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Friday, July 17, 2009

The Friday Challenge - 7/17/09

An exceedingly long day at the end of a long week: 'twas nearly devoured whole by Otogu, I was, but at the very last moment I managed to free myself from his stinking rotten gingivistic jaws and drag myself to safety, where I collapsed into the La-Z-Boy, near to fainting from exhaustion.

At least, that's my lame excuse for why I'm finishing this up and posting it on Saturday morning, and I'm sticking to it.

We received three entries in last week's challenge, "Benedict Arnold, Hero". Disappointingly, not one of you tried to snowdog in an entry in the extra day I inadvertently gave you. Apparently you're learning to respect deadlines—which if true, is a sad development. C'mon, folks, deadlines were made to be broken! In the immortal words of the late and much beloved Douglas Adams:
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
Well, nothing to be done about it now. In the order received, the three entries in last week's challenge are:

torainfor, untitled

Henry, "I, Lex Luthor"

Arisia, "Supersubstantial"

As always, even if you haven't submitted an entry this week—even if you never submit an entry in any week—you're invited to read, comment on, and vote for your favorite. Don't be shy about leaving feedback on the authors' blogs, either. Writers thrive on knowing that someone out there is actually reading their words. The winner will be announced on Sunday.

And now for this week's challenge:

How do you get ideas for stories? One way is to take a look at some historical watershed and play the "what if?" game. What if one person had made one seemingly insignificant decision differently? What if Pure Dumb Luck had chosen another path? What if on December 7, 1941, Chuichi Nagumo had chosen not to scrub the launch of his third wave of attack aircraft? What if in August of 1945, Fidel Castro had decided not to go to law school and instead to concentrate on his baseball career? What if in February of 1968, some lucky V.C. sniper had picked off Walter Cronkite?

Or here's one I discovered quite by accident recently, while researching something else:

1779 is not generally considered an historically significant year. The American Revolution had been going for four years already, and it would be another two years before Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown and four years before hostilities were officially over. In the north the active land war had effectively ended with Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga in 1777, and the British were now settled on a southern strategy that involved holding the major northern cities, taking Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, and bankrupting the colonists into submission with a naval blockade. Accordingly the majority of King George's mighty Royal Navy was tied up patrolling the Caribbean and the North American Atlantic coast, while the bulk of the British Army—some 30,000 officers and men—as well as all the German mercenaries King George could afford—roughly another 30,000 men—was tied up either in occupying the north or preparing for their campaign in the south.

In Paris and Madrid, this was recognized as a once-in-a-millennium opportunity. Carefully, cleverly, plans were drawn up to form a mighty Franco-Spanish armada, which would invade the Channel, sweep away the British Home Fleet, seize Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, and land two armies totalling 40,000 men, who would then advance upon and take London.

It was a brave plan; an audacious plan; possibly a brilliant plan. Unfortunately it was also a plan that required close cooperation between the French and the Spanish, and it may as well have required mighty armored wagons hauled by great teams of trained draft-cats.

In actual execution, the Armada of 1779 turned into a complete and disastrous botch. Spanish captains refused to take orders from French admirals. The theoretically mighty French fleet was in fact a paper tiger, filled with men taken from hospitals, prisons, and asylums and terribly short of experienced gunners. The Bourbon monarchy was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and rushing headlong down the road to its own bloody revolution, and therefore unable to resupply the Armada or make good its losses once it set sail. The Spanish had their own agenda, which mostly involved trying to con the French into supporting their failed attempts to take Gibraltar and Minorca. In the end, after four months of desultory floundering, terrible losses from disease, and a few inconclusive dust-ups with the British Home Fleet, the French gave up in disgust and went home.

But... what if?

What if, halfway through the American Revolution, the Armada had succeeded in landing a large invading army on English soil? The Spanish still had territorial ambitions in the New World, and they still held La Florida and the territory later to be known as the Louisiana Purchase. The French also had territorial ambitions in the New World and throughout the Caribbean. How would the British have reacted to this invasion? How would the Americans have reacted? What would the map of North America look like today if the French and Spanish had successfully attacked England in 1779?

The deadline for this challenge is midnight Central time, Thursday, 7/23/09. Not surprisingly, we're still playing by the never-updated Official Rules of the Friday Challenge, and playing for whatever is on the equally infrequently updated Door #3 list.

Now go put on your thinking caps and work out the implications. And remember: have fun.
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