The Greer "America" Trilogy

For discussion, as I’ve decided now is a good time to read through them again, and I know others have read at least some of them.

“Twilight’s Last Gleaming” - America bites off more than it can chew in a conflict.

“Retrotopia” - An interesting set of solutions to the problems of decline.

“Star’s Reach” - The rubble has stopped bouncing.

My recollection is that Star’s Reach is the best of the books, Retrotopia is a bit of a tour through a landscape with plot existing to string scenes together, and Twilight’s Last Gleaming fails to live up to the Tom Clancy standard, but is still a fun page turner.

Anyone else in for discussion through them?

I will get back to you on Star’s Reach in just 2 more chapters!

I’m up for it. I enjoyed all three of them. In terms of my favourites, it’s a toss-up between Retrotopia and Star’s Reach - I like them (and have my nitpicks) for different reasons.

Retrotopia is definitely plot-thin, but it’s enough of a plot to make it work and what works is that I really want to live there.

Star’s Reach, on the other hand, reminds me that some of the things I love (amateur radio and canal transport, among others) have viability looooong into the future.

Of the things that exist in those worlds, one of the things I would most like to get back is the intuitive sense of engineering rather than the academic sense of it. The ability to make proper slide-rule calculations that are suitable for correct engineering purposes and will keep bridges up and airplanes in the air and vessels with the water on the right side of the hull at all times. That’s just a lost art these days, and I’m afraid it will be nearly impossible to get it back at the level we had in the '70s and early '80s. There just aren’t any mentors left, I don’t think, who can pass on the intuition, the tricks and shortcuts that are worth taking and which ones aren’t and the wisdom to know the difference. This really concerns me about our actual future, and it makes me wonder if we’ll be in for a rough, dangerous ride of “wing-it” engineering until at least some of those rules are figured out again.

Yeah… part of the reason I think the SR-71 is the most impressive airplane ever built is because it was designed by guys with slide rules, who just had an intuitive feel for air and what would work. If you built something similar today, with modern CFD simulations… OK. But to build that without any real computer design involved… damn.

Interesting bit in TLG, Ch9: “The Navy lost one F-14 and one F/A-18, and they were right in the thick of it with us.”

TLG came out in 2014.

The F-14 was retired by the US Navy in 2006. Yet, is still flying in 2025 in the book. Oversight, or a “… ugh, well, at least they work…” intentional reversion implied?

Iran was still flying some even in the years after the book was written, interestingly. However, I do think it was an oversight, as apparently the US shredded (!) the F-14s that were in storage, so they wouldn’t have been able to be recalled in actual fact. That or he is just assuming an alternative timeline and they recalled them because the Lardbucket and it’s ilk sucked so badly. Greer does that.

Yeah, Iran still flying them wouldn’t have stood out as weird, but the US still having them in Navy service seemed weird. I suppose a good question to ask next open thread!

Well, canonical answer:

Russell, it was a mistake on my part. It should have been two F/A-18s.

So, moving on with all that… in that same comment thread there is an interesting link which hints at TLG’s broad-stroke idea:

Yes. And any halfway competent adversary could also see that…

I used to assume that when military spokespeople were talking to journalists and the general public they were intentionally spouting obvious blather like that to avoid saying anything actually important. Now, I’m not so sure…

You really just have to have a few extra surface-to-ship missiles than the CIWS has ammo for. And surface-to-ship missiles are cheap compared to the ships and their supply tail to make it all the way across an ocean to your shores.

There are a few layers, with some longer range anti-missile weapons, then the short range CIWS. But there’s a limited supply of ammo for all of them, and the reloading process is far from fast.

So, given any reasonable defense system, there exists a number of cruise missiles which can overwhelm it - details on the number are probably both classified and well known to adversaries who would be interested.

And that’s before you get into the air independent propulsion systems and supercavitating rocket torpedoes. I believe Sweden has some AIP subs that reliably surface next to carriers in wargames.

TLG remains a great reminder of a point Greer has mentioned at various points: Other nations have their own interests, desires, and goals. Standing still and playing the part (“punching bag”) the US has assigned them rarely happens in practice.

TLG ends with, not a bang, but the sort of whimper that reflects reality.

Given Afghanistan… and China saber rattling around Taiwan… which makes all our chips…


I’d forgotten just how fun (and fast) a read Retrotopia is. It remains an awful lot of really good ideas that do seem hard to get implemented, though at least out here, a general “Ugh, yeah, tech…” sentiment exists. When Sunday sermons include cracks about the latest and greatest phone that you, of course, should buy for “security updates” and such (in a section on how the world always wants more and more)… well, I can’t say the sentiment about the current piles of broken tech is improving over time.

One of the things I’ve been thinking through a lot is the opportunity cost of technologies, not only in money, but in just “admin time overhead.” How much time do I spend maintaining the technology that other technology relies on, and is it actually useful? I spent some time this weekend fighting the property area link that binds the house and my office together so they can share internet connections, transfer files, etc. One of the radios was acting up and I’m still not sure if the radio was just configured in a weird way or if it’s actually suffering a hardware failure, but it’s back up, and… I spent a few hours on it. It’s nice being able to share connections, transfer files without a hard drive, etc, but… do I need it? Is it actually of great use? Harder question.

The reaction to my bananphone has been interesting too, there’s a lot of gears that start turning. Especially if I show off that it does have some basic functions people have grown quite reliant on - email access and maps. Once people know it has those… the gears turn faster. I don’t think many people I talk to like their cell phones anymore, just that they’ve become the default for literally everything anymore.

I definitely have some pondering to do about my relationship with modern technology (no surprises here), and more and more, I’m wondering if I really should be trying older alternatives. Maybe I should just pick up a scythe and attack our grasses that way… or a chicken tractor.

Anyway, definitely remains a good read. Depressing as hell, though, as we watch the wheels come off modern supply chains.