Today I’ve got some questions, but I don’t have a lot of answers. Alternate history. Typically when people consider alternate history it’s either “what if Hitler had won the war” or “what if the South had won the war”, and those do seem to be the largest sub-genres of one of the more peculiar sub-genres of science fiction, largely because there is often not much of a fantastical element to it. Something small happens differently which causes something big to happen differently which causes the world to be different…but how? It really falls more into the alternate name for the genre: speculative fiction. But anyway, this isn’t about definitions, this is about creation.
I’ve been doing a lot of research about the early 1800s as part of a side project. As a writer it has started to pique my interest in the possibility of dabbling in some alternate history, but it does raise the question of how much research is the right amount of research. I’ve found in the past when trying to work with historical characters, even if in a setting so non-historic that I never thought of it as alternate history, that misconception can have a major impact on the story being told. It can be as simple as having two tea-totalers sitting down for a drink or as complicated as having a xenophobe who openly wrote in letters about the dangers of eastern European societies influencing America hanging around for the entire book with a Serbian scientist.
As I read about the 1800s I’m discovering misconceptions that seemed so normal to me that it wouldn’t have even occurred to me it was something to be wrong about. Of course there wasn’t a strong middle class in the 1810s, wasn’t that largely an invention of the industrial revolution? It’s easily possible for a misconception this large to so totally throw off the conceit of a story as to make the end result almost uneditable as a result. However there’s a flip side where one ends up dealing with so much minutiae that the big picture is all but lost, an infliction I’ve seen crop up in other alternate history that I’ve read.
So the questions for potential discussion end up being: how much research is too much research? How fine is that line then? I suspect the answer is largely individual, and boils down to research being too much when it stops you from ever actually putting pen to paper.
Oh, and back to the original questions…What if Hitler had won the Civil War?
DL Thurston’s blog at http://DLThurston.com/blog is currently broken and never got updated anyway. Instead, watch him try to make sense of the War of 1812 at http://200years.dlthurston.com. Rust is available now for Kindle, ePub readers, and iBooks, coming soon to Sony Reader. He also wonders, for that matter, what history would have been like if James Buchanan had been a squirrel.