edited by Adam Chamberlain & Brian A. Dixon 

Fourth Horseman Press


402pp/$22.99/November 2009

Columbia & Britannia 
Cover by Cyril Van Der Haegen

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Columbia & Britannia, edited by Adam Chamberlain and Brian A. Dixon, is an interesting and well thought out addition to the subgenre of alternate history as well as a the shared-world anthology. Positing a world in which the British colonies in North America did not secede in the eighteenth century, the editors created a world and invited four other authors to play in their universe, resulting in a total of nine stories by six authors, as well as a lengthy and informative series of appendices.

The first appendix provides a timeline from September 14, 1766, when William Pitt proposed representation for the colonies in Parliament and runs through August 7, 2001.  The stories in the book run in chronological order from February 14, 1776 through the same end date.  This is important because not all of the events mentioned in the timeline are covered, or even referred to, in the stories and the stories aren’t entirely about the momentous events which would be covered in the timeline. This allows the authors to tell their own tales on a human level, from the opening story of Simeon Trask’s unhappy love affair with Susanna Aguirre to the story of a secessionist rock band two-hundred years later in the 1980s.

Some of the stories do touch on momentous events, from the start of the Great Quuens Fire of 1924 or assassination attempts.  And here, the authors and editors have been careful not to hew too closely to the history of our own world.  Occasionally individuals remain identifiable, but history has followed a different course and events do not match up between the two time-lines.  This is also clearly evident in the various maps provided in Appendix F, showing very different political entities throughout both North America and the world.

Not all the stories work well.  Editor Chamberlain’s second story, “The Twelfth Man” relies on an understanding, and interest, in cricket which is probably lacking for North American readers and gets in the way of the momentous event that conclude the volume, stripping it of some of its emotional value. However, this very weakness is important in the background of the world as it shows the thought which went into the construction of a very different history.

Despite the different histories, many of the stories do touch on issues important in both timelines, such as slavery and manumission (“Total Emancipation”) to self-rule (“All the Jungle Is Thine” and others). At the same time, with only nine stories spread over 230 years, the world created by Chamberlain and Dixon offers plenty of other stories, large and small, to be told. The short story format, however, especially when supplemented by the appendices, gives the volume a sense of completeness should the editors turn their attention elsewhere.

There is no sense that Columbia & Britannia is meant to represent a utopian society, or even a world that is better than ours.  The anthology is merely a look at a world which took a different turn and developed a complexity all its own with problems to match. The stories cover not only a wide range of topics and places, but also offer a variety of points of view in their story of the world in which Great Britain’s empire was larger and more cohesive.

Brian A. Dixon Intolerable Acts
Joe Tangari Total Emancipation
Mark Beech The Thunderbird
C. Mitchell O'Neal All the Jungle Is Thine
Alexander Zelenyj Here Grow No Flowers
Adam Chamberlain Flag Day
Joe Tangari The Sun Yet Sets
Brian A. Dixon The Last Day of the Old World
Adam Chamberlain The Twelfth Man

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