History is vitally important to writing a story. Everyone has history, so it’s important that any story you write not actually start at the beginning, but before it. The backgrounds of your characters influence their prejudices, interests and reactions to new situations. By extension, the history of a society and a world influence how it reacts to large scale changes in circumstances or the ideas of individuals.
The farther a world is from what we know, the larger its differences from our own history must be. But changes in history have large ranging repercussions, and if you’ve decided that you don’t want a world radically different from what we know in the modern day you’ll have to take steps to compensate for that. (Of course, if extrapolating the changes to the modern day situation is what you want to do, that’s fine, but we’re not all Harry Turtledove.)
There are a lot of options for how an author might make significant changes to history and still manage to keep their fictional world similar to what we know.
The simplest is to make your changes very recent, occurring within the last twenty-five years or so. In this case you can generally get away with saying that whatever your unusual element is, it hasn’t had time changed the world too much yet. A corollary to this is to make whatever change you want to take place totally apocalyptic in nature, like a zombie plague or a sudden ice age, changing all the rules after the point of departure, keeping the old and developing the new.
Another option is to make the changed history an occult element, in other words, totally secret. If only a select few people know about the different history, it’s really easy to justify it not making any real changes to history as we know it.
A third possibility is to hand changes to historic figures with such overriding circumstances or goals that they could only do one thing with them, which reinforces our own history. Abraham Lincoln, for example, is going to use just about any innovation or discovery handed to him to preserve the Union. Likewise, Churchill would probably have used anything he could against the Nazis. If Albert Einstein had laid the foundation for practical nano-tech instead of figuring out how to split the atom, I guarantee it still would have gotten used against Japanese sooner or later. Not that World War Two with nano-tech would ever make a good story.*
Heat Wave is, in many ways, a combination of approaches two and three. This is one difference between Heat Wave and the early days of comics, where superheroes were typically a new occurrence. I’ve chosen this approach for a number of reasons, but the biggest one was to allow for the back story I have in mind. Also, it’s different from the norm, which is a good thing so long as it doesn’t make things any harder to grasp, which I don’t really feel it does.
So as you read, keep your eyes open for hints to Project Sumter’s slightly different understanding of world history. Hopefully it will be as much fun for you to figure out as it was for me to put together.
*Note to self: Story idea..