Main Alternate History Wank Discussion

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03:41:38 PM Mar 10th 2016
I just rewatched Extra Credits's series on Emperor Justinian, and realized it almost comes off like this trope (sans the "Alternate" part, of course)—particularly since variants on "What if the Roman Empire was still around?" are some of the most popular alternate histories, possibly edged out only by "What if the Third Reich was still around?" (which is almost always just used as an excuse to fight Nazis rather than to explore the ramifications).

An unimportant peasant rises to power, and manages to put together enough of the most skilled people in the world to (almost) bring the Roman Empire back from its collapse, including Justinian's beloved wife—another peasant who rose high, and who was capable of not only serving as an informal spymaster but even taking control of the Empire when Justinian fell ill, and just happening to be in a position for their marriage to be a symbol of reunifying the schism in the church. This schism in the Eastern church was eventually more or less sorted out while the Pope was exiled to Constantinople. In the first years of his reign, Justinian managed to overhaul the, well, byzantine legal code the Roman empire had developed over the centuries, make its taxation efficient, and start various public works projects. With the help of his loyal, highly-skilled, and massively popular general, Belisarius, Justinian managed to retake the African provinces, Italy, and (briefly) even much of Hispania! This isn't even considering victories against Persia, or against Bulgars and other peoples from the north. The one major revolt in Anatolia was put down relatively quickly, and Constantinople rose from the ashes all the greater, even erecting a massive church (requiring new architectural techniques to be built) in only six years. There was even a near-miraculous discovery—silkworms were smuggled into the empire, which boosted their economy (while taking away one of Persia's source of income).

But the dream couldn't be fulfilled. By only choosing the best men for the job, Justinian had to put up with a lot of unpleasant quirks, which made many of his advisers unpopular. Some of these men didn't always get along, which lead to further troubles. Justinian's efforts left his empire overstretched, which caused trouble. More than a few revolts broke out in Africa due to the soldiers being underpaid and undersupplied. Worse, it was difficult to deal with multiple issues at once—such as when the Persians attacked towards the end of a war retaking Italy. Most of Justinian's gains slipped through his fingers—even the "reunification" of the orthodox and Monophysite church, which caused more problems for the West than it solved for the East. As all these great men and women died, Justinian found it harder to fulfill his dream, even as he continued to try. Even that great church suffered problems, with its dome collapsing due to improperly-set mortar just 40 years later. Later emperors fixed the church, but none had the drive, talent, and advisers that let Justinian achieve so much; the last of Justinian's gains faded away.

Justinian's reign practically serves as a deconstruction of the Alternate History Wank. I feel it deserves to be mentioned somewhere on this page, but I wasn't sure where. I decided to start by making a note on the Discussion page and see where that went.
12:46:30 PM Oct 21st 2012
edited by norsicnumber2nd
Maybe you're unaware of what 'wank' is in Britain, but, er, can it change. This I've seen a few times in YKKTW (and American media also for view of the British), a word that either means nothing or is just a general word like banana to Yanks but disturbs or sickens us here on t'other side o't'pond.
04:09:49 PM Oct 22nd 2012
Wank, in North American usage, means "something (metaphorically) masturbatory," and is used to describe pointless, self-indulgent behavior. Fanwank is masturbatory fan behavior, history wank is self-indulgent cheerleading of a historical faction, ect. We know what it means in the Commonwealth.
01:53:31 PM Dec 1st 2013
I'd like to apologise for my fellow Brit with his/her condescending attitude to the rest of the world, particularly America. I'm afraid many British people live in a state of "Britain Is Obviously Superior To Those Poor Americans" Wank.

And I hadn't realised the word 'wank' "disturbs or sickens us". I guess it comes with the territory to assume you can speak for all English/British people. As the British saying goes, what a load of wank.
02:56:28 PM May 12th 2010
re: cutlist

This seems like The Same but More of Alternate History.
05:07:34 PM May 12th 2010
No, it is not. Alternate History Wank isn't history that's more alternate. Alternate History Wank is an alternate history in which the Butterfly of Doom leads to a Marysuetopia (any type) or a God-Mode Sue.

You can have an alternate history whose point of divergence is caused by "alien space bats", and still have it be realistic given all that. You can have an alternate history with a perfectly reasonable butterfly event which still seems implausible because one of the major parties is successfully pulling Xanatos Roulettes; that second is what makes it wank.

As for examples — I can name at least one.
07:25:33 PM May 12th 2010
I meant The Same but More Specific. Brain was in autopilot.
08:40:06 PM May 12th 2010
I've added one example, and as soon as I search the bookshelves I'll have another series to add. This is an element of Alternate history — not all AH stories include it, so yes, in a way I suppose you could say it's "more specific." Many tropes are "But More Specific" if you choose to look at them that way.
09:18:57 PM May 12th 2010
True. Alternate History is essentially a genre not a trope so The Same but More Specific shouldn't apply.
09:36:39 PM May 12th 2010
<nods> I added the example I had in mind, as it is infamous. I also removed a proposed definition — the Sliding Scale of Plausibility that had been referred to in that definition is orthogonal to this.

Just as you can have a naturalistic-looking TV series (one that is set in a world like our own) with a Canon Sue in it, you can have a timeline that starts with a reasonable-looking point of departure but ends up as this. Heck, the one could be an example of the other, depending on how loosely you define Alternate History.

And it is possible to have an even-handed timeline founded by Alien Space Bats, for the same reason you can have a series like Firefly. Difficult, but possible.
04:59:27 AM May 13th 2010
I set up a YKTTW entry for the page. If it's strong in fandom then people may be able to scrounge up a few and I'm guessing there is probably a number of lit. examples out there in the pulp.
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