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Puttin’ on the Ritz


   Whether or not this scenario is hard AH or ASB fodder is debatable; and it is debated by minds more suited to it than mine. To start with, we need a refresher course in physics.

   It’s frequently supposed that Albert Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity are towering and unique achievements, and that if he had not lived, his work may not have been duplicated yet. A quick perusal of the scientific journals of the 19-aughts shows this to be rubbish. No fewer than four persons (Einstein, Lorentz, Poincare and Ritz) proposed solutions to the basic problem at hand, the existence or non-existence of “ether”. Peer review uncovered flaws in Poincare’s mathematics, and his theory was quickly retired. Ritz died about a year after publishing his preliminaries; without an active voice defending them in the journals of peer review, his work was quickly swept under the rug (except for some brilliant equations involving atomic spectra and quantum energy levels) and the duel was between Lorentz and Einstein. It was settled in 1919, when Eddington made a polar expedition to take precise measurements of, among other things, the position and trajectory of Mercury; Lorentz’s and Einstein’s theories predicted different values for it. The evidence came in for Einstein, and e=mc^2 became accepted physical law. Twenty-four years later, we saw a mushroom cloud in New Mexico.

   Peer review is all well and good, but one might consider that mushroom cloud the ultimate argument in Einstein’s favor. The problem is that Ritz’s equations remain the most detailed and accurate for calculating electromagnetic phenomena; his verbal explanation may seem out of whack, but his math was better than Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Feynman or Hawking.

   So, given that his math is good, what might he have accomplished if allowed to defend his work further, eclipsing Einstein? I’m going to give him another 36 years (he was born in 1878) so that he dies in 1935 (the eve of war, perhaps). The “duel” in physics will thus continue to be between Ritz and Einstein, the Eddington expedition will be unnecessary or otherwise occupied, and Einsteinian space-time becomes a subject for esoteric scholars and cranks as the majority of the physics community sides with Ritz (the German scientific journals of the day did anyway). I shall assume that the intellects of the two men operate at comparable speeds, so that Ritz comes up with some equation to account for diffraction through an atmosphere in 1918 (as WWI wraps up; I suspect his survival would not have impacted that struggle materially). At that point, the state of physics could be summed up as follows: a mechanism for diffraction supposes a means of affecting diffraction, so Ritz would appear to have found a way to use massive electrostatic charges to generate raw force—the “tractor” and “pressor” beams of Star Trek fame. If I read his math correctly, the energy involved is truly massive, but for the moment that’s secondary. Ritz has a theoretical basis for artificial gravity and antigravity, but it’s way out there and probably needs refinement by a later mind (Feynman, Wheeler, and Tetrode all leap to mind).

   What he doesn’t have is a very good explanation for radio, television, the telephone and other wave-based information phenomena. Ritz doesn’t believe in waves at all (it’s all particles) but radio is already in its infancy. This is probably what makes people take another look at Lorentzian electromagnetism in the 1990s and 2000s, but we’ll set it aside for now and assume a kludgy sort of quantized wave is postulated, and the engineers run with it.

   There are a few interesting stumbling blocks in the near future for Ritz; the first and greatest is Enrico Fermi. Fermi was more of a tinker than a deep theorist, and he just might discover nuclear fission accidentally (he narrowly avoided doing just that in OTL 1934). Neutrons will still be isolated by Chadwick, Fermi will shoot beryllium and polonium full of neutrons just to see what happens, and discover nuclear transmutation, nuclear decay and nuclear fission pretty much in one swoop. He’ll publish. Someone, somewhere, will realize the possibility of a self-sustaining reaction with the stuff. But without Einstein’s famous little formula, nobody realizes that this is the key to absolutely ridiculous amounts of energy. If Fermi remains with the Italians rather than flees to America (give him a different wife; his wife Laura was Jewish in OTL), he can even be wrongly labelled a Nazi crackpot. He has sown the seeds for a re-examination of Einstein, but relatively few people will correlate his work with articles since “discredited” in German scientific journals from 20 years ago.

   The other two are Louis de Broglie and Wolfgang Pauli. Pauli will be a childhood convert to Ritz, and the man who first isolates the fundamental particle of force, which we’ll call (sorry) a forceon. He’ll clean up Ritz’s particle theories for public consumption. If we were going to introduce quantum gravity, he’s where it would come from. Without his exclusion principle, though, the structure of the atom remains in post-Bohr limbo, and atomic physics is retarded. He may arrive at it anyway—it’s darned handy for explaining the motion of electromagnetic forces through ferrous materials—or someone else might. But he’s the man who really retards nuclear physics thanks to his new priorities. Incidentally, his sojourn in America during the War was sheer dumb luck; butterflies could put him working for either side, or dead.

   The last problem child I’ll mention is Louis de Broglie. Broglie reasoned that since matter and energy are interchangeable on some levels, and energy has waves, then…so does matter. This explained the existence of quantum electron levels within atoms; once they were bound up as matter, electrons could only exist at a harmonic of their fundamental frequency (deliberately distorted and simplified). Since both of his suppositions are considered untrue by a slight majority of the physics community in TTL, we could relegate him to the status of basement crank, high-school chemistry teacher or Vienna patent clerk. That’s not too likely for a brilliant aristocrat, though. I propose that, instead, he studies the exciting work being done in X-ray crystallography in those days. Comparing Ritzian theoretical diffraction with observed X-ray diffraction, he advances the study of the structure of crystals and makes some minor corrections to Ritz’s theory (Ritz was working with much lower quantum energy levels, what the crass would call frequencies, so he may have missed something). He should arrive at something fundamental, I know, but I’ve having trouble thinking of what. Perhaps he proposes a crystalline, geometric sort of atomic internal structure that sends scientists on a wild goose chase for a decade or two.

   What do we have at the dawn of WWII, since we don’t and won’t have the Big Bomb? We have the sweetest anti-aircraft gun imaginable. A “Ritz Force Cannon” takes too much energy to be mounted on a tank or a plane, but you can connect one to a city power grid. A parabolic targeting reflector seems the way to go; with a perfect parabola, you get a pinpoint weapon that will shear a plane in half effortlessly. Distort the parabola a bit, and you have a sort of shotgun weapon that virtually can’t miss its target, but only acts like the aforementioned tractor beam, so the gunner must steer the plane into a solid unmoving object before he loses power or lock. Probably not too difficult; strategic bombing of population centers like London or Dresden has pretty much ceased to be an effective strategy, unless it’s a very cheap unmanned warhead which can do some damage wherever it comes down (chemical and biological weapons). Knocking out a cities’ power supply becomes an important tactical point.

   Nearly every country, I suspect, will have access to Ritz’s work. I suspect the ineffectiveness of air attacks on population centers will be understood by most major parties to the war at its beginning; aircraft are used to harass and defend columns of ground forces, but large bombers probably aren’t developed, as they can’t really improve on the performance of an artillery battery for the same money. Bomber money might get redirected to Naval forces, but for simplicities’ sake we’ll say it went into designing and building those Ritz Cannons. I would gladly let a WWII tactical maven amplify upon these points, but I note in passing that 1) the Battle of Britain is likely to pose less of a threat to the British, 2) Operation Olympic is America’s only viable plan with reference to Japan, 3) Pearl Harbor may go differently, and the IJN may commit different forces to its expedition. Indeed, carrier airwings are risky propositions, as a Ritz gunner just might plow your own fighter back into your ship. 4) the poorer understanding of electromagnetic forces as waves is very likely to retard the development of radar.

   We depart the field of war now, with a general observation; if manned strategic bombers are wasted money, ballistic warheads are not, particularly as the same Ritz Cannons can be used to launch a warhead fairly cheaply, or at the very least extend its range dramatically. And it’ll likely do some good wherever it comes down, and if you swarm a target with rockets, the gunners can’t possibly get them all.

   After the War, interest in rocketry is stimulated because of the relative cheapness of the launch equipment and its marked effectiveness when compared with bombers. With no nukes there is no immediate possibility of mass death, or at least a lessened one. The lack of experience building large, long-range aircraft retards commercial aviation significantly. The missile-delivered biological weapon, though, is so easy and so nasty that it’s almost guaranteed someone will try it before the UN outlaws it. Détente will proceed interestingly without the mushroom cloud looming over everyone’s head (and to my mind, perhaps less smoothly; the USA, at least, feels it has less to lose). With no reactor-engines, the duration of ships at sea, especially submarines, remains at WWII levels indefinitely. And no civilian reactors means continued reliance on coal and oil; air pollution will be substantially worse, although that may kick off an earlier environmental movement. OPEC will have a bigger sword to hold over everyone. Oil will be precious enough that plastic will be more expensive, and will replace wood and iron more slowly; efficient motor engines, electric cars, mass transit, and solar power will all be explored earlier and to a greater degree in the West. But without the nuclear escape hatch, pollution and production are rather more like a zero-sum game than OTL. The lowered cost of launch once a large enough Ritz generator is in place means that space stations are likely to be completed by all major powers sooner than OTL, and at lower cost.

   The Soviets won’t even try to play the environmentalism game. They have the land and the resources to create an environmental disaster on a scale OTL has never seen (and OTL former Warsaw Pact is already horrific to someone from the West). They can, however, build a centralized power grid much faster and with fewer political obstacles than the West, and they tend to have gifted mathematicians and physicists (if only because the intelligent and perceptive stay out of the social and biological sciences). I suspect that come the 60s, it will be the Soviets who combine better rocketry with more power to crack the problem of practical antigrav and loft things into orbit. Sputnik need not be a useless tin can in TTL; but we cannot go further until we examine precisely how badly radio and its cousins have been retarded.

   Ritz is a bit late. Wireless radio communication is at the dots-and-dashes, spark-gap stage when Ritz publishes his first critique in 1808, but by the time his hypothetical masterwork is published, the diode and triode vacuum tubes have revolutionized radio and brought us all voice transmission (thanks to the military value of such a development during WWI). A theory which does not involve “waves” of any kind seems on the surface of things absurd, particularly given Rutherford’s interference and light slit experiments, taught to most schoolchildren. But physics can labor on under the most extreme of conditions. Given what has gone before, a revision of Ritz is clearly needed; but inferior broadcasting engineering will retard (or even prevent) broadcast television, although commercial radio and cable television can and will be implemented only slightly behind schedule. Cell phones are similarly held back. Without the mass medium of television shaping people’s minds until (perhaps) the 70s or even 80s, I hesitate to speculate about popular culture. The Internet will not be developed because the strategic need is not present, although computer networking on the corporate and military level seems likely enough.

   Astronomer Edwin Hubble will discover the redshifting of galaxies and publish during the 20s, but without Einsteinian spacetime, there’s no clear explanation for his observations. Clearly galaxies are departing one another, but it’s accepted wisdom that the size and shape of the Universe are static and Hubble isn’t convincing enough to overturn this. The “steady state” theory of cosmology is adopted, adequately explaining all observed phenomena for some decades to come. The bug in Hubble’s observations is this: given the non-Einsteinian understanding of spacetime, when his numbers are crunched the Milky Way Galaxy emerges as the stationary center of the Universe. Some may recall the geocentric theory of the solar system and attempt to disprove Hubble, but I suspect this is a huge shot in the arm to religious scientists and spiritualists.

   Let’s now turn to the problem of power consumption. Western Civilization’s consumption of electricity has never outstripped its production in meaningful ways in OTL, because just as we run out of oil our mining technologies improve enough to cost-effectively tap a previously unavailable oilfield. We have come very close on more than one occasion, however—most notably the late 70s/early 80s, but before that during the late 60s/early 70s when Venezuela was first tapped. In TTL, however, the lack of nuclear power means that oil consumption must proceed at a faster and faster pace, and it will accelerate as the discrepancy between TTL’s power generation and ours broadens. A substantial amount of reserve power must also be held in TTL to power the Ritz defense guns in the event of an attack. I suspect that during the 70s, the price of oil and then electricity will skyrocket as production hits the wall. After all, every attempt to curb demand for electricity that I’m aware of in OTL has failed completely.

The power crisis can be circumvented, of course. Solar power and coal can make up the gap, at the cost of substantially greater air pollution (which was already higher than OTL). Lifestyles can be modified to rely on less electricity and oil in the developed nations. All of this will take more time to design and implement than the public wants to wait, though. Persons in developing nations will see the lifestyle of the first world plummet, allegedly never to return to its 1970 level, and realize that they will never experience the same level of comfort. First world citizens protest having their electricity strictly rationed when they are not at war (and rationing programs, once implemented, are incredibly difficult to get rid of). As transoceanic shipping mostly runs on oil that doesn’t exist anymore, intercontinental trade becomes a rarity and extreme luxury until a coal-burning fleet can be reconstructed. It’s at this point that I understand I do not wish to live in the Ritz timeline; multiple manned space stations notwithstanding, a decade of worldwide discontent, disruption and likely poverty, just at the time I anticipate Ritzian weapons of mass destruction (see below) will be developed in a world without the experience of a clearly articulated MAD doctrine, looks like the advent of another World War. I do not care to wager about its outcome, its theatre or even its flashpoint, over sixty years after the PoD, but I suspect it comes now.

1949: Weak nuclear force and electromagnetism found to combine at high energy levels. (discovered OTL late 70s; better electromagnetic theory allows it to be discovered earlier in TTL).

1962: Sustained electroweak reaction produced in laboratory.

1975: Test detonation of first Ritz-nuclear weapon (amplifies the “weak nuclear” force to release beta and alpha radiation as atomic mass collapses. A later iteration will produce the “gamma bomb”, which nullifies the weak nuclear force, causing the reaction mass to collapse into neutronium only to explode outward again as gamma radiation). My money’s on the Soviets, but the superpowers may acquire them at similar times. A Ritz weapon has very little “flash” or “blast” but releases at least as much (probably much more) radiation than an OTL nuke. This is the neutron bomb sought by so many OTL strategists, without a “nuke” preceding it on the development line. As an aside, Ritz beams will be miniaturized enough to be used as point-defense guns on ships about now. The use of manned military aircraft thus suffers another blow. The shoulder-mounted, single-shot Ritz projector is technically feasible, but the time and effort to train soldiers in the use of a marginal weapon means that it will see little battlefield use. The terrorists and guerrillas will love them, though.

If the pollution, power crisis and hypothetical war fail to topple civilization as we know it, the 80s will see the use of Ritz’s principles to create highly effective radiation shielding (a powered field, naturally). Spiffy for keeping the developed powers on top, of course, but also a huge boon to space exploration. The possibility of drawing on the early crystallography work to create crystals which react to forceon bombardment in peculiar ways should be mentioned as well (I’m thinking first of the ultimate clean room, vacuum and apparatus sealed within a large crystal. Ritz tractor beams can be used to manipulate things in the “room”, but nothing actually goes in or out).  

Dates were selected by comparison with the gap between theory and implementation in OTL. A theory of quantum gravity was not introduced, in part for lack of information, mostly because it’s virtually a second PoD, however logical (think of it as an expansion I may write later). My apologies for lack of precise political and military information on the post-WWII world, but between massive butterflies already afield and different tactical considerations in the war itself, I can posit an Allied victory on economic grounds but no particulars. I welcome collaboration with a tactical maven to help me flesh out the timeline.