Full utilization of camels created desert power, a bad thing for civilization. Steam engines replacing sailing ships had approximately the opposite effect: ended piracy.
Which two sf novels am I channeling?
Dune is one, I guess.
The easy one.
Piracy is “cool,” so presumably not a steampunk novel. But pre-steam scifi = fantasy. Hard riddle.
Dies the Fire would be another..
That was about the end of explosive combustion in general so presumably not.
I don’t recall there being any particular resurgency in piracy in that trology – mostly it was about the reassertion of feudal inequalities by dint of armor + horses + medieval recreationists being OP.
The other one by S.M. Stirling, where Nantucket of the late ’90s is sent back to 1250 B.C. is more relevant,Island in the Sea of Time. They get to restart technology from scratch, which is fun, but the SJW-ism is off the charts, with their admiral, the main character of the second book, Against the Tide of Years is a Black lesbian who if I remember correctly dominates her young Druid acolyte “lover”.
I hate to be uncool, but what is desert power and why was it bad for civilization?
Camels helped nomadic desert raiders
It was through trade which led to military power.
A very interesting piece. And from a 1973 edition of Saudi Aramco’s company publication? Which is archived and freely available online? Did you just Google that?
Not a google search. Used duckduckgo. 🙂 I actually didn’t know the answer (but had my suspicions) so I spent a few minutes searching and found references to Bulliet’s work at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camel. Looked for a searchable version of his book and found the aramco article.
I often do this when I read Greg’s pieces. =)
There more where that article came from. Recently, Richard Bulliet wrote a fascinating book about the history of the wheel: https://www.amazon.com/Wheel-Inventions-Reinventions-Columbia-International/dp/0231173385/
It’s bad in the same way that horse-riding nomads are bad for civilization; it just applies to desert areas where horses aren’t that useful.
Keep in mind that as late as the 1860s horse-riding nomads controlled vast swathes of the North American continent.
Though they also helped bring about much larger empires and universal religions (Turchin’s thesis), so in net terms they may have been good.
Large empires hindered innovation (think medieval China)
Large portion of Eurasian steppe which had agriculture and cities with tens of thousands turned nomadic.
We would have had steam engines much earlier if not horses.
@Anatoly, for an idea worth the checking – https://hermes-ir.lib.hit-u.ac.jp/rs/bitstream/10086/28688/1/070_hiasDP-E-51.pdf – Koyama – Geopolitics and Asia’s Little Divergence: State Building in China and Japan After 1850
The suggestion is that large empires tend to centralize or remain centralized in conflict with a unipolar threat from one direction, and decentralize when facing multipolar threats from multiple directions.
In contrast, small territorial regions tend to centralize towards medium sized states in the multipolar threat condition… at least until one state breaks out and conquers the others, a la Rome, or to a degree, Napoleonic France.
(This is all distinct from Turchin, in that IRC his models tend to assume that higher and more intense conflict, whether unipolar or multipolar, always lead to increasing size and centralisation over time. In his ideas, large empires bordering the steppe are thus simply a sign that conflict was just more intense in that region, rather than particularly intense along a unipolar axis.).
Looking at the history of China, you first have a multipolar state system with a shared cultural legacy, of the Warring States, which eventually breaks down when Qin conquers the others. Then you have the empire build its focus around defending from the steppe, as a unipolar threat, and an absence of further multipolar threats.
This maintains the state cohesion and prevents it fracturing the way of Rome, which also succeeded as the victor state in a multipolar system. China eventually became unstable when it started to encounter a genuinely multipolar world with threats from both the Northwest (Russia), the Northeast (Japan) and the South (other Europeans).
In contrast though, in other state systems in West Eurasia that faced alternation between multiple (multipolar) threats from both the steppe and other settled states, and unipolar threats from the steppe, there is more of a pattern of periodic rise and fracturing of empires, and none of them are particularly that long term cohesive.
Worsening this pattern is the way that lots of the West Eurasian steppe bordering states had pretty low agricultural productivity compared to China, so culturally and ethnically were overrun by the steppe (in ways that were harder in China because of population size differences), and this weakened their ability to centralize further.
In a world without nomads, you could see a world of permanent “Warring States”. Civilization might advance more or less rapidly; it’s hard to tell.
Nomads are probably bad, but probably not the horses themselves. What with, the plow, better communication and transport, simple motive power. It’s even hard to imagine most early 20th century cities without horses.
Even the earlier cities in the Western Hemisphere, which we know did not have them didn’t really have money or much in the way of metals. Could be that nomads are good for civilization, at least initially, because they make sure everyone has metal – to defend against more nomads.
Roughly put, if there are steppes/deserts you can’t have horses/camels without nomads.
Cities would be much cleaner without horses, if anything
Steam engines ended piracy? Dont tell them Somalians
In the Mediterranean I think the Romans ended it (at least for several centuries) by crucifixion.
Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates. He informed his captors that, once released, he would come back and kill them. Which is just what occurred.
Caesar thought he was doing the pirates a kindness by slitting their throats before crucifying them. In a sense, he was correct.
The somali piracy is almost done by now.
And the few past years, when it was a thing, it was the result of extremely placid times/carelesness, not the lack of capability to combat them.
Almost all the time, a couple guys with rifles in the ship, is enough to fend them off.
20,000 Leagues under the Sea
So that’s why civilization developed and survived in Europe and America….no deserts!
On the contrary, Herr Doktor, plenty of people pirated the Watt engine – John Bateman and the Sherratt brothers being the most famous example.
“piracy” generally refers to guys with ships, rather than theft of intellectual property or butt pirates.
I wasn’t saying that, but it did. Antibiotics and antivirals.
Pirates are really interesting. They’re like cultural palimpsests. Nearly all the original details are gone, replaced with images taken from pop culture – all of it 50-100 years old.
The stereotypical “pirate voice” comes from Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver in the 1950 adaptation of Treasure Island. It’s an exaggerated version of a West Country accent, where Blackbeard was reputedly born, so I guess it’s not coming totally from thin air. But who knows how they really talked?
And the stereotypical pirate dress (eyepatches, gaudy jewelry, bright colours) comes from the illustrations of Howard Pyle, an American living in the late 19th century.
In JM Barrie’s Peter and Wendy the pirates are drawn to look like French dandies. When Disney adapted the book into an animated film in 1953, they start to look more like modern pirates – but Captain Hook looks like Cardinal Richelieu fronting a progressive rock band. You can see the our image of pirates (which is probably always heavily imaginative and fanciful) evolving in real time. It’s like watching a virus evolve.
Difference Engine? Not really sci-fi
Maybe “The dragon never sleeps”. The guardships certainly ended piracy, though I’m not sure by virtue of which technological innovation (superior shields? It’s been a while …). And they are immortal.
Steam prob means time travel. “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”? Best I can think of, but that’s probably not it.
Ledforbot above proposed Jules Verne’ 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Verne’s later sci fi oeuvre “Face au drapeau” fits even more Greg’s conditions. Captain Nemo, a politically correct desi genius, builds a steam-powered ultramodern submarine and cleans the five seas of the pirate plague. He also sinks British vessels, deemed piratical by French patriot Verne.
Oh come on! He said Dune was the easy one, and 20,000 Leagues is going to be the difficult one?
Who reads Verne today?
Undoubtedly there are SF novels in which a breakthrough in spaceship technology brings an end to space piracy — but the only ones I can think of involve institutional, not technical changes. (First Lensman comes to mind. Also the background of the Gaean Reach, but I don’t think Jack Vance ever wrote about the IPCC instead of them just being a background feature.)
Evolving away from lightsails would be an even closer analogy: getting FTL from the Outsiders in Niven’s Known Space is in the same ballpark, at least (and was certainly to the benefit of human civilization since it stopped us all being eaten by Kzinti), but again I don’t think there’s a book about it.
Come on, people, I can’t be the only SF fan around here.
“The Mote in God’s Eye” (steam power = Alderson Drive)? Some other novel with faster than light travel?
No one has yet referenced it, in this thread, so I searched for the title of this post: The Immortal Storm.
The first result was a D&D module. The description didn’t seem apropos and I don’t figure Greg to have been an RPG geek. The second result was a history of science fiction fandom. Again, nothing apropos.
Using DuckDuckGo, I found a book called The Immortal Storm by S.D. Wilkes. Surprisingly, it’s not on Amazon; it’s on Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25399710-the-immortal-storm
The user review was light on plot and setting, but ships seem to be a part of it. Is this the other book which you were thinking about?
“The Immortal Storm ” is a history of science fiction fandom by Sam Moscowitz. Probably the most bombastic title ever.
As I noted, that was the second reference to the title which I found.
My interest in reading science fiction novels faded after high school. I used to lurk on the late Jerry Pournelle’s website for a while. The X-Files was the last television show I regularly followed. So my knowledge of sci-fi is not encyclopedic.
I can get most of the SF references you make. At least, I can recognize when you make them. But I don’t get this reference. This comment thread is now at 37 entries (and counting), so you could try to drop a hint if you don’t want the de-railing to continue.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea imagines if the “pirates” (Captain Nemo) got the “steam ship” (electric submarine) first.
Farmer’s Riverworld has some steamships. I don’t recall if they did much about piracy. And there might be some Poul Anderson novel that matches. War of the Wing-men? Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee had steamships by the end, but again, no piracy. I’ve never read Lest Darkness Fall, which I should probably correct. I don’t know if he had steam.
Lest Darkness Fall didn’t have steam. I wonder why history fiction is relevant.
It’s technically time travel. Maybe Greg is talking about Niven’s Known Space? I believe they upgraded from slowboats to ramships to hyperdrive.
Inferno starts with the protoganist killing himself while trying to impress some fans at a convention.
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I’m so glad, gcochran9, that someone else appreciates how wonderfully, loonily bombastic “The Immortal Storm” is as the title for a history of sci-fi fandom. I’ve always wondered what Moscowitz could have been thinking, considering that the book is, I assume, essentially a history of nerds feuding in the pages of pulp magazines.
Since titles cannot be copyrighted, it can and must be stolen for an appropriately tremendous book. Say on the expansion of the Indo-Europeans.
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