As I’ve mentioned before, my plans for one of the subseries I hope to eventually include in the Shine Cycle, the “Alternate Universes” sub-series, are mostly drawn from “alternate histories” of our world. However, between high school and college history courses and extracurricular reading about history, I’ve managed to come up with more alternate-history ideas than I can or even want to actually write about. On the other hand, just because I can’t write about them all, doesn’t mean I think they aren’t possible-worlds that are worth exploring, that I might like to read about someday.
So today I’m sharing my current list of alternate-history ideas that I’m not planning to write about. If you see an idea on this list that sparks your imagination, feel free to take the idea and run with it. I’d like to know about it, and maybe help you refine the idea if you like, but you don’t have to tell me (ideas are not copyrightable in the United States).
Many of my ideas were inspired by my reading of two history books: Volume One of The Shaping of Western Civilization, which consists almost entirely of readings from modern historians and primary sources, and Barbarian Europe.
And without further ado, the list:
- What if Pepin, the father of Charlemagne, hadn’t given the government of the district of Rome to the Pope, forming the first Papal State?
- What if the Byzantine and Carolingian emperors had both been more humble, encouraging inter-Imperial and ecumenical cooperation and communication, preventing or at least delaying and mitigating the Great Schism?
- What if Rome had resisted getting involved in the East? According to Edward Kern, in a 1966 article from Life Magazine quoted in The Shaping of Western Civilization, Roman intervention in various political disputes among the various fragments of Alexander the Great’s empire was at first reluctant, but eventually the Eastern campaigns brought in “an avalanche of gold and luxuries, intellectuals and artists, priests, knaves, and slaves,” changing the Roman character from honest yeomanry to vast plantations (the ancient equivalent of “factory farms”) feeding corrupt mobs and defended and funded by mercenary armies.
- What if Aetius hadn’t had a connection with Attila? Barbarian Europe describes how Aetius brought the Huns into Europe to fight his enemies in Gaul because he had spent much of his youth as a hostage with them, only to then have to unite with his former enemies to fight the Huns when Atilla proved more ambitious than he had expected.
- What if the Vandal king Gaiseric had died in childhood? Barbarian Europe says he was “a gifted conspirator, a genius at political maneuver”; he led the Vandal conquest of North Africa and sacked Rome, but the Vandal kingdom only lasted about sixty years after his death.
- What if the Anglo-Saxon conquest had failed—perhaps because the Battle of Deorham went the other way? Barbarian Europe, in its “reconstruction” of the period from “meager literature” because “few historical facts are known,” puts the British war-leader as the original figure from whom the legendary King Arthur was drawn, says that his victories gave “a final respite” against the invading tribes, but ends the summary with the “resounding defeat in the Battle of Deorham in 577.”
- What if the Romans had dealt with the Visigoths honestly as allies? The fourth-century Gothic War was caused, in large part, by the Romans reneging on promises of land and food when they were struck by famine.
- What if Ulfilas, who brought the Bible to the Visigoths, had been a Trinitarian Christian rather than an Arian? The adherence of many of the Germanic tribes to Arianism caused significant friction for centuries, and Barbarian Europe says (in its discussion of Ulfilas) that it “made heretics of the most civilized of the Germans” (the Visigoths).
- What if the first millennium had been a little warmer, so that the Rhine never froze around the turn of the fifth century? Barbarian Europe opens with the account of Germanic tribesmen crossing the frozen Rhine in 406, making that incident its introduction to the book’s subject.
- What if tea had become available and caught on in Europe several generations earlier? Some comments on a 2007 Slashdot story suggested the idea that the availability of tea and the rise of “tea culture” in Europe contributed to the rise of industrialization and urbanization.
- What if Columbus’s source hadn’t made the error that made Columbus think the world was so small, so neither Columbus nor anyone else sailed west (or east from the Far East) until the technology for long sea voyages had vastly improved?
- What if the Iconoclast Controversy had ended with the Iconoclasts winning? A post on the Bujold-discussion mailing list in 2012 mused, “In many ways, the Iconoclasts were an earlier, Eastern version of the Protestant Reformation,” and wondered if someone on some alternate-history site (unknown to me) “would be interested in a TL where they ended up winning out?”
- What if Alexander the Great had recovered from his illness and continued his conquests into India, spreading Greek culture there and expanding the empire divided on his death?
- What if the Roman Empire had spread east into Russia, India, China, etc., rather than west?
- What if missionaries had reached and converted the Mongols before they began?
- What if the Mongols had taken Baghdad and the rest of Islamic lands?
- What if Mohammed had died young before founding Islam, or had converted to orthodox Christianity instead of violently rejecting whatever form of Christianity he was exposed to?
There are also a couple of non-alternate-history ideas that I came up with at some point, then decided I probably didn’t want to include in either the “main line” or any of my main sub-series of the Shine Cycle, and therefor probably don’t want to spend the time developing anytime in the foreseeable future. They’re also up for grabs.
- A SF/fantasy story in which there is life on Mars living underground, with the surface climate controlled from a station inside one of the planet’s moons and kept in its present perpetual drought to prevent enemies from taking over. Human visitors discover the underground civilization and the proper climate is restored, but the enemies, who had been living in a station in the other moon, also return.
- In a world in which time travel is a straightforward and all-but-everyday occurrence, Our Hero attempts time-travel (for the first time, having come of age? or as part of what had been his normal routine?), something goes wrong, and the time-universe is thrown into chaos. He must somehow get back to the present day to right it, but (assuming this time-travel is by “magic” or applied metaphysics) has lost most of his magical/metaphysical power.
- In a war largely fought with robots, when all of his nation’s engineers are overloaded, a lone programmer with radical ideas must [fill in the blank!]
Again, if you’d like to write about one of these ideas, or about a world in which one of these ideas happened, please feel free to do so; I’d prefer if you let me know, but that isn’t a requirement. You can even use one of the seed-ideas I am planning to use, so long as you take it in a different enough direction.
Do any of you have any thoughts about any of these ideas?