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Least favorite alt-history story?

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
What are some signs of bad AH? Not trying to point to a specific TL or anything, just asking.
Well, for narrative stories the same problems a bad non-alternate history story would have. If the In The Presence of Mine Enemies novel was set in the present instead of a German WW2 Victory-Land and had some other secret for the main characters, it'd still be a clunky mess of one bridge game after another with the actual plot taking forever to get going.

For TLs, well, to me...

-Dragging on too long. A lot of the best TLs and stories wrap up after a certain time. Continuing past such a stopping point almost always means trouble. The writer didn't plan for it, or the butterflies or lack of butterflies become visible, or it feels more contrived...

-Having "shocking" events happening for (sometimes dystopian) shock value. The late-For All Time scenario of having some OTL monster criminal become an ATL political leader happens waaay too often.

-On the other side of the coin, choosing political leaders from a list of bland, pseudo-safe OTL also-rans so that it's "plausible". It's uninspired and can actually feel implausible, especially several election cycles down the line.

-Writing in a way that makes the pseudo-textbook TL style look like it's being used not to add detail, but to avoid detail. Instead of a long detailed one that can be used to flesh out details without having to worry about a narrative, an update is too often a short post that feels like it's trying to tell a narrative without having to put in the effort to make plot or characters.
 

Sulemain

Raise Your Fist, 95th!
Location
Coventry
What are some signs of bad AH? Not trying to point to a specific TL or anything, just asking.
For me, if you're writing a story with aspirations to be serious, people and events must make sense within the legal, moral and technological confines of the setting you've created.

Like, say you write something about the 1848 Revolutions in Europe. Having Louis-Napoleon fail in his political aspirations is an achievable thing, and you could easily write a "2nd Republic survives" TL.

But having say, Louis-Phillipe be a less conservative king and thus avoiding the whole mess requires a whole 'nother kettle of fish. I mean, if you want to write an "Enlightened Liberal Constitutional Monarchy" world, go ahead, but be prepared to work hard to justify it.
 

d32123

Well-known member
Location
Seattle
What are some signs of bad AH? Not trying to point to a specific TL or anything, just asking.
People just failing to understand how the world works. I chalk this up a lot to how history is taught and written about, but so many people who write and discuss alternate history seem to have extremely poor understanding of things like logistics, institutions, technology, economics, and social movements. Instead we get a prevalence of great man history, pop history, and parallelism with authors ignoring huge swaths of the most important parts of the human story.

A big symptom of this are "political" timelines that focus entirely on elections and very little on their actual consequences. Just moving from result to result. You might as well write a sports timeline that just lists scores. Or a military timeline that just lists the victors of battles. I don't really give a shit who the Governor of South Dakota is if you aren't going to tell me why I should.
 

napoleon IV

Rabotnik i Parazit
What are some signs of bad AH? Not trying to point to a specific TL or anything, just asking.
A couple of examples:

1. Not doing the necessary research: There's a lot of TLs where you can tell that most of the research was reading Wikipedia. You don't need to have PhD to write a good TL, but for example a Britpol TL by someone who thinks the Queen has absolute power is just painful to read.

2. The writer bites off more than they can chew: Many writers have a strong desire to create a TL that details everything that happens in the world after the POD (the fact that readers constantly ask about random places doesn't help). However, that is really difficult to do, because you eventually end up in a situation where you're writing about a place you have read nothing about. So a lot of people end up writing those bits without doing good research. The best result at that point is a TL where the main bits are really good, but everything else is crap. My best advice would be to stick with what you know. It's totally okay to have a TL about American politics in the 1820s (or whatever) where the rest of the world gets only a cursory glance.

3. Letting political biases get in the way: It's tempting to write the historical figures you like as noble heroes and the historical figures you hate as cold-hearted villains. But just letting bias run wild is a good way to ruin a TL. It leads to characters that are either too perfect or too evil, scenarios that are little more than personal fantasies, and destroys plausibility. Don't be like Sean Gabb.
 

Sulemain

Raise Your Fist, 95th!
Location
Coventry
I'll also say that having a definitive ending point is a really good idea. Also, the further back your POD, the more difficult things are. I tried to do a "Carthage Victorious" TL back on AHDC once. And in the beginning, it was a relatively easy thing to do. But eventually, you get to the point wherein your not writing Alternate History but pure Speculative Fiction. For example, Hannibal leveraging his military victory into a political career is a plausible enough thing. Hell, you can get some idea of how said career would go, because he took political office in Carthage after he lost. But if you try and extrapolate what an independent Carthaginian state would look like in say, 0CE, it'll be tricky.
 
I'll also say that having a definitive ending point is a really good idea. Also, the further back your POD, the more difficult things are. I tried to do a "Carthage Victorious" TL back on AHDC once. And in the beginning, it was a relatively easy thing to do. But eventually, you get to the point wherein your not writing Alternate History but pure Speculative Fiction. For example, Hannibal leveraging his military victory into a political career is a plausible enough thing. Hell, you can get some idea of how said career would go, because he took political office in Carthage after he lost. But if you try and extrapolate what an independent Carthaginian state would look like in say, 0CE, it'll be tricky.
I've had a passing - mostly passing - interest in doing an ancient timeline for years.

I've realised that really the only two ways I could justify the thing would be by heavily compacting it into a few years and basically making it character-driven narrative fiction, or just ease away from any kind of individual focus and make it socially, economically and intellectually focused. The second requires a hell of a lot of research, and the first requires a gift for narrative fiction which I'm not convinced I possess. But I love social history and I love ancient history, both western and eastern, so maybe one day I'll get immersed in the books on the subject and figure out the economy of Southern Arabia in the 4th century BC or whatever.

One of the big problems with a lot of pre-1900 timelines is they are very much kings 'n' dates, pretty superficial, and are often wish-fulfilment which have nowhere to go after a fairly short time beyond fictitious kings 'n' dates. I think if people try to avoid doing any of those, they should be okay.
 
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Japhy

This is the way
Published by SLP
For me, if you're writing a story with aspirations to be serious, people and events must make sense within the legal, moral and technological confines of the setting you've created.

Like, say you write something about the 1848 Revolutions in Europe. Having Louis-Napoleon fail in his political aspirations is an achievable thing, and you could easily write a "2nd Republic survives" TL.

But having say, Louis-Phillipe be a less conservative king and thus avoiding the whole mess requires a whole 'nother kettle of fish. I mean, if you want to write an "Enlightened Liberal Constitutional Monarchy" world, go ahead, but be prepared to work hard to justify it.
Charlie there are other Podcasters out there besides Mike Duncan
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
Anglo-American/Nazi War. I know that's a bit of a sacred cow, given that the publishing house this forum is an appendage of published it, but I read it, and I cannot, in my heart of hearts, call it good. It's not good. It's really, really not good. It's so dry it sucks the moisture out my body and leaves an desiccated husk. And don't get me wrong, I like dry stuff- the Stuart Sequence is very dry, but I love it to bits because it's just so charming in how it was written. But no, AANW is just this... thing that tries to hard to be edgy, and values raw data over being actually compelling, and the end result is is an AH that is just unreadable at points because it bores me to tears, and is often just an internally inconsistent mess that makes me give up trying to keep track of what little meat is on the bones when it can't keep track itself.
I like Anglo-American Nazi War a lot because it's the only plausible Nazi Victory AH I've ever seen. Just like HT-191 isn't great AH, but it gets a lot of people into alternate history. And AANW is a lot more creative, thematic, and plausible by orders of magnitude while still being accessible to WWII/early cold war history buffs.

I think the dryness is in its favor, because it would be very easy to get lost in the savagery of the Pacific War on a massively larger scale in Europe and the sober one-page writeups of these apocalyptic bloody battles keeps the story in perspective. The gearhead stuff is a bit much, but it's very much in keeping with the theme that defeating a Nazi Reich that had assimilated all of Europe would be a massive undertaking in technological and industrial terms as well as human cost.

The postwar wrapup is a mixed bag, to put it very mildly. Stuff like the Congo Tiger economy is great, though, and the weird stuff can mostly be ignored.
 
Yes, the real life serial killer Ted Bundy was a local political activist for the Republican Party at one point, but far too many writers take that brief moment in his life, and write AH stories where he becomes state Governor Ted Bundy or President Ted Bundy. Usually while secretly continuing to murder women so it's all big and dramatic for the reader when Governor/President Bundy is exposed.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
Yes, the real life serial killer Ted Bundy was a local political activist for the Republican Party at one point, but far too many writers take that brief moment in his life, and write AH stories where he becomes state Governor Ted Bundy or President Ted Bundy. Usually while secretly continuing to murder women so it's all big and dramatic for the reader when Governor/President Bundy is exposed.
I'm not sure how much of that is from the influence (however indirect) from For All Time and how much is just lazy dystopian "edginess", but I don't like it either. I've mentioned many times before how it's far too often either that or just lazy OTL B-listers, the guy who came in second or third in the last OTL presidential primary or two.
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
Mike Davis insulted the memory of Charles Manson and Jim Jones's victims with what what he made the two killers in For All Time. Mike Davis was a callous arsehole for doing that.
I don't really get the logic here, to be honest. Manson and Jones were both aspiring leaders with apocalyptic fantasies, so them being successful politicians in FaT is completely in keeping with the timeline's apocalyptic logic. That's like saying including Hitler in AH is insensitive about the Holocaust.

Bundy being a politician is lazy dystopia, I agree, since he didn't have the megalomania or drive for power that Jones and Manson did.