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What Happened Happened: Mainstream Alternative Histories?

Alternative histories have long been a staple of science fiction. The basic idea is simple enough: take a key moment in history and play it out just a little bit differently (or a lot differently). The Man in the High Castle, the story of how America lost the Second World War, may be the most famous example, but there’s literally a whole subgenre of literary science-fiction based around the idea of playing things out in a way different from how they did. However, this fascination with alternative history never really spilled over into cinema. However, there are slowly emerging signs that audiences may be gradually adjusting to the genre and the potential it offers.

Twenty more years!

Note: This is not to be confused with the historical school of alternative histories, which are all based on perfectly reasonable assumptions, like if a courier who really existed was late or if a wound to a historical figure had been fatal. It seems in mainstream sci-fi these are more likely to involve pepperpot-shaped aliens or glowing blue supermen. So, some historians out there may object to the term – maybe I should use ‘speculative history’ instead. But it’s all semantics.

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