David L. Ulin at The LA Times:
What makes the best alternate histories effective is how plausible they are. Just look at Philip K. Dick’s 1962 masterpiece “The Man in the High Castle,” with its vision of America divided after having lost World War II to Germany and Japan. Or Norman Spinrad’s “Russian Spring” (1991), in which a know-nothing politician becomes president on a platform of jingoism and foreign intervention (sound familiar?) when an anti-American mob in Paris riots at the U.S. Embassy.
The key, Philip Roth once suggested of his own “The Plot Against America” — which posits the slow drift of a particularly nativist fascism after Charles Lindbergh wins the 1940 presidential election — is to keep the focus realistic.
“I told myself,” Roth explained, “the simplest thing to do — and perhaps the best thing to do — was to change just one thing: that is, the result of the 1940 election. Have Lindbergh run and win. But leave everything else in place.”
As a result, his imagined America, much like Dick’s or Spinrad’s, is one we recognize despite (or even because of) the differences, a place where the World Series is still played and certain constitutional safeguards, albeit diluted, remain.