Friday, June 24, 2011

AHWU #2

Editor's Note

The second week of any project is always the hardest. The enthusiasm and excitement of the first week has disappeared, replaced with the realization that you have a lot of work to do. I felt the same way last year when I went on a diet. The first week I was very good. I did not over-eat and I exercised regularly and I was happy to see that I had lost five pounds when it was all over. The second week was harder though. Temptations were more difficult to suppress and I was disappointed when I weighed myself again at the end of the week. Nevertheless, I stuck with my diet and a year later I was thirty pounds lighter and a lot more energetic than I have ever been in my life.

That is going to be my approach with AHWU. I am going to do this right because I want to look back a year later and be ecstatic about how far I came. Already I have two followers (thanks Sean and Andrew for the early support, I will not forget this) and plenty of people left great comments on Facebook (why they did not comment on the blog directly I have no idea). As for page views, well they may be inflated by the number of times I nervously checked the blog every five minutes to see if there was anything new, so I will not report that. I do know, however, that I have had people from the United States, Japan, Chile, Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Indonesia, Singapore, Ireland, Netherlands and Mexico view this blog. That means there are people on five continents viewing this blog, very exciting. (But what is up with Africa? What did I ever do to them?)

I guess you can say that I have very ambitious plans for this blog. And why not? It makes no sense to think small. I want this place to be the number one location a person goes to when seeking news on alternate history. So please, leave me comments telling me how I can improve this place and if you think you can help with this goal, than what are you waiting for? Contact me at ahwupdate at gmail dot com and lets see what we can do together.

Today the Internet, tomorrow the world!

PS: This issue came out a little early because I am going to be busy this weekend. The next issue, however, should arrive again on Sunday.

Not AH: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I have a funny feeling that this is going to be a recurring segment. Here we go...

Next Wednesday (June 29th) Transformer: Dark of the Moon will be released. It is the third and final excessively explosive and plot hole ridden film in the Michael Bay directed franchise about toy robots. The premise of the film involves the Autobots leader Sentinel Prime fleeing the war on Cybertron on the "Ark", a spaceship which contains advanced technology. Attacked by Starscream, the ship crashes on the Moon in 1961. President John F. Kennedy makes his famous promise to the nation to put a man on the Moon, but it is only a cover. In reality, the 1969 NASA Moon landing was an investigation of the wrecked ship. The rest of the plot is unimportant, because some feel that the premise stated above makes the film an alternate history.

Those people are wrong. According to Steven H Silver (one of the judges of the Sidewise Awards for Alternate History) alternate history requires three things: 1) a point of divergence from the history of our world prior to the time at which the author is writing, 2) a change that would alter history as it is known, and 3) an examination of the ramifications of that change.

If you consider points one and two, it is obvious that this film is not an alternate history. The Moon landing still occur ed (accept it conspiracy theorists) and if the first two films are any indication, history continued to play out as it did in OTL (until the arrival of alien robots, but that occurrence is only enough to make this film science fiction). The motivation for the Moon landing was different from what we know from history, but that is only because it was kept secret from the populace. That cover up makes this film a secret history, which is a revisionist interpretation of real (or known) history which is claimed to have been deliberately suppressed, forgotten, or ignored by established historians.

So there you have it. This film is secret history, not alternate history. If you hear anyone make that mistake again, make sure you correct them. I am sure they will not call you a nerd and beat you up.

New Releases: Trenched

On June 22nd, Trenched was released, an alternate history video game released as an Xbox Live Arcade title for $15. A hybrid tower defense and third person shooter game, the setting takes place during World War I where an alien radio broadcast causes people's heads to explode. Luckily, your character survived and gained super-intelligence and knowledge of advanced technology. So what do you do with the knowledge to bring humanity into a new shining technological utopia? You build mecha, because apparently there is a "bad guy" who also became smarter (and crazy) and is using television to enslave humanity. (Social commentary?)

Despite the lack of any real alternate history content, the game is getting good reviews. From what I read the game reminds me of the 1998 remake to Battlezone, a game which I thoroughly enjoyed. So if you like fun tactical games, go for it, but I doubt this game will have any significant affect on the genre.

If anyone gets a chance to play the game, please share your experience.

Meet a Hater

If you are an alternate history fan there are usually only two types of people you will ever meet. First is other alternate history fans and the rest are the vast majority of people who have no idea what you are talking about and if you try to explain they will listen with benign indifference and as soon as you are finished they will change the subject.

If you are (un)lucky, however, you might run into someone who hates the genre. I had such an experience one day long ago on Wikipedia. During a deletion debate for the article on Gray Victory (an American Civil War alternate history), one editor voted to keep the novel, but expressed how much he wished he could vote to delete it because he hated the genre. Intrigued, I contacted him to ask why he hates alternate history and he responded. Though he focused on American Civil War alternate histories, he tended to touch on other aspects of the genre as well. Here was his response:

Oh, there are so many reasons for being hostile to the book by its subject:

1. Speculative history always seems to me to be a waste, unless it is written as a way to emphasize the actual history. Thus, that alternate history book where the Ottomans didn't turn back at Florence is useful, because what it actually ends up doing is emphasizing the importance of the real events. I have yet to detect, even in Harry Turtledove, the same use/impulse in the Civil War alternatives.

2. South Wins is the easiest of the alternatives to get wrong, and insultingly wrong, and stupidly wrong, of any that I have seen. There are 100 ways to go wrong and no way to go right. From the dreadful, stultifying C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, which had slavery in the 20th century, to the Southern apologist shaded ones, there's just no way to do it. Either the authors assume that the war was "about" slavery or that slavery was "ending on its own" at the time, and, either way, the result is a horrible insult to every human of intelligence.

3. My biggest gripe: the fans. The fans of this kind of thing, I think, betray a certain Millerite dissatisfaction with the world as it is. They seem to long for "the day." Well, that day was pretty rotten, and in the Civil War both sides were wrong, both were right, and both had horrors to conceal, and anyone who longs for the hoop skirts is as creepy to me as someone who longs for the Mammies and Uncles. Someone who longs for "States Rights" is as worrisome to me, because I wonder why those persons want only to reminisce about the days of the 1860, instead of the days of the Articles of Confederation, when the U.S. had "states rights" and no nation. Why don't they fondly write about "What if Alexander Hamilton had been strangled in his crib?"

I just sense this amazing amount of sublimation in the writing, reading, and fandom of that kind of book. I know that it can be noble, but, well, it seems more suspect than people who want to join the SCA. I don't want to insult masses of people I've never met, but it's a genre that gives me the screaming phantods.


Funny enough the guy did not know I was a fan. When he found out he actually apologized, which I thought was classy of him. Still he did not have to, it was not like I was going to rip him a new one for not liking the same things I do. Personally I agree with a lot of his points on American Civil War alternate histories, but more on that in the next issue.

If you have your own hater episodes, please share. This is the only one I ever had myself.

Important Events in Alternate History

June 26, 1944: Joseph P. Kennedy is selected as the Republican nominee for US President.

June 27, 1905: Britain and Japan begin the joint siege of Vladivostok, Russia.

June 28, 1914: Archduke Franz Ferdinand survives an assassination attempt.

June 29, 1829: The United Kingdom recognizes the independence of the United States.

June 30, 1908: A meteor destroys London, killing most of the population.

July 1, 1943: Allies begin to support Kurdish and Armenian partisans to destabilize the Nazi puppet regime in Ankara.

July 2, 1945: Treaty of Stockholm signed, recognizing German dominance in Europe in exchange for them breaking their alliance with Japan.

Links to the Multiverse
An Alternate History of the Netherlands - a blog featuring a timeline in which the Dutch were not divided along religious lines during the Dutch Revolt of the last 16th Century.

Shattered World - another blog featuring a timeline where the Soviet Union invades Poland before Germany. This project is epic but is rarely updated.

Ill Bethisad Wiki - a collaborative alternate history project almost two decades old.

4 comments:

  1. I'd sort of agree with the "hater"'s point about Turtledove in particular not really contributing anything to speculative history as an adjunct to "real" history. His earlier books were good but after the "Great War" Trilogy I get the feeling he's sort of been coasting - I mean, how many times has he re-fought WWII now? It got to the stage in both the "Settling Accounts" and "Darkness" series where I stopped reading because I pretty much knew what was going to happen next anyway.

    On the Transformers thing, how would you actually define "proper alternate history" in films, as pretty much every sci-fi style movie has at least some element of alt-hist in there. So, would the X-men movies count as alt-hist whereas Batman wouldn't (Gotham being a fictional city)?

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  2. First, thanks for commenting, you are the first one to comment on this blog. Now to the content of your comment:

    The problem with saying that Turtledove does not contribute anything to speculative history is that it applies to almost every alternate history writer. Alternate history is meant to be entertaining, it is science fiction after all. If you want something to "emphasize the actual history" than read a counterfactual history, like the What If? series. While similar to alternate history, counterfactuals are meant to be educational and do a lot better job at emphasizing real history. Meanwhile if you seek that same emphasis in alternate history, you will probably be disappointed.

    Still I agree that Turtledove's recent novels are not as good as his earlier works. For example, his writing style has changed significantly. Nevertheless, I feel he is just trying to write what people want to read. World War II is one of the two most popular topics in alternate history, but that is because the war was such an important event in human history that it still attracts those who study history and enjoy alternate history. Sometimes you have to do what your audience wants.

    As for what is a proper alternate history film, I guess it comes down to intent. Did the creator intend to change history or was he just trying to create a fictional universe where these fictional people/places/things exist? It is also important to remember that in a lot of sci-fi films set during contemporary times, the general populace does not even know about the events of the film, usually because no one said anything afterward or else there was a cover up. The distinction can be difficult to see, but it is there.

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  3. Matt,

    I've enjoyed your blog quite alot thus far. Congratulations on remaining committed to it. Honestly, yours has me thinking about developing for myself a new personal blog that would get into alternate history from time to time as the genre continues to develop a following worldwide.

    The Wikipedia contributor makes many good points, and any person on either side of the divide, whether an opponent or a fan of alternate history, who has even the narrowest experience with exploring this genre could reasonably make the same complaints. However, these charges put forward by the Wikipedian require a context he failed to offer: every genre goes through a similar phase.

    Though it has long existed as a concept of historical exploration, alternate history as a category of its own is a relatively recent phenomenon. Harry Turtledove has been instrumental in its propagation, but in effect contributes through the stories he writes to the "haters" of this genre with his cliched and allegorical works of fiction, particularly thouse pertaining to the civil war in the United States.

    However, what went unsaid in your exchange, Matt, with the Wikipedian was that every new genre suffers from these sorts of pitfalls. Certainly, the earliest works of science fiction would come across dreadfully to those reading today. The same could be true in other genres too, such as mysteries, or historical novels. However, given time to develop, each of these older genres of literature has had the chance to improve and even thrive.

    In summary, any new category of writing can be reasonably expected to need improvement. Usually, improvements are made over time. But, as any fan of the counterfactual is aware, time can be very slow to progress sufficiently.

    P.S.:

    I'd like your take on whether or not the 2011 film "SUPER 8" is alternate history.

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  4. Thanks for the comment James and if you want a place to publish your thoughts on AH, why not here? I am always looking for new contributors, I am sure we can work something out.

    You make good points James, but alternate history is an old sub-genre, probably as old as science fiction itself. Certainly it has evolved since the 80s into a genre that can stand on its own legs, but it does have a ways to go.

    Also I feel that Dr. Turtledove should get more credit for that evolution. His works have opened the genre to the mainstream, and his young adults novels may even open the mainstream to a younger audience (get them while they're young!).

    As for Super 8, I have not heard anything from my alerts about it being alternate history. I do plan to see it, it has been described to me as being a lot like "Goonies" and "Stand By Me". If I see it, I promise to write a review and whether it is an alternate history or not.

    ReplyDelete