In an early science fiction novel/novella (A Fond Farewell to Dying/To Go Not Gently), I gave my protagonist a twenty year gap in his memory. To fill himself in on the events he missed, a friend of his suggests reading encyclopedia yearbooks, one by one.
It was a bad idea on two fronts. Shortly after I wrote that suggestion, Wikipedia drove paper encyclopedias out of business, and yearbooks were no more. My story was set a couple of centuries in the future, and long before we could get there, the immediate future had bit me where it hurts.
Even if that had not happened, it was a bad idea to trust yearbooks, as I found out when I tried it myself. I was planning to plot out a novel set in the sixties, so I accumulated yearbooks as a starting point for research. They were useless, and I kicked myself for not having realized in advance that they would be.
Almost everything the editors of the 1966 yearbook thought was important, turned out to be forgettable by the eighties. The important trends of that era only became obvious in retrospect.
1989 was like that, too. It was a pivotal year, but I missed it while I was living it.
I was alive, awake, and alert in 1989. I had recently returned from spending two summers in Europe. I was writing a teacher novel, and planning the novel Raven’s Run (now being posted in Serial), but I missed 1989’s significance. I didn’t really come to appreciate it until decades later when I was preparing to bring Raven’s Run up to date.
Basically, the cold war ended and the modern era began in 1989. When I realized that, I nudged Raven’s Run into that year so I could add a few events that I had missed when they happened, and set myself up for sequels.
I wrote a bracketing event, a meeting between Ian Gunn and a friend in Luisanne, Switzerland in 2012, where they are revealed as spies, or something like. (Raven’s Run 1) This leads to reminiscence and Ian begins to tell his friend of events that took place in 1989 – which becomes the novel.
I dropped these words into chapter 2:
It was April. Ayatollah Kohmeni had a few months left to live, and no one had yet heard of Osama ben Ladin. There were still two Germanies, two Berlins, and a wall; I had had my dealings with that wall a few years earlier, in uniform, when the cold war was even colder.
When I wrote chapter 2 in the mid-nineties, there were “two Germanies, two Berlins, and a wall”. I didn’t have to tell anyone. Not then – but posting Raven’s Run today, it has become necessary to remind my readers.
1989 was a pivotal year. If you don’t remember, or you weren’t born yet, take a look at Thursday’s post.