Non-"Sci-Fi/Fantasy" Parallel Universes

TalkTime Travel, Alternate Histories and Parallel Worlds

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Non-"Sci-Fi/Fantasy" Parallel Universes

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Aug 31, 2006, 2:00pm

Every once in a while I come across a book that's clearly set in a parallel universe, even though that fact is completely incidental to the story. Sometimes a novel changes a few historical facts to make the story work better without drawing any attention to that fact.

One of my favorite examples is The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie. There are several mentions of historical events that are just slightly different, like the American President's near miss in Dallas Texas. and Jesse Parker's hit song "Heart Break Hotel"

Mostly those little things just bring a quick smile, but also by seperating the story from the "real world" they make the story's world just a touch more real to me.

Any other examples?

Aug 31, 2006, 11:44pm

There's always Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Arabesks, set in a world where the Ottoman Empire is still around in the near future. It's still a science fictional setting, but there's no contact with our own timeline.

Sep 10, 2006, 12:18pm

There are quite a lot of examples, I should think. I like best the alternate histories that don't use aliens or techno-turbocharged solutions to get the alternate-history-ness going.

How about The Plot Against America by Philip Roth? Or The Yiddish Policemen's Union for another extremely mainstream example?

Others will have more ideas about this, I hope. Anyone?

Sep 10, 2006, 3:02pm

Hmmm . . . I can think of several that are by non-SF authors and don't use SF devices like time machines or interdimensional gateways, *but* the "alternatenss" of their timelines is hardly "incidental to the story," to use morydd's phrase.

Anyway, a short list:

SS-GB by Len Deighton, set in Britain after a successful 1940 German invasion.

Resurrection Day by Brendan DuBois, set in the USA roughly a decade after the Cuban Missile Crisis spiralled into a limited nuclear war.

Fatherland by Robert Harris, set in Nazi-dominated Europe in the early 1960s.

The Woodrow Wilson Dime by Jack Finney doesn't *quite* make the cut because the hero slips into the alternate universe from ours, but Finney makes no serious attempt to explain how he does so.

Harry Turtledove did a series of short stories set in a world where Islam never arose and the Byzantine Empire never collapsed. They were collected in Agent of Byzantium. His long series of novels that began with How Few Remain and continued with The Great War: Walk in Hell also have no overt SF elements. Nor, for that matter, does In The Presence of Mine Enemies (Nazi-occupied America or Ruled Britannia (Shakespeare's England, ruled by Spain after the Armada succeeds).

Finally, at the risk of getting *totally* off track, there are two fine novels, that--though clearly SF--use the kind of subtly different timelines that morydd was talking about. Tranquility Alternative by Allen Steele takes place in a world where (because of a slightly different end to WWII) the US manned space program starts in 1947 rather than 1959. Voyage by Stephen Baxter changes a single critical event in November 1963 (no points for guessing which one, but he does it gracefully) and uses the change to set up a story about the first manned Mars landing in 1985.

Sep 10, 2006, 11:18pm

I remembered an alternate-America novel I read in the 1970s: Pavane, a wonderful book in which there was never a Reformation; and one by Harry Harrison in which a descendant of the horrible, disgraced traitor George Washington builds a transAtlantic tunnel to the Colonial Motherland Great Britain in a then-near the past, the 1990s. I think, anyway. It's been a loooooooong time since I read that one.

Sep 11, 2006, 4:36am

Idlewild by Mark Lawson (Marilyn Monroe and JFK didn't die); the James III novels by Joan Aiken (Wolves of Willoughby Chase, etc.).

Sep 11, 2006, 7:53am

Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. A great read.


Nov 26, 2006, 3:26pm

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Jul 12, 2007, 1:13am

The amazing thing about The Ground Beneath Her Feet and the reason that I originally read it is that Salmon Rushdie wrote the lyrics for the U2 song by the same name. I think this really exemplifies your parallel worlds ideas. If you know anything about U2...they are politically, socially and spiritually inspired. They, too, create fiction from fact but with a creative twist. U2 brought me to Salmon Rushdie and he has become one of my favorite authors.

Jul 12, 2007, 8:36am

Then there's Jasper Fforde's thursday next series starting with the Eyre Affair - incredibly funny too. Ducks have died out, but the Dodo survived.

Jul 16, 2007, 7:44pm

Getting back to the original post (books that are set in an alternate universe, but the author doesn't make this explicit), how about The Scheme for Full Employment, Bilton or Yellow Dog? I've always thought Jennifer Government must be set in an alternate universe as well.

Aug 22, 2007, 6:29pm

What about Space by James Michener. As I recall he created a new (don't recall the name) state (other then our 50) in middle America and added an extra Apollo mission. I believe he added Apollo 18. In our time line the last was Apollo 17.

Oct 3, 2007, 6:54pm

And don't forget Philip K. Dick Man in the High Castle....a classic.

Oct 3, 2007, 9:21pm

>5 richardderus: - it must have been a long time since you read Pavane, it was set in an alternate England, not US. For another book that uses the same premise try The Alteration by Kingsley Amis.

Oct 4, 2007, 4:08am

How about Jo Walton's Farthing which is a alternate history detective story with fascists in power in England after the second World War turned out differently (and no it isn't a straightforward Nazis win scenario). There are more books in a loosely connected series with Ha'penny having recently been published in hardcover and Half A Crown probably going to be published next year.