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Topic: looking for alternate history recs

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Subject: looking for alternate history recs
Date Posted: 2/10/2010 1:13 PM ET
Member Since: 1/17/2009
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Hi guys,

My husband and I enjoy alternate history, but has read Harry Turtledove and his style of writing is just not our favorite.

One book we both liked recently was Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, which we still talk about.

Also recently read was S.M. Stirling's Conquistador, which was OK.

Anybody have other recommendations? We are looking for a fascinating concept and/or particularly well-written with good characterization.

Date Posted: 2/10/2010 4:44 PM ET
Member Since: 9/3/2008
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1632 was really good.  It's not exactly alternate history but it is at the same time -a time travel alt hist.  The way the modern people interact with the others and how they use what was brought with them is very interesting.  Ther are several books in the series  (later ones are ok) and an anthology -which was also good.   I'm reading The Years of Rice & Salt  (Kim Stanley Robinson) right now.  The premise there is -99% of the population was wiped out in the black plague and how society developed after that.

Date Posted: 2/10/2010 5:14 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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I enjoyed Pastwatch as well, but I don't read a ton of alternate history myself. . . so you should maybe take my recommendations with a grain of salt. However, I do value strong character-building in any novel I read, so that's why these stick out:

Farthing, by Jo Walton. The first 2/3 of the novel are very narrowly focused on the other genre it belongs to, which is a classic British country house mystery; but you get fascinating glimpses of the alternate history bits throughout, and they come to the fore in the last 1/3. It's followed by two sequels, also mysteries/thrillers: Ha'penny, and Half a Crown.

Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey. This really is more high fantasy than anything else, but just looking at how I explain it to other people it certainly counts as alternate history. . . it's set in an alternate medieval Europe, profoundly altered because when Jesus was dying on the cross his blood mingled with the tears of Mary Magdalene and the Earth to create a new god called Elua that founded a land called Terre d'Ange instead of France. . . very religious-oriented alternate history (with the dominant religion altered so much, Carey kept most of the political stuff very similar so you can still see the parallels) and with a lot of things that might turn people off (sado-masochistic sex, prostitution, and homosexuality are all imbued with mysticism that comes from the divine commandment to "love as thou wilt" and for those that don't have a problem with such things there's still a fairly baroque writing style and tons of politics and intrigue to deal with) but it has one of the best first-person narrators I've ever encountered in Phedre, a wonderfully realized world, heart-breaking decisions and failures (all you can ask of heroic fantasy, really) and a fine sense of the mythic and magical.

New Amsterdam, by Elizabeth Bear. Again, this is centered around mysteries rather than the alternate history proper, but it's there. . . the main characters are a vampire private detective and a Detective Crown Investigator (a forensic sorcerer in the pay of the King of England, detailed to track down magical and magic-using criminals) in New Amsterdam which is still a British colony. . . the expansion into the Americas was stopped by the war magic of the native tribes, and the trappings are of magic-oriented steampunk (zeppelins, etc.). This has less alternate history than the others I recommended, but if you like mysteries it's a collection of pretty good ones (it's six novellas/novelettes, rather than a single narrative) with well-drawn characters and is a more accessible example of Bear's erudition. . . I caught most of her references in this one, unlike in Blood and Iron.

And finally, are you aware that OSC has decided to write a sequel to Pastwatch? I think he's even declared that it will be a trilogy. . .

Date Posted: 2/10/2010 5:17 PM ET
Member Since: 10/31/2009
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There is Jo Walton's Small Change series which are a sequence of mysteries/thrillers set in an alternate timeline where England signed a peace treaty with Nazi Germany in 1941.

There is Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee, which is a much older story of the Confederacy winning the Civil War than Turtledove's.

There is Philip Roth's The Plot Against America which is set after Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR to become President of the US in 1940.

There is Michael Moorcock's A Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy in which World War I never happened.

Date Posted: 2/11/2010 6:24 PM ET
Member Since: 1/17/2009
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Thanks! I will have to check those out.

I love love love the Kushiel series ..... but I have never given them to my husband because he would hate them! Not his thing at all. I read tons of fantasy that is set in medieval worlds (aren't they all set in medieval worlds? seems like it sometimes) but my husband really enjoys more explicit historical references where the alternate history part of it is central to the story. (We were both history majors in college).

PBS lists the next Pastwatch, I had it on my Wish List for a while, until I decided that it was never coming out and took it off. If I ever see it at the store I will just buy it...

Subject: alt. history
Date Posted: 2/11/2010 8:07 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
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If you were ok with S.M. Stirling's Conquistador, then you might like his Peshawar Lancers Conquistador is a multiverse story (people move between parallel universes.  Peshawar Lancers is more of an alternate history concept - if there was an ice age in the 19th century and the British moved their empire completely to India.

As for Harry Turtledove, I got hooked on his alternate civil war series, even though it was somewhat repetative.  But I really did not like the series where the aliens land during WW2.  Which did you not like?

Date Posted: 2/18/2010 10:28 PM ET
Member Since: 12/9/2007
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Sara, have you read Stirling's 3 book series starting with Island in the Sea of Time?   It's limited in its scope and later on other volumes in the "Change" trilogies series lean more to rebuilding after a cosmic Apocolypse and the search for the why's it happened ( The Sky People", etc.).  Exploration into how worldwide society coped and took diverse paths that conflict tend to be dragged down some by a strong forays into different religious influences.

But the first 3 books are very good.  I highly recommend them.


Subject: Alternate History
Date Posted: 2/20/2010 8:54 PM ET
Member Since: 1/2/2010
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Leo Frankowski has the Cross Time Engineer series where a Polish Electrical Engineering student accidentally gets crossed with a group of time travelers and winds up in midieval Poland just before the Mongols invade.  The series is fun with good engineering but also a strong flavor of adolescent male fantasy mixed in. 

I also really like the 1632 series by Eric Flint with a host of other authors, which is an alternate history series.  The early books are mostly geared to a "Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court" style but later books do recognize the alternate history aspects and deal more with that style.  Also, very good with engineering themes but also, finances, religion, and government.

There is also David Drake's Bellisaurias [sp] series about ancient Rome fighting an entity from the future with the aid of an entity from the future.  Good character development with an emphasis on the characters and less on the technology.  A real Good versus Evil series.

Hope this gives you some ideas.

Date Posted: 2/21/2010 5:01 AM ET
Member Since: 10/16/2008
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Not exactly all human alt. history, but Harry Harrison's East of Eden series deals with humans clashing with lizards in a world where dinosaurs never fully died out. This is NOT the Land That Time Forgot - the lizards are very advanced, and the humans remain stone age. A very believable world.

Date Posted: 2/28/2010 8:33 PM ET
Member Since: 1/1/2009
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S.M. Stirling's Draka trilogy (far superior to Conquistador) is the ultimate chilling alternate history. They are Marching Through Georgia, Stone Dogs, and one other, also a short-story collection by various authors and a time travel/alternate universe book came later.

Len Deighton's SS/GB and Robert Harris' Fatherland are good detective stories in worlds where the Nazis won.

There are a ton of short-story collections that are well worth it- Turtledove's later stuff is utterly repetitious, but Agent of Byzantium is wonderful, and A Different Flesh was good.


Some of the better short-story collections (you will come across some of the same stories in different ones of course)

The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century by Harry Turtledove and Martin Harry Greenberg

Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History by Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt
Sideways In Crime by Lou Anders detective short-story collection by some top authors
I have boxes and boxes of them, let me know if you're looking for a particular period.
Date Posted: 3/1/2010 11:05 PM ET
Member Since: 3/1/2010
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I loved Pastwatch as well.  The best time travel story I have ever read.

I don't like a lot of Harry Turtledove's alternate history stuff, but I loved his Lizard invasion series.  The idea is that an advanced race of reptilian descent has tconquered some other worlds.  In each case, the races are reptilian and progress takes 1,000s of years for simple inprovements.

A probe finds Earth in about the 16th century I think and the Lizards take their time and dispatch a conquering fleet to Earth expecting to find knights in armour,

They arrive at the height of World War II.  :)  Their weapons are much stronger, but not as much of a gap as they expected.  Some intriguing stories involved.

Date Posted: 3/3/2010 12:54 AM ET
Member Since: 1/17/2009
Posts: 10,040
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Thanks guys, there are some intriguing books here!

Date Posted: 3/7/2010 12:44 AM ET
Member Since: 4/5/2008
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John Birmingham and  Robert Conroy have alternative history.  Birmingham's books are series, but Conroy's aren't.  I just read a really short older book If The South Had Won the War by Kantor.  One of the cool things to me was the fact that some people who died in later years of the real Civil War survived the shorter fictional one and then what did they or their descendents do.  I had never thought of that.  I'm reading an alternative history called Fox on the Rhine now.

Last Edited on: 3/7/10 12:46 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 3/7/2010 11:34 PM ET
Member Since: 1/1/2009
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The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories -



due out this May, looks to be a good compiliation of the best stories from the short story collections I posted

Date Posted: 3/15/2010 4:29 PM ET
Member Since: 4/13/2009
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Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis co-wrote a series call the Double-Edges (first book "This Scepter'd Isle") about the court of King Henry VIII, but with the Unseleghe Sidh and the Seleghi Sidh (Dark and Bright Elves) fighting behind the scenes to manipulate events.  The pacing was too slow to catch my interest, but I'm sure with Roberta Gellis involved the historical connections were carefully thought out.

Another series that I did enjoy is Naomi Novak's Temeraire series (First book is "His Majesty's Dragon") which imagine what the Napoleonic Wars would have been like fought with dragons.

An older series that you might like is Randall Garrett's "Lord Darcy" series, in which King Richard was not killed in 1199 and John never became king, and magic becomes a serious science.

Date Posted: 3/15/2010 4:32 PM ET
Member Since: 4/13/2009
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Oh, and one Turtledove book you might enjoy, even if you don't like the rest, is "Guns of the South."   To me it is better than his other alternative histories because he bases much of the story on an actual southern regiment, and he also does a great job of characterizing Robert E. Lee and how he might have reacted to a bunch of men coming from the future to provide his army with AK-47s.

Date Posted: 6/16/2010 7:39 PM ET
Member Since: 5/18/2010
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If you already like OSC's work, have you tried the Alvin Maker series yet?  It shows an alternate history of how the New World would've developed if magic had affected the politics, both with Napoleon's reign and the plight of the Native Americans.


Also, if you like victorian-era, vampires and steampunk themes, give Gail Carrigers Soulless series a try. It's like the times and society/politics of Sense & Sensibility, but with mad scientists, vampires, werewolves, and James-Bondian spy gear.

Date Posted: 6/17/2010 3:03 AM ET
Member Since: 6/11/2010
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I really enjoyed the first two in the 1632 series by Eric Flint.  The later books seemed like tedious soap operas to me.  I only got halfway thru the last one I read before giving up. 

I am appreciative of this thread - some titles I want to check out.

Date Posted: 6/23/2010 11:58 PM ET
Member Since: 1/17/2009
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Yes, Thanks for the recommendations! I am still checking back every so often. I've got 1632 and 1633 in hand to read this month.

(I also liked Soulless a lot. It was a ton of fun. I also just got Cherie Priest's Boneshaker because I have heard so much about it. Need to read that soon too!

Date Posted: 6/28/2010 12:10 PM ET
Member Since: 9/10/2009
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I loved Pastwatch as well.  I'm curious to read Connie Willis' new novel Blackout, which sounds very similar in theme to Pastwatch.  Has anyone read it yet? 

Date Posted: 6/28/2010 2:07 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Have not read Blackout yet, but I already have it in my TBR stack -- I"m waiting until its sequel All Clear comes out, because it's one of those situations where the publisher insisted on splitting one long novel into two parts, so I hear Blackout has a serious cliffhanger.

I doubt it's like Pastwatch though; it's set in the same universe as Willis' other time travel novels (Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog) and one of the hallmarks of that universe is that time has redundancies built in, so no one can do anything to change the past. The only people who travel in time are historians (for obvious reasons). I'm sure it's excellent though -- IMO, Willis has never written a bad book. :)

Subject: H. Beam Piper
Date Posted: 2/27/2011 8:18 PM ET
Member Since: 9/22/2010
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I highly recommend Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen by H. Beam Piper.  A Pennsylvania state trooper is trying to catch a criminal in a wooded area. Suddenly... I'll skip the details... he finds himself in a vastly different Pennsylvania where the Greeks settled America long ago.  All history is changed and he finds himself in a medieval era where kingdoms are fighting, goarded on by a corrupt religious sect seeking to destroy other religions.  And all power is based on gunpowder.  There is a sequel called The Great King's War.  Meanwhile, Earth 'Prime' that discovered all the other alternate "Earths," has a police force trying to decide if they need to kill "Lord Kalvan'" to preserve their secret. 

While I'm praising early sci-fi writers, don't miss reading Philip Francis Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 A.D. This is the original "Buck Rogers" novel and it is very well written.

Last Edited on: 2/27/11 8:28 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 2/28/2011 7:54 PM ET
Member Since: 7/7/2007
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Sara, there's a club book list for alternate history that you might find useful too, as well as a tag for Alternate History.

I second the recommendation of Stirling's Bronze Age trilogy, which starts with Island in a Sea of Time.  I also recommend pairing it with his "Change" trilogy which starts with Dies the Fire.  The two series are related -- an event of some sort takes place on Earth and sends the island of Nantucket back to the Bronze Age, while the rest of the world stays in modern times but loses most of their technology (guns, engines and other modern tools cease to function).

I don't like his Draka series as well, but it depends on what you enjoy personally.  I feel the Draka series has more of a military focus to it, whereas the others have more of a ... people/culture focus?  My husband and I both count his two trilogies among our favorite books.

Ditto on the Naomi Novik series, starting with His Majesty's Dragon.  If Bernard Cornwell (who writes the Sharpe series) and J. R. R. Tolkien got together and wrote a book, it might be this one.  You've got a typical historical tale set in the Napoleonic Wars ... except they're fighting on dragons.  And the dragons aren't just glorified aircraft carriers, they're great characters.  The author somehow manages it all without turning it into a giant farce.

Jo Walton's WWII trilogy (mentioned above) starts with Farthing.

For a lighter read, I recently read Joshua Dann's Timeshare and loved it.  If you'e ever wanted to go back to old Hollywood, maybe have a drink with Bogart or see what Clark Gable is up to, this is your chance.  It is quick and breezy, and you won't need to do any plot analysis, but it is fun all the same.


Date Posted: 3/8/2011 1:22 PM ET
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I have read 5 or 7 by Harry Turtledove. His take on alternative national and political alignments is both possible and thought provoking. He does get on my last nerve with the way he seems to stress race divisions, and constantly expresses them with N*gg** this and n*gg** that.

Date Posted: 5/15/2011 12:36 PM ET
Member Since: 1/10/2009
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For a sampler, you could try Sideways in Crime, an anthology of alternate-history mysteries edited by Lou Anders. I found several stories in there that turned me on to authors whose longer works I've liked.