Recently, I joined an e-mail critique group called Medieval Fiction Writers. This group doesn't just stick to historical fiction set in medieval times; it reaches a lot farther, both ways, I think. But many of them have at least some medieval link. I should say, for the record, that I like my writing partner; we've become friends, although she writes somewhat different books than I'm writing. Hers are more straight fantasy or Ray Bradburyesque science fiction. Mine, rather deliberately, crosses genres somewhat. It's set in medieval England, but it has a strong romantic element. And it has fantasy elements, of a sort. To be fair, it will end up being part of a larger set of works of a "what-if" kind. In this case, it's "what if Neandertals never really died out, they just ended up on a nearby planet for a while?" One further note: this work is not "alternative history", either. I hate most "alternate history"!
Anyway, I have been critiquing others, and having my own first chapter of my first book, critiqued. The critique of the first chapter went well enough, though I haven't been able to fully revise it yet, based on the comments. But I noticed some people were confused on reading this first chapter. This was in spite of the fact that, working from my first draft, I cut a lot of stuff and tried to get rid of "passive voice" problems. There were a number of readers who apparently weren't familiar with science fiction conventions of any kind, and they wanted me to have the Neandertals talking about DNA, at a time when nobody knew DNA exists. The Neandertals do, but they don't call it DNA. They call it something else. Which would be perfectly natural, if they discovered it independently, which in my story, they more or less did.
I then got the bright idea of creating a prologue, which my writing partner liked --- she thought it was a good lead-in to the story. She also thought that, somewhat expanded, I might be able to use the prologue as a selling point to some agent. Assuming, that is, I get that far. I deliberately made it rather "poetic" , as if some Neandertal mage(I refer to "mages" throughout the triliogy; they are on the home planet). My trilogy is supposed to be a very famous --- to them --- historical incident, which is embedded in a well-known set of events in medieval history. This is the true history of these events. So what I did was create a "poetic" account of later human evolution, based on what is known about Neandertals and "modern" humans. Apparently the reviewer just didn't have the right frame of reference; the person apparently just doesn't know anything about this subject. I don't hold this against the reviewer; most people I've talked to about it, including my writing partner, don't know anything about human evolution either. And the reviewer isn't aware that I've read a lot of journal papers, both in the medieval field and in prehistoric archaeology and paleoanthropolgy, to come up with the story line that I did. Much of it is, of course, fantastic, but Neandertals were real enough, though of course they didn't exist, that we know of, in medieval England. But creating worlds is the business of the writer, I'm told.
So, what can I do? I don't want to be too obvious, yet I do want the prologue and first chapter be intriguing enough to the reader so he or she will turn the next page. On the other hand, "thirty thousand years ago, two peoples occupied a glacier-choked land" ought to be enough of a clue. At this point, I'm tearing my hair. Help!