This past weekend I was at LTUE – a science fiction and fantasy literary symposium/conference in Provo, Utah [and the reason why there was no blog last Friday was because my not-so-trusty and relatively new laptop crashed right after I arrived there]. I was on a fair number of panels, but in the course of convention events, I found one of my basic tenets about writing being reinforced. It’s simple. All realistic and real worlds have history, and that history is NEVER just the “dead past.”
Over the past fifty plus years, I’ve read a considerable amount of science fiction and fantasy, and although the majority of writers who dealt with invented literary worlds or even future human society made an effort to create workable societies, while I could see how those societies might work, in far too many cases I could see no way as to how such societies or cultures could have evolved and developed into what the writer presented. Most likely, for most readers, that really isn’t a problem, but, perhaps because I am a student of society, politics, and history, it bothers me a lot.
Just think about this. How many of the killings, the wars, and the terrorist threats we face today are the result of past Islamic history and teachings? Mohammed may have lived over 1400 years ago, but that part of history and how it has evolved affects the entire world today, and certainly thousands if not tens of thousands of followers don’t act as though he’s dead and forgotten. World War II was effectively the result of historical conflicts and rancor between France and Germany that date back to the time of Louis XIV, if not before. Obvious as this may seem, in too many F&SF books, there’s little if no sense of real history woven into the background of the story… or how that history affects the present. Everything is in the here and now.
Or sometimes there’s an eternal empire. Eternal? I have my doubts. Although one can claim with some degree of accuracy that the basic structure of Egyptian government was essentially unchanged for almost three thousand years, dynasties rose and fell; invaders periodically intervened and ruled; and in the end, the structure toppled. And that’s the most long-lived empire/pseudo-empire in human history. The British Empire, the one on which the sun never set, lasted less than a century in any true imperial form.
William Faulkner once made the observation to the effect that the “dead past” is not only not dead, but it’s not even past. Obviously, I agree.