1. Our web server is getting tweaked this week and as a result some links are behaving strange. We're working on getting everything back to normal ASAP.
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Alien Soup is a free community for fans of science-fiction, horror, & fantasy! Everybody is welcome here.

The Separation by Christopher Priest

Discussion in 'Books' started by Anthony G Williams, Jul 5, 2008.

Tags:
  1. Anthony G Williams

    Anthony G Williams Greybeard Writer

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2007
    Location:
    UK
    The Separation by Christopher Priest

    'The Separation' technically falls within the increasingly popular sub-genre (or would that be sub-sub-genre?) of alternate histories of World War 2. Since I have written one of those myself (The Foresight War) I read this book with more than usual interest.

    The overriding impression I formed is of the vast difference which can exist in the way in which nominally similar themes are handled. At one extreme comes my own effort, which is a nuts and bolts analysis of how foreknowledge of events by those in power in Britain and Germany (thanks to time-travellers) might have affected strategies, tactics and equipment, and how the war might have turned out differently as a result. Christopher Priest's novel is at the other end of the spectrum.

    'The Separation' is a fascinating intellectual exercise portraying different versions of reality. The tale starts in an alternate 1999, in which an historian is collecting material for a book about an RAF officer, J L Sawyer, who appeared to have played a mysterious part in the events which led up to the ending of the Anglo-German War in May 1941. The rest of the book consists of the material which he found: accounts from various viewpoints, correspondence and official notes of meetings.

    It soon becomes clear that much confusion had been caused by the fact that there were two J L Sawyers: identical twins named Jack and Joe. Their contrasting personal accounts make up much of the book. We first meet them at the 1936 Olympics where they are rowing together, but they fall out and their paths diverge shortly thereafter. As war looms, one becomes a bomber pilot in the RAF, the other a conscientious objector working for the Red Cross.

    As the viewpoint shifts from one person to another, so does the path of history. In one account, one of the brothers is killed; in another, the other one dies; and in a possible third they both survive. In one timeline one brother marries and has a daughter; in another, the other brother marries the same woman and has a son. In the wider context, one thread sees the war lasting until 1945 while another describes its ending in 1941. Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess apparently flies to Britain (but is he a fake?) in one account, and plays an important role in negotiating the peace in another. The confusion is not helped by the fact that one of the brothers suffers from powerful, extended and entirely realistic hallucinations following a head injury: are the experiences he recounts imaginary or real? He doesn't know, and neither do we. There is a final twist in the tail of the tale, concerning the identity of the historian researching the story.

    With such internal contradictions the story is difficult to follow, or even to make sense of afterwards: do not hope for a tidy ending in which all is explained! This all may sound like an exercise in frustration, but the high quality of Priest's writing draws the reader into the novel. Don't look for dramatic action or much in the way of the technicalities of war; there is much well-researched detail on the bombing campaign, from the viewpoints of those delivering it and of those on the receiving end, but that's about it. The pleasures of this surreal story are more subtle. It is like a kaleidoscope; keep turning and the same elements keep falling into different patterns.

    Some aspects are not entirely convincing. There is brief mention of events outside NW Europe following the 1941 end of the war, in which the USA becomes involved in extended conflict in Asia and, for no clearly explained reason, becomes a failed, gangster-run state which it remains even half a century later. There is much about Churchill, but the way in which he suddenly changed his mind over an important issue did not strike me as realistic.

    Despite these reservations, the novel can be strongly recommended to readers who appreciate high-quality story-telling and enjoy having their perceptions repeatedly overturned.

    (This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)
     
  2. Kevin

    Kevin Code Monkey Staff Abductee

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2004
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Tony, thanks for the write-up.

    The topic of alternate WWII timelines has come up before and, till reading your blog entry, it never really struck me that there are indeed so many titles out there that it could be considered a genre wholey upon itself.

    Can you think of titles that might fall into this genre that would be considered a "must read" item?
     
  3. Tom

    Tom An Old Friend

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2004
    Location:
    Gulf Coast
    Called Alternate History and it is a genre of SciFi

    IE: SFBC

    [​IMG] THE SKY PEOPLE
    by S.M. Stirling
    Tor Books / November, 2006 / Ready to Ship
    Member Edition: $12.49 / Publisher Edition: $24.95 /
    In an alternate 1988, the US vies with the Soviet Union for control of a Venus that mimics a prehistoric Earth. How can this be? Marc Vitrac and his scientist cohorts will find that the answer could threaten Earth itself.


    [​IMG] 1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS
    by Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce
    Baen Books / October, 2007 / Ready to Ship
    Member Edition: $15.99 / Publisher Edition: $26.00 /
    Maria Anna of Austria is set to marry the Duke of Bavaria—until two abducted Grantville women come under her protection.





    [​IMG] 1634: THE BALTIC WAR
    by Eric Flint and David Weber

    Baen Pub. Enterprises / May, 2007 / Ready to Ship
    Member Edition: $15.49 / Publisher Edition: $26.00 /
    The latest Ring of Fire book finds the time-lost Americans of Grantville, W. VA., preparing to break the enemy blockade with ironclad warships. But Europe's tyrants are busy on secret projects of their own….


    [​IMG] MACARTHUR'S WAR
    by Douglas Niles and Michael Dobson
    Forge Books / May, 2007 / Ready to Ship
    Member Edition: $14.99 / Publisher Edition: $27.95 /
    The Navy has lost at Midway, the Manhattan Project is stalled, and FDR's popularity has plummeted. American needs a hero, and Douglas MacArthur is happy to step up. But how far will he take America in his bid for power?


    [​IMG] HITLER TRIUMPHANT
    Edited by Peter G. Tsouras
    Greenhill Books / August, 2006 / Ready to Ship
    Member Edition: $15.99 / Publisher Edition: $29.95 /
    What if the Allies' never broke the ENIGMA code? Or if Italy had built a fleet of aircraft carriers? WW II scholars imagine 11 alternate history scenarios and follow them though to the chilling natural conclusion: Hitler triumphant. (288 pp.)


    [​IMG] SETTLING ACCOUNTS: DRIVE TO THE EAST
    by Harry Turtledove
    Del Rey Books / August, 2005 / Ready to Ship
    Member Edition: $9.99 / Publisher Edition: $26.95 /
    1942: The all-out war between the USA and the Confederacy grinds on. CSA bombers have killed US Pres. Al Smith and now push to take Philadelphia, where V.P. La Follette ascends to power. The bloodshed is escalating, but the worst is yet to come.





    [​IMG] SETTLING ACCOUNTS: RETURN ENGAGEMENT
    by Harry Turtledove

    Ballantine / August, 2004 / Ready to Ship
    Member Edition: $7.99 / Publisher Edition: $26.95 /
    Jake Featherston is determined to crush the United States. Led by General George Patton, the C.S.A.’s blitzkrieg cuts its northern neighbor in half. In its wake, the war machine spins a storm of destruction that not even Featherston can control.





    [​IMG] DINOTOPIA: JOURNEY TO CHANDARA
    by James Gurney

    Andrews & Mcmeel / October, 2007 / Ready to Ship
    Member Edition: $16.99 / Publisher Edition: $29.95 /
    Beguiling images follow the continuing adventures of Prof. Denison and his son Will across the island of Dinotopia.




    [​IMG] DAYS OF INFAMY
    by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen
    St. Martin's Press / April, 2008 / Ready to Ship
    Member Edition: $14.99 / Publisher Edition: $26.95 /
    The astonishing sequel to the acclaimed alternate history Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th, 1941.
     
  4. Kevin

    Kevin Code Monkey Staff Abductee

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2004
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I meant that there are so many WWII related titles out there. ;) You don't see to many alternate timelines of, say, the Spanish-American war or even WWI. WWII, on the other hand, seems to be a pretty popular topic.
     
  5. Tom

    Tom An Old Friend

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2004
    Location:
    Gulf Coast
    Oh, yea, I noticed that too.
    I bought my mom-in-law an AH novel on the civil war a couple years ago- She's really into the civil war and has read all the factual stuff. She read that book and is still thanking me for inroducing her to something new.
    I forget what book it was. AH Civil war I know for sure and I got it from the SFBC so Its probably still available.
     
  6. Tom

    Tom An Old Friend

    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2004
    Location:
    Gulf Coast
    Have you ever explored all the timeline crossing that happens in the Wold universe?
     
  7. Anthony G Williams

    Anthony G Williams Greybeard Writer

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2007
    Location:
    UK
    I called it a "sub-sub forum" in my review, because I regard Alternate History as a sub-forum of Science Fiction (although some disagree), so AltHist focusing on WW2 (which is indeed the most popular topic) is really a sub-forum of that.

    There is a large number of AltHist WW2 books, perhaps the best known being P K Dick's The Man in the High Castle and Robert Harris' Fatherland.

    There is also a flourishing little sector of "what if?" style non-fiction, some written by academic historians, exploring the possible consequences if key decisions or events had happened differently.

    I discussed different views on the definition of AltHist here: http://sciencefictionfantasy.blogspot.com/2008/03/bsfa-vector-novdec-2007.html
     

Share This Page