Musings on Alternate History

I’m supposed to be writing about alternate history today, to tie in with our discussion on tonight’s webcast. The only problem is, I haven’t really read or seen a lot in this genre. I used to be quite a fan of Sliders (many, many moons ago) and I’ve maybe read a few short stories, seen a few movies, but that’s about it. Despite my lacking of material knowledge on the subject, there are a ton of alternate history stories out there; I never realized the extent until I started preparing for our webcast. Don’t believe me? Check out this wonderful site, full of all things alternate history.

So, what exactly is alternate history and why have I seemingly been avoiding it? Similar to historical fantasy, or historical fiction, alternate history involves real-world events, places, or people, on earth. It can, but doesn’t have to, take place in a historical period. What separates alternate history from other genres is that it asks what the consequences would be if a real world event had turned out differently. It can be a big scale event, such as the South winning the Civil War instead of the North, or it could be a smaller scale event, such as a child living that was supposed to have died. No matter how big or how small the change to past events, the path from our world to an alternate world would emerge from that point. Think of the alternate universe in Fringe, and how one event caused a split and how the two universes were slightly different because of it. That’s the principle, in a nutshell.

As to why I’ve seemingly been avoiding alternate history…I don’t have much of an answer there. I suppose I could say that I like actual history more than made up history, but that’s not really true. I like both, otherwise I wouldn’t be such a fan of fantasy (which involves a lot of made up histories). I suppose I could also say that it’s because many of the popular authors in the genre, such as Harry Turtledove, don’t really write things about which I care to read about, such as various wars and their outcomes. But that would be selling those authors short, as I’m sure that’s not the only things they write about. And, in fact, I’m learning there are many different stories of alternate history not revolving around wars.

So, no, I don’t really have a good answer to why I haven’t read much alternate history, other than to say that it’s just escaped my radar in the past. But I do have a good feeling that I’ll be reading quite a bit more of this genre in the future.

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4 Responses to Musings on Alternate History

  1. Mark says:

    I think you’re right that there can be too much emphasis in alternate history on the outcome of wars – there’s a massive part of the genre that is focused on that. I’m not too keen on that aspect myself. There are plenty of books that do follow a different path though and I would say that the Uchronia site that you linked to is a great place to start.

    You could also look at my site – Alt Hist, http://althistfiction.com for some short alternate history stories too! 🙂 We publish tales from a broad variety of authors with a mix of straight historical fiction and alternate history.

    • Thanks, for the comment and for the information! I’ll link to your site in our webcast notes for other resources, and add it to our blogroll. We publish all sorts of fantasy, including Alternate History. In fact, I believe we had a short alt hist flash piece in our latest issue. Thanks again for stopping by, much appreciated!

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