Roads Not Taken

In an alternate history, I would actually have a new essay for you — even if about old stuff.

In the world you inhabit, you just get this.

Raw Feed (2000): Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History, eds. Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt, 1998.roads-not-taken

What Is Alternate History”, Shelly Shapiro — Shapiro, an editor at Del Rey books (publishers on this anthology and several alternate history books) writes an informative, if short, introduction to the subgenre. I’d heard that the first alternate history dates to a French speculation, in 1836, about Napoleon. However, I had not heard of the first English-language alternate history, 1895’s Aristopia by Castello Holford nor had I heard of Nat Schachner’s “Ancestral Voices”, a pulp sf alternate history from Dec. 1933’s Astounding. It predates Murray Leinster’s “Sidewise in Time”. Both stories are predated by the scholarly alternate history anthology, If It Had Happened Otherwise ed. by John Squire.

Must and Shall”, Harry Turtledove — Turtledove uses devices characteristic of many of his short alternate histories to present an uncharacteristic alternate Civil War tale. The turning point here, presented in the opening page, is that Abraham Lincoln is killed on July 12, 1864 at the battle of Fort Stevens outside of Washington, D.C., a battle he really did attend in our timeline. He is succeeded by vice-president Hannibal Hamlin, a man far more vengeful towards the South than Andrew Johnson, who became Lincoln’s vice-president after the 1864 election. The main story takes place in the New Orleans of 1942. Two FBS agents investigate a seditious conspiracy amongst Southern whites, a conspiracy armed by Nazi agents. We see the vicious repression of the defeated whites, repression partially supported by the descendants of freed blacks. The counter-espionage story is typical of Turtledove’s short alternate histories. An FBS agent does consider the notion that the South should not have been so harshly punished, that a new armed rebellion is perhaps inevitable, but is determined to quell domestic dissent in order to “get on with the business of getting rid of tyrants around the world”, a comment he makes “without irony”. As a final dark commentary on this world, Turtledove presents a surprising definition of the acronym FBS. I thought it stood for something like Federal Bureau of Security, but, no, we find out, at story’s end, it stands for Federal Bureau of Suppression.

An Outpost of the Empire”, Robert Silverberg — This is part of Silverberg’s Roma Eterna alternate history series. It is based on the notion that the Exodus of the Israelites failed at the Red Sea. This is certainly not evident in this story. All I could tell was that the history of the eastern and western branches of the Roman Empire was certainly very different from our timeline and that there is no mention of Christianity. The revived Empire has spread to the New World. The story is a poignant, realistic look at human nature. A proud, young widow of Byzantium initially despises the new proconsul. Technically, the old Byzantium Empire has been reunited with Rome. De facto, she’s right in that her Venatia (Venice) has been conquered by Rome. Haughtily, she fends off the advances of the proconsul, sure he’s uncultured, ignorant, a brute. She finds he is intelligent, intimidatingly well-traveled and educated. She is so proud of having visited Constantinople when young – for him, it was just a stopover on a diplomatic mission to China. She is sure he will be arrogant, a dominant lout in bed, that he despises Greeks. He is kind, skilled in lovemaking, and, in sort of a version of “the white man’s burden”, thinks highly of the Greek arts but finds them incapable of governing themselves. It is the Romans’ burden to shoulder the boring duties of governance and administration for which they are highly suited. On his way up the cursus honorum, the proconsul must leave the widow who now realizes that Rome is the future, Byzantium pride unfounded, and that she must bow to the new rulers of the world. Silverberg well captures the attraction and hate we can simultaneously feel towards those with gifts we admire. Continue reading “Roads Not Taken”

If It Had Happened Otherwise

I’m on vacation, but I’ll still post this.

It even has some World War One material relevant for today.

This was, I believe, the first collection of academic alternate histories ever done and featured various famous historians and literary writers of the early 20th century.

This is a Raw Feed, so my historical ignorance is not as great as 29 years ago.

Raw Feed (1987): If It Had Happened Otherwise, ed. J. C. Squire, 1931, 1972.if-it-had-happened-otherwise

“Introduction”, J.C. Squire — Brief comments on academic alternate history treatises.  Emphasizes importance of causality chain beginning with trivial event (brilliantly explored in Bradbury’s “Sound of Thunder”) and how we almost always think of alternate histories as undesirable worlds to our own though this obviously depends on cultural/moral/political point of view.

“Introduction”, John Wheeler-Bennett — Brief comments on history of alternate history as literature and valid historical speculation. (His definition of alternate histories are peculiar. He includes political sf like Fail-Safe.)  He also writes on why he likes sub-genre.

If the Moors in Spain Had Won“, Philip Guedalla — Like most essays in this book promise to be, this story (told in excerpts from travel books, history texts, diplomatic papers, and newspapers) this is a rich source for alternate world ideas. The work not only develops its premise but wryly comments on historical study:  chance events of little seeming significance to change things drastically, the events of our history were not inevitable, over reliance on economic factors in studying history, and belief that events in our history were for the best.

If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary Queen of Scots“,  G.K. Chesterton — A rather muddled piece of writing (part of problem could be I’m not familiar with the fine points of English history) whose purpose seems to be less constructing an alternate history than an edifying Christian legend of true love (which, evidently, the rest of us mortals can not achieve due to the Original Sin) in Don John and Mary’s marriage. Chesterton’s portrayal of Mary (perhaps because he is a Catholic) seems very idealized though he does seem to validly suggest Mary was a charming, beautiful, vigorous monarch. Chesterton seems to think their marriage would have included England in a greater community (that would have been created with the marriage) of a Europe with Christian traditions and morality and Renaissance vigor and questioning. He seems to attack Puritan influence on England as culturally mordant and brutal. He does have a satirical wit in regard to the question of history and study. He also has a valid point when he says we should consider personal motives such as attraction (and, unspoken, sex) as well as great abstract motives of diplomacy and economics. (A similar point as to Ward Moore’s saying history is made by people obsessed with the trivial.) Continue reading “If It Had Happened Otherwise”