In an earlier article on this blog, I confessed to my love to the niche genre of alternate history. I also reviewed some of my early influences on my writing. It occurred to me afterwards, that a survey of the field would be helpful. (First, I’d recommend the website Urchonia, that lists all things alternate history – it is a terrific reference tool.)
In terms of books, this time around, I’d like to look at how different authors covered off the same narrow topic. For example, in Harry Harrison’s A Rebel in Time (1983), a time traveler goes back in time to supply advanced weaponry to the Confederacy – a Sten Gun. Ultimately, the plot is foiled by another time traveler, a government agent, but all the mucking around with history does succeed in creating a new timeline where the South still loses. In Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South (1992), the weapon of choice is the AK-47 and the time travelers are disaffected South Africans who wish to establish the Confederacy as a future ally. The plot, largely told from the point of view of Robert E. Lee, has all the hallmarks of a Turtledove novel being well researched and believable (if you had a time machine). This time, the South wins the Civil War, largely due to the influence of the AK-47.
Another pairing of narrow alternate history topics concerns the Japanese invasion of Hawaii in the Second World War. (I’ve done this while playing Axis and Allies – it tends to piss off the U.S. player something bad.) The indomitable Harry Turtledove wrote a two-volume series Days of Infamy (2004) and the End of the Beginning (2005.) Both books are meaty and epic in scale with a wide cast of historic and fictional characters. The invasion follows on the same day as the attack on Pearl Harbor. The series makes for satisfying reading. In 1942 (2009) by Robert Conroy, the Japanese invade some months after crippling the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. The novel is rousing enough, also featuring historical and fictional characters aplenty. There is also a heroic band of guerilla fighters (something missing from Turtledove’s novels, whose characters flatly state guerrilla-style resistance is impossible.).
So that’s it for my little episode of compare-and-contrast. I’ll just end it with a reminder that my own two contributions two the genre, Elvis Saves JFK! and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, are available for just $0.99 and $2.99, respectively. Of course, they're both free to preview. Both books are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.