Awhile ago, we told you about 10 Devastating Nuclear Events and Accidents. Included was the story of Stanislav Petrov, the man who single-handedly saved humanity from nuclear annihilation on September 26, 1983. In a very short time frame, the fate of the world was saved by Petrov’s quick thinking. History is littered with these singular world-changing events.
American history is no different, and there are many incidents that could have drastically changed, or even destroyed, America. Altered versions of these “What If” events are a popular genre of science fiction called “alternate history.” To help visualize their Alt-Histories, authors often supply maps of the ALT-USA… and that’s precisely what we’re going to take a look at today. Warning, though: Below Be Spoilers.
10. The Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle is a TV show based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name. In this universe, history diverged from our own when Franklin D. Roosevelt was assassinated by Giuseppe Zangarast in 1933. This was based a real event, but in our history Zangarast missed FDR and killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak instead. In Dick’s history Roosevelt was killed, and without him America struggled under the Great Depression and became extremely isolationist. This allowed the Axis powers of World War II (Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan) to become victorious in Europe and in the Pacific.
By 1945, the Axis powers have invaded North America from both the Pacific and the Atlantic. A Nazi atomic bomb in Washington DC forces America’s surrender, and the occupation creates the division of the United States between Germany and Japan; much like how, during our timeline, Germany was divided into the East and West. The events in The Man in the High Castle TV show take place in the 1960s, and maps show that Germany and Japan had split America between them with a small neutral zone separating the two.
Revolution was an American post-apocalyptic NBC TV show that takes place in 2027. In this universe, a mysterious 2012 event called “The Blackout” caused all electricity to permanently cease to function. The show, produced by JJ Abrams, followed the survivors as they deal with the consequences of a world without electrical power.
After the Blackout, America descends into chaos and fragments as technology reverts back to pre-electricity, steam-powered tech. Most of the action in the TV show takes place in the Monroe Republic, which is made up of Northeast America. The character Monroe was able to seize power after setting up a tyrannical military dictatorship that takes away the guns of its people. The West Coast is dominated by the California Commonwealth, and Texas exists as a separate republic… which is pretty much par for the course. The Southwest is abandoned to the desert, and a reemergence of a nomadic lifestyle takes over in the Midwest Plains Nation.
8. Southern Victory
Celebrated science fiction author Harry Turtledove created an alternate universe called Southern Victory. In 1997 he released the first of 11 alternate history books, How Few Remain. In this universe, history diverges during the American Civil War (which you probably guessed based on the title) on September 10, 1862. In real life on this day, a Confederate messenger lost Top Secret Order 191, which outlined the South’s invasion. With these secret plans, the North was able to check the invasion and slog on to eventual victory. In Turtledove’s universe the secret plans weren’t lost. This allows the South to successfully launch a surprise invasion and defeat the Union Army of the Potomac, and eventually the South captures Philadelphia. Capturing such a large city enables the United Kingdom and France to ally with the Confederate States of America, forcing an end to the war with the South declaring independence from the United States on November 4, 1862.
On the map you can see how America wasn’t able to afford buying Alaska from Russia, and the Second Mexican Empire (which at the time was still ruled by the Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I) crumbles into poverty. In our universe, Maximilian ruled Mexico until he was killed in 1867. In Turtledove’s history the bankrupt Mexico allows the South to purchase the northwestern regions of Sonora and Chihuahua, giving them access to the Pacific. The series continues with North and South being mortal enemies who ally with other world powers to fight each other over the next hundred years.
In the CBS TV show Jericho, a shadow government plans a coup via a nuclear attack on 23 major cities in America, using small bombs smuggled to their targets in cargo vans. After the bombs detonate, civilization breaks down and the American government is destroyed. The first season of the show dealt with a small town as it tried to keep its citizens alive during the aftermath of the nuclear attack.
The show pulled in low numbers and was canceled after one season. Jericho’s fans revolted and launched an online campaign for CBS to do a second season, sending nuts to CBS (it actually makes sense in the context of the show, if you haven’t seen it). Eventually, over 20 tons were mailed to the network. This online outcry was an “unprecedented display of passion in support of a prime-time television series.” CBS caved and made a second season, where it was revealed that civilization had returned but the coup planners had only succeeded in seizing Western America, while Texas became independent (that seems to be a theme in these kinds of alternate histories) and the Eastern USA stopped enough nuclear bombs that some form of federal government survived the WMD attack.
Even with the successful nuts viral campaign, CBS still canceled the show after the second season. However, the universe lived on in comics, which revealed that the East and West USA fragmented into smaller nations while some parts of America were occupied by UN forces.
6. The Handmaid’s Tale
Celebrated author Margaret Atwood first published her book The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985. A 1990 film adaptation of the same name was released, and in 2017 Hulu adapted it into a critically acclaimed series. In Atwood’s America, a polluted country is wracked by falling fertility rates, which cause huge civil unrest. A staged attack wipes out the President and most of the federal government. In the chaos, a Christian Fundamentalist movement calling itself the “Sons of Jacob” seize control. Some surviving elements of the government flee to the West, where America still exists, while east of the Rockies is ruled by a new government called “Gilead.”
The new Christian theocracy decrees Baptists are heretics and brutally suppresses its followers, causing much of the American South to be in continuous revolt. Gilead is able to keep the remnants of America and the world at bay by threatening to use nukes that are seized after coup’s success. A number of areas are radioactive, implying that there was nuclear sabotage or that Gilead demonstrated its nuclear might. Condemned criminals and opponents of the new regime (which are often one and the same) are sent to these areas as “clean up” teams, but due to their high mortality these men and women really face a death sentence.
5. Dies the Fire
Stephen Michael Stirling’s Emberverse series spans 14 novels, with the first book Dies the Fire being released in 2008. More installments are expected as the series chugs right along.
In the Emberverse universe a mysterious event called “The Change” alters the laws of physics, throwing the world into chaos. After the Change, modern technology stops functioning, throwing the world back into the Iron Age, with people arming themselves with swords and bow and arrows. Large population areas collapse when food runs out, and from the ashes of urban centers emerge large cannibal groups that create “Death Zones.” From more rural areas, city-states emerge. This is the universe that Dies the Fire sees for post-apocalyptic America.
4. A Canticle for Leibowitz
Walter M. Miller, Jr. first published A Canticle for Leibowitz in 1959. The award-winning book is considered a classic and has never been out of print. It’s a post-apocalyptic story that takes place 600 years after a horrible nuclear war, which sparked a movement to destroy all knowledge called the “Simplification.” During this movement, all books are destroyed except for some hidden away in a Catholic monastery, the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz, in the deserts of the American Southwest.
After all knowledge is wiped out during the Simplification, America reverts to tribal, feudal societies. Sometime in the 600 years after WWIII, the Catholic Church relocates from Rome, Italy, to New Rome, somewhere in the former United States. Surrounding New Rome are a number of Catholic papal states. Also emerging from the fragments of Western civilization are the Empires of Texarkana, Laredo, Denver. Back at the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz, the monastery keeps its vast collection of pre-war books and knowledge alive by painstakingly copying them by hand. From these books, civilization is reborn.
3. The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins released the first book of her Hunger Games trilogy in 2008, and the novels were adapted into the blockbuster series starring Jennifer Lawrence as the story’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen. Over their cumulative worldwide releases, the four movies pulled in almost $3 billion dollars. So… we’re guessing you’ve probably seen at least one of them.
The Hunger Games takes place sometime in the future after a great war. Rising sea levels have swallowed up vast parts of North America, leaving a new nation called Panem to rise. This dystopian nation is divided into 12 districts that each specialize in specific goods or services.
A lot of the story takes place in District 12 (D12), which is thought to be in the coal-rich Appalachian region. D11 grows grain, and D10 raises livestock. Both are very large, given their tasks of feeding an entire nation. Close by is D9, which processes the food. D8 produces and treats textiles, while D7 specializes in forestry. D6 specializes in research and development, while D5 does genetic research. D4 is on or near the ocean, while D3 works with Information Technology and D2 specializes in weaponry and training peacekeepers. D1 produces luxury goods for the Capitol District and has a diamond mine – possibly the now-commercially closed Kelsey Lake Diamond Mine. The secret, rebellious District 13 is hidden away in bunkers thought to be in the Northeastern part of America.
2. Crimson Skies
Jordan Weisman and Dave McCoy created the Crimson Skies universe first for a board game released in 1998, and then a video game franchise produced by Microsoft Game Studios beginning in 2000.
History diverges from our universe when, in the 1930s, a series of deadly diseases devastate America and the country becomes increasingly isolationist to the point where the federal government devolves all power to the states, leading to the Balkanization of the United States into a series of small regional-states. With no federal government to pull the nation together interstate highways decay while at the same time aviation technology takes off. With a focus on air travel, roads and trains are abandoned in favor of the skies. With so many city-states there are many grievances, which quickly turn into open war. From the chaos of near constant warfare, large groups of air pirates raid commerce and other settlements.
1. The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead has been airing on AMC since October 31, 2010, and is based on a comic book series of the same name created by Robert Kirkman. Even with declining ratings over the last couple seasons, the show was renewed for a ninth season and Forbes’ Paul Tassi has talked about how the series should catch up to the comic books by season 9 or 10. After that, Kirkman hopes the show will diverge from its source material (which it has already started to do, given a few major cast and character shakeups).
In this alternate reality, America has been overrun by a zombie virus that reanimates the dead. The story starts off with the main character, Rick Grimes, waking up from a coma to find the world overtaken by the undead. He and a group of survivors first go to Atlanta, and then after meeting another group head to the nation’s capital, Washington DC – which is the general area around which the show now takes place. The main locations are the Alexandria Safe-Zone south of the capital, the Hilltop colony north of DC, and in the urban core of the city, Ezekiel’s Kingdom. They fight against Negan and the Saviors, who are based east of Washington DC at The Sanctuary. Everything outside of these areas is more or less abandoned, given over to the hordes of the walking dead.
Oh, so that’s where they got the title.