The Mechanical, by Ian TregellisRead about another entry on the list.
This one is less alternate world than alternate timeline, but I’m including it because it’s one of the few such tales that uses a lesser-trodden empire for its model: the Dutch. In this timeline, the sun never set on Holland’s, all the way up to the year 1926, by which time it has become the world’s superpower. The empire’s rival and enemy for influence is not England but France, although the content of their conflict—Protestants v. Catholics—is all too familiar. Each empire has mastered different kinds of technology, bolstering their power. For the French, it is chemistry. For the Dutch, it is mechanics and clockworks, and, specifically, robots. One such robot, Jax, is 118 years old and perfectly sentient. He is kept in a state of servitude by his programming, which forbids rebellion and threatens destruction for any deviations. Jax’s capability for free thought comes to seem cruel in the context of his world, and more so the more he uncovers about himself and his kind. This is a book jammed with ideas; anyone looking to engage with issues of identity, freedom, and the effects of colonization on the individual should most certainly give it a try.