The ramblings, rants, and observations of an Orthodox Reactionary. Feel free to look around!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

On alternate history and veracity

I've been skimming through threads on here lately and there's something that bothers me that I simply have to get off my chest.

In the interest of full disclosure let me begin by saying that I am a big history buff-- and as a result really dig a good alternate history (AH). And let me also say the rant I'm gonna tear off on is not entirely the result of what I've read on it's far more widespread than that.

I really wish there were alternate history authors that dealt seriously with economics and liberty.

Science fiction and fantasty authors-- being creative types, and generally floating around in that ethereal sphere that has jack-all to do with reality-- tend towards liberalism. There are notable exceptions-- Robert Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, and John Ringo come to mind-- but the large majority of scifi/fantasy writers lean to the left side of the spectrum. Many are versed in history; not so many in economics.

Take Harry Turtledove for example. I love Turtledove-- If its got his name on it I'll ususally give it a shot, and he's not all that preachy (As it seems to me. Maybe he does preach, but I'm too dense to notice. Always a possibility). I especially love his "Southern Victory" series-- a timeline where the South wins the War between the States, with all the unintended (and perhaps unlikely) consequences that implies. Now, in order to read his storyline-- and this goes for any author-- you have to follow his basic assumptions, and believe that Lincoln was a good President in a bad situation, that Northern victory was the vindication of the American experiment and the promise of continued "liberty and justice for all", and that if the South had won its independence freedom would have died a slow rotting death and the Confederate experiment would have ended in death camps and genocide. I don't believe any of that, but Turtledove makes it a fun romp anyways, and so I tag along.

In Turtledove's world the two main parties are the Democrat party and the Socialist party (Yeah, you heard me.) The Dems are center-right, and the Socialists center-left. Both are big-government. And boy, it is ever huge. Acoording to one of the WWI novels, the bureaucracy of wartime US mirrors that of Imperial Germany(her ally!)- "permits from the Coal Board; the Meat Board", etc. And in another place, a character mentions that "the Constitution kind of fell to the wayside" post-Civil War, as the USA decided they were going to crush the CSA come hell or high water. The socialists are an anti-war party, at least until the "Second Great War" (WWII). Then they're 100% on board with the US war machine as it grinds invading Confederates into dust in Ohio and Pennsylvania, kills Canadian civilians in retaliation for attacks on US occupiers, butchers rebelling Mormons (who, to be fair, do no small amount of butchering themselves) and later relocates them from Utah...

Its a brutal world. But, apart from the treatment of blacks in the CSA, we see absloutely no indication of what this massive, powerful, dominating government does to its own citizens. If you're not a Canadian, Mormon, or Confederate, the US government leaves you alone. No massive police powers are on display (except in occupied territory), leading one to the conclusion that having a powerless Constitution and a US government that for the last 80 years has seen the US population as cannon fodder for its blood vendetta with Dixieland is perfectly safe and fine, and that such a government wouldn't trample all over its citizens like so much soggy toilet paper on the tile floor of a gas station restroom. Nope, no federal tyranny here!

Another thing is the half-assed approach to economics. "In 1960, President Hubert Humphrey institutes a single-payer national healthcare system for the United States," and that's it. No uproar. No explanation of how such a system would be paid for, no mention of the deterioration of conditions that would occur in a system like the British NHS. It just pisses me off. Alternate history is often fluff and a great deal of the author wanking his preferred side into victory or portraying "the world as its supposed to be". I understand that. But there's no magical alien mineral. No ridiculous new source of wealth to make it feasible. The author just handwaves it away, and I'm left with a huge credibility gap-- coming from a world that is supposed to be ours, but with some changes.

Do a little homework, alternate history authors. You want to create a new world? Figure out how the real one works first. Please.

"When a stupid man is doing something he is ashamed of, he always declares that it is his duty." --George Bernard Shaw

1 comment:

Vance H said...

Don't forget David Weber as a fairly conservative Sci-Fi writer. He tends to use historical examples in his fiction to back up ,or illustrate, the governments in his series's (see the Peoples Republic of Haven).