• Hi Guest!

    The costs of running this forum are covered by Sea Lion Press. If you'd like to help support the company and the forum, visit patreon.com/sealionpress

Interviewing the AH Community: Alex Wallace of 'Alternate History Online'

Alex Richards

She needs an artificial Mountain, not AV
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#4
Lovely little read. I was interested in the commentary around DC: as a non-American, I admit that I have always thought of Arlington as a graveyard rather than a place people live. 'The city is a land of the living, not just the dead' is an excellent phrase.
I'll admit I think the fact that I came across Arlington as 'Independent city in Virginia' or noted it on a map before I took even the slight interest in the American Civil War that I do have probably puts me as an outlier here.
 

napoleon IV

Fanfiction Deep State
Location
Washington, Douglass Commonwealth
Pronouns
he/him
#5
My big problem with AH's focus on elections is that it often doesn't extend to governing. In the past a lot of TLs would simply skip everything that happened in between elections, and while this thankfully has gone away there still doesn't seem to be as much interest in what happens after the election is over. This reinforces the idea that politics is essentially a sports match and ignores the truly interesting and impactful part of the process.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
#6
My big problem with AH's focus on elections is that it often doesn't extend to governing. In the past a lot of TLs would simply skip everything that happened in between elections, and while this thankfully has gone away there still doesn't seem to be as much interest in what happens after the election is over. This reinforces the idea that politics is essentially a sports match and ignores the truly interesting and impactful part of the process.
The "broad but shallow" way in which a lot of online AH has developed has really hurt political TLs. Basically, it's suited for a "narrow but deep" where you know one figure, put them into a position of greater power in a believable (I don't like using plausible) way, and do a researched and studied example of how they'd behave in office and how much effect they'd truly have. One of the reasons why Agent Lavender worked was because it did this approach and worked even with an admittedly out-there divergence-look at how little change for the sake of change there was.

Instead a lot of it goes for "broad but shallow", where names can be easily fished out of Wikipedia without really getting them or trying to use a bigger point besides "here they are", there are a lot of what feel like changes for the sake of changes (sometimes to big excess), but it's nothing below the surface. And the word "sports match" seems extra-relevant because that kind of "move names and outcomes around" is just as prominent, if not even worse, in online sports AH.
 
Last edited:

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
he/him
#7
This is why possibly my favourite bit of Political AH is @Sideways 'who shall speak to England' because it's about how decisions at the top radicalise people at the bottom.

The story is about four young people who grow up in a world where the overton window is far to the right. And it ends when one of those people gets into power, because that's the point. It's all about policies and how those policies change lives. Ed Costello's 'Darling Buds Express' does similar and I also loved that.

I don't think all political AH has to do that, there's a place for the short biographies of a list of leaders type AH (Sealion Press has published 4 or 5 of those and I own all of them, I think they can be very interesting in making points about political trends if the author has an idea of what they want to say) but it is an effective style in terms of showing the results of policies.

Alex's 'yearning to breathe' does something similar of course. Of looking at the effects of policies from the ground view.
 

SpanishSpy

Well-known member
#8
Lovely little read. I was interested in the commentary around DC: as a non-American, I admit that I have always thought of Arlington as a graveyard rather than a place people live. 'The city is a land of the living, not just the dead' is an excellent phrase.
It's something that happens whenever the broader world discusses the area; it's the government and dead people and little else, and oftentimes they don't even bother getting the location right.

One of the planes on 9/11 hit Arlington, not Washington.

I'll admit I think the fact that I came across Arlington as 'Independent city in Virginia' or noted it on a map before I took even the slight interest in the American Civil War that I do have probably puts me as an outlier here.
A nitpick - Arlington is actually a county, not an independent city. In that, it's a municipal abnormality in a state filled with municipal abnormalities. We are the size of a city, though, and if we were one we'd be the fourth largest in Virginia. Our County Board does what a mayor and city council would do in the rest of the state.

This happened because we were once Alexandria County combined with what is now the adjacent City of Alexandria. When Alexandria was spun off to be an independent city, the rest of it remained Alexandria County. The situation of Alexandria City and Alexandria County right next to each other was rightly considered confusing, and as such the legislature in Richmond renamed Alexandria County to Arlington County, which it retains to this day.

This is why possibly my favourite bit of Political AH is @Sideways 'who shall speak to England' because it's about how decisions at the top radicalise people at the bottom.

The story is about four young people who grow up in a world where the overton window is far to the right. And it ends when one of those people gets into power, because that's the point. It's all about policies and how those policies change lives. Ed Costello's 'Darling Buds Express' does similar and I also loved that.

I don't think all political AH has to do that, there's a place for the short biographies of a list of leaders type AH (Sealion Press has published 4 or 5 of those and I own all of them, I think they can be very interesting in making points about political trends if the author has an idea of what they want to say) but it is an effective style in terms of showing the results of policies.

Alex's 'yearning to breathe' does something similar of course. Of looking at the effects of policies from the ground view.
My favorite of this sort of AH is @Callan 's Presidential, which takes that format and makes something very human out of it. It's that human factor that I think so much electoral AH is lacking in.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
#9
It amazes me that online alternate history has now been around long enough that it's possible to take a historical perspective to it, its growth, evolution, etc. The first iteration of what would become AH.com was founded 20 years ago, before many of its current members were born.

Lovely little read. I was interested in the commentary around DC: as a non-American, I admit that I have always thought of Arlington as a graveyard rather than a place people live. 'The city is a land of the living, not just the dead' is an excellent phrase.
It seems that a certain brand of nationalism--not just in the US--tacitly deplores that their country has actual living people in it. With their pesky aspirations they keep pulling the country ever further away from the idealized past.
 

SpanishSpy

Well-known member
#10
It seems that a certain brand of nationalism--not just in the US--tacitly deplores that their country has actual living people in it. With their pesky aspirations they keep pulling the country ever further away from the idealized past.
I wonder if this in the US has to do with how the capital was never the cultural center in the way that New York or Los Angeles are. Going from that, I'd be interested to see if Ottawa or Canberra or Brasilia have to deal with similar.

It also renders us as being 'ahistoric' in the eyes of outsiders. One of the big things locally right now is the lumbering specter of Amazon's HQ2 in Arlington, and they've been trying to brand the neighborhood they're in as 'National Landing.' That neighborhood will always be Pentagon City to us locals.
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
he/him
#11
It amazes me that online alternate history has now been around long enough that it's possible to take a historical perspective to it, its growth, evolution, etc. The first iteration of what would become AH.com was founded 20 years ago, before many of its current members were born.
One of the most fun elements of this for me, is I've only been talking about AH online for 6 years, some people have been doing that for 30. And it's kind of fun to talk to guys who were involved in these projects and forums which I'd never really heard of.

I've got the next 8 interviews finished and another 2 where I'm waiting for replies and while a lot of the projects covered are relatively tangential to that online community (the next article is about historical storytelling in the live mic scene), enough isn't that you learn about all this deep lore, and that's fun.

There's also the fact that, as I keep saying, this is a relatively close nit group, so even with their main projects being elsewhere they all have a presence here, they mostly had a presence on ah.com etc so a lot of the stories are intertwined. If I manage to talk more to guys in AH podcasting, steampunk, deviant art map making communities, and reddit ah subs and the like who don't know this site from adam, you'd probably find parallel communities with their own deep lore, which would be exciting.

I don't know how much everyone is enjoying it, but I really am loving this interview series. It's very different to our normal articles but everyone has been so enthusiastic in reply.
 
#12
The origins of AH go back a long way; the first example of it that I have come across is in the late C1st BC Roman historian Livy's history of Rome, written when Augustus was Emperor, where he speculates about what could have happened if Alexander the Great had not died aged 32 in June 323 BC but carried out his apparent plan to attack Carthage and then come to the aid of Southern Greek Italian colonies who were being threatened by local inland native tribes- and at a greater distance by Rome. (In the 320s BC Rome only ruled as far S as Campania, and was fighting over the region inland from Naples with the local hill-tribe coalition, the Sambites). This topic, with the prospects for Alexander's huge and by then part-Persian army fighting Rome, is covered - in general terms and with a patriotic bias about the manly and stern Romans fighting off a horde of quarrelsome Greeks and effete Orientals thanks to their superior elite's moral virtues and fighting skills - is covered in Livy, History of Rome, book 9, chapters 17-19: in the 1982 Penguin Classics edition, pages 238-44. Notably he sniffs that the skilled and determined Roman generals who saw off the ferocious Samnites in the OTl 320s plus their steadfast warriors would have seen off the over-praised, increasingly tyrannical and slack Alexander who only had to fight poorly-trained and subservient Persians not heroic and resilient Romans.

I also came across an OTL article on Alexander surviving to the age of c. 80 or Philip II surviving to an equivalent age in a book by historian Arnold Toynbee, which referenced Livy, in university in the late 1970s; the concept of AH was around by then, if not seen as respectable by academics, and I had been writing it myself (with no idea of its past history) at school, again featuring Rome. My original text for my current Sealion blog goes back to that era, though it was refined a lot later; the 'Marcus Aurelius' section was done when I was about 17.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
#15
I wonder if this in the US has to do with how the capital was never the cultural center in the way that New York or Los Angeles are. Going from that, I'd be interested to see if Ottawa or Canberra or Brasilia have to deal with similar.
For Ottawa, you'll need to ask @Bruno . Now this raises an interesting question, what would it have taken for Washington D.C. to become the American Saint Petersburg?
 
#16
Good interview.

Ottawa's locally known as "The City that Fun Forgot". As a cultural centre it's long been overshadowed by Toronto and Montreal, and perhaps Vancouver and Calgary as well. Yes, the national museums are here, and there are normally all sorts of festivals, but Toronto's got the sole MLB team, it's got the hockey team that the broadcasters favor, it's where the big film festival is, it's where the national music awards were long handed out, where the CBC's broadcast centre is, the relatively iconic skyline, etc.

Some provincial capitals probably feel the same way - Victoria, Quebec, and Edmonton, at least.
 

Bruno

Weird Writer
Published by SLP
Location
Ottawa
#17
For Ottawa, you'll need to ask @Bruno . Now this raises an interesting question, what would it have taken for Washington D.C. to become the American Saint Petersburg?
Only way I can see that happening is if New York or Boston got burned down or something and was never rebuilt. The impression I've always had of DC was that it was always a government town first and that's coloured its impact onwards.

Good interview.

Ottawa's locally known as "The City that Fun Forgot". As a cultural centre it's long been overshadowed by Toronto and Montreal, and perhaps Vancouver and Calgary as well. Yes, the national museums are here, and there are normally all sorts of festivals, but Toronto's got the sole MLB team, it's got the hockey team that the broadcasters favor, it's where the big film festival is, it's where the national music awards were long handed out, where the CBC's broadcast centre is, the relatively iconic skyline, etc.

Some provincial capitals probably feel the same way - Victoria, Quebec, and Edmonton, at least.
Yeah, as an ex-Montrealer, Ottawa was always considered pretty much a joke by people in the big cultural important areas. It also doesn't help that one of the reasons that Ottawa was chosen as the permanent capital was because both Toronto and Montreal had a distressing habit of burning down the Parliament buildings whenever it was located in their cities.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
#18
It also doesn't help that one of the reasons that Ottawa was chosen as the permanent capital was because both Toronto and Montreal had a distressing habit of burning down the Parliament buildings whenever it was located in their cities.
I've always felt that making the country's largest city also the national capital helps keep the government on its toes for that very reason: if popular discontent gets bad enough, the people can just march up and storm the seats of power. That's more difficult to do if the capital is a distant purpose-built city.