Alternatives | Newberry


So here’s a quick Book Sorting quiz for you. Peter Benchley wrote a book called Jaws, which was made into a movie. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Where do you put the book, using Newberry Book Fair categories?

Would you put it in Science Fiction, which also includes Fantasy Horror, and New Age? After all, the book is about a very large animal chomping down on humans. Or would you put it in Mystery, where we also put Thrillers and Suspense novels? It is a sort of a caper novel, in which a group of people are working toward a very dangerous goal. You could, of course, simply give up and put it in Fiction, but that’s just taking the easy way out.

This is not merely an intellectual exercise, since the whole point of sorting books into categories is to give people a better chance of finding (and buying) them. Maybe my mention of Jaws provoked the thought, “Gee, I haven’t read that in a long time. Maybe I should pick up a copy.” Where should you look?

The fact is that you’d better check both Sci Fi and Mystery, especially if you come shopping the second or third day of the Fair. Wherever we pout it to start with, someone else may have come along and switched it (or just left it lying on the Art table, where a volunteer has to pick it up and take it back to its starting point.) It FREQUENTLY starts in Sci Fi (it’s that chomping on humans thing) but if you really want to find it, you better cover all the bases.

This was brought home to me lately by a large influx of Alternate History novels. These can be especially hard to place. Some, of course, are easy. Harry Turtledove’s series on an alternate World War II, in which aliens invade our planet JUST as the war is getting underway, and Stalin, Hitler, Churchill, and Roosevelt all have to work together to beat the alien menace, is obviously a Science Fiction series. It’s similar to the novel wherein a committed politician of the twentieth century finds a way to slip back to the days of the Civil War and provide Robert E. Lee’s troops with automatic weapons.

But many others simply cover a perfectly normal world in which some piece of history worked out differently. Len Deighton, in SS-GB, writes of a police investigation in an England where the Nazis invaded, the royal family fled to America, and Winston Churchill is awaiting execution. But it IS just a thriller set in an alternate world: nothing especially science fictiony happens. I always sort SS-GB into Science Fiction, which is where I’d rather put these alternate histories, but you’d do well to check in Mystery, where Len Deighton’s other books (barring his cookbook) are to be found. Peter Dickinson wrote mysteries involving the British royal family in a world in which the Prince of Wales (Albert, the one some people claim was Jack the Ripper) did not die in 1892, so the twentieth century history of England was entirely different. Since most of the rest of his mysteries take place in the world we know, chances are pretty good you will find these books in Mystery, not in Science Fiction.

Newt Gingrich is responsible for two series of novels which would probably be in Military Fiction but for the fact that pone series is set during a Civil War in which the Union lost the Battle of Gettysburg, and the other takes place during a World War II in which Admiral Yamamoto personally took part in the Pearl Harbor attack. These involve a mix of fictional and historical characters, as most historical fiction will, but involve them in events which did not happen, exploring the ramifications. Another series by Harry Turtledove is similar: without alien assistance, the South wins the Civil War and becomes a separate nation, and the conduct of the two separate countries in, say, World War I takes up further volumes. Ben Winters won notice for Underground Airlines, a novel which puts the assassination of Abraham Lincoln before a Civil War that never happened, in which four states still have a system of legal slavery in the twentieth century (hence an underground airline instead of an underground railroad.)

All of these books tend to start in Science Fiction, since they involve events which never happened. Since ALL fiction involves events which never happened, they can slip into alternate categories as well as alternate histories. Best to check all the possibilities.

Less than three weeks to go now. Take notes.

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