World-Building in Public

I’m considering a blogging experiment. I have a number of things to flesh out in my Hudson Confederacy universe, and I think I might just start publishing them as blog entries here. They won’t be spoilers, and they won’t really be canon either – I figure until this stuff shows up in an actual book, it’s just rumor. Still, it might make for some interesting reading while other books in that universe work their way through edits.

It started when I found myself daydreaming a little about the Navy of the Hudson Confederacy, and after listening to a podcast on building a space navy, I realized I need to back up and look at the history. After all, a Navy is there to perform missions in support of strategic goals, and those strategic goals come from both the surrounding environment and how the nation perceives itself. So, I had to ask myself, how does the Hudson Confederacy see itself?  That, in turn, took me even further back to seeing where it came from.

Why dig so far back? Well, any student of US politics today can’t help but see that many of the forces date all the way back to religious persecution that drove some of the early colonists to cross the Atlantic in the first place. For that, of course, you then need to go further back to the Anglican church of King Henry VIII, then back to the Reformation of Martin Luther, and ultimately back to the politics of the Catholic church in the 1400s.

So… how far back am I going? Well, in the brief back-story of the universe given in Beneath the Sky, humanity shot out to colonize rapidly once they finally got FTL. This led to a vast union called The Republic of Man, usually referred to now as the Old Republic. Sorry, no Jedi Knights. Anyway, that eventually shattered, leaving the original core as the Solarian Union and giving birth to dozens of smaller nations The largest two of those were the League of Catai and the Hudson Confederacy, where the bulk of my space opera will occur. While the League has done well for itself, the Hudson Confederacy has suffered through two civil wars since establishing its independence.

My intent is to look at the forces that eventually broke up the Old Republic, how that breakup occurred, and what that meant for the various nations that resulted, specifically the Confederacy. Then, I’m going to look at the two civil wars that rocked the Confederacy. I’m thinking of the first one as mostly a rocky transition from a loose gathering of colonies into something with stronger central control – a bit like if the US’s transition from the Articles of Confederation to the 1789 Constitution had resulted in a civil war where the 13 colonies were reduced to 9 states and some foreign neighbors.

But it’s the most recent civil war that is both drawing my attention and completely stymieing my imagination. A fair amount what is going into the Father Chessman saga (Ships of My Fathers, Debts of My Fathers, etc) is the fallout from that civil war. It left a lot of bad blood, but while I know a fair amount about how the war was fought, I haven’t really figured out what led to it. That seems, well… important.

So, I’ll be making history here, literally. Well, make-believe, future history, but you get the idea. Tune in and see how it develops.

Review: Autobiography of Ben Franklin

My wife recommended this one to me, and she was absolutely right to. I loved it. Ben Franklin is probably my favorite figure from that period in American history, not just for what he did but for his character, wit, and humility. All of those shine through in this book.

His autobiography covers his life from his birth in 1706 through the mid-1760’s. It was written in four sections. The first was written as a letter to his son William in 1771, and it reads very much like one with personal asides and mention of family. The next was written in Paris in the early 1780s while acting as ambassador, and it was more formal, aimed at someone who at read that earlier letter to his son and encouraged him to continue the record. The third section was written after he had returned to Philadelphia after the Revolutionary War, and the fourth was a very short section that appeared to be an attempt to continue it towards the war.

I detailed the sources of the writing because it impacts how it is read. The early section (perhaps the first half of the book) reads as an Englishman speaking to his son, both to fill him in on the family history as well as to remind him of some of their joint experiences. It reads fairly sweetly and humorously. The Revolutionary War is not yet on his horizon. At best, he expresses occasional distress as the some of the decisions by the crown and the decisions by the William Penn’s heirs back in England over the management of the Pennsylvania colony.

The later sections were written during or after the war, and hints of family are gone. He does not say so explicitly, but it is known that he and his son took different sides in the war, and neither forgave the other. He makes occasional mentions of his son, as they actually took some joint actions during the French/Indian war in the 1760’s, but gone is that sense of affection. It’s noticeable in the language, but that much more striking when you know what happened between them.

Also at this point, the war is behind him, and his frustration with England’s management of the colonies shows strongly. It is not merely that he feels they were wrong or greedy but that they were predisposed to act unethically or to at least act so as to protect themselves from the assumption that the colonists would act unethically. This was especially offensive to him as he had taken great pains over his life (as outlined in some of the text) to develop a strong ethical code.

Obviously, he writes about the many of the projects he undertook in life, the accomplishments he made, and the relationships he forged, but rather that hoist them up to brag, he details his decisions around them and how he was able to succeed. It seems as though his main goal in this is not to preen but to instruct, as though he wants his audience to learn from his mistakes and methods to go forth and do even greater things.

Towards that point, I think he nailed a good policy on debate, which will likely form a future essay I write on netiquette. After detailing a method of debate that won him many victories, some of which he felt were undeserved, he altered his strategy:

I continued this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken.

This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion in inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure.

For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent candid attention.

If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fixed in your present opinions, modest sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error.

And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire.

He hits on similar themes elsewhere on everything from telling someone they are mistaken to convincing a large group to support a position. It’s as much history as it is instruction on the art of polite debate. As such, I think this is a book that every American should read, less for its factual content than for its lessons on how to behave in a political society. As for the rest of you, it’s actually quite a bit of fun, so give that poor Yank a read anyway.

Review: Best Little Stories from World War II, by C. Brian Kelly

I’ve been working through this one for a few months now:

This is a collection of short articles about World War II, centered on the little picture, i.e. small actions, little anecdotes, surprising details. I usually enjoy reading this kind of thing, and I do have a strong interest in World War II. However, I can’t honestly recommend this one.

The content was okay, but what really annoyed was the variation in style. The articles were not written by Kelly. Rather, he edited them together from multiple sources, and the variation in style comes from the multitude of original sources. Some are bare-boned factual accounts. Others are breathless reports from the front line. Some are almost propaganda. And some are trying too hard to obscure the facts for cuteness sake, all so that they can end with, “And that soldier went on to be Dwight D. Eisenhower,” or some such.

Coming after “Band of Brothers” by Ambrose, the inconsistent voice and (in some cases) poor writing in this book was a big disappointment.