Back in May when I attended the Marcon convention in Columbus, I had the good fortune to attend a panel that included the best know writer of Alternate History fiction, Harry Turtledove. Other panelists included authors Eric Flint, S. Andrew Swann and Ross Martinek. The panel was called “Alternatives That Have Not Been Written About” and the group began discussing time periods and historical events that hadn’t been covered by anyone writing Alternate History fiction.
While a great deal of Alternate History fiction out there looks at periods such as World War II, the Civil War, and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the panelists were more interested in looking at periods and events that weren’t a popular target for writers of Alternate History fiction. The idea of this panel was to not just discuss those, but to decide why they weren’t popular and if there might be a time or set of conditions which would make them more popular with writers. They asked how soon was too soon to look at things like the Vietnam War, the 2000 election and 9/11. Or what was too obscure to warrant a publisher saying no to a novel.
One of the first areas discussed was why had World War II become a popular subject and not World War I. Ross Martinek suggested that was partly because “Nazis sell” books. Having a well known, easy enemy that everyone can get behind hating and letting them win the war, makes for some provocative fiction; considering what they did before they lost the war, it’s easy to imagine what would have happened if they’d had the ability to continue on that route. But Harry Turtledove wondered what the world would be like if there had been no rise of the Nazi party. He brought up the fairly untouched subject of alternate histories covering World War I and pondered what would have happened had Germany won that war. He suggested that a victorious post WWI Germany would have experienced an economic boon and prosperity that would have prevented the rise of the Nazi party and fascism in Germany.
That would have meant that physicists like Einstein would not have left Germany, which Turtledove believed would have meant that Germany would have been a contender for getting the atomic bomb first, or flat out would have had the bomb first. This led to a discussion of which side Germany might have been on in WWII and even some talk of whether WWII would have occurred at all. Most of the panelists agreed they’d like to see more alternate history featuring different outcomes of World War I and what people can do with that.
Another topic that came up was the settlement of the new world. Eric Flint brought up Viking settlements taking hold in the new world. He believed that would have given Native American populations more time to acclimate to European diseases and cultural differences. This may have led to small pox not being able to decimate the Native American population and easier relations with early settlers. Or had that not happened what if the US had lost the Revolutionary War? The consensus ended up being that losing this war wouldn’t have made a huge difference to the US in the long run. We would have simply been under British rule longer. Some pointed to Canada as an example of how things might have gone for us, since they never went to war with Britain and eventually became an independent country.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to Alternate history fiction. What would you like to read or write about?