Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Taste of Alternate History

In elementary school, social studies was my favorite subject.  By the time I was 10 years old, I had also discovered science fiction.

My introduction to science fiction was a book by Robert Heinlein called Have Spacesuit Will Travel, and then to what I consider as soft science fiction - the Barsoom series of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

It was love at first read.

Contrary to popular opinion, science fiction isn't just about space travel and interacting with alien races.   It is said that science fiction is the literature of change.  It is certainly the literature of ideas.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered a book called The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, and was introduced to two new genres - dystopian literature, and alternate history.

In The Man in the High Castle, Phillip K. Dick imagined an alternate world which diverged from ours when Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933.  In our world, Roosevelt survived that assassination attempt but the Mayor of Chicago was killed.

In that alternate world, where Roosevelt died,  the Allies lost World War II.  The Nazis and the Japanese conquered the United States, and divided it up between themselves. Now, it is the 1960's and.... (Note: if you've seen the series, be aware that it differs from the book in many ways).  So, alternate history works simply - imagine something happens that didn't happen in our timeline.  Then what happens?  It's lots of fun.

Even Stephen King has written in a genre that could be related to alternate history - a book called 11/22/63, a strange type of historical novel with strong elements of time travel.

Anyway - as I blogged about earlier this week, my local library gave me a Valentine's Day gift - a book by Harry Turtledove, who is a prolific writer of alternate history.

My favorites of his?  A series called Worldwar.  If I told you the plot, you might run - but please don't.  It's 1942, we are fighting World War II, and alien lizard like creatures invade Earth.  Yes, really.  It works, especially because of the detailed research Turtledove obviously undertook. 

While researching something for my blog, I found a free story by Turtledove posted online.  So now, here is a gift for you, my reader:  a short story by Harry Turtledove. You can call it a soft introduction to alternate history.  I caught onto it pretty quickly, but I still enjoyed its depiction of an elderly woman, one who lives in a world just slightly different than ours.

And that made all the difference.

Do you read/enjoy alternate history?  What books are your favorites?


  1. I have not watched the Amazon series, but have heard good reviews. After the blog post I did last night, I do believe that several thousands of folks live in an alternate history already.

  2. You've just contributed to my reading list. I love Heinlein, my favorite is Stranger In A Strange Land (you grok Valentine Michael Smith?), and I loved 11/222/63. But now I think I might try some Turtledove and Phillip K. Dick.

  3. I loved Turtledove's Civil War alternative history- but grew tired of it and him after a while. But, Dick... now, I enjoy almost all of his stuff. (Heinlein is far more traditional sci-fi.)
    Political commentary, all.

  4. I was a bookworm as a child. I lived at the library because books were an escape (and probably also because I sucked at sports)
    In the past, I read a lot of light science fiction and fantasy. Even a bit of horror a la Stephen King. But this is the first I've heard of alternative history. I'll check out the link you provided.
    Maybe I'll like this genre too. Thanks for the intro.

  5. A lot of baby-boomers missed Joan Aiken's "Wolves of Willoughby Chase" alternative history series. They were aimed at children and featured improbable child heroes, but as a young adult with a sense of humor I thought they might be better received by adults or at least teens. (Some of the villains are pretty creepy and in the last volume a major character makes a strong case for the right to die.)

    Only readers who kept track of the U.S. Constitutional Amendments noticed it, but Suzette Haden Elgin's "Native Tongue" series presuppose an alternative history...if not an alternative human race. Very grim and grown-up dystopia; both child and geriatric heroines, and, over a long time span, some characters that are reported as being "channelled" from the afterlife.

    Then there's Richard Adams' "Traveller," best appreciated by serious Civil War buffs...the horse's narrative voice is so deadpan that you have to remember all kinds of historical trivia to realize just how "alternative" the story is. When I read it I didn't get the joke at all, just wondered how much U.S. history the U.K. author had read. I have since been told that he'd read a lot.

  6. Oh! HAVE SPACESUIT,WILL TRAVEL was MY first sf book, too! And I love Phil K. Dick! HS,WT was also my introduction to THREE MEN IN A BOAT, which the dad read and reread, as do I. :)

    Thanks for the Harry Turtledove story. I'm not specifically a fan of alternate history: my grasp on reality is tenuous, at best, as it is. lol!

  7. My husband and I are currently watching Amazon's interpretation of The Man in the High Castle. I've never read the book, but my younger daughter is a big fan and has tried to get me to read it for years. Maybe I will now. The TV series is interesting and well-done.

  8. I haven't really delved into alternate history, although I keep meaning to rectify that. I'll have to check out that short story.

  9. Wow, that is some thoughts.... No, I havent read any alternate history- but it sure makes me think.... Interesting

  10. Hmmm, I always loved history but, when I was a kid, I was mostly interested in reading biographies. As for alternative history, an interesting book that I've read with my book club is "Life after Life," by Kate Atkinson. The main character is reborn over and over after she dies repeatedly. History changes in each one of her lives. At one point, she shoots Hitler. It is a great book in these bizarre times.

  11. This is interesting, there always is a thought that stays behind everyones mind - what if - this had not happened. The alternate history seems to work in those line. would love to read.

  12. Alana, I find that I'm in the same boat with several of the others who have left comments. I love history but haven't given much thought to "alternate history" until today. This is a good example of what I love about the World Wide Web and blogging. Finding your blog has opened my eyes to several new concepts and I'm grateful for that. Thank you, Alana!


Your comments sustain me, as long as they are civil, are on topic, and do not contain profanity, advertising of any kind, links or spam. Any messages not meeting these criteria will immediately be composted, and my flowers will enjoy their contents.