Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Imagine: Alternate History


Alternate History asks the question, "What if history had developed differently?"

Alternate History is a subgenre of Speculative fiction (science fiction) and Historical fiction that is set in a world in which history has diverged from the actual history of the world. (wikipedia)

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Yesterday, Prairie Chick Karyn presented a thought-provoking post: Heroine For a Day. My first thought after reading her post was that I didn’t have time to imagine because I was too busy writing a fiction novel. (Heh) But something happened. I was sitting in my sunroom, hands poised over my laptop and my attention drifted to the trees in the yard. Instead of seeing the trees, though, I started visualizing history. No, that’s not right. I wasn’t just looking at it—I was a participant.

Karyn asked what I would be as the heroine. Any time in history. Any planet in the universe. My mind stumbled. It was almost too immense to contemplate.

I started to weed out possibilities:
- Medieval women have always fascinated me but I deplored their lack of bathing facilities.
- Pioneer women showed their endurance but I’d be bruised after all the bouncing around in the wagon.
- Biblical women walked with grace but I didn’t like the threat of being thrown to the lions.
- Regency women proved their worth but I’d start out penniless or of low birth.
- World War II women got to hang out with men in uniform but I wanted to be more than a nurse.
- Space age women are adventurous but I cringe at the thought of my molecules being scrambled during transport.

You see, I could write a book and put my heroine in one of those stories, but it just wasn’t ME. However, there was one time period I actually wanted to be a part of and that was the latter years of the 19th century, at the dawn of the new country of Canada. But in what capacity? At that time, Canada was roughly 2 parts: the civilized maritime part (both coasts and along the St. Lawrence River) and the vast untamed Rupert’s Land in between. Did I want to be pretty and frilly? Or pretty and practical? (and with reference to Karyn and Jana in yesterday’s comments . . . pretty, practical and skinny?)

No matter how much I wanted to sit in a parlor sipping tea while awaiting my gentleman caller, the raw uncharted territory known as Rupert’s land appealed to me the most. But what would I do there? Fur trapper? Cartographer? Photographer? Sod breaker? None of those excited me. What I really wanted to do was be a Mountie. Not the modern Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but the earlier Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP) who traveled the west catching the bad guys and keeping the peace.

The germ of an idea began to grow. Back then, all Mounties were men. What if I pretended to be a man so I could join the NWMP? It sounded good but a lot of the land was wide open prairie without a tree to hide behind and…well…men aren’t stupid when it comes to some things. So, I couldn’t pretend to be man, but I still wanted to be a Mountie. How could I do that?

I looked back at Karyn’s list of possibilies, especially where she talks about superpowers and it finally hit home…Karyn wanted me to stretch my imagination to its limit. No boundaries. Anything was possible.

So if the only thing stopping me from being a female NWMP officer was the fact that historically, they were all men, the obvious thing to do was to do away with the men and make it a corps of women. But wouldn’t that change history? Of course it would! And that’s exactly what the subgenre, Alternate History means. It’s a history which parallels the real one but is different due to some quirk. Anything can happen in alternate history. What if:
- Atlantis hadn’t disappeared
- unicorns still lived
- Hitler won the war
- the Avro Arrow survived
- John F. Kennedy hadn’t been shot
- Jesus hadn’t been born (there would be no Christmas)
- there never was a 'war between the states'

So in my Alternate History, women ruled Canada and held the positions of authority. And since the old saying is ‘there would be less wars if women ruled the world’, I decided to change the name of the Northwest Mounted Police to the Northwest Mounted Peacemakers.

Of course, the other well-known saying was the Mountie always got his man. Well, in my Alternate History, my Mountie got her man, too. *wink*

For the discussion today, I’ll give you a choice:
- Karyn’s question of yesterday (because it's such a good one): Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to play along. Be a heroine for a day. What would your choices be?
Or
- if you had to write a piece on Alternate History, what would you choose to write about?

21 comments:

Karyn Good said...

Hi Anita. Wonderful post today. I love how you weeded out the possibilities. LOL.

I've been thinking about Alternate History since yesterday and your comment. I love the what if game.

Like you, I'm drawn to the early days and the birthing of this country. I'm going to image that Confederation never happened and we are still known as British North America and ruled by the crown. I'm picturing myself as a modern day Reformer. Lobbying and protesting and marching for my cause. What's my platform? How far will I go? Where is the line? What lows would I not sink to?

Maybe this idea will have to be a short story for this year's Gift of Writing for the SWR?

Thanks for the heads up about Alternate History. I love this idea!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Alternate history is such an intriguing topic, but I must admit the 'hard' versions of the genre intimidate me a tad. I can dabble in tweaks and changes, but I don't think I could tackle the larger-scale historical/speculative accuracy of posing a what-if and fleshing out how it came to be and all those repurcussions.

I think I'd wander toward fantasy speculation, perhaps a different swing on the witch paranoia in Europe. For one thing, what if so-called evil witchcraft were actually some other form of power, and accepted rather than persecuted, how would it change the course of history to come? It might be interesting to twist history earlier and then see its effects in, say, the 1800s. Likewise, if all those cats weren't killed as familiars, and actually survived to hunt the plague-carrying rats, what repurcussions would that have?

Anita Mae Draper said...

Karyn, that's an exciting concept! You would be right there, in the thick of things. You could even be a spy! You'd have to decide what monetary system you would use and even what side of the road people drove on. What fun!

I'd love to receive your gift of a short story based on this idea. And Christmas is only 4 months away. Oh goody!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Well, there you go, Hayley, there's another interesting idea coming up.

I think the main difference between us is that I like to write with 80% reality and I'm suspecting you like to write with 80% fantasy. I'll stretch my wings but I won't fly very far from home. You'll pack your suitcase and explore new worlds. LOL. Am I even close?

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
Such an interesting post. Really gets your imagination going.

Since I have an interest in WW2, I'll say what if Hitler and the axis powers had won the war? I would be part of the underground or Resistence that has sprung up in every Allied country. Hitler's government is so focused on putting down rebellions and repressing people that there is no time or money for some of the modern inovations and inventions that were developed after the war in real life. Like modern medicines and vaccines, and so on. The world would be stuck somewhere in the 1940s. The only technology that had advanced was weapons technology.

Scary thoughts.
Jana

Vince said...

Hi Anita:


Great question…I love the theme of an alternate history.

There’s no doubt for me. I’d have Pontius Pilate find Jesus innocent, condemn the Sanhedrin for trying to frame an innocent man, and appoint Jesus as tetrarch of Galilee and Perea in place of Antipas.

Pilot would rule that Jesus was expressing Roman policy when he said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things which are God's.”

Pilate would add with wisdom, “with this man-of-peace we can all get along.”

What would world history be like if this happened?

Who knows enough to write this story?

Vince

Anita Mae Draper said...

Oh Jana, that's so scary. And sickening. Not about the technology, but about Hitler winning. How many more would he have killed? And I'm sure he wouldn't have stopped after anihilating the Jews. How many people would he destroy in his search for a true Arian race?

Now, the technology, that would be an inconvenience. And sad when you think of all the advances in medicine due to the advancement of computers, etc.

Thank you Jana. You've given me lots to think about.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Oh Vince, what a can of worms you've opened!

I have to step up and say from a Christian viewpoint, if Jesus hadn't been crucified, then millions of people would be burning in hell right now.

And that's even scarier than Jana's alternate history with Hitler winning the war.

As always, I'm glad you've rendered you opinion.

Ban said...

I'm gonna be the odd ball out ... yes, I like reading altered history but if I'm gonna be the heroine - put me in the future !!! I want to see all the new gizmos and gadgets that make life easier and more enjoyable. I want to discover far away worlds etc. even though I don't believe they exist - this is make believe though ... you said so ! I want to travel through space in a really fast ship and live out a Space Opera. (yeah, I am familiar with that ;)
Forgot to post my answer yesterday Karyn - glad I had the opportunity to make up for it today !!!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Ban, love your answer.

You know, I used to think we were the only planet in the cosmos with living creatures. And then I heard someone say how arrogant we are to think God would only create us. The Bible says He created us, yes, but it doesn't say He didn't create anyone else. That put a whole different spin on it for me. And now I believe there are other worlds out there to be explored as well.

I'm glad you came back to give your answer today, Ban.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hubby is dragging me into the city to see if we can buy a temporary shower since our bathroom is torn apart. This is serious. We're talking hygiene in the 21st century!

So, please forgive me for disappearing for a bit.

Hopefully I'll have some reading to do here when I get back here. :)

Ban said...

I believe there are lots of things we don't know about because the Bible doesn't tell us ... God revealed what was needed. I know a lot of people have a problem with that but I do not.
However - that does open a very big door and while I don't believe there are other inhabited planets out there - discovering I'm wrong will not shake what I KNOW to be true :D
Besides, that door is what allows me to use my imagination and come up with some interesting (at least to me) stories !

Helena said...

What fascinating topics (worlds!) you and Karyn have laid out for us to explore, Anita. If I only had the time ... (sigh)

I think I would like to go back to the world of my childhood -- not to indulge in any alternative history scheming because I'm pretty happy with the course of history as I've known it. I would just like to visit, so it would be more of a time travel experience. Be a fly on the wall for a while to see if my memories are as accurate as I think they are.

But believe me, I may go to bed tonight to dream up some 'what if' situation that would whisk me away to another time, another place of my own choosing. Love the idea!

Vince said...

Hi Anita:

In my version, just as Abraham was tested in agreeing to sacrifice his son Isaac, Jesus is tested and passes by being willing to be crucified.

So humanity is saved. Jesus lives long enough to establish his own church with perfect church laws which he writes himself. Heresy never happens and there is only one Christian church throughout all history. No reformations, no inquisitions.

Would this theme really be unacceptable to Christians? Are Christians not allowed to entertain an alternate history? I really don’t know.

Don’t answer if this is indeed too big a can of worms to get into.

Vince

Suse said...

Hi Anita, between you and Karyn, you've provided some interesting story concepts to think about. I'm like Helena though, and there just isn't any time right now to do that. Have fun with it.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Ban, I'm with you on that score. Can't wait to read your stuff.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Helena, that's the magic of Karyn's Heroine for a Day... you can go back to your childhood which seems to be a time you're comfortable with and explore it more as an adult this time around.

Happy dreams.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Vince, nothing is too big to get into and God doesn't mind us asking questions. In this case, however, when it's a matter of where my soul will spend eternity, I am not going to quibble. Call me a blind sheep, or whatever, I'm not taking any chances ... baa ... baa... LOL

Anita Mae Draper said...

That's okay, Suse. I appreciate you taking the time to read our hijinks and leave a comment.

Vince said...

Hi Anita:

It’s just fiction. I’m with you. I’m not taking any chances either.

Vince

glovin said...

Alternate history is such an intriguing topic, but I must admit the 'hard' versions of the genre intimidate me a tad.

--
glovin
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