Search This Blog

Thursday, June 25, 2020

June 26 - On This Day!

Some years ago, I started doing a meme in which you pick out some people and events for an On This Day. I don’t do it often, but sometimes when I just want to write, and the stories or blog posts aren’t coming, I do this. Right now, in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s June 26. For me, the deal is that I try to stick to writers, artists and, if I can’t find enough of them, other creative folk, or big events in the history of creativity, eg first edition of a newspaper. Sometimes I do quirky events. If I haven’t heard of the author or artist, I skip them. Sometimes I just use an event that interests me. 


4 CE - Augustus adopts Tiberius. Oh, dear! That didn’t turn out well, did it? 

1483 - Richard III becomes king of England, and sparks a whole lot of fiction and playwriting. Recommended: The Daughter Of Time by Josephine Tey.

1870 - Christmas becomes a Federal holiday in the US.

1948 - Shirley Jackson’s(author of The Haunting Of Hill House) short story “The Lottery” is published, and the author gets lots of hate mail. Here is the Wikipedia entry about it:

1977 - Elvis Presley’s final concert held, in Indianapolis. Sob! 


This was not easy, writer-wise, so I’ve added actors. Most of those I found were big names on YouTube or blogging or lifestyle websites, especially the younger ones. Sorry, not my kind of writing, even if they have had some of them as guests at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival! 

1817 - Branwell Bronte. He was a poet and painter, but we know his sisters - Charlotte, Emily and Anne - much better! 

1891 - Sydney Howard - wrote the screenplay for Gone  With The Wind. Didn’t outlive it by long, as he died in 1939.

1892 - Pearl S Buck, US author known for The Good Earth, which was turned into a film with a (mostly) white cast playing Chinese peasants. 

1904 - Peter Lorre, the one who played all those sidekicks, including in one of my favourite films, Arsenic And Old Lace. Married to Celia Lovsky, known by Trek fans as Vulcan matriarch T’Pau.

1929 - June Bronhill, Aussie soprano. She did opera and musicals, but my weirdest memory of her is an ad in which she played a giant tea bag...

There are also a number of battles On This Day, but too depressing, and I do like to focus on creative things and people. 

There are a few saints’ days, but the one who intrigued me was David the Dendrite, so called because he lived in/next to a tree outside Thessaloniki, in the interest of having some peace and quiet. He managed to do it for three years, but people kept pestering him. However, he left to ask Emperor Justinian for help for Thessaloniki, which was in danger. He is, of course, the patron saint of that city. 

So, anything interesting about this date that I haven’t mentioned? Or any here that you find of interest? 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Alternative Universe - some spec fic that isn't quite spec fic

Today, I am going to talk about alternative universe. 

Strictly speaking, all fiction is alternative universe, when you think about it. The characters are people who never existed in our world and often they are in places that also don’t exist here and now, or at least a version of a real place that doesn’t exist in that way here and now. 

Mostly, though, what we call alternative universe is about “what if...?” , as in “what if this or that event in history had gone differently?” Sometimes it has elements of speculative fiction in it, such as “what if aliens invaded in the middle of World War II?” (US author Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series) or “what if racist time travellers gave Robert E Lee’s army AK 47s?” (Also Turtledove’s stand-alone novel The Guns Of The South.)

My favourite alternative universe fiction is written by Harry Turtledove. Most of it would make perfectly good historical fiction except that it didn’t happen that way in our world. This sort of AU might appeal more to readers who don’t really enjoy SF or fantasy, but are prepared to try something a little different. 

Turtledove’s Ruled Britannia, for example, asks “what if the Spanish Armada had succeeded in conquering England?” It could have happened. The weather was a factor in the English victory. It could have gone so very differently! However, Turtledove sets his novel nine years after the Armada  victory, without going into much detail, and tells his story from two different viewpoints; one of his heroes is William Shakespeare, the other is Spain’s answer to Shakespeare, Lope de Vega. Lope de Vega was a real person, who wrote a lot more plays than Shakespeare ever did; I’ve bought some in ebook - translated, of course. He did set off with the real world Armada, but never got to England. In this novel, he is with the occupying forces. He speaks good English and admires Shakespeare’s work. This makes him a nuisance, because he keeps turning up at rehearsals - and Shakespeare has been commissioned to write two plays, one of them celebrating the life of a King Phillip of Spain, the other intended to encourage the English to rebel. It has not a touch of fantasy in it, just “what if...?”. 

When I first read it, it reminded me of another alternative universe story, a TV miniseries called An Englishman’s Castle, which was about “What if the Nazis had succeeded in conquering Britain?” centred around the cast of a TV soapie intended to encourage the locals to put up with the occupiers, and it had a similar ending. 

“What if the South had won the civil war?” is a fairly frequent theme of AU, along with “what if the Nazis had won World War II?”  

Apart from The Guns Of The South, which had time travel in it, the same author has done some straight fiction about the South winning the war, plain historical, except that it never happened. Yet again, in How Few Remain, we see how easily it could have happened differently. You know the old proverb “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost...”? Well, it might have happened! In real history, an order from Robert E. Lee was lost in 1862, one planning an invasion of the North, and picked up by union soldiers. In this world, the messenger has the dropped order handed back to him. Invasion successful, history changes.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s alternative universe is not quite alternative universe as we think of it, but his world, with its three religions based on worship of the sun, the moon and the stars, is fairly recognisable as ours, although it does have magic. 

My favourite in this universe is The Lions Of Al Rassan, set in an alternative Spain, during the time of El Cid, though the El Cid character has a different name. 

There is also A Song For Arbonne(Provence), Tigana(Tuscany) and the Sarantine Mosaic duology(Byzantium).

Well, sort of AU. 

In YA novel Timeless Love by Judith O’Brien, a New York girl time travels via a magical necklace and finds herself in the chamber of Edward VI. She soon figures out that he is suffering from allergies which will kill him. He thinks she is a messenger from his late mother and takes her advice. But this changes history dramatically; when she returns to her home everyone is speaking Spanish! Elizabeth Tudor never became Queen; Edward survived and turned out to be every bit as bad tempered as his father. The Spanish got parts of the New World the English took in our world. Apart from the magical time travel, it’s a straight “what if...?” 

The thing is, history can turn on so many small things. I read once about the White Ship disaster in which the heir to the English throne(Henry I’s son) and a lot of other young aristocrats drowned when their ship crashed on the rocks on the way home from France. According to my source, a history of tourism, this happened after the sailors got drunk on wine sent to them from a last-night party. As a result, there was a war between cousins Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and Stephen, which Matilda sort of won. After a few years of fighting over the throne, they did a compromise: Stephen got to keep the throne, but Matilda’s son inherited after him. That son was Henry II, father of Richard Lionheart. 

So, the history of England and possibly the rest of Europe might have happened the way it did because a bunch of sailors got drunk one night in the 12th century... 

If anyone has written a novel about this, I haven’t come across it, but have a think about how very different things might have been, without aliens invading or time travellers or magical objects. It’s one of the ideas that have been spinning in my head for years. 

Do you have any “what if” thoughts? Do share!