Over at Tor.com, Ekaterina Sedia has a post on Challenges of Writing Alternate History Set in Other Cultures. Here’s an excerpt:
As someone who writes steampunk set outside of the familiar western milieu, I find it extremely challenging – because many readers do not have a very detailed picture of Russian or Chinese real history, one of the images required to make a comparison to spot the differences is either vague or missing, and I found with my work that this lack of a clear image tends to draw criticism along the lines of “I’m not sure what alternate history element was and why it mattered.”
When I wrote my alternate-history adventure Heart of Iron, I decided the point of departure would be a Decembrist rebellion that actually succeeded. From there, I painstakingly extrapolated possible social and political effects: freed serfs create a surplus of employable labor that can be occupied to increase industrialization and railroad building, all in line with liberal reformism of the new Emperor Constantin; early railroads resulting in Transsiberian railroad leading to strengthening ties with China, which at the time was between the two Opium wars and in the middle of Taiping rebellion; education and property reforms after a British model to feed Constantin’s presumed Anglomania, etc…. But I found that because it was an unfamiliar setting, many readers and reviewers weren’t sure where, exactly, the history had been altered.