Alternate History Points of Departure

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Alternate History Points of Departure

Mar 12, 2023, 9:32 am

Hello fellow Library Thing authors.

Recently, I published my first novel, an alternate history book. As a newcomer to the alternate history community, I am interested in hobnobbing with other alternate history authors. In particular, I would enjoy hearing how or why other alternate history authors chose the point of departure for their alternate histories. Thanks.

Mar 14, 2023, 2:32 pm

My "sixth" story universe is an alternate history fantasy universe. :)

It started with a dream that had people dressed in musketeer era dress in England, repelling a French invasion. Also magic spells that were cast by singing songs. (I have since written this story down as a Graphic Novel script that I haven't found time to do the art for. I have also come up with at least three other story ideas set in the same world.)

Since France never actually managed to invade England during that period, clearly I needed to change history a little. And frankly, the presence of magic also made me eager to change history, because whenever I see a version of our world with people running around openly casting spells, I wonder why this insertion didn't cause any historical differences.

I decided that in order to retain as much original history as possible, I needed a point of divergence that would make sense as a turning point for magic suddenly becoming more common.

If having an innate genetically based trace of magical ability helps your body defend itself against illness, then it would make sense a deadly plague could cause magical ability in the general population to intensify.

So I postulated that history started diverting at the time of the Black Death. First by creating increased magical activity, and then, because my magic system seemed to be linked to the arts, by assuming that from that point on, any place that served as a center for the arts would end up with an increased military advantage.


When you started to change history, did you discover that there were things you wanted to "fix"?

Editado: Mar 14, 2023, 9:09 pm

The best alternate history book I have read also used the Black Death as a point of detour, making it thoroughly more lethal to develop a world in the absence of "Western civilization." That's KSR's The Years of Rice and Salt.

He also wrote "The Lucky Strike" which forks an alternate history from the US deployment of the bomb in WW II. This was published in The Lucky Strike with a very interesting companion essay regarding alternate history generally.

Mar 17, 2023, 2:14 pm

>3 paradoxosalpha:
More lethal is a very scary proposition.

I have heard it theorized that it was actually the sudden population drop that started Europe's climb to world domination.

If instead of making it more lethal we made it less lethal, then maybe we would get a 'backwards' Europe dominated by... the Ottomans?

... I just hopped over to my library to see if I could get my hands on a copy of The Lucky Strike, so I could check out that essay. Alas, the only copy they have is on the ebook service whose proprietary eReader software doesn't work that great on my tablet. Grr!

Mar 19, 2023, 1:56 pm

LShelby: Your alternate history sounds fascinating – particularly the magical element and the interaction between military development and the arts in your world.

For me, living through the Covid-19 pandemic sheds new light on the Black Plague and how disruptive it is must have been to Europe in the 1300s. I am also surprised to hear that some historians think that the Plague contributed to Europe’s rise. It makes me wonder whether the Covid-19 pandemic will have some unanticipated long-term benefits for our society.

Paradoxosalpha: I have not read The Years of Rice and Salt or The Lucky Strike. However, I read Robinson’s Mars trilogy a couple of years ago and loved it. I am going to add The Years of Rice and Salt and The Lucky Strike to my list of books I want to read. Thank you.

Mar 19, 2023, 5:25 pm

LShelby: You also asked if there were things I wanted to "fix" when I started working on my alternate history. I have to admit that I did not. I tried to figure out what I though would or could have happened as a result of my point of departure, rather than trying to decide what I thought "should" have happened.

That being said, in my mind, there are plenty of examples in history of Humanity behaving very poorly indeed, and causing incredible suffering as a result. It would be great to go back and fix some of those examples.

Mar 22, 2023, 2:47 pm

>5 SteveRhinelander: "I am also surprised to hear that some historians think that the Plague contributed to Europe’s rise."

I think it was a book on the European medieval economy that I read that in. The basic premise is that having such a huge portion of the population removed left holes in the economic structure, which were then filled by someone different than who would have filled it otherwise. So although it looked like everything was mostly blundering along as before, the basic fundimental mindset of society had actually been shook to its core, and changed in a way that soon (in historic terms) led to the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Age of Reason.

I'd like to hear about the changes you made. You said your hinge point was the French-Indian war. What happened after that?

Mar 22, 2023, 3:07 pm

>6 SteveRhinelander: "That being said, in my mind, there are plenty of examples in history of Humanity behaving very poorly indeed, and causing incredible suffering as a result. It would be great to go back and fix some of those examples."


Since I had a story set in roughly that period, I started reading up on the reformation, and although the idea of religious reform sounded wonderful on the surface, I didn't like how it led to so much hate and bloodshed.

I wished I could fix it in my alternate history world... but the causes that led to it seemed too deeply rooted. I finally concluded that I would have had to start changing history earlier than I did. :(

Abr 2, 2023, 3:41 pm


Regarding the long-term effects of the plague, I think what you said is very interesting. I vaguely remember from school that, because the plague greatly reduced the number of peasants in Europe, the survivors were able to demand much better working and living conditions. However, I did not realize that those changes eventually would lead to the Renaissance.



Abr 2, 2023, 3:45 pm


You asked for some details about my alternate timeline. Here is a brief summary of some of the highlights:

1. My point of departure is the French and Indian War, or more specifically the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. In my timeline, the French win this battle instead of the English, and as a result, Quebec remains part of the French Empire instead of becoming part of the British Empire.

2. In 1803 of my timeline, the Louisiana Purchase never happens. In real life, when France lost Quebec to England, it also lost the Louisiana Territory to Spain. Later, in 1800, Napoleon reacquired the Louisiana Territory in an effort to reestablish a French Empire in North America. However, when Haiti gains its independence in 1803, Napoleon changes his mind about his North American empire and sells the Louisiana Territory to the United States to help finance his war in Europe. In my timeline, Napoleon would not need to “reestablish” a French Empire in North America because France would never have lost that empire. My guess is that, under these circumstances, he would not choose to sell his Louisiana Territory.

3. In my timeline, because the United States never buys the Louisiana Territory, there is no Lewis and Clark Expedition. Instead, either a Jesuit Missionary or a fur trader lead an exploratory expedition up the Missouri River in the mid-1810s.

4. Because there is never a Lewis and Clark Expedition, in my timeline, the United States never makes any claim to the Oregon Territory – roughly, British Columbia in Canada and Washington State, Oregon, and Idaho in the United States. Instead, in my timeline, this territory becomes part of the area administered by the Hudson’s Bay Company, together with the area we would call Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.

5. In real life, in 1870, the Hudson’s Bay Company stops administering territory. The region formerly under its administration becomes part of the Dominion of Canada. In my timeline, in 1870, the region formerly under the Hudson’s Bay Company’s control becomes the Dominion of Oregon. The capital of this Dominion is in Vancouver or Victoria, British Columbia.

6. In real life, in 1870, there was a community of Metis, descendants of the children of fur traders and First Nations peoples, in what is now southeastern Manitoba. They opposed having their land annexed to Canada without consulting them, and they rebelled under the leadership of someone named Louis Riel. They kept their independence for eight or nine months – the time it took for Canada to send troops from the east to put down this rebellion. In my timeline, in 1870, Dominion of Oregon is unable to send troops from the Pacific Ocean through the Rocky Mountains and across the Prairies to put down this rebellion. As a result, Riel’s rebellion is successful. The southeastern corner of Manitoba becomes an independent principality, and Riel becomes “Prince Louis I.”

My novel is a detective story set in 1940 of my alternate timeline. I decided to focus on what I thought the world would look like in 1940 rather than to discuss the details of the timeline. This is because I was afraid my book would sound too much like a history textbook if I spelled out the details of the timeline.


Abr 3, 2023, 8:45 am

>10 SteveRhinelander: This is really interesting - and goes to show the amount of effort a writer might put in behind the scenes, as it were, to create a believable world and keep the plot consistent.

Abr 17, 2023, 1:03 pm

>10 SteveRhinelander:
This is absolutely cool, and seems very plausible. The Metis people weren't just in Manitoba, they were spread all cross the plains. The big problem they had in getting any kind of political respect was the fact that a) the were part native, and b) they were so spread out. (The last time I visited my mother she was reading a book about the Metis in Alberta.) Any administration trying to get troops from the west coast across the plains to stop Louis Riel would have had a very difficult time of it. :)


My timeline branching off in Europe led to some pretty big changes to the Americas, but they were almost the opposite of yours. France ended up so involved in what was going on in Europe in the 1500-1600s that they didn't directly involve themselves as much in the early settlement of North America. Instead they got heavily into the business of selling prisoners as indentured servants (slaves, essentially,) to work the British-owned plantations. (This was done in our timeline too, but to a smaller degree.) As a result there was no Quebec. Instead, the settlers in that part of the world were principally Germanic/Dutch, and in keeping with different settlement styles in our timeline, they didn't integrate with the native population like the French traders had, so no Metis, either. Later political upheavals in France led to France getting a late but firm holding in Louisiana and the Caribbean, which basically became the place where the French Loyalists/Nobility fled, when France became a republic.

I also have the US North and South becoming two different countries. My excuse for this is the fact that there is an entirely different king on the throne in England, and he is more sympathetic to the colonist viewpoint. So there was no revolutionary war, instead there was a smaller scuffle later leading to only half of the colonies splitting off from the British Empire.

But very little of this stuff gets into any of my stories, either.

In the first story I set in the world, all the reader knows is that France and Portugal have teamed up to invade England, in about 1650-ish. And that the British royal family isn't the same as in our timeline. In the one I hope to tell set alternate-Ohio over a hundred years later all the readers are likely to find out is that recent political upheavals out east have unfortunately created a temporary legal-enforcement void in the area, so unregulated traders and white settlers have been moving into the area, and that is causing tensions between them and the native people.

(My hero was involved with my world's version of the Lewis and Clark expedition, as part of his back story. He was one of their guides!) :)

But since my stories have, so far been set further back in time than yours, they will inevitably feel a little more "history book"-ish.

What happens with the World Wars in your timeline?

Abr 17, 2023, 1:20 pm

>11 ThomasNorford: "goes to show the amount of effort a writer might put in behind the scenes, as it were"

I recently heard someone saying a famous author (Hemingway, maybe?) has said something about how what the reader sees is the part of the iceberg that sticks out of the water, but that the author needs to know the entire bulk of the iceburg lurking underneath in order to be able to show that small bit up top properly. :)

Although I'm not 100% sure it was Hemingway, what I did particularly take note of, was that it wasn't a fantasy/sf author that said it. Even when you are writing in a recognizable world that everyone knows about already, you still need to put time and attention into the stuff behind the curtain.

But maybe I should take this thought to a different thread.

Maio 6, 2023, 8:46 am


I am sorry to take so long to write back. I have an author event in a few days, and I have been busy preparing for that.

I like your analogy to icebergs that may or may not have been originally by Hemingway. It is consistent with my writing experience. In addition to feeling that I needed to spell out the timeline for my novel early in the drafting process, I also needed to write little biographies for all my main characters. I had trouble writing about my characters before I got to know them a little better.

You asked about the World Wars in my timeline. My Quebec remained neutral during World War I. I when I was researching real Canadian history, I learned that most people in Quebec were opposed to participating in World War I, or more specifically, opposed to a draft. They saw the war as an exclusively European issue, and they did not want Quebecois kids to get killed in someone else’s fight. I assumed that my Quebec would also oppose participating in the war. However, in my timeline, there is a small handful of Quebecois volunteers, similar to the U.S. people who volunteered prior to the official American declaration of war in 1917.

I haven’t figured out what happens in my timeline in World War II. My book is set in 1940, just after the start of World War II, and I have not taken time to think about what will happen in my timeline after my story is over. I am working on a sequel, which is also set in 1940. If I ever finish that book, and if I try to write a third book, I think I would want it to take place after the end of the war. So, I might have to map out a post-war timeline eventually, but I do not plan to do that anytime soon.