What Has Gone Before Us

So yesterday I was drop-dead tired (after moving the boy the weekend was a wash and then I went and waxed floors at the other house in the afternoon — don’t yell at me.  It’s ALMOST done but it’s been dragging because I was so tired I stayed home a few days) by the time I got to bed, and I was reading on my kindle.  These two circumstances are very good.

When I hit the wording that would have made me want to throw the kindle against the wall, I was too tired to do it immediately.  And then I realized I was reading on the kindle and refrained.  (This is good because paperwhite?  Couldn’t replace it now.)

This was  Kindle lending library mystery, indie, and honestly, who in a sane mind has a detective in the middle ages say he wants to send a wrong-doer to “club fed”?

Let’s suppose they had maximum security prisons for murderers (they didn’t. long term imprisonment had more to do with your station in life than the gravity of the crime) what does the fed refer to precisely?  Oh, yeah, I know Federal penitentiary.  So, first your detective gets in a time machine…

Not that I’m picking on indies particularly for this.  I mean the last mystery that figuratively speaking went against the wall was a reprint from Prime Crime and it had way worse problems than wording.  In Regency England — not in la belle France before the revolution — it had a nobleman shoot a peasant in the street (not only a nobleman, but a guardsman) and get away free because “he was just a peasant.”  There were other issues including a character who was supposed to be a man but “felt” like a girl in drag.  Because, layers and layers of fact checkers and stuff.

But the wording thing can still annoy.

I am not a word purist.  Then again, maybe I am another way.

What I mean by I’m not a word purist is that if I know the concept was around in the time I’m writing about, I don’t worry if the wording is “too modern.”  I’m not one of those people who go through to figure out when the word came into use, because not only do I believe in not calling a rabbit a schmerp (if the concept is the same and describing something in the reader’s head, then you should use the word that will get you most directly into that image without making the character work harder for the story than they have to.) As someone trained in science fiction, I believe in the most direct route to the thought.  I believe in transparent pose.

Which is why, for instance, when my editor on the musketeer vampires (Sword and blood) insisted I change “Pony tail” for “Queue” because “Pony Tail” only came into use in the 20th century, I rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell out.  (Yeah, that book is back and will be reissued, but the thing is though book 2 is also done, I need to change some stuff, and then I need to do the third before it goes up, and first there’s darkship revenge and the dragons series.  And fortunately REALLY the house will be done this week.  (Had to wait till now, there’s repairmen doing things I can’t do.)

So, why did I dislike the change above?  (Which I ended up allowing because I couldn’t stop these people from thinking that when a word “came into use in the US” was vitally important? And I couldn’t stop them.) Because pony tail as a concept is the same (that I know of) in Portugal and France, and while I can’t check on when “it came into use” i.e. appeared in print, I can guarantee a horse-intensive culture couldn’t help have the image.  I mean, trust me, there were more horses than cars around when I was little, and we knew the concept.  It just looks like it.

Meanwhile queue is not only factually wrong — in the book the character didn’t braid his hair, he tied it back — but has a whole cognitive freight of tradition and culture.  CHINESE tradition and culture.  And so every time I hit the d*mn thing in page proofs, it popped me out of king Louis XIII France and into China.

But they had their little etymological dictionary that told them this was a term not used (in print) before the fifties (I think.)  And so it must be.

What I mean by this is that words can be “correct” by definition and appearance, but you must keep track of the “flavor” of them.  Or you must if you’re aiming to be a decent writer.

And sometimes it’s better to be wrong, if it conveys your meaning better, than to be “right” and pop the reader out of the story.

I mean sometimes wrong is just wrong.  I had to explain to a copy-editor once that you don’t say someone in the musketeers’ time knew something subconsciously, because there simply isn’t a concept of subconscious in the characters’ mind at the time.  So you have to use a lot more words to get there.  But if the concept was there, find the simplest way to describe it that won’t pop the reader COMPLETELY out of place and time, like Club Fed, for a medieval, monarchic society.

But even before that the book had been bothering me.  It had been bothering me because the inside of the character’s head wasn’t medieval.  He was thinking about things like money in a totally modern way.

Which brings us to a discussion about romances, yesterday.  Like apparently most people who read Regencies I’ve become aware of a tendency for them to read more and more like modern romances than like something set in that time.

Someone nailed it for me by pointing out that female characters have been getting more modern.  For instance, they will do things like not want to marry UNTIL they have sexual experience, so they’ll be engaged and go out to find someone to sleep with them: in a time without either contraceptives or anti-biotics and in a time when a unwed pregnancy would ruin not only the woman but all her relatives.

Or they rebel against being the one who was supposed to marry to make the family fortunes.  I’m not saying a woman might not wish to marry someone else rather than make the family fortunes, but it would present in her own mind not as resentment to lifting the family out of debt, but as “I’m madly in love with the stable boy.” or whatever.  And if a woman was thoroughly opposed to married, it often manifested (at least in Catholic countries, granted, not England) as a “vocation.”  What it didn’t manifest as was “I want to pursue a career.”  Women married, or if they were unmarried stayed around the house helping with the nephews and the running of the house.  If they had the means they might set up household with a companion.  But only the poor worked, (even for men “having to” work was a downcheck on status.) If you were a governess or a nurse, it wasn’t for a “career” but because you were desperate.

Oh, and please save me from all the women running philanthropic organizations.  While there were of course a number of these run by women, it wasn’t every other woman as seems to be in today’s regency romances.  And charities for unmarried mothers would be very heavy on the preaching and getting them to give the baby up for adoption.  Not telling them they’ve done nothing wrong and “affirming” their choices.  Again, no contraceptives, no antibiotics.  Sex and its consequences were serious business PARTICULARLY for women who make more of an investment in reproduction.

Which gets us to why these romances of people sashaying around in costumes while being 21st century moderns go against the wall: It is the perverse and self-aggrandizing view of history of the modern Marxist.

Because their religion is all pervasive, it projects itself into the past.  Forget that there was no contraception, there was no modern medicine and the deaths in childbirth were shockingly high and that it was for women eventually a number game: have children often enough and you will die of something going wrong with the pregnancy and the birth. Women are just like men in their view and as “entitled” to consequence free sex.  Everything else would be an injustice.

In the same way everyone is “entitled” to being supported while doing whatever they please, be it painting or rescuing unwed mothers.  Anything else would be “unfair.”  And since they all froze in kindergarten when “unfair” was the battle cry that would bring the teacher down, they think that complaint trumps EVERYTHING.

So they know those people in the past were just pretending at being unenlightened, but really were doing wrong ON PURPOSE.  Which is why they hate the past and keep trying to remake it into the current-day-Marxists shining idol image which is always of themselves.

Heinlein didn’t have gay characters in his juveniles, at a time when having Jewish and Irish characters not played for laughs was already pushing the boundaries?  Well, crucify him then.  He knew of course — because everyone in the past thinks like a modern day SJW, they just did wrong ON PURPOSE — what was “right” and was just being sexist and racist and homophobic, by not following this year’s revealed wisdom.  How dare he?

Yes, I do realize some adjustments must be made for modern audiences.  I don’t have the musketeers beat their servants, for instance, because the impact of such a thing on a modern audience would be different than when Dumas was writing.  But that’s a minor adjustment, not changing the internals of the character utterly.

If you’re writing in the past — or even if you are just living in the present — you should have an idea of how the past was different, and the factors that shaped that.

If you assume the past was just like the present only less “enlightened” you’re presupposing history comes with an arrow, and that today is of course more “advanced” than the past.  While this is true of science — of course — it’s not always true of what was inside people’s heads.  In many ways because even the poorest of us struggle less than in the Middle Ages, it’s become easier to develop mental habits of laziness and other “rich person” vices.  What you think is enlightenment might be considered sheer nonsense by your descendants.  For instance the enlightened thing at one time (even Heinlein has a whiff of it) was genetic culling.  Now we’re finding that what we know about genes isn’t that straightforward.  Throw in epigenetics and someone with a gene to be a “moron” can turn out to be a genius.  More, even overtly bad disease genes are linked to genes we need and can’t survive without.  BUT the enlightened opinion in the early twentieth century was to improve humanity and save human suffering by culling out the sick and the lame and the “inferior races.”  (No, Hitler didn’t invent that.)

Some of our concepts (and I’m not going to name any because it’s a fight I don’t need, but I’m sure you can think of some) will prove just as monstrous to our descendants.

If you don’t have a sense of that, you don’t have a sense of the past, which unfortunately means you don’t have a sense of the present.

If you think that there is an objective way to end poverty or stop drug use, or whatever, and it’s ONLY your way, and even your opponents think your way is right and are being villainous and “evil” by opposing it you not only shouldn’t be writing historical fiction, you definitely shouldn’t be voting.  You should find the nearest kindergarten and use it as a safe space.

Because out here in the real adult world, the past and the present and complicated places, with different modes of arranging life that worked with the circumstances at that time, even if they now set our teeth (or our hair) on edge.

If you can’t accept your ancestors were different from you, thought differently and responded to different necessities, you have no business preaching multiculturalism.

Because what makes a culture different is not the hairstyles, the dresses or what they ate, but how one must live to survive.  And yes, some cultures are factually worse than others at providing their people with the necessities (or the luxuries) of life. Arguably most past cultures were (barring our finding some atlantian high- developed scientific culture we’ve heard nothing about.)

That doesn’t give you the right to to stomp your feet and rewrite the past to justify your boorish self-regard in the present.

Your ancestors were both more and less enlightened than you in ways you can’t even understand, and your superimposing your beliefs on them is the act of a mental midget standing on the shoulders of giants and peeing down.

319 responses to “What Has Gone Before Us

  1. Ow. Dang it, Sarah, now I have to go back and read that other stuff I was thinking I could skip because I wasn’t worried about “tone” (much) in the WWI books. Could you and the Great Author quit comparing notes on me, pretty please?

    On the other, other paw, I walled a “non-fiction” book (metaphorically) two weeks ago because the author thought adding lots and lots of 2000s commentary and slang would help his book. Like referring to the Roman armies along the Dacian frontier as “meat puppets” and tossing in “Mission Accomplished” digs at Trajen. Which will be a full rant at my place later this month.

    • Rob Crawford

      I’ve been reading some Roman historical fiction that uses metric for distances. Using Imperial units would have been just as wrong, but less jarring.

      • At least it’s the same sort of thing they used. . . .

        Now, if they used minutes, that would be bad. You had hours and no smaller divisions, owing to the difficulty of measuring.

        Though I’ve read a medievilish romance where the hero demanded that the heroine be ready at a canonical hour. Bells rang, she came out, he gave her some leeway — as if she had any way to be that precise.

      • But the mile is a Roman legion distance. 1000 paces (counting only rights or lefts… I wonder which it was?)

      • Well, a miss is as good as a stadia…

      • Feather Blade

        There was one bit of Roman historical fiction, written in the 1950s (?), wherein some characters of African origin were referred to as Negroes.

        I’m pretty sure that any actual Roman would have been more specific – are they Carthaginian, or Ethiopian, or Egyptian?

        It’s not enough to wall the book, but still…

    • Or here. The rant. Here is fine.

    • Sara the Red

      Yeah, there’s a time and a place for ‘modern’ language, and that really isn’t it.

      Now, Lindsey Davis’ Falco mysteries use, in a manner of speaking, ‘modern’ language. At least, insofar as speech patterns go. But the author doesn’t use jarringly anachronistic terms, and her history is pretty darned solid, so it works.

      The above-mentioned nonfiction book…yeah, that sounds more like an author trying (and utterly failing) to sound ‘cool.’ ::facepalm::

  2. Silly girl. Don’t you know that waxing floors results in waning energy?

    • Ignore this comment, just as I ignored the “Notify me of new comments via email.” check box when posting my previous comment.


      Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.

  3. I had a regency story bouncing around in my head for a long time. I haven’t written it for the reasons you talk about. I just don’t know enough about that time period. Plus I may be putting this story in the wrong time period. Anyway, when I am bounced out– the book is gone.

    I just read the first third of a indie detective/military conglomerate… who knows… book and couldn’t continue. The first three chapters got me interested in the story… and then she dropped the ball– narrative and no scenes. I don’t mind narrative, but in two pages she went from a serious mission outside the prison, out of the military, etc, etc in two pages. It could have been readable at the very least. So understood…

  4. Which is why, for instance, when my editor on the musketeer vampires (Sword and blood) insisted I change “Pony tail” for “Queue” because “Pony Tail” only came into use in the 20th century, I rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell out.

    And ( following up):

    Meanwhile queue is not only factually wrong — in the book the character didn’t braid his hair, he tied it back — but has a whole cognitive freight of tradition and culture. CHINESE tradition and culture.

    Yet, still there are those who argue that one should go with traditional publishing, as they have editors who know what they are about. Fie! A pox on ’em

    • An editor should press to author to effectively tell the story the author is trying to tell, not tell the story the editor wants told. Such instances as Sarah cites fall into the realm of “author’s responsibility” and should be challenged but not made, by the editors.

      I have no doubt many editors do not share this opinion, but there is a reason many books featuyre disclaimers to the effect that all errors and inaccuracies remain the author’s fault.

      After all, it is the author who has to live with the legacy writing Richard III in flaming pink tights. Few readers will refuse to buy another book edited by Jane Schmoe, no matter how many of their books hit the wall because of Jane Schmoe’s editing rather than Winnie Writer’ anachronisms.

      I very much doubt anyone goes on Amazon to write a review giving a book 5-stars for the writing but 2-stars for the editor imposed inanities.

      • Thurber’s THE YEARS WITH ROSS includes a number of humorous accounts of the famous editor’s editing, both beneficial and baneful. Worth reading on its own account, too.

      • You speak so much truth. I was the laughing stock of my middle school after I reviewed one of the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron games for the school paper. Reason being that the paper’s moderator – an English teacher, BTW – had changed each and every ‘Rogue’ that appeared in the article to ‘Rouge’ without telling, let alone asking me. She did so because I’d obviously meant to use ‘Rouge’ since the good guys use colors to designate their units. Had to bring the game’s box into school to prove her wrong, but she still refused to print a correction.

    • Feather Blade

      A friend of mine set her debut novel in an Indian (subcontinent) inspired setting, with the requisite social castes and mores. At the behest of her editor, she stripped out most of the worldbuilding information regarding said castes until the editor suggested the use of the word “bourgeois” (did I spell that right on the first try? I think I did!) to describe one character’s upbringing.

      She promptly dismissed the editor’s suggestion and reinstated all of the caste information.

  5. This is something that bothers me about both modern historical books and movies. Frequently I encounter dialog/concepts that are jarringly modern (and therefore out of place), which take me right out of the story. I wish every historical fiction author and screenwriter would read and internalize this post.

    • Frequently, yes. Sometimes though it is deliberate, and in fact can be a big part of the charm. One of the most effective examples I can think of in recent years is the movie A Knight’s Tale

      I think in one sense, the problem Sarah describes can be summed up as the “SCA effect.”

      The Middle Ages as “as they ought to have been.”

      • Several of us in the Oyster clan were discussing that movie last night. It’s so deliberately ahistorical and goofy that it ends up being pretty cool. I mean, a joust where the crowd breaks out singing Queen; how can you not smile?

        Tangent: the movie came up because one of the younger Oysters is a devoted amateur medieval historian. That scene where Ledger amazes everyone by vaulting onto his horse? Apparently that feat was a common casual competition amongst knights to show their fitness. It just made the scene that much funnier to me. I also learned that the joust was usually a sideshow for the younger knights to blow off steam, show off, etc. and not nearly the main event. Thank you Victorian Romanticism. *grumble* Now I want to see a good medieval action flick with a proper grand melee tourney. Recommendations?

        • Depends on exactly when. The jousting grew in importance as time wore on and also grew more pageant like.

        • Brannaugh’s Henry V comes to mind, but the battle scene is a little too accurate in some ways for younger viewers, IMHO, and it’s not a tournament. You might have to look at foreign (European) films.

        • Over the top anachronism, so heavy that even the stupid realize it’s anachronistic, can be fun. Best seen in D&D comics like Order of the Stick or Rusty & Co. where the weaponry and a few other things are medievalish and you have zepphelins and vending machines (selling Cloaker Cola.)

          • Patrick Chester

            Teevo for your scrying crystal! 🙂

          • It is a matter of the subtextual message conveyed.

            In the over-the-top situation the message is “I know and you know.”

            Otherwise it is a case of I don’t know and don’t care whether you do, but figure you’re probably too ignorant to realize.”

            Shared joke is generally better than implicit insult.

            • Sara the Red

              I always figured Knight’s Tale was a good example of the first one, while, say, The Patriot or Braveheart (although fun in their own way) is more an example of the latter. (Mel’s character in the Patriot not having slaves, despite being a Virginia plantation owner always makes me roll my eyes. If they didn’t want to go there, then they damn well should have picked a different colony…)

              • Guh … don’t remind me of The Patriot and it’s myriad of impossibilities … like how it covered eight years in time — yet the kids never grew older! (This so annoyed me that when I set up my own spread-sheet for plotting the Adelsverein Trilogy, I made note now and again of how old certain key children would have been at various points, and having a month by month breakdown let me track that!)
                The other thing that annoys me about that movie is how they made a HUGE foofarah just pre-release about how “historically accurate” they were — to the point of having a cover story in SMITHSONIAN! SMITHSONIAN! Yeah — as it turned out, that meant that they took great pains to be totally accurate in small things … but you could drive a couple of 18-wheelers through the major plot inaccuracies.
                And do not, for the love of the Deity, get me started on the abuses of historical fact in Larry McMurtrey’s Texas HF, OR the recent miniseries, Texas Rising.
                Hey, when PeeWee Herman has it right about there being no basement at the Alamo, and a much-hyped History Channel miniseries does not — you gotta wonder …

  6. “I believe in the most direct route to the thought. I believe in transparent pose.”
    Need I describe the image that transparent pose immediately popped into my fertile and ever so degenerate brain?
    Direct route indeed.

  7. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Two thoughts.

    David Drake got in “trouble” when he described Roman shields made of plywood but had no trouble when he described them made of laminated wood (same thing and also true). [Grin]

    A few years back I read a novel set in ancient Egypt from the point of view of an ancient upper class Egyptian (the story was said to be his memoirs). I about threw the book across the room when this man (in his memoirs) stopped to defend slavery. Who was he “talking” to? Anybody that might have read his memoirs would seen nothing wrong with slavery. The real author thought he had to explain to his modern-day readers that the character (like everybody else of his time) didn’t “know” slavery was wrong. [Frown]

    • On your second thought: that seems like almost the opposite problem from the ones here: the author had done his research on the views of ancient upper class Egyptians, and now he’s going to include all that information, whether it makes sense in the context of the story or not. Or, as I’ve also seen it phrased, “I have suffered for my Art, and now it’s your turn.”

      • I seriously doubt that an ancient Egyptian would have defended slavery at any time, any more than he would have defended inheritance or marriage. He’d have given you a blank look and wondered what you were talking about.

        • Might as well have a fish discourse on the existence of water. Our Piscene narrator might well discuss currents, thermals, pollutants and other such aspects of water, much as we discuss weather, but to discuss the mere existence of water would not be thought of as meaningful. (It might be employed to define an especially pompous character, however.)

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        I’ve seen books where the author has put unnecessary details into the book apparently for that reason. [Sad Smile]

        I just question the idea that an ancient upper-class Egyptian would see the *need* to defend slavery. [Smile]

        • Word count seems more likely to me.

        • Several different kinds & customs of slavery have existed in history – e.g. voluntary sell-myself-to-keep-from-starving, for-a-limited-time-only, captured-in-war (sometimes with customs for honorable treatment of honorable opponents), purchased servants, etc.
          I suppose an Egyptian might, under some unique circumstances, have discoursed briefly on why WE do it this way, not as the Phoenicians (or Assyrians, or Israelites, or (etc) do it. But as you say, he wouldn’t have questioned that it was right and appropriate to have slaves.

          • Such an Egyptian would be likely to point out that some people are born to be slaves and are incapable of managing their own lives. The question is not whether there will be slaves, it is what form the slavery will take (slaves as transferable property, as attached to the land, as property of the Crown) and how slaves ought best be identified.

            Somewhere in the library I have a book on the laws governing slavery in the antebellum South, addressing such questions as who gets punished (and how) if a slave steals from a freeman. Most people who decry “slavery is bad” tend not to think through the more curious effects incurred by the institution.

            See, for example,the ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus’s play Pseudolus — better known to modern theatre-goers in the form of the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

            • On a mild tangent . . . at the museum at Caernuntum, there’s a replica of a very unusual tomb from Roman times, erected to the donor’s slave, who was also his half-brother. Who committed suicide, but had been a good slave and worthy of being remembered, according to the inscription. There’s a fascinating story in those brief lines.

              • Now I’m wondering: did such a gesture make that citizen unusual? You could tell a more dramatic story if he were (of course that was my first thought – I’m a Hun!), but all the more fascinating to me if he were not.

              • a very unusual tomb

                Reading fail *facepalm*

                • Among other things, instead of the usual rectangular memorial stone and grave-in-ground, this is round and about 2m tall. So yeah, I’d love to know the rest of the story. Or to incorporate it into a different world entirely. *picks up muse whacking bat* But NOT RIGHT NOW!

                  • Like when dad and I were hiking/exploring in an abandoned castle that used to be at the frontier between moor and Christian. We found a small grave (like infant size) with a cross and a crescent scratched on it, obviously amateur. No words.

  8. Maybe it was one of those really progressive medieval dungeons where they actually fed the pris.oners.

    Or maybe it was a really hardcore gaol where ‘club fed’ is a dietary instruction?

    • “Club fed” would refer to those prisoners engaged in hunger strikes in protest of inhumane treatment.

      (I trust it is not necessary to acknowledge the absurdity of prisooners engaged in such protests, and append this comment to ensure that lack of necessity.)

  9. The whole point of HF (HistFic? HistericalFiction?) would seem to be enabling modern readers to get outside our present perspective on reality by experiencing an equally comprehensive prior view (I believe there is an extremely apt Lewis or possibly Chesterton quote on the matter) and thus gain increased perspective on our present conception of the Cosmic All.*

    Simply writing a modern story and employing vintage set dressings is banal. Even when Shakespeare is presented in different settings, such as Branagh staging Love’s Labour’s Lost as a classic 30s musical or Tenant playing Hamlet as a modern psychological thriller or even Patrick Stewart playing Lear as a western cattle baron (King of Texas), the text is adjusted to accommodate the differences in setting and to bring out the universality of themes. What these authors who put modern characters into period pieces are doing is worse than a misservice (or insult) to the reader, it is taking Monty Python’s ploy of mining comedy from the anachronism of such modern intrusions and completely missing the joke.


    Our ancestors did not form anarcho-syndicalist communes. To write, straight-faced, as if they did is to reveal yourself as a shallow ignorant twit. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends on FB are shallow ignorant twits.)

    *Not to be confused with the Cosmic Awl, which is pointless

      • What I had in mind was more Lewis’ advice about, among other things, being cured of multiple ills, such as

        any ‘chronological snobbery’ – the presupposition that previous ages cannot teach us anything, and so any ideas that are not contemporary or ‘progressive’ are therefore instantly to be discounted. The reading of old books provides a corrective against the assumptions of our own age, by showing us that what was once seen as progressive has now fallen by the wayside.

        as well as

        The Doctrine of the Unchanging Human Heart’. This is the idea that:

        ‘…the things which separate one age from another are superficial. Just as, if we stripped the armour off a medieval knight or the lace off a Caroline courtier, we should find beneath them an anatomy identical with our own, so, it is held, if we strip off from Virgil his Roman imperialism, from Sidney his code of honour, from Lucretius his Epicurean philosophy, and from all who have it their religion, we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate…

        …Fortunately there is a better way. Instead of stripping the knight of his armour you can try to put his armour on yourself; instead of seeing how the courtier would look without his lace, you can try to see how you would feel with his lance; that is, with his honour, his wit, his royalism, and his gallantries out of the Grand Cyrus. I had much rather know what I should feel like if I adopted the beliefs of Lucretius than how Lucretius would have felt like if he had never entertained them.’

        But in any debate between Chesterton and Lewis I listen attentively to both sides, searching for the underlying principles on which they agree.

    • I hope that in the distant future when the Python bit is inevitably used as a historical cite supprting some point or another (at worst the eternality of the dialectic, or better the lack of horses in Medieval England – or that the concept of “groudspeed” was of general knowledge in the same period) that it will happen in the equivalent of an undergrad paper and not a peer reviewed journal article.

  10. Research, it’s NOT for everybody… sigh

    • The thing about most of these, though, is that they aren’t even really “critical research failures.” They’re “critical common sense failures.” Anyone who thought about these things for two minutes would realize that no Medieval character would talk about sending a prisoner to “Club Fed” or that women would be far more careful about sex in a world with no birth control; they shouldn’t need a book to tell them that. Blaming it on a failure to do the research is almost too generous.

      • Let’s start with a very basic fact that all modern readers ought be able to feel: until 1846 that William T. G. Morton and John Collins Warren achieved the first successful surgical procedure performed with anesthesia.

        In the Middle Ages there were no epidurals.

        This does not require research, it requires thought. (Admittedly, for many folk research is easier than thought.)

        • Liquor, a rag or bullet to bite, and the very immediate knowledge from much observation that the alternative to pain of surgery was a longer painful death.

          • Notice that distillation was not widely available in the middle ages. though some locations used winter to produce “winter wine” by the reverse of the usual process.

            • When were transfusions first avail;able?

              • Blood groups weren’t discovered until the beginning of the 20th century. The “history” section of this article details early experiments, but apparently it was considered the 19th century equivalent of voodoo medicine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_transfusion

                • It was apparently done often enough that a non-MD like Bram Stoker was aware of it in some detail when writing Dracula in 1897.

                  • IIRC, the Kitty werewolf series mentions that Dracula is a techno-thriller. Typewriter, telegram, blood transfusions…..

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula mentions that the “Good” Doctor never tested for blood groups so the blood transfusions likely did more harm than good. [Smile]

                    • I actually ran across a reference (at Wiki) to a guy who’d done 10 blood transfusions over several years in the 1800s and about half of them helped. I was surprised, and then I paused to consider the interactions among blood types and did a little rummaging around. Based on 2014 numbers from the UK regarding ABO and +/- typing, a random donor-recipient combination would have about a 60% chance of, at least, not being a problem.

                      Which makes that one guy’s 50% success rate look less surprising, probably allows for van Helsing to be lucky with Type O donors or something (especially as IIRC he’s reusing them), might make it worthwhile if you’re in enough trouble to start with, and still leaves plenty of room for enough failures to be regarded with deep suspicion.

                    • You forget blood clots. It’s actually pretty hard to transfer blood without getting clots into the mess, even with the donor right there.

                    • Oh, yes, good point.

                • I’m recalling that the second attempt by one doctor failed because he didn’t know about blood groups.
                  I have also heard that many accounts of patients being given blood were actually of patients being given blood orally. This was considered the inverse of bloodletting, which was perfectly rational under the Four Humors theory.

                  • It’s kinda cool, from reading vampire books I found out that you can use a china plate to do basic blood typing– I think it doesn’t catch negative/positive, but you put drops of each blood on the dish and if they clot, it’s not a match.

                    • Now that you mention it, I recall doing blood typing in my college Anatomy and Physiology class. Put a drop of blood on three different slides. To one, add a drop of “anti-A” antibody solution, to the second, a drop of “anti-B” and to the third, a drop of “anti-RH”. If the first one clots, you know you have the A antigen present. If the second one clots, you have the B antigen present. If the third, you know you have the RH factor present.
                      So if only A clots, blood type is A.
                      If only B clots, blood type is B.
                      If both clot, blood type is AB.
                      If neither clot, blood type is O.
                      If the third clots, it’s RH +, otherwise it’s RH -.

                      The mixing process I believe is called “cross matching”, and I think that’s used to double check, just in case other factors decide to cause trouble. There are a whole bunch of other factors. I once saw a list of the minor factors in my blood, but I don’t remember it. But I may get a phone call some day if someone needs bone marrow.

                • George MacDonald had a novel in which the hero saves the heroine’s life, twice, by blood transfusions. From the handiest source of blood. So — yes, 19th century.

          • I note that pre-anesthesia, all operations were deemed extraordinary; that is, the Church taught they were not necessary even if they were certainly required to live.

      • “that women would be far more careful about sex in a world with no birth control” honestly I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that sort of thing was more about furthering the “sex positive” mind set.

        • In addition, in a world with poor hygiene people might be less willing to engage in certain alternative ways of pleasuring that entail no risk of pregnancy? 😉

          • Depending on the climate and cultural background, hygiene standards may have been better than you think.

            • Good point. I was thinking of Europe 😉

            • Modern, or American?

              The “avoid embarrassing yourself” speeches for a huge list of places include something to the effect that we’re really crazy about this personal hygiene stuff– including the idea of multiple baths a day if you do something like work out at the gym. (That’s coming and going– folks coming here, and our guys visiting there.)

              I think the Japanese are on par with us for sure, but I’m not sure about anyone else.

              • I was wondering when toilet paper became commonplace and whether the world will eventually universally adopt wet wipes (as the makers of Cottonelle have endeavored to encourage.)

                • I asked my grandmother about that once. She was born in 1913, and I lived with her the last eight years or so of her life. Now, I am not sure that TP wasn’t available anywhere when Grandma was young — they lived in the Coast Range of Oregon, an area once known as the Appalachia of the West. They didn’t get electricity into the valley where they lived until WWII, long after it was available in other places. But Grandma grew up using rags in place of TP, and washing them. I got some cheap washcloths (I like to be prepared for emergencies, as Cedar can attest), and tried them. Cloth is actually quite a bit more comfortable than paper, and has the advantage that it can be used wet if necessary. So I don’t think our ancestors were more primitive than we are — they used what they had, and we use what we have, and if we someday don’t have paper TP, rags work just fine.

                  • In Europe newspapers and other paper ephemera were often recycled as TP after use. I remember one older Dutch woman telling me (a grade school boy then) she discovered Esperanto reading some periodical in the language that was lying around as toilet reading and ditto paper.

                • According to the ever reliable Wikipedia,
                  The Chinese started using paper for that purpose in the 6th Century, and mass producing it for that purpose in the 14th. Western society would catch up half a millennium later.
                  I’ve read of people using corn cobs, shells (which are then rinsed off in a bucket of water), and pages out of the Sears catalog.
                  Wikipedia states:

                  In many parts of the world, especially where toilet paper or the necessary plumbing for disposal may be unavailable or unaffordable, toilet paper is not used. Also, in many parts of the world such as India, people consider using water a much cleaner and more sanitary practice than using paper.[4] Cleansing is then performed with other methods or materials, such as water, for example using a bidet, a lota, rags, sand, leaves (including seaweed), corn cobs, animal furs, sticks or hands; afterwards, hands are washed with soap.

                  I’m watching episodes of “Extant” where the main character uses an automated fingernail polishing jig on her bathroom sink, and everyone uses gestures to remotely control appliances. (E.g., wave your hand under the lamp shade to turn the lamp off — and presumably on as well.) Maybe bathroom facilities of the future will incorporate a bidet function combined with something like the Dyson air blade used in hand dryers now.
                  Maybe there’s a market should such a thing be invented now.

                  • I’ve heard of the corncob thing, too, from my grandmother (born in rural Illinois in the 30s, didn’t get indoor plumbing until the 50s or 60s) and it always just made me pucker.

                    I have a bidet in my apartment here in Bahrain. I use it as a bookcase. Keeps the toilet reading up off the floor.

                  • So is that what the three shells are for?

                  • The replica of the cloaca in Caernuntum did not include the sponges on sticks that the Romans used. I can’t imagine why not . . . *thinks of the hordes of school children running around the site*

                • Last time I was in Turkey for any length of time, toilets on the campus I was visiting still had a little water spout to rinse your hiney with. The locals used this in lieu of TP, it seems.

                • I get on the Newspaper Archive quite often to look at old newspapers, and in the papers from the 1910’s and 1920’s there are a lot of toilet paper ads proclaiming they had NO SPLINTERS in their brand of tp.

                  I can only imagine what early toilet paper was like for someone with ‘roids……..

                  • When I was a boy in England, I remember having to use toilet paper that was in the form of individual rectangles of waxed paper. I imagine that would handle most splinters, but it tended to crease sharply.

              • The other international university students in Germany thought I was very odd for taking showers just because I was hot and sweaty, even though I’d had one the day before. This was the early 1990s.

                • Heck, I got crud from an Argentenian and a New Yorker when I was in C-School in Mississippi, because I’d take two showers a day– one in the morning, and one before bed. (I grew up where the measure of the water in the air did not go down because it was raining!)

                • When I came back from the states my parents thought I’d caught a skin disease and got someone to talk to me and ask. I mean, I was showering EVERY DAY, sometimes twice a day.

                  • In the Middle Ages, the Flemish apparently had a reputation for cleanliness because they bathed once a week…

                    • If you had to cart the water, and the firewood to warm it with, to the bath, how often would you bathe?

                    • Precisely. There’s also a big difference between climate zones in what you can get away with, smell-wise 😉

                    • clark e myers

                      Times I had to cart wood to the stove anyway when it was all wood heat – water was stowed handy in milk jugs for when the power quit and the pump stopped working – I mostly had running water from a bladder pressure tank and electric water heater but fireplace and wood stove to heat the house. The power would typically go off for a week or ten days a couple times in deep winter – remote access last lines fixed. I didn’t imagine filling a tub but did stand over a drain and dump water over my head soap and scrub and then dump more water for a rinse at least daily. A little boiling water, even cool boiling water at 9000 feet goes a long way to warm as much as I could comfortably pour. The real issue was a working – that is unfrozen – drain.

                    • Sponge baths were commonplace among people scorned as never bathing. . . .

                      Also, some practiced rubbing their skin all over with linen. A modern researcher reports that she tried it for weeks on end and discovered that actually, you could get clean that way.

                • When I was a kid, during the 60’s, it was still fairly normal to wash fully only once or twice a week – Saturday and maybe on Wednesday – in sauna. Other days you washed your face, hands and underarms, and maybe feet if it was summer and you had walked outside barefoot, or done something like worn rubber boots for outside work on a warm day and as a result your feet stank. People in city buildings had running hot water, but outside them lots of houses had to heat any larger amounts of hot water needed in the sauna, which usually had besides the stove for heating it a large fixed cauldron for that purpose (like this: http://www.finlandphilosophy.com/en/prod-136-1769-cauldron_80_l.aspx).

                  BTW, as far as I know, that – bathing once a week in a sauna or other bathhouse – is one custom that dates well from medieval times or even earlier, and earlier was also practiced in several other European countries. Saunas are not a Finnish invention, they just remained as a local custom here in the periphery after they fell out of use in most countries a bit further south (possibly because after some point in time the custom was deemed indecent, maybe because at least some amount of prostitution seems to have been connected with the public ones, maybe also because families tended to bath together and that meant they saw each other naked, and not just the husband and wife)

  11. Even without having read the rest of the book, that “club fed” line is so bad on so many levels that I almost want to find a copy of this particular novel just so I can hurl it across the room. How can any author have possibly thought it was a good way to express the thoughts of a Medieval character? I’d like to think an editor would have caught that and forced the author to eliminate, but like you, I’ve read too many “professionally published” stories where the characters are completely modern in their attitudes and language to believe it.

    • … an editor would have caught that and forced the author to eliminate,

      Reiterating a point made above, it is not an editor’s role to force an author to eliminate* — the editor’s role is to demand of the author: “Is that what you really want to say?” and “here’s what effect saying that will have on countless readers who will decide to never again buy a book with your name on it.”

      *No one will ever be able to count the crappy puns I have suppressed in favor of this one:
      Yes, the editor’s job properly is to persuade the author to eliminate as much as possible of the crap that fills the ordinary tale.

    • “Sent to the Salt Mines” would at least have been comprehensible to a person of that time period. But perhaps he was trying to avoid the cliche… (Please read with humorous note in the voice.)

      • One has to stretch still more, then.

        I still remember the novel where the writer realized a medieval English lady would not easily think of a desert-stranded traveler’s relief at the sight of water, so she put in her POV a long explanation of how something was like that. . . instead of stretching the imagination and having her say it was like a storm-tossed sailor catching glimpse of land, or a traveler in the night casting sight of fire and so human habitation.

      • Any good thing can be taken too far, and that includes avoiding clichés. Besides, at what point does a cliché, through frequent use, become a standard idiom? 😉

  12. ….”Club Fed” is supposed to be a dig at the level of luxury in them.

    It might be excusable for something like, oh, house arrest with the Vatican when the Pope is your buddy, but for anything else pre modern times? Totally not seeing it.

  13. But, but but… everyone else is “Just Like Us” aren’t they?
    Gads I hate that aspect of dealing with the half-educated savages around me.
    They can’t imagine traveling through other countries where you’re either prey or protected (one place with a bodyguard, another by government laws that made me an military/diplomatic “Official Guest” and anyone messing with me subject to summary justice)
    MY world was a bit shaken when I first met a foreigner who actually believed growing up that ALL US television was propaganda… Once he found out otherwise he became a raging capitalist in his heart and managed to become a US resident.
    I’m once was amazed at the number of otherwise intelligent folks that fall for the “Just Like Us” stuff… until I realized how little exposure to ‘otherness’ you get in a country that takes days to cross…
    A girlfriend visiting from Germany made me realize that in the first eight hours of our Oklahoma to California trip we could have been most anywhere in Central Europe… and she was used to vacationing on the Mediterranean..
    Watching the five families in the bare lot next door… Living in packing material shacks and sharing a common water spigot. While looking down from my 7th floor window in a hotel in Turkey took away any doubt that we don’t even understand poverty here in the United States at all…
    Seeing out of period dialog, or subsistence farmers worrying about social issues past the next harvest, is just jarring.
    As a registered Gun Nut and aficionado of all weapons I’m often disappointing by the lack of effort authors put into getting those things right as well.

    • Most appalling is the way the advocates of “everyone else is ‘Just Like Us’ ” don’t actually even believe that tommyrot, denouncing all who disagree as [whatever]ist. Either everyone is just like us, in which case [whatever]ism is self-hatred or they are not, in which case [whatever]ism is merely an evaluation based on imputed differences.

      • “Everyone is just like us” unless their political binding sites are too close to the most recent tribal enemy, in which case they are anathema, evil, and to be vanquished. [I feel a longer piece coming on!]

        • Everyone is just like us.

          Father and Mother, and Me,
          Sister and Auntie say
          All the people like us are We,
          And every one else is They.
          And They live over the sea,
          While We live over the way,
          But-would you believe it? –They look upon We
          As only a sort of They!
          ********************
          All good people agree,
          And all good people say,
          All nice people, like Us, are We
          And every one else is They:
          But if you cross over the sea,
          Instead of over the way,
          You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
          As only a sort of They!

          • From an old Goon Show episode (Tails of Men’s Shirts – A Story of Down Under), as close to verbatim as I can manage:

            “General, Intelligence have determined that the people attacking us are the enemy.”
            “Good heavens! Does the enemy realize this?”
            “Oh, no sir. We’ve got ’em fooled – they think we’re the enemy!”

      • No, you see, we are [whatever]ist out of malice and greed and spite and all that. We can’t really disagree with them, but we pretend to.

    • Considering almost any gun nut will lecture you until your ears fall off, there’s no excuse for any writer to make the kind of mistakes that I continue to see in print.

      Yes, there have been some revolvers with safeties. All of them are collector’s items. Though I tend to choke a bit, I’ll let those slide.

      However, I’m to the point where if I have a meatspace encounter with any author who has ever used the phrase, “reek of Cordite” I may rip their face off with my fingernails…

      • Free-range Oyster

        The cordite thing seems to have become traditional, since I’ve seen authors that I expect know better use it (e.g. Ringo). Similar to a genericization, I suppose, albeit less accurate.

        • Among the annoyances is that modern smokeless gun powders don’t smell anything like cordite.

          • Most powders don’t smell like anything in particular to me, other than a few pistol powders that smell like burning plastic.

            Thirty-odd years ago I used up a box of Pakistani .303, old surplus even then, and probably some of the last small arms ammunition loaded with Cordite. It was very smoky, but at this date I don’t remember if it had an unusual odor.

        • scott2harrison

          Ringo often fails sanity checks. He still tells a great story.

          • clark e myers

            I never know what Ringo’s name on a book means.

            It is handy that Ringo has gone to great length and depth into the appropriate treatment for the folks who persuaded me to read Tiger by the Tail.

            • I’m pretty sure it means find a review or check the Fifth Imperium website for the first dozen chapters or the Baen ebooks site for same.

            • To be fair, Ringo had very little to do with Tiger. He was recovering from (back surgery?) at the time and couldn’t get the needed edits done before publication.

              • clark e myers

                How much time could it take to pull Ringo’s name off and offer the book to Zebra for sale at truck stops?

        • Reality Observer

          Well, JR admits it was a “generic” use. Which ’tis a weak excuse.

          However – in a “reduced tech” story, I can see a Cordite formulation being easier to mass produce than the modern IMR formulations, if not quite as safe.

          Speaking of historic accuracy, though – if you’re writing anything from the late 19th Century to about the middle of WW2, and you are a Commonwealth country force, you’d darn well better have the smell of Cordite if you mention smells at all.

          IIRC, I believe there are a few Commonwealth light artillery rounds that still use a triple-base variant of Cordite. (Could easily be casual misinformation, though – I can’t figure any good reason for doing so.)

          • The US Navy used Cordite for a long time after WWII. They were using stored WWII production into the 1990s that I know of. The US Army still uses a lot of black powder for specialized applications; there are a number of technical papers about that up at dtic.mil.

            Few old technologies ever completely vanish.

            I make my own black powder, but while the processes for making modern smokeless powder aren’t complex, they’re far more tedious than I want to deal with. The process for Cordite is enough simpler that I’m tempted to give it a try someday…

      • Back in the 70’s someone was offering a hammer-block aftermarket safety for S&W revolvers. You could add one of those and trip EVERYONE up.

        • clark e myers

          All the S&W revolvers have had hammer block safeties lo these many years. In a traditional S&W the hammer with a hammer mounted firing pin rests on the hammer block rather than on the frame and firing pin. The hammer moves back and the block is pulled down. What they don’t have that has become common is a transfer bar safety. The hammer moves back and the transfer bar moves between the hammer and the firing pin to complete the path. Older S&W revolvers had the firing pin on the hammer and no place for a transfer bar safety.

          Mas Ayoob among others once touted a magnetic lockout used with a ring mounted magnet for a smart gun effect on bedside revolvers.

          There have been aftermarket safety designs that required manipulation of the cylinder latch with a failure mode much like the occasional failure of the current key lock system.

          Current production often has a key lock above cylinder latch. Taurus and other brands of revolver very similar to the S&W in design have had Allen wrench style lockouts on the hammer.

          A safety is of course a mechanical device that will fail at the worst moment – Ruger and Bianchi got together for the Ruger practical holster after, in heavy brush, a twig pushed the hammer back, in effect fanning the single action Blackhawk the trigger not being manipulated the transfer bar was out of position and the gun fired because the twig was in position to transfer a hammer blow to the frame mounted firing pin in lieu of the out of place transfer bar.

          • Perhaps I use the wrong term. The device in question was a small button that engaged the action through the hammer slot on the backstrap. Pushed forward, it blocked the hammer from moving back. Thumbed back, it freed the hammer. I imagine the hammer channel was slightly lengthened to accommodate it. Not sure how quickly it could be actuated under stress.

      • Tad Williams’ latest has the protagonist repeatedly pulling the trigger on empty chambers of a Glock.

    • Most people only know their own town. At least if you are from New York City. 15 years ago fiance I had no clue what living in the South was like. Some thin gs were the same and others were quite different. Going from New York City to Montgomery, AL, is a quite a change.
      I mention this to show how different things can be in the same country, at the same time. If you are considering a situation where everything is different, you need to change the way you think and the way you see and interact with the world.

      • We Southerners mostly drop those thin gs as the heat and humidity make them inconvenient to keep ahold of. Leastaways, that’s why I be thinkin’ we do that.

        • And in the midwest it’s due to the overwhelmin’ humidity (76% at the moment…)

          • The Other Sean

            It’s really not that bad here in greater Cincinnati, in contrast to normal summertime weather. We just had 3-4 days in a row with humidity in the 35%-45% range during the day, and after thunderstorms in the morning the humidity is only about 55%. If it never got more humid than this in summer, I’d consider the area a virtual summer paradise.

          • Overwhelming humidity. My son, I invite you to Montgomery AL, where it was common to be unable to see out of the windows of your house if you were running the A/C.

            • “How do you know when you are in Dixie?”

              When insulated mugs sweat puddles where you set them down…

              Visiting a friend in Colorado Springs was always amusing. You could set an ice cube on his kitchen counter and it would just sublime away to nothing. Try that in Little Rock and you’d have more water than you started with…

              • Well, of course. You would in New England, plenty of times.

                • Humidity low enough for ice cubes to sublimate indoors is one of those things that would not have occurred to me. Neat.

                  • No, I mean you would get more water. LIke, now.

                    In the dead of winter, it can get pretty dry indoors (even if it’s 100% outside, it dries out as it warms up) but I think we would always get a puddle. Dries quickly though.

                    • I didn’t think you meant it would sublimate where you are. *grin* I have spent a few summers in New England, though not as many as in the South. It’s desert humidity levels that are alien to me.

                    • Wait, PK, you mean it’s not universal that by the time you’ve hung the last item from a load of laundry the first item is dry? (Even in sub-zero temperatures, on dry days, but if it’s snowing it’ll freeze first.) Next you’ll say that people don’t hang clothes out if it’s raining!

                  • It was a good thing I brought my glasses along as a backup. I was wearing soft contacts at the time, and in low-humidity environments like that they get sticky. Or at least they did back then. They sold different lenses for high altitude/dry environments.

                    The last pair (before disposables…) were three days old when I watched the alcohol Modifieds at the local speedway. The alcohol fumes got into the lenses and I eventually tore one lens trying to scrub the irritant out. That was back when the lenses cost about a week’s pay. I went back to the glasses.

                  • As in – In my freezer, ice cubes that don’t get used quickly often show this sublimation effect.

                    • Oh, I’ve seen that. I had ice in the freezer to use, basically, as ballast in case of power outages, and it turned to dust (not being made of distilled water).

                    • And if they don’t, your freezer may have too much humidity — check the seals.

            • St, Louie, too, where you got your Mississippi River, your Missouri River, and your Meramec River which add up to 90+ humidity.

              I recall going out in the morning, and the scum forming on my skin in 5 minutes.

      • We are dealing with a country the size of a minor continent, after all. It’s a bit like expecting all of India to resemble Bombay/Mumbai. Sure, there are going to be some familiar reference points (in the USA, in no small part due to national retail chains), but regional variation is inevitable…

    • One of the nice things about living in Utah, surrounded by Mormons – a strange experience in general – is that so many have spent time in different places, and seen the reality of life outside the US. Not all of them have, of course, and those that have don’t all retain it, but it’s a valuable leavening in the group consciousness. Even the messed up places I lived in California looked nice compared to the favelas back in Sao Paulo – the buildings had running water, and the police didn’t have to pull out at sundown to survive. It’s nice to have people around who understand that.

      • But among SJWs, the appropriate response to comparing poverty in America to that of two centuries ago (you can’t run a homeless shelter without providing amenities to make it “fit for human habitation” that would make a king or queen or emperor of two centuries gape in envy) or of the rest of the world (where a billion people live on less than a dollar a day and two or three on less than three) is to go into a snit and declare that doesn’t matter because that’s not what they compare themselves to.

      • It’s the missions they go on.

      • clark e myers

        I think there can be a divide between knowing the reality of life outside the United States and expectations of life inside Utah.

        Folks in Cedar City may find an Episcopalian 4th grader in their midst exotic to the point of asking him to stand up and tell folks all about his exotic heritage and weird beliefs.

  14. I think any fiction (And why is the other writing non-fiction? Is there no other word?) requires the ‘suspension of dis-belief’ on the part of the reader. With that comes the responsibility of the writer not to jar or abuse that suspension.
    If I’m reading a historical fiction, I really know that Sarah wasn’t present to observe the three musketeers in action, but I want to ‘believe’ that what she is telling me is a reasonable facsimile and a good story. The sudden occurrence of ‘ponytail’ would not jar me out of this disbelief. The reference of a medieval prison as ‘Club Fed’ most certainly would.
    Short of the thinking of philosophers, people of the time would not think of ‘slavery’ as anything but the way things always have been, just as they would not consider commenting on the fact that early morning city traffic would be subject to random chamber pot offerings.
    Now, in the narration aspect, you are allowed a little more slack. How the disinterested narrator sees their reality can be colored with some modern concepts. For instance calling a tavern ‘roach-infested’ would probably be out of period. When everything is roach-infested, commenting on it is not required, it is assumed. But, when describing the scene to the reader, a certain flexibility is allowed.

    • You do as George MacDonald Fraser did in his screenplay for 3 (and 4) Musketeers — you show, not tell:

      [D’artagnan has relieved Rochefort of his pass to England]
      Sea Captain: But this pass is only for one person.
      D’artagnan: I am only one person. [Indicating Planchet] This is a servant!
      Sea Captain: I see. All right.

      Similarly, you don’t tell the reader a place is roach infested, you either show the character observing without reaction a passing roach or you make note of the surprising fact there appear to be no roaches. You show what is customary and ordinary by noticing the uncustomary and out of the ordinary.

      Not “Gruel again!” but “No gruel! What’s the special occasion?”

      • From one of my old gaming scenarios:

        “Innkeeper, what will three coppers buy me this eve?”
        “Ya gets stew.”
        (Players are advised to look at the pot on the hearth but not too closely.”
        “All right, what will ten coppers get me?’
        “More stew.”

    • One thing that’s lacking among our progressive brethren is *humility*, a sense of what they don’t know and should not try to fake knowing. They are ahistorical and programmed by a faith-based belief system (for example, the faith that “all gender roles are social constructs with no biological basis.”)

      So you suggest gently to a young writer that they should not try to write science fiction without understanding the science well enough to project it plausibly. Especially if the writer is a young woman, she will protest and say something implying science is also just a social construct, meaning “whatever I feel it should be, it is.” Or ask that historical novels be reasonably well researched and plausible — asking too much for some. It is *unfair* to criticize some people for writing implausible or inconsistent stories, because by doing so you are *discriminating* against their right to write anything they want. Ultimately, of course, *readers* determine what is read, but by influencing what is promoted and made available at retail, readers get less of what they want and more of what the nomenklatura think is good for them. And these writers are encouraged by academia and grants to think their status entitles them to be writers — and the very best of them will be good writers, but the majority will not be read by anyone outside their mutual support group.

      Initially science fiction was about future science and the reactions to it from individuals and societies like those of the day. Then the New Wave introduced a greater emphasis on imagined future or alien societies with quite different motivations and systems — when well-done, the rules of the imagined societies were plausibly projected from the biological, social, and economic motivations of the members of the society. In fantasy, you again had plausible workings out of magic systems, fantasy entities, and societies of elves and the like. It’s the working out and understanding of the story problems presented by an imagined plausible world that expands the mind and increases understanding of very different Others.

      If stories include mostly characters who behave as modern progressives think they should, any broadening effect is lost. Progressives accept an alien biological imperative and will sit still for stories where, say, the male sex of the G’Tharr are confined to their homes but no one in their society is especially interested in equality. But when the society is recognizably human, then suddenly the correctness goggles appear, and characters who behave like the perceived recent enemies of their tribe are not tolerated.

      • “Ultimately, of course, *readers* determine what is read, ”

        Only as a subset of what is available, except for the handful who decide to write what they want to read.

    • I actually ran into the word “queue” when I was quite young. I knew what a queue was; it was a line with people standing in it. Through context I gathered the idea the author was referring to hair, but it was some years later before I encountered the word again, that time with more context than the first time.

  15. My pet peeve is having a 1940’s person like a 21st century LIRP. In the beginning of the first Avengers movie, when they are gathering the characters, they have Captain America wondering if nationalism was old hat.

  16. ticky

  17. sabrinachase

    Part of the problem with deep historicals is precisely the difficulty in telling the modern reader, using a contemporary POV character, what all that different stuff *is* in the historical context. The POV character doesn’t notice things because they *swim* in it, it is their natural habitat. Which is where I fall back on a) the Outsider, a foreigner or other ignorant person who needs things explained to them, or b) complaining about how the thingamy isn’t working correctly and this is how I know, go get the [fixit tool/person] because we have to get these [grommets] polished for the Compline service!

    You can also weasel in social commentary, if you do it in a comparative manner. For example, a Romanized Gaul visiting Rome and not approving of the way they run their slave market (“Back home, we have a drive-through slave-wash! Dirty slaves get sick faster and don’t work as hard!”) or something.

    • The radical [cause] cousin/ in-law/ other-perrson-you-can’t-lock-out is useful as well, in some times or places. “Oh d-mn, here comes Cousin Imre. Is he nationalist or socialist this week?” or “Well, no, I’m sorry to state that Aunt Milda will not be attending. Her . . . ah . . . unfortunate enthusiasm for abolition so upset Grandmother Girardeaux that Grandfather ordered her to depart. If only Milda had not taken up with that Yankee revival preacher,” and so on, gentle flutter of fan, shift of topic.

  18. c4c

  19. A quandary, I have read some historical fiction where modern concepts or words have slipped in (I can’t remember an example) but it was jarring. The movies are particularly bad in this regard, the most egregious example was Titanic (1997) that romance would have never happened, the woman Kate Winslet, was playing would have been horrified by the thought of dating below her station.

  20. A minor point: even had Heinlein wanted “gay characters in his juveniles“, no editor or publisher would have allowed it and outraged Guardians of Public Morals (the SJWs of that era) would have obstructed sales of such books, demanding their removal from public libraries and allowing their sale, if at all, only from sections “reserved for adults.”

    Look at what his editors did fight him over and you have to be willfully blind to not grasp that.

  21. Damn. Now that’s just brilliant. I may use this in my history class.

  22. C.S. Forester handles this problem with Horatio Hornblower in an interesting fashion. The main character (only 150 years removed from Forester’s day) has several modern attitudes like daily bathing, and an aversion to giving and witnessing whippings and hangings. Hornblower’s interior monologue acknowledges how out of touch his odd sensibilities are however. I’ve heard devotees of Patrick O’Brian rate his characters higher for their lack of such “modern” sensibilities.

    • And O’Brian was wonderful at evoking the tone and flavor of period speech without burying the reader in period cant. The thing I hated most about the movie was the way the dreadfully miscast Stephen Maturin spoke like a contemporary prog instead of a learned and worldly man of his time.

  23. To use the Marxists’ own terms, let’s call this tendency Historical Imperialism. The have invaded and colonized the Middle Ages to give them the enlightenment of the White Man’s Burden–quelle horreur!

  24. clark e myers

    Mostly C4C

    – to justify interrupting the stream let me say I like Jacques Barzun on dealing with copy editors. He wanted a copy editor who knew as much as he did – not likely – and considered a good copy editor as immensely valuable.

    On the other hand he wrote in The American Scholar of the pleasure of saying stet to a copy editor who insisted the house used the American Heritage Dictionary as their ultimate authority. Barzun said that as he himself was the ultimate authority for American Heritage Dictionary he would ensure the next edition matched his usage.

    Long ago Dr. Pournelle wrote very favorably of running one’s own prose through then existing software such as Grammatik. At the time there was a lighter touch. Useful to reconsider anything pointed out. Given that today there is a much heavier touch I suspect such analysis would be more of a time sink than a help.

    • Can be useful as long as you remember the grammar checker hates you and wants to make you look like an idiot. Then you can use the good advice it gives you to lure you down the path while avoiding the trap at the end.

    • I am a firm proponent of using available grammar review software, even MS Word’s execrable utility. It never hurts to check for those sentences you rewrote on the fly and failed to conform subject and verb (or left out entirely one or both) and to contemplate whether a complexx sentence can be better broken in twain (thrain, quatrain, quintrain, deleted entirely.)

      I am even more adamant in having final say over the decision.

  25. I think Dave Freer should write a historical fiction book where some of the characters are creatures of their times, and others are “enlightened” SJWs. I can see all kinds of comic possibilities, especially when the SJW is a slave owner or a promiscuous woman.

  26. Rockport Conservative

    To use a modern, or almost modern term, I feel your pain. I read a lot of the freebies from Kindle and I know many are first published and first books. Some are very, very good, but some of them just drive me crazy. I am the grammar police of your nightmares. I am the one who spots the wrong use of a word, misspelling, etc. I do believe some of these authors have no understanding of idioms; Aesop’s fables and other indicators of a well rounded education. I have seen so many uses of a word, or a similar word, used in ways that make you think the author has heard an idiom and has absolutely no understanding of its origins or actual meaning. I fault the education system, but somewhere along the way these incipient authors should have run into someone, somewhere who would not let them make such obvious errors. I cringe for them. If they ever learn what they have done they will be so embarrassed.

    • Good books I enjoy. Bad books I quit and ignore. The worst case is a book that is good enough to keep me interested, without ever paying off.

  27. This reminds me about a blog post by a friend where she lamented the opposite, having to remove period-accurate descriptions because they weren’t in common usage today. She had a writing group complain about the phrase “sleeping on a rope.”

    http://melissamcshanewrites.com/2015/03/forget-about-the-rope/

  28. This is why I tend to dislike anything-“punk” genre fiction. Most of it seems to be drivel that takes 21st century, postmodern hipsters and inserts them into one historical setting or another. Sure, it gives the cosplayers plenty of ideas for needlessly elaborate garb to wear, but it rarely explores the cultures of the eras it’s set in.

    It annoyed me to no end when they labeled Larry Correia’s Grimnoire series “diesel punk”. I saw the mountain of books he read researching the era, making sure his characters acted like people from the 1930s actually would have. “Diesel punk” brings to mind an image of a bunch of college students dressed in old-timey 40s clothing because they’re pretending to be into big band music (because it’s, like, so retro. Instagtam it!).

    • By now, I’m beginning to regard most historical and alt-historical fiction that way–Eric Flint being one of the rare exceptions.
      As to Grimnoire, it’s definitely not dieselpunk. If it’s anything-punk, it’s superpunk.

  29. MadRocketSci

    I occasionally try to read historical things for fun, and to help knock some of it into my head.

    Thomas Paines’ writings from revolutionary France are very interesting. (I have a great deal of sympathy for the way he thinks, even if he turned out to be naive about the end result of the French revolution, he had no way of knowing at the time,)

    On the other hand, dial back 2200 years to Herodotus’s histories, and I find myself trying to wrap my head around a truly alien world. Some of the early chapters describe noblemen who follow “the laws” (and use them against each other in juvenile social traps), and imposing cruel death on each other for the slightest transgressions. Why are these the laws? I doubt they would even understand the question. The laws simply are – inherited, unquestioned, binding someone simply because they lived in city X, completely loony. Somehow more immutable to their mindset than the actual laws of nature.
    Another interesting thing: From our modern perspective, we would regard things like the Oracle of Delphi and her meandering prophecies with a bit of cynical skepticism. Nope, not the ancient Greeks of the era: There is no hint of disbelief, no authorial 3rd person perspective about what is “really going on”. If she says something to you, no matter how stoned or crazy, you do it or bad things happen.

    (PS – very glad I didn’t live in ancient anywhere. I wouldn’t have survived, many times over, for many different reasons.)

    • Those serving at the Oracle of Delphi would snootily inform you that “the science is settled.”

      Oracles who commune with the spirits of the deceased would insist that “the seance is settled.”

      Oracles in Rosewood CA would insist “Integrated Cloud Applications and Platform Services” is the only correct path.

      • MadRocketSci

        😛

      • While Oracle probably has an office in a Rosewood somewhere, the Oracle HQ is in Redwood Shores, CA.

        In neither wood nor wine nor Cloud is rose the same as red. 😎

        • Ah, yeah — my bad. Got distracted working out how best to drop the pun hammer on them and mis-typed the home town.

          Likely expresses my opinion of them & their products, eh?

  30. ” BUT the enlightened opinion in the early twentieth century was to improve humanity and save human suffering by culling out the sick and the lame and the “inferior races.” (No, Hitler didn’t invent that.)” Margaret Sanger was big on eugenics.

  31. ” it was for women eventually a number game: have children often enough and you will die of something going wrong with the pregnancy and the birth.”
    – it was a numbers game with two sides to it: Have children often enough and your chances – of having a child live long enough, be successful enough, set up a stable household – got high enough for there to be a place for you in your old age.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      IIRC that’s why having a Son was important for a woman.

      Having only daughters meant that you’d have to share a household with the mother of the man your daughter married.

      • and … that if your daughter died in childbirth, and her husband remarried, you’d likely have no place at all. Much riskier. Hard for us to empathize closely enough, but it seems women had a bigger personal reason than men to prefer boy children.
        Conjecture: The “Patriarchy” as a social meme, was of women born!

      • Plus, the aristocratic ideal was to continue the Family Name.
        Once she had a few sons, a Lady was pretty much free to do whatever she please, as long as she was discreet.

        • ^^^oops, that should be “whoever”, not “whatever”

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Well, the “having a Son” was important for a woman at all levels of society not just for the aristocrats.

        • Depends on when. In Victorian times, the rule was an heir and a spare. But in medieval times, her youngest son could easily end up being the heir — Alfred the Great was the youngest of his father’s four sons — so it really matter to the end there.

  32. “your superimposing your beliefs on them is the act of a mental midget standing on the shoulders of giants and peeing down.”

    If I pee farther it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants…..

    What Ward Churchill would say, if he had any honesty and self-awareness…..

  33. Visiting lower class/poor people in just the United States can be jarring. I grew up middle class, lower middle by income, in NJ, graduating HS in 1973. Late 1980’s, for the first time, I had to visit some junior enlisted at their apartments, 19 year old E2’s with multiple kids, in a bad area of Norfolk. No interior doors. Tension rods with blankets over them for privacy, for the “master” bedroom. The first time I ran into that, it was jarring. Since then, have had occasion to see several low income apartments in other areas, and no interior doors is the norm. Landlords renting to lower class don’t bother with them because code doesn’t require them, and they’d just have to replace them every time they changed tenants. Why bother with the expense? I’ve never lived in an apartment or house without interior doors. I describe this to some of my upper middle class friends, and they think I’m imagining things. Every TV drama I’ve seen shows low class apartments with doors.

    Originally, my wife and I thought it odd when we visited friends, and there were no book shelves or books visible anywhere. Turns out we were the odd ones. Lots of people don’t own small libraries.

    • Privacy. Very modern and class specific. The character of Rudolph von Habsburg in my WIP would be/is considered quite odd for wanting to be alone, in fact for preferring to be alone. Servants just are, why should anyone notice them? It would be like noticing air, or the legs on a table. Of course there are servants in the room.

      Then, going back two centuries, you have people granting audiences while they are on their close-stool, which I suspect might be a little too historically correct for a lot of readers. Or perhaps not.

      • MadRocketSci

        I dunno. I *need* privacy. It is more or less a requirement for sanity, as far as I’m concerned. Are you sure this isn’t a fundamental temperament thing? I can imagine poorer people in the past having less of an opportunity for privacy, but no less of a need for it! (They needed vitamins and calories that they couldn’t obtain either: See the dramatic increase in height and development wherever they are introduced.)

        • MadRocketSci

          PS: Any idea why people have such a bad reaction to other people who need time alone and space to themselves? They seem to think it’s prideful or selfish.

          An Aristotle quote comes to mind that always seemed aimed squarely at people like me: “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ”

          Aristotle: And you ain’t a god, dude!

          • PS: Any idea why people have such a bad reaction to other people who need time alone and space to themselves? They seem to think it’s prideful or selfish.

            As I touched on in the other response– we have acknowledgement as signifying respect. Someone is here, so you must respond to them.

            It’s kinda like the law of hospitality…. and gets abused, too!

          • From which I deduce that Aristotle was an extrovert – and not good at empathy with folks who think & feel differently from himself.

          • Maybe because space costs, so someone demanding their own private space is demanding resources from the group all for their own use.

        • I think they could get it, it just wouldn’t be framed like that– religious “meditation on the mysteries” is a really good match-up for Alone Time.

          A large chunk of us not being able to do that is that our culture views someone being there as something which must be responded to; there are very few places where we have the “so and so is doing ___, they will not respond to my being here and I should not expect it.”

          I think that’s probably because we CAN get to somewhere that we’re genuinely alone.

        • In Rudolph’s case it suggests he is not acknowledging his proper place (nephew of the Emperor, cousin of next Emperor, in some ways closer than a brother) in court, perhaps even rejecting that place. An archduke must have a minimum of X servants and staff with him. To do otherwise suggests serious disrespect for his position and rank, and thus the emperor and imperial institutions. (This is one of the places where Empress Elizabeth ‘Sisi’ had great difficulty with the imperial court and society. She also had a boat load of other problems as well, but this was one of the early ones.)

        • In crowded areas, people learned to ignore the existence of those about them and stick to their thoughts. I’ve heard of an exchange student who didn’t realize until they delivered him back to the airport that his host family were angry at him because in his culture, you’re allowed to just be silent in the middle of a crowd.

      • When you consider that in many(pre-Modern) Northern areas the cows and pigs shared the house interior and the prosperous households enjoyed a loft, the concept of privacy takes a different turn.

        • Someone once asked my Polish grandmother why the Poles have so many dishes that use pork or poultry. Her response: “Because it’s easier to hide a chicken or a pig than a cow.”

      • Not that unusual if the stories of Romans conducting business in the public latrines are true…

        • My mom envied her friend who had a bathroom with two toilets…

          • I’ve seen several of those in architectural magazines; two toilets side by side, a few feet apart. I’m still not sure why; the homes the bathrooms were in probably had half a dozen bathrooms, so there would be little incentive to share. And at that level of architecture even the most expensive fixture is too minor to signify conspicuous consumption.

            A heavy-drinking friend always wanted a bathroom equipped in with two toilets, one directly across from the other. My wife has also mentioned the idea when suffering an aggravated stomach ailment.

            • All of this discussion of toilets, combined with the title of this post, reminds me of one of the mercifully forgotten disadvantages of privies I have met.

      • One is reminded of the tale of Ehud and Eglon from the book of Judges, wherein Eglon recieves the “secret message” while on the toilet.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        I wonder why that’s why some older beds had curtains. So the servants couldn’t see their master & mistress having sex.

        On the other hand, a recent 163X novel had an up-timer examining the French Queen who was about to give birth and when the male witnesses came in she (the up-timer) covered the Queen’s private area.

        The Queen uncovered her self as the witnesses had to see her child come out of her.

        • Methinks they had curtains for winter, to keep the heat in. Speculatio9n either way.

          • So I’ve always understood. Keeps heat in, drafts out. Also the motivation for the niche-in-the-wall style bed, which requires only a single curtain. If there’s a fireplace in the BR, the fire is damped overnight to make it easier to light in the morning, rather than letting it burn out to cold ashes.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          Well, they would certainly still be able to *hear* them . . . 😀

        • Half of the family probably slept in the same bed anyway. Just move the kids to one side if you wanted to have some fun with spouse. Maybe wait until they were asleep. Or maybe not. And during the night it would have too dark to see anything anyway (unless you lived in Finland or somewhere else far north), who’d waste candles or anything else during the time when people slept?

          • You’d think that would act as a method of birth control after a while. Or not. Considering how much people today whine about being scarred for life for even *thinking* about their parents having sex, it’s rather amusing, really.

            • Yep… and in some forms it’s also something that didn’t disappear until recently. I lived for years in an apartment which dated from the 30’s, sort of studio one. One room that was also the kitchen. When I moved there the landlord told me a bit about some older tenants, he had inherited the building from his father and was about 30 – 35 years older than me. The tenants who had lived there longest had been a family with two children, they had moved out only after the children had already reached adulthood.

              One room. And not that big a room. Even if the kids had their own beds… (presumably did, whole family sharing a bed had dropped out of style by the late 19th even in poorer families) I doubt the parents always waited until moments when both of the children were out before they had sex. Especially during the local winter that would have meant they mostly stayed celibate for weeks at a time. Most likely just wait until they presumed the kids were asleep, and try to do it quietly… And that wasn’t rare here during the first half of 20th century. My three cousins come from a family who also lived in a teeny tiny house which started out having only one room, although a small bedroom was later added (and one half of the building was for the animals, although at least by that time in time you went there by first going out, no inside door between the two parts. Was a big deal for that family when the parents finally got themselves a modern house in the early 70’s, years after their three sons had already all moved out and had all families of their own).

              • And yes, according to my landlord, the kids had graduated from the local version of high school (both, good accomplishment for a poorer family here still at that time) during the late 60’s and early 70’s. So you would have had a couple living with their two young adult children in that small room… well, by that time the children probably would have been accommodating enough to spend as much time out as needed. 😀

                • And in non-Western countries, still a thing.
                  My husband and his brother rented a room in an apartment building of single room apartments to go to high school–no running water, pit toilet and showers out back. Their next door neighbors had five kids. Well, three when the guys started high school, five when they graduated. Husband used to babysit so the mom could sell fried plantains at the market.

          • Unless the moon was up; it’s one reason moonlight is/was considered romantic.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Didn’t one of the Presidents ‘grant audiences’ while he was on the toilet?

        • LBJ was known to have done that and a great deal of other coarse behaviour. In his case it was a display of power; I expect many another president would have done as much if only because simpler times, simpler ways. I can’t recall ever reading anything about Jackson that indicated he would have been shy about such behaviour.

          • I have seen a number of LBJ anecdotes over the years. He apparently had no fans among his staff or security people; the aggregate of commentary was… not favorable.

            • clark e myers

              Landslide Lyndon Johnson is a complex character study.

              I blame my lack of cultural literacy about the TV programs of my youth on living in Austin in the 50’s when the FCC determined that it served the public interest for Lady Bird to enjoy a monopoly on TV service.

              Jack Valenti was a family friend and I first met him when he was freshly returned from service years before he ever met LBJ. I’d say there was enough real affection and admiration there, and sense of shared goals when SJW was still respectable, that Valenti humored LBJ in Lyndon’s persistent need to boost his own ego.

              There must be something good to say about a man who was so disliked by the Kennedy family and the Camelot group. Might just maybe be connected to the LBJ’s public image.

      • Audiences on the Porcelain Throne? 😉

      • Wasn’t there a scene in Catch-22 where Orson Welles’ character held such a meeting?

  34. I suppose Club Fed could be where the Ancient Romans sent Christians. *burp*

  35. Outstanding article Sarah

  36. Reality Observer

    What I find disturbing is that the majority of these people are graduates of liberal arts “colleges.” Not a few are professors at same. Some in the the English Departments.

    They had a truly terrible college – or had truly bad hangovers – otherwise, the first two weeks of English Lit 101 would have told them that things back then were not as they are now.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      “the first two weeks of English Lit 101 would have told them that things back then were not as they are now”. Change the “would” to “should”. [Wink]

      Of course, the colleges might not taught “English Lit 101” in a sane (realistic) manner. [Frown]

  37. I stopped reading Regencies because I wanted to throw the books across the room. There was even one author who should know better, this being the 25th book in the series, and it just went very obviously off the rails. I’m guessing new editor with instructions to sex it up a bit that finally drove her around the bend.

    I’ve read some very wonderful Medieval Romances that got enough right they could be forgiven for some modern attitudes in service of the story.

    Now, if you want to sit in on a really fun discussion, get a bunch of erotica authors to talk about where the hymen is.

    • “Now, if you want to sit in on a really fun discussion, get a bunch of erotica authors to talk about where the hymen is.”

      Well what do you expect from a bunch of people who seem constitutionally incapable of figuring out which parts go where?
      /ducks/

      • No, see, they KNOW where it is! But when you place it right and it’s important to be there, it doesn’t sell and you get reviews saying it was in the wrong place. They post pictures. It gets weird.

    • My “favorite” regency went from zero to anal penetration in 4 pages. With a Regency virgin. yeah….

  38. See, this is why you should read paranormal regencies. If you are a middle ages werewolf you are immune to little things like diseases (who decided that shapeshifters were immune to everything but cancer and the common cold, anyways? It seems to have become an industry standard in the UF and PR genres) and can only get pregnant twice a year, when you are in heat. Besides, as an unwed werewolf momma you can bite someone’s head off for being a bigot.

    • I don’t know that they would be immune to cancer, but it wouldn’t matter: unless you’re doctor / vet is using silver scalpels or something, radical surgery to make sure they got it all isn’t that much of an issue because they’ll regenerate the damage.

      OTOH, they’ll be immune to diseases until one or more evolve to take advantage of the ecological niche, or you have a disease, such as rabies (or Ringo’s “zombie virus” from his Black Tide series) that can jump species already.

    • blinks

      In Three Hearts and Three Lions, Holger deduces who’s the werewolf by eliminating one woman as she has a cold, which dogs and wolves don’t get, so it would go away on shape-shifting.

    • Nobody wants to read about a mangy werewolf, or a vampire who has bat diseases.

  39. Just FYI, Peter Grant’s having a medical procedure today. He says (at his blog) that kind thoughts for him, and [especially?] for Dorothy are much appreciated.

  40. starfleet dude

    test test

  41. One of the extremely minor things that Harry Turtledove did in the Worldwar series that jarred me out of the story, was an easily avoidable timeline divergence that, in a world that was supposed to be the same as ours until the aliens arrive. Despite his care to try to not use the modern names/acronyms for the alien tech, it was a one of the little throw-away scenes that got me. He had some of the human troops be fed fried chicken by a man named Sanders, which IIRC correctly was a Negro (to use the correct term for the time period), in the upper midwest. Of course, why it was jarring was that I was from the town Harland Sanders had his original restaurant set up in, and knew the real timeline too well. (the old stereotype about blacks and fried chicken didn’t help either)

    At the time the books were set, Harland Sander’s restaurant at the junction of US 25/25E/25W (the main highway from the Midwest to the south at the time, that split to go to the Carolinas & Georgia/Florida IN FRONT of Sanders restaurant, hotel and 2 gas stations, that occupied both sides of the road) had already been in many travel guides because of his fried chicken, and likely would have even been heard of by some of the troops recruited/drafted from the area between the Great Lakes & the MississIppi & Ohio rivers. When the US came into the war, and the travel business (such as it was) dried up (in fact, it had already slowed enough by 1940 that he had to sell off some of his property), he pretty much shut down and relocated to where the business was (near the war effort), IIRC going to Washington state and opening up a restaurant near the port and ship building facilities. (and, I won’t even go into what the town he left was like back then, other than its non-diversity sorta proved the falsehood of the fried chicken stereotype).

    One minute of research, even in the 1990s, would have told him the concept he was going for (an alternate origin for a famous fried chicken), wasn’t viable because the original source already was in existence and somewhat known for it, and that perhaps the throw-away scene might actually need tossed (it wasn’t needed by the story in the slightest). Most people wouldn’t necessarily catch it, but because of my location at the time of reading the book, it was jarringly obvious, as much so as the clock reference in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”. The least little things can sometimes jump out at you.

  42. In his novel Timeline, the late Michael Crichton labeled such people “Temporal Provincials”, people smugly ignorant of the past, believing that only the present matters. They feel that the past has nothing to offer, that all previous ages are benighted, pointless, and irredeemable (I’m paraphrasing.) Every “Year-zero” ideology takes this even further. They demonize the past, in my opinion, precisely BECAUSE it warns US about THEM.

    • I like that phrase, in particular because one of the most salient components of the modern SJW perspective is its parochialism in all venues.

      These are people who rarely exit of their ideological bubble and have little more than contempt for those outside of it, be they in Flyover Country, in the Working Class or in the Past. They imagine their “safe spaces” can remain so without any infringement on the rights of others any one who counts and their only defenses against the cold hard realities of this world are those most commonly employed by small children: tantruming, screaming for a powerful protector, and denying what is plainly happening.

      So it makes sense that they would also engage the past with parochialism rather than an effort at understanding.

    • I pretty much agree with Crichton’s assessment. Sadly, these individuals will always be with us. Just look at the recent push to have manifestations of the Confederate legacy erased from contemporary U.S. life. It doesn’t matter that understanding our present condition depends entirely on understanding the run-up to the Civil War, the war itself, and the Reconstruction period afterward. Nope. Ban those flags, ban Dukes of Hazzard,, blame “The South” and all Caucasians in it — as if everyone alive today were somehow still culpable for what transpired 150, 250, or more years ago. Yup. Brilliant. America’s 21st century progressives have got to be some of the most ignorant, most self-righteous and conceited dolts this country has ever generated.

      • America’s 21st century progressives have got to be some of the most ignorant, most self-righteous and conceited dolts this country has ever generated.

        But they have very high self-esteem.

  43. Having grown up in poverty, it also throws me out of a story to have poor people having options that don’t exist–like extra pairs of shoes or the ability to mingle amongst the upper class and pass as one of them without an extensive makeover.

    • Or, alternatively, obsessing about not being able to afford something, that we considered a useless frivolity (if we thought of it, at all) growing up.

    • I was thrown out of a story once because one character was caring for another, injured one in a wintry scene, and was always careful with the blankets ON TOP OF the character. (It’s the ground that’s the real danger for cold.)

      But, by the same token, I was once rebuked by a critiquer because you can’t send a letter unless both the person sending and the person receiving can read. . . .

      In 19th century France your fairs would have, among other booths, ones that would hang out quill pen signs, to indicate that it was the booth of a professional letter writer — who would read the letter to you, too.

      • On that last, letter writing, point — Louis L’Amour employed such a character, in the person of a professional scribe, in one of his novels set in (among other places) the London of Elizabeth, Marlowe, Bacon and Shakespeare. I believe it was Sackett’s Land, telling of how Barnabas Sackett emigrated and he may have been a recurring character (at least by reference) for the first few novels about the family in Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains.

        I believe the character’s first name was Peter …

        • There was a famous mountain man who bought a book of Shakespeare and then hired a boy to read it to him.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Mary Stewart had Merlin thinking about what education the young Arthur would need. He decided to not worry about teaching Arthur to read (or write) because Arthur would be able to get people to do that for him. [Very Big Grin]

        • It might depend on how well Arthur trusts his readers.

          And while he may not need to learn to read, “A mentat Duke would be formidable indeed.”

      • That profession was started about 30 minutes after someone figured out making cuneiform marks on clay tablets — for contracts if nothing else. Illiteracy has been gotten around for millennia.

      • I understand some letters would open with the statement, “This is secret. Do not read it where anyone can overhear you.” It’s been taken to mean that a king who could read might not be able to read silently, but it could also mean “shut your scribe up right now if there are untrustworthy ears nearby.”

        • How true.

          But do note that reading silently has not historically been the usual way. St. Augustine wrote in surprise that no matter how closely you stood to St. Ambrose, you could not hear the words.

        • Thomas Aquinas was (also) thought to be very, very odd because he read without saying the words.

  44. Holy crud. There’s an 1814 Encyclopedie methodique, ou par ordre de matières: Arts et métiers mécaniques on Google Books. Volume 16 includes a huge amount of information on “parfumier” and “perruquier,” including all kinds of hairstyle names. Granted, they are wig hairstyles, but still!

    So if you read French, there are even plates with illustrations of exactly what they mean. It isn’t exactly the right date, and we all know how fashions change… but it’s a good start.

    • The section on products of “Chymie” includes powdered lemonade. No lie.

    • The section on the art of the “Perruquier- Barbier- Baigneur- Etuviste” starts with a long discussion about the inherent dignity of long hair for men, although the author allows as how short hair also has its historical place in France. Since it’s 1814, I feel for the author. (He was an ex-policeman.)

      • Well, I figured that you (Sarah) read French, but I meant the generic you (you reader out there).

        The only use of “queue” I’m seeing is as a big tied-up tail of hair used as a component for making wigs. But my French reading skills are basically one step above “I can figure out where to click on a webpage,” and I only took about five lessons on the free language software app.

  45. Oooh, and some of Blackwood’s Lady’s Magazine is online now! Got some great colored illos of stupid Regency hairstyles. In a section called “Le Bon Ton” which is written in French. (There’s an explanation of the plates, but it’s several pages ahead.)

    • Actually it’s 1836, so it’s stupid early Victorian hairstyles. I should have known from those round faces and the wide skirts.

      Heh, my reaction to all fashion magazines is “Boy that’s stupid,” unless it’s “I want that one.” It’s amusing to see how little has changed in spirit.

      • Amusingly, some of the pictures of women wearing wraps actually look like they’re taking off their clothes. That would be pretty funny as a cover idea for folks doing romances.

        There are also pictures of fashions that show the fashion in a different color or style in the mirror behind the women, so you could do a cover for some kind of paranormal or alternate world sf with that.

    • Okay, first off, I read that as Backwood’s Lady’s Magazine, and did a double take. Although that would have probably been even more interesting today. 🙂 Second, I see your primary reaction to fashion magazines is the same as mine. And thirdly, Wow! anybody who thinks Barbie is disproportionate, should take a look at the pictures in that magazine. All the women in it have waists the size of my wrist, and shoulders a heavyweight pugilist would be proud of.

    • The University of Washington Libraries have a digitized Fashion Plate Collection with download capability. It extends back to the 1700’s, and includes some men’s and children’s fashion. Nice!

  46. It was a balmy spring day in 1695 and all was well in the Kingdom of Norway. The greatest detective of his era (and Head Abbot of Heidelberg Castle in Sandnes) was just chillin’ and snacking on chips and guac. He looked at his watch and wondered when his wife would return from her suffragette meeting.

    Just then the antique rotary phone beeped. I was the king, Adolph Gustavus. “There’s been another terrorist attack in Germany. They left a Templar cross behind.”

    “God’s Blood,” said the Abbot. “What I wouldn’t give to send those mobsters to Club Fed!”

    • It isn’t bad enough I have Julius Caesar as written by Mickey Spillane in the basements of my brain …


      … you had to go and insert Hamlet as written by Raymond Chandler!

    • AFFA, you do realize that if you make Sarah’s head explode, you have to clean up the mess (to her ghost’s standards), clean the litterboxes, AND change Fluffy’s bedding.

      • Alternately, if she chokes to death laughing, you may not have THAT mess to clean up, but Fluffy’s litterbox will still be there.

  47. Someone nailed it for me by pointing out that female characters have been getting more modern. For instance, they will do things… in a time without either contraceptives or anti-biotics and in a time when a unwed pregnancy would ruin not only the woman but all her relatives.

    That’s exactly why I can’t bear reading regencies by anyone but Georgette Heyer. Perhaps there are a few writers today who give their regency heroines period-appropriate attitudes toward sexuality, but I have not been able to find them. The modern attitudes toward sexuality appearing in regency romances throw me out of the story every time.