Alternate histories as science fiction

I was reading a new post over at The World in the Satin Bag about what he thinks are the 5 things necessary for a good science fiction story (btw, since I can’t decide where I stand in the use of SF versus scifi, right now I’m just writing it out…it gets old, so I’ll have to decide soon).  The future requirement and the comment about it got me thinking about whether alternate histories qualify as science fiction. 

Some books are obviously science fiction, such as Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch, which is about a group of historians who use future technology to literally watch the past, like on a tv, then decide to go back and change it.  It gives an interesting alternate history to the discovery of the Americas, but it starts off set in the future and features advanced technology.  Oh, and if you haven’t read this, it is great.  It gives an interesting theory about how Columbus wound up on this side of the world, and why.

On the other hand, The Indians Won by Martin Cruz Smith is a straight up alternate history of the development of the United States presuming a great leader had arisen and united all the Native American tribes, resulting in the United States occupying the east and west coasts but with the majority of the midwest remaining under Native American control, with a single tribal government.  It was a very cool book, but is that science fiction?  It doesn’t really seem so to me.  There was no time travel, no intervening force or technology, just a ‘what if it happened this way instead’?   The book itself had the feel of a western with a twist (though it was on my grandfather’s bookshelf and he loves westerns, so that may bias me on this point).  

I’m sure there are numerous other examples on both sides of the argument.  Post a comment and give me  your opinion , preferably including your favorite examples (I’m always looking to add to my “books to read” list).

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One Response to Alternate histories as science fiction

  1. SMD says:

    Thanks for the link. The big debate has been going on in twitter, surprisingly.

    You probably already know my opinion on the matter, though. Some good alternate history would be Jo Walton’s stuff: Farthing and Ha’Penny. Neither of those are science fiction by a long shot, but each are fascinating, the latter more so than the former.

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