Lunacon 2014 (1b): Alternate Technologies in Historical Fiction

Panelists: Russ Handelman, James Cambias, Paul Calhoun

And here he is, That Annoying Guy From One Seat Over.  This archetype shows up at every con, like a restless spirit.

One of the panelists pointed out that, more or less by definition, this would actually have to be about alternate historical fiction.

Examples of a missed technology:

  • Handelman: Could steam locomotives have happened 50 years earlier?
  • Cambias: Once you have cloth and fire, you can have balloons.  Why did they wait until the 18th century?  (Some people think the Mesoamericans had them.)
  • Calhoun: complex calculators like the Antikythera Device.

All in all, Calhoun was far and away the least effective panel member.

Technology needs a use before it will be adopted.  Muscle power is effective and cheap — you only get machines when the application is impossible or expensive to do with muscle.

Technology that disrupts existing power structures will be resisted by the people in charge of those structures.  Until the modern age, societies were not tolerant of that disruption, so change came very slowly.  If you want an industrial revolution in ancient times, you’re going to have change the form of antiquity.

Handelman mentioned a book called The Most Powerful Idea in the World, which posits that the Industrial Revolution occurred in England because the English had invented patent law.  I wonder if the century of civil war and ongoing disruption was also vital.

Then, there was a fire alarm and we had to flee the building.  That cut the session short.

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