I’m very happy to welcome Craig Cormick to the blog today! Craig’s latest, The Floating City (Book Two of the Shadow Master series) comes out in just a couple of weeks (on July 7), and Craig has kindly penned a guest post today to talk about using historical figures in fantasy. After the post, you can enter to win one of five copies of The Floating City, provided by publisher Angry Robot! The giveaway is international, so everyone can play this time:-) Without further ado, please welcome Craig to Books, Bones & Buffy!
Bringing historical scientific figures into a work of fantasy
By Craig Cormick
What does Oscar Wilde have in common with Galileo?
I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, listen very carefully. Can you hear that sound of something turning over and over in the distance? Yes? It is the sound of the many hundreds of people from history, perpetually rolling over in their graves because of what writers have done in recreating and re-imagining their lives.
Cleopatra, Henry the VIII, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, the list goes on and on and on from antiquity right up to modern times.
But here’s the fiction writers dilemma – we do the research that we can, but there are so many blanks in our knowledge of people from the past that we have to fill them in with imaginings. So much historical fiction is actually fictitious history.
It only helps a little bit if we base history on the journals and writings of characters of the past as there is enough evidence that many people recreated their stories themselves.
So let’s be brutally honest – no historical novel, no matter how well researched and how thick a book, can ever really, deeply, truly capture the full and complex essence of any person. And the further back we go in the past, the harder that becomes.
So rather than try to pretend to be telling an accurate history – why not throw it all out the door and place figures from history in fantastical settings? Readers will be under no illusions that this might be how that character thought and spoke and acted – but we can still use the setting to reveal truths about human nature or to draw analogies for their political and social situations.
In my book the Shadow Master, I have both Galileo Galilei and Leonardo da Vinci living at the same time as each other, in a walled city, something like Florence, each working for a rival House. I’ve even based those houses on the historical Medici and Lorraine houses.
But…but… but… as some more critical critics have pointed out – Galileo and da Vinci didn’t live at the same times! Leonardo died in 1519 and Galileo wasn’t born until 1564!
For most readers though this clearly flagged that the book was going to be fantasy-based, with elements of alternate history, and thus they knew how to approach it. When I made science work like magic, that just confirmed it.
So yes, most of my fiction is based on historical characters, but I am very comfortable with having them doing fantastical things. I have had Captain Cook sailing around the Pacific in a modern ship with engines and sonar. I have had Napoleon stomping around modern Paris and Mao great marching around modern China.
The sequel to the Shadow Master is the Floating City, and it steps a little further into the realm of re-imagining characters, by taking three of Shakespeare’s leading ladies – Juliet, Desdemona, and Isabella from the Merchant of Venice – and re-imagines their stories as sisters, woven together. (There is, admittedly a second level to this in that I’ve used the Italian origin stories that Shakespeare based his plays on – but the concept is the same as what I have done with Leonardo and Galileo – just with more frocks!).
I have a quote on my wall from Oscar Wilde that I like to refer to when writing: “The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it.”
And I’d like to think I’ve done Leonardo and Galileo and all the other historical characters that I’ve written about, fair service in my recreations of them – trying to capture something of their character and social situations in retelling their lives in a more fantastical setting.
But, still being brutally honest, I fancy I can sometimes hear them turning in their graves too!
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Craig Cormick is an Australian-based author. His latest book is the Floating City. Angry Robot Books.
In the divided land of England, Elizabeth Barnabus has been living a double life – as both herself and as her brother, the private detective. Witnessing the hanging of Alice Carter, the false duchess, Elizabeth resolves to throw the Bullet Catcher’s Handbook into the fire, and forget her past. If only it were that easy!
There is a new charitable organisation in town, run by some highly respectable women. But something doesn’t feel right to Elizabeth. Perhaps it is time for her fictional brother to come out of retirement for one last case…? Her unstoppable curiosity leads her to a dark world of body-snatching, unseemly experimentation, politics and scandal. Never was it harder for a woman in a man’s world…
Would you like your own copy of The Floating City? Simply fill out the Rafflecopter below! Giveaway is international, thanks to publisher Angry Robot!