Saturday, October 15, 2016

Four Good and Different Stories -- Book Review of The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century

Photo: from Random House's website, here.

Very entertaining collection of 14 stories that offer a different view of history, or a view of a history yet to come. Though I found 2 or 3 of them to be clunkers, the others are more than worth your while.

My preferred ones, in no particular order, are:

In "The Lucky Strike," the pilot of the Enola Gay does not drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Though the U.S. government uses his punishment to send a message, a new feeling of hope and peace arise, and the bomb never has to be dropped at all. This Kim Stanley Robinson tale is rightly popular in the genre, and constantly referenced.

Ward Moore's "Bring the Jubilee" is more a novella, but it reads as quickly as a short story. The historical change here is at the end, and almost an afterthought, as it takes up about 2% of the story time. Instead we get a very well-written and engrossing take on what America would be like today if the South had won the Civil War, but it doesn't bog itself down with politics and stereotypes. In our current political climate, this is a welcome change. Very well-constructed story with believable characters. This one is considered a masterpiece of the field.

"Dance Band on the Titanic" is an interesting little story that will stayed with me afterwards, more for the thoughts the story inspires than for the story itself. It's about a loner who works on a ferry that carries passengers and products over several time rifts, several alternate realities and possible some parallel universes. Throws it all in there. The core of it is a girl who commits suicide many times over, in the same way. But many times, because there are many of her in all of the alternate and parallel realities. But if he's able to talk her out of it, all of the "hers" will not do it, as well. Rather well carried out, but I laid on my bed last Saturday, ready to write a short story that I thought would be better. I stopped writing 6 hours later, and I found I had a new novel on my hands! That's how a lot of my ideas come, which is why writers say you should read a lot if you want to write. You'll see something you like, but you think could be better, and then you try to do it. I've never written in this genre before, and I was actually in the middle of two other novels when this one hit. But I'll finish this one first.

"The Death of Captain Future" is a really good short story. It's not alternate future fiction as I understand it, because it all takes place in the future, and there's no history or time change in it. A little confused about why it's in this collection, actually...But it's a good story that's more about heroism and courage (and spin) than anything else. The female character in it looks and talks and acts like a female character in one of my short stories, written months ago, long before I knew this story existed, that I'm also making into a novel. So I wasn't happy to see that...

These are my four favorites. A few others were good, but not worthy of review here, and, like I said, two of them I thought were clunkers. A couple others were...meh. One story was about Shakespeare hitching aboard a ship that lands in present-day Virginia. His crewmates get killed, but he's so entertaining that he's allowed to live. Because of his stagework, he's a good fighter with a pole, too. He writes Hamlet, but the tribe laughs at it...Meh.

In another one, time and history get severely screwed up, as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and Mozart and a general for Genghis Khan are all thrown together. Good story, actually, but really out there, which is the whole point of the story. I could've given this one more review time.

There's a long one, the last one, in which Hitler comes up with the bomb just before America does, and so there's a stalemate and Germany is allowed to move on. Hitler lives a lot longer, as does Goebbels, who tells the story. Hard to get through; difficult because both are so correctly reviled. Meh.

In another one, a good one, two Nazis stop at a cottage because they're lost. A witch / crone tells them their unfortunate future. One almost shoots her but thinks better of it. Popular story in the genre. I could've covered it more, but it's mostly allegorical, rather than a story. Still good, though.

Another good one, very short, is about a guy who realizes suddenly all of the "hims" that exist in all of the alternate and parallel realities, and it drives the story's "him" into suicide. Not all of the "hims," though. I'm torn about it. Interesting concept and understandable conclusion, but I still feel it was bungled. Good / meh.

But get this book to at least read the four I described above. Or find them somewhere and read them. Well worth it. Enjoy!

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