Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Histories: alternate, future, and secret

Science fiction can set stories in the conventional past, like any garden-variety historical novel. Or SF can move characters -- see my previous post about the Time Travel Trope -- in and out of the conventional past. But SF can do so much more. The genre also offers:
Alternate history: What if history had gone a different way, like the South winning the Civil War? (Or, more intriguingly: What slight change -- like a Confederate battle plan not lost before the Battle of Antietam -- would lead to the South winning?) Thereafter, how might events unfold? Example: Harry Turtledove’s How Few Remain.
Future history: A story set against a future so richly imagined that it feels like history. Examples: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series or -- from the guy who arguably invented the concept -- Robert Heinlein’s Future History stories.
Secret history: A story that unfolds within history as we know it -- while making us understand that history in a new way. Example: Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim, in which aliens were stranded in medieval Germany. More mainstream: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
Combinations: Why not mix ’em up?
Playing with history, past and future, is a lot of fun. It must be -- we SF authors do it often. And mea culpa. Fleet of Worlds and, more so, Juggler of Worlds, both of which I co-wrote with Larry Niven are -- while standalone -- also secret future histories within Larry's Known Space.

2 comments:

Mona Albano said...

And, of course, so was Protector.

Edward M. Lerner said...

FYI, some of the secret history in PROTECTOR is going to come out in DESTROYER OF WORLDS (late 2009).