So, 'What If?'…
I have just surfaced from reading Richard J. Evans’s opinion on ‘what-if’ speculations in history, published in The Guardian on 13th March 2014. His thoughts are very heavily based in fact, rather than fiction, but there is a certain relevance to the theme of my upcoming novel, Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising. Thus, it seemed appropriate to spark off something of a debate on the subject of historical ‘what-if’.
“Perhaps it's because we're living in a postmodern age where the idea of progress has largely disappeared, to be replaced by uncertainty and doubt, and where linear notions of time have become blurred; or because truth and fiction no longer seem such polar opposites as they once did; or because historians now have more licence to be subjective than they used to. But it's time to be sceptical about this trend. We need, in this year especially, to start to try to understand why the first world war happened, not to wish that it hadn't, or argue about whether it was "right" or "wrong". In the effort to understand, counterfactuals aren't any real use at all.”Let’s see. To me, this reads in a manner which suggests Evans is clearly not a man who has any interest in speculation. None whatsoever. He deals in the currency of cold, hard fact, not the airy-fairy world of daydreaming and imagination. I have a lot of respect for that and what happened in history is what happened in history. Short of owning a TARDIS (or, for preference, a De Lorean) there’s not a lot we can do about that. What has happened has happened. We, as a species exist for the now and for tomorrow. We can’t change what has been and why should we?
- Richard J. Evans
This is why. Because we are also a species of dreamers and we have been gifted with something extraordinary. Something unique. Something that those embedded in the world of fact can sometimes lose sight of. We are storytellers. From the Viking skalds through to the parent sat reading a nursery rhyme to their infant child, we tell one another stories. We invoke fear, excitement, pleasure, laughter, tears with the written fictional word and to be able to read and write stories is a remarkable gift. I wonder if Mr. Evans reads fiction? I do hope that he does, although from the terse nature of his article (interesting and relevant as it is), I would think that if he does, he avoids the ‘historical fiction’ shelf in his bookshop. For my money, that’s his loss.
To spend hours or even a lifetime debating in earnest fashion the ‘what if’ scenarios outline by Evans in his article seems to me to be bordering on the wistful and in that, I see eye to eye with the author. But yet I disagree that ‘counterfactuals’ aren’t any real use at all. They encourage a deeper understanding of the historical events that surround an outcome. If you can take someone with only a passing interest in an event that changed the world – let’s say the first world war – and ask them what the world might have been like if xx had or had not happened, there’s a good chance they might go away and learn more about the actual facts. In that, you educate people. They learn. They gain interest. And that is a wonderful, extraordinary thing.
But at the same time, it’s human nature to have regret. It’s in our psychological make-up to wonder how things might have been different if we had only taken the other route to work the morning of that car crash, for example.
History is a living thing. We create history every day. It may not be earth-changing or world-shattering, but every action has a consequence. If you were to stop and consider all the actual possibilities of an action, you’d never do anything for fear of heading down the wrong pathway.
There are so many theories on this, the most well documented being that for every decision we make, the alternative decisions are played out in parallel dimensions. That somewhere, there exists another you who decided to actually sit down and revise for that exam actually then went on to university, then became the world’s expert on your chosen subject. Owns a beach house in the Caribbean. Drives a Lotus Elise.
Man. I hate that version of me.
Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising is speculative, what-if historical fiction with a twist. It has fantasy elements thrown in. There is magic. There are demons. There are most definitely consequences for actions. It is not in any way meant to be an academic study of ‘what would have happened if Richard III had won at Bosworth’ but it sure as hell makes me wonder.
Is that so very wrong? I don’t think it is.
Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising will be published in paperback and ebook in North America on May 27th and in the UK and Ireland on 5th June.
Someone else connected with Abaddon also spent the weekend proving that you can't keep a good king (bad king, shurely? - Ed.) down - Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley!
Those who've heard of Jason before will know that he enjoys donning armour, getting onto a horse, and galloping at a similarly attired gent with a long stick in his hand - but it turns out he also does a mean impression of the last King of the Plantagenets:
Here's some video of him charging around like a madman and no doubt we'll see the fruits of his battle-hardened labour soon.
You can keep up (if you dare) with Jason on his Twitter feed, plus Heirs of the Demon King is out in June and can be pre-ordered through Amazon in the UK and North America.
What if, I hypothesised, Richard the Third beat Henry Tudor into a pulp on that August day in Leicestershire? What would have happened to
This latest ebook exclusive from Abaddon in the Afterblight Chronicles series has been written by Malcolm Cross and we asked him to explain why setting his new novella on the ISS was the ultimate in horror settings.
My generation didn't have the moon landings.
The Space Shuttle was so passé it barely rated a news item, Skylab had long ago been abandoned and burned up, there was a fire on Mir and we hardly even heard about it. The International Space Station? It's been up there for sixteen years. Mostly we don't think about it.
For decades we all took human spaceflight for granted, and then Chris Hadfield burst onto twitter and Gravity rocked the Oscars, and then the spacemen over your head became real. For a lot of us it produced a brief disconnect with reality, a moment to dream in, a thrilling heartbeat where the silly childhood idea Star Trek might be real came back.
Obviously, I leapt at the opportunity when Abaddon Books offered me the chance to write about what happened on the ISS during the apocalyptic plague that kicks off their Afterblight Chronicles setting. Trouble is, for a good horror story, often you need to start somewhere normal and familiar, then take your reader to a place that's threateningly different.
The International Space Station? It isn't familiar. It's a flying can with two very different architectural styles in the American and Russian sections, constantly noisy with the hum of air circulation fans. Silence isn't peace and quiet -- it's a reason to panic in case the air goes stale and asphyxiates you. There are dozens of sunrises every day, and just as many nights.
Trying to make it seem familiar felt sacrilegious. But that was my first goal, working in the routine around day to day research, everyday life with big 'family' dinners the whole crew gathers for, and even being forced to swallow down toothpaste because, after all, you can't spit into a sink without gravity's help. Even if the International Space Station's a place where you can turn the wall into the floor and a corridor into a canyon to fly through with just a twist of the body, to the Astronauts who call it home, it really is home.
And like any home, it's a great place to set a horror story.
Orbital Decay by Malcolm Cross is out now in ebook from Abaddon Books and available direct from the Rebellion Publishing webshop.
Blackmore is the author of the urban fantasy novels City of the Lost and Dead Things and the 1930's pulp novel Khan of Mars. His short stories have appeared in the magazines Needle, Plots With Guns, Spinetingler, Thrilling Detective and Shots,as well as the anthologies Deadly Treats, Don’t Read This Bookand Uncage Me.
Forget the stale chocolates and badly-drawn festive image, we've got the Advent calendar you want right here...
Yes, every day in the run-up to Christmas we'll be offering a different ebook title for the tiny sum of just 99p!
Yes! Just 99 of the Queen's pennies (or corresponding amount of your non-British equivalent) and you could own some of the finest SF, fantasy, horror, and genre around!
So shut up and set down your coffee and donut - yes, I can see you, stop hiding it behind that stack of paperwork and pretending it's somebody else's donut; it's okay to eat donuts, I don't mind - for just one moment and check this motherfunster out right now.
Because E. E. Richardson, the brilliant and talented young adult horror writer, has made her adult debut right here at Abaddon Towers, and it is awesome.
Ritual Crime Unit: Under the Skin is a novella, the first in a new series of urban fantasy police procedurals which I'm frankly sure will have nerds all over the country saying "Who Aaronovitch? Is that even a real name?" in about a month. Maybe two, tops.
Elizabeth come to my attention via the open submissions month last year (which you may remember), and was a very happy discovery.
Here's the blurb:
A tough, hard-nosed career officer in the male-dominated world of British policing, DCI Claire Pierce of North Yorkshire Police heads Northern England’s underfunded and understaffed Ritual Crime Unit. Unregarded by the traditional police, struggling with an out-sized caseload, Pierce is about to tackle her most shocking case so far.
Following reports of unlicensed shapeshifters running wild in the Dales, DCI Pierce leads a failed raid to capture the skinbinder responsible. While the dust is still settling, a team from Counter Terrorism turns up and takes the case off her.
Pursuing the case off the record, she uncovers something murkier and more terrible than she suspected. Has her quarry achieved the impossible and learned to bind human skin?
Under the Skin is available right now, from the Rebellion Store, from Kindle (US, UK, and elsewhere) and most other ebook channels. If you don't buy it, you might be unprepared.
It's even available, in strictly limited numbers, as a physical edition from Forbidden Planet! These babies are signed and numbered, and won't last long.
DO IT! DO IT NOW! YOUR LIFE MAY DEPEND ON IT!
About The Author
E.E. Richardson has been writing books since she was eleven years old, and had her first novel The Devil’s Footsteps picked up for publication at the age of twenty. Since then she’s had seven more young adult horror novels published by Random House and Barrington Stoke. Under the Skin is her first story aimed at adults. She also has a B.Sc. in Cybernetics and Virtual Worlds, which hasn’t been useful for much but does sound impressive.
So a little while back I doodled on here about expressions - turns of phrase with various roots - that have drifted, just a little, from their intention when first used. Like turn the other cheek or the game is afoot. Lovely little examples of how language and culture shift over time.
'Cause that's what editors do. Rock and roll, baby. Rock and fuckin' roll.
Anyway, it got a very modest feedback on Facebook and Twitter, and there was a little chat about misuses that people were fond of - or irritated by, as it happens - and a bit of fond discussion about usage and etymology. Then it came up again.
What about "literally"?
Ah, yes. So this is an old chestnut, and one which the internet's guardians of language are very fond of railing about (seriously, I love the Oatmeal, but I haven't got your back on this one). And it's had a bit of a resurgence in everyone's minds, lately, since the Oxford English Dictionary made the decision to include the figurative sense of the word in its entry.
(Many tophats flew off many heads, that day. Many monocles popped out in outraged splutter. That terrible, terrible day.)
Because seriously, this is a thing. And it's not a big deal. Untwist that there knicker, podner! And let me sort this out for you, so you can stop worrying yourself about it and go back to explaining the difference between affect and effect to people. Let me explain why your objections to this are all wrong...
"You can't just change what things mean in dictionaries!"
Well, that's just silly, for starters. If you couldn't "just" add or change words in the dictionary, it would look like this and would be worse than useless. Obviously English changes, and the dictionary tells us how to use words in English, so the dictionary has to change. You may choose to rail against drift in the language if you wish, although I can think of better uses of your time, but you can't really complain about the dictionary doing its job, which is reflecting how language is used. Don't blame the OED for being the world's pre-eminent English Dictionary...
"But it's the opposite of what it means! You can't do that!"
Why the hell not? Cleave means "to stick together" and "to separate." Sanction means "to grant approval to" and "to withdraw support from." Fast means "moving quickly" and "fixed and immobile." Trimming that tree, are you? Would sir like the secateurs or the tinsel?
And anyway, it doesn't. People say that the modern usage of literally means "figuratively," but who in the history of saying things with your face has ever actually pointed out, mid-metaphor, that they're being metaphorical? Can you imagine anyone saying, "My father figuratively exploded when he saw the scratch on the car; I say figuratively, because I don't want you to be alarmed at the prospect of my father's detonation. He's actually quite well. I meant to say he was very angry."?
(You can? Huh. I'd keep away from that guy. I bet he tucks in his t-shirt and collects used matches.)
The contemporary, figurative use of the word literally actually completely depends on both the speaker and the listener being aware of its traditional meaning. It's used for emphasis. I'm presenting what is clearly a metaphor ("I'm neck-deep in paperwork down here!") and then playfully suggesting that it's not a metaphor ("No, help me! I'm genuinely, literally, neck-deep in paperwork here! Haha! It's funny because it's not in fact true, but I'm pretending it is!") in order to emphasise the metaphor.
Get it? It's supposed to be funny, you jerk. And you ruined it.
I love you. Please don't be angry.
"But it's not what it's supposed to mean! It's new!"
You're dead right... in about the seventeenth century.
This usage goes back hundreds of years. There was only just such a thing as dictionaries when people started using literally this way.
Jane Austen was "literally rocked in bed" in a stormy night; Mark Twain was "literally rolling in wealth"; Louisa May Alcott's land "literally flowed with milk and honey." This is not a new thing. How can it be an irritating change to the language you speak if it happened before your grandmother's grandmother was born? There is honestly no way you can claim to remember a time when you only knew the original sense of the word and was unpleasantly surprised to discover its new meaning.
Which means you've learned your distaste of its figurative sense. Someone - some low-down son of a gun - has gone to the trouble of teaching you to be irritated by a usage that's been utterly ubiquitous since long before the people who taught the people who taught the people who taught them to hate it were even born.
So frankly, if you're gonna get angry at someone, I'd track down that guy. 'Cause he just plumb filled your world with aggravation to no good effect.