NESFA Members' Reviews


edited by Harry Turtledove

Baen, ISBN 0-671-87886-7, 1998, 348pp, US$5.99

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1998 Evelyn C. Leeper

Mike Resnick has edited eight alternate history anthologies; this is Harry Turtledove's first. The first thing I noticed was that there was very little overlap between the authors in Resnick's anthologies and this one. In part that is probably due to the fact that the editors deal regularly with different people, but it also may be connected with the publishers and their emphasis. Baen Books is known for its military science fiction and in this obviously military collection regular Baen authors are featured. So I suppose it's a reasonable prediction that if you like their other works you'll like this.

Of course, I am not a big fan of military science fiction. I read this for its alternate history content, which turned out to be minimal, but, thank Ghod, not connected with the perfectly awful and completely inaccurate back cover blurb: "At Gaugemela the Macedonians had Alexander and the Persians had--Darius. Result: world conquest. But what if the Persians had--Erwin Rommel. Or what if George S. Patton had commanded Southern forces at Bull Run, and Lincoln had become a Confederate prisoner? The possibilities are endless. . . ."

Alexander, Rommel, Patton, and Lincoln do not appear in this book, nor do Gaugemela or Bull Run. Whatever possessed them to put this on the book?!

If one manages to get past the blurb and the rather garish metallic cover with bursting stars with authors' names, what does one find? Well, apparently all the authors' notes on the historical backgrounds that they used were omitted. Since not all the stories have backgrounds obvious to the non-historian, this will make the book somewhat inaccessible to a reader coming to alternate history for the first or second time. (After you read alternate history for a while, you pick this stuff up, even if you were not a history major.)

[Not all stories are commented on. Not every story had features I wanted to comment on.]

The first story, "The Test of Gold" by Lillian Stuart Carl, is a reasonable lead-off, though I had the feeling that if this story of Boudica and C. Marcus Valarius was the strongest in the anthology (as the lead story traditionally is), it would be a fairly weak collection.

"And to the Republic For Which It Stands" by Brad Linaweaver started out with an intriguing look at Julius Caesar's possible musings about the Roman Republic. Unfortunately, lines like "[h]er breasts are perfect, smooth hills rising and falling like legions marching over countless landscapes of countless campaigns" and expository lumps like "[t]his night of March the fourteenth there is much to think about."

"The Craft of War" by Lois Tilton was one of my favorites. She used a different style and an original approach, and managed to avoid making it just the description of battles and maneuvers that so many stories here were.

Joy Lynn Nye's "Queen of the Amazons" was an example of what is often called "alternate history," but to me doesn't quite qualify. Everything is described right up to the change, and then it stops. There is no extrapolation of what happens next, which is what I read alternate history for.

"The Phantom Tolbukhin" by Harry Turtledove is at least alternate history, and goes a bit beyond the "troop movement" stage, though not nearly enough.

"An Old Man's Summer" by Esther Friesner is another story that attempts a different style. Probably the most literary in the volume, it is not the sort of alternate history story one starts out expecting it to be, and it provides a refreshing change of pace to the book.

"Billy Mitchell's Overt Act" by William Sanders uses yet another stylistic technique--articles, interviews, and quotations--to tell the story of a different Pearl Harbor and a different result. And Sanders follows his changes through to a reasonable extrapolation of their future, rather than just leaving it hanging.

"A Hard Day for Mother" by William R. Fortschen is, not surprisingly to anyone who recognizes the title, about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and though the execution is well done, I found the premise a bit weak and the conclusion unlikely.

Brian M. Thomsen's "Bloodstained Ground" does have Mark Twain, so I may be more favorably inclined toward it than otherwise. Frankly, the Twain aspect was more interesting than the Custer one (which I suspect was supposed to be the main part).

Overall, I found this less rewarding than some of the other alternate history anthologies around. For the person who is new to alternate history, I would recommend the new reprint anthology ROADS NOT TAKEN (edited by Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt) as a better introduction. For the experienced alternate history fan, I would say that this is of more interest for those who are interested in the military aspects of how alternate histories happen than those who are interested in the sociological results.

%B      Alternate Generals
%E      Harry Turtledove
%T      "The Test of Gold" by Lillian Stuart Carl
%T      "Tradition" by Elizabeth Moon
%T      "And to the Republic For Which It Stands" by Brad Linaweaver
%T      "The Charge of Lee's Brigade" by S. M. Stirling
%T      "The Craft of War" by Lois Tilton
%T      "Queen of the Amazons" by Jody Lynn Nye
%T      "The Phantom Tolbukhin" by Harry Turtledove
%T      "An Old Man's Summer" by Esther Friesner
%T      "The Last Crusader" by Bill Fawcett
%T      "Billy Mitchell's Overt Act" by William Sanders
%T      "A Case for Justice" by Janet Berliner
%T      "A Hard Day for Mother" by William R. Fortschen
%T      "The Captain from Kirkbean" by David Weber
%T      "Viva l'Amiral" by John Mina
%T      "Bloodstained Ground" by Brian M. Thomsen
%T      "Vati" by R. M. Meluch
%C      New York
%D      August 1998
%I      Baen
%O      paperback, US$5.99
%G      ISBN 0-671-87886-7
%P      314pp

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