The Big Idea: Griffin Barber
Never sass Eric Flint about his bestselling “1632” universe — or you might find yourself co-writing a book with him! Or so Griffin Barber tell us in this Big Idea, about the genesis of his collaboration with Flint: 1636: Mission to the Mughals.
About eight years ago, I met Charles Gannon at The World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Chuck, as his friends call him, had just finished separate collaborations with Steve White and Eric Flint, and was very much on the rise. He was also kind, generous with his time, and excellent company for a drink or three. During the course of the convention, we discovered a shared love of role playing games, history, and science fiction. While we were there, he read some of my work and told me that I should write for The Grantville Gazette the magazine of Eric Flint’s 1632 Universe.
Standing on my vertically challenged high horse, I poo-pooed the very idea, telling him with great certainty, “I don’t even like time travel!”
Two years later, I had seen the light Chuck kept on for me, and had the first short story I ever submitted for publication appear in The Grantville Gazette. The next WorldCon was in Chicago and hosted the 1632 MiniCon, where Eric and the other writers of the 1632 universe get together and discuss plans and the publishing schedule for the next year or so.
Sitting toward the back and considering the fact the Mughals had just begun construction on the Taj Mahal around 1632, I raised my hand and asked Eric and the other novelists and editors, “What’s going on in Mughal India?”
“We don’t know, write it,” Eric quipped.
My first thought was an aggressive: “Challenge me, will you?”
Two years of research and a couple more short stories set in India for the Gazette, and I had Eric’s full attention. I wrote an outline for the novel, which he changed a bit and then approved. Researching still, I began writing the book.
I am sometimes pretty slow on the uptake. Like, walking-into-a-minefield-and-forgetting-which-route-I-used-slow.
It wasn’t until I started really getting into the book that I realized the many pitfalls and hot-button issues I had signed up to navigate:
Three major world religions. Well, four, really. And that doesn’t count the major and minor sects of Islam. The repercussions of the conflicts between these religions and sects are to this day being felt out on the world stage.
The systematic cultural and religious oppression in every aspect of ninety-nine percent of women’s lives.
Slavery on a scale that truly boggles the mind.
The castration of vast numbers of juveniles.
The caste system.
Once I stopped shaking (but not whining to my friends), I decided to tackle some small part of those challenges the best way I knew how:
By working with only the very strongest of female characters who make their place in the world, even against the strongest opposition.
By showing even the most vilified of history’s figures were human, and history might have been different, had their choices been better, the choices they had to make easier, and the cultural framework they were working from had allowed them to see the evil that would follow.
By avoiding the pitfall of making the Up-timers, descendants of white Europeans, the ‘saviors’ of the peoples of India.
And, lastly, by being true to my understanding of the history, religions, cultures, and figures that made all the those horrible things possible yet created monuments and art of such stunning beauty they remain among the most admired to this day.
Once I had written my bit, Eric took over. He polished, corrected, and added to it, making it far better than I could have hoped to do on my own.
What we ended up with was a tale that revolved around Princess Jahanara, eldest daughter of the Emperor Shah Jahan, her role in society, and interactions within the royal family and court. Her actions form the backbone of the book, with the information brought from the future by the up-timers putting the first cracks in foundation of the wall that circumscribes her world.
Cracks she will use to shatter the wall in future books.
Ultimately, we hope to have told a tale that gives readers plenty of adventure and fun while remaining respectful of the history, religions, and people that made Mughal India so fascinating. That said, we hope you will enjoy 1636: Mission to the Mughals.