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October SFFKIT: Historical and Alt-Historical

2018 Category Challenge

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Sep 14, 2018, 5:35pm Top

October SFFKIT: Historical and Alternate-Historical SFF

Welcome to this month's SFFKIT theme, which is historical and alternate-historical science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. This is one of my favorite subgenres, personally -- I'm a sucker for anything that can be described as "Jane Austen plus magic"!

Historical SFF is fairly self-explanatory; it refers to fiction that is set sometime in the past and that includes fantastical elements. Those elements could be things like magic, ghosts, anachronistic technology, supernatural creatures, parallel universes -- the sky's the limit!

A popular form of historical SFF is steampunk, which refers to works that "are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American 'Wild West,' in a future during which steam power has maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power" (Wikipedia). But historical SFF can be set in any era! And although we've already done a time travel theme this year, I'm fine with counting a time travel book as historical SFF, as long as it is set predominantly in the past.

Alternate history refers to works that explore what might have happened if a particular historical event had worked out differently. One of the most common examples is "What if the Nazis had won World War II?" Or "What if the American Revolution had never taken place?" These works don't necessarily have any futuristic technologies or paranormal occurrences, but they fall within the SFF umbrella because they're based on a premise that is contrary to fact.

So, what are some of your favorite historical and alt-historical books? Some of my faves are shown above: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The High Crusade by Poul Anderson, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. I would also recommend Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown, Naomi Novik's Temeraire series beginning with His Majesty's Dragon, Genevieve Cogman's The Invisible Library, and Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog. What about you? Please share your recommendations below, and don't forget to update the wiki!

Sep 14, 2018, 9:11pm Top

Thinking about The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. Mermaids in Georgian London.

Sep 14, 2018, 9:40pm Top

I'm reading The Eyre Affair (by Jasper Fforde) now! I'll be finishing it tonight, so that's a little bit early for this challenge, so I'll be picking up another one off of my Kindle app, His Majesty's Dragon (by Naomi Novik.)

I have Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (by Susanna Clark) but I know I won't be able to tackle it with all the other reading I have in hand for next month :-/

Sep 14, 2018, 11:14pm Top

I am planning on reading River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay which is based on the Tang Dynasty of ancient China.

Sep 14, 2018, 11:34pm Top

I just wanted to mention that we have a Neal Stephenson group read planned for October, and several of his works would fit this challenge. The thread is here:

I'm planning to read The Confusion, the second book in Stephenson's Baroque trilogy. I also have Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan sitting on my shelves.

Sep 15, 2018, 1:41am Top

>5 mathgirl40: I plan to read Confusion as well.

Edited: Sep 16, 2018, 1:48pm Top

In answer to the original post's question as to favorite alternate history novels, mine is actually The Years of Rice and Salt (by Kim Stanley Robinson.) It's a chunkster at 750+ pages but I've actually read it six times! The premise is that the plague wipes out most of Western Europe, leaving Eastern civilizations to rise as the world's superpowers. There are fourteen sections featuring the incarnation of three figures throughout the new history and a little bit into the future. With each reading, I read deeper, looking into the meanings of names, dipping my toe into some of the Eastern religions, etc. but nonetheless getting caught up in the story. The last time I read it, the impact of the ending hit me hard and I still think about parts of the book often.

I did finish reading The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1 by Jasper Fforde.) This is a fun and clever novel about a Special Ops agent named, Thursday Next who works in a division that specializes in book-related crime. In this first-in-series, Thursday lives in an alternate version of the UK set in the 1980s and we come to realize that time is a bit out of whack; but the issue at hand is that characters are disappearing from the pages of beloved Classics! There's a lot going on, and if you've read Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë) you will have a slight edge over on those who haven't but it's not really deal breaker. Oddly, The Eyre Affair seemed a bit long but that may be because Fforde is setting up the series, that it runs close to 350 pages, and/or that my own reading kept getting interrupted by real life! Anyway, I wouldn't hesitate to pick up the Next book ;-)

Sep 16, 2018, 7:59pm Top

>7 Tanya-dogearedcopy: Have you read The Gate of Worlds by Robert Silverberg, an alternative history that branches off at the same point? My memory of it is quite vague as I read it 40+ years ago.

Sep 16, 2018, 9:01pm Top

>6 jeanned: That's great! I hope you'll stop by the group read thread later on and share your thoughts on the book.

Sep 17, 2018, 12:15pm Top

I've been meaning to read The Eyre Affair practically since it came out, so this is going to be my push to finally get around to it :)

Sep 17, 2018, 1:29pm Top

>8 Robertgreaves: No I haven't! It's not available at my local library so I just went to look it over on Amazon. It's only $3.99 (US) and 211 pages (?!) If I manage to get His Majesty's Dragon (by Naomi Novik) read this week, I'll definitely pick up The Gate of Worlds :-)

Sep 18, 2018, 8:24pm Top

Decisions, decisions...

Sep 19, 2018, 2:02pm Top

I have several options that will work...the trouble will be narrowing it down!

Kelly Jones, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore (1818 London)
Stephanie Burgis, Masks and Shadows (1779 Hungary/Habsburg empire)
Alison Goodman, The Dark Days Club (1812 London) (would also work for the RandomCAT)
Andre Norton and Rosemary Edghilll, The Shadow of Albion (descendants of Charles II rule England, and the American Revolution never happened)
J. Kathleen Cheney, The Golden City (early 1900s Portugal)

Sep 23, 2018, 12:56pm Top

First thing that comes to mind is Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. And of course Guy Gavriel Kay - I read River of Stars last month. I have to say that, though I loved to book, the audio format is not ideal. So many exotic names I had difficulty keeping them straight in the beginning.

Sep 27, 2018, 1:13pm Top

Hey! ICYMBI, Amazon's Kindle Deals is offering The Years of Rice and Salt (by Kim Stanley Robinson) for $1.99 today!

Oct 4, 2018, 10:20am Top

COMPLETED the Arabella Ashby trilogy by David D. Levine consisting of:

Arabella of Mars
Arabella and the Battle of Venus
Arabella The Traitor of Mars

Sir Isaac Newton's discovery of the principle of buoyancy means that by the time of the Napoleonic wars between England and France the two countries' colonies on Mars and Venus were also involved. Two of the major actors in this conflict were Arabella Ashby, the daughter of a koresh grower on Mars, and Captain Singh, captain of the Marsman "Diana".

Edited: Oct 4, 2018, 10:12pm Top

Read Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. YA steampunk alternate history action adventure tale.

Oct 7, 2018, 12:27pm Top

I finished reading His Majesty's Dragon (A Novel of Temeraire #1; by Naomi Novik) last night/this morning :-)

Reminiscent of The Dragonriders of Pern (by Anne McCaffrey) and Master and Commander (by Patrick O'Brien,) this alt-history adventure features dragons amidst the Napoleonic War from the British side of things. This first-in-series introduces us to the dragon, Temeraire and his harnesser, Laurence. Shot through with sea- and aerial combat, humor, and sentimentality, the tale would seem to have everything one could want; but the author also expertly conveys the repressed British psyche so expertly that she kills the thrills. It's sort of like listening to Renée Fleming, the opera soprano, sing when you really want Maria Callas.

>8 Robertgreaves: I get paid in a couple of days, and at that point, I think I'll pick up The Gate of Worlds (by Robert Silverberg.)

Oct 7, 2018, 4:01pm Top

I have a book on my shelf by David Coe that is the Wild Wild West steampunk alt history. I may be able to read it this month with other books on my shelf that I need to finish for my various reading challenges.

Totally loved Lions of al-Rassan and A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay and have gotten part of the way through the Temeraire series. They're very authentic to the period, even the different species of dragons are quite believable, and I highly recommend them. Novik has done her research, that's for sure. And The Eyre Affair finally got me to read Jane Eyre after reading and re-reading Wuthering Heights for years.

Great topic and I hope I can join in the fun in a week or so!

Oct 8, 2018, 7:43am Top

I read Spinning Silver and finished that this month, I wasn't thinking about it being historical fiction but it was. So I will count it here, too. It covers a bit of Russian history and Jewish history as well.

Oct 8, 2018, 11:16am Top

The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
A novel that imagines there are lost fragments of Homer's Odyssey and gives us a taste of what those may have been. It reads like a love song to the Odyssey, honestly, and Mason does an excellent job writing down his imaginings into bits and pieces of what could have been. Beautifully creative, gorgeously written. Definitely recommended.

Oct 8, 2018, 12:08pm Top

>21 scaifea: This one's been sitting on my shelf for three years now -- it was one of the selections from my "Book Spa" at Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights. Maybe it will finally get upgraded to the on-deck pile...

Oct 10, 2018, 8:58am Top

I've just begun The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, a fantasy set in Regency England.

Oct 11, 2018, 9:16am Top

I've finished Beastly Bones by William Ritter, book 2 of the Jackaby series which features an investigator of the unexplained in 1892 New England. This is a fun series. Next I've started League of Dragons by Naomi Novik, book 9 in the Temeraire series, one of my all time favorites.

Oct 14, 2018, 5:46pm Top

Took a look at David Coe and I'm more in the mood for some Cherie Priest instead. So I'll read the next one in her Borden Dispatches series, Chapelwood for this challenge instead.

Oct 15, 2018, 6:27pm Top

I don't think I'm going to get a book read for this challenge...I'm trying to focus on getting my ROOTs read before the end of the year, and I don't have anything currently on my shelves that will fit this month's topic.

I may add some of your recommendations to my "TBR" list, though...

Oct 16, 2018, 7:32am Top

I finished The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. which was, as per every book I've read by Stephenson, great.

Oct 16, 2018, 9:18pm Top

This month's theme led me to a 5 star read with River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay.

Oct 16, 2018, 10:28pm Top

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, the sequel to The Curious Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, was great fun!

Oct 24, 2018, 7:03am Top

I finished Nachts unter der steinernen Brücke which is set in Prague in the early 17th century and has Rabbi Judah Löw doing magic, as well as many other strange episodes. The language is marvellous, he really captures the spirit of the times. We meet many historical figures: Emperor Rudolf II, Kepler, Wallenstein, Mordechai Meisl.

Edited: Oct 24, 2018, 10:28pm Top

I read the alternate history Fire on the Mountain by Terry Bisson, which asks "what if John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry had succeeded?"

Oct 25, 2018, 3:25pm Top

Currently reading The King of the Vagabonds by Neal Stephenson.

Oct 26, 2018, 10:22am Top

I finished God Save the Queen by Kate Locke. This was a fun alternate history where a plague during Queen Victoria's reign turned the aristocracy into werewolves and vampires and Victoria still sits the throne in modern day England. I look forward to finishing the rest of the trilogy.

Oct 29, 2018, 4:15pm Top

I finished The Black God's Drums set in an alternate history New Orleans where it is a neutral territory in the war between the North and South, which is currently in a cease fire in the 1860s.

Edited: Oct 29, 2018, 7:36pm Top

I read Iron Heel by Jack London which would also qualify for alternate history.

Oct 30, 2018, 7:26am Top

I have finished Empire State by Adam Christopher but not got around to adding a review as yet. Set in an alternate prohibition-era Manhattan. Very noir-ish but with airships and superheroes thrown in as well.

Nov 1, 2018, 11:58am Top

Finished The Eyre Affair yesterday and just reviewed it. It was extremely clever... but I have to admit I wanted more.

Nov 10, 2018, 5:50pm Top

>37 whitewavedarling: Ah, but you know that there is a series?? I've only read The Eyre Affair in that series and I've heard that they are quite good, especially for literary types.

Nov 11, 2018, 11:52am Top

>38 threadnsong:, I do know there's a series :) Someone mentioned the later ones are better, so I may take a look at some point and see if one catches my interest. I meant that I wanted more from the book, though, more so than to read more by the author lol. I'm just not sure if I liked it enough to sign up for another book, honestly. We'll see. I also feel like I would have missed quite a bit if I hadn't read and re-read Jane Eyre (one of those classics I love), so I think I'd have to find one in the series that interested me both in terms of plot and whatever novel(s) it interacted with.

Nov 11, 2018, 12:20pm Top

>39 whitewavedarling: I know exactly what you mean about The Eyre Affair. Technically, there was nothing wrong with it per se, and I might read the next on the series were it make it into my stacks (e.g. as a gift,) but I am not actively or aggressively seeking the next book in the series. I can't quite put my finger on it. I thought maybe it was because it felt a bit long, the pacing a bit slow. But maybe I was expecting or wanting something a bit different, possibly sexier? Or maybe it was the humor: the touches of the absurd but not a full commitment to it? Maybe I'll try the next one on audio. Emily Grey is a British narrator who might convey the sensibilities of Fforde's books better than I've been reading them.

Nov 11, 2018, 3:49pm Top

>40 Tanya-dogearedcopy:, That's a good description of how I felt also. The lack of commitment to the absurd rings true for me, too, and even goes further. It was almost like I needed to be in the mood for lots of different things at once--science fiction, and an Austin/Bronte sort of wit and cleverness, as well as a mystery plot. And I just couldn't get there, no matter how I tried :/ It was a really slow read for me, though I could appreciate what the author was doing and all of the clever choices.

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