Friday, October 10, 2014

Steamscapes: Asia Development Log -- Flashman (Rerun)

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Originally posted April 2, 2014
I wish I could have used Frank Frazetta's cover for Flashman at the Charge.

Wait?! What?

What do the Flashman Papers -- that series of historical adventure novels about the cowardly, jingoistic, womanizing bully Sir Harry Flashman VC KCB KCIE by the curmudgeonly conservative George MacDonald Fraser -- possibly have to do with Steamscapes? Aren't the Flashman Papers' celebration of Playboy-style bed-hopping and Victorian empire-building contrary to the tone and intent of the social justice alternate history I'm supposed to be writing? Didn't I say I was going to write about Yojimbo next?

First, the Flashman Papers are a perfect example of the adage "history is stranger than fiction." While Flashman himself is fictional, the vast majority of people he meets and interacts with are not and reading these novels opened my eyes to just how colorful and bizarre the real world can be. Lola Montez? James Brooke? The Taiping Rebellion? I wouldn't know about any of them without Flashy. I'm sure many gamers read the description of Steamscapes as "a pure genre steampunk setting" and think it must be boring. The Flashman Papers long ago proved to me that the real world is a setting as wild and wooly as any that exists.

Second, I can hardly recommend that everyone read the Flashman novels (especially the first one), but the fact of the matter is that Harry Flashman's brutally honest and self-deprecating narration takes to task the worst aspects of both British leaders and those of the foreign lands he visits. One of the design concepts for Steamscapes is that every nation in the setting should have both its positive and negative aspects, that it can be both hero and villain. I'm too much a student of history to be entirely supportive of either the ishin shishi or the shogunate, and Japan's success in resisting Western domination must always be measured against its own aggression toward the rest of Asia. I'd say the Flashman Papers have helped with maintaining perspective.

Third, I haven't had the time to re-watch Yojimbo yet. (For the first time in my life, I am having the unholy wish that I could watch it dubbed so I could follow the dialogue without having to watch the screen, and thereby multitask.) What I have had time for was to browse Hulu Plus for inspirational material, which led in a roundabout way to this post.

One of the half-dozen or so anime available on Hulu Plus that are set in and around the time period I'm working on is Intrigue in the Bakumatsu - Irohanihoheto, the story of a mysterious ronin and an equally mysterious theater company that get involved in a crazy occult conspiracy involved in the fall of the shogunate. (Or something like that; I haven't made it past the first episode yet.) Browsing the Wikipedia entry for the show told me that one of the characters in the show is the historical figure Thomas Blake Glover: a Scotsman who defied English law to sell arms to the anti-foreigner(!) pro-Imperial faction and later went on to help found Mitsubishi and Kirin.

Cripes, history really is crazier than fiction. And when you add in steam-powered robots and make it an alternate history you can go nuts in, then why wouldn't you want to play?


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