Making History is Messier than you Thought

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.

57 thoughts on “Making History is Messier than you Thought

  1. (Googles Sabaton.)
    (Wanders off to find headphones.)

    Also, there’s always the technique of telescoping time. Your neighborhood might be boring, but if you compressed the major events that took place there over the course of a decade into a single year, suddenly the place is a dramatic setting. I recall Robert E. Howard doing this on a truly shameless scale. (And I love him for it!)

      1. No need to denounce. You are a new fan. I doubt the band will turn away people who don’t already have their backlist. 😉 (any band that does is likely to be committing career sepuku.)

      2. Nah. I only discovered them a month or so ago – about two days before the Prussians burst forth and insisted they be written *right now*.

        Which is largely due to Sabaton.

          1. Oh, the Prussians have been a problem to everyone for a very long time.

            I honestly think that’s the real reason Prussia was dissolved in 1947. Nobody wanted to risk Prussia coming back from nothing a third time, kicking the world’s ass, and finally succeeding.

            Going from a hiccup to a world power in less than a century *twice* (three times if you count the Third Reich – I don’t because Prussia was probably the German state that was most against the Nazis) tends to scare the people with an interest in preserving a balance of power that they like, funnily enough.

            1. -Reads”I honestly think that’s the real reason Prussia was dissolved” and thinks of a pun possibly involving Prussic Acid.
              -Googles “Prussic Acid.”
              -Comes back half an hour later having forgotten about the original pun until he rereads the comment.
              -Abandons the pun and moves on.

            2. I suspect you’re right that that played a big part, but even if it didn’t there were so many ways in which it had outlived its usefulness in the postwar world. It had already been irrelevant as a government entity for a decade and a half, as centralized control had left it relatively meaningless as a governing body. It had been effectively partitioned due to the onset of the Cold War and the zones of occupation. And it was also geographically awkward in any rational formation of states postwar. But certainly nobody on the Allied side had any warm and fuzzy feelings for Prussia, and sure enough that may have been what really did Prussia in.

    1. Heh. So glad to know I’m not alone in my “I love metal, but only a select number of bands”. (Tried to give Blind Guardian a go recently–they really, REALLY love Tolkien, but I just could not like their music.)

      I’ll have to check Sabaton out. 🙂

      I also recommend, if folks haven’t tried them, Kamelot, Triosphere, and Serenity. (That last is also big on history-as-music–the lead singer has a doctorate in history, if I recall right…)

      1. As long as we’re crowd-sourcing our knowledge base, let me throw Nightwish and Delain into the list.

        (Also, Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, juat because. Even though they’re more punk than metal.)

        1. I do like Nightwish, though I prefer their more recent singers/albums. Tarya was a bit too screechy-opera for me. (I liked some of her songs, but not all.)

          Delain is good. They have some mighty persistent earworms, too, heh. (It once took me two weeks to get Mother Machine out of my head…)

          I’ve been trying out Orphaned Land–they’re an Israel based group, so there is some distinct Middle East stylings to their music. Which is neat, but I’m not fully into them because they also tend towards repetitive.

          1. Tarja I like, but then I cut my teeth on opera.

            Oh, yes, some of Van Canto is awesome, too.

            1. That is actually one thing that drew me. I really enjoy symphonic metal. And the range Nightwish had was great.

              1. Yeah, the combination of a full symphony, full choir, and metal really hits me hard. That’s what hammered me with Within Temptation.

                1. Oooh, I love Within Temptation. That’s why I like Kamelot so much too–it’s symphonic metal, but with a male singer. (The current one and last one also were opera trained. I think it may be an issue with my ear, re: opera. I can handle male operatic singing, and I’m fine with many female opera-type singers, but Tarja and similar singers that I used to be perfectly fine with now make my ears start shrieking in protest. Not sure what changed, but it’s possible it’s relating to hearing loss in some ranges?)

                  As a nice touch, on the two most recent Kamelot albums have had a woman as their guest death-growler. Makes for a cool contrast (since usually it’s the other way around in most bands, with the ‘pure’ vocals being provided by a woman and the death growling done by a man).

                  Have you listened to Epica at all?

      2. Kamelot, yes. Haven’t tried the other two, yet… (taking notes).

        For not-history, if you can overlook the occasional nauseating hymn to SJWness, Within Temptation is pretty potent and occasionally rises way the hell over the SJW indoctrination they’ve swallowed.

        1. That’s why the ability to buy individual songs is a wondrous thing. “Iron” and “Our Solemn Hour” are amazing, and I don’t have to listen to their more ludicrous grrrrrl-power stuff.

        2. I think that’s why their second-most-recent album, The Unforgiving, is my favorite. (Haven’t listened to their new one yet.) It’s pretty much just about demon-hunting vigilantes, and that’s it.

          That also may explain why I can’t stand their Mother Earth album… (I mean, I love a good pagan-y ‘worship the earth’ album well enough…but in new age or celtic, not my metal.)

    2. Sabaton are the ultimate history-geek band, though I find it ironic that a band whose album “Heroes” is all about World War II come from a country that was neutral in the war.

      They also write good songs, which always helps.

  2. History, messy? Perish the thought (says she who is getting ready to inflict the Balkans between 1860-1914 on unusupecting students [OK, by now they should be ready for the chaos that is history, but one never knows.]). *Snort* I was just reading a review of a new book on borders and borderland histories that uses a fluid dynamics model of population mobility. As you say, complex, chaotic, and messy.

          1. I keep going “Hmmm, I bet Balkan history would be a freaking gold mine for story ideas” and then I go look at Balkan history sections and crawl away whimpering.

            Anyone got a good book or two to recommend on that topic? Doesn’t have to be comprehensive (which where the Balkans are concerned–SNORT), just interesting.

            I’m just sorry that I didn’t have the time or wherewithal while living in Romania–and specifically the Transylvanian/Moldavian provinces–to find a good Romanian history book. (Not that I could read it now, almost fifteen years on, without a major struggle and lots of recourse to the dictionary. Language skills get rusty if you don’t use ’em…)

  3. After chasing a rabbit trail for an evening (the idea that we’re living in a Civil Cold War, but if that were true we’ve been in one since before the American Revolution), I was struck by the obvious: It’s all about power. Not just grabbing power for the sake of power, but power for all sorts of things. Okay, so I’m slow, but following the power works better than following the money, and neatly explains all sorts of things. Why someone or a group wants power, whether to gain it or to keep it, varies, but the quest for power remains the common denominator.

    1. And the most frustrating part is that those of us (and I think there are many) who don’t actually WANT power are still required to fight to gain it, if only so those who would abuse it or otherwise not leave us alone won’t get it and annoy us beyond reason. 😀

      1. I’ve run into that as a corporate sarariman. H.Sapiens is generally wired for the same pecking order as the rest of the primates. “I don’t want to play” doesn’t register for some people, so you have to peck enough status to get them to leave you alone.

        1. Yup. Very much so. Most people would *much* rather have the lowest rank in the pecking order than be outside it.

          We Odds who just want to be left alone really are the odd ones out.

          1. Yeah, I guess my ‘many’ label regarding those who don’t want power is because I’m an Odd and I tend to only make friends with Odds, so most of the people of my more-than-just-passing acquaintance are like me in the ‘leave me alone’ sense.

            (I expect this is also why I love this blog and Sarah’s blog so much. So MANY fellow Odds in one place!!)

        2. A few years ago, when they were trying to groom me for upper management (relax, it didn’t take), there was a consultant who ran a training session with us. He pontificated on the idea (I think he thought it was a fact, but…) that “research shows” there are three basic reasons for paying attention to managers — knowledge, position, and power. Knowledge is pretty obvious. Position meant that some people pay attention to titles, where you have been put in the organizational hierarchy. Power? That’s the personal umpf, the push of “Do it because I SAID SO!” When I say jump, you jump!

          Then he asked us to rate ourselves as to which one was important for each of us. When he found out that the only one I paid attention to was knowledge, he assured me that if I wanted to succeed in upper management, I needed that drive for power. He was also quite frustrated when I shrugged and said, “Not for me.”

          Oddly, I have often had people who worked for me that would happily do one heck of a lot above and beyond because they trusted me and I treated them right. Even if I didn’t try the “power plays” and other pushy methods.

          I think perhaps that was one of the points where I knew I wasn’t going to climb into upper management. Heck, I didn’t even need the Peter Solution!

          1. I get you – I don’t care for power either. Other people see power: I see another bloody responsibility to eat my life.

            1. And the thought that you don’t want that, and aren’t willing to take steps to get that elusive “power” stuff… somehow that doesn’t register. Or if it does, they will assure you that they can fix that. Even if you don’t want them to!

              Sorry, I think the attempt to convert me to upper management still rankles. I’m good at the things I do, and yes, I have led teams, startup groups, and other projects for years. But trying to get the corner window? Nah…

            2. This is why I get so irked whenever I get asked to serve in a leadership position at church. (In our church, you don’t get to pick, you get called. And really, you shouldn’t say now. I have once, but only the once–and that was because they wanted to shove me in with the nursery kids. Alone. No co-teacher. HELL NO, not when there’s twenty of the little buggers.)

              And why I don’t understand those who get all antsy and ambitious. Mostly men who want to be bishop SO BADLY (they don’t get to pick), and those of us who are sane are standing back going “Are you NUTS?? Why would you even want that job?”

              Interestingly, most of that type that I’ve actually had as bishop…aren’t very good bishops. Some of them get humbled enough to learn, but others…::shudders::

    2. I’ve heard that there are three principle motivations in human nature: power, love, and money. (I would say that the last is actually “stuff” and posit that if that’s someone’s principle motivation, they probably had severe shortages of needful things at some point in their past.) Love as a motivation is subtle, but power is pretty much the most obvious one out there. I can see it as something easily tracked.

      1. Power and money are to a certain extent interchangeable. With enough money you can buy power, and with enough power you don’t need money.

        Love on the other hand is something that obeys its own rules and goes against most of the raw biological power/stuff impulses.

        1. I see a lot of “love” directed toward power and money. That’s another one of those primate things.

          [granted, English is surprisingly sparse for types of “love”, just as it is for “friend.”]

    3. WRT the idea of a Civil Cold War that goes all the way back to the American Revolution and beyond, there’s a theory that the fundamental division in American society traces its roots all the way back to the English Civil War and the Cavaliers vs the Roundheads. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the book I read it in, and efforts to find it on Google have failed.

        1. Close enough for me to find it: The Cousins’ Wars by Kevin Phillips. I had it confused with another book that identified four major cultural streams in America’s founding: the Puritans, the Pennsylvania Dutch (Germans), the Cavaliers, and the Border Scots.

          The publisher is making a big mistake, selling the Kindle edition for more than the paperback. If I wanted a copy of my own (rather than borrowing from the library), I’d turn to a Marketplace seller and get one of the penny copies. Even with shipping, it’s still the cheapest option, and I don’t need it to be in perfect condition, just sound enough I could use it to research from.

          1. The publisher certainly is cutting its throat to spite its face (to mix a metaphor or five). I might have considered getting it without that little tidbit.

          2. Is the other one you’re referring to Seed of Albion? I’ve been eyeing that one, wondering if it’s any good…

    4. I actually subscribe to something similar to ‘Civil Cold War’.

      Basically, sentiment trumps ideology, and it is easier to develop sentiment for aspects of government which one has experienced.

      Colonial government was a mix, and I can only really understand and describe two elements of that mix, republicanism, and democracy. Especially the sentiments which underlay Loyalism are outside my scope.

      People are a mix.

      The sentiments democratic and republican were lined up together in the revolutionary cause. Then the Revolution drove out the loyalists, and by the time of the ACW the democratic and republican sentiments had a falling out. (From purely republican perspectives, the ACW could be as simple as different parsings of the constitution. I personally don’t think that is correct, but I am quite partisan.) All subsequent conflict can be understood in terms of a struggle between adherents of the sentiments.

      1. The Civil Cold War rabbit trail hit while contemplating the latest ABC/Washington Post poll that used heavy oversampling to “show” Trump losing support prior to his inauguration. M*A*S*H happened to be on, which had the Korean War bumping around in the back of my mind when the two suddenly meshed and I thought of Radio Moscow and how. excluding “police actions” and proxy wars, the Cold War was one for hearts, minds, and economic leverage. That included Soviet involvement in Western peace movements, for obvious reasons. Then I thought there wasn’t much difference between what was going on now, domestically, than what was going on internationally during the Cold War. In short, a Civil War fought the same way as the Cold War. A Civil Cold War.

        Except, when I was writing it out for a blog post, it rapidly fell apart (that’s become the case with everything for the blog since September, which is why there’s no new content). My first inkling that it didn’t hold up was the Copperheads. From there it went to now newspapers were often put up solely to influence public opinion on one or more issues; how Jefferson said the advertisements were the only truth to be found in newspapers; then William Randolph Hearst and the Spanish American War; and somewhere, while it was all falling apart, was Paul Revere’s two drawings of the Boston Massacre, the one for publication and the one for the court trial, and how there’s radical differences between the two. This exercise in propaganda remains constant regardless of politics, whatever parties happen to exist, or ideologies.

        That being the case, it’s not so much a Civil Cold War as politics as usual. And Jefferson’s comment remains as valid today as when he penned it not quite two centuries ago.

        1. I believe there’s been quite a bit of discussion over at According to Hoyt about there being a long-running Cold Civil War. I don’t recall at specific posts, though.

    5. It has always been all about power. Some want it so they can make those other SOBs leave them alone, others want it for power… But following the power is definitely way to go.

      The money is mostly a way to keep score, and if you’ve got enough power, you don’t *need* money.

  4. Sometimes a song just has what the character needs to come out. A couple of Metallica pieces grace my playlist and I can remember when the werewolves in my tales started clawing at my brain while listening to “of wolf & man.”

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