This vibrant fiction genre could be renamed 'What If' books. What if the Germans won World War II? What if the Confederates won the American Civil War? What if the Cold War had become a nuclear war? You get the picture.

Some major names – such as Sinclair Lewis, Kingsley Amis, Michael Chabon and Philip Roth – have imagined alternate histories and helped give the genre credibility. You will also find Michael Moorcock, Kim Stanley Robinson and Philip K. Dick on this list, so alternative histories cannot be dismissed offhand. Even American politician Newt Gingrich penned one – 1945, a post-World War II-themed novel – along with William R. Forstchen.

The undisputed king of alternative histories is the prolific Harry Turtledove, who has helped guide the genre into mainstream reading. His Southern Victory or Timeline-191 series has the Confederates beating the Union. His Days of Infamy books have Japan occupying Hawaii. Agent of Byzantium has the Byzantine Empire surviving. The Guns of the South has the Confederates equipped with AK-47s by some time-travelling South African white supremacists. He easily blends fantasy and science fiction into historical storylines.

This particular selection of fiction mostly comes from the ‘What if’ category where history has diverged from its path and gone in another direction. The list tries to avoid novels featuring time-travel or parallel universes as they could be seen as sub-genres. With the exception of The Difference Engine by William Gibson, this list also stays away from Steampunk as that’s another can of worms.

The most popular theme for alternative histories by far is World War II – it would have been possible to populate the entire list with books where the Nazis won or the conflict’s outcome is drastically different. However, there are authors who have avoided the global events of the 19th and 20th centuries and preferred to look at other ‘What Ifs’ – for instance, Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn cleverly imagines what would have happened if airships had become the dominant form of travel.

Alternative Histories:

What is the most chilling alternate reality you can imagine? What is the happiest?

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