SF CORE Best Lists
SF ERA Best Lists
SF GENRE Best Lists
OTHER Best Lists

Best Alternate History Books

The Top 25 Novels About Alternate History (Worlds That Never Were)

The nature of this list will polarize and divide nerds everywhere. Alternate history (or alternative history, for the grammar geeks reading this), is a genre of stories where history has changed from the actual course of the real world's history. This genre intersects with historical fiction, hard science fiction, soft science fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, and dystopian fiction, to name a few other genres.

The most popular contemporary intersection is with the science fiction genre, using devices like time travel and time splitting. However, alternate history is considered by experts in the field to be categorized as science-fiction without the use of hard sci-fi or technology. Outrage! Scandal! your nerdy little hearts cry. We need to remember that soft sci-fi is as valid a genre as hard sci-fi, as our Top 25 Dystopian Science Fiction Novels list explained. Hell, I read an article where someone even had the nerve to suggest that sci-fi wasn't even a genre, it was just a list of common tropes you could bunch books together by. 

Onwards with our list... and the nerd outrage!

Philip K. Dick was one of the most idiosyncratic and successful writers in science fiction. Okay, he's probably better known these days for all the films that have been based on his work, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau and heaven knows how many others. Certainly there have been many more films based on Dick's fiction than any other sf writer. But forget the films, even the great ones, like Blade Runner, can't begin to match the compelling weirdness of the novels.Dick used to explore the same ideas in novel after novel. Reality was undermined, usually as a result of drugs; there was a truth under the illusion of the world, but it wasn't always good to learn that truth; things we trust turn out to be unreliable. And yet, the novels were far from samey, indeed the narrow range of obsessions resulted in an incredibly wide range of fiction. What's more, Dick wrote with a mordant wit that made his work consistently among the funniest of all science fiction.Because he was so prolific, and because he hit the target so frequently, it is very difficult to choose just one book as a representative of his work. In the end we chose The Man in the High Castle, which in some ways seems a very untypical book because there is none of the pyrotechnic weirdness that often turns up in his fiction. Indeed, the novel seems like a fairly conventional alternate history in which the Axis Powers won the Second World War. As a result, in the 1960s of the novel, America is divided in three; Germany rules the East Coast, Japan controls the West Coast, while a narrow independent buffer state exists between the two.But in the end it is far from conventional. The story is full of fakes and deceptions; several major characters are travelling under false identities, some of the characters are dealing in fake American "antiquities", and Mr Tagoma, the Japanese bureaucrat who becomes central to the plot, attacks a German agent with a fake Colt revolver. All of this leads us to doubt and question what is going on; and then we come to The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel written with the aid of the I Ching, which describes a world in which America did not lose the war; though the world described is not the same as the one we recognise. Why It's On the ListOne of the great mysteries of Philip K. Dick's career is why he only ever won one of the major science fiction awards, but that was the Hugo for The Man in the High Castle. It's a wonderful book that remains one of the very best alternate histories. In 2015, The Man in the High Castle also made the jump to TV with a very well received series titles 'The Man in the High Castle.' Alternative ChoiceWe could easily swap in a number of other PKD works in here. If you want an alternative read, then we present you with UBIK, another classic and somewhat less popular PKD novel that represents all that's good about PKD.

Similar Recommendations

It's tempting to just tell you to go away and read anything by Philip K. Dick that you can lay your hands on. You won't regret it. But here's a few you should definitely check out.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the novel that Blade Runner was based on, but there's an awful lot in the novel that didn't make it into the film. It's set after World War Terminus, when radiation poisoning has killed most animals, so owning a live animal is a major social status, and most people cheat with robots that are indistinguishable from the real thing. But there are robots that are indistinguishable from humans, too, and they are making their way back to Earth where it is bounty hunter Rick Deckard's job to eliminate them.

Ubik concerns a group of psychics trapped in an explosion on the moon who consequently find themselves imprisoned in a fake reality that resembles 1930s America.

A Scanner Darkly was, Dick considered, his best novel. It tells the story of an undercover narcotics agent whose own mind is damaged by the drug he is investigating, so that he ends up investigating himself.

If you are intrigued by the alternate history of The Man in the High Castle, then there are a host of great works you need to know about. For a start there's Pavane by Keith Roberts, in which the Spanish Armada successfully invaded England and now, in the 1960s, it is a backward country held back by the power of the Church, a country in which highwaymen attack road trains, in which there are still fairies in the countryside, and in which the Inquisition still tortures any dissenters.
Ever wondered what the world would have been like if the Black Death killed 99% of Europe's population instead of a third? No? Really? Okay. I must admit I hadn't either, but Robinson writes an intelligent and engaging story, written in vibrant detail, evoking a realism that other speculative novels lack. The story spans approximately 700 years, from the army of the Muslim conqueror Timur, to the 21st century. China and Dar-al-Islam (the conglomeration of Muslim nations) are the main global powers, with a progressive Indian League and a confederation of the Hodenosaunee (Native Americans) fighting against Chinese and Muslim invaders, causing a 67 year long war. The novel is made up of ten parts that take place in different times and places, but are connected by characters who are reincarnated into each time. After their deaths, the characters meet in a sort of limbo world called "bardo". This is a really snazzy way of tying the plot streams together, without doing a George R Martin and dwelling on Every. Single. Point. (Hello, Book One of Game of Thrones). Why does this novel get second place on this list? Aside from its deft exploration of historical, religious and social themes, it was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and it won the Locus, Hugo, and British Science Fiction Awards in 2003. That's quite the swag (and I mean that in the real sense of swag, not that daft Gen-Y terminology that makes me want to stab my eyeballs out every time I read it)!
There's an idea you sometimes come across that the dividing line between mainstream "literature" and genre fiction is rigid and unbreakable. That's nonsense. Writers have always crossed backwards and forwards across the line as the spirit took them. One of the most successful has been Michael Chabon who, alongside his Pulitzer Prize winning fiction, has also produced a YA fantasy, steampunk, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, a comic and this brilliant alternate history novel.The Jonbar point is early in the Second World War, when a temporary settlement for Jewish refugees from Europe is established at Sitka in Alaska. As a consequence, only two million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, but the state of Israel fails. But now, at the beginning of the new century, a new President is determined to end the temporary settlement.The story focuses on Meyer Landsman, a Sitka detective whose investigation of a murder leads to a rabbi who is also Sitka's leading crime boss, and to a conspiracy to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Murder, religious identity, politics all get mixed up in a complex story full of mysteries and sudden revelations. It's a deep and absorbing work, but it's also great fun. The Yiddish Policemen's Union won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Sidewise Awards; it is unprecedented for someone from outside the genre to win so many of the major genre awards.

Similar Recommendations

Alternative Choice
Another novel that illustrates how permeable the barrier between mainstream and genre really is, is Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Indeed, according to the critic Brian McHale, there is a feedback loop by which Gravity's Rainbow influenced William Gibson's Neuromancer, and Neuromancer went on to influence later novels by Pynchon. Set towards the end of World War Two, the novel is a phantasmagoria of ideas and puns and weird coincidences. For instance, the sexual exploits of one American soldier map precisely onto the targets of the V2 rockets. Meanwhile there's a mysterious "black device" whose secret is at the heart of the novel.

So, this is what happened in another universe. 2000 A.D. A town called Grantville, West Virginia, isn't there anymore. Some whimsical aliens drew a circle around it, about six miles wide and transported it and its power station to central Germany and the year 1631. Yes, that's what happened. At least in Flint's fictional alternate universe, where such things are possible. Still, apart from that little oddity, the people of Grantville are just your ordinary small-town folks (well, mostly), and they don't just say "Cool. Look at that." and get on with their lives. Things are a bit more complicated than that, what with 17th century power politics and contrasting levels of technology, and everything else that's going to be happening as a result. Why it's on the list: Great variation on the theme of just a single person being displaced in time. I haven't read any other books from Flint's fictional universe, but they're definitely on my list. The whole displace-a-town thing reminds me bit of James Blish's "Cities in Flight" novels.

Books in Assiti Shards Series (15)

Similar Recommendations

In our top 25 dystopian list, we called him the King of Cyberpunk. In this delicious alternate history, steam punk offering, Gibson teams up with Bruce Sterling to serve up a Victorian Britain where Charles Babbage succeeds in building a mechanical computer, driving enormous technological and social change. In mid 19th century, Britain is simultaneously going through both the Industrial and Information Revolutions. The novel diverges from actual history around 1824, when Babbage builds his Difference Engine and develops the Analytical Engine. The Industrial Radical Party came into power, and by 1855, the Babbage computers were mass produced. Great Britain is more powerful than in reality, classical studies are less important than engineering and accountancy, and Britain, rather than the U.S. opened Japan to western trade. The novel deals with the themes of consequences of a technologically advanced society in the 19th century. Hacker nerds will enjoy the references to technologically savvy individuals as “clackers”. All of the novel's characters are either real people, or borrowed from literature. My favorite inclusion is of the 19th century female mathematician Ada Lovelace. Like everything Gibson touches, the detail is spectacular and throws you into the Victorian era experience.  Need more reasons to read this book? It comes in at number 5 with the Nebula, British Science Fiction, John W. Campbell Memorial, and Prix Aurora Awards. It also has talks about dinosaurs and Victorian Sex. You didn't misread that - dinosaurs and Victorian era sex. 
When I imagine Two Hawks, I visualize him as a Cherokee Indiana Jones (the Raiders/Temple/Last Crusade Indy, not that Crystal Skull tripe, thank you very much.) At other times, I picture him kinda like The Rock. Because, you know, it's my fantasy and WHO SAYS I HAVE TO CHOOSE? There's something about Two Hawks that women will find sexy, and men will find admirable. He's a rugged explorer, with a sharp intellect and education behind him, and a natural inclination and adaptability to his surroundings. The plot begins in the thick of World War 2. Native American bomber pilot Roger Two Hawks is off course on a mission to bomb the Ploesti oil fields, and has a mid-air collision with a German plane. He and Pat O'Brien (the turret gunner) are the only people to open their parachutes, and they bail out over enemy territory to find themselves on an alternative planet Earth. A different war is occurring on this Earth, with primitive technology even by World War 2 standards. The native people speak a style of Iroquois language. The American continents never rose, and American Indian ancestors remained in Asia and Europe. With a convenient plot device will make snobs laugh, Hawks is a sci-fi fan and has figured out he's in a parallel history. The story becomes Two Hawks quest to live in this alternate earth, and find a way back home. And what sort of story would it be without a love interest?  Another reason why you should read Farmer's novel: This author once inspired Jimi Hendrix to write “Purple Haze”. 
Throw away your hallucinogens (or don't, but I'm not going to suggest you do anything illegal here), because Lest Darkness Fall is one of those science fiction novels that begins with a dreamy, surreal quality to it that makes you feel like you're on drugs. American archaeologist Martin Padway visits the Pantheon in Rome in 1938. A crack of lightning, and a thunderstorm takes him to Rome, 525AD. Padway wonders if he's dreaming or delusional, but is resigned to his new life. Padway decides to make a copper still and sell brandy for a living, convincing a banker, Thomasus to assist with this venture. Padway then ventures into the communications industry, developing a printing press, publishing newspapers and building a telegraph system. When Italy is invaded by the Imperials and threatened by other influences, he becomes involved in Italian state politics, using strategic military tactics never used in the ancient world. By the end of the novel, Padway has stabilized the Italo-Gothic kingdom, established a constitution, and ends serfdom. Thanks to Padway, Europe never suffers the Dark Ages.  An alternate history sci-fi novel written in 1939, this book is considered one of the prime, influential examples of this genre, shaping the form of the subgenre that it still retains over 70 years later. Even Harry Turtledove, the prolific alternate history writer (who controversially isn't on this list because of his two dimensional characters and blinkered focus on war), has said it sparked his interest in writing in this genre. Aside from being influential, contemporary readers all comment on how amusing the writing is. My personal favorite element is how the female characters aren't moronic stereotypes, which is unusual for a book written in the 1930s. 
Imagine Stargate if it was set in the 80s sans MacGyver Richard Dean Anderson, and you've got The Coming of the Quantum Cats. Originally an Analog Sccience Fiction magazine series, the title is a reference to Schrodinger's Cat, where the outcome of a real world event depends on a quantum event. The story is influence by the interpretation of quantum mechanics where all possible outcomes of an event occur in parallel universes. Layman's explanation: remember that intolerable Ashton Kutcher movie the Butterfly Effect? That, just less depressing, and less annoying. The Coming of Quantum Cats is based on invasions from alternate Earths in alternate universes, that all have some element in common. Some of the worlds are horrific, most are barely tolerable, and one is perfect. In one universe Nancy Reagan is the president, in another politics is on the far right spectrum in America, in some worlds Stalin set himself up as an American capitalist. The book follows different versions of the same three characters - Dominic DeSota, Myla Christophe, and Larry Douglas, and the central theme seems to be the nature versus nurture debate, showing that an individual is shaped by social conditions, rather than what is in their genes. This novel shows the reader that people with the same heritage, depending on the way they are brought up and their social influences, can develop into completely different characters.  This novel should be compulsory reading for anyone who is a fan of science fiction or alternative history, or anyone who wants to understand the affect of socialization on humans. It will really fuck with your sense of reality and having you question the decisions you make and the outcomes they have created. 
As we've seen with Philip Roth, alternate history is a popular form with authors who would not normally be interested in writing science fiction, think, for instance, of MacKinlay Kantor's If the South had Won the Civil War or Len Deighton's SS-GB. But of all such novels, this is easily one of the best. Harris was a successful political journalist (one of his early books was about the exposure of the so-called Hitler Diaries as fake) who has used that knowledge and experience in his fiction. Most of his novels have been political (The Ghost) or straightforward historical (Enigma, Imperium), but his first novel combined the political and the historical into a superb alternate history. It is set in 1964, twenty years after Germany won the Second World War, and as Berlin prepares to celebrate Hitler's 75th birthday a policeman investigates the murder of a top party official. But as the investigation proceeds, he starts to uncover terrible secrets from the war that the party would rather he didn't reveal.   This is everything a good alternate history should be, a gripping story and a convincing recreation of a victorious postwar Germany.
I wonder if inserting an M in between my first name and surname will magically turn me into a top science-fiction writer like Iain Banks. (Really, he writes non science fiction novels without the "M"!) The world has infinite parallel worlds with a range of dystopian and utopian settings. The novel is set between the time of the Berlin Wall being destroyed, and the 2008 financial crisis. A dark and suspicious organization "The Concern" intervenes in events to create outcomes that The Concern views as socially beneficial for that specific world. The head of The Concern is the ruthless and highly sexual Madame d'Ortolan. Her star agent is Temudjin Oh, an un-killable assassin "flits" between the peaks of Nepal, a version of Victorian London and Venice. Flitting occurs when a person takes a mysterious drug called "septus", and when an agent flits into another world, they take control of the body of an existing inhabitant, kind of like Agent Smith in The Matrix, and take up that body's own characteristics, like sexual preferences and mental health issues. On the side of the good people, there's Mrs Mulverhill who recruits rebels, and Patient 8262 hiding in a forgotten hospital ward.  Between the sexy Madame d'Ortolan, and Adrian (a city trader in a very normal, real Earth) snorting cocaine and referring to women as "bints" (got to love the English slang), I'm starting to wonder why I've only given this novel the number 10 placing. Why you should read this book – because critics can't agree whether it's a piece of literary genius, or a steaming pile of crap. You decide for yourself! 
Imagine the world as an alternate 1985, where Whitney Houston's ubiquitous voice, those eyeball-raping neon colors, leg warmers, Kirk Cameron's ubiquitous face didn't exist. Actually, anything would have been better than real life 1985. But I'm happy to embrace Jasper Fforde's vision of an alternate 1985, where literary detective Thursday Next (see, even the names are far more awesome than Stacey, Cindy, Brandon, and Zach) follows a criminal through Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. England and Imperial Russia fought the Crimean War for over a century, and England is a plice state run by a weapon production company called the Goliath Corporation. In the novel, Jane Eyre ends with Jane going with her cousin, St John Rivers, to India for missionary work. Literary debates end in gang wards and murder. Thursday Next investigates the theft of a Charles Dickens manuscript by Acheron Hades. Thursday is injured during a steak out to stop Acheron, only saved by a copy of Jane Eyre that stops his bullet. She is helped on the scene by a good Samaritan who leaves a monogrammed handkerchief and a jacket behind. These items are the same ones that Rochester, a character from Jane Eyre. This is the part where it gets even trippier - Thursday knows this, because she entered the book as a child. And just when you tell yourself you're not hallucinating, Thursday's future self instructs her take a job in her hometown, where her uncle has created the “Prose Portal", which allows people to enter works of fiction. Telling any more of the plot would ruin this delightfully surreal, literary journey.  Wall Street Journal described it as a mix of Monty Python, Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you enjoy absurd, comedic writers like Lewis Carroll and Douglas Adams, you need to read this novel. 

Books in Thursday Next Series (7)

What happens when the great United States fails to provide assistance? Disputes are negotiated peacefully, and everyone kisses and makes up, with a nice cup 'o tea, as is the English way. Farthing is set in 1949, but the divergence from actual history occurs in 1940, when the U.S. didn't provide aid to Britain. Without U.S. support, Britain's peace negotiations were accepted by Nazi Germany, the U.K. withdrew from World War 2, and the U.S. never became involved. World War 2 continued between Germany and the Soviet Union. Sir James Thirke, a popular minister, is murdered at a weekend party at Farthing House, found with a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Obviously, blame is pointed at David Kahn, the only Jewish person in the party. Luckily for Kahn, Inspector Carmichael (who has his own secre) suspects this is a ruse to divert attention from the real murderer, particularly given Thirke was having an affair with his sister in law, and his pregnant wife seems to know something was up. In an Agatha Christie style move, Carmichael insists the guests stay at the house. Evidence is found of members of "the Farthing Set", and underground Jewish organization bent on killing Thirke, and one of the guests/suspects is announced as Prime Minister. The novel is written in two view points, and rather than being jarring, it's an effective, engaging device to explore the themes of fascism, class, families, relationships, and sex.  If you enjoy murder mysteries and novels full of twists and turns that will keep the reader on their toes, then put this on your reading list. It was nominated for Benula, Quill, John W. Campbell Memorial, Locus and Sidewise Awards. 

Books in Small Change Series (2)

Holy Shit. That was my first thought, and rather apt thought, when I read this novel and realized what "the alteration" referred to. I sure as hell wasn't expecting that. And hell may be the appropriate word for this parallel universe where the Reformation didn't take place. The protagonist is 10-year-old Hubert Anvil, a choir boy with such a beautiful voice that church leaders wish to preserve it through "alteration". This alternate history novel is a clever, and at times, amusing and scary attack on the Catholic Church. Set in 1976, the world has been frozen in an archaic and medieval setting - intellectual, cultural, scientific, and social growth has been retarded. It diverges from actual history in two places: a papal crusade to restore the rightful heir when Henry of York tried to usurp Stephen II of England; and the protestant reformation didn't occur because Martin Luther reconciled with the Catholic Church. These two occurrences change much of history as we know it. Even culturally, written and musical history has changed. Shakespeare is unknown, Mozart, Beethoven, and Blake have all submitted to religious authority. Science is considered taboo, the scope of inventors is limited, and electricity is banned. Despite the sheer, disturbing scare factor of looking at what our world could have been, Amis' skillful prose and plot weaving makes for an engaging read, particularly if you enjoy dark dystopias. The Alteration won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1977.

Similar Recommendations

Philip Roth is one of the two or three leading American novelists from the second half of the twentieth century, whose work consistently explored the Jewish experience in modern America. But he had never produced anything even approaching science fiction before, late in his career, he produced this stunning alternate history. Like much of his work, it incorporates his own family's history, but in this case he imagines the election of anti-semite Charles Lindbergh as President (a real possibility), and an America that therefore comes closer to Hitler's Germany than Churchill's England. Gradually, anti-Jewish laws are passed and the lives of Roth and his family become ever more curtailed. In one brilliant chapter, perhaps the best you'll find in any alternate history novel, he demonstrates how the broad political changes we have witnessed in the background have a profound and immediate personal effect on the young Philip Roth and his brother (though in fairness it should be said that this is followed by one of the most cack-handed chapters you will find in an alternate history novel).   Alternate histories tend to be rather distanced affairs, interested in the intellectual puzzle of how the changes would play out, but Roth puts a human face on those changes and counts their personal cost. This is a profound and deeply moving novel.
Do you ever wonder, sometimes, if Vladimir Nabokov had problems with women? I mean, not that Lolita or this piece about sibling incest necessarily reflects on his own relationships... but it does make you wonder. Ava is set in the late 19th century in an alternate history. Earth is called Aniterra, and there is the belief (a religious or mass hallucination belief) in a twin world, called "Terra", historically identical to Earth as we know it. On Aniterra, United States includes all of the Americas and was settled extensively by Russians. North Americans use Russian, English, and French. Russia, Europe, Africa, and most of Asia are part of an empire called Tartary The British Empire. Electricity has been banned following an event called "the L-disaster", but some of the technology is as advanced as 20th century technology, like aeroplanes and cars, and they use water powered telephones and television.  Van Veen and Ada meet when he is 14 and she is nearly 12, thinking they are cousins, and begin a sexual affair. I must admit to wondering at this point if there was something wrong with the picture. Think you've wrapped your head around this bizarre relationship? Let me make it more bizarre - they're actually brother and sister. The story treads the tale of their love affair over the years and the hardships it suffers. They are both wealthy and intelligent people. Van becomes a famous psychologist - one of his specialties being research and work with people who hallucinate about Terra.  Why is this book number 15 on this list? On one hand this novel is a beautiful piece of writing, gorgeous prose, witty jokes about historical figures. On the other, it's a trashy novel about the sex lives of wealthy, annoying, lazy aristocrats. If popular culture of the current day is anything to show, it's that humans really enjoy reading about the sex lives of the rich and glamorous. 
I thought I was all out of Hitler jokes, until The Iron Dream came along, and offered up an alternate history Hitler who, instead of being the Fuhrer as we know it, actually wrote smutty, fascist science-fiction. Imagine what the movie versions of those would have looked like. Landing strip jokes aside, this alternate history World War 2 novel is a fierce deconstruction of the darker elements of hard science-fiction, and forces us to look at whether familiar tropes are actually fascist. Set in 1972, the novel is a story within a story. The alternate history Adolf Hitler (who emigrated from Germany to America in 1919 after the Great War and dabbling in politics) is a successful writer, churning out sexy, science fiction adventures. Adolf writes a pulp, post-apocalypse sci-fi novel called Lord of the Swastika - a pro fascist narrative - and dies from a brain hemorrhage shortly after. The novel wins the alternate history Hugo Award.  Academics tell us that Spinrad was illustrating how Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, and much science fiction have similarities with Nazi Germany. Back to reality, and The Iron Dream was nominated for a Nebula Award and a Prix Tour-Apollo Award. In an ironic move, the Bundesprufstelle fur jugendgefahrdende Medien (and try saying that when you're drunk), the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons, banned the book for its alleged promotion of Nazism.  The American Nazi Party put the novel on its recommended reading list. Thankfully, most readers get the satirical point of the story! 
In a strange twist of the real world, an English author has re-written American history, but without implying the Americans screwed something up and history would have been better without America's interference. That's seriously fucked up in this day and age where it's popular even required to critique the evils of past and current American military/political choices. Voyage is a (very) hard science-fiction novel written about a history where JFK survived his 1963 assassination, but was crippled. Instead of the space shuttle program in real history, Nixon commits the United States to send a manned mission to Mars. Apollo 13 runs as it does in real history, but Nixon cancels all future Apollo missions, except for Apollo 14. Nixon then authorizes Ares, the manned space operation. The first manned flight goes horribly wrong when the NERVA nuclear engine explodes, and the astronauts die of radiation exposure. This story is told in flashbacks during that mission about the lives of the astronauts and NASA personnel, their relationships, internal NASA politics, and the development of the NERVA nuclear booster stage. Many events are told from the view point of the first American female astronaut, Natalie York, a civilian scientist, aboard the Ares flight to Mars, and the reader gets the glimpse of some cynicism towards the manned space program. Voyage was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and won the 1996 Sidewise Award. It was also made into a radio series for BBC radio. 

Books in Nasa Series (4)

Similar Recommendations

If you're a fantasy, Game of Thrones, or superhero fan, this George R Martin series science fiction/super hero anthology should be on your reading list. Actually, I would go so far as to say that Wild Cards shits all over Songs of Fire and Ice, and if you want to read good speculative fiction, you're missing out if you don't get into this series. This series was created by a group of New Mexico science fiction writers, but is organized and edited by George R Martin, who is also one of the series writers. The series began in 1987 and is still running, its current publisher being Tor Books. In an alternate post World War 2 Earth, an alien virus that rewrites human DNA is accidentally unleashed in 1946, killing 90% of the world's population, mutating 9%, and giving the rest superpowers. Some of the superpowers are useless, like the ability to grow body hair. The series has more of a "real life" feel to it, missing the secret identities most super heroes have. The world is similar to ours with real history figures like Richard Nixon and Buddy Holly (who doesn't die in a plane crash and does Prince covers) similar popular culture, but it alters baseball history. Best change to history? Werewolf Mick Jagger. And get in quick, because news is that SyFy films just bought the rights to this series.

Books in Wild Cards Series (18)

Similar Recommendations

Stephen King's science fiction work is proof that he really did stop sucking. Running Man, The Cell, and 11/22/63 are some of the best novels I've ever read, and honestly make me wonder why King bothers with horror. This time travel alternate history novel was researched extensively by King, given a really accurate and historical feel to the events of 1958 and 1963, the time 11/22/63 is set in. A high school English teacher (in a trademark King move of giving his protagonists his own characteristics - King was also an English high school teacher) is summonsed by a local diner owner, Al, who seems to have aged and become terminally ill in less than 24 hours. Al shows Jake a time portal at the back of the diner, which leads to September 9, 1958, and tells him it's possible to change history, but a reset, happens on the return trip to 1958 which voids the change.  Al is obsessed with preventing JFK's assassination and hatches a detailed plan, but the past resists change. He develops lung cancer and begs Jake to finish his mission. Jake goes back in time, preparing to foil Oswald, and unleashes a chain of events that changes the past, and his present. After changing the past, he discovers that there are numerous portals, and that changing the past doesn't erase the past, it just creates another time thread. More changes mean more threads, and a more unstable reality. When Jake returns to 2011, it has become a lawless dystopia, where the Civil Rights Act 1964 was never passed. The novel became an immediate number one best seller, and won the 2011 LA Times Book Prize, the 2012 International Thriller Writers Award, and was nominated for the 2012 British Fantasy and Locus Awards. This is the best King work the past decade, rivaling his greatest works like The Stand. I'm not sure what Stevie has been taking to improve his writing mojo, but whatever it is, please keep on taking it, Steven. 

Books in 11/22/63 Series (1)

Why is it that fundamentalists Christians who don't believe in things like caffeine and alcohol always have the most fantastic imaginations? Orson Scott Card, everyone's favorite Mormon (and trust me, I was tempted to leave the "r" out of that word, but I wasn't sure if everyone would have a sense of humor about it),  wrote the Pastwatch series, the first novel in the series focusing on Christopher Columbus, and a group of scientists who travel back to the 15th century to change European contact with the Americas. In this alternate history, sci-fi, dystopian and utopian novel (wow, he packed a lot of genres into the one story, didn't he?) Earth's resources are running out, scientists have developed a machine to watch and record past history. They discover the machine can send information to the past and decide to rewrite history to save humanity. Their focus is Columbus, whose actions led to mass genocide and ecological devastation. Three agents take a one way trip back to the 15th century to change Columbus' actions, and create a less aggressive timeline.  After pacifist intervention by the agents, Columbus returns to Spain, but only for peaceful trade and cultural exchanges. The ramifications of these changes mean this timeline's 20th century is now a utopia. Orson Scott Card writes an impressive novel which should be a favorite for anyone who is a history buff, science nerd, or dystopian freak.

Books in Pastwatch Series (1)

Personally, I think Ayn Rand's novels always deserve a top 25 listing because of their progressive thinking and liberally sexual attitudes. Don't agree with me? Have fun with your Sunday church, no coffee or booze, and get married at 18. I know which life Rand and I prefer! There isn't much that scares me more than current American laws, judicial bodies, and politics, but  Ayn Rand's dystopian alternate history America is up there. Sometimes when I hear about certain states locking up pregnant women in jail cells so they can't have abortions, I think the world is screwed, but then I think of the amorphous "Head of State" in Rand's Atlas Shrugged, where the judiciary, legislative and executive branches have come together, and I know it could be much worse. Given Rand's deliberate omission of a historical context, you may be wondering how this dystopian novel makes itself on to an alternate history novel list. Objectivist commentator,  Richard Lawrence, suggested that the alternate history interpretation of the novel was more plausible than the near history interpretation, due to a historical timeline where certain pieces of technology did not exist, like computers and airplane travel. As mentioned in our Top 25 Dystopian Science Fiction Novel List [link URL],Atlas Shrugged details a dystopian America in an alternate history, where society's most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by taxation and regulations, and go on strike. It shows that a world where people are not free to create is doomed, and that society will collapse when its citizens are slaves to the government. 
Crikey mate, Stephen Irwin got killed by a sting ray, Crocodile Dundee, alternate history science-fiction. Ever heard of a top science fiction Australian author?  *Crickets chirping* No, me either. Australians almost never make top science-fiction novel lists, so it's pretty impressive that an Aussie has come up with the most recent, contemporary, science fiction, time travel, military, and alternate history novel of recent times. Birmingham has got a handle on a whole range of genres there, so the Aussies don't have to worry that they're only representing one subgenre of science-fiction. The Axis of Time series is a World War 2 alternate history series by John Birmingham. A technologically advanced navy from 2021 accidentally time travels back to 1942. In Weapons of Choice a radical Islamic movement has waged a jihad against the west. The U.S. launches a counter attack using the Nagoya a secret weapons and stealth system, using quantum physics. The Nagoya tests its systems, but accidentally tears a rift in the space-time continuum, destroying the Nagoya and sending the fleet back to 1942, right into a fleet battle between the Americans and the Japanese. The Americans mistake them for the enemy and turn fire on them. They realize their mistake, hold a truce, and study the new technology available to them. Some of the fleet falls into the hands of the Japanese, Germans and Soviets. After capturing an Indonesian ship from the 2012 fleet, the Japanese realize that the Americans are aware of their battle plans. Admiral Yamamoto turns his fleet around and the Battle of Midway never takes place. The Germans also abandon their plans to invade Russia, and Hitler and Stalin become allies. So get this Aussie goodness into you. It's technologically, it rewrites history in a unique way and it's riveting and with the right dose of violence.

Books in The Axis Of Time Series (3)

The cool thing about McAuley's hard science fiction, spanning biotechnology, alternate history and time travel, is that he's actually a posh botanist with a lovely accent, not a Sheldon Cooper style nerd, as you'd really imagine him. He gives us the old fashioned version of steampunk, in an Industrial Revolutionist Italy. The city is drowned in polluted, tainted rain, and infested with dirty air from its factories.  Leonardo da Vinci's steam turbine era, a metropolis Florence, sets the scene. Artists wars, the de' Medicis still scheme. The apprentice, Pasquel, sets out to solve a mysterious murder, where Da Vinci's flying device lies near the body. It turns out; the flying machine is wanted by the Spaniards, who will stop at nothing to gain this technology. The characters are rich and well-drawn, the plot appeals on a science fiction, steam punk, and alternate history level, and the technology fascinates. Love history or murder detective stories? Then you'll love this novel, too. When you finish this novel, you'll be asking yourself why you didn't start it sooner. It's also the 1995 Sidewise Award winner.  
We all know Stephen Fry is the amusing, articulate comedian. But inside that tart wit is a spectacular speculative fiction.  In 1998's Sidewise Award Winner, this story of Michael "Puppy" young revolves around a student completing his PHD on the relationship between Hitler and his mother. Puppy meets Leo Zukerman, a physicist who was the son of a Nazi doctor at Auschwitz. Zuckerman builds a machine that can send items to the past, and send a male contraceptive pill back to the past so that Hitler's father drinks it and becomes infertile. Returning to the present with an English accent, when it turns out he should have had an American accent, Puppy discovers the history of his current time. Though Hitler never came to fruit (hehe), Rudolph Gloder became the Nazi leader, just as nasty and farm more charismatic.  Far more successful than Hitler, due to strategic moves, the Nazis gain dominance in Europe, and engage in combat against the U.S. The U.S. remains incredibly conservative, and when Puppy talks to his gay best friend about our real world, he wonders at the gay pride and equality (as it seems). At this time, Michael realizes he is gay, too. Revealing our end will reveal too much, but there is happiness in the bleak dystopian world we are presented with.  This book reveals the powerful emotion that Fry has the ability to display, and it shows us a disgusting dystopia that our world could have been. If you're a heterosexual person, and care about people whose lives are different to yours, this novel is a must read. 
As if alternate histories weren't confusing enough, The Separation wants to further test its readers' intelligence by giving the readers a story about twin brothers during World War 2 who have identical initials, Jack and Joe Sawyer. Jack is a pilot, and Joe is an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, using one of Priest's most familiar techniques, that of the unreliable narrator. The brothers are divided by their need to be treated as individuals (not just twins, they won a rowing medal for Britain in the Berlin Olympics, presented by Rudlof Hess), but by their very belief system. Despite this need for distinct identities, they're always linked, both suffering similar injuries, the story marked by similarities and contradictions. The Separation is a beautifully written story, rich in detail, and impressively researched. Though the text is memorable, it becomes almost chaotically confusing, and as such leaves the reader with a distinct memory of the piece. The Separation also won the 2002 British Science Fiction Award and the 2003 Arthur C. Clarke Award. It was a finalist for the 2002 Sidewise and 2003 John W Campbell Awards.  Priest has said to have been influenced by H.G. Wells in writing this novel, and is the Vice President of the H.G. Wells Society.