An Historical Novel

I don’t know whether to begin “Like it says in the title” or “As indicated by the title” but I’ll keep forging ahead here, to state that the first part of Famepunk is set at the 1987 US Open. The second part, "Middlemarch", is set in 1988: it's an historical novel—as was the original Middlemarch: George Eliot was writing it in 1870 but it’s set forty years earlier. As she’d done in her previous novels, she was looking back on lost times, lost manners, at the same time as she focused on the beginnings of new ways that her readers would have recognized as having grown ubiquitous, inescapable, drawing contrasts of presence and scale and style which she offered for the delectation of a contemporary audience which came to her books for this sort of thing, this subtle intellectual pleasure of partaking in collective memory as it's reminded of an absence. Being reminded of how living was but isn’t now—especially when you're able to remember—or almost remember—the specifics, really it’s the sense of having lived, delivered in a very pure, efficient form.

Naturally it’s a pleasure dissipated by time's passage. Built into the form is the fact that readers old enough to remember and recognize the historical elements become fewer and fewer until eventually for the general readership the book itself becomes historical and indistinguishably contemporaneous with its story in “the distant past.” So that writing in 1919 about George Eliot’s historical novels and her contemporary readers, Virginia Woolf could appreciate their experience of return to a lost but not-too-distant England, simpler, more bucolic—but not even Virginia Woolf who read everything written in the 19th century could have distinguished all the “period” stuff from what had survived into George Eliot’s day but not into her own, not beyond World War I, certainly. While to be able to grasp the original pleasure of reading the original Middlemarch as an historical novel today would require super-scholarly knowledge of Victorian and pre-Victorian rural English manners, law, diction, landscape, transport, finance, the works: you could cram for it specifically, but that might still take years to do. And in the end, it wouldn’t be the same because you wouldn’t get the same sense of having lived that George Eliot's Middlemarch gave its original readers—and surely not all, only some of them—when it was new, that strange, vivid awareness of personal lifespan. Instead at best you’d have the experience, not an unimportant one, of feeling closer to the past, closer to the people who lived before, close enough to read over their shoulders, observing their reactions like a ghost, hungry and sympathetic. But you wouldn’t have been there.

Steffi Graf (left) and Martina Navratilova in 1988. 

Setting the first two parts of Famepunk 25 years in the past, I haven’t tried to fill each scene with period-specific details or year-defining props; there aren’t a lot of song titles, for instance. The Cold War is still going on, mainly. Bodyguards are few. No one has cell phones. A major character based on based on the great Martina Navratilova, has “often wished for a portable device linked to various databases which could be used to research” certain “questions, without delay.” She’s also an investor in the future of personal home computing, But so far, the book's only computer belongs to Prince Linsky, back in the heroine’s old neighborhood of Brighton Beach.
The call came in on another dead Friday morning at King David’s Hats for Men, All Finest Custom Fittings. The concern’s co-proprietor was down in the basement in the cubbyhole office he’d carved out of storage with shelving; he’d put in a separate phone line. Now he was hunched in front of his beloved Kaypro 16 while his SmartModem was singing. He prepared to project himself into another space, a world of keystroked active voices. Excitement was prickling his bare scalp.
Here was an instance where I went on an internet search for the kind of computer Prince Linsky would own. I knew it couldn’t be an Apple, he’d never have bought one of those because he’s a bitter paranoiac with tendencies toward failure, he’d be allergic to Apple. In keeping with a general theme of the novel, I focused my search on failed companies—but the machine would have to be attractive and highly advanced for 1985 when he’d have bought it. And it had to have a green monitor.

Prince Linsky’s Kaypro 16: The perfect match between character and machine.

LINK: The modem was $700 retail.

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