Alternate History Types

There are five main types of  alternate history, I’ve found. Three are only technical: Alternate Presents, Alternate And Historical But Not AH and Secret History. Two are more firm: Alternate History As Setting, and Alternate History As Genre.

Alternate Presents

This is the kind of “Alternate History” that’s only so in the most nominal fashion. Almost none are ever sold as alternate history, and if it’s mentioned at all, it’s as a “ok, I guess this happened” when talking about the background. So if there’s a fictional city it takes place in, it’s an “alternate present”.

Really, almost all fiction falls into this category. The only fiction that doesn’t is historical fiction that contains no made-up characters and is explictly trying to reenact a historical event as quickly as possible.

Alternate And Historical But Not AH

This is a strange classification, and it mainly has to do with events in a piece of historical fiction that A: diverge from actual history, but, B: Doesn’t change the grand-scheme events, and C: Isn’t really sold or promoted as “alternate history.”

The prime example I have of this is, of all things, Kelly’s Heroes. Yes, there’s an ahistorical gold raid there in World War II, occurring long before the movie was made. But it’s not sold or considered alternate history, and doesn’t explore the ramification.

Secret History

This is when there was a big divergence in the past but which didn’t cause an actual change in history as we know it until the moment of the story. The Casca series is “Secret History”-yes, an immortal Roman mentored Genghis Khan and killed Adolph Hitler, but the Mongols still achieved what they did and Hitler still died in a bunker in Berlin in 1945.

And speaking of that mustached man, my favorite “secret history” divergence comes from Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist series. That has many styles. It’s post-apocalyptic action, then it becomes science fiction, and then the “secret history” part kicks in with the plot point of Hitler’s dead body being kept in a New York facility. Did that change anything up until Book 1? Not really.

Those three are only really considered alternate history in the most broad view.

Alternate History As Setting

A lot of alternate history, and, more importantly, a lot of stories that aren’t sold as or even considered alternate history fall into this category. There is a big divergence, and it did have an effect.

And yet, it’s there as a setting, a backdrop, to a main story taking place in a clear genre. Lots of “Alternate History As Setting” pieces are sold as alternate history. Others basically aren’t-a stereotypical steampunk story, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and Hotline Miami (three very different pieces of fiction) are all “Alternate History As Setting”.

Alternate History As Genre

This is the top of the pyramid and is reserved for works where the alternate events themselves are front and center, driving the plot. It encompasses a lot of Harry Turtledove’s fiction and essentially every work written in the “pseudo-history book” style.

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As with every category, not everything fits exceptions and there’s bound to be countless exceptions/works of fiction that don’t clearly belong to any one or could reasonably be considered both. But I’ve found a lot of stuff can fit pretty neatly into them.

The Super-Pickup Truck

So one of my automobile what-ifs, occasionally acted out in Automation, is “what if you put a supercar engine in a pickup truck?” (In-game, not really that much, all things considered, though I’m not the best at optimizing)

And it turns out that that indeed happened in 2004, when Chrysler put the V10 engine from the Viper in a Dodge Ram to create the Ram SRT-10.

The Low-Pressure Missile Tank Age

Only a few actually made it into mass production, but around the world, there was eager development in the 1960s of low-pressure gun/missile launcher tanks, the kind best emphasized by the M551 Sheridan and M60A2. The Soviet designs have turrets that resemble”squashed” versions of the classic dome turret.

The impetus was how to extend the firing range of the tank. This arrangement was ultimately made obsolete by the development of better fire control (for western tanks) and barrel-launched ATGMs that could be used in conventional tank guns (for Soviet ones)

But they’re still an interesting footnote.

 

The Spanish Moroccan War in hindsight

About a decade ago, young me read a tale that would spark an interest in alternate history. That story was A Spanish-Moroccan War in 2002. With a decade of hindsight, with a decade of me both more interested in and more disillusioned by alternate history (long story), what do I think of it?

Well, my first thought is “time to sim some of it in Command”, because boy is something like that meant for Command. In fact, it was the appeal of simulating such slightly unconventional (to an American) conflicts that drove me into that sim in the first place (My very first editor experiment was a Spanish-Nigerian clash over Equatorial Guinea in the 1960s-certainly as far from the GIUK Gap in 198X as it gets.)

But as for the story on its own terms…

  • In some cases, it’s like an AH.com style TL, for better or worse. What makes it “better” is that it’s detailed and scope limited. It’s an hour-by-hour recap of a war lasting a few days, and apart from an epilogue, that’s it. I think what’s made me sour on such a writing model is that it’s increasingly not done well-big events are brushed past in a few paragraphs (or less!) while history divergences monstrously in a way that’s clearly “because the author thought it”, and there’s often a lack-of-effort streak visible. This is not the case here.
  • It’s also novel, and a conflict that isn’t some mega-dystopia or other clear trend-follower. This combined with the limited scope means it manages to avoid both the “Nazi Confederates Take Over The World” and “Reads Like The Minutes of A Finger Lakes Historical Society Conference” extremes that plague the genre.
  • That being said, this kind of story is meant to be experienced an installment at a time as a kind of serial, and having access to the whole thing at once takes a lot of the drama away.

It’s interesting to look back on, at least.

 

The July 20 Plot

Today is the 74th anniversary of the nearly-successful attempt to kill Hitler.

A lot of alternate history in popular imagination tends to focus too much on “For Want of a Nail” style events. Those have existed, but the July 20 Plot was not one of them overall. The conspirators were not Adenauer-ian liberals, but nationalists who the Allies would never have negotiated with. Moreover, the plan was extremely unlikely to succeed in gaining control of the government even if Hitler had died-the result would probably have been either Goering or, if he had died or been ousted in the chaos, some military junta ruling Germany for the last year of war.  Likely, very little would have changed.

Flash Fiction Reviews, Vol 1

All right, time to launch a set of rapid-fire fiction reviews. Two paragraphs per book at most.

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The military thriller genre can always use some outside perspectives. Sadly, and this more the fault of my expectations than the actual book itself, it ended up as a routine romantic suspense novel. Romantic suspense has always been an awkward genre, in my opinion, the inverse of adding a clunky romance to an otherwise pure action story.

Still, the book is well-written for what it is, and it just was me expecting a genre I wanted rather than the genre the book ended up being. Recommended if you like romance or romantic suspense.

This is the work that (at least partially) kicked off Sea Lion Press, and has the divergence that the conspiracy theory of Harold Wilson being a Soviet agent was true, leading to the already unstable scene of the 70s getting overloaded in a chaotic romp. While not perfect (it gets a little too “inside baseball for enthusiasts of 70s British politics, and a lot of the scenes with Wilson himself are too goofy), it nonetheless avoids almost all of the pitfalls a lot of alternate history has.

Namely, it’s a proper story, not a “get right to the good stuff in a six paragraph infodump” shortcut. It’s also an example of using research to help a story rather than using the story to show off the research. And by choosing an “implausible” divergence, it makes the reseach good anyway. Highly recommended.

This is a short World War III tank story featuring the often-underappreciated Bundeswehr. Smith struggles to overcome his wargaming “I must list everything” detail, but he makes a legitimate and good effort to make a proper story. The result was a good time-passer for me. It’s not a classic, but it doesn’t have to be. Recommended as a “cheap thriller”.

This is another short military fiction tale by a wargame designer. This is a good what-if to answer the ever-present “what if the Gulf War Iraqis were more compenent” question. It’s short and the main character is a little too Mary Sueish, but that’s understandable given the point the author is trying to make. Also recommended as a cheap thriller.

This is a terrible, wretched, creepy melodramatic fraud sold as a genuine World War II memoir. Even without historical inaccuracies, it’s a clear modern fake. The monstrous “Wehrabooism” (at one point the main character comes face to face with a literal ASIATIC HORDESMAN)  turns it from simply bad to creepy-bad.

The main character has the situational awareness to see huge tank battles, which always happen at close range in plain sight and always involve tanks and vehicles exploding and flying through the air in massive fireballs. The action is so over the top it becomes dull and predictable. Not recommended.