The world of alternate history

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“There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.” – Kazuo Ishiguro

As a book lover, I try to read books from different genres, both fiction and non fiction. Recently, I discovered ‘alternate history’ (abbreviated AH) – a genre of fiction, usually set in worlds in which historical events happen differently from how it did in reality. It is more like a sub-genre of science fiction and historical fiction.

I probably read more historical fiction than Sci-fi. I enjoyed titles like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and of course, Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. 

Sci-fi is my favourite movie genre but I seldom pick up a sci-fi book, until I came across Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Set in postwar Britain, but in an alternate universe in which biological technology has advanced more rapidly than in our world. If you have not read the story, (this is a bit of a spoiler), the story’s main characters are clones raised to be adults in order to be harvested for their organs.

The fascinating thing about the AH genre is that it allows the authors to ask “What if” of history. According to Steven H Silver, alternate history requires three things: 1) the story must have a point of divergence from the history of our world prior to the time at which the author is writing, 2) a change that would alter history as it is known, and 3) an examination of the ramifications of that change.

Here are some popular books that you may have read or heard of that fall under the genre of alternate history

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell — by Susanna Clarke

11/22/63 — by Stephen King

The Man in the High Castle — by Philip K. Dick

Making History — by Stephen Fry

1945 — by Robert Conroy