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Seeing Ear Theatre: Fire Watch - Part 1 & Part 2
james_nicoll
Fire Watch - Part 1
Fire Watch - Part 2

A student, having studied for one era is tossed back into a completely different one to carry out ... research seems too kind a word. Clumsy bumbling around while testing the limits of causal protection (for what it's worth, basically blabbing out history to come to people in WWII London does not break history) and making blind accusations of treason based on Insane Troll Logic (which to be fair, other people are also using) is a bit closer. He discovers WWII was in many respects unpleasant.

I had such fond memories of this story.

Every single thing that was wrong with Black Out/All Clear was there right from the beginning, wasn't it. Well, except for the page count bloat.

You know, one odd thing about this setting is that if this was my only evidence I'd conclude Willis never went near a university in her life but not only does she have a degree, her husband is a professor. Despite this, it's kind of hard to reconcile this with any post-secondary program I am aware of.

Did we get an explanation as to what happened to cats in the original story? And was it related to how every single revolving door in the world was removed so thoroughly that even knowledge of them was gone by the 2060s?

Did they expand the Commie Terrorists Destroy St. Paul's and also a lot of England and less important places plot? I don't remember that taking up as much time in the original short story. I also don't recall the pinpoint bomb being quite that powerful but it could be it was and I just missed it.

Ignoring Europe (which got done in by fallout), incinerating all of London out to the A20 takes a 10 MT device and since this was a ground burst I think you have to quadruple the yield. That sounds like a hell of a yield to get out of a nuke small enough to be hidden in whatever one Neo-Commie Terrorist could carry into St. Paul's without being seen. I think in theory you can get 50 kilotons/kilogram of fusion device but that would make still the St Paul's pinpoint bomb around 800 kg, which still seems a little big to slip into one's backpack.


Cast:
Sebastian Roché as Bartholomew
Rika Daniel as Frieda
Ian Reed as Langby
George Holmes as Dunworthy
Rita Ben-Or
Anthony Ferguson
Nicholas Haylett
Gideon Juvenal
Ron Keith
Giovanni Pucci
John Rainer
Dieter Riesele
Vicki Stuart
Felix Van Dyke
Nicky as the Cat

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.
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A 40 MT bomb could be produced by the total annihilation of a shade under 2 kg of matter, so a kilo of antimatter in perfect annihilation.

I remember thinking that perhaps Willis' only experience of academia was in the hard sciences, and she didn't have the faintest idea what the humanities and social sciences were like. For one thing, actually traveling to the past wouldn't be history, it would be a form of ethnography.

I could never understand why her supposed honors/graduate level students seemed to know so little about the periods of history they were studying. I could see them being tripped up occasionally, if the story was recounting the first trip to a particular time period, but in many cases it seemed as though I, a person without any special historical knowledge, knew things about the time period that the characters didn't. Isn't there a bit somewhere in Blackout/All Clear somewhere in which a character fails to recognize the name 'Bletchley Park'?

When people took the rip out of Black Out / All Clear my thought was 'hmm, didn't Fire Watch have exactly the same sort of flaws?', but I couldn't recall in detail and didn't fancy reading it again to make sure.

It does, yeah. At one point while I was skimming to look for info about the scale of the attack, there was this bit:

"Part of the stone is sheared off. Historians argue there was another line that said, "for all time," but I do not believe that, not if Dean Matthews had anything to do with it."

...dude, it was destroyed in the 21st century! There would be photos of it, all over the world! There were almost certainly people at the dedication who were still alive at the time of the bombing. It's not going to be a matter for historians to get wrong. (which it is, it says "from destruction in War")

But the thing is, it's so much tighter than the weaknesses are outshone by the strengths, particularly the powerful repeated theme of salvation and loss. As the novels have gotten bigger and saggier, the strengths have gotten drowned.

I seem to recall that all the cats died as some sort of super feline distemper.

She also has a story where all the dogs die, but I don't think that's set in the Oxford time travel universe.

In the radio play there is a bit about all the animals dying in the fallout but surely that was just one small zone.

The radio play has what may be the least convincing self-defense ever: from a young lady who has just killed 11 million people: "People who don't like Communism have never tried Communism."

And the radio people stuck in perhaps the lamest sad song about the nuclear destruction of a major city:

Far away and long ago
London Town went up in smoke
Radiation slit our wrists
She was slain by communists, communists

Inexplicably the person responsible for inflicting that little ditty on a radiation-poisoned world was not in the dock with the Atomic Terrorist.

I really don't remember communism being significant in Fire Watch, I'm not even sure they mentioned the ideology of the pinpoint bomb terrorists. And my impression was that a fair amount of central London got destroyed along with St Pauls, but not the whole city. And I don't remember anything about Europe getting wiped out, the impression was of limited but devastating acts of terrorists (Denver and St. Paul's), not worldwide destruction.

The 'commies cannot be trusted' thing rings a faint bell but I think the whole bombing London thing has been ramped up in scale, possibly because the Seeing Ear Theater people didn't see in 2000 how a massive attack on a few buildings in a major city could be seen as provocative enough to have the effect they wanted on the protagonist.

The pinpoint was not even invented until the end of the twentieth century, and it was another ten years before the dispossessed communists got hold of it and turned it into something that could be carried under your arm.

and

Langby isn't a Nazi. He's a communist. I can hardly write this. A communist.

and

They do not know, cannot know, what the communists will become. Stalin is an ally. Communists mean Russia. They have never heard of Karinsky or the New Russia or any of the things that will make "communist" into a synonym for "monster". They will never know it. By the time the communists become what they became, there will be no fire watch.

The story is conveniently online, and describing her visit to the remains of St. Pauls:

"St Paul's Station is not there, of course, so I got out at Holborn and walked"

Holborn is less than a mile, and there are closer stations apart from St. Paul that presumably no longer exist or at least are not used, so that suggests that destruction went somewhere more than half a mile, but not much more. Definitely not out to the A20.

In fact, it says at once point exactly how far:

"The pinpoint was not even invented until the end of the twentieth century, and it was another ten years before the dispossessed communists got hold of it and turned it into something that could be carried under your arm. A parcel that could blow a quarter mile of the City into oblivion."

It does actually go on about communists a great deal more than I had recalled, though it's apparently some sort of future group of terrorists rather than the Soviet Union.

I am not 100% sure if one mentioned the Katyn massacre or the Great Purge to Bartholomew that he would have any idea what was being talked about. Mind you, it's not his period. Also, he's kind of an idiot.

I think the rule here is that whenever SET changes a detail of a story it's generally to the detriment of the story. Too bad, because in many ways it's a fine show.

This explains something that was puzzling me. If the bomb had basically erased the Greater London metropolitan area, why would the terrorist bother trying to smuggle it into St Paul's cathedral? And anyway, how would anyone know after the fact that the circle of destruction had been centred just there?

The A20 isn't an orbital, it's a radial, and the top of it (in New Cross) is about three miles from St. Paul's. A 475KT W-88 (aka a Trident D5 MIRV) would suffice to get the 4.6psi overpressure mark out to knock over the nice green road sign.

http://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/?lat=51.51096716890237&lng=-0.09884398867188793&zm=12&kt=475

Edited at 2013-02-01 05:01 pm (UTC)