I’ve recently started watching Downton Abbey — I’m only on season 1, so please no spoilers — and I was trying to explain it to my wife. She wanted to know what it was about and why it appealed to me so much. Certainly, it’s a fine show, and I could have talked about it in specifics, but instead, I fell back on our common language of science fiction.
You see, it reminds me a lot of C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series with Bren Cameron and his Atevi household. In Downton Abbey, a sudden change has brought about a new heir to the title and the estate, but he’s not an aristocrat. Instead, he’s a middle-class lawyer, mostly interested in contracts and such, much like how Bren is more of a linguist than a politician.
Watching this new heir adapt to a life with servants and formal dinners was a lot like watching Bren adapt to his Atevi household, full of servants, bodyguards, and more potential social gaffes than priceless relics.
Then there’s the Dowager Countess, who fits the mold of the Dowager-Aiji Ilisidi almost perfectly, right down to the cane. She’s proud, opinionated, and not accustomed to losing.
As for the household staff, they don’t match well with the Atevi characters, apart from the fact that they all have surprising back stories and secrets. However, I was able to describe the worst of them, Thomas, as a like Mr. Morden from Babylon 5, except without a conscience. At least Morden believed he was serving a higher purpose, whereas Thomas is simply selfish and evil.
Now, if anything, the development of ideas was the reverse of this. The stratified society of British aristocracy came long before Cherryh’s Atevi, and it may have very well served as inspiration for her setting. However, both she and I have grown up more on science fiction than on history, so I find myself relating new tales back to “the classics” of Star Trek, Star Wars, the Foundation trilogy, and so on.
Am I the only one? Have you ever run across some mainstream story that mostly reminded you of your sci-fi/fantasy roots?