Monday, 8 February 2016

All The Alternative Histories

Is there a catalogue of alternative histories anywhere? We know who the main writers are and what the main themes are. Roy Tully in SM Stirling's Conquistador (New York, 2004) summarizes two:

"'...I know the concept. South wins the Civil War, Hitler wins World War Two, that sort of thing. Been some pretty good movies that used it.'" (p. 177)

There are other obvious themes:

Alexander the Great lived longer (Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, SM Stirling);
different outcomes in 1066 (?);
no Reformation (Kingsley Amis, Philip Pullman);
a successful Spanish Armada (Keith Roberts);
Oliver Cromwell lived longer (a DC Comics Elseworld) -

-and less obvious:

aliens invaded Earth during World War II (Harry Turtledove);
Mars and Venus were terraformed long ago (SM Stirling);
someone discovered how to degauss the effects of cold iron (Poul Anderson).

Bring The Jubilee by Ward Moore begins as a Confederate States alternative history but ends as a causality violation time travel novel, thus showing the degree of overlap between these two sf themes. Did Bring The Jubilee influence Anderson's "Time Patrol"? Anderson could not remember. However, conceptually, Bring The Jubilee does belong in a sequence of precursors to the Time Patrol:

Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee...;
HG Wells, The Time Machine;
L Sprague de Camp, Lest Darkness Fall;
Moore, Bring The Jubilee;
Anderson, "The Little Monster" and "The Man who Came Early."

An involuntary time traveler prospers and makes changes that do not last;
the Time Traveler invents the Time Machine and his dinner guests discuss anachronisms on battlefields like Hastings;
a second involuntary time traveler prospers and makes lasting changes;
a time traveling historian unintentionally diverts the course of a decisive battle;
a third involuntary time traveler survives but a fourth comes to grief;
the Time Patrol is founded to prevent accidental or deliberate historical changes.

In Anderson's "The House of Sorrows" and also in the deleted timeline of his "Delenda Est," Christianity does not get started whereas, in his Westfall timeline, Christendom exists but is destroyed. In all three timelines, Europe remains divided into small warring states practicing polytheism. The difference is that the Westfallers eventually develop science.


David Birr said...

Andre Norton had one, in *The Crossroads of Time*, in which Hitler won the Battle of Britain but neither side won the war as a whole; it just sort of petered out in exhaustion. It's hinted -- hoped -- that the big "No-Return" air raid, when the U.S. heard Hitler was going to be celebrating his victory in London, killed him off. At least, his radio broadcast went off the air abruptly.... Unhappily, by that time sabotage and possible germ warfare had smacked the U.S. pretty hard, too, and "Japs exploded all over the Pacific."

The same book also briefly mentions a world where the Mongols overran all Europe in the 13th Century; Celtic, Saxon, and Norse refugees settled in Vinland and "their descendants intermarried with Indians from the spreading native empires in the southwest...."

Another of Norton's alternate worlds, in the sequel to *Crossroads*, was based on two changes:
1) Richard III at Bosworth "with his own hand ... put an end to the Red Rose for all time" and ruled Britain wisely thereafter.
2) Cortes was killed and the Native Americans managed to keep the Spanish out of Mexico and Peru; lacking their gold, "the Spanish Empire in the New World was a withered dream, over before it began."
Result: in the mid-to-late 20th Century, there's a cold war between New Britain and the Toltec Empire, with the Mississippi River as a major boundary.

Richard C. Meredith's *Timeliner Trilogy* has so many different worlds I won't try listing any of them. Sometimes the point of divergence is made clear.

S.M. Stirling also wrote a short story, "The Charge of Lee's Brigade," in which the American Colonies wound up staying in the British Empire. Thus, Brigadier Sir Robert E. Lee, Bt., commands a Virginian cavalry unit at Balaklava. Naturally, when a vague message from Lord Raglan arrives, Lee DOESN'T charge his brigade into a kill zone, but figures out what his superior ACTUALLY needs done. (I don't think it counts as a spoiler that Lee wouldn't do anything THAT stupid.)

Don't forget Turtledove's *Agent of Byzantium* stories, in which Mohammed became a Christian and was canonized as the patron saint of changes. Or -- well, Turtledove's played with a LOT of different notions, including an advanced Neanderthal civilization, or a planet larger than Mars, and inhabited, in the fourth orbit....

As far as different outcomes of 1066 go, one historical novelist wrote an essay suggesting that Harold Godwinson's victory over William might've led to Britain turning its back on southern Europe, Latin Europe, to join a Scandinavian-led northern "empire" -- or more likely, she said, "a commonwealth of ... little kings and republics." This, she speculated, would bind together cultures from Russia (and possibly China) well into the "Viking-Mohawk republic...." -- Cecelia Holland, in *What If? 2*

Paul Shackley said...

Thank you. No doubt some fan will compile an Encyclopedia of Alternative Histories.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Greetings David and Paul!

MY favorite "what if" of history is wondering what might have happened if the assassination at Sarajevo in 1914 had been averted.