Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pros and Cons of Textbook AH

In a recent post about how an author took their online alternate history and turned it into a novel, one of contributors Korsgaard left this interesting comment:
Wow! All of the textbook style TLs have a publication potential now!
This got me thinking textbook alternate history in general.  Certainly they are not ignored by the community.  When Angels Wept by Eric G. Swedin won the Sidewise Award in 2010 and For Want of a Nail by Robert Sobel won the 1997 Sidewise Award for special achievement in alternate history and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  The question remains: are textbook alternate histories the way to go?  Here are some pros and cons to consider:


Alternate Historians Love Them: True fans of the genre will spend money on books, anthologies, comics, etc. with a narrative format, but they will also spend significant amount of their own time on forums, wikis and other online communities discussing and sharing their own original works.  These original pieces of alternate history tend to be in the textbook format, with pictures, maps and footnotes included.  Publishing a textbook alternate history is an easy way to reach the diehard fanboys.

Easier to Write: Narratives are hard to write.  It takes years of practice and some skill to be an effective story teller.  It is difficult to capture real life drama using the printed word.  Just look at some of these articles if you do not believe me.  Textbook, however, do not require the level of creative writing necessary to write a successful narrative.  An educated and experienced writer can produce a good quality textbook.


Smaller Audience: Alternate history is already a niche market, but it is not impossible for a good story to reach a larger audience.  Textbook alternate history, however, may have even a smaller chance.  History is already an unpopular subject for many people, so a wider audience may be even less interested in reading a textbook of fake history then they would reading a textbook of real history.

Plausibility Hounds are Looking for Blood: Alternate historians are notorious for demanding a high level of plausibility, but some will let it slide for narratives in deference to the "rule of cool".  Textbook alternate histories, however, will not get such a pass.  A writer willing to write a textbook alternate history must have his facts in order.


Every style of storytelling has its advantages and disadvantages.  A good writer has to weigh the pros and cons of each and consider their own comfort level.  Remember that when you sit down to write your next novel.

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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.

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