(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Tales of parallel worlds or alternate histories include works such as Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), which details an often humorous alternative early Britain. Murray Leinster is sometimes given credit for the “parallel worlds” idea of science fiction because of his “Sidewise in Time” (1934), but L. Sprague de Camp wrote what is usually considered the first “serious” attempt at an alternative history in his Lest Darkness Fall (1941), the story of a man who tries to prevent the Dark Ages when he is inadvertently “slipped back” in time. Other “technologies,” like Randall Garrett’s, appear in Brian M. Stableford’s The Empire of Fear (1988), in which “vampires” rule in the 1600’s; in Harry Turtledove’s A Different Flesh (1988), in which Homo erectus survived in North America; and in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine (1990), wherein Charles Babbage’s “thinking machine” revolutionizes Victorian England.

The idea of alternative timelines seems to have gained popularity in the 1980’s and 1990’s, judging by the number of anthologies published. Volumes edited by Gregory Benford and Martin H. Greenberg have variously included stories with the themes of alternate empires, heroes, and wars. Other volumes of alternative histories continue to appear in bookstores, discussing everything from a world in which the...

(The entire section is 574 words.)