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bear by san

March 2017



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writing genocide

there came a killing frost

One of my real challenges with the Eternal Sky is going to be in undermining the (largely erroneous) assumptions of a lot of readers as to what Steppe cultures are like. Now, the world I'm working in is not our world, thankfully, and I'm not trying to write historical fantasy here (I've done my time in those mines) but one of the things that is true both in our world and the world of the book is that a pastoralist empire is, in fact, an empire. And specifically, it's a trading empire.

With laws, and culture, and trade, and travel, and cosmopolitan cities where people from all over the world rub elbows. Empires have economies. The Khanate is just as interested in enforcing peace, stopping banditry, and collecting taxes as ever Rome was, or the Macedonians. That's their primary goal in conquering territory. Money.

Not, you know, rapine and pillage. That's just what keeps the army motivated.

But this contradicts the popular image of "nomadic" culture, and the common tropes in fantasy. Those "barbarians" were just as civilized and sophisticated as the Romans and the Greeks, and at many points were in command of larger swaths of territory. Chinggis Khan was one hell of an administrator.

Scythians, Sarmatians, Mongols--the peace their empires enforced is the reason trade routes like the Silk Road (probably the longest overland trade route on Earth) existed. Could exist. Why it was possible--profitable!--for people to travel from as far away as Sweden to Byzantium and Constantinople to trade in silk. (Some of these Swedes--Rus(sians)--settled in Kiev.  Really, all of my ancestry comes back to Kiev.) The evidence of cultural exchange is everywhere. For example, some 2400-year-old Chinese jade plaques in the Sarmatian style.

There is a 2,000-year old Western Han dynasty rhinoceros that looks like a (humorous) portrait from life.

Compare this circa-1460 European rhino and ask yourself which artist had seen the real animal.

Dude, these people got around. Kara Korum boasted a Parisian silversmith.

And yet, I'm going to have to convince people, because "everybody knows" otherwise. And what everybody knows just ain't so.

By god, this fantasy novel is at least going to have the faint overtones of an economy. I will probably fuck it up, but at least I will have tried.

Yeah, yeah, nearly a thousand so far words. Now back at it.


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Can't wait to read this!

I TA for a class in Chinese and Japanese lit - it's an interdisciplinary studies course, so we get a bunch of history along with the lit. One of the things I love about it is that the history itself, the study of it, is so dynamic, particularly regarding the older eras, because we're always finding new things about that past.

Of course, anyone who isn't like "us" and doesn't do things "our" way is clearly a barbarian. And "we" never bother to wonder if "they" think "we" are also barbarians. Which is kind of the theme for a fantasy story I tried to write once. And maybe someday I'll do something with it.
Sounds like a cool story.


...sorry, it's a froth of mine.
RE: "Dude, these people got around."

I teach 12th Lit/Comp. When the schedule allows, we offer a World Mythology academic elective, which is most awesome to teach. In either course, I teach a bit of history/culture/archaeology before diving into the texts themselves. Over and over, I try to show the students that the ancient world was more mobile and connected than we might be otherwise inclined to believe in our fast-paced, globally networked 21st century mindset.
I know that by the time of Kublai Khan, the Mongol empire had fully absorbed the Chinese Mandarinate as part of the administrative apparatus of their empire - when he took over, Ghengis/Chinggis kept a lot of the existing systems intact. Presumably they did much the same sort of thing elsewhere as well.

(This is why it's good to keep the clerks and administrators around when you conquer somewhere new; not only do they know where all the money is, but they can keep the wheels of commerce turning while you do things like go off and conquer other people.)
Yes. He was much more interested in annexing other states than in cultural imperialism. Generally, if they surrendered, he'd leave their hierarchies more or less intact.

Actually, his empire was noted for its religious tolerance, and I believe was the first state to enshrine freedom of religion as a law.

He also was very interested in bringing technology home. He raided for artisans as much as anything else.

OTOH, they'd also execute you if you went bankrupt three times. So yanno. Tolerance only stretched so far. I'm not making the argument that he was a nice guy. Just certainly no worse than any other classical or medieval empire builder, and better than a bunch of them.
Don't know if you've seen this:


Having kind of accidentally stumbled (long story) into teaching on pre-modern global trade (Silk Road! Sogdians! Shipwrecks! Tea and Horse Road! and so on and so forth), my response to this post, and your entire current book project, is equal parts "Squeee!!!" and "AMEN!" (or, yaknow, the Nongol equivalent thereof....)

(As yet another sign of how fantastically timely this series is, the brand-shiny new "Teaching the Silk Road" book includes an essay by Ronald Frank entitled "Incorporating Nomads into the Curriculum, One Steppe at a Time")

ps-- at what time, book-project-wise, are you going to be at the stage of "now I can go places and talk about the book"?
Current pub date is January 2012, though that may change.

I love speaking engagements, but (as a starving artist) I do not always have a lot of money to travel. Where are you?

Ooo, that sounds like a cool book....
OOof. I bet I don't need to.
if you need a reading for the economics working beta-reader, let me know -- its something of a hobby........
I can always use you as a beta. Thanks!
Being from eastern Europe I know you're right and I know how hard it is to convince most... Westerners.
I just have to make them breathe it, I guess.
Man, I love history. I could go on and on and on, but mostly Man, I Love History. People are always people, and their motives are always comprehensible if you look at them honestly. Sex, Money, Autonomy, Power-Over and Power-From. Healthy children, comfortable old age, respect and adulation. Freedom from fear. The tactics vary from situation to situation, but they don't vary *that* much. I love history.
Yay, economies! I love fantasy worlds with economies. One of the side effects of majoring in anthropology as an undergrad: you figure out pretty quick what works as a society and what doesn't, and fantasy universes missing major societal aspects start to look a little funky.
I hope I do not disappoint.
Well, if it makes you feel any better, this is one reader you won't have to convince...
I'm trying to write in an economy in my fantasy world right now. Kind of the same motivations...I'm really looking forward to seeing what you write!

(and yes, I totally agree with you about the management and administrative skills of so-called barbarians. One just has to look at the dentalia trade in North America to get an idea of how complex the trade networks were here pre-Europeans.)
Yes, most people don't know, but on the brighter side your readers are probably skewed to a higher percentage of those who do know, or at least are willing to be educated.
Not to change the subject but...was the pony named Wildfire?
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