As you are reading this, the world as we know it will have already slipped from a global pandemic into a second cold war, both scenarios that were the stuff of (albeit plausible) fiction barely two years ago.
Most of our crew is based in Brussels, Belgium, which happens to host the headquarters of major geopolitical protagonists such as the European Union and NATO. Thus, we labour under the threat of Russian nuclear warheads permanently aimed at our homes and loved ones. Existential uncertainties have the gift of putting things in perspective, and make us dream of what might have been.
So it comes that our thematic issue for 2022 is dedicated to alternate pasts (and their futures). Alternate history is an immensely versatile sub-genre of speculative fiction, and one undeniably close to our hearts. Which student of history has not dreamt of going back in time and making better decisions at some past point of junction in order to avert disaster for his ancestors or ensure a fortuitous outcome for her favourite hero? If one could but stand on the ramparts of Constantinople on that black day in May 1453 armed with modern weaponry; or walk among the disciples of Christ or the Buddha in the Holy Lands of yore; or step out of the crowd in Sarajevo on a fateful morning in June 1914 and deflect the bullet that inflicted the 20th century on the world.
Uchronia imagines histories that never were, but might have been, and by extension, futures that could have resulted from these alternate pasts. As such, it is worth pointing out that to be fully appreciated, unlike other forms of speculative fiction, alternate history requires some measure of familiarity with the established timeline in the reader’s reality. Moreover, while much of SFF is cosmopolitan in its appeal and thus addresses ‘standardized’ concepts with a set menu of flavourings, the uchroniae of various linguistic literary corpora are still wildly diverse and often not readily translatable from one cultural context into another, particularly as they often address the historical grievances or fantasies relevant to the deep memory of their ethno-cultural context.
While Sci Phi Journal is and remains an English-language publication, as the world’s lingua franca best enables us to promote a philosophical exchange amongst geographically distant members of the SFF community, we are mindful that uchronia is a stark reminder of the importance to read works written in (and intended for) other languages. Only thus can the true (semantic and conceptual) diversity of the speculative field be safeguarded. As an example, we draw readers’ attention to an overview of Hungarian alternate histories published by our co-editor Ádám in the latest volume of the SFRA Review.
The stories in this present issue span a broad spectrum, from ancient steam technology to far-future time travel, from imaginary medical sciences to the shores of fallen empires. We hope you enjoy the journey into alternate timelines as much as we did curating this selection for you!
the SPJ co-editors & crew