Alternate history

Posted in books, fantasy, sci-fi, what ifs by jrahman on January 13, 2013

Apropos nothing, let me talk about alternate history — you know, those fantastic tales where this or that even had or had not happened, leading to a very, or not so very, different history.

As the regular readers would know, there are at least two such series, perhaps three, running in this blog where Bengal, or India, had never been partitioned, or where partition had meant a different kind of Pakistan.  There was even a post about had there been a battle in Plassey.  But when it comes to the subcontinent, the big alternative history subject is about Mughal Empire continuing on beyond the 17th century.  Since the Empire exhausted itself during Aurangzeb’s reign, perhaps had his brother Dara Shikoh had been the emperor, things might have been different?

In Bangladesh, there is some awareness of the events of 1857, and a bit more about 1757 , how many of us know about the events of 1657?

Well, as it happens, in Tony Jones’ imagination, those events never happen.  Aurangzeb dies in Afghanistan, and Dara Shikoh ascends the throne as Emperor Shah Buland Iqbal.  In this world, a Mughal India (and allied states) experience a parallel industrial revolution.  By the 20th century, the world witnesses a major war between the Mughal Empire and allies against the Holy Russian Empire.


I have spent many a boring meeting going through that website on my iphone.  And it has been more fun than the Domination series, which I discovered a decade ago.


Of course, when it comes to grand visions of alternate worlds, Harry Turtledove is the man.  His Southern Victory  series shows a Confederated States of America fighting several wars with its northern neighbour, becoming a Nazi-like regime in the process, until being destroyed in the 1940s in a manner not unlike the end of the Third Reich.


The more fantastic Turtledove series is the one where an alien race shows up in the middle of the second world war.

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I lost interest in that series after a while.  Ditto for the Axis of Time series.

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These series introduce too many external factors — space lizards, time travel — while the past looks too much like what the authors imagine the present to be (Birmingham particularly is clearly affected by neo con paranoia about so-called Islamo-fascism).

There are far, far better descriptions of worlds that might have been had second world war played out differently.  Robert Harris, for example, gives a chilling portrayal of life as it might have been in a victorious Reich.  And yet, ultimately, Fatherland disappoints.

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When it comes to alternate histories about axis victory, perhaps the most acclaimed is Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle — I will write about it later, promise.  Let me end with linking to my favourite — and not just because of the economics.


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