The alternate-history TV series The Man in the High Castle, loosely based on the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, has become Amazon’s most-watched original series. The premise here is that the Axis powers won WWII and the U.S. has been split into the Greater Nazi Reich and the Pacific States. People live in fear and gloom (this may be the dimmest series ever filmed—and I felt grimy after each episode), and there is a resistance movement attempting to break free by smuggling films that show alternate realities. While the show really only keeps the basic plot of Dick’s book, the drama and mystery are there in full force.
Alternate history is appealing because it’s rooted in real events. These books stand out from the rest of the dystopian genre or alternate-world books because there is a specific point of divergence—a moment in time when the fate of the world changed, which is different than a time-travel story or a skewed version of reality. These novels appeal to readers who like sf and fantasy, history, and people who just enjoy speculating “what if?” After all, it’s fascinating to wonder how things might look today had major events gone a different way—especially in light of our current political theater. To that end, entice your patrons with a display of these alternate-history titles.
11/22/63, by Stephen King
A schoolteacher accepts a mission: prevent the assassination of JFK.
The Alteration, by Kingsley Amis
In this one, Catholicism dominates Great Britain and The Reformation never took place.
Fatherland, by Robert Harris
As in Dick’s novel, the Nazis won WWII.
How Few Remain, by Harry Turtledove
What if the South won the Civil War?
The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
Hitler and Nazis are alternate-history evergreens. In Roth’s novel, Charles Lindbergh is the U.S. President and makes nice with Der Führer.
Ruled Britannia, by Harry Turtledove
Turtledove has a knack for this kind of thing: here, the Spanish Armada was successful and England is under Spanish control.
Voyage, by Stephen Baxter
JFK survives the assassination attempt and goes on to champion mass space exploration.
The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Black Plague has killed 99% of Europe’s population, changing the global balance of power in startling ways.
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon
Alternate history based on an obscure historical fact: Alaska, not Israel, is the post-WWII homeland for the Jews.