If the Nazis had won the war…

Guy Saville, author of The Afrika Reich and The Madagaskar Plan, tells us about ten essential alternative history novels depicting a victorious Third Reich.

Posted on July 16, 2015 in Guest Author
Tags: alternate history, alternative history, guy saville, nazis, the afrika reich, the madagaskar plan

My debut thriller, The Afrika Reich, imagined an Africa conquered by the Nazis. Its follow-up – The Madagaskar Plan – continues to draw on a long tradition of alternative histories that depict a victorious Third Reich. Some, like Fatherland, are well known; others are more obscure. They span a variety of genres from thriller to science fiction. Here’s my pick of ten essential titles:

  1. Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin (1937) – technically this is a future-history rather than an alternative one as it was published two years before World War II. Set 700 years after the Nazis win the ‘Twenty Year War’, it portrays a bleak dystopia where Christianity has been replaced by the worship of Hitler and women are reduced to breeding machines. Nevertheless it offers a ray of hope that tyranny can always be fought – a prescient message for its first readers
  1. Loss of Eden by Douglas Brown & Christopher Serpell (1940)SS-GB is the better know novel about a Nazi occupation of Britain (see below) but this was the first, written as the Luftwaffe terrorised London and invasion seem a real possibility. It depicts a Britain of concentration camps and slave labour, where the English language has been abolished. The Germans have triumphed not through their military might but via a series of political deals with the British ruling class, starting with the ‘Peace of Nuremberg’. The message of the book is clear: appeasement leads to disaster
  1. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962) – In recent years Nazis-winning-the-war has become a vehicle for thriller writers, but many early examples are science fiction and examine the possibility of parallel universes. Dick’s classic sees the Nazis conquer Europe, Africa and America. Meanwhile, an underground novel circulates imagining an alternative history where the Allies won. This book has a special place for me. There’s a throwaway line near the beginning about Africa and the ‘terrible Nazi experiment there’ that was the inspiration for my thriller, The Afrika Reich
  1. If Only the Führer Knew by Otto Basil (1966) – this was the first Nazis-won-the-war novel by a German writer, and shows victory as a catastrophe not just for the Allies but also the German people. The Reich controls all of Europe, London has been nuked, the Jews exterminated. In the US the Ku Klux Klan leads a puppet government. Then Hitler dies and in the ensuing power struggle, the real nightmare begins. Despite initially struggling to find a publisher in Germany, the novel went on to become a surprise critical and commercial hit in its native country
  1. SS-GB by Len Deighton (1978) – ‘He’s coming!’ declares the epigraph to this book, a quote from Hitler about his intention to invade England. With access to the Nazis’ real plans for the occupation of Britain, Deighton adds a chilling realism to his spy thriller about Britain under the swastika. An adaptation by the writers of the Bond movie Skyfall will be broadcast on the BBC later this year
  1. Moon of Ice by Brad Linaweaver (1982) – This novella is a real curio, and is told from the perspective of Hilda Goebbells, the estranged daughter of the propaganda minster. She has flown to New York to secure a publishing deal for her memoir which details the inside story of the Nazi party after Hitler’s death. In this world the Reich rules all of Europe and is nuclear-armed. Yet in a parallel with the real events of the Cold War, it is also economically stagnant and crumbling from within… and therein lies its downfall
  1. Fatherland by Robert Harris (1992) – Alternative history hits the big time with this multi-million copy selling police procedural set in a Nazi superstate of the 1960s. I bought this book in hardback on the day I finished my A-levels just because I liked the blurb, and wasn’t disappointed. As gripping as it is convincing, it remains my favourite of the genre and was another of my inspirations when I came to write The Afrika Reich
  1. Making History by Stephen Fry (1996) – Inevitably, this list is dominated by serious and disturbing books, so I wanted to include one title to lighten the mood. In Fry’s novel a Cambridge graduate uses ‘TIM’ (a Time Imaging Machine) to prevent Hitler from being born and avert the Holocaust… leading to a victorious, nuclear-armed Third Reich. Structuralist history meets the comic novel. Despite the laughs, the book also makes plenty of serious points, though some uncomfortable juggling with time is necessary to give the reader a ‘happy’ ending
  1. The Separation by Christopher Priest (2002) – a genre-defying, multi-award winning novel in which Germany’s victory ultimately opens the way for the British Empire to become ‘the dominant political and economic power in world affairs’. This is a rare example of a benign outcome from a Nazi victory. It is also a complex, challenging book. I’ve read it a couple of times and never fully penetrated what it’s about. Brilliant but baffling!
  1. A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin (2014) – the dramatic potential of a triumphant Reich continues to intrigue writers. In recent years there have been my own books, as well as Owen Shears’s Resistance and Dominion by CJ Sansom. A less well known example is A Kill in the Morning which combines many of the genres in the list above. Part action-adventure, part spy thriller, part science fiction (with a shot of time-travel), I think it’s best described as a Nazis-won-the-war novel Ian Fleming might have written

Guy Saville’s The Madagaskar Plan is published today. Set in 1953, it imagines a world where Nazi Germany rules much of Europe and a vast Africa territory. There has been no Holocaust. Instead, five million Jews have been deported to Madagascar, a tropical ghetto ruled by the SS.

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