Saturday, May 17, 2008

What If?

by Brian Mullen

I absolutely LOVE alternative histories. I have a pile of them I'm waiting to read and a few audiobooks I've managed to listen to in my vehicular travelling.

If you're not familiar with the genre, here's the premise in a nutshell. Select a fundamental event in history (say the American Colonies winning the Revolutionary War) and imagine what would have happened had the event occurred in some other way (i.e. we lost). How would the world be different? Write a story set in that reality.

One of the greats of alternative histories has got to be Harry Turtledove. I have, though have not yet read, "The Guns of the South" in which time travellers, hoping to alter history to their benefit, travel back to the American Civil War and supply the Confederates with automatic weapons. It's first on my "To Read" list.

The next one I have is titled "Pavane" by Keith Roberts and is based in a world where the Spanish Armada defeated the British Navy.

But the one that had initially captured my imagination is called "For Want of a Nail" by Robert Sobel and is the example I began the blog with. The British win the Revolutionary War and those unwilling to continue to live under British rule move...and create the United States of Mexico. The book itself is not really a novel but rather a fictitious history text book detailing the tumultuous history of these two countries including charts and appendices, quotes and speech excerpts, even footnote/references from where the information had supposedly been gathered.

It's fun to wonder "What If?" and imagine that the course of history could be significantly different over a single detail. I have long, long, long term plans to write such a story though I must admit my alternate histories will rely much more on imagination than on any real understanding of history. But, then again, that's what makes it fun in my opinion.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I imagine alternate histories of my own life, e.g., "What would have happened if my family stayed in Santa Barbara rather than returning to Detroit?" It's quite a bit of fun, and does shed some light onto the choices I've made.

Anonymous said...

Any close reading of history shows the impact one especially cold day, misunderstood instruction, purloined letter or technological glitch has on the course of events. All of that applies esp. to the Revolutionary War, which could've gone either way any number of times. That's what makes these alternative histories so much fun. Except for the time travelers, most of their premises are pretty plausible. Ah, the what-ifs. Great fun to speculate, and great sources for imaginative stories. Take away, Brian--I'm sure you could come up with something fresh and fun.

Joyce Tremel said...

Warning--Civil War geek in me coming out!

I always wonder what would have happened if Robert E. Lee would not have been so dead set on attacking the middle of the Union line at Gettysburg on July 3rd and instead went around to the right as Longstreet suggested. Would they have won that battle? Maybe. Would it have made a difference as to the result of the war? Probably not.