Of the previously untranslated stories, ‘The Other Death’ and ‘Rosendo’s Tale’ are probably the most finely drawn. The former postulates the existence of an alternative history, and the ability of God to modify the past; while the latter is actually a rewriting, in the manner of Akutagawa’s Roshomen, of the aforementioned ‘Streetcorner Man.’
Alternative histories, tales of Earth with usually one historical detail changed in the past, and chronicling the resulting effects today.
A noted example is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which provided the trigger mechanism for the First World War, which, in turn, led to the second conflict a quarter of a century later. What kind of world might we now be living in had the Archduke survived? Such speculations form the basis of alternative-history fiction, or worlds that might have been.
Silverberg’s ‘Trips’ (1974), referred to at the beginning of this sub-section, depicts tourist trips to such alternative histories as those where the Industrial Revolution never happened, where the Mongols have achieved a world-wide Empire, and, inevitably, where Germany won the Second World War.
Almost all the Alternative History computer simulations suggest that the Battle of Tours (AD 732) was one of the crucial disasters of mankind.
Ward Moore’s name lives on because of two novels, the satirical Greener Than You Think (1947), a great success in its time, and a classic alternative world story, Bring the Jubilee (1953), in which the hero lives in an America where the South won the Battle of Gettysburg; his interference in the battle to which he time-travels, causes the North to win. So matters turn out as we know them today. The wit and ingenuity of this story influenced more recent excursions into alternative history such as Harry Harrison’s A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!
This time, however, the distancing devices are the fantasy elements of hexes and effective magic and the SF paraphernalia of alternative history. Seventh Son is the fascinating first volume of an other-history saga of the American frontier, flawed only by the inclusion of an emigré William Blake as Taleswapper.
In this excellent alternative history, vampires rule the world of the 17th century.
The novelist, delightfully impervious to notions of alternative history, swallows the values of his own society lock, stock, and barrel.
This time it’s the turn of that hardy science fiction standby, the alternative history story, built around the question ‘What if events had worked out otherwise?’ But RK stood it on its head. This is the tale of how a history different from ours was stopped from happening.
I say alternative history is science fiction.
Harry Turtledove has established himself as the grand master of the alternative history form… How Few Remain is perhaps his best so far.
I did play a little game at the beginning, having to do with ‘the moment of change,’ which always is of interest in an alternative history: i.e., what precisely was the moment in which history changed onto the alternative track, and what was it?
I thought it would be naive and something like racism in reverse to suggest that if we got rid of Europe the world would have happily put itself together. There are all kinds of double binds in writing an alternative history. Do you make the alternate world better or worse?
The science fiction tradition of the alternative history and the time travel story often discuss the same set of hypotheses.
Robert Polito, in his college newspaper
Last modified 2021-04-07 13:12:52
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.