An Interview With Rvbomally, Alternate Cartographer And Author Of "Ad Astra Per Aspera"
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An Interview With Rvbomally, Alternate Cartographer And Author Of "Ad Astra Per Aspera"

One of online alternate history's greats.

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An Interview With Rvbomally, Alternate Cartographer And Author Of "Ad Astra Per Aspera"
Rvbomally

Rvbomally, who prefers to use a pseudonym, is a writer and cartographer on alternatehistory.com. His DeviantArt can be found here.

Wallace: What made you start writing?

rvbomally: I'm not entirely sure if there is an answer to this question, because I have been writing for as long as I can remember. My head has always been swimming with creative ideas, mostly based on the media I consumed at the time. The first creative project that I can remember were some ideas for a Pokémon game, which involved the player going to the Moon of all places. The first original work I can remember was a science fiction setting I drafted in middle school. It involved a three-way conflict between a superpower Republic of Texas that had taken control of Earth after an atomic war sometime in the far future of the 2010s, a mind upload empire called the Overnet that had established itself on Mars and was trying to take over the Earth, and the Phage, a Martian bacteria that somehow got access to Terran gene banks and has become a menace to the other factions.

Wallace: What got you into alternate history?

rvbomally: Funnily enough, alternate history or the humanities in general are not my first love. In the past, I considered history rather boring, and I was far more interested in science. I've always been a science fiction aficionado, and I grew up on a "healthy" diet of “Star Wars” and “Terminator” films. What got me into alternate history is the science fiction/alternate history project Dawn of Victory. At the time, I was a major “Halo” fanboy, and I was following the “Halogen: Real Time Strategy Evolved” modification for “Command and Conquer: Generals.” The forum that hosted Halogen eventually played host to a new project, “Dawn of Victory,” which involves aliens invading during WWII and pushing mankind into the stars. At the time, I had not even considered the concept of alternate history or modifying history in fiction. The science fiction angle to “Dawn of Victory” is what drew me in, but I stayed because I became enamored with the concept of alternate history. After that, I learned about the “Southern Victory” series, and a friend of mine introduced me to AH.com. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Wallace: What made you start making maps?

rvbomally: I played around with the crappy old Wikipedia basemaps in the latter half of the 2000s, mostly just to make historical maps for the science fiction scenario with the Texans. I do remember making a small alternate history map which involved extensive German and Italian colonization of the Americas, but that never got anywhere. At the same time, my friends in high school became obsessed with the board game Diplomacy, which is a classic game where seven players take control of the European great powers during the turn of the 20th century. Since the game is literally a map of Europe, it did not take long for me to make maps of our game sessions, to illustrate who won or lost. It was not long before my friends and I got in variants of Diplomacy, and eventually map games. At the same time, I became deeply interested in alternate history as a concept, and was disappointed that many scenarios lacked good maps, or only had regional maps. I wasn't content to wait around for some of the established cartographers to make them, so I decided to make them myself.

Wallace: What tools do you use when making your maps?

rvbomally: My process is needlessly complicated, and can all be accomplished through Microsoft Paint. That being said, I prefer my way because it does make some things simpler. I use Adobe Photoshop because the magic wand tool and the layer functions are very convenient, particularly when outlining large territories or moving borders from one basemap to my own map. The text functionality on Photoshop is also much more convenient. I do use Paint for detailing work.

For some of the fancier maps, I use Adobe Illustrator. I'm still getting a hang of that, and I'm working on “a The Man in the High Castle”-inspired map on Illustrator at the moment.

Wallace: What gives you ideas for new scenarios?

rvbomally: It would be easier to list what doesn't give me ideas for a new scenario. I get inspiration almost daily, and sometimes from the strangest places. Back in the UASR was inspired by a random imgur post of a drunk man describing India as the Asian Texas. Some scenarios are based directly on dreams I have had. Other scenarios are covers, because the original mapmaker only covered part of the world, and I want to fill in those gaps. Books, movies and television shows are natural sources of inspiration. Sometimes, a single work can inspire me to make a lot of work, such as “The Cabin in the Woods” inspiring me to make the “Vivere Militare Est”timeline. I would say the most consistent source of scenario inspiration is discussion on alternate history. While I do not take requests, due to the massive backlog of work I already have, sometimes someone will make a suggestion that will compel me to make a scenario.

What inspired your arguably most famous work, “Ad Astra per Aspera?”

All sorts of things. “Ad Astra Per Aspera” was not a work product based on a particular scenario "prompt" in my head, but rather a natural evolution of my ideas on science fiction. That old idea with the Texans and the Overnet eventually evolved into AAPA. What did prompt the current incarnation of AAPA, and its evolution from its science fiction ancestors, was the question: how successful would a Nazi America be? This was prompted by my studies in WWII history at the time, where the point is repeatedly made that the United States emerged from the war relatively unscathed, and with an economy and military that dwarfed even that of its other allies. I got to wondering how successful the Americans would be at attempting to take over the world at that point. This eventually evolved into ideas about a fascist America that joined the Axis, and eventually an America that lost its way after the American Civil War.

The science fiction angle was there because of Rule of Cool; who doesn't like spaceships? At the time, I was playing Fallout 3, and the science fiction/alternate history angle of that game (and the aforementioned “Dawn of Victory”) inspired the similar mix in AAPA. There were also other science fiction aspects that inspired AAPA, such as Vacuity travel being similar to Warp travel in “Warhammer 40K,” and explaining away the lack of space fighters by having cheap and easy laser point defense systems.

As for the excessive grimdark, that was a deliberate stylistic choice, based on the idea that I wanted to create the worst possible world. AAPA could be a universe that any Panglossian philosopher in the multiverse could point to as proof of their theories. I was also interested in different political theories at the time, and I wanted to find a way to corrupt every single political philosophy into some horrible dystopia.

Are there any particularly strong influences that you have?

While this answer may sound like a cop out, I'd have to say that history itself is a strong influence. I'm particularly interested in the history of revolutions, and the seemingly cyclical nature of the rise and fall of empires. The alternate history community itself is a major influence; I like to analyze the various tropes and theories that crop up in the alternate history community, and play around with those. “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is an unsurprising influence, and a lot of my early work had the Threeist political system appearing over and over again. The Cthulhu Mythos and its derivatives are always a good source for supernatural nonsense. Science fiction remains a big part of my influences: “Star Wars” and “Warhammer 40K” are particularly strong, and to some extent the “Wolfenstein,” “Red Alert,” “Halo” and “Fallout” games are also influences.

You've been on alternatehistory.com since 2008; has the community there affected your work in any large capacity?

Tremendously! The feedback the community gives me is amazing and has helped me improve as a content creator. Sometimes, when I don't know how to execute an idea, or need some more inspiration, I can always turn to the community, and they will give me great feedback. I also like to lurk threads for ideas.

Do you have any projects currently in the works?

Plenty of them. Apart from my Oneshot Scenarios, I also have an ongoing science fiction setting called “Space Cadet.” The premise of Space Cadet is that it is a galaxy that mixes together as many science fiction themes and tropes as possible, and tries to make it all work. I occasionally update my “Vivere Militare Est”timeline, which is my take on Weird War II. I've also gone back to my roots in mapping out published alternate history with my GURPS Covers, but I still haven't made it out of the Dixies. I am also a contributor on the Dawn of Victory wiki, and I find it great to be giving back to the project that introduced me to the alternate history genre in the first place. I also have a top secret project I'm working on with someone, but that's all I can say about that.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors and cartographers?

Don't be daunted and practice makes perfect! Every author and artist has made a lot of crap when they were starting out, and that definitely applies to me. I encourage aspiring authors and cartographers to keep at their work, and to let their inspiration and imagination fuel their work. And if what you make isn't up to your own standards, you can always revisit it later.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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