‘HISTORICAL NOVEL’ IS A DEFINITION WHICH NEEDS EXAMINING
Just for the fun of it, I’m going to argue that fiction from the early part of the 21st Century can, in some important ways, be considered historical – and I’m only partly tongue-in-cheek.
You decide for yourself.
I have ulterior motives which will be revealed at the end.
The usual, most conservative definition is: fiction from before you reached consciousness, or 60 years ago, whichever is further back in time (Historia Magazine), which quotes
The Historical Writers Association as choosing 50 years in the past, and
The Historical Novel Society as having selected 30 years ago, and
The Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction at an even more conservative 60 years ago.
Readers of ‘historical fiction’ have their own favorite definitions – which I won’t list, as they’re almost as varied as the readers themselves, and include everything from Neanderthals to Diana Gabaldon to, well, however recently your own definition sets the limit.
The 21st Century has been extraordinarily, uh, busy
A short (edited) list of events in a century of unceasing and exponential change, leaving a big bunch out, includes:
- 2000- USS Cole Attacked
- 2000-Hilary Clinton Elected to Senate
- 2000-George W Bush Elected President
- 2001-9/11Attack on New York and Washington
- 2001-U.S. and Great Britain Attack Afghanistan
- 2001- Anthrax Attacks U.S.
- 2001-Enron Bankruptcy
- 2002-Congress Authorizes Force Against Iraq
- 2002- United Airlines Files For Bankruptcy
- 2003- Shuttle Explodes on Reentry
- 2003- U.S. Invades Iraq
- 2003- Blackout in Northeast
- 2004-Abu Gharib Prison Abuse
- 2004- 9/11 Commission
- 2004- President Bush Reelected
- 2005 Hispanic Mayor of Los Angeles2005
- 2005- Hurricane Katrina Devastates Gulf Coast
- 2006- Tesla Roadstar Introduced
- 2007- iPhone Introduced
- 2007- Virginia Tech Shooting
- 2008 Barak Obama to be Democratic Candidate
- 2008 Lehman Brothers Declares Bankruptcy
- 2009- Barak Obama Inaugurated President
- 2009- General Motors Declares Bankruptcy
- 2010 Affordable Care Act Passed
- 2010 Elena Kagan Fourth Female Justice
- 2010 US Combat Mission Ends in Iraq
- 2011 Osama Bin Laden Killed by US Forces
- 2012 Hurricane Sandy
- 2012 Obama Reelected
- 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing
- 2014 Janet Yellen to Head Federal Reserve
- 2015 Supreme Court – Same Sex Marriage
- 2016-Donald Trump Elected
- 2017- FBI Director Fired
- 2017- Equifax Data Breach
- 2018- Trump Leaves Iran Nuclear Accord
- 2018-Contentious G7 Meeting
- 2018-US North Korean Summit
- 2018-12 Russian GRU Officers Indicted
- 2018-Trump Putin Meet in Helesinki
- 2018-Trump Addresses UN
- 2018-Brett Kavanaugh Confirmed to the Supreme Court
- 2018-Massacre at Synagogue in Pittsburgh
- 2018-Mattis Resigns After Trump Announcement on Syria
- 2019-Nancy Pelosi Speaker
- 2019-Government Shut Down Ends after 35 Days
- 2019-Mueller Report Released on Trump and Russia
- 2019-House Votes to Impeach President Trump
- 2020-COVID-19 Spreads Around the World
- 2020-Vice President Biden Becomes Presumptive Democratic Nominee
- 2020-Space-X Launches Astronauts to Space Station
- 2020-Former Vice President Biden Elected President
- 2021-Insurrection in Washington- The Capitol is Attacked
- 2021-Second Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump
- 2021- Taliban Victorious in Afghanistan US Evacuates 122,000
- 2022- Supreme Court Rules on Vaccine Mandates
So, if you want to be picky, there has been an awful lot of ‘history’ happening since the turn of this century, compared to many previous centuries, and the pace of innovation and change has been accelerated enormously.
Has it really only been FIFTEEN YEARS since the introduction of the iPhone?
And the events I’m writing about in Pride’s Children (the original planned date for the whole story was 2001/2002, but was moved to 2005/2006 when it became obvious I wasn’t going to write it very quickly, and those years worked better for many reasons) are from BEFORE 9/11.
Think about it: there were mobile phones and flip phones, but no iPhones.
For the younger readers (only some of the more widely-read of whom are in my ‘target demographic’) our there, Pride’s Children is ‘before consciousness.’
But I’d like to argue that so much has happened – AND everyone knows about instantly if they so choose – that the actual events of 2005/2006, background to the story – are almost quaint and old-fashioned BY COMPARISON.
Why am I poking at this?
Mostly because ‘historical fiction’ almost means ‘before it affected me’, even for many well-read adults.
It is almost safe to read about events as long ago as 2005 – interesting, a setting for a good story, but not likely oscillate wildly in meaning itself. As, say, WWII events and novels.
And it’s a nice category to list a book in on Amazon – because it’s a huge category with a lot of readers. And, of course, my main bugaboo: mainstream has disappeared as a category.
Read that again: what used to be the LARGEST category of ‘good fiction,’ mainstream fiction or simply ‘novels,’ is not a searchable category on the largest online bookstore in, well, history.
The categories have been sliced and diced and chopped very fine – you can pick a psychological Amish thriller with a strong female lead set in Western Montana. But you can’t browse through mainstream fiction as you used to be able to walk through the fiction section in bookstores, and browse by author.
If you don’t already know what you want, you’re not going to find it on Amazon.
But, if I can recategorize Pride’s Children as 21st Century Historical Fiction – a whole bunch of potential readers might be able to find it – and be intrigued into trying PURGATORY. And then NETHERWORLD, which is about to come out – and stay in a nice safe category of novels set in a reasonable past.
What do you think?
Do I have the ghost of an argument here? Feel free to make your own definition of ‘historical.’