"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" - O.W.

Current Study

Current Projects:
Science Fiction exhibition at The Science Museum in London.

Book Out Now:
Sideways in Time: Alternate History and Counterfactual Narratives (Liverpool University Press, 2019). Co-edited Collection.

Book Forthcoming:

Current Sub-Studies

Areas of Interest:
> literature, trauma, and ethics
> science fiction and alternate history
> 20th and 21st century literature
> history and literature of science
> comics and graphic novels
> science communication

27 September 2010

Stories from The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories #2

Having spent the weekend driving up to Ingleton in the Yorkshire Dales and walking in beautiful weather, I've made less progress with the stories in this volume than I'd like. Here are my quick thoughts about the next three along:

"A Letter From The Pope" by Harry Harrison and Tom Shippey, pp.91-118.

Interestingly, this story begins with a two page historical account telling the true story of Alfred the Great and his wars against the Vikings invading Britain from the North, only after we've been made familiar with how it really went does the fiction begin. Reading on, the reason for this becomes clear: for a start it's dealing with what is, relatively speaking, a less well-known time in history, an area less well explored in popular culture than Roman Britain, the Tudors, or the sinking of the Titanic. Secondly, the changes in this story are relatively subtle (but no less potentially world-changing) and could be missed by anyone whose familiarity with Alfred doesn't extend beyond a vague notion of burning some cakes. Indeed, the plot of this story doesn't extend far beyond the change itself, only flirting with the consequences in the final page. Such stories would make for interesting comparisons with their brethren set many years after the point of divergence, POD, or Jonbar Hinge - whatever your chosen terminology.

"Such A Deal" by Esther M. Friesner, pp.119-137.

Columbus, failing to secure patronage from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain receives it instead from a wealthy Jewish trader living in Moorish Granada. The Jew, Hisdai ibn Ezra, hopes to discover a route his people could take to get to East Asia and establish a new homeland, 'there to live unmolested by the periodic excesses of zeal that afflict [their] Christian neighbours' (p.126). I found the story to be relatively weak compared to the greatly enjoyable yarns which preceded it. I could accept the concept of Columbus taking up patronage in this manner, though I think he'd try the other royal kingdoms of Europe before accepting the finite funds of a business man, but I find it a stretch to imagine them encountering Aztecs who then mistake Hisdai ibn Ezra for Quetzalcoatl the creator God and led by Montezuma that they would travel back to Iberia and be capable of lifting the Castillian siege of Granada, more likely the Jaguar warriors would be sea-sick, inflicted with Smallpox and other European diseases. Nonetheless, it is still an interesting and imaginative story, if falling slightly short of the high standard set in the previous tales.

"Ink From The New Moon" by A. A. Attanasco, pp. 138-151.

Columbus features in this story also. The plot follows a Chinese official and is addressed to his dead wife. It tells of the Buddhist discovery of America and the establishment of the United Sandalwood Autocracies in the shadow of the great Chinese Empire. The official travels from the tamed west coast to the wild east and south to the Caribbean islands. There he encounters big-nosed adventurers from across the stormy sea led by a man called Christ-bearer. On the whole the story is an entertaining parody of the United States, describing a democratic system similar to that which exists but painted from the palette of Chinese and Buddhist history instead of European. It suggests the dilemma Columbus would have faced if the Chinese had already colonised America before he had even set sail, and the implications this would have for history as we know it. Potentially this story is just as far fetched as "Such a Deal" but the delivery is so well executed, the tone just right for the narrator, that Attanasco pulls it off, crafting a world which is strongly depicted and lacks the doubts and jars its predecessor in the collection inspires.

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