I started a new story yesterday. Right now I’m thinking of something done by a time traveler as a trigger for the events in the story. I got 1,400 words down in a couple of hours, but I then realized that what I remember about early post-Roman European history from college classes forty-something years ago (Charlemagne? Lots and lot of monks? A lovely bit of filth over here?) would fit on the back of a 3X5 card. I’m going to have to do some serious research before I continue.
By coincidence, the same day I stumbled across a mention of this news item while reading a review of Hari Kunzru’s God’s without Men.
The government of China has banned stories about time travel? I guess I won’t have to translate my story into Mandarin. I always hate it when I must do that.
The powers-that-be in China must understand that time travel fiction is one way to discuss the past.
Writing about the past is a mine field for writers. If you are in Turkey, avoid writing anything about starving Armenians. For Germans, the period 1932 – 1945 is radioactive and best handled with tongs. The Spanish Civil War is a volatile topic for Spaniards, while, in the U. S., you risk being pilloried by one end of the political spectrum or the other if you make more than a passing reference to our history of kidnapping Africans into slavery and nearly exterminating the Native population of North America. For some historical subjects, even in cases where all the perpetrators and victims are mercifully long dead, you are going to piss off somebody no matter what you say about it
So if you want to drop your characters into the past, either because you are working in the historical fiction genre or like time-travel stories, you are going to step on toes.
Don’t believe me? Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall (great book, by the way), set in the early 1500’s, includes Thomas More as a minor character. When he wasn’t writing Utopia, More roasted people alive for being what we now call Protestants. That much is historical fact. It was his day job, but Mantel suggested he rather enjoyed it. On top of that, she portrays him as the sort of man who took advantage of his wife’s lack of any real education to say hateful things about her in Latin to his male dinner guests while she sat there wondering what the guys were laughing about. Nice.
More has been taking a dirt nap for close to 500 years, so you would think no one would care. Wrong! Ms Mantel has evidently taken flack for her treatment of More. After half a millennium, More still has passionate fans poised to leap to his defense. All writers should be so lucky.
No wonder people create Middle Earths or have adventures on other planets or affairs with sexy vampires. Pure fantasy is less likely to get you into trouble than fiction that overlaps reality. Then again, unless you live where where grim men will come for you because of what you write, who cares?