underlankers (underlankers) wrote in talk_politics,

Utopia, Dystopia, and Up With the Star:

I spent the last year from February-December working on an alternate history timeline called Up With the Star. As an unabashed Grant-fanboy I began this timeline expecting that by letting the events lead each other it'd lead to something far more utopian than dystopian. After all, I wrote it and the point of divergence ensures one of my historical heroes' plans go far, far better than they did and his career as a general is an uninterrupted track of clean success. That's what I intended.
What I got was a world that wound up with Somalia and the former Belgian Congo as the richest, calmest, most peaceful parts of Africa, a Russia without the Russian Civil War and the horrors of the Soviet Union, a Balkans that's peaceful, Palestine as a backwater where nothing of note happens, Abraham Lincoln living to a ripe old age and only two US Presidential assassinations.......and a world with a nuclear WWII between two blocs where nuclear weapons aren't enough to end the war, the emergence of Communism as a successor to fascism in a world where the implosion of fascism leaves a lot of disenchanted and disillusioned sorts inured to totalitarian methods without their crutch, a world where South America is the most pristine part of the world, the USA has a full-fledged Apartheid system, and the First World War leaves France an economic cripple while the Second sees the atomic bombings of London and Stockholm, as well as atomic and chemical warfare wrecking a good-sized chunk of Germany.

I set out to write an alternate history that flows and acts more in line with historical processes, and integrating such humble things as economic, linguistic, and cultural factors into the alternate timeline. As I said I expected I'd wind up with something utopian and in the timeline I wound up with something as dystopian as our own world but with a different route to a roughly similar end. Admittedly 150 years ago would leave roughly similar potential trends, though what actually happened with those trends was something different again.

When I began the alternate history my admittedly vague expectation was that the US Civil War leading to a more rapid Union victory and the survival of Archduke Maximilian would lead to a much happier and less bloody world. What I found happening was that as the alternate history grew in terms of scale and the results of the butterflies produced by changes colliding and reverberating against each other events began to move in a pattern that did not quite match our own history but where different types of dystopian concepts emerged. To use two examples, the USA of that alternate universe does not develop segregation as we know it. Instead the legacy of the divergence of timelines, with the USCT 41st Regiment capturing Robert E. Lee in the Battle of Hanover Junction and the alternate Reconstruction led to an attempt to build Apartheid, creating categories of White, Colored, and Negro.

Whites are defined by skin color and as people whose mothers were white before the US Civil War in the South and more fluidly in the North. They, of course, have the greatest privileges in all aspects and the system is most egalitarian in their favor. In this both timelines are quite similar. The category of Colored, however, resembles its equivalent in South African Apartheid more than in the US segregation system. Descended from pre-war free blacks and USCT veterans (and later on USCT veterans of warfare in general), this category of what we'd term blacks is granted the rights to read and to keep and bear arms, as well as things like land ownership. They are the most conscious of their vulnerability and thus a paragon of the ATL USA's conservative movement. Barack Obama would be Colored in the USA of this timeline. The Negro caste is the bunch that provides cheap labor, agricultural and otherwise, and are the low men on the totem pole. They do not like this, but the creation of Black identity that existed in our world never does in this one, Coloreds don't want it as it means to them the possibility their rights would go, the more affluent and ambitious Negro-caste members want the privileges of being Colored. Given the potential of large-scale warfare and military service to expand the Colored Caste the ATL USA decides to avoid warfare more than ours does. The reason, however, is not pacifism but fear of having to grant greater civil rights and thus dismantle its own system. At the same time the movements for women's rights and ultimately LGBTQ rights are complicated by this Apartheid system as the White and Colored castes' women don't exactly intend to share "their" rights with Negroes. At the same time, however, this USA has one thing ours does not: a group of blacks who *are* granted rights denied the greater majority of *all* blacks and the alternate World War II collapses the Trialist/Apartheid system (which in the West substitutes Asians for Colored and Indigenous Americans for Negroes but the overall pattern is the same).

The other example that I've thought of where a difference between what I expected and what I got with the alternate history applies is in the history of China, where Mao dies young and fascism unifies China (to make a long story short fascism becomes for big agrarian empires in this world what Communism does in ours, but it's the Italian-Franco style, no Nazism equivalent appears). The Unification War under Yang Quyun and Ma Bufang leads to a GMD-united China, one that partners with Russia and initiates the Second World War by propping up the Viet Minh led by a man born Vo Nyguen Giap, who uses the alias Ho Chih Minh. They fight a Japanese-occupied Indochina, and the result is a huge, militarized China spared the Cultural Revolution but entrapped in a different kind of authoritarian militarized politics and subject to its own nuclear attacks on some of its ports. In this China's history the Ma Clique accomplishes the military feats Mao's China did, smacking the everloving Hell out of Western Armies, but the result is a China which in the context of the alternate world is as militarized, totalitarian, and subject to Yellow Peril inanity as ours is seen as, one that undergoes a civil war known as the Time of Transition and begins a repression-plus-capitalism combination in the 1970s but emphasizing more Chinese nationalism than the PRC ever did. This China also falls out with Russia when the nationalist leaderships on both sides have made their gains in WWII. Naturally I expected a China that avoided the protracted chaos of the Civil War, Japanese invasion, and Maoist turmoil would wind up quite a bit better and happier, but in practice it was a different kind of dystopia from the one we have now.

To me a great lesson on this pure, fictional, theoretic skeleton I intend to turn into published stories to make money off of is that even when one's dealing with pure fiction and trying to ensure that events aren't jerry-rigged ala bad writing and wishful-thinking timelines, attempting to build a utopia out of human humans acting with imperfect knowledge and no prior understandings of events is a damned hard task. I found in this case that it in fact proved impossible to do so, and that the result was that a world emerged where dystopia existed in the form of a powerful, aggressive fascist Russia and China and an atomic WWII where nuclear weaponry wasn't enough to end the war and where dystopia in the form of a new, emboldened Communism would be the future if I continued it past 2011 which I do not intend to do so, at least right now.

The discussion here is twofold, one I'm curious what you guys think of the timeline itself, providing a link here:


And two, both in terms of this timeline and other aspiring authors on this community, what happens when you guys attempt to create utopias? Does it wind up working well or does it end up like this, replacing our own messes with other messes just as chaotic and messy as our own world?
Tags: fiction, utopia
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