Tag Archives: halifax

Interview with Spanish Spy

I’m from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and I go by the name SpanishSpy on AlternateHistory.com (I can’t say I’m too comfortable giving out information on the Internet). A list of my works on that site can be found here:- http://wiki.alternatehistory.com/doku.php/offtopic/spanishspy

How long have you been writing?

I first creatively wrote in 4th and 5th grade by writing script-like “comics” to friends of mine via email. I wrote my first AH in 6th grade (I was 11 or 12) with the PoD being if John Cabot’s expedition became violent with Native Americans. This butterflied into a war between England, France, and Spain.

What is the first work of yours that you have published or intend to publish?

I’m no published author, so I can’t say anything on this. The closest thing I can get to is my first work of AH that I put on the internet, which was originally a project I did for my 8th grade geography class. It was called The Hammer, the Sickle, the Earth, and was a blatant Sovietwank, with a balkanized America, a USSR that went as far west as Germany and as far south as Vietnam, as well as directly annexing western Canada after its PoD, where the Soviet Union intervenes in the Korean War on the behalf of the Chinese. Things get horrendously implausible from there, but I had a hell of a lot of fun writing it.

Who were the earliest authors to be an inspiration for your writing?
When I was in Middle School, my father let me read several books in his collection of science fiction novels; one of my favorites was Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. Coincidentally, a friend of mine got me a collection of his stories, and I later read the Space Odyssey novels in addition to several others by him, and then onto Asimov, Niven, Heinlein, Bear, and others. This interest in science fiction led me one day to looking up more books on the internet, and I found out about Harry Turtledove’s WorldWar series. After gleefully reading all eight books, I read all eleven books of TL-191 in quick succession, and then The Guns of the South, The Man with an Iron Heart, and many others, and then other alternate history off of Amazon on my Kindle.

Also during Middle school I was exposed to the general “international politics” (for lack of a better term) interest that I had, which evolved after gushing over the lore of the Command and Conquer series of PC games. They took me to theoretical World War III scenarios on YouTube (which are in retrospect absolutely implausible), and then I found the videos of a user named alternatehistorypt, whose videos are not plausible either but served to eventually put me on the path of actual alternate history.

Which other authors do you consider to be an inspiration and for what reason?

I’m a little odd in that I haven’t read much for a while, and yet I am an utter geek. A lot of my influences, therefore, have been from games on the PC. There’s a lot of Command and Conquer influences in my work, subtle they may be. My work, The Beacon of Halifax, has taken a good deal of inspiration from Bioshock: Infinite after being inspired in part by Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. Perhaps it is best I break down my influences by significant works:
Liberty and Death: a Timeline of an Otherworldly Revolution and Beyond: this was inspired by a ghost story I read in the books Weird Massachusetts by Jeff Belanger, and I subsequently blew it out of all rational proportions. One of the major characters in the timeline, Thompson Phillips, was an actual but obscure man, and the house owned by John Hancock in the timeline was really owned by him, but in OTL never used by him.
The Beacon of Halifax: as I said before, it was inspired by Command and Conquer 3, in addition to a trip I took to Halifax, Nova Scotia between 8th grade and my freshman year of high school. In the PC game, a major plot point is an earthly explosion beginning an alien invasion. In my work, the 1917 Halifax Explosion is the catalyst to a similar invasion. Additionally, some ideas have been inspired by Bioshock: Infinite. On the topic of books, Harry Turtledove’s WorldWar has been a source of inspiration.
Emancipation and Exodus: This was inspired more by the general sociopolitical zeitgeist of the 2010s, especially by the controversy from the Snowden leaks and the growth of the security/bureaucratic state; I think that if a literary critic or an anthropologist reads it after a few decades, they would be able to say it is a product of these times. In the updates I’ve written, at least (my coauthor, Blackjack555, may be thinking something different), there are themes of government corruption, disillusionment with public figures and institutions, corruption of noble ideals, the growth of government bureaucracy, and how a democracy could become tyranny gradually. Aesthetically, it takes a few pages from Ad Astra per Aspera, an amazing work on alternatehistory.com by the user Rvbomally (which partially inspired the idea of alternate history extended into the future; the core of it is based on an idea for a story my coauthor had). Thematically, it borrows some from Bioshock Infinite and a little from the CoDominium series by Jerry Pournelle.
Scorpions in a Bottle: I wanted to do what David Bar Elias did to TL-191 to For Want of a Nail. This timeline is a result.

Are you inspired by any landscapes or buildings, or even towns and cities?

On occasion, I try to describe a city, for example, based on what the suburbs of Washington look like, as well as the countryside of north-central Virginia (where my family goes on day trips to). Other inspirations have included southwestern Texas and Washington proper, as well as bits of London and rural Lincolnshire.

Have you been surprised by a negative reaction to any of your work?

I did something stupid while writing The Beacon of Halifax and got chewed out for it. It was surprising, but I understood the rationale for it. However, I feel I’ve turned that poor decision into a very interesting plot point, so I feel it’s become a net positive. It’s even influenced, for the better, my conception of the timeline’s future twenty years or so after the current point.

Are there any themes driving your writing?

I have always found the approach of taking a theme and then writing about it as producing preachy, heavy handed works that are often dull; only a few works in my experience, like Orwell’s 1984, do it well. Rather, I start with a setting, and the themes grow out of them. For example, The Beacon of Halifax lets me explore the concept of what TvTropes calls “Evil vs. Oblivion,” the question of to what extent is it morally sound to support an evil individual or regime to fight an even greater evil? This is the focus of the recent arc focusing on Grayson Chester’s liberation of Memphis.
Despite my dislike for that method, I am guilty of writing with a theme in mind (but it did not arise until well into planning it), in Emancipation and Exodus. I find the notion that, in the future, humanity will somehow become better morally and ethically to be naïve and, frankly, childish. Star Trek, for example, uses this idea, and I vehemently disagree with it. People are, by their nature (in my opinion), shortsighted, vindictive, vengeful, brutal, and murderous, and no amount of charity or goodwill is able to fully overcome that. The future (of an alternate history with a 21st century PoD, so many things are still recognizable to us) of Emancipation and Exodus is a brutal one, where a hyperpower exploits human space at its leisure while being impeded by an overwhelming bureaucracy and politicization of most issues. The history of this universe is a bleak one, with multiple wars with liberal nuclear and chemical weapons usage (a favorite tactic of this hyperpower is the issuing of vaccines to citizens who swear allegiance to it on a newly conquered or rebellious world, while an artificial plague runs rampant on those that did not – credit to my coauthor, Blackjack555, for this idea).

What makes this so compelling to me is that, even in space, people are still people (I see this phrase as a sort of thematic statement of that work). I feel that, given the power to do so, people would do all the things in this timeline in real life. I find it interesting to subvert common science fiction tropes with a barbarous twist; rather being some uplifting, species unifying occurrence, the discovery of Faster-than-Light travel is during a major war and is subsequently used to kill thousands of innocents to prove a political point.
And yet, this theme of the inherent humanity of people is not necessarily pessimistic all of the time in that work; there are other touches in the story that are kinder and more mundane. People sell tacky gifts at spaceports and sing angry songs at rivals in love, and gush over the taste of a good hamburger (from Earth, even). One of my favorite examples is the name of a planet: Dote di Vittoria, or ‘Victoria’s Dowry’ in English. The backstory behind this is, when the system was surveyed, a young surveyor smitten with the daughter of a mining magnate, claims the mineral-rich world in his name and gives to his family in exchange for permission to marry his daughter. It’s romantic, perhaps melodramatic, but people are just that way.

Are there any genres, whether thematic or stylistic, that you enjoy writing?

In terms of subject, I usually write Alien Space Bats works mainly because those are most of my ideas and because I am afraid any non-ASB idea would be poorly executed (I have one such idea with a point of divergence in the Mexican Revolution that I am terrified of writing because of fear that it would be implausible). ASB lets me take the real and disrupt it with the absurd or impossible, and see the realistic (to a given degree) response of the actual world in question, a confluence of the real and unreal that I find quite fun to write.
In terms of style, I like writing in a textbook style moreso than a novelistic style, as it allows me to cover more history while not restricting myself to certain perspectives (although the latter approach certainly has its advantages, and I enjoy writing my timelines in that style). I once talked to someone of whom I had made an acquaintance about Emancipation and Exodus, and he insisted that I needed a central character to explore the universe. Had this conversation occurred over the internet rather than in person, I would have sent him that image macro that says “that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.” I find the ‘macro’ of history far more interesting than the ‘micro’ of history, so to speak, and Emancipation and Exodus is written from the ‘macro’ perspective, giving multiple points of view from different time periods, expounding on the theme of the corruption and decay of a noble ideal. EaE is not a drama of a few people; it’s the tragedy of a species.

Which was the first writing of yours that you are proud enough to say “I did this” about?

The Rise of the Tri-State World Order: A Timeline of Orwell’s 1984 was my first work that was critically praised, and reflected a massive effort on my part, writing four to five pages a day, plus research, for about three weeks, with the resultant product being fifty-five pages long. It was originally a project for an English class, and I got the highest grade possible, so that’s a plus. Getting the 2014 Turtledove for Best New Speculative certainly helps as well (my highest thanks to those who voted for it).
The other work that I am quite proud of is my Christmas special for the year of 2013, So Be Good for Goodness’ Sake: A Holiday Timeline. It’s a parody of the general feeling of government paranoia and public distrust of government in the 2010s, especially in the wake of the Snowden leaks, while framed in the context of a government pursuit of Santa Claus; in a phrase, it’s ‘Santa Claus vs. the NSA.’ There are some scenes where the tragedy of the story is balanced by the inherent absurdity that having Santa Claus as a character entails, and I think personally I used that juxtaposition effectively.

Do you find Alternate History a genre that is more difficult to write in than others, perhaps due to the focus on plausibility?

Yes. I spend a lot of time fact-checking, even down to slang and tidbits of everyday life, to ensure a feeling of authenticity. Most of my work is ASB (if not all of it), but I want to make sure it’s an accurate world that I am messing around with. It’s just so much more fun seeing a historically accurate world interrupted by something bizarre and impossible, rather than a half-baked, poorly researched one, which just becomes something focused on the bizarreness of the whole thing, lacking the characteristic of disrupted realism that good alternate history has.
Additionally, Emancipation and Exodus is not written in chronological order like my other works; the timeline jumps around century to century. Keeping continuity is hard, and I often have a second tab with the timeline open while writing to keep my writing consistent with established canon. For my older works, such as Liberty and Death, The Beacon of Halifax, and Scorpions in a Bottle also require such constant continuity-checking.

Do you write much non-narrative fiction, e.g. in the pseudo-historical fashion of articles and features from another world?

Yes; in some ways I find it more interesting than a narrative format, detailed above in my discussion of the structure of Emancipation and Exodus. Both Scorpions in a Bottle and Emancipation and Exodus are in a variety of nonfiction formats, while Tim Kane Lives is exclusively written as a series of news articles; it is intended, to a degree, to be a parody of the 2016 US Presidential Elections we see quite frequently on AH.com’s future history forum. Additionally, many of my oneshots are in the format of a history text; Wheels of the Patriots is in the format of an encyclopedia entry. As stated previously, I enjoy this format as it allows for a more full understanding of the world and the issues at hand; it feels more real, more understandable, and more complete.
Perhaps most interesting in terms of format is my work The Creators of This Hell: an Alternate 1940s, which I wrote as a background guide for a Model United Nations conference that I was chairing for middle school students. They were supposed to assume the roles of countries in this universe and debate two topics (which are given special treatment in the work) of concern in a mock League of Nations session; the work itself is in the format of a LoN dossier.

Do you find that much of your writing turns out to be Science Fiction, whether or not it was intended to?

If it is extended into the future, it naturally becomes Science Fiction due to the necessity of extrapolating changes in technology; certainly even when it is not science fiction, there is some of that. Some of my work shows some science-fiction-like elements; Liberty and Death required some creative thinking in regards to technology merging the designs of Da Vinci with technology of the 1700s; we have Congreve Rocket-powered airships launched from France invading Britain, and fighters in the sky intercepting enemy aircraft, as well as Da Vinci style circle tanks armed with Congreve Rocket batteries and cannons, and on one occasion Greek Fire. Liberty and Death generally verges on a form of clockpunk for the Catholic Church and associated nations and Magitek for the United States of Fredonia, as I call it; the latter uses magic-powered aircraft that act essentially like fighter planes and cargo variants of these are gradually phasing out naval ships.