Wold Newton and fictional history

I absolutely love Philip Jose Farmer’s work blending fictional characters with the real world in his Wold Newton and fictional author series. If you love books – including “pulp” as well as literature – chances are you will too. Enough people share my view to have started a whole sub genre where fans and authors seem to work together to create new adventures for their favourite characters.
Of course this isn’t new. Many authors in the past have created sequels to the works of others, and the fans of Sherlock Holmes – surely the most pastiched character in the world – have always had their game of Higher Criticism treats the baker Street Stories as if they are real and attempts to examine the inconsistencies and real world of Victorian London in attempt to reconcile them in the same way Farmer did in Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life.
What Farmer brought to the game was his attempt to place Tarzan, Doc Savage and Holmes in a world where all the fictional characters he loved were real and mostly related – linked back to the Wold Newton meteorite which supposedly brought about mutations in a coachload of passers-by. This has been expanded enormously in the Wold Newton universe site and many books by current authors including the Shadowmen series by Black Coat Press (who I must also thank for bringing lots of French Symbolist and 19th century writing into print in English).
Again, the idea of setting a series of stories in the same universe isn’t new – Balzac and Zola both wrote multi-volume series illuminating different aspects of French History using common characters – but to do so in a universe of characters from the fiction of others is.
Sometimes this can seem a bit contrived, and story can be sacrificed to simply build a link between two characters, but at its best it is exhilarating. One of the best proponents is Kim Newman who has created his own Anno Dracula universe as well as setting stories in a world that can more comfortably be annexed into the Wold Newton mythos. The fact that he is playing the game knowingly is seen from the way he uses the same characters in what he knows are two different versions of “reality”. Most importantly he never forgets to put story first, has a wonderful dark sense of humour, and co-wrote one of the best alternate history series with Back in the USSA.
So, does that mean I will be including fictional characters in my alternate history novel? Broadly no – although there will be characters who were the real life basis for fictional characters and there may well be some reference to that in what they do in the novel. At the moment there will only be one totally fictional character playing a very small part in a nod to Farmer.

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