Genre: Historical Fiction – Alternate History


Tuesday, May 16, 2017 9:45 – Noon

Hatfield Public Library, Hatfield

Benchmark: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik.

Alternate Fiction Resources:

Notes on Discussion

Readers Advisory Round Table Western Mass
May 16, 2017
Hatfield Public Library

1. Introductions

2. Announcements:
1. MLA May 22-24 – workshops of interest to RA librarians mentioned, including “slow books” movement, “Sisters in Crime” panel, and Erotica Readers’ Advisory
2. BookExpo May 31- June 2

3. Discussion of Alternate History benchmark title His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
1. General agreement that it was enjoyable. Carolyn mentioned her expectations were low to begin with, and she was surprised how much she liked it.
2. There was some question whether it should be considered more of a fantasy than alternate history.
3. Charming
4. Historical detail – some readers were more or less interested in that aspect. Alene mentioned she really would’ve liked an author’s note of where she deviates from established history (such as later in the series when Napoleon lands in England)
5. Tone different from the more dry or dystopain side of alternate history
6. Like Patrick O’Brian? Would you recommend it to fans of his, or to fantasy/dragons/Anne McCaffrey?
7. YA crossover
8. Humor
9. Who would we give it to? Someone who likes the historical elements, fantastical elements, world-building, strong character development (incl. secondary characters); setting and character are huge appeal factors for this book.

4. Second titles:
1. Betty – A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan – alternate Victorian, fast-paced, whimseical, strong female character interested in natural history; similar to Lauren Willig (The Secret History of the Pink Carnation); travelogue feel
2. Alene – Coup d’Etat by Harry Turtledove – alternate World War 2 by one of the keystone authors of the genre; Making History by Stephen Fry – not just alternate World War 2 but what if Hitler had never been born?
3. Anna – Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld – YA title with adult crossover appeal; pre-World War 1, steampunk, “nature vs. machine,” map and illustrations
4. Jodi – The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon – World War 2 and after, postulates that Jews were given Sitka, Alaska as a homeland for 60 years and tiem is up – what to do next? Strange fiction, hard to categorize, has a bit of a mystery/police procedural element; mentioned she had to be in the right headspace to read it
5. Linda – Read the same book as above; added that the world-building and details of culture were appeal factors and she’d recommend it to someone who likes offbeat or non-World War 2 alternative history or Jewish writing
6. Molly – Leviathan also; added that it had a strong female character
7. Eliza – My Real Children by Jo Walton – a book worth rereading; an old lady in a nursing home has two sets of memories (neither exactly “our” history), and both are told in alternative chapters; there is a sense of watching, not making, history that appeals; good book club book
8. Marie – Farthing, Ha’penny and Half a Crown by Jo Walton – the “Small Change” trilogy spans about 20 years from post World War 2 to the 1960s, focusing on political corruption, alternating points of view, and has really chilling, thought-provoking scenarios that are applicable to our time; Linda mentioned that it would appeal to Anglophiles
9. Carolyn – The Daedalus Incident by Michael Martinez – Revolutionary War mashed up with science fiction, as ship ports exist on other planets in addition to earth; found it hard to believe, couldn’t finish, and not sure she could recommend; Eliza looked it up on GoodReads and mentioned that the people rating it highly like both historical and science fiction, so might appeal to readers of both genres
10. Jessica – mentioned Marvel: 1602 by Neil Gaiman, a YA graphic novel; read Fallout by Todd Strasser – 1962 where the nuclear bomb is dropped, and ten people are living in a shelter
11. Linda – mentioned The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – winner of the Pulitzer and National Book awards; Underground Railroad is an actual railroad, a vehicle to talk about slavery; read Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; very strange feel; Ursula is born and lives multiple lives (some longer than others); family drama, literary fiction
12. Me – Also read Farthing; alternates between Lucy (first person) and a police inspector (3rd person); the “Farthing” set, a rich group in England who brokered peace with Hitler, who is in control of the Continent and fighting Russia; when the man who made that peace is murdered, the Inspector is called in to find out what happened; asks what you can personally compromise in a world where there are different rules for rich and poor; even though there’s a nod to the mystery genre, the ending would not be satisfying for typical mystery readers

5. Molly asked the group to consider whether all fantasy was a form of alternate history. Where do you draw the line between genres? Titles debated included The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest or Brimstone by Cherie Priest. Many sf/fantasy could be considered a sort of alternate history or alternate future, but as one participant pointed out alternate history generally means to provoke thought about our present time. Anna said that some people want alternate history to “give them the willies.”

6. Other titles/authors to know:
1. Eliza mentioned Robert Harris, who writes both historical fiction and alternate history.
2. Not a full book – but Eliza mentioned an article in The New Yorker that addresses what could have happened if the Revolutionary War hadn’t happened.
3. Other titles/authors mentioned: The Eyre Affair (series) by Jasper Fforde and 11/22/63 by Stephen King (very much a departure for him), The Man in the High Castle (book and show), S.M. Stirling, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede, The Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede (wild west & magic), Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis (set in Portland)

7. Next meetings –

1. The group agreed to have a “diverse fiction” arc, reading five genres as follows:
1. September 19, 9:45 to Noon at MLS Northampton – Fantasy (Anna and Mary leading)
2. December 5, location TBD – Romance (Alene and Anna)
3. February 6, 2018 location TBD – Mystery (Alene and Betty)
4. April 3, 2018 location TBD (Colrain?) – Science Fiction (Eliza and Molly)
5. June 5, 2018 location TBD – Historical Fiction (Linda and Jan)

2. Please let Molly know if you would like to offer your library as a meeting location (and conversely, how far is too far to go?)

Submitted by Mary Bell, Wilbraham Public Library