Trying to Write Non-Colonial Alternate-History in a Fantasy Context

The Spiritwalker Trilogy (starting with COLD MAGIC) is my attempt to write β€œan Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, and the intelligent descendents of troodons.”

There’s a quite interesting discussion of colonialism and post colonialism (specifically with regard to fantasy and science fiction and her own work) in N.K. Jemisin’s post Considering Colonialism. In the comments, Jemisin mentions that she thinks Spiritwalker might be a non-colonial narrative.

I suspect it is difficult if not impossible to write non-colonial narratives in our colonial and post-colonial world when writing from the perspective of a culture that has done its share of colonizing. However, I believe the point is to examine other ways the world could be (and is, outside a certain narrow range of vision) and open a window onto them.

Here is the map for COLD FIRE, Spiritwalker #2Β  (click to embiggen)

Map drawn by Jeffrey Ward from an original by me (assisted by A’ndrea Messer).

22 thoughts on “Trying to Write Non-Colonial Alternate-History in a Fantasy Context

  1. It’s a gorgeous map.

    I’m especially interested, living here, in the upper-Mississippi river analogue…is it that Lake Itasca is bigger, or its source in this world is one of other, larger “Minnesotan” lakes which is even bigger in this cold world?

  2. I’ve been really pleased with both this and the Cold Magic map, both redrawn from my original by Jeffrey Ward (at the Orbit offices).

    I am going on the assumption that the drainage area in the north is fairly diffuse (and not truly depicted on the map) due to marshland and tundra-melt in the shadow of the glacial shelf.

  3. Lovely map. I assume that you’ve followed the trend of the first book by having the place / people names have some historical background? I’m not very familiar with US place names (coming from Canterbury, UK) but am having some fun with the European places in Cold Magic. Can’t wait to find out more about the trolls in this book, roll on September!

  4. Yes, it’s all based on the history. The names of the islands northwest of the Dominican Republic (Kiskeya) are as far as we know the original names of the various Bahamas (which is a Taino word) and Turks & Kaicos Islands. There are 3 cities on the map whose names are based on adaptations of words in what we (my friend anthropologist Andrea Messer helped me with this map as she knows more about the North American indigenous populations than I do) believe were the local languages of the area. So, for example, Adanav is an English-ified adaptation of the word ‘trading post’ in the local indigenous language that would have been spoken in that area.

    Interestingly, Cuba is a short form of the longer place name that is, in fact, believed to be from the original Taino name for Cuba (although there was another population there before the Taino). Habana (Havana) likewise.

    I could go on, but I’ll restrain myself.

  5. Considering colonialism and post-colonial from the perspective musicology, anthropology and history in African Studies, South American and Caribbean Studies, particularly in the Caribbean and South America — well, I’ll quote a Jamaican music historian’s observation at the annual Experience Music Project conference a few years back: “Haven’t the Americans and Europeans ever heard of creolization?” It’s so interesting talking with these scholars and performers whose response to the concepts of cultural appropriation (as opposed to mis-appropriation) are so very different from how so many in the U.S. and Europe. This is what can be so fertile for fiction written by any of us, one may think?

  6. Alan, I could not resist drowning the Central Valley. Some day if I ever write a story set among the alt-Ohlone culture there, I’ll do a more precise map. With the lower sea levels, the Bay is a (presumably verdant) valley, but there is that nice gorge cutting out so there’s a river there somewhere. Just not sure of how the Delta looks in this timeline.

  7. Creole is absolutely a crucial way to look at this element of the historical process. I would suspect that musicologists specifically really see so much of the cross influence and the ways elements work into each other that they are especially likely to see it this way.

    (the melange of cultures in the Spiritwalker books is to a fair degree a conscious creolization)

  8. That’s feasible as well. I did not do a very close topographical view of that part of the continent as it sits very far away from the action.

  9. “Embiggen”? Not only do you make up worlds, you also make up words, methinks!

    I love maps, they really help me to understand things spatially. Must be a visual thinker…

  10. Alas, I stole embiggen from Pat Rothfuss. I don’t know where he stole it from. He might have made it up.

  11. I also think it’s also because it’s not an issue for them — it’s, well, musicians! O great music! Let me try that, show me how, let me show you how, let’s try this together!

    Love, C.

  12. Follow Up

    Here’s a link to a write up on embiggen and cromulent. Turns out the word goes back as far as the 19th century, and has even been used in physics. Amazing the things you find on the web. πŸ™‚

  13. Thanks for the link. That is actually wonderful. Especially the Springfield town motto.

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