Spec-Fic Subgenres: Time Travel & Alternate History

A bittersweet good-bye is upon us. This is the last of the subgenre blogs. We’ve covered most of the big ones over the last year:

Today we’ll be covering Time Travel and Alternate History. Strap yourselves in and let’s step into the Tardis.

Time Travel

In time travel stories the protagonist will move forward or backward to different points of time. This doesn’t always require a time machine — those are so old-fashioned. Haven’t you seen the new Star Trek movie where they travel through time using a black hole?

There are several theories on how time travel can work in fiction. Some believe that the protagonist can travel back in time and change history, thus returning to an altered “present life” (such as in Back to the Future.)

Some present time travel as not actually altering anything, the protagonist’s actions are just fitting in to the history that’s already happened like in Harry Potter and the The Prisoner of Azkaban or the movie Timeline.

Then there’s the idea that the time travel is actually transporting the protagonist to a parallel universe — another planet where their new choices and actions will depict the future of this alternate life (too trippy to fully explain in one blog post. Sorry!) This theory can go hand in hand with alternate history.

Often times, time travel has recurring themes — a character trying to change the past, a character trying to protect time travel from other time travelers, a character trying to prevent a bad future, or a character encountering unintentional change.

Some examples of time travel stories are:

  • The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
  • A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  • Dr. Who TV Series


Alternate History

Alternate History — also referred to as uchronia — are stories that mess with the history we’ve come to know. The themes draw strongly off of the “what if” question when applied to a turning point in history. For example, what if the Chinese actually discovered America first? What if Hitler won the war? Etc.

These two genres (time travel and alternate history) coincide a lot. The “Parallel Worlds” concept (as touched on above) implies that there are multiple alternate histories all coexisting at the same time on other planets or in other universes.

Most stories in the alternate history genre will start with some sort of grounding in our normal world and then will diverge from that path. Some examples of alternate history books and movies are:

  • A Thousand Pieces of You, by Claudia Gray
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (movie)
  • Back to the Future Part II (movie)
  • Most Marvel stories like Captain America: The First Avengers or the X-Men Series


Any time travel or alternate history books you’d recommend?

If you could step back into any time or change any part of history, what would it be?

4 Responses to Spec-Fic Subgenres: Time Travel & Alternate History

  1. Adam David Collings March 11, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    An old favourite of mine is “Twice Upon A Time” by Dennis Van Wey. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1420750.Twice_Upon_a_Time)

    I received this book as a school prize when I was leaving grade 10. The owner of the local Christian bookshop was given an ARC but she chose to let me have it which was very kind.

    Mike’s friend Lennie has access to a time machine and wants to retire in the nineteenth century. The only problem is that now Mike’s son, who was alive this morning, has been dead for 4 years. Mike has to investigate, figure out what Lennie did back so long ago to change history, then follow him back to make it right.

    Sadly this book seems to be out of print and there is no Kindle version. Hopefully it will get resurrected some day.

    • Nadine Brandes April 1, 2015 at 11:11 am #

      What a fantastic looking book! I wish it were still available somehow. An old “Boy’s Life” book I devoured as a kid was Mutiny in the Time Machine, by Donald Keith, which is also tough to find.

  2. Jenni February 2, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

    If I could go back in time, I’d try to keep Eve from eating that apple.

  3. Emilie Hendryx February 3, 2016 at 8:03 am #

    Lovely post Nadine! Makes me want to think up an alternate history time travel mystery suspense…um, or something like that 😉

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