As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not much of a researcher. However, I am currently working on a Cold War Era novel with an on-line co-author. (You know, that awkward moment when you suddenly wake up and realize that you’re in the middle of a book that you didn’t intend to write?)
We are currently working on the history of the characters and so I have been reading up on the history of Germany from 1900 to 1947 (spoiler alert: They lost. A lot. ) Having decided how old the characters are at the start of the story, we’ve been working backwards and seeing when they were born, figuring out where, what was going on at the time, and what sort of events shaped who they have become.
Europe in the first half of the Twentieth Century was an incredible time. The amount of drastic change in the people’s daily lives staggers the mind. Not just technological, the culture, the governments, the national boundaries–everything changed. And while it’s easy in retrospect to condemn the totalitarian movements–the National Socialists, the Fascists, the Soviets–the more I read the more I am able to understand how people could be drawn to the idea of monolithic central control. When your world is so far out of control, the idea of somebody, anybody, being able to take charge and give you a chance to catch your breath must be quite appealing.
I am finding myself sympathizing a great deal with the character we set up as our villain. He’s not an Agent Of SMERSH or some comic book minion to an evil empire, he’s an ordinary guy who lost everything in the war (he grew up in a small community outside of Dresden) and is struggling to provide for his family as best he knows how. He’s not an ideological communist, he’s a man who has allied himself with the people that he believes are best able to keep the trains running at all, much less on time.
Doing this research has been an eye-opening experience. It’s not going to change my own political beliefs (I’m what Robert Heinlein called “a rational anarchist”) but it’s helping me to understand how the Soviet system grew out of the chaos following the First World War.