Monday, May 12, 2014

What Might Yet Be

After years of searching used book stores for Alternate Heroes, the second book in the What Might Have Been series pictured above, I finally bit the bullet a couple of weeks ago and just ordered it from Amazon. On a whim I lined the books up side-by-side and the commonality of theme struck me: these books all reinforce a cultural norm that's been drilled into citizens since the invention of history: that conflict is part of existence, it's accepted.

Alternate Empires. Alternate Heroes. Alternate Wars. Alternate Americas. Why not Alternate Romances? Alternate Democracies? Alternate Saints? Alternate Friendships? It's not like such stories would have any less potential for gripping human drama - or even potboiler entertainment of the sort offered here.

I'm not at all criticizing these books or the writers who contributed to them; there's value in exploring these themes. But I find it fascinating how popular culture reflects and directs what we believe about the world around us. For a series based on the concept of alternate history, it's interesting that their collective subtext is one of historical and cultural inevitability. 


"Rightful Jeff" said...

You might search out "The Broken Bubble Of Thisbe Holt", by Philip K. Dick. Earlier in his career, Dick tried to write mainstream novels, but they didn't get much interest from publishers at the time.

"Bubble" is as close to anything to an alternate romance as you will find. Dick writes with large, humanistic themes common to all of his work, but uses no science-fiction tropes, and in this case, there's no wars or battles, either. So, it's Dickian without the SF. It still seems otherworldly.

Here's the kick: several of the "Bubble" characters are either lifted from other of his stories or end up in his subsequent SF work - alternate realities. Same character, different lives, as Wikipedia says.

Earl J. Woods said...

I love those sorts of connections! Thanks, Jeff, great recommendation.

"Rightful Jeff (a)" said...

It's only an OK book, but PK Dick sets the highest standard for alternate timeline stories. Even today, everyone else is just pretending. Well, not Allan.

"Groundhog Day" also came to mind as an alternate-history romance of sorts. Susan is not a Bill Murray fan at all, so she giggled privately when she discovered that in an older version of the script, the repeated day was the result of a gypsy/ex-girlfriend curse, and that the spell that caused Phil/Bill to be trapped for 10,000 years.

I remember the cover of that book. There's a good chance that I read it. I don't recall it being all that remarkable past the illustration, though. I think I may have also read the first book of the series. Cool story, eh?