• 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

Alternate History General Discussion

Does anyone have an idea of what the dominant themes for Alt Hist stories/ timelines are in the AH community in Australia and New Zealand? Or in the university graduate community for English-speaking universities in Asia? (I'm presuming that predominantly a majority of AH writers will have some background in history and wide reading/ internet study, though not necessarily having studied History or Politics formally at university.)

The current publishing industry enthusiasm for the topics of WW 2 (predominantly its European rather than Asian dimension) and the American Civil War is probably driven by the statistical predominance of the UK and US markets in their sales, and/or of other communities brought up in the American-led media cultural world and of British and American writers as well as readers - possibly a larger involvement by other areas of the Anglosphere might slowly decrease this preponderence?

I can't help thinking of the way that most (US-made and US-financed) sci-fi films featuring 'alien invasions' or 'monsters on the rampage' or 'robots from the future on a killer mission' seems to imagine that the 'outside threats' are bound to concentrate their targets on the US, and usually on California rather than Washington and New York- preferably near the film-companies' bases around LA or San Francisco. So that shooting the film is cheaper and the Californian teenage audience feel that it's all more relevant to them? Trying out a film set somewhere else on the planet would be a change: put plausibility or experimenting with something new ahead of the revenue statistics for once.

The Japanese film industry is strong enough to have lots of films set there, and the Chinese are starting the same sort of trajectory; the Indian cultural focus is also more local; but in the UK film industry there is still a lot of 'playing to the cliches' of what the average US viewer is expected to want, eg Richard Curtis-style 'quirky toffs' and 'Sloane Rangers' plus obligatory snow at Christmas even in London (which is just not correct weather info - I have not experienced any snow in SE England on Christmas Day since 1970 ). This lack of large-scale experimentation is all too frequent, and we see the effects in a lot of publishing too. More cultural and geographical diversity and wider ideas are needed, and arguably in Alt Hist too. Perhaps less blunt commercialism and more teaching more non-US history courses in US universities, and more non-twentieth century courses in UK history, would be a helpful start for this sort of development.

In terms of students' interests and what they automatically tend to get involved in, I noted as an undergraduate in the late 1970s at the University of London that the vast majority of students then (and boys in particular) did Modern History, less did medieval (most of them being from private schools), and only a few did Ancient History - and on my Byzantine course, at the country's top Byz studies centre, there was only one other boy. I suspect that this problem continues, given the way the current school History curriculum has developed and the background of the people who frame it. So we're not on a level playing-field for developing knowledge of and interest in pre-C19th areas of history. At least the internet has broadened access to the alternatives...
 

David Flin

Here we go again. Scalpel time.
Unlike the Science Fiction genre in the '60's I don't think the Alternate History genre has anywhere near the number of authors needed to actually generate a 'New Wave'

the genre is too niche to evolve
Furthermore, I'm not convinced there is a strong desire within the AH community for such a New Wave focusing on story over the history.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Unlike the Science Fiction genre in the '60's I don't think the Alternate History genre has anywhere near the number of authors needed to actually generate a 'New Wave'
That is a problem. Where are more authors going to come from? The AO3 ones seem happy staying at AO3 and might not want to crossover with the AH forums (and AFAIK the AH forums aren't crossposting on AO3 either). As @heraclius says, more people from that aren't from Britain or North America would help, even just other parts of the anglosphere - I think @Jared 's Alternate Australias had some entirely new-to-AH authors, for example, and Natasja Rose's Emu War satire read really different to a lot of AH vignettes.
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
he/him
Furthermore, I'm not convinced there is a strong desire within the AH community for such a New Wave focusing on story over the history.
Mmm, I'd say yes and no on this.

I think in terms of published books, there is quite a lot of story over history takes. Partly because that's where you see writers from outside the genre write their AH book, the majority of AH which actually sells significant copies is stuff written by outsiders. Even on an amateur level, it's often thriller or historical fiction writers trying something new rather than people who are Alternate Historians first and writers second, like I am. But even from within this small community, Sea Lion Press is like half and half on this whereas ten years ago it was all dry history with nothing like 'who shall think of england' being written. There has been a drive towards narratives and practicing story writing, the vignette competitions for instance and the decline of old fashioned timelines of the day 1: this happened type.

I agree that the amateur writing community is still mostly history discussion first, stories second but frankly its amateur writing. People should do what makes them happy at that level and not worry about whether it's got widespread appeal. And I like historical discussion so I like the status quo, fine.

But I don't actually think it's that true that the views of amateur writing community are particularly closely reflected among published AH (I think the people who want to write the next 'Plot against america' after watching the tv series aren't often on AH.com arguing about tank sizes) and I do think published AH is increasingly moving away from focuses on the historical (to the extent that it ever was mostly focused on the historical, for that matter. For want of a Nail existed but so did Man in the High Castle)
 

ChrisNuttall

Active member
Unlike the Science Fiction genre in the '60's I don't think the Alternate History genre has anywhere near the number of authors needed to actually generate a 'New Wave'

the genre is too niche to evolve
On the other hand, it does draw in readers from other genres.

Guns of the South is a war story, as well as everything else; WorldWar is an alien invasion story; Outlander is a romance story; Island in the Sea of Time is action/adventure; etc, etc.

Chris
 

ChrisNuttall

Active member
Mmm, I'd say yes and no on this.

I think in terms of published books, there is quite a lot of story over history takes. Partly because that's where you see writers from outside the genre write their AH book, the majority of AH which actually sells significant copies is stuff written by outsiders. Even on an amateur level, it's often thriller or historical fiction writers trying something new rather than people who are Alternate Historians first and writers second, like I am. But even from within this small community, Sea Lion Press is like half and half on this whereas ten years ago it was all dry history with nothing like 'who shall think of england' being written. There has been a drive towards narratives and practicing story writing, the vignette competitions for instance and the decline of old fashioned timelines of the day 1: this happened type.

I agree that the amateur writing community is still mostly history discussion first, stories second but frankly its amateur writing. People should do what makes them happy at that level and not worry about whether it's got widespread appeal. And I like historical discussion so I like the status quo, fine.

But I don't actually think it's that true that the views of amateur writing community are particularly closely reflected among published AH (I think the people who want to write the next 'Plot against america' after watching the tv series aren't often on AH.com arguing about tank sizes) and I do think published AH is increasingly moving away from focuses on the historical (to the extent that it ever was mostly focused on the historical, for that matter. For want of a Nail existed but so did Man in the High Castle)
I have mixed feelings.

The small reason is that a lot of what you might consider good stories are not always good AH. A story set in a Nazi-occupied England will bend history to make it possible, for example; a story like Guns of the South will probably regard the South as misguided or the evilist of evils.

The bigger reason is that, the further you are from our world, the more explaining you have to do. WW2 and the ACW are quite well known - most people know the basics, even if they don't know the detail. Write a story set in a world where Japan modernized in 1600s and your background will be very different.

Realistically, we need something akin to Harry Potter (in terms of books sold) if AH is to go super-mainstream.

Chris
 

M_Kresal

I am nerd, hear me bore.
Published by SLP
Location
North Alabama
Furthermore, I'm not convinced there is a strong desire within the AH community for such a New Wave focusing on story over the history.
To risk sounding pretentious by invoking an evolutionary metaphor, it'll happen if nature requires or forces it to happen. If you have an ever increasing number of authors pushing in that direction (as @Charles EP M. points out about narrative versus timelines in the SLP stable), then readership may follow simply because that's where the market is going. Or, alternatively, it could be a niche that leads to an evolutionary blind alley. Given the increasingly voiced frustrations with how much ACW and WWII narratives have a hold, there's an argument to be made that we may be approaching something of a tipping point without even realizing it.

That is a problem. Where are more authors going to come from? The AO3 ones seem happy staying at AO3 and might not want to crossover with the AH forums (and AFAIK the AH forums aren't crossposting on AO3 either). As @heraclius says, more people from that aren't from Britain or North America would help, even just other parts of the anglosphere - I think @Jared 's Alternate Australias had some entirely new-to-AH authors, for example, and Natasja Rose's Emu War satire read really different to a lot of AH vignettes.
I think it depends on if authors decide they want to move from online non-paying output to trying to get something paying published. The move from the hobbyist, say, to something more professional. True, I think there will always be people happy to post stuff online and get satisfaction that they're stuff is out there at all. On the other hand, you can't underrate someone saying, "You know what? I want a book with my name on it!" Using myself as an entirely anecdotal example, the entire time I spent writing Our Man on the Hill (and some of my earlier output) I wasn't on here or on any of the other AH forums. Work can happen in a vacuum and I think it's not a bad idea to have places where those not immersed in the forums can go with their work, as well.
 
Last edited:

Time Enough

"Enthusiastic Cis Male Partner"
Pronouns
He/Him
For dealing with the whole ‘explaining the world’ problem that comes out of Non-ACW /WW2 settings I’ve found taking inspiration from Terry Pratchett could be helpful, in explaining the world in a dryly humorous fashion that allows you to get the world building done and dusted and as long as you note it down, allows for organic world building.
 

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
Pronouns
He/Him
I'm one of the "pessimists" on the breakthrough potential for alternate history. I agree with @Skinny87 in basic terms about it being too niche, but I think it's even "worse" in that it's a bunch of different niches with very little overlap. Especially once you get into, for lack of a better word, "unambiguous" alternate history.

A Turtledove story, another Axis/Confederate story aimed a wide audience that isn't that historically knowledgeable, The Years of Rice and Salt, a tabletop wargame depicting a 1980s conventional WW3, the Hotline Miami computer game, the Wolfenstein games, and a wiki-plucking online TL where Robert S. Kerr becomes president have much different target audiences, and, more importantly, even people who like more of them individually won't see that much (if any) of an inherent connection, any more than Gundam and early Magic: The Gathering are connected simply because they feature giant mechs. And that's before you get into the issues of how any AH aimed at a broad audience needs to be understandable by historical laypeople and how there really isn't that much commercial benefit in labeling something "Alternate History" that isn't obviously so.

But I will end this post on a brighter note and will say that I find it very heartening that more SLP and stuff like @MAC161 's independent AH has gone more to the Axis/Confederate victory well and has been well-received instead of shouted down with "NO THIS IS IMPLAUSIBLE AND OVERDONE!"
 

ChrisNuttall

Active member
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.
That's true - at the same time, there has to be a degree of flexibility - you have to avoid the 'as you know' trope while somehow getting the idea across.

Maybe what we need is an AH that hits the same notes as Game of Thrones - enough recognizable to draw in the punters, enough different to keep them involved. Perhaps a world where WW1 is delayed 15-20 years ...

Chris
 

ChrisNuttall

Active member
I can't help thinking of the way that most (US-made and US-financed) sci-fi films featuring 'alien invasions' or 'monsters on the rampage' or 'robots from the future on a killer mission' seems to imagine that the 'outside threats' are bound to concentrate their targets on the US, and usually on California rather than Washington and New York- preferably near the film-companies' bases around LA or San Francisco. So that shooting the film is cheaper and the Californian teenage audience feel that it's all more relevant to them? Trying out a film set somewhere else on the planet would be a change: put plausibility or experimenting with something new ahead of the revenue statistics for once.
To be fair, the greater the gap between the actors and the viewers, the harder it can be to draw attention.

Chris
 

David Flin

Here we go again. Scalpel time.
I'm one of the "pessimists" on the breakthrough potential for alternate history. I agree with @Skinny87 in basic terms about it being too niche, but I think it's even "worse" in that it's a bunch of different niches with very little overlap. Especially once you get into, for lack of a better word, "unambiguous" alternate history.
I tend to agree. Not merely is it a bunch of different niches in terms of period, it's also a bunch of different niches in terms of style. And the inhabitants (authors and readers) of the different niches are reluctant to move out of them.

Trying out a film set somewhere else on the planet would be a change: put plausibility or experimenting with something new ahead of the revenue statistics for once.
Putting on my publisher hat for this. "I don't mind experimenting with something that has potential to break new ground and could be considered a calculated revenue gamble. Don't expect me to publish without giving revenue statistics major consideration." I have to eat, and for that, I need money.

Perhaps a world where WW1 is delayed 15-20 years ...


Seriously, how many times are people going to say: "What about this neat idea" when I've got a book right there, in print, doing exactly that thing?

I know I'm not the most popular person on this forum (he said, with understatement), but this is starting to get silly.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
But I will end this post on a brighter note and will say that I find it very heartening that more SLP and stuff like @MAC161 's independent AH has gone more to the Axis/Confederate victory well and has been well-received instead of shouted down with "NO THIS IS IMPLAUSIBLE AND OVERDONE!"
Ah, but of course here's one of the few places where Axis/Confed victories are not overdone AH (and different things are the stereotype)
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
he/him
Ah, but of course here's one of the few places where Axis/Confed victories are not overdone AH (and different things are the stereotype)
Is this actually true, though? I reckon if you were to count up all the sea lion press books/timelines/vignettes axis victory would still be the most used single scenario with confed victory as 2nd.

In vignettes in particular it has an advantage of being immediately understandable when you don't have a huge amount of room for exposition.
 

Time Enough

"Enthusiastic Cis Male Partner"
Pronouns
He/Him
I will say, if we ever have more Axis Victory stuff I would hope there like It Happened Here, which feels almost like a reaction to those generic ‘And then Hitler did Sealion and WoN’ stories and ends with Britain being liberated by a combined American-Free British-Communist Partisans.
 

David Flin

Here we go again. Scalpel time.
I will say, if we ever have more Axis Victory stuff I would hope there like It Happened Here, which feels almost like a reaction to those generic ‘And then Hitler did Sealion and WoN’ stories and ends with Britain being liberated by a combined American-Free British-Communist Partisans.

Cough.
 

Gary Oswald

Old and Foolish now
Sea Lion Press staff
Pronouns
he/him
I will say, if we ever have more Axis Victory stuff I would hope there like It Happened Here, which feels almost like a reaction to those generic ‘And then Hitler did Sealion and WoN’ stories and ends with Britain being liberated by a combined American-Free British-Communist Partisans.
Meet the New Boss by @Meadow is about a post war soviet dominated britain based on the idea that if the UK fell, that just means a red europe when Barbarossa happens and fails. Powell and various other troops from India fight with the soviet as the free british army and cross the channel after taking Berlin.

It's one of many axis 'victory' books we've done, but yes in most of them the axis powers are more successful but still lose overall. The flipside of that one would be Festung Europa where the soviets lose and then the Americans and Brits nuke Europe into the stone age. Even Drakes Drum has a more successful germany in ww2, though they're not winning overall.

Some of it is a full out victory but even 'In and out of the reich' is about what a decaying broken nazi europe will look like after decades of misrule by genocidal maniacs.

Like I said, we've published a ton of nazis doing better stuff. It's just it's 20% of our content rather than 90% and that in itself is notable.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Is this actually true, though? I reckon if you were to count up all the sea lion press books/timelines/vignettes axis victory would still be the most used single scenario with confed victory as 2nd.
Double-checking the books, we've got:

- One where the Germans took over Britain but still lose to the Red Army (as backstory)

- Three (two in the same series) where the Germans win on the continent but a few years later, Britain and America go to war again and win

- One where the Nazis have outright won and own America

- One where Britain's occupied in the 50s

- One where they rule Europe

and two Confederate victories, one 19th century and one early 20th. This is a massive difference to what's also on the market. (You're right the vignettes and timelines do it more)
 
Top