No, we don’t. It’s just that finding the setting for your novel that is both plausible and recognisable to the reader gets harder every time another book plops out into the world. Imagination of course is infinite and sometimes you just need to, as the main character in our book would say, think outside the box.
Candice reviewed Dominion on Tuesday and this provides a good example. Set in an alternative version of history where Germany won World War II, the setting can be both familiar and totally alien to us.
I live in a perfect example of this. Leamington Spa would have become the capital of Nazi-run Britian. This is historical fact – there are plenty of documents to prove it. Thus, I can walk past a town hall that would very likely have been festooned with red banners bearing the swastika. Familiar but very alien.
Sticking with this theme, one of the books in my library is V2 written by Major-General Walter Dornberger. This describes the development of the German V1 and V2 weapons at the Peenemünde Army Research Centre from the perspective of the man in charge. The account, translated by the Special Scientific Book Cub, is a dispassionate account of the process. You see the whole thing from the point of view of those we traditionally refer to as the enemy.
There is no attempt to justify any of the actions – it’s just what a senior army officer did. Maybe the translators have produced a more dispassionate account that the original text would have us read but it’s no less fascinating for all that.
Chapter 15, Flaming Night, is the most interesting in many ways. Assuming the reader has made it this far, they are seeing people normally portrayed as monsters at least as human beings. The chapter describes an air raid by the Allies in August 1943. Suddenly, the bombs dropping are heading for the writer. It’s a novel perspective an d slightly unsettling as you find yourself hoping that everyone is OK. That’s not right – these are the enemy. As we know, they were carrying out acts of unimaginable evil – yet it’s more difficult to be on the side of the attackers than I feel entirely comfortable admitting.
So, maybe there is scope to write from the perspective of the other side? Not to justify actions but because on both sides of any conflict there are stories to be told from the perspective of ordinary people unable to influence things but still suffering the consequences.
Another options is to consider how history would be different if that air raid had been more succesful.
V weapon research might have been halted. Wernher von Braun and the other rocket scientists are buried under the rubble. Operation Paperclip, the spiriting out of the country of scientists “useful” to the Allies never takes place. Rocket science is put back at least 10 years.
How is the world different? Is the Cold War based on tanks rolling across Germany rather than people lobbing missiles at each other? Presumably, the aircraft based systems we built stay in service for longer but does this make the situation better or worse? Would the Cuban Missile crisis happen? Do we ever walk on the moon?
There are stories out there, we just need to change our perspective.