Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ancient Egypt & Steampunk

Attention Steampunk writers.  There may have been ANOTHER Victorian Era on Earth, 39,000 years ago and more. 

As you all know, I tend to connect dots most people can't see a connection between, at least not at first glance.  This is an exercise for writers somewhat akin to a musician practicing scales. I do it incessantly, habitually, and sometimes even fruitfully. 

I review Science Fiction and Fantasy - plus all the cross-genre mashups you can think of - for a paper magazine.  Therefore I read a lot of fiction. 

Sometimes I read non-fiction, and I even review non-fiction in my fiction review column.

Why do you suppose that is? 

Because it's all connected. By dots.  Tiny ones. 

So today I'm going to point readers of SFR who love the HEA, and especially alien romance and Steampunk  to a non-fiction book.

Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE by Edward F. Malkowski

Here it is on Amazon. 

Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE: The History, Technology, and Philosophy of Civilization X

I got it as a review copy from the publisher via twitter, but I've already mentioned it in my paper review column where the following discussion wouldn't fit. 

Here's the thesis Malkowski posits:

The Pre-dynastic period of Ancient Egypt is currently dated at about 5500 BCE. Malkowski explains how that number has been arrived at and why it could be in error because of the method. 

Malkowski marshals hard evidence (actual granit from the pyramids or found around the pyramids) to postulate a Civilization X that existed long, long before 5500 BCE that had the technology to work stone as well as we do, or better. 

He brings in evidence from other hobbyists obsessively investigating the questions mainline science avoids regarding the pyramids, speculates on the political and emotional reasons for that avoidance, and cites some very credible work by others that builds a good case that there's something wrong with the way we sketch pre-5500 BCE in the North Africa region. 

Then he grabs some astronomy and paleontology evidence about the mass die-offs of pre-history and at the end of the most recent Ice Age, speculating the reason for some of those die-offs might be a shower of cosmic rays (high energy neutrons maybe) that just killed off living things. 

Using an estimate for a cosmic ray shower, he figures Civilization X peaked before that shower caused the mass die off and heated the Earth's atmosphere causing the end of the most recent Ice Age. 

Recent research has shown our original carbon dating calculations have been off because of such cosmic ray showers altering the carbon isotope balances. With that corrected, different numbers are being worked out.  

He concludes that a Civilization X that was as advanced as we are would be as fragile as we are, as "soft" or disposable as we are.  If we died off, there would be nothing left but Mount Rushmore to testify that we ever existed.  Nothing, that is, except perhaps some of the philosophical ideas, maybe scientific concepts, the few survivors might pass on as religious myths. 

That is what he postulates caused Civilization X to disappear leaving only the pyramids of Ancient Egypt as a clue they ever existed. 

He paints a picture very much like that used by SF writers describing a "lost colony from Earth" that has forgotten they were lost and think themselves native to their new world. He does not hint that humans might have come from another world. 

His thesis is that there was a higly developed civilization (Atlantis? He doesn't think so.) that built the pyramids for a very logical, practical purpose.  One of the hobbyist researchers he cites has discovered what the pyramids actually were for.  And it wasn't tombs.

An engineer did some scale modeling work and discovered that the lower chambers of the Great Pyramid actually form a huge-scale PUMP that can pump water without electricity (that's for real; not fantasy). 

Speculating from that, Malkowski notes the way the very top of the pyramid is constructed to hold long shafts of granit would cause the whole pyramid to make a sound and low level ion pulse when water was running through it (the Nile used to be closer so water could be run through the pyramids). 

Modern research is revealing that seeds germinate better and plants grow better with the right kinds of ionization. 

The region around the pyramids used to be fertile farmland. 

Malkowski concludes the pyramids were built to create the conditions for abundant crops, a practical use that would justify the ridiculous expense of the project. 

His focus is so tight on justifying the explanation he's come up with that he walks right by what seems to me (the SF writer) to be the most obvious explanation. 

------my alternate explanation--------
If the pyramids were built to pump water, electricity could be generated by that powerful moving water stream (erosion traces inside the chambers show the water moved HARD AND FAST in there).

If there were a really highly developed Civilization, they wouldn't build the pyramids to fertilize crops - there are easier ways to do that if you have the technology.

But the immense expense of building pyramids would be justified by -- LAS VEGAS!!!  Or the Victorian equivalent.  How about Macao?  Every geographical area and every era has one -- except Ancient Egypt.  

Malkowski notes that some of the pyramid facing stones are left rough, while others are polished highly. 

My explanation -- the sides of the pyramids were BILL BOARDS. The rough and smooth stones made pictures or words.  If the civilization was advanced enough to use electricity, they probably had lit billboards on the sides of the pyramids, and that material has disintegrated 10's of thousands of years ago, so maybe they had electronic-paper. Or maybe they were bright triangles that lit up the whole vista like "The Strip?" 

By my theory, the buildings at the foot of the pyramids were not temples, but gambling palaces. Steampunk writers think about the wastrel heir to a fortune made selling advertising on the sides of the Great Pyramid.  They guy is gambling it away, meets the "right" woman and changes his ways to live happily ever after until the cosmic-ray-doom is predicted.  Then he invents a way for his family to survive - perhaps under a pyramid? 

The whole pyramid alley was a huge entertainment complex and market that functioned at a profit via international tourism (which they had, according to other evidence).  The wide paved spaces are for circus acts and such "mid-way" pitches.  But it could have doubled as a kind of bomb-shelter if you shut off the water flow. 

Malkowksi walks right by the most obvious (to me, the SF writer) explanation for who built the pyramids. 

We don't need to posit an ancient Civilization X.  Concurrently (???not sure about that???) with the ancient pre-dynastic Egyptians, we had the Indus Valley and the southern tip of India running very advanced civilizations that traded everywhere and built in stone using hydrolic engineering.

If the Ancient Egyptians wanted pyramids, they could outsource the construction contracts to experienced building contractors from southern India.  They didn't need the technology themselves if they could pay for it, and they could finance the job because gambling has been profitable for the House for a lot longer than Las Vegas has risen from the sands. 

So by Occam's Razor (favoring the simplest explanation) we don't need to postulate a pre-5500 BCE Civlization X to explain the high tech of the pyramid builders. They bought the tech, financed it, ran gambling resorts, and paid their debts that way - or maybe didn't pay and got conquered for renegging on their debt. After all, if they didn't own the tech, they'd be pushovers in any war against those who did own it. 

------end of my alternative explanation------

Back to Malkowski's Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE.

He postulates that the survivors of Civilization X found the pyramids, sealed, and assumed they were tombs because they'd forgotten almost everything.  Then those survivors began using the area for burials. 

Over that period, the climate of North Africa had changed.  There was much more rainfall in the earlier time.  Using that (factual) information, Malkowski had a geologist re-date the Sphinx (the method is described, and it's good enough for me) using erosion rates.  This puts the Sphinx construction way before 5500 BCE.

There's a lot in this book, everything from mythology explained by astronomy to stone-cutting methods using a huge circular saw.  Malkowski consults expert machinists and stone cutters today and explains some deep slots cut into the region surrounding the pyramids as places where these huge circular saws were mounted, and scars on some of the stones as mistakes the saw operators made.  It all makes good sense, but raises questions an archeologist would not publish without answering rigorously. 

I can't say that you absolutely must own this book even if you're writing SFR or doing active worldbuilding.  But you probably won't find it in a library and I'll probably refer to it in the future.  It's full of provocative ideas.   

The book ostensibly has nothing to do with the main Love Conquers All theme of Romance that I talk about so much.  But oddly, it does. 

It paints a picture of Civilization X survivors valiantly attempting to preserve and pass on the essence of their humanity, their treasured philosophy and science, their tools for survival.  They love their children (which ultimately is you and me) and want to give them the best odds of surviving the periodic catastrophies that have destroyed earth time and again. 

Romance weeps from between every word in this book, if you know how to see it. It's about a passion for eternity, which is the reason why Love Conquers All. 

I highly recommend Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE to all Steampunk writers.

It is not a scholarly work, and the author goes out of his way to emphasize that several times.  His idea of history and pre-history research is that the process is mostly the use of imagination to fill in the gaps between facts.

EXAMPLE: he mentions how many of the large animals in the mass die-off at the end of the ice age are now found as broken bones.  Then says they were killed off by cosmic ray shower -- which I can't imagine breaking bones. 

So when a fact seems interesting, he mentions it.  But if it's inconveniently not fitting his theory, he then discards it or ignores it.  That's not how you work this sort of puzzle, at least not if you're the main scientist in an SF novel about the exploration of a newly discovered or colonized world.

At one point he mentions that the X-Files TV Series was a favorite of his, and that could be why I find his style comfortable and familiar enough to enjoy reading right over the things I disagree with.  If you don't like this book, find one by someone who likes the same TV shows you do.

Malkowski hardly ever uses the word archeology to describe what he's talking about.  He calls himself a "historian" -- but his thinking process is more like that of the archeologists I've learned from.

This method of establishing hard facts then applying a leap of imagination is primary to the field of archeology, and basically forbidden in the field of history.

However, Malkowski does not pursue questions in the order or with the rigorousness I am accustomed to seeing among archeologists.  His main evidence supporting his thesis is the awestruck feeling he, himself, gets when viewing the pyramids or works of Ancient Egypt.  From that sensation of awe, he concludes that those ancient craftsman could not have accomplished this construction.  His evidence for that is his own emotional reaction.  Not scholarly. 

Checking out the amazon links, I found there's an entire social network, perhaps a culture, of hobbyist researchers pursuing such shadowy subjects.  That's a "market" and a resource a writer can draw upon for characters and conflict. 

Now here's how writers can learn from reading this kind of non-scholarly non-fiction.

Read this book listening to Malkowski's "voice."  Follow his thinking patterns.  FEEL his emotional committment to his thesis, and feel his excitement at finding factual evidence that supports his thesis. 

For a scholar, that's a backwards approach. Ordinarily, you look at the facts, then concoct a thesis, then test it experimentally. 

But if you want to create a character who is like Star Trek's Captain Kirk, an adventurer but one dedicated to the distant past, Malkowski's "voice" will give you a valid model for that character.

So this book can be helpful even if you are averse to Ancient Egypt as a subject -- maybe especially if you are averse to the topic.  You might "hear" that voice more clearly if not distracted by the hypnotic lure of the topic. 

But, myself, I've been fascinated by Ancient Egypt since High School.  I had an English teacher who introduced me to the Ancient writers, the Greeks, Romans, and so on -- and demonstrated the connections to Ancient Egypt.

He had a diagram on the classroom wall called a Histomap.  It's a verticle strip of velum with a colored strips showing the expansion and contraction of pre-historic cultures over millenia. 

This device disappeared for decades but Rand McNally has it out again.  Here's a picture on Amazon.  It's a graphic of a timeline chart. 

Rand McNally Histomap of World History (Cosmopolitan Map)

I became fascinated how one civilization co-existed with, fought, then expanded over another, then died out as another civilization swelled.

So I've always appreciated how Ancient Egypt was a foundation (and competitor) of much of what we have today. 

My mother was enamored of biographies and especially travel books, and she introduced me to Thor Hyerdah.  Astonishingly I actually remembered how to spell his last name and found this on Amazon.

Thor Heyerdahl

If you haven't read Thor Heyerdahl AND Alvin Toffler, and connected those dots, the Ancient World to the Modern World, oh, please do so!  These are the hammers and chisles of worldbuilders while Malkowski is the voice of the passionate explorer! 

If you know other such sources, please drop them as notes on this blog.

After reading Malkowski's Ancient Egypt book, I googled around a little looking for a book I vividly remember but can't find in my own library right now.  And I couldn't find it.  It was about a lost civilization that modern archeologists don't actually believe existed off the southern tip of India that mastered hydraulic engineering to build massive stoneworks. 

Google on Ancient India and Hydraulic Engineering and you'll find lots of material. 

As noted in my alternate explanation above, I don't recall the dates of that ancient civilization in India but all we have left of it are some huge stone structures as "impossible" to understand as the pyramids of Ancient Egypt.

I like the Civilization X explanation for fictional use.  It would make a nifty alternate-universe or Steampunk premise. Steampunk writers need to absorb Malkowski's book, and maybe root around in that culture of hobbyist researchers.  The Steampunk spirit lives in that corner of the universe. 

I've used Stonehenge in much the same way that Malkowski uses the pyramids in my novels, Molt Brother and City of a Million Legends (in paperback and e-book on Amazon. Stonehenge and similar structures interest me at least as much as the pyramids do, which is saying a lot. 

While I was reading Ann Aguirre's KILLBOX (the Sirantha Jax series; highly recommended SFR!) I picked Ancient Egypt out of my bookshelf to read again because Aguirre uses the pyramids as source material for her intersellar drive. 

So you see, all the dots are connected. Malkowski was writing SFR but it was mistaken for non-fiction. 

Now you want a real challenge?  This year marked the 50th anniversary of THE FLINTSTONES on TV.  And that sparked an extremely controversial article  with a lot of comments disapproving of the article's thesis.  See if you can find a trail of dots between Ancient Egypt, pyramids, Love Conquers All as a Romance theme, and The Flintstones. 


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

No comments:

Post a Comment