Alternate History Wanks

I've been poking around the Internet, looking for inspiration for my next noveI, and just ran into a literary concept that I've never heard of: the Alternate History Wank.

Since I encountered this curious little notion on the always-valuable, I'll let them explain it:

In the parlance of Alternate History fandom, a "Wank" is where a single nation, culture, political theory, or philosophy is singled out and advantaged, typically disproportionately, at the expense of its contemporaries. Perhaps the British Empire has not just kept the American colonies, but expanded deep into Latin America as well. Maybe the Greater United States rules our world's Canada and Mexico. Maybe Rome, the Mongols, or Those Wacky Nazis managed to win it all and now dominate the globe.

The idea of the Alternate History Wank seems clear enough, sort of nationalist fan fic, but the article at tvtrope almost immediately runs into trouble telling you how to distinguish between legitimate Alternate History stories and Alternate History Wankdom. The point that the tvtrope writer keeps getting stuck on is that lots of perfectly good alternate history is based on ideas like "What if the Nazis won?" or "What if the Chinese discovered Europe and conquered Europe rather than the other way around?" In both of these scenarios, we're imagining the triumph of a nation which did not triumph in real life, or at least not yet. So how do we tell if we're looking at a serious venture into Alternate History, or Wankdom? more or less fails at answering this question. But I'm prepared to offer a solution. I can specify the three conditions that a story must meet in order to be confidently labeled as an AH Wank.

Condition One is the easy one. The story must focus on the amazing military, scientific and economic triumphs of some group of people who did not, in fact, enjoy such triumphs in the real world.

Condition Two is that the author has nothing interesting to say about these triumphs. If you have an interesting idea about how the Nazis could have won WWII, then you have an interesting bit of AH. But if the Nazis win by just somehow, magically making all of the right decisions while the Allies inexplicably make all wrong decisions, then you don't have anything interesting to say. Or, if you have interesting things to say about how China and Europe would have been changed had the Chinese dominated Europe in the 1800s rather than the other way around, then you have a legit AH story. But if your story is all about how the dominated Europeans just walk around being blown away by how awesome the Chinese are, then you might be a Wanker.

That brings me to Condition Three. To be a true AH Wank your story needs to be a bad story. An AH Wank will neglect all the elements of good storytelling in order to spend time obsessing over the magnificence and virtue of the favored group of people. An AH Wank will have flat characters who are always good and powerful if they're in the favored group, and purely evil if they oppose the favored group. It will have a boring plot because the favored group always wins and the author isn't much concerned about how they win; any stroke of luck or bit of magic will do the trick. And the language of the story, the actual writing, will likewise be poor because the Wank author doesn't care about the writing; the fantasy is everything. If your story has these faults, then it's clear that you didn't write the thing because you had a good story in mind. You just wanted to wallow in your fantasy of triumph.

In conclusion, if your story meets my three conditions of Wankishness, then your story is an AH Wank. Nothing wrong with that, of course, so long as you keep it private and don't inflict it on the rest of us. Actually, I can go farther. If you really don't care what you write about then AH Wankiness might well be a good career direction for you. There will always be a market for stories about an all-powerful, all-triumphant Confederacy.


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