Lately I have found out that the works of H. Beam Piper have gone into reprint, and not just a few of his more popular works but the entire corpus of his work. The late Mr. Piper was an individual I call 'An Unknown Master of Science Fiction' because of the topic types he delved into and the extreme readability of his works. One of the last works on my 'collect' list for Mr. Piper is a book that came out earlier in his career in 1953, Murder in the Gunroom (new imprint by Aegypan; e-text available from Project Gutenberg), and it says something that I wanted the actual, physical *book* and not just e-text.
The work, itself (and I am taking it slowly as this will be the final bit of Piper's published novels and short stories for me to read) is a murder mystery, but done with the style of Piper. Thus it is easily readable and, even when using stereotypical characters, he gives enough of a thumbnail sketch so that the characters that are stereotyped actually are a bit deeper than just a stereotype. A police officer of the typical 'suspicious partner of the good cop' is given a bit of fleshing out by having it revealed that he had emigrated from Sweden to avoid the pre-WWII draft there. The bits and pieces we learn of the individuals involves turns them into complex and yet understandable individuals, just as Piper has done across his works from the Paratime stories to the Fuzzy Trilogy to more pedestrian science fiction of the non-Paratime, non-Federation/Empire venues. While the characters are fleshed out we also get a deeper look not only into them but the actual happening in the Gunroom.
Here the historical knowledge of firearms is a fascinating delve into an area inhabited by that relatively common trait across many areas of human life: collectors. Reading about gun collectors of various sorts is a topic that is filled with minutia that only a collector could appreciate and yet, as having extremely minor collections of things, myself, the types of individual that come into play are ones I have met in other venues. Thus the highly specialized collector who collects *only* from the arms of the wars the US involved in is a typical specialist's category, although broadly covering many nationalities, manufacturing centers, time periods and arms types (not only firearms but edged arms, knives and so on). The extraordinary PI involved is more than just a gun collector, and while his handgun collection has some depth (going back to the 16th century) he also has multiple published articles on historical arms, thus putting him a bit above other collectors that are not interested in publishing works in the field. He also brings in a wide array of knowledge from his WWII background in Army Intelligence, his pre-war study of the law (and he did pass the Mississippi bar, but refuses to stoop so low as to actually practice law, preferring honest work, instead) and even interests in such things as science fiction and science.
One particular aspect of the novel is the use of typical knowledge of gun collectors, and that is the type, era and action of the arms, themselves. Thus we get a variety of terms covering everything from the matchlock era to the modern, self-contained cartridge weapons of manual, automatic and semi-automatic types. One of the terms that really got me when reading was one that I was unfamiliar with: snaphaunce. The link takes you to the Wikipedia article, but I don't like interrupting reading to go and pick up a term that is, in all likelihood, used as trapping to a story, and was explained as being between the wheel-lock and flintlock designs. On very first reading I made the '-ph-' to be the more regular letter 'f' sound in English, thus softening it and making it sound a bit more like a French derived word. Really we do many things to make words sound better than the concepts they represent, and it is a view that attempts to establish some class to a word by dressing it up. Thus pate de fois gras is just fatty duck liver, and no one would knowingly order that off the menu. But, with my scanty knowledge of actual arms mechanisms, I realized that the placement of the mechanism type where it was, chronologically, allowed it to be put into a different context: German.
The German language, itself, tends to do the multi-car pile-up routine for inventing new words, so the first appearance of something may get you an in-depth view of what the word represents. Thus a word like doppelgänger is a 'double' 'walker': someone who looks exactly like someone else. So to go after snaphaunce I did the decompiling of the word to two words: 'snap' and 'haunce'. The 'snap' part is, actually, from what I knew at the time the exact same word as it is in English, denoting something that moves suddenly or changes state suddenly, and that makes a lot of sense. Part II, the 'haunce' part, looked like a derivation of 'house' which, in relationship to a piece of engineering comes to 'housing' or container. Thus a 'snap' 'housing', or container that has a quickly moving part that is attached to something larger (although housings can be singular and be just containers). As a first order approximation between wheel-locks and flintlocks, this made tons of sense, as early guns used a separate primer pan or area which would ignite and the ignition go through a hole to the barrel of the gun to ignite the main charge. So if one pulled the trigger and the primer went off, but the gun did not discharge you had a 'flash in the pan'. With that in mind, something that would snap on the primer housing to protect it from humidity, moisture droplets, wind, and other outside effects makes tons of sense.
From the Wikipedia article, and the thing does need referencing, on the snaphaunce we find this to help explain it:
The snaphance first appeared in the late 1550s as a development of the earlier snaplock. The main improvement was that the pan-cover opened automatically (to keep the priming dry until the exact moment of firing), as in the wheel-lock. (The snaplock had a manually operated pan cover similar to that of the matchlock. Some definitions class the snaphaunce as a sub-type of snaplock.) Also like the wheel-lock, the snaphance used a lateral sear mechanism to connect trigger to cock. Later models had a variety of safety mechanisms to prevent accidental discharge of the gun.
The snaphance was used from the late 1550s until modern times (in North African guns), but by about 1680 it was out of fashion everywhere except Northern Italy where it persisted until the 1750s. In Europe, and especially France, the snaphance was replaced by the flintlock with its combined steel/pan cover starting from about 1620. In England, a hybrid mechanism called the English Lock replaced the snaphance from the same date. Both the flintlock and the English lock were cheaper and less complex than the snaphance.
The origin of the name snaphance is thought to come from the Dutch language "Snap Haan" or German language "Schnapphahn"—both of which roughly mean "hen peck", and could relate to the shape of the mechanism and its downward-darting action (and would also explain the thus the name "cock" for the beak-shaped mechanism which holds the flint). A more fanciful explanation relates to the use of this type of gun by chicken thieves, who would be given away by the sight and smell of a burning match if they had used the earlier matchlock gun in their nocturnal depredations. The German word Schnapphahn had however since moved away from the earlier definitions and has traditionally referred to a mounted highwayman, who would have been likely to use a firearm of that nature. The French chenapan also changed its meaning in the seventeenth century to define a rogue or scoundrel.
So, my explanation was wrong, but did accurately describe the mechanism!
The miguelet (or miquelet) I could not make out exactly what was being described, as the word, itself, didn't offer anything that seemed to strike a chord. Spanish in origin, yes... but that was about it and I only read about it in making up this paragraph. Interesting, and well contextually placed for the book in question, which is H. Beam Piper's Murder in the Gunroom (1953). The book, itself is a small novel of that era and leads to the compaction of ideas and a relatively faster pacing to events than modern novels utilize. In having to conserve space the need to demonstrate characters and their knowledge of things requires utilizing the specialized knowledge of the characters and leaving out the explanatory detours. My knowledge of mystery stories is not that wide nor deep, including the corpus of Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmesian works, some Christies way back when, a large number of Isaac Asimov's mysteries, a number by Ray Bradbury, and a scattering of others. Plus the standard film fare of Hitchcock, some of the Christie film adaptations and a few others. Thus I am no great fan of the genre, but have a 'nodding acquaintance' with it.
The setting for the novel is in the era of immediate post-war US Pennsylvania which Piper was familiar with. The cast of characters is fascinating including a WWI veteran who taught bayonet technique to volunteers in the militia and then for entrance training into the Army via local camps. And due to the protagonist having a wide variety of interests and the diversity of individuals who collect arms, Mr. Piper offers us a number of things that are definitively *not* mystery based: when you have a science fiction author in the cast of characters, you get some very strange diversions into that sub-culture. As an SF fan, I found it more than amusing as the story generation techniques for different magazines that was offered up was something that I have trouble pegging to that of Mr. Piper, himself. But then his ready array of knowledge came fluidly to his writing, so even non-researched works tended to have familiarity and depth to them beyond that of other authors.
Two of the outside idea sets brought in are ones that were of interest to Mr. Piper and utilized in his writings either by statement or by implication. The first of these is the quick and dirty look at space-time and into reasoning (as in logic based assessment). Taken in reverse order the second of the ideas is that of multiple timelines as described by J. W. Dunne. This is, as far as I can tell having not finished the novel, more 'window dressing' than anything else, letting Mr. Piper introduce the topic to a somewhat wider audience outside of the SF community. Here the PI, Jeff Rand, hired to examine the gun collection of a man found dead in the gunroom is talking to a member of a group looking to pool their resources to offer a bid on the collection, and he is Pierre Jarrett, SF author, retired Marine after being hit on Peleliu. Mr. Jarrett is speaking about his SF work in a conversation with Mr. Rand, in Chapter 14:
"Science-fiction. I do a lot of stories for the pulps," Pierre told him. "Space-Trails, and Other Worlds, and Wonder-Stories; mags like that. Most of it's standardized formula-stuff; what's known to the trade as space-operas. My best stuff goes to Astonishing. Parenthetically, you mustn't judge any of these magazines by their names. It seems to be a convention to use hyperbolic names for science-fiction magazines; a heritage from what might be called an earlier and ruder day. What I do for Astonishing is really hard work, and I enjoy it. I'm working now on one for them, based on J. W. Dunne's time-theories, if you know what they are."
"I think so," Rand said. "Polydimensional time, isn't it? Based on an effect Dunne observed and described—dreams obviously related to some waking event, but preceding rather than following the event to which they are related. I read Dunne's Experiment with Time some years before the war, and once, when I had nothing better to do, I recorded dreams for about a month. I got a few doubtful-to-fair examples, and two unmistakable Dunne-Effect dreams. I never got anything that would help me pick a race-winner or spot a rise in the stock market, though."
"Well, you know, there's a case on record of a man who had a dream of hearing a radio narration of the English Derby of 1933, including the announcement that Hyperion had won, which he did," Pierre said. "The dream was six hours before the race, and tallied very closely with the phraseology used by the radio narrator. Here." He picked up a copy of Tyrrell's Science and Psychical Phenomena and leafed through it.
"Did this fellow cash in on it?" Rand asked.
"No. He was a Quaker, and violently opposed to betting. Here." He handed the book to Rand. "Case Twelve."
Rand sat down on the edge of the desk, and read the section indicated, about three pages in length.
"Well, I'll be damned!" he said, as he finished. The idea of anybody passing up a chance like that to enrich himself literally smote him to the vitals. "I see the British Society for Psychical Research checked that case, and got verification from a couple of independent witnesses. If the S.P.R. vouches for a story, it must be the McCoy; they're the toughest-minded gang of confirmed skeptics anywhere in Christendom. They take an attitude toward evidence that might be advantageously copied by most of the district attorneys I've met, the one in this county being no exception.... What's this story you're working on?"
"Oh, it's based on Dunne's precognition theories, plus a few ideas of my own, plus a theory of alternate lines of time-sequence for alternate probabilities," Pierre said. "See, here's the situation ..."
Both of these themes Mr. Piper picks up in his Paratime work and the Dunne hypothesis occurs here and there elsewhere in his works.
Just prior to that, in Chapter 13, Mr. Rand is talking with Mr. Jarrett at a meeting of the group of buyers, but before they all arrive. Here is a conversation snippet between the two after the discovery of an unscrupulous dealer in antique firearms, Mr. Rivers, who had been a prime suspect has turned up murdered, again starting with Mr. Jarrett:
"You have any idea, so far, about who could have killed Rivers?" the ex-Marine asked, as they coasted down the drive to the highway.
"I haven't even the start of an idea," Rand said. He ran briefly over what he knew, or at least those items which were likely to become public knowledge soon. "From what I've observed at the shop, and from what I know of Rivers's character, I'd think that he'd been in some kind of a crooked deal with somebody, and got double-crossed, or else the other man caught Rivers double-crossing him. Or else, Rivers and somebody else had some secret in common, and the other man wanted a monopoly on it and killed Rivers as a security measure."
"Think it might be the Fleming pistols?"
"That depends. I'll have to see whether any of the Fleming pistols turn up anywhere in Rivers's former possession. Personally, I've about decided that the man who was drinking with Rivers killed him. There aren't any indications that anybody else was in the shop afterward. If that's the case, I doubt if the killer was Walters. You know what a snobbish guy Rivers was. And from what I know of him, he seems to have had a thoroughly Aristotelian outlook; he identified individuals with class-labels. Walters, of course, would be identified with the label 'butler,' and I can't imagine Rivers sitting down and drinking with a 'butler.' He would only drink with people whom he thought of as his equals, that is, people whom he identified with class-labels of equal social importance to his own labels of 'antiquarian' and 'businessman.'"
"That sounds like Korzybski," Pierre said, as they turned onto Route 19 in the village and headed east. "You've read Science and Sanity?"
Rand nodded. "Yes. I first read it in the 1933 edition, back about 1936; I've been rereading it every couple of years since. The principles of General Semantics come in very handy in my business, especially in criminal-investigation work, like this. A consciousness of abstracting, a realization that we can only know something about a thin film of events on the surface of any given situation, and a habit of thinking structurally and of individual things, instead of verbally and of categories, saves a lot of blind-alley chasing. And they suggest a great many more avenues of investigation than would be evident to one whose thinking is limited by intensional, verbal, categories."
"Yes. I find General Semantics helpful in my work, too," Pierre said. "I can use it in plotting a story.... Oh-oh!"
And soon the journalistic hounds descend on a juicy murder in a sleepy, upscale residence area. That said it is this key insight in the novel, and elsewhere in the works of Mr. Piper and other SF authors that helped to create much of the rugged ethos of SF. When this idea started to permeate into those who were in the mechanical arts or written arts, it offered an alternative way of viewing the world. It is this idea of treating things as they are and as they happen and *not* imposing categories on them that was, and still is, one of the founding principles of approaching the world. Here I will break off from the novel and explore this idea a bit further as it is as fresh today, indeed in some ways *fresher*, as it was back in the 1930's through early 1960's in SF.
Looking at what I have written so far in this article, note that the snaphaunce concept had no easy handles to it when it was approached in the broad linguistic categories of English or French, and only offered opportunity for investigation in the more tightly Germanic languages (Dutch being one of those, and English a cousin a few times removed with some inter-marrying going on). There the categories of 'English' and 'French' (or French derived or varied stylistically to sound more like a French word) was a dead-end for me. There are multiple linguistic tool kits for each of these languages, and how to construct words and variations, but snaphaunce just wasn't ringing any bells. Reaching out to the other Romance language cousins offered up the highly useful Germanic linguistic tool kit, and deconstructing words into their smaller forms.
I had looked at this with the word 'outlaw', prior to this in an article addressing the words around acts we call 'terrorism'. Part of the redefinition of words done by the cultural elite is not only to try to categorize things, but to remove older and very meaningful categories of concepts from the mental tool box. Those on the Left who wish to re-categorize 'terrorism' are doing so in an effort to do ANYTHING to avoid addressing it as a form of warfare. The word of 'outlaw' comes from the Old Norse and is also two words - 'out' and 'law': literally someone who is outside the protection of the law. That is more than someone who is outcast, or thrown outside of society (or nation), in that such an individual still has basic legal protections. Being outcast is being shunned by society. Being marked outlaw means that the individual has no legal recourse to *anything* and is literally not protected by any form of law and are stuck with the Law of Nature. 'Terrorists' by following no law and imputing themselves to be a law unto themselves are 'outlaws'. That category of 'outlaw' is a large and inclusive one and a very basic discriminator, and has been around since the dawn of civilization and the first civil and military laws appeared. As late as the 1920's the idea of the 'bandit army' was still something to be handled by military means, and 'terrorism' being a tactic applied by those wielding it via Private War against peoples and nations fall into the exact, same category as all other outlaws.
'Outlaw' is action dependent, not intentional, verbal labeling: one only gets the label by doing the action.
More broadly, this effect is seen throughout politics of the modern era. Consider the recent 'Bittergate' in which an individual who blogs for the Huffington Post, Mayhill Fowler. Over at PJM, Bill Bradley looks at this on 15 APR 2008 in Deep Inside 'Bittergate', and has this bit of stunning viewpoint from the Obama campaign to look at:
I’m referring, of course, to the Huffington Post’s report of the now notorious comments Obama made on April 6th at a private fundraiser in San Francisco. There, the freshman Illinois senator, opining about people in small towns where the jobs have fled, said: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Those few words, transcribed from a more than 45-minute recording of Obama, buried in the midst of a very ruminative, rather personally-oriented piece by Mayhill Fowler, an activist blogger who supports Obama and contributed the maximum allowable $2,300 to his presidential campaign, kicked off a media firestorm.
Before that, Fowler had turned in a piece which ran April 7th and caused a ripple, with Obama telling the San Francisco fundraiser crowd that he doesn’t need a foreign policy expert as his running mate because he already knows a lot about foreign policy. Huffington, who was about to leave for Tahiti, was concerned about that piece, which had no political impact other than pointing up Obama’s cockiness.
This is when the Obama campaign got more than concerned. The campaign is wisely staying out of the business of publicly expressing dismay about an activist blogger supporter publishing material on a very high-profile new media news and opinion outlet that is taken from a private event to which the press was not allowed. (I asked to attend the event and was told it was “private, off the record, and closed to the press.”) But Obama campaign sources say privately that they are furious with the situation.
They had a different expectation of Fowler. For the past year, the 61-year old Vassar graduate, wife of a wealthy Bay Area attorney, has hung around with people in the Obama campaign and traveled to several states, blogging all the while about her experiences and perceptions of the campaign and candidate. She was seen as an opinionated activist blogger, a supporter, someone who had a tendency at times to lecture the campaign in her copy but was ultimately an enthusiast. She was not viewed as a journalist.
And from the standpoint of Obama campaign figures, the material was gotten under false pretenses. One top Obama hand speaks of the campaign and candidate being blindsided. Fowler was a supporter, a contributor, an activist, a blogger, not a reporter. With the event closed to the press, Obama spoke with less care than he would have otherwise had he known a reporter, of any sort, was in attendance.
With the rise of new media, campaigns frequently hold conference calls for the press, and conference calls for bloggers. The blogger calls are designed to stir up the partisan base, to provide enthusiasts on the Internet with talking points to spread throughout the blogosphere and, to a certain extent, on talk radio, which has a significant overlap on the hyperpartisan right.
This episode may well mean the end of allowing activists who blog access to private campaign events.
Here you have the limiting category of 'journalist', meaning someone who is accredited to a traditional or MSM outlet being applied by the Obama campaign. They feel that 'journalist' is a description of people who report on events and that this description is de-limiting to their having other, broader descriptions and that individuals who are 'journalists' are, somehow, ONLY journalists. This is part and parcel of 'Identity Politics' in which all the labels applied to someone define them. In this case anyone who is tagged a 'journalist' has specific things that they are not allowed to report upon. Somehow, deep in the twisted minds of those running the Obama campaign, they forgot one, little, thing: journalist is a description of a certain activity carried out by an individual and that activity is NOT restricted to the MSM. That activity falls under the broader category of 'citizen'. The freedom of the press and reporting is not limited to the press, but is held by all of the people. In this age of zero barrier to entry for original journalism, analysis and content creation, the Obama campaign has forgotten that the New Media supercedes all previous categories of media and encompasses all of them as it is a 'citizen' based activity to create media, not a journalistic one.
That said there is one, and only one way to ensure that there is some basis of confidentiality at meetings. To get that one needs to hand out a NDA and have each and every individual at a meeting sign it. An NDA is a 'Non-Disclosure Agreement' and, believe me, if you want a fuse to conspiracy theories and secret societies and nefarious goings-on behind the scenes, you only need to mention NDA. Wouldn't that be a great thing for a political campaign to say: you are legally agreeing NOT to talk about these things I tell you in secret!
Yes, secret meetings by politicians with fundraisers!
The exact, very thing that all these reformers, INCLUDING Barack Obama rail against!
In the modern age of cheap, portable, miniature electronics, anyone trying to prohibit the gathering of information at a meeting is like trying to stop water flowing down a storm drain: better stop up the drain and put up with deepening water levels. Politicians and political parties and their 'activists' and 'campaign consultants' must come to realize that the highly categorized world they used to occupy has been liquidated beneath their feet. Not only is Mayhill Fowler a 'journalist', but so is Bill Bradley, Ariana Huffington and Barack Obama and anyone who wishes to digitally create content to share with others. Every individual in the US is a 'journalist' and some few even get PAID FOR IT.
And the fun thing is: Barack Obama is not alone in categorical thinking clouding his views of the world and his judgement.
Take the mental fixation of the Left in trying to use categorical views to state things that have no basis in factual or even theoretical substance. Here is a meme that gets thrown out every so often:
'Saddam Hussein was a secular leader. al Qaeda is an Islamic group. They could not have worked together.'
Tell *that* to Saddam Hussein's staff that not only met with al Qaeda leadership, but helped get Ansar al-Sunnah/Islam off the ground in the 1990's to attack the Kurds. I looked at this strange idea in an article reviewing some of the interconnections by Saddam's regime IN IRAQ, and then at Saddam's cousin, Nadhmi Auchi, and his ties to al Qaeda and their Al Taqwa banking system in the mid-1990's in another article looking at how close Mr. Auchi was to all THREE presidential contenders. Obama and Clinton look to be directly tied, but all three are, at best, one relationship removed from Nadhmi Auchi. Not only could Saddam and al Qaeda cooperate, but they *did* cooperate in logistics, supplies, training and in getting such things as money laundering and document forging capability up and running overseas. Not only is the meme reflective of a simplistic view of how individuals interact, it does not recognize that groups that are in competition can cooperate to remove lesser opponents and then fight over the entire field between those two companies... like Coke and Pepsi. Evidence presented to Congress in the mid-1990's indicated a close relationship between Saddam, al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and Turabi's rule in Sudan. Even more fun is that Nadhmi Auchi worked with Marc Rich who was fronting for Iranian banking and the two worked together to common ends in various enterprises. Yeah, after a bitter war killing at least a million people, these two vaunted enemies worked together on common projects.
The world clearly does not work by categorical, intentional categories where, once you have pigeonholed a person they are forever restricted to that pigeonhole of activities. Somehow many on the Left believe that by attaching a label on to someone with derogatory connotations that the individual then has all the elements of that category as attributes. I, personally, have been labeled as: conservative, fascist, militaristic, isolationist and who knows what-all by people looking to easily dismiss others and hold their views supreme. Apparently my love of having civil law, restricted government, fighting only when necessary for the nation and not expanding that to include 'humanitarian' enterprises, close examination of the actual need for restrictive laws on such things as medications, wanting trade to support our friends and allies FIRST, and actually getting rid of government systems that impoverish the young to take care of those who should have been *wiser* to save for their needs makes me those labels. And when people ask me questions that should be rhetorical because I've been pigeonholed and that can be proven by a single question and I *don't answer it like I should being in that pigeonhole* throws people off. I pointedly go after the labelers so that they can get a full view and don't get away of trying to simplify and synopsize something so as to misrepresent my ideas to THEMSELVES, not to speak of others.
It is bad enough having this at the personal level, but seeing this at work at the national and international levels to try and liquefy commonly known and understood concepts with ones that are at once both more elitist and less well defined is, in my view, no 'progress'. It is a means of excusing barbarism towards nations and individuals by trying to call it something other than what it is, and say this something other is 'not so bad'.
Somehow having a momentary cultural interface with a militant on non-traditional activities, sounds so much nicer than getting your head chopped off by a barbarian expressing totalitarian views about Islam.
I do wish those who hold the linguistic views of the former would get some experiences of the latter on a first-hand basis for 'cultural enrichment purposes'. I mean if you really *believe* in those categories, that should be an easy thing to do, little risk beyond lost luggage and having a grand experience finding out how such extremists feel about *you* up close and personal.
The language is safe!
Yes, it is damned amazing that for a 1953 murder mystery H. Beam Piper points out ways of thinking that not only exist, but are clearly making the world a worse place because those espousing it are unwilling to just call activities for what they are. That clearly leads to blind alleys and limited perspectives by being unable to cope with individuals who act outside of linguistic constraints. I don't particularly like Sen. McCain saying that 'Americans won't pick lettuce for $50/hour', nor Sen. Clinton's village based snooping system where everyone spies on everyone else for the government. Sen. Obama's views on small town America being bitter holdouts in seas of liberal loveliness run contrary to the good, honest, hard work Americans do in those areas to create a better life for themselves and their children.
I don't like being labeled as 'lazy', 'untrustworthy' or 'bitter'.
All three are making me look at getting some decent guns, though, as no good will come from ANY of these three practicing race, class and gender verbal categories on the nation... because the right to protect my life, liberty and happiness requires the ability to defend them. Personally.
And these three are getting way too personal for my taste.
Might even need a gunroom....