Are you a publisher trying to flog an alternate history novel? Read this!

I understand that the alternate history genre appears complex to people who aren’t, well, steeped in its little ways and assumptions. That’s fine; those of us who are fans of alternate history are used to folks who – through no fault of their own – don’t really groove to such things. Even fellow science fiction readers.

But for the love of everything that’s holy: if you’re trying to sell a particular book in the genre, compare it to something that fits.

Books That You Should Claim That Your Alternate History Book Is Like (in no particular order, and there are others):

Books That You Should Not Claim That Your Alternate History Book Is Like:

  • The Plot Against America

Now, this is not because Philip Roth is a tedious writer, although that was the conclusion that I came to  after reading the first twenty pages of Plot*.  It’s because the people who did read Philip Roth’s book mostly read it because it was Philip Roth’s book; they’re going to want to read books written in Philip Roth’s style.  Try to give those people a book that merely has a similar (including similarly silly) plot and they’ll look at you funny.  And as for alternate history enthusiasts?  …Don’t get me started on the need to explain your historical change points.  Believable and understandable historical change points are sometimes the only thing that separates an interesting extrapolation of possibilities onto a new canvas of history from let me tell you just how much I hated the Bush administration.  Which I didn’t, but Roth certainly did – which is his privilege, but it’s a topic that’s not going to sell many books from here on out.

Rant over.

Moe Lane

PS: On the other hand?  Telling the community that a book is just like The Plot Against America serves as a wonderful warning, so never mind.

*To give you an idea: I flipped through the book to the end at that point, noted that Roth did the equivalent of And it was all a dream, wondered aloud at the ability of some people to get other people to read anything, and reread The Peshawar Lancers.  Which, by the way, has always been able to keep my interest past page 20.

12 thoughts on “Are you a publisher trying to flog an alternate history novel? Read this!”

  1. Of all the Turtledove novels, you picked “The Guns of the South”?
    Come on! He’s got so many great books that don’t use “time-travelers interfering” as their inflection point. “How Few Remain” and “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” would have been my first choices.

  2. Guns of the south is my absolute favorite HT book. I reread it at least once a year. time traveling interference is a simple method of making the changes he wanted and then exploring the war from the point of view of the people of the time and not the time travelers.

    I am only familiar with some of the others, but I will look them up.

    1. That’s a great list — I’ve read all but the last two, and each is a classic in its own way.
      And if you liked Turtledove’s How Few Remain, have you read his “Timeline-191” series? The point of departure for the South winning the Civil War is an actual incident in our world that would have been rejected as too implausible if anyone had used it in a novel.

      1. Whoops — I meant to say Guns of the South. How Few Remain is actually in the Timeline 191 series.

        1. Heh. I have to admit it would be nice if there were Readers’ Digest versions of those books …

  3. No love for the Peter Tsouras books? Those are my favorites.

    Also, Newt’s Gettysburg trilogy and his Pacific War books were excellent.

  4. I still think you should read James O’Neal‘s books. It is set in the future, but it takes pot shots at both sides. For example: Climate Change is real, but takes on a completely different form (South Florida below Orlando was mostly reclaim by the swamp by the first book, hilarity ensues in the 2nd book). Every illegal was given amnesty, but they were all forcibly drafted into the military and further immagration into the US was cut off forever (the latter seems rather extreme in my view). All political parties were banned and, while not legally bound to do so, you couldn’t get elected unless you served in the military. Iran got the bomb, then promptly blew themselves up with it. Germany, having had enough of the rest of deadbeat Europe, was about to start yet another conquest of Europe until Iran blew themselves up.
    Crazy stuff, but enjoyable. The first book treated all this very seriously, but it turned out hilarious neverless in my opinion. The secound book realized this and grew a sense of mocking humor with the future.

  5. For the truly hard core: Robert Sobel’s For Want of a Nail, a high school history textbook written in a timeline where the British won at Saratoga, the American Revolution was crushed, and the continent is divided between the Confederation of North America and the United States of Mexico (established by Aaron Burr).

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