Wednesday, December 4, 2013

And now for something a little different: Alternative History

Ready to learn about something (maybe) new today? We're going to learn about Alternative History books, so put on your thinking caps and step into the time machine because things are going to be different than that history class you slept through in high school (or that you adored and never skipped because you're teacher was awesome and or handsome).

(Keeping in mind this is how I think of Alt History so don't take me to task if all of us nerds on the internet disagree with a singular interpretation.) Alt History books are fictional history books,basically. You take one event in history and change it and the world as we know it could be extremely different. Two of the most popular things to change from actual history is: "What if (whoever) had actually won the war?" or "So what if there was some kind of huge natural disaster and...".

In both of these themes technology is a very obvious way to demonstrate changes. In "The Peshawar Lancers" by S.M. Stirling a very scary,very large meteor storm has decimated huge parts of the world. Even thought it's 2021 automobiles are extreme rarities, people are just figuring out airships and the only really practical way  to get around is trains.

 "The Peshawar Lancers" is basically that this huge disaster happened while England basically still ruled the world. They managed to hold on to power and since England was uninhabitable they moved their base of operations to India. (It's not a bad book, but I couldn't get over how they described native Indian women. In all honesty the women weren't really well sketched out, but the worst were the native Indian women who were basically there to have sex with and be all luscious and curvy. While the white women were more ladylike and multidimensional. ANYWAY...)

 (Steam engines factor into a lot of these books so get ready for it to take days to go somewhere and to be as uncomfortable as humanly possible.)

Probably the absolute most used theme for Alt History books is "What if the Nazis had won the war?"
(Friends, we don't need any work of fiction to tell us that that would be a very bad thing. A no good,very bad, totally horrible, super shitty bad thing). What makes it interesting is the different ways it's presented.

"Man in a High Castle" by Philip K Dick tells the story as if Japan and the Nazis win the war and just split America in half. And in the same book he has another alternate history interwoven where the Allies won the war but there were still lots of changes.(Truth alert, I love Philip K Dick, but I read this and was so confused. I didn't know what the heck was going on. I had it's Wikipedia page open while I was reading).

"The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth says that President Lindbergh (yes, airplane Lindbergh) kept America as isolationist because he was a raging anti-Semite Fascist and even enacted very harsh laws against the Jews in America itself.(Another truth alert, Lindbergh made no bones about being pro-fascism and anti-Semitic.) I liked this book because it all sounded creepily realistic.

It's not all goose-stepping Nazi assholes though. In "The Alteration" by Kingsley Amis (great name) the Protestant Reformation barely happened, and Luther was welcomed back into the Roman Catholic church and was made Pope eventually! (Adding to the "to-read" list now...)

I'm kinda new to this genre myself but the daydreamer/history lover in me likes it a bunch.Has anyone else read anything like this?


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