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Decades of Hats

Decades of Hats

As the title suggests, this catalogue book is all about hats. Collecting hat ads from the 1900s to the 1970s, it is a marvelous display of the evolution of headwear through the years.

Sadly, as is too often the case with books like these, all pages are in black and white, denying us the color stories behind the designs.

Even in grayscale, the book is pretty amazing if you’re into hats and want to know more which piece was appropriate for which period.

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Catalogue Books: What We Will (And Won’t) Learn from Them

This is a companion piece to my series of catalogue book reviews for those wondering which book will suit them best and whether or not it’s something they want to start with.

Now, what is to be taken away from these tomes that give us a visual glimpse in sartorial evolution from 1909 to 1959? Other than how fashion has evolved from the steam into the diesel and atomic eras?

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The Times of Scrooge McDuck: The Buckaroo of the Badlands

The Buckaroo of the Badlands

Much like he entered the steamboat business at the dawn of the railway era in The Master of the Mississippi (annotations here), Scrooge seeks his fortune in the American West when it was scarcely “Wild” anymore in The Buckaroo of the Badlands (1992). At age 15, Scrooge is employed by Murdo MacKenzie, the Scottish-born Montana cattle baron, and meets the later president Theodore Roosevelt (although he doesn’t know it yet).

Keno Don Rosa skillfully integrates the tidbits about Scrooge’s cowboy days Carl Barks had revealed over the years, starting with “Only a Poor Old Man,” published in the very first issue of Uncle Scrooge (1952), in which the then richest duck in the world tells Huey, Dewey and Louie he made his fortune “on the seas, and in the mines, and in the cattle wars of the old frontier.”

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Changing the World: Continent Cut Off

Fog in Channel. Continent Cut Off

Apocryphal newspaper headline​

In the first article of this series, I introduced the concept of geographical determinism: the idea that the destiny of a people or a nation is set by its geographical situation. We know that alternate history is dependent on contingency — the idea that the course of history can be changed, either by conscious action or by the confluence of events. How then might these two concepts be reconciled? How can a timeline explore a divergent historical while still remaining bound by geographical constants?

In this second article, I want to explore an example of geographical determinism close to many of our readers’ homes; that of Great Britain as an island nation. (I should stress that the scope of this article exclusively refers to the island of Great Britain and not to the United Kingdom or to the island of Ireland. This is primarily for reasons of length, as the inclusion of Ireland would considerably complicate the subject.) What has being an island meant for Britain, as a concept and as a practical endeavor? How has being an island driven the unification of the many British nations into what is (for now) a single unitary state? And finally, what, if we understand these geographic influences to be constants, are the possibilities for alternative Great Britains?

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Year Zero in The Man in the High Castle

To the student of history, the premise of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle (2015-19, our review here)based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel of the same name, isn’t easy to accept. The United States, in the real world an industrial titan and the “Arsenal of Democracy”, is defeated in World War II and replaced by two Axis puppet states. The show justifies its alternate history with a favorite dieselpunk trope: Nazi superscience. Specifically, the “Heisenberg device” atomic bomb, which is used to decapitate the American leadership in Washington DC in December 1945.

The “history” of Nazi-ruled America is more credible. Institutions like the FBI neatly fold into the New Order. Former soldiers, like John Smith (Rufus Sewell), join the SS. Jews and other undesirables, including the mentally and physically disabled, are exterminated with little resistance.

One political aspect of the show which was very much on-point came late in Season 3, when (spoilers ahead!) the recently crowned Reichsführer, Heinrich Himmler, observes the celebrations of a Jahr Null, or Year Zero, in an alternate 1963.

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Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines has one good idea: put cities on wheels. The rest of the movie is a succession of clichés.

Humanity has nearly destroyed itself in the equivalent of a global nuclear war. What remains of Western civilization are bandits and imperialists. In the East, peace-loving people thrive behind the protection of an enormous wall. Angry girl Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) eventually mellows and falls in love with well-intended but naive boy Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), who together avert doomsday at the last minute.

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Why a Message Board Is Better Than Facebook

When I got involved in diesel- and steampunk, most of the online communities were message boards. Now most are on Facebook.

It has not been an improvement. Interactions in message boards were more civil and informative than they typically are on Facebook (or Twitter for that matter). Message boards were never enormous, so you could become a well-known member and make friends. Some of the fellow alternate-history aficionados I met in message boards are still acquaintances and in some cases Never Was contributors.

The problem with Facebook is that everyone is on it. But that is also its power. It’s why most people, when they want to create a community, create a Facebook group.

That’s not what we did for the Never Was Lounge. Here’s why.

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When the World Held Its Breath: Divide and Conquer

“We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crumbling down” was Adolf Hitler’s reassurance to his followers as he chose to embark on the invasion of the Soviet Union. The German dictator was confident that his mortal enemy was as weak as it was degenerate, the pseudoscience of Nazi ideology and racial theory providing the justifications for their leader’s optimism rather than any basis in reality.

Hitler’s optimism has since become one of the most famous examples of hubris in history with his deluded boast coming back to haunt him four years later as his regime fell apart in the face of the Red Army moving ever closer to Berlin.

But did the Germans miss a chance to destroy the Soviet Union from within? In the early days of Operation Barbarossa the Germans were often welcomed as liberators by local populations in the Baltic states, Belarus and Ukraine. The Baltic states had only recently been annexed into the Soviet Union, against the will of the majority of their populations. In Belarus, the totalitarian nature of Stalinism had been particularly hard felt. Nationalist and religious sympathies were heavily repressed. Ukraine had suffered one of the worst famines in their history in the 30s. Many blamed the Soviet system for the Holodomor, directly or indirectly. How could the Germans be worse?

The brutality and scale of the German crimes within the occupied territories were worse than anything in human history. Tens of thousands of villages and entire cities were burned to the ground, often with few of the local population escaping alive. Millions were rendered homeless. Food from the occupied territories was siphoned off deliberately to engineer a famine, the so-called Hunger Plan that would aid the planned genocide of the Slavic peoples in order for them to make way for German colonists. Within a short period of time, the traditional offerings of bread and salt many German soldiers had received from Soviet peasants had morphed into partisan insurgency of unrivaled fury that would play a major part in the Red Army’s ability to eventually throw the Germans back.

If the Germans had embraced the anticipations of many within the occupied Soviet Union that the Wehrmacht had arrived to restore independence to their nations and revive Christianity, or at least held off on their genocidal occupations until their final victory, might they have been able to succeed in disuniting and ultimately unraveling the Soviet war effort?

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The second Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald, takes us to Paris in 1927 at the height of the Jazz Age.

As the title suggests, the movie continues to feature the plans of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), the greatest dark wizard of his time. While he is featured, their paths cross and we do see him plot, the movie equally revolves around the personal adventures of Newt (Eddie Redmayne), his friends and other characters, separately from what Grindelwald is getting up to.

If you haven’t seen the first Fantastic Beasts movie but are familiar with Harry Potter, you might be a tiny bit confused at some points, but not so much that you can’t follow the storyline. If you are wholly unfamiliar with the Wizarding World universe, however, the movie be more confusing. But I wouldn’t say you won’t be able to enjoy it.

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