Tuesday, July 5, 2011

AHWU #5

Editor's Note

It has been an interesting few days. AHWU seems to be growing in popularity. I received my first press release and was contacted by Nicholas Pardini from the What If History podcast. In fact, if any author, organization or collaborative projects wants to share any news, just email me a press release at ahwupdate at gmail dot com. You may just get a Breaking News post.

So with that being said, expect some changes to the blog in the next few days. I am going to be fiddling with the settings as I experiment with the different options given to me by Blogger. Meanwhile, if any of my readers are artistically bent, please send me ideas for a new logo or suggestions on the color scheme of the blog itself.

Also, I have created a Facebook page for the blog. If you like AHWU, then click the like button on the right. I eventually plan to use it to announce AHWU updates instead of just posting links on the half-dozen Facebook groups I advertise at.

In other news, Africa finally ended their embargo against me. Someone from South Africa viewed the blog, so I now have viewers on six continents. I also got my first readers from France, Italy and Qatar. Welcome all! In fact, all of these international viewers got me thinking about what it is like to be alternate historians in other countries. So if you would like to share your story, please contact me, I would love to hear from you.

The Danger of Hindsight

A recent article by Sabina Khan in the International Herald Tribune speculates about what history would be like if Operation Cyclone never happened. Despite Khan's attempt at the end to suggest that anything could happen if the stated POD occurred, it is quite clear that she feels that Operation Cyclone was a mistake and was the cause of all the problems in the region. This article is intriguing because it is a perfect example of the dangers of hindsight.

Often alternate historians are inspired to write alternate history using hindsight. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact most alternate history is based on authors correcting the mistakes of historical people. Problems, however, arise when the author has a particular bias, be it political, cultural, national, etc. It is this bias which causes them to be blind to human nature and often create alternate histories that fail to be plausible.

For example, Khan dismissed the extended Soviet intervention as a cause of the breakup of the Soviet Union, claiming it was just one of many reasons why that nation disbanded. While that may be true, by dismissing it so quickly she fails to consider all the possibilities of a Soviet Union that did not have to endure a long war with Afghanistan. Maybe Gorbachev would have met less resistance to his idea to transform the Soviet Union into the Union of Sovereign States? Or maybe Communist hardliners would have had less resistance when they tried to overthrow Gorbachev? Either way we are looking at a world where the Cold War and the threat of nuclear destruction continue well into the 21st century.

Another problem with using hindsight is that authors sometimes fail to sufficiently explain how there POD could occur. For example, Khan paints several worlds where Operation Cyclone did not happen or else was modified, but she misses a golden opportunity to explain why. During a book signing I attended, Harry Turtledove attempted to explain to the audience (many of them whom came of age in a world without the Soviet Union) how monumental a moment it was when the Soviet Union collapsed. For people of Turtledove's age, the Soviet Union was an eternal, evil empire that if given the chance would destroy everything that United States stood for. Khan failed to take this into consideration when writing her article. Though I am not saying Operation Cyclone was destined to happen, unless a POD is sufficiently explained you do not have a plausible alternate history.

Finally I come to my last point about hindsight and the danger it sometimes poises. The fact of the matter is, no matter how horrible our history can be, OTL is probably the best case scenario. Consider that in the 20th century we managed to avoid mass genocide, nuclear apocalypse and other horrible atrocities against humanity. When an alternate historian tries to make it better, however, they have to be very careful in their research or else they may just send their fictional world into a new dark age.

Mitro's Thoughts on Alternate US Presidential Elections

Next to American Civil War alternate histories, alternate US presidential elections are the easiest type of alternate history to ruin. It is in those timelines that the author's political bias is blatantly obvious. Generally these timelines fall into one of two categories:

1) This is how much better the world would be if my guy won.

OR

2) This is how much worse the world would be if my guy lost.

Now there are always exceptions to the general rule. If done right, an alternate US presidential election timeline can be good alternate history. Even the Alternate History Wiki promoted such a timeline to featured status. Nevertheless, these timelines tend not to be very convincing and often lead to heated arguments between rival political factions.

Apparently, not many people know that, not even the President of the United States. Dominic Tierney wrote an article last month in The Atlantic commenting on President Obama's reelection message, summing it up to be:

...[A] big part of the Obama pitch relies on counterfactuals. In other words, if the president hadn't acted, things would have been even worse. Without the stimulus and the bailouts, unemployment would have been even higher. Without the intervention in Libya, Gaddafi would have destroyed Benghazi.


Tierney, however, makes his best point later when he says:

But here's the problem. As a sell to the public, counterfactuals have all the rhetorical power of an Anthony Weiner press conference. The road untraveled just doesn't resonate.


Truer words could not be said. Not only is alternate history a poor political tool (consider how many Americans label history as their worst subject in school) it also can be boring for alternate historians who do not have your passion for politics.

So be warned. All alternate historians should approach this topic with caution. Do your research and do not let your political beliefs override your common sense.

Links to the Multiverse
Review of Deadlands: The Devil's Six Gun - a one-shot from Image comics based on the Deadlands RPG.

Boris Salchow Composes Resistance 3 Soundtrack

Review of Time Quest - a time travel film involving the Kennedy assassination.

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