Is alternate history just light entertainment?

AlternateHistoryEntertainment1I recently got done reading a book titled Surrounded by Enemies: What if Kennedy Survived Dallas? As its name implies, this book is about how the 1960s (supposedly) would have gone if JFK had survived the infamous assassination attempt. It was an interesting read up until the 1964 vote count but steadily deteriorated onward. The biggest issue is that although Kennedy wins reelection with an enormous 53-44 margin, the Republicans ride a congressional wave into control of the House. This is supposed to signify a deep divide in the country. Simply put, no, no, no. There is no way that could happen at the same time as a near landslide for Kennedy. I could buy mixed congressional results that don’t alter the balance of power there, but a Democratic bloodbath down the ballot and a big win for JFK up top? It makes no sense.


“I believe it’s time to change into identity #573 (Paul McCartney).” Someone will write an alternate history about that, you’ll see!

Thing is, although there are many books about alternate history, the lack of logic in the conclusions the authors reach on what would have changed if ______ had happened run throughout almost the entire genre. Do you know that I’ve heard of a book about the South winning the Civil War because South African racists go back in time to give them machine guns so they can win despite the North’s superior numbers? I shit you not!

Clearly these alternate history stories weren’t as well thought out as their subjects and promises indicate. In fact, they resemble movies that never even tried to be in the Oscar picture. They more resemble, say, Indiana Jones movies, which are pretty entertaining, yet still have gaping plot holes like traps still working after centuries or even millennia.

If alternate history is not intended to show us believable “what if” scenarios, what is it? The answer is that it’s not an intellectually stimulating demonstration of how even a small twist of fate can change everything. No, it’s pure entertainment.

So perhaps we shouldn’t treat alternate history too seriously. Not only does it tend towards implausibility, it’s more Transformers than The Godfather when it comes to entertainment.


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