Alternate History

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Alternate History

Postby pooteeweet » Sat Feb 28, 2009 4:55 am UTC

Recommend some good Alternate History novels.

I can only think of one that I've read but the genre seems worth exploring.

The Years of Rice and Salt -- by Kim Stanly Robinson, the same guy who wrote the Red Mars trilogy (which I've just begun reading-- and which is not alternate history but near future). The Years of Rice and Salt begins in 622 AD and works its way up to the modern day, by having a small cast of main characters who are reincarnated in different times and places for each of the 10 or so sections. The premise is that, when the Plague hits Europe, it kills off about 99% of the population instead of 30%. Hence the main world powers are Islam and China. The Renaissance takes off in India, China accidentally discovers the New World, and a deserted Europe is eventually resettled by Muslim pilgrims. This book ROCKS!

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Re: Alternate History

Postby steewi » Mon Mar 02, 2009 12:59 am UTC

Pavane by Keith Roberts is one of the classics.

S.M Stirling is considered one of the bigger authors in the genre. I don't mind his writing, but it doesn't grab me like some authors do.
Harry Turtledove is the other big author in the genre. Same comments as above.

The Man in High Castle is standard Philip K Dick fare - engaging and confusing at the same time. Worth the effort.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_alternate_history_fiction is not comprehensive, but has a good start if you can't remember who to look for.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby eekmeep » Mon Mar 02, 2009 3:14 am UTC

The Alvin series and "Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus" by Orson Scott Card.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby psychaotix » Tue Mar 03, 2009 2:11 pm UTC

Another good alternate history series is the "world war 2.x" series, by John Birmingham. It starts with Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1. Simple synopsisis that a military team from the near future get sent back in time to about the time of world war 2, just after pearl harbour. Their arrival changes everything. I definately enjoyed it, and thats something, considering I read a lot.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Zohar » Tue Mar 03, 2009 2:24 pm UTC

I heard good things about Roma Eterna by Robert Silverberg, but I haven't read it myself.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby Jessica » Tue Mar 03, 2009 4:11 pm UTC

I like the crytptonomicon... and I hear the baroque cycle is good. Sort of alternate history, as the history in the book never existed, but similar outcomes come from it... so maybe not...
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Re: Alternate History

Postby Amarantha » Wed Mar 04, 2009 2:03 am UTC

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling explores what might have happened if Charles Babbage's computer had actually worked.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby eekmeep » Wed Mar 04, 2009 5:21 am UTC

Jessica wrote:I like the crytptonomicon... and I hear the baroque cycle is good. Sort of alternate history, as the history in the book never existed, but similar outcomes come from it... so maybe not...


I forgot about Cryptonomicon ... I enjoyed that one too, what I could follow of it ...

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Mzyxptlk » Wed Mar 04, 2009 1:29 pm UTC

Jessica wrote:I like the crytptonomicon... and I hear the baroque cycle is good. Sort of alternate history, as the history in the book never existed, but similar outcomes come from it... so maybe not...

Cryptonomicon isn't alternate history though, a lot of what happens in the book actually did happen in reality. Sure, he invented some new characters and a plot, but doesn't all fiction do that? Just because the invented plot partly took place in the past doesn't make it alternate history, imo.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby Kangaroo » Wed Mar 04, 2009 4:51 pm UTC

I think the alternate history in Robert E. Howard's books about Conan is quite interesting. I bought The Complete Chronicles of Conan by the very same man, and I find it a pleasant way to waste some time in an alternate world. However, due to school I don't have time to read the books I want, so don't take my word for it; you'd probably be better off reading them yourself.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby annals » Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:35 am UTC

I don't know if it's quite what you're looking for, but Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke was very good. In her history, magic was commonly used in England until around the Renaissance, when it stopped working.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby thatguy » Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:38 pm UTC

Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle would be classified as "Historical Fiction," I believe.

The main difference in the genres, as far as I can tell, is that Historical Fiction works within what actually happened, and Alternate History rewrites big swathes of the past.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Rinsaikeru » Sat Mar 07, 2009 2:47 am UTC

I read a series by Eric Flint once...I believe the first novel might be called 1634. It's sort of hard to tell because searching books named after years nets dubious results on the internet.

The novel is about a hunk of modern USA ending up in 100 years war Germany. I remember it being interesting.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby steewi » Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:40 am UTC

It starts with 1632. It's by Eric Flint. They're kinda decent, but nothing incredibly special.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Rinsaikeru » Sun Mar 08, 2009 7:28 am UTC

I won't argue with you on that--because I agree, though they are fun. But I had something to contribute that I actually partially remembered.

I think that is cause for celebration.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby pooteeweet » Sun Mar 08, 2009 7:49 am UTC

Oh, I think I've heard of those (read a review or synopsis or blurb somewhere). For some reason an image of hot air balloon warfare pops into my head. Is that a factor in these books, or am I thinking of something else entirely?

Can't believe I didn't think of "The Man in the High Castle" initially. Since steewi didn't elaborate, the scenario in that one is that the Axis won WWII, and the USA got divvied in half: The east is occupied by Nazi Germany, and the west by Japan. Former Americans are second-class citizens. What grabbed me was how the protagonist runs a little shop selling kitschy, Americana memorabilia to Japanese tourists and collectors-- like how, IRL, people sell "traditional", "authentic", knick-knacks and cultural artifacts in third-world-ish places.

Here's another question: if you were to write an alternate history novel, what would be the coolest scenario you could come up with (in terms of the "big swath of the past" you would be rewriting)? Or the coolest concept you've come across in already existing novels.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby steewi » Mon Mar 09, 2009 8:42 am UTC

Point of divergence is the word you want to know. It's where the alternate history deviates from our real world history.

I've always wanted to take it from where the Battle of Milvian Bridge had a different result. There are two major possibilities there. Either Constantine had a different revelation (i.e. Mithraist) and won, putting Mithraism ahead of the Roman religion. Or, if Constantine took the Christian cross, but did not have a decisive victory in battle. This leaves Christianity, while it exists, in a minority, and still somewhat persecuted. It's a good excuse for exploring the role of Christianity in many of history's later developments, and whether or not it would actually make a difference in a lot of historical events. I think I've described it in another thread somewhere on these fora, but I haven't the motivation to look it up. I think it was in SB somewhere.

Another one I just thought of which I like is China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh. It's one where Maoist Communism took hold in the US and is the dominant political paradigm on Earth. It's worth investigating.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Amarantha » Mon Mar 09, 2009 11:51 am UTC

annals wrote:I don't know if it's quite what you're looking for, but Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke was very good.
Oh, good one! I've just yesterday bought a short-story book by her, set in the same universe. It's called The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories, and the story-and-a-half I've read so far were very good :)

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Re: Alternate History

Postby semicharmed » Tue Mar 10, 2009 12:01 am UTC

I once wrote one, in eight grade or so. Looking back, I'm sure it died on one of the many transfers between computers/operating systems since then. And I don't think I'd actually want to go back and read it.
But the line of divergence was the Confederacy winning the American Civil War. If I remember correctly, it was at least 4-6 pages of eight-grade level what-if speculating. And actually, I'm going to see if I can dig it up somewhere... hilarity will probably ensue.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Rinsaikeru » Tue Mar 10, 2009 5:28 am UTC

I've heard mentioned (even in this thread) similar points of divergence--but I'd like to see what would have happened if the Roman Catholic Church had not adopted the Roman method of hierarchy.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Mar 10, 2009 5:31 am UTC

Clash of Kings... Amirite?

But yes, Pastwatch was an excellent read.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby Bobber » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:26 pm UTC

I have just ordered The Years of Rice and Salt from Amazon. It's amazing how cheap used books can be. If I'm lucky, somebody has written something in it! I like finding little messages in books... But I digress. I look forward to reading it - the premise of the book sounds extremely interesting.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby plsander » Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:09 pm UTC

steewi wrote:It starts with 1632. It's by Eric Flint. They're kinda decent, but nothing incredibly special.


What he has done with opening the 1632 universe up for other authors contributions (and first time authors) is interesting though...

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Brother Maynard » Sat Mar 14, 2009 3:35 pm UTC

The books that 1632 spawned, co-written by Eric Flint, strike me as the sort of thing that arose from him finding some writers in his fanbase, taking their plots, and stamping both names on the covers after doing little more than minor creative control.

How else would you get so many books so quickly?

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Julien » Sat Mar 14, 2009 3:37 pm UTC

There are some good ones about World War II. The Man in the high castle is certainly one of the best. However, my favourite in this genre is Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad. And let's say I'm definitely NOT a science-fiction enthusiast at all. So the book must be really good to please me so much.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby flx » Mon Mar 16, 2009 8:59 pm UTC

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds has a very interesting SF take on alternate history.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby Bobber » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:56 pm UTC

Bobber wrote:I have just ordered The Years of Rice and Salt from Amazon. It's amazing how cheap used books can be. If I'm lucky, somebody has written something in it! I like finding little messages in books... But I digress. I look forward to reading it - the premise of the book sounds extremely interesting.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby the_bandersnatch » Thu Apr 02, 2009 9:02 am UTC

A great non-fiction book is the snappily-titled What If?: Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. It consists of military and non-military historians picking a favoured pivot point in history, talking about what happened and why, and then discussing what likely consequences would have been if one crucial event had changed differently. The book is organised in chronological order, starting with the armies of Sennacherib outside Jerusalem, and running through Greek and Roman history to the dark ages, middle ages and spends a lot of time on the world wars. Although the discussion of alternate history is fascinating, you'll find you learn a lot about real history too and the forces that have shaped our development as a culture.

For fiction, I thoroughly recommend Harry Turtledove's World War series. The first one is set in 1942 at the height of the Second World War when reptilian aliens arrive to invade Earth. The only fly in their ointment is the fact it has taken them hundreds of years to get here and their probes from 800 years ago last reported we were in a primitive feudal society with little to no technology. Since their race (and the others they have conquered) advance in knowledge only very slowly they have not come prepared to fight a war against a species that has since invented aircraft, radio, radar, tanks, machine guns, and is working on nuclear weapons. However, since they have the more advanced technology still they decide to proceed with the invasion. There are 4 books in the series and even a follow-up series, but the first two are IMO by far the best and definitely worth a read.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby SummerGlauFan » Thu Apr 02, 2009 4:08 pm UTC

I really like the Nantucket series by S.M. Stirling. Basically, the modern-day island of Nantucket gets sent back to the bronze age. Quite a good read.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby pooteeweet » Sat Apr 04, 2009 6:28 pm UTC

the_bandersnatch wrote:A great non-fiction book is the snappily-titled What If?: Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been.


That sounds really interesting. I may just have to buy it.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby SilverPhantom2 » Thu Apr 09, 2009 4:52 am UTC

The abovementioned What If? book is an excellent read and easily one of my favorites. Also worth looking at is What If? 2 which has a lot of "civilian" PODs and not just military ones.

Another Alternate History book, the one that got me into the genre, is Lion's Bloodby Stephen Barnes. It takes place in a world where Africa became the dominant power and Europe remained tribal. Islam became dominant over Christianity, and blacks are masters over whites.

I prefer books where the story takes place years after the POD, so you can really see the effects a POD had on history. Robert Conroy (1901, 1862) is certainly not the best writer, though his premises are interesting. The only part I really can't stand is that he doesn't take it quite far enough. I want to know what happens to Germany AFTER the War in America, or how Reconstruction goes after the British intervention. You're left just wondering instead of getting a story out of it.

As a true Alternate History lover, none of my favorite PODs have been written about:
- A warm Antarctica
- Douglas winning the election of 1860
- A surviving Spanish Empire

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Ramses IV » Thu Apr 09, 2009 11:52 pm UTC

The master of all Alternate History is Harry Turtledove, who pretty much only writes books in the genre.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby Bobber » Sat Apr 11, 2009 1:49 pm UTC

Ramses IV wrote:The master of all Alternate History is Harry Turtledove, who pretty much only writes books in the genre.
Could you point out a few specific books by him that are really good, and give a brief summary on them?
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Re: Alternate History

Postby bigglesworth » Sat Apr 11, 2009 1:58 pm UTC

He writes big series that cover decades... But the series about the alternative interwar years between the CSA and USA were the best IMO.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby the_bandersnatch » Sat Apr 11, 2009 7:42 pm UTC

Bobber wrote:
Ramses IV wrote:The master of all Alternate History is Harry Turtledove, who pretty much only writes books in the genre.
Could you point out a few specific books by him that are really good, and give a brief summary on them?


See my post above re the World War series.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby pooteeweet » Sat Apr 11, 2009 8:45 pm UTC

Julien wrote:However, my favourite in this genre is Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad. And let's say I'm definitely NOT a science-fiction enthusiast at all. So the book must be really good to please me so much.


Whuh!? I just looked that book up on Amazon and it costs $163 new! And "6 used from $75"!

...Ah, a reviewer says it's out of print. But still! Is this book really that fantastic? Now I really want to know! And I've now found some other used copies (in "acceptable" condition? doesn't sound promising) for the low low price of $17 but that's still more than I'll pay for a book unless I know for sure I really want it.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Numquam » Sun Apr 12, 2009 2:45 am UTC

Bring the Jubilee was excellent, although short.
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Re: Alternate History

Postby Bobber » Mon Apr 13, 2009 12:25 am UTC

the_bandersnatch wrote:
Bobber wrote:
Ramses IV wrote:The master of all Alternate History is Harry Turtledove, who pretty much only writes books in the genre.
Could you point out a few specific books by him that are really good, and give a brief summary on them?
See my post above re the World War series.
Oh, whaddayaknow, those are not two different Harry Turtledoves...! How was I supposed to know? It's such a common name!
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Re: Alternate History

Postby bigglesworth » Mon Apr 13, 2009 2:16 pm UTC

I personally think there's an author out there called Harold Pigeon who thought he wouldn't sell any books unless he published them under a different name.
Generation Y. I don't remember the First Gulf War, but do remember floppy disks.

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Re: Alternate History

Postby Internetmeme » Mon Apr 13, 2009 8:58 pm UTC

Is it weird that I sometimes go through scenarios in my mind of what I would do if I were suddenly taken back in time to the renaissance with my "magic" technology, or if I had automatic weapons in ancient Roman times?

I might check out World War 2.x to so if they are a good read.
Nantucket seems cool.

Anyone else got anything in this genre?

EDIT: Oh! Just remembered why I was going to post:
I got introduced in this genre by a book that i forgot the name to.
Basically, America lost the revolution, Ben Franklin is an outlaw, and
(Some spoilers here)
Spoiler:
Washington was hanged for treason. A teenager sets out to America to find his dad, but his ship goes to swampy Florida. He gets on a ship with some revolutionaries, who take him to Louisiana, French territory. He discovers that the Americans are still in French territory.
Does anyone remember the title to this story?
Spoiler:


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