Science Fiction with Egyptian Themes

For Dr. Leire Olabarria and Dr. Eleanor Dobson’s conference “Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep?” I have been trying to think of science fiction that engages with ancient Egypt. This was much harder than I expected, and the difficulty became the basis for my proposal. My understanding of science fiction is centered around people who published short stories and novels between the 1930s and the 1970s, but this is the list I came up with after talking to people in different places online:

The number sign # after an entry indicates that I have not seen or read it.

Of course this short list could just reflect my own taste and what was available in the libraries and used book stores of my home town in the 1990s. But writers who loved the ancient world like L. Sprague de Camp, Poul Anderson, and Harry Turtledove are absent, and the things in this list begin in 1975 rather than trailing off after 1975. And most of these films, shows, cartoons and games involve ancient astronauts or archaeologists digging too deep and awaking ancient horrors like in the film The Mummy (the famous ones begin with Universal Pictures, 1932). If you think I have left anything out let me know! And if you want to know what other people have come up with, check out the conference on 9 July 2021. Some talks will be streamed online.

In lieu of a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, a thousand of all good things in my mortuary temple, I happily accept donations on Patreon or paypal.me or even liberapay

PS. People suggested the following things which I am not sure are science fiction or I am not sure have a strong enough Egyptian theme to count.

(scheduled 17 March 2021)

Why Digitizing Sources is Important

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As human beings and as scientists in the early 21st century, we have a crisis of epistemology and misinformation. Science is a system for distributed, verified trust and as the rate of publications increases, and new discoveries lead to conclusions which threaten more and more wealthy actors, that system has been breaking down. There is lots of talk about blame, but I don’t find that is helpful. Often, what seem to be two opposed factions lean on each other like tired wrestlers, and use the commotion of their fighting to keep their supporters too busy to ask awkward questions about the gap between the policies that their representatives say they support and the policies they enact. Instead of laying blame, I would like to talk about one of the things we are doing to solve this.

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Essentialism, Identities, and History

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“Idiot! All you have to do is stop wearing that silly robe and get rid of that daft hat and no one will even know you’re a wizard! … Just get rid of them. It’s easy enough, isn’t it? Just drop them somewhere and then you could be a, a, well, whatever. Something that isn’t a wizard.” …

Rincewind nodded gloomily. “I don’t think you understand. A wizard isn’t what you do, it’s what you are. If I wasn’t a wizard, I wouldn’t be anything.” He took off his hat and twiddled nervously with the loose star on its point, causing a few more cheap sequins to part company.

Terry Pratchet, Sourcery (Corgi Books: London, 1988) pp. 147-148 the first visit to the tower of sourcery

A Haida filmmaker is pushing for new legislation in Canada to penalize people who pretend to be Indigenous in order to access grants, awards and jobs intended for Indigenous people. Tamara Bell said she wants those who misrepresent their identity to face fines and even prison time.

Angela Sterritt, “Indigenous filmmaker wants fines, jail time for ‘pretendians’ who misrepresent their identity” CBC News, 2021-Jan-19 (link)

If you follow the news or corporate social media, you will see how often the gap between identities as internal self-belief and identities as external attributes leads to conflict. Most people are reluctant to explain what is at issue or how the word “identity” is used in different ways, and they are even more reluctant to talk about why we started talking about the first kind of identity. I am not an intellectual historian, but as a military historian I will tell the bloody story as well as I can. This is a tale of genocide and oppression and the cycles between different ways of thinking about complicated areas of life.

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Shameless Plug: The Chronicle of the Good Duke

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Jean Cabaret d’Orville, The Chronicle of the Good Duke Louis II Bourbon. Translated and introduced by Steve Muhlberger (Freelance Academy Press, 2021) ISBN: 978-1-937439-54-5 USD 49.95 Publisher’s website

My esteemed colleague Professor Emeritus Steve Muhlberger in Ontario has finally finished a major project, a translation of the Chronicle of the Good Duke from 15th century France. This is a book of war stories about aristocratic heroes as told by their friends and admirers, but it has never been translated from the original Middle French into a modern language. I read several of his books back in the Before Times when I was hanging out with the fencers, and they are fun to read but scholarly (when I put on my teacher’s hat I have a rant about his translation of Charny’s Questions, but that is something for an informal chat not my website). You can get a sense of his writing style from his free online textbook from 1999.

Freelance is a small publisher, and I can’t in good conscience suggest that anyone outside of the United States order anything from that country while the post is so jammed up and international trade and travel are restricted. The cost of sending is high and packages are being delayed or lost. But if you are in the United States, or can wait six months for the US Postal Service, FedEx, etc. to clear up, and you are interested in warfare or the 15th century CE, this might be the book for you.

(scheduled 25 February 2021)

And the Morning Road Leads to Stalingrad

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Three softcover history books on a hardwood floor

The Second World War created the world that I grew up in, and the central event of that war was the Nazi-Soviet struggle. 80% of the Germans and Austrians killed or captured in the war were killed or captured by the Soviets (Glantz, The Soviet-German War1941-1945: Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay [2001]). My standby reference on the war, R.A.C. Parker’s brilliantly concise The Second World War: A Short History (Oxford University Press, 1989), was written too early to take advantage of the opening of the Soviet archives and the deconstruction of the German generals’ memoirs. Two recent English books represent two major approaches to writing about this unspeakably terrible conflict.

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The Battle for the Future of the Study of the Ancient World is Bigger than Classics

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A few years ago I drafted a post about two different approaches to the study of the ancient world. I put it aside but then my mother, Stefano Costa, and Dimitri Nakassis started to talk about a recent New York Times piece on Dan-el Padilla Peralta and his argument that “Far from being extrinsic to the study of Greco-Roman antiquity, the production of whiteness turns on closer examination to reside in the very marrows of classics.” I think it is time to pull those ideas out and give my perspective as an ancient historian and orientalist who is not American or British.

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Identities Are Hard to Get At

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Some stranded seaweed on a Salish Sea beach at about 1/3 of full tide

A few weeks ago, I talked about how an identity is something to which someone says “I am that.” After a series of unfortunate events between 1914 and 1948, educated people stopped talking about race, gender, and ethnicity as essences and started to talk about them as identities or social categories. This change was meant to reduce the amount of murder, enslavement, and forced migration in our world. But when we try to understand the ancient world, identities in the proper sense are not very helpful.

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The Poster Child for the Western Way of War

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Two smiling women sitting in a wooded setting with bolt-action rifles, a man in a suit stands in the background
A rare moment of joy a terrible war from The Five Men of Velish (Velizh near Smolensk) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060022181 Why do WWoW theorists want you to know that partisans and insurgencies and hit and run are not western?

If you know the ancient writers, you must be puzzled why moderns often pronounce that ancient Greek armies were highly skilled and rigorously disciplined. Those writers make it clear that getting high-status Greek men to accept any kind of training and discipline was like getting them to pick a day to have a tooth pulled. Spartans accepted commands and corporal punishment and did a bit of drill, but no ancient writer describes them practising marching or fighting in peacetime. One reason why people say things which are contradicted by so many ancient texts is that they are using the ancient Greeks as an excuse to talk about their own culture, so they project things they love or fear about their own culture on the ancients.

Have a look at this quote from Professor Emeritus, Colonel (retired), Dr. Jonathan House who is talking about how the proud professionals of the German army got themselves spanked by the Red Army.

Germany, in fact, is the poster child for what we like to call the Western Way of War, the idea that a well-trained force can achieve rapid offensive decisive victory by superior discipline, manoeuvre, and equipment. Well, that works part of the time, but if you encounter somebody who is not willing to say he’s defeated, as the Soviets were not, and then you encounter somebody who in addition to that has all this vast terrain, then eventually your plan gets thwarted.

Dr. Jonathan House, “How the Red Army Defeated Germany: The Three Alibis,” 2 May 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zinPbUZUHDE 20:00
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New Magazine Articles

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three issues of Ancient Warfare and Medieval Warfare magazine spread out on a textured linoleum surface

The past year has been what it has been, but I have managed to publish a number of magazine articles on ancient warfare and medieval armour. They have siege engines! Military colonists! Tomb-robbing consuls! Late Babylonia! The ones on battering rams and equipping the king’s men have come out since October.

“The Achaemenid Empire’s Jewish soldiers: Serving the Great King,” Ancient Warfare XIII.5 (2020) pp. 34-37 (for sale from Karwansaray BV)

“The Amathus Bowl, ca. 700 BC: World of mercenaries,” Ancient Warfare XIII.5 (2020) pp. 24-25 (for sale from Karwansaray BV)

“Turning Your Back: The Late Reinvention of Backplates.” Medieval Warfare X.4 (2020) pp. 38-41 (for sale from Karwansaray BV) {backplates which span the whole back reappear in Europe in the 1410s after a thousand years of absence, and were not universal for a century more … why does this important area remain lightly protected?}

“Assyrian Battering Rams: A City-Breaching Buddy System,” Ancient Warfare XIV.3 (2021) pp. 14-19

“Equipping the King’s Men: Documents, Art, and Stories,” Ancient Warfare XIV.4 (2021) pp. 34-39 https://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/ancient-warfare-xiv-4.html {if we combine all types of sources, a distinctive new picture of the armies of Darius and Xerxes emerges}

Max Weber vs. Eduard Meyer on Marathon

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For a long time I have been meaning to find the original citations for the great debate between sociologist Max Weber and historian and orientalist Eduard Meyer about the significance of the first two Persian invasions of Attica (the Athenians didn’t like to talk about the third Persian army and fleet which arrived a hundred years later and was welcomed with open arms). Jona Lendering mentioned it in his article on the significance of Marathon but when he was creating his site he was bullied into leaving out citations by teachers who were worried that their students would crib from it. I finally have the passage: Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 4th edition (Därmstadt, 1965), Bd. IV.2.3 p. 420 http://www.zeno.org/nid/20002751402 Meyer had just noted that Delos and many other sacred sites in Greece seemed to have a working relationship with the Persian kings by the beginning of the fifth century BCE. I will give the original German and then my translation.

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