WORLDS THAT WEREN'T
Edited by Laura Anne Gilman
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Worlds That Weren't collects four previously unpublished alternate history novels by three authors who have won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History and a fourth author who has been nominated for the award. With credentials like these, the alternate history stories included give the reader high expectations for their originality and writing.
Under the pseudonym H.N. Turteltaub, Harry Turtledove has begun publishing a series of novels set in ancient Greece, the first of which is Over the Wine-Dark Sea. It makes sense, therefore, that he would use the research that has gone into that series to write an alternate history, “The Daimon,” about Alkibiades’ attack on Syracuse and his decision to ignore the decisions of the people of Athens when they called for his recall. The change in Turtledove’s version of events occurs when Sokrates decides to join the expedition against Syracuse and, in so doing, find himself in a position to offer advice to Alkibiades. Turtledove does not, however, provide a clear explanation for the Athenians’ decision to recall Alkibiades, although he gives some hints about what may have happened. Furthermore, while he describes the events immediately after Alkibiades changes history, he doesn’t look at the long-term affects of that change, although a weakening of democracy appears like a likely outcome.
S.M. Stirling's "Shikari in Galveston" is set on the barbarous Texas frontier of the same world in which his novel The Peshawar Lancers takes place. Like "The Last Ride of German Freddie" Walter Jon Williams, this is a Western, although unlike any western previously written. Set a century or so after the meteorite fall that destroyed much of European and North American civilization, the American frontier is caught in a fragmented tribal society which seem almost like the post-nuclear war fiction written a couple of decades ago. Stirling is attempting, and succeeding, in writing a story which H. Rider Haggard would have set amongst the unexplored African continent. Ostensibly the story of Eric King's safari into the backwoods of Texas with Robre sunna Jowan and Sonjuh dawtra Pehte, Stirling weaves the Great Game between the Angrezi Raj and the Russian Tchernobog worshippers into the New World. As with many of Stirling's stories, the focus is on the world and the technology rather than the characters. On the surface, Eric, Sonjuh and Robre each have interesting characteristics, but they don't always work to make any of the characters a complete person. "Shikari in Galveston," however, does postulate and create a very interesting setting.
The only one of the four who has included a story which has a direct link to her Sidewise Award winning novel, Ash: A Secret History. Although set in the same world as Ash, Mary Gentle describes a completely different set of characters, focusing on the crossbow-woman Yolande Vaudin, who is given to seeing visions of the future, and Gauillaume Arnisout, an officer in her company who has become smitten with her. Set in a monastery in North Africa, the company's main concern is getting a group of monks to give one of their fallen comrades, a woman who dressed like a man, a Christian burial. While this provides Gentle with a setting, and some tension, the real story entails Yolande's failure as a mother and her visions of the future. Early in the story, she indicates that she joined the company to protect her son, but he was killed. In the story, she "adopts" a pig-boy, Ricimer, to protect, and he, in return, makes it possible for her to see visions of the distant future. These visions allow Gentle to continue to discuss the historiographical themes which made Ash: A Secret History so successful. At the same time, they draw parallels between the treatment of women in Yolande's time and the modern time, showing how far woman have come, and at the same time, how much further they can go.
The final story in Worlds That Weren't is Walter Jon Williams's "The Last Ride of German Freddie." Williams has taken one of the best known episodes of the American West, the gunfight at the OK Corral immortalized in so many films, and thrown a monkey wrench into it. In addition to the normal collection of Earps and Clantons, Williams has chosen to include an expatriate German poker player, Freddie Nietzsche. Nietzsche smoothly integrates himself into the well-known action, although the question of good and evil is raised by Williams's questioning the traditional roles the characters played in the saga. Of course, with Nietzsche in the middle of things, the concept of the übermensch is advanced, although it isn't clear whether one of the Earps holds that status, one of the Clantons does, or if Nietzsche will play that role on his own.
|Harry Turtledove||The Daimon|
|S.M. Stirling||Shakari in Galveston|
|Mary Gentle||The Logistics of Carthage|
|Walter Jon Williams||The Last Ride of German Freddie|
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