We all know that Leif Ericson beat Christopher Columbus to the New World, but Chris gets his own holiday because his voyage marks the beginning of Europe's influence in the New World. But what if someone had beaten the Europeans to the punch? What if no culture ever developed the technology or drive to find the continent? What if the Americas’ indigenous peoples formed a federation and dealt with Europe on an equal footing? Fortunately, alternate historians have cooked up plenty of speculative American discovery narratives to keep you busy for Columbus Day.
Opening Atlantis by Harry Turtledove: At some point in the Earth’s geological history, the region from Florida to Nova Scotia has broken off from the rest of North America, forming a separate continent. The paradisial continent, named Atlantis, is discovered by English explorers in 1453 and subsequently settled. Atlantis proves a focal point in the English, French, and Spanish struggles for power. The rest of North America, called Terranova, is subsequently discovered, but Atlantis is an impediment for Europeans trying to reach it.
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson: In world where 99% of Medievel Europe’s population was wiped out by the bubonic plague, Islamic and Buddhist societies emerge as the world’s dominant powers by the 15th century. Chinese explorers discover North America, which they name Yingzhou. And after the Chinese armies conquer Japan, many Japanese flee to Yingzhou, joining their power with that of the native Hodenosaunee federation.
Conquistador by S.M. Stirling: In 1946, an infantry captain accidentally creates a gate to an alternate universe in which Europeans have not yet journeyed to the New World. North America remains untouched by outside forces, but the Aztec Empire has run its course and is crumbling. The captain takes the opportunity to colonize the alternate California, bringing with him modern technology, disease, and an antebellum mindset.
Lion’s Blood by Steven Barnes: Thanks to the Carthaginian destruction of Rome, an Islamic Africa becomes the dominant political and technological power in the West. Africa develops steam power by the year 1000, allowing it to easily reach and colonize the New World. But, by the 19th century, North America, named Bilalistan, resembles a racially inverted version of the United States we know. Mexico remains the province of the Aztecs, but expansion West by Bilalistanis has led to clashes with the indigenous peoples. The lower class is comprised largely of those of European descent, and African- and Arab-descended Bilalistanis can keep European slaves.
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card: Instead of seeking out the New World, Columbus led an army to Constantinople in the Crusades. This act would, many centuries later, lead to the destruction of the human race. So a group of time travelers diverted him to America, altering the timeline. Unfortunately, Columbus’ discovery of America similarly dooms our own timeline, so another group of time travelers is again sent back to alter the political structure of the Europe’s first dealings with the native peoples of the West.