Perspectives Past and Present

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I’m diving into alternate history storytelling for a magical world I took four years to build. Some of this has roots in world history and the way society evolved (or didn’t) in certain contexts. I’m taking the approach that to truly represent the scope of the story, I cannot just write one type of character from a particular ethnic background. What happens in this series is epic, but the story itself begins small. To tell the story and build the world, I ask questions. I think. I need the mental space to do that, but this is where everything begins: when I wonder.

History fascinates me in a way I cannot describe properly. It’s partly due to the ghosts of the past and the nostalgia that comes from that, but also caused by the fact that human beings have dealt with less — and still survived. I suppose what interests me the most, is the ability to piece together a particular person’s story, and empathize with that individual. For example, slavery appalls me. But how did folks survive? What would I have done if I was in their situation? To me, this is what keeps the historical record alive, not just by learning what happened, but by trying to identify with the people on some level.

What saddens me, is that the human side of the equation often gets lost. New is better. Our ancestors were dumb, right? Only, that’s not true. How we view history depends upon who’s telling what happened. It’s not a zero sum game. Just because we have technology, it doesn’t automatically mean that human beings are more evolved and somehow better than we were in the past. Just because it costs more to take sick leave, for example, doesn’t mean that’s morally wrong, it just means that human beings get sick and have to take off of work. But on paper, it looks bad or seems impressive. Often, dissing the past is a technique folks use to sell the living something. Even nostalgia-based advertising is about what’s new, for collecting vinyl records is a new experience to those who didn’t grow up with them. Popular isn’t necessarily better, either. How long did people believe the Earth was flat? That Earth was the center of the universe? Do you know which Western mathematician proved the Earth was round? How many years did it take for that knowledge to take hold worldwide?

When we have something new like an advance in medicine or technology, we change internally and externally. For example, we can now track how our brains change with internet usage. But are we really better off? Are we superior to those who came before us because we have something shinier, better, newer? Because life is more convenient?

If, all of a sudden, an EMP blast went off and our technology was wiped out… Would we know what to do? Can you identify poisonous versus edible plants? Kill, clean, and cook your own food? Those who lived in the past could and where their knowledge was focused as part of their daily life, ours is now lacking. Flip that around, and a pioneer wouldn’t be able to drive a car, but we could teach them how with time and patience.

Take also into consideration what an archaeologist of the future might find from our culture. What traces will we leave behind? If all our art, for example, is digital… Will that survive? Or are we headed for another Dark Age because the physical record of our culture is moving more towards data?

Fiction allows me to explore the human aspects of historical events by asking questions; magic provides me with a sense of wonder and, I hope, my readers, too. Storytelling in an alternate historical timeline gives me the chance to explore the past. I am not seeking to be right. Instead, what I hope to find, is a connection.

    Mood: Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I’m on my second count.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: A nice, albeit mistified, walk.
    In My Ears: Climbing Up “Iknimaya – The Path to Heaven” from Avatar (Don’t judge.)
    Game Last Played: Last Night On Earth
    Book Last Read: The Shadowmarch Series by Tad Williams (Re-Read)
    Movie Last Viewed: The Last Stand
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures…
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology and for gaming, a fun Scion: Extras (Supplemental Yet Can Be Somewhat Useful On Occasion Scions)


Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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