An “alternate history” story is when a thing that happened in history IRL happened a different way! Like if, for example, the American colonies never broke from England in the 1700s– that’d be an alt history.
As Wikipedia says:
“Alternate History” looks at “what if” scenarios from some of history’s most pivotal turning points and presents a completely different version, sometimes based on science and fact, but often based on conjecture. The exploration of how the world would look today if various changes occurred and what these alternate worlds would be like forms the basis of this vast subject matter.
If you’ve never read an alt history book and aren’t sure where to start, here’s some of my favorites:
- Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, an alternate version of World War I where people fight using steampunk/biopunk machines.
- Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, where post-Civil War Portland becomes infested with zombies. There are also steampunk elements!
- Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory, where in the 1950s demons start possessing people on a massive scale. I suppose this isn’t a true alternate history book (as it’s not based on a specific historical event), but it’s a really good book and it does the “what if” scenario perfectly.
- Farthing by Jo Walton, where the UK makes a treaty with Nazi Germany. I haven’t actually finished this yet (I have it on audio) because the idea of a treaty with Hitler made me SO ANGRY I had to take a break for several months. But it’s very good!
- Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones, where Guy Fawkes blew up Parliament, leading to crackdowns on witches (who are real). The whole of the Chrestomanci series could be said to be alt history, too, because new worlds are created when consequences of major events could end multiple ways. Each book is set on one of those alt worlds. (More info on that here.)
- Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett, where Richard the Lionheart never died AND magic is real.
- His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik, which is basically the Napoleonic war plus dragons.
What are your favorite alternate history books?
Other book lists: The Most Unusual Alternate History Novels Ever Published @ io9 and Uchronia: The Alternate History List, an AMAZING bibliography of almost every alt history book ever published.