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Recap / A Thing of Vikings Chapter 54 "We Are Who We Are"

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Book II, Chapter 23

Many modern students of the history of science and engineering have bemoaned Hiccup Haddock's apparent "near miss" of the development of the steam engine. As the argument typically goes, he had all of the necessary components with which to construct such a device—boilers, pipes and tight-fitting valves with which to make pistons, and mechanical apparatuses with which to harness the power—and with his experimentalist and pragmatic predilections, he would have surely seen the potential of the device, especially as he had access to books describing Hero of Alexandria's Aeolipile, the first primitive steam-powered device, which predated Haddock by a millennium. Such speculators often envision what route history might have instead taken if Haddock had access to railroads and steamships in addition to dragons.

What such individuals forget is that it still took centuries of progress to develop steam power into the sort of practical forms of energy production they envision. From Brendan Mac Brian's first introduction of a primitive steam-powered mining pump in AD 1381, it took over two hundred and fifty years until the first triple-expansion steam engine and steam turbines were developed (by Mishra in AD 1633 and Cohen in AD 1642, respectively). Not only was Haddock missing many essential parts for the construction of steam engines—precision-bored piston-cylinders, for one example—he had no economic reason to invest the time and effort into developing steam power. He had already made significant strides in developing wind and water power in his teen years, which amply served his industrial power supply needs. Also his early boiler designs, while far superior to earlier approaches, were still extremely primitive and wasteful of heat, fuel and water (some of which were recaptured by other processes, including the famous Berk Baths). Finally, what many people overlook is that Haddock had recently acquired the aid of dragons. The early steam engines were only economically viable as they filled a small niche in a developed and mature dragon-based economy, allowing for more efficient pumping of water from terraurban environments. In Haddock's era, only the earliest potentials of dragon labor and construction had begun to be explored…

The Genius Has No Clothes: An Alternate View Of Innovation, 1818

Tropes That Appear In This Chapter:

  • Berserk Button: While normally easygoing, Heather joking that Hiccup might be the Second Coming kills the mood for Wulfhild.
    Wulfhild: It's not a joke, Heather! That's the sort of thing that gets people executed for heresy!
  • Bi the Way: Cami admits that she likes both men and women.
  • Death by Adaptation: Argyrus dies twenty six years before he did in Real Life.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: While it’s not known how Argyrus died in Real Life, it’s safe to assume it didn’t involve being dropped from a great height by a dragon.
  • Mythology Gag: Astrid's unsuccessful attempt at making a steamed milk beverage during Yule is mentioned, alluding to her Yak Nog recipe in Gift of the Night Fury.
  • Nasty Party: Christophe violates Sacred Hospitality and has Inga, Dogsbreath and their dragon Redspot sold to Henry of Brittany, reasoning that hospitality doesn't apply to those who "swore on false gods."
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  • No Periods, Period: Played for Drama, realizing that they've missed two while having a chat in the bathhouse makes Astrid and Wulfhild realize that they're both pregnant.
  • Wham Line:
    Wulfhild: Astrid... your last monthly was back when the eggs were exploding... over two months ago. So was mine.


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