"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

30 September 2010

Stories from The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories #3

Here's a few quick thoughts on the next few stories in this, so far, very enjoyable collection:

"Dispatches from the Revolution" by Pat Cadigan, pp.152-172.

A very powerful story which, as the title suggests, is set out in the style of dispatches, letters and fragments of interviews, largely by dissidents telling the history of the military regime which now rules the USA. This situation comes about as a result of the troubles of America's 1960s (The Civil Rights movements, student protests, JFK's assassination) not being resolved and instead developing into violence and terrorism, ultimately causing a bomb to kill the majority of potential democrat candidates for the Presidential election and the army to take control of the reigns of state as a result. Evocative language and chilling descriptions of riots and riot police gone out of control are illustrated in my minds eye by images of May Day riots and the Miner's Strike of the 1980s. Cadigan makes effective use of multiple story tellers and perspectives, difficult in so small a space, whilst still forming a coherent narrative which depicts America's slide into chaos and the implications for the wider global community.

"Catch that Zeppelin!" by Fritz Leiber, pp.173-194.

Considered a classic of Alternate History short stories, the twist for Leiber's story is somewhat lessened once you realise the cover art to the collection is based on this particular tale. Any man with a mustache and that particular parting, in an Alternate History setting immediately makes us think of Adolf Hitler, so entrenched is the alternate-World War II (one of the reasons for making it the core of my thesis study). Leiber suggests a world in which the First World War goes on for an extra two years, until 1920, a world in which Marie Curie and Thomas Edison marry and produce a genius child Thomas Sklodowska Edison, and a world in which the Second World War never happens thanks to the generous manner in which the defeated Central Powers, particularly Germany, are dealt with. It is a world of huge Helium zeppelins, electric cars, and seeming prosperity. The alternate Hitler works for DLG - the German airship company - and retains his passion for all things German, but is mellowed by his country's circumstances. He is even accepting of Jews. This Hitler is, however unhinged in time, and it is thrown from one world to another (ours) allowing more direct comparisons between a world of peace and a world at war, between electric and gasoline, success and tragedy. Leiber's contrast between the two Hitlers, both industrious and proud but one constructive whilst the other is destructive, is notable for is deviance from the normal trope of "Hitler as the epitome of evil". It is not, however alone in this portrayal.

"A Very British History" by Paul McAuley, pp.95-203.

Fritz Leiber's "Catch that Zeppelin!" features a historian who studies "cusps" in history - potential turning points where things could have gone very differently, it is through these cusps that our history is contrasted with the history of the story. McAuley's "A Very British History" features a similar figure. In this instance the historian, Professor Sir William [Bill] Coxton, has written a history of the Space Race which reveals that in this world the UK was a third player alongside the USA and USSR. Thanks to captured rockets and scientists at the end of the Second World War, the UK was able to conduct experiments in rocketry in Australia and put the first men on the moon. The space aspects of this story appeal to my science fiction fan nature, particularly because the resulting impact on history is that space technology is far more advanced than is the case in our own world.

"The Imitation Game" by Rudy Rucker, pp.204-214.

This story suggests an alternate fate for the cruelly treated Alan Turing. It occupies a kind of literary grey-area between Alternate History and conspiracy theory or "secret history". Rucker's story doesn't actually "alter" history and so can it still be called an Alternate History? As far as history records Turing would still have died in the manner in which he did, the fact he staged it and escaped to live in Europe after an attempted assassination by MI5 wouldn't make it into the records. It could even be the case! It's still an interesting story, Turing is a fascinating figure who was terribly abused by the state despite all he did for King/Queen and country, I can't decide if it really belongs here or not though...

"Weihnachtsabend" by Keith Roberts, pp.215-152.

This short story, by the author of Pavane, is clearly massively influenced by George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and by Sarban's The Sound of His Horn. The story is another Second World War alternative, this time a coup in the UK has created a fascist state which rules alongside the Third Reich as the "Two Empires". The protagonist Mainwaring (and I'm sorry but that makes me picture Arthur Lowe) is confronted with a seditionist text and secretly observed to see if he reads it and betrays the state or not. This scene summons up images of Winston and Julia reading from Goldstein's book in Orwell's novel, whilst images of a hunt midway through the story revel in the monstrosity of the act and invite comparison with the human hunts in Sarban's classic Nazi Alternate History. As with the short stories which form Pavane

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