The remark clicked with me because Liss' novel The Coffee Trader, whose central theme is commodities manipulation in the coffee trade of seventeenth-century Holland, is the most thorough and convincing fictional world in which I have ever been immersed, and creating convincing worlds (and universes) seems to this outsider to be much of what science fiction and fantasy are about.
A second panelist, Kelli Stanley, called into service a concept dear to this blog's heart in discussing the fiction she sets in first-century Rome: "I translate history," she said. Translating Latin curse words, she said, "I would use the vernacular" -- plenty of "Goddamnit!" and no "By Jupiter's nose!" And that get right at the heart of questions a translator faces whether translating a language or a period of history.
Panelist number three, John Maddox Roberts, whose work also includes Roman mysteries, noted that while the Julius Casears and Antonys and Cleopatras of the world are long dead and can't sue him, their defenders and detractors are still around: "All of these people have their fans" -- partisans who honor and embellish their names millennia after their deaths.
The fourth guest, Sharan Newman, who has been honored for her career achievement in historical mysteries, offered a practical solution to the problem of how to integrate necessary information about unfamiliar settings without turning the story into a travelogue or a lecture: Let a character do it. "In medieval mysteries," Newman said, "it's often someone who comes from another country and doesn't understand how things are done in Paris."
Next: God, truth, war and opportunity
© Peter Rozovsky 2009