Histrionic Histories
Alternate histories with a scientifical edge


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Lest Darkness Fall
by L Sprague de Camp (1939)


Classic alternative-history yarn about archaeologist Martin Padway who is catapulted back in time to the declining days of the Roman Empire. With the benefit of fourteen centuries hindsight, he becomes a Quaestor and sets about trying to the fend off the Dark Ages. Still manages to capture the imagination, especially for ancient history buffs.





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Bring the Jubilee
by Ward Moore (1955)


In winning the War for Southern Independence, the Confederacy went on to become a strong and prosperous nation. Alternatively, the vanquished North misses out on the Industrial Revolution and sinks into poverty and despair. The protagonist time-travels to the Battle of Gettysburg. A big favourite for many years way down South in Dixie.





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The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K Dick (1962)


The pick of the alternative-history bunch and the novel that established Dick as a major sci-fi writer. In 1962 the few surviving Jews live in fear and slavery is legal - all because America lost World War II. Literary and quasi-religious themes abound... and ultimately we get an alternative history within an alternative history. In true noir style, the real mystery is the truth. Or is it the other way around?





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The Ice People
by René Barjavel (1968; 1971 in English)


A French expedition in Antarctica discovers the remains of a civilisation almost a million years old… and the scientific world has a field day. They come across a man and woman in suspended animation. When the woman is revived, she offers a history-altering course to a better future. Not surprisingly, the world's superpowers find a way to stuff things up. Non-alternative history at its best.





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Doomsday Book
by Connie Willis (1992)


The top sci-fi writer of the 90s turns in this eloquent tale of a mid-21st century history student who is mistakenly transported back to a medieval English village on the eve of Black Plague in 1348. Dark and sombre at times, the book is nevertheless a triumph of the human spirit. Popular in academic circles and generally regarded as Willis' best.





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The Guns of the South
by Harry Turtledove (1992)


In 1864 Robert E Lee is convinced the Confederates are losing the American Civil War. A group of time-tripping white South African supremacists arrive bearing AK-47s as gifts and history is changed… for the time being at least. As always, Turtledove's historical nous is superb, clouded only by the occasional pedestrian narrative.





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To Say Nothing Of the Dog
by Connie Willis (1998)


Hugo award winning novel that finds Willis at her maniacal best. The hero jumps back and forth between the 21st century and the 1940s on a mission to find the missing piece to restoring Coventry Cathedral. A fellow time traveller throws a spanner in the works, necessitating a timely trip to the Victorian era to set things right. Madcap mayhem.





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Ilium
by Dan Simmons (2003)


Simmons returns to sci-fi with this staggering variation on the alternate history theme. Three storylines linked by Homer’s Iliad come together in a riveting adventure that takes us from post-tech Earth, to a Mars inhabited by scholarly Greek ‘gods’ and to Jupiter where sentient robots quote Shakespeare. Absolutely dazzling modern sci-fi.


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