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My version of Retrofuturism features an intrusion of modern people, technology and ideas into an earlier world. I like it because I can write about modern issues within a scenario that allows swords and swordfights, sailing ships and cannon duels, as well as contrast modern attitudes with those of slower changing societies.

My modern intrusion in the Iskander series of novels are a small group of engineers, technologists, and resource scientists stranded in an alternate 17th century Earth called Gaia. The Iskanders are civilians and few because I need to avoid any ‘alien invasion’ aspect. I picked a total of a hundred and ten, because that seemed the minimum number of experts one needs to create any viable technological society from scratch. You need enough engineers to design and run basic industries – a steelworks, fabrication plants, and suitable products to sell. You need a medical staff, an administrator or two, biologists and agronomists to develop sources of useful plants that may not be currently available in a 17th century world, mining engineers, and a construction crew or two to build the plants and accommodation. There are more than that but you get the idea.

I picked the late 17th century because on our world it comes before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and I didn’t want to make things easy for my moderns. They have to bootstrap their way up in this world. The society predates organized systems of international trade, banking, international law, capitalist financing, etc, but is not so primitive as to preclude their early adoption. There is room for enemies with the basic infrastructure of mercantilist society who have competent spy systems, and powerful armies and navies, trained and organized enough to present a credible threat to the efforts of the moderns. All stories need dangerous enemies and significant obstacles to overcome.

Novels need interesting and appealing characters to propel the stories and the varied ethnicity of the moderns reflect a multicultural world in our future. My protagonist is Gisel Matah, a young woman of Anglo-Indian and Greek heritage who becomes the modern group’s most capable security officer. I mentioned the enemies above – the modern group soon find they need some kind of self-defence force in a world without police forces or a forum for promoting worldwide peace and good government. Gisel’s motivation to create such organizations is one of her deeply held beliefs and the stories show the success and failures of her long term goal. She has a number of colleagues and friends who share her aims and work with her in the novels. But some of the Iskanders hold to other creeds and oppose her efforts – as in real life.

She also has strong Gaian enemies, the main antagonist in the stories being Commandante Drago Zagdorf, the spymaster and military commander appointed by the Emperor to investigate and combat these mysterious Iskanders who threaten to overturn the status quo. While there are a number of allied and neutral nations within the area encompassed by the stories, the main enemy is always the Trigon Empire that rules most of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East as far as the deserts of Baluchistan, and the Kosmoneos – the new world colonies where they mine the silver and gold that pays for their armies and huge network of informers and spies. The Trigons are also descended from offworlders who were castaways some 200 years before. I had to introduce them as conquerors of the Carthaginian empire that developed after the Romans were defeated in the Punic Wars because earlier readers seemed to think only space aliens could constitute an adequate threat to my moderns. This was the during the time of hubris in the early twenty-first century when ‘shock and awe’ was considered enough to vanquish anyone. I added the Trigons, but made them descendants of soldiers who were unable to sustain or build a technological society. It allows me to avoid ‘star wars’ scenarios but to have a powerful enemy desperately working to maintain their reactionary power by attacking anyone who might attempt to create novelties or promote new ideas.

Retrofuturism explores ‘what ifs’ of past history, and in doing so casts a fresh beam of inquiry into actual events. It must also do that while telling a good story, and I’d suggest you try my Iskander series as a worthwhile contributor to the genre.

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