Speculative fiction (was Re: DWJones mystery book)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sat Aug 2 02:36:55 EDT 2003


On Fri, 01 Aug 2003 23:54:43 -0600, Robyn Starkey wrote:

>>I've never seen historical fiction listed as
>>"speculative fiction", although alternative histories
>>are, as they are often regarded as a sub-genre of
>>science fiction. (although DWJ makes great use of them
>>in fantasy). And also historical fiction involving
>>time-travel as a plot device is sometimes included.
>
>Interesting. I've seen authors like Dorothy Dunnett described as 
>speculative fiction; her historical research is generally described as 
>good, and it isn't alternate histories in the sense of "Henry VIII's elder 
>brother Arthur didn't die young, so what happens next?" I think there 
>starts to be some significant grey area between historical fiction and 
>alternate histories. Where does one draw the line?

I've never heard that about Dorothy Dunnett--I was just entering the Lymond
books into the database and thinking about the bits that are history and the
bits that aren't.  There's definitely a grey area because of the
interpolation of fiction into history, but for me, I think I'd draw the line
at significant alterations of history.  Like, if it were just about
characters interacting with real historical figures, I'd call it historical
fiction.  Ditto if someone were speculating on the nature of an historical
personage; I've been reading Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January books, about
1830s New Orleans, and in the second book she draws on an account of a woman
accused of torturing her slaves (beyond the usual tortures of slavery, that
is) but points out that this might not be accurate, since the records are
scanty.  If we're talking about alternate history as you describe it above,
then I would call that speculative fiction.  But that's just my own opinion.
What does one call the Diana Gabaldon series about a WWII nurse drawn back
in time to the Scotland of Bonnie Prince Charlie, for example?  I've seen
the Outlander books in SF, Romance, and straight fiction.  For myself, I'd
say speculative fiction: though the time travel device serves mainly as a
vehicle to convey the main character (and others) into the past, it's the
presence of a "modern" woman in the 18th century, with all her medical and
historical knowledge, that makes it SF.

Melissa Proffitt

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