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Interviewing the AH Community: Steven H Silver

Hendryk

The sunlit uplands are just around the corner
Published by SLP
Location
France
The mid-90s appeared to be a period when Alternate History was on the verge of becoming a major subgenre. In addition to Harry Turtledove publishing Guns of the South and the first couple of Worldwar novels, Harry Harrison and John Holm had published the first volumes of The Hammer and the Cross, Orson Scott Card had started his Alvin Maker series, Janet Berliner and George Guthridge had published the first of the Madagascar trilogy, and Gregory Benford and Mike Resnick had each edited volumes of original alternate history short stories. It seemed like a genre that would be able to stand on its own.
So WI alternate history had entered pop culture in a big way in the mid-1990s?
 

Thande

1 Timothy 5:18
Published by SLP
I remember scouring his website for information about Turtledove (checks notes) twenty years ago. There is always a certain charm when people were early adopters of the internet and have retained that folksy Web 1.0 (or 0.5?) style (Terry Pratchett was the same way).

So WI alternate history had entered pop culture in a big way in the mid-1990s?
At that point I'm thinking you'd need a successful mainstream film, maybe a fairly braindead 90s blockbuster but with the theme of time travel creating a different world and (crucially) then being stuck in it, rather than just focusing on an escape. I don't think a TV series could pull it off - obviously Sliders was around then but remained stuck in the 'sci-fi ghetto' niche.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Alternate history's probably entering a mainstream thanks to Marvel's multiverse stuff and What If, which establish all the basics of how it works. Unfortunately Silver's point:

alternate history requires a knowledge of history that many readers don’t have
is still going to be the barrier for alternate history about real-world history beyond a few usual suspects. (While writing that I thought of the Rodham book, which is about a specific real person but I suspect is read by people the same way as if it was a What If about fictional character Hillary Clinton rather than about America's history being different.)
 

Thande

1 Timothy 5:18
Published by SLP
Alternate history's probably entering a mainstream thanks to Marvel's multiverse stuff and What If, which establish all the basics of how it works. Unfortunately Silver's point:



is still going to be the barrier for alternate history about real-world history beyond a few usual suspects. (While writing that I thought of the Rodham book, which is about a specific real person but I suspect is read by people the same way as if it was a What If about fictional character Hillary Clinton rather than about America's history being different.)
This is, of course, half the reason why the clichéd "Nazis/Confederates win" is so popular - because everyone (hopefully...) knows that wasn't the OTL outcome and can therefore immediately grasp that this is different.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
The other thing you can do that everyone will 'get' is very recent events like "what if no Brexit", "what if Scotland went independent", "Prime Minister Jeremy Hunt and other things that did not happen", but if it's recent you're going to nark off half the audience* by disagreeing with them about something recent.

* At best, because you could always annoy more. "In this book Scotland goes independent and it's brilliant", "YEAH" cries out the reading SNP member, "and it's brilliant because it leads to libertarianism instead of the current government", "NO!!"
 

Hendryk

The sunlit uplands are just around the corner
Published by SLP
Location
France
I wonder whether one reason AH didn't take off in the 1990s might have been because of the general sense of complacency at the time--the idea that all the great historical struggles are over and all that's left is squabbling about the details. The era we live in has brought back, for better or for worse, a sense that history is not foreordained and that it's possible to imagine it going off-script.

[The top half of Francis Fukuyama's head]
 

SpanishSpy

wallowing in my millennialism
Published by SLP
I wonder whether one reason AH didn't take off in the 1990s might have been because of the general sense of complacency at the time--the idea that all the great historical struggles are over and all that's left is squabbling about the details. The era we live in has brought back, for better or for worse, a sense that history is not foreordained and that it's possible to imagine it going off-script.

[The top half of Francis Fukuyama's head]
My gut feeling tells me there's something to this - see how AH gained in popularity over the course of the 2010s, as the 1990s consensus showed clear signs of fraying. There was much talk of 'living in an alternate universe,' or as one AH.commer said years ago (I don't remember who) 'post-plausibility politics.'
 

Thande

1 Timothy 5:18
Published by SLP
I wonder whether one reason AH didn't take off in the 1990s might have been because of the general sense of complacency at the time--the idea that all the great historical struggles are over and all that's left is squabbling about the details. The era we live in has brought back, for better or for worse, a sense that history is not foreordained and that it's possible to imagine it going off-script.

[The top half of Francis Fukuyama's head]
Seems very likely. In a sense, the limited niche 90s AH boom Silver describes was conversely framed in the same way - "OK, everything is now settled, history is over and now us anoraks can ponder how it could have gone differently" like a football post-match analysis or something.

I was reminded of this when I recently saw an American on Youtube, still largely in that same mindset, surprised to discover that Russia had never returned the parts of Finland taken in the Winter War and that Finns displaced then had still been unable to return - used to the idea that everything just got sorted out in 1989.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
A small boom in American AH books (and Sliders) in the mid-90s feels like the result of "everything is settled but what if it HADN'T been?", more than it not sticking around is due to the End of History. (Especially Sliders where a lot of the time the other world SUCKED compared to the AWESOME REAL ONE)
 
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