Meetup 152: Alternate History in Fiction

time-loop

Last Saturday, our Write Club member, Bright, hosted a session on Alternate History.

If you’re too lazy to read the whole Wikipedia entry, alternate history is a sub-branch of fiction where the story is based on a ‘what if’ question asked of a famous event in history. Necessarily, these questions are provocative and far-fetched. The author picks up one such thread, builds his world, and tells a story in the new, ‘alternate’ form of reality.

For example, what if India did not become free in 1947? What if she had gained Independence in 1857? Or to go to the other extreme, what if we’re still a British colony to this day?

Time travel often makes an appearance in alternate history novels, with people flitting away to the past and changing things so that the future – the present – can be changed according to their will. Numerous time travel tales have been told in fiction and in movies. I’m sure all of us are by now conversant with all the resident paradoxes.

For the full notes, download the document here.

Exercise

Create a backstory for your alternate history story:

backstorybackground storyback-story or background is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest. Back-story is often employed to lend depth or believability to the main story.

Back-stories are usually revealed, partially or in full, chronologically or otherwise, as the main narrative unfolds. However, a story creator may also create portions of a back-story or even an entire back-story that is solely for their own use in writing the main story and is never revealed in the main story.

And then, use the back-story to develop a story.

Ideas

  • India invading the West and the East, its cultural ramifications
  • China invading the West, its cultural ramifications
  • Africa(or a specific country in Africa) colonizing the world, its cultural ramifications
  • A matriarchal Indian society developing after Rani Laxmibhai of Jhansi’s victory in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 leading to the defeat of the British.
  • India and Pakistan never split.
  • India still a colony of the British Empire.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. surviving that fatal gunshot.
  • Japan dropping atomic bombs on the USA instead of the other way around
  • Apes evolving as the most intelligent species.
  • Panagea never split. Just one big land mass, no 5 continents

My piece

(This is written as a summary, and now that I read it, I find hardly anything original about it. Except for the part where the grandfather saves the guy from killing himself. There may be a good story in here somewhere. I hope to come back to it sometime.)

The time is late twenty-first century. The fourth world war has wiped out most of humanity. A time machine has finally been invented with which the few remaining human beings hope to go back in time and correct a few wrongs in history. But the unfortunate thing is that none of the physicists know which one of the many time-travel scenarios will play out in practice. All their models seem to suggest that a separate universe will take birth, and the new timeline will replace the current timeline. But since this was the first time journey ever, no one knew for certain what will happen.

To test this out properly, a volunteer has to be sent to the past to kill his own grandfather. From time immemorial, ever since time travel was just fantasy of writers out of their minds, the grandfather paradox has been the staple of naysayers. If you went back in time and murdered your grandfather before he met your grandmother, what would happen to you? Would you still be alive? Or would you disappear in a puff of warped logic?

The most likely scenario is that the universe will split at that point, and will create a new reality, in which you will not exist. But the reality in which you do exist will not change. But then, models have been wrong before. There is a possibility, however tiny, that you will, in fact, vanish from the face of spacetime.

Nitish is one of the junior scientists who worked on the time machine’s design. He was responsible for keeping the force field alive for long enough to allow the machine to pass. He hates his life and wants to leave the human settlement for good. But since there are strict controls on suicide attempts, his only way to commit suicide, he feels, is by volunteering for this mission. At least by doing this he has a fifty-fifty chance of dying. He also wonders what would happen if he goes back in time and kills himself in the past.

The story then becomes a chronicle of Nitish’s attempts at killing himself in the past. The first time, he gets ‘saved’ by his grandfather, and gets taken to his grandfather’s home and looked after. During his second attempt to kill himself, he becomes the reason for his grandfather and grandmother meeting. He begins to enjoy life so much as his grandparents’ friend that he decides to live with them and not return to his ‘original’ timeline. He then saves his grandfather’s life and in the process gives up his own.

In the twenty-first century, Nitish’s colleagues find his grandfather’s diary, and a reference to a friend who saved his life before he had his first born, Nitish’s mother. When Nitish doesn’t respond to any communication, they conclude that the universe neither splits not a new universe is created from time jumps and tweaks. There is only one reality, and it has accounted for all time jumps that human beings will make or have made. Reality will therefore conserve itself. There is no way to change the past because it has already happened.

Best Alternate History Novels

And in case you’re interested, here are a couple of links which list the best alternate history novels of all time. (Take that with a pinch of salt, but most books on these lists are good.)

If the topic inspires you enough, go ahead, write something and post it in the comments section.

Image Courtesy: TV Tropes

Comments

  1. Even though there were some predictable elements, there seems to a larger and a very interesting scope that can be covered. Do come back to it! 😀 😀

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  2. So this was my first attempt at Alternative history, and I couldn’t help but imagine, what could have happened had thousands of witches not been hunted and burned at stake in early 16th century.
    Here it goes…

    “Muriel, I need the love potion you gave Ashthi”, my patron stood across the counter and asked me. But I couldn’t just give her the love potion.
    With great witchcraft, comes great responsibility.

    “Why do you need it Runa, didn’t you just take one last month for, what was that boy’s name, Aryan, isn’t it?” I asked her.
    “Yeah, but now I am bored of Aryan, and he is all love struck, done it all to please me. This time, it is the mail man, Pasha. He seems quite a catch.” Runa’s eyes light up with excitement and desire. She obviously was bored of her last month’s love slave and needed another distraction. But I wasn’t going to provide her with the love potion.
    Yes, they were just men. And yes they served few non-intellectual purposes like lifting weights, making love, running errands and giving us our precious baby girls. There would sometimes be boys, but those boys were given to wet nurses and sent to the palaces to be raised as love slaves. And yes, even if it felt wrong to treat them as slaves, there wasn’t much that could be done. It was after all the way of the world.
    What I did not understand for the life of me, was when asked to think differently, they would look and that’s it, just look like they had the thinking capacity of a sparrow! I had heard stories about smart men, intelligent men, Alexander the great, King Arthur but that was all before the 16th century. All before witches of the world took over the reigns and men lost the capacity to exercise their brain.

    So yes back to Runa, while Pasha would serve his purpose for Runa, it was wrong for Runa to want so much. After all greed and lust were the ancient sins.

    “Sorry Runa, you know the drill. One love potion for one man. And that has got to last for at least 3 months.” I responded to Runa, who made a face and stomped out of my store.
    Ufff, these new rules made by the new Queen of witches were too much to abide by. We had heard rumors about a man in the Queen’s service who was a wizard, and the Queen was in love with him. This was the reason for all those pro – men rules. These rules did not go down well with most of the world. Already there was a rebel uprising in whole of Europe and India.

    “Love” a woman falling in love with a man was unheard of, and that too a wizard.

    Wizard’s were a small species of men who were respected by witches because they were as well versed in magic as we Witches were, but the Wizard population was dwindling. They were one by one being hunted down by a secret society of witches who felt that men had only one purpose and that was one of a slave.
    This secret society went by the name of “Kooreetsi”, it began in the later 17th century and were lorded over by a panel of 7 fierce and powerful witches, who were also referred to as elders. Every 100 years the reigns of power passed on to the chosen 7. The 7 were chosen from a lineage of pure blood witches and after years of rigorous training. Each one of these 7 had to prove mastery over 5 elements before they were declared as elders. And their identity remained a secret from every one including the bottom ring of the “Kooreetsi” society. The elders were not just responsible for taking crucial decisions in running of the “Kooreetsi” society but also were especially trained in taking down and hunting of the most powerful wizards.

    I looked outside and realized it was dark already. Time to shut shop and go home. As I was about to pull down the shutters, a Raven came flying towards me and dropped a sealed envelope. I instantly knew where the letter came from. My hands shivered in excitement as I opened the letter.

    There were just two lines written on it:

    Hunter: Elder Muriel
    Hunted: Wizard Dragan

    With a crazy grin on my face, and the lust of my next hunt literally making me salivate I ran to the resource room in the basement of my 2 storied home. A cozy abode that alternated between a ground floor store and 1st floor living quarters.
    The weapons room was filled with spell books, potions, swords, axes, guns, poisonous knives and my most prized possession, Rhys, my pet boa constrictor. A wizard can’t possibly incant spells when Rhys is increasingly choking his throat now, can he? Oh how many of those, nasty men who called themselves men of magic suffocated to the grip of Rhys. Rhys loved me and I loved him and the best part of having Rhys with me was that I was never lonely.

    When I became the Elder, Rhys was my gift. Blessed with the power of speech he was a young 6 days old Boa who would wail consistently for either milk or a frog. But I raised him and I have loved him ever since first set eyes upon the tiny, scaly green shiny delight.

    It took me around 2 hours to collect all my weapons and magic books, potions and poisons and dump them in the bottomless bag. Before I could ask, Rhys wrapped himself around my neck and I teleported us to the nearest “Warp”.

    “Warps” were this elite mode of travel, reserved only for witches and wizards. They could teleport you to any part of the world in an instant.

    I stood outside the warp looking up at the night sky and the giant columns where every single inch was carved with incantations.

    I cut my veins and allowed the blood to flow through the channels that led inside the warp and invoked the spell of teleportation.

    “Ut ducem luna et requies lucis,
    Oh ianuam, ut me semper in – Pragae”

    I saw a light forming in the dark recesses of the “Warp”, I waited in anticipation for the light to engulf me and pull me in, for what I knew would be the greatest adventure of my life.

    “Muriel, I have always hated teleportation, it ruffles my scales.” Rhys spoke in a tone that sounded suspiciously like fear.

    “Don’t be a wuss, Rhys. 5 -4 -3 -2 -1….Wohoooo here we goooooooo!” and we were sucked into the bright vortex.

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