drcpunk (drcpunk) wrote,

Panel Notes from Chicon 7

30 August 2012
1:30 pm
Researching History that Never Happened
Adam Christopher -- Empire State
Kenneth Hite -- GURPS Alternate History et much alia gaming
Mary Robinette Kowal -- Shades of Milk and Honey, Glamour in Glass
Martin Berman-Gorvine -- Journalist by day, sf writer by night, Severed Wing, 36, "Palestina", Interzone 2006, 7 Against Mars
Nick DiChario -- short stories, novels

This was the panel in the hall, as the room stayed locked. Hotel staff searched for hotel security and hadn't found hotel security by the end of the panel. Mary Robinette Kowal gathered everyone around in the hall, which was likely more capacious than the room. The audience sat on the floor; the panelists stood. Someone brought chairs for the panelists who gave them to the folks in the audience who most needed them.

AC: Perils of over research so book reads like a wikipedia article. To be avoided. (Family Blood -- Doctor Who -- all nec, certain things for feel)

MRK: Great vs Slight Divergence of history -- people _think_ they know stuff and call you on it -- and they are wrong.

MBG: Philosophy of history -- Why things happen the way they do. Otherwise, any change is arbitrary. Holocaust: No Nazis, No WWII, No Holocaust. Why Nazis able to take power? The losses of WWI [he explicated more than I took notes]. E.g., an earlier entry by the USA into the war might have meant an earlier end -- if Teddy Roosevelt had been re-elected, vs Woodrow Wilson.

MRK: Two brands: The Cusp Point and "I really want to see the Napoleonic War with Dragons!" (Yes, Naomi Novik's series.) With the second, you don't spend as much time backforming how most of the world would have changed. Hand waving -- don't look, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

MBG: Once you publish it, you start thinking, OMG, I don't believe I messed that up! And then the perfect book comes out which would have solved all of your problems.

MRK: Cuz that's not painful at all!

MBG: Three way race: Woodrow Wilson, Taft (formerly thought to stand for Take Advice From Teddy), and Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party, because the Republicans wouldn't let him back in. If one tries to figure out how he might have won, it would have been more likely if the Republicans let him back in than as part of the Progressive Party [again, he likely explicated more than I took notes]

NDC: Different kinds of research -- it has never been easier for writer to do research, never been easier for alt hist to fact check.

MRK: There are still things only available in libraries.

NDC: Finding the angle is key and tricky part. Valley of Day Glow -- N Amer Hist -- Library _stacks_

MRK: Broad layer first -- read about the time period. Absorb it. Not to fill in each fact, but to absorb it. Then _spot_ research which she does while writing.

A point in between: Library and books -- Primary Source Material!

Her day job is in theater, "which is why you can hear me", and she was researching a woman (Mary Enny? I'm not sure). Looking at the primary source of the woman's letters, MRK saw that her letters suddenly had a black border around them, which meant someone had died. This continued for six months, which meant that it was a family member of this woman.

The expert on the woman was a paleontologist who didn't know about black borders around letters. So:

MRK: Who died in her family?

Paleontologist: Someone died?

The paleontologist didn't know the etiquette, but once she explained, the paleontologist was able to find out whom. It was a niece.

Then, there are details like Napoleon could not feel his own heartbeat. This is fascinating, but utterly unusable for MRK.

History runs in patterns.

KH: You can use it. Geography is the same, plague is plague. Okay, so the Romans colonized North America. Do they colonize like the French? The English? The Spanish? Each is a different pattern.

Someone noted that the Romans would colonize like the Romans.

KH: How would Nazis go into space? Well, what else did they have that was small and cramped and did not have a lot of air? Come up with some excuse for the space vessels to be like submarines. There is lots of material on submarines. This saves you time and solves problems you didn't know you needed to solve.

AC: Got away with it quite easy -- Superheroes, robots, vision so different could change even geography. New book, invented a city. Based on San Diego -- easier.

MBG: History may not repeat, but it does rhyme. Certain ways cultures behave. Deviation in writing is jarring.

MRK: Cycles not just in politics -- also in fashion -- muslin, roccocco; Can I put more gilding on that?

DIY: I can make this with my hands
How affects
--structures of society -- she had to pull out stuff which would change things too much
George IV's daughter, 1817, Princess Charlotte dies in childbirth, bearing a stillborn son who was healthy up until then. Without this, no Queen Victoria -- she would not even have been born.

AC: If Prohibition lasted forever -- ineffective, but what if superheroes police it? Then police state -- alcohol and cigarettes, et cetera

MGB: Delenda Est -- Poul Anderson, when Carthage defeats Rome

KH: Stop working forward from change point. Write the setting you want to write -- after first hundred years, secondary changes can sneak in. Then put on hat of someone who doesn't buy alternate history and explain why it couldn't happen any other way.

MGB: Dif types of plausibility
To historian
As entertainment

KH: Man in the High Castle (PKD) -- no realism except of guy in situation of an unreal world -- which is what PKD was interested in

NDC: Plausibility is highly overrated
At heart short story writer -- little nugget. Bigger for novel.
To MRK: _How_ do you keep it up with a series?

MRK: First novel -- Drawing Room. Austen doesn't look at larger politics or history, so needn't do it either.
2nd -- events leading up to Waterloo -- 1815

[At this point, someone's cell phone went off, and he was asked to go see if the room were open and take it in there.]

1814: Napoleon in exile. Everyone _flocks_ to the continent. This is awkward if you are on your honeymoon when Napoleon escapes.

Google Timeline was beautiful until Google took it away.

[Waah! I'd love that sort of thing to come back. Of course, so would she, and probably the rest of us present.]

Battle the day before Waterloo -- had things gone slightly differently, Wellington could have taken the day at this earlier battle. Did that.
A very small change:
-- Not as many people die (BIG!)
-- Names: Not Waterloo Bridge. Not the Peterloo Uprising.

Each book set in a significant year -- significant events.
Book 4 is going to be Jane Auste writes Ocean's Eleven [As I make mental note to try to catch the Ocean films, or at least that one]

Jane Austen's letters less polite than her fiction...

Charlotte's Death
Venice 1817 -- Lord Byron living there -- he's totally on the heist team!

Tim Powers -- Rossettis -- Hide Me Among the Graves -- Dante Rossetti kept a wombat. Powers left it out -- too tricky a fit for a horror novel.

Audience: Where'd he get it in the first place?

KH: Australia, actually. His uncle John Polidori

Audience: Novik -- without Spanish conquering Incas, the Spanish would have nowere near the might and power in Eurpoe without that

MRK: True. Now, how interested in the realism vs telling story?
Always Blind Spots

KH: Things in our history we can't explain

MRK: Have a character say, "Yes, it is strange, isn't it?"

KH: RPG trick, too.

Audience (I think): Powers is not technical alternate history. More Secret History.

KH: Secret History is a million times easier. Just say, "What if a vampire did it?" And two thirds of the way through, you find yourself saying, "I think a vampire _did_ it!"

MRK: Austen's sister edited / burned letters -- why Jane Austen solved mysteries

KH: Not _Quite_ Secret History

MRK: Still qualifies

KH: Flashman as Secret History?
Not vamps or Supernatural

MRK: Doesn't need to be supernatural

KH: Then, so is Sharpe's Rifles

AC: Alt Hist vs Sec Hist vs Historical Fiction

KH: That's what I'm saying -- adds an aspect of the Imposssible, vs Spy Fiction
H. Beam Piper -- Benjamin Bathurst

Audience: Broad strokes -- climate -> disease? [illeg]

KH: Depends on goal of history -- usually trying to get the story you'd be telling anyway.
Valuable to know how climate change affected things, yes.

MRK: Book 3 set diruing the Year Without A Summer

Audience applauds.

KH: First example of applause for a volcano

MRK: Snow in DC in July
Frankenstein -- too cold to go outside in the day
For that book _only_ -- Researched the hell out of the weather. The day I say it snowed -- it snowed!

MGB: Goes back to _why_ things happen the way they do
Relatively few real cusp points -- one of which is Hitler. Could have died in WWI.
Stephen Fry -- Making History

Audience (James Cambias): Technique? How do you _present_ it? Lecture? Drop it in?

KH: I'm glad you asked, Jim Cambias, who I've never met!
You start explaining Aaron Burr -- you never get out of it.
Unless it shows up on screen for plot reason -- [illeg] and signal alt history other ways.
Dif movies on screen

Audience: Zeppelins!

KH: As long as not set in 1930s.

NDC: Keep story in mind first
Think of reader without any idea you've done alternate history. If the story still works, yay! Alt hist is just a deeper level. Works for him, he says -- not everyone

MRK: Urban Fantasy = Contemporary alternate / secret history

Me: If you can't find stuff?

MRK: Hitting a blank wall. Look for:
Primary Sources
Historical Expert
Research Librarians -- These people _live_ to track down the impossible
It's important to say _where_ you have looked so that a) they take you seriously and b) they don't waste time looking where you've looked.
She only stumped them once.

AC: And at that point, make it up.

MRK concurs -- at that point, the experts can't find it. (Well, until the book comes out and someone immediately after finds the thing you were looking for...)

Audience: What were your inspirations? Why you wrote the alternate histories you wrote?

NDC: Curiosity with the subject, but at some point, must go further. Then, that story idea crops up. Creative impulse and curiosity -- you need both.

MGB: Trigger of being provoked by other alternate histories -- just [illeg, but basically, we're talking a dialogue among alternate histories / historians]
Severed Wing -- title from powem -- all the possible futures lost in the Holocaust.

MRK: Rereading Persuasion by Jane Austen and read a giant epic fantasy.
Why can't I have the deep emotional reality with my fantasy? Sometimes, yes -- but where is the deep family drama -- no evil overlord

(Napoleon -- KH -- Like Sauron in The Hobbit)

All at stake is OMG, will she get married?
Inherent in fantasy?
Trying to not break either history or the Jane Austen mold
At the end of the book -- people get married!
After, stayed in the world -- initially, stand alone, then realized how many other stories in that world interesting -- fascinating Regency period of change
Exploring women's issues
Don't need to explain -- "Napoleon" and I'm done
Verse "Okay, there's this evil overlord, and..."

KH: Why bother to create an alternate world? We have the greatest, and it's already been mapped! His father said he didn't mary a historian, so he had to create one
Individual projects inspired by others
John Maddozx Roberts, King of the Wood, inspired 2
Day After Ragnarok -- Conan with Tommy Guns!
(Thor vs Captain America, David Brin)

MRK: "Jane Austen write Conan the Barbaraian" Cf Tor.com

AC: Nothing specific -- except Prohibition. Insane in retrospect. Why didn't Chandler write SF? He _hated_ it. The Big Sleep with Robots!

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