Today is a national holiday — the one that celebrates all the Presidents, which seems a little strange to me. I mean, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Roosevelt, Kennedy? Yeah, sure. But does the Presidency of James Buchanan really deserve a holiday? And what about William Henry Harrison’s pneumonia-plagued tenure of exactly one month — surely a highlight in Presidential history and worthy of a national holiday. It all seems a bit odd to me. Then again, it’s a day off, so what the heck.
Anyway, these holiday Mondays are usually pretty quiet here at MW, so I thought I’d take a week off from the serious writing stuff and focus on something on the fun side. And what’s more fun than lists? Nothing, I say! (And, in fact, I’ve done something like this before.) To wit:
A list made especially for President’s Day, by a writer who is lately fascinated with historical fantasy… (A note here: I have tried very hard to keep polemics out of this. I’m not looking for arguments about politics. This is supposed to be fun. Let’s make sure that our comments follow the same tack, all right?)
Best Political System Created for a Fantasy or Science Fiction Series: I’m going to declare this one a tie (I know, right off the bat I’m hedging….) between George R. R. Martin’s ongoing A Song of Ice and Fire series and Frank Herbert’s Dune books. The political systems in both are incredibly (and realistically) complex and nuanced. The level of detail in both is breathtaking, and both systems are absolutely essential to the plotting of the series. If you’re into worldbuilding, and looking for books to model your political work after, look no further.
Best Use of a Historical Figure in a Book: This one is for Misty. Have any of you ever read Expiration Date by Tim Powers? Fantastic book. And at somewhere along the way Thomas Edison shows up and insinuates himself into the narrative. I think you have to be very careful with such things — the effect can often be terribly hokey. But Powers makes it work perfectly. A master at work. The book is definitely worth reading. The follow-up, Earthquake Weather, is on my TBR pile.
Best Use of a Historical Figure in a Movie: Yes, I know, a lot to choose from here. But there is that moment in the third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Indy, dressed as a Nazi soldier, is in Berlin at a book burning, and winds up face-to-face with Adolph Hitler while holding his father’s diary, which contains the key to EVERYTHING the Nazis want to accomplish. Hitler glares at him for a moment, then whips out a pen and signs the book. Cracks me up every time I see it.
If I Were to Write a Fantasy Book About a President, It Would be About ____: I was going to say “…About a Historical Figure…” but I’ve just written a couple of books that include Samuel Adams and James Otis, among others (Thieftaker and its sequel), so I thought I’d be a little more specific. I would probably choose Thomas Jefferson, though I’d give some thought to Franklin Roosevelt, too. I think Jefferson is a fascinating figure — brilliant, deeply flawed, arrogant and elitist, but also oddly compassionate and deeply devoted to the sciences and arts. He’d make a great book character. In 1962, JFK hosted an event for 49 Nobel Laureates and said “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
President Most likely to Have Been Abducted By Aliens: Grover Cleveland. No doubt. Think about it. The guy is elected President, loses the Presidency, and then wins it back again. It wasn’t ambition. Really it wasn’t. They wiped his memory after the abduction. He didn’t remember the first term….
American Historical Event Just Begging For a Spec Fic Book To Be Written About It: Definitely the 1969 World Series win of the Amazin’ Mets. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the reason it hasn’t been written already is that NASA and the NSA won’t allow it. Too close to the truth. No way that happens without magical (or extraterrestrial) intervention.
Best Movies About the Presidency: Not in our genre, but so what? My two favorites are Dave, Ivan Reitman’s film about a Clintonesque philanderer who dies in the arms of a secretary and is replaced by his doppelganger (President and doppelganger both played by Kevin Kline). And The American President, Aaron Sorkin’s earnest film about a popular, strong, courageous, good-looking, articulate liberal President (played by Michael Douglas) who manages to get the girl AND (implied) win reelection. Hmmm. Maybe it’s a fantasy after all…. Honorable Mention to All the President’s Men, which we only WISH had been fantasy, and to Primary Colors, which was just plain good.
Historical Novels Worth Reading That You Might Not Know About: These are books I’ve come across in my research for the Thieftaker books. Let me start with a fantasy series that overlaps with the Thieftaker in terms of time period — C.C. Finlay’s Traitor to the Crown series about the American Revolution. Fun reads all. (The Patriot Witch, A Spell for the Revolution, The Demon Redcoat) I would also HIGHLY recommend David Liss’s books about thieftaking in London in the eighteenth century: A Conspiracy of Paper and A Spectacle of Corruption. They are not fantasy, but they are brilliantly plotted and beautifully written. While we’re at it, I would also recommend Liss’s first novel, The Coffee Trader.
Hope all of you have a wonderful President’s Day. And if you have the time, how about sharing a list of your own?David B. Coe