The Sunday Salon: Alternate Current Events

For the past week, I’ve been encountering a very strange sight at my local grocery store. (We are not the best food planners, my mother and I, so we’re constantly dashing over to pick up bread or apples or milk—good thing it’s five minutes from the house!) Perusing the magazine racks in search of the Entertainment Weekly containing the The Hobbit photos, I came across an issue of Newsweek with a very strange photo: Princess Diana as an elegant woman in her fifties, striding alongside Kate Middleton. It turned out to accompany an article entitled “Diana at 50” by Tina Brown. While others might be first struck with the tastelessness of it, I was first struck by the fact that, however it got there, a piece of alternate history was front and center on a grocery store newsrack in a small town, being presented as journalism. How incalculably… odd.

Tina Brown’s little thought experiment is less alternate historian and more Diana conspiracy theorist; Brown has outlined her own theories in a book entitled The Diana Chronicles. It feels, more or less, like a half-hearted way to try and milk the last drops from the royal wedding crowd by bringing up Diana in a way that no other news outlet has. However, it’s also being done in books—Monica Ali’s Untold Story imagines Diana’s life in America under an assumed name if she had staged her death in order to escape the constraints of her life. Brown’s article is not journalism; it’s fiction, just like Ali’s novel. She describes a vibrant, happy Diana who is best friends with, it seems, everyone—her ex-husband, Camilla, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, Kate Middleton… and the article even comes with forged documents: photos of Diana at current events, her tweets, and her Facebook profile. To see it in Newsweek, which I’d always paired with Time in my head, is, frankly, mildly creepy.

But as a piece of alternate history, it intrigues me. Had Brown, as Ali did, constructed this into a fictional narrative rather than a long-winded hypothetical in a news outlet, this might have had legs. I’m used to thinking of alternate history as dealing with, well, history—what if the South won the Civil War? What if Europe was decimated by a plague and never set out to conquer? You know, events before 1800. Although, come to think of it, there are probably a handful of novels focused on alternate outcomes of the Kennedy assassinations, so perhaps I should raise that bar a little bit. But seeing an event that happened so recently, comparatively speaking, is both refreshing and problematic. Refreshing because the constraints of time force it to stay on a smaller scale—we’ll never know all the repercussions of an event until long, long past it—and problematic because the people involved are still alive and well. For instance, if Diana had lived, how would it have affected the people she left behind? They probably ask themselves that, and it’s rude and intrusive for us to ask. Then again, it makes you wonder—when can we? When does that statute of limitations expire?

In other news, I finished The True Memoirs of Little K this week and started on A Storm of Swords, which I’m loving so far. Oh, everyone. I also started on the audiobook of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I’m not exactly loving Jim Dale as a narrator so far—he’s a little too leaden for me—but I’m almost done.

Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog is giving away a copy of Wanderlust until the 14th. Cass at Bonjour, Cass! is giving away $20 dollars worth of queer books until the 16th. Tor/Forge is giving away a bundle of books edited by George R. R. Martin, as well as a random summer reading bundle, until the 19th; you must sign up for their newsletter. In a UK-only giveaway, Orbit is giving away five ARCs of The Measure of Magic until the 22nd. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

What do you guys make of Tina Brown’s article and the statute of limitations on alternate current events?

5 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Alternate Current Events

  1. I’ve listened to part of the Stephen Fry version of Philosopher’s Stone, and I think he does a really good job. Then again, I’ve never heard the Jim Dale version, so I can’t compare them. But if you plan on listening to the entire series (I don’t know if you do), you might try the UK version for the Chamber of Secrets.

  2. I haven’t read Brown’s article (though was struck by the tastelessness of its cashing-in), but frankly I don’t think, if Diana had lived, that she would have been friends with everyone. It’s arguable that her death led to the Royal Family opening up a little – had she not died, it’s quite probable that William and Kate would not have married.

    So I think AR of relatively current events is allowable, but it has to be plausible – I’d say particularly so, given that we’re acquainted with the people involved by news media and so on – otherwise it won’t feel real.

  3. I thought it was completely distasteful and disrespectful. I came at it from the viewpoint of someone who lost a parent at 15, and wondered what the Princes William and Harry felt about that. I just imagined myself seeing photos of how my dad would have looked and been at 50 (he died at 44) and thought it was just a cheap attempt to sell magazines. (But your post did make me look at this a little differently … although it still outrages me.) Just my .02 on sale …

    • Of course, when writing alternative reality about relatively current events, one does have to think about what still-living friends and relatives think of the whole thing, and treat the people involved with respect. But is it any more off-limits than, say, unauthorized biographies of well-known people, or fictional versions of real events where writers can’t know what actually happened or what people were really thinking? I’d say not.

      However, the place for fiction is not in a news magazine.

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