Storm Front

Storm Front

Chris Nuttall is a prolific writer of various genres, including alternate history.

In Storm Front, the opening of a series, he writes in that well-worn area of alternate history, the “Nazi Victory”. It’s 1985, and the United States is one of two major world superpowers (this may sound slightly familiar). The other is a German Third Reich which stretches into Africa and the former USSR, now named Germany East. The status quo is about to be upended, and it’s viewed through the eyes of many people, from the top to the bottom of society.

The Harry Turtledove influence here (and not just in the form of a character with that name as an obvious reference) is gigantic. Namely, this contains two big similarities.

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Fatherland

Fatherland

What are the best works of alternate history? Are they the ones with the richest, most detailed and most plausible histories described? Or are they the most engaging stories that happen to take place in a timeline different from our own?

Fatherland, by Robert Harris, by the latter definition, might just be one title that can be counted among the greatest works of alternate history. Through its description of an Axis victory timeline that has since become cliché, its engaging plot and rounded characters, and its presentation of one of the most frightening dystopias since Orwell’s Airstrip One, it has rightly earned its place as a seminal work of alternate-history fiction.

A bestseller in the UK upon its 1992 release, does Fatherland still hold up as one of the greats of published alternate history?

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Remaking the World

It wasn’t until the modern era that would-be conquerors and do-gooders could think on a global scale. The discovery of the New World and the invention of steamboats, the telegraph, airplanes, television and intercontinental ballistic missiles made the world feel smaller. Egyptian pharaohs and Chinese emperors may have claimed to rule everything under the sun and the heavens; it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that an island nation on the western edge of Eurasia could acquire an empire on which the sun never set.

The potential of world conquest inflated the ambitions of political movements. Marxists called for a world revolution of the proletariat. Fascist Germany and Japan planned to divide the world between them. America sought to make the world safe for democracy.

If world war and world conquest were possible, then surely so were world peace and unity? Pan-Europeanism and internationalism flourished in the twentieth century, giving life to the League of Nations, the United Nations and what would become the European Union.

From the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas to the would-be EUs of the present day, here’s a history at attempts — few of them successful — to remake the world.

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Declare

Declare

The world of espionage is one of secrets, of things that are deemed by one group or another to be worth killing over. They can be weapons or pieces of information or research facilities or other things of that nature. What they have in common is their vital importance to somebody’s security.

The world of mysticism is also filled with secrets. There are fraternities and orders and other religious organizations that swear their members to secrecy. Oftentimes this is of primarily theological interest. But there have always been those who wondered if something far more consequential wasn’t going on.

It is natural then to combine the cloak and dagger with the supernatural and the occult. This is what Tim Powers has done with his novel Declare, released in 2001. It reads like a combination of a World War II or early-Cold War spy novel and something along the lines of Dan Brown or maybe Umberto Eco. You have the globetrotting exploits, but also the sense that there is something beyond our comprehension afoot.

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Nazi Flying Saucers

Often, but not always, paired with Nazis in Antarctica and Nazis on the Moon is the Nazi UFO or flying saucer trope.

The trope has a tenuous basis in reality. The Nazis really did develop strange aircraft, including a flying wing, and Allied pilots did claim to spot “foo fighters” over the skies of Germany near the end of the war. This was when Hitler was banking on his “wonder weapons” to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

German flying discs, though, were invented after the war by conspiracy theorists and ufologists — and eagerly exploited by dieselpunk creators.

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Ghosts of War

Ghosts of War

I finished my review of Overlord, the fantastic 2018 World War II zombie movie, with a call on Hollywood to be so bold as to green-light more movies like it. I was greatly pleased when I encountered Ghosts of War, a 2020 World War II horror film that seemed to be following in Overlord‘s footsteps. I’m an alternate historian, and so I’m a sucker for anything that mashes up history and the supernatural like this.

The film revolves around five American soldiers after D-Day who are tasked with holding a chateau in the French countryside from the Germans until a relief force comes. It’s a simple plot, at first, and a natural way of combining two wildly different genres.

The vast majority of actors here are people you’ve likely never heard of, with the exception of Theo Rossi, who you may recognize from Luke Cage on Netflix.

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Army of Shadows

Army of Shadows

Sometimes the conventional wisdom is right.

When Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 French Resistance classic Army of Shadows was released in the United States in 2006, many reviewers listed it as their favorite movie of the year. Newsweek called it a “fatalistic masterpiece”, The New York Times an “austere mise-en-scène in which Resistance fighters carry the shame of a nation on their squared shoulders.” LA Weekly described it as the “crowning achievement” of a director who specialized in minimalistic film noir. “Unlike the romantic images of freedom fighters perpetuated by the popular media, Melville’s movie is stripped of self-congratulatory hero worship and other puffery,” wrote the Austin Chronicle.

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Zentrum

Zentrum (the Center Party) was founded in the 1870s to protect the rights of the Catholic minority and was always held together by its commitment to Catholicism.

In the years of the Republic, it shared some views with the left. It supported the welfare state, for example, and worked for an international understanding among nations. Its leader, Matthias Erzberger, helped to uphold the Weimar Constitution and supported parliamentary democracy. Zentrum also worked for the preservation of the federal states, the Länder.

At the same time, Zentrum shared views with the right. It advocated a patriarchal system of cooperation at home and was quite conservative about the nation’s defense.

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Metropius Teaser Trailer

Think Rapture, but above ground. Metropius is the most exciting dieselpunk project currently in production. The teaser trailer, released on Thursday, reveals a city of flying cars, neon lights and robotic traffic cops.

The website describes Metropius as “a city rich on the profits of an endless WWII,” operating under corporate rule.

These corporations have a stranglehold on their citizens’ time, privacy and the world’s most valuable fossil-fuel resource which has generated Metropius’ technological growth: the rose-diesel.

The aesthetics are reminiscent of BioShock, Thomas Pringle, Stefan Prohaczka and Tim Razumovsky — in short, all the best dieselpunk creators. Alejandro Bursidio, a Spanish artist, provided concept arts when the project was still called Acropolisworld.

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Youth

Karl Mannheim
Karl Mannheim

In 1928, Karl Mannheim devised a completely new concept of generation. Not just the natural regeneration of a population, Mannheim theorized that a generation shares a common dramatic fact that influences and forms every concept, every belief, every behavior of that particular group of people that lives in the same time, place and cultural environment.

There’s no doubt that World War I formed the generation of Weimar. The young people who fought in the trenches thought their elders, their parents, their fathers and mothers, could not understand what that meant. The experience of war was so intense and life-changing that those young men truly believed nobody but others like them could understand. They did know that their fathers’ world was gone forever and its values with it, and so they thought their elders could teach them nothing useful and they had to create their own new world, with their own new values.

Besides, they were not scared of experimenting. Any novelty was worth trying.

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