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The Road to a New Alternate History. Part 1.

Excellent and much needed. I think part of the problem (just part, mind) is that in America at least, the civil war and WW2 take up a good part of history courses, or did when I was a student. I should ask my nephews what it was like for them.

That Leone guy, though, dunno… cough.

(Kidding aside, I did write a non-SLP short story that falls into Everything Else: https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Jérusalem-Paul-Leone-ebook/dp/B011AY9COE)
It's good to see an examination of these stereotypes actually proposing a way forward to getting away from them.

I'm confused though is this the first article of several or a one-off? I see it mentioned as a new series and Part 1 is in the title; but the essay itself makes mention of "one short essay" and has a Part 1 and Part 2.
Also like knowing there's a gumshoe Aztec story I have yet to read, TO THE BOOKSTORE

That's a good part of the point.

The more sales there are of the non Nazi/Star and Bars books, the more of them will be written and published, and the more there is a viable alternative to the Gruesome Twosome.
(Takes deep breath).

This isn't the first time this has been discussed, and this isn't the first time I'll give my usual response. I want to say that I can totally understand and mostly agree with the sentiment of disliking what I call the "Nazi Confederates Take Over The World." I also want to say that I wholeheartedly endorse promoting highly different and distinct alternate history pieces.

That being said, I will honestly admit that something about this (which again, I've seen before) has rubbed me the wrong way.

First off, I see the subgenre gravitating around those two events because one is huge and well-known worldwide, and the other is huge and well known in the US. I think it's mostly inevitable. And I think not only is there going to be a huge glut of this stuff because of that and pure Sturgeonism [having a lot of works means having a lot of bad works], but that you can't readily shift from one style to another.

I mean, even for lowbrow cheap thrillers, for every Larry Bond-type "big war thriller" you have a million boilerplate shoot the terrorist novels. And I am rock-solid in my belief that A: Most of those latter thriller writers have little desire to write a broad-scope tale of the Second Korean War, the Sudanese-American War, or whatever else, and B: If they did, it would be as bad as big-war-flops Ian Slater and William W. Johnstone. Like even talented writers who I like have clearly struggled when they've tried to shift genres.

AH makes things even more pronounced in that regard because as I've repeated many times, anything but the most blatant changes (like say, those two things you mentioned) are simply not branded or marketed as alternate history.

Now for the more controversial part (and again, I don't mean any disrespect, I just have to say my honest harsh opinion):

This whole "New Alternate History" thing came across to me as elitist and to a degree in-group cliquey in a fight over a niche internet fandom. Even if this wasn't intentional it still felt this way. And I don't really think that's the best way to go about it. You can point to stuff that rises above the mushy pack without coming across as pushing the median down. There's a reason why I feel a little guilty about my past "Bad Fiction Spotlights" but have nothing but love for my later positive Fuldapocalypse reviews.

Because I feel you really can't. And if there was some alien space bat random omnipotent being warp god that redirected the bulk of self-published AH to something else, we'd be complaining about that and likely rightfully so. Instead of having the "Nazi Confederates Take Over The World" words turned into a bunch of interesting and quirky "Alternate History as a Setting" pieces, you'd have tons of other lowest-common denominator "AH As A Genre" stories in their place. Stuff like the US being made even more powerful and destroying all its opponents with superweapons in "battles" that would make one yearn for the balance and prose of post-1991 Tom Clancy. Or some "Byzantine Empire Rises Again and Conquers the World" stuff.

I think a better way is to just promote diverse and interesting alternate history without fuss, and for the "Nazi Confederates Take Over The World", kindly point out ways to avoid the most obvious pitfalls.

Again, no disrespect intended, I just don't see the proposed strategy as the most helpful or productive one. Thoughts?
I'd like to thank everyone for their comments so far, and thank particularly @David Flin for taking my insomniac ramblings and deftly editing them into something readable, along with some fantastic illustrations.

The source of this new series was about six weeks ago, when a particularly bad bout of not sleeping led to reading the two essays by @monroe I cite at the beginning of this essay, and wondering about writing a reply. It took a few nights to come together, but I wanted to write something that was partially a response but also a way forward; monroe very deftly laid out the myriad of issues with The Guns of the South and the encroachment of fascism into the genre, but I felt like having been a writer and reviewer of AH I might also have some thoughts on a potential solution.

So for @RyanF and others I'll clarify that this is the first in four (so far) completed essays on New Alternate History, with a fifth currently being plotted out. It's entirely on me that I decided to be pompous and divide each essay also into numbered parts, which is something that carries on into future essays.

The purpose of the essays is to propose a way forward, but I certainly don't want to make it sound like I have the only idea in town or - to directly address @Coiler and his thoughtful comment - become elitist. There's no need to apologize Coiler, yours is an excellent set of points to make, and the only difference between you and me is I decided to throw my words into an article for David to throw up onto the blog. I don't want to punch down at all of the Swastika and Stars and Bars fiction because that would make me a massive hypocrite, both reviewing some of said titles and also having one of my stories set in a successful Operation Sealion, after all. That's why I wanted to open by highlighting good quality AH fiction set in both universes - by @varyar and @MAC161 - because I believe it is possible. And I don't hold to what I consider the extremist position of anyone writing in those universes being bad people or contributing to fascism, racism etc which I know some on the forum hold to.

But I also want to both highlight how much of a hold the Swastika and Bars has on the genre and point a way towards pivoting from it. The next essay I think will take that point forward a bit further, because I highlight another key aspect that I think has simultaneously made Nazis and Confederates dominant and made highlighting any other subgenre within AH very difficult. Hint: it involves the Erotica Readers and Writers Association (and not the Aeromorph stuff I use to haunt the nightmares of @Tom Colton and anyone else who sees it on Facebook)

Looking forward to the rest of the series ^-^
I will be watching how this develops with interest; the main problem I have faced as a published AH author has been of publisher after publisher claiming that doing lesser-known periods of history s 'too risky' or 'too niche'. Any way round this commercial tilt in production and publication is to be welcomed, though I have thought long and hard about how to make the non-Nazis/ Confederates themes seem more viable and appealing to the people who make the decisions and it is hard to overcome the 'computer says no' commercialist reaction.

One obvious one is a long-term shift in school courses in history and in subject choices for historical TV programmes away from the habit of focussing on the most 'relevant' or popular or best-known areas for courses - in which a lead from the top is vital. The number of TV shows on US networks about World War Two - and there's a considerable number of these on British satellite channels too, though thanks to the popularity of Tudors and Romans and to a lesser extent Vikings this is less so in the UK - is depressing. (But how much is the concentration on WW2 due to the sheer availability of lots of cheap film to fill up programmes?) More Lucy Worsley and Dan Snow type history programmes, a greater awareness of non-WW2 topics, and sheer plugging away at broadening interest and knowledge by younger viewers and readers all helps, and in the US more of a shift back to pre-1860 history and expansion into US relations with Central and South America and the Spanish past of the lands acquired in the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War in 1847-50?(useful for all the extra Latino population getting engaged with history?) And 'Green'/ 'Greater Diversity' - influenced shifts in TV programmes to engaging with the 'more sustainable' Native American cultures, at least by Democrat-leaning TV makers - it should gain interest by the younger audience ?

I have managed though to get some 'analysis' style books out on topics and potential timelines in British history from Anglo-Saxon times to the English Civil War with the UK publisher Pen and Sword in 2011-15, to which my Roman / Byzantine (and post-1600 British) ebooks with Sealion from 2018 were a welcome addition - and my giant 'Alternative History of Rome' , where the Empire survives and mutates into a sort of multi-cultural medieval and Renaissance 'Commonwealth' , is re-starting with P and S in the next six months or so - taking up from where my 2020 Sealion blog left off in the AD 370s. (This is not a giant 'mass conquest by militarily aggressive empire with lots of 'imperialist conquests and cultural domination' like some C20th WW2 Nazi success Alt Hists, but more complex and nuanced.)

Other publishers and other suggestions for this sort of thing for my plans for publication are welcome, and ditto using ideas from my books for stories - I have rather more ideas than I have had time to explore. As a professional historian I have of course had the advantage of being able to cannibalise ideas and subjects from my own jobs and access to a lot of material that is difficult to access for the non-expert, but the sheer breadth of material now out there on the internet means that if you have the interest it is much easier to find things and learn and imagine than it was in, say, the 1980s when my Rome writing rally got underway.

Reconciling all this with the all-pervasive tone of maximising your commercial viability for the investors is the main drawback, but smaller companies with internet forums and less of a Dragons Den-style 'spreadsheet obsession with getting a Quick Return' are at an advantage here. With open access to the internet and a worldwide forum the potential for expanding the game here is I would argue hopeful. I have managed to sell a few thousand copies of some of my books in Alt Hist (Romans and Tudors, mainly) so it is not all WW2 and General Lee, and this is an expanding genre though all too frequently there are still setbacks. (The WW2 obsession and lack of knowledge of non-modern history was already a problem when I was a teenager, not least due to all the boys' comics going on about WW2 battles and evil Nazis endlessly - which I found rather annoying. WW2 was rather a 'subject to be avoided' in my own family, as my father actually fought in it and was not keen on bringing it up.) The more ideas we share the better ....
Minor typo:

Indeed, it wiil, by definition, not be easy to implement,

I agree other efforts should be explored. The principle issue is that WW2 looms large in the public consciousness, our politics and our culture - many of the major institutions people surround themselves with can trace their inception (or significant development compared to how things were before) back to WW2 and its aftermath effects: the EU, NATO, the UN, Keynesianism, decolonisation, the Cold War and global communism, etc.

The American Civil War arguably plays a smaller role for the US (and thus spreads to Anglophone media in general), if not necessarily to the same degree. However since a lot of AH is "what if X country was different?" and having a chunk of your country break away in the most notable part of its short history is when that (to Joe Average) could happen, this will naturally peak interest

Conversely, "what if Sukarno had thwarted Suharto's coup and led Indonesia into the Cold War as the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement?" will prompt a lot of confusion from the general public who will wonder what Sukarno, Suharto, the Non-Aligned Movement and Indonesia are (some people's geographic knowledge is truly horrendous). WW2 is something people can be vaguely familiar with (although once you get outside a Western audience it gets a lot more complicated), whereas something like the Sumerians may as well be aliens as far as the average reader is concerned (unless they actually live in Mesopotamia I guess).

Even amongst the historical fandom, a lot of AH is very "technical" - "how would WW2 have gone differently if the Panzer IV has a 2 inch longer side skirt?" or "What if Kennedy gets shot with a Type 77 Arisaka?" Stuff like this tends to draw in your tread heads and gizmo fanatics, which will naturally look for areas in which their preferred wunderwaffe will matter.

There's also the fact that a lot of writers are, to put it bluntly, not super imaginative. They will generally go with what's familiar and what they like. If they like WW2, they will read a lot about it and be more interested in fiction that takes place there because of this (conversely some timeline about the Angevins will be Different and Confusing, which increases reader attrition even if those who maintain their curiosity get rewarded). A lot of people get into the AH genre via stuff like Fatherland and High Castle - this is why so many Nazi victory scenarios take place in the 1960s, because Harris and Dick wrote them there (along with some logistical reasons) and people tend to follow the leader.

Still, if one looks at popular AH, there are a decent number of non-Nazi, non-Confederate ones. 1983 is some Polish series about an on-going Cold War and then there's For All Mankind. World War is a popular series that gets a lot of people in, which is WW2 focused but with aliens (I still need to finish that one actually). However WW2 tends to dominate disproportionately for the TV Screens and arguably more so when you focus on written AH.

(Does Gladiator count if the general public knows fuck all about Roman history?)

However, on the optimistic side, I suspect that as AH outside of the Nazi-Confederate dyad becomes more common, this will create a bit of a snowball effect. The internet can also help a lot - for many people, learning about history is harder without the internet due to difficulty accessing information (as well as discussions), leading to a smaller number of topics dominating. With the internet, it is much, much easier to get access to information. And who knows, with the way LLMs and translation programs are going, maybe getting access to non-English sources will be easier than ever and get the Anglosphere audiences to start to acknowledge the wider world.

(Although the downside of the internet is that it leads to the "Wikipedia is all the sourcing I need" school of writing)

I don't think this will lead to interest being equally distributed - I suspect modern AH will remain more popular than pre-modern AH (sorry Sumerians) due to its greater relevance to peoples lives. Still, I think the dominance of a very narrow band of alternate history is probably coming to a close if it hasn't already.

Then again, though I don't mean to be dismissive, I've never found concerns about fandom politics, when these things are relatively minor, to be anything more than people's anxieties over association and norms *drops mic*.
I suspect modern AH will remain more popular than pre-modern AH (sorry Sumerians) due to its greater relevance to peoples lives.

Pre-modern PODs seem popular if they're a history 'everyone knows' and especially if them carrying on into the present day is 'cool' - the aforementioned Aztec gumshoe series, the old saw of Rome Never Fell, Pavane with the Spanish Armada winning*, The American Revolution Failed and the US is still ruled by the crown etc.

* Turtledove also did this one but to have Shakespeare as a resistance agent
Pre-modern PODs seem popular if they're a history 'everyone knows' and especially if them carrying on into the present day is 'cool'

It's what I call "The World Turned Upside Down" AH, where there's a gigantic and obvious societal historical power shift of some sort. Although far more varied and ranging from romantic comedy "AH As A Setting" to stuff like The Years of Rice And Salt, it's numerous enough that I consider it a third pillar of mass market alternate history along side the ACW/WW2 duo (which can be argued are just that but more recent).
You can try the method of creating an Alt Hist cultural or political situation that does not look like it's got any modern relevance but in fact has a lot of relevance, by drawing in modern parallels , to expand the number of people who will be interested. For instance, I've tried the theme of the short-lived British 'republic' under the Cromwellian Commonwealth and Protectorate in 1649 -1660 surviving for decades, as a C17th equivalent of a modern military or military-led oligarchy subject to coups or inter-general struggles and the question of 'how do you create a more voter-responsive and less tax-heavy state by slowly demobilising or sidelining the army and how do you stop the latter panicking and pulling the plug on this?

This would have been a genuine possibility for GB in the mid-C17th had Cromwell lived longer - he died at 59, though that was more common in that period than it is now, and his son Richard and his mother both lived into their 80s - so could OC have lasted into his 70s and kept his assorted civilian and military support factions together? But you have parallels with the possibilities and the reality for slowly civilianising but coup-prone milit govts in modern South America - Pinochet's Chile, the post-junta Argentina of the 1980s with its plethora of coup attempts, or even the military mutiny threats to Corazon Aquino's post- Marcos regime in the Philippines from 1986. Or of course the situation in Spain post-Franco and the coup attempt of 1981 (which gave me the idea for this scenario in the 1660s or 1670s UK when I was a student at the time). Which was wiser or safer for a 'road to democratization', the 'keep some power behind the scenes as Commander in Chief or Head of the Senate' road for Pinochet (though he had to be pushed into this) or the 'Hang On Grimly To The Last Minute Possible in Your Old Age' of Franco? And you can also suggest the same sort of course for a Russia post-1917 where the Whites win the Civil War and you end up with Admiral Kolchak or General Deniken as the head of state and the army calling the shots.

The challenge here is to flag up the agenda of your timeline and your parallels between Real and Imaginary History (and your purpose in coaxing people to stop and think about issues such as determinism as well as entertaining them) so that non-experts can see what you're doing and why, and find it interesting. Not to make it too complicated but to put in plenty of interesting and imaginative suggestions so it looks exciting but has a purpose too. And/or put in real people who had different careers in OTL, in new but plausible situations in your version of events - like the alt-Shakespeare in 'Pavane'. I'm putting my own alt-Shakespeare (and lots more real figures, from King Alfred of England to Abraham Lincoln) in my own Rome saga. Getting it right and drawing in non-experts is the main issue here - and operating by instinct.

The only AltHist books I've ever seen in a mainstream big book chain are by Turtledove - presumably as he's the only one of the authors that buyers are marginally familiar with.
The Louisiana Purchase has always seemed to have potential. It probably isn't well enough known outside the US, or perhaps within, to be the focus. The longer term implications for a very different contemporary or near-contemporary US are fascinating, though. I made a start, but I need to do a lot more reading on the period to make progress. This is the basic chronology up to about 1900.

I also did a short story set in a Federal Scotland with a cameo appearance from Dan Smith, despite the POD being 1919. I think having a recognisable character in a different world helps by giving a hook for the reader.

I have an idea for a vignette in the novel I'm working on, based on my Changed World stories using a similar premise.
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