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Acronym for “in the Sea of Time”, a reference to S. M. Stirling's seminal 1998 novel Island in the Sea of Time. ISOTs are a common ASB scenario.


Essentially, an ISOT involves taking a large area of land, say an island or a country, and sending it back or forward in time to another era. This usually also results in the land from that time being sent back to 'now' to replace that country, but this is not necessarily part of the definition.

For example, a scenario with the premise of “2006 Germany ISOTed to 1942” would mean that the territory of 2006 Germany replaces that of 1942 Germany. This would serve as a set up for a story, where the ISOTed 2006 Germany and the rest of the 1942-Earth have to react to this strange event and to each other's presence. Coping with the ensuing culture shock and various differences would also be a major issue, especially early on in the story. Incidentally, this kind of “coping with the aftermath of an ISOT” is a very common theme (or trope) in works that use it.

ISOT events are commonly associated with Alien Space Bats.

Pecularities of the term's use on

However, ISOT has become such a popular term that it is now often used simply in lieu of 'time travel', of one person, such as 'ISOT myself to WW1'. ISOT is primarily now used as a verb, though also as a noun.

Pronunciation of the acronym

ISOT is usually pronounced as 'eye-sot'.

Possible physical ramifications

Over the years, has had some rather philosophical discussions about the details of the whole ISOT concept.

One of the most frequent types of debates was “What happens to the country/territory that gets replaced by the time-displaced country/territory ?”. Generally, there are two “schools of thought” concerning this issue. Using an ISOTed France as an example, these two schools are :

  • If you ISOT modern day France to 1932, then 1932 France would in turn come to the modern world in an exchange. In essence, the two France-s would swap places.
  • If you ISOT modern day France to 1932, then 1932 France doesn't swap places with it, but instead goes to an empty waterworld known as The Output. That such a “storage world” would exist in the multiverse is rather meta, but not out of the question.

The first idea is generally popular and is also generally assumed to be the “default solution” of any scenario involving an ISOT. The second idea is less popular, but has its proponents and fans.

Examples of works based on ISOTs

a.) Published works

Many published AH works are based on the premise of an ISOT.

This includes the aforementioned Island in the Sea of Time trilogy by Stirling, but also Eric Flint's 163X series, Harry Turtledove's The Misplaced Legion, John Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy and Without Warning series.

However, note that the actual term/acronym 'ISOT' is rarely used in published fiction. The authors usually prefer to pick their own naming conventions. For instance, in the 163X books, it is termed 'The Ring of Fire', and in the Island in the Sea of Time itself, it is referred to simply as 'the Event'.

b.) works

Many ASB timelines and stories created on are based around various types of ISOTs.

Some notable examples from the New Board's early years:

Of course, the ASB forum offers many more ISOT timelines and stories, older and newer, with varying premises (and at varying levels of completion). A good place to start looking for interesting ISOT timelines is to visit the ASB sections of each annual Turtledove Awards page, and perhaps even open the annual Turtledove Awards nominations and voting threads that cover ISOT or ASB scenarios. You're bound to find an ISOT scenario that might interest you.

Types of ISOT scenarios

Similarly to other ASB scenarios, ISOTs have gradually developed into something of a mini-genre, big enough to even have subgenres of its own. Here are some of the popular and common types (or subgenres) of ISOTs:

  1. ISOTing small pieces of territory, usually from a more technologically advanced era to a less advanced era, or to a noticably alternate timeline or fictional world
  2. ISOTing entire sovereign countries (or other self-governing areas), either individually or in groups, to a different historical era (commonly also from the future to the past), or a different timeline, or a fictional world
  3. ISOTing a group of people, either purely civilians or military personnel or even both, to a different historical era, different timeline, or a fictional world, usually with enough equipment for basic survival and getting by in the early days after the ISOT
  4. ISOTing individual items (tools, machinery, plans and blueprints, textbooks, powerful artefacts, etc.) rather than people from one era to another era, or to different timeline or fictional world
  5. personal ISOTs, where only a single person is ISOTed to a different era, or a different timeline or fictional world, instead of a whole group of people (usually, the individual gets ISOTed with minimum possessions)
  6. various plausible combinations of the above scenarios
  7. the 'self-insert' (SI), where a mundane person or some historical personality wakes up in the body and mind of a (different) historical personality from another period, or a fictional character from a fictional setting

Many of these ISOT types are not unique to works, having also appeared in many published works by various authors of speculative fiction. However, some occur on scenarios, timelines and stories with much greater regularity than in works.

See Also's AH Writing Slang

Max's First Law - A theoretical postulate dealing with the general results of an ISOT.

alternate_history/isot.txt · Last modified: 2019/03/29 15:13 by

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