Alien space bats

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"Alien space bats" ("ASBs") is a neologism for plot devices used in alternate history to mean an implausible point of divergence.


"Alien space bats" originally was used as a sarcastic attack on poorly written alternative histories due to lack of plausibility. These attacks are usually phrased as the need for "alien space bats" or by saying the alternative history has gone into "ASB territory". The term eventually evolved into a reference to deus ex machina to create an impossible point of divergences.[1] Examples include changes to the physical laws of nature, time travel, and advanced aliens interfering in human affairs. An example of the latter is Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series.[2]


The term "alien space bats" was first coined, then popularized in the Usenet group soc.history.what-if.[3] Alison Brooks (1959–2002) is credited as the creator of the term, using it to debunk the possibility of a successful Operation Sea Lion by saying the only way it could be successful was if alien space bats helped the Nazis.[4][5] Brooks regretted the use of the ASBs as a supernatural agency, preferring to restrict them to rhetoric.[1]

S. M. Stirling credited Brooks with creating the term in the acknowledgments section of Dies the Fire, in which he changed the laws of physics,[6] and also used the plot device to send Nantucket back in time in Island in the Sea of Time.[7][8] One character throughout Dies the Fire and its sequels believes the change to the laws of nature was done by an advanced alien race because the changes were finely tailored, and refers to this race as alien space bats.[9][10] In a review of Dies the Fire, Dale Cozort addressed the perceived implausibility of the novel by saying "Just say to yourself, 'The elder gods or alien space bats took our toys away and that’s all there is to it.'"[11] Paul Di Filippo uses the term often when reviewing the series.[8][12] The term also appeared in John Birmingham's 2008 novel Without Warning.[13] In the UK, "space bats" was a term used by Professor Denzil Dexter, a character in the TV comedy series The Fast Show, first appearing in Series 1, Episode 5, broadcast on 10.25.94.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Stas Bekman. "What are the Alien Space Bats? (soc.history.what-if)". Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  2. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Changing the Times. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  3. ^ soc.history.what-if
  4. ^ Alison Brooks (1999-04-15). "Alien Space Bats: A History". soc.history.what-if. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
  5. ^ a b Matt Riggsby (November 18, 2005). "Alien Space Bats for GURPS Fourth Edition". Pyramid. Retrieved 19 December 2008.
  6. ^ Stirling, S. M. (2004). Dies the Fire. New York: Roc. pp. 496. ISBN 0-451-45979-2.
  7. ^ Christopher Nuttall. "Alison Brooks". Changing the Times. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  8. ^ a b Paul Di Filippo. "Off the Shelf: Dies the Fire". Book Review. Archived from the original on 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  9. ^ "S. M. Stirling: Turning Points". Interview. Locus Online. January 2006. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  10. ^ S. M. Stirling. "The Protector's War Chapter 2". Sample Chapter. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  11. ^ Dale Cozort (2004). "Review: Dies The Fire - By Steve Stirling". Dale Cozort's Alternate History Newsletter. Archived from the original on March 28, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  12. ^ Filippo, Paul Di (September 5, 2005). "The Protector's War". Book review. Sci Fi Weekly. Archived from the original on October 22, 2006. Retrieved 28 November 2008.
  13. ^ Birmingham, John (2009). Without Warning. New York: Del Rey Books. pp. 33, 261. ISBN 978-0-345-50289-6.
  14. ^ Harrison, Niall; Dan Hartland (2005-12-15). "Two Views: Learning the World by Ken Macleod". Book Review. Strange Horizons. Archived from the original on 2008-05-17. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  15. ^ "Ken MacLeod: Politics & SF". Interview. Locus Online. September 2006. Retrieved 2008-10-08.

External links[edit]

Interactive sites[edit]

Non-interactive sites[edit]