When the Russian Empire collapsed in 1917, it gave various nations a taste of freedom they hadn’t enjoyed in decades or even centuries.
One such nation was the Ukrainian People’s Republic, which existed only a few years before the Red Army came to reinstate Russian rule, this time under the hammer and sickle. It is in this brief interlude that the 2018 film Kruty 1918, directed by Aleksey Shaparev, takes place.
The film is clearly a metaphor for the Russian invasion of Ukraine in our own century. It begins and ends with a veteran of the ongoing war at a monument to the dead at the Battle of Kruty. It is a film that is in its own way deeply nationalistic, for good and for ill.
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It’s not exactly insightful to say that historical fiction, alternate history included, is obsessed with war, and there are good reasons for that. War is both common, being able to live through a lifetime without ever directly experiencing combat is a privilege that most of humanity didn’t have, and incredibly dramatic, nations and ideals can fall and rise based on a single gunshot.
But every genre needs variety. If all alternate-history stories are war stories, then the genre can appear, as Arturo Serrano put it, as of only interest to war gamers. All about tanks and bullets with little interest in the cultures and societies that wars defended, formed and destroyed.
This article, while originally written before our panel discussion on “Guns or Butter,” will go out sandwiched on either side by that discussion which was about the question, “What has alternate history lost by focusing on military fiction instead?”
Continue reading “Can You Write An Historical Story Ignoring War?”
In The Last Battle, Stephen Harding tells the unlikely tale of Allied and former Nazi troops making common cause to protect prominent French prisoners of war from the Waffen-SS.
This Battle of Castle Itter really happened, on May 5, 1945 — three days before victory in Europe. Elements of the American 12th Armored Division, Austrian resistance fighters, defected soldiers of the German Wehrmacht and several of the French prisoners themselves held off an attack by SS diehards before they could be relieved by the 142nd Infantry Regiment.
Among the prisoners were former prime ministers (and bitter rivals) Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud, former army commanders Maurice Gamelin and Maxime Weygand, and the former leader of the French far right, François de La Rocque, who had turned against Marshal Philippe Pétain and his collaborationist Vichy regime to secretly provide intelligence to the British.
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Ever since I read it my senior year of high school, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has been one of my favorite novels. It is a farce of bureaucracy, and as life becomes more and more bureaucratized, more and more people find themselves neck deep in this farce. It is a book that describes that unmooring, niggling internal monologue of “this is cruel and insane and it kills people and it could be changed so WHY ARE WE STILL DOING IT?!” that permeates so much of life in the twenty-first century. I quite enjoyed the 1970 film adaptation, and was excited to see how the 2019 miniseries would work out.
The series is overall quite faithful to the book. Many incidents are taken straight from the pages of the novel, and some are all the more impactful now that we can see, rather than imagine, them. I know that sounds trite, but it is one experience to read about a reckless pilot, McWatt, accidentally killing Kid Sampson; it is another to see the propeller of the plane scatter human gore across McWatt’s cockpit and then the explosion when he rams his plane into a mountain to atone for his crimes.
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If you’re anything like me, you’ve been watching events unfold in Ukraine with mounting frustration. Vladimir Putin is inflicting terrible and unnecessary suffering on the country, but there is so little we, ordinary Westerners, can do.
I recommend donating to a charity of your choice to help the people of Ukraine. 3.5 million have fled the country. Millions more are internally displaced, hiding out with family or friends or — worse — in basements and bunkers in cities like Kharkiv and Kiev and Mariupol, often without electricity, heat, medicine and running water. Charities like Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross are doing what they can to reach these people, and others are helping to provide shelter to refugees both inside Ukraine and in other European countries. They need and deserve your help!
Thanks to Sergeant Frosty Publications, a relatively new publisher of historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction, there is one more thing we can do: buy the alternate-history anthology Building a Better Future. Edited by David Flin, it contains thirteen stories. All the proceeds go to charities helping the people of Ukraine.
Click here to find the book on Amazon.
Also consider signing up for a writhaton this Saturday, Alternate Historians for Ukraine, which will raise money as well.
As an American, I remember being surprised to learn how impactful Westerns have been outside my homeland. It’s a genre that is quintessentially based on American history, but one that has gained currency abroad, particularly in Italy. Quasi-Westerns have also been made in Australia, China and South Africa.
Here I’d like to discuss a “Red Western”: Vladimir Motyl’s 1970 White Sun in the Desert. It’s a film much like American Westerns, but set in what is now Turkmenistan during the Russian Civil War.
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Albert Einstein once said he expected World War IV to be fought with “sticks and stones”. It feels lunatic to suggest there could be a fourth world war. Wouldn’t the third blow us all to Kingdom Come?
In defiance of that hesitation, Sean Patrick Hazlett has edited yet another anthology of speculative fiction based on the conceit of a world war, and that is Weird World War IV, published by Baen Books.
Much like the previous anthology, Weird World War III (review here), the stories run the gamut from hard science fiction to pulpier science fiction to open fantasy. Unlike the last book, all of these stories, as far as I can tell, are set in the future; there is none of the alternate history that played with last century’s fears of nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. This was mildly disappointing to me as an alternate-history fan, but in any case, it’s a solid science-fiction anthology.
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The House of Lost Horizons introduces (or reacquaints) Mike Mignola’s Sarah Jewell and Marie-Thérèse LaFleur. In this new story, the intrepid female detectives investigate murders in a house on an island. There is a storm, there is a vault filled with occult items ready to be bargained off. It’s not an original tale, but it has been masterfully presented.
Introduced in Rise of the Black Flame, this is one of the first times the lady detectives star in their own story, and it hits the mark straight out of the gate. You don’t need to have read their debut (which is for the best, considering the prices paper copies seem to go for these days), as there is just a passing allusion to The Black Flame Cult that will hit home with those who have.
No, all you need to do is pick up and enjoy this story, and live though the storm, just like the characters, to discover what the blazes is going on.
Continue reading “The House of Lost Horizons”
Our image of the First World War is dominated by Europeans and their descendants. Trench warfare, as portrayed in books like All Quiet on the Western Front, is shown as fought by Americans, British, French and Germans.
Those European countries, however, were also imperial powers, with many subject peoples made to contribute thousands of men to the war effort. One recent novel does not overlook them: David Diop’s At Night All Blood Is Black, translated into English by Anna Moschovakis.
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Few may have expected that the second-highest grossing film of 2020 (and the highest-grossing live-action film; the first was an anime from Japan) would be Chinese. The Chinese market is so enormous that its filmmakers can focus on their domestic audience and still make good money. The COVID-19 pandemic’s shuttering of so much of Hollywood gave The Eight Hundred a global boost.
Does the film hold up?
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