Open Thread: Alternate History

(idea by Lonespark, written by chris the cynic)

Simple straightforward prompt: talk about alternate histories.  What you think they can address well, what you think they can’t, opportunities and pitfalls, what you’d like to see, what you have seen, and anything else related to the topic.

The … other prompt:

I was particularly proud to be an American during the Elizabeth Squared period.  Unfortunately Elizabeth Edwards’s presidency was cut tragically short half way through her second term because the cure for cancer arrived six months too late to save her.  Two years later, in 2012, the incoming president had Elizabeth Warren step down from her position as Czar of all things economic, in spite of her work saving the country from economic collapse and decreasing the economic inequality.  Thus the [redacted] ended, and with it we saw unfortunate declines in several sectors.

Only a handful of people remember these events, for the rest they are seen as alternate, rather than actual, history.

What alternate histories do you remember, long for, or fear?


[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]

5 thoughts on “Open Thread: Alternate History

  1. Only Some Stardust September 19, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Broadly enough defined, alternate histories encompass many fantasy worlds. Most fantasy worlds are just earth with different continents, people, and some magic tacked on, yet, amusingly, just enough flavor of our history to have castles and knights. Alternate histories that just change a little of our world often suffer from the fact it’s very easy to poke holes in them (as well as the fact reality is sometimes stranger than fiction), and they don’t have magic to help suspension of disbelief over something ridiculous.

    What I would like to see is a fantasy world that explores how things would have developed differently on a large, historical scale from the very beginning. This would end up altering evolution, and it’s possible humans wouldn’t even evolve in such a world, but it would be interesting to see.

    I also wouldn’t mind seeing a flat earth, with the physics of such played with; as you go up, it’s like climbing a really steep mountain, and you can actually rest comfortably on the top, and possibly climb around to the other side and stand on it if you are careful, but don’t you dare fall. I admit this is pure silliness though, since the gravity should make a flat earth collapse into a ball instantly.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a plausible matriarchy, but, considering humans don’t seem to form matriarchies (every time I’ve looked and thought I might have found one, it turns out men are still involved in the political process of that culture, and with men on average bigger than women good luck kicking them out of the army) this might require a different species of human or a futuristic society.

  2. Firedrake September 22, 2015 at 2:45 am

    I think there are basically two sorts of alternate history story: the one that concentrates on the divergence and its results (which includes most of the “technical” stories), and the one that is more interested in the new world than in comparing it with the old. As a fairly technical person I can appreciate the artistry in the first sort, but for telling a good story the second is usually better.

    I often think I am living in an alternate history. There are so many implausibilities.

  3. Only Some Stardust September 22, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    I think the two kinda merge when well-written enough, as in, you are plunged into the new world and you can see for yourself how it differs and what that divergence means but the story also enjoys itself and its characters. Like Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which spends some time musing on things that differ from our world, like the Babel Fish, but clearly enjoys tormenting the Hitchhikers just as much.

  4. arbitrary_greay September 23, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    PTerry seemed to have explored through Discworld to a hypothesis that even alternate universes would develop much in the same broad strokes as ours, driven by technological and economic incentives.

    The former is why I can’t suspend disbelief for the likes of the TV series Revolution, or the “base” steampunk vision. There’s so much more effort required to suppress electricity-based innovation, or streamlining designs towards smoother lines.

  5. Only Some Stardust September 24, 2015 at 11:02 am

    you need alternative physics. if electricity is inefficient in that universe compared to steam, you’d get steampunk.

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