Best Alternate History Books
The nature of this list will polarize and divide nerds everywhere. Alternate history (or alternative history, for the grammar geeks reading this), is a genre of stories where history has changed from the actual course of the real world’s history. This genre intersects with historical fiction, hard science fiction, soft science fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, and dystopian fiction, to name a few other genres.
The most popular contemporary intersection is with the science fiction genre, using devices like time travel and time splitting. However, alternate history is considered by experts in the field to be categorized as science-fiction without the use of hard sci-fi or technology. Outrage! Scandal! your nerdy little hearts cry. We need to remember that soft sci-fi is as valid a genre as hard sci-fi, as our Top 25 Dystopian Science Fiction Novels list explained. Hell, I read an article where someone even had the nerve to suggest that sci-fi wasn’t even a genre, it was just a list of common tropes you could bunch books together by. Onwards with our list… and the nerd outrage!
You can view the crowd-ranked version of this list and vote on the entries at the bottom of this page.
Who else deserves prime spot on this list, but the greatest science-fiction Dick there is? None other than Phillip K provided the world with one of the most famous science fiction alternate history novels, winning a Hugo Award in 1963 and being translated into many languages, showing Dick’s universal appeal. The book is one of the prime influences of alternate history genre, and has even been called “genre defining”.
Life in this novel is a totalitarian, fascist imperial world. World War 2 extended to 1947 and was won by the Axis powers (Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy and Nazi German). The story is set 15 years after the War’s end, and one of the main plot elements is centered on a pre-emptive Nazi nuclear strike against the Japanese Home Islands. The Nazis develop extremely quick air travel and colonize the moon, Venus, and Mars. The novel begins with Hitler’s successor, Fuhrer Bormann dying (Hitler dies of syphilis in this world), after draining the Mediterranean Sea and converting it to farmland. Joseph Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, and Herman Goring battle to become the new Reichskanzler (Imperial Chancellor).
The novel deals with themes of the interpretation and confusion of true and false realities, justice, cultural inferiority and identity, and the effects of fascism and racism on culture. If you consider yourself a serious “DickHead” then get this book on your reading list immediately.
American Empire: The Victorious Opposition by Harry Turtledove; K is for Killing by Daniel Easterman.
Check out the following crowd-ranked lists which contain Man In The High Castle
Best Alternate History Books
Alternate History Science Fiction
Political Science Fiction Books
Retro Futurism Science Fiction Books
Ever wondered what the world would have been like if the Black Death killed 99% of Europe’s population instead of a third? No? Really? Okay. I must admit I hadn’t either, but Robinson writes an intelligent and engaging story, written in vibrant detail, evoking a realism that other speculative novels lack.
The story spans approximately 700 years, from the army of the Muslim conqueror Timur, to the 21st century. China and Dar-al-Islam (the conglomeration of Muslim nations) are the main global powers, with a progressive Indian League and a confederation of the Hodenosaunee (Native Americans) fighting against Chinese and Muslim invaders, causing a 67 year long war. The novel is made up of ten parts that take place in different times and places, but are connected by characters who are reincarnated into each time. After their deaths, the characters meet in a sort of limbo world called “bardo”. This is a really snazzy way of tying the plot streams together, without doing a George R Martin and dwelling on Every. Single. Point. (Hello, Book One of Game of Thrones).
Why does this novel get second place on this list? Aside from its deft exploration of historical, religious and social themes, it was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and it won the Locus, Hugo, and British Science Fiction Awards in 2003. That’s quite the swag (and I mean that in the real sense of swag, not that daft Gen-Y terminology that makes me want to stab my eyeballs out every time I read it)!
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester.
Everyone thinks I'm a genius.
Everyone is wrong.
Sure, I finished Harvard at eighteen and now make crazy money at a hedge fund. But that's not because I'm unusually smart or hard-working.
It's because I cheat.
You see, I have a unique ability. I can go outside time into my own personal version of reality—the place I call “the Quiet”--where I can explore my surroundings while the rest of the world stands still.
I thought I was the only one who could do this--until I met her.
My name is Darren, and this is how I became entangled with all the Russians and learned that I'm a Reader.
This popular alternate history novel is high-fucking-larious. Aside from the numerous reasons below, that is the top reason why this novel has come in at number three, and why you should read it. You don’t need to be Jewish to enjoy Chabon’s creative use of the Yiddish language.
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is part detective story, part alternate history. A temporary settlement for Jewish refugees is set up in Alaska in 1941, and Israel is destroyed in 1948. The novel is set in Sitka, which has a large, Yiddish speaking city. The divergence point from actual history is the death of Anthony Dimon, the Alaskan Territory delegate to the U.S. Congress (Dimond was one of the congressmen responsible for preventing a vote on the Slattery report, tabling a request for the Alaska refugee camp). As a result, two million Jews are killed during the Holocaust instead of the six million in reality.
The novel follows Meyer Landsman, an alcoholic homicide detective in Sitka investigating the murder of a man in the hotel where Meyer lives. Beside the corpse is one cryptic clue – an unfinished chess game. Meyer’s partner helps him investigate the murder, and on filing their report, they discover Meyer’s ex-wife is now the head of their unit. A complex, hardboiled, and intelligent plot follows. I won’t ruin the twists and the end with spoilers, as this one is too good not to read.
My praise aside, the Yiddish Policemen’s Union won the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo Science Fiction Awards, was shortlisted for the British Science Fiction and Edgar Allan Poe Awards, and won the 2007 Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History Novel.
(There really is nothing like this novel, so I’ve opted to recommend something of the hard boiled sci-fi variety) The City and The City by China Mieville.
How many top novels actually let their readers have input in their content? The original novel was Flint’s stand-alone genius, but since the original 1632, this series has become a collaborative effort with readers and established authors alike. Die-hard fans are encouraged to contribute to the series through Baen’s Bar, an online message board, and the entire Grantville Gazette (a semi-pro ‘zine, edited by Flint of paid fan written works) and have directly contributed material to the main novels in this series.
The entire Ring of Fire Series by David Flint and collaborative authors.
In our top 25 dystopian list, we called him the King of Cyberpunk. In this delicious alternate history, steam punk offering, Gibson teams up with Bruce Sterling to serve up a Victorian Britain where Charles Babbage succeeds in building a mechanical computer, driving enormous technological and social change.
In mid 19th century, Britain is simultaneously going through both the Industrial and Information Revolutions. The novel diverges from actual history around 1824, when Babbage builds his Difference Engine and develops the Analytical Engine. The Industrial Radical Party came into power, and by 1855, the Babbage computers were mass produced. Great Britain is more powerful than in reality, classical studies are less important than engineering and accountancy, and Britain, rather than the U.S. opened Japan to western trade. The novel deals with the themes of consequences of a technologically advanced society in the 19th century. Hacker nerds will enjoy the references to technologically savvy individuals as “clackers”. All of the novel’s characters are either real people, or borrowed from literature. My favorite inclusion is of the 19th century female mathematician Ada Lovelace. Like everything Gibson touches, the detail is spectacular and throws you into the Victorian era experience.
Need more reasons to read this book? It comes in at number 5 with the Nebula, British Science Fiction, John W. Campbell Memorial, and Prix Aurora Awards. It also has talks about dinosaurs and Victorian Sex. You didn’t misread that – dinosaurs and Victorian era sex.
The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Fillipo; Mainspring by Jay Lake
Check out the following crowd-ranked lists which contain Difference Engine
Best Alternate History Books
Retro Futurism Science Fiction Books
Alternate History Science Fiction
When I imagine Two Hawks, I visualize him as a Cherokee Indiana Jones (the Raiders/Temple/Last Crusade Indy, not that Crystal Skull tripe, thank you very much.) At other times, I picture him kinda like The Rock. Because, you know, it’s my fantasy and WHO SAYS I HAVE TO CHOOSE? There’s something about Two Hawks that women will find sexy, and men will find admirable. He’s a rugged explorer, with a sharp intellect and education behind him, and a natural inclination and adaptability to his surroundings.
The plot begins in the thick of World War 2. Native American bomber pilot Roger Two Hawks is off course on a mission to bomb the Ploesti oil fields, and has a mid-air collision with a German plane. He and Pat O’Brien (the turret gunner) are the only people to open their parachutes, and they bail out over enemy territory to find themselves on an alternative planet Earth. A different war is occurring on this Earth, with primitive technology even by World War 2 standards. The native people speak a style of Iroquois language. The American continents never rose, and American Indian ancestors remained in Asia and Europe. With a convenient plot device will make snobs laugh, Hawks is a sci-fi fan and has figured out he’s in a parallel history. The story becomes Two Hawks quest to live in this alternate earth, and find a way back home. And what sort of story would it be without a love interest?
Another reason why you should read Farmer’s novel: This author once inspired Jimi Hendrix to write “Purple Haze”.
The Cell, by Stephen King, Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Throw away your hallucinogens (or don’t, but I’m not going to suggest you do anything illegal here), because Lest Darkness Fall is one of those science fiction novels that begins with a dreamy, surreal quality to it that makes you feel like you’re on drugs.
American archaeologist Martin Padway visits the Pantheon in Rome in 1938. A crack of lightning, and a thunderstorm takes him to Rome, 525AD. Padway wonders if he’s dreaming or delusional, but is resigned to his new life. Padway decides to make a copper still and sell brandy for a living, convincing a banker, Thomasus to assist with this venture. Padway then ventures into the communications industry, developing a printing press, publishing newspapers and building a telegraph system. When Italy is invaded by the Imperials and threatened by other influences, he becomes involved in Italian state politics, using strategic military tactics never used in the ancient world. By the end of the novel, Padway has stabilized the Italo-Gothic kingdom, established a constitution, and ends serfdom. Thanks to Padway, Europe never suffers the Dark Ages.
An alternate history sci-fi novel written in 1939, this book is considered one of the prime, influential examples of this genre, shaping the form of the subgenre that it still retains over 70 years later. Even Harry Turtledove, the prolific alternate history writer (who controversially isn’t on this list because of his two dimensional characters and blinkered focus on war), has said it sparked his interest in writing in this genre. Aside from being influential, contemporary readers all comment on how amusing the writing is. My personal favorite element is how the female characters aren’t moronic stereotypes, which is unusual for a book written in the 1930s.
1635: The Papal Stakes (Ring of Fire)by Charles E. Gannon.
Imagine Stargate if it was set in the 80s sans MacGyver Richard Dean Anderson, and you’ve got The Coming of the Quantum Cats. Originally an Analog Sccience Fiction magazine series, the title is a reference to Schrodinger’s Cat, where the outcome of a real world event depends on a quantum event. The story is influence by the interpretation of quantum mechanics where all possible outcomes of an event occur in parallel universes. Layman’s explanation: remember that intolerable Ashton Kutcher movie the Butterfly Effect? That, just less depressing, and less annoying.
The Coming of Quantum Cats is based on invasions from alternate Earths in alternate universes, that all have some element in common. Some of the worlds are horrific, most are barely tolerable, and one is perfect. In one universe Nancy Reagan is the president, in another politics is on the far right spectrum in America, in some worlds Stalin set himself up as an American capitalist. The book follows different versions of the same three characters – Dominic DeSota, Myla Christophe, and Larry Douglas, and the central theme seems to be the nature versus nurture debate, showing that an individual is shaped by social conditions, rather than what is in their genes. This novel shows the reader that people with the same heritage, depending on the way they are brought up and their social influences, can develop into completely different characters.
This novel should be compulsory reading for anyone who is a fan of science fiction or alternative history, or anyone who wants to understand the affect of socialization on humans. It will really fuck with your sense of reality and having you question the decisions you make and the outcomes they have created.
The One True Platonic Heaven by John L. Casti; The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
Do you ever wonder what our world would have been like if Germany won World War 2? Would the hipsters all sport Hitler mustaches instead of beards? Would we call each other arschloch instead of asshole? Would we have incredibly strange, tangental senses of humor, rather than humor based on sarcasm?
Fatherland is a bestseller detective cross alternate history novel, where Nazi German won World War 2. Detective Xavier March works for the Kripo, investigating the suspicious demise of Josef Buhler, a high ranking Nazi. The death is attached to a political scandal involving senior Nazi officials who are being murdered. The Gestapo claims jurisdiction and orders the Kripo to close its investigation. With the help of Charlie Maguire (a female American journo), March uncovers the truth behind the murders – the Gestapo is eliminating those behind the Holocaust (in this timeline, the German people are not generally aware of the Holocaust) so that Nazi crimes are not revealed. Maguire heads to Switzerland to expose the evidence, and March is exposed by his ten year old son and taken and tortured by the Gestapo.
One of the most interesting questions this book raises, is how you would act in the same position. As a reasonable person, would you get wrapped up in evil behavior and actions, because it’s the done thing?
The novel was an immediate bestseller in the UK. It has sold over three million copies and has been translated into 25 languages.
The Summer Isles by Ian R. Macleod.
I wonder if inserting an M in between my first name and surname will magically turn me into a top science-fiction writer like Iain Banks. (Really, he writes non science fiction novels without the “M”!)
The world has infinite parallel worlds with a range of dystopian and utopian settings. The novel is set between the time of the Berlin Wall being destroyed, and the 2008 financial crisis. A dark and suspicious organization “The Concern” intervenes in events to create outcomes that The Concern views as socially beneficial for that specific world. The head of The Concern is the ruthless and highly sexual Madame d’Ortolan. Her star agent is Temudjin Oh, an un-killable assassin “flits” between the peaks of Nepal, a version of Victorian London and Venice. Flitting occurs when a person takes a mysterious drug called “septus”, and when an agent flits into another world, they take control of the body of an existing inhabitant, kind of like Agent Smith in The Matrix, and take up that body’s own characteristics, like sexual preferences and mental health issues. On the side of the good people, there’s Mrs Mulverhill who recruits rebels, and Patient 8262 hiding in a forgotten hospital ward.
Between the sexy Madame d’Ortolan, and Adrian (a city trader in a very normal, real Earth) snorting cocaine and referring to women as “bints” (got to love the English slang), I’m starting to wonder why I’ve only given this novel the number 10 placing. Why you should read this book – because critics can’t agree whether it’s a piece of literary genius, or a steaming pile of crap. You decide for yourself!
Brasyl by Ian McDonald
Imagine the world as an alternate 1985, where Whitney Houston’s ubiquitous voice, those eyeball-raping neon colors, leg warmers, Kirk Cameron’s ubiquitous face didn’t exist. Actually, anything would have been better than real life 1985. But I’m happy to embrace Jasper Fforde’s vision of an alternate 1985, where literary detective Thursday Next (see, even the names are far more awesome than Stacey, Cindy, Brandon, and Zach) follows a criminal through Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.
England and Imperial Russia fought the Crimean War for over a century, and England is a plice state run by a weapon production company called the Goliath Corporation. In the novel, Jane Eyre ends with Jane going with her cousin, St John Rivers, to India for missionary work. Literary debates end in gang wards and murder. Thursday Next investigates the theft of a Charles Dickens manuscript by Acheron Hades. Thursday is injured during a steak out to stop Acheron, only saved by a copy of Jane Eyre that stops his bullet. She is helped on the scene by a good Samaritan who leaves a monogrammed handkerchief and a jacket behind. These items are the same ones that Rochester, a character from Jane Eyre. This is the part where it gets even trippier - Thursday knows this, because she entered the book as a child. And just when you tell yourself you’re not hallucinating, Thursday’s future self instructs her take a job in her hometown, where her uncle has created the “Prose Portal”, which allows people to enter works of fiction. Telling any more of the plot would ruin this delightfully surreal, literary journey.
Wall Street Journal described it as a mix of Monty Python, Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you enjoy absurd, comedic writers like Lewis Carroll and Douglas Adams, you need to read this novel.
What happens when the great United States fails to provide assistance? Disputes are negotiated peacefully, and everyone kisses and makes up, with a nice cup ‘o tea, as is the English way. Farthing is set in 1949, but the divergence from actual history occurs in 1940, when the U.S. didn’t provide aid to Britain. Without U.S. support, Britain’s peace negotiations were accepted by Nazi Germany, the U.K. withdrew from World War 2, and the U.S. never became involved. World War 2 continued between Germany and the Soviet Union.
Sir James Thirke, a popular minister, is murdered at a weekend party at Farthing House, found with a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Obviously, blame is pointed at David Kahn, the only Jewish person in the party. Luckily for Kahn, Inspector Carmichael (who has his own secre) suspects this is a ruse to divert attention from the real murderer, particularly given Thirke was having an affair with his sister in law, and his pregnant wife seems to know something was up. In an Agatha Christie style move, Carmichael insists the guests stay at the house. Evidence is found of members of “the Farthing Set”, and underground Jewish organization bent on killing Thirke, and one of the guests/suspects is announced as Prime Minister. The novel is written in two view points, and rather than being jarring, it’s an effective, engaging device to explore the themes of fascism, class, families, relationships, and sex.
If you enjoy murder mysteries and novels full of twists and turns that will keep the reader on their toes, then put this on your reading list. It was nominated for Benula, Quill, John W. Campbell Memorial, Locus and Sidewise Awards.
Ha’penny the sequel to Farthing, released by Tor Books in October 2007, Half a Crown, the third novel in the series, released by Tor Books in September 2009
Holy Shit. That was my first thought, and rather apt thought, when I read this novel and realized what “the alteration” referred to. I sure as hell wasn’t expecting that. And hell may be the appropriate word for this parallel universe where the Reformation didn’t take place.
The Main in the High Castle, The Plot Against America
The novel causing reddit conspiracy theorist posters to have a permanent hard-on is much more than a nutter’s dream. It may be paranoid, the idea of a fascist U.S. government suspending civil liberties and persecuting minorities. Wait. Scratch that. That’s not paranoid at all. Let’s call that reality.
The Plot Against America is an alternate history novel that reveals a sharp insight into the darker side of western conservative political administrations. Roosevelt is defeated in the 1940 presidential election by Charles Lindbergh, and anti-semitism is an accepted part of America. The novel tells the story of the Roth family living in Newark, who are persecuted in different ways, and focuses on the young Roth boy, watching him through what seems like a very normal, very American day to day existence, with an ugly, seething undertone boiling away beneath the surface. Different events accumulate, threatening to tear the Roth family apart, and destroy the young Phillip Roth.
Though the imagery of Jewish persecution is ugly, Roth’s prose and his execution of these ideas is beautiful. He immerses the reader in a sensually exquisite experience - aurally, orally, visually, and olfactorily. There were times while I read this thought I thought even though it was alternate history, or a dystopian world, it could also be classed as a memoir, or creative non-fiction, in some ways.
The novel won the 2004 Sidewise Award for Alternate History and was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award
Dining on Stones by Iain Sinclair
Do you ever wonder, sometimes, if Vladimir Nabokov had problems with women? I mean, not that Lolita or this piece about sibling incest necessarily reflects on his own relationships… but it does make you wonder.
Ava is set in the late 19th century in an alternate history. Earth is called Aniterra, and there is the belief (a religious or mass hallucination belief) in a twin world, called “Terra”, historically identical to Earth as we know it. On Aniterra, United States includes all of the Americas and was settled extensively by Russians. North Americans use Russian, English, and French. Russia, Europe, Africa, and most of Asia are part of an empire called Tartary The British Empire. Electricity has been banned following an event called "the L-disaster", but some of the technology is as advanced as 20th century technology, like aeroplanes and cars, and they use water powered telephones and television.
Van Veen and Ada meet when he is 14 and she is nearly 12, thinking they are cousins, and begin a sexual affair. I must admit to wondering at this point if there was something wrong with the picture. Think you’ve wrapped your head around this bizarre relationship? Let me make it more bizarre – they’re actually brother and sister. The story treads the tale of their love affair over the years and the hardships it suffers. They are both wealthy and intelligent people. Van becomes a famous psychologist – one of his specialties being research and work with people who hallucinate about Terra.
Why is this book number 15 on this list? On one hand this novel is a beautiful piece of writing, gorgeous prose, witty jokes about historical figures. On the other, it’s a trashy novel about the sex lives of wealthy, annoying, lazy aristocrats. If popular culture of the current day is anything to show, it’s that humans really enjoy reading about the sex lives of the rich and glamorous.
The American Years by Vladimir Nabokov
I thought I was all out of Hitler jokes, until The Iron Dream came along, and offered up an alternate history Hitler who, instead of being the Fuhrer as we know it, actually wrote smutty, fascist science-fiction. Imagine what the movie versions of those would have looked like. Landing strip jokes aside, this alternate history World War 2 novel is a fierce deconstruction of the darker elements of hard science-fiction, and forces us to look at whether familiar tropes are actually fascist.
Set in 1972, the novel is a story within a story. The alternate history Adolf Hitler (who emigrated from Germany to America in 1919 after the Great War and dabbling in politics) is a successful writer, churning out sexy, science fiction adventures. Adolf writes a pulp, post-apocalypse sci-fi novel called Lord of the Swastika – a pro fascist narrative – and dies from a brain hemorrhage shortly after. The novel wins the alternate history Hugo Award. Academics tell us that Spinrad was illustrating how Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, and much science fiction have similarities with Nazi Germany.
Back to reality, and The Iron Dream was nominated for a Nebula Award and a Prix Tour-Apollo Award. In an ironic move, the Bundesprufstelle fur jugendgefahrdende Medien (and try saying that when you’re drunk), the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons, banned the book for its alleged promotion of Nazism. The American Nazi Party put the novel on its recommended reading list. Thankfully, most readers get the satirical point of the story!
In a strange twist of the real world, an English author has re-written American history, but without implying the Americans screwed something up and history would have been better without America’s interference. That's seriously fucked up in this day and age where it's popular even required to critique the evils of past and current American military/political choices.
Voyage is a (very) hard science-fiction novel written about a history where JFK survived his 1963 assassination, but was crippled. Instead of the space shuttle program in real history, Nixon commits the United States to send a manned mission to Mars. Apollo 13 runs as it does in real history, but Nixon cancels all future Apollo missions, except for Apollo 14. Nixon then authorizes Ares, the manned space operation. The first manned flight goes horribly wrong when the NERVA nuclear engine explodes, and the astronauts die of radiation exposure.
This story is told in flashbacks during that mission about the lives of the astronauts and NASA personnel, their relationships, internal NASA politics, and the development of the NERVA nuclear booster stage. Many events are told from the view point of the first American female astronaut, Natalie York, a civilian scientist, aboard the Ares flight to Mars, and the reader gets the glimpse of some cynicism towards the manned space program.
Voyage was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and won the 1996 Sidewise Award. It was also made into a radio series for BBC radio.
moonrise by Ben Bova; Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson.
If you’re a fantasy, Game of Thrones, or superhero fan, this George R Martin series science fiction/super hero anthology should be on your reading list. Actually, I would go so far as to say that Wild Cards shits all over Songs of Fire and Ice, and if you want to read good speculative fiction, you’re missing out if you don’t get into this series.
This series was created by a group of New Mexico science fiction writers, but is organized and edited by George R Martin, who is also one of the series writers. The series began in 1987 and is still running, its current publisher being Tor Books.
In an alternate post World War 2 Earth, an alien virus that rewrites human DNA is accidentally unleashed in 1946, killing 90% of the world’s population, mutating 9%, and giving the rest superpowers. Some of the superpowers are useless, like the ability to grow body hair. The series has more of a “real life” feel to it, missing the secret identities most super heroes have. The world is similar to ours with real history figures like Richard Nixon and Buddy Holly (who doesn’t die in a plane crash and does Prince covers) similar popular culture, but it alters baseball history. Best change to history? Werewolf Mick Jagger.
And get in quick, because news is that SyFy films just bought the rights to this series.
Stephen King’s science fiction work is proof that he really did stop sucking. Running Man, The Cell, and 11/22/63 are some of the best novels I’ve ever read, and honestly make me wonder why King bothers with horror. This time travel alternate history novel was researched extensively by King, given a really accurate and historical feel to the events of 1958 and 1963, the time 11/22/63 is set in.
A high school English teacher (in a trademark King move of giving his protagonists his own characteristics – King was also an English high school teacher) is summonsed by a local diner owner, Al, who seems to have aged and become terminally ill in less than 24 hours. Al shows Jake a time portal at the back of the diner, which leads to September 9, 1958, and tells him it’s possible to change history, but a reset, happens on the return trip to 1958 which voids the change. Al is obsessed with preventing JFK’s assassination and hatches a detailed plan, but the past resists change. He develops lung cancer and begs Jake to finish his mission. Jake goes back in time, preparing to foil Oswald, and unleashes a chain of events that changes the past, and his present. After changing the past, he discovers that there are numerous portals, and that changing the past doesn’t erase the past, it just creates another time thread. More changes mean more threads, and a more unstable reality. When Jake returns to 2011, it has become a lawless dystopia, where the Civil Rights Act 1964 was never passed.
The novel became an immediate number one best seller, and won the 2011 LA Times Book Prize, the 2012 International Thriller Writers Award, and was nominated for the 2012 British Fantasy and Locus Awards. This is the best King work the past decade, rivaling his greatest works like The Stand. I'm not sure what Stevie has been taking to improve his writing mojo, but whatever it is, please keep on taking it, Steven.
Similar Recommendations: The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen.
Why is it that fundamentalists Christians who don’t believe in things like caffeine and alcohol always have the most fantastic imaginations? Orson Scott Card, everyone’s favorite Mormon (and trust me, I was tempted to leave the “r” out of that word, but I wasn’t sure if everyone would have a sense of humor about it), wrote the Pastwatch series, the first novel in the series focusing on Christopher Columbus, and a group of scientists who travel back to the 15th century to change European contact with the Americas.
In this alternate history, sci-fi, dystopian and utopian novel (wow, he packed a lot of genres into the one story, didn’t he?) Earth’s resources are running out, scientists have developed a machine to watch and record past history. They discover the machine can send information to the past and decide to rewrite history to save humanity. Their focus is Columbus, whose actions led to mass genocide and ecological devastation. Three agents take a one way trip back to the 15th century to change Columbus’ actions, and create a less aggressive timeline. After pacifist intervention by the agents, Columbus returns to Spain, but only for peaceful trade and cultural exchanges. The ramifications of these changes mean this timeline’s 20th century is now a utopia.
Orson Scott Card writes an impressive novel which should be a favorite for anyone who is a history buff, science nerd, or dystopian freak.
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.
Personally, I think Ayn Rand’s novels always deserve a top 25 listing because of their progressive thinking and liberally sexual attitudes. Don’t agree with me? Have fun with your Sunday church, no coffee or booze, and get married at 18. I know which life Rand and I prefer!
There isn’t much that scares me more than current American laws, judicial bodies, and politics, but Ayn Rand’s dystopian alternate history America is up there. Sometimes when I hear about certain states locking up pregnant women in jail cells so they can’t have abortions, I think the world is screwed, but then I think of the amorphous “Head of State” in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, where the judiciary, legislative and executive branches have come together, and I know it could be much worse.
Given Rand’s deliberate omission of a historical context, you may be wondering how this dystopian novel makes itself on to an alternate history novel list. Objectivist commentator, Richard Lawrence, suggested that the alternate history interpretation of the novel was more plausible than the near history interpretation, due to a historical timeline where certain pieces of technology did not exist, like computers and airplane travel. As mentioned in our Top 25 Dystopian Science Fiction Novel List [link URL],Atlas Shrugged details a dystopian America in an alternate history, where society’s most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by taxation and regulations, and go on strike. It shows that a world where people are not free to create is doomed, and that society will collapse when its citizens are slaves to the government.
Crikey mate, Stephen Irwin got killed by a sting ray, Crocodile Dundee, alternate history science-fiction. Ever heard of a top science fiction Australian author? *Crickets chirping* No, me either. Australians almost never make top science-fiction novel lists, so it’s pretty impressive that an Aussie has come up with the most recent, contemporary, science fiction, time travel, military, and alternate history novel of recent times. Birmingham has got a handle on a whole range of genres there, so the Aussies don’t have to worry that they’re only representing one subgenre of science-fiction.
The Axis of Time series is a World War 2 alternate history series by John Birmingham. A technologically advanced navy from 2021 accidentally time travels back to 1942. In Weapons of Choice a radical Islamic movement has waged a jihad against the west. The U.S. launches a counter attack using the Nagoya a secret weapons and stealth system, using quantum physics. The Nagoya tests its systems, but accidentally tears a rift in the space-time continuum, destroying the Nagoya and sending the fleet back to 1942, right into a fleet battle between the Americans and the Japanese. The Americans mistake them for the enemy and turn fire on them. They realize their mistake, hold a truce, and study the new technology available to them. Some of the fleet falls into the hands of the Japanese, Germans and Soviets. After capturing an Indonesian ship from the 2012 fleet, the Japanese realize that the Americans are aware of their battle plans. Admiral Yamamoto turns his fleet around and the Battle of Midway never takes place. The Germans also abandon their plans to invade Russia, and Hitler and Stalin become allies.
So get this Aussie goodness into you. It’s technologically, it rewrites history in a unique way and it’s riveting and with the right dose of violence.
World War 2.2: Designated Targets; World War 2.3: Final Impact (2007) Word War 2.4: Stalin's Hammer: Rome.
The cool thing about McAuley’s hard science fiction, spanning biotechnology, alternate history and time travel, is that he’s actually a posh botanist with a lovely accent, not a Sheldon Cooper style nerd, as you’d really imagine him.
He gives us the old fashioned version of steampunk, in an Industrial Revolutionist Italy. The city is drowned in polluted, tainted rain, and infested with dirty air from its factories. Leonardo da Vinci’s steam turbine era, a metropolis Florence, sets the scene. Artists wars, the de’ Medicis still scheme. The apprentice, Pasquel, sets out to solve a mysterious murder, where Da Vinci’s flying device lies near the body. It turns out; the flying machine is wanted by the Spaniards, who will stop at nothing to gain this technology.
The characters are rich and well-drawn, the plot appeals on a science fiction, steam punk, and alternate history level, and the technology fascinates. Love history or murder detective stories? Then you’ll love this novel, too. When you finish this novel, you’ll be asking yourself why you didn’t start it sooner. It’s also the 1995 Sidewise Award winner.
The Book of General Ignorance by John Mitchinson.
We all know Stephen Fry is the amusing, articulate comedian. But inside that tart wit is a spectacular speculative fiction. In 1998’s Sidewise Award Winner, this story of Michael “Puppy” young revolves around a student completing his PHD on the relationship between Hitler and his mother. Puppy meets Leo Zukerman, a physicist who was the son of a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz. Zuckerman builds a machine that can send items to the past, and send a male contraceptive pill back to the past so that Hitler’s father drinks it and becomes infertile. Returning to the present with an English accent, when it turns out he should have had an American accent, Puppy discovers the history of his current time. Though Hitler never came to fruit (hehe), Rudolph Gloder became the Nazi leader, just as nasty and farm more charismatic. Far more successful than Hitler, due to strategic moves, the Nazis gain dominance in Europe, and engage in combat against the U.S. The U.S. remains incredibly conservative, and when Puppy talks to his gay best friend about our real world, he wonders at the gay pride and equality (as it seems). At this time, Michael realizes he is gay, too.
Revealing our end will reveal too much, but there is happiness in the bleak dystopian world we are presented with. This book reveals the powerful emotion that Fry has the ability to display, and it shows us a disgusting dystopia that our world could have been. If you’re a heterosexual person, and care about people whose lives are different to yours, this novel is a must read.
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
As if alternate histories weren’t confusing enough, The Separation wants to further test its readers’ intelligence by giving the readers a story about twin brothers during World War 2 who have identical initials, Jack and Joe Sawyer. Jack is a pilot, and Joe is an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, using one of Priest’s most familiar techniques, that of the unreliable narrator. The brothers are divided by their need to be treated as individuals (not just twins, they won a rowing medal for Britain in the Berlin Olympics, presented by Rudlof Hess), but by their very belief system. Despite this need for distinct identities, they’re always linked, both suffering similar injuries, the story marked by similarities and contradictions.
The Separation is a beautifully written story, rich in detail, and impressively researched. Though the text is memorable, it becomes almost chaotically confusing, and as such leaves the reader with a distinct memory of the piece.
The Separation also won the 2002 British Science Fiction Award and the 2003 Arthur C. Clarke Award. It was a finalist for the 2002 Sidewise and 2003 John W Campbell Awards. Priest has said to have been influenced by H.G. Wells in writing this novel, and is the Vice President of the H.G. Wells Society.
Drowning Towers by George Turner.
The Charles Stross Merchant Prince Series (The Family Trade, The Hidden Family, and The Clan Corporate)
The World War Series by Harry Turtledove
The Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins.
Man in the High Castle (Phillip K. Dick)
The Years of Rice and Salt (Kim Stanley Robinson)
The Yiddish Policemen's Union (Michael Chabon)
1632 (Eric Flint)
The Difference Engine (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling)
Gate of Time (Philip Jose Farmer)
Lest Darkness Fall (L. Sprague de Camp)
The Coming of the Quantum Cats (Frederik Pohl)
Fatherland (Robert Harris)
Transition (Iain M. Banks)
The Eyre Affair (Jasper Fforde)
Farthing (Jo Walton)
The Alteration (Kingsley Amis)
The Plot Against America (Phillip Roth)
Ada or Ardor (Vladimir Nabokov)
The Iron Dream (Norman Spinrad)
Voyage (Stephen Baxter)
Wild Cards (George R. Martin)
11/22/63 (Stephen King)
The Redemption of Christopher Columbus(Orson Card )
Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
Weapons of Choice (John Birmingham)
Pasquale's Angel (Paul J. McAuley)
Making History (Stephen Fry)
The Separation (Christopher Priest