From an email posted to Baen's Bar Snerkers Only on 7/31/2010

Oyster Bay and the Eridani Edict

    You know, there's a reason authors tend not to share all the details and nuts and bolts of their literary universes with their readers. One reason, obviously, is that as soon as you do that you've “nailed your feet to the floor” with regard to changing your mind about something that may become crucial to the story you're telling. Another reason is the readers who, convinced that they have THE critical information, begin deciding whether or not the writer knows what he's doing when, in fact, they often do not have THE critical information. And yet another reason is that if the author becomes involved in efforts to explicate the situation or adjudicate a discussion which has arisen out of the information revealed (or, in some cases ostensibly revealed) to the reader, he can end up muddying the water he was trying to clarify. Sometimes he can even end up misstating something (or stating it imprecisely enough to effectively misstate it), and this is particularly true, I think, when he has multiple literary universes in play. For example, switching back and forth between, say, the Honorverse and Safehold leaves lots of opportunities for the author (in this case me) to find himself being asked to clarify situations when I am not currently in first in the universe in which the situation has arisen.

    Having said that, however, I'm a bit at a loss to understand some of the apparent confusion about what's going on in the Honorverse. Or, rather, I suppose I should say I'm a bit perplexed by the extent to which people are projecting/theorizing based on their understanding (and speculation) about events and data which have not been conclusively established in the books. Or, in some cases, about events and data which have been established in the books at which they are apparently misinterpreting.

    Specifically, there's the debate over exactly what resources Manticore has (or has not) to recover from Oyster Bay. And, related to but separate from that debate, is the apparent insistence of some people that the debris strike on Sphinx either represents an Eridani Edict violation or else that I have simply chosen to ignore the way that I have previously defined what the Eridani Edict is.

    In regards to the latter point, I recommend people go back and re-read the relevant passages in the books. Apparently some people are taking the position that because admirals have persistently worried about hitting planets with relativistic-speed missiles and the Edict, any hit on a planet automatically constitutes an Eridani Edict violation. People, there have been tons of posts about this on Baen's Bar in the past. I have explained there, repeatedly, that collateral damage from strikes on legitimate targets on planetary surfaces do not constitute Eridani Edict violations. And neither there, nor in the books, have I ever stated that accidental strikes on a planet do constitute an Eridani Edict violation. What I have shown you — repeatedly — are admirals being concerned that an accidental strike would be construed as a deliberate strike and therefore called an Eridani Edict violation by those already hostile to their own star nations. In other words, completely regardless of the fact that most naval officers aren't homicidal maniacs and would prefer not to accidentally hit a target like Yawata Crossing and just sort of offhandedly kill a couple of million people, their concern is that an accidental action will be passed off as a deliberate action on their part in order to maneuver the Solarian League into going after them. (Or, if they're already on the Solarian League's bad side, that the League bureaucracy will choose to construe an accident as a deliberate act in order to justify Solarian military action against the supposed “violator.”) Their concern about that has never been because accidentally hitting a planet with a missile would actually constitute a violation of the edict which — as I have stressed repeatedly — is intended to prevent deliberately genocidal attacks on planets. And lest anyone think that these admirals are obsessing over remote possibilities, let's just take a look at how friendly fire incidents and legitimate collateral damage from strikes on military targets have been turned into propagandistic footballs and/or treated as legitimate grounds for retaliatory strikes and/or declarations of war in our own experience.

    I don't know how much clearer I can be on this point, and if there are any passages in the books (which, admittedly, I have not searched for, because I don't have the time at the moment) which state or imply otherwise, they are not only in error but directly contradict everything I've ever said from day one in response to direct questions on this point.

    Now, about the apparent ongoing confusion about Manticore's resources for recovery from Oyster Bay .

    First, let's take that “300 million” figure for the belter population which is apparently so perplexing people. That's 300 million individuals, not 300 million workers, and as I've pointed out before, not everyone living in the “belter habitats” is a roughneck working in the equivalent of the Manticoran oilfields, either. Jim Baen and I used to have an ongoing discussion about planetary populations versus orbital populations. Jim's position was that only an idiot would choose to live on a planet if he had the opportunity to live in an orbital habitat, instead. As Jim put it, “Life at the bottom of a planetary gravity well is ugly, brutish, and short, compared to that available at the top of a planetary gravity well.” I never really disagreed with him about that, but what I found a bit incompatible about his position was that he believed mankind would inevitably expand to the stars, whereas I wondered why someone would bother to go dozens or even hundreds of light-years in order to build an orbital habitat exactly like the one that could have been built in the solar system from which he was planning to depart.

    My own view, obviously, has been that human beings will normally prefer to live in planetary environments, assuming they can find a planetary environment which is suitably benign and compatible with their physical requirements. Well, they'd like to have nice scenery, too, obviously. However, that doesn't mean Jim didn't have a point. If you look at a planetary surface, population tends to be heavily concentrated into urban centers. Now, many of those urban centers have been around for a long, long time, of course, and they've developed for a lot of reasons, including access to trade routes, access to water supplies, etc..

    The reason I mention this is that I've always pictured that quite a bit of the population in the belter habitats of the Manticore Binary System consists of the sort of people Jim was talking about — the kind of people who prefer living in habitats to living on planetary surfaces. It's not that they've been pushed out there by the density of the planetary population, and it's not necessarily because of any “overpopulation” on the planets of the Star Kingdom . It's just that they like living in habitats, that it makes sense to build and maintain habitats and out in the area of the belt if you're going to be providing housing for the necessary labor force for the belter resource extraction industries, anyway, and that there are lots of resources conveniently available for both the construction and the maintenance of the necessary habitats. Obviously, quite a few of the people who live out there are going to come under the heading of service providers for the extraction resource workers. That category would cover everything from dentists and physicians to attorneys to psychological counselors to school teachers and librarians to the people who service and maintain personal spacecraft, et cetera, et cetera. In other words, anyone who lives out there is going to require some sort of job (or other source of income) but it doesn't necessarily follow (by a huge chalk) that the only reason they're there is because they're directly associated with the extraction of resources.

    If I'd never given you the number of “300 million,” then maybe some people wouldn't seem to be balking at the notion that the skilled workers required to replace the labor force destroyed aboard Hephaestus, Vulcan, and Weyland can't be easily replaced from the belter population. The fact is, however, that the specific skilled labor force required doesn't exist in the belter habitats and therefore cannot be quickly and simply recruited. So maybe the solution to my problem here is simply to stop providing information that people are then going to misconstrue as implying something which I never intended to imply and certainly never explicitly stated.

    It should also probably be borne in mind that while Manticore's industrial capacity is (or was, at least) vast, it was very, very heavily concentrated in the shipbuilding and maintenance areas even before King Roger began his buildup against the Havenite threat before Elizabeth ever ascended to the throne. That's where the heavy industrial “muscle” of the Star Kingdom was, and the military build up increased that particular aspect of the Star Kingdom's “muscle” while having considerably less impact on areas like light industry and light manufacturing or commercial manufacturing generally. In other words, the areas where Manticore had amassed its technological and industrial advantage over just about everybody else in sight were more tightly focused than might be assumed if one regards that industrial capacity as the consequence of a primarily civilian economy and market, and there was a lot of automation and cybernetics support in the shipbuilding area. The labor force serving that specific portion of the industrial infrastructure, and having that specific set of job skills, represented a considerably smaller percentage of the total population and total labor force of the Star Kingdom than some people seem to be assuming. A simply enormous portion of the Star Kingdom's total workforce is/was committed to jobs more closely associated with what we might consider financial and service industries. People working as shipping agents, cargo managers, warehousers, space-going “longshoremen,” bankers, cargo insurance agents, information transfer specialists, et cetera, et cetera. (Let's think in terms of Switzerland sitting at the confluence of, say, two thirds of the major shipping routes of present-day Earth.) The percentage of the total available workforce directly associated with manufacturing (by which I mean the folks who actually fabricate and assemble the hardware, not necessarily the front office PR types or sales forces or people like that) represents a very small sample of the total population, especially in comparison to the ratio of manufacturing-to-service personnel from our own, single-planet, much less technologically capable industrial base's viewpoint.

    In connection with that, I should perhaps point out that I've never once said the Star Kingdom of Manticore cannot rebuild out of its own existing resources. I've never once said the Manties can't retrain the people they need, or that there aren't sizable pockets of light industry and light manufacturing scattered around the Manticore Binary System which can be mobilized/converted/upgraded for this purpose. I've never said that they lost such a huge chunk of their population that they're going to have some kind of acute manpower shortage in any sort of absolute terms. What I've said is that they've lost a specific group of highly trained workers for whom they have no instant replacements waiting in the wings and that the rebuilding process is going to require both the reconstitution of their labor force and the regeneration of the physical plant that was destroyed. This is something (as was pointed out at the initial cabinet meeting after Oyster Bay) that is well within the capacity of the Star Kingdom . The question is whether or not they can regenerate enough of their capacity (manpower and physical plant, combined) in the time available to them. And another question, of course, is whether they can reconstitute and regenerate that capacity quickly enough to stay ahead of the curve of the Solarian League's productivity and technological improvement.

    Assuming the long-term military and economic survival of the Star Empire of Manticore, rebuilding the Old Star Kingdom's industrial base is a virtual certainty. The only question (aside from the stupendous financial cost of the project, of course), and the one question which clearly concerns the members of Elizabeth's cabinet in that initial post-strike meeting, is how long the process is going to take and whether or not they'll have time to get it done before something else comes along (like the Solarian League Navy) and finishes wiping them out once and for all.

    If you go back and look at what I've said in the books, and what I've said in response to specific questions and comments from readers, I think you'll find it's all entirely consistent with what I've said above, in regard to both the Eridani Edict and to the consequences of Oyster Bay.