Differences and Comparisons in an Alternate World.

The main reason for using an earlier alternate Earth as scenario for a novel or a series is the freedom to explore events that did not happen in our world. I’ve already covered the absence of a Roman Empire. A bigger distortion, following critical suggestions from early readers, was the introduction of the prior arrival of another group of off-worlders – the crew of a lost star-cruiser from yet another alternate Earth. Yeah, I felt it stretched credibility too far as well.

This criticism of my original scenario took place near the summit of the hubris under which the Bush administration took on two wars that they thought would be walk-overs. My critiquers didn’t accept that any society without advanced technology could pose a threat to a modern intrusion. Hello, Iraq and Afghanistan. We now know better – in fact I knew better then – but I felt I should cater to the beliefs of my potential readers.

So I added the Trigons to the series, conquering the indigenous Greco-Carthaginian Empire about two hundred years earlier. I had felt the indigenous empire was all too capable of getting the better of my hi-tech arrivals, and so I postulated only a couple of hundred Trigons who had intermarried to the point that they had become a foreign aristocracy who devoted most of their energy to protecting their privileges from the locals – much like the Normans in 11th/12th century England. I did keep my intention of showing that a lack of technological expertise doesn’t mean the local antagonists are incompetent, and also that in any conflict situation it is morale, belief system, and courage that wins every time. Unless you happen to be sitting in Langley, Virginia, and bombing some helpless individuals in Pakistan, but then the degree of arrogance displayed is counter-productive to any future settlement.

The Trigons were from a society technologically more advanced than my Iskander Earthlings, but they were a military crew, capable of operating their star-cruiser efficiently, but no more capable of maintaining or replacing it than would the modern crew of an atomic submarine be of doing the same to theirs. When refueling or major maintenance is needed on any of these modern ‘wonders’ they have to be taken to the specialist installations to have the work carried out by a whole new team. No wonder then that the Trigon conquerors lost not only the use of their star-cruiser in the intervening 200 years, but also the ability to maintain a technologically advanced society. They are right back to the same 17th century infrastructure that the locals had created.

Which brings me to the reasons for picking the late 17th century for my Gaian society. Firstly it has to be the romance of the period. In Earth history this is squarely located in the middle of  “Three Musketeers” territory with all the excitement of swordfighting and sailing ships. The early financial empires, the Fuggers and the Medici, had begun to give way to national banks in Venice, Holland, and England. The primitive broadside warships of the Armada period had given way to the standardized ‘rates’ and fleet tactics of the Anglo-Dutch wars. Ships and mariners could undertake routine ocean voyages – not without periodic disasters, but more certainly than could the sailors of Philip and Elizabeth’s time. The pike was being superseded by the musket and bayonet, and field artillery had become more of a battlefield weapon than the old cannon hauled by teams of oxen. The early glimmers of science were beginning to make way against the dead weight of revealed knowledge and superstition.

The next reason has to be the availability of good historical records of the period. I have to admit that my depth of research would be considered scanty in a history department, but with two good  works to bookend the period available, I can easily find extra publications to expand on particulars. For my window into the thoughts, society, and actions of my 17th century Gaians, I found Samuel Pepy’s Diary to be a valuable source. For my guide to the politics and campaigns of the period I find Sir Winston Churchill’s biography of his ancestor John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, to be more than adequate. I have a collection of history books that I have accumulated over the years – almost too many to detail, but I’ll mention some – “European Economic History”; “25 Centuries of Sea Warfare” and N.A.M. Rodger’s “Naval Histories of Britain”; “Western Civilization”; “By the Sword”; “A Brief History of Science”; “The Lore of Ships”; “Anne of England”; “The Old European Order”; as well as all the instant sources to hand on the Internet.

I particularly like the date, 1670, the year in which a young woman called Julie d’Aubigny was born. For readers who find my heroine Gisel Matah to be a bit too hard to believe, I’ll mention something of what is known about “La Maupin”. Julie was born to the wife of a minor nobleman, Gaston d’Aubigny, a secretary to the Compte d’Armagnac. Gaston had two passions in life – womanizing and sword fencing – and having no sons to train devoted his attention to his daughter. Perhaps he also thought he should give her some advantage in life to protect her from men like himself. Anyway, by the time Julie was sixteen she could better most of the men who came to her father’s Salle – his swordfighting gymnasium at the Count’s chateau.

Julie was also somewhat precocious, becoming the mistress of the Count at the age of 16, and going on to a collection of lovers – male and female – over the following 20 years. She also had a husband who she lived with once, a fellow called Maupin who the Compte d’Armagnac had selected to prevent scandals should she become pregnant. Julie sometimes fought as a man and sometimes as a woman, and had at least one lover with whom she operated a fencing school. She also had a fine, if untrained, contralto voice and sang in opera in Marseilles and Paris.

Her most notorious exploit was the time she attended a ball given by the King’s brother, the Duc d’Orleans, dressed as a man. She attempted to seduce three young noblewomen at the ball, leading to challenges from three courtiers who were their escorts. Julie readily accepted the challenges, dismissed their complaints that the streetlights were out with the observation that the moonlight was sufficient, and defeated all three of them. King Louis XIV, the “Sun King”, was furious at her wounding three of his courtiers and wanted her thrown into the Bastille. One account says that Monsieur, the King’s brother, interceded on her behalf, but the version I like says she had an interview with the king herself and charmed him into forgiving her.

Julie died young, giving up her wild life and the Paris Opera in 1705 to enter a convent, where she died a couple of years later. She deserves a new novel to be written about her – to complement the one written in 1835 – but I’m not sure whether to attempt it. As my historian friend at the University of Calgary says, my French isn’t up to original research. She did suggest a couple of English language sources I might try, but … we shall see


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4 Responses to “Differences and Comparisons in an Alternate World.”

  1. joylene Says:

    I was watching Book TV yesterday and a SF author said the secret to writing good SF is to allow the reader to relate to the characters. I can’t remember verbatim, but she implied that you can introduce as a bizarre a world as you can think up, but your characters should have dreams, goals, visions, and needs that the everyday person can relate to. That really made sense to me. And of course, I thought of Gisel immediately. She does all that and more.

  2. Kester2 Says:

    Hi Joylene:

    I like that — that the everyday person can relate to. Much of the Space opera type and bizarre fantasy have characters no one can relate to. I have to think of the Gormangast series for an example.

    But on the other hand, character goals are important in all fiction. Am I out of line if I suggest Sally Warner and Danny are a bit light on goals?


  3. joylene Says:

    Not out of line at all. Hence the difficulty in writing a story around broken individuals. Sally is damaged goods just as Danny is. I have to figure out how to bring their goal to the surface without making light of their journey. Not an easy task for me at all, Chris. But that’s okay. Just the other day somebody asked me why I make myself work so hard by writing such complex characters. Why not just write about normal suspense as I did in Dead Witness? Beats me.

  4. Kester2 Says:

    I think that’s the difference between a real writer and a potboiler hack.


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