How Do You Feel About Alternate Universe “Historical Fiction”?

I’ve noticed a trend that’s picked up in historical fiction, and I’m quite certain this isn’t the first time (for trends come and go), is alternate universe fiction. Of course, in a way, all historical fiction is AU, for none of us know the words of every single conversation or the hours of every single day, but in this case, AU is used for changing something in history and setting a novel in the “What if…?” time period.

Generally, these sorts of stories are relatively minor, such as “What if Queen Elizabeth had a secret child raised away from court?” or “What if Katherine of Aragón was dark-complected instead of having the Trastámaran light hair and eyes?” (*coughcoughEVERYTUDORSERIESEVERcough*)   Yes, there are all sort of AU stories, even if they don’t change the course of history.  I actually love those stories, mainly because I enjoy seeing the sort of “behind the scenes” that may have affected certain decisions, but ultimately it’s not that big of a deal.

But what if it was?

I admit, the series that drew my attention to the prevalence and acceptance of AU was THE BOLEYN KING.  For those unaware of the basics of the story, Anne Boleyn gives birth to a living son, who ends up becoming King of England.  The Boleyn King.  The complaints on Goodreads involve the use of Minuette as a “Mary Sue” and how wasted Elizabeth is as a character – there really aren’t any issues with the whole concept in general!

What happened to historical accuracy?  What happened to the those who tear apart Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir because of their blatant flouting of proper details – in a fictional book, not a textbook?

Honestly, AU Historical fiction is very much its own genre: “speculative fiction”.  It’s less about telling history and more about that “what if”, and I appreciate it for what it is in that sense.  What can get annoying (and I what I think can be the bane of most history buff’s existences) is when someone doesn’t realize that speculative fiction is AU.  The person who actually alerted me to THE BOLEYN KING did so in such a way – “You’d love this book – it’s a historical fiction set during the court of Henry the Ninth.  Of England.  You know.”

No, no I didn’t.  Of course, a lot of these same arguments can be made for inaccuracies in HisFic, because I don’t know how many times I had someone try to school me on how incestuous the Boleyn family was, and how “little Mary” was basically a saint.

Heh.

I’m, of course, referring to THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, and while I’ve written a whole spiel on how much I owe Philippa Gregory, the fact of the matter is that her works are written to entertain more than educate, and it’s unfortunate when people treat her characters as an actual representation of the historical person, instead of realizing she’s used her artistic license.

It’s much the same with speculative fiction set in “farther back” time periods.  Everyone knows Hitler committed suicide because his whole saga is still a part of recent/modern history, so a story where he survived and went on to live in Argentina or Austria is easily put into the AU/speculative faction, but not everyone knows about or cares to look up the Valois, Tudor, Trastámara, etc.  It’s easy to see a few real people and assume it’s all relatively factual.  It can get frustrating.

That being said, I must admit I’ve grown to enjoy speculative fiction.  I love seeing everything authors can think up, and it makes me smile to realize how limitless the imagination truly can be!  I just wish there was a way to classify it so those readers who just picked up the book without knowing anything about the subject matter aren’t fully confused; then again, that happens with most HistFic, anyway.

So, let’s hear it: what do you think about Speculative Fiction?  Leave it in the comments; I’m quite interested.

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2 thoughts on “How Do You Feel About Alternate Universe “Historical Fiction”?

  1. I really enjoy speculative fiction, but don’t think I’ve picked up any books that are historical speculative fiction yet. I think I’d like it! I’m all about the “what if” questions, and the crazier it is the more I usually like it. Jonathon Carroll is a good example.

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    • It’s kind of funny, but I haven’t picked up many myself. I *love* the creativity behind it, and it’s another way to blur the line between Historical and Fantasy (which is a mixture I love), but my inner-pedant is annoyed by it. 😉

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