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Interviewing the AH Community: Liam Connell of the AskHistorians 2020 Digital Conference

SenatorChickpea

The Most Kiwi Aussie of them all
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Thanks for the opportunity to talk, Gary.

When you're working on this stuff, you can get tunnel vision- it was a real pleasure to have a wide-ranging discussion and remind myself that, actually, I really am interested in all this. To become aware of your own enthusiasm is a happy thing.
 

Charles EP M.

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Good lord, that part about New Zealanders assuming their destiny was to rule the backward Aussies.

one choice it's made is to tell is story about Catherine the Great- who came to power as a short, ordinary looking brown haired woman in early middle age- where the lead is played by a young and conventionally attractive blonde ... that choice also says something about who the writers, and the audience, think is worth of occupying our attention, and has nasty implications about our ability to take a 'historically accurate' Catherine seriously as an intelligent person and a sexual being.
Good point and sobering.
 

Coiler

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Liked this part.

Fatherland's backstory isn't that plausible, for example, but Robert Harris had a very clear idea about what he wanted to do- a noir detective story where the crime is the biggest in human history. The novel doesn't need a detailed examination of how the Nazis won, and wisely chooses to brush over it in a couple of paragraphs. The author knows what matters, and that's the emotional plausibility of the story, not the intellectual plausibility of the alternate history.
What @SenatorChickpea has called "emotional plausibility" is what I call "acceptability"

For me the sort of clicking moment was the Draka series of all things. When I finally read the actual books, my thought was "yes, I know it's not plausible, but it really comes across as the sort of thing you wouldn't expect to be plausible if you knew nothing of the controversy."

That also ties into the statement of "trying to write fiction that is both very plausible and also corresponds to a scenario that's already in their head". I've noticed this a lot.

It's why I've soured on the various attempts to "fix" the Draka series, because they're trying to turn a soft setting into a harder one and it just feels like both going against the tone and like a square peg. And that's just one example.
 

SenatorChickpea

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It's why I've soured on the various attempts to "fix" the Draka series, because they're trying to turn a soft setting into a harder one and it just feels like both going against the tone and like a square peg. And that's just one example.

Yeah. I don't like the Draka series- at all - but the attempts to fix it always reminded me of that old joke. You know, tourist asks for directions, local remarks 'Well, if I were you I wouldn't start from here.'

There's just no point to trying to bring historical plausibility to the Draka. It would be like trying to create hard sci-fi explanations for all the stuff in Star Wars.

Actually, people do try that. Their efforts speak for themselves.
 

Gary Oswald

It was Vampire Unions that got us Vampire Weekend
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Yeah. I don't like the Draka series- at all - but the attempts to fix it always reminded me of that old joke. You know, tourist asks for directions, local remarks 'Well, if I were you I wouldn't start from here.'

There's just no point to trying to bring historical plausibility to the Draka. It would be like trying to create hard sci-fi explanations for all the stuff in Star Wars.

Actually, people do try that. Their efforts speak for themselves.
Yeah, my take on this years ago was 'there's so many interesting things to do in AH, why bother using an uninteresting thing someone else has done' and that hasn't changed.

Like Decades of Darkness looked at the Draka and was like you can do what this tries to do better. But Jared didn't use the Draka themselves to do that because he recognised that they weren't interesting.
 

SenatorChickpea

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Yeah. I can't remember who said it, but Stirling's idea about the Draka as a 'dark mirror' of the US is fundamentally silly. You don't need to leave the US to do it!

Which brings us neatly back to the piece and our back and forth about facing honestly up to living in imperial and colonial societies....
 

Gary Oswald

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Yeah. I can't remember who said it, but Stirling's idea about the Draka as a 'dark mirror' of the US is fundamentally silly. You don't need to leave the US to do it!

Which brings us neatly back to the piece and our back and forth about facing honestly up to living in imperial and colonial societies....
It's a common problem I think in dystopian AH, in that it often seems to exist to reassure us about the societies that did exist.

So Sterling creates a society that is built to show the worst of the US's history in terms of genocide and slavery but it's so over the top that instead of making us think about the real crimes it excuses them in comparison.

Turtledove's story of Gandhi vs the the Nazis is similar. I'm not saying a Nazi rule of India wouldn't have been awful but the narrative point is to underline how lucky the INC were to face 'reasonable' racist imperialists in the British.

I'm not saying this is the intent, but the problem with comparing an awful reality with an imagined worse hypothetical is it often ends up excusing the former.
 

Gary Oswald

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I also sometimes worry that concentrating on the past too much has the same effect, tbh. Like the worst thing about being a British Citizen is not that my country was complicit in empire and slave labour 100 years ago, it's the way that country's economic system is reliant on sweatshop labour and ecological destruction now and our economic institutions are often set up so that the international wealth gap can't be bridged. And while I think it's important to come to grips with the truth of our history especially when we have a PM who openly says Africa was better off under the empires, we shouldn't view the injustice the global south has suffered as a thing that once happened, rather than a thing that is ongoing.
 

Charles EP M.

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There's just no point to trying to bring historical plausibility to the Draka. It would be like trying to create hard sci-fi explanations for all the stuff in Star Wars.

Actually, people do try that. Their efforts speak for themselves.
That seems different, it's often nerds having fun while Draka timeline fixes sound more like 'work' to show you could do better, like nerds doing lengthy rewrites of Pokemon's Johto League eps.
 
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