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"Alien space bats" ("ASBs") is a neologism for plot devices used in alternate history to create a point of divergence that would otherwise be implausible.


"Alien space bats" originally was used as a sarcastic attack on poorly written alternate histories due to lack of plausibility. These attacks are usually phrased as the need for alien space bats or by saying the alternate history has gone into "ASB territory". This original definition was used by one critic to criticize Harry Harrison's Stars and Stripes trilogy.[1] The term eventually evolved into a reference to deus ex machina to create an impossible point of divergences.[2] Examples include changes to the physical laws of nature, introducing magic into the world, time travel, and advanced aliens interfering in human affairs. An example of the latter is Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series.[3]


The term "alien space bats" was first coined, then popularized in the usenet group soc.history.what-if. 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.[2]

S. M. Stirling credited Brooks with creating the term in the acknowledgments section of Dies the Fire[6] and also used the plot device to send Nantucket back in time in Island in the Sea of Time and change the laws of nature in Dies the Fire.[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]

Alien space bats in popular culture[edit]

  • In Ken MacLeod's Learning the World alien space bats actually appear as characters in the novel as an in-joke.[14][15]
  • The gaming magazine Pyramid published an article describing how someone could play as an alien space bat in a role-playing game.[5]
  • Steven H Silver's "Bats in the Bayou," tells the story of an alien space bat invasion of the Texas bayous.[16]
  • In Failbetter Games' browser game Fallen London, Victorian-era London was literally stolen by alien bats from space.
  • In Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires, and the Tobe Hooper film adaptation Lifeforce, the titular creatures are depicted as bat-like extraterrestrials found (apparently long-dead) aboard a derelict alien spacecraft on the outer edges of Earth's solar system.
  • In the two-part Doctor Who story entitled "School Reunion," the Doctor and Rose Tyler team up with Sara Jane Smith to battle an alien race called the Krillitane, who assimilate the most useful genetic parts of the other races they conquer, such as the flying ability of the bat-like Bessan.
  • Giant, non-sentient chiropterids were often used by the villainous Creature King against his arch-enemy Space Ghost, in the 1960s Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon show of the same name.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bryn Monnery. "Robert Conroy’s "1862: A Novel": a Critical Analysis". Archived from the original on 2009-10-19. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  2. ^ a b Stas Bekman. "What are the Alien Space Bats? (soc.history.what-if)". stason.org. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  3. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Changing the Times. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  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. p. 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. SciFi.com. 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. smstriling.com. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  11. ^ Dale Cozort (2004). "Review: Dies The Fire - By Steve Stirling". Dale Cozort's Alternate History Newsletter. Retrieved 2008-10-08. [dead link]
  12. ^ Filippo, Paul Di (September 5, 2005). "The Protector's War". Book review. Sci Fi Weekly. Retrieved 28 November 2008. [dead link]
  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. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  15. ^ "Ken MacLeod: Politics & SF". Interview. Locus Online. September 2006. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  16. ^ Greenberg, Martin H. (2009). Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies. New York: DAW. pp. 239–259. ISBN 978-0-7564-0582-3. 

External links[edit]

Interactive sites[edit]

Non-interactive sites[edit]

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