Everybody’s a Critic

io9 posted a list of the 10 Worst Mistakes That Authors of Alternate History Make and as you can imagine, I have some notes.

Like everything at io9, the article is confused and garbled: we’re informed of mistake No. 8 — Ignoring historical factors that were important at the time, even if they aren’t important to your story — in which Cherie Priest is marched to the woodshed because she forbears detailing the minutiae of 19th-century railroad rights in Utah — but then we’re told about mistake No. 2 — Explaining too much. Interviewing a wide swath of alt-hist writers is a great concept and certainly boosts exposure of the genre, but I wish Anders had allowed each author a hundred words or so to summarize his or her approach rather than jam the interviews into the cheesy square hole of a Late Nite Top 10 cliché. Still, the article’s own Worst Mistake is including the advice of war pornographer SM Stirling, who by all means should be completely ignored, if not pushed off a bridge.

A few bread crumbs of wisdom are sprinkled in the actual author quotes by underscoring what not to not do. I most seriously take exception to No. 10: Failing to bring it up to the present:

This is an “uncommon but grievous rookie mistake,” says Terry Bisson, whose alternate history of 1968, Any Day Now, comes out March 1. If you don’t bring your alternate history up to the reader’s present, then you leave out half the fun.

So any alternate history that isn’t set in the 21st century is a “grievous rookie mistake?” Thanks Mr. Bears-Discover-Fire, but you go ahead and stick to your naked book promotion while the rest of us do that voodoo we do.

Alas, when Alt Hist editor Mark Lord tweeted the article, he wrote, “I have to agree with #10.” Guess that’s one market I’ll never crack.

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