Monday, 21 November 2016

Giernas Grins

The First Trans-Continental Expedition has found a hostile settlement on the far side of the North American continent and plans to do something about it:

"Giernas started to nod, then froze. A thought struck him, like the sun rising early over the low distant line of the Sierras to the east. Slowly, he began to grin."
-SM Stirling, On The Oceans Of Eternity (New York, 2000), Chapter Nine, p. 165.

Here ends the chapter. We notice that:

starting to perform a physical action, then freezing, are familiar signs of a moment of realization;

we recognize the sign before we are told that a thought struck Giernas;

we appreciate the colorful comparison of the thought's arrival with the rising sun;

we know that we will not be told what he thought until we see him putting it into effect;

he had nodded when told that the enemy would soon collect their tribute and that some local tribes would serve them in order to receive vaccination - this should give us some clues as to what Giernas thought, but it won't.

All will become clear when the author decides to tell us. Meanwhile, it is good to know that Giernas is confident of turning the tables on a formidable enemy. Stirling writes scarier villains than anyone else.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

One thing I'm finding a bit hard to accept in Stirling's Nantucket books is how the Nantucketers keep WINNING every major battle with their enemies, either the Tartessians or William Walker (in Alba). I can't help but think that in real life these wars would show more mixed results, with both sides winning or losing major battles

I think I can see why Stirling did it that way, however. Stretched THIN as they were, any major defeat Nantucket suffered might very likely have been fatal to it. Because there would be a cascade of effects springing from that defeat. Even so, I found it some what implausible.


S.M. Stirling said...

It's more or less based on 18th and 19th-century European colonial experiences.

Those -did- include some nasty reverses, but not many. It wasn't simply a matter of weapons, though those were occasionally important.

But, eg., in the Sikh Wars in India in the 1840's, the Sikh Khasla (army) of the Punjab was equipped with the same weapons as the British, made to their patterns in the Lahore arsenal.

The Sikh formations had been trained by excellent European mercenaries under Ranjeet Singh's modernization program, and European observers universally said that they maneuvered just as well as the East India Company's troops and were as disciplined; they also fought with desperate courage (and had more heavy artillery than the Company's army).

They lost because the weapons and organization were plastered onto a politico-military-administrative system that was several iterations more primitive than the EIC's -- for example, the Sikh government could never scrape up the money to pay its troops regularly, and had to let them plunder its own territory.

And important elements at the Lahore court may well have betrayed their own army simply because they were afraid of it.

The Nantucketers have a similar advantage to 19th-century Europeans or Americans; their political structure is modern, run by people with modern minds. It can organize sustained effort, allocate resources, and ind and analyze information, in ways that are just beyond the locals; and of course it has higher internal legitimacy. A democratic Republic/nation-state is simply a more advanced form of political animal.

Walker has only a few people who really understand the system he's building, which is a crude imitation of a 20th-century totalitiarian-modernizing one anyway, and Isketerol's is even more of a spatchcock job, though he's a brilliant man genuinely devoted to doing his best for his people.

S.M. Stirling said...

For example, Walker comments to his dreadful girlfriend Hong at one point that unlike her he isn't promoting mass slavery out of sadistic glee; he's doing it because the local economies have no other way of mobilizing labor above the family/household level, particularly for unfamiliar, novel tasks. There's no proletariat of people accustomed to working for wages rather than working small farms or their own workshops. Walker would prefer to be able to just pay people, but it can't be done that way -- not on any scale and not quickly, at least, so he uses a mass of foreign slaves instead. He knows this has severe drawbacks, but it works... sort of.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Thanks for your comments about the socio/political/economic setups of Nantucket and their enemies. You did help to make sense of what seemed an implausible number of victories for the Nantucketers.

I did wonder why, in that case, King Isketerol attacked Nantucket. My thought was that what he needed (and by extension, William Walker) was the TIME for the "New Learning" he was introducing to Tartessos to spread among his people and take root. Shouldn't Isketerol have done almost anything to keep peace with Nantucket, no matter how galling and arrogant he found it? Or was Nantucket trying to force a war with Tartessos because the only way to really come to grips with Walker was thru the Strait of Gibraltar, controlled by Isketerol?

And I remember Walker's comments to the dreadful Alice Hong about how unsatisfactory slavery was, long term. Another passage in the book said he was using Stalin's methods of modernizing. Again, given another ten years Walker might well have cemented his grip on power too firmly for Nantucket to overthrow him. Which helps explain why it was so eager to attack him.


S.M. Stirling said...

Yup. If I was critiquing plausibility here (to be a bit meta) I would say the islander's willingness to think in the long term at the expense of present ease and convenience is the dubious point.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

True! But Nantucket was fortunate in having far sighted and able leaders like Jared Cofflin and Marian Alston. It might perhaps had been a bit more "plausible" if they had to contend longer and with more difficulty with short sighted people.