Edited by Brian Thomsen & Martin H. Greenberg
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
One of the interesting things Brian Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg decided to do with their new anthology, Alternate Gettysburgs, is include information, in the form of essays, about the actual events which occurred at Gettysburg in July, 1863. This feature will allow readers who are less familiar with the Civil War to more fully understand the changes which the authors introduced in their stories. While the essays offer a nice bit of historical background for the reader, the editors did miss two items that would have been equally, if not more, valuable: a map of the Gettysburg battlefield and a chart listing the regiments and officers participating.
In “Sedgwick’s Charge,” Harold Coyle replaces the failed Southern charge by Pickett with a failed Northern charge by Sedgwick. Coyle's tale demonstrates many of the weaknesses inherent in alternate history. He focuses on the idea of his change at the expense of characterization. Furthermore, he throws out names of soldiers and regiments with an easy familiarity that may cause confusion for those less familiar with the historical events. Finally, despite endnotes and a section set in 2000, Coyle fails to examine the historical significance of his change.
One of the legendary figures to come out of the Civil War, who happened to be at Gettysburg, was George Armstrong Custer, recently named a brevet general. Although the end of Custer’s career at Little Big Horn is more well know, Doug Allyn applies Custer’s abilities to the start of his career in “Custer’s First Stand.” Allyn’s story suffers from a problem which recurs in many of the stories in this anthology. Rather than building a strong and sympathetic protagonist, he focuses solely on the idea of the change, even lacking follow-up to give the reader a clue what the alternative history will be.
"In the Bubble" by William H. Keith, Jr. combines the actions taken by the Confederacy at Gettysburg with the activities of an enormous group of historical re-enactors using a computer to help simulate the battle of Gettysburg in real time on the 175th anniversary of the battle. Although the scientific mumbo-jumbo removes the story from all plausibility as the reenactors wonder about their ability to alter actual history, the futuristic setting is one of the more interesting backgrounds, even if (or perhaps because) it doesn't spring out of a changed Gettysburg.
All too often, alternate histories rest on the movement of men during chaotic battles rather than the vicissitudes of fate which can affect a single man's emotions. In "The Blood of the Fallen," James Reasoner examines the fate of the Southern cause when Abraham Lincoln suffers a loss completely unrelated to the war or his presidency just moments before he delivers the Gettysburg Address. Told from the point of view of a man who serves as Lincoln's military guard, the story is both close to the president and distant from a man who is depicted as apart from those around him. Reasoner's history is just one version of a world which is much bloodier than the one in which we live.
Brendan DuBois looks at the difference between legend and reality in “The High-Water Mark, which chronicles both a father visiting Gettysburg with his son to teach of his great-great grandfather’s courageous act during the battle and Nicholas’s actual thoughts and actions during the battle. Although DuBois includes an alternate historical ending to the story, it seems tacked on for the purposes on the anthology and neither adds nor detracts from the central idea of the story.
Jake Foster’s “The Angle” mentions a Southern victory at Gettysburg without going into any detail. Instead, it is a story about racism, which is both casual and institutionalized. Raines is a black fight promoter who travels the Confederate States setting up illegal white-black boxing matches. Although society makes him take a subservient role, it can't make him accept it.
Robert J. Randisi’s “A Bad End” is an interesting little story. Set at the end of the war, rather than Gettysburg, there is nothing about it which appears to be alternative history until the final line. Once that is reached, however, the reader will go back over the story to find the few missed clues and places where the reader filled in details which Randisi did not include.
Jim DeFelice tells the story of a modern day "Lazarus," who is buried after the Confederate victory at Gettysburg but raises from the grave. In the following days, he continually finds himself in situations in which he is presumed dead, but manages to live. Jeptha Aarron decides that his strange fate is a sign that he is meant for a greater task. This is juxtaposed by Lincoln's thoughts and emotions as he realizes that his country must submit to the rebellious South.
"A Gun for Johnny Reb" is Simon Hawke's story of a shipment of repeaters which fell into Southern hands shortly before the battle of Gettysburg. Like many of the stories in Alternate Gettysburgs, Hawke focuses his attention on the idea of the change without really looking into its effects. What does set his story apart is the format. Hawke has elected to tell the story in the form of an excerpt from the memoirs of a Confederate Cavalry officer who was part of the detail which found the shipment.
Denise Little presents an interesting version of an alternate history with “Born in Blood.” Told as a straight forward account of the war and the battle of Gettysburg from a young cavalry lieutenant who ran away from home to join up, it is only at the end of the story, several years after the battle and the war that there is a point of divergence from the story’s being a secret history. The tale is weakened, however, by its focus on ideas to the detriment of characterization.Perhaps fittingly, the fictional component of Alternate Gettysburgs ends with another story about the "Gettysburg Address." Kristine Kathryn Rusch looks at the anxiety Lincoln had in selecting the "Well-Chosen Words" he would speak at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, while his host, David Wills, fretted about the success of the event itself. The story is well written, with both characters coming to life, however Rusch ends the story immediately after the point of departure without any attempt to examine the different world she he postulated.
Rusch's story is followed by the full text of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" as delivered in our own timeline and four essays by Steve Winter, William Terdoslavich, Paul A. Thomsen that detail the actual course of events leading up to, during and following the battle. William R. Forstchen, who has been known to write his own speculative fiction concerning the Civil War, closes the book with a discussion of what ifs which can serve as a branch point from history.
While none of the stories that are collected in Alternate Gettysburgs stand above the pack, they all present interesting points of departure. Unfortunately, too many of the authors are willing to allow the readers to come to their own conclusion about the changes incurred without offering guidance, which amounts to saying, "wouldn't it be neat if. . . " and then changing the topic. The anthology is strengthened by the inclusion of the end essays and brief notes by several of the authors, which are nice touches that should be considered for future anthologies with an historical basis.
|Harold Coyle||Sedgwick's Charge|
|Doug Allyn||Custer's First Stand|
|William H. Keith, Jr.||In the Bubble|
|James M. Reasoner||The Blood of the Fallen|
|Brendan DuBois||The High-Water Mark|
|Jake Foster||The Angle|
|Robert J. Randisi||A Bad End|
|Simon Hawke||A Gun for Johnny Reb|
|Denise Little||Born in Blood|
|Kristine Kathryn Rusch||Well-Chosen Words|
|Abraham Lincoln||The Gettysburg Address|
|Steve Winter||The Battle of Gettysburg: An Overview|
|William Terdoslvich||Gettysburg and the Politics of War|
|Paul A. Thomsen||Union and Confederate Social Convictions Surrounding the Battle of Gettysburg|
|William R. Forstchen||Lee's Victory at Gettysburg. . . And Then What?|
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