ALTERNATE GENERALS III
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Alternate Generals III is, as the name suggests, the third volume of the Harry Turtledove edited alternate history series. The stories cover a wide range of generals, from Marc Antony to Westmoreland, and take the readers from the Philippines to Kenya. Although two stories deal with an alternate Douglas McArthur and two with an alternate Jesus, however the stories are different enough from each other that they offer good perspectives of their subjects.
Joan of Arc wasn’t burned at the stake in A.M. Dellamonica’s “A Key to the Illuminated Heretic,” which is set after she is freed from a nine year imprisonment. Told through the aid of descriptions of iconography depicting Joan’s history, the story tells of Joan’s difficulties with Charles, the king she crowned, and the Papacy after she branches off to form her own heretical branch of Christianity. Dellamonica’s story is a strong way to begin the book.
Jim Fiscus looks at the world in which Marc Antony won the battle of Actium in “The Road to Endless Sleep.” Mostly set five years after the battle, the story is less about Antony or Cleopatra, but rather about Cleopatra’s head of bodyguards and his more personal story. While this may mean the story doesn’t follow the traditional alternate history form, it does make for an interesting and strong story.
William Sanders provides a story of Douglas MacArthur in “Not Fade Away,” MacArthur and several other officers in the Philippines find themselves in a Japanese POW camp following a cataclysmic defeat. Sanders avoids falling into the all too frequent trap of recreating either “The Great Escape” or “Stalag 17” in his story of life in a Japanese camp, a much more hopeless situation than in a German one.
Douglas McArthur also appears as a support character and in less than complimentary light in John Mina’s “I Shall Return.” Focusing on the Japanese invasion of the Philippines on December 8, 1941. McArthur’s support in Mina’s story included George Patton, James Doolittle, and Dwight Eisenhower, making for a much stronger defense of the islands. Unfortunately, Mina’s story is among the weakest in the collection, not because of his extrapolation, but because of the elementary dialogue between his generals which tends to drop the reader out of the story.
“Shock and Awe” is the second story by Harry Turtledove which takes events in the Middle East and swaps them, causing the reader to see the politics of region in a fresh light. In the first of these stories, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” Israel has become an Muslim state and Jewish terrorists are trying to reclaim it. In “Shock and Awe,” Turtledove presents the land’s rulers as the Romans and the terrorists trying to gain their freedom through combat as Jesus and his disciples, although Turtledove refrains from using their names. The story is reminiscent of Turtledove’s earlier story of liberation, “The Last Article,” although while that one is told from the point of view of the freedom-fighting Gandhi, “Shock and Awe” looks at the revolt from the point of view of the occupiers.
Brad Linaweaver looks at General Sir Francis Younghusband in “A Good Bag,” a story set at a séance run by Helena Blavatsky in which the “Great Game” of central Asia are the stakes on the table. This is one of the stories which would have been greatly enhanced by the sort of introduction available in Alternate Generals II which provided a background to the point of divergence. Linaweaver’s story brings in tales of Atlanteans and reveals the truth of Blavatsky’s psychic abilities, eventually setting the stage for the twentieth century struggles between Germany and England.
Jomo Kenyatta uses nontraditional tactics to win Kenya’s freedom in Mike Resnick’s “The Burning Spear at Twilight.” As many stories can be read in a direct relationship to modern politics, Kenyatta’s techniques of propaganda to make his enemies, in this case the British, look bad, can be seen in today’s headlines in which many feel that the United States is being framed regarding treatment of detainees. At the same time, Resnick’s story is an indictment of the liberal media which abets this sort of misplacement of guilt. Whether the reader agrees with Resnick’s statements in these regards, “The Burning Spear in Twilight” works well as a story of a general who fights his battles against an overwhelming force he can’t hope to defeat militarily.
Roland J. Green’s epistolary story of the War of 1812, “‘It Isn't Every Day of the Week…’” creates a sense of distance between the related events and the readers by the second hand narrative of the exploits of General Andrew Jackson and Commodore Stephen Decatur. The letters are not from the two commanders, but rather between brothers, one of whom serves under Decatur and the other under Jackson. The brother’s personal lives as shown in the letters are more interesting than the details of naval maneuvers and troop movements, but Green puts too little focus on the personal to really make the characters come alive.
Judith Tarr presents an alternative view of a militaristic Jesus from Harry Turtledove’s in “Measureless to Man.” Mirroring the new testament account of the life and death of Jesus, Tarr uses many of the incidents and words in a completely different context, occasionally altering them slightly in light of the more militaristic approach taken by Tarr’s Jesus. Although the question of a more war-like Christianity does arise, Tarr is really looking at the current situation in the Middle East with Jesus and his followers cast in the role of the Palestinians and the Romans cast as the Israelis.
“Over the Sea from Skye,” by Lillian Carl, is the only story in Alternate Generals III which provides an explanation of the point of change, in this case a reversal of battled between Cumberland and Bonnie Prince Charlie. The story is told as a flashback and works reasonably well, although in the end, when the ultimate effects of the point of divergence are shown, the reader may be excused for wondering what the point was.
Esther Friesner provides a humorous respite in “First, Catch Your Elephant,” in which she focuses on the logistical problems of Hannibal taking a herd of elephants and an army of men over the Alps to attack the Romans. Friesner’s characters use the language of cinematic British officers and must deal with Hannibal’s anger when a Tyrian soldier oversteps his rank for a story which works well, in part because of Friesner’s borrowings and the anachronisms she introduces.
All too many alternate history stories focus on a Southern victory in the Civil War. Lee Allred sets “East of Appomattox” in London between General, now ambassador, Robert E. Lee and a mysterious representative of the British Empire following the war. Lee learns that while some things can be overlooked during a war, in the battles’ aftermath, they are not so easily dismissed. Allred offers a freshness to the scenario and his protagonist and antagonist are well matched and both likable.
Chris Bunch is a Viet Nam veteran, so his story is sensibly set in Viet Nam. A group of special forces are given the task of “Murdering Uncle Ho,” Ho Chi Minh. Not an easy task in any event, their job is made more difficult by the appearance of two politicians, Richard Nixon and John Connolly (Nixon isn’t President in this timeline), on a fact-finding aggrandizement mission. While Bunch occasionally lapses heavily into military-speak, the story generally moves along well with an interesting ending.
|A.M. Dellamonica||A Key to the Illuminated Heretic|
|James Fiscus||The Road to Endless Sleep|
|William Sanders||Not Fade Away|
|John Mina||I Shall Return|
|Harry Turtledove||Shock and Awe|
|Brad Linaweaver||A Good Bag|
|Mike Resnick||The Burning Spear at Twilight|
|Roland Green||"It Isn't Every Day of the Week"|
|Judith Tarr||Measureless to Man|
|Lillian Stewart Carl||Over the Sea from Skye|
|Esther Friesner||First, Catch Your Elephant|
|Lee Allred||East of Appomattox|
|Chris Bunch||Murdering Uncle Ho|
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