Altering History: Tweak or Wallop? – Alma Boykin

 Altering History: Tweak or Wallop? – Alma Boykin

Given the spate of alternate histories and the rise of Steampunk, a writer interested in poking around in the genre needs to look at a couple of things. First, what culture and time period are you going to play in? Second how do you want to change it? Third, are you going to shift it to a different place and play, or keep it on Earth? Fourth, how big of a deal is the alteration to the big scheme of the story? And fifth, what do you need to do to make those changes? There are probably other things I’ve not thought of yet, but for now this essay focuses on the last question.

Before we go too far into the discussion, I’m going to touch on a slight variant that may or may not be alt-hist, depending on what definition you like to use. Straight history but with magic could be considered alternate history, or it could be “fantasy set in Victorian-British-Empire-like world.” It’s up to the author, because how much the magic changes past events tips the balance. Sarah’s Magical British Empire strikes me as closer to fantasy, even though she’s done a lot of research into the time and place and how magic would complicate social and political goings on. But adding Shifters to WWI feels more alt-history, unless it is “magic-talisman type were-creatures” instead of “tough luck to be born an polar bear Shifter in Tucson” like her other were creatures. Patricia Wrede’s Magical West is another that I’d call fantasy rather than alt-hist, although it has major alt-hist elements.

So, how do authors go about mucking with the past (aside from time-travel)? Some people favor the “something didn’t change” method. The western Roman Empire never fell, but shifted over time, developed new technologies, and the year is now [thousand plus years] After the Founding of Rome. Or the Byzantines beat off the Arabs and took over Europe. I look at those as more of extrapolations than the current alt-history trend.

Another way is to take a possible “tipping point” or “hinge of history” and reverse it. What if Rome lost the Punic Wars and North Africans and Arabs dominated the world? Toss in Viking slavers and keep the same pace of technological development, and you end up with Vikings and Arabs colonizing the New World and stocking it with plantations of Celtic Christian slaves (Lion’s Blood by Steven Barnes.)

That leads to the question of just how to go about changing the past. Two general methods seem to be emerging from within the field at the moment, although I sure there are a lot more that I just have not come across, or that people have not published. One is what I’d call the “Wallop” method, like that favored by Eric Flint and S. M. Sterling. These are authors who took a single, massive event and (literally) dumped the change-inducing thing into the past, in one case a West Virginia town that suddenly appears in Central Europe in 1631. In another case a meteorite causes the abandonment of the British Isles and the relocation of the British Empire to India, wipes out part of North America’s Atlantic Seaboard, and creates a steampunk world in the process. Yanking Nantucket Island back a couple thousand years also works. In all these examples, a single huge disruption yanks the path of known history out of shape, and you go from there. You can have moderns running around and getting under the skin of historical figures, or introducing new technologies that tip the balance of world power (or perhaps not), or delay the development of certain technologies (usually electronics and the internal combustion engine). I tend to think of the “send agent back in time to assassinate [major world historical figure]” novel as a Wallop School novel.

It looks easy, it’s dramatic, and you can have modern characters as well as historical ones. Imagine Gloria Steinem lecturing Eleanor of Aquitaine on women’s liberation! (OK, maybe not.) Or giving repeating rifles to the Hussites in 1423 (not that they needed much help), or dragging other high tech or medical tech back in time and changing everything.

Then there’s Tweaking the past. What if Richard the Lionheart decided to stay home and do his dynastic duty? Well, you might get Lord Darcy’s Angevian Empire, for example, with or without magic. What if Emperor Qui Huang Di had managed to eradicate all the teachings of Confucius and Lao-Tse? Would China have developed a different sort of Buddhism? Or would Nestorian Christianity have made more inroads in eastern China, leading to a three-way split in Christendom of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Chinese, all fending off the Muslims? Imagine China waging a crusade against the pagan Japanese and sending missionaries to North America and Australia in the 1500s.

Your tweaks can be less dramatic. Let’s say that in 1629, during the Thirty Years War, Emperor Ferdinand II Habsburg issued an Edict of Restoration that established a formal legal process for transferring formerly Catholic ecclesiastic properties back to the Catholics. By doing this he acknowledged that some property had been in Protestant hands for almost a century, and other monasteries and convents had been destroyed, and that a full return was impossible. His Jesuit confessor, who had pushed for a complete and instant reversion, became ill and was unable to push his case at the last minute. As a result, although unhappy, the Protestants leaders were unsurprised and everyone approved of the legal system put into place, more or less. When Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden invaded the next year, the Protestants welcomed him, but warily, and did not go out of their way to open doors. He made less progress as a result, and when the Thirty Years War finally ended, Emperor Ferdinand III was in a much better position and the Empire was stronger and more flexible.

Then, say, in 1864 the Austrians win the Battle of Sadowa, although not easily (and they almost did IRL). This gave Franz Ferdinand considerable power to leverage against the Hohenzollerns, especially since Bavaria waffles, tip-toeing as a neutral between the two, even though officially it remains within the Hohenzollern sphere. This discredits Bismarck, who is unable to take advantage of the situation that develops in Italy the next year, when Count Cavour’s death removes the last obstacle to the unification of the peninsula (another tweak). Garibaldi died in 1850 of a combination of malaria and a riding accident (larger tweak). The Germans concentrate on the French and on their African colonies, leaving the Habsburgs to focus on cementing their control over Eastern Europe and maintaining strong diplomatic ties with some elements of the former Holy Roman Empire.

So, by the time WWI breaks out, you have a different situation in Central Europe, one that would allow for the creation of a Habsburg Confederation after the war, a commonwealth based on the Habsburg Emperor as neutral arbiter and focus of loyalties and shared interests. None of the previous tweaks, in themselves, were large, and all were possible, but the final outcome is very different from Real History. It also means, to do it well, that you have to have a pretty good grasp on what did happen, the personalities involved, and what the different tweak-points might be.

Many authors tend to blend the two, using one moderate Wallop and a number of Tweaks. After all, at a certain point you are going to run out of the technology you dragged back in time as things wear out and can’t be replaced.

It all comes down to the story. Which technique fits your story and the characters in it? You might have Vesuvius in the late 1700s do what it did to the Romans and kill off Lady Hamilton (who was stationed with her husband at the diplomatic mission in Naples), so Lord Nelson settles down and gets married. Or a meteor strike drives the Mongols farther west, so instead of conquering China and India, they take over Europe. You might have Fredric Engels disinherited so he has to work for a living, which keeps him from funding Karl Marx and gives him a rather different view of economics. Or Poincare might die in 1922, which allows the other French, and American and British leaders to ease up on reparations demands from Germany, Austria, and Hungary, and will change the social dynamics when this short Austrian painter starts ranting about Lebensraum. (Except dibs on that last one, I need it.)

139 responses to “Altering History: Tweak or Wallop? – Alma Boykin

  1. ” Imagine Gloria Steinem lecturing Eleanor of Aquitaine on women’s liberation!”

    All two and a half sentences worth, that she would get out before she was silenced?

  2. I like that one about Engels–in my Russian alt-hist I prevent the Russian Revolution by having the Russians win at the battle of Tannenberg. It was a stretch, considering Russian military strategy seems to be throw waves of peasants at the enemy until he suffocates under the piles of Russian dead, but I found an article talking about early cryptography, and how the Germans picked up the Russian’s unencrypted communications during the battle. I just reassigned the German officer who figured it out to another front.

    BTW, I notice you tag the colplatchki (sp?) chronicles as alt-hist–but I’d call it pure sf, the “lost colony” variety.

    • Kali, I look at them as sci-fi, but for sales and because of the limits of the file meta-data and search tags, they get listed as alt-hist. It depends on how you search for them. I have a gift for breaking genre labels, it seems.

      The research I do is the same as I’d do for straight historical fiction, or what I am doing for the “true” alt-history WWI stuff I’m starting. Which will tie into the Cat universe eventually, but that’s another whole ball of yarn.

      • I sympathize with the genre troubles. For me, the Elizabeth v.S. stories are sf, but I don’t think alt-hist fans will be bothered by it–they can have fun with all the parallels to European history. When you get big enough, maybe you can create a lost colony tag for the rest of us :)

        I had a similar problem with A wind out of Indigo–a lost colony sf story–I had to bow to reader expectations and tag it as steampunk even though there isn’t a single corset, clockwork dog, or spunky girl aviator in it.

        • You can have Steampunk without a leather corset somewhere in the story? Really? I thought that was a requirement. ;)

          • It’s the One Drop of Airship rule. If you have an airship, it’s steampunk, even without corsets.

            • But, but, I’ve got a _cyberpunk_ sort of AI wars novel underway with an airship . . . This is too many crossovers, help help . . . oh did I mention the Nazis?

          • I’m working on a steampunk story with a princess who affects artistic dress precisely so I can omit the corset.

        • When you get big enough, maybe you can create a lost colony tag for the rest of us :)

          Yaknow, most of the “lost colony” stories I can think of, if you tagged them “lost colony” it would be a spoiler.

          EXAMPLES, SPOILER WARNING

          Pern, Jim Butcher’s fantasy series, Robin McKinley’s Pegasus series…..

          • [spoiler] Weis & Hickman’s The Darksword trilogy [/spoiler]

          • Eh, I don’t think it would be spoiler-y. It’s all just origin myths unless the mother colony spaceships arrive in the middle of your sword battle.

          • Well, The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is on Roanoke, but they do tell you quickly what happened to the colony.

            It is somewhat unusual in that it is not merely alternate but altered — you start getting clues about that early — so usual constraints about divergence points don’t apply. (Monotheism was a brief freak belief, in ancient history, but our heroine sees a statue that you and I can recognize as an angel.0

  3. I am currently listening to Tim Power’s “Declare” on audiobook (with Simon Prebble’s magnificent voice acting). Powers, in this and other novels, does a completely different kind of alternate history–he keeps all of the known facts the same and adds in supernatural explanations.

    “Declare” is about the career of Soviet spy Kim Philby, viewed as a struggle between secret societies for the control of colony of djinn on Mount Ararat. He didn’t change anything, but what he adds presents the existing events in an entirely new light.

    It’s by far the most difficult kind of alternate history to write (I know of no other author who can consistently pull it off) but it gives readers an amazing ride and always leaves me with a surreal suspicion of everything that I think I know about history.

    • Hm. May have to give this book a look.

      I’ve seen this sort of revision of the known in other places, usually as a backdrop or throwaway piece in “what goes on that the regular folk don’t see” sort of universe. But I can’t think of one that’s taken an element of common history and worked with it from the revised “real” events perspective.

      Sounds fun.

    • It’s by far the most difficult kind of alternate history to write (I know of no other author who can consistently pull it off) but it gives readers an amazing ride and always leaves me with a surreal suspicion of everything that I think I know about history.

      SOLD!

      Well, alright, “checked out of the library assuming I can find it,” but you get the idea.

    • I think those are more “secret history” than alternate history.

    • Bernard Cornwall used a similar technique in his Sharpe’s books — “explaining” historical mysteries such as the destruction of Almeida (Sharpe’s Gold.

  4. Fail Burton

    There’s a direct connection between the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the fall of Tenochtitlan almost 70 years later. I always thought it would be interesting to conjecture the city held and the Spanish and Portuguese kept their focus on India through the more direct routes until their power faded.

    So then we surmise what would have encountered the Aztecs instead is something like the East India Company, maybe in 1600. A company like that then negotiates their way into the Aztec Empire with trading concessions rather than direct conquest. Perhaps, as in India, the Company does eventually take control, maybe in a 1700 to 1800 time frame. We further surmise N. America’s history and settlement patterns up to the revolution is basically unaltered.

    It would be fun to imagine the emperors and city of Tenochtitlan intact and negotiating for an alliance with N. America to intervene against the E. India Company say, around 1750. Aztec representatives in Philadelphia. Or maybe an army of N. American mercenaries stationed in Tenochtitlan to counter an E. Indian Co. army also stationed there by forced contract with the emperor and about to seize power for the Co.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Well Fail, IMO any alt-history involving the Aztecs has to deal with their “charming” religious practices. Unless the author has completely altered European thoughts/beliefs, said Europeans would have major problems “doing business” with people who practiced human sacrifices on the scale that Aztecs did. Especially when the Aztecs might attempt to sacrifice them. [Smile]

      • It’s those very things like sacrifices that would make it so interesting. What would greedy businessmen put up with to get at foodstuffs and other things unavailable in Europe plus gold? The Mughals in India didn’t sacrifice people but Englishmen were willing to undergo dangerous circumcision and go Muslim to enhance their profile and pocketbooks. The Mughals didn’t enslave E. India Co. men but did business with them, as all empires are ultimately about money. No money no army.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          “Greedy businessmen” is a theme that IMO has been overused. There can be strong limits to what a businessman would do for “money” and the larger the group of businessmen, IMO the less likely their society would accept them going that far. IMO the Aztec practice of human sacrifices would have increased the chances of the “greedy businessmen” attempting to conquer the Aztecs. Of course, this would make them look better to the people back home. IE we didn’t conquer to Aztecs to make money, we conquered the Aztecs because they practiced human sacrifices.

          • Well, it’s not exactly a theme. The British and French were drawn to Hyderabad because it was at one time the sole source of diamonds. The Europeans were not noted for their dedication to abstract morality there.

            As for sacrifices, it’s not a question of accepting that or not but what you’re going to do about it without an army. The idea greedy men will turn away from gold when the sacrifices would go on regardless of whether the English merchants traded or not doesn’t carry much weight. We know from the mad excesses of the E. India Co. in India that society back home accepted them going very far.

            Or one could do a Poul Anderson and have an alien ship land during the siege of Tenochtitlan which enables the Conquistadors to conquer star systems.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Of course, if the European merchants didn’t have an army at first, I doubt that the Aztecs would be interesting in trade. IE the first merchants to visit would become “messengers to the gods”. [Evil Grin]

              I still think that the Aztec practices would provoke sever reactions on the part of Europeans *unless* the Europeans are greatly different in mind-set than their counter-parts in our history. Please remember the British reaction to India’s “custom” of burning widows. The Aztecs did worse than that.

              Of course, YMMV.

              • Fail Burton

                The British didn’t attempt to formally impose such bans until they had the power to do so around 1800. That means 2 centuries and more of E. India Co. trading – so it didn’t stop trade. Anyway, all the points you raise are the story, not a reason to never write it.

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  Well, I got the impression that you were ignoring the problem in the potential story. [Wink]

                  I would see the major problems of Europeans dealing with Aztec practices as *part of the story*.

                • There’s a massive difference between formally imposed bans and what people actually did when they came upon a group of people burning a woman alive.

          • OTOH, the trope has a lot of useful traits. Take this defense of Evil Corporations:

            http://minx.cc:1080/?post=295725

      • Yes, but what if the Aztecs became Christians? If they maintained their political and cultural independence as an empire, but accepted Christianity? The Irish didn’t stop being Irish when they became Catholics and the Russians didn’t stop being Russian when they became Orthodox.

        One could imagine the Bishop of Tenochtitlan issuing encyclicals against the celebration of Mass in Nahuatl.

        As a lay church historian I am fascinated by how Christianity is interpreted by different peoples, it would interesting to speculate how a Native Mesoamerican Church–as opposed to the imposition of Spanish Catholicism–would have developed.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Just getting the Aztecs to accept Christianity (without a Spanish conquest) would be an interesting story. [Smile]

          Oh, the Christian Aztecs relationship with their conquered neighbors could be interesting. IE those Aztecs are still SOBs but at least they aren’t sacrificing us anymore. [Very Big Grin]

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Reminds me a bit of the old Doctor Who serial The Aztecs, which I saw recently. To cut a long story short, the Doctor’s companion tries to end human sacrifice, but only ends up persuading one priest, who is exiled at the end, so history remains unchanged. Because on DW, history can’t change except when it can.

        • Fail Burton

          Well they did eventually become Christians, but with some interesting variations that remain to this day. There is a famous ceremony of Maximon which takes place during Easter Holy Week in the tiny town of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. A little effigy is brought to a different little one-room house every year and some people allowed to crowd in. In the evening some folks play guitars and there are candles. Suddenly all the lights go out; only the initiated are allowed to see the dressing of the effigy. The doors had been previously locked and men outside bang on the walls and doors pretending to try to get in and swinging around giant noise-makers. Lights return and the figure is brought through the streets to sit in the little city hall with a few folks attending the figure. Eventually he’s tied to a pole and paraded through the streets. An amazing experience.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          Possible category error. Did the soviets stop being the soviets when the USSR fell?

          Aztec specifically describes the polity. The Aztec triple alliance was a coalition of three theocratic city states who raided their neighbors for captives to sacrifice to the idols located in those cities. The people were called the Mexica, as in United Mexican States. (Look at the flag.)

          As for them having been changed by conversion, there are rumors about the cartels.

          • I don’t really know enough about the Aztecs to comment, but you’re most likely right. Rome did not stop being a city when it became Christian, but it did stop being an empire, in the political sense. Which, for me, is the fascinating thing about speculative history–everything effects everything else, as the more cautionary time travel stories love to point out in gory detail.

            Good point about the cartels, too.

    • And you still might have the problem of the droughts and resulting Hanta-variant outbreak that caused so many deaths in Meso-America in the 1540s-1560s. Even without Cortez, that would weaken the Aztecs (and their neighbors). And you’s still have a power vacuum in North America because of the collapse of the Mississippian cultural center in Cahokia in the late 1300s because of drought and deforestation, ditto the southern foothills Apishapa and southern plains Antelope Creek/Buried Cities people. That is, if you want to stick with some of the known, non-European, historical patterns.

      IIRC, one of the Lord Darcey books has something like what you describe, Fail, as part of a secondary plot.

      • Plagues are an interesting playground. What if the Black Plague doesn’t spread quite so virulently across Europe, eliminating the rag surplus that helped give rise to printing? (Yes, I watched James Burke’s Connections.)

        Or possibly Squanto’s tribe is not eliminated by a plague and he is thus uninterested in making friends with that tribe of lunkheads blundering about the New England coast?

        Taken the other way, European settlers get dysentery and are forced to abandon colonies in the New World.

        • “Squanto’s tribe”

          And then Jamestown continues to do fine and we Virginians never had to listen to stuff about Plymouth ever again.

        • Wait a minute. A surplus of rags in the 1350s helped the development of printing in the 1450s? How do you reckon that one out?

          • Paper is made with rag pulp.

            • Rag pulp from 100-year-old rags?

              • The theory is a little more complicated– more like that when so many folks died, their existing stuff passed on to those who were still alive (so there’s more cash type wealth) and people had more spending money so they spent it on one of the major industries, clothes. You could get new clothes before they rotted off of you.

                I think it’s more likely that the higher demand for labor and availability of higher average quality of land made for higher per-person output, coupled with figuring out methods that didn’t depend on throwing more people at a problem, coupled with more cash type wealth per person (easier to “spend” a coin than a chicken, and you can hold on to it rather than being limited to trading for what you can use before it goes bad, thus removing a limit on trade) which resulted in the textile industry exploding as folks are able to buy clothes more often, creating a rag-clothing market and making rag paper possible.

                It usually gets reported the way it’s been stated here, though.

          • Did you not see the reference to James Burke’s Connections? I recommend it.

            Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series and 1978 book (“Connections” based on the series) created, written and presented by science historian James Burke. The series was produced and directed by Mick Jackson of the BBC Science & Features Department and first aired in 1978 (UK) and 1979 (USA). It took an interdisciplinary approach to the history of science and invention and demonstrated how various discoveries, scientific achievements, and historical world events were built from one another successively in an interconnected way to bring about particular aspects of modern technology. The series was noted for Burke’s crisp and enthusiastic presentation (and dry humour), historical re-enactments, and intricate working models.
            [SNIP]
            Connections explores an “Alternative View of Change” (the subtitle of the series) that rejects the conventional linear and teleological view of historical progress. Burke contends that one cannot consider the development of any particular piece of the modern world in isolation. Rather, the entire gestalt of the modern world is the result of a web of interconnected events, each one consisting of a person or group acting for reasons of their own motivations (e.g., profit, curiosity, religious) with no concept of the final, modern result to which the actions of either them or their contemporaries would lead. The interplay of the results of these isolated events is what drives history and innovation, and is also the main focus of the series and its sequels.

            To demonstrate this view, Burke begins each episode with a particular event or innovation in the past (usually Ancient or Medieval times) and traces the path from that event through a series of seemingly unrelated connections to a fundamental and essential aspect of the modern world. For example, the episode “The Long Chain” traces the invention of plastics from the development of the fluyt, a type of Dutch cargo ship.

            Burke also explores three corollaries to his initial thesis.
            [SNIP]
            [Episode 4] “Faith in Numbers” examines the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance from the perspective of how commercialism, climate change and the Black Death influenced cultural development. He examines the impact of Cistercian waterpower on the Industrial Revolution, derived from Roman watermill technology such as that of the Barbegal aqueduct and mill. Also covered are the Gutenberg printing press, the Jacquard loom, and the Hollerith card.
            wikipedia#dot#org/wiki/Connections_(TV_series)

            Faith in Numbers
            Season 1 Episode 4
            Aired date: Nov 7, 1978
            Plot: Each development in the organization of systems (political, economic, mechanical, electronic)influences the next, by logic, by genius, by chance, or by utterly unforeseen events. The transition from the Middle ages to the Renaissance was influenced by the rise of commercialism, a sudden change in climate, famine and the Black Death, which set the stage for the invention of the printing press.
            From OvGuide#dot#com description:

            Entertaining, informative and possibly accurate view of technological and social development.

            The specific segment covering the Black Plague, leading to the Printing Press starts around 17’30” and takes about five minutes.

            I recommend watching the whole thing, the whole series and its sequels.
            [CAUTION: serious time suck. Enter at your own risk.]

            • Connections was awesome, abeit a bit slow on rewatching. The later series though weren’t quite as good, instead of tracing a path leading to particular technologies, they seemed to be more playing the Kevin Bacon game.

    • No contact between the Americas and the rest of the world would mean that much more disease to wallop them.

      And it was the disease, not the conquest, that did them in. The mound-builders are as much one with the snows of yesteryear as the Aztecs and the Incas, and the Spaniards never reached them in enough force to be more than a trivial nuisance, except for the diseases.

      • Fail Burton

        This makes for a good read when it comes to Cortes, Tenochtitlan and disease:

        http://www.hist.umn.edu/~rmccaa/vircatas/vir6.htm

      • If you mean the southern mound builders, like the people who became the Shawnee, Mary, you’re right. But the northern groups centered on St. Louis/ Cahokia had abandoned their major urban areas before 1450 and scattered, much as happened with the people-formerly-known-as-the-Anasazi. Changing weather patterns associated with the Little Ice Age and deforestation of the river bottom forests seem to have led to the problems that contributed to the depopulation.

        • Even the southern mound-builders were stressed. But the population crash from disease was so abrupt that within a century, people had no clue how these mounds they lived all around got to be there.

          • Sorry, should have been more specific. I was thinking of purely pre-Columbian collapses, rather than “just” environmental stresses or post-Columbian collapses.

        • deforestation? gee, how did that happen? I thought that the Native Americans lived at peace with the land…

    • By 1750, my guess is that the space occupied by the Aztecs would likely either be occupied by their enemies, or a howling wasteland.

      One of the things a lot of people flat-out miss and/or ignore is that Cortez showed up right at the perfect moment, in terms of how pissed off the Aztec’s neighbors were, and that probably 90% of the actual forces used to destroy the Aztecs came from those neighbors.

      My guess, in the absence of real history to substantiate it, is that if you’d left the Central Americans alone until 1750, it’s pretty likely that the Aztecs would not be players in anything that came after. Cortez was simply the guy who booted in the door, and started the ball rolling. There’s nothing to say that the same thing wouldn’t have happened via a convenient plague, or some other political thing happening between the tribes. Even if you try to leave the Aztecs in place until 1750, there’s always the chance that the Europeans would have taken one look at the Aztec culture, and promptly started selling arms to the surrounding tribes. Either way, bye-bye Aztecs.

      I don’t see any way that any of the all-conquering Aztec timelines could have actually happened, to tell the truth. They’d pissed off too many of their neighbors, and having your sons and daughters trussed up for human sacrifice and fine dining has historically had this tendency to lead to the utter destruction of the folks doing the trussing and dining.

      Just imagine the results of a couple of European drill sergeants showing up and “assisting” the enemy tribes, along with a few stands of muskets, a couple of cannon, and some ammunition. The entire Aztec concept of “Flowery War” tends to wilt in the sun, when confronted with any form of truly effective resistance. Actually, I think the end state there might be even worse, compared to our history–Much of what was saved of Aztec culture, population, and property only happened because of the Spaniards appropriating it for themselves. Had the locals been the ones making decisions? I think the odds are good that all we’d know of the Aztecs would be via archaeology.

      • Had the locals been the ones making decisions? I think the odds are good that all we’d know of the Aztecs would be via archaeology.

        Now that would be a hook….
        NEWSCASTER: “And today we’re getting further reports from Mexico that archaeological evidence has indeed been found that supports the historical reality of what was thought to be a purely mythological group, known as the Aztecs. A large number of bodies has been found, which seems to indicate that the inscriptions previously assumed to be retelling the story of this boogieman was instead attempting to describe what they actually did. Scholars are divided on what the bodies actually mean, with some insisting that the traditional interpretation of the “Aztecs” as being a personification of some sort of plague which morphed into a founding myth for the many tribes in the area is accurate and that this is just an attempt to get more attention and funding. Here is Professor Very Important to explain why it’s obviously not possible that a culture that cut the hearts out of hundreds or thousands of living captives could develop or survive. Professor?”

        (imagine it written by someone with skill)

        • That’s actually not so bad, as you write it.

          I think the whole anti-Aztec struggle might have taken on near-apocalyptic proportions, for Central American civilization as a whole. The survivors would likely have been exhausted, and if just the diseases from the Colombian exchange had made their way through the area…? Howling wilderness, a la what happened to the Maya.

          Postulate a post-Destruction of the Aztec Empire encounter with the Europeans, and things would likely have gone a lot differently. For one, the gold and other resources wouldn’t have been so apparent, and the labor force to extract it wouldn’t have existed. Spanish inflation might never have happened, and then the follow-on effects in China would have been far different.

          Imagine a Mexico without the population it had, without the empire, without the wealth that was readily apparent to the first Spaniards. If they’d found a howling wilderness, with no really organized nations, no vast wealth on display? What then? Would they have bothered with the conquest? Hell, would it have even happened, without the easily grabbed portable wealth that the Conquistadores found?

      • Fail Burton

        Well, that would all be the story to be told, wouldn’t it? As for a perfect moment, it looks that way in retrospect because Cortes won. In fact he did so against incredible odds and with the Aztec Empire at the height of its power. Cortes created his own perfect moment. I’m not sure what people are missing or ignoring since Cortes’s allies are prominently featured in the two most famous sources – Prescott and Diaz.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          I suspect that to include the story of Cortez’s Indian allies would lessen the theme of the “evil” Spanish conquerors.

          That is, how evil is Cortez for conquering the Aztecs if Cortez had allies who had reasons to hate the Aztecs?

          Plenty of people have tried to “white-wash” the Aztecs to make Cortez look “evil” for conquering them.

          • Fail Burton

            If you’ve read Prescott’s histories then you know there is not a hint of such bias. And since Diaz himself and all other primary sources include the allies, it’s evident they are simply telling what happened. Since the Spanish were the obvious primary drivers, I don’t see how having or not having allies really makes them look better or worse.

            On the other hand I tend to look at these people as humans, not different races. To me an empire is an empire, an army an army and slaves, slaves. I make no distinction between the empire of Charles V or Montezuma in moral terms. They met, they fought, one lost. It would’ve been the other way around had population and tech permitted.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              I’m talking more about “pop-history” that the Lefties teach. I doubt that High Schoolers learn that Cortez had Indian allies.

              • Fail Burton

                I don’t think we have to imagine very much given the Left’s expertise in racial defamation and supremacy. Not long ago I mentioned the Pedro Alvarado story from that absurd anthology Long Hidden put out by twin racists Daniel Jose Older and Rose Fox. The author gives the ignoble Alvarado a gunpowder weapon to replace his spear because she figured whites took out the gunpowder in the first place. This was based on zero facts and contrary to all military custom and practice at that time. The chances a mounted or dismounted commander had an arquebus is pretty much zero. A spear, mounted, close to 100%.

                The last person to talk to history about is an intersectionalist, because they will lie dusk to dawn. That’s why they have to censor their blogs. “Anti-racist” K. Tempest Bradford once ended a Twitter convo in frustration with “cracka ass cracka” when she got caught out talking BS about history.

                I linked to it so much that “cracka ass cracka” comes up in her search results when you Google “K. Tempest Bradford Twitter.”

                • Think about writing the nonsense that the Left makes of history, such as the Aztecs of their imagination or the Greeks stealing their philosophical ideas from high African Empire.

                  • That’s why I liked S.M. Sterling’s neo-Aztecs. Yeah, if they bring back part of the religion, they’ll probably bring back the rest of it, too. I’d luuuuuuv to see the reaction of your Chicana/Mexicana Studies advocate meet those guys.

                    • Sadly, I don’t think they’d be as shocked as one might hope. I saw an awful lot of artwork in the barrio that glorified that sort of thing. The two cultures aren’t the same, but I still suspect that for some, the denials of violence and depravity are less sincere and more a tool with which to beat their enemies.

                    • It is generally not a good idea, when dealing with Progressives, Liberals and “Activists” to assume intellectual consistency or good faith.

                    • I was thinking about how long she’d last between the fan-girl squee of delight and the terrifying realization that these guys don’t give a rat’s rump about her past as a militant supporter of the idea of Aztlan and instead see her as a good donation to Tlaloc or the earth goddess (whose name I can never remember).

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Title of the Stirling story?

                    • There are two (three? my memory’s borked today) in the collection “Ice, Iron, and Gold.”

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      The Bolo stories?

      • Fail Burton

        Are you kidding? The Spanish burned their books, abolished their religion and razed their temples and built churches with the material.

        • While the Spanish have many sins to their count, I can’t say that abolishing a “religion” (and all its trappings) that involves flaying women for good harvest, killing children for the rain god and decimating the neighbors for mass sacrifice to get the gods’ attention is something I’d try to focus on for sympathy to those targeted.

  5. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    One thought on writing novels with a changed history is that some writers forget that the further back the change, the less likely real individuals from our history will appear.

    That is, Turtledove’s & Dreyfuss’ “The Two Georges” had a major difference in how the troubles between England and the American colonies ended. IE George III made a major change in the relationship between England and the colonies that meant that the colonies remained willing members of the British Empire.

    The story was set in that world’s 1996 but we had Richard Nixon, Martin Luther King Jr, and John F Kennedy as minor characters. It was obvious that these individuals were based on the real people (ie not just people with the same names). It bothered me because with such a major change in history, those people would not have been born.

    Oh I suspect that the addition of these characters was due to Dreyfuss’ input as Turtledove hadn’t played such tricks before. Any historical characters showing up in Turtledove’s alt-histories had been born before the major change.

    While I could find it amusing that Richard Nixon shows up as a “used steamcar salesman”, too many of such insertions can damage my suspension of disbelief.

    As always, YMMV. [Smile]

    • Christopher M Chupik

      Yeah, there’s a new alt-history novel (forget the name) about an alternate 19th century in a world where history has been diverging for 2000 years, and yet there’s still a Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm. No way.

      • You have to, or the reader won’t get it.

        • That’s why I’m keeping a Franz Ferdinand in my WWI thing. Jane Q. Reader likes to have an anchor or two, and (the fuss and feathers this weekend and coming in August notwithstanding), most readers seem to appreciate a few big signposts such as the familiar story of a perforated archduke to give them a footing in the alt-history world.

          As Drak says, YMMV.

        • Christopher M Chupik

          I dunno. I’D get it.

    • When I read over the methods of change, I thought of Harry Turtledove, who changed the American “Civil War” (my military history prof would insist on the quotes, methinks). He had an anonymous Confederate soldier pick up the pouch that a general dropped and give it back to him. Poof, the Union didn’t find it and didn’t win the next battle. The South won.

      • Wouldn’t have happened that way. A southern victory at Sharpsburg would have only delayed the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln would probably have used one of Grant’s victories in the Mississippi Campaign as an excuse.

        Even if Britain and France had entered the war, it would only have stopped the Union blockade until the USN built enough ironclads to re-establish it. Transoceanic ironclads were a few decades away, and the South simply lacked the industrial capacity to build and operate substantial numbers of them.

        One of my biggest pet peeves with Civil War history is the focus on the Army of Northern Virginia/Army of the Potomac front, which is the only front where the Union had substantial reverses (because Lee and Jackson – mostly Jackson). West of the Appalachians, the Union enjoyed steady progress. To the point that by the end of the war Sherman could march half his army from Atlanta to Petersburg – by way of Savannah – and still have the half left behind outnumber the Army of Tennessee opposite it. And let’s not forget that by the end of the war the Union cavalry was becoming the equal to their Confederate counterparts, and were beginning to be equipped with repeating rifles.

        • Fail Burton

          When Buford’s dismounted 2,000 cavalrymen held off Heth’s division the first day of Gettysburg in 1863, many had some form of repeating rifle or carbine, effectively increasing their number compared to Heth’s 8,500 men with slow loading single shot muskets. The Union cavalry also became the equals of Confederates about that time.

        • The real question is: what were the victory conditions for Lee at Antietam? How could he have won it? Whatever he did, he was going to retreat back to Virginia, and as a rule, that would be a defeat. (Notice that Grant’s battles with him aren’t that different from McLean’s, or Hooker’s, or — but we call ‘em victories because after them, Grant advanced.0

          • That’s why Grant was a superior general to McClellan, Hooker, or Meade. He, unlike his predecessors, understood the strategic overview of the war and therefore didn’t care much about his losses, just as long as he inflicted losses on Lee. Grant knew he could replace his losses while Lee couldn’t, so any engagement between Union and Confederate armies was, by default, a Union victory.

            But I don’t know that anyone would call The Wilderness or Cold Harbor victories. They certainly weren’t defeats like Bull Run or Chancellorsville.

        • You ought talk with Col. Kratman — he gives Lee the victory at Gettysburg, ship’s Grant’s victorious armies from Chattanooga by rail and destroy’s Lees forces in detail right after Britain and France give their endorsement based on the Gettysburg win.

          • The big danger of a Union loss at Gettysburg was McClellan winning the election in 1864. He would have opened talks.

            Now, at that time the Union was in control of the entire Mississippi, and it’s doubtful that he could have simply handed over something so vital to the western economy that had been won with so many western lives. It’s equally unlikely that Davis would accept anything less than the original boundaries (West Virginia would be another sticking point). So maybe the conflict would have been decided militarily. The question then becomes would McClellan keep Grant in charge over his former subordinates in the Army of the Potomac, especially given Grant’s relative lack of concern for soldier’s lives.

            That might make for a good story. McClellan wins in ’64, dismisses Grant – who resigns his commission – and proceeds to manage the war from DC with even less competence he demonstrated in the field. The first French and British squadrons sent to break the blockade are decimated by Union ironclads, and their political situation prevents them from expending large numbers of lives supporting slavery, so they’re out. The war drags on to 1868, where McClellan is challenged by Grant, who promises to end the war in victory.

  6. The Other Sean

    I conjecture you may be right about an early death of Poincare. :)

  7. ” What if Rome lost the Punic Wars”

    Poul Anderson did one on that.

    But what really gets me for possibilities is the court of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Imagine:

    Arthur lives long enough to get Catherine pregnant.
    Or at least long enough that Henry is betrothed when he dies.
    Catherine’s son lives
    Henry VIII dies before he thinks of divorcing Catherine. Remember that Catherine was regent in his absence and indeed drove back an invasion from Scotland, so she could act briskly on her daughter’s behalf. Ideally right after he named Mary Princess of Wales. Also note that if she married in her teens, not her thirties, it was much more likely that she’s have a child — and probably her mother would look for an English bridegroom, to cement their loyalty.
    Catherine dies before Henry thinks of divorcing her. Nothing to immediately spur the break from Rome, even if he marries Anne.

  8. I always have trouble with “downstream” history in an alternate world following too closely the pattern of our own world. Barnes’s book is a good example: without a Roman victory in the Punic Wars, how the heck do you have any Christians? (Unless the story explicitly takes the premise that the Incarnation was a genuinely Divine intervention and wouldn’t be affected by mere human historical events, of course.) And don’t get me started on having recognizable 20th Century Americans in a world where the Revolution came out differently. Think about how your own parents met: would it have happened if anything had gone differently? Unlikely.

    • You may want to read Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol stories.

    • If you do go by the divine interference idea, I suppose you could also presume that the same souls are going to be born around the same times no matter what, and possibly in somewhat similar circumstances, with similar life paths. Pretty much the only good excuse for having same historical characters roughly in the same eras even if the history itself was different. But I suppose you would then have to call it historical fantasy or something instead of alternate history.

  9. I have yet to see “If the South had won the Civil War” genre never seem to take into account the complex international impact that would have.

    • See what happens when two thoughts collide while you are writing. Sad.

    • There was a story about a man who went back in time to assassinate Grant at Fort Donelson — who concluded he shouldn’t when it occurred to him to wonder what would happen in World War II, then. Not only whether the South would enter the war, but whether it would matter, considering that during the war it industrialized at an astounding rate.

    • Harry Turtledove’s “Guns of the South” actually hinged on that idea.

      (spoiler)

      (Seriously, total spoiler)

      Racists from south Africa make a one-way trip back in time (one way, but continual supply lines are open) to supply the South with AK-47’s so they win, with the idea that a pro slavery confederate nation would help legitimize the Apartheid they wished to maintain.

      Those Good Ol’ Boys are a bit smarter then they reckoned. Not only do they break the traveler’s stranglehold on their armament, but Slavery was doomed anyway, and abolished 20 years after the south’s successful secession.

  10. I don’t worry too much about the genre distinctions. I expect there is always going to be blending.
    While I enjoy reading all the alternate-type conjecture books, the one area I think they make assumptions on that wouldn’t turn out true is how technology would develop in various cultures.
    We have a line-of-history view in the West, that sees us as the descendants of Rome, and possibly Egypt. Thus, if Rome had never fallen, they would have obviously invented all the tech we did eventually — NOT.
    The Romans were marvels of various engineering, but for them motion was something that matter did, not a result of energy. They had no concept of energy as we do to figure out our physics. And the Greeks, the discoverers of Pi, believed numbers were indivisible — so they didn’t know what to do with Pi. They would have never been able to handle the continuum of numbers that is essential to Calculus and our higher maths. (Lest anyone mistake my point — I am not claiming we are “smarter” than Rome — the did things we couldn’t, and vice versa, because of these underlying perspective differences.)
    Sarah talks about how America doesn’t really understand how the rest of the world thinks — but the divide between European thought and America is narrow compared to the underlying assumptions of cultures like the West, Byzantium, the Classical or the Orient. These are the blind spots we have in our assumptions.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      One aspect of a surviving Roman Empire is that it would likely view “change” the same way that Imperial China did. Thus the Roman Powers-That-Be would discourage change (including technological change).

      IMO one of the major reasons that Europe came to be the leader in technological development was that nobody (including the Church) had the power to stop change.

      At the same time, Europe had plenty of cultural links between the various states along with a common language (Latin) that all educated individuals knew.

      Thus if an individual in one country had some “interesting” idea/device, the idea would be spread among the various European countries and it was difficult to stop the spread.

      Of course, if one country took advantage of an idea, other countries had to do the same if they didn’t want to be to put at a disadvantage.

      A surviving Roman Empire could afford to “suppress” ideas because they lacked “peer” nations close by.

      Of course, the example of Imperial China showed that “none close by now” doesn’t mean that “peer” (or superior) nations can’t develop elsewhere and come calling.

      • Archaeologists are finding some fascinating tech in the Roman periphery, Iberia, Gaul, the Limes, and parts of North Africa, areas where you had more industry such as mining and less labor available. One suspects that in a non-fallen Rome, you’d continue to have that sort of technological development, but perhaps stagnation in the center, where having everything done by manual labor becomes a sign of prestige and power. “I don’t need your trip-hammer: I have slaves to make pulp for paper, and it’s the only thing a senator would be seen using, you know.” *haughty sniff*

      • IMO one of the major reasons that Europe came to be the leader in technological development was that nobody (including the Church) had the power to stop change.

        Even more than that, the design of the Church meant that they increased the spread of technology– Brother This And That at this monastery comes up with a way to keep beer from going skunky, and it gets passed on to visiting monks or the neighbors. Even if there had been a policy of trying to control what got spread, there being places like monasteries and nunneries with a stable core, connections to the neighbors and a steady exchange of people with other organized places like that would make it functionally impossible.
        (Technology by definition is going to make things easier, and– well, the Holy Father couldn’t possibly mean we’re not supposed to tell Brother George how to store grain better, or get that really great flavor, or how to treat that herb to get this effect, or how to get more iron out of the ore….he was obviously talking about something DANGEROUS! Come on, you know human nature works like that. *grin* )

    • With regards to the idea that a surviving Roman Empire would have made a huge difference in technological development and uptake… I honestly don’t think we know enough. The conventional wisdom says a bunch of stuff about the Romans that actual history shows being Not Quite So ™.

      Yes, the Romans depended heavily on slave labor vs. mechanization, but the thing is, everyone of that era did so. The post-Roman era went with mechanization and technology not because they preferred not to rely on slaves, but because the underlying conditions were changing. Plagues destabilized the labor markets, and had those plagues occurred under the Romans instead of their successors, the same results would have accrued.

      Then, there’s the fact that a lot of what we “know” is just plain wrong. Oh, so the Romans didn’t believe in mechanization? Gee, what are those barge-mounted mills that they’ve found evidence for? The Romans, it turns out, didn’t build streamside mills the way the later cultures did, they mounted them in barges, and the evidence for them isn’t seen in stream-side flumes and old, ruined millworks, the damn things are underwater and not at all readily apparent.

      I don’t the discussion should be as simplistic as many would like to make it. The idea that the Romans would have been this huge, inflexible impediment to technical progress is a theory, not a fact. We don’t really have enough knowledge of what was going on back then in order to really say–More than likely, there’s nothing that could have saved the Roman empire, but we can’t say what would have happened to the Romans after they survived all that disruption, if they had managed to do so. All the deaths and dislocations, even without Christianity happening? They’d have had some effect.

      And, let’s not forget that Christianity itself was a product of Rome’s increasing sophistication in terms of religion. How much does Christianity borrow from Mithraian and Zoroastrian thought? Who is to say that a monotheistic faith based on Mithras or Zoroaster’s teachings might not have taken over Rome as effectively as Christianity did, or what those faiths might have turned into?

      The idea of taking the Roman trends that surrounded and stemmed from the Fall of Rome as we know it, and then continuing them into the future, ad infinitum, is just as ludicrous as the idea that a man named Richard Nixon would have been born in that timeline when he was in ours. Rome could not survive as it was, and would have had to undergo forced, painful change. If it wasn’t the Germanic tribes invading, and the Christians coming along, it would have been something else–Maybe a more vital and exclusionary cult of Mithras, and the Norse coming south during the medieval warm period. Either way, a static Europe where the continuing Roman Empire is still running the game into the middle ages just isn’t on. The same centripetal forces that drove apart the Carolingian empire would have been in effect for the Romans, at least outside the realm of politics.

      • It isn’t that Rome was an impediment to technology. It is the question of the TYPE of technology. Your logic assumes there is only one type of technology, one basis of technology. But there are different logical systems, entirely different concepts of causation out there that lead to different technological conclusions. It is why we cannot build the Pyramids that the Egyptians did — which is an argument for our technological backwardness to theirs. Or consider the things the Romans did that we haven’t.
        In “The Might of the West” Lawrence Brown examines a lot of those cultural differences, those logical differences, those framework mental differences — things that explain why horoscopes are truly scientific to the Levantine world but hocus pocus to the West, for example.
        He also explores why the West is unique in one way — we don’t have the clear-cut distinction of us vs. them that all the other great cultures had. Everyone else had us and the outside barbarian, a distinct sense of other. We expect everyone to be the same, and are blindsided when they aren’t. It is that blind spot that I am talking about.

        • The other problem is that we know very little about Byzantine tech, and they did have and use a lot of it. Always having to fight the Persians, the Muslims, and 29 flavors of horse barbarian empire were what caused what stagnation they had.

  11. Birthday girl

    OT: I apologize for being a pest and this is my last post on this topic — since Oyster is occupied with more important things, I don’t want to pestify his email — can anyone else tell me the meetup arrangement for Westercon? I’m trying to figure out if I can swing it, need to know time/date info for that … ?? Thanks …

  12. “What if Emperor Qui Huang Di had managed to eradicate all the teachings of Confucius and Lao-Tse? Would China have developed a different sort of Buddhism?”

    I don’t have the source in front of me, but Herbert Allen Giles believed that a lot of what we have of the writings of Lao-Tse was pretty much “stuff written down by Folk Taoists from their oral tradition and claimed to be passed-down manuscripts of what Lao Tse wrote.” And there are people who believe similar things about many of the alleged writings of Confucius, that they were fabricated by the Neo-Confucians in the T’ang dynasty.

    I guess the answers to all of that would depend on which version of the early history of Buddhism in China would you believe. Or which version of the early history of Buddhism you believe, and whether Mahayana or Theraveda Buddhism is closer to what the Sage of the Sakyas taught. (Which would be nice to know even for the non-Buddhists so that we could have an accurate record of human history).

  13. Phil Fraering

    I think recognizing that we don’t have a very accurate history of the period would probably be an interesting first step.

    • From what little reading I’ve done about that period, I get the sense that the Chinese academics have very mixed emotions about the First Emperor. Yes, he was the First, and the terracotta army is really neat (and a great tourist draw), but his attempts to eliminate history and philosophy from before the start of his reign don’t go over well with modern historians. I can’t imagine why. ;)

      • The problem’s a lot bigger than the First Emperor. The “Disasters of Wu” I mentioned happened in 446, the 570’s, and 845. And in every change-of-dynasty large numbers of historical records are destroyed.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          There’s reason to think that the Han wasn’t all that legally different from the Qin. Making much of that stuff about the relative oppression of the Han more of the usual dynastic change revisionist history.

          Plus, the first emperor was on the other side of an ideological conflict with the one which a) appealed to the intellectuals b) thanks to adoption by intellectuals, and due to their power in subsequent states, may have significantly economically impaired China c) tended to be followed by historians.

          • Of course, there’s the little problem in theory of the Mandate of Heaven that the First Emperor, since he founded a dynasty, ought to have been virtuous.

            Me, I would have devised a rule that the Mandate only arose when they were overthrown, they were in fact like yin arising from yang — an overreaction that naturally stemmed from the chaos, and only by that eruption were they able to come into balance.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              Mandate dates back, at least, to the much earlier, the succession of the Shang by the Zhou. The Zhou needed an excuse for why they had any grounds to inherit the religious authority of the Shang theocracy. Hence all the records about what an evil bastard the last Shang king was.

              Qin Shi Huangdi messed up his chances to make his dynasty last, if it had, they would have produced a suitable hagiography for him.

              The Han had a much longer time to shape the historical record, so they gave him the ‘prior dynasty last king’ treatment’ and made it stick, along with their own hagiographies of their early kings.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        How much of the traditional ‘he was the ancient Chinese Hitler’ was driven by ideology and convenience? I dunno. One could argue that the narrative is as credible as Mandate of Heaven and elemental succession of dynasties. (At one point in my life, I disliked the big groups from that era, and least disliked the Legalists.)

        The Yuan named their dynasty ‘Original’. Year Zero revisionist history is hardly unique to the Qin in Chinese history. Frankly, Han stories about Qin can be viewed in that like. ‘They were first, but we were the first ethical ones, so we are the ones that really count.’ Compare what the Zhou said about the last king of the Shang.

        • I’ve been trying to watch the Teaching Company series about East Asian Cultures. It’s good, but I’m going to have to go back and re-watch some of the sections, because of trying to keep track of who was in and out when.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            When I was in middle school I read a world history that had a large section on Chinese history. The Chinese history section didn’t stick.

            I only managed to hold on to any Chinese history after a more basic course of study.

            Xia are essentially the first possibly historical dynasty. Say it Shia, and think most likely late stone age.

            Shang are the next. We know of them from among other things, the remains of their divinations. The Shang kings had some of the religious features and legitimating narratives of the later emperors. The key myth here involves the last Shang king. He was said to be particularly evil. Some accounts have him trying to find experimental evidence of good and evil by inspecting internal organs. Supposedly this lack of virtue caused the downfall of the dynasty, hence the origin of Mandate of Heaven, as a legitimating narrative for the next dynasty.

            The Zhou followed. This is said Joe. They worked bronze, and lasted a fairly long time. Their late stage anarchic condition helped create a wide variety of things, including schools like Legalism, Confucianism, and Taoism. This might well have resulted in many different nations instead of one China, except for what happened next.

            King Zheng, the duke of Qin, recruited Legalist advisers and conquered much of the old Zhou principalities. Thus the Qin dynasty, and the name China. Thanks to choices in advisers and medicine, he went mad and died without competent adult heirs.

            He was followed by the Han dynasty, who are the reason the Chinese are called Han, and at least part of why he has such a bad reputation.

            Skip ahead a bunch, say a thousand, thousand and a half years, and you get the Mongols. They conquered China, decided not to kill off everyone, and created the Yuan dynasty.

  14. One of our household maybe-we’ll-get-it-written-down settings is a fairly recent alt history where, basically, the Revolution was worked out without the US having to split. (Saner/more profit motivated king, and…I can’t remember his name right now… had a ship that almost sank with him on it actually sink, so we didn’t have as much influence from France before the Revolution, so we got a lot of refugees after it) Also has magic, which is limited on the basis of how it tends to kill people who use it. (Technology: much more likely to let you live even when used heavily, and more reliable too!)

  15. In my Dr. Mauser story, History has been altered, but only subtly. It’s one of those hidden in the background things. Like The Manhattan Project involved a team-up of “Good”, “Evil”, and Government scientists (I always loved that line from the Rocketeer about “We may be Gangsters, but we’re Americans.”). The average family is larger due to losses to mass destruction events or them enlisting as Henchmen. But generally the world carries on as before.

    • I adore the “We’re ____, but we’re still (broader good) and will fight against (obvious greater evil)” aspect in stories.
      It’s a great way to make things not simple black and white without having an anti-hero.

      • It’s also a lot more historically accurate, when you stop and think about it. Jean Lafitte, anyone?

        There are also a half-a-dozen British channel smugglers who were very active in the fight against Napoleon. If I remember right, there’s one or two who were quietly pardoned and paid off after it was all over, because they’d been continually reporting back on what was actually going on over in the French channel ports. I read somewhere a reference to a British intelligence officer who expressed great confidence that the French could not surprise them with an attack, because the smugglers would have long since reported back on the preparations.

        Then there’s the WWI and WWII-era criminal sorts who ran the longshoreman unions along the East coast, much to the dismay of the Germans who tried to suborn sabotage. Some of it was done, but more than a few paid German saboteurs wound up disappearing or being found dead. You also had Lucky Luciano’s efforts in the Italian theater.

  16. Christopher M. Chupik

    And of course, alt-history, or at least a dumbed-down form of it, is very popular with writers of message-fic. There’s been agonizingly stupid examples the past few years, including Faultline 49, which tries to reimagine the WoT as being between Canada and the US. To give you an idea of how dumb this is, the alternate 9/11 is when the Edmonton World Trade Centre is attacked (it’s only a few stories tall). This act of terrorism against Canada triggers a US invasion of . . . Canada.

  17. Fail Burton

    Probably the most relevant alt-history one could write in SFF terms would be one where the intersectionalists dream-child comes true. For those of you who follow such things, the PC never shut up about what they call the white Western Anglophone “hegemony.”

    The truth is that “hegemony” is the only one in history that has acted as a buffer to protect the most strident PC voices in SF: the gay, blacks, and women. In other words, the neighborhoods the PC most staunchly defend are the very ones they’ll never live in. All of us know that’s true and it’s why we laugh at them, and probably why the PC suffer so from group low self-esteem, if not outright psychotic breaks. If the PC weren’t such messed up supremacists and would just join the human race instead of making enemies out of half of it, they wouldn’t have such a problem.

    Let’s be honest: who wouldn’t like to see hapless morons like Aliette de Bodard, Beth Bernobich, Kate Elliott or N.K. Jemisin live among the people they supposedly most cherish – non Anglophone, non-white, non-Western? Magically transported into such a land, when they were done screaming, they’d be crying their little eyes out scratching and clawing to get back to the land of the patriarchy and it’s too white movies and books.

    I laugh at intersectional QUILTBAGs and their stupid supremacy and racism every day. They are the most worthless and unprincipled people on the face of the earth, not to mention endemic liars. A land of THEM would make an excellent story, seeing as it would, just for starters, have no Constitution, no army and no tech.

    • Why do we need to postulate magic transportation? A C-17 and a parachute are sufficient to complete the task.

      • Is a Parachute REALLY necessary?

        • Parachutes are never 100% reliable.

          • Especially if you pack them using a box cutter.

            • And if TV has taught me anything, it’s that there’s no discernible difference between a packed parachute and a packed anvil.

              • Reminds me of an old joke, which I’ll abbreviate:
                A plane is going down, and there are N-1 parachutes. As we go through each of the luminaries and historical figures explaining why they should have a parachute, the next to the last is “The smartest man in the world”, who must have a parachute because, well, he’s the smartest man in the world and the world needs his brilliance. This leaves Texas Businessman and The Hippie. The Hippie says to the Businessman, “It’s cool man, we can both go. The Smartest Man in The World just took my backpack.”

  18. Home again home again. Camp was great. Family is well. Small touch of drama, and an encounter with what I am pretty sure was a four-foot long Great Plains Bull Snake (non-venomous, but I’m not that good at snake identification).

    • Welcome home! Glad to hear all is well, snakey encounters and such included.

    • You still don’t want to get bitten by a bullsnake; septicemia isn’t fun.

    • By the by, my parents are really good at snake identification… and in our area of the high plains they still couldn’t be sure if a snake was a bull or rattle snake if it was moving or the body was all that was seen, so not being sure is no hit on your skills. :D

    • Welcome back! Glad you had a good time.

  19. I’m not good with this kind of speculations, so a question to the wiser: would having Leningrad fall have had much of an effect on the second world war as a whole? I have read some claims that Finnish forces could probably have cut the one supply route the Soviets managed to establish towards the end of the siege, but Mannerheim refused to do it.

    • IMO, not much, except to the people who starved in Leningrad. “Peter” was a trade port/contact with the wider world, it wasn’t a heartland control center. Bigger impact would have come from ol’ Joe picking a different city to name “Stalingrad”.

    • The supply routes over the ice of Lake Ladoga were vulnerable to Finnish interdiction, and the Soviets knew it. Yet they realized that the Finns would limit their assistance of the Germans in the siege.

      The capture of Leningrad would have had some serious morale effects both within and without the Soviet Union. How much depends upon when it fell, if in fall of ’41, then the release of German forces involved might have made more of a difference to the advance on Moscow. But other than the amount of German forces tied down in the siege, Leningrad had little strategic contribution itself. As a port, meaningless given that the Baltic was interdicted.

      A stronger case can be made that Finnish failure to strike out east toward the White Sea and cut the rail lines running to Murmansk far more significant. (Although how long they would be able to actually hold such a salient given the disparity in resources …)