In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Revolution Baby

 Now and then, the world changes.

 Sometimes it's sudden and obvious. The nuclear bombs in Japan in 1945, or the attacks of 9/11 in 2001. Other times it's harder to see, the effects uncertain for a while, like when Muhammad started preaching in 610 AD. Who would have said his teachings would spread so far and last so long?

 Or you can look at the 1960's, which are still seen as a sort of epochal change in attitudes. The decade gave us greater equality and Civil Rights, but in the end faded away with its dreams unfulfilled. That happened before, in the 1840's for example. People can live through social upheaval and think it's changing the world, only to find at the end that the same people hold the same power in the same places.

 That might be happening now.

 Americans are so disillusioned with politics that they elected a President who was never a politician. France might yet elect Marine Le Pen, of the far right. Later in the year Italy could elect a Five Star/Northern Alliance government that will take the country out of the EU. Of course Britain recently voted to leave, and we're now holding a general election that will either cement that decision or undermine it. All looks very impressive, doesn't it? The old power bases are crumbling. Change hangs in the air.

 Or does it? Big political movements come and go, and big political parties outlast them. Upheaval passes to leave the largest companies untouched, as secure as ever. The sons of rich men still go to the best schools. The gap between the richest and the rest still widens. What, exactly, has changed? Anything fundamental?

 This is how society works. Any social organisation starts because the people need it, but pretty soon it reverses, and the organisation uses the people to survive, to perpetuate itself. Close behind that comes coercion. Everyone is coerced. You, me, the neighbours, everyone who voted for the other guy... all of us. We always will be, though maybe not as badly. We can bring change. But it means tearing up society's rules and starting again, because otherwise the new boss will be just the same as the old boss.

 Understanding this is key to writing about ancient cultures. (See? Writing does come into the blog if you stick with it.) When threatened the holders of power always strike back. Maybe not at first, maybe not in plain sight, but they don't give up their wealth and status and walk away. So when a story's protagonist stirs the pot, someone always gets burned.

 By the way... watch out for the power brokers to react to today's populism. The Establishment Strikes back. It will.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Something New

 My last post, about the Inca nearly winning against the Spanish, got me thinking about times when history changed course. It's an old theme for me, but there are not many times when we can point to it clearly.

 The loss of the Native American civilisations is one, though. What if smallpox hadn't ravaged them? It would have been very hard for Spain to defeat them then, and we'd now live in a world with distinct societies and religions in the Americas. Maybe not Inca, but their cultural descendants. A second occasion is the Battle of Tours in 732AD, when Charles Martel defeated the Islamic Caliphate and stopped forever its expansion into Europe. If he'd lost, and France had fallen, Rome would have been taken soon after and that might be the end for Christianity.

 But then, we can always play 'what if'. Maybe the asteroid doesn't hit earth 65 million years ago, and dinosaurs evolve into birds before mammals can grow strong. The world now might be one of large flightless birds, small birds scavenging their eggs, and so on. You can play that game every time a species goes extinct, or a new one appears. History has only a few points when it might have changed in some fundamental way, but evolution has millions.

 This gives huge opportunities to Sci-Fi writers, who invent new species every time they create a new world. So why not Fantasy?

 We've got stuck in a rut. Non-humans are nearly always the same. Wise elves in the deep forests, grumpy dwarves under mountains, swarming goblins, dragons... seen it before. We've read those stories. Why not something new?

 A species descended from birds, all twitch and quiver, who roost in great halls. Maybe creatures like fish which come onto land every few years to breed, and while there hold councils to decide whatever issues they have. If expanding human peoples build a town on the council grounds, whew, that would get nasty. What about a collective consciousness, like a vast plant that can bud off parts of itself to move around? Sci-Fi is comfortable exploring races like these. Fantasy should be too.