For a while, the Soviet Union was ahead in the Space Race. It launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space in 1961. Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space two years later.
These early victories spurred the United States into action. President John F. Kennedy set a goal of putting an American on the Moon before 1970. NASA, created by his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, received massive funding. The Apollo program succeeded while the Soviet space program languished. Following the 1969 Moon landing, both sides returned their attention to Earth.
What if they hadn’t? What if the American program had failed and the Soviet Union had continued its exploration of — and expansion into — space?
Continue reading “The Soviet Union in Space”
Thought the 1950s couldn’t get any scarier? Think again. Imagine communists ruling all over Europe, the Soviet Union stretching from Finland in the northwest to Port Arthur in the southeast, Britain under the sway of “Big Brother”, America ruled by President-for-Life Douglas MacArthur, and East and West vying for influence in Africa and the Middle East.
This atompunk world is on its way to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and, in Britain, could culminate in the events of Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup (1982), in which civil servants, spies and business leaders conspire to bring down a left-wing government (our review of the 1988 television adaptation here).
Other inspirations include Alan Moore’s and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (2007) and the Command & Conquer: Red Alert video games.
Continue reading “Cold War on Steroids”
Alternate World War II histories typically either kill Hitler, to end the war quickly or avoid it altogether, or correct one of his many strategic mistakes (invade Russia in winter, needlessly declare war on the United States), to enable an Axis victory.
There were many more inflection points, however, any one of which could have steered history in another direction. If you want to change World War II, here are 22 ways to do it.
Continue reading “How to Change World War II”
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand proposed dividing up Belgium between France, Germany and the Netherlands. Heinrich Himmler fantasized about crowning himself regent of an independent Burgundy. The Allies in World War II had multiple plans for Balkan federation. Iraq and Libya both pushed plans for Arab unification.
The only things these schemes have in common is that nothing came of them. Belgium still exists. Burgundy doesn’t. The Balkans and the Arab world are even more divided.
What if history had taken a different turn? Here is a look at the countries that almost existed.
Continue reading “Countries That Almost Existed”
We previously imagined a world in which the Axis powers signed a peace treaty with America and World War II is still being fought as a prolonged Cold War. But what if Germany and Japan had pressed ahead and invaded the United States?
This next worldbuilding installment is heavily inspired by Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and the Amazon drama series that is based on it (2015-present). Other inspirations are William Overgard’s The Divide (1980), Harry Turtledove’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003) and Guy Saville’s The Afrika Reich (2011).
Continue reading “A World in Which the Axis Won World War II”
Many a what-if has been written about a German victory in World War II. Alternate histories of a German victory in World War I are less popular, but they exist. Indeed, people started thinking about the consequences of a German victory during the war itself and feared it might give way to a German empire spanning nearly the whole of Europe.
Here is a look at some of the maps that were produced to show a German victory in what was at the time called simply “the Great War”.
Continue reading “What If Germany Had Won the First World War?”
450 years ago this year, the Dutch Revolt against the Catholic king of Spain started. For eighty years, the largely Protestant provinces of the Netherlands fought for their independence. They got it in 1648, when the Peace of Münster (part of the Peace of Westphalia) recognized the Northern Netherlands as an independent republic.
But the largely Catholic South remained Spanish until 1714, when it became Austrian. It was briefly joined with the Netherlands after the defeat of Napoleon, but by then the two had grown apart culturally, economically and linguistically. Belgium seceded from the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1830.
This separation was not preordained. In 1581, Brabant (which is now split between Belgium and the Netherlands), Flanders as well as Mechelen had joined the Northern provinces in their declaration of independence, the Act of Abjuration. But they were quickly reconquered by Spanish forces. Antwerp and Brussels had been the centers of economic and political life in the Low Countries. They too fell under Spanish rule. The North continued as a republic, centered on Amsterdam.
What if the rebels had succeeded in holding the South? What could a United Netherlands have looked like?
Continue reading “What If Belgium and the Netherlands Had Remained One Country?”
One of the earliest descriptions of a dieselpunk world was written by “Piecraft” in 2006. He envisaged an alternate 1950s “where the Great Depression never arrived and World War II is still being fought as a prolonged Cold War.”
Japan continues its progress toward technological modernization, developing the earliest computers and terminals. Nazi scientists continue experimenting by taking the route of biotechnology, sparking off a genetic revolution of bio-mods, clones and organ harvesting, while the Americans and British take both of these technologies to develop mind-control devices, spawning man-machine interfaces and sparking the atomic-powered machine age.
Let’s explore this diesel-fueled world in the first installment of a new series we’ll call worldbuilding.
We’ll draw on Len Deighton’s SS-GB (1978) and the BBC serialization (2017, our review here), Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and the Amazon drama series (2015-present), Robert Harris’ Fatherland (1992), Allen Steele’s V-S Day (2014), the video game Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014), the art of Stefan Prohaczka and Sam van Olffen, and the real-life Nazi Generalplan Ost, among other sources.
Continue reading “A World in Which World War II Never Ended”
At a glance, this doesn’t look too different from your average Cold War map. Take a closer look, though, and you will notice some oddities. Half of Austria seems to be missing. East Germany is much bigger than it should be. Greece isn’t in NATO, but Sweden is.
What happened here?
Continue reading “How Finland’s Defeat in 1940 Could Have Changed the Cold War”
The genre of steampunk is often inspired by the nineteenth century, the Victorians, and futurism. It’s about alternate futures or futuristic ideas of times past. But how did the Victorians view the future?
The nineteenth century was a time of many rapid changes. In a fairly short span of time many scientific breakthroughs were made, many new objects and machines invented. Things moved at a fast and exhilarating pace. It could be compared to the current developments around the internet and computers: things are changed and invented at such a speed that it’s hard to keep track sometimes, and you can reminisce with your friends about times when no one had a mobile phone. Just like that, Victorians reminisced about times without diesel power, electric motors or bicycles.
Continue reading “The Future as Imagined by the Past”