Monday, August 4, 2008

Alternate History

Alternate history is a subgenre of science fiction which explores what would happen if events followed a different course from some key point of divergence. For the vehicle designer, this opens up a rich vein of possibilities for plausible forms that might have been. The paintings in this post were paperback covers from a series of science fiction novels by Kirk Mitchell. His first in the series, Procurator, began with Pilate pardoning Jesus instead of Barabbus and the Roman army defeating the barbarians. From that beginning, a chain of events allowed Rome to flourish and develop advanced technology.

  How would Romans design an airplane? First I wanted to use an unusual configuration that looked somewhat believable. I tried a canard design with a pusher prop, and a variety of design features that suggest the look of Roman galleys. Many alternate histories are premised on Hitler winning World War II, or the Confederacy winning the American Civil War, or the Spanish Armada conquering England. History would have taken an alternate pathway. New technologies would have been invented, but they would have followed different lines.

  From the design perspective, an alternate history premise offers a lot of scope for invention. The author mentioned “sand galleys” and I imagined them as fortified tanks that could cover a variety of terrains.

  My beginning point was to fill a few pages of a sketchbook with drawings of actual Roman material culture: the costumes, weapons, vehicles, and architecture, noting their characteristic colors and symbols. Then I tried to extrapolate those features into new technologies. Above are some of the development sketches for the sand galley, an open-topped troop carrier, battle platform, and siege weapon built along the lines of a trireme. ------- Wikipedia on "Alternate History," link.


Chris Bellinger said...

What a interesting post!
along with your What if of couse is the altenative univese theory in that there are millions of alternative univerises and that every decision someone makes has a effect and continues as if they made tht other decision. someone kills somebody that individual is dead. In another universe the individual survives and is living, rather as if we have different personalities of the same charecter all splitting off for ever?
cofussed . so am !

jeff said...

Very interesting post.
I love the land galley.

In the 80's the BBC or was it channel 4 in Britain did a series on this very subject. The Nazis had won the war in Europe. They sued for peace with America and we went home.

They occupied all of Europe from Great Britain to Sicily and most of Eastern Europe went to the Russians.

It was set in present day, that being the 1980's and dramatized what life would be like had Hitler won the war.

I was a very well made production.

Random York said...

I love this artwork Jim! It's a treat to view. I'm going to get your new book. - JOhn

Dan Gurney said...

Interesting post!

I remember someone noting that had the Axis Powers won World War II their industrial might would have prevailed in the postwar era.

One result would be that we in the United States would end up driving lots of cars made by Japanese and German companies. Cars imported from our allies—-English or French brands—-would be scarce.

Wars, in my view, don't produce clear winners and losers. It's a lot more complex than that. And, in general, I think, wars produce mostly a lot of avoidable suffering for all parties who get involved in it.

Had Jesus lived out his natural life, my guess is that his teachings, especially around nonviolence would have taken greater hold. Had Jesus had more time to influence our world, the result would have been Gandhian technology like spinning wheels. More Gandhi, less Condi.

There's a bumper sticker I love that appears on cars around Sebastopol that says:

When Jesus said, "Love your enemies," I think he probably meant don't kill them.

mythusmage said...

There was a lot more to Jesus' execution than who Pilate decided to pardon. Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead, and he was about ready to do it to see the deed done. As Caiaphas says in Jesus Christ, Super Star, "For the sake of the nation this Jesus must die."

Had Jesus been spared for some reason? No Christianity. Not by that name. Followers of the rabbi Joshua of Nazarath (Let's call them Galileans) would be Jews. Most likely a branch of Judaism much like the (officially not Jewish) Karaites. Depending on how the proselytizing turns out, perhaps Priestly Jews with the temple relocated to Rome.

For a very different alternate history have a certain Roman emperor (who's name I can't recall right now, dang it) decide that instead of fighting Jewish preachers, he would enlist them on the empire's side. Judaism would become the Roman Empire's state religion. Please note that at one time Jewish preachers were actually making more converts than Christian or even Mithraic preachers. There were things about early Christian era Judaism that appealed to the Romans. Including all that stuff about dietary and clothing restrictions. In a world where the old ways were falling away a religion that called for obedience and sacrifice had its appeal.

How might Jews and Romans have changed each other?

Andrew said...

Guess I'm odd man out here with the greater fascination on Roman super-technology than the religion and state aspects.

I wikied this novel's series just to see what other technologies they mention, and it sounds pretty cool. I don't know if you remember or not, but did the book ever mention an approximate date we could compare with our history?

And the fact we never came up with Sand-galleys is a shame.

James Gurney said...

Drew, I'm sorry, but it's been so long since I read the books that I don't remember how the timelines compare.

And I'm hoping that Kirk Mitchell will pick this up on Google alerts so he can better explain his premise. I may have mischaracterized exactly how he sets his alternate history into motion.

Dan and Mythusmage, thanks so much to both of you for your fascinating insights. I was just taking the premise for granted and thinking of the tech, but as both of you reflect on it, the hypothetical political and religious outcomes are far more complex than I first imagined.

jeff said...

Sorry to interject here, but I have to say all this conjecturing about the historical Jesus Christ and Rome is kind of off base to the subject and veering into some iffy waters in context to the history of the Jews and Christianity. One very important part you all left out was the uprising by certain Jewish sects and how Pontius Pilate had a mandate to bring this uprising under control. Also it's not wise to get your history from Broadway musicals.

Augustus (was the first emperor of the Roman Empire, who ruled from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD).

Michael Kingery said...

its really odd this is coming up now... im as i read this finishing up design elements on a commission involving the roman army had they survived to the near future...

heres what i have so far (sorry for pimping myself out X_X)

Unknown said...

This reminds me of one of my pet peeves -- why can't books like this have a few illustrations? Even the sketches here, if published in the pages of the book would add to the experience of reading it.

Most books have the one illustration on the cover and that's it! Do they think pictures are just for kids?

Mythusmagus, I agree that the biblical account verifies that the Pharisees wanted him dead. John 11:53 says "So from that day on they planned together to kill Him."

It was also part of his mission statement --something he willing submitted himself to and didn't try to avoid. Several Old Testament prophecies indicate details of how it would happen, and some say even the age of this death -- 33 was significant. The age of mature son placement in the Father's house.

I'm not a scholar, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!

Unknown said...

This type of work is really going strong right now with steampunk (which Dinotopia has elements of) and now clockpunk. I also love how this manages to confuse the usual labels. Is it SF is it fantasy? The lines get blurred a bit and some exciting stuff can happen. and I want to second Andrew Wales, there really aught to be more illustration in books for grown ups.

Unknown said...

You said it Eric. Plus, it would be more jobs for us artists! I think the new trend toward graphic novels is beginning to overcome this bias.

Whenever I read a book, I wonder what the character looks like. It annoys me when I create in my imagination an appearance for them, and then the book contradicts what I have in my mind. I have to redraw them in my imagination, and get back to my reading.

Stephen James. said...

Very imaginative, I often wonder about these things myself.


What if Alexander the Great hadn't died and continued his campaign through India and beyond?

What if the Vikings stayed in Canada?

What if Arch Duke Ferdinand had survived?

And most recently what if the U.S aggresively persued Al Queda in the late 90's (as opposed to the few cruise missles we launched into Sudan and Afghanastan)and 9/11 was prevented.

James Gurney said...

Stephen, yes, I think there will be people writing alternate histories that begin in our times, especially when large events seem to have hinged on small moments: the Bush/Gore election and 9/11.

CerverGirl said...

The universe has ways of leading us to words that are helpful to us. I know this post is older, but today’s post lead me to it, and I appreciate it. Thank you.