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.
Create a backstory for your alternate history story:
A backstory, background story, back-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.
- 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
(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