Raping History

Alexander Dumas, of whom I am moderately fond, said of his historical fiction that there was no use at all raping history if you weren’t willing to conceive a child by her.

And though it might turn out that Alexander Dumas was more of a book doctor than a writer – there have been rumors around this for years, and I’ve discounted them because, well, they were mostly based on “he wrote too fast” and that makes me chuckle.  OTOH The Black Count, a largely sympathetic account claims that at least The Three Musketeers were originally written by someone else, who sued Dumas for part of the proceeds.  On the third hand, this is the “original account” people talk about which they say was somewhat short of the charm and delicacy of a barracks story, so the book is still Dumas’ – I found out while writing my first trilogy that this attitude was the only way to stay sane.

There were so many, equally credible and well regarded contradictory reports, that I had to choose one.  And sometimes to make room for my story I had to go “Well, that didn’t happen.”  That was just dealing with Shakespeare – whatever the partisans of X-was-Shakespeare say, Shakespeare is actually one of the best documented, non-royal people of the last four centuries the problem being NO ONE even from the early 20the century is THAT well documented.  You Run into the ten-witnesses-ten-accounts problem you find when you try to get a description of an accident. – and even with the out that I wasn’t writing a straight history.  Couldn’t be.  It had elves in it.

When researching Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s queen, not the actress) it got worse.  She was a royal person and you’d think things such “where she was married” would be a matter of public record.  Turns out not so much.  I ended up going with the version of the present-day-descendant of the Seymours, figuring that he brought with him unspoken family legends to add to the brew but also because he adduced reasons why the more traditional version makes no sense.  (If she’d got married at her parents’ place, there would be a local record of a royal visit.  Henry VIII middle aged was not the sort of man to make incognito drop ins.  And a royal feast was something that would have near bankrupted the region.  Besides, there’s no record of Henry VIII taking the time to travel there.  So the legend that she got married in her parents’ barn probably harks to some engagement celebration given while she was ruralizing there so that it wouldn’t be so obvious she was waiting for Boleyn’s head to drop..  And then my copyeditor found a website and tried to “correct” me and I had to take a mile-wide patch out of her hide, but that’s something else.

Anyway, all these things become vitally important when you’re writing, and you end up having to say “this far but no farther” and “from here on I’ll remember this is just a story.”

But there are other pressures.  I made a rude comment about Dan Brown’s latest oeuvre, and one of my readers did a note and tagged me on Facebook, from which I assume the comment that you can’t write authentic history, you have to write what people THINK happened, or else they won’t accept it, and to document the contrary would be very boring, so you just don’t write the truth, you write what people expect, and to make disparaging remarks is a stupid thing to do.

Maybe so.  It is debatable.

I mean, there is a point up to which you have to write what the people expect or at least what they’ll accept (which is not the same.)   For instance, in writing Shakespeare I didn’t mention the scarcity of bathing and clothes washing.  The people who know it know it, but the vast majority of people don’t want to be told that Elizabethans killed body-lice more or less constantly because they were all infested.

In the same way, I didn’t mention some of the more unsavory aspects of daily life.  And I made Shakespeare almost a man of our time, or at least willing to become a man of our time – because that’s what the public wants to believe.

With the Musketeers —  where I have a little more leeway because I’m dealing with a sort of Dumas fanfic, and Dumas’ work is not exactly historical to him (i.e. it’s set pre-revolution, ostensibly but Dumas didn’t let anachronisms worry him too much, so there’s a dash of Dumas’ own time in there – I found I had to make some radical changes to “sell” them to modern taste.

The very first one is that I had to give him some modern sensibilities.  No matter how they felt in the Dumas books about Huguenots or the bourgeoisie, in my books they couldn’t hate people because of their religion or social status; no matter how funny that scene is in The Three Musketeers, I couldn’t have the musketeers beat their servants to keep them in line; no matter how funny Porthos’ stupidity is in the original, nowadays people don’t want to READ about dunces.  (They want to watch dunces.  That figure has moved to sitcoms.)  In mysteries particularly, I couldn’t have one of the characters be a bumbling fool.  So I made him inarticulate, and a man whose brain works too fast for his mouth.  Also, Athos couldn’t be silent.  Not if I was in his head.  I still tried to have him talk more directly (and less) than the rest but not to the point of people suspecting he was mute, as happened in Dumas.  Also I didn’t let them run horses to death, because that was ick even to me.

This was all in the service of the popular conception of the Musketeers as being chivalrous and noble which is what the public expects and I couldn’t break.

But there was more.  For instance, I had to give the musketeers a uniform, when they were actually much more likely to dress in bits and pieces of stuff.  I called the Cardinal’s guards “guards” even though their name was “the red musketeers” or “the Cardinal’s musketeers.”  And of course, I made the Cardinal Machiavellic and super-humanly smart.

These are near-irrelevant details, so firmly fixed in people’s heads there is no point trying to dislodge them.

Even so, I fell afoul of pre-conceptions.  Part of the reason I ended up selling the book to Berkley was the bizarre rejections I got from the other houses, all of them based on the idea that in the main book D’Artagnan was a minor character and not the narrator.  One of them actually said “When you announce something with the Musketeers, your first chapter shouldn’t be narrated by D’Artagnan, because that’s like having Sherlock Holmes narrated by his maid.”

This was a pre-conception I didn’t even know was out there, but it’s at least widespread enough that four houses seemed to all have this issue.  (Maybe it’s part of an ivy league education?)

So, you should be starting to see some of the compromises an historical writer makes.  It’s a very bad idea, therefore, to base your view of ancient Rome on “This character was perfectly modern, in this novel” because that’s unlikely to be realistic.

On the other hand, if the writer is at least semi-competent, you could say something like “Romans had frying pans, because one was used in such and such a book.”  (And when an author is forced to put in a detail they know is wrong, or which at least they can’t verify, they should put a note on the back.  That’s the contract between author and reader.  Because otherwise I could write the Flintstones version of the pre-history and well, it’s my license as a writer.  You’re either writing historical or you’re not.)

In fact, what Dan Brown seems to have done in his latest – at least according to this review (yes, it’s a Catholic book site.  It’s also incredibly funny) – is closer to the Flintstones version of history than the careful compromises of a historical writer.  He’s not so much catering to or trying to bridge his readers’ pre-established notions, as he’s making stuff up out of whole cloth because he’s either too lazy to do proper research or he doesn’t care enough.  (In fact, we knew someone who knew him in his salad days, when he wrote his first three unheralded books and the answer to those is “yes.”)

I will upfront confess I haven’t read the DaVinci Code.  Even if it were a masterpiece, it is not my type of book – I read very few thrillers.  The fact they package F. Paul Wilson as a supernatural thriller kept me from reading his books for years, which was a shame.

My husband read it though.  And you need to understand how this works around this house.  When Dan is reading something, he will read me vast stretches of it because he finds them interesting, amusing or wants my opinion.  This means that I heard probably 2/3 of the book – the effect being rather as if I had skimmed it.

I also read an interview with the author and I read the book on which the author based this one: i.e. the book that comprised his ENTIRE research.  This is not a secret.  He named the two characters in his book after the authors of that book.  Also, the authors of that book – Holy Blood, Holy Grail (I keep calling it The Sword and the Chalice.  No idea why.  Deal.) – tried to sue DaVinci for plagiarism, until it was pointed to them they had to pretty much admit their theory is fiction.

I read HB, HG more than twenty one years ago, because a friend of mine managed a New Age bookstore, where the book was a big hit, and he thought I might like it.  (He also knows I’m fond of nutty conspiracy theories, the nuttier the better.)  Afterwards, either to wind me up or because he was genuinely interested, he asked my opinion of it.

The fallacies (the book has little else) took hours to list.  I will go with the two easier to grasp, though: the book posits that DaVinci was part of a secret conspiracy going back fifteen hundred years, give or take a few.  (This is sort of kind of sorta possible, with modifications.) And it posits that the royal family of France is descended from Jesus Christ and Magdalene.

We’ll start with this last.  Let’s suppose Jesus Christ actually had children (there are Christian sects that debate this, as well as the idea he was married to the Magdalene and that was why he could forgive her and be heard.  I’m not going to get lost in THOSE weeds.) Do you know who his descendants would be?  You.  Me.  The entire human race.

As someone has recently proven, except for very few, very isolated populations, you are descended from everyone who was alive a thousand years ago.

Genealogy makes you think otherwise because it concentrates on a few lines.  However, if you think about it, all those women the guys marry (or vice versa, if you’re a militant feminist) have to come from somewhere, and they too had lines of ancestry going back…

This is why all our presidents are descended from Mohammed, who, btw, didn’t even live that far back.  (For geographically close countries, you’re probably related to everyone 500 years back, particularly if you add in the genetic sieve of the black plague manifestations.  I mean, it’s entirely possible someone who lived 1000 years ago has no living descendants today – in Portugal, the black plague caused the loss of several family lines and it wasn’t even as bad as in the rest of Europe – but if they have descendants, they have everyone. Now this doesn’t mean they show in your genome, because genes don’t work that way, but you can rest assured if they’d died celibate, you wouldn’t be here exactly as you are.)

Also when I read that the royal family of France were descended from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, I snorted ice-water out of my nose.  I rarely come up against this  nonsense anymore, where I feel completely foreign, but this was one of those moments.  What went through my mind was “the things Americans will believe.”  In this case, the authors of the New Age book swallowed this hook line and sinker because  well… they hadn’t read enough European history to know that EVERY ROYAL HOUSE claimed this.  It was their way of making an end run and claiming to be descended of G-d Himself.  They also probably believe that everyone in the South was descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie.

There are other points, such as the fact that they based their entire theory on a DaVinci painting which was grimy and which they saw in reproduction.  Since then the painting has been cleaned and made a mockery of their theories.

But let’s imagine nefarious parties ALTERED the painting so as to give them the lie – if you read enough New Age conspiracy books, you know parties nef like nobody’s business – let’s examine the whole idea that DaVinci was part of a secret conspiracy that knew the truth about what happened at the time of Christ.

Was DaVinci part of a conspiracy?  Oh, heck yes.  Probably dozens of them.  Conspiracies were to the educated or professional or artistic man what writers email lists are to my ilk.  He probably belonged to several overlapping ones. They were faulty and weird, and almost as crazy as the UFO conspiracies these days, but through them science advanced because some decent knowledge would get transmitted with the dross.

Was he part of an unbroken conspiracy that had transmitted secret knowledge since the time of Christ?  Brother.  Can I interest you in a lovely bridge in Brooklyn?

First, why would someone only five or six hundred years from us know something about events fifteen hundred years back from them that no one else – not all learned men, not all the researchers, not everyone who has access to the scant documents remaining – could find?

Second HOW would such a conspiracy be transmitted and maintained?

Look, the recent weeks have shaken my faith in the idea that three can keep a secret if two are dead, which is what I used to think about secrets and conspiracies.  It is entirely possible I think to keep secrets for a limited time that involve a vast number of people, if you hold their livelihood under your power.  However, it explodes – as we have proof daily.

Now… conspiracies involving all the notable persons in Europe (some of which were less than sane even by the standards of the time – yes, DaVinci included) that lasted thousands of years?  Through wars, revolutions, changes of heart, changes of mind?

At best what you’d get by the fifteenth century was the equivalent of theology put through a game of telephone.  And there would be some proof of the original stuff, beyond the paintings of a half-mad genius from Tuscany and the relentless Vatican assassins (To quote older son “If the Vatican had assassins, I’d consider the priesthood”.)

To transmit it would require unerring choice of successors; unflawed character of those receiving the secret and, oh, yeah, superhuman memory.

In fact we know that the “secrets” we got via that sort of transmission – mostly Greek and Roman “science” — did look like something that went through a game of telephone and until we found the original texts/ surpassed their knowlege, we had no idea what they were talking about.

So much for the New Age book on which Dan Brown based his book – yes, he admits this.  He also believes in it, including the “great mother goddess” past, a bit of insanity our descendants will giggle at. – Dan Brown added his own insanity.  That review mentions the “austere” Spanish Cathedrals.  Never mind that.  There were more obvious things, such as the fact the Portuguese assassin has a name not pronounceable in Portuguese.  (I’m sure Dan Brown took it from someone he knows who is “Portuguese” – possibly from Africa or Asia.  Or perhaps only part-Portuguese.  One of the things he did in his early books was use the name of all his professors and classmates, so it’s probably no different.)

So… do I have the right to sneer at Dan Brown?  Doesn’t his success prove that he was right about people’s expectations?

I don’t know.  His success came through huge push (partly because he pushes the whole utopian matriarchy cr*p.)  It came at a time when it was easy to make someone a great success by making sure he had huge distribution.  Then the “everyone is reading this and I must too” operates.

On the other hand a lot of people (mostly pseudo educated people) are also stone cold stupid.  One of my art teachers, at one time, was extolling the careful research of Egyptian history in the books of… Anne Rice.  Egyptian history!  (Bangs head on desk.)

That is neither here nor there.  The traditional publishing establishment maintains their superiority over indie because they have layers and layers of fact checkers. Who clearly are all on heavy barbiturates, to let those elephants slip by.

I have private opinions on the morality of people who distort history to serve today’s political correctness – such as the entire stupid idea of a feminist utopia in pre-history.  OTOH they probably can’t understand why I don’t do it since it guarantees push and wealth and fame.  I’ve often wondered, myself, if this wish to be able to look at myself in the mirror, in the morning, is in fact a form of brain damage.

On the other hand, I don’t know much, but I know evil when I see it.  And convincing generations who are largely illiterate of history that history is something completely bizarre that could not have happened is evil – it’s evil because it robs people of the tools to deal with the future, and it does so unnecessarily.  Yes, his book would have fallen apart without the conspiracy theory, but nothing prevented him from putting on a post script saying “this is almost certainly not true because of this and this, but it makes a wonderful story and so I—” Certainly, nothing forced his publishers to publish it without that note.

AND – and this is what I was SNEERING about originally – nothing forced various academics to tell us that Dan Brown’s books were exquisitely researched.

Nothing forced them to do any of that except their meretricious craving for power and money, which can only be obtained by hewing to an ideology of lies.

Which means, at the end, I am entitled to sneer at them.  A writer can sneer at whores.  More importantly, someone who rapes history in order to conceive a bastard is entitled to sneer at someone who has snuff sex with history and leaves her bleeding corpse in an alley, entrails ripped out, unable to conceive ever again.

And that’s what I’m doing.

192 responses to “Raping History

  1. Are you familiar with the author Tim Powers? He does some incredibly kinky things with history, but it’s always consensual–his works are obsessively researched and while he adds bizarre supernatural elements, he never directly contradicts recorded facts. (At least, I’ve never caught him at it, nor has anyone I know.)

    • I’ve read Powers.

      I try to stick to that standard. The places where I fell down were places where “the definitive work” came out AFTER I wrote the book because it was on deadline. Still, no one has called me on the real stuff. And it’s not… ideological. It’s stuff like “how was laundry done in this region at this time.” If a region had an incredibly strange solution, which I didn’t hear about till after the book came out, I borrowed the nearby-region’s process. Eh.

  2. Don’t hold back. Tell us how you really feel. Oh, and brava!

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    There were people in the 1632 Conference who wondered what the Cardinal would have thought of the Dumas stories. Some even thought the Dumas stories would send the Cardinal on a “witch hunt”. The history experts basically said that the Cardinal would laugh at the Dumas stories. For one thing, the Cardinal knew the English man who Dumas had as the Queen’s lover. No way would the Cardinal believe that the Queen would have been attracted by that asshole.

    By the way, one 1632 author has the Cardinal creating a small group of agents who use the names of Dumas’s characters.

    Also, there’s a scene in one of the 1632 stories where the Cardinal is wondering which of the movie actors who played the Dumas version of himself that he likes best. [Very Big Grin]

    • Sweetheart — Not only was the queen attracted by him, but despite the fact he was a “a little funny” there’s a good chance that Louis XIV is his son. (I read the latest on that — and in French)

      • What does someone being a jerk have to do with someone else being attracted to him? And heck, if he’s a really big jerk, sleeping with the guy and then not having to see him again for years is probably an advantage! (A lot of romance novels seem to turn on this plan, dubious as it is.)

        • Well, he is rumored to have been gay. But then so was her husband (mostly) so…

          • I have heard rumors that he was her husband’s lover, and her husband set her up with him, because he was more willing to switch hit than her husband. And the royal bloodline MUST go on, at least in appearances.

            • No. He was the English King’s lover.

              • Sorry, it is something I heard long ago that I didn’t pay much attention to then, and has percolated around in my brain for several years getting mixed up with other questionable and not really relevant to anything facts. So I was probably combining two questionable rumors.

  4. I enjoy reading alternate history (Patrick O’Brian comes to mind) but I like reading it AS alternate history. “What if?” “Just suppose?”
    It angers me to see someone altering history for any reason. History is our foundation, the base we build our future on. And a shaky foundation makes for a decidedly wobbly future – and an uncertain present.

    • My daughter calls alternate history “fan fiction for history”.

    • Alternate history can get crazy in that it often involves wish-fulfillment, hypothesizing the characters of those who died who might have lived. The Lord Darcy series had Richard the Lion-Hearted take his near-death to heart and become a wise and just king. He could have been a paranoiac instead, and the reason magic existed was because he gathered all the knowledge he could to use it against his enemies.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        No argument about “what might of happened” but in the Lord Darcy series the “alternate history” was more part of creating a setting for “how a detective would work in a world where magic worked” than a serious “how history could change because of this”.

        • I think the whole story is more complex than that. I understood that Campbell had stated that it was impossible to have a magical detective story because the basis of the world would not be understood by the reader, and there would be no honesty in the puzzle because the author would pull out a bag of pixie dust in the end to make it all better. Garrett decided to prove him wrong in that the only fantasy stories worth reading had an understandable background and that the puzzle had to be honest with a well conceived basis for the action. But Garrett was always a great writer for taking an idea and running with it – an one part Lord Darcy had an electrical torch where the glowing wire was magically strengthened to keep from burning where it contacted the Oxygen in the atmosphere.
          As the cycle advanced, I also believe that the Lord Darcy universe was a way for Garrett to look in at Christianity, or at least his understanding of it.

        • “Garrett decided to prove him wrong in that the only _detective_ stories worth reading…”
          Sorry.

  5. Oh, boy – I loved the link with the review of Dan Brown’s latest. I haven’t seen sarcasm that densely packed in simply ages.
    I tried to read Da Vinci Code myself, but only got to the first chapter. I kept tripping and falling flat over sentences which read like an entry in the Bulwer-Lytton Bad Writing Contest, and I was afraid I was going to hurt myself if I kept on.
    I find it rather satisfying, myself – writing historically accurate HF with the side-purpose of informing people about a time and a place, because very often what readders think they know through pop-culture has very little relation to what it was actually like. Fortunately, what really happened in many instances is much more complicated, interesting and dramatic than anything I could have made up. And I still managed to go 450+ pages in a novel about the start of large-scale ranching in Texas and post-Civil War long-trail cattle drives … without ever once using the word ‘cowboy! (Inauthentic to that period; better to describe them as drovers, wranglers, hands, hired men, or buckaroo/vaqueros.)

    • Robert Silverberg did a time-traveler visiting Jerusalem circa 30 AD, searching for the authentic Jesus and discovering more authenticity than he desired. PJ Farmer similarly did an experimental attempt to recreate the Tarzan origin falling afoul unanticipated realities.

      A novel about modern Americans dropping in on ancestors, expecting “nobel savages” and “knights of the range” has comedic potential.

    • There is a reason I can stand to read very few westerns other than Louis L’amour. Yes he sensationalized things, but he didn’t take an axe to history. Nor does he have the annoying habit of many western writers, and even more western screenplays, of having six-shooters capable of shooting nine or ten rounds without reloading.

      • 😀 One of my favorite L’amour stories centers on the protagonist having a ten-shot Navy pistol vs. the bad guy’s six shooter.

        • Hey, at least I bother to get advice from antique gun enthusiasts, when I am writing about the old West! One of the most amusing was when we met one at his place of work and locked ourselves in a windowless conference room for some lessons in Colt Paterson and Walker dragoons … the gentleman worked in a bank. He hadn’t brought any actual ammunition … no, strike that – he had some lead shot, but no black powder. But … we didn’t want anyone to see us with the revolvers and have a major freak-out.

        • Er, twelve shot Walsh Navy .36 revolver, I’ve seen one. He actually used that in at least two books (Lando and Showdown at Yellow Butte) and yeah I liked it too.

  6. 1. There’s more to history than the matriarchal golden age:

    The Holocaust is a fabrication.

    So are the moon landings.

    If not for Northern agitators, American blacks would have remained content under slavery or Jim Crow.

    American Indians were wandering contemplatives living in harmony with nature.

    The Industrial Revolution destroyed Arcadia in Europe.

    And so on…

    2. Afaic all of the above are comparably ridiculous, yet some of them are close to conventional wisdom.

  7. I never had any interest in reading The Da Vinci Code because it sounded like a hacked imitation of Foucault’s Pendulum, which I had liked very much. The nonsense I’ve heard about since has in no way increased my desire to buy one of Brown’s books.

  8. You Run into the ten-witnesses-ten-accounts problem you find when you try to get a description of an accident. – and even with the out that I wasn’t writing a straight history. Couldn’t be. It had elves in it.

    And?

    (someone probably already said that, but I don’t have time to read the comments before we head out and want to get subscribed!)

  9. There are people who think Dan Brown’s writing is what people believe happened?

    I mean, outside of coast to coast’s fanbase? (He ripped off a 60s novel I browsed when I was going through a phase in high school. It was so bad that even with American history education, I could tell.)

    • Yep. People think it’s exquisitely well researched.

      • Dorothy Grant

        HR and I are at an uneasy truce after the last time I pointed out an extremely “politically incorrect” but truthful bit of reality about African history in a conversation. The charge of racism died a spluttering death when I pointed out that my husband was born and raised in Africa, and had in fact been there and done that. Truth is a solid defense against charges of libel, but HR really wishes it weren’t a solid defense against charges of racism, and could I shut up and go away already?

        • Stephen J.

          What was the fact in question, out of curiosity? I know very little about African history.

          • Dorothy Grant

            Ah, it may have had to do with a remark about the ANC being soviet-trained hard-core communist terrorists, who were being just as bad as you’d expect the corrupt, nepotistic, stupid, small-minded socialist thugs to be once they got their hands on a power. *looks innocent*

            Of course, there was also the time I used the word “coloured”, which they objected to terribly, even after I pointed out that I had been talking about the Cape Coloured community, and they are very much not tribal blacks. The poor complainer did not appreciate the in-depth infodump on the differences between the black tribal cultures and the cape coloured culture in South Africa, and HR looked… uncomfortable. (I suspect they dearly wanted to believe that their black ancestry meant all of Africa was one big culture with funky wall art, zig-zag pattern rugs, and some exotic food,and stopped at that. They certainly did not want a glancing history of slavery in Africa often being a means of converting the losers in tribal warfare into loot via the arab slave traders.)

            And then there was the time that somebody thought I was making fun of some culture when I mentioned that my darling husband had asked his father-in-law how many cows he wanted for his bride. (You should have seen my father’s face when my Calmer Half asked!) Which culture, I have no way of knowing. HR did not seem to really appreciate the explanation of the way that “cows” has stretched for modern bride-price to include televisions and cars, nor the aside on the way my mother was very relieved that she would not have to pay dowry for me, unlike her native culture. In fact, round about the point I was ruminating on the delightfully explosive combination of south American and South African cultures in my husband and his mother in law, the accuser had started looking desperately at the door and turning interesting shades of pale and red, while HR was looking like they wanted to chew a limb off in order to escape the office.

            Just because I look lily-white doesn’t mean it’s safe to cry racism on me and expect me to apologize cringingly like some guilt-ridden liberal arts major in a OWS camp. Heheheheheheheh….

            • Of course, Portugal doesn’t have bride price, but my dad likes to scare Dan now and then by telling him he was PROMISED seven goats. (Because that’s what dad said was his condition for letting me go.) At one time, Dan bought a series of little plastic goats and cows and gave them to dad who about died laughing..

            • I tried to explain some of the South African realities (and communities) and was told that I was racist. *sigh It wasn’t my idea– just what was happening at the time (and now… ANC– yea, I tried to tell someone that they were a socialist group with ties to the Soviet Union– once again I was called racist).

            • I do recall that Africans used cows as a measure of wealth, I am more used to bride price being expressed in ponies or beaver pelts 🙂

              • I don’t know about too many other cultures, but in my culture, the discussion of cows and wives (which came up a lot in SE Idaho, go figure) is based off this: http://youtu.be/pfahoLfrddU.

                In fact, when I was young and stupid (and in my defense I am no longer quite so young), I would often remark upon the perceived cow value of the single women with whom I came into contact, calling it the “Johnny Lingo Relative Cow Value Scale”, or RCV for short.

                > >

      • That was one of the reasons why I have a short Dan Brown hater period in my past – generally I think badmouthing the work of a bestselling author is somewhat bad manners (but I do it anyway, at least when I end up buying something because of the hype and then get disappointed :)), presumably nobody can become a bestseller if they don’t have at least something in their writing which lots of people find entertaining – but that ‘well researched’ got under my skin. I tried to read the Da Vinci Code, as well as one of his earlier ones, I’m not all that well read (well, I read a lot but I don’t necessarily remember things that well, but I usually remember at least enough that checking something is easy, I know where to start looking) and I kept stumbling over things explained in detail which just didn’t sound right (and after checking some of the facts, nope) but everywhere you got this ‘well researched’ hype. Very irritating. I guess the problem was kind of that schoolyard idea of fair – the well researched part was not true, he is not that good as a writer either, there are plenty of midlisters who write better, and yet, he got to win the lottery. Just not right.

        • He himself claims to be a strong researcher. There was a little note at the beginning of Deception Point about how he had done all sorts of research.

          • He believes the hype himself? Or is just trying to keep up the pretense because it’s good salesmanship. Which it may be. Remember The Clan of the Cave Bear? Lots of detailed explanations of something in fiction usually bore people, but it seems when a fiction book gets advertised as having lots of accurate research in it that can become a selling point. Makes the readers think they are also learning something while being entertained, perhaps, and being an expert in something can be a prestige issue so maybe the thought of getting that in an easy way can be alluring.

            • Birthday girl

              Yes. I love Tom Clancy novels ’cause I don’t need to go to boot camp to be a military expert.

            • No. The person we knew who knew him — he believes it.

            • Yessss, unfortunately I do remember The Clan of the Cave Bear. I’m not sure if I ever have read more gag-reflex inducing, illogical tripe in my life.

                • I never bought the books. So many times I picked the books up on the shelf, read one sentence and put them back down. 😉

                  • Library. Returned unfinished (I think I got about halfway through). Watched the movie made of the first one, years later. 🙂

                    • My husband got the copies at ARC thrift store, $1 at half price sale 😛

                    • Dorothy Grant

                      OOh, I remember that series! First book I remember throwing at the wall physically, multiple times. Hefty; made a good bounce when it hit.

                      Most I just abandon, but that one got thrown in disgust. It was the only thing available, and I was desperate … but even. That wasn’t enough to drive me to suffer through it.

                    • I did pick it up from a library shelf too— couldn’t bring myself to read it even though one of my friends would gush about it. I never read the twinkling vampire books either. I read the back and went yuck. 😉

                    • My husband, despite knowing all about push and how it distorts the market, insists on reading the mega bestsellers for reference to “what sells.” But even he hasn’t been able to read the sparkly vamps (from thrift store, of course.)

                    • of course– What sells– Was he introduced to Albert Zuckerman’s “Writing the Block Buster Novel?” I got it from a good authority that it is how a mega bestseller is made.

                    • It was. It’s the way to attract editorial notice, because they read it too. But now we live in a brave new world…

                    • Oh yes– 😉 I keep forgetting lol. Right now I have had some problems getting back into story so I am writing poetry. It is my writing gateway drug.

      • I remember he claimed as much in some copies of the book… I never bothered with it, since I really don’t try to go and get myself insulted, but it came up because when a bunch of Catholic historians challenged him on it, he tried to hide behind “but it’s a novel, you dunderheads” and several read the claim right out of the book…. I’d managed to entirely forget that!

  10. Loved the review you linked to.

    When someone recommends an author like Dan Brown to me, I smile politely and resolve never to listen to another of his recommendations. One or two paragraphs is enough.

    I don’t at all mind historical fiction that ties the real history into knots for comic or other effect, but I like to get a sense that the author is winking at me, confident I’ll get the joke. Dan Brown strikes me as a peculiarly humorless writer.

    • well, and my comments below notwitstanding, I’m even okay with the sort of clean up 163- does. You do need to meet the audience halfway and everyone in the past was icky in some way, particularly powerful people. BUT that said, this is mostly lying by omission and for a purpose. There is a difference between having the musketeers not beat their servants (at least on camera) and be much nicer to women than Dumas made them be. ANOTHER and completely different is to have them ride unicorns and duel with light sabers, which is close to what Dan Brown does.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Unless you are explicitly doing an AU where everyone uses lightsabers and unicorns, and set people straight when they buy it?

      • OTOH, once upon a time, around the dinner table,we discussed a book. My father complained that they never ran out of ammunition, or even thought of the danger. My older sister, that women adopted blue jeans without the slightest inhibition, though they were scandalously immodest. My younger sister and I, that they accepted religious tolerance and democracy without the slightest difficulty.

        I told this story online, as I told it here. Someone identified the book as 1632 on that alone.

        I’ve also watched an online discussion of romance readers grumbling about the poor abused historical heroine whose husband actually expects to sleep with her. Grumbles to the tune of she would have realized it was part of the deal.

        • I seem to recall reading a lot about the limited quantity of uptime ammunition. They spend a considerable amount of time figuring out how to manufacture fulminate of mercury to make primers, and in I believe the first book they talk about the fact that while everybody who has an SKS or AK tended to buy a case of ammo, because it was so cheap, it is practically all steel-cased and nonreloadable.

          There is also a story in either one of the Gazette’s or a Ring of Fire anthology about setting up a building with everybodies reloading presses (I recall the story because like so many it shows a decidedly communist, lack of all private property rights, mindset) and having some of the younger teenage boys reloading ammo for everybody.

          • Flint’s a Socialist.

            • Mary:

              He is, of course, but this is one of those cases where lifeboat rules would apply. Even I, very much an anti-socialist, would have no issues with commandeering equipment needed for the common survival. Remember that there were only two thoughts in Star Trek, all series combined, that weren’t silly. One was, “Having is not always so pleasing as wanting,” but the other was, “Survival cancels programming.”

              • I discussed 1632 with my youngest son today, and one of the points I made in recommending it is that it depicted people of this century trying to adapt to circumstances in that century.
                As Heinlein put it once, when it’s time to railroad, you railroad; and conversely, you can’t railroad without the rails, and the steam engine, and the locomotive,
                But as light reading, it’s decent. Check your assumptions and biases at the door.

              • I have no problem with lifeboat rules, but do with everybody cheerfully agreeing with them, and that they are the ‘way things should be.’
                Flint may have slipped right far enough to become a socialist, he used to be a card carrying communist (I seem to recall him now claiming to be a State Capitalist; of which China is an excellent example). Regardless, he is a good author, and I like the 1632 series, but I don’t read it in public, people give you strange looks when you start to arguing with novels and calling characters imbeciles.

              • It was the way he put an upper class man in the town so he could stand up and try to take command based on his social status — with ludicrous speech — that really showed Flint putting his thumb on the scale.

      • Oh snap! Light saber musketeers! I need to write that one down.

  11. This is the fun of placing all your stories in imaginary worlds. You can rip off to your heart’s content and still minimize the amount of complaints you get.

    0:)

    • Oh absolutely. That’s why the current WIP is set on a colony world that has been abandoned. Otherwise I’d be getting hit by the European historians (“But, but, that’s not accurate!”), the 163- people (“but that’s not how WE see it!”) and the activists (“but [name] was homosexual! The character has to be gay!”). SIGH.

      I did kill one named horse on screen. Sorry. But he didn’t suffer.

      • It is sometimes proper to reflect history correctly — rather than as we would like it to have been — because ONLY in that way can we understand certain aspects of the past. Stephen Fry provides a sad example in discussing Wagner and Nazi Antisemitism with this story about a cellist performing for Joseph Mengele.


        Skip to 36:45

        It also provides a useful caution against thinking beautiful art arises from a beautiful soul.

        • Quite true. And for some kinds of fiction, detail accuracy is critical, because otherwise we can’t understand why people did what they did. In this case, I think most readers won’t object to my omitting the details of what the Turks did to Christian captives during sieges and vice versa. Descriptions of the great and notable in the 17th and early 18th centuries in Central and Eastern Europe are notably devoid of saints and angles (unless you count Counter-Reformation artwork.)

        • Two thoughts emerge from listening to that… ten minutes or so from Stephen Fry.
          #1. When he talks about the dehumanization of the Jews, I of course think of our culture’s current obsession with Alinskyite tactics. Polarization, mockery, etc., are attempts to dehumanize those who don’t agree with the current liberal dogma. And I hear things like an ex-VP of the US say things like “that demeans them just a little bit…” and I just think… yeah. Well, then. This will certainly end better than it has ever ended before in recorded human history…
          #2. I totally and completely understand what Craig Ferguson says about not wanting to meet David Bowie because he’s a huge fan and doesn’t want to put himself in a situation where he’s suddenly confronted with the fact that someone whose art he admires is personally less worthy of admiration than the art he creates would lead one to believe.

      • Query: who are the 163 people?

        • It refers to a series of novels and stories based on Eric Flint’s idea of dropping a segment of (semi-)modern America back in time to the sixteen-thirties.

          • You know, I can usually figure out shorthand. I’ve actually read several of those. Thank you for the assist.

            • also referred to as 163x or Ring Of fire part of your confusion was likely the – used here. Had it with some of the Gun ‘Experts’ on the bar long ago over the ease of making a full auto gun (part of the dead horses iirc) when one claimed it was impossible to make one using steel taken from an automobile.

  12. Dan Brown’s books were exquisitely researched.

    Perhaps “exquisitely” is one of those words that does not mean what they think it means. Checking Merriam Webs,

    1: carefully selected : choice

    IOW, cherry-picked — that seems about right.

    2 archaic : accurate

    Well, it admits this definition is archaic, so toss it aside.

    3a : marked by flawless craftsmanship or by beautiful, ingenious, delicate, or elaborate execution
    b : marked by nice discrimination, deep sensitivity, or subtle understanding
    c : accomplished, perfected

    All of which boils down to elaborate artifice; nothing here about accuracy nor completeness

    4a : pleasing through beauty, fitness, or perfection
    b : acute, intense
    c : having uncommon or esoteric appeal

    Again, nothing about it having to be valid, much about it indicating careful selection of details to present a desired image.

    Perhaps “researched” is another such word. Certainly its use these days leads me to think it is as contemporaneously accurate as the present use of “gay” extending backward to Shakespeare’s day is historically accurate.

    • I prefer the term “excruciatingly” researched. Because that’s the level of pain Dan Brown inflicts on you if you know anything about history.

    • Upon reflection I have concluded that “researched” mostly means “I have looked stuff up and nothing I assert can be directly contradicted by any unchallengable fact you are likely to turn up.”

      Or, using playground vernacular for succinctness’ sake: You can’t prove it isn’t true.

  13. I’ll give you an instance that annoys the living crap out of me, Sarah: Joshua Chamberlain. You know? Joshua Chamberlain who was part of “an army out to set men free”? PC Chamberlain? Yeah…he’s made up of whole cloth. The real Joshua Chamberlain was a militarist, through and through. He considered war a test of manhood. He tried to volunteer for the Franco- Prussian War. He attempted, and for a while succeeded, in turning Bowdoin into a military school. Before the war he was prominent in the abolution movement only by his absence; he didn’t give a shit about the slaves. After the war he had nothing to do with the Freedmen’s Bureau or any of the charitable organizations for freedmen because, again, he didn’t give a shit. But Shaarahas raped away the man’s true character and substituted this bit of ahistorical nonsense, and the rest of us, if we want to write about Chamberlain, are stuck with it. And then there’s Belisarius the Boy Scout…

    • Good point good sir, “Killer Angels” is truly awful history – both of the personalities but also of the events on the ground – good luck walking through Gettysburg today without tripping over tourists with a copy tucked under their arms. And his sons’ stuff is excrement too IMO.

      • I was given both Killer Angels and Gettysburg as a birthday gift years ago. Yeah, I never made it past the first chapter of either one.

        • The film Gettysburg is largely based on Killer Angels. And while I love watching Stephen Lang chew the scenery as Pickett, having Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee made me want to hunt down the director and waterboard him.

          • Haven’t watched the movie, there is also a book called Gettysburg, I don’t recall the author, but do recall it was equally as bad as Killer Angels.

      • SPQR | May 25, 2013 at 5:38 pm
        > Good point good sir, “Killer Angels” is truly awful history –

        Indeed — trying to make anything which happened in the DC-Richmond corridor “decisive” to the War’s finish save for running up the body count is Rubbish of the worst sort.

        Meanwhile, no one’s ever made a movie about George Thomas that I can find (who was more like Chamberlain in that book and flick than Chamberlain himself — and a Virginian, to boot); nor Patrick Cleburne (oh, my white blue-eyed Christ, would the PC Gestapo shit themselves over *that* actual historical figure — “A WHITE SOUTHERNER WHO SUPPORTED ENLISTING BLACKS FOR THE SOUTH IN EXCHANGE FOR MANUMISSION!? BRAIN-SEGFAULT!”).

        • There ain’t much as pisses idjits off more than being told that most of what they knows is crap, an’ that they doesn’t know crap. Mostly they’s got the stink but not the manure.

    • Actually, Tom, Sharra probably got the idea from a book called “The 20th Maine” which purported to tell the story of the regiment he started out as XO (later commander) of, which never mentioned any of that about his Bowdoin tenure. I first saw it as a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book back in the early 70s.

      • Just checked Amazon: written in 1962; and apparently a new edition was released in 2008 with a forward by some UCLA prof.

      • May have; mox nix. The real information was out there and not especially hard to find. There’s also a telling bit in the absence of something. See, there is no monument for the 15th Alabama on Little Round Top. Why? Because Oates, the commander of the 15th, insisted his regiment had gotten to X point, further up the hill, and Chamberlain disagreed. And Chamberlain was on the monument commission. That may speak of a man deeply concerned with accurate history, but more likely speaks of a man deeply concerened with personal glory.

  14. Several years ago I read Deception Point. Aptly titled.
    An evil senator was trying to privatize NASA. I’m a space geek. It had been highly recommended. I almost threw it against the wall I got so mad.
    SPOILER ALERT (minor)
    Brown has a scene with the evil private corporations trying to bribe some poor government official with briefcases full of cash. There were two levels of deceit. First, Brown strongly implied that NASA itself does not use private corporations to do all its space launch. The way it read, it was all saintly government employees building the shuttle and other launch vehicles. Their double-plus good government jobs would be lost to the private sector. The second was that he used the real names of very small start up entrepreneurial space companies, who really exist, as the evil purveyors of the Briefcases of Bribery. I believehe used the small ones because he figured they would never have the resources to sue him. He sure didn’t have the guts to use the big guys who do do the work as contractors to the government. Oh, dear. Now I’m all upset again.

    • it was all saintly government employees building the shuttle and other launch vehicles.” — the kind of people who would never consider launching a vehicle in weather so cold as to make things like o-rings become brittle and subject to unusual stress?

      • Yeah, them.

        • the very same ones who would yaw past standard deviation yet still within design limits, a vehicle overheating one wing on reentry so it wouldn’t fail catastrophically. (A sore point that caused one of those folks to quit the Agency)

    • I hear Brown’s next thriller will be a thriller set in the publishing industry, in which he will reveal that bestselling authors accept briefcases full of cash, thus definitely establishing that they are motivated by the evil profit motives, unlike saintly government workers.

    • I’ve read a couple of Dan Brown books, and would just consider them to be light fun if it weren’t for the little disclaimer at the front of the books saying something like “This story is fiction. But all the facts are facts.” when he made up the facts as well.

      On Sat, May 25, 2013 at 11:50 AM, According To Hoyt wrote:

      > ** > Laura M commented: “Several years ago I read Deception Point. Aptly > titled. An evil senator was trying to privatize NASA. I’m a space geek. It > had been highly recommended. I almost threw it against the wall I got so > mad. SPOILER ALERT (minor) Brown has a scene with ” >

    • Since I interned one summer in the early ’80’s at Shuttle Operations in Rockwell Int’l you can guess my reaction.

    • “SPOILER ALERT (minor)”

      Quibble: you can’t spoil something that is already rotten.

      • William O. B'Livion

        Cheese
        Wine
        Yoghurt

        • Dorothy Grant

          Well, it was pretty cheesy, and filled with lots of whining, and the author clearly milked a couple tropes for all they were worth before losing his whey…

  15. As for the secret thing:

    Even conspiracies of one will often get revealed eventually. There seems to be a human compulsion to reveal secrets, either as confession or as bragging. Heck, the FBI guy who was the pseudonymous “Deep Throat” source for Woodward and Bernstein confessed on his deathbed. (I forget his name — my brain keeps wanting to say Mark Rich, but I’m pretty sure that was the shady financier that Clinton pardoned.)

  16. I never used to worry about fiction. It’s fiction, right? They’re making it up. And I **thought** it was understood well enough by most people that it WAS made up.

    But when you hear political leaders referring to movies as repositories for facts and moral lessons, or to actors as subject experts, well…

    I do try to maintain my faith in humanity. I really do.

    M

    • I have heard, with my own ears, a woman discussing how she never knew those things about the historical King Arthur. She was citing Mist of Avalon.

    • Jeff Gauch

      I’ve given up on humanity. I now spend my weekends attempting to teach raccoons about fire. Progress is slow.

      • GOOD. If raccoons master fire, there will be no stopping them.

        • That’s the point. The apes obviously can’t manage intelligence. Let’s see how the Procyonidae manage. I figure if I help them over the hump they’ll revere me.

          • Raccoons? REVERE YOU?

            • lol– they would keep trying to give you a bath before biting–

              • Besides: The race of sapient, advanced-tech-using beavers is coming back soon. (Where did you think the tales of dwarves came from? Short; hairy; make things; hide when humans come near — do the math.) 🙂

                • How about rats? They are pretty smart too, and very adaptable. And then there is the corvus tribe, if we go avian. And parrots. Although when it comes to birds I’d bet on the corvids, they are much better able to deal with us now than parrots are which promises good things for their future.

                  • Guessing you never saw that movie, Ben…. Or “The Birds.”

                  • Years ago I watched that stupid future evolution program that ended with inteligent squid swinging from trees. So, last night I dreamed I was packing to go to a workshop in Oregon, and there was this public safety pamphlet saying to never walk abroad without a cane or sturdy umbrella, because the octopi were hiding behind bushes and would attack you…

                  • I like the corvids– we have been watching them here for about 8 years. I like pet rats, but not so excited about the wild one. 😉

                    • The wild ones can be disgustingly dirty looking at times. Understandable for critters which forage in garbage, but one can’t help but start thinking about diseases when watching them. But pet rats can be quite adorable.

                    • What I find interesting about rats (other than they can carry the fleas that carry the Black Plague) is that they check food sources (one bite) before eating it. Plus if a dead rat is around the food source, no rat will eat it. We used to hunt rats (we’d kill one and another one would move into the cabin– it was out in the boonies and had been uninhabited for decades). We couldn’t catch them with rat traps. Dad was able to capture one with a bear trap. But after that, the only way we could catch rats was in live traps. Now mice are different– you have a good trap and food– and you can catch them pretty quickly. I do have a lot of respect for rats– however, unless they are tame (and clean) I don’t want them around my house.

                    • I’ve long said that Baby Boomers are like rats. Individually they can be clean, attractive, and you can even form emotional connections with them. En masse, they bring disease, destruction, and death.

                    • Nice metaphor- 😉

                • I just can’t see it– I used to sneak up on beavers to watch them dam building– don’t look like any dwarf from the pictures. 😉

              • In Rascal, his memoir of life with his pet raccoon, Sterling North provides a hilarious description of Rascal’s dismay upon washing a sugar cube.

                Along with descriptions of Rascal curling up atop North’s head as a living cap, riding leaning out over North’s bicycle handlebars and drinking strawberry soda from the bottle.

                • Unfortunately, the popularity of Rascal in anime form back in the 1970’s led to the Japanese importing huge numbers of raccoons as pets, then dramatically releasing them back to the wild. The Japanese wild.

                  Raccoons are now engaged in displacing native Japanese species like tanuki, and in disassembling wooden Japanese temples with their teeth and paws, and other such destructive mischief.

            • Well, right now they have a similar attitude towards me that cats do. As I said, the project isn’t progressing as quickly as I had initially hoped.

  17. I consider Brown’s work to be a contemporary equivalent of The Chronicles of the Elders of Zion, only anti-Catholic instead of anti-Semitic.

    And I view as similar those responsible for propagating the two works.

    • Stephen J.

      Ehhhh… I’m fully on-board with the common aesthetic assessment, but I doubt The Da Vinci Code has ever been or ever will be explicitly cited as direct inspiration for the mass killing or banishment of Catholics, the way Protocols (not Chronicles) was for Jews. So that may be overstating the case somewhat.

      Though it’s an interesting philosophical point to consider. If you are part of an enterprise aggressively promoting condemnatory propaganda against an identifiable group, is it worse if you believe and share the hatred of the propaganda, or if you don’t care one way or the other and just want to cash your own paycheque?

      • Calling it “equivalent” is probably a bit strong, but on a scale of 1 – 10 with Protocols a nine I would put DaVinci Code a seven-point-five. In part because Brown had less intrinsic bias to build from (AFAIK, there isn’t fifteen centuries of anti-Papist Blood Libel) and was constrained by publishing standards.

        Good philosophical point on the difference. Overt or through a veil we are looking live at lies of vile evil*.

        *I know it makes no sense, but how often can you get so many variant arrangements of four letters in so short a space? It Boggles** the mind.

        **I know, not the right word game, but I cannot recall correctly the name of that game which challenges you to form words through different permutations of lettered cubes.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          No, you’re right. It’s Boggle.

        • AFAIK, there isn’t fifteen centuries of anti-Papist Blood Libel

          Vaguely related– had a horrific thought today.

          Know how the BL usually was associated with claims that the Jews were poisoning folks, spreading disease, etc?

          Most of the religiously required stuff I know of in the Jewish tradition COULD be understood as ritualized disease prevention. (Mostly because I learned about it from the “oh, they’re dumb because they avoided trichinosis and crossover diseases?” angle.)

          Wonder if the accusation was partly rooted in the Jews not dying as much as those folks who didn’t share their devotions.

          • They also washed more, and kept their homes cleaner, which probably meant that they raised more kids to maturity. Yes, that would be part of the otherization, because you know, it’s never the behavior. It’s the other guy hiding the stash, be it wealth or clean living.

        • Eh. Give it time. Protocols took a few years to bubble up to its full noxious impact.

      • You might want to try talking to some of the folks who have been publicly harassed in colleges because they happen to belong to Opus D. Or call some of their higher ups some time, and ask about the threats.

        It is highly unlikely, currently, to be used as justification for wide-spread killing.

        It is utterly predictable that it will be used as justification for assault, harassment and general poor treatment which could at some future date, with other sources that agree, be used to justify killing of a sufficiently “otherized” Catholic population.

  18. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I remember thinking for several projects ‘I might put some effort into this, but I probably can’t be bothered to let research hold things up’. I’ve also brainstormed projects for which the entire point was a slipshod, laughable disregard for having things squared away correctly.

    So, this is making me wonder if I need to rethink my standards, or at least have a firm foundation for deciding what warnings I will attach to the dubious stuff before I release any of it.

    That said, my process for deciding the research I need may be good enough, considering the state of my other processes. (The vampire/time travel thing I’ve been sorting out would need a good level of research per story to hope to interest me enough to write. Without the research, the feel of the times cannot be replicated well enough, and without that, I can’t say some of things I would be interested in saying.)

  19. I have to admit to liking *one* of Brown’s books – Angels and Demons – for a short time simply because I read it after having visited Rome, and wanting to go back and trace his steps (which I did only to find out he had his geography wrong…)

    I was at Summer Camp with the boys, and another adult leader was reading Da VInci Code – and I heard about how wonderful it was. So I read DVC, then A&D, then the other two books. Warning, do *not* read more than one Brown at a sitting – because you discover that they ALL HAVE THE SAME PLOT! First four novels were plucky female heroine discovers conspiracy and goes to her male mentor only to find that he is in on the plot. Heroine gets disillusioned, despondent, then angry and defeats mentor with aid of plucky male extra to win in the end. End of story. Langston was plucky male extra in A&D and promoted to more visible character in DVC, but still the formula held – Brown just added more verbiage and adopted the Robert Ludlum technique of having the protagonists cross Europe three times before they could uncover the truth.

    The public loves hacks because hacks turn out the kind of stuff that the politically correct, historically- and current-events-illiterate crowd can read and share on the airplane or on the beach. That’s why I prefer to pull out Kratman, Hoyt, Ringo, Correia or Williamson novels while on the plane…

  20. The point where I started to giggle in DaVinci Code was when I realized all these ancient clues and devices and whatnot *all worked* just like they were intended to after centuries of neglect. National Treasure was another one like that. Nobody built anything that would prevent the perfect alignment of Gizmo #1 with Gizmo #2, WWII bombs never rearranged the architecture, entropy never had its wicked way with anything. And Ancient Secret #234 was *compatible* with Ancient Clue #432. We can’t even do that with current files from different operating systems. And does anyone still have a working 5.25″ floppy drive?

    Then there is an actual secret society that was figured out using advanced cryptography techniques, which I find much more interesting than dubious dogma “mysteries”.

    • “And does anyone still have a working 5.25″ floppy drive?”

      Sort of, my mom was complaining the other day that she can’t find disks for ‘her’ computer anymore. Which happens to be a 286 (upgraded, it was originally an 8088) that I left there when I moved out. Actually I think there is two working ones there, I was given three or four of them, and she uses the desktop, but I am pretty sure the Compaq portable (not laptop, it would break your lap if you set it on it, but suitcase sized, with a folding keyboard and a carry handle) works also.

    • Yes. and SSDD floppies.

    • Michael Aschenbach

      Well, they don’t make things like they used to, do they? 🙂

      In actual reality, what seems to happen is that there are long chains of secret societies, cults, and conspiracies but they are inept. Each generation picks up bits and pieces that serve the purposes of the times and then tries to pass these prejudices down to the next generation with decidedly poor reception.

      It seems we live in a complex soup of signs and symbols, more Foucault’s Pendulum than Da Vinci Code. Our multidimensional global social order is propagated and transformed via complex systems of myths. Now the technology of myth is perhaps more robust than your average floppy drive or even than an ancient iron lock and key. In this technology, “Ancient Secret #234 does fit with Ancient Clue #432 … but it produces mutated results depending on whose interpreting it and in what historical context. It’s a very plastic technology and we see today how confused and benighted people are because of movies and novels that give them their “facts.”

  21. Someone uncrossed the streams and broke the comment thread. That or my having finished the draft of book three of the WIP this afternoon means we’ve reached the end of the worl . . .

  22. First: Every time someone mentions “Dan Brown”, I think, “OK, I admit the idea of a Stealth B-52 is ludicrous; but it’s not as bad as all that….” (_Flight of the Old Dog_ was written by *DALE* Brown….)

    Second: For all Dan Brown’s sins — and they are Legion — there is another author who must be skinned and crucified first: Steve Alten. And *NOT* just because of the series he’s best-known for — he’s also a Troofer of the worst sort, as well as being a shit writer.

    • Steve Alten? MEG Steve Alten? Dang.

      > >

      • Heh. I have actually liked a couple of Alten’s novels. Outrageous, but reasonably fun fluff, like some of the really bad action movies are. Didn’t the megalodon swallow the hero’s minisub at that novel, with him inside, or something along those line? Although I suppose the fact that I remember no details of either novel now says something. 😀

        • The reason: giant sharks! Giant eels! Scary giant cryptocritters… Candy! One of those subjects which can be less than well baked and I will probably eat it anyway, at least once or twice. Just enough of the chocolate covering and the cake under it will not get that much notice, as long as it’s at least sorta kinda eatable. And Alten was not so much touted as a person as Brown was, so I could ignore him. Which was well enough, it seems.

          • Wayne Blackburn

            I’m just sitting here laughing my tail off at the likely unintended mixture of names and subjects: Alten, Brown, and food. I understand you’re in a European country (can’t remember which one at the moment), so you likely have not heard of Alton Brown, who does a Food Network show which often contains a lot about the History of the foods he showcases on each episode. (Look up the show “Good Eats”) 🙂

            BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

  23. Dan Brown is a writer of Pulp Hero fiction. About on the level with the hacks who wrote the Doc Savage stories; certainly not up to the level of the genera pulps. Now, if he was being accepted at the level he writes on, this wouldn’t be a problem. The ‘accuracy’ of the science, history, ethnography etc. of Doc Savage or The Shadow was of a very low order, and nobody minded much. The problem is that people are taking the silly git seriously. This is like taking G-8 And His Battle Aces seriously.

  24. Also when I read that the royal family of France were descended from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, I snorted ice-water out of my nose. I rarely come up against this nonsense anymore, where I feel completely foreign, but this was one of those moments. What went through my mind was “the things Americans will believe.” In this case, the authors of the New Age book swallowed this hook line and sinker because well… they hadn’t read enough European history to know that EVERY ROYAL HOUSE claimed this. It was their way of making an end run and claiming to be descended of G-d Himself. They also probably believe that everyone in the South was descended from Bonnie Prince Charlie.

    Sarah, This is probably one of those modern impression things that I have, and would hate to disagree with you as a European on your knowledge of European royal houses, but my understanding was that a royal house would NEVER claim descent from Christ — that would be way too heretical and dangerous to claim in the face of the Catholic church.

    Instead, they would do what my family has done. My grandmother has given me paperwork proving her descent through a line of Welsh kings, whose founder was a Roman soldier with cadet descent from a few Roman Emperors, the founding member of which happened to be a roman solider in Palestine during the first century A.D., who happened to marry a Jewish girl named Anna, whose superlative was “said to be Cousin of the Virgin Mary.” That happens to just make me a second cousin of Jesus, some 70-odd times removed.

    THAT, is the proper way to do things.

    • No. When the divine right of kings went to their head, they DID claim to be descended from Jesus Christ. We studied it in history, including the weird lines of descent they claimed. Perhaps the Welsh were more timorous?

      • I don’t think it was just the Welsh, but everyone on the British Isles. Divine Right of Kings theory didn’t hit the Isles until the Protestant Era, based on the original source materials I have been aware of (King James I wrote quite a whole treatise on it), and descent from Christ didn’t play a part in it.

        My wife’s first reaction to your comment was to ask which history, and whether it was just what you were taught, or true original source materials. My thought, if it was original sources, is maybe it was a Latin thing.

        Anyway, I’m probably way out of my expertise by now.

        • A lot of it was original source, and given where I was it was mostly Portuguese, Spanish, French, some German and Italian principalities.

          • In my case (I was nodding my head to what Sarah said) it came through family stories. We have at least three royal lines, and the claims were that they were related to Jesus (through a member of the family). (Plus several minor nobility lines– we even have a Kingsbury line that claims to connect into the English royalty line– through my great-great-grandmother.) I believe now that the claim was a way to prove the family’s right to rule. IMHO Divine right of kings came from this claim.

          • My lines are English, Norwegian, and Dane royalty– btw.

            • Another note– we just watched a history show on Christian VII of Denmark (he is in one of my lines.) The guy definitely had some mental problems… I had to laugh because it described some of the problems in some of my cousins (and close family members). Plus we all have the nose– ARG– no wonder I have problems breathing through it during the spring season.

              • I just did an oopsie– the Dane and Norwegian line do not claim– because they have a line that is from 953 through Gorm. It is the longest known kingline today. The Kingsbury line that claimed it connected into the English kingline (not the recent English line btw) do– or at least claims to Charlemagne. I must be caffeine deprived today. *sigh

        • And yes, mostly a Latin thing. I’d bet the Germans were near Italian borders…

      • Can you give some examples of this?

        The only one I’ve run across is that Morte D’Arthur repeatedly describes how Lancelot and Galahad are related to Jesus Christ — through his uncle Joseph of Arimethea.

        • All I can tell you is that the Portuguese Royal family and the Spanish Royal family and various other princes, and the Scottish Royal family for a while, claimed to be descended from Mary Magdalen and Jesus Christ.

  25. I would note at least one author who writes of history adds an appendix at the end of every book that explains what’s real and what’s not. His name is Steve Berry, author of The Charlemagne Pursuit and The Third Secret among others.

  26. Michael Aschenbach

    Thank you, Sarah Hoyt. It is a pleasure to read intelligent and independent commentary that maintains such a nuanced ethical balance. You give me hope and I shall look for your books. Though many points touched me, I particularly liked this line: “As someone has recently proven, except for very few, very isolated populations, you are descended from everyone who was alive a thousand years ago.” It seems genetically accurate to my semi-educated layman’s eye, whatever the source. Most of our presumed “reality” is a fabric of imagination–especially when money enters the picture–even when we are researching recent history. It’s all a game of post-office and inept conspiracies all the way back, as far as I can see. I’ll take a healthy bastard myth any day over a raped and murdered truth.
    Michael Aschenbach, author of VISION 3000: The Transformation of Humanity in the New Millennium