Alternate histories involving technology

Hi all--I'm writing a paper proposal for the upcoming Sideways conference in Liverpool:

http://call-for-papers.sas.upenn.edu/node/58321

and am putting together a (presumably relatively short) list of alternate history books/stories in which the divergence event has to do with technology—the development of a new technology, the development of an existing technology earlier, later, not at all, or by a person or group different from what happened in conventional history. Many alternative histories describe different paths of technological development, but I'm specifically looking only for stories where the technology itself is the divergent factor (e.g. alternative technological development is a central part of Pavane, but is not the cause of the divergent history). I'm also not looking for stories in which aliens or time travellers introduce a technology into a historical setting.

Any suggestions to add to the list will be most welcome!!

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer--Carolyn
 
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Among others :

- Le Lion d'Egypte, by Duval and Pécau - Kordey (Jour J collection)

- Newton's cannon (and the three sequels), by Keyes Gregory J. (even if it can be debated if it's about outer intervention or not)

- The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

- Voyage, by Stephen Baxter
 
Thank you! What are the others? :) Unfortunately Voyage doesn't look like it meets my criteria (the divergence event is the Kennedy assassination), but I think one of Baxter's other novels, Anti-Ice, does. Newton's Cannon and a couple of others (e.g. Light Ages) do, in a sense, and I'll probably end up using them (as there don't actually seem to be too many alternate universe stories where technology plays a role in the divergence), but they are much more fantastical than I was hoping for.
 
Novels:

-"Pasquale's Angel" by Paul McAuley. Leonardo da Vinci turns all of his creative energy towards science and inventing new technology. There MAY be a non-technological historical divergence that causes this (IIRC, there's a brief mention of Lorenzo de Medici being killed by the Pazzi Conspiracy. No Medici ---> Leonardo loses his biggest art patron -------> Leonardo abandons art and turns toward science), so I'm not sure it fits your criteria. But in any event, this divergence is barely mentioned at all in the story, and the basic setting focuses on the concept of the Industrial Revolution happening in Renaissance Italy.

-"Wake Up and Dream" by Ian R. MacLeod. In the early 20th Century post-World War I, a technology is invented that allows the projection not only of sounds and images, but of actual feelings and emotions. This technology catches on in the Hollywood movie industry, where they are known as "feelies." The story centers on Clark Gable, whose acting career was derailed by this new technology, and is now a private investigator in 1940 Los Angeles. Gable is drawn into a murder/conspiracy involving this technology (called the Bechmeir Field) and how it could be used for sinister purposes.

Short stories:

"The Secret History of the Ornithopter" by Jan Lars Jensen. British aeronautical inventor Edward Purkis Frost is given funding by a Japanese zaibatsu corporation to develop a working ornithoptic aircraft (which use wings which fly by the force of flapping their wings, just like birds in nature, as opposed to fixed-wing airplanes). Frost moves to Japan, following his investors, and the ornithopter catches on and becomes widespread both among Japanese civilian aircraft and (in the years leading up to World War II) the Japanese military.
 
Not strictly technology but maybe useful

Carolyn

One book/storyline that might be interesting is the Lord Darnley investigates set of stories by Randall Garrett. Available on ebooks, possibly free on mega reader.

This has a POD where the Laws of Magic are discovered in the late Middle Ages. resulting in a scientific application of magic to healing, home uses and detection. Lord Darcy is an investigator for the Duke of Normandy in a TL where the Plantagents have conquered France and rule over Germany and Italy as Holy Roman Emperor.

The stories have explanations of how various Laws operate and what can be achieved with them. Natural science is less explored and general technology level is lower than in OTL 1960s, when the stories were set ITTL.

Not strictly technology but, as Arthur C Clarke said
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"

;)

You may find it a counterpoise or just worth reading

Good luck.

:)
 
Hmmmm.... I have the Lord Darcy books and never actually thought of them as alternative history but you're making a reasonably convincing case :) I've got to write the proposal tomorrow, so will be sitting down to think about it today; I think one of the points that seems to be coming out of this and other conversations is that the idea that there could be alternative scientific and technological paths is so far outside the imaginations of authors and readers that whenever anyone posits such a possibility it almost always defaults straight to fantasy. We as a culture are just not prepared to accept the contingent nature of scientific and technological change in the same way we are totally willing to accept the contingent nature of political and social change.

Here are a few of the paths not taken:

What if Watson and Crick had never seen the image Rosalind Franklin had created showing the double helix structure of DNA?
What if Alexander Fleming's cleaning lady had done a better job of housekeeping while he was away?
What if Richard Trevithick hadn't drunk quite so much that winter night in 1801?
 
One you should in turn avoid:

Midas, Sheffield and Company

A really badly written AH novel about some sort of revolutionary super-steamship design, or something. Don't read it, it's a perferct example of how no to write a technology-centered alternate history (and how not to write a novel in general).
 
Hmmmm.... I have the Lord Darcy books and never actually thought of them as alternative history but you're making a reasonably convincing case :) I've got to write the proposal tomorrow, so will be sitting down to think about it today; I think one of the points that seems to be coming out of this and other conversations is that the idea that there could be alternative scientific and technological paths is so far outside the imaginations of authors and readers that whenever anyone posits such a possibility it almost always defaults straight to fantasy. We as a culture are just not prepared to accept the contingent nature of scientific and technological change in the same way we are totally willing to accept the contingent nature of political and social change.
In my opinion, it's not so much that divergences in the history of science are beyond people's imaginations. It's just that it's tough to parlay that into a fiction story which, by definition, revolves around human characters and the building of alternate societies. Technology interacts with the political and social context which gives rise to it in a way that is subtle, not always obvious, and creates a chicken-or-egg question as to which caused which: technological change or sociopolitical change.

The printing press was invented in Medieval Germany, and changed things from there. The Industrial Revolution began in 19th Century England. The atomic bomb was made in the 1940s. Spaceflight came into its maturity under the USA and USSR in the Cold War. The Internet was developed in the late 20th Century.

It's hard to know what would have happened if the Ancient Romans had the printing press, or if space travel was possible in the 19th Century, because it's difficult to space out the intricate ways in which these technologies could have interacted with the much different sociopolitical contexts they've been transplanted to.

It's not so much that people haven't thought of science alternate histories, it's just that, because of how many moving parts such a concept carries with it, it's a daunting task for writers to tackle.
 

Thande

Donor
Harry Turtledove's Basil Argyros short stories (compiled as Agent of Byzantium) are not born of a technology-related POD but all of their plots involve the earlier discovery of a different technology, so I thought I would mention those as well.

This may not be relevant to your discussion but I always find some of the details of OTL technological advancement rather fascinating, such as:

World War I -> Invention of sulfur mustard gas as a chemical weapon -> Scientists notice that it attacks rapidly-dividing cells in the lungs and gut most viciously -> develop a milder nitrogen mustard version -> invention of chemotherapy.

And all those accidental discoveries like how the chemotherapy drug cisplatin was discovered when someone was trying to separate cancer cells using gel electrophoresis with a platinum electrode and chloroform/ammonia solution, and they reacted to produce the drug which killed the cells.
 
The Industrial Revolution began in 19th Century England. The atomic bomb was made in the 1940s. Spaceflight came into its maturity under the USA and USSR in the Cold War. The Internet was developed in the late 20th Century.

It's hard to know what would have happened if the Ancient Romans had the printing press, or if space travel was possible in the 19th Century, because it's difficult to space out the intricate ways in which these technologies could have interacted with the much different sociopolitical contexts they've been transplanted to.
this is a nice illustration of how complicated the interaction is, yes the industrial revolution started in the UK, however it would not have been possible without the agricultural revolution that started in the Netherlands/Flanders (where 4 course crop rotation was introduced in the 16th century). The highly increased crop yield allowed for population growth, that supplied the people for the industrial revolution.
 
'It's hard to know what would have happened if the Ancient Romans had the printing press, or if space travel was possible in the 19th Century, because it's difficult to space out the intricate ways in which these technologies could have interacted with the much different sociopolitical contexts they've been transplanted to.'

And yet we seem to be happy to enjoy stories where ancient Romans had machine guns. (And I've read more than one story where space travel is possible in Victorian England :)). I personally don't find these kinds of dramatic and arbitrary alterations to conventional history interesting, either as fiction or as an intellectual exercise, but enjoy using the concept of alternate history to help me and my students consider the extent to which actual history is influenced by contingent events such as the science and technology related examples I posited in my previous comment. And I find it striking that a story like, say, 'Bring the Jubilee' can imagine a trivial historical event having profound historical repercussions, but we as a culture would find it much harder to imagine the historical repercussions of a similarly trivial event that affects a scientific or technical rather than a military or political outcome.
 
If I may, my own story "Wave Goodbye", recently published in the "The Tanist's Wife" collection (Kindle only) is set in the modern world, but one in which a 19th century inventor discovered a usable way of representing telegraphy as an image of the letters. He became rich and along with the British establishment used everything from ridicule to assassination to depict the idea of wireless communication as pseudoscience, "Marconi the Phoney" being a well known lunatic fringe character. It depicts a world in which switching technology was more advanced time-wise, such that television exists (cable of course) as early as 1900, and by 1920 televisions are so popular that almost every town has one. In the story we see mobile phones (that need to be plugged into a network) and a world in which night-time flights are almost unknown. Give it a try!
 
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