Alternate History novels.

Enough of the economics, my interest lies in writing fiction. However I expect I will use some contrarian economics in an alternate world scenario some time. Keep reading for the promise below of some free plot suggestions.

 

I see a lot of alternate history that starts with an event not happening, or turning out in an a-historical way, but what about impulses that try to go against the stream of history?

What about a successful class war in Medieval times? Watt Tyler tried to overthrow a cruel feudal society in 1381, as did many others, so how might their revolutions have turned out?

What if slavery was outlawed by the church in the early 16th Century? (Religious integrity overcoming economic interest.) Would Spain’s empire have foundered? What about all the later plantations in the New World?

What about the technical advances in the 1700s, that could have led to the Industrial Revolution taking off then – steam pumping engines, canal building, dyeing, cotton spinners, and knitting frames, etc? What they lacked in order to start the industrial ball rolling were the social conditions. These, if I recall correctly, were the agricultural advances that enclosed the common farmland and created a large dispossessed workforce, the colonies that supplied cheap raw materials, and the captive markets in those colonies for cheap manufactured goods – especially cotton products.

In my novels I wanted to bring together the ideas of starting an Industrial Revolution in a society not otherwise prepared for it, and that of the interactions between people with outlooks like our own and those of an earlier age. Like Samuel Clements (Mark Twain), who was so fascinated with the idea of juxtaposing our common sense with attitudes frozen in backward societies that he wrote “A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur”, I wanted to explore the interactions between moderns and people of an earlier time.

How would one create a scenario where a static society could be pushed enough to start it moving in a new direction? First, you have to pick a society – and select something that readers are already fascinated with. In our history, between 1650 and 1720, we have all the elements of swashbuckling adventurers (although strictly speaking, the buckler went out in Shakespeare’s time), sailing ships and cannon (seafights and pirates), revolutions and wars (Marlborough and Prince Eugene against Louis XIV’s marshals), and some good diarists (Pepys) to provide the day to day life as background.

This gives rise to my Iskander scenario.

My group of people with modern ideas and knowledge have to be brought into this earlier society, and they have to be persistent enough to overcome the inertia of ideas inimical to the developments they want to introduce. I didn’t see any alternative but to have them arrive together by some vehicle (a starship), and have no means of avoiding the task I set them (they are in an alternate Earth and cannot get back). The starship is just a taxi and becomes a geosynchronous satellite and communications base – I wanted to keep the focus on the realistic aspects. (No whizzing around the stars in space opera, and no funny-face aliens.)

There is a choice between bringing them into our own 17th – 18th Century world or a completely different one. If I chose ours, I need to have them act within already known parameters and events. I felt that limited me to another very English or American colonies what-if, since only a selected few foreign sources have been translated into a language I read. By picking a markedly different alternative world, I could use the culture of the period but set it in other parts of Europe, or even the world.

Early drafts were criticized as having too weak a story tension. These poor local inhabitants with their gunpowder weapons presented no danger to my modern whizz kids. This was before the Iraqis and Afghans demonstrated that the perseverance, doggedness, and outright cussedness of a less technically proficient society could outweigh all that modern technology could bring against them. (One more proof of the old military dictum that the spirit of the soldier is worth more than all the secret weapons imaginable.) Before 2006 I had to counter the impression of technological invincibility by introducing earlier stray starship invaders who arrived 200 years before and conquered the largest empire in the alternate Earth. (The Carthaginian). By the time my people arrive, these other strangers have clamped down an interdict on any technical advance which could upset the status quo of their empire. They thus provide a second and larger obstacle to my group’s success.

Ideas about the Multiverse hold there has to be a historical bifurcation to get into an alternate timeline, and I chose to have the Carthaginians win the Punic Wars. There was no Roman Empire on Gaia, the name of this alternate Earth.

I know there could be some weaknesses in my scenario, but throughout my emphasis has been on creating publishable character driven novels – and their requirement is different than a wargame or sim-type scenario. I propose to suggest possible openings and scenarios for a number of alternate history plots over the next few weeks (just think, some FR** novel plots that I’d like to see but don’t have the time to work on).

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3 Responses to “Alternate History novels.”

  1. Lisa L. Leibow Says:

    I’m fascinated by the ideas of alternate histories. In fact, today, the first day of National Novel Writing Month, I began a new first draft attempting an alternate history of my own.

    One of my favorite novels dealing with a “what if” scenario was Jim Fergus’s One Thousand White Women.

    Can you recommend some of your favorite published alternate histories?

    Love this topic!
    Lisa Lipkind Leibow
    http://www.LLLeibow.com

  2. kester2 Says:

    Must admit that no titles nor authors come to mind at the moment, but they would have been ancient Greek and English history. I would suggest that good ones would need to be close to Robert Graves’ “Claudius” novels which do not take too many liberties with history. I’m not a fan of the “if the South had won the war” or “if Hitler had invaded the US” genre.

    My own deal with entirely contrafactual events within a facsimile of late 17th century Europe, but the society I have in my scenario diverged from ours when the Carthaginians defeated Rome.

    Chris H.

  3. Vanessa Says:

    Great topic!!! I love alternate history and am working on a novel that straddles historical fantasy and alternate history.

    I can’t wait to read what you come up with!

    -Vanessa

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