WRC 2020: Alternate Histories

Banner showing six alternate history titles

Alternate histories are all about “What if X happened instead of Y?” or  “What if X become involved with event Y?” and how that might change the world, in small ways and large. In no particular order, here are a few stories exploring some “What ifs”:

  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick – What if the United States had lost WWII and we now lived under Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany rule?
  • His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik – First book in the Temeraire series, or the Napoleonic wars with dragons!
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde – An alternate 1985 where England and Imperial Russia are still fighting a 100-year-long Crimean War. More specifically: in a world where one can literally get lost in literature, Thursday Next, a Special Operative in literary detection, tries to stop the world’s Third Most Wanted criminal from kidnapping characters, including Jane Eyre, from works of literature. First in the Thursday Next series.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – Alternate 19th-century England but with magic.
  • Recursion by Blake Crouch – Investigating a suicide, New York City police officer Barry Sutton finds a connection to the outbreak of a memory-altering disease and a controversial neuroscientist working to preserve precious memories. This is a modern-set story but plays around with alternate histories, as characters in the book literally alter their own personal histories.
  • Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan – Set in an alternate 1980s with synthetic androids emerging, this tale follows a couple who create an android’s personality and then both fall in love with him.
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King – One of the more popular ones of this genre in recent memory, here King poses the question “What if a time traveler stopped the JFK assassination?”
  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth – FDR is defeated in 1940, and instead Charles Lindbergh is elected.
  • 1632 by Eric Flint – An entire town in West Virgina is transported from 200 to 1630s and must defend their town during the 30 years war. First in a series.
  • Everfair by Nisi Shawl – A steampunk-infused novel about a haven created in Africa for former slaves and those fleeing the Congo.
  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal – In 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Won Nebula, Locus and Hugo awards. First in series.
  • Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon – During WWII, a remote Jewish colony was founded in Alaska for those fleeing the war. The book takes place in modern times, with a murder mystery exploring the town.
  • Cold Magic by Kate Elliott – 19th Century fantasy tale playing with the idea that the Ice Age never ended. First in the Spiritwalker trilogy.
  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – What if the Underground Railroad was actually a railroad? After Cora, a slave in pre-Civil War Georgia, escapes with another slave, Caesar, they seek the help of the Underground Railroad as they flee from state to state and try to evade a slave catcher, Ridgeway, who is determined to return them to the South. Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence.
  • The Years of Rice and  Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson – In an alternate history world in which the population of Europe is almost completely wiped out by the Black Death during the fourteenth century, three superpowers -China, India, and the nations of Islam- battle for supremacy in a World War destined to create a new world order.