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.

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Short Story Review: “Suppose They Gave a Peace” (1992)

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

The latest tale I read in The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century edited by Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg is Susan Swartz‘s 1992 short story Suppose They Gave a Peace.

It’s an anti-war Vietnam era tale as seen through the eyes of a family in Ohio in the early 1970s. Frankly, it reminded me of the old sitcom All in the Family, set in the same era and, at least in the beginning, with the same stereotypes.

Dad’s a World War Two and Korean War vet who is a total conservative. Mom’s a peace loving Quaker. Daughter is a radical college protestor, and son joined the Marines and is serving at the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

The alternate part of this history is that McCarthy won the election rather than Nixon. It didn’t seem to make much difference since the Fall of Saigon was just as ghastly.

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Review: “The Lucky Strike” (1984) by Kim Stanley Robinson

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

I’ve been reading the anthology The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century edited by Harry Turtledove and Martin H. Greenberg. The edition I have was published in 2001. I checked it out of my local library, and besides a bit of water damage, it seems to be missing the table of contents.

The very first story presented is Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Lucky Strike (1984). The premise is what would have happened if Paul Tibbets and the Enola Gay crashed during a training flight and they weren’t able to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?

In Robinson’s novella, fictional Captain Frank January is the bombardier who joins the replacement team on the B-29 “The Lucky Strike.” It explores the classic trope about how one man wrestles with his conscience over dropping a single bomb that could potentially kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. He thought that dropping “the bomb” on an uninhabited area as a demonstration of America’s nuclear power would have been enough to make the Japanese surrender.

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Review of Brad Linaweaver’s Novella: “Moon of Ice”

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

Before it was a novel, Brad Linaweaver’s “Moon of Ice” was a novella that was a Nebula award finalist in 1983.

Almost four months ago, I wrote A Revelation on the Recent Passing of Brad Linaweaver. I had newly “discovered” Linaweaver’s works, thanks to the sometimes controversial File 770, and particularly in their article Brad Linaweaver (1952-2019). It’s a shame to find such a terrific author only after he’s passed.

I went through my local library system, but could only find his “Moon of Ice” novella in a collection called The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century.

Moon of Ice utilizes a very familiar science fiction trope: “What if Nazi Germany had built the bomb first and won World War Two?”

Actually, they only won Europe in the novella. America came up with the Bomb second and still conquered Japan.

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Excerpt From My Latest WIP

vampire verona

Found at “Book More Brides”.

I’ve been editing this one for days and it’s close to being finished. Here’s a sample of my latest short story:

It wasn’t a man and there was nothing average about her. The companion lamp to Leah’s on a table at the other end of the short corridor to her room, shone behind the intruder. It illuminated her diaphanous gown, which draped over her lithe curves like a cloud. Her long hair was almost as white and seemed to float around her head. The woman’s pale skin was offset by ravenous green eyes and luscious ruby lips. Her teeth, when she slightly parted them, were pearls.

“Hold it right there, sister. Who the hell are you and what do you want?” The gun in her right hand shook as she trembled, which caught Leah by surprise. Her breathing became shallow, and a horrible feeling or recognition overwhelmed her, though she knew she’d never seen this person before.

“Surely you remember my kiss, delicious one.” She smiled broadly, exposing twin fangs and confirming the worst possible notion of Reese’s fears. The apparition hissed menacingly like a feral animal.

“Vampire.” It came out as a gasp.

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Book Review: “The Berlin Project”

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Cover image for Gregory Benford’s novel “The Berlin Project.”

Just finished reading The Berlin Project, a novel by physicist and science fiction author Gregory Benford, and it was fabulous. Really top-notch alternate history, which was given enormous depth by the fact that Benford has met many of the people who were involved in the Manhattan Project during World War Two. His father-in-law is Karl Cohen, who is the book’s protagonist and in real life actually was a chemist on the project.

The novel’s premise is that at the Manhattan Project’s beginning, America’s secret effort to produce the Atomic Bomb, Cohen develops an alternate and faster method of producing weapons grade uranium for “the bomb,” allowing us to make a nuclear weapon in time for D-Day.

Not only are the technical details amazingly accurate, but the characterizations of the people involved, particularly Cohen and his family, are absolutely credible and “real.” Small wonder, since by marriage, they are Benford’s family, too.

As I imagine like most readers, I thought the climax of the book would be dropping the bomb on Berlin in 1944, killing Hitler and ending the war, but I was wrong. True, that was a pivotal moment about three-quarters of the way through, but it was the aftermath to that event that made all of the difference in changing the shape of alternate history going forward.

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Book Review: “The Man in the High Castle

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Cover image for the novel “The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick

My son Michael and I were talking about the television series The Man in the High Castle, which is based on the 1962 novel of the same name authored by the late Philip K. Dick. I’ve never seen the television show (and probably never will), but I did recall reading the novel sometime back in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, that’s all I remembered about it. Curious, I decided to check a copy of the book out of my local public library and re-read it.

The novel is set in the year it was published and postulates what the United States would have been like if the Axis powers had won World War Two thanks to the Nazis having developed the atomic bomb first.

The US is divided into three zones, with the Nazis in control of the East, the Japanese in control of the West, and a sort of DMZ existing across the Rocky Mountain States.

The “Man in the High Castle” refers to the author of a controversial novel called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” written by the mysterious Hawthorne Abendsen. It postulates what the world would have been like if the Allies had won the war. The book is tolerated in the West, but the Nazis have made it illegal in the East and there are rumors that there’s an ongoing attempt to assassinate the book’s writer. Thus Abendsen is said to live in a fortress (“High Castle”) in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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The Upside of the Downside

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© Vadim Voitekhovitch – Found at Deviant Art

Three times before, eighteen-year-old Keisha Davis had been transported into an alternate universe. For her, only a year passed between each transition, but in the world where the Covington family had become her own, each leap put her twenty years into their future.

Standing inside her Grandpa’s workshop located at the edge of her small, northern California town, she stared into the vastness of the converted warehouse. The first time she saw it when she was fifteen, she didn’t understand why he had built such an eclectic collection of odd technologies, but now it was painfully clear. Each one was a doorway.

“Grandpa, I know why you did this to me. Cancer took you too soon or you discovered the other world too late. Either way, you were never able to take on the missions yourself. You knew I would be the only one who’d understand what you needed and what kind of help that strange alternate Earth needed. Now it’s like your ghost is telling me I can’t go back again, not to him anyway, not where and when he lives in Atomworld.”

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Forlorn Rendezvous

goat island

Goat Island (now Yerba Buena Island) in San Francisco Bay.

“A child’s eyes light up when they see their Grandpa.” –Catherine Pulsifer

“Where is she? Are she and Leah well? Don’t just sit there man!” Isaiah was as frantic as Keisha had ever seen him during the short time they’d known each other. At the first mention of his Mom’s name, Josiah rushed over to his Dad. The teenager from another universe stood and waited.

The lighthouse keeper was rapidly writing on a pad and then put the pencil down. “She’s ceased transmitting. A moment, Isaiah.” Joachim began tapping at the telegraph key. Grandpa had taught Keisha Morse Code when she was little since one of the projects they’d worked on was building a working signaling system, but Rosenstein’s finger was moving too fast for her to understand the message. Then he stopped and listened.

“Sorry. I think she was cut off in the middle of her transmission. She’s not answering now.”

Isaiah put his arm around his son and took a deep breath. “Can you read out what you got?”

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Kiesha’s Grand Adventure

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From the 1986 animated film “Laputa: Castle in the Sky”.

Grandpa’s rathole, or what he called his “lab,” was full of devices in a state of desuetude. But the journal that arrived by messenger just five days after the old man’s body had been delivered to the crematorium told Kiesha an entirely different story.

The stench she had anticipated wasn’t so bad as she steered her way through the haphazard arrangements of arcane machinery. They were all in a state of becoming, but only one had been completed and was ready for use.

Her Dad told her never to visit here, and that the old man was involved in debauchery, his insipid character being capable of nothing else. A month ago, she would have listened.

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