Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Levels Of Fiction

A contemporary novel recounting the activities of a few fictional characters who stay out of the news is notionally set in the same timeline as the one occupied by the novel's readers whereas, in fact, it is set in an alternative timeline with differences too small for us to notice. In Poul Anderson's The Corridors Of Time, time travelling Wardens and Rangers move around in the twentieth century but avoid publicity. In Anderson's There Will Be Time, mutant time travellers pull the same stunt and, in the Time Patrol series, there are travellers from future periods policed by the Patrol. But there is a difference. In the Patrol timeline, Sherlock Holmes also exists along with, e.g., any routine newspaper reports of his activities. Our timeline has Watson's popular narratives but not also the newspaper accounts.

Stieg Larsson's Millennium timeline incorporates intensive media coverage of its central characters. Indeed, it even contains the Millennium magazine whose expose of a corrupt businessman is covered by the rest of the media. Thus, it is harder for the Millennium Trilogy to pretend that it is set in our world although, of course, it does have the same public figures.

It is probably possible to grade works of fiction with, at one end of the spectrum, those that could conceivably be set in our world and, at the other end, those that cannot possibly be. In this sense, leaving aside the Holmes connection for a moment, Millennium is less possible than the Time Patrol because Millennium makes a lot of media noise whereas the Patrol conceals its activities very effectively.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Commenting on the first sentence of your first paragraph. I'm not sure all contemporary novels or series should be thought of as perate and different from the author's timeline. For example, I thought of the Sherlock Holmes stories as being set in our timeline. Aside from Dr. Watson making some discreet changes to protect the identities of powerful clients who sought Holmes services or were affected by his investigations.


    1. Sean,
      My classification of all fiction as set in alternative timelines is really just an elaborate way of saying that they are fictions. The events that they describe did not happen in our world. Of course, neither the author nor the reader usually thinks of them in this way.

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      Oops! I was taking you too literally, it seems! Yes, these stories are, of course, fictions.