For reasons related mostly to my current work in progress (those Prussian Knights I posted a snippet of a few weeks back? 42,000+ words and counting), history in general and what winds up making something worthy of the official history books has been in my mind a fair bit lately. Especially since the Prussians have a soundtrack, called “anything Sabaton recorded”, and for whatever the reason metal history does what this story wants.
(As a digression, kids would probably be much more interested in history if they got introduced to it by metal history geeks like Sabaton – the number of times I’ve stopped what I was doing and gone chasing references on some neat obscure thing they did a song about only to find that the actual history is even more badass than the song says it would totally work. And yes, I am a 49 year old metalhead. For a very specific selection of bands.)
Between this and the events of the last few months on top of the events of the last few years, I’ve been thinking that we’re in the middle of watching history get made, and it’s a very messy, ugly process which will – hopefully – be summarized as something like a “period of turmoil leading to…” whatever comes next (the not-hopeful version involves “elimination of disruptive influences” or similar weasel words and a history that’s outright lies as opposed to the normal bias that’s impossible to keep out of anything. Yes, this is why they say the winners write the history books. Take note of who is writing (and publishing) the history books right now, and draw the appropriate conclusions about who won what).
The forces that have dominated civil (or uncivil) discourse of late are in the process of losing what was once a near-absolute grip on public expression, and they don’t like it. This is showing up in the Big 5 versus Amazon rolling arguments, the repeated attempts to delegitimize and other all things Indie, the Sad Puppies campaigns (and yes, the Rabids as well. Had the reaction to Sad Puppies 2 been less vitriolic, the whole thing would have likely faded off and been forgotten by now. Instead, well… Take note, folks. If you don’t like something, the best way to deal with it is to politely ignore it and let it rise or fall on its own merits. If it really is as bad as you think, it will sink. Of course, if there’s manipulation behind the scenes that’s a whole nother argument).
All of which leads to mining actual history, hell plundering history for awesome, badass, balls-to-the-walls adventure and complicated, messy, realistic world-building. Take, say, some of the more interesting Chinese Imperial dynasties, throw that culture into some far future Empire and play with where it goes (fair warning, it has been done more than once, and you have to really understand bureaucratic wankery to really make it work). Or mutate the Australian penal colonies into some far future prison planet.
Or, may your deity forgive you, American Presidential Elections in Space.
Just remember if you do this, you must also have American culture more or less intact in space, which means that the entire messy, brawling, individualistic, freedom-loving mess has to have survived the attempts to regiment it and make it more European. Which means you need to understand the difference between communistic cultures (in the sense of “the welfare of the community is most important”) and individualistic cultures (“the autonomy of the individual is the most important”) (The USA is the most individualistic culture on the planet, closely followed by, in no particular order, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Most of the Asian cultures are extremely community-focused. European cultures are somewhere in between but tend to focus more on the community the further East you go. And some are so far on the community-focus that they will punish victims of crime as well as perpetrators on the grounds that whatever the victim did to be targeted by the criminals encouraged social disorder. Personally? Ugh. But if that’s your thing, you’re welcome to it).
Regardless, the best way to rip off history and culture is probably the simplest. Read as many primary documents as you can. If you can’t read the actual primary docs, aim for translations of them. That’s where the clues to the mindset live.
Because one thing is absolutely 100% guaranteed: if you transplant the forms of a culture without the mindset, you’ll have the authorial version of cargo cult fiction.