Edited by Lou Anders



368/£10.99/June 2008

Sideways in Crime
Cover by Bob Eggleton

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Different genres bring different things to the table.  While science fiction is full of ideas, mysteries provide more of a narrative framework and romances tend to build more on relationships between characters.  For this reason, stories which cross between genres, taking a little from here and a little from there, are often quite successful.  In the anthology Sideways in Crime, editor Lou Anders has challenged sixteen authors to combine elements of alternate history with the narrative flow of mystery to produce stories set in alternative worlds.

In some cases, the authors aren’t able, or perhaps willing, to jettison things that feature prominently in mysteries.  Many are set in one form of New York City, or another, which almost makes the reader wonder if there is a collection of alternate history stories out there in which New York (or New Amsterdam) just plain doesn’t exist.

However, set in one of those alternative New Yorks is one of the strongest stories in the book: Tobias Buckell’s “The People’s Machine,” which includes the ubiquitous Dutch colonized New York (called, of course, New Amsterdam) and an Aztec empire. While set in New Amsterdam, the Ixtli’s world, far to the south, is more important to the story as a whole, although Ixtli’s experiences in New Amsterdam are also important to the story.

Another Aztec empire story is Mary Rosenblum’s “Sacrifice,” which presents its mystery, but is also very interested in looking at different mores and how they would play out against a different historical backdrop. In fact, Rosenblum uses the story to look at the differences between any cultures, not just within the confines of her alternate history.

Many of the stories in Sideways in Crime include mention of Sherlock Holmes, in at least one case, Jack McDevitt’s “The Adventure of the Southsea Trunk,” the entire story is based on the publication of the Sherlock Holmes stories not by Arthur Conan Doyle, but nearly a century later. Although there is a murder, it is hardly the most important aspect of the mystery which McDevitt’s characters need to resolve.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “G-Men” examines a murder that comes way to close to home for the FBI in the aftermath of John Kennedy’s assassination, raising questions about how widespread a conspiracy might exist. Rusch mixes a procedural with FBI agent Frank Bryce dealing with a New York murder scene and the political ramifications in a Justice Department led by Robert Kennedy who is at odds with his brother’s successor, Lyndon Johnson.

Not all of the alternatives work as well, frequently these are the ones set long after a point of divergence when the authors is trying to include some familiar touchstone, such as the appearance of William Shaxpur in a very different world ruled by a very different Queen in Kage Baker’s “Running the Snake.” Similarly, although Paul di Filippo’s “Murder in Geektopia” is entertaining, the very unlikelihood of the world-building he attempts detracts from the overall story, set in an unlikely world where all the desires of Hugo Gernsback have been met.

Some of the stories, such as Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s “Chicago,” don’t even attempt to be alternate history, instead simply taking and interesting science fictional idea and playing with it.  In fact, in Grimwood’s case, his attempt to pigeonhole the idea into a vaguely alternate historical context also detracts from the story, which would have been better served by simply examining the science fictional qualities of the mystery.

Even those stories that don’t hold up as alternate history, or could have been stronger with a different science fictional premise, tend to be entertaining. In fact, many of those that didn’t adhere to the nominal theme of the anthology are the most purely entertaining, if not plausible or particularly thought provoking.  In fact, the different styles of stories in Sideways in Crime are one of the anthology’s strengths, as it means that reading through it, the reader doesn’t keep reading in the same style over and over.

Kage Baker

Running the Snake

John Meaney

Via Vortex

Stephen Baxter

Fate and the Fire-lance

Paul Park

The Blood of Peter Francisco

Jack McDevitt

The Adventure of the Southsea Trunk

Kristine Kathryn Rusch


Mary Rosenblum


Paul Di Filippo

Murder in Geektopia

Jon Courtenay Grimwood


Theodore Judson

The Sultan’s Emissary

Pat Cadigan

Worlds of Possibilities

S.M. Stirling

A Murder in Eddsford

Mike Resnick & Eric Flint

Conspiracies: A Very Condensed 937-Page Novel

Tobias S. Buckell

The People’s Machine

Chris Roberson

Death on the Crosstime Express

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