How To Write Alternate History

How To Write Alternate History

by Grey Wolf

ISBN: 9781490423043

Publisher CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Published in Calendars/Readers & Writers, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

How To Write Alternate History consists of a series of articles by Grey Wolf, exploring many different aspects of alternate history, whether it is narrative stories, or timelines that one is constructing. With twenty years of writing Alt-Hist, Grey Wolf brings an author's vision to the question of believability and logic.

Sample Chapter

Patterns of Population and Settlement


It is an often overlooked aspect of alternate history that a success in a place that was historically a failure, is going to have increasingly drastic knock-on effects in the movement, and settlement of population.


On the small-scale this could be viewed as negligible - if, for instance, there had been no hurricaine which wrecked the capital Gustavia in the mid 1870s, the Caribbean island of Saint Bart's may well have remained Swedish, and over the following decades a few hundred Swedes may have ended up settled there, rather than perhaps move into the North of Sweden, or perhaps emigrate to the USA. Whilst some individual biographies might be greatly altered - imagine if the Hammerskjold family had moved to the Caribbean - the general flow of history would not be affected in any great way. Swedish possession of Saint Bart's might add some complications to the break up of the joint crown of Sweden-Norway, though it probably wouldn't, and might have some effect in the First World War - eg the USA may try to force Sweden to sell the island to them, as it did the Danes with the Danish Virgin Islands, but messing with Sweden is a step up from putting pressure on Denmark, and nothing might have come of this. St Bart's could easily have remained Swedish to this day.


But it would not have had a macro effect on the movement of population, or the patterns of settlement. No matter the change to specific families, and their interactions with each other, and the knock-on butterflies in the backwaters of global strategic thought, St Bart's is simply too small in and of itself to have knocked history off its course.


If Saint Bart's is at the smallest end of the spectrum, what is at the opposite end? A case study would best serve to illustrate this, as I hope St Bart's has for the smallest end. Let us start with those two famous words :-


What if the Crusader states had survived? In this article we do not need to examine the possible ways this could have happened, or the personalities, battles and campaigns that might have been involved. We need simply to concern ourselves with what would have happened had they survived...


The Crusader states are a large polity, and would be larger still since their survival would necessitate the eventual defeat and absorption of parts of Syria, Egypt etc. As it was, the world which encompassed the crusader states also included the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor, and 'Little Armenia' in Cilicia (today South-East Turkey on the Mediterranean), as well as Cyprus. We could argues Points of Departure until the cows come home - or they run away in fright. So we will keep this article POD-neutral; maybe the monolithic Byzantine empire with its Greek heritage, centred on Constantinople survives, or maybe it does not and something akin to the Fourth Crusade occurs, fracturing it, bringing about the Latin Empire or some close analogy. But the survival of the Crusader states would mean that this area remained under Christian control in the 12th-14th centuries.


We cannot remove the Mongols by waving our hands, or Timur the Lame by wishing him gone, but we can incorporate them within a world that includes and encompasses thriving Crusader states. To those who say that it was weight of numbers against them that was the deciding factor, are you denigrating Saladin? The Great Men of History theory is that a great man can make use of an opportunity that comes his way from the forces of history. Another might have missed it, might even have thrown it all away. Numbers mean nothing if they cannot be used effectively.


So, the crusader states survive and prosper, what then happens to population and patterns of settlement? The obvious answer is that people go there - the crusader states thrived on the influx of new blood, which would be through successive crusades, but over time would also come through trading colonies and natural settlement. This would create its own momentum but there would always be room, and a place for, immigrants from Europe.


The question is not so much where do these people come from, but where do they not go instead? People are always moving, people are always settling new lands, moving into new frontiers, so where would see less if the Middle East was to see more? One definite possibility is Spain, another focus of crusades in the Reconquista over a period of centuries. If English, French, Flemish, Italian, German are all drawn to the Holy Land, then the Spanish get to fight their wars alone, and more often than not amongst themselves. Just as it might become natural to refer to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, it might not seem too strange for Granada and Andalucia to be seen as being as Muslim as Africa, which after all was once Christian but was by this period viewed as lost.


And maybe in the East of Northern Europe, less of a crusading ethos, more of a slow and steady encroachment. The holy and chivalric orders would remain headquartered in the Holy Land, and the moneys they controlled would be used there for the expansion and settlement of the lands on the borders of Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo etc.


A knock on of this would be that Philip of France would get no opportunity to seize the wealth of the Templars for they would not be there to take on. If they are, they are there as agents of an order based in Jerusalem which has the backing of very powerful people. But the lack of his ability to challenge them, probably also comes with the lack of necessity of doing so - they are not undermining his authority, they are not a threat to him. Swings and roundabouts, one might say.


Perhaps the greatest knock-on would be for the Age of Exploration and the discovery of the New World. With the Middle East in Christian hands there would be much less impetus to trying to find an alternative way to the Orient, whether by navigating round the bottom of Africa or heading out West across the Atlantic. There may well also be no united Spain, and possibly a weaker and poorer Portugal, whilst both England and France might well have large fortunes tied up in the Crusader states.


The West would be discovered, of that there is no doubt - Cabot's voyages were independent of Columbus's and old Viking sagas made it clear that there WAS land to the West, but initially this path of exploration would lead only to Labrador, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and presumably New Brunswick/Maine. In time it would lead further and further South until someone strikes out across the mid ocean and lands in the Caribbean. But the way things went in this timeline would be very different from how they did historically.


An object lesson would be to look at the different settlement experiences of the Spanish and the English as they happened historically. The Spanish had lots of money available, invaded, conquered and ruled. The English took a century to establish a viable colony, in Jamestown, after many decades feuding with the Indians, being deprived of funds back home, and battling against inclement weather. That is not to say that the English could not have done better, earlier, rather that without the resources of a unified Spain, and the drive and luck of Columbus, Southern European explorers might have been no more successful than the English in this stage of events.


More and more people would instead be moving into the Middle East, making of Syria and Egypt full-blown crusader states, probably also continuing this into Tunis and Tripoli, focusing both war and settlement on these shores. One might posit that the conquest of Tunis might be a move by the Holy Roman Emperor, that it might be carried out by a largely Germanic force, and that settlement there would come primarily from Germany and Italy. This single hypothetical conquest would thus over a century divert tens of thousands of Germans and Italians from where they went historically or relatively depopulate areas of their homelands - quite possibly a good thing if over-crowding and subsequent shortages led to famine, death and many a wasted life.


By the mid sixteenth century this group of what we might call crusader polities rings the Eastern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean, whilst only a few isolated trading settlements are being established at great human cost in the New World, and those largely on the Western coast of North America, and amongst the islands of the Caribbean.


Long-term trends will not be prevented, but they will be delayed and they will be changed. Perhaps in time the Germanic crusader kingdom of Tunis would establish its own colonies in the New World? Quite possibly by 1800, the New World is a patchwork of different European colonies, surviving and strengthened native states, and some independent ex-colonies which have either thrown off their masters, or been set up by adventurers journeying out of the established colonies into the wilderness.



The examples given here are only examples, ideas and possibilities to illustrate a point. You could just as easily argue the effects of an earlier Reconquista, a unifying of Spain and the invasion and settlement of what is today Algeria.

Excerpted from "How To Write Alternate History" by Grey Wolf. Copyright © 2013 by Grey Wolf. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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