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Resistance out November 25 – Nazi Alternate Reality Novels

24 November 2011

What would have happened if the Nazis had won WWII? What would have happened if the US had remained neutral in WWII? What would have happened if D-Day had failed and the Axis powers invaded Britain or the US?

These are some of the questions asked by authors in various fictional accounts of wartime and post-war alternate realities. This mini genre and concept has proven to be one that appeals greatly to readers with many best-selling books with their own take on the topic. There are an infinite number of possibilities to explore, which helps make the genre a perennial favourite.

As the new film Resistance hits cinemas we take a look at the book that inspired it and some of the other key novels of this type...

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE – Philip K. Dick (1962)

In Philip K. Dick’s mind-bending alternate reality, the United States does are not prepared for the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour in 1941 and can’t defend themselves. In 1948, the US and Allied powers surrender to the Axis powers, and a cold war starts between Germany and Japan. Set in a Japanese controlled USA of 1962, this novel centres on the daily life of average people in the US living under totalitarian rule.

The main character runs a shop of pre-war items and he becomes obsessed with a book called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which depicts an alternate reality where the Allies had won WWII, instead of the Axis Powers. Both the novel and this novel-within-a-novel give two different realties of what might have happened, had events progressed differently in WWII. Like many books by Philip K. Dick it’s quite mindbending. It’s also one of his best, and it won the Hugo Award for him in 1963.

SS-GB – Len Deighton (1978)

In Len Deighton’s alternate reality of WWII, the Nazis invaded Britain in February of 1941, causing the British to surrender to the Germans, and the Germans to occupy and control Britain. The title of this novel, SS-GB, refers to the section of German defence corps, or the ‘Protection Squadron’, who were stationed in the UK. Deighton’s novel begins in November of 1941, nine months after the British surrender to the Germans. A British detective is asked to investigate a homicide. The victim has a curious mark on his arm, which quickly gets the attention of the Nazis. The victim is found to be part of the resistance against the German occupation.

In Deighton’s exciting novel danger and destruction lurk around every corner, including bombings, murders, secret designs for the atomic bomb, and even the rescue of the King from the Tower of London.

FATHERLAND – Robert Harris (1992)
In Robert Harris’ popular book the US defeats Japan, but Germany defeats the Allied Powers in Europe, which results in a cold war between the two superpowers. Set in Germany in 1964, a detective has to solve the homicides of old Nazi party officials who keep turning up dead. Along with an American journalist, they uncover evidence of the Holocaust, which the German government is attempting to cover up.

Filled with suspense, Harris’ alternate reality thriller was “an immediate bestseller in Britain. It has sold over three million copies and has been translated into 25 languages” across the globe. At the time the The Sunday Times said that “Robert Harris has recreated the whole structure of a totally corrupt society in a way that makes the flesh creep”.

IN THE PRESENCE OF MINE ENEMIES – Harry Turtledove (2003)

In Harry Turtledove’s alternate reality, Germany not only won WWII, but also World War III by using nuclear bombs on the US. These destroyed many major cities making them inhospitable. In the Presence of Mine Enemies takes place mainly in Berlin however. All Jews are supposed to be exterminated from the human race, but many are still living secretly among the Germans, pretending to be of ‘Aryan’ decent. If a Jew is ever found, they are immediately put to death.

This sets the background for the story of a Jewish family, the Gimpels, living in Berlin, who find out a terrible secret that could bring the German government crashing down. The  events of the book could be said to parallel the collapse of the Soviet Union in our own reality. This is another entertaining addition to the genre but some note it is perhaps not in the same class as Fatherland.

THE AFRIKA REICH – Guy Saville (2011)

Here we have the most recent addition to the genre, once again proving the popularity of the form. In Guy Saville’s alternate history, Germany has won WWII, and soon they begin to place colonies around Africa. This threatens the colonies Britain has already established there. By the year 1952, there is still an uneasy peace between Hitler’s Nazis and Britain, and the man responsible for the initial plan to colonize Nazi Africa wants more colonization. This threatens to overrun the British colonies and destroy any peace the two countries had.

The novel follows an ex-mercenary from Britain who is sent to stop the Nazis. He will slowly discover that the Nazis are covering up one of the biggest conspiracies in history. The Australian said that “this graphic, pacy alternate history thriller is scarily convincing”.

RESISTANCE – Owen Sheers (2007)

This brings us to Resistance as the feature film version hits cinemas. In Owen Sheers’ alternate reality novel, D-Day has failed, and the German forces now occupy half of Britain. One morning in 1944, in a small valley near Abergavenny in Wales, all of the men in the community disappear, presumed to have left in order to fight in the resistance against Nazis occupation. The women and children carry on in the small community, waiting for news of their husbands and fathers.

One day, a German patrol, led by Albrecht Wolfram, comes to the valley and decides to stay. None of the women know why the Germans are there, but when a harsh winter hits, both groups must cooperate to stay alive. One woman befriends the leader and he tells her that the German patrol is looking for a ‘medieval art treasure’ that is hidden somewhere in the valley. The book was widely acclaimed. From The Daily Mail; “Mixing lush descriptions of the landscape with a very human story of war ... this is a sparkling debut”. The Financial Times described the novel as “engrossing... convincingly scripted and full of poetry, Resistance remains haunted by the darkest fears and memories”.

The feature film version of RESISTANCE stars Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen and Tom. It is the feature film directorial debut of Amit Gupta, and was created with the support of Owen Sheers.

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