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Chriskander



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PostSubject: Anachronism stories   Sun Jun 19, 2011 8:03 pm

Moderns in Earlier Worlds.

Having written a series of novels (The Iskander series at Double Dragon E-Books) featuring a small group of modern castaways in an alternate 17th century world, I must own to being one of those fascinated by this type of anachronistic stories. The discussion here will be about the attraction and the writing in the genre.

I see several scenarios of interest:
1. Lone modern castaways who have to adapt to an earlier time.
“King of Silk” Joe Douglas Trent
2. People who go back in time with a deliberate purpose.
“The Summer Tree” Guy Gavriel Kay
3. People of an earlier time suddenly transported to a later society.
“Rip Van Winkle” Washington Irving

There are crossovers within these scenarios—my Iskander stories being one in that my castaways constituted a large enough and knowledgeable enough group that they could begin to alter the earlier world. Lone castaways typically do not have the resources to make more than a small mark on their ‘hosts’.

I arrived at my scenario from a long interest in history, particularly the history of technology. My first attempt to write a story around the scenario of a modern man in an earlier time was woven around my speculation about different avenues of development of sea-going ships than the historical ones. My chap was in early Greek or Roman times and attempted to produce larger ships with modern sailing rig that were faster and more seaworthy than the contemporary merchantman.

This was the story that taught me that a single modern could achieve very little in the way of revolutionising the society he lands in. If my chap were to succeed in raising the money and locating the willing shipwrights to build his masterpiece, he would likely run into the same brick wall as Isambard Kingdom Brunel did in the middle of the 19th century with his huge “Great Eastern” —the commerce of the age was set up only for smaller cargoes, and the efficiency of size could not be realised. My poor protagonist ran into so many problems that I gave up before he ever got a keel laid. javascript:emoticonp('lol!')

I read a science fiction story that depicted a successful anachronistic entrepreneur—years ago when I was a teenager and now I can remember neither title nor author. It was probably in Astounding, that I then subscribed to. This protagonist single-handedly produced a modern corporation in our times that was able to repair a damaged spaceship of a type so far in advance of Earth technology that the whole infrastructure and workforce had to be bootstrapped from total ignorance. The ending of the story revealed that this fellow was actually the alien who had arrived in the damaged ship, and he had set up the whole enterprise in order to repair the ship and continue on his journey. The trouble some people will go to, to get off this world.

My Iskanders are a hundred and ten modern techs and scientists from Earth who are on a journey to a colony world where they have contracts to develop infrastructure, when they take a wrong wormhole jump and end up on an earth called Gaia in an alternate universe. In one fell swoop I have the tech power and the incentive for these people to start an industrial revolution in this 17th century world of cannons, rapiers, and sailing ships. Even then, as I tell in the early story, called “Arrival”, it takes them half a year to even establish their credibility. The whole series depicts the adventures of Gisel Matah as she’s involved with five years of their struggles to produce a safe and profitable living for themselves.

So what is your take? Do you think it easy or almost impossible to change the direction of history? What modern technologies might catch on in an earlier time? What would be the story dynamic in a scenario where someone from an earlier time lands in our society? How close is the whole idea of anachronistic visitors to the alternate history genre?
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ccmalandrinos

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PostSubject: Re: Anachronism stories   Mon Jun 20, 2011 7:26 am

Interesting discussion, Chris. I think if I came into your series in the beginning, I would have understood the whole scheme of things better. Because by the time I read an Iskander book, Gisel and her team were already well established, I found myself struggling a bit to figure out their technology versus the confines of the century they were in.

In fiction, nothing is impossible, but I do feel one person alone would have a much harder time of changing the direction or history than a group. There was a short lived TV series called Voyagers, where Phineas Bogg (Jon-Erik Hexum) was one of a group of voyagers who traveled through time to fix wrong history. Then, of course, there is the more popular, Quantum Leap, which had a different take on things, with Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) time traveling into difference people's bodies and fixing problems. I found these situations fascinating. It seems to me, however, that to introduce future technology too early could have a negative effect.

Alternate history is a bit different than what you're talking here. Typically the writer is imagining a different outcome to an historical event, whereas in anachronism stories the characters are creating the change in history.

I look forward to more on this.

Thanks.

Cheryl

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jdtrent



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PostSubject: Re: Anachronism stories   Mon Jun 20, 2011 5:58 pm

This subject was interesting to me too. The idea of many vs. few vs. one travelers didn't occur to me, although it's an interesting concept.

For some time I've wondered. What I would do if put in a situation in some prior time. I read, of course, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. His character was open with his talents and was able to do a lot of things, but in the end was ineffectual at trying changing society. I remember one conversation about the effects of inflation and the guy he's talking to not able to grasp it and saying, "But I have more money."

I was thinking about this one day and had a vision of this final scene where some king or other powerful person discovered this person's knowledge of technology and demanded he go to work for him. A discussion of unintended consequences ensued.

In my story, the main character takes his Rolex watch along. When he discovers that the locals might kill him as a witch because of it, he hides the watch and his true identity. Later, when he tries to start introducing more modern technology, the folks with entrenched interests oppose him. I suppose that's pretty common for anyone who threatens the current order.

To your question about being able to change history: I don't know. The old time paradox thing says if you change history, you change your own life and you never go back in time to change history. Aside from that, I guess you could change it somewhat by taking out an important person here or there. But societal change, I think, would come up against opposition. Some things can't be introduced before society is ready.

Some technologies might be slipped in, but some you just couldn't make work. Take electricity. It could have been generated in the 15th century by someone who knew how, but large-scale transmission would have to wait until people started mining and producing aluminum. And copper, for that matter, in large quantities.

On the other hand, as you pointed out, enough people with enough resources could force the issue.

An interesting take on time traveling/alternate histories might be a concept that time travel causes a fork in history and, therefore, an alternate universe. Hmm... Oh, somebody's probably already done it.

Cool discussion.

Joe

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Fate decides to teach him a lesson.
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Chriskander



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PostSubject: Re: Anachronism stories   Tue Jun 21, 2011 6:36 pm

Anachronisms in one world or many worlds.

“concept that time travel causes a fork in history”

You have hit on the principle of the bifurcation, Joe. In the Many World’s theory of Quantum Mechanics, the resolution of an action that has two equally probable outcomes creates a bifurcation that splits reality into two streams. This is the answer to the thought experiment problem of Schrodinger’s Cat, that resides in its box, both alive and dead until some observer opens the box and the wave function collapses.

I see you are looking at the ‘out of time’ person or people acting in a single world-stream—ours. I agree that it’s unbelievable that the past would be changed to something other than the reality we record, but what about having it change the past from something a-historical into one we have in our history? There should be a story or two there.

In my Iskander series novels I avoided the problem of the a-historical anachronism by placing the setting in an alternate world. The bifurcation I picked was that of the Carthaginians winning the Punic Wars and there having been no Roman Empire. It was an armchair exercise to create a history following this where the Carthaginians and Greeks both acted to produce a Semitic/Greek civilisation that had a similar technological development to our world but resulting in different nations. For example, since there was no Rome, there was no Germainia, and no Limes Germanicus. The Germanic tribes expanded into Celtic Europe probably earlier and wound up creating different nations.

I didn’t use that much detail in the novels because they were set in a period some 1900 years later. The problem I did create for myself was trying to substitute names with Greek rather than Latin roots. Kosmoneos instead of Terra Nova, for example. The word ‘mile’ became verboten, since it comes from the Latin, from mille passum, a thousand paces. After a few novels I realised the readers didn’t care about such niceties and slackened my rules.

So you used Michael’s watch as a metaphor for his attachment to his modern world life? I didn’t catch that. You made much more of the pull he feels to his previous life than I did. Out of all the Iskanders, only Gisel’s brother acts out the wish he were still on Earth and so takes on the task of keeping their spaceborne technology working aboard the starship in its stationary orbit. He’s their math whiz, so being housed with their mainframe allows him to remain closer to his Earth interests. They make use of the starship as a communications link and weather watcher, which allows them to introduce a change in seaborne trade for their allies by selling simple radio receivers with weather forecasts and time signals broadcast from space.

Did you have an alternate ending at some point when you were writing? What if Michael had become a rich and powerful ‘king of silk’? He could still end the same way, but have to give up more

Chris H.

Website: www.christopherhoare.ca
Iskander Blog : http://thewildcatsvictory.wordpress.com
Rast Blog: http://trailowner.blogspot.com
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jdtrent



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PostSubject: Re: Anachronism stories   Tue Jun 21, 2011 9:24 pm

Chris, I wondered about the time travel itself causing the bifurcation. I might think on that one a while. Which stream would you end up in? Could you go back to the unchanged version? If you could, what could you exploit while there?

In regard to alternate endings: In the original short story, the ending came about two chapters before the "final" ending. I realized that the story wasn't over yet. Then I realized it again. :-)

In a different vein, I liked (in your novel Rast) your different approach in steam technology and how the "more advanced" civilization must be superior to the technologically disadvantaged, at least in their own minds. What cultures did you take that from? I could see the Americans vs. natives of this country and many others.

Joe
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Chriskander



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PostSubject: Re: Anachronism stories   Tue Jun 21, 2011 10:14 pm

The Offrangs are a parody of two cultures I know quite well. First, bear in mind that most of Rast was written in 2003, while Iraq crumbled into chaos. The second was Imperial Britain where I was raised; so they were an amalgum of the two. My image of the Offrangs bouncing along in their land transporters was a very Monty Python one.

I served in the British Army, and worked in Libya in the oilfields---my grandfather was in the artillery in India and the Boer War, so illusions of superiority were familiar to me. My perception was that the basic human qualities and morale of the less technological people, be they Indians, East Indians, or Iraqis, were at least equal to the materialists who depended on their technology to maintain their morale. My Rasts are an amalgum of desert Arabs and plains Indians.

Taking some historical surprise out of the air---What if Queen Mary had determined to have her sister Elizabeth executed, say after Wyatt's rebellion against her marrying Phillip of Spain in 1554. Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower for a few weeks after the rebellion even tho' Wyatt had testified Elizabeth had no connection with the plot. Our time traveller could rescue Elizabeth from the Tower. or intercept an order for her execution, or confront Mary with the injustice of the action---something to bring about the historical outcome.
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PostSubject: Re: Anachronism stories   Wed Jun 22, 2011 11:19 am

Chriskander wrote:
Taking some historical surprise out of the air---What if Queen Mary had determined to have her sister Elizabeth executed, say after Wyatt's rebellion against her marrying Phillip of Spain in 1554. Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower for a few weeks after the rebellion even tho' Wyatt had testified Elizabeth had no connection with the plot. Our time traveller could rescue Elizabeth from the Tower. or intercept an order for her execution, or confront Mary with the injustice of the action---something to bring about the historical outcome.

Very interesting concept here, Chris. I've been reading more historical fiction about Elizabeth I, but I'm not as familiar with this era as you. Is this a story you would like to tackle in the future?

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Chriskander



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PostSubject: Re: Anachronism stories   Wed Jun 22, 2011 11:55 am

Hi Cheryl:

I'm familiar with the Tudors because I've started research more than once with the intention of writing a historical or alternate historical novel within the period. Several different ideas later I have nothing but an opening chapter of two or three different ideas---I've lost track.

I think one of my blocks is the fact that I must be in love with Anne Boleyn---I keep looking for ways to rescue her. I read her as a very confident and strong woman---much like Gisel Matah my Iskander novels' protagonist. Her sardonic message she knew would be reported to King Henry at her execution is worth reading:--

Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.'

After being blindfolded and kneeling at the block, she repeated several times:
'To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul.'

Her daughter, Queen Elizabeth, would be a good Tudor to write about---hundreds have already done it. My novel trials went furthest in a plot concerning her sister, Queen Mary, and her attempts to bear Phillip of Spain's child---all with the intention of keeping Elizabeth from the throne. I may pick it up again one day.

Chris.

Website: www.christopherhoare.ca
Iskander Blog : http://thewildcatsvictory.wordpress.com
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jdtrent



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PostSubject: Re: Anachronism stories   Wed Jun 22, 2011 10:34 pm

Chris, I'm researching for a new book that involves a western American Indian tribe. Even after studying and being around some of the people and trying to understand what the English/American culture did to these peoples, I find myself falling into the same way of thinking.

Last February, I sat in the living room of a marvelous elderly Paiute woman. She gave me lots of information and showed me books and other information on their history. When she handed me a book on the Paiute language they teach high school kids, I just asked her how I could get a copy, as if I had a right to it. I wanted it to incorporate some of the language in my novel.

She was gracious, and would have gotten me a copy if I promised not to use it commercially or spread it around. White folks have a history of taking and profiting from Native goods and belief systems. It's a hard thing for some to realize that not everything is for sale or for the taking.

It's been a good education.

Joe
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PostSubject: Re: Anachronism stories   Thu Jun 23, 2011 6:34 am

I hope you pick it again, Chris. It sounds like an interesting read.

What a great experience, Joe.

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