History and SFF: Oral History and Charlie Jane Anders’s THE CITY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.

On April 15, 2020, Tor.com published the final installment of History and SFF, the column I have written for them since October last year. The column had two more planned installments to go, but Tor.com were forced to end it without those two posts being published because of cutbacks caused by the economic downturn in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. I am currently looking for a home for at least one of the two remaining posts. So watch this space for updates!

In the meantime, please enjoy this post on how Charlie Jane Anders uses oral history and the intangible cultural heritage to tell the story of her amazing novel, The City in the Middle of the Night.

History and SFF: Oral History and Charlie Jane Anders’s THE CITY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

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Traditionally, history is the study of the human condition through written texts. But over the last half-century, historians have focused more and more attention on what is known as oral history, part of what UNESCO calls humanity’s “intangible cultural heritage.”

Protected by a UN resolution adopted in 2003, this intangible cultural heritage is considered more vulnerable than the cultural heritage consisting of monuments, locations, and buildings because the carriers of this heritage are human beings, and, as we know all too well, human beings are mortal. Oral history is part of this type of cultural heritage because if a people or culture dies out before their history has been recorded, vital information about the past will be irretrievably lost.

Thus, oral history is history before it is written down—as such, there are two ways of talking about the dissemination of oral history. On the one hand, oral history is the stories about the past of a group or people that are recounted, shared, and passed down the generations by word of mouth rather than being written down and distributed as texts. It is through a highly sophisticated use of oral history that the Aborigines of Australia have successfully maintained a cohesive civilization that is tens of thousands of years old.

On the other hand, oral history is the recording of the stories of others done by professional scholars, most often anthropologists. The purpose here is to capture the life stories of individuals whose unique experiences otherwise wouldn’t have been recorded. Here we find the various interview projects with Holocaust survivors and war veterans, for examples.

Both of these aspects of oral history can be found in Charlie Jane Anders’s novel The City in the Middle of the Night.

Please click here if you wish to read the post in its entirety.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

History and SFF: Footnotes in Fantasy Storytelling

On March 26, 2020, Tordotcom published the latest installment in the series History and SFF that I am writing for them.

Enjoy!

History and SFF: Footnotes in Fantasy Storytelling

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The key to a credible analysis of history is for historians to credit their sources. The most efficient way to do this is to add a footnote. A footnote, as all of you probably know, is a small, elevated number that is placed after information taken from another text. At the bottom of the page there is a corresponding number, and next to this second number the information about the source can be found. Here, historians sometimes also include commentary that is not immediately relevant to the discussion, but needs to be said to make sure that all flanks are covered.

We historians spend a lot of time getting our footnotes right before we send a book or article off to being published. It’s painstaking and pedantic work—but love them or hate them, footnotes are crucial for scientific rigor and transparency.

Footnotes can be found in SFF, as well. But where historians use footnotes to clarify or to add additional helpful commentary, fiction authors have the freedom to use them to obfuscate and complicate their story in intriguing ways. Let’s look at a couple of examples…

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In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

I was interviewed for Condé Nast Traveler

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One of the things you can do while working from home during this pandemic is to say yes to a request for an interview with Condé Nast Traveler about tourist destinations and amusement parks closing down because of the corona virus.

If you wish to read the article, please click here. Enjoy!

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

History and SFF: Big Data and The Centenal Cycle by Malka Older

On January 24, 2020, Tordotcom published the third installation in the series History and SFF that I am writing for them. This time I talked about history, Big Data, and Malka Older’s amazing trilogy The Centenal Cycle. If you haven’t read those books yet, I highly recommend that you do. They are so good!

Enjoy!

History and SFF: Big Data and The Centenal Cycle by Malka Older

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My family’s first computer had a 41 MB hard drive. I saved my carefully crafted teenage observations of life on 1.5 MB floppy discs that never seemed to be filled to capacity. Two years later, I moved away to go to college. I brought with me a laptop computer with a 240 MB hard drive. I was a very proud owner of this technological marvel, even though I had no idea what to do with all that storage space. Since 2005, we have been living in the age of Web 2.0 and Big Data. Now, I download 240 MB of data every time I update the apps on my smartphone.

The exact origins of the term “Big Data” might be in dispute, but its meaning is clear. Big Data gets its name from the enormous amounts of digital information generated, collected, and stored every second.

Big Data includes all the data generated by users on the internet. As soon as you go online, internet providers, social media platforms, newspapers, stores, communication apps, and blog platforms trace your every move and store your data for later use or sale.

Malka Older’s novel Infomocracy, part one of The Centenal Cycle trilogy, presents one version of what a future dominated by Big Data might look like.

Please click here to read the entire article.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Historical Sources and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy

On December 17, 2019, I published part two of my ongoing series for Tor.com, History and SFF. This time I wrote about how N.K. Jemisin uses historical sources to tell the story, and to contradict that same story, of her award winning trilogy The Broken Earth. Enjoy!

History and SFF: Historical Sources and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy

History and SFF | Historical Sources and N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy | Tor.com | The Boomerang

History is the interpretation of the past based on written and recorded texts. These texts are known as historical sources and they are the sine qua non of history writing. Over the past centuries, techniques have developed for how to categorize, evaluate, and analyze historical sources. Being a historian means that you dedicate a substantial amount of your time mastering these techniques in order to make your interpretation of the past valid and reliable.

In The Broken Earth trilogy, N.K. Jemisin uses historical sources to tell the history of The Stillness, a seismically overactive continent where human civilization is repeatedly destroyed through prolonged cataclysmic events known as Seasons.

Please click here if you wish to read the article in its entirety.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.