The Moscow Option

The Moscow Option

While it can be fun to read alternate-history fiction, from time to time I do like to dip my toe into the more academic side of the genre and read through some of the more detailed counterfactual scenarios devised by those writing in that area, especially those titles that are structured more like historical texts. Some excellent examples that I’ve reviewed for the Sea Lion Press blog include Napoleon Victorious, by Peter G. Tsouras, and The Hitler Options, a collection of essays focused around differing scenarios that might have occurred in the Second World War.

For this review I’ve been reading another book in that style, courtesy of redoubtable publishers Frontline Books, who have once again favored us readers by heavily-discounting another tranche of their counterfactual titles. The first of that set is The Moscow Option, from none other than David Downing, legendary author of John Russel espionage series (Zoo Station, Stettin Station, etc.), set before and during the Second World War. This appears to be a title that he first had published in the mid-1970s and which was rereleased by Frontline Books in the distant past of 2001, and now converted to ebook format.

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The Iron Dream

The Iron Dream

Within published alternate-history fiction of decades gone by, there seemed to be only a few genres that would make use of an alternate-history setting. The most common being the thrillers like SS-GB (Len Deighton, 1978) and Fatherland (Robert Harris, 1992) as well as epic like the multi-volume Worldwar and Southern Victory series by Harry Turtledove. These were pretty well-defined by the 1990s, but before this there was a lot more experimentation with the format like we see again today.

One such experimentation was Robert Sobel’s For Want of a Nail (1973), which presented itself as a history textbook from another world and is a format that we are all the more familiar with nowadays than readers were when it was first released.

Another such fictional document narrative is The Iron Dream (1972) by Norman Spinrad — but here the document is not a history textbook, but rather a science-fantasy novel and an accompanying scholarly analysis. The metafictional science fantasy adventure within The Iron Dream is Lords of the Swatstika, by Adolf Hitler.

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The Hitler Options

The Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of World War II

In my review of Peter Tsouras’ Napoleon Victorious, I briefly discussed the idea that the alternate-history genre can roughly be split into two broad “spheres” that nestle comfortably at either end of the genre and only occasionally overlap.

The first is best described as “traditional” fiction, i.e. those novels and anthologies that are focused on plot and atmosphere and character development.

The second sphere consists of what authors, editors and often readers seem to prefer labeling 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.

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What If Hitler Had Gone for Moscow?

In the spring of 1942, Germany’s generals almost unanimously agreed that the Germans should renew their advance on Moscow. The Soviet counterattack in the winter of 1941-42 had pushed the Germans back somewhat from Moscow, but the Russian capital was still within German reach in the spring of 1942 — 100 miles away at one point.

Hitler overruled his generals. The Soviets had built up formidable defenses around Moscow. They had also concentrated an enormous number of divisions there, including the bulk of their armor. Hitler decided to emphasize the southern front in a quest for oil while running a disinformation campaign to keep the Soviet forces around Moscow pinned there. The generals felt that pushing into the Caucasus without destroying the Soviet army first was like putting your head in a noose. They were proven right at Stalingrad.

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The Forgotten Battle

De Slag om de Schelde

In war, that which sounds mundane can lead to compelling drama. Such was the Battle of the Scheldt, the fight to control a river route to the port of Antwerp in order to supply the Allied armies as they marched from Normandy through France into Germany. On paper, this may sound like the stuff of wargames or spreadsheets. In reality, it put human beings in a warzone.

Such is The Forgotten Battle, a 2021 Dutch World War II movie about the Battle of the Scheldt. (Antwerp is in Belgium, but the fighting took place in the southwestern Netherlands.) It is a film tinged with the sense that the war will soon be over, that Germany will be defeated, that the Wehrmacht will retreat, and that the Netherlands will soon be free. If you’ve played Company of Heroes, you may notice a similarity to that game’s Panzer Elite campaign (which, incidentally, was also set in the Netherlands).

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The Aviator

The Aviator

Martin Scorsese is a director of many talents. He is best known for the crime films set in the New York of his youth, but he has tackled other themes: a harrowing medical drama in Bringing Out the Dead, a sports drama in Raging Bull, a psychological thriller in Shutter Island, and, of all things, a children’s adventure in Hugo (review here).

This review discusses another non-stereotypical Scorsese venture: his biopic of inventor Howard Hughes, entitled The Aviator.

The Aviator may not be an easy watch. It borders on three hours of runtime. As such, it is something of a marathon through the life of Hughes, a man who very much deserved a biopic. (See The Aviator: The Life and Legend of Howard Hughes) He was an eccentric and troubled genius, one who was all too prone to self-destruction. He was a movie pioneer and an aviation pioneer, and the film shrinks on neither aspect of him.

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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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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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