Alternatively Speaking

I have as a secret ambition – one of many, right beside record a number one hit record and drink an entire bottle of Bourbon in one hour without dying – to see a fictional universe of mine become so successful that I can actually publish an alternate history version of it. Like, let’s say, the Avery Cates books blow up into Harry Potter squared, and writing an alternate history of The System wouldn’t be self-indulgent nonsense. Which, as things currently stand, it is.

Alternate History is a genre of Skiffy that doesn’t seem to get a lot of press, for some reason. I wonder if some folks regard it as something of a cheat – your characters are already there, and if inspiration fails you can always just bring back the True Timeline for a bit in a shocking twist. Or maybe it does get a lot of respect and I am sadly out of touch with the world – this would surprise no one.

The first AH story I ever read was, I think, in the anthology Alternate Tyrants, edited by Mike Resnick. The title and author of the story escape me now (and my copy of the book is alllll the way upstairs, and I am lazy – and sure I still have it; I have every damn book I’ve ever bought, except one) but it involved the Prince of Wales in modern England conspiring to provoke a constitutional crisis and seize all the old lapsed royal powers and reestablish the absolute monarchy. Since I can recall almost nothing else about the story, it may not have been that great, but I loved the idea. And I’ve been a minor sucker for AH ever since.

The crowned king of AH, of course, is Harry Turtledove, and I can recommend his Worldwar series happily to any who are interested. I haven’t kept up with the prolific Mr. Turtledove’s every series, which is probably a mistake, but I’ve enjoyed everything he’s written, and AH continues to draw me in. That sort of willful ignoring of history, or things that actually happened, is breathtaking in its way. I get a charge every time I read something in the genre.

As far as I know, no one has ever written an alternate history of their own series or universe, unless we count comic books, which seem to reinvent their universe every ten years just so they can clean up the mess they’ve made. I like this idea, and gift it to the world: Wouldn’t it be cool if JK Rowling wrote an alternate history of Harry Potter? Or if Stephen King did an AH version of The Stand or something? Every story branches off here and there into new directions, but there are always other, darker, unexplored directions that get left behind. It would be like re-writing your work without trying to obliterate the original from the canon. And better to do it yourself than wait for some Hollywood Hack to settle down one night with a bottle of Jim Beam and a gram of coke to do it for you, bubba.

Now, currently I don’t think my Cates series has reached that level of cultural saturation where anyone would make sense of an alternate history of it. Because you have all failed me. Don’t think I don’t brood at night over a bottle of whisky, wondering how much it costs to mail a dead rat to everyone in America, despite the fact that I am assured by my agent and publisher that this would actually reduce sales. So we’re all safe from that for now, though I’m sometimes tempted to do something like that just for my own amusement. Then again, the things I do for my own amusement already take up far too much of my time, and I got drinkin’ to do.

Enjoy your weekend, kids.


  1. Damaso

    Why wait? As a loyal (okay so you’ve never actually made any money off of me) reader, I want, nay demand!, an AH of the system.. Maybe you just do it for eReaders, maybe you hold the short stories, books or whatever hostage in exchange for bottles of Islay Scotch.

    Whatever form of tribute you demand I say just do it!

  2. BlueMan

    What’s the one book?

    Can you imagine the uproar if Rowling did an AH of HP? How many would be able or willing to appreciate it?

Comments are closed.