March 11th, 1998

Lately, there's been a discussion in Point Of Divergence about Turtledove's "Sim" world (from the book "A Different Flesh", where Homo Erectus made it to the New World but not the ancestors of modern Indians.

I - wildly supporting the side of Chaos Theory - suggest that this change would also change the Old World immensely due to those ancestors - these "Not An Indians" - still being around in North-East Asia.

Several have disagreed.

"I don't think that the lack of any Inuit migration from Asia to Alaska would've changed things much...the populations levels would not be all that different"

I still disagree: Because it's not the quantity it's the quality. Sure, the pop-levels will probably be within a percentage point or two of each other - but they'll be totally different populations - we're talking about a group whose descendants could easily number in the tens of millions. Heck, they could be related to every person in Eurasia and a big chunk in Africa!

To go with Ghengis Khan: How likely is he to have even existed if, say, his OTL greatNth grandfather ended up not having kids with his OTL greatNth grandmother because he found the "not-an-Indian" maid (who, on OTL, would have been in the Americas if she was anyplace at all) down the tundra much prettier? And if he didn't exist, how likely do you think it is that some other Mongol would manage to pull the tribes together exactly the way he did, then go off on exactly the same campaigns (with exactly the same successes/failures) as Ghengis? Heck, the likelihood of a group called "the Mongols" operating amongst a set of decaying states just like OTL at the same time as OTL is, at best, slim. I see no way to insert an "extra" few thousand individuals (by not sending them to the Americas) into the Eurasian gene-pool ten, twenty-thousand years ago and still have "now" anything like now. You can't change just one thing...

Again, I'm not saying that there will be more people, just different ones. Different sets of genes, different birth dates/orders, different parents, different spouses, different children (and so on) for fifteen thousand years. This will have far more than minimal effects on history - especially since this period is nearly three times as long as (written) history.

But, even if you don't think the "extra" people would have any effect in Eurasia/Africa by themselves, let's look at it from the America's side.

Because there are no Indians, much, much more of the megafauna of two continents survives the end of the ice age. Big herd animals have a major effect on the ecology of area they wander around in - changing forests to grasslands, rearranging water sources, etc. No Indians, and the America's have a group of biomes ranging from mildly to vastly different from OTL.

Such things affect the weather - eventually, all over the planet. Now, if you can successfully argue that on a world where the floods, droughts, and major storms all happen at different times from OTL will still end up with history running near enough the same as OTL as to have Mongols, or England, or any group/nation currently existing here, well, I'll just have to give up and believe in predestination...

"I doubt this would be significant in the period of time (15k years) to screw around with the weather worldwide."

If by "screw around with the weather" you mean the climate, yeah, I'll agree - you'd have to start mucking with the geography to do that.

So, you're still going to have, say, a monsoon season in India - but just when (and how many) storms hit is going to be different. And that can't help but change things.

Admittedly, figuring out these effects is, frankly, impossible. Any A.H. you come up with from this POD could just as easily been made up from whole cloth. Now, I'm not saying it's cheating to ignore all this, as such, but it's still going to (and has) bug me if I read a story that does it.

It's kinda like having a POD where a meteor takes out Europe during WWI, then the author ignores all the economic, societal, and climatic effects this will have on the rest of the world and in the 1980's has President Reagan promoting "Star Wars" to protect the U.S. colonies in Western Europe from the Soviet ones in Eastern Europe.

Not gonna happen...


January 22nd, 1997

The thing that annoys me in many A.H.'s (a prime example is L. Neil Smith's "NAC" Series), is an alternate history where the world's POD (Point of Divergence) is several generations ago, yet we keep meeting alternate world copies of the people in our world. Sliders, for example, does this all the time. They'll drop in on world's where history has been different for centuries, and yet they keep finding alternates of themselves on them (and alternates of San Francisco exactly like theirs - the one they have in Vancouver...).

Think about how unlikely this is. Given how people are started, what with millions of sperm involved, it would take just the tiniest change in timing for sperm number 1,234,572 to be the winner rather than number 1,234,573 - and now you've got a different person - as Dave Lister put it, "a sperm-in-law." Heck, there's a 50/50 chance it's a whole different sex!

And that's assuming the same people get together in the first place. Consider the long and infinitely mutable chain of events that leads to some people getting together. Change a war, and one or both of them might not exist - or take up with someone who didn't survive on this world. Heck, it doesn't need to be something as large as a war - had I arrived a few seconds later or earlier to stand in line at Loscon Eight, I probably never would have met my ex-wife Mari (which, in retrospect, wouldn't have been a bad change).

By the time the last person to be born before the POD dies, there won't be one individual on the alternate the same as those on this world. Oh, some of them could pass as a sibling for someone here with the same name, but give it another generation or two, and you won't even have that.

Okay, annoyance rant over.

I've been wondering for a few years about just when a "hinge point" can be said to have occurred. To take for example the U.S. Presidential Elections. You could write an A.H. where any one of those elections went the other way (the book Alternate Presidents did so, after all) and come up with some pretty good reasons "why."

But those "why's" don't exist in a vacuum. The extra few thousand people who vote for Clay instead of Polk would have reasons to vote that way rather than the way they did, and those reasons would be based on other things in their pasts that were different from this world, which could very well be because of the pasts of people dead long before the election, which could be because...

And so on.

To give another example, Lord Kalvin of Otherwhen's split point is when a Shaman with a hangover points east rather than west (and excellent example of how it's the little things in history that make as much or more difference in how things turn out). Fine. So why did he have a hangover on that world and not this? Was the booze unexpectedly stronger - which could be because of many, many different factors, some of which could have originated millennia back - or was he drinking because a patient of his died, the origin of which could again date back quite a while.

Of course, his decision to drink the night before could have been the result of a neuron or two firing differently - which could have been the result of the passage through his brain of a cosmic ray created billions of years ago...

BTW, this is definitely not to say you can't track down a POD to a single definite point in time. It's just that I feel in many, if not most, cases, the visible POD would be the results of one, hundreds, possibly billions, of "alternate event tendrils" which intertwined at that point.