Alternate Worlds

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Posted by Hack (8th Feb 2000, 11:33)

Originally published in Wyrmtongue February 2000.

Everyone wishes they could turn the clock back sometimes. But some people work on a longer timescale than others. An interesting genre of fiction is the Alternative World, where some historical event did not happen, and the world is changed thereby.

A good example is that of "Agent of Byzantium", by Harry Turtledove. In his world, Mohammed was converted to Christianity on a trading mission, and the Islamic upheaval never happens. This means that the world is still divided by the two superpowers: Byzantium and Persia.

This genre is often used to make a political point. A favourite scenario is one where the Confederate States of America win the Civil War, and the institutions of slavery continue. The sheer nastiness of most of these worlds - such as that created in Ward Moore's "Bring the Jubilee" - serves as a warning to those who seek to turn back the clock.

Sometimes, however, the intent is less strident. The "Janissaries" series, by Jerry Pournelle, features peoples from various periods in Earth's history, such as Charlemagne's Roman Empire and the Scottish from 400 AD, and one suspects that he recruited such people just to stage some interesting battles between enemies who never had a chance to meet on Earth.

The genre's strength is that it can be used for any of these purposes or none; it is also sometimes poignant to realise where we went wrong in the past. Hopefully our descendants will not be writing fiction saying "if only" about us.

About item:

- Agent Of Byzantium
- Janissaries

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About author:

- Turtledove, Harry
- Pournelle, Jerry

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