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Old Gods Don’t Die

10 February 2012

We call him January.

One tempting thing about writing sci-fi is to change everything about the world. If you’re writing things that happen on Earth, though, it’s not always a good thing to change too much. It’s odd to advocate doing historical research on a story that won’t take place for another 200 years or so, but as I write the current Twitter Novel, I find myself doing further and further research into the past — because the past doesn’t die. It might be forgotten or misremembered, but it’s still there, all around us.

How many of us know even a little about the Norse pantheon of gods? Those of us who have read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods are confident that we know at least a bit… but the truth is, everyone knows some of them. Today, for example — Friday, named for the Norse goddess Frigg, wife of Odin (we call him Wednesday), stepmother of Tyr (we call him Tuesday).

Or this month? It’s named for the old Roman purification ritual of Februa, which later became Lupercalia, which later became… Valentine’s Day.

The planets in our solar system? Roman gods. Our nearest neighbor, Mars, is the god of war.

So as I’ve been writing, I’ve had to reference the past without making everyone an expert on history. In the first chapter, Dane arrives at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. He knows the area is historically important for some reason, but he can’t remember why. I caught a little bit of flak for that — the Kennedy assassination is obviously a big thing. For us. Because it only happened about 48 years ago. But what about something that happened 131 years ago? If we traipsed onto a site of historical importance on the way to somewhere else, would we necessarily be aware what happened there in 1881?

Also, Dane’s kind of self-absorbed and a little bit stupid in ways. That doesn’t help.

But it’s something I’ve noticed the more I write — I have to be aware of things my characters are not necessarily aware of, things that might never be mentioned in the course of the story — because they’re important. They matter. Just like most of us might not be aware, really, that several days of the week were named for Norse gods.

Was there a point to all of this? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just Frigg’s Day, and that means I can go all nonlinear in anticipation of the weekend. Have a great weekend, folks!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 February 2012 1235

    “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again” -BSG

    Also, Dane is FOREIGN, he doesn’t have to do the Pledge of Allegiance or even stand for our National Anthem (though it’s polite). With so much history in the world, and more being added every day we can’t all be experts on the minutia of it.

    Though you did mention the homogenization of cultrue across the globe so that everybody sounds vaguely midwestern, etc, earlier in the story. It makes sense that people would stop caring about “special” places when every place is more or less the same (unless they have some sentimental attachment to the place or are a history buff). Okay, done ramblin’.

  2. 11 February 2012 0003

    It was Faulkner who said “the past isn’t over. it isn’t even past!” He was speaking of the cultural legacy of the South since slavery, but it speaks to what you’re saying as well.

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