(If the CSA won World War I by Jordan)
Alternate history is a genre of speculative fiction which alters historical events and sets stories within the worlds created by those changes. It differs from historical fiction, which mostly sticks to real history. Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny is set in our own historical timeline for World War II and is thus historical fiction. Harry Turtledove's In the Presence of Mine Enemies imagines a world in which the Axis powers prevailed in that war and is thus alternate history.
Alternate history may be divided into two subgenres: alternate events and alternate settings. The alternate events subgenre focuses on the changing events themselves. Robert Conroy's Red Inferno, for example, is a novel in form but addresses primarily a war between the Soviet Union and the western Allies in 1945. Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union takes place in a world in which Israel lost its war for independence. But that alternate event provides the background setting for what is essentially a murder mystery.
I love alternate history. Here are some of my favorite text works from that genre.
Among the two subgenres of alternate history (alternate events and alternate settings) my strong preference is for alternate events. Although these books are novels, there is little in the way of distracting dialogue or character development. They read like fast-paced history books.
The first rule of alternate history is that the changes must be reasonable and the outcomes plausible. The author, Peter G. Tsouras, is a retired US Army officer and professional military historian. He has genuine expertise on the subjects about which he writes.
As a result, his alternate histories are thoroughly realistic--a feat that not all novels in the genre can attain. Lengthy endnotes for his sources (some of which are, amusingly, imaginary) support his changes and outcomes.
In these two novels, Britain enters the American Civil War on the side of the South--something that nearly happened in real history.
2. Redcoats' Revenge by David Fitz-Enz. Britain offered her greatest general of the Napoleonic Wars, the Duke of Wellington (right), command of its forces against the United States during the War of 1812. Wellington declined the offer. This novel by retired US Army officer and military historian David G. Fitz-Enz speculates about the outcome of Wellington accepting the offer and coming to North America.
Fitz-Enz focuses on the Lake Champlain campaign, on which he also published a non-fiction history. Like Tsouras's works, Redcoats' Revenge is realistic and written more like a straightforward history than a novel. It's a first-rate work of alternate history.
Highlight the following text for a spoiler: As an American, I found this novel deeply disturbing. It left me unsettled for days. In short, America loses--badly. Redcoats' Revenge was a completely plausible and horrifying demonstration of how close my country came to losing the War of 1812 and the terrible consequences that would have resulted. As a work of alternate history, it's perfect. But I wouldn't read it again.
3. The Greenhill Books alternate history series. The British publishing company Greenhill Books has published a series of anthologies of short alternate history scenarios on many different subjects. Most are written by historians or other people fairly knowledgeable on historical topics. All of them address military history, such as winning scenarios for Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany during World War II or different outcomes for the Napoleonic Wars or the Cold War.
4. Custer at the Alamo by Gregory Urbach. This work is both an alternate history and a time travel novel. Purists may understandably reject the novel entirely.
When a scenario is completely implausible, alternate history fans often refer to it as ASB--alien space bats. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and elements of the Seventh Cavalry, on the eve of the Battle of Little Big Horn, are transported back in time and space to Texas during the Texas Revolution. It is therefore inherently implausible. But once you accept time travel, then Urbach's carefully researched novel makes sense. The historical figures behave in completely reasonable ways.
The novel is written in the first person perspective from Custer's point of view. I perceived that Custer is an unreliable narrator--a sophisticated narrative technique normally not seen in alternate history.
5. In the Balance by Harry Turtledove. It's the summer of 1942. The world is embroiled in war. At this point, aliens invade the Earth.
Okay, this series is definitely alien space bats, but it's good ASB.
No list of alternate history novels can fail to include Harry Turtledove. The PhD-trained Byzantine historian is often billed as "the master of alternate history." I wouldn't elevate him that high, but Turtledove is defintely the most prolific published author in the genre.
He is perhaps best known for an alternate timeline that begins with the South winning the American Civil War and ends with the USA and the CSA battling for a final time during World War II. It's a fine series, but if I had to choose, I'd say that his earlier Worldwar series is superior.
(Illustration by John Jude Palencar)
6. Lee at the Alamo by Harry Turtledove. My interest in Turtledove has decreased over time. His recent works are excessively verbose and stretch out story arcs far too long. A more compact and excellent work by Turtledove is his novella Lee at the Alamo.
Don't worry! There's no time travel here. A minor change to real history delays Robert E. Lee's exit from Texas prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War.
7. Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen. This is the first novel in a trilogy that imagines the immediate results of a Confederate victory at the Battle of Gettysburg. If you love alternate history or military fiction, this series will keep you on the edge of your seat with excitement.
These two authors also wrote 1945, a fairly strong alternate history in which the US went to war with Japan, but not Germany, during World War II.
(Map of North America in Bring the Jubilee by Federation X)
8. Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore. This 1953 novel helped popularize the genre of alternate history. It takes place during the Twentieth Century after a Southern victory at Gettysburg and the Civil War. The main character, Hodge McCormick Backmaker, is a historian living in an impoverished and greatly reduced USA. During his life, scientists develop a method for time travel.
9. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. Philip Roth is a highly respected author of literary fiction--the hoity-toity stuff intellectuals read. He published his own foray into the alternate history genre in 2004. The Plot Against America describes the experiences of his own American Jewish family when President Charles Lindbergh, an anti-Semite who flirted with Nazi Germany, keeps America out of the European War.
The Plot Against America is both good alternate history and solid literary fiction.
10. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. The Axis powers are totally victorious in World War II. They conquer and partition America among them. This terrifying vision of a world that never was is often the first introduction that readers have to alternate history.
The work secured Dick a Hugo Award in 1963. I've never found it particularly interesting, but I can't deny that it is a sophisticated work of fiction. Philip K. Dick definitely deserves all of the acclaim that the novel has earned him.
Bonus Item: there is no novel or short story here. Only a question. But it's the most original alternate history scenario that I've ever encountered.