Top Ten Books I Would Use to Teach Alternative History 101

/ posted in: Reading

I love books where history is just a little bit different. Sometimes one small change can lead to huge consequences.

American Front (The Great War, #1)American Front by Harry Turtledove

 

“When the Great War engulfed Europe in 1914, the United States and the Confederate States of America, bitter enemies for five decades, entered the fray on opposite sides: the United States aligned with the newly strong Germany, while the Confederacy joined forces with their longtime allies, Britain and France.”

Whenever I think of alternative history I think of Harry Turtledove even though I’ve never read any of his books.  I think of his books as the classic alternative history that don’t rely on magic but on normal events going differently.


 

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. “World War Z” is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.”

Forget the fact that they turned this into just another zombie movie.  This book is like nothing else I’ve ever read.  The Zombie War happened 10 years ago.  Now survivors are being interviewed.  You start out knowing nothing about the war.  Why would you need that explained?  You obviously lived through it.  While reading survivor accounts, you learn the story.  The doctor who treated the first case, the people who trained dogs to find zombies, and other people tell what happened to them. Amazing.


 

1632 (Assiti Shards, #1)1632 by Eric Flint
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“1632 And in northern Germany things couldn’t get much worse. Famine. Disease. Religous war laying waste the cities. Only the aristocrats remained relatively unscathed; for the peasants, death was a mercy.

2000 Things are going OK in Grantville, West Virginia, and everybody attending the wedding of Mike Stearn’s sister (including the entire local chapter of the United Mine Workers of America, which Mike leads) is having a good time.

THEN, EVERYTHING CHANGED….

When the dust settles, Mike leads a group of armed miners to find out what happened and finds the road into town is cut, as with a sword. On the other side, a scene out of Hell: a man nailed to a farmhouse door, his wife and daughter attacked by men in steel vests. Faced with this, Mike and his friends don’t have to ask who to shoot. At that moment Freedom and Justice, American style, are introduced to the middle of the Thirty Years’ War.”

I read 1632 as part of a library book club a few years ago. I loved the book. What would you do if you were suddenly plunged into the past with no way back and had to survive only on what was transported with you? Academic worries about changing history take a backseat to surviving. There are a bunch of sequels and fan fiction branching off of this. Eventually I couldn’t keep everyone straight in the universe and gave up.


 

The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1)The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense.”

In this world the Crimean War between England and Russia never ended, leading to all kinds of changes in history as we know it.


 

Rebel Mechanics (Rebel Mechanics, #1)Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“A sixteen-year-old governess becomes a spy in this alternative U.S. history where the British control with magic and the colonists rebel by inventing.”

I loved this book about what 1888 Boston would look like if the magical British aristocracy was still in charge.


Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1)Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine the Great Library at Alexandria had survived. “Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.”

This is a great book imagining the Welsh and English at war and Alexandria as the greatest city on Earth.


 

The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire, #1)The Greyfriar by Clay Griffith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming. Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire. When she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan, her only protector is the Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.”

Not going to lie.  I listened to this solely because it was narrated by James Marsters but I ended up loving the book.


 

Written in Red (The Others, #1)Written in Red by Anne Bishop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if when humans tried to expand out of the areas they first settled they found that they weren’t the dominant predators on Earth?

I love this series.  The world is run by shape shifters who keep humans in check through a few strict system of controls.  Now humans are trying to rebel.  Hint – you won’t be rooting for the humans.


 

What About Trying Hard To Have History Just The Way It Is?

Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St Mary's, #1)Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“A story of history, time travel, love, friendship and tea. Meet the disaster-magnets at the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around history, observing, documenting, drinking tea and, if possible, not dying. “

This is a series about historians who can go back to observe history and try very, very hard not to change it.  No, you can’t put out the fire at the Library in Alexandria or warn people who are going to be assassinated no matter how good of an idea it seems at the time.


 

KindredKindred by Octavia E. Butler

“Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.”

I haven’t gotten to this one yet but I really need to.

All book summaries in quotes from Goodreads