petermorwood: (Default)
THE SEVEN-SHOT SIX-SHOOTER
In
MEN AT ARMS

A small mystery from the files of
CSI* Ankh-Morpork
SCRVTATIO PLVS DILIGENS
(We Look Harder)

(*Not a Watch department: the Copyedit Slip-up Inspectors work for The Times)

Page numbers from first-edition 1993 Gollancz hardback.


I completely forgot to mention this to anyone during the recent UK Discworld Convention, but it's perhaps the geekiest thing I've ever done. I checked the annotations at AFP just before clicking "Post" and there's no reference to any of what follows. The Gonne's six-shot capacity is mentioned so often that the error described here is an itch I want to scratch.

(If you're interested, there was a real firearm that worked this way, called a "harmonica gun." I showed pictures to Terry at last year's Irish DWCon and he confirmed that this was indeed what he had in mind. Impressively, Josh Kirby did the back-cover illustration - compare it to the real thing - just from text description.)

[p.60] Hammerhock, the soon-to-be-late dwarf weaponsmith, remarks on the six chambers of the thing he's inspecting.

[p.116] Vimes stared at his reflection – something (1) stung his ear and smashed the glass...There was another tinkle and a half bottle of Bearhugger's exploded (2) on the desk...He hit the floor at the same time as a pock coincided with a hole (3) punched through the wall on one side of the window.

[p.117] Pock. Splinters flew up from a point on the floor (4) where it would undoubtedly have severely inconvenienced anyone lying on the boards cautiously raising a decoy helmet on a stick...Something smashed (5) into the doorframe as the door swung to behind him.

[p.122] Vimes finds a metallic object discarded on the roof of the opera house, from which the five described shots at him have been fired.

[p.126] Carrot finds that Lettice Knibbs has been shot from the same place. Though it was probably the first shot fired, I'm counting this as shot (6) to justify the empty clip (or is it a magazine?) found by Vimes.

[p.133] Vimes examines the object: It looked like a short set of Pan pipes, provided Pan was restricted to six notes, all of them the same.

[p.135] Vimes reiterates his thoughts about the six-shot nature of the weapon and recalls how the shooter got off six shots, even though only five were aimed and described as being at him. (He's obviously counting the one that killed Lettice Knibbs.)

[p.138] The distant figure raised what looked like a stick, holding it like a crossbow. And fired. The first shot (1) zinged off Cuddy's helmet... Detritus blinked. Five more shots, (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) one after the other, punctured his breastplate.

[p.251] Lord Vetinari stood up as he saw the Watch running towards him. That was why the first shot (1) went through his thigh, instead of his chest. Then Carrot cleared the door of the carriage and flung himself across the man, which is why the next shot (2) went through Carrot...A third shot (3) knocked a chip out of Detritus, who slammed into the carriage, knocking it on its side and severing the traces...Vimes slid to a halt behind the overturned carriage. Another shot (4) spanged off the cobbles near his arm.

[p.252] A shot (5) hit the carriage wheel above Vimes' head, making it spin... "We wait for one more shot," (Vimes) said. "And then we run for proper cover." Vimes visualises the gonne, once more emphasising its six-shot nature and wondering how fast it can reload.

[p.258] (Colon) didn't even look around, which saved his life. His dive for the floor and the explosion (6) of the gonne behind him happened at exactly the same time. This is the sixth shot, and from Vimes' subsequent actions, he heard it clearly.

There isn't another shot at Colon (because the gonne is empty) and instead Cruces hits him before his escape. But he has clearly reloaded by the time Vimes catches up with him.

[p.264] "Captain Vimes? One thing a good Assassin learns is—" There was a thunderous explosion, (1) and the lamp disintegrated. "—never stand near the light." Vimes hit the floor and rolled. Another shot (2) hit a foot away, and he felt the splash of cold water.

[p.266] The gun jerked and fired (3?) at the same moment as Carrot leapt sideways...The gonne fired four times. (3?, 4, 5, 6) It didn’t miss once. She hit the man heavily, knocking him backwards. Vimes rose in an explosion of spray. "Six shots! That's six shots, you bastard! I’ve got you now!"

(This is one of possibly two very distant references to the first James Bond film, Dr. No. A Bad Guy empties his revolver into a sheet-covered fake Bond. Real Bond then confronts him and orders him to drop the gun, which he does. Bond then seems to allow the Bad Guy (who thinks he's being subtle) to pick up the gun again, but this time he gets nothing but a click. Whereupon Bond says, "That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six," and shoots the Bad Guy. In fact he shoots him twice (though I've seen one TV showing where this is cut) and the second shot is a coldly deliberate 'execution' shot. This made it memorable, because examples of screen Bond being as nasty as his book counterpart are rare (deliberately not saving Bad Guys from the consequences of their own Badness doesn’t count) and I can think of only two: "I never miss" in The World is Not Enough and "Yes, considerably," in the reboot Casino Royale.)

I'm taking shot (3?) apparently at Carrot to also be the first of the four shots at Angua, making Vimes' total a correct one. He pursues Cruces and catches up as

[p.268] Cruces was lying a few feet away, fighting for breath and hammering another rack of pipes into the gonne. Vimes grapples with him and

Now we’ll start to count:

[p.268] The gonne exploded. (1)There was a tongue of red fire, a firework stink and a zing-zing noise from three walls. Something struck Vimes' helmet and zinged away towards the ceiling.

After which, Vimes has possession of the gonne...

[p.269] (Vimes) swore afterwards that he didn't pull the trigger. It moved of its own accord, pulling his finger with it. The gonne slammed into his shoulder (2) and a six-inch hole appeared in the wall by the Assassin's head, spraying him with plaster...He brought the gonne around, not aware of thinking, and let the trigger pull his finger again. (3) A large area of the door and frame became a splinter-bordered hole...Vimes managed to haul the barrel upwards just as it fired, (4) and the shot took away a lot of ceiling...Doors were opening. Doors closed again after the gonne fired again, (5) smashing a chandelier...Vimes shot the lock off, (6) kicked at the door and then fought the gonne long enough to duck.

Note that Vimes doesn't reload and, unlike Cruces after [p.264] he isn't 'off-camera' with an opportunity to do so at any time during the rest of the scene.

[p.272] Vimes drops the gonne. Fourteen lines later, Cruces picks it up. There's still no mention of reloading, but then Carrot runs Cruces through with his sword—

[p.273] And he died. The gonne fell from his hands, and fired at the floor. There was silence. (That makes 7)

Did I miscount somewhere along the line? I don't think so, but if I did – or if indeed this was an error since corrected, let me know!

One other question, and that possible second Dr. No reference: did Carrot hear and count those six shots, then – fully justified by Angua’s death – perform a Bond-style execution on another man with an empty gonne? Which then suggests, was the last shot and consequent miscount added at an editor's request, to prevent Carrot sullying his Nice reputation? (But remember that Good is not the same as Nice, and Personal is not the same as Important.)

There's only one person who can answer that, and I'm not asking, because he's got a sword too!
petermorwood: (Default)
I've been re-reading Ian Fleming's James Bond novels – period pieces all, with a protagonist very different from the debonair gentleman spy of the movies. Sean Connery came closest in Dr No, when he told a villain that he knew the man's gun was empty – "That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six" – then shot him. Twice. The second was a carefully-placed execution round, and though Bond’s double-O license to kill certainly includes execution of traitors and double agents (as in the beginning of the recent Casino Royale, though in my view the Dr No one seems more brutal), a shooting in cold blood, however justified, always has a nastier feel than any amount of action gunplay. M in Goldeneye described Bond as a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur," but the Bond of the books is even less appealing; he's a chain-smoking, alcoholic, xenophobic, culturally illiterate snob. Unusual material for a hero and cultural icon, but there you go.

Why Fleming? It's because I recently discovered an on-line version of his essay, How to Write a Thriller, and was curious to see how his rules applied to the finished product. The essay is too frequently edited, or copied from an edited source, but this one seems complete, and I saved it at once for inclusion in my computer folder "Tools of the Trade"– but, though it wouldn't be proper to edit the original, I couldn't keep from adding footnotes, thus becoming part of a long tradition. Kingsley Amis (in The James Bond Dossier, a thoroughly entertaining lit-crit of the novels) mentioned that even then (1965) catching Fleming out in mistakes was something of an amateur sport.

The notorious business of The Wrong Holster is one of the best-known. Geoffrey Boothroyd, a firearms expert (and, obviously, fan of the books) wrote to Fleming about improving what he saw as 007's rather inadequate guns. It was Boothroyd, later Tuckerized as "Major Boothroyd, the Armourer," who famously dismissed Bond’s .25 Beretta 418 as a "lady’s gun." It really is a pipsqueak weapon, though more than enough for execution and contact-range covert killing. He suggested that Bond be given a .38 Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight, a snub-nosed revolver of the type associated with screen detectives and private eyes, and that it be carried in a "Lightning" Berns-Martin Triple Draw Holster. (Steve McQueen in Bullitt wears something very similar.)

Fleming fumbled the catch a bit. He equipped Bond with this holster all right (I think he liked the sound of its elaborate name) but instead of the revolver, put the iconic Walther PPK automatic in it. This pairing would never work: the holster is purpose-designed for a revolver, held in place by a curved spring around the cylinder. Automatics don't have cylinders, and the Walther is a distinctly flat example. Worse, when used as a shoulder-holster, the "Lightning" is worn upside-down. Result: the Walther would fall out every time. Oops. (Of course there are apologists who suggest that the Armourer meant a custom-built holster for the Walther. I suggest that Fleming got it wrong.)

Oddly enough, though Boothroyd did indeed recommend the Walther, it was as a weapon for the Bad Guys! I'm surprised Fleming didn’t take him up on it, because I can't think of any instance in the Bond novels when Germans or Germany are mentioned favourably; the people and the country are always seen as a threat to England (but not, apparently, to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.) Since this tic even spills over into Fleming's non-fiction work, Thrilling Cities, giving Bond a German gun seems out of character.

Amis gives very favourable mention to another commentary I'd like to read, though I've no idea how to get hold of a copy. The Gunnery of James Bond, by Bob Glass, appeared in "Snakes Alive," the journal of the Belfast Medical School (Trinity 1963), and though I went to Queen's University I had no association with the medical side. I'll track it down some day, because Glass's writing, according to Amis, is full of "energy and obvious enjoyment," and he corrects Fleming not through malice but because he's another enthusiastic fan.
"Few men" (writes Amis of Fleming) "could be so often wrong and yet seem so thoroughly, effortlessly, copiously, multifariously, triumphantly right."
Sounds like Kingsley was a bit of a fan, too.

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