Author Topic: The Ethics of Fantasy  (Read 1056 times)

Offline nomuse

  • Jupiter
  • ***
  • Posts: 831
The Ethics of Fantasy
« on: August 11, 2018, 05:11:21 PM »
I'm fascinated by the history of archaeology, by history of course (especially the Ancient World), and by conspiracy theories and fabulous tales and not a little golden age pulp.

As a would-be writer of historical fiction I'd love to do an Atlantis story, or some other tomb raiding lost cities ancient super-science hidden history.

But...I respect real history, real science, and the real people who are out there in the trenches (literally...at least when there's funding) doing archaeology.

Is there any way around the ethical conundrum? Are there any ways of being honest to the real history and real cultures whilst spinning a fantastic yarn about them? Is there, worse yet, any way to touch on the known (and, yes, overused) material -- your Nazca Lines and all that shite -- without giving tacit support to the liars and parasites?

Offline raven

  • Saturn
  • ****
  • Posts: 1390
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2018, 05:56:31 PM »
Make fantasy counterparts? Or use the existing ones and extrapolate forward how having the conspiratorial version would affect things.

Offline molesworth

  • Earth
  • ***
  • Posts: 159
  • the curse of st custards
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2018, 07:28:02 PM »
Is there any way around the ethical conundrum? Are there any ways of being honest to the real history and real cultures whilst spinning a fantastic yarn about them? Is there, worse yet, any way to touch on the known (and, yes, overused) material -- your Nazca Lines and all that shite -- without giving tacit support to the liars and parasites?
I think it comes down to the difference between a work that's obviously fiction, although set in an ancient culture, and something that's making outrageous claims about said culture.  Compare Robert E. Howard's stories and settings (not just the Conan ones) with Erich Von Daniken's brand of nonsense.

Personally, I'd love to read a story that connected the Nazca lines to Atlantis...  :)
Days spent at sea are not deducted from one's allotted span - Phoenician proverb

Offline nomuse

  • Jupiter
  • ***
  • Posts: 831
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2018, 09:09:41 PM »
Howard is quoted as going to Conan because he had found historical research was too time consuming to allow him to continue to make a living in the pulp field. Conan allowed him to play with historical cultures but fake a lot more of the details.

Back towards the ethical conundrum, I recently read a couple books from a series where the author would first thoroughly debunk something like the Bermuda Triangle...then go on to use it in the plot anyway. I'm on the fence whether that helped. At best, you can take it as a stage magician's game, a wink and nod that it is all bunk anyhow and now that that's out of the way, let me show you a trick.

The alternate universe idea is intriguing. Say Atlantis (well, some version -- what a confused myth that is these days!) is real. So it isn't just in Plato: Sophocles has a comedy about it. Ovid has a long commentary. Napoleon sent divers after it. Champollion took a first crack at the texts and they were finally cracked by Frank Chadwick. And the entire historical picture is consistent with it being there (well...as consistent as our picture of the Ancient World is, anyhow!)

The thing I totally can't accept is that something revolutionary and paradigm changing could slip through the cracks until the 20th century and only be uncovered by a high school student playing with Google Earth. Or be hidden by entrenched academics an/or a major industrial group with a lousy business plan.

Err...I mean revolutionary on the scale of "the Romans had spaceships and a colony on the Moon," not "The Hittites were a real people and had a massive empire in what's now Turkey."

The alternate world in which a continental mass nearly filling the Atlantic sunk 9,000 years ago is one that ceases to be indistinguishable from our world somewhere between Bacon and Lord Kelvin. But there's real potential in a more conservative Atlantis that gets discovered about the time the Minoans and, well, the Hittites are being uncovered. It's a period piece....and those are a lot of fun.

Offline Peter B

  • Jupiter
  • ***
  • Posts: 748
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2018, 12:48:13 AM »
I think it depends exactly how extreme you want to be. The thing is, there are still mysteries about civilisations we already know a lot about, and it's possible there are events we'll never know about because their archaeological trail is well and truly lost to time.

As an example, think of the Roman dodecahedrons. If you're unfamiliar with them, they're metal objects about the size of a golf ball. They're hollow (that is, they consist only of the faces - they're not solid), and the faces have circular holes in them. Archeologists have found dozens or hundreds of them, and we have no idea what they're for.

But there are other areas you could be free to speculate: one of the plot lines in a Clive Cussler thriller is a Roman merchant ship being blown across the Atlantic in a storm and making landfall in North America. We don't have any evidence of anything like that happening, but it's quite plausible. We know, after all, that in the Hellenistic and Imperial Roman centuries merchant ships sailed directly between the entrance to the Red Sea and India - across the Indian Ocean. And Herodotus relates the tale of a Carthaginian fleet circumnavigating Africa (personally, he didn't believe the story, but the evidence he presents is actually more believable than he gives it credit for).

It's also worth keeping in mind that authors have written historical/archaeological thrillers which sit in gaps in our knowledge. Can I recommend, for example, the author (and professional archaeologist) David Gibbins.

So, in summary, I think there's a lot of scope to write a story about a historical Atlantis that is entirely consistent with our current archaeological and historical knowledge. But, as with most fiction, you need a good story more than you need a good setting: the first can rescue the second, but the second can't rescue the first.

Offline smartcooky

  • Uranus
  • ****
  • Posts: 1578
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2018, 07:33:27 AM »
I personally don't have any problem whatsoever with authors writing a fictional story in a real world setting, and then playing with reality. In fact, I get somewhat annoyed at people who go out of their way to criticise such works of fiction because of their questionable historical accuracy. For example, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" was hugely criticised in certain quarters because they thought his conclusions went against what they accept as history. Its a work of fiction, folks. Brown made that clear from the get go.

I see it as no different than a work of fiction by someone like, Tom Clancy. He created a series (mostly written by Jeff Rovin) called Op Center which involved a fictional government agency called NCMC (National Crisis Management Centre). This agency was supposed to have been based in a building which used to be a pilot's ready room and flight crew staging area near the Naval Reserve flight line at Andrews AFB. In fact, there is no such thing as NCMC, and the building, as described in the books, doesn't exist (although there is a similar building very much like the the one described in the books at Travis AFB where the outdoor scenes for the movie was shot). However, it doesn't matter, because its just a work of fiction.
► What you can assert without evidence, I can dismiss without evidence
► When you argue with idiots you risk being dragged down to their level and beaten with experience.
► Conspiracism is a shortcut to the illusion of erudition

Offline Peter B

  • Jupiter
  • ***
  • Posts: 748
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2018, 08:59:24 AM »
I personally don't have any problem whatsoever with authors writing a fictional story in a real world setting, and then playing with reality. In fact, I get somewhat annoyed at people who go out of their way to criticise such works of fiction because of their questionable historical accuracy. For example, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" was hugely criticised in certain quarters because they thought his conclusions went against what they accept as history. Its a work of fiction, folks. Brown made that clear from the get go.

I didn't know about criticism of Brown from that angle. :)

What I do know is that the plot was lifted pretty much completely from theories proposed in the crypto-history book "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail" by Leigh, Lincoln and Baigent (note that TDVC character Sir Leigh Teabing's name is derived from those of two of the authors), two of whom sued Brown.

And from a writer's perspective, TDVC was a pretty ordinary piece of writing. Though, judging from its sales that often doesn't matter if the subject matter is interesting enough to enough people (see also the "Fifty Shades" and "Twilight" series!).

Quote
I see it as no different than a work of fiction by someone like, Tom Clancy. He created a series (mostly written by Jeff Rovin) called Op Center which involved a fictional government agency called NCMC (National Crisis Management Centre). This agency was supposed to have been based in a building which used to be a pilot's ready room and flight crew staging area near the Naval Reserve flight line at Andrews AFB. In fact, there is no such thing as NCMC, and the building, as described in the books, doesn't exist (although there is a similar building very much like the the one described in the books at Travis AFB where the outdoor scenes for the movie was shot). However, it doesn't matter, because its just a work of fiction.

I'm working through some similar issues with a story I'm trying to put together - basically it's an attempt to do a better "Apollo 18" story than appeared in that movie from a few years ago. I discussed some of the issues with Obviousman a few months ago, but basically the problem I'm trying to resolve is whether the launch of Apollo 18 is something which happens in our timeline (and was therefore effectively covered up) or something which happened in an alternative timeline and was therefore known to the public.

Offline bknight

  • Neptune
  • ****
  • Posts: 2539
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2018, 10:56:15 AM »
Apollo 18 was killed by the Congress when they took funds away from NASA and diverted them to social programs pure and simple.
The drive to land on the Moon had been accomplished and the goal was obtained so the fever to continue at breakneck pace was slowed, missions that had hardware bought and paid for were shelved IIR shorty before A 12.  NASA itself was somewhat reluctant to press beyond A17 as they had been fortunate to overcome difficulties in subsequent missions achieving a 100% ratio of returning crews alive from Luna missions.


To the Liberals that deemed money wasted on the Lunar Missions wanted funds diverted and got them.  Manned  missions were sent into LEO with the Shuttle and ISS (thanks goodness or some science to proceed).  The drive to develop a reusable spacecraft did not work as planned, and that project was scrapped.


NASA is at the whim of current Congress and the Executive.  They know this and attempt to do long term planning with the constant thought of reduce budgets in their minds.  Not a very good for longer termed projects, but it is the best the Country can do.


Off the soapbox, just my thoughts and I hope that long termed missions to the Moon and beyond will be undertaken.
Truth needs no defense.  Nobody can take those footsteps I made on the surface of the moon away from me.
Eugene Cernan

Offline Halcyon Dayz, FCD

  • Earth
  • ***
  • Posts: 113
  • Contrarian's Contrarian
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2018, 11:12:30 AM »
the problem I'm trying to resolve is whether the launch of Apollo 18 is something which happens in our timeline (and was therefore effectively covered up) or something which happened in an alternative timeline and was therefore known to the public.
Some time ago we discussed the Apollo 20 mystification and the consensus was that doing an Apollo-style mission in secret is impossible.
Hatred is a cancer upon the world.
It rots the mind and blackens the heart.

Offline nomuse

  • Jupiter
  • ***
  • Posts: 831
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2018, 12:08:48 PM »
The problem I have is not one of logic but of ethics. Given sufficiently rubber science, or sufficient suspension of disbelief, almost any scenario can be made plausible for the length of a book.

Not all scenarios are equal, however. Those two faces are visible in the Apollo Hoax; on one side, it is a silly idea presented with shoddy science that gives us a chance to talk about the real thing some more. But on the other side, the very idea of the hoax is (and is meant as, by the promoters) a statement that the scientists and engineers we admire, have worked along side, in some cases are ourselves, are deeply dishonest, grossly incompetent, or both.

Other than being a form of a general and pervasive anti-science trend, though, the Apollo Hoax argument strikes me as being more ethically neutral than not. Creating a narrative, however, in which the Holocaust was fake (whether for a shoddy web page or for a serious novel) is not ethically neutral.

And that's the thing. There is hardly a bad idea in the popular pseudo-archeological circles that isn't rooted in hyperdiffusionism, nationalism, and often as not bald-faced racism.

It would be simple to write a novel in which the Solutrean Hypothesis is correct. It hardly needs any mangling of the facts to work. But it would not be a kind thing to do.

And that's my problem. Even for an adventure romp along the lines of Stargate, every real-world Kensington Rune Stone and Coso Artifact you bring in to add that patina of verisimilitude to your plot plays into someone else's ongoing narrative. And it is a narrative, too often, of intolerance and hate.

Offline Jason Thompson

  • Saturn
  • ****
  • Posts: 1360
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #10 on: August 12, 2018, 01:34:54 PM »
What I do know is that the plot was lifted pretty much completely from theories proposed in the crypto-history book "The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail" by Leigh, Lincoln and Baigent (note that TDVC character Sir Leigh Teabing's name is derived from those of two of the authors), two of whom sued Brown.

Fun fact: one of those three, Henry Lincoln, was responsible, with Mervyn Haisman, for three Doctor Who scrits during the Patrick Troughton era, in which he introduced the Yeti, the Great Intelligence (which returned in Matt Smith's final season), and one Colonel Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart who, following a promotion to Brigadier, made many more appearances and is still referenced in the new series, with Kate Stewart being his daughter.

That has sod-all to do with the topic of conversation, but I rather like the connection. :)
"There's this idea that everyone's opinion is equally valid. My arse! Bloke who was a professor of dentistry for forty years does NOT have a debate with some eejit who removes his teeth with string and a door!"  - Dara O'Briain

Offline Kiwi

  • Mars
  • ***
  • Posts: 397
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2018, 10:34:32 AM »
I'm fascinated by the history of archaeology, by history of course (especially the Ancient World), and by conspiracy theories and fabulous tales and not a little golden age pulp.

As a would-be writer of historical fiction I'd love to do an Atlantis story...

Me too, regarding your first line. Have been recently enjoying some of the Treasures Decoded programmes on TV, and back in the late 60s, early 70s used to soak up von Daniken when I was much more open to such stuff, and most of all was stunned by the sights in the movie, Chariots of the Gods?  (1970), which really got me looking into archaeology and ancient cultures.

The most interesting thing I recently found about old cultures was a contemporary account of how some people were affected by the changeover from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. I had previously read that the Sumerians (IIRC) had a centuries-long monopoly on iron and didn't want their enemies to get it because along with other things, iron made better swords and spears for killing people.

So there are stories like that in history books but not much that was written around that time regarding known people, except for the little hint I picked up on the internet last week:- Just three verses in the Bible, 1 Samuel 13:19-21. A much newer version than the King James is required to understand what is said there, but an explanation is also required.

The Philistines had a monopoly on iron production in their area and didn't want the Hebrews to get it, but did them the favour of sharpening, with iron files, their softer agricultural tools - plowshares, mattocks, forks, axes and goads - in exchange for little coins of one-third to two-thirds of a shekel. And this happened close to a time when they went into battle against each other - the Philistines with sword and spear and the Hebrews with bow-and-arrow and slingshot.

I was rather fascinated to see that. Sometime after this, some fella called David who was very handy with a slingshot came into the picture.

Also recently, I bought some of the Ancient Aliens TV series which were in end-of-line sales, so dirt cheap, for the same reason as the movie above - to see the really good views of sites and old technologies. For instance, there are magnificent flyovers of the Nazca plains and also the nearby flattened hilltops with lines all over them, which I've not seen before in either video or still photos. I noticed that many of the drawings seem to be on top of the impressively long and straight lines, so might be later. There are also excellent views of the Band of Holes in the Pisco Valley, Peru, a bit further north from Nazca. The Google Earth views of these places are pretty lousy - filmed when the sun is too high.

While sometimes the Ancient Alien believers go too far over the top for me, the episodes do at least let some opponents have their say, but the debate is nearly always finished by the believers, who, like many HBs, do a lot of guessing instead of investigating the science.

But after watching just the first six episodes I started wondering if, instead of ancient astronauts and aliens, could some cultures have perhaps been influenced and helped along by survivors of Atlantis? To me, that possibility seems a little less remote. There are claims that Atlanteans had technologies greater than our current ones, and I remember being blown away back in 1968 by descriptions of flying machines and warfare in parts of the Mahabharata.

Anyway, Nomuse, besides what you've read regarding Atlantis, I've heard of, but not read, books that are said to be "channeled" and apparently have stuff about life in Atlantis, so they might give you some inspiration and more to adapt and work with. You can learn about them at Wikipedia and they are apparently out of copyright, so can be obtained free online in PDFs or text files:-
1. A Dweller on Two Planets by Phylos the Thibetan, Neville Spearman, London.
2. Isis Unveiled by H P Blavatsky.
3. The Secret Doctrine by H P Blavatsky.
The last two were published by the Theosophical Publishing Co., Pasadena.

They might be heavy reading because some writers born during the Victorian era seemed to use thirty words to write what could have been a ten-word sentence.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2018, 11:58:07 AM by Kiwi »
Don't criticize what you can't understand. — Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin'” (1963)
Some people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices and superstitions. — Edward R. Murrow (1908–65)

Offline gillianren

  • Uranus
  • ****
  • Posts: 1685
    • My Letterboxd journal
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2018, 12:10:42 PM »
I personally don't have any problem whatsoever with authors writing a fictional story in a real world setting, and then playing with reality. In fact, I get somewhat annoyed at people who go out of their way to criticise such works of fiction because of their questionable historical accuracy. For example, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" was hugely criticised in certain quarters because they thought his conclusions went against what they accept as history. Its a work of fiction, folks. Brown made that clear from the get go.

I didn't know about criticism of Brown from that angle. :)

It exists because he's trying to have his cake and eat it, too--"the story is fiction but vast amounts of the things in it are real."  Including most of the plagiarized bits, which are the previous authors' falling for a known hoax.
"This sounds like a job for Bipolar Bear . . . but I just can't seem to get out of bed!"

"Conspiracy theories are an irresistible labour-saving device in the face of complexity."  --Henry Louis Gates

Offline Halcyon Dayz, FCD

  • Earth
  • ***
  • Posts: 113
  • Contrarian's Contrarian
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2018, 02:52:59 PM »
Dan Browned is an expression now.
Hatred is a cancer upon the world.
It rots the mind and blackens the heart.

Offline Peter B

  • Jupiter
  • ***
  • Posts: 748
Re: The Ethics of Fantasy
« Reply #14 on: August 14, 2018, 10:17:10 AM »
The problem I have is not one of logic but of ethics. Given sufficiently rubber science, or sufficient suspension of disbelief, almost any scenario can be made plausible for the length of a book.

Not all scenarios are equal, however. Those two faces are visible in the Apollo Hoax; on one side, it is a silly idea presented with shoddy science that gives us a chance to talk about the real thing some more. But on the other side, the very idea of the hoax is (and is meant as, by the promoters) a statement that the scientists and engineers we admire, have worked along side, in some cases are ourselves, are deeply dishonest, grossly incompetent, or both.

Other than being a form of a general and pervasive anti-science trend, though, the Apollo Hoax argument strikes me as being more ethically neutral than not. Creating a narrative, however, in which the Holocaust was fake (whether for a shoddy web page or for a serious novel) is not ethically neutral.

And that's the thing. There is hardly a bad idea in the popular pseudo-archeological circles that isn't rooted in hyperdiffusionism, nationalism, and often as not bald-faced racism.

It would be simple to write a novel in which the Solutrean Hypothesis is correct. It hardly needs any mangling of the facts to work. But it would not be a kind thing to do.

And that's my problem. Even for an adventure romp along the lines of Stargate, every real-world Kensington Rune Stone and Coso Artifact you bring in to add that patina of verisimilitude to your plot plays into someone else's ongoing narrative. And it is a narrative, too often, of intolerance and hate.

Okay, I see where you're coming from.

However I think you may be over-thinking it. When it comes to fiction there are plenty of ways to set a story in such a way that you don't give any particular comfort to the woo or otherwise unpleasant theory peddlers. One way is to set the story enough in the past that it involves archaeologists with a lot less knowledge of the past than we have today. Therefore, a much wider range of potential theories are still on the table.

Consider that ideas about a large island out in the Atlantic Ocean which slid into the sea thousands of years in the past really only became scientifically implausible once scientists mapped the sea floor and found the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

There are also perfectly legitimate reasons why scientific knowledge might be lost. Consider what secret maps were destroyed when Lisbon was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami.

But I'd reiterate that there are still plenty of mysteries about even those civilisations we know a lot about. We're missing most of the plays of the great Greek tragedy writers, and lots of writing from other well-known authors. For all we know, some of those missing texts may have interesting information pointing to something we might conveniently call Atlantis.

And there are plenty of examples of settled land disappearing, whether through earthquake, volcanic eruption, desertification, subsidence, sea level rise or erosion. Perhaps you could call one of them Atlantis.

Now, I accept that places like Egypt, Sumer and India are likely to have been the first places where civilisation arose, simply because they were so fertile that they allowed people to gather in larger numbers than ever before. But the logical extension of this is that if there was another similarly fertile location in existence somewhere else even earlier, then it might have been the location of an earlier civilisation.

Put all of that together, and you can have your Atlantis located in, say, Sundaland, at the mouth of the Mekong River, around 15,000 years ago (during the Last Glacial Maximum), with everything coming to an end as the world warmed and sea levels rose. And now that all the remains are 20-40 metres below sea level and tens of kilometres out to sea, it's unlikely that any archaeological remains are going to be found. But perhaps some fragments of stories remain, preserved by the few who escaped the destruction.

Is that a setting you could play with?