A few things lately have got me thinking about two distinct strands of definitively “what-if?” speculative fiction which sometimes intertwine – the alternate history based narrative, and the utopian-dystopian narrative.
For example, Philip K Dick in the Man in the High Castle used a base of what-if the Germans and Japanese had won World War II to explore existing dystopic undercurrents of the common utopian rhetoric about The American Way and native superiority to other populations who had surrendered during the war.
Kim Stanley Robinson in The Years of Rice and Salt used a what-if of a mediaeval Europe almost entirely depopulated by the plague, leaving it to be colonised by Asia, and what that would mean for a future history of the world. What basic assumptions about communities and hierarchies would be different, and what would be the same, with neither the Graeco-Roman nor the Christian heritage any longer underpinning Europe, and the major clash of religions being between Buddhism and Islam? Too many utopic/dystopic narratives examined here to list in what’s meant to be merely a conversation-starter post.
Then of course there is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, where the what-if is that a group of extreme conservative Christian Dominionists stage a bloodless coup in the 1980s in one part of North America, where through the manipulation of integrated electronic databases they strip women of any independent legal rights, assigning all their property to the men who claim responsibility for them. A classic deconstruction of the utopian narrative about traditional gender roles under patriarchy.
So what are other people’s favourite alternate history novels, dystopic novels, and crossovers between the two?
Image Source: looks like cover art, but it comes from somebody’s StumbleUpon account where it’s not credited that I could find. Chosen only because it was the first result served to me on an image search for “science fiction” (which was rather a relief, actually). If anyone knows the artist and novel it was illustrating please let me know.
Which leads to a second question – what are your all-time most-loved and most-loathed SF book covers?