I is for Ice

A2Z-BADGE-100 [2017]

My 2017 A to Z Challenge theme is “The History of Kanata”, the parallel world that is the setting for “Eagle Passage, my alternative history novel that all began when I wondered, “What would have happened if Leif Eriksson had settled Vinland permanently in 1000 AD? For further details and links to my other A to Z posts – and hints at the ones to come visit “Kanata – A to Z Challenge 2017”.

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I is for Ice: 1264, Eyrar, Iceland:   Fishermen Thorvard Gilsson and Kjartan Jonsson are repairing their nets and discussing their concerns that the increase in drift ice around the northern coast of Iceland is threatening their safety when fishing. The spread of sea ice is also making trade harder, especially with Greenland to the west, but at least the merchants from Kanata continue to support them both, providing much-needed goods, including timber so the settlers don’t need to chop down their few precious trees.

The Kanata merchants must have access to many varieties of trees, says Kjartan, as their shipwrights have crafted some rugged vessels that can navigate great storms and probably the drift ice. The fishermen suspect the vessels are reinforced, particularly around the waterline with double planking to the hull and strengthening cross members inside the ship. If they had enough iron that could be wrapped around the outside. Maybe the Kanatians will teach them the secrets so they can build safer fishing boats.

Thorvard agrees and suggests they make a formal request via the Althing. Both men are glad that the Icelandic chieftains and guild representatives rejected swearing allegiance to the king of Norway, knowing that it was Kanata that protected them and ensured peace in the country.


A 17th-century Russian koch in a museum – Public Domain

In our timeline: In 1250 the Atlantic Sea ice began to grow and by 1300 there were signs throughout Europe that the Medieval Warm Period was ending. This new period, although the dating varies, has been called the ‘Little Ice Age’. Sea ice surrounding Iceland in many years extended for miles in every direction, closing harbours to shipping. Greenland was largely cut off by ice from 1410 to the 1720s, although it is unclear if this why the Norse settlements were abandoned. Timber was scarce on both Greenland and Iceland, which was one resource the expeditions to Vinland and Markland were seeking. But these timber expeditions did not continue. Building the first wooden ships that could navigate Arctic waters was achieved in North Russia.

Wikipedia – “In the 11th century, in North-Russia started settling the coasts of the White Sea, named so for being ice-covered for over half of a year. The mixed ethnic group of the Karelians and the Russians in the North-Russia that lived on the shores of the Arctic Ocean became known as Pomors (“seaside settlers”). Gradually they developed a special type of small one- or two-mast wooden sailing ships, used for voyages in the ice conditions of the Arctic seas and later on Siberian rivers. These earliest icebreakers were called kochi. The koch’s hull was protected by a belt of ice-floe resistant flush skin-planking along the variable water-line, and had a false keel for on-ice portage. If a koch became squeezed by the ice-fields, its rounded bodylines below the water-line would allow for the ship to be pushed up out of the water and onto the ice with no damage.”

The skill of the Kanatian shipwrights with access to plenty of timber should have allowed them to build early icebreakers to navigate via Greenland and Iceland to and from Europe. Would they have access to the Pomors and their kochi because of the Eastern trade routes? [Maybe when I get to ‘N’ that might produce an answer.]


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1066 Turned Upside Down – a review


As I am now writing an alternative history based on “what if the Vikings had settled permanently In North America”, I delayed reading this superb collection until I’d done more research and written my first draft. I was pleased to see some of my thoughts echoed and to discover how real historical writers craft their tales.


1066 Turned Upside Down

by Joanna CourtneyHelen HollickAnnie WhiteheadAnna BelfrageAlison MortonCarol McGrathEliza RedgoldG.K. Holloway, Richard Dee

Ever wondered what might have happened if William the Conqueror had been beaten at Hastings? Or if Harald Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? Or if Edward the Confessor had died with an heir ready to take his place? Then here is the perfect set of stories for you. ‘1066 Turned Upside Down’ explores a variety of ways in which the momentous year of 1066 could have played out differently.

Written by nine well-known authors to celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the stories will take you on a journey through the wonderful ‘what ifs’ of England’s most famous year in history.


REVIEW *****

As a history addict, I’ve been fascinated by alternative histories for decades so when I saw this collection was being released, I had to read it. However, I delayed delving into this until my own alternative history had evolved. I was not disappointed with any of these tales as they all took different approaches and in their own styles.

In most cases, the characters were based on the historical records, although those sometimes disagree so there was room for subtle variations – as well as believable fictional creations. Sometimes the background characters in the historical panorama have the most interesting tale to tell. As I’m part-British, I kept rooting for Harold and disliked William so cheered when the Normans were thwarted by their enemies.

However, I must admit to having a Viking bias so my favourite tale was Joanna Courtney’s ‘Emperor of the North’ about King Harold Hardrada, closely followed by Anna Belfrage’s ‘The Danish Crutch’ – never discount a ‘cripple’ (or else I’ll run you over with my wheelchair). But there were moments when I laughed as well as cried, and all the stories had me nodding with enjoyment and reading avidly. There is even an amusing and clever science fiction/time travel spin in Richard Dee’s ‘If You Changed One Thing’, and I must mention Alison Morton’s ‘A Roman Intervenes’ when her own alternative Roma Nova world impacts on events.

The collection is assembled in such a way that between the ‘alternatives’ are the related facts as they happened, as far as historians and archaeologists know – which still leaves room for these experienced writers’ imaginations. After each tale, there are interesting points of discussion to make the reader pursue the thoughts raised.

With all these writers’ credits, I now have a list of books to keep me historically entertained for months – if I don’t just keep re-reading this collection of five-star tales.