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Alternate history

This article deals with the genre of fiction commonly known as alternate history. For the branch of history that deals academically with speculative alternate histories, see Virtual history.

Alternate history is a type of science fiction in which the basic premise is that some specific historical event never happened, or happened differently (compare future history). Stories set in a future which has since come and passed (such as George Orwell's 1984) are not alternate history.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Published Alternate Histories
3 Online Alternate Histories
4 See also
5 External link


Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

Currently the most prolific practitioner of this type of fiction is Harry Turtledove, whose books include a series in which the South did not lose the American Civil War. Other stories by this author include the premise that America had not been colonised from Asia during the last Ice Age; as a result, the continent still has living mammoths and prehuman species. See also steampunk.

The earliest example of alternate history appears to be Book IX, sections 17-19, of the Livy's History of Rome from Its Foundation. He contemplates the possibility of Alexander the Great expanding his father's empire westward instead of east, and attacking Rome in the 4th century BC. (Livy was a patriotic Roman -- Alexander loses.)

In "The Forfeited Birthright of the Abortive Far Western Christian Civilization," Arnold J. Toynbee describes a world in which the Franks lost to the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732.

Winston Churchill wrote an essay entitled "If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg" that considers what sort of world would have resulted if the North had won the American Civil War -- from the point of view of a historian in a world where the Confederacy had won.

The key change between our history and the alternative history is known as the "Point of divergence"(POD)." In Philip K. Dick's "Man in the High Castle", the POD is the attempted assassination of Franklin Roosevelt in Miami in 1933. In our reality, this attempt failed. In Dick's novel, and in other Nazis-win-the-war scenarios, Roosevelt's death results in an America wracked by the Great Depression and holding tight to its neutrality, thus causing Great Britain to fall. The theory of the multiverse posits that PODs occur every instant, springing off parallel universes for each instance.

Historians also speculate in this manner; this type of speculation is known commonly as counterfactuality. There is considerable debate within the community of historians about the validity and purpose of this type of speculation.

In 1995, The Sidewise Award for Alternate History was established to recognize best Long Form (novels and series) and best short form (stories) within the genres. The award is named for Murray Leinster's story "Sidewise in Time."

For alternate histories which some assert to be factual rather than speculative, see conspiracy theory and historical revisionism.

Published Alternate Histories

Online Alternate Histories

soc.history.what-if is a usenet newsgroup devoted to discussing alternate histories. This newsgroup has spawned a number of interesting alternate timelines:

In online alternate history, the timeline is usually referred to by the abbreviation ATL (Alternate Time Line), as contrasted with OTL (Our Time Line) which refers to real history.

See also

External link