An Email Exchange Between David Weber and Taylor Anderson, author of Firestorm: Destroyermen.
Taylor Anderson: Hi David! I just now--literally--got back from the WorldCon in Reno. It was fun--and I was also able to personally thank Steve Stirling for the nice blurb he gave my first book. Of course, I am also humbly honored by the very nice blurb you just gave me! If we're not careful, people might begin to suspect we are friends! Of course my meager, good opinion of everything you have written is a matter of record--and espoused at every opportunity!
David Weber: Friends! Friends!? How could anyone possibly suspect such a thing?! But I digress. You're certainly welcome to the cover blurb, since it's only accurate. I mean, us being friends and all I probably would have lied for you if I'd needed to, but what the heck? It's always nicer when you can say nice things because they're accurate. Helps add to your reputation for infallibility, you know.
Anyway, I've got How Firm a Foundation, which is, what--Safehold #4?--coming out in September. You've got one coming out next month, too, as I recall. So you want to tell me what you're going to do to Walker's crew and their friends this time?
Taylor Anderson: I am SOOOOO stoked to read How Firm a Foundation. Most of my reading lately has been old tech manuals, and I need some David Weber! I love how your "Merlin" manages to prod the Safehold tech development along. Artificial being or not, it has to be frustrating to have all that information--that will save lives--running around in his/her head and have to be so careful about revealing it in a logical progression. I'm still improving the "tech" in Firestorm: Destroyermen--which comes out October 4th--but the contrast in how it is applied is fun to compare to the Safehold series.
Your "Merlin" knows…everything, but has to hold back while everyone else accepts what is possible, whereas my Destroyermen know what is possible, but don't necessarily know how, or how best to achieve it. Different frustrations. Your guys have to be a lot more careful! Of course the Grik are still there, with their mad Japanese advisor--but the Grik are starting to "get wise" almost in spite of Kurokawa. He gives them technology, but retains his own agenda. Battle will rage on the land, sea, and in the air!
David Weber: Well, as you know, I "snippet" excerpts of the books on my website, so we're several thousand words into How Firm a Foundation, already. That makes things…interesting from my perspective, since the fans can't wait to start suggesting what my characters should be "inventing" next. I haven't even got steam engines past the proscriptions of the Inquisition yet, and some of these guys seem to think I should already be designing King Edward VII-class, pre-dreadnought battleships! I did just give the Charisians breech-loading caplocks, though. That's going to make life interesting for the other side. And Merlin is about to find out (sort of) what I stashed--I'm sorry, what the Archangel Langhorne stashed--under the Temple. It is a bit darker book, though, since the Church gets in a few licks of its own this time around. Your guys have had that experience, too, I think, haven't they?
One thing I'm pondering about is introducing a better propellant than black powder. I'd have to be really careful about that, dealing with the anti-technology proscriptions, but back when Safehold was first settled, the Church did set up the rote preparation and production of fertilizers on a relatively large-scale. It's occurred to me that if I want to introduce nitrocellulose, I might have a platform for that in the fertilizer industry. Or perhaps I should say in the fertilizer pre-industry, since we're not exactly talking about current day DuPont levels of production. What do you think? Practical or would I be stretching things too far?
Taylor Anderson: I haven't done "snippets," but I still get a lot of suggestions and speculation on my web site and through direct contacts. I think it's fun and exciting that so many people are thinking about our books. Some of the suggestions are a little strange--okay, sometimes all I can do is just stare--but Destroyermen is a kind of strange story! The contrast between "They couldn't really do that," and "Why don't they have atomic weapons yet?" from one contact to the next can be amusing though. Things take time, particularly when your characters have to find the things to build the things to build the things they need.
If you're asking my opinion on propellants, I'd have to suggest sticking with black powder for a while. Your caplock breechloaders will be easy to convert, certainly. I'm converting rifle-muskets to a type of "Allin" breechloader myself. But you can actually get better performance out of black powder in such weapons since they weren't designed (or alloyed and treated) for the higher pressures "smokeless" produces. You'd have to make some major leaps in metallurgy to support jacketed bullets as well, and without them, you're stuck with black powder velocities anyway. Besides, your battles are so much more artistic with plenty of fire and smoke!
Of course, then comes logistics! Ha! As you always show so well, getting "new" stuff to the pointy end--and supplying it--is the greatest challenge of all…but then that's pretty fun to write and read about too, isn't it? Wow. I can't wait to be taunted with what you Langhorne stashed! People who know we are friends ask me all the time what "it" is and don't really believe me when I tell them "I don't know!" If I did, I wouldn't rat--and I don't WANT to know until it unfolds on the pages in front of me!
David Weber: I'm inclined to stick with black powder for small arms for quite a while, for a lot of reasons, including the ones you've mentioned. I'm not too sure about how major a jump I'd have to make to support jacketed bullets--the Safehold-ian tech structure doesn't match up perfectly with any particular, in Earth's history, thanks to all of the "technologies without the science" tucked away in the Holy Writ. That means it wouldn't be beyond the reach of allowable technologies (and Safehold-current techniques) to form copper jackets and then compress the lead into them. I'm inclined to agree with you about the conversion process, and I'm also inclined to think that converting the smokeless powders would also require a drop in caliber, if I want to take advantage of the higher velocities flatter trajectories without beating my poor riflemen to death!
I was looking at improved propellants more from the perspective of naval gunnery, field artillery, and shell-fillers (I know, I know--not a "propellant". So sue me!) and that sort of thing. Can't have really long-range gunnery without predictable propellant burn times, and I don't think I can get that kind of quality control out of black powder. At the same time, I have to be thinking in terms of reasonably attainable technologies. And you'd better believe I plan on putting my head together with yours when I actually start converting to cartridges and repeaters!
Of course, my life is even more interesting in the next couple of months than yours is, because I [he said, blushing modestly and looking down at his toes] have a new book coming out in October, as well! I finally got around to writing that young adult novel I've wanted to write for so long for Baen's publishing, A Beautiful Friendship, next month. Trust me; it's a very different change of pace from the Safehold books!
Taylor Anderson: Oh I know about A Beautiful Friendship, you prolific devil. I've already pre-ordered it too. You're right of course. No real reason why better steels would be proscribed I guess. That's what I meant about jacketed bullets, by the way. Not the bullets themselves, but the barrels that will have to survive them--especially if you increase your rate of fire dramatically! Hehe. Once you eliminate that gas-gushing vent in a muzzle-loader, black powder is amazingly consistent in cartridges--but you still need a whopping heavy (and abusive) bullet to carry your energy along. Flat shooters they ain't.
It's no secret that "my" Destroyermen have been working on guncotton and other things. They have the recipe--from that same, valuable little manual we both have!--but the recipe needs a little adjustment when you're not sure what to use for cotton, for example!
Experimentation can be exciting, and a lot of the fun is letting the characters come up with their own angles. Like I've said, as capable as my Destroyermen are, there are a lot of things they don't know how to do, and they often come up with weird, "wrong," but adequate procedures. Also, with their fascination for gizmos, the Lemurians are beginning to come up with some slap your forehead notions and applications that might never have occurred to humans--which begs the question: why did they occur to me?
I'm all for juicing up naval artillery--or any artillery at all, as you know--but at sea, particularly, greater range is wasted without some advanced means of fire control. Even rifling won't help much. It's all in the timing, if you know what I mean. Oh, I've got the perfect repeater for you! I can't--actually won't use it--for the same reason I won't use another conversion we discussed, and I would love to see you use (hint). They just wouldn't make sense for my guys and their different starting point. For YOU however…they might even pass the proscriptions!
David Weber: Oh, yeah. I just finished, like a week or so ago, posting somewhere around a 5,000-word dissertation on the requirements for long-range naval gunnery on the Safehold forum on my website, because some of my readers were wondering how soon the Imperial Charisian Navy is going to go to long-range gunnery, by which some of them seemed to be thinking 20,000 or 30,000 yards. I had to explain that without centralized fire control to make sure all guns fired at exactly the right moment and on the right bearing, without inclinometers to be sure they fired at the right point in the ship's roll, without the ability to predict target movement, without accurate range-finding, and--especially--without predictable and repeatable propellant burn times (not to mention monitoring board erosion, temperature, humidity, propellant temperature, etc.), accurate naval gunnery at anything much over 6,000 yards is going to be problematical at best. I think that sort of "taking things for granted" is part of the price we pay for living at the "user end" of a technological world in the first place, but it starts coming home to you when you do the kind of thing you and I are doing in our books which is trying to build a technological infrastructure from scratch and figuring out how the wheel was invented in the first place!
Although, you know, thinking about it, what we're both doing in our different ways that's even more significant than the technology, I think, is looking at the values of the fictitious societies we've created. When you come down to it, technology is just tools -- it's what people do with those tools that distinguishes them from one another. Dark Age mentalities can do terrifying amounts of damage with modern technology. God knows we've seen enough of that in recent years, haven't we? I first came up with the concept for the Safehold books something like twenty years ago, and I've been mostly faithful to that original concept, but I can't pretend it hasn't been modified by things that have happened in the real world since. I actually make an effort to avoid having that happen, but I don't think any author can do that, really. After all, we live in the real world! But what my heroes are doing on Safehold and what your Destroyermen and their allies are doing on your alternate Earth is trying to push back the darkness, and I think that's the real reason a lot of their fans want to know what happens next in both universes. I know I sure do, at any rate!
Taylor Anderson: Ha! Few things could be more difficult to comprehend than all the variables that prevent accurate long range naval gunnery. Just figuring out all those variables is hard enough, and then compensating for them all presents an incredibly daunting challenge. The first "modern" computers, in all their complexity, were devoted to just that. Powered torpedoes add even more wild variables. I'll have to read your post to see how you managed to explain it all in a mere 5,000 words! I imagine that if anyone could do it, it would be you!
Ultimately however, I couldn't agree with you more; the people are the story. The technology is fun to research, bend to our specific applications, write about, and kick around with each other, but our characters--defined by their character--drive the stories. The "Safehold" and the people who inhabit it, that Nimue Alban's…memories…awoke to was every bit as alien as the world Matt Reddy and his crew of USS Walker encounter in Destroyermen. Both worlds are as remote as they can possibly be to what they knew before, and full of unfamiliar threats and challenges. It is how they--and those around them--deal with their apparently insurmountable obstacles that form the "souls" of each story. Both have a vision for how best to protect and secure the people--and worlds--they have inherited, and both are determined to accomplish their task regardless of the cost, particularly to themselves. In this day and age, it may seem quaint to some that people might be so determined to "do the right thing, as they see it, when nobody is looking," in a sense. But I believe that quality is still admired, and is, I hope, the most resonant chord we have struck with both our tales.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.