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Least favorite alt-history story?

Roberto El Rey

Unelected bureaucrat
Location
Reims
I suppose this could be a long rant. It's just a lazy gimmick that's gotten out of hand. More deeply, it speaks to how Wikipedia is actually making the sum of human knowledge less, not more, and how so many peoples' understanding of history is based entirely on Wikipedia articles.
That's a fair point, especially the last bit. It also probably encourages people to start timelines without doing much research beyond Wikipedia, which not only lessens the quality of the product but makes it less likely that timeline will be finished or even get off the ground. I include wikiboxes in my timelines because they're fun to make, and because sometimes I don't want to go traipsing around Google and Getty for two hours in hopes of finding the right graphic. Even so, I know how dull it is to have all the wikiboxes be election-based, so I like to mix it up sometimes, throwing in speeches, catastrophes and labor strikes in with the typical battles and elections.
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
That's a fair point, especially the last bit. It also probably encourages people to start timelines without doing much research beyond Wikipedia, which not only lessens the quality of the product but makes it less likely that timeline will be finished or even get off the ground. I include wikiboxes in my timelines because they're fun to make, and because sometimes I don't want to go traipsing around Google and Getty for two hours in hopes of finding the right graphic. Even so, I know how dull it is to have all the wikiboxes be election-based, so I like to mix it up sometimes, throwing in speeches, catastrophes and labor strikes in with the typical battles and elections.
I do sort of like the idea of information being presented in a clear and cogent way that's not just blocks of text, but wikiboxes seem to discourage rather than encourage creativity.
 

Jared

Voldemort Junior
Location
Over the rainbow
I do sort of like the idea of information being presented in a clear and cogent way that's not just blocks of text, but wikiboxes seem to discourage rather than encourage creativity.
I've had a lot of fun writing extracts alt-Wikipedia which are unreliable sources, as part of timelines. There may be ways to do a similar thing with wiki boxes, such as showing different edits of a wikibox as part of an edit war about a contentious event.
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
I've had a lot of fun writing extracts alt-Wikipedia which are unreliable sources, as part of timelines. There may be ways to do a similar thing with wiki boxes, such as showing different edits of a wikibox as part of an edit war about a contentious event.
I remember you doing that in DoD, but part of the charm of it is that it's clear that your Wikipedia and AH.com analogues are very clearly from an alternate universe. They'd be a bit more cute if you edited them to look like actual forum posts or wiki articles, but they appeal is the alternate nature.

And yeah, unreliable sources. These kids lack the perspective to understand that a Wikipedia article is not a stone inscription of the Thing That Happened, and that is the fundamental weakness of the wikibox format. No one cares about alternate U.S. presidential election results being presented in an in-universe way unless the presentation medium makes it clear how the U.S. presidency is fundamentally different.
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
Since we're on a rant here about bad alternate history, let me get my widest brush and say the entire art form of the timeline makes bad stories of good alternate history. You may write a good, neigh-perfect timeline, but the issue is you then need to craft a story or all you've done is the intellectual equivalent of exhibitionism, depending on the degree of separation your alias has from reality. Some timelines pull this off and have a good enough story to even be publishable, but the majority don't- and this being the internet, Sturgeon's Law dictates that as the pool expands, the more shit you need to wade through to get to the good.
 

Jared

Voldemort Junior
Location
Over the rainbow
Since we're on a rant here about bad alternate history, let me get my widest brush and say the entire art form of the timeline makes bad stories of good alternate history. You may write a good, neigh-perfect timeline, but the issue is you then need to craft a story or all you've done is the intellectual equivalent of exhibitionism, depending on the degree of separation your alias has from reality. Some timelines pull this off and have a good enough story to even be publishable, but the majority don't- and this being the internet, Sturgeon's Law dictates that as the pool expands, the more shit you need to wade through to get to the good.
I respectfully disagree.

Timelines are their own art form. As a form of alternate history, they're perfectly respectable and should be considered on their own terms. Sure, they're not to everyone's tastes, but then that's true of any art form. Criticising timelines for making bad stories is like criticising a sculpture for making a bad story - a timeline isn't necessarily telling a story, nor is a sculpture. There may well be a story behind the sculpture, just as one or more stories may be written in the world explored by a timeline, but that doesn't make a timeline a bad alternate history any more than a sculpture is a bad story.

If crafting a story, then of course the alternate history is simply part of the setting for the story. But a timeline doesn't need to tell a story in itself; it may simply be exploring an alternate world, or have another purpose.

I would agree that Sturgeon's Law applies to timelines as much as it applies to anything else. Even then, though, my view of most published books is that the large majority are bad for one reason or another, and that's after passing through the filter of publication. When timelines lack that filter an even higher proportion are going to be bad. But that doesn't mean that a timeline has to be bad, and there are plenty of timelines which I've enjoyed on their own terms without needing a story attached to them.
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
I respectfully disagree.

Timelines are their own art form. As a form of alternate history, they're perfectly respectable and should be considered on their own terms. Sure, they're not to everyone's tastes, but then that's true of any art form. Criticising timelines for making bad stories is like criticising a sculpture for making a bad story - a timeline isn't necessarily telling a story, nor is a sculpture. There may well be a story behind the sculpture, just as one or more stories may be written in the world explored by a timeline, but that doesn't make a timeline a bad alternate history any more than a sculpture is a bad story.

If crafting a story, then of course the alternate history is simply part of the setting for the story. But a timeline doesn't need to tell a story in itself; it may simply be exploring an alternate world, or have another purpose.

I would agree that Sturgeon's Law applies to timelines as much as it applies to anything else. Even then, though, my view of most published books is that the large majority are bad for one reason or another, and that's after passing through the filter of publication. When timelines lack that filter an even higher proportion are going to be bad. But that doesn't mean that a timeline has to be bad, and there are plenty of timelines which I've enjoyed on their own terms without needing a story attached to them.
The important thing to keep in mind is that the timeline is a medium just as much a traditional story is and should be judged as media, not as an objective expression of alt-reality. I think that's a perspective that a lot of posters ignore. To say nothing of the number of people who don't get how the medium is the message and try to shoehorn everything into a one size fits all format like wikiboxes.
 
A good, near-perfect timeline has its own value as a thought-provoking intellectual exercise, by providing insights into actual history, and as entertainment, it's not a failure for not telling a good story because that is not the point- timelines aren't generally written with the aim of creating a good enough story to be publishable.

If you're reading all timelines expecting them to have a (conventional, narratively) good story you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

There's also variety within timelines as a medium, with some sub-types being more conducive to storytelling than others.

Setting out with the intention to write a story and then getting so mired in the alternate history that the narrative goes nowhere is perhaps a different matter.
 
A good, near-perfect timeline has its own value as a thought-provoking intellectual exercise, by providing insights into actual history, and as entertainment, it's not a failure for not telling a good story because that is not the point- timelines aren't generally written with the aim of creating a good enough story to be publishable.
I more-or-less agree. A timeline and a story are two different things. I'm almost entirely a writer of stories, and if I'm honest, when I'm writing, the Timeline exists solely to provide a framework/backdrop for the story. I personally struggle to see the fascination people have with such things as lists of Prime Ministers, where the history is implied by the names. Clearly other people find it interesting, possibly as an exercise in working out how Screaming Lord Sutch was PM of the UK from 1997-2003.

The one TL style piece I did, The Death of Lt Arthur Windsor, RN, worked when I kept to the TL format, and slipped whenever I moved into story-telling mode (Jake and Milo being the clearest example; also when I started forcing the Thatcher/Civil Servant exchanges). What that taught me was that combining the TL approach and the Story-telling approach is hard, and far beyond my abilities. Since then, I've concentrated on telling a story, and let the TL element take care of itself, with the consequences of the TL arising out of the story.
 

zaffre

front-runner for Pantone Colour of the Year 2019
Location
Massachusetts
As a masochist, after finishing the Trent Affair chapter in Dixie Victorious I vaguely committed myself to rereading the timelines on the subject, first being the American apogee, Burnished Rows Of Steel.

I should probably start by saying that it doesn’t *exactly* qualify as least favorite and points have to be given for scope / writing quality / depth of research. I do think, however, that it’s a good illustration of the danger of understanding a situation more enabling one to misunderstand it more.

To wit: exhaustive consultation of army lists down to the regiment level allows one to a) hammer people that disagree on pedantic points of detail b) construct an even better “best case” for one side and “worst case” for the other.

What do I mean by this? The single biggest divergence (and it’s reasonable seeming in itself, which is why a lot of criticisms missed it) is the Trent Affair leading to a sick McClellan demoted from general-in-chief after a month and then Lincoln appoints Mansfield and then Mansfield appoints competent West Pointers everywhere and takes Norfolk at the end of 1861 and burns it to the ground before the British navy even gets to the US.

This is simultaneously more informed (does your average Wikipedia reader even know who Joseph K. F. Mansfield is) and more misleading - Lincoln disliked Mansfield and still needed political generals, McClellan has too much clout and European experience to be (presciently) dropped in the middle of a war crisis, and the Confederates are presumably going to realize that Norfolk could be useful for the British navy and maybe they should defend it more at the same time that this occurs to the U.S.

Could the U.S. have hypothetically done all these things? Maybe, but it gets to the point where because of cumulative “butterflies” the CSA is doing worse in Virginia than in OTL, which is simply an on-face absurd outcome of Britain declaring war - and again, knowledge of detail does not help here, because explicitly having Lee fight Gettysburg and Antietam analogues (or the British Navy repeatedly fight Taku Forts analogugues) is “informed” but also profoundly cherry picking.



Ultimately I feel like greater knowledge of the history involved tends to improve alternate history but when you have an, er, desired outcome, it just provides so many more ways to *slightly* tilt events to accomplish it.
 
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SenatorChickpea

The Most Kiwi Aussie of them all
Patreon supporter
One of the problems with Trent timelines is that, at least for a while, they were being written in part to spite whichever Trent timeline had immediately preceded them.

I'm not sure even Byzantine/Ottoman timelines prompt quite that degree of nationalistic... well, dick waving, frankly. It's worse because you often see a weird competitive dynamic emerge between author and audience. The update will feature the writer's chosen side carrying all before it, then they and their readers will take turn posting thousand word screeds on the Army of the Wherever's order of battle, they get increasingly excited and angry at each other until eventually someone storms out to start their own timeline to show what it's like when it's just done right.

The best one I've read is EnglishCanuck's TL (can't remember the name) which- at least in its revised form- seems to take a starting point the idea that no matter how Very Brave and Manly the Heroic Redcoats/Union Boys were, neither side was in any way prepared for war. The fact that the early campaigns basically consist of political generals attacking north against poorly trained militia nicely takes the sheen off the Glorious Battles for Glory thing you normally get.
 

napoleon IV

My Milkshakes Bring 30-50 Feral Hogs to the Yard
The worst part of Burnished Rows of Steel was the author's planned ending, in which Britain doesn't get help from the US and is reduced in either alt-WWI or WWII (I can't remember) to a starving, nuked-to-hell nation. It was very obviously written with one hand, and I'm not entirely sure why the author hated Britain so much. It came off like a British person ran over his dog or something.
 

zaffre

front-runner for Pantone Colour of the Year 2019
Location
Massachusetts
As a masochist, after finishing the Trent Affair chapter in Dixie Victorious I vaguely committed myself to rereading the timelines on the subject, first being the American apogee, Burnished Rows Of Steel.
Thrilling follow-up in the interests of fairness: An Unfortunate Event: The Trent Affair War.

Yeah, I feel fully comfortable putting this one in the "least favorite" category, considering that it has such highlights as, let's refresh our memories:

- half of Maine in 1860 was born in Britain and the state defects to the UK with open arms
- the South had 50,000 colored soldiers and the Civil War was "only an abolishionist war post-facto"
- literal quote: "The British public didn't give a monkeys about slavery " :cautious:
- because of... stuff, the Battle of Fort Donaldson (sic) is Grant failing to capture any soldiers followed by a decisive counter-attack (from Gideon Pillow, i.e. such a loser that Grant OTL accurately based his aggressive strategy on the knowledge that Pillow fucking sucked)
- "McClellan meanwhile had developed a bold new plan, typical of this dashing General" :cool:
- McClellan leaves a small force in DC to hold it (no) pivots north and surprises the British near Buffalo with a stunning attack (no) eventually decides that a coup is needed to overthrow Lincoln, does this and it ends well (no)
- it "was agreed" that Kansas would be a slave state, so off it goes, meanwhile Lincoln gets captured, stays in Britain, and is elected an MP for the University of London in 1880 (this is stupid but not in a way that actively offends me?)


I would feel bad about criticizing an obvious strawman except that the (c. 2008) response was "wow, finally a realistic timeline about the Trent Affair War" and the stuff about Maine and 50,000 Confederate black soldiers went wholly unaddressed, although people started catching on by "McClellan: God of War" or so. I dunno, my old account actually goes back quite a-ways on the board but it is unpleasantly jarring to remember how pro-Confederate / non-factual large portions of the AH community were just a decade ago.

Side-note, I tried reading a more recent naval one in the same vein and gave up because "then the mayor of new york surrendered the port because clearly this is up to him" and also it was all three sentence updates about the number of guns the ships had and I got bored. This leaves Wrapped In Flames, although I dunno that you'll see much about it here because that timeline is good.
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
The McClellan Apologist Camp has never written a good AH in the decade or so it's been a thing on line.
Burnished Rows of Steel was their evil mirror universe equivalent.

But yeah, the McClellan Cabal is the fucking worst. zaffre sums up the problems with their approach pretty well, but doesn't capture just how psycho they are. They have little secret web hangouts (that are blogger comment sections because haha olds) where they try to dox TF Smith and me.
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
The worst part of Burnished Rows of Steel was the author's planned ending, in which Britain doesn't get help from the US and is reduced in either alt-WWI or WWII (I can't remember) to a starving, nuked-to-hell nation. It was very obviously written with one hand, and I'm not entirely sure why the author hated Britain so much. It came off like a British person ran over his dog or something.
He was a massive weirdo in his own right but I sort of suspect Burnished Rows of Steel was a deliberate sendup of the Trent Cabal's nonsense. It's just too perfect an inverse to be a coincidence.
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
Thrilling follow-up in the interests of fairness: An Unfortunate Event: The Trent Affair War.

Yeah, I feel fully comfortable putting this one in the "least favorite" category, considering that it has such highlights as, let's refresh our memories:

- half of Maine in 1860 was born in Britain and the state defects to the UK with open arms
- the South had 50,000 colored soldiers and the Civil War was "only an abolishionist war post-facto"
- literal quote: "The British public didn't give a monkeys about slavery " :cautious:
- because of... stuff, the Battle of Fort Donaldson (sic) is Grant failing to capture any soldiers followed by a decisive counter-attack (from Gideon Pillow, i.e. such a loser that Grant OTL accurately based his aggressive strategy on the knowledge that Pillow fucking sucked)
- "McClellan meanwhile had developed a bold new plan, typical of this dashing General" :cool:
- McClellan leaves a small force in DC to hold it (no) pivots north and surprises the British near Buffalo with a stunning attack (no) eventually decides that a coup is needed to overthrow Lincoln, does this and it ends well (no)
- it "was agreed" that Kansas would be a slave state, so off it goes, meanwhile Lincoln gets captured, stays in Britain, and is elected an MP for the University of London in 1880 (this is stupid but not in a way that actively offends me?)


I would feel bad about criticizing an obvious strawman except that the (c. 2008) response was "wow, finally a realistic timeline about the Trent Affair War" and the stuff about Maine and 50,000 Confederate black soldiers went wholly unaddressed, although people started catching on by "McClellan: God of War" or so. I dunno, my old account actually goes back quite a-ways on the board but it is unpleasantly jarring to remember how pro-Confederate / non-factual large portions of the AH community were just a decade ago.

Side-note, I tried reading a more recent naval one in the same vein and gave up because "then the mayor of new york surrendered the port because clearly this is up to him" and also it was all three sentence updates about the number of guns the ships had and I got bored. This leaves Wrapped In Flames, although I dunno that you'll see much about it here because that timeline is good.
hahahahaha, I never actually read any of their nonsense except when they'd come into threads about other things and WELL ACTUALLY all over the place, but are you serious?
 

zaffre

front-runner for Pantone Colour of the Year 2019
Location
Massachusetts
Burnished Rows of Steel was their evil mirror universe equivalent.

But yeah, the McClellan Cabal is the fucking worst. zaffre sums up the problems with their approach pretty well, but doesn't capture just how psycho they are. They have little secret web hangouts (that are blogger comment sections because haha olds) where they try to dox TF Smith and me.
I didn’t know where to mention it, but the fact that two of the first three results for “Burnished Rows Of Steel” are the hate-blog named after it, criticizing it post by post for an audience of who (?) and also they missed an obvious Korean War reference username and doxed some random PhD candidate is

well it’s something

hahahahaha, I never actually read any of their nonsense except when they'd come into threads about other things and WELL ACTUALLY all over the place, but are you serious?
I remembered Kansas from the first time I read it and went in thinking “that must have been the worst of it”. I went out thinking that it is actually impossible to write a parody of Trent Affair War AH that would be in any way distinguishable from Trent Affair War AH.
 

Burton K Wheeler

Itinerant Frontier Hobo
Location
garbage can
I didn’t know where to mention it, but the fact that two of the first three results for “Burnished Rows Of Steel” are the hate-blog named after it, criticizing it post by post for an audience of who (?) and also they missed an obvious Korean War reference username and doxed some random PhD candidate is

well it’s something



I remembered Kansas from the first time I read it and went in thinking “that must have been the worst of it”. I went out thinking that it is actually impossible to write a parody of Trent Affair War AH that would be in any way distinguishable from Trent Affair War AH.
I don't really remember TF Smith nor have I ever read his TL (nor will I ever), but having just read it, is my theory that Burnished Rows of Steel is a deliberate windup plausible?