I've been mulling over alternate history of late: how does one historical turning point change the shape of the world? Much fiction has been composed and spilled on the subject. It's also a difficult thing to get right: any one event can have consequences in several areas, including some that may not seem related. This, admittedly, is a good part of the reason why I haven't written any alternate history myself, unless you count the wackiness of "The Fosterling Conspiracy," a short story that starts in Elizabethan-era Wales.
(I have played with time travel in some of my fantasy stories, a related topic. In my Ishene and Kemel stories - the time mage and her bodyguard - the prevailing theory indicates that temporal paradox could, quite literally, destroy reality, so they take "make no changes to history" with deadly seriousness.
For those not familiar with temporal paradox, the idea is: if you go back in time to make a change in history, then what happens in the "new" present, where history is different, so you don't need to travel back in time, but you *do* need to travel back in time, because otherwise, it will happen as it originally did? If you entirely can't follow that (understandably), the classic scenario used to explain it is a time traveler who goes back and kills his mother. Well, all right, now you were never born ... so who killed your mother?)
Back to alternate history, the further the world progresses from the inciting change, the harder it is to measure the consequences. Another thing to consider is whether the evolution of technology, social measures, etc, is parallel or divergent.
For instance, consider a world where the Americas were never "discovered" by Europeans. Think of all the technologies that were invented in America even before the 1900s. In this alternate history, would those technologies simply not exist at all? Would they have been developed in another fashion, by someone else, but with small differences? That's parallel evolution. Or ... would the technologies invented to solve life's problems been completely different? That's divergent evolution.
Obviously, parallel evolution is way easier to deal with. It's a cousin to another time travel concept, "plastic time," which is sometimes used as at least a partial resolution for paradox. Plastic time is the idea that history has a natural tendency to go back to the shape it was; it corrects itself. If you go back in time to murder Hitler (another classic scenario), one of his general steps up and takes over.
What I want to see in a time travel story is, instead of basing the alternate timeline on a big, pivotal moment, the alteration being a smaller event, even one that seems minor on the face of it. I watched Genius recently, the television series following the life of Albert Einstein, and I wondered: what if he had continued to collaborate with his first wife, instead of shutting her out? How much further would they have advanced his field? Would he have become politically involved? Would he have spawned the atomic bomb?
Another thought: what if Mary Shelley had never been born? Frankenstein is often regarded as the first science fiction book. The imagery in this book has pervaded our culture, and how many artists and even scientists has it inspired?
I can see two ways to approach such a story. The first is to cue the reader into the change right away, so they can appreciate all the nuances as they arise. The second is to treat it like a mystery, showing a world changed and only at the end revealing that point of divergence.
Obviously, this isn't done often (that I've seen) because such a change is more likely to be appropriate for a short story, and that's a lot of research / work for a brief payout. Does anyone have any examples they might want to share?
Word count this week: 2,222
Pages edited: 4.5
Poems edits: 2
Clerical note: I may move my weekly blog post back to Wednesday due to my work schedule.