Alternate History and the Classical Past: The Uchronic Impulse
Pascal Lemaire © Pascal Lemaire, 2020
Abstract: Uchrony, the rewriting of history as it might have been (also known as “alternate histo- ry” or, somewhat abusively, “counter-factual history”), has grown increasingly popular during the course of the early 21st century with diverse professional and nonprofessional authors playing with world’s events to rewrite them in line with their fantasy writing. The ancient world has not been forgotten in those efforts, and a wide range of productions of diverse scope have altered the histor- ical events of Ancient Egypt, Hebraic history, ancient China, India or Persia, as well as, of course, the Greek, Hellenistic and Roman periods. This article also attempts to demonstrate how rational- ism and empiricism, as developed since Descartes, Bacon and Hume, impact our perception of the world in this genre of popular fiction. The deep internalization of those philosophical concepts by our Western societies have become such that most authors and readers do not even think about them when trying to depict the thoughts and actions of people not exposed to them.
Introducing Uchronia ered by the philosopher Renouvier and where are relegated, like old moons, Herodotus asked himself what would events that might have happened but have happened to Greece had the Hel- didn’t” (Messac, 1934: 658). lenes not overcome the Persian onslaught Uchronia is born from a point of di- at Salamis (Herodotus, History, VII, 139). vergence with our reality, the PoD, also Livy imagined the fight that would have called sometimes the Nexus point taken place had Alexander, surviving (Hellekson, 2001: 5). This PoD can be as- Babylon, turned against Rome (Livy, Ab sociated with either a human intervention Urbe Condita, IX, 17-19). Since then, or a natural factor which the uchronia many have played with the flow of time, takes as a point of departure, creating a modifying it in a myriad of ways, either new narrative. Thus Caesar’s not going to as a game, a way to take revenge for the the Senate on the Ides of March, Marcus fate given to them or their ancestor by Aurelius’ not dying from sickness on the History, for nationalistic reasons, for the frontlines, the great Justinian plague be- philosophical seduction of the exercise or ing less severe are all PoDs playing on for its intellectual quality (see Gallagher, very different factors that lead to uchron- 2018). Called Alternate History (AH) in ic texts. Some of those PoDs have been English, and Uchronie in French, we used in counterfactual history (G. Tra- speak here of this “unknown land, next to iana’s Carrhes comes to mind), or in ama- ours or outside of the flow of time, discov- teur writings but not, as far as I know, in
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published novels (Renouvier’s PoD in fact divergence making Alcibiades decide to is not Marcus Aurelius’ survival of sick- stay on the island, conquer Syracuse and ness but his having a much more agres- come back home in triumph as a proof of sive policy during his Danubian cam- his innocence in the Hermes sacrilege. paigns, which prevents the Germanic The PoD may also, sometimes, have no migrations our history has known). direct relationship with the intrigue. This Purists of the genre will exclude time second approach is illustrated by Turtle- travel and its sometimes paradoxical con- dove’s collection of short stories Agent of sequences, and will make a clear distinc- Byzantium (1987) in which the PoD is the tion with counterfactual history. In the survival of a stronger Byzantium thanks present article I will, however, look at the to a milder Justinianic plague,2 the plots reception of Classical history in all of its of the short novels being various investi- uchronic avatars taken in the broadest gations by a 14th century special agent, meaning, including time travel, in order Basil Argyros. In this case, information to make both comparisons of details and about the PoD is disseminated through- larger conclusions. My goal is to give a out the collection, and it is once more the general overview of the situation and ex- reader that must piece it together from plore how the depiction of the ancient the various clues left by the author. In world in alternate history may differ from those novels, Turtledove plays with his that found in more usual productions readers, throwing some jokes at them, such as traditional historical novels or such as the constant references to St Mu- movies. hamad, the patron saint of the investiga- Authors may introduce the PoD in tor. Those jokes have two roles, one as el- many different ways, with them being ements that emphasize the feeling of sometimes described early on in the novel difference with our reality, another as or with its disclosure being more discreet, part of building complicity between read- as the author plays with the readers forc- er and writer, which constitute what ing them to discover the nature of the his- Henriet calls “le clin d’oeil au lecteur” torical change. Thus in Harry Turtle- (2003: 41). dove’s The Daimon (2002) we find no The authors of alternate history seem explicit mention of the PoD; it falls to the to come from various backgrounds, alt- reader to discover that the presence of hough most are men3 of European or Socrates in Sicily with Alcibiades1 is the ————— ————— Xenophon or Plutarch, and in a number of lat- 1 Alcibiades (450 - 404 BCE), Athenian er works of art and letters general and politician, educated by his uncle 2 The plague of Justinian was the first rec- Pericles and follower of Socrates. He pushed orded plague caused in Europe and the Medi- Athens to launch in 416 BCE an expedition terranean area by the bacterium Yersinia pes- against Sicily of which he was granted com- tis, which also caused later the Black Death. It mand before political intrigue led to his recall ravaged the Eastern Roman Empire between home, which ultimately led to the expedition’s 541 and 549 AD, killing millions, and the destruction. Alcibiades would then spend a Eastern Roman Empire’s emperor Justinian decade helping the Spartans, the Persians and himself caught it in 542 (although he did sur- the Athenians until his death in exile a few vive). months after the final defeat of Athens by 3 There are very few women in this field, Sparta. He appears in a number of ancient especially in the English-speaking world. The texts by, among others, Thucydides, Plato, only exception I can think of is the participa-
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North-American origin, maybe because of 2003). Unlike fiction, counterfactual his- the West’s particular relationship with tory, which is conceived as a scientific ap- the past. Amongst the best-known au- proach, was defined by Jeremy Black and thors we find trained historians: Eric Donald MacRaild as “the idea of conjec- Flint, author of, amongst others, 1632 (a turing on what did not happen, or what collaborative series set in the 17th centu- might have happened, in order to under- ry), pursued formal training in history stand what did happen” (2007: 125). The (even starting a PhD on early colonial emphasis is laid on the study of the “true” South African history, before his political timeline, playing with its parameters to activism led him to leave Academia, see see what changes this would cause, as a Flint, 2012), as did Harry Turtledove, chemist playing with his compounds who has a PhD in Byzantine history, would do in his lab. The divergence is which explains the rare depth to some of thus used to put into light the role of the his texts such as the Basil Argyros sto- parameter in our history. In contrast, the ries. However it appears most authors did literary uchrony/alternate history puts not pursue any formal training in the dis- the emphasis on the world that appears cipline, which may help explain in part after this change of parametre. why some points of divergence come more often to the fore. While trained historians may play with more obscure periods or Classics in Alternate History and Al- historical characters those without such ternate Realia4 training will stick mostly to the best- known historical characters. Incidental- There is probably no need to evoke here ly, Turtledove’s Basil Argyros collection of the long shadow of the ancient world on short stories, Agent of Byzantium, was in- later arts and literature, names such as troduced by Isaac Asimov, a man also those of Joachim Du Bellay, William passionate about History. Most texts clas- Shakespeare, Jean Racine, Marivaux or sified under the “alternate history” head- Alexandre Dumas being but a few exam- er are indeed associated with science- ples of artists with a great interest in it fiction, even when they do not imply time- for the centuries following its rediscovery travelling. This categorization might ex- in the early Renaissance. Yet it is useful plain why the genre was not really taken to look in some depth at the various artis- seriously by professional historians, at tic productions of the 20th century to de- least not until the 1990s and the popular- fine some of the main characteristics of ization of formal counterfactual history by the representation of the ancient world in Niall Ferguson in his volume Alternatives order to compare them with the represen- and Counterfactuals (1999) (see Kreisler, tations found in uchronia. To achieve this, we’ll use Claude Aziza’s categories from ————— his book Guide de l’Antiquité Imaginaire tion of a number of women in Eric Flint’s 1632 (2008). collaborative series (Virginia DeMarce, Paula Goodlet, Marilyn Kosmatka). Also, fantasy au- ————— thor Judith Tarr’s work with Harry Turtledove 4 Realia is the technical term used in ar- on Household Gods, although this (very good) cheology and (ancient) History to describe dai- novel is more a time travel experience (and ly life artefacts and realities (in opposition to possibly in many ways a so-called ‘self-insert’ religious or architectural elements for in- type of time travel) than an alternate history. stance).
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Before examining the way the classical list. One of the most extreme, pre-historic, past is explored it might be good to exam- examples is, of course, Ray Bradbury’s ine the importance of the phenomenon. In novel A Sound of Thunder (1953) in which order to do so I shall use Robert B. the crushing of a butterfly in the age of Schmunk’s restrictive bibliography of the dinosaurs causes changes in the 23rd cen- genre, which lists some 247 titles with tury AD. PoD’s situated between 6000 BCE and This focus on some periods rather than 700 CE (Schmunk, 1991-2020): others is, as I have mentioned, probably due in part with the lack of familiarity of 7th century BC and before, 49 many authors with the historical past: 6th century BC, 2 they just create their story around what 5th century BC, 10 they learned in school or in some docu- 4th century BC, 13 mentary which inflamed their imagina- 3rd century BC, 17 tion and fed their creativity. Another rea- 2nd century BC, 4 son, though, might be the need for the 1st century BC, 32 author to catch the reader’s attention, 1st century AD, 34 which is easier to do when speaking of a 2nd century AD, 6 period or events of which the reader has 3rd century AD, 0 already heard of. This might also be one 4th century AD, 28 of the reasons most authors play with 5th century AD, 24 PoD’s set in Western history, given that 6th century AD, 12 they mostly write for Western audiences. 7th century AD, 15 Given what we have already noted about the authors of the genre it will sur- The lack of titles with a nexus set in prise no one to discover that the Ancient the third century AD is as obvious as it is world is often drawn with large, carica- surprising: the period between the fall of tural strokes, as happens in the movies, the Han dynasty in China and the so- privileging pompous representations to called crisis of the Roman Empire, offers descriptions of everyday life, and focusing many potential points of divergence that on the magnificent and the huge, thus have not been exploited. An exception, earning the pejorative nickname “antiqui- posterior to this initial research, would be té colossale” in Aziza’s categorizations the 2015 Hesperian trilogy by Alan Smale (2008: 83). Those texts and movies often (Clash of Eagle, 2015; Eagle in Exile, show us market scenes, the life of the 2016; Eagle and Empire, 2017), which masters of palaces and villas, sumptuous shows a Roman attempt to conquer Amer- banquets given in the richest halls deep ica. Similarly, the second century BC is in the forests of Germany, in the cities of not a very productive era, coming after Phenicia or in the Eastern kingdoms but the second Punic War and Hannibal, de- not more mundane scenes. These more spite being a period when, for instance, spectacular images are also present in Rome could have failed in its conquest of uchronia, sometimes giving the author Greece. One should also remember that opportunities to better root their alter- the date of the PoD is not always the pe- nate world in our mental representations riod during which the novel takes place, of the time, such as when time-travelers which explains the apparent over- establish convenient local contacts able to representation of very early PoDs in this help them in markets.
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Various other “images d’Epinal,” other tion may be explained in various ways. topoi, are often found in both classical Firstly, the use of known historical fig- historical novels and, of course, their al- ures places a certain number of con- ternate versions. Hagia Sophia in Con- straints on the writer, who must respect, stantinople is one of those elements al- if not the historical character, at least his ways mentioned in relation to Byzantium, modern representation. This is, in many even in stories set at a time when it was ways, comparable to the issues one sees not built yet (for example as a dream by in fan fiction around the use of characters one of the characters); chariot races come and the respect of the canon of the con- next in the list of common topoi on the tent on which the fan fiction story is Ancient city. Another familiar picture is based (see for instance Peason, 2014). The that of sheep grazing on the abandoned relative prominence of famous figures in Rome of alternate history, as happens in amateur short stories and novels, such as Hannibal’s Children by John Maddox Julius Caesar5 or Belisarius, is on the Robberts (2002), in which the Romans re- other hand linked to both the level of turn to the seven hills after a century- knowledge of the ancient world by the au- long exile caused by their defeat by Han- thors or their wish to build upon the pop- nibal. This is of course a direct reference ularity of their characters amongst the to Renaissance descriptions of the sorry potential readership. state of the Forum Romanum in their Another relevant issue is also the time and one needs only turn to paintings changes inflicted by the PoD on historical of Piranesi of Pannini to visualize the de- characters. According to the butterfly ef- scribed scenes. fect, once something changes then every- thing will: people will not marry the same persons, or if they do, not at the exact The Place of the Great Men of History same time, eggs will not fertilize at the exact same time with the exact same Seeing the cliched use of topoi, one might gametes… Characters will of course be af- expect to see a comparatively massive use fected by those small differences: sickness of famous Great Men. Yet one would be might be avoided, but others might be disappointed because they do not appear contracted, death will happen at another as often as one would expect despite the time, choices will not be the same. Ama- fact that their lives provide obvious PoD. teurs, though, sometimes forget this or In fact, leaving Jesus aside, the Great write characters who might have a slight- Men are mostly present to provide a ly different name but are, in fact, pale background to help the readers find their copies of the historical characters. One way in the chronology. Yet here is one of might thus say that the famous people act the points where professional authors and as lighthouses in a sea of darkness, with amateurs self-publishing online diverge in their approaches, as the latter are ————— 5 much more open to the idea of directly us- For an example published by a profes- sional writer see Friesner’s Child of the Eagle. ing famous men of the past for their own A Myth of Rome on Julius Caesar (1996). One devices, a true difference between what is of the most extreme professional examples is available in the bookshops on one side the six-volume Belisarius series by Eric Flint and, for example, the alternatehisto- and David Drake, published between 1998 and ry.com website on the other. This situa- 2006.
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the amateur staying closer to the light of how authors choose historical charac- while the professional usually prefers the ters for their stories falls outside of the freedom offered by the very obscurity the scope of the present article but might be amateur flees, as long as he can bring his worth further enquiries. reader along thanks to some element al- lowing a link with what the reader al- ready knows. Contemporary Politics Set in Yester- A similar trend is visible in a part of years the contemporary Anglo-American pro- duction of Greek and Roman adventure Coming back to uchronic texts, we may historical novels: Vespasian and the year note that they are often not simple shows of the four emperors have a remarkable destined to provide entertainment with popularity, notably with the current se- impressive period images such as those ries by Robert Fabbri,6 an amateur in we just discussed, but part of a more mili- terms of the Ancient world, while Oxford tant brand of novels set in the Ancient professor Harry Sidebottom, a specialist world, something Aziza also call the “pre- of Roman military history, chose the ob- text” kind of texts (2008: 113). In those scure 3rd century barbarian usurper Bal- stories the Classical world is mostly a set lista, only known from the Historia Au- in which to address contemporary issues, gusta, for his own series of novels, before such as in the classic Quo Vadis? (1895) expanding his fictional universe to the by Henryk Sienkiewicz, which actually previous decades and the revolt of the deals with the political situation of Po- Gordiani.7 Similarly, Christian Cameron, land in the 1890s rather than in the An- author of various novels set in Classical cient world. Likewise, the travel novels by and early Hellenistic Greece, underwent Poul Anderson or Robert Silverberg’s Up formal education in Ancient History after the Line (1969) must be read in the con- his initial career in the US Navy, and pre- text of the post-May 1968 and Woodstock fers characters walking alongside the 1969 atmosphere, especially regarding great men rather than speaking about the sexuality: the character’s remarks on the great men themselves,8 contrary to Col- “natives’” customs throughout such sto- leen McCullough’s famous Masters of ries are thus less a comment on the An- Rome series (1990-2007, seven novels), cients’ morality, and more a comment on which focuses on the great men of the last their own time. Critic Alvaro Zinos- century of the Roman Republic. This topic Amaro wrote that Up the Line, “especially ————— in its early chapters, is so drenched in the 6 Robert Fabbri, Vespasian series, ongoing lingo and culture—meaning, specifically, since 2011, seven novels and three short sto- the drugs and sex—of the late sixties that ries at the time of writing this article. it may almost seem like a hippie parody à 7 Harry Sidebottom, Warrior of Rome and la Austin Powers: quite shagadelic” Throne of the Caesar series, ongoing since (2011). 2008, nine novels and two short stories at the A theme particularly present in those time of writing. alternate histories set in the Ancient 8 Christian Cameron, Tyrant series, six volumes published between 2008 and 2014, world is religion and particularly the and The Long War series, five published vol- three main monotheistic religions, what umes and one new announced at the time of Aziza calls the “messianic” stories (2008: writing. 47). Events of the Old Testament, those of
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the life of Jesus or of the martyrs of his tempts to change the course of Christiani- cult, and those related to the prophet of ty are also numerous, be it New Testa- Islam make the core of those novels, alt- ment events revisited, for example, to hough to be fair the later are less com- save the Christ from Golgotha or different mon.9 Precisely, one of the first uchronies decisions by the Roman power relative to formally recorded is the one that gave its the Jews and Christians or a longer and name to the genre, written by the French more fruitful life of Julian the Apostate as philosopher Charles Renouvier under the in John M. Ford’s 1983 The Dragon Wait- title Uchronie, Utopie dans l’histoire ing. (1876). Its subject was a detailed and Some texts do also play with the condi- somewhat tedious exploration of a Roman tions of the birth of Islam, as does for in- world in which a changed Antonine dyn- stance a very short text published online asty takes anti-Christian measures, push- on Alternatehistory.com under the title ing the followers of this religion far to the “A Report to the Emperor” (Major Major, East. This goal of changing the course of 2010). In it an officer reports on a desert history by eliminating the great monothe- patrol in Arabia during which he cap- ism would become a frequent theme. An- tured and executed a caravan raider and other such example is Hands Off by Ed- his companions in a routine police inter- ward Everett Hale (1881), a philosophical vention. Further on the reader learns that tale describing how the failure of Joseph, the man, called Mouamad, was also a son of Jacob, to become an Egyptian slave heretic and was thus submitted to the prevents him from saving his masters in most severe sentence. The text concludes their fight against the Cananean, leading with a note by a second hand ordering a to a period of darkness from which nei- punition for the officer who used the first ther the Jewish faith nor the Greek and singular pronoun instead of the third… Roman civilizations are allowed to flour- Yet sometimes the wheel of time turns in ish, depriving mankind of the word of Je- the other direction, such as in the novel sus. Another adaptation of the Jewish Roma Islamica (Harbour, 2012). In this history is, of course, the novel Roma text, Constantinople falls to a combined Aeterna by Silverberg (2003). In it Moses’s sea and land attack in 715 AD, with a failing to part the Red Sea means that the rapid Islamisation of Europe following. A Jewish faith remains an insignificant cult few years later, a certain Charlemagne followed by some desert dwellers of the becomes the champion of the new reli- Sinai while Rome grows along a longer gion… and more glorious road because it has no While those examples play with the Jewish rebellions to crush and Christiani- condition of evolution of the three main ty does not, of course, appear in order to religions, we do also find texts which disrupt the workings of the empire. At- change the world’s history by reinforcing other cults such as Mithraism or Mani- ————— cheism, those becoming under various cir- 9 However since 2014 came a number of ti- cumstances the dominant faiths of the tles. Beside Soumission by Michel Houellebecq Roman Empire. Lastly for these kinds of (2015) we may note Through Darkest Europe by Harry Turtledove (2018) and Empire of Lies novels, I will mention texts that concen- by Raymond Khoury (2019), all of which have trate on the personality of Jesus and es- more medieval PoDs and take place in the con- pecially his Passion. Those usually either temporary era. change the circumstances under which he
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was killed (be it the method of his death ing those two novels is very interesting or his escaping this fate altogether), or because they show two different ways to replace him on the cross with another conceive the relationship between natives character, often a time traveler that does and time travelers. While both authors do not, because of his love for him, want the find ways to circumvent the difficulty of Christ to suffer the gruesome crucifixion. understanding the language of the an- Such is the plot of Michael Moorcock’s cients, they do not take into account the Behold the Man, published in 1969. question of the mentality of the different eras, as we will see. In 1959, the philosopher Bertrand Faith in Technology for a Better Russell wrote a refutation of the Marxist World vision of technological evolution before proceeding to give his own nearly me- Religion, while indeed a topic often men- chanical and providential vision of such tioned, is far from being the only or the development, which is to him mostly a set most interesting topic examined by succession of events. “Marx,” Russell uchronia. The theme of the technological wrote, “thinks that discoveries and inven- evolution of civilizations is also often at tions are made when the economic situa- the heart of the texts. As a question to be tion calls for them. This, however, is a treated in an Ancient context they are of quite unhistorical view. Why was there course rather unique to the genre, and practically no experimental science from they do not appear in Aziza’s classifica- the time of Archimedes to the time of Le- tion although he is well-aware of their ex- onardo? For six centuries after Archime- istence. des the economic conditions were such as Most of these novels involve time trav- should have made scientific work easy. It eling, displacing an individual from a was the growth of science after the Re- more advanced period into the past, such naissance that led to modern industry”. as we see in Lyon Sprague de Camp’s Lest In Russell’s view, “This intellectual cau- Darkness Fall (1941), in which an arche- sation of economic processes is not ade- ologist walking the streets of Mussolini’s quately recognized by Marx. History can Rome finds himself unexpectedly thrown be viewed in many ways, and many gen- back to the city of the Gothic era and eral formulae can be invented which cover about to be besieged by Belisarius. enough of the ground to seem adequate if The traveler in this kind of novels may the facts are carefully selected.” This either succeed in his endeavor to improve leads him to “suggest, without undue so- the past, prospering in it, as does the lemnity, the following alternative theory character of Martin Padway in Lest of the causation of the Industrial Revolu- Darkness Fall, or to the contrary fail ut- tion: industrialism is due to modern sci- terly to adapt to his new surroundings. ence, modern science is due to Galileo, Such is the case in Poul Anderson’s short Galileo is due to Copernicus, Copernicus novel The Man Who Came Early (1956), a is due to the Renaissance, the Renais- direct response to Lest Darkness Fall, in sance is due to the fall of Constantinople, which a GI finds himself thrown into the the fall of Constantinople is due to the Iceland of the ancient sagas where his migration of the Turks, the migration of knowledge of modern man deprives him of the Turks is due to the desiccation of Cen- any skill useful to his survival. Compar- tral Asia. Therefore the fundamental
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study in searching for historical causes is important element, not the technology it- hydrography” (Russell, 1959: 295). self. The goal of the authors might be to The lure of accelerating technological use a specific technology, sometimes on evolution or sending it onto another path the more or less mistaken assumption is a theme we mostly see in two periods: that the technology was feasible, but the the Ancient world, especially from the story (or the story arc) will be about Hellenistic period onward, and the 19th bringing the technology into being in the century’s Industrial Revolution, often un- alternate reality being described. This of der the guise of the Steampunk genre. course is probably the element that con- Most often the texts do adopt a positive nects alternate history the most firmly to faith in technology, a doxa inherited from classic science fiction. Auguste Comte’s positivism which reso- nates oddly in our time when skepticism and indifference or, even, mistrust and Proper Alternate History, an Una- hostility toward technology seem to win chievable Goal ? territory. Some uchronic texts do not call upon external interventions to accelerate Speaking of the progress, scientific or the process of science. Be it the early dis- otherwise, of civilizations brings us back covery of stirrups, such as in the novel to what will be the last part of this article: Cato’s Cavalry (Jones, 2013),10 in which the mindset of the ancients against that the Britanno-Romans discover them in of the moderns, and how the novels trying the 4th century and begin a reconquest of to reinvent the past take this difference their island and then of the Roman Em- into account. Our society has known an pire, or be it more advanced and Jules- extraordinary evolution thanks to the ra- Verne’s like developments such as in John tional philosophical developments made Maddox Roberts’ Hannibal’s Children since the 17th century, changing the way (2003). In this novel, Syracuse is besieged we think. While one might argue that Ar- not by the Romans of Marcellus, as his istotle had already described a form of nation has been already vanquished and empiricism, the influences of the rational- exiled north of the Alps, but by the Car- ism of Descartes and of the empiricism of thaginians. This change allows Archime- Bacon or Hume upon the way we see, ex- des to survive and flee to the Great Li- perience and think the world cannot be brary of Alexandria where he creates a underestimated. The later arrival of psy- new, more mechanically-oriented school of chology, language philosophy, communi- applied philosophy that will give birth to cation theories and the postmodern out- more and more complex mechanisms for look have completely infused our culture both peace and war. on every level, and our way of being, Most often those stories accelerating whether we are aware of it from our edu- the course of science do call upon the cation or simply applying the lessons of providential man, the genius, the man those advances by unconscious mimesis. who either came with knowledge or had Not only the different mindset but also the big idea: the inventor becomes the language may be a problem in time-travel ————— alternate History novels. Some authors 10 Initially a text published on www.alter- have undoubtedly missed the issue, while natehistory.com before being turned into a others may simply have decided to ignore book. it, probably for simplicity’s sake and to
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concentrate on their stories instead of ago. Might it be because those authors what they might consider a distraction think that the people who gave us so from their main message. much must have been so close to us so as On the other hand, there is actually at to not make a difference? Or is it simply, least one text touching on the issue, once as I would tend to believe, because they more by the precursor Lyon Sprague de want to facilitate readers’ identification Camp. In his short story “Aristotle and with the story, and thus their enjoyability the Gun” (1958), he describes how the at- of the texts without introducing overly tempts by a time traveler to accelerate complex notions? the development of science by influencing Aristotle dramatically backfires. The traveler, assuming the guise of an Indian, Conclusion mistakenly convinces Aristotle that India is far more advanced and that there is no This discussion of Alternate History as point in pursuing research, especially as seen through the lens of the use of the it requires dirtying one’s hands like a Ancient world as background is of course workman, so unlike the proper intellectu- a basic approach to the topic, which would al work that philosophy is supposed to be. require many new studies to be fully un- The consequence is that when the travel- derstood. Yet it also allows us to reach er goes back to his time he discovers a some first conclusions about the genre completely different and, to his surprise, and its links to the Ancient world. While most backward world, finding a Viking, the altered antiquity of uchronies and medieval territory in the place where his time travel do share a certain amount of very advanced USA should have been. characteristics with historical novels, on This text is one of the few that underlines both the formal and general content, they the difference between mentalities of the do have some particularities that set modern and the Ancients. The traveler’s them apart in terms of their nature when assumptions are proven to be completely one looks in more detail at the themes ex- wrong, and while this is a deliberate plored. choice by De Camp, it should in fact be a The first, and most important element standard on which we should evaluate that distinguishes historical fiction and every text, both in traditional historical uchronies is the fact that the later actual- novels and alternate histories. ly changes History as we know it. This is Ethnography and anthropology could fundamental to the genre, and is probably serve as guides for authors of the genre, what attracts readers and writers in the as they sometimes were for science-fiction first place. Secondly the shared use of authors, because of course the historical past settings by both historical fictions and alternate history novels are the sci- and alternate histories does confront ence-fiction of the past, the place we pro- them with similar issues, but alternate ject so many of our own interrogations. history has further challenges which au- Yet while his topic would require further thors might be loath to confront directly studies, it would however go further than but are to be taken into account to fully the goals of the present article. One could appreciate the texts. Alternate histories say that we are faced with an issue where must remain credible both in the changes authors did not (or would not?) recognize introduced in the known history and in the otherness of those who lived centuries the consequences explored. This is espe-
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cially true when depictions of interactions GALLAGHER, Catherine (2018). Telling it like between time travelers and era natives wasn’t: the counterfactual imagination in are concerned. The philosophical aspects history and fiction. Chicago (IL): Chicago of those time games are not the least of University Press those differences, yet only the best au- HALE, Edward Everett (1881). “Hands Off,” thors of the genre do actually confront Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, March: those issues, in a way that is similar to 582-588. the distinction between good historical HARBOUR, Jordan (2012). Roma Islamica. fiction, which does not try to have histori- Amazon self publication cal characters act in the way our current HELLEKSON, Karen (2001). The Alternate His- society expects them to, and bad histori- tory Refiguring Historical Time. Kent cal fictions that simply put people which (OH): Kent State University Press are psychologically of our era in the past. HENRIET, Éric B. (1999, 2004). L’histoire revi- The fact that authors of uchronies do sitée, Panorama de l’Uchronie sous toutes not seem to take into account the con- ses formes. Paris: Les Belles Lettres straints that those philosophical aspects JONES, Marc H. (2013), “Cato’s Cavalry.” should put upon them should probably be http://www.alternatehistory.com/ discus- also read as a testimony to the depth of sion/showthread.php?t=192710. (Access 15 the internalization by both authors and May 2014), readers of the numerous concepts relating KREISLER, Harry (2003). “Conversation with to our perception of the world and of hu- Niall Ferguson: Being a Historian,” Con- man relations born of the last few centu- versations with History. Regents of the ries of philosophical thinking. And that is University of California. probably one of the main contributions of http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/ peo- alternate history to our society. ple3/Ferguson/ferguson-con0.html. (Access 15 May 2014). MAJOR MAJOR, (2010). “A report to the Emper- Works Cited or,” http://www.alternatehistory.com/ dis- cussion/showthread.php?t=145175 (Access ANDERSON, Poul (1956). “The Man who Came 16 May 2014), url transfered to Early,” The Magazine of Fantasy and Sci- http://www.alternatehistory.com/forum/thr ence Fiction, June. eads/a-report-to-the-emperor.145175. (Ac- AZIZA, Claude (2008). Guide de l’Antiquité cess 30 June 2016). imaginaire. Paris: Les Belles Lettres MESSAC, Régis (1934). “Voyage en Uchronie, BLACK, Jeremy & Donald M. MACRAILD (2007). Propos d’un utopien,” Les Primaires, 83: Studying History. London: Palgrave 658-663 BRADBURY, Ray (1952). “A Sound of Thunder,” PEASON, Roberta (2014). “It’s always 1895: Ray Bradbury (1953). The Golden Apples of Sherlock Holmes in Cyberspace,” Karen the Sun. Hellekson & Kristina Busse (eds.), The Fan FLINT, Eric (2012). “Who is Eric Flint,” 2012. Fiction Studies Reader. Iowa City (IO): http://www.ericflint.net/index.php/about/ University of Iowa, 44-60. (Access 15 May 2014). RENOUVIER, Charles (1857, 1876). Uchronie. FORD, John M. (1983). The Dragon Waiting. Utopie dans l’Histoire. Paris: Bureau de la New York: Avon Critique philosophique FRIESNER, Esther (1996). Child of the Eagle. A ROBERTS, John Maddox (2002). Hannibal’s Myth of Rome. New York (NY): Baen Children. New York: Ace Books
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SCHMUNK, Robert B (1991-2020). “Uchronia di- the Gun,” Astounding Science Fiction, 14.5. vergence chronology.” http://www.uchronia. TURTLEDOVE, Harry (1987). Agent of Byzanti- net/bib.cgi/diverge.html (Access 15 May 2014). um. New York (NY): Congdon & Weed SILVERBERG, Robert (1969). Up the Line. New TURTLEDOVE, Harry (2002). “The Daimon,” York (NY): Ballantine Books Worlds that weren’t. New York (NY): ROC SILVERBERG, Robert (2003). Roma Aeterna. ZINOS-AMARO, Alvaro (2011). “Review of Time New York (NY): Harper Collins Three by Robert Silverberg,” http://www. SPRAGUE DE CAMP, Lyon (1941). Lest Darkness strangehorizons.com/reviews/2011/07/times_ Fall. New York (NY): Henry Holt three_by_.shtml (Access 15 May 2014). SPRAGUE DE CAMP, Lyon (1958). “Aristotle and
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