My Distracting Thought To Start The Year


An alternate history where the big change is that “Entrance of the Gladiators” never gets arranged to play at circuses as the “Here Come The Clowns” music, because “Pomp and Circumstance” got that treatment first.

Statistics Saturday: Ranking of _Nightmare Before Christmas_ Alternate Universes


  1. Jack Skellington opens the tree-door into Saint Patrick’s Day Town instead.
  2. In a Prisoner Of Zenda scenario Jack Skellington has to pretend to be Santa Claus long enough to foil the evil plot that would destroy all holidays. Everywhere.
  3. They kidnap the Santa Claus from the Rankin/Bass Specials Universe, the one who never saw a Christmas he wasn’t ready to ditch.
  4. Story is set in an alternate history where a Progressive-era reformer convinced the American culture that his, highly idiosyncratic, order for washing his body parts was the one and only one truly hygienic way to clean, and since most everybody is naturally drawn to a different order and has to train themselves out of it most folks have very slight bathing or showering-related neuroses, and while there’s modern research showing whatever order you wash your body parts in is fine, not following The Cleaning Protocol is still seen as this weird-o hippie moon-man attitude and is shunned by respectable white cis-hetero society.
  5. Sally has a specific interest that isn’t this Jack guy that I guess knows who she is but I’m not positive he does?
  6. It starts with what looks like a Freaky Friday scenario, Jack and Santa swapping bodies, only for Jack to slowly realize that in the future he grows up to be Santa Claus.

Reference: Empire Express: Building The First Transcontinental Railroad, David Haward Bain.

(Have to say I’m really interested in how #4 there plays out with the baseline story.)

One of those odd stray thoughts


You know, Mike Oldfield didn’t write “Tubular Bells” for The Exorcist. Director William Friedkin picked it when the original soundtrack was too scary, and he didn’t yet know about Tangerine Dream. So, like, in an alternate timeline, that tune doesn’t have any association with anything horrifying. It could have ended up being the sound for merry Christmas melodies of the 70s and 80s. You never see that sort of thing in alternate-history novels, though. Alternate history is a fun genre, ranging from stories about “what if the worst people won the major war” all the way to stories about “what if there were lots more moon landings”. But it never wonders about what if prog rock albums were appreciated differently.

Why I Am Not A Successful Alternate-History Writer


So, it’s an alternate history where everything is like it was here, only instead of the gold standard countries drifted to the gold dragon standard. It’s 1893. Industrial-capitalism-driven finance, as embodied by J.P. Morgan, has after decades of fighting reached a tentative but solid-looking peace accord with the nascent environmental movement, as embodied by John Muir. But danger is mounting. The Granger movement is pressing hard for the re-adoption of silver dragons as a foundation for currency outside South Asia. And the so-called Treaty of Oyster Bay may collapse against the deepening of the balance-of-payments crisis in Washington. As Grover Cleveland fends off appeals from the Bryan wing of his own party, and arranges his own secret and possibly illicit cancer surgery, Muir and Morgan have to work out whose sides they want to be on, and what they want to press for, before the endangered North American Gold Dragon is lost forever.

My fellow reading group members described it as featuring “oh Lord even more words?” and bringing up memories of “how much my head hurt as a kid when I asked my parents what it meant that, like, France was buying Japanese Yen”. Other comments included, “do the dragons even do anything?” and “did you have to call it the Bland-Allison Act? Is that even a joke? What is this thing?” and, in what I consider a glowing review, “can you at least have a dragon eat Prescott Hall or something? Please?”

In the first sequel it’s 1898 and rumors of a major cache of gold dragons coming out of the Yukon threatens to scramble the worldwide recovery from the Panic of 1893. The rush of American settlers into northwestern Canada presents great new challenges to the meaning of Canadian — and Alaskan — national identity, just as biologists find their understanding of the development of dragons challenged by the extreme-cold-weather breed’s anomalous sides. The new potential for Canadian self-determination calls into question the whole constitutional settlement of the British Empire, at a time when Australia and New Zealand’s needs for local constitutions and the stirrings of a new war with the Boers occupy Her Majesty’s Government, and the scientific minds try to square paradigm-shattering data about evolution and thermodynamics into their worldview.

My beta readers describe the roughed-out novel as “incredibly many words between cool parts that have dragons” and “are you working out some crazypants obscurant flame war with somebody about this Lord Carnavon [sic] guy?” And when I bring new chapters to a group session at the bookstore people’s eyes light up and they hide behind the Coffee Table Art books and do that thing where they playfully feign tossing manuscript pages into the fireplace! The kidders. They have to know by now I know there’s a grate over the fireplace.

Now the second sequel is set in the early 1910s and pulls back from the questions of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and prospective Dominions to more closely examine United States monetary policy. Between the influence of the Populist movement on American politics and the passing of people like Morgan, the public’s coming around to accept the need for regularized, boring systems that can handle dragon-related crises instead of trusting that Great Men will somehow be found when needed. And so it’s a struggle among the followers and students of the previous generation’s greats to exactly work out the parameters of the Federal Preserve System.

I only have this in a roughed-out form, mostly notes on my laptop. But already Scrivener is so excited by this it’s set my computer on fire and several of its programmers have come around my house to holler at me at six in the morning, every morning, for a week now. But even they have to admit that the couple chapters I’ve written “don’t read nearly so much like a manifesto as I expected” and “wait, so, like, are banks just keeping dragons in vaults or something? Like, can tellers go in back during lunch and pet one? Do bank robbers come out with nests of dragons?” I don’t know, but that might be interesting if I can find space for a side story that petty in what I figure’s going to be a 700,000-word book!

Now I know all this sounds great, but I know my readers are trying to be nice so the stories aren’t that compelling. At that I still think the publisher might not have thrown me out on the street and kicked me in the back if I hadn’t insisted on naming it The Origin of Specie trilogy. I’m sorry, but her suggestion of The Gilded Age is a great title but it would need a story set in the 1870s to make the title sensible and I can’t think of anything sensible for that era.

PS no stealing my story, I e-mailed it to myself in an attachment I haven’t opened yet so I can prove it’s mine.

Warnings From The Dream World: Trans-Dimensional Travel Edition


So, yeah, apparently I’m getting warnings about possible troubles while I’m dreaming again and I share this one with you because it seems like it could be of use to pretty near anyone. I’m breaking up what is really one sentence into a couple paragraphs for easier reading. You’ll thank me when you see the wisdom my subconscious is depositing on you.

Suppose that you should happen by some means to fall into an alternate timeline and are in the San Francisco of a much more totalitarian, police-state United States.

If the only way you have of getting home is to make a desperate cross-country trip to New York City, with your only real guidance a crude, placemat-type mat that promises if you head far enough north from San Francisco you’ll meet I-75, which in this abomination of a timeline then goes more or less due east towards Manhattan …

And if you reason that before setting out with precious little of the cash currency for the alternate-United States that it’s worthwhile stopping in to a relentlessly average San Francisco-area shopping mall to take in a movie at the multiplex …

And if you try to pay for the movie using your credit card from this your home timeline and the cashier keeps fingering it curiously and ultimately has to go back to discuss it with the manager and this sets off a long series of negotiations among the multiplex’s staff about the validity of this curious negotiable instrument …

Then you should really cut your losses and just give up on seeing the movie, because the argument with the multiplex staff about it after they’ve swiped your card and whether your payment is in a valid tender or whether it’s even remotely compatible with the credit card swiping devices of this alternate history is not a productive use of your time. Bluntly, even if you argue yourself into the theater, the kerfluffle is just going to attract the local police — as it likely would even in our non-dystopian timeline given how heated it is getting — and their report is just going to call attention to the really terrible secret police, and the movie just is not worth it. Seriously. Let it go. Save the argument about the negotiability of a credit card from another timeline for something worthwhile, like the gas station.

I probably shouldn’t have to explain all this, but believe me, it’s very frustrating especially when you realize that the movie ticket argument is not the one you should be having right then and there.