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Alternate History General Discussion

Alex Richards

A musical Hubble Space Telescope
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So I just mentioned this in the story ideas thread;

And it made me wonder, are there any like small scale Alternate History’s about the history of a City or something in which the operations of that city are changed but the world carries on as normal style thing?

Would be fun to parse an alternate history for a city and the consequences.
Ah yes, Progress by Endeavour.

aka: Probably the world's most parochial AH.

I really should bring it over here properly.
 

Geordie

SEA LIONS ON MY SHIRT
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Can anybody recommend any China Reforms after 1989 threads or TLs? It's way outside my normal wheelhouse, but I suddenly thought a well-done TL using a Tiananmen PoD as a catalyst for China opening up would be interesting.
 

Creekmench

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Can anybody recommend any China Reforms after 1989 threads or TLs? It's way outside my normal wheelhouse, but I suddenly thought a well-done TL using a Tiananmen PoD as a catalyst for China opening up would be interesting.
A Song was heard in China? Though the author was redoing it to reflect the issues of post-communist countries like Hungary last time I checked.
 

Time Enough

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Speaking of Communist Countries, they’re probably the hardest to predict leaderships for, given how half the time the leadership would fall onto ‘fellow who seems incredibly non threatening and ran some engineering works who becomes leader when the original potential leader is killed’.

Essentially Communist AltHist is a game of musical chairs and the leader is usually the last one standing after purges etc.
 

Coiler

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I'm wondering if there's a noticeable skew towards space filling empires among North American authors (from a continent that does have three sprawling "SFEs") and balkanization among European authors (A continent that does have many small countries on it)
 

lerk

TOJO'S HEAD (BALD)
One thing which I never understood is why the younger writers of AH - 17 and younger - tend to mainly get involved into Anglospheric politics post-1945 and not into more mainstream areas of AH, like the World Wars and the Civil War and the like. Why get into the minutia of conventions and primaries and polls and the like when you can just write about Rommel's Montreal campaign or something.
 

Coiler

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One thing which I never understood is why the younger writers of AH - 17 and younger - tend to mainly get involved into Anglospheric politics post-1945 and not into more mainstream areas of AH, like the World Wars and the Civil War and the like.
If I had to guess, I'd say it's because:

-A lingering, possibly subconscious sense that the classics are overdone (which is arguably true) and often inaccurate (which is true a lot of the time).
-Wiki-plucking being more suited to the "make a list of election results and such" type of ultra-broad-and-ultra-shallow TL than the details of a military campaign.
-Just bandwagon following, where they're doing it because that's what everyone else is doing.
 

lerk

TOJO'S HEAD (BALD)
In fact all post-1945 US politics TLs are boring. It's always the same stuff over and over. Primary happens, guy gets nominated, defeats incumbent, oops economy is bad, loses re-election, good guy wins two terms, his successor not as good, gets into war against communists/jihadists/anti-US dictator that becomes insurgency, new guy becomes president and he is a moderate within his party, Cold War, some cranks run but they don't get much support, party splits that end up getting fixed after one or two election cycles etc. The dystopias are all the same as well - just have McCarthyist paranoia turn America into a Pinochet-esque dictatorship. There is very little vision in these TLs
 

Coiler

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In fact all post-1945 US politics TLs are boring. It's always the same stuff over and over.
This kind of feels like how I would have talked about conventional WW3 TLs two or three years ago. They're always the same stuff over and over. Supervillain Soviets start a war that doesn't go immediately nuclear, there's just a bunch of jumbled vignettes, there is little vision.

While both of these critiques are accurate, for me in hindsight it's felt kind of unhealthy to focus on what's still a very small internet subculture where severe Sturgeonism (that most of the entries will be low, in this case very low, quality) is inevitable. I'd rather look for candles than curse the darkness.

What I do find interesting is that Agent Lavender has essentially the exact opposite approach to these TLs in nearly every way. Yes, it's much better researched. But instead of a seemingly small divergence (different candidate) that leads to big changes, it has a big divergence (the Wilson conspiracy was true) that leads to comparably small changes. It's the feeling where looking at one small but detailed part of a world makes it look big, but looking at a giant robotic infodump just makes it feel small and bland.
 

ChrisNuttall

Active member
In fact all post-1945 US politics TLs are boring. It's always the same stuff over and over. Primary happens, guy gets nominated, defeats incumbent, oops economy is bad, loses re-election, good guy wins two terms, his successor not as good, gets into war against communists/jihadists/anti-US dictator that becomes insurgency, new guy becomes president and he is a moderate within his party, Cold War, some cranks run but they don't get much support, party splits that end up getting fixed after one or two election cycles etc. The dystopias are all the same as well - just have McCarthyist paranoia turn America into a Pinochet-esque dictatorship. There is very little vision in these TLs
There's little room for anything more, unless one goes really extreme.

Chris
 

Charles EP M.

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There's nothing really stopping a post-45 US political timeline from doing an Agent Lavender* with a presidential conspiracy theory, or doing a Deck Shuffle (in fact I'm sure that one's been done), or redoing You Always Had It So Good to be about a dynasty/party/trend (eternal Kennedies!!), or doing A Greater Britain with someone, or something like Many A Hero Untold where events** have the US going through political issues that it avoided but others didn't.

* Our Man On The Hill by @M_Kresal successfully does the 'secret communist' plot for a secret history of McCarthy

** dear boy, events
 

Time Enough

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Supervillain Soviets start a war that doesn't go immediately nuclear
That does remind that there’s always like, the same four Soviet’s who get in charge because who doesn’t want to see Beria takeover for the forty fifth time.
It's the feeling where looking at one small but detailed part of a world makes it look big, but looking at a giant robotic infodump just makes it feel small and bland.
I found that my attempt at doing a political timeline bored me because having an obscure politician become leader whilst fun means you either do big infodumps or try and get into topics that barely interest you.

If I was to do a political timeline again it would either be a collaboration (so the things that enthuse me I can write and the bits that I don’t can be written by someone else) or a story about a fictional character reacting to a political world (and probably be focused on a small different event and exploring the world from there).
A Greater Britain with someone
Rexford Tugwell would work pretty decently.
 

SpanishSpy

Well-known member
In fact all post-1945 US politics TLs are boring. It's always the same stuff over and over. Primary happens, guy gets nominated, defeats incumbent, oops economy is bad, loses re-election, good guy wins two terms, his successor not as good, gets into war against communists/jihadists/anti-US dictator that becomes insurgency, new guy becomes president and he is a moderate within his party, Cold War, some cranks run but they don't get much support, party splits that end up getting fixed after one or two election cycles etc. The dystopias are all the same as well - just have McCarthyist paranoia turn America into a Pinochet-esque dictatorship. There is very little vision in these TLs
I get this feeling with a lot of internet and self-published AH. I can't help but think AH is now in a similar position that science fiction was by the late 1950s. This was the time when the John W. Campbell-promoted consensus of sparse prose, flat characters, and devotion to hard science at the expense of storytelling was beginning to wear itself out. The reaction to this was the New Wave science fiction of the 1960s-70s, which focused the human element more (notably, it brought in a lot of sixties counterculture ideas, most well-known of these being its take on sexuality, into science fiction). It made a lot of old-guard SF writers mad but it laid the ground for what came after it, most obviously cyberpunk, but its reverberations are felt today.

I'm becoming more and more convinced that AH needs its own 'New Wave.' It needs to center the human element more and care just a tad less about historical plausibility. This genre is more than just lists of dates and wikibox TLs - a lot can be done with it if you're willing to really probe what the genre can do. I've tried to do this in my own writing - Utterly Without Redeeming Social Value (in my signature) was my attempt at a 'New Wave AH' story. In the professionally published world, P. Djeli Clark seems to be moving the genre beyond its traditional limits.

I also wonder if some of this is because so much online AH is written by history nerds who experience humanity more through media (and a relatively narrow selection thereof) than through living life (I'm afraid this sounds mean of me but I can't find a better way of phrasing it). Compare this with what Hayao Miyazaki said about the anime industry:

If you don't spend time watching real people, you can't do this, because you've never seen it. Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people… It's produced by humans who can't stand looking at other humans. And that's why the industry is full of otaku!
I can certainly vouch that my writing is better now that I've lived more, especially with all the interaction I got when I became a dancer. I was one of those 'AH otaku' before that, and my writing is better now than it was five to eight years ago.

Long story short, I think that AH needs new, diverse influences in it or it'll fade into irrelevance. Without this, the work produced can feel very sterile.
 
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M_Kresal

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There's nothing really stopping a post-45 US political timeline from doing an Agent Lavender* with a presidential conspiracy theory...

* Our Man On The Hill by @M_Kresal successfully does the 'secret communist' plot for a secret history of McCarthy
It's funny because A. I almost didn't write Our Man on the Hill at all after the idea struck me because I was convinced it had either been done already and/or that it was utterly ridiculous (my best friend dissuaded me out of the latter notion). Also, B. I didn't learn about Agent Lavender until I started looking for a publisher and nearly didn't pitch it to SLP at all for fearing it might seem like I was treading on someone's toes. Thankfully, I dissuaded myself of that notion, too. Though looking at a large number of AH stuff out there, especially the ACW and WWII stuff, clearly it's not a concern many others seem to have!


I'm becoming more and more convinced that AH needs its own 'New Wave.' It needs to center the human element more and care just a tad less about historical plausibility. This genre is more than just lists of dates and wikibox TLs - a lot can be done with it if you're willing to really probe what the genre can do. I've tried to do this in my own writing - Utterly Without Redeeming Social Value (in my signature) was my attempt at a 'New Wave AH' story. In the profesionally published world, P. Djeli Clark seems to be moving the genre beyond its traditional limits.

Long story short, I think that AH needs new, diverse influences in it or it'll fade into irrelevance. Without this, the work produced can feel very sterile.
I think there's some definite truth to what you're saying there, @SpanishSpy. That and people needing to realize there's more to AH than ACW and WWII being played over and over and over again. There are other time periods and events that deserve not only the attention to detail but also having that human element brought out in them, as you say. How to get there is the question.
 

kratostatic

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Sea Lion Press itself, as I understand it, was always an attempt to move towards the "narrative" and away from the "lists and wikiboxes" style of AH. Arguably it hasn't yet succeeded to the extent perhaps hoped initially but as a community we're a lot more focused on "the story" now than AH.com/the subset that would become SLP were in say 2015/16. And it's a lot easier to get the "human element" involved in a story than in a simple list.
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
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I've just done a proper old fashioned list and wikibox timeline and like I think it's an interesting essay that posits a potential political and historical setting but its not a story.

But then I don't think everything has to be a story, I think there's merit in essays, in just chatting about potentials and history. I wouldn't sell this but within these communities I got good feeback.

My take was this is the background for a story, the way Tolkien's notes are. And that I should write an actual narrative with that background if I want to write a thing.

I think there's often a very black and white thinking about this. That 'this would be a bad book, therefore this is worthless as an intellectual fun exercise'. Whereas my take is much more that it's a fun way of getting your thoughts about history in order and geeking out with fellow nerds and has value as that.

If I do write my novel, the fact I can refer to 50,000 words of notes and have been thinking about the world, will make that background society appear lived in and rich even if I focus my actual words on the characters and plot because I've thought about it and that'll come through in throwaway remarks.
 
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