The state of TIAH
June 16th, 2006 - something a little different
What is Alternate History?
From time to time, confused people have emailed the Academy or commented on our posts to tell us that we got this or that historical fact wrong, or to ask us where we got our facts, since we know something different from the “official” record. Usually, we will simply reply by telling them that this is an alternate history site, and therefore what they see recorded here are events that didn't actually occur. One person became so offended by this that he declared himself anti-alternate-history. Our email can be interesting at times.
Some people who do get the concept sometimes feel that a lot of what we do here at the Academy isn't real Alternate History; we introduce aliens, or supernatural events, or give Pete Best talent. It could be said that virtually any fiction could be interpreted as an alternate history, diverging from our own world at some point and in some unknown way. The people who complain about the Mlosh, or neo-Nazi time travel, or Pete Best's inevitable superstardom, have a much narrower definition in mind. For them, Alternate History is focused on either/or moments in actual history, and they only want to see stories about that.
This definition of Alternate History has a long and storied pedigree – Winston Churchill wrote an essay about how different the world would have been if the American Confederacy had lost the Civil War, Newt Gingrich ruined William Forstchen's career with 1945, and there was even a much-bandied about piece in The New Republic about George Bush's removal from office. In this view of Alternate History, the only fictionalizing allowed is that moment of decision – instead of following the pattern of events in our own timeline, the Alternate History goes down the other path, and we have a 20th Century American Confederacy, a triumphant Nazi regime reigning over Europe, or a world where George Bush actually did something besides vacation in his early presidency.
But, no less a giant in the Alternate History world than Harry Turtledove – a real-life historian of our very own timeline – has included fantastic elements such as aliens in his fiction, and made wonderful stories out of this. I would say that if you are limiting Alternate History by placing artificial restrictions on it, you are limiting yourself to a world view that is too narrow, and not opening yourself up to all of the possibilities that lie in this genre. I'm not going to go so far as to say that all fiction is Alternate History, but I would like to see a wider embrace of supernatural elements within it.
That's our opinion here in the Academy. What do you think? As always, we have the Forum and comments section for you to weigh in on – let us know your definition of Alternate History.
Back to the fiction tomorrow!
Today's "Six Degrees of Star Trek" challenge: Connect Winston Churchill to Star Trek. Place your answers in the comments and see the Forum for previous results. For more on 6 degrees games, click here.
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Good long fiction from the AH. See a review of Warp at Universe Pathways Magazine
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