Friday, January 27, 2012

Multiverse Profile: United States of America

If you look at the large library of alternate history, you cannot help but notice that the United States plays a large role in many stories.  And why not?  The United States is one of the most influential nations of the world.  It has the world's largest economy and it is an important cultural force in the world.  So it only stands to reason that when I start discussing how different nations are portrayed in alternate history, I should start with the United States.  Perhaps by seeing how it is altered in different stories, we can get a snapshot of the OTL United States and its people.

Note: While there are many alternate versions of the United States in the multiverse, the versions I will be discussing are the most common.  Also I will not be discussing balkanized United States.  That is a discussion for next month.

Let us begin...

Fascist United States

Americans takes pride in being a liberal democracy.  For centuries the country has managed to hold an unending streak of free and fair elections.  What would happen, however, if the United States lost this aspect of its culture?  That is where the "fascist United States" of alternate history comes into being.  This version of America does not have to follow a fascist ideology per se, but it does have to be authoritarian and have some sort of tyrannical dictator in charge.  Versions of the fascist United States can be found in Amerikan Eagle by Alan Glenn and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.  In these stories authors play on Americans greatest fear: that the freedom they have learned to cherish and protect will be taken away by some power-hungry maniac.  Obviously it is impossible for one person to show up and take power without support, but these alternate dictators usually receive it from a populace that is scared and desperate.  That is why you see American politicians and their supporters use words like "Nazi" and "fascist" to describe their opponents.  Americans still fear this possibility.

Communist United States

After fighting a decades long Cold War against the Soviet Union that could have ended with the nuclear annihilation of most of the world, it is easy to see why alternate historians would take to creating a "communist United States".  Of course there is also the factor that the United States is a more conservative culture than most Western democracies, but nonetheless, most Americans have it in their minds that if the United States became communist, it was because they "lost".  Worlds where the United States lost the Cold War can be found in The Gladiator by Harry Turtledove or the first episode of the TV series Sliders.  Sometimes, however, the United States and the Soviet Union simply switch places.  The United States goes through a communist revolution, while Russia either remains an empire or becomes a democracy.  This example is most prevalent in Back in the U.S.S.A. by Eugene Byrne and Kim Newman.  Rarely do any of these worlds make things "good" for Americans.  Most alternate historians hold to the belief that communism was, is and forever shall be a "bad" thing.

British United States

Americans tend to respect and glorify their founders.  They are taught how they were men of genius and integrity and fought to free the colonies from the tyrannical George III.  Ignoring the fact that the founding fathers were treated with more reverence then even the most popular monarch, Americans still feel that remaining a British colony would have been a disaster...or would it?  Most alternate historians do not paint grim pictures of what a British America would look.  How this American dominion is created varies across the genre.  Sometimes the Americans lose the American Revolution, as they did in For Want of a Nail by Robert Sobel.  A British America could also have been founded if cooler heads prevailed and the Revolution never happened in the first place, as it did in The Two Georges by Harry Turtledove and Richard Dreyfuss.  Rarely are these alternate histories dystopias like the last two.  Perhaps alternate historians are trying to tell us that not all divergence points lead to a nightmare scenario.  Maybe some even share Winston Churchill's belief that the English speaking-world should have been united.

American Wanks

These Americas are probably even more then the dystopias I mentioned before.  These are American wanks and in them you find a version of the United States that is richer, larger and more technologically advanced then OTL.  They strain and often break all the rules of plausibility and often reflect the author's own nationalist sentiment of the United States.  Good (or bad?) examples of an American wank include the North American Confederacy series by L. Neil Smith and the United States of An Independent in 2000 that can be found on the AH Wiki.  Both alternate histories are made worse due to fact that they encapsulate the political beliefs of each author.  Their message is clear: if America adopts my politics it would be a better place!  History rarely agrees with such statements.

Other Alternate Names for the United States

Union of Free States, Columbia, Allied States of America, Commonwealth of America, Commonwealth of American States, Confederation of American States, Confederation of British North America, Fredonia, New England, North American Confederation, People's Republic of America, United Provinces of America, United States of North America, Vinland.

Next Profile: The United Kingdom!

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Mitro is founder, editor and contributor of Alternate History Weekly Update. When he is not busy writing about his passion for alternate history, he spends his time working as a licensed attorney in the state of Illinois and dreams of being a published author himself one day.

9 comments:

  1. Brian from VirginiaJanuary 27, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    ' Most alternate historians hold to the belief that communism was, is and forever shall be a "bad" thing. '

    That's because it was and is a flawed and ugly system. No dissent. No free expression of any idea not 'approved'. Government run markets. Over 100 million dead at the hands of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, and the Kims of North Korea, to name just a few.

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  2. Indeed. Hence why a communist United States is usually a dystopia.

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  3. Nevertheless, I am not willing to call it a "fact" simply because alternate historians should never call something impossible. IMHO, the point of the genre is to find a plausible scenario for any outcome. There are probably socialist, leftist, Marxist, etc., fans out there who could or have published a history where the world is Red and yet not a dystopia.

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  4. I believe that there was (and still is)a small but effective Nazi group in the US?

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  5. Define "effective"? I'm from IL, so anytime I think of Nazis I just see Jake and Elwood running them off a bridge.

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  6. I was tempted to ask about Canada, but realized there's not really any AH fiction on the Great White North. Though I know of a few good Canada-wanks on AH.com.

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    1. I plan to do one of these profiles from the nations my readers come from, starting with the top 10. Next will be the UK, then Canada, France, Germany (though perhaps War Blogger might consent to write that one) Australia, Russia, Sweden, Netherlands and Ireland. Can't promise to tell you exactly when I will get to Canada, but keep a look out for it.

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  7. Cool! I had no idea we'd started national profiles!

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  8. Its a new experiment on mine, but feel free to do your own national profile if you wish.

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