Friday, 9 March 2012

The Best Alternate History Stories of the Twentieth Century

Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century

Explore fascinating, often chilling "what if" accounts of the world that could have existed–and still might yet . . .

Science fiction’s most illustrious and visionary authors hold forth the ultimate alternate history collection. Here you’ll experience mind-bending tales that challenge your views of the past, present, and future. 

The definitive collection: fourteen seminal alternate history tales drawing readers into a universe of dramatic possibility and endless wonder

Another anthology of alternate history stories, some of them utterly heartbreaking. One of them even made me cry!

Kim Stanley Robinson, "The Lucky Strike" 

The story of what might have happened if the Enola Gay had crashed and another plane and crew had had to take its place. It's an exploration of personal choice and responsibility in the context of larger historical events. How much responsibility lies with you as an individual for choices made by your nation in times of war? Would you have been able to push the button that dropped the atomic bomb and killed thousands even if you knew it might save thousands? I loved this one even though I felt the narration was a little dense in places and hard to really connect with. The main character has to make a decision as to whether he can truly take the responsibility for bombing Hiroshima or whether he should risk everything by refusing.

Nicholas A. DiChario, "The Winterberry" 

I can't say much about what happens in this one without spoiling it. The main character is a child trapped in the body of the adult he used to be before tragedy left him as a shadow of what he used to be. The decisions  made by the people around him of harsh consequences, but with the innocence of childhood he's still happy, no matter what. Absolutely brilliantly written and heartbreakingly tragic.

Harry Turtledove, "Islands in the Sea" 

This one is set in the 8th century in a world where Islam rather than Christianity is the strongest force in Europe and the Near East. Although it clearly is an alternate history, the history itself really doesn't matter. Its all about the characters as the Christian and Islamic delegations compete to sway the Bulgars to their religion. I absolutely loved the main character in this and his interactions with those around him were fascinating.

Susan Shwartz, "Suppose They Gave a Peace" 

This is the one that made me cry. It's a slightly alternate history of the end of the Vietnam War told by a veteran of Korea and World War II. Again though this history is unimportant. It's a study of a man and of his family as he struggles with his own history and beliefs in the face of his radical, anti-war, pro-freedom daughter, and the knowledge that his son, a Marine guard at the embassy in Saigon could easily die in the war he supports and she so vehemently opposes. If you get through this without crying, you have no heart, but it's without doubt the best of the bunch and well worth reading.

Larry Niven, "All the Myriad Ways"

A crime story that is set in a world where we've discovered how to travel between parallel universes. In reality though it's an exploration of how the knowledge that whatever we do another us will have made every other choice might influence our attitudes and psychological state. Very interesting.

Greg Bear, "Through Road No Whither"

Set in a world where the Nazis won this is a very short story about being careful what you wish for. It was interesting but it was probably one of the weakest in the book as it didn't really seem to go anywhere.

Gregory Benford, "Manassas, Again"

Similar in theme to one of the later stories, this is all about war and how even in people who have supposedly advanced beyond the need to kill others civility is just a veneer that can easily be scraped away. Humans versus machines rather than other humans in this story, but the principle is the same really.

Jack L. Chalker, "Dance Band on the Titanic"

This one I loved. Another exploration of parallel worlds and how they might meet and cross. The focus is on a young man who works on a ferry that exists in many different worlds simultaneously. One of the most scifi of the entries. It has some really fascinating world building in it and I really enjoyed it.

Ward Moore, Bring the Jubilee

In theory this is about time travel, but the time travel alluded to in the first sentence doesn't actually happen until the last quarter of the story. I found this a little hard going but the premise was interesting enough to make it worth it. Mostly it's a story about the life of a young man who is trying to escape from his life through the study of history. At the end it does finally deal with the idea of time travel and how changes made in the past might influence our future.

Poul Anderson, "Eutopia"

This one is kind of a fantasy adventure story and I really enjoyed it. We follow a traveler from one universe who has managed to break a major taboo in another universe without realising it and is now fleeing from the people he has angered. A major theme is the idea of cultural assumptions and how they influence our view of others. The taboo he broke was something so obviously permissable in his world that it never occurred to him that it might be against the rules in others. Mostly though it's an adventure story, and a very well written one at that.

William Sanders, "The Undiscovered"

This one is delightful fun. It strands Shakespeare in the Americas amongst a tribe of Native Americans and is told by the man who befriended him. The concept of drama is alien to these people and Shakespeare tries to introduce them to it, with only a partial amount of success. Great fun and very amusing. Loved it.

Bruce Sterling & Lewis Shiner, "Mozart in Mirrorshades"

This one is about a modern era who have discovered time travel, exploiting previous eras and parallel worlds, safe in the knowledge that it won't affect their own time. The impact of their meddling on the other societies isn't considered important. It's an interesting concept and great fun.

Allen Steele, "The Death of Captain Future"

Pretty much a science fiction romp. Interesting characters, fun story, but not big on the alternative history angle.

Brad Linaweaver, "Moon of Ice"

Can't really decide what I think about this one. It's another 'what if the Nazis won?' scenario narrated by an aging Goebbels. The world the author has created is interesting and the difference between the world views of Goebbels, his daughter, and his son create an intriguing tension. It made me uncomfortable with Goebbels justification of the nazi policies even though it is clearly a character view not an author view and is very in character. A good read though.

VERDICT - 4 out of 5 I think. There are a couple of misses, but mostly the entries in this anthology are good. I recommend it.

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