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Memories of the 28th Century

Serfs Anonymous

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I was just writing the submission guidelines for a magazine that I am planning to start, when I came to the matter of the Fantasy subgenre. For some reason it has remained stuck in the Middle Ages, and I wonder why. There is something cute about knights, but is a strongly hierarchical society all that interesting or desirable, or what. Do the writers of that sort of thing want to be serfs in a restored feudal society? If thatís the sort of society they want, then they must realize that I would be the king.

A limited (quite tiny) number of stories of that subgenre have included republics or oligarchies, even though there were free cities, republics, etc. even during the height of the Middle Ages. I donít read much of that sort of thing; although I have read it in the past. Most authors make such times seem wonderful, but they neglect some of the ways that things have changed since then. If we look back more than a hundred years we would see more and more filth and disease. The tendency away from filth and disease has continued even the short time during which I have been on Earth. Itís cute how fiction about the past seldom even mentions the lack of bathing and sanitary facilities, but when we stop and think about it, we realize that indoor plumbing was rare in all countries until about a hundred years ago, and when we look back at the Middle Ages, replete with knights, lords, and ladies, we find people who seldom washed themselves at all, and who might have never had a whole body bath in their lives. When we consider the common folk, we find people who knew even less about soap, but they might have gone swimming in a stream, and thatís better than nothing. There were even people who professed the superiority of not washing.

I remember someone I worked with finding it humorous that there was a double three seater behind an old schoolhouse that had been turned into a museum. She seemed to find it unthinkable that there wouldnít have been flush toilets. And that building was only about a hundred fifty years old. If we look at conditions of eight hundred years ago, we wouldnít even find an outhouse in many cases, and many people in civilized Western Europe were living in wattle and daub huts. Donít get the wrong idea; Iím not opposed to wattle and daub, but it is a rather primitive construction method, roughly equivalent to woven bamboo; well, O.K., it is a little better than bamboo in some ways.

I may have dwelt too much on the primitiveness of plumbing and sanitary facilities. The point is that people read these Fantasy novels quite avidly, but I for one have always had trouble identifying with characters who arenít as clean as a stray dog, I wonder how other readers of such literature deal with trying to identify with characters who live in huts without indoor plumbing; characters who probably never took a bath in their lives. It probably is worse for women who would have to deal with their periods, and the births of children, about half of whom wouldnít survive to be adults.

I once added the detail of time travellers collecting water from a river to add to the pot that was over the fire, and a critiquer thought it was an absurd thing to do, as if there should have been a source for pure water. I love the idea of being able to visit more primitive times and places, but I would like to be able to set up modern sanitary facilities, but I have done enough backpacking that I am not afraid of being with out modern facilities. I wonder if people still learn about the development of technology that included sources of clean water and facilities to treat sewerage. There are wonderful stories about the invention of antibiotics, but how much do we learn about Thomas Crapper? And who invented the waste water treatment plant? It wasnít all that long ago when raw sewerage was dumped directly into rivers, and people hoped that the river would take it away. The first sewer treatment operation was less than two hundred years ago. (see link below)

I suppose that a disease free Middle Ages would have been pleasant, but thatís not what happened on Earth. Is it a variety of Eutopian literature, literature about an idealized place? Even after I get my time machine running, I think that I'll avoid places where that were many people living in the past.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sewage_...Early_attempts

Updated 02-13-2014 at 06:35 PM by PeterL (typos)

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  1. Dark Muse's Avatar
    As a reader of fantasy, and someone who does enjoy the Medieval time setting of which the majority of fantasy is set in I can say that for me the appeal of it is the fact that I am a Medieval Weapons enthusiast. I love swords, daggers, bows and arrows, etc. And I do think that Medieval warfare is far more interesting than modern warfare. Also I do much like the idea of a world in which the predominant mode of transportation was horses. I love horses and riding. Castles are also pretty cool looking. Ideally I myself would want to live in a stone house with a crocodile infested mote. I think the Middle Ages also lends itself way to introducing magic and magical creatures, because the people of those time periods did believe in many of those creatures we call fantasy today and were very superstitious about the practice of magic.

    Though I have to say I have always thought that a fantasy novel set in the Renaissance period would be really cool.
  2. PeterL's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Muse
    As a reader of fantasy, and someone who does enjoy the Medieval time setting of which the majority of fantasy is set in I can say that for me the appeal of it is the fact that I am a Medieval Weapons enthusiast. I love swords, daggers, bows and arrows, etc. And I do think that Medieval warfare is far more interesting than modern warfare. Also I do much like the idea of a world in which the predominant mode of transportation was horses. I love horses and riding. Castles are also pretty cool looking. Ideally I myself would want to live in a stone house with a crocodile infested mote. I think the Middle Ages also lends itself way to introducing magic and magical creatures, because the people of those time periods did believe in many of those creatures we call fantasy today and were very superstitious about the practice of magic.

    Though I have to say I have always thought that a fantasy novel set in the Renaissance period would be really cool.
    I understand the appeal of medieval weaponry and war; those weapons weren't completely abandoned until rather recently (the last cavalry charge was in WW II), but that doesn't out weight the slavery, hierarchical society, and lack of sanitation. If you want a stone house with a moat, then go for it, but I would suggest that you also include modern plumbing.