Alternate History Q & A
The idea is that you take some point in history and speculate on what would have happened if things had gone differently. For example: What would have happened if Lee had won the Battle of Gettysburg, or if the D-Day Landings had failed? This kind of speculation has fascinated both serious historians and science fiction fans for decades, and seems to have become more popular recently.
Is Alternate History just about a bunch of wars?
Alternate History can be about wars, but it can also be about many other things. What if Europe had avoided World War I and/or World War II? What if the rise of the auto industry had been slowed or stopped? What if computers or rocketry had developed more quickly? Nothing in this site is designed to glorify war in any way, and many of my favorite stories or scenarios have little or nothing to do with wars.
Do you set stories or novels in these alternate histories?
Yes I do. My novel Exchange is set in a world where some things went differently long ago and the human race didn’t survive. In another novel, All Timelines Lead to Rome, we discover how to get to an alternate reality where a stagnant Roman empire stalled European settlement of the New World, leaving the modern-day US with the dilemma of how to keep the alternate timeline’s American Indians from suffering the same fate their ancestors did in our world.
What are some of the highlights of this site?
There is an enormous amount of material in this part of the site. There are over a dozen stand-alone stand-alone scenarios, plus over a dozens years worth of Alternate History Newsletters, each filled with Alternate History scenarios, fiction, and book reviews. One of the earlier ones, the October 2000 Newsletter is fairly typical. I did a couple of scenarios of wars that didn’t happen but could have, both of them starting because of “some fool thing in the Balkans”. One of those scenarios starts with a Croatian revolt in February 1939, which gradually sucks in the European Great Powers and leads to a very different start to World War II. There is also a scenario where Cortes and company find out the hard way that horses can’t survive on the mainland of the New World, and one where China splinters into feuding, but technologically innovative kingdoms in the 1600’s.
Are there any other web sites about Alternate History?
Yep. A lot of them. Most of these are list over in the sidebar under Alternate History Resources. Some of the best are:
- Uchronia: The Alternate History List. This is an enormous, well organized list of Alternate History books, short stories, and essays. It used to be nearly comprehensive, but has become less so with the recent explosion in the number of Alternte History books and novels
- Jim Rittenhouse’s Journal. Jim is the founder and former editor of POD, the alternate history APA I currently edit. APA stands for Amateur Press Association. Point of Divergence is kind of a “do-it-yourself” magazine on Alternate History. Twenty to thirty people from all around the world contribute articles, which are then collated and sent to the contributors. You have to contribute articles regularly to get the resulting magazine.
- David Johnson’s AH page. David is a long-time contributor to Point of Divergence. His page gives you a good idea of what goes on in Point of Divergence. It is also a lot of fun in and of itself.
- Alternate History Forum. The forum’s owner is a former contributor to Point of Divergence. He has written some excellent articles on how alternate time-lines might work. His site has the largest alternate history forum I’m aware of and a good set of links.
- Alternate History Weekly Update. This is one of the more active sites, with a lot of links, interviews and reviews of alternate history novels.
What are some of your Favorite Alternate History Stories?
My tastes are a bit exotic. Here are three books or series of stories that I particularly enjoyed:
Conquest of the United States Series by H. Irving Hancock
This is actually a series of 4 juvenile books written in 1916. The series was originally written as a future history, but since history didn’t go the way the author predicted, I consider the series honorary alternate history. I bought the first and last books over ten years ago. I searched unsuccessfully for numbers two and three for many years before someone read this site, then helped me find number two. Why did I keep looking? Because the series is kind of neat in a weird sort of way. Picture the Hardy Boys go to war–only by a pretty good author with some unique ideas how a 1920-era war would be fought.
It’s 1920. World War I has ended. It’s not real clear who won, but Germany is in an aggressive mood. They start pushing Brazil around. We invoke the Monroe Doctrine and in short order we are at war with Germany. I’m not sure where the Royal Navy goes, but the German and American navies get into a heavy duty battleship war. The Americans lose badly because we’re outnumbered 22 battleships to 16 and the German battleship guns outrange ours. Germany decimates the American fleet and lands an army on the east coast. Read my review.
The Red Napoleon by Floyd Gibbons
Another “future history” turned honorary alternate history. The Red Napoleon was written in 1929 and projects the next few years. In it, Stalin is killed by an assassin in 1932. A Red Army leader takes over and starts a massive military buildup. In 1933 the Red Army invades Poland. Read my review.
A Different Flesh by Harry Turtledove
This book brings together a series of stories set in an alternate history where the Americas are inhabited by Homo Erectus (early men) rather than by Indians when European settlers arrive. The stories are very well done and entertaining. One small flaw: they seem to assume that the course of history would have gone pretty much as it did with Indians here, which I think underestimates the impact of Indians on our history. I think the author had to do that in order to make these stories work, and they do work very well I highly recommend this book.
“Question” Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Businessman Standing at Crossroad” Image courtesy of chanpipat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net