This article deals with the genre of fiction commonly known as alternate history. For the branch of history that deals academically with speculative alternate histories, see Virtual history.

Alternate history is a type of science fiction in which the basic premise is that some specific historical event never happened, or happened differently (compare future history). Stories set in a future which has since come and passed (such as George Orwell's 1984) are not alternate history.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Published Alternate Histories
3 Online Alternate Histories
4 See also
5 External link


Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

Currently the most prolific practitioner of this type of fiction is Harry Turtledove, whose books include a series in which the South did not lose the American Civil War. Other stories by this author include the premise that America had not been colonised from Asia during the last Ice Age; as a result, the continent still has living mammoths and prehuman species. See also steampunk.

The earliest example of alternate history appears to be Book IX, sections 17-19, of the Livy's History of Rome from Its Foundation. He contemplates the possibility of Alexander the Great expanding his father's empire westward instead of east, and attacking Rome in the 4th century BC. (Livy was a patriotic Roman -- Alexander loses.)

In "The Forfeited Birthright of the Abortive Far Western Christian Civilization," Arnold J. Toynbee describes a world in which the Franks lost to the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732.

Winston Churchill wrote an essay entitled "If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg" that considers what sort of world would have resulted if the North had won the American Civil War -- from the point of view of a historian in a world where the Confederacy had won.

The key change between our history and the alternative history is known as the "Point of divergence"(POD)." In Philip K. Dick's "Man in the High Castle", the POD is the attempted assassination of Franklin Roosevelt in Miami in 1933. In our reality, this attempt failed. In Dick's novel, and in other Nazis-win-the-war scenarios, Roosevelt's death results in an America wracked by the Great Depression and holding tight to its neutrality, thus causing Great Britain to fall. The theory of the multiverse posits that PODs occur every instant, springing off parallel universes for each instance.

Historians also speculate in this manner; this type of speculation is known commonly as counterfactuality. There is considerable debate within the community of historians about the validity and purpose of this type of speculation.

In 1995, The Sidewise Award for Alternate History was established to recognize best Long Form (novels and series) and best short form (stories) within the genres. The award is named for Murray Leinster's story "Sidewise in Time."

For alternate histories which some assert to be factual rather than speculative, see conspiracy theory and historical revisionism.

Published Alternate Histories

  • Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore, in which the South was not defeated in the American Civil War.

  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick set in a world where the Axis powers won World War II.

  • Fatherland by Robert Harris is also set in the 1960s in a Germany which won World War II.

  • SS-GB by Len Deighton is a detective novel set in 1941 Britain where the Germans have successfully occupied the country.

  • Pavane, by Keith Roberts, assumes that Queen Elizabeth I of England was assassinated, and in the ensuing disorder, the Spanish Armada was successful in suppressing Protestantism; the novel (actually a series of shorter pieces) is set in a 20th century where technology has advanced less than in our world, and where the Inquisition still has power.

  • The Last Article is a short story by Harry Turtledove, in which Mohandas Gandhi attempts to use non-violent resistance against India's Nazi occupiers.

  • The Alteration by Kingsley Amis is set in a world very similar to that of Pavane; the novel concerns the attempt to prevent a young boy with a perfect singing voice from being recruited to the Vatican's eunuch choir. There are a number of in-jokes, where famous works of fantasy and science fiction appear, under slightly different titles: 'The Wind in the Cloisters' and 'The Lord of the Chalices' for example.

  • The 'Lord Darcy' fantasy series by Randall Garrett; a number of short stories and one novel (Too Many Magicians) based on the premise that King Richard I of England returned safely from France and that Roger Bacon had systematised the laws of magic. The stories are a series of traditional detective fiction-style murder mysteries with forensic magic being used in the investigation.

  • See Alternate Earths (ISBN 1-55634-318-3) and Alternate Earths II (ISBN 1-55634-399-X) and "What might have been" game addendum for the GURPS Role-Playing System. Includes a Confederate victory world, a Nazi/Japanese Empire world, an Aztecs-rule-America scenario, and a unique "Gernsback" world in which the dreams of the mad scientists and Doc Savage have become reality.

  • The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is a steampunk novel which deals with a Victorian society in which Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine takes on the roles of modern computers a century early.

  • Ong's Hat by Unknown is a Internet legend that deals with a group of renegade scientists from Princeton that developed a means of travel to parallel universes and fled this Universe to found a colony in another world.

  • How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove is set twenty years after a Southern victory in the American Civil War established the Confederate States of America. This novel is followed by the Great War trilogy, set in the 1910s and the American Empire trilogy following the Great War. A third trilogy will eventually be released, detailing an alternate World War II.

  • Making History (1996) by British actor, comedian and novelist Stephen Fry is set in a parallel world in which Adolf Hitler was never conceived, let alone born.

  • For Want of a Nail - an alternate history of North America by Robert Sobel, details a world in which the American Revolution failed. The British colonies become the Confederation of North America (CNA), while the defeated rebels go into exile in Spanish Tejas, eventually founding the United States of Mexico (USM) - a bitter rival to the CNA.

  • The Domination by S. M. Stirling - after the United States conquers Canada in the War of 1812, the Loyalists move to South Africa, where they join with the Boers to set up a slavery-based empire called the Domination of the Draka. The story tells of the struggle between the Domination and the free world. As the Draka come to dominate the world, they create a superhuman race.

  • Conquistador by S.M. Stirling - What if Europeans never reached America?

  • Wild Cards edited by George R. R. Martin - A series of collaborations based on the premise that an alien race released a virus just after the WWII that gave some people super-powers and others terrible deformities.

Online Alternate Histories

soc.history.what-if is a usenet newsgroup devoted to discussing alternate histories. This newsgroup has spawned a number of interesting alternate timelines:

In online alternate history, the timeline is usually referred to by the abbreviation ATL (Alternate Time Line), as contrasted with OTL (Our Time Line) which refers to real history.

See also

External link