From The Man in the High Castle to SS-GB, alternative histories fascinate us. Again, what are we asked to believe in and – more importantly – why? Hitler won the war: thank God it never happened. Exploring this particular possibility at a safe distance allows us to be grateful we did not have to experience it. Characters in such danger are a thrill to watch.
Yes, it’s a favourite genre of mine. the lure of ‘What if…?’ is hard to deny. So it’s a good thing there’s a brand new one coming up, yes?
In Confederate we are to be presented with a possible world in which slavery is still a legal institution on US soil. Why are we to believe this, and to what purpose?
Errr….entertainment? Because characters in danger are ‘a thrill to watch’?
Confederate’s creators gave us Game of Thrones: they are past masters at tempering evil with flashes of stunning humanity. In a world where a black man, woman or child can be shot dead in the street and the killers are not even charged with a crime, let alone punished, will we be asked to believe in fictional slave-owning characters who are not so bad after all?
Well, yes. Because that’s the world as it was then. It wasn’t illegal. Isn’t that the whole point? Examining just how the institution of slavery would have turned out – or faded away – had things been different?
Writers of alternative history have a moral responsibility: we should always examine our motives. I hope that Confederate will not use a lie to hide the wider truth, yet my fear is that it will offer excuses for one of the most appalling episodes in our own history, and that it will give the neo-Nazis of Charlottesville and beyond another Confederate flag to bear – as if they needed more.
*sighs* Of course…
• False Lights by KJ Whittaker is published in hardback by Head of Zeus on 7 September
Gosh! I wonder why you felt a need to ride the coat-tails of this particular controversy?