"The universe doesn't much care if you step on a butterfly. There are plenty more butterflies."
We all know that in an Alternate History
or Alternate Universe
, tiny changes ("For Want of a Nail
, the shoe was lost...") can lead to massive changes, where everything is different.
Or, as it may be, not. Sometimes what's different in the new history is less interesting than what has stayed exactly the same.
Consider how a person's DNA is the result of an ovum and one
of countless spermatozoa competing to get at it. The slightest change in timing by seconds would result in a completely different person; different sex, possibly different personality and different abilities, etc. (i.e., the difference between fraternal twins). This is never
addressed. Well, hardly ever.
An alternate universe could arise where the human race never developed money and society is radically different, but you'll find that you were still born, still live in the same house, and still have that tattered old E.T.
doll sitting on the mantlepiece.
In an ongoing series, there's generally an element of the production team wanting to get the most out of actors and sets that they've already paid for. In both series and standalone works, the writer may be trying to draw interesting parallels between two different versions of the same character or situation, or to help impress upon the reader how things are different by showing them a familiar figure in slightly different circumstances; Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman
allows the reader to see how the world is different, rather than Richard Nixon The Person Who Never Existed Because A Different Spermatozoön Fertilized His Mother's Egg.
If the new history is the result of Time Travel
, it might be possible to explain
the non-changes as reality avoiding a Temporal Paradox
(by making sure that there's still a time machine and a time traveller to go back and create the new history). Often it isn't. And even when it is, the writer usually doesn't bother
. The other possible explanation could be that there is some form of higher power (like God, for example) preventing the timeline from changing too drastically. Another still would be the idea of chaos theory and the butterfly effect as being unpredictable in relation to its consequences. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
(Note that this doesn't really apply to alternate histories where the change was something the protagonists or their parents did or didn't do. You wouldn't expect
universal change within one generation.)
Of course, why does Hitler have to be the only detail history refused to change
Compare Ontological Inertia
. If we're expected to believe things "just happen" to be the same, a subtrope of Contrived Coincidence
. See also The Stations of the Canon
, Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility
and Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman
. See also Different World, Different Movies
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Anime and Manga
- Near the end of the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, it is discovered that the alchemist world is an alternate history of ours that branched at least 400 years ago with the discovery of alchemy. In spite of this, The Movie shows several of the characters also exist in "our world," though with different histories and motivations.
- Code Geass: Word of God says the alternate history goes back as far as 55 BC, when Julius Caesar's attempt to invade Britain is thwarted by the election of a "super-leader"note — the Celtic King Eowyn, who is the first member of the Britannian royal line (this is later made year 1 of the a.t.b., Ascension Throne Britannia, calendar). The American Revolution failed. Napoleon beat the British, who then re-headquartered their Empire in North America. In the 21st century, the "Holy Britannian Empire" conquers Japan with Humongous Mecha... and yet there are still Pizza Huts everywhere.
- Not to mention, if Britannia is descended from the Celts, they shouldn't even be speaking English. Or what we think of as English, anyways.
- It's pointed out, however, that a good chunk of Britannia's official history was actually fabricated.
- Specifically, history happened basically the same up until Elizabeth I bore a child, which did not happen in history, either by two people that existed in history, or by the "Duke of Britannia", leading to a "golden age" of the Tudors. Another 250 years later, Elizabeth III dies childless, and appoints a different Duke of Britannia as her successor.
- Though I'm not entirely certain why a Golden Age of the Tudors was even necessary. Couldn't the Britannian Emperor be the descendent of Elizabeth I? Especially considering they simply did the same thing all over again, except for taking place after the American Revolution fails.
- At the very least, this new Emperor Britannia, or one of his successors, retroactively named themselves part of a long line of Emperors of a nation that did not exist until relatively recently.
- In the first Doraemon manga, Nobita's great grandson explains to him that even though the future will be changed he will still exist, despite the fact Nobita marries Shizuka instead of Jaiko.
- Read or Die takes place in a history where the British Empire remains the most powerful force on Earth and cloning is a viable science, yet George W. Bush is still the (at the time) President of the United States, and Stephen King still wrote Misery. Some or all of this may be a result of Gentleman screwing with the Book of Truth.
- In the main continuity of Lyrical Nanoha, Dead Guy Junior Reinforce Zwei only existed because she was a replacement for the original, who performed a Heroic Sacrifice. However, in the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha As Portable continuity, the original survived... and the ending for her route shows her taking a walk with Hayate, talking about the future and their plan to create a new Unison Device named Reinforce Zwei.
- It's even suggested that Reinforce does not have long to live in spite of surviving what would have been her Heroic Sacrifice. She and Hayate both know this, but don't say anything about it.
- Katanagatari ends this way. Despite Shikizaki Kiki's attempts to Screw Destiny with the Deviant Blades created via methods from the future, history managed to correct itself. This is because the people he intended on carrying out his plans, his descendant and his ultimate creation, simply refused to play their part.
- A major frustration to Homura Akemi in Puella Magi Madoka Magica; no matter what she does in her indeterminate number of attempts to rewind the events of the series and start them over differently, the outcome is always the same. She refers to it herself as an "endless maze".
- As well as the finale; Madoka's wish Ret Cons all witches out of existence, meaning every death at the hands of a witch (Magical Girl or Muggle) didn't happen, saving countless numbers of lives who could then do more things and impact the world. Needless to say, this should radically change the course of human history, as witches and magical girls had been shown to have been around for hundreds of years... yet Mitakihara, at least, looks more or less the same. And Magical Girls still risk life and limb to fight despair, only in the form of 'Wraiths' instead of Witches.
- Psyren: After seeing the wreck that the world will be in just 10 years and learning that the catalysts leading to those events will occur much sooner, Ageha and friends quickly begin investigating said future in an attempt to reverse the damage in the present. While their efforts do bear fruit ( letting some previously-doomed friends survive to form La Résistance), they realize that it will take far more drastic changes to prevent the apocalypse than simply altering a few of the particulars. Also, the biggest catalyst is the arrival of an Eldritch Abomination from outer space. ...yeah, that'll take some effort.
- Persona 4 Golden: The Animation: Yu's more outgoing and savvy compared to in Persona 4: The Animation, but it doesn't help him avoid Izanami's "push" or prevent the murders.
- White Mans Burden is set in a world in which black and white people have switched cultural roles, but besides that, 1990s America is still pretty much the same.
- Terminator 3 shows us that no matter what, Judgment Day will still transpire circa the turn of the century.
- In a way, the climax of Terminator 2 made things worse, since the new version of Skynet designed in Terminator 3 wasn't a supercomputer, but software which was able to infiltrate the Internet, which is decentralized and much harder to destroy.
- Back to the Future is a good example — Marty accidentally prevents his parents from meeting in 1955, so has to get them together in order to protect his existence. When Marty returns to 1985, his father George is more confident, his mother Lorraine is no longer an alcoholic, his siblings are no longer dead-end losers, Biff is no longer George's supervisor, Twin Pines Mall is called Lone Pine Mall and Marty now owns a spiffy pick-up truck — but just about everything else is exactly the same. Marty and his siblings still exist and were still born on the same days, they still live in the same house, his room is exactly the same as in the "old" timeline, Marty is still dating Jennifer, and was planning the exact same trip to the lake as "before".
- Except that no matter what else changes, in every reality and time (at least when the man is around), Uncle Joey is always behind bars.
- When the picture of Marty and his siblings is restored, after Marty fixes the timeline, Doc reacts as though something about Marty's older brother is different than before the images faded (the restored picture is not shown to the audience). Perhaps something in the script didn't make the final cut.
- Then, in Part II, you have 1985A. In this timeline, a lot more has changed: Biff becomes insanely wealthy and George gets murdered by Biff. Yet, Marty and his siblings still exist, Michael Jackson still becomes a famous pop star, and A Fistful of Dollars is still made.
- George fathered the three before Biff had him killed; Lorraine even says Marty looks like his father George.
- Note that Marty's 1985A siblings have apparently reverted to their original Jerkass loser personalities.
- Part III had Marty embarrass Biff's Wild West ancestor and get him arrested, and Marty and Doc rob a train to drive it off a cliff. This didn't change anything at all, except that now Clayton Ravine is called Eastwood Ravine (named for Marty's alias instead of the schoolteacher who "originally" died there).
- They actually discussed this in the commentary for Part II when Biff goes back from 2015, with Marty and the Doc still there. They discussed why it never changed, and decided it'd be better if things remained the same at that moment.
- In the Alternate Universe of Almost Normal, in spite of homosexuals being in the majority (with heterosexuals being the ostracized minority), the culture and society seems to (otherwise) be much of the same. Brad still exists, along with everyone else he knew. It's interesting to note that the homo/hetero flip has led to changes in French history.
- In the 2009 Star Trek movie, no matter what the Big Bad does, the original cast of TOS ends up on the Enterprise in the spots they filled on the show. It's implied that his actions cause the group to coalesce sooner than they did in the original timeline.
- In the case of Chekov, it actually caused him to be born sooner. It's interesting to imagine that as soon as they heard the news about the destruction of the Kelvin, Chekov's parents' first reaction was "we should have sex!", and that's why Chekov is older in the new film.
- This happened to Kirk as well who was born two months earlier than he should've been. Nero's arrival somehow caused Kirk's mom to go into labor (maybe intense stress or something) causing Kirk to be born in January instead of March like his original timeline counterpart. The novelization of the 2009 movie reveals that Kirk's mom had an inhibitor device to impede the pregnancy while she was still on assignment aboard the USS Kelvin. However, as soon as Nero showed up, the impact of the Narada's weapons on the ship somehow caused the device to fail.
- The only other main difference is that Spock and Uhura's romance is now much more blatant and not one-sided.
- And, y'know, Vulcan.
- And y'know, despite that they never have a history, Kirk and Khan will ALWAYS be at each other's throat, and Khan will always make one of the main cast die in a radiation-filled engine room
- Though apparently a line they filmed but cut (for what reason?) had future Spock say that the timline and the universe were trying to repair themselves, hence the reason why they ended up on the same ship.
- The Invention of Lying: A world where nobody is capable of lying, and yet humanity hasn't killed itself off from everyone constantly insulting one another or failing to conceal their inherent jerkassness.
- It's way bigger than that. The film shows major cultural consequences of humanity's inability to lie, such as the fact that there's never been any fiction or religion, yet all the countries seem to be the same, there was still a black plague in the thirteenth century, Napoleon still conquered half the world, Coke is still competing with Pepsi, etc.
- And despite Christianity not existing in the film's universe, the calendar still ended up exactly identical to the Gregorian calendar. Think about it: how did they decide what year to mark as 1?
- This is done humourously in CSA: The Confederate States of America, to draw parallels with real history. In the DVD Commentary, however, the creators noted that the Indian Wars were pretty much the same in Real Life.
- A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L'Engle does this AND For Want of a Nail at the same time. Charles Wallace (and a unicorn, and Meg... sort-of) need to zig-zag though time, making a dozen changes scattered throughout history, to replace a dictator poised to start World War III with a nicer near-clone. But no matter what events they change, no other effects show up in the present. And they even screw with Meg's husband's family!
- In Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series the central premise is a) vampires are real, as are all fictional characters (and more of them are vampires than you'd expect), and b) Dracula vampirised Queen Victoria and ruled Britain for many years. But by the second book, World War One is happening in roughly the same way it did in ours (with a Lampshade Hanging that many believe it wouldn't have happened without the vampire influence), and by the third book (set in The Fifties) the vampires seem to have had no real effect on history at all; they exist, but everything else is the same.
- The original comic-book version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is set in a similar world, although this is far more obvious in all the "supplementary" material than the main action.
- In Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne's Back in the USSA, American government and capitalism collapse in 1917 and Eugene Debs leads a Socialist revolution. After that things go much as in the USSR in our timeline, but with American figures — e.g., Al Capone fills the role of Stalin, J. Edgar Hoover is the equivalent of Lavrentiy Beria, and Eliot Ness is an agent of the Federal Bureau of Ideology. Dissidents risk getting exiled to Alaska.
- Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series is notorious for this. Not only are many of the same historical figures around (albeit often in different positions), but most of the story arc is copy/pasted from the history of Germany and France in World War One and World War II including the Holocaust happening to southern blacks.
- Interestingly, the original TL-191 novel, How Few Remain, largely averted this Trope. The following Great War trilogy at least made some effort at averting it as well, with notable butterflies and Expys of post-PoD historical figures... at least on the American side of the Atlantic (in Europe, however, he played it straight).
- Similarly, his collaboration with Richard Dreyfuss, The Two Georges, concerning a giant British North American Dominion born of George Washington and King George III cutting a deal featured not only Governor General Sir Martin Luther King but a used steam car tycoon named "Honest Dick" in Southern California.
- And again in In the Presence of Mine Enemies, in which the Nazis won World War II, he copy-pastes the fall of the Soviet Union. It's shifted forward about fifteen years, but the world's largest totalitarian government still crumbles after the appointment of a pro-glasnost Fuhrer, a right-wing coup against him, and a popular uprising with a megalomaniac, alcoholic local governor at its head, who ends up the front-runner for head of state once his state becomes its own country.
- The copypasting is then taken to ludicrous extremes in The United States of Atlantis, this time with an American Revolution with only the settings changed to reflect the Alternate History geography that created the new timeline, and with an Expy substituting for George Washington.
- Copy-pasting real world history is Turtledove's shtick. Timeline-191? CSA = Nazi Germany. In the Presence of Mine Enemies? Nazi Germany in decline = USSR in decline. The Man with the Iron Heart? Modern-day Iraq War.
- The Man in with the Iron Heart is the worst one - basically, a Nazi-led insurgency in Germany just after World War II somehow succeeds in driving the British and Americans out. This, after fighting the largest and most destructive war in human history against them, but also with the Soviet Union just across the border - and the widely-held belief that as soon as the Allies leave, the Nazis take over again, this time with nuclear weapons!
- That and the Nazis somehow are able to pull off stunts that resemble modern day terrorism's finest dreams despite having much lower levels of tech and having been completely and utterly raped and burned in ways that modern day extremists are lucky they haven't been.
- Also, Heydrich's real-life assassination, the one whose failure is the PoD, wasn't just a random attack by partisans; it was planned in real life by MI6, who by that time really wanted Heydrich dead for a number of reasons, not the least that he was threatening several high-placed German double agents. It's doubtful they would have just given up after one attempt.
- The war that came early begins with General Sanjurjo surviving the plane trip from Portugal in 1936 and he, not Franco, leading the nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. The action then jumps to 1938, at the height of the Battle of the Ebro, and the narration notes that Sanjurjo failed to take Madrid early in the war because he preferred marching on Toledo first. In reality, Toledo and the attack on the XYZ Line that made possible the Republican counterattack on the Ebro were both Franco's personal blunders for which he was criticized a lot in his own side; had Sanjurjo been in charge he'd probably acted differently.
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell features an Alternate History of Regency Britain where magic and The Fair Folk exist, the setting is little different than the actual Britain of the time and historical figures are exactly as in reality. Also, although magic is used in fighting the Napoleonic Wars, they still end up finishing at Waterloo with an British/Dutch/German victory.
- It gets worse. For the majority of the Middle Ages, the northern part of England was ruled by a Fairy-sponsored magician-king. This has almost no appreciable effect on the timeline.
- In a series of books by Vasiliy Golovachev, people with any psychic power are explicitly said to be resistant to past-altering powers. To be more exact, their personalities and memories are. Should their parents never meet, they will be born from other parents. This probably should cause a lot of confusion, as they might not know who their new parents are, and previous parents will forget them. The world once changed the sentient life in the past (sentient cockroaches to sentient apes), and there were people to witness it.
- The Temeraire books by Naomi Novik are Napoleonic alternate history WITH DRAGONS! The fact that all the major world powers now have air forces has had very little effect on the course of European history, though outside Europe things seem to be considerably more different—particularly in Africa which has an empire built on dragons.
- Also, starting with the timeframe of the books, the history of the Napoleonic Wars begins to diverge slightly from our own. This may be One Shot Revisionism: if European history was the same as our up until the timeframe of the books, why should it start diverging just then?
- The books mention that in Eurasia, dragons are seen as little more than very large, more-or-less intelligent horses that can fly. Because most people are afraid of them, the dragons are kept away from civilization and these myths are allowed to perpetuate, and the dragons are prevented from impacting the culture. The cultures that are noted as being different are the ones that treat the dragons as the equals they really are (the Africans mentioned are actually led by dragons, and the Incan empire is still intact in the 1800s, having used dragons to drive the Spanish off).
- Note also that the relationship of non-European peoples and powers to the European powers is quite different in the world of Temeraire than in ours. Here, China is a Great Power, able to make Britain walk and speak softly when dealing with it (though racist attitudes vis-a-vis Chinese still exist), the Inca have been able to hold off the Spanish for centuries, and the African empire drives the European colonists and slavers clean off the continent, with great slaughter.
- As far as the Napoleonic Wars go, the campaign against Prussia in 1806 goes off pretty much as in our history, though later on Napoleon is able to launch his invasion of Britain, and does overrun much of England, although the Grande Armee is finally driven out. Furthermore, Lord Nelson survives the Battle of Trafalgar, though severely injured, although he is later killed in action in the crucial naval battle of the campaign to drive the French out of England.
- As the story develops the questions and inconsistancies become greater, especially in light of how quickly the British are able to increase their numbers of dragons. With Birthrates like those, you'd think that the Dragon's would've displaced humans by now, especially as they're generally shown to be at least as intelligent.
- In Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci books, most of the main characters live in a universe where magic is functional, the French won the Battle of Agincourt, and North America is called "Atlantis" and is dominated by a Modern Mayincatec Empire. Nevertheless, a substantial fraction of the people there explicitly have counterparts in our world.
- Lampshaded in Night Watch: "Historical Imperative", as it's called by the History Monks, ensures that a time-displaced Vimes takes the place of his teacher after said teacher's death at the hands of another time traveler so that the "present-day" Vimes will be the same as he was before the time travel incident.
- The Discworld runs on Narrative Causality, which may have also had a hand in it (or be another side of the same thing as Historical Imperative...).
- An alternative view, with some substantiation based on other appearances of the History Monks, is that "Historical Imperative" is shorthand for "that version of events favored by the History Monks".
- Also, in the second and third The Science of Discworld books, the wizards try to avert changes in history wrought by elves and Auditors, to ensure that Shakespeare and Darwin will complete their works and the Roundworld humans will achieve space travel before the next iceball smacks into their planet. In many versions of history, Darwin writes "On The Theology Of Species": a superficially-similar treatise that describes natural selection, but blames it all on divine will, hamstringing scientific reasoning for future generations.
- Not to mention that this causes Richard Dawkins to write the real Origin (as in "of Species") later, with the shown excerpt worded identically to Darwin's version.
- In Mort, the title character is acting as Death when he saves a princess that's supposed to die. It turns out her sucessor, while an evil man, would have united the city-states of the Plains. At the end of the book, Mort is reminded he needs to work to ensure this happens anyway.
- Averted in Small Gods, in which the main character was supposed to die. Thanks to the intervention of one of the monks tasked with keeping the timeline working, he survives, prevents a hundred years of war and the "death" of a god.
- Nation by Terry Pratchett is set in an alternate universe where the geography of the Earth is different, several new species of animal exist, most of the British royal family died in a plague in the mid-nineteenth century, and over the course of the story it is discovered that an advanced civilisation arose in the Pacific islands 35,000 years ago. This fact becomes common knowledge and the subject of major scientific interest. The epilogue takes place in the present day and namechecks several real-life scientists who apparently still exist and work in the same fields.
- Johnny and the Bomb has the protagonists overcome their worries about For Want of a Nail and save a couple dozen people from getting bombed. As a result a couple streets have different names and a few shops have changed, but that's about it.
- The Animorphs book Elfangor's Secret opens in an alternate history where Visser Four traveled back in time and mucked with (among other things...) the American Revolution and World War II (and Agincourt, but that was because his host body constantly recited Henry V to annoy him), trying to ensure that human society would be oppressive and backwards. He gets results, but all of the Animorphs are alive and superficially similar to their true selves — Cassie (who is African-American) owns a slave, but her usual-timeline boyfriend, Jake, still considers turning her in to the police because he wonders if her softness towards her slaves means she's liberal and opposes the Empire. Also, Blood Knight Rachel is replaced by her friend Melissa Chapman, as this society "has no use for uppity, aggressive females," and she's in a reeducation camp being taught "her place."
- Not sure if this is intentional, but another book has an explanation for this. It turns out that the Ellimist made sure that those particular kids became friends and started fighting the Yeerks, no matter what the timeline.
- "Hardcore" Alternate History refers to this trope as "the butterfly net" (as in the butterfly effect) and considers examples of AH works that use it to be unrealistic or frivolous — similar to the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness. Very commonly used in published AH, of course, because it's funny to see Richard Nixon as a used car salesman, even if the timeline diverged in the 1760s. Its use may, however, also be regarded as an example of Viewers Are Morons.
- Lampshaded in The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin, but not justified, particularly considering that the protagonist changes humanity's evolutionary history at one point.
- In ...And thunder did not struck by E. Lukin, a History Protection Group employee explains why he despises "chronobumbles" — guys who steal (very limited) time-machine, don some "authentic" cloth and jump by schoolbook and tourist map:
- In Harry Harrison's Rebel In Time the bad guy is just such a chronobumble: he aims to help the South win, but fails because the history book he used doesn't mention John Brown and Harpers' Ferry.
- In the Dragonlance novels — specifically the Legends trilogy, which is aimed squarely at Time Travel — the point of view is that, if you're one of the races that was created along with the universe, it doesn't matter what you do in the past, events stay pretty much the same. The underlying principle is that time essentially is like a fast-flowing river — if you throw a pebble into that river, it may cause a few tiny ripples, but these ripples will be lost in the overall flow of the stream.
- If, say, a kender were to travel back in time, however...
- In The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford, Christianity never took hold in the Roman Empire, Constantinople didn't fall to the Turks, and France was partitioned between England and Byzantium sometime in the 12th century. The Wars of the Roses still seemingly happen exactly as they do in reality up through the crowning of Edward IV, with the exception of one relatively insignificant death.
- The Saga of Darren Shan explains that if history is changed, then the same events happen, but the roles are just filled by different people. So when Darren goes back in time and stops himself from becoming a vampire, some other person would become a vampire in his place, some other person would take Steve's place, some other person would take Debbie's place, etc.
- It does add one very unusual twist: whatever force is responsible has to proactively create the new people and ensure they fill those roles. This becomes plot-relevant due to details of an action's morality and a person's afterlife being testable in-universe. To use the Hitler example, killing Hitler wouldn't prevent any of his atrocities or their consequences in history, but Hitler himself would die without having committed any of his evil acts (or having chosen to commit some of them), and his replacement, having no free will or way to avoid doing everything Hitler "should have" done, would be personally blameless for all of them (though he or she would still be born with the innate potential to choose to be Hitler, and would probably be badly affected by living Hitler's life). This distinction drives the last hundred pages of the story, after the climax.
- Christopher Stasheff's Rod Gallowglass in one of the later books, discovered that he's somehow extraordinarily "probable" — it seems there's someone with his face and character in lots and lots of universes.
- The Big One series has numerous radical changes in history and international relations following on from Britain surrendering to the Nazis in 1940 — but the presidents of the United States, after FDR's death in '44, are Dewey (who beat Truman), George Patton, Curtis LeMay, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and "Jeb" Bush in 2008. However, the key point is the subtle differences in the characters of the Presidents in question. Lyndon Johnson is equally devious but without the pressures of Vietnam is much more of the social reformer he wanted to be. Nixon is a little less paranoid, Clinton more 'Presidential'. Contrasting the TB Overse presidents with their OTL equivalents is an indication of how much the different environments has changed them.
- The book What Ifs? of American History is a collection of essays by historians on what could have happened had certain pivotal events gone differently. Most of them play For Want of a Nail straight (though most of them do point out the ultimate futility of speculating on "what could have been"), such as Grover Cleveland not backing down from conflict with Britain in 1896 resulting in aversion of WWI (and presumably WWII too) thanks to America becoming a non-isolationist world power early on, but the one about what could have happened had the Japanese government called off the Pearl Harbor raid presents an outcome in which it takes America slightly longer to enter WWII - but only slightly, as the Japanese prove to still be so bitter toward America that they give the Americans their "day of infamy" in 1942 anyway, and the Axis powers are still defeated in the end, complete with two atomic bombings on Japan.
- Notably averted by the Wheel of Time series, which is kind of odd in a series in which destiny is so important. In the second book we get a glimpse of dozens of timelines: several alternate ways the life of The Chosen One could have gone, plus one timeline in which humanity has been extinct (or so it appears, at least) for hundreds of years. The main character could have died young, could have Jumped at the Call instead of running from it, could have been an Evil Overlord, and probably was never born at all in some timelines (or at least, was not born within centuries of when the character we know was born), and it's safe to say that the same is true of most if not all other characters as well.
- One detail remains true in all alternate possibilities of the Chosen One's life, however. In each and every life he could have lived, sheepherder or slave, farmer or warrior or madman, he never gives up against the Shadow.
- In Esther Friesner's Druid's Blood, magic works, so powerfully that the Druids stopped the Roman invasion and (presumably) any later invasions and kept Britain Celtic, but by the 19th Century London and the British look pretty much the same apart from details - teleported scrolls instead of telegrams, Beltane fires in Trafalgar Square (they did fight Napoleon, he was a Gaulish Druid), Queen Victoria as a witch, etc. But this is strictly Rule of Funny, since the point is to set a Sherlock Holmes adventure in a Celtic fantasy world.
- In Michael Crichton's Timeline, the Corrupt Corporate Executive uses an extended analogy about how the main characters couldn't make the Mets beat the Yankees to reassure them that the few individuals travelling can't really change anything major. When one of the characters directly questions the Grandfather Paradox, he changes the subject.
- In the short story "The Haldenmor Fugue", from the Doctor Who Storybook 2010, the Doctor teams up with a 21st century woman called Carla to stop temporal incursions in her home city of Haldenmor. The result is that Haldenmor was a minor Viking settlement in the 10th century, and then disappeared from history. Nonetheless the Doctor tracks Carla down. It takes some doing, because in the new history "her ancestors moved to Brazil in 1600". What, all of them?
- Isaac Asimov's novel The End of Eternity has an organisation that exits outside of time, in a location called "Eternity", from which they effect changes on "Reality". It is stated that even for major changes, the effects die away after some centuries; thus all changes are pretty much local.
- The grand daddy of them all: A Sound of Thunder - the characters go back more than 65 million years, step on a butterfly and the changes roll down through the ages until they get back and the only apparent difference is that no one can spell and a fascist was elected President, thus implying that 1) the human race still evolved in exactly the same way, 2) humans still speak English, 3) the presidential candidates of the most recent election were still born and still chose to run for President, 4) in what is still the United States.
- The Time Machine gamebook series does this in a weird way. The rules of time travel strictly forbid the player from changing history, for example by killing people or animals... but the plot of the books tends to involve the player saving lives of several people who would die without his intervention. Somehow this apparently doesn't affect history.
- "How Much Shall We Bet?" from Calvino's Cosmicomics has two characters from the beginning of time betting against each other on the events of the universe, and the viewpoint character starts making specific bets about human events back when the two were still betting on whether star matter would condense into solid, orbiting objects (such as betting that the Assyrians would invade Mesopotamia before there were Assyrians, Mesopotamia, Earth, or even a certain G-Type yellow star that would eventually be the center of the solar system). Despite starting to lose his bets more and more frequently, the situation of his bets still occurred millions and billions of years after he predicted them (a man got three years imprisonment instead of life for killing his wife, a certain illegally constructed building was nine stories instead of twelve). Somehow, though each of his bets seemingly rested on the basis of billions and trillions and quintillions of previous precise predictions, the events of the bets still developed the exact context needed for him to lose (an almost infinitely higher probability than the context never forming in the first place).
- Though George W. Bush's presidency and his policies never occurred in Dale Brown's books, the US of 2012 is somehow still recovering from a major recession.
- In L Jagi Lamplighter's The Unexpected Enlightment of Rachel Griffin, monotheism was a slight historical curiosity, adhered to by a minor group in ancient history the Israelites, but world history managed to trundle on without it. The Holocaust happened on schedule, being framed as the mass murder of Gypsies in this world. note Indeed, two characters who discuss "Beauty and The Beast" — one cited the literary version, and the other knows only the Disney one.
May be justified in later volumes, in that we are given plenty of clues that history was forced onto this track; those responsible may also be keeping the sequence of events the same, or be unable to modify it too far.
- Chrononauts has a card called "Your Parents Never Met" which forces a player to pick a new "character" card (thus altering the win conditions for said player).
- Since players and characters are separate in Chrononauts, this would be logical: the original character ceased to exist and the player takes on a new one. But the new character has the same Artifacts and Mission ...
- The GURPS 4th Edition sourcebook Infinite Worlds calls parallel worlds that are very similar, despite drastic divergence, "high-inertia". Probably the best example is "The United States of Lizardia", which is very similar to Earth, but with different historical figures. Oh yeah, and instead of humans there are six foot tall lizards. This is, however, explicitly noted as a "weird parallel", and there's a Lampshade Hanging in the fact that the text description of the worldline mentions that even some scientists who've been studying the USL for years "don't really believe in it".
- A multiverse of infinite possibilities would mean a world where history was identical but with lizards (or bears, or triffids) would surely be inevitable.
- The infinite multiverse is tempered somewhat by the inability to see or travel to universes beyond a certain number of quantum levels away. They've also only been doing it for about forty years so there would still be lots of surprises around.
- "Infinite" doesn't automatically imply "all-encompassing". Just like in math you can have infinite sets of numbers that don't actually include all numbers, it's not hard to imagine an infinite multiverse in which not every conceivable alternate universe necessarily has to exist — and that assumes that it is in fact "infinite" instead of merely "finite, just HUGE" in the first place.
- A character can also have Temporal Inertia as a personal trait; it ensures that he will exist in all versions of the present, as long as it's at least marginally plausible. There's also its opposite trait, Unique; a character with that one is likely to be among the first things to disappear if history changes even slightly.
- Used in the setting for the RPG Feng Shui (and the card game Shadowfist). Despite time travel being involved, any changes you make to the past are likely to result in cosmetic differences in the present, at most. That is to say, killing Hitler's ancestor in 1850 would result in little more than some other short, bombastic dictator causing trouble in Germany. Even massive changes to the timeline (which are only possible by having control over Feng Shui sites) will result in the same people being born, but filling slightly different roles, similar to a different character played by an actor with limited range.
- However, by controlling enough Feng Shui sites, a faction can create a major shift in history, effectively rewriting all of history from that point. Before the game started, the world was a magical world controlled by the Four Monarchs, but then the Ascended gained control of many sites and created our current history. In addition, by changing who controlled some of the Feng Shui sites in the 1930s, the Dragons caused the future, originally dominated by the Architects of the Flesh, to be overwritten.
- In the Halloween freebie for Battletech, Empires Aflame, the story is essentially a For Want of a Nail plot that brings us into a radically different Inner Sphere. In effect, the Exodus never happens, and Aleksandr Kerensky is assassinated, prompting his second in command to call off the SLDF fleeing to parts unknown and instead has them take charge of the old Terran Hegemony. This makes for a radically shifted balance of power for the 300-some-odd years of post-Amaris War history. However, most, if not all of the famous names still take their appointed spaces in the metaplot, the Kentares IV massacre still happens, and Hanse Davion is still First Prince of the Federated Suns in 3025. However, he then allys with the Capellan Confederation, and the combined state gets its ass handed to it by the Draconis Combine. Oddly enough, though, even though The Clans never existed in this universe, as the Exodus never occured, nor Operation Klondike which can be seen as the official starting point for the Clans proper, many Clan figures from the main universe still find positions of power and authority in the Terran Supremacy, even if they probably shouldn't have existed to begin with, given how they were actually conceived. Devlin Stone himself is also a key player in the Supremacy as of the 3090s.
- In Chrono Trigger, a late-game sidequest has Lucca travel back in time to the moment her mother was crippled by a large machine. As a child, Lucca could do nothing to stop this accident, and dedicated her life to science to prevent future accidents. If Future!Lucca succeeds in stopping the machine (and thus saving her mother from being crippled), her child self still dedicates her life to science, for almost the same reason.
- In the Legacy of Kain series of games, they describe changing events of the past via time travel as "throwing pebbles in a river." The idea being that history is resilient at self-preservation, and attempting to change it only makes the timeline diverge temporarily, before it quickly rights itself. The catch is that there is only one person/thing capable of throwing a big enough "pebble" to actually change the course of history: a paradox. So Kain goes about turning Raziel into a walking paradox so that history can be changed.
- Europa Universalis and its sequel feature historical events and rulers largely unchanged from our timeline, even in the default start. Mostly averted by the third game.
- There is, however, an option to enforce this upon the game. If you switch on the "Historical Rulers" option, your nation will have the same monarch names as in real life and the same relative military, diplomatic and administrative capabilities. Of course, given that a lot of nations in an average game will exist outside of when they did historically (or nations may exist that were never formed in reality) you can easily end up stuck with the same inept King for hundreds of years. With this option switched off, rulers will be generated randomly
- In Eternal Darkness, three Ancients manipulated Pious Augustus in becoming their champion, but the parallel realities created by choosing one artifact instead of the two others, differs very little between them: you still end up fighting a undead roman centurion, while his patron deity still gets his ass kicked and horribly mutilated by the opposite one you summoned earlier. Which then still proceeds to try and destroy the world and enslave humanity, while your dead grandpa still fixes it for you.
- An important component of Achron's design is to ensure player orders happen on every iteration of the timeline when reasonable (i.e. when your opponent isn't actively interfering), so that players don't get frustrated because a unit ending up 2 steps to the left 2 minutes ago caused their main production center to cease to have ever existed. Ensuring that one's strategy as a whole happens despite the interference of opponents is a key component of the metagame.
- Persona 3 Portable has a female option to see what would happen if the protagonist were a bright female girl instead. The answer? Aside from Shinji's life being extended some (he would still die shortly thanks to the suppressants), not much of anything.
- Bioshock Infinite uses this to provide a meta commentary on the nature of video game storytelling and how the player interacts with it, through the theme of "Constants and Variables." There is always "a man, a lighthouse, and a city," and while there are a few points in the story where you are presented with a binary choice, it has no effect on the ending or the path you take through the story. Certain events are fixed, such as the fact that Booker never rows to the lighthouse, the coin always comes up heads, and he always picks ball #77 at the Raffle, even after being explicitly told not to. On a meta level, the plasmids and weapons at your disposal, as well as environments that support multiple approaches, mean that the number of ways a given playable encounter can pan out are effectively infinite, just as the title suggests. But the major beats of the story, especially the ending, will always happen exactly the same way no matter what.
- In Steins;Gate, the main characters are successfully able to alter the circumstances of transgender Ruka's birth so that she is born as a normal female. However, literally every single other thing about her—appearance, behavior, relationship to other characters—is exactly the same. The only real change is a minor event earlier in her life that results in an artifact important to the plot being broken in the new timeline.
- El Goonish Shive multiverse. In the main story world Tedd has serious self-esteem issues. In the "alpha dimension" Tedd — but not his friends — exists and apparently has enough of self-esteem issues to flip out, become Evil Overlord and try to kill his alternates. In yet another Alternate Universe ("Second Life") aliens fought in the American Revolutionary War, Ellen's best friend and crush are both Half Human Hybrids, but... guess what? Tedd still exists. And still has self-esteem issues.
- I think Dan said, at some point, that every possible dimension has a Tedd.
- Besides there always being a Tedd, all female versions of him shown so far are in relationships with Elliot.
- And all female versions of Elliot shown so far, sans the Second Life universe. (Though Tedd's counterpart wanted a relationship with Ellen, the closest thing to a female Elliot that universe had.)
- Interestingly, there's some Conversational Troping here which suggests Dan isn't generally a fan of this trope.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Chuck Goodrich, The Mayor came from the future to prevent a zombie apocalypse. However, somehow, increasingly ridiculous global tragedies always end up occuring in the new future, and it's always Chuck Goodrich,
Astronaut Chrononaut who finds a time portal in space that allows him to prevent it. It has yet to be revealed whether there's a reason for this or if it's just Rule of Funny.
- Anthropic Principle. If they weren't his future selves, they wouldn't ask him for help.
- There's sort of a reason for it. When you travel back in time to fix something, you don't actually prevent the Bad Thing from ever happening; you create a quantum split at the point you emerge in the past that creates two universes; one where you didn't arrive, thus creating the timeline you lived through that was so shitty you had to go back and fix it, and one where you did arrive, thus allowing you to avert the Bad Thing you came back to prevent, but in all likelihood there's going to be another Bad Thing that's just as cataclysmic rolling down the track in its place, which will send the newer, younger you traveling back through time to fix that (Chuck has apparently done this at least five times).
- Future King Radical Hand Waves it with: "Time travel is a difficult art with few experts. There's a reason it's always Chuck Goodrich. He's the best."
- In the post-scratch session many things that you'd expect to have changed stayed pretty much the same. For example, Jane and Jake still talk in Anachronism Stew-style old-timey speech, plus Jake still has an interest in firearms and fisticuffs.
- Also, while not nearly as much is known about pre-scratch Alternia (Beforus, actually) as post-Scratch Alternia is — despite the drastic difference in troll society, some things appear to have stayed the same. The trolls still had two 6-letter names, trolls were still adopted by lusii, and it was implied that the quadrant still existed (although it probably wasn't enforced as strictly).
- In DM of the Rings, the players are being railroaded through the plot of The Lord of the Rings by a Dungeon Master with an iron fist. However, Legolas's player slips the DM's notice for just a little too long, who winds up killing Gollum during the events of Fellowship of the Ring. Despite this, Frodo and Sam still make it through Mordor, though largely because their players quit so the DM turned them into NPCs so he could gloss over the events of their journey.
- In Decades of Darkness, Napoleon manages to win the battle of Waterloo, only to lose against the Prussians under Blücher afterwards, making "Waterloo" in this world the synonym of "a victory claimed too early".
- And most people in-universe think that the secession of New England was inevitable, going as far as stating that * Americans and Yankees are different people.
- In Red vs. Blue Church gets the opportunity to save himself and his friends, but despite every butterfly he tried to stomp on, some other event kicks in and the only thing he changed is that he is the one who cause him team's eventual demises. Except Gary the liar turns out to have sucked Church the AI into a simulation where everything was his fault.
- In Green Antarctica, something happened so that Antarctica didn't have the glaciers and ice sheets that they did in OTL. Yet World History still went on the same until the Tsalal got into the picture.
- In Red Dawn +20, the Chernobyl disaster still happened as scheduled, but this time, instead of Soviet engineering incompetence, it was American military intel incompetence that destroyed the reactor. Intel said the reactors weren't online when they were set to be targeted. Oops.
- In one dimension of WAOA, Aurora was a Dragonborn. Her habits haven't changed at all. In fact, she sent a cake with moon sugar inside it. The end result was predictable.
- Despite a background universe that features superheroes and villains, man landing on the moon in 1962 instead of 1969, four alien invasions, a general higher technology level, and so on, the Global Guardians PBEM Universe has pretty much followed the real world's timeline.
- In addition, the setting's "multi-verse" is based on the idea of the multiple-world hypothesis, in which every time any person makes a choice, a new alternate timeline is branched off that reflects those choices. However, timelines that are based on irrelevant choices (for example, having toast and eggs for breakfast instead of cereal) tend to re-merge further down the time stream with all of its similarly irrelevant alternaties.
- In the Whateley Universe, despite the fact that the world has a Lovecraft Lite mythos, ancient Sidhe, mutants with superpowers, and supernatural monsters, the world is pretty much the same as what we're used to. Apparently, all the great scientific and medical advancements thanks to super-inventors have been cancelled out by bad stuff due to supervillains and mad scientists.
- On Wrestle Crap, Rewriting the Book has some stories that end up like this in some way.
- In "What if Vince McMahon wasn't the Higher Power?", Jake the Snake is the Higher Power, winds up getting control of the company and Stephanie... and in the end, the Ministry is dissolved and Vince is removed from TV albeit by order of Austin, who gained control of the company from Jake in a match.
- In a recent story about what would happen if Goldberg's streak hadn't been broken, regardless of everything that changes as a result of this, WCW still collapses. Word of God says that this was the whole point of the story (that WCW's eventual, inevitable collapse wasn't due to one particular incident, but that they would have found some way to screw up and fail no matter what).
- If DX had gotten into the Norfolk Scope Arena that fateful night, WCW would still have collapsed, apparently (but they would have gotten bought instead by ECW, which wound up becoming successful and eventually becoming Ring of Honor in all but name).
- Fandom circles on websites like Tumblr or Livejournal tend to invoke this deliberately with the joke "AU in which everything's the same except _____".
- In Warp Zone Project, things stay pretty much the same after Charles Darwin's children get earased from history to keep only one of his descendants from existing.
- One of the Chuck Norris Facts parodies the trope. Chuck Norris travels back in time and saves JFK. JFK is so surprised and grateful, his head explodes.
- World War One, despite being set off by a VERY unlikely catalyst, was just a powder keg waiting to blow. Not guaranteed, but still highly likely.
- And if World War One ends even remotely like how it ended in Real Life (strict economic sanctions on Germany, the Russian Revolution, a booming economy in the rest of the world followed by a huge depression), then World War II is highly likely, even though people in our present want to prevent it so badly that writers need an entire trope just to make it unchangable. And if World War II happened, then some kind of Cold War is likely. So it's entirely possible that the history of the 20th century really would have been remarkably similar In Spite of a Nail, even if that nail was the bullet that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand himself.
- Speaking of that trope, killing Hitler likely wouldn't have done much to keep the Nazis from taking over Germany or the Holocaust from happening, either, assuming of course that World War One still happened. The Nazi Party already existed before Hitler joined it (in fact, he was originally employed by the government to spy on them), and Hitler, while a charismatic figure who was good at riling up the populace with his fiery speeches, was not much of a strategist and most of his successful ideas came from other, smarter guys in the Nazi top brass. So basically, if it hadn't been him as the head of the Nazi Party, it could have easily been someone else who was similarly charismatic and good at making speeches. (But since the numerous factors you'd have to manipulate to prevent the Nazis from rising to power would make for a much more complicated, less exciting plot that just trying to assassinate one guy, this is an arguably justified case of Hollywood History.)
- And if not the Nazis, a militaristic dictatorship of some sort was still likely, given that in the 1920s/1930s such governments were appearing all over the world from Japan to Europe to South America.
- Since we are on THAT subject, even if the Nazis had never come to power, Japan would still be a militaristic, expansionist empire. Considering the fact that the catalyst of America's entry into the Second World War was largely due to actions taken by Japan note , so in all likihood, even if by some miracle the economic destabilization of Germany didn't cause some nutcase to rise to power and cause a war in Europe, there is a good chance a major war in the Pacific between America (with Britain and the Netherlands potentially along for the ride) and Japan would have still happened.
- It is generally agreed among serious historians that despite the legions of "What if?" alternate historical fictions out there, neither the American Confederacy nor Nazi Germany had a chance. If things had gone differently, the conflicts may have been longer or shorter or more or fewer people may have died, but given the general circumstances, you don't win wars without a Navy or invade the USSR while your other enemy develops nuclear weapons, even if you had a tank powered by steampunk or a magnetic powered UFO-bomber. Its never been a matter of debate of whether the US would be celebrating Jefferson Davis' birthday if things had gone differently, is merely a question of whether 700,000 Americans would have died vs. 500,000. Likewise, if things had gone better for Nazi Germany, the only difference would be that parts of Berlin would still be slightly radioactive.
- Assuming, as pointed out above, that the US would have entered the European theater without Germany declaring war on them. The moment the first assumption is made, the degree of uncertainty grows. The problem is that you can't know which nails are proverbially spiteful, and which ones are not.
- The Science of Discworld books argue that this applies to most things, although it focuses particularly on science and technology. Advances never come from a lone genius working in a vacuum, they happen when advances in knowledge and technology combine with an actual use for some new advance. For example, steam power had been known as a curiosity for thousands of years, but the invention of a useful steam engine and the industrial revolution occurred once technology had advanced enough to allow a practical engine to be built and society actually had a need for such an engine (initially as a pump for deeper mines, which hadn't been necessary or possible in the past). Similarly, while Darwin is often held up as the father of evolution, he was merely the first to really codify ideas that many others, including his own grandfather, were investigating. If someone went back in time and killed Darwin, our knowledge of evolution wouldn't disappear, we'd simply talk about Wallace's theory of evolution instead.
- Much has been made of the rise of The Beatles in the US happening in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, implying that Americans embraced them as a way to cope with the blow their collective psyche had taken. In fact, Capitol Records had been planning a huge promotional push for The Beatles starting in January 1964. Ed Sullivan actually booked their February 9th appearance in November, based in part on the craze they'd set off in Britain.note Odds are that even if Kennedy had left Dallas unscathed, American Beatlemania would have spread exactly the same way it did. One notable variable that might actually have altered things a bit was when some DJs obtained copies of the British Parlophone 45 of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and started playing it in mid-December, forcing Capitol to release it right after Christmas, a month ahead of schedule.
- Another Beatle-related one: Bob Dylan allegedly introducing them to marijuana in 1964 and thereby setting much of The Sixties in motion. For one thing, several of them had already tried cannabis (and other drugs) during the Hamburg years, so it was more of a re-introduction. And with drugs gaining popularity in the emerging Swinging London scene at the time, The Beatles would have been introduced to them sooner or later anyway.