I’ve nominated a bunch of top Alternative History books here. But how does one go about writing in this challenging, but alluring, sub-genre?
Alternative Histories are where the writer changes something in our past and imagines what difference it would make t0 the now divergent timeline. For example, because of the gold rush, Australia in the 1880s was the richest country in the world. But the gold ran out. What if it didn’t? What if today Australia was the richest, most powerful country in the world, dominating politically, economically, technologically, and in the media? What sort of a world would it be?
It’s like dropping a stone into a pond and watching the ripples spread. With Alternative Histories, the longer ago the event was, the further the ripples spread and the more impact they have. Imagine, for instance, if Cleopatra’s navy had defeated the Romans at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC? We could be living in a world where Egypt is the superpower! What would living in an Egyptian world be like?
A good Alternative History looks at the implications of a historical change, but without sacrificing narrative and character. In fact, the changed circumstances can provide a fertile ground for exploring such aspects of story. How would a person behave in a world where the Reformation and Enlightenment didn’t happen, and where religious conformity is paramount? What would be the large-scale, society wide differences? What would be the more intimate, personal differences? In such, narrative grows.
Here are a few scenarios for you to play around with. What would today’s world be like if these changes had happened?
- The east coast of Australia isn’t settled by the British. It’s settled/invaded by the French. Or Chinese. Or a variety of settlers/invaders.
- Early in European settlement, a treaty was signed with the indigenous people.
- A major Australian political or social figure was assassinated.
- Massive Saudi sized oilfields are discovered in Central Australia.
- Rabbits weren’t liberated near Geelong in 1859.
Bonus: here are a few more top notch Alternative History books. Click on the covers for Wikipedia descriptions.
Wikipedia descriptions here: The Peshawar Lancers, Romanitas, Without Warning.
Bonus bonus: Alternative History or Alternate History? Both abound out there in netland, but I’ve gone with Alternative as, strictly, Alternate is used to describe two things taking turn about. Alternative History suggests more than two options, which I like.