Bow Design

This is a fast index of information from various browsing of websites.

Beautiful bows, and discussion of some design strictures at Ballistik.
This guy Dave Canterbury at the pathfinder school shows how to shoot, teaches how to make a bow, and has pretty good physics (in addition to great technique) and beautiful craftsmanship as shown in these quivers and arrows..  Highly recommended, and there's a whole series of them.

Some terminology follows, not so much for the sake of the words, but the ideas behind them.

The "shelf" is to rest the arrow on. It's cut out so that the string travel is coaxial with the arrow. If you think about it, a bow without a cutout to pass the arrow simply can't have the string move in the same straight line as the arrow. The rightward translation of the arrow's nock during the thrust phase sets up a flexure that affects trajectory.

"Center Shot" refers to carving away the center of the riser so the arrow can rest directly in front of the string's direction of travel. This is funny because of the mis-use of that term in the movie Deliverance.

Brace height is the distance between the shelf of the strung bow and the string. Needs to be ~6", dunno why. Far enough to let the fletching fit, anyway. Not too far though because a longer stroke through the draw means more energy to put into the arrow.  On recurves, brace height will be smaller for the same length bow & preload.  We'll see why bigger is better later, in discussing springs and stacking.

Stacking is the term to describe increased draw weight through the length of the draw. Minimal stacking is best. A compound bow uses complex geometry to make the force actually go down towards the end of the draw. (I think you could even call that negative stacking, but the terminology is a bit fuzzy, IMO. I think they call negative stacking "let-off" on compounds.) A recurve bow, by flexing to change the virtual attach point, has less stacking  than a traditional longbow and will therefore store more energy (for the same max draw weight). With less stacking, the preload can be higher, so the integral through the draw will be, too. 

(I was going to post a link to the definitive comparative bow design site, but haven't found it!  Wow, there is a lot of bullshit on the internet about bow design & how to get energy into the arrow. Of course it's an (almost) simple integral of the draw force x length.  Only "almost" because the limbs are also being accelerated, so light limbs helps. Considering a compound makes clear the main elegant idea: there has to be force to deflect the string back, but it needn't be linear and indeed that's bad because your max force capability is at the beginning of the draw. (...and there's an accuracy cost to holding a heavy weight at the extremity of the draw.)  How then to proportionately increase the load early in the draw?  The obvious way is to make the spring physically BIG, so the fractional spring deflection & hence force change through your (fixed) draw length is small. Then biasing the load up is possible: if your draw weight goes from 40lb to 50lb through the stroke, that's a lot more energy than if it goes from 25lb to 50lb.

We can probably imagine bows as linear springs with regards to bending vs force. How does recurve geometry make this linear spring behave differently? One way to think of the tip of the limb of the recurve is like a sort of big wheel (or cam!) off which the string rolls. This has a tendency, through the early part of the draw, to raise the contact point and thus retard the decrease of the angle between the string and the direction of the arrow. In the limit, you could imagine the string geometry at (say) 4" and 5" of draw being parallel. If you then provide the same force over a longer lever arm, hence greater bending moment, you're doing what's necessary to have deflected the limbs more. Viola, zero "stacking" which is the benefit we're looking for!. Also at the beginning of the draw you are not bending the terminal few inches of the limb: it's purely in compression.  That offers the possibility of variable spring constant as different parts of the wood are successively loaded.  They're all tapered, likely mostly for reasons of bending moment (builds towards center) and speed (heavy limbs absorb energy) but as a possible consideration, softer tips would again reduce stacking if geometry keeps them out of play until late in the draw.  This is all just reasoning so far. As noted, I'm finding zip on the internet.  I've got to think more about this though, to describe it better: maybe later. (comments solicited).

Fletching needs to pass the bow without strongly disturbing the tail of the arrow. Feathers are designed to collapse when this happens. I like the idea of removing one feather entirely. Per Marv Clyncke, "you can't shoot rubber off the shelf. Has to be elevated." Clyncke by the way is a fantastic guy, local, who sold Kevin & I bows from his phenomenal stockpile of traditional equipment. Here's a short video to give a sense of the guy.

Cross section (my term) should be rectangular, or even I-beam in shape. Idea is to preclude limb flex in any direction but where you want, towards the arrow's nock. You can imagine a recurve bow is mechanically "unstable" in that it'd like to twist around & unload into it's unstrung shape.

Finally, this.

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of WorkShop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gonna be a good book.
I've hardly started but lots of positive reaction to this book already.

Early on we find the thesis, that processs optimization reduces work, especially white collar intellectual work, to mere clerking, removing the brains and the joy from it. This really strikes a chord with me because I've seen it come and go at various times in my career. A fellow described it to me late in my first job, that nobody should be deviating from the process. I was secretly revolted: I used my mind to advance the project: the company benefited from my thinking! I thought to myself. He was a monster. At another job I wrote in my notebook that people were knights, and I knew my boss believed it too. The monster's back. There is a tendency to worship process because it is the thing you can codify and rely on: safer than requiring great men & women to do heroic deeds. As a manager you can predict things better that way. Such managers will want fixed price contracts, whatever the cost, so there are no surprises.

I could take issue with parts of the book too. One example is the revelation that, with the industrial revolution well along, all manufacturing done on production lines, next brain work is being turned into clerking. Really? Hasn't it always been so? Crawford's choice of the noun "clerk" is strong enough to conjure up archetype Bob Cratchit, an example from the deep past, and it is by abstracting upward and compressing earlier knowledge into processable chunks that we make progress after all. I think we've always been doing that. Is Crawford's lament just one of finding himself on the supporting trunk of the forest rather than the vital growing tip of the tree's leafy extremity? We will not all get to be at the top.

Still I won't complain much. I can imagine a rewarding smithy, and an unrewarding investment fund boiler room, and I reacted with horror, this very week, when a human inadequacy, instead of being traced to it's responsible perpetrator, was ascribed automatically to imperfect adherence to the supposedly omniscient process, as though that could save us! Highlighting it's massive shortcomings is certain to launch a round of process improvement, instead of demoting the nincompoop who perpetrated the error. I need to think a little bit about how to turn this interaction, and this paragraph, into some more positive outcome.

I really liked an anecdote on p43 wherein he describes people, doing subsistence piece work at home, were counter-intuitively motivated to work less by increasing the unit price; pre-modern consumers, they didn't want more stuff as much as more leisure. Marketing soon fixed that, haha!

There's an undercurrent of political tension. On p 45, He notes "liberals" want to reduce teaching to standardized testing; "liberalism is by design a politics of irresponsibility." So there is some partisanship, unworthy of the book, and in this case I'd say just wrong. Political argument is so polarizing and contentious that it risks the thesis to introduce it like this (and there are several examples already.)

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Shooting the bow.

I've started letting the string inside (left) of my shooting eye. Subjectively or instinctively keeping the arrow pointed at the target seems to work; I'm doing ok, laterally. I expected some kind of right/left bias depend on a "strong" eye but maybe not, or maybe I'm just scattering them so much I can't tell yet.  Here's a recommendation to draw it to your nose!  After watching some examples on youtube, a lot of the good shooters seem to do it that way, and anchor under their chins, too. Centering the string on my eye was irritating and was a distracting effort.

Paying careful attention to the strength of my draw, I notice I tend to let off a little: I could draw more. When I do, it seems worth a foot of drop & I often overshoot the target.  Either way I hit my wrist with the bowstring pretty much every time. As far as range goes, that pretty much eludes me so far.

Here's another guy shooting with the nock well above his hand, looking right down the arrow.

Here's me, shooting.  This guy at witchery of archery talks about instinctive shooting a little.
As She Climbed Across the TableAs She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Terrific. Compelling. True. Sad.

I'll recommend you try not to read reviews, or even the jacket, because they give away too much. In particular, some of the early vocabulary sets the scene nicely but, armed with unwanted foreknowledge injected by reviews & such, somewhat obviously to me.

I suppose I will have an interesting conversation with Ben about whether this was scifi or not. I'll say it is because my only prerequisite is a scientifically grounded premise. After that a book can be and this one is, all about people. It's a sad, earnest love story and I read it without stopping.

... Spoilers below ...

Regarding the last pages, I anticipated an alternate ending I'd have liked better, where Philip crawls back OUT, and then the Lack closes with him the only person to claim ever to have crossed over, and even THAT could just be part of his hangover. Thereafter Alice hates him for killing her b/f and it's a sad ending. A stray damp cat footprint could be used to sway our reader's understanding of what really happened one way or another.

Oh, and under the great quotes section... Italian Physicist Braxia becomes my hero in the book when, quizzed on the metaphysics of the phenomenon, he simply says, "there are no metaphysics."

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Why I like "half-cocked" Jack Shaftoe

Here's an excerpt from the King of the Vagabonds. The scientist-mastermind is talking, just going off on some tangent, in a public square.

"Dyadic, or binary numbers,... ...But what I take away from the Chinese method of fortune-telling is the notion of producing random numbers by the dyadic technique, and by this Winkins's system could be incomprably strengthened." All of which was like the baying of hounds to Jack.
"He's rich," Jack muttered to Eliza...
"Yes - the clothes, the coins..."
"All fakeable."
"How do you know him to be rich, then?"
"In the wilderness, only the most terrible beasts of prey cavort and gambol. Deer and rabbits play no games."

The thing I love here is not only the last line (which is most excellent!), but how endearingly Stephenson makes us like the protagonist. He's all boy, straightforward to a fault: seeming almost a simpleton at times, unconsciously brave, impatient, and deeply perceptive. The guy is admirable, and all the more so because he does not think himself worthy of anything like that. He is earnestly self deprecatory, because he's unconscious of his merits. It's cute.
King of the Vagabonds (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1, Book 2)King of the Vagabonds by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To do justice to Neal Stephenson at his best is inevitably doomed to some form of stylistic copying or more ponderously yet, outright quotation. Instead I'll try to be brief. This book is very well written, in a tone I'll describe as Pratchett-Wallaceian, with humor you'll laugh over, poetic description you'll admire and innumerable sly historical tie-ins you'll catch delightfully, but only you're a nerd and that makes it even better.

Yes history: it's historical fiction, although the emphasis is on the fiction. Suffice it to say there is somehow, in reformation-era Europe, a dose of science, and even heroes thereof, and love and swashbuckling and fantastical romps through labyrinths. You can't beat it, really. Can I even describe it? Here goes:

Elizabethan era 007 makes reluctant rescues and demonstrates unintentional heroism, saving the future we now know as the past and vanishing without a trace, but he gets the girl so who needs a legacy?

Well, Stephenson has now given Jack Shaftoe that too. A fantastic read, and no, you needn't complete the somewhat ponderous precursor "Quicksilver" as prerequisite to your enjoyment.

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Backup for Kaigun: Chickens ARE Dinosaurs.

I've mentioned that Documentary Heaven is a good website, of movies worth watching. On that site, this show is an hour's archaeological examination of a single fossil. The main point, for my purposes, is the very likely fact that tyrannosaurs had feathers. As a secondary matter, they spent some time solving a mystery with a wind tunnel, using the foregone conclusion that the dinosaur must have flown (this fossil was very much chicken sized, not a t-rex) to ascertain how it's body must have been laid out. That was fun: a paleontological mystery with aerospace engineers cast as Sherlock Holmes.

The Grand Design

The Grand DesignThe Grand Design by Stephen Hawking

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First, to my physics friends, apologies for the likely sophomoric butchery that follows.

The book's about quantum mechanics, some relativity, some cosmology with lots of frosting and little cake. Nonetheless it's very filling and satisfying. That's because this book is written at a good level for me, namely simplistic, lots of analogies, smells of over-simplistic explanations.

Reading this, I'm made to think that my preferred mechanism for learning is successive passes through material, with ever greater granularity or "pressure" leaving big voids and bumps at first, but eventually smashing everything into flat comprehensibility at the end. Will I ever get there with quantum mechanics? Doubtful, frankly.

Re-cracking this book (just because I had nothing else to read last night) coincided with a SciAm article on string theory that drew inductive conclusions from linear, imaginary and then quaternion mathematics, citing 16 dimensional numbers as the next step, and infinite universes as a consequence if it's true.

Since I believe in the manifest and miraculous fact that mathematics actually works to describe the universe in which we find ourselves, I accept the inference, and expect & hope that someday we'll prove these universes are out there. That's really cool.

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Kaigun: Steampunk chapter 6

The Curator, 2017, Novosibirsk

In a dark corner of Kamchatka, in a dark corner of the Museum of Victory Against the Ravening Hun, Sergei Andropov worked alone. Deep in the “Cold War” against the lucky Americans, nobody had money for a vacation to visit the frozen pimple on the bum of Nowheresibirsk. Sergei smiled at his private joke. Nobody would get it but him. Nobody would understand an American pun.

He sighed. Realistically, he knew nobody would even come, ever. That there was a museum of any kind here was a testament to the grant writing prowess of some long dead overambitious apparatchik, a bureaucrat with a golden tongue and probably good party connections to boot. Not only was Novosibirsk out of the way, but civilization itself seemed to be falling into disrepair. Now his town had a large, bunker-like (as all buildings) unvisited equipment mausoleum which, truth be told, mothballed rather than displayed all these artifacts of earlier wars.

Quite an exotic collection! Dr. Andropov had trained in history and foreign languages, and had lead the museum’s procurement efforts during it’s heyday in the 1980’s. With a charter to specialize in warfare, and incisive understanding of European cultures, he’d tried to identify things uniquely Russian in design for the museum, an in consequence the collection tended to hyperbolic overdesign, simplicity, impracticality, and a complete lack of any concession to human frailties. There were insanely overpowered piston fighter planes sprouting propellers from both ends, lean ground to air missiles that could suss out the body heat of a chicken, and something describable only as a blunt copy of an American Jeep, over-heavy but with an undoubtedly deadly gatling gun mounted to its rollbar. Sergei was familiar with the American TV show that surely spawned this fighting vehicle.

There was a beautiful T-58 tank, squat and teardropped, impossibly heavy, like a fat tic the size of a cafe, only it could roll at 50km/hour, and had an elephant’s trunk of a weapon that could fire a radar homing missile or vomit a meteoric slug of spent plutonium a dozen miles into a target the size of a pretty girl’s backside. Mostly of milled titanium, the tank gave off a gray sheen of permanence like fine jewelry, and Sergei worked to keep it that way.

There was a six pack of suicide submarines, diesel powered with prehensile siphons that featured a flanged cutting bit that could twist and plunge, slowly reaming upward through polar ice pack. Sergei imagined their frozen hypoxic 3 man crews, working the manually actuated mechanism, thrusting at levers and springs in dark desperation, erecting a tube through which life would flow, the very existence of their heirs, the whole line of unborn progeny hanging in the balance, although success would only mean a chance to breathe another day and maybe glorious immolation on an unremarked beach by a Seattle Navy base. Somehow these subs didn’t catch Sergei’s attention here, 200 miles from ocean they seemed out of place and useless; he let them rust, just a little.

A modern version of one of those subs had actually succeeded, beginning the cataclysm, a war the Americans didn’t really think Russia would want, but they underestimated both desperation and fatalism of a people used to winning wars by starving and freezing slower than the other guys. Russia had lost the war’s first hot round in a sparkle of evaporating cities, but this round would be decades long, bullet-less, and fought each night when, in ramshackle cabins dotted across taiga not worth bombing, lonely farmers, trappers and museum curators boiled tea made from pine needles and roasted marmot over open flames rather than merely laying down to die.

His grandfather from the infantry would have been proud to see that Sergei continued to do his duty years after the paychecks stopped, the electricity was turned off, and the trains quit coming. He could chop wood, pluck a chicken, keep the museum’s machinery oiled, and had a tiny stash of real tea secreted away in a heavy brass canister, just in case a party official should visit, or maybe a woman.

Sergei always came to work but he’d stopped doing housekeeping and begin putting his efforts into preservation. The machines liked it better, he felt sure. Growing older and with a wet cough that bothered on cold nights, Sergei spent most evenings amongst his charges, though their cold iron bellies, unfired, gave no actual warmth, he’d sleep inside one or another, on a bed of stiff heavy canvas, his tools at hand, a doctor on call for patients in need only of admiration and rustproofing.

Tonight he lit a candle and gently patted the curved flank of his favorite, the Sovetski Kaigun. Conceived just before the first war, but then somehow bypassed in popularity by the whining airplane, she was intended to be invulnerable, first of a class of prairie dreadnoughts meant to evoke the Motherland’s supremacy on tundra just as Japan’s seagoing navy laid claim to the ocean. Ten meters wide and more than twice as long, made of walnut, oak and iron, she carried a locomotive’s heart slung low between double rows of overlapping iron wheels two meters tall. A swollen cathedral of timber enclosed it all , protecting the control bridge forward, the captains room in the back, and mess & bunk house for her crew of 20 amidships. Armor plate was fastened over every vulnerable surface with bulbous inch-wide rivets. Below, on either side of the boiler, firemen would feed her maw, consuming in just a few days all the bunker’s store of coal or wood, but, train-like, she could pull a sledge carrying another barn load of fuel, and her natural element, this vast chill forest, would always provide more.

Left and right in sponsons were the great guns, steam powered rifles he had named Leviathian and Ineluctable, their names stenciled lovingly on the barrels. Each would fire an enormous javelin, a seven foot long cylinder of birch or aspen, 2” across and tipped with a 12km slug of polished bronze or iron. The manual called them “bolts” for some reason Sergei’s mostly encyclopedic knowledge didn’t encompass. Breech loaded, each of the two big rifles could be charged in a few seconds by one man, while another cranked the aiming gears and a third operated the steam launching valves. On firing, the pressure would splinter and swell the last foot or two of the bolt, sealing the barrel and making the launch all the harder and deadly straight. It could shoot 7 miles and sounded like what it was, the bursting exhalation of a mighty steam piston.. With a blunt tip, one of these missiles could make a charging cavalry horse disappear in a red cloud or explode an ancient spruce. With a sharpened iron tip it would pierce a foot of battleship plate armor leaving a head sized hole that looked vaguely molten. (Sergei had learned this in an illicit test he’d allowed himself during the riots after the collapse, before his curator’s urge had reasserted.)

He loved Kaigun best of all and traced his fingers sensually over her armor plate, checking to assure the red grease covered every inch. She smelled of oil and glistened in the candlelight waiting for him, like a woman coiled around her champagne. Except for the greased decolletage of her armor swelling, she was a prude, this one, draped in oiled canvas with undergarments of waxed butcher paper to keep out prying eyes, moisture, bugs and dust. Wherever it showed, her wooden skin had been slathered with teak oil and then massaged with beeswax until it gleamed. Inside the rich wood and polished brass looked warm and inviting, as though a feast would soon be served. Starving just a little bit, Sergei imagined it. Thick smoked glass covered round plates of steaming salmon and tureens of borscht which during the day ensconsed only steam gauges. Overhead, entrails of copper piping warned “chaud” in black Cyrillic, just as they would on the espresso machine in a trendy St. Petersburg cafe. Sergei thought he could hear the orchestra warming up, and smelled Gruyere and tarragon bubbling on top of a Vichy onion broth. He hiked up the collar of his felted wool shirt, loosened his boots and sat down to make an entry in the Captain’s Log before his candle finally guttered out.

“May 30th. Machinery checked. No steam or mission orders. Crew, absent, will face strictest discipline.”

Sergei worried his irony would someday be mistaken for frank insanity, but figured he was safe, nobody would ever read this.

“Checked the munitions stores, 224 rounds total, 75 flechette, 75 wooden, and 74 iron tipped. 900 javelin blanks and 300 tips also stored in the trailer. Coal bunker topped off. I have copied the manuals against the chance they’ll be needed by new crew. Bound these each in waxed leather and hung close to hand in each crewman’s station, clipped to brass chains to prevent misplacement. The boiler’s been drained to preclude rot, and the captain’s store of wine moved to the firebox, against summer heat. I have sharpened and greased the onceler as well, should be quite serviceable. [“Onceler “was a reciprocating steam saw that hung low just ahead of the front grille, the name another of Sergei’s private jokes.] I have completed all the preparations I can here, and for what? Will she ever make steam? A shame.”

Kaigun: Steampunk chapter 5

Outskirts of Novosibirsk
Walking cautiously, some two dozen people probed the outskirts of town, like a trickle of smoke seeking entry. Three days forced walking had left everyone exhausted.

Andreii still followed in the back, alone now as the minor excitement of discovering the town pulled people forward. The loss of Anjin had bent something inside him beyond yielding. Nobody could talk to him, about her, or anything else. Mostly he thought about how to beat the chickens, weapons, tactics, defenses to allow towns to be rebuilt.

Another young man, Dmitri, agreed.  He was one of those who’d been captured by the pirates and then released and he said they should fight back against the giant birds; after all, the land sailors did. It was an example! Man couldn’t just be beaten by a bunch of stupid birds, however big they were. So now Michal had an ally, someone older with a little influence. At night after securing the perimeter, they would draw plans in the dust, mostly whimsical schemes for underground hydroponic gardens, or cannon, or fortified schools.

It was important, Michal said, to keep teaching the kids, especially reading and math. There were too many temptations to focus on brute power, swordsmanship or stamina.

“A chickenosaurus has more strength than any man. If we forget our intelligence, we could lose everything in one generation, all the leverage civilization gave us!”

People nodded, he’d carried the argument that time, but then late that same night the one eyed rooster came again. It tore through the camp, killing the last two horses, eating one and leaving the other for carrion, as if it knew horses were the key to mobility. After that, there was no more talk of schools, the books were left along with everything else that couldn’t be eaten or used to keep warm, and the people had fled the last 60 miles to Novosibirsk like a panicked herd of meat animals, harried by invisible predators.

Now, it was evening and dispirited people looked through the broken buildings, for survivors, salvage and a place to sleep.

“There’s nobody here any more,” someone said, “This place is just ruins.”

Dmitri, though, was still optimistic, “Let’s just find some place defensible to hold up. There will be people somewhere, and we can plan tomorrow.”

At the North end of the street was a less ramschackle building, larger than the abandoned homes and shops. The door had been forced, but inside was nothing of value. It had been a museum and contained mostly dusty fossils of the aerospace age, hanging from iron rafters like giant tin plated birds. There was no food, but the entrance was too small for a chicken and the building too sturdy for it to easily tear down. Gratefully, the people built a small fire on the marble lobby floor, kindling it with museum brochures and telling wistful jokes about how the Motherland’s Air Force could do battle with chickensaurii, if only it still existed. An impossibly inert figherplane hulked heavily in the corner, like a boxer past his prime, reminiscing over former days of potency.

Andrei Michal paged through a brochure wistfully.

“See, kids could come here, just a dozen years ago, and see how great our country was. Look there, that’s a spaceship!” He held up the captioned picture and pointed to the real thing hanging from the ceiling.

“Nothing will every fly again Michal, unless we live through this night, and the next one. Why don’t you take a turn at watch and keep this fire going.” It was more of an order than a question, and the popular boy spoke for them all. It was a day for perseverance, not exploring.

“We’ll look at your museum in the morning.”

Soon everyone was bunked down near the fire, and Michal thumbed the brochure. Computers and Spaceflight, Architecture and Public Works, Anthropology and Archaeology, Rocks and Minerals, the World at War.

Andrei stared at the words for a moment, then stood and checked the braces on the door. Secure. He flipped to the back of the brochure, the museum floorplan, and spun it around so the “you are here” pointer aligned with the marble foyer where his village now slept. Taking a small torch to light the way through the dusty iron and concrete building, Andrei MIchal began following the map to the "World at War" exhibit.

Kaigun: Steampunk Chapter 4


Anjin listened to a low wind-moaning and tossed another pine twig into the snapping fire. Meat smelled good, roasting; it would be done soon. The sun was just down and so that wind was almost done for the day. As usual, it would blow softly all night, imperceptible in this sheltered lee of a little granite outcropping. Imperceptible that is, except for the sound, as it wound through the tops of pine trees higher up the hill.

Ahead beyond the grove of aspens, beyond the fire, endless waves of tall grass held secret schools of antelope, floated solitary ships of elk, but none to be seen now. A curling smoke of birds puffed up, cycloned upwards, feinted and settled again, like dust from some huge invisible footfall. Evening’s first bats zigged exploringly through accumulating gloom as the rivers of air finally relaxed to a sluggish evening pace. A sprinkling of hulking black rocks in the distance must be a herd of bison. This was a great land, she thought, even better now without all the commerce and smoke and paperwork. Hard to believe there was danger out there

A jabber arose as the boys returned from the creek. There, clay urns lagered beer and they’d carried a big one up to go with the roast and potatoes tonight. It was comfortable, but maybe too familiar and she did not join in the conversation, but smiled and poked at the fire. Soon, she’d have to pick one of these boys, and she was not looking forward to it. Less than fifty villagers all together meant there were a half dozen interested older boys to choose from and most left her thinking of something else. Nothing wrong with them! Good strong reliable men, they’d turn out to be, which was the problem. There was nothing not to like and soon would be no excuse when they started asking in earnest. Anjin knew was attractive and would be asked soon enough. Desire pulled at her, too, but that only encouraged them so she mostly held back to avoid entanglement. Maybe she should aspire to a little cottage, children, and a cow . Yes, she should, and it could happen, too. When they stopped travelling, a family would begin for her.

She liked Michal, the smart one, but he had no idea she existed. Anjii worried, too, that he was damaged goods. Not the arm, the hook did not repulse her or keep him from working, but he’d taken the loss of his family so hard, and was not recovering. Even now, he sat at the edge of the fire, scanning the horizon for trouble. It was enough for Anjin to be quick, have a bolt hold picked out, and be otherwise fatalistic about the monsters. Dinosaurs, she thought. ...may as well call them that. They are dinosaurs and we are their prey. She could think of them like lightning, dangerous, sudden, partly avoidable but to be regarded with some fatalism. Russians were good at that, but not Michal. He called them by some disparaging chicken name which fit the picture but failed to acknowledge the new hierarchy in the food chain.

“Michal, when we stop, will you build a house?”

“Yah, a stone one, big enough for everybody.” He lowered his gaze from the horizon to the fire. “With cannons.”

Anjin was hoping for a more personal vision but he was thinking of the whole town. “That sounds great! We can have a moat just like the old days, and I’ll ride a charger with a lance, and dogs, and we’ll hunt dragons for sport. You can build me a drawbridge!”

“I’ll build a goddamn gatling gun for the chickensaurii and we’ll stay inside the fortress and raise normal chickens and We’ll eat Them for a change, just like the old days.”

“Sounds kinda boring.”

“Safe, though.”

Too boring. Could she make him into a man before summer’s end when they would have to settle down for winter, before she would have to accept some boy’s claim? Maybe she should try more direct techniques...

Such as fucking. Anjin tried a sideways glance but he didn’t notice. She looked to the horizon, a day’s walk away and it still seemed like a fence to her.

Under her breath, Anjin mumbled, “I need to get over that, I guess.” She shielded her eyes from the sunset’s last gleam, realized she wasn’t sure whether she was mumbling about sex, or adventure generally.

While Anjin watched the sun sink under the edge of the world, a triangular black silhouette rose from the distant prairie, surged across the boiling red glow and then slipped back down into the gloom like a shark’s fin. Her blood ran cold.

“Oh no! There: a landship!” ...pointing. “Everyone!”
“You’re crazy, where?”
“Somebody smother the fire.”
Anjii collected herself, “I just saw it far off, but I’m sure, ...I think. It looked big. It was going from left to right.”
“That’s not possible, it’s practically upwind: they can’t DO that,” said Sylvie, an older girl.
“Some can, if they’re schooner rigged, what did it look like?”

Conversation continued, but Anjin didn’t really know anything for sure, except that it had been a tall triangle, and moving too fast, at that distance, to be anything else. Even in this light breeze, a landship could outrun a horse, so they said. And a ship meant trouble. Loss of some cattle at best, piracy at worst: rape and burning and men would die. Someone was already running uphill to warn everyone, the fire out, the roast forgotten. Probably they would have seen lights though. Everything depended on what they wanted.

Probably nothing, because after a tense night of waiting high up the hill in a disused cave, the men gripping bows white knuckled and unsleeping at the verge, nothing happened and the ship did not reappear, if indeed it was not an apparition Anjin imagined. By dawn, nobody was worried, but not allowed to ride anywhere either. Two men set out riding for the horizon to look for tracks. A landship would leave tracks for a year, grooves torn through the turf by immense weight, iron wheels in a line supporting a wooden city with a hundred men, and cannons and fire and purpose. But their purpose must have been elsewhere because Geoff and Halse came back in the late morning, reporting tracks that went straight on North forever, coming from equally forever to the south.

Everyone decided they should move on just in case, the next morning, heading West for Novosibirsk.

Already packed, Anjin decided she’d walk out and see the tracks for herself, and talked Michal into it too. He wanted to take a couple of goats too,

“Chickenfeed, just in case” he’d said though she thought it paranoia.

Sylvie and her boyfriend Dmitri wanted to come too, so it was shaping up into a date. They set off before noon and walked three miles before coming to the tracks.

They were unmistakable. It looked as though a giant plow had cut a single straight furrow all the way around the earth. The cut was three feet wide and half as deep. Somehow it seemed wrong that there was nothing else. Men were here, still made machines do their bidding, but they were gone. Already not even an echo, it felt like the distant past, notwithstanding the wet groove. Unconsciously they’d bent their tracks to follow the landship’s course and one wanted to catch up, to run and wave and be picked up, hear iron wheels screeching, sails cracking and wooden timbers groaning under load.

Instead there was only wind susurrating through grass around her waist.

“Let’s eat and then go back, or are we gonna follow this ditch to the North pole?” Sylvie asked. “Who knows, they’re probably a hundred miles away by now.”

Exactly, thought Anjin, “More like 200, I’d guess.” She’d been doing the math, and it beat walking. “I wonder where they are now?”


“Nope,” it was Michal, always watching, who saw. “They’re right there! North.”

Coming back along their course, impossibly fast, it looked like a small forest of white trees, oddly still but growing.
“We’ve gotta run!”
“No, we have to hide: they can’t have seen us.” Dmitri said that.
“But they will, and they might run us over!”

Michal thought a second. “Look, they’re obviously retracing their tracks, let’s run a little then hide. This way! They’ll be looking into the sun” He started West, holding back his hand to beckon.

Everybody ran, but there was not much time. Already Anjin could see the sails nodding as the landship surged over unseen swales. They couldn’t see the hull yet, but soon. “We’ve got to get Down!”

“A little further, come on!” After about 200m Dmitri plopped down and so did they all. You couldn’t resist poking your head up to see it go by, like a ship but with giant spindly arms reaching out to either side for stability like a trimaran. They’d been seen: people on the deck were pointing, sails were flapping, and the whole giant beast was rearing around towards them and slowing down.

“Oh God! Run!”

Anjin stood, and stood her ground. “Like that’ll do any good? We’re in the manure now.” Her heart was pounding. They’d all heard stories.

Men were jumping off now, two and three at a time as it circled, laying a net of people around the small group of captives. The ship finally came to rest pointed almost into the wind, sails roaring as they flailed loose while the men approached, smiling but armed and watchful.

Kaigun: Steampunk chapter 3


Andreii trudged through pine needles. Though not the deciduous forests of his youth, it was good to be back amongst trees, after walking most of the summer across the howling prarie. He and his sister had stumbled into the little village and been largely ignored: Borsven must not have acted rightly, or drunk too much. That's what everyone thought. No bird could face the whole village and, while the tracks and damage were undeniable, Andreii felt they didn’t even quite believe him, somehow. He knew this was never had lived up to the standards for manliness that now pertained. Before the fall, he’d been the class intellectual and now as a cripple, they treated him as only half a man. Everyone was quite sure it couldn’t happen to them.

They had left the village in less than a week though. That wasn’t because of his warning, but simply because the chicken came back. I came into the street one wet knight, doing some gigantic satisfied representation of clucking and ate a pig and a woman, notwithstanding the assault (ineffectual) of three village toughs and not a few carefully hoarded rifle rounds which, frankly, it appeared not to notice, except as interesting sounds. As before, the giant monster showed neither pity, nor anger or even interest in the scurrying bugs it pecked at, only a brief impersonal hunger. The town met that night in the little church and decided to move West to civilization, leaving everything.

Now the summer had almost passed, and by most reckoning they were a little North and East of lake Baikal. Mostly they had passed refugees moving East, or satisfied hardy people like themselves who, like themselves, couldn’t be frightened by chickens of any size. Everyone began to feel foolish, and some wanted to join up with one of the bigger towns and go back to farming, but then they were overtaken by people they’d passed a week ago, whose village had been raided and destroyed by a band of the monsters, two hens and one enormous red rooster with one eye. There were no more suggestions to stop after that.

Andreii was guarding the rear of the column. The men and bigger boys were in front, scouting trail while Andreii and the old men followed behind. In the middle were the horses and wagons (nobody had gas any more) and the women, the value of the community. At the back were the tacitly expendable rear guard, canaries to sound the alarm if an attack came from behind. Andrei's wooden wrist itched, well below the elbow where the arm had come off; scratching it wouldn't cure the illusion, he knew.  He kicked a rock and tried to distract his mind.

Why everyone expected the chickensaurii (he thought of them such) to lay ahead in ambush like Mongol cavalry was a mystery to him, the monsters hadn’t given a hint of any improvement in brainpower: they were just bigger. He spent a lot of time thinking about them, thinking about how to kill them. Around the fire at night, his ideas of giant crossbows or pits with lances at the bottom were laughed off. They would find some vestiges of the authorities, report the problem, and a division would be sent, or a fast attack jet. This turned quickly to bluster though because everyone knew if there wasn’t electricity or gas, or television (and there had been none of these things since the day after the first day of the war, 8 years ago), then there was no government, no fast attack jets, no authorities. No one had even seen a contrail since that first and last day of fighting. The good news was that society had returned to normal immediately - well, normal for 100 years ago, but hardly the bickering rapacious collapse predicted in lurid science fiction apocalypse scenarios. In rural Russia it was the same as always, only horse powered and without train service. There was some hunger in the far west, where once metropolises stood, but bombing had reduced population as well as municipal infrastructure.

Kaigun: Steampunk Chapter 2

The Woodcutter’s Homestead, Yakutsk, 2050

Andreii Michal was dreaming. He always liked the hour before waking up , when hi sdreams seemed most vidid and because, sometimes, he could control how they worked out. This dream had a redhead.

From swarthy mongolian stock, Michal had never even seen a redhead except in pictures. He had a magazine...

She was impossibly tall, this redhead, tall, friendly and yet under-dressed for the Siberian peninsula, in a flippy skirt that allowed the wind to ripple it, and to allow Michal to imagine it might blow up to reveal matching fuzz down below. Her soft muscles flashed when she walked. She was not even wearing any boots! Instead cream colored slippers just like the girl from the magazine.

“What are you looking at Michal?” she crooned, suddenly coming in close, much much too close! Her eye looked mischievous, staring right into his as though reading all the dirty intentions off the afterimages on his retina. He could almost see down the dress, he surely could see if he only glanced down, she was so close, but he dared not break her gaze. Somehow he knew that to flinch would be to lose her, to excite her ire.

Suddenly she reared back, looking somewhere else as though bored with him now, tisking with a hiss to show disapproval. As she tossed her head that beautiful fall of merlot hair coruscated across the whole view. It was the color of stained cherry wood, or old roses, or clotting blood, iridescent like feathers and just as soft. Transfixed he reached to touch it.

“Come, turn back to me little bird,” and she did again suddenly, close enough now to kiss, her eye seemed the size of a grapefruit. Michal reached out, with his tongue too, wondering if she would taste like grapefruit, but he felt himself waking. The horror of losing the dream, this dream of the milky, freckled girl and her garnet hair. No!

But the pull of waking reality was calling him strongly. She winked at him, one time, a deliberate, reptilian action the lid translucent so that even then she could see his soul quake. He touched the beautiful hair, feather soft... She cocked her head to regard his impudent hand. Abashed and awake now he would snatch it back, but she was gone and instead the bird’s razor beak, snipped his hand off cleanly below the elbow, a gush of red blood smearing her perfect, soft auburn feathers. She was a bird after all, 9 feet tall and 4000 pounds of carnivorous predator.

“Raaaaaaauuk!” Screeched the hunter, and rammed its head into the window, though only half way, it was too small.

Screaming, everyone else in the cabin ran in circles, crazy with fear. Sonja, her mother Eeinut, and the father Borsven all lurched and yelled. Borsven grabbed for an axe and began hewing. Michael stumbled back a step, dazed and losing consciousness. Eeinut began tying something around his arm. Something grew heavy, wet and warm. “It feels comfortable,” was his last thought.

Father Borsven managed to lodge the axe in an eye socket, and the monster reared away, jerking the tool from his hands. A talon battered at the window, one foetid razor claw bursting through the heavy wooden windowsill like an awl through paper, clutching and tearing away timbers as it left. Another exploring grasp and it impaled Borsven by luck and he was pulled from the cabin in company with the next log. His screams cut short by crackling sounds. Eeinut saw her husband’s rib cage splintered by the hooked bill, saw the bird stretch its throat up like gargling to swallow the awkward shape of half a man. She flew out in a hopeless rage and also was eaten.

Sated then, and confused by it’s injury, the chicken wandered off, ducking to rub its ruined eye on the ground as though to scrape away the blindness. Then it thought of a hen and dashed off in a crash through underbrush.

Kaigun: Steampunk Chapter 1

The Poultry Farm (Fukushima, 2012) 

Carolyn Yamasaki threw chickenfeed to the winds, watching the birds scamper and squawk. Her family wasn’t wealthy enough to pay for soil processing, so their farm was placarded.  A sign at the driveway reminded them all that their livlihood was at an end. No produce, fowl or dairy from the farm could be sold, not for human or even animal consumption.  It was ridiculous. After 7 months, they could not keep the family away from their own land, but apparently they could prohibit anyone making a fair living. Carolyn’s stubborn father Takenori would not be cowed. He did give up and slaughter most of the dairy herd, pouring out the milk was just too disappointing, but vegetables, pork and chickens continued to breed and it was a rich, if boring life for the family. Carolyn at least had the escape of school 10 months out of the year. Takenori planned to make a grand reentrance when the soil tested clean, and he invested his corn surpluses in the bellies of surpluses of chickens, breeding them for size. Carolyn had to admit to herself that after a dozen generations of culling, the flock was starting to show some real progress; while she watched, their prize rooster ”Rex,” big as a turkey and twice as mean, chased a pig across the pen. 

Walking back to the house, she saw her father sitting on his little porch stool, head in hands. Mother was like a still life of the supportive wife, hand on his shoulder. 

"Let the animals go, Peach Blossom, let them all go."

“Father, why would you say such a thing?” Carolyn asked, bewildered. 

“The government. They say even we may not eat them.” dismayed, shaking his head. “Look how healthy I am!” Mr. Yamasaki stood up and shook his fists feebly at the sky. “I told the government man this, but they said we have to slaughter them, and we will be given government papers for food. I will not do this. You will let them go Carolyn. Release them all and scare them into the country where they at least can make a living, not like a poor farmer.” 


In the wild, Rex had no trouble foraging. His chicken brain drew him to other chickens, and he found them always easy to dominate. Soon he was literally cock of the walk, though vaguely conscious that his sons were growing heavier even than he. It didn’t matter. There were hens and food, and chicken-like, he was hungry, always hungry. Deep in his belly, radioactive thorium still fired alpha particle bullets through his gonads. Some had pierced the sex cells and they’d split and split again, cancerously spreading fundamental damage to the ageless recipe for chickens. An inhibitory gene sequence shared by all birds since they first shrank to avoid the notice of their terrible monstrous cousins, was now a shambles. The sequence prevented unbounded growth, or it had, until now.

Base cello rock ballad!

This link takes you to the song, ctsy KEXP.
Nat Baldwin - A Little Lost
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steampunk zeppelins

Mainspring (Clockwork Earth #1)Mainspring by Jay Lake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The blurb on the jacket says "an astounding work of creation" and I have to agree. Wow and wow again. If you spent sleepless nights thinking up zeppelins, this book is for you. It is something I could have written (if I had the stamina to write a whole "thing") meaning well imagined, jam packed with WAY cool what-if technology, but basically falls somewhat flat in characterization or any human story. The plot, though, is a roller coaster ride that would make Avatar fans howl in delight and lose their lunch.  I mean that in a good way: floating mountains and rideable telepathic pterodactyls got nuthin' on Jay Lake's world.  Oh, and he had a digging engine in book #2. It's got everything you want from (the lamentable) Boneshaker, and nothing you don't.

I want some of what he's smoking!

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Holy talking bats, Batman!

Silverwing (Silverwing, #1)Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe a stretch to give it 4 stars, but something that's clearly intended as kidlit to hold your attention is pretty special.  I'll offer a comparison that I bet others also have made, to Watership Down. There's a story with pathos, ability to completely forget these aren't people, and a deep dive into a well imagined foreign culture.  The history museum of echoes in the bottom of their roost is a special gem.

The story was just a little too childish for me, but I'm pretty jaded. I read several of these, & they're pretty much all good.

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