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Honorary Alternate History

Aznavour

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#1
Ever seen an old book, tv show or movie try to describe events a couple of decades in the future, only to have history take a completely different turn, so we end up with things like the Soviet Union still being a thing in the Star Trek and Clarke's 2001 series? If so, you might have just found yourself with some good ole fashioned Honorary Alternate History, basically what we call Speculative Fiction writers who throw the dice and get snake eyes.

Some cases, like the background worldbuilding in Star Trek might be subtle, and you'll probably miss a lot, since many hints are dropped in forgettable episodes. But if you know how to look and piece together the pieces, you can tell that history diverged somewhat early, since we have Nuclear Orbital Weapons in the 1960s (Assignment Earth), Genetically-Engineered Supermen being created sometime in the 20th Century and taking over during the 90s (Space Seed), the Greek Gods being aliens (Who Mourns for Adonais) and figures like Leonardo da Vinci in fact being an immortal sumerian named Flint (Requiem for Methuselah)

An example of the opposite, a work that looks at a hypothetical future exclusively, most likely because the author has an ideological ax to grind, can be found in Anthony Burgess' 1985, in which evil Labour Unions (a big concern of 1970s UK) have taken over the United Kingdom and are turning it into a syndicalist dystopia, as so are less evil, but still evil, Muslim Immigrants, who are slowly converting Good Old Christian England. Also, prince Charles becomes King after an evil General Strike. The book was written a year before Thatcher was elected to power.



And now, since we like talking about our favorite examples of the genre, here are two examples I found pretty interesting:


Patlabor.jpg

One is the setting of the Patlabor franchise, based on a manga from the 1980s, and which includes an show, OVAs, movies and a live action movie/series or two. The manga, which started in 1988, imagines the 1998-2002 era as one in which global warming is taken more seriously, giant robots called "Labors" are commonly employed in construction and both the police and the military have also started to use them, as drunken construction workers or criminals hijacking the robots are quite a problem, particulary in Tokyo Bay, where the aforementioned Global Warming issue and rising sea levels have led to Japan implementing a plan to fill up the bay in a massive land reclamation project, a la the Netherlands, called the Babylon Project.

In addition to a seemingly surviving Soviet Union, which also has military labors, we have things such as enviromental terrorists attacking the land reclamation project, Japanese military labors in a UN Peacekeeping mission in 1994 Cambodia gone wrong, some alternate military gear and even the ocassional genetically engineered monstruosity, coup attempt by the JSDF or Private Defense Contractor running rampant with its Military Robots.


crash.jpg

The second is an older example, one I found by coincidence amongst my grandfather's old library. Paul Erdman, one of the fathers of the "Financial Thriller" genre, also a had an unofficial trilogy of sorts exploring the reams of speculative political fiction, in the form of three unconnected thrillers, each exploring the possible end of American Hegemony on a different level.

In the first and most successful book, The Crash of '79, Erdman imagines a world in which the Shah takes that very fancy military hardware the USA has been providing him over the years and uses it to conquer the Persian Gulf and restore the old Persian Empire, in the aptly named "Operation Sassanid". But before he does so, he enlists the help of an independent Jewish scientist to build himself a nuclear arsenal. But because in one scene the Shah reveals himself to be anti-semitic and to have less than good intentions towards Israel once he's done conquering the Arabs, the Jewish Scientists is persuaded by his Friend in the Mossad to turn the Shah's bombs into Dirty Bombs by lacing them with Cobalt, instead of the cleaner bombs that would have allowed the Shah to nuke the Arabian armies but keep the oil fields.

End result is that the Shah falls in 1979, the Persian Gulf's Oil Fields are radioactive for 100 years or so, and an Oil Shock cripples the world economy, to the degree in which the Soviet Union is the dominant world power, and things like commercial aviation and martinis are a rarity.

Silly in parts, but because it predicted the year the Shah would fall, and the oil shock, it was praised.

Slightly sillier, but just as interesting, is his next book, The Last Days of America. Long story short, Franz Josef Strauss is elected Chancellor of West Germany of 1985, enlist the help of an American Defense Contractor undergoing bankruptcy to develop Cruise Missiles capable of reaching the Soviet Union and giving Germany its own deterrence (the nukes they developed separately) and by the end of the book, not only is NATO gone, but America is effectively retreating from all its alliances. Still, less dystopic than the last one.

And even less dystopic is the very last one, The Panic of '89, based on the debt default crises of the 80s, in which three unnamed South American Nations plot to wreack havoc on the US economy through the use of their debts, only to be foiled by the protagonist (the only one in the trilogy to actually accomplish anything) and some help from the Soviet Union, IIRC. Overall the weaker, not because of the happy ending or anything, it's just less gripping and the plot is more finance-focused than the last two.




Do you have any examples that come to mind? Any favorites?
 
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varyar

Well-known member
Patreon supporter
Location
Western New York
#2
Paul Kennedy's (excellent, in general) book Rise and Fall of the Great Powers had the double misfortune of coming out a couple years before the 1980s tropes of Rise of Superpower Japan and USSR Keeps On Trucking popped. Kennedy didn't really over-emphasize either possibility (and IIRC recognized the growing cracks in the Soviet edifice), but it still has a 'the future that might have been' feel to it.
 

The Red

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#3
The 1987 ABC miniseries Amerika is a personal favourite, perhaps not the pinnacle of the resurgence of invasion media that went on during the Reagan-era but certainly the most dedicated to it. The scenario is set in the year 1997, a decade after the Soviet Union bloodlessly defeated the United States using an EMP, and it takes itself far more seriously than anything with that premise should. It was made in reaction to the far better TV movie The Day After, which depicts the slightly more realistic scenario of the two superpowers nuking each other into near oblivision, as a sort of "other side of the argument" take on the potential risks of Soviet domination but bizarrely nothing depicted comes close to what's involved in the material it's reacting to. Unless you count long-winded dialogue scenes about what it means to be American as worse than radiation sickness, and there are moments in the miniseries where it is hard to decide between the two.
 
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#4
I was thinking about this a couple weeks ago, because I spotted an example in Liu Cixin's excellent Three-Body Problem books, which were only translated into English recently but were originally written in the late 2000s.

The first two are set in the near future, and one of the world's most prominent figures is Rey Diaz, a fictional successor to Hugo Chavez. Apparently, he continued the Bolivarian Revolution to such successes that the United States invaded to suppress the Venezuelan model of socialism, and then bled the Americans dry in a guerrilla war. By the second book he's so respected as a strategic thinker that he's one of the four people granted extraordinary powers to stave off the alien threat.

Somehow, I can't see the same thing happening to Nicolas Maduro.
 

Skinny87

It Has Been ZERO Days Since I Mentioned John Major
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
#7
Pretty much every single technothriller is this to a minor degree-take some "ten seconds into the future" timeframe and add a gimzo that frequently was canceled/speculative/turned out to be something different/was impossible in real life.
[The Franco-German Confederation launches a desperate last-ditch nuclear attack against the American carrier group guarding a convoy taking British and American troops to Gdansk to stop the Confederation before it can be reinforced by a Russian hardliner coup]
 

Bruno

Weird Writer
Published by SLP
Location
Ottawa
#8
Most of the Clive Cussler novels that came out in the 80's and 90's are laughingly ridiculous in hindsight:

Night Probe (written in 1981 but taking place in 1989) has, in no particular order, an America in economic freefall, oil supplies at critical low levels, a newly independent Quebec, Canada the sole supplier of electricity for 15 US states, and the discovery (in Quebec waters, natch) of a massive oil field. Fortunately for the Americans, a secret treaty is discovered that indicated that the United Kingdom sold Canada to the US back in 1914, so this means that Canada is technically a US state and has been for 75 years (errr...yeah, just yeah). So AMERICA UBER-ALLES...except that there's only two copies of the treaty and both are, naturally, located in inaccessible underwater wrecks. So cue the Americans, British and Canadians all running around to be the first to get their hands in the treaty. Oh, and the Canadian Prime Minister's wife is having an affair with the traitorous Quebec separatist leader.

Cyclops (written in 1986, takes place in early-90's) has a covert group of U.S. industrialists putting a colony on the moon, which gets the Soviets threatening a nuclear war.

Dragon (written 1991, takes place 1993) starts off in 1945, where a B-29 bomber carrying (the secret) third nuclear bomb to Japan is shot down over the sea off the coast of Japan. In 1993, terrorists want to restore Japan's former glory by taking out the United States economy by planting nuclear bombs.
 

Elektronaut

Fresh Prince of Benwell
#11
Night Probe (written in 1981 but taking place in 1989) has, in no particular order, an America in economic freefall, oil supplies at critical low levels, a newly independent Quebec, Canada the sole supplier of electricity for 15 US states, and the discovery (in Quebec waters, natch) of a massive oil field. Fortunately for the Americans, a secret treaty is discovered that indicated that the United Kingdom sold Canada to the US back in 1914, so this means that Canada is technically a US state and has been for 75 years (errr...yeah, just yeah). So AMERICA UBER-ALLES...except that there's only two copies of the treaty and both are, naturally, located in inaccessible underwater wrecks. So cue the Americans, British and Canadians all running around to be the first to get their hands in the treaty. Oh, and the Canadian Prime Minister's wife is having an affair with the traitorous Quebec separatist leader.
What the fu
 

Bruno

Weird Writer
Published by SLP
Location
Ottawa
#12
Hahahah, and I thought his Titanic book was silly,
The Night Probe book is literally the only book of his I actually finished, mostly because of morbid curiosity of just how many things he can possibly get wrong about Canada in one book.

Incidentally, the retired British secret agent that's activated to retrieve the treaty from the Americans is heavily implied to be...James Bond.
 

Md139115

You have not even begun to grasp the madness
#13
I think his more recent novels are half-decent and...


Ok, I can’t convincingly write “more grounded” but at least they revel in the madness of it all more.
 

Bruno

Weird Writer
Published by SLP
Location
Ottawa
#15
The 1987 ABC miniseries Amerika is a personal favourite, perhaps not the pinnacle of the resurgence of invasion media that went on during the Reagan-era but certainly the most dedicated to it. The scenario is set in the year 1997, a decade after the Soviet Union bloodlessly defeated the United States using an EMP, and it takes itself far more seriously than anything with that premise should. It was made in reaction to the far better TV movie The Day After, which depicts the slightly more realistic scenario of the two superpowers nuking each other into near oblivision, as a sort of "other side of the argument" take on the potential risks of Soviet domination but bizarrely nothing depicted comes close to what's involved in the material it's reacting to. Unless you count long-winded dialogue scenes about what it means to be American as worse than radiation sickness, and there are moments in the miniseries where it is hard to decide between the two.
Ironically, much of the mini-series was filmed in Canada, which I always found hilarious.

There was a novelization of the miniseries that filled in the gaps of what was happening in the rest of the world and there's a persistent rumour that the reason why the miniseries ended on such a big bummer in the climax was that, if the miniseries had gotten great ratings, it would have sparked an actual tv series of the resistance rebuilding itself.
 

Tovarich

a sinking dumpling. He/Him.
#18
The Night Probe book is literally the only book of his I actually finished, mostly because of morbid curiosity of just how many things he can possibly get wrong about Canada in one book.

Incidentally, the retired British secret agent that's activated to retrieve the treaty from the Americans is heavily implied to be...James Bond.
Not the author's fault, writing in 1981, but that trick probably can't be pulled off as well as in 'The Rock', with heavily-implied James Bond actually played by, er, James Bond.

In purely print form, my favourite was the novella '1966 & All That'.
An undiscovered amateur film proving the third goal didn't cross the line is tracked down by heavily-implied James Bond; a Scottish Hearts fan, still seething with resentment over disparagement from his English 'Old School Tie' colleagues who knew sod-all about footie.

A kidnap & ransoming of Graham Kelly (then FA chief executive) is abandoned on the basis that nobody wants him back that much.
However, heavily-implied Bond manages to take the Jules Rimet trophy itself, blackmailing FIFA into ordering a replay of the match by all the surviving England & West German squads, most of whom are pushing 70.
England take a total tonking, probably because Bobby Moore was already dead and reserve Jimmy Greave wasn't.