NESFA Members' Reviews


edited by Mike Resnick

Tor, ISBN 0-812-54835-3, 1997, 337pp, US$11.99

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1997 Evelyn C. Leeper

I'm a big fan of alternate history, but even I have my limits, and I think I've reached them. In fact, I have problems with this book on two levels, both its contents and its format. Since in general people care more about the content, I'll start there.

The first two Resnick alternate history anthologies (ALTERNATE PRESIDENTS and ALTERNATE KENNEDYS) were quite good and their stories garnered several award nominations. The third book (ALTERNATE WARRIORS) was passable but definitely a step down. And ALTERNATE TYRANTS is still more disappointing. Of the twenty stories, only the Maureen McHugh ("The Lincoln Train") is noteworthy. It was, in fact, a Hugo nominee. I found the rest surprisingly unengaging, even the Kathe Koja and Barry N. Malzberg, who can usually be relied upon. But stories of rock stars as President (shades of "Ike at the Mike"?), gangsters as President, Einstein as the leader of Israel, and so on, while they *sound* promising, decline rapidly into cliche and predictability. Example: "Jubilee" by Jack C. Haldeman II and Barbara Delaplace is set in a 957 C.E. in which the turning point was the failed assassination of Julius Caesar. The characters speculate about what might have happened had the assassination succeeded. Okay, it is the millenial celebration, but why have a millenial celebration of a failed assassination anyway? And why have a spaceship called a spatiumnavis, when other vehicles are called freighters and vans?

Realizing that it is a capital mistake to theorize without data, I suspect the method of constructing this anthology may be partially to blame. It appears (from the introductory notes) that in many cases writers were given scenarios (or at least premises) to develop into stories. It is of course possible to write to spec (television writers do it all the time), but I can't help but feel that it is not the way to get the most creative results from fiction writers. And the fact that the stories are all copyrighted 1996 even though the anthology didn't appear until April of 1997 makes me wonder if perhaps it was decided to give the authors a chance to sell the first publication rights elsewhere first. This is okay, but the reference to "new stories" leads one to think this is an original anthology, while the copyright dates indicate perhaps not.

As for the format, this book has the worst of both the trade paperback and the mass market paperback formats. (It is, technically, a mass market paperback.) It has the higher price and larger, more- difficult-to- store size of a traditional trade paperback, but the cheap paper and environmentally unsound strippability of a mass market paperback. When I spend $12 for a book, I don't want it to feel like paper toweling.

In summary, much as I wanted to like this book, I cannot recommend it.

%B      Alternate Tyrants
%E      Mike Resnick
%C      New York
%D      April 1997
%I      Tor
%O      paperback, US$11.99
%G      ISBN 0-812-54835-3
%P      337pp
%S      Alternate
%V      4

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