Thursday, March 1, 2018

The allure of history in SF

Terracotta warriors at Xian
I'm over 40k words into my new book, and it's all falling into place as science fiction with a large helping of history. It seems to be a pattern with me, maybe because I find history fascinating. I have a BA(Hons) in history and that fascination that got me through university has remained. I'm especially intrigued with stories about civilizations that disappeared. I don't mean Atlantis - because I'm not convinced it actually existed - certainly not as portrayed in Plato's book. But there's reason to believe it may have been loosely based on the volcanic destruction of Santorini.

But there are more actual, real examples. For instance, the city of Troy in the Iliad did and does exist. When it was excavated, it was found to have been built on top of itself nine times. Then there's this amazing Mayan city in the jungle. The extent of this place has only recently been revealed using aerial mapping techniques. The Mayans abandoned their cities in around the 8th or 9th centuries, and nobody is exactly sure why. There are so many mysteries in history - who built the pyramids, and how, and why? Who built Stonehemge? How and why?  There are more prosaic discoveries, people who stumbled upon a treasure trove in their back paddock. Something like Sutton Hoo. And then there are the fabled terracotta warriors guarding the tomb of Qin Shi Huang the first emperor of China. The tomb was constructed before the modern era, but it disappeared from view, and knowledge for close to two thousand years. It was stumbled upon by a farmer in 1974. And just now, as I've written this, there has been another stunning discovery in Egypt, a necropolis that has been untouched for two thousand years.

What about tantalising fragments hinting at technology we have only recently 'discovered'? The Mayans knew a great deal about astronomy and tracked the planets long before Copernicus. Then there's the Antikythera mechanism, which is an analog computer dating back to before the modern era.

So it's hardly surprising that my science fiction stories often have a bit of (made up based on real) ancient history in them. The Mystery of the Ice Warriors is no different. The ice warriors are statues of mythical beings, carved from a crystal rock that has a blue glow. Unfortunately for Romila, who has inherited her parent's antique shop after their death, the statues have been used to smuggle drugs. Romila is in trouble with the drug dealers, but Morgan's Misfits (Jirra, Chet, and Toreni) see an opportunity to help her, and destroy a leading criminal at the same time.

Since I'm very much a make-it-up-as-you-go writer, I'm finding out the most amazing things about these ice warriors and their history. Are they mythological figures. like the Greek and Roman Gods, or were they real? There's a bit of climate change in the book, too. Places that were temperate became too cold for humans. The Viking settlement on Greenland is an Earth example.

Here's a snippet - warts and all, not even remotely edited - but it'll give you an idea what the ice warriors are like.

Lorpat took them to a closed off area to the left. "This is our workshop. Sunil has told you the story of the statues? What they are?"
Chet smiled. "He told us so many things details have slipped past me. Please explain again."
Lorpat frowned and chewed at his lip before he spoke in heavily accented Standard. "They be mythological figures, taken from legends of our past. Ancient warriors. He picked up a statue standing on a shelf. "See? Helmet for fighting, body… how you call it… protection…"
"Armor," Chet provided.
"Yes, armor." He traced the pattern on the chest with his finger. "Each is different. Each carver uses his own pattern."
"Really?" Chet stared at the design. "You can say who carved a piece by looking at the armor?"
He smiled at her, nodding. "Yes. This one is made by Krishnan. You will meet him."
Jirra waved her sanvad. "May I take pictures? So we can remember what you said?"
He shrugged. "If you want."
"Is there anything else different about them?" Chet asked as Jirra recorded. "Are they supposed to be different characters?"
"Yes. All are different. Weapons can be different. This man carries sword." He picked up a second finished statue. "This has no sword but has spear. Helmets can be different." He pointed. "This one has design. This one plain."
"May I?" Jirra's hand stretched toward a statue, waiting until Lorpat nodded before she picked it up, tracing the lines of the helmet. "Almost looks like breathing apparatus."
Lorpat took a moment to process the words.
Jirra put her hand over her mouth and made breathing noises.
The man laughed, shaking his head. "No. Not… what you said. They are warriors, part of the mountains. They fought the evil spirits who live in the ice rivers, banished them to the wild places."
It was a common trope, the forces of good and evil set against each other, the knights of the mountains fighting the demons of the deeps. 

There you have it. I'll keep on writing.

1 comment:

  1. Great excerpt.

    History fascinates me too, Greta, because there's so much we don't know about our past and so many historical paradoxes. I do enjoy speculating about the past in my stories about the future.


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