Opium Wars and Conquistadores... of the Future!
July 22, 2011 12:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for future-ish fiction that casts Western Civilization as the underdog in updated (fictional) retellings of historical events.

I'm thinking alone the lines of Turtledove's "Vilcabamba" or William Barton's When Heaven Fell, both seeming to me to be retellings of the conquest of the Inca, with When Heaven Fell having a bit of the British Raj thrown in for good measure.

There was also a recent story that cast the US as the big loser of a neo-Opium War waged by China, but the author and title escape me.

I'm not looking for "powerful aliens invade and stomp us" stories but self-conscious reimaginings of history. Any suggestions?
posted by codswallop to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Cloud Atlas! AKA MetaFilter's favorite book. In one of the stories, allusion is made to the destruction of American civilization, and in another one, we see the massacre of a remnant tribe by another, more savage, tribe.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:21 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chung Kuo, by David Wingrove.
Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson.
posted by rodgerd at 12:23 AM on July 22, 2011

I am reluctant to suggest this book because it's really not very good and also because it's written by Orson Scott Card, who has just become so odiously unbearable. But it does seem to fit your theme: Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. I'm surprised to see it with 4.5 stars on Amazon, though, so perhaps YMMV.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:29 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

S.M. Stirling's Drakaverse is a pretty dark example. As TVTropes sums it up:
The Draka timeline diverges from our own during the American Revolution, where American Crown Loyalists, due to the Dutch intervening in the war, are shipped to the new British Crown Colony of Drakia -- named after Sir Francis Drake -- on the southern coast of Africa. They are joined shortly by French Royalists, defeated Confederate troops, and generally the other losers of history. Burning with a desire for revenge, they founded the Domination of Draka: an Empire forged on conquest and slavery. Their goal is nothing less then world domination. Standing in their way is the United States of America and the Alliance for Democracy. And you just know this is going to be bloody.
So basically a South African empire founded on and reflecting the darkest elements of the United States -- violent, fascist, viciously racist, and determined to conquer the democracies of the West.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:54 AM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Damn, I've read all of these except Cloud Atlas. And I'd completely forgotten Chung Quo, the closest to what I was looking for.

Thanks for the suggestions and please keep pitchin'.
posted by codswallop at 12:58 AM on July 22, 2011

In the Shadowrun RPG universe don't the Mexicans get magical power and become a serious rival to America?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:59 AM on July 22, 2011

Man in the High Castle
posted by evil_esto at 1:50 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, Arslan as well.
posted by rodgerd at 3:11 AM on July 22, 2011

And (sorry, keep looking at my shelves...) Jon Courtney Grimwood's Arabesk series, which doesn't make the alternative history too explicity, but WW I took a different turn, there's still a Kaiser in Germany, and that the Ottoman Empire didn't get broken up; the novels are set in an alternative-present where Egypt, Tunisia, etc are thoroughly high-tech and the major North African cities are important on the world stage.

I'm assuming Gibson's Sprawl novels (where the US is pretty clearly on a downward spiral) doesn't really fit the bill.
posted by rodgerd at 3:29 AM on July 22, 2011

Your question reminded me of Svaha by Charles de Lint, and the book I'm currently reading, Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.
posted by brilliantine at 3:59 AM on July 22, 2011

Harlan's Wasteland of Flint and followons are set in a timeline where the Aztecs run an interstellar empire.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:04 AM on July 22, 2011

Once Upon A Time In Scandinavistan shows a Scandinavia that has been colonised by Indian businessmen. I think they book was only released in India, so you may need to import it.

‘Public Intelligence Officer Barsk reported several deaths due to charring of body parts and possible foul play involving cannibalism, at the Tandoori Moose restaurant, off Friendship Chowk. One BC (bad character) absconding. Suspect is a deviant girl, blonde, around twenty, no particular distinguishing marks except that she was last seen wearing a cook’s uniform. Officer requested backup, forensic team. A memo has been sent to all concerned parties…’ A crime novel set in a somewhat futuristic Europe after it has been colonized by India – its industries bought over by Asian capitalists; its administration, by popular referendum, entrusted to the IAS; its food infused with the flavours of curry. The book follows the life of a middle-aged, down-and-out Public Intelligence Officer, Borsk, who on a night-shift apprehending ‘bad characters’ and ‘deviant girls’ stumbles into a restaurant where the tandoori speciality of the day is a well done, forty-something, Indian male. An ingeniously stylized dystopian crime novel set in the grunge and filth of a Europe colonized by file-pushing Indian babus and bad Bollywood films, Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan is a novel that will both thrill and appal the reader with its luridly detailed landscapes and its unrelentingly dark humour. A film in Swedish is also on the cards.

posted by Senza Volto at 5:04 AM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Year of Rice and Salt, as recommended above, is the best example of this I've read.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:04 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not 100% what you mentioned, but Celestial Matters might be of interest to you.
posted by methroach at 5:17 AM on July 22, 2011

Pavane by Keith Roberts...?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:01 AM on July 22, 2011

Not future but past, but I'm really enjoying Naomi Novik's Temeraire books from an anti-colonialist perspective. She's retelling the Napoleonic Wars, with the balance of power drastically shifted by the presence of dragons in the world. So the Inca never fell, and China is the greatest military power on earth, and so on. The first book doesn't make the anti-colonialist stuff as explicit, but by the fourth book it's really clear (and, though I don't want to spoil it, pretty awesome.)
posted by nonasuch at 6:31 AM on July 22, 2011

I read Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, mentioned above. I actually enjoyed it. Rather than re-imagining history, it's about the use of some limited time travel to essentially "undo" the course of the West (and the world) since the 15th Century.

I suggest the Island in the Sea of Time trilogy, which doesn't exactly fit, but your request reminds me of it: the island of Nantucket and all its inhabitants, in March 1998, is spontaneously cast back to the year 1250 BC where they must survive in the world of Ramses II, Agamemnon, and the Celtic invasion of of Britain. What an adventure!
posted by General Tonic at 7:00 AM on July 22, 2011

Check out Harry Turtledove's books. You might like the branch that deals with The Race.
posted by PickeringPete at 10:09 AM on July 22, 2011

I quite liked the Years of Rice and Salt, and would also suggest The High Castle for perhaps the ultimate failure of the USA scenario. The Yiddish Policemans Union is also worth reading.
posted by baggers at 10:15 AM on July 22, 2011

Well, I can't tell if you prefer imagined futures or re-imagined pasts, but in the former category there's Super Sad True Love Story. It's set in "a funhouse-mirror version of contemporary America: terminally indebted to China, controlled by the singular Bipartisan Party (Big Brother as played by a cartoon otter in a cowboy hat), and consumed by the superficial." Great book.
posted by voltairemodern at 3:17 PM on July 22, 2011

Oh, I forgot to mention, the sci-fi hook is that the main character works for a company developing nanotechnology that makes people younger. He's a salesperson trying to get millionaires ("High Net Worth Individuals") to buy in.
posted by voltairemodern at 3:19 PM on July 22, 2011

William Tenn's great short story, Eastward Ho, is an darkly comic alternate history of American Indians pushing back and overrunning American civilization. Searchable on Net and downloadable as PDF.
posted by Mr. Justice at 6:51 PM on July 22, 2011

John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy may interest you.
posted by pompomtom at 6:56 PM on July 22, 2011

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