Alternate history narratives – regardless of whether they have overt fantasy or sci-fi elements – are ultimately ‘what if’ narratives. This is the same basic principle underlying all speculative fiction, so it is no wonder they made such good bedfellows.

Have you ever thought about writing an alternate history story or wondered what’s involved? Good thing we have Mary Robinette Kowal on-hand to answer our questions about writing in this space and what opportunities/limitations come with it. Along the way, we learn about the Luddites and ‘competence porn’.

History does not happen in a vacuum… [you] need to think about the reasons our history happened.

Texts and authors mentioned in this episode include:

  • Margaret Dunlop (TV writer)
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
  • Paul Cornell (Doctor Who writer)
  • Captain Marvel (film)
  • Hidden Figures (film)
  • The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic
  • The Jane Austen Diaries by Stephanie Barron
  • The Winter King Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell
  • A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
  • Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
  • Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of Ghost Talkers, The Glamourist Histories series, and the Lady Astronaut duology. She is a cast member of the award-wining podcast Writing Excuses and also a four-time Hugo Award winner. Her short fiction appears in, and Asimov’s. Mary Robinette, a professional puppeteer, lives in Nashville. Visit her online at