who might have disagreed with the plan would be able to prevent it from happening. In other words, the idea was to burn out the source of "dangerous contamination" in a single stroke and present them with a fait accompli, after which they would have little choice but to accept Langhorne's plans --- and actions --- as a "done deal." To that end, the OBS was also built under high conditions of secrecy in one of the modules aboard the flagship commanded and staffed by people personally loyal to Langhorne. Its existence was concealed not just from Kau-Yung, but from everyone outside Langhorne's immediate close circle of utterly trusted subordinates, and it wasn't deployed from inside the module in which it had been built until literally no more than a very few hours from when it was used. As a result, there was no real "window" in which Kau-Yung might have seen what was coming and taken steps to prevent it.

Safehold What kind of mobility and logistics is available on Safehold compared to human history? (Asked Wed Oct 30, 2013) December 2013

Actually, this appears to be a[nother] point upon which people have missed quite a few small implications of text comments on the tech available to Safehold. Things like Pasqualization [pasteurization], canned foods, etc. The Safeholdian food preservation industry is much farther advanced than some people seem to be assuming, despite the fact that it is (traditionally) far more of a "muscle-powered" affair than would have been the case for an equivalent level of sophistication on Earth. In connection with this, I would also point out that by the time of the American Civil War dehydrated milk, dried vegetables, and quite a few other items/techniques needed to produce relatively low-bulk rations were available. Because low-bulk/low-weight substitutes for much of the human-consumed supplies are available, the imbalance between required rations and required fodder is even more pronounced than some people seem to be assuming. In other words, do not judge the weight, portability, and/or preservation requirements of an army's logistics train by the "Elizabethan" tech model some people still seem to apply as the default tech level for pre-Merlin Safehold.

The biggest classical pre-motorization problem the QMG faces on Safehold is the need for fodder, which is especially a factor in areas like much of the SR where food supplies have been deliberately destroyed and so high a percentage of normal cropland simply wasn't planted following the Sword of Schueler. Even there, Safeholdian armies have a huge advantage in the form of the draft dragon because of its combination of size, basic physiognomy, and efficiency of digestion. Using grain(s) as the base fodder helps enormously in terms of transporting feed because it concentrates much more energy in a smaller bulk than grass or hay does, but you still have to have a certain percentage of roughage (best supplied by hay) to maintain health. I think the rule of thumb is that a horse, for example, needs 1-2% of bodyweight in roughage every day and somewhere around 3% of bodyweight total for food. For a 1,000-pound draft horse, that would be about 30 pounds total food, of which around 15 pounds should be roughage, and (if I recall correctly) a "standard" square bale of hay here in the States runs to about 50 pounds. So assuming no free-growing grass for grazing (or a forced march in which there's no time to turn them out to graze), you need about a third of a bale per draft horse per day. The other 15 pounds or so can be lowered by using very high energy grains for fodder, and high-quality hay (such as alfalfa, which is sort of the gold standard for hay) reduces the total amount of roughage required, as well. Of course, the mule (which is also known on Safehold) requires only about 1/3 as much grain as a horse of the same bodyweight, so a big 1,000-pound draft mule would require only about 10 pounds of grain and slightly less roughage, as well, meaning you could feed one of them for a day on about half the total weight/bulk of food your draft horse would require. (Dragons also require roughage, but not quite as high a percentage. The difference isn't great enough to have much effect on the bulk and/or weight of the required fodder.)

As a general rule, the US Army during the animal-traction period rated draft animals on the basis that (assuming a 10-hour draft period) 1 ox could pull about 1,500 pounds; 1 mule could pull about 750 pounds, and 1 horse could pull 250-300 pounds. For comparison, a typical Western working ox would weigh about 2,000 pounds, but the oxen the Army was using at this time averaged about 1,700 pounds, which meant that the ox’s sustained draft was roughly equal to its own weight. The typical heavy draft mule would weigh around 1000 pounds, so they it could pull about 75% of its weight, while a horse could pull only about 40 percent of its own weight. By the same token, horse or a mule could carry about 20% of its bodyweight while an ox could carry about 25% of its own body weight. These numbers were all calculated for off-road transportation; on-road they would be substantially higher. They were also calculated on an empirical basis, by observing demonstrated performance in the field, and should therefore be considered pretty reliable. As a check on them, there is a considerable amount of ongoing research into draft animals for use in Third World economies. The current research considers a “burst draft” number and a “sustained draft” number. Oxen have the highest values in each category, with a “burst” number of about 6 times their bodyweight (that is, a 2,000-pound ox would have a “burst draft” value of about 12,000 pounds) and a “sustained draft” of about 5,000 pounds using the modern measure, which (as nearly as I could determine) is a road value, not cross-country, which would fit fairly well with the empirical numbers from above. (That is, the numbers cross-country should be about 1/3 of what they would be on a decent road.) The reason that the numbers for oxen are higher than for horses has a lot to do with the physiology of the animals. Put most simply, an ox’s legs, body form, and musculature are “lower set” and better suited to pulling heavier loads for longer distances but at a substantially lower rate of speed.

A Safeholdian draft dragon has a lower “burst” capability (expressed as a percentage of its own bodyweight) than an ox, but a higher sustained capability because it has an additional set of legs. Oxen can carry (as opposed to pull) a higher percentage of their bodyweight than horses can (again, because of physiology), but dragons can carry an even higher percentage (30-35%) than most oxen can. On Safehold, this isn’t as critical as it might be here on Earth, because oxen are virtually never used, since the dragon is available and is a much more efficient proposition, so what we really need to be comparing them to in terms of performance is the horse or the mule. I’ve included the ox in the current discussion primarily as a “real-life” comparison for the aforesaid horses and mules, however.

A dragon has a “burst” capability of approximately 5.5 times its own bodyweight and a “sustained” capability of about 4.5 times its own bodyweight, and weighs approximately 15,000 pounds. I’ve used a value of 4 times that bodyweight in the books simply to be sure I was allowing a “fudge factor” for dragons which are smaller and/or larger than the average and allow for those which lose body mass while being worked intensively. This happens with all draft animals and is allowed for in the US Army estimates I used above. It is not allowed for in all of the more recent studies I’ve seen, although the majority of them which consider feed requirements do consider the problem at least obliquely, since the intensity of the animal’s labor also affects the efficiency of its digestion.

What this means is that to transport 60 tons of supplies 100 miles along a (good) road would require approximately 145.5 horses, 53.3 mules, or 2 dragons. The horses would require about 4,362 pounds of food per day; the mules would require about 2,180 pounds; the dragons would require only 1,200 pounds, or little more than half the amount the mules would need. (Although oxen don’t really come into this equation, because — as I said — they aren’t much used on Safehold, you’d need about 24 of them to move the same load, albeit at a much lower rate of speed, and they would consume about 1,900 pounds of food.) The horses (and mules) would require about 27 hours to travel 100 miles; the ox would require about 40 hours; the dragon would require approximately 20 hours. (Note: these figures are for continuous hours. All of the various critters involved would require periodic rest stops, not to mention the time required to consume the fodder discussed above.) The dragon’s advantage over the mule or (especially) horse in terms of pounds of fodder per mile traveled would come close to doubling across country, without a road net; its advantage would be no more than about 1.5 greater than for oxen.

Just as a matter of comparison, the famous M35 “deuce and a half” truck of the US Army can carry about 10,000 pounds of cargo and has a “highway” mileage of about 11 miles per gallon, so to transport 60 tons of cargo 100 miles would require 12 of them, each of which would burn roughly 9.1 gallons of gasoline, or a total of 109.2 gallons. A gallon of gasoline weighs about 6.2 pounds per gallon, so the gasoline required to transport our 60 tons for 100 miles would weigh 675.8 pounds, or about 56% of the “fuel cost” for the dragons. Of course, the volume that fuel would take up would be much lower and the entire trip would take a bit less than 2 hours or approximately 10 percent as long as the dragons would take. The advantage over horse or even mule-drawn transport is obviously much greater, and the US Army didn’t have access to Safeholdian dragons, unfortunately, which is probably why it violated the Proscriptions and came up with its infernal creation. :)

Nonetheless, I think it should be evident from the above that Safeholdian armies’ logistical capabilities come far closer to those of a mechanized era than even late 19th-century Earth-style animal traction could have. Of course, the extent to which that is true depends in no small part on how thoroughly and how well the capabilities of Safeholdian animal traction has been integrated into a given army’s transport system, and not all Safeholdian armies are equal in that respect by any stretch of the imagination.

Safehold Currency exchange rates circa 896. (Posted Tue Aug 13, 2013) December 2013

I see that people have been discussing currency and currency values, so I thought I’d give you the enclosed table. This reflects cumulative changes in currency exchange rates over a five-year period; it does not show you the peaks and valleys involved in those changes. Nor does it show you the purchasing power of the various currencies in terms of US dollars, which I have established for my own use as of 1800, 1850, 1900, 1950, and 2000.

I should point out that the currency units used here are all marks. Prior to the jihad, Temple marks were (you should pardon the expression) the “gold standard” of Safehold. National units minted their own coins simply to put enough currency into circulation, and the exchange rate reflected both the amount of bullion in any given coin (there are different bullion contents for several of them, most notably for Sodar and Harchong, if only because there were no truly standardized planetwide units of measure and weight) as well as the users’ faith in the amount of bullion (the prohibitions of the Writ vis-a-vis debasement of the coinage notwithstanding). It should also be noted, however, that there have always been silver and copper (actually bronze) marks in circulation. Generally speaking, there are 20 silver marks (or “silvers”) in a gold mark and 5 copper marks in each silver mark (or 100 “coppers” in a gold mark). Paper notes have been in circulation for decades (or longer) on Safehold, as well, but the provisions of the Writ which forbid debasing the currency have always been interpreted to mean that while paper notes may be issued by a bank, a nation, an archbishopric, or Mother Church herself, the issuing institution cannot issue notes for more bullion than it has actually on hand. In other words, there is no elasticity in the “paper money” supply. At the same time, paper notes are considered less durable than coins (they can, after all, be burned) and easier to counterfeit (which, despite the Writ’s prohibition on debasing the currency is still done by some criminals), and merchants and bankers (who have had a much closer view than the general public of the realities behind Church and secular corruption) have less confidence that “unbacked” banknotes won’t be issued anyway. All of these are reasons that the majority of transactions have still been carried out in coin. The primary function of these banknotes has been for transactions between banking institutions and treasuries rather than in the marketplace.

In addition to actual banknotes, as defined above, however, institutions may also issue notes which are not backed by actual bullion on hand. These promissory notes are almost always issued on an interest-bearing basis. That is, those who accept the promissory notes in the sale of goods or services do so (in theory, at least) of their own free choice and at their own risk and return for a promised value when the note comes to term in excess of its face value at the time they accepted it. These are much more likely to be used in the marketplace than the banknotes defined above, but are also subject to a certain discount rate by sellers, whether this is openly acknowledged or not.

This is partly reflected in the exchange rates below, because the total amount of currency in circulation includes coins (in gold, silver, and copper), paper notes issued against bullion reserves, and interest bearing promissory notes. The relative values assigned to the currencies in the table below reflect the willingness of sellers to accept all three of the above. One reason for the Charisian mark’s climb in value as opposed to the Church of God Awaiting’s mark is that the Church’s creditors are beginning to cherish serious reservations about notes issued against bullion and promissory notes, whereas Charis is being regarded (whatever the Church might think about it) as a better investment. In short, this shift in value reflects the fact that the Safeholdian marketplace has come to the conclusion that the jihad is most likely to end in the defeat of Mother Church, at least in so far as the Temple’s ability to crush the Empire of Charis is concerned. No one has pointed this out to Clyntahn, needless to say, but were it not for the coercive power of the Church and the Inquisition, the value of the Church’s and Temple Lands’ marks (especially its banknotes and promissory notes) would have fallen considerably further against the Charisian mark.

Eventually, the Charisian, Chisholmian, Emeraldian, Tarotisian, and Corisandian marks will be folded into a single Imperial Mark, but Cayleb and Sharleyan have no desire to pursue any fiscal policies that might shake the faith of the merchants and bankers in the Empire’s constituent realms in the middle of a war.

Safeholdian Currency Equivalents
Nation......Charis 891....Charis 896

Temple Lands..0.94............0.87
CoG Awaiting..1.14............1.01

*This line reflects currency value post Sword of Schueler in 896.

Safehold With PICAs, AIs, human-machine interfacing, and the like, how could the humans lose to the Gbaba? They had achieved the singularity, and thus could easily produce their way to victory. (Asked Sat Jul 20, 2013) December 2013

You need to reflect upon the fact that the reference was specifically for “most people” and to “full service” PICAs, if you will. In other words, the ones that are faithful analogues of a human original except for the fact that they are immensely stronger, have better reflexes, perfect memory, etc., and were perceived as mobile extensions of their original.

The Terran Federation was lousy with specialized PICAs which were routinely used by people working in high threat environments, etc., and provision of last-generation PICA capability for those who were physically disabled was also routine. In terms of military hardware, the uploading of human awarenesses and human memories into virtual realities for R&D, for the control of warships, fortresses, and system defense nets was widespread, but not as widespread — in tactical applications – as the use of genuine AIs. (Under the Federation's legal codes, AIs were on a different plane from electronic humans in several ways, primarily because AIs were regarded as artificial constructs which could be and were designed to serve specific functions which often precluded the possibility or even the concept of self-preservation. You might recall Nimue/Merlin's reflections on why Owl had such limited self-awareness and personality in the first place.)

There were all sorts of other reasons for the greater reliance on human-managed AIs than on PICAs or completely electronic humans, including the sheer expense of last-generation PICAs and a few very unhappy experiences in the early days of their availability. There are also some factors involved that can’t really be discussed at this point because of their bearing on elements of the story line that will never be resolved on Safehold, but in general there was no prejudice against the combination of human and electronic consciousnesses. Virtual personalities were regarded as individuals in their own rights; the restriction on PICAs — the necessity for the PICA’s memories and experiences to be uploaded to (i.e., be combined with) the human original — was required because the PICA was not regarded as an individual but rather as a peripheral being operated by the human original. If there was no “human original,” then there was no responsibility for the PICA to be downloaded to it (obviously), and I never intended to imply that someone who for medical reasons (or whatever, not be construed as precluding philosophical reasons) elected to transfer completely into a PICA would be erased every 10 days if he/she failed to report some sort of central policing authority. Unless one chose to make the transition permanent, however, the legal code continued to regard the human original as the only actual personality (since the requirement to upload effectively “overwrote” the original with the combined experience PICA and original). If a virtual personality was “manumitted” by the human original – and there was a legal procedure for doing just that — it became a complete, self-realized individual in the eyes of the law, with all of these civil rights and legal obligations of any other individual citizen of the Federation. Unless it was manumitted, however, the human original remained legally responsible for any of its actions. Put another way, the human original and the PICA were regarded as a single entity by the law and, that being the case, the law required that the separate aspects of that single entity be periodically merged to ensure that remained a single entity.

Now, I personally cherish certain doubts about the attainability of the singularity and its advantages/promises. At the same time, I’m certainly prepared to acknowledge that my reservations may or may not be well taken. I’ve already discussed in past posts on this forum several reasons why the Federation didn’t simply manufacture a bazillion PICAs in order to man vast fleets warships which could be sent off overwhelm the Gbaba. One reason, frankly, was that manpower was never Federation’s military, and one reason it wasn’t was that Federation military hardware required very, very little in the way of flesh-and-blood human personnel because (a) the Federation had very, very capable AIs and (b) the Federation already made significant use of uploaded human beings. As far as other war-fighting technologies — nano weapons, von neumann machines, etc. — are concerned, I’ve never said they weren’t used; I simply said whatever was used was insufficient to stave off ultimate defeat.

You also have to bear in mind that you’re seeing the Federation through the lens of Safehold. For example, there’s been mention by Merlin on more than one occasion that the reason humans on Safehold can’t use the NEAT technology for education is that none of them have the neural receptors they would have had had they been citizens of the Federation. I don’t believe that Merlin ever said that education was the only reason that citizens of the Federation had those receptors. In fact, citizens of the Federation routinely interfaced directly with computers, AIs, etc. Safehold, on the other hand, was intended — deliberately — to possess no advanced technology, including virtual personalities, PICAs, neural receptors, etc., etc. This is the primary reason that the original colonists volunteered to have all memory of that technology erased during their voyage to Safehold, although none of them ever anticipated what Langhorne and Bédard substitute for their original memories.

What I suppose I’m trying to say here is that you ought not to assume on the basis of the legal provisions attached to a specific use of a PICA that you understand all of the nuances of a Federation which you have seen only in historical perspective after that Federation had ceased to exist. Had I not deliberately allowed for the disablement of Merlin’s high-speed data port, you might have a rather different perspective on the interaction of human beings, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality as practiced by the Federation. This is not to say that I did not envision a Federation in which humanity had chosen — by and large – to preserve its humanity as distinct from the machine or from human-machine fusion. I did, however, envision one in which that humanity was far more intimately involved and . . . intertwined with its technological artifacts then you appear to have been assuming based on the single passage you cited.