Science Fiction Studies

#132 = Volume 44, Part 2 = July 2017

Mariano Martín Rodríguez

Alternate History in Spain: Eduardo Vaquerizo’s Tinieblas Series in its Literary Context                                           

 “Shakespeare is clever enough in English—just how splendid he would be if he wrote in Spanish frightens me.”—Harry Turtledove, Ruled Britannia (272)

Ruled Britannia / Ruling Hispania. Although Spain is a minor power nowadays, it was a global one in the past. Spanish alternate-history authors have approached this past in a manner that may warrant international attention, as they offer discourses on history that differ from the perspectives of alternate pasts presented by writers from other linguistic communities.1 For example, British and American writers in this genre have often portrayed an alternate course of events dominated by Catholic Spain and its allies, instead of Protestant English-speaking countries following the Reformation and the defeat of the Spanish Invincible Armada. This is the case, for example, in Phyllis Eisenstein’s Shadow of Earth (1979), in which a contemporary woman from our history line is stuck in a parallel America dominated by oppressive Spanish overlords and reminiscent of the Middle Ages. The received Whig interpretation of history that usually permeates the fully-Catholic-Western-world- under-the-Spanish-yoke scenarios, such as the one used by Eisenstein or by Harry Turtledove in his novel Ruled Britannia (2002), has been nuanced by, among others, Keith Roberts in Pavane (1968) and John Brunner in Times Without Number (1969), both of whom show that technical progress would not have been entirely precluded by Catholic rulers.2 Rather, this would have followed different lines, such as the mastering of time travel instead of space travel in Brunner’s alternate history, or the slowing down of technology in Roberts’s masterpiece, in order to avoid the horrors witnessed in the real twentieth century. Their general picture of the “Ruling Hispania” universe looks, however, rather bleak, if not downright hellish.

These dystopian alternate histories in English seem to be “expressions of a whiggish or chrono-chauvinistic sense of pride and relief that we are living in the best of all possible histories” (Winthrop-Young 101), because the depicted alternative is mostly presented as one of those “nightmare scenarios” that tend “to be conservative, for by viewing the past in negative terms, they ratify the present” (Rosenfeld 93), which is to say, the present of a technologically advanced Anglo-American-dominated late capitalism.3 In Pavane or Shadow of Earth, for instance, “political whiggery is reinforced by the socioeconomics of Max Weber, whose monograph of 1904-05 … undoubtedly underlies today’s popular identification of the Protestant Ethic with the American Dream” (Chamberlain 291). In this context, the Roman Catholic Church, as well as its Renaissance arch-defender Philip II of Spain, could only be the “bugbear of whig history” (291). In Steve White’s Saint Antony’s Fire (2008), the Church is even allied with devilish aliens, whose help is critical for the Armada’s victory, until Gloriana herself (Elizabeth I of England) and her gallant Britons unmask the plot and succeed in returning (whig) history back to its familiar course.

While these alternate histories in English are more or less well known, especially the one by Roberts and Kingsley Amis’s like-minded The Alteration (1976),4 the possible views on this scenario from the other side of the battlefront—i.e., from writers originating in the country from which the Invincible Armada set sail in 1588—have always been ignored.5 Have they celebrated the alternate defeat of Elizabethan England? How did they depict a modern Spanish Empire? Do they support a Hispanic sense of the superiority of their alternate civilization, in the same way as Anglo-Saxon alternate-history writers have usually considered the actual course of history (where the US inherited British world hegemony) as the best of both potential outcomes of the Catholic versus Protestant and Spanish versus English early modern rivalries? To look at both sides of an argument is a moral and scientific obligation that has perhaps been little respected in this matter. It would be wrong, however, to start a blaming exercise. English-speaking scholars in the field of alternate history are rarely acquainted with works in foreign languages. Since alternate histories from Spain have seldom been translated into English, they could not but ignore them. On the other hand, Hispanic scholars have also shown little interest in alternate histories, and even less in their possible relationship to the global tradition of the genre.6 It might be useful, for comparison purposes, to consider a series of narratives that deliver the widest and most consistent panorama of an enduring Spanish Empire from its beginnings in the sixteenth century to the late twentieth century.

The narrative that inaugurated the genre in Spain is Nilo María Fabra’s “Cuatro siglos de buen gobierno” [Four Centuries of Good Governance, 1883]. This alternate history is among the first works of the genre in the world and one of the few published in the nineteenth century. Fabra’s text is a rewriting of Spain’s history in which the country retains its global power. It obviously has a consolatory dimension.7 No nationalist revanchism can be found in Fabra’s text, but rather a strong criticism of Spain’s actual history. The “Four Centuries of Good Governance” in his alternate world are an indictment of the four centuries of bad governance that Spain suffered due to the European imperial policy of the Spanish Hapsburgs. In contrast with the real history, which consisted of these monarchs embarking on religious wars for hegemony in Europe, Fabra tells the story, using a fully historiographic discourse, of a Spain ruled by one of the Catholic Monarchs’ grandchildren, who also would have inherited the Portuguese crown. His royal heirs would have pursued and expanded the colonial policy of the united kingdom of Aragon, Castile, and Portugal, as well as promoted practical science, free trade, and industry. In this world, there was no Invincible Armada, because Spain focused on its overseas colonies; its maritime power could not be matched. After four centuries of peace in the Iberian territory and of progress in the whole empire, alternate Spain becomes, in fact, very like the British Empire in the second part of the nineteenth century. But it is an improved version, with greater technological advances and with the former colonies, now independent, constituting a sort of Spanish commonwealth, decades before the British did the same in our reality. In Fabra’s alternate history, Britain does not have to be invaded or ruled because it is a country of minor concern. The situation in the real world is thus inverted, while the alternate one confirms the convenience of following the model developed through Britain’s history. In contrast, Spain’s actual history is fully amended. Spain rules by imitating Britain in advance.

An Overview of Alternate History in Spain. Fabra’s “Cuatro siglos de buen gobierno” remained virtually unknown until the revival of Fabra’s work in the framework of a renewed interest in early sf among fans and scholars. As far as we know, no other alternate histories were published in Spain until many years later. Two mainstream writers, Ricardo Baroja and Azorín, published two short stories that depicted different outcomes of contemporary political upheavals in Spain. Baroja’s Historia verídica de la revolución [The True History of Revolution, 1931] narrates a violent anticlerical and anarchist revolution instead of the relatively peaceful proclamation of the Spanish Second Republic in the same year. Azorín called his short tale “Lo que debió pasar: Historiatorio” [What Must Have Happened: History-oratory, 1934], a story with two parallel alternate histories of Spain (one where prince Don Carlos inherits the crown of Philip II and changes Spain’s political course; another where the 1873 First Republic endures).

Shortly after the end of the Civil War of 1936-1939, counterfactual history was inaugurated in Spain by Antonio Aparicio Derch in his now-forgotten volume La historia que nunca fue [The History that Never Was, 1946]. In his five uchronias, he tackled different moments of European history using the conditional mode prevalent in professional counterfactual history, as opposed to the past indicative used in alternate-history fictional world creation. As happened with Fabra’s text, this interesting book had no effect on Spanish culture. Further collections of counterfactual essays were published only in this century. Among them, the ones edited by Nigel Townson (2004) and especially Joan Maria Thomàs (2007) show how the Civil War has become an obsessive subject for counterfactual and alternate historians in recent Spain: many of those essays do not deal with different periods of the long history of the country but almost exclusively with the war won by Francisco Franco in 1939. In Spanish alternate history, the books in which Franco lost instead, or where the war was prevented by a more assertive Republican government, are so numerous that the only Spanish anthology dedicated to the genre, edited by Julián Díez, is entitled Franco, una historia alternativa [Franco, an Alternative History, 2006], with contributions by Santiago Eximeno, Eduardo Vaquerizo, Javier Negrete, and other leading Spanish speculative writers of our century. Its main story is, however, David Soriano Giménez’s “Ñ” (2003), which has little to do with either Franco or his enemies; rather, it is a satire against nationalism in a Spain where Catalan instead of Castilian is the official tongue, while politicians use and promote ethnic hatred to advance their own corrupt agendas. This witty and well-written story is perhaps too local to be appreciated abroad, although Spain is far from being the only country facing this issue. In the same vein, one should mention Ricard de la Casa and Pedro Jorge Romero’s “El día que hicimos la transición” [The Day When We Made the Transition, 1998], a forking-paths story with time travel, where the main villains are Basque nationalist terrorists (see Singles 121-28).

Spanish Civil War alternate histories constitute, in any case, the bulk of the subgenre in Spain. Since Francoist censorship would have prohibited any alternate history that would have put his rule into question, even in fiction, the first instances were published abroad by exiled writers such as Max Aub. Aub imagined first that the life of the dictator was taken by a Mexican waiter fed up with the exiles’ discussions on why the war went so wrong for them, only to see on his return that Francoist exiles have taken the seats and assumed the loud speaking habits of the former Republican diaspora—in “La verdadera historia de la muerte de Francisco Franco” [The True History of the Death of Francisco Franco], published when the Generalissimo was still very much alive, in 1960. The fine irony of the story is obvious from its title, and it is sustained throughout the text, making it a masterpiece of Spanish/Hispanic humor. Aub also wrote an alternate history which is considered one of the most original of this form. In El teatro español sacado a la luz de las tinieblas de nuestro tiempo [Spanish Drama Brought into the Light from the Darkness of Our Time, 1971] Aub depicts, by means of a speech delivered in a meeting of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, a cultural scene where murdered leftist writers (such as Federico García Lorca) and exiled ones (such as Aub himself) are members of that prestigious institution, along with right-wing writers who have remained in the country. It posits that both sides pursued their work and produced further masterpieces without the disruption of the war, which prevented Spanish literature from following its natural path.

Immediately after Franco’s death in 1975, Civil War alternate histories instantly became fashionable. Three were published in 1976, just months after the passing of the dictator: Jesús Torbado’s En el día de hoy [In the Day of Today], Fernando Díaz-Plaja’s El Desfile de la Victoria [The Victory Parade], and Víctor Alba’s 1936-1976. Historia de la Segunda República española [1936-1976: A History of the Second Spanish Republic]. The first two were conventional novels narrating the consequences of a Republican victory. They were followed by another novel of this kind, Fernando Vizcaíno Casas’s right-wing bestseller Los rojos ganaron la guerra [The Reds Won the War, 1989] and by José Antonio Vaca de Osma’s Alfonso XIV, mis memorias [Alfonso XIV, My Memoirs, 1991], the imaginary memories of a member of the royal family who, by assuming the regency after the departure from Spain of King Alfonso XIII in 1931, following Republican agitation, had prevented both the Spanish Second Republic and the subsequent Civil War.

Víctor Alba’s alternate history is written as a thoroughly researched work of historiography in which he shows how a country organized along mildly anarchist lines could democratically work and prosper in Europe, thus offering a kind of blueprint for reform that would consider economic realities instead of ineffectually vegetating among dreams of revolutionary utopias, which has often been the case in actual history. In Alba’s Spain, an anarchist social democracy of sorts would have been successfully implemented. This political commentary in the form of imaginary historiography stands out as a serious intellectual endeavor. By contrast, most Spanish alternate histories related to Franco’s age are ideologically and narratively unremarkable for international readers not familiar with the intricacies of Spanish politics. They have been studied in a serious way, however, by José Ramón López García and, in particular, by Christoph Rodiek. A fine novella, not mentioned by these scholars, is César Mallorquí’s “El Coleccionista de sellos” [The Stamp Collector, 1996]. In this work, the intertwining of historical perspectives due to the intervention of future time travellers in the Civil War of Spain is very competently handled in a story happily free of the ideological biases all too common among Spanish writers, who frequently revisit the conflict wherein their parents or grandparents so tragically fought for their ideals.

Fortunately, not all Spanish contemporary alternate histories have such a narrow national focus. For instance, José Miguel Pallarés and León Arsenal imagine an alternate history of Africa in which Carthaginians and Zulus interact in the neo-pulp novel, Bula Matari. La pantera y el escarabajo [Bula Matari: The Panther and the Beetle, 2000]. Javier Negrete, a bestselling author of long romances often set in ancient (mythological) times, published Alejandro Magno y las águilas de Roma [Alexander the Great and the Eagles of Rome, 2007], where a mysterious, foreign-looking physician heals Alexander, who then lives long enough to put into practice a project to conquer the growing power of Rome. The Macedonian hero succeeds after winning a battle that looks very much like Hannibal’s Cannae, prior to occupying Rome itself. Negrete’s extensive learning (he has a degree in classical philology) serves him well when describing that battle in graphic detail.

The “Hitler Wins” scenario that proliferated after 1945 became a main staple of alternate history, including some examples from Spain, such as Juan Manuel Santiago’s “Confesiones de un papanatas de mierda” [Confessions of a Bloody Idiot, 1994]. This is a sophisticated story, structurally reminiscent of an earlier Spanish forking-paths narrative about alternative courses of the contemporary Cold War, José Sanz y Díaz’s “Fantasías de la era atómica” [Fantasies of the Atomic Age, 1967]. Santiago’s tribute to Philip K. Dick portrays an alternate Spanish Civil War as well as a Europe where Hitler lost and Trotskyists imposed an Orwellian totalitarian regime. There are also “purer” Hitler Wins narratives. One of the earliest in Spain is Rafael Marín Trechera’s “Mein Führer” (1981), a convoluted story that counts among his most renowned, perhaps thanks to his narration of numerous alternate Hitlers, dead and alive, in just a few pages. In Juan Carlos Planells’s novel El enfrentamiento [The Confrontation, 1996], a European continent under an enduring Nazi regime is shown as parallel to a Reaganite alternate world where the creation of new literature is forbidden. An orthodox Hitler Wins novel, Jesús Pardo’s rather unimaginative Operación Barbarossa [Operation Barbarossa, 1988], sadly falls short of expectations. There are further alternate histories about Hitler in Spain, but one of the few dealing with history’s arch-villain in an original way is Roberto Bartual’s “Últimas páginas de una autobiografía” [Final Pages of an Autobiography, 2005]. Hitler, already a master of Modernist painting, beautifully recalls how a Jewish mentor saved his artistic career, thus preventing him from becoming a dictator like this world’s counterfactual frustrated artist Pablo Picasso, who engulfs Spain and Europe in war and genocide. By inverting their roles, Bartual denies not only historical determinism but also the determinism of character. Under different circumstances, Hitler could have become the likeable person who displays such delicate feelings in this mock autobiography, and readers cannot help but sympathize with him. Few other alternate historians have dared to present Hitler in this light, as a normal human being instead of the monster that invariably haunts history. Bartual’s story represents a milestone in contemporary Spanish alternate history, thus confirming that its evolution reached maturity as a subgenre in the same year that another novel gave birth to a fully developed alternate universe, one that takes Fabra’s model of a national alternate history with a global dimension even further. That novel is Eduardo Vaquerizo’s Danza de tinieblas [Dance of Darkness, 2005].

Eduardo Vaquerizo and the Enduring Spanish Empire: A Revision. Although Eduardo Vaquerizo’s short story “Negras águilas” [Black Eagles, 2003] was the first depiction of his alternate Spanish Empire, Danza de tinieblas was the one that achieved huge popularity. It soon acquired cult status and garnered mostly positive reviews on sf-related blogs and websites. The main feature, almost universally praised, was the high degree of consistency by which the alternate society is presented, as well as its appealing atmosphere. Externally, it looks old-fashioned like most “Ruled Britannia” stories, which usually communicate an impression of cultural stasis by implausibly stopping any meaningful developments in the fields of arts and crafts. In Vaquerizo’s alternate Madrid, conservatism in fashion dramatizes change, but it also suggests that the Spanish have kept their taste for the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Golden Age of their culture, linking this alternate modern world to a past that is both prestigious and widely known among the educated readership.8 Vaquerizo retains what made the country culturally great, while he corrects the misguided choices that led to its decadence. The divergence occurs in the introduction, where John of Austria decides to fight for the Spanish crown right after defeating the Turks at Lepanto (1571); this follows the imaginary accidental death of his stepbrother Philip II, the king traditionally accused of having embroiled Spain in ruinous wars for the sake of his dynasty and his Catholic religion, including the ill-fated expedition of the Invincible Armada to England. The long-term implications of John of Austria’s winning the war of succession may be inferred from different details and hints.

The year is 1927. A young Jew is killed under mysterious circumstances. Joanes Salamanca, the steadfast and low-ranking police officer in charge of the case, is helped by an inquisitor and a beautiful Jewish woman who investigate the crime, which is only the beginning of a series. No serial killer appears, however. Rather, the assassinations are part of a wide conspiracy in which obscure interest groups seek to destabilize the state and take over the government. The officer barely escapes with his life after several attacks, and he is then confronted by a most impressive novum, a huge Golem or mechanical robot developed by a Jewish scientist to advance the interests of his group. Although Salamanca survives, he is now a failed man who has finally discovered that he had been manipulated all along. He has at times demonstrated almost superhuman qualities, especially given his rather implausible physical endurance, but the individual hero ends up powerless in the face of the blind forces that define the fate of states and of history itself. Therefore, although Danza de tinieblas reads at times like a conventional thriller because of its action (a succession of crises miraculously overcome) and its style (seemingly akin to commercial novels, especially its extensive use of dialogue), it nonetheless subverts the reassuring worldview common in the commercial thriller genre, as it shows that a modern Spanish Empire would not be essentially different from our real world and would not be an idealized version of a lasting and improved Spanish Golden Age. The struggle to accrue more power defines the social mechanisms operating in any existing empire, despite the exotic appearance of Vaquerizo’s alternate universe.

In Danza de tinieblas, Madrid is a multicultural city, where three main religious communities live together uneasily. In this alternate Spain, the local Muslim population was not expelled, as historically was the case in 1609-1613, while Sephardic Jews, expelled in 1492, have been admitted back into the country. The latter community appears to have a monopoly on intelligent technology. The Golem-robot is nothing else but the natural development of their mastery of cabbalistic machines, which work as non-electronic computers, like Babbage engines. Vaquerizo updates the famous legend of the Golem by converting the magically (or rather theologically) animated clay monster into an sf mechanical being, albeit still an ominous and mysterious slipstream figure. Its appearance also recalls the bulky steam devices which proliferate in steampunk, an artistic movement that influences the general atmosphere of the novel. Furthermore, the golem is not the only piece of technology that appears as both familiar and strange. There are cars that use coal instead of petrol and huge and slow flying boats as well as gliders used in warfare. The steampunk flavor of this technology adds to the rich visual texture of the book, contributing to the general expressiveness of Vaquerizo’s writing, especially in his descriptions, which are both detailed and suggestive. Their presentation seems here, indeed, more akin to the style of artistically sophisticated literature than to the usual flat functional prose common in commercially minded thrillers and alternate histories.

The main features of Danza de tinieblas resurface in the second novel set in the same universe, Memoria de tinieblas [Memory of Darkness, 2013]. The main difference from a literary point of view is that the author adopts in the latter a more experimental approach. Since the first novel had already succeeded in creating the alternate world, the second one could expand on it, focusing this time more on character than on action, although Memoria de tinieblas does not suffer from any lack of fast-paced, violent scenes. The hero, Castañeda, has benefited from exceptional training, and he possesses almost extraordinary physical powers. His personality, however, is a far cry from Salamanca’s naivety.

Readers follow Castañeda along two parallel plotlines, one set between 1966 and 1968 among the free French colonists of Nueva Borgoña, or New Burgundy, on the East Coast of the current US, and the other in Madrid between 1950 and 1971, the year when the story ends in the Alsatian battlefields, where the Spanish Empire, its minor ally France, and other powers fight the rival Turkish Empire in a static war of attrition akin to the Great War of 1914. In North America, he is first a spy for the Spanish and French and must do whatever is necessary to facilitate the recapture of the free cities of the territory. These are organized as anarchist communes always threatened by local Amerindian tribes. While living in one of those free towns, Castañeda embraces their way of life and, after starting a family, secretly succeeds in federating both the natives and the free colonists and goes on to defeat the French colonial forces sent to conquer them. In the process, however, he must sacrifice his New Burgundian family.

In the European plotline, we see Castañeda as a member of a secret police at the exclusive service of the king. After his return to Madrid, he must cover up a conspiracy by blaming a Muslim terrorist who was also his childhood friend. He finally discovers the real nature of the plot which was intended to hide the terrible effects of a radioactive weapon developed by a scientist in the capital of the empire, and also to control the weapon, the use of which could unleash a nuclear holocaust. The conclusion is left open, since it is not stated clearly whether this apocalyptic weapon is used or not.

The two storylines alternate in the novel. There is a constant shifting between two different time periods and two continents, as well as between the rural, almost utopian world of a free and simple society close to nature, on the one hand, and the urban and technological city as the seat of power, moral corruption, and the sort of crimes that the exercise of power seems to entail, on the other. In fact, the empire has become so wholly encompassing and complicated that it continues as if moved by inertia, uncontrolled and uncontrollable by any of the groups attempting to steer it, while thousands of people perish in the imperial wars or are simply crushed by the system. Castañeda embodies a growing resistance from within the system itself. Instead of trying to keep some semblance of order in the political body—or at least to figure out its sense as Salamanca attempted to do in Danza de tinieblas—the hero in the second novel seeks instead to overthrow that order. His reasons and actions are not fully clear, though. Castañeda has become a dissident, but he still often acts as a true sworn member of the imperial secret service. We seem to know what he thinks and feels thanks to the author’s statements, but this feigned transparency is so masterfully managed that the reader cannot be sure of understanding him, or even of knowing if some scenes are real or rather a figment of the hero’s imagination. This combination of clarity and uncertainty in the narrative encourages a reading that goes beyond the apparent dual, dialectical structure of the work. We are invited to dig deeper into Castañeda’s personality as well as into the society that produced him, which is seen through his mysterious gaze. This society is thus tainted by the hero’s own mystery. The modern imperial society is a political machine that nobody can understand. Nevertheless, Memoria de tinieblas is not a political commentary, but a further visit to a fictional universe that this later novel enriches by adding a wealth of new details.

Vaquerizo has also written several short stories set in different moments and milieus in the history of the empire. “Negras águilas” tells how another member of the royal secret service investigates the murder of the heir to the crown, until he is called into the presence of the old king, where he finds out that the monarch himself arranged the attack to save the empire from his son’s expansionism. The tragic nature of the situation is beautifully conveyed. “Víctima y verdugo” [Victim and Executioner, 2006] is a superb Conradian adventure tale of a Spanish official sent to a jungle situated at the borders of the empire to investigate the fate of a Catholic mission, and of his discovery of a mad priest perfectly integrated into a sadomasochist tribe whose culture is both disturbingly alien and true to deeply ingrained human impulses. “Bajo estrellas feroces” [Under Ferocious Stars, 2008] is a story of love and military heroism set on the North African front against the Turks. Las cuitas de los ingenieros [The Troubles of Engineers, 2015] turns the literary rivalry between Spanish Golden Age classical authors Francisco de Quevedo and Luis de Góngora into an engineering one, suggesting that national genius would have been better employed in advancing technology instead of focusing on art and literature.

Vaquerizo has also contributed a fine and intelligent narrative, “Piedras” [Stones, 2014], to Crónicas de tinieblas [Chronicles of Darkness, 2014], a collection of short stories by more than fifteen authors who have adopted the world of Tinieblas as a shared fictional universe. This fact stresses the central position occupied by Vaquerizo’s alternate universe in the recent evolution of the genre in Spain. As in every collection of this kind, the texts are unequal, but all tend to fill gaps in the overall alternate history by putting concrete content into the framework Vaquerizo offers in the appendix to Memoria de tinieblas, as well as in the “Cronología” [Chronology] that opens the collective volume. These pieces, written in historiographic form, are the main source for getting better acquainted with the essence of Ruling Hispania. These are, therefore, most relevant for comparison purposes.

Among these historiographic ancillary texts, “Imperio: cuatro siglos de asombro” [Empire: Four Centuries of Wonder, 2013] looks like a tribute to Fabra’s “Cuatro siglos de buen gobierno.” In Vaquerizo’s text, a fictional alternate historian reflects on the possible evolution of the imperial economy if the policies of the first Spanish Hapsburgs had not been modified under John of Austria. The result would have been the decadence that took place in actual history, instead of the development portayed in Vaquerizo’s alternate Spain. This evolution is not, however, as completely positive as in Fabra’s scenario.9 Wealth is unevenly distributed: there is a minority of extremely rich people, a shrinking middle class, and a majority excluded from the benefits of the system. This feudal-capitalist class structure allows the historian to express some doubts about the desirability of this evolution.10 Even a superficial reading of Memoria de tinieblas seems to confirm these doubts, thus excluding any nationalistic agenda in Vaquerizo’s alternate history. Moreover, although the technological leadership of Spain is described in a further appendix as having its roots in local traditions, it depends on the fortunate invention in the early seventeenth century of the steampunk Écija combustion engine, which triggered an industrial revolution like the one that occurred in actual history thanks to the British steam engine. It was not due to any alternate Spanish manifest destiny.

Chance is responsible for Spanish religious reform as well. Since the Pope opposes John of Austria and excommunicates him, the new king founds a national, independent church which looks more Gallic (the clerical structure is preserved) than Anglican. His example is followed by the French, who become allies to Spain, while Britain and the Northern European countries revert to Catholicism and became historically irrelevant. This development suggests that the preferred historical model is France rather than the Anglo-Saxon countries. Nevertheless, contrary to Fabra’s story and actual French history, Vaquerizo seems to embrace the idea in his Tinieblas series that Catholicism deters freedom of thought and research, as well as scientific and technological progress, which is also more or less clearly stated in many Ruled Britannia stories. This idea could be easily refuted by the fact that several of the most important early scientists, as well as sf writers, were French and Italian Catholics, while Bible-literalist Protestants are to be found in huge numbers in the US. In this context, although Vaquerizo’s choice can be related to a lasting tradition of Spanish anticlericalism against the local Catholic church, the influence of Roberts’s Pavane and other similar alternate histories in English must not be excluded, since Anglo-American views on history and culture are currently so powerful that they have become hard to dismiss, even when they are doubtful or historically unfounded. This can also be seen if we look at the appendix on the history of New Burgundy. Although this population is mostly formed by fugitives fleeing the repression of a failed French Revolution, like the Paris Commune, Vaquerizo places them in the American revolutionary states. The US as the land of freedom is thereby alluded to, but that land of freedom and the American myth of the rural, self-sustaining, hard-working pioneers is contrasted with the oligarchic Spanish monarchy governing this Tinieblas world. The whig interpretation of history is thus endorsed, despite questions about its pro-capitalist element.

Conclusion. Actual history seems to have deprived Spanish alternate history writers of an alternative discourse. The whig conception was nuanced when imported to the Iberian Peninsula, but it still underpins the alternate conquering Spains by Vaquerizo and others, such as Juan Manuel Santiago, whose “Tierra de venados” [Stag Land, 1999] is a masterfully written short story depicting an Aztec empire that survives by apparently adopting European civilization, before massacring all Spaniards, including King Philip II himself during his visit there.11 Vaquerizo is certainly not as extreme as Santiago in amending Spanish history in such a humiliating way. The Tinieblas series shows that the Spanish Empire, as a historical reality, needs correction rather than celebration, being a dark period even in the improved version ruled by John of Austria’s dynasty. For every empire is dark, despite the celebration of the alleged virtues of the British and American ones as inherently different (more progressive and humane) in most Ruled Britannia alternate histories, which usually forget the dire fate of Irish Catholics under the conquest of Elizabeth I, for example. Vaquerizo tells us otherwise, and does so with such success that his work should not be dismissed by anyone interested in alternate history.12


1. There is now an extensive bibliography on this subgenre. Among the definitions that have been proposed, I use the following: “Alternate History ist eine Form der Allotopie, in der mittels einer hinreichenden Anzahl kohärenter historischer Referenzen eine fiktionale Welt entworfen wird, die innerhalb der Fiktion das Resultat eines kontrafaktischen Geschichtsverlaufs ist” [alternate history is a form of allotopy where a sufficient number of coherent historical references is used to create a fictional world that is the result of a counterfactual course of history] (Korthals 169). For a comprehensive overview of the subgenre, see Singles. For a further taxonomy, see Hellekson. All translations of quotations and titles are mine.

2. “[S]f is notoriously given to ‘Whig history,’ i.e., the tendency to write on the side of the Protestant and Whigs … to emphasize certain principles of progress in the past, and to produce a story which is the ratification of the present. Marathon and Tours, Renaissance and Reformation, victories over kings and slavers and Reichs: any switch in this triumphal procession down the ringing grooves of change could only leave Progress itself derailed” (Chamberlain 291).

3. “[D]ystopian AH texts reassure the reader that she, indeed, does not live in the worst possible times and it justifies past historical events about which she feels ambivalent” (Ransom 261).

4. “Es ist geradezu frappierend, in welchem Maße die beiden alternate worlds-Romane von anti-‘papistischen’ Gemeinplätzen bestimmt werden.… Wesentlich für die antipapistische Tradition ist die Auffasung, dass geistige Selbstbestimmung und wahre Zivilisation, Wissenschaft und Fortschritt nur in einem von der Vorherrschaft und Vormundschaft Roms freien England möglich sind” [it is striking to see to what extent the two alternate-world novels are determined by antipapal clichés. It is essential for the antipapist tradition that spiritual self-determination and true civilization, science, and progress can only be found in England, free from the supremacy and the tutelage of Rome] (Dose 330).

5. Counterfactual histories written by historians proposing possible different outcomes of the Invincible Armada’s expedition are not considered here.

6. There are a few overviews of Spanish alternate history: Merelo Solá, Hesles Sánchez (475-599). From an international perspective, some Spanish alternate histories are considered by Rodiek.

7. In Castilian-Spanish Spain, compensatory alternate histories are rare, although one could mention “Fuego sobre San Juan” [Fire on San Juan, 1999] by Pedro A. García Bilbao and Javier Sánchez Reyes, which is a forking-paths story, mainly featuring a reality in which Spain successfully stopped the US invasion of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines during the 1898 Spanish-American war.

8. “[T]he uchronian emphasis on physical symbols of archaism … may serve to dramatize change visually to a reader age-group concerned with cars and clothes” (Chamberlain 291).

9. “Ambos se decantaron por una España imperial; utópica, en el caso de Cuatro siglos de buen gobierno, y oscura, sin llegar a distópica, en el de Danza de tinieblas” [both opted for an imperial Spain: utopian, in “Four Centuries of Good Governance,” and dark, without being dystopian, in Dance of darkness] (Hesles Sánchez 514).

10. “Es esta ambientación, que aúna las desigualdades de una sociedad estamental con las de una capitalista, la que centra la crítica en Danza de Tinieblas” [the critique in Dance of Darkness is focused on this setting, which conflates the inequalities of a stratified society in the style of the Ancient Régime with those of capitalism] (Sancho Villar 17).

11. A further example of reversed Spanish colonial history is Alfred Ahlmann’s rather confusing story “Kortés en los infiernos” [Kortez in Hell, 2001], in which theocratic and racist Aztecs invade the Iberian Peninsula and name it New Tenochtitlan.

12. This study is part of the project HAR2015-65957-P included in the state-funded Spanish National RDI Plan, 2016-2018.

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