Alternate Historical Accuracy

Writing a post over on Evil Toad Press about historical accuracy in genre fiction got me thinking: when it comes to historical accuracy in my own writing, I tend to research what’s accurate in any relevant, given time or society for the sole purpose of deviating from it.  I find this practice somewhat curious.  Why make things harder?  Why pull apart the guts of something if you don’t have to?  I suppose the answer is, because it turns me on.

By way of example, I’ve got an epic fantasy series on the back burner.  I’ve written about 70,000 words of the first book.  In planning out the world and its people, I did a lot of thinking about the nature of technology, how it emerges, how it evolves, and how it affects society.  The world of Children of the Taking is approximately equivalent in terms of general technology level to the Renaissance in general and the 15th Century in particular, with one major exception: this world has not, as of yet, discovered gunpowder.  Unlike so many other fantasy authors, however, who eschew firearms for their perceived inapplicability to the common reader’s notion of what constitutes a “medieval” or “high fantasy” setting, the people of my world don’t lack gunpowder because it’s stylistically inconvenient.  They lack gunpowder because the components of gunpowder simply don’t exist on their world.  What does exist is an element of equivalent or greater power that they are only beginning to discover how to use as a weapon when the series opens, a weapon that will change their world for better or worse.

The consequences of that are potentially enormous, and thinking through the logic of it has been difficult.  It involves a lot of storytelling and worldbuilding–why haven’t they discovered it yet?  Who made the discovery, and how?  How is it used, how is it monetized, and how does its introduction affect the warfare and economies of the nations of the world?  Some of my answers to these questions are shortcuts, I’ll admit: they haven’t discovered it because the age they characters live in is essentially postapocalyptic.  Their ancestors knew of it, though their use of it was different; only now, after a long dark age of intellectual stagnation, have a few luminaries started tinkering again.

So maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m interested in the bones of history, the dynamics of it, more than the actual account of history itself.  As fascinating as the real world history of firearms in combat is to research, for some reason it’s more fun for me to take the concept and play with it in my own sandbox.  Which is just another way of saying: making everything a lot harder for myself than it has to be.  Which is kind of the story of my life.  But that’s another story.