Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Over the past several years, Mike Resnick has edited several alternate history anthologies. In addition to his professional anthologies, such as Alternate Kennedys and Alternate Presidents, Resnick has also published fan-fiction by both fans and pros in the Alternate Worldcon series. At best, these stories have been award-caliber. All too often, they have fallen somewhere between the ridiculous and the insulting. As with the previous collections, Alternate Skiffy, edited with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, contains stories across this spectrum. The book, in general, is fun if you have an interest in the history of science fiction and go into it with the right mindset.
Beginning at the top, the best stories in Alternate Skiffy are those which can stand on their own. The first story in the collection, Barry Malzberg's "A Science of the Mind" in which Theodore Sturgeon and Horace Gold attempt to concoct a Scientology-like religion. Other stories of similarly high caliber include Anthony Lewis's "Plus Ultra" about Hugo Gernsback, President of the League of Nations and David Langford's "The Spear of the Sun" about G.K. Chesterton. The last of these three has been previously published in Interzone and also appeared in David G. Hartwell's Year's Best SF 2.
The next level of stories in Alternate Skiffy would be comprised of stories which are good, but wouldn't necessarily stand on their own without the thematic device of the anthology. Foremost among these is Lyn Nichols's "Kidnapping Koriba," which explains where Resnick got the various story ideas he used for his popular "Kirinyaga" cycle and Nicholas diChario's "Mission 51-L" in which NASA selects an Hugo winner for a space launch. Jack Haldeman's "History Lesson" also falls into this general category, although the point of story seems to get lost, which is precisely the point to his story.
Frederik Pohl and Brian Thomsen weigh in with short pieces which read almost like outlines for stories rather than the stories themselves. Pohl's "The Golden Years of Astounding" examines what might have been if Donald Wollheim had replaced John Campbell after the first few years of Campbell's editorial tenure. Although an interesting premise, Pohl doesn't really examine the changes deeply. Thomsen's "Oscar Night at Swifty's" although a plausible alternative dealing with Julius Schwartz the Hollywood agent doesn't work as well.
There are two "Star Trek" themed stories in the anthology. The first, Linda J. Dunn's "Fritz Leiber: Actor Extraordinaire" is similar to other alternative "Star Trek" fanfic, presenting a better world through Star Trek, something I find a little difficult to swallow. The final category of stories in this anthology are those whose authors took a completely implausible scenario and wrote it up without even considering the ramifications. These include a world in which Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir create Wilhelm & Knight's Clarion Writer's Workshop, a world in which SF editor Samuel Beckett attempts to publish James Joyce in Unknown and one in which Gertrude Stein and other Parisian authors of the Lost Generation dream of breaking into the fledgling field of SF.
For the most part, Alternate Skiffy works, and although Resnick and Nielsen Hayden have presented these stories in a fan-fic manner, there is plenty of alternate reflexive sf considered at a professional level. In addition to the aforementioned "Spear of the Sun," Interzone has also published Paul di Filippo's "Alice, Alfie, Ted and the Aliens." Of course, Resnick himself has edited Inside the Funhouse containing reflexive science fiction which may be considered alternate history.
To fully enjoy Alternate Skiffy, the reader needs to have some knowledge of the history of SF, just as a reader should have some knowledge of history to enjoy alternate history in general. If you're looking for a light, fun read, Alternate Skiffy would be a good book to track down (I'm told it had a press run of about 400 copies).
|Barry N. Malzberg||A Science of the Mind|
|Frederik Pohl||The Golden Years of Astounding|
|Anthony R. Lewis||Plus Ultra|
|Brian M. Thomsen||Oscar Night at Swifty's|
|Linda J. Dunn||Fritz Leiber: Actor Extraordinaire|
|Greg Cox||GoH: H.P.L.|
|Louise Rowder||Siren Song|
|Lyn Nichols||Kidnapping Koriba|
|Madeleine E. Robins||Six Weeks, No Exit|
|Leah A. Zeldes||Hemingway, Remarks Are Not Literature|
|Nicholas A. DiChario||Mission 51-L|
|eluki bes shahar||My Object All Sublime|
|Jack C. Haldeman II||History Lesson|
|David Langford||The Spear of the Sun|
To order this book, contact Wildside Press at 522 Park Avenue, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922.