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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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 (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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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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X-Shape of the Swastika

Symbols are strange beasts. The swastika, which has been a symbol of good luck and well-being for thousands of years and among many different peoples, in the last century has taken up a completely different meaning. At least for the Western world.

The word swastika derives from the Sanskrit su, which means “well”, and asti, which means “being”, and its form — the hooked cross — probably represents the sun and its movement across the sky.

Its use dates back to Neolithic Europe. One of the firsts swastikas was uncovered in Mezine, Ukraine, and it’s thought to be 12,000 years old. The routine use of the swastika as a symbol of good fortune probably started in Southern Europe. This area is now Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, with people belonging to the Vinča Culture, about 8,000 years ago. But examples of swastikas are found in many different cultures across Asia (where it is still today a symbol of good luck, for example in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism) and even in America, where it has been used by the Navajo.

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In the Presence of Mine Enemies

In the Presence of Mine Enemies

We alternate historians, and the broader popular culture more generally, rightfully think of Nazi Germany as being an incredibly violent place. You had Jewish shops being smashed on Kristallnacht after the Reichstag was set ablaze. You had bloody street brawls between Nazis and Nationalists and Social Democrats and Communists. You had political dissidents tortured in Dachau. All of this was before they manufactured a fraudulent casus belli at Gleiwitz and sent the tanks rolling into Poland, the blitzkrieg that brought France to heel, the rampage through the Soviet Union and the opening of the death factories for Jews and other “undesirables.”

In our world, such a regime was put down with bombers and tanks and bullets. Few would disagree with the notion that such a heinous regime deserved to be put down. When we alternate historians write about other worlds where the Nazi regime lasts longer, we usually project it as either falling apart into a bloody civil war, its imperial adventures causing the whole regime to unravel (often in a form of aforementioned bloody civil war), or another war between it and the other great powers that ends in something even worse than the war in our world (think the ending to Festung Europa, available from Sea Lion Press).

However, it is widely considered bigoted at least when we call any society inherently violent; in recent decades, the targets of choice are Muslims and African Americans, and calling either inherently violent is rightly tarred as extremely racist. However, we are also generally willing to say that certain governments and methods of governing are inherently violent. Which those are is often a hotly debated concept.

That tensions between society and government, and their respective tolerances for violence, is the core narrative thrust of Harry Turtledove’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies.

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