Alternate Past, Alternate Future

When reading Alternate History, it seems not unlike hard scifi in that the authors take painstaking care to make everything technically (historically) correct. Alt History then does a “what if this happened instead? How would it change everything?” But they hew to history for every other detail in culture as well as technology as they work out the unfolding consequences.

When reading most scifi, though, it’s far less concerned with keeping to a factually correct probable future, instead of taking a single “if this goes on, how would it shape a world and society?” Even hard scifi, which I like, tends to focus on either making sure the physics is correct, or the hardware is within the current limits of extrapolation, but often fails to consider the change of cultures and how they’d be affected.

(Despite allegations, space opera can be much harder sci-fi on culture and biology affecting culture than the, ah, rivet-counting end of the spectrum. Lois Bujold and Monalisa Foster are both very good at building cultures off biology.)

But you know what’s really hewing closely to culture, politics, and technology with only a little speculation? Thrillers. The line between near-future thriller and science fiction is invisible to absent… consider Jurassic Park, or Peter Nealen’s Escalation.

Jim Curtis and James Young have just come out with a near-future thriller and an alternate-history thriller respectively, with two radically different, but extremely faithful takes on people, culture, and what if.

April Fool’s

Sean ‘Mac’ McCampbell just wants to keep his head down, avoid the riots, and finish his Linguistics PhD before his GI Bill runs out. But when the professors are promoting insurrection and the cops won’t contain the violence, Mac finds trouble won’t leave the people and places he loves alone.

There’s only so much hurt you can inflict on a man before he decides to do something about it.

The Long March is about to get a real surprise on April first!

Against the Tide Imperial: The Struggle for Ceylon (The Usurper’s War: An Alternative World War II Book 3)

July 1943. When the United Kingdom was torn asunder under a hail of German firebombs and nerve gas, the distant outpost of Ceylon was an afterthought for both Allies and Axis. Now, one year after King George VI’s death, the small island off of India becomes center stage for a titanic confrontation…

For Vice Admiral Tamon Yamaguchi, the Commonwealth forces on the island sit astride Japan’s sole reliable source of oil. With the Dutch East Indies’ refineries damaged during the Imperial Japanese conquest, Axis crude from the Persian Gulf and rubber from Ceylon’s plantations will be critical to the Japanese Navy’s ability to continue the war into 1944. Yamaguchi knows challenging Vice Admiral Andrew Cunningham may end poorly. Still, the Kido Butai is undefeated, and with good planning the Commonwealth’s Far East Fleet will have to face Yamaguchi’s carriers alone. With the Empire’s lifeblood on the line, the Japanese must roll the dice!

 

 

11 comments

  1. Alt-history readers tend to be really interested in the time period the author is messing with. That means the author has to get the details right, or else. There seems to be less tolerance for excessive handwavium than even in most hard sci-fi.

    1. The changes are harder to be rigorous about because so much depends on people whose reactions we don’t know — react.

      Especially people in high places whose reactions would matter if they lived long enough to have them.

  2. I think SciFi authors are weak at considering the cultural adaptations that would happen in their worlds because they fit the current culture poorly. We don’t quite understand people, especially in large groups.

    1. I’ve read it and my only “complaint” is that for some reason I thought it was set in the 60s-70’s time period but it’s a current day story.

      Oh Very Good Read! 😀

  3. I guess I’ll read April Fool, but inside I’ll be screaming, “Noooo! Don’t get a Ph.D. in linguistics! Go do something that makes sense!”

    1. From snippets, I have the impression his background makes it a good ticky box for what he wants to do in the Federal bureaucracy.

      But yeah, I was screaming a very similar thing on the inside. I eventually got myself to accept that there is more than one valid way to try to tackle the problems of foreign policy.

      James Young has a similar excuse. He recently did a dissertation in the history of suppression of enemy air defense doctrine.

  4. I prefer alt-history to “historical fiction” because it’s clear the author is making stuff up in the former; one can reasonably agree or not. With historical fiction, the line between history and fiction is much thinner and without knowing the time period, one can be led badly astray. In this example, I know absolutely nothing about Ceylon so the author can do anything with it and I won’t know whether it is right or not – and since it is alternate history, it doesn’t matter. I may think something actual is part of the alternative, but that does no harm. I feel lied to by historical fiction – even if I cannot point to any particular thing. I read Michner’s Space in High School and it did lie. I haven’t read historical fiction since.

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