Thursday, 28 July 2016

Alternative Histories In Fantasy And SF

An sf alternative history assumes the same physical laws as in our universe. Only the course of history has diverged, e.g., in Poul Anderson's "Eutopia" or his "The House of Sorrows."  However, these are two short stories. Anderson's four alternative history novels are set in universes where magic works and thus are fantasies, not sf. In the two further short stories that are set inside the inter-cosmic inn, the Old Phoenix, the inn is accessed by travelers from both kinds of universe, thus magic works in some of the universes although not in others.

SM Stirling's alternative history novels present entirely science fictional scenarios:

Nantucket 1998 A.D. changes places with Nantucket 1250 B.C.;

"On October 3, 1878, the first of a series of high-velocity heavenly bodies struck the earth." (The Peshawar Lancers, p. 459);

on April 17, 1946, the far wall of John Rolfe's basement was replaced by a rippling silver sheet...;

on July 1st, 2014, "The richest man in the world liked eating pastrami sandwiches in orbit..." (The Domination, p. 1);

on May 21, 442nd Year of the Final Society (2442 A.D.), "Gwendolyn Ingolfsson stood naked beside the stream.'" (Drakon, p. 1);

on Labor Day, 1962, sf writers at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago watched TV coverage of First Contact with Martians...

These are different timelines with three common features:

all emerge from the imagination of a single writer;
all are hard sf;
they could be incorporated into a single fictional multiverse.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I finished rereading THE DEMON OF SCATTERY by Poul Anderson and Mildred D. Broxon. Next book I'll reread is Stirling's ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME.

I do think the authors of DEMON made a mistake about Queen Gunnhild. They set the story in AD 835 and on page 193 Mananaan said about Brigit's first child: "...I know something of him. Whoever the father of that one was--Halldor always took the boy as his own--he became a mighty man in Norway. It's said he fathered Queen Gunnhild, the queen of King Erik Blood-ax--"

Historians generally date Queen Gunnhild's birth to around AD 910 or a bit later. So if Brigit's first child was Gunnhild's father, he would have to be about 74 years old when she was born. Not impossible, maybe, but not likely--esp. since Gunnhild's father in MOTHER OF KINGS is described as being of a normal age for being her father. Conclusion, the authors erred here in DEMON and should have called Brigit's son the grandfather of Queen Gunnhild.


David Birr said...

It's actually debatable how "hard-sf" *Island* is, given that Mr. Stirling links it to his *Emberverse* -- a world in which, at the same moment that Nantucket was hurled out of 1998, the laws of physics in the late 20th Century CHANGED: quoting Wikipedia, "... all the electricity, gunpowder, explosives, internal combustion engines, steam power and most forms of high-energy-density technology on Earth ... permanently no longer work."

NOT exactly a hard-sf scenario, I think.

Paul Shackley said...

I don't know how to classify EMBERVERSE if no explanation is given of the phenomenon. In the British CHANGES Trilogy (novel, televized), technology failed (apparently) because Merlin has returned, thus fantasy (I think).

Paul Shackley said...

When I describe a trilogy as "novel," I mean of course "novels."