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

alt

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Book Review: “Psych Ward Chronicles”

psych

Cover image of “Psych Ward Chronicles” by True George

Disclaimer: Author True George periodically comments on my blog and asked me to review his book Psych Ward Chronicles.

It’s only about fifty pages long and I read a version in PDF format. The book was originally a series of observational notes George took during his time as an intern at a New York City inpatient mental institution. It’s state run, and George covers chapters on topics such as “Side Effects,” “Liaisons,” “Readmitted,” “Race Card,” and “Accusations.”

My first observation is that the book needed a lot of editing. This happens sometimes when you self publish and you’re going over your own stuff without a second pair of eyes.

The second observation is that it was rather dry. I did something I almost never do when I’m preparing to review a book. I asked George additional questions about it after I read it. I wanted to be clear about the intent.

Continue reading

Book Review of “Hyperion”

hyperion

Cover art for Dan Simmons’ 1989 novel “Hyperion”

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Dan Simmons or his award winning 1989 novel Hyperion until both were mentioned on Mike Glyer’s File 770. Actually, it was specifically the mention that he dared to insult the much vaunted teenage climate change icon Greta Thunberg. I agree that Simmons went kind of overboard on his twitter commentary, but attacking a teenager aside, criticizing Thunberg for any reason has become pretty much the worst thing you can do besides being a “denier.”

Anyway, I became interested in him and his novel, so I checked it out of my local public library and started reading. It wasn’t what I expected, but then again, I didn’t know what to expect.

Hyperion has been loosely compared to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories about seemingly unrelated people. I can kind of see that. Simmons, a former teacher, spared no effort in shoving tons and tons of literary references, many of them aimed right at Keats, into his stories. I’m sure many of them sailed way over my head. I don’t think they added much to the novel.

Continue reading

Book Review: “The Collapsar Directive”

collapsar

Cover art for the anthology “The Collapsar Directive

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this anthology on the condition that I would write and publish a review. I have also had a short story and a piece of flash fiction published by Zombie Pirate Publishing, but none of my stories appear in the anthology I am reviewing, The Collapsar Directive.

Actually, the anthology’s title is taken from a story written by Adam Bennett, co-founder of Zombie Pirates, called “The Sword and The Damocles,” a tale about two interconnected intergalactic spacecraft. Like many of the short stories in the anthology, I found it to be “okay,” but not particularly remarkable. Of course “Collapsar” was published a few years back, and I know that many of the authors have since honed their writing skills.

Mel Newmin’s “Looking at the Face of God” had a nice twist to it, but I objected to the idea of releasing zoo animals back to the wild, since animals kept in captivity often lose their ability to fend for themselves in an untamed environment. Once the big reveal occurs, the results become interesting, but then science fiction does sometimes have the created confront their creator.

Continue reading

Book Review of “War Factory: Transformation Book Two”

Cover image for Neal Asher’s novel “War Factory”

Disclosure: My short story “Joey” appears in the Zombie Pirate Publishing science fiction anthology World War Four. It also features Neal Asher’s novelette Monitor Logan.

Neal Asher’s War Factory is the sequel to his novel Dark Intelligence and the second in his “Transformations” trilogy.

We continue to follow the travails of a plethora of characters, human, Prador, AI, and other, all orchestrated by the dark AI Penny Royal, who has mysterious motivations for manipulating lives and even entire regimes.

Asher remains a top author in the crafting of space operas, interweaving a large cast of players on his interstellar stage, this time upping the game. Penny Royal leads herself, the assassin droid Riss, and Thorvald Spear on a journey to rediscover their beginnings, which for the mechanized members, is a massive space station. “Room 101” was a sapient intelligence who felt a maternal instinct toward her martial creations, and who, when on the verge of destruction, did the unthinkable.

Continue reading

Review: “Shadows in Zamboula” by Robert E. Howard

 

wt

Cover of Weird Tales magazine 1935

Shadows in Zamboula is a classic Robert E. Howard tale of Conan the Barbarian. I read it to get my head in the right space for crafting a “Sword and Sorcery” short story, and I wasn’t disappointed. Howard’s Conan is the best version of the character ever, even after eighty or so years.

The tale was first published in 1935, and I accessed it as a free eBook through The Gutenberg Project (yes, the original cover of “Weird Tales” in which the story appeared is provocative by today’s standards).

Howard’s popular barbarian is lured into trouble once again by a beautiful woman, that is after being nearly captured and consumed by cannibals. His adversaries are black Africans (as we’d understand them today), and relative to the mid-1930s, the description of them might be considered racist (in the 21st century). That aside, the story is high adventure all the way. The swordplay is at its finest, and at the end, Conan outsmarts as well as outfights both his enemies and his supposed allies.

Continue reading

Review: “The Dunwich Horror” by H.P. Lovecraft

I read The Dunwich Horror by H.P Lovecraft as inspiration for a story I have been crafting. I’ve read Lovecraft before, but that was decades ago, so I expected the unexpected from this expedition into his classic horror.

Since the story is old (1928) and beyond its copyright, I looked for it at The Gutenberg Project and found a file I could download onto my Kindle Fire. Books with expired U.S. copyrights can be optioned for absolutely free, so you don’t want to pass up this magnificent opportunity.

Continue reading

Book Review: “SS-GB” (1978) by Len Deighton

Cover art for the 1978 novel “SS-GB”

Disclosure: I checked the hardback copy of this novel out from the public library.

Just finished Len Deighton’s 1978 alternative history novel SS-GB: Nazi-Occupied Britain 1941. I recall reading it decades ago, but remembered almost none of the content.

This isn’t actually science fiction, just a sort of “What if Nazi Germany won World War 2 and occupied Great Britain?” The tale centers around Scotland Yard Inspector Douglas Archer, a well-educated man who is fluent in German and works with the SS who have headed up Britain’s police agencies. He seems to get along with his superiors, unlike his partner, Sgt Detective Harry Woods, and many other of the nation’s beleaguered citizens, who chafe at the occupation.

While investigating was started out as a murder, Archer is plunged into a world of political intrigue, conspiracy, and assassination. It only gets worse when SS Standertenfuhrer Huth arrives from Berlin to supervise the investigation. Only then, does he learn the Germany’s secret atomic weapons development project is headquartered in Britain, and the dead man was a nuclear scientist. He also falls into a plot to free the King of England from imprisonment and clandestinely transport him to America, which has remained carefully neutral during the war.

Continue reading

Book Review of “Reviver”

reviver

Promotional cover image of Seth Patrick’s 2013 novel “Reviver.” Note: Not the original cover or title.

I probably wouldn’t even have read Seth Patrick’s novel Reviver (2013), but I noticed on the back cover a small review by SF author Neal Asher. I’m familiar with Asher’s work and even share the Table of Contents with him in a recent SciFi anthology, so naturally I was intrigued.

A few weeks back, I was at the local branch of my little public library, and although I was already reading two books, found myself stuck there with my books and my beloved laptop still at home. So I started wandering the stacks. This library is small enough not to differentiate between general fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, so they are all intermixed. I was randomly strolling through, occasionally picking up and reading the summaries of various novels, when I happened upon “Reviver” and noticed Asher’s name on the back cover. I figured, what the heck.

This is Seth Patrick’s very first novel, and I can only imagine he went through quite a few iterations before he arrived at the final product I consumed. It was a terrific mix of horror, mystery, and a hint of speculative fiction. I know there are purists who detest that sort of thing, but I never was one for the extreme blood, guts, and gore of modern horror. Yes, there is graphic imagery in the novel, but nothing I couldn’t handle, and the psychological horror totally hooked me.

Continue reading