the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘alternate history

darwiniaDarwinia by Robert Charles Wilson

published 1998

where I got it: purchased used

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In spring of 1912, something so incredible happened, many people believed it to be a  divine miracle. That march, a circle of land enclosing Western Europe, much of the Mediterranean, and some of North Africa disappeared, and was instantaneously replaced with . . .  something new. The land was still there, but all the people, cities, buildings, animals, technology, everything was gone, replaced by strange new plants and animals. It was as if evolution had gone down a slightly different path countless eons ago. Rivers were in slightly different places, mountain ranges not exactly as they had been.  What was once Europe has now become Darwinia.

 

This world would never have a World War, the Titanic would never leave port, The Russian Revolution and Spanish Flu would never happen. Edgar Rice Burroughs publishes a novel called “Lost Kingdom of Darwinia”.  Alternate history indeed.  Scientists, biologists, naturalists and frontiersmen across the planet become nearly obsessed with the new world.  New species to categorize, a whole new frontier to explore and dominate.

 

Guilford Law was twelve years old when the “miracle” occurred. Now in his twenties, he and his family travel to what was once London where he has been hired on as a photographer for a scientific expedition. London is now a frontier town, population a few hundred.  The expedition starts out well enough, with the scientists arguing about the plants and animals they find that have obviously been around longer than the land has been like this. They find trees with decades worth of rings,  animals and insects that have evolved through countless generations, giant midden heaps around insect hives, the evolved skulls of predators.  If this new world has only existed for eight years, where did all the plants and creatures do their evolving?  As this line of inquiry gets more and more fascinating, the expedition hits some bad luck, and Law barely makes it back to London alive.  (I’d thought the expedition was going to be the main plot of the book, I couldn’t have been more wrong!) And don’t even get me started on the strange dreams the expedition members have, and what else they find in the jungle.

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the coldest war tregillis

This is a not review, because I’m not really going to be talking about what happened in the plot of The Coldest War.   To be honest, I was sorta ho-hum about most of the plot. But the characters, oh my god, with just a glance in my direction Marsh and Gretel bored holes right through  me.  And in a way, since this is an alternate history, as in something that could have happened but didn’t, the plot doesn’t actually, in the grand scheme of the universe, matter, does it?

 

The Coldest  War takes place during the early 1960s, so twenty some years after Bitter Seeds.  Klaus and Gretel have spent twenty years as prisoners of war in the USSR; and over in London Raybould Marsh and William Beauclerk have spent twenty some years trying to convince themselves they did the right things, that it was worth it.

 

So let’s talk about the characters, who you’ve already met if you’ve read the first book in the series, Bitter Seeds.

 

I feel like comparing characters in this book to gambling addicts.  Addicts because Marsh and Beauclerk keep saying they can stop anytime they want…. but they can’t. They keep thinking the next bargain will even things out, that they’ll “win” next time, for various values of “winning”.   It’s like the guy I saw buying scratch off lottery tickets the other day. He was joking with the clerk that last week he won $3 on a scratch off ticket… but that he’d spent $19 on the tickets.  There was an edge of addiction in his nervous laughter, an underscore of him saying he could stop anytime he wanted.

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the mechanical tregillisThe Mechanical, by Ian Tregillis

Published March 10th, 2015

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (thanks Orbit!)

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in an alternate history where the Dutch scientist and mathematician  Christiaan Huygens made more than just clocks and lenses, the world was changed forever when his clockwork servitors were perfected. These Clockwork servants, owned by the Crown and leased to the populace on 99 year leases, allowed the Dutch Empire to expand their control over trading posts, exploration, and world politics. Of course you’ll come to rule the world when you have an unlimited workforce that never sleeps, doesn’t have to eat, and never complains, and mechanical soldiers who never die.

 

Hundreds of years have gone by since the Guild of Horologists was created in 1680. America never existed, the Dutch never gave up New Amsterdam (which you know as Manhattan), and France is in shambles after a disastrous war, with much of the French nobility living in Montreal with their exiled King.

 

In an alternate history that never was, physics and chemistry fight horology and alchemy for control of the belief structure of the modern world. I’ll leave the plot chat to other reviewers, because I want to talk about everything that’s happening in The Mechanical underneath the plot, things like Tregillis’s genius treatment of chemistry vs alchemy,  warring philosophies over free will and identity, and the intersection of faith and compulsion.

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wild cards fourWild Cards IV: Aces Abroad, edited by George R. R. Martin

published in 1988, with new material added and republished by Tor Books in January 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from Tor (thanks!)

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Wild Cards: Aces Abroad is the fourth book in a shared universe anthology series. The good news is that you can easily read this as a stand alone, and the better news is that it’ll all make way more sense if I give you just a little bit of background about the series.

 

Started in the late 1980s, the Wild Cards shared universe  envisions an alternative history where our first contact with an alien species causes the Wild Card virus to be released into Earth’s atmosphere. The virus killed much of the population, and physically affected nearly all who survived, granting them superpowers or horrid mutations. Some people grew wings and could fly, others turned into grotesque parodies of human beings. If your gift was a boon, you became known as an Ace, and if your gift came with physical deformaties, you became known as a Joker. Many Aces became successful business owners and celebrities, whereas society had no idea what to do with the Jokers, these hideous creatures who used to be our parents, friends and neighbors. As the decades passed, Jokers became more accepted in society, but many still reside in ghettos and fear for their own safety. Many of the characters in Wild Cards reminded me more of X-Men characters rather than traditional “good guy” superheroes. Most of these people want to live their life in peace, and help their friends and families. None of these people are traditional comic book superheroes.

 

 

I’ve certainly read themed anthologies before, but I’ve never read a shared universe. Each author was credited in the table of contents, and again the first time their writing appears in the volume. But after that, it’s just chapter after chapter, and if you aren’t paying attention it’s easy to forget which author’s work you are reading.  The fact that eleven authors (Stephen Leigh, George R.R. Martin, John J. Miller, Leanne C. Harper, Gail Gerstner-Miller, Walton Simmons, Edward Bryant, Lewis Shiner, Victor W. Milan, Melinda M. Snodgrass and Michael Cassutt) could seamlessly put  novel together, and then 25 years later two more authors (Kevin Andrew Murphy and Carrie Vaughn) could slip their new stories in unnoticed is pretty damn incredible.

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Like this stuff?

  • Civil War era alternate history
  • zombies
  • giant lizards
  • pop culture references
  • huge explosions
  • airships
  • airships with zombies on them
  • carnies

what if all that awesome stuff was jammed into one book?  well good news, IT IS! And I reviewed it, just for you!  head over to SFSignal to read my review of Odd Men Out by Matt Betts.

odd men out

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

published in 2010

where I got it: purchased new

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I’ve been avoiding this book for a while now. Alternate history is always fun, but I tend to shy away from War stories. When this book was chosen for my local book club, there was no getting around it.

The first few chapters were a little rough going for me, more because the time and place jumps around with little context than that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be reading this. A british boy is caught ripping plants out of a garden, another British child is hidden from his terrifying grandfather, and elsewhere two dark complected siblings survive a harrowing journey to an orphanage in Germany. Time jumps forward nineteen years, it’s 1939, and suddenly I wished I’d paid more attention in history class.

The young boy in the garden is Raybould Marsh. Mentored and then sponsored by John Stephenson, Marsh grows up to become a spy for Her Majesty. Sent to Spain in 1939 to meet an informant,  Marsh gets the clue that something strange is going on when the man bursts into flames, taking most of his evidence with him. The evidence that Stephenson’s team is able to reconstruct makes no sense, and to investigate it, project Milkweed is born.

The siblings are Klaus and Gretel, and the orphanage later becomes Reichsbehörde für die Erweiterung Germanischen Potenzials , the Authority for the Advancement of German Potential. For the glory of the Reich, Dr. von Westarp has spent twenty years trying to create supermen. The subject’s willpower, or willenskrafte, is augmented by battery power, allowing the person to fly, or set something on fire, or read minds, or disappear, or who yet knows what else. Klaus’s talent lies in dematerializing into an ethereal ghost capable of moving through walls and people, and Gretel’s talent lies in seeing the future. The surgical procedures are experimental and dangerous, and nobody talks about the rows and rows of child sized graves.

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I’m slowly making my way through more Hugo nominations.  The nominations for best novelette are:

  • “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
  • “Fade To White” by Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
  • “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
  • “In Sea-Salt Tears” by Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
  • “Rat-Catcher” by Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

Today I’ll  talk about The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Dutch friends! Please help me with the correct pronunciation of his last name!) and Fade to White by Catherynne M. Valente.

boy who cast no shadow

The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Look is an especially odd child. He has no shadow. It’s not just that a shadow doesn’t form behind or under him, there isn’t one under his nose, or his chin, it’s that no darkness forms around him, as if the sun refuses to acknowledge his existence. He doesn’t have a reflection either, and can’t be filmed or photographed. The original invisible boy. Unless of course, you’re in the same room as him, and then there’s just a lonely child, seen by everyone but himself.

Look is the only weird kid at school until Splinter shows up and gives the bullies a new target. Splinter can’t help being the perfect fragile target for their verbal and physical abuse; he’s a boy made of glass, a child who reflects everything except himself.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.