I honestly don’t know why I like Alternate Histories so much. I really like the ‘what if’ aspects of them, but so many are just so terribly terribly bad, and they’re full of clichés from the getgo. Why, for instance, do they always revolve around a pivotal war? Sure, there’s examples where they don’t (David Gerrolds’ “The Kennedy Enterprise” for instance, in which the Kennedy family goes into movies, not politics), but for the most part it’s “The Axis won World War II,” or “The South won the Civil War.” Both of these are pretty cool the first time you hear them, and I suppose the latter might have some enduring wish fulfillment value if you’re Southern, but by the time you’ve come across the same premise a jillion times, it gets tiresome. If I wanted to re-tread the same intellectual ground over and over and over and over again, I wouldn’t be interested in Science Fiction, now would I? I’d just sit around the house watching Star Trek like all the other people who don’t like Science Fiction.
The absolute worst book I’ve ever read on alternate ways the Civil War could have gone differently was, without a doubt, was “Alternate Gettysburgs” edited by Howard Coyle ( http://www.amazon.com/Alternate-Gettysburgs-Various/dp/0425183777/ref=sr... ) in which not a single thing makes sense. This is an anthology, and I guess you can just ignore the weaker stories in one of those (I certainly hope you overlook the weaker ones in my upcoming anthology), but every single story in this collection is crap. Partially it’s the writing - I mean one story doesn’t even have an ending, the author just appends a note saying it wasn’t ready by press time, and ‘here’s what would have happened,’ - these stories are all incompetently told.
But it’s more than that: none of these stories make a lick of sense. They’re not just stories incompetently told, they’re incoherent stories incompetently told.
For instance, in one a Massive Online War Game simulation of Gettysburg causes superdy-duperdy doubletalk influence on the time/space continuum, which changes the outcome of the war. What kind of sense does that make? In another, Lincoln isn’t assassinated, and therefore there’s a Serf revolt in Russia which brings about a glorious world-state in which all nations live in peace and harmony. This is all deadly serious, not intended as a parody or a gag. Again: what kind of sense does this make? The whole book is nothing but this kind of crap.
The worst alternate Civil War novel I’ve ever read is Terry Bisson’s “Fire on the Mountain,” ( http://www.amazon.com/Mountain-Spectacular-Fiction-Terry-Bisson/dp/16048... ) in which the war starts a year early, and is entirely racial, with the slaves uprising and forming a new country called “Nova Africa” (or “N’africa” for short.) None of this makes any sense, and in order to make it work you need to completely deliberately ignore a zillion obvious facts. But then it gets worse: because N’africa exists, technology has somehow progressed vastly faster, with superconductor technology and manned missions to mars by 1959. Elvis shows up as an auto mechanic living in N’africa (There’s a white minority) who got his false teeth free from the National Health Service. (Did I mention that N’africa is a socialist utopia?) Again: how does any of this make any sense?
I mean, seriously, if you’re going to do an alternate history, at least read a couple history books beforehand.
An Alternate History has to arise *LOGICALLY* from the real historical events. You can’t just say “Suddenly, in the middle of the civil war, beans turn to peas and as a result there’s an earthquake and Abraham Lincoln has a sex change and becomes Queen (in both senses) of England. Also, there’s airplanes!” You just can’t do that!
Well, I guess you can - a lot of people do - but it’s garbage. Just garbage.