Monday, January 9, 2017

Editorial: Parallelism and Alternate History

So I hope you all had a good holiday season. I've been pretty busy with family and work, and getting into playing Overwatch, which, like everything that I get into, is long after everyone else already gets into it.

But I digress. It has been fun! Even if I can't hit anything when I shoot.

So, you know... pew pew dead. That's how I roll!

Anyway, back to Alternate History and talking about it.

One thing that has come up a lot in my discussions with fellow Alternate Historians is the use of parallels to our history in AH, and to what degree we should use it. Some say that parallelism is sloppy writing and should be avoided, while other's say that it helps connect events in the minds of readers so should be used liberally. I've had people especially drag Harry Turtledove through the mud for his parallelism in his Timeline 191 series, which I'll get to in a bit.

I'm somewhere in the middle, as some of the writing I've done on the Alternate History Wiki and on this blog are anything to consider. I think it's most important when doing AH that I write a good story that is understandable to people who have, at most, a small grasp on the history of the era. This is why the most popular topics of AH in English: World War Two and the American Civil War, because almost everyone in Canada, the US and the UK know about those two events. And, as we all know, the US is the centre of the world...

And it's reasons like that that this map exists.

Most people know some of the details, like D-Day happening on June 6, 1944, and the Americans joined the war when Japan surprise attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. But in most cases, they don't understand why the war happened, the underlying causes, the more subtile events, or even the other nations involved (I blame the Cold War and rather nationalistic historical educational systems we still have for downgrading the role of other nations, especially the USSR).

So this is where the value of parallelism can come in handy. For those people that enjoy a good story, but don't have the full depth of knoweldge of a historical setting, using familiar dates can help to anchor the story into the time period, even if the causes and results of the Alternate History are vastly different.

It's also a reason why I'm not totally opposed to see big names in stories and timelines that started decades, if not centuries before they would have been born OTL. In fact, in my big French Trafalgar, British Waterloo TL, I'm very guilty for doing this. Partially because I was still in high school and only just starting my AH career, and also because I simply suck with making up new names, as many readers of mine could point out. Though, to be honest, the biggest reason was because I always wanted a picture beside the name in articles like the "Presidents of the US" and "Prime Ministers of France." Kind of hard to do that when you just make up people. But, I made it fairly clear, namely through changing dates of birth and death, that there are still some butterflies: most have been hanged by up to ten years in either direction of their OTL birthdays.

Birthdays can get weird in parallel timelines.

But there are the pratfalls of sticking to parallelism too closely. Timeline 191 is one of the more blatant examples: World War One starting the same day that it did OTL, with the same reason for the war (the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but by bomb instead of gunshot), and then the USA and CSA duking it out over three years of trench warfare. I've had people go on about how the South shouldn't have been able to withstand against the full might of the US, but I have my theories as to why the CSA could have lasted as long as they did (and something I will go into further detail later). It's even more blatant when a fascist CSA attacks the US on June 22, 1941 in Operation Blackbeard, which is basically a copy-replace of Nazi Germany's Operation Barbarossa that took place on the same day, and with major battles occurring on the same day ATL as major battles occurred OTL. Some of these do seem a bit forced and ridiculous, but I can understand why Turtledove did it, if just to ensure that for new readers to alternate history that they aren't thrown out of the loop. That said, he could have handled it better in my opinion, and better paralleled the ideas and emotions of the time (which he did some extent), and broke free from the tyranny of dates and timing.

But he's the New York Time's Best Selling Author, and I'm a procrastinating 24 year old on the internet. So what do I know?

Not as much as he does about growing a beard, that's for certain

Anyway, sorry for the month long silence. Hopefully I'll get back to a more regular posting schedule in the near future. But if you have any suggestions or comments, find me on Twitter @tbguy1992, or email me at

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