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
In short, the point of divergence that created the alternate history
has also created a "Republic Of Mary Sue"
of one sort or another.
It should be noted that the success of a nation or cause is not, by itself, an indicating factor, even if that nation or cause was largely unsuccessful in Real Life
. Indeed, exploring what might have happened had unsuccessful groups or ideologies been more successful is arguably the whole point
of Alternate History. An Alternate History where, say, Romania becomes a central dominating power of Europe is not in and of itself an Alternate History Wank simply because there are some hypothetical conditions where such a scenario might have plausibly come about and been maintained, and an author might examine such a scenario in a realistic and likely fashion.
Therefore, there can be some disagreement about what, precisely, constitutes an Alternate History Wank. Some maintain that for a timeline to qualify as a Wank it has to be fundamentally implausible or even invoke Alien Space Bats after the point of divergence
; for example a timeline where, say, Romania becomes the central dominating power of Europe because aliens arrive on the planet and attack all the other countries in Europe while inexplicably leaving Romania alone. For others, the timeline just has to show clear signs of favoritism towards the author’s preferred nation; for example, a timeline where Romania becomes the central dominating power of Europe because the military leaders, diplomats and politicians of the other nations inexplicably become complete idiots
when dealing with Romania, who conversely is blessed with leaders who are tactical geniuses who never make a wrong move ever.
In either case, however, it is usually quite clear upon reading the timeline that regardless of the in-universe justifications that are being offered, the only real reason the empire that is the centre of the Wank is doing so well is that the author obviously prefers them and is overtly arranging things to work out in their favour. As such, there are several common results or indicators that suggest that a Wank might be taking place. Firstly, in keeping with the above points about favouritism, the reader might get a sense that the nation in question is Born Lucky
: everything always goes its way, when an issue turning against it just once would have disastrous consequences. In our Romania example, it might be that Contrived Coincidences
always seem to be working out in Romania’s favour, otherwise seemingly intelligent people completely fail to spot Romania’s obvious plans until it’s too late, and so forth.
Another indicator is that individual nations tend to be assimilated into large multinational single-state power blocs, with the end result in extreme cases being that the entire world is divided between two or three super-empires
— all of which tend to be dominated by one main national or cultural group (which, perhaps not coincidentally, is usually that which the author finds it easiest to identify with and / or write about
). This tends to result in a situation where, as with the page image, the map of the world can essentially be shaded with two or three colours. In our example, while it might plausibly be possible for Romania to become a dominant European power, a scenario that results in a world where the entire map of Europe — including the whole of Russia — is a monolithic entity with no borders shaded one colour which might as well be simply called ‘Romania’ makes it likely that a Wank is taking place. Such empires might also be implausibly long-lasting, with little indications of any kind of real-world stresses that tend to impact upon large empires in real life (such as supply lines).
Note that none of this is necessarily a bad thing
. Sometimes a plausible timeline with a purposefully maximized British Empire can be informative and entertaining, or valuable for some artistic purpose. Sometimes it's just a matter of doing something fun and entertaining
. It just may require a lot of Willing Suspension of Disbelief
Note also that there is a certain degree of Truth in Television
here; certain nations or causes have
apparently been Born Lucky
or have become implausibly dominant global powers, and certain periods have essentially been dominated by one particular group or cause. The United States in particular is sometimes said to embody the closest thing to this in Real Life
: Bismarck is often (falsely
) quoted as saying "there is a special providence that protects fools, drunkards, and the United States of America." At the height of the British Empire 20% of the world’s population was governed from a small island off the coast of Northern Europe. The achievements of Alexander the Great
might seem like the stuff of implausibly fanciful tales had they not actually happened. And the Mongol Empire lasted for over 150 years and, at its height, spanned 20% of the surface of the world. However, what separates these situations from a typical Alternate History Wank
(aside from the fact that they really happened) is that not everything was perfect for them; the United States hasn’t always had good fortune (one word: Vietnam
), the British Empire was fiercely hated and resisted by a large number of its subjects, Alexander had his screw-ups and personal failings and even the Mongol Empire eventually fell apart.
Compare with Fan Wank
(same basic principle, but wider scope) and contrast with Alternate History Screw
, the inversion of this trope.
See also America Takes Over the World
, Japan Takes Over the World
and China Takes Over the World
for country-specific examples.
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Media in General
- This treatment is really popular for famous empires, though "bad guy" empires tend to be the most popular for wank status. For every "Rome never falls" timeline there seem to be at least three "USSR and/or Nazi Germany takes over the world".
- Another way this trope comes about is when one historically significant person is suddenly killed or spared in this alternate timeline, leading to changes that are, at best, questionable. Such as "if Julius Caesar was not assassinated, Rome would develop steam powered technology and bring the barbarians to their knees". And that is a relatively tame example.
Anime & Manga
- Code Geass is a weird case. Britannia rules half the world, but not the British Isles. Japan, despite being a Britannian colony, seems to have been one of the last non-superpower countries and its independence is treated as central to world politics, thanks to its large deposites of Sakuradite.
- In the first Blake and Mortimer, Tibet (of all places) takes over the world. Making them also a kind of Villain Sue.
- Pax Romana has the Roman Empire undergo this, as a result of a time-traveling mission from the future.
- Canada in C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. In this alternate history, that nation refused to hand over its escaped American slaves because it was the right thing to do and suffered with a walled US/Canadian border called the Cotton Wall. Furthermore, for this national choice, Canada reaps the great prize of all the artists of African descent (and several whites as well, including a certain Samuel Clemens) that would have enriched American culture with Rock music, Motown and many others now feed Canadian culture. As a result, Canada becomes the pop culture centre of the world. The CSA itself is the same way, it's built on such a silly amount of historical fallacies that it's nearly impossible to take seriously. Though it makes rather silly Rule of Cool assumptions such as having Lincoln attempt to escape the CSA's forces by the Underground Railroad, it pales in comparison to having the CSA annex the entire North, along with large parts of South America to form a "tropical empire". And then there's the whole thing about a slave-owning society surviving into the modern day without collapsing into a third world country. Despite the CSA being isolated from the rest of the world and culturally stagnant, its economy still runs fairly well.
- The Angevin and Polish empires of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy mysteries. The stories are set in an alternate timeline where most of the Northern Hemisphere is divided between two great ruling powers: the Anglo-French Empire, which extends over most of Western Europe (except Italy) and the Americas and is ruled by the Plantagenets; and the Polish Empire, which has conquered virtually all of Eastern Europe. The timeline splits in 1199, when Richard the Lion-Hearted doesn't die from the crossbow bolt at the siege of Chalus-Chabrol, but recovers, repairs his ways, and goes on to be a great king... Oh, and did we mention that these books take place in the 20th century, and that both empires are still going? Sure, it doesn't look anywhere near modern, but that's just because they use Magitek instead of normal tech.
- The Domination of Draka (South Africa) in S. M. Stirling's series on The Draka. The premise is that a colony in OTL's South Africa gains independence from Britain around when the United States of America did in our timeline, upholds horrific ideals within its borders (including slavery), and manages to take over the world by the end of the series (Yes, sadly the image chosen for this very page was just the beginning of the wankitude). The civilized nations of the world just ignore the threat of a large, slave-holding, militaristic empire until it's too late. Let's just say that one Fix Fic that was intended to make the Draka less of a Villain Suetopia still started in the mid-20th century with them having almost all of Africa and a good chunk of the Middle East...
- The Roman Empire in the Slaveworld novels. The empire never fell, sparing the world from The Dark Ages, resulting in a Crapsaccharine World free from pollution and social unrest.
- The Roman Empire again in Kirk Mitchell's Germanicus trilogy (Procurator; The New Barbarians; Cry Republic). The division point is in the distant past compared to the time of the books, and is the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate — Pilate frees him instead of turning him over to the Jewish leaders. Jesus was not crucified, Christianity never rose, the Roman Empire never fell. It holds most of Western Europe and has provinces in North America and Africa. The Serican Empire (Chinese) hold much of Asia, and are making inroads into the Americas; The Aztecae control South America and southwest North America.
- The Roman Empire yet again. In Roma Eterna, the failure of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, as well as a convenient victory over some barbarians, lead to a world where Rome remained divided and never fell. The Americas were fortified by a Dane, which prevented Rome from capturing them.
- Don't forget the part where Mohammad gets offed before he can give rise to Islam — by a Roman who thinks he'll create the Caliphate.
- The Roman Empire again again again. In the Romanitas series of books by Sophia McDougall, the survival of Emperor Pertinax leads to Rome controlling Europe, India, South America, half of Africa and most of North America. Japan controls the whole of Oceania, South East Asia, and parts of Siberia. China is reduced to a buffer state between the two. There's also an independent Africa that rebelled from Roman control.
- Life: Dougal Dixon's The New Dinosaurs is a faux-nature book about how dinosaurs continued to evolve after the K-T extinction failed to happen. It's got shades of this trope, in that the lucky reptiles somehow manage to come up with close equivalents of nearly every major ecological type of mammal — baleen whales, anteaters, squirrels — rather than sticking with body plans and strategies of survival that'd already been working fine for them.
- "Libertarianism": The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith.
- Harry Harrison's Stars and Stripes Forever. This features the British Empire declaring war on the United States after the Trent Affair, which somehow results in the Union and Confederacy conveniently patching up their differences and teaming up on Britain (even managing, at one point, to mount a land invasion of the British Isles).
- It gets much worse as the series progresses. The first book portrays Britain as a middle-ages style monarchy rather than the parliamentary democracy it actually was by this stage, with military technology and tactics 50 years out of date and all British characters presented in a ridiculously stereotyped fashion and portrayed as inhumanly stupid, evil and prone to rape and pillage to a degree which would make the Vikings proud, while of course Americans are portrayed as all utterly heroic, enlightened and invincible (they also instantly adopt 21st century views on race and gender). Additionally Canadians are shown as poor brainless slaves of the British Empire yearning for the US to annex them (which the US promptly does for their own good).
- The second book has the same problems but with the addition of the US invading and conquering Ireland, somehow making all the centuries old problems between Protestants and Catholics magically disappear.
- The third and final book takes AH wanking to plain silly lengths, with the US now advanced to WWI level technology complete with tanks, dreadnought warships, production lines and other such advances (while still set in the 1870s by the way) thus putting the US over 100 years above the UK in technology, and culminates in the US conquering Britain, giving independence to Scotland and "introducing" democracy to the poor British masses.
- Interestingly, the British claim they already have a representative system, only to be casually brushed away by the conquering Americans, saying it's not the same as theirs, so it must be wrong.
- The whole 'land invasion of Ireland and Britain' scenario also conveniently ignores or downplays the fact that to do so, the Americans would have to cross the Atlantic — a body of water dominated by the British Royal Navy, which during the 1860s and 1870s was widely renowned as probably the most powerful and efficient military force on the planet and which, a handful of ironclads aside (which were not as effective as the author suggests), the American navy would have been poorly equipped to face in actual combat.
- There is a Curb-Stomp Battle (if that can even be called a battle) described in one of the novels that has a British ironclad stopping an American convoy heading for Ireland, protected by a new American ironclad. The American captain is itching for a fight, so he pretends that the tiny cannon that the British warship fires to the side in order to get the Americans to respond counts as an act of aggression and blows the British ship away with 2 volleys. Oh, and nothing bad happens to him as a result of this. There is a total of three battles described in the books that result in the British gaining the upper hand: one where they accidentally attack a Southern town instead of a Northern outpost, one where a Highlander regiment takes a fort in New York, and one where a British ironclad sinks an American one. That's it. The rest are all Curb Stomp Battles for the Americans.
- To be honest, the entire series begins to move away from Alternate History Wank and into Unfortunate Implications territory.
- In Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream, a post-apocalyptic Nazi style Germany conquers the world and begins to expand to the stars. (It's ridiculous on purpose.)
- In a way, Poland after the first set of The Cross Time Engineer novels, although it would be more accurate to say, "Conrad Stargard's Army Empire"...
- Possibly the Ur Example is Napoléon et la conquête du monde 1812-1832 by Louis Geoffroy in 1832, which - as the title suggests - had Napoleon act slightly differently in the 1812 invasion of Russia with the result that he conquers the entire planet by 1832.
- The Confederate States of America in Timeline-191 by Harry Turtledove. Having defeated the Union in the civil war, they extend their border to the Pacific, defeat the United States a second time and then abolish slavery, all in the course of a year. However, the trope is effectively averted in the rest of the series, which demonstrates the disadvantages the country would suffer (inferior industrial base and population available for the army compared to the USA, for example) and sees the Confederacy getting crushed in the First World War.
- And yet later played rather straight with the US conquering and occupying all of Canada save Quebec (which becomes a satellite) in WW1 and later the whole of the old CSA in WWII.
- Also played straight with Imperial Japan. Although it's treated as a Wild Card and isn't given a lot of focus, Japan seems to come out on top all the time. They're probably the only country that gains more than it loses from both world wars. By 1945 they control most of South East Asia and are in a position to seriously threaten Australia and India and to demand that Russia hand over parts of Siberia. Some of the viewpoint characters speculate that the Cold War analogue in this time line will involve the USA and Germany trying to prevent Japan from acquiring nuclear weapons.
- This appears at first to be the case in Fyodor Berezin's Red Stars duology, where a parallel world is discovered where the USSR is dominant thanks to Hitler delaying Operation Barbarossa (thanks to British interference in Greece), causing Stalin to attack first and crush Germany within 2 years. Subverted in that this is a Crapsack World, where democracy is non-existent, and the two superpowers take potshots at each other with H-bombs. Our Russia and US decide to destroy that world and likely succeed.
- Given that Atlas Shrugged clearly doesn't take place in the "real" 20th century, it can be argued to be an Objectivist Wank. (Inverted, in that the Strikers are proven utterly correct not by conquering the world (though they may do so after the end of the book), but by watching the rest of the world shred itself.)
- The British Empire (and the other imperial empires) in The Two Georges, although it's played with; with the obvious exception of North America, the British Empire and its dominions aren't that greatly different from what they were at the height of the British Empire anyway, and it's often suggested that the Empire has gradually become more like the OTL-Commonwealth, except with Britain remaining more influential. Technological development has been much slower than in OTL, however, because of the distinct lack of World Wars - the real life 'Pax Britannica' of the 19th century has lasted right through to the end of the 20th.
- Turtledove is most often a fan of Germany-ruled Earths, be it Nazi (In the Presence of Mine Enemies, Shtetl Days, Ready for the Fatherland, The Last Article) or Imperial (Curious Notions, Uncle Alf).
- Exactly how it happened isn't shown, but in The High Crusade, Israel manages to take over the world. This is rather amusing when they run into an interstellar empire ruled by the descendants of would-be Crusaders.
- In the Temeraire series, Imperial China, the Incan Empire and the Tswana who manage to drive all would-be colonists out of Africa. Even Napoleonic France gets in on the action, becoming the premier European power and managing to invade Britain. Justified in that the presence of rather sentient dragons helps level the playing field around the world and mitigate some of the trends that would have caused the massive age of imperialism in our world.
- Once again, the Roman Empire in Sergey Lukyanenko's Seekers of the Sky duology. The key event here is the death of Jesus as a baby, resulting in another child becoming the Messianic Archetype and using Religion is Magic to become The Emperor of Rome. After becoming disillusioned with humanity, he ends up, effectively, committing suicide and takes most of the world's iron with him in a vain hope that, without iron, humanity would stop fighting (he obviously hasn't heard of the Bronze Age). The use of Functional Magic taught by him results in Rome never being conquered or dissolving. By the 20th century, it's dominating Europe and has colonies in Africa and the Americas. Partly subverted in that the State (that's what it's called now) is not the most powerful nation and is about on par with the Russian Khanate (Russia conquered by the Mongols and remaining this way) and can't match China's technological superiority. The Aztec Empire and the Ottoman Empire are weaker players here, regularly bullied by the big boys.
- Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card has Tlaxcala take over the world and become a Modern Mayincatec Empire. The key event here is Columbus leading a new Crusade to retake the Holy Land instead of sailing West. This allows the more progressive Tlaxcalans to defeat the Aztecs and establish a bloodthirsty empire that didn't shy away from technological development. Then a Portuguese ship stumbles on the New World, and its crew is captured, tortured for information (specifically, the means to make firearms and build oceangoing ships), and sacrificed. The diseases spread by the sailors only serve as a divine sign from their bloodthirsty god that they must sail East and conquer for more sacrifices. They do exactly that, and the fragmented Europe can't do a thing to stop them.
- In the GURPS tabletop gaming supplement GURPS Alternate Earths 2, one of the settings is an alternate 19th century in which Ming China rules practically the entire world.
- Ming-3 is merely one example of this trope in the GURPS Infinite Worlds setting, which is loaded with such examples. Aztec Earth, Roman Earth, Japanese Earth, Islamic Earth, the list goes on. One other notable example is the self-explanatory "Reich-5".
- We also have a minor Deconstruction in Centrum's universe: There, Prince William the Aetheling didn't die in a ship crash, allowing him to unite the British Isles and start the empire far, far ahead of schedule, effectively skipping the High Middle Ages and going directly to The Renaissance, with the Angevin Empire leading the whole way. The cultural ideals, however, did not evolve to fit with the tech level, with their feudalistic leanings eventually leading to a full-scale nuclear and biological war. By the time the survivors somehow managed to pull their act together, they've evolved into a completely different society as a backlash.
- Chrono Cross fell hard into this trope. Guardia, a kingdom that stood for a thousand years, defeated Magus and his army, and is now defended by Crono, Marle, and Lucca who are mighty time traveling heroes... is taken down by Porre on the southern continent, in the span of less than 15 years.
- We don't really know the extent of the changes caused by their time travel. It might very well be that the elements from Chrono Cross gave an unfair advantage over natural magic from Chrono Trigger, especially when trained in their use by Dalton. If they had elements at all. We also don't know the order some of the events happen, so Lucca's death could very well have happened prior to the war ever starting, and Crono & Marle (and maybe Lucca) would not likely have the capabilities to stand up to a total army, especially if they had superior training in their abilities.
- A lot of Europa Universalis After Action Reports take this form. This subsequently applies to other Paradox Interactive grand strategy games such as Hearts of Iron or Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun. It really depends on the player's ultimate aims and skill, however. And sometimes the AI inadvertantly makes the unlikeliest nations into powerhouses (a unified, westernised India by the mid-16th century, for example)
- Similar to the Paradox Interactive grand strategy examples, Rise of Nations' Risk-esque "Conquer The World Campaign" often results in this trope.
- In Empire Earth II, the African campaign is set in the not-so-distant future and concerns a new energy source that can hold a lot of kinetic energy which allows Kenya to become a force to be reckoned with.
- Empire Earth II's learning campaign had one as well concerning the Aztecs, who repel the Spanish invasion, ally with the United States, and later go to war with a fascist Inca Empire (which has aligned with the Axis Powers in World War II), culminating in a nuclear missile strike on a major Inca city.
- The first Empire Earth had one, too: the authoritarian Novaya Russia emerges following the collapse of the Soviet Union and, in the course of just its first leader's lifetime, conquers Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, and then in the remainder of the 21st century conquers China and begins threatening the United States.
- All of the Total War games have this as the campaign objective.
- Correction: All world-scale strategy games have this as a campaign objective. It is made worse in the Total War games by the fact that many large and historically powerful factions start the campaign with imperial overstretch; they have too much land to protect with too few troops, their treasury does not allow for rapid buildup, and they are often at war with many other nations straight away. It is invariably easier (if slower) to win the campaign by starting as a small and insignificant nation, directly invoking this trope.
- It may be worth pointing out that the Total War series started out with Shogun, which was set on a much smaller scale, and the conquest of the whole map was perfectly historical (Tokugawa Wank?). It became weird when the same mechanic was translated onto Medieval Europe, then made slightly more sense in the ancient Mediterranean.
- Then made even less sense with Empire, where you can conquer the world with the Maratha. While it's true historically that the Maratha were able to conquer most of India from the previously-reigning Mughal Empire and their navy was strong enough to keep the British and the Portuguese out, they were eventually handily beaten by the Brits, resulting in the British-controlled India.
- Homefront, while not technically an alternate history yet, qualifies anyway. The backstory involves the current North Korea uniting with South Korea, and in just 15 years, becoming powerful enough to conquer half of the continental United States. Not forgetting Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, Brunei, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.
- Freedom Fighters might qualify as this. The point of divergence is 1945: Russia drops The Bomb on Berlin, instead of the USA dropping it on Japan. As a result, Russia takes over the world.
- It is also worth noting that during the entirety of the invasion in New York City, the only evidence seen of anything approaching U.S Government-backed resistance are three—count 'em, three—NYPD officers, one of whom is injured.
- The Aztec Empire in the Crusader Kings DLC Sunset Invasion, where the Aztec Empire manages to launch a full invasion of Europe in the 1250s.
- Nevermind that the Aztec Empire was not founded until 1427...
- There were Nahuatl people living in what would become the Aztec Empire since 900AD. Still wank though.
- Winning the Soviet campaign in either Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 or its expansion pack, Yuri's Revenge, leads to the Soviet Union conquering the known world.
- A single comic of Dresden Codak has the protagonist writing "Dinosaurwank" alternate prehistory fiction. The asteroids that caused the Permian and Cretaceous extinctions didn't hit the earth in her alternate history, resulting in absolutely absurd symbiotic relationships between species, including a pair of species where one evolved for intelligence while the other evolved for obedience and dexterity.
- The various Strangerverse timelines from AlternateHistory.com invoke this trope. The entire point of the timeline is to have a certain country that will eventually end up covering the entire Earth. The story itself is that a time traveler from the future came to the past and gave Applied Phlebotinum to a major historical figure that will help his country in doing this task. Examples include:
- Averted in the timeline Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72, where the alternate candidate getting in leads to a deadlocked presidential election. The setup is an alternate Democrat facing Nixon in the 1972 presidential election, but it takes some...surprising twists and turns.
- This fanfic does this to The Philippines, in the Command & Conquer universe.
- The story of Byzantine Emperor Skantarios Laskaris (based on a Total War scenario) turns into a wank as Skantarios' opponents never seem to understand how he is vulnerable and strike back at him, which allows him to crush opposing forces one by one and doggedly reconquer Eastern Europe and the Near East for the Roman/Byzantine Empire.
- Decades of Darkness was this to the *U.S. ITTL, to a rather significant degree. Quite a bit of handwaving appears to have been applied to the state of the South American territories if more recent discussion on the story's home site are anything to go by.