Archive for June, 2008

Nazi transatlantic bombers

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Adolf Hitler always understood that his primary enemy was the United States. Ultimately, the Nazi plan was to harness the resources of Europe—and in particular those of European Russia—under the aegis of a new superstate, with Germany at its core. England and France would get the hell out of the way, or be roadkill. And then the full industrial might of the Third Reich could be turned against America.

An idea that gets all the scarier when you consider what was on the drawing boards. Inevitably, as the conflict with England and Russia deepened, Germany channeled its bomber production into tactical bombers. But behind the scenes, plans for some true behemoths were underway.

The most favored design among the Nazi planners is shown here. imageju-390.jpgYou’re looking at the Junkers 390, a six-engined monstrosity capable of flying all the way to New York and then returning to Berlin for a round of schnapps. In fact, there are (admittedly unconfirmed) reports that this thing did exactly that in 1944 on a dry run, turning back even as its crew saw the lights of Manhattan emerging over the horizon. No prizes for guessing what kind of bombing run they were training for: by that point in the war, with the Reich collapsing around Hitler’s ears, there was really only one reason to try to hit New York, and that was with an atomic weapon. Fortunately, the German atomic program was way behind by that point, so it all came to naught.

imagehorten.jpgBut the Ju-390 was just the tip of the iceberg. The ultimate goal was to build a strategic bomber that had jets. The strongest contender was a Horten flying wing: it’s NOT the craft shown here, which was an earlier design. The Horten XVIIIB would have had twice the wingspan of the thing you’re looking at now. Had Hitler knocked Russia out of the war, we’d have been facing a whole fleet of these.

And we’d have been up against bona fide SPACECRAFT as well.imagesanger.jpg I’m not even referring to whatever the successors to the V2 rocket would have been. I’m talking about the Sanger spaceplane, which was intended to be put on the back of a rocket sled. Once the sled accelerated to a sufficient speed, the spaceplane would have been launched off the back of it. It would have gone suborbital, bombed New York, and then, instead of turning around, continued on into the Pacific where a German (or Japanese) U-boat would have picked up both crew and vehicle.

None of these planes was ever put to the test in a live bombing run. But all of them became fodder for the Russians and the Americans at the end of the war, as the race to capture German scientists intensified and the allies fell out among themselves and a new competition took shape. One that we should be thankful for. Who would we rather have faced in the late 1940s, an exhausted Soviet Union or a Nazi Germany that was busy consolidating its hold over Europe and turning its eyes over the Atlantic? In a sense, the big might-have-been of World War II is that, had it taken a different direction, it might have led to the first space war.

And speaking of space wars, I’m planning on publishing in its entirety my essay NOTES TOWARD A THEORY OF SPACE-CENTRIC WARFARE, written from the perspective of the year 2110. I’ve already posted the first part HERE, and intend to serialize the rest across the next few days/weeks. So watch this space.

Thoughts on the Singularity

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Today I want to talk about mechs.

One of the really interesting things in science fiction is the interface between flesh and machine. And one of the most interesting things about that interface is how ambiguous it often is. Bladerunner, for example: we never know for sure whether a replicant’s core is robotic or not (or even what, precisely, the word “robot” is intended to mean). Battlestar Galactica played a similar are-they-or-aren’t-they game in its initial episodes.

And I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that, in creating such fictions, we’re skating over some pretty thin ice around our culture’s broader anxieties. We know this stuff is coming. We know there’s going to be a Web N.0 where it all gets right inside our heads. Or maybe those of our children. But we’ve got very little sense of the exact sequence events might follow. Or how the timelines might play out. It’s all just guesswork.

And, as Warren Ellis pointed out last week, it’s made even more problematic by the way in which all too many of the folks who are best equipped to speculate are content to get all misty-eyed and mystical about the Singularity (aka the “Rapture for Nerds”, though Ken McLeod has been at pains to point out that he didn’t coin the term). And before you start hurling epithets and tomatoes: sure, there’s some kind of Singularity on the horizon. I know that. Something’s brewing. That much seems clear. But it’s probably not going to be the peaches-and-cream mass-upload that so many seem to have in mind. It’ll be something far more ambiguous. It’ll hit us from the blindside like the web did. And like the web, even as it opens up new worlds, it won’t magic away anything in the real world. And we forget that at our peril.

But I was here to talk about mechs.

Look, here’s the thing: the problems I’ve been talking about admit of ambiguity. Mechs in THE MIRRORED HEAVENS don’t. More than one reader/reviewer (and god knows I love them all, so don’t take this as an ad hominem attack, ‘cos it ain’t) has used the word mech interchangeably with the word cyborg. To paraphrase Winston C., that is something up with which I cannot put. They’re different classes of concepts. While you’ll have to read the book itself to find out where I come down on the whole cyborg question, the mech issue is far more straightforward:

The word’s come down from the old man himself. Both kinds of runners hit this city tonight. The razors work the zone [i.e., the net] and the mechanics kick in the doors.

Make sense? Mechs doesn’t refer to cyborgs, nor is it a reference to anime mechas. Mechs are the men and women who call themselves mechanics: assassins. They’re black-ops operatives who specialize in physical combat while the razors with whom they’re partnered work the zone and enable their runs. And in fact, I’ve got some additional information as well, on the bottom-right of this page.

Cool? Cool. Or rather, I wish it was #$# cool. But it’s not. In fact, it’s hot as hell right now in the middle of our nation’s capital. You can tell this town was the result of a political compromise. Thanks a lot, Founding Fathers.


Look . . . up in the sky . . . it’s . . . !

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Taking my mind off the third day of the summer’s First Heat Wave: thanks to a very nice mention by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, the book has now soared to #1 on Amazon’s high-tech SF ranking! (Yeah, I know Amazon rankings aren’t worth obsessing over. And that this is a blink-and-you-miss-it moment anyway. And that by the time you click on this link, the book’ll probably be locked in a relentless battle for 180th place. But as of right now: here I am ahead of Gibson, Stross, Stephenson, and the whole lot of them. That ain’t no UFO, baby, it’s THE MIRRORED HEAVENS!)

But this morning I want to talk about IFOs, actually. Specifically, aircraft. Specifically, passenger aircraft. Two cool links came in this weekend from our informant Topdog. The first is a slide show of aircraft graveyards in Arizona and California. It’s as haunting as it is surreal. Especially some of the interiors, which make you wonder who sat in them and when, and all the lives and moments that passed through them. And now these planes just sit there with the sand drifting over them.

While their newer (or maybe not so new) brethren fly overhead. The second link Topdog sent over is SkyVector: online aeronautical charts! Man, this stuff is cool. You can plot in flight routes and see all the data. So if you’re gonna attach balloons to your lawn-chair and then go for a spin, this is how to do it.

You know what? I have more I want to say about aircraft, but I’ll save it. Every second I don’t hit “publish” on this blog post is a second in which Gibson and the rest of them will be putting boot-prints on my back as they reclaim first place. I’ll be back later with some thoughts on Nazi plans to bomb North America. In the meantime, if you want me, I’ll be camped out in the freezer.

Thoughts amidst the heatwave

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Lots going on this (sweltering) weekend. Starting closest to home with the announcement from Jay at Fantasybookspot regarding three winners of signed copies of The Mirrored Heavens. My congrats to everybody; I’ll try to make my signature at least somewhat legible, but no guarantees. (I’ve got a feeling a lot of my parallel universe dopplegangers are doctors, but I have yet to figure out how to confirm this.)

Meanwhile, several blocks from where I’m writing this, Hillary Clinton conceded yesterday. An impressive performance, but I remain unconvinced that she’s going to go all-out for Team Obama unless she gets that VP nod (which has to be seen as unlikely). One suspects she just may find all sorts of critical issues that keep her chained to the Senate floor from hereon in. And McCain’s challenging of Obama to town halls is a cagey move. It’s like boxing: Obama’s rhetorical firepower gives him the longer reach, so the only solution is to get in real close and try to limit the number of setpiece speeches he does. This is going to be an interesting summer.

On the international front, Wired’s Danger Room has a cool post on Russia’s smart tankbusting bombs. And man, those things are nasty. I’m not going to try to offer them up as evidence in the Great Russian Decline Debate, but it’s a good reminder that while it’s sunk a long way from its Red Army days, the Russian military remains second only to us.

Whereas the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s were second to exactly none. Which may be a bit of an awkward segue, but it’s the best one I can think of in switching gears to acknowledge/salute Dwight White, defensive end on the Iron Curtain. He died at the all-too-young age of 58 on Friday, but those of us who were around in the era of shag carpeting and bell-bottom pants can only scratch our heads in awe as we recollect the man who staggered onto the field at SuperBowl IX with pneumonia and proceeded to smash the Vikings running attack into ribbons and score a safety while he was at it. A fallen warrior indeed. RIP.

Web round-up: latest MIRRORED HEAVENS mentions

Friday, June 6th, 2008

But before I get started, a quick note: sources/agents/sensors report that the book has been selling out of bookstores. This is, of course, a Good Thing (unless it’s getting shoplifted), but it means that if you can’t find the book, it’s time to get proactive. Ask for it, and have the store order it. Even better if you ask for it with a giant megaphone so that as many people as possible are wondering just what the hell THE MIRRORED HEAVENS is. Hey, memes have gone viral over far less.

And now on to the web round-up. Which has been a little delayed because yesterday marks my turning in of the second book. (About which I have virtually nothing to say right now, but rest assured I’ll be back to address it shortly.) Robert Thompson over at Fantasy Book Critic has posted a really complimentary review that led to more than a few high-fives over here at Mirrored Heavens HQ. He writes that he’s “confident that the book will end up on my shortlist as one of 2008’s Best Science Fiction debuts”, in large part because “the pacing is superb, espionage/intrigue elements strategically complement the action {and} the twists & turns are clever and unexpected.”

Robert also notes that the novel’s three storylines “seem to be competing with one another to see who can come up with the most intense, most spectacular action sequences imaginable” . . . and though he’s the first to put it this way, he’s exactly right. If you’re writing three action-sequences side-by-side in the same novel, a little friendly competition inevitably emerges . . . : ) He also points out some issues with character differentiation, and it’s a fair point, particularly since we’re allowed relatively little transparency into the heads of the covert operatives who constitute the characters. (And a lot of the clues as to what makes one person tick vs. another are buried pretty deep in the mix.)

Next up is Richard Dansky, legendary game designer and author of FIREFLY RAIN. Writing in Green Man Review, Dansky calls the book a “fascinating read, a twisty thriller of shifting loyalties and double-crosses.” He also refers to it as “archetypal cyberpunk,” but notes that this is merely a first impression, and that a closer reading reveals key differences, particularly around writing style and approach to combat. Hey, I’m not arguing.

Nor will I argue with Andrew James at the wonderfully-named Big Dumb Object, who is now a big fan of this oh-so-shiny website. Check out what he has to say HERE. And apparently he might review the book too, which would be super-cool. More to follow.

The next generation of warfare

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

“With . . . warfare [evolving] toward a fourth-generation, why would you bother militarizing space?”

That’s the latest question/comment in response to my guest-post on John Scalzi’s blog (and it may be the last one as we’re several days past the original posting now). But I have to admit, this is the kind of question I was expecting to get in the first place, and it’s a much better question than stuff like “what are you smoking to make you think that Russia’s going to be a superpower?” In fact, I’m still amazed at how many people bought (or just skipped over) my fundamental argument about the direction in which warfare is heading and proceeded to dive straight into the details of the geopolitical backdrop I’d constructed. Thereby potentially missing the wood for the trees.

Something that no one can accuse this question of. In many ways, it’s the key one, and it’s natural to ask it given that all we’ve got on the news is an endless war in Iraq and all we can see the world over is the U.S. struggling against guerilla/insurgent movements. What’s the point of weaponizing space when we can’t even dig our way out of all these endless ground quagmires?

The answer, of course, is there isn’t.

Right now.

Because right now there isn’t much more we can do in space. After all, we’ve got the most advanced hardware deployed up there that we can build. In fact, our domination of space is one of the reasons that the only folks challenging us are resorting to insurgent warfare in order to do so. Nor should my original essay be construed as offering a plan to deal with such insurgents in the here-and-now.

The problem for those kind of insurgencies, though, is a more long-term one. Technology doesn’t stand still. We’re starting to see inklings of the shape of things to come even now: anti-U.S. guerillas have to be real careful about what U.S. satellites can see even on a street-by-street level, and are acutely aware that being suddenly nailed by an unseen Predator UAV is a constant possibility. But our cameras are going to get better and ever more extensive. And once we start to deploy directed energy weaponry in orbit alongside those cameras, and harness that to ever-increasing computational power—and start deploying unmanned drones throughout the atmosphere—all bets are off. Put simply, within the next several decades we are going to have (a) the ability to monitor every single square inch of the Earth’s surface in real-time and (b) the ability to target anything on that surface at the speed of light. And THAT, folks, is why space weaponization matters.

Will that mean the end for insurgencies? Absolutely not. It’ll just make their lives a hell of a lot more difficult. In THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, the worst guerilla movements are situated in the sprawling Third World megacities (to which you can regard Baghdad as a precursor), where the emissions/pollutants provide partial protection from being seen, as do the sheer scale of the buildings. But irrespective of the exact nature of such cities, the basic point that many of 4G warfare’s proponents fails to take into account is that we will, ultimately, see the rise of fifth-generation warfare (and yeah, I’m calling it here first): the supremacy of nation-states conferred by mature space weaponization capabilities. Even if no other nation-state emerges to challenge the United States, the burden of proof is on those who claim that the technological determinants now propelling us in the direction of 5G warfare will hit as-yet-unanticipated roadblocks. Those determinants are in their infancy now. They won’t be for long.

And if another nation-state DOES challenge the U.S. (as happens in my book), then make no mistake about it, the center of gravity of that stand-off would be in orbit. If the two sides came to blows, the nation that could disrupt/disable/destroy the other side’s space assets would win.

Meaning that space weaponization may not be a choice we get to make. It might yet be made for us.