When I first learned of Overlord, I thought that it sounded like something out of the Alien Space Bats subforum of alternatehistory.com. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen threads with the exact premise of this movie: zombies in World War II. What studio executive green-lit this?
Pay close attention to the film, though, and you will see it has antecedents. It has a whiff of Inglorious Basterds and the zany historical carnage of a Wolfenstein game. If you’ve seen many World War II movies, you will notice something very clever: that this is not a zombie movie in Occupied France, but an old-fashioned World War II movie with zombies. The characters match the archetypes of midcentury war epics: gallant American servicemen, resourceful French resistance fighters, sadistic SS officers. This is a decision that makes the whole enterprise more original than it otherwise would be.
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One of the most compelling things about any Axis victory alternate history, when done well, is the all-consuming sense of dread that pervades the entire enterprise. How could it not be? The very conceit is the triumph of one of the most bloodthirsty, sadistic regimes this world has ever known. There is something that sends a chill down my spine when reading the details of Generalplan Ost, the plan that made the bloodshed of the war look like small pickings in comparison.
That’s the hurdle all Axis victory works need to reckon with: the sheer, unrelenting, nauseating horror that is inherent to the very premise.
Many alternate histories have done this well. I consider Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and Robert Harris’ Fatherland (1992) some of the best dystopian fiction ever written, even beyond their allohistorical content. C.J. Sansom’s Dominion (2012) is a more subdued portrayal, but no less haunting for it. Harry Turtledove’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003) has a silent terror lurking in the background as a German color revolution seems to take root.
So it has been proven, quite conclusively, that this genre can be done well. Which brings us to Paul Leone’s In and Out of the Reich.
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One of my theories about Harry Turtledove is that, for all times he’s been labeled “the master of alternate history,” he never had the most enthusiasm for the genre.
It goes like this: Turtledove wanted to write Byzantine/Eastern Roman-themed fantasy, but after The Guns of the South (1992), alternate history became the money-making niche that he was stuck in. Turtledove would be neither the first nor last writer to have their most successful fiction be considerably different from the type they actually wanted to write.
Or maybe he did have enthusiasm for the genre but didn’t have the mindset needed to really take advantage of it. Or maybe the nature of alternate history and needing to appeal to a generalist audience who doesn’t have the most knowledge of history forced him into a corner.
Whatever the reason, The Man with the Iron Heart symbolizes the weaknesses of his style vividly.
Continue reading “The Man with the Iron Heart”
Reichbusters: Projekt Vril is cooperative action-adventure board game by Mythic Games set in late 1944. The Nazis have discovered a mysterious energy source known as vril that could change the outcome of the war. An elite team of over-the-top Allied operatives, called the Reichbusters, are sent in to eradicate this new threat before it is too late.
The art is by Guillem H. Pongiluppi from Barcelona, Spain.
Continue reading “Reichbusters: Projekt Vril Art”
It took quite a few years, but the long-awaited sequel to 2012’s Iron Sky has landed! (Pun intended.)
The sequel takes place 29 years after the events of the first movie (our review here), which you’d have to see to understand what’s happening in the second. Considering the first is an absolute dieselpunk classic, you absolutely should if you haven’t already!
I won’t go into the plot of this movie. Suffice to say that, like the first Iron Sky, it is utterly and completely out there and I’m here for it. Old villains, old heroes, new villains, new heroes. A total sarcastic approach to non-fictional personas, dieselpunk tinkering and utter madness: it’s Iron Sky alright.
Continue reading “Iron Sky: The Coming Race”
Rumors that the Nazis survived the fall of the Third Reich started to circulate almost as soon as the war in Europe ended in May 1945. There were stories that Adolf Hitler had escaped to Spain or South America. Some of his top lieutenants, notably Martin Bormann, were missing.
The speculation had some basis in reality. There really were efforts to smuggle Nazis out of Europe, but not on the scale Allied intelligence feared in the aftermath of the Second World War. Nor did anyone make serious preparations for a Fourth Reich.
Don’t tell diesel- and atomicpunk authors, who tend the exaggerate this history to spin wild tales of Nazi conspiracy.
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We previously imagined a world in which the Axis powers signed a peace treaty with America and World War II is still being fought as a prolonged Cold War. But what if Germany and Japan had pressed ahead and invaded the United States?
This next worldbuilding installment is heavily inspired by Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and the Amazon drama series that is based on it (2015-present, our review here). Other inspirations are William Overgard’s The Divide (1980), Harry Turtledove’s In the Presence of Mine Enemies (2003) and Guy Saville’s The Afrika Reich (2011).
Continue reading “What if the Axis Won World War II?”
One of the earliest descriptions of a dieselpunk world was written by “Piecraft” in 2006. He envisaged an alternate 1950s “where the Great Depression never arrived and World War II is still being fought as a prolonged Cold War.”
Japan continues its progress toward technological modernization, developing the earliest computers and terminals. Nazi scientists continue experimenting by taking the route of biotechnology, sparking off a genetic revolution of bio-mods, clones and organ harvesting, while the Americans and British take both of these technologies to develop mind-control devices, spawning man-machine interfaces and sparking the atomic-powered machine age.
Let’s explore this diesel-fueled world in the first installment of a new series we’ll call worldbuilding.
We’ll draw on Len Deighton’s SS-GB (1978) and the BBC serialization (2017, our review here), Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962) and the Amazon drama series (2015-present, review here), Robert Harris’ Fatherland (1992), Allen Steele’s V-S Day (2014, review here), the video game Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014), the art of Stefan Prohaczka and Sam van Olffen, and the real-life Nazi Generalplan Ost, among other sources.
Continue reading “What If World War II Never Ended?”
As the Allies closed in on Hitler’s Germany in late 1944 and early 1945, a desperate Nazi regime turned to “wonder weapons” in a final effort to turn the tide in the war.
The best-known as the V-1 and V-2 rockets, which rained down on London by the hundreds but failed to demoralize the British. Others, such as the V-3 cannon and Schwerer Gustav railway gun, were barely used. Others yet, like the German atomic bomb and Die Glocke, either barely advanced beyond the drawing board or never existed at all.
Continue reading “Wonder Weapons of the Third Reich”
Did you know many of the strange German warplanes we see in dieselpunk are based on real designs?
As World War II drew to a close in Europe, Nazi Germany rushed the development of advanced bombers and fighter jets in a final effort to stop the Allies. From the world’s first operational turbojet fighter to a flying wing, some of these technologies were so far ahead of their time that Allied commanders speculated the Germans could have turned the tide of the war if only they had managed to prolong it by a few months.
Continue reading “Strange Aircraft of the Third Reich: Real and Imagined”