Some notes on the Chronology

Appendix IV of the book, excerpted here, sets out a chronology of two thousand years of Colonial history. This post discusses its creation.

In his preface to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote: “This tale grew in the telling, until it became a history of the Great War of the Ring and included many glimpses of the yet more ancient history that preceded it.” When I started writing The Racetrack Chronicle, I knew what had happened on Kobol (because Edward T. Yeatts has told us in his Lords of Kobol novels), and I had a sense of what had happened in recent decades (because BSG and Caprica paint a vivid picture of the world). Despite the mythopoetic prelude that opens Poseidon, though, I lacked a strong sense of what had happened between those two epochs. Somewhere in the process (around the time the next book was conceived, not coincidentally) I realized that this was an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I needed a glimpse of that ancient history, the context that necessarily preceded my narrative.

I had already taken a stab at some Colonial history. In a couple of short stories, I had tried to flesh out the worlds into which Maggie and David, in particular, were born. Margaret Cavendish, the Pican first President of the Colonies and Maggie’s namesake, appeared in Atalanta, and, in broad strokes, I told the history of Virgon in Carillon, which, truth to tell, as an exercise in storytelling, was a large tail wagging an awfully small dog.

Those forays were satisfying and enjoyable. Cavendish (embodied by Rekha Sharma) seemed like an interesting character, and I’ve done more writing with her that may see the light of day. And the Virgon of the present-day, the Virgon whence David Wright comes in The Racetrack Chronicle and (to let one cat out of the bag) Edward Hackett Nagala comes in Evaded Cadence, took on a feeling: That of High Hopes. Of decline, melancholy, and regret.

(In my telling of it, Virgon is the heavy sigh of a man whose time has passed. It was, but has lost, its place as the preeminent power and quintessential civilization of the Twelve Worlds. And I say “civilization” in Spengler’s sense: It long ago became the Thing Become. And then it ossified, decayed, and watched the rise of its upstart neighbor Caprica, jealous, powerless, and suspicious (rightly) that rivals ancestral (chiefly Leonis) and strategic (chiefly Canceron) were fueling that rise to undermine its own. The reference-points were the Centauri Republic, interwar England, a neverland version of Imperial Russia. I say Russia because I like the idea that it was an absolute monarchy (and a successful one) until relatively recently, about a century before the Fall, and interwar England because it seems more interesting that it not be a ruined civilization but a civilization in terminal decline that cannot yet quite grapple with or face that decline or decide what to do about it. )

Nevertheless, they were only glimpses, and Tolkien fleshed out his mythos with a lot more than just glimpses. Ditto Herbert, another influence. Moreover, I feel that knowing the background in great detail gives me confidence in writing. The more specific I could make the history, the more vivid the worlds around Maggie Edmondson would be, and the starker the relief in which I could portray her. So I began constructing an enchiridion that would eventually become Appendix 4.

All of which brings us to another quotation attributed to Tolkien, of late, but which seems to be original to the Jackson movie. As centuries passed after the cataclysm ending Sauron’s reign in the second age, Galadriel tells us, “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge.”

What a line is that! History becomes legend; legend becomes myth.

With all this in mind, let us consider: How long ago did the Colonials leave Kobol? At the end of the Miniseries, Cdr. Adama tells his crew: “‘Life here began out there.’ Those are the first words of the sacred scrolls, and they were told to us by the Lords of Kobol, many countless centuries ago.” Even were “countless” rhetoric, even were the antecedent the exodus rather than, technically, when the gods handed down the Sacred Scrolls, history becomes legend and legend becomes myth. That history is old does not mean that it is false or indeterminate. But as centuries pass, even in advanced societies, it accretes legendary aspects and fades to a point where a skeptical man like Adama might well dismiss the remaining gestalt as religious tales from before the memory of mankind, just as today, Higher Criticism is apt to dismiss the historicity of biblical events.

Later, in Kobol’s Last Gleaming, we get a more specific timeframe: The Colonials left Kobol “around” or “approximately” 2,000 years ago. And, finally, during Caprica’s run, Serge Graystone confirms it explicitly: The exodus took place 1,942 years before the events of Caprica, which in turn predate the Fall by 58 years.

To be sure, a multiplanetary civilization presents timekeeping challenges. Some of them are alluded to in the book and in other posts; it’s not subtle, but I particularly like the line in Galactica that “[f]or a Pican and especially a Virgan, there were, quite literally, not enough hours in the Galactica’s 24-hour day.” But anyway: For writers and readers, you have to have some fixed point of reference for timekeeping, unless time is itself to become a significant player in the story. (As in, for example, Interstellar). Otherwise it becomes a distraction and an annoyance. Even if it’s a contrivance, then, it seemed reasonable to take so cataclysmic an event as an entire civilization leaving for new pastures as a basis for timekeeping—or, more specifically, to posit that by the calendar of Gemenon and Caprica, the Fall takes place in the spring of 2,000 A.E., i.e. 2000 years “After the Exodus.” This is not to say that other colonies did not have other calendars; how could they not? Days and years would be significantly different throughout the Twelve Worlds. But if any colonies would have kept it, Gemenon as the elder colony and Caprica as its erstwhile vassal felt logical, which gives a us a consistent throughline from the exodus to our modern calendaring: The divine providence that first Gemenon/Caprica and ultimately Earth II would have almost identical spins.

(Elsewhere, I have gone into how the date of April 15 came about based on measuring the angles of shadows on-screen during the Miniseries.)

So what happened in the intervening centuries? I wanted to sketch a history that that would produce the Colonial landscape I envisioned in the Background Notes: “In my reading, the twelve United Colonies of Kobol are not the Federation (“Star Trek”), nor even the Alliance (“Firefly”); they are America in 1810. They are a vast, sprawling, diverse collection of societies. They are tied together by history, commercial intercourse, and a remote federal government on Caprica, and of course the silver chain of the Colonial Fleet, but ineluctably separated by immense distances [slower-than-light communications] and profound cultural and aesthetic differences.”

Armed with that, and with a map, I sought to provide the Maggieverse with a two-millennium backstory that was fractious, difficult, real, and which bridged the end of Lords of Kobol and Carillon with the immediate backstory of The Racetrack Chronicle, Battlestar, and Evaded Cadence.

I wanted to posit a backstory that took seriously the implications of what we knew about the Colonies: That took into account the effects of geography, economics, politics, logistics, science, language, ethnicity, culture, petty rivalries, personal ambition, and above all, sheer, raw distance. If it isn’t too obvious to say, I wanted a timeline that felt plausibly like real history. The real history of a real place. The scope was too large and long for it to be reducible to neat, pat sci-fi-sounding themes—the besetting sin of the QMX map, which is acceptable as an in-universe product but which is far too rosy to reflect real history. I wanted to start with the ancient names of and relationships among the nations of Kobol and evolve them toward where we arrive by the timeframe of Caprica in a way that felt organic and happenstance, not contrived or constructed, in a way that would inform the stories I was telling in a more recent timeframe in the Chronicle and Evaded Cadence. There should be wars in there, I said, but there should also be cold wars and coincidences and stupid, petty, personal rivalries among outsized personalities. And there should also be long stretches of time where nothing in particular happens and the commercial intercourse of the colonies goes on long enough to have several epochs of different “normal”s. It should be possible to pick any moment in the timeline and imagine the worlds as a real place with a rich history supporting any number of stories.

It was, in short, like an insane, upside-down game of chess, in which I started checkmate, and tried to move the pieces back into original position.

The result was a document that now appears in Appendix 4 of The Racetrack Chronicle. At fourteen pages, the Chonology risks failing on both fronts: I had to chance it being too long to absorb but too brief to satisfy. But I hope that, to the contrary, it’s concise enough to be readable and evocative enough to fire the imagination.

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