Playing fast and loose in Younger Dryas
Back when I was still working as a researcher in university, I was asked once how I managed to “reconcile” my research papers with the science fiction, fantasy and horror stories I was publishing at the time. My reply being, of course, that I credited my readers with the modicum amount of intelligence needed to tell the difference between a paper on Miocene rocks and a story about a guy working part-time as a vampire hunter.
I also added that, if it is perfectly fine for a geologist to do research and then play piano in a jazz band or cook for his friends on the weekend, why should it be different were he a storyteller instead of a pianist or a barbecue maverick?
On the other hand, I guess some of the reading I’ve done recently for research purposes might really get me in trouble with my (now former) colleagues. It’s all about the Younger Dryas cold spell, and it makes for both fascinating science and great storytelling.
The extremely sketchy gist of the thing: 13.000 years ago we were steadily coming out of the glacial period when suddenly and inexplicably a fluctuation in the temperatures brought the cold back for 1200 years. This cold spell, known as the Younger Dryas, caused no end of trouble in the northern hemisphere, including causing the extinction of the Clovis culture and of most of the megafauna in North America.
What caused the cold spell?
Geologists have been debating this for years now, and there’s three general hypotheses: one is actually a family of hypotheses that look for a cause or a combination of causes connected with the melting of the glacial ice sheets; the other invokes astronomical events and fluctuations in the activity of the sun-, and then there’s the hypothesis that a meteor or comet impacted our planet or exploded in the atmosphere, bringing about a short nuclear winter.
The whole Younger Dryas mystery has been in later years one of the subjects dear to Graham Hancock, that is not exactly the most level-headed scientific voice out there – and if possible this has put the supporters of the impact theory in a worse light than they deserve. It happens, when crackpots start rambling about your field of research. Go ask the Egyptologists, if you don’t believe me.
The nuclear winter hypothesis has been greatly criticized for a number of reasons by many researchers in different fields, and there’s really a heated debate going on, but that’s fine, because that’s the way science works, and I like reading articles from both sides.
But let me take off my geologist hat and put on my writer hat: a comet impact, in prehistoric time, killing off a whole culture and causing a small nuclear winter? This is just great.
My reading in the Younger Dryas literature is one of the causes my current story, The Sons of the Crow, took so long – because if you time it right, you can use an extraterrestrial impact and the following nuclear winter as a great engine for a science fantasy story.
You can dream up a viable civilization – maybe something more sophisticated and advanced than the Clovis – and hit them with an environmental catastrophe. You can bring in bits and pieces from the Flood and Atlantis myths.
You can have the survivors of that ancient civilization vying for power over the remains of their world.
Time it right, move it to Europe and North Africa, and you can bring in cavemen – both Cro Magnon and Neanderthals, and all the menagerie of mammoths, sabertooth tigers, giant killer sloths and what else.
Don’t mind different continents and stuff. Sure, it’s fantasy, but science fantasy.
And I’ve finally finished it, clocking at 20.000 words despite my 12.000 words plan. My Patrons will get their copy in a few days, as soon as my betas give me the go ahead.
And I would really try and make this the first in a series.
Playing fast and loose with the science, and dropping in as much cool stuff from Burroughs and other science fiction/adventure writers I love.
We’ll see what the readers say.
But boy, some my former colleagues might get their knickers in a twist!