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Historical Fiction or Alternate History?

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message 1: by Philip (new)

Philip (heard03) | 383 comments Quite possibly a dumb question, but here goes: Is there a distinction to be made between Historical Fiction and Alternate History? If a story significantly changes the outcome of a big event does that make it Alternate History? And if big events remain the same with fictional characters inserted does that make it Historical Fiction? Or is this an unnecessary splitting of hairs?


message 2: by Paul (new)

Paul  Perry (pezski) | 489 comments I think it's a good question. I bet there's quite a bit of stuff published as Historical Fiction which ought to be Alternate History, just because it's so wildly inaccurate! (In film, perhaps the Americans capturing the Enigma encoder in U-571...)

I'd say for something to be Alternate it either has the change the course of what happened (The Man in the High Castle, Fatherland) or have something equally significant run in parallel - technological difference, magic or the like. I suppose the problem with identification is that all fiction is a big game of "What If...?" so something has to be distinct enough in its themes and approach to hold the label.


message 3: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Alternate history must have a point of departure -- one single event that happened one way in reality and another in the story. Having a fictional character present for an event that happens just as it did in our world doesn't make it alt-history.

The fuzzier distinction is between alt-history and secret history. A secret history is a story set in our world, yet history didn't transpire the way we think it did. In the first season of Blackadder, for example, the Plantagenets won at Bosworth Field, though Richard III fell in battle and was seceded by Richard of Shrewsbury. The whole thing with the Princes in the Tower and Henry VII winning at Bosworth was made up by Henry after he eventually overthrew Richard IV.


message 4: by Space Preacher (new)

Space Preacher (spacepreacher) | 39 comments Christopher Priest's The Separation is kind of a good example of both historical fiction AND alternate history.

The protagonist travels between two (or more) timelines, taking actions as a CO during WWII in what is ultimately our timeline (historical fiction) and an alternate timeline where he aids in ending the war several years earlier (alternate history).

It's very strange.


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