L. Neil Smith's
Number 365, April 30, 2006

"We hope it will be fun for you to read."

Rewriting History
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to: The Libertarian Enterprise and www.BigHeadPress.com

[NOTE: May 1, 2006, marks the first public appearance of the graphic novel Roswell, Texas, as a free, online "webcomic". See Letter from Scott Bieser in this issue.]

Lots of my work as a novelist involves the creation of "alternate histories".

For readers unacquainted with the concept, the writer usually chooses some event most people consider pivotal—the Battle of Waterloo is an obvious choice—and then finds (or makes up) some reasonably credible way that the event might have happened differently.

No, I didn't invent the idea, although folks often ask me if I did. I think Jack Williamson was responsible, in his splendid 1938 adventure The Legion of Time. I do seem to have brought it back to life, after it had temporarily fallen out of fashion, with my 1980 novel The Probability Broach, available in graphic form on this site, and still being published in prose (last I heard, anyway) by Tor.

A writer might have many reasons for wanting to write books like this. Influenced considerably by Ayn Rand, I wanted to do for liberty, what H.G. Wells and Edward Bellamy had done for socialism. I wanted to be more direct than Wells and a better writer than Bellamy. I also wanted very much to supplement Rand's philosophical rigor with Robert A. Heinlein's deep understanding of humanity and wonderful sense of humor.

The Probability Broach was an attempt on my part to sum up what I had learned in my first fifteen years as a libertarian, by creating an alternate version of the United States that had done nothing that a libertarian would consider a mistake. The notion that the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion was where things had begun to go wrong was Robert LeFevre's. The idea that the United States could have—just to name one example—given up slavery without a war that killed 620,000 people, is a great deal more popular today than in 1977 when I started writing the novel.

I'll leave it to the reader to judge how well I did my job with The Probability Broach. The fact that it's still in print after a quarter of a century says something, as does the fact that it also exists as a graphic novel. To judge from my mail (snail in the beginning, mostly e- these days), phone calls, and actual visits by readers, I have influenced a good many lives. I've also encouraged a lot of people to buy their first gun, something I delight in telling liberals.

So why Roswell, Texas?

In this case, I didn't have any grandiose aspirations to speak of. At the time, I was working hard, on the most ambitious project of my life, Ceres, and felt I might need a "hobby book" that would help me relax. My good old friend Rex F. May, the great cartoonist most people know as "Baloo", was back in town, and Rex shares my general interest in history. Like me, he's an extremely silly guy. I don't think most of his fans know that he's also a capable and funny writer, having peddled material to National Lampoon during its golden age in the 1970s.

And so Roswell, Texas began. It was long enough ago, and there are so many little bits that went into it, that I can never remember which of us thought up any given idea. I'm probably responsuble for Wagner and Joplin collaborating on the opera Die Alamo; I've always been a tremendous Joplin fan, beginning with Max Morath's series on PBS in the early 1960s. I'm pretty sure that Rex believed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh should be president of the Federated States of Texas, but in neither case (nor in a hundred others) am I absolutely certain.

Rex would come over early in the morning and we'd talk and make notes, sometimes for hours. He'd do the research, and I'd write the copy. Then the next time we'd go over what I'd written and "stuff in more stuff" until the book began to resemble one of those overly crowded illustrations in the old Mad magazine we'd both loved as kids.

Somewhere along the line—we were about 95 percent finished with the prose novel—Frank Bieser, founder of Big Head Press, publisher of the graphic version of The Probability Broach, heard of Roswell, Texas, and asked us if we'd like to produce it as a webcomic. Of course we accepted and the rest will soon be comic history. We still have to find a publisher for the prose version, and the Big Finish will be written for the webcomic and adapted backward into the prose version.

Our original object was simply to have a little pointless fun that we could eventually share with readers. Gradually, however, because of the sort of twisted, demented, perverted individuals we are, a Theme began to struggle up out of the primordial muck, much like early life arising on the planet, despite our most strenuous efforts to prevent it.

It is simply this: while each and every one of us is responsible for his or her own life, and you cannot properly blame whatever personal shortcomings you may have on the society around you, it's undeniably easier to be a decent human being if you live in a decent society.

From the very beginning, you see, we had taken the Great Leap, without really realizing what we'd done, Three of our four central characters were actual, historical personalities whom many today remember as villains. All three were leaders. All three wound up being assassinated. And as a boy growing up in hillbilly country, largely educating himself, it was Rex who had noticed that, despite their tremendous differences, all three seemed to have many of the same enemies.

The three were: Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League; Malcolm "X" Little, onetime spokesman for the Nation of Islam; and George Lincoln Rockwell, infamous founder of the hated American Nazi Party.

Understand, please: Rex and I (and now our celebrated artist Scott Bieser and our colorist Jen Zach) are not saying these three men were good people in the historical universe we live in—although I think I would have liked Malcolm after his conversion to orthodox Islam. Opinions vary in any case. Was Elliot Ness a hero? Certainly not in my estimation. How about T.E. Lawrence, whom I've admired since I was a boy? We're just exploring what various individuals might have been like in a different historical universe, under different circumstances.

All of which sounds very heavy and tedious. We wrote this book for fun. It was fun to write. It was more fun to rewrite as a graphic novel. I'm told by Scott and Jen that it was fun to draw and fun to color.

We hope it will be fun for you to read.

That's all that's important.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at lneilsmith.org.

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: http://payloadz.com/go/sip?id=137991. Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press www.bigheadpress.com has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at www.Amazon.com, or at BillOfRightsPress.com.


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