An alternate history story is one in which a hypothetical present (or past) comes about because some critical historical event worked out differently. Some critics prefer to call such fiction alternative history or uchronia.
Such stories can be traced back to the first century B.C., and many science fiction tales made use of the device, but the phrase itself first appeared in the introduction to Mack Reynolds’ “The Other Alternative” in the February 1954 F&SF.
Since 1995, the Sidewise Award has been presented annually to recognize excellence in alternate historical fiction.
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