When life has got us in the slumps, we are uncertain of the future and bored of the present, the best escape is to imagine a world entirely unlike our own. These six novels that narrate an alternative history will give your brain the imaginative vacation it’s looking for. Explore worlds starkly different from what we’re used to and ponder both what could have been and what we might become.
From the incomparable Stephen King comes a time-traveling thriller of epic proportions. High school teacher Jake is drawn into his friend Al’s longtime obsession to stop the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy after Al shows him a time-travel portal in his diner. Soon, Jake is surrounded by the shiny, pop-colored Americana of decades past. While Jake attempts to begin a new life in Jodie, Texas, he keeps being drawn into the path of the troubled Lee Harvey Oswald, and ultimately into the dangerous role he was always meant to play.
One of the Ten Best Books of The New York Times Book Review
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Now a miniseries from Hulu starring James Franco
ON NOVEMBER 22, 1963, THREE SHOTS RANG OUT IN DALLAS, PRESIDENT KENNEDY DIED, AND THE WORLD CHANGED. WHAT IF YOU COULD CHANGE IT BACK?
In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.
It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.
So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.
In a fractured United States, a new world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards. Lizbeth Rose has a wildly fearsome reputation, but these wizards are desperate. As the trio journey through an altered America—shattered into several countries after the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression—they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose has never failed a client, but this job may stretch her to her deadly limits.
From the beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, the inspiration for HBO’s True Blood, comes “a gripping, twisty-turny, thrill ride of a read” (Karin Slaughter, New York Times bestselling author) following a young gunslinging mercenary on deadly mission through the American Southwest.
In a fractured United States, a new world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards. Lizbeth Rose has a wildly fearsome reputation but these wizards are desperate. Searching the small border towns near Mexico, they’re trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner believed to be a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin.
As the trio journey through an altered America—shattered into several countries after the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression—they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose has never failed a client, but this job may stretch her to her deadly limits.
“Immersive, involving, suspenseful and intriguing, with a main character you’ll love” (Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author), An Easy Death is a fast-paced thriller of the highest order.
Based on the idea that the United States lost in World War II and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE paints a haunting alternate image of history. Slavery is legal and Jews must hide under false names in order to stay alive. Both scientific and political, this novel is a twisting tale of what could have been.
Philip K. Dick may not have been a wildly profitable author in his time, but since he passed away in 1982, many of his science fiction stories and novels have been picked up and turned into well-loved movies and television shows. THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, currently an Amazon series, offers an alternative ending to World War II, with the Nazis and Japanese winning the war.
In this version of America, set in 1940, Charles A Lindbergh, an aviator and rabid isolationist, is elected president. With this new power, he negotiates a deal with Adolf Hitler, while the government develops an anti-Semitism program. Set in this world, the story follows one boy growing up in Newark. When Lindbergh is elected, a series of events begins to unfold that threatened his small town.
Few writers working today have the narrative depth and complexity as Philip Roth. And it is at an intellectual high-point with The Plot Against America. The novel follows a working class Jewish-American family during the eve of World War II. Unlike the actual events surrounding America’s involvement, Roth constructs an alternate reality where Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot and Nazi sympathizer, climbs to political prominence and, in a juicy moment of American politicking, succeeds in beating the incumbent and well-respected Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. Thus emerges an America more aligned with the policies of the Third Reich than with the allies, and becomes all the more troublesome for a Jewish family targeted by an increasingly hostile state. The vividness of America’s pogroms is terrifying and Roth delights in his ability to make the most absurd of situations real and doubtlessly convincing. It is perhaps an unusual choice when asked what book defines America for me, but Roth is fully invested in the American consciousness and his version could only have been written by someone who cares deeply about what America means and how best to relay its people’s perspective. I’ve never been one to shy from controversy and Roth, I think, embellishes the American spirit better than others who merely claim ownership of America without any foresight into why or for what purpose. - Pronoy Sarkar
DREAD NATION takes place during the War Between the States, when the dead begin to walk the battlefields. Children must attend combat schools to learn how to fight against the dead under the laws of the Native and Negro Reduction Act. Born into this world, Jane McKeene is fighting for a better life for Negro girls like herself. But amidst her attempts to build a better life and return home to her Kentucky-native family, people begin to go missing and Jane finds herself caught up in the middle of a conspiracy that forces her to fight for her life.
When America is in the grip of a deadly flu Pandemic and Frank catches it, his girlfriend Polly does everything she can to keep him alive – even if that means risking everything. If she signs up for a one-way trip into the future to work as a bonded laborer, the company will pay for the cure. After agreeing, Polly is alone in a changed future with no direction, money, or plan. She must navigate this new world and attempt to locate Frank to find out if their love endured, and most importantly, if he is still alive.
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