Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century

Harry Turtledove introduced me to the whole alternate history genre way back in the early nineties with The Guns of the South, his brilliant take on the American Civil War.  Turtledove is all over the alternate history map with books that even include aliens invading Earth during WWII, and the like, but my other favorite of his, Ruled Britannia, sees William Shakespeare using his writing skills to motivate the populace to overthrow their Spanish oppressors.  It is only fitting then that Mr. Turtledove is the editor of this collection of some of the alternate history stories considered to be the best ones written last century.

The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century includes fourteen stories (one of which is 100 pages long) that offer “what if” re-imaginings of everything from the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, to George McGovern’s Vietnam-era election victory over Richard Nixon, to Shakespeare lost in the New World and living with an Indian tribe, and on to more commonly-themed tales involving a German victory in World War II and a Southern one in the Civil War.

Harry Turtledove
The longest, and oldest, of the stories (“Bring the Jubilee”) dates to 1952 and the most recent (this collection was published in 2001) was written in 2000 – with the majority of the tales having been first published in the eighties and nineties.  Some of the more recognizable author names are: Harry Turtledove, Kim Stanley Robinson, Larry Niven, Greg Bear, Poul Anderson, and Ward Moore. 

My personal favorite is one of the more oddball ones in the collection, a story by Nicholas A. DiChario called “The Winterberry,” in which John F. Kennedy survives the head-wounds he suffered in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  It is a touching tale of innocence, family love and loyalty, and overwhelming sadness.  Even if you never read another alternate history story, I think the ones like this one – the non-military themed ones – will appeal to most any reader.  And, who knows?  You just might find yourself intrigued enough to read others in this fun genre.


  1. Thank you for reviewing it, Sam! I will be adding it to my list of books to get from the library once the Double Dare challenge is over. I have to read some of my own books first, but as soon as I can, I will try to see if I can find this.

    So many alternate stories do involve war, different sides winning, don't they? I would think it's because so much of how we view history is through the lens of battles won and lost. It would be fun to have stories that don't involve war - like the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow (cannot remember the name right now!), where it hinges on what action she takes. Harder to do and show, but it would be interesting. It would have to do with exploring or inventing, something famous that people would generally know the outcome to.

  2. Susan, are you referring to "Sliding Doors" on that Gwyneth Paltrow movie? I saw it...seems like maybe 10 years ago...and remember enjoying it but not much about it. I might have to grab it again. Thanks for reminding me about it.