Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thank You, Noel! (a small reading update)

(a ruined Yucatecan hacienda)

The First Book

I finished two books. The first was the gem, which I have thank Noel Maurer for pointing me to some time ago and now I finally read. That would be the Caste War of the Yucatan. Wow. This was one of the most sordid and viciously nasty things I've read about. It's fascinating in a massive multiethnic train wreck sort of way. The Ladino[1] meltdown and self-serving in the face of potential annihilation is fascinating: cornered , starving rats attacking each other came to mind. The Mayan Cruzob was interesting, if depressing, and it really, really sounds superficially like the Zapatista Army of National Liberation is its descendant with its struggle in Chiapas. Is this really a new struggle or the same song, different generation[2]?

Its What-if

There was a What-if that was pretty blatant in the history. When the Mexicans declared independence, the Yucatecans, meaning the Ladino side, declared themselves independent. They flailed around looking for help when the Mayans were eating their lunch. They offered to be annexed by the United States, British Empire, and even others. Eventually, the went back to being part of Mexico. What-if they had stuck to their guns and tried to stay independent. I suspect that the Ladinos in the short term will do worse, a lot worse, but Merida and Campeche will stay standing. In the end, the Maya were undone by disease, poor soil, and, ultimately, technology. If the Ladinos had held out until the 1880s on their own while the Cruzob was effectively another state, they would have been able to march in the repeaters and gatling guns that would have been affordable by then.

However, there was no way that the Yucatecans could have projected that those technologies would crop up, but given their stubbornness I could see them hanging on all the same. Alternately, there might have been a partition had the British finally decided that they were best served by having a Mayan buffer state. Or three. OTOH, if the Brits don't extend their protection, and probably won't, to the Mayans, my bet is that sisal will eventually win the war for the Ladinos before the turn of the last century.

My guess after that is that the Yucatecan economy booms under the monocrop of sisal and then when it gets supplanted by synthetics that the economy tanks rather badly. Tourism will revive it to some extent, but IDK if it'd match the previous income levels or not. Once the economy falters, given its timing, could we see a Mayan insurgency under the guise of communism and supported by the USSR. That means that US gets involved with guns and dinero. It gets bloody and unpleasant in ways that make both sides look nasty, I suspect, because memories of the Caste War and Cruzob are still present.

Would it discredit both sides when genocide is perpetuated? Probably not. Mao got away with a frak load and people in certain circles still venerate him (oy). There are still numbers of communists all over the place. Having a vicious little war, even in our backyard, probably won't be noticed. Americans are just too insular and, unfortunately, many groups see what they want to see rather than take a step back and look again.

By the current day, I bet the Republic of the Yucatan has a few coastal cities that are beautiful and very tourist-y. Cancun doesn't exist as it does now, but may still in some form. The economy outside of that is probably not doing so well. There's still a minor insurgency that is pretty much petty banditry after the collapse of the USSR. However, from my POV, one of the great travesties of it will be that the study of the Maya will have been set back decades. :(

As for its effect on Mexican history, I bet its great, but IDK how much. Noel? It's effect outside of Mexico...well, probably not much.

Further SFnal-Related Thoughts

A thought that crossed my mind was why are the SF writers wasting their time rehashing Roman or Byzantine history. Belisarius was kewl, but now rather tired. The Caste War is the perfect bit of history to coopt into a story. Admittedly, it'd be a depressing, nasty bit of a story, but framed right it might be an interesting one. Obviously, it has to be written by an American, right, James? Vicious nasty and ending in whatever the rebellious Campbellian group finally fades away in the ultimate inconsequential form. It almost writes itself if set in the asteroid field.
"You're Chinese, right?" I agreed simply because I didn't want to confuse the matter and distract him. "The Chinese promised us drones. Drones and zero-g battle armour. The treaty is still in effect. We lost contact with their agents 40 years ago. " I had come to study the Asteroidal Class War, but found myself being asked to renew it. I had to find a way to extract myself without ending my interview with General Mason.


Human history is huge. Need we keep mining the same, tired events?

The Second Book


I also read Scalzi's Last Colony. I wasn't as impressed with it. It was a good read, but I think he conveniently forgot some of his own mythology. It's a good bit of escapism though.

The Third Book, started

United States and Canada: Ambivalent Allies. Sheesh, all the excited stuff happened early on in the history of our two countries. I'm about a quarter done. More later.

1. I thought that was reserved for Jewish groups in Latin countries, but it seems my education in the matter is lacking. Nelson uses the term to describe the Euro-Yucatecan and their allies in the war.

2. I am pretty sure that I am embarrassing myself by writing the previous, but, hey, if you don't ask the stupid question, the stupid stays with you.

4 comments:

James Davis Nicoll said...

A thought that crossed my mind was why are the SF writers wasting their time rehashing Roman or Byzantine history.

Because a surprising % of SF writers are willfully ignorant, energetically lazy, and happy to settle for copying other writers' ideas.

There's also a certain line of thought in SF that I will diplomatically characterize as "non-whites never did anything of interest until they were forced to by their noble European conquerers," which leads to things like confident assertations that nothing of note changed in India or China for thousands of years.

mbmichael said...

yeah, the sack of Vijayanagara and the subsequent (sloow) collapse of the empire could be fun too.

I also was not especially impressed with Last Colony, otoh, I thought that Zoe's Tale (same events different POV), was _very good_, and have in fact recommended to several of my friends that they just skip the former in favor of the latter.

Noel Maurer said...

Your POD gets interesting. On the one hand, see Guatemala, history of. On the other, an independent Yucatan would have a lot of development opportunities that Guatemala lacked, and a much worse ladino-indio ratio.

Funny thing is, professional historians have, when drinking, in Caracas, thought about the results of a Maya victory, in which case you get greater Belize, only, like, different. A ladino state didn't seem as interesting to contemplate.

What town do you live in, again?

Will Baird said...

A history of Guatemala is on the list. :) It won't be soon though. :(

The Yucatacens will have another development opportunity that I didn't think of and really ought to have: there was a reason that the Chicxulub Crater was found. Oil! Whee! Through the 1930s or 1940s there ought to be enough there with the sisal trade they might end pretty well off. Well, maybe.

I'd think it'd do better than Belize, but I am admittedly rather new to reading about the region...in modern geological times.

I actually think that a more successful Cruzob and an independent rump Republic of the Yucatan might be rather interesting to contemplate. Two rather different states locked in a local bit of viciousness. oy.

The divergences would interesting all the same.

We're in Emeryville, but we're hoping to make a move out into the urbs some time soon.