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Great alternative history books?

Time Travel, Alternate Histories and Parallel Worlds

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1john257hopper
Sep 2, 2006, 12:13pm Top

I love alternative histories - two great ones I've enjoyed are Robert Harris's Fatherland and Kim Stanley Robinson's Years of Rice and Salt.

Any other recommendations?

John

2andyl
Sep 2, 2006, 2:17pm Top

Well how about Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle - a lot of it reads like a fantasy but it is more than that. It won the BSFA Award.

I also have a soft spot for Christopher Priest's The Separation (which won the BSFA and the Arthur C. Clarke Award), Keith Roberts's Pavane and Kingsley Amis's The Alteration

3Hamburgerclan
Oct 12, 2006, 10:41am Top

The Aquiliad series by Somtow Sucharitkul is an amusing look at a North America colonized by the Roman Empire.
--J.

4MrKris
Nov 19, 2006, 1:31pm Top

Message removed.

5Akiyama
Dec 8, 2006, 11:25am Top

My favourites are The Children's War by J.N.Stroyar and Making History by Stephen Fry. I've read both of them several times. I would also recommend Under the Yoke and The Stone Dogs by S. M. Stirling (out of print I'm afraid) and Collaborator by Murray Davies. I guess I have a thing about dystopias.

Fatherland I found boring. Years of Rice and Salt was a wonderfully imagined world but I find Mr. Robinson's writing style is not as exciting as I would like it to be. The Separation was a good read, and thought provoking, but it did rather confuse me. The Alteration was quite amusing. Harry Turtledove's books are very hit and miss - some of them are top-rate pageturners, others the writing is so bad you wonder how anyone could have the gall to publish it.

6MrKris
Dec 8, 2006, 1:00pm Top

Message removed.

8bookmasterjmv
Dec 8, 2006, 2:37pm Top

I enjoyed the first couple of books of Eric Flint's (as well as David Weber's) Assiti Shards/Ring of Fire series, starting with 1632, 1633, and 1634.

It's very interesting.

Modern-day West Virginian town transported smack dab in the middle of the Thirty Year War in Germany. The West Virginians try to establish their own nation there.

I also enjoyed Turtledove's Ruled Britannia, which says, "What if Elizabeth's Royal Navy HADN'T beaten the Spanish Armada?" and the implications following that. Shakespeare is the "hero" of that book.

Best of luck in finding a great read!

9MrKris
Dec 8, 2006, 3:34pm Top

Message removed.

10richardderus
Jan 9, 2007, 1:42pm Top

I loved The Severed Wing by Martin Gidron very much. I loved Pavane because it was such a trippy thing to think about alternate history at all when I found the book in the 70s.

The Rivers of War by Eric Flint is wonderful! I'm looking froward to reading the next book, 1824: The Arkansas War.

I'm a fan of Ruled Britannia though less so of the other Turtledove books, because the dialogue and characterizations are so wildly variable in quality between books. I find that very puzzling.

11rerj37 First Message
Edited: Jan 21, 2007, 4:32am Top

Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee was the first Alternative History I can remember reading, and is still hard to beat.
I have just finished John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy, Weapons of Choice, Designated Targets, and Final Impact.

12AnnSanFrancisco First Message
Jan 27, 2007, 1:00pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

13mrgrooism
May 28, 2007, 11:14am Top

The first Alternate History book I ever read was called Alternate Presidents. and handled each US Presidential term with different authors positing how history might have changed if an opponent had won instead.

There was a sequel called Alternate Kennedys that I'm now sorry I never picked up.

14Jasper
May 28, 2007, 1:58pm Top

Of Turtledove's many (many!) alternate histories, his best was The Guns of the South. What if Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was supplied with AK47s and boots and K-rats...

15mrgrooism
May 28, 2007, 2:58pm Top

#14 - I agree, that's my fave of his as well. Although I went into it just thinking "Alternate History" meant different outcome, so the Ak-47's were a bit of a surprise!

16leennnadine
May 29, 2007, 1:22am Top

If you liked Fatherland,I think you'd really like Farthing by Jo Walton.

17Jim53
May 29, 2007, 9:58am Top

I really liked Terry Bisson's Fire on the Mountain. The premise is that John Brown and Harriet Tubman succeeded in their raid on Harper's Ferry, and a new nation is founded called Nova Africa. Some very interesting characters. IIRC there's mention of an alternative history book that actually describes our own world.

18keren7
Feb 22, 2008, 10:57am Top

There is also The plot against America if I understand the meaning of alternate history correctly.

19Hamburgerclan
Feb 29, 2008, 12:54am Top

I find myself addicted to the "Timeline-191" series of novels by Harry Turtledove. It follows North American history after the South has won the Civil War. The first book, How Few Remain, recounts the second war between the States, as the U.S.A. goes looking for a fight against it's southern neighbor. The next section of the series is The Great War trilogy, which recounts a World War I where there's no need for the North Americans to go "over there". Then comes the American Empire: Blood and Iron trilogy, which I'm tempted to think of as a placeholder to bring the reader to the final four Settling Accounts novels. (Which I have yet to read.)

I enjoy the way Turtledove recounts his tales, telling history from the perspective of a variety of protagonists, scattered across the continent. In How Few Remain, the main characters are pretty much people who have achieved fame in our own history. In the rest of the books, all but one of the main characters are Turtledove originals.

20TeacherDad
Mar 4, 2008, 12:18am Top

#18 - that was a tough one to get through, but worth it...

21richardderus
Jul 1, 2008, 10:04pm Top

Resurrecting this little thread: I have recently become enamoured of steampunk as an alternate history form, and would eagerly recommend the anthology Steampunk edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer.

The anthology contains a number of good stories, but probably the most bizarre was "The God-Clown Is Near" by Jay Lake. Very, very bizarre tale of a technologist whose skills creating automata are used by two gangsters to take their plan for world domination to the next level. Their comeuppance is gruesomely approriate, but also funny. It's a difficult thing to make a morality tale both gruesome and amusing! I had to read more by this man, so I asked for Mainspring, his novel of a universe in which the watchmaker-God is literally true, on my amazon.com wishlist. It arrived yesterday, and as of now I've read 100pp of pure pleasure!

I'm sure I can think of other alternate histories to recommend, but can any of y'all?

22daschaich
Jul 2, 2008, 8:04pm Top

Your talk of resurrecting this thread made me think of The Resurrections by Simon Louvish. I didn't care for the writing style that much, but the background is interesting -- Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht lead a successful socialist revolution in post-WWI Germany, Leon Trotsky displaces Stalin to take power in Russia, while Goebbels, Hitler, et al. flee to America and eventually become major players in George Wallace's segregationist American Party. The story itself is set in 1968.

One other I read recently is SS-GB by Len Deighton, a mystery dealing with the murder of a nuclear physicist in German-occupied 1941 London.

Even more recently I read The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon, another alternate-history murder mystery, this one set in a world where a Jewish homeland was established in Alaska instead of Palestine. (Apparently this was under consideration in real life, and Chabon simply kills off the main opponent of the plan in a traffic accident.) Mysteries aren't the sort of thing I generally enjoy, but Chabon was able to keep my interest (better than Deighton).

Martin J. Gidron's The Severed Wing (which you mentioned earlier) is probably next on my list.

23richardderus
Edited: Jul 2, 2008, 10:45pm Top

>22 daschaich: daschaich, I haven't made it to The Resurrections on my wish list yet. Is it something that you'd recommend heartily? Anything less that a full-throated roar in favor tends to slip down my list.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union surprised me. I enjoyed it very much, and this after buying, reading 120pp, loathing, and giving away The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Just couldn't abide that book. I got TYPU with a sort of half-grimace on my face, and haven't regretted it yet. I like the style, which has come under some heavy criticism from many reviewers. Perhaps my bubbe using Yiddish expressions all childhood made a larger impact on me than I knew. In any case I enjoyed the book.

I'll be very interested to hear what you think of The Severed Wing after you're done.

24daschaich
Edited: Jan 4, 2009, 12:08am Top

No, I would save my full-throated roar for Jo Walton's "Small Change" trilogy of Farthing, Ha'penny and Half a Crown, though I see they're already in your library.

I finally got to The Severed Wing this week, and came away from it with somewhat mixed feelings. I'm rather taken by Gidron's overarching idea, and think it's a promising concept for putting human faces on the enormity of the Holocaust.

But I was not too happy with much of the text itself, a lot of which felt like Janusz, the protagonist, wandering around aimlessly so that Gidron could infodump his counterfactual speculations. The alternate universe Gidron conceives appears plausible enough, though it sometimes seems all he does is build it up so that it can all fall apart as Janusz slips further away from his reality. There's not much of a narrative framework on which to hang all the worldbuilding.

Also, there were far too many cameos from real-life figures for my taste, running from Bill Gates to Anne Frank to Paul Simon to Yitzhak Shamir -- to say nothing of the "Marshals' Plan" that kept Czarist Russia from falling to Communism. Having a few jokes of that sort is fine, but I felt Gidron really overdid it.

The last quarter (or so) of the book left me more impressed than I had been up to that point.

25richardderus
Jan 4, 2009, 3:11pm Top

It's really in that last quarter that the book takes its true shape, I agree, and it's far and away the best part of the book.

Were you aware that there is a group read of Farthing taking place in the Group Reads - Sci Fi forum at this time? Care to join in?

Cheers
RMD

26daschaich
Jan 4, 2009, 11:27pm Top

I did see something about that group read, but I'm going to sit it out. I read Farthing not too long ago, and need to focus on more mundane matters for the foreseeable future in any event.

27richardderus
Apr 7, 2009, 2:18pm Top

I've finished and reviewed Elizabeth Bear's wonderful collection of linked alternate history stories called New Amsterdam. Short version: go buy it and read it and come and tell everyone about it!

My full review is in my "75 Books Challenge" thread in message 2 for anyone who's interested in more details.

28GirlMisanthrope
Aug 14, 2009, 2:35am Top

I must second richardderus' advice on New Amsterdam, a book I picked up a long time ago and finally got around to reading. It is now listed in my favorites. It's sophisticated, creative, and one great ride.

29one-horse.library
Edited: Jan 15, 2010, 7:29pm Top

Harry Harrison's The Hammer and Cross series. Where Viking heretics rule England, and rule the North, becoming a rival to the Christian kingdoms in the south. In the second book, One King's Way, the Holy Cross is found in Norway, only to be stolen by a German knight who sets himself up as Holy Roman Emperor. And of course there's the final confrontation in the finale, King and Emperor, with the Holy Graal as the prize.

Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by O.S. Card.
It's another good one, although not so much alt history as time travel. I include it, though, because it's not so much about the time travelling as it is about the alternate timeline that the Interveners created. Plus, it doesn't hurt that it's a compelling read. I mean, when would you go, if you could go back and correct one wrong in the past.

For anyone interested, there's a non-fiction book, titled What If?, a collection of essays from historians and writers in various fields, each detailing a scenario where, for the want of a nail . . .

>8 bookmasterjmv:
Flint and Weber's 163X series are okay, but I much prefer their Grantville Gazette series. It's a lot more interesting, with a dedicated community contributing to the world.

30goddesspt2
Mar 28, 2010, 3:55pm Top

I enjoyed the two book series by Steven Barnes (Lion's Blood and Zulu Heart) where Muslim Africa is the dominant culture and Europe the lesser culture.

31Anastasia169
Apr 1, 2010, 12:51am Top

I loved Farthing, bought in a grocery store of all places, not where one expects to find good sc-fi and alternate history. I see that Jo Walton has finished the trilogy and I will be checking out Ha'Penny and Half a Crown.

The Years of Rice and Salt has been on my shelf for years, unread, thanks to this thread, I am going to give it a try. I will also be checking out the Elizabeth Bear and The Severed Wing. I like S.M Stirling's alternative histories within reason - especially The Peshawar Lancers. I liked the Nantucket trilogy, but find that the Universe of the Change has left its PA and alternate history roots to go full on fantasy adventure. I liked that Stirling lets us see the two alterate histories develop in the linked novels of The Change and Nantucket - usually alternate histories throw you in the middle rather than back to the beginning - so I found this an interesting approach. Guns in the Bronze Age!

32richardderus
Edited: Jul 7, 2010, 10:14am Top

I've finished and reviewed a satisfying novella of alternate history, David Moles's Seven Cities of Gold.

As a Buddhist Japanese aid worker is deployed into war-torn Antilia, up the mighty Acuamagna, she confronts bitter sectarian warfare between the savage Christians and the Muslim Caliphate of Andalusia. The nuclear bomb that finished destroying Espirito Santo, previously hit by a typhoon of unprecedented scale, seriously impedes her search for a lasting peace among the barbaric religious wars flaring all over Antilia.

Antilia = America; Acuamagna = Mississippi; Espirito Santo = New Orleans. One turn to the left instead of the right, in this case an exodus of Christian bishops from Oporto, Portugal, into the unknown instead of up into France, and the horrific Congolese wars happen on the banks of the Mississippi.

Good stuff! I'd recommend trying it out. http://www.store.pspublishing.co.uk/acatalog/current_catalog.html/ will take you there. A worthwhile investment.

33adpaton
Jul 8, 2010, 2:36am Top

I am a huge Daniel Easterman fan and his K is a classic in the alternate history genre: it's set in a fascist US in the 1940s and I have a sneaking suspicion it inspired Roth with his Plot Against America.

34cbfiske
Sep 4, 2010, 8:48am Top

I find myself reading and rereading The Queen and I by Sue Townsend in which the reader is told the details of Queen Elizabeth's nightmare of the Monarchy being abolished by a new government and herself and family being sent to live in council housing. Interesting to see how the Queen copes.

35AlanPoulter
Edited: Sep 4, 2010, 4:02pm Top

Paul J. McAuley's Cowboy angels takes place in the 'Real', a version of 60s USA (i.e. not our 'reality'), where Turing gates are discovered, which give passage to alternate realities in groups called 'sheaves' which are different, but stem from a pivotal event. People have alternate versions ('doppels') in these alternate worlds. A complication is the existence of a 'time key' (its origins are 'in the future') which allows time travel though Turing gates.

Something similar is, I think done much better by Charlie Stross in his Merchant Princes books. The series started in what appeared to be a classic fantasy scenario as ex-journalist Miriam Beckstein found she had the ability to 'world walk' - jump realities between North America as we know it and one in which crime families, the Clan, operate in a feudal society, and use their limited ability to 'world walk' to extend their crime operations into the USA. Clan families fight among themselves and with a 'lost Clan' branch, living in a third alternate reality of North America. Things got more complicated when Miriam found a fourth reality, in which revolution was brewing in an early industrial Georgian monarchy, left isolated by French control of Europe. Now the American government is closing in on the Clan, as it has discovered that they have stolen some back-back nukes and is researching 'world walking' in order to mount an invasion, seeing the Clan's alternate reality as an easy source of oil. The USA portrayed here is similar to, but not the same as, the one in our reality.

36GirlMisanthrope
Nov 8, 2010, 1:50am Top

Blonde Roots is in my TBR pile, so haven't read it yet, but looks intriguing. Europeans are enslaved hundreds of years ago instead of Africans.

Fantastic alternative history books IMHO are Boneshaker, Clementine, and Dreadnought all by Cherie Priest who has to have one of the most fertile imaginations ever.

37ljbwell
Nov 13, 2010, 7:26am Top

Has anyone here read Resistance by Owen Sheers? It's on my if-I-remember-to-look-for-it-and-then-actually-find-it-I'll-maybe-get-it list.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Plot Against America, Fatherland are all ones I've really enjoyed. I was a bit meh on Farthing and Ha'penny (though liked the latter more than the former).

38magnumpigg
Nov 23, 2010, 2:17pm Top

Has anyone read Sidewise in Time by Murray Leinster? Short story written in 1934 about a college professor and group of his students who slip/travel through parallel worlds. Haven't read it in a while, but do remember enjoying it. Believe it may have been the first story of this kind only because there is an Alternative Worlds prize given out each year (started in mid 1990s) called the Sidewise Award.

39hugh_ashton
Nov 29, 2010, 2:46am Top

I'm glad that someone else finds Harry Turtledove's style to be bad at times. Plots are usually interesting, but the characters can be wooden, and the dialog doesn't work for me at all.

40UncleMort
Dec 1, 2010, 6:03am Top

For all those interested in 'Alternate World' stories I can recommend this site.

http://www.uchronia.net/

41magnumpigg
Dec 3, 2010, 6:07pm Top

#40 -- UncleMort: checked out the recommended site. Very comprehensive and quite interesting. Thanks, I'll be using it to search out more reads.

42ljbwell
Dec 4, 2010, 5:15am Top

#40 - thanks for that link. Some interesting things there, especially (for me) in the foreign language sections.

43TheBlueCheese
May 8, 2011, 6:06am Top

Bringing back an old thread - but one that interests me.

I love and have to add L E Modesitt Jnr's Ghost Series is Modern World where various things have changed (and added Ghosts) but I know some people have found this series painful (we need to know what the main character eats for breakfast every day?).

And I would have also rave about John Birminghan's World War 2.1 Series

44richardderus
Jun 26, 2011, 10:18pm Top

I've posted my review of Harry Turtledove's The War That Came Early: Hitler's War...my thread, post #217.

45TimCTaylor
Dec 23, 2011, 6:11am Top

When I first stumbled across project Guttenburg I picked up some of the 'Invasion' books written during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. At the time, they were set in the near future, but they read as alternate history today. The one that kicked off the genre, was massively popular at the time, and led to calls for policy change by the UK government was The Battle of Dorking. That's a great novella.

There were many 'German invasion' and 'WWI predection' books that followed. I can't recall the names, but I found (on Guttenburg) books written by Germans immediately before the Great War that predicted the coming conflict. Fascinating.

46john257hopper
Jan 2, 2012, 6:50am Top

#45 I recently read The Coming Conquest of England by August Niemann which fits into this category of pre-WWI German literature. It predicts, in novel form, the defeat of the British Empire at the hands of Germany, France and Russia.

47TeacherDad
Jan 18, 2012, 9:33pm Top

Just started S King's latest 11/22/63 which I believe has some time travel involved. It's got a lot of pages...

48somermoore
Feb 19, 2012, 5:36pm Top

For an off-the-wall 70s take on British/American relations, there's Rule Britannia, by Daphne du Maurier. Twisted funny/serious plot. I came across it several years ago and enjoyed the read.

49UncleMort
Jun 6, 2012, 1:10pm Top

Just finished the company of the dead - Starts on the Titanic, takes in time travel, Roswell and a Japanese German cold war (getting hot) Slow start but worth the effort.

50one-horse.library
Jun 6, 2012, 7:51pm Top

UncleMort

Second that

51spaceowl
Oct 27, 2012, 5:09am Top

My personal favorite and one of my desert island books is Mysterium by Robert Charles Wilson. Whole Michigan town exchanges places with piney wilderness when experiment at nearby government research station goes wrong, confronting its inhaitants (from our here-and-now) with a very different American state in a world where Gnostic Christianity triumphed over our kind. The conclusions it comes too are fascinating, but Wilson always had a way with big ideas.
Lets not forget the worst, too - Stars and Stripes Forever by Harry Harrison which struck me as a racist tract that made Bravehart look like reasoned debate. Unreasoning hatred of a specific people is still unreasoning hatred.

52DaleCoz
Nov 21, 2012, 1:02am Top

Charles Stross did an alternate history series called The Merchant Princes which started out well for the first two and arguably three books and then in my opinion turned to why bother? I'm a big fan of "Big Things in the Sea of Time" books, of which SM Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time series among the best. I haven't gotten into Eric Flint's 163x stories yet, though I'm very impressed by the system he has set up for a shared universe for writers who want to join him in that universe.

53vizhakat
Dec 11, 2012, 3:49am Top

This message has been flagged by multiple users and is no longer displayed (show)
Do please check out an interesting alternative history based SF fantasy fiction name "The Guardians of Karma" on amazon kindle..

54guido47
Edited: Dec 11, 2012, 11:52am Top

Oh dear, #53.

Not that I expect you to respond.

There are 'forums' on LT for self published authors,
it is just that I'm too lazy to find you a link.
As you were too lazy to look for yourself.

55geitebukkeskjegg
Dec 12, 2012, 3:15am Top

#52: "Big Things in the Sea of Time".... what an absolutely facinating name for a subgenre!

In addition to those mentioned above, I guess Robert Charles Wilson’s Mysterium and Edmond Hamilton's City at World's End would qualify. More?

List, please :-)

56dhtabor
Apr 20, 2013, 3:52pm Top

I've recently been introduced to Steampunk alternative history and really enjoying it. Currently reading The Wake of the Dragon which is about airship pirates.

57DinadansFriend
Edited: Nov 2, 2013, 5:15pm Top

The first I read in this sub-genre and always so far the greatest is a slim but fascinating book "Lord Kalvin of Otherwhen " by H.B. Piper. Unlike most, it tries to deal with the effect that just one person might have when flung from ours into an established but quite variant timeline. After 40 years, I still dip into it.
"How Few Remain" remains my favourite Turtle dove.

58Phlox72
Nov 18, 2013, 5:02pm Top

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell treats history in a very alternative way.

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