*Apologies to Alma for getting this up so late. I’m not functioning overly well in the real world today, because my mind is in the novel.
On the good side I got to write the line every reader of A Few Good Men craved. “Nat shrugged. “I am medicated,” he said.” Unfortunately, I regret to inform you it’s not anti-psychotics. – SAH*
Cultural Concentration – Alma Boykin
At what point do people stop assimilating or at least adopting the surface characteristics of the society around them and start re-creating their old world in their new one? It’s a question science fiction and fantasy tangle with from time to time, although the short answer at the moment seems to be “conquer and recreate” rather than “build parallel.” C. J. Cherryh’s “Foreigner” series might be an exception, but that is one among many on the shelves at Ye Regional Chain Bookstore. A goodly number of works I’ve read the blurbs for, or skimmed recently, posit that the newcomers come in, kick tail, and do whatever they can to erase the former culture. This may be because they don’t like the magic use of the older culture, or perhaps because the older culture was corrupt and evil and practiced infant sacrifice, or because it is just what they do, Borg-like. I suspect it comes from people who are most familiar with the Roman Empire or the US and the American Indians, and use those models of conquest without really digging into the history and pre-history. And “plucky band of survivors carefully preserving ancient magic” makes for a great story. I’ve used it myself in that steampunk thing I need to rework and publish.
When I started the current WIP series, I wanted to try something different. What if the colonial power comes for economic reasons, or pure curiosity that leads to economic reasons, and develops a parallel system that mimics their homeworld as closely as the local conditions allow, working with or around the native species and ecosystem? And what if the native sapients are not really in a position to contest the colonial powers, and perhaps, in fact, their leaders quietly decide that having these new guys around might be a good idea, for Reasons Found in Volume [number]? Where do you go for a model, or is there one?
OK, I see the back grinning and passing notes. Yes, you, middle of the row, the wallaby. What were the odds? Thank you. And the paper says seventy percent chance that she’s found something to steal. Sorry, it was a hundred percent chance, because I am the world’s second-laziest writer. *
Not the Roman Empire, although if you scratch the surface, you’ll find a lot more variation within the Empire than popular wisdom includes. I’m mining the British Empire, especially before it became an official empire. If you go back to the 1600s-1820s in South Asia, you see a lot of adaptation and borderline going native, marrying native women, having children with native women, dressing for the climate, eating local foods, and if not blending in, then absorbing a whole lot of South Asia. It was not until the 1820s, and especially after the British government took over from the British East India Company that Brits began recreating Britain in Bengal, Bombay, Barrakpore, and everywhere else they went, right down to clothing, menus, and precedence. And then they out-did Britain, keeping traditions and patterns that faded away in the home islands.
Part of this was the manners of the times that developed in Britain during the Victorian era, and in the rest of Europe as well. France was busy exporting French culture and superiority, and Germany started spreading German-ism (well, OK, Germany after 1880. But the Prussians were always a bit odd that way). Europeans had surpassed the rest of the world in terms of organization and technology for the first time ever, and had the tools to conquer and manage everyone else, more or less. Why? If you look at the literature of the time you see a number of theories. Ethnic superiority? Cold climate leading to more energy? The special blessings of the Deity and a mission from said Deity to improve the world? Sheer blind luck? No, skip that one. Eating more meat? For whatever reason, Europeans and especially Brits and their odd American cousins were spreading all over the world and doing their best to show everyone else how they would run things if they were in charge. And taking charge if given half a chance, or no chance at all. Whatever it was that allowed the British to take over South Asia, it needed to be preserved, especially when you have a minimum 1000:1 ratio of ruled to rulers. And so the Brits became über-British.
I’ve been reading a great deal about women in the Raj, and about food ways. Food? Yes, because that is one of the places where the Britishness came to the fore, although it did shift over time. In the beginning (British East India Company days through 1820s-30s) the men seem to have ate their weight in food daily and to have drunk enough alcohol to drown half the fish in the sea. Once “civilization” came into the picture, and enough English women, that shifted to breakfast, a snack, dinner, tiffin, supper, and less alcohol unless it was regimental Mess Night or someone decided to go on a spree. The meals remained large, even in the hot season, and people dressed for meals no matter if it were 100 degrees or not. They were British and were going to look and act British, even if the servants were Indian and the main dishes were curries and spiced roasted meats and pork rarely graced the table, let alone beef (unless they were in a Muslim area and formed a multi-family beef club).
Visiting cards remained critical, as did signing the guest book. A new arrival took his or her cards around to various houses, calling on the residents. He might not even get to the door, instead leaving the card in a special box on the gate for just that thing. But one left a card, or else people talked. And without a card, one could not be invited to social functions, and without social functions, one was doomed, either professionally, or to being locked out of society and enduring even more solitude than people otherwise endured. Because no one could socialize with natives, it was not done. That and breaking caste or causing religious pollution was so likely that no one wanted to risk it. Native Christians were considered suspect, and only Parsees and Brits really socialized much, and that in the 20th Century. Were there exceptions? Yes, and children could and did play across caste and creed, and the natives tolerated and encouraged them. According to the first volume of M. M. Kaye’s autobiography, children existed outside the norms until they reached ages 10-12 or so.
And no one thought anything of this separation and this preservation of Britain and British ways until well into the 20th century. In order to rule, so the thought of the time went, Brits had to remain separate and aloof, incorruptible, but with the proper retinue of servants and staff (because of caste limits on what different people could or could not do). Appearances had to be maintained, for the good of the Empire. After all, no one wanted a repeat of 1857-59, the Great Mutiny/Sepoy Mutiny/Sepoy Rebellion/First War of Independence (depending on who is writing and when.)
What if you shift it around and you have an alien species instead of Indians? What if the caste system is not based on religion but something genetic? What if the natives have no problem with humans coming and moving in? How are the humans going to respond and what will they do, especially if you are at the far end of the empire and by a quirk of FTL technology, it is easier and cheaper to move mass than it is to send data back to Home for instructions and advice?
You get Shikhari, the Staré, and Miss Auriga Bernardi driving a rented wombow cart to go marketing as her father supervises the unloading and loading of interstellar transports. And she really wishes the wombow had just a hint more life in him. He’s phlegmatic enough to make a stone statue act lively in comparison.
*The laziest writer has not started writing yet. It takes too much effort.