Alternate Histories

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Alternate Histories

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Ott 14, 2016, 12:19 am

Science fiction fans are familiar with the genre, but it seems to me that it is worthy of discussion by people with an interest in regular history.

Alternate histories start with a major event, a fork in the road of history, and speculate on what would have happened if things had turned out otherwise. Being fiction the structure will follow a recognisable trope; police procedural and espionage thriller are not unusual.

Without a doubt the most common theme is Germany winning World War II. Everybody's heard of Fatherland and The Man in The High Castle. Second most popular is a Confederate victory, as in Bring The Jubilee.

But there must be other scenarios. The prolific science fiction author Harry Turtledove is responsible for Ruled Britannia in which the Spanish Armada did not fail and Shakespeare comes to the aid of his imprisoned Queen and, together with Richard Dreyfuss, for The Two Georges, set in about 1990 in a rather steampunk world in which the American War of Independence never took place. Turtledove appears to have written Civil War alternate histories as well.

I have now come across The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, no less. The egregiously anti-semitic Charles Lindbergh is elected President in 1940, with dire consequences - and no, I haven't read it.

There must be more. Any suggestions? And how convincing are they as visions of what might have been?

And just to avoid misunderstandings, this is Christine, though Derrick is by no means uninterested in the topic.

Ott 14, 2016, 5:54 pm

One of my favourite alternate histories is Turtledove's "How Few Remain", a story of the effect of a negotiated peace of the american Civil War, which served as an initial volume in an alternative history of North America running up to the use of nuclear weapons to resolve the North-South split in the 1940's.
The next set of titles are The "Great War" Trilogy
"American Front" (1998)
"Walk in Hell" (1999)
"Breakthroughs" (2000)
And then The "American Empire" Trilogy
Blood and Iron (2001)
The Center Cannot Hold (2002)
The Victorious Opposition (2003)
and the "Settling Accounts Tetralogy"
Return Engagement (2004)
Drive to the East (2005)
The Grapple (2006)
In at the Death (2007)
The grasp of European eventualities is weak, but viewed as a North American story it all plays out and is fairly likely, at least from my point of view. This is the most carefully thought out of his alt-histories, and except for "Agent of Byzantium" the rest of his work in this genre is less interesting.

Modificato: Ott 15, 2016, 12:35 pm

I too am a big fan of this genre. I have read a number of Harry Turtledove's books.

I am currently reading 1066 Turned Upside Down, short stories looking at alternative outcomes to the events of that year of the Battle of Hastings when Duke William of Normandy conquered England. There are numerous events during that year before the battle that could have resulted in different, sometimes very different, long term historical outcomes.

Another interesting one I read years ago was Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt where the Black Death of the 14th century wipes out almost the entire population of Europe, rather than "just" a third of it, and the Mongols occupy the empty continent.

Also Resurrection Day where the Cuban Missile Crisis led to an actual nuclear war - the novel is set ten years after event in 1972.

Ott 21, 2016, 11:55 pm

Bring the Jubilee which has the South winning (and then losing) the Battle of Gettysburg (and the Civil War). It has one of the best opening lines of any fantasy; "Although I am writing this in the year 1877, I was not born until 1921. Neither the dates nor the tenses are in error - let me explain."

For Want of of a Nail

The Alternate Presidents series had some poor stories, but also some very good ones, including the most chilling alternate history I've ever encountered; 'Fireside Chat', where FDR and Hitler reach an accord in the late 1920s.

Ott 22, 2016, 4:48 pm

A possible approach is where Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh have their way and create the Fascist America they tried to bring into being....Probably written from the POV of a dying Canadian guerilla as the US Army sweeps over North America....then the manuscript is discovered after a generation of that USA, and the atomic war between the USA's Lindberghers and the Third Reich...but that ghastly picture might be best left to wargamers....
Start with "The American Axis: henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the third Reich" by Max Wallace, ISBN 0-312-29022-5. Then try to get to sleep at night.