Sunday, January 22, 2017

Blood of an Eidokko

Bit by bit I'm realizing my current infatuation with history is not new. And I realize I've even dabbled with an archaeological/anthropological mystery before. The setting, however, was the fictional warped-mirror-of-contemporary-Japan setting of my unpublished novel Shirato.

A slight scene-setting is necessary. In Shirato, several multi-planet civilizations are involved in inter-planetary trade; the protagonist is a young machinist-trainee on a sort of "Shop truck" serving in the merchant marine of Tojima. As is slowly revealed through the story, in a time in the past roughly comparable to the 1940s of our timeline Tojima developed interstellar travel and made contact with the world of Kojima, which in short order developed their own trading empire, which is in the current day in increasingly violent conflict with Tojima.

Except the interaction of these two civilizations is more complex. In a history so ancient it is largely shrouded in myth, Kojima had been first to explore the "Gates" left by a long-vanished alien predecessor species. They had walked there, carrying swords, and they had brought much of their language and culture to Tojima. The parallels here to the uncomfortable history between China and Japan (and throw in Korea and Okinawa into the mix) are quite intentional.

So in current mythology, the Koyamajin were ancient conquerers of Tojima, thrown off by legendary heroes. The Tojimajin were the rapacious traders of a later age who used their higher technology to impose the equivalents of Commander Perry, the Opium Wars, etc. And with both sides gearing up to current-day war all of these myths, legends, and highly-colored histories are being trotted out by the propaganda machines.

Protagonist Mie Nakamura's people are from small northern-latitude fishing villages remote from the capitol of Tojima; not quite Okinawa or Kuril Islands but definitely considered rural, backwoods, out of the mainstream of Tojima culture. They are in character New England whaling town; hardy, quiet, a strong sense of local identity and solidarity. In the main story, she becomes reluctant wielder of the heritage of Tojima's legendary heroes and must work her way through the net of social obligations and expectations to find a way of diffusing the seemingly inevitable war. Her island heritage; an inability to shirk hard work or the harder path, is in her mind key to her ability to do so.

In any case. The splinter story takes place in these islands, with an archaeological team investigating what legends describe as potentially one of the "gates" that shut down two thousand years ago at the peak of the overthrow of the Kojima (and, in the main story, are in the process of coming awake again).

The official stance is that the old samurai class, the carefully-cultured bloodlines that are strongly represented in the current-day political and economic elite, are original Tojima stock. Places like the Edo island chain, closer to the origin of the Kojima invasion, were more strongly bred into by the invaders. This isn't Soviet Science, and it doesn't reach the crassness levels of, say, America in the 18th and 19th century (or for that matter, some of the discourse today!) but it is something that is being thought and hinted at and dog whistled out in the current inflammatory war fever.

So there is a lot of pride involved, with the elite working hard to support their conceits of being the best and truest and the islanders being not just the unwashed masses and not just hicks, but practically inbred (well, outbred, but the emotional association is similar).

Except for the skeletons. Our archaeological team, led by a prominent and very politically connected man from the top university (the equivalent of Todai, the Tokyo university all the elite go to), has an agenda to support the mainstream view. A young troubled grad student on the team, our narrative POV character (who is not so coincidentally falling for a local girl) is less certain.

So here they are in the cold, rain-swept, rocky rugged northern tip of human habitation, put up with graciousness and New England-style hospitality by the hard-scrabble locals, digging into ancient monuments while politics heats up back home and interstellar war looms overhead.

And of course the anthropological evidence -- the forensics, in fact, of bones found in a sealed portion of the cavern -- is that the capitol has it pretty much backwards. The phenotype seen most clearly in the face of the young local woman injured during the stormy climax of the story is that of the indigenous people. The tall, lean-faced barons of industry and secretaries of war are the remnants of the ancient invasion.

Well, only sort of. Human genetics doesn't work that way. But if you are going to try to make a political point based on a misapplication of that science, you've got no reason to cry when the evidence you want to trump turns out to say something different than what you wanted it to say.

A pretty much unpublishable story, if for no other reason than that it depends too much on the novel for background. Without seeing the war unfold, and the complicated history slowly uncovered as it is in the novel, the pressures that become murderous passions at that lonely archaeological dig are hard to connect to emotionally.

It does, however, demonstrate that I've been trying to tell that archaeological story for quite some time now. Maybe some day I'll figure out a form in which it works.

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