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Nightfall

Nightfall

For decades, science fiction has dreamed of stepping through portals and entering new worlds. It were these sort of fantasies that birthed the modern alternate-history genre. To this day, stories are told with this device, such as Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series and Tom Sweterlitsch’s The Gone World.

Here, I will discuss a modern example of this subgenre: Nightfall, the first book in Andrew J. Harvey’s Clemhorn series.

The book follows various members of the Clemhorn family in high places of the Cross-Temporal Empire, a polity which rules multiple alternate incarnations of Earth. Each of these worlds is run by a bureaucratic hierarchy, which meet in the central imperial government. The Clemhorns are aristocrats, related to leaders of this empire. Through their eyes, they experience a massive upheaval in the empire, with threats from within and without.

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Succession

Succession

There are innumerable titles in the alternate-history genre that deal with a Great Britain occupied by the Nazis in the aftermath of their victory in the Second World War, from Len Deighton’s classic SS-GB to more recent works like C.J. Sansom’s lengthy and somewhat controversial Dominion (review here), not to mention many other titles published by indie authors.

There are so many, indeed, that it has become a distinctly tired trope within the genre, almost as stale as the overarching concept of the Third Reich Victorious scenario in general. Yet it cannot be denied that there is something to the concept of an occupied, fascist Britain that (perversely) appeals to me regardless of how uninspired it has become, and I’m always on the lookout for any alternate-history titles that offer an “alternate” take on the scenario and potentially rejuvenate it in the process.

After a great deal of searching through the Kindle charts and on social media, I was finally able to come up with a potential candidate: Succession, by Michael Drysdale.

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Conspiracy

Conspiracy

We think of the most heinous crimes in human history as having being perpetrated by beings other than humans. We call them animals or beasts or a variety of other dehumanizing names to forget that we have a commonality with murderers.

With no other group has this canard been wheeled out more often than the Nazis. It’s almost unfathomable that something so monstrous as the Holocaust could be planned and carried out by people like us.

Countering such a misguided notion is the goal of Conspiracy, a 2011 coproduction between HBO and the BBC, written by Loring Mandel and directed by Frank Pierson. The cast boasts the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth. It dramatizes the Wannsee Conference, a meeting held in an elegant mansion overlooking a lake outside Berlin in January 1942.

The agenda of the meeting was how to annihilate the Jews.

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The Art of Charles Schridde

Charles Schridde (1926-2011) was an American artist and illustrator. He is best known to retrofuturists for the homes of tomorrow he drew for Motorola in the 1960s.

The paintings, which were printed in advertisements, were of lavish Modernist dwellings, typically against a spectacular natural background, such as a cliff or a waterfall. Naturally, they were equipped with Motorola radios, television sets and other electronics.

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Napoleon Victorious

Napoleon Victorious

In my time spent exploring alternate-history fiction , I’ve come to the (no doubt entirely unoriginal) conclusion that there are two different types of publications in the genre; two broad “spheres” that nestle comfortably at either end of the genre and only occasionally overlap.

The first can perhaps be best described as “traditional” fiction, i.e. those novels and anthologies that are focused on plot and atmosphere and character development — whether they be an alternate-history crime thriller (In the Case Where Your Saviors Hide), legal thriller (Defying Conventions), naval-focused military history anthology (Those in Peril) or even espionage and politics (the classic Agent Lavender).

The second sphere consists of what its authors, editors and often readers seem to prefer labelling as “counterfactual” titles, far more formal and rigid essay-style counterfactual publications that focus exclusively on cause-and-effect explorations of a change or changes in a historical scenario. Almost inevitably these are military history-focused, with titles either following the what-if format or “X Victorious”, where X can stand for, variously, the Third Reich, Dixie, the Rising Sun and other nations or entities in history.

Both spheres have their pros and cons, and until very recently I had limited myself to reviewing titles in the traditional fiction sphere, as there were so many that I had discovered while wading my way through Kindle listings and social media posts. However, in my teenage years I had been an avid reader of counterfactual military history collections, and I still have a certain fondness for them. So when I discovered that Greenhill Books and Frontline books — the main publishers of many counterfactual collections — had significantly reduced the prices of many of their titles in ebook format, it seemed like the ideal time to dive back into that sphere.

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Trench 11

Trench 11

An Internet friend of mine likes to say that the best war movies are essentially horror movies. They thrust you into a living nightmare, one where worms and locusts feast on the shredded cadavers of former comrades. As General Sherman said, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.”

It is no wonder then that horror movies will use the setting of such mass slaughters for their supernatural thrills. Recent examples include Overlord and Ghosts of War, both of which I have reviewed here. Leo Scherman’s 2017 film Trench 11 is another entry in the military horror subgenre.

Unlike the World War II setting of the two aforementioned films, Trench 11 takes place during World War I, that allegedly “great” war. It reminded me of a comment I saw on a video of Sabaton’s song Attack of the Dead Men, about the namesake event that defies belief but is true. It was about how strange the innovations of that miserable war must have seemed to the young men who were slaughtered in it; men flying, killing other men with bullets fired at speeds that render them invisible, riding in metallic machines, digging tunnels under the earth, and suffocating of toxic air. In that context, men rising from the dead does not seem that implausible.

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Axis of Andes

Axis of Andes

We in the alternate-history community have a tendency to hyperfocus on the lands on the Atlantic area. The bulk of alternate history is devoted to Europe and North America from the eighteenth century onward, to the neglect of the imperial peripheries that make up the Global South.

It is with great satisfaction, then, that I bring your attention a duology by D.G. Valdron that concerns events in South America, perhaps our genre’s most neglected continent. Axis of Andes was originally a timeline on alternatehistory.com and now consists of two books: Axis of Andes: World War Two in South America and New World War: Part Two of Axis of Andes.

I wholeheartedly agree with my Sea Lion Press colleague Gary Oswald’s review of the duology: Axis of Andes demonstrates the great accomplishments of which the online alternate-history community is capable. (I’d argue that many Sea Lion Press works demonstrate that too.) It is an impressive work, epic in scope and extremely detailed in every section about a number of different countries.

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Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy

Romanzo di una strage

It’s the height of the Cold War. Italy’s Communist Party is still a force to be reckoned with. Far-left and far-right groups terrorize Italians in the streets, with the latter pinning their assassinations and bombings on the former in hopes of fomenting a neofascist coup: the so-called strategy of tension.

These are Italy’s Years of Lead.

Romanzo di una strage, released internationally as Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy, deals with one of the opening acts in that twenty-year drama: the December 12, 1969 bombing of the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura in the Piazza Fontana of Milan. Seventeen people were killed, 88 wounded. A prime suspect, anarchist leader Giuseppe Pinelli (played by Pierfrancesco Favino, whom you might recognize from World War Z), died in police custody a few days later. The policeman in charge of the investigation, Luigi Calabresi (Valerio Mastandrea), was himself killed in 1972.

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Alternate Presidents

Alternate Presidents

Every four years, American voters get the chance to elect a new president. The choices voters, and sometimes the House of Representatives, made on those occasions have been a rich vein from which alternate-history writers have drawn to tell stories. The late but prolific writer and editor Mike Resnick certainly thought so, commissioning a volume with more than two dozen such tales. Published as the 1992 presidential race was getting firmly underway, Alternate Presidents remain an intriguing collection to this day.

Across 28 stories, Resnick assembled writers and their tales of different commanders-in-chief. There as wide-ranging as Benjamin Franklin as the first president instead of George Washington to Victoria Woodhull becoming America’s first female president in 1872, to two very different presidencies for Thomas Dewey and Michael Dukakis’s first day in office taking him to Dulce Base in New Mexico. As that description might attest, the anthology runs a wide gamut between plausible alternatives and downright ludicrous.

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