alternate histories pls
January 25, 2017 5:21 PM   Subscribe

pls help me find more great fiction books on alternate earth history

i am looking for fiction books in which white european people and their descendants are more of a historical footnote rather than a worldwide imperialistic power. the ideal example of this kind of book is the years of rice and salt.

i am 100% absolutely not remotely interested in alternative history books like the yiddish policeman's union or the man in the high castle or similar in which the nazis won WWII. i am also not looking for books where the reason white european people are not the majority powers on earth is because they were defeated by elves or or demons or robots or aliens etc. definitely do not give me books where the south won the US civil war.

i will accept books like temeraire in which the indigenous peoples of the americas have kingdoms and governments of their own that are equal in power to white european governments, or in which the mughal empire devoured british colonizers with dragons, or where the west african kingdoms overthrew the portuguese slave-takers, but i would prefer that they focus on nonwhite protagonists instead of having poc side characters/stories within a larger tale of white heroes.

finally, i will not read anything by orson scott card for any reason at any time.

nb: yes, i have read this previous question and there are far too many suggestions featuring nazis and white people and the confederate army.
posted by poffin boffin to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This doesn't quite fit the brief, (also, I haven't read it yet!) but Everfair by Nisi Shawl might be up your alley:

"Everfair...explores the question of what might have come of Belgium's disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier. Fabian Socialists from Great Britian join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo's "owner," King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated."
posted by quaking fajita at 5:33 PM on January 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

This also doesn't quite fit bc the protagonist is a white woman, but Blonde Roots is about a world where Africa traded Europeans as slaves instead of vice versa.
posted by leesh at 5:36 PM on January 25, 2017

Best answer: Robert Silverberg, The Gate of Worlds.

Amazon review: "The Gate of Worlds takes place in 1985 in an alternate world in which the Black Death killed 3/4 of Europe (instead of 1/4) in 1348. As a result, the Turks could easily conquer Europe, leaving [Europeans] in no position to colonize the New World, or anywhere else, for that matter, and non-Western civilizations all over the world were allowed to develop. But technology is almost a century behind.
This is the story of Dan Beauchamp, an 18-year-old Englishman who emigrates to the Aztec Empire, which takes up all of Central America and eastern North America. Europe is poor, but Mexico is a very rich country."
posted by Chrysostom at 5:37 PM on January 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Bridge of Birds? SM Stirling has written a bunch, but I have no idea whether they fit. I also think Everfair might be up your alley.

I don't think Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad is quite what you want, but I've enjoyed his other books a lot (this one is still in the queue).

Someone might suggest The Mirage. Given your preferences, I would recommend you not read that one.
posted by jeather at 5:59 PM on January 25, 2017

Hell yes, Everfair.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:11 PM on January 25, 2017

Gateway, by Sharon Shinn, is a portal fantasy (so not exactly alternate history, but) where a girl crosses into an alternate United States that was settled by the Chinese. No particular war in the history that I remember or anything, just Chinese instead of Europeans. It's not her best book by a long shot (I won't get into the erasure of Native Americans because I don't remember how it's treated), but it was an enjoyable YA read--mostly a coming of age story about an Asian-American girl.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:13 PM on January 25, 2017

Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidon's Children) series by Alastair Reynolds isn't alternate, but it is far enough ahead in the future that what you ask has happened.
posted by nickggully at 7:00 PM on January 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: SM Stirling has written a bunch, but I have no idea whether they fit.

They largely fail the white centered and elves or or demons or robots or aliens criteria. There's also a bunch of hinky/problematic stuff that I can pretty much guarantee poffin won't dig.
posted by zamboni at 7:12 PM on January 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

Aztec Century by Christopher Evans

Not a book but Twilight Histories is a podcast of alternate history short stories by a former archaeologist. Several of the episodes fit the criteria.
posted by XMLicious at 8:41 PM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Steven Barnes has written a pair of novels that I think fit the bill: Lion's Blood and Zulu Heart. They imagine a North America which was colonized by Islamic people from Africa, who then imported Celtic slaves. Lion's Blood came out around the same time as The Years of Rice and Salt, and the two are often mentioned in the same breath.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:57 PM on January 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Btw, is a pretty comprehensive listing of alternate history stories/novels, and lets you look up stories by the departure point date (where the AH split off from our timeline). The story descriptions themselves mention what the change was. With some poking around, you should be able to find some "Europe doesn't work out so hot" changes.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:16 PM on January 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth books are more fantasy than alternative history, etc., but it's not farfetched to imagine that world as a far future of earth, and either way the racial / political history there may match what you're looking for. Final book of the trilogy comes out in August.

This doesn't tick all your boxes but I am also very fond of Maureen F. McHugh's China Mountain Zhang, which is recognizably on earth (and very recognizably in NYC), in a near future with a Communist China ascendant. Not much emphasis on how the Communist Revolution came to the US, just the stories of ordinary people after it has. A terrific & loose novel about flying & being closeted & how hard it is to live on Mars, with European imperialist culture very much in the rear-view mirror.
posted by miles per flower at 9:18 PM on January 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Fire on the Mountain by Terry Bisson.

It takes place in a universe where John Brown's raid was a success, and Blacks in the south successfully emancipate themselves. Led by Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, they secede, win the Civil War, and found the separate state of Nova Africa in the former American South.

The book is set in the 1950s and narrated by a Nova African woman. It's got lots of interesting technological, personal, and historical aspects. Hope you give it a shot -- it's a great read!
posted by cnidaria at 9:37 PM on January 25, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Not sure if it's exactly up your alley or what you're looking for, but the first book to the eponymous "Noughts and Crosses" YA series (Malorie Blackman) was pretty formative for younger me in coming to terms with my white privilege. As such, it will always the first I recommend for alternate histories.
This novel describes an alternative history where humans evolved while Pangaea was still intact. Without the barriers to exchange of domesticable animals, among other factors, the African people gained a technological and organizational advantage over the Europeans rather than the other way around, and made Europeans their slaves. At the time of the story, slavery has been abolished, but Jim-Crow type segregation operates to keep the Crosses (Blacks) in control of the noughts (Whites). Also, the close proximity of the various nations of the world in a single supercontinent and the lack of natural defences have forced the nations of the world to learn to cooperate. An organization called the Pangaean Economic Community exists, and seems to be similar to the United Nations in scope but similar to the European Union in powers, and it is playing a role in forcing change.

-From Wikipedia
I think I read past the first book, but I can't remember and can only vouch for the first. (I didn't even realize until I checked today that there were a total of five.)
posted by lesser weasel at 9:50 PM on January 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Celestial Matters may be something you're interested in. It's set in a world where both Ptolematic astronomy/Aristotelian physics and Qi are true, so alternate physics as well as alternate history. Alexander the Great's empire has survived and is one of two superpowers, with China. (So Europeans are among the protagonists, but in a radically different way to most alternate histories; and many characters are not Europeans, anyway). More.
posted by plep at 2:51 AM on January 26, 2017

It's a long short story by Ted Chiang, and it is Euro-centric in that the action takes place in England, but you may Seventy-two Letters . It's about a world in which Hebrew cosmology is a practical science, all social elites are steeped in esoteric knowledge of ancient Hebrew for the purposes of writing names to power automatons (e.g. golems). I get the feeling that Chiang was riffing on the evolution of science as it came a out of Christian desires to understand God and he was like "wait what if the same evolution happened but Judaism was the predominant faith instead".
posted by Doleful Creature at 5:32 AM on January 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

100% Bridge of Birds. It's one of my favorite novels and is about a China that never was.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:18 AM on January 26, 2017

Response by poster: these are all so great, yay! i had already ordered some of them, like the gate of worlds and the aztec one, which i realize i neglected to mention but thank u all the same.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:11 PM on January 26, 2017

where the west african kingdoms overthrew the portuguese slave-takers

I figure you're aware of it because of how you phrased this, but this (plus one other change) is pretty much the background premise of Howard Waldrop's short story "The Lions Are Asleep This Night" (which is actually about a kid in Onitsha who wants to be a playwright)
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 2:48 PM on January 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

a non-European colonization of North America is also something Waldrop plays around with in one of the alternate universes in Them Bones, though the main character in that story is, iirc, a white guy
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 2:55 PM on January 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is an interactive fiction piece, rather than a one-way book, but I hear the game 80 Days is very much like this.
posted by brainwane at 5:07 PM on January 26, 2017

Response by poster: also as an aside podcasts are not a thing i can do unless there are transcripts.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:44 PM on January 26, 2017

I also came here to recommend N.K. Jemisin. The first book in the Broken Earth series, The Fifth Season, just won a Hugo (among other awards).
posted by squasher at 9:26 PM on January 26, 2017

Best answer: Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker Trilogy is 2/3rds set in Europe, but it's a Europe where not only is basically everyone not white by our world's standards, but the concept of whiteness doesn't exist -- the main character and her cousin are part of a Phoenician ethnoreligious minority, and just everyone else (except for one East Asian person and a few non-humans) is of either Malian-European or, in the 2nd book set on Hispaniola, Malian-TaĆ­no descent. There are a couple of light-skinned people, but they're of the same mixed background as everyone else and it's just treated as, "Oh, those dudes happen to look more like their Celtic ancestors than most people do, how interesting."

It's a very fun doorstopper trilogy with fantastic female characters, charmingly over-the-top worldbuilding (dinosaur lawyers??? in alt history Napoleonic steampunk?? OKAY THEN) and I highly highly recommend it -- with the caveat of a content advisory for date rape in the 2nd book, unfortunately. I don't think it bothered most other readers the way it bothered me because I rarely see people comment on it even in spaces where I'd expect people to make note of it, but for the record!
posted by bettafish at 5:37 PM on January 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

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