Archive for May, 2014


Every once in a while, I get an e-mail or a comment on the Facebook group to the effect of “But I don’t like what if stories.” These things are (so far, anyway) always polite, so I don’t mind. Besides, I don’t like a lot of what passes for alternate history myself, and for the simple reason that I prefer historical fiction over sci-fi. I think that shows in my work, and so if you are a history buff and usually don’t give “what if” stories a look, it might be because those stories aren’t really “what ifs,” but are instead about time travel.

Science Fiction vs. Historical Fiction
A big pet peeve of mine as an author is how alternate history is classified as a sub-set of science fiction and fantasy, and not as historical fiction. This is due to the large number of stories that involve time travel. For example, the modern classic of the genre is supposedly the 1990s best-seller Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove. In that story, white supremacists from South Africa travel back in time to arm the Confederacy with AK-47s, securing the South’s independence so in the future their apartheid home country would have a natural ally.

I enjoyed that novel, but obviously this kind of thing is not a “what if” story. “What ifs” are like For Want of a Nail or Gettysburg, posing plausible historical questions. When done properly, a “what if” novel is both entertaining and enlightening, because like good historical fiction it explores and illuminates the past.

Obviously if your point is to turn the history of the world upside down by sending an entire town into the 17th Century, as Eric Flint’s books do, you can’t explore or illuminate very much. The point of such storytelling is very different from that of historical fiction, because it is very clearly science fiction. A proper “what if” story, on the other hand, has no science fiction content at all while remaining firmly rooted in the past. There is nothing wrong with time travel material, but I insist that it is a very different creature.

So, in response to that statement “But I don’t like what ifs,” I must ask the question “which alternate histories have you read?” Some of the works going under that label are not “what if” stories at all, so if you are a history buff and came away disappointed I’m not at all surprised.

While every July 4th coincides with the surrender of Vicksburg and the aftermath of Gettysburg, Memorial Day is the final Monday of May and 2014 is a Civil War Sesquicentennial year. This Memorial Day we have the special treat of having the weekend overlap with the Battle of North Anna and the Battle of New Hope Church. Enjoy!

Hey folks — I do the maps for the Stonewall Goes West trilogy on my own. Since I’ve been moving, I haven’t been able to get to preparing that last map for the Battle of Lewisburg as of yet.

Many of my readers have commented I do my battles well enough that they didn’t actually need the maps to follow the action, so hopefully my tardiness won’t detract from anyone’s enjoyment of Mother Earth, Bloody Ground. I hope to get back to making that map available once I’m not looking at boxes every day.