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Subject: soc.history.what-if FAQ (April 2006)

This article was archived around: NNTP-Posting-Sun, 30 Apr 2006 14:30:55 -0500

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All FAQs posted in: soc.history.what-if, alt.history.what-if
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Archive-name: history/what-if Last updated: 28 February 2006 Version: 4.51 Posting-Frequency: Monthly Copyright: (c) 2003-6 Anthony Mayer
"Frequently" Asked Questions in soc.history.what-if This document is maintained (and copyright) by Anthony Mayer. Substantial portions are drawn from earlier versions copyright 1994-1997 by Robert B. Schmunk and 1997-2002 by Craig Neumeier, and are used with permission. It may be freely distributed electronically provided that this copyright notice is attached. If you wish to make a suggestion for corrections or additions, please e-mail the maintainer directly at faq@anthonymayer.net ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 0. Recent Changes None ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Table of Contents 0. Recent Changes 1. Introduction 2. What is alternative history? 3. Are there any rules about posting to soc.history.what-if? 4. Are there any forbidden subjects? a. Ban on Politics b. Non-alternative-history Fiction c. Future History d. Secret History e. Historical "Revisionism" 5. Are there any subjects which require special care? a. Clashing Patriotisms b. Recent Events c. WIs involving supernatural agencies d Discussions on valid topics that have reached an impasse e. Responses to contentious or troll-like posts 6. What is a "double-blind what-if" and how should I respond? 7. What does "... in the Sea of Time" mean? 8. What are the Alien Space Bats? 9. What does <abbreviation> mean? 10. What are the most common what-ifs? 11. What are some common historical errors I should avoid? a. Could Operation Sealion have succeeded? b. Could the American Indians have repelled the Europeans? c. Did the Chinese just use gunpowder for fireworks? d. Did Christianity destroy Greek science and the Roman Empire? e. Did the US come within one vote of adopting German as its official language? f. Did Polish lancers charge German tanks in 1939? 12. Are the posts to soc.history.what-if archived somewhere? 13. Can anybody recommend a good book about alternative history? 14. What alternative histories should I read? 15. Is there an (on-line) alternative history book list? 16. What are the Sidewise Awards? 17. Are there other alternative history discussion areas? 18. Are there any alternative history web sites? 19. Is there any record of newsgroup traffic in soc.history.what-if? 20. What does "PoD Flood" mean? 21. How can I get started writing a timeline? Where can I get advice? + Minor modification to this entry ++ Significant modification to this entry +++ New entry ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1. Introduction soc.history.what-if is a newsgroup for the discussion of history divergent from that of our own. A very common example would be "What if the South won the U.S. Civil War?" The newsgroup was created in late May 1995, after the usual Usenet discussion (RFD) and voting (CFV) periods. It assumes the role previously filled by the newsgroup alt.history.what-if. The older newsgroup was not correspondingly scheduled for removal and though it is still in use it remains less active than soc.history.what-if. Please post *only* to soc.history.what-if in order to reach the widest possible audience while eliminating the confusion which usually results from cross-posting. The soc.history.what-if charter, as written by its proponent (Richard Gadsden, now at richard@gadsden.name) after the discussion period ended, is: The soc.history.what-if newsgroup will be open to discussion of alternate history. This is "what-ifs" regarding specific historical events. Specifically, but not exclusively: + Historical events - what could have happened if they had been different? + How could this have happened differently (i.e. discussion of how the divergence could have occurred, not of what its consequences would be.) Note: the following topics are not to be discussed: + Revisionism regarding the Holocaust or Turkish/Armenian massacres (post to alt.revisionism). "What if the Holocaust had not happened?" is a legitimate question. + Future history - "What if the President were assassinated tomorrow?" + Alternate history in fictional worlds - "What if Luke had failed to destroy the Death Star?" Many Usenet FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions answer lists) usually begin with several paragraphs on netiquette, i.e., proper behaviour on posting to newsgroups. Rather than do that here, I will just recommend that if you have not already done so, you should *immediately* go to the newsgroup news.announce.newusers and read the posting entitled "A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community". After that, please read it again. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 2. What is alternative history? "Alternative history" essays/stories are the "what ifs" of history, describing events that could have happened but did not. (The terms "allohistory," "alternate history," "counterfactual" and "uchronia" all have advocates and nuanced meanings, but "alternative history" is the generally accepted name, in English, for what we do on SHWI.) A typical example is the question, "What if had Napoleon won at Waterloo?" Most alternatives concern human history, but there are some examples of alternative natural history, making changes in geology or ecology. You may find such questions asked in science fiction literature, wargaming magazines, and history and economics journals. However, it can also be occasionally found in such mainstream publications as Time magazine or Entertainment Weekly, and an occasional alternative history novel will crack the New York Times bestseller list and maybe even get made into a movie (e.g., Robert Harris' FATHERLAND). In science fiction, alternative histories are a subset of parallel worlds and alternative universe stories, in which some emphasis has been put on an historical element. If those terms are meaningless to you, note that a parallel world may have no historical or physical similarity to our own. A common example is for someone in our world to be mysteriously transported to a "magical" world. Alternative history fiction, on the other hand, requires that the world described be visibly the same as ours up to some specific point in history, after which things begin to get different. The boundaries are not firm: many alternative histories throw in magic -- or, to put it another way, many "historical fantasy" novels, especially recently, use AH trappings. Similarly, alternative histories often have slightly different physical laws than our universe -- most commonly to allow time travel, since AH in science fiction began as an outgrowth of time-travel stories. The distinction between alternative histories that are explorations of "what might have been", and those that utilise devices from science fiction and fantasy is one that has caused tension on SHWI in the past. Opinion is divided as to whether essays and fiction that involve magic and time-travel are really alternative history, or simply fantasies with a historical setting. A large proportion of SHWI users prefer to discuss only the stricter, purely historical forms of AH, and this should be borne in mind when posting an article with a more fantastic setting. See Question 5 for more on this discussion. The stricter form of AH, in which divergences are the result of entirely plausible minor changes or individuals making different decisions, reflects the use of AH in an academic sense. Academic historians have tended to treat alternative histories, or "counter- factuals" with little respect, although this has changed somewhat in recent years, (see Question 13). ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 3. Are there any rules about posting to soc.history.what-if? Since soc.history.what-if is an unmoderated newsgroup, there are no enforceable rules. There is no official style guide. On the other hand, we aspire to, and have often achieved, a high level of netiquette. Please do not post binary files (images and the like). General Usenet rules restrict them to newsgroups with "binaries" in their title, to conserve bandwidth on slower servers. Commercial advertisements are strictly forbidden. The level of historical knowledge possessed by posters to this newsgroup varies, and many new subscribers can feel intimidated by the level of detail in some postings. Please don't let that prevent you from posting; often, that detail is put in specifically to help people who don't know as much about a specific subject join the discussion. Some hints to keep in mind: a) When you ask a what-if question, it is a good idea to attempt to provide some (partial) answer of your own. Some posters consider it rude to post a question alone, and all of us are *much* more likely to respond to suggested results than just bare points of divergence. b) In advancing a timeline that might result from a historical divergence, don't be afraid to explain why you think certain things would happen. It often helps to provide some historical background rather than just stating that such-and-such would happen, followed by a-later-event and then something-even-later. c) If a major change is made to history, almost everything from that point on will be different. So before you ask what difference your change would make to the outcome of WWII, make sure that you could reasonably expect there to *be* a WWII in the new timeline. (If you change the American Civil War, you can make a case for it. If you get rid of Jesus Christ, forget it.) d) Be prepared to defend your assertions; i.e., don't state something is true without being able to provide evidence. Some "common knowledge" about the past is actually untrue (whether it be because of television, the blandness of grade school textbooks, or myth-makers such as Parson Weems), and posters to this newsgroup are more than willing to tell you so. (See also Question 11.) e) On the other hand, it is not considered necessary to cite sources unless/until someone challenges you. Preferred newsgroup practice is to ask for the source of an interpretation you don't agree with rather than immediately blasting it as wrong. (Errors of fact may be corrected more directly.) Attacking someone else's level of knowledge is rude, even if true, and will win you no friends. f) Don't forget to say *why* something happens differently. For instance, someone might ask "What if World War I never happened?", perhaps seeking out opinions on how that might result in the non-rise of fascism and presumably no World War II. But an honest answer means also considering such important factors as the European arms race during the decades prior to World War I and imperial Germany's search for colonial territories, and how they would have to be altered so that the war doesn't occur. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for help in getting the result you want, e.g. if you know you want to keep Bismarck and still avoid WWI. g) Really huge WI's, such as changes to human nature ("What if people had no aggressive instincts?") generally do not produce any useful comments. They are too big to handle; there's not really much to say apart from "everything would be different." h) Please be aware of those subjects that are likely to cause offence if not handled with care, and those subjects which are strictly forbidden - see Question 5 for more on these points. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 4. Are there any forbidden subjects? Yes. The newsgroup charter (see question 1) rules some subjects out of bounds explicitly. These are really just special cases of the general restriction of the newsgroup to its proper topic, specified only because they had previously caused problems in alt.history.what-if or other history newsgroups. In all cases, there is a more appropriate Usenet group for these subjects: this is a newsgroup for the discussion of alternative history. 4.a. Ban on Politics Since real-life contemporary politics is neither historical nor alternative, arguments about it are off-topic here. This does not mean that all political discussion is forbidden -- your beliefs on politics naturally affect what you see as reasonable in an AH. It can also be argued that all historical discussion will involve political discussion at some level. But once a discussion becomes an argument about which beliefs about politics are correct, it usually skirts, and often falls under, the Ban. In effect, the BoP is a call for posters to attempt to refrain from making extreme value judgements in the discussion, and to try and retain some measure of objectivity. Since blatantly off-topic political flamewars have frequently disfigured the newsgroup in the past, a large set of posters will serve notice if you violate the BoP. Please try not to be offended if this happens to you: take it to e-mail (or, theoretically, to talk.politics) if you wish to continue the discussion. 4.b. Non-alternative-history Fiction The word "history" appears in the newsgroup name. Thus, questions like "What if Luke Skywalker had not destroyed the Death Star?" which involve entirely fictional (non-alternative history) universes are not appropriate. There is certainly a better newsgroup for such questions (e.g. rec.arts.sf.starwars.misc, in the case of Luke and the Death Star). 4.c. Future History The newsgroup is for discussing history that has already happened. Questions such as "What if George W. Bush were assassinated tomorrow?" have been asked and argued, and will probably continue to arise. But, again, there are more appropriate newsgroups for such discussion, most probably alt.history.future (or, in some cases, a specialist group such as talk.politics.assassination), although propagation of a.h.f seems to be limited. You may need to specifically request it be carried at your site; contact your newsmaster or newsadmin. 4.d. Secret History "Secret history" involves the revelation that something that we think we know about the past is untrue. It is not alternative history: it leaves history unchanged, and the present is certainly still the present. (Why what we know is untrue may vary, but in most secret history stories there's some sort of a conspiracy at work to hide the truth from the masses.) A related side-issue is whether a purportedly non-fiction book (e.g., Baigent et al.'s HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL, or one of the Von Daniken books) can also be secret history. In any case, for purposes of the soc.history.what-if newsgroup, secret history is off-topic -- whether admittedly invented or supposedly non-fictional. There are many newsgroups which might be the appropriate venue, such as rec.arts.books or rec.arts.sf.written, another soc.history group, alt.conspiracy, or some specialized alt. group. 4.e. Historical "Revisionism" Genuine revisionist history is a respectable intellectual undertaking, but arguments *exclusively* concerned with real history belong on soc.history.moderated or some other group in the soc.history hierarchy. Denial of the facts of the Nazi Holocaust or the Turkish massacres of Armenians (or any other examples of 20th- century genocide) is neither intellectually respectable nor on-topic for this group. The newsgroup created specifically to argue the point is alt.revisionism; such arguments are out of place here. Holocaust deniers have turned up on the newsgroup before, and no doubt will again. Please do not get drawn into an argument which will just raise tempers and waste time and bandwidth: if you just can't bear not to respond, post *once* and then stop. (Do not be fooled by their habit of posting under many fake usernames, either.) Take the argument to private e-mail if you must continue it further, rather than continuing to post to the newsgroup. Experience shows that ostracism is a more effective tactic than argument for getting these people to leave. And, as far as anyone can tell, they have never converted any of our readers, so it is not necessary to be concerned about leaving them unanswered when deciding who should go in your killfile. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 5. Are there any subjects which require special care? Almost any topic can unexpectedly rouse tempers; the Ban on Politics exists because of sad experience. However, even perfectly on-topic discussions of alternative history can be inflammatory when contrary beliefs, political or otherwise, are involved. The record in SHWI indicates that the following subjects are particularly prone to cause problems: 5.a Conflicting Patriotisms SHWI is an international newsgroup. Please bear this in mind when posting on subjects that may easily arouse strong opinions. Courtesy towards other nationalities when touching on matters that may reflect deep seated values and patriotisms should be a matter of course. This is as true for historical issues as more contemporary concerns. For example, arguments about who "really" won the War of 1812 will produce nothing but wasted bandwidth and bruised feelings. SHWI has also suffered from the Europe vs US argument on more than one occasion, and no one would like to see it repeated. (Prodding touchy patriots on purpose is a type of troll. Don't.) 5.b WIs concerning very recent events Current affairs are not historical. Extremely recent events are often too fresh for genuine historical analysis, and posts discussing "what-if so-and-so (which occurred yesterday) had not happened?" are rarely valuable. While most posters will no doubt be interested in recent and current affairs, there is often little that can be said on such a subject that does not involve contemporary politics or speculation about the future. Thus posts on a very recent WI tend to stray off topic, violating points 4.a and 4.c. above. While WIs concerning recent events are certainly on-topic, they should be handled with great care and with an eye to not offending other posters. 5.c WIs involving supernatural agencies WIs that involve supernatural agencies or devices, such as time travel and magic, are on the borders of the topic for this newsgroup. If using such devices, be aware that many posters do not appreciate AH in such a form, and that the purpose of the group is discussion of the alternative history, not the discussion of the magical agency used to aid in the creation of the alternative history. As a matter of courtesy it is preferable to make it clear in the title of the post that the timeline involves such deus ex machina devices. There is no agreed method of labelling or convention with respect to the titles of posts that feature supernatural events, though [ISOT] is regularly used to refer to a particular literary device (see Question 7). The critical issue is clarity and courtesy. Many of the more interesting magical scenarios can be reformulated to remove the magical element. For example, "You wake up in the body of historical figure X, what do you do?" could perhaps be worded as "What decisions could historical figure X have made, that would have lead to changes Y?". Such reformulations will make the post more attractive to a number of readers, and often take little effort to do. 5.d Discussions on valid topics that have reached an impasse One should also be willing to accept that arguments can reach an impasse beyond which nothing can be gained by pursuing them. A few specific topics have long since reached the impasse stage on the newsgroup as a whole. Besides the War of 1812, these include: who should properly be considered Chinese (especially when the Mongols or Tibetans are brought up), the possibility of European (meaning chiefly British) intervention in the American Civil War, and especially the related subject of American vs. British ironclads during that era. 5.e Responses to contentious or troll-like posts Certain posts on sensitive subjects, even when framed as valid WIs, can easily rouse strong passions. When reading highly contentious or deliberately argumentative posts it's worth taking a moment to consider whether an immediate follow-up is the best action. An outraged response to a post that has caused offense, or seems deliberately argumentative, will not solve the problem. In many cases the resulting argument is often what the original poster intends. If it doesn't look like a poster is going to engage in constructive discussion, responses will only add to the noise on the newsgroup. In short, "Please don't feed the trolls". ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 6. What is a "double-blind what-if" and how should I respond? A "double-blind" WI is one that pretends to be posted from an alternative history. Frequently, but not always, this takes the form of asking "what if" about something from real history, treating it as if it hadn't happened, e.g. "What if England had resisted Napoleon successfully?" Sometimes it will be clear what the author wants to pretend happened instead, sometimes not. Preferred style for responses is to pretend to be from the same alternative history as the initial post. Feel free to add details to the fictitious history in your response, but try not to contradict anything someone has already said, unless you can do it in character ("The idea that the Empire nearly fell apart under Napoleon VI is a vicious lie spread by Francophobe neo-radicals!"). Note that the existence of double-blinds means you should hesitate before correcting a post which seems to be making a really flagrant error about history -- while theoretically possible that an author really doesn't know that Napoleon never invaded Britain, it is much more likely to be a double-blind what-if, in which case "correcting the error" will just make you look silly. One regular appearance on SHWI is the "West Wing", a thread discussing contemporary events as if they were from the television drama of the same name. This is not an invitation to discuss contemporary political issues, but rather a running joke regarding the dramatic implausibilites of real history. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 7. What does "... in the Sea of Time" mean? It's a reference to S.M. Stirling's ISLAND IN THE SEA OF TIME (book one of the Nantucket Trilogy), which sends 1998 Nantucket back to 1250 B.C. through some unexplained mechanism and follows its inhabitants' subsequent careers. The book's publication sparked a large set of threads asking about the impact of sending various areas or groups back in time. It is now a newsgroup practice to give any such time-travel question a subject heading "[whatever] in the Sea of Time", or just "ISOT." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 8. What are the Alien Space Bats? Newsgroup shorthand for complete disbelief in some suggested historical reasoning: "alien space bats would be a more believable explanation." For a while, they were being pressed into service for questions about the effects of impossible events actually happening, but their primary use remains for attacks on unrealism in timelines (Alison Brooks' page, see Question 19, gives the canonical example). They are still occasionally invoked as a quirky deus ex machina for impossible AHs, because no one has come up with anything better. It should be noted that the ASBs' creator, Alison Brooks (now sadly deceased), regretted the use of the ASBs as a supernatural agency, preferring to restrict them to rhetoric. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 9. What does <abbreviation> mean? There are several abbreviations common to much of Usenet which are not described here. There are also a few that seem to be rare outside this newsgroup, however: ACW = American Civil War AH = alternative history (not to be confused with A-H, Austria-Hungary) ASB = alien space bats; see Question 8 ATL = alternative timeline BoP = Ban on Politics; see Question 4.a. It is also used as a verb; to BoP someone is to invoke the Ban DBWI = double-blind what-if; see Question 6 ISOT = "In the Sea Of Time"; see Question 7 ObWI = "Obligatory What-If", a throwaway AH idea included in an otherwise off-topic post OTL = our timeline; a synonym for real history POD, PoD = point of divergence; the moment when an AH starts to differ from real history WI = what-if; used as a synonym for a particular alternative history *or* for a particular question YWUA = "You Wake Up As," or, what would the reader do if s/he replaced a given historical figure with all current knowledge intact - usually used as short hand for "given hindsight, what decisions would historical figure X make?" Additionally there are two prefixes that appear relatively frequently, both of which are specific to the newsgroup. *{text here} and alt.{text here} both signify "the alternative timeline version" of whatever text they are applied to. For example, when discussing an alternative history in which Napoleon is a physically large man, one might write about the differences in behaviour and career of the real Napoleon, and *Napoleon. This construction can also be used to refer to analogues of characters in an alternative history. For example, an alternative history that featured a British instead of a French revolution in the 18th century might well feature an alt.Napoleon, or *Napoleon, who fulfils a similar role (but is obviously not named Napoleon). ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 10. What are the most common what-ifs? Evelyn Leeper's 1999 count using the Uchronia database (see Question 16) found that World War II was about twice as popular as the American Civil War, which was about twice as popular as World War I/Russian Revolution. The last was significantly ahead in a group that also included Waterloo, the Armada, Kennedy's assassination and the Cuban Missile Crisis. This roughly matches findings by the late AH buff Mark Keller. Soc.history.what-if duplicates the literature in the popularity of WWII and the American Civil War. Certain specific aspects of both conflicts have been argued into the ground on the newsgroup without reaching consensus (see Question 5). Some of the most famous points of divergence are probably not such good choices to change the wars' outcomes as is frequently believed, and in any case have been debated so often that many participants will show more interest in exploring other possibilities. For WWII these include Operation Sealion, the use of chemical weapons (by either side), Japan not striking at Pearl Harbor (but still attacking in the East Indies and Philippines) and Japan attacking the USSR rather than the USA. A similar list could be drawn up for the American Civil War. While further discussion of such timelines is welcomed, newcomers are advised to examine the archives to examine some of the oft repeated arguments surrounding the subjects. Beyond that, it is hard to say what topics come up most often, or (what is not the same thing) which sorts of questions are likely to spark a good discussion. For some reason, several of the newsgroup's most long- lived and productive threads have concerned alternative versions of the discovery and settlement of the American continents, and the probability of a scientific or industrial revolution occurring in a different culture, country or time. As the commercial, scientific and industrial revolutions are still much debated topics within real history, it is extremely difficult to draw conclusions about alternative versions. Nevertheless these subjects have produced a wealth of interesting debate on SHWI. Again, newcomers are advised to search the archives. Despite these points, it is not possible to predict what idea will produce a good thread. Well worn themes may produced gems as easily as novel ideas. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 11. What are some common historical errors I should avoid? There are a number of historical issues that are still hotly debated, on the newsgroup and in the historical profession. (Question 5 mentions some that have been debated enough for the newsgroup to tire of them.) However, a few ideas which are simply mistaken show up frequently in the alternative history literature and on the newsgroup. Note that particular outcomes desired can often be obtained by using a different, usually earlier, point of divergence. Good results can also come from challenging the group to come up with a plausible justification for some specific event. 11.a. Could Operation Sealion have succeeded? Not with the existing situation in 1940: Germany lacked the necessary resources to force the English Channel, and even transporting and supplying ground forces of the necessary size would have been difficult, probably impossible. Alison Brooks and Ian Montgomerie have posted extended arguments to this effect; see their webpages (Question 19). A plausible Nazi defeat of Great Britain requires changing something other than just going ahead with Sealion. 11.b. Could the American Indians have repelled the Europeans? No, nor any other people from the Old World who might have discovered the New. Even apart from a considerable technical edge (guns, but also metal working, shipbuilding, etc.), the Europeans had a decisive advantage because of their diseases. Due to their late settlement of the continents and lack of domesticated animals, the native Americans lacked any immunity to most Old World diseases, which meant a catastrophic population collapse (definitely higher than 50%, and perhaps more than 90%) in the first generations following contact. Deaths on a similar scale will necessarily follow *any* extensive contact between the hemispheres. 11.c. Did the Chinese just use gunpowder for fireworks? Despite persistent stories to the contrary, the Chinese did use gunpowder for weapons. They used bombs from the tenth century AD, rockets from the tenth and eleventh, and even cannon from the thirteenth. Cannon seem to have diffused to Europe by the 1320s, and China lost its lead in gunpowder weaponry probably in the 1400s. 11.d. Did Christianity destroy Greek science and the Roman Empire? Opinions differ about whether Christianity was a contributing factor to the decline of the Roman Empire, but it is agreed that there were, at least, many other factors of greater importance -- after all, the Christian Roman Empire (Byzantium) lasted longer than the pagan Empire and Republic put together. Christianity definitely did not destroy the classical scientific tradition, which was moribund by the 1st century BC and long dead by the time Christianity was significant enough for anyone important to notice it. 11.e. Did the US come within one vote of adopting German as its official language? No. This urban legend seems to be based on a 1795 petition to print some laws in German as well as (not instead of) English. During the debate, a motion to adjourn and consider the matter later failed by one vote. No vote was taken on the actual proposal. Later that year, Congress voted to issue federal laws in English only; the vote tally does not seem to have been recorded. 11.f. Did Polish lancers charge German tanks in 1939? No. This appears to be a myth originally started by Italian correspondants following the German army. The Polish army did have substantial cavalry units, often well equipped and trained, and had some successes against German infantry. It may be that following such successes the cavalry then subsequently encountered armoured forces and were defeated, but whether it's taken as praise of desperate Polish bravery or condemnation of Polish warmaking capability, the story should be considered with a pinch of salt. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 12. Are the posts to soc.history.what-if archived somewhere? There is no soc.history.what-if archive site, although there are a number of threads saved on Ian Montgomerie's website (see Question 19), thanks to Randy McDonald. Most of them are from late 2000 forward, but some are older. The web search engine Google has a nearly-complete Usenet archive, including every post made to soc.history.what-if and its predecessor alt.history.what-if. Use their advanced search page: http://groups.google.com/advanced_group_search ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 13. Can anybody recommend a good book about alternative history? About alternative history itself? There are a number of anthologies, but only one also includes non-fiction material about the genre, to wit an essay and a bibliography (by Gordon B. Chamberlain). It is: Waugh, Charles, G., & Martin H. Greenberg (eds), ALTERNATIVE HISTORIES: ELEVEN STORIES OF THE WORLD AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN (Garland 1986) Unhappily, the book was only published in hardback and can be difficult to find. The most likely place for you to locate it is at a reasonably well-stocked public or university library. Another recommendation is the following: Geoffrey Hawthorn, PLAUSIBLE WORLDS: POSSIBILITY AND UNDERSTANDING IN HISTORY AND THE SOCIAL SCIENCES (Cambridge University Press, 1991) Several dissertations have been written about alternative history as a literary sub-genre. Some examples are: Collins, William Joseph, PATHS NOT TAKEN: THE DEVELOPMENT, STRUCTURE, AND AESTHETICS OF THE ALTERNATIVE HISTORY (University of California, Davis 1990). Gevers, Nicholas, MIRRORS OF THE PAST: VERSIONS OF HISTORY IN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY (University of Cape Town 1997). McKnight, Ed, ALTERNATIVE HISTORY: THE DEVELOPMENT OF A LITERARY GENRE (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 1994) available from UMI Dissertation Services as order number 9508228. The proceedings of a 1995 Berkeley conference have been published as COUNTERFACTUAL THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS IN WORLD POLITICS: LOGICAL, METHODO- LOGICAL, AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES, eds. Philip E. Tetlock and Aaron Belkin (Princeton 1996). The papers focused on how counterfactual arguments should be generated, used, and judged by students of world politics. A British historian, Niall Ferguson, edited VIRTUAL HISTORY: ALTERNATIVES AND COUNTERFACTUALS (Picador 1997, etc) a collection of articles on "counterfactuals" written by and for academic historians. This book discusses and defends alternative history as a tool for understanding real history; it is not interested in alternative history as a genre of fiction. It includes a lengthy introduction in which Ferguson tries to justify alternative history as a tool for historical studies. A better recent book of the same type (though without a general introduction) is WHAT IF? THE WORLD'S FOREMOST MILITARY HISTORIANS IMAGINE WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN (Putnam 1999), edited by Robert Cowley. Expanded from a special issue of MHQ: THE JOURNAL OF MILITARY HISTORY, the book almost deserves its subtitle, assembling by far the most formidable array of historians ever to consider alternative histories. WHAT IF? is only the most prominent of a number of recent academic AH books or collections based on military history; see the next Question. It was successful enough for a sequel, WHAT IF? 2: EMINENT HISTORIANS IMAGINE WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN (Putnam, 2001), which concentrates on non-military alternatives. Finally, arguments for and against "counterfactual" history as a tool for historians and (especially) history teachers may be found in Alexander Demandt's HISTORY THAT NEVER HAPPENED: A TREATISE ON THE QUESTION, WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF--? (MacFarland 1993), translated by Colin D. Thompson from the third edition of the original German (Vandenhoek & Ruprecht 1984, etc). ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 14. What alternative histories should I read? Everyone has different tastes; asking for suggestions on the newsgroup will usually get several quite different responses. Some of the most widely acknowledged classics of the field are listed below. It should be emphasised that many of these "histories" are in fact science fiction, utilising supernatural or non-historical effects as a literary device: Benford, Gregory, & Martin H. Greenberg (eds), HITLER VICTORIOUS: ELEVEN STORIES OF THE GERMAN VICTORY IN WORLD WAR II (Garland 1986, etc) [an anthology including several classic stories] de Camp, L. Sprague, LEST DARKNESS FALL (Ballantine 1949, etc) Dick, Philip K., THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (Putnam's 1962, etc) Dixon, Dougal, THE NEW DINOSAURS, AN ALTERNATE EVOLUTION (Grafton 1988, etc) Garrett, Randall, LORD DARCY (SFBC 1983, etc); omnibus of MURDER AND MAGIC (Ace 1979); TOO MANY MAGICIANS (Doubleday 1967, etc); and LORD DARCY INVESTIGATES (Ace 1981) Kantor, Mackinlay, IF THE SOUTH HAD WON THE CIVIL WAR (Bantam 1961) Moore, Ward, BRING THE JUBILEE (Farrar, Straus & Young 1953, etc) Piper, H. Beam, LORD KALVAN OF OTHERWHEN (Ace 1965, etc; vt GUNPOWDER GOD, Sphere 1978; available in THE COMPLETE PARATIME Ace 2001) Roberts, Keith, PAVANE (Hart-Davis 1968, etc) Sobel, Robert, FOR WANT OF A NAIL: IF BURGOYNE HAD WON AT SARATOGA (Macmillan 1973; Greenhill 1997) Spinrad, Norman, THE IRON DREAM (Avon 1972, etc) Squire, J.C. (ed), IF IT HAD HAPPENED OTHERWISE: LAPSES INTO IMAGINARY HISTORY (Longmans, Green 1931; exp Sidgwick & Jackson 1972; St. Martin's 1974); rev as IF: OR, HISTORY REWRITTEN (Viking 1931; Kennikat 1964) Stirling, S.M., THE DOMINATION (Baen 1999); omnibus of MARCHING THROUGH GEORGIA (Baen 1988); UNDER THE YOKE (Baen 1989); and THE STONE DOGS (Baen 1990) Turtledove, Harry, AGENT OF BYZANTIUM (Congdon & Weed/Contemporary 1987, etc; exp Baen 1994) Turtledove, Harry, and L. Sprague de Camp, DOWN IN THE BOTTOMLANDS (AND OTHER PLACES) (Baen 1999) [includes Turtledove's title story, plus the classic "Wheels of If" by de Camp & Turtledove's sequel] Turtledove, Harry, THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH: A NOVEL OF THE CIVIL WAR (Ballantine 1992, etc) The science fiction goes in and out of print, and they can be difficult to find unless you have a friend with a personal library of SF classics. Note that Kantor, Sobel, and the Squire anthology are not SF or even fiction; they are essays in "imaginary history." Such books are more likely to be found in libraries which view SF as beneath their dignity. Special mention should be made of Robert Sobel's FOR WANT OF A NAIL. FOR WANT OF A NAIL: IF BURGOYNE HAD WON AT SARATOGA is probably the most detailed alternative history of all time, written by a real historian with a number of publications in American business history. Taking the form of a lengthy (400+ pages) academic history of the two sister nations which result, it has a full scholarly apparatus including hundreds of references, all of them completely invented. Long out of print, FOR WANT OF A NAIL was republished by Greenhill in late 1997. The alternative timeline of FOR WANT OF A NAIL has been unofficially developed beyond the date where Sobel ended his history, through the collective effort of a number of SHWI contributors. The FOR ALL NAILS timeline explores in depth many of the issues raised in Sobel's work, as well as being extremely entertaining. An archive of FOR ALL NAILS posts and information regarding the project and the FOR ALL NAILS "cabal" can be found at: http://www.kebe.com/for-all-nails/ The following books were published recently enough to be easily findable, and have all received at least some favorable attention. As with the classics above, some are "pure" alternative history, but others involve time travel, magic, or some other implausible deus ex machina device. Barnes, John, FINITY (Tor 1999) Baxter, Stephen, VOYAGE (HarperCollins UK 1996, etc) Bear, Greg, DINOSAUR SUMMER (Warner 1998) Blom, Suzanne Alles, INCA: THE SCARLET FRINGE (Tor/Forge 2001) Dreyfuss, Richard and Harry Turtledove, THE TWO GEORGES (Tor 1996, etc) DuBois, Brendan, RESURRECTION DAY (Putnam 1999, etc) Flint, Eric, 1632 (Baen 2000) Fry, Stephen, MAKING HISTORY (Hutchinson 1996, etc) Garfinkle, Richard, CELESTIAL MATTERS: A NOVEL OF ALTERNATE SCIENCE (Tor 1996, etc) Gentle, Mary. ASH: A SECRET HISTORY Series (Avon/Eos 1999-2000, etc) Harris, Robert, FATHERLAND (Hutchinson 1992, etc) Keyes, J. Gregory, AGE OF UNREASON Series (Ballantine 1998-2001, etc) McAuley, Paul J., PASQUALE'S ANGEL (Morrow 1995, etc) Newman, Kim, ANNO DRACULA Series (Simon & Schuster 1992-1998, etc) Niles, Douglas and Michael Dobson, FOX ON THE RHINE (Tor/Forge 2000) Sargent, Pamela, CLIMB THE WIND (Harper Prism 1998, etc) Stirling, S.M., NANTUCKET Trilogy (ROC 1998-2000) Stirling, S.M., THE PESHAWAR LANCERS (ROC 2002) Stroyar, J.N., THE CHILDREN'S WAR (Pocket 2001) Turtledove, Harry, HOW FEW REMAIN: A NOVEL OF THE SECOND WAR BETWEEN THE STATES (Ballantine 1997, etc) Turtledove, Harry, THE GREAT WAR/AMERICAN EMPIRE Series (Ballantine 1998-) Turtledove, Harry, WORLDWAR Series (Ballantine 1994-2001) Wilson, Robert Charles, DARWINIA (Tor 1998, etc) Some decent alternative history anthologies which are currently available are: Dozois, Gardner & Stanley Schmidt (eds), ROADS NOT TAKEN: TALES OF ALTERNATE HISTORY (Del Rey 1998) Greenberg, Martin H. (ed), THE WAY IT WASN'T: GREAT STORIES OF ALTERNATE HISTORY (Carol 1996) Shainblum, Marc and John Dupuis (eds), ARROWDREAMS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF ALTERNATE CANADAS (Nuage 1998) Stirling, S.M., DRAKAS! (Baen, 2000) Turtledove, Harry and Roland J. Green (eds), ALTERNATE GENERALS (Baen 1998) Turtledove, Harry and Martin H. Greenberg, THE BEST ALTERNATE HISTORY STORIES OF THE 20TH CENTURY (Ballantine/Del Rey 2001) Some non-English language alternative histories include: Rasmus Dahlberg (editor), EN ANDEN HISTORIE. NI ALTERNATIVE DANMARKSHISTORIER, Aschehoug et egmont forlag, Viborg, 2001 Christian von Ditfurth, DIE MAUER STEHT AM RHEIN. DEUTSCHLAND NACH DEM SIEG DER SOZIALISMUS, Verlag Kiepenhauer & Witsch, Kln, 1999 Ralph Giordano, WENN HITLER DEN KRIEG GEWONNEN HŸTTE. DIE PLŸNE DER NAZIS NACH DEM ENDSIEG, Verlag Kiepenhauer & Witsch, Kln, 2000 (has some allohistorical content) Eric B. Henriet, L'HISTOIRE REVISITŠE. PANORAMA DE L'UCHRONIE SOUS TOUTES SES FORMES, Encrage, Amiens, 1999 Nicolas Saudray, LES ORANGES DE YALTA, Ballard Edition, 1992 Thanks to the recent mini-boom in "non-fiction" alternative history centering on military AH, it needs its own section of recently published or republished books. Greenhill/Stackpole apparently intends to publish at least one such volume every year. See also Question 13. Deutsch, Harold and Dennis Showalter, WHAT IF? STRATEGIC ALTERNATIVES OF WWII (The Emperor's Press, 1997) Macksey, Kenneth, INVASION: THE GERMAN INVASION OF ENGLAND, JULY 1940 (Macmillan 1980, etc) Macksey, Kenneth (ed), THE HITLER OPTIONS (Greenhill 1994, etc) North, Jonathan (ed), THE NAPOLEON OPTIONS (Greenhill 2000) Talley, Steve, ALMOST AMERICA: FROM THE COLONISTS TO CLINTON: A "WHAT IF" HISTORY OF THE U.S. (HarperCollins 2000) Tsouras, Peter G., DISASTER AT D-DAY: THE GERMANS DEFEAT THE ALLIES, JUNE 1944 (Greenhill 1994) Tsouras, Peter G., GETTYSBURG: AN ALTERNATE HISTORY (Greenhill 1997) Tsouras, Peter G., ed., RISING SUN VICTORIOUS: THE ALTERNATE HISTORY OF HOW JAPAN WON THE PACIFIC WAR (Greenhill 2001) Alternative history is also used as the basis for role-playing games. An example which deserves special mention is: Hite, Kenneth, Craig Neumeier and Michael S. Schiffer, GURPS ALTERNATE EARTHS (Steve Jackson Games 1996) and GURPS ALTERNATE EARTHS 2 (Steve Jackson Games 1999) This is a collection of six alternative histories written for Steve Jackson Games' role-playing game GURPS. Three of the timelines are relatively "standard" choices (CSA, Nazis, Roman Empire); three are unusual (Aztecs, Christian Japan, 1920s pulp science). It has a page at the SJ Games website http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/books/AltEarths/ There is a sequel GURPS ALTERNATE EARTHS 2, six more worlds tending to more unusual choices in its scenarios (American Revolution, Ming China, Vikings, scientific Muslims, Revolution of 1688 and a paratime empire) http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/books/altearths2/ There are currently no plans for additional volumes, however a new book which will effectively be a compilation of the previous volumes with some additional material and updates will be available from December 2004. http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/books/infiniteworlds/ The histories are worth examining in their own right as a good introduction to alternative history -- one does not need to be interested in GURPS or role playing to find value in them. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 15. Is there an (on-line) alternative history book list? There sure is, maintained by Robert B. Schmunk (rbs@uchronia.net). He used to maintain this FAQ, too, so he couldn't praise it as it deserves: it is *very* impressive, one of the best specialist bibliographies on the Net and far superior to any printed AH resource. The URL is http://www.uchronia.net/ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 16. What are the Sidewise Awards? The Sidewise Awards were created in 1995 to honor the best alternative histories published each year. There are a "long form" (a novel or series) and "short form" award. Nominees (the finalists from all published AH) are selected during the calendar year subsequent to complete publication, and the winners from that short list announced at Worldcon (the World Science Fiction Convention). The Sidewise Awards have a web page at http://www.uchronia.net/sidewise/ which lists previous winners & nominees, and the works that have been suggested to the judges for the current year. It also gives contact information for the judges if you want to make a nomination. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 17. Are there other alternative history discussion areas? Yes. The other Usenet newsgroups with some level of official interest in alternative history are alt.tv.sliders (about the alternative-worlds TV show), rec.arts.sf.written (the correct venue for discussion of the plot, characters, or literary merit of most published alternative histories), and the specialty group alt.books.harry-turtledove. As of April 2000, there is a freeform online role-playing game, "SHWI In the Sea Of Time," a mailing list in which a number of SHWI participants are constructing an ATL based on their actions after being sent back to 1800 with personal computers but no other equipment: http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/SHWI-ISOT SHWI has also spawned a online reading group, "SWHI Books". Unfortunately this group has now closed, nevertheless the archive of posts may be of interest to the shwi community: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/shwibooks/ There are at least two general electronic mailing lists. One is a Yahoo! group; send an e-mail to Alternatehistory-subscribe@ yahoogroups.com. The other, "Time in Fictions," is a bilingual French- English mailing list for discussion of time travel and related themes in all media. TiF is linked to the non-professional French magazine LA CLEPSYDRE. Further information and registration is available at http://clepsydre.free.fr/ There are also e-lists devoted to two authors best known for their alternative histories. To subscribe to Videssos, the Harry Turtledove Discussion List, send a blank e-mail to videssos-subscribe@ yahoogroups.com. To subscribe to the S.M. Stirling Discussion List, send a blank e-mail to stirling-subscribe@yahoogroups.com There are web-based alternative history forums at Del Rey's alternate history site and Ian Montgomerie's personal site (see Question 18). There are a number of forums for alternative history discussion, and especially alternative history themed amateur fiction on the EZBoard at: http://p209.ezboard.com/balternatehistoryfictory On other networks, there is an alternate history category of the Science Fiction Round Table (SFRT1) on GEnie -- ask some other user how to go about signing up. The BBC Online discussion boards also host a what-if list as a spin-off from an alternative history radio programme: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cgi-perl/h2/h2.cgi?state=view&board=history.whatif Off the Net completely, there is a paper APA "Point of Divergence": Jim Rittenhouse's page (see question 18) has a description and contact information. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 18. Are there any alternative history Web sites? Several; too many, in fact, to conveniently list them all. Fortunately, most of the better pages have links to other sites. The most obvious place to begin is the Uchronia site, which has an extensive links page as well as the definitive AH bibliography (see Question 15) and information on the Sidewise Awards (see Question 16): http://www.uchronia.net/ There is a (small) alternate history web ring at http://www.webring.org/cgi-bin/webring?ring=althistory&list The Alternate History Travel Guides grew out of an old newsgroup thread: http://www.ahtg.net A French language site which includes articles and reviews of science fiction and in particular alternative history can be found at: http://www.noosfere.com/heberg/mota/ The other sites listed here are all alternative history pages which belong to current or past contributors to soc.history.what-if. The contents tend toward original material rather than information on published alternative histories. Alison Brooks & David Flin: http://www.flin.demon.co.uk/ "Gnome", author of the timeline "What if Gordon Banks had played?" http://www.btinternet.com/~chief.gnome/ Doug Hoff: http://www.althist.com/ Anthony Mayer [also hosts material by Jonathan Edelstein and Sydney Webb]: http://www.anthonymayer.net/ah/history.html Ian Montgomerie [also hosts material by a number of other authors]: http://www.alternatehistory.com/entry.html Bucky Rea: http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/alternative_history Jim Rittenhouse [includes information on the alternate history APA "Point of Divergence"]: http://www.marmotgraphics.com/althistory/index.html Marcus Rowland ["Forgotten Futures" shareware RPG based on 19th- and early 20th-century scientific romances, some explicitly AH]: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/forgottenfutures/ Erwin Wodarczak: http://www.wodarczak.net/althist/ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 19. Is there any record of newsgroup traffic in soc.history.what-if? There certainly is. The website http://www.ex-parrot.com/~chris/ngml/soc.history.what-if.html provides a weekly breakdown of posting statistics to soc.history.what-if. This tool is provided by Chris Lightfoot (http://www.ex-parrot.com/~chris/), a regular contributor to the group, and questions regarding the script or site should be addressed to him. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 20. What does "PoD Flood" mean? In an effort to improve the signal to noise ratio on soc.history.what-if, posters are encouraged to post PoDs (points of divergence, see question 9) or ideas for discussion, even if those PoDs or discussion points have not been completely polished or researched beforehand. As long as the post concerns alternative history, it is welcome on s.h.w.i. The idea can always be revisited later, and interesting discussions often spring from even throwaway what-ifs. PoD flood thus "reclaims" s.h.w.i. from off-topic posts. Don't get it right, get it written. The "PoD Flood" marker is now largely unused, however large numbers of archived posts are labelled as PoD Flood, and the success of the strategy suggests that future attempts to spam the newsgroup may be met with PoD flood posts. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 21. How can I get started writing a timeline? Where can I get advice? A number of long time posters to soc.history.what-if have compiled a short guide to writing timelines ("So, you want to write a timeline?"), which is hosted at Anthony Mayer's website: http://www.anthonymayer.net/ah/writingGuide.html It provides some hints and tips on getting started, how to keep going, some advice on research and styles of timelines, together with anecdotes and comments from veteran timeline authors. This is a living document which is expected to grow with contributions from posters.