This post was inspired by an email I received recently, asking specifically what history I’ve incorporated into or been inspired by for Unbound, and how literally or directly I used it.
Well, the second part of the answer is the easiest: not very. Aside from the fact that the situations in Unbound are so very different (technologically, geographically, socially, etc) from anything we’ve experienced here on Earth, there’s also the fact that any time you sit down to write about something, it changes in the telling.
History is for me, almost a shorthand way of thinking about an event or situation–a frame, if you will, for the theme or the ideas I want to incorporate. So I can describe the Iridelli Insurrection to myself as “like the Sepoy Rebellion” without soldiers, and I know what I mean. Is someone else going to read Insurrection and see that? Doubtful.
But in the spirit of the question, here goes…
Historical Things in Unbound (in no particular order)
In Contingent: Book 2
Most recently, the planet Demar–I got super inspired for the setting thinking of the ancient fortress of Masada. Is it exactly like that? No. The larger geography is more like Greece (mountainous, with lots of divisions in the land creating divisions and independence in the early people), but the fortress the main characters visit early on in the second book is very much like Masada. I might even use a variation on the story of the ancient Sicarii and how they held out against a Roman legion at some point as the history of the place. I might not–I love it, and have been fascinated by it since I was a kid, but that doesn’t mean it fits this story, and including stuff just because it’s cool is a danger I try to avoid.
That planet is having some problems, which I’m describing to myself as a combo of the labor unrest of the Industrial Era (strikes, shutdowns, riots), and the early Irish Independence movements, for the political-religious strife.
Note: rather than linking to articles on the Tudors, there will be recommended books at the end of this post, if you are so inclined. I took entire classes on the Tudors, so that’s all material I don’t need research for, but that I have very specific books I recommend.
The Demari royal family is loosely based off the Tudors (who isn’t, really?), with the former king, Morec, being a combination of Henry VII and his more famous son, Henry VIII. He’s like Henry VII in that he ended the long-running series of dynastic wars, and capped it off by marrying an heir to the opposing house (Henry married the daughter of the last Yorkist king). Their son is thus of both bloodlines, uniting the factions (supposedly). Like Henry VII, Morec is humorless and ruthless, and very, very smart. Like Henry VII, Morec’s heir is sickly (I’m using hemophilia–too many cousins marrying–like the last Russian Tsar’s son had), not whatever Henry VII’s eldest son, Arthur, was ill with, but giving this brutal warrior-king a sickly heir is just too juicy not to use.
Morec is more like Henry VIII, however, in a lifetimes’s attempts to get a legitimate male heir, and like Henry VIII, he went through several wives and mistresses to achieve one. Unlike Henry VIII, Morec was quite fine with unwilling brides, but like Henry VIII, he has one illegitimate son (which was one reason both were so sure it was the women’s fault there weren’t more). I think Henry VIII treated his better than Morec does, but where’s the story if everyone gets along?
I never see Henry VIII as being as awful as popular culture makes him out to be, but Morec is a villain I loathe on a level that makes him very hard to write. Morec abdicated before the opening of the book, although not as a fewpowerful rulers have done, to take up farming.
There’s also a pivotal backstory event that’s a little like George R.R Martin’s infamous Red Wedding, only without a wedding, but that is in itself similar to the terrible Massacre at Glencoe in 1692 (discussed here and here). Only mine is mixed with the horrors of the brutal Massacre at Sand Creek. Something to look forward to…;-)
In Incursion: Book 1
Well, the miners on Bheng and their little war, are based off probably a hundred such events in US mining history–no law to moderate disputes and things get carried away.
What the Naga Rassa Mordrecin is doing–no, I’m not going to tell you, you have to read the book ;-)–is based off things our CIA either did or tried to do. Other intelligence agencies have attempted similar things. The power the Naga Rassa has in the ir’drakhon government is mostly based off the Soviet KGB, however. Even high-level Soviet military were scared of them, as Kor is scared of the Naga Rassa.
Most of the rest of the history used in Incursion is world-building and backstory, which is covered below.
In Diversion: Book 3
So far the pirate’s nests of the Caribbean in the 1700s is the most glaring example. Far less romantic than they’re made out to be, and yet fascinating. I may also include privateering as the situation degenerates in the series, which is when pirates are “licensed” by a government, provided they only attack the enemy’s shipping. Some of the most famous explorers of the “New World” for the English in particular were
Also in Diversion, a situation similar to Northern Ireland, with the IRA, particularly later, when paramilitary organizations arose both supporting independence for Northern Ireland and fighting against it. Kor paraphrases a passage from a book I read for my graduate studies (that I can’t remember the name of, sadly): “Perhaps. At any rate, Imperial forces are now facing the lovely proposition of having people shooting at them to force them to leave, and people shooting at them to make them stay.”
Later Books (i.e. not plotted yet)
The situation where a formerly loyal military official gets driven to rebellion or treason by their treatment at their own government’s hands will for sure happen, if not exactly like Belisarius, or Richard of York (see book list below), both of whom lurk in my mind.
The overall goal of the Naga Rassa, Eranon ton’Mordrecin, is sadly echoed by current events (although was conceived of long before current events), but I’m not going to go into details here, since that’s the major arc of the entire series, and I’m trying to do this without too many spoilers.
The history I used or was inspired by is mostly society or social issues, rather than specific events, for the sort of general world-building.
The Ir’drakhon Empire is, in my mind, a loose mix of the late Byzantine Empire, the early Ottoman, and the late British empires. All three groups were struggling to hold onto what had been created centuries before, in the face of massive changes they weren’t prepared to meet or even understand. All three groups, as well as my ir’drakhon, react(ed) out of fear of those changes, usually with terrible consequences.
The earliest history of the Ir’drakhon Empire is most like the Ottomans–being conquered was awful, but once you were, things settled down into one of–overall–the most just and fair pluralistic societies of the medieval world.
Later, ir’drakhon society becomes more like the Byzantines (Arrays are based off the strategos idea), before the Great Disaster. Afterward it’s more like Soviet Russia, where they tried to level a very stratified society by force. Those who hold onto the old ways (like Kor) are not trusted. In attitude toward others, and in the very commercial aspect of its rule, is how it is most like the British.
The Barrens is purely and simply based on the American Old West, like a lot of space opera, most famously, Firefly. Miners and random settlers, pirates and raiders…no real law, some areas having more “civilization” than others. Lots of petty strongmen…you get the idea. As the series goes on, more specific things will likely come up. Only, unlike our Old West, it isn’t that the law hasn’t reached there yet, it’s that the law was there and left. The Empire pulled out and left behind a vacuum.
Having the one ir’drakhon fleet patrolling there is more like the small British fleet that patrolled off the African coast in the late 1800s, looking for slave ships and pirates who might attack British shipping. Not really having any authority other than cannon and attitude, but also not having enough people or vessels to really do any good.
The prison station, Anzanar, was for those who didn’t get it from the name, originally conceived around Manzanar, one of the internment camps used by the American government to corral Japanese Americans (citizens imprisoned without trial or having committed any crime other than being of Japanese descent or immigration) during WWII. Ok, mine was more brutal, but Anzanar, like its “namesake” was racially (or in this case species) and politically based. Merika and Thorn’s story there will be shown in the novella aptly named Anzanar.
The other station featured throughout the series, Trader’s End, is a combo of Las Vegas (an entertainment emporium) and Old San Francisco (also an entertainment emporium, if wilder), but the power behind it, Tradeguild, is a bit like the British East India Company–a corporation, with a pure profit motive, that ran entire countries (ahem, particularly in India), especially the earlier BEIC, which felt less of a “moral duty” to those it controlled than the later BEIC. That didn’t make them worse, interestingly–it made them interfere less in the daily lives of those under their control, which actually worked better.
The fate and plight of the iridelli is wrapped up, in my mind, with the fate of the Native Americans here in the US in the 1800s. Hounded and hunted and rounded up to be forced onto reservations…I’m not a 100% sure how that’s going to play out in the end. I want to be sure to avoid the White Savior Narrative, and I am still working on that one.
Humans in the Barrens–and in the Empire–at the opening of the series, are a bit like the Jews, before the foundation of Israel. They’ve been cut off from their homeworld for a hundred years, so they have no political power answering for them, no one protecting them. They’re treated better some places than others, and tend to gravitate toward the Barrens partially because it’s the sector where they were most numerous when the cut-off happened, and partially because they can be freer (if not always safer) there. No, I’m not going to replicate the Holocaust–that’s too much, even for me.
But racial and immigration issues are a constant thread throughout series, just as they are throughout history. Who is the Other? Why? What does that mean? What is fairness? What is justice? Why can’t we all just live together, dammit?
These are the questions every society has had to answer, some much more successfully than others, and they are questions these characters have been facing and will have to answer before the series is done–how? Well, you’ll have to read the books to find out…
Well, there you go.
(Some of) the history I’ve used, to date, in the Unbound series. Probably a bit more nebulous than some would like, and doubtlessly incomplete, since half the time I don’t realize I’m doing it until after the fact, but if you start wondering how I did all that world-building, now you know. I didn’t build it–I just borrowed it, then added a dash of fusion reactors, and spaceships, and genetic engineering, and plasma rifles, and ta-da!
Recommended Readings on the Tudors
Anything by Alison Weir. Not really kidding. She avoids the jargon heaviness and academic infighting of some of the more “academic” historians, creating accurate and yet accessible histories of some of the most interesting figures and events in European history.