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For All Time

Roberto El Rey

Unelected bureaucrat
Location
Reims
#1
It's almost undeniable that For All Time is one of the most influential pieces of alternate history ever to be posted online. It pioneered the modern dystopia timeline, almost everyone with a real interest in online alternate history has read it at least once, and most can recall specific aspects of the timeline well enough to discuss and compare them with other AH tropes.

And discuss it we do: at least once every week or two, someone brings up For All Time in some context on AH.com. It's been mentioned on the SLP forums many times in their relatively brief history, and many of the posters here have voiced detailed opinions on the timeline. Someone has already posted a thread here for Gordon Banks, another classic work of online AH, so I figured it'd be good idea to post a thread where SLP users can voice the aforementioned opinions in conversation with each other.

I'll start us out by reproducing some messages that have been posted on SLP about For All Time:


I wouldn't call it the worst on its own, but I've considered "For All Time" to be one of the most negatively influential TLs in terms of inspiring pointless mega-dystopias.
That's exactly my feeling. Everything bad in contemporary AH is a sloppy attempt at FaTing. For All Time is interesting because it addresses just how much had to be done to create the orderly and prosperous postwar world, but most people miss the theme in favor of the atrocity porn. Things like the mass cannibalism and nuclear weapons being used constantly aren't really the highlight, they're the payoff for a whole series of plausibly unpleasant events.
I don't really see how For All Time can be considered complicit in AH's problem with grimdark, at least not any more than Eric Blair can be blamed for dreadful reality TV shows. A TL writer whose stated aim was to make everything go as badly as possible would definitely raise more suspicion today than it would back in the days of Usenet but it's a genuinely inventive and original work at the same time, especially for one that started out as a TL about the Second World War.
No, I agree. It was a great idea and there's some real gems in there. It's laziness and failure to think ideas through that are to blame for its crappy derivatives.
I think that the inventiveness and originality of the work is amplified by the fact that it was written way back in online AH's early days, before most of the AH tropes we know today became entrenched. I didn't even notice a lot of the subtle but very interesting complexities of the work, like the way it almost completely flips postwar diplomacy on its head, until the third or fourth time I read it through. I think it's cool how the author was able to hide them so subtly—after all, in a world where there is no clear, hard postwar dichotomy between East and West, it's not like people would go around mentioning that because they wouldn't think to do so.

Even in For All Time [Barry Goldwater's] presidency was kind of an afterthought. (In that case that was probably the point, though, to show how figures like Goldwater and their cavalier thoughts on Atom Bomb Usage became mainstream in that world)
I think that makes it ironic that For All Time is one of the few pieces of AH fiction I know of in which Goldwater becomes President. I guess because he lost so terribly, it's seen as such a stretch that not many people have bothered. (How long till Yes comes out with "Goldwatering", I wonder?)

I actually had never considered how Goldwater's presidency being an afterthought is probably because of how unremarkable his views would have been in an FaT world. Every time I think about For All Time, I discover (or someone else discovers for me!) a new little tidbit that make the world all the more complex and adds a new angle from which to view the story.

My question is this: would you guys recommend For All Time as a first read to someone who's interested in history but hasn't yet gotten into alternate history? It was basically my first big AH read, and it spurred me to write AH myself, but to other people its grimness might be off-putting. What do you guys think?
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Location
Nu Yawk
#3
Would I recommend it as a first read? Maybe if you know the historical figures in it, some of whom are very obscure.

As for the story itself, I think there's two things that make it stand out from the descendants. There's a sense of sort of "snowballing dominoes" that comes across very well in the early installments as one bad thing after another happens, and it actually feels like a logical (by the story standards) progression. Then the later total nightmare, while gratuitous, is at least a "payoff". In later TLs in contrast it's more often just "A bunch of stuff happens on the author's whim, and it feels like the author's whim" and then "WHAM! Dystopia! "
 

moth

Mothleton
Location
Portsmoth
#4
FAT is a pretty good "what if Wallace became President", but ultimately you see it derail once it became clear that the author began listening to their readers to make it more and more grim and extreme. I agree with @Coiler that it does do the snowballing dominoes and that does come off well, and even the later stuff, when it goes off the rails, at feels consistent, but it still went off the rails.

It's a lot better than people give it credit for, but also a great case of "why you need to preplanned endpoint".
 

Skinny87

It Has Been ZERO Days Since I Mentioned John Major
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
#5
Where do you actually find FAT? I've seen it discussed so often but never a link. Is it still online somewhere?
 

Roberto El Rey

Unelected bureaucrat
Location
Reims
#8
FAT is a pretty good "what if Wallace became President", but ultimately you see it derail once it became clear that the author began listening to their readers to make it more and more grim and extreme. I agree with @Coiler that it does do the snowballing dominoes and that does come off well, and even the later stuff, when it goes off the rails, at feels consistent, but it still went off the rails.

It's a lot better than people give it credit for, but also a great case of "why you need to preplanned endpoint".
Is that why you say Oh Lord no? Because of the lack of a planned endpoint? If so, I can kind of see your point. For anyone who isn't a misanthropic sadist (like most of us are), the grimness toward the end of For All Time might even turn some potential AHers off in disgust, by making them think that's what AH is all about: horribly screwing the world over. And, to an extent, that really does seem to be a lot of posters' idea of alternate history.

As for the story itself, I think there's two things that make it stand out from the descendants. There's a sense of sort of "snowballing dominoes" that comes across very well in the early installments as one bad thing after another happens, and it actually feels like a logical (by the story standards) progression.
I think the best part of FaT is the 1960s, because it strikes the best balance between believability and negativity. Up until that point, the tone of the story is reasonably subdued and realistic, and the world has clearly taken a negative turn but hasn't become a dystopia quite yet. I think that makes it more believable because, while most people will have hard time believing that a Henry Wallace presidency could conceivably have resulted in state-sponsored cannibalism in Europe and President Jim Jones by the 1970s, anyone who knows a little about history will be willing to believe that the world was one ill-timed stroke away from having a stalled Civil Rights Movement, the lack of a nuclear taboo and a continental Europe almost completely devoid of democracy by the 1960s.

Then the later total nightmare, while gratuitous, is at least a "payoff". In later TLs in contrast it's more often just "A bunch of stuff happens on the author's whim, and it feels like the author's whim" and then "WHAM! Dystopia! "
Definitely. I think you and @Burton K Wheeler are right about FaT's influence being partly responsible for the deluge of unrealistic dystopias we see all over the place now. The subtleties and complexities that make For All Time work so well are hidden beneath the surface, meaning that potential AHers can skim it through once, miss the whole bit about the buildup and payoff, and assume that the way to write a good AH is just to make things as terrible as possible without regard to plausibility, and come out with exactly the sort of timeline you mention: one in which a bunch of terrible stuff happens without true justification, leading to a dystopia that's not at all interesting or satisfying to read about.

I think Losing the Peace on AH.com is a prime example of this. It starts with a similar POD--a 1940s President suddenly dying--and proceeds to throw the postwar world off-kilter. But whereas For All Time arrives at its dystopia through baby steps, Losing the Peace turns the grimdark up to 11 almost immediately, with everyone being inexplicably horrible to each other right off the bat. As a result, there's no buildup of "snowballing dominoes", as you put it, and consequently no "payoff" of realizing you're in a dystopia. That, coupled with some serious plausibiltiy issues, makes it an almost dull read in which everything always goes wrong not because it's plausible, but because the author felt like it. It's like staging a performance of King Lear in which the titular King is insane right from Act I, rather than showing him slowly lose his grip on reality. It would completely ruin the point of the story.

Where do you actually find FAT? I've seen it discussed so often but never a link. Is it still online somewhere?
You can read an incomplete version: Here

Further updates that do complete it can be found: Here, Here, Here, and Here
Most of it is available here on AH.com. The last parts aren't up and those link that moth provided don't work anymore, but I have them saved away on a PDF that I'll upload later today.
 
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Skinny87

It Has Been ZERO Days Since I Mentioned John Major
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
#9
@Roberto El Rey Cheers for that

Is this another situation where we don't know the author? Or like Gordon Banks where the author can be figured put, but is in a public position where they wouldn't want to be identified?
 

moth

Mothleton
Location
Portsmoth
#10
Is that why you say Oh Lord no? Because of the lack of a planned endpoint? If so, I can kind of see your point. For anyone who isn't a misanthropic sadist (like most of us are), the grimness toward the end of For All Time might even turn some potential AHers off in disgust, by making them think that's what AH is all about: horribly screwing the world over. And, to an extent, that really does seem to be a lot of posters' idea of alternate history.
I say "Oh Lord no" because it's like giving Watchman to a first time Comic Book Reader, if that makes sense. It sets the wrong idea of what AH is and can be, which can be seen in how it was the first TL for a lot of people, making it ultimately a negative in the community because of the idea is set on what AH could be.
 

Roberto El Rey

Unelected bureaucrat
Location
Reims
#11
@Roberto El Rey Cheers for that

Is this another situation where we don't know the author? Or like Gordon Banks where the author can be figured put, but is in a public position where they wouldn't want to be identified?
The author joined AH.com as gentboss last year. He even started a Reddit-style "AMA" thread for For All Time recently, although he hasn't written on it in a couple of months.

I say "Oh Lord no" because it's like giving Watchman to a first time Comic Book Reader, if that makes sense. It sets the wrong idea of what AH is and can be, which can be seen in how it was the first TL for a lot of people, making it ultimately a negative in the community because of the idea is set on what AH could be.
I've never read Watchmen and I'm not a comic book reader, but I think I know what you mean. If Johnny Pez's Drowned Baby timeline, which has a decidedly positive tone, had taken FaT's place as the most influential, I wonder if we'd see more optimistic-looking timelines on this site. I honestly can't think of very many positive timelines that have been completed recently. I guess if we were more in the habit of imagining how the world could have been better than it is, we'd just feel more and more insecure and sad about the problems in OTL. Maybe grimdark dystopias make us feel lucky by comparison.
 

Jared

Voldemort Junior
Location
Over the rainbow
#12
I've never read Watchmen and I'm not a comic book reader, but I think I know what you mean. If Johnny Pez's Drowned Baby timeline, which has a decidedly positive tone, had taken FaT's place as the most influential, I wonder if we'd see more optimistic-looking timelines on this site. I honestly can't think of very many positive timelines that have been completed recently. I guess if we were more in the habit of imagining how the world could have been better than it is, we'd just feel more and more insecure and sad about the problems in OTL. Maybe grimdark dystopias make us feel lucky by comparison.
Speaking as someone who was around in the heydey of soc.history.what-if, including For All Time, I don't actually think that For All Time was the cause of all dystopias. Shwi had an abundance of timelines that were published, many of which are now sadly forgotten or inaccessible. There were positive timelines, neutral and a few dystopic.

I think that For All Time is remembered precisely because it is dystopic, not because it just happened to be the one remembered. There seems to have always been a certain large-ish subgroup of the AH fandom that enjoys dystopias, and so they pursued them ever since. If not For All Time, it would have been another dystopia, then or later. The neutral and positive timelines were around and are sometimes still remembered (Bronze Age New World and Empty America being amongst my personal favourites), but are less influential precisely because they are not dystopic.
 

Roberto El Rey

Unelected bureaucrat
Location
Reims
#15
Those updates won't load Because Google, and I didn't know they existed until now - I thought it ended in 78. Would you mind posting those updates here?
It won't let me now because of a 'banned content' tag :confused:

Sorry.
I will upload a full PDF the moment I get home this afternoon.

Speaking as someone who was around in the heydey of soc.history.what-if, including For All Time, I don't actually think that For All Time was the cause of all dystopias. Shwi had an abundance of timelines that were published, many of which are now sadly forgotten or inaccessible. There were positive timelines, neutral and a few dystopic.

I think that For All Time is remembered precisely because it is dystopic, not because it just happened to be the one remembered. There seems to have always been a certain large-ish subgroup of the AH fandom that enjoys dystopias, and so they pursued them ever since. If not For All Time, it would have been another dystopia, then or later. The neutral and positive timelines were around and are sometimes still remembered (Bronze Age New World and Empty America being amongst my personal favourites), but are less influential precisely because they are not dystopic.
That's very interesting. I guess it says something about the human psyche that our collectively "favorite" timelines are the ones in which we get horribly screwed over as a species.

A lot of SHWI's timelines were archived by Ian, so they're not all totally lost to history. But I think the saddest casualty of the forum's demise is the commentary by users on classic timelines such as FaT. Up until one week before the end of SHWI, I was searching for Chester's original posts on the forum so that I could see the commentary left by other users and how it impacted the development of the story. Overall it did seem that the users were influencing Chet to make it more and more dystopic as it went on.

Being able to see some of the commentary did clear some things up for me, in fact. For example, in the FaT main story there was a guy named Leon Maurer who kept getting referenced. I couldn't find him on Google and assumed he was made up, until I looked at the SHWI threads and realized that he was the father of Noel Maurer, an influential poster back in those days, and that Chet made the man famous as a sop to his son.
 

Skinny87

It Has Been ZERO Days Since I Mentioned John Major
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
#16
The idea of a group consciousness influencing such an influential timeline is fascinating to me, as it seems to be one of the most well-known dystopic timelines

I wonder if any others were inflicted in the same way - Gordon Banks, for example
 

iainbhx

Nichts. Aufhängen und neuwählen.
Moderator
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
#17
The idea of a group consciousness influencing such an influential timeline is fascinating to me, as it seems to be one of the most well-known dystopic timelines

I wonder if any others were inflicted in the same way - Gordon Banks, for example
I think I might have put a couple of minor points into Thaxted mainly around Tom Driberg.
 

Roberto El Rey

Unelected bureaucrat
Location
Reims
#18
I think I might have put a couple of minor points into Thaxted mainly around Tom Driberg.
You were around when Thaxted was first written? Cool. Can you tell me who the one character who's kind of a spy in China but kind of not and who can barely read is? I had no idea when reading it.

Oh, and here's For All Time, in two parts. (I corrected some formatting and spelling errors and added some parts that I discovered in the version on this site).
 

Attachments

#19
You were around when Thaxted was first written? Cool. Can you tell me who the one character who's kind of a spy in China but kind of not and who can barely read is? I had no idea when reading it.

Oh, and here's For All Time, in two parts. (I corrected some formatting and spelling errors and added some parts that I discovered in the version on this site).
Just tried to download/open these, and both failed; is there something off with the pdf, perhaps?
 

Roberto El Rey

Unelected bureaucrat
Location
Reims
#20
Just tried to download/open these, and both failed; is there something off with the pdf, perhaps?
Oh, whoops. There may be something wrong with them. I had them saved on a Pages document, and the software wouldn't allow me to upload that format so I just switched it to pdf. I'll try converting them properly.