The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Greenberg and Turtledove...

Anthony G Williams

Greybeard
Writer
Joined
Jul 14, 2007
Location
UK
The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Greenberg and Turtledove (Part 1)

This book was published in 2001 and I have to confess that it has been sitting at the bottom of one of my reading piles for a long time (well it's a large-format book, therefore its natural position is at the bottom for obvious stability reasons!). Following one of my sporadic attempts to tidy-up my room it came to my attention again so I thought it was about time I read it.

Its 400+ pages contain fourteen stories, plus an interesting introduction by Harry Turtledove which summarises the history of alternate fiction, going back to Livy some two thousand years ago. The stories are a very mixed bunch, as follows:

The Lucky Strikeby Kim Stanley Robinson. I have to admit that I am not a KSR fan, but this powerful story is brilliant. It assumes that the first nuclear bombing raid on Hiroshima was carried out by a different crew, and focuses on the moral dilemma of the bomb-aimer.

The Winterberry by Nicholas A. DiChario. This was rather mysterious on first reading, written from the viewpoint of a man who has the mind of a child with learning difficulties, who for some unexplained reason is permanently kept inside a huge mansion. It wasn't until after I had finished the story that light dawned as to who the man was, but Americans may get there faster than a Brit.

Islands in the Seaby Harry Turtledove. Set in an eighth century in which Muslim forces were even more successful, conquering Constantinople and ending the Byzantine Empire. Now the Muslims and Christians are competing to convert the pagan Bulgars, and delegations from each faith argue their cases before the khan of the Bulgars, with the main viewpoint being the Muslim representative. Interesting and amusing, as the practically-minded khan tries to balance the pros and cons of having to give up alcohol and pork in return for being allowed more wives plus a hedonistic afterlife.

Suppose They Gave a Peace by Susan Shwartz. Another one where it's initially difficult to work out what's going on. A war veteran reflects on the past and the uncomfortable present in the early 1970s, when McGovern rather than Nixon wins the Presidential election and the accelerated withdrawal from Vietnam has personal consequences.

All The Myriad Waysby Larry Niven. A brief but fascinating exploration of the possible psychological consequences of knowing that there are indeed countless parallel worlds containing slightly different versions of yourself.

Through Road No Whither by Greg Bear. Two Germans, a courier and an SS officer, get lost when travelling through occupied France and ask the way from a strange old woman who claims to have maps of time.

To be continued


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

screenersam

This is news, Vincenzo, NEWS!
Joined
Jan 30, 2009
Location
Maryland
I think I've read some of these.
I love alt history. I'll have to see if the library has.
hope you finish the review!
 

Anthony G Williams

Greybeard
Writer
Joined
Jul 14, 2007
Location
UK
The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, edited by Greenberg and Turtledove (Part 2)

Manassas, Again by Gregory Benford. A boy is caught up in a war between humans and rebel mechs (robots) against a very different historical background.

Dance Band on the Titanic by Jack L. Chalker. A sailor gets a job on a very mysterious ferry, which travels to places not found on maps and contains a remarkable variety of people, many of whom seem not to recognise each other's presence.

Bring the Jubileeby Ward More. I read this long story a couple of years ago and reviewed it on this blog in January 2012, so I didn't read it again.

Eutopia by Poul Anderson. This is the other story in this collection that I had previously read, but so long ago that I didn't remember much about it (except for the punchline, unfortunately!). The key is a different world in which Alexander the Great had lived to an old age, establishing a Hellenic Empire which survived to the present day, developing advanced science including the ability to travel between alternative worlds. A Hellene exploring one of these worlds flees the wrath of a local ruler in an alternative America, having unwittingly broken a local taboo.

The Undiscoveredby William Sanders. Told from the viewpoint of a native American at the time of the first European settlements, this world differs from history in that William Shakespeare is accidently transported to America and is captured by the natives, who he tries to impress by writing a play for them. Carefully researched, and simultaneously funny and sad.

Mozart in Mirrorshadesby Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner. A nightmare scenario in which travellers to alternate worlds are only interested in pillaging anything of value and couldn't care less about their impact on the locals. One such visit is to Vienna when Mozart is a lad, with unexpected consequences.

The Death of Captain Future by Allen Steele. A spaceship crewman down on his luck is forced to work with a captain lost in a fantasy that he is the Captain Future of old comic-book fame, but the situation changes when they investigate a distress call. Not obviously an alternative history story.

Moon of Ice by Brad Linaweaver. A story that starts with the state funeral of Hitler in 1965 is obviously in the "Nazis won World War 2" camp, in this case by being the first to develop the atomic bomb. What happens next is seen through the eyes of Joseph Goebbels as he becomes caught up with the very different agendas of his rebellious daughter and fanatical son.

Taking both parts of my review together, this is a difficult group to pick favourites from. If I was giving out an award for story quality it would go to Kim Stanley Robinson's tale, which I think would appeal just as much to non-SF fans. Niven's brief story is perfectly crafted and Poul Anderson is a great story-teller, while Chalker's mysterious scenario has a strong appeal to me. They are all worth reading, however.


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