Sunday, 3 March 2013

Pulp Manifesto: A Pulpy (Alternate History) World To Live In.

In honour of the posting of my short story over at the Alternate History Weekly Update blog I thought I’d post a bit about the alternate history aspects of The Aether Age and the world Tommy lives in. Originally I was going to wait a while until getting into the nuts and bolts of my alternate timeline (mostly because I still have plenty of research to do) but I’ll start by giving a vague run down of the key points that make The Aether Age a bit different to The Jazz Age that existed in our own history.

There are only two key differences separating the Aether Age from the Jazz Age but as every student of history knows, everything rides on those key moments. And the key moment for The Aether Age occurs much earlier than the 1920s. It occurs in 1803 with the signing of the Louisiana Purchase, the contract by which the United States of America bought France’s claim to a huge slab of land west of the Mississippi river for the paltry sum of 15 million dollars.
The original Louisiana Purchase superimposed over a modern map.
In the Aether Age timeline the deal went ahead as planned except for one minor detail – a line written into the contract stating that France retained an option to buy back the land at a future date if they so wished, at the going market rate. This small line of legal technicality just sat there, and nothing happened for over a century.

The second difference in the Aether Age timeline was the mysterious discovery of a new element – aether. This gas was first heard of just before the outbreak of the Great War and was quickly exploited in order to make zeppelin technology more efficient. This came both from its incredible lifting power, which far outranks helium, as well as its ability to easily transform from a gas to a liquid which allows for greater buoyancy and ballast control. It also helps that the gas is inert except under extreme conditions.
Yep, that Aether is workin' pretty good.
It better be...
 While the element was only just being utilised at the outbreak of the war its influence was enough to bump flight technology far enough along to drag out some of the worst battles in the conflict and allow journalists greater access to the battlefields of the Western Front via private aircraft. This became a propaganda nightmare for not only the English but their enemies as well. The English press first began releasing unadulterated footage and photographs of the European carnage which flew in the face of previously upbeat military reports, then other European press agencies did likewise. Confronted directly with the horror of the war, the public will for conflict began to wane, the war dragged out, and The Lull of late 1918 ended with the Armistice of late 1919, a ceasefire which resulted in an immediate cessation of hostilities but not much more. By the 1920s large swaths of Europe are still stretches of barbed-wired No Man’s Land and all sides warily eye each other off as they rebuild their war machines.
This never happened in the Aether Age: The 1918 Armistice.
 For the French this meant a ruined nation with the threat of an imminent return to warfare. With there being no end to the confrontation in sight the French government looked to the English strategy of evacuating many of its children to their colony of Canada in the hope of sparing them the incessant zeppelin attacks that plagued the British Isles. In their desperation the French explored all of their own options for a similar strategy. It was then that they were able to find the long lost clause in the Louisiana Purchase contract that would allow them to buy back a large slab of the United States. Were this purchase a success they would be able to provide their most vulnerable citizens with a refuge from the wars of Europe, as well as the economic base from which to continue their Western Front defences.

Needless to say, their initial overtures were met with a somewhat... muted reception. The United States was still divided about being involved with the war in a production capacity, let alone joining, and large rifts were forming between various states over the decision. However, no state advocated the selling of a large portion of the country, even if it was on the say so of a legal document of vague authority. 
But along came some villains...
 But a large cabal of New York industrialists and bankers were interested in the offer. At the going rate for property in the United States the country would make a mint selling off a significant part of its land. And if it was somewhere insignificant like – oh, Louisiana – then wouldn’t that be a price worth paying to receive France’s gold stockpiles and become the bank of the world, no matter what side of the Great War potential customers were fighting on?

What followed was a backroom deal that scandalised the nation. The consortium of industrialists and bankers sold the state of Louisiana to the desperate French, received the French gold, and then were amazed at just how outraged the rest of the country were. Outrage against New York quickly led to threats from other states, the worst being from Chicago which organised its own militia which in turn led to a tense stand off in which the nation braced itself for potential civil war. 
It was only Louisiana. Why are you all so angry?
 New York attempted to compensate by appealing to the citizenry, especially the rural heartlands. However their actions, such as aggressively backing the new and somewhat popular 18th Amendment instituting Prohibition, backfired, further alienating certain states who went so far as to threaten to secede if New York continued having so much say in political matters. It did not help that New York also began to benefit greatly from its newfound wealth and armed its own militia in case Chicago did attack.

In a turning point for the nation, a headline stealing threat was made by Washington and Oregon senators to secede to Canada if New York did not stop interfering via the Prohibition act. This was then met by disdain and arrogant insult from a young New York industrialist during a newspaper interview. The interview caused another scandal. And Washington and Oregon promptly made good on their threat. 
A Seattle resident from the Age of Aether.
 A call by federal authorities to use military action and bring the states back fell on deaf ears and, while the potential for reconciliation was high, further events soon made it impossible. Seeing the Union crumble under the leadership of New York’s robber barons, other states began to reclaim federal powers for themselves, including the ability to institute standing militias. 

Then, in a move that would irrevocably change the course of the United States of America, Texas held a referendum concerning their participation in the Union. By a slim margin the vote was won for independence and Texas reclaimed its status as a republic, a move that saw California and then the Midwest states quickly follow suit. Soon the powerbrokers of New York and Washington DC were left ruling a ‘United States’ bordered by Canada to the North, the MidWest Commonwealth to the west and the New Confederate Federation to the south, which itself was making gestures of war towards the Nouveau Republique de Mississippi to the south west. The Union was well and truly gone.
Viva Le Lone Star Republic.
 In the power vacuum that has followed the North American continent has been in turmoil. Not only has there been a civil war in Canada (which Churchill, in disgust, christened ‘the most polite civil war to have occurred in this or any other age’) but the abundance of aircraft being manufactured on the continent has prevented law and order forces holding sway on most of the boundary territory far from urban areas. Everything west of the Mississippi and north of Texas is now considered the ‘New West’ with the region falling into economic turmoil thanks to constant skypirate raiding and a mass exodus from urban areas, often west to California which now dubs itself CaliModerna. Both highways and railways were soon torn apart in economic battles between airplane armed groups until zeppelin cargo shipping became the only cost effective method of transporting goods with any certainty that they would reach their destination. And with the rise of criminal empires thanks to the Prohibition act urban politicians cling to in order to appease their rural constituencies, often police and militia forces are not the wielders of law and order they once were.
This happens all over what was once the United States.

Welcome to the Aether Age. Buckle yourself in :)

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