"History doesn't turn on a dime; it turns on a plugged nickel."
— Jeff Greenfield
What is Alternate History?
An alternate history describes a "what if" of history and the consequences that ensue from a different result.
Other names that may apply to the genre include alternative history, allohistory, counterfactuals, if-worlds, uchronia and uchronie, parallel worlds, what-if stories, abwegige geschichten, etc. Whatever it is called, alternate history somehow involves one or more past events that "happened otherwise" and usually includes some amount of description of the subsequent effects on history.
Perhaps the most common themes in alternate history are "What if the Nazis won World War II?" and "What if the Confederacy won the American Civil War?", but alternative Napoleons, Roman Empires, and JFKs are also popular subjects.
Alternate history may appear in novels, short stories, scholarly essays, comic books, movies, television shows, plays and elsewhere. This bibliography limits its attention to alternative history in printed form, chiefly short stories, essays, and books but also including some comic books, graphic novels, and other material.
The extent to which an alternate history may be developed varies radically and might comprise the entire plotline of a novel (e.g., Robert Sobel's For Want of a Nail... or Peter G. Tsouras's Gettysburg: An Alternate History) or perhaps just provide a single paragraph background to a short story or essay.
How much attention is given to the what-if and how much to the ensuing consequences varies greatly. Some authors may describe the what-if in detail and provide little follow-up and other authors may present a scenario set some years after the what-if and leave it to the reader to guess what happened. Many opt for an in-between option, providing an introduction that describes the divergence but in which the bulk of the story is set some years later.
The majority of alternate history is written as deliberate fiction. As such, it is most often classified as science fiction, or at least that is where you are most likely to find it at your local bookstore. Nevertheless, you will find examples in other genres, including horror, mystery, historical non-fiction, historical fiction, children's and young-adult fiction, and "mainstream" fiction. When marketed as mainstream fiction or thriller/suspense fiction, alternate histories have been known to crack the bestseller lists (e.g., Len Deighton's SS-GB) and even get made into movies (Robert Harris's Fatherland).
For non-fiction "counterfactuals", the occasional complete volume is published, sometimes as a complete speculation such as the Sobel and Tsouras cited above, but more likely as a collection of essays (e.g., Robert Cowley's What If? or Kenneth Macksey's The Hitler Options). But the most likely non-fiction sources are history and economics scholarly journals. Note, though, that counterfactual economics is sometimes known as "cliometrics". Also, the term "alternative history" may be used in non-fiction to describe a work that provides a different interpretation (or "spin") or point of view of actual events than is commonly understood. This is not alternate history as discussed here.
The topic of alternate history is also frequently addressed in wargames and wargaming magazines, although in those media it is usually left to the reader/player to determine what happens after the "point of divergence" (aka, the "Jonbar point").
The word "past" was highlighted in the first paragraph of this introduction for good reason. There are many stories which have been written of near (and even not-so near) futures which when read years later seem to be alternate histories because the dates mentioned have since passed by. Such stories may have been originally written as guesses as to what the future might bring, as warnings to the reader of an impending crisis, etc., but the authors' intention is plainly not to write alternate history and so such writings are not included here. One might call such works "retroactive alternate history".
At one time, the book most often submitted for inclusion in this database and which was rejected as being such a retroactive alternate history was John Hackett's The Third World War, August 1985, which was first published in 1978. But other works so disqualified include Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here (postulating events beginning in 1936 but first published in 1935); numerous British novels published before World War I about the Imperial German military threat, beginning as early as 1871 with George Chesney's The Battle of Dorking; and superseded science fictional works such as Robert A. Heinlein's Future History (mostly written in the 1940s and 1950s but includes extrapolation of what would happen in the late 20th century). More recent superseded near-future thrillers that postulate events that could happen soon (or soon after the book was published), and so are not listed here, include pretty much everything published by Dale Brown, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, and similar thriller writers.
You might argue that excluding retroactive alternate histories from this bibliography is "limiting", in which case you'd be exactly right. A limit must be drawn or else this bibliography would have the impossible goal of including a significant fraction of the books and stories that have ever been published, and potentially the majority of all science fiction.
Alternate history fiction is also often confused with "secret history" or "hidden history", in which something we think we know about the past is revealed to be incorrect. In many cases, a conspiracy is involved, often one which is "manipulating" history, as for example in the competing secret societies in Michael Flynn's In the Country of the Blind. Sometimes a novel is secret history because it describes events never revealed to the public. For example, in Joe Poyer's 1980 novel Vengeance 10 the Nazis built and launched a moon rocket, but no one finds out about it until a mysterious body is found on the moon sometime in the the 21st century. The important thing is that in a secret history, the present is still the present, or in more concrete terms, the contents of today's newspaper remain the same. In an allohistorical world, they very probably would not.
More subtle is the "generic" historical novel, which may present a somewhat altered version of events, typically one in which a fictional character is present at or active in some great event. Additionally, the author of an historical novel might shift events around in time in order to heighten the drama of the story. Classic examples of this type of novel are Alexandre Dumas' Les Trois Mousquetaires and its sequels, in which four dashing heroes play important roles in the history of 17th century France. Within the context of this bibliography, these novels would be considered secret history.
Also akin to alternate histories are what are sometimes called "personal alternate histories" or "micro alternate histories", stories in which fictional characters get a chance to see how their lives might otherwise have occurred. Examples include Alan Brennert's novel Time and Chance and the movies It's a Wonderful Life and Sliding Doors. However, the alterations in these stories are usually limited to the lives of the authors' own fictional creations and do not affect the external world, Consequently, they are generally not considered alternate histories appropriate to this bibliography. Exceptions in which such "reliving" does somehow change history, and which are listed here, include Ken Grimwood's Replay, Claire North's The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and Greg Benford's Rewrite: Loops in the Timescape.
There is also what is variously called the "alternate world", "parallel world" or "secondary world" story. These are tales in which historical cultures of our world are re-cast, most often as fantasy, so that the author may manipulate the reader's sense of familiarity. They may seem to use the trappings of alternate history, but these works are not explicily set on Earth and so, again, are not considered alternate history as discussed here. Typical examples include the "Videssos Cycle" by Harry Turtledove and the fantasy works of Guy Gavriel Kay.
For further reading, perhaps the best discussion of what is and what isn't alternate history can be found in:
+ Chamberlain, Gordon B. "Allohistory in Science Fiction". In Alternative Histories (eds. Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg), Garland 1986 (0824086597).
As you read the entries in this bibliography, please note that:
+ If you are searching for and can't find a particular short story, or maybe even a novel, check other entries by the same author to see if it was retitled or included in a larger work.
+ Except in a few cases, works by an author who used a variety of pen names are all listed under the name by which he is best known. There should be "see" entries pointing from alternative names to the better known name.
+ The ten- and thirteen-digit numbers that appear in publication data are dashless ISBNs.
+ Dates mentioned in the entries may include the notation CE or BCE. These mean Common Era and Before Common Era, respectively, and denote the same eras and year numberings that may be more commonly labeled by AD and BC.
What's past is past...and cannot be changed.
— 'Robert E. Lee', as quoted,
Harry Turtledove, The Guns of the South
Finding Books and Stories
If you've spotted a story or novel in the bibliography that you'd like to read and are unsure how to go about finding a copy, here are some suggestions:
If a volume was recently published in a country other than where you live (or even in the one where you live), check one of the on-line mail-order bookstores such as Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Amazon France, etc., especially one which is based in the same country as the book's publisher. Uchronia is an Amazon.com associate, so you will find links to that website permeating this database and leading to the corresponding entries in Amazon.com's catalog. (Yes, Uchronia receives a commission if you click an Amazon link and buy a book. We thank you for that.)
Used bookstores can be good places to search for anything that was published in paperback, particularly within the last 15-20 years. As at new bookstores, you may have more luck in the science fiction and/or fantasy sections, although more "serious" works may be over in the history section.
Antiquarian bookshops often contain some of the obscure works that may be difficult to find in the more common used bookstores. Even before the use of the Internet became commonplace, such shops provided booksearch service through a network. This sort of service is now available on-line, including Amazon.com's used book listings, Advanced Book Exchange and Alibris.
Public libraries, particularly larger ones, are a good place to find books published in hardback. If you live in a big city whose library has many branches, you'll likely have better luck at the central or main branch. Of course, you can always see whether it is possible to have items transferred to your local branch. If you do not live in a large city, check to see if your local library participates in a regional interlibrary loan system.
Public libraries do have a habit of "de-accessing" older books, sometimes after just a few years, but university libraries are much less likely to do so. Consequently, university libraries can be great sources for both obscure works and possibly for popular fiction going back decades, usually as long as the work is in hardback. Also, any scholarly history or economics counterfactual is probably best sought at a university/research library.
Short stories that have been reprinted rarely or not at all since their initial publication in a magazine might be found in the microfilmed magazine collection at a library, if the library still maintains a microfilm collection in this daya and age. Ask at the reference desk.
Keep your eyes open whenever you might be anywhere that books are sold. I've picked up a couple dozen alternate history paperbacks from New York City street vendors, including various 1960s and 1970s science fiction paperback editions.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
— T.S. Eliot
About This Bibliography
Uchronia: The Alternate History List is copyright © 1991-2023 Robert B. Schmunk
The idea for creating Uchronia was first conceived in February 1991 and was initiated by a request to the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf-lovers (subsequently rec.arts.sf.written) for help finding stories in the alternate history genre. Version 1 of the "Usenet Alternate History List" was then posted on April 11, 1991, to the newsgroup. It was essentially a plain text file about 30 kB long and included about 250 items. Much of that first posting was based on information provided by Evelyn C. Leeper.
A new version of the Alternate History List was posted to Usenet once every month or two over the next six years. The first web version was posted in 1995, but for the next two years it remained just a slightly modified copy of the material that was posted to Usenet. In early 1997, posting to Usenet ceased.
Uchronia received its current name late in 1997. At almost the same time it also was converted to the web version you see today, extracted dynamically from a text database. Although the underlying script has been updated and rewritten multiple times since 1997, the user interface of Uchronia has remained basically unchanged. As of June 2020, the database included over 3400 entries.
Copies of the "Usenet Alternate History List" that you might encounter on other websites are archives of pre-1997 Usenet postings and as such are over two decades out-of-date. Please ignore them and instead visit only the Uchronia homepage at uchronia.com for the "correct" and up-to-date version of the bibliography.
Die Weltgeschichte ist auch die Summe dessen, was vermeidbar gewesen wäre.
(World history is also the sum of what might have been avoided.)
— Konrad Adenauer
Much of the information in this list was contributed by members of the on-line science fiction community and other alternate history fans. Notably, this list would not have been possible without the generous aid of Evelyn C. Leeper. Important contributions were also made by Thomas Cron. Many thanks to them, and to dozens of other contributors.
Additionally, during the first 15 or so years of Uchronia, significant amounts of information were extracted from:
+ Hacker, Barton C., and Gordon B. Chamberlain. "Pasts that Might Have Been, II: A Revised Bibliography of Alternative History". In Alternative Histories (eds. Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg), Garland 1986 (0824086597).
+ Contento, William. Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections. George Prior/G.K. Hall 1978 (081618092X).
+ Contento, William. Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections 1977-1983. G.K. Hall 1984 (0816185549).
+ Locus: The Newspaper of the Science Fiction Field (ed. Charles N. Brown et al.).
Libraries that were extremely useful during research for the early years of this bibliography were the Fondren Library of Rice University and the Houston Public Library. Much data was also obtained from the New York Public Library, both its General Research Division at the Schwarzman Building on Fifth Ave. as well as its branch lending libraries
Thanks, and enjoy,
I've come to the conclusion that the stupidest words in the language are 'What if?'
— 'William Faulkner', as quoted
William Sanders, The Wild Blue and the Gray
Uchronia is copyright © 1991-2023 Robert B. Schmunk