spoiler potential: caution: book questions.

Do not get into this page if you are trying to read a book. This is for after you’ve read it. Likewise follow the custom of putting a subject and then dropping down a number of lines to make it possible for a reader to duck out if they don’t want the information yet.

I will answer questions about pronunciation, etc, all the little questions I’m normally asked. I won’t discuss things that disturb my creative process, like where I’m going or such. You can theorize among yourselves.


  1. CJ

    Ah, ship design. Can carriers are a long spine with a clamp, engine pack on the rear, crew quarters up front in a rotating cylinder.
    Warm-hold merchanters are kind of like a guppy in shape, with a larger cylinder, for those items that don’t appreciate zero-g. High-dollar haulage..
    The carriers are fairly similar.

  2. philospher77

    More questions about the Merchanters: Dublin Again is described as having a “crew” of around 4000. If the Merchant ships do not have their own food-production capabilities, how is it that the Stationers don’t have them over a barrel? It seems like the stations have to be pretty much self-sufficient (not luxurious, but able to get along on their own), and be able to produce enough surplus to feed a very large army (since there are multiple ships that dock at a station). Assuming that the crew eats a pound of food a day, and it takes 7 days to get to the Jump point, Dublin needs 28000 pounds of food just to get to Jump. That seems a lot for a station to supply. And I’m pretty sure that the stationsy
    don’t just hand it over for free. So what keeps them from price gouging? It doesn’t seem likely that a Merchanter can carry a lot of surplus food and still have room for trade goods, so they can’t really decide not to pay whatever the going rate is on the station.

    And how does rejuv affect the life on ships? It seems to have two pronounced affects: force people to have kids “young”, because of the sterility problem, and keep people hale and able to work until relatively close to their deaths. Some of the problem is briefly touched on in Merchanter’s Luck, with Allison being “Helm 26”, i.e. someone who is very unlikely to ever actually get to do the job she is training for, since she is 26th in line. But with a fully-staffed ship, and rejuv, it seems like you would reach a point where people are idle most of their lives, waiting for whoever has the post to step down/die, and then with a relatively short time to actually work until their rejuv fails. Basically, if Mom has Child when she is 30, then goes on rejuv, lives to be 150, with the rejuv failing around 130, and Child has Grand-kid at 30 and follows in Mom’s foot-steps, Child will be 100 when they can take over Mom’s post, Grand-kid will be 70 at that time, and Child can only expect to work around 30 years before they will go into rejuv failure and Grand-kid takes over. Now, I grant you that not everyone follows in their parent’s footsteps, so some might find work earlier, but still it seems to imply that this is not going to be a viable society without forcing some of the youngsters off into their territory. And that seems to be something very hard for Merchanters, who place such a large amount of identity in the Family ship and Family Name. So how do you see this all playing out as time goes on?

  3. CJ

    ๐Ÿ™‚ I love it when people work out the math. Going on rejuv is indeed enforced sterility, so you’re out of the gene pool. Most people reproduce once, and quite a few women decline the honor, because there are a limited number of resources. Children complicate relationships on a ship (Finity’s End) because they do live long and overlap considerably—and if you really want a kid badly, there are plenty underfoot that you can help raise, all of whom have pretty well your genetics.
    But many of the jobs in maintenance and manufacture (which they do) have a lot of openings, often, while the bridge crew openings are few and far between, and involve a lot of seniority.
    But yes, a big ship has its problems, socially.
    And then the food issue. Food production is huge on a station: the really big tanks/food farms that are independent stations are massive, really massive: they take chemicals the ships provide, and the ships are their consumers. Merchanters began as a unified community by pulling a strike when Earth tried to dictate to them; and it is well remembered on stations that the merchanters Alliance WILL boycott if they get too pushy. Balance of power, and interdependency.

    • philospher77

      All right… I managed to put my finger on what bothers me about that. Surely the stations are self-sufficient? They were, after all, mainly built by crews that came out on STL ships. And when you are looking at an 11-year one-way trip out to Fargone, I can’t wrap my head around trying to do that strictly on the food you have in stores. It just seems a given that you would need to be able to go it alone in that case. And if the STLs were self-sufficient, the stations should be.

      • CJ

        The STLs had to produce their own food. That’s why a taste for yeast-based cheese (keis) is something that will betray a spacer in a hurry. Remember when Musa remarks “That meatloaf has fins.” Fish are one thing they can raise in orbit. Fish and algae. You sluice it out, dice it up together, yum—fish-cakes.

  4. Asad Sayeed

    Foreigner question. There is a lot of economic traffic between Mospheira and the mainland—you refer several times, as I recall, to shipping, to fish, and so on. But the policy has been for two centuries to seal contact to all but one at a time.

    However, unless the ships are fully robotic (not likely the case for atevi shipping), there has to have been frequent at least distant contact between crew and dockworkers. Atevi crews have probably seen human city skylines. Is it only Bren’s self-delusion that the paidhi has been the only source of cultural cross-contamination? How would dockworkers and crews have communicated?

    • CJ

      There has been air traffic landing on Mospheira, for specific cargos, landed at specific intermediate points. This has gone on for a long time, under strict quarantine rules from the State Department. Only approved cargoes, and very limited crew contact.

      • philospher77

        Although that raises another question. In order to have trade, you have to have some sort of agreement. Contracts and all of that. Would it be the paidhi’s job to translate all of those? I can just see him working on: 20 pounds of sugar, 3 pigs, and 2 dozen chickens to be sent annually to Merchant Smith in exchange for 3 bolts of woolen cloth….

        • CJ

          Just about. That USED to be his job, and he used to fly along with cans of peas and other vegetables, in a passenger compartment suited for one. Now the University and State Department have hired a staff of several hundred to take his place.

          • Asad Sayeed

            So it was strictly by air? Because I do distinctly remember reading about freighters and shipping, and atevi on the coast seem to know the names of Mospheiran ports. Maybe I am misremembering ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. maj_walt

    Regarding Trank, I’m wondering about the refugees at the beginning of Downbelow Station. The Hansford was in pretty dire straights when it reached Pell with her refugees — which were near riot conditions.

    Were these folks (refugees) given trank before the jump? How readily available was trank — and were the riot conditions aboard that ship the result of the majority of those refugees having to go without it?

    • maj_walt

      On a related note, what happens physiologically to a person while they are in jump? Let’s say the jump from point A to point B is a few months duration. With trank, is the body’s metabolism slowed down? Are they able to go without food/water during this period?

      From what I gather, trank is able to mellow the individual so they are not as succeptible to the stresses of null space during the transition.

      (It sounds like wonderful stuff — I wish I could get ahold of some so I could give it to my boss. It would make the workday much smoother)lol

  6. CJ

    Say that once the on-board riots started, with very limited resources, there was no way the ship’s officers were going to mandate anybody go down there to promise what they didn’t have available to deliver, and expose the integrity of the ship to what was going on. It was a mess, and it was one nobody had planned or wanted, but they were trying to get those people out of there to better conditions. It turned into a disaster.

    • maj_walt

      Although the reader never actually “sees” the situation unfolding on board the Hansford, we get a pretty vivid and graphic image of what it must have been like through the urgent, clipped and terse message traffic between ship and station. I love it ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Spearmint

    All this discussion of food production made me remember another thing I’ve always wondered about:

    How do human infants survive Jump? It’s physically taxing even for adults- if they don’t gulp down some fluids and nutrients the second they wake up, they get sick, and people lose hair and muscle tone and so on.

    How does a baby, with much smaller fat/fluid reserves than an adult, survive at all? It seems like small children would die of dehydration after a week-long coma with no fluids. Do the merchanters just hook all their kids up to IVs?

  8. CJ

    Pretty well. Small kids and infants live in a creche, a nursery, watched over by crew who choose this occupation. There’s a padded tunnel for emergencies: kids are taught to dive for that; and very small infants are supported in incubators through jump. Kids are not given the run of the ship until they are old enough to know not to, as the song has it, “open up the reactor door” or play games with the airlock. This is a working environment with no safeties for the general public, and kids have to know what’s a don’t touch before they’re let loose. They also are not let loose on dockside until they’re of an age to go courting, and then will do so under the watchful eyes of several dozen uncles and aunts. There is familial attachment: they know who their mother is, and have a number of devoted uncles as father-figures, sort of like the ancient Welsh, but may not meet their father until the father’s ship and theirs coincide again.

    • philospher77

      And even with all of that, didn’t Finity’s End lose an entire generation of kids due to extreme manouvering during the war? Lots of multiple jumps, and long ones, and high-G burns.

      As to fathers… is that actually recorded on a birth certificate type document, or is it not of any legal consequence? Does a mother have to name the father, or can she sleep with multiple partners on leave and not have it matter if she can’t say who the actual father is? Since he doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with raising the kid, I can see not having it recorded. On the other hand, with a more limited gene pool, I can see that you want to know people’s genetics, so maybe you do want to have this recorded somewhere.

      And finally… on Family ships, how closely related is everyone? I mean, Dublin Again has a crew of 4,000, all of whom are Reillys. But is that like a clan, or adopted name, or are they all actually direct lineal relations? I am trying to picture building a ship that needs a crew that big, and finding enough people all of the same family who want to go out to space. It seems like it was more likely that the original crew wasn’t related, and over time the crew has just come to be identified with the name of the prominent captain. Or, that these ships started off much smaller, and have grown over time.

      • Spearmint

        Incubators make a lot of sense- you could secure the babies for maneuvers and feed them at the same time. Thanks!

        As I recall the Mazianni blew out Finity’s habitation ring at some point. So it wasn’t just the perils of high-G maneuvers in wartime that took the kids out- I think the creche got vented.

        Dublin Again is a second generation ship- it’s mentioned in Rimrunners that it’s one of a new type that can overjump the Hinder Stars. So it’s probably significantly bigger than most merchanters. It’s also badly overstaffed.

        Sandor could run Lucy single-handed, although obviously that wasn’t an ideal situation, and the Reillys didn’t think they’d be sending Allison et al. into undue hardship running her with a crew of five. And the hani have less automation than the humans and seem to run their merchanters with crews in the five-ten range.

        If you wanted to form a new ship’s company you could probably start with about ten people on a smallish ship, and move to a bigger one once you had the money to afford it and the crew to staff it. What was the Reilly ship before they built Dublin Again? Dublin? ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • CJ

          When I flew on Sabena back in the 60’s or 70’s, they had a rig I swear should be standard. Small babies were placed in canvas sacks with a clip on either end and suspended from the overhead, above the parent’s seat, with a butt-clip and cord to the seat itself. The babies were better protected than babies are now, in their mother’s arms….I’ve been through a several-hundred-foot airpocket on a plane with that rig. There was orange juice dripping off the overhead, the stewardae were thrown all over, and the man behind me hit his head on the overhead and was knocked unconscious. The babies would scarcely have noticed a bump.
          The soporific white noise of the plane—they probably slept through it. Parents could easily get up and retrive kid for attention, but in the meanwhile they and everybody else, including the babies, who slept a lot, had a nice flight.

  9. maj_walt

    In regards to privately owned merchanter ships, what happens when these vessels wear out? I imagine there comes a time when further upgrades and re-fits are no longer cost effective. Does the family then comission the building of another vessel? Would the cost of doing so be subsidized by Alliance or Union?

    • CJ

      When they upgraded to FTL, they literally just whacked the back end off the ship and put on a new one.

      Ships as old as Dublin have undergone considerable modification, and have gotten larger crew area and warm-hold. These things are done in modules, and are pushed up and attached in the ship-yards that are a separate outlying station.

      Since merchanter crews exhaust themselves in a few days on dockside, one can only imagine a long layover during a major refurb…

  10. smartcat

    Just finished Conspirator for the second time…….the first time for story, the second (and beyond) for style , character, nuance etc. What a wonderful banquet you give your readers.
    Two questions: Are the Atevi fortuitous numbers simply odd numbers or are they prime? I’m rooting for primes as I like the little edge of discomfort the carry. And is the some way of dividing what look like very square tiles in the cover illustration into a fortuitous number?
    I know little or nothing about numbers and/or theory, just enjoy the sensation of primes.

  11. CJ

    ๐Ÿ˜† I have a feeling atevi tilework would look a lot like the lizard tiles. And you’re a better mathematician than I am, but while they dislike even numbers, I’m betting prime would be special—2 being the first prime, and not quite totally infelicitous—since you have to deal with it so often. But they’ll still add-on a language particle to keep 2 from being an infelicity. You’ll note Guild pairs always count their lord as belonging to them, to make a three. And there are always two pairs in an aishid, both attached to the lord, who is morally present even when physically absent. ๐Ÿ˜† The geometry is thus rendered felicitous.

    • Walt

      What with an infelicitous 8th birthday being made felicitous as the completion of one’s 7th year, the atevi system seems to have a degree of flexibility. One wonders about twins, though.

      I wonder what atevi make of human computers, presuming they’re still binary! Quantum computers deal in zero, one, not-yet-determined, making a felicitous three. Also, a quite theoretic argument is that if the cost of a digit (bit or decimal digit) is proportional to the number of states it can have (a bit costs 2, a base three digit 3 etc.–an assumption appealing in its simplicity, but not true), then the base closest to e (2.7…) is the most efficient, base 3. So, self-invented non-quantum atevi computers might well be trinary (base 3).

      This argument for trinary computers occasioned a bit of geeky academic humor, translating binary terms into trinary:
      bit — trit
      nybble (four bits, a used term once) — trybble
      byte — tryte
      parity bit — trinity trit

      I hope this digression hasn’t put too many people to sleep. Slightly droll for us computer types; megatryte for others.

      • tulrose

        I love it Walt! I’ve used nybbles at work; lots and lots of times.

        • Walt

          “I love it Walt! Iโ€™ve used nybbles at work; lots and lots of times.”

          They are, of course, especially useful when processing cookies.


  12. Reptile

    Changing the subject a bit, do you have a publications page that I missed? Or at least an upcoming release date page? Specifically, I thought you had a Bren volume due out about now. I know you finished it a good while ago. And while I know that marketing strategies might delay a volume for better placement–or, frankly, a publisher might have a negative cash flow for a season during a recession–I was wondering…

    Thanks for any info.

    • CJ

      Just got the word today. You’ve got Conspirator…right? Deceiver is out in May 2010.
      Takes about a year and change to get something from my keyboard and into release. I just had a call from the artist about the cover. And now the publisher is wanting the electronic file. Seems they’ve got a new process and I’m the guinea pig. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. Reptile

    Oh yes. It’s Deceiver that I was thinking of. I don’t know how I got the idea that it was scheduled for the Fall. Perhaps the wish was father to the conviction, with no intervening evidence.

    Really weird that the thought popped into my mind the same day your got the call from the publisher.

    The guinea pig? Hope that goes well; and hope you don’t have to turn into a compositor. But surely, having sent in electronic copies for some time, they weren’t typesetting the MS from scratch! And hope they don’t try to skimp on book designers, as some publishers clearly are.

    But what do I know about book publishing? Really not much, though I worked in magazines and for newspapers for decades. Book publishing always seemed so s l o w, but I always figured that was because staffs were so tiny that the work had to be spread way, way out. No rushes and no down times. But that is only a guess; it’s just a very different world.

  14. NosenDove

    So, Bren is starting to bake cakes. First he puts the flour through

    De Siever



  15. remer

    New question. Are there any thoughts or intentions to add to the Fortress series? Seems like Fortress of Ice begs for a sequel…

    Also, I would comment that (going back thru and re-reading all of your stuff, time on my hands..) there is a noticeable difference in the “comfort level” or fullness of the characterization (realization, perhaps) of Bren from the beginning (Foreigner) through today. Reading Conspirator and immediatly going back to re-read the series from the beginning is almost jarring, for a few chapters. It doesn’t get old, however – good job. As with All of your series/books.

    • CJ

      I’m going to have to do it as an e-book, out of Closed Circle…it won’t be this year, because I’m u to my ears, but I’d certainly like to.

  16. remer

    It’s nice to know that such is on the radar screen. You’re the creative genius here – when you write it, I’ll read it. Whatever it is. I am going to Have to cross the e-book bridge, sooner rather than later..

  17. Jcrow9

    CJ, what’s the status of the Finisterre novels? (in print/out of print–it’s in stock at Amazon, which answers that question I suppose) I just finished re^5reading these and I have Need To Know re: things like what’s to be done about that mystery spook critter that’s made off with Brionne.
    Also, since we’re on the topic of Finisterre, why is the tech level so low there, and why do the religious have so much power there (fear of the wild?)? Is it like Pern, where the original colonists chose to set up an agrarian society before they realized the hazards of the local real estate? Or more like Darkover, where the colonists had no intention of being there in the first place? (begging pardon in advance for suggesting that it needs to be “like” anything at all, just suggesting other known universes to describe patterns here)
    You’ve slipped in that radio seems to drive the critters batty, especially the predators–is the Ambient allergic to electronics of all flavors? That’d sure reduce the usage of computers (and act to drive out all high tech)!

  18. CJ

    Your last answer is the reason high tech has languished.
    Finisterre is a bad real estate deal: the colony failed because of the tech limitations, the developers pulled out, and many of the colonists didn’t want to trust the company to set them down anywhere better.

    The status of the novels. There’s a bit of stock floating around, but Warner was swallowed by Time, was swallowed by Hachette Publishing of France, and has gotten to be a giant of a thing that doesn’t communicate well. I have applied for reversion of those rights. Which means they may appear here.

  19. Spearmint

    A sequel would be awesome. There were some awfully cool ideas in those books. Plus bacon will never stop being funny now that I associate it with Cloud.

  20. smartcat

    Does Finisterre really mean end or finished earth or world, or am I getting weird? (Bacon is a code word for us; also”It’s got a pebble in it!”)

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