Realist-esque: These types begin with a historical event, create a plausible stimulus that changes the outcome and creates a radically different timeline still grounded in real world mechanics. A good example would be Harry Turtledove, who writes about a Confederate States of America that wins the Civil War and gains independence. His books focus on how the resulting power split creates a new political geography and how the USA and CSA compete with and against each other throughout the next few decades.
Sci-Fi: The most common type of alternate history, these are time traveling escapades that usually are all about juxtaposition of anachronisms, like “1633”, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” or John Birminghams’ “Axis of Time” trilogy.
Imaginative: Like FFS, these are reinterpretations of historical events and people through a thematic lens or the author’s personal ideas. FFS created a universe in which the authentic relationship between Twain and Tesla was exaggerated and turned into a larger-than-life epic about fighting Lovecraftian horrors with steampunk-esque battle machines. As another example, Charles Stross once experimented with the idea for a novel in which Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs are international cops chasing a heroin dealer named Adolf Hitler and a bunch of stolen computers through southeast Asia and discovering a nefarious plot by Arthur C. Clarke and Ian Fleming to militarize space with nuclear weapons. This idea is a little harder to distinguish from the other ones but typically focuses more on characters with the universe as a backdrop, rather than a story in which the characters and the historical setting are equally developed. It’s a difference of degrees, in other words.
These are my own categories, anyway, because I am a categorization freak.
Nikola Tesla and Bertha von Suttner represent completely opposite points of view on ending warfare. Suttner wrote “Die Waffen Nieder!” (“Lay Down Your Arms”), a novel calling for total disarmament. This was the most popular idea of the peace movement and seen as the most realistic option for eternal peace; however, Tesla’s attempts to build a perfect weapon reflect a unique perspective he subscribed to- the idea that war could be eliminated by providing all nations with a single weapon that was so terrifying and destructive that nations would be too terrified to use them for fear of annihilation. In his mind, technology could bring about peace through the means of fear. This was the motivating idea behind his real life desire to automate war, as well as to build and sell “particle beam weapons” to the nations of earth.
Obviously Tesla’s philosophy was stress-tested by Cold-War era MAD policy and nuclear weapons, and the US and USSR both made efforts to bypass Tesla’s argument through proxy warfare, NSC-68 and a variety of covert and overt alliances. Suttner’s plan for world peace, by contrast, is still regarded pretty much as a fantasy. I’m not sure if the authors were aware of these things when they wrote this, but I found it to be a fascinating contrast.
Any thoughts on these discussion points? What do you like about Five Fists of Science? For that matter, what kinds of alternative fiction do you like and are there any other good comics based on it?