The Lack of Mainstream AH WW3

So, a look at alternate history conventional World War III novels revealed a very small number of them. Even smaller is the number of novels that were alternate history, took place after 1980, and made by larger/mainstream presses. Granted, like in that previous post, I used only the most unambiguous examples. But even I was a little surprised by the number I ended up with.

Zero.

I found two games that fit the criteria. These were World in Conflict and Eugen’s Wargame series. But those are games, and I think they’re a different paradigm. If I wanted to stretch things, I’d go with the Command and Conquer: Red Alert games. Those are kind of like including the Wingman novels in with Hackett and Bond, but they’re alternate World War IIIs.

Yet I’ve seen no actual novels, and if they existed, they’d probably be well below any “too obscure to really ‘matter'” standard. Everything has been either futuristic or contemporary. What I find very telling is the case of Walt Gragg’s The Red Line. That was crudely transformed into a “contemporary” setting instead of being sold as alternate history.

And the big-name AH authors have stayed away. Harry Turtledove has made a series about a 1950s World War III but not a 1980s Fuldapocalypse. The closest Robert Conroy came to one was a book (and one with nukes involved) set in 1963. Of all the topics that other authors choose when they dip into alternate history from time to time, the “conventional WW3” simply isn’t one of them.

Now, there are several reasons I’ve theorized for this. Perhaps the biggest is that it’s a small genre to start with, and there’s little incentive to not go for either a conflict that actually happened or a contemporary one, both of which have more mass appeal. There’s far more of a hook and comfort (as weird as it is to say) with a realistic nuclear conflict. The second-biggest is that much mainstream AH is generally meant to be metaphorical, to represent some contemporary issue through the lens of a different past. To be frank, the prevailing style of most conventional World War III fiction is not the ideal medium to express these. About the best you can get is something directly related to the military in some way.

So this makes printed alternate history World War III something that’s the domain of enthusiasts, for better or worse. While I already knew that to be true in general terms, I didn’t know the extent until I counted it. And the reverse is also true-Tom Clancy, Larry Bond, and Harold Coyle quite understandably did not write tales of a Cold War gone hot a decade or two earlier.

2 thoughts on “The Lack of Mainstream AH WW3

  1. Ducking Lucky

    I think you’re dead on as to why it’s hard to for WW3 gain a lot of traction.

    Personally I think the genre might do well adapted to screen, since althists like Man in the High Castle did well, which could in turn increase interest in the genre as a whole. A mini-series in particular seems suitable, mimicking other war miniseries like Band of Brother or The Pacific, where points of view often change between people, like it does in a lot of technothrillers.

    Also, I would love to hear your thoughts on World in Conflict (it’s probably my all-time favorite game)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I edited an anthology for Baen books called Weird World War III that comes out next month. It’s alternative history with a sci fi, fantasy, or horror twist. And it was inspired by books like Red Army, Team Yankee, and Red Storm Rising. I also spend 5 years at the Army’s National Training Center using Soviet doctrine and tactics to train US forces for war. And Fulda is very near and dear to my heart as I served in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

    Let me know if you want to learn more. You can find it here:

    Liked by 1 person

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