Reviewed by Steven H Silver
All too often, theme anthologies have a tendency to degenerate quickly as authors plumb the depths and shallows of the anthologies concept and come up with ideas that border on the ludicrous. In his introduction to New Worlds (White Wolf, 1997), a general anthology, editor David Garnett refers to "[a] collection of lesbian cat vampire stories for example, all set in an alternate world where Abraham Lincoln married Queen Victoria." Although Garnett was being facetious, at times his description doesn't seem to be too far off. Bearing this in mind, I approached Harry Turtledove's anthology Alternate Generals with a small amount of trepidation. While a recent series of alternate history anthologies produced Hugo nominees, it also produced stories based on the idea of President Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein as a superhero. Turtledove's anthology, despite the blurb on the back, remains firmly in the realm of the plausible.
The blurb on the back of the anthology is a prime example of what marketing flacks should not do. This blurb implies that the book is filled with time travel stories, pitting Erwin Rommel against Alexander the Great at Gaugemela and George S. Patton in comman of the rebels at Manasses. No such stories appear within the covers of the book. Instead, Turtledove's selection includes a world in which Horatio Nelson finds himself fighting for the French, Billy Mitchell discovers the Japanese fleet headed for Pearl Harbor and Sir John Paul (not Jones) fighting for his native land.
While not all of the stories are outstanding, most of the stories at least rival those published in the science fiction magazines. Moreover, they would not appear out of place in the magazines as many theme anthologies would, appearing without the explanation of the book.
The highlight of Alternate Generals is the underappreciated, underpublished William Sanders. In "Billy Mitchell's Overt Act," Mitchell survives to see the start of World War II in Europe and is able to make his notions of the use of the air corps into reality when he is assigned to Pearl Harbor. As in our world, Mitchell must buck authority to put his plan into action.
Other exceptional stories include Turtledove's own "The Phantom Tolbukhin," which, despite its title is not a pun-laden story, but rather a look at Fedor Tolbukhin and Nikita Khrushchev fighting off a victorious Nazi army in occupied Russia, and John Mina's "Vive l'Amiral." In the latter work, Horatio Nelson is practically cashiered from the British navy for doing his duty and facing bankruptcy. He flees Britain for France where he is welcomed by a friend who helps him find a place in the French navy, eventually pitting Nelson against his British Rival, Hardy.
A few of the stories do not work. William Forstchen's "A Hard Day for Mother" relies a little too much on the author's love of military detail. Perhaps if I were of a more militaristic bent I would have appreciated it more. Janet Berliner's "A Case for Justice" relies too heavily on the reader's knowledge of Jan Christian Smuts and South African history. Without this historical information, the story doesn't quite work, a problem which is inherent in writing alternate history.
Most of the stories work but don't stand out. S.M. Stirling creates a world in which Sir Robert E. Lee leads the British into the Crimea and Brian Thomsen's failed author Sam Clemens is sent to cover the funeral of President George Armstrong Custer. The ancient world provides fodder for Lillian Stewart Carl's "The Test of Gold" (Queen Boudica), Brad Linaweaver's "And to the Republic For Which It Stands" (Julius Caesar) and Lois Tilton's "The Craft of War" (Sun Tzu).
Overall, Alternate Generals is one of the best anthologies, whether theme or otherwise, to be published so far this year. The stories stand on their own without any explanation are relying on the fact that they appear in a theme anthology. The biggest failing is the cover (with minuscule acknowledgement of the editor) and the awful back cover blurb that not only doesn't give away any of the stories, but completely fails to accurately describe what the book is about.
|Lillian Stewart Carl||The Test of Gold|
|Brad Linaweaver||And to the Republic for Which It Stands|
|S.M. Stirling||The Charge of Lee's Brigade|
|Lois Tilton||The Craft of War|
|Jody Lynn Nye||Queen of the Amazons|
|Harry Turtledove||The Phantom Tolbukhin|
|Esther Friesner||An Old Man's Summer|
|Bill Fawcett||The Last Crusader|
|William Sanders||Billy Mitchell's Overt Act|
|Janet Berliner||A Case for Justice|
|William R. Forstchen||A Hard Day for Mother|
|David Weber||The Captain from Kirkbean|
|John Mina||Vive l'Amiral|
|Brian M. Thomsen||Bloodstained Ground|
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