What If?

The date was March 10th, in the year 2003. France had become subservient to the Commonwealth three months before. Britain was left as the sole free country in Europe. The island nation refused to give in to the demands of the Electoral King. Instead they prepared for war against the growing superpower. With aid from the UIS in the West, and allied to the CER in the East, the British were a force to be reckoned with. Storming the Kingdom of Great Britain would be nothing short of a bloodbath.

Alternate histories have always been a setting employed by many storytellers, exploiting our curious nature, our desire to ponder on how things could have gone differently. Ranging from the relatively minor (what if General Robert E. Lee’s Special Order 191 hadn’t been lost?) to the extreme (what if space lizards had invaded during World War 2?), stories set in our world, but not quite, immediately draw our interest. Perhaps it is because we know so much about our own history, and enjoy imagining how the world may be if something in our past had gone slightly differently – how much of a lasting impact would it have had in the end?

Simply put, alternate history is the exercise of looking into the past and asking “what if?” Generally existing as works of fiction, either in narrative format or as essays or other non narrative work. However, such settings have seen an increase in popularity over recent years, ranging from the steam punk inspired Brave New World LARP to the walker dominated battlefields of the Gear Krieg tabletop game.

I can’t say when exactly my own interest in alternate history began, but it was certainly a result of my interest in all things science fiction. How many of us as children loved the bizarre outlandish creatures portrayed in books and on TV? As I grew older this merged with my interest in history – that of the World Wars in particular. Both were momentous occasions in our history, and yet I couldn’t help myself but imagine how awesome it would have been to have walkers rampaging around North Africa under Rommel’s command, or aircraft carriers that themselves were planes flying through the sky. Whilst obviously far fetched, these images rooted themselves in my mind (in no small thanks to the fact that the Nazi’s had been in fact planning to build vehicles which could have passed as video game bosses – the Ratte tank is a prime example of this).

Why am I saying this? Simply because whilst regarded as a special genre of science fiction, historians are coming round to the idea of alternate history as a valid method of approaching actual real world history – imaging a world that is rooted in ours yet different due to some change promotes the close study of cause and effect which is central to historic study. So give it a go – join the 8th Army in Africa with their Roundhead walkers or read about the America that might have been had the Confederates won the war. Explore the ruins of the Capital Wasteland or create your own brand of our history for your next pen and paper role play – you’ll be surprised at how different our history could have been, whether due to epic alien invasions or something as simple as the lack of a nail.