Alternate Techline

Technology does not necessarily advance in Tech Levels. Instead, the present of an Alternate Timeline may be more advanced than our world in some areas, and yet have the same or less knowledge in other fields. After all if you have no good metal, it may be an impassable barrier, or a good reason to learn more about ceramics, and if Aliens Never Invented the Wheel (or humans, for that matter), this doesn't mean they sat on their behinds and couldn't think of anything good. Steam punk, Punk Punk, and other form of the punk literature and media (not to be confused with the music style known as punk) are well known for this trope although it appears in all forms of sci fi to some extent.

May include Zeppelins from Another World. If done in an incoherent way, it becomes Schizo Tech. Sometimes indirectly caused by Zeerust, as a Sci-Fi book set in the future becomes a film set in what looks more like an alternate present.


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     Anime and Manga  

  • One Piece uses this frequently, having things such as advanced medicine, but no steam powered ships or computers. Instead of phones or televisions living creatures called Telesnails are used to broadcast signals. There are also cola-powered cyborgs and seashells called dials which can store and expel just about anything.
  • Naruto has computers, but no cars or guns (except for one scene in the background during the first arc). Instead jutsu are used. Movie theatres and convenience stores exist though. One area where the Naruto world seems particularly underdeveloped is in transportation since most places are walked or sailed to. The internal combustion engine seems to exist, as modern construction equipment has been seen. It's just that people don't seem to use it for transportation.
  • Steam Boy features this trope. It takes place in an alternate 19th century where, as the title suggests, steam is the main source of power instead of coal, nuclear, etc. One example of an alternate technology is the steam ball. The father of the protagonist makes steam powered weapons such as the monowheel and is considered this universe's version of Darth Vader.
  • In Trinity Blood, airships armed with rayguns are standard equipment for most countries' militaries, but infrared - homing missiles? Software that allows you to write computer programs yourself? That's lost technology from before the apocalypse!
  • Similarly, in Last Exile, antigravity generators are common, yet in other respects the setting is almost entirely steampunk, as seen here.
  • It's a relatively minor change, but Princess Mononoke has the Tatara clan develop an alternate form of musket apparently based on Chinese cannon long before firearms were ever actually used in Japan.


  • In In Time, mankind has had genetic engineering with clinical immortality for over a century, but doesn't seem to have invented the cellphone or the internet yet. Almost all technology is like a few decades before the film was made. (In other words, almost all technology is like when the book the film was based on was written.)
  • The film Wild Wild West could be considered an alternate techline and has steam punk technologies such as the steam powered spider mech and non steam punk technologies like the metal collars and saw gun.
  • The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello has an alternate techline, featuring, among other things, steam-powered dirigibles.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen take place in an alternate 1900 where humanity has already created tanks and assault rifles, zeppelins are common and people can become invisible.
  • The Prestige has different technology in its universe due to Tesla actually creating devices like a teleportation machine. Or rather, what most people think is a teleportation machine due to the way Angier uses it in his magic act - only he and Tesla know that it's actually a duplication machine.
  • A non-alternate-reality example in Iron Sky. The Moon Nazis have advanced in the areas of space travel (anti-gravity), weapons technology (cannons capable of blowing up sizable chunks of a planet), and nuclear fusion (why else would they stockpile Helium-3?). However, their computer technology has stalled at 1940s levels. This is actually a major plot point in that their most powerful computer (the size of a room) can't operate their flagship... but a smartphone can.
  • If you count "Somewhere In the 20th Century" as implying an Alternate Universe, Brazil. Their tech is Zeerusty in a Played for Laughs way, for example, there are computers but the monitors are so tiny they must be enlarged with a magnifying glass, ducts are omnipresent, telephones which have to be switched manually, and the "answering machine" telling the characters the office is closed may or may not be some poor guy doing nightshifts reading off a script ("this has not been a recording!"). Of course, it barely works.


  • In Never Let Me Go, medicine is the ahead of our world. The film version begin with stating that these breakthroughs were made in the fifties.
  • In Slave World, the England timeline has better computers and medicine, while the Britain timeline has deadlier weapons - including the nuclear bomb.
  • Bring the Jubilee has this. Most of their technology is inferior to ours (at the 1950s), all streets have railroads and electricity was never made universally available. Instead they use some kind of heated gas or plasma which they channel through tubes. And their type writer design is apparently not as needlessly complicated as ours.
  • David Brin's The Practice Effect dumps the hero on a world with the eponymous Practice Effect. By working with a tool and knowing what you'd like it to be, it gets better with use. A crude stone ax eventually becomes a gorgeous, incredibly sharp tool with a head made from a single gem. A crude sled eventually develops skids that self-lubricate with a near-frictionless oil. Kites turn into hangliders. Oh, but the people are still at the bow and arrow stage and never invented the wheel. The hero, a PhD physicist with an interest in scouting and practical engineering becomes hailed as a wizard for inventing matches, the sling, whiskey, the cart, balloons, and the airplane and liberally taking advantage of the practice effect.
  • The Missionaries trilogy by Lyubov and Yevgeny Lukin, an Alternate Universe where disillusioned guys from our world gave some locals Bamboo Technology to have a chance against European colonization. European caravels turned out to be there when no one expected them anymore. Their inept act of aggression was a rather comic relief for locals up to the ears in their own war, with aircraft carriers on ethanol turbines and ceramic rockets. Lots of rockets. Later author's notes says the original draft was more mundane, but their engineer friend ripped the idea to shreds, so they demanded he put it back together; this even made the setting grimdarker: big open-cycle ethanol industry isn't pretty.
    You want to say that their ships burn? — chemist was taken aback — That just one incendiary rocket — and a caravel... Not finishing the phrase, he shook his head and grew silent.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko's novels Rough Draft and Final Draft feature a multiverse with a few worlds given fairly detailed descriptions. For example, Veroz (Earth 3) lacks petroleum and is thus an example of a Steam Punk world. Then there's Tverd (Earth 8), whose technological development was deliberately stalled by the functionals in order to force this world on the path of biotechnology. Thus, Tverd is a world in Medieval Stasis but with many biotech developments that replace our (Demos or Earth 2) world's technological developments. Examples include jellyfish-like contact lenses that can be modified to see in any EM frequency, genetically-engineered Yorkshire terriers that can rip out someone's throat in a second, gargoyles that act as air force. There's also Arkan (Earth 1), a world about 30 years behind ours in technology and history in general (their calendar is also behind) but ahead in a few areas such as military technology. All of this is the result of functional influence, who shape worlds as they see fit.
  • Another of Lukyanenko's works, Seekers of the Sky, also describes an alternate world with a major deficit of a useful resource - iron. While iron can be mined, it's very difficult to find and extract. It has thus been turned into a currency and a status symbol despite the fact that it corrodes very easily (apparently, they haven't yet invented stainless steel). This often results in Schizo Tech. Armies fight with Bronze Age weapons supported by nobles with machine guns. The air force is made up of wood-and-canvas gliders whose only means of powered flight are one-shot rocket boosters. Despite this, the Chinese have developed boosters that can allow a glider to get from China to the State (i.e. Roman Empire that never collapsed) on a non-stop flight (provided the pilot memorizes all the relevant wind charts beforehand).
  • Peter F. Hamilton's "Night's Dawn Trilogy" features an alien race living in stations very close to their sun. they are not as advanced technologically as the humans of the setting, and didn't spread in space, but because of their proximity with their star they developed an incredibly efficient heat exchanger technology (to evacuate the unneeded thermal energy). Humanity has split into two factions, with one relying on biotech while the other abstains from it. the latter are considered less advanced technologically and morally, but their non living ships are more powerful and more resistant to radiation and the like, to compensate for their lack of artificial gravity, maneuverability, and ability to regenerate if not hurt too badly.
  • In Ian McDonald's Planesrunner there is the E3 timeline where the electrical motor was invented before the steam engine and there is no oil so you have, as an example, airships with carbon nanofiber gasbags that are fueled by coal.
  • Agstarn, in Eric Brown's Helix generally has technology (airships, portable cameras, drill rigs) roughly equivalent to the early 20th century but thanks to perpetual cloud cover and a rigid theocracy it's physics are pre-Copernican. Also thanks to there being no serious threat to the main civilizations power it's weapons tech is about a century behind the rest of it's tech.
  • Vladimir Vasilyev's Wolfish Nature duology describes a world where humans evolved from dogs instead of apes. Somehow, dog-humans chose focus on bio-engineering instead of "dead" technology. By modern times, they have most of the same amenities as us, but they're all "selectoids" that need to be regularly fed. Even houses are grown and not built (and yes, you have to feed them as well). If you go on an extended vacation, better find someone to come in every week to feed your TV, computer, fridge, couch, walls, etc. Interestingly, in some areas, selectoids are slowly being replaced with their "dead" counterparts, especially in computer technology, which begins to outpace selectoid-computers. Also, firearms can only be "dead", as no living thing can survive repeated explosions taking place inside them. Then again, firearms are rarely used, as the Bio-Correction has turned all dog-humans into pacifists.
  • Robert Sobel's For Want of a Nail features an Alternate History world where the American Revolution failed; within it, the car is developed and commercially available before 1903, but they don't develop nuclear weapons until 1962.
  • Played with in a short story called "Impossible Dreams", about a man who discovers an alternate-timeline video store: while the technology in that timeline is more-or-less at the same level as his home timeline, the *formats* of various things like DVDs, video-tapes and electrical plugs are different enough where it's next to impossible to actually play the films he wants to rent from the place.
  • Harry Harrison's Tunnel Through the Deeps (AKA A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!) takes place in a world where The American Revolution failed with all the "rebels" executed. In the late 20th century, there is an alternate Cold War between the two superpowers: Great Britain and France. There are gigantic airplanes, powered by nuclear reactors, and the technology to build a maglev tunnel at the bottom of the Atlantic, but mechanical calculators are still the norm with "computers" being seen as something newfangled and unreliable.
  • Played for Laughs in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where an alien species with many arms is said to have invented the aerosol deodorant before the wheel.
  • Different Paratime timelines have evolved different levels of technology based on whether or not they remember their ET roots and other causes like mass extinction wars etc.
  • The assorted species around the galaxy in the setting of the short story "The Road Not Taken" by Harry Turtledove have wildly different technological levels depending on when they discover (or are introduced to) gravity manipulation, which tends to bring other technological development to a screeching halt. The Roxolani were a major galactic power with weapons no more advanced than black powder matchlocks and an overall technology at the level of the Age of Sail. "Were" being the operative word as they attempt to invade Earth in the early 21st Century, after seeing humanity didn't have antigrav aircraft, spaceships, or FTL travel. At least not until the invasion force shows them how and realizes there's a whole galaxy out there with civilization who haven't even figured out electricity yet.

     Live Action TV  

  • Fringe has an alternate universe with Zeppelins and autopiloted helicopters, while pens are obsolete, but smallpox is still untreatable and has not been eradicated. To explain, medical technology in general is greatly ahead of 'our' timeline - gunshot wounds are treated as minor inconveniences - but diseases like smallpox have mutated and become incredibly virulent, so much so that epidemics seem to be a fact of life in the heart of the US. There's a throwaway news story about refugees from Texas affected by one such epidemic.
  • Doctor Who travels to an alternate universe Earth where Zeppelins are common, Britain's technology is more advanced than than at home, and science has developed medallions with the power make the wearer cross universes. It's also a universe where the Cybermen, consisting of human brains placed in robotic bodies, were created on this Earth rather than on Mondas like in the main universe.
  • A few Sliders episodes involve this:
    • For example, one episode involves a world where antibiotics were never discovered. As such, the world lives in perpetual fear of germs and has developed the means to detect sick people just by passing through a metal detector-like device.
    • Another episode has them land on a world with no aluminum (it's not even on the periodic chart, which either means there's a blank spot there, or another element), meaning no long-range air travel. Helicopters were never invented. However, at the end, it's revealed that the US government plans to "invent" long-range airplanes made of kevlar. Naturally, pirates don't want their golden age to end and try to hijack the shipments of the material.
  • Real Humans and it's British remake Humans both take place in an alternate present in which all technology is the same, except robotics/A.I. has advanced to where androids (called "hubots" in the original and "synths" in the remake) are commonplace.
  • In Orphan Black, technology is entirely the same but successful human cloning was made possible in the mid-1980s (albeit not widely known to the general public), and science is much further along in making Designer Babies possible in the present day.

     Tabletop Games  

  • A steam punk game known as Space 1889 takes place in an alternate universe where technology is different from ours. This is because Victorian theories that have been discredited in this universe work in the other universe, leading to a very different techline.
  • While GURPS generally uses Technology Levels, some of the settings touch on the fact that divergent tech levels (TL('x'+'y'), where x is the technology level shared with our development, and y is how much farther they've advanced along some alternate line — TL(5+1) is usually Steam Punk, for example), while generally equivalent to the technology level indicated by the sum, tend to have at least somewhat different advantages and disadvantages.

     Video Games  

  • In the Civilization games, you can advance your tech trees in whatever order you prefer. Some technologies are dependent on each other, but many are not.
    • All games in the series feature this. The most obvious examples are caravels and frigates, whose technology is independent of Gunpowder, and yet they are clearly shown using cannons.
    • One example in V: through a number of quirks in the tech tree, it is possible to research and build destroyers without having sailing.
    • Civilization: Beyond Earth features a "tech web" instead of the typical "tech tree", which allows players to advance in any direction they wish. In fact, the game doesn't limit which main techs a player researches, but it can take a long time, if none of the connecting techs have been researched first. Additionally, researching branch techs requires first researching the main techs. In fact, the central game concept is the three primary research tendencies called "affinities": Purity (defense, terraforming), Supremacy (cybernetics, satellites), and Harmony (genetic engineering, taming local lifeforms). For example, the ultimate unit for a Purity-aligned faction is the LEV Destroyer, a hovering fortress that wouldn't look out of place in Warhammer 40,000; the ultimate Supremacy unit is a Humongous Mecha called ANGEL; the ultimate unit for Harmony is the Xeno Titan. Each affinity also has has a preferred strategic resource: floatstone for Purity, firaxite for Supremacy, and xenomass for Harmony.
  • Fallout in spades: They have nuclear propulsion, Power Armor and lasers, but their computers are at the level of computers in the early 80s and they have yet to invent the transistor.
  • Pokémon. They have hi-tech tools such as Poké Balls and artificial Mons (Magnemite, Voltorb, Porygon, Kling), but their transportation methods are terrible. The world has a few ships and trains (most of which are "Magnet Trains") and it's supposed to take place in Turn of the Millennium. Of course, this is the world where kids are allowed to have pets that can fly anywhere, travel through seas and work as their bodyguards against wild animals, they probably don't feel like needing too many vehicles.
  • Mega Man (Classic) and its sequels take place in a world where intelligent humanoid robots, teleportation, energy weapons and matter replication all exist as early as 2001.

     Web Comics 
  • In Schlock Mercenary matter annihilation reactors ("annie plants") have been a staple of galactic society for millennia that enable Artificial Gravity and Reactionless Drive, while Longevity Treatments are a very recent invention. The Bradicor, however, didn't have the chance to develop annie plants before their civilization imploded but the survivors are individually over twelve million years old. However, it's known that the F'sherl-ganni, who have lifespans measured in hectomillennia, have been manipulating galactic politics and economies via their Portal Network and the Post-Trans-Uranic elements needed to construct an annie plant are extremely difficult to synthesize without an existing plant.