Mastodon 1493


10 Apr 2020 | book history

Giving the globe a good shake.

In the strictest sense, I’m a native North American. The trans-Atlantic migration of my ancestors is at least two generations back (but surely no more than five). Before that, we were Europeans and long before that, we were Caucasians. But the continental divides once enforced to various degress by oceans have effectively collapsed in the recent past, by which I mean the past one thousand years.

Places and people who could not know one another even existed can now mingle and co-exist. People are the primary agents of change but in their orbits travel the other lives, some of which make more dramatic changes upon arrival.

The book 1493 is an exploration of the acceleration of those impacts in the wake of people on the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans becoming aware that there was somewhere else on the other side, with someone living there. The title refers to the primary consequences ensuing after 1492 CE but it traces events to the very recent past, the last score of years (as I type this).

It talks about plants to a degree I found fascinating as a person who eats food; you might be similarly interested. It talks about insects and diseases to a degree I found disturbing as a person with a bloodstream. It talks about people and property and people as property. Which is to say, it gets pretty heavy, if you are a person still grappling with the shitty things your ancestors did to the ancestors of people you know.

I’d recommend reading this one in paper, if you can, to best enjoy the many maps and images. It’s still absorbing as a digital work, however, if you love trees / hate dust. For fictional derivations, I’d refer you to the Baroque Cycle (including the near-present work Cryptonomicon as well the supply chain collapse works of Paolo Bacigalupi eg Windup Girl which contain global connectivity and lack thereof as plot elements.