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Why Alternative History is gaining mainstream legitimacy

By John Reese, May 12 2019 02:10PM

In the genre of speculative fiction Alternate History is proving ever more popular with alternative perspectives on crucial points in history making for some highly entertaining reads. Novels like Manifest Destiny: Lincoln Sneezed by Brian Boyington where Lincoln survives John Wilkes Booth's assassination attempt have helped fuel the interest of readers around the world but for emerging and debuting authors drawn to the genre it’s important to do their research.


There is no doubt about it, alternative history is a sub-genre that continues to evolve. We have seen it merge with the much-loved tropes of science fiction to embrace time travel and alternative universes but there are a growing number of purists amongst today's readers who lean towards subtler approaches. Indeed, keeping an alternative version of events close to the facts can make for a far more authentic read as readers invariably have enough foreknowledge to appreciate the subtleties of a different perspective.




A fine example of this is Renaissance - The Fall and Rise of a King, the debut novel for Marla Skidmore. Fans of the Alternative History sub-genre tend to be well informed on historical and political events and introducing a differing perspective on such a notorious character as Richard III is no mean feat. Focusing on poignant events she builds an upsurge of difference that paints an altogether more sympathetic perspective on the much maligned monarch which not only entertains but encourages the reader to reflect on the accuracies of history as it is recorded. Our review for Renaissance - The Fall and Rise of a King can be found HERE but has alternative historical fiction got a wider role than simply telling a story?


History is invariably written by the victors. Great swathes of events are often ignored and in today's society we are swamped by fake news. Can generations to come look back and take the truth for granted? Yes, alternative historical fiction more often than not stretches the realms of possibilities but at it subtlest, it challenges widely help views with a convincing degree of plausibility and it’s this that nudges the genre of alternate history ever closer to mainstream legitimacy.


2 comments
May 15 2019 07:43AM by Richard Tearle

Agreed all the way! The question "What If ..." has always been asked of historical events, but rarely addressed - until recently when a number of books have been written or compiled, such as 1066 Turned Upside Down and rthe book you mention above - which I have also read and thoroughly enjoyed. Calculating the effects of an alternative is very problematical - had RIII survived then Columbus would still have sailed the ocean blue and no doubt the flourishi9ng of the arts etc so often attributed to the coming of the Tudors would still have taken place. Of course we will never know, but isn't it fun speculating?

May 15 2019 06:36PM by Alex Marchant

I'm not sure I would see 'Rennaissance' as 'alternative history'. That would surely suggest that the story unfolds on a different trajectory from that of the actual history - i.e. tipping into fiction, pure and simple. 'Rennaissance' rather presents a view of King Richard taken from the earliest records - that is, the actual history before the later writers under the Tudors constructed their very different (in fact, more accurately 'alternative') story for him. Shakespeare's version is 'alternative', because it presents a man nothing like the one we see if we consult the records of Richard's own time. For example, the man of whom a Scottish ambassador said, ‘Never has so much spirit or greater virtue reigned in such a small body’, or the members of the council of York who, at great risk to themselves after his death in battle against Henry Tudor, wrote in their city records that ‘King Richard, late mercifully reigning over us, was through great treason piteously slain and murdered to the great heaviness of this city,’ only days after Tudor himself became their king. Marla Skidmore's portrayal to me seems far closer to the truth - not 'alternative' in the least. (Although its picture of King Richard being guided through Purgatory is certainly a different take, compared with more straightforward historical fiction, such as my own!)

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