Though our history might represent a nearly endless treasure trove of stories to uncover about people and places alike, there is one major flaw in it which we can’t seem to overcome: it’s set in stone. No matter how many times we read about certain historical events, the way they went down will never change, and neither will their consequences on the world.
Artists, however, especially writers, are the kind of people who are rarely satisfied with a single version of events… in essence, they can’t help but ask themselves: “what if?”. While our real history might never be changed, in the realm of fiction it becomes subservient to us, and not the other way around for a change.
Ever since the idea of alternate history fiction arose, writers have been flocking to it, seeing the opportunity to rewrite the past on their own terms, even if only in an imaginary world. Ultimately, this gave rise to a wave in literature still popular to this day, where authors simply love to explore the alternate routes our history might have taken had certain events turned out differently.
In this zone we’re going to be taking a look at some alternate history novels which I believe offer some truly unique and interesting ideas, rather than simply being an author’s personal fantasy. I think novels in this genre are at their best when they take a grounded and intelligent approach and they’re the ones I want to keep my focus on.
Harry Turtledove has inside of his head a trove of historical knowledge few can even aspire to, giving him a better basis than most to ask questions about alternate courses of history. In his novel Ruled Britannia, he takes us to the year 1588 and explores a world where the Spanish Armada succeeds in its conquest of Britain through the lives of two significant men: William Shakespeare and Lope de Vega.
Kim Stanley Robinson focused on science-fiction for much of his career, but he nevertheless dabbled in other genres, one of them being alternate history with his novel The Years of Rice and Salt. Taking us to the fourteenth century, the novel explores what might have happened to humanity had the black plague claimed ninety-nine percent of the European population.
Rachel Caine has created an enthralling universe of alternate history in her Great Library Series, portraying a world where the library of Alexandria survived the fire. In the third book, titled Ash and Quill, we follow Jess and his band as they take refuge in a rebellious Burner world, opposed to the library’s tyranny. However, Jess finds more enemies than friends among them, but holds one bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine capable of withstanding the Great Library.
Rachel Caine has begun a remarkable work in dystopian fiction and alternate history when she started The Great Library series, exploring a world where the library of Alexandria survived the great fire. In the second book, titled Paper and Fire, we continue to follow Jess Brightwell as after one wrong move, him and his friends find themselves hunted in Alexandria and are forced to flee all the way to London.
Rachel Caine (pen name of Roxanne Longstreet Conrad) is no stranger to rewriting history in her many book series, and with Ink and Bone she does so once again, marking the beginning of The Great Library series. Taking us to a world where the Great Library of Alexandria survived the test of time, we follow a young man who witnesses the unravelling of a world ruled by knowledge, considered by some to be more valuable than human lives.
Philip Roth has likely won more awards in his lifetime than most of us knew even existed, and even after his passing his brilliant works still find their ways onto our bookshelves, as is the case with The Plot Against America, written back in 2004 published posthumously.
Stanislaw Kapuscinski (pen name Stan I.S. Law) has regaled us with a profoundly entertaining and thought-provoking tale with The Avatar Syndrome, presenting us with the gifted outsider Anne, a memorable protagonist who returns once again for the second book in the trilogy, Headless World.
The events are taking place years down the line as Anne is now married to Peter and with two children. As the world seems to be heading closer and closer to nuclear world war, shady powers are starting to make a bid on Peter’s invention, a revolutionary treatment method that could eventually grant untold control over human beings.