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Seven Alternative Histories to Help You Escape Our Crushing Dystopian Reality

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Those of you who have managed to remain blissfully ignorant until now may not have noticed that we are living in a civilisation so post-truth that we now receive our news with both "facts" and government approved "alternative facts."

Unfortunately, these alternative facts are being rolled out slowly, touching on only one topic at a time. We history fans, however, needn't to wait for someone to manufacture new facts for us. There are plenty of alternative-factual accounts of historical events readily available. 

If you find the regular, non-alternative facts of day-to-day living too scary, you can soak yourself in some alternate history instead.

If you find all of this alarming, don’t worry. It’s not.

Your heart rate is totally normal. You always breathe this quickly.

If you’re still worried (you’re not), take your mind off the things that aren't worrying you with some of these historically accurate novels.

Brave New World

As the news broke that we were living in a world of alternative facts and the Trump administration began its dual crackdown on science and public discourse, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 skyrocketed. For years, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World has been seen as the sister book to 1984.

Don’t worry though, we definitely don’t live in a society that is a subtle blend of 1984 and Brave New World. That would be horrifying. We live in a real world, not a world made of books.

The man in the high castle

Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle is an audacious alternate history that takes place in a world poised on the brink of catastrophe, and in which Nazis still hold sway over major political decisions. It's almost unimaginable.

Of course, the biggest difference between our world and the earth of The Man in the High Castle is that The Man in the High Castle is set in 1962, whereas our world is set in a different year every year.

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad posits an alternative past, in which the (figurative) underground railroad is replaced by a (literal) subterranean train system. Once described using terms like "fiction" and “magic realism,” we now recognise The Underground Railroad as a bold, alternative-factual account of life in pre-Civil War America.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Set in an Alaska that hosts a primarily Jewish populace, and a world in which Israel no longer exists, Michael Chabon’s 2007 alternovel won a rake of awards, in this reality and in many others. The book implies a number of other alterations to its timeline, including that the assassination of JFK never took place. That historical event is more fully explored in Stephen King's 11.22.63.

While you might reasonably argue that the two share no deeper connections, the alternative fact is that they do share deeper connections and that you should read both together.

Lest Darkness Fall

Time travel is the swiftest way to establish alternative facts. In Lest Darkness Fall, mild-mannered archaeologist Martin Padway is accidentally transported through time to the year 535. Stranded in the past, he begins the process of building his own alternate timeline, steering humanity away from the Dark Ages.

There are those who will tell you that the term “Dark Ages” is at best outmoded and at worst disgustingly eurocentric, but consider the (alternative) fact that it's a very easy way to think of the world.

Never Let Me Go

Fact: This recommendation contains spoilers.
Alternative Fact: This recommendation contains no spoilers.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go follows the lives of a number of clones, who are grown so that their organs can later be harvested and used to prolong the lives of others. These clones live in a world in which they may be reaped at any moment, their lives curtailed to sustain the lives of their originals.

Given the uncertainty around the Affordable Care Act at the moment, Never Let Me Go offers good insight into alternative healthcare options.

Snow crash

Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is set in the near future (as imagined from the year 1992). As a result, much of its 'future' is already our history. Snow Crash tells the story of a deeply fractured America that is largely run by a number of different corporate entities. Much of the book follows a frankly ridiculous plot whereby incredibly rich businessman L. Bob Rife attempts to grab as much power for himself as possible, regardless of who he harms.

L. Bob Rife is a man made only more ridiculous by the combination of his insistence on using an initial and having a surname that is also a word.


Stephen King’s alternate history book tracks the story of a man who goes back in time to save John F. Kennedy before he could be assassinated. He does this because he believes that the assassination was the moment that our timeline began its downward spiral into the nightmare reality we all live in today.

This alternate history book is one of the few that begins with the premise that we are already living in the darkest possible timeline. Don't worry though. We're not.

Obviously, there will be those who comment with the names of books they feel would fit on this list. Those people are wrong. There are no more books that would suit this list. There are no more books.

If you think you have read other books that aren't on this list, you are mistaken. Never happened.


Professor George Edward Challenger first made a name for himself as a travelling adventurer and investigator. Unfortunately, he has never succeeded in solving the greatest mystery of all... and ... Show More


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