Saturday, June 25, 2016

That is NOT the British Empire

I've seen another alternate history map shared around the Internet in response to Brexit...but for absolutely the wrong reasons. Learn what I am talking about below:

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger for Amazing Stories, a volunteer interviewer for SFFWorld and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judge. When not exploring alternate timelines he enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitterTumblr and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

No more tears: History finds a place to let its hair down in the alternative universe

Guest post by JoAnn Spears.
I started reading Tudor historical fiction at the age of twelve, back in the early 1970s; I read everything about Henry VIII’s six wives that I could get my hands on.  I made my way from Jean Plaidy to Norah Lofts to Margaret Campbell Barnes to Margaret George and back again, and more.  I was enthralled by the drama and tragedy that I read, over and over again.  By the 1990s, however, I was burnt out on the harrowing canon of Tudor fiction.  I’d sighed all the sighs I had for the famous sextet, and cried all the tears.  I was done.

All that reading taught me a lot about Tudor legend and lore.  To be sure, I got it about Katherine of Aragon’s consummation and religious dilemmas, the Anne Boleyn vixen versus victim conundrum, and how poor Jane Seymour couldn’t possibly be as boring as she seemed, or could she.  I got that Ann of Cleves might have rocked rejection, that lightweights like Catherine Howard have feelings too, and that even for smart girls, hormones eventually will out, as they did so tragically for Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr.  By the time Hilary Mantel and Philippa Gregory came along, I just didn’t have it in me to read another piece of Tudor fiction.  I might never know what I was missing, but there it was.

I embarked on a decade or so of Tudor non-fiction history reading after this.  I wanted to sort out the big questions, the ones that couldn’t possibly be as ‘surface’ as they seemed, for myself.  I wanted to know who the bitches really were, who the whores really were, just how noble the noble ones were exactly, how wise the fools actually were, and how foolish the wise ones could be.  And of course, there was the ultimate question; who did Henry VIII really, other than himself, love the best?  Surely, the real answers were arcane, and buried deep.   David Starkey, Antonia Fraser, Carolly Erickson, Alison Weir and other awesome historians helped me to find my way to my own understanding of the Tudor era’s six most fascinating spouses.

I concluded, after all that reading, all that emotion, and all that thought, that it probably was pretty ‘surface’ after all.  Katherine of Aragon really was the prototype member of the First Wives Club; Anne Boleyn, whether you were a fan girl or not, was ruthless.  Jane Seymour, whatever her virtues, won the least fascinating award hands-down.  Ann of Cleves was bounced, but bounced back. Catherine Howard, while she certainly had her reasons, slept around, whether you liked to think about it that way or not.  And poor Katherine Parr just couldn’t win for losing, even after four times at bat.

I’ve always found that when you’ve cried all your tears, thought and thought till you were going around in circles, and shot your bolt, so to speak, there is nothing left to do but laugh.  And that is exactly what I decided to do when I dipped my big toe into the pool of Tudor fiction.  It didn’t take me long after that to cannonball into the comedic drink with my first novel, Six of One.
There is no laughing at the stories of Henry VIII’s six wives if you take them straight up.  Betrayal, death, agony, rejection, adultery and abuse are not the stuff of humor.  Alternative history was the only way to create a story about these women in which one could do with them what virtually no other Tudor writer has done:  to laugh with them.

The ‘alternate’ part of alternate history allowed me to fashion stories for each of Henry VIII’s wives that allowed her to, in some way, shape, or form, get over on Henry.  In my fancy, each wife was taken from the victim status designated her by general history, or the dregs of turgid, tragic dignity that could be drummed up for her in fiction, and elevated to last-laugh,’ gotcha’, victor status.  It was heady stuff for a writer.  I laughed with my six favorite historical figures as, together, we gave Henry VIII six metaphorical, commedia dell'arte kicks in the backside.  Along the way we sent each other up, dished, snarked, preened, whined, punned, and, letting bygones be bygones, high-fived each other.  We turned history on its head with a little comedy, a little time travel, lots of girl-power, and a bit of imagination.

The ‘history’ part of alternate history kept me on the straight and narrow.  I made carefully sure that my speculative Tudor flights of fancy were grounded in solid research and, were, if not probable, fully plausible for the average Tudor fan.

Reader reviews tell me that world is pretty sharply divided on the comedic, speculative approach to the story of the Tudors, or perhaps to history in general. People seem to either love it or hate it. Those who love it often use the words ‘laugh out loud’ when talking about Six of One, and that, to me, makes it all worthwhile.  At last, Henry VIII’s wives can give up sobbing and sighing for all eternity, and let their hair down and have some fun.

My experience with Six of One emboldened me to create a sequel, taking on the latter day Tudors and a couple of new Renaissance sacred cows, Kit Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Seven Will Out, as well as Six of One, are available on in paper or electronic format for the Renaissance history fan who is looking for something a little¬–okay, a lot–different.

What do you think about the place of humor in historical and alternative fiction? Is there a historically well-grounded but humorous novel in France’s former first couple coming to terms with Napoleon’s short-man syndrome and Josephine’s ‘hot pants’, in the morass of old-time Papal politics, or in the American Revolution?  What would the heavy-hitters of Yalta or Versailles read like off-the-record and with a few drinks under their belts?  Is the enduring popularity of George McDonald Fraser’s hilarious but historically accurate Flashman series a flash in the pan, or is the public ready for more in the same vein?  What are your thoughts?

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JoAnn Spears is a semi-retired, Master's Prepared RN pursuing a second career/hobby gone wild as an author of speculative historical fiction with a humorous bent.  Her first two books are about the Tudors, and her next book is still a twinkle in her eye.  When not writing, JoAnn is in her flower garden, teaching Yoga in her Methodist church basement, watching old black-and-white movies, cooking, or embroidering reproduction samplers in  the beautiful mountains of Upper East Tennessee.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Guide to Alternate National Names

Guest post by Rebecca Stirling.
Alternate linguistics are hard, quite possibly one of the hardest things to do when making a map or a timeline. You have your map done, your borders ready, but how in the world do you come up with proper names that won’t get the thousands of viewers on the forums infuriated? Even as someone who’s made maps for a year now, it’s still really difficult to think of the proper names needed for an area. Sometimes I find myself asking, “How do these experienced mapmakers come up with such unique names, with such clear reasoning behind them?”. Hopefully, with the tips and resources I’ve laid out here, I can make that process a little bit easier for the both of us.

Step 1 - How Many Butterflies?

In this “tutorial”, I’ll try to demonstrate how to pick good names for towns, colonies, and even entire nations in your alternate history scenario. I’ll mostly be focusing on how to come up with a name for a nation, and how to adapt them colonially. The first thing to think about when making alternate colonies or nations is what your PoD, or Point of Divergence, is. Most people think of their Point of Divergence before they consider all the names of the countries, but others work their way backwards. Either way, you need to make sure that the names that you choose aren’t anachronistic. One of the major flaws from my earlier AH works was that I translated names from OTL (Our Timeline) into another language, or simply kept the names as they were. So, how do we figure out what’s gonna change? If you start diverging events before Columbus (or his equivalent) discovers America, for example, most things in the New World are probably going to be different. The names of the continents probably won’t even be the same! With a 1700’s PoD, things like the US territories and maybe even countries in South America would be completely different (and that’s not even getting into the African and Australian names!). Try to consider that when putting focus on plausible alternate history names.

Step 2 - Finding Resources

Okay cool, so now you know not to be convergent in your names! Hey… speaking of names, when are we going to get to making those? Finding resources for your alternate names is probably the most important part of all this, because without any sources you can’t, well, make the names. When looking up good source material for your place names, you’ll want to find something relevant to the area at hand. Let’s say you want an alternate Inca Empire, but the PoD is in 400 AD. Darn, the term Inca didn’t even exist back then! In such a situation where there’s no real definitive name, you’ll want to use a word from the native language of the area, something that describes the entire region like Tawantinsuyu does. In this case, Quechua probably didn’t evolve to its recorded form until European contact. Sadly, there isn’t much documentation of early Native American languages, so I normally take words from the modern day dictionaries. You’ll want to go to the search engine of your choosing, and type in something along the lines of “[LANGUAGE HERE] words”, or “[LANGUAGE HERE] dictionary”. With “bigger” Native American languages like Quechua, there’ll probably be a few pages that come up with hundreds of words each.

I’ll be giving some resources at the end of the article, feel free to skip to the end anytime if you need to use them.

After a few minutes of searching, I found the Quechua word “wasi”, meaning house/shelter (or an alternative, “wasi-nchis”, meaning “our house”). Sounds like an okay start to an alternate nation! Maybe you can use “chief” as a root, or “nation”. I tend to use words like that when making nations out of the Celts or Germanic tribes. When there’s no major identification for an area, you might need to take a descriptive word from their language and apply it to the culture. Words regarding the environment or climate might even work best, just experiment a little with names that fit well! Obviously, not all nations are named after deserts and homes, so try to pick stuff from your nation’s history to add more to your name! Have a weird Greco-Roman king named Athrymus in your TL? Maybe make a Greek colony named Athrymia! In the case of my little alt-Inca empire, Wasi-nchis is okay, but feel free to spice things up!

Step 3 - Colonial Adaptations

Once you have your dictionary of Quechua, Shawnee, or Proto-Germanic words, it might be hard to find a use for them, especially if your country is a colony. You may want to use Wasi as the name of an Incan state, but what if it comes under Spanish rule? What then? To find out how names like Wasi-nchis would be colonially adapted, one needs to look at exactly how Europeans named their colonies OTL. In short, it was rather abrasive, commonly using non-descriptive native words adopted into European languages. Sometimes, like with the town of Schenectady, New York, it might be adapted from the actual name of the settlement, as the Dutch did with the native Mohawk town of Skahnéhtati. In a case like that, the Wasi example I gave might simply be changed to sound more “Spanish”. Maybe some translators manage to find out that the word Wasi is the Quechua word for home, leading them to name the colony “Hogar”. Maybe the Spanish simply hear the phonetics of the word, spelling it with a Spanish flair. Something like “Ouasinechís” would work!

Another method would be to name the colony after something you’d hear the natives speak about in conversation, like the Quechua words for “white men”. If the Spanish don’t understand the language, they might just use anything they believe to be directed at them. The simplest method, and probably the easiest, is to take the name of an explorer and apply it to the colony (but it’s not as fun >:c). This works for any colonizing nation, be it the English, the Spanish, or even the Inca themselves. However, sometimes it can get difficult to make something “sound English”, especially if you aren’t too experienced with phonetics (much like me).

Step 4 - IPA

IPA stands for “International Phonetic Alphabet”, and it’s essentially a list of all possible letter sounds that could be made by the human mouth. Most of the sounds are used in various languages, but none use all of them. To see what all the IPA letters sound like, check out this link. Even letters you didn’t think had multiple sounds can be split up into many! The English language uses around forty of the 163 letters, varying from dialect to dialect. If you want to adapt something extremely foreign into a language like English, you might want to try translating the IPA not used in English into something that is.

To be honest, IPA doesn’t come into my naming procedures too often, unless I’m really stuck about how to get something to sound right. Normally, I tend to listen to the word out loud, and spell it out how a native English speaker would spell it. However, if you end up wanting to translate it into Spanish or some language you’re not particularly good at spelling in, it might just be less risky to translate the IPA. Sometimes it might not come out entirely right, but hopefully these tips have helped you a bit.

Addendum - Going Deeper/Practical Application

One of the largest notes to add is that there are plenty of bastardizations in my names. To give another short example: If I end up using Wicawa nunti, the Catawba word for Moon, as the root word for my English colony in Carolina, it might be difficult to find something that LOOKS English. Sure, I could translate the IPA and even write it down phonetically, but it’ll still look something like “Wicawanuntee”. Firstly, that’s far too long, and it doesn’t exactly look like a proper English colonial name. Maybe the person who named it chose not to use the exact word, choosing a word in his native language that sounded similar. Walnut and Wanunt are similar, right? Shortening it also works, going from Wicawanuntee to simply Cawanunta. Still a bit “native”, but far more realistic. Ultimately, the best names come from putting yourself in the person who chooses them. Appropriation is terrible, but it’s how colonial names were found, as sad as that is.

So yeah, that’s my quick tutorial on how to find names for things in your althistory timeline! It went more into colonies than I had hoped, and probably too Eurocentric, but hopefully it wasn’t too hard to follow! Thanks for reading, here are some language dictionaries as a reward! :D

List of Resources

Native American Languages

Ojibwe Dictionary -

Nunavut Inuit -

Alaskan Haida -

Oneida -

Bolivian Quechua -

Chanka Quechua -*

Mayan -

Seminole -

Cherokee -

Apache -

Extinct European Languages

Proto-Celtic -

Proto-Germanic -

Old Norse -

Gaulish -

Proto-Indo-European -,

Databases (Multiple Languages!)

Glosbe (Short-ish dictionaries of languages NOT on Google Translate) - (While the dictionaries up top all have hundreds of words for a single tribe, these have the basics for LITERALLY EVERY TRIBE) -

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Rebecca Stirling is an Alternate History writer from New York. When not slacking off, she draws random shit and makes terrible maps. She’s also extremely single, probably due to the fact that she is an Alternate History writer. Check out her DeviantArt, or her newest timeline.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New Releases 6/21/16

You can support The Update by clicking the banner to your right or the links below if you are purchasing through Amazon!


Judenstaat: A Novel by Simone Zelitch

Simone Zelitch has created an amazing alternate history in Judenstaat. On April 4th, 1948 the sovereign state of Judenstaat was created in the territory of Saxony, bordering Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia.

Forty years later, Jewish historian Judit Klemmer is making a documentary portraying Judenstaat's history from the time of its founding to the present. She is haunted by the ghost of her dead husband, Hans, a Saxon, shot by a sniper as he conducted the National Symphony. With the grief always fresh, Judit lives a half-life, until confronted by a mysterious, flesh-and-blood ghost from her past who leaves her controversial footage on one of Judenstaat's founding fathers--and a note:

"They lied about the murder."

Judit's research into the footage, and what really happened to Hans, embroils her in controversy and conspiracy, collective memory and national amnesia, and answers far more horrific than she imagined.

Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana

For Tara Krishnan, navigating Brierly, the academically rigorous prep school she attends on scholarship, feels overwhelming and impossible. Her junior year begins in the wake of a startling discovery: A message from an alternate Earth, light years away, is intercepted by NASA. This means that on another planet, there is another version of Tara, a Tara who could be living better, burning brighter, because of tiny differences in her choices.

The world lights up with the knowledge of Terra Nova, the mirror planet, and Tara’s life on Earth begins to change. At first, small shifts happen, like attention from Nick Osterman, the most popular guy at Brierly, and her mother playing hooky from work to watch the news all day. But eventually those small shifts swell, the discovery of Terra Nova like a black hole, bending all the light around it.

As a new era of scientific history dawns and Tara's life at Brierly continues its orbit, only one thing is clear: Nothing on Earth--or for Tara--will ever be the same again.


Independence Day: Resurgence: The Official Movie Novelization by Alex Irvine

Hybrid fighters merging human and alien technology. Massive cannon emplacements on the Moon and Mars. A planetary defense force with the finest military personnel ever trained. For two decades we’ve known the enemy would return.

The nations of Earth have collaborated on a unified defense program designed to defend the planet. Yet nothing could prepare us for the immensity of their new assault, and only the courage and skill of a few brave men and women can hope to bring our world back from the brink of extinction.

New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey

In the race to control renewable power, an energy giant stumbles on a controversial technology: the ability to transport matter from the deep past. Their biggest secret is New Pompeii, a replica city filled with Romans, pulled through time just before the volcanic eruption.

Nick Houghton doesn’t know why he’s been chosen to be the company’s historical advisor. He’s just excited to be there. Until he starts to wonder what happened to his predecessor. Until he realizes that the company has more secrets than even the conspiracy theorists suspect.

Until he realizes that they have underestimated their captives…

To readers, authors and publishers...

Is your story going to be published in time for the next New Releases? Contact us at ahwupdate at gmail dot com.  We are looking for works of alternate history, counterfactual history, steampunk, historical fantasy, time travel or anything that warps history beyond our understanding.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger for Amazing Stories, a volunteer interviewer for SFFWorld and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judge. When not exploring alternate timelines he enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitterTumblr and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Map Monday: New York State of Mind by Stuyvesant

So the idea of creating an alternate history based on a song isn't anything new (see Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove) but it is still relatively rare. Thus I was happy to see that the good folks at are doing a map contest where maps are based on songs. This one in particular caught my attention:
This is "New York State of Mind" by Stuyvesant and is based off the song of the same name by Billy Joel. There isn't a description yet for the map, but you can make some assumptions just by looking at it. For example, this appears to be a balkanized America timeline where New York did really well. In our timeline New York did claim much of the Great Lakes region, but so did a lot of states, like Virginia. Considering Virginia had much easier access to these areas, its a little surprising New York did so well, but maybe it will be explained by Stuyvesant in a later update.

The map itself is alright. Its very minimalist and you don't get many details of the outside world, but the colors are nice and the orientation is good. Sure this is a NY-wank, but its a well done NY-wank.

Honorable mentions this week go out to "The Hellenic Confederation, 250 BCE to 525 AD" by Rebecca "Upvoteanthology" Stirling, "The Commonwealth" by Zek Sora, "The Federation of Columbia" by FMannerly and "TL-443 Ernst sein ist alles" by Zauberfloete​.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger for Amazing Stories, a volunteer interviewer for SFFWorld and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judge. When not exploring alternate timelines he enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitterTumblr and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Weekly Update #237! We Happy Few Coming to Steam Early Access and Xbox Game Preview July 26 (and more)

Editor's Note

Well we are now officially into the 6th year of the Alternate History Weekly Update. As I write this it is a beautiful Saturday morning in the south suburbs of Chicago. I am lounging in my pajamas, drinking coffee, listening to some Billy Joel (more on that later) and just enjoying time off from a rough week at work. I got the laundry going and I am hoping to get enough blogging done before Alana and I go grocery shopping later this afternoon. Nothing crazy, but once in a while you need an easy day.

And now the news...

We Happy Few Coming to Steam Early Access and Xbox Game Preview July 26
If you want to be disturbed, I recommend watching the below video:

This is the gameplay trailer for the upcoming We Happy Few. From what I have been able to gather, We Happy Few is set on a fictional island town of Wellington Wells in 1964. In this timeline the Nazis (somehow) invaded Britain in World War II, but they were defeated after the townspeople did a "Very Bad Thing". It was so bad that the people now take a drug called "Joy" to suppress unhappy memories. The main character, Arthur Hastings, stops taking the drug and is forced to flee after his colleagues declare him a "Downer". Through his eyes we see just how terrible the world has become and, presumably, find out what the very bad thing was.

The opening moments of the game are very surreal and disturbing, especially with all of the painted faces. I am also getting a strong 1984 vibe. Maybe this game will actually be worth checking out. If you want more info, go check out the press release.

You should also check out...
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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger for Amazing Stories, a volunteer interviewer for SFFWorld and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judge. When not exploring alternate timelines he enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitterTumblr and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Five Years of Alternate History

The above title is not exactly true. Admittedly, its hard for me to pinpoint the exact date I was introduced to concept of "alternate history". I've said a million times now that my first foray into alternate history was Worldwar: In the Balance by Harry Turtledove, which I probably read somewhere around 1999-2000.

That being said, I assume some of the TV shows and films I watched, like Back to the Future II, played around with the concept. Plus I am pretty sure I read a few Elseworlds books before I read Worldwar. No, what made Worldwar: In the Balance special, besides being an incredibly fun high concept idea backed by a good story and a compelling cast of characters, was the timing of it. I read that book just when the Internet was becoming widespread. Most homes at the time had at least one computer with a modem. Mine was in the basement.

Now as a socially awkward "millennial", I embraced the Internet pretty early and it is where I turned to find more books like Worldwar: In the Balance. It was through the Internet that I stumbled upon the online alternate history community. I was there in the early years of asking questions and crafting my first timelines...and no don't ask to see them. I still to this day refuse to share my original user name, mostly because I am deeply ashamed of my earlier works. If you want a good laugh, go search for my name on Changing the Times and you will see some of my first and more regrettable forays into alternate history.

As the years went by I have done at lot in this community. I survived the fall of Alternia, I rebuilt the world after Doomsday, I guarded the time stream from trolls, I traveled all the way to the United Kingdom just to go sideways in time (where I almost got into a bar fight), I chatted with the master of alternate history himself and...I'm a Sidewise judge. Sorry, couldn't make that last one melodramatic enough.

Yeah I'm being silly, but who cares, right? I mean I created something that lasted five years! I mean the Internet is essentially a goldfish with ADD, so I'm still surprised people are reading this blog after five years. Admittedly I couldn't have done it without all of the great contributors who have submitted articles when I was too busy (or lazy) to write them myself. Special thanks to those people...and if you have been reading all of our #5Years guest posts, you have already run into a few of them and there are more to come before June is up.

Alternate History Weekly Update has been many things to me. It has been the source of my inspiration and the object of my frustration. It has opened doors and almost burned a few bridges. It has kept me busy when I am bored and it has distracted me from more important things. It also has helped keep me going when things were at their darkest.

A blog, however, is nothing without its readers. I wouldn't do all of this without your support. Thank you most of all for sticking with my silly idea of creating a news and review blog about alternate history. I don't know if there will be an end date in the future, but for now, I'm having fun and I'll keep going as long as I do.

Thanks again and now I'm off to celebrate Father's Day with my family.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger for Amazing Stories, a volunteer interviewer for SFFWorld and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judge. When not exploring alternate timelines he enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitterTumblr and YouTube. Learn how you can support his alternate history projects on Patreon.