Iâm a sucker for this sort of stuff. Alternate History, as itâs called, is where historical events are re-imagined as they might have been, but werenât. Here the focus, as in Alternate Generals I and II, is on military matters.
The main interest in tales like these is on the speculation. In this volume we get; Joan of Arc not burned, but re-tried, and inadvertently starting her own religion; Mark Antony winning at Actium but suffering ever more attempts to restore the Republic, MacArthur captured on Corregidor and, in a different story, it is Eisenhower who is charged with defending the Philippines; Gengis Khan converts to Judaism and instead of a Pleasure Dome is building a new Great Temple to hold The Ark Of The Covenant; Robert E Lee, victor at Gettysburg, is ambassador to Britain when a second existential crisis hits the Confederacy; a US Special Forces team is sent outside the chain of command by President Nelson Rockefeller to assassinate Ho Chi Minh in his cave hideout near the Chinese border.
Enjoyment of a story is not necessarily related to how much background knowledge of the situation the reader already has. In The Burning Spear At Twilight Mike Resnick has Jomo Kenyatta use propagandistic methods to gain Kenya independence. Iâm afraid I didnât know enough about the Mau-Mau âemergencyâ to be sure where all the speculation lay but the story succeeded on its own terms.
Harry Turtledoveâs Shock And Awe needs some comment. He has Jesus of Nazareth – biblical quotations and all – as a rebel leader (of âragheads,â to their opponents) against the Romans (who are âwestern imperialists.â) The conceit of using modern day language like this, and in the Roman soldiersâ mouths, in order to point out the parallels quickly wears thin and is a rather heavy handed way of eliciting sympathy for the underdog. And did Turtledove really intend to invite comparisons of Saddam Hussein with Christ? At one point we could have had an âI am Spartacusâ moment but in the end Turtledove sticks too closely to biblical outcomes for the story to be satisfying.
Brad Linaweaverâs A Good Bag features the theosophist Madame Blavatsky but is extremely lightweight and really no more than drivel.
Coming from this side of the Atlantic I always find it amusing when the British are the enemy. In Roland J Greenâs âIt Isnât Every Day Of The Weekâ¦â the war of 1812 follows a different course. The story culminates in a British invasion of Georgia. Due to the taleâs epistolary nature we are told the events rather than shown them and as a result the story doesnât quite cohere. In this history the British donât seem to burn the White Houseâ¦.
As a Scot, I found Lillian Stewart Carlâs Over The Sea From Skye more interesting. A defeated Duke of Cumberland flees Bonnie Prince Charlieâs followers and ends up on Skye where he encountters Flora MacDonald. The story itself is superfluously topped and tailed by extracts from Boswellâs journal which seem to be there only to shoehorn in a reference to the still loyal American colonies, and also has an unnecessary afterword. The author also suggests the original Union Jack incorporated bits to represent all four constituent nations of the union.
This would have been highly unlikely. In reality the Irish cross of St Patrick was only incorporated in 1801 and the gold and black Welsh cross of St David (whose colours would clash with the red, white and blue) never has been.
Esther Friesnerâs First Catch Your Elephant, about the reasons for Hannibal abandoning the Alps crossing, is meant to be humorous but is tonally askew, psychologically unconvincing and, in the end, succeeds only in being annoying.
Not so much a good bag as a mixed bag, then. Too many of the stories strove for relevance in the actual world, but on the whole the book was diverting. Donât pick up Alternate Generals III if youâre looking for literary excellence, though.