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In Memoriam: Eric Flint

Eric Flint

We at Never Was join many others in the alternate-history community in mourning the passing of Eric Flint.

Flint was the mastermind behind the sprawling 1632 series of time-travel alternate-history novels, in which the small town of Grantville, West Virginia is taken from the year 2000 and dropped into the middle of Thuringia, Germany during the Thirty Years’ War. This series grew to involve a great many writers in its novels and anthologies, as well as opening up contributions to the public via the Grantville Gazette.

Flint pioneered a collaborative model of science-fiction writing, helped make Baen Books what it is today, helped create the Baen Free Library, and wrote many other books in various genres with a number of co-authors.

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Let the Mountains Be My Grave

Let the Mountains Be My Grave

A number of countries in Europe define their World War II histories by their resistance fighters. Partisans have been made into heroes since the end of the war, in movies and in novels. In Let the Mountains Be My Grave, Francesca Tacchi (xe/xem) puts not one, but two unique twists on this familiar narrative.

The main character, Veleno, is a partisan in 1944 Italy, fighting the Germans as the Allies move north up the peninsula. Veleno is not aided solely by worldly means; he is in the possession of a locket sacred to Angitia, a goddess of various peoples of central Italy before the Romans conquered the region. His hatred of the occupiers of his homeland is so profound that he has vowed to kill as many Germans as he can before he dies, a fate he feels is inevitable and imminent.

The second element that makes Let the Mountains Be My Grave unique: its central romance is between two men.

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Gaslit

Gaslit

Donald Trump’s presidency saw a renewed interest in the rise and fall of Richard Nixon, now almost half a century ago.

In 2017, we got the excellent Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, starring Liam Neeson as the associate FBI director who fed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the story behind the Watergate burglary. They nicknamed him “Deep Throat”.

The four-hour documentary Watergate — Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President was released a year later.

Slate produced a podcast about the Watergate scandal in 2020, called Slow Burn. It was so successful that they continued it with a season about Monica Lewinsky and the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

Gaslit is partly based on that podcast. The makers of Slow Burn restored Martha Mitchell’s role in the history of Watergate. Gaslit puts her front and center with a stellar performance by Julia Roberts.

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The Republic of Virginia

The Republic of Virginia

I have, with the exception of my four years at the College of William & Mary, been a lifelong resident of northern Virginia, which is a fancy way of referring to the suburban sprawl of Washington DC on the southern banks of the Potomac. We joke that this region is “occupied Virginia,” and Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee for governor in 2017, called us “not real Virginians.”

As such, my interaction with the rest of the state can be slight. I was interested, then, to see that Charles Bateman had written an alternate-history novel, The Republic of Virginia: Brothers and Battlelines of 1861, focusing on the state.

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In the Trenches

In the Trenches

War is a force that gives us meaning, and its allure can be intoxicating even as the slugfest devolves into slaughter. It usually kills plenty of men, but women are swept up in it too. In China there is the story of Hua Mulan, in England that of Sweet Polly Oliver, in France Joan of Arc, and in America Mollie Bean.

Here we shall discuss the story of Tatiana Dubinskaya, a woman who dressed as a man to fight in the tsar’s army in World War I. She wrote a semi-autobiographical novel In the Trenches, recently translated into English by Julia Lemberskiy.

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Dirty Lines

Dirty Lines

I previewed Dirty Lines as the Netherlands’ answer to Sex Education in my review of Amsterdam Vice, which I compared to The Deuce. Having watched all six episodes of the series (sadly, there are only six), I can confirm it’s just as wholesome.

Sex Education is about teenagers at a modern-day British high school. The main character of Dirty Lines, played by Joy Delima, is a sexology student at the University of Amsterdam in the late 1980s. The Dutch show is a little grittier (it’s 1980s Amsterdam) and a little more mature, but in terms of topics and humor it has a lot in common with Sex Education. Both are on Netflix.

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Monumental Propaganda

Modern Propaganda

Joseph Stalin was synonymous with the Soviet Union until he wasn’t. When Nikita Khrushchev, in 1956, formally denounced the vozhd, the man who had led his country through the nightmare of Barbarossa and emerged victorious, it came as a shock. The red banner flew from Vladivostok to Erfurt, from Murmansk to Tirana. World communism seemed inevitable. But Khrushchev knew Stalin had also hurt the Soviet Union in many ways.

Vladimir Voinovich’s 2000 novel Monumental Propaganda, named after Lenin’s doctrine of monumental art, whose remnants dot the former Soviet Union, addresses that shock. In particular, it revolves around a statue of Stalin in a fictional Russian city that is brought into being by Aglaya Stepanovna Renkina, a local party apparatchik who is intensely devoted to the leader. (She survived Barbarossa) She is stunned when the statue is removed in the wake of de-Stalinization and spends the next several decades trying to cope with that loss. In her nostalgic delirium, she finagles her way into getting the statue established in her living room.

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Midcentury Marvel in Disneyland Paris

Almost a year ago, Disneyland Paris reopened their Hotel New York after a long period of refurbishment. You might won’t why this is even worth mentioning, so let’s just dive right into it. Out of all their on-site resort hotels, the New York was the only one with a dieselpunk theme.

I didn’t take a tour of the hotel on previous visits to Disney, nor did I stay there prior to refurbishment. I did previously visit the main entrance hall and often walked past the hotel to admire its midcentury architecture.

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Brussels Manga

Now that conventions are slowly making a return, we also have a returning (to the convention scene and this blog) staple with Brussels Manga, previously known as Japan Con. As far as Japan-centered conventions in Belgium go, this is one of the smallest. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for with its location and atmosphere.

The beautiful, industrial Tour et Taxis building offers a lot of space and natural light, as well as excellent spots for diesel- and steampunk photos. Although the event is not ‘punk-specific, it is definitely a space where you can wear the style and blend in. You can even find some steampunk wares among the merchandise on offer.

On top of that, if you enjoy Japanese culture, what is better than having both?

If you love seeing cosplay, this is also a great event, and due to its small size you can actually properly stop and admire people’s costumes, many of which had distinctive ‘punk influences.

Onto the pictures!

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Summerland

Summerland

When writers want to bring back the feel of interwar pulp fiction, they will of course exploit the technology and the political situation of the time. They will, however, also use the supernatural as imagined then: ancient, occult and at least somewhat incomprehensible. This, I have seen argued, is taken from the work of H.P. Lovecraft and his emulators, given most famous expression in the Indiana Jones films.

Sometimes, alternate history dwells on this sort of dieselpunk. One such example is Hannu Rajaniemi’s 2018 novel Summerland. It takes what is on the surface a well-trod alternate-history setting, interwar Europe, and combines it with an imaginative realization of the supernatural that never descends into cliche. Summerland is something like what I’d imagine if the likes of Jeff Vandermeer wrote alternate history; it is a book that possesses the odd yet distinct properties of “weird fiction”.

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