Genre Friday!

Helping people find the book (or books) they wanted is great. Helping people find the books that they never knew they wanted is even better!

Introducing Genre Fridays, a quick, once-a-week look at a random genre, subgenre, theme, setting, etc. It may be a genre you love, it may be one you hate, or it may be one that you have never heard of – regardless, here you will get a brief description as well as a few examples of books in the genre. You might just find your next favorite book. Or maybe you won’t. Either way, it’s meant to be horizon broadening so please enjoy.

Alternate History

Alternate history is usually lumped in with science fiction because many, but certainly not all, alternate history stories contain sci-fi elements, but this sometimes-sci-fi subgenre is often thought of as a genre in its own right. Regardless of the presence or influence of science fiction, the stories always revolve around a drastic change to historical events or circumstances. The primary distinction, if a distinction is made at all, between science fiction based alternate history and the larger genre of alternate history is what is causing the alteration to history and how those alterations have played out.

In science fiction-y alternate history the changes occur when a person or group of people (and often their equipment, vehicles and weapons – these types of stories usually deal with some war or military action of the past and often those that are sent back are soldiers themselves) are somehow propelled backwards through time. This can be accomplished through technology or some unknown phenomenon. Another possibility is that the change in history, whatever it was, has led to an anachronistically advanced society or world – these stories often show similarities to the steampunk subgenre of science fiction.

Pure alternate history depicts might-have-been scenarios. History is filled with near-miss situations that the author can easily tweak to say, “what if this crucial situation had been resolved differently?” Common themes once again revolve around military conflicts, most notably; ‘What if the South had won the Civil War?’, or ‘What if the Axis Powers had won World War II?’ Despite being complete speculation these stories are often meticulously researched and are based upon an author’s educated guess at what might have been, skipping all of the more fanciful or improbable elements found in science fiction based alternate history.

Examples:

Alternative History1632 by Eric Flint

How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove

Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp

Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

 

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