Those who know me know I write mainly historical fiction. I play with alternative scenarios all the time. I have to fill in dialog, because I can only guess as to what was said.
Look at Steampunk. Same thing. Alternative History.
I will give you an example of two of my books.
When I wrote the Search for Livingstone, I was originally going to fictionalize Henry Morton Stanley, who actually found Dr. David Livingstone in Ujiji, Tanzania. My writing colleagues said Stanley was such a jerk, you’ll never be able to make him sympathetic. I listened and created a race, like the movie the Great Race, with a different hero. I had this hero replace General Lee at Gettysburg, put the entire Confederate Army in the field and lose the day.
In my book, The Murder of Otzi, about the ice mummy found in the Alps in 1991, I really had to stretch. The only thing scientists know for sure is that he was killed with an arrow. For all we know, it was a 3300 B.C. version of Dick Cheney on the quail hunt, only in the mountains and at a longer distance. Move it to Appalachia, and your archer would have told the State Police, “Wasn’t me. If I was gonna shoot, it would be a better shot.”
I filled in the blanks in my short story. I had to build it around what we know.
OK, is alternative history a good thing. Yes and No. I’ll start with the no. If you don’t know the REAL history, you can’t just read the alternative. If you don’t know the real history, you can’t learn from mistakes. (Though, there are painfully few examples of humans learning from their errors). There is also the danger of regimes rewriting the history for their own purposes.
On the yes side, I enjoy the “What if’s.” History is full of what if’s. It’s fun for me to explore those, but I never lose sight of what really happened. I really believe in History Made Fun, and Writing History Like a Novel. I can be sarcastic and funny when I write it, but still must know what really happened.
What say you, my readers?