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Why you should consume Alternate History

Why you should consume Alternate History

“What if..?” is a question that every person has asked at least once in their life. Whether from worry about future events, or to be thankful for what they have in the present, people have asked a multitude of questions about how things could have turned out differently if even just one thing changed. While it was a topic of discussion thanks to Roman historian Titus Livius, the genre of alternate history officially began with French writer and nationalist Louis Geoffroy. Since then, alternate history has become much more mainstream.

A map of North America, in Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory novels.

For example, the works of Harry Turtledove are often the first people ever hear of the alternate history genre. Dubbed the “Master of Alternate History” by Publisher’s Weekly, Turtledove is credited for bringing the genre into the mainstream. His most famous work is Southern Victory, which asks the question “What if the American Civil War was a stalemate?” While slightly controversial due to its popularity amongst Neo-Confederates (despite the fact that the CSA is portrayed, rightfully, as the bad guys), the book is well written, and has a gritty feel to it, showing the evils of the Confederacy, and the wicked compliancy of the European powers for allowing such a system to exist. I highly recommend it for those just starting out with alternate history, as long as you can handle its absurd length.

The title page of Man in the High Castle

Another excellent example is the incredibly popular Man in High Castle, by Philip K. DIck. This novel asks what is easily the most popular question in the genre, “What if the Nazis won WW2?” While this book is not the first property to ask that question, nor is it the most well written, it is probably the most popular. It inspired many other works, such as the Hearts of Iron IV mod The New Order: Last Days of Europe, as well as Wolfenstein: The New Colossus (which are both much better quality-wise). While the books poor writing and slight wehrmacht apologism detract from its overall quality, the book was a defining title of the Alternate History genre and is a necessity for this list.

The official title page of the Kaiserreich mod

Finally, despite not being a book, this list cannot be completed without mentioning Kaiserreich. A mod for the popular strategy game Hearts of Iron IV, this piece of alternate history is the standard that every other work in the genre is compared to. Asking the question “What if America didn’t join WW1?”, the mod is incredibly popular, mostly because of how immersive it is. While there are several plot holes (how can America go through the Great Depression if the Roaring Twenties didn’t happen?), it makes up for it by not being too serious with its premise, with jokes being just as common as serious plot points. Overall, I cannot recommend this mod highly enough.

Alternate history is an excellent genre that doesn’t get talked about a lot. For people who like history or nonfiction stories, it has a lot of historical people and events, just slightly switched to be more interesting. For people who like fiction and especially sci-fi, it has tons of wacky, theoretical, and downright bizarre plot points and ideas that make it interesting. For people who don’t like books, there are games, movies, tv shows, and many other forms of media that show the genre well. Overall, I recommend that you consume some form of alternate history.

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About the Contributor
Bram is a member of the class of 2025 and this is his first semester writing for BHS News. He also enjoys writing fiction and playing computer games. Contact: [email protected]

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