My twin brother and I grew up during World War II, and then in its long aftermath, when we lived with our military family in occupied Japan and Germany. WWII was the central pivot of the 20th Century. Before it, there were seven world powers; after, two.
I later was a postdoc working with renowned physicist Edward Teller, who told me many inside stories about the Manhattan Project that built the nuclear (“atomic”) bombs. My natural, science fictional instincts tinkered with the many what-if notions about how the war might have been different, and one became concrete in my mind: what if we’d gotten the bomb earlier?
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Josh Jacobson is a Nintendo cartridge hacker who makes homebrew cartridges for games that were never released for NES/SNES, complete with label art and colored plastic cases that makes them look like they came from an alternate universe where (for example), there was a Nintendo version of Sonic the Hedgehog.
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Theodor Herzl's seminal 1896 essay Der Judenstaat
called for the creation of Jewish state as an answer to the ancient evil of antisemitism; its legacy, Zionism, underpinned the creation of Israel; in Judenstaat
, Simone Zelitch's beautifully told, thoughtful and disturbing alternate history, the Jewish state is created in Saxony, not Palestine, and takes the place of East Germany. Read the rest
Pre-orders now being taken, ships Nov 2016. Sterling sez, "A new novella of mine set in an alternate Europe just after the Great War." I know what I'm doing next Nov. What. A. Cover.
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Ian Tregillis's The Coldest War is the long-awaited sequel to his 2010 novel alternate WWII novel Bitter Seeds, a secret history that pitted a mad Nazi scientist who'd made a cadree of twisted, dieselpunk X-Men against the hidden warlocks of the British Isles, men who conferred with ancient, vast forces and traded the blood of innocents for the power to warp time and space.
Coldest War opens in the late 1960s, in which continental Europe has been entirely taken over by the Soviet Union, the UK locked in cold war with it. The Nazi supermen of the first volume were either captured by the Soviets and spirited away to a secret city for reverse-engineering, or they were killed, or they have gone underground in London.
With all the flair he showed in his debut novel, Tregillis continues the tale, bringing to it that same marvellous plotting, immersive sense of place, and above all, wonderful characters. One of the characters introduced in the first novel is a precognitive, and in this volume -- which revolves around her long plots -- we are shown that the power to see the future is the most corrupting power of them all. Tregillis's oracle is one of the most chilling psychopath villains of literature, a delicious monster who drives the book forward.
As with the earlier volume, I tore through this one in a day and a half. Tregillis is a major new talent in the field, and this is some of the best -- and most exciting -- alternate history I've read. Read the rest
Scott Westerfeld's Goliath
ships today, concluding his fabulous steampunk YA trilogy that began with Leviathan
and continued in Behemoth
. This alternate history of WWI is set in a world divided into two technological camps. On the Darwinist side, scientists manipulate the "life threads" of animals to create useful synthetic animals ranging from little "message lizards" that can parrot brief phrases up to enormous organic zeppelins that are part whale, part hydrogen-breather. Clankers -- the Austro-Germanic camp, mostly -- create huge, steam-driven mecha and work-horses that do useful and deadly work. When Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated, his son, Aleks, is smuggled away to neutral Switzerland before his uncle can have him killed to get him out of the chain of succession. There, he ends up joining forces with the Leviathan
, a British airship whose crew includes the intrepid Dylan, a plucky girl who has dressed as a boy in order to secure a spot in the ship's crew. Once Aleks and Dylan have joined forces, Westerfeld begins to retell the history of WWI with ingenious variations drawing on his notional Darwinist/Clanker split, a tale of air-battles, naval warfare, diplomacy, skullduggery and sneakery.
Goliath picks up where Behemoth let off, after a spot of bother and a revolution in Constantinople, and takes the Leviathan to Tunguska, Siberia, where Nikola Tesla is secretly investigating the progress of his death ray, which may end the war -- or life as we know it. Goliath hurdles on from there in the classic Westerfeld style, a cracking adventure story that revolves around science and engineering in equal measures with love, jealousy and honor. Read the rest