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Prime Suspect: More from Walter Jon Williams's The Praxis:

The 313-degree Shaa compass had no zero coordinate, but began instead with one, the odd number left over after factoring the prime number.

I guess that's true. Maybe the Shaa could help Bill Gates factor those large prime numbers.

Apart from prime number weirdness (and species essentialism), this is a really fun book. There was a lot of boring clan politics at the beginning, but it turns out that was setup for an examination of how totally dysfunctional is a society based on clan politics. I often suspect these authors of being secretly enamored of the petty intrigues of clan politics, but it's clearly not the case here.

Insta-update: Before posting this entry I asked Adi about the compass thing. His response:

I don't understand that statement at all. Do the Shaa simply relabel their compass? Instead of using labels of 0,1,...,360, their compass uses the labels 1,2,..,313? (i.e., their compass has a full range of motion, but simply a different scale)

If this is in fact true, then I wonder what additive identity the Shaa have chosen. From the statement you wrote, it seems as though the additive identity is 1... which can't of course be consistent with 1 working as a remainder after division by prime numbers. And the "odd number left over after factoring the prime number" does not make sense to me... Why one would use the multiplicative identity [ie. 1] as an additive identity is beyond me.

Unfortunately, by this point in the book the Shaa are all dead, so we can't ask them, and it's clear that a bad compass is the least element of their legacy of incompetence.

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