Sci-Fi Roads Not Taken, edited by Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt

Anthony G Williams

Roads Not Taken, edited by Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt

Another long-standing member of my reading pile! This anthology, published in 1998, consists of alternate history stories which appeared in the magazines Asimov's Science Fiction and Analog Science Fiction and Fact, whose editors have made the selection. The book commences with a brief introduction to alternate history by Shelly Shapiro, Executive Editor of Del Rey Books. There are ten stories, as follows:

Must and Shall by Harry Turtledove (1995). Set in the American Civil War, in which one new event dramatically changes history – but not, unusually, the victor – with dire long-term consequences.

An Outpost of the Empire by Robert Silverberg (1991). One of the author's Roma series, in which the Roman Empire survived to the present day. A new Roman proconsul arrives to take responsibility for Venice, but a high-born lady of the city is determined to be in charge.

We Could Do Worseby Gregory Benford (1989). A dystopian USA in which the changed outcome of a 1950s presidential election has disastrous results.

Over There by Mike Resnick (1991). Theodore Roosevelt successfully campaigns to reform his Rough Riders to take a decisive role in World War 1. For once, this story is not concerned with significant changes in history, but only the consquences of the change for individuals.

Ink from the New Moonby A.A. Attanasio (1992). A world in which the great Chinese naval explorations of the fifteenth century were continued instead of abandoned, resulting in the Chinese occupation of the "Americas". The story concerns what happened when Christopher Columbus arrives and meets the Chinese inhabitants.

Southpaw by Bruce McAllister (1993). Apparently Fidel Castro was once such a promising young baseball player that he was offered a contract by a major US team. He spent some time considering it before turning it down. But what if he had accepted?

The West is Red by Greg Costikyan (1994). Suppose that communism had lived up to its promise and provided a more efficient system of running a country than capitalism? A very different post-1945 world emerges…

The Forest of Timeby Michael F. Flynn (1987). A time-traveller, desperate to get home but lost in the ever-branching possible worlds his own journeys are creating, arrives in an alternate world in which the USA has never been formed. Unusually, this story is seen from the perspective of a native of that world, as he tries to judge whether the man is insane, a liar, or telling the truth.

Aristotle and the Gunby L. Sprague de Camp (1958). A disillusioned scientist working on a time-travel machine decides to use it to escape from his unsatisfactory life. He chooses to go back to meet Aristotle in the hope of guiding his scientific development, with unexpected consequences. "Be careful what you wish for" might be the sub-title!

How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion by Gene Wolfe (1973). An amusing story concerning a late-1930s world in which Hitler had decided to go for economic rather than military domination. Meanwhile, the narrator and his friend were working on a board game involving a war in Europe.

I hadn't come across any of these stories before, so this was an interesting read. They are all good, which should come as no surprise given the editors, but the stand-out one for me was Flynn's tale. It is the longest, at 70 pages, which gave the author the space to develop his characters and their situation. The distress of the time traveller, separated from his lover by the every-growing forest of alternate worlds, strikes a chord. It was nominated for a Hugo award, entirely justified given that it is written so well and to such haunting effect. Like most of the other stories here, it gives a convincing portrayal of how minor changes can have major consequences.

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