From a post to DAVIDWEBER.NET forums on 10/3/2011

Grab bag of 'Authorial Errors'

jockmama wrote:

1. Nimue is one of the many names given to the Lady of the Lake in the King Arthur mythos. Problem is, the name is pronounced NIHM-oo-way, not NIGH-moo. Did Lt. Cdr. Alban's father not know the correct pronunciation? If so, did SHE not have any impulse to look up her odd-seeming name? Because Caleb and Sharlayne named their daughter NIGH-moo, Alban herself must not know the correct pronunciation. Of her own name...!

2. She must know that it would be fairly simple to eliminate the Sword of Damocles of the kinetic weapon in orbit. Simply take her flitter to some totally uninhabited place (probably Armageddon Reef) and radiate electronically at maximum to attract the weapon's notice, then just fly away when it fires. Since the Rakauri is just a thrown rock, it cannot change course in mid-flight. She could do this over and over until the device is out of ammunition. It probably has no way to reload, so, problem solved! In fact, since her flitter has extra-planetary capability (even just slightly), it might be possible to radiate and draw its attention from a position in which the projectile is aimed away from the planet. Then, just play dodgeball until it's empty. OR... Why not play the dodgeball ploy from directly above the Temple ? Not only would it eliminate Clyntahn (he never leaves the Temple) and the rest of the corrupt vicars, but turning the Temple into a large crater would be trumpeted as a clear sign from God that the Charisians are correct in all their accusations. The drawback here would be "collateral damage."

3. Lock Island's death. COME ON! The Commander-in-Chief of the entire Charisian Navy leading a hand-to-hand boarding party??? Like Chester Nimitz taking time off from running the war to conn a PT-boat into a hot firefight? Brian Lock Island should NEVER be that stupid! It's bad enough he's even on the ship in the first place. The High Admiral has no business putting himself and his value to the Empire in such peril. At the least, Caleb would assign a very large Marine to stand next to him, to sit on him if necessary to keep him from leaving his "command deck." Even then, a stray musket ball from another ship's mast-top could take him out - even by accident. Bottom line, Merlin, at least, should have advised Caleb that the High Admiral's place was safely on shore.

4. As soon as Seamount was even close to developing explosive shells, Merlin should have "nudged" him into thinking about defense against them. They should have been experimenting with side armor at the same time. You never know how fast the enemy might copy your innovations, so you have to stay two jumps ahead.

5. Weber didn't need to kill off Nahrman. (This also applies to Alistair McKeon in the Harrington books.) When an author has spent good time getting a character into readers' hearts, wiping him or her off the board is stupid when there are alternatives. In both cases, a very bad injury suffices just as well from the reader's viewpoint, and in the Safehold books, Caleb really needs Nahrman's counsel. Charis' situation is perilous enough without eliminating good guys (and not eliminating bad guys equally).


    Don't hold back. Feel free to tell us what you really think about it! [G]

    No author is going to please everyone, and there are going to be things that happen in any series of books to which some or more of his readers are going to take exception. That, unfortunately, is a fact of life. And every reader has the right to take exception. That doesn't mean that the writer is going to agree with him when he does, but the fact that the writer doesn't agree doesn't automatically make the reader wrong, except in the sense that the writer is in charge of the literary universe and is going to go ahead and write that universe the way he believes is best. That doesn't make what the author does an "error," however. In fact, only one of the points to which you object — so far as I can see — would constitute an "error" under any circumstances. The others strike me as things I've done, or the characters have done (or not done), which strike you as illogical, unreasonable, or unnecessary. Those aren't "errors;" they are storytelling decisions that you object to, which is quite another kettle of fish.

    I'm sorry if I'm doing things that strike you as wildly annoying, but I have to write the stories the way I see them. There are, however, specific reasons why I did almost everything that you're objecting to. Since you took the time to explain the things that bug you, I'll take the time to explain why I did them.

    In response to your points.

    1. I'm perfectly well aware of how Nimue is pronounced, and that is in fact the way I pronounce it, and the way I have to pronounce it for the voice-activated software I use. I deliberately spelled the crown princess' name with a divergent pronunciation which, while incorrect, is one that you hear quite frequently. I'm sorry it bugs you, but be assured that Nimue Alban actually knows how her own name is pronounced, even though it isn't the same pronunciation as the one bestowed upon her namesake. I will mea culpa on the princess' name and admit that I probably shouldn't have done it. (And, for that matter, I should probably admit that one reason — subconsciously — that I did it may have been that the voice-activated software I use can differentiate between Nimue and Naimu cleanly and easily, which is not the case where many of the other alternatively spelled names that I've assigned in this series are concerned. So, in that respect, it may actually have been a certain degree of laziness on my part, although I would suggest that anyone who finds it "lazy" might want to consider writing a few 200,000-word novels using voice-activated software. You have to make quite a few... adjustments along the way, because Computers Do Not Care.) There, I hope my admission on this point makes you feel at least some better. [G]

    2. You are assuming facts not in evidence. First, I don't believe I've ever told you that the bombardment system couldn't be reloaded. If I did, I certainly didn't intend to. (You may consider that a hint, if you like.) Second, I never suggested that it was simply dumb rocks, because it isn't. Third, I don't believe that I have ever stipulated anywhere in the books that she might not attempt exactly that technique as a means to temporarily run the bombardment system out of ammunition. There are quite a few problems with her doing it, however, the three greatest of which are:

    (a) If the kinetic bombardment is known, it will certainly be taken as a sign from God and the archangels, and the Church propagandists will have the inside track for explaining it as a gesture of divine wrath against the Church of Charis. "See how God releases the Rakurai against this desolate, barren, and already accursed place as a warning to those misguided souls in Charis who have embraced the heresy! He could have chosen to smite them in their very cities, yet He gives them this opportunity to reject their vile, despicable leaders who seek to lead them into Shan-wei's very clutches. Let them repent now, before the next strike of the Rakurai destroys them and all about them! Return to the fold and be saved!" Or words to that effect.

    (b) If the kinetic bombardment system is only temporarily disarmed, is Charis going to have a sufficiently wide window to complete the overthrow of Mother Church, take Zion, neutralize the Temple, and secure control of whatever ground station may or may not control the bombardment system? Because, if it doesn't, then once the bombardment system reloads, anything they've built to take advantage of the window will simply be snuffed out from orbit with a very high death toll which will also happen to absolutely confirm for the Temple Loyalists that the Charisians were dangerous heretics being crushed by God.

    (c) Merlin and company know something is under the Temple. They have no idea what that something is, or what its resources in addition to the kinetic bombardment system might be, but I think they have to reasonably assume that if the bombardment system fires and it is in some sort of communication with the "something" under the Temple, it's going to inform that "something" that it's just fired on proscribed technology. On that assumption, then tempting the bombardment system into firing would effectively start a probably fairly short countdown clock towards bringing them into direct confrontation with whatever the "archangels" left under the Temple. Again, unless they're in a position to conclusively take out the Temple — and anything under it — once the bombardment system has been neutralized, neutralizing the system is far more likely to prove disastrous than beneficial.

    3. In this regard, you are flatly wrong. Sorry about that. Lock Island was not simply the Imperial Charisian Navy's commander-in-chief; he was also a fleet commander in an era in which fleet commanders are expected to command at sea. That, however, is almost beside the point, since he was also, along with Rock Point, the most qualified officer to command. In fact, he was essential to making the operations plan work, since he had access to Owl's SNARCs and the recon capability they provided and there was no way for him to pass that information to someone else as his officer in tactical command. In other words, he had to be there in order to provide the tactical command to make victory even remotely possible. He also happened to be on a sailing vessel which had to close to very short range before it could engage the enemy. These are not highly maneuverable ships, and collisions (and subsequent boarding engagements) were not at all uncommon when large numbers of sail-powered vessels encountered one another in a close-range, general melee... which happened to be the sort of battle the ICN had to fight. (Go back and look at some of the engagements in the Anglo-Dutch wars, for example.) As for whether or not a flag officer should be engaged in a boarding action, I would direct you to Admiral Nelson's actions at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, when he led offensive boarding parties across no less than two Spanish ships-of-the-line. In Lock Island's case, however, the boarding actions were defensive even if the defenders were charging into combat with the attackers swarming onto his flagship. In that sort of an engagement, you fight, you don't hide, and quite aside from his personal preferences, an officer like Lock Island would have been intensely aware of the positive moral effect of his personally leading his men into combat. If you can show me a way in which he could have used the information he was gaining from the SNARCs to direct the tactical employment of his vessels while he stayed safe ashore somewhere else, then I may grant that this argument has some point. If you can't (and I don't think you can), everything else that happened followed from the requirement for him to be there if the battle plan was going to be possible, not because of any reckless disregard of his own safety or any unreasonable action taken by him, Cayleb, or any of the personnel around him on his flagship. And before you point out that Domynyk Staynair, who also had SNARC access, was present at the battle, I cheerfully concede that point... and point out to you in turn that the ability of Lock Island and Rock Point to coordinate using their com links was critical to their entire strategy and battle plan. So, again, there was no alternative to "co-locating" Lock Island with the battle fleet in this instance. If you've read How Firm a Foundation, you'll see Rock Point in much the same position in which Lock Island found himself, but with a very different balance and mixture of forces, and Rock Point doesn't find himself engaged in a hand-to-hand melee, but that's because the tactical — and strategic — situations are completely different. He doesn't have to take the chances, if you will, that Lock Island had to take in the Markovian Sea, and because he doesn't have to, he doesn't. Different battle, different situation, different imperatives.

    4. Obviously I can't make every technical innovation occur as rapidly as everyone wants me to, however I would point out that it doesn't really matter how soon they begin thinking about iron or steel armor if they don't yet have the capability to manufacture it. That is, from Nimue/Merlin's perspective (and from Cayleb's, Howsmyn's, Sharleyan's, and Lock Island's), there was time to allow Seamount and Mahndrayn to come up with a solution — thus encouraging that native innovation which they're after — because even if they'd come up with it before Seamount began experimenting with exploding shells, they didn't have the capacity to manufacture it. You have been paying attention to what Howsmyn's been up to up at his foundry complex, yes? Hammermills, rolling mills, open hearth steel production, hydro accumulators to sub for steam power, etc., etc.? Without all of those innovations, they couldn't have produced the armor anyway. Moreover, even if they could have, there would be all kinds of reasons for them not to actually introduce iron or steel armor until after the bad guys have devised exploding shells of their own. Why in the world would they want to begin building ships which would show the other side how to defend against their new "secret weapon" before the other side was able to duplicate the weapon in question? In short, the Charisians have positioned themselves to be able to begin promptly producing ships armored against the new weapon if and when the bad guys have that same weapon; they couldn't have produced such ships very much (if any) sooner, because they didn't have the capacity to manufacture the armor; and they have avoided showing the bad guys how to defeat their new weapon any sooner than they have to. Oh, and don't forget encouraging native Charisians, without access to Owl, to come up with the answer in the first place. I'm sorry if it offends your sense of timing, but from my perspective that's a win/win approach for the good guys.

    5. I flatly disagree with you about killing Nahrmahn. It was not an easy thing for me to do. If you think that the reader becomes attached to these characters, then you should try it from the perspective of the writer who creates them. However, as I have stated many times before, military fiction in which characters the reader cares about never get killed is pornography. It cheapens the price which both fictitious and real life military personnel pay and it creates a "splatter porn" type of fiction in which the reader can exult in the knee-deep gore without having to worry about anyone "important" dying. Ultimately, I think the majority of readers will recognize not simply the implausibility but the willful unreality of allowing all the characters that all of the readers have become attached to to miraculously skate out and survive when all of those "little nameless people" around them are being killed. I've had more than one major character seriously injured — Honor Harrington comes to mind in that regard — and I've also had them pay prices in the form of people they've lost. Again, Honor Harrington comes to mind. That's part of the price people pay in wars, and if the characters care about someone in the books, those are also likely the characters the readers care about. In other words, if I kill a secondary character who the primary characters are genuinely going to miss and mourn for, those are also going to be characters that you care about... and, conversely, if you don't care about them, then you will not understand the emotional cost to the characters in the novel, either. Nobody gets a free pass in one of my books, because nobody gets a free pass in real life, and because ultimately the enjoyment you will take from a book in which you don't have to worry about what happens to the characters I've invested effort in making real to you and you've invested effort in caring about will be shallower than the enjoyment you take from a book in which you realize that these non-flesh-and-blood characters you've come to know and to care about are just as fragile as the people around you in your own lives. That's how I see it, at any rate, and if you don't see it that way then you and I simply disagree on what goes into making a good novel. And, unfortunately, I don't think you can expect me to write the book in what I think is a weaker and less satisfying fashion. So, again, I'm sorry if this is another one of those things I did that annoy you, but there was a specific reason that I did it and I warn you now that I may very well do it yet again before I'm done. Leopards, after all, do not change their spots.

    Meow. [G]

    Edited One time to acknowledge that Renegade got in here before I got my post together to reply. Sneaky so-and-so, stealing my Rakurai that way! Something Bad may happen to someone named Renegade in a book Real Soon Now if he keeps this kind of thing up!