The Alternative History Genre in Science Fiction

Welcome Sci-fi / Alt-Hist Lovers !

Alternate History is science fiction that asks what if a familiar fact from the past is not as we know it.   This speculation or "what-if" provides an interesting twist on the familiar.   Some common Alt-History examples:

    What if Columbus did not discovery America?
    What if the Confederate Army won the Civil War?
    What if Hitler won WWII?
    What if JFK was not assassinated?

    -- My preferance is for non-war themes.

If you want more background on this genre, here are some tutorials and papers:

    Alternate History 101  by Evelyn C. Leeper
    Branches in Time: Alternate Histories Are True SF  by Stephen Baxter
    The New (E)Uchronia: Fire on the Mountain  by Ed McKnight, from his doctoral thesis,
            Alternative History: The Development of a Literary Genre.
    Blurring the Lines & Traveling Through Time: Alternate History and Science Fiction  by Nick Medinger

And a must-have reference book:

    The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time  by Karen Hellekson
            (Kent, Ohio : Kent State University Press, c2001).

Much of Alt-History includes time travel, although this is not a requirement.   The type of Alt-Hist I enjoy usually does involves time travel, so that's my focus.   Love reading science fiction, but prefer time travel to space travel?   This is it!

A Sci-fi Alternate History Library

It is not necessary to re-invent the wheel here, since an extensive bibliography of books on Alternate History exists thanks to Robert B. Schmunk.   It was originally called POINTER: Alternate History Bibliography, and is now viewable on the Web as Uchronia, The Aternate History List.   So, I'll list here only my favorites and those I'm presently reading.

If you have limited leisure reading time, anthologies are the answer -- my favorite is Robert Silverberg's Worlds of Maybe: Seven Stories of Science Fiction.   It is also hard to talk about Alternate History without mentioning Harry Turtledove and his many A-H stories, even though most deal with war themes -- sigh.

Sci-fi Alternate History on the Internet

Sidewise Awards for Alternate History
Uchronia: The Alternate History List   by Robert Schmunk
Dale Cozort's Alternate History Page
Andy's Anachronisms   includes Time Travel & Alternate History Short Stories
The Alternate History Travel Guides   by Jonathan Edelstein
Quantum Branching   by Bruce Munro

Discussion Boards & Listservs:
      Alternate History Discussion Board
      TIF - Time in Fictions

Sci-fi Alternate History on TV and the Movies

Perhaps like me, you like the unpredictability of the stories behind such TV series as Twilight Zone or Night Stalker, and such movies as Time After Time.  

Are your all-time favorite TV shows Life on Mars (2008-2009), Quantum Leap, Early Edition, Sliders, Time Trax, Voyagers!, Timecop, Journeyman, Time Tunnel, Brimestone, Sapphire and Steele, and Seven Days?

Alternate History / Time Travel Movies

Back to the Future (1985) - In 1985, Doc Brown invented time travel, in 1955, Marty McFly accidentally prevented his parents from meeting, putting his own existence at stake.
Timeline (2003) - Archaeology students become trapped in the past when they go there to retrieve their professor.
Mystery of the Crystal Orb (2001) - a time travel mystical mystery based on story by H.G. Wells.
Time After Time (1979) - Jack the Ripper comes to 1970s San Francisco via H.G. Well's time machine.
Spirit of 76 (1990) - Future Americans decide to time travel to 1776 to ask the founding fathers for the solutions to their problems. A glitch in the time machine changes their destination to 1976.

"Alternate Personal History" ???

"Alternate History" has been clearly defined as "What-If" stories, but lately the "Alternate" has been re-defined to include the Wicam and Vampire literature. UGH!

Think about the classic movie "It's A Wonderful Life". Recently some have started the use of "Alternate Personal History" to mean the "what-ifs" within one character's lifetime -- including roads not taken. This appeals to me because I never liked the what-ifs dealing with wars, and I prefer time-travel within a lifetime, instead of historical or futuristic.

Here are some movies of this kind (my favorite is Happy Accidents):

Premonition (2007) - A housewife learns her husband was killed in a car accident the day previously, awakens the next morning to find him alive and well at home.
The Lake House (2006) - A doctor occupies an unusual lakeside home and exchanges letters with its former resident, an architect.
Happy Accidents (2000) - A young woman with constant trouble with men, gets involved with a man from the future who has come for her.
Sliding Doors (1998) - A London woman's love life and career both hinge, unknown to her, on whether or not she catches a train. We see it both ways, in parallel.
Back to the Future (1985) - In 1985, Doc Brown invented time travel, in 1955, Marty McFly accidentally prevented his parents from meeting, putting his own existence at stake.

I will list here any short stories, novellas, and books as I find them:

"The Key to Happiness" by Gwyne Cready - in The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance (2009).
"Last Thorsday Night" by Holly Lisle - in The Mammoth Book of Time Travel Romance (2009).

Copyright © 1997-2011   Eloisa Gomez Borah.   All Rights Reserved.