Decades of Darkness

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Decades Of Darkness is an Alternate History timeline originating on AlternateHistory.com. The creator, Jared, got the idea from a contest to create a historically plausible version of S.M. Stirling's The Draka series: a mega evil slaver doom empire, built on opposition to the very values that the Western world holds dear, takes over the world. "DoD", as it's commonly abbreviated, deviated considerably from this origin, which is just as well for that part of the world's population not living under said Empire.

In a dark twist on the values which America holds so dear, this empire is in fact the United States. The tale begins as a strategically timed heart attack kills off Thomas Jefferson at the worst moment of the historical New England separatist movement in 1809. The bumbling James Madison, his successor, gets into a war with Great Britain and the New England rebels in 1811 and loses handily. Since New England was the center of abolitionist ideology in our world, its secession from the Union swings the political balance in favor of slavery advocates. From here on, the timeline somehow manages to become broader in scope until it is global, while at the same time getting more and more detailed.

It ends in 1935 as the world seems to be settling into a three four-way Cold War (called the Silent War) between the four world-dominating power blocs, the USA (known, owing to its evil, as "Alt USA" or *USA), the German Empire (a mostly monarchist federation under the Hapsburgs), the Russian Federation (an enormously complicated Czarist-federal-democratic... thing stretching from Constantinople to Beijing) and the Restored Empire (an Indian Rim-centered Australian-led alliance) and its main ally, Nippon. Needless to say, much has changed in the intervening time.

Decades of Darkness is one of the most influential AH.com timelines, and its style of presentation has inspired many others. It is often cited alongside earlier works from soc.history.what-if such as For All Time as among the classics of Alternate History Web Original work. It was concluded on 20.1.2009. A series of vignettes and a novel exploring the future of this world remain in the works.

You can read the completed story here at the AH.com forum or here or here.


Tropes used in Decades of Darkness include:


General Tropes[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Asperger's Syndrome - Some Dr. Hans Asperger appears in an Allohistorical Allusion and becomes the namesake of a medical condition in this world as well. But instead of an autism spectrum disorder, he described full-blown AIDS.
  • Cool Ship - The battleships, with 18-inch cannons - bigger than almost anything in our world, except the Yamato.
  • Darkest Hour - The appropriately-named chapter Midnight.
  • Downer Ending - The ending of the North American War.
  • Doorstopper - The finished timeline is longer than 1800 pages.
    • One troper, with the tenacity of a true sociopath, managed to lovingly craft, edit, and format the entire timeline into a print-worthy book. Single-spaced and with a 12 font, it comes to over 2,400 pages.
  • Egopolis - In the *USA some states (Washington, Jackson, Wilkinson) and many cities are named after presidents and other high-ranking politicians.
  • Fantastic Slurs - *Americans are often referred to as "jackals" by their enemies.
  • Gratuitous German - Radio is named "funk"; and since Germany has become one of the superpowers, German (or rather, neudeutsch) phrases tend to crop up.
  • Gratuitous Spanish - Quite some, since *American English contains very many Spanish loan words.
  • It's Always Mardi Gras in New Orleans - Subverted. It's New York that becomes famous for its Mardi Gras celebrations. As for New Orleans itself? The financial capital of the *US and the Western hemisphere, with Canal Street becoming the equivalent of Wall Street. In other words, New Orleans became New York, and vice versa.
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople) - Knoxville is Columbia, Equador is in northern Brazil, New England is a much more extensive term, and colonial cities across Africa, Australia, Asia, and the Americas have different names.
    • Inverted - The government of His Majesty the Czar of All the Russias would like to make perfectly clear that it's Constantinople, not Istanbul.
  • Night Swim Equals Death: *US president Donald Bellamy. He was deep in debt after a big recession, so he made a secret agreement with a fascist leader from New England to have him picked up on the sea, with a submarine. It didn't work out. The details remain a mystery.
  • Reassignment Backfire - Being the *American Ambassador in Liberia (see below) improved Edgar Langley's life and helped to liberate many slaves from *American slavery.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica - The transfer to Whydah, an isolated *American colony in West Africa if you belong to the *American military and to Liberia if you belong to the *American State Department.
    • Subverted - A decorated Jaguar veteran is handpicked for the prestigious mission of planting the *American flag in Antarctica, symbolizing how *America now stretches not only from "sea to shining sea," but "pole to pole" as well.
  • The Roaring Twenties - The Golden Years, which occur in the 1910s, are the rough equivalent.
  • Scrapbook Story
  • Shout-Out - Many, given to Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game), Alanis Morissette, a group of popular rock bands, and more.
    • A Crowning Moment of Funny goes out to a 1908 Hartford Journal of Literature article which lambastes an avant garde play whose subject was the meeting of a worker's union to discuss the removal of certain medical benefits from their contract. The reviewer notes that it is impossible to derive this from the dialogue, in which the entire first act consists of two actors repeating the same two lines over and over:

Lennard: Dental plan.
Carlson: Lisa needs braces.

Lennard: Dental plan.

Carlson: Lisa needs braces.

  • Spiritual Successor - Or how should you call it? The author wanted to make DoD essentially "The Draka, but done right".
  • The Virus - Unfortunately, *HIV-outbreak occurred much earlier.
  • Worthy Opponent - Juarez, the last Mexican General, was respected by the American Captain Fisher who hunted and killed him.


Alternate History Tropes[edit | hide]

  • Allohistorical Allusion
    • Japan launches a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor... in 1892, to kick out an attempted American filibuster of Hawaii.
    • The description of the plans for Germany's invasion of Britain contains a lot of detail about just how many years of planning and preparation went into them. This is a reference to the real-life Operation Sealion, Hitler's plan to invade the UK, which is a Running Gag on AH.com due to how monumentally stupid and poorly thought-out it was, and how it would have been a total disaster if executed.
    • Operation Sealion was never meant to be carried out, as Hitler repeatedly offered peace negotiations to Britain, which he had always respected, and never wanted to invade it (it was Britain and France that declared war on Germany, not the other way around). Sealion was therefore only the beginning of a plan never meant to be used.
  • Alternate History - Well, that's rather the point.
  • Alternate History Wank - Subverted, the *USA is quite plausible and well explained despite being very successful.
  • For Want of a Nail - That was one significant heart attack.
  • In Spite of a Nail - Napoleon I manages to win the battle of Waterloo, only to lose against the Prussians under Blücher afterwards, making "Waterloo" in this world a phrase meaning "a victory claimed too early".
    • And most people in DoD think that the secession of New England was inevitable, going as far as stating that *Americans and Yankees are different people.
  • Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility: The TL is very much on the "hard" side of the scale.
  • Zeppelins from Another World - Used to great success in the North American War. Later Deconstructed when they are put to use in the Brazilian Civil War a few years later, where they make easy targets for the new anti-air weapons and fighter planes, causing them to be replaced by conventional bombers in later wars.


National And Political Tropes[edit | hide]

  • The Alliance - The Restored Empire and the South American Amistad (against the *USA and Imperial Brazil).
  • American Political System - One of the central, recurring themes is the evolution of the political systems of the *USA and the New England Republic.
  • America Saves the Day - While the *USA is The Empire in this world, it still makes a point about helping out its (decreasing number of) true friends.
  • America Takes Over the World
  • Balkanize Me - The USA (only at the beginning of the timeline), Spain, China, France, Britain, Italy, Brazil, and some other nations as well.
    • Averted for Germany and Russia
  • The Barnum - Phineas T. Barnum, who becomes president of New England
  • The Beard - Julia Gordon's husband, who's gay himself (quite practical).
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Black Shirt - The Redshirts in New England.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys - Averted. France doesn't end well in TTL, but fights hard. In particular, the trope itself is inverted because for much of the 19th century, the USA considers France to be one of her closest friends and allies.
  • Civil War - Starts with a much earlier American Civil War, then continues with civil wars in Brazil, Canada, etc. The last days of the United Kingdom may also count as one.
  • The Commonwealth - the Restored Empire is a closer version. Interestingly enough, Australia and South Africa have not only replaced the United Kingdom as leading nations, but the fragmented Britain is not even a part of the organization.
  • Cult Colony - The Nephites (alt-Mormons) use Vancouver Island, British Columbia as this, in place of Utah. It becomes an independent country, the Nephi Free State, after Canada loses British Columbia and Alaska in the North American War.
  • Divided States of America - New England and *USA, the latter complete with an obviously different flag: seven stripes and an ever-increasing number of stars....or, at least, for now.
    • Some have speculated that Canada might possibly end up as a divided nation: One scenario includes a republic in the west, an independent Quebec in the east, and a rump kingdom in Ontario. What happens to Wisconsin here, however, hasn't been addressed.
  • Dirty Communists - In Newfoundland!
  • Eagle Land - The *USA incorporates some of the darkest elements of flavour #2.
  • Elves vs. Dwarves - Not literally; two factions among the Canadian republicans bear these nicknames.
  • The Empire - the *USA, the Brazilian Empire, and both French Empires.
  • Everything's Better with Princesses - Justified, since the early part is in the time when royal marriages were real diplomacy.
  • Expanded States of America - Of the United Americas variant.
  • The Federation - the Russian Empire actually becomes this, while Germany and especially the Restored Empire fit the trope neatly.
    • The Restored Empire is rather more The Alliance than The Federation, see chapter #189 for details.
    • Subverted, like The Empire, since the The Empire, that is, the *USA, is of course an actual constitutional federation.
      • While the *USA is a de jure constitutional federation, it is unfortunately, in all reality, largely controlled by horribly immoral wealthy planters and unscrupulous industrialists; both of these elite groups, btw, were the key to the ultimate perservation of U.S. slavery.
  • Fictional Political Party - The major parties of the United States are the Democrats and the Patriots, who are later replaced by the Unionists, and the major parties of the Republic of New England are the Federalists, Radicals, and Republicans.
  • Generican Empire - the Restored Empire and Amistad (spanish word for friendship).
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire - So averted: The *USA conquers and enslaves half the world, while the British, German, and Russian empires are all comparatively nice. Played relatively straight in Brazil, where the monarchy is pro-*US and pro-slavery and the republic is pro German and immediately abolishes slavery, but it becomes a dictatorship.
    • Another straight use of this trope was France, where both French empires and the later French republics (third and fourth) smoothly fit.
  • Government in Exile - after the North American War and the following occupation of Venezuela, Australia harboured the Venezuelian government-in-exile.
  • Happiness in Slavery - Debatable. Though not much has been discussed in the way of slave rebellions, the belief that slaves and peons would simply 'accept their fate' on the part of some A Hers hasn't been proven, and in fact, it's almost inevitable that at least a few major rebellions would occur from time to time.
  • Hegemonic Empire: Germany and Russia, and Australia and South Africa within the Restored Empire which dominates the Indian Rim.
  • Hopeless War - The futile but heroic struggles of Latin Americans against the *USA.....though not always.
  • The Kingdom - The kingdoms within the British and later Restored Empire fit this trope more or less.
  • La Résistance - Various, like the Velvet Underground in Pennsylvania, Mexican generals like Juarez, and Eunuco Mitchell. Unfortunately, none have prevailed.
  • Mary Suetopia - While not really implausible, the Kingdom of Australia and its people are too perfect and successful to be a realistic country.
    • Actually, they're still not as good as the real Australia is. Just kidding. I'd like to point out this may be a case of Author Appeal. Not to mention that real problems in the country have been talked about, including not having enough water and extreme environmental degradation.
    • Liberia fits this trope squarely, the land of former slaves from the Americas. Contrary to real-world Liberia, where different factions have fought one another in one of Africa's longest and cruelest civil wars, it is peaceful and prosperous, with leading figures declaring that race does not matter in their eyes. Even more remarkable when the citizens come not onl* The Republic - The Republic of New England and the later French republics.y from the United States, as in the real Liberia, but also from all over the Caribbean, yet still enjoy enlightened fraternal harmony. With no enforced servitude, contrary to black history in real-world Africa. Certainly a case of Author Appeal.
      • Not quite. It experienced a coup d'etat in the last phase of the Great war. *Liberia's status as a model nation is the result of a more favorable location and greater immigration and investment into the new nation.
        • While there is a coup d'état toward the end of the story, there is nowhere near the brutality of the real Liberia, or the strife and corruption in most African nations. Likewise, tribal divisions are mostly non-existent in Liberia, making it highly distinct from real-world Africa.
          • It fits for the story Liberia to be highly distinct from real-world Liberia. Real-world Liberia was founded by a little over ten thousand voluntary emigrants to an unwelcoming environment, while the story Liberia was formed by over a hundred thousand people expelled from the United States because of their race, and moved to a different climate. The story Liberia is essentially part of the United States transplanted into Africa.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name - Vitalism. Fun fact: The New England Vitalists' paramilitary wing wears red shirts.
  • Our Presidents Are Different - But of course. James Madison causes the US to break up. Jefferson Davis also becomes one. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Van Buren become presidents of New England instead. As do Phineas T. Barnum and Daniel Webster. Ulysses S. Grant even is a reporter.
  • Peace Conference - The First, Second, and Third Congress of Vienna and the Dublin Conference are the most important.
  • Regent for Life - John Blackwood becomes the Lord High Steward of England at the end of the timeline.
  • The Republic - The Republic of New England and the later French republics.
  • Rising Empire - The rise of the three superpowers who dominate the world from the 1930 onwards is a central part of the timeline.
  • Space-Filling Empire: The South African-ruled Central Africa is the most obvious example.
  • Take Over the World - Taking over the Americas becomes a major aim of the *USA.
  • The Troubles - The term used to describe the civil war in Canada, fought between the socialist, republican west (which is largely Irish-Canadian) and the monarchist, authoritarian east. Ireland itself, oddly and ironically enough, manages to avoid the Catholic-Protestant tension that plagued it in real life, and remains relatively peaceful.
  • United Europe - The German-dominated Greater European Economic Union unites most of post-Great War Europe outside the Russian Federation.
  • United Nations - The Council of Nations is the in-universe counterpart.
  • Vestigial Empire - The Restored Empire is a positive version.
    • Subverted by the Portuguese kingdom. It seemed to be heading into becoming one after losing its closest ally, Imperial Brazil and being forced to sell most of their overseas empire ...only to gain a large colonial empire in West Africa in the post-Great war era.
  • The White House - Burned down by the Halifax Powers (Britain and New England) and rebuilt in Knoxville.


Character Tropes[edit | hide]

  • Ace Pilot - James Ingersoll.
  • Agent Peacock: A Portuguese guy only known as "Alberto". Not very "bishie", but even described as a peacock (he likes expensive clothes).
  • Aristocrats Are Evil - Played straight (Empress Maria) and averted (Baron Kelvin).
  • Benjamin Disraeli is British PM in a pretty bad moment - his country loses a war against the *US.
  • The Casanova - President Hugh Griffin.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus - Hong Xiuquan, the "son of Christ" and leader of the Taiping rebellion.
  • Equal Opportunity Evil - Some Hispanics manage to rise to the top in the *US and *Fascist New England - Alvar O'Brien (Alvarez Obregon) in the former, Rodney Ironfist (Rodrigo Heredia) in the latter. Abraham Myers, first Jewish president of the *USA, also deserves mention.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous - Many stories are about members of the Jaguars, the *American elite troops / jungle fighters.
  • Even Evil Has Standards - The reason for the support of Alvar O'Brien by his archenemy Plutarco Bautista against presidential candidate Jefferson Caden, who is an extreme racist and warhawk.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: Italian general Verdi, German (left) politician Blucher, SF author Grillparzer and others.
  • Heel Face Turn - Done by Edgar Langley, the first *American (Deputy) Ambassador in Liberia.
  • Intrepid Reporter - The Grant family: Ulysses, Jesse, Diane.
  • Lipstick Lesbian - Julia Gordon. And First Lady Anna Mitchell.
  • Lloyd George manages to become PM of two countries - first of Britain, for Labour, later of independent Cymru (Wales).
  • Loads and Loads of Characters - Hey, it covers more than a hundred years, and events from all over the world.
  • Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman- William Randolph Hearst is a general.....and there's other examples, too.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver - Amber Jarrett.