All right, Russia. For the sake of a good alternate history, your Empire is going down.
Er. Let me explain.
I don’t know how most writers do alternate histories, though I get the impression that people usually pick a point in history and make one momentous decision based on a coin flip go the other way. So I may be doing this all wrong: I’m deciding on the setting and working backwards to what the alterations had to be.
The story setting is an alternate 1618 Korea; mostly peaceful (outside of monsters and magic), but with war and the Little Ice Age looming near. That’s where I want the story to start, before it potentially ranges across the globe and at least two worlds.
With that in mind, I’m looking at the timeline between when the story is set, and when the actual alternate-historical divergence happens to see what needs to be shifted. Said divergence being about 350 years before, when the Great Comet of 1264 did not slide ominously past in the night sky, but instead slammed into Earth, bringing along an influence totally out of this world. Locals call it magic. Good enough for most practical purposes. (Though Jason will have a vested interest in finding out exactly what it is, why it happens to people, and why you have to keep it under control if possible.)
Why a divergence so far in the past of the story? Two main reasons. One, the comet is an awesome image, and 1618 had three of them. So in-setting characters would already be holding their breaths, so to speak, ‘cause the last time that heavenly phenomenon occurred times got dangerously interesting. And second – honestly, I’ve run across too many badly-written “modern world gets magic and people figure it out in hours!” stories.
No. Just no. A working reality-warping system should take time to figure out, even if you have a scientific method established. Time, and likely a lot of experimenters who didn’t survive. See, for example, the real-world history of organic chemistry, its pages red-spattered with the deaths of people who went around tasting arsenic, isolated chlorine and fluorine in the same air they were breathing, or accidentally created nerve gases. That’s not even considering the formerly-normal plants and animals affected. Yao, anyone? Lots of them.
(Oh, and vampires. Yep.)
Skilled, cultivation-level magic users would take decades, if not centuries. So the setting’s going to get those centuries.
Which has the added benefit of, if I note things that got destroyed in the real timeline, I can see if there’s a way they might survive in the fantasy one. I am not immune to pretty. And the Goryeo kingdom of Korea (918-1392) had beautiful blue-green celadon pottery… that was lost in the Mongol invasions of 1231-1270. (Apparently fairly recently recreated by a modern Korean potter, awesome.) When it was lost, exactly, is not nailed down in the sources I have.
Meaning I have wiggle room to say there were still a few celadon potters around after 1264, and when the Mongols came calling, oops! A tiger yao ate enough of the invaders that the tradition survived….
The tigers that haunted Korea up until fairly recently were, genetically, Siberian. Siberian tigers, even today with their limited ranges, will travel over 600 miles in search of mates or prey. A magical one might travel even farther. And Siberia has a lot of space really empty of people, meaning it’s an excellent place for a comet to come down without directly wrecking too much of history. See the Tunguska Blast.
…This would also let me shove some historical problems a little west and out of the story start area, because now it would be a matter of “area X is a demon-haunted wasteland that humans have been slowly, carefully reclaiming” and even the Jurchens might not all want to be there….
On top of all that it gives the Korean kingdom major reasons to seize and control as much of the natural ginseng-growing areas as possible, because ginseng as an adaptogen is one of the best ways to keep mages stable and sane. (It’s far from the only herb that can be used that way. But it is one of the most effective.)
Which further means that while a bunch of history might change Japan and Ming China would still have about the same reasons to clash that they did in the historical Imjin War, meaning the timeline gets dragged a bit back toward “real” history. (And keeps all my reference books useful.)
But it does kind of take out eastern Russia from the Tsardom of Russia and the Khanate of Sibir. Oops?
(And there are Things in Lake Baikal. Eep….)