Review: Sea Without A Shore

I’m not, in general, a fan of David Drake’s writing; most of his output is grimmer and far more carnographic than I care to deal with. I’ve made an exception for his RCN series because they tickle my fondness for classic Age-of-Sail adventure fiction and its pastiches, exhibiting Drake’s strengths (in particular, his deep knowledge of history) while dialing back on the cruelty and gore.

Drake’s sources are no mystery to anyone who has read Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey-Maturin series; Daniel Leary and his companion-in-arms Adele Mundy are obvious takes on the bumptious Jack Aubrey and physician/naturalist/spy Stephen Maturin. Drake expends great ingenuity in justifying a near-clone of the Napoleonic-era British Navy in a far future with FTL drives. And to his credit, the technological and social setting is better realized than in most exercises of this kind. It compares well in that respect to, for example, David Weber’s Honor Harrington sequence.

The early books in the RCN series, accordingly, seemed fresh and inventive. Alas, in this tenth installment the series is losing its wind. We’ve already seen a couple of variations of the plot; Daniel and Adele traipse off in the Princess Cecile on a sort-out-the-wogs mission backed by Cinnabar’s spooks. In a wry nod to another genre trope, they’re looking for buried treasure.

The worldbuilding remains pretty good, and provided most of the few really good moments in this novel. Alas, as the action ground on I found the characters’ all-too-familiar tics wearing on me – Adele’s nihilistic self-loathing, Daniel’s cheerful shallow bloodymindeness, Hogg’s bumpkin shtick, Miranda the ever-perfect girlfriend. The cardboard NPCs seem flatter than ever. The series always had strong elements of formula, but now Drake mostly seems to be just repeating himself. Even the battle scenes are rather perfunctory.

This is not a book that will draw in people who aren’t fans of its prequels. I’ll read the next one, but if it isn’t dramatically improved I’m done. Perhaps Drake is tiring of the premises; it may be time for him to bring things to a suitably dramatic close.

100 thoughts on “Review: Sea Without A Shore

  1. The later books in the series are made up of one ‘tough gal whups macho man’ substory after another. Not my cup of tea, as an unrelieved series. Drake’s early stories were horror stories with ‘adventure story’ characters. Well, so is combat footage. And Drake’s style is like nobody else- maybe if Ronald Syme had a love-child by Chuck Yeager?

  2. Sounds better than “Gor” though!

    I just read myself to sleep with Hal Clements’ “Mission of Gravity”.

    Talk about world-building!

  3. I read six or seven of the earlier RCN books, but haven’t caught the most recent ones. They are enjoyable, but take some adjustment to do so.

    Drake’s sources are historical, and not just Aubrey/Maturin. He delves rather deep to find things he can transcribe to an SF setting.

    The biggest problem for me in the RCN series is the setting. He postulates a future Earth largely destroyed by catastrophic war, and mankind out among the stars, with two major polities in that neck of the galaxy: the Republic of Cinnabar and the Alliance of Free Stars. *Neither* is a very nice place. The Alliance, despite it’s title, is a dictatorship commanded by Guarantor Parra. The Republic has an elected Assembly, but power is concentrated in the hands of great families locked in a no-holds-barred struggle for dominance. The capital planet of Cinnabar has all the attractions of a snake pit, with all concerned in a constant effort to better their status by any means and look down on everyone else.. (And part of what Daniel and Adele have to deal with is internal power struggles that get in the way of effective response to external threats.)

    Unfortunately, this is a theme that carries through much of Drake’s work. He appears to have a rather pessimistic view of human nature with an underlying assumption that “People are fundamentally no damn good”. That sort of assumption gives me hives. He’s a good enough writer that I can tolerate it for the sake of the story, but there’s a limit to how far that tolerance extends. In the RCN series, the protagonists are likable, but pretty much everyone else *isn’t*, and the causes in which they labor aren’t worthy of the service they are called upon to provide.

    I can believe that the RCN series is essentially going through the motions at this point, but as long as they sell well enough, Baen will want more and give Drake money to write them. With luck, Drake will come up with another series Baen will buy, and this one can be retired. Meanwhile, it’s not like I haven’t got stuff to read.

  4. >The biggest problem for me in the RCN series is the setting.

    Agreed that the politics is nasty, but as a history buff myself I find Drake’s co-option of the late Roman Republic one of the more entertaining aspects. You can play the game of “what historical event is he pastiching here?” and Drake clearly wants you to.

    Corder Leary’s suppression of the Three Circles Conspiracy, for example (the event that orphaned Adele Mundy), is clearly intended to recall Sulla’s bloody proscriptions of 82BCE, and not so much the later and less intense purge under the Second Triumvirate (the one that killed Cicero).

    We can therefore say that Cinnabar is roughly where the Roman Republic was around 65-60BCE. Perhaps we can expect a recognizable version of the Catiline Conspiracy? The Caesar-equivalent should be a rising general/politician somewhere offstage.

  5. Ahh … if you find Drake’s RCN series off-putting, then please avoid either the “Hammer’s Slammers” series, or his “Warlords” series with Steven M. Stirling!

    I’ve been buying and reading “Stuff” from both authors for 20+ years, and some of us actually appreciate the “Grimmer Than Thou” genre.

    Oh, and never, NEVER read Stirling’s “DRAKA” series before Midnight.

  6. >Ahh … if you find Drake’s RCN series off-putting, then please avoid either the “Hammer’s Slammers” series, or his “Warlords” series with Steven M. Stirling!

    Tried reading some of Hammer’s Slammers. It’s what put me off Drake in the first place.

    >Oh, and never, NEVER read Stirling’s “DRAKA” series before Midnight.

    The Draka books were (not quite as) nasty, and were rendered sufficiently interesting by the worldbuilding.

  7. Hammer’s Slammers is a nasty piece of work because war is hell. Especially for a mercenary.

    The Warrior is a thorough examination of the difference between a warrior and a soldier. There’s also a lesson in mercenary ethics, too. It’s hard to take, but a vivid lesson.

    I’ve been reading the RCN series in fits and starts. I don’t follow it as religiously as I do Honor Harrington, but it’s made my reading list consistently. I haven’t been all that satisfied with it lately, but it’s words in a row I don’t hate, so I’ll keep buying.

  8. >>Oh, and never, NEVER read Stirling’s “DRAKA” series before Midnight.

    >The Draka books were (not quite as) nasty, and were rendered sufficiently interesting by the worldbuilding.

    Have you read Matthew W. Quinn “Afrikanerverse” series, a rebuttal of sorts to “DRAKA”, from what I have heard (and good series on its own)?

  9. @Jay Maynard

    This time of year, do you hear people talking about “Peeps” and forget for a moment that’s the name of marshmallow birds?

  10. No, largely because I don’t hear people talking about Peeps.

    However, I do hear about Havenites in another context and have to remind myself that that’s not a cussword…

  11. >Have you read Matthew W. Quinn “Afrikanerverse” series, a rebuttal of sorts to “DRAKA”, from what I have heard (and good series on its own)?

    I have not. That sounds interesting.

  12. S. M. Stirling tends to write virtuous, thoroughly evil villains. They are hard working, industrious, and honest. The Draka make their surroundings as pleasant as they can. They are conservationists. He makes them likeable.

    Then they do something that has you hating the fact that you were cheering for them.

  13. @esr: “Agreed that the politics is nasty, but as a history buff myself I find Drake’s co-option of the late Roman Republic one of the more entertaining aspects. You can play the game of “what historical event is he pastiching here?” and Drake clearly wants you to.”

    I’m aware of the historical antecedents (and Drake often states them), but that doesn’t obviate my point. I compare Drake’s Republic of Cinnabar with David Weber’s Star Kingdom of Manticore. I could see myself living in the Star Kingdom, and putting on the uniform to defend it. It’s hardly perfect, but it tries to address its flaws. The Republic is largely unaware it’s flawed, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere within light years of it.

    (And you can make a case that the sorts of issues that beset imperial Rome carry through today. I often think of Italy as a country in name only, where primary loyalty is still to family, clan, and region, and the only common factor is that everyone speaks Italian. The internal conflict is less openly deadly, but still vicious. Years ago, I read an interview in the WSJ with a Turkish minister who said his country never developed the concept of the loyal opposition. If his party won the elections, and he became minister. he *had* to fire everyone who worked for his predecessor. If he kept them on, they would simply try to undermine his policies and pave the way for their own party’s return to power. I suspect that applies to Italy and other Mediterranean countries as well. )

    Like I said, I read the first 6 or 7 of the RCN books, but I think I’ll pass on the others. I have similar feelings about the Hammer’s Slammers series, though I liked them more than you did.

    I find Drake most readable teamed with someone else who can mitigate his weaknesses. For instance, I liked his “Belisarius” series co-authored with Eric Flint, which also draws heavily on history for inspiration. (And explores in detail the issues of trying to build a tech base from scratch when you have the comprehensive theory underlying the tech, but must create the infrastructure needed to build stuff using the tech. Like, Belisarius can’t use Gatling guns, because his artisans can make the guns, but *can’t* make the ammunition they use in sufficient quantity. He has to settle for the Mitrailleuse.)

  14. I read the first few Draka books but lost interest. Stirling’s Draka protagonists are intelligent, honorable, and even likeable as individuals The society they live in is another matter. The Draka divide humanity into themselves and slaves, and their goal is to enslave everyone. “Marching Through Georgia” has protagonists you root for. “Under the Yoke”, set in a Europe conquered by the Draka, will make you rethink those assumptions

    The Drake-Stirling collaboration “The Chosen”, in Drake’s “The General” series, was in part Drake exploring the implications of Stirling’s Draka books. (Drake didn’t think it would work the way Stirling postulated.)

    For what may be the ultimate take on that sort of thing, see Norman Spinrad’s _The Iron Dream._ The premise is alternate history. In Spinrad’s story, Adolph Hitler emigrates to the United States and becomes a pulp writer instead of going on to found Nazi Germany, and _The Iron Dream_ is a manuscript written by Hitler. The setting is a post disaster world, and the protagonist is a citizen of a state modeled after Prussia. The world had been savaged by a nuclear war, and the landscape is littered with ruins and beset my mutants controlled by evil Doms who wish to conquer the world. TID’s protagonist travels to the capital of his nation, joins the army, and is horrified by the corruption he sees around him. He sets out on a mission to purify first his nation and later humanity, purging the mutants and destroying the Doms controlling them. You start by rooting, but after a while you realize what you’re buying into. TID’s protagonist makes the real Hitler and the Nazi’s look like pikers.

  15. >I find Drake most readable teamed with someone else who can mitigate his weaknesses. For instance, I liked his “Belisarius” series co-authored with Eric Flint

    Agreed on both counts. Those books were most enjoyable.

  16. > “People are fundamentally no damn good”.

    Pretty much.

    If they’re not your tribe they’re prey.

    Welcome to History.

  17. @William O. B’Livion” “If they’re not your tribe they’re prey.”

    *Some* of us are at least starting to get beyond that notion. I have limited tolerance for settings where *nobody* has.

  18. > *Some* of us are at least starting to get beyond that notion.

    I don’t think so. I think they’re just expanding the tribes. What’s funny is that some of those tribes include other species, but exclude politically-incorrect humans.

  19. @The Monster: ” I think they’re just expanding the tribes.”

    You have to start the process of maturation *somewhere*.

  20. @ DMcCunney:
    > *Some* of us are at least starting to get beyond that notion. I have limited tolerance
    > for settings where *nobody* has.

    Nope, we’ve just increased the scope of what we consider “our” tribe.

    “We” (meaning not me) might still be a bit squeamish when members of not-tribe get killed in particularly brutality or gruesome ways, especially if it’s on a news program that coincides time wise with our consumption of the reproductive organs of vegetation and the flesh of dead not-tribespeople, but that’s mostly because we map those attacks back onto our tribe members and it bothers us.

    “We” generally (including me) shrug our shoulders and finish our repast, and later sleep soundly, rather than actually doing something useful about the genocide in Rwanda (and really all of Africa) or Putin or that nasty little fuck in N. Korea.

    I think L. Correia has the right idea in the Exodus organization.

    Or see the last two scenes in “Boondock Saints”.

    But we won’t because Tribe.

  21. I think there should be a law against any series lasting more than, say 8 books. Yes, yes there were almost a dozen Hornblower books and almost two dozen Aubrey books. But sheesh, take the Safehold series: we’re up to book seven and still nowhere near the temple much less anywhere close to the Gbaba story.

    And if your character makes Admiral in TWO space navies it’s time to retire her and the series.

  22. I make a distinction between “starting to get beyond the notion that non-tribe-members are prey,” and “expanding the scope of who is a tribe member.” The former is a virtue. The latter is dangerously wrong-headed.

  23. @Deep Lurker

    The reality is that the latter is all that most people are capable of. And really, it’s not their fault. The proverbial Ancestral Evolutionary Environment was small tribal bands of hunter-gatherers. Dividing the world into “members of my band” and “everything else” when it comes to ethics had definite evolutionary advantages.

    It has taken a lot of effort to get people to expand the size/scope of their tribes into the thousands and millions, and in a few cases billions. Trying to get them to discard the idea of tribes entirely is probably one of those things that sounds really good in theory, but reality keeps getting in the way.

  24. >I make a distinction between “starting to get beyond the notion that non-tribe-members are prey,” and “expanding the scope of who is a tribe member.” The former is a virtue. The latter is dangerously wrong-headed.

    The former is a nice idea but incredibly difficult to do. And ironically, the closest we’ve come to making is work is the US (all you have to do is live by a couple of pretty simple ideas and you’ll fit right in), which every right-thinking person despises. And every right-thinking person inside the US is trying to ruin.

    The latter may be slow and unsatisfying, but on the plus side it’s been shown to be doable. Getting it past ‘ethnically homogenous kingdom/nation-state’ is proving a little difficult, though.

    And as always, your main opponent in creating a better system will be human nature.

    Back to the original topic, you may find the politics of the RCN universe unpleasant, but widening your experience base is generally educational. It’s one of those cases where reading fiction really is like reading a history lesson. Knowledge of history is a great leg up on understanding human nature.

  25. >>I find Drake most readable teamed with someone else who can mitigate his weaknesses. For instance, I liked his “Belisarius” series co-authored with Eric Flint

    >Agreed on both counts. Those books were most enjoyable.

    I wouldn’t call them ‘weaknesses’ so much as differences in personal taste caused by differences in presentation and style. I greatly enjoyed the ‘Belisarius’ books, but I also greatly enjoy Drake’s different style. Drake also gets grimmer (see the ‘Reaches’ books, or maybe the ‘Northworld’ books), and also can tone it down somewhat for a wider audience (‘Lord of the Isles’ books).

    Of course the ‘Lord of the Isles’ books still have Ilna who, like Mundy in the RCN books, contains major autobiographical elements.

  26. > I think there should be a law against any series lasting more than, say 8 books.

    I wanted to point to “The Lost Fleet” military SF series by John G. Hemry under the pen name Jack Campbell… but it is “only” 6 book long (well 6 + 1 = 7 that I have read, and can say that they are good).

  27. @Greg: “The former is a nice idea but incredibly difficult to do”

    Only if you mistake “make everyone a tribe member” for it. There’s a large middle ground between treating all strangers as either automatically dangerous enemies or prey to be exploited, and treating all strangers with the generosity and trust appropriate to members of ones tribe.

    When ESR fed the elephant (as he described in another thread) this didn’t make him part of the elephant’s herd, and it didn’t make the elephant part of ESR’s tribe. Instead it was an example of two strangers dealing with each other on a basis other than prey-predator.

    If it’s possible to do this between widely-separated members of mammalia then it ought to be possible to do this routinely within the human species – as long as one doesn’t take the false step of attempting to produce the result by attempting to make the human species into a single tribe.

  28. >Only if you mistake “make everyone a tribe member” for it. There’s a large middle ground between treating all strangers as either automatically dangerous enemies or prey to be exploited, and treating all strangers with the generosity and trust appropriate to members of ones tribe.

    Er, no. It’s still incredibly difficult to do, as the persistence, no, dominance of amoral familism as a method of social organization across entire continents will attest.

    You seem to be operating under several misconceptions.

    ‘Make everyone a tribe member’ is a *terrible* idea, least of all because human nature won’t allow it. In our current world that sort of bad idea is the trademark of various utopian fools, almost universally leftist. One flavor of such fool currently gets labeled tranzi. Others, esr has talked about.

    The US ideal isn’t that. We take the idea of civil society, and trust groups based on affinity not blood, and expand it to the whole idea of nationhood- our nationhood is an affinity group based on holding certain ideas. It’s easy to get in the group, no blood ties needed just affinity, and anyone not in the group is simply not in the group, i.e. not trusted. (Individualism plays a large role in all this.) Big difference from ‘enemy’ or ‘prey’. Those with utopian univeralist and/or utopian collectivist dreams hate this.

    >When ESR fed the elephant (as he described in another thread) this didn’t make him part of the elephant’s herd, and it didn’t make the elephant part of ESR’s tribe. Instead it was an example of two strangers dealing with each other on a basis other than prey-predator.

    You’re reading way too much into the ability to strike localized truces. Note that esr’s truce with the elephant was *necessary* because the base assumption is that esr and the elephant could, and very likely would, be a threat to one another unless they worked something out.

    >If it’s possible to do this between widely-separated members of mammalia then it ought to be possible to do this routinely within the human species

    As I said, you’re reading too much into it. It can be and is routinely done (localized truces) even in conditions where the default is to assume non-tribe = prey. What you seem to be pushing is something akin to multiculturalism. As in, you still have traditional tribes, but they’re all somehow accepting of one another.

    Problem is, those truces remain temporary and shaky and fall apart when there is any shock to the system. Then you have Yugoslavia in the 90′s. Those truces remain temporary, that is, until you do something more fundamental, chance the basic background conditions by altering the nature of ‘tribe’ and lighting-rodding the energies surrounding the concept.

    This would be a good spot to start talking about societal trust levels and how useful and valuable high trust is. The traditional way (still hard-wired into us) to achieve it is ethnic homogeneity. (It’s what allows the limited enlargement of tribe to kingdom/nation size to work.) Civil society makes trust possible without blood ties. Multiculturalism lowers societal trust.

    >as long as one doesn’t take the false step of attempting to produce the result by attempting to make the human species into a single tribe.

    Yes, trying to fit the square human peg into that round whole would indeed be terrible. People who try hard enough to do that often end up having to kill the uncooperative by the millions.

    Pardon if that comes across as a bit disjointed and elliptical, I didn’t want to write an essay.

  29. >Multiculturalism lowers societal trust.

    Anyone who doubts this should Google for “Robert Putnam multiculturalism” for more. Putnam sat on his results for years because he hated their political implications.

  30. >Yes, trying to fit the square human peg into that round whole would indeed be terrible.

    Please forgive that pun. I changed the spelling back and forth like 4 times….

    To help clarify that last rambling post, saying ‘sure what if we still have blood-bound tribes, why can’t they just get along?’ is a non-starter. Why should they? Why would they want to? It’s contrary to human experience. In good times they might form truces, but when times turn bad what could possibly maintain the peace? Nothing.

    You might say, they just need to get to know one another…. Sure. Members of different tribes find they have interests in common, with that icebreaker they get to know one another, they bond… *bam* aside from a bad movie trope, it’s also the beginning of civil society. You now have a non-blood-based affinity group based on a shared, common interest. People in that group will have a positive reason not to fight that isn’t based on being kin. The *only* long-term workable method of peace between groups lacking blood ties we have found, is to de-emphasize the blood-bound groups (aka tribes), and let the affinity groups take their place (both in society and in people’s minds and hearts) and consume their oxygen.

    Tolerating the existence of tribes (multiculturalism), or permitting them to reform (identity politics) actively destroys the peace that civil society creates.

  31. Anyone who doubts this should Google for “Robert Putnam multiculturalism” for more. Putnam sat on his results for years because he hated their political implications.

    Well, it’s impossible to avoid multiculturalism in the US at this point. 17% of the US population self identify as German American. 12% as Irish American. Amusingly my kids practice in the same gym space as a Chinese-American clogging group.

    13% identify as African-American. 5.1% as Asian American. 16.9% as Hispanic.

    In comparison China is 91% Han Chinese. I can tell you that the level of societal trust is much lower in China than in the US.

    In any case, you better hope that multiculturalism is an advantage rather than a disadvantage otherwise you should start learning Mandarin. Because wishing for a culturally homogeneous US is simply not in the cards.

  32. as long as one doesn’t take the false step of attempting to produce the result by attempting to make the human species into a single tribe.

    Humans will come to the belated realization that we are actually one tribe about 5 minutes before aliens wipe us out with a large rock.

  33. >In any case, you better hope that multiculturalism is an advantage rather than a disadvantage

    What matters is what is true, not what we would like to be true. My hopes don’t enter into it.

  34. What matters is what is true, not what we would like to be true. My hopes don’t enter into it.

    What is “true” is that the US has been more competitive than any mono-cultural society despite being considered a mongrel society from the get go. Folks have been whining about the negative influences of swarthy folks on American society since Ben Franklin bitched about Germans “herding together” and clinging to “their language and manners to the exclusion of ours”.

    I like our odds vs China. So I’ll see Greg’s Yugoslavia and raise him a United States.

  35. Tolerating the existence of tribes (multiculturalism), or permitting them to reform (identity politics) actively destroys the peace that civil society creates.

    Somehow I don’t get the impression that you are railing against St Patty’s day here…despite the fact many of the same things were said of the Irish back when.

  36. >Somehow I don’t get the impression that you are railing against St Patty’s day here…despite the fact many of the same things were said of the Irish back when.

    I find it moronic and distasteful. Honestly, having lived the first 3/4 of my life in NYC and Boston, I have a pretty low opinion of the American Irish, as a group. Sorry if that offends anyone. (And yes, I know better than to prejudge. I’m allowed to accumulate observational data, though.)

    But that sort of silliness was much easier to tolerate when we actively pushed assimilation. We could afford it. Now? Well it’s still silly. And it’s a paper cut compared with the other things we’re doing to ourselves.

    My fathers family were all German, and recent immigrants in early 20th Century NYC. They got assimilation, right in the teeth. And I’m proud to say you don’t still find barely assimilated German ghettos, unlike some other groups you’ve chosen to use as examples. :)

  37. nht:
    How many of those 17% of the US population that identify as “German American” can actually speak German, or even understand it? And how many listen to polka music? Or Herbert Groenemeyer?
    I myself could much easier identify as a “US Austrian” :)

    In former Yugoslavia, the ethnic groups defined themselves along clearly recognizable lines (language, religion) that separated them, and they never had something besidesTito to keep them united. The war was more inevitable than the War Between The States.

    There is a big difference between multiculturalism and a unified culture formed from diverse roots. France today is the former, the US the latter.
    As soon as the US people forget that, their community will go down, most probably in flames.

  38. > ‘Make everyone a tribe member’ is a *terrible* idea, least of all because human nature won’t allow it. In our current world that sort of bad idea is the trademark of various utopian fools, almost universally leftist. One flavor of such fool currently gets labeled tranzi. Others, esr has talked about.

    It sounds like we’re in violent agreement, here.

    Part of the confusion might be because I don’t see “tribes” as necessarily being blood & kinship based – some of the things you call “trust groups based on affinity not blood” I consider to be examples of tribes, while others are not.

    Some of those affinity groups need to be tribe-like, in order to take the place of tribes in people’s hearts and minds, while others need to avoid being tribe-like, in order to avoid producing the same disasters as “make everyone a tribe member.”

  39. >It sounds like we’re in violent agreement, here.

    >Part of the confusion might be because I don’t see “tribes” as necessarily being blood & kinship based – some of the things you call “trust groups based on affinity not blood” I consider to be examples of tribes, while others are not.

    >Some of those affinity groups need to be tribe-like, in order to take the place of tribes in people’s hearts and minds, while others need to avoid being tribe-like, in order to avoid producing the same disasters as “make everyone a tribe member.”

    Oh, OK I’m more than happy to go along with that. Tribe-like, up to a point- your tribe-like thing can command loyalty, life and death sentimental kind of loyalty, but the point being it can’t do so exclusively (deadly reg flag there). Some institutions and organizations need that to function.

    Oh and a caveat about the word ‘tribe’ itself – it’s kind of a loaded word, ‘tribalism’ is a big dangerous thing ongoing problem in the world right now and always involves the specific ‘ties of kinship big extended family’ meaning of ‘tribe’ with the accompanying amoral familism behaviors.

    So I’d ask we be careful using it for anything more figurative, unless we make that clear in advance. Confuses me. :)

  40. >What is “true” is that the US has been more competitive than any mono-cultural society despite being considered a mongrel society from the get go.

    I think you have this analyzed wrong. The U.S. has been at its most successful when it was multi-ethnic but mono-cultural, at least in what Americans aspired to be if not in what they actually were.

    This system went off the rails when our political/media/academic elites became disdainful of or actively hostile to “American” culture; you can chart the progress of this development by the emergence of the terms “middlebrow”, “counterculture” and (later) “flyover country”. We haven’t quite lost the ability to assimilate immigrants, but our elites seem increasingly determined to throw that ability away.

  41. There is a big difference between multiculturalism and a unified culture formed from diverse roots. France today is the former, the US the latter.

    Yes, because France should be our role model.

  42. My fathers family were all German, and recent immigrants in early 20th Century NYC. They got assimilation, right in the teeth. And I’m proud to say you don’t still find barely assimilated German ghettos, unlike some other groups you’ve chosen to use as examples. :)

    The irish? Or Chinese? Not aware of any ghettos left for them. Some Hispanic groups are the current wave of immigrants. Most work damn hard just like the prior waves of immigrants.

    And as a 2nd gen I can say that assimilation still occurs rapidly today. Keeping a bit of heritage is harder than losing it. Speaking only English is not much of a virtue. I wish my kids would learn Spanish.

    I figure English, Spanish and Chinese will cover the bases well enough.

    As an aside, being assimilated did the Japanese-Americans very little good in WWII.

  43. I think you have this analyzed wrong. The U.S. has been at its most successful when it was multi-ethnic but mono-cultural, at least in what Americans aspired to be if not in what they actually were.

    You mean the last several decades have not been Pax Americana? Exactly when has this insidious rot set in?

    This system went off the rails when our political/media/academic elites became disdainful of or actively hostile to “American” culture; you can chart the progress of this development by the emergence of the terms “middlebrow”, “counterculture” and (later) “flyover country”. We haven’t quite lost the ability to assimilate immigrants, but our elites seem increasingly determined to throw that ability away.

    You know that Ben Franklin wasn’t expounding on his distaste for German immigration because everyone agreed with his position right? There has been nothing written here that was not written in the 1700s.

    “Few of their children in the country learn English … The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.”

    http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/letter-to-peter-collinson/

    Only the signs in our streets are both English and Spanish now in some places rather than English and German. Somehow I think we’re going to continue to thrive.

  44. >You know that Ben Franklin wasn’t expounding on his distaste for German immigration because everyone agreed with his position right?

    The difference was that Ben Franklin was hostile to the immigrants’ culture; today, American elites tend to fetishize immigrant diversity while expressing hostility to native-borns at similar SES and educational levels – the “What’s the matter with Kansas?” syndrome. I doubt this will end well.

  45. I liked a couple of Drake’s earlier novels quite a bit. The Dragon Lord was a grim take on Arthuriana from before grim was quite so much of a cliche. The two main characters are thugs, but not quite so thuggish as the nobility, and there’s some clever magic. Dragons can’t live in our universe, but you can get something that looks and acts like a dragon by getting a appropriate set of momentary slices of dragons from their native universes. (Drake doesn’t even try to describe the interface for that sort of magic, and just as well.)

    Birds of Prey is archetypal kitchen sink science fiction. You start out with a noir character– the last honest man in corrupt ancient Rome, some sort of Imperial investigator. The situation is improved with a pliseosaur in the Tiber. The pliseosaur is a side effect of the time travel which brought in a policewoman from the far future to fight off an alien menace. More people should write that sort of thing.

    I liked it better than Hammer’s Slammers because it seems to me that Drake’s world-building lacked detail and richness (he may have improved), but he’s a researcher and can do well in a historical setting.

    I had fun with _Drakon_, but that was a solo Draka. I’ve seen a claim that the Draka backstory doesn’t make sense because a slave society wouldn’t be that inventive. On the one hand, Rome managed to be inventive, but I’m not sure how much of that was Greek slaves, nor whether Rome was as thoroughly a slave society as Draka.

  46. @Nigel:
    >Well, it’s impossible to avoid multiculturalism in the US at this point. 17% of the US population self identify as German American. 12% as Irish American. Amusingly my kids practice in the same gym space as a Chinese-American clogging group.

    >13% identify as African-American. 5.1% as Asian American. 16.9% as Hispanic.

    Those are ancestral ethnic identifications, not cultural identifications. I’m mostly German by anscestry, but I have far, far, far more in common culturally with the average Irish-American (or , very likely, any of the other groups you mentioned, except possibly in the case of very recent immigrants) than either of us have with our anscestors’ homelands, either when they immigrated or now.

    A monoculture is desirable so that everyone is on the same wavelength. The problem is that many of the people who want a monoculture want it to be static and identical to their own culture, now and forevermore, rather than having a dynamic monoculture that is continually changing under the influence of new immigrants.

    >You mean the last several decades have not been Pax Americana? Exactly when has this insidious rot set in?

    Pax Whereverana tends to be exactly when insidious rot tends to set in, because during such a time, a nation tends to have enough forward momentum to dampen the immediate consequences of bad decisions, and enough pride in having achieved Pax Whereverana to think that it is something special in history and is immune to the forces that brought down its forbears.

  47. Yes, because France should be our role model.

    So you obviously like slums where the police do not dare to go?

  48. >I’m mostly German by anscestry

    Interesting data point: if you go by surnames, descendants of Germans turn out to be the single largest white ethnic group in the U.S., outnumbering descendants of English settlers (and apparently rather larger than Nigel’s 17% — this is probably because many ethnic Germans identifiable by surname no longer self-identify as German-descended).

    Alas, my source for this was a series of color-coded ethnic-distribution maps that didn’t give percentages; they were more concerned with showing the geographic distribution of dominant ethnic groups. Outside cities (and inside many of them) the U.S. is mainly German-colored, especially north of the Mason-Dixon line.

    Not that this means much, culturally pretty much all of those “Germans” are now Anglophones and as you say pretty much indistinguishable from the English, Irish, or other long-settled white ethnic groups. Though I gotta say I suspect we still produce a bit more than our share of the U.S.’s engineers. OK, maybe a lot more.

    (Yes, I have a French last name and other strains in my ancestry, but most of my ancestors seem to have been either French-speaking ethnic Germans from Alsace-Lorraine or German Swiss.)

  49. Naw, American engineers aren’t like Germans. No American would have come up with cmake.

  50. So you obviously like slums where the police do not dare to go?

    What? Like Cité de 4,000? A no-go zone for French police except in large numbers until the situation was semi-resolved by the simple expedient of tearing down all of the buildings?

    Voila, no more problem.

    Tell me that there aren’t over 100 Zones de Sécurité Prioritaires and there are not over 700 Zones Urbaine Sensibles.

    Go ahead, pull the other one.

  51. Those are ancestral ethnic identifications, not cultural identifications. I’m mostly German by anscestry, but I have far, far, far more in common culturally with the average Irish-American (or , very likely, any of the other groups you mentioned, except possibly in the case of very recent immigrants) than either of us have with our anscestors’ homelands, either when they immigrated or now.

    By the fourth generation or so everyone is pretty much the same way. There are a couple of exceptions but they aren’t composed of voluntary immigrants.

    The complaints in 1730 are not much different than today, and I believe that there were probably just as many “misguided” elites in Franklin’s day (as a percentage) as today.

    What makes anyone think that we are are the precipice of social disaster?

    Because this large wave of immigration is not European?

    Pax Whereverana tends to be exactly when insidious rot tends to set in, because during such a time, a nation tends to have enough forward momentum to dampen the immediate consequences of bad decisions,

    But the point remains that there is no nation in the last few decades as culturally diverse as ours and no nation as successful despite nearly 300 years of this terrible multicultural situation.

  52. >But the point remains that there is no nation in the last few decades as culturally diverse as ours and no nation as successful despite nearly 300 years of this terrible multicultural situation.

    You’re missing the point Jon and I and others have been making. It’s been 300 years of multiethnicity, not multiculturalism.

  53. The author of Albion’s Seed (a book about the specific regions of the British Isles which supplied immigrants to the US, and the ongoing cultural effects of their various cultures) said something about taking on the more challenging topic of doing the same for other ethnic groups, but I haven’t heard anything about it since.

    I bet that German background makes a difference, even if it’s fairly subtle, and the original region of Germany makes a difference, too.

    I’m Jewish (half Lithuanian Jewish on both sides, and rest from the Ukraine, Bielorussia, etc.– all parts of the Lithuanian empire), and it makes a difference. On the other hand, there are aspects of traditional European Jewish culture which are quite alien to me, and I’d say I have more in common with the average moderately Christian American.

    One advantage the US has other France in re Muslim immigrants is the lack of a policy. France put Muslim immigrants in high rise housing projects. In the suburbs. This is an excellent way to prevent assimilation.

    I think people who are worried about multiculturalism underestimate how attractive American culture is.

  54. You’re missing the point Jon and I and others have been making. It’s been 300 years of multiethnicity, not multiculturalism.

    If this is the case then why was Ben Franklin writing about German street signs and insular German communities?

    I didn’t miss your point. I disagreed and provided evidence to the contrary.

  55. I think people who are worried about multiculturalism underestimate how attractive American culture is.

    Yes. Although it does take a generation or two.

    Although the London bombers are obvious counterpoints as three of the four were born in England. Two with wife and kids (or on the way).

    I think that wigged people out as much as the bombings themselves. The profiles were surprising.

  56. >If this is the case then why was Ben Franklin writing about German street signs and insular German communities?

    Because Franklin underestimated the capacity of the U.S. as it was then to assimilate immigrants. To be fair, he had better reason to be nervous than similar worriers 50 or 100 years later – in Franklin’s time the national culture of the U.S. was just being formed and had much less authority than it would later acquire.

    In the presence of a strong national culture and an ethos that favors assimilation to it, German street signs and parallel phenomena don’t last – Germans like my ancestors assimilate rapidly. Where I live in Pennsylvania many even took Anglicized names to go with their new language. The street signs are long gone, though detectable traces of immigrant-German culture persist in rural architecture, local food, and some Pennsylvania dialect features.

    Franklin fretted because he did not have enough experience of this to predict how rapidly these immigrant enclaves would dissolve. Reasonably so; the assimilation machine, didn’t crank into high gear until the 1830s 40 years after Franklin’s death.

    Today it’s compromised because our politico/cultural elites no longer have the will to turn the crank. The push for bilingual education, “celebrate diversity”, and high school dress rules that ban American flags (but not Mexican ones!) comes from above, not from popular feeling.

  57. >I bet that German background makes a difference, even if it’s fairly subtle,

    I think it does, too, but I don’t know how the difference is transmitted. My father was one of the earliest computer programmers; his father was a railroad engineer back when that was a high-tech job. That’s three generations of engineers right there, and the U.S. percentage of Germans and Schweitzerdeutsch in skilled technology trades like master machinists has always been high.

    My best guess is that immigrant notions about high-value occupations may persist by familial transmission after more overt ethnic traditions have faded out. If this is true we should, for example, see descendants of fully-assimilated Jews remain overrepresented in law and medicine. And a lot of policemen and priests with Irish last names even after their families’ Irish ethnic identity has otherwise dissolved.

  58. Nigel, at this point, I don’t think there’s much point in studying terrorists. They seem to be like ordinary people, though I suspect they’re more gullible/trusting/compliant than most. The people I want to know something about are the recruiters.

    Franklin (and a lot of contemporary immigration-panickers) probably don’t understand that the older generation doesn’t assimilate all that well, but their kids do.

  59. An interesting data point regarding german engineering is there is no licensing for it in germany, so obviously that is where they get the reputation for being the most incompetent engineers, right?

    Oh wait…

  60. I know from the stories my father told me about his grandfather coming home from school, reverting to German, and being told by my his father (my great-great grandfather) “No, Karl, we’re in America now. We speak English.” I wrote a rather lengthy article expounding upon that attitude and others. I think it still holds up.

  61. @esr
    “Franklin fretted because he did not have enough experience of this to predict how rapidly these immigrant enclaves would dissolve. Reasonably so; the assimilation machine, didn’t crank into high gear until the 1830s 40 years after Franklin’s death.”

    “Today it’s compromised because our politico/cultural elites no longer have the will to turn the crank.”

    Things are more complicated. There is quite a large body of literature about the birth, displacement, and death of languages.
    http://www.researchgate.net/publication/228845737_Language_birth_and_death/file/9c96052334fcb088c5.pdf
    (PDF)

    The choices for European immigrants to North America in the 18th and 19th century were very different than those of the Spanish speaking immigrants of today. It could very well be utterly impossible to extinguish Spanish in the USA. As world languages go, Spanish rivals English in every respect, and some 400 billion speakers live next door.

    I suspect that short of mass murder, it will be impossible to stop Hispanic immigrants from speaking Spanish among themselves.

  62. I was getting ahead of the times. Until we colonize the stars, it should read:
    “As world languages go, Spanish rivals English in every respect, and some 400 million speakers live next door. “

  63. @foo Quuxman

    The problem is not that the Germans are incompetent, quite to the contrary.

    They are so good that they accept nothing below (what they see as) perfect, which means that most of the time they don’t get anything done, and when, it’s an abomination. Think SAP.

    The times when the Wirtschaftswunder was built on a very simple car design (the Beetle had just 2 (two!) electric motors) are long past.

    It is one of the reasons why, in the corporation I am working in, it is us Austrians supplying part of the world wide business software. The Germans would still be hammering out the requirements, after 15 years.

  64. >The problem is not that the Germans are incompetent, quite to the contrary.

    Your sarcasm detector failed.

  65. They are so good that they accept nothing below (what they see as) perfect, which means that most of the time they don’t get anything done, and when, it’s an abomination. Think SAP.

    The times when the Wirtschaftswunder was built on a very simple car design (the Beetle had just 2 (two!) electric motors) are long past.

    I was once told a story about the differences between the Rheinmetall 120mm gun barrel built by the Germans for their Leopards and those built by the US for our M-1s. The Germans built theirs to such high tolerances that nearly every barrel came out of their production process in spec. We built ours to tight but still much looser tolerances that saw a few percent not meet spec. We simply discarded those.

    Our way was evidently cheaper.

    The gun itself has similar differences. We use a spring recoil system. They use hydraulic.

    The difference between the best gun possible and the best gun possible with fewer moving parts, lower cost of production and higher reliability.

    Having owned a Porsche and the associated costs of maintenance I think I prefer Japanese engineering when I have to foot the bill.

  66. One does not grok German engineering in fullness until one has worked on German and American (or Japanese) cars.

    To bring up just one example: Americans and Japanese only give torque specifications for a few critical fasteners, like the ones that hold the cylinder head to the block. These exert a critical amount of clamping pressure on the gasket between the two, which is subject to combustion pressures and temperatures – so it matters.

    Germans – or at least Mercedes, the only ones I have personal experience with, though I have no reason to believe other German manufacturers aren’t the same way – specify torques on lots and lots of fasteners, many of which have no critical requirements at all.

    To a German, elegance in engineering is perfection, no matter the cost. There is no concept of “good enough”.

  67. @Nigel
    “Having owned a Porsche and the associated costs of maintenance I think I prefer Japanese engineering when I have to foot the bill.”

    Nowadays, the Germans do not compete so much in consumer goods, as in production facilities. The Chinese swamp the world with cheap goods, The Germans sell them the machines to produce the stuff.

    What will pay off in the long run is difficult to predict. But the Germans are currently very competitive in industrial hardware. And the earn money from the Chinese.

  68. @Jay Maynard
    Volkswagen is now the second biggest car maker in the world. Seems they do something right.

  69. People who buy cars aren’t generally the people who work on them, and the maintenance bills won’t hit for a few years after the purchase. It will be interesting to see if VW retains its position.

  70. @Jay Maynard
    It is not that VW is a recent entrant on the car market. They are very well known. They seem to do well in the used car market too (but I do not keep in touch with the car market).

    And Mercedes cars run for decades. They seem to fetch good prices used.

  71. Well, I’m certainly happy with the two Mercedes I own (though one of them, a 1983 380SL roadster, I’ve only had for a few weeks). On the other hand, I do a lot of the work on them myself. If I didn’t, the repair bills would eat me alive.

  72. I had a 1983 VW Rabbit GTi for nine years. I never should have sold that car.
    It did want its scheduled maintenance, though. Parts would fail on schedule.
    When the fuel gauge said “empty”, it meant it.

  73. esr, of course I caught the sarcasm. What I wanted to express is that the Germans have a tendency to stumble over their own perfection.

    My father was in the Luftwaffe in WW2 and had access to captured planes. His comments included:
    “They simply had holes in the sides of the B17 where the gunners would shoot their MGs. With a German plane, there would always be a moving canopy around the gun”
    “The slots between the wings and ailerons were big enough to put a hand into. With our Ju 88, you couldn’t fit a newspaper in there”
    “The cover of a German MG was routed out of an iron block, the same cover on an American MG was a piece of folded sheet metal”

    Of course the US was able to outproduce Germany and Japan.

  74. @Kurt B
    “Of course the US was able to outproduce Germany and Japan.”

    The USA could outproduce Germany and Japan whatever they would have done. And the USA+USSR out-manned Germany and Japan too.

    Germany would have to be very careful with their people lest they would run out of able soldiers. In the end, Hitler did not care, and Stalin could send in waves of material and men that would finally swamp the German armies.

    What I do not understand is how the German armies were able to hold out for so long while fighting on two fronts against enemies that outnumbered and outproduced them. The same for the Japanese. (this is not a rhetorical question, I really do not understand this)

  75. @kurt

    Of course the US was able to outproduce Germany and Japan.

    1939

    US Population: 132M
    US Steel production 51M tons

    German Population: 76M (includes Austria)
    German Steel production: 23M tons

    Japanese Population: 71M
    Japanese Steel production: 6M tons

    Not surprising that we could outproduce both Germany and Japan regardless of engineering style.

    The US is dominant in part because we’re #3 in pop and #3 in land mass. #4 in pop in 1930 behind China, India and Russia.

  76. > Not surprising that we could outproduce both Germany and Japan regardless of engineering style.

    Based on your numbers, the US (132M) produced 0.38 tons per capita, Germany/Austria 0.30, and Japan 0.08. Our population was less than theirs combined, and yet we produced nearly twice as much.

    So I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove with these numbers.

  77. >What I do not understand is how the German armies were able to hold out for so long while fighting on two fronts against enemies that outnumbered and outproduced them. The same for the Japanese. (this is not a rhetorical question, I really do not understand this)

    It’s not a mystery to students of military history. The Germans were much, much better at turning their limited resources into combat power than any of their opponents. Pound for pound they could out-fight anyone they faced, and thus had to be defeated by attrition.

    Their principal advantage was excellent tactical and operational doctrine. They wrote the book on modern tactics in the 1920s, so effectively that it hasn’t been superseded yet. They were able to execute on this because (a) they trained a lot of very good noncommissioned officers, and (b) their best fighting generals (the likes of Guderian, Rommel, and von Luck) outperformed their counterparts on the Allied side. The Germans also made excellent small-arms and artillery (the Sturmgewehr assault rifle was the father of many post-war weapons designs, notably including the AK-47 which was a near clone). Contrary to popular myth, the Germans did not have superiority in heavy weapons and logistics; their tanks were notably inferior to the Russians’ designs and they remained dependent on horse transport for moving supplies until the end of the war.

    After about 1942 U.S. small-unit and operational tactics began to catch up with German doctrine, but none of the other national armies adapted that fast. Eventually the Russians defeated them by sheer mass; the Western Front after Normandy was nearly a sideshow, important mainly because it kept the Russians out of Western Europe.

  78. Based on your numbers, the US (132M) produced 0.38 tons per capita, Germany/Austria 0.30, and Japan 0.08. Our population was less than theirs combined, and yet we produced nearly twice as much.

    So I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove with these numbers.

    Simple: It’s no surprise that we out produced them. We had as many people, more industry, more natural resources and plus nobody was bombing us.

    We could have built tanks and airplanes the same way as the Germans and still ended up with numerical superiority.

  79. It’s not a mystery to students of military history. The Germans were much, much better at turning their limited resources into combat power than any of their opponents. Pound for pound they could out-fight anyone they faced, and thus had to be defeated by attrition.

    Pound for pound the Poles did very well. If the Soviets hadn’t attacked they might have held out long enough for England to get her act together but probably not France.

    I’d probably bet on the Finns in a pound for pound match up in Finland.

  80. >Pound for pound the Poles did very well.

    That is true, but the near-suicidal bravery and stubbornness of their troops was wasted by antiquated doctrine and organization – still fielding hussars, for cripes’s sakes. Against tanks. No, they never tried an out and out countercharge, and there was one occasion on which they scored a partial success by taking an armored column in flank with cavalry. Still, they plain didn’t have the force mix or tactics needed to meet the Germans on equal terms.

    >I’d probably bet on the Finns in a pound for pound match up in Finland.

    I think that’s a much better cut at a counterexample. The Finns knew how to exploit their terrain and conditions much better than the Poles did and scored some notably lopsided victories with numerically inferior forces.

  81. > I think there should be a law against any series lasting more than, say 8 books.

    Counterexample:

    “Vorkosigan Saga” by Lois McMaster Bujold is 16 books strong + 6 short works… and is still great, and still interesting (a bit ago I have read “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance”).

  82. >You’re missing the point Jon and I and others have been making.
    >It’s been 300 years of multiethnicity, not multiculturalism.

    It’s both.

    Immigrants were “allowed” to keep their own culture IN THEIR OWN SPACES. This is why you have Chinatowns in, well, everywhere. Why you still see Polish writing on signs in the Lincoln Square area of Chicago. This is why “The Hill” in STL is still solidly Italian and Catholic and has some really awesome bakeries, restaurants.

    This is why prior to WWI the majority of the newspapers in the US were published in the German language.

    But people were *expected* to be fully functional in English and to operate in it outside their public spaces. They were expected (eventually) to adopt at least the surface affectations of the dominant culture.

    They were expected to send their children to public schools where they were expected to learn and operate in English, and the schools not only weren’t expected to pander to their “milk” language, it was actively discouraged.

    The second generation of European and Asian immigrants–even today–speak American English that is indistinguishable from (and in many cases better than) the non-immigrant population. This used to be true of all immigrants.

    20 years ago (a generation, or in some populations almost a generation and a half) my wife worked as a recruiter/trainer in Chicago. She worked with 2nd and *3rd* generation immigrants for whom english was a second language. They’d learned Mexican Spanish in their homes and in school were not expected to operate as fluently in the language that would allow them access to higher paying and more stable jobs. One of these people was in a community college and was being told how smart she was and how well she wrote etc. and was planning on Law School. My wife read one of her essays and was *horrified*. My wife has a degree from a state school, and I would read *her* essays and be horrified.

    So basically ethnicities were allowed to be Chinese/Hispanic/Italian in their private lives, but expected to be American in their public lives.

  83. >That is true, but the near-suicidal bravery and stubbornness of their troops was wasted by antiquated doctrine and organization – still fielding hussars, for cripes’s sakes. Against tanks. No, they never tried an out and out countercharge, and there was one occasion on which they scored a partial success by taking an armored column in flank with cavalry. Still, they plain didn’t have the force mix or tactics needed to meet the Germans on equal terms.

    Well lets put that in some context. As recently as 1920, the Poles had done fairly well in a largish war with cavalry as an important part of their forces.

    The years in between had seen a lot of changes that snuck up on everyone. Poland *had* tanks, and aircraft in respectable numbers, but they were pretty well obsolete. (That happened to everyone, too. Anything you bought you had to replace quickly in those years. They best aircraft of its type in the world introduced in 1935 could be easily be an antiquated death trap by early 1942….) They also, as esr points out, were behind in doctrine.

    The Germans did have technical superiority in aircraft, because their designs were newer and some of those designs were unusually good. German tanks of that period were not feared because of technical excellence or numbers, because the Germans had surprisingly few and most weren’t very good. Germany really hadn’t fully worked out the designs yet so most of the machines they had produced to that point were pretty much test-beds and training platforms – some of their best armor of the period was stolen from Czechoslovakia. Where the Germans shined was the way they *used* armor, integrated with tactical air support.

  84. >The irish? Or Chinese? Not aware of any ghettos left for them. Some Hispanic groups are the current wave of immigrants. Most work damn hard just like the prior waves of immigrants.

    The Irish. Have you *been* to Boston? Accidentally gone off the beaten trail in a townie neighborhood, or been to Southie?

    It’s funny, you use the Irish as an example of alarmism, how people made the same kinds of claims about lack of assimilation before and they were as wrong then as they’ll be now. But, regarding at least one group (the one you chose to use as an example!) those claims were correct. And you did it to yourself with the Saint Paddy’s thing.

    In an ethnic immigrant enclave, you’re going to have people who haven’t assimilated yet, who are poor, uneducated, can’t get by in the language/dialect/accent of the dominant culture, are forced to work menial jobs etc and generally shelter inside the bubble of the enclave. Yes, pretty much every group has fit that pattern at some point.

    With most groups, over time the occupants of the enclave assimilate, are able to succeed in the outside culture and either the enclave evaporates, or it gets preserved purely out of nostalgia. Whereas with other groups, the enclave *stays* marginalized, unassimilated, poor and economically failed in perpetuity. (The welfare state just makes it worse, and promotes various forms of social decay as well.) There are still Irish remnants of the latter in Boston, literally *centuries* later.

  85. >What I do not understand is how the German armies were able to hold out for so long while fighting on two fronts against enemies that outnumbered and outproduced them. The same for the Japanese. (this is not a rhetorical question, I really do not understand this)

    Nazi Germany PREPARED for the war from 1933 on. Their whole economy was dedicated to this, to a point where they were actually broke. Combine that with quasi-mandatory pre-military education of boys (Hitlerjugend) and many other activities (NSFK, NSKK), conscription and the fact that there still were many survivors of WW1 in officer and noncom (especially noncom) ranks who could train the conscripts to a level that no other army (maybe with the exception of Great Britain) had.
    On top of that, there was a new breed of commanders who created the principles of modern armoured warfare (Guderian, Rommel,…) and combined arms, which resulted in the “Blitzkrieg”.
    If it had not been for the delay caused by the Greek campaign, WW2 in Europe might have been over at the end of ’41, and most of Europe would have been under Nazi rule until the US started dropping nukes in WW3, which would have been inevitable, given the fact that the Nazi state was socialist and would run out of OPM sooner or later.

  86. @Winter:
    >What I do not understand is how the German armies were able to hold out for so long while fighting on two fronts against enemies that outnumbered and outproduced them. The same for the Japanese. (this is not a rhetorical question, I really do not understand this)

    In addition to what Eric mentioned, I think a huge part of it was that most of the allied production capacity was removed a great distance from the fighting. Figures that I’ve seen for the various combatant’s economies tend to indicate that the US was half or more of the allies production capacity through most or all of the war, and toward the end seems to have outproduced all combatants on *both* sides combined. But everything we produced had to be shipped overseas to reach the actual theaters of combat, and the allies minus the US had a much slimmer logistical advantage.

    On a related note: The Russians tend to complain, with some justification, that American treatments of the war tend to focus on the Western front, where the Americans were involved, rather than on the Eastern front, where most of the fighting in Europe actually occurred. But they tend to forget (and pretty much everybody else too, because logistics isn’t sexy) is the extent of the American logistical contribution to the war.

  87. @esr & others

    Thanks for the explanations. I have got an awful lot of information about WWII (growing up close to Germany). But there was preciously little about the tactical side. And also little about the Eastern front.

  88. >But they tend to forget (and pretty much everybody else too, because logistics isn’t sexy) is the extent of the American logistical contribution to the war.

    Indeed. The Russians won the war driving American trucks. The single most serious failure of the Kriegsmarine was that it didn’t sink enough of the convoys to Archangelsk.

    Now that I think about it, the effect of reopening a Western Front on the Germans’ already overstrained logistical capacity elevates it out of sideshow status, even if the casualties they took from it were minor in comparison to the bloodletting on the Eastern Front.

  89. >>I bet that German background makes a difference, even if it’s fairly subtle,

    >I think it does, too, but I don’t know how the difference is transmitted. My father was one of the earliest computer programmers; his father was a railroad engineer back when that was a high-tech job. That’s three generations of engineers right there, and the U.S. percentage of Germans and Schweitzerdeutsch in skilled technology trades like master machinists has always been high.

    I think it’s more little cultural bits and pieces you take in, like mother’s milk, when you’re small. Something as simple as the attitude regarding the concept of ‘good enough’ that you are exposed to at a critical formative age (like 3-5), can have a major lasting influence throughout your life.

  90. >Combine that with quasi-mandatory pre-military education of boys

    It is worth noting that this was effective, and the results it produced. German line troops never quite matched American line troops for tactical initiative and cleverness, but they were a close second relative to the other national armies. They were tougher under fire than anyone but the British, and almost as obedient to command as Russians. This combination of traits, led by experienced NCOs, was what made them so difficult to beat at small-unit levels.

  91. @Jakub Narebski

    I agree Lois McMaster Bujold is still going strong. I enjoyed the fuller portrait of Ivan in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance myself.

    Third in line for the throne of Barrayar. Second, in the eyes of all the “mutant” haters. Knew it would be all too easy to provoke another civil war.

    Bujold has said that she alternates drama and comedy. Perhaps that helps her keep it fresh.

  92. @Jakub Narebski
    > I think there should be a law against any series lasting more than, say 8 books.

    Counterexample:

    “Vorkosigan Saga” by Lois McMaster Bujold is 16 books strong + 6 short works… and is still great, and still interesting (a bit ago I have read “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance”).

    LMB has made it pretty clear that she’s done with the Vorkosiverse at this point – at least unless inspiration suddenly strikes. The last 2 books tied up all sorts of loosish ends and I suspect the only way we’ll see another is if we get a jump of a couple of decades to Miles’ children

  93. To go back to the original review. I got the feeling that by the end of the book that Drake may have run out of inspiration on this series and sort of provided hint of closure. It looks like Daniel will retire to Bantry and marry and settle down as an extremely rich country squire for example.

    OTOH I would like to see him expand on the tantalizing hints of pre-human civilizations that we get thoughout all the books.

    Alternatively we’re being set up for Daniel turns into Caesar

  94. I was hoping the Vorkosiverse series would continue up till Miles’ death. I don’t have anything against Miles, but taking the story that far seemed consistent with Bujold’s respect for the real world.

    Pratchett is another author who’s kept a long series in good shape, to some extent by have a troupe of main characters rather than a single main character.

  95. One note:
    The german economy was certainly not on a war footing from 1933. It in fact did not truly reach such a footing until 1943 or so, when damage from strategic bombing campaigns effectively forced the change. In fact one major problem the germans had was an utter lack of a war economy and most particularly rationalized development in production. This led one one hand to the problem with German tanks (way too many models, most with major development bugs) and their late war problems with fighter aircraft (using older designs which had long since hit their development wall due to the inability to effectively develop newer designs).

    The German economy was always very political, especially weapons development. A large amount of the problems german aircraft development had were due to political meddling, for example Germany never developed a functional heavy bomber in large part due to the requirement that all Luftwaffe bombers have dive bomber capabilities, which was in place until mid-war, this led to some absolutely stupid design decisions. Likewise a huge amount of resources were wasted on the Luftwaffe’s heavy fighter programs, which continued until the end of the war even though they were proven a disaster very early on during the Battle of Britain (luckily for the Germans, these fighters would prove effective as ground attack and/or night fighter aircraft, reducing but not eliminating the massive waste). And politically favoured designers were regularly promoted over more successful designers (Wily Messerschmidt for example produced only three really successful designs, the Bf108, Bf109 and Me262, but wasted billions on the Bf110 and its follow-on programs and the follow-on designs to the bf109, none of which were successful).

  96. The Irish. Have you *been* to Boston? Accidentally gone off the beaten trail in a townie neighborhood, or been to Southie?

    Last time I was in Southie it had been yuppified.

  97. And politically favoured designers were regularly promoted over more successful designers (Wily Messerschmidt for example produced only three really successful designs, the Bf108, Bf109 and Me262, but wasted billions on the Bf110 and its follow-on programs and the follow-on designs to the bf109, none of which were successful).

    You mean the most produced fighter and the first operational jet fighter?

    The Bf110 was Goring’s baby. The 109g wasn’t bad and used until the 50s in some air forces.

    Plus wily had pissed off milch in the 30s and wasn’t really on the christmas list for the Luftwaffe.

  98. On a related note: The Russians tend to complain, with some justification, that American treatments of the war tend to focus on the Western front, where the Americans were involved, rather than on the Eastern front, where most of the fighting in Europe actually occurred.

    That’s because had it not been for the US there would have been no eastern front. The Soviet economy would have collapsed without the massive infrastructure support sent over in terms is food, trucks, railroad engines, etc.

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