In a fit of whimsy (I have them often) I set out to write a book which takes as its starting point the idea that the ‘kooky new-age ideas’, everything you might find in the Fortean Times, from Mystic Crystals to Lemuria to Burrowing Llamas… is, if not actually per se ‘true’ but had its origins in something that, with broken telephone style oral tradition, gave birth to the idea. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek story… pure and unrestrained space opera, with disbelief suspended because the reader chooses to let go and enjoy, rather than being (for want of a better word) conned into going along with what superficially seems sort-of plausible.
I say this and I’ll have people in tinfoil hats accusing me of betraying the secrets of the Ancients. The principal secret of the ancients seems to have been to live much shorter lives. The other secrets, such as women having perhaps two dresses, and there being no flush toilets are considered too unbelievable to even be used in fiction these days. Now I have betrayed those mystical secrets, can we move on?
The past really is another country though, if only because there are things which even in the most primitive modern places on earth have been thought about and heard of, that were outside the wildest dreams of people before such things were even thought of. Humans have proved remarkably adaptable to these new things – mobile phones in the jungles of Congo, for example. They might have no idea how they work, but they sure know how to use them. That bodes rather well for us adapting to an encounter with aliens in advance of us. In three weeks we’d be using Quoquosh cold fusion matter transmitters as if we were born to them – and we’d adapt our way of thinking and society around them. But that’s the future. Short of positing time travel (some stories, sure) if your books are set in the past, if you’re aiming at even the vague boundaries of reality, the devices, the food, the attitudes, the world was… was it was.
I know, rewriting history is (one hopes temporarily, because it takes stupid to whole new level –you can’t learn much from the past if the past is wholly imaginary) currently fashionable. One has to balance assumptions about that past (as for instance taught in far too many educational institutions and not questioned) with the fact that a lot of ardent readers will pick up your book BECAUSE it has a historical slant that interests them (Alternate history readers particularly, but fantasy too).
If you think these ardent hobbyists are going to be quiet if you have your heroine’s zipper getting stuck in your Regency set fantasy, or heaven help you any detail relating to horses and their associated tack or to firearms… more the fool you. Write a really crappy book. It will be easier on your reputation and sales.
To a lesser extent attitudes and behavior are, if you like, more forgiving. I’ve lost count of the number of strong women (often also of various ethnicities, in societies where these were rarer than common sense) heroically championing feminist ideals across the barriers of social class in medieval fantasy I’ve come across. Our modern audiences accept them, and cannot envisage a world the women of that time lived in. No, the beautiful feisty peasant maid wasn’t unmarried at 19 and didn’t have a large selection of garments, didn’t have the noble lord interrupting her reading or leisure time, and didn’t have a vast discretion in who she married.
I’m the business of selling books, not correcting delusions.
Anyway, to return to the New-Age mystic crystals and burrowing Llamas, and every other piece of Von Daniken to Velikovsky…
Look the entire story is based on ‘science’ to make the average scientist laugh… but so, realistically speaking, is an awful lot of sf. And, indeed, authors from Hancock to Blavatsky have proved remarkably well that we like these ideas. They often outsell the supposedly factual (which, um, has turned out to be wrong at times, and probably will in future). And of course it is fiction, light space opera, not masquerading as anything else.
There is undoubtedly a huge number of readers who will suspend disbelief and enjoy the story: ridiculous though it may be. But certain conditions must be met.
- They must either trust the author, or get hooked fast.
- They therefore need to bind to either the characters, the action or the setting (in that order of likely) or a combination of any or all.
- You’re balancing an odd line between implausible and irritating because of it, and suspending disbelief because the reader is interested and possibly even amused. You’re stretching them on one aspect – don’t on the matters where you don’t have to.
And the last, in a nutshell, is why I have been researching Llamas, the Beaker culture, and Prezwalski’s horses.