Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Showcase: Crimson Skies

Well dear readers, as Balkanized America month draws to a close, I feel I should send it off with my all time favorite of such scenarios. It’s a world of where the former United States’ corpse is hardly cold, her corpse divided among over a dozen divided and diverse nations who rose up from her bones. With its lands torn by war and division, trade and travel took to the skies, bands of air pirates taking to the sky to plunder them, and bands of dashing adventurers or patriotic air militias take to the air to defend them for glory and fame in the shattered nations. This, my dear readers, is the world of Crimson Skies.
A series of tabletop RPGs, books and video games that largely follow the adventures classily pulp-styled rogue Nathan Zachary, leader of a band of air pirates known as the Fortune Hunters, as he and his merry and loyal band of brigands look to make a name and fortune for themselves in the skies above what used to be the United States. All of the various media of the Crimson Skies universe is heavily influenced by the old adventure serials and pulp fiction of the era - the first game follows Nathan and the Fortune Hunters as they attempt to locate a lost treasure of Sir Francis Drake, with the narration done in the style of an old radio serial. The characters and stories may be over the top, but it adds to the vivid world of the universe.

Of course, more to our forte, is the world itself, which gives one of the most unique, if imaginative balkanization scenarios and break ups I’ve seen in the AH community. It all began with our POD in the aftermath of WWI, where a more serious outbreak of the Spanish Flu leads to a slow rise in isolationism and regionalism, and even form a short lived third party, aided by the failure to enact federal prohibition laws, leading to states to enact their own wet or dry lies, and some conflicts between the states over them. As power gradually seeps from Washington to the statehouses, conflicts start sparking between the states, with some looking like small scale wars. The 1929 collapse of the stock market sounds the final death knell of the United States, and in early 1930, Texas, New York, California, Utah and the Carolinas secede from the Union. Following several military defeats and defection and desertion from much of the remainder after the Army’s pay is delayed, what’s left of the Union shatters, leaving a patchwork of nations across North America, as further conflicts form along with the new borders.
One huge draw for many Crimson Sky fans in the AH community like myself is the world that resulted from that chaos. The USA is gone, and took Mexico and Canada with it in the fall. In their place are twenty-four nations still solidifying their control over their newly born nation, or setting out to expand their borders before the ink on the map is even dry. These nations include balkanized North America staples like Texas, Deseret, Pacifica, New York and a newborn Confederacy, but also more unique ones like the Pirate, smuggler and bootlegger haven of Free Colorado, a Christian Communist nation on the Great Plains, the heavily industrial and increasingly militarized Industrial States of America centered on the OTL Rust Belt, and even a Louisiana whose independence is wholly based on the presence of a battalion of the French Foreign Legion. While farfetched (some would say ASB) I feel it adds layers to the world, to say nothing of proving to aspiring AH writers there are more than the standard breakaways if you’re creative enough.

Of course, the wonders of the Crimson Skies Universe are not limited to the characters and world-building. The technology developed for the universe is very creative, and a number of the airplanes are based off of real life prototypes or undeveloped technologies, mainly to airplanes and the genre staple zeppelins, which include massive floating carrier fleets. The art style is a mix between Art Deco and noir - in fact, the mixture between the universe’s art and tech has become known as Diesel-punk, and may have inspired films like Sky Captain and the World of Tommrow.

In spite of being one of the first AH video games and a pioneer of Diesel-punk, to say nothing of a staple of the alternate history pantheon, the Crimson Skies Universe has for the most part been in limbo since the last game was released in mind last decade, which is a shame given the richness and potential of the universe. We have yet to see what the effect of the American collapse is on the rest of the world or World War II? Might the often hinted at Die Spinne group be this Universes answer to the Nazis? What form and shape will WWII look like in Crimson Skies North America - and whose side would the many nations be on? Might some jet-engine Julius Caesar reunite the many nations of North America in the future? Who can tell? Until then, if you want to know more about Crimson Skies, please visit the site.

Soldier, scholar, writer and web-voyeur, Sean CW Korsgaard has been active in the alternate history community since 2006, and was recently elected to succeed Mitro as President of the Alternate History Online Facebook group. In addition to his contributions at the Alternate History Weekly Update, he writes for several websites, including his own, which can be found here.

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