This post is essentially to promote my latest short story, Thoroughly Modern Emancipation. This story is one of several I’ve written which in one way or another projects an alternative present. These include Sliding Sideways, some of the chapters in Into the Unknowable but most of all Blessed by Nature. And like Blessed by Nature, this is a story that projects an alternative present day relating to the United States and its relation to the European Empires, most particularly the British Empire.
Whereas Blessed by Nature concerned a world where the growth of the great Empires of the eighteenth century, most particularly the British Empire, wasn’t troubled at all by any American War of Independence, Thoroughly Modern Emancipation concerns a modern America where there was no American Civil War and no end to the institution of slavery.
Of course, like almost all alternative histories, this story is a satire about the modern world as well as being fun speculation on how different things might have been. In this case, the title is an ironic borrowing from the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie which in an age obsessed by its own modernity was a look back at an earlier age of self-celebration, namely the 1920s. In this film, Millie (played by Julie Andrews) is a flapper who struggles to be ‘thoroughly modern’. In my short story, there is a similar attempt by a slave mistress to be similarly ‘thoroughly modern’ in an age and a society which militates against it.
The moral of the story (amongst other things) is that in a society where the social norms are in favour of even insanely immoral institutions like slavery then it is very difficult (perhaps even impossible) to take much of a principled stand or to not somehow be corrupted by it. This is a theme I’ve explored in much of my fiction (notably Party Slave), but there are plenty of contemporary examples: particularly in the way that Fox News and the Daily Mail (and many other more respectable and almost as reprehensible beacons of the world media) can bare-facedly take positions relating to climate change, women’s roles, inequality, race, etc. that are morally indefensible and bundle it up in ways that are superficially attractive and conform to society’s norms.
But we don’t need the influence of the media to persuade us to follow immoral practices. Much of the evidence is that in the 1930s and 1940s very ordinary Germans were party to the extreme acts of violence and repression against gays, gypsies, communists, Slavs and Jews. And we can see, again, how similarly unethical and cruel practices can still be promulgated by Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Wahhabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and North Korea. Not to mention, the Soviet Union, Maoist China and Nazi Germany (and, let’s not forget, their willing satellites).
I don’t imagine this will be a popular story, especially not amongst my American readers, but I hope you’ll find it interesting and engaging.