Book Review: “The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century”

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Cover art for the anthology, “The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century

Note that I’ve previously reviewed individual stories presented in this anthology, such as Brad Linaweaver’s novella Moon of Ice, Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Lucky Strike, and Susan Shwartz’s Suppose They Gave a Peace. This review applies to the entire book.

The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century is a 2002 anthology edited by Harry Turtledove with Martin H. Greenberg. As the title suggests, it’s an eclectic collection of short stories and novellas crafted by various science fiction luminaries over a span of nearly fifty years.

As with all anthologies, it is pretty uneven.

Ward Moore’s “Bring the Jubilee” was the toughest to slog through. It’s depressing and seems to be overly long, including details that may not have been necessary to tell the core story. Also, it’s hard to believe that the Confederate Army could have won the Civil War based on a single engagement, one that our hero managed to change by sheer ineptitude.

Both “The Lucky Strike” by Kim Stanley Robinson and “Suppose They Gave a Peace” by Susan Shwartz were anti-war stories, the former being Robinson’s wish fulfillment of a world with no nuclear weapons, and the latter, an alternate history that bore little difference from the actual one, as told through the eyes of one family.

I’ve read Larry Niven’s “All the Myriad Ways” enough times over the years to know it was a gem in this anthology. But so was Brad Linweaver’s “Moon of Ice,” a story of the aftermath of Nazi Germany winning the second World War as seen through the eyes of Joseph Goebbels.

In some ways, Allen Steele’s “The Death of Captain Future” was my favorite, not only because it hearkened back to the days of pulp fiction, but it saw that era collide with a much harsher future “reality.” It reminded us that we all need heroes, even if they’re manufactured.

I think the best thing I can say about this anthology at the advent of a new decade in the 21st century, is that it gives us historical perspective on what science fiction has been in general, and the alternate history sub-genre in particular. Some of the finest authors of SciFi in the 20th century were featured in its pages, sometimes for better, sometimes not.

If you are not familiar with alternate history science fiction, this anthology would make a good introduction, though it’s certainly not the final word.

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