Sunday, December 9, 2007

Are Aether Ships Ever Dreadnoughts?

A peculiar thing happened to keep me from updating this blog over the past few weeks. I created a universe. I claim no special achievement in having done so; for fiction writers - especially in most branches of the great super-genre of Romance - creating universes is both part of the job and a seductive occupational hazard.

This is not limited to people who write fiction, whether or not intended for publication. A universe is created every time a middle-school girl draws a superheroine catgirl and gives her a name and origin story; every time a bored graduate student uses SpringStyle to sim a predreadnought battleship, then gives her a name, country, and service history.

Universes can be made to order - no particular inspiration from the Muse is required - but they can also just happen one day. Is this a problem for God? Has any theology ever proposed that He created this Universe inadvertently, perhaps while he was stuck on where to go next with his high-fantasy trilogy?

If you are a writer, don't tell me that you haven't thought about the God analogy. How often do you kill off an appealing character, not because they deserve it, but because by jabbing the reader it helps to move the plot along? As seen from within the created world, this must fall somewhat short of moral justice. Our characters have absolutely no reason to like us, and less to trust us.

By and large I suspect we treat our universes better than our characters - we may smash a bit of the scenary now and then, but the sets are big and expensive, and we usually have a notion to use it for more than one production. A universe may not even have a production scheduled, but function more like a mental theme park, a place to wonder around and see the sights. Add dice and you have an RPG.

The particular universe I created, like Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, began with trains: more specifically trolley cars, trams to non-North Americans. Among my other geekitudes I am a rail transit buff, and since I had little success in high school shop class, building a layout, with HO interurbans zinging along past along six-inch storefronts, is out of the question. Train sets of the imagination require no talent with soldering guns and plaster of Paris, and can run for HO scale miles. (The famed, vanished Pacific Electric in Los Angeles, fully replicated in HO scale, would sprawl across an actual mile, give or take.)

Still, as universes go a trolley universe can be fairly small; mine was originally tucked along the California coast as the mid-sized city of Santa Teresa. Mystery fans will know this burg as a doppelganger of Santa Barbara in Ross Macdonald and Sue Grafton novels. Mine is farther north and larger - large enough for a rail transit line to survive the decimation of the 1940s and 1950s.

Railroad empires, however, tend to be imperial, especially when you don't actually need to build them. I started wondering about a mainline railroad at the turn of the last century. How many locomotives and cars does it need? How much freight do those freight trains haul, and how many people are needed along the line to produce and consume that much freight? Statistics have their place in Romance, or at any rate in world-building.

But it cannot all be statistics, or even way freights chuffing along the line. To be Really Cool our railroad must have an express that takes a day and a night, or close to, to run its schedule - long enough for dinner in the diner, an evening flirting in the parlor car, and of course the pleasures of a sleeping car. Bending history a bit, we give our turn-of-the-century express train some streamliner-era amenities like roomettes instead of open Pullman compartments. But we must have 700 miles of line, give or take, for the Hidalgo to run along.

British readers will say that many a memorable train ride has been had in half that distance, but I grew up in the American West, and we need big planets to colonize.

Thus our rail empire must serve a region at least the size of California - not just one city and its surrounds. So let's make California an island, as it was once imagined to be.* The geography won't be the same, but similar, and we'll put it off the coast of a truncated North America, doing the Atlantis thing with much of Nevada and southern Oregon. No one will really miss them.

Anticipating future posts, some of you will note that the issues of statistics and scale that apply to our railroad world are very closely akin to those of planetary colonization - how many people in our colony, how much do they need as imports, and how much do they produce for export? Too much SF has gigantic star-freighters serving outpost worlds whose demand can't fill a 20-meter cargo pod.

Here is the inevitable, necessary link to Atomic Rockets.

Ahem, back to boxcars. Since we've made our railroad empire an island, why not an independent country? Now we're moving past railroads, into a larger world. Still a pretty geeky one, because the next thing to do is give our country a few battleships. It's the early 20th century, and battleships are in. Everyone wants to be the first in their bloc to have one.

Here is where all too many imaginary countries go awry, because the temptation is always to give your country the most humongous battleships ever, battleships that make the Yamato look like a pokey gunboat. But our railroad empire has about the population of California in 1900 - a million and a half people, 2 percent of the real world US population at that time. If Teddy Roosevelt couldn't build the world's biggest battleship, our country certainly won't.

Maybe they can build a few miniature battleships, like the Scandinavians and Dutch did. Those countries were surrounded by bad tempered Great Powers, but in the Pacific, in 1900, a couple of 4000-ton ships with a pair of 8-inch guns each are something to reckon with. Admiral Dewey got American imperialism off to a rollicking start in the Philippines in 1898 with not much more than that.

Now our railroad empire is turning into a real country, and it's time to give it a name: the Republic of Santa Catalina. It thus neatly gives a nod to the protagonist of my long-suffering novel, evokes real Catalina Island, "26 miles across the sea," and has the right rhythm - don't you wish they all could be Catalina girls?

We'll need to jigger some history to cover our aspect. If the US stretches from sea to shining sea, an island off the Utah coast will be hard put to stay independent. So we need to change some history as well as geography. The usual way to slow down US expansion, or at any rate overturn the chessboard, is for the South to win the Civil War. But that has been done to death, and too many ghosts walk unburied. What does that St. Andrew's Cross mean - Stonewall and Lee; bullwhips and white hoods; both?

Happily a name drifts into mind: l'Empire de la Louisiane. It's only a name, but it evokes a slightly dark magic, warm evenings and demoiselles with flashing eyes. That's something to work with! Details to be filled in, but somehow the Louisiana Purchase never happens, and Louisiana is an independent, francophone country. It has charm, and poor heartbroken New Orleans deserves a break if only in fantasy.

Santa Catalina and its world may not exist, but we can see it: The Gilded Age mansions and swanky hotels in the capital, El Dorado, due for a shaking up one of these years. The ladies with their parasols, the workmen with their caps and radical pamphlets stuck in their pockets. The painted ladies - El Dorado, like its doppelganger, is a wide open town, a sailors' town, because the world's world's shipping is in the port along with those mini-battleships.

Around 1905 or so the battleships are transformed in a profound, subtle, and sinister way. They had been painted in handsome white, buff, and black, like Queen Victoria's ships, or old Currier & Ives prints of the Great White Fleet. Then, overnight, they turn gray - goodbye Currier & Ives, hello to warships as we know them, gray shadows racing through the mist and fog - or turning turtle like dying sea monsters as desperate men scramble across their hulls. At about the same time, the world's soldiers turn in their marching-band uniforms for businesslike khaki.

Even in the worlds of fantasy, grim realities intrude. The ladies with their parasols, strolling with their beaux along the Embarcadero, scarcely notice that the battleships have turned gray. Even less do they notice an experimental submarine slipping beneath the waves. Yet somewhere, in a few years, an archduke will be shot, or maybe this time a crown prince, and all hell will break loose.

External realities also intrude. Now that I have a world, what exactly do I do with it? Alternate history is big just now, but the thud and blunder variety, at least, leans very heavily on Top 40 history, such as the US Civil War and World War II. Little place there for an oddball pseudo-California in the Electric Age. In any case, my world is not strict Alternate History in the sense of deviating from real history at some given event - the thinking geek's version of "What if Napoleon had a B-52 at the Battle of Waterloo." Only in the meta-realm of all possible worlds can an Earth with a different geological history going back millions of years bring forth human, let alone a recognizable history. Too many butterflies will have fluttered their wings.

Social alternate history - if there is such a subgenre - would probably be more fluid. There's a large readership out there, I suspect, that can't get enough of the social world of the Belle Epoque, people on the edge of modernity. The hitch is that you have to know your stuff, and not just the difference between pre-dreadnoughts and dreadnoughts. The potential readership, probably mostly female, does know their stuff (including dreadnoughts), and they will send the book flying at the first false note. All I know about the era, except for its cool gismos, is Thorstein Veblen, My Fair Lady, and Gigi.

If I made the gizmos even cooler, I could maybe peddle it as steampunk. Steampunk, which inspired the name of this blog, is the ultimate retro SF: people in 2007 re-imagining science fiction - or Scientific Romance, as it then was called - as people around 1880-1900 might have written it, if they had written more of it, and knew what Scientific Romance would become.

The era around 1900 was the real Singularity, when everything changed. And a world that till around 1870 was not essentially different from the Middle Ages became, by 1929, essentially the world we know. As home entertainment goes, the difference between harmonica and scratchy phonograph is vastly greater than the difference between phonograph and DVD playing on an 80 inch flat screen. For my grandmother, growing up in Mississippi early last century, the idea of travel to the Moon must have been more astonishing by far than interstellar travel is now, but she sat on the couch beside me when Armstrong climbed down the ladder onto a different world.

By and large it's been good. 90 percent of the world's people are no longer peasants, and famine strikes at the world's margins, not at the heart of China and India. The war part hasn't been so great.

People knew before Homer that war was a senseless tragedy, and before the Old Testament that it was evil, but until the Singularity it really was the straggler of the Horsemen, not mowing down a tithe of what the others carried off. With the Singularity we have gotten a hand on the others, for now - the stability of the Earth's ocean-atmosphere system permitting - but the fourth horseman got wings, then superchargers, then bombs containing physics packages, and we pretty narrowly dodged a bullet.

Part of the charm of steampunk, I believe, is that the aether ships are all pre-dreadnoughts, and they are not yet painted gray.

* A charming insular alt-California can be found here - and with a trolley theme, no less.


Jim Baerg said...

You know from previous comments of mine that I think rail transport has a big future. Electric rail is one of the very few means of transport that don't currently depend on oil. Alternatives to oil for making liquid fuels to run cars & aircraft will likely be more expensive than oil. So most plausible futures involve moving people & cargo more by rail & less by road & air than we currently do.

Regarding the era around 1900 as the Singularity makes a certain amount of sense to me, but it has a slower precursor going back at least to the introduction of steam power in the late 1700s.

RE: "If the US stretches from sea to shining sea, an island off the Utah coast will be hard put to stay independent."

It would be about as hard as having the northern half of the continent remain a separate country from the US.

JB 51° N 114° W

Anonymous said...

_Last Exile_ had a fairly grim take on aether-dreadnoughts.

Fred Davis said...

You know from previous comments of mine that I think rail transport has a big future.

Pretty much at a complete tangent to what you're saying:

There's this brilliant british book that quite effectively detailed the issue of logistics in modern warfare called "lions, donkeys and dinosaurs" - it's essentially a huge attack on the modern british military (army, navy and airforce, which all suck quite hard apparently) which is quite interesting to read ANYWAY, is quite amusing in a horrifying way.

Key points of hte book include pointing out that:

Tanks (which was a shocker but his arguement rings true)
Frigates (which wasn't as much of a shocker thanks to having already gone over the Atomic Rockets page, but the scale of the problem with frigates was still impressive)
Paratroopers (which admittedly haven't ever really worked and don't look like they ever will, sorry Rico's Roughnecks)
the SA80 assault rifle (which is ghastly and a useful thing to know about if you're doing a military Sci-Fi comedy and want to put in something utterly farcical)
The entire way the british army is structured (again, interesting for a MilSciFiComedy).
The poor excuse for a merchant marine the Royal Navy currently has (ditto).
Airstrike Diplomacy.

...are all pretty much obsolete unless the british military suddenly ends up in a cold war style east vs west conflict with a comparable military (which we'll lose unless we go up against france, and possibly not evne then).

It then goes into issues such as why attempts by the british to rely on things like airbridges and airstrike diplomacy (the modern, failure heavy, version of gunboat diplomacy) haven't and will never work, and emphasises the importance of naval and land based logistics in modern conflicts, which gels with the effective revolution in land based warfare that europe's railways produced during WW1 and to a lesser extent (though still substantial) the american railway (and the infamous rail gauge issue that some cite as losing the confeds the war) did for the american civil war.

The best example he uses is the kosovo conflict, where the writer debunks the idea that the airstrikes had any effect on the serbian military or political decision making process - because strike aircraft are good at blowing up fixed installations and tanks, neither of which is much use being blowed up real good when you're trying to stop ethnic cleansing perpetrated by infantry troops in civilian areas - and that the real reason serbia changed its tune was because one of serbia's neighbours joined NATO during the campaign and so NATO could then invade via a land route that wouldn't have resulted in NATO forces doing the equivalent of sticking their arm in a threshing machine.

Of course the details on why frigates are the last thing the royal navy should invest in because what the RN really needs more than real aircraft carriers even (though those would be nice) is, (1) a greater emphasis on picking up and more effectively controlling (the RN currently licences out almost all military transport to civilian ships, and cancelled proposed sister helicopter carriers to HMS Oceanin favor of more Frigates and destroyers) the logistical load for all of the armed services and (2) to focus more on minesweepers to counter the threat that dirt cheap third world naval mine technology poses to the multimillion pound first world naval vessels in the post-Iraq battel field (because Iraq actually sank a couple of military vessels during either gulf 1 or 2 with piddly thousand dollar mines, making mine fields the naval equivalent of insurgencies..

And then he goes into why it of course the RN doesn't, which turns out largely to be because the RN is run by a frigateocracy that requires that promotion into the top ranks involve frigate commands, and so frigates continue to exist so that people can get promoted, even though they're nearly useless in the modern naval battle field - which I could see being reused in a scifi setting, an early space navy built around heavily armed surface to orbit troop lifters and orbital fighters designed to take and supply planetary invasion forces eventually bloats out and leads to a fighterocracy forming in the space navy and the use of those overly expensive and useless space fighters being used even though (hugely expensive to build but cheaper to maintain and supply than the fighter/packet space navy) antigrav capable battleships armed with autonomous kill vehicles can now do everything the space fighter/packet navy can do, but better and more effectively for the newer, modern forms of space and surface warfare.

Rick said...

It would be about as hard as having the northern half of the continent remain a separate country from the US.

Touché! Of course the above did not happen in a vacuum - we tried to liberate you twice, and both times your militia stiffened by British regulars opened a big ole can of whup ass on us. For some unaccountable reason you people in the Great North didn't want to be part of the Land of the Free.

True that the same thing could happen with Santa Catalina, and even though it is not a British Dominion, Britain has the same interest in backstopping it.

But a balkanized North America with l'Empire de la Louisiane, the Free State of Deseret, and the Great Silver War of 1875-76 is so much fun that how can I resist it?

Agree with you, of course, about the bright future of electric railroading.

I see 1900 as the peak of the Singularity, but it did not come out of nowhere, and was starting to pick up steam - so to speak - from the mid 1700s on. One of the fascinating things about 18th century England is that it was anticipating industrialization even by pre-industrial technique. The stagecoach looks premodern to us, but the idea of scheduled common carrier transport is modern.

I'll be expanding that into a blog piece. But a fascinating thing is that Adam Smith - another precursor of modernity - mentions the steam engine only in passing. His whole subject is technical progress, but he had no sense that it was about to happen at warp speed.

Anonymous said...

Your Republic of Santa Catalina would stand a good chace of remaining independant if the Imperial government in New Orleans kept a large army stationed just across the border and Neapoleon VI had designs on Navada silver. That should keep everyone's focus away from the Pacific coast! However, you have to think about coal, the lifeblood of the steam/electric age. Where does RoSC get its coal? Colorado? And, if so, is the truncheated West Coast another independent country, or is it a Disputed Territory claimed by the three North American Powers? Do the citizens of RoSC go about their business blissfully unaware of the war looming on the horizon? Are the powers that be working franticly behind the scenes to distance themselves, (and their country) from the chaos they see everyone else heading for? Are they part of the blind rush to disaster? While your little world is intreguing and charming, it seems to be as temporary as those few decades were in our own world.
Ferrell Rosser

Jim Baerg said...

"The stagecoach looks premodern to us, but the idea of scheduled common carrier transport is modern."

That reminds me of reading a book about the Palliser expedition, there is mention near the end of the book how after years of travel through what is now western Canada, they got to the Pacific & were then back in the world of scheduled steamships & other common carriers.

Jim Baerg said...

BTW one of the nice things about the internet is that I can mention something most people would find totally obscure, like the Palliser expedition & know that those people can Google on it & find out what I'm talking about.

Carla said...

"Has any theology ever proposed that He created this Universe inadvertently, perhaps while he was stuck on where to go next with his high-fantasy trilogy?"
I don't think so, but it could explain a lot :-)

Do you have any plans for Santa Catalina? (A follow-up to Lyonesse, perhaps?)

Rick said...

Fred - There are similar issues with the US military. The USAF has a fighter mafia, and the USN has a carrier mafia.

I imagine there are some cogent defenses to be made for some of these choices, and "X is obsolete" has often turned out untrue. But real world militaries - like military SF - tend to gravitate toward World War II on steroids. Those British frigates look like wartime convoy escorts, and evoke an even older tradition of British cruisers policing the seas.

A friend whom I call Roger of Cornwall, who is an RN brat, made the interesting point that the Grey Funnel Line was and doubtless still is essentially a yacht club, at any rate in the eyes of its officer corps.

This struck me as a profound insight into navies in general, because after all who else but yachtsmen at heart choose to make a career of messing around in boats? It certainly applies in spades to the navies around the turn of the last century.

Ferrell - The truncated West Coast is the Deseret Free State - the first part of the name identifying it as Mormon, the second part evoking the Orange Free State. No implication that it will share the latter's fate.

I know that it and Santa Catalina fight the Great Silver War in 1875-76 - ranking somewhere in between the Gunfight at the Okay Corral and the Boer Wars in the annals of 19th c. conflict.

Good point about coal. Santa Catalina has to import it all, and Colorado - part of Deseret - is the nearest supply. Maybe the Great Silver War wasn't all over silver.

Interestingly, this changes at the turn of the century. California in 1900 was the world's leading oil producer and exporter, so Santa Catalina will be as well, and thus aptly enough the world's first oil economy.

I've also decided that Santa Catalina might even indulge a spot of imperialism. When you start with syno-California, not much is worth imperializing, but Hawaii is, and in 19th c. eyes it was up for grabs. In OTL the US grabbed it, but why not Santa Catalina?

It's a great excuse for a Little White Fleet, too. ;)

Jim - Google and Wikipedia are wonderfully powerful tools! Sure, Wikipedia has to be taken cum granulo salo, especially on controversial topics, but in general, on things I know something about, I see lots of good introductory summaries. (The Palliser article turns out to be very short, and someone has dinged it for no references, but it still gives me the context of your remarks.)

Carla - I seem to have a thing for imaginary islands that are doppelsgangers of real places. The good news is, I doubt I'm alone in that taste

Anonymous said...

Ok, I must have missed that about the Silver War, but yes, it now makes sense. Something else that occured to me; is, what in our world, Baja California part of RoSC? If so, that would make the Sea of Cortez have as its northern eadge, the south coast of Oregon. This would be the arena for conflict between RoSC, Desserat, Canada, and Russia (Alaska). If you ever write the story of RoSC, I'd love to hear about some RoSC Navy ensign in a shallow water corvette patroling off the coast of Desserat. Oh, one last thing, about the title of the article; Are your Aether ships zepplins or other type of lighter-than-air ship? I'm curious about that.
Ferrell Rosser

Rick said...

Ferrell - you have to read your history more carefully. :)

On my tentative map, the Straits of Cortez open on the north into a yet-unnamed inland sea - the Paiute Sea, perhaps? The northern outlets are the Siskiyou Channel and the St. Helens Channel, but I also dunked the Willamette Valley, so there is a an archipelago off the flooded west coast, continuing south from Vancouver Island and Olympic Island to Santa Catalina Island itself.

Syno-Baja is part of Santa Catalina, and was never a part of Mexico. Santa Catalina was colonized a century earlier than in OTL (trade-speak: our time line, i.e., the real world), and had a captain-generalcy separate from New Spain.

How it becomes an independent republic remains to be worked out, but it centers around the exploits of Santa Catalina's national hero, Don Diego de la Vega. Let's just say that the letter Z has powerful political and national symbolism, and that Santa Catalina's first small battleship is named La Marca.

Rick said...

Oops - forgot to add on aether ships. So far as I know, the classic ones are not lighter-than air craft but antigravity craft, either held up by beams in the modern fashion or made of some gravity-resistant material like Cavorite. They may be what we would call spacecraft, to the distinction was hazy back then.

But come to think of it, I'm not sure the term or idea actually existed in the late 19th century - I suspect it is a modern retro-invention, and really can be what you want it to be.

Zeppelins are ever popular, and you could certainly have a quasi-realistic steampunk 'verse where there are no magic or fantasy-science aerial craft, but airships galore.

Whenever I see a blimp, I think of how awesome and majestic the great dirigibles must have been, gliding overhead, three times longer than any aircraft any of us have ever seen.

Anita said...

Checked out the term "spacecraft" in the OED. Earliest written use:
One of your favorite mags, Scientific American, Aug 1930

Kedamono said...

While David Johnson did a lot of work the Island of California, (AKA Santa Catalina, AKA Isla de California), I original came up with the idea, based on a map that showed California as an island. That was this map here: Spanish Map from 1627

I suggested this possible configuration in the soc.history.what-if group in 1997:
Insular California and the Mare Vermio

Looking at that map, I dare say that the Spanish thought that the island went as far north as the Columbia River. Now that would be one heck of an island.

But even the smaller version has one advantage: It has a protected waterway that would be used as a major shipping channel for all sorts of vessels. Living up here in the Puget Sound, I learned about the "Inside Strait", a collection of islands, channels and waterways that let ships move up to Alaska without entering the Pacific Ocean. With a similar situation with Santa Catalina, you'd expect a lot of ships to move up and down that protected coastline. Looking at David's map, you can see at least two choke points that could benefit the Catalinians, if they were to dredge a deep water passage through at least one of those choke points. (And require a pilot on board to make sure the ship doesn't founder.)

You'd see more shipping ports on the back sides of Santa Catalina northern and southern ends, because they are protected waters. And a port where the channel is the narrowest. So I'd expect to see three major cities on the east side of the island.

So, would the Dons run Santa Catalina? Or did a certain freedom fighter in black, one as smart as a fox, usurp the rule of the Dons? :-)

Rick said...

Anita - I've made my own small contribution to the OED. Somewhere online they have a science fiction vocabulary project, and a few years ago I tipped them to the word torch in the sense of a space drive.

Rick said...

Kedamono - Small metaverse! I had no idea (though it shouldn't really be a surprise) that I was only one degree of separation away from David Johnson's alt-California. (Which I was lucky to find through my old bookmarks - my Google fu totally failed to pull it up.)

The early belief that California was an island is of course at the root of my idea. Though for the sake of railroading I ignored the more plausible San Andreas channel in favor of a purely invented channel farther east.

Scroll down this thread for my tentative map.

Mare Vermio - I wonder why the Sea of Worms? I'm tentatively calling my version the Paiute Sea. You're right about the significance of an inland waterway - I sank the Willamette Valley to enhance that effect. The east coast of Santa Catalina is semidesert at best, on the east side of the Sierras, and fairly cut off from the west side of the island, but there is at least one important East Coast city, Silver City.

Rick said...

Kedamono - addendum! You guessed correctly about "smart as a fox" - see my reply to Ferrell, above, mentioning the national hero, Don Diego de la Vega.

Taking up a theme from previous threads here, surely use of the sword is still taught to officer cadets in the Catalinian army, probably the navy as well. Until well after 1900 the Army - el Ejercito, since its service language is Spanish - is primarily a cavalry force, and in OTL Patton rewrote the saber manual around 1914.

But even after it fades from direct military use, the sword is surely taught to, ah, sharpen the mind and reflexes. :)

Anonymous said...

In the modern military, swords are often used as a sign of rank and as a ceremoninal decoration, (parades, official functions, dress uniforms, ect.), also, fencing teams have a high precentage of military members. It's interesting how the sword has evolved from a primary weapon to a sport and badge of rank. Anyway, the description of RoSC's east coast was pretty accurate, but what about the west coast? Are there still the coastal redwoods in the north and the grasslands in the south? I'm guessing that the west coast would have several large cities clustered around the bays? Would the majority of the population be on the west cost? Would the aether flyers (airships) mostly be stationed on the east coast? Your post has grabbed my imagination and I want a clearer picture of the place. Sorry if I'm sounding like a pest, but my family is from Eureka, CA, and this is interesting as all get out to me.
Ferrell Rosser

Rick said...

Ferrell - Swords had their ceremonial role even when they were still a primary battlefield weapon. There was a tradition going way back of named swords and the like. (It just struck me, though, that the Homeric Greeks had no similar tradition that I can recall - Achilles must have had a sword, but it wasn't famous the way Excalibur was.

Santa Catalina's coastline. The west coast is not a direct ripoff of the real California coast, but it would certainly have a similar "look and feel." The great majority of the population lives west of the Sierras, in the equivalent of the San Joaquin Valley, and along the coast.

The northern coast will be forested; farther south, coastal scrub and grassland. The capital, El Dorado, is a bit farther south than OTL San Francisco, and on a south-facing coast (like Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz), so it is just about at the meeting point of the two climate regimes - where the southernmost redwoods just overlap with the northernmost palm trees.

For Catalinians the east coast is something like a back door. The land naturally faces west, so to speak, but their most important trade and political relations are with North America "behind" them.

Anita said...

Also love the idea of The Fox as a freedom fighter, running a corrupt oligarchy out of town.

Re the naming of swords. It occurs that came into play when the technique of forging of good steel swords became possible, at least in the European tradition. They were state of the art metallurgy, very expensive, rare and (pardon the pun) cutting edge. There would be a certain mystic surrounding the first ones that came on line.

What we need is an inclusive survey history of the years between 1890 and 1910. From Freud and Einstein to motion pictures, computers and x-rays, everything changed.

Rick said...

Anita - good point about "cutting edge." In the Bronze Age, any bronze sword was expensive, therefore probably finely made, and about as good as any other.

Iron was the poor man's metal, iron weapons plentiful but mediocre - until someone came up with steel. Weapons in classical antiquity seem purely utilitarian. The Roman gladius is nothing special in itself, nor for that matter the man who wields it; it is the legion that makes legends.

When do named swords appear? Is there an older one than Excalibur? Perhaps it is related to improvements in steelmaking, at first rare, that made some swords extraordinary compared to most of the swords around.

1890-1910 are just about the peak years of The Change - and almost spooky that it includes the initial publication of Special Relativity.

I couldn't resist The Fox - the myth of Old California is just sitting there waiting to be used. Not the least charm is the national hero of syno-California, the newest of nations, being the last of the great swordsmen.

I can just see the flashing blades in the crisp dawn as the cadets change the guard at the Presidio. Well past the turn of the century Santa Catalina will have primarily a cavalry army - makes sense, for a large island with a small population. As the time for charges ends, cavalrymen take to either armor or the air; in Santa Catalina, surely the air.

Kedamono said...

I had written this several years ago, about the hero of Isla de Caliornia for my alternate history group, the Alternate History Travel Guides:

On a rooftop, in the warm evening rain of a Californian summer, a group of friends gathered to hear a tale...

"...There were many Spanish troops landing in the bay under the light of a full moon, just across from the Spine islands. Hundreds of soldiers ready to take to the mountains of Isla de California and put down the rebellion. The rebellion was being financed by the Dons of the island and by the Russians. The same Russians who would later try to conquer the new nation, only to find they had armed it too well.

"There, on a overlook of that bay, was Zorro. He knew that it would be one man against hundreds. What could he do? His sword was no match against their muskets, he needed to use his brains not his brawn.

"He then knew what had to be done: There was a dam just up the valley from where the soldiers were awaiting orders. If that dam were to go... It wouldn't stop more than a third, but the chaos would enable the rebels to push the troops back into the Straits of the Worm and into defeat.

"Quick as lightening, he urged his horse Toranado to gallop as fast as he could. Zorro clung the saddle with all his might, hoping to get to the dam before the troops cleared the valley. There were a few pops and whistles from the bullets spinning past him as he rode like the wind.

"Soon he was out of range and on the trail to the dam. He only had minutes to spare, to plant a charge of gunpowder and crack the dam, to release the pent up waters and to wash the Spaniards out into the straits.

"Riding along the top of the valley, he made it to the dam, the wooden timbers barely holding up the earthen dam behind it. He need only to place his charge halfway up the face and let nature do the rest.

"Leaping from Toranado, he ran to the top of the dam when a voice called out. `Zorro!'

"Turning around, Zorro saw a figure slide down the sandy slope of the valley wall. It was Captain Juan Ramon, of the late Governor Alvarado's guard.

"`We meet again traitor,' said Captain Ramon. `I shall pay you back for this mark you left on my face and for killing the Governor!' On Captain Ramon's face, a blood red scar of a Zed marred his cheek.

"`I never killed him my dear Captain,' said Zorro setting down the keg of gunpowder. `I left him with the people's demands. How he died after my departure is a mystery to me. Unless...'

"Captain Ramon readied his sabre. `I'll have your head on a stick Zorro, or should I say Alejendro, Don Alejendro Diego de la Vega? You think a simple mask could hide who you are? Even Alvarado knew who you were in the end. Soon everyone will know who you are!'

"Zorro laughed, `Of course they will, I will tell them! But you won't Ramon. You are the true traitor to the people of Isla de California, and your head will grace a pike at the ruins of the Governor's palace. En gardŽ!'

"Their swords crossed, and both men knew that only one was going to leave this valley, alive.

"Only moonlight lit the scene, two men, their hatred of each palpable as they took the measure of the other. Alejendro knew it would have to be quick for his plan to succeed. Captain Ramon, however, knew not of the plan, for his heart burned an everlasting flame of hatred and betrayal. Betrayal by his boyhood friend and comrade. Betrayal to the throne of Spain! Betrayal!

"Like shafts of moonlight, their swords clashed as each sought out the other's weakness, a chink in the other man's defenses. `Juan,' said Alejendro, `join us. Phillip is naught but a pawn for the Pope, a puppet to do the papist biddings. We could use you and you abilities.'

"`No!' countered Juan, `I swore fealty to the crown. To throne of Spain. I'm not like those damned Americans, I am a Spaniard, not a Californian!' He drove his point home with a series of attacks that drove Alejendro to the brink of a platform. Behind him a dank blackness waited to swallow him.

"He closed his eyes and sought that spark that had made him join the rebellian. He found it, the glowing ember that was Isabella, his wife and mother of his children. Opening his eyes, he drove Juan back, till the captain tripped a fell against the valley wall, losing his sword.

"`Well!' demanded Juan, lying on his back, Alejendro's sword at his neck, `Kill me now! Show who is the better man! Kill me Alejendro!'

"Alejendro stared at him and the life they had lived together up until the rebellion stayed his hand. Instead, he turned and walked away, picking up the powder keg. He ignored the screams from Captain Ramon, calling him a coward, and placed the charge on the side of the dam. He lit the makeshift fuse and turned to leave. Juan faced him, pistol drawn and the hammer cocked.

"`Die you traitor!' he screamed and fired. Alejendro went down and fell into the black abyss of the valley. Captain Ramon laughed maniacally till the charge exploded and silenced him forever.

"The wall of water rushed down the valley and swept the Spaniards out into the channel, drowning many. The rebels were able to drive the survivors into the sea and back across the water. Of Alejendro, only his mask was found hanging from a bush.

"His wife took it and cried. His eldest son, Lle—, barely 16 years old, took the mask from her and then carefully tied about his face. He then swore on the mask to follow in his father's footsteps, to defend the innocent, fight evil, and protect Isla de California from all attackers, both within and without. When he died fighting the Russians years later, his brother took up mask and the legacy..."

The person telling the story is the great, great, granddaughter of Alejendro, who had recently taken up the mask after her uncle was grievously injured. That story is a bit more complicated to relate here as it really never ended. :-)

Anita said...

Lovely, kedamono. With your permission --

Today, on that hillside, stands a simple column of black marble, la Marca deeply cut into one side, behind it a grove of brilliant white Romneya planted there by Donna Isabella so many years ago. "As long as the Romneya blooms, Zorro will be here."

Rick, did a fast fly through Wiki and my references and sword naming seems to have been around for awhile. So what else is new? A pet name for a favorite/lethal weapon - duh. Les boyz may no longer be allowed to do personalized nose art on their toyz, but they still have names for them.

The earliest sword name mentioned was Hector's. Marc Antony and Julius Caesar also had them.

Now I'm fairly sure, like attributed coats of arms, these are backformed when the "Matters of" and the like were created. I don't see a reality based Roman like Jules doing anything as fanciful as naming his sword, Mark, on the other hand ...

So, did they name their swords, most likely, but probably not the name we know.

Anonymous said...

I read someplace that when the Army brass discovered that airplanes could go faster and higher than horses, they made aircraft the army's new scouts. In the world of RoSC an Aether flyer (airship) would be a wonderful way of keeping track of shipping in the Paiute Sea. Also, combat between Aether flyers would be an acrobatic dance, like a waltz, as they spiral around each other, trying to out climb the other, and position themselves above the other's envelope, to shoot it full of holes with the guns mounted in the bottom of the gondola. Like a dance, the movements, feints, tricks, and distractions used to prevent the other from prevaling and allowing you to (literally), gain the upper hand would make aeral battles almost artistic. In this case, the victory does go to the swift.
Ferrell Rosser

Rick said...

Kedamono - that's gorgeous! I could just about steal it lock, stock, and barrel.

Anita - not only am I a sucker for western islands, but evidently for the Arthur theme. Wherever there is injustice in the land, the sword and mask await one equal to them. It's a powerful myth, and will serve well in the days of the rail barons.

Old Santa Catalina, after the Revolution, is Camelot. But then someone still hits gold, and as my mother taught me,

The miners came in '49,
The whores in '51;
And when they got together,
They produced the Native Son.

Just as Lyonesse is Britain but more so, Santa Catalina is California but more so. One difference is that the archetypal Santa Catalina girl has black hair.

Good point about naming weapons - not exactly new.

Ferrell - I'm going to be cautious in the use I make of airships, because what I have in mind right now is not really a steampunk world in the technical sense. Mainly because I like real world naval ships of the era too much - that's why I wrote the original SpringStyle battleship sim program. (One more useless tool available online!)

In the real world, I don't think the technical problems that doomed airships could have been solved. It wasn't hydrogen that killed them, it was weather. That said, maybe they could be built and handled more carefully, and be in regular service till the late 30s, when flying boats overtake them. So to speak.

Santa Catalina will certainly build a counterpart to the Catalina PBY, maybe the greatest working flying boat of them all. Flying boats are also way cool!

Kedamono said...

Feel free to use that story Rick! All I ask for is a credit line someplace.

As for airships and weather, the kind of weather that took them down, is dangerous for airplanes as well. Microbursts, wind shear, it's just that airships are just bigger targets.

Flying boats did about 170mph, but only have a range of 3500 miles. Airships of the period have a top speed of 80-100 mph, and range that is limited to how much fuel that they can carry and could cross the Pacific Ocean without stopping. PBYs have to make stops and didn't fly at night since they didn't have good night time navigational equipment, or the skill to use it if they did.

It was the Hindenberg that killed the airship. If it hadn't been caught on film or on the radio, it would have been tragic, but not a killing blow. But that it was caught both on film and with a live description of the crash, that made all the difference in the world.

Our generation is jaded, we rewatch the Shuttle explode over and over and forget that people died in that explosion. We have TV shows dedicated to showing people dying in horrendous accidents and go "Meh, not as good as the one last week."

To the folks of 1937, the reporting of the Hindenberg's fiery crash and the live reportage... well they had never been exposed to something like that. That event was what killed the airship, and has promoted the belief that airships fell out of the sky like pigeons in a jet exhaust.

In reality, most airship fatalities were during WWI and were due to combat. Only a handful of the German fleet actually were destroyed by accident. When it comes down to it, DELAG ran a successful and mostly accident free passenger service for nearly 30 years using airships.

And most importantly of all, the Hindenberg was built for use with Helium, not Hydrogen, so it was an accident waiting to happen.

Rick said...

I may have to do a front page piece on airships!

My impression is that even though the one company ran successful service till the Hindenberg, that the airship really died with the British and US crashes in the 1920s. What I don't know is how much those accidents were avoidable - to a considerable degree, I gather, and whether without the accidents, airships would have become more widely used.

Perhaps with better luck they could have been in wide use through the 1930s, and might have been useful Atlantic escorts during World War II.

They'd have died after the war, or without the war around 1940, when transatlantic heavier than air flight became practical. A few might have lasted into the 50s, and I suppose a handful would still be around as much more impressive counterparts of blimps.

With semi-magical technology you can do a lot more, and really the lines are blurred, because maybe there could have been an airship counterpart of the DC-3. There is really a whole continuum from airships as we knew them being in wider use through the 30s, to out and out aether ships.

Kedamono said...

Don't forget the K-Class ASW Blimp that was used in WWII. It was quite successful, especially after it was equipped with expendable radio sonobouys that let them track U-Boats and depth charge them at will.

I'm an airship freak too and I have several books on the subject. :-)

Jim Baerg said...

I've been wondering for some time if the super strong & light fibers like carbon nanotubes will make airships more practical. There are also some ideas I've had on how to make hydrogen airships reasonably safe & wonder if anyone tried them long ago.

Re the Inside Passage & analogies to the 'Paiute Sea': The inside passage is a series on channels that were eroded by glaciers during the ice ages, an entirely different geological origin from what in hypothsized for the 'Island of California'.

Kedamono said...

Still, looking at the Paiute Sea in Rick's map of North America, it would lengthen the "Inside Passage" to southern tip of Baja Santa Catalina. Just imagine what that would do for shipping, being able to move a ship for a couple thousand miles and not have to face the Pacific.

Then there is the effect of having a warm ocean next to what is desert in our world. The winds would blow over the Santa Anas and pick up even more moisture and dump that water on the first bit of land they run into. the eastern coastline of the Paiute Sea would be a very green one.

As for airships using carbon fiber and nanotubes, the Zeppelin Company has built it's first carbon fiber airship, and other "airship" companies are looking at this new technology for building the next generation of airships.

However, here's the kicker, we may only have 20 years of helium left in the ground. Unless we find new sources of helium, future airships may have to use hydrogen... :-)

Anonymous said...

As to what Kedamono said about helium, I think most of it comes from Texas oil wells. I'm not sure about any other deposites. However, I also remember that in the early days of lighter-than-air flight, there were many experiments with mixtures of gasses other than helium or hydrogen. Of course, none of them were as effective as hydrogen or helium, but some did work.
Having an armed airship float toward you just doesn't have the same effect as an armored frigate belching smoke and cutting a frothing bow wave as it comes carging across the water at you, 8 inch guns bearing on you. But airships still look cooler.
Ferrell Rosser

Rick said...

Short comment - longer one to follow on the front page. I am imagining a middle-way world, where airships aren't given technomagic, but get a couple of lucky breaks - or more precisely non-breaks, the apparently avoidable crashes that ended British and American airship development. Airships then evolve through the 20s and 30s as peers and rivals of flying boats.

Jim Baerg said...

Hi Kedamono:

Is there really any reason to expect the shore of the 'Paiute Sea' to be rainier than the shores of the Red Sea or the Gulf of California?

That seems to be determined to a large extent by large scale wind patterns, which have air descending at roughly 30° N & S creating deserts. As you go north along the sea the coast will go from desert near where the Salton Sea exists in our world, to temperate forest near the north end.

I've put a few airship comments after ricks next blog post.

Rick said...

Jim - I also expect that the shores of the Paiute Sea would be fairly arid, at least in the southern latitudes.

But note that my Piute Sea is quite a different body of water than the one Kedamono originally proposed a few years ago, that was the inspiration for David Johnson's alt-California pages.

Kedamono and Dave Johnson split California off from the continent along the geologically correct line, the San Andreas Fault. The part of California west of the San Andreas was an island millions of years ago, a separate mass entirely from the North American continental plate.

This logical island of California, like its southern portion, Baja, is very long and narrow - the northern part is defined by the spine of the coastal ranges, and the northern part of the straits or inland sea is the submerged San Joaquin Valley.

In this case, the inland sea is cut off from the ocean only by the relatively low (~3000-4000 feet) coastal ranges, only a limited rain shadow, so the east shore of the inland sea - the Sierra foothills - would have a similar Mediterranean climate.

The island itself, in this version, would be delightful - the coastal strip from San Diego to San Francisco, after all - but as an island unto itself it has a very limited productive base and would probably never draw a large population.

I am greedier than that. I want Santa Catalina large and naturally productive enough to grow much as OTL California has. (And, incidentally, justify a substantial mainline rail system.)

To get this, I arbitrarily create my straits and inland sea much farther east, along the east side of the Sierras - so there is a much more severe rain shadow, since they are 8-10,000 feet high.

The northern end of the Paiute Sea is doubly cut off from the open Pacific - first by the islands formed by the OTL northern coastal ranges, separating Columbia Sound from the Pacific, then by the Cascades, except for Shasta Channel and St. Helens Channel.

Covering much of the Great Basin with an inland sea will still have a substantial climate effect, but not as much as if the sea were closer to the open ocean.

Samuel said...

Sorry to perform the dark and unwholesome rituals of thread necromancy on this particular post, but the setting you evoked here caught my attention. I love the idea of it, this alternate North America is an interesting place. I've been reading through your blog from the beginning for worldbuilding tips, but this is the first piece I've wanted to comment on. My background is in physics and Mormon history (the one explains why I like your blog, the other why I'm in this thread). I don't know if you ever intend to do anything formal with this setting (I hope you do!), but either way, I wanted to drop my 2 cents in on the Free State of Deseret. (Because while I might not be able to comment intelligently on an alternate history of California, Mormon history is something I know a little about!)

One obstacle we face is that the vast majority of early Mormonism's formative moments happen in states that were acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois would change significantly under l'Empire de la Louisiane. One option - and perhaps the most plausible - is that Joseph Smith never migrates from New England. Mormonism eventually becomes a small regional sect, or dies in the Burned Over District.

But that doesn't give us the Free State of Deseret, so I can't recommend that course of action.

Revelations being the finicky things that they are, Smith leads his followers out of (inhospitable) New York and into the Ohio region anyways. In our world, he did so because the first missionaries found remarkable success there, converting a Campbellite minister named Sidney Rigdon along with most or all of his congregation in Kirtland. Maybe they find the same level of success among the French-speaking population there, or maybe enough English speaking settlers have moved there that the missionaries can gain traction among them.

Such a climate is likely already filled with tension between the French-speaking Catholic (state sponsored?) citizens and the Protestant English-speaking immigrants. A large (or medium sized, honestly, it's only a few hundred at the time) migration becomes cause for alarm. In our timeline, a land-speculation bubble and an economic crash cause significant problems, and a lot of Mormons migrate to Missouri (following a revelation designating it as a new gathering place). They face hostility from the natives over their perceived (and real!) anti-slavery sentiments. The Mormon troubles in Missouri are a prelude to the nastiness of Bleeding Kansas several years later, and the ones that live through it end up running from the mobs. In the new timeline, I don't see a compelling reason to move to Missouri (though revelations, as mentioned, are interesting things). There's more than enough local hostility to go around in whatever French city grows up where Kirtland would have been. So Mormon immigrants get chased out of Ohio with fire and sword, and find themselves on the banks of the Mississippi, on the frontier of Indian country. Nauvoo the beautiful finds itself a brief reprieve for them, as it did in our world. But increasing immigration from European converts, and conflict with local authorities doomed that dream almost before it was born. With a Catholic hegemony firmly in place in the Empire, Nauvoo of our alternate timeline is just as ephemeral.

Samuel said...

Another interesting question to ask is "Who leads the Mormons out West?" Does Smith survive the fall of Nauvoo? Because the Mormons have got to leave for the West - which in our timeline was always Smith's plan. He saw the writing on the wall and planned another exodus to the Rockies, but a warrant and a jail cell and a mob with more guns than they could keep out got in the way of him getting there. A French-speaking mob could fulfil the same function, or even an army intervention. A siege of the city (which was among the fears of our timeline), a bloody capture, and the execution of the Mormon prophet could send the refugees out West with a larger grudge against Louisiana than they left with against the American government. And they could even still be under Brigham Young - who, born in Vermont, could plausibly survive our timeline shift relatively unchanged.

But it could be tempting to see what Mormonism might have become if it's founder hadn't been killed at age 40. King Brigham in the desert is as close to a cliche as anything that exists in the realm of Mormon alternate history (there's not much there), and a living Joseph running things in Salt Lake opens up realms of new possibilities. And without the intervention of a federal army, the Mormon utopia remains independent. Without the coming of the railroad, the Mormon communalist projects remain unchallenged by American capitalism. Religious backed socialist projects before the Communist revolutions shake the European order of things. That's a big selling point for prospective converts, and a successful (for a given value of success - there can always be a downside if the story so indicates) North American utopia might steal some of Marx's thunder.

But either way, we end up in the desert, by the Great Salt Lake. Now, in our world, the State of Deseret sprawled out from Canada to Mexico, and from Colorado to Southern California. Las Vegas was settled by Mormon Pioneers. Most of that expansion came from the large-scale immigration of European converts to the religion. The problem we run into here is that European converts land in New York or New Orleans (depending on the shipload), get their immigration papers in order for America, and then migrate to St. Louis where they can get outfitted for a trip west. But in the Santa Catalina timeline, a hostile nation blocks access across the plains. And without a Mexican-American war, the Mormons stay illegal immigrants in Mexican territory. There might be a Mormon war of independence, or Mexico might just let them go - there wasn't much there in our timeline, and I see no reason that would change in a future one.

One possible solution might be for Mormon immigrants to land in Veracruz instead if the Mexicans aren't hostile, and make the trip northwest. I don't know enough about Mexican history of the era to say how that could turn out though. If not, then Mormon immigration is heavily curbed or done illegally. Perhaps with encouragement from the American government - after all, an English-speaking Free State of Deseret could be a valuable ally to keep the Mexicans and Louisanians off-balance.

Anyways, sorry for the nearly decade-old thread necromancy. Hope my input isn't abrasive or otherwise unwelcome. I really appreciate this blog - it's had a great deal of impact on my own creative work. Hope my thoughts are helpful or worthwhile.

Rick said...

Thank you for bringing a thread back to life!

I indeed ignored the important little detail that the origins of Mormonism would presumably be disrupted in any time line where Louisiana became an independent, francophone state.

The hard line view in alt-hist circles is that changes spread so quickly from a historical point of departure that everything and everyone recognizable is 'butterflied' in a generation or two. I am more willing to bend this rule, since any *particular* history is desperately improbable to begin with. (Given the possible points of departure.)

And while my ignorance of Mormonism and Mormon history is comprehensive, my impression is that it was one strand of religious ferment that was widespread, and could reasonably have had echoes or parallels in a time line that includes the Empire of Louisiane.

In short, the history you outline sounds thoroughly plausible. Fast forwarding to Deseret/Utah, unlike New Mexico or even California it had minimal if any actual Mexican presence when the US stole it in our timeline. So probably the Mormon (or equivalent) settlers would become independent of Mexico with little difficulty.

What effectively is Deseret's independence war might thus come later, against either Louisiana or California.

Note, by the way, that the inland sea I created is not really needed for this time line. The Sierras and the Nevada desert are a sufficient barrier that even if California and Deseret fought frontier wars, such as the Great Silver War, it would be difficult for either to conquer the other.