Historical Fiction / Science Fiction

11 Quasi-Historical Books Like 11/22/63

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Three shots fired in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 changed the world. President Kennedy was assassinated and there was no going back. Or was there? 

Stephen King’s gripping story about a teacher who goes back in time to stop the killing of JFK is one of the author’s most popular novels. And even though King’s writing style is fairly unique, there are other books similar in subject and tone to 11/22/63 that will enthrall his fans. If you enjoy histories rewritten or stories about lovers fighting something bigger than themselves, these books will be right up your alley. 

1. Numero Zero, by Umberto Eco 

Set in 1992 Milan, Numero Zero tells the story of Colonna, a hack journalist down on his luck. He gets hired by an emerging newspaper financed by a powerful media magnate. The newspaper’s editor has a paranoid theory that Mussolini’s death was faked and a part of a greater Fascist conspiracy. The aim of the newspaper is to reveal the truth about everything, and this is going to be the scoop they so desperately need to survive. The evidence, however, is still lacking, but things change when a dead body appears in a back alley in Milan… Written as a satire of the tabloid press, Numero Zero deals with the question of “What if?” and features everything from the mafia and CIA to gossip and love. 

2. Replay, by Ken Grimwood 

Considered a precursor of Harold Ramis’ famous comedy Groundhog Day, Replay is a fantasy novel that centers on a 43-year-old Jeff Winston, stuck in an unhappy marriage and a dead-end job as a radio journalist. He dies of a heart attack in 1988 and wakes up back in 1963 as an 18-year-old student. He starts reliving his life, retaining all of his memories of the next 25 years. However, despite his best efforts, he dies again at 43 and reawakens again as a college boy. The “replays” go in cycles, each one starting a little later than the previous, and Jeff gets repeated opportunities to live his life differently. 

3. The Wall, by John Lanchester 

The Wall is a dystopian fable set in Britain in a time similar to our own. Left in ruins after a climatic event referred to as the Change, the UK builds the Wall–a gigantic concrete barrier– around its entire coastline. After the Change, travelling to other countries is illegal, and every young man in Britain is now obliged to spend two years defending a portion of the Wall from Others, people trapped in the rising seas and who constantly try to climb over. It’s Joseph Kavanagh’s turn to become a Defender, but his task isn’t easy. Life on the Wall is grim, boring, and cold, and should he fail to protect his section of the barrier, he faces death or exile. 

Joseph tries to live up to the expectations of his superiors, but he also falls in love with Hifa, a fellow Defender. And even though he wishes to avoid the clash with Others, a part of him wonders what it would be like if he actually had to fight for his life. 

4. Flashforward, by Robert J. Sawyer

Just like three shots changed the world in 11/22/63, two minutes and 17 seconds changed the world in Flashforward. Without any warning, everybody on Earth loses consciousness for over two minutes. As a result, millions die in car accidents, plane crashes, and any other incident caused by the collective blackout. But this isn’t the worst of it–during the blackout, people were able to get a glimpse of what their future holds, and their conjoined visions may have devastating consequences on the present. Flashforward offers intriguing views on quantum mechanics and free will, and it was adapted into a TV show on ABC in 2009. 

5. The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, by Stephen L. Carter 

In this legal thriller, Stephen L. Carter reimagines history by having Abraham Lincoln survive the assassination attempt at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Two years later, Lincoln is charged with overstepping his Constitutional authority during and after the Civil War, and he faces an impeachment trial. Abigail Canner is a young and ambitious black woman recently graduated from Oberlin, who gets hired by the Washington law firm undertaking Lincoln’s defense. When one of Lincoln’s lead defense lawyers ends up brutally murdered just before the trial, Abigail starts to untangle a web of politics, conspiracy, and intrigues that reaches all the way to the highest government positions. 

6. Vox, by Christina Dalcher 

Vox imagines a United States where women are legally prohibited from speaking more than 100 words per day. The words are counted by bracelets worn on their wrists, and going over this limit results in electric shocks. In addition to being silenced, women can no longer keep their jobs and girls are no longer taught to read and write. The novel’s protagonist Jen McClellan is a former doctor who tries to protect her daughter from this new world oriented toward hating women. She decides to fight against the system and help all American women regain their voices. 

7. Fallout, by Harry Turtledove

Fallout is an alternate history novel that focuses on Harry Truman and Josef Stalin. Turtledove’s vision of the Cold War era involves the United States and the Soviet Union unleashing their nuclear weapons on each other. Millions of people die and millions end up displaced. People of contrasting political ideologies fight side by side–Germans team up with Americans while Russian fascists join forces with Polish freedom fighters. These events are seen through the eyes of several captivating characters, some of which include a displaced Holocaust survivor, a vicious Soviet fighter, and a British pub owner who falls in love with an American pilot. Turtledove combines an epic war story with human struggle and in his novel, much like in real life, single moments determine the course of history. 

8. Timeline, by Michael Crichton

Like 11/22/63, Michael Crichton’s Timeline is a sci-fi novel involving time travel. After making a series of strange discoveries at a medieval site, a group of history students ends up in the headquarters of a covert corporation. The company has developed extremely advanced technology that will give the students a chance not only to study the past, but also to visit it. However, once they step back in time, not everything goes according to plan. Crichton successfully blends science, technology, and action in this thrilling piece, paying special attention to quantum and multiverse theory. 

9. Lady in the Lake, by Laura Lippman 

Described by Stephen King himself as “extraordinary,” Lady in the Lake tells the story of Maddie Shwartz, a housewife who leaves her husband to pursue her dreams and finally start living a meaningful life. The novel is set in Baltimore in the 1960s, the same time frame as 11/22/63, and it features a similar heroine, fighting for her place in a predominantly male world. Maddie assists the police in finding a murdered girl, which leads to her getting a job as a reporter for a local newspaper. She discovers a story about a young African American woman who was found dead in the city’s lake. Nobody else seems to care about how she ended up there, but Maddie is relentless in pursuit of the truth. 

10. The Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

Another example of an alternate history novel, The Man in the High Castle imagines the world as it might have been had the Axis Powers defeated the Allies. Set 15 years after World War II ended, the book describes the intrigues of Nazi Germany and Japan as they rule over the United States. Slavery is legal again, and the few surviving Jews hide under false names. Dick’s nightmarish vision of the world joins together science fiction and philosophical ideas. The book was adapted into a TV show on Amazon Prime in 2015. 

11. The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

In her debut novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger tells the story of Henry, a handsome, adventure-loving librarian, and his beautiful wife Clare, an art student. Their marriage would be perfect, except for one small impediment–Henry has been diagnosed with an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes him to unpredictably travel through time. Henry spontaneously disappears from time to time and finds himself in odd places, without any ability to control when this will happen and where he will end up. His experiences are terrifying and entertaining in equal amounts, and they leave a mark on his marriage. Told from both points of view, the story is a mixture of science fiction and romance. Nifferengger uses time travel as a device to explore miscommunication in relationships and the effect of time and distance on love. 

About Author

Ana is a freelance writer and an English teacher. She writes on everything from pet care and lifestyle to literature and environmental issues. In her downtime, you'll find her at the movies or hiking with friends.

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