What is the point of graphic gore in a what-if "historical" novel?

I asked myself this question going through the reviews of a speculative novel about Gettysburg by (egads) Newt Gingrich. ("You will fret over every agonizing decision and cringe at every gory, and I do mean gory, detail."). Gory details in an alternative history.

Back before Newt went to college, I read a Harry Turtledove alternate history novel on Gettysburg. It was not gory but it was an empty experience for me, melodrama signifying nothing. My friends used to call this stuff "mind rot." Harry is still at it, amazingly enough.

The writers who do well with this material are the satirists. Grant Speaks was a decent effort by a novice writer who fell flat while delivering a few laughs - but who made us feel cheap for laughing at a sincere patriot.

The sci-fi fantasy We Can Build You by Philip K. Dick had Civil War themes. The idea of the protagonists was to build ACW theme parks with robot re-enactors shooting live ammo at each other. A Lincoln robot is built and escapes; a Stanton robot is sent to find it. Love is found and lost on the way. This was written before the re-enactment craze, in the sixties.

Dick's better-known alternative history is The Man in the High Castle, set in an America partitioned by Hitler and Tojo. It's dull, lacking even the bitter humor underlying Ishmael Reed's Japanese by Spring, in which a California university's most PC department easily adjusts to management by WWII-era Japanese fascists.

Turtledove is this far ahead of Reed and Gingrich: he is blending his alternative history settings. He has a series in which the victorious Confederate States interact with the victorious Nazis in a double "what-if." This kind of genre melding was mocked in a joke booklist many years ago, one that featured "Cats of the Third Reich," and the "The Abraham Lincoln UFO Files." Maybe Harry didn't read that issue of the National Lampoon. Or perhaps the money to be made is very good.

Really, the sky is the limit with alternative histories. The sky has more substance, however.