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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
Honorverse What do the various planets/regions of the Honorverse sound like to you? (Asked Tue Sep 20, 2011) January 2014

In general:

Planet Sphinx = Midwestern American;

Planet Manticore = British (specifically, English with upper and lower class distinctions, but with a pronounced, rather dreadful 19th century sort of Anglo-Irish drawl for certain segments of the uppermost upper crust [i.e., Oversteegan & Co.]);

Planet Gryphon = Highland Scots;

Haven System (particularly Nouveau Paris) = French;

Planet Grayson = Welsh, that sort of soft, musical edge;

Solarian League (particularly Old Earth) = various "big city" American accents.

This is how my ear "hears" them when I think about it, although to be honest, I usually don't worry about pronunciation as much as I do about word choice when I'm writing.

Honorverse What exactly can a treecat pick up from a human, and how useful would it be in a court of law? (Asked Tue Sep 13, 2011) January 2014

Treecats are capable of detecting and parsing human emotions with a high degree of accuracy. They can, thus, detect emotional spikes connected with anxiety. They can also detect/read what you might call "sideband" transmissions. This is spelled out in somewhat greater detail in A Beautiful Friendship (that would be the novel version coming out in October), when Climbs Quickly is thinking about the message content which is subsumed in the emotional/empathic portion of the mind-glow. It's much more difficult to strain exact meanings out of those "sideband" transmissions without considerable practice with the individual mind-glow in question. That is, a mated pair of treecats would be able to read a great deal of actual meaning and communication out of their mates' mind-glows, and a treecat who has adopted a human can pick up a great deal of information/communication from the emotional side of the human's mind-glow. This isn't the same as telepathy, which is a coherent, deliberate communication — what you might call a "formed" communication. That doesn't mean that information isn't transferred, however.

There are, in the human mind-glow, discernible "triggers," for want of a better word — information tags from a treecat's perspective which indicate that someone is deliberately telling an untruth. One reason that they can detect this as well as they can is that it is a trigger/information tag completely lacking in treecat mind-glows, because treecats don't lie. So, yes, when Honor calls Nimitz a "furry lie detector," she is being exactly accurate: Nimitz can tell whenever someone sets out to deliberately tell an untruth or mislead. Now, the limitation here is exactly the same as would be provided by any other lie detector that was capable of differentiating between a knowingly true and knowingly false statement; you may know the statement is knowingly false, but that doesn't tell you how it is false. That is, knowing that someone isn't telling you the truth doesn't automatically tell you what the truth is. Obviously, if you ask enough questions and are able to tell whether any given answer is true or false, you can eventually narrow the options of the person you're questioning to a point at which the truth is revealed.

If your alibi in a murder case is that you were cheating on your spouse somewhere else at the time the victim was murdered and you're asked whether or not you committed the crime and you say "No," a treecat would know that your statement was not deliberately and knowingly false. He might also know that you were upset, that you were embarrassed about where the questioning might lead if it continued, etc., but he wouldn't know why you were upset unless specific additional questions were asked. (Well, that's not entirely accurate; a treecat probably would pick up at least a little information from those "sideband" transmissions. Whether or not he would be able to put that information together to realize what you had been up to and why you were embarrassed about it would be highly problematical, however. He might be able to get as far as your embarrassment/shame focusing on your spouse [or, perhaps, on the public consequences of being found to be an adulterer, assuming you were more concerned about that than about any hurt/paint it might cause your spouse, you louse!], but he wouldn't be able to tell what, specifically, you'd done to be embarrassed or humiliated by.)

This is something that treecats can't help knowing. They aren't especially interested or judgmental about it, but they can't help knowing. A lot of the things that bother human beings seem pretty silly to treecats, since they're telempathic, after all, and none of them can help knowing this sort of thing about any of them. Human beings who simply can't stand the thought that this little alien creature here knows what they're feeling (whether the little alien creature really cares what they're feeling or not) are going to be extremely uncomfortable around treecats under any circumstances. But if treecats are going to be accorded the same rights as any other sentient being, then they're going to have to be allowed in society. That's just the way it is. And if they're not allowed in society because of their empathic abilities, then they won't be being accorded the same rights as any other sentient being. That's just the way it is, too. In other words, humanity is either going to have to learn how to cope or the people who simply can't stand that are going to have to isolate themselves from treecats.

In the meantime, however, the issue of using treecats as lie detectors is essentially a nonissue. In the pursuit of security clearances for government officials and — especially — members of the military, being asked in front of a lie detector whether or not you are an agent of an enemy power is not inappropriate. It might become inappropriate if only certain members were singled out to be questioned, although even then it would depend on what the basis for singling out was. If, however, it is an across-the-board policy — in effect, every member of the Navy, for example, is going to be asked exactly the same question and no fishing expeditions are going to be permitted — then it does not constitute an unfair invasion of anyone's privacy, since the treecat isn't going to be able to tell a human interrogator (even if the treecat wants to) anything more than the fact that you are/are not lying. That's it, pretty much.

If you are a civilian, under the Manticoran Constitution, you would have the right to refuse to answer. The treecat might be able to tell that you were upset, but it couldn't tell the interrogator why you were upset. The consequence of your refusing to answer would be the loss of your security clearance, which would probably cost you your job (assuming that your job was sufficiently sensitive that you were required to have a security clearance in the first place) and it might well lead to an investigation which could turn up all sorts of things you'd rather weren't turned up. But that would be because the fact that you chose not to answer the question generated suspicion, not because of anything the treecat was able to tell them.

Although this particular issue [the use, specifically, of treecats as an investigating tool] has not been addressed yet in Manticoran criminal law, the issue of coerced testimony and involuntary use of lie detectors has been addressed. You cannot be compelled to testify against yourself and a jury cannot legally consider whether or not you refused to take a lie detector test. It is possible that criminal law may be modified if treecats become part of the recognized police force or of the practice of jurisprudence in the Star Empire. For example, it might become permissible for a treecat police officer to testify "He lied when he said he was at home playing solitaire the night of the murder," which would obviously be a serious blow. However, the treecat could not then testify "And the reason he lied was that he was actually off committing the murder." If the suspect was then asked "We know you weren't really home playing solitaire that night. Did you or didn't you commit the murder?" and simply refused to answer, the treecat couldn't testify that he had lied when he didn't answer. If the suspect did answer and said "No, I didn't," the treecat would be able to testify as to whether or not that statement was truthful. Presumably, if a suspect did refuse to answer in front of a jury, the judge would give the jury the equivalent of the charge given in the United States and someone pleads the Fifth Amendment and say "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, refusal to answer is a protected constitutional privilege and cannot legally be construed as indicating guilt. Guilt must still be demonstrated on the basis of the evidence."

It's an interesting question and one I've been kicking around in the back of my brain for a while as a logical implication of treecats' abilities. As far as a security investigation vetting personnel for possible membership in an interstellar conspiracy to destroy the Star Empire which has already resulted in millions of casualties in a sneak attack, however, I don't think that requiring those personnel to answer the question "Are you an agent of the Mesan Alignment?" or even "Are you an agent of any power or organization dedicated to the overthrow or destruction of the Star Empire of Manticore?" would be over the line. There may be quite a bit of legitimate difference of opinion over deciding the appropriate consequences of a refusal to answer the question, but asking the question itself and protecting the security of the civilian government and the military against infiltration by someone willing to kill millions or even billions of human beings is certainly not inappropriate.

It may strike some people as an unwarrantable intrusion, but once again, the only thing it's going to tell the interrogator is whether or not you answered the question truthfully to the best of your knowledge. Unless we're going to posit that it's perfectly all right to be a mass murderer, or an agent of mass murderers, as long as we can game the system successfully, then it doesn't strike me that this degree of ability to determine the truthfulness of your reply is in the invasion of your constitutional or personal rights. And it certainly would not be something deserving of the term "Gestapo."

Now, I can certainly think of circumstances under which this ability to differentiate between truthful and inaccurate statements could become a horrible force for the suppression of freedom of thought, expression, and action. A great deal would depend on what your society chose to criminalize. "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of a society dedicated to the democratic reform of the Solarian League?" "Do you now, or have you ever, opposed the genocidal policies of Our Glorious Leader?" The problem with most of the models which could lead to that suppression of freedom of thought, expression, and action is that treecats would refuse to help enforce them. The very nature of treecats' communication and understanding of one another would make such societies anathema to them, and treecats are very direct personalities. It might be possible to find some way to compel them to cooperate with interrogators in such a society, but it would be very, very, very difficult, and the coercion involved would almost certainly turn around and bite the coercer on the posterior.

Honorverse How does missile telemetry and guidance work? (Asked Thu Aug 18, 2011) January 2014

Missile-to-missile communication is a bear for impeller drive missiles under power. Their own impeller wedges --- and those of their fellow missiles --- cut enormous holes in transmission paths, making it very difficult for missiles anywhere except in very close proximity to one another (and very closely coordinating their maneuvers) to "talk to each other" on the sort of basis which would let them keep track of that kind of detailed positional information. One reason the Apollo control muscles follow behind the missiles they are controlling it so that they can maintain a line of sight to the missiles under their command by remaining in their "impeller shadow," which simultaneously protects them from enemy interception and allows them to communicate with their flocks through the kilts of the attack missiles' wedges.

I may not have made it sufficiently clear, but the telemetry link between an outgoing missile (especially an outgoing SDM) and the ship that launched it is not a continuous, unbroken two-way stream of data. The ship and the missile both know what the missile's maneuvers are going to be. If one of those maneuvers turns the missile's transceiver away from its mothership, both it and the ship know when the ship will be able to re-acquire signal. That "window" on the dedicated channel for that missile is completely predictable and, just as importantly, that window is independent of the window for any other missile in that salvo or any other salvo fired by that ship. What that means is that the other missiles in the flight, broadside, salvo,or avalanche don't have to worry about communicating with each other; they only have to worry about communicating with the mothership, which puts the data from all the distributed sensor nodes represented by its missiles together into a single, cohesive model of the target. Because it knows precisely where each of its missiles are, it can then steer them into the best attack positions without the missiles themselves needing to know a single thing about any other missile in the attack wave. In other words, in an ideal attack situation, even when the missiles "steady down" on their final attack runs, they wouldn't have to share information with each other because that information has been shared for them. And because the launching ship's conversation with each missile is "private," there was no point in the attack missiles' combined flight profile when they had to maneuver into attitudes which would allow them to communicate with one another, depriving their target of any opportunity to analyze their flight paths in order to improve counter missile and point defense solutions.

Now, the problem with this ideal attack model has always been the lightspeed limit on the telemetry link, and I've never meant to imply that the missiles themselves never go into information-sharing mode independent of the firing ship. That, in fact, is precisely what happens when the firing ship cuts its telemetry links because the range is so great that transmission delay is imposing penalties which outweigh its advantages. When that happens, the missiles go on to a "canned" attack profile and continue their individual attack paths completely independent of one another. The launching ship knows exactly what that profile is, however, which means that it also knows where every “independently targeted” missile is going to be at the instant that they enter that "final run" stage of the attack. With that information, it arranges for them to so position themselves as to give them the best shot at communicating before the attack. What they're actually doing in that very fleeting time window, however, isn't trying to find the target. They already know what their target zone is; what they're doing is checking to see who's been killed on the way in and redistributing firing assignments amongst the survivors in order to cover their target zone as effectively as possible. The shipboard control which has gotten them to that point actually has a far better picture of where their target can be then they could determine in the very brief time window they have, so they aren't so much attempting to aim as they are to cover the target they've already been aimed at with the greatest density of fire the surviving laser heads will permit.

There's an inevitable loss in accuracy because the telemetry link which was feeding them their target's location has been lost. In addition, however, one of the tools of missile defense is to analyze the flight profiles of incoming salvos in order to spot that "handshaking" moment when the attack missiles "talk to each other" before firing. One of the reasons point defense gets more effective in the innermost zone is that there's a higher percentage chance of predicting the positions of missiles in the moment that they hold that last data exchange if the defenders have had more time to analyze their flight profiles and the missiles have waited to a closer range to roll into one another's transmission paths. Analysis of relative wedge positions can provide the defenders with a pretty darned good, constantly evolving solution for how the missiles in question have to position themselves in order to get good transmission paths.

Remember that the first time Giscard ever saw MDMs at Lovat, the "clumping" of the incoming fire puzzled him. Standard missile doctrine spreads the attack missiles as broadly as possible, maneuvering them independently towards their targets in order to make them as difficult as possible to lock up and to make prediction of possible transmission paths equally difficult. Tethering the Mark 23s to the Apollo missiles actually makes their positions easier to plot and to predict, which ought to make them even more vulnerable to interception, which is one reason the unusual flight profile puzzled Giscard. The problem for the defender is that because the ship controlling the Mark 23s is looking at its tactical model built on the input from every single attack missile, it's in a far better position to "thread the needle" on its way in and to utilize the penetration aid platforms seeded into the salvo much more effectively than ever before. Moreover, the ships themselves are in a datasharing network, which means that the combat environment model of the ship directing/controlling any given salvo of Apollo-controlled missiles has the advantage of shared input from every single ship in its formation. What that means is that, at least in theory, a single SD(P) controlling its own missile salvo has the tactical input from every single one of the (probably) thousands of missiles which its wall has fired. And, finally, Apollo has the advantage of real-time telemetry, allowing it to use all of that data effectively, out to an effective range no one else can possibly match.

The sensor capability of any given missile is very, very limited compared to the EW environment, the complexity of the maneuvering environment, and the extremely short time in which the sensors are going to have a look at the target ship as opposed to the target ship's wedge. The sensor capability of ten or twelve thousand missiles, shared in real time, is quite another kettle of fish, and it is the ability to combine and manage that much data which really accounts for Apollo's devastating accuracy. The probability of a hit by any given Apollo laser head is enormously higher than for any other missile out there. In fact, even now, the Manties are still in the process of coming to terms with just how much that probability has been increased.

Honorverse Does the Solarian League as presently constituted a government? It seems more like a free trade pact with mutual defense clauses thrown in. (Asked Mon Aug 08, 2011) January 2014

Okay, I think there's some confusion over whether or not the Solarian League is actually a "government." It is. It's a government which was established for specific purposes, those having to do primarily with the regulation and protection of interstellar trade and the suppression of threats to that trade, plus the creation of a central military sufficiently powerful to depress any temptations towards warlordism on the parts of individual system governments once the Warshawski sail made interstellar war practical once more, but it is a government, and it always has been one.

If you think about it, that protection against threats is actually the primary motivator for the formation of almost any government. The Solarian Constitution was deliberately structured in a way to limit the power of the central government, but that government was clearly visualized as a government from the get-go, or else there wouldn't have been a legislative body in which every full member system held veto power. The difficulty wasn't that the League was denied the power to legislate and create laws in the sense of any other government; the difficulty was that since the League was effectively unable to pass meaningful legislation because of that veto power, the government turned to its regulatory authority to "do an end run" around the legislature . . . and then proceeded to continue doing the same thing literally for centuries. At the time of the discovery of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction, the League in already been in existence for centuries, however, and the SKM could see pretty clearly what that implied even before it became an uber economic power in its own right courtesy of the Junction. It didn't much care for what it was seeing, either.

For the League's full member systems, political relations with the central government are probably closer to the relations of states in the United States to the federal government prior to the American Civil War — you know, when we actually paid attention to something called the Tenth Amendment? [G] The central government has extraordinarily limited authority to intervene in the local laws and practices of full member systems of the League unless those laws and/or practices are in conflict with the Constitution and the government's constitutional authority. As a consequence, a citizen of a typical core star system has very little interaction with the League government and a great deal of interaction with his local system government. He doesn't care what's going on in Washington, DC, he cares about what's going on in Sacramento or Albany.

From the outside looking in, however, the policies and practices of the government in Old Chicago are clearly evident, and the Star Kingdom (as of the discovery of the Junction) had been a Verge system. I realize that's a bit different perspective from my earlier comments about why the Haven Sector is significantly different from other Verge sectors, but I plead the fact that we're talking about a process of centuries here. When I said that the Star Kingdom and the Republic of Haven hadn't been Verge systems because of their proximity in terms of travel time to the Old League, that's been the case for the last two or three centuries prior to the Havenite wars, but it shouldn't be construed as meaning that it's been the case for the entire history of the League. It's been the case during the formative time period of the Haven Sector's divergence from the Verge norm, and I should have been more careful and precise in how I formulated and expressed my thoughts in that regard when the topic first came up. But at the time that the Manticoran Wormhole Junction was initially discovered, the Star Kingdom had already "enjoyed" three or four hundred years of watching the League in action and seeing the gradual emergence of the Office of Frontier Security from a Verge perspective. In fact, by that time the policies which later led to the rot within the League bureaucracy and the Protectorates was already fairly visible to anyone on the outside who actually looked at the situation. As such, the SKM — which at that time faced no local external threat — saw absolutely no reason to join a government for which it had already developed a distinct distaste.

By the time the People's Republic did emerge as a political and military threat, the contemporary Star Kingdom — particularly as the greatest "maritime" power in the explored galaxy — had directly experienced all too much of the reality of the "noble" Solarian League's policies. As a consequence, it would be difficult to exaggerate the negativity of the late nineteenth century Manty-in-the-street's distaste for the League. The notion of a voluntary association with the League would have been — at best — a bitterly divisive political issue within King Roger's Star Kingdom, and the threatened loss of system revenues once the League government started collecting the "user fees" on the Wormhole Junction (which it would have been entitled to do, technically at least, under the League's constitution) would have been seized upon by opponents to any such association during the domestic political debate over it.

During the Cold War, there was a vocal European opinion group which held that there was actually very little to choose between the Soviet Union and the United States. I suspect that if the members of that group had been forced to choose between becoming citizens of the Soviet Union or of the United States — that is, they'd literally had no choice but to do one or the other — a majority of them would have decided that the USA was a better (or at least, less bad) choice than the USSR. Do you really think, though, that, say France, would have opted to submerge itself in the government of the United States of America, rather than investing in its own military, if confronted by an aggressive and expansionist Germany? France might have sought a military alliance with the US against Germany (seems to me we actually did that a time or two), but it wouldn't have surrendered its sovereignty to the United States, and rightfully so. The political relationship Washington and Paris has been rocky enough from time to time, but the degree of antipathy between them even at their worst pales in comparison to the antipathy between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Solarian League as a whole. That's why I made the point about the difference between the Manties' attitude towards Beowulfans and Sollies.

As for the difference between internal and external trade tariffs, there really isn't one as far as the League is concerned. The League is a great believer in "free trade," and "tariffs" in the sense in which they exist in our own experience aren't really part of the League's system. They aren't designed to protect the League's economy from imports, since the League is much more concerned with exports from the most productive (in absolute terms, at least) economy in the galaxy. They are, rather, transactional fees which go into the central government's coffers. As such, Manticoran exporters really wouldn't save anything by virtue of membership in the League, but the Manticoran merchant marine would have found itself paying substantial fees (it would never do to call them "taxes," of course!) which the League automatically levies on its own merchant vessels. (That, by the way, is another reason for the size and power of the Manticoran merchant marine; the additional, government-imposed overhead on Solarian registry vessels is a primary driver in Solly shippers' preference for leasing Manticoran ships rather than owning their own.)

The probable immediate economic cost to Manticore in dollars and cents probably would have been lower than the cost of King Roger's build up, although it should be borne in mind that the increase under King Roger was far less costly than even the prewar budgets under Elizabeth. That is, it was a peacetime budgetary increase, probably something like the Reagan Administration's defense spending increases with a moderate dose of steroids, nothing like defense spending under Eisenhower or Kennedy and not remotely like defense spending under FDR. The long-term, systemic expenses to the Star Kingdom would have been far greater than anything it saved in the short term, however. (Note that we're speaking here about the cost of the military buildup, not about the cost of an actual war that League membership might have averted. I throw that in because I'm sure one of you would be simply delighted to mention it if I didn't at least take cognizance of it in passing. [G]) When you combine that long-term systemic cost with the Manticoran sense of "national identity" and deep-seated distaste for the Solarian League, the chance that any Manticoran government would ever have asked for League membership — even as a full member system — would have to be virtually nonexistent. That might have changed in the face of a truly desperate military situation when something like Churchill's 1940 proposal of joint citizenship for the citizens of Great Britain and France might have offered salvation in the face of actual Havenite conquest, but it would have been a complete nonstarter in the face of any prospect less dismal than that.

Or that's the way it seems to me, at any rate, but what do I know? ;-)

Honorverse How is impeller wedge power related to sidewall strength? (Asked Tue May 24, 2011) December 2013

The strength of the wedge does affect the effectiveness of the sidewall, but it isn't the decisive factor in sidewall strength. It's the sidewall generators which determine that.

A sidewall is basically a "plate" of focused gravitic energy, and the bigger (and stronger) its generator, the stronger and tougher the sidewall plate is going to be. The logical implication of this is that larger ships with more tonnage for generators and a larger energy budget can produce stronger sidewalls, and that's the real reason ships-of-the-wall, for example, have sidewalls so much tougher than a battlecruiser's or a destroyer's. It's also the reason the Nike-class battlecruisers have stronger sidewalls than the Agamemnons; the BC(L)'s designers devoted the tonnage and the power to generate them because toughness and survivability were higher priorities in the Nike's concept design stage.

Now, where the basic size and power of the ship's impeller wedge come in is in the "stitching" — the interface where the sidewall and the wedge come together. The sidewall is strongest at the center, with the strength (the gravitic "depth," if you will) of the "plate" dropping off proportionately as one approaches its boundaries. That means the upper and lower edges of the sidewall are the "sweet spot" where the attacker really wants his energy weapon shot to hit, and the stronger or "deeper" the impeller wedge is, the more its "shadow" protects that "seam" from incoming fire. The sidewall actually reaches up into the impeller wedge (where the two of them are tuned to interface and interlock), much as the impeller wedge reaches across the alpha wall to siphon in additional power to maintain the wedge once it's up. The effect in this case is much less noticeable in terms of power supply, but the interface also "bends" or slightly deforms the surface of the impeller wedge, pulling it "downward" to the edge of the sidewall plate, which is where the defensive "shadow" originates, and the stronger the impeller band, the stronger (tougher) that shadow becomes. In combination these factors significantly reinforce the strength of the sidewall edges where they are inherently weaker, which means that the same sidewall generator will produce a more effective sidewall when it has a stronger or "deeper" impeller wedge with which to interface. It's not that the sidewall itself is actually stronger, but rather that it is able to use its strength in a more inherently efficient fashion. This is only a factor for hits that would come in through that reinforced area, and the reinforcement itself is a small enough factor in the sidewall's overall power that this is not a significant element in the difference of sidewall strength between, say, a Nike and an Agamemnon. It would, however, be a very significant element in the difference between the strength of an SD's sidewall and that of a CA.

Honorverse Why is there legalized dueling in the Star Kingdom? (Asked Mon May 23, 2011) December 2013

[The] real reason for the reemergence of dueling in the SKM is the sheer bloody-mindedness of the human creature in a frontier environment.

The SKM has always been very "2nd Amendment" friendly, largely as a result of the fairly conservative North American DNA in the original colonists, who were fleeing a Solar System in which they felt the Nanny State had become tyranical. Another consequence of their origins was that they had something of a fetish about self-reliance, standing on your own two feet, and other cliches to that effect. And they were settling on planets much of whose surfaces were then (and in HH's day still are) hazardous for the unarmed/unprotected. (Don't forget that as late as HH's time, people who go wandering in the bush on Sphinx take along some hefty firepower, and even the planet of Manticore has less than 2 billion citizens, quite a few of whom (like the majority) are concentrated in a relatively small number of urban enclaves.) In the earlier days of the SK -- post Plague but way pre-Honor -- the practice of well-armed citizens settling disputes on their own (and before the cops could respond, given some really long response envelopes) -- reemerged. It was not officially sanctioned when it did, but juries tended to refuse to convict if they could be convinced that the dearly departed "needed killing."

In time, the precedent was pretty well established that a homicide was "justifiable" as long as it was "a fair shootin'" and both sides had participated voluntarily while taking precautions to protect innocent bystanders. In other words, "If you two lunatics really want to shoot at each other, more power to you. The gene pool will be improved whichever of you we manage to remove from it!" Once it became an acceptable practice, laws were passed (beginning on Sphinx, I blush to disclose) codifying it in the interests of conrolling and minimizing it.

Honor thinks it's a Really Bad Idea (despite the fact that she's resorted to it twice herself), but not because she thinks you shouldn't be allowed to settle disputes with a certain degree of . . . finality if both parties agree. Her objection is that the shaming aspect of it has turned it into something that drives/forces/convinces otherwise putatively sane (and honorable, decent, etc.) people who otherwise would know better than to do such a stupid thing (like Paul Tankersley) into situations that get them killed by the scum of the earth. She has no objection in theory to settling things on the dueling grounds (and was willing to use the "shaming" aspect of it herself to get to Pavel Young), but is actually doing all she can currently to support the growing reform movement to abolish the practice in the SEM.

I should, perhaps, point out that she would have been entirely willing to shoot Pavel without aid of the code duello if the code hadn't been there to be used. Lord knows I love the girl, but I certainly wouldn't wamt to get on the bad side of her with blood in the water. Moderation under those circumstances is not precisely her strong suit.

Oh, and who says you can't settle disputes on Montana with a shootin' iron, Pardner?

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.

General Why do you write so much about empires or monarchies? (Asked Wed Sep 04, 2013) December 2013

I've had people comment on this before. There are several reasons I tend to write about empires and kingdoms, but please note that even most of the monarchies I write about (at least approvingly) have both input from those governed (which may or may not be called a parliament) and a means whereby an incompetent/corrupt monarch may be removed. I also write about monarchies/empires in transition towards other forms of government quite a lot, as well.

Historically, monarchy has a much longer track record than democracy, and outside a high-bandwidth society, real participatory government on a nationstate level is pretty thoroughly impractical. Note that in this case I'm using "bandwidth" in a rather sweeping sense which doesn't necessarily have anything to do with electronics. Electronic communication interfaces are good, but what I'm really speaking of here is a broad-based educational system and widespread news availability. Obviously it's possible for people to vote without possessing --- or availing themselves of --- either of the above (as some recent US elections demonstrate, whichever side of the political aisle one might be on), but the intelligent, effective use of the franchise means that the voters have to be at least reasonably well-informed upon the issues facing them (in a direct democracy) or their elected representatives (in a representative democracy). You don't get that sort of voters if the information they need isn't available to them, and that requires both sufficient education to access information and set it in a coherent context and avenues by which that information can reach them in the first place. While I can get seriously pissed off with the gentleman (and gentlewomen) of the Fourth Estate, widespread, open, and at least reasonably honest news reportage is essential to a functioning elective form of government.

Direct democracy begins to break down very rapidly once one gets beyond purely local government. Athens, so frequently referred to as the mother of democracy, had a very limited franchise and was not a very large social entity, whether in terms of population or geographic extent, compared to the vast majority of modern nationstates. In addition, whatever their other advantages (and I grant that the advantages are legion), elective forms of government tend to be less efficient in the face of an emergency than monarchial ones. Mind you, there's something to be said for governmental inefficiency under normal circumstances, given that government inevitably accrues all of the power it can. This isn't necessarily because the government in question is inherently evil, either. A government's job — its entire reason for being — is to govern, and it seeks the tools and authority it needs in order to accomplish that task. (The fact that governments tend to be made up of fallible, corruptible, and often corrupted human beings who seek power for reasons of ego, personal wealth, or any number of other regrettable motivations only makes a potentially bad situation worse in that respect.) However that may be, in times of great emergency, successful democratic/representative governments tend to adopt rules and procedures which vest enormous power in the state's executive with the understanding (or at least the hope) that the power in question will be returned to the electorate and/or its representatives once the emergency passes. And the reason they do that is because there isn't time for reasoned debate and to seek parliament/congress' approval of every decision or action.

One-person rule is more efficient (note that I did not say it was necessarily better) than a representative democracy, and a representative democracy is more efficient than a pure democracy. I think it should be evident that the empires and monarchies of which I write approvingly are generally constitutional monarchies with a powerful representative element. It should also be noted that I also write rather approvingly of representative democracy in general. The restored Peoples' Republic of Haven in the Honorverse is one example of that, I would say. So are quite a lot of the system and planetary governments in the Honorverse. Both the Protectorate of Grayson and the Star Kingdom of Manticore became monarchies for quite different reasons, but the trend even in both of those star nations is towards increasing representation. The Solarian League, on the other hand, is an example of one type of façade democracy, while several of the pre-annexation governments in the Talbott Cluster were examples of other sorts of façade democracy is.

From a literary perspective, there are some significant advantages in writing about monarchial governments, of course. It allows the writer to focus more directly on individual strong characters whose decisions have immediate impact and who become personally responsible for the outcomes of those decisions. It's clearly not impossible to come up with characters and situations where both that focus and that responsibility can also be achieved in non-monarchial systems, and I've done that, too. For example, Eloise Pritchart in the Republic of Haven has to work within the constraints of a representative democracy. It's easier and "cleaner" (at least in my opinion and experience) to work with someone who is expected by both his/her fellow citizens and by the reader to be able to make, implement, and "own" critical decisions of state quickly and on his/her own recognizance, however.

In a more general sense, I tend to believe that the jury is still out on the longevity, effectiveness, and universality of representative/democratic government. I happen to think that that type of government offers the greatest opportunities politically, economically, and in terms of "quality of life" to its citizens, but monarchies and empires of one sort or another have been around far longer and one need not look far to find autocracies masquerading as democracies all over the world today. I'm inclined to think that if/when we finally do get to the stars, effectively monarchial governments are likely to reemerge, although in the Honorverse I've tried to present specific reasons for their reemergence. In the case of Manticore, as a deliberate move by the original colonists to conserve their political power in a star nation which of necessity was about to absorb a huge influx of newcomers. In the case of Grayson, as a response to the critical survival imperatives of a rather intensely hostile environment. There could be any number of other "legitimate" reasons for that sort of transformation, and there could also be an even greater number of "illegitimate" reasons, including an unscrupulous political leader who seizes absolute power and makes it stand up. Four or five generations later, the descendents of even the most unscrupulous political leader imaginable may actually have become enlightened rulers with the best interests of their subjects in mind, whereas after the same time period, the descendents of even the most enlightened ruler can have become despots concerned only with their own self-interest and the preservation of their own power. Which way it goes in a specific literary universe depends on the story the writer wants to tell. In real life, the reasons and the consequences can be far messier and more painful.

I expect that most people have a tendency to subconsciously assume that the form of government under which they were born and raised is the inevitable, default form of government. We assume the permanence of what are actually transitory, perpetually evolving forms of government. Someone living in the United States of 1800 would be shocked by the power of the central government in the United States of 2000. For that matter, the changes in power structures, centers of authority, and routine government interference (for good or ill) in the personal lives of US citizens between 1950 and 2000 are enormous. They've happened so gradually, however, that the majority of American citizens take them for granted without ever really thinking about how transformative they've actually been. I try in my writing to show that evolutionary process in progress, and the truth is that most of the forms of government — and most of the specific governments — I write about are constantly in the process of becoming something else.