O’Brian’s Historical Fiction

A long, long time ago I noted — in a post so ancient that I think it actually exists in a database long ago archived — that Patrick O’Brian’s fiction was something for contemporary historians and ethnographers to emulate, to take as an example of fiction that was both enormously popular and capable of delivering vast amounts of historical/ethnographic data to a readership that simply wanted more. Indeed, as Jo Walton points out in her terrific re-reading of the entire series on Tor.com: O’Brian himself realized his readers loved the technology and the characters so much that he gave up history in order to keep the machine going. I suppose it is the boon of the science fiction writer and the bane of the historical fiction writer that time is not as bounded in the former as it is in the latter — though Walton’s playful picking at the boundaries, and her promise of writing a novel realizing her play, is to be admired.