Re: An Introduction to Alternative History

I was recently an author guest at Marscon in Williamsburg, VA, and I was honored to speak on five panels during the convention. The conversations were engaging and I thought I’d continue them here!


Our first topic is “An Introduction to Alternative History.” I learned quickly that maybe my definition of this genre doesn’t quite match others’, and that’s ok! To me, “Hollow Thunder” and “The Loyalty of Dew” absolutely fit into the genre of alternative history because they are inspired by and drawn on real world, historical details like settings, people, and events. However, I’ve changed all the names, rearranged the timelines, and dropped in a few shapeshifters and a psychic as good measure. Maybe my novels are more “alternative” than “history,” but who’s to say there’s a sliding bar of percentage that proves their worth?


One of my fellow panelists argued that alternative history should be fully historically true, up to the “What if” question or the one critical detail that you change as an author. Your story is then the answer to the question, or the continuation of the tale from the changed detail. Let’s say the British defeated the rebels in the American Revolution. What then? This, she said, was alternative history….and I responded, so I’ve done that, just with a slightly broader scale.


We agreed to disagree, and I think that’s important.


A genre such as this will have disagreeing opinions as to its polished definition. It is important to assign your story under someone else’s definition only when you are seeking that person as an editor, a publisher, or a trade professional reviewer. Either that, or make certain your definition is strong enough to stand on its own under scrutiny.

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