Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Where it all began...

Many years ago, my brother and I lived in Mexico City. Two towheaded kids, who loved to read and rarely got new books in English. We had an author we loved, Andre Norton. One day we pooled our resources, took one of Andre's books with us and made a trip down to one of the better bookstores and asked if they would do a large order for us.

The clerks were puzzled and amused at the same time by these gavacho children and we perused the "Books in Print" (huge volumes with onion skin thin paper) and found ISBN's and titles and publishing dates. We added up our money and consulted and discussed. I think we ended up ordering around fifteen books, of which ten eventually came in.

It's close to 40 years later and I still remember Andre's "The Crossroads of Time" series. Well, I possess a copy. Probably the third or fourth one, since I've lost books over the years.

The concept of parallel worlds was not new to me. I'd had an introduction to it with C.S. Lewis' "The Magician's Nephew" and the wood between the worlds. But Andre's wonderful character, the orphan Blake Walker, and his adventures as he falls into the hands of the people of an alternate reality were and are my Gold Standard for crosstime adventures. The second of the adventures "Quest Crosstime" did something I rarely see in SciFi/Fantasy. It used the Mesoamerican culture as the base of the alternate history. And Andre Norton did a great job! Oh, yes. I grew up in Mexico, going to Mexican public schools. I knew the stuff and Andre had it. It was many years later that I sadly learned that while Mexican schools did a slightly better job at teaching national history than American public schools did... it wasn't really all that much better, and I set myself to learn the reality behind the whitewash.

But the Meso and South American Indians are rarely used as characters or backdrops for alternate histories or in SciFi. And the few stories I have seen are either way out there, or really bad. Jenning "Aztec," is, to my mind, particularly egregious in it's treatment of the character of the Nahualteca. An alternate historian needs to work hard to make his characters operate out of the morality and ethos of their own time. Making them evil by our modern standards or good by our modern standards ignores the true people they are. It feels disrespectful, like using blackface on white actors rather than perfectly acceptable black actors.

Andre got around the problem of knowing how the Aztec's thought by having the action take place in Tenochtitlan (alternate) but the protagonists do no actual interacting with the evolved past the conquest date Azteca. It works. I find Harland's Sixth Sun series a wonderful serious attempt at an alternate timeline that follows the Nahua and the Japanese to space.

Pat Murphy's "Falling Woman" was another book, while not quite alternate history, uses the concepts of the Meso-American civilizations and their different-ness very cleverly and very carefully, juxtaposing our modern reality with those of other cultures.

Hopefully one day my alternate history of the Conquest will see the light of day and do justice to the long dead peoples of Meso-America and the Conquistadores, who blended with them to create the modern Mestizo nation of Mexico; as well as others.

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