Good parallel universe stories

Robert Harris’ Fatherland was one of the best novels I ever read, and barely scrapes in as science fiction simply because it maps out an alternate history: detente between the US and Nazi Germany in the 1950s.

I decided to read more What If? stories, and found a book (called "What if? from vague memory) containing series of non-fiction suppositions which were interesting if dry.

I then read a very disappointing novel involving the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which General Curtiss Le May launched a strike on Cuba and the USSR, in bare retaliation for which the USSR destroyed Washington Dc and Florida. The story slowly revolved around the idea of an “anschluss” with England. It was fragmented and badly written. I can’t even remember the title.

I’ve since read The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson which entertaingly postulated the rise of computers in steampunk Victorian England.

Robert Heinlein’s “The Number of the Beast” has British/Russian antipathy from the Great Game continuing on Mars: American independence never evolved and Australia belongs to the French. Regrettably Heinlein never fully played this out: it was a very ancillary scene in the book.

Any others anyone can recommend?

Do you want parallel universe or alternative history stories? There are differences.

One of the best parallel universe stories is Michael Kube-McDowell’s Alternaties.

The Separation by Christopher Priest.
It features an alternate outcome to WW2.

For more “Nazis Victorious” alternate history, check out SS-GB, by Len Deighton, set about a year after the Nazis manage to take over Britain, Jo Walton’s Farthing trilogy (Farthing, Ha’Penny, and the upcoming Half A Crown) set in a world where Britain made an early peace with Germany, and J.N. Stroyar’s “The Children’s War” and “A Change of Regime”, which are set in a world whre the Nazis rule Europe.

If you don’t mind some SF elements, Harry Turtledove did a series where an alien race with roughly early 21st century technology (except for controlled fusion and STL starships) invades Earth in 1942, resulting in some strange alliances (i.e. Allies and Nazi’s cooperating against aliens allied with the Chinese and the Jews).

I can’t recall what the series was called, though.

The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith

It assumes that only Libertarian ideals took hold after the American Revolution. It’s available as a graphic novel. Though if you aren’t into Libertarianism I don’t think you’d enjoy it as much as I did.

That would be his Worldwar tetralogy, which was then followed by his Colonization trilogy.

Alternate histories are very popular, and I found a good source for information on them is, which has frequent updates on both fiction and nonfiction and lists of works by author and date of divergence.

One of the classics is The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick.

One of my favorites is “Guns of the South” where men from the future go back in time to the middle of the Civil War and give Robert E. Lee hand grenades and Uzis, as well as info on what the northern generals were planning to do. It has a neat twist to it. And southerners get to kick some northern ass, as well.

Nitpick - the southerners don’t get hand grenades, though the South Africans from the future employ them on their behalf. And the guns are AK-47s.

Agree completely; this book really gets the contigent nature of history right.

A few dozen universes split off in 1950 or so, so by 1975, the President in one universe is a complete unknown in all the other universes, and the cultures of each version of America have likewise varied

Another good choice is “The Coming of the Quantum Cats” by Fred Pohl

Randall Garrett wrote his Lord Darcy series of fantasy novels, as a basis for which was the idea that the North American terrorists were rounded up and executed by the British a few hundred years ago, and North America is still under British rule. Magic, works, too.

One can’t discuss alternate histories without mentioning H. Beam Piper’s Paratime series, or its most famous novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen; an alternate world where gunpowder is a secret held by the Church and what happens when a person from our world (who happens to know how to make gunpowder) suddenly finds himself transported there.

I’m as far from Libertarian as you can get, I think, and I liked it just fine (the GN). A leeetle heavyhanded, but very enjoyable in a way that some other Libertarian SF just isn’t.

It’s avaiable online, BTW:

The actual break point for the Darcy books (besides the magic of course) was Richard the Lion-Hearted didn’t die from an arrow wound, came back to England sobered by near death, and went on to rule the combined French-English empire, leading it to greatness. There were no North American terrorists, they never attempted to break away, at least it was not mentioned in any of the stories actually by Garrett. The only mention of the Americas I can remember in the stories was a young lord from somewhere in Central America of native descent. His patent of nobility was accepted as being the equal of those from the original empire.

The Worldwar books by Turtledove were pretty good. His best AH, IMO, is stuff like Opening Atlantis, How Few Remain (The set up book for his Great War series. This is much better than the rest of the books and is not really a part of the series.), Days of Infamy, and In the Presence of Mine Enemies.

Farthing by Jo Walton that Captain Amazing mentioned is very good. And very depressing. She made it seem all too real, and possible. She did say that the last book will have a happy ending. Sort of. :stuck_out_tongue:

Ah, the dreaded “December 25 Dinner” alliance.

Just a tiny nit to pick here, it’s not a Christian church that holds the secret of gunpowder, but the priest of a god named Styphon. The people in the alternate history are polytheists.

But I heartily urge any reader to check these books and stories out, Piper is among my favorite sci-fi authors. He also had a future history that rivals that of Heinlein.

And if you like alternate history/parallel worlds his short story “He Walked Around the Horses” is one of the best of the genre. Told in a series of letters between British and German authorities it’s based on an event in our world that really happened, the disappearance in 1809 of a British diplomat in the courtyard of a German inn. The signature at the end of the last letter is a real hoot. Hell, I have an extra copy of the book the story appears in, if anyone really really wants it I’ll send it to them.

“He Walked Around the Horses” is also available online at Project Gutenberg.

I enjoy the short story “Why I Left Harry’s All-Night Hamburgers” by Lawrence Watt Evans.

He also has some pretty good short stories in Crosstime Traffic.