At the moment I’m trying to create a world where the Paris Commune triumphed and is now the head of a largely left wing France in 1896. This is requiring a lot of research as you have to create a world that shares much with the real Paris in 1896 but is different in some key ways because of that alternate line of history.
There are a few guide rules I have set myself to do this:
- People who were alive at the time are still alive and people were dead are mostly dead – if they died of old age or cancer they would still have died. If they commited suicide or drank themselves to death they may have survived because their personal circumstances would be different.
- The buildings are mostly the same – there is no Sacre Couer because that was partly a catholic and right wing reaction to the commune, but most of the rest of Paris is the same
- Most of the rest of the world is as it was in real life unless there is an obvious reason for change – there were successful copycat revolutions in other parts of Europe where there was similar unrest, but the US and UK are the same and the French Colonies in Africa and Asia are now French Communes because the economic expansion in those areas would still have demanded support form the French State
- Many of the same people have achieved or seek power – republican politicians such as Clemenceau will still have wanted to be in government and free elections mean there will also be Monarchists and conservatives elected
- Science may have advanced a few years (partly because Tesla stays in Paris rather than going to work with Edison and the government is strongly pro science) but there are few inventions that were not around within 10-15 years of the real 1896
- Artistic movements are largely unchanged – possibly the most controversial issue as it could be argued art is a reflection of society as well as individual taste, but the trends are still there and much was influenced by world rather than domestic issues such as the growing influence of Asian and African art and the general Fin du Siecle zeitgeist.
The one new technology I have allowed myself is the Revolutionary Tapestry of the title which is a version of the internet based on radio and punch card transmitters and receivers which has developed a sort of paper based blogging culture allied with the massive growth of newspapers and journals which linotype, rotogravure and cylindrical presses fuelled in the real world.
I’m not sure how good the rules are, but they are mine and I’m sticking with them.
I watched a debate the other day on the effects of the First World War where the word counterfactual cropped up every few minutes. Many were arguing that the changes in politics and society we attribute to WWI would have happened anyway as the seeds were already there. One of the characters in the book will speculate on what would have happened if Queen Victoria had died in childbirth and Prince Albert survived – for one thing he would have inherited the German throne and is likely to have been less antagonistic to a Britain ruled by his son than the real Kaiser was to the Britain ruled by his Aunt and Cousin. There are lots of “what if’s” in history and it is a fun game to play, but to be meaningful you have to set yourself rules