Sub-genres and Historical Fiction

I started looking at the whole idea of Alternative History this week and found that there is a field in academic history called “Virtual History” or “Counterfactual History” — which looks at what if questions and tries to be carefully academic while doing so. I even found a way this linked to theology as I saw a link on my titter feed to an article premised on the question What if we didn’t have Mark? (as in the gospel). This is exciting!

There is also a LARGE number of Alternate Histories, often thought of as a sub-category of speculative fiction or science fiction (the first term preferred by Margaret Atwood, and the second term a widely used catch-all genre for anything not-of-this-world). These alt.histories are also called Uchronia in some circles. These sorts of books include things I’ve read like Fatherland by Robert Harris, which is a mystery set in the 60s in Germany where the Nazis won a version of WW2. Another mystery set in an alt.history universe is The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michal Chabon. I quite enjoyed both Harris and Chabon and found their alt.history realities played out in an interesting and oddly realistic way.

I also found that there is another sub-category of historical fiction called Secret History. Possession is an example of a Secret History — in which history doesn’t change, but secrets from the past are discovered and so history is re-written. While Possession doesn’t deal with real Victorian poets, other Secret Histories do contain actual historical figures and supposed secrets about them. I like the concept of Secret History, but didn’t know there was a name for this kind of book. This is also exciting.

Oh the possibilities opened up by a google search or two — I’ve found two entire new categories for books that I sort of already used in my head, but didn’t know others used as well. Life just got better. I’m a weird geek, I know.


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