Look to the West

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

At the end of the day, 'revolution' means 'to go round in circles'.

Read it here. And continued here.

Look To The West, written by Thomas "User:Thande" Anderson, is one of the longest-running and acclaimed alternate timelines on AlternateHistory.com, a site dedicated, unsurprisingly, to Alternate History which also gave us Decades of Darkness and Alternate History: The Series (Thande is also a writer on the latter).

The timeline is written as a series of clippings from sometimes biased or incomplete "local" histories written by the natives of the timeline, with multiple viewpoints mixed together for balance and the whole sprinkled with footnootes from the author (although technically from the team below), quotes real and fictional, and occasional helpful interludes in which a team of crosstime explorers from Twenty Minutes Into the Future (our future, it would seem) explain their findings.

It begins with George II of Great Britain tripping up on his coronation carpet, and from there things stay much as we know them for a couple of decades, then gradually diverge. The world is already noticeably different in 1795, when things start diverging dramatically and very, very bloodily. The timeline is currently in about 1829, but chapters are thematic, not chronological.

The timeline makes use of an idea known as "Alternate Timeline Brothers" in which people may be shaped by circumstances in different ways, be mergers of different siblings, have different names and lead different lives, but are fundamentally familiar. Such characters, and other dramatically different things having the same name, are indicated with an *asterisk, short for "alternate".

The prose timeline is augmented with a "raw" record of events, a helpful wiki page, and frequent maps.

Recently, after the timeline reaching 100 chapters, Thande announced a spin-off series of short stories entitled Tales from Look to the West, to be written by both Thande himself and fans.

Spoilers ahoy!

Historical characters who appear or are referenced in the timeline:
  • Napoleon Bonaparte: His father fled Corsica after the French takeover, meaning Napoleon (or his close analogue) grows up in Britain under the name Leo Bone and joins the Royal Navy. Later joins and rules Royal France.
  • Winston Churchill: The Duke of Marlborough is compared to both Churchill and their common ancestor the first Duke. Like Churchill, he is both the saviour of Britain and yet has a dark throwback reactionary streak running through his views.
  • Adolf Hitler: Michael Hiedler is the Alternate Timeline Brother of Adolf Hitler's real life great-grandfather Martin Hiedler.
  • The House of Hanover
  • Louis XVI of France: In the story he is actually crowned Louis XVII due to his father (also named Louis) not dying young and becoming king first.
  • James Monroe
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A general in the Austrian army.
  • Lord North
  • William Pitt the Elder
  • William Pitt the Younger: John Pitt is his Alternate Timeline Brother, who goes on to lead the East India Company rather than becoming Prime Minister.
  • George Washington: A central early character
  • Sir Robert Walpole
  • The Duke of Wellington: Richard Wellesley, Lord Mornington, is roughly a mixture of the Duke and his real life brother Richard.
Tropes used in Look to the West include:
  • Airstrip One: After a rebellion by French-speakers in Quebec, the Empire of North America either anglicises (Montréal -> Mount Royal) or outright renames (Quebec City -> Wolfeston) all its settlements with French-sounding names.
    • Similarly, after adopting Russophile cultural policies to appease those alienated by the earlier Tsars' westward-looking stance, Russia Russifies some of its more German-sounding names.
  • Alliance, The: The Concert of Germany, an alliance of German states against the Habsburg Empire.
  • Allohistorical Allusion - A fair few. To take one early example, there is a Battle of Trafalgar fought between Britain on one side and France and Spain on the other--but it's twenty years earlier than the one we know, and Britain loses.
  • Alternate History - Well, duh.
  • America Saves the Day - For Britain, anyway, since it's still more-or-less part of the *British Empire. In an interesting variation, Spain is saved by *Mexico and its other monarchical former American colonies.
    • Also inverted. Without being preoccupied by the war against the South American UPSA, the Royal navy could have defeated the invading fleets of Revolutionary France before they reached Britain's coasts.
  • Balkanize Me - China and Japan headed into this. Also happened to Spain due to the Congress of Copenhagen, with Portugal taking Galicia, Castile as a Portuguese puppet, and Aragon as part of the Crown of the Three Sicilies. Then seemingly turned back around with the New Spanish reconquest of Spain, reuniting most of the country.
  • Cavalry, The: Heinz Kautzman's Russo-Lithuanian-Danish-Courlandish force in the Battle of Paris.
  • Chessmaster, The - Jean de Lisieux.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Racial purging", the term in this timeline for what we would call "ethnic cleansing".
  • Disproportionate Retribution - George II's son Frederick laughes at his father when he trips on the coronation carpet. George's response? Exile Frederick, thus setting up the plot.
  • Doomed Hometown - A statistically improbable number of the timeline's.heroes have their houses, villages, towns, or cities burned to the ground. Well, three, four at the outside, but this has proven enough to make the "Burned House Hero" a fandom running gag and to see the timeline humorously rechristened "Look To The Burning House Where Your Family Used To Live".
  • Driven to Suicide - *Lavoisier is forced to build a primitive gas-chamber and swallows the arsenic compound he is studying when he sees its effects. Possibly also Robespierre.
  • Enemy Civil War - *Revolutionary France is plagued by constant power struggles, while Spain had the bad luck to have a bitter succesion crisis just when the French were invading, and Prussia and Saxony fight each other while South Germany burns.
  • Evil Prime Minister - Joshua Churchill.
  • False-Flag Operation - The Meridians use the New Spanish flag against the Portuguese in the course of the Popular Wars.
  • For Want of a Nail - The Point of Divergence isn't exactly flashy.
  • Framing Device - The crosstime exploration team in the present day (of 2015).
  • Gas Chamber - The Phlogisticateurs.
  • Generation Xerox - Once more, we have another British king named Frederick driven from Britain, though this time he is not exiled by his father but rather flees to avoid dealing with Joshua Churchill.
  • Golem: Golems are very popular in the fantasy fiction of this world, due to the fact that they can be a Recycled in Space version of Automata set in a mediaeval setting before technology would allow the real thing to be built.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire - Inverted, it's republicanism that is currently tarred with the brush of evil (of course, this was somewhat true in the 1810s even in our own world). Partly due to Author Appeal.
  • Head-in-The-Sand Management - Charles Fox.
  • Heroic Sociopath - Michael Hiedler. A man whose burning hatred of just about everybody fuels his dark charisma (just for fun, try saying his name out loud). May, or may not, eat people.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade / Historical Villain Upgrade - Different people have different destinies. They may do more or less for very different causes. The effect this has on how history perceives them is something of a matter of perspective.
    • It's a well-known fact on AH.com that if it really happened, a completely implausible thing can be slipped into your timeline. In this case, the entire career of Moric Benyovsky.
  • Hunter of His Own Kind - Show Within a Show example. One of the seminal works in the "Automaton fiction" craze of the 1820s-1850s period is The Venator, about a Killer Robot whose role is to hunt down and kill the last of his own rebellious kind, and once this is accomplished, to dismantle himself.
  • I'm a Humanitarian - Michael Hiedler, who refuses to kill his nemesis personally on the grounds that slaughtering animals for the pot is women's work.
  • Kneel Before Frodo - King Charles X of France does this at the end of the Popular Wars to his rebellious army as a dramatic gesture that subdues their rage--he also gives all the veterans the right to vote.
  • Last of His Kind: Emperor Ferdinand IV of the Holy Roman Empire, and he is fully aware of it.
  • Les Collaborateurs - The Hellfire Club, and others who co-operate, in a little historical reversion, with the occupying French forces.
  • La Résistance - The Kleinkriegers.
  • Locked Room Mystery - Jean de Lisieux's eventual, unexplained fate.
  • Moral Guardians / Executive Meddling: In-universe, some of the "Automaton Craze" books of the 1820s-50s are subject to this, such as The Cogwheel Turns, where the original ending (that humans are themselves an automaton creation of an earlier vanished race, identified with legends of pagan gods) was censored.
    • Furthermore, many history books in this timeline have considerable censorship for ideological reasons, which the crosstime team have to work around.
  • Multinational Team - Not uncommon as one might expect but the the final stages of the Jacobin Wars aka The War of the Nations is still quite notable because basically every single European nation and the Anglophone North Americans fought against the French Latin Republic.
  • My Friends and Zoidberg - “I would like to thank all you gentlemen for your attendance...along with Mr. Churchill.” From Leo Bone at his father's funeral. (Leo had wanted to burn London down again, blaming Churchill for his father's heart attack, but was dissuaded.)
  • No Swastikas: Averted with the short-lived Etrurian Republic
  • One Nation Under Copyright: Most of India is owned by a consortium of European trade cooperations, called International Oversight Board for East Indian Trade, while the Russo-Lithuanian Pacific Company dominates the northern Pacific, including North Japan.
  • Peace Conference: The Congress of Copenhagen is the TTL analogue of the Congress of Vienna.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Happens to officials who fall out of favor with their rulers; however, the more typical post is somewhere in the Americas or the East Indies. More visible in the leadup to the Popular Wars.
  • Redemption Equals Death - Fox redeems himself somewhat spectacularly.
  • Republic, The: The Corsican Republic and the United Provinces of South America, the latter also counts as The Federation. The French Latin Republic is a villainous example.
  • Rightful King Returns - Frederick the First of Great Britain returning from his American exile. The New Spanish repeat it during the Popular Wars, which in the future of the timeline will be written about, appropriately enough, by *Tolkien.
    • The Return of King Louis XVII to Paris
    • And the return of the New Spanish Bourbons to Spain itself.
  • Riddle for the Ages - No-one really knows what happened to Lisieux, though many theories are put forward. Not even the author.
  • Shout-Out - The crosstime exploration team, Jacques Tisserant, Heinrich Kautzmann, and Pascal Schmidt are all semi-cameos for other AH.com members.
    • King Henry IX is close to Charles James Fox and other Radicals in Parliament. Naturally, his political enemies nickname him "King Radical".
  • Show Within a Show - Fiction and art have also taken a different course in this world, and some works are periodically mentioned. Most notable is the "Automaton fiction" craze of the 1830s-50s period, which effectively replaces Frankenstein and the rise of vampire fiction in our timeline. (Vampires in this world are considered as obscure as, say, naga or drow are to the general public in our timeline; golems are much better known than our timeline due to authors using them as a mediaeval stand-in for automata in works set in the past).
  • Space-Filling Empire: Lampshaded. A large colonial empire in Africa is actually called the Space-Filling Empire after its two architects, a Mr. Space and a Mr. Filling.
  • Steampunk - Steam technology has received a boost relative to out timeline, with highly awesome results.
  • Stuff Blowing Up - Most recently, London.
  • Succession Crisis - Just like the real eighteenth century, virtually every time a monarch drops dead someone decides to dispute it and it starts a War of Succession.
  • Taking You with Me - This is how Fox decides to go.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilised - And how!
  • Titled After the Song - Not intentional, according to Word of God (unless it was subconscious) but Stairway to Heaven does have the title in an apposite context (considering the number of heroes whose houses are burned down):

There's a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who stand looking

  • Tomato Surprise: Show Within a Show example--The New Eden, the book which started the Automaton Craze in the literature of this world, ends with the revelation that the 'humans' living in the roboticised landscape are themselves automata. This twist is then played with by other books inspired by it, such as The Cogwheel Turns, which suggests that the world is trapped in a cycle in which the dominant race create automata to do their work, grow lazy and decadent, and then the automata rise up and take their place--and the original edition also suggests humans are themselves the creation of an earlier race...
  • The Triads and the Tongs - The Sanhedui or Heaven and Earth Society, which became the Triads in our timeline, in LTTW realises its original purpose; the Society takes advantage of a Qing dynasty civil war to attempt a Ming restoration...
  • Unreliable Narrator - Footnotes will occasionally highlight how some of the quoted history books get it wrong, either through lack of knowledge or just plain bias. Most prominently, a common prejudice in the 'present day' of LTTW (excluding some revisionist historians) is that the Japanese are considered subject to Creative Sterility and are intrinsically inferior to neighbouring Asian races, which obviously puts a spin on historical accounts.
  • War Is Hell: The Franco-Italian front of the Popular Wars is notorious in the cultural imagination for being a bitter, brutal struggle where many lives were spent for little gain: it becomes known as the Nightmare War.
  • Wham! Episode - The Popular Wars begin in Portugal's colonial empire, of all places.
    • The 100th chapter ends with the "narrators", a research team from another timeline, being violently arrested by English (no, not British) security forces.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist - Charles James Fox.
  • Zerg Rush - The French Revolutionary conscript armies were rather like this in our history, but the fact that regiments suspected of disloyalty are sent on suicide missions doesn't help matters.