Sunday, November 22, 2015

Established Histories, Alternate Histories, and What We Know for Sure

Since I wrote this post about Philip K. Dick's alternate history, The Man in the High Castle, I've been thinking about alternate histories of our own time or the just-recent past--specifically, the Cold War.  Just 20 years after then end of World War II, Dick wrote his masterpiece about an alternate end to WWII.  Why has no one done the same for the Cold War?

I suppose we could make the argument that the nuclear war movies (Threads, Testament, and The Day After) of the 1980's were a kind of alternate history, although they seem more like warnings than histories.  To watch them now feels like a history lesson:  answering machines as huge as a shoebox!  Decorating decisions of the 1980's!

Why has no one played with this history?  We could go back further, and we still don't see much alternate history:  no novel of the USSR winning the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I wonder why.

As I was Googling, I did come across mention of Resurrection Day, which isn't the USSR winning, but nuclear devastation.  And there's Cold War Hot, which has scenarios of alternate cold war outcomes.  But that's not very many books in the realm of alternate histories.

I have friends who see Putin as a throwback to those times.  Maybe writing alternate histories feels too close, too possible still.

We are in that time period when it feels that we are arguing both current times, histories, and the future of the nation.  Are we a nation that has thrown open its doors to those fleeing terror?  Are we a nation that has turned people away to their ghastly deaths?  How shall we deal with the current crop of refugees?

It's also a time with an even older historical event hanging over us:  ah, Thanksgiving!  What does that time period tell us about the people we would become?

I tend to forget how many of those colonies were utter failures, with most colonists dead within a year of arrival, people planting cash crops instead of food, harsh landscapes with no consolations.  If you want a great overview of this history, perhaps you want to listen to this broadcast of the OnPoint program that explored the world of those Pilgrims and Native Americans.

I am intrigued by the different ways we view history, even well-established history.  The "facts" that I learned as a little girl in 1970's elementary school are very different than what my 9 year old nephew learns today, different and yet the same.  I'm interested in the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves.

At some point, this leads to an interesting crisis--how can we ever be really sure?  And my answer will likely be the same:  we can't.  And thus, I will pack up my threads, my needles, my batting and my cloth--time to go to church to lead the effort in making quilts for refugees.

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