|Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History|
|edited by Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt|
|Del Rey Books, 322 pages |
|A review by Mark Shainblum|
Gardner Dozois -- editor of Asimov's Science Fiction, and Stanley Schmidt -- editor of Analog -- need no introduction to the well-read science fiction fan, and their author notes within this book are generally very informative. Unfortunately, they sometimes also contain "spoiler" information. There's no question that alternate history stories need more set-up than other literary genres, but I'd rather find out what a story is about within the story itself, thank you very much.
Roads Not Taken is a fine little collection of American alternate history stories, most originally published within the last ten years. Unfortunately, if you're a frequent reader of this type of fiction, you've probably already read the majority of these stories somewhere else. Aside from publication in magazines like Asimov's and Analog, most of them have already seen print at least once in previous alternate history anthologies like Benford and Greenberg's What Might Have Been or Mike Resnick's Alternate (Fill in the Blank) series.
That being said, I enjoyed most of these stories the first time around and reading them again was no great hardship. Harry Turtledove's "Must and Shall" is a great alternate Civil War/alternate World War II tale which proves he should stick to short-form work. Silverberg's "Outpost of the Empire" branches from the history of Rome and Byzantium at a fascinating and underexplored historical nexus, and similarly, Michael F. Flynn's "The Forest of Time" is a fascinating look at North America, had the Pennamite Wars turned out differently. Never heard of the Pennamite Wars? Neither did I. That's what makes this story so great. On the other hand, Gene Wolfe's "How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion," is tedious and a little precious.
One of the best stories in the book is Greg Costikyan's "The West is Red," a historical reversal where Soviet communism has become the dominant global economic model and a weak United States is struggling with "reform" and conversion to the communist model. President Jesse Jackson plays Gorbachev as the Republican Party mounts a last-ditch coup d'etat in an attempt to preserve capitalism. Deliciously ironic, and a bit of a wake-up call to the free-market-messiahs among us. That's the beauty and the strength of the alternate history genre. If you believe in free will, you must believe that there is no such thing as historical inevitability. If there is no inevitability and no fate, then reality is the chance product of millions of decisions and lives and accidents and mistakes, and the world you live in is no more likely than any other.
Mark Shainblum is the co-editor of Arrowdreams: An Anthology Of Alternate Canadas (Nuage Editions, 1997), the first anthology of Canadian alternate history. A veteran of the comic book field, Mark co-created the 1980s Canadian superhero Northguard, and currently writes the Canadian political parody series Angloman, both in the form of a paperback book series and as a weekly comic strip in the Montreal Gazette. He lives in Montreal with his computer, his slippers, and a motley collection of books.
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