Alternative history is a re-think of the events of the past, asking ‘what if—‘ a certain historical event either didn’t happen at all, or the outcome, for whatever reason, was different than actuality. Generally speaking, alternative history writing falls into one of three broad categories:
The serious, analytical examination of history by professional historians. Examples are the ‘What If-“series edited by Robert Cowley. I find them only mildly interesting [this from a self-acknowledged history buff!] and for the most part, boring. This results, no doubt, from the dry recitation of facts; there’s no ‘story’.
Those novels begin with the ‘what if’ question, but use fantasy or science fiction as the mechanism to resolve the question. I am a great science fiction fan, but choke for some reason on the ideas of F-14s at Pearl Harbor, automatic weapons at the Battle of Bunker Hill or aliens at the Alamo!. My peculiarity. I don’t have any examples of this category, because I don’t read it!
The third category also asks ‘what if’, but constrains itself to the limits of the time and place. Fine examples of this category are Newt Gingrich’s Civil War series [the premise is that the South won the Battle of Gettysburg], and his WWII series as well [this series assumes that the Japanese sent in the planned third raid at Pearl Harbor]. No discussion of this category could be complete without a deferential nod to the dean of alternative history, Harry Turtledove. Recent releases by Mr. Turtledove include the thoughtful “Hitler’s War”, where the dictator decides to go to war a bit before he’s really ready; “The Man With the Iron Heart”, which explores what might have happened had an organized group of Nazis continued the war as partisans. His new series, beginning with Opening Atlantis, explores what might have happened had the mysterious continent been discovered between Europe and the New World.
My soon-to-be-released novel, America: Under Attack, falls into the third category. I have used as ‘what if’ the subtle idea that instead of stupidly killing himself by carelessness in 1936 [he took off in an airplane with the gust locks still in place], Luftwaffe Chief of Staff General Walther Wever instead survives to successfully defend the concept of large, long-range bombers as an equal part of the Luftwaffe structure. The impacts on the war in Britain and the Continent, as well as Russia, come into play. Even more, interestingly, it also opens the door to transatlantic bomber raids on the US homeland.
What do you think?