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Defining Genre


Sometimes identified as fantasy, alternative history fits into speculative fiction because it ask the key speculative question: What if?  What if history history had followed a different course? 

"Proper alternate history novels – and there are purists who insist on them – change one small thing about the past, and examine (rather, imagine) the consequences in the timeline." ~Kim Newman, The 'If' Moment: A Brief History of Alternate Histories, Wired Magazine, Nov 24, 2005.

Common elements of
Alternative Histories


  • focus on a specific historic episode, rather than on a broad time period.
  • include authentic historic details to support real historic events
  • feature changes in history based on a single event within the historic episode.

Some examples include:


Time travel is commonly considered a common subgenre of science fiction. In our collection, we've housed it outside of science fiction under the larger umbrella of speculative fiction. This is done because while early examples featured time travel through mechanical (or technical) means, more recently, time travel has come to include travel through supernatural means, as well as through theorized scientific means, such as space and time warps.  

8 YA Time Travel Books to Check Out

  1. All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill
  2. Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor
  3. Invictus by Ryan Graudin
  4. Love That Split the World by Emily Henry
  5. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
  6. The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig
  7. Tempest by Julie Cross
  8. A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Superhero fiction is another genre of speculative fiction that examines the question: What if human beings had extraordinary powers.  Often this literature features costumed crime fighters (and villains), but not always.  Themes of social justice are common.


11 YA Books That Feature Superheroes

  1. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
  2. Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks
  3. Dreadnought: Nemesis by April Daniels
  4. Dull Boy by Sarah Cross
  5. Gone by Michael Grant
  6. Hero by Perry Moore
  7. The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen
  8. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
  9. Renegades by Marissa Meyer
  10. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
  11. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson



Retrospective punks center around two elements: the rogue hero and makeshift innovation that imagines new capabilities for older technologies. 

Steampunk is the best known retropunk style, set in Victorian times where steam-powered technologies of the time are blended in with modern technical capabilities (flight, computers) using fantastical gadgetry.  This sub-genre has been around since the early 1980s, giving birth to a cos-play culture that is still popular for it's imaginative design.
Dieselpunk is another popular retropunk style set in era between World War I and World War II, when gas engines and skyscrapers were new technologies.  Introduced in the early 21st century, the sub-genre often incorporates an element of alternate history highlighting events of that time period (including the wars). Set in a similar time framedecopunk is a brighter style focused on the glamor and shine of the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s.

Other Retro-Punk Styles

Atomicpunk focuses on the technology and styles of the post-war era of the early 1950s. This is when atomic power and world dominance were the wave of the future and technological optimism was at its peak. People are irradiated for little harm and huge benefit, and plucky robot companions clean your house and babysit your kids.

Jumping forward to the 60s and the Cold War, transistorpunk fills a niche no one knew existed. Mostly it’s just a way to categorize Philip K. Dick novels, but more for the drugs than the technology (not a coincidence that some people prefer the term psychedelicpunk). Perhaps we can throw James Bond in there because Q had some fun gadgets, but Bond has been hopping generations like a drunken time traveler and is decidedly not punk, no matter how “gritty” he has become in recent years.

Steelpunk is set in the late 20th century, cemented by the ability of humans to manufacture innovative machinery in a crumbling world.  Think Mad Max or Iron Man.

Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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